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CHAPTER XVI

It was not in Miss Crawford's power to talk Fanny into any
real forgetfulness of what had passed. When the evening
was over, she went to bed full of it, her nerves still
agitated by the shock of such an attack from her cousin Tom,
so public and so persevered in, and her spirits sinking
under her aunt's unkind reflection and reproach.
To be called into notice in such a manner, to hear that it
was but the prelude to something so infinitely worse,
to be told that she must do what was so impossible as to act;
and then to have the charge of obstinacy and ingratitude
follow it, enforced with such a hint at the dependence
of her situation, had been too distressing at the time
to make the remembrance when she was alone much less so,
especially with the superadded dread of what the
morrow might produce in continuation of the subject.
Miss Crawford had protected her only for the time;
and if she were applied to again among themselves with all
the authoritative urgency that Tom and Maria were capable of,
and Edmund perhaps away, what should she do? She fell
asleep before she could answer the question, and found
it quite as puzzling when she awoke the next morning.
The little white attic, which had continued her sleeping-room
ever since her first entering the family, proving incompetent
to suggest any reply, she had recourse, as soon as she
was dressed, to another apartment more spacious and more
meet for walking about in and thinking, and of which she
had now for some time been almost equally mistress.
It had been their school-room; so called till the Miss
Bertrams would not allow it to be called so any longer,
and inhabited as such to a later period. There Miss
Lee had lived, and there they had read and written,
and talked and laughed, till within the last three years,
when she had quitted them. The room had then become useless,
and for some time was quite deserted, except by Fanny,
when she visited her plants, or wanted one of the books,
which she was still glad to keep there, from the deficiency
of space and accommodation in her little chamber above:
but gradually, as her value for the comforts of it increased,
she had added to her possessions, and spent more of her
time there; and having nothing to oppose her, had so
naturally and so artlessly worked herself into it, that it
was now generally admitted to be hers. The East room,
as it had been called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen,
was now considered Fanny's, almost as decidedly as the
white attic: the smallness of the one making the use of
the other so evidently reasonable that the Miss Bertrams,
with every superiority in their own apartments which their
own sense of superiority could demand, were entirely
approving it; and Mrs. Norris, having stipulated for there
never being a fire in it on Fanny's account, was tolerably
resigned to her having the use of what nobody else wanted,
though the terms in which she sometimes spoke of the
indulgence seemed to imply that it was the best room in
the house.

The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire
it was habitable in many an early spring and late
autumn morning to such a willing mind as Fanny's;
and while there was a gleam of sunshine she hoped not
to be driven from it entirely, even when winter came.
The comfort of it in her hours of leisure was extreme.
She could go there after anything unpleasant below,
and find immediate consolation in some pursuit,
or some train of thought at hand. Her plants, her books--
of which she had been a collector from the first hour
of her commanding a shilling--her writing-desk, and her
works of charity and ingenuity, were all within her reach;
or if indisposed for employment, if nothing but musing
would do, she could scarcely see an object in that room
which had not an interesting remembrance connected with it.
Everything was a friend, or bore her thoughts to a friend;
and though there had been sometimes much of suffering
to her; though her motives had often been misunderstood,
her feelings disregarded, and her comprehension undervalued;
though she had known the pains of tyranny, of ridicule,
and neglect, yet almost every recurrence of either had led
to something consolatory: her aunt Bertram had spoken
for her, or Miss Lee had been encouraging, or, what was yet
more frequent or more dear, Edmund had been her champion
and her friend: he had supported her cause or explained
her meaning, he had told her not to cry, or had given her
some proof of affection which made her tears delightful;
and the whole was now so blended together, so harmonised
by distance, that every former affliction had its charm.
The room was most dear to her, and she would not have
changed its furniture for the handsomest in the house,
though what had been originally plain had suffered all
the ill-usage of children; and its greatest elegancies
and ornaments were a faded footstool of Julia's work,
too ill done for the drawing-room, three transparencies,
made in a rage for transparencies, for the three lower
panes of one window, where Tintern Abbey held its station
between a cave in Italy and a moonlight lake in Cumberland,
a collection of family profiles, thought unworthy of being
anywhere else, over the mantelpiece, and by their side,
and pinned against the wall, a small sketch of a ship
sent four years ago from the Mediterranean by William,
with H.M.S. Antwerp at the bottom, in letters as tall as the
mainmast.

