Mansfield park, p.47
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       Mansfield Park, p.47

           Jane Austen


  It had been a miserable party, each of the three believing themselvesmost miserable. Mrs. Norris, however, as most attached to Maria, wasreally the greatest sufferer. Maria was her first favourite, the dearestof all; the match had been her own contriving, as she had been wont withsuch pride of heart to feel and say, and this conclusion of it almostoverpowered her.

  She was an altered creature, quieted, stupefied, indifferent toeverything that passed. The being left with her sister and nephew, andall the house under her care, had been an advantage entirely thrownaway; she had been unable to direct or dictate, or even fancy herselfuseful. When really touched by affliction, her active powers had beenall benumbed; and neither Lady Bertram nor Tom had received from her thesmallest support or attempt at support. She had done no more for themthan they had done for each other. They had been all solitary, helpless,and forlorn alike; and now the arrival of the others only establishedher superiority in wretchedness. Her companions were relieved, but therewas no good for _her_. Edmund was almost as welcome to his brotheras Fanny to her aunt; but Mrs. Norris, instead of having comfort fromeither, was but the more irritated by the sight of the person whom, inthe blindness of her anger, she could have charged as the daemon of thepiece. Had Fanny accepted Mr. Crawford this could not have happened.

  Susan too was a grievance. She had not spirits to notice her in morethan a few repulsive looks, but she felt her as a spy, and an intruder,and an indigent niece, and everything most odious. By her other aunt,Susan was received with quiet kindness. Lady Bertram could not give hermuch time, or many words, but she felt her, as Fanny's sister, to havea claim at Mansfield, and was ready to kiss and like her; and Susanwas more than satisfied, for she came perfectly aware that nothing butill-humour was to be expected from aunt Norris; and was so providedwith happiness, so strong in that best of blessings, an escape frommany certain evils, that she could have stood against a great deal moreindifference than she met with from the others.

  She was now left a good deal to herself, to get acquainted with thehouse and grounds as she could, and spent her days very happily in sodoing, while those who might otherwise have attended to her were shutup, or wholly occupied each with the person quite dependent on them, atthis time, for everything like comfort; Edmund trying to bury his ownfeelings in exertions for the relief of his brother's, and Fanny devotedto her aunt Bertram, returning to every former office with more thanformer zeal, and thinking she could never do enough for one who seemedso much to want her.

  To talk over the dreadful business with Fanny, talk and lament, was allLady Bertram's consolation. To be listened to and borne with, and hearthe voice of kindness and sympathy in return, was everything that couldbe done for her. To be otherwise comforted was out of the question. Thecase admitted of no comfort. Lady Bertram did not think deeply, but,guided by Sir Thomas, she thought justly on all important points; andshe saw, therefore, in all its enormity, what had happened, and neitherendeavoured herself, nor required Fanny to advise her, to think littleof guilt and infamy.

  Her affections were not acute, nor was her mind tenacious. After a time,Fanny found it not impossible to direct her thoughts to other subjects,and revive some interest in the usual occupations; but whenever LadyBertram _was_ fixed on the event, she could see it only in one light, ascomprehending the loss of a daughter, and a disgrace never to be wipedoff.

  Fanny learnt from her all the particulars which had yet transpired. Heraunt was no very methodical narrator, but with the help of some lettersto and from Sir Thomas, and what she already knew herself, and couldreasonably combine, she was soon able to understand quite as much as shewished of the circumstances attending the story.

  Mrs. Rushworth had gone, for the Easter holidays, to Twickenham, witha family whom she had just grown intimate with: a family of lively,agreeable manners, and probably of morals and discretion to suit, for to_their_ house Mr. Crawford had constant access at all times. His havingbeen in the same neighbourhood Fanny already knew. Mr. Rushworth hadbeen gone at this time to Bath, to pass a few days with his mother, andbring her back to town, and Maria was with these friends without anyrestraint, without even Julia; for Julia had removed from Wimpole Streettwo or three weeks before, on a visit to some relations of Sir Thomas;a removal which her father and mother were now disposed to attributeto some view of convenience on Mr. Yates's account. Very soon after theRushworths' return to Wimpole Street, Sir Thomas had received a letterfrom an old and most particular friend in London, who hearing andwitnessing a good deal to alarm him in that quarter, wrote to recommendSir Thomas's coming to London himself, and using his influence with hisdaughter to put an end to the intimacy which was already exposing her tounpleasant remarks, and evidently making Mr. Rushworth uneasy.

