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Part 2 Chapter 15

Emma was not required, by any subsequent discovery, to retract her ill opinion of Mrs. Elton. Her observation had been pretty correct. Such as Mrs. Elton appeared to her on this second interview, such she appeared whenever they met again, - self-important, presuming, familiar, ignorant, and ill-bred. She had a little beauty and a little accomplishment, but so little judgment that she thought herself coming with superior knowledge of the world, to enliven and improve a country neighbourhood; and conceived Miss Hawkins to have held such a place in society as Mrs. Elton's consequence only could surpass.

There was no reason to suppose Mr. Elton thought at all differently from his wife. He seemed not merely happy with her, but proud. He had the air of congratulating himself on having brought such a woman to Highbury, as not even Miss Woodhouse could equal; and the greater part of her new acquaintance, disposed to commend, or not in the habit of judging, following the lead of Miss Bates's good-will, or taking it for granted that the bride must be as clever and as agreeable as she professed herself, were very well satisfied; so that Mrs. Elton's praise passed from one mouth to another as it ought to do, unimpeded by Miss Woodhouse, who readily continued her first contribution and talked with a good grace of her being `very pleasant and very elegantly dressed.'

In one respect Mrs. Elton grew even worse than she had appeared at first. Her feelings altered towards Emma. - Offended, probably, by the little encouragement which her proposals of intimacy met with, she drew back in her turn and gradually became much more cold and distant; and though the effect was agreeable, the ill-will which produced it was necessarily increasing Emma's dislike. Her manners, too - and Mr. Elton's, were unpleasant towards Harriet. They were sneering and negligent. Emma hoped it must rapidly work Harriet's cure; but the sensations which could prompt such behaviour sunk them both very much. - It was not to be doubted that poor Harriet's attachment had been an offering to conjugal unreserve, and her own share in the story, under a colouring the least favourable to her and the most soothing to him, had in all likelihood been given also. She was, of course, the object of their joint dislike. - When they had nothing else to say, it must be always easy to begin abusing Miss Woodhouse; and the enmity which they dared not shew in open disrespect to her, found a broader vent in contemptuous treatment of Harriet.

Mrs. Elton took a great fancy to Jane Fairfax; and from the first. Not merely when a state of warfare with one young lady might be supposed to recommend the other, but from the very first; and she was not satisfied with expressing a natural and reasonable admiration - but without solicitation, or plea, or privilege, she must be wanting to assist and befriend her. - Before Emma had forfeited her confidence, and about the third time of their meeting, she heard all Mrs. Elton's knight-errantry on the subject. -

`Jane Fairfax is absolutely charming, Miss Woodhouse. - I quite rave about Jane Fairfax. - A sweet, interesting creature. So mild and ladylike - and with such talents! - I assure you I think she has very extraordinary talents. I do not scruple to say that she plays extremely well. I know enough of music to speak decidedly on that point. Oh! she is absolutely charming! You will laugh at my warmth - but, upon my word, I talk of nothing but Jane Fairfax. - And her situation is so calculated to affect one! - Miss Woodhouse, we must exert ourselves and endeavour to do something for her. We must bring her forward. Such talent as hers must not be suffered to remain unknown. - I dare say you have heard those charming lines of the poet,

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its fragrance on the desert air.

We must not allow them to be verified in sweet Jane Fairfax.'

`I cannot think there is any danger of it,' was Emma's calm answer - `and when you are better acquainted with Miss Fairfax's situation and understand what her home has been, with Colonel and Mrs. Campbell, I have no idea that you will suppose her talents can be unknown.'

`Oh! but dear Miss Woodhouse, she is now in such retirement, such obscurity, so thrown away. - Whatever advantages she may have enjoyed with the Campbells are so palpably at an end! And I think she feels it. I am sure she does. She is very timid and silent. One can see that she feels the want of encouragement. I like her the better for it. I must confess it is a recommendation to me. I am a great advocate for timidity - and I am sure one does not often meet with it. - But in those who are at all inferior, it is extremely prepossessing. Oh! I assure you, Jane Fairfax is a very delightful character, and interests me more than I can express.'

