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CHAPTER VI

Mr. Bertram set off for--------, and Miss Crawford
was prepared to find a great chasm in their society,
and to miss him decidedly in the meetings which were now
becoming almost daily between the families; and on their
all dining together at the Park soon after his going,
she retook her chosen place near the bottom of the table,
fully expecting to feel a most melancholy difference in
the change of masters. It would be 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
most spiritless manner, wine drank without any smiles
or agreeable trifling, and the venison cut up without
supplying one pleasant anecdote of any former haunch,
or a single entertaining story, about "my friend such a one."
She must try to find amusement in what was passing at the
upper end of the table, and in observing Mr. Rushworth,
who was now making his appearance at Mansfield for the first
time since the Crawfords' arrival. He had been visiting
a friend in the neighbouring county, and that friend
having recently had his grounds laid out by an improver,
Mr. Rushworth was returned with his head full of the subject,
and very eager to be improving his own place in the same way;
and though not saying much to the purpose, could talk
of nothing else. The subject had been already handled
in the drawing-room; it was revived in the dining-parlour.
Miss Bertram's attention and opinion was evidently
his chief aim; and though her deportment showed rather
conscious superiority than any solicitude to oblige him,
the mention of Sotherton Court, and the ideas attached
to it, gave her a feeling of complacency, which prevented
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 know where I was. The approach _now_,
is one of the finest things in the country: you see the
house in the most surprising manner. I declare, when I
got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison--
quite a dismal old prison."

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

"It wants improvement, ma'am, beyond anything. I never
saw a place that wanted so much improvement in my life;
and it is so forlorn that I do not 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 will have _every_ improvement in time
which his heart can desire."

"I must try to do something with it," said Mr. Rushworth,
"but I do not know 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, I think 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_ need not 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 the best style, and made as nice as possible.
Such a place as Sotherton Court deserves everything that
taste and money can do. You have space to work 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, I should be always planting and improving,
for naturally I am excessively fond of it. It would be
too ridiculous for me to attempt anything where I am now,
with my little half acre. It would be quite a burlesque.
But if I had more room, I should take a prodigious delight
in improving and planting. We did a vast deal in that way
at the Parsonage: we made it quite a different place
from what it was when we first had it. You young ones
do not remember much about it, perhaps; but if dear Sir
Thomas were here, he could tell you what improvements
we made: and a great deal more would 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 to talk of. If it had not been for _that_,
we should have carried on the garden wall, and made the
plantation to shut out the churchyard, just as Dr. Grant
has done. We were always doing something as it was.
It was only the spring twelvemonth before Mr. Norris's
death that we put in the apricot 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.
"The soil is good; and I never pass it without regretting
that the fruit should be so little worth the trouble of gathering."

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

"You were imposed on, ma'am," replied Dr. Grant:
"these potatoes have as much the flavour of a Moor Park
apricot as the fruit from that tree. It is an insipid
fruit at the best; but a good apricot is eatable,
which none from my garden are."

"The truth is, ma'am," said Mrs. Grant, pretending to
whisper across the table to Mrs. Norris, "that Dr. Grant
hardly knows what the natural taste of our apricot is:
he is scarcely ever indulged with one, for it is so
valuable a fruit; with a little assistance, and ours is
such a remarkably 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 little while, other subjects took place of the
improvements of Sotherton. Dr. Grant and Mrs. Norris
were seldom good friends; their acquaintance had begun
in dilapidations, and their habits were totally dissimilar.

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

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

Mr. Rushworth was eager to assure her ladyship of his
acquiescence, and tried to make out something complimentary;
but, between his submission to _her_ taste, and his having
always intended the same himself, with the superadded
objects of professing attention to the comfort of ladies
in general, and of insinuating that there was one only whom
he was anxious to please, he grew puzzled, and Edmund was
glad to put an end to his speech by a proposal of wine.
Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker,
had still more to say on the subject next his heart.
"Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether
in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more
surprising that the place can have been so improved.
Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred,
without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think,
if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair.
There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew
too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly,
which makes me think that Repton, or anybody 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 Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply--

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

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund,
exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively
listening, now looked at him, 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 place as 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 out of 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 it has been altered."

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

"The house was built in Elizabeth's time, and is a large,
regular, brick building; heavy, but respectable looking,
and has many good rooms. It is ill placed. It stands
in one of the lowest spots of the park; in that respect,
unfavourable for improvement. But the woods are fine,
and there 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 a well-bred man; he makes the best of it."

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

"_You_ would know what you were about, of course;
but that would not suit _me_. I have no eye or
ingenuity for such matters, but as they are before me;
and had I a place of my own in the country, I should be
most thankful to any Mr. Repton who would undertake it,
and give me as much beauty as he could for my money;
and I should never look at it till it was complete."

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

"Ay, you have been brought up to it. It was no part of
my education; and the only dose I ever had, being administered
by not the first favourite in the world, has made me consider
improvements _in_ _hand_ as the greatest 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 being excessively pretty, it was soon found
necessary to be improved, and for three months we were
all dirt and confusion, without a gravel walk to step on,
or a bench fit for use. I would have everything as complete
as possible in the country, shrubberies and flower-gardens,
and rustic seats innumerable: but it must all be done
without my care. Henry is different; he loves to be doing."

