Mansfield park, p.22
Mansfield Park, p.22Jane Austen
Fanny's consequence increased on the departure of her cousins. Becoming,as she then did, the only young woman in the drawing-room, the onlyoccupier of that interesting division of a family in which she hadhitherto held so humble a third, it was impossible for her not to bemore looked at, more thought of and attended to, than she had ever beenbefore; and "Where is Fanny?" became no uncommon question, even withouther being wanted for any one's convenience.
Not only at home did her value increase, but at the Parsonage too. Inthat house, which she had hardly entered twice a year since Mr. Norris'sdeath, she became a welcome, an invited guest, and in the gloom and dirtof a November day, most acceptable to Mary Crawford. Her visits there,beginning by chance, were continued by solicitation. Mrs. Grant,really eager to get any change for her sister, could, by the easiestself-deceit, persuade herself that she was doing the kindest thing byFanny, and giving her the most important opportunities of improvement inpressing her frequent calls.
Fanny, having been sent into the village on some errand by her auntNorris, was overtaken by a heavy shower close to the Parsonage; andbeing descried from one of the windows endeavouring to find shelterunder the branches and lingering leaves of an oak just beyond theirpremises, was forced, though not without some modest reluctance on herpart, to come in. A civil servant she had withstood; but when Dr. Granthimself went out with an umbrella, there was nothing to be done but tobe very much ashamed, and to get into the house as fast as possible; andto poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rainin a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all herplan of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing asingle creature beyond themselves for the next twenty-four hours, thesound of a little bustle at the front door, and the sight of Miss Pricedripping with wet in the vestibule, was delightful. The value of anevent on a wet day in the country was most forcibly brought before her.She was all alive again directly, and among the most active in beinguseful to Fanny, in detecting her to be wetter than she would at firstallow, and providing her with dry clothes; and Fanny, after beingobliged to submit to all this attention, and to being assisted andwaited on by mistresses and maids, being also obliged, on returningdownstairs, to be fixed in their drawing-room for an hour while the raincontinued, the blessing of something fresh to see and think of was thusextended to Miss Crawford, and might carry on her spirits to the periodof dressing and dinner.
The two sisters were so kind to her, and so pleasant, that Fanny mighthave enjoyed her visit could she have believed herself not in the way,and could she have foreseen that the weather would certainly clear atthe end of the hour, and save her from the shame of having Dr. Grant'scarriage and horses out to take her home, with which she was threatened.As to anxiety for any alarm that her absence in such weather mightoccasion at home, she had nothing to suffer on that score; for as herbeing out was known only to her two aunts, she was perfectly aware thatnone would be felt, and that in whatever cottage aunt Norris might chuseto establish her during the rain, her being in such cottage would beindubitable to aunt Bertram.
It was beginning to look brighter, when Fanny, observing a harp in theroom, asked some questions about it, which soon led to an acknowledgmentof her wishing very much to hear it, and a confession, which couldhardly be believed, of her having never yet heard it since its beingin Mansfield. To Fanny herself it appeared a very simple and naturalcircumstance. She had scarcely ever been at the Parsonage since theinstrument's arrival, there had been no reason that she should; but MissCrawford, calling to mind an early expressed wish on the subject, wasconcerned at her own neglect; and "Shall I play to you now?" and "Whatwill you have?" were questions immediately following with the readiestgood-humour.
She played accordingly; happy to have a new listener, and a listener whoseemed so much obliged, so full of wonder at the performance, and whoshewed herself not wanting in taste. She played till Fanny's eyes,straying to the window on the weather's being evidently fair, spoke whatshe felt must be done.
"Another quarter of an hour," said Miss Crawford, "and we shall see howit will be. Do not run away the first moment of its holding up. Thoseclouds look alarming."
"But they are passed over," said Fanny. "I have been watching them. Thisweather is all from the south."
"South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must notset forward while it is so threatening. And besides, I want to playsomething more to you--a very pretty piece--and your cousin Edmund'sprime favourite. You must stay and hear your cousin's favourite."
Fanny felt that she must; and though she had not waited for thatsentence to be thinking of Edmund, such a memento made her particularlyawake to his idea, and she fancied him sitting in that room againand again, perhaps in the very spot where she sat now, listening withconstant delight to the favourite air, played, as it appeared to her,with superior tone and expression; and though pleased with it herself,and glad to like whatever was liked by him, she was more sincerelyimpatient to go away at the conclusion of it than she had been before;and on this being evident, she was so kindly asked to call again, totake them in her walk whenever she could, to come and hear more of theharp, that she felt it necessary to be done, if no objection arose athome.
