Mansfield park, p.10
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       Mansfield Park, p.10

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER X

  A quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, passed away, and Fanny was stillthinking of Edmund, Miss Crawford, and herself, without interruptionfrom any one. She began to be surprised at being left so long, and tolisten with an anxious desire of hearing their steps and their voicesagain. She listened, and at length she heard; she heard voices and feetapproaching; but she had just satisfied herself that it was not thoseshe wanted, when Miss Bertram, Mr. Rushworth, and Mr. Crawford issuedfrom the same path which she had trod herself, and were before her.

  "Miss Price all alone" and "My dear Fanny, how comes this?" were thefirst salutations. She told her story. "Poor dear Fanny," cried hercousin, "how ill you have been used by them! You had better have staidwith us."

  Then seating herself with a gentleman on each side, she resumedthe conversation which had engaged them before, and discussed thepossibility of improvements with much animation. Nothing was fixedon; but Henry Crawford was full of ideas and projects, and, generallyspeaking, whatever he proposed was immediately approved, first by her,and then by Mr. Rushworth, whose principal business seemed to be tohear the others, and who scarcely risked an original thought of his ownbeyond a wish that they had seen his friend Smith's place.

  After some minutes spent in this way, Miss Bertram, observing the irongate, expressed a wish of passing through it into the park, that theirviews and their plans might be more comprehensive. It was the very thingof all others to be wished, it was the best, it was the only way ofproceeding with any advantage, in Henry Crawford's opinion; and hedirectly saw a knoll not half a mile off, which would give them exactlythe requisite command of the house. Go therefore they must to thatknoll, and through that gate; but the gate was locked. Mr. Rushworthwished he had brought the key; he had been very near thinking whether heshould not bring the key; he was determined he would never come withoutthe key again; but still this did not remove the present evil. Theycould not get through; and as Miss Bertram's inclination for so doingdid by no means lessen, it ended in Mr. Rushworth's declaring outrightthat he would go and fetch the key. He set off accordingly.

  "It is undoubtedly the best thing we can do now, as we are so far fromthe house already," said Mr. Crawford, when he was gone.

  "Yes, there is nothing else to be done. But now, sincerely, do not youfind the place altogether worse than you expected?"

  "No, indeed, far otherwise. I find it better, grander, more complete inits style, though that style may not be the best. And to tell you thetruth," speaking rather lower, "I do not think that _I_ shall ever seeSotherton again with so much pleasure as I do now. Another summer willhardly improve it to me."

  After a moment's embarrassment the lady replied, "You are too much aman of the world not to see with the eyes of the world. If other peoplethink Sotherton improved, I have no doubt that you will."

  "I am afraid I am not quite so much the man of the world as might begood for me in some points. My feelings are not quite so evanescent, normy memory of the past under such easy dominion as one finds to be thecase with men of the world."

  This was followed by a short silence. Miss Bertram began again. "Youseemed to enjoy your drive here very much this morning. I was glad tosee you so well entertained. You and Julia were laughing the whole way."

  "Were we? Yes, I believe we were; but I have not the least recollectionat what. Oh! I believe I was relating to her some ridiculous stories ofan old Irish groom of my uncle's. Your sister loves to laugh."

  "You think her more light-hearted than I am?"

  "More easily amused," he replied; "consequently, you know," smiling,"better company. I could not have hoped to entertain you with Irishanecdotes during a ten miles' drive."

  "Naturally, I believe, I am as lively as Julia, but I have more to thinkof now."

  "You have, undoubtedly; and there are situations in which very highspirits would denote insensibility. Your prospects, however, are toofair to justify want of spirits. You have a very smiling scene beforeyou."

  "Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally, I conclude. Yes,certainly, the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. Butunluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint andhardship. 'I cannot get out,' as the starling said." As she spoke, andit was with expression, she walked to the gate: he followed her. "Mr.Rushworth is so long fetching this key!"

  "And for the world you would not get out without the key and without Mr.Rushworth's authority and protection, or I think you might with littledifficulty pass round the edge of the gate, here, with my assistance;I think it might be done, if you really wished to be more at large, andcould allow yourself to think it not prohibited."

  "Prohibited! nonsense! I certainly can get out that way, and I will.Mr. Rushworth will be here in a moment, you know; we shall not be out ofsight."

  "Or if we are, Miss Price will be so good as to tell him that he willfind us near that knoll: the grove of oak on the knoll."

  Fanny, feeling all this to be wrong, could not help making an effort toprevent it. "You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram," she cried; "you willcertainly hurt yourself against those spikes; you will tear your gown;you will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha. You had better notgo."

  Her cousin was safe on the other side while these words were spoken,and, smiling with all the good-humour of success, she said, "Thank you,my dear Fanny, but I and my gown are alive and well, and so good-bye."

  Fanny was again left to her solitude, and with no increase of pleasantfeelings, for she was sorry for almost all that she had seen and heard,astonished at Miss Bertram, and angry with Mr. Crawford. By takinga circuitous route, and, as it appeared to her, very unreasonabledirection to the knoll, they were soon beyond her eye; and for someminutes longer she remained without sight or sound of any companion.She seemed to have the little wood all to herself. She could almosthave thought that Edmund and Miss Crawford had left it, but that it wasimpossible for Edmund to forget her so entirely.