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

"Mr. Bertram," said she, "I have tidings of my harp at last.
I am assured that it is safe at Northampton; and there it
has probably been these ten days, in spite of the solemn
assurances we have so often received 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 this morning we heard of it in the right way.
It was seen by some farmer, and he told the miller,
and the miller told the butcher, and the butcher's
son-in-law left word at the shop."

"I am very glad that you have heard of it, by whatever means,
and hope there 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 in the 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 a very late hay harvest, to hire a horse
and cart?"

"I was astonished to find what a piece of work was made of it!
To want a horse and cart in the country seemed impossible,
so I told my maid to speak for one directly; and as I cannot
look out of my dressing-closet without seeing one farmyard,
nor walk in the shrubbery without passing another,
I thought it would be only ask and have, and was rather
grieved that I could not give the advantage to all.
Guess my surprise, when I found that I had been asking
the most unreasonable, most impossible thing 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 had better keep out of _his_ way; and my
brother-in-law himself, who is all kindness in general,
looked rather black upon me when he found what I had
been at."

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

"I shall understand all your ways in time; but, coming down
with the true London maxim, that everything is to be
got with money, I was a little embarrassed at first
by the sturdy independence of your country customs.
However, I am to have my harp fetched to-morrow. Henry,
who is good-nature itself, has offered to fetch
it in his barouche. Will it not be honourably conveyed?"

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

"I shall be most happy to play to you both," said Miss
Crawford; "at least as long as you can like to listen:
probably much longer, for I dearly love music myself,
and where the natural taste is equal the player must
always be best off, for she is gratified in more ways
than one. Now, Mr. Bertram, if you write to your brother,
I entreat you to tell 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 plaintive
airs against his return, in compassion to his feelings,
as I know his horse 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 ever write to him, nor he to you, if it could
be helped. The occasion would never be foreseen.
What strange creatures brothers are! You would not write
to each other but upon the most urgent necessity in the world;
and when obliged to take up the pen to say that such a horse
is ill, or such a relation dead, it is done in the fewest
possible words. You have but one style among you.
I know it perfectly. Henry, who is in every other respect
exactly what a brother should be, who loves me, consults me,
confides in me, and will talk to me by the hour together,
has never yet turned the page in a letter; and very often
it is nothing more than--'Dear Mary, I am just arrived.
Bath seems full, and everything as usual. Yours sincerely.'
That is the true manly style; that is a complete
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 a correspondent 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 determined silence obliged her to relate her
brother's situation: her voice was animated in speaking
of his profession, and the foreign stations he had been on;
but she could not mention the number of years that he
had been absent without tears in her eyes. Miss Crawford
civilly wished him an early promotion.

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

"Among admirals, large enough; but," with an air of grandeur,
"we know very little of the inferior ranks. Post-captains may
be very good sort of men, but they do not belong to _us_.
Of various admirals I could tell you a great deal:
of them and their flags, and the gradation of their pay,
and their bickerings and jealousies. But, in general,
I can assure you that they are all passed over, and all
very ill used. Certainly, my home 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 make the fortune, and there be discretion in spending it;
but, in short, it is not a favourite profession of mine.
It has never worn an amiable form to _me_."

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

The subject of improving grounds, meanwhile, was still
under consideration among the others; and Mrs. Grant could
not help addressing her brother, though it was calling
his attention from Miss Julia Bertram.

"My dear Henry, have _you_ nothing to say? You have been
an improver yourself, and from what I hear of Everingham,
it may vie with any place in England. Its natural beauties,
I am sure, are great. Everingham, as it _used_ to be,
was perfect in my estimation: such a happy fall of ground,
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: you would not find it equal
to your present ideas. In extent, it is a mere nothing;
you would be surprised at its insignificance; and,
as for improvement, there was very little for me to do--
too little: I should like 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, which pointed out, even to a very young eye,
what little remained to be done, and my own consequent
resolutions, I had not been of age three months before
Everingham was all that it is now. My plan was laid
at Westminster, a little altered, perhaps, at Cambridge,
and at one-and-twenty executed. I am inclined to envy
Mr. Rushworth for having so 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 as Miss Bertram caught
at the idea likewise, and gave it her full support,
declaring that, in her opinion, it was infinitely better
to consult with friends and disinterested advisers,
than immediately to throw the business into the hands of a
professional man, Mr. Rushworth was very ready to request
the favour of Mr. Crawford's assistance; and Mr. Crawford,
after properly depreciating his own abilities, was quite at
his service in any way that could be useful. Mr. Rushworth
then began to propose 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 two nieces'
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 not more of us go? Why should not we
make a little party? Here are many that would be
interested in your improvements, my dear Mr. Rushworth,
and that would like to hear Mr. Crawford's opinion on
the spot, and that might be of some small use to you with
_their_ opinions; and, for my own 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;
but now I could go and sit a few hours with Mrs. Rushworth,
while the rest of you walked about and settled things,
and then we could all return to a late dinner here,
or dine at Sotherton, just as might be most agreeable 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 at home with you."

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




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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