To this nest of comforts Fanny now walked down to try
its influence on an agitated, doubting spirit, to see
if by looking at Edmund's profile she could catch any of
his counsel, or by giving air to her geraniums she might
inhale a breeze of mental strength herself. But she had
more than fears of her own perseverance to remove: she had
begun to feel undecided as to what she _ought_ _to_ _do_;
and as she walked round the room her doubts were increasing.
Was she _right_ in refusing what was so warmly asked,
so strongly wished for--what might be so essential
to a scheme on which some of those to whom she owed the
greatest complaisance had set their hearts? Was it not
ill-nature, selfishness, and a fear of exposing herself?
And would Edmund's judgment, would his persuasion of Sir
Thomas's disapprobation of the whole, be enough to justify
her in a determined denial in spite of all the rest?
It would be so horrible to her to act that she was inclined
to suspect the truth and purity of her own scruples;
and as she looked around her, the claims of her cousins
to being obliged were strengthened by the sight of
present upon present that she had received from them.
The table between the windows was covered with work-boxes
and netting-boxes which had been given her at different times,
principally by Tom; and she grew bewildered as to the amount
of the debt which all these kind remembrances produced.
A tap at the door roused her in the midst of this attempt
to find her way to her duty, and her gentle "Come in"
was answered by the appearance of one, before whom all her
doubts were wont to be laid. Her eyes brightened at the
sight of Edmund.

"Can I speak with you, Fanny, for a few minutes?"
said he.

"Yes, certainly."

"I want to consult. I want your opinion."

"My opinion!" she cried, shrinking from such a compliment,
highly as it gratified her.

"Yes, your advice and opinion. I do not know what to do.
This acting scheme gets worse and worse, you see.
They have chosen almost as bad a play as they could,
and now, to complete the business, are going to ask the
help of a young man very slightly known to any of us.
This is the end of all the privacy and propriety which was
talked about at first. I know no harm of Charles Maddox;
but the excessive intimacy which must spring from his being
admitted among us in this manner is highly objectionable,
the _more_ than intimacy--the familiarity. I cannot think
of it with any patience; and it does appear to me an evil
of such magnitude as must, _if_ _possible_, be prevented.
Do not you see it in the same light?"

"Yes; but what can be done? Your brother is so determined."

"There is but _one_ thing to be done, Fanny. I must
take Anhalt myself. I am well aware that nothing else
will quiet Tom."

Fanny could not answer him.

"It is not at all what I like," he continued. "No man can
like being driven into the _appearance_ of such inconsistency.
After being known to oppose the scheme from the beginning,
there is absurdity in the face of my joining them _now_,
when they are exceeding their first plan in every respect;
but I can think of no other alternative. Can you, Fanny?"

"No," said Fanny slowly, "not immediately, but--

"But what? I see your judgment is not with me. Think it
a little over. Perhaps you are not so much aware as I am
of the mischief that _may_, of the unpleasantness that _must_
arise from a young man's being received in this manner:
domesticated among us; authorised to come at all hours,
and placed suddenly on a footing which must do away
all restraints. To think only of the licence which every
rehearsal must tend to create. It is all very bad!
Put yourself in Miss Crawford's place, Fanny.
Consider what it would be to act Amelia with a stranger.
She has a right to be felt for, because she evidently
feels for herself. I heard enough of what she said to you
last night to understand her unwillingness to be acting
with a stranger; and as she probably engaged in the part
with different expectations--perhaps without considering
the subject enough to know what was likely to be--
it would be ungenerous, it would be really wrong to
expose her to it. Her feelings ought to be respected.
Does it not strike you so, Fanny? You hesitate."