`You appear to feel a great deal - but I am not aware how you or any of Miss Fairfax's acquaintance here, any of those who have known her longer than yourself, can shew her any other attention than' -

`My dear Miss Woodhouse, a vast deal may be done by those who dare to act. You and I need not be afraid. If we set the example, many will follow it as far as they can; though all have not our situations. We have carriages to fetch and convey her home, and we live in a style which could not make the addition of Jane Fairfax, at any time, the least inconvenient. - I should be extremely displeased if Wright were to send us up such a dinner, as could make me regret having asked more than Jane Fairfax to partake of it. I have no idea of that sort of thing. It is not likely that I should, considering what I have been used to. My greatest danger, perhaps, in housekeeping, may be quite the other way, in doing too much, and being too careless of expense. Maple Grove will probably be my model more than it ought to be - for we do not at all affect to equal my brother, Mr. Suckling, in income. - However, my resolution is taken as to noticing Jane Fairfax. - I shall certainly have her very often at my house, shall introduce her wherever I can, shall have musical parties to draw out her talents, and shall be constantly on the watch for an eligible situation. My acquaintance is so very extensive, that I have little doubt of hearing of something to suit her shortly. - I shall introduce her, of course, very particularly to my brother and sister when they come to us. I am sure they will like her extremely; and when she gets a little acquainted with them, her fears will completely wear off, for there really is nothing in the manners of either but what is highly conciliating. - I shall have her very often indeed while they are with me, and I dare say we shall sometimes find a seat for her in the barouche-landau in some of our exploring parties.'

`Poor Jane Fairfax!' - thought Emma. - `You have not deserved this. You may have done wrong with regard to Mr. Dixon, but this is a punishment beyond what you can have merited! - The kindness and protection of Mrs. Elton! - ``Jane Fairfax and Jane Fairfax.'' Heavens! Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Emma Woodhouse-ing me! - But upon my honour, there seems no limits to the licentiousness of that woman's tongue!'

Emma had not to listen to such paradings again - to any so exclusively addressed to herself - so disgustingly decorated with a `dear Miss Woodhouse.' The change on Mrs. Elton's side soon afterwards appeared, and she was left in peace - neither forced to be the very particular friend of Mrs. Elton, nor, under Mrs. Elton's guidance, the very active patroness of Jane Fairfax, and only sharing with others in a general way, in knowing what was felt, what was meditated, what was done.

She looked on with some amusement. - Miss Bates's gratitude for Mrs. Elton's attentions to Jane was in the first style of guileless simplicity and warmth. She was quite one of her worthies - the most amiable, affable, delightful woman - just as accomplished and condescending as Mrs. Elton meant to be considered. Emma's only surprize was that Jane Fairfax should accept those attentions and tolerate Mrs. Elton as she seemed to do. She heard of her walking with the Eltons, sitting with the Eltons, spending a day with the Eltons! This was astonishing! - She could not have believed it possible that the taste or the pride of Miss Fairfax could endure such society and friendship as the Vicarage had to offer.

`She is a riddle, quite a riddle!' said she. - `To chuse to remain here month after month, under privations of every sort! And now to chuse the mortification of Mrs. Elton's notice and the penury of her conversation, rather than return to the superior companions who have always loved her with such real, generous affection.'

Jane had come to Highbury professedly for three months; the Campbells were gone to Ireland for three months; but now the Campbells had promised their daughter to stay at least till Midsummer, and fresh invitations had arrived for her to join them there. According to Miss Bates - it all came from her - Mrs. Dixon had written most pressingly. Would Jane but go, means were to be found, servants sent, friends contrived - no travelling difficulty allowed to exist; but still she had declined it!

`She must have some motive, more powerful than appears, for refusing this invitation,' was Emma's conclusion. `She must be under some sort of penance, inflicted either by the Campbells or herself. There is great fear, great caution, great resolution somewhere. - She is not to be with the Dixons. The decree is issued by somebody. But why must she consent to be with the Eltons? - Here is quite a separate puzzle.'

