Mansfield park, p.4
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       Mansfield Park, p.4

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER IV

  Tom Bertram had of late spent so little of his time at home that hecould be only nominally missed; and Lady Bertram was soon astonishedto find how very well they did even without his father, how well Edmundcould supply his place in carving, talking to the steward, writing tothe attorney, settling with the servants, and equally saving herfrom all possible fatigue or exertion in every particular but that ofdirecting her letters.

  The earliest intelligence of the travellers' safe arrival at Antigua,after a favourable voyage, was received; though not before Mrs. Norrishad been indulging in very dreadful fears, and trying to make Edmundparticipate them whenever she could get him alone; and as she dependedon being the first person made acquainted with any fatal catastrophe,she had already arranged the manner of breaking it to all the others,when Sir Thomas's assurances of their both being alive and well made itnecessary to lay by her agitation and affectionate preparatory speechesfor a while.

  The winter came and passed without their being called for; the accountscontinued perfectly good; and Mrs. Norris, in promoting gaieties for hernieces, assisting their toilets, displaying their accomplishments,and looking about for their future husbands, had so much to do as, inaddition to all her own household cares, some interference in those ofher sister, and Mrs. Grant's wasteful doings to overlook, left her verylittle occasion to be occupied in fears for the absent.

  The Miss Bertrams were now fully established among the belles of theneighbourhood; and as they joined to beauty and brilliant acquirementsa manner naturally easy, and carefully formed to general civility andobligingness, they possessed its favour as well as its admiration. Theirvanity was in such good order that they seemed to be quite free from it,and gave themselves no airs; while the praises attending such behaviour,secured and brought round by their aunt, served to strengthen them inbelieving they had no faults.

  Lady Bertram did not go into public with her daughters. She was tooindolent even to accept a mother's gratification in witnessing theirsuccess and enjoyment at the expense of any personal trouble, and thecharge was made over to her sister, who desired nothing better than apost of such honourable representation, and very thoroughly relishedthe means it afforded her of mixing in society without having horses tohire.

  Fanny had no share in the festivities of the season; but she enjoyedbeing avowedly useful as her aunt's companion when they called away therest of the family; and, as Miss Lee had left Mansfield, she naturallybecame everything to Lady Bertram during the night of a ball or a party.She talked to her, listened to her, read to her; and the tranquillityof such evenings, her perfect security in such a _tete-a-tete_ from anysound of unkindness, was unspeakably welcome to a mind which had seldomknown a pause in its alarms or embarrassments. As to her cousins'gaieties, she loved to hear an account of them, especially of theballs, and whom Edmund had danced with; but thought too lowly of herown situation to imagine she should ever be admitted to the same, andlistened, therefore, without an idea of any nearer concern in them. Uponthe whole, it was a comfortable winter to her; for though it broughtno William to England, the never-failing hope of his arrival was worthmuch.

  The ensuing spring deprived her of her valued friend, the old grey pony;and for some time she was in danger of feeling the loss in her health aswell as in her affections; for in spite of the acknowledged importanceof her riding on horse-back, no measures were taken for mounting heragain, "because," as it was observed by her aunts, "she might ride oneof her cousin's horses at any time when they did not want them," and asthe Miss Bertrams regularly wanted their horses every fine day, and hadno idea of carrying their obliging manners to the sacrifice of any realpleasure, that time, of course, never came. They took their cheerfulrides in the fine mornings of April and May; and Fanny either sat athome the whole day with one aunt, or walked beyond her strength atthe instigation of the other: Lady Bertram holding exercise to be asunnecessary for everybody as it was unpleasant to herself; and Mrs.Norris, who was walking all day, thinking everybody ought to walkas much. Edmund was absent at this time, or the evil would havebeen earlier remedied. When he returned, to understand how Fanny wassituated, and perceived its ill effects, there seemed with him but onething to be done; and that "Fanny must have a horse" was the resolutedeclaration with which he opposed whatever could be urged by thesupineness of his mother, or the economy of his aunt, to make it appearunimportant. Mrs. Norris could not help thinking that some steady oldthing might be found among the numbers belonging to the Park that woulddo vastly well; or that one might be borrowed of the steward; or thatperhaps Dr. Grant might now and then lend them the pony he sent to thepost. She could not but consider it as absolutely unnecessary, and evenimproper, that Fanny should have a regular lady's horse of her own, inthe style of her cousins. She was sure Sir Thomas had never intended it:and she must say that, to be making such a purchase in his absence, andadding to the great expenses of his stable, at a time when a large partof his income was unsettled, seemed to her very unjustifiable. "Fannymust have a horse," was Edmund's only reply. Mrs. Norris could not seeit in the same light. Lady Bertram did: she entirely agreed with her sonas to the necessity of it, and as to its being considered necessary byhis father; she only pleaded against there being any hurry; she onlywanted him to wait till Sir Thomas's return, and then Sir Thomas mightsettle it all himself. He would be at home in September, and where wouldbe the harm of only waiting till September?

