Mansfield park, p.48
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       Mansfield Park, p.48
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER XLVIII

  Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjectsas soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in faultthemselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

  My Fanny, indeed, at this very time, I have the satisfaction of knowing,must have been happy in spite of everything. She must have been a happycreature in spite of all that she felt, or thought she felt, for thedistress of those around her. She had sources of delight that must forcetheir way. She was returned to Mansfield Park, she was useful, she wasbeloved; she was safe from Mr. Crawford; and when Sir Thomas came backshe had every proof that could be given in his then melancholy state ofspirits, of his perfect approbation and increased regard; and happy asall this must make her, she would still have been happy without any ofit, for Edmund was no longer the dupe of Miss Crawford.

  It is true that Edmund was very far from happy himself. He was sufferingfrom disappointment and regret, grieving over what was, and wishing forwhat could never be. She knew it was so, and was sorry; but it was witha sorrow so founded on satisfaction, so tending to ease, and so much inharmony with every dearest sensation, that there are few who might nothave been glad to exchange their greatest gaiety for it.

  Sir Thomas, poor Sir Thomas, a parent, and conscious of errors in hisown conduct as a parent, was the longest to suffer. He felt that heought not to have allowed the marriage; that his daughter's sentimentshad been sufficiently known to him to render him culpable in authorisingit; that in so doing he had sacrificed the right to the expedient, andbeen governed by motives of selfishness and worldly wisdom. These werereflections that required some time to soften; but time will do almosteverything; and though little comfort arose on Mrs. Rushworth's side forthe misery she had occasioned, comfort was to be found greater thanhe had supposed in his other children. Julia's match became a lessdesperate business than he had considered it at first. She was humble,and wishing to be forgiven; and Mr. Yates, desirous of being reallyreceived into the family, was disposed to look up to him and be guided.He was not very solid; but there was a hope of his becoming lesstrifling, of his being at least tolerably domestic and quiet; and at anyrate, there was comfort in finding his estate rather more, and his debtsmuch less, than he had feared, and in being consulted and treated asthe friend best worth attending to. There was comfort also in Tom, whogradually regained his health, without regaining the thoughtlessness andselfishness of his previous habits. He was the better for ever for hisillness. He had suffered, and he had learned to think: two advantagesthat he had never known before; and the self-reproach arising from thedeplorable event in Wimpole Street, to which he felt himself accessoryby all the dangerous intimacy of his unjustifiable theatre, made animpression on his mind which, at the age of six-and-twenty, with no wantof sense or good companions, was durable in its happy effects. He becamewhat he ought to be: useful to his father, steady and quiet, and notliving merely for himself.

  Here was comfort indeed! and quite as soon as Sir Thomas could placedependence on such sources of good, Edmund was contributing to hisfather's ease by improvement in the only point in which he had givenhim pain before--improvement in his spirits. After wandering about andsitting under trees with Fanny all the summer evenings, he had so welltalked his mind into submission as to be very tolerably cheerful again.

  These were the circumstances and the hopes which gradually brought theiralleviation to Sir Thomas, deadening his sense of what was lost, andin part reconciling him to himself; though the anguish arising from theconviction of his own errors in the education of his daughters was neverto be entirely done away.

  Too late he became aware how unfavourable to the character of any youngpeople must be the totally opposite treatment which Maria and Julia hadbeen always experiencing at home, where the excessive indulgence andflattery of their aunt had been continually contrasted with his ownseverity. He saw how ill he had judged, in expecting to counteract whatwas wrong in Mrs. Norris by its reverse in himself; clearly saw that hehad but increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits inhis presence so as to make their real disposition unknown to him, andsending them for all their indulgences to a person who had been able toattach them only by the blindness of her affection, and the excess ofher praise.

