The horse was knocked down for forty-five pounds, and she observed that its purchaser looked very glum. Suddenly, she heard herself hailed, and turning around, was pleased to see Mr. Jennings. With him was a stocky, rather beetle-browed man, obviously one of the local farmers. Mr. Jevons introduced him as"my friend Ansell. ""Now then, young lady," said the stranger.
"Sir. " Maria replied coldly; she was not used to being addressed in such a fashion, and had yet to learn that"Now then!" was the local form of greeting.
"How came you to be here alone, Mrs. Ward?" Mr. Jevons asked. Maria remembered her aunt, turned around to find her, and introduced her. But Mrs. Norris was not happy. "Well, surely, niece, we can go now," she said. "All that, and you still have nothing. How much longer must we stay?"
Maria might not ordinarily have been open with two people she did not know well, especially when one of them had addressed her in so unceremonious a mode; but she had had a trying hour, culminating in her narrow escape; and she did still want to buy a horse! She explained her difficulty, and found that they had observed everything. "Aye," Mr. Ansell said. "They pushed you into that, and you got out just in time."
"They are very good people hereabouts," Mr. Jevons said,"but they do not take kindly to newcomers. I am not surprised you got into trouble."
"And what was the young lady about, to bid on such a thoroughly unsound horse?" Mr. Ansell demanded, abruptly. "Did you not examine him, before time?"
"I tried, I did see him and I tried, but as I went to get near him, he backed away; he seemed quite spirited."
"Spirited! Aye, he is as nervous as a cat. And had his groom not made him jump away, you would have heard the rattle in his chest."
"You know the horse?"
"Everyone knows him."
"Sir," Maria asked suddenly, "Who is that man over there, the man in the brown coat?"
"There? That is Hamblyn, the man whose horse you were bidding on just now."
"And the man he is speaking to, is not that the man who bought the horse?"
"Oh, aye, that is Will Hamblyn, his brother. As for buying it, no such thing, the creature will be back in his own stable tonight. Well, that horse will be up for sale again soon, no doubt, and next time, perhaps, some fool will buy him."
"Come, Mrs. Ward," said Mr. Jevons, "I will take you to meet the auctioneer."
She was introduced as "Mrs. Ward, of Birkthwaite," and was gratified by the auctioneer's look of recognition. She understood the unimportance of every thing that hitherto had made her a person of consideration. Her looks, which she had always thought her greatest asset, would only convince these men that here was a woman, who being young and alone, might be made a fool of.
"Birkthwaite, eh?" Mr. Ansell said. "Poor farming there, is it not?"
"The bottom land could be good enough," Maria replied" if it were but properly drained; and there is good pasture. We do not farm, however, we merely occupy the house."
"It is good land for horses," said the auctioneer.
"Nonsense, the land is worth nothing," said the tiresome Mr. Ansell, "unless, as Snelling thinks, there may be lead under it."
Mr. Jevons noted, to himself, that the mysterious Mrs. Ward was a landowner's daughter, but only said "Come, madam, there is an animal coming up, that might be what you are looking for; but you should not give more than twenty pounds for him."
"But will they play fair with me?" asked Maria, in an undertone. "How am I to go on, if they try to trick me, every time?"
"Mrs. Ward, the people here are slow to accept strangers, but they are not dishonest. My old shepherd once told me, he was drinking at the tavern here; he pulled his purse out from his pocket, or it slipped out, and he left it on the bench. Two hours later, he discovered his mistake; he went back, and the purse was still there with his money in it. You see, they know him. You acted with great sagacity back there; they observed it, and now they know that you belong to Birkthwaite. They will not trick you; though of course, you can never believe what any man tells you about a horse that he wants to sell."
Twenty minutes later, to her satisfaction, Maria found herself the owner of a quiet, sturdy road horse. As she left, she heard the auctioneer ask her companions"Are you coming on the thirtieth, gentlemen? Mr. Hardwick's breakdowns are coming up."
Mr. Jevons answered"Men sell horses for two reasons: because they want money, or because they want to get rid of the horse. Hardwick needs money; there will be some good animals coming up, but I have all the horses I require."
A few mornings later, Maria entered the house after her ride, and wrote a letter. She had not forgotten the opinion of Mr. Snelling, that there might be lead under the farm's neglected and infertile fields. If that were the case...but she did not know how such a development might take place, and the land was the property of her brother. She could, of course, divulge the matter to him. But she was pretty sure that it would be hard to engage Tom's interest -- and if a mine were to be opened up, the profits would all go to Mansfield Park.
Maria had not, since her disgrace, written to any of her family, and her letter now was addressed to her brother. As Tom knew, the land was bringing in nothing; and it irked her, she wrote, to see the farm buildings rotting and the land and going to waste. They had had to buy a carriage horse -- she was sure he would understand -- and she was grazing it on the land -- she was sure he would not mind -- but unless she could take some hay off, and grow some feed for it, winter keep must cost them dear. She believed that she could rent out the home farm, oversee it herself, and get paid in kind, giving them a better supply of meat, milk, etc. If he would consider making over the farm to herself and Mrs. Norris, she was pretty sure that the place would pay for itself, meaning that there would be no cost to her family; the house and its buildings could be repaired, and she and her aunt would have more to occupy them. As it was, the place was so remote, with so little to do, and food costing so much, that she believed Mrs. Norris was thinking of leaving, and returning to the neighbourhood of Mansfield Park.
This, she knew, was very far indeed from the truth; but she salved her conscience by reflecting, that Mrs. Norris might think of leaving, if Nanny decided not to come, and she could not get better servants. In any case, writing could do no harm, and, having sent the letter, she forgot about it.
In fact, just a few days later, as she returned from her ride, Maria saw a carrier's cart before the door, and parcels being unloaded. "It must be Nanny arriving," she thought. It was Nanny, indeed, but the number of packages she had brought seemed very large. More and bigger ones were carried in; the hall seemed quite full with them. "Has she brought your whole house, aunt?" Maria asked. "Did you send for furniture?""They are for you, my dear," Mrs. Norris replied. This was astonishing indeed!
Maria and her aunt quickly entered upon that occupation most congenial to the female sex, the opening of parcels. The first one consisted of clothes: stockings, dresses, shawls. "But what disorder they are in!" Mrs. Norris cried. "So many things, bundled together! What can it be?"
Flung together, in no kind of order, were the whole contents of the bedroom, and boudoir, of Maria's London house. The Harley Street residence had been taken for the season, and although it was amply furnished, in the style of such places, still everything about it had bespoke the hired house. Maria, in the first flush of her new wealth, had bought several handsome ornaments, that the rooms might reflect her own taste, intending them for her own apartments, when she should go to live at Sotherton. In addition, she had, of course, bought lavish quantities of fashionable clothing. When she had left, she had given no thought to these possessions, she had, indeed, forgotten them.
"But how did they come here?" she asked.
They soon knew as much as Nanny could tell them. The town house, it appeared, was given up; the Rushworths, mother and son, were back at Sotherton. Mr. Rushworth had refused to give any instructions about his wife's possessions, except that they were to be got rid of. London servants would have stolen every thing, but the Rushworth servants had come from Sotherton; and they had liked Maria, finding her a better employer than her stupid husband, or the over-strict Mrs. Rushworth senior. Not knowing what else to do, they had sent everything to Mansfield Park.
"Here is a looking glass," cried Mrs. Norris, who was now well into the second box,"and two pretty vases."
"Oh, we will have those in the parlour," said Maria,"and there should be a gilt clock."
"No, there is no clock. " So old Mrs. Rushworth got that, Maria thought, and, it seems my jewel case too, for it is not here. She recollected buying the clock, on a shopping expedition with her new friends. Her husband had been furious at the cost, but unable to prevent her from buying it. "It will be so useful, my dear husband," she had said, ironically,"for when we are alone together, we say nothing to each other but ëwhat time is it?' She remembered Mrs. Fraser's shocked titter, and Lord Stornoway's loud laugh. "I used to buy things, just to make him angry," she remembered. Aloud she said"Oh, aunt! here are all my hats, cast in together! What a pity, these feathers are all broken, and the velvet is dreadfully crushed. Perhaps Dufton can iron them out."
"You do not iron velvet, my dear; she must steam it, with a kettle of boiling water. Perhaps we can put new trimming on the hats, you would not want to wear feathers, here, in all the wind and rain. Here is a dressing box, a beautiful inlaid box; and what is this? a writing desk."
"Oh, Dufton can take it up to my room, with the dressing box," Maria replied. "What a pity! There must be a couple of dozen evening gowns here, and as many pairs of dancing sandals, when stout shoes, and warm walking dresses are what I need. If only there were more stockings! Still, here are a couple of cloaks, and oh aunt! A riding habit -- see, new in its box, I never wore it."
"And a couple of pairs of gloves, good leather gloves."
"Now, aunt, I shall not let you wear your old black shawl any more, with the creases all faded," and Maria shook out the folds of a fine Cashmere, and put it round her aunt's shoulders. It looked very handsome, and Maria recalled that her aunt had been a good-looking woman.
The useless clothes put by, and the dazzled housemaid sent away, Maria found herself alone in her cold, dismal bedroom. She turned the key in the lock of the elegant little writing desk. Carefully, she pulled out wafers, and pens, and old invitations, feeling with her fingers for the tiny spring at the back. The hidden drawer sprang open.