  She was again roused from disagreeable musings by sudden footsteps:somebody was coming at a quick pace down the principal walk. Sheexpected Mr. Rushworth, but it was Julia, who, hot and out of breath,and with a look of disappointment, cried out on seeing her, "Heyday!Where are the others? I thought Maria and Mr. Crawford were with you."

  Fanny explained.

  "A pretty trick, upon my word! I cannot see them anywhere," lookingeagerly into the park. "But they cannot be very far off, and I think Iam equal to as much as Maria, even without help."

  "But, Julia, Mr. Rushworth will be here in a moment with the key. Dowait for Mr. Rushworth."

  "Not I, indeed. I have had enough of the family for one morning. Why,child, I have but this moment escaped from his horrible mother. Such apenance as I have been enduring, while you were sitting here so composedand so happy! It might have been as well, perhaps, if you had been in myplace, but you always contrive to keep out of these scrapes."

  This was a most unjust reflection, but Fanny could allow for it, and letit pass: Julia was vexed, and her temper was hasty; but she felt that itwould not last, and therefore, taking no notice, only asked her if shehad not seen Mr. Rushworth.

  "Yes, yes, we saw him. He was posting away as if upon life and death,and could but just spare time to tell us his errand, and where you allwere."

  "It is a pity he should have so much trouble for nothing."

  "_That_ is Miss Maria's concern. I am not obliged to punish myself for_her_ sins. The mother I could not avoid, as long as my tiresome auntwas dancing about with the housekeeper, but the son I _can_ get awayfrom."

  And she immediately scrambled across the fence, and walked away, notattending to Fanny's last question of whether she had seen anything ofMiss Crawford and Edmund. The sort of dread in which Fanny now sat ofseeing Mr. Rushworth prevented her thinking so much of their continuedabsence, however, as she might have done. She felt that he had beenvery ill-used, and was quite unhappy in having to communicate what hadpassed. He joined her within five minutes after Julia's
exit; andthough she made the best of the story, he was evidently mortified anddispleased in no common degree. At first he scarcely said anything; hislooks only expressed his extreme surprise and vexation, and he walked tothe gate and stood there, without seeming to know what to do.

  "They desired me to stay--my cousin Maria charged me to say that youwould find them at that knoll, or thereabouts."

  "I do not believe I shall go any farther," said he sullenly; "I seenothing of them. By the time I get to the knoll they may be gonesomewhere else. I have had walking enough."

  And he sat down with a most gloomy countenance by Fanny.

  "I am very sorry," said she; "it is very unlucky." And she longed to beable to say something more to the purpose.

  After an interval of silence, "I think they might as well have staid forme," said he.

  "Miss Bertram thought you would follow her."

  "I should not have had to follow her if she had staid."

  This could not be denied, and Fanny was silenced. After another pause,he went on--"Pray, Miss Price, are you such a great admirer of this Mr.Crawford as some people are? For my part, I can see nothing in him."

  "I do not think him at all handsome."

  "Handsome! Nobody can call such an undersized man handsome. He is notfive foot nine. I should not wonder if he is not more than five footeight. I think he is an ill-looking fellow. In my opinion, theseCrawfords are no addition at all. We did very well without them."

  A small sigh escaped Fanny here, and she did not know how to contradicthim.

  "If I had made any difficulty about fetching the key, there might havebeen some excuse, but I went the very moment she said she wanted it."

  "Nothing could be more obliging than your manner, I am sure, and I daresay you walked as fast as you could; but still it is some distance, youknow, from this spot to the house, quite into the house; and when peopleare waiting, they are bad judges of time, and every half minute seemslike five."

  He got up and walked to the gate again, and "wished he had had the keyabout him at the time." Fanny thought she discerned in his standingthere an indication of relenting, which encouraged her to anotherattempt, and she said, therefore, "It is a pity you should not jointhem. They expected to have a better view of the house from that partof the park, and will be thinking how it may be improved; and nothing ofthat sort, you know, can be settled without you."

  She found herself more successful in sending away than in retaining acompanion. Mr. Rushworth was worked on. "Well," said he, "if youreally think I had better go: it would be foolish to bring the keyfor nothing." And letting himself out, he walked off without fartherceremony.

  Fanny's thoughts were now all engrossed by the two who had left her solong ago, and getting quite impatient, she resolved to go in searchof them. She followed their steps along the bottom walk, and had justturned up into another, when the voice and the laugh of Miss Crawfordonce more caught her ear; the sound approached, and a few more windingsbrought them before her. They were just returned into the wildernessfrom the park, to which a sidegate, not fastened, had tempted them verysoon after their leaving her, and they had been across a portion of thepark into the very avenue which Fanny had been hoping the whole morningto reach at last, and had been sitting down under one of the trees. Thiswas their history. It was evident that they had been spending their timepleasantly, and were not aware of the length of their absence. Fanny'sbest consolation was in being assured that Edmund had wished for hervery much, and that he should certainly have come back for her, had shenot been tired already; but this was not quite sufficient to do awaywith the pain of having been left a whole hour, when he had talked ofonly a few minutes, nor to banish the sort of curiosity she felt to knowwhat they had been conversing about all that time; and the result ofthe whole was to her disappointment and depression, as they prepared bygeneral agreement to return to the house.

