Mansfield park, p.6
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       Mansfield Park, p.6

           Jane Austen


  Mr. Bertram set off for--------, and Miss Crawford was prepared tofind a great chasm in their society, and to miss him decidedly in themeetings which were now becoming almost daily between the families;and on their all dining together at the Park soon after his going, sheretook her chosen place near the bottom of the table, fully expecting tofeel a most melancholy difference in the change of masters. It wouldbe a very flat business, she was sure. In comparison with his brother,Edmund would have nothing to say. The soup would be sent round in a mostspiritless manner, wine drank without any smiles or agreeable trifling,and the venison cut up without supplying one pleasant anecdote of anyformer haunch, or a single entertaining story, about "my friend such aone." She must try to find amusement in what was passing at the upperend of the table, and in observing Mr. Rushworth, who was now making hisappearance at Mansfield for the first time since the Crawfords' arrival.He had been visiting a friend in the neighbouring county, and thatfriend having recently had his grounds laid out by an improver, Mr.Rushworth was returned with his head full of the subject, and very eagerto be improving his own place in the same way; and though not sayingmuch to the purpose, could talk of nothing else. The subject hadbeen already handled in the drawing-room; it was revived in thedining-parlour. Miss Bertram's attention and opinion was evidently hischief aim; and though her deportment showed rather conscious superioritythan any solicitude to oblige him, the mention of Sotherton Court,and the ideas attached to it, gave her a feeling of complacency, whichprevented her from being very ungracious.

  "I wish you could see Compton," said he; "it is the most complete thing!I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not knowwhere I was. The approach _now_, is one of the finest things in thecountry: you see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare,when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison--quite adismal old prison."

  "Oh, for shame!" cried Mrs. Norris. "A prison indeed? Sotherton Court isthe noblest old place in the world."

  "It wants improvement, ma'am, beyond anything. I never saw a place thatwanted so much improvement in my life; and it is so forlorn that I donot know what can be done with it."

  "No wonder that Mr. Rushworth should think so at present," said Mrs.Grant to Mrs. Norris, with a smile; "but depend upon it, Sotherton willhave _every_ improvement in time which his heart can desire."

  "I must try to do something with it," said Mr. Rushworth, "but I do notknow what. I hope I shall have some good friend to help me."

  "Your best friend upon such an occasion," said Miss Bertram calmly,"would be Mr. Repton, I imagine."

  "That is what I was thinking of. As he has done so well by Smith, Ithink I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day."

  "Well, and if they were _ten_," cried Mrs. Norris, "I am sure _you_ neednot regard it. The expense need not be any impediment. If I were you,I should not think of the expense. I would have everything done in thebest style, and made as nice as possible. Such a place as SothertonCourt deserves everything that taste and money can do. You have space towork upon there, and grounds that will well reward you. For my own part,if I had anything within the fiftieth part of the size of Sotherton, Ishould be always planting and improving, for naturally I am excessivelyfond of it. It would be too ridiculous for me to attempt anything whereI am now, with my little half acre. It would be quite a burlesque. Butif I had more room, I should take a prodigious delight in improving andplanting. We did a vast deal in that way at the Parsonage: we made itquite a different place from what it was when we first had it. You youngones do not remember much about it, perhaps; but if dear Sir Thomas werehere, he could tell you what improvements we made: and a great deal morewould have been done, but for poor Mr. Norris's sad state of health.He could hardly ever get out, poor man, to enjoy anything, and _that_disheartened me from doing several things that Sir Thomas and I used totalk of. If it had not been for _that_, we should have carried on thegarden wall, and made the plantation to shut out the churchyard, justas Dr. Grant has done. We were always doing something as it was. It wasonly the spring twelvemonth before Mr. Norris's death that we put in theapricot against the stable wall, which is now grown such a noble tree,and getting to such perfection, sir," addressing herself then to Dr.Grant.

  "The tree thrives well, beyond a doubt, madam," replied Dr. Grant. "Thesoil is good; and I never pass it without regretting that the fruitshould be so little worth the trouble of gathering."

  "Sir, it is a Moor Park, we bought it as a Moor Park, and it costus--that is, it was a present from Sir Thomas, but I saw the bill--and Iknow it cost seven shillings, and was charged as a Moor Park."