  Here had been grievous mismanagement; but, bad as it was, he graduallygrew to feel that it had not been the most direful mistake in his planof education. Something must have been wanting _within_, or time wouldhave worn away much of its ill effect. He feared that principle, activeprinciple, had been wanting; that they had never been properly taughtto govern their inclinations and tempers by that sense of duty which canalone suffice. They had been instructed theoretically in their religion,but never required to bring it into daily practice. To be distinguishedfor elegance and accomplishments, the authorised object of their youth,could have had no useful influence that way, no moral effect on themind. He had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed tothe understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessityof self-denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from anylips that could profit them.

  Bitterly did he deplore a deficiency which now he could scarcelycomprehend to have been possible. Wretchedly did he feel, that with allthe cost and care of an anxious and expensive education, he had broughtup his daughters without their understanding their first duties, or hisbeing acquainted with their character and temper.

  The high spirit and strong passions of Mrs. Rushworth, especially, weremade known to him only in their sad result. She was not to be prevailedon to leave Mr. Crawford. She hoped to marry him, and they continuedtogether till she was obliged to be convinced that such hope was vain,and till the disappointment and wretchedness arising from the convictionrendered her temper so bad, and her feelings for him so like hatred,as to make them for a while each other's punishment, and then induce avoluntary separation.

  She had lived with him to be reproached as the ruin of all his happinessin Fanny, and carried away no better consolation in leaving him thanthat she _had_ divided them. What can exceed the misery of such a mindin such a situation?

  Mr. Rushworth had no difficulty in procuring a divorce; and so ended amarriage contracted under such circumstances as to make any better endthe effect of good luck not to be reckoned on. She had despised him,and loved another; and he had been very much aware that it was so. Theindignities of stupidity, and the disappointments of selfish passion,can excite little pity. His punishment followed his conduct, as did adeeper punishment the deeper guilt of his wife. _He_ was released fromthe engagement to be mortified and unhappy, till some other pretty girlcould attract him into matrimony again, and he might set forward on asecond, and, it is to be hoped, more prosperous trial of the state: ifduped, to be duped at least with good humour and good luck; while shemust withdraw with infinitely stronger feelings to a retirement andreproach which could allow no second spring of hope or character.

  Where she could be placed became a subject of most melancholy andmomentous consultation. Mrs. Norris, whose attachment seemed to augmentwith the demerits of her niece, would have had her received at homeand countenanced by them all. Sir Thomas would not hear of it; and Mrs.Norris's anger against Fanny was so much the greater, from considering_her_ residence there as the motive. She persisted in placing hisscruples to _her_ account, though Sir Thomas very solemnly assured herthat, had there been no young woman in question, had there been no youngperson of either sex belonging to him, to be endangered by the societyor hurt by the character of Mrs. Rushworth, he would never have offeredso great an insult to the neighbourhood as to expect it to notice her.As a daughter, he hoped a penitent one, she should be protected by him,and secured in every comfort, and supported by every encouragement to doright, which their relative situations admitted; but farther than _that_he could not go. Maria had destroyed her own character, and he wouldnot, by a vain attempt to restore what never could be restored, byaffording his sanction to vice, or in seeking to
lessen its disgrace, beanywise accessory to introducing such misery in another man's family ashe had known himself.

  It ended in Mrs. Norris's resolving to quit Mansfield and devote herselfto her unfortunate Maria, and in an establishment being formed for themin another country, remote and private, where, shut up together withlittle society, on one side no affection, on the other no judgment,it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutualpunishment.

  Mrs. Norris's removal from Mansfield was the great supplementary comfortof Sir Thomas's life. His opinion of her had been sinking from the dayof his return from Antigua: in every transaction together from thatperiod, in their daily intercourse, in business, or in chat, she hadbeen regularly losing ground in his esteem, and convincing him thateither time had done her much disservice, or that he had considerablyover-rated her sense, and wonderfully borne with her manners before. Hehad felt her as an hourly evil, which was so much the worse, as thereseemed no chance of its ceasing but with life; she seemed a part ofhimself that must be borne for ever. To be relieved from her, therefore,was so great a felicity that, had she not left bitter remembrancesbehind her, there might have been danger of his learning almost toapprove the evil which produced such a good.

