About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon,with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luckto captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park,in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raisedto the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comfortsand consequences of an handsome house and large income.All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match,and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at leastthree thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it.She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation;and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and MissFrances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scrupleto predict their marrying with almost equal advantage.But there certainly are not so many men of large fortunein the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, foundherself obliged to be attached to the 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 Thomas being happily ableto give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield;and Mr. and Mrs. Norris began their career of conjugalfelicity with very little less than a thousand a year.But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase,to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a lieutenantof marines, without education, fortune, or connexions,did it very thoroughly. She could hardly have madea more untoward choice. Sir Thomas Bertram had interest,which, from principle as well as pride—from a generalwish of doing right, and a desire of seeing all that wereconnected with him in situations of respectability,he would have been glad to exert for the advantageof Lady Bertram's sister; but her husband's professionwas such as no interest could reach; and before hehad time to devise any other method of assisting them,an absolute breach between the sisters had taken place.It was the natural result of the conduct of each party,and such as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces.To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Price neverwrote to her family on the subject till actually married.Lady Bertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings,and a temper remarkably easy and indolent, would havecontented herself with merely giving up her sister,and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs. Norrishad a spirit of activity, which could not be satisfiedtill she had written a long and angry letter to Fanny,to point out the folly of her conduct, and threatenher with all its possible ill consequences. Mrs. Price,in her turn, was injured and angry; and an answer,which comprehended each sister in its bitterness, and bestowedsuch very disrespectful reflections on the pride of SirThomas as Mrs. Norris could not possibly keep to herself,put an end to all intercourse between them for a considerableperiod.
Their homes were so distant, and the circles in which theymoved so distinct, as almost to preclude the means of everhearing of each other's existence during the elevenfollowing years, or, at least, to make it very wonderfulto Sir Thomas that Mrs. Norris should ever have itin her power to tell them, as she now and then did,in an angry voice, that Fanny had got another child.By the end of eleven years, however, Mrs. Price could nolonger afford to cherish pride or resentment, or to lose oneconnexion that might possibly assist her. A large and stillincreasing family, an husband disabled for active service,but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and avery small income to supply their wants, made her eagerto regain the friends she had so carelessly sacrificed;and she addressed Lady Bertram in a letter which spokeso much contrition and despondence, such a superfluityof children, and such a want of almost everything else,as could not but dispose them all to a reconciliation.She was preparing for her ninth lying-in; and afterbewailing the circumstance, and imploring their countenanceas sponsors to the expected child, she could not concealhow important she felt they might be to the futuremaintenance of the eight already in being. Her eldestwas a boy of ten years 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 hereafter useful to SirThomas in the concerns of his West Indian property?No situation would be beneath him—or what did Sir Thomasthink of Woolwich? or how could a boy be sent out tothe East?
The letter was not unproductive. It re-establishedpeace and kindness. Sir Thomas sent friendlyadvice and professions, Lady Bertram dispatchedmoney and baby-linen, and Mrs. Norris wrote the letters.
Such were its immediate effects, and within a twelvemontha more important advantage to Mrs. Price resulted from it.Mrs. Norris was often observing to the others that shecould not get her poor sister and her family out ofher head, and that, much as they had all done for her,she seemed to be wanting to do more; and at length shecould not but own it to be her wish that poor Mrs. Priceshould be relieved from the charge and expense of one childentirely out of her great number. "What if they wereamong them to undertake the care of her eldest daughter,a girl now nine years old, of an age to require moreattention than her poor mother could possibly give?The trouble and expense of it to them would be nothing,compared with the benevolence of the action." Lady Bertramagreed with her instantly. "I think we cannot do better,"said she; "let us send for the child."
Sir Thomas could not give so instantaneous and unqualifieda consent. He debated and hesitated;—it was a serious charge;—a girl so brought up must be adequately provided for,or there would be cruelty instead of kindness in takingher from her family. He thought of his own four children—of his two sons—of cousins in love, etc.;—but no soonerhad he deliberately begun to state his objections,than Mrs. Norris interrupted him with a reply to them all,whether stated or not.
