Mansfield park, p.45
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       Mansfield Park, p.45

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XLV

  At about the week's end from his return to Mansfield, Tom's immediatedanger was over, and he was so far pronounced safe as to make his motherperfectly easy; for being now used to the sight of him in his suffering,helpless state, and hearing only the best, and never thinking beyondwhat she heard, with no disposition for alarm and no aptitude at a hint,Lady Bertram was the happiest subject in the world for a little medicalimposition. The fever was subdued; the fever had been his complaint;of course he would soon be well again. Lady Bertram could think nothingless, and Fanny shared her aunt's security, till she received a fewlines from Edmund, written purposely to give her a clearer idea of hisbrother's situation, and acquaint her with the apprehensions whichhe and his father had imbibed from the physician with respect to somestrong hectic symptoms, which seemed to seize the frame on the departureof the fever. They judged it best that Lady Bertram should not beharassed by alarms which, it was to be hoped, would prove unfounded;but there was no reason why Fanny should not know the truth. They wereapprehensive for his lungs.

  A very few lines from Edmund shewed her the patient and the sickroomin a juster and stronger light than all Lady Bertram's sheets of papercould do. There was hardly any one in the house who might not havedescribed, from personal observation, better than herself; not one whowas not more useful at times to her son. She could do nothing but glidein quietly and look at him; but when able to talk or be talked to, orread to, Edmund was the companion he preferred. His aunt worried him byher cares, and Sir Thomas knew not how to bring down his conversation orhis voice to the level of irritation and feebleness. Edmund was all inall. Fanny would certainly believe him so at least, and must find thather estimation of him was higher than ever when he appeared as theattendant, supporter, cheerer of a suffering brother. There was not onlythe debility of recent illness to assist: there was also, as she nowlearnt, nerves much affected, spirits much depressed to calm and raise,and her own imagination added that there must be a mind to be properlyguided.

  The family were not consumptive, and she was more inclined to hope thanfear for her cousin, except when she thought of Miss Crawford; but MissCrawford gave her the idea of being the child of good luck, and to herselfishness and vanity it would be good luck to have Edmund the onlyson.

  Even in the sick chamber the fortunate Mary was not forgotten. Edmund'sletter had this postscript. "On the subject of my last, I had actuallybegun a letter when called away by Tom's illness, but I have now changedmy mind, and fear to trust the influence of friends. When Tom is better,I shall go."

  Such was the state of Mansfield, and so it continued, with scarcely anychange, till Easter. A line occasionally added by Edmund to hismother's letter was enough for Fanny's information. Tom's amendment wasalarmingly slow.

  Easter came particularly late this year, as Fanny had most sorrowfullyconsidered, on first learning that she had no chance of leavingPortsmouth till after it. It came, and she had yet heard nothing of herreturn--nothing even of the going to London, which was to precedeher return. Her aunt often expressed a wish for her, but there was nonotice, no message from the uncle on whom all depended. She supposedhe could not yet leave his son, but it was a cruel, a terrible delayto her. The end of April was coming on; it would soon be almost threemonths, instead of two, that she had been absent from them all, and thather days had been passing in a state of penance, which she loved themtoo well to hope they would thoroughly understand; and who could yet saywhen there might be leisure to think of or fetch her?

  Her eagerness, her impatience, her longings to be with them, were suchas to bring a line or two of Cowper's Tirocinium for ever before her."With what intense desire she wants her home," was continually on hertongue, as the truest description of a yearning which she could notsuppose any schoolboy's bosom to feel more keenly.

  When she had been coming to Portsmouth, she had loved to call it herhome, had been fond of saying that she was going home; the word hadbeen very dear to her, and so it still was, but it must be applied toMansfield. _That_ was now the home. Portsmouth was Portsmouth; Mansfieldwas home. They had been long so arranged in the indulgence of her secretmeditations, and nothing was more consolatory to her than to find heraunt using the same language: "I cannot but say I much regret your beingfrom home at this distressing time, so very trying to my spirits. Itrust and hope, and sincerely wish you may never be absent from home solong again," were most delightful sentences to her. Still, however, itwas her private regale. Delicacy to her parents made her careful not tobetray such a preference of her uncle's house. It was always: "When I goback into Northamptonshire, or when I return to Mansfield, I shall doso and so." For a great while it was so, but at last the longing grewstronger, it overthrew caution, and she found herself talking of whatshe should do when she went home before she was aware. She reproachedherself, coloured, and looked fearfully towards her father and mother.She need not have been uneasy. There was no sign of displeasure, or evenof hearing her. They were perfectly free from any jealousy of Mansfield.She was as welcome to wish herself there as to be there.