Such was the origin of the sort of intimacy which took place betweenthem within the first fortnight after the Miss Bertrams' going away--anintimacy resulting principally from Miss Crawford's desire of somethingnew, and which had little reality in Fanny's feelings. Fanny went to herevery two or three days: it seemed a kind of fascination: she could notbe easy without going, and yet it was without loving her, without everthinking like her, without any sense of obligation for being soughtafter now when nobody else was to be had; and deriving no higherpleasure from her conversation than occasional amusement, and _that_often at the expense of her judgment, when it was raised by pleasantryon people or subjects which she wished to be respected. She went,however, and they sauntered about together many an half-hour in Mrs.Grant's shrubbery, the weather being unusually mild for the time ofyear, and venturing sometimes even to sit down on one of the benches nowcomparatively unsheltered, remaining there perhaps till, in the midstof some tender ejaculation of Fanny's on the sweets of so protractedan autumn, they were forced, by the sudden swell of a cold gust shakingdown the last few yellow leaves about them, to jump up and walk forwarmth.
"This is pretty, very pretty," said Fanny, looking around her asthey were thus sitting together one day; "every time I come into thisshrubbery I am more struck with its growth and beauty. Three years ago,this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field,never thought of as anything, or capable of becoming anything; and nowit is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whethermost valuable as a convenience or an ornament; and perhaps, in anotherthree years, we may be forgetting--almost forgetting what it was before.How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and thechanges of the human mind!" And following the latter train of thought,she soon afterwards added: "If any one faculty of our nature may becalled _more_ wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. Thereseems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers,the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of ourintelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, soobedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, sotyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way;but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly pastfinding out."
Miss Crawford, untouched and inattentive, had nothing to say; andFanny, perceiving it, brought back her own mind to what she thought mustinterest.
"It may seem impertinent in _me_ to praise, but I must admire the tasteMrs. Grant has shewn in all this. There is such a quiet simplicity inthe plan of the walk! Not too much attempted!"
"Yes," replied Miss Crawford carelessly, "it does very well for aplace of this sort. One does not think of extent _here_; and betweenourselves, till I came to Mansfield,
"I am so glad to see the evergreens thrive!" said Fanny, in reply. "Myuncle's gardener always says the soil here is better than his own, andso it appears from the growth of the laurels and evergreens in general.The evergreen! How beautiful, how welcome, how wonderful the evergreen!When one thinks of it, how astonishing a variety of nature! In somecountries we know the tree that sheds its leaf is the variety, but thatdoes not make it less amazing that the same soil and the same sun shouldnurture plants differing in the first rule and law of their existence.You will think me rhapsodising; but when I am out of doors, especiallywhen I am sitting out of doors, I am very apt to get into this sort ofwondering strain. One cannot fix one's eyes on the commonest naturalproduction without finding food for a rambling fancy."
"To say the truth," replied Miss Crawford, "I am something like thefamous Doge at the court of Lewis XIV.; and may declare that I see nowonder in this shrubbery equal to seeing myself in it. If anybody hadtold me a year ago that this place would be my home, that I should bespending month after month here, as I have done, I certainly shouldnot have believed them. I have now been here nearly five months; and,moreover, the quietest five months I ever passed."
"_Too_ quiet for you, I believe."
"I should have thought so _theoretically_ myself, but," and her eyesbrightened as she spoke, "take it all and all, I never spent so happy asummer. But then," with a more thoughtful air and lowered voice, "thereis no saying what it may lead to."
Fanny's heart beat quick, and she felt quite unequal to surmisingor soliciting anything more. Miss Crawford, however, with renewedanimation, soon went on--
"I am conscious of being far better reconciled to a country residencethan I had ever expected to be. I can even suppose it pleasant tospend _half_ the year in the country, under certain circumstances,very pleasant. An elegant, moderate-sized house in the centre of familyconnexions; continual engagements among them; commanding the firstsociety in the neighbourhood; looked up to, perhaps, as leading it evenmore than those of larger fortune, and turning from the cheerful roundof such amusements to nothing worse than a _tete-a-tete_ with the personone feels most agreeable in the world. There is nothing frightful insuch a picture, is there, Miss Price? One need not envy the new Mrs.Rushworth with such a home as _that_."
