Mansfield park, p.38
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       Mansfield Park, p.38

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XXXVIII

  The novelty of travelling, and the happiness of being with William, soonproduced their natural effect on Fanny's spirits, when Mansfield Parkwas fairly left behind; and by the time their first stage was ended, andthey were to quit Sir Thomas's carriage, she was able to take leave ofthe old coachman, and send back proper messages, with cheerful looks.

  Of pleasant talk between the brother and sister there was no end.Everything supplied an amusement to the high glee of William's mind, andhe was full of frolic and joke in the intervals of their higher-tonedsubjects, all of which ended, if they did not begin, in praise of theThrush, conjectures how she would be employed, schemes for an actionwith some superior force, which (supposing the first lieutenant out ofthe way, and William was not very merciful to the first lieutenant) wasto give himself the next step as soon as possible, or speculations uponprize-money, which was to be generously distributed at home, with onlythe reservation of enough to make the little cottage comfortable,in which he and Fanny were to pass all their middle and later lifetogether.

  Fanny's immediate concerns, as far as they involved Mr. Crawford, madeno part of their conversation. William knew what had passed, and fromhis heart lamented that his sister's feelings should be so cold towardsa man whom he must consider as the first of human characters; but he wasof an age to be all for love, and therefore unable to blame; and knowingher wish on the subject, he would not distress her by the slightestallusion.

  She had reason to suppose herself not yet forgotten by Mr. Crawford. Shehad heard repeatedly from his sister within the three weeks which hadpassed since their leaving Mansfield, and in each letter there had beena few lines from himself, warm and determined like his speeches. Itwas a correspondence which Fanny found quite as unpleasant as she hadfeared. Miss Crawford's style of writing, lively and affectionate, wasitself an evil, independent of what she was thus forced into readingfrom the brother's pen, for Edmund would never rest till she had readthe chief of the letter to him; and then she had to listen to hisadmiration of her language, and the warmth of her attachments. Therehad, in fact, been so much of message, of allusion, of recollection, somuch of Mansfield in every letter, that Fanny could not but suppose itmeant for him to hear; and to find herself forced into a purpose ofthat kind, compelled into a correspondence which was bringing her theaddresses of the man she did not love, and obliging her to administerto the adverse passion of the man she did, was cruelly mortifying. Here,too, her present removal promised advantage. When no longer under thesame roof with Edmund, she trusted that Miss Crawford would have nomotive for writing strong enough to overcome the trouble, and that atPortsmouth their correspondence would dwindle into nothing.

  With such thoughts as these, among ten hundred others, Fanny proceededin her journey safely and cheerfully, and as expeditiously as couldrationally be hoped in the dirty month of February. They entered Oxford,but she could take only a hasty glimpse of Edmund's college as theypassed along, and made no stop anywhere till they reached Newbury, wherea comfortable meal, uniting dinner and supper, wound up the enjoymentsand fatigues of the day.

  The next morning saw them off again at an early hour; and with noevents, and no delays, they regularly advanced, and were in the environsof Portsmouth while there was yet daylight for Fanny to look around her,and wonder at the new buildings. They passed the drawbridge, andentered the town; and the light was only beginning to fail as, guidedby William's powerful voice, they were rattled into a narrow street,leading from the High Street, and drawn up before the door of a smallhouse now inhabited by Mr. Price.

  Fanny was all agitation and flutter; all hope and apprehension. Themoment they stopped, a trollopy-looking maidservant, seemingly inwaiting for them at the door, stepped forward, and more intent ontelling the news than giving them any help, immediately began with, "TheThrush is gone out of harbour, please sir, and one of the officers hasbeen here to--" She was interrupted by a fine tall boy of eleven yearsold, who, rushing out of the house, pushed the maid aside, and whileWilliam was opening the chaise-door himself, called out, "You are justin time. We have been looking for you this half-hour. The Thrush wentout of harbour this morning. I saw her. It was a beautiful sight. Andthey think she will have her orders in a day or two. And Mr. Campbellwas here at four o'clock to ask for you: he has got one of the Thrush'sboats, and is going off to her at six, and hoped you would be here intime to go with him."

  A stare or two at Fanny, as William helped her out of the carriage, wasall the voluntary notice which this brother bestowed; but he made noobjection to her kissing him, though still entirely engaged in detailingfarther particulars of the Thrush's going out of harbour, in whichhe had a strong right of interest, being to commence his career ofseamanship in her at this very time.

