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Chapter 18

MERRY days were these at Thornfield Hall; and busy days too: how different from the first three months of stillness, monotony, and solitude I had passed beneath its roof! All sad feelings seemed now driven from the house, all gloomy associations forgotten: there was life everywhere, movement all day long. You could not now traverse the gallery, once so hushed, nor enter the front chambers, once so tenantless, without encountering a smart lady's-maid or a dandy valet.
The kitchen, the butler's pantry, the servants' hall, the entrance hall, were equally alive; and the saloons were only left void and still when the blue sky and halcyon sunshine of the genial spring weather called their occupants out into the grounds. Even when that weather was broken, and continuous rain set in for some days, no damp seemed cast over enjoyment: indoor amusements only became more lively and varied, in consequence of the stop put to outdoor gaiety.

I wondered what they were going to do the first evening a change of entertainment was proposed: they spoke of 'playing charades,' but in my ignorance I did not understand the term. The servants were called in, the dining-room tables wheeled away, the lights otherwise disposed, the chairs placed in a semicircle opposite the arch. While Mr. Rochester and the other gentlemen directed these alterations, the ladies were running up and down stairs ringing for their maids.

Mrs. Fairfax was summoned to give information respecting the resources of the house in shawls, dresses, draperies of any kind; and certain wardrobes of the third storey were ransacked, and their contents, in the shape of brocaded and hooped petticoats, satin sacques, black modes, lace lappets, etc., were brought down in armfuls by the abigails; then a selection was made, and such things as were chosen were carried to the boudoir within the drawing-room.

Meantime, Mr. Rochester had again summoned the ladies round him, and was selecting certain of their number to be of his party. 'Miss Ingram is mine, of course,' said he: afterwards he named the two Misses Eshton, and Mrs. Dent. He looked at me: I happened to be near him, as I had been fastening the clasp of Mrs. Dent's bracelet, which had got loose.

'Will you play?' he asked. I shook my head. He did not insist, which I rather feared he would have done; he allowed me to return quietly to my usual seat.

He and his aids now withdrew behind the curtain: the other party, which was headed by Colonel Dent, sat down on the crescent of chairs. One of the gentlemen, Mr. Eshton, observing me, seemed to propose that I should be asked to join them; but Lady Ingram instantly negatived the notion.

'No,' I heard her say: 'she looks too stupid for any game of the sort.'

Ere long a bell tinkled, and the curtain drew up. Within the arch, the bulky figure of Sir George Lynn, whom Mr. Rochester had likewise chosen, was seen enveloped in a white sheet: before him, on a table, lay open a large book; and at his side stood Amy Eshton, draped in Mr. Rochester's cloak, and holding a book in her hand. Somebody, unseen, rang the bell merrily; then Adele (who had insisted on being one of her guardian's party), bounded forward, scattering round her the contents of a basket of flowers she carried on her arm. Then appeared the magnificent figure of Miss Ingram, clad in white, a long veil on her head, and a wreath of roses round her brow; by her side walked Mr. Rochester, and together they drew near the table. They knelt; while Mrs. Dent and Louisa Eshton, dressed also in white, took up their stations behind them. A ceremony followed, in dumb show, in which it was easy to recognise the pantomime of a marriage. At its termination, Colonel Dent, and his party consulted in whispers for two minutes, then the Colonel called out-

'Bride!' Mr. Rochester bowed, and the curtain fell.

A considerable interval elapsed before it again rose. Its second rising displayed a more elaborately prepared scene than the last.

The drawing-room, as I have before observed, was raised two steps above the dining-room, and on the top of the upper step, placed a yard or two back within the room, appeared a large marble basin, which I recognised as an ornament of the conservatory- where it usually stood, surrounded by exotics, and tenanted by gold fish- and whence it must have been transported with some trouble, on account of its size and weight.

Seated on the carpet, by the side of this basin, was seen Mr. Rochester, costumed in shawls, with a turban on his head. His dark eyes and swarthy skin and Paynim features suited the costume exactly: he looked the very model of an Eastern emir, an agent or a victim of the bowstring. Presently advanced into view Miss Ingram.

She, too, was attired in oriental fashion: a crimson scarf tied sash-like round the waist; an embroidered handkerchief knotted about her temples; her beautifully moulded arms bare, one of them upraised in the act of supporting a pitcher, poised gracefully on her head.

Both her cast of form and feature, her complexion and her general air, suggested the idea of some Israelitish princess of the patriarchal days; and such was doubtless the character she intended to represent.

She approached the basin, and bent over it as if to fill her pitcher; she again lifted it to her head. The personage on the well-brink now seemed to accost her; to make some request:- 'She hasted, let down her pitcher on her hand, and gave him to drink.' From the bosom of his robe he then produced a casket, opened it and showed magnificent bracelets and earrings; she acted astonishment and admiration; kneeling, he laid the treasure at her feet; incredulity and delight were expressed by her looks and gestures; the stranger fastened the bracelets on her arms and the rings in her ears. It was Eliezer and Rebecca: the camels only were wanting.

The divining party again laid their heads together: apparently they could not agree about the word or syllable the scene illustrated.

Colonel Dent, their spokesman, demanded 'the tableau of the whole'; whereupon the curtain again descended.

On its third rising only a portion of the drawing-room was disclosed; the rest being concealed by a screen, hung with some sort of dark and coarse drapery. The marble basin was removed; in its place stood a deal table and a kitchen chair: these objects were visible by a very dim light proceeding from a horn lantern, the wax candles being all extinguished.

Amidst this sordid scene, sat a man with his clenched hands resting on his knees, and his eyes bent on the ground. I knew Mr. Rochester; though the begrimed face, the disordered dress (his coat hanging loose from one arm, as if it had been almost torn from his back in a scuffle), the desperate and scowling countenance the rough, bristling hair might well have disguised him. As he moved, a chain clanked; to his wrists were attached fetters.

'Bridewell!' exclaimed Colonel Dent, and the charade was solved.

A sufficient interval having elapsed for the performers to resume their ordinary costume, they re-entered the dining-room. Mr. Rochester led in Miss Ingram; she was complimenting him on his acting.

'Do you know,' said she, 'that, of the three characters, I liked you in the last best? Oh, had you but lived a few years earlier, what a gallant gentleman-highwayman you would have made!'

'Is all the soot washed from my face?' he asked, turning it towards her.

'Alas! yes: the more's the pity! Nothing could be more becoming to your complexion than that ruffian's rouge.'

'You would like a hero of the road then?'

'An English hero of the road would be the next best thing to an Italian bandit; and that could only be surpassed by a Levantine pirate.'

'Well, whatever I am, remember you are my wife; we were married an hour since, in the presence of all these witnesses.' She giggled, and her colour rose.

'Now, Dent,' continued Mr. Rochester, 'it is your turn.' And as the other party withdrew, he and his band took the vacated seats. Miss Ingram placed herself at her leader's right hand; the other diviners filled the chairs on each side of him and her. I did not now watch the actors; I no longer waited with interest for the curtain to rise; my attention was absorbed by the spectators; my eyes, erewhile fixed on the arch, were now irresistibly attracted to the semicircle of chairs.