The first thing that came out was a sheet of paper: a note:"Frederick is heartbroken: has Agatha forgotten Lovers' Vows? Surely she will have one smile for him, next time they meet?" She knew who that was from. She cast it impatiently onto the bed, picked it up again, looked at the writing; and laid it aside.
The case had not been tampered with. The drawer contained several pieces of jewellery, including a bracelet set with diamonds. There were some gold coins, and a number of banknotes. She had won them all at play. Maria had discovered, during her life in town, that she had a flair for card games. Her wish to try her skill had led her into some very deep play. She had hidden her winnings from her husband, and her mother-in-law, not from need of the money, but from not wanting them to know how high the play had been, or who her associates were.
Altogether, she found that, apart from the jewellery, there were almost four hundred pounds in the little drawer. There were a few more letters, too, from Henry Crawford: she had better dispose of them as soon as possible, on the parlour fire.Chapter 8
Maria wondered if there might be a little awkwardness in disclosing her find to her aunt, especially in view of how the money had been obtained; but Mrs. Norris was delighted. Of course you gambled, my dear! for they all do, in fashionable society. It will give you a little nest-egg; you have been very ill-used, among them all, and you have nothing like the income you should have had."
When she heard what Maria was planning to do with the money, however, it was quite another matter. Buy horses! Go back to that auction place, and buy horses to sell! My dear niece, you cannot have considered. To be hawking horses around the countryside, like that dreadful man that was used to come to see your brother Tom! Miss Bertram of Mansfield Park, to do such a thing!"
"But, ma'am, I am not Miss Bertram any more, and this is not Mansfield Park; it is not Sotherton; those days are gone. No-one here knows who we are, or who we have been, and what possible disgrace can it be, to try to have a little more income? I know that if I can keep a few horses grazing here, until the autumn, I can sell them at a good profit."
"Oh, nonsense. Nobody ever made money from horses. I know your brother never did. He was buying and selling horses for ever, but nothing came of it. And look at the man that owned this place. No-one but low people ever made money from horses."
"It is true," Maria said. "Gentlemen never make money out of their horses. But gentlemen never oversee their stables properly, or watch that their grooms do not steal. They drink, and gamble, and go racing. Ladies do not do these things. Women are far more provident than men; women are better managers."
"I should hope so, indeed. But look at the people you would have to associate with, going to the horse fairs."
"Believe me, ma'am, they could hardly be worse than Lord Stornoway, or Colonel Findley, or Mr. Anstruther, or even one or two of the Royal Princes, in the matter of drunkenness, or coarse language, or bad manners."
"But how are you to know which are the right horses to buy? Poor Tom was for ever buying horses that were said to be sweet goers, or great fencers, that turned out to be no such thing."
"I have thought of that. I shall take old Peter with me. He was quite angry that I did not take him, when I bought the brown horse, and swears he could have got him for seventeen pounds. He knows a great deal, and will be delighted to advise me. I shall look for young horses, that need training, or ones that only need a summer's good grazing to set them right."
"Grazing! We do not own the land, we have but the use of the house. And Old Peter is a very good sort of a man, but what use is he? he cannot do the work of a large stables."
"I know he cannot, but I shall take on his nephew, who needs a place. You know Ben, ma'am, you have seen him about the kitchen."
"That young fellow! He is scarce more than a child: he knows nothing."
"Ben knows very little, but he loves horses. His uncle can teach him, and so can I."
"Well, I shall not go to Dalton again; I do not know how you can ask it of me. To drive twenty miles, or fifteen, or whatever it is, and to stand around in all the dirt, while you make a fool of yourself in front of all those men! It is out of the question: I shall not go."
"Then I shall go alone; old Peter will be glad to come with me."
"Peter cannot go; he has the rheumatics, very badly, I have been doctoring him with my own embrocation."
"Oh! very well: Ben must come."
"What! drive to a strange place, with only a young stable lad to keep you company!"
"Then Dufton shall come! Ben can drive her in the gig, and I will ride Golden Girl!"
"But why do such a thing, all in a hurry? Ask Mr. Strickland to advise you, or at least, try to find out whether Mr. Jevons will be there."
"You know he will not, for he said so; and I cannot wait, tomorrow is the thirtieth."
Mrs. Norris was not to be convinced. Dinner was a silent meal, and the evening was spent in the same angry silence. If there had been more time, Maria might have re-considered; for she knew how disagreeable Mrs. Norris could be, if her will were crossed. But she was not Fanny Price, to dissolve in tears after an evening's reproaches; she could bear it. As it happened, Mrs. Norris took very little notice of the matter, merely uttering a few reproaches, every quarter of an hour or so. She had her hands full: there was Nanny to instruct, the Mattersleys to be got rid of, there were the other servants to reconcile to the change, and a sewing woman must be hired at once, to put rather thicker petticoats into Maria's London gowns.
Anyone, Maria thought the next day, who wanted a cure for thwarted love, should be made to buy horses at a public auction, with no experience and limited money. Fortunately, were it due to Mrs. Norris's embrocation, or the absence of it, old Peter had refused to be left behind. Mr. Jevons was right: the stock available was good, and buyers were few. With following the bidding, remembering the rules she had set herself, attending to Peter's directions, and bearing in mind that she could not afford one mistake, Maria for quite some time forgot her whereabouts, her circumstances and her broken heart, and would, indeed, have had difficulty in recalling her assumed name, had anyone asked it. When she came to, it was over, and she had bought five horses. Three were last year's hunters; two were young beasts. None was in good condition -- it seemed Mr. Hardwick's difficulties had caused him to neglect his stable -- but none seemed to have any thing wrong, that could not be corrected with good feed and proper training.
Her business was done, it was time to leave. She knew she had enough money left, to buy feed -- but what would be the cost of getting someone to bring the new horses home? Peter would know; she looked around, and saw him staring unhappily at a group of horses waiting to be led into the sale ring. "Oh, ma'am," he said. "That's old Sultan!"
She knew the name, it was over one of the boxes in the Birkthwaite stable. "Are you certain?" she asked: ribs showing, mane and tail matted, and hoofs pitifully uncared for, the creature he pointed to did not look like anything that ever belonged in a gentleman's stable. Then she realized the question was foolish: Peter Withernshaw would never forget a horse he had cared for, nor fail to recognize it. "I am afraid that old horses do get ill-used," she said.
"Old?" said the groom. "He's none so old. Not more than eight year -- he can't be."
Maria knew that the Leveredge stable had been sold up about two years previously. "So he was six years old when he was sold?"
"Younger than that, ma'am. They said he was savage, he hurt one of the stable boys, and the master said he must go. A stallion he is, see, and hard to manage, but I never had no trouble with him. See him now! They must have put him to drawing a coal cart," and the old man looked ready to cry.
Maria looked harder. Under the ominous signs of ill-treatment, there could be seen the lines of a very fine thoroughbred. She was not much given to sentiment, but she felt a sudden pang of pity for the once splendid creature, condemned to a life of misery, only for being what he was. "How much will he fetch?" she asked.
"Not five pounds," was the reply. "There's no buying going on by this time; and the state he's in, there'll be no bids; he'll go to the knacker."
"He will not. He belongs to Birkthwaite. We will buy him back."
"Are you sure, ma'am?"
"Perfectly. Let us go and look at him."
"Don't look at him, Mrs. Ward, don't look at him, ma'am, walk away," said Peter.
"What!" said Mrs. Ward. "I want him, I tell you; I want to buy him."
"Yes, ma'am; but they have been watching you. You bought five good horses already; if they see that you want this one, they will start to look at him; and we want to get him cheap. Do you walk the other way, and I'll see to it; I'll fettle them."
Half an hour later, Maria, who had sworn to buy only good horses, found herself the owner of one of the worst-looking animals she had ever seen. The business had apparently been done by a friend of Peter's, and the price, indeed, was very low. The horse set back his ears, and rolled his eyes, fidgeting distressfully, as he was brought to them, but"We'll have no trouble now, ma'am," said Peter,"he knows me," and the horse dropped its head onto his chest, and became quiet.
"Very well," said Maria. "If you get him to the blacksmith's, and get something done about those hoofs, do you think he will be able to walk to Birkthwaite?"
"Aye; but it will take time, and I'll have to do it; he won't go with anyone else. Now don't fettle yourself, ma'am, but get yourself off home; he'll come round; he'll get your mares in foal, you'll see."
Driving home, Maria felt all the dismay of someone who had broken her own rules. Well fed and groomed, Sultan might lose some of the marks of the beatings he had endured; but he would never again be a handsome animal. His temperament, she knew, was unpredictable; what use was he, and who would buy him? Tired and disappointed, she felt that she must become the laughing-stock of the country.
Her little desk was empty now of money. She knew she had barely enough to bring the horses through until the autumn. The jewellery was still there, but she had no idea what it was worth, or how she could sell it. The letters from Crawford were to be burned; but somehow, whenever it came to the point, the occasion was not right: her aunt was about the place, and might ask questions, or the parlour fire was not lit. So, however much wiser it might have been, to destroy them, and however much grief Maria might experience from yet another reading of them, the letters, as well as the horse, stayed.
