Mansfield park, p.29
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       Mansfield Park, p.29

           Jane Austen


  The ball was over, and the breakfast was soon over too; the last kisswas given, and William was gone. Mr. Crawford had, as he foretold, beenvery punctual, and short and pleasant had been the meal.

  After seeing William to the last moment, Fanny walked back to thebreakfast-room with a very saddened heart to grieve over the melancholychange; and there her uncle kindly left her to cry in peace, conceiving,perhaps, that the deserted chair of each young man might exercise hertender enthusiasm, and that the remaining cold pork bones and mustard inWilliam's plate might but divide her feelings with the broken egg-shellsin Mr. Crawford's. She sat and cried _con_ _amore_ as her uncleintended, but it was _con_ _amore_ fraternal and no other. William wasgone, and she now felt as if she had wasted half his visit in idle caresand selfish solicitudes unconnected with him.

  Fanny's disposition was such that she could never even think of heraunt Norris in the meagreness and cheerlessness of her own small house,without reproaching herself for some little want of attention to herwhen they had been last together; much less could her feelings acquither of having done and said and thought everything by William that wasdue to him for a whole fortnight.

  It was a heavy, melancholy day. Soon after the second breakfast, Edmundbade them good-bye for a week, and mounted his horse for Peterborough,and then all were gone. Nothing remained of last night but remembrances,which she had nobody to share in. She talked to her aunt Bertram--shemust talk to somebody of the ball; but her aunt had seen so little ofwhat had passed, and had so little curiosity, that it was heavy work.Lady Bertram was not certain of anybody's dress or anybody's place atsupper but her own. "She could not recollect what it was that she hadheard about one of the Miss Maddoxes, or what it was that Lady Prescotthad noticed in Fanny: she was not sure whether Colonel Harrison had beentalking of Mr. Crawford or of William when he said he was the finestyoung man in the room--somebody had whispered something to her; she hadforgot to ask Sir Thomas what it could be." And these were her longestspeeches and clearest communications: the rest was only a languid "Yes,yes; very well; did you? did he? I did not see _that_; I should not knowone from the other." This was very bad. It was only better than Mrs.Norris's sharp answers would have been; but she being gone home withall the supernumerary jellies to nurse a sick maid, there was peaceand good-humour in their little party, though it could not boast muchbeside.

  The evening was heavy like the day. "I cannot think what is the matterwith me," said Lady Bertram, when the tea-things were removed. "I feelquite stupid. It must be sitting up so late last night. Fanny, you mustdo something to keep me awake. I cannot work. Fetch the cards; I feel sovery stupid."

  The cards were brought, and Fanny played at cribbage with her aunt tillbedtime; and as Sir Thomas was reading to himself, no sounds wereheard in the room for the next two hours beyond the reckonings of thegame--"And _that_ makes thirty-one; four in hand and eight in crib. Youare to deal, ma'am; shall I deal for you?" Fanny thought and thoughtagain of the difference which twenty-four hours had made in that room,and all that part of the house. Last night it had been hope and smiles,bustle and motion, noise and brilliancy, in the drawing-room, and outof the drawing-room, and everywhere. Now it was languor, and all butsolitude.

  A good night's rest improved her spirits. She could think of William thenext day more cheerfully; and as the morning afforded her an opportunityof talking over Thursday night with Mrs. Grant and Miss Crawford, in avery handsome style, with all the heightenings of imagination, andall the laughs of playfulness which are so essential to the shade of adeparted ball, she could afterwards bring her mind without much effortinto its everyday state, and easily conform to the tranquillity of thepresent quiet week.

  They were indeed a smaller party than she had ever known there fora whole day together, and _he_ was gone on whom the comfort andcheerfulness of every family meeting and every meal chiefly depended.But this must be learned to be endured. He would soon be always gone;and she was thankful that she could now sit in the same room with heruncle, hear his voice, receive his questions, and even answer them,without such wretched feelings as she had formerly known.

  "We miss our two young men," was Sir Thomas's observation on both thefirst and second day, as they formed their very reduced circle afterdinner; and in consideration of Fanny's swimming eyes, nothing more wassaid on the first day than to drink their good health; but on thesecond it led to something farther. William was kindly commended andhis promotion hoped for. "And there is no reason to suppose," added SirThomas, "but that his visits to us may now be tolerably frequent. As toEdmund, we must learn to do without him. This will be the last winter ofhis belonging to us, as he has done."

  "Yes," said Lady Bertram, "but I wish he was not going away. They areall going away, I think. I wish they would stay at home."

