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Chapter 4
Tom Bertram had of late spent so little of his time at home that he could be only
nominally missed; and Lady Bertram was soon astonished to find how very well
they did even without his father, how well Edmund could supply his place in
carving, talking to the steward, writing to the attorney, settling with the servants,
and equally saving her from all possible fatigue or exertion in every particular but
that of directing her letters.
The earliest intelligence of the travellers' safe arrival at Antigua, after a
favourable voyage, was received; though not before Mrs. Norris had been
indulging in very dreadful fears, and trying to make Edmund participate them
whenever she could get him alone; and as she depended on being the first
person made acquainted with any fatal catastrophe, she had already arranged
the manner of breaking it to all the others, when Sir Thomas's assurances of their
both being alive and well made it necessary to lay by her agitation and
affectionate preparatory speeches for a while.
The winter came and passed without their being called for; the accounts
continued perfectly good; and Mrs. Norris, in promoting gaieties for her nieces,
assisting their toilets, displaying their accomplishments, and looking about for
their future husbands, had so much to do as, in addition to all her own household
cares, some interference in those of her sister, and Mrs. Grant's wasteful doings
to overlook, left her very little occasion to be occupied in fears for the absent.
The Miss Bertrams were now fully established among the belles of the
neighbourhood; and as they joined to beauty and brilliant acquirements a manner
naturally easy, and carefully formed to general civility and obligingness, they
possessed its favour as well as its admiration. Their vanity was in such good
order that they seemed to be quite free from it, and gave themselves no airs;
while the praises attending such behaviour, secured and brought round by their
aunt, served to strengthen them in believing they had no faults.
Lady Bertram did not go into public with her daughters. She was too indolent
even to accept a mother's gratification in witnessing their success and enjoyment
at the expense of any personal trouble, and the charge was made over to her
sister, who desired nothing better than a post of such honourable representation,
and very thoroughly relished the means it afforded her of mixing in society
without having horses to hire.
Fanny had no share in the festivities of the season; but she enjoyed being
avowedly useful as her aunt's companion when they called away the rest of the
family; and, as Miss Lee had left Mansfield, she naturally became everything to
Lady Bertram during the night of a ball or a party. She talked to her, listened to
her, read to her; and the tranquillity of such evenings, her perfect security in such
a tête-à-tête from any sound of unkindness, was unspeakably welcome to a mind
which had seldom known a pause in its alarms or embarrassments. As to her
cousins' gaieties, she loved to hear an account of them, especially of the balls,
and whom Edmund had danced with; but thought too lowly of her own situation to
imagine she should ever be admitted to the same, and listened, therefore,