Mr. Ansell was very happy to be consulted. It had for some time been a concern of his, that the Birkthwaite ladies were clearly far from well to do: Mrs. Norris's made-over gown had not escaped Mrs. Peters' attention. He admired his neighbour for trying to make money for herself, rather than expecting her aunt to provide for her, or looking for a wealthy marriage; and if he wondered why so handsome a woman should not seek such an obvious means of support, he did not say so.
"I do not suppose, ma'am, that you would allow me to assist ..?"
"Certainly not, Mr. Ansell; that is quite out of the question. I do thank you; but my father was used to say, that to borrow money from a friend, or to lend it, must mean the end of the friendship, and I value yours too much to risk that."
"Well! I have been in business for years, you know, and making money is something that I understand. The most important thing, is to realize on the advantages that one has, and that is what you were doing, when you decided to buy the horses, for you were investing your knowledge and experience. The other thing is to be ready to work hard, and that you did. The only mistake you made, was in not understanding the costs you must incur. I think you must eventually reap the benefit of your investment, but a few horses! They will never make enough money for your needs. You and your aunt need to live at Birkthwaite in all the comfort that gentlewomen should have. Nay, more; you need to restore it to its proper condition."
Maria then, rather diffidently, mentioned the possibility that there might be lead on the property. He was intrigued, but not at first hopeful: "This country is full of small deposits of lead, and silver, and graphite too; and I cannot imagine why, if that were the case, nothing was done before now. But will you allow me to drive out to Birkthwaite, and walk about the place, and we can discuss what might be done? And, while we are about it, let Jevons come too; he is a very good fellow, and knows a great deal."
Maria discovered that working with an experienced man of business was very different from dealing pleasantly with a friendly neighbour. First of all, she must produce the deeds to the property; and Mr. Ansell looked long and hard at them, and grunted; and then she must get a map: "There must be one, ma'am, try in those old desks and whatnots, try in every room," and Maria did, but to no avail. Mrs. Norris was sure she could find it, whatever was wanted, and they would have it for sure, if he would but come back in a day or so. They went through every box and chest they could find; they scoured the attics, and got very dirty and dusty, but there was nothing.
"Very well, Jevons, it is up to you; you must put the fear of God into Brinkstone; Brinkstone will know. Now he will tell you he knows nothing, but do not mind him; tell him I will be after him; he is the laziest devil in the north of England; and when you have got it, send for me," and the map was found.
Soon they were riding over the hills, trying to identify old boundary stones and ancient walls. The map showed that there were several odd lots of property belonging to Birkthwaite, most of them running back into the heights, where there seemed to be nothing but grass and bracken. It was clear that Mr. Jevons knew the hill tops well. They were following a track, across a stretch of solitary hillside, when he turned to Maria: "Now, Mrs. Ward, we are going to show you why, if you come up here, you must always stay on the path, and never go off by yourself. " Much puzzled, she was led downhill over a stretch of boggy heath, following the track of a small stream; she could not imagine why they were going this way. It was a sunless day, with the ground wet and dirty after rain, and the scenery was drear and featureless. Suddenly, she found herself looking over the lip of a sort of shallow valley, or crater, and realized that, in the middle of it, the stream ended. Intrigued, she rode into the dip.
"Not too close, Mrs. Ward!" her companions called.
She was almost on top of a long, thin hole, just a couple of feet wide, scarcely more than a long slot in the deep grass. The water was running gently over the lip of the hole. She could see smooth rock for a few feet down, and then darkness. "How deep is it?" she asked.
"No-one knows; but it is very deep."
"And where does the water run to?"
"Are there many such holes?"
"Very many; this is but a small one, and usually it is hard to find; the stream only flows after heavy rain."
Maria shuddered. "Oh, what a dreadful place! And you say there are many such. I will never, no! I will never leave the path again. And yet, you ride here often, Mr. Jevons, and so does your brother, Mr. Snelling; you like to be up here?"
"Yes, in a strange way, I even like these holes; they are indeed horrid, but there is a fascination; there is mystery. I have ridden over these hills in every kind of weather, and they are always beautiful. The variety of light and shade, the wonderful vistas, and the solitude; it is another world, up here."
Mr. Ansell was less poetic. "Never mind all that romantic stuff! We are not in some novel! These hills are good for sheep grazing, but raising sheep is a task for experts; still, we must think of sheep."
Later, Mr. Jevons did something they had not thought of: he consulted Mr. Snelling. Through him, they learned why these scattered pieces of land had been ignored; they had been under an entail, which meant that they could not bring their owner the immediate increase of income that he desired. There had been gamblers in the family for several generations; every valuable asset had been lost, until Jack Leveredge's father, with more good sense than his ancestors, had put everything that was left under entail. He had married a woman of comparative wealth, hoping in the course of his lifetime to repair the damage and buy back the estate. But he had died young, and his son, reverting to the family habit, had proceeded to waste his mother's money, and borrow that of his friends. The entail had died with him, for he was the last of his family, and his creditors' only consideration had been to have their accounts settled as fast as possible.
In the end, Mr. Ansell told Maria and her aunt "You should consider two possibilities. The stream that flows beside your house is copious and clean, with a good fall of water; a woollen mill could certainly be established; but the cost of building must be considered. There may be silver and graphite in the farther recesses of the hills; such deposits often yield mines, but they would be small, and the cost of getting the metal to market would be prohibitive; but the area a mile or so away does look promising for lead. I took the opportunity to hire a couple of fellows who know about such things, and they are very positive that there is a line of lead, and that, to begin with, it can be easily extracted. But you must understand that there will be no knowing, until we start to dig, how much lead will be there; it might be a great deal, or it might be very little."
"But how shall we make a start? Must we borrow the money? And would anybody lend to us?"
"On no account. I do not advise you, with your limited means, to borrow at interest. Yes, if it makes money, you keep it all; but if it loses, you lose everything, and end up in debt as well. My advice would be, that you find some people to take out a lease with you; I will look around, and find a few people. Let them pay you rent, just as if it were farm land, or a house; but not a flat rent! Oh no. Make sure that they pay you a percentage on everything that is taken out. It will not be as profitable, but it will be a great deal safer."
"Will people do that? Will they trust us?"
"Indeed they will, as long as you can show them that you have a reasonable chance of making money for them. " Mr. Ansell did not say, that his own participation in the scheme would ensure both interest, and confidence. "But I will tell you one thing; every mine gets emptied out, sooner or later. When the mine is exhausted, you will have had a few good years, and then be none the richer, if you have done nothing but spend the money, and do not invest some of it carefully."
Maria was thinking carefully. "The lead will get used up; it will all be gone, some time. But the land will still be there. If we were to use some of the money, to build the mill you spoke of, then I might put sheep on my land, and get wool from the people around here as well; and the sheep, and the land would not get used up. Is that right, sir?"
"That is exactly right, Mrs. Ward. Believe me, you will do well, very well."
A company was rapidly formed, by Mr. Ansell and some of his associates, to develop the Lingfell lead mine. The Birkthwaite ladies, as owners of the property, were to receive a rent, and also a dividend on the profits. Originally, it had not been the intention of the shareholders, to make that dividend quite so handsome, for after all, the ladies were to have no part in the business operation. However, it so happened that Maria, having gone out on a very wet, windy day to see to her horses, was abed with a feverish cold, and deputed Mrs. Norris to go to a meeting, to arrange the final details, and sign the papers.
She would go, Mrs. Norris said, for one of them must; although she knew nothing about business. Indeed, poor helpless widow as she was, at Mansfield Park Sir Thomas' man of business had been accustomed to do everything for her, from rental agreements to drawing dividends; still, she would do her best; she thought she could manage. It was reported that, at the end of the session, one of the Dalton businessmen was heard to say that "by G... he'd looked round when he left the room, just to make sure the shirt was still on his back!" And the arrangement made and signed, for the reimbursement of the ladies, turned out to be, not only handsome, but unbreakable.
Interestingly, no-one bore Mrs. Norris the slightest ill-will for this achievement. On the contrary, as a result, she was held in the utmost consideration; and was even, on occasion, pointed out on the streets of Lingfell, with a good deal of pride.
The first acquisition that Maria made, with her new income, was a pianoforte. She was used to think, later, that no moment of her life gave her so much satisfaction as the day that the instrument was delivered. However, it was her first and last indulgence. She needed no instruction from anyone, to know the kind of expenditure that must inevitably lead to an even greater outlay in the future, such as new carriages, extra servants, and improvements to her grounds. Her share of the rental money allowed her to care properly for her horses, and bring the home farm under proper cultivation. When there were dividends, she would invest them.