  On reaching the bottom of the steps to the terrace, Mrs. Rushworthand Mrs. Norris presented themselves at the top, just ready for thewilderness, at the end of an hour and a half from their leaving thehouse. Mrs. Norris had been too well employed to move faster. Whatevercross-accidents had occurred to intercept the pleasures of her nieces,she had found a morning of complete enjoyment; for the housekeeper,after a great many courtesies on the subject of pheasants, had taken herto the dairy, told her all about their cows, and given her the receiptfor a famous cream cheese; and since Julia's leaving them they hadbeen met by the gardener, with whom she had made a most satisfactoryacquaintance, for she had set him right as to his grandson's illness,convinced him that it was an ague, and promised him a charm for it; andhe, in return, had shewn her all his choicest nursery of plants, andactually presented her with a very curious specimen of heath.

  On this _rencontre_ they all returned to the house together, thereto lounge away the time as they could with sofas, and chit-chat, andQuarterly Reviews, till the return of the others, and the arrival ofdinner. It was late before the Miss Bertrams and the two gentlemen camein, and their ramble did not appear to have been more than partiallyagreeable, or at all productive of anything useful with regard to theobject of the day. By their own accounts they had been all walking aftereach other, and the junction which had taken place at last seemed, toFanny's observation, to have been as much too late for re-establishingharmony, as it confessedly had been for determining on any alteration.She felt, as she looked at Julia and Mr. Rushworth, that hers was notthe only dissatisfied bosom amongst them: there was gloom on the face ofeach. Mr. Crawford and Miss Bertram were much more gay, and she thoughtthat he was taking particular pains, during dinner, to do away anylittle resentment of the other two, and restore general good-humour.

  Dinner was soon followed by tea and coffee, a ten miles' drive homeallowed no waste of hours; and from the time of their sitting down totable, it was a quick succession of busy nothings till the carriage cameto the door, and Mrs. Norris, having fidgeted about, and obtained afew pheasants' eggs and a cream cheese from the housekeeper, and madeabundance of civil speeches to Mrs. Rushworth, was ready to lead theway. At the same moment Mr. Crawford, approaching Julia, said, "I hope Iam not to lose my companion, unless she is afraid of the evening airin so exposed a seat." The request had not been foreseen, but was verygraciously received, and Julia's day was likely to end almost as well asit began. Miss Bertram had made up her mind to something different, andwas a little disappointed; but her conviction of being really theone preferred comforted her under it, and enabled her to receive Mr.Rushworth's parting attentions as she ought. He was certainly betterpleased to hand her into the barouche than to assist her in ascendingthe box, and his complacency seemed confirmed by the arrangement.

  "Well, Fanny, this has been a fine day for you, upon my word," saidMrs. Norris, as they drove through the park. "Nothing but pleasure frombeginning to end! I am sure you ought to be very much obliged to youraunt Bertram and me for contriving to let you go. A pretty good day'samusement you have had!"

  Maria was just discontented enough to say directly, "I think _you_ havedone pretty well yourself, ma'am. Your lap seems full of good things,and here is a basket of something between us which has been knocking myelbow unmercifully."

  "My dear, it is only a beautiful little heath, which that nice oldgardener would make me take; but if it is in your way, I will have it inmy lap directly. There, Fanny, you shall carry that parcel for me; takegreat care of it: do not let it fall; it is a cream cheese, just likethe excellent one we had at dinner. Nothing would satisfy that good oldMrs. Whitaker, but my taking one of the cheeses. I stood out as longas I could, till the tears almost came into her eyes, and I knew it wasjust the sort that my sister would be delighted with. That Mrs. Whitakeris a treasure! She was quite shocked when I asked her whether wine wasallowed at the second table, and she has turned away two housemaids forwearing white gowns. Take care of the cheese, Fanny. Now I can managethe other parcel and the basket very well."

  "What else have you been spunging?" said Maria, half-pleas
ed thatSotherton should be so complimented.

  "Spunging, my dear! It is nothing but four of those beautiful pheasants'eggs, which Mrs. Whitaker would quite force upon me: she would not takea denial. She said it must be such an amusement to me, as she understoodI lived quite alone, to have a few living creatures of that sort; andso to be sure it will. I shall get the dairymaid to set them under thefirst spare hen, and if they come to good I can have them moved to myown house and borrow a coop; and it will be a great delight to me inmy lonely hours to attend to them. And if I have good luck, your mothershall have some."

  It was a beautiful evening, mild and still, and the drive was aspleasant as the serenity of Nature could make it; but when Mrs. Norrisceased speaking, it was altogether a silent drive to those within. Theirspirits were in general exhausted; and to determine whether the day hadafforded most pleasure or pain, might occupy the meditations of almostall.

 
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