  "You were imposed on, ma'am," replied Dr. Grant: "these potatoes have asmuch the flavour of a Moor Park apricot as the fruit from that tree. Itis an insipid fruit at the best; but a good apricot is eatable, whichnone from my garden are."

  "The truth is, ma'am," said Mrs. Grant, pretending to whisper acrossthe table to Mrs. Norris, "that Dr. Grant hardly knows what the naturaltaste of our apricot is: he is scarcely ever indulged with one, for itis so valuable a fruit; with a little assistance, and ours is such aremarkably large, fair sort, that what with early tarts and preserves,my cook contrives to get them all."

  Mrs. Norris, who had begun to redden, was appeased; and, for a littlewhile, other subjects took place of the improvements of Sotherton. Dr.Grant and Mrs. Norris were seldom good friends; their acquaintance hadbegun in dilapidations, and their habits were totally dissimilar.

  After a short interruption Mr. Rushworth began again. "Smith's placeis the admiration of all the country; and it was a mere nothing beforeRepton took it in hand. I think I shall have Repton."

  "Mr. Rushworth," said Lady Bertram, "if I were you, I would have avery pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fineweather."

  Mr. Rushworth was eager to assure her ladyship of his acquiescence, andtried to make out something complimentary; but, between his submissionto _her_ taste, and his having always intended the same himself, withthe superadded objects of professing attention to the comfort of ladiesin general, and of insinuating that there was one only whom he wasanxious to please, he grew puzzled, and Edmund was glad to put an endto his speech by a proposal of wine. Mr. Rushworth, however, though notusually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next hisheart. "Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in hisgrounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that theplace can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good sevenhundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if somuch could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been twoor three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, andit opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, oranybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down:the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill,you know," turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But MissBertram thought it most becoming to reply--

  "The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little ofSotherton."

  Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly oppositeMiss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked athim, and said in a low voice--

  "Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper?'Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.'"

  He smiled as he answered, "I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance,Fanny."

  "I should like to see Sotherton before it is cut down, to see the placeas it is now, in its old state; but I do not suppose I shall."

  "Have you never been there? No, you never can; and, unluckily, it is outof distance for a ride. I wish we could contrive it."

  "Oh! it does not signify. Whenever I do see it, you will tell me how ithas been altered."

  "I collect," said Miss Crawford, "that Sotherton is an old place, and aplace of some grandeur. In any particular style of building?"

  "The h
ouse was built in Elizabeth's time, and is a large, regular, brickbuilding; heavy, but respectable looking, and has many good rooms. Itis ill placed. It stands in one of the lowest spots of the park; in thatrespect, unfavourable for improvement. But the woods are fine, andthere is a stream, which, I dare say, might be made a good deal of. Mr.Rushworth is quite right, I think, in meaning to give it a modern dress,and I have no doubt that it will be all done extremely well."

  Miss Crawford listened with submission, and said to herself, "He is awell-bred man; he makes the best of it."

  "I do not wish to influence Mr. Rushworth," he continued; "but, had Ia place to new fashion, I should not put myself into the hands of animprover. I would rather have an inferior degree of beauty, of my ownchoice, and acquired progressively. I would rather abide by my ownblunders than by his."

  "_You_ would know what you were about, of course; but that would notsuit _me_. I have no eye or ingenuity for such matters, but as they arebefore me; and had I a place of my own in the country, I should be mostthankful to any Mr. Repton who would undertake it, and give me as muchbeauty as he could for my money; and I should never look at it till itwas complete."

  "It would be delightful to _me_ to see the progress of it all," saidFanny.

  "Ay, you have been brought up to it. It was no part of my education; andthe only dose I ever had, being administered by not the first favouritein the world, has made me consider improvements _in_ _hand_ as thegreatest of nuisances. Three years ago the Admiral, my honoured uncle,bought a cottage at Twickenham for us all to spend our summers in;and my aunt and I went down to it quite in raptures; but it beingexcessively pretty, it was soon found necessary to be improved, and forthree months we were all dirt and confusion, without a gravel walk tostep on, or a bench fit for use. I would have everything as completeas possible in the country, shrubberies and flower-gardens, and rusticseats innumerable: but it must all be done without my care. Henry isdifferent; he loves to be doing."