  Though Edmund was much more displeased with his aunt than with hismother, as evincing least regard for her niece, he could not help payingmore attention to what she said; and at length determined on a method ofproceeding which would obviate the risk of his father's thinking hehad done too much, and at the same time procure for Fanny the immediatemeans of exercise, which he could not bear she should be without. He hadthree horses of his own, but not one that would carry a woman. Twoof them were hunters; the third, a useful road-horse: this third heresolved to exchange for one that his cousin might ride; he knew wheresuch a one was to be met with; and having once made up his mind, thewhole business was soon completed. The new mare proved a treasure; witha very little trouble she became exactly calculated for the purpose,and Fanny was then put in almost full possession of her. She had notsupposed before that anything could ever suit her like the old greypony; but her delight in Edmund's mare was far beyond any formerpleasure of the sort; and the addition it was ever receiving in theconsideration of that kindness from which her pleasure sprung, wasbeyond all her words to express. She regarded her cousin as an exampleof everything good and great, as possessing worth which no one butherself could ever appreciate, and as entitled to such gratitude fromher as no feelings could be strong enough to pay. Her sentiments towardshim were compounded of all that was respectful, grateful, confiding, andtender.

  As the horse continued in name, as well as fact, the property of Edmund,Mrs. Norris could tolerate its being for Fanny's use; and had LadyBertram ever thought about her own objection again, he might havebeen excused in her eyes for not waiting till Sir Thomas's return inSeptember, for when September came Sir Thomas was still abroad, andwithout any near prospect of finishing his business. Unfavourablecircumstances had suddenly arisen at a moment when he was beginning toturn all his thoughts towards England; and the very great uncertaintyin which everything was then involved determined him on sending home hisson, and waiting the final arrangement by himself. Tom arrived safely,bringing an excellent account of his father's health; but to very littlepurpose, as far as Mrs. Norris was concerned. Sir Thomas's sending awayhis son seemed to her so like a parent's care, under the influence of aforeboding of evil to himself, that she could not help feeling dreadfulpresentiments; and as the long evenings of autumn came on, was soterribly haunted by these ideas, in the sad solitariness of her cottage,as to be obliged to take daily refuge in the dining-room of the Park.The return of winter engagements, however, was not without its effect;and in the course of their progress, her mind became so pleasantlyoccupied in superintending the fortu
nes of her eldest niece, astolerably to quiet her nerves. "If poor Sir Thomas were fated never toreturn, it would be peculiarly consoling to see their dear Maria wellmarried," she very often thought; always when they were in the companyof men of fortune, and particularly on the introduction of a young manwho had recently succeeded to one of the largest estates and finestplaces in the country.