What charade Colonel Dent and his party played, what word they chose, how they acquitted themselves, I no longer remember; but I still see the consultation which followed each scene: I see Mr. Rochester turn to Miss Ingram, and Miss Ingram to him; I see her incline her head towards him, till the jetty curls almost touch his shoulder and wave against his cheek; I hear their mutual whisperings; I recall their interchanged glances; and something even of the feeling roused by the spectacle returns in memory at this moment.

I have told you, reader, that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester: I could not unlove him now, merely because I found that he had ceased to notice me- because I might pass hours in his presence, and he would never once turn his eyes in my direction- because I saw all his attentions appropriated by a great lady, who scorned to touch me with the hem of her robes as she passed; who, if ever her dark and imperious eye fell on me by chance, would withdraw it instantly as from an object too mean to merit observation. I could not unlove him, because I felt sure he would soon marry this very lady- because I read daily in her a proud security in his intentions respecting her- because I witnessed hourly in him a style of courtship which, if careless and choosing rather to be sought than to seek, was yet, in its very carelessness, captivating, and in its very pride, irresistible.

There was nothing to cool or banish love in these circumstances, though much to create despair. Much too, you will think, reader, to engender jealousy: if a woman, in my position, could presume to be jealous of a woman in Miss Ingram's. But I was not jealous: or very rarely;- the nature of the pain I suffered could not be explained by that word. Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy: she was too inferior to excite the feeling. Pardon the seeming paradox; I mean what I say. She was very showy, but she was not genuine: she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature: nothing bloomed spontaneously on that soil; no unforced natural fruit delighted by its freshness. She was not good; she was not original: she used to repeat sounding phrases from books: she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own. She advocated a high tone of sentiment; but she did not know the sensations of sympathy and pity; tenderness and truth were not in her.

Too often she betrayed this, by the undue vent she gave to a spiteful antipathy she had conceived against little Adele: pushing her away with some contumelious epithet if she happened to approach her; sometimes ordering her from the room, and always treating her with coldness and acrimony. Other eyes besides mine watched these manifestations of character- watched them closely, keenly, shrewdly.

Yes; the future bridegroom, Mr. Rochester himself, exercised over his intended a ceaseless surveillance; and it was from this sagacity- this guardedness of his- this perfect, clear consciousness of his fair one's defects- this obvious absence of passion in his sentiments towards her, that my ever-torturing pain arose.

I saw he was going to marry her, for family, perhaps political reasons, because her rank and connections suited him; I felt he had not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted to win from him that treasure. This was the point- this was where the nerve was touched and teased- this was where the fever was sustained and fed: she could not charm him.

If she had managed the victory at once, and he had yielded and sincerely laid his heart at her feet, I should have covered my face, turned to the wall, and (figuratively) have died to them. If Miss Ingram had been a good and noble woman, endowed with force, fervour, kindness, sense, I should have had one vital struggle with two tigers- jealousy and despair: then, my heart torn out and devoured, I should have admired her- acknowledged her excellence, and been quiet for the rest of my days: and the more absolute her superiority, the deeper would have been my admiration- the more truly tranquil my quiescence. But as matters really stood, to watch Miss Ingram's efforts at fascinating Mr. Rochester, to witness their repeated failure- herself unconscious that they did fail; vainly fancying that each shaft launched hit the mark, and infatuatedly pluming herself on success, when her pride and self-complacency repelled further and further what she wished to allure- to witness this, was to be at once under ceaseless excitation and ruthless restraint.

Because, when she failed, I saw how she might have succeeded.

Arrows that continually glanced off from Mr. Rochester's breast and fell harmless at his feet, might, I knew, if shot by a surer hand, have quivered keen in his proud heart- have called love into his stern eye, and softness into his sardonic face; or, better still, without weapons a silent conquest might have been won.

'Why can she not influence him more, when she is privileged to draw so near to him?' I asked myself. 'Surely she cannot truly like him, or not like him with true affection! If she did, she need not coin her smiles so lavishly, flash her glances so unremittingly, manufacture airs so elaborate, graces so multitudinous. It seems to me that she might, by merely sitting quietly at his side, saying little and looking less, get nigher his heart. I have seen in his face a far different expression from that which hardens it now while she is so vivaciously accosting him; but then it came of itself: it was not elicited by meretricious arts and calculated manoeuvres; and one had but to accept it- to answer what he asked without pretension, to address him when needful without grimace- and it increased and grew kinder and more genial, and warmed one like a fostering sunbeam. How will she manage to please him when they are married? I do not think she will manage it; and yet it might be managed; and his wife might, I verily believe, be the very happiest woman the sun shines on.'

I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester's project of marrying for interest and connections. It surprised me when I first discovered that such was his intention: I had thought him a man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his choice of a wife; but the longer I considered the position, education, etc., of the parties, the less I felt justified in judging and blaming either him or Miss Ingram for acting in conformity to ideas and principles instilled into them, doubtless, from their childhood. All their class held these principles: I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom. It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to my bosom only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness of the advantages to the husband's own happiness offered by this plan convinced me that there must be arguments against its general adoption of which I was quite ignorant: otherwise I felt sure all the world would act as I wished to act.

But in other points, as well as this, I was growing very lenient to my master: I was forgetting all his faults, for which I had once kept a sharp look-out. It had formerly been my endeavour to study all sides of his character: to take the bad with the good; and from the just weighing of both, to form an equitable judgment. Now I saw no bad. The sarcasm that had repelled, the harshness that had startled me once, were only like keen condiments in a choice dish: their presence was pungent, but their absence would be felt as comparatively insipid. And as for the vague something- was it a sinister or a sorrowful, a designing or a desponding expression?- that opened upon a careful observer, now and then, in his eye, and closed again before one could fathom the strange depth partially disclosed; that something which used to make me fear and shrink, as if I had been wandering amongst volcanic-looking hills, and had suddenly felt the ground quiver and seen it gape: that something, I, at intervals, beheld still; and with throbbing heart, but not with palsied nerves.

Instead of wishing to shun, I longed only to dare- to divine it; and I thought Miss Ingram happy, because one day she might look into the abyss at her leisure, explore its secrets and analyse their nature.

Meantime, while I thought only of my master and his future bride- saw only them, heard only their discourse, and considered only their movements of importance- the rest of the party were occupied with their own separate interests and pleasures. The Ladies Lynn and Ingram continued to consort in solemn conferences, where they nodded their two turbans at each other, and held up their four hands in confronting gestures of surprise, or mystery, or horror, according to the theme on which their gossip ran, like a pair of magnified puppets. Mild Mrs.

Dent talked with good-natured Mrs. Eshton; and the two sometimes bestowed a courteous word or smile on me. Sir George Lynn, Colonel Dent, and Mr. Eshton discussed politics, or county affairs, or justice business. Lord Ingram flirted with Amy Eshton; Louisa played and sang to and with one of the Messrs. Lynn; and Mary Ingram listened languidly to the gallant speeches of the other. Sometimes all, as with one consent, suspended their by-play to observe and listen to the principal actors: for, after all, Mr. Rochester and-  because closely connected with him- Miss Ingram were the life and soul of the party.

If he was absent from the room an hour, a perceptible dulness seemed to steal over the spirits of his guests; and his re-entrance was sure to give a fresh impulse to the vivacity of conversation.

