Mansfield park, p.44
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       Mansfield Park, p.44

           Jane Austen


  Seven weeks of the two months were very nearly gone, when the oneletter, the letter from Edmund, so long expected, was put into Fanny'shands. As she opened, and saw its length, she prepared herself for aminute detail of happiness and a profusion of love and praise towardsthe fortunate creature who was now mistress of his fate. These were thecontents--

  "My Dear Fanny,--Excuse me that I have not written before. Crawford toldme that you were wishing to hear from me, but I found it impossible towrite from London, and persuaded myself that you would understand mysilence. Could I have sent a few happy lines, they should not have beenwanting, but nothing of that nature was ever in my power. I am returnedto Mansfield in a less assured state than when I left it. My hopes aremuch weaker. You are probably aware of this already. So very fond of youas Miss Crawford is, it is most natural that she should tell you enoughof her own feelings to furnish a tolerable guess at mine. I will not beprevented, however, from making my own communication. Our confidences inyou need not clash. I ask no questions. There is something soothingin the idea that we have the same friend, and that whatever unhappydifferences of opinion may exist between us, we are united in our loveof you. It will be a comfort to me to tell you how things now are, andwhat are my present plans, if plans I can be said to have. I have beenreturned since Saturday. I was three weeks in London, and saw her (forLondon) very often. I had every attention from the Frasers that could bereasonably expected. I dare say I was not reasonable in carrying withme hopes of an intercourse at all like that of Mansfield. It was hermanner, however, rather than any unfrequency of meeting. Had she beendifferent when I did see her, I should have made no complaint, but fromthe very first she was altered: my first reception was so unlike what Ihad hoped, that I had almost resolved on leaving London again directly.I need not particularise. You know the weak side of her character, andmay imagine the sentiments and expressions which were torturing me. Shewas in high spirits, and surrounded by those who were giving all thesupport of their own bad sense to her too lively mind. I do not likeMrs. Fraser. She is a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirelyfrom convenience, and though evidently unhappy in her marriage,places her disappointment not to faults of judgment, or temper, ordisproportion of age, but to her being, after all, less affluent thanmany of her acquaintance, especially than her sister, Lady Stornaway,and is the determined supporter of everything mercenary and ambitious,provided it be only mercenary and ambitious enough. I look upon herintimacy with those two sisters as the greatest misfortune of her lifeand mine. They have been leading her astray for years. Could she bedetached from them!--and sometimes I do not despair of it, for theaffection appears to me principally on their side. They are very fond ofher; but I am sure she does not love them as she loves you. When I thinkof her great attachment to you, indeed, and the whole of her judicious,upright conduct as a sister, she appears a very different creature,capable of everything noble, and I am ready to blame myself for a tooharsh construction of a playful manner. I cannot give her up, Fanny. Sheis the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife. IfI did not believe that she had some regard for me, of course I shouldnot say this, but I do believe it. I am convinced that she is notwithout a decided preference. I have no jealousy of any individual. Itis the influence of the fashionable world altogether that I am jealousof. It is the habits of wealth that I fear. Her ideas are not higherthan her own fortune may warrant, but they are beyond what our incomesunited could authorise. There is comfort, however, even here. I couldbetter bear to lose her because not rich enough, than because of myprofession. That would only prove her affection not equal to sacrifices,which, in fact, I am scarcely justified in asking; and, if I am refused,that, I think, will be the honest motive. Her prejudices, I trust, arenot so strong as they were. You have my thoughts exactly as they arise,my dear Fanny; perhaps they are sometimes contradictory, but it willnot be a less faithful picture of my mind. Having once begun, it is apleasure to me to tell you all I feel. I cannot give her up. Connectedas we already are, and, I hope, are to be, to give up Mary Crawfordwould be to give up the society of some of those most dear to me; tobanish myself from the very houses and friends whom, under any otherdistress, I should turn to for consolation. The loss of Mary I mustconsider as comprehending the loss of Crawford and of Fanny. Were it adecided thing, an actual refusal, I hope I should know how to bear it,and how to endeavour to weaken her hold on my heart, and in the courseof a few years--but I am writing nonsense. Were I refused, I must bearit; and till I am, I can never cease to try for her. This is the truth.The only question is _how_? What may be the likeliest means? I havesometimes thought of going to London again after Easter, and sometimesresolved on doing nothing till she returns to Mansfield. Even now, shespeaks with pleasure of being in Mansfield in June; but June is ata great distance, and I believe I shall write to her. I have nearlydetermined on explaining myself by letter. To be at an early certaintyis a material object. My present state is miserably irksome. Consideringeverything, I think a letter will be decidedly the best method ofexplanation. I shall be able to write much that I could not say, andshall be giving her time for reflection before she resolves on heranswer, and I am less afraid of the result of reflection than of animmediate hasty impulse; I think I am. My greatest danger would lie inher consulting Mrs. Fraser, and I at a distance unable to help my owncause. A letter exposes to all the evil of consultation, and wherethe mind is anything short of perfect decision, an adviser may, in anunlucky moment, lead it to do what it may afterwards regret. I mustthink this matter over a little. This long letter, full of my ownconcerns alone, will be enough to tire even the friendship of a Fanny.The last time I saw Crawford was at Mrs. Fraser's party. I am moreand more satisfied with all that I see and hear of him. There is not ashadow of wavering. He thoroughly knows his own mind, and acts up to hisresolutions: an inestimable quality. I could not see him and my eldestsister in the same room without recollecting what you once told me,and I acknowledge that they did not meet as friends. There wasmarked coolness on her side. They scarcely spoke. I saw him draw backsurprised, and I was sorry that Mrs. Rushworth should resent any formersupposed slight to Miss Bertram. You will wish to hear my opinionof Maria's degree of comfort as a wife. There is no appearance ofunhappiness. I hope they get on pretty well together. I dined twice inWimpole Street, and might have been there oftener, but it is mortifyingto be with Rushworth as a brother. Julia seems to enjoy Londonexceedingly. I had little enjoyment there, but have less here. We arenot a lively party. You are very much wanted. I miss you more than Ican express. My mother desires her best love, and hopes to hear fromyou soon. She talks of you almost every hour, and I am sorry to findhow many weeks more she is likely to be without you. My father meansto fetch you himself, but it will not be till after Easter, when he hasbusiness in town. You are happy at Portsmouth, I hope, but this mustnot be a yearly visit. I want you at home, that I may have your opinionabout Thornton Lacey. I have little heart for extensive improvementstill I know that it will ever have a mistress. I think I shall certainlywrite. It is quite settled that the Grants go to Bath; they leaveMansfield on Monday. I am glad of it. I am not comfortable enough to befit for anybody; but your aunt seems to feel out of luck that such anarticle of Mansfield news should fall to my pen instead of hers.--Yoursever, my dearest Fanny."

