Mansfield park, p.46
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       Mansfield Park, p.46

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XLVI

  As Fanny could not doubt that her answer was conveying a realdisappointment, she was rather in expectation, from her knowledge ofMiss Crawford's temper, of being urged again; and though no secondletter arrived for the space of a week, she had still the same feelingwhen it did come.

  On receiving it, she could instantly decide on its containing littlewriting, and was persuaded of its having the air of a letter of hasteand business. Its object was unquestionable; and two moments were enoughto start the probability of its being merely to give her notice thatthey should be in Portsmouth that very day, and to throw her into allthe agitation of doubting what she ought to do in such a case. If twomoments, however, can surround with difficulties, a third can dispersethem; and before she had opened the letter, the possibility of Mr. andMiss Crawford's having applied to her uncle and obtained his permissionwas giving her ease. This was the letter--

  "A most scandalous, ill-natured rumour has just reached me, and I write,dear Fanny, to warn you against giving the least credit to it, should itspread into the country. Depend upon it, there is some mistake, and thata day or two will clear it up; at any rate, that Henry is blameless, andin spite of a moment's _etourderie_, thinks of nobody but you. Say not aword of it; hear nothing, surmise nothing, whisper nothing till Iwrite again. I am sure it will be all hushed up, and nothing proved butRushworth's folly. If they are gone, I would lay my life they are onlygone to Mansfield Park, and Julia with them. But why would not you letus come for you? I wish you may not repent it.--Yours, etc."

  Fanny stood aghast. As no scandalous, ill-natured rumour had reachedher, it was impossible for her to understand much of this strangeletter. She could only perceive that it must relate to Wimpole Streetand Mr. Crawford, and only conjecture that something very imprudent hadjust occurred in that quarter to draw the notice of the world, and toexcite her jealousy, in Miss Crawford's apprehension, if she heard it.Miss Crawford need not be alarmed for her. She was only sorry for theparties concerned and for Mansfield, if the report should spread so far;but she hoped it might not. If the Rushworths were gone themselves toMansfield, as was to be inferred from what Miss Crawford said, it wasnot likely that anything unpleasant should have preceded them, or atleast should make any impression.

  As to Mr. Crawford, she hoped it might give him a knowledge of his owndisposition, convince him that he was not capable of being steadilyattached to any one woman in the world, and shame him from persistingany longer in addressing herself.

  It was very strange! She had begun to think he really loved her, and tofancy his affection for her something more than common; and his sisterstill said that he cared for nobody else. Yet there must have been somemarked display of attentions to her cousin, there must have been somestrong indiscretion, since her correspondent was not of a sort to regarda slight one.

  Very uncomfortable she was, and must continue, till she heard fromMiss Crawford again. It was impossible to banish the letter from herthoughts, and she could not relieve herself by speaking of it to anyhuman being. Miss Crawford need not have urged secrecy with so muchwarmth; she might have trusted to her sense of what was due to hercousin.

  The next day came and brought no second letter. Fanny was disappointed.She could still think of little else all the morning; but, when herfather came back in the afternoon with the daily newspaper as usual, shewas so far from expecting any elucidation through such a channel thatthe subject was for a moment out of her head.

  She was deep in other musing. The remembrance of her first evening inthat room, of her father and his newspaper, came across her. No candlewas now wanted. The sun was yet an hour and half above the horizon. Shefelt that she had, indeed, been three months there; and the sun's raysfalling strongly into the parlour, instead of cheering, made her stillmore melancholy, for sunshine appeared to her a totally differentthing in a town and in the country. Here, its power was only a glare:a stifling, sickly glare, serving but to bring forward stains and dirtthat might otherwise have slept. There was neither health nor gaiety insunshine in a town. She sat in a blaze of oppressive heat, in a cloudof moving dust, and her eyes could only wander from the walls, marked byher father's head, to the table cut and notched by her brothers, wherestood the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned, the cups and saucers wipedin streaks, the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue, and thebread and butter growing every minute more greasy than even Rebecca'shands had first produced it. Her father read his newspaper, and hermother lamented over the ragged carpet as usual, while the tea wasin preparation, and wished Rebecca would mend it; and Fanny was firstroused by his calling out to her, after humphing and considering overa particular paragraph: "What's the name of your great cousins in town,Fan?"