The want of his animating influence appeared to be peculiarly felt one day that he had been summoned to Millcote on business, and was not likely to return till late. The afternoon was wet: a walk the party had proposed to take to see a gipsy camp, lately pitched on a common beyond Hay, was consequently deferred. Some of the gentlemen were gone to the stables: the younger ones, together with the younger ladies, were playing billiards in the billiard-room. The dowagers Ingram and Lynn sought solace in a quiet game at cards.

Blanche Ingram, after having repelled, by supercilious taciturnity, some efforts of Mrs. Dent and Mrs. Eshton to draw her into conversation, had first murmured over some sentimental tunes and airs on the piano, and then, having fetched a novel from the library, had flung herself in haughty listlessness on a sofa, and prepared to beguile, by the spell of fiction, the tedious hours of absence. The room and the house were silent: only now and then the merriment of the billiard-players was heard from above.

It was verging on dusk, and the dock had already given warning of the hour to dress for dinner, when little Adele, who knelt by me in the drawing-room window-seat, suddenly exclaimed-

'Voila Monsieur Rochester, qui revient!'

I turned, and Miss Ingram darted forwards from her sofa: the others, too, looked up from their several occupations; for at the same time a crunching of wheels and a splashing tramp of horse-hoofs became audible on the wet gravel. A post-chaise was approaching.

'What can possess him to come home in that style?' said Miss Ingram. 'He rode Mesrour (the black horse), did he not, when he went out? and Pilot was with him:- what has he done with the animals?'

As she said this, she approached her tall person and ample garments so near the window, that I was obliged to bend back almost to the breaking of my spine: in her eagerness she did not observe me at first, but when she did, she curled her lip and moved to another casement. The post-chaise stopped; the driver rang the door-bell, and a gentleman alighted attired in travelling garb; but it was not Mr. Rochester; it was a tall, fashionable-looking man, a stranger.

'How provoking!' exclaimed Miss Ingram: 'you tiresome monkey!' (apostrophising Adele), 'who perched you up in the window to give false intelligence?' and she cast on me an angry glance, as if I were in fault.

Some parleying was audible in the hall, and soon the newcomer entered. He bowed to Lady Ingram, as deeming her the eldest lady present.

'It appears I come at an inopportune time, madam,' said he, 'when my friend, Mr. Rochester, is from home; but I arrive from a very long journey, and I think I may presume so far on old and intimate acquaintance as to instal myself here till he returns.'

His manner was polite; his accent, in speaking, struck me as being somewhat unusual,- not precisely foreign, but still not altogether English: his age might be about Mr. Rochester's,- between thirty and forty; his complexion was singularly sallow: otherwise he  was a fine-looking man, at first sight especially. On closer examination, you detected something in his face that displeased, or rather that failed to please. His features were regular, but too relaxed: his eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life- at least so I thought.

The sound of the dressing-bell dispersed the party. It was not till after dinner that I saw him again: he then seemed quite at his ease.

But I liked his physiognomy even less than before: it struck me as being at the same time unsettled and inanimate. His eye wandered, and had no meaning in its wandering: this gave him an odd look, such as I never remembered to have seen. For a handsome and not an unamiable-looking man, he repelled me exceedingly: there was no power in that smooth-skinned face of a full oval shape: no firmness in that aquiline nose and small cherry mouth; there was no thought on the low, even forehead; no command in that blank, brown eye.

As I sat in my usual nook, and looked at him with the light of the girandoles on the mantelpiece beaming full over him- for he occupied an arm-chair drawn close to the fire and kept shrinking still nearer, as if he were cold- I compared him with Mr. Rochester. I  think (with deference be it spoken) the contrast could not be much greater between a sleek gander and a fierce falcon: between a meek sheep and the rough-coated keen-eyed dog, its guardian.

He had spoken of Mr. Rochester as an old friend. A curious friendship theirs must have been: a pointed illustration, indeed, of the old adage that 'extremes meet.'

Two or three of the gentlemen sat near him, and I caught at times scraps of their conversation across the room. At first I could not make much sense of what I heard; for the discourse of Louisa Eshton and Mary Ingram, who sat nearer to me, confused the fragmentary sentences that reached me at intervals. These last were discussing the stranger; they both called him 'a beautiful man.' Louisa said he was 'a love of a creature,' and she 'adored him'; and Mary instanced his 'pretty little mouth, and nice nose,' as her ideal of the charming.

'And what a sweet-tempered forehead he hast' cried Louisa,- 'so smooth- none of those frowning irregularities I dislike so much; and such a placid eye and smile!'

And then, to my great relief, Mr. Henry Lynn summoned them to the other side of the room, to settle some point about the deferred excursion to Hay Common.

I was now able to concentrate my attention on the group by the fire, and I presently gathered that the newcomer was called Mr. Mason; then I learned that he was but just arrived in England, and that he came from some hot country: which was the reason, doubtless, his face was so sallow, and that he sat so near the hearth, and wore a surtout in the house. Presently the words Jamaica, Kingston, Spanish Town, indicated the West Indies as his residence; and it was with no little surprise I gathered, ere long, that he had there first seen and become acquainted with Mr. Rochester. He spoke of his friend's dislike of the burning heats, the hurricanes, and rainy seasons of that region. I knew Mr. Rochester had been a traveller: Mrs. Fairfax had said so; but I thought the continent of Europe had bounded his wanderings; till now I had never heard a hint given of visits to more distant shores.

I was pondering these things, when an incident, and a somewhat unexpected one, broke the thread of my musings. Mr. Mason, shivering as some one chanced to open the door, asked for more coal to be put on the fire, which had burnt out its flame, though its mass of cinder still shone hot and red. The footman who brought the coal, in going out, stopped near Mr. Eshton's chair, and said something to him in a low voice, of which I heard only the words, 'old woman,'- 'quite troublesome.'

'Tell her she shall be put in the stocks if she does not take herself off,' replied the magistrate.

'No- stop!' interrupted Colonel Dent. 'Don't send her away, Eshton; we might turn the thing to account; better consult the ladies.' And speaking aloud, he continued- 'Ladies, you talked of going to Hay Common to visit the gipsy camp; Sam here says that one of the old Mother Bunches is in the servants' hall at this moment, and insists upon being brought in before "the quality," to tell them their fortunes. Would you like to see her?'

'Surely, colonel,' cried Lady Ingram, 'you would not encourage such a low impostor? Dismiss her, by all means, at once!'

'But I cannot persuade her to go away, my lady,' said the footman; 'nor can any of the servants: Mrs. Fairfax is with her just  now, entreating her to be gone; but she has taken a chair in the chimney-corner, and says nothing shall stir her from it till she gets leave to come in here.'

'What does she want?' asked Mrs. Eshton.

'"To tell the gentry their fortunes," she says, ma'am; and she swears she must and will do it.'

'What is she like?' inquired the Misses Eshton, in a breath.

'A shockingly ugly old creature, miss; almost as black as a crock.'

'Why, she's a real sorceress!' cried Frederick Lynn. 'Let us have her in, of course.'

'To be sure,' rejoined his brother; 'it would be a thousand pities to throw away such a chance of fun.'

'My dear boys, what are you thinking about?' exclaimed Mrs. Lynn.