"I am sorry for Miss Crawford; but I am more sorry to see
you drawn in to do what you had resolved against, and what
you are known to think will be disagreeable to my uncle.
It will be such a triumph to the others!"

"They will not have much cause of triumph when they
see how infamously I act. But, however, triumph there
certainly will be, and I must brave it. But if I can be
the means of restraining the publicity of the business,
of limiting the exhibition, of concentrating our folly,
I shall be well repaid. As I am now, I have no influence,
I can do nothing: I have offended them, and they will
not hear me; but when I have put them in good-humour
by this concession, I am not without hopes of persuading
them to confine the representation within a much
smaller circle than they are now in the high road for.
This will be a material gain. My object is to confine
it to Mrs. Rushworth and the Grants. Will not this be
worth gaining?"

"Yes, it will be a great point."

"But still it has not your approbation. Can you mention
any other measure by which I have a chance of doing
equal good?"

"No, I cannot think of anything else."

"Give me your approbation, then, Fanny. I am not
comfortable without it."

"Oh, cousin!"

"If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself,
and yet--But it is absolutely impossible to let Tom
go on in this way, riding about the country in quest
of anybody who can be persuaded to act--no matter whom:
the look of a gentleman is to be enough. I thought _you_
would have entered more into Miss Crawford's feelings."

"No doubt she will be very glad. It must be a great relief
to her," said Fanny, trying for greater warmth of manner.

"She never appeared more amiable than in her behaviour
to you last night. It gave her a very strong claim
on my goodwill."

"She _was_ very kind, indeed, and I am glad to have her
spared"...

She could not finish the generous effusion. Her conscience
stopt her in the middle, but Edmund was satisfied.

"I shall walk down immediately after breakfast," said he,
"and am sure of giving pleasure there. And now, dear Fanny,
I will not interrupt you any longer. You want to be reading.
But I could not be easy till I had spoken to you,
and come to a decision. Sleeping or waking, my head
has been full of this matter all night. It is an evil,
but I am certainly making it less than it might be.
If Tom is up, I shall go to him directly and get it over,
and when we meet at breakfast we shall be all in high
good-humour at the prospect of acting the fool together
with such unanimity. _You_, in the meanwhile, will be taking
a trip into China, I suppose. How does Lord Macartney
go on?"--opening a volume on the table and then taking up
some others. "And here are Crabbe's Tales, and the Idler,
at hand to relieve you, if you tire of your great book.
I admire your little establishment exceedingly; and as
soon as I am gone, you will empty your head of all this
nonsense of acting, and sit comfortably down to your table.
But do not stay here to be cold."

He went; but there was no reading, no China, no composure
for Fanny. He had told her the most extraordinary,
the most inconceivable, the most unwelcome news;
and she could think of nothing else. To be acting!
After all his objections--objections so just and so public!
After all that she had heard him say, and seen him look,
and known him to be feeling. Could it be possible?
Edmund so inconsistent! Was he not deceiving himself?
Was he not wrong? Alas! it was all Miss Crawford's doing.
She had seen her influence in every speech, and was miserable.
The doubts and alarms as to her own conduct, which had previously
distressed her, and which had all slept while she listened
to him, were become of little consequence now. This deeper
anxiety swallowed them up. Things should take their course;
she cared not how it ended. Her cousins might attack,
but could hardly tease her. She was beyond their reach;
and if at last obliged to yield--no matter--it was all
misery now.




Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
Book Review:
“Mansfield Park” is the most condensed and complex novel ever written by Jane Austen, and is her first novel that was conceived, written, and published at her mature years. Even though it lacks in the playful ironic humor which is so characteristic of Austen’s other novels, it is the novel that most clearly shows another aspect of the writer
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