Mansfield park, p.27
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       Mansfield Park, p.27

           Jane Austen


  On reaching home Fanny went immediately upstairs to deposit thisunexpected acquisition, this doubtful good of a necklace, in somefavourite box in the East room, which held all her smaller treasures;but on opening the door, what was her surprise to find her cousin Edmundthere writing at the table! Such a sight having never occurred before,was almost as wonderful as it was welcome.

  "Fanny," said he directly, leaving his seat and his pen, and meeting herwith something in his hand, "I beg your pardon for being here. I cameto look for you, and after waiting a little while in hope of your comingin, was making use of your inkstand to explain my errand. You will findthe beginning of a note to yourself; but I can now speak my business,which is merely to beg your acceptance of this little trifle--a chainfor William's cross. You ought to have had it a week ago, but there hasbeen a delay from my brother's not being in town by several days so soonas I expected; and I have only just now received it at Northampton. Ihope you will like the chain itself, Fanny. I endeavoured to consult thesimplicity of your taste; but, at any rate, I know you will be kind tomy intentions, and consider it, as it really is, a token of the love ofone of your oldest friends."

  And so saying, he was hurrying away, before Fanny, overpowered by athousand feelings of pain and pleasure, could attempt to speak; butquickened by one sovereign wish, she then called out, "Oh! cousin, stopa moment, pray stop!"

  He turned back.

  "I cannot attempt to thank you," she continued, in a very agitatedmanner; "thanks are out of the question. I feel much more than I canpossibly express. Your goodness in thinking of me in such a way isbeyond--"

  "If that is all you have to say, Fanny" smiling and turning away again.

  "No, no, it is not. I want to consult you."

  Almost unconsciously she had now undone the parcel he had just putinto her hand, and seeing before her, in all the niceness of jewellers'packing, a plain gold chain, perfectly simple and neat, she could nothelp bursting forth again, "Oh, this is beautiful indeed! This is thevery thing, precisely what I wished for! This is the only ornament Ihave ever had a desire to possess. It will exactly suit my cross. Theymust and shall be worn together. It comes, too, in such an acceptablemoment. Oh, cousin, you do not know how acceptable it is."

  "My dear Fanny, you feel these things a great deal too much. I am mosthappy that you like the chain, and that it should be here in time forto-morrow; but your thanks are far beyond the occasion. Believe me, Ihave no pleasure in the world superior to that of contributing to yours.No, I can safely say, I have no pleasure so complete, so unalloyed. Itis without a drawback."

  Upon such expressions of affection Fanny could have lived an hourwithout saying another word; but Edmund, after waiting a moment, obligedher to bring down her mind from its heavenly flight by saying, "But whatis it that you want to consult me about?"

  It was about the necklace, which she was now most earnestly longing toreturn, and hoped to obtain his approbation of her doing. She gave thehistory of her recent visit, and now her raptures might well be over;for Edmund was so struck with the circumstance, so delighted with whatMiss Crawford had done, so gratified by such a coincidence of conductbetween them, that Fanny could not but admit the superior power of onepleasure over his own mind, though it might have its drawback. It wassome time before she could get his attention to her plan, or any answerto her demand of his opinion: he was in a reverie of fond reflection,uttering only now and then a few half-sentences of praise; but whenhe did awake and understand, he was very decided in opposing what shewished.

  "Return the necklace! No, my dear Fanny, upon no account. It would bemortifying her severely. There can hardly be a more unpleasant sensationthan the having anything returned on our hands which we have given witha reasonable hope of its contributing to the comfort of a friend. Whyshould she lose a pleasure which she has shewn herself so deserving of?"

  "If it had been given to me in the first instance," said Fanny, "Ishould not have thought of returning it; but being her brother'spresent, is not it fair to suppose that she would rather not part withit, when it is not wanted?"

  "She must not suppose it not wanted, not acceptable, at least: and itshaving been originally her brother's gift makes no difference; for asshe was not prevented from offering, nor you from taking it on thataccount, it ought not to prevent you from keeping it. No doubt it ishandsomer than mine, and fitter for a ballroom."

  "No, it is not handsomer, not at all handsomer in its way, and, formy purpose, not half so fit. The chain will agree with William's crossbeyond all comparison better than the necklace."