  Mr. Rushworth was from the first struck with the beauty of Miss Bertram,and, being inclined to marry, soon fancied himself in love. He wasa heavy young man, with not more than common sense; but as there wasnothing disagreeable in his figure or address, the young lady was wellpleased with her conquest. Being now in her twenty-first year, MariaBertram was beginning to think matrimony a duty; and as a marriage withMr. Rushworth would give her the enjoyment of a larger income than herfather's, as well as ensure her the house in town, which was now a primeobject, it became, by the same rule of moral obligation, her evidentduty to marry Mr. Rushworth if she could. Mrs. Norris was most zealousin promoting the match, by every suggestion and contrivance likely toenhance its desirableness to either party; and, among other means, byseeking an intimacy with the gentleman's mother, who at present livedwith him, and to whom she even forced Lady Bertram to go through tenmiles of indifferent road to pay a morning visit. It was not long beforea good understanding took place between this lady and herself. Mrs.Rushworth acknowledged herself very desirous that her son should marry,and declared that of all the young ladies she had ever seen, MissBertram seemed, by her amiable qualities and accomplishments, the bestadapted to make him happy. Mrs. Norris accepted the compliment,and admired the nice discernment of character which could so welldistinguish merit. Maria was indeed the pride and delight of themall--perfectly faultless--an angel; and, of course, so surrounded byadmirers, must be difficult in her choice: but yet, as far as Mrs.Norris could allow herself to decide on so short an acquaintance, Mr.Rushworth appeared precisely the young man to deserve and attach her.

  After dancing with each other at a proper number of balls, the youngpeople justified these opinions, and an engagement, with a due referenceto the absent Sir Thomas, was entered into, much to the satisfactionof their respective families, and of the general lookers-on of theneighbourhood, who had, for many weeks past, felt the expediency of Mr.Rushworth's marrying Miss Bertram.

  It was some months before Sir Thomas's consent could be received; but,in the meanwhile, as no one felt a doubt of his most cordial pleasurein the connexion, the intercourse of the two families was carriedon without restraint, and no other attempt made at secrecy than Mrs.Norris's talking of it everywhere as a matter not to be talked of atpresent.

  Edmund was the only one of the family who could see a fault in thebusiness; but no representation of his aunt's could induce him to findMr. Rushworth a desirable companion. He could allow his sister to bethe best judge of her own happiness, but he was not pleased that herhappiness should centre in a large income; nor could he refrain fromoften saying to himself, in Mr. Rushworth's company--"If this man hadnot twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow."

  Sir Thomas, however, was truly happy in the prospect of an allianceso unquestionably advantageous, and of which he heard nothing but theperfectly good and agreeable. It was a connexion exactly of the rightsort--in the same county, and the same interest--and his most heartyconcurrence was conveyed as soon as possible. He only conditioned thatthe marriage should not take place before his return, which he was againlooking eagerly forward to. He wrote in April, and had strong hopesof settling everything to his entire satisfaction, and leaving Antiguabefore the end of the summer.

  Such was the state of affairs in the month of July; and Fanny had justreached her eighteenth year, when the society of the village receivedan addition in the brother and sister of Mrs. Grant, a Mr. and MissCrawford, the children of her mother by a second marriage. They wereyoung people of fortune. The son had a good estate in Norfolk, thedaughter twenty thousand pounds. As children, their sister had beenalways very fond of them; but, as her own marriage had been soonfollowed by the death of their common parent, which left them to thecare of a brother of their father, of whom Mrs. Grant knew nothing, shehad scarcely seen them since. In their uncle's house they had found akind home. Admiral and Mrs. Crawford, though agreeing in nothing else,were united in affection for these children, or, at least, were nofarther adverse in their feelings than that each had their favourite, towhom they showed the greatest fondness of the two. The Admiral delightedin the boy, Mrs. Crawford doted on the girl; and it was the lady's deathwhich now obliged her _protegee_, after some months' further trial ather uncle's house, to find another home. Admiral Crawford was a man ofvicious conduct, who chose, instead of retaining his niece, to bring hismistress under his own roof; and to this Mrs. Grant was indebted for hersister's proposal of coming to her, a measure quite as welcome on oneside as it could be expedient on the other; for Mrs. Grant, having bythis time run through the usual resources of ladies residing in thecountry without a family of children--having more than filled herfavourite sitting-room with pretty furniture, and made a choicecollection of plants and poultry--was very much in want of some varietyat home. The arrival, therefore, of a sister whom she had always loved,and now hoped to retain with her as long as she remained single, washighly agreeable; and her chief anxiety was lest Mansfield should notsatisfy the habits of a young woman who had been mostly used to London.