  A moment's recollection enabled her to say, "Rushworth, sir."

  "And don't they live in Wimpole Street?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Then, there's the devil to pay among them, that's all! There" (holdingout the paper to her); "much good may such fine relations do you. Idon't know what Sir Thomas may think of such matters; he may be too muchof the courtier and fine gentleman to like his daughter the less. But,by G--! if she belonged to _me_, I'd give her the rope's end as long asI could stand over her. A little flogging for man and woman too would bethe best way of preventing such things."

  Fanny read to herself that "it was with infinite concern the newspaperhad to announce to the world a matrimonial _fracas_ in the family ofMr. R. of Wimpole Street; the beautiful Mrs. R., whose name had not longbeen enrolled in the lists of Hymen, and who had promised to becomeso brilliant a leader in the fashionable world, having quitted herhusband's roof in company with the well-known and captivating Mr. C.,the intimate friend and associate of Mr. R., and it was not known evento the editor of the newspaper whither they were gone."

  "It is a mistake, sir," said Fanny instantly; "it must be a mistake, itcannot be true; it must mean some other people."

  She spoke from the instinctive wish of delaying shame; she spoke witha resolution which sprung from despair, for she spoke what she did not,could not believe herself. It had been the shock of conviction as sheread. The truth rushed on her; and how she could have spoken at all,how she could even have breathed, was afterwards matter of wonder toherself.

  Mr. Price cared too little about the report to make her much answer."It might be all a lie," he acknowledged; "but so many fine ladies weregoing to the devil nowadays that way, that there was no answering foranybody."

  "Indeed, I hope it is not true," said Mrs. Price plaintively; "it wouldbe so very shocking! If I have spoken once to Rebecca about that carpet,I am sure I have spoke at least a dozen times; have not I, Betsey? Andit would not be ten minutes' work."

  The horror of a mind like Fanny's, as it received the conviction of suchguilt, and began to take in some part of the misery that must ensue, canhardly be described. At first, it was a sort of stupefaction; but everymoment was quickening her perception of the horrible evil. She could notdoubt, she dared not indulge a hope, of the paragraph being false. MissCrawford's letter, which she had read so often as to make every lineher own, was in frightful conformity with it. Her eager defence of herbrother, her hope of its being _hushed_ _up_, her evident agitation,were all of a piece with something very bad; and if there was a womanof character in existence, who could treat as a trifle this sin of thefirst magnitude, who would try to gloss it over, and desire to have itunpunished, she could believe Miss Crawford to be the woman! Now shecould see her own mistake as to _who_ were gone, or _said_ to begone. It was not Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth; it was Mrs. Rushworth and Mr.Crawford.

  Fanny seemed to herself never to have been shocked before. There was nopossibility of rest. The evening passed without a pause of misery, thenight was totally sleepless. She passed only from feelings of sicknessto shudderings of horror; and from hot fits of fever to cold. The eventwas so shocking, that there were moments even when her heart revoltedfrom it as impossible: when she thought it could not be. A woman marriedonly six
months ago; a man professing himself devoted, even _engaged_ toanother; that other her near relation; the whole family, both familiesconnected as they were by tie upon tie; all friends, all intimatetogether! It was too horrible a confusion of guilt, too gross acomplication of evil, for human nature, not in a state of utterbarbarism, to be capable of! yet her judgment told her it was so._His_ unsettled affections, wavering with his vanity, _Maria's_decided attachment, and no sufficient principle on either side, gave itpossibility: Miss Crawford's letter stampt it a fact.

  What would be the consequence? Whom would it not injure? Whose viewsmight it not affect? Whose peace would it not cut up for ever? MissCrawford, herself, Edmund; but it was dangerous, perhaps, to treadsuch ground. She confined herself, or tried to confine herself, to thesimple, indubitable family misery which must envelop all, if it wereindeed a matter of certified guilt and public exposure. The mother'ssufferings, the father's; there she paused. Julia's, Tom's, Edmund's;there a yet longer pause. They were the two on whom it would fall mosthorribly. Sir Thomas's parental solicitude and high sense of honour anddecorum, Edmund's upright principles, unsuspicious temper, and genuinestrength of feeling, made her think it scarcely possible for them tosupport life and reason under such disgrace; and it appeared to herthat, as far as this world alone was concerned, the greatest blessing toevery one of kindred with Mrs. Rushworth would be instant annihilation.