  Another moment and Fanny was in the narrow entrance-passage of thehouse, and in her mother's arms, who met her there with looks of truekindness, and with features which Fanny loved the more, because theybrought her aunt Bertram's before her, and there were her two sisters:Susan, a well-grown fine girl of fourteen, and Betsey, the youngest ofthe family, about five--both glad to see her in their way, though withno advantage of manner in receiving her. But manner Fanny did not want.Would they but love her, she should be satisfied.

  She was then taken into a parlour, so small that her first convictionwas of its being only a passage-room to something better, and she stoodfor a moment expecting to be invited on; but when she saw there wasno other door, and that there were signs of habitation before her, shecalled back her thoughts, reproved herself, and grieved lest they shouldhave been suspected. Her mother, however, could not stay long enoughto suspect anything. She was gone again to the street-door, to welcomeWilliam. "Oh! my dear William, how glad I am to see you. But have youheard about the Thrush? She is gone out of harbour already; three daysbefore we had any thought of it; and I do not know what I am to do aboutSam's things, they will never be ready in time; for she may have herorders to-morrow, perhaps. It takes me quite unawares. And now you mustbe off for Spithead too. Campbell has been here, quite in a worry aboutyou; and now what shall we do? I thought to have had such a comfortableevening with you, and here everything comes upon me at once."

  Her son answered cheerfully, telling her that everything was always forthe best; and making light of his own inconvenience in being obliged tohurry away so soon.

  "To be sure, I had much rather she had stayed in harbour, that I mighthave sat a few hours with you in comfort; but as there is a boat ashore,I had better go off at once, and there is no help for it. Whereaboutsdoes the Thrush lay at Spithead? Near the Canopus? But no matter; here'sFanny in the parlour, and why should we stay in the passage? Come,mother, you have hardly looked at your own dear Fanny yet."

  In they both came, and Mrs. Price having kindly kissed her daughteragain, and commented a little on her growth, began with very naturalsolicitude to feel for their fatigues and wants as travellers.

  "Poor dears! how tired you must both be! and now, what will you have? Ibegan to think you would never come. Betsey and I have been watching foryou this half-hour. And when did you get anything to eat? And what wouldyou like to have now? I could not tell whether you would be for somemeat, or only a dish of tea, after your journey, or else I would havegot something ready. And now I am afraid Campbell will be here beforethere is time to dress a steak, and we have no butcher at hand. It isvery inconvenient to have no butcher in the street. We were better offin our last house. Perhaps you would like some tea as soon as it can begot."

  They both declared they should prefer it to anything. "Then, Betsey, mydear, run into the kitchen and see if Rebecca has put the water on; andtell her to bring in the tea-things as soon as she can. I wish we couldget the bell mended; but Betsey is a very handy little messenger."

  Betsey went with alacrity, proud to shew her abilities before her finenew sister.

  "Dear me!" continued the anxious mother, "what a sad fire we have got,and I dare say you are both starved with cold. Draw you
r chair nearer,my dear. I cannot think what Rebecca has been about. I am sure I toldher to bring some coals half an hour ago. Susan, you should have takencare of the fire."

  "I was upstairs, mama, moving my things," said Susan, in a fearless,self-defending tone, which startled Fanny. "You know you had but justsettled that my sister Fanny and I should have the other room; and Icould not get Rebecca to give me any help."

  Farther discussion was prevented by various bustles: first, the drivercame to be paid; then there was a squabble between Sam and Rebecca aboutthe manner of carrying up his sister's trunk, which he would manage allhis own way; and lastly, in walked Mr. Price himself, his own loud voicepreceding him, as with something of the oath kind he kicked away hisson's port-manteau and his daughter's bandbox in the passage, and calledout for a candle; no candle was brought, however, and he walked into theroom.