  "For one night, Fanny, for only one night, if it _be_ a sacrifice; I amsure you will, upon consideration, make that sacrifice rather than givepain to one who has been so studious of your comfort. Miss Crawford'sattentions to you have been--not more than you were justly entitledto--I am the last person to think that _could_ _be_, but they have beeninvariable; and to be returning them with what must have something the_air_ of ingratitude, though I know it could never have the _meaning_,is not in your nature, I am sure. Wear the necklace, as you are engagedto do, to-morrow evening, and let the chain, which was not ordered withany reference to the ball, be kept for commoner occasions. This is myadvice. I would not have the shadow of a coolness between the two whoseintimacy I have been observing with the greatest pleasure, and in whosecharacters there is so much general resemblance in true generosityand natural delicacy as to make the few slight differences, resultingprincipally from situation, no reasonable hindrance to a perfectfriendship. I would not have the shadow of a coolness arise," herepeated, his voice sinking a little, "between the two dearest objects Ihave on earth."

  He was gone as he spoke; and Fanny remained to tranquillise herself asshe could. She was one of his two dearest--that must support her. Butthe other: the first! She had never heard him speak so openly before,and though it told her no more than what she had long perceived, it wasa stab, for it told of his own convictions and views. They weredecided. He would marry Miss Crawford. It was a stab, in spite of everylong-standing expectation; and she was obliged to repeat again andagain, that she was one of his two dearest, before the words gave herany sensation. Could she believe Miss Crawford to deserve him, it wouldbe--oh, how different would it be--how far more tolerable! But he wasdeceived in her: he gave her merits which she had not; her faults werewhat they had ever been, but he saw them no longer. Till she had shedmany tears over this deception, Fanny could not subdue her agitation;and the dejection which followed could only be relieved by the influenceof fervent prayers for his happiness.

  It was her intention, as she felt it to be her duty, to try to overcomeall that was excessive, all that bordered on selfishness, in heraffection for Edmund. To call or to fancy it a loss, a disappointment,would be a presumption for which she had not words strong enough tosatisfy her own humility. To think of him as Miss Crawford might bejustified in thinking, would in her be insanity. To her he could benothing under any circumstances; nothing dearer than a friend. Why didsuch an idea occur to her even enough to be reprobated and forbidden? Itought not to have touched on the confines of her imagination. She wouldendeavour to be rational, and to deserve the right of judging of MissCrawford's character, and the privilege of true solicitude for him by asound intellect and an honest heart.

  She had all the heroism of principle, and was determined to do her duty;but having also many of the feelings of youth and nature, let her notbe much wondered at, if, after making all these good resolutions on theside of self-government, she seized the scrap of paper on which Edmundhad begun writing to her, as a treasure beyond all her hopes, andreading with the tenderest emotion these words, "My very dear Fanny,you must do me the favour to accept" locked it up with the chain, as thedearest part of the gift. It was the only thing approaching to a letterwhich she had ever received from him; she might never receive another;it was impossible that she ever should receive another so perfectlygratifying in the occasion and the style. Two lines more pr
ized hadnever fallen from the pen of the most distinguished author--nevermore completely blessed the researches of the fondest biographer. Theenthusiasm of a woman's love is even beyond the biographer's. To her,the handwriting itself, independent of anything it may convey, is ablessedness. Never were such characters cut by any other human being asEdmund's commonest handwriting gave! This specimen, written in hasteas it was, had not a fault; and there was a felicity in the flow of thefirst four words, in the arrangement of "My very dear Fanny," which shecould have looked at for ever.

  Having regulated her thoughts and comforted her feelings by this happymixture of reason and weakness, she was able in due time to go downand resume her usual employments near her aunt Bertram, and pay her theusual observances without any apparent want of spirits.

  Thursday, predestined to hope and enjoyment, came; and opened withmore kindness to Fanny than such self-willed, unmanageable days oftenvolunteer, for soon after breakfast a very friendly note was broughtfrom Mr. Crawford to William, stating that as he found himself obligedto go to London on the morrow for a few days, he could not help tryingto procure a companion; and therefore hoped that if William couldmake up his mind to leave Mansfield half a day earlier than had beenproposed, he would accept a place in his carriage. Mr. Crawford meant tobe in town by his uncle's accustomary late dinner-hour, and Williamwas invited to dine with him at the Admiral's. The proposal was a verypleasant one to William himself, who enjoyed the idea of travelling postwith four horses, and such a good-humoured, agreeable friend; and, inlikening it to going up with despatches, was saying at once everythingin favour of its happiness and dignity which his imagination couldsuggest; and Fanny, from a different motive, was exceedingly pleased;for the original plan was that William should go up by the mail fromNorthampton the following night, which would not have allowed him anhour's rest before he must have got into a Portsmouth coach; and thoughthis offer of Mr. Crawford's would rob her of many hours of his company,she was too happy in having William spared from the fatigue of sucha journey, to think of anything else. Sir Thomas approved of it foranother reason. His nephew's introduction to Admiral Crawford might beof service. The Admiral, he believed, had interest. Upon the whole, itwas a very joyous note. Fanny's spirits lived on it half the morning,deriving some accession of pleasure from its writer being himself to goaway.