  "I never will, no, I certainly never will wish for a letter again," wasFanny's secret declaration as she finished this. "What do they bring butdisappointment and sorrow? Not till after Easter! How shall I bear it?And my poor aunt talking of me every hour!"

  Fanny checked the tendency of these thoughts as well as she could, butshe was within half a minute of starting the idea that Sir Thomas wasquite unkind, both to her aunt and to herself. As for the main subjectof the letter, there was nothing in that to soothe irritation. She wasalmost vexed into displeasure and anger against Edmund. "There is nogood in this delay," said she. "Why is not it settled? He is blinded,and nothing will open his eyes; nothing can,
after having had truthsbefore him so long in vain. He will marry her, and be poor andmiserable. God grant that her influence do not make him cease to berespectable!" She looked over the letter again. "'So very fond of me!''tis nonsense all. She loves nobody but herself and her brother. Herfriends leading her astray for years! She is quite as likely to have led_them_ astray. They have all, perhaps, been corrupting one another; butif they are so much fonder of her than she is of them, she is the lesslikely to have been hurt, except by their flattery. 'The only woman inthe world whom he could ever think of as a wife.' I firmly believe it.It is an attachment to govern his whole life. Accepted or refused, hisheart is wedded to her for ever. 'The loss of Mary I must consider ascomprehending the loss of Crawford and Fanny.' Edmund, you do not knowme. The families would never be connected if you did not connectthem! Oh! write, write. Finish it at once. Let there be an end of thissuspense. Fix, commit, condemn yourself."

  Such sensations, however, were too near akin to resentment to be longguiding Fanny's soliloquies. She was soon more softened and sorrowful.His warm regard, his kind expressions, his confidential treatment,touched her strongly. He was only too good to everybody. It was aletter, in short, which she would not but have had for the world, andwhich could never be valued enough. This was the end of it.

  Everybody at all addicted to letter-writing, without having much to say,which will include a large proportion of the female world at least, mustfeel with Lady Bertram that she was out of luck in having such a capitalpiece of Mansfield news as the certainty of the Grants going to Bath,occur at a time when she could make no advantage of it, and will admitthat it must have been very mortifying to her to see it fall to theshare of her thankless son, and treated as concisely as possible at theend of a long letter, instead of having it to spread over the largestpart of a page of her own. For though Lady Bertram rather shone in theepistolary line, having early in her marriage, from the want of otheremployment, and the circumstance of Sir Thomas's being in Parliament,got into the way of making and keeping correspondents, and formed forherself a very creditable, common-place, amplifying style, so that avery little matter was enough for her: she could not do entirely withoutany; she must have something to write about, even to her niece; andbeing so soon to lose all the benefit of Dr. Grant's gouty symptoms andMrs. Grant's morning calls, it was very hard upon her to be deprived ofone of the last epistolary uses she could put them to.