Even Mrs. Norris ventured upon some expenditure. Upon her niece's representation, that it would be a great saving of coals, she quite soon installed a closed stove in the kitchen. Then, since they could afford to heat another room, it seemed a pity to be still eating their dinner on a corner of the parlour table. The next step was an inspection of the never used dining room. It turned out to be a large and well proportioned apartment, only needing a thorough clean out, and the chimney swept. However, when they looked at the tables and chairs, they were riddled with worm; and the attics yielded nothing that could be used. At this point, Mrs. Strickland and her mother made a suggestion: an auction sale was to be held; Mrs. Norris might find it entertaining to go. She came home with a very handsome set "more handsome, my dear, than I envisaged; but I was able to buy it at such a bargain! You can have no idea! There was no refusing it! And there were these two excellent suites of bedroom furniture, and really, our bedrooms here are dreadfully bare; we need new curtains too, and Mrs. Hughes knows an excellent woman, who will make them up, very cheap."
Mrs. Norris, in fact, had discovered the pleasure of spending money to ensure her own comfort. So enjoyable did she find it, that the house, thoroughly aired, washed and tidied, actually lost the reputation of a romantic ruin, and began to be spoken of as a very pretty old place. Eventually, there was even a spare room, that room for a friend, that had figured so largely in Mrs. Norris' little home at Mansfield, but had never been used.
It was out of a very pleasant drawing-room window, that, one late autumn morning, they saw a gentleman's carriage draw up. "I am sure it is Mr. Ansell," Mrs. Norris said.
"But it is not his carriage."
"It must be he; for he was to come up this week, on some business to do with Lizzie Strickland's wedding; and he would hardly be up here without enquiring after me, for at the last shareholders' meeting, I told him, how much I had saved them, by noticing, when the last load of pit-props was delivered, that instead of twelve dozen, there were only a hundred and thirty-nine, for I counted them."
By this time, footsteps were heard approaching, and to their astonishment "Mr. John Yates" was announced.
It was indeed the same Mr. Yates, not much altered in appearance, who had run away with Maria's sister, Julia. None of the parties had seen each other since; there were exclamations, cordial hand-shakings, and a hundred enquiries were made, all at once.
"And how is my sister, sir? How is Julia?" was the first question from Maria, and from Mrs. Norris "My niece, Julia? How is she, sir?"
"Oh, very well, very well indeed, we jog along very well together. Oh yes! quite an old married couple. In fact, ma'am, sister, Mrs. Norris, the fact is, Julia was delivered, this last month, of a daughter. Seven pounds' weight at birth, strong and healthy, a fine little girl. You may imagine, how relieved we are."
This was good news indeed! Mrs. Norris had heard, in a letter from Lady Bertram, that Julia's first child, a boy, had been stillborn; that was all the news they had had, in the course of several years. Letters from Mansfield Park had been brief and infrequent; and from Julia there had been none.
This, it transpired, was the cause of Mr. Yates' coming to them. On the occasion of the child's birth, Julia had remembered an agreement that she and her sister had made, years before, in the schoolroom, that the first one of them to have a daughter would name the child "Emily;" and she had done so; and had actually been moved to write. She had addressed the letter to "Mrs. Rushworth," and it had been returned, from the Lingfell receiving office, marked "Not Known."
".. and I can tell you, ma'am, she was in a great fright, for she thought at first that it must mean you was dead, or some such thing; but then we thought that, if that had been the case, your brother, or someone, must have written to tell us. " In the ordinary course of events, Mrs. Yates would have written to demand enlightenment of Lady Bertram; but a friend of Mr. Yates "Barnes, you know, ma'am, my friend Barnes, your brother Tom knows him, a very good fellow!" had been staying in the house. "He comes from these parts, he knows the country well. He at once said "Oh, Lingfell, is not that near Dalton?" and since I had business in the north, that must take me through Dalton, Julia said that she should not write another letter -- for you know, ma'am, she is not over-fond of writing, ha ha! but that I should come and make enquiries, to see if you had removed, or what was become of you. " He had duly enquired, and the name of "Norris" told him all he needed to know.
He staid five days, postponing the family business on which he was going north; it must wait its turn. He rode with Maria over the hills, and gazed respectfully at the mine site; he was taken by Mr. Strickland to a prize-fight, and he bought one of Sultan's foals. Sultan's progeny had turned out every bit as good as Mr. Strickland had foreseen, and though their sale did not rival the revenue from the mine, it made a very respectable addition to Maria's income and was a source to her of both interest and pride.
"But sister, how do you sell them hereabouts? Are there many places, where such good horses come up for sale?"
"Oh! no, but I found that I could get rid of them quite easily, by getting my kind neighbour, Mr. Strickland, to take me to the Dalton meets, to see the hounds go off. You know how, if one turns up on a good horse, people always ask if it is for sale. Then, my young groom rode a couple of them at race meets, and they won. Now, Sultan's foals are well known; I have no trouble."
Mr. Yates left, bearing letters from both Mrs. Norris and Maria; and promised to come again, and bring Julia with him. Not only did Julia reply; she wrote to her mother, sending such descriptions of Maria's prosperity and respectability as must astonish her parents. Mr. Yates was perhaps not the world's most acute observer, but any woman can tell pretty well, when her husband describes a house he has visited, whether it be well ordered, and comfortable, or no. There was something about John Yates' account, that left no room for doubt: Mrs. Norris and her niece were moving among people of worth, if not of rank.
Lady Bertram never acted rapidly, but one chilly spring morning, Mrs. Norris received a very thick letter from Mansfield Park.
"Good heavens! It is from my sister Bertram!" and Mrs. Norris began to peruse her letter, reading aloud, and commenting as she went, without any consideration of what might be private, for her astonishment had overcome her discretion; so that Maria, who was longing to hear the news, found her curiosity satisfied as she listened.
"Tom and Isabella have been two years married; to think of it! A house was taken for them near by -- actually the little White house -- why, that was my own home! with a wing thrown out, to accommodate a new drawing room; but they feel they want to be closer, for my brother has been sick off and on --.."
"What! my father sick! Sir Thomas sick! dear aunt, what is wrong?"
"Oh, did you not know, my dear -- but no, of course, you were already married -- he got some dreadful fever or other, after his voyage to Antigua. I forget how it was, for he never told us, but then suddenly he was very ill. It went off again, quite quickly; but the doctors said it might come back; but then, you know, it might not."
Maria wondered how serious matters were, if Tom and his wife felt they must live in the same house; but Mrs. Norris hurried on:
" -- and they are to occupy a wing of Mansfield Park, with the old nurseries above, being got ready, for they are expecting a child. " Here, Mrs. Norris put her letter down. "I wonder what they did with the White house. They might have thrown out a wing toward the west side, where the big beech tree is, but that would be rather shady, and the view not very good. Or maybe they built out on the other side -- but that would put them rather close to the boundary fence. I hope they did not interfere with my drawing room! But then, if they changed the other side, that would make the drawing room very dark. She does not say, who has it now."
"Well, but do go on, ma'am."
"Oh! yes. Good heavens! Doctor Grant has died. Well! That is news indeed. Poor Mrs. Grant; but she had no very pleasant life with him. I wonder what she and her sister did, for Miss Crawford was still living with them, I know."
Maria thought of it, and wondered: had Mary Crawford sent for her brother? Would he have gone to Mansfield, to those scenes so familiar to her, and to them both; those places where she had loved him, and he had seduced her? But no! of course, the Grants had left, for her elopement, with Mrs. Grant's brother, had made in impossible for them to stay at Mansfield; Mary and her sister had been living in Westminster, where Dr Grant had succeeded to a stall.
"Who knows? She may be married by now, Mary Crawford, for she had twenty thousand pounds of her own. But the living of Mansfield will fall to Edmund. Yes, my sister writes: the living of Mansfield is now in Edmund's hands, at last, to our very great satisfaction. He and Fanny removed from Thornton Lacy two months ago, and it is so very pleasant to have them living so close to us, in Mansfield Parsonage. " Mrs. Norris went on reading:
"Thornton Lacy is in the hands of a curate, an old college friend of Edmund's, a very good-natured young man, who seems to be taking an interest in Fanny's sister, Susan. " Good Heavens! Is there no end to the encroachment of these Prices! My sister says "Susan is grown to be a very pretty girl, though I hope she will not leave us for a long while yet, for I do not know how I should go on without her. " Nonsense! There can be no need for.... Good Heavens! Fanny is in the family way again!"
