Mansfield park, p.3
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       Mansfield Park, p.3

           Jane Austen
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  CHAPTER III

  The first event of any importance in the family was the death of Mr.Norris, which happened when Fanny was about fifteen, and necessarilyintroduced alterations and novelties. Mrs. Norris, on quitting theParsonage, removed first to the Park, and afterwards to a small houseof Sir Thomas's in the village, and consoled herself for the loss of herhusband by considering that she could do very well without him; and forher reduction of income by the evident necessity of stricter economy.

  The living was hereafter for Edmund; and, had his uncle died a few yearssooner, it would have been duly given to some friend to hold till hewere old enough for orders. But Tom's extravagance had, previous tothat event, been so great as to render a different disposal of the nextpresentation necessary, and the younger brother must help to pay for thepleasures of the elder. There was another family living actually heldfor Edmund; but though this circumstance had made the arrangementsomewhat easier to Sir Thomas's conscience, he could not but feel it tobe an act of injustice, and he earnestly tried to impress his eldest sonwith the same conviction, in the hope of its producing a better effectthan anything he had yet been able to say or do.

  "I blush for you, Tom," said he, in his most dignified manner; "I blushfor the expedient which I am driven on, and I trust I may pity yourfeelings as a brother on the occasion. You have robbed Edmund for ten,twenty, thirty years, perhaps for life, of more than half the incomewhich ought to be his. It may hereafter be in my power, or in yours(I hope it will), to procure him better preferment; but it must notbe forgotten that no benefit of that sort would have been beyond hisnatural claims on us, and that nothing can, in fact, be an equivalentfor the certain advantage which he is now obliged to forego through theurgency of your debts."

  Tom listened with some shame and some sorrow; but escaping as quickly aspossible, could soon with cheerful selfishness reflect, firstly, that hehad not been half so much in debt as some of his friends; secondly, thathis father had made a most tiresome piece of work of it; and,thirdly, that the future incumbent, whoever he might be, would, in allprobability, die very soon.

  On Mr. Norris's death the presentation became the right of a Dr. Grant,who came consequently to reside at Mansfield; and on proving to be ahearty man of forty-five, seemed likely to disappoint Mr. Bertram'scalculations. But "no, he was a short-necked, apoplectic sort of fellow,and, plied well with good things, would soon pop off."

  He had a wife about fifteen years his junior, but no children; andthey entered the neighbourhood with the usual fair report of being veryrespectable, agreeable people.

  The time was now come when Sir Thomas expected his sister-in-law toclaim her share in their niece, the change in Mrs. Norris's situation,and the improvement in Fanny's age, seeming not merely to do away anyformer objection to their living together, but even to give it the mostdecided eligibility; and as his own circumstances were rendered lessfair than heretofore, by some recent losses on his West India estate, inaddition to his eldest son's extravagance, it became not undesirableto himself to be relieved from the expense of her support, and theobligation of her future provision. In the fullness of his belief thatsuch a thing must be, he mentioned its probability to his wife; and thefirst time of the subject's occurring to her again happening to be whenFanny was present, she calmly observed to her, "So, Fanny, you are goingto leave us, and live with my sister. How shall you like it?"

  Fanny was too much surprised to do more than repeat her aunt's words,"Going to leave you?"

  "Yes, my dear; why should you be astonished? You have been five yearswith us, and my sister always meant to take you when Mr. Norris died.But you must come up and tack on my patterns all the same."

  The news was as disagreeable to Fanny as it had been unexpected. She hadnever received kindness from her aunt Norris, and could not love her.

  "I shall be very sorry to go away," said she, with a faltering voice.

  "Yes, I dare say you will; _that's_ natural enough. I suppose you havehad as little to vex you since you came into this house as any creaturein the world."

  "I hope I am not ungrateful, aunt," said Fanny modestly.

  "No, my dear; I hope not. I have always found you a very good girl."

  "And am I never to live here again?"

  "Never, my dear; but you are sure of a comfortable home. It can makevery little difference to you, whether you are in one house or theother."

  Fanny left the room with a very sorrowful heart; she could not feel thedifference to be so small, she could not think of living with her auntwith anything like satisfaction. As soon as she met with Edmund she toldhim her distress.

