Mansfield park, p.19
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       Mansfield Park, p.19

           Jane Austen
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  How is the consternation of the party to be described? To the greaternumber it was a moment of absolute horror. Sir Thomas in the house! Allfelt the instantaneous conviction. Not a hope of imposition or mistakewas harboured anywhere. Julia's looks were an evidence of the fact thatmade it indisputable; and after the first starts and exclamations, not aword was spoken for half a minute: each with an altered countenance waslooking at some other, and almost each was feeling it a stroke the mostunwelcome, most ill-timed, most appalling! Mr. Yates might considerit only as a vexatious interruption for the evening, and Mr. Rushworthmight imagine it a blessing; but every other heart was sinking undersome degree of self-condemnation or undefined alarm, every other heartwas suggesting, "What will become of us? what is to be done now?" Itwas a terrible pause; and terrible to every ear were the corroboratingsounds of opening doors and passing footsteps.

  Julia was the first to move and speak again. Jealousy and bitternesshad been suspended: selfishness was lost in the common cause; but at themoment of her appearance, Frederick was listening with looks of devotionto Agatha's narrative, and pressing her hand to his heart; and as soonas she could notice this, and see that, in spite of the shock of herwords, he still kept his station and retained her sister's hand, herwounded heart swelled again with injury, and looking as red as she hadbeen white before, she turned out of the room, saying, "_I_ need not beafraid of appearing before him."

  Her going roused the rest; and at the same moment the two brothersstepped forward, feeling the necessity of doing something. A very fewwords between them were sufficient. The case admitted no difference ofopinion: they must go to the drawing-room directly. Maria joined themwith the same intent, just then the stoutest of the three; for thevery circumstance which had driven Julia away was to her the sweetestsupport. Henry Crawford's retaining her hand at such a moment, a momentof such peculiar proof and importance, was worth ages of doubt andanxiety. She hailed it as an earnest of the most serious determination,and was equal even to encounter her father. They walked off, utterlyheedless of Mr. Rushworth's repeated question of, "Shall I go too? Hadnot I better go too? Will not it be right for me to go too?" but theywere no sooner through the door than Henry Crawford undertook to answerthe anxious inquiry, and, encouraging him by all means to pay hisrespects to Sir Thomas without delay, sent him after the others withdelighted haste.

  Fanny was left with only the Crawfords and Mr. Yates. She had been quiteoverlooked by her cousins; and as her own opinion of her claims on SirThomas's affection was much too humble to give her any idea of classingherself with his children, she was glad to remain behind and gain alittle breathing-time. Her agitation and alarm exceeded all that wasendured by the rest, by the right of a disposition which not eveninnocence could keep from suffering. She was nearly fainting: all herformer habitual dread of her uncle was returning, and with it compassionfor him and for almost every one of the party on the development beforehim, with solicitude on Edmund's account indescribable. She had founda seat, where in excessive trembling she was enduring all these fearfulthoughts, while the other three, no longer under any restraint, weregiving vent to their feelings of vexation, lamenting over such anunlooked-for premature arrival as a most untoward event, and withoutmercy wishing poor Sir Thomas had been twice as long on his passage, orwere still in Antigua.

  The Crawfords were more warm on the subject than Mr. Yates, from betterunderstanding the family, and judging more clearly of the mischief thatmust ensue. The ruin of the play was to them a certainty: they feltthe total destruction of the scheme to be inevitably at hand; while Mr.Yates considered it only as a temporary interruption, a disaster for theevening, and could even suggest the possibility of the rehearsal beingrenewed after tea, when the bustle of receiving Sir Thomas were over,and he might be at leisure to be amused by it. The Crawfords laughedat the idea; and having soon agreed on the propriety of their walkingquietly home and leaving the family to themselves, proposed Mr. Yates'saccompanying them and spending the evening at the Parsonage. But Mr.Yates, having never been with those who thought much of parental claims,or family confidence, could not perceive that anything of the kind wasnecessary; and therefore, thanking them, said, "he preferred remainingwhere he was, that he might pay his respects to the old gentlemanhandsomely since he _was_ come; and besides, he did not think it wouldbe fair by the others to have everybody run away."