"Fanny? How many children do they have already?"
"Two! for listen, this is what my sister says: "Their third child, and poor Fanny is not feeling at all well, and is in very low spirits. Her confinement is expected in late June or July, and we shall none of us be quite comfortable, until she is safe. Sir Thomas thinks we shall have to send Edmund to Antigua, later in the year, to see to things there; and I think so too, or before we know it, we shall have poor Fanny lying-in yet again."
"Well! That is putting things clearly, to be sure."
"Oh, my dear, my sister always did come out with things, that other people did not like to say. But it is not to be wondered at -- about Fanny, I mean; I should not be surprised, if she did not turn out just like her mother, my poor sister Price, for every time we heard any thing about her, she had got another child; there was no end to it."
"Mr. Price -- she is Fanny's mother -- and she is married to a naval officer, is she not?"
"No, not at all, not a naval officer; he is but a half-pay Lieutenant of Marines, and they live in Portsmouth, in a very poor way. Fanny has been very lucky, I can tell you; for first of all, we took her in and brought her up, and then your brother married her. And she would not have got him, either, except that, poor Edmund! he was so disappointed, when he could not marry Miss Crawford, because you was gone off with her brother. At least, she would have had him, in spite of it, but he was in such a way about it all, that he gave her up, and married Fanny."
"You mean -- that Edmund refused to marry Miss Crawford, because I had gone off with her brother?"
"Yes indeed, for I heard him telling Fanny about it, one evening. Your mother was asleep, and I was sewing, and I do not think they knew, that I could hear. She, I mean Miss Crawford, was all for bringing about a match between you and her brother; but Edmund would have nothing to do with it, and he got very angry. So he came home, and then Fanny told him, how Miss Crawford had been writing to her, Fanny I mean, and asking how your brother Tom was, all the time, while he was so very ill; for she did not like it, that Edmund was to be a clergyman, and if Tom had died, you know, he would have inherited, and she would have been Lady Bertram and they could have lived at Mansfield Park.."
"Yes, I see; if poor Tom had died, Edmund must be the heir; and then it would have been a very good match for Miss Crawford. But do go on, Ma'am, is that all your letter? Is there.. I suppose there is no message from my mother, for me..?"
"No, my dear, that is all the news."
It was enough: Maria had a great deal to think about, with Mrs. Norris' disclosures. Certainly if her brother, and Mary Crawford, had gone to Henry Crawford, as an engaged couple, or a couple wishing to be betrothed, Maria felt it was very probable that Henry would have consented to marry her; for to do otherwise, would be to stand between his sister and a marriage with the man she really loved. It was Edmund, Edmund's pious scruples, that had come between them!
Well! It was all done now, and although she felt very sad, when she thought about it, she did not often do so. The spring was advancing; the new foals were being born; the people who lived near the mine were complaining about the dirt, as were those who lived downstream. Then Mr. Snelling was complaining, for it had been hoped, that the mine would keep the local people from going on the parish, but they knew nothing of the work, men from outside had had to be brought in, and the villagers did not like the newcomers. Only Mrs. Norris was happy, for she was building a second row of houses.
Lady Bertram now got into the way of writing quite frequently, and they became accustomed to getting news about Mansfield Park. The warm weather came; Sir Thomas' peach trees promised well; the fruit set on their apple trees; and to everyone's satisfaction, Miss Strickland was married to Mr. Robinson. Then, one hot July morning, when Maria was watching her grooms exercise the young horses, Mrs. Strickland came toward her through the pasture, as near running, as so large a lady could manage.
"Oh, if you please, Mrs. Ward, will you come to the house at once?"
"Good heavens, Mrs. Strickland, whatever is the matter?"
"It is a letter, madam; Mrs. Norris has had a letter. Mother and I had just walked in, we came to call; and my mother has staid with her, for she cannot speak, and if you please, will you come? for we think she is very ill. All she would say was "She is dead!"
Maria almost ran to the house, and entered the drawing-room. She had expected to find all the paraphernalia of illness, burnt feathers, and sal volatile, but there was only Mrs. Hughes, looking frightened, and trying to speak to her aunt, who was sitting in the chair where she usually sate, and holding a letter.
"What is it, dear ma'am? Aunt, what is it?" but Mrs. Norris did not speak. "We came in, and found her this way," Mrs. Hughes whispered. Maria hastily called her maid, and between them the got Mrs. Norris up the stairs, and put her to bed. All the while it was going on, Maria's mind was hurrying from one conclusion to another. What dreadful thing had happened? Who had died?
Had her father's mysterious illness returned, and -- but no! the words Mrs. Strickland had mentioned were "She is dead!" Her mother? But Lady Bertram had always enjoyed excellent health, except for being rather too fat, owing to her indolent habits.
Then she remembered -- Fanny! Her cousin, Edmund's wife -- had not Mrs. Norris mentioned that she was expecting a third child? Had poor Fanny succumbed to the dangers of childbirth? Maria had never cared greatly for her cousin, their minds were too unlike; Fanny's indigent, dependent position, instead of exciting compassion, had always roused in her a vague irritation; and her indifference had turned to bitter resentment, when Henry Crawford's decided to ask Fanny to marry him. But even so! What a shocking thing it would be! What a tragedy! Anyone, of any human feeling at all, must grieve! The only thing that surprised her, however, was that it should distress her aunt so greatly, for she knew well, that so far from being indifferent, Mrs. Norris actively disliked Fanny, had always done so, since she was a child of ten, and more so, since she had committed the presumptuous act of marrying Edmund.
Going back into the drawing room, she found the letter on the floor, where it had dropt from Mrs. Norris' hand, and without thinking, impelled by concern as much as curiosity, she picked it up, and read it.
It was from Lady Bertram.
Fanny was safe, and had given birth to a beautiful little girl. But the very day after the baby's birth, their relief, their rejoicing, their delight in little Caroline, had been abruptly cut short, by a letter from Portsmouth. Fanny's mother, Mrs. Norris' sister, poor Mrs. Price, had died giving birth to an infant, that had not survived.
Fanny had not died in childbirth; but her mother had.
Mrs. Price was dead!
The poor woman had seldom written to either of her sisters, Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris; nor did she write frequently to her married daughter, Fanny, now Mrs. Edmund Bertram. Whether from embarrassment, from fear of what they might say, or from the desperate hope that she might miscarry, she had given none of them the slightest hint that she had been, at the age of two-and-forty, expecting yet another child.
Her husband had never been known to write, and now, it appeared, was quite incapacitated, from shock and grief. For such information as Lady Bertram had imparted, they were indebted to a short, grief-stricken letter from Fanny's eldest brother, William, who was well known to Mrs. Norris, for he had visited at Mansfield Park. His ship, the Thrush, had come into port, and, by the favour of his captain, who had a high opinion of him, he had been one of the earliest to be given leave to go on shore, for a few hours only, as there was much to be done. He had quickly made for his home, rejoicing, to be met by the awful news that his mother had died, only the previous day.
William had been obliged to do everything, to make every arrangement, both for the burial service, and for the care of the two brothers, and little sister still at home. He had mentioned in his letter that some neighbours, the Curtises, were caring for the children, but that his father seemed unable to make any sort of decision, and was drinking more than he ought. His captain had been kindness itself, but the fact was, they were due to sail for the West Indies in a very few days, and he was needed on board most of the time. "Sir Thomas is writing at once," Lady Bertram wrote, "to say that we will help to pay someone to care for the children, or if Mr. Price does not want that, or cannot find some suitable woman, they must be brought to Mansfield Park, and that if getting them here is a difficulty, someone will be sent to fetch them."
Maria had never known her aunt Price, nor met her cousin William; the only one of the family she knew was Fanny, who had been at Mansfield Park since Maria was fourteen years old; but Maria had cared very little for Fanny. However, the news was shocking enough; a whole family, three children still at home, orphaned and destitute! for the father, it seemed, could be relied on for nothing. She knew that there had never been enough money: for as long as she could remember, her mother had been sending sometimes small, sometimes large amounts to her sister Price, usually because the poor woman was lying-in yet again; and her aunt had written the letters. There had never been a decent living for the family, and there certainly would not be enough, to pay a stranger to provide a mother's care; nor did Mr. Price sound like the kind of man, whom any woman might marry, to be a stepmother to them... Sir Thomas, however, would certainly see to it that their wants were relieved; but still it was a sad business.
