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Mansfield Park, Page 23

Jane Austen


  "But why should Mrs. Grant ask Fanny?" said Lady Bertram. "How came sheto think of asking Fanny? Fanny never dines there, you know, in thissort of way. I cannot spare her, and I am sure she does not want to go.Fanny, you do not want to go, do you?"

  "If you put such a question to her," cried Edmund, preventing hiscousin's speaking, "Fanny will immediately say No; but I am sure, mydear mother, she would like to go; and I can see no reason why sheshould not."

  "I cannot imagine why Mrs. Grant should think of asking her? She neverdid before. She used to ask your sisters now and then, but she neverasked Fanny."

  "If you cannot do without me, ma'am--" said Fanny, in a self-denyingtone.

  "But my mother will have my father with her all the evening."

  "To be sure, so I shall."

  "Suppose you take my father's opinion, ma'am."

  "That's well thought of. So I will, Edmund. I will ask Sir Thomas, assoon as he comes in, whether I can do without her."

  "As you please, ma'am, on that head; but I meant my father's opinionas to the _propriety_ of the invitation's being accepted or not; andI think he will consider it a right thing by Mrs. Grant, as well as byFanny, that being the _first_ invitation it should be accepted."

  "I do not know. We will ask him. But he will be very much surprised thatMrs. Grant should ask Fanny at all."

  There was nothing more to be said, or that could be said to any purpose,till Sir Thomas were present; but the subject involving, as it did,her own evening's comfort for the morrow, was so much uppermost in LadyBertram's mind, that half an hour afterwards, on his looking in for aminute in his way from his plantation to his dressing-room, she calledhim back again, when he had almost closed the door, with "Sir Thomas,stop a moment--I have something to say to you."

  Her tone of calm languor, for she never took the trouble of raising hervoice, was always heard and attended to; and Sir Thomas came back. Herstory began; and Fanny immediately slipped out of the room; for to hearherself the subject of any discussion with her uncle was more than hernerves could bear. She was anxious, she knew--more anxious perhaps thanshe ought to be--for what was it after all whether she went or staid?but if her uncle were to be a great while considering and deciding, andwith very grave looks, and those grave looks directed to her, andat last decide against her, she might not be able to appear properlysubmissive and indifferent. Her cause, meanwhile, went on well. Itbegan, on Lady Bertram's part, with--"I have something to tell you thatwill surprise you. Mrs. Grant has asked Fanny to dinner."

  "Well," said Sir Thomas, as if waiting more to accomplish the surprise.

  "Edmund wants her to go. But how can I spare her?"

  "She will be late," said Sir Thomas, taking out his watch; "but what isyour difficulty?"

  Edmund found himself obliged to speak and fill up the blanks in hismother's story. He told the whole; and she had only to add, "So strange!for Mrs. Grant never used to ask her."

  "But is it not very natural," observed Edmund, "that Mrs. Grant shouldwish to procure so agreeable a visitor for her sister?"

  "Nothing can be more natural," said Sir Thomas, after a shortdeliberation; "nor, were there no sister in the case, could anything,in my opinion, be more natural. Mrs. Grant's shewing civility to MissPrice, to Lady Bertram's niece, could never want explanation. The onlysurprise I can feel is, that this should be the _first_ time of itsbeing paid. Fanny was perfectly right in giving only a conditionalanswer. She appears to feel as she ought. But as I conclude that shemust wish to go, since all young people like to be together, I can seeno reason why she should be denied the indulgence."

  "But can I do without her, Sir Thomas?"

  "Indeed I think you may."

  "She always makes tea, you know, when my sister is not here."

  "Your sister, perhaps, may be prevailed on to spend the day with us, andI shall certainly be at home."

  "Very well, then, Fanny may go, Edmund."

  The good news soon followed her. Edmund knocked at her door in his wayto his own.

  "Well, Fanny, it is all happily settled, and without the smallesthesitation on your uncle's side. He had but one opinion. You are to go."

  "Thank you, I am _so_ glad," was Fanny's instinctive reply; though whenshe had turned from him and shut the door, she could not help feeling,"And yet why should I be glad? for am I not certain of seeing or hearingsomething there to pain me?"

  In spite of this conviction, however, she was glad. Simple as such anengagement might appear in other eyes, it had novelty and importance inhers, for excepting the day at Sotherton, she had scarcely ever dinedout before; and though now going only half a mile, and only to threepeople, still it was dining out, and all the little interests ofpreparation were enjoyments in themselves. She had neither sympathy norassistance from those who ought to have entered into her feelings anddirected her taste; for Lady Bertram never thought of being useful toanybody, and Mrs. Norris, when she came on the morrow, in consequence ofan early call and invitation from Sir Thomas, was in a very ill humour,and seemed intent only on lessening her niece's pleasure, both presentand future, as much as possible.