  Fanny with doubting feelings had risen to meet him, but sank down againon finding herself undistinguished in the dusk, and unthought of. Witha friendly shake of his son's hand, and an eager voice, he instantlybegan--"Ha! welcome back, my boy. Glad to see you. Have you heard thenews? The Thrush went out of harbour this morning. Sharp is theword, you see! By G--, you are just in time! The doctor has been hereinquiring for you: he has got one of the boats, and is to be off forSpithead by six, so you had better go with him. I have been to Turner'sabout your mess; it is all in a way to be done. I should not wonder ifyou had your orders to-morrow: but you cannot sail with this wind, ifyou are to cruise to the westward; and Captain Walsh thinks you willcertainly have a cruise to the westward, with the Elephant. By G--, Iwish you may! But old Scholey was saying, just now, that he thought youwould be sent first to the Texel. Well, well, we are ready, whateverhappens. But by G--, you lost a fine sight by not being here in themorning to see the Thrush go out of harbour! I would not have been outof the way for a thousand pounds. Old Scholey ran in at breakfast-time,to say she had slipped her moorings and was coming out, I jumped up, andmade but two steps to the platform. If ever there was a perfect beautyafloat, she is one; and there she lays at Spithead, and anybody inEngland would take her for an eight-and-twenty. I was upon the platformtwo hours this afternoon looking at her. She lays close to the Endymion,between her and the Cleopatra, just to the eastward of the sheer hulk."

  "Ha!" cried William, "_that's_ just where I should have put her myself.It's the best berth at Spithead. But here is my sister, sir; here isFanny," turning and leading her forward; "it is so dark you do not seeher."

  With an acknowledgment that he had quite forgot her, Mr. Price nowreceived his daughter; and having given her a cordial hug, and observedthat she was grown into a woman, and he supposed would be wanting ahusband soon, seemed very much inclined to forget her again. Fannyshrunk back to her seat, with feelings sadly pained by his language andhis smell of spirits; and he talked on only to his son, and only of theThrush, though William, warmly interested as he was in that subject,more than once tried to make his father think of Fanny, and her longabsence and long journey.

  After sitting some time longer, a candle was obtained; but as there wasstill no appearance of tea, nor, from Betsey's reports from the kitchen,much hope of any under a considerable period, William determined togo and change his dress, and make the necessary preparations forhis removal on board directly, that he might have his tea in comfortafterwards.

  As he left the room, two rosy-faced boys, ragged and dirty, about eightand nine years old, rushed into it just released from school, and comingeagerly to see their sister, and tell that the Thrush was gone out ofharbour; Tom and Charles. Charles had been born since Fanny's goingaway, but Tom she had often helped to nurse, and now felt a particularpleasure in seeing again. Both were kissed very tenderly, but Tom shewanted to keep by her, to try to trace the features of the baby she hadloved, and talked to, of his infant preference of herself. Tom, however,had no mind for such treatment: he came home not to stand and be talkedto, but to run about and make a noise; and both boys had soon burst fromher, and slammed the parlour-door till her temples ached.

  She had now seen all that were at home; there remained only two brothersbetween herself and Susan, one of whom was a clerk in a public officein London, and the other midshipman on board an Indiaman. But though shehad _seen_ all the members of the family, she had not yet _heard_ allthe noise they could make. Another quarter of an hour brought her agreat deal more. William was soon calling out from the landing-place ofthe second story for his mother and for Rebecca. He was in distressfor something that he had left there, and did not find again. A key wasmislaid, Betsey accused of having got at his new hat, and some slight,but essential alteration of his uniform waistcoat, which he had beenpromised to have done for him, entirely neglected.

  Mrs. Price, Rebecca, and Betsey all went up to defend themselves, alltalking together, but Rebecca loudest, and the job was to be done aswell as it could in a great hurry; William trying in vain to send Betseydown again, or keep her from being troublesome where she was; the wholeof which, as almost every door in the house was open, could be plainlydistinguished in the parlour, except when drowned at intervals by thesuperior noise of Sam, Tom, and Charles chasing each other up and downstairs, and tumbling about and hallooing.

  Fanny was almost stunned. The smallness of the house and thinness of thewalls brought everything so close to her, that, added to the fatigue ofher journey, and all her recent agitation, she hardly knew how tobear it. _Within_ the room all was tranquil enough, for Susan havingdisappeared with the others, there were soon only her father and herselfremaining; and he, taking out a newspaper, the accustomary loan of aneighbour, applied himself to studying it, without seeming to recollecther existence. The solitary candle was held between himself and thepaper, without any reference to her possible convenience; but she hadnothing to do, and was glad to have the light screened from her achinghead, as she sat in bewildered, broken, sorrowful contemplation.