  "Cousin," said she, "something is going to happen which I do not likeat all; and though you have often persuaded me into being reconciled tothings that I disliked at first, you will not be able to do it now. I amgoing to live entirely with my aunt Norris."

  "Indeed!"

  "Yes; my aunt Bertram has just told me so. It is quite settled. I am toleave Mansfield Park, and go to the White House, I suppose, as soon asshe is removed there."

  "Well, Fanny, and if the plan were not unpleasant to you, I should callit an excellent one."

  "Oh, cousin!"

  "It has everything else in its favour. My aunt is acting like a sensiblewoman in wishing for you. She is choosing a friend and companion exactlywhere she ought, and I am glad her love of money does not interfere.You will be what you ought to be to her. I hope it does not distress youvery much, Fanny?"

  "Indeed it does: I cannot like it. I love this house and everything init: I shall love nothing there. You know how uncomfortable I feel withher."

  "I can say nothing for her manner to you as a child; but it was thesame with us all, or nearly so. She never knew how to be pleasant tochildren. But you are now of an age to be treated better; I think she isbehaving better already; and when you are her only companion, you _must_be important to her."

  "I can never be important to any one."

  "What is to prevent you?"

  "Everything. My situation, my foolishness and awkwardness."

  "As to your foolishness and awkwardness, my dear Fanny, believe me, younever have a shadow of either, but in using the words so improperly.There is no reason in the world why you should not be important whereyou are known. You have good sense, and a sweet temper, and I am sureyou have a grateful heart, that could never receive kindness withoutwishing to return it. I do not know any better qualifications for afriend and companion."

  "You are too kind," said Fanny, colouring at such praise; "how shall Iever thank you as I ought, for thinking so well of me. Oh! cousin, if Iam to go away, I shall remember your goodness to the last moment of mylife."

  "Why, indeed, Fanny, I should hope to be remembered at such a distanceas the White House. You speak as if you were going two hundred milesoff instead of only across the park; but you will belong to us almostas much as ever. The two families will be meeting every day in theyear. The only difference will be that, living with your aunt, you willnecessarily be brought forward as you ought to be. _Here_ there aretoo many whom you can hide behind; but with _her_ you will be forced tospeak for yourself."

  "Oh! I do not say so."

  "I must say it, and say it with pleasure. Mrs. Norris is much betterfitted than my mother for having the charge of you now. She is of atemper to do a great deal for anybody she really interests herselfabout, and she will force you to do justice to your natural powers."

  Fanny sighed, and said, "I cannot see things as you do; but I ought tobelieve you to be right rather than myself, and I am very much obligedto you for trying to reconcile me to what must be. If I could supposemy aunt really to care for me, it would be delightful to feel myself ofconsequence to anybody. _Here_, I know, I am of none, and yet I love theplace so well."

  "The place, Fanny, is what you will not quit, though you quit the house.You will have as free a command of the park and gardens as ever. Even_your_ constant little heart need not take fright at such a nominalchange. You will have the s
ame walks to frequent, the same library tochoose from, the same people to look at, the same horse to ride."

  "Very true. Yes, dear old grey pony! Ah! cousin, when I remember howmuch I used to dread riding, what terrors it gave me to hear it talkedof as likely to do me good (oh! how I have trembled at my uncle'sopening his lips if horses were talked of), and then think of the kindpains you took to reason and persuade me out of my fears, and convinceme that I should like it after a little while, and feel how right youproved to be, I am inclined to hope you may always prophesy as well."

  "And I am quite convinced that your being with Mrs. Norris will be asgood for your mind as riding has been for your health, and as much foryour ultimate happiness too."

  So ended their discourse, which, for any very appropriate service itcould render Fanny, might as well have been spared, for Mrs. Norris hadnot the smallest intention of taking her. It had never occurred to her,on the present occasion, but as a thing to be carefully avoided. Toprevent its being expected, she had fixed on the smallest habitationwhich could rank as genteel among the buildings of Mansfield parish,the White House being only just large enough to receive herself and herservants, and allow a spare room for a friend, of which she made avery particular point. The spare rooms at the Parsonage had never beenwanted, but the absolute necessity of a spare room for a friend was nownever forgotten. Not all her precautions, however, could save her frombeing suspected of something better; or, perhaps, her very display ofthe importance of a spare room might have misled Sir Thomas to supposeit really intended for Fanny. Lady Bertram soon brought the matter to acertainty by carelessly observing to Mrs. Norris--

  "I think, sister, we need not keep Miss Lee any longer, when Fanny goesto live with you."