  Edmund was sorry to hear Miss Crawford, whom he was much disposed toadmire, speak so freely of her uncle. It did not suit his sense ofpropriety, and he was silenced, till induced by further smiles andliveliness to put the matter by for the present.

  "Mr. Bertram," said she, "I have tidings of my harp at last. I amassured that it is safe at Northampton; and there it has probably beenthese ten days, in spite of the solemn assurances we have so oftenreceived to the contrary." Edmund expressed his pleasure and surprise."The truth is, that our inquiries were too direct; we sent a servant,we went ourselves: this will not do seventy miles from London; but thismorning we heard of it in the right way. It was seen by some farmer, andhe told the miller, and the miller told the butcher, and the butcher'sson-in-law left word at the shop."

  "I am very glad that you have heard of it, by whatever means, and hopethere will be no further delay."

  "I am to have it to-morrow; but how do you think it is to be conveyed?Not by a wagon or cart: oh no! nothing of that kind could be hired inthe village. I might as well have asked for porters and a handbarrow."

  "You would find it difficult, I dare say, just now, in the middle of avery late hay harvest, to hire a horse and cart?"

  "I was astonished to find what a piece of work was made of it! To wanta horse and cart in the country seemed impossible, so I told my maid tospeak for one directly; and as I cannot look out of my dressing-closetwithout seeing one farmyard, nor walk in the shrubbery without passinganother, I thought it would be only ask and have, and was rather grievedthat I could not give the advantage to all. Guess my surprise, whenI found that I had been asking the most unreasonable, most impossiblething in the world; had offended all the farmers, all the labourers,all the hay in the parish! As for Dr. Grant's bailiff, I believe I hadbetter keep out of _his_ way; and my brother-in-law himself, who is allkindness in general, looked rather black upon me when he found what Ihad been at."

  "You could not be expected to have thought on the subject before; butwhen you _do_ think of it, you must see the importance of getting inthe grass. The hire of a cart at any time might not be so easy as yousuppose: our farmers are not in the habit of letting them out; but, inharvest, it must be quite out of their power to spare a horse."

  "I shall understand all your ways in time; but, coming down with thetrue London maxim, that everything is to be got with money, I was alittle embarrassed at first by the sturdy independence of your countrycustoms. However, I am to have my harp fetched to-morrow. Henry, who isgood-nature itself, has offered to fetch it in his barouche. Will it notbe honourably conveyed?"

  Edmund spoke of the harp as his favourite instrument, and hoped to besoon allowed to hear her. Fanny had never heard the harp at all, andwished for it very much.

  "I shall be most happy to play to you both," said Miss Crawford; "atleast as long as you can like to listen: probably much longer, forI dearly love music myself, and where the natural taste is equal theplayer must always be best off, for she is gratified in more ways thanone. Now, Mr. Bertram, if you write to your brother, I entreat you totell him that my harp is come: he heard so much of my misery about it.And you may say, if you please, that I shall prepare my most plaintiveairs against his return, in compassion to his feelings, as I know hishorse will lose."

  "If I write, I will say whatever you wish me; but I do not, at present,foresee any occasion for writing."

  "No, I dare say, nor if he were to be gone a twelvemonth, would you everwrite to him, nor he to you, if it could be helped. The occasion wouldnever be foreseen. What strange creatures brothers are! You would notwrite to each other but upon the most urgent necessity in the world; andwhen obliged to take up the pen to say that such a horse is ill, or sucha relation dead, it is done in the fewest possible words. You have butone style among you. I know it perfectly. Henry, who is in every otherrespect exactly what a brother should be, who loves me, consults me,confides in me, and will talk to me by the hour together, has neveryet turned the page in a letter; and very often it is nothing morethan--'Dear Mary, I am just arrived. Bath seems full, and everythingas usual. Yours sincerely.' That is the true manly style; that is acomplete brother's letter."

  "When they are at a distance from all their family," said Fanny,colouring for William's sake, "they can write long letters."

  "Miss Price has a brother at sea," said Edmund, "whose excellence as acorrespondent makes her think you too severe upon us."

  "At sea, has she? In the king's service, of course?"

