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CHAPTER IV

Tom Bertram had of late spent so little of his time at
home that he could be only nominally missed; and Lady
Bertram was soon astonished to find how very well they
did even without his father, how well Edmund could
supply his place in carving, talking to the steward,
writing to the attorney, settling with the servants,
and equally saving her from all possible fatigue or exertion
in every particular but that of directing her letters.

The earliest intelligence of the travellers' safe arrival
at Antigua, after a favourable voyage, was received;
though not before Mrs. Norris had been indulging in very
dreadful fears, and trying to make Edmund participate them
whenever she could get him alone; and as she depended
on being the first person made acquainted with any
fatal catastrophe, she had already arranged the manner of
breaking it to all the others, when Sir Thomas's assurances
of their both being alive and well made it necessary to lay
by her agitation and affectionate preparatory speeches for a while.

The winter came and passed without their being
called for; the accounts continued perfectly good;
and Mrs. Norris, in promoting gaieties for her nieces,
assisting their toilets, displaying their accomplishments,
and looking about for their future husbands, had so much
to do as, in addition to all her own household cares,
some interference in those of her sister, and Mrs. Grant's
wasteful doings to overlook, left her very little occasion
to be occupied in fears for the absent.

The Miss Bertrams were now fully established among the
belles of the neighbourhood; and as they joined to beauty
and brilliant acquirements a manner naturally easy,
and carefully formed to general civility and obligingness,
they possessed its favour as well as its admiration.
Their vanity was in such good order that they seemed
to be quite free from it, and gave themselves no airs;
while the praises attending such behaviour, secured and
brought round by their aunt, served to strengthen them in
believing they had no faults.

Lady Bertram did not go into public with her daughters.
She was too indolent even to accept a mother's gratification
in witnessing their success and enjoyment at the expense
of any personal trouble, and the charge was made over
to her sister, who desired nothing better than a post
of such honourable representation, and very thoroughly
relished the means it afforded her of mixing in society
without having horses to hire.

Fanny had no share in the festivities of the season;
but she enjoyed being avowedly useful as her aunt's companion
when they called away the rest of the family; and, as Miss
Lee had left Mansfield, she naturally became everything
to Lady Bertram during the night of a ball or a party.
She talked to her, listened to her, read to her;
and the tranquillity of such evenings, her perfect security
in such a _tete-a-tete_ from any sound of unkindness,
was unspeakably welcome to a mind which had seldom
known a pause in its alarms or embarrassments. As to
her cousins' gaieties, she loved to hear an account of them,
especially of the balls, and whom Edmund had danced with;
but thought too lowly of her own situation to imagine
she should ever be admitted to the same, and listened,
therefore, without an idea of any nearer concern in them.
Upon the whole, it was a comfortable winter to her;
for though it brought no William to England, the never-failing
hope of his arrival was worth much.

The ensuing spring deprived her of her valued friend,
the old grey pony; and for some time she was in danger of
feeling the loss in her health as well as in her affections;
for in spite of the acknowledged importance of her riding
on horse-back, no measures were taken for mounting
her again, "because," as it was observed by her aunts,
"she might ride one of her cousin's horses at any time
when they did not want them," and as the Miss Bertrams
regularly wanted their horses every fine day, and had no
idea of carrying their obliging manners to the sacrifice
of any real pleasure, that time, of course, never came.
They took their cheerful rides in the fine mornings
of April and May; and Fanny either sat at home the whole
day with one aunt, or walked beyond her strength at the
instigation of the other: Lady Bertram holding exercise
to be as unnecessary for everybody as it was unpleasant
to herself; and Mrs. Norris, who was walking all day,
thinking everybody ought to walk as much. Edmund was absent
at this time, or the evil would have been earlier remedied.
When he returned, to understand how Fanny was situated,
and perceived its ill effects, there seemed with him but
one thing to be done; and that "Fanny must have a horse"
was the resolute declaration with which he opposed
whatever could be urged by the supineness of his mother,
or the economy of his aunt, to make it appear unimportant.
Mrs. Norris could not help thinking that some steady
old thing might be found among the numbers belonging
to the Park that would do vastly well; or that one might
be borrowed of the steward; or that perhaps Dr. Grant
might now and then lend them the pony he sent to the post.
She could not but consider it as absolutely unnecessary,
and even improper, that Fanny should have a regular
lady's horse of her own, in the style of her cousins.
She was sure Sir Thomas had never intended it: and she
must say that, to be making such a purchase in his absence,
and adding to the great expenses of his stable,
at a time when a large part of his income was unsettled,
seemed to her very unjustifiable. "Fanny must have
a horse," was Edmund's only reply. Mrs. Norris could
not see it in the same light. Lady Bertram did:
she entirely agreed with her son as to the necessity of it,
and as to its being considered necessary by his father;
she only pleaded against there being any hurry; she only
wanted him to wait till Sir Thomas's return, and then Sir
Thomas might settle it all himself. He would be at home
in September, and where would be the harm of only waiting
till September?