  She was regretted by no one at Mansfield. She had never been able toattach even those she loved best; and since Mrs. Rushworth's elopement,her temper had been in a state of such irritation as to make hereverywhere tormenting. Not even Fanny had tears for aunt Norris, noteven when she was gone for ever.

  That Julia escaped better than Maria was owing, in some measure, to afavourable difference of disposition and circumstance, but in a greaterto her having been less the darling of that very aunt, less flatteredand less spoilt. Her beauty and acquirements had held but a secondplace. She had been always used to think herself a little inferior toMaria. Her temper was naturally the easiest of the two; her feelings,though quick, were more controllable, and education had not given her sovery hurtful a degree of self-consequence.

  She had submitted the best to the disappointment in Henry Crawford.After the first bitterness of the conviction of being slighted was over,she had been tolerably soon in a fair way of not thinking of him again;and when the acquaintance was renewed in town, and Mr. Rushworth's housebecame Crawford's object, she had had the merit of withdrawing herselffrom it, and of chusing that time to pay a visit to her other friends,in order to secure herself from being again too much attracted. This hadbeen her motive in going to her cousin's. Mr. Yates's convenience hadhad nothing to do with it. She had been allowing his attentions sometime, but with very little idea of ever accepting him; and had not hersister's conduct burst forth as it did, and her increased dread of herfather and of home, on that event, imagining its certain consequenceto herself would be greater severity and restraint, made her hastilyresolve on avoiding such immediate horrors at all risks, it is probablethat Mr. Yates would never have succeeded. She had not eloped with anyworse feelings than those of selfish alarm. It had appeared to her theonly thing to be done. Maria's guilt had induced Julia's folly.

  Henry Crawford, ruined by early independence and bad domestic example,indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long. Onceit had, by an opening undesigned and unmerited, led him into the way ofhappiness. Could he have been satisfied with the conquest of oneamiable woman's affections, could he have found sufficient exultationin overcoming the reluctance, in working himself into the esteem andtenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability ofsuccess and felicity for him. His affection had already done something.Her influence over him had already given him some influence over her.Would he have deserved more, there can be no doubt that more would havebeen obtained, especially when that marriage had taken place, whichwould have given him the assistance of her conscience in subduing herfirst inclination, and brought them very often together. Would he havepersevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a rewardvery voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund'smarrying Mary.

  Had he done as he intended, and as he knew he ought, by going down toEveringham after his return from Portsmouth, he might have been decidinghis own happy destiny. But he was pressed to stay for Mrs. Fraser'sparty; his staying was made of flattering consequence, and he was tomeet Mrs. Rushworth there. Curiosity and vanity were both engaged, andthe temptation of immediate pleasure was too strong for a mind unused tomake any sacrifice to right: he resolved to defer his Norfolk journey,resolved that writing should answer the purpose of it, or that itspurpose was unimportant, and staid. He saw Mrs. Rushworth, was receivedby her with a coldness which ought to have been repulsive, and haveestablished apparent indifference between them for ever; but he wasmortified, he could not bear to be thrown off by the woman whose smileshad been so wholly at his command: he must exert himself to subdue soproud a display of resentment; it was anger on Fanny's account; he mustget the better of it, and make Mrs. Rushworth Maria Bertram again in hertreatment of himself.

  In this spirit he began the attack, and by animated perseverance hadsoon re-established the sort of familiar intercourse, of gallantry,of flirtation, which bounded his views; but in triumphing over thediscretion which, though beginning in anger, might have saved them both,he had put himself in the power of feelings on her side more strongthan he had supposed. She loved him; there was no withdrawing attentionsavowedly dear to her. He was entangled by his own vanity, with as littleexcuse of love as possible, and without the smallest inconstancy of mindtowards her cousin. To keep Fanny and the Bertrams from a knowledge ofwhat was passing became his first object. Secrecy could not have beenmore desirable for Mrs. Rushworth's credit than he felt it for his own.When he returned from Richmond, he would have been glad to see Mrs.Rushworth no more. All that followed was the result of her imprudence;and he went off with her at last, because he could not help it,regretting Fanny even at the moment, but regretting her infinitely morewhen all the bustle of the intrigue was over, and a very few months hadtaught him, by the force of contrast, to place a yet higher value on thesweetness of her temper, the purity of her mind, and the excellence ofher principles.