'I cannot possibly countenance any such inconsistent proceeding,' chimed in the Dowager Ingram.

'Indeed, mama, but you can- and will,' pronounced the haughty voice of Blanche, as she turned round on the piano-stool; where till now she had sat silent, apparently examining sundry sheets of music. 'I have a curiosity to hear my fortune told: therefore, Sam, order the beldame forward.'

'My darling Blanche! recollect-'

'I do- I recollect all you can suggest; and I must have my will- quick, Sam!'

'Yes- yes- yes!' cried all the juveniles, both ladies and gentlemen. 'Let her come- it will be excellent sport!'

The footman still lingered. 'She looks such a rough one,' said he.

'Go!' ejaculated Miss Ingram, and the man went.

Excitement instantly seized the whole party: a running fire of raillery and jests was proceeding when Sam returned.

'She won't come now,' said he. 'She says it's not her mission to appear before the "vulgar herd" (them's her words). I must show her into a room by herself, and then those who wish to consult her must go to her one by one.'

'You see now, my queenly Blanche,' began Lady Ingram, 'she encroaches. Be advised, my angel girl- and-'

'Show her into the library, of course,' cut in the 'angel girl,'

'It is not my mission to listen to her before the vulgar herd either: I mean to have her all to myself. Is there a fire in the library?'

'Yes, ma'am- but she looks such a tinkler.'

'Cease that chatter, blockhead! and do my bidding.'

Again Sam vanished; and mystery, animation, expectation rose to full flow once more.

'She's ready now,' said the footman, as he reappeared. 'She wishes to know who will be her first visitor.'

'I think I had better just look in upon her before any of the ladies go,' said Colonel Dent.

'Tell her, Sam, a gentleman is coming.'

Sam went and returned.

'She says, sir, that she'll have no gentlemen; they need not trouble themselves to come near her; nor,' he added, with difficulty suppressing a titter, 'any ladies either, except the young and single.'

'By Jove, she has taste!' exclaimed Henry Lynn.

Miss Ingram rose solemnly: 'I go first,' she said, in a tone which might have befitted the leader of a forlorn hope, mounting a breach in the van of his men.

'Oh, my best! oh, my dearest! pause- reflect!' was her mama's cry; but she swept past her in stately silence, passed through the door which Colonel Dent held open, and we heard her enter the library.

A comparative silence ensued. Lady Ingram thought it 'le cas' to wring her hands: which she did accordingly. Miss Mary declared she felt, for her part, she never dared venture. Amy and Louisa Eshton tittered under their breath, and looked a little frightened.

The minutes passed very slowly: fifteen were counted before the library-door again opened. Miss Ingram returned to us through the arch.

Would she laugh? Would she take it as a joke? All eyes met her with a glance of eager curiosity, and she met all eyes with one of rebuff and coldness; she looked neither flurried nor merry: she walked stiffly to her seat, and took it in silence.

'Well, Blanche?' said Lord Ingram.

'What did she say, sister?' asked Mary.

'What did you think? How do you feel? Is she a real fortune-teller?' demanded the Misses Eshton.

'Now, now, good people,' returned Miss Ingram, 'don't press upon me. Really your organs of wonder and credulity are easily excited: you seem, by the importance you all- my good mama included- ascribe to this matter, absolutely to believe we have a genuine witch in the house, who is in close alliance with the old gentleman. I have seen a gipsy vagabond; she has practised in hackneyed fashion the science of palmistry and told me what such people usually tell. My whim is gratified; and now I think Mr. Eshton will do well to put the hag in the stocks to-morrow morning, as he threatened.'

Miss Ingram took a book, leant back in her chair, and so declined further conversation. I watched her for nearly half an hour: during all that time she never turned a page, and her face grew momently darker, more dissatisfied, and more sourly expressive of disappointment. She had obviously not heard anything to her advantage: and it seemed to me, from her prolonged fit of gloom and taciturnity, that she herself, notwithstanding her professed indifference, attached undue importance to whatever revelations had been made her.

Meantime, Mary Ingram, Amy and Louisa Eshton, declared they dared not go alone; and yet they all wished to go. A negotiation was opened through the medium of the ambassador, Sam; and after much pacing to and fro, till, I think, the said Sam's calves must have ached with the exercise, permission was at last, with great difficulty, extorted from the rigorous Sibyl, for the three to wait upon her in a body.

Their visit was not so still as Miss Ingram's had been: we heard hysterical giggling and little shrieks proceeding from the library;   and at the end of about twenty minutes they burst the door open, and came running across the hall, as if they were half-scared out of their wits.

'I am sure she is something not right!' they cried, one and all.

'She told us such things! She knows all about us!' and they sank breathless into the various seats the gentlemen hastened to bring them.

Pressed for further explanation, they declared she had told them of things they had said and done when they were mere children; described books and ornaments they had in their boudoirs at home: keepsakes that different relations had presented to them. They affirmed that she had even divined their thoughts, and had whispered in the ear of each the name of the person she liked best in the world, and informed them of what they most wished for.

Here the gentlemen interposed with earnest petitions to be further enlightened on these two last-named points; but they got only blushes, ejaculations, tremors, and titters, in return for their importunity. The matrons, meantime, offered vinaigrettes and wielded fans; and again and again reiterated the expression of their concern that their warning had not been taken in time; and the elder gentlemen laughed, and the younger urged their services on the agitated fair ones.

In the midst of the tumult, and while my eyes and ears were fully engaged in the scene before me, I heard a hem close at my elbow: I turned, and saw Sam.

'If you please, miss, the gipsy declares that there is another young single lady in the room who has not been to her yet, and she swears she will not go till she has seen all. I thought it must be you: there is no one else for it. What shall I tell her?'

'Oh, I will go by all means,' I answered: and I was glad of the unexpected opportunity to gratify my much-excited curiosity. I slipped out of the room, unobserved by any eye- for the company were gathered in one mass about the trembling trio just returned- and I closed the door quietly behind me.

'If you like, miss,' said Sam, 'I'll wait in the hall for you; and if she frightens you, just call and I'll come in.'

'No, Sam, return to the kitchen: I am not in the least afraid.' Nor was I; but I was a good deal interested and excited.
 