  Fanny was just beginning to collect herself, and to feel that if shestaid longer behind it might seem disrespectful, when this point wassettled, and being commissioned with the brother and sister's apology,saw them preparing to go as she quitted the room herself to perform thedreadful duty of appearing before her uncle.

  Too soon did she find herself at the drawing-room door; and afterpausing a moment for what she knew would not come, for a courage whichthe outside of no door had ever supplied to her, she turned the lock indesperation, and the lights of the drawing-room, and all the collectedfamily, were before her. As she entered, her own name caught her ear.Sir Thomas was at that moment looking round him, and saying, "But whereis Fanny? Why do not I see my little Fanny?"--and on perceiving her,came forward with a kindness which astonished and penetrated her,calling her his dear Fanny, kissing her affectionately, and observingwith decided pleasure how much she was grown! Fanny knew not how tofeel, nor where to look. She was quite oppressed. He had never been sokind, so _very_ kind to her in his life. His manner seemed changed, hisvoice was quick from the agitation of joy; and all that had been awfulin his dignity seemed lost in tenderness. He led her nearer the lightand looked at her again--inquired particularly after her health, andthen, correcting himself, observed that he need not inquire, forher appearance spoke sufficiently on that point. A fine blush havingsucceeded the previous paleness of her face, he was justified in hisbelief of her equal improvement in health and beauty. He inquired nextafter her family, especially William: and his kindness altogether wassuch as made her reproach herself for loving him so little, and thinkinghis return a misfortune; and when, on having courage to lift her eyes tohis face, she saw that he was grown thinner, and had the burnt, fagged,worn look of fatigue and a hot climate, every tender feeling wasincreased, and she was miserable in considering how much unsuspectedvexation was probably ready to burst on him.

  Sir Thomas was indeed the life of the party, who at his suggestionnow seated themselves round the fire. He had the best right to be thetalker; and the delight of his sensations in being again in his ownhouse, in the centre of his family, after such a separation, made himcommunicative and chatty in a very unusual degree; and he was ready togive every information as to his voyage, and answer every questionof his two sons almost before it was put. His business in Antigua hadlatterly been prosperously rapid, and he came directly from Liverpool,having had an opportunity of making his passage thither in a privatevessel, instead of waiting for the packet; and all the littleparticulars of his proceedings and events, his arrivals and departures,were most promptly delivered, as he sat by Lady Bertram and looked withheartfelt satisfaction on the faces around him--interrupting himselfmore than once, however, to remark on his good fortune in finding themall at home--coming unexpectedly as he did--all collected togetherexactly as he could have wished, but dared not depend on. Mr. Rushworthwas not forgotten: a most friendly reception and warmth of hand-shakinghad already met him, and with pointed attention he was now included inthe objects most intimately connected with Mansfield. There was nothingdisagreeable in Mr. Rushworth's appearance, and Sir Thomas was likinghim already.

  By not one of the circle was he listened to with such unbroken,unalloyed enjoyment as by his wife, who was really extremely happy tosee him, and whose feelings were so warmed by his sudden arrival as toplace her nearer agitation than she had been for the last twenty years.She had been _almost_ fluttered for a few minutes, and still remained sosensibly animated as to put away her work, move Pug from her side, andgive all her attention and all the rest of her sofa to her husband. Shehad no anxieties for a
nybody to cloud _her_ pleasure: her own time hadbeen irreproachably spent during his absence: she had done a greatdeal of carpet-work, and made many yards of fringe; and she would haveanswered as freely for the good conduct and useful pursuits of allthe young people as for her own. It was so agreeable to her to seehim again, and hear him talk, to have her ear amused and her wholecomprehension filled by his narratives, that she began particularlyto feel how dreadfully she must have missed him, and how impossible itwould have been for her to bear a lengthened absence.