  Sir Thomas was preparing to act upon this letter, without communicatingits contents to any creature at Mansfield, when it was followed byanother, sent express from the same friend, to break to him the almostdesperate situation in which affairs then stood with the young people.Mrs. Rushworth had left her husband's house: Mr. Rushworth had beenin great anger and distress to _him_ (Mr. Harding) for his advice; Mr.Harding feared there had been _at_ _least_ very flagrant indiscretion.The maidservant of Mrs. Rushworth, senior, threatened alarmingly. Hewas doing all in his power to quiet everything, with the hope of Mrs.Rushworth's return, but was so much counteracted in Wimpole Street bythe influence of Mr. Rushworth's mother, that the worst consequencesmight be apprehended.

  This dreadful communication could not be kept from the rest of thefamily. Sir Thomas set off, Edmund would go with him, and the others hadbeen left in a state of wretchedness, inferior only to what followedthe receipt of the next letters from London. Everything was by that timepublic beyond a hope. The servant of Mrs. Rushworth, the mother, hadexposure in her power, and supported by her mistress, was not to besilenced. The two ladies, even in the short time they had beentogether, had disagreed; and the bitterness of the elder against herdaughter-in-law might perhaps arise almost as much from the personaldisrespect with which she had herself been treated as from sensibilityfor her son.

  However that might be, she was unmanageable. But had she been lessobstinate, or of less weight with her son, who was always guided by thelast speaker, by the person who could get hold of and shut him up, thecase would still have been hopeless, for Mrs. Rushworth did not appearagain, and there was every reason to conclude her to be concealedsomewhere with Mr. Crawford, who had quitted his uncle's house, as for ajourney, on the very day of her absenting herself.

  Sir Thomas, however, remained yet a little longer in town, in the hopeof discovering and snatching her from farther vice, though all was loston the side of character.

  _His_ present state Fanny could hardly bear to think of. There was butone of his children who was not at this time a source of misery tohim. Tom's complaints had been greatly heightened by the shock of hissister's conduct, and his recovery so much thrown back by it, that evenLady Bertram had been struck by the difference, and all her alarms wereregularly sent off to her husband; and Julia's elopement, the additionalblow which had met him on his arrival in London, though its force hadbeen deadened at the moment, must, she knew, be sorely felt. She sawthat it was. His letters expressed how much he deplored it. Under anycircumstances it would have been an unwelcome alliance; but to have itso clandestinely formed, and such a period chosen for its completion,placed Julia's feelings in a most unfavourable light, and severelyaggravated the folly of her choice. He called it a bad thing, done inthe worst manner, and at the worst time; and though Julia was yet asmore pardonable than Maria as folly than vice, he could not butregard the step she had taken as opening the worst probabilities of aconclusion hereafter like her sister's. Such was his opinion of the setinto which she had thrown herself.

  Fanny felt for him most acutely. He could have no comfort but in Edmund.Every other child must be racking his heart. His displeasure againstherself she trusted, reasoning differently from Mrs. Norris, would nowbe done aw
ay. _She_ should be justified. Mr. Crawford would have fullyacquitted her conduct in refusing him; but this, though most materialto herself, would be poor consolation to Sir Thomas. Her uncle'sdispleasure was terrible to her; but what could her justification or hergratitude and attachment do for him? His stay must be on Edmund alone.