Upon her speaking her wonder aloud on that part of the subject, before the few who knew her opinion of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Weston ventured this apology for Jane.

`We cannot suppose that she has any great enjoyment at the Vicarage, my dear Emma - but it is better than being always at home. Her aunt is a good creature, but, as a constant companion, must be very tiresome. We must consider what Miss Fairfax quits, before we condemn her taste for what she goes to.'

`You are right, Mrs. Weston,' said Mr. Knightley warmly, `Miss Fairfax is as capable as any of us of forming a just opinion of Mrs. Elton. Could she have chosen with whom to associate, she would not have chosen her. But (with a reproachful smile at Emma) she receives attentions from Mrs. Elton, which nobody else pays her.'

Emma felt that Mrs. Weston was giving her a momentary glance; and she was herself struck by his warmth. With a faint blush, she presently replied,

`Such attentions as Mrs. Elton's, I should have imagined, would rather disgust than gratify Miss Fairfax. Mrs. Elton's invitations I should have imagined any thing but inviting.'

`I should not wonder,' said Mrs. Weston, `if Miss Fairfax were to have been drawn on beyond her own inclination, by her aunt's eagerness in accepting Mrs. Elton's civilities for her. Poor Miss Bates may very likely have committed her niece and hurried her into a greater appearance of intimacy than her own good sense would have dictated, in spite of the very natural wish of a little change.'

Both felt rather anxious to hear him speak again; and after a few minutes silence, he said,

`Another thing must be taken into consideration too - Mrs. Elton does not talk to Miss Fairfax as she speaks of her. We all know the difference between the pronouns he or she and thou, the plainest spoken amongst us; we all feel the influence of a something beyond common civility in our personal intercourse with each other - a something more early implanted. We cannot give any body the disagreeable hints that we may have been very full of the hour before. We feel things differently. And besides the operation of this, as a general principle, you may be sure that Miss Fairfax awes Mrs. Elton by her superiority both of mind and manner; and that, face to face, Mrs. Elton treats her with all the respect which she has a claim to. Such a woman as Jane Fairfax probably never fell in Mrs. Elton's way before - and no degree of vanity can prevent her acknowledging her own comparative littleness in action, if not in consciousness.'

`I know how highly you think of Jane Fairfax,' said Emma. Little Henry was in her thoughts, and a mixture of alarm and delicacy made her irresolute what else to say.

`Yes,' he replied, `any body may know how highly I think of her.'

`And yet,' said Emma, beginning hastily and with an arch look, but soon stopping - it was better, however, to know the worst at once - she hurried on - `And yet, perhaps, you may hardly be aware yourself how highly it is. The extent of your admiration may take you by surprize some day or other.'

Mr. Knightley was hard at work upon the lower buttons of his thick leather gaiters, and either the exertion of getting them together, or some other cause, brought the colour into his face, as he answered,

`Oh! are you there? - But you are miserably behindhand. Mr. Cole gave me a hint of it six weeks ago.'

He stopped. - Emma felt her foot pressed by Mrs. Weston, and did not herself know what to think. In a moment he went on -

`That will never be, however, I can assure you. Miss Fairfax, I dare say, would not have me if I were to ask her - and I am very sure I shall never ask her.'

Emma returned her friend's pressure with interest; and was pleased enough to exclaim,

`You are not vain, Mr. Knightley. I will say that for you.'

He seemed hardly to hear her; he was thoughtful - and in a manner which shewed him not pleased, soon afterwards said,

`So you have been settling that I should marry Jane Fairfax?'

`No indeed I have not. You have scolded me too much for match-making, for me to presume to take such a liberty with you. What I said just now, meant nothing. One says those sort of things, of course, without any idea of a serious meaning. Oh! no, upon my word I have not the smallest wish for your marrying Jane Fairfax or Jane any body. You would not come in and sit with us in this comfortable way, if you were married.'