  Mrs. Norris was by no means to be compared in happiness to hersister. Not that _she_ was incommoded by many fears of Sir Thomas'sdisapprobation when the present state of his house should be known, forher judgment had been so blinded that, except by the instinctive cautionwith which she had whisked away Mr. Rushworth's pink satin cloak as herbrother-in-law entered, she could hardly be said to shew any sign ofalarm; but she was vexed by the _manner_ of his return. It had left hernothing to do. Instead of being sent for out of the room, and seeinghim first, and having to spread the happy news through the house, SirThomas, with a very reasonable dependence, perhaps, on the nerves of hiswife and children, had sought no confidant but the butler, and had beenfollowing him almost instantaneously into the drawing-room. Mrs. Norrisfelt herself defrauded of an office on which she had always depended,whether his arrival or his death were to be the thing unfolded; and wasnow trying to be in a bustle without having anything to bustle about,and labouring to be important where nothing was wanted but tranquillityand silence. Would Sir Thomas have consented to eat, she might have goneto the housekeeper with troublesome directions, and insulted the footmenwith injunctions of despatch; but Sir Thomas resolutely declined alldinner: he would take nothing, nothing till tea came--he would ratherwait for tea. Still Mrs. Norris was at intervals urging somethingdifferent; and in the most interesting moment of his passage to England,when the alarm of a French privateer was at the height, she burstthrough his recital with the proposal of soup. "Sure, my dear SirThomas, a basin of soup would be a much better thing for you than tea.Do have a basin of soup."

  Sir Thomas could not be provoked. "Still the same anxiety foreverybody's comfort, my dear Mrs. Norris," was his answer. "But indeed Iwould rather have nothing but tea."

  "Well, then, Lady Bertram, suppose you speak for tea directly; supposeyou hurry Baddeley a little; he seems behindhand to-night." She carriedthis point, and Sir Thomas's narrative proceeded.

  At length there was a pause. His immediate communications wereexhausted, and it seemed enough to be looking joyfully around him, nowat one, now at another of the beloved circle; but the pause was notlong: in the elation of her spirits Lady Bertram became talkative, andwhat were the sensations of her children upon hearing her say, "Howdo you think the young people have been amusing themselves lately, SirThomas? They have been acting. We have been all alive with acting."

  "Indeed! and what have you been acting?"

  "Oh! they'll tell you all about it."

  "The _all_ will soon be told," cried Tom hastily, and with affectedunconcern; "but it is not worth while to bore my father with it now. Youwill hear enough of it to-morrow, sir. We have just been trying, by wayof doing something, and amusing my mother, just within the last week,to get up a few scenes, a mere trifle. We have had such incessant rainsalmost since October began, that we have been nearly confined to thehouse for days together. I have hardly taken out a gun since the 3rd.Tolerable sport the first three days, but there has been no attemptinganything since. The first day I went over Mansfield Wood, and Edmundtook the copses beyond Easton, and we brought home six brace betweenus, and might each have killed six times as many, but we respect yourpheasants, sir, I assure you, as much as you could desire. I do notthink you will find your woods by any means worse stocked than theywere. _I_ never saw Mansfield Wood so full of pheasants in my lifeas this year. I hope you will take a day's sport there yourself, sir,soon."

  For the present the danger was over, and Fanny's sick feelings subsided;but when tea was soon afterwards brought in, and Sir Thomas, getting up,said that he found that he could not be any longer in the house withoutjust looking into his own dear room, every agitation was returning. Hewas gone before anything had been said to prepare him for the change hemust find there; and a pause of alarm followed his disappearance. Edmundwas the first to speak--

  "Something must be done," said he.

  "It is time to think of our visitors," said Maria, still feeling herhand pressed to Henry Crawford's heart, and caring little for anythingelse. "Where did you leave Miss Crawford, Fanny?"

  Fanny told of their departure, and delivered their message.

  "Then poor Yates is all alone," cried Tom. "I will go and fetch him. Hewill be no bad assistant when it all comes out."