Though Edmund was much more displeased with his aunt than
with his mother, as evincing least regard for her niece,
he could not help paying more attention to what she said;
and at length determined on a method of proceeding
which would obviate the risk of his father's thinking he
had done too much, and at the same time procure for Fanny
the immediate means of exercise, which he could not bear
she should be without. He had three horses of his own,
but not one that would carry a woman. Two of them
were hunters; the third, a useful road-horse: this third he
resolved to exchange for one that his cousin might ride;
he knew where such a one was to be met with; and having once
made up his mind, the whole business was soon completed.
The new mare proved a treasure; with a very little
trouble she became exactly calculated for the purpose,
and Fanny was then put in almost full possession of her.
She had not supposed before that anything could ever suit
her like the old grey pony; but her delight in Edmund's
mare was far beyond any former pleasure of the sort;
and the addition it was ever receiving in the consideration
of that kindness from which her pleasure sprung,
was beyond all her words to express. She regarded
her cousin as an example of everything good and great,
as possessing worth which no one but herself could
ever appreciate, and as entitled to such gratitude
from her as no feelings could be strong enough to pay.
Her sentiments towards him were compounded of all that
was respectful, grateful, confiding, and tender.

As the horse continued in name, as well as fact,
the property of Edmund, Mrs. Norris could tolerate its being
for Fanny's use; and had Lady Bertram ever thought about
her own objection again, he might have been excused in her
eyes for not waiting till Sir Thomas's return in September,
for when September came Sir Thomas was still abroad,
and without any near prospect of finishing his business.
Unfavourable circumstances had suddenly arisen at a moment
when he was beginning to turn all his thoughts towards England;
and the very great uncertainty in which everything was then
involved determined him on sending home his son, and waiting
the final arrangement by himself Tom arrived safely,
bringing an excellent account of his father's health;
but to very little purpose, as far as Mrs. Norris
was concerned. Sir Thomas's sending away his son seemed
to her so like a parent's care, under the influence of a
foreboding of evil to himself, that she could not help
feeling dreadful presentiments; and as the long evenings
of autumn came on, was so terribly haunted by these ideas,
in the sad solitariness of her cottage, as to be obliged
to take daily refuge in the dining-room of the Park.
The return of winter engagements, however, was not
without its effect; and in the course of their progress,
her mind became so pleasantly occupied in superintending
the fortunes of her eldest niece, as tolerably to quiet
her nerves. "If poor Sir Thomas were fated never to return,
it would be peculiarly consoling to see their dear Maria
well married," she very often thought; always when they
were in the company of men of fortune, and particularly on
the introduction of a young man who had recently succeeded
to one of the largest estates and finest places in the country.