  As for the ball, so near at hand, she had too many agitations and fearsto have half the enjoyment in anticipation which she ought to have had,or must have been supposed to have by the many young ladies lookingforward to the same event in situations more at ease, but undercircumstances of less novelty, less interest, less peculiargratification, than would be attributed to her. Miss Price, knownonly by name to half the people invited, was now to make her firstappearance, and must be regarded as the queen of the evening. Who couldbe happier than Miss Price? But Miss Price had not been brought up tothe trade of _coming_ _out_; and had she known in what light this ballwas, in general, considered respecting her, it would very much havelessened her comfort by increasing the fears she already had of doingwrong and being looked at. To dance without much observation or anyextraordinary fatigue, to have strength and partners for about half theevening, to dance a little with Edmund, and not a great deal with Mr.Crawford, to see William enjoy himself, and be able to keep awayfrom her aunt Norris, was the height of her ambition, and seemed tocomprehend her greatest possibility of happiness. As these were the bestof her hopes, they could not always prevail; and in the course of a longmorning, spent principally with her two aunts, she was often under theinfluence of much less sanguine views. William, determined to make thislast day a day of thorough enjoyment, was out snipe-shooting; Edmund,she had too much reason to suppose, was at the Parsonage; and leftalone to bear the worrying of Mrs. Norris, who was cross because thehousekeeper would have her own way with the supper, and whom _she_ couldnot avoid though the housekeeper might, Fanny was worn down at last tothink everything an evil belonging to the ball, and when sent off witha parting worry to dress, moved as languidly towards her own room, andfelt as incapable of happiness as if she had been allowed no share init.

  As she walked slowly upstairs she thought of yesterday; it had beenabout the same hour that she had returned from the Parsonage, andfound Edmund in the East room. "Suppose I were to find him there againto-day!" said she to herself, in a fond indulgence of fancy.

  "Fanny," said a voice at that moment near her. Starting and looking up,she saw, across the lobby she had just reached, Edmund himself, standingat the head of a different staircase. He came towards her. "You looktired and fagged, Fanny. You have been walking too far."

  "No, I have not been out at all."

  "Then you have had fatigues within doors, which are worse. You hadbetter have gone out."

  Fanny, not liking to complain, found it easiest to make no answer; andthough he looked at her with his usual kindness, she believed he hadsoon ceased to think of her countenance. He did not appear in spirits:something unconnected with her was probably amiss. They proceededupstairs together, their rooms being on the same floor above.

  "I come from Dr. Grant's," said Edmund presently. "You may guess myerrand there, Fanny." And he looked so conscious, that Fanny could thinkbut of one errand, which turned her too sick for speech. "I wished toengage Miss Crawford for the two first dances," was the explanation thatfollowed, and brought Fanny to life again, enabling her, as she foundshe was expected to speak, to utter something like an inquiry as to theresult.

  "Yes," he answered, "she is engaged to me; but" (with a smile that didnot sit easy) "she says it is to be the last time that she ever willdance with me. She is not serious. I think, I hope, I am sure she isnot serious; but I would rather not hear it. She never has danced with aclergyman, she says, and she never _will_. For my own sake, I could wishthere had been no ball just at--I mean not this very week, this veryday; to-morrow I leave home."

  Fanny struggled for speech, and said, "I am very sorry that anything hasoccurred to distress you. This ought to be a day of pleasure. My unclemeant it so."

  "Oh yes, yes! and it will be a day of pleasure. It will all end right. Iam only vexed for a moment. In fact, it is not that I consider the ballas ill-timed; what does it signify? But, Fanny," stopping her, by takingher hand, and speaking low and seriously, "you know what all this means.You see how it is; and could tell me, perhaps better than I could tellyou, how and why I am vexed. Let me talk to you a little. You are akind, kind listener. I have been pained by her manner this morning, andcannot get the better of it. I know her disposition to be as sweet andfaultless as your own, but the influence of her former companionsmakes her seem--gives to her conversation, to her professed opinions,sometimes a tinge of wrong. She does not _think_ evil, but she speaksit, speaks it in playfulness; and though I know it to be playfulness, itgrieves me to the soul."