  It was sad to Fanny to lose all the pleasures of spring. She had notknown before what pleasures she _had_ to lose in passing March and Aprilin a town. She had not known before how much the beginnings and progressof vegetation had delighted her. What animation, both of body and mind,she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot,in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasingbeauties from the earliest flowers in the warmest divisions of heraunt's garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle's plantations, andthe glory of his woods. To be losing such pleasures was no trifle; tobe losing them, because she was in the midst of closeness and noise,to have confinement, bad air, bad smells, substituted for liberty,freshness, fragrance, and verdure, was infinitely worse: but even theseincitements to regret were feeble, compared with what arose from theconviction of being missed by her best friends, and the longing to beuseful to those who were wanting her!

  Could she have been at home, she might have been of service to everycreature in the house. She felt that she must have been of use to all.To all she must have saved some trouble of head or hand; and were itonly in supporting the spirits of her aunt Bertram, keeping her fromthe evil of solitude, or the still greater evil of a restless, officiouscompanion, too apt to be heightening danger in order to enhance her ownimportance, her being there would have been a general good. She loved tofancy how she could have read to her aunt, how she could have talked toher, and tried at once to make her feel the blessing of what was, andprepare her mind for what might be; and how many walks up and downstairs she might have saved her, and how many messages she might havecarried.

  It astonished her that Tom's sisters could be satisfied with remainingin London at such a time, through an illness which had now, underdifferent degrees of danger, lasted several weeks. _They_ might returnto Mansfield when they chose; travelling could be no difficulty to_them_, and she could not comprehend how both could still keep away.If Mrs. Rushworth could imagine any interfering obligations, Julia wascertainly able to quit London whenever she chose. It appeared from oneof her aunt's letters that Julia had offered to return if wanted, butthis was all. It was evident that she would rather remain where she was.

  Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London very much at warwith all respectable attachments. She saw the proof of it in MissCrawford, as well as in her cousins; _her_ attachment to Edmund had beenrespectable, the most respectable part of her character; her friendshipfor herself had at least been blameless. Where was either sentiment now?It was so long since Fanny had had any letter from her, that she hadsome reason to think lightly of the friendship which had been so dwelton. It was weeks since she had heard anything of Miss Crawford or ofher other connexions in town, except through Mansfield, and she wasbeginning to suppose that she might never know whether Mr. Crawford hadgone into Norfolk again or not till they met, and might never hear fromhis sister any more this spring, when the following lett
er was receivedto revive old and create some new sensations--

  "Forgive me, my dear Fanny, as soon as you can, for my long silence, andbehave as if you could forgive me directly. This is my modest requestand expectation, for you are so good, that I depend upon being treatedbetter than I deserve, and I write now to beg an immediate answer. Iwant to know the state of things at Mansfield Park, and you, no doubt,are perfectly able to give it. One should be a brute not to feel for thedistress they are in; and from what I hear, poor Mr. Bertram has a badchance of ultimate recovery. I thought little of his illness at first.I looked upon him as the sort of person to be made a fuss with, and tomake a fuss himself in any trifling disorder, and was chiefly concernedfor those who had to nurse him; but now it is confidently asserted thathe is really in a decline, that the symptoms are most alarming, and thatpart of the family, at least, are aware of it. If it be so, I am sureyou must be included in that part, that discerning part, and thereforeentreat you to let me know how far I have been rightly informed. I neednot say how rejoiced I shall be to hear there has been any mistake, butthe report is so prevalent that I confess I cannot help trembling. Tohave such a fine young man cut off in the flower of his days is mostmelancholy. Poor Sir Thomas will feel it dreadfully. I really am quiteagitated on the subject. Fanny, Fanny, I see you smile and look cunning,but, upon my honour, I never bribed a physician in my life. Poor youngman! If he is to die, there will be _two_ poor young men less in theworld; and with a fearless face and bold voice would I say to any one,that wealth and consequence could fall into no hands more deserving ofthem. It was a foolish precipitation last Christmas, but the evil ofa few days may be blotted out in part. Varnish and gilding hide manystains. It will be but the loss of the Esquire after his name. With realaffection, Fanny, like mine, more might be overlooked. Write to me byreturn of post, judge of my anxiety, and do not trifle with it. Tell methe real truth, as you have it from the fountainhead. And now, donot trouble yourself to be ashamed of either my feelings or your own.Believe me, they are not only natural, they are philanthropic andvirtuous. I put it to your conscience, whether 'Sir Edmund' would not domore good with all the Bertram property than any other possible 'Sir.'Had the Grants been at home I would not have troubled you, but you arenow the only one I can apply to for the truth, his sisters not beingwithin my reach. Mrs. R. has been spending the Easter with the Aylmersat Twickenham (as to be sure you know), and is not yet returned; andJulia is with the cousins who live near Bedford Square, but I forgettheir name and street. Could I immediately apply to either, however, Ishould still prefer you, because it strikes me that they have all alongbeen so unwilling to have their own amusements cut up, as to shut theireyes to the truth. I suppose Mrs. R.'s Easter holidays will not lastmuch longer; no doubt they are thorough holidays to her. The Aylmersare pleasant people; and her husband away, she can have nothing butenjoyment. I give her credit for promoting his going dutifully down toBath, to fetch his mother; but how will she and the dowager agree in onehouse? Henry is not at hand, so I have nothing to say from him. Do notyou think Edmund would have been in town again long ago, but for thisillness?--Yours ever, Mary."