 
那些是桑菲尔德府欢乐的日子,也是忙碌的日子。同最初三个月我在这儿度过的平静、单调和孤寂的日子相比,真是天差地别!如今一切哀伤情调已经烟消云散,一切阴郁的联想已忘得一干二净,到处热热闹闹,整天人来客往。过去静悄悄的门廓,空无住客的前房,现在一走进去就会撞见漂亮的侍女,或者衣饰华丽的男仆。

无论是厨房,还是管家的食品室,佣人的厅堂和门厅,都一样热闹非凡。只有在和煦的春日里,蔚蓝的天空和明媚的阳光,把人们吸引到庭园里去的时候,几间大客厅才显得空荡沉寂。即使天气转坏,几日里阴雨连绵,也似乎不曾使他们扫兴,室外的娱乐一停止,室内的倒反而更加活泼多样了。

第一个晚上有人建议改变一下娱乐方式的时候,我心里纳闷他们会干什么。他们说起要玩“字谜游戏”,但我一无所知,一时不明白这个名称。仆人们被叫了进来,餐桌给搬走了,灯光己另作处理,椅子正对着拱门排成了半圆形。罗切斯特先生和其他男宾们指挥着作些变动时,女士们在楼梯上跑上跑下,按铃使唤仆人。费尔法克斯太太应召进房,报告各类披肩、服装和帐幔等家藏物资情况。三楼的有些大橱也来个兜底翻寻,里面的一应物件,如带裙环的织锦裙子、缎子宽身女裙、黑色丝织品、花边垂带等,都由使女们成包捧下楼来,经过挑选,又把选中的东西送进客厅内的小厅里。

与此同时,罗切斯特先生把女士们再次叫到他周围,选中了几位加入他一组。“当然英格拉姆小姐是属于我的,”他说,随后他又点了两位埃希顿小姐和登特夫人的名。他瞧了瞧我,我恰巧在他身边,替登特太太把松开的手镯扣好。

“你来玩吗?”他问。我摇了摇头。他没有坚持,我真怕他会呢。他允许我安静地回到平时的座位上去。

他和搭档们退到了帐幔后头,而由登特上校领头的一组人,在排成半圆形的椅子上坐了下来。其中一位叫埃希顿先生的男士,注意到了我,好像提议我应当加入他们,但英格拉姆夫人立即否决了他的建议。

“不行,”我听见她说,“她看上去一付蠢相,玩不来这类游戏。”

没过多久,铃声响了,幕拉开了。在半圆形之内,出现了乔治.林恩爵士用白布裹着的巨大身影,他也是由罗切斯特先生选中的。他前面的一张桌子上,放着一本大书,他一侧站着艾米.埃希顿,身上披着罗切斯特先生的斗篷,手里拿着一本书。有人在看不见的地方摇响了欢快的铃声。随后阿黛勒(她坚持参加监护人的一组)跳跳蹦蹦来到前面,把挽在胳膊上的一篮子花,朝她周围撒去。接着雍容华贵的英格拉姆小姐露面了,一身素装,头披长纱,额上戴着圈玫瑰花。她身边走着罗切斯特先生,两人一起跪向桌子。他们跪了下来,与此同时,一样浑身著白的登特太太和路易莎.埃希顿,在他们身后站定。接着一个用哑剧来表现的仪式开始了,不难看出,这是场哑剧婚礼。结束时登特上校和他的一伙人悄悄地商量了两分钟,随后上校嚷道:

“新娘!”罗切斯特先生行了鞠躬礼,随后幕落。

过了好一会儿,帐幕才再次拉开。第二幕表演比第一幕显得更加精心准备。如我以前所观察的那样,客厅已垫得比餐室高出两个台阶,在客厅内靠后一两码的顶端台阶上,放置着一个硕大的大理石盆,我认出来那是温室里的一个装饰品——平时里面养着金鱼,周围布满了异国花草——它体积大,份量重,搬到这儿来一定是花了一番周折的。

在这个大盆子旁边的地毯上,坐着罗切斯特先生,身裹披巾,额缠头巾。他乌黑的眼睛、黝黑的皮肤和穆斯林式的五官,与这身打扮十分般配。他看上去活象一个东方的酋长,一个绞死人和被人绞死的角色。不久,英格拉姆小姐登场了。她也是一身东方式装束。一条大红围巾象腰带似地缠在腰间;一块绣花手帕围住额头;她那形态美丽的双臂赤裸着,其中的一条高高举起,优美地托着顶在头上的一个坛子。她的体态和容貌,她的肤色和神韵,使人想起了宗法时代的以色列公主,无疑那正是她想要扮演的角色。

她走近大盆子,俯身似乎要把水坛灌满。随后再次把坛子举起来放在头上。那个在井边的人好像在同他打招呼,提出了某种要求:她“就急忙拿下瓶来,托在手上给他喝。”随后他从胸口的长袍里,取出一个盒子,打了开来,露出金灿灿的镯子和耳环;她做出惊叹的表情,跪了下来。他把珠宝搁在她脚边,她的神态和动作中流露出疑惑与喜悦,陌生人替她戴好了手镯,挂好了耳环。这就是以利以泽和利百加了,只不过没有骆驼。

猜谜的一方再次交头接耳起来,显然他们对这场戏所表现的字或只言片语,无法取得一致意见。他们的发言人登特上校要来表现“完整的场面”,于是帷幕又一次落下。

第三幕里客厅只露出了部份,其余部分由一块粗糙的黑色布幔遮挡着,大理石盆子已被搬走,代之以一张松木桌和一把厨房椅子,借着一盏号角式灯笼的幽暗灯光,这些物品隐约可见,因为蜡烛全都灭了。

在这暗淡的场景中,坐着一个人,双手攒紧放在膝头,双目紧盯着地上。我知道这是罗切斯特先生,尽管污秽的脸,散乱的服饰(在一条胳膊上他的外衣垂挂着,好象在一场搏斗中几乎是从背上撕了下来似的),绝望阴沉的脸容、粗糙直竖的头发,完全可以叫人无法辨认。他走动时,铁链叮当作响,他的手腕上戴着手铐。

“监狱!”登特上校冲口叫道,字谜也就被猜中了。

随后是一段充分的休息时间,让表演者恢复原来的服装,他们再次走进餐室。罗切斯特先生领着英格拉姆小姐,她正夸奖着他的演技。

“你可知道,”她说,“在你饰演的三个人物中,我最喜欢最后一个。啊,要是你早生几年,你很可能会成为一个英勇高贵的拦路强盗!”

“我脸上的煤烟都洗干净了吗?”他向她转过脸问道。

“哎呀呀!全洗掉了,洗得越干净就越可惜!那个歹徒的紫红脸色同你的肤色再般配没有了。”

“那你喜欢剪径的强盗了?”

“就我喜好而言,一个英国的路盗仅次于一个意大利的土匪,而意大利的土匪稍逊于地中海的海盗。”

“好吧,不管我是谁,记住你是我的妻子,一小时之前我们已结婚,当着所有的目击者。”她吃吃一笑,脸上泛起了红晕。

“嗨,登特,”罗切斯特先生继续说道,“该轮到你们了。”另一组人退下去后,他和他的伙伴们在腾出来的位置上坐了下来。英格拉姆小姐坐在首领的右侧,其余的猜谜人坐在他们两旁的椅子上。这时我不去观看演员了,不再兴趣十足地等候幕启,我的注重力己被观众所吸引。我的目光刚才还盯着拱门,此时已不可抗拒地转向了排成半圆形的椅子。登特上校和他的搭当们玩的是什么字谜游戏,选择了什么字,如何圆满地完成自己扮演的角色,我已无从记得,但每场演出后互相商量的情景,却历历如在目前。我看到罗切斯特先生转向英格拉姆小姐,英格拉姆小姐又转向罗切斯特先生,我看见她向他侧过头去,直到她乌油油的卷发几乎触到了他的肩膀,拂着了他的脸颊。我听到了他们相互间的耳语,我回想起他们彼此交换的眼色,甚至这一情景在我心里所激起的某种情感,此刻也在我记忆中复活了。

