Mansfield park, p.21
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       Mansfield Park, p.21

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXI

  Sir Thomas's return made a striking change in the ways of the family,independent of Lovers' Vows. Under his government, Mansfield was analtered place. Some members of their society sent away, and the spiritsof many others saddened--it was all sameness and gloom compared withthe past--a sombre family party rarely enlivened. There was littleintercourse with the Parsonage. Sir Thomas, drawing back from intimaciesin general, was particularly disinclined, at this time, for anyengagements but in one quarter. The Rushworths were the only addition tohis own domestic circle which he could solicit.

  Edmund did not wonder that such should be his father's feelings, norcould he regret anything but the exclusion of the Grants. "But they," heobserved to Fanny, "have a claim. They seem to belong to us; they seemto be part of ourselves. I could wish my father were more sensible oftheir very great attention to my mother and sisters while he was away. Iam afraid they may feel themselves neglected. But the truth is, that myfather hardly knows them. They had not been here a twelvemonth when heleft England. If he knew them better, he would value their society as itdeserves; for they are in fact exactly the sort of people he wouldlike. We are sometimes a little in want of animation among ourselves: mysisters seem out of spirits, and Tom is certainly not at his ease. Dr.and Mrs. Grant would enliven us, and make our evenings pass away withmore enjoyment even to my father."

  "Do you think so?" said Fanny: "in my opinion, my uncle would not like_any_ addition. I think he values the very quietness you speak of, andthat the repose of his own family circle is all he wants. And it doesnot appear to me that we are more serious than we used to be--I meanbefore my uncle went abroad. As well as I can recollect, it was alwaysmuch the same. There was never much laughing in his presence; or, ifthere is any difference, it is not more, I think, than such an absencehas a tendency to produce at first. There must be a sort of shyness; butI cannot recollect that our evenings formerly were ever merry, exceptwhen my uncle was in town. No young people's are, I suppose, when thosethey look up to are at home".

  "I believe you are right, Fanny," was his reply, after a shortconsideration. "I believe our evenings are rather returned to what theywere, than assuming a new character. The novelty was in their beinglively. Yet, how strong the impression that only a few weeks will give!I have been feeling as if we had never lived so before."

  "I suppose I am graver than other people," said Fanny. "The evenings donot appear long to me. I love to hear my uncle talk of the West Indies.I could listen to him for an hour together. It entertains _me_ more thanmany other things have done; but then I am unlike other people, I daresay."

  "Why should you dare say _that_?" (smiling). "Do you want to be toldthat you are only unlike other people in being more wise and discreet?But when did you, or anybody, ever get a compliment from me, Fanny? Goto my father if you want to be complimented. He will satisfy you. Askyour uncle what he thinks, and you will hear compliments enough: andthough they may be chiefly on your person, you must put up with it, andtrust to his seeing as much beauty of mind in time."

  Such language was so new to Fanny that it quite embarrassed her.

  "Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny--and that is the long andthe short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made somethingmore of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not beenthought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle neverdid admire you till now--and now he does. Your complexion is soimproved!--and you have gained so much countenance!--and yourfigure--nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it--it is but an uncle. Ifyou cannot bear an uncle's admiration, what is to become of you? Youmust really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth lookingat. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman."

  "Oh! don't talk so, don't talk so," cried Fanny, distressed by morefeelings than he was aware of; but seeing that she was distressed, hehad done with the subject, and only added more seriously--

  "Your uncle is disposed to be pleased with you in every respect; and Ionly wish you would talk to him more. You are one of those who are toosilent in the evening circle."

  "But I do talk to him more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hearme ask him about the slave-trade last night?"

  "I did--and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. Itwould have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther."

  "And I longed to do it--but there was such a dead silence! And whilemy cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at allinterested in the subject, I did not like--I thought it would appear asif I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by shewing a curiosityand pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters tofeel."

  "Miss Crawford was very right in what she said of you the other day:that you seemed almost as fearful of notice and praise as other womenwere of neglect. We were talking of you at the Parsonage, and those wereher words. She has great discernment. I know nobody who distinguishescharacters better. For so young a woman it is remarkable! She certainlyunderstands _you_ better than you are understood by the greater part ofthose who have known you so long; and with regard to some others, I canperceive, from occasional lively hints, the unguarded expressions ofthe moment, that she could define _many_ as accurately, did not delicacyforbid it. I wonder what she thinks of my father! She must admire himas a fine-looking man, with most gentlemanlike, dignified, consistentmanners; but perhaps, having seen him so seldom, his reserve may bea little repulsive. Could they be much together, I feel sure of theirliking each other. He would enjoy her liveliness and she has talents tovalue his powers. I wish they met more frequently! I hope she does notsuppose there is any dislike on his side."

