Mansfield park, p.40
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       Mansfield Park, p.40

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XL

  Fanny was right enough in not expecting to hear from Miss Crawford nowat the rapid rate in which their correspondence had begun; Mary's nextletter was after a decidedly longer interval than the last, but shewas not right in supposing that such an interval would be felt a greatrelief to herself. Here was another strange revolution of mind! She wasreally glad to receive the letter when it did come. In her present exilefrom good society, and distance from everything that had been wont tointerest her, a letter from one belonging to the set where her heartlived, written with affection, and some degree of elegance, wasthoroughly acceptable. The usual plea of increasing engagements was madein excuse for not having written to her earlier; "And now that I havebegun," she continued, "my letter will not be worth your reading, forthere will be no little offering of love at the end, no three or fourlines _passionnees_ from the most devoted H. C. in the world, forHenry is in Norfolk; business called him to Everingham ten days ago, orperhaps he only pretended to call, for the sake of being travellingat the same time that you were. But there he is, and, by the bye, hisabsence may sufficiently account for any remissness of his sister's inwriting, for there has been no 'Well, Mary, when do you write to Fanny?Is not it time for you to write to Fanny?' to spur me on. At last, aftervarious attempts at meeting, I have seen your cousins, 'dear Julia anddearest Mrs. Rushworth'; they found me at home yesterday, and we wereglad to see each other again. We _seemed_ _very_ glad to see each other,and I do really think we were a little. We had a vast deal to say. ShallI tell you how Mrs. Rushworth looked when your name was mentioned? I didnot use to think her wanting in self-possession, but she had not quiteenough for the demands of yesterday. Upon the whole, Julia was in thebest looks of the two, at least after you were spoken of. There was norecovering the complexion from the moment that I spoke of 'Fanny,' andspoke of her as a sister should. But Mrs. Rushworth's day of good lookswill come; we have cards for her first party on the 28th. Then shewill be in beauty, for she will open one of the best houses in WimpoleStreet. I was in it two years ago, when it was Lady Lascelle's, andprefer it to almost any I know in London, and certainly she will thenfeel, to use a vulgar phrase, that she has got her pennyworth for herpenny. Henry could not have afforded her such a house. I hope she willrecollect it, and be satisfied, as well as she may, with moving thequeen of a palace, though the king may appear best in the background;and as I have no desire to tease her, I shall never _force_ your nameupon her again. She will grow sober by degrees. From all that I hearand guess, Baron Wildenheim's attentions to Julia continue, but I do notknow that he has any serious encouragement. She ought to do better.A poor honourable is no catch, and I cannot imagine any liking in thecase, for take away his rants, and the poor baron has nothing. What adifference a vowel makes! If his rents were but equal to his rants! Yourcousin Edmund moves slowly; detained, perchance, by parish duties. Theremay be some old woman at Thornton Lacey to be converted. I am unwillingto fancy myself neglected for a _young_ one. Adieu! my dear sweet Fanny,this is a long letter from London: write me a pretty one in reply togladden Henry's eyes, when he comes back, and send me an account of allthe dashing young captains whom you disdain for his sake."

  There was great food for meditation in this letter, and chiefly forunpleasant meditation; and yet, with all the uneasiness it supplied, itconnected her with the absent, it told her of people and things aboutwhom she had never felt so much curiosity as now, and she wouldhave been glad to have been sure of such a letter every week. Hercorrespondence with her aunt Bertram was her only concern of higherinterest.

  As for any society in Portsmouth, that could at all make amends fordeficiencies at home, there were none within the circle of her father'sand mother's acquaintance to afford her the smallest satisfaction: shesaw nobody in whose favour she could wish to overcome her own shynessand reserve. The men appeared to her all coarse, the women all pert,everybody underbred; and she gave as little contentment as she receivedfrom introductions either to old or new acquaintance. The young ladieswho approached her at first with some respect, in consideration of hercoming from a baronet's family, were soon offended by what they termed"airs"; for, as she neither played on the pianoforte nor wore finepelisses, they could, on farther observation, admit no right ofsuperiority.

  The first solid consolation which Fanny received for the evils of home,the first which her judgment could entirely approve, and which gave anypromise of durability, was in a better knowledge of Susan, and a hope ofbeing of service to her. Susan had always behaved pleasantly to herself,but the determined character of her general manners had astonishedand alarmed her, and it was at least a fortnight before she began tounderstand a disposition so totally different from her own. Susan sawthat much was wrong at home, and wanted to set it right. That a girl offourteen, acting only on her own unassisted reason, should err in themethod of reform, was not wonderful; and Fanny soon became more disposedto admire the natural light of the mind which could so early distinguishjustly, than to censure severely the faults of conduct to which it led.Susan was only acting on the same truths, and pursuing the same system,which her own judgment acknowledged, but which her more supine andyielding temper would have shrunk from asserting. Susan tried to beuseful, where _she_ could only have gone away and cried; and that Susanwas useful she could perceive; that things, bad as they were, wouldhave been worse but for such interposition, and that both her mother andBetsey were restrained from some excesses of very offensive indulgenceand vulgarity.

