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"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Easily Managed: Miss Price Leaves Home


(2008)
Mansfield Park
"Missing Scene between Chapters 1 and 2 of Mansfield Park"
Fanny is informed by her mother that she is to go and live with her aunt, Lady Bertram.


Mrs Norris soon wrote again to communicate the arrangements that had been made for her niece's arrival. With the ink barely dry on this newest testament to her cleverness and generosity, she was stirred to self-congratulation for the remainder of the day, and both the servants at the White House and her sister and brother at Mansfield Park were forced to bear with her considerable exertions. While she was beyond pleased at having fashioned the very scheme to ease her unfortunate sister's circumstances, she would have been quite shocked to discover how little those same circumstances afforded her Portsmouth friends the leisure to speak, or think, of her at all.

Ever since the eldest Miss Price had been fixed on as the recipient of her aunts' benevolence and Mrs Price had written her approbation of the plan, the name of Norris had been mentioned but rarely by that family, and then only by the mother, generally at those moments when the noisy hallooing of several of the children together rose to a great pitch. Even at those times, it was only wonder at Mrs Norris's judgement that drew the attention of her sister, not concern for her welfare or gratitude for her uncommon kindness; she was either pronounced daft for having overlooked her nephews, or ungenerous for having settled on only one of the girls. Along with confusion and exasperation was often expressed the hope that another of the children might be invited to stay the next year.

Mrs Price had been intending to sit with her eldest girl in a quiet corner of the house and dispense such motherly advice and guidance as might be necessary to prepare her young charge for the wider world. Each time, however, that she had got the idea in her head, it was pushed out again by some trouble or other with the servants, or with the children, or with both at once. Consequently, the good woman had not so much as mentioned the possibility to her daughter that the latter was shortly to be torn from the bosom of her family and thrown upon the charity of relations as yet unknown to her. Only Mrs Price and her husband knew of it, until the very day before the child was to leave. The unsuspecting little girl sat down to dinner with her mother, sisters and brothers about her, and cheerfully raised her fork in expectation of a pleasant meal with no worse fears than of there being less meat and more turnips than she would prefer by the time she received her portion. She was completely unaware that the following evening would hold no such routine comforts and thoroughly unprepared for what was about to befall her.

Mrs Price had entirely forgot the post until they had all begun to eat, and William enquired what Aunt Norris had said in the letter that arrived the other day and even offered to fetch it for her, which he had done just that moment. She stared for several minutes at the single page, with its cramped, crossed lines, and looked up at last. "My sister has given us the particulars of Fanny's journey. She will be met in London by - What's this? Thursday? Upon my word, that is tomorrow! How the time does fly! Fanny," she smiled down the length of the table, "in another two days, you will be dining at your aunt Bertram's table. Are not you the lucky thing? What you have done to deserve it, I shall never know. I felt certain my sisters would reconsider and send for William. Such a shame they did not."

"Mamma," Fanny's voice trembled, "Am I...am I to leave you?"

"Yes, Fanny. You will go and live with your aunt Bertram."

"Live with her! But why? I do not want to go away!"

"Now, Fanny..."

"Is it because of the baby? Is there not room enough for us all?" she enquired, but her mother either had not heard her, or pretended she had not. Fanny lost interest in the meal before her; she swallowed her mouthful without tasting any of it and without any desire to follow it with another. Though she dreaded being reprimanded for picking at her food, she had not the power to summon back her appetite and could only now attempt not to cry, that she might not be doubly scolded. Still, the tears came, and great sobs followed when, in spite of much pleading, her mother did not change her mind and declare that she might stay in Portsmouth after all.

They all heard the front door open, and half a minute later, Mr Price joined them. "I told you this morning I might be a little late. Could you not wait five minutes?"

"I was starving. I could not delay one minute longer." Mrs Price nevertheless rose to pour a drink for her husband, who was clearly waiting for her to do so. She sat down again and frowned as she noticed he had already drained his glass. "We have only begun, as you see. There is plenty for you." She was still turning this way and that in her chair, unable to make herself at all comfortable, when the youngest Price proclaimed his own hunger from his place in the cradle upstairs. "I had just told Fanny she had better pack her trunk," she informed her husband over the baby's cries.

"I have no trunk," her daughter said after a little hesitation.

"You will take my small one. I certainly am not going on holiday," she laughed, "and have no need of it. I shall tell Cathy to dust it off and put it in your room for you."

"May I go to Tom, Mamma?"

"No, Fanny. Stay where you are and eat. You will need your strength, and we cannot afford to waste good food; we have little enough of it. Listen - the baby is quiet now and hopefully asleep again." Conversation dwindled while all but Fanny applied themselves energetically to the task at hand. Mrs Price scolded the younger ones every few minutes for making a mess of their faces and feeding the tablecloth as often as their mouths. Their father paid them all not the slightest attention until his wife addressed him once more. "Our girl is for town tomorrow. My sister Norris has sent a servant to meet her there and take her on to Northampton. We had best send Fanny with Mrs Norwich in the morning."