(Note: Sultan's story sounds unlikely, but it is based on the story of the wonderful horse that came to be known as the"Godolphin Arabian. " The horse was a present from the Bey of Tunis to the King of France, in the 18th century, but he was sold out of the royal stables because of his dreadful temperament. In 1729, a young Englishman called Edward Coke saw him, it is said, drawing a water cart in Paris, and bought him. Mr. Coke died soon after, and the horse was acquired by the Earl of Godolphin. The Godolphin Arabian sired a legendary line of racehorses. He was buried at Babraham, near Cambridge, and you can still see his tomb there -- at least, I saw it, but come to think of it, it was fifty years ago, and maybe it has gone).Chapter 09
Maria had expected that life at Birkthwaite might become very unpleasant, after her unauthorized venture, but Mrs. Norris was too full of news to be angry: "It is a pity that you were not home, my dear, for Mrs. Strickland came to call, and the Snellings are expecting two young men to stay. Yes, two -- one is a nephew of his; he is to be a clergyman; there is a good living held for him, but they must wait for it to be vacant, so he will be spending the summer here, at least; and the other is his friend, and they knew each other at school. And Mrs. Strickland has invited me to go into Lingfell in a few days, with her and Mrs. Hughes, to play cards with a friend of theirs, for they like whist, and are happy that I can make a fourth. But there was a message from Lizzie, that she hopes you will go the day after tomorrow, and play the piano with her."
Accordingly, Maria rode over. She found Lizzie in a great flow of spirits, and a young lady sitting with her. She was introduced as Lucy Ansell: "My sister's only child, Mrs. Ward," said Mrs. Strickland. "Her poor mother died six years ago, and Lucy has been at school since then, have you not, my dear? Her health has not been good, and she just decided, a few days ago, that nothing would do her so much good as a stay with her aunt and cousin; and we are so happy! so she is going to spend the summer with us."
Miss Ansell did indeed seem languid, and pale. "Do you play or sing, Miss Ansell?"
"Oh! yes, but I am got on so far, it would not amuse Lizzie to have me sing with her. I am got onto ëLa Rose dans La Vallee.' Do you play, ma'am, with Lizzie, and I will listen, for I have a letter to write."
Maria did not remember that the song in question was so very difficult, but the young lady clearly felt quite satisfied with her abilities, and had no desire to help her cousin improve. They began, and Lucy did indeed sit quiet, for at least three minutes. Then she began fidgeting with her writing things, then she was yawning, then she got up, and walked about the room. Lizzie became more and more ill at ease.
"I am afraid you are very bored, Lucy."
"Oh! no, it is so pleasant to spend a morning like this, doing nothing, and listening to music, it is the most delightful thing. If I were not so tired, I would play with you, or sing."
But Lizzie was clearly distressed by her cousin's evident boredom, and Maria was wondering how she could, without rudeness, get herself out of there, when "Mr. Shipton and Mr. Robinson" were announced.
Here they were, Mr. Snelling's young men! What a pity, thought Maria, that Mrs. Norris was not present! They had come to bring a message from Mrs. Snelling, and Mrs. Strickland was sent for. Meanwhile, there was nothing for them all to do, but sit, and wait; both the gentleman seemed happy to do so, and Lizzie, as hostess in her mother's absence, began a shy conversation with them. Miss Ansell, however, at once plunged in, took centre stage, and seemed a changed creature. Had they heard Lizzie's sweet, sweet music? Yes, they had, as they came up the driveway. Did they care for music? Oh yes, they did. And what would they like to hear? And all in a minute, Miss Ansell was seated at the piano, with a young man on each side of her, playing and singing, her pale cheeks now deeply flushed, as lively as she had, a moment before, been languid.
After a few moments, however, Mr. Robinson quitted the piano, and came over to where Maria and Lizzie were sitting. He proved to be a pleasant, unaffected young man, though by no means as good-looking as his friend. He talked of the walks he and his friend had taken, of the beauty of the scenery, and somehow, without it being quite clear how it happened, they were to show him and Mr. Shipton the garden. Maria could only admire his good manners. Soon they were all out through the French windows, and into the air, and Lizzie, whom Maria knew to be an enthusiastic gardener, was pointing out the various beauties of the garden, where Mrs. Strickland joined them.
"My friend Shipton has received an interesting piece of news this morning, Mrs. Strickland," Mr. Robinson said, "Have you not, old fellow? He is to go to India."
"To India?" Mrs. Strickland looked puzzled; she had heard of the place, of course, and could probably find it on the globe, given a little time; but as a place that people went to, she was not so sure of it.
"Yes indeed," said Mr. Shipton. "My uncle has business interests there, and I am to go. I have been waiting, and I received word this morning. It is all settled, and I am to sail in a few weeks."
"How long does it take?" Maria asked, "to get to India?"
"I am not quite sure," Mr. Shipton replied, "but I believe six months. Then I must say there for several years, of course, one cannot come back in a hurry. They say it is a wonderful country, though one must be careful of one's health. There are fevers, and there are snakes."
Snakes! Oh, my goodness!" cried Mrs. Strickland.
"Oh yes, very poisonous ones."
"Yes, but if the snakes do not get him, I should not wonder if he were to come back a Nabob," said his friend, cheerfully. "How would we like it, Mrs. Ward, if he were to bring a pile of rubies and dismonds back? Or an elephant or two?"
Maria laughed, and was about to reply, when Lizzie, who was walking just behind them with her friend, cried out that Lucy had fainted!
It was so. There was a hue and cry, poor Lucy was helped into the house; and in the ensuing bustle, Maria made her excuses to Mrs. Strickland, and slipped away.
Maria did not think that she cared much for Miss Ansell, but allowance must be made for the irritability of illness, and the poor young lady was clearly ill. Otherwise, Maria would have described her as forward, flirtatious, and rude to her cousin. But, of course, she was clearly ill.
Three days later, Mrs. Norris thought that they should both go, and enquire after Miss Ansell. It was a very fine day, the drive was delightful, and when they arrived, the two young ladies, dressed for walking, we just preparing to leave the house.
"Oh dear, Mrs. Ward, I am so sorry," Lizzie said. "We forgot about the piano, and we have arranged to go sketching."
"I did not come to practise," said Maria. "Mrs. Norris and I will stay and spend a little time with your Mama, and we can play another day."
"Oh, but do you come with us now, we are going to Skelghyll Beck, it is so pretty."
"Oh, do go with them, Mrs. Ward," cried Mrs. Strickland. "I am so glad you are here, they have been wanting to go so much, I do not think they should go alone, but if you will go, Mrs. Norris and I can spend a pleasant morning, and I can show her my stillroom; and to tell you the truth, my dear," she added, in an undertone, "it is the first thing that poor Lucy has seemed to want to do, and she wants it so badly!"
Maria had not shoes for such an expedition, and wanted to decline; but this would not do; shoes would be found, a sketching book provided, in short, every thing would be done. The day was so very fine, and the prospect so much better than a morning spent with the two older ladies! In the end, she consented to go.
Maria had little interest in scenery, but she must feel that Skelghyll Beck was beautiful. The little stream tumbled down, among birches and rowan trees; she could not help thinking how well it would adorn the grounds of any gentleman's house -- and here it was, its beauties unvisited, except by a few sheep. She recalled an expedition, taken with Henry Crawford, before she was married, when the improvement of Sotherton, her future home, was to be undertaken; she recalled walking round the park, and Crawford saying how much a stream would improve them "but of course you will have a stream, you may divert the water from somewhere, for sure; you must have a stream!" She had never lived there, never gone there again!
Meanwhile, she found the path rough and difficult, in her borrowed shoes, and Lizzie and her cousin were hurrying on, very fast. She was obliged to call to them, to wait. Lizzie came running back, full of apologies, but Lucy went on. "Will this spot not do as well as any?" Maria asked. "See, how pretty a fall of ground; and that beautiful rowan tree, that hangs over the little waterfall. Shall we not stop here?"
"Stop, Lucy, stop, come back!" Miss Ansell seemed deaf; but Maria had gone far enough. "I shall stay here," she said. "If you wish to follow your cousin, you know where I am. " However, at that moment, Miss Ansell turned round, saw them, and gestured so urgently to them, to join her, that they could not but do so.
"Is not this a good place?" she asked. "We can see all the way up the valley."
"I think it is too open," said Maria, doubtfully; but Lucy was already sitting on a rock, opening her sketchbook. Lizzie obediently sat, then whispered to Maria that she did not know what to draw.
"Neither do I," said Maria. "I cannot draw such a large, open view. See, I am going to take one thing, that branch of wild rose, that hangs over the stream. Now see that tree, the hazel there, do you draw that."
Lizzie was quite happy, and settled down.
The day wore on, the sun shone, the birds sang, the stream chattered, and so did Miss Ansell: about her school, which was the horridest place in the world! the teachers, who were quite horrid, her friends, the sweetest girls in the world, and her desperate desire for a new dress. Maria found she had made several mistakes, which she could not put right. She remembered that she had never cared much for drawing, and the rock she was sitting on was very hard. She stood up. Lizzie's drawing looked pretty much like a tree, though what tree, it would have been hard to say. Miss Ansell's drawing, however, consisted only of a few lines, dashed in.
"It is nearly three o'clock," said Lizzie. "Dear Lucy, cannot we go home?"
Miss Ansell threw down her pencil. "Oh!" she said. How tiresome this is! I can do nothing right! What a waste of an afternoon!"