  This wish was levelled principally at Julia, who had just applied forpermission to go to town with Maria; and as Sir Thomas thought it bestfor each daughter that the permission should be granted, Lady Bertram,though in her own good-nature she would not have prevented it, waslamenting the change it made in the prospect of Julia's return, whichwould otherwise have taken place about this time. A great deal of goodsense followed on Sir Thomas's side, tending to reconcile his wife tothe arrangement. Everything that a considerate parent _ought_ to feelwas advanced for her use; and everything that an affectionate mother_must_ feel in promoting her children's enjoyment was attributed to hernature. Lady Bertram agreed to it all with a calm "Yes"; and at the endof a quarter of an hour's silent consideration spontaneously observed,"Sir Thomas, I have been thinking--and I am very glad we took Fanny aswe did, for now the others are away we feel the good of it."

  Sir Thomas immediately improved this compliment by adding, "Very true.We shew Fanny what a good girl we think her by praising her to her face,she is now a very valuable companion. If we have been kind to _her_, sheis now quite as necessary to _us_."

  "Yes," said Lady Bertram presently; "and it is a comfort to think thatwe shall always have _her_."

  Sir Thomas paused, half smiled, glanced at his niece, and then gravelyreplied, "She will never leave us, I hope, till invited to some otherhome that may reasonably promise her greater happiness than she knowshere."

  "And _that_ is not very likely to be, Sir Thomas. Who should invite her?Maria might be very glad to see her at Sotherton now and then, but shewould not think of asking her to live there; and I am sure she is betteroff here; and besides, I cannot do without her."

  The week which passed so quietly and peaceably at the great house inMansfield had a very different character at the Parsonage. To the younglady, at least, in each family, it brought very different feelings. Whatwas tranquillity and comfort to Fanny was tediousness and vexation toMary. Something arose from difference of disposition and habit: one soeasily satisfied, the other so unused to endure; but still more might beimputed to difference of circumstances. In some points of interest theywere exactly opposed to each other. To Fanny's mind, Edmund's absencewas really, in its cause and its tendency, a relief. To Mary it wasevery way painful. She felt the want of his society every day, almostevery hour, and was too much in want of it to derive anything butirritation from considering the object for which he went. He could nothave devised anything more likely to raise his consequence than thisweek's absence, occurring as it did at the very time of her brother'sgoing away, of William Price's going too, and completing the sort ofgeneral break-up of a party which had been so animated. She felt itkeenly. They were now a miserable trio, confined within doors by aseries of rain and snow, with nothing to do and no variety to hope for.Angry as she was with Edmund for adhering to his own notions, and actingon them in defiance of her (and she had been so angry that they hadhardly parted friends at the ball), she could not help thinking ofhim continually when absent, dwelling on his merit and affection, andlonging again for the almost daily meetings they lately had. His absencewas unnecessarily long. He should not have planned such an absence--heshould not hav
e left home for a week, when her own departure fromMansfield was so near. Then she began to blame herself. She wished shehad not spoken so warmly in their last conversation. She was afraid shehad used some strong, some contemptuous expressions in speaking of theclergy, and that should not have been. It was ill-bred; it was wrong.She wished such words unsaid with all her heart.

  Her vexation did not end with the week. All this was bad, but she hadstill more to feel when Friday came round again and brought no Edmund;when Saturday came and still no Edmund; and when, through the slightcommunication with the other family which Sunday produced, she learnedthat he had actually written home to defer his return, having promisedto remain some days longer with his friend.

  If she had felt impatience and regret before--if she had been sorry forwhat she said, and feared its too strong effect on him--she now feltand feared it all tenfold more. She had, moreover, to contend with onedisagreeable emotion entirely new to her--jealousy. His friend Mr.Owen had sisters; he might find them attractive. But, at any rate, hisstaying away at a time when, according to all preceding plans, she wasto remove to London, meant something that she could not bear. Had Henryreturned, as he talked of doing, at the end of three or four days, sheshould now have been leaving Mansfield. It became absolutely necessaryfor her to get to Fanny and try to learn something more. She could notlive any longer in such solitary wretchedness; and she made her wayto the Park, through difficulties of walking which she had deemedunconquerable a week before, for the chance of hearing a little inaddition, for the sake of at least hearing his name.

  The first half-hour was lost, for Fanny and Lady Bertram were together,and unless she had Fanny to herself she could hope for nothing. Butat last Lady Bertram left the room, and then almost immediately MissCrawford thus began, with a voice as well regulated as she could--"Andhow do _you_ like your cousin Edmund's staying away so long? Being theonly young person at home, I consider _you_ as the greatest sufferer.You must miss him. Does his staying longer surprise you?"

