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CHAPTER XLIV

Seven weeks of the two months were very nearly gone,
when the one letter, the letter from Edmund, so long expected,
was put into Fanny's hands. As she opened, and saw
its length, she prepared herself for a minute detail
of happiness and a profusion of love and praise towards
the fortunate creature who was now mistress of his fate.
These were the contents--

"My Dear Fanny,--Excuse me that I have not written before.
Crawford told me that you were wishing to hear from me,
but I found it impossible to write from London,
and persuaded myself that you would understand my silence.
Could I have sent a few happy lines, they should not
have been wanting, but nothing of that nature was ever
in my power. I am returned to Mansfield in a less assured
state that when I left it. My hopes are much weaker.
You are probably aware of this already. So very fond of you
as Miss Crawford is, it is most natural that she should tell
you enough of her own feelings to furnish a tolerable guess
at mine. I will not be prevented, however, from making my
own communication. Our confidences in you need not clash.
I ask no questions. There is something soothing in the
idea that we have the same friend, and that whatever
unhappy differences of opinion may exist between us,
we are united in our love of you. It will be a comfort
to me to tell you how things now are, and what are my
present plans, if plans I can be said to have. I have been
returned since Saturday. I was three weeks in London,
and saw her (for London) very often. I had every attention
from the Frasers that could be reasonably expected.
I dare say I was not reasonable in carrying with me
hopes of an intercourse at all like that of Mansfield.
It was her manner, however, rather than any unfrequency
of meeting. Had she been different when I did see her,
I should have made no complaint, but from the very first
she was altered: my first reception was so unlike
what I had hoped, that I had almost resolved on leaving
London again directly. I need not particularise.
You know the weak side of her character, and may imagine
the sentiments and expressions which were torturing me.
She was in high spirits, and surrounded by those who
were giving all the support of their own bad sense
to her too lively mind. I do not like Mrs. Fraser.
She is a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirely
from convenience, and though evidently unhappy in her marriage,
places her disappointment not to faults of judgment,
or temper, or disproportion of age, but to her being,
after all, less affluent than many of her acquaintance,
especially than her sister, Lady Stornaway, and is the
determined supporter of everything mercenary and ambitious,
provided it be only mercenary and ambitious enough. I look
upon her intimacy with those two sisters as the greatest
misfortune of her life and mine. They have been leading
her astray for years. Could she be detached from them!--
and sometimes I do not despair of it, for the affection
appears to me principally on their side. They are very
fond of her; but I am sure she does not love them as she
loves you. When I think of her great attachment to you,
indeed, and the whole of her judicious, upright conduct
as a sister, she appears a very different creature,
capable of everything noble, and I am ready to blame
myself for a too harsh construction of a playful manner.
I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman
in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife.
If I did not believe that she had some regard for me,
of course I should not say this, but I do believe it.
I am convinced that she is not without a decided preference.
I have no jealousy of any individual. It is the influence
of the fashionable world altogether that I am jealous of.
It is the habits of wealth that I fear. Her ideas are
not higher than her own fortune may warrant, but they
are beyond what our incomes united could authorise.
There is comfort, however, even here. I could better
bear to lose her because not rich enough, than because
of my profession. That would only prove her affection
not equal to sacrifices, which, in fact, I am scarcely
justified in asking; and, if I am refused, that, I think,
will be the honest motive. Her prejudices, I trust,
are not so strong as they were. You have my thoughts
exactly as they arise, my dear Fanny; perhaps they are
sometimes contradictory, but it will not be a less faithful
picture of my mind. Having once begun, it is a pleasure
to me to tell you all I feel. I cannot give her up.
Connected as we already are, and, I hope, are to be,
to give up Mary Crawford would be to give up the society
of some of those most dear to me; to banish myself from
the very houses and friends whom, under any other distress,
I should turn to for consolation. The loss of Mary I must
consider as comprehending the loss of Crawford and of Fanny.
Were it a decided thing, an actual refusal, I hope I
should know how to bear it, and how to endeavour to weaken
her hold on my heart, and in the course of a few years--
but I am writing nonsense. Were I refused, I must bear it;
and till I am, I can never cease to try for her.
This is the truth. The only question is _how_? What may
be the likeliest means? I have sometimes thought of going
to London again after Easter, and sometimes resolved on
doing nothing till she returns to Mansfield. Even now,
she speaks with pleasure of being in Mansfield in June;
but June is at a great distance, and I believe I shall
write to her. I have nearly determined on explaining
myself by letter. To be at an early certainty is a
material object. My present state is miserably irksome.
Considering everything, I think a letter will be decidedly
the best method of explanation. I shall be able to write
much that I could not say, and shall be giving her time
for reflection before she resolves on her answer,
and I am less afraid of the result of reflection
than of an immediate hasty impulse; I think I am.
My greatest danger would lie in her consulting Mrs. Fraser,
and I at a distance unable to help my own cause.
A letter exposes to all the evil of consultation,
and where the mind is anything short of perfect decision,
an adviser may, in an unlucky moment, lead it to do what it
may afterwards regret. I must think this matter over
a little. This long letter, full of my own concerns alone,
will be enough to tire even the friendship of a Fanny.
The last time I saw Crawford was at Mrs. Fraser's party.
I am more and more satisfied with all that I see and hear
of him. There is not a shadow of wavering. He thoroughly
knows his own mind, and acts up to his resolutions:
an inestimable quality. I could not see him and my eldest
sister in the same room without recollecting what you
once told me, and I acknowledge that they did not meet
as friends. There was marked coolness on her side.
They scarcely spoke. I saw him draw back surprised,
and I was sorry that Mrs. Rushworth should resent any
former supposed slight to Miss Bertram. You will wish
to hear my opinion of Maria's degree of comfort as a wife.
There is no appearance of unhappiness. I hope they get
on pretty well together. I dined twice in Wimpole Street,
and might have been there oftener, but it is mortifying
to be with Rushworth as a brother. Julia seems to enjoy
London exceedingly. I had little enjoyment there,
but have less here. We are not a lively party. You are
very much wanted. I miss you more than I can express.
My mother desires her best love, and hopes to hear
from you soon. She talks of you almost every hour,
and I am sorry to find how many weeks more she is likely
to be without you. My father means to fetch you himself,
but it will not be till after Easter, when he has
business in town. You are happy at Portsmouth, I hope,
but this must not be a yearly visit. I want you at home,
that I may have your opinion about Thornton Lacey.
I have little heart for extensive improvements till
I know that it will ever have a mistress. I think I
shall certainly write. It is quite settled that the
Grants go to Bath; they leave Mansfield on Monday.
I am glad of it. I am not comfortable enough to be fit
for anybody; but your aunt seems to feel out of luck
that such an article of Mansfield news should fall
to my pen instead of hers.--Yours ever, my dearest
Fanny."