"Is that so, Fan?" he asked with a glance at his daughter. "Good, then."

"They really ought to take William. Think of how great he could be with the help of my brother Bertram, such a fine boy as he already is! But they would have Fanny."

"Aye, Frances; we have already discussed this. Let her go, and let your sister Norris have her way, as she always does. William belongs here with me. A man does not need to depend upon his relations for every thing. Why should he grow lazy and fat over their expensive dinners?" He carved a large slice of meat for himself. "William can make his own way in the world, as I have. Now, if in a few years' time Sir Thomas sees fit to introduce him to an admiral or two, he is very welcome, but we can feed and clothe the lad well enough where he is."

"Papa, I should not like to go."

"What?" Mr Price looked up from his meal. "Not want to go, when you are wanted in Northampton? Of course you must go! Girls your age are good for little more than chasing the younger ones about and stirring up trouble. You had best go to your aunt."

"Sir, Fanny is never any trouble. She is a great help with Tom, is not she, Mamma?"

"A girl is always more trouble than you think, William," Mr Price answered while his wife was busy half-heartedly rebuking one of her other daughters, "whether she is nine..."

I am not nine, thought Fanny.

"...or nineteen, or nine and twenty," he said with an eye towards the opposite end of the table. "You will find out for yourself someday."

"But I try to be useful," Fanny insisted. She turned back to her mother, almost unable to bear the sight of her untroubled countenance while she herself felt so miserable, and fiercely cried, "Please let me stay! I will do whatever you ask!" Despite her vehemence, her voice had come out as little more than a whisper.

"A bit older," Mr Price considered, "or stronger, and you could be a real help to your mother. Mansfield Park will do for you." He picked up the paper he had brought in with him. "Now," he bellowed, making her jump in her chair, "be a good girl, Fan, and stop your confounded whimpering."

Fanny cried all the harder at this. Her only comfort came from little Tom, who had again awakened and whose intermittent wails, while they could not be expected to have their origin in any sympathy for his eldest sister, were at least effective in diverting their parents' attention and allowing her to slip from the room without further remonstrance or humiliation to bear.

Fanny's relief was short-lived. There was still more to be endured, even when she was out of their sight. It began with her mother's complaint once the other children began to leave the dining room:

"I do not know how you can return home so hungry and thirsty after spending all day at the inn."

"Enough, Frances. You are always quarrelsome whenever you are in that condition."

"It seems I am always 'in this condition,'" Mrs Price complained in her fretful, breathy air. "Thanks to you, I might add. I do not know how we will provide for one more."

"Easily done, with all the money we will save once Fanny is away at Northampton."

"If you don't drink it all first."

At this, Mr Price said one of those words his wife had often admonished Fanny's younger brothers not to repeat, and Fanny suffered the mortification of hearing her parents all but admit they could ill afford to keep her.

Having despaired of receiving any comfort or understanding from her mother or father, and not wishing to overhear any more of what was being said between the two, Fanny removed herself farther from their vicinity and stood near the windows at the front of the house. The noise from the street at first soothed her tumultuous feelings, although it could distract her thoughts but briefly; she could not help but consider that, come morning, she would be part of that noise as the coach rumbled over the streets to bear her away from all she had ever known. If it were not for her anxiety over what she must face at the end of her journey - places and people completely foreign to her - and her unwillingness to leave behind her brothers and sisters, William especially, she might not have thought it so awful to be away from such a home; however, her anxiety was great, and her affection for William strong, and she felt her loss keenly. She tried to think of how she would bear it, and then tried not to think of her going at all, until her head quite ached.

"Fanny," her mother called to her, "what are you waiting for? Get up to your room and begin packing, or you will never be ready in time. I will send Cathy to help you." She looked tired, with a squirming child in one arm and another pulling at her skirts, and Tom's now-lusty cries hurrying her towards the stairs, as much as Mrs. Price ever hurried. "Leave your blue dress behind. I can alter it for Susan and get a little something out of the scraps for Mary, too. Although when I shall find the time to manage it, I hardly know."

"My blue dress! It is my prettiest one." She felt certain her mother would wish her to appear at her best before these important relations. "What shall I wear, then, when I meet my aunt?"

"It does not matter what you wear, dear," Mrs Price said to Fanny's surprise. "Your aunt Bertram will have all new things made for you. She can well afford it. Maria was never a girl to spend all her income; nor was my sister Norris. They will have plenty of money saved and little else to spend it on, you can be sure of that."

"Fanny looks very well in her blue dress, Mamma. May she not keep it?"

"Dear William," Mrs Price turned back to say, "you can see for yourself how tall Susan is growing, and there is not a spare piece of cloth to be had in this house."

Fanny consented with a pang while secretly hoping her mother would never get round to cutting up the dress at all, so that she might somehow contrive to have William send it on to her. Or I might come and get it myself, she thought, if my aunt will bring me back here to visit.

