MANSFIELD PARK AND MUMMIES:
Monster Mayhem, Matrimony, Ancient Curses, True Love, and Other Dire Delights,
by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian
About three thousand years ago, an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, with infinite riches of his kingdom surrounding him, had the dubious luck to die, be embalmed, mummified and then sealed up in his great tomb among the sands of Lower Egypt, and to be thereby raised to the rank of eternity and, quite possibly, deity.
About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds and nary a kingdom or sand granule in sight, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.
With the former, all Egypt mourned. With the latter, all Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. The deceased Pharaoh had two royal siblings who immediately benefited from his elevation to the Afterlife. Miss Maria Ward had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation -- not to the Afterlife, to be sure, but to the even grander state of AfterEngagement -- and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage. But whether three thousand or merely thirty years ago, there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty (and decidedly unmummified) women to deserve them.
While the venerable Pharaoh mummy continued to desiccate in secret splendor for thousands of years, far into the future, our Maria’s one sister, Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and the other, Miss Frances, fared yet worse. Miss Ward’s match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible: Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield; and Mr. and Mrs. Norris began their career of conjugal felicity with very little less than a thousand a year. But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions, did it very thoroughly. Short of marrying the mummy of a deceased ancient Egyptian pharaoh, she could hardly have made a more untoward choice. But, speaking of mummies, dear Reader, we are getting somewhat ahead of ourselves --
Sir Thomas Bertram had every intention -- from a general wish of doing right, and a desire of respectability -- to gladly assist Lady Bertram’s sister in her relative destitution. But her husband’s profession was such as no interest could reach; and before he had time to devise any other method of assisting them, an absolute breach between the sisters had taken place. It was a breach of tremendous proportions, a crevasse, a grand canyon, or possibly, a pyramid of sorts -- a truly monstrous and rather angular coldness, or maybe a heat, but most likely a thing lukewarm and therefore utterly indifferent, as though brought forth out of the grave, spurred on by royal dead ancients. It was the natural result of the conduct of each party, and such as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces. To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Price never wrote to her family on the subject till actually married. Lady Bertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temper remarkably easy and indolent -- one might say, placid to the point of being simultaneously deceased and yet walking upright -- would have contented herself with merely giving up her sister, and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs. Norris had a spirit of activity, not to mention a vaguely wolfish streak, which could not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter to Fanny, to point out the folly of her conduct, and threaten her with all its possible ill consequences -- palsy, the poor house, rabid creature bites, the cut complete. Mrs. Price, in her turn, was injured and angry; and her bitter answer to her sisters put an end to all intercourse between them for a considerable period.
Their homes were so distant, and the circles in which they moved so distinct -- Lady Bertram, for instance was always surrounded by Egyptologists, famous exotic doctorate-endowed visiting professors du jour, and attended instructional lectures that would have bored the other to tears -- as almost to preclude the means of ever hearing of each other's existence during the eleven following years, or, at least, to make it very wonderful to Sir Thomas that Mrs. Norris should ever have it in her power to tell them, as she now and then did, in an angry wolfish voice, that Fanny had got another child and it was neither bitten by anything wild nor stunted in limb or brain development. By the end of eleven years, however -- a mere blink of an instant to a drying mummy, but quite a different matter to a robust living female; but oh, mustn’t get ahead of ourselves -- Mrs. Price could no longer afford to cherish pride or resentment, or to lose one connexion that might possibly assist her. A large and still increasing family, an husband disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants, made her eager to regain the friends she had so carelessly sacrificed....
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And here is another excerpt from later on, with some other supernatural surprises:
So perfectly suitable was Mr. Rushworth indeed, to Mrs. Norris's notions of ideal matrimony that she forgot herself a certain full moon, and shared a short carriage ride with the young gentleman, while singing praises to Maria, and managed to just barely miss a certain break in the clouds and the revelation of a certain bright nocturnal celestial object that had such a regular and dire effect on her.
Mr. Rushworth never knew what hit him. Indeed, he never remembered the incident, but the bite was there, on his forearm, right through the fine linen shirtsleeve, and things got a bit bloody and rather dizzy, from there on. He was certain, out of nowhere there had been a monstrous big dog, or maybe a wolf, in the carriage; it growled and bit him, then bounded outside, and he barely managed to get home and retell the tale to his mother, forgetting all about the presence and indeed, role, of the venerable Mrs. Norris in the whole incident.
Mrs. Norris may have been forgotten that night, but the impression of her transformed teeth remained in a certain portly young gentleman’s forearm. And though it healed well and soon enough, unfortunately Mr. Rushworth was never to be his former self again. . . .
After dancing with each other at a proper number of balls, the young people justified everyone’s expectant opinions, and an engagement, with a due reference to the absent Sir Thomas, was entered into, much to the satisfaction of their respective families, and of the general lookers-on of the neighbourhood, who had, for many weeks past, felt the expediency of Mr. Rushworth's marrying Miss Bertram -- especially considering how restless the young gentleman seemed to become lately, and how much additional vermin turned up dead, and how domesticated small livestock went missing in the surrounding countryside.
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