Mansfield park, p.16
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Mansfield Park, p.16

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XVI

  It was not in Miss Crawford's power to talk Fanny into any realforgetfulness of what had passed. When the evening was over, she went tobed full of it, her nerves still agitated by the shock of such an attackfrom her cousin Tom, so public and so persevered in, and her spiritssinking under her aunt's unkind reflection and reproach. To be calledinto notice in such a manner, to hear that it was but the prelude tosomething so infinitely worse, to be told that she must do what wasso impossible as to act; and then to have the charge of obstinacy andingratitude follow it, enforced with such a hint at the dependenceof her situation, had been too distressing at the time to make theremembrance when she was alone much less so, especially with thesuperadded dread of what the morrow might produce in continuation of thesubject. Miss Crawford had protected her only for the time; and ifshe were applied to again among themselves with all the authoritativeurgency that Tom and Maria were capable of, and Edmund perhaps away,what should she do? She fell asleep before she could answer thequestion, and found it quite as puzzling when she awoke the nextmorning. The little white attic, which had continued her sleeping-roomever since her first entering the family, proving incompetent to suggestany reply, she had recourse, as soon as she was dressed, to anotherapartment more spacious and more meet for walking about in and thinking,and of which she had now for some time been almost equally mistress. Ithad been their school-room; so called till the Miss Bertrams would notallow it to be called so any longer, and inhabited as such to a laterperiod. There Miss Lee had lived, and there they had read and written,and talked and laughed, till within the last three years, when she hadquitted them. The room had then become useless, and for some time wasquite deserted, except by Fanny, when she visited her plants, or wantedone of the books, which she was still glad to keep there, from thedeficiency of space and accommodation in her little chamber above: butgradually, as her value for the comforts of it increased, she had addedto her possessions, and spent more of her time there; and having nothingto oppose her, had so naturally and so artlessly worked herself into it,that it was now generally admitted to be hers. The East room, as it hadbeen called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now consideredFanny's, almost as decidedly as the white attic: the smallness of theone making the use of the other so evidently reasonable that the MissBertrams, with every superiority in their own apartments which their ownsense of superiority could demand, were entirely approving it; and Mrs.Norris, having stipulated for there never being a fire in it on Fanny'saccount, was tolerably resigned to her having the use of what nobodyelse wanted, though the terms in which she sometimes spoke of theindulgence seemed to imply that it was the best room in the house.

  The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire it was habitablein many an early spring and late autumn morning to such a willing mindas Fanny's; and while there was a gleam of sunshine she hoped not to bedriven from it entirely, even when winter came. The comfort of it inher hours of leisure was extreme. She could go there after anythingunpleasant below, and find immediate consolation in some pursuit, orsome train of thought at hand. Her plants, her books--of which she hadbeen a collector from the first hour of her commanding a shilling--herwriting-desk, and her works of charity and ingenuity, were all withinher reach; or if indisposed for employment, if nothing but musing woulddo, she could scarcely see an object in that room which had not aninteresting remembrance connected with it. Everything was a friend, orbore her thoughts to a friend; and though there had been sometimes muchof suffering to her; though her motives had often been misunderstood,her feelings disregarded, and her comprehension undervalued; though shehad known the pains of tyranny, of ridicule, and neglect, yet almostevery recurrence of either had led to something consolatory: her auntBertram had spoken for her, or Miss Lee had been encouraging, or, whatwas yet more frequent or more dear, Edmund had been her champion and herfriend: he had supported her cause or explained her meaning, he had toldher not to cry, or had given her some proof of affection which madeher tears delightful; and the whole was now so blended together, soharmonised by distance, that every former affliction had its charm. Theroom was most dear to her, and she would not have changed its furniturefor the handsomest in the house, though what had been originally plainhad suffered all the ill-usage of children; and its greatest eleganciesand ornaments were a faded footstool of Julia's work, too ill donefor the drawing-room, three transparencies, made in a rage fortransparencies, for the three lower panes of one window, where TinternAbbey held its station between a cave in Italy and a moonlight lake inCumberland, a collection of family profiles, thought unworthy of beinganywhere else, over the mantelpiece, and by their side, and pinnedagainst the wall, a small sketch of a ship sent four years ago from theMediterranean by William, with H.M.S. Antwerp at the bottom, in lettersas tall as the mainmast.

  To this nest of comforts Fanny now walked down to try its influence onan agitated, doubting spirit, to see if by looking at Edmund's profileshe could catch any of his counsel, or by giving air to her geraniumsshe might inhale a breeze of mental strength herself. But she had morethan fears of her own perseverance to remove: she had begun to feelundecided as to what she _ought_ _to_ _do_; and as she walked round theroom her doubts were increasing. Was she _right_ in refusing what wasso warmly asked, so strongly wished for--what might be so essential to ascheme on which some of those to whom she owed the greatest complaisancehad set their hearts? Was it not ill-nature, selfishness, and a fear ofexposing herself? And would Edmund's judgment, would his persuasion ofSir Thomas's disapprobation of the whole, be enough to justify her in adetermined denial in spite of all the rest? It would be so horrible toher to act that she was inclined to suspect the truth and purity of herown scruples; and as she looked around her, the claims of her cousinsto being obliged were strengthened by the sight of present upon presentthat she had received from them. The table between the windows wascovered with work-boxes and netting-boxes which had been given her atdifferent times, principally by Tom; and she grew bewildered as to theamount of the debt which all these kind remembrances produced. A tap atthe door roused her in the midst of this attempt to find her way to herduty, and her gentle "Come in" was answered by the appearance of one,before whom all her doubts were wont to be laid. Her eyes brightened atthe sight of Edmund.