  She was at home. But, alas! it was not such a home, she had not such awelcome, as--she checked herself; she was unreasonable. What right hadshe to be of importance to her family? She could have none, so long lostsight of! William's concerns must be dearest, they always had been, andhe had every right. Yet to have so little said or asked about herself,to have scarcely an inquiry made after Mansfield! It did pain her tohave Mansfield forgotten; the friends who had done so much--the dear,dear friends! But here, one subject swallowed up all the rest. Perhapsit must be so. The destination of the Thrush must be now preeminentlyinteresting. A day or two might shew the difference. _She_ only was toblame. Yet she thought it would not have been so at Mansfield. No, inher uncle's house there would have been a consideration of times andseasons, a regulation of subject, a propriety, an attention towardseverybody which there was not here.

  The only interruption which thoughts like these received for nearly halfan hour was from a sudden burst of her father's, not at all calculatedto compose them. At a more than ordinary pitch of thumping and hallooingin the passage, he exclaimed, "Devil take those young dogs! How they aresinging out! Ay, Sam's voice louder than all the rest! That boy is fitfor a boatswain. Holla, you there! Sam, stop your confounded pipe, or Ishall be after you."

  This threat was so palpably disregarded, that though within five minutesafterwards the three boys all burst into the room together and sat down,Fanny could not consider it as a proof of anything more than theirbeing for the time thoroughly fagged, which their hot faces and pantingbreaths seemed to prove, especially as they were still kicking eachother's shins, and hallooing out at sudden starts immediately undertheir father's eye.

  The next opening of the door brought something more welcome: it was forthe tea-things, which she had begun almost to despair of seeing thatevening. Susan and an attendant girl, whose inferior appearance informedFanny, to her great surprise, that she had previously seen the upperservant, brought in everything necessary for the meal; Susan looking, asshe put the kettle on the fire and glanced at her sister, as if dividedbetween the agreeable triumph
of shewing her activity and usefulness,and the dread of being thought to demean herself by such an office. "Shehad been into the kitchen," she said, "to hurry Sally and help make thetoast, and spread the bread and butter, or she did not know when theyshould have got tea, and she was sure her sister must want somethingafter her journey."

  Fanny was very thankful. She could not but own that she should be veryglad of a little tea, and Susan immediately set about making it, as ifpleased to have the employment all to herself; and with only a littleunnecessary bustle, and some few injudicious attempts at keeping herbrothers in better order than she could, acquitted herself very well.Fanny's spirit was as much refreshed as her body; her head and heartwere soon the better for such well-timed kindness. Susan had an open,sensible countenance; she was like William, and Fanny hoped to find herlike him in disposition and goodwill towards herself.

  In this more placid state of things William reentered, followed notfar behind by his mother and Betsey. He, complete in his lieutenant'suniform, looking and moving all the taller, firmer, and more gracefulfor it, and with the happiest smile over his face, walked up directlyto Fanny, who, rising from her seat, looked at him for a moment inspeechless admiration, and then threw her arms round his neck to sob outher various emotions of pain and pleasure.

  Anxious not to appear unhappy, she soon recovered herself; and wipingaway her tears, was able to notice and admire all the striking partsof his dress; listening with reviving spirits to his cheerful hopes ofbeing on shore some part of every day before they sailed, and even ofgetting her to Spithead to see the sloop.

  The next bustle brought in Mr. Campbell, the surgeon of the Thrush, avery well-behaved young man, who came to call for his friend, and forwhom there was with some contrivance found a chair, and with some hastywashing of the young tea-maker's, a cup and saucer; and after anotherquarter of an hour of earnest talk between the gentlemen, noise risingupon noise, and bustle upon bustle, men and boys at last all in motiontogether, the moment came for setting off; everything was ready, Williamtook leave, and all of them were gone; for the three boys, in spiteof their mother's entreaty, determined to see their brother and Mr.Campbell to the sally-port; and Mr. Price walked off at the same time tocarry back his neighbour's newspaper.

  Something like tranquillity might now be hoped for; and accordingly,when Rebecca had been prevailed on to carry away the tea-things,and Mrs. Price had walked about the room some time looking for ashirt-sleeve, which Betsey at last hunted out from a drawer in thekitchen, the small party of females were pretty well composed, and themother having lamented again over the impossibility of getting Sam readyin time, was at leisure to think of her eldest daughter and the friendsshe had come from.

  A few inquiries began: but one of the earliest--"How did sister Bertrammanage about her servants?" "Was she as much plagued as herself to gettolerable servants?"--soon led her mind away from Northamptonshire, andfixed it on her own domestic grievances, and the shocking character ofall the Portsmouth servants, of whom she believed her own two were thevery worst, engrossed her completely. The Bertrams were all forgottenin detailing the faults of Rebecca, against whom Susan had also muchto depose, and little Betsey a great deal more, and who did seem sothoroughly without a single recommendation, that Fanny could not helpmodestly presuming that her mother meant to part with her when her yearwas up.