It seemed to Maria, on the way back, that it was Miss Strickland who could do nothing right. Whether Miss Ansell's drawing had failed, or whether she had the head-ache, nothing poor Lizzie could say pleased her. The path was steep, the path was dirty; she did not like the country, she did not think she would stay, her papa would come, and take her away directly, and she was so tired! Maria was very glad when they arrived back at Moreton Hall.
"What a pity you girls were not back earlier!" cried Mrs. Strickland. "Mr. Snelling called to enquire after you, Lucy, with Mr. Shipton and Mr. Robinson. They have gone hunting for fossils up Scargill Beck."
Miss Ansell had turned away, and was putting her pencils in the box; Maria could not see her face. But she was puzzled: Miss Ansell's insistence on a place, that had a view of the whole valley, her evident agitation and misery as the afternoon wore on; her ill-temper at its end...could there have been some kind of arrangement, to meet someone, that had been upset somehow.. and was the "someone" one of the two young men? Mrs. Strickland, unsuspicious by nature, and always pre-occupied with her own concerns, seemed to see nothing amiss. The similarity between the two names, Scargill and Skelghyll, clearly did not strike her, she was used to the country. Lizzie was dazzled by her fashionable cousin -- was Lizzie in Lucy's confidence? Maria thought not. Her manner had shown no consciousness, no sense of "I know something.. " and the mere excitement of sharing a secret, would make Lizzie certain to let it out: no, if one were planning a clandestine meeting, one would not ask Lizzie's help.
Maybe, Maria thought, her own experiences had made her more conscious, had given her an awareness of possibilities, that would not occur to a more refined and innocent mind. Or, to put it more plainly, it was the sort of thing she would have done herself, in the course of her illicit love affair. She blushed to think that many times, her intentions must have been so evident as trickery, much of her conduct might have been thus explicit, which she had thought of as discretion!Chapter 10
Visiting the stables was now become the first activity of her day, as it had always been for her father, at home, or in his absence, for Tom. She knew the right questions to ask; she knew where to look for evidence of neglect, or theft. Now she had eight horses: Ben, promoted to groom, was learning apace, but a new stable-lad had to be added, and even so, she must usually help to exercise the horses. They had learned that Sultan had an insane fear of men. He loved Peter, who had been kind to him as a foal, and Maria could ride him, but they had to be very careful, when Ben or the stable lad handled him.
Her hopeful plans were not coming to fruition. Maria had reckoned without the difficulties of life on a neglected farm. With fences and walls in poor repair, her horses were constantly at risk of getting out. It seemed that bracken and ferns grew on every slope, and vetch and nightshade in every corner. Within a month, two horses were ill, and Sultan, getting into the pasture where the bay hunter was, had kicked the poor creature so severely, that he had to be destroyed. Moreover, a new circumstance arose, foreseen by Peter but not by her: all four of her mares, including Golden Girl, were in foal. It meant that she would, eventually, have four excellent colts, but she had hoped to sell all five of her horses in the autumn. Now only one would be fit to sell. Money was trickling away, and even if she got the price she hoped for, she feared the money would not see her through the winter
In these circumstances, she had little time to spend at Moreton Hall. In any case, whenever she drove over, it was clear that Lucy, and not she, was first in consequence. Everything deferred to Lucy's health, Lucy's wishes. She could get the use of the piano, if Lucy did not wish to use it; if Lucy decided to walk, they walked. For the first time, Maria realized why Fanny Price had cried so much. If only she had not bought the horses, and had spent some of the money on a piano of her own!
It was too bad, but summer was coming on. There was the garden to oversee. The first strawberries ripened. She had got the apple trees pruned, so there would be some fruit, and there would be raspberries, plums and blackcurrants for Nanny to preserve. The country was too far north for apricots or peaches. There were pleasant walks beside the stream, Mrs. Strickland and Mrs. Hughes did not neglect them, and in Lady Penkridge's continued absence, Mrs. Snelling overcame her doubts, and became an occasional visitor.
A new circumstance also arose, that Maria had not expected; and she must reproach herself somewhat, for it was the result of duplicity. Her conscience must and did disturb her, but her family, she told herself, had not altogether acted well by her; and she could not but rejoice in the possibilities it offered.
Her letter to her brother had exercised a powerful influence at Mansfield Park. When Maria's elopement and disgrace had occurred, Tom Bertram had been seriously ill. Too thankful to be spared the fuss and bustle, to be spared the necessity of making decisions, he had given little thought, in the satisfaction of making a slow recovery, to his sister. Reading her letter, it occurred to him that Maria had been summarily, if not shabbily treated. He acknowledged to himself that his ill-considered theatricals had been the means, not of bringing his sister and Mr. Crawford together, but of allowing them to meet in conditions of license, of exaggerated feeling, and inflamed emotion.
"I knew she did not really like that stupid fellow, Rushworth," he thought. "I knew about Crawford, while we were rehearsing our play. No-one needed the rehearsals those two took together -- that first scene -- they must have known it by heart indeed -- hand-holding and embracing -- pshaw! and then he went off and left her to Rushworth - the paltry fellow."
He also recalled that, after the episode was over, he had willingly and thankfully concurred in Maria's thrusting herself into a hasty and ill-considered marriage. It had been too convenient, too easy a way of burying his own responsibility, to have her married.
For these reasons, Tom felt he would like to see a more generous arrangement made for his sister, and felt that would be quite happy for her to have the farm, which in any case was useless to them. Sir Thomas was more cautious. To see a whole property go out of their control! To see it go to a daughter who had disgraced him, and a sister-in-law he disliked! It was not congenial to him; he would have preferred to contribute a little more income to his daughter's maintenance. But money was not very plenty, and he had been hoping for some time to complete the enclosure of Mansfield Common. There was another consideration: Tom was about to be married. The connection, with a sister of Tom's old friend, Charles Maddox, was everything that Sir Thomas could desire. If Maria were brought back to live close to them, what would the Maddox family think about having a disgraced and divorced woman thrust into their midst?
Even more effective was the suggestion that Mrs. Norris might return. "Oh, no, sir! We cannot have her back here," Tom said. "I feel very sorry for the poor old lady, I want her to be comfortable, but we cannot have her back."
Sir Thomas rode over to Thornton Lacy, to talk over the letter privately, with Edmund. Edmund was dismayed. Fanny was expecting shortly to be confined, and her health was the subject of some concern. Edmund shuddered at the very thought of telling Fanny that Aunt Norris was coming back! He begged his father not even to mention it to her.
Nor was Lady Bertram at all anxious for Mrs. Norris' return. "I am sure my sister is very welcome to settle wherever she wishes," she said. "But now that we have dear Susan living in the house, and dear Fanny living quite close by, and dear Isabella will soon be one of the family, I cannot see that I shall need her at all. Perhaps she would like to go and live near Julia."
The upshot of it was, that in a very short space of time, papers were in Maria's hands, putting the whole Birkthwaite property jointly into the possession of Maria, and Mrs. Norris.
"But I do not want it! And will it not be a great charge on us?" Mrs. Norris asked.
"We do want it, ma'am, you know we do. Now you will be able to set up your dairy, so that we can have fresh milk, and make cheese and butter, much cheaper, and get pork, and ham and bacon, without having to send to Lingfell. You can make your own cream cheese, that you got the recipe for, at Sotherton. We can have Musgrove's nephew go into the home farm; you know, he wants to get married, and he is willing to put the place into repair himself, as long as we promise him that we can stay, and charge him no rent for the first few months."
"That will not pay us. It would never pay, for we should have more milk than we could use, but still not have enough work for a dairymaid. And as for keeping animals, it sounds very nice, to do without butcher's meat, but whenever they killed a pig, or a calf, at Mansfield, they gave half of it away, to this one and that one, and if we must do the same, there is very little saving. And who will oversee it? We shall have to get Brinkstone to send someone in, and that will be another wage to pay, and more going out from the kitchen, besides what it is costing us to feed your grooms."
"We shall not, aunt; I have no great opinion of Brinkstone, and I mean to manage it myself. When I was.. when I was married, I had to do every thing, and deal with our man of business, about what needed doing at Sotherton, for my husband understood nothing, and had always left everything to his mother. There is no great difficulty, as long as one is prepared to watch carefully over what people do. I know how my father did things; and I am sure, if old Mrs. Rushworth could do it, I can."
"Well, but have they given us the place? You say we cannot sell it, not that I wish to, for where would we live? But is it ours, or is it not?"
"We can do any thing, ma'am, that an owner might do; we can take crops off, and we can build, or tear down buildings, as we see fit; and if there were any trees, we could cut them, but that was done already, they are gone. We can fish, or mine; only we cannot sell, and when we are gone, the property must return to Tom or his children."
"Well, I can not see that we would want to do any of those things; fishing, and mining!"
This was Maria's opportunity, and she explained that, at some future time, they might be able to explore the possibility of mining:"There may be lead, which is like coal, you know, ma'am, and comes from under the ground."
To her surprise, Mrs. Norris, who clearly was not interested in farming, was enthused:"for you can have no idea, niece, how high the price of coal is gone, although at Mansfield it troubled us very little; we had our own woods, and Sir Thomas always got a couple of good loads of wood cut and delivered to me before the winter. Oak; I always used to see Christopher Jackson myself, and make sure they were oak logs, for they burn the hottest and last the best. But my sister Price is for ever complaining, when she writes, about the cost of coals in Portsmouth; and in London! Surely in London you must have been aware of it."
