It had been a miserable party, each of the three believing themselves mos_iserable. Mrs. Norris, however, as most attached to Maria, was really th_reatest sufferer. Maria was her first favourite, the dearest of all; th_atch had been her own contriving, as she had been wont with such pride o_eart to feel and say, and this conclusion of it almost overpowered her.
She was an altered creature, quieted, stupefied, indifferent to everythin_hat passed. The being left with her sister and nephew, and all the hous_nder her care, had been an advantage entirely thrown away; she had bee_nable to direct or dictate, or even fancy herself useful. When really touche_y affliction, her active powers had been all benumbed; and neither Lad_ertram nor Tom had received from her the smallest support or attempt a_upport. She had done no more for them than they had done for each other. The_ad been all solitary, helpless, and forlorn alike; and now the arrival of th_thers only established her superiority in wretchedness. Her companions wer_elieved, but there was no good for her. Edmund was almost as welcome to hi_rother as Fanny to her aunt; but Mrs. Norris, instead of having comfort fro_ither, was but the more irritated by the sight of the person whom, in th_lindness of her anger, she could have charged as the daemon of the piece. Ha_anny accepted Mr. Crawford this could not have happened.
Susan too was a grievance. She had not spirits to notice her in more than _ew repulsive looks, but she felt her as a spy, and an intruder, and a_ndigent niece, and everything most odious. By her other aunt, Susan wa_eceived with quiet kindness. Lady Bertram could not give her much time, o_any words, but she felt her, as Fanny's sister, to have a claim at Mansfield,
and was ready to kiss and like her; and Susan was more than satisfied, for sh_ame perfectly aware that nothing but ill-humour was to be expected from aun_orris; and was so provided with happiness, so strong in that best o_lessings, an escape from many certain evils, that she could have stoo_gainst a great deal more indifference than she met with from the others.
She was now left a good deal to herself, to get acquainted with the house an_rounds as she could, and spent her days very happily in so doing, while thos_ho might otherwise have attended to her were shut up, or wholly occupied eac_ith the person quite dependent on them, at this time, for everything lik_omfort; Edmund trying to bury his own feelings in exertions for the relief o_is brother's, and Fanny devoted to her aunt Bertram, returning to ever_ormer office with more than former zeal, and thinking she could never d_nough for one who seemed so much to want her.
To talk over the dreadful business with Fanny, talk and lament, was all Lad_ertram's consolation. To be listened to and borne with, and hear the voice o_indness and sympathy in return, was everything that could be done for her. T_e otherwise comforted was out of the question. The case admitted of n_omfort. Lady Bertram did not think deeply, but, guided by Sir Thomas, sh_hought justly on all important points; and she saw, therefore, in all it_normity, what had happened, and neither endeavoured herself, nor require_anny to advise her, to think little of guilt and infamy.
Her affections were not acute, nor was her mind tenacious. After a time, Fann_ound it not impossible to direct her thoughts to other subjects, and reviv_ome interest in the usual occupations; but whenever Lady Bertram was fixed o_he event, she could see it only in one light, as comprehending the loss of _aughter, and a disgrace never to be wiped off.
Fanny learnt from her all the particulars which had yet transpired. Her aun_as no very methodical narrator, but with the help of some letters to and fro_ir Thomas, and what she already knew herself, and could reasonably combine,
she was soon able to understand quite as much as she wished of th_ircumstances attending the story.
Mrs. Rushworth had gone, for the Easter holidays, to Twickenham, with a famil_hom she had just grown intimate with: a family of lively, agreeable manners,
and probably of morals and discretion to suit, for to their house Mr. Crawfor_ad constant access at all times. His having been in the same neighbourhoo_anny already knew. Mr. Rushworth had been gone at this time to Bath, to pas_ few days with his mother, and bring her back to town, and Maria was wit_hese friends without any restraint, without even Julia; for Julia had remove_rom Wimpole Street two or three weeks before, on a visit to some relations o_ir Thomas; a removal which her father and mother were now disposed t_ttribute to some view of convenience on Mr. Yates's account. Very soon afte_he Rushworths' return to Wimpole Street, Sir Thomas had received a lette_rom an old and most particular friend in London, who hearing and witnessing _ood deal to alarm him in that quarter, wrote to recommend Sir Thomas's comin_o London himself, and using his influence with his daughter to put an end t_he intimacy which was already exposing her to unpleasant remarks, an_vidently making Mr. Rushworth uneasy.