  That punishment, the public punishment of disgrace, should in a justmeasure attend _his_ share of the offence is, we know, not one of thebarriers which society gives to virtue. In this world the penalty isless equal than could be wished; but without presuming to look forwardto a juster appointment hereafter, we may fairly consider a man ofsense, like Henry Crawford, to be providing for himself no smallportion of vexation and regret: vexation that must rise sometimesto self-reproach, and regret to wretchedness, in having so requitedhospitality, so injured family peace, so forfeited his best, mostestimable, and endeared acquaintance, and so lost the woman whom he hadrationally as well as passionately loved.

  After what had passed to wound and alienate the two families, thecontinuance of the Bertrams and Grants in such close neighbourhood wouldhave been most distressing; but the absence of the latter, for somemonths purposely lengthened, ended very fortunately in the necessity, orat least the practicability, of a permanent removal. Dr. Grant, throughan interest on which he had almost ceased to form hopes, succeeded toa stall in Westminster, which, as affording an occasion for leavingMansfield, an excuse for residence in London, and an increase of incometo answer the expenses of the change, was highly acceptable to those whowent and those who staid.

  Mrs. Grant, with a temper to love and be loved, must have gone with someregret from the scenes and people she had been used to; but the samehappiness of disposition must in any place, and any society, secure hera great deal to enjoy, and she had again a home to offer Mary; and Maryhad had enough of her own friends, enough of vanity, ambition, love, anddisappointment in the course of the last half-year, to be in need of thetrue kindness of her sister's heart, and the rational tranquillityof her ways. They lived together; and when Dr. Grant had brought onapoplexy and death, by three great institutionary dinners in one week,they still lived together; for Mary, though perfectly
resolved againstever attaching herself to a younger brother again, was long in findingamong the dashing representatives, or idle heir-apparents, who were atthe command of her beauty, and her ?20,000, any one who could satisfy thebetter taste she had acquired at Mansfield, whose character and mannerscould authorise a hope of the domestic happiness she had there learnedto estimate, or put Edmund Bertram sufficiently out of her head.

  Edmund had greatly the advantage of her in this respect. He had not towait and wish with vacant affections for an object worthy to succeed herin them. Scarcely had he done regretting Mary Crawford, and observing toFanny how impossible it was that he should ever meet with such anotherwoman, before it began to strike him whether a very different kind ofwoman might not do just as well, or a great deal better: whether Fannyherself were not growing as dear, as important to him in all her smilesand all her ways, as Mary Crawford had ever been; and whether it mightnot be a possible, an hopeful undertaking to persuade her that her warmand sisterly regard for him would be foundation enough for wedded love.

  I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one maybe at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerablepassions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much asto time in different people. I only entreat everybody to believe thatexactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, andnot a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, andbecame as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire.

  With such a regard for her, indeed, as his had long been, a regardfounded on the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness, andcompleted by every recommendation of growing worth, what could be morenatural than the change? Loving, guiding, protecting her, as he had beendoing ever since her being ten years old, her mind in so great a degreeformed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness, anobject to him of such close and peculiar interest, dearer by all his ownimportance with her than any one else at Mansfield, what was there nowto add, but that he should learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparklingdark ones. And being always with her, and always talking confidentially,and his feelings exactly in that favourable state which a recentdisappointment gives, those soft light eyes could not be very long inobtaining the pre-eminence.