Mr. Rushworth was from the first struck with the beauty
of Miss Bertram, and, being inclined to marry, soon fancied
himself in love. He was a heavy young man, with not more
than common sense; but as there was nothing disagreeable
in his figure or address, the young lady was well pleased
with her conquest. Being now in her twenty-first year,
Maria Bertram was beginning to think matrimony a duty;
and as a marriage with Mr. Rushworth would give her the
enjoyment of a larger income than her father's, as well as
ensure her the house in town, which was now a prime object,
it became, by the same rule of moral obligation,
her evident duty to marry Mr. Rushworth if she could.
Mrs. Norris was most zealous in promoting the match,
by every suggestion and contrivance likely to enhance
its desirableness to either party; and, among other means,
by seeking an intimacy with the gentleman's mother,
who at present lived with him, and to whom she even forced
Lady Bertram to go through ten miles of indifferent road
to pay a morning visit. It was not long before a good
understanding took place between this lady and herself.
Mrs. Rushworth acknowledged herself very desirous that
her son should marry, and declared that of all the young
ladies she had ever seen, Miss Bertram seemed, by her
amiable qualities and accomplishments, the best adapted
to make him happy. Mrs. Norris accepted the compliment,
and admired the nice discernment of character which
could so well distinguish merit. Maria was indeed
the pride and delight of them all--perfectly faultless--
an angel; and, of course, so surrounded by admirers, must be
difficult in her choice: but yet, as far as Mrs. Norris
could allow herself to decide on so short an acquaintance,
Mr. Rushworth appeared precisely the young man to deserve
and attach her.

After dancing with each other at a proper number of balls,
the young people justified these opinions, and an engagement,
with a due reference to the absent Sir Thomas, was entered into,
much to the satisfaction of their respective families,
and of the general lookers-on of the neighbourhood,
who had, for many weeks past, felt the expediency
of Mr. Rushworth's marrying Miss Bertram.

It was some months before Sir Thomas's consent could
be received; but, in the meanwhile, as no one felt
a doubt of his most cordial pleasure in the connexion,
the intercourse of the two families was carried on
without restraint, and no other attempt made at secrecy
than Mrs. Norris's talking of it everywhere as a matter
not to be talked of at present.

Edmund was the only one of the family who could see a fault
in the business; but no representation of his aunt's could
induce him to find Mr. Rushworth a desirable companion.
He could allow his sister to be the best judge of her
own happiness, but he was not pleased that her happiness
should centre in a large income; nor could he refrain
from often saying to himself, in Mr. Rushworth's company--
"If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be
a very stupid fellow."

Sir Thomas, however, was truly happy in the prospect of an
alliance so unquestionably advantageous, and of which he
heard nothing but the perfectly good and agreeable.
It was a connexion exactly of the right sort--
in the same county, and the same interest--and his most
hearty concurrence was conveyed as soon as possible.
He only conditioned that the marriage should not take
place before his return, which he was again looking
eagerly forward to. He wrote in April, and had strong
hopes of settling everything to his entire satisfaction,
and leaving Antigua before the end of the summer.

Such was the state of affairs in the month of July;
and Fanny had just reached her eighteenth year, when the
society of the village received an addition in the brother
and sister of Mrs. Grant, a Mr. and Miss Crawford,
the children of her mother by a second marriage.
They were young people of fortune. The son had a good
estate in Norfolk, the daughter twenty thousand pounds.
As children, their sister had been always very fond
of them; but, as her own marriage had been soon followed
by the death of their common parent, which left them
to the care of a brother of their father, of whom
Mrs. Grant knew nothing, she had scarcely seen them since.
In their uncle's house they had found a kind home.
Admiral and Mrs. Crawford, though agreeing in nothing else,
were united in affection for these children, or, at least,
were no farther adverse in their feelings than that each
had their favourite, to whom they showed the greatest
fondness of the two. The Admiral delighted in the boy,
Mrs. Crawford doted on the girl; and it was the lady's
death which now obliged her _protegee_, after some months'
further trial at her uncle's house, to find another home.
Admiral Crawford was a man of vicious conduct, who chose,
instead of retaining his niece, to bring his mistress
under his own roof; and to this Mrs. Grant was indebted
for her sister's proposal of coming to her, a measure quite
as welcome on one side as it could be expedient on the other;
for Mrs. Grant, having by this time run through the usual
resources of ladies residing in the country without a
family of children--having more than filled her favourite
sitting-room with pretty furniture, and made a choice
collection of plants and poultry--was very much in want
of some variety at home. The arrival, therefore, of a sister
whom she had always loved, and now hoped to retain with
her as long as she remained single, was highly agreeable;
and her chief anxiety was lest Mansfield should not satisfy
the habits of a young woman who had been mostly used
to London.

