Mrs. John Dashwood now installed herself mistress
and her mother and sisters-in-law were degraded to the condition of
visitors. As such, however, they were treated by her with quiet
civility; and by her husband with as much kindness as he could feel
towards anybody beyond himself, his wife, and their child. He really
pressed them, with some earnestness
, to consider Norland as their
home; and, as no plan appeared so eligible to Mrs. Dashwood as
remaining there till she could accommodate herself with a house in the
neighborhood, his invitation was accepted.
A continuance in a place where everything reminded her of former
delight was exactly what suited her mind. In seasons of
cheerfulness, no temper could be more cheerful than hers, or
possess, in a greater degree, that sanguine expectation of happiness
which is happiness itself. But in sorrow she must be equally carried
away by her fancy, and as far beyond consolation as in pleasure she
was beyond alloy.
Mrs. John Dashwood did not at all approve of what her husband
intended to do for his sisters. To take three thousand pounds from the
fortune of their dear little boy would be impoverishing him to the
most dreadful degree. She begged him to think again on the subject.
How could he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only child
too, of so large a sum? And what possible claim could the Misses
Dashwood, who were related to him only by half blood, which she
considered as no relationship at all, have on his generosity to so
large an amount? It was very well known that no affection was ever
supposed to exist between the children of any man by different
marriages; and why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little
Harry, by giving away all his money to his half sisters?
"It was my father's last request to me," replied her husband,
"that I should assist his widow and daughters."
"He did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one
but he was light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right
senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to
give away half your fortune from your own child."
"He did not stipulate for any particular sum, my dear Fanny; he
only requested me, in general terms, to assist them, and make their
situation more comfortable than it was in his power to do. Perhaps
it would have been as well if he had left it wholly to myself. He
could hardly suppose I should neglect them. But as he required the
promise, I could not do less than give it; at least I thought so at
the time. The promise, therefore, was given, and must be performed.
Something must be done for them whenever they leave Norland and settle
in a new home."
"Well, then, let something be done for them; but that something
need not be three thousand pounds. Consider," she added, "that when
the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters
will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be
restored to our poor little boy-"
"Why, to be sure," said her husband, very gravely, "that would
make great difference. The time may come when Harry will regret that
so large a sum was parted with. If he should have a numerous family,
for instance, it would be a very convenient addition."
"To be sure it would."
"Perhaps, then, it would be better for all parties, if the sum
were diminished one half. Five hundred pounds would be a prodigious
increase to their fortunes!"
"Oh! beyond anything great! What brother on earth would do half so
much for his sisters, even if really his sisters! And as it is- only
half blood!- But you have such a generous spirit!"
"I would not wish to do anything mean," he replied. "One had
rather, on such occasions, do too much than too little. No one, at
least, can think I have not done enough for them: even themselves,
they can hardly expect more."
"There is no knowing what they may expect," said the lady, "but we
are not to think of their expectations: the question is, what you
can afford to do."
"Certainly; and I think I may afford to give them five hundred
pounds apiece. As it is, without any addition of mine, they will
each have about three thousand pounds on their mother's death- a
very comfortable fortune for any young woman."
"To be sure it is; and, indeed, it strikes me that they can want
no addition at all. They will have ten thousand pounds divided amongst
them. If they marry, they will be sure of doing well, and if they do
not, they may all live very comfortably together on the interest of
ten thousand pounds."
"That is very true, and, therefore, I do not know whether, upon
the whole, it would not be more advisable to do something for their
mother while she lives, rather than for them- something of the annuity
kind I mean. My sisters would feel the good effects of it as well as
herself. A hundred a year would make them all perfectly comfortable."
His wife hesitated a little, however, in giving her consent to this plan.
"To be sure," said she, "it is better than parting with fifteen
hundred pounds at once. But, then, if Mrs. Dashwood should live
fifteen years, we shall be completely taken in."
"Fifteen years! my dear Fanny; her life cannot be worth half that purchase."