  "I had actually begun folding my letter when Henry walked in, but hebrings no intelligence to prevent my sending it. Mrs. R. knows a declineis apprehended; he saw her this morning: she returns to Wimpole Streetto-day; the old lady is come. Now do not make yourself uneasy with anyqueer fancies because he has been spending a few days at Richmond. Hedoes it every spring. Be assured he cares for nobody but you. At thisvery moment he is wild to see you, and occupied only in contriving themeans for doing so, and for making his pleasure conduce to yours. Inproof, he repeats, and more eagerly, what he said at Portsmouth aboutour conveying you home, and I join him in it with all my soul. DearFanny, write directly, and tell us to come. It will do us all good.He and I can go to the Parsonage, you know, and be no trouble to ourfriends at Mansfield Park. It would really be gratifying to see themall again, and a little addition of society might be of infinite use tothem; and as to yourself, you must feel yourself to be so wanted there,that you cannot in conscience--conscientious as you are--keep away, whenyou have the means of returning. I have not time or patience to givehalf Henry's messages; be satisfied that the spirit of each and everyone is unalterable affection."

  Fanny's disgust at the greater part of this letter, with her extremereluctance to bring the writer of it and her cousin Edmund together,would have made her (as she felt) incapable of judging impartiallywhether the concluding offer might be accepted or not. To herself,individually, it was most tempting. To be finding herself, perhapswithin three days, transported to Mansfield, was an image of thegreatest felicity, but it would have been a material drawback to beowing such felicity to persons in whose feelings and conduct, at thepresent moment, she saw so much to condemn: the sister's feelings,the brother's conduct, _her_ cold-hearted ambition, _his_ thoughtlessvanity. To have him still the acquaintance, the flirt perhaps, of Mrs.Rushworth! She was mortified. She had thought better of him. Happily,however, she was not left to weigh and decide between oppositeinclinations and doubtful notions of right; there was no occasion todetermine whether she ought to keep Edmund and Mary asunder or not. Shehad a rule to apply to, which settled everything. Her awe of her uncle,and her dread of taking a liberty with him, made it instantly plain toher what she had to do. She must absolutely decline the proposal. If hewanted, he would send for her; and even to offer an early return wasa presumption which hardly anything would have seemed to justify. Shethanked Miss Crawford, but gave a decided negative. "Her uncle,she understood, meant to fetch her; and as her cousin's illness hadcontinued so many weeks without her being thought at all necessary,she must suppose her return would be unwelcome at present, and that sheshould be felt an encumbrance."

  Her representation of her cousin's state at this time was exactlyaccording to her own belief of it, and such as she supposed would conveyto the sanguine mind of her correspondent the hope of everything she waswishing for. Edmund would be forgiven for being a clergyman, it seemed,under certain conditions of wealth; and this, she suspected, was allthe conquest of prejudice which he was so ready to congratulate himselfupon. She had only learnt to think nothing of consequence but money.

 
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