  Nothing happened the next day, or the next, to weaken her terrors. Twoposts came in, and brought no refutation, public or private. There wasno second letter to explain away the first from Miss Crawford; there wasno intelligence from Mansfield, though it was now full time for herto hear again from her aunt. This was an evil omen. She had, indeed,scarcely the shadow of a hope to soothe her mind, and was reduced to solow and wan and trembling a condition, as no mother, not unkind, exceptMrs. Price could have overlooked, when the third day did bring thesickening knock, and a letter was again put into her hands. It bore theLondon postmark, and came from Edmund.

  "Dear Fanny,--You know our present wretchedness. May God support youunder your share! We have been here two days, but there is nothing tobe done. They cannot be traced. You may not have heard of the lastblow--Julia's elopement; she is gone to Scotland with Yates. She leftLondon a few hours before we entered it. At any other time this wouldhave been felt dreadfully. Now it seems nothing; yet it is an heavyaggravation. My father is not overpowered. More cannot be hoped. He isstill able to think and act; and I write, by his desire, to propose yourreturning home. He is anxious to get you there for my mother's sake. Ishall be at Portsmouth the morning after you receive this, and hope tofind you ready to set off for Mansfield. My father wishes you to inviteSusan to go with you for a few months. Settle it as you like; say whatis proper; I am sure you will feel such an instance of his kindness atsuch a moment! Do justice to his meaning, however I may confuse it. Youmay imagine something of my present state. There is no end of the evillet loose upon us. You will see me early by the mail.--Yours, etc."

  Never had Fanny more wanted a cordial. Never had she felt such a oneas this letter contained. To-morrow! to leave Portsmouth to-morrow!She was, she felt she was, in the greatest danger of being exquisitelyhappy, while so many were miserable. The evil which brought such goodto her! She dreaded lest she should learn to be insensible of it. To begoing so soon, sent for so kindly, sent for as a comfort, and with leaveto take Susan, was altogether such a combination of blessings as set herheart in a glow, and for a time seemed to distance every pain, andmake her incapable of suitably sharing the distress even of thosewhose distress she thought of most. Julia's elopement could affect hercomparatively but little; she was amazed and shocked; but it could notoccupy her, could not dwell on her mind. She was obliged to call herselfto think of it, and acknowledge it to be terrible and grievous, or itwas escaping her, in the midst of all the agitating pressing joyfulcares attending this summons to herself.

  There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, forrelieving sorrow. Employment, even melancholy, may dispel melancholy,and her occupations were hopeful. She had so much to do, that not eventhe horrible story of Mrs. Rushworth--now fixed to the last point ofcertainty could affect her as it had done before. She had not time tobe miserable. Within twenty-four hours she was hoping to be gone; herfather and mother must be spoken to, Susan prepared, everything gotready. Business followed business; the day was hardly long enough. Thehappiness she was imparting, too, happiness very little alloyed by theblack communication which must briefly precede it--the joyful consentof her father and mother to Susan's going with her--the generalsatisfaction with which the going of both seemed regarded, and theecstasy of Susan herself, was all serving to support her spirits.

  The affliction of the Bertrams was little felt in the family. Mrs. Pricetalked of her poor sister for a few minutes, but how to find anything tohold Susan's clothes, because Rebecca took away all the boxes and spoiltthem, was much more in her thoughts: and as for Susan, now unexpectedlygratified in the first wish of her heart, and knowing nothing personallyof those who had sinned, or of those who were sorrowing--if she couldhelp rejoicing from beginning to end, it was as much as ought to beexpected from human virtue at fourteen.

  As nothing was really left for the decision of Mrs. Price, or the goodoffices of Rebecca, everything was rationally and duly accomplished,and the girls were ready for the morrow. The advantage of much sleepto prepare them for their journey was impossible. The cousin who wastravelling towards them could hardly have less than visited theiragitated spirits--one all happiness, the other all varying andindescribable perturbation.

  By eight in the morning Edmund was in the house. The girls heard hisentrance from above, and Fanny went down. The idea of immediately seeinghim, with the knowledge of what he must be suffering, brought back allher own first feelings. He so near her, and in misery. She was ready tosink as she entered the parlour. He was alone, and met her instantly;and she found herself pressed to his heart with only these words, justarticulate, "My Fanny, my only sister; my only comfort now!" She couldsay nothing; nor for some minutes could he say more.