Sir Thomas was preparing to act upon this letter, without communicating it_ontents to any creature at Mansfield, when it was followed by another, sen_xpress from the same friend, to break to him the almost desperate situatio_n which affairs then stood with the young people. Mrs. Rushworth had left he_usband's house: Mr. Rushworth had been in great anger and distress to him
(Mr. Harding) for his advice; Mr. Harding feared there had been at least ver_lagrant indiscretion. The maidservant of Mrs. Rushworth, senior, threatene_larmingly. He was doing all in his power to quiet everything, with the hop_f Mrs. Rushworth's return, but was so much counteracted in Wimpole Street b_he influence of Mr. Rushworth's mother, that the worst consequences might b_pprehended.
This dreadful communication could not be kept from the rest of the family. Si_homas set off, Edmund would go with him, and the others had been left in _tate of wretchedness, inferior only to what followed the receipt of the nex_etters from London. Everything was by that time public beyond a hope. Th_ervant of Mrs. Rushworth, the mother, had exposure in her power, an_upported by her mistress, was not to be silenced. The two ladies, even in th_hort time they had been together, had disagreed; and the bitterness of th_lder against her daughter-in-law might perhaps arise almost as much from th_ersonal disrespect with which she had herself been treated as fro_ensibility for her son.
However that might be, she was unmanageable. But had she been less obstinate,
or of less weight with her son, who was always guided by the last speaker, b_he person who could get hold of and shut him up, the case would still hav_een hopeless, for Mrs. Rushworth did not appear again, and there was ever_eason to conclude her to be concealed somewhere with Mr. Crawford, who ha_uitted his uncle's house, as for a journey, on the very day of her absentin_erself.
Sir Thomas, however, remained yet a little longer in town, in the hope o_iscovering and snatching her from farther vice, though all was lost on th_ide of character.
His present state Fanny could hardly bear to think of. There was but one o_is children who was not at this time a source of misery to him. Tom'_omplaints had been greatly heightened by the shock of his sister's conduct,
and his recovery so much thrown back by it, that even Lady Bertram had bee_truck by the difference, and all her alarms were regularly sent off to he_usband; and Julia's elopement, the additional blow which had met him on hi_rrival in London, though its force had been deadened at the moment, must, sh_new, be sorely felt. She saw that it was. His letters expressed how much h_eplored it. Under any circumstances it would have been an unwelcome alliance;
but to have it so clandestinely formed, and such a period chosen for it_ompletion, placed Julia's feelings in a most unfavourable light, and severel_ggravated the folly of her choice. He called it a bad thing, done in th_orst manner, and at the worst time; and though Julia was yet as mor_ardonable than Maria as folly than vice, he could not but regard the step sh_ad taken as opening the worst probabilities of a conclusion hereafter lik_er sister's. Such was his opinion of the set into which she had throw_erself.
Fanny felt for him most acutely. He could have no comfort but in Edmund. Ever_ther child must be racking his heart. His displeasure against herself sh_rusted, reasoning differently from Mrs. Norris, would now be done away. Sh_hould be justified. Mr. Crawford would have fully acquitted her conduct i_efusing him; but this, though most material to herself, would be poo_onsolation to Sir Thomas. Her uncle's displeasure was terrible to her; bu_hat could her justification or her gratitude and attachment do for him? Hi_tay must be on Edmund alone.
She was mistaken, however, in supposing that Edmund gave his father no presen_ain. It was of a much less poignant nature than what the others excited; bu_ir Thomas was considering his happiness as very deeply involved in th_ffence of his sister and friend; cut off by it, as he must be, from the woma_hom he had been pursuing with undoubted attachment and strong probability o_uccess; and who, in everything but this despicable brother, would have bee_o eligible a connexion. He was aware of what Edmund must be suffering on hi_wn behalf, in addition to all the rest, when they were in town: he had see_r conjectured his feelings; and, having reason to think that one intervie_ith Miss Crawford had taken place, from which Edmund derived only increase_istress, had been as anxious on that account as on others to get him out o_own, and had engaged him in taking Fanny home to her aunt, with a view to hi_elief and benefit, no less than theirs. Fanny was not in the secret of he_ncle's feelings, Sir Thomas not in the secret of Miss Crawford's character.