"My dear Sir Thomas, I perfectly comprehend you, and dojustice to the generosity and delicacy of your notions,which indeed are quite of a piece with your general conduct;and I entirely agree with you in the main as to the proprietyof doing everything one could by way of providing for achild one had in a manner taken into one's own hands;and I am sure I should be the last person in the world towithhold my mite upon such an occasion. Having no childrenof my own, who should I look to in any little matter Imay ever have to bestow, but the children of 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 usbe frightened from a good deed by a trifle. Give a girlan education, and introduce her properly into the world,and ten to one but she has the means of settling well,without farther expense to anybody. A niece of ours,Sir Thomas, I may say, or at least of yours, would notgrow up in this neighbourhood without many advantages.I don't say she would be so handsome as her cousins.I dare say she would not; but she would be introduced intothe society of this country under such very favourablecircumstances as, in all human probability, would get hera creditable establishment. You are thinking of your sons—but do not you know that, of all things upon earth,that is the least likely to happen, brought up as theywould be, always together like brothers and sisters?It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it.It is, in fact, the only sure way of providing againstthe connexion. Suppose her a pretty girl, and seen by Tomor Edmund for the first time seven years hence, and I daresay there would be mischief. The very idea of her havingbeen suffered to grow up at a distance from us all in povertyand neglect, would be enough to make either of the dear,sweet-tempered boys in love with her. But breed her upwith them from this time, and suppose her even to have thebeauty of an angel, and she will never be more to either thana sister."
"There is a great deal of truth in what you say,"replied Sir Thomas, "and far be it from me to throw anyfanciful impediment in the way of a plan which would beso consistent with the relative situations of each. I onlymeant to observe that it ought not to be lightly engaged in,and that to make it really serviceable to Mrs. Price,and creditable to ourselves, we must secure to the child,or consider ourselves engaged to secure to her hereafter,as circumstances may arise, the provision of a gentlewoman,if no such establishment should offer as you are so sanguinein expecting."
"I thoroughly understand you," cried Mrs. Norris,"you are everything that is generous and considerate,and I am sure we shall never disagree on 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 Icould never feel for this little girl the hundredthpart of the regard I bear your own 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 a sister's child? and could I bear to seeher want while I had a bit of bread to give her?My dear Sir Thomas, with all my faults I have a warm heart;and, poor as I am, would rather deny myself the necessariesof life than do an ungenerous thing. So, if you are notagainst it, I will write to my poor sister tomorrow,and make the proposal; and, as soon as matters are settled,Iwill engage to get the child to Mansfield; you shallhave no trouble about it. My own trouble, you know,I never regard. I will send Nanny to London on purpose,and she may have a bed at her cousin the saddler's, and thechild be appointed to meet her there. They may easily gether from Portsmouth to town by the coach, under the careof any creditable person that may chance to be going.I dare say there is always some reputable tradesman's wifeor other going up."
Except to the attack on Nanny's cousin, Sir Thomas no longermade any objection, and a more respectable, though lesseconomical rendezvous being accordingly substituted,everything was considered as settled, and the pleasuresof so benevolent a scheme were already enjoyed.The division of gratifying sensations ought not,in strict justice, to have been equal; for Sir Thomas wasfully resolved to be the real and consistent patron of theselected child, and Mrs. Norris had not the least intentionof being at any expense whatever in her maintenance.As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached,she was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew betterhow to dictate liberality to others; but her love of moneywas equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite aswell how to save her own as to spend that of her friends.Having married on a narrower income than she had beenused to look forward to, she had, from the first,fancied a very strict line of economy necessary;and what was begun as a matter of prudence, soon grewinto a matter of choice, as an object of that needfulsolicitude which there were no children to supply.Had there been a family to provide for, Mrs. Norris mightnever have saved her money; but having no care of that kind,there was nothing to impede her frugality, or lessen thecomfort of making a yearly addition to an income which theyhad never lived up to. Under this infatuating principle,counteracted by no real affection for her sister,it was impossible for her to aim at more than the creditof projecting and arranging so expensive a charity;though perhaps she might so little know herself as towalk home to the Parsonage, after this conversation,in the happy belief of being the most liberal-mindedsister and aunt in the world.