  "Can I speak with you, Fanny, for a few minutes?" said he.

  "Yes, certainly."

  "I want to consult. I want your opinion."

  "My opinion!" she cried, shrinking from such a compliment, highly as itgratified her.

  "Yes, your advice and opinion. I do not know what to do. This actingscheme gets worse and worse, you see. They have chosen almost as bad aplay as they could, and now, to complete the business, are going to askthe help of a young man very slightly known to any of us. This is theend of all the privacy and propriety which was talked about at first.I know no harm of Charles Maddox; but the excessive intimacy whichmust spring from his being admitted among us in this manner is highlyobjectionable, the _more_ than intimacy--the familiarity. I cannotthink of it with any patience; and it does appear to me an evil of suchmagnitude as must, _if_ _possible_, be prevented. Do not you see it inthe same light?"

  "Yes; but what can be done? Your brother is so determined."

  "There is but _one_ thing to be done, Fanny. I must take Anhalt myself.I am well aware that nothing else will quiet Tom."

  Fanny could not answer him.

  "It is not at all what I like," he continued. "No man can like beingdriven into the _appearance_ of such inconsistency. After being known tooppose the scheme from the beginning, there is absurdity in the face ofmy joining them _now_, when they are exceeding their first plan in everyrespect; but I can think of no other alternative. Can you, Fanny?"

  "No," said Fanny slowly, "not immediately, but--"

  "But what? I see your judgment is not with me. Think it a little over.Perhaps you are not so much aware as I am of the mischief that _may_, ofthe unpleasantness that _must_ arise from a young man's being receive
din this manner: domesticated among us; authorised to come at all hours,and placed suddenly on a footing which must do away all restraints. Tothink only of the licence which every rehearsal must tend to create. Itis all very bad! Put yourself in Miss Crawford's place, Fanny. Considerwhat it would be to act Amelia with a stranger. She has a right to befelt for, because she evidently feels for herself. I heard enough ofwhat she said to you last night to understand her unwillingness to beacting with a stranger; and as she probably engaged in the part withdifferent expectations--perhaps without considering the subject enoughto know what was likely to be--it would be ungenerous, it would bereally wrong to expose her to it. Her feelings ought to be respected.Does it not strike you so, Fanny? You hesitate."

  "I am sorry for Miss Crawford; but I am more sorry to see you drawn into do what you had resolved against, and what you are known to thinkwill be disagreeable to my uncle. It will be such a triumph to theothers!"

  "They will not have much cause of triumph when they see how infamously Iact. But, however, triumph there certainly will be, and I must brave it.But if I can be the means of restraining the publicity of the business,of limiting the exhibition, of concentrating our folly, I shall bewell repaid. As I am now, I have no influence, I can do nothing: I haveoffended them, and they will not hear me; but when I have put them ingood-humour by this concession, I am not without hopes of persuadingthem to confine the representation within a much smaller circle thanthey are now in the high road for. This will be a material gain. Myobject is to confine it to Mrs. Rushworth and the Grants. Will not thisbe worth gaining?"

  "Yes, it will be a great point."

  "But still it has not your approbation. Can you mention any othermeasure by which I have a chance of doing equal good?"

  "No, I cannot think of anything else."

  "Give me your approbation, then, Fanny. I am not comfortable withoutit."

  "Oh, cousin!"

  "If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself, and yet--But it isabsolutely impossible to let Tom go on in this way, riding about thecountry in quest of anybody who can be persuaded to act--no matter whom:the look of a gentleman is to be enough. I thought _you_ would haveentered more into Miss Crawford's feelings."

  "No doubt she will be very glad. It must be a great relief to her," saidFanny, trying for greater warmth of manner.

  "She never appeared more amiable than in her behaviour to you lastnight. It gave her a very strong claim on my goodwill."

  "She _was_ very kind, indeed, and I am glad to have her spared"...

  She could not finish the generous effusion. Her conscience stopt her inthe middle, but Edmund was satisfied.

  "I shall walk down immediately after breakfast," said he, "and am sureof giving pleasure there. And now, dear Fanny, I will not interrupt youany longer. You want to be reading. But I could not be easy till I hadspoken to you, and come to a decision. Sleeping or waking, my head hasbeen full of this matter all night. It is an evil, but I am certainlymaking it less than it might be. If Tom is up, I shall go to himdirectly and get it over, and when we meet at breakfast we shall be allin high good-humour at the prospect of acting the fool together withsuch unanimity. _You_, in the meanwhile, will be taking a trip intoChina, I suppose. How does Lord Macartney go on?"--opening a volume onthe table and then taking up some others. "And here are Crabbe's Tales,and the Idler, at hand to relieve you, if you tire of your great book. Iadmire your little establishment exceedingly; and as soon as I amgone, you will empty your head of all this nonsense of acting, and sitcomfortably down to your table. But do not stay here to be cold."

  He went; but there was no reading, no China, no composure for Fanny. Hehad told her the most extraordinary, the most inconceivable, the mostunwelcome news; and she could think of nothing else. To be acting! Afterall his objections--objections so just and so public! After all that shehad heard him say, and seen him look, and known him to be feeling. Couldit be possible? Edmund so inconsistent! Was he not deceiving himself?Was he not wrong? Alas! it was all Miss Crawford's doing. She had seenher influence in every speech, and was miserable. The doubts and alarmsas to her own conduct, which had previously distressed her, andwhich had all slept while she listened to him, were become of littleconsequence now. This deeper anxiety swallowed them up. Things shouldtake their course; she cared not how it ended. Her cousins might attack,but could hardly tease her. She was beyond their reach; and if at lastobliged to yield--no matter--it was all misery now.