Had he been privy to her conversation with his son, he would not have wishe_er to belong to him, though her twenty thousand pounds had been forty.
That Edmund must be for ever divided from Miss Crawford did not admit of _oubt with Fanny; and yet, till she knew that he felt the same, her ow_onviction was insufficient. She thought he did, but she wanted to be assure_f it. If he would now speak to her with the unreserve which had sometime_een too much for her before, it would be most consoling; but that she foun_as not to be. She seldom saw him: never alone. He probably avoided bein_lone with her. What was to be inferred? That his judgment submitted to al_is own peculiar and bitter share of this family affliction, but that it wa_oo keenly felt to be a subject of the slightest communication. This must b_is state. He yielded, but it was with agonies which did not admit of speech.
Long, long would it be ere Miss Crawford's name passed his lips again, or sh_ould hope for a renewal of such confidential intercourse as had been.
It was long. They reached Mansfield on Thursday, and it was not till Sunda_vening that Edmund began to talk to her on the subject. Sitting with her o_unday evening—a wet Sunday evening—the very time of all others when, if _riend is at hand, the heart must be opened, and everything told; no one els_n the room, except his mother, who, after hearing an affecting sermon, ha_ried herself to sleep, it was impossible not to speak; and so, with the usua_eginnings, hardly to be traced as to what came first, and the usua_eclaration that if she would listen to him for a few minutes, he should b_ery brief, and certainly never tax her kindness in the same way again; sh_eed not fear a repetition; it would be a subject prohibited entirely: h_ntered upon the luxury of relating circumstances and sensations of the firs_nterest to himself, to one of whose affectionate sympathy he was quit_onvinced.
How Fanny listened, with what curiosity and concern, what pain and wha_elight, how the agitation of his voice was watched, and how carefully her ow_yes were fixed on any object but himself, may be imagined. The opening wa_larming. He had seen Miss Crawford. He had been invited to see her. He ha_eceived a note from Lady Stornaway to beg him to call; and regarding it a_hat was meant to be the last, last interview of friendship, and investing he_ith all the feelings of shame and wretchedness which Crawford's sister ough_o have known, he had gone to her in such a state of mind, so softened, s_evoted, as made it for a few moments impossible to Fanny's fears that i_hould be the last. But as he proceeded in his story, these fears were over.
She had met him, he said, with a serious—certainly a serious— even an agitate_ir; but before he had been able to speak one intelligible sentence, she ha_ntroduced the subject in a manner which he owned had shocked him. "'I hear_ou were in town,' said she; 'I wanted to see you. Let us talk over this sa_usiness. What can equal the folly of our two relations?' I could not answer,
but I believe my looks spoke. She felt reproved. Sometimes how quick to feel!
With a graver look and voice she then added, 'I do not mean to defend Henry a_our sister's expense.' So she began, but how she went on, Fanny, is not fit,
is hardly fit to be repeated to you. I cannot recall all her words. I woul_ot dwell upon them if I could. Their substance was great anger at the foll_f each. She reprobated her brother's folly in being drawn on by a woman who_e had never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; bu_till more the folly of poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation, plungin_nto such difficulties, under the idea of being really loved by a man who ha_ong ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I must have felt. To hear th_oman whom— no harsher name than folly given! So voluntarily, so freely, s_oolly to canvass it! No reluctance, no horror, no feminine, shall I say, n_odest loathings? This is what the world does. For where, Fanny, shall we fin_ woman whom nature had so richly endowed? Spoilt, spoilt!"
After a little reflection, he went on with a sort of desperate calmness. "_ill tell you everything, and then have done for ever. She saw it only a_olly, and that folly stamped only by exposure. The want of common discretion,
of caution: his going down to Richmond for the whole time of her being a_wickenham; her putting herself in the power of a servant; it was th_etection, in short—oh, Fanny! it was the detection, not the offence, whic_he reprobated. It was the imprudence which had brought things to extremity,
and obliged her brother to give up every dearer plan in order to fly wit_er."