我曾告诉过你,读者,我意识到自己爱上了罗切斯特先生。如今我不可能不管他,仅仅因为发现他不再注意我了——仅仅因为我在他面前度过几小时,而他朝我瞟都不瞟一眼——仅仅因为我看到他的全部注意力被一位贵妇人所吸引,而这位贵妇路过我身边时连长袍的边都不屑碰我一下,阴沉专横的目光碰巧落在我身上时、会立即转移,仿佛我太卑微而不值一顾。我不可能不爱他,仅仅因为断定他很快会娶这位小姐——仅仅因为我每天觉察到,她高傲地觉得自己在他心目中的地位己经非常稳固;仅仅因为我时时刻刻看着他的求婚方式尽管漫不经心,且又表现出宁愿被人追求而不追求别人,却由于随意而显得富有魅力,由于傲慢而愈是不可抗拒。

这种情况虽然很可能造成灰心失望,但丝毫不会使爱情冷却或消失。读者呀,要是处于我这样地位的女人,敢于妒嫉象英格拉姆小姐这样地位的女人的话,你会认为这件事很可以引起妒嫉。——我所经受的痛苦是无法用那两个字来解释的。英格拉姆小姐不值得妒嫉;她太低下了,激不起我那种感情。请原谅这表面的评论:我是表里一致的。她好卖弄、但并不真诚。她风度很好,而又多才多艺,但头脑浮浅,心灵天生贫瘠;在那片土地上没有花朵会自动开放,没有哪种不需外力而自然结出的果实会喜欢这种新土。她缺乏教养,没有独创性,而惯于重复书本中的大话,从不提出,也从来没有自己的见解。她鼓吹高尚的情操,但并不知道同情和怜悯,身上丝毫没有温柔和真诚。她对小阿黛勒的心怀恶意,并无端发泄,常常使她在这点上暴露无遗,要是小阿黛勒恰巧走近她,她会用恶言毒语把她撵走,有时命令她离开房间,常常冷淡刻毒地对待她。除了我,还有别人也注视着这些个性的流露——密切急迫而敏锐地注视着。是的,就是罗切斯特先生这位准新郎自己,也无时无刻不在监视着他的意中人。正是这种洞察力——他所存的戒心——这种对自己美人缺陷的清醒全面的认识——正是他在感情上对她明显缺乏热情这一点,引起了我无休止的痛苦。

我看到他要娶她是出于门第观念,也许还有政治上的原因,因为她的地位与家庭关系同他很相配。我觉得他并没有把自己的爱给她,她也没有资格从他那儿得到这个宝物。这就是问题的症结——就是触及痛处的地方——就是我热情有增无减的原因:因为她不可能把他迷住。

要是她立即获胜,他也让了步,虔诚地拜倒在她脚下,我倒会捂住脸,转向墙壁,在他们面前死去(比喻意义上说)。要是英格拉姆小姐是一位高尚出色的女人,富有力量、热情、善心和识见,我倒会与两头猛虎——嫉妒与绝望,作一誓死的搏斗。纵然我的心被掏出来吞噬掉,我也会钦佩她——承认她的出众,默默地度过余生。她愈是优越绝伦,我会愈加钦慕——我的沉默也会愈加深沉。但实际情况并非加此,目睹英格拉姆小姐想方设法遮住罗切斯特先生,看着她连连败绩——她自己却并没有意识到,反而徒劳地幻想,每一支射出的箭都击中了目标,昏头昏脑地为自己的成功而洋洋得意,而她的傲气与自负却越来越把她希望诱捕的目的物拒之于门外——看着这—切使我同时陷入了无尽的激动和无情的自制之中。

她失败时,我知道她本可以取胜。我知道,那些不断擦过罗切斯特先生的胸膛,没有射中落在脚下的箭,要是由一个更为稳健的射手来射,满可以在他高傲的心坎上剧烈颤动——会在他严厉的目光中注入爱,在嘲弄的面部表情中注入柔情,或者更好,不需要武器便可无声把他征服。

“为什么她有幸如此接近他,却无法给予他更大的影响呢?”我问自己。“当然她不可能真正喜欢他,或者真心实意爱他!要是那样,她就不必那么慷慨卖笑,频送秋波,不必如此装腔作势,卖弄风情了。我似乎觉得,她只要安安静静地坐在他身边,不必张口抬眼,就可以贴近他的心坎。我曾见到过他一种全然不同的表情,不象她此刻轻佻地同他搭讪时露出的冷漠态度。但那时这种表情是自然产生的,不是靠低俗的计谋和利己的手腕来索讨的。你只要接受它就是——他发问时你回答,不用弄虚作假;需要时同他说话,不必挤眉弄眼——而这种表情会越来越浓,越来越温和,越来越亲切,象滋养人的阳光那样使你感到温暖。他们结合以后,她怎样来使他高兴呢?我想她不会去想办法。不过该是可以做到使他高兴的。我真的相信,他的妻子会成为天底下最快乐的女人。”

对罗切斯特先生从个人利益和亲属关系考虑的婚姻计划,我至今没有任何微词。我初次发觉他的这一打算时,很有些诧异。我曾认为像他这样的人,在择偶时不会为这么陈腐的动机所左右。但是我对男女双方的地位、教养等等考虑得越久,我越感到自己没有理由因为罗切斯特先生和英格拉姆小姐无疑在童年时就灌输进去的思想和原则行事,就责备他们。他们整个阶级的人都奉行这样的原则,我猜想他们也有我无法揣测的理由去恪守这些原则。我似乎觉得,如果我是一个像他这样的绅士,我也只会把自己所爱的妻子搂入怀中。然而这种打算显然对丈夫自身的幸福有利,所以未被普遍采纳,必定有我全然不知的争议,否则整个世界肯定会象我所想的那样去做了。

但是在其他方面,如同在这方面一样,我对我主人渐渐地变得宽容了。我正在忘却他所有的缺点,而过去我是紧盯不放的。以前我研究他性格的各个方面,好坏都看,权衡两者,以作出公正的评价。现在我看不到坏的方面了。令人厌恶的嘲弄,一度使我吃惊的严厉,已不过像是一盘佳肴中浓重的调料,有了它,热辣辣好吃,没有它,便淡而无味。至于那种令人难以捉摸的东西——那种表情是阴险还是忧伤,是工于心计还是颓唐沮丧,——一个细心的旁观者会看到这种表情不时从他目光中流露出来,但是没等你探测暴露部分的神秘深渊,它又再次掩盖起来了。那种神态过去曾使我畏惧和退缩,仿佛徘徊在火山似的群山之中,突然感到大地颤抖,看到地面裂开了,间或我还能见到这样的表情,我依旧怦然心动,却并未神经麻木。我不想躲避,只渴望迎头而上,去探知它的底细。我认为英搭拉姆小姐很幸福,因为有一天她可以在闲暇时窥深这个深渊,考察它的秘密,分析这些秘密的性质。