  "Upon my word, Fanny, you are in high luck to meet with such attentionand indulgence! You ought to be very much obliged to Mrs. Grant forthinking of you, and to your aunt for letting you go, and you ought tolook upon it as something extraordinary; for I hope you are aware thatthere is no real occasion for your going into company in this sort ofway, or ever dining out at all; and it is what you must not depend uponever being repeated. Nor must you be fancying that the invitation ismeant as any particular compliment to _you_; the compliment is intendedto your uncle and aunt and me. Mrs. Grant thinks it a civility due to_us_ to take a little notice of you, or else it would never have comeinto her head, and you may be very certain that, if your cousin Juliahad been at home, you would not have been asked at all."

  Mrs. Norris had now so ingeniously done away all Mrs. Grant's part ofthe favour, that Fanny, who found herself expected to speak, could onlysay that she was very much obliged to her aunt Bertram for sparing her,and that she was endeavouring to put her aunt's evening work in such astate as to prevent her being missed.

  "Oh! depend upon it, your aunt can do very well without you, or youwould not be allowed to go. _I_ shall be here, so you may be quite easyabout your aunt. And I hope you will have a very _agreeable_ day, andfind it all mighty _delightful_. But I must observe that five is thevery awkwardest of all possible numbers to sit down to table; and Icannot but be surprised that such an _elegant_ lady as Mrs. Grant shouldnot contrive better! And round their enormous great wide table, too,which fills up the room so dreadfully! Had the doctor been contented totake my dining-table when I came away, as anybody in their senses wouldhave done, instead of having that absurd new one of his own, which iswider, literally wider than the dinner-table here, how infinitely betterit would have been! and how much more he would have been respected! forpeople are never respected when they step out of their proper sphere.Remember that, Fanny. Five--only five to be sitting round that table.However, you will have dinner enough on it for ten, I dare say."

  Mrs. Norris fetched breath, and went on again.

  "The nonsense and folly of people's stepping out of their rank andtrying to appear above themselves, makes me think it right to give _you_a hint, Fanny, now that you are going into company without any of us;and I do beseech and entreat you not to be putting yourself forward, andtalking and giving your opinion as if you were one of your cousins--asif you were dear Mrs. Rushworth or Julia. _That_ will never do, believeme. Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last; andthough Miss Crawford is in a manner at home at the Parsonage, you arenot to be taking place of her. And as to coming away at night, you areto stay just as long as Edmund chuses. Leave him to settle _that_."

  "Yes, ma'am, I should not think of anything else."

  "And if it should rain, which I think exceedingly likely, for I neversaw it more threatening for a we
t evening in my life, you must manage aswell as you can, and not be expecting the carriage to be sent for you. Icertainly do not go home to-night, and, therefore, the carriage will notbe out on my account; so you must make up your mind to what may happen,and take your things accordingly."

  Her niece thought it perfectly reasonable. She rated her own claimsto comfort as low even as Mrs. Norris could; and when Sir Thomas soonafterwards, just opening the door, said, "Fanny, at what time would youhave the carriage come round?" she felt a degree of astonishment whichmade it impossible for her to speak.

  "My dear Sir Thomas!" cried Mrs. Norris, red with anger, "Fanny canwalk."

  "Walk!" repeated Sir Thomas, in a tone of most unanswerable dignity, andcoming farther into the room. "My niece walk to a dinner engagement atthis time of the year! Will twenty minutes after four suit you?"

  "Yes, sir," was Fanny's humble answer, given with the feelings almostof a criminal towards Mrs. Norris; and not bearing to remain with herin what might seem a state of triumph, she followed her uncle out ofthe room, having staid behind him only long enough to hear these wordsspoken in angry agitation--

  "Quite unnecessary! a great deal too kind! But Edmund goes; true, it isupon Edmund's account. I observed he was hoarse on Thursday night."

  But this could not impose on Fanny. She felt that the carriage was forherself, and herself alone: and her uncle's consideration of her, comingimmediately after such representations from her aunt, cost her sometears of gratitude when she was alone.

  The coachman drove round to a minute; another minute brought down thegentleman; and as the lady had, with a most scrupulous fear of beinglate, been many minutes seated in the drawing-room, Sir Thomas saw themoff in as good time as his own correctly punctual habits required.

  "Now I must look at you, Fanny," said Edmund, with the kind smile of anaffectionate brother, "and tell you how I like you; and as well as I canjudge by this light, you look very nicely indeed. What have you got on?"

  "The new dress that my uncle was so good as to give me on my cousin'smarriage. I hope it is not too fine; but I thought I ought to wear it assoon as I could, and that I might not have such another opportunity allthe winter. I hope you do not think me too fine."