  Miss Crawford was not entirely free from similar apprehensions, thoughthey arose principally from doubts of her sister's style of living andtone of society; and it was not till after she had tried in vain topersuade her brother to settle with her at his own country house,that she could resolve to hazard herself among her other relations. Toanything like a permanence of abode, or limitation of society, HenryCrawford had, unluckily, a great dislike: he could not accommodate hissister in an article of such importance; but he escorted her, with theutmost kindness, into Northamptonshire, and as readily engaged to fetchher away again, at half an hour's notice, whenever she were weary of theplace.

  The meeting was very satisfactory on each side. Miss Crawford found asister without preciseness or rusticity, a sister's husband who lookedthe gentleman, and a house commodious and well fitted up; and Mrs. Grantreceived in those whom she hoped to love better than ever a young manand woman of very prepossessing appearance. Mary Crawford was remarkablypretty; Henry, though not handsome, had air and countenance; the mannersof both were lively and pleasant, and Mrs. Grant immediately gave themcredit for everything else. She was delighted with each, but Mary washer dearest object; and having never been able to glory in beauty of herown, she thoroughly enjoyed the power of being proud of her sister's.She had not waited her arrival to look out for a suitable match for her:she had fixed on Tom Bertram; the eldest son of a baronet was not toogood for a girl of twenty thousand pounds, with all the eleganceand accomplishments which Mrs. Grant foresaw in her; and being awarm-hearted, unreserved woman, Mary had not been three hours in thehouse before she told her what she had planned.

  Miss Crawford was glad to find a family of such consequence so very nearthem, and not at all displeased either at her sister's early care, orthe choice it had fallen on. Matrimony was her object, provided shecould marry well: and having seen Mr. Bertram in town, she knew thatobjection could no more be made to his person than to his situation inlife. While she treated it as a joke, therefore, she did not forget tothink of it seriously. The scheme was soon repeated to Henry.

  "And now," added Mrs. Grant, "I have thought of something to make itcomplete. I should dearly love to settle you both in this country; andtherefore, Henry, you shall marry the youngest Miss Bertram, a nice,handsome, good-humoured, accomplished girl, who will make you veryhappy."

  Henry bowed and thanked her.

  "My dear sister," said Mary, "if you can persuade him into anythingof the sort, it will be a fresh matter of delight to me to find myselfallied to anybody so clever, and I shall only regret that you havenot half a dozen daughters to dispo
se of. If you can persuade Henryto marry, you must have the address of a Frenchwoman. All that Englishabilities can do has been tried already. I have three very particularfriends who have been all dying for him in their turn; and the painswhich they, their mothers (very clever women), as well as my dear auntand myself, have taken to reason, coax, or trick him into marrying, isinconceivable! He is the most horrible flirt that can be imagined. Ifyour Miss Bertrams do not like to have their hearts broke, let themavoid Henry."

  "My dear brother, I will not believe this of you."

  "No, I am sure you are too good. You will be kinder than Mary. Youwill allow for the doubts of youth and inexperience. I am of a cautioustemper, and unwilling to risk my happiness in a hurry. Nobody canthink more highly of the matrimonial state than myself. I consider theblessing of a wife as most justly described in those discreet lines ofthe poet--'Heaven's _last_ best gift.'"

  "There, Mrs. Grant, you see how he dwells on one word, and only lookat his smile. I assure you he is very detestable; the Admiral's lessonshave quite spoiled him."

  "I pay very little regard," said Mrs. Grant, "to what any young personsays on the subject of marriage. If they profess a disinclination forit, I only set it down that they have not yet seen the right person."

  Dr. Grant laughingly congratulated Miss Crawford on feeling nodisinclination to the state herself.

  "Oh yes! I am not at all ashamed of it. I would have everybody marry ifthey can do it properly: I do not like to have people throw themselvesaway; but everybody should marry as soon as they can do it toadvantage."

 
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