与此同时,在我只考虑我的主人和他未来的新娘时——眼睛只看见他们,耳朵只听见他们的谈话,心里只想着他们举足轻重的动作——其他宾客都沉浸于各自的兴趣与欢乐。林恩太太和英格拉姆太太依旧相伴,在严肃交谈。彼此点着戴了头巾帽的头,根据谈及的话题,各自举起双手,作着表示惊愕、迷惑或恐俱的手势,活象一对放大了的木偶。温存的登特太太同敦厚的埃希顿夫人在聊天,两位太太有时还同我说句把客套活,或者朝我笑笑。乔治.林恩爵士、登特上校和埃希顿先生在谈论政治、郡里的事或司法事务。英格拉姆勋爵和艾米.埃希顿在调情。路易莎弹琴唱歌给一位林恩先生听,也跟他一起弹唱。玛丽.英格拉姆懒洋洋地听着另一位林恩先生献殷勤的话。有时候,所有的人都不约而同地停止了自己的插曲,来观看和倾听主角们的表演,因为罗切斯特先生和——由于与他密切有关——英格拉姆小姐,毕竟是全场人的生命的灵魂。要是他离开房间一个小时,一种可以觉察到的沉闷情绪便悄悄地漫上客人们的心头,而他再一次进屋必定会给活跃的谈话注入新的激情。

一天,他有事上米尔科特去了,要很晚才能回来,大家便特别感觉到缺少了他生气勃勃的感染力。那天下午下了雨,结果原来计划好的,徒步去看新近扎在海村工地上的吉卜赛人营房的事,也就推迟了。一些男士们去了马厩,年青一点的与小姐们一起在台球房里打台球。遗孀英格拉姆和林恩,安静地玩纸牌解闷。登特太太和埃希顿太太拉布兰奇.英格拉姆小姐一起聊天,她爱理不理地拒绝了,自己先是伴着钢琴哼了一些感伤的曲调,随后从图书室里拿了本小说,傲气十足却无精打彩地往沙发上一坐,准备用小说的魅力,来消磨几个钟头无人作伴的乏味时光。除了不时传来楼上玩台球人的欢叫,整个房间和整所房子都寂静无声。

时候已近黄昏,教堂的钟声提醒人们已到了换装用饭的时刻。这当儿,在客厅里跪在我身边窗台上的阿黛勒突然大叫起来:

“Voila Monsieur Rochester, qui revient!”

我转过身,英格拉姆小姐从沙发上一跃而起,其余的人也停下自己的活动抬起头来。与此同时,车轮的吱嘎声和马蹄涉水的泼喇声,在湿漉漉的沙土路上隐约传来,一辆驿站马车驶近了。

“他中了什么邪啦,这等模样回家来?”英格拉姆小姐说道。“他出门时骑的是梅斯罗(那匹黑马),不是吗?而派洛特也跟着他的,他把这两头动物怎么啦?”

她说这话时,高高的身子和宽大的衣服紧挨着窗子,弄得我不得不往后仰,差一点绷断了脊骨。焦急之中,她起初没有看见我,但一见我便噘起嘴,走到另外一扇窗去了。马车停了下来,驾车人按了按门铃,一位穿着旅行装的绅士跳下车来。不过不是罗切斯特先生,是位看上去很时髦的大个子男人,一个陌生人。

“真恼人!”英格拉姆小姐嚷道:“你这个讨厌的猴子!”(称呼阿黛勒)“谁将你弄上窗子谎报消息的?”她怒悻悻地瞥了我一眼,仿佛这是我的过错。

大厅里隐隐约约响起了交谈声,来人很快便进了屋。他向英格拉姆太太行了个礼,认为她是在场的人中最年长的妇人。

“看来我来得不是时候,夫人,”他说,“正巧我的朋友罗切斯特先生出门去了,可是我远道而来,我想可以作为关系密切的老相识,冒昧在这儿呆一下,等到他回来。”

他的举止很客气,但说话的腔调听来有些异样——不是十足的外国腔,但也不完全是英国调。他的年龄与罗切斯特先生相仿——在三十与四十之间。他的肤色特别灰黄,要不然他倒是个英俊的男人,乍看之下尤其如此。仔细一打量,你会发现他脸上有种不讨人喜欢,或是无法让人喜欢的东西。他的五官很标准,但太松弛。他的眼睛大而悦目,但是从中透出的生气,却空洞乏味——至少我是这样想的。

通知换装的铃声驱散了宾客。直到吃晚饭时我才再次见到他。那时他似乎已十分自在。但是我对他的面相却比初见面时更不喜欢了。我觉得它既不安稳又毫无生气。他的目光游移不定,漫无目的。这使他露出一付我从未见过的怪相。这样一个漂亮而且看来也并非不和蔼的男人,却使我极为讨厌。在那光滑的鹅蛋形脸蛋上没有魄力;在那个鹰钩鼻和那张樱桃小口上缺少坚毅;在那低平的额头上没有思想;在那空洞的褐色眼睛里没有控制力。

我坐在往常的角落里,打量着他,借着壁炉上把他浑身照得透亮的枝形烛架上的光——因为他坐在靠近火炉的一把安乐椅上,还不住地挨近炉火,仿佛怕冷似的——我把他同罗切斯特先生作了比较。我想(但愿我这么说并无不敬)一只光滑的雄鹅和一只凶猛的猎鹰,一头驯服的绵羊和看守着它毛粗眼尖的猎狗之间的反差,也不见得比他们两者之间大。

他说罗切斯特先生是他的故友,那必定是种奇怪的友谊,是古训“相反相成”的一个极好说明。

两三位男士坐在他旁边,我听到了他们在房间另一头谈话的片断。起初我听不大懂,因为路易莎.埃希顿和玛丽.英格拉姆离我更近,她们的谈话使断断续续到我耳边的片言只语模糊不清。路易莎和玛丽两人在谈论着陌生人,都称他为“美男子”。路易莎说他是位“可爱的家伙”而且“喜欢他”,玛丽列举了“他的小嘴巴和漂亮鼻子”,认为是她心目中理想的魅力所在。

“塑造得多好的额角!”路易莎叫道——“那么光滑——没有那种我讨厌透了的皱眉蹙额的怪样子,而且眼神和笑容多么恬静!”

随后,我总算松了口气,因为亨利.林恩先生把她们叫到房间的另一头,去解决关于推迟去海村工地远足的某个问题了。

此刻我可以把注意力集中到火炉边的一群人上了。我很快就明白来人叫梅森先生。接着我知道他刚到英国,来自某个气候炎热的国家,无疑那就是为什么他脸色那么灰黄,坐得那么靠近火炉,在室内穿着紧身长外衣的原因了。不久,诸如牙买加、金斯敦、西班牙城一类字眼,表明了他在西印度群岛居住过。没过一会儿,我颇为吃惊地了解到,他在那儿初次见到并结交了罗切斯特先生。他谈起他朋友不喜欢那个地区烤人的炎热,不喜欢飓风和雨季。我知道罗切斯特先生曾是位旅行家,费尔法克斯太太这么说过他。不过我想他游荡的足迹只限于欧洲大陆,在这之前我从未听人提起他到过更遥远的海岸。

我正在细想这些事儿的时候,一件事情,一件颇为意外的事情,打断了我的思路。有人碰巧把门打开时,梅森先生哆嗦着要求在炉子上再加些煤,因为尽管大块煤渣依然通红发亮,但火焰已经燃尽。送煤进来的仆人走出去时凑近埃希顿先生低声对他说了什么,我只听清了“老太婆”——“挺讨厌”几个字。

“要是她不走就把她铐起来,”法官回答说。

“不——慢着!”登特上校打断了他。“别把她打发走,埃希顿。我们也许可以利用这件事,还是同女士们商量一下吧。”随后大着嗓门继续说道:“女士们,你们不是说起要去海村工地看一下吉卜赛人营地吗,这会儿萨姆说,现在有位本奇妈妈在仆人的饭厅里,硬要让人带到“有身份”的人面前,替他们算算命。你们愿意见她吗?’”