Maria's reflections went no farther than this; but Mrs. Norris was devastated. The sisters had not met for years, not since Fanny Ward, as she then was, had made her disastrous marriage; in fact, not since before that, for both Mrs. Norris, and, at her urging, Lady Bertram had refused to attend their sister's disgraceful wedding. The births of almost a score of children (Mrs. Norris was not quite sure how many, for several had died) and the death of Mr. Norris, had intervened, yet Mrs. Price's death was the breaking of a tie, never completely severed; it was the loss of someone who had shared her childhood. She lay for several days in bed, almost silent, not even crying; she would hardly eat or drink, and seemed lost in angry, bitter thoughts.
Even had she been in her usual health, Mrs. Norris' feelings would not have prompted her to do anything practical for the stricken family. Maria, aware of this, gave the matter some thought, and sent off a couple of ten-pound notes, with a short letter, explaining that Mrs. Norris was unwell, and that the money was to provide for any immediate necessities such as travelling clothes for the children; for she remembered, when Fanny had arrived at Mansfield Park, how thin and shabby her dress, and cloak had been. More than that, she felt, was unnecessary; it was easier to send money, than to write condolatory phrases that she could not mean; and certainly her father would provide proper assistance.
Gradually Mrs. Norris recovered, and came downstairs again; but she was continuously talking, and weeping. Old scenes, old wrongs, old quarrels recurred endlessly, and she frantically blamed Mr. Price for her sister's death. Then she got on to happier times, and how pretty her sister had been, "for the three of us were considered the handsomest girls in Huntingdon, my dear, we were, indeed," and Maria heard of parties and picnics, of book-muslin gowns, and beribboned heads, "and Tom Rivers, Fanny could have had Tom Rivers, the judge's son, but no! foolish girl, she must run mad after Lieutenant Price, only because he looked so handsome in his uniform, and now, look! she has got her death from him. I have a good mind to go to Portsmouth, and tell him what I think of him, for killing my poor sister," and Mrs. Norris burst into tears again.
Mr. Snelling tried to bring her the consolations of religion, but she would hear nothing of it; Mrs. Strickland and Mrs. Hughes visited every day; and a doctor was fetched all the way from Dalton. After much talking of shock to the system, stress on the brain, etc, he advised a change of scene.
But how was such a thing to be achieved? Mrs. Norris did not want to leave. "She did not feel well enough to travel, the effort would kill her, the expense was not to be thought of; she did very well as she was; the only place she wished to go to was Portsmouth, to see her poor sister's grave. " Maria offered to hire a carriage and take her to Harrogate, or Buxton; and Mrs. Yates, her niece Julia, who had heard from Lady Bertram that her aunt was unwell, wrote, urging her to visit, and see the beloved new baby. All was in vain, until Mr. Strickland, with practical kindness, offered her the use of his traveling carriage; and Mr. Yates wrote, or rather his wife wrote for him, promising to bring her back, whenever she should wish to return.
Once she knew she need not pay her own traveling expenses, Mrs. Norris' other objections were easily overcome. She had never been as fond of Julia as she was of Maria, and she had never cared at all for children, but she looked forward to all the happiness of inspecting Julia's house, spying on her servants, and interfering with her domestic arrangements.
One morning, quite soon after her aunt had left, Maria's maid came to her "If you please, ma'am, one of the boys from Musgrove's farm is in the kitchen with a message, and there was some folk down at Lingfell, asking for Mrs. Norris, and what was they to do with the child?"
There was no understanding this. "What message, Dufton? What child?" but Dufton did not know. "I will go and see him," Maria said
"Well, Billy, now, what is all this?"
"I dunnot know, ma'am, but there was some folks at King's Head posting house, and they was asking for Mrs. Norris, and when the tapman said I was from near Birkthwaite, they said to tell you, they had the child here, that was to be sent, and how should they get her up?"
"What on earth can this mean? A child? You are sure they said a child, Billy?" But Billy was quite sure. "Well, I can make nothing of it, but since I must go to Lingfell one day this week, I may as well go today, and settle the matter, whatever it is," and she went.
When she arrived at the posting house, there was no need to enquire; the owners knew her, and showed her up to a room, which seemed to be quite full of people. In one corner, a baby, wrapped in a shawl and poked into the corner of a sofa, was crying; in another, several children were grouped round a table, eating bread and jam, which was being doled out to them, with some authority, by a little girl who looked to be some seven or eight years old. In the middle of the room, a man was seated in an armchair, reading the newspaper, with the smallest child of all seated on his knee. The little one was occupied in carefully wiping its fingers, which were smeared with butter and jam, onto the gentleman's shirt front, a manoeuvre of which he seemed unaware. A plump, harassed-looking woman was busy strapping up one of several valises.
"Excuse me," said Maria, "but they told me someone was looking for Mrs. Norris."
The gentleman looked up.
"Mrs. Norris! Ma'am!" he said. "At last! We were getting quite concerned," and setting down the child, which instantly began to howl, he stood up and extended a hand to Maria. The woman left the valise, and came forward.
"Thursday," she said. "We were told: Thursday."
"Hush, my dear," the man said. "We must make allowances, you know, we must make allowance for grief. Your brother, ma'am," addressing Maria, "was not always, not always, alas! quite sober. But quite insistent, oh, yes."
"My..my brother?" said Maria, quite bewildered. Could Edmund, could Tom have sent this person to her?
"You are Mrs. Norris, are you not?"
"Oh, no! I am her niece. But.."
"Ah! Her niece; then you have come to take Betsey?"
"The child; her sister's child."
"What is this? what child? I know nothing of any child, and neither does my aunt."
"There you are, Mr. Curtis! I told you how it would be!" the lady of the valise now came forward, and faced her husband, arms akimbo, her eyes flashing angrily. "I told you; I knew it! Oh, you do not have to tell me, ma'am! I can see now, that no letter was ever sent."
"Letter! No, indeed. But pray, ma'am, let us sit down if you please, for my head is quite in a whirl, and do you tell me, what this is all about. Who is Betsey?"
"Why, Betsey Price, to be sure; Lieutenant Price's little daughter, poor little orphan soul as she is, for her Mamma just died."
At this point, the infant, who had stopped crying, came forward, and began gently to pat the hem of Maria's pelisse with her little sticky fingers. This evidently did not please the little girl who had been distributing the bread and jam: she dashed across the room, and pushed the child away, saying "Let be! She is my aunt, not yours!" The child began to cry again, and the little girl, apparently satisfied, went back to defend the jampot from the encroachments of the other children. The baby, meanwhile, had not ceased to howl.
Nothing in Maria's experience had ever prepared her for this! The little girl, the child in charge of the bread and jam, was the orphaned Betsey Price; Fanny's youngest sister; her cousin!
Gradually, by dint of taking Mrs. Curtis outside, and walking with her up and down the street, she began to piece together what had happened after Mrs. Price had died. William Price, she learned, had gone back to sea, as go he must, and with the help of his Captain, had taken Sam, the elder of his little brothers with him, as a midshipman. He had left the two youngest children under the nominal care of their father, trusting to the help of the Curtises, until such time as Sir Thomas should be heard from. But no letter had come from Mansfield Park; whether none had been sent, or it had gone astray, or even if Mr. Price himself had lost it, for he was fallen into very heavy drinking. In any case, he had absolutely refused to write, and ask again for help: "By G... his wife's grand relations cared nothing for him, and he cared nothing for them."
The neighbours had done the very best they could for the children. The younger boy, with the help of Maria's money, and the assistance of charitable people, had been apprenticed out to a shoemaker, and, though in a very humble situation, was safe, with kind employers; but after providing for him, there was not a penny left to do any thing for Betsey.
At this juncture, Lieutenant Curtis suddenly received the offer of a posting in the north, and passage for himself and his family. There was the letter that Maria had written, and Mrs. Norris was Betsey's godmother! Mr. Price might have hesitated, had he known that the letter had been written by the notorious Mrs. Rushworth; but the "M.W. " with which Maria had unthinkingly signed it, had concealed this fact from him. Even had he known, his view, that married ladies who ran away from their husbands ought to be flogged, would probably have undergone some revision, at the prospect of such a person helping him to get rid of one of his children. However that might be, Mr. Price had persuaded the Curtises to take Betsey with them, assuring them, that Birkthwaite was close to their destination, almost in their way! that an extra child would be no trouble at all on their journey, they would not notice her; and that Mrs. Norris was fond of the child and was expecting her, The Curtises had believed him, had taken Betsey; and on reaching Dalton, had learned that they must go to Lingfell. Arriving there, and enquiring for Mrs. Norris, they had learned to their dismay that she was not at Birkthwaite, having left some days previously.
