Mansfield Park eBook: Page1
Jane Austen (1994)
Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer
By Jane Austen
About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seventhousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, ofMansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raisedto the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequencesof an handsome house and large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on thegreatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed herto be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it.She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of theiracquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome asMiss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equaladvantage. But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune inthe world as there are pretty women to deserve them. Miss Ward, at theend of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached tothe Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely anyprivate fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. Miss Ward's match,indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible: Sir Thomasbeing happily able to give his friend an income in the living ofMansfield; and Mr. and Mrs. Norris began their career of conjugalfelicity with very little less than a thousand a year. But Miss Francesmarried, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing ona lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions, didit very thoroughly. She could hardly have made a more untoward choice.Sir Thomas Bertram had interest, which, from principle as well aspride--from a general wish of doing right, and a desire of seeing allthat were connected with him in situations of respectability, he wouldhave been glad to exert for the advantage of Lady Bertram's sister; buther husband's profession was such as no interest could reach; and beforehe had time to devise any other method of assisting them, an absolutebreach between the sisters had taken place. It was the natural result ofthe conduct of each party, and such as a very imprudent marriage almostalways produces. To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Pricenever wrote to her family on the subject till actually married. LadyBertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temperremarkably easy and indolent, would have contented herself with merelygiving up her sister, and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs.Norris had a spirit of activity, which could not be satisfied till shehad written a long and angry letter to Fanny, to point out the folly ofher conduct, and threaten her with all its possible ill consequences.Mrs. Price, in her turn, was injured and angry; and an answer, whichcomprehended each sister in its bitterness, and bestowed such verydisrespectful reflections on the pride of Sir Thomas as Mrs. Norriscould not possibly keep to herself, put an end to all intercoursebetween them for a considerable period.
Their homes were so distant, and the circles in which they moved sodistinct, as almost to preclude the means of ever hearing of eachother's existence during the eleven following years, or, at least, tomake it very wonderful to Sir Thomas that Mrs. Norris should ever haveit in her power to tell them, as she now and then did, in an angryvoice, that Fanny had got another child. By the end of eleven years,however, Mrs. Price could no longer afford to cherish pride orresentment, or to lose one connexion that might possibly assist her.A large and still increasing family, an husband disabled for activeservice, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a verysmall income to supply their wants, made her eager to regain the friendsshe had so carelessly sacrificed; and she addressed Lady Bertram ina letter which spoke so much contrition and despondence, such asuperfluity of children, and such a want of almost everything else, ascould not but dispose them all to a reconciliation. She was preparingfor her ninth lying-in; and after bewailing the circumstance, andimploring their countenance as sponsors to the expected child, shecould not conceal how important she felt they might be to the futuremaintenance of the eight already in being. Her eldest was a boy of tenyears old, a fine spirited fellow, who longed to be out in the world;but what could she do? Was there any chance of his being hereafteruseful to Sir Thomas in the concerns of his West Indian property?No situation would be beneath him; or what did Sir Thomas think ofWoolwich? or how could a boy be sent out to the East?
The letter was not unproductive. It re-established peace and kindness.Sir Thomas sent friendly advice and professions, Lady Bertram dispatchedmoney and baby-linen, and Mrs. Norris wrote the letters.
Such were its immediate effects, and within a twelvemonth a moreimportant advantage to Mrs. Price resulted from it. Mrs. Norris wasoften observing to the others that she could not get her poor sister andher family out of her head, and that, much as they had all done for her,she seemed to be wanting to do more; and at length she could not butown it to be her wish that poor Mrs. Price should be relieved from thecharge and expense of one child entirely out of her great number. Whatif they were among them to undertake the care of her eldest daughter,a girl now nine years old, of an age to require more attention than herpoor mother could possibly give? The trouble and expense of it to themwould be nothing, compared with the benevolence of the action. LadyBertram agreed with her instantly. I think we cannot do better, saidshe; let us send for the child.
Sir Thomas could not give so instantaneous and unqualified a consent. Hedebated and hesitated;--it was a serious charge;--a girl so brought upmust be adequately provided for, or there would be cruelty insteadof kindness in taking her from her family. He thought of his own fourchildren, of his two sons, of cousins in love, etc.;--but no soonerhad he deliberately begun to state his objections, than Mrs. Norrisinterrupted him with a reply to them all, whether stated or not.