Mr. Knightley was thoughtful again. The result of his reverie was, `No, Emma, I do not think the extent of my admiration for her will ever take me by surprize. - I never had a thought of her in that way, I assure you.' And soon afterwards, `Jane Fairfax is a very charming young woman - but not even Jane Fairfax is perfect. She has a fault. She has not the open temper which a man would wish for in a wife.'

Emma could not but rejoice to hear that she had a fault. `Well,' said she, `and you soon silenced Mr. Cole, I suppose?'

`Yes, very soon. He gave me a quiet hint; I told him he was mistaken; he asked my pardon and said no more. Cole does not want to be wiser or wittier than his neighbours.'

`In that respect how unlike dear Mrs. Elton, who wants to be wiser and wittier than all the world! I wonder how she speaks of the Coles - what she calls them! How can she find any appellation for them, deep enough in familiar vulgarity? She calls you, Knightley - what can she do for Mr. Cole? And so I am not to be surprized that Jane Fairfax accepts her civilities and consents to be with her. Mrs. Weston, your argument weighs most with me. I can much more readily enter into the temptation of getting away from Miss Bates, than I can believe in the triumph of Miss Fairfax's mind over Mrs. Elton. I have no faith in Mrs. Elton's acknowledging herself the inferior in thought, word, or deed; or in her being under any restraint beyond her own scanty rule of good-breeding. I cannot imagine that she will not be continually insulting her visitor with praise, encouragement, and offers of service; that she will not be continually detailing her magnificent intentions, from the procuring her a permanent situation to the including her in those delightful exploring parties which are to take place in the barouche-landau.'

`Jane Fairfax has feeling,' said Mr. Knightley - `I do not accuse her of want of feeling. Her sensibilities, I suspect, are strong - and her temper excellent in its power of forbearance, patience, self-controul; but it wants openness. She is reserved, more reserved, I think, than she used to be - And I love an open temper. No - till Cole alluded to my supposed attachment, it had never entered my head. I saw Jane Fairfax and conversed with her, with admiration and pleasure always - but with no thought beyond.'

`Well, Mrs. Weston,' said Emma triumphantly when he left them, `what do you say now to Mr. Knightley's marrying Jane Fairfax?'

`Why, really, dear Emma, I say that he is so very much occupied by the idea of not being in love with her, that I should not wonder if it were to end in his being so at last. Do not beat me.'

 

后来了解的情况表明,爱玛用不着改变她对埃尔顿太太的不良印象。她起初的看法非常正确。第二次见面时她觉得埃尔顿太太是这样,以后每次见面时她得到的都是这个印象——自命不凡、自行其是、放肆无知、缺乏教养。她略有几分姿色,稍有几分才艺,但却没有自知之明,以为自己见多识广,能给乡下带来生气,改善一下那里的环境。她还认为自己作霍金斯小姐时就已经很有身份了,那个身份仅次于现在的埃尔顿太太。

谁也不会认为埃尔顿先生跟他妻子有什么不对心思的地方。看起来,他对她不仅感到满意,而且感到骄傲。瞧他那神气,似乎在庆幸自己给海伯里带来了一个宝贝女人,就连伍德豪斯小姐也无法与她相媲美。埃尔顿太太新结识的人里,有的喜欢夸奖别人,有的虽然缺乏眼力,但是见贝茨小姐对她好也跟着效仿,要么就想当然地认为,新娘一定像她自己表白的那样又聪明又和蔼,因而大多数人对她都很满意。于是,对埃尔顿太太的称赞也就理所当然地传扬开了,伍德豪斯小姐也没从中作梗,还是甘愿重复她最初说的那句话,宽怀大度地说她“挺讨人喜欢,衣着挺讲究”。