"No, for we were there during the summer, and anyway, the housekeeper ordered such things; she was from Sotherton, and she complained about everything. " It hardly seemed worth describing to her aunt, the difference between coal and lead; to her, they were the same thing.
After a short pause, in which she occupied herself with her needlework, Mrs. Norris began again:"If you should ever do it, my dear, if you should get around to it, I have a good mind to venture a small part of my own little capital in some building. You know, people would have to come to work there, and I was thinking that a few small houses could be put up, very cheap, for those sort of people do not need much: fine places would only spoil them, and make them want more wages. But a room or two, and a little place out back for the women to do their washing; and a pump, one pump would do for the row. They would cost very little, and would certainly be taken, for where else would the people go to live? I could see a good return on my money, without taking too many chances, for of course, I cannot afford to take any risk, with my little widow's portion. I do not see why I should not do that, since the land is ours, and we can do anything we like with it."
Maria was only too happy to encourage her aunt in these ideas, though she felt very glad that she was not going to occupy one of Mrs. Norris's delightful residences.Chapter 11
One day in July, Maria and her aunt received an invitation to take part in an expedition to Scarsdale Edge.
The ride was originally Mr. Snelling's idea: Mr. Shipton's departure was imminent, and he wished to show his young guests an unexplored stretch of fossil-bearing rock on the famous ridge. Mrs. Snelling wanted to go with them, and conceived the idea of asking the Strickland ladies, but Mrs. Strickland refused; she had been to the ridge before, and recalled how hard she had found the walk up the steep final ascent. The two girls, however, petitioned so hard for the opportunity, that it was impossible to refuse them: "the view was so famous, Lucy must see it," and it appeared that nothing so much interested Miss Ansell, and Miss Strickland, as fossil ridges. It could be that young men, rather than old rocks, were the subject of their interest; however, go they must, and Mrs. Snelling was in a quandary. She could hardly recall her invitation, but was daunted by the thought of trying, unaided, to check the high spirits of Lizzie and her friend. Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Ward happening to walk in, just at that moment, Mrs. Snelling invited them, too; and the expedition became a picnic, with all the regular appurtenances of food and drink, and all the usual questions of which carriages should be taken, and who should occupy them.
Mrs. Snelling might feel that extra chaperonage was needed, but the young ladies did not want them, and the young men did not need them at all. However, Mr. Robinson, who was in the same carriage as Miss Ansell, Maria and Mrs. Norris, was a well-mannered young man, and happily explained to them some features of the edge. It was, it appeared, not especially high, but was remarkable for the beautiful views it offered, and was a favourite subject for painters. Miss Ansell had nothing to say to this: Mr. Shipton had been forced into the other carriage, by the circumstance of Mr. Snelling happening to talk to him, as they all got in; and she seemed to have no conversation to waste on anyone else.
The weather had been dry and warm for some days, and the morning was fine, with that especial, unclouded brilliance that often presages a wet afternoon; it seemed possible that Miss Ansell's new blue muslin dress, and large summer hat might be at risk. A young party is always optimistic, however, and parasols, rather than umbrellas, were the young ladies' choice. The drive was not so very long, but the final ascent was slow, up a winding path that led up behind the ridge. Well before they were near the summit, the coachmen declared the path to be getting too steep for horses. "Oh, yes, indeed!" Miss Ansell exclaimed. "We will get out, indeed we will. Stop, coachman, stop, stop!"
All four young people ran on ahead, with high spirits unchained. Maria reflected, wryly, that at two and twenty years old, she was relegated to the ranks of the middle-aged. Her pleasure must be in the beauty of the day, a few hours' release from her cares, and the prospect of the magnificent burst of country that was shortly to be revealed.
She remembered a carriage ride to Sotherton, when she was affianced to its owner, Mr. Rushworth. Sotherton was to be her future home -- how long ago it seemed! How bitterly that day she had resented her sister, invited to ride on the box of a barouche with the man Maria loved! Remembering that time, she thought that its pains had far outweighed its pleasures. But remembering Henry Crawford, his elegance, his charm, his sombre, alluring looks, she thought poor Mr. Shipton, and plain Mr. Robinson, hardly worth the trouble that was being taken over them!
The path ran beside a pretty stream, but presently a track branched off, leading steeply to the ridge, whose edge was now clearly visible in front of them, though the view was quite hidden behind the steep ascent still to be covered. The track was hard and slippery, after the hot, dry weather. Presently Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Snelling lagged behind. Maria and Mr. Snelling went on. In front, they could see the young people, silhouetted, it seemed, against the sky. The two girls appeared the closest to the edge, laughing as the young men urged them to come back. They saw Miss Ansell give Miss Strickland a playful push; then, waving her parasol, turn round on the very edge; she seemed to be pretending to slip. Then she slipped indeed; she screamed, fell, and disappeared over the edge.
Maria knew that she, too, had screamed; that Miss Strickland had collapsed in hysterics; that somewhere, behind them, her aunt and Mrs. Snelling were calling out in fright to know what had happened. She ran forward, Mr. Snelling gasping beside her. She came to the edge; she knew that she could not bear to look for what might be down below; she knew she must look! Every tale that she had read, of every precipice, came into her mind, and it was with a sick terror that she reached to top, and peered down.
But sheer cliffs are not so common as the writers of romances would have us believe; and this was not one. Miss Ansell had slipped perhaps a dozen feet, until her fall was stopped by one of the outcroppings of rock on the slope. She appeared to be clinging to the hillside, disheveled and terrified, but for the moment safe. It seemed, in fact, as though she might be within reach, but this proved not to be the case. Neither by lying flat on the ground, nor by extending walking-sticks, could either of the gentlemen reach her; nor would it have been of any use, if they could. Sobbing hysterically, she seemed not to hear their calls, or not to be capable of looking up.
"A rope!" was now the cry -- but what was to be done? The countryside was empty; there was no house or habitation, save for a little farm that they had passed about a mile back, before the track grew steep. Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Snelling, who had now come up, were too terrified even to come close. Mr. Shipton, to whom had somehow fallen the task of trying to calm Miss Strickland, released her thankfully into their care; but when he advanced toward the edge, there was nothing that he could add to anyone's efforts. In fact he confessed to having become sick and dizzy, on his first approach. This was the reason why he had been trying to get the two girls to come away; and Miss Ansell had been laughing at his fears, just before she fell. "Stay away, Shipton," Mr. Robinson said. "Stay back; you can do no good."
Mr. Shipton immediately, and with obvious thankfulness, backed away a few steps, and sat down, covering his face with one hand. "The reins!" his friend cried. "The reins from the carriages -- might not they be used?"
Mr. Shipton stood up. "I will go and get them," he said. "They might be tied together in some way; the coachmen may have something to suggest," and he started back, half-running down the track, obviously happy to get away, and thankful to be of some possible use.
Maria, meanwhile, had overcome her first horror, and found that she could look over the edge without vertigo. The situation was not immediately dangerous, she thought, but was certainly serious. Miss Ansell was clinging to a fringe of rock, that protruded from the ground near the top of the ridge; below these rocks, the ground slipped away in a swift downward slope, not precipitous, but steep enough that a further fall must mean severe bruises, and possibly broken limbs. However, immediately below them ran one of those small, winding tracks, that sheep, the most agile and intrepid of climbers, will make for themselves, wherever there is grass to be reached. The path clearly led, round the outcrop, to a small cup in the rocks to their right, a tiny valley, where water trickling down had caused green grass to grow; they could just see its far edge.
She turned to Mr. Robinson. "There is a path down there," she said.
"I have seen it," he replied. "I believe it must run right under where she is. Could she not drop onto it?"
"I do not think so, not without help. Her shoes are new, and very slippery; that is why she fell in the first place. She might stay on it, or she might fall further."
"If we could but get her into that little place in the rocks, she could wait there, until we can get something to reach her with."
"She cannot do it; she is too frightened to move."
"But if she stays there, she may slip and fall before help comes."
"I am going down to her," said Maria.
"Can you? Are you not afraid?"
"No, not at all; it is quite safe, if one is not affected by height, and I am not."
"Nor I; I will come with you. " He turned to the Rector. "We are going down there, sir, we are going to get her into a more comfortable place. Do you wait here, and tell them, when they come, where we are. " Maria was already making her way down the little track, and without waiting for a reply, he joined her.
Maria made her way along carefully. She found that, while the height did not make her ill, she was more comfortable if she did not look at the drop on her left. In a very few minutes, she found herself standing just below poor Lucy, with Mr. Robinson beside her
"Miss Ansell," Mr. Robinson called, "we are here, Mrs. Ward and I are here, we are just below you."
"Oh, oh," was the shuddering reply. "You will fall, we will all fall."
"No, we shall not fall," Maria replied, firmly. "We are quite safe here, and you are going to be safe too, in a very few moments. " The only answer was a frightened sob.
"You are not going to fall," Maria repeated. "Just let go, and we will catch you."
"I cannot, I cannot!"
Maria called, in a voice as stern as she could make it "Drop your reticule! Drop it!" In her terror, Lucy was still clutching her purse in her left hand. "Open your hand and drop it! Let it go!" Mr. Robinson urged her. With frightening suddenness, the purse slid past them, and vanished down the hill.