  In every argument with her mother, Susan had in point of reason theadvantage, and never was there any maternal tenderness to buy her off.The blind fondness which was for ever producing evil around her she hadnever known. There was no gratitude for affection past or present tomake her better bear with its excesses to the others.

  All this became gradually evident, and gradually placed Susan before hersister as an object of mingled compassion and respect. That her mannerwas wrong, however, at times very wrong, her measures often ill-chosenand ill-timed, and her looks and language very often indefensible, Fannycould not cease to feel; but she began to hope they might be rectified.Susan, she found, looked up to her and wished for her good opinion; andnew as anything like an office of authority was to Fanny, new as itwas to imagine herself capable of guiding or informing any one, she didresolve to give occasional hints to Susan, and endeavour to exercise forher advantage the juster notions of what was due to everybody, and whatwould be wisest for herself, which her own more favoured education hadfixed in her.

  Her influence, or at least the consciousness and use of it, originatedin an act of kindness by Susan, which, after many hesitations ofdelicacy, she at last worked herself up to. It had very early occurredto her that a small sum of money might, perhaps, restore peace forever on the sore subject of the silver knife, canvassed as it now wascontinually, and the riches which she was in possession of herself,her uncle having given her 10 pounds at parting, made her as able as she waswilling to be generous. But she was so wholly unused to confer favours,except on the very poor, so unpractised in removing evils, or bestowingkindnesses among her equals, and so fearful of appearing to elevateherself as a great lady at home, that it took some time to determinethat it would not be unbecoming in her to make such a present. Itwas made, however, at last: a silver knife was bought for Betsey, andaccepted with great delight, its newness giving it every advantageover the other that could be desired; Susan was established in the fullpossession of her own, Betsey handsomely declaring that now she had gotone so much prettier herself, she should never want _that_ again; andno reproach seemed conveyed to the equally satisfied mother, which Fannyhad almost feared to be impossible. The deed thoroughly answered: asource of domestic altercation was entirely done away, and it was themeans of opening Susan's heart to her, and giving her something more tolove and be interested in. Susan shewed that she had delicacy: pleasedas she was to be mistress of property which she had been struggling forat least two years, she yet feared that her sister's judgment had b
eenagainst her, and that a reproof was designed her for having so struggledas to make the purchase necessary for the tranquillity of the house.

  Her temper was open. She acknowledged her fears, blamed herself forhaving contended so warmly; and from that hour Fanny, understanding theworth of her disposition and perceiving how fully she was inclined toseek her good opinion and refer to her judgment, began to feel again theblessing of affection, and to entertain the hope of being useful to amind so much in need of help, and so much deserving it. She gave advice,advice too sound to be resisted by a good understanding, and given somildly and considerately as not to irritate an imperfect temper, and shehad the happiness of observing its good effects not unfrequently.More was not expected by one who, while seeing all the obligation andexpediency of submission and forbearance, saw also with sympatheticacuteness of feeling all that must be hourly grating to a girl likeSusan. Her greatest wonder on the subject soon became--not that Susanshould have been provoked into disrespect and impatience against herbetter knowledge--but that so much better knowledge, so many goodnotions should have been hers at all; and that, brought up in the midstof negligence and error, she should have formed such proper opinionsof what ought to be; she, who had had no cousin Edmund to direct herthoughts or fix her principles.

  The intimacy thus begun between them was a material advantage toeach. By sitting together upstairs, they avoided a great deal of thedisturbance of the house; Fanny had peace, and Susan learned to think itno misfortune to be quietly employed. They sat without a fire; butthat was a privation familiar even to Fanny, and she suffered theless because reminded by it of the East room. It was the only point ofresemblance. In space, light, furniture, and prospect, there wasnothing alike in the two apartments; and she often heaved a sigh at theremembrance of all her books and boxes, and various comforts there. Bydegrees the girls came to spend the chief of the morning upstairs, atfirst only in working and talking, but after a few days, the remembranceof the said books grew so potent and stimulative that Fanny found itimpossible not to try for books again. There were none in her father'shouse; but wealth is luxurious and daring, and some of hers found itsway to a circulating library. She became a subscriber; amazed at beinganything _in propria persona_, amazed at her own doings in every way, tobe a renter, a chuser of books! And to be having any one's improvementin view in her choice! But so it was. Susan had read nothing, and Fannylonged to give her a share in her own first pleasures, and inspire ataste for the biography and poetry which she delighted in herself.

  In this occupation she hoped, moreover, to bury some of therecollections of Mansfield, which were too apt to seize her mind if herfingers only were busy; and, especially at this time, hoped it mightbe useful in diverting her thoughts from pursuing Edmund to London,whither, on the authority of her aunt's last letter, she knew he wasgone. She had no doubt of what would ensue. The promised notificationwas hanging over her head. The postman's knock within the neighbourhoodwas beginning to bring its daily terrors, and if reading could banishthe idea for even half an hour, it was something gained.

 
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