  She was mistaken, however, in supposing that Edmund gave his father nopresent pain. It was of a much less poignant nature than what the othersexcited; but Sir Thomas was considering his happiness as very deeplyinvolved in the offence of his sister and friend; cut off by it, ashe must be, from the woman whom he had been pursuing with undoubtedattachment and strong probability of success; and who, in everything butthis despicable brother, would have been so eligible a connexion. He wasaware of what Edmund must be suffering on his own behalf, in additionto all the rest, when they were in town: he had seen or conjecturedhis feelings; and, having reason to think that one interview with MissCrawford had taken place, from which Edmund derived only increaseddistress, had been as anxious on that account as on others to get himout of town, and had engaged him in taking Fanny home to her aunt, witha view to his relief and benefit, no less than theirs. Fanny was not inthe secret of her uncle's feelings, Sir Thomas not in the secret of MissCrawford's character. Had he been privy to her conversation with hisson, he would not have wished her to belong to him, though her twentythousand pounds had been forty.

  That Edmund must be for ever divided from Miss Crawford did not admitof a doubt with Fanny; and yet, till she knew that he felt the same, herown conviction was insufficient. She thought he did, but she wanted tobe assured of it. If he would now speak to her with the unreserve whichhad sometimes been too much for her before, it would be most consoling;but _that_ she found was not to be. She seldom saw him: never alone. Heprobably avoided being alone with her. What was to be inferred? Thathis judgment submitted to all his own peculiar and bitter share of thisfamily affliction, but that it was too keenly felt to be a subject ofthe slightest communication. This must be his state. He yielded, but itwas with agonies which did not admit of speech. Long, long would it beere Miss Crawford's name passed his lips again, or she could hope for arenewal of such confidential intercourse as had been.

  It _was_ long. They reached Mansfield on Thursday, and it was not tillSunday evening that Edmund began to talk to her on the subject. Sittingwith her on Sunday evening--a wet Sunday evening--the very time ofall others when, if a friend is at hand, the heart must be opened, andeverything told; no one else in the room, except his mother, who,after hearing an affecting sermon, had cried herself to sleep, it wasimpossible not to speak; and so, with the usual beginnings, hardly tobe traced as to what came first, and the usual declaration that if shewould listen to him for a few minutes, he should be very brief, andcertainly never tax her kindness in the same way again; she need notfear a repetition; it would be a subject prohibited entirely: he enteredupon the luxury of relating circumstances and sensations of the firstinterest to himself, to one of whose affectionate sympathy he was quiteconvinced.

  How Fanny listened, with what curiosity and concern, what pain and whatdelight, how the agitation of his voice was watched, and how carefullyher own eyes were fixed on any object but himself, may be imagined. Theopening was alarming. He had seen Miss Crawford. He had been invited tosee her. He had received a note from Lady Stornaway to beg him to call;and regarding it as what was meant to be the last, last interviewof friendship, and investing her with all the feelings of shame andwretchedness which Crawford's sister ought to have known, he had gone toher in such a state of mind, so softened, so devoted, as made it for afew moments impossible to Fanny's fears that it should be the last. Butas he proceeded in his story, these fears were over. She had met him,he said, with a serious--certainly a serious--even an agitated air;but before he had been able to speak one intelligible sentence, she hadintroduced the subject in a manner which he owned had shocked him. "'Iheard you were in town,' said she; 'I wanted to see you. Let us talkover this sad business. What can equal the folly of our two relations?'I could not answer, but I believe my looks spoke. She felt reproved.Sometimes how quick to feel! With a graver look and voice she thenadded, 'I do not mean to defend Henry at your sister's expense.' Soshe began, but how she went on, Fanny, is not fit, is hardly fit to berepeated to you. I cannot recall all her words. I would not dwell uponthem if I could. Their substance was great anger at the _folly_ of each.She reprobated her brother's folly in being drawn on by a woman whom hehad never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; butstill more the folly of poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation,plunging into such difficulties, under the idea of being really lovedby a man who had long ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I musthave felt. To hear the woman whom--no harsher name than folly given!So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it! No reluctance, nohorror, no feminine, shall I say, no modest loathings? This is what theworld does. For where, Fanny, shall we find a woman whom nature had sorichly endowed? Spoilt, spoilt!"

  After a little reflection, he went on with a sort of desperate calmness."I will tell you everything, and then have done for ever. She saw itonly as folly, and that folly stamped only by exposure. The want ofcommon discretion, of caution: his going down to Richmond for the wholetime of her being at Twickenham; her putting herself in the power ofa servant; it was the detection, in short--oh, Fanny! it was thedetection, not the offence, which she reprobated. It was the imprudencewhich had brought things to extremity, and obliged her brother to giveup every dearer plan in order to fly with her."