在有一方面,埃尔顿太太变得甚至比初来时还糟。她对爱玛的态度发生了变化。上次她提出了要密切合作的建议,爱玛没怎么理会,她可能生气了,就转而往后退缩,渐渐变得越来越冷淡,越来越疏远。尽管这样的结果没有什么不好,不过她这样做是出于一番恶意,这就势必要使爱玛越发讨厌她。埃尔顿太太——以及埃尔顿先生,对哈丽特很不客气,嘲笑挖苦,冷落怠慢。爱玛心想,这一定会很快治好哈丽特的心病。可是,能激起这种变化的情绪却搞得她俩十分沮丧。毫无疑问,哈丽特可怜巴巴的一片痴情成了他们夫妇俩披肝沥胆的谈话资料,而她爱玛插手了这件事,很可能也被谈论过了,把她描绘得一无是处,搞得埃尔顿快慰至极。那夫妇俩当然都讨厌她。他们无话可说的时候,总是动不动就诽谤起伍德豪斯小姐来。他们俩不敢公开对她表示不敬的时候,就会变本加厉地鄙视哈丽特,把气出在她身上。

埃尔顿太太非常喜欢简·费尔法克斯,而且从一开始就如此。她并不是因为跟一位年轻小姐作对,就要笼络另一位年轻小姐,而是从一开始就如此。她还不单是自然而适度地赞美几句——而是在人家并没要求,也未恳请,更无特权的情况下,非要去帮助她,跟她交好。爱玛还没失去她的信任之前,大约是跟她第三次见面的时候,就听她讲了一番侠义心肠的话。

“简·费尔法克斯真迷人啊,伍德豪斯小姐。我完全被她迷住了。人又甜又有趣,那么娴静,像个大家闺秀——还那么多才多艺!说真的,我认为她才华出众。我可以毫不顾忌地说,她的钢琴弹得棒极啦。我懂音乐,可以毫不含糊地这么说。哦!她真是太迷人啦!你会笑话我太冲动——可是说真的,我讲的不是别人,而是简·费尔法克斯。她的处境太令人可怜了!伍德豪斯小姐,我们得努力为她做点事,使她有个出头之日。她这样的才华不该埋没了。你一定听过两句动人的诗句:‘多少花儿盛开而无人看见,它们的芳香白白浪费在荒原。’(译注: 英国诗人托马斯-格雷(1716-1771)《墓园挽歌》中的诗句,奥斯丁在《诺桑觉寺》第一章也援引过这两句)

我们不能让可爱的简·费尔法克斯也应验了这两句诗。”

“我想不会有这种可能性,”爱玛平静地回答。“等你多了解一些费尔法克斯小姐的处境,明白她跟坎贝尔上校夫妇过着怎样的日子,我想你就不会认为她的才能可能被埋没。”

“哦!亲爱的伍德豪斯小姐,她现在这样深居简出,这样默默无闻,完全被埋没了。她在坎贝尔家不管得到多少好处,那好日子显然已经到头啦!我想她也感觉到了。我敢肯定她感觉到了。她羞羞怯怯,沉闷不语,一看就知道,她心里有些气馁。我因此而更喜欢她。说实话,我觉得这是个优点。我就赞成人要羞怯一点——我敢说羞怯的人是不多见的。不过,出身低微的人具有这样的特点,那就格外招人喜爱。哦!说实在的,简·费尔法克斯是个非常可爱的人,我喜欢得无法形容。”

“看来你是非常喜欢她——不过我真不知道,不管是你,还是费尔法克斯小姐在这儿的熟人,或是跟她认识比你更久的人,对她还会有什么别的——”

“亲爱的伍德豪斯小姐,敢作敢为的人是可以大有作为的。你我用不着担心。只要我们做出了榜样,许多人都会想方设法跟符学的,虽然并不是人人都有我们这样的家境。我们都有马车可以去接她,送她回家。我们都有这样的生活派头,不管什么时候,加上一个简·费尔法克斯不会带来丝毫的不便。赖特给我们送上晚饭的时候,我决不会后悔跟她要多了,搞得简-费尔法克斯吃不完。我脑子里不会冒出这种念头来。我已经过惯了那样的生活,根本不可能产生那样的想法。我持家的最大问题也许恰恰相反,排场搞得太大,花钱太随便。也许以后我要多学学枫园的榜样,虽说按理我不该这样做——因为我们可没有假装有我姐夫萨克林先生那么多的进项。不过我已经下定决心,要提携简·费尔法克斯。我一定常请她上我家来,无论在哪儿要尽量引介她,要多举行些音乐会让她展现一下才能。还要随时留心给她找个合适的职位。我这个人交际广,相信用不了多久,准能给她找个适宜的职位。当然,我姐姐和姐夫来我家的时候,我要特地把她介绍给他们俩。我敢肯定,他们会非常喜欢她的。等她跟他们稍微熟悉一点,她就一点也不会害怕了,因为他们待人接物确实非常和蔼可亲。等他们来了,我真会常常请她来玩,大家出去游玩的时候,说不定有时还可以给她在四轮四座大马车里腾个座位。”