"Well done!" said Maria. "Now, Miss Ansell, you have two hands to help you. You are holding on with two hands. Is that not better?" To her satisfaction, the answer was a quite firm "Yes. Yes, it is."
"Now, just below your right hand, you will find a little ledge in the rock. It is quite firm, you may trust it. Move your hand to that; just keep a good hold with your left hand, and move the other. Can you do that?"
"Now you will find a place to move your left hand to.. now your foot.. can you find a flat piece of rock, that sticks out, just below your left foot?"
"Wait a moment.. yes, it is here."
"Now you can move your right hand down a little.. now your foot again; and now Mr. Robinson and I are going to get hold of you, and take you to a place where you may sit down. " A moment later, Miss Ansell had slithered down another foot or so, and was firmly held with one of them on each side of her. They guided her along the track, into the little valley, where she collapsed onto the grass. A hearty burst of tears was her first, not surprising reaction. Maria felt strongly tempted to join her, but she was prevented by Mr. Robinson's hearty voice saying "Well done, Mrs. Ward!" Then they heard Mr. Snelling, calling from above to know if all was well with them, for he could not see them.
"Yes, we are quite safe," Mr. Robinson replied. Then eyeing the weeping Miss Ansell, he said cautiously "Mrs. Ward, if you feel you can stay with her, I think I might be of most use, to guide the others to this spot, when help arrives," and he was gone.
"Oh, oh," wept Miss Ansell.
"You are safe, my dear, and they will soon come to fetch you, they are going to fetch a rope. You will have nothing to do, but hang on and be drawn up," but Miss Ansell still cried.
"And I think, my dear, there is something else, is there not?"
Out it came, in a burst of sobbing and a burst of relief at being able to talk. Lucy had been in love with Mr. Shipton, ever since he had come to her school, to visit his sister. There had been an outing, a few stolen glances, a few words of admiration, and poor Lucy, unhappy at school, with no-one to love, had succumbed to his good looks and admiring words. Later, his sister had mentioned that he was to pay a visit to the Snellings, who, she knew, lived close to the home of her cousin; and all her actions had followed, governed not, as Maria had thought, by flirtatiousness, but by the misery of her desperately enamoured state. But he had paid her no attention -- refused to speak to her, even, except for polite commonplaces; she could never get him alone! Mr. Shipton, it appeared, was both embarrassed and confused by the admiration he had unwittingly created!
Maria could do little, but hold an arm gently round her shoulders, and reflect that Mr. Shipton had, in fact, behaved admirably. Lucy's clothes, and a few hints of Mrs. Strickland's, made it clear that Lucy's father was rich, but rather than pursue a wealthy bride, he was planning the very next day to sail to India, and make his own way in the world. Lucy's infatuation was, as far as he was concerned, quite unintentional, and Maria thought ruefully of Henry Crawford, who in inducing her to fall in love with him, had meant nothing but mischief from the beginning.
Meanwhile, she knew from experience the agonies Lucy had been suffering; what could she do, to help the poor silly girl? As her sobs subsided, Maria felt able to suggest "When he is gone, you know, you will feel better, girls do get over such things, and you are very young. " "No! no! she would never forget! She would never get over it! She had been so stupid; and when she fell, what had he done? Where was he? He had not come to save her!" This, Maria felt, was a better line of thought -- clearly, the wrong hero had come to the rescue. What a fortunate thing that Mr. Shipton had been overcome with dizziness, when he approached the edge!
Could Lucy, perhaps, tell her father, and ask to be sent to some place, perhaps a watering-place, where she might get over it? "No! she could not bear to! Papa would never understand!" "Then, my dear, tell your aunt; she is kind and sensible, she knows that girls fall in love, you have done nothing wrong -- well, perhaps you were a little foolish, but there is nothing that cannot be mended. " But this only produced a further burst of sobbing.
Later, such considerations might bring her comfort; but for the present, Maria could think of nothing, but to sit gently talking to her, asking about her home, her school, her friends; and gradually, Lucy's sobbing stopped, her breathing became calmer and her hands stopped twisting. At last a shout from the top announced their rescue, and a rope came down. Lucy did shudder convulsively, and clutch hard at Maria's hand, but the next moment, when Mr. Robinson's cheerful countenance appeared round the path; she stood up, and declared herself ready. "All you have to do, is to hold to the rope," said Mr. Robinson "and walk. We shall be on either side of you," and the final rescue was accomplished with surprising ease.
It had been necessary to go to the farm, a mile away; and the news of their plight had brought out, in that seemingly bare countryside, the farmer, with his cart, a couple of farm labourers, a young man on a horse, a shepherd, two old women and several small boys, who promptly swarmed down the cliff, to recover Miss Ansell's purse and her battered parasol. One person who did not accompany the crowd was the farmer's wife, who had, with real good sense and feeling, sent a message that they were to go back there, and prepared tea for the whole party.
Once refreshed, everyone's spirits revived, and they could think of getting home. Maria was grateful to consign Lucy to the care of Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Snelling, and herself to lean back in the carriage, and close her eyes.
They were not allowed to leave without hearing, from several of the persons around, the history of all the previous accidents that had occurred in that place. The edge, it seemed, was very dangerous, and they must several times hear the horrid story of the young man who had wandered there in a mountain mist, and fallen to his death. There were other stories, of a similar nature, so many, in fact, that it might have been concluded that the inhabitants of that countryside, whenever they had nothing better to do, spent all their time in tumbling off Scarsdale Edge.Chapter 12
They were all so tired by their experience, that the drive home passed in silence, and Maria and Mrs. Norris went early to bed. But the refreshing sleep, that might have reasonably been hoped for, was denied them. Maria had felt so exhausted, that she could hardly wait to get undressed, but as soon as she tried to sleep, she became wakeful, restless, her pillow was hard, and the bed too hot. Her wakeful recollections turned into nightmares, and several times she started up, not knowing if she had been asleep, or not. The whole experience repeated itself, with various kinds of distortion, as sleep and waking succeeded each other, and Henry Crawford entered her dreams, mocking her, that she had been guilty of a great piece of foolishness, risking her life, and exposing her companion, to save someone who had never really been in danger, and would have done better without her interference.
It turned out, the next morning, that Mrs. Norris had passed an almost equally miserable night. However, in one aspect she was able to comfort Maria. She had been terrified and helpless at the scene, as had Mrs. Snelling, and Miss Strickland, she was intensely proud of her niece's courage, and in no doubt at all as to the necessity of her action.
"If it had not been for you, my dear niece," she repeated, "that girl would be dead. She would, indeed. Poor, silly creature! They put her straight to bed, you know, and her father is come already, for Betsy Love told me so; the Stricklands sent one of their ostlers over to Dalton last night with the news, and it was just as well, for it was all over the town that the young lady that was staying at Morton Hall had fallen from Scarsdale Edge, and was killed; and he gave orders that his chaise was to be ready at five this morning, and he got there before their breakfast was on the table, and is there now."
"Is Miss Ansell much hurt?" Maria asked.
"Scratches and bruises, they say; nothing serious, no broken bones; but she was in and out of the vapours, all the way home, and still can not stop crying. She could eat nothing, and they tried soup, but she could not get it down, and they tried milk, but it made her ill; only she drank a little chicory water, and they are thinking of trying goat's whey."
"Poor Miss Ansell!"
"You may well say so; and very much worse off, if it were not for you."
"And Mr. Robinson, aunt; if it had not been for him, I do not know how I should have done anything useful."
"Oh, I dare say it was nothing to him, for he is used to it, they are forever clambering about on those rocks, and now we see what has come of it. But you are surely not going out! You have eaten nothing."
"I am not hungry, ma'am."
"Well, to be sure, if I had know you was not going to drink your chocolate, I would not have told them to make it; for there is very little left, and we can get no more, they were out of it in Lingfell, the last time I was there.. " but Maria was gone.
She was used to find her visits to the stables, a solace, and in the sight of her horses a great comfort, at least when they were flourishing and safe; but this morning she answered Peter very much at random, and could not keep her mind on his concerns and his complaints. The weather had turned wet and windy, as only English summer day can; she had not dressed warm enough; and she returned to the house, much earlier than usual, feeling chilled, and with a severe headache. She sat down on the sofa in the parlour, but she could not work, she did not want to read; and although she felt quite well, perfectly well, the tears would flow, and flow, and never would stop.
Eventually her aunt came into the room. Strong and active, Mrs. Norris was not accustomed to sympathise with, or even tolerate illness in those close to her; but she was shocked by her niece's miserable appearance, and had no hesitation in insisting that she return to her bed. With her own hands, she placed a hot brick at her feet; and made her swallow a composer "for there is laudanum in it, and I think, and just this once, it cannot hurt you, it cannot do any harm, it will make you sleep, and that is what is wanted," and sleep Maria did
It was thus that, when Lucy's father arrived at the house, only Mrs. Norris was there to greet him.
"And he is a most charming man, my dear, most gentlemanly; not nearly so bad-looking as I thought him, that day in Lingfell."
"That day in Lingfell? Why, what day was that, ma'am?"
"Oh, you recall, we went to buy the brown horse, and Mr. Jevons was there with a friend -- well, the friend is Lucy's papa."
"Oh! I thought he was a farmer, I do not know why. " Maria was astonished; she had never connected the name, for the dour man in the shabby brown coat was as unlike the lively, fashionable Lucy, as two people could be.