  To the theatre he went, and reached it just in time to witness the firstmeeting of his father and his friend. Sir Thomas had been a good dealsurprised to find candles burning in his room; and on casting his eyeround it, to see other symptoms of recent habitation and a general airof confusion in the furniture. The removal of the bookcase from beforethe billiard-room door struck him especially, but he had scarcely morethan time to feel astonished at all this, before there were sounds fromthe billiard-room to astonish him still farther. Some one was talkingthere in a very loud accent; he did not know the voice--more thantalking--almost hallooing. He stepped to the door, rejoicing at thatmoment in having the means of immediate communication, and, opening it,found himself on the stage of a theatre, and opposed to a ranting youngman, who appeared likely to knock him down backwards. At the very momentof Yates perceiving Sir Thomas, and giving perhaps the very best starthe had ever given in the whole course of his rehearsals, Tom Bertramentered at the other end of the room; and never had he found greaterdifficulty in keeping his countenance. His father's looks of solemnityand amazement on this his first appearance on any stage, and the gradualmetamorphosis of the impassioned Baron Wildenheim into the well-bred andeasy Mr. Yates, making his bow and apology to Sir Thomas Bertram, wassuch an exhibition, such a piece of true acting, as he would not havelost upon any account. It would be the last--in all probability--thelast scene on that stage; but he was sure there could not be a finer.The house would close with the greatest eclat.

  There was little time, however, for the indulgence of any images ofmerriment. It was necessary for him to step forward, too, and assistthe introduction, and with many awkward sensations he did his best. SirThomas received Mr. Yates with all the appearance of cordiality whichwas due to his own character, but was really as far from pleasedwith the necessity of the acquaintance as with the manner of itscommencement. Mr. Yates's family and connexions were sufficiently knownto him to render his introduction as the "particular friend," another ofthe hundred particular friends of his son, exceedingly unwelcome; and itneeded all the felicity of being again at home, and all the forbearanceit could supply, to save Sir Thomas from anger on finding himself thusbewildered in his own house, making part of a ridiculous exhibition inthe midst of theatrical nonsense, and forced in so untoward a moment toadmit the acquaintance of a young man whom he felt sure of disapproving,and whose easy indifference and volubility in the course of the firstfive minutes seemed to mark him the most at home of the two.

  Tom understood his father's thoughts, and heartily wishing he might bealways as well disposed to give them but partial expression, began tosee, more clearly than he had ever done before, that there might be someground of offence, that there might be some reason for the glance hisfather gave towards the ceiling and stucco of the room; and that when heinquired with mild gravity after the fate of the billiard-table, he wasnot proceeding beyond a very allowable curiosity. A few minutes wereenough for such unsatisfactory sensations on each side; and SirThomas having exerted himself so far as to speak a few words ofcalm approbation in reply to an eager appeal of Mr. Yates, as to thehappiness of the arrangement, the three gentlemen returned to thedrawing-room together, Sir Thomas with an increase of gravity which wasnot los
t on all.

  "I come from your theatre," said he composedly, as he sat down; "I foundmyself in it rather unexpectedly. Its vicinity to my own room--but inevery respect, indeed, it took me by surprise, as I had not the smallestsuspicion of your acting having assumed so serious a character. Itappears a neat job, however, as far as I could judge by candlelight,and does my friend Christopher Jackson credit." And then he wouldhave changed the subject, and sipped his coffee in peace over domesticmatters of a calmer hue; but Mr. Yates, without discernment to catch SirThomas's meaning, or diffidence, or delicacy, or discretion enough toallow him to lead the discourse while he mingled among the others withthe least obtrusiveness himself, would keep him on the topic of thetheatre, would torment him with questions and remarks relative to it,and finally would make him hear the whole history of his disappointmentat Ecclesford. Sir Thomas listened most politely, but found much tooffend his ideas of decorum, and confirm his ill-opinion of Mr. Yates'shabits of thinking, from the beginning to the end of the story; and whenit was over, could give him no other assurance of sympathy than what aslight bow conveyed.