"I never will, no, I certainly never will wish for a
letter again," was Fanny's secret declaration as she
finished this. "What do they bring but disappointment
and sorrow? Not till after Easter! How shall I bear it?
And my poor aunt talking of me every hour!"

Fanny checked the tendency of these thoughts as well as
she could, but she was within half a minute of starting
the idea that Sir Thomas was quite unkind, both to her aunt
and to herself. As for the main subject of the letter,
there was nothing in that to soothe irritation. She was
almost vexed into displeasure and anger against Edmund.
"There is no good in this delay," said she. "Why is not
it settled? He is blinded, and nothing will open his eyes;
nothing can, after having had truths before him so long
in vain. He will marry her, and be poor and miserable.
God grant that her influence do not make him cease
to be respectable!" She looked over the letter again.
"'So very fond of me!' 'tis nonsense all. She loves
nobody but herself and her brother. Her friends leading
her astray for years! She is quite as likely to have led
_them_ astray. They have all, perhaps, been corrupting
one another; but if they are so much fonder of her than
she is of them, she is the less likely to have been hurt,
except by their flattery. 'The only woman in the world
whom he could ever think of as a wife.' I firmly
believe it. It is an attachment to govern his whole life.
Accepted or refused, his heart is wedded to her for ever.
'The loss of Mary I must consider as comprehending the loss
of Crawford and Fanny.' Edmund, you do not know me.
The families would never be connected if you did not
connect them! Oh! write, write. Finish it at once.
Let there be an end of this suspense. Fix, commit,
condemn yourself."

Such sensations, however, were too near akin to
resentment to be long guiding Fanny's soliloquies.
She was soon more softened and sorrowful. His warm regard,
his kind expressions, his confidential treatment,
touched her strongly. He was only too good to everybody.
It was a letter, in short, which she would not but have had
for the world, and which could never be valued enough.
This was the end of it.

Everybody at all addicted to letter-writing, without
having much to say, which will include a large proportion
of the female world at least, must feel with Lady Bertram
that she was out of luck in having such a capital piece of
Mansfield news as the certainty of the Grants going to Bath,
occur at a time when she could make no advantage of it,
and will admit that it must have been very mortifying
to her to see it fall to the share of her thankless son,
and treated as concisely as possible at the end of a
long letter, instead of having it to spread over the largest
part of a page of her own. For though Lady Bertram rather
shone in the epistolary line, having early in her marriage,
from the want of other employment, and the circumstance
of Sir Thomas's being in Parliament, got into the way
of making and keeping correspondents, and formed for
herself a very creditable, common-place, amplifying style,
so that a very little matter was enough for her: she could
not do entirely without any; she must have something
to write about, even to her niece; and being so soon
to lose all the benefit of Dr. Grant's gouty symptoms
and Mrs. Grant's morning calls, it was very hard upon her
to be deprived of one of the last epistolary uses she could put
them to.