“上校,”英格拉姆太太叫道,“当然你是不会怂恿这样一个低级骗子的吧?一定要立即把她撵走!”

“不过我没法说服她走,夫人,”仆人说,“别的佣人也不行,现在费尔法克斯太太求她快走,可是她索性在烟囱角落坐了下来,说是不准许她进来她就不走。”

“她要干什么?”埃希顿夫人间。

“她说是‘给老爷们算命’,夫人,她发誓一定得给算一算,说到做到。”

“她长相怎么样?”两位埃希顿小姐异口同声地问道。

“一个丑得吓人的老东西,小姐,差不多跟煤烟一般黑。”

“嗨,她是个道地的女巫了!”弗雷德里克.林恩嚷道,“当然,我们得让她进来。”

“那还用说,”他兄弟回答说,“丢掉这样一个有趣的机会实在太可惜了。”

“亲爱的孩子们,你们认为怎么样?”林恩太太嚷嚷道。

“我可不能支持这种前后矛盾的做法,”英格拉姆夫人插话了。

“说真的,妈妈,可是你能支持——你会的,”响起了布兰奇傲气十足的嗓音,这时她从琴凳上转过身来。刚才她还默默地坐着,显然在仔细翻阅各种乐谱。“我倒有兴趣听听人家算我的命,所以萨姆,把那个丑老太婆给叫进来。”

“布兰奇我的宝贝!再想一想一—”

“我是想了——你建议的,我都细想过了,我得按我的意愿办——快点,萨姆!”

“好——好——好!”年轻人都齐声叫了起来,小姐们和先生们都不例外。“让她进来吧——这会是一场绝妙的游戏:”

仆人依然犹豫不前。“她样子那么粗野,”他说。

“去!”英格拉姆小姐喝道,于是这仆人便走了。

众人便立即激动起来。萨姆返回时,相互正戏谑嘲弄,玩笑开得火热。

“她现在不来了,”他说。“她说了她的使命不是到‘一群庸人(她的话)面前来的。我得带她独个儿进一个房间,然后,想要请教她的人得一个一个去。’”

“现在你明白了吧,我的布兰奇女王”英格拉姆夫人开腔了,“她得寸进尺了。听说,我的天使姑娘——还有——”

“带她进图书室,当然,‘天使姑娘’把话打断了。“在一群庸人面前听她说话也不是我的使命。我要让她单独跟我谈。图书室里生火了吗?”

“生了,小姐——可她完全像个吉卜赛人。”

“别多嘴了,笨蛋!照我吩咐的办。”

萨姆再次消失,神秘、激动、期待的心情再次在人们心头翻腾。

“她现在准备好了,”仆人再次进来说。

“她想知道谁先去见她。”

“我想女士们进去之前还是让我先去瞧一瞧她吧,”登特上校说。

“告诉她,萨姆,一位绅士来了。”

萨姆去了又回来了。

“她说,先生,她不见男士,他们不必费心去接近她了,还有,”他好不容易忍住不笑出声来,补充道“女士们除了年轻单身的也不必见了。”

“天哪!,她倒还挺有眼力呢!”亨利.林恩嚷道。

英格拉姆小姐一本正经地站了起来:“我先去,”她说,那口气好像她是一位带领部下突围的敢死队队长。

“呵,我的好人儿!呵,我最亲爱的!等一等——三思而行!”她妈妈喊道。但是她堂而皇之一声不吭地从她身边走过,进了登特上校为她开着的门,我们听见她进了图书室。

接着是一阵相对的沉寂。英格拉姆太太认为该是搓手的‘lecas’了,于是便搓起手来,玛丽小姐宣布,她觉得换了她是不敢冒险的。艾米和路易莎.埃希顿在低声窃笑,面有惧色。

分分秒秒过得很慢,图书室的门再次打开时,才数到十五分钟。英格拉姆小姐走过拱门回到了我们这里。

她会嗤之以鼻吗?她会一笑了之?——众人都带着急切好奇的目光迎着她,她报之以冷漠的眼神,看上去既不慌张也不愉快,扳着面孔走向自己的座位,默默地坐了下来。

“嗨,布兰奇?”英格拉姆勋爵叫道。

“她说了什么啦,姐姐?”玛丽问。

“你认为怎样?感觉如何?她是个地道算命的吗?”埃希顿姐妹问。

“好了,好了,你们这些好人,”英格拉姆小姐回答道“别硬逼我了,你们的那些主管惊讶和轻信的器官,也实在太容易给激发起来了。你们大家——也包括我的好姐姐——都那么重视这件事——似乎绝对相信这屋子里真有一个与恶魔勾结的巫婆。我见过一个吉卜赛流浪者,她用陈腐的方法操弄着手相术,告诉我她们那些人往往会怎样给人算命。我已经过了解,现在我想埃希顿先生会像他恫吓过的那样,行个好,明天一早把这个丑老婆子铐起来。”

英格拉姆小姐拿了本书,身子往椅背上一靠,不愿再和别人交谈了。我观察了她近半个小时,这半个小时内她没有翻过一页书。她的脸色一瞬间变得更阴沉、更不满,更加愤怒地流露出失望的心情来。显而易见她没有听到过对她有利的话,她那么久久地郁郁不欢、沉默无语,倒似乎使我觉得,尽管她表白自己不在乎,其实对女巫所昭示的,过份重视了。

同时,玛丽.英格拉姆、艾米和路易莎.埃希顿表示不敢单独前往,却又都希望去试试。通过萨姆这位使者的斡旋,她们开始了一场谈判。萨姆多次往返奔波,小腿也想必累疼了。经过一番波折,终于从这位寸步不让的女巫嘴里,讨得许可,让她们三人一起去见她。

她们的拜访可不像英格拉姆小姐的那么安静。我们听见图书室里传来歇斯底里的嬉笑声和轻轻的尖叫声。大约二十分钟后,她们砰地推开了门,奔跑着穿过大厅,仿佛吓得没命儿似的。

“我敢肯定她有些不对头!”她们一齐叫喊起来。“她竟然同我们说这些话!我们的事儿她全知道!”她们各自气喘吁吁地往男士们急着端过来的椅子上砰地坐了下来。

众人缠住她们,要求细说。她们便说,这算命的讲了些她们小时候说过的话,做过的事;描绘了她们家中闺房里所拥有的书和装饰品,不同亲戚分赠给她们的纪念品。她们断定她甚至摸透了她们的想法,在每个人的耳边悄声说出她最喜欢的人的名字,告诉她们各人的夙愿。

说到这里,男客们插嘴了,急急乎请求她们对最后谈到的两点,进一步透露一下。然而面对这些人的纠缠,她们颤栗着脸涨得通红,又是叫呀又是笑。同时太太们递上了香嗅瓶,摇起扇来,还因为没有及时接受她们的劝告,而一再露出不安的表情。年长的男士们大笑不止,年青的赶紧



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