What was to be done? Maria knew that her aunt, however much she might mourn her sister's death, was the last person in the world to welcome and care for an orphaned niece -- witness her strictures on Fanny Price! -- and, more recently, on the inclusion of Susan at Mansfield Park! The first, the most obvious thought, was that Betsey might continue with the Curtises. But on Maria's making cautious enquiries, Mrs. Curtis was quite firm: she was sorry for Betsey and fond of her, was happy to have been of use, and wanted to refuse, even, to be reimbursed for the cost of Betsey's journey -- but their family was already so large, as to make the addition of another child, a serious burden. In any case, their circumstances were so poor, as to make their home no very eligible one for Betsey. Her mother was Lady Bertram's sister, however small her father's income had been; she was now her family's responsibility; and her family owed it to her, to give her the upbringing of a gentlewoman.
In the end, the only thing Maria could do, was to thank the Curtises, insist on poor Mrs. Curtis accepting some money, have Betsey's box stowed on the gig ("Is this all her luggage, ma'am? Yes, I see; very well,") and drive the poor little creature back with her to Birkthwaite.
The Honourable John Yates was a good-natured and hospitable young man, who had been perfectly willing to extend an invitation to Julia's aunt Norris, to visit his home. But there came a time, and pretty soon, at that, when his patience was exhausted, and he spoke to his wife. Three times he had asked her to give Mrs. Norris a hint to be gone, and here she still was! there seemed to be no moving her.
"And if she does not go soon, I tell you, my dear, the housekeeper will leave, and so will the nursemaid."
"I know, but what can I do? I do not wish her to stay any longer. She thinks I need her; she says she will not leave me, until baby is weaned; and she will not understand, that I do not wish to put my baby out at nurse. I know that the servants dislike her, for the servants always did, at Mansfield Park; but I cannot put her out from the door."
"Well, I will tell you: I think that we should take her home, ourselves. If we both go to Birkthwaite, she must come with us; she cannot stay here."
"But I cannot leave baby; I cannot leave little Emily!"
"The baby can come with us, and you may show her to your sister."
"Oh no! How could we manage? It is too far."
"You know, I have been promising, these three months past, to see my friend Calverley, about that horse of his; he was married but a year ago, and every time I see him, he asks me to bring you to visit, and meet his wife. It is but twenty miles, or only a very little more, to the Calverleys,' and we may stay the night; then from there to your sister's home is only two days' travel, one night in a posting house. And I tell you what," said Mr. Yates, "I will bring my curricle, to make more room for you and the baby, so that you may take the nursemaid up with you as well," for it had occurred to him, that to be boxed up for three days in a chaise with Mrs. Norris and a crying baby, was no very lively way of passing the time.
I will not say, that there are no limits to the distance a new mother will travel, to show off her baby; but if there be any, no-one has discovered them. Julia's little girl was precious to her, the more so, in view of the death of her first child; and she longed to show her to the sister who had shared her childhood, and with whom, until Henry Crawford had come between them, she had been on terms of the most affectionate friendship. She had even thought of asking Maria to come to them, but there was a difficulty, for how could one introduce her to the neighbours? This scheme would allow them to meet privately, with no-one to ask interested questions, or to recollect some half-remembered history. It would not even be necessary to write, for Mrs. Norris assured them that there was a spare bedroom; and how great her sister's surprise would be!
Their journey took rather more than three days, for Mr. Yates had under-estimated the distance; but the scene, when they all arrived at Birkthwaite, was indeed one of astonishment and delight. The surprise, however, was not all on the one side; for the spare bedroom was occupied.
"It is of no moment; Betsey may have a trundle bed in my room for tonight," said Maria, "and then we can fit up one of the other spare rooms for her."
"But is she not a great charge on you? And how long do you expect to keep her here? And what," asked Julia severely, with all the experience of several months of motherhood, "what can you possibly know, of bringing up a child?"
"She gives me no trouble at all," Maria replied. "I asked Mrs. Grisedale, at Low Farm, what I should give her to eat, for they have five children, all strong and healthy, and she said to give her a good bowl of oaten porridge, once a day, and plenty of meat, and milk rather than tea; and that she should eat something green, every day. Her children all eat greenstuff, every day; even nettles, sometimes.
"Good heavens! Are you feeding this poor child on nettles?"
"Oh no, of course not, but the people hereabouts do eat them, in the spring, when they are tender; and some things they call Easter ledges, if they can get nothing else; and they are hardly ever sick. Betsey was pale, and very peevish, when she first came; I think she had been eating nothing, but bread and baker's stuff; but she is looking much better now."
"As for keeping her, of course, there is no question of that: she must go to Mansfield Park?"
"Of course she must," Mrs. Norris broke in. "It is for her sisters to take care of her. I cannot think what my brother Price was about, to send her here into my charge. She may go to my sister Bertram, and then looking after her might be a useful occupation for her sister Susan; or better still, she can go to Fanny and Edmund; they have three children already; another child can make no difference to them."
"Yes, aunt; she must, we know, some time; but there can be no hurry; her father sent her here. I do not know, if he has told them where she is; but I cannot let her go, until I have a few more clothes ready for her to take with her. Do you not remember, sister, when Fanny Price came to us, how pitiful her clothes were?"
"Oh, yes!" said Julia, " and how bitterly she cried when we pulled her sash off, and said we would throw it away, for it was an old rag? I was sorry after, and I gave her a couple of mine. Poor Fanny! How unkind we were!"
"Well, this child's things are even worse than that; she had barely any thing, except what she was wearing. I have Dufton making her up a dress or two, and some nightdresses, and petticoats."
"But, my dear niece! The cost!"
"It has cost me very little, ma'am. Apart from a stout little pair of shoes, that I had made up in Lingfell, everything has been made up out of my old London things, that I had put away. In any case, I feel it is the least I can do, to make up in a sort of way for the misery we caused Fanny. Do you remember, Julia.. " she stopped, for she could hardly recall, in front of Mrs. Norris, the occasion when it had been decided, that Fanny should have a couple of new dresses; and Mrs. Norris had forbidden the sewing maid to make them up in muslin, for Miss Price was not a Miss Bertram: they must be made out of cheap cotton, from the poor box.
"Fanny told us," Mrs. Norris said, "when she came back from her visit to Portsmouth, that this child was very spoiled, and ill-behaved."
"I do not think her spoiled, aunt; neglected, rather. She has been taught nothing; but that is not her fault. I have got a little reader for her, from the school, and she may not go out, in the morning, until she knows a page of it. She does not like it, but she knows that, afterwards, Ben will put her up on Golden Girl, for half an hour. She loves horses, and will do anything for a riding lesson."
"But why did you not write to us, and tell me that she was here; and I could have written to Mansfield Park about her?" Maria was silent; she had not written; she did not know why.
"And what does she do, the rest of the time?" Julia asked.
"Oh, she runs about in the fresh air; there are the calves, and the baby pigs, and she watches the grooms at their work. My terrier bitch has puppies, and Betsey loves them; I was afraid Slipper would snap at her, but she is very gentle with them. She is outside now playing with the farm children; if I drive anywhere on business, she comes with me, and if the weather is wet, she explores in the house. The first time I let her do so, she ran round all the rooms and passages, crying "Oh, cousin! It is so big!"
"I suppose there is no need for any thing more, for she will not be here for long?"
"Just so. I did not like it much, when I found I was obliged to take her; but what could I do? the Curtises could not keep her. The first night she was put to bed, poor little soul! she put up her arms, and asked me to kiss her."
"Poor little soul, indeed! She has no mother," and Julia took up her baby, and held it close.
Maria proposed that they should walk out, and see the stables, and everyone was glad to move, stiff and tired as they were. Rounding the corner to the stableyard, they came upon the children. They had got an old invalid carriage from one of the unused outhouses; and Betsey sat in it, while the other children pulled her along. On her lap, wrapped in an old shawl, was one of the terrier puppies, and behind the cart trotted Slipper, trusting, but anxious about her pup. Mr. Yates began to laugh. Julia followed suit, and so did Maria. Julia heard a shocked gasp from Mrs. Norris, and turning round, saw that tears were running down her face.
"What is it, aunt? Are you not well?"
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Norris. "No, my dear, it is nothing; only... only I thought that it was Fanny."
"Fanny Price? Do you think this child so very much like her?"
"Fanny Price, no indeed! No, Fanny Ward, my sister, Betsey's mother; this child is her very image; I thought I saw her, just as she was when she was nine years old, or so; and then I remembered that she is dead, poor Fanny!"