  "She must know herself too secure of the regard of all the rest of you,"said Fanny, with half a sigh, "to have any such apprehension. And SirThomas's wishing just at first to be only with his family, is so verynatural, that she can argue nothing from that. After a little while, Idare say, we shall be meeting again in the same sort of way, allowingfor the difference of the time of year."

  "This is the first October that she has passed in the country since herinfancy. I do not call Tunbridge or Cheltenham the country; and Novemberis a still more serious month, and I can see that Mrs. Grant is veryanxious for her not finding Mansfield dull as winter comes on."

  Fanny could have said a great deal, but it was safer to say nothing, andleave untouched all Miss Crawford's resources--her accomplishments, herspirits, her importance, her friends, lest it should betray her intoany observations seemingly unhandsome. Miss Crawford's kind opinion ofherself deserved at least a grateful forbearance, and she began to talkof something else.

  "To-morrow, I think, my uncle dines at Sotherton, and you and Mr.Bertram too. We shall be quite a small party at home. I hope my unclemay continue to like Mr. Rushworth."

  "That is impossible, Fanny. He must like him less after to-morrow'svisit, for we shall be five hours in his company. I should dreadthe stupidity of the day, if there were not a much greater evil tofollow--the impression it must leave on Sir Thomas. He cannot muchlonger deceive himself. I am sorry for them all, and would givesomething that Rushworth and Maria had never met."

  In this quarter, indeed, disappointment was impending over Sir Thomas.Not all his good-will for Mr. Rushworth, not all Mr. Rushworth'sdeference for him, could prevent him from soon discerning some part ofthe truth--that Mr. Rushworth was an inferior young man, as ignorantin business as in books, with opinions in general unfixed, and withoutseeming much aware of it himself.

  He had expected a very different son-in-law; and beginning to feelgrave on Maria's account, tried to understand _her_ feelings. Littleobservation there was necessary to tell him that indifference was themost favourable state they could be in. Her behaviour to Mr. Rushworthwas careless and cold. She could not, did not like him. Sir Thomasresolved to speak seriously to her. Advantageous as would be thealliance, and long standing and public as was the engagement, herhappiness must not be sacrificed to it. Mr. Rushworth had, perh
aps, beenaccepted on too short an acquaintance, and, on knowing him better, shewas repenting.

  With solemn kindness Sir Thomas addressed her: told her his fears,inquired into her wishes, entreated her to be open and sincere, andassured her that every inconvenience should be braved, and the connexionentirely given up, if she felt herself unhappy in the prospect of it. Hewould act for her and release her. Maria had a moment's struggle as shelistened, and only a moment's: when her father ceased, she was able togive her answer immediately, decidedly, and with no apparent agitation.She thanked him for his great attention, his paternal kindness, but hewas quite mistaken in supposing she had the smallest desire of breakingthrough her engagement, or was sensible of any change of opinion orinclination since her forming it. She had the highest esteem for Mr.Rushworth's character and disposition, and could not have a doubt of herhappiness with him.

  Sir Thomas was satisfied; too glad to be satisfied, perhaps, to urge thematter quite so far as his judgment might have dictated to others. Itwas an alliance which he could not have relinquished without pain;and thus he reasoned. Mr. Rushworth was young enough to improve. Mr.Rushworth must and would improve in good society; and if Maria could nowspeak so securely of her happiness with him, speaking certainly withoutthe prejudice, the blindness of love, she ought to be believed. Herfeelings, probably, were not acute; he had never supposed them to beso; but her comforts might not be less on that account; and if she coulddispense with seeing her husband a leading, shining character, therewould certainly be everything else in her favour. A well-disposed youngwoman, who did not marry for love, was in general but the more attachedto her own family; and the nearness of Sotherton to Mansfieldmust naturally hold out the greatest temptation, and would, in allprobability, be a continual supply of the most amiable and innocentenjoyments. Such and such-like were the reasonings of Sir Thomas,happy to escape the embarrassing evils of a rupture, the wonder,the reflections, the reproach that must attend it; happy to secure amarriage which would bring him such an addition of respectabilityand influence, and very happy to think anything of his daughter'sdisposition that was most favourable for the purpose.