"Envy Mrs. Rushworth!" was all that Fanny attempted to say. "Come, come,it would be very un-handsome in us to be severe on Mrs. Rushworth, for Ilook forward to our owing her a great many gay, brilliant, happy hours.I expect we shall be all very much at Sotherton another year. Sucha match as Miss Bertram has made is a public blessing; for the firstpleasures of Mr. Rushworth's wife must be to fill her house, and givethe best balls in the country."
Fanny was silent, and Miss Crawford relapsed into thoughtfulness, tillsuddenly looking up at the end of a few minutes, she exclaimed, "Ah!here he is." It was not Mr. Rushworth, however, but Edmund, who thenappeared walking towards them with Mrs. Grant. "My sister and Mr.Bertram. I am so glad your eldest cousin is gone, that he may be Mr.Bertram again. There is something in the sound of Mr. _Edmund_ Bertramso formal, so pitiful, so younger-brother-like, that I detest it."
"How differently we feel!" cried Fanny. "To me, the sound of _Mr._Bertram is so cold and nothing-meaning, so entirely without warmth orcharacter! It just stands for a gentleman, and that's all. But there isnobleness in the name of Edmund. It is a name of heroism and renown; ofkings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalryand warm affections."
"I grant you the name is good in itself, and _Lord_ Edmund or _Sir_Edmund sound delightfully; but sink it under the chill, the annihilationof a Mr., and Mr. Edmund is no more than Mr. John or Mr. Thomas. Well,shall we join and disappoint them of half their lecture upon sittingdown out of doors at this time of year, by being up before they canbegin?"
Edmund met them with particular pleasure. It was the first time of hisseeing them together since the beginning of that better acquaintancewhich he had been hearing of with great satisfaction. A friendshipbetween two so very dear to him was exactly what he could have wished:and to the credit of the lover's understanding, be it stated, that hedid not by any means consider Fanny as the only, or even as the greatergainer by such a friendship.
"Well," said Miss Crawford, "and do you not scold us for our imprudence?What do you think we have been sitting down for but to be talked toabout it, and entreated and supplicated never to do so again?"
"Perhaps I might have scolded," said Edmund, "if either of you had beensitting down alone; but while you do wrong together, I can overlook agreat deal."
"They cannot have been sitting long," cried Mrs. Grant, "for when I wentup for my shawl I saw them from the staircase window, and then they werewalking."
"And really," added Edmund, "the day is so mild, that your sitting downfor a few minutes can be hardly thought imprudent. Our weather mustnot always be judged by the calendar. We may sometimes take greaterliberties in November than in May."
"Upon my word," cried Miss Crawford, "you are two of the mostdisappointing and unfeeling kind friends I ever met with! There is nogiving you a moment's uneasiness. You do not know how much we have beensuffering, nor what chills we have felt! But I have long thought Mr.Bertram one of the worst subjects to work on, in any little manoeuvreagainst common sense, that a woman could be plagued with. I had verylittle hope of _him_ from the first; but you, Mrs. Grant, my sister, myown sister, I think I had a right to alarm you a little."
"Do not flatter yourself, my dearest Mary. You have not the smallestchance of moving me. I have my alarms, but they are quite in a differentquarter; and if I could have altered the weather, you would have had agood sharp east wind blowing on you the whole time--for here are some ofmy plants which Robert _will_ leave out because the nights are so mild,and I know the end of it will be, that we shall have a sudden change ofweather, a hard frost setting in all at once, taking everybody (at leastRobert) by surprise, and I shall lose every one; and what is worse, cookhas just been telling me that the turkey, which I particularly wishednot to be dressed till Sunday, because I know how much more Dr. Grantwould enjoy it on Sunday after the fatigues of the day, will not keepbeyond to-morrow. These are something like grievances, and make me thinkthe weather most unseasonably close."
"The sweets of housekeeping in a country village!" said Miss Crawfordarchly. "Commend me to the nurseryman and the poulterer."
"My dear child, commend Dr. Grant to the deanery of Westminster or St.Paul's, and I should be as glad of your nurseryman and poulterer as youcould be. But we have no such people in Mansfield. What would you haveme do?"
"Oh! you can do nothing but what you do already: be plagued very often,and never lose your temper."
"Thank you; but there is no escaping these little vexations, Mary, livewhere we may; and when you are settled in town and I come to see you, Idare say I shall find you with yours, in spite of the nurseryman andthe poulterer, perhaps on their very account. Their remoteness andunpunctuality, or their exorbitant charges and frauds, will be drawingforth bitter lamentations."