  Fanny would rather have had Edmund tell the story, but his determinedsilence obliged her to relate her brother's situation: her voice wasanimated in speaking of his profession, and the foreign stations he hadbeen on; but she could not mention the number of years that he had beenabsent without tears in her eyes. Miss Crawford civilly wished him anearly promotion.

  "Do you know anything of my cousin's captain?" said Edmund; "CaptainMarshall? You have a large acquaintance in the navy, I conclude?"

  "Among admirals, large enough; but," with an air of grandeur, "we knowvery little of the inferior ranks. Post-captains may be very good sortof men, but they do not belong to _us_. Of various admirals I could tellyou a great deal: of them and their flags, and the gradation of theirpay, and their bickerings and jealousies. But, in general, I can assureyou that they are all passed over, and all very ill used. Certainly, myhome at my uncle's brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of_Rears_ and _Vices_ I saw enough. Now do not be suspecting me of a pun,I entreat."

  Edmund again felt grave, and only replied, "It is a noble profession."

  "Yes, the profession is well enough under two circumstances: if it makethe fortune, and there be discretion in spending it; but, in short, itis not a favourite profession of mine. It has never worn an amiable formto _me_."

  Edmund reverted to the harp, and was again very happy in the prospect ofhearing her play.

  The subject of improving grounds, meanwhile, was still underconsideration among the others; and Mrs. Grant could not help addressingher brother, though i
t was calling his attention from Miss JuliaBertram.

  "My dear Henry, have _you_ nothing to say? You have been an improveryourself, and from what I hear of Everingham, it may vie with any placein England. Its natural beauties, I am sure, are great. Everingham,as it _used_ to be, was perfect in my estimation: such a happy fall ofground, and such timber! What would I not give to see it again?"

  "Nothing could be so gratifying to me as to hear your opinion of it,"was his answer; "but I fear there would be some disappointment: youwould not find it equal to your present ideas. In extent, it is a merenothing; you would be surprised at its insignificance; and, as forimprovement, there was very little for me to do--too little: I shouldlike to have been busy much longer."

  "You are fond of the sort of thing?" said Julia.

  "Excessively; but what with the natural advantages of the ground, whichpointed out, even to a very young eye, what little remained to be done,and my own consequent resolutions, I had not been of age threemonths before Everingham was all that it is now. My plan was laidat Westminster, a little altered, perhaps, at Cambridge, and atone-and-twenty executed. I am inclined to envy Mr. Rushworth for havingso much happiness yet before him. I have been a devourer of my own."

  "Those who see quickly, will resolve quickly, and act quickly,"said Julia. "_You_ can never want employment. Instead of envying Mr.Rushworth, you should assist him with your opinion."

  Mrs. Grant, hearing the latter part of this speech, enforced it warmly,persuaded that no judgment could be equal to her brother's; and asMiss Bertram caught at the idea likewise, and gave it her full support,declaring that, in her opinion, it was infinitely better to consultwith friends and disinterested advisers, than immediately to throw thebusiness into the hands of a professional man, Mr. Rushworth was veryready to request the favour of Mr. Crawford's assistance; and Mr.Crawford, after properly depreciating his own abilities, was quite athis service in any way that could be useful. Mr. Rushworth then began topropose Mr. Crawford's doing him the honour of coming over to Sotherton,and taking a bed there; when Mrs. Norris, as if reading in her twonieces' minds their little approbation of a plan which was to take Mr.Crawford away, interposed with an amendment.

  "There can be no doubt of Mr. Crawford's willingness; but why should notmore of us go? Why should not we make a little party? Here are many thatwould be interested in your improvements, my dear Mr. Rushworth, andthat would like to hear Mr. Crawford's opinion on the spot, and thatmight be of some small use to you with _their_ opinions; and, for myown part, I have been long wishing to wait upon your good mother again;nothing but having no horses of my own could have made me so remiss; butnow I could go and sit a few hours with Mrs. Rushworth, while the restof you walked about and settled things, and then we could all returnto a late dinner here, or dine at Sotherton, just as might be mostagreeable to your mother, and have a pleasant drive home by moonlight.I dare say Mr. Crawford would take my two nieces and me in his barouche,and Edmund can go on horseback, you know, sister, and Fanny will stay athome with you."

  Lady Bertram made no objection; and every one concerned in the goingwas forward in expressing their ready concurrence, excepting Edmund, whoheard it all and said nothing.