  He stopt. "And what," said Fanny (believing herself required to speak),"what could you say?"

  "Nothing, nothing to be understood. I was like a man stunned. Shewent on, began to talk of you; yes, then she began to talk of you,regretting, as well she might, the loss of such a--. There she spokevery rationally. But she has always done justice to you. 'He has thrownaway,' said she, 'such a woman as he will never see again. She wouldhave fixed him; she would have made him happy for ever.' My dearestFanny, I am giving you, I hope, more pleasure than pain by thisretrospect of what might have been--but what never can be now. You donot wish me to be silent? If you do, give me but a look, a word, and Ihave done."

  No look or word was given.

  "Thank God," said he. "We were all disposed to wonder, but it seems tohave been the merciful appointment of Providence that the heart whichknew no guile should not suffer. She spoke of you with high praise andwarm affection; yet, even here, there was alloy, a dash of evil; for inthe midst of it she could exclaim, 'Why would not she have him? It isall her fault. Simple girl! I shall never forgive her. Had she acceptedhim as she ought, they might now have been on the point of marriage, andHenry would have been too happy and too busy to want any other object.He would have taken no pains to be on terms with Mrs. Rushworth again.It would have all ended in a regular standing flirtation, in yearlymeetings at Sotherton and Everingham.' Could you have believed itpossible? But the charm is broken. My eyes are opened."

  "Cruel!" said Fanny, "quite cruel. At such a moment to give way togaiety, to speak with lightness, and to you! Absolute cruelty."

  "Cruelty, do you call it? We differ there. No, hers is not a cruelnature. I do not consider her as meaning to wound my feelings. The evillies yet deeper: in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there beingsuch feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her totreat the subject as she did. She was speaking only as she had been usedto hear others speak, as she imagined everybody else would speak. Hersare not faults of temper. She would not voluntarily give unnecessarypain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but thinkthat for me, for my feelings, she would--Hers are faults of principle,Fanny; of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind. Perhaps itis best for me, since it leaves me so little to regret. Not so, however.Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, ratherthan have to think of her as I do. I told her so."

  "Did you?"

  "Yes; when I left her I
told her so."

  "How long were you together?"

  "Five-and-twenty minutes. Well, she went on to say that what remainednow to be done was to bring about a marriage between them. She spoke ofit, Fanny, with a steadier voice than I can." He was obliged to pausemore than once as he continued. "'We must persuade Henry to marryher,' said she; 'and what with honour, and the certainty of having shuthimself out for ever from Fanny, I do not despair of it. Fanny he mustgive up. I do not think that even _he_ could now hope to succeed withone of her stamp, and therefore I hope we may find no insuperabledifficulty. My influence, which is not small shall all go that way; andwhen once married, and properly supported by her own family, people ofrespectability as they are, she may recover her footing in society to acertain degree. In some circles, we know, she would never be admitted,but with good dinners, and large parties, there will always be thosewho will be glad of her acquaintance; and there is, undoubtedly, moreliberality and candour on those points than formerly. What I adviseis, that your father be quiet. Do not let him injure his own cause byinterference. Persuade him to let things take their course. If by anyofficious exertions of his, she is induced to leave Henry's protection,there will be much less chance of his marrying her than if she remainwith him. I know how he is likely to be influenced. Let Sir Thomas trustto his honour and compassion, and it may all end well; but if he get hisdaughter away, it will be destroying the chief hold.'"