  "This was, in fact, the origin of _our_ acting," said Tom, aftera moment's thought. "My friend Yates brought the infection fromEcclesford, and it spread--as those things always spread, you know,sir--the faster, probably, from _your_ having so often encouraged thesort of thing in us formerly. It was like treading old ground again."

  Mr. Yates took the subject from his friend as soon as possible, andimmediately gave Sir Thomas an account of what they had done and weredoing: told him of the gradual increase of their views, the happyconclusion of their first difficulties, and present promising state ofaffairs; relating everything with so blind an interest as made him notonly totally unconscious of the uneasy movements of many of hisfriends as they sat, the change of countenance, the fidget, the hem! ofunquietness, but prevented him even from seeing the expression of theface on which his own eyes were fixed--from seeing Sir Thomas's darkbrow contract as he looked with inquiring earnestness at his daughtersand Edmund, dwelling particularly on the latter, and speaking alanguage, a remonstrance, a reproof, which _he_ felt at his heart. Notless acutely was it felt by Fanny, who had edged back her chair behindher aunt's end of the sofa, and, screened from notice herself, saw allthat was passing before her. Such a look of reproach at Edmund from hisfather she could never have expected to witness; and to feel that itwas in any degree deserved was an aggravation indeed. Sir Thomas'slook implied, "On your judgment, Edmund, I depended; what have youbeen about?" She knelt in spirit to her uncle, and her bosom swelled toutter, "Oh, not to _him_! Look so to all the others, but not to _him_!"

  Mr. Yates was still talking. "To own the truth, Sir Thomas, we were inthe middle of a rehearsal when you arrived this evening. We were goingthrough the three first acts, and not unsuccessfully upon the whole. Ourcompany is now so dispersed, from the Crawfords being gone home, thatnothing more can be done to-night; but if you will give us the honour ofyour company to-morrow evening, I should not be afraid of the result. Webespeak your indulgence, you understand, as young performers; we bespeakyour indulgence."

  "My indulgence shall be given, sir," replied Sir Thomas gravely, "butwithout any other rehearsal." And with a relenting smile, he added, "Icome home to be happy and indulgent." Then turning away towards anyor all of the rest, he tranquilly said, "Mr. and Miss Crawford werementioned in my last letters from Mansfield. Do you find them agreeableacquaintance?"

  Tom was the only one at all ready with an answer, but he being entirelywithout particular regard for either, without jealousy either in loveor acting, could speak very handsomely of both. "Mr. Crawford was amost pleasant, gentleman-like man; his sister a sweet, pretty, elegant,lively girl."

  Mr. Rushworth could be silent no longer. "I do not say he is notgentleman-like, considering; but you should tell your father he is notabove five feet eight, or he will be expecting a well-looking man."

  Sir Thomas did not quite understand this, and looked with some surpriseat the speaker.

  "If I must say what I think," continued Mr. Rushworth, "in my opinion itis very disagreeable to be always rehearsing. It is having too much of agood thing. I am not so fond of acting as I was at first. I think we area great deal better employed, sitting comfortably here among ourselves,and doing nothing."

  Sir Thomas looked again, and then replied with an approving smile, "I amhappy to find our sentiments on this subject so much the same. It givesme sincere satisfaction. That I should be cautious and quick-sighted,and feel many scruples which my children do _not_ feel, is perfectlynatural; and equally so that my value for domestic tranquillity, for ahome which shuts out noisy pleasures, should much exceed theirs. But atyour time of life to feel all this, is a most favourable circumstancefor yourself, and for everybody connected with you; and I am sensible ofthe importance of having an ally of such weight."

  Sir Thomas meant to be giving Mr. Rushworth's opinion in better wordsthan he could find himself. He was aware that he must not expect agenius in Mr. Rushworth; but as a well-judging, steady young man, withbetter notions than his elocution would do justice to, he intended tovalue him very highly. It was impossible for many of the others not tosmile. Mr. Rushworth hardly knew what to do with so much meaning; but bylooking, as he really felt, most exceedingly pleased with Sir Thomas'sgood opinion, and saying scarcely anything, he did his best towardspreserving that good opinion a little longer.