"I mean to be too rich to lament or to feel anything of the sort.A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of. Itcertainly may secure all the myrtle and turkey part of it."
"You intend to be very rich?" said Edmund, with a look which, to Fanny'seye, had a great deal of serious meaning.
"To be sure. Do not you? Do not we all?"
"I cannot intend anything which it must be so completely beyond my powerto command. Miss Crawford may chuse her degree of wealth. She has onlyto fix on her number of thousands a year, and there can be no doubt oftheir coming. My intentions are only not to be poor."
"By moderation and economy, and bringing down your wants to your income,and all that. I understand you--and a very proper plan it is for aperson at your time of life, with such limited means and indifferentconnexions. What can _you_ want but a decent maintenance? You haveno
"Your degree of respect for honesty, rich or poor, is precisely whatI have no manner of concern with. I do not mean to be poor. Povertyis exactly what I have determined against. Honesty, in the somethingbetween, in the middle state of worldly circumstances, is all that I amanxious for your not looking down on."
"But I do look down upon it, if it might have been higher. I mustlook down upon anything contented with obscurity when it might rise todistinction."
"But how may it rise? How may my honesty at least rise to anydistinction?"
This was not so very easy a question to answer, and occasioned an "Oh!"of some length from the fair lady before she could add, "You ought to bein parliament, or you should have gone into the army ten years ago."
"_That_ is not much to the purpose now; and as to my being inparliament, I believe I must wait till there is an especial assembly forthe representation of younger sons who have little to live on. No, MissCrawford," he added, in a more serious tone, "there _are_ distinctionswhich I should be miserable if I thought myself without anychance--absolutely without chance or possibility of obtaining--but theyare of a different character."
A look of consciousness as he spoke, and what seemed a consciousnessof manner on Miss Crawford's side as she made some laughing answer,was sorrowfull food for Fanny's observation; and finding herself quiteunable to attend as she ought to Mrs. Grant, by whose side she was nowfollowing the others, she had nearly resolved on going home immediately,and only waited for courage to say so, when the sound of the great clockat Mansfield Park, striking three, made her feel that she hadreally been much longer absent than usual, and brought the previousself-inquiry of whether she should take leave or not just then, and how,to a very speedy issue. With undoubting decision she directly began heradieus; and Edmund began at the same time to recollect that his motherhad been inquiring for her, and that he had walked down to the Parsonageon purpose to bring her back.
Fanny's hurry increased; and without in the least expecting Edmund'sattendance, she would have hastened away alone; but the general pace wasquickened, and they all accompanied her into the house, through which itwas necessary to pass. Dr. Grant was in the vestibule, and as they stoptto speak to him she found, from Edmund's manner, that he _did_ mean togo with her. He too was taking leave. She could not but be thankful. Inthe moment of parting, Edmund was invited by Dr. Grant to eat his muttonwith him the next day; and Fanny had barely time for an unpleasantfeeling on the occasion, when Mrs. Grant, with sudden recollection,turned to her and asked for the pleasure of her company too. This wasso new an attention, so perfectly new a circumstance in the events ofFanny's life, that she was all surprise and embarrassment; and whilestammering out her great obligation, and her "but she did not suppose itwould be in her power," was looking at Edmund for his opinion and help.But Edmund, delighted with her having such an happiness offered, andascertaining with half a look, and half a sentence, that she had noobjection but on her aunt's account, could not imagine that his motherwould make any difficulty of sparing her, and therefore gave his decidedopen advice that the invitation should be accepted; and though Fannywould not venture, even on his encouragement, to such a flight ofaudacious independence, it was soon settled, that if nothing were heardto the contrary, Mrs. Grant might expect her.
"And you know what your dinner will be," said Mrs. Grant, smiling--"theturkey, and I assure you a very fine one; for, my dear," turning to herhusband, "cook insists upon the turkey's being dressed to-morrow."
"Very well, very well," cried Dr. Grant, "all the better; I am gladto hear you have anything so good in the house. But Miss Price and Mr.Edmund Bertram, I dare say, would take their chance. We none of us wantto hear the bill of fare. A friendly meeting, and not a fine dinner,is all we have in view. A turkey, or a goose, or a leg of mutton, orwhatever you and your cook chuse to give us."
The two cousins walked home together; and, except in the immediatediscussion of this engagement, which Edmund spoke of with the warmestsatisfaction, as so particularly desirable for her in the intimacy whichhe saw with so much pleasure established, it was a silent walk; forhaving finished that subject, he grew thoughtful and indisposed for anyother.
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