  "I do not know," said Fanny hesitatingly. "Yes; I had not particularlyexpected it."

  "Perhaps he will always stay longer than he talks of. It is the generalway all young men do."

  "He did not, the only time he went to see Mr. Owen before."

  "He finds the house more agreeable _now_. He is a very--a very pleasingyoung man himself, and I cannot help being rather concerned at notseeing him again before I go to London, as will now undoubtedly be thecase. I am looking for Henry every day, and as soon as he comes therewill be nothing to detain me at Mansfield. I should like to have seenhim once more, I confess. But you must give my compliments to him. Yes;I think it must be compliments. Is not there a something wanted,Miss Price, in our language--a something between compliments and--andlove--to suit the sort of friendly acquaintance we have had together? Somany months' acquaintance! But compliments may be sufficient here.Was his letter a long one? Does he give you much account of what he isdoing? Is it Christmas gaieties that he is staying for?"

  "I only heard a part of the letter; it was to my uncle; but I believeit was very short; indeed I am sure it was but a few lines. All that Iheard was that his friend had pressed him to stay longer, and that hehad agreed to do so. A _few_ days longer, or _some_ days longer; I amnot quite sure which."

  "Oh! if he wrote to his father; but I thought it might have been to LadyBertram or you. But if he wrote to his father, no wonder he was concise.Who could write chat to Sir Thomas? If he had written to you, therewould have been more particulars. You would have heard of ballsand parties. He would have sent you a description of everything andeverybody. How many Miss Owens are there?"

  "Three grown up."

  "Are they musical?"

  "I do not at all know. I never heard."

  "That is the first question, you know," said Miss Crawford, trying toappear gay and unconcerned, "which every woman who plays herself is sureto ask about another. But it is very foolish to ask questions aboutany young ladies--about any three sisters just grown up; for one knows,without being told, exactly what they are: all very accomplished andpleasing, and one very pretty. There is a beauty in every family; it isa regular thing. Two play on the pianoforte, and one on the harp; andall sing, or would sing if they were taught, or sing all the better fornot being taught; or something like it."

  "I know nothing of the Miss Owens," said Fanny calmly.

  "You know nothing and you care less, as people say. Never did toneexpress indifference plainer. Indeed, how can one care for those one hasnever seen? Well, when your cousin comes back, he will find Mansfieldvery quiet; all the noisy ones gone, your brother and mine and myself. Ido not like the idea of leaving Mrs. Grant now the time draws near. Shedoes not like my going."

  Fanny felt obliged to speak. "You cannot doubt your being missed bymany," said she. "You will be very much missed."

  Miss Crawford turned her eye on her, as if wanting to hear or see more,and then laughingly said, "Oh yes! missed as every noisy evil is missedwhen it is taken away; that is, there is a great difference felt. But Iam not fishing; don't compliment me. If I _am_ missed, it will appear.I may be discovered by those who want to see me. I shall not be in anydoubtful, or distant, or unapproachable region."

  Now Fanny could not bring herself to speak, and Miss Crawford wasdisappointed; for she had hoped to hear some pleasant assurance of herpower from one who she thought must know, and her spirits were cloudedagain.

  "The Miss Owens," said she, soon afterwards; "suppose you were to haveone of the Miss Owens settled at Thornton Lacey; how should you like it?Stranger things have happened. I dare say they are trying for it. Andthey are quite in the right, for it would be a very pretty establishmentfor them. I do not at all wonder or blame them. It is everybody's dutyto do as well for themselves as they can. Sir Thomas Bertram's son issomebody; and now he is in their own line. Their father is a clergyman,and their brother is a clergyman, and they are all clergymen together.He is their lawful property; he fairly belongs to them. You don't speak,Fanny; Miss Price, you don't speak. But honestly now, do not you ratherexpect it than otherwise?"

  "No," said Fanny stoutly, "I do not expect it at all."

  "Not at all!" cried Miss Crawford with alacrity. "I wonder at that. ButI dare say you know exactly--I always imagine you are--perhaps you donot think him likely to marry at all--or not at present."

  "No, I do not," said Fanny softly, hoping she did not err either in thebelief or the acknowledgment of it.

  Her companion looked at her keenly; and gathering greater spirit fromthe blush soon produced from such a look, only said, "He is best off ashe is," and turned the subject.