Posted on: 2013-10-25
Dear Mr & Mrs Price-- I send warm regards to you both and trust that all the family is well.
I take up my pen to inform you of an event of moment to all concerned. It has been two days since my second son applied to me for the hand of his cousin, Fanny.
She has happily accepted the offer, and although it is, perhaps, not the provision of settlement that we originally envisioned for my niece I have no objections to raise. They intend to marry in August and settle in the living of Thornton Lacey with 700l a year.
Fanny has grown a most sensible and meritorious young woman, and it is with great joy my Lady Bertram and I look forward to calling her our daughter, in law as she has hitherto been at heart.
Sir Thomas BertramBe assured we have none but satisfactory reports of Susan, and if it suit your convenience, we should like to extend her stay at Mansfield to one or some duration, as a companion for her aunt.
Mr Price sat over his solitary candle perusing the above one evening and after humphing and considering over a particular paragraph, called out to his wife.
" What's the name of Fan's great cousin at Mansfield, the clergyman, by God?"
Mrs Price quite willingly put down the shirtsleeves she had been mending and replied languidly, "Edmund, do you mean?"
" Well, it seems you will have a daughter married before Michaelmas. The fellow is to take her as wife." He held out the letter her.
"Oh indeed, my dear!" astonished, "Has the young man written to us?"
"The young one! No, to be sure 'tis the old one. Sir Thomas writes to say he has given his consent." He drained his glass of rum-and-water.
Mrs Price took twice as long to read her brother-in-law's short missive announcing the first expected marriage in the Price family since her own. At length, she said, "It will be such a great match for our dear Fanny! No doubt she must be very happy. Do you know, I would like to make up a little bundle for her on her wedding-day, else she can get nothing more from us, poor girl. But Rebecca is so lazy, she will not lift a finger to help. If she has not forgotten to make the tea again this evening..."
" I didn't know what Sir Thomas may think of such matters, he may be too much of a courtier and fine gentleman to have a penniless girl marry his son. But he seems reconciled to it now at any rate. These young spoonies carry everything their own way."
"I knew my sister Bertram would provide for my poor children at last," she said plaintively, "Although why she took on Susan when we have so many fine boys, I do not know. I am sure Susan is wanted here much more than at Mansfield. The house is more disordered now, I think, with one less pair of hands to help, although I always did above half the work myself. I have spoke to Rebecca a hundred times about that carpet, haven't I, Betsey? And it would be but ten minutes' work. I declare, no woman was ever so plagued by servants as I am." Here she paused to indulge her youngest daughter.
"I suppose Susan will be next, though she be but a girl yet." Mr Price said almost to himself. "That eldest cousin Tom is said to be too much of a wild one, although they say he's reformed. Aye, he will do well enough for himself with all his thousands and tens of thousands, Mansfield Park and the land in Antigua to boot! As for his sisters - humph! Much good may such fine relations do you!"
And he gruffly turned to his newspaper, snuffing and coaxing his candle , as the shadows in the cramped, greasy room grew steadily longer.
After a long while, he continued, as if a disjointed fruit of his reflection, "But she is a good girl, Sue, with a mind of her own. She may choose her own lot well ... And to be sure, William has risen now, and may help the younger lads - we may patch it together still, I say -- Mrs Price," suddenly, in a different tone to what he was wont to use. Perhaps it was the good rum.
But his wife was slumped upon the sopha near the window, fallen into a doze with Betsey in her arms. He had lost track of the time, it was now quite late into the evening. The riotous boys had gone to bed at last, the room almost completely bathed in darkness. His lone candle - which was always used only by himself, with little consideration for anyone else - was almost run out of wick.
How didn't I notice when I was trying to read old Schooley's paper, d--- me?
He strained to read the hour on his heavily notched naval timepiece. It was quarter to midnight. The negligent servants had left for bed without rousing their mistress.
He brought the candle with him to the sopha, tripped over knick-knacks, playthings - and Mrs Price's workbag - and the single flame was extinguished in a moment. His eyes adjusted and the scant moonlight from the window fell on her face.
The old lieutenant could dimly see the familiar features; the crow's feet and lighly silvered hair hidden, her fretfully worn expression relaxed into a calmer, serene, almost youthful countenance. For some reason he didn't want to disturb her. Perhaps he dreaded the noise that would ensue from little Betsey if awoken, or the remonstrances to Rebecca that would necessarily follow.
But he could not go up to bed, it was too dark, he would wake the rest of the house, and in any case he could not leave his lady sleeping in the parlour alone at this time of night.
"By Jove, this is capital," he muttered, settling himself in a worn armchair nearby.
As he was about to close his eyes, he looked at her once more. For the first time in many years he began to think of the handsome Miss Frances Ward of Huntingdon, who had captivated and run away with him. Oh, some twenty years ago, to the indignation of her family who threw her promptly off, principally by the officious manoeuvres of that old bat Julia, Miss Ward that was.
Now his daughter had caught her great puppy of a nephew. No one could dismiss the Prices that easily. It may even be that they had sent her to Portsmouth to get rid of her or prevent something of this sort.
A vague remembrance of Fanny's short return to her father's house came to his mind.
She's so deuced timid and all that -- and indeed he scarcely noticed her amidst the racket of the young devils, and the whining, scolding and hallooing of everyone else. But she had a way of going about her work; useful, creepmouse-like; and she always did as she was bid.
Now she was leaving them. She had left them previously, of course. For ten years she had lived many miles away, in a different place with different rank, spheres, connexions everything. It would not signify much now, once her uncle would give her away...
Her father turned in his chair, trying to make himself more comfortable. It creaked loudly.
A loud snore issued from Mrs Price and she started up half-roused, "Oh! What is the matter? I was not asleep." She blinked blindly.
"Oh, no. No one suspected you, ma'am." said her husband half-wryly. But she hardly heard him as she nestled back again.
"Poor, little Fanny," he said, not knowing himself what he meant, and then adjusted the cushion.
The next day, as the evening sun continued its westward course over the house of Price, two flickering wax candles were to be found on the battered parlour table; and Rebecca was given orders to furnish them so every evening from then onwards.