Miss Crawford was not entirely free from similar
apprehensions, though they arose principally from doubts
of her sister's style of living and tone of society;
and it was not till after she had tried in vain to persuade
her brother to settle with her at his own country house,
that she could resolve to hazard herself among her
other relations. To anything like a permanence of abode,
or limitation of society, Henry Crawford had, unluckily,
a great dislike: he could not accommodate his sister
in an article of such importance; but he escorted her,
with the utmost kindness, into Northamptonshire,
and as readily engaged to fetch her away again, at half
an hour's notice, whenever she were weary of the place.

The meeting was very satisfactory on each side.
Miss Crawford found a sister without preciseness
or rusticity, a sister's husband who looked the gentleman,
and a house commodious and well fitted up; and Mrs. Grant
received in those whom she hoped to love better than ever
a young man and woman of very prepossessing appearance.
Mary Crawford was remarkably pretty; Henry, though not handsome,
had air and countenance; the manners of both were lively
and pleasant, and Mrs. Grant immediately gave them credit
for everything else. She was delighted with each,
but Mary was her dearest object; and having never been
able to glory in beauty of her own, she thoroughly enjoyed
the power of being proud of her sister's. She had not waited
her arrival to look out for a suitable match for her:
she had fixed on Tom Bertram; the eldest son of a baronet
was not too good for a girl of twenty thousand pounds,
with all the elegance and accomplishments which Mrs. Grant
foresaw in her; and being a warm-hearted, unreserved woman,
Mary had not been three hours in the house before she
told her what she had planned.

Miss Crawford was glad to find a family of such consequence
so very near them, and not at all displeased either at
her sister's early care, or the choice it had fallen on.
Matrimony was her object, provided she could marry well:
and having seen Mr. Bertram in town, she knew that
objection could no more be made to his person than to
his situation in life. While she treated it as a joke,
therefore, she did not forget to think of it seriously.
The scheme was soon repeated to Henry.

"And now," added Mrs. Grant, "I have thought of something
to make it complete. I should dearly love to settle you
both in this country; and therefore, Henry, you shall
marry the youngest Miss Bertram, a nice, handsome,
good-humoured, accomplished girl, who will make you very happy."

Henry bowed and thanked her.

"My dear sister," said Mary, "if you can persuade him
into anything of the sort, it will be a fresh matter of
delight to me to find myself allied to anybody so clever,
and I shall only regret that you have not half a dozen
daughters to dispose of. If you can persuade Henry
to marry, you must have the address of a Frenchwoman.
All that English abilities can do has been tried already.
I have three very particular friends who have been all
dying for him in their turn; and the pains which they,
their mothers (very clever women), as well as my dear
aunt and myself, have taken to reason, coax, or trick
him into marrying, is inconceivable! He is the most
horrible flirt that can be imagined. If your Miss
Bertrams do not like to have their hearts broke, let them
avoid Henry."

"My dear brother, I will not believe this of you."

"No, I am sure you are too good. You will be kinder than Mary.
You will allow for the doubts of youth and inexperience.
I am of a cautious temper, and unwilling to risk my
happiness in a hurry. Nobody can think more highly of
the matrimonial state than myself I consider the blessing
of a wife as most justly described in those discreet
lines of the poet--'Heaven's _last_ best gift.'"

"There, Mrs. Grant, you see how he dwells on one word,
and only look at his smile. I assure you he is very detestable;
the Admiral's lessons have quite spoiled him."

"I pay very little regard," said Mrs. Grant, "to what
any young person says on the subject of marriage.
If they profess a disinclination for it, I only set it
down that they have not yet seen the right person."

Dr. Grant laughingly congratulated Miss Crawford
on feeling no disinclination to the state herself.

"Oh yes! I am not at all ashamed of it. I would
have everybody marry if they can do it properly:
I do not like to have people throw themselves away;
but everybody should marry as soon as they can do it
to advantage."




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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