  "A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white. No, I see nofinery about you; nothing but what is perfectly proper. Your gown seemsvery pretty. I like these glossy spots. Has not Miss Crawford a gownsomething the same?"

  In approaching the Parsonage they passed close by the stable-yard andcoach-house.

  "Heyday!" said Edmund, "here's company, here's a carriage! who have theygot to meet us?" And letting down the side-glass to distinguish, "'TisCrawford's, Crawford's barouche, I protest! There are his own two menpushing it back into its old quarters. He is here, of course. This isquite a surprise, Fanny. I shall be very glad to see him."

  There was no occasion, there was no time for Fanny to say how verydifferently she felt; but the idea of having such another to observeher was a great increase of the trepidation with which she performed thevery awful ceremony of walking into the drawing-room.

  In the drawing-room Mr. Crawford certainly was, having been just longenough arrived to be ready for dinner; and the smiles and pleased looksof the three others standing round him, shewed how welcome was hissudden resolution of coming to them for a few days on leaving Bath.A very cordial meeting passed between him and Edmund; and with theexception of Fanny, the pleasure was general; and even to _her_ theremight be some advantage in his presence, since every addition to theparty must rather forward her favourite indulgence of being suffered tosit silent and unattended to. She was soon aware of this herself; forthough she must submit, as her own propriety of mind directed, in spiteof her aunt Norris's opinion, to being the principal lady in company,and to all the little distinctions consequent thereon, she found, whilethey were at table, such a happy flow of conversation prevailing, inwhich she was not required to take any part--there was so much to besaid between the brother and sister about Bath, so much between the twoyoung men about hunting, so much of politics between Mr. Crawford andDr. Grant, and of everything and all together between Mr. Crawfordand Mrs. Grant, as to leave her the fairest prospect of having onlyto listen in quiet, and of passing a very agreeable day. She could notcompliment the newly arrived gentleman, however, with any appearance ofinterest, in a scheme for extending his stay at Mansfield, and sendingfor his hunters from Norfolk, which, suggested by Dr. Grant, advised byEdmund, and warmly urged by the two sisters, was soon in possession ofhis mind, and which he seemed to want to be encouraged even by her toresolve on. Her opinion was sought as to the probable continuance of theopen weather, but her answers were as short and indifferent as civilityallowed. She could not wish him to stay, and would much rather not havehim speak to her.

  Her two absent cousins, especially Maria, were much in her thoughts onseeing him; but no embarrassing remembrance affected _his_ spirits.Here he was again on the same ground where all had passed before, andapparently as willing to stay and be happy without the Miss Bertrams,as if he had never known Mansfield in any other state. She heard themspoken of by him only in a general way, till they were all re-assembledin the drawing-room, when Edmund, being engaged apart in some matter ofbusiness with Dr. Grant, which seemed entirely to engross them, andMrs. Grant occupied at the tea-table, he began talking of them with moreparticularity to his other sister. With a significant smile, which madeFanny quite hate him, he said, "So! Rushworth and his fair bride are atBrighton, I understand; happy man!"

  "Yes, they have been there about a fortnight, Miss Price, have they not?And Julia is with them."

  "And Mr. Yates, I presume, is not far off."

  "Mr. Yates! Oh! we hear nothing of Mr. Yates. I do not imagine hefigures much in the letters to Mansfield Park; do you, Miss Price? Ithink my friend Julia knows better than to entertain her father with Mr.Yates."

  "Poor Rushworth and his two-and-forty speeches!" continued Crawford."Nobody can ever forget them. Poor fellow! I see him now--his toil andhis despair. Well, I am much mistaken if his lovely Maria will ever wanthim to make two-and-forty speeches to her"; adding, with a momentaryseriousness, "She is too good for him--much too good." And then changinghis tone again to one of gentle gallantry, and addressing Fanny, hesaid, "You were Mr. Rushworth's best friend. Your kindness and patiencecan never be forgotten, your indefatigable patience in trying to make itpossible for him to learn his part--in trying to give him a brainwhich nature had denied--to mix up an understanding for him out of thesuperfluity of your own! _He_ might not have sense enough himself toestimate your kindness, but I may venture to say that it had honour fromall the rest of the party."

  Fanny coloured, and said nothing.

  "It is as a dream, a pleasant dream!" he exclaimed, breaking forthagain, after a few minutes' musing. "I shall always look back on ourtheatricals with exquisite pleasure. There was such an interest, such ananimation, such a spirit diffused. Everybody felt it. We were all alive.There was employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour ofthe day. Always some little objection, some little doubt, some littleanxiety to be got over. I never was happier."

  With silent indignation Fanny repeated to herself, "Neverhappier!--never happier than when doing what you must know was notjustifiable!--never happier than when behaving so dishonourably andunfeelingly! Oh! what a corrupted mind!"