  After repeating this, Edmund was so much affected that Fanny, watchinghim with silent, but most tender concern, was almost sorry that thesubject had been entered on at all. It was long before he could speakagain. At last, "Now, Fanny," said he, "I shall soon have done. I havetold you the substance of all that she said. As soon as I could speak,I replied that I had not supposed it possible, coming in such a state ofmind into that house as I had done, that anything could occur to makeme suffer more, but that she had been inflicting deeper wounds in almostevery sentence. That though I had, in the course of our acquaintance,been often sensible of some difference in our opinions, on points,too, of some moment, it had not entered my imagination to conceive thedifference could be such as she had now proved it. That the manner inwhich she treated the dreadful crime committed by her brother and mysister (with whom lay the greater seduction I pretended not to say),but the manner in which she spoke of the crime itself, giving it everyreproach but the right; considering its ill consequences only as theywere to be braved or overborne by a defiance of decency and impudence inwrong; and last of all, and above all, recommending to us a compliance,a compromise, an acquiescence in the continuance of the sin, on thechance of a marriage which, thinking as I now thought of her brother,should rather be prevented than sought; all this together mostgrievously convinced me that I had never understood her before, andthat, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my ownimagination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to dwell onfor many months past. That, perhaps, it was best for me; I had less toregret in sacrificing a friendship, feelings, hopes which must, at anyrate, have been torn from me now. And yet, that I must and would confessthat, could I have restored her to what she had appeared to me before,I would infinitely prefer any increase of the pain of parting, for thesake of carrying with me the right of tenderness and esteem. This iswhat I said, the purport of it; but, as you may imagine, not spokenso collectedly or methodically as I have repeated it to you. She wasastonished, exceedingly astonished--more than astonished. I saw herchange countenance. She turned extremely red. I imagined I saw amixture of many feelings: a great, though short struggle; half a wish ofyielding to truths, half a sense of shame, but habit, habit carriedit. She would have laughed if she could. It was a sort of laugh, as sheanswered, 'A pretty good lecture, upon my word. Was it part of your lastsermon? At this rate you will soon reform everybody at Mansfield andThornton Lacey; and when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebratedpreacher in some great society of Methodists, or as a missionary intoforeign parts.' She tried to speak carelessly, but she was not socareless as she wanted to appear. I only said in reply, that from myheart I wished her well, and earnestly hoped that she might soon learnto think more justly, and not owe the most valuable knowledge we couldany of us acquire, the knowledge of ourselves and of our duty, to thelessons of affliction, and immediately left the room. I had gone a fewsteps, Fanny, when I heard the door open behind me. 'Mr. Bertram,' saidshe. I looked back. 'Mr. Bertram,' said she, with a smile; but it wasa smile ill-suited to the conversation that had passed, a saucy playfulsmile, seeming to invite in order to subdue me; at least it appeared soto me. I resisted; it was the impulse of the moment to resist, and stillwalked on. I have since, sometimes, for a moment, regretted that I didnot go back, but I know I was right, and such has been the end of ouracquaintance. And what an acquaintance has it been! How have I beendeceived! Equally in brother and sister deceived! I thank you for yourpatience, Fanny. This has been the greatest relief, and now we will havedone."

  And such was Fanny's dependence on his words, that for five minutesshe thought they _had_ done. Then, however, it all came on again, orsomething very like it, and nothing less than Lady Bertram's rousingthoroughly up could really close such a conversation. Till thathappened, they continued to talk of Miss Crawford alone, and how she hadattached him, and how delightful nature had made her, and how excellentshe would have been, had she fallen into good hands earlier. Fanny, nowat liberty to speak openly, felt more than justified in adding tohis knowledge of her real character, by some hint of what share hisbrother's state of health might be supposed to have in her wish for acomplete reconciliation. This was not an agreeable intimation. Natureresisted it for a while. It would have been a vast deal pleasanter tohave had her more disinterested in her attachment; but his vanity wasnot of a strength to fight long against reason. He submitted to believethat Tom's illness had influenced her, only reserving for himself thisconsoling thought, that considering the many counteractions of opposinghabits, she had certainly been _more_ attached to him than could havebeen expected, and for his sake been more near doing right. Fannythought exactly the same; and they were also quite agreed in theiropinion of the lasting effect, the indelible impression, which sucha disappointment must make on his mind. Time would undoubtedly abatesomewhat of his sufferings, but still it was a sort of thing which henever could get entirely the better of; and as to his ever meeting withany other woman who could--it was too impossible to be named but withindignation. Fanny's friendship was all that he had to cling to.