Sense and sensibility, p.4
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.4

          

  CHAPTER II

  Mrs. John Dashwood now installed herself mistress of Norland; and hermother and sisters-in-law were degraded to the condition of visitors.As such, however, they were treated by her with quiet civility; and byher husband with as much kindness as he could feel towards anybodybeyond himself, his wife, and their child. He really pressed them,with some earnestness, to consider Norland as their home; and, as noplan appeared so eligible to Mrs. Dashwood as remaining there till shecould accommodate herself with a house in the neighbourhood, hisinvitation was accepted.

  A continuance in a place where everything reminded her of formerdelight, was exactly what suited her mind. In seasons of cheerfulness,no temper could be more cheerful than hers, or possess, in a greaterdegree, that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happinessitself. 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 intendedto do for his sisters. To take three thousand pounds from the fortuneof their dear little boy would be impoverishing him to the mostdreadful degree. She begged him to think again on the subject. Howcould he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only childtoo, of so large a sum? And what possible claim could the MissDashwoods, who were related to him only by half blood, which sheconsidered as no relationship at all, have on his generosity to solarge an amount. It was very well known that no affection was eversupposed to exist between the children of any man by differentmarriages; and why was he to ruin himself, and their poor littleHarry, by giving away all his money to his half sisters?

  "It was my father's last request to me," replied her husband, "that Ishould assist his widow and daughters."

  "He did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one but hewas light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right senses, hecould not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give awayhalf your fortune from your own child."

  "He did not stipulate for any particular sum, my dear Fanny; he onlyrequested me, in general terms, to assist them, and make theirsituation more comfortable than it was in his power to do. Perhaps itwould have been as well if he had left it wholly to myself. He couldhardly 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. Somethingmust be done for them whenever they leave Norland and settle in a newhome."

  "Well, then, _let_ something be done for them; but _that_ somethingneed not be three thousand pounds. Consider," she added, "that whenthe money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters willmarry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be restoredto our poor little boy--"

  "Why, to be sure," said her husband, very gravely, "that would makegreat difference. The time may come when Harry will regret that solarge a sum was parted with. If he should have a numerous family, forinstance, it would be a very convenient addition."

  "To be sure it would."

  "Perhaps, then, it would be better for all parties, if the sum werediminished one half. Five hundred pounds would be a prodigiousincrease to their fortunes!"

  "Oh! beyond anything great! What brother on earth would do half somuch for his sisters, even if _really_ his sisters! And as it is--onlyhalf blood! But you have such a generous spirit!"

  "I would not wish to do any thing mean," he replied. "One had rather,on such occasions, do too much than too little. No one, at least, canthink I have not done enough for them: even themselves, they canhardly expect more."

  "There is no knowing what _they_ may expect," said the lady, "but weare not to think of their expectations: the question is, what you canafford to do."

  "Certainly; and I think I may afford to give them five hundred poundsa-piece. As it is, without any addition of mine, they will each haveabout three thousand pounds on their mother's death--a verycomfortable fortune for any young woman."

  "To be sure it is; and, indeed, it strikes me that they can want noaddition at all. They will have ten thousand pounds divided amongstthem. If they marry, they will be sure of doing well, and if they donot, they may all live very comfortably together on the interest often thousand pounds."

  "That is very true, and, therefore, I do not know whether, upon thewhole, it would not be more advisable to do something for their motherwhile she lives, rather than for them--something of the annuity kind Imean. 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 thisplan.

  "To be sure," said she, "it is better than parting with fifteenhundred pounds at once. But, then, if Mrs. Dashwood should livefifteen years we shall be completely taken in."

  "Fifteen years! my dear Fanny; her life cannot be worth half thatpurchase."

  "Certainly not; but if you observe, people always live for ever whenthere is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout andhealthy, and hardly forty. An annuity is a very serious business; itcomes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. Youare not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of thetrouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment ofthree to old superannuated servants by my father's will, and it isamazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year theseannuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of gettingit to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterwardsit turned out to be no such thing. My mother was quite sick of it. Herincome was not her own, she said, with such perpetual claims on it;and it was the more unkind in my father, because, otherwise, the moneywould have been entirely at my mother's disposal, without anyrestriction 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 forall the world."

  "It is certainly an unpleasant thing," replied Mr. Dashwood, "to havethose kind of yearly drains on one's income. One's fortune, as yourmother justly says, is _not_ one's own. To be tied down to the regularpayment of such a sum, on every rent day, is by no means desirable: ittakes away one's independence."

  "Undoubtedly; and after all you have no thanks for it. They thinkthemselves secure, you do no more than what is expected, and it raisesno gratitude at all. If I were you, whatever I did should be done atmy own discretion entirely. I would not bind myself to allow them anything yearly. It may be very inconvenient some years to spare ahundred, or even fifty pounds from our own expenses."

  "I believe you are right, my love; it will be better that there shouldbe no annuity in the case; whatever I may give them occasionally willbe of far greater assistance than a yearly allowance, because theywould only enlarge their style of living if they felt sure of a largerincome, and would not be sixpence the richer for it at the end of theyear. It will certainly be much the best way. A present of fiftypounds, now and then, will prevent their ever being distressed formoney, and will, I think, be amply discharging my promise to myfather."

  "To be sure it will. Indeed, to say the truth, I am convinced withinmyself that your father had no idea of your giving them any money atall. The assistance he thought of, I dare say, was only such as mightbe reasonably expected of you; for instance, such as looking out for acomfortable small house for them, helping them to move their things,and sending them presents of fish and game, and so forth, wheneverthey 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 butconsider, my dear Mr. Dashwood, how excessively comfortable yourmother-in-law and her daughters may live on the interest of seventhousand pounds, besides the thousand pounds belonging to each of thegirls, which brings them in fifty pounds a year a-piece, and, ofcourse, they will pay their mother for their board out of it.Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them, and whaton earth can four women want for more than that?--They will live socheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have nocarriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep nocompany, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive howcomfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannotimagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving themmore, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more ableto 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 thanwhat you say. I clearly understand it now, and I will strictly fulfilmy engagement by such acts of assistance and kindness to them as youhave described. When my mother removes into another house my servicesshall be readily given to accommodate her as far as I can. Some littlepresent of furniture too may be acceptable then."

  "Certainly," returned Mrs. John Dashwood. "But, however, _one_ thingmust be considered. When your father and mother moved to Norland,though the furniture of Stanhill was sold, all the china, plate, andlinen was saved, and is now left to your mother. Her house willtherefore be almost completely fitted up as soon as she takes it."

  "That is a material consideration undoubtedly. A valuable legacyindeed! And yet some of the plate would have been a very pleasantaddition to our own stock here."

  "Yes; and the set of breakfast china is twice as handsome as whatbelongs to this house. A great deal too handsome, in my opinion, forany 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 oweno particular gratitude to him, nor attention to his wishes; for wevery well know that if he could, he would have left almost everythingin the world to _them._"

  This argument was irresistible. It gave to his intentions whatever ofdecision was wanting before; and he finally resolved, that it would beabsolutely unnecessary, if not highly indecorous, to do more for thewidow and children of his father, than such kind of neighbourly actsas his own wife pointed out.

 
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