  "The effect of education," said Fanny gently.

  Edmund could not but agree to it. "Yes, that uncle and aunt! They haveinjured the finest mind; for sometimes, Fanny, I own to you, it doesappear more than manner: it appears as if the mind itself was tainted."

  Fanny imagined this to be an appeal to her judgment, and therefore,after a moment's consideration, said, "If you only want me as alistener, cousin, I will be as useful as I can; but I am not qualifiedfor an adviser. Do not ask advice of _me_. I am not competent."

  "You are right, Fanny, to protest against such an office, but you neednot be afraid. It is a subject on which I should never ask advice; itis the sort of subject on which it had better never be asked; and few,I imagine, do ask it, but when they want to be influenced against theirconscience. I only want to talk to you."

  "One thing more. Excuse the liberty; but take care _how_ you talk to me.Do not tell me anything now, which hereafter you may be sorry for. Thetime may come--"

  The colour rushed into her cheeks as she spoke.

  "Dearest Fanny!" cried Edmund, pressing her hand to his lips withalmost as much warmth as if it had been Miss Crawford's, "you are a
llconsiderate thought! But it is unnecessary here. The time will nevercome. No such time as you allude to will ever come. I begin to think itmost improbable: the chances grow less and less; and even if it should,there will be nothing to be remembered by either you or me that we needbe afraid of, for I can never be ashamed of my own scruples; and if theyare removed, it must be by changes that will only raise her characterthe more by the recollection of the faults she once had. You are theonly being upon earth to whom I should say what I have said; but youhave always known my opinion of her; you can bear me witness, Fanny,that I have never been blinded. How many a time have we talked overher little errors! You need not fear me; I have almost given up everyserious idea of her; but I must be a blockhead indeed, if, whateverbefell me, I could think of your kindness and sympathy without thesincerest gratitude."

  He had said enough to shake the experience of eighteen. He had saidenough to give Fanny some happier feelings than she had lately known,and with a brighter look, she answered, "Yes, cousin, I am convincedthat _you_ would be incapable of anything else, though perhaps somemight not. I cannot be afraid of hearing anything you wish to say. Donot check yourself. Tell me whatever you like."

  They were now on the second floor, and the appearance of a housemaidprevented any farther conversation. For Fanny's present comfort it wasconcluded, perhaps, at the happiest moment: had he been able to talkanother five minutes, there is no saying that he might not have talkedaway all Miss Crawford's faults and his own despondence. But as it was,they parted with looks on his side of grateful affection, and withsome very precious sensations on hers. She had felt nothing like it forhours. Since the first joy from Mr. Crawford's note to William had wornaway, she had been in a state absolutely the reverse; there had beenno comfort around, no hope within her. Now everything was smiling.William's good fortune returned again upon her mind, and seemed ofgreater value than at first. The ball, too--such an evening of pleasurebefore her! It was now a real animation; and she began to dress for itwith much of the happy flutter which belongs to a ball. All went well:she did not dislike her own looks; and when she came to the necklacesagain, her good fortune seemed complete, for upon trial the one givenher by Miss Crawford would by no means go through the ring of the cross.She had, to oblige Edmund, resolved to wear it; but it was too large forthe purpose. His, therefore, must be worn; and having, with delightfulfeelings, joined the chain and the cross--those memorials of the twomost beloved of her heart, those dearest tokens so formed for each otherby everything real and imaginary--and put them round her neck, and seenand felt how full of William and Edmund they were, she was able, withoutan effort, to resolve on wearing Miss Crawford's necklace too. Sheacknowledged it to be right. Miss Crawford had a claim; and when it wasno longer to encroach on, to interfere with the stronger claims, thetruer kindness of another, she could do her justice even with pleasureto herself. The necklace really looked very well; and Fanny left herroom at last, comfortably satisfied with herself and all about her.

  Her aunt Bertram had recollected her on this occasion with an unusualdegree of wakefulness. It had really occurred to her, unprompted, thatFanny, preparing for a ball, might be glad of better help than the upperhousemaid's, and when dressed herself, she actually sent her own maid toassist her; too late, of course, to be of any use. Mrs. Chapman had justreached the attic floor, when Miss Price came out of her room completelydressed, and only civilities were necessary; but Fanny felt her aunt'sattention almost as much as Lady Bertram or Mrs. Chapman could dothemselves.