  "Her year!" cried Mrs. Price; "I am sure I hope I shall be rid of herbefore she has staid a year, for that will not be up till November.Servants are come to such a pass, my dear, in Portsmouth, that it isquite a miracle if one keeps them more than half a year. I have no hopeof ever being settled; and if I was to part with Rebecca, I shouldonly get something worse. And yet I do not think I am a very difficultmistress to please; and I am sure the place is easy enough, for there isalways a girl under her, and I often do half the work myself."

  Fanny was silent; but not from being convinced that there might not be aremedy found for some of these evils. As she now sat looking at Betsey,she could not but think particularly of another sister, a very prettylittle girl, whom she had left there not much younger when she went intoNorthamptonshire, who had died a few years afterwards. There had beensomething remarkably amiable about her. Fanny in those early days hadpreferred her to Susan; and when the news of her death had at lastreached Mansfield, had for a short time been quite afflicted. The sightof Betsey brought the image of little Mary back again, but she wouldnot have pained her mother by alluding to her for the world. Whileconsidering her with these ideas, Betsey, at a small distance, washolding out something to catch her eyes, meaning to screen it at thesame time from Susan's.

  "What have you got there, my love?" said Fanny; "come and shew it tome."

  It was a silver knife. Up jumped Susan, claiming it as her own, andtrying to get it away; but the child ran to her mother's protection,and Susan could only reproach, which she did very warmly, and evidentlyhoping to interest Fanny on her side. "It was very hard that she was notto have her _own_ knife; it was her own knife; little sister Mary hadleft it to her upon her deathbed, and she ought to have had it to keepherself long ago. But mama kept it from her, and was always lettingBetsey get hold of it; and the end of it would be that Betsey wouldspoil it, and get it for her own, though mama had _promised_ her thatBetsey should not have it in her own hands."

  Fanny was quite shocked. Every feeling of duty, honour, and tendernesswas wounded by her sister's speech and her mother's reply.

  "Now, Susan," cried Mrs. Price, in a complaining voice, "now, how canyou be so cross? You are always quarrelling about that knife. I wish youwould not be so quarrelsome. Poor little Betsey; how cross Susan is toyou! But you should not have taken it out, my dear, when I sent you tothe drawer. You know I told you not to touch it, because Susan is socross about it. I must hide it another time, Betsey. Poor Mary littlethought it would be such a bone of contention when she gave it me tokeep, only two hours before she died. Poor little soul! she could butjust speak to be heard, and she said so prettily, 'Let sister Susan havemy knife, mama, when I am dead and buried.' Poor little dear! she was sofond of it, Fanny, that she would have it lay by her in bed, all throughher illness. It was the gift of her good godmother, old Mrs. AdmiralMaxwell, only six weeks before she was taken for death. Poor littlesweet creature! Well, she was taken away from evil to come. My ownBetsey" (fondling her), "_you_ have not the luck of such a goodgodmother. Aunt Norris lives too far off to think of such little peopleas you."

  Fanny had indeed nothing to convey from aunt Norris, but a message tosay she hoped that her god-daughter was a good girl, and learnt herbook. There had been at one moment a slight murmur in the drawing-roomat Mansfield Park about sending her a prayer-book; but no second soundhad been heard of such a purpose. Mrs. Norris, however, had gone homeand taken down two old prayer-books of her husband with that idea; but,upon examination, the ardour of generosity went off. One was foundto have too small a print for a child's eyes, and the other to be toocumbersome for her to carry about.

  Fanny, fatigued and fatigued again, was thankful to accept the firstinvitation of going to bed; and before Betsey had finished her cry atbeing allowed to sit up only one hour extraordinary in honour of sister,she was off, leaving all below in confusion and noise again; the boysbegging for toasted cheese, her father calling out for his rum andwater, and Rebecca never where she ought to be.

  There was nothing to raise her spirits in the confined and scantilyfurnished chamber that she was to share with Susan. The smallness ofthe rooms above and below, indeed, and the narrowness of the passage andstaircase, struck her beyond her imagination. She soon learned to thinkwith respect of her own little attic at Mansfield Park, in _that_ housereckoned too small for anybody's comfort.

 
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