  Mrs. Norris almost started. "Live with me, dear Lady Bertram! what doyou mean?"

  "Is she not to live with you? I thought you had settled it with SirThomas."

  "Me! never. I never spoke a syllable about it to Sir Thomas, nor he tome. Fanny live with me! the last thing in the world for me to thinkof, or for anybody to wish that really knows us both. Good heaven! whatcould I do with Fanny? Me! a poor, helpless, forlorn widow, unfit foranything, my spirits quite broke down; what could I do with a girl ather time of life? A girl of fifteen! the very age of all others to needmost attention and care, and put the cheerfullest spirits to the test!Sure Sir Thomas could not seriously expect such a thing! Sir Thomas istoo much my friend. Nobody that wishes me well, I am sure, would proposeit. How came Sir Thomas to speak to you about it?"

  "Indeed, I do not know. I suppose he thought it best."

  "But what did he say? He could not say he _wished_ me to take Fanny. Iam sure in his heart he could not wish me to do it."

  "No; he only said he thought it very likely; and I thought so too. Weboth thought it would be a comfort to you. But if you do not like it,there is no more to be said. She is no encumbrance here."

  "Dear sister, if you consider my unhappy state, how can she be anycomfort to me? Here am I, a poor desolate widow, deprived of the best ofhusbands, my health gone in attending and nursing him, my spirits stillworse, all my peace in this world destroyed, with hardly enough tosupport me in the rank of a gentlewoman, and enable me to live so as notto disgrace the memory of the dear departed--what possible comfort couldI have in taking such a charge upon me as Fanny? If I could wish it formy own sake, I would not do so unjust a thing by the poor girl. Sheis in good hands, and sure of doing well. I must struggle through mysorrows and difficulties as I can."

  "Then you will not mind living by yourself quite alone?"

  "Lady Bertram, I do not complain. I know I cannot live as I have done,but I must retrench where I can, and learn to be a better manager. I_have_ _been_ a liberal housekeeper enough, but I shall not be ashamedto practise economy now. My situation is as much altered as my income.A great many things were due from poor Mr. Norris, as clergyman of theparish, that cannot be expected from me. It is unknown how much wasconsumed in our kitchen by odd comers and goers. At the White House,matters must be better looked after. I _must_ live within my income, orI shall be miserable; and I own it would give me great satisfaction tobe able to do rather more, to lay by a little at the end of the year."

  "I dare say you will. You always do, don't you?"

  "My object, Lady Bertram, is to be of use to those that come after me.It is for your children's good that I wish to be richer. I have nobodyelse to care for, but I should be very glad to think I could leave alittle trifle among them worth their having."

  "You are very good, but do not trouble yourself about them. They aresure of being well provided for. Sir Thomas will take care of that."

  "Why, you know, Sir Thomas's means will be rather straitened if theAntigua estate is to make such poor returns."

  "Oh! _that_ will soon be settled. Sir Thomas has been writing about it,I know."

  "Well, Lady Bertram," said Mrs. Norris, moving to go, "I can only saythat my sole desire is to be of use to your family: and so, if SirThomas should ever speak again about my taking Fanny, you will be ableto say that my health and spirits put it quite out of the question;besides that, I really should not have a bed to give her, for I mustkeep a spare room for a friend."

  Lady Bertram repeated enough of this conversation to her husband toconvince him how much he had mistaken his sister-in-law's views; andshe was from that moment perfectly safe from all expectation, or theslightest allusion to it from him. He could not but wonder at herrefusing to do anything for a niece whom she had been so forward toadopt; but, as she took early care to make him, as well as Lady Bertram,understand that whatever she possessed was designed for their family,he soon grew reconciled to a distinction which, at the same time that itwas advantageous and complimentary to them, would enable him better toprovide for Fanny himself.