"Certainly not; but if you observe, people always live for ever
when there is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and
healthy, and hardly forty. An annuity is a very serious business; it
comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You
are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of
the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment
of three to old superannuated servants by my father's will, and it
is amazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year these
annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting
it to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterwards
it turned out to be no such thing. My mother was quite sick of it. Her
income was not her own, she said, with such perpetual claims on it;
and it was the more unkind in my father, because, otherwise, the money
would have been entirely at my mother's disposal, without any
restriction whatever. It has given me such an abhorrence of annuities,
that I am sure I would not pin myself down to the payment of one for
all the world."
"It is certainly an unpleasant thing," replied Mr. Dashwood, "to
have those kind of yearly drains on one's income. One's fortune, as
your mother justly says, is not one's own. To be tied down to the
regular payment of such a sum, on every rent-day, is by no means
desirable: it takes away one's independence."
"Undoubtedly; and, after all, you have no thanks for it. They
think themselves secure; you do no more than what is expected, and
it raises no gratitude at all. If I were you, whatever I did should be
done at my own discretion entirely. I would not bind myself to allow
them anything yearly. It may be very inconvenient some years to
spare a hundred, or even fifty pounds from our own expenses."
"I believe you are right, my love; it will be better that there
should by no annuity in the case: whatever I may give them
occasionally will be of far greater assistance than a yearly
allowance, because they would only enlarge their style of living if
they felt sure of a larger income, and would not be sixpence the
richer for it at the end of the year. It will certainly be much the
best way. A present of fifty pounds, now and then, will prevent
their ever being distressed for money, and will, I think, be amply
discharging my promise to my father."
"To be sure it will. Indeed, to say the truth, I am convinced
within myself that your father had no idea of your giving them any
money at all. The assistance he thought of, I dare say, was only
such as might be reasonably expected of you; for instance, such as
looking out for a comfortable small house for them, helping them to
move their things, and sending them presents of fish and game, and
so forth, whenever they are in season. I'll lay my life that he
meant nothing farther; indeed, it would be very strange and
unreasonable if he did. Do but consider, my dear Mr. Dashwood, how
excessively comfortable your mother-in-law and her daughters may
live on the interest of seven thousand pounds, besides the thousand
pounds belonging to each of the girls, which brings them in fifty
pounds a year apiece, and, of course, they will pay their mother for
their board out of it. Altogether, they will have five hundred a
year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than
that?- They will live so cheap! Their house-keeping will be nothing at
all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants;
they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind!
Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I
am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to
your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be
much more able to give you something."
"Upon my word," said Mr. Dashwood, "I believe you are perfectly
right. My father certainly could mean nothing more by his request to
me than what you say. I clearly understand it now, and I will strictly
fulfil my engagement by such acts of assistance and kindness to them
as you have described. When my mother removes into another house my
services shall be readily given to accommodate her as far as I can.
Some little present of furniture too may be acceptable then."
"Certainly," returned Mrs. John Dashwood. "But, however, one thing
must be considered. When your father and mother moved to Norland,
though the furniture of Stanhill was sold, all the china, plate, and
linen was saved, and is now left to your mother. Her house will
therefore be almost completely fitted up as soon as she takes it."
"That is a material consideration undoubtedly. A valuable legacy
indeed! And yet some of the plate would have been a very pleasant
addition to our own stock here."
"Yes; and the set of breakfast china is twice as handsome as
what belongs to this house. A great deal too handsome, in my
opinion, for any place they can ever afford to live in. But,
however, so it is. Your father thought only of them. And I must say
this, that you owe no particular gratitude to him, nor attention to
his wishes; for we very well know that if he could, he would have left
almost everything in the world to them."
This argument was irresistible. It gave to his intentions whatever
of decision was wanting before; and he finally resolved, that it would
be absolutely unnecessary, if not highly indecorous, to do more for
the widow and children of his father than such kind of neighborly acts
as his own wife pointed out.
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