"When will I come home again?" she asked, but her mother had started up the stairs and did not answer.

"There, there, Fanny." William put his arm round her shoulders. "Come with me. I have something for you." She followed him to the kitchen, where he turned over a bowl that had concealed a large slice of cake. "Here," he said, offering her half.

"Thank you."

"Mrs Courtland gave it to me as thanks for running errands for her. I was going to save it, but tomorrow would be too late to share it with you."

"William, I do not want to go."

"I do not want you to leave, either. I will miss you very much, Fanny. But you ought not to be too fearful of travelling and of meeting strangers. You are ten years now, almost grown up."

"You remembered!"

"Of course," he said, smiling at her through a mouthful of cake.

Father did not, nor anyone else, she silently added. "There will be no one at all to notice such things when I leave here."

"Why do you say that? I know you don't like it, but our aunt is paying you very great attention by asking you to come."

"Will you come with me? Please? Then I should not be so afraid."

"I cannot. My aunt did not ask me. But we shall see each other again before long. I shall visit you there someday."

"Shall we meet every year, do you think?"

"Not so often as that, I imagine. Our father and mother never travel, and our aunts have never been here. Let us talk of happy things before you start crying again."

She swallowed the last of her treat just as a pair of her younger brothers ran into the kitchen and asked what more they had got to eat, and was there any left. She replied honestly that there was none and felt guilty for not having thought to save a little for them. They ran out again, one behind the other, in search of a toy they habitually fought over and misplaced above twice a day.

"Do you really believe my aunt will get another dress made for me?"

"Is that all you can think of? I say she will order you twenty dresses, if you are a very good girl, for she is very rich." He clasped her hands. "Fanny, you must think of it as an adventure! The house of a baronet must be grand!" He went on about the different rooms, the many closets and broad staircases, the large pieces of furniture with convenient spaces inside and behind and below that she was sure to encounter in their uncle's home, rendering it the perfect place for hours and hours of hide-and-seek with their cousins. He then bade her write him as soon as she had settled there to tell him all about the house, if his uncles Bertram and Norris had lost most of their hair just like the butcher, and "whether the boys were very tall, scary fellows and the girls very pretty, and if Aunt Bertram were as fine and Aunt Norris as cross as Mamma had declared them to be."

Fanny was cheered by her brother's enthusiasm. Though she was not recovered enough to laugh, she could smile, and even the threat of tears soon ceased.

When she reached her room, her mother's trunk was not there. Fanny found Cathy herself and asked her kindly to get the trunk for her, to which the latter consented with a distracted air. An hour passed without any change, and Fanny, weary of fretting in her room, began to organise her small number of possessions on her bed in neat rows.

The servant girl at last recalled the young Miss, and the trunk was duly found, cleaned, and brought to Fanny's room. Fanny proceeded to fill it while keeping the younger girls from making a game of emptying its contents again and strewing her garments all over the floor.

By the time Mrs Price appeared, there was naught left for her to do but lament the sorry state of her daughter's shoes, which stood by the bed in readiness for the morrow. "I hate that my sisters should see you in these. How we did laugh at the farmers' children in their worn-out boots. They will not like it."

"It is the only pair I have, Mamma."

"That will change very soon." With a satisfied air, she then enquired of Fanny whether she had seen Dick's new coat, and afterwards she kissed her daughter's forehead and told her to sleep. As Fanny's mind was overwrought and her little body quite fatigued, it was not long before she had done as her mother had commanded.

The morning came; everyone stirred, and everyone smiled, or tried to. Fanny was ready early enough to have leisure to look about her and fix in her mind the home and the family she was not likely to see again for many a year. There was some confusion as to actually getting her to London. Mrs Norwich, it was discovered, was not for town until Monday, and a substitute had to be secured, and at very short notice. Fanny rejoiced in the possibility that she might be able to remain at home after all and was still vacillating between hope and resignation when the knock that signalled the end of her time in Portsmouth sounded at the door. She was revived a little by the appearance of the woman who was to accompany her: that same Mrs Courtland, who had so lately and so handsomely rewarded William.

She hugged and kissed her mother and father, and then all of her brothers and sisters, William last. "I must be brave," she repeated to herself over and over, but she could not let go when it came to the point. William kissed her cheek and told her again to write him; then she heard her father's gruff voice and felt him prying her hands from William's coat and placing her next to Mrs Courtland in the carriage.

She had no handkerchief. Her fingers flew back and forth over her eyes, doing little to check her tears and making a sad lens through which to observe the passing scene. All the same, she made out Louisa Hutchinson's house, and Jeremy Wright's, and the road her father had told her led to the harbour, before they arrived at the inn her mother hated the very thought of, where they were to change to the post.

The coach arrived, and the other passengers kindly let her have a seat by the window. Before many minutes had passed, she had travelled beyond her knowledge. As the great drawbridge, that last familiar sight, faded from view, she felt the obligation of attending to the solicitous queries of her companion.

~The End~

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