Maria called to Betsey, who came up, shy at first before two strange ladies, and a strange gentleman, but in a moment she had seen the baby, and ran up to take a closer look. "Make your curtsey, my dear," said Maria, "This is your aunt, Mrs. Norris, and these are your cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Yates. Mrs. Yates is my sister, and she knows your sister, Fanny, very well. And this is your new baby cousin, little Emily."
Never was any child less like Fanny Price! Where Fanny would have looked timid, and been ready to cry, Betsey turned to her small friends, and ordered them away "they might take the dogs, and the carriage; she had her own baby now. " Betsey was their escort round the stables: "This was Golden Girl, she was gentle; and this was the new foal; and here was Sultan, he was the foal's papa, but he did not like strange people; they must not go near him, or Ben would be cross, and please, might she look at the darling baby again, might she hold it? She would be very careful. " And Betsey knew where, in one of the attics, a cradle could be found; it would be the very thing to put the baby in!
"You would never imagine that she was Fanny Price's sister," Julia said to her husband, a few days later.
"Fanny Price! No indeed; I remember her, the little creepmouse girl, that sat in the corner, while we were rehearsing that play we started; what was it called? ėLover's Vows!' Do you remember, how we quarreled and ranted, and how noisy we were? And how angry you were, for your sister took the part, that you should have had, because she wanted to be acting with Crawford? Fanny Price said never a word, but she knew everything that was going on."
"Yes, and afterward, you know, she married my brother Edmund."
"And Betsey is to go to her?"
"Yes, I suppose so, unless she were to go to the Park; but no! there is no governess now, for Susan is full seventeen years old. No, Betsey must go to the Parsonage; Fanny and Edmund must have her."
"They will not like it much."
"Not like it? Why ever should they not?"
"What! Your brother, the parson, a reading, moralizing, sermonizing fellow, and your cousin, as quiet as a Methody? I recall, when we went riding, she had a wretched, old nag, that hardly would move beyond a walk, and she was afraid of that. Do you know, this child gets the stable lad to put her up on Sultan? and the horse likes it; I would not get onto him for a pension. Betsey has no fear of anything, even whippings do not frighten her, she will howl, and then forget. She ran onto the garden beds today, and the old gardener shouted, and threw clods of earth at her. She screamed and ran, then laughed. How will she get on, amid your parterres and glasshouses at Mansfield Park?"
"Well, but what else can be done?"
"Could she not stay here? It seems to me, that your sister is very fond of her."
"Stay here? Good Heavens, no; how could they bring up a child, two women in this lonely place? Maria may seem to like her, the child amuses her; but it is only the charm of novelty; and my aunt is, of all women, the one least likely to do anything for Betsey. She does not like children; she did not even care for Fanny, who was far more docile and well-behaved than this wild little creature. And what could they do for her, when she grows up? Have you forgotten my sister's situation? How could they introduce her into society? No, you will see, she will go to Mansfield, as soon as my aunt can get her there, without too much expense."
"I suppose so; but it seems a d.. ned shame, to me."
Maria was aware that Betsey must leave, and she tried to prepare the child.
"You know, Betsey, you are not to stay here very long; you are going to live at Mansfield Park, with your own two sisters."
Betsey looked dismayed. "My sister Susan is not old enough to be a Mamma to me."
"Well, then, your sister Fanny."
"Oh, no! no! no! Fanny came to stay with us, and oh! cousin, she was so strict, and pulled a long face, whenever the boys were playing, for she said they shouted too loud, and gave her the head-ache. She always had her head in a book, and she thought that nothing mattered, but the alphabet, and saying your piece."
"Well, but those things do matter, Betsey; you must learn; no gentleman will marry you, if you cannot read and write."
"Well, I will learn, for I mean to get a fine husband; but cousin, I want to learn from you. And I do not want to go away and leave the dear little baby."
"The baby will be going away, to her own home, quite soon; and your sister Fanny has a little baby of her own, and two other little children for you to play with. You will like that, will you not, Betsey?"
Betsey thought rapidly. "My mamma would not want me to live with Fanny; she said that Fanny was stupid."
"Fanny, stupid? Why, how is this?"
"Because she would not marry the fine beau, that came to see her. I do not know his name, but he had a blue cloth coat, and black eyes. He was William's friend, and he came to our house; but William was gone away to sea, and he staid to see Fanny. She said that she did not like him; but she put on her hat with the pink ribbons, when he went to church with us. And while we were coming out of church, to go to walk on the ramparts, he beckoned me, and gave me a sixpence, and said that I should have another, if I would leave them alone, for he wanted to be private with Fanny. But all the while she was whispering to Susan, not to leave her alone with him."
Henry Crawford was the man in question; she knew it! He had gone to Portsmouth, and she had been almost wild with jealousy, for she knew that he meant to marry Fanny. It was after that visit that she had decided, that she would do anything, that she would throw over friends, husband, family, reputation, to have him. If only she knew more! But it was out of the question, to lure Betsey into reminiscences. Nor was it necessary: Betsey was prattling on:
"but he staid only a day, and never came back, and my mamma said Fanny was a great fool, not to have him, for he was a very rich, fine beau, and we had nothing. We never saw him again. My papa said that he was a bad man, and had run off with a married lady; but my Mamma said that if Fanny had but shown some sense, and married him, he would not have done so, and even if he had, Fanny would have been rich."
That was not a conversation to be repeated to Mrs. Yates, or Mrs. Norris! and if Maria thought about it, as she did a hundred times, she must do so only in the solitude of her bedchamber. Meanwhile, Betsey was happy at Birkthwaite, and gaining strength; and to Maria's surprise, Mrs. Norris did not seem to resent her presence. This seemed to be due less to the child's resemblance to her dead mother, than to the fact that Betsey was not afraid of her, or indeed of anyone. On one occasion of Mrs. Norris trying to rebuke her, the child had flown into an odd sort of rage, and flinging herself onto the floor, and holding her breath, had become almost unconscious. Mrs. Norris had been terrified, and had never again attempted to remonstrate with her.
But Betsey must go. One possible plan was, that Mr. and Mrs. Yates might go on from Birkthwaite to Mansfield Park, taking Betsey with them. Julia was quite happy with the plan, for it would enable her to show the baby to her mother; and she discovered that Mansfield was, if not quite in their way, not more than a couple of hundred miles out of it. Letters were sent to Lady Bertram, and to Fanny; everyone knew that some time soon, Betsey would leave, and Mansfield Parsonage would be her home; and Maria herself did not know, how little she was prepared for that some time.
There had as yet been no word from Mansfield Park, when, one afternoon, Maria and the Yates' returned from a ride. Mrs. Norris greeted them:
"My dear, where have you been?"
"We went up the stream, to see the place where the woollen mill might be built. I am sorry, are we late?"
"Oh no! I was only wondering if you had seen Mrs. Mattersley."
"Mrs. Mattersley? No, indeed; but why would she be there, in a lonely valley, where no-one goes? I can ride down to the schoolhouse, or if there is a message, I can send Ben."
"No, she is not there; Mrs. Strickland was by an hour ago, asking whether she had been here. She was not at the schoolhouse yesterday, nor last night; it seems that no-one knows where she is, and they are looking for her."
"Indeed? How very odd."
"It does seem strange," said Julia, "but there is probably some quite simple explanation. She may have gone to see some member of her family, or a friend, and staid over, or been taken ill."
"Yes, but they say she has no family, and no friends, and they do not know where she might have gone."
Maria knew that Mrs. Norris had formed the habit of visiting the schoolhouse, several times a week. Since the mine had opened, Mr. Strickland had got them both to contribute to the cost of the school, for since the miners' children went there, even Mrs. Norris could not refuse. However, Mrs. Norris was not the woman to let them waste her money, by not learning their lessons. She would go in, most days, to oversee their reading, correct their arithmetic, and scold them into good behaviour. There was nothing unusual in that; Mrs. Snelling went in almost every day, to teach the smallest children their catechism; and she had said that Mrs. Mattersley could never keep order, and that the children were only quiet, when Mrs. Norris was there.
However that might be, the teacher was lost, and must be found.
"What is the best for us to do, aunt?" Maria asked. "Would you like me to get the gig out, and we will go down to Morton Hall, and see if they have found her?"