  "We were unlucky, Miss Price," he continued, in a lower tone, to avoidthe possibility of being heard by Edmund, and not at all aware of herfeelings, "we certainly were very unlucky. Another week, only one otherweek, would have been enough for us. I think if we had had the disposalof events--if Mansfield Park had had the government of the windsjust for a week or two, about the equinox, there would have beena difference. Not that we would have endangered his safety by anytremendous weather--but only by a steady contrary wind, or a calm. Ithink, Miss Price, we would have indulged ourselves with a week's calmin the Atlantic at that season."

  He seemed determined to be
answered; and Fanny, averting her face, said,with a firmer tone than usual, "As far as _I_ am concerned, sir, I wouldnot have delayed his return for a day. My uncle disapproved it all soentirely when he did arrive, that in my opinion everything had gonequite far enough."

  She had never spoken so much at once to him in her life before, andnever so angrily to any one; and when her speech was over, she trembledand blushed at her own daring. He was surprised; but after a fewmoments' silent consideration of her, replied in a calmer, graver tone,and as if the candid result of conviction, "I believe you are right.It was more pleasant than prudent. We were getting too noisy." Andthen turning the conversation, he would have engaged her on some othersubject, but her answers were so shy and reluctant that he could notadvance in any.

  Miss Crawford, who had been repeatedly eyeing Dr. Grant and Edmund,now observed, "Those gentlemen must have some very interesting point todiscuss."

  "The most interesting in the world," replied her brother--"how to makemoney; how to turn a good income into a better. Dr. Grant is givingBertram instructions about the living he is to step into so soon. I findhe takes orders in a few weeks. They were at it in the dining-parlour. Iam glad to hear Bertram will be so well off. He will have a very prettyincome to make ducks and drakes with, and earned without much trouble. Iapprehend he will not have less than seven hundred a year. Seven hundreda year is a fine thing for a younger brother; and as of course he willstill live at home, it will be all for his _menus_ _plaisirs_; and asermon at Christmas and Easter, I suppose, will be the sum total ofsacrifice."

  His sister tried to laugh off her feelings by saying, "Nothing amuses memore than the easy manner with which everybody settles the abundance ofthose who have a great deal less than themselves. You would look ratherblank, Henry, if your _menus_ _plaisirs_ were to be limited to sevenhundred a year."

  "Perhaps I might; but all _that_ you know is entirely comparative.Birthright and habit must settle the business. Bertram is certainly welloff for a cadet of even a baronet's family. By the time he is four orfive and twenty he will have seven hundred a year, and nothing to do forit."

  Miss Crawford _could_ have said that there would be a something to doand to suffer for it, which she could not think lightly of; but shechecked herself and let it pass; and tried to look calm and unconcernedwhen the two gentlemen shortly afterwards joined them.

  "Bertram," said Henry Crawford, "I shall make a point of coming toMansfield to hear you preach your first sermon. I shall come on purposeto encourage a young beginner. When is it to be? Miss Price, will notyou join me in encouraging your cousin? Will not you engage to attendwith your eyes steadily fixed on him the whole time--as I shall do--notto lose a word; or only looking off just to note down any sentencepreeminently beautiful? We will provide ourselves with tablets and apencil. When will it be? You must preach at Mansfield, you know, thatSir Thomas and Lady Bertram may hear you."

  "I shall keep clear of you, Crawford, as long as I can," said Edmund;"for you would be more likely to disconcert me, and I should be moresorry to see you trying at it than almost any other man."

  "Will he not feel this?" thought Fanny. "No, he can feel nothing as heought."

  The party being now all united, and the chief talkers attracting eachother, she remained in tranquillity; and as a whist-table was formedafter tea--formed really for the amusement of Dr. Grant, by hisattentive wife, though it was not to be supposed so--and Miss Crawfordtook her harp, she had nothing to do but to listen; and her tranquillityremained undisturbed the rest of the evening, except when Mr. Crawfordnow and then addressed to her a question or observation, which she couldnot avoid answering. Miss Crawford was too much vexed by what had passedto be in a humour for anything but music. With that she soothed herselfand amused her friend.

  The assurance of Edmund's being so soon to take orders, coming upon herlike a blow that had been suspended, and still hoped uncertain and at adistance, was felt with resentment and mortification. She was very angrywith him. She had thought her influence more. She _had_ begun to thinkof him; she felt that she had, with great regard, with almost decidedintentions; but she would now meet him with his own cool feelings. Itwas plain that he could have no serious views, no true attachment, byfixing himself in a situation which he must know she would neverstoop to. She would learn to match him in his indifference. She wouldhenceforth admit his attentions without any idea beyond immediateamusement. If _he_ could so command his affections, _hers_ should do herno harm.