  Having once set out, and felt that he had done so on this road tohappiness, there was nothing on the side of prudence to stop him or makehis progress slow; no doubts of her deserving, no fears of opposition oftaste, no need of drawing new hopes of happiness from dissimilarityof temper. Her mind, disposition, opinions, and habits wanted nohalf-concealment, no self-deception on the present, no reliance onfuture improvement. Even in the midst of his late infatuation, he hadacknowledged Fanny's mental superiority. What must be his sense of itnow, therefore? She was of course only too good for him; but as nobodyminds having what is too good for them, he was very steadily earnest inthe pursuit of the blessing, and it was not possible that encouragementfrom her should be long wanting. Timid, anxious, doubting as she was, itwas still impossible that such tenderness as hers should not, at times,hold out the strongest hope of success, though it remained for a laterperiod to tell him the whole delightful and astonishing truth. Hishappiness in knowing himself to have been so long the beloved of such aheart, must have been great enough to warrant any strength of languagein which he could clothe it to her or to himself; it must have beena delightful happiness. But there was happiness elsewhere which nodescription can reach. Let no one presume to give the feelings of ayoung woman on receiving the assurance of that affection of which shehas scarcely allowed herself to entertain a hope.

  Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind,no drawback of poverty or parent. It was a match which Sir Thomas'swishes had even forestalled. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions,prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, andchiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained tohim of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine satisfaction onthe more than possibility of the two young friends finding their naturalconsolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment toeither; and the joyful consent which met Edmund's application, the highsense of having realised a great acquisition in the promise of Fanny fora daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on thesubject when the poor little girl's coming had been first agitated, astime is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals,for their own instruction, and their neighbours' entertainment.

  Fanny was indeed the daughter that he wanted. His charitable kindnesshad been rearing a prime comfort for himself. His liberality had a richrepayment, and the general goodness of his intentions by her deservedit. He might have made her childhood happier; but it had been an errorof judgment only which had given him the appearance of harshness, anddeprived him of her early love; and now, on really knowing each other,their mutual attachment became very strong. After settling her atThornton Lacey with every kind attention to her comfort, the object ofalmost every day was to see her there, or to get her away from it.

  Selfishly dear as she had long been to Lady Bertram, she could not beparted with willingly by _her_. No happiness of son or niece could makeher wish the marriage. But it was possible to part with her, becauseSusan remained to supply her place. Susan became the stationary niece,delighted to be so; and equally well adapted for it by a readiness ofmind, and an inclination for usefulness, as Fanny had been by sweetnessof temper, and strong feelings of gratitude. Susan could never bespared. First as a comfort to Fanny, then as an auxiliary, and last asher substitute, she was established at Mansfield, with every appearanceof equal permanency. Her more fearless disposition and happier nervesmade everything easy to her there. With quickness in understandingthe tempers of those she had to deal with, and no natural timidity torestrain any consequent wishes, she was soon welcome and useful to all;and after Fanny's removal succeeded so naturally to her influence overthe hourly comfort of her aunt, as gradually to become, perhaps, themost beloved of the two. In _her_ usefulness, in Fanny's excellence,in William's continued good conduct and rising fame, and in the generalwell-doing and success of the other members of the family, all assistingto advance each other, and doing credit to his countenance and aid, SirThomas saw repeated, and for ever repeated, reason to rejoice in what hehad done for them all, and acknowledge the advantages of early hardshipand discipline, and the consciousness of being born to struggle andendure.

  With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune andfriends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure asearthly happiness can be. Equally formed for domestic life, and attachedto country pleasures, their home was the home of affection and comfort;and to complete the picture of good, the acquisition of Mansfieldliving, by the death of Dr. Grant, occurred just after they had beenmarried long enough to begin to want an increase of income, and feeltheir distance from the paternal abode an inconvenience.

  On that event they removed to Mansfield; and the Parsonage there,which, under each of its two former owners, Fanny had never been ableto approach but with some painful sensation of restraint or alarm, soongrew as dear to her heart, and as thoroughly perfect in her eyes, aseverything else within the view and patronage of Mansfield Park had longbeen.

  THE END

 
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