Mrs. Norris was nothing loth, for she had been in the house all day, and was glad of a drive. Mr. Yates cheerfully offered to ride alongside them, but Julia must stay, for her baby needed her. When they reached the Hall, no-one was at home but Mrs. Hughes. Lizzie, and her husband, who were visiting, had driven toward Lingfell, and Mr. Strickland and his men were out, walking or driving along the lanes, to call at the various farms, to see if the missing woman might be there. The matter was serious enough, it seemed, for she had now been four and twenty hours gone. Her husband had died some months previously, and she had no family in the neighbourhood, for she had moved there, upon her marriage, and no friends, for the farm people thereabouts did not take kindly to newcomers.
"Well," said Mr. Yates, "there is no sense in my sitting here. I will go and find Strickland and see how they have got on," and away he went. The three women were sitting, going over the possibilities, for the tenth time, and Maria was beginning to feel heartily bored, when there was a shout from outside. A farmer's cart stood there.
"Why," said Mrs. Hughes, "it is Jack Springley, a very good sort of man. What is he doing here at this time of day?"
Jack Springley, it turned out, had news. He had been taking a load of pigs to a fell farm, the previous evening, when he had overtaken Mrs. Mattersley, about three miles from her home. He knew her quite well, and was certain that it was she. In the usual country way, he had stopped, and offered her a ride. At first she had refused: "it was of no consequence, it was not far, she had all the time in the world," but when he had asked whither she was bound, she had said "Ingmell. " This was a lonely place, very high up in the dale, and he had told her straightway that, if she wanted to get there before dark, she must ride with him. In the end she had mounted up in the front with him, the odour of the pigs making the back very uncomfortable. She had said very little; only, when he asked why she was going to Ingmell, she had replied, that she had lived there as a child. He himself was bound for a farm, about two miles from the place; and there he had set her down, to finish her journey on foot.
"Well then, we know where she is, and all is well."
"No, ma'am, pardon me, but it's not. I thowt no more of it, d'ye see, until I were down to Musgroves' just now, and they told me they were looking for her. I told them, she's at Ingmell, and they looked at me, like I was daft. Ma'am, there's no-one lives at Ingmell. No-one has lived there, these ten years past. It's a ruin."
This was grim news, indeed! Maria sprang to her feet.
"We must find Mr. Strickland, at once," she said. "Do you go... no, I will go... Wait! I must think. Where did you come from?"
"Musgroves. I telt ye, ma'am."
"Yes, of course, you told me; and he is not there.. no...He is not gone toward Lingfell, we know that, for Lizzie and her husband went that way. Well, there are only two ways he can have gone; there is the church lane, that leads past the Rectory, and there is Dufton Lane, that goes toward the fell road. Now, which is the way to Ingmell?"
"Up fell road, past Grisedales' till th'old Hanged Man Inn; then right, a matter of three mile, across moor and ask at Langstrath Farm."
"Do you go up the church lane, Mr. Springley, and ask at the first farm, you will soon find out if Mr. Strickland has been that way. Aunt Norris, Mrs. Hughes, do you stay here, if you please, and if he returns, tell him I have gone up the fell road. If he is on it, I shall soon catch him up; if he is on the other road, Mr. Springley, you must tell him to follow me."
What a good thing! The brown horse was fresh. The gig was light, with only one person up. For a moment, Maria wondered: would she have done better to have gone home and saddled up Golden Girl? but if Mrs. Mattersley were ill, or had collapsed from exhaustion, surely a carriage would be more useful? She tried to hold herself down to a gentle jog, knowing that to drive fast would quickly tire her horse, but the horse knew that she was anxious, and responded by trying to quicken its pace.
At the first farm she came to, she learned that Mr. Strickland had not taken that route, for two of his men had been there, an hour previously. They must be on the road ahead of her; she must catch them up. Sure enough, she found them, a mile or so farther on. They did not at first understand what she was trying to tell them; she felt impatience rising, and tried to control her voice, and tell them what she wanted them to do: "No, do not look anywhere else; we know where she is; but she may be hurt, she may be ill, get a carriage, get a cart, anything, and follow me, follow!"
They stared at her; and indeed, she thought, she must be a wild sight. Only when she said "Jack Springley, Jack Springley says he took her to Langstrath Farm," did one of them respond:
"Jack Springley, eh?"
"Langstrath Farm eh? That's a fair way. Do Mr. Strickland know?"
"Yes, yes, someone will tell him."
"Very well, ma'am, do you go on; we'll follow," and she could only hope that they would, for she was past them already. The slope of the road soon caused the horse to moderate its pace, for they were going up now, into the hills. She passed several people, mostly farm workers going home, for it was growing dusk, and she called out to them that a woman was lost, maybe hurt, up at Ingmell.
There was no-one outside the Hanged Man inn, a lonely, desolate-looking alehouse; she did not stop, but kept going. Now the road grew not only steeper, but uncommonly rough. It seemed to consist of large, unhewn stones, and the gig was jolted from side to side. Suddenly, the axle gave way, the body fell, skewing sideways, and Maria was flung clear, falling onto the road.
She picked herself up, and found that she was bruised, and very dirty, but no bones seemed to be broken. How long she had lain there, beside the road, she did not know, but she thought not very long. The horse, still attached to the gig, was grazing peacefully, a few yards away. This, however, was the only good feature of the case. The vehicle was a ruin; one wheel lay at a crazy angle; to drive it further was clearly impossible.
Still, all she had to do, was to wait until help arrived. There must be several people on the road behind her, and some of them must catch up with her quite quickly: Mr. Strickland, John Yates, Jack Springley..
Suddenly his voice came back to her: "till th'old Hanged Man inn, then right.. " Yes, that was what he had said: "then right, three mile across moor..."
She had gone straight on at the Hanged Man inn.
She was stranded, up a road that clearly, from its appearance, led nowhere; no-one knew where she was, and no-one would be coming by.
It was no use, crying! She must get back, as quickly as possible, to the cross roads beside the inn. She thought that it could not be too far. The best thing would be, to try and ride the horse. It would not be easy, for she had no saddle; still, he should be fairly docile, after having been driven so far, as long as he had sustained no injury. She approached him carefully; but the horse, as well as she, had been shaken by the accident. Looking closer, she could see that one leg had been slightly injured. The weight of the carriage dragged on him, and he could not escape, but he sidled, and dodged between the shafts, making things as awkward for her, as only a nervous horse can. In order to release him from the shattered gig, she must remove his harness, and once it was gone, she knew it would be hard to mount, for she would have no way of making him stand still.
Well! If necessary, she must lead him by the driving reins; she would get back to the inn, some time. She began trying to undo the harness, but found to her annoyance that her hands were shaking, whether from cold (for the evening was turning chilly) or from the sense of haste that she still felt. She was struggling with a stiff buckle, when she heard the sound of hooves, and turning round, she saw two riders approaching up the road by the way she had come.
Never was sight more welcome! And even more so, when she perceived that one of them was Mr. Ansell, the other being his groom, who was well known to her. She tried to speak, but found that her throat was constricted, the words would not come out, as though she were trying to speak in a dream; she turned away, and went on struggling with the harness buckle, for she could not seem to stop.
The gentleman, however, had something to say, and he said it "Now, how comes this about, Mrs. Ward? Do you not know that, if they had not seen you go by at the Hanged Man, you might have been lost up here for days? How could you be so foolish? To fling yourself into a gig, and lose yourself up a desolate path like this? Come, leave that, Bates will see to it, there is nothing for you to do."
She could say nothing, but "Mrs. Mattersley.."
"Yes, yes, I know about that, but to come up here, with not so much as a groom with you.. oh! I have not patience!" but she found her hand taken, and she was being assisted to mount the groom's horse. "There is a conveyance for you, back at the crossroads, we shall only be a few moments," and he turned to give a few words of instruction to the groom: "Here, take this, ma'am," and a greatcoat was flung up. She took it gratefully, for she was shivering; he could say what he liked, she was rescued!
The distance was indeed quite short, and there was indeed a carriage waiting; she dismounted; without a word, he was gone; and there, standing beside the chaise, was Mr. Jevons.
"Come, Mrs. Ward, "he said. "I will take you home. " She hesitated, and he smiled reassuringly. "I am afraid this is a poor vehicle, but it is all I could hire, in this place. You need not be afraid, ma'am. Your brother's curricle is gone up to Langstrath, Ansell will join them, he has sent for men, and half the countryside is on the way. You need to get home as quickly as may be, Mrs. Norris is rather anxious. " Within a very few minutes, she was sitting in the chaise, and it moved off.