"Oh! No, but he is very rich; all in manufacturing you know, and he makes no bones about it, but very rich indeed, I believe; and not exactly good-looking, but not too bad, for his age. Only fancy! He has been a widower these ten years, and he says his wife was the prettiest woman that ever was, and that is where Miss Ansell gets her looks. We had such a conversation, and I told him about poor dear Mr. Norris, and how very ill he was at the last; gout on the stomach, and I am quite sure his wife's illness was the same thing, for he said they never rightly knew, no-one could ever say what it was, but I knew at once it was gout on the stomach; but it was you that he wanted to hear about, naturally, of course he wanted to know all about you; and I told him how ill-used you have been, and how brave you were, buying the horses to make money."
"Oh, aunt! What did you tell him? You did not tell him about...?"
"Oh, that! No, of course not, my dear, that is between ourselves, and is best forgotten. No, I said that after you was married, there was no money for you, and that your family had done very ill, sending you away here to manage on nothing, and I am sure that that is all true; and if he likes to think that we are two widows, I do not see why he should not, for it is exactly the same thing, or very nearly. Oh, and I quite forgot, he did not wish to go away without seeing you, and we ate a nuncheon, just some of the mutton ham, and then he had to go, for he had promised to be at the Rectory at one o'clock, so he insisted on writing, and left a letter for you, and here it is."
Maria could not help being startled; for her aunt had been, to say the least, economical with the truth; but what could she say? An explanation would be most difficult, and it was too convenient, too easy, to allow Mrs. Norris' version of her story to be believed.
The letter was brief: its writer would not leave the place without thanking the two people who had saved his daughter's life. If Mrs. Ward would do him the honour of speaking to him, any time, that she might name, would be convenient. Lucy could not yet be moved, in any case; they were settled for the duration at his brother's home, and any message, at any time, would bring him immediately.
Scarcely had the letter been read, when Mrs. Strickland and Mrs. Hughes were announced. They had driven over to enquire after Mrs. Ward's health, and to bring news of Miss Ansell; she had recovered enough to leave her bed, though she cried incessantly, and could eat almost nothing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ansell had sent messages back to town; his clerks had been busy, and very soon a great basket of flowers was delivered at Birkthwaite, to be followed later in the day by neat's foot jelly, arrowroot, oranges, a pineapple, and enough port wine to render a large number of invalids insensible.
Lucy's father was a hard-headed businessman, and had he been there on the ridge, he might have concluded that his foolish daughter had been in little danger, except from her own terrors. But he had not been there; and all those who had been there, as well as several who had not, were assuring him that Mrs. Ward, and Mr. Robinson, had risked their lives to save Lucy from certain death. The only exception was Mr. Robinson, who insisted that he had done very little, and was in any case accustomed to rock scrambling, but that Mrs. Ward had been extremely brave. Mrs. Norris completed the work; and from having rescued a silly girl out of a difficult place, Maria was become a heroine: young, beautiful, brave and ill-used!
He came over the next morning. He had the advantage of her; his friend Jevons had reminded him of their encounter; and there was no grimness this time in his manner. He was the bearer of a very warm invitation to dinner at Morton Hall that evening; his own chaise would be sent; there was no refusing. He walked out with them to see the property, and lamented the carelessness that had reduced a good estate to nothing. Maria had forgotten that it was unusual to live in a house with one wing ruinous, and the end of a roof sticking up, and open to the sky. The stables were in excellent order and the kitchen garden was thriving, and that was all that she cared about.
Mr. Ansell, much shaken by the accident, was in the frame of mind where confidences are readily made, and his admiration of his new friend was unbounded; he had no hesitation in confiding to her that Miss Ansell, in the intervals of hysterical crying, had actually done as Maria had advised, and told him, and her aunt, of her situation, and the reasons for her actions. Maria felt heartily thankful; for her to have known such a secret, and been unable to mention it to anyone, would have been distressing to her, and, she thought, embarrassing to Lucy.
".. and to think, ma'am, that she should have some here for such a purpose! I do not blame the young fellow, it was all her doing; and we must be thankful that it was, for supposing he knew, and was after a fortune, he might have persuaded her into an elopement, or any thing. But what am I to do with her, now? She must go back to school, for I cannot be doing with her; she shall be a parlour boarder again."
Maria took a deep breath; You were pretty blunt with me, she thought, the first time we met; now I am going to speak very plainly.
"Excuse me, sir; Mr. Ansell, forgive me; but you cannot have considered. If your daughter has been seriously attached to him, and we know that she was, then sending her back to school, with nothing that she likes to do, and no-one else to think of, is going to make her so very unhappy, that there is no telling what she may do. Even if that attachment is at an end (and fortunately he is leaving almost at once), that is not going to prevent her falling in love again; for she is at the age when young women fall in love. At least Mr. Shipton is an honourable young man, and seems to have been not much interested in her -- but who knows whom she may fix on next? She does not like school, and may well commit any sort of extravagant folly, only to escape."
"But what the devil am I to do?"
"I... I once knew a young woman, sir, very like your daughter. She was kept close at home, with little amusement and very little society, and married, only to obtain what she thought of as freedom. By the time that she ...had found out her mistake, it was too late. I can understand that, in your situation, you prefer to have things quiet at home, but your daughter needs enjoyment, she needs friends; she needs to be so happy that she will not be in a hurry to marry."
"But how am I to provide all that? I know what it means: balls, and assemblies, and picnics, and such stuff. Her poor mother would have done all that, if she had lived; but what can I do? There are only myself and the old housekeeper."
"Is there not some woman, among your family, who might come for a while, and act as hostess for you? A sister, perhaps, or a cousin?"
"Oh! I suppose my sister Charlotte would come; she would come fast enough; but she thinks of nothing but finery, I should never get the mantua-maker out of the house. I cannot bear it. Why can I not give twenty thousand pounds, or thirty, as they do in France, and get Lucy married?"
Maria must smile at this simple method of getting rid of a daughter; but she felt sorry both for Lucy and her father: Mansfield Park, dull as it was, had been livelier than Morton Hall. It seemed an odd thing for her to be giving sage advice as to the bringing up of daughters! but at least, she thought ruefully, she knew what she was talking about. It was certainly just as well that Mr. Ansell did not know the manner in which her knowledge had been acquired.
The next morning, as she rounded the corner of the house to get to the stables, Maria was surprised to see a sturdy cart, stationed in the way, and several workers setting up ladders to the ruinous part of her roof. She recognized Mr. Strickland's foreman, who came toward her, and told her "Master said to say to Mrs. Norris, as how she'd be paid summat for the stones, but it wouldn't be much. " Before many days had gone by, the roofless building was torn down, and a neat patch job had been done on the end wall. The cut stones and slates were taken away, for the schoolhouse roof was to be repaired, and an extra room added, for poor Mrs. Mattersley.
Another project was resurrected a week later: Maria and her aunt were bidden to Morton Hall for the day, so that the famous rat hunt might at last take place. Sir William Penkridge came, apparently freed for once from his attendance at Lennox Castle, and his duty of moving about the county; and so did the Neville boys, and young Harry Courtney. It was, it appeared, the greatest success imaginable; everyone enjoyed it (except, it is to be presumed, the rats) and all the gentlemen came back to the Stricklands for dinner. The number of rats killed was enormous; the gentlemen were dissuaded from nailing them to the barn door; and while the creaking noises inside the house did not cease entirely, Maria and her aunt did sleep a good deal easier at night. The henhouse, and Nanny's larder, certainly benefited. Young Mr. Courtney's terrier had recently produced a litter, and a few days later he rode over, with Mr. Strickland to give him courage, smiling and blushing, and produced a gift of a terrier puppy.Chapter 13
Early in September, Mrs. Norris received a letter from Lucy's aunt, Mrs. Charlotte Peters. Mr. Ansell's sister had had the care of Lucy for some weeks, and wrote that she was completely recovered from the nervous illness, and low fever that had plagued her since the accident. Her papa was giving a ball to celebrate her recovery; would Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Ward do them the great honour of attending? the party would not be complete without them. It was to be held in the Dalton Assembly Rooms, and in order to prevent the fatigue of the drive, they were invited to dress, dine and sleep at the Ansells' home.
The letter had scarcely been read, before Lizzie and her grandmother arrived, very hot from walking, but very happy, to add their entreaties that the Birkthwaite ladies would attend "for my uncle will not be happy unless you do, dear Mrs. Ward, and neither will we," Lizzie cried. "You must, indeed you must! It is going to be the greatest thing, and grandmamma is taking me to Lingfell this very afternoon, to get Mrs. Mawby to make me a new dress."
The ladies lost no time in accepting; though there could be no question of a new dress; surely Maria had only to choose, from the pile of expensive gowns laid by in her closet! Alas, the choice was not so easy. Gold and silver lace had become lusterless and crumpled; ironing destroyed them. Silk and muslin had faded, or stained, and several of the gowns were so diaphanous as to be out of the question, indeed, Maria blushed to think that she had ever worn them. The idea of rather thicker petticoats had been quite given up, for there was really nothing to attach them to.