He stopt. "And what," said Fanny (believing herself required to speak), "wha_ould you say?"
"Nothing, nothing to be understood. I was like a man stunned. She went on,
began to talk of you; yes, then she began to talk of you, regretting, as wel_he might, the loss of such a—. There she spoke very rationally. But she ha_lways done justice to you. 'He has thrown away,' said she, 'such a woman a_e will never see again. She would have fixed him; she would have made hi_appy for ever.' My dearest Fanny, I am giving you, I hope, more pleasure tha_ain by this retrospect of what might have been—but what never can be now. Yo_o not wish me to be silent? If you do, give me but a look, a word, and I hav_one."
No look or word was given.
"Thank God," said he. "We were all disposed to wonder, but it seems to hav_een the merciful appointment of Providence that the heart which knew no guil_hould not suffer. She spoke of you with high praise and warm affection; yet,
even here, there was alloy, a dash of evil; for in the midst of it she coul_xclaim, 'Why would not she have him? It is all her fault. Simple girl! _hall never forgive her. Had she accepted him as she ought, they might no_ave been on the point of marriage, and Henry would have been too happy an_oo busy to want any other object. He would have taken no pains to be on term_ith Mrs. Rushworth again. It would have all ended in a regular standin_lirtation, in yearly meetings at Sotherton and Everingham.' Could you hav_elieved it possible? But the charm is broken. My eyes are opened."
"Cruel!" said Fanny, "quite cruel. At such a moment to give way to gaiety, t_peak with lightness, and to you! Absolute cruelty."
"Cruelty, do you call it? We differ there. No, hers is not a cruel nature. _o not consider her as meaning to wound my feelings. The evil lies yet deeper:
in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in _erversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as sh_id. She was speaking only as she had been used to hear others speak, as sh_magined everybody else would speak. Hers are not faults of temper. She woul_ot voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceiv_yself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would— Hers ar_aults of principle, Fanny; of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiate_ind. Perhaps it is best for me, since it leaves me so little to regret. No_o, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her,
rather than have to think of her as I do. I told her so."
"Yes; when I left her I told her so."
"How long were you together?"
"Five-and-twenty minutes. Well, she went on to say that what remained now t_e done was to bring about a marriage between them. She spoke of it, Fanny,
with a steadier voice than I can." He was obliged to pause more than once a_e continued. "'We must persuade Henry to marry her,' said she; 'and what wit_onour, and the certainty of having shut himself out for ever from Fanny, I d_ot despair of it. Fanny he must give up. I do not think that even he coul_ow hope to succeed with one of her stamp, and therefore I hope we may find n_nsuperable difficulty. My influence, which is not small shall all go tha_ay; and when once married, and properly supported by her own family, peopl_f respectability as they are, she may recover her footing in society to _ertain degree. In some circles, we know, she would never be admitted, bu_ith good dinners, and large parties, there will always be those who will b_lad of her acquaintance; and there is, undoubtedly, more liberality an_andour on those points than formerly. What I advise is, that your father b_uiet. Do not let him injure his own cause by interference. Persuade him t_et things take their course. If by any officious exertions of his, she i_nduced to leave Henry's protection, there will be much less chance of hi_arrying her than if she remain with him. I know how he is likely to b_nfluenced. Let Sir Thomas trust to his honour and compassion, and it may al_nd well; but if he get his daughter away, it will be destroying the chie_old.'"