“可怜的简·费尔法克斯!”爱玛心想。“你不该这么倒霉。你在迪克逊先生身上也许打错了主意,可你也不该受到这样的惩罚呀!居然要领受埃尔顿太太的仁慈和呵护!开口一个‘简·费尔法克斯’.闭口一个‘简·费尔法克斯’。天哪!但愿她别到处叫我‘爱玛·伍德豪斯’呀!不过我敢说,这个女人的舌头看来是没有遮拦的!”

爱玛用不着再听她那自我炫耀了——那种只对她一个人的自我炫耀——令人恶心地用“亲爱的伍德豪斯小姐”点缀起来的自我炫耀。过了不久,埃尔顿太太就起了变化,她也得到了安宁——既不用被迫去做埃尔顿太太的亲密朋友,也不用被迫在埃尔顿太太的指导下,去当简·费尔法克斯的热心保护人,而只是跟别人一样,一般地了解一下简感觉怎么样,在想些什么,又做了些什么。

她兴致勃勃地在一旁看着。埃尔顿太太这么关心简,贝茨小姐真是感铭斯切,无以复加。埃尔顿太太是她最可尊敬的人——一个最和蔼可亲、最招人喜欢的女人——既多才多艺,又能纡尊降贵,埃尔顿太太就希望别人这样看她。爱玛唯一感到惊奇的是,简·费尔法克斯居然接受了这种关照,而且好像还能容忍埃尔顿太太。她听说简跟埃尔顿夫妇一起散步,跟埃尔顿夫妇一起坐着,跟埃尔顿夫妇一起度过一天!这太让人吃惊啦!费尔法克斯小姐这么有情趣、这么有自尊心的人,居然能容忍跟牧师家的人来往交朋友,她简直不相信会有这样的事。

“她是个谜,真是个谜呀!”她心想。“偏要一个月又一个月地待在这里,受尽种种艰难困苦!现在又偏要不顾体面地领受埃尔顿太太的关心,聆听她那无聊的絮叨,而不回到一直真挚热烈地爱着她的那些更好的伙伴中去。”

简到海伯里来,原说只待三个月,坎贝尔夫妇去爱尔兰也待三个月。可现在坎贝尔夫妇已答应了女儿的要求,至少住到施洗约翰节(译注:六月二十四日,英国四大结账日之一)。随即简又收到信,邀请她到他们那儿去。据贝茨小姐说——情况都是她提供的——迪克逊太太写得极其恳切。简只要肯去,车马可以解决,仆人可以派来,还可以找几个朋友——旅行不会有任何困难。但简还是谢绝了。

“她拒绝这次邀请,一定有什么理由,而且是比表面上看来更加充分的理由,”爱玛得出这样的结论。“她一定在做某种忏悔,不是坎贝尔夫妇引起的,就是她自己造成的。有人很担心,很谨慎,态度也很坚决。切不可让她跟迪克逊夫妇住在一起,准是有谁下过这样的命令。可她又何必答应跟埃尔顿夫妇待在一起呢?这是另一个难解的谜。”

有几个人知道她对埃尔顿太太的看法,她向他们说出了她对这个问题的困惑不解,韦斯顿太太便竭诚地为简辩护。

“亲爱的爱玛,她在牧师住宅很难说有多么快乐——但总比老待在家里强。她姨妈是个好人,但天天跟她做伴,那一定让人十分厌倦。我们先不要责怪她要去什么地方缺乏情趣,而要先考虑一下她离开的是什么环境。”