In the end, she chose a pale green silk, whose colour had been the very latest thing, when it was bought, and undoubtedly was so no longer; but that was of no moment. It was becoming, its style not too extreme, and with an India silk shawl, which she had, it would look very well. The pretty earrings could come out of her secret desk drawer; she remembered Lady Talbot's shrill laugh, as she staked them, but that did not matter; her ladyship would not be at the ball. Now she began the process of finding a gown for her aunt: "I know you do not mean to dance, ma'am; but it cannot hurt you to have a better gown than the old black silk you have been wearing, that my mother was used to wear the winter before I was married. It is downright wasteful, to have these dresses lying by, and the moth getting into them, I dare say," and as long as she did not have to lay out her own money, Mrs. Norris was quite ready to be convinced.
Maria's evening gowns were all too youthfully styled, and too flimsy, but she solved the problem, in the end, by sacrificing some very good blonde trimming from the bottom of a silk ballgown. A dark red day dress was cut down, not too low, and the trimming added as a collar. The result, Maria thought, was excellent. Dancing shoes she had in plenty, and fortunately, several pairs of silk stockings, for their cost would have been beyond her purse. "I used to buy a dozen pair at a time, and throw them away after one wearing," she recalled to herself.
The Ansells' home proved to be modern, and, though a town house, commodious, with everything in the first style of elegance and comfort. A hairdresser had been hired, and Mrs. Dufton was in the seventh heaven, for no-one could be better treated, in the housekeeper's room, or with more consideration, than the Birkthwaite ladies' maid. It gave Maria something of a pang, to be dressing in a comfortable, well-appointed bedroom, and to know that she would eat her dinner in a real dining-room, instead of in a corner of the shabby parlour; but that was forgotten in the satisfaction of looking in the glass. She knew she was grown thinner; the green dress had been taken in; but with her hair dressed, and her shawl displayed over her arms, she could see in herself something of the Miss Bertram of former days. Mrs. Norris soon joined her, and it struck her that her aunt must have been, as a girl, as handsome as her sister, Lady Bertram.
"Do you remember, my dear, the evenings preparing for the Northampton assemblies?"
"Oh, yes! Ellis would be running from one of us to the other, doing our hair; and Julia was never ready in time."
How far she had come, since those days! And when she was finally entering a ballroom again, how long it seemed since she had last done so! The Dalton Assembly Rooms were small, and shabby compared with her magnificent house in Harley Street; but arriving, hearing the first strains of music and the chatter of the guests, Maria felt more delight than she had felt, even when she had been the rich Mrs. Rushworth. She had been right, she noted, not to be concerned that her gown might be out of fashion, for none were truly stylish, and several of the older ladies wore something suspiciously like a hoop.
The rooms were crowded. Mr. Ansell was connected to half the county; not to the very wealthy, the Cliffords and Lowthers, but to the steady, landowning gentry who farmed their own acres, or were active in the cloth manufacturing. His wife's ancestors had endowed the free grammar school, both their names could be seen on the ancient tombs in the churchyard, and if he had not previously mixed much in society, it was from choice.
Maria soon found that there was a considerable difference between this ball, and those she had previously attended. She had never lacked partners; she did not lack them now, everybody was as anxious to be agreeable to the courageous Mrs. Ward, as they had once been to the rich Mrs. Rushworth. The difference was in herself. As an unmarried girl, her first consideration had been her appearance: was she as well-dressed as the other young women -- was she as pretty? Then during her London life, her only thought had been, would Henry Crawford be there? When would he arrive? Would he let her know, by those small signals that lovers use, that she was the preferred, the chosen? Or would he dance with Miss Fraser, and flirt with Miss Smith, only to claim, pettishly, when she reproached him the next day, that of course he could not show her any affection in public, for their friendship must not be remarked! "As if it could be hidden!" she thought, "when Lady Stornoway was inviting the two of us to Richmond together!"
Now, her only concern was to enjoy herself, to realize with satisfaction that Mrs. Norris was enjoying herself too, and to respond to the kindness with which everyone was treating her. It was unwarranted, she did not deserve their good opinion, but it was very pleasant, to be appreciated for her own achievement, rather than for her father's position, or her husband's income.
However, it was impossible, in a ballroom, to forget Henry Crawford. Among the men present, how he would have stood out! And seeing in front of her the back of a man's dark head, she could almost have thought, for a few moments, that it was he. There was a likeness; the shape of the head, the set of the shoulders; she imagined, wildly, that in a few seconds he would turn round, and she would see his face! The gentleman did turn round, and disclosed the undistinguished face of Mr. Courtney. He came over to her at once, and enquired after the puppy; and she must meet his mamma, and his mamma's friend, Mrs. Neville. The conversation became general, someone asked her to dance; and there was no likeness, none at all; how could she have imagined for one moment that it was he?
"You were looking very thoughtful, a moment ago, Mrs. Ward," said her partner, who, she now saw, was Mr. Jevons.
"I beg your pardon, my wits were wool-gathering."
"You should beg my pardon indeed," he said, smiling. "No-one has the right to be thoughtful at a ball."
"And such a delightful one; I never enjoyed any thing so much."
"Yes, indeed. By the bye, ma'am, I am going to York later this week, and will be there for a few days. If you or your aunt have any business that you would care to entrust me with, any thing that needs getting, I should be most happy."
"Thank you, you are most kind, but... yes! There is something I need, if you would, but... no! there is nothing."
"But, now that you have asked, you have thought better of it, you are not sure that I mean it, you do not know if I would want to take the trouble."
"Oh, no, of course not, but.."
"It is something of a private nature."
"Then why do we not discuss it tomorrow? Do you leave early for Birkthwaite?"
"Oh no; Mrs. Peters has asked us to stay for the morning, so that we shall not be too fatigued, and my aunt has some shopping to do."
"Very well; I shall call, and you may tell me all about it. Only, Mrs. Ward, promise me one thing."
"Do not decide, in the meantime, that you cannot trust me."
The ball went on to a very late hour, and everyone was swearing that "they would sleep until noon. " But sleeping through the morning is not so easy; it takes the practice, in late hours, acquired by fashionable women. Maria, waking at her usual time, and unable to go back to sleep, went downstairs, and found that Mrs. Norris, indefatigable as usual, had already gone out to do her shopping, and Lizzie, Lucy and Mrs. Peters, in wrappers, with their hair down, had begun the delightful process of talking over a ball. Did Maria know that Lady Penkridge had been overheard, saying that "Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Ward are very good sort of women; of course we took them by the hand, when they first came into the country?" And what did she think of Mrs. Norris dancing? actually dancing twice, once with Mr. Strickland, and then with old Dr Sowerby, the Rector of Dalton parish?
The languor of the day after a ball did not set in until the afternoon, but they were to stay for dinner, and Maria was left to wish that they might have set out for Birkthwaite. She was sure that Mr. Jevons would not come; nobody ever remembered a promise made at a ball; and she was not sure that she wanted to take him into her confidence. In this doubtful mood, she wandered out into the pretty, small garden at the back of the house; and there he found her.
Well! He had kept his promise, and she must keep hers, to trust him. As carelessly as she could, Maria asked him if she might trespass on his good nature, and ask him to help her to dispose of a few pieces of jewellery that she wished to sell? They were of no great value; she would be satisfied with whatever price they might fetch.
"Why, certainly, ma'am, there can be no difficulty; I can easily do that, in York. But it seems a pity that you should be needing to sell jewellery, when you have a farm there that should be yielding a fairly good income."
"It is true, but I know very little of farming, the property is quite small, and I think a great deal of money needs to be put in, before it might be prosperous."
"Are you not raising some good horses? Strickland tells me that you are."
"Yes, to tell you the truth, I had planned to sell several horses this autumn, but they are in foal. I should eventually realize a good sum; my difficulties are only temporary. The sire, Sultan, is of little use, for no-one can ride him; but Mr. Strickland says I should not sell him, until I have seen his foals, or I may be sorry."
"If he says so, you should certainly take his advice, I never knew a more knowledgeable man with horses. So, you must pay for their keep through the winter, with oats and everything."
"Yes, and I must repair some fences; horses are for ever breaking out, and eating things that they should not. Young Musgrove will be glad to do it for me, but there is the price of the fencing. The truth is, Mr. Jevons, I bought the horses without properly understanding the cost, and the jewels are nothing to me; but I cannot bear to have my aunt know that I have been so foolish."
"May I suggest something? You should talk to Ansell."
"I could not think of it, sir, it would look like asking him for assistance, because he felt beholden to me. And I want no assistance, I want to manage for myself, and I can do it, if I can only bring in a little extra, to tide me over until next year."
"There is no question of that, and I did not suggest it. But you may certainly ask him for advice about improving your property; he is beholden to you, he is most grateful, and I think he would be most hurt, were he to learn that you needed advice, and had not asked him. He is a very good fellow, you know. If I were in trouble, I would always go to my brother-in-law, but when I need sound advice about business, I go to Ansell. He will probably offer to lend you money, it is true, but you can deal with that, you know," and smiling down at her, he added "I have every confidence in you, ma'am."
They had twice made the tour of the garden, and were back at the house door. As she was about to enter, he stopped, and said "Mrs. Ward."
She looked around, and he said "You have had a great deal to distress you recently. Will you believe me, when I tell you that I am very much your friend?"
He was not smiling; his face was extremely serious. She experienced a sudden desire to burst into tears. Barely able to pronounce the words, she managed to utter a tremulous "Thank you" and almost ran into the house.
Continued in Part 3© 2008 Copyright held by author