  There was a rich amends, however, preparing for her. Lady Bertram'shour of good luck came. Within a few days from the receipt of Edmund'sletter, Fanny had one from her aunt, beginning thus--

  "My Dear Fanny,--I take up my pen to communicate some very alarmingintelligence, which I make no doubt will give you much concern".

  This was a great deal better than to have to take up the pen to acquainther with all the particulars of the Grants' intended journey, for thepresent intelligence was of a nature to promise occupation for the penfor many days to come, being no less than the dangerous illness of hereldest son, of which they had received notice by express a few hoursbefore.

  Tom had gone from London with a party of young men to Newmarket, wherea neglected fall and a good deal of drinking had brought on a fever; andwhen the party broke up, being unable to move, had been left by himselfat the house of one of these young men to the comforts of sickness andsolitude, and the attendance only of servants. Instead of being soonwell enough to follow his friends, as he had then hoped, his disorderincreased considerably, and it was not long before he thought so ill ofhimself as to be as ready as his physician to have a letter despatchedto Mansfield.

  "This distressing intelligence, as you may suppose," observedher ladyship, after giving the substance of it, "has agitated usexceedingly, and we cannot prevent ourselves from being greatly alarmedand apprehensive for the poor invalid, whose state Sir Thomas fearsmay be very critical; and Edmund kindly proposes attending his brotherimmediately, but I am happy to add that Sir Thomas will not leave me onthis distressing occasion, as it would be too trying for me. We shallgreatly miss Edmund in our small circle, but I trust and hope hewill find the poor invalid in a less alarming state than might beapprehended, and that he will be able to bring him to Mansfield shortly,which Sir Thomas proposes should be done, and thinks best on everyaccount, and I flatter myself the poor sufferer will soon be able tobear the removal without material inconvenience or injury. As Ihave little doubt of your feeling for us, my dear Fanny, under thesedistressing circumstances, I will write again very soon."

  Fanny's feelings on the occasion were indeed considerably more warm andgenuine than her aunt's style of writing. She felt truly for them all.Tom dangerously ill, Edmund gone to attend him, and the sadly smallparty remaining at Mansfield, were cares to shut out every other care,or almost every other. She could just find selfishness enough to wonderwhether Edmund _had_ written to Miss Crawford before this summons came,but no sentiment dwelt long with her that was not purely affectionateand disinterestedly anxious. Her aunt did not neglect her: she wroteagain and again; they were receiving frequent accounts from Edmund,and these accounts were as regularly transmitted to Fanny, in the samediffuse style, and the same medley of trusts, hopes, and fears, allfollowing and producing each other at haphazard. It was a sort ofplaying at being frightened. The sufferings which Lady Bertram did notsee had little power over her fancy; and she wrote very comfortablyabout agitation, and anxiety, and poor invalids, till Tom was actuallyconveyed to Mansfield, and her own eyes had beheld his alteredappearance. Then a letter which she had been previously preparing forFanny was finished in a different style, in the language of real feelingand alarm; then she wrote as she might have spoken. "He is just come, mydear Fanny, and is taken upstairs; and I am so shocked to see him, thatI do not know what to do. I am sure he has been very ill. Poor Tom! I amquite grieved for him, and very much frightened, and so is Sir Thomas;and how glad I should be if you were here to comfort me. But SirThomas hopes he will be better to-morrow, and says we must consider hisjourney."

  The real solicitude now awakened in the maternal bosom was notsoon over. Tom's extreme impatience to be removed to Mansfield, andexperience those comforts of home and family which had been littlethought of in uninterrupted health, had probably induced his beingconveyed thither too early, as a return of fever came on, and for a weekhe was in a more alarming state than ever. They were all very seriouslyfrightened. Lady Bertram wrote her daily terrors to her niece, whomight now be said to live upon letters, and pass all her time betweensuffering from that of to-day and looking forward to to-morrow's.Without any particular affection for her eldest cousin, her tendernessof heart made her feel that she could not spare him, and the purity ofher principles added yet a keener solicitude, when she considered howlittle useful, how little self-denying his life had (apparently) been.

  Susan was her only companion and listener on this, as on more commonoccasions. Susan was always ready to hear and to sympathise. Nobody elsecould be interested in so remote an evil as illness in a family above anhundred miles off; not even Mrs. Price, beyond a brief question or two,if she saw her daughter with a letter in her hand, and now and then thequiet observation of, "My poor sister Bertram must be in a great deal oftrouble."

  So long divided and so differently situated, the ties of blood werelittle more than nothing. An attachment, originally as tranquil as theirtempers, was now become a mere name. Mrs. Price did quite as much forLady Bertram as Lady Bertram would have done for Mrs. Price. Three orfour Prices might have been swept away, any or all except Fanny andWilliam, and Lady Bertram would have thought little about it; or perhapsmight have caught from Mrs. Norris's lips the cant of its being a veryhappy thing and a great blessing to their poor dear sister Price to havethem so well provided for.