  He turned away to recover himself, and when he spoke again, though hisvoice still faltered, his manner shewed the wish of self-command, andthe resolution of avoiding any farther allusion. "Have you breakfasted?When shall you be ready? Does Susan go?" were questions following eachother rapidly. His great object was to be off as soon as possible. WhenMansfield was considered, time was precious; and the state of his ownmind made him find relief only in motion. It was settled that he shouldorder the carriage to the door in half an hour. Fanny answered for theirhaving breakfasted and being quite ready in half an hour. He had alreadyate, and declined staying for their meal. He would walk round theramparts, and join them with the carriage. He was gone again; glad toget away even from Fanny.

  He looked very ill; evidently suffering under violent emotions, which hewas determined to suppress. She knew it must be so, but it was terribleto her.

  The carriage came; and he entered the house again at the samemoment, just in time to spend a few minutes with the family, and be awitness--but that he saw nothing--of the tranquil manner in which thedaughters were parted with, and just in time to prevent their sittingdown to the breakfast-table, which, by dint of much unusual activity,was quite and completely ready as the carriage drove from the door.Fanny's last meal in her father's house was in character with her first:she was dismissed from it as hospitably as she had been welcomed.

  How her heart swelled with joy and gratitude as she passed the barriersof Portsmouth, and how Susan's face wore its broadest smiles, may beeasily conceived. Sitting forwards, however, and screened by her bonnet,those smiles were unseen.

  The journey was likely to be a silent one. Edmund's deep sighs oftenreached Fanny. Had he been alone with her, his heart must have openedin spite of every resolution; but Susan's presence drove him quite intohimself, and his attempts to talk on indifferent subjects could never belong supported.


  Fanny watched him with never-failing solicitude, and sometimes catchinghis eye, revived an affectionate smile, which comforted her; but thefirst day's journey passed without her hearing a word from him on thesubjects that were weighing him down. The next morning produced alittle more. Just before their setting out from Oxford, while Susan wasstationed at a window, in eager observation of the departure of alarge family from the inn, the other two were standing by the fire; andEdmund, particularly struck by the alteration in Fanny's looks, and fromhis ignorance of the daily evils of her father's house, attributing anundue share of the change, attributing _all_ to the recent event, tookher hand, and said in a low, but very expressive tone, "No wonder--youmust feel it--you must suffer. How a man who had once loved, coulddesert you! But _yours_--your regard was new compared with----Fanny,think of _me_!"

  The first division of their journey occupied a long day, and broughtthem, almost knocked up, to Oxford; but the second was over at a muchearlier hour. They were in the environs of Mansfield long before theusual dinner-time, and as they approached the beloved place, the heartsof both sisters sank a little. Fanny began to dread the meeting with heraunts and Tom, under so dreadful a humiliation; and Susan to feelwith some anxiety, that all her best manners, all her lately acquiredknowledge of what was practised here, was on the point of being calledinto action. Visions of good and ill breeding, of old vulgarisms and newgentilities, were before her; and she was meditating much upon silverforks, napkins, and finger-glasses. Fanny had been everywhere awake tothe difference of the country since February; but when they entered thePark her perceptions and her pleasures were of the keenest sort. It wasthree months, full three months, since her quitting it, and thechange was from winter to summer. Her eye fell everywhere on lawnsand plantations of the freshest green; and the trees, though not fullyclothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known tobe at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, moreyet remains for the imagination. Her enjoyment, however, was for herselfalone. Edmund could not share it. She looked at him, but he was leaningback, sunk in a deeper gloom than ever, and with eyes closed, as if theview of cheerfulness oppressed him, and the lovely scenes of home mustbe shut out.

  It made her melancholy again; and the knowledge of what must be enduringthere, invested even the house, modern, airy, and well situated as itwas, with a melancholy aspect.

  By one of the suffering party within they were expected with suchimpatience as she had never known before. Fanny had scarcely passed thesolemn-looking servants, when Lady Bertram came from the drawing-roomto meet her; came with no indolent step; and falling on her neck, said,"Dear Fanny! now I shall be comfortable."

 
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