She sank back on the seat, hardly able to speak. Mr. Ansell's angry words still rang in her ears. Why had she been so foolish? Nay, worse than foolish, so forward, so unthinking, as to go all that way, without so much as a groom up beside her? She was accustomed to drive alone in the neighbourhood of Birkthwaite, wearing, in bad weather, the shabby old caped cloak that had once belonged to a Leveredge coachman; everybody knew her. Up here, on the moors, however, it was a different matter; although but a short distance away, the upper valleys and moorland were another world. No-one knew her, and the people in these parts were not fond of strangers.
Mr. Jevons seemed unaware of her embarrassment, but began, in his usual quiet way, to tell her what had transpired. He and Mr. Ansell had, by coincidence, called at the Stricklands' on business, only a quarter of an hour, it seemed, after Maria's impetuous departure. Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Strickland, though very much shocked and frightened, had had enough sense to explain the situation, and tell them which direction to take; so, leaving Mr. Strickland to send back to Lingfell for helpers, they had followed her, not very far behind. Realising that she was no longer in front of them, they had turned back to the Hanged Man "and they had seen you go past, and wondered why anyone would be going up a road that led nowhere, but, stupid fellows! they did nothing."
Maria could barely speak: "I.. I did nothing useful.. so foolish.. I should not have.."
"Now, you are not to be concerned, because Ansell scolded you. He is like that, always bellows when he is frightened, but he is the kindest fellow alive. And as for being useful; you had the whole country roused; everywhere we passed, people were saddling up. You advanced the whole search by as much as an hour, and if she is injured or ill, you know, an hour will make a good deal of difference."
"Poor woman! Will they be able to find her, do you think?"
"Yes, I think, for certain," he said, "as long as..."
"I know; as long as she has not.. has not.."
"As long as she has not made away with herself, that is your fear, is it not? It is mine, too."
There was a short silence, then Mr. Jevons spoke again "I think people always feel, when such a thing is in question, that they must not speak of it, even, that if they do, it will be in some way their fault. But such things do happen, and it is not anyone's fault."
"But.. all the way up the road, I was thinking.. we did not use her well, for she was our housekeeper, you know, and she did not wish to leave us, but my aunt.. and I did nothing to stop it."
"People always think such things, but do not be afraid," he said. "Mrs. Mattersley made no effort to accommodate your aunt's wishes; had she done so, she would certainly have been able to stay in her post, but she did not try. She has been over two years in the school, and she has not done so badly. She could have sought another post, but she did not. We are responsible for our own lives, not those of other people. " Maria did not feel quite sure about this, for Mr. Jevons could not be aware of what Mrs. Mattersley had endured from the daily inflictions of Mrs. Norris; but the relief of being told, that it was none of it her fault, was enormous!
"Tell me, ma'am, did you -- the first day we rode on the moors, and we looked into that hole, did you, at that time, think of making away with yourself?'
"Oh, that dreadful place! I thought, how terrible it would be, to fall into it. But as for throwing myself into it, no! no!"
"No; you are not the kind of person, ever to do such a thing. I do know, you see, Mrs. Rushworth, the kind of distress you have had to deal with."
She looked at him, astonished; but he was looking down, entirely occupied with the leather gloves he carried, and was pleating and folding them.
"I know your history; I know your real name. " She could not speak.
"I have not liked it, for some time, that I should be aware of your situation, without your knowing that I knew. When you first came here, I was struck by your resemblance to my young friend, Tom Bertram. I knew him, when he was up at Oxford, with Jack Leveredge. I am rather older, yes (she could hear, by his voice, that he was smiling) but I travel a good deal on business, and saw a good deal of Jack, who was the son of my old neighbour; at that time, his rooms in college were next to your brother's. They were both rather foolish, as young men often are, but I liked Tom, for though careless, he was kind, and a better influence than some of Jack's friends.
"A few months ago, I had occasion to go south, and I took Mansfield Park in my way. I mentioned to your brother that there was a young woman, very like him, living close to me, and I thought she might be one of the sisters he had, from time to time, mentioned, and that judging from some stories, some rumours, there might be reasons why she might choose to live in such a very private and secluded manner. I had no wish to encroach on that privacy, but I wished him to know that, if she were in any need or trouble I would stand her friend. If she were his sister, I would do it the more willingly, for his sake, but if not, I would do it anyway, for hers."
"Did he tell you..?"
"The circumstances? Yes, he did; for he said that, while the whole thing had been very bad, and your family were still very angry about it, he felt, on looking back, that he.."
"It does not matter; he is mistaken. It was my fault, the whole thing was my fault. It was my impulsiveness, my self-will. I knew very well, what I was doing, and I deserved everything that happened."
"Yes, I think you did. If I said other wise, you would not want to hear it, for you are not the woman to lay the blame on others, for something that you did. But we talked together, your brother and I, and he feels that there was a share in the business, for which he must take responsibility. That is what he believes now; it was not what he felt at the time. He has grown up, you see."
"Yes.. I suppose, we are both older.."
"What should be done, and what can be done, while the rest of your family are so estranged, he does not know. But he asked me to tell you, should the opportunity ever arise, that he still regards you with affection, and that he is sorry."
"He does not think ill of me?"
"He has long ceased to do so."
Maria was silent; the tears were running down her face, and she could only be thankful that evening having come on, the carriage was quite dark. Memories of her brother that seemed oddly unconnected: of a morning ride with Tom and Julia, of Tom laughing at Dr Grant, of herself as a very small child, Tom throwing a ball to her: all went through her mind. For a few moments, she was unaware that her companion was still speaking. Then she realized, to her complete astonishment, that he was asking her to marry him.
It was so; he had said it. So surprised was she, that she could take in very little of what he was saying; she was merely aware, that he was addressing her in the quiet, businesslike way in which he usually spoke, that he was expressing his regard, concern and affection, and in the clearest manner, asking for the right to protect her, to care for her, to restore her to the place in society, in which she belonged.
She was astounded, and was barely able to stammer out "Oh no, no no!"
"I do not expect an answer now, madam. If you would be so good as to think over what I have said, if.."
"Oh no! I am sorry, I cannot marry!"
He was silent. Realising how deeply mortified he must feel at so abrupt a refusal, she tried to collect her thoughts. "It is not... I like you very well.. I am deeply sensible... " She took a breath, and tried again. "I cannot marry. Mr. Jevons, my.. my husband was not a clever man, and we were very ill-suited, but he was not a bad man. I made him very unhappy. I will not be the means of bringing such unhappiness again into anyone's life, as I did into his. I am sorry, but what I did cannot be undone. It cannot be."
The carriage, she realized thankfully, was approaching Birkthwaite Hall. There were only a few minutes before she was handed down, the carriage drove off, and she was trying to recast her disordered thoughts, and answer the enquiries of Mrs. Norris.
Fortunately, her relatives had no knowledge of what had transpired! and there was enough for her to do, with explaining the accident to her carriage, getting some embrocation put on her bruised shoulder, and eating her dinner. If her aunt chose to assume, that she was pale and haggard from weariness and fright, so much the better. Her sister was too much put out, to notice anything, for Mr. Yates had not come back, but sent a message, saying that they were searching until the light went, and that he would not return for dinner, but would take his pot-luck with Strickland.
It was not until later, when she was alone in her bedchamber, that Maria was able collectedly to go over the astonishing fact that Mr. Jevons had asked her to marry him! She had been aware, since coming to live at Birkthwaite, that gentlemen still sometimes admired her, but had easily been able to avoid any proposal, except one from the impulsive Mr. Courteney: on the whole, she found, gentlemen do not ask a woman to marry them, of whose family and circumstances they know nothing. But Mr. Jevons knew her position! He knew everything about her! Yet here he was, offering to marry her, a divorced and disgraced woman, and there was nothing she needed to tell him, for he knew it all. Indeed, it seemed that he knew more than she did, for she did not even know if she were free to marry! Papers had come, but she had cast them aside without reading them, not caring, and assuming that her situation could never change.
What was her situation? Could she, for example, be married in a church? She thought not, but where else did people get married? And if it were the case, would Mr. Snelling not have to be told, and oh dear, what would he think of her? And Mrs. Snelling? Or did divorced ladies have to go away, maybe to Switzerland -- or, at any rate, Scotland -- and there be married in great secrecy? The heroines of novels, in such awkward situations, never seemed to have any difficulty with tiresome formalities, such as banns, and never seemed to have to deal with a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England; they were always married, very conveniently, by some obliging hermit, or travelling friar, usually at midnight, and during a thunderstorm. Maria found that her thoughts were becoming disordered; she tried to imagine Mr. Jevons enlisting the services of a mendicant priest, for a midnight ceremony in a ruined chapel; and smiling at her own absurdity, fell asleep.
Continued in Part 4
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