After repeating this, Edmund was so much affected that Fanny, watching hi_ith silent, but most tender concern, was almost sorry that the subject ha_een entered on at all. It was long before he could speak again. At last,
"Now, Fanny," said he, "I shall soon have done. I have told you the substanc_f all that she said. As soon as I could speak, I replied that I had no_upposed it possible, coming in such a state of mind into that house as I ha_one, that anything could occur to make me suffer more, but that she had bee_nflicting deeper wounds in almost every sentence. That though I had, in th_ourse of our acquaintance, been often sensible of some difference in ou_pinions, on points, too, of some moment, it had not entered my imagination t_onceive the difference could be such as she had now proved it. That th_anner in which she treated the dreadful crime committed by her brother and m_ister (with whom lay the greater seduction I pretended not to say), but th_anner in which she spoke of the crime itself, giving it every reproach bu_he right; considering its ill consequences only as they were to be braved o_verborne by a defiance of decency and impudence in wrong; and last of all,
and above all, recommending to us a compliance, a compromise, an acquiescenc_n the continuance of the sin, on the chance of a marriage which, thinking a_ now thought of her brother, should rather be prevented than sought; all thi_ogether most grievously convinced me that I had never understood her before,
and that, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my ow_magination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to dwell on for man_onths past. That, perhaps, it was best for me; I had less to regret i_acrificing a friendship, feelings, hopes which must, at any rate, have bee_orn from me now. And yet, that I must and would confess that, could I hav_estored her to what she had appeared to me before, I would infinitely prefe_ny increase of the pain of parting, for the sake of carrying with me th_ight of tenderness and esteem. This is what I said, the purport of it; but,
as you may imagine, not spoken so collectedly or methodically as I hav_epeated it to you. She was astonished, exceedingly astonished—more tha_stonished. I saw her change countenance. She turned extremely red. I imagine_ saw a mixture of many feelings: a great, though short struggle; half a wis_f yielding to truths, half a sense of shame, but habit, habit carried it. Sh_ould have laughed if she could. It was a sort of laugh, as she answered, '_retty good lecture, upon my word. Was it part of your last sermon? At thi_ate you will soon reform everybody at Mansfield and Thornton Lacey; and whe_ hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great societ_f Methodists, or as a missionary into foreign parts.' She tried to spea_arelessly, but she was not so careless as she wanted to appear. I only sai_n reply, that from my heart I wished her well, and earnestly hoped that sh_ight soon learn to think more justly, and not owe the most valuable knowledg_e could any of us acquire, the knowledge of ourselves and of our duty, to th_essons of affliction, and immediately left the room. I had gone a few steps,
Fanny, when I heard the door open behind me. 'Mr. Bertram,' said she. I looke_ack. 'Mr. Bertram,' said she, with a smile; but it was a smile ill-suited t_he conversation that had passed, a saucy playful smile, seeming to invite i_rder to subdue me; at least it appeared so to me. I resisted; it was th_mpulse of the moment to resist, and still walked on. I have since, sometimes,
for a moment, regretted that I did not go back, but I know I was right, an_uch has been the end of our acquaintance. And what an acquaintance has i_een! How have I been deceived! Equally in brother and sister deceived! _hank you for your patience, Fanny. This has been the greatest relief, and no_e will have done."
And such was Fanny's dependence on his words, that for five minutes sh_hought they had done. Then, however, it all came on again, or something ver_ike it, and nothing less than Lady Bertram's rousing thoroughly up coul_eally close such a conversation. Till that happened, they continued to tal_f Miss Crawford alone, and how she had attached him, and how delightfu_ature had made her, and how excellent she would have been, had she falle_nto good hands earlier. Fanny, now at liberty to speak openly, felt more tha_ustified in adding to his knowledge of her real character, by some hint o_hat share his brother's state of health might be supposed to have in her wis_or a complete reconciliation. This was not an agreeable intimation. Natur_esisted it for a while. It would have been a vast deal pleasanter to have ha_er more disinterested in her attachment; but his vanity was not of a strengt_o fight long against reason. He submitted to believe that Tom's illness ha_nfluenced her, only reserving for himself this consoling thought, tha_onsidering the many counteractions of opposing habits, she had certainly bee_ore attached to him than could have been expected, and for his sake been mor_ear doing right. Fanny thought exactly the same; and they were also quit_greed in their opinion of the lasting effect, the indelible impression, whic_uch a disappointment must make on his mind. Time would undoubtedly abat_omewhat of his sufferings, but still it was a sort of thing which he neve_ould get entirely the better of; and as to his ever meeting with any othe_oman who could— it was too impossible to be named but with indignation.
Fanny's friendship was all that he had to cling to.