There was a rich amends, however, preparing for her.
Lady Bertram's hour of good luck came. Within a few days
from the receipt of Edmund's letter, Fanny had one from
her aunt, beginning thus--

"My Dear Fanny,--I take up my pen to communicate some
very alarming intelligence, which I make no doubt will
give you much concern".

This was a great deal better than to have to take up the pen
to acquaint her with all the particulars of the Grants'
intended journey, for the present intelligence was of a
nature to promise occupation for the pen for many days
to come, being no less than the dangerous illness of her
eldest son, of which they had received notice by express
a few hours before.

Tom had gone from London with a party of young men
to Newmarket, where a neglected fall and a good deal
of drinking had brought on a fever; and when the party
broke up, being unable to move, had been left by himself
at the house of one of these young men to the comforts of
sickness and solitude, and the attendance only of servants.
Instead of being soon well enough to follow his friends,
as he had then hoped, his disorder increased considerably,
and it was not long before he thought so ill of himself
as to be as ready as his physician to have a letter
despatched to Mansfield.

"This distressing intelligence, as you may suppose,"
observed her ladyship, after giving the substance of it,
"has agitated us exceedingly, and we cannot prevent
ourselves from being greatly alarmed and apprehensive
for the poor invalid, whose state Sir Thomas fears may
be very critical; and Edmund kindly proposes attending
his brother immediately, but I am happy to add that Sir
Thomas will not leave me on this distressing occasion,
as it would be too trying for me. We shall greatly miss
Edmund in our small circle, but I trust and hope he
will find the poor invalid in a less alarming state than
might be apprehended, and that he will be able to bring
him to Mansfield shortly, which Sir Thomas proposes
should be done, and thinks best on every account, and I
flatter myself the poor sufferer will soon be able to bear
the removal without material inconvenience or injury.
As I have little doubt of your feeling for us, my dear Fanny,
under these distressing circumstances, I will write again
very soon."

Fanny's feelings on the occasion were indeed considerably
more warm and genuine than her aunt's style of writing.
She felt truly for them all. Tom dangerously ill,
Edmund gone to attend him, and the sadly small party
remaining at Mansfield, were cares to shut out every
other care, or almost every other. She could just find
selfishness enough to wonder whether Edmund _had_ written
to Miss Crawford before this summons came, but no sentiment
dwelt long with her that was not purely affectionate and
disinterestedly anxious. Her aunt did not neglect her:
she wrote again and again; they were receiving frequent
accounts from Edmund, and these accounts were as regularly
transmitted to Fanny, in the same diffuse style,
and the same medley of trusts, hopes, and fears,
all following and producing each other at haphazard.
It was a sort of playing at being frightened.
The sufferings which Lady Bertram did not see had little
power over her fancy; and she wrote very comfortably
about agitation, and anxiety, and poor invalids, till Tom
was actually conveyed to Mansfield, and her own eyes had
beheld his altered appearance. Then a letter which she
had been previously preparing for Fanny was finished
in a different style, in the language of real feeling
and alarm; then she wrote as she might have spoken.
"He is just come, my dear Fanny, and is taken upstairs;
and I am so shocked to see him, that I do not know
what to do. I am sure he has been very ill. Poor Tom!
I am quite grieved for him, and very much frightened,
and so is Sir Thomas; and how glad I should be if you
were here to comfort me. But Sir Thomas hopes he
will be better to-morrow, and says we must consider
his journey."

The real solicitude now awakened in the maternal bosom
was not soon over. Tom's extreme impatience to be
removed to Mansfield, and experience those comforts
of home and family which had been little thought of in
uninterrupted health, had probably induced his being
conveyed thither too early, as a return of fever came on,
and for a week he was in a more alarming state than ever.
They were all very seriously frightened. Lady Bertram
wrote her daily terrors to her niece, who might now be said
to live upon letters, and pass all her time between suffering
from that of to-day and looking forward to to-morrow's.
Without any particular affection for her eldest cousin,
her tenderness of heart made her feel that she could
not spare him, and the purity of her principles added yet
a keener solicitude, when she considered how little useful,
how little self-denying his life had (apparently) been.

Susan was her only companion and listener on this, as on
more common occasions. Susan was always ready to hear and
to sympathise. Nobody else could be interested in so remote
an evil as illness in a family above an hundred miles off;
not even Mrs. Price, beyond a brief question or two,
if she saw her daughter with a letter in her hand,
and now and then the quiet observation of, "My poor
sister Bertram must be in a great deal of trouble."

So long divided and so differently situated, the ties
of blood were little more than nothing. An attachment,
originally as tranquil as their tempers, was now become
a mere name. Mrs. Price did quite as much for Lady
Bertram as Lady Bertram would have done for Mrs. Price.
Three or four Prices might have been swept away,
any or all except Fanny and William, and Lady Bertram
would have thought little about it; or perhaps might have
caught from Mrs. Norris's lips the cant of its being
a very happy thing and a great blessing to their poor
dear sister Price to have them so well provided for.




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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