My dear Sir Thomas, I perfectly comprehend you, and do justice to thegenerosity and delicacy of your notions, which indeed are quite of apiece with your general conduct; and I entirely agree with you inthe main as to the propriety of doing everything one could by way ofproviding for a child one had in a manner taken into one's own hands;and I am sure I should be the last person in the world to withhold mymite upon such an occasion. Having no children of my own, who should Ilook to in any little matter I may ever have to bestow, but the childrenof my sisters?--and I am sure Mr. Norris is too just--but you know I ama woman of few words and professions. Do not let us be frightened froma good deed by a trifle. Give a girl an education, and introduceher properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means ofsettling well, without farther expense to anybody. A niece of ours, SirThomas, I may say, or at least of _yours_, would not grow up in thisneighbourhood without many advantages. I don't say she would be sohandsome as her cousins. I dare say she would not; but she would beintroduced into the society of this country under such very favourablecircumstances as, in all human probability, would get her a creditableestablishment. You are thinking of your sons--but do not you know that,of all things upon earth, _that_ is the least likely to happen, broughtup as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters? It ismorally impossible. I never knew an instance of it. It is, in fact, theonly sure way of providing against the connexion. Suppose her a prettygirl, and seen by Tom or Edmund for the first time seven years hence,and I dare say there would be mischief. The very idea of her having beensuffered to grow up at a distance from us all in poverty and neglect,would be enough to make either of the dear, sweet-tempered boys in lovewith her. But breed her up with them from this time, and suppose hereven to have the beauty of an angel, and she will never be more toeither than a sister.
There is a great deal of truth in what you say, replied Sir Thomas,and far be it from me to throw any fanciful impediment in the way of aplan which would be so consistent with the relative situations of each.I only meant to observe that it ought not to be lightly engaged in,and that to make it really serviceable to Mrs. Price, and creditable toourselves, we must secure to the child, or consider ourselves engaged tosecure to her hereafter, as circumstances may arise, the provision ofa gentlewoman, if no such establishment should offer as you are sosanguine in expecting.
I thoroughly understand you, cried Mrs. Norris, you are everythingthat is generous and considerate, and I am sure we shall never disagreeon this point. Whatever I can do, as you well know, I am always readyenough to do for the good of those I love; and, though I could neverfeel for this little girl the hundredth part of the regard I bear yourown dear children, nor consider her, in any respect, so much my own,I should hate myself if I were capable of neglecting her. Is not she asister's child? and could I bear to see her want while I had a bit ofbread to give her? My dear Sir Thomas, with all my faults I have a warmheart; and, poor as I am, would rather deny myself the necessaries oflife than do an ungenerous thing. So, if you are not against it, I willwrite to my poor sister tomorrow, and make the proposal; and, as soonas matters are settled, _I_ will engage to get the child to Mansfield;_you_ shall have no trouble about it. My own trouble, you know, I neverregard. I will send Nanny to London on purpose, and she may have a bedat her cousin the saddler's, and the child be appointed to meet herthere. They may easily get her from Portsmouth to town by the coach,under the care of any creditable person that may chance to be going. Idare say there is always some reputable tradesman's wife or other goingup.
Except to the attack on Nanny's cousin, Sir Thomas no longer made anyobjection, and a more respectable, though less economical rendezvousbeing accordingly substituted, everything was considered as settled,and the pleasures of so benevolent a scheme were already enjoyed. Thedivision of gratifying sensations ought not, in strict justice, tohave been equal; for Sir Thomas was fully resolved to be the real andconsistent patron of the selected child, and Mrs. Norris had not theleast intention of being at any expense whatever in her maintenance.As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughlybenevolent, and nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others;but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knewquite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends.Having married on a narrower income than she had been used to lookforward to, she had, from the first, fancied a very strict line ofeconomy necessary; and what was begun as a matter of prudence, soon grewinto a matter of choice, as an object of that needful solicitude whichthere were no children to supply. Had there been a family to providefor, Mrs. Norris might never have saved her money; but having no careof that kind, there was nothing to impede her frugality, or lessen thecomfort of making a yearly addition to an income which they had neverlived up to. Under this infatuating principle, counteracted by no realaffection for her sister, it was impossible for her to aim at more thanthe credit of projecting and arranging so expensive a charity; thoughperhaps she might so little know herself as to walk home to theParsonage, after this conversation, in the happy belief of being themost liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world.