When the subject was brought forward again, her viewswere more fully explained; and, in reply to Lady Bertram'scalm inquiry of "Where shall the child come to first,sister, to you or to us?" Sir Thomas heard with somesurprise that it would be totally out of Mrs. Norris'spower to take any share in the personal charge of her.He had been considering her as a particularly welcomeaddition at the Parsonage, as a desirable companionto an aunt who had no children of her own; but he foundhimself wholly mistaken. Mrs. Norris was sorry to saythat the little girl's staying with them, at leastas things then were, was quite out of the question.Poor Mr. Norris's indifferent state of health made itan impossibility: he could no more bear the noise of a childthan he could fly; if, indeed, he should ever get wellof his gouty complaints, it would be a different matter:she should then be glad to take her turn, and think nothingof the inconvenience; but just now, poor Mr. Norristook up every moment of her time, and the very mentionof such a thing she was sure would distract him.
"Then she had better come to us," said Lady Bertram,with the utmost composure. After a short pause Sir Thomasadded with dignity, "Yes, let her home be in this house.We will endeavour to do our duty by her, and she will,at least, have the advantage of companions of her own age,and of a regular instructress."
"Very true," cried Mrs. Norris, "which are both veryimportant considerations; and it will be just the sameto Miss Lee whether she has three girls to teach,or only two—there can be no difference. I only wish Icould be more useful; but you see I do all in my power.I am not one of those that spare their own trouble;and Nanny shall fetch her, however it may put meto inconvenience to have my chief counsellor away forthree days. I suppose, sister, you will put the childin the little white attic, near the old nurseries.It will be much the best place for her, so near Miss Lee,and not far from the girls, and close by the housemaids,who could either of them help to dress her, you know,and take care of her clothes, for I suppose you would notthink it fair to expect Ellis to wait on her as well asthe others. Indeed, I do not see that you could possiblyplace 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 uncommongood fortune in having such friends."
"Should her disposition be really bad," said Sir Thomas,"we must not, for our own children's sake, continue herin the family; but there is no reason to expect so greatan evil. We shall probably see much to wish alteredin her, and must prepare ourselves for gross ignorance,some meanness of opinions, and very distressing vulgarityof manner; but these are not incurable faults—nor, I trust,can they be dangerous for her associates. Had my daughtersbeen younger than herself, I should have consideredthe introduction of such a companion as a matter of veryserious moment; but, as it is, I hope there can be nothingto fear for them, and everything to hope for her,from the association."
"That is exactly what I think," cried Mrs. Norris,"and what I was saying to my husband this morning.It will be an education for the child, said I, only beingwith her cousins; if Miss Lee taught her nothing, she wouldlearn to be good and clever from them."
"I hope she will not tease my poor pug," said Lady Bertram;"I have but just got Julia to leave it alone."
"There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris,"observed Sir Thomas, "as to the distinction proper to be madebetween the girls as they grow up: how to preserve in theminds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are,without making them think too lowly of their cousin;and how, without depressing her spirits too far,to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram.I should wish to see them very good friends, and would,on no account, authorise in my girls the smallest degreeof arrogance towards their relation; but still they cannotbe equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectationswill always be different. It is a point of great delicacy,and you must assist us in our endeavours to choose exactlythe right line of conduct."
Mrs. Norris was quite at his service; and though sheperfectly agreed with him as to its being a mostdifficult thing, encouraged him to hope that betweenthem it would be easily managed.
It will be readily believed that Mrs. Norris did not writeto her sister in vain. Mrs. Price seemed rather surprisedthat a girl should be fixed on, when she had so many fine boys,but accepted the offer most thankfully, assuring them of herdaughter's being a very well-disposed, good-humoured girl,and trusting they would never have cause to throw her off.She spoke of her farther as somewhat delicate and puny,but was sanguine in the hope of her being materially betterfor change of air. Poor woman! she probably thoughtchange of air might agree with many of her children.
Copyright © 2003 by Jane Austen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.