  Fanny soon learnt how unnecessary had been her fears of a removal;and her spontaneous, untaught felicity on the discovery, conveyed someconsolation to Edmund for his disappointment in what he had expected tobe so essentially serviceable to her. Mrs. Norris took possession of theWhite House, the Grants arrived at the Parsonage, and these events over,everything at Mansfield went on for some time as usual.

  The Grants showing a disposition to be friendly and sociable, gave greatsatisfaction in the main among their new acquaintance. They had theirfaults, and Mrs. Norris soon found them out. The Doctor was very fond ofeating, and would have a good dinner every day; and Mrs. Grant, insteadof contriving to gratify him at little expense, gave her cook as highwages as they did at Mansfield Park, and was scarcely ever seen in heroffices. Mrs. Norris could not speak with any temper of such grievances,nor of the quantity of butter and eggs that were regularly consumedin the house. "Nobody loved plenty and hospitality more than herself;nobody more hated pitiful doings; the Parsonage, she believed, had neverbeen wanting in comforts of any sort, had never borne a bad characterin _her_ _time_, but this was a way of going on that she could notunderstand. A fine lady in a country parsonage was quite out of place._Her_ store-room, she thought, might have been good enough for Mrs.Grant to go into. Inquire where she would, she could not find out thatMrs. Grant had ever had more than five thousand pounds."

  Lady Bertram listened without much interest to this sort of invective.She could not enter into the wrongs of an economist, but she felt allthe injuries of beauty in Mrs. Grant's being so well settled in lifewithout being handsome, and expressed her astonishment on that pointalmost as often, though not so diffusely, as Mrs. Norris discussed theother.

  These opinions had been hardly canvassed a year before another eventarose of such importance in the family, as might fairly claim some placein the thoughts and conversation of the ladies. Sir Thomas found itexpedient to go to Antigua himself, for the better arrangement of hisaffairs, and he took his eldest son with him, in the hope of detachinghim from some bad connexions at home. They left England with theprobability of being nearly a twelvemonth absent.

  The necessity of the measure in a pecuniary light, and the
hope of itsutility to his son, reconciled Sir Thomas to the effort of quitting therest of his family, and of leaving his daughters to the direction ofothers at their present most interesting time of life. He could notthink Lady Bertram quite equal to supply his place with them, or rather,to perform what should have been her own; but, in Mrs. Norris's watchfulattention, and in Edmund's judgment, he had sufficient confidence tomake him go without fears for their conduct.

  Lady Bertram did not at all like to have her husband leave her; but shewas not disturbed by any alarm for his safety, or solicitude for hiscomfort, being one of those persons who think nothing can be dangerous,or difficult, or fatiguing to anybody but themselves.

  The Miss Bertrams were much to be pitied on the occasion: not for theirsorrow, but for their want of it. Their father was no object of love tothem; he had never seemed the friend of their pleasures, and his absencewas unhappily most welcome. They were relieved by it from all restraint;and without aiming at one gratification that would probably have beenforbidden by Sir Thomas, they felt themselves immediately at theirown disposal, and to have every indulgence within their reach. Fanny'srelief, and her consciousness of it, were quite equal to her cousins';but a more tender nature suggested that her feelings were ungrateful,and she really grieved because she could not grieve. "Sir Thomas, whohad done so much for her and her brothers, and who was gone perhapsnever to return! that she should see him go without a tear! it was ashameful insensibility." He had said to her, moreover, on the very lastmorning, that he hoped she might see William again in the course of theensuing winter, and had charged her to write and invite him to Mansfieldas soon as the squadron to which he belonged should be known to bein England. "This was so thoughtful and kind!" and would he only havesmiled upon her, and called her "my dear Fanny," while he said it, everyformer frown or cold address might have been forgotten. But he had endedhis speech in a way to sink her in sad mortification, by adding, "IfWilliam does come to Mansfield, I hope you may be able to convince himthat the many years which have passed since you parted have not beenspent on your side entirely without improvement; though, I fear, he mustfind his sister at sixteen in some respects too much like his sister atten." She cried bitterly over this reflection when her uncle wasgone; and her cousins, on seeing her with red eyes, set her down as ahypocrite.