  To her the conference closed as satisfactorily as to him. She was in astate of mind to be glad that she had secured her fate beyond recall:that she had pledged herself anew to Sotherton; that she was safe fromthe possibility of giving Crawford the triumph of governing her actions,and destroying her prospects; and retired in proud resolve, determinedonly to behave more cautiously to Mr. Rushworth in future, that herfather might not be again suspecting her.

  Had Sir Thomas applied to his daughter within the first three or fourdays after Henry Crawford's leaving Mansfield, before her feelings wereat all tranquillised, before she had given up every hope of him, orabsolutely resolved on enduring his rival, her answer might have beendifferent; but after another three or four days, when there was noreturn, no letter, no message, no symptom of a softened heart, no hopeof advantage from separation, her mind became cool enough to seek allthe comfort that pride and self revenge could give.

  Henry Crawford had destroyed her happiness, but he should not know thathe had done it; he should not destroy her credit, her appearance, herprosperity, too. He should not have to think of her as pining in theretirement of Mansfield for _him_, rejecting Sotherton and London,independence and splendour, for _his_ sake. Independence was moreneedful than ever; the want of it at Mansfield more sensibly felt. Shewas less and less able to endure the restraint which her father imposed.The liberty which his absence had given was now become absolutelynecessary. She must escape from him and Mansfield as soon as possible,and find consolation in fortune and consequence, bustle and the world,for a wounded spirit. Her mind was quite determined, and varied not.

  To such feelings delay, even the delay of much preparation, would havebeen an evil, and Mr. Rushworth could hardly be more impatient for themarriage than herself. In all the important preparations of the mindshe was complete: being prepared for matrimony by an hatred of home,restraint, and tranquillity; by the misery of disappointed affection,and contempt of the man she was to marry. The rest might wait. Thepreparations of new carriages and furniture might wait for London andspring, when her own taste could have fairer play.

  The principals being all agreed in this respect, it soon appeared that avery few weeks would be sufficient for such arrangements as must precedethe wedding.

  Mrs. Rushworth was quite ready to retire, and make way for the fortunateyoung woman whom her dear son had selected; and very early in Novemberremoved herself, her maid, her footman, and her chariot, with truedowager propriety, to Bath, there to parade over the wonders ofSotherton in her evening parties; enjoying them as thoroughly, perhaps,in the animation of a card-table, as she had ever done on the spot; andbefore the middle of the same month the ceremony had taken place whichgave Sotherton another mistress.

  It was a very proper wedding. The bride was elegantly dressed; the twobridesmaids were duly inferior; her father gave her away; her motherstood with salts in her hand, expecting to be agitated; her aunt triedto cry; and the service was impressively read by Dr. Grant. Nothingcould be objected to when it came under the discussion of theneighbourhood, except that the carriage which conveyed the bride andbridegroom and Julia from the church-door to Sotherton was the samechaise which Mr. Rushworth had used for a twelvemonth before. Ineverything else the etiquette of the day might stand the strictestinvestigation.

  It was done, and they were gone. Sir Thomas felt as an anxious fathermust feel, and was indeed experiencing much of the agitation which hiswife had been apprehensive of for herself, but had fortunately escaped.Mrs. Norris, most happy to assist in the duties of the day, by spendingit at the Park to support her sister's spirits, and drinking the healthof Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth in a supernumerary glass or two, was alljoyous delight; for she had made the match; she had done everything;and no one would have supposed, from her confident triumph, that shehad ever heard of conjugal infelicity in her life, or could have thesmallest insight into the disposition of the niece who had been broughtup under her eye.

  The plan of the young couple was to proceed, after a few days, toBrighton, and take a house there for some weeks. Every public place wasnew to Maria, and Brighton is almost as gay in winter as in summer. Whenthe novelty of amusement there was over, it would be time for the widerrange of London.

  Julia was to go with them to Brighton. Since rivalry between the sistershad ceased, they had been gradually recovering much of their former goodunderstanding; and were at least sufficiently friends to make each ofthem exceedingly glad to be with the other at such a time. Some othercompanion than Mr. Rushworth was of the first consequence to his lady;and Julia was quite as eager for novelty and pleasure as Maria, thoughshe might not have struggled through so much to obtain them, and couldbetter bear a subordinate situation.

  Their departure made another material change at Mansfield, a chasmwhich required some time to fill up. The family circle became greatlycontracted; and though the Miss Bertrams had latterly added little toits gaiety, they could not but be missed. Even their mother missed them;and how much more their tenderhearted cousin, who wandered aboutthe house, and thought of them, and felt for them, with a degree ofaffectionate regret which they had never done much to deserve!

 
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