When the subject was brought forward again, her views were more fullyexplained; and, in reply to Lady Bertram's calm inquiry of Where shallthe child come to first, sister, to you or to us? Sir Thomas heard withsome surprise that it would be totally out of Mrs. Norris's power totake any share in the personal charge of her. He had been consideringher as a particularly welcome addition at the Parsonage, as a desirablecompanion to an aunt who had no children of her own; but he foundhimself wholly mistaken. Mrs. Norris was sorry to say that the littlegirl's staying with them, at least as things then were, was quite out ofthe question. Poor Mr. Norris's indifferent state of health made it animpossibility: he could no more bear the noise of a child than he couldfly; if, indeed, he should ever get well of his gouty complaints, itwould be a different matter: she should then be glad to take her turn,and think nothing of the inconvenience; but just now, poor Mr. Norristook up every moment of her time, and the very mention of such a thingshe was sure would distract him.
Then she had better come to us, said Lady Bertram, with the utmostcomposure. After a short pause Sir Thomas added with dignity, Yes, lether home be in this house. We will endeavour to do our duty by her, andshe will, at least, have the advantage of companions of her own age, andof a regular instructress.
Very true, cried Mrs. Norris, which are both very importantconsiderations; and it will be just the same to Miss Lee whether she hasthree girls to teach, or only two--there can be no difference. I onlywish I could be more useful; but you see I do all in my power. I am notone of those that spare their own trouble; and Nanny shall fetch her,however it may put me to inconvenience to have my chief counsellor awayfor three days. I suppose, sister, you will put the child in the littlewhite attic, near the old nurseries. It will be much the best placefor her, so near Miss Lee, and not far from the girls, and close by thehousemaids, who could either of them help to dress her, you know, andtake care of her clothes, for I suppose you would not think it fair toexpect Ellis to wait on her as well as the others. Indeed, I do not seethat you could possibly place her anywhere else.
Lady Bertram made no opposition.
I hope she will prove a well-disposed girl, continued Mrs. Norris,and be sensible of her uncommon good fortune in having such friends.
Should her disposition be really bad, said Sir Thomas, we must not,for our own children's sake, continue her in the family; but there isno reason to expect so great an evil. We shall probably see much to wishaltered in her, and must prepare ourselves for gross ignorance, somemeanness of opinions, and very distressing vulgarity of manner; butthese are not incurable faults; nor, I trust, can they be dangerous forher associates. Had my daughters been _younger_ than herself, I shouldhave considered the introduction of such a companion as a matter of veryserious moment; but, as it is, I hope there can be nothing to fear for_them_, and everything to hope for _her_, from the association.
That is exactly what I think, cried Mrs. Norris, and what I wassaying to my husband this morning. It will be an education for thechild, said I, only being with her cousins; if Miss Lee taught hernothing, she would learn to be good and clever from _them_.
I hope she will not tease my poor pug, said Lady Bertram; I have butjust got Julia to leave it alone.
There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris, observed SirThomas, as to the distinction proper to be made between the girlsas they grow up: how to preserve in the minds of my _daughters_ theconsciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly oftheir cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to makeher remember that she is not a _Miss Bertram_. I should wish to see themvery good friends, and would, on no account, authorise in my girls thesmallest degree of arrogance towards their relation; but still theycannot be equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations willalways be different. It is a point of great delicacy, and you mustassist us in our endeavours to choose exactly the right line ofconduct.
Mrs. Norris was quite at his service; and though she perfectly agreedwith him as to its being a most difficult thing, encouraged him to hopethat between them it would be easily managed.
It will be readily believed that Mrs. Norris did not write to her sisterin vain. Mrs. Price seemed rather surprised that a girl should befixed on, when she had so many fine boys, but accepted the offer mostthankfully, assuring them of her daughter's being a very well-disposed,good-humoured girl, and trusting they would never have cause to throwher off. She spoke of her farther as somewhat delicate and puny, but wassanguine in the hope of her being materially better for change of air.Poor woman! she probably thought change of air might agree with many ofher children.