“你说得对,韦斯顿太太,”奈特利先生热切地说,“费尔法克斯小姐跟我们一样,对埃尔顿太太是会作出正确的判断的。她如果可以选择的话,决不会选择跟她交往。但是,”以责备的目光朝爱玛笑笑,“别人都不关心她,她只好接受埃尔顿太太的关心啦。”

爱玛觉得韦斯顿太太朝她瞥了一眼,加上听了那番热切的言词心里有所触动。她脸上微微一红,连忙答道:

“依我看,埃尔顿太太的那种关心只会使费尔法克斯小姐感到厌倦,而不会使她感到高兴。我认为,埃尔顿太太的邀请决不会令她向往。”

“如果那位姨妈非要代外甥女接受埃尔顿太太的好意,”韦斯顿太太说,“从而致使费尔法克斯小姐做出违背本意的事情,那我也不会感到惊讶。可怜的贝茨小姐很可能连逼带催,让外甥女尽量显得亲密些,尽管她在理智上并不想这么做。当然,她倒也很想换一换环境。”

两位女士急于想听奈特利先生再说下去,奈特利先生沉默了一阵以后才说:

“还有一点必须考虑——埃尔顿太太当面对费尔法克斯小姐说话,跟背后说起她是不一样的。‘他’、‘她’、‘您’是人们最常用的几个代词,我们都知道它们之间的差别。我们都有感觉,人与人相互交谈时,除了一般的礼貌之外,还有一个因素在起作用——一个早就存在的因素。你先前不管多么讨厌某一个人,谈话时可不能流露出来。人们的感受是各不相同的。除此之外,按常情来说,你尽可以相信,费尔法克斯小姐在心智和仪态上都胜过埃尔顿太太,埃尔顿太太为此会敬畏她,当面也会表现出应有的恭敬。埃尔顿太太以前可能从未遇见过像简·费尔法克斯这样的女人——不管她怎样自命不凡,都没法不承认自己有些相形见绌,即使心里不承认,行动上也要有所表现。”

“我知道你很欣赏简·费尔法克斯,”爱玛说。她想到了小亨利,心里浮起一种既惊恐又微妙的情感,拿不定主意再说什么是好。

“是的,”奈特利先生答道,“谁都知道我很欣赏她。”

“不过,”爱玛赶忙说道,脸上露出一副诡秘的神情,但马上又顿住了——不管怎么说,最好还是尽早听到那最坏的消息——她急忙继续说道:“不过,或许连你自己也不大清楚欣赏到何种程度。说不定有一天,你的欣赏程度会让你自己也大吃一惊的。”

奈特利先生正在埋头扣他那双厚皮靴上的纽扣,或许是由于费劲的缘故,或许是由于其他原因,他回话时脸都红了:

“哦!是吗?可惜你知道得太晚了。科尔先生六个星期以前就向我透露过了。”

奈特利先生顿住了。爱玛感到韦斯顿太太踩了一下她的脚,心里一下乱了方寸。过了一会,奈特利先生继续说道:

“不过,我可以向你担保,那是绝对不可能的。我敢说,我就是向费尔法克斯小姐求婚,她也不会同意嫁给我的——何况我是绝不会向她求婚的。”

爱玛觉得很有意思,回踩了一下她朋友的脚,随即高兴地嚷了起来:

“你倒一点不自负啊,奈特利先生。我要为你说句公道话。”

奈特利先生似乎没注意听她的,而是在沉思——过了不久,以显然不大高兴的口气说道:

“这么说,你认定我要娶简·费尔法克斯啦。”

“没有,我真没这么想。你经常责备我爱给人家做媒,我哪敢唐突到你身上。我刚才说的话并没有什么意思。人说起这种事来,当然都是说着玩的。哦!说实在话,我一点也不希望你娶简·费尔法克斯,或者任何叫简的人。你要是结了婚,就不会这么安安逸逸地跟我们坐在一起了。”

奈特利先生又陷入了沉思。沉思的结果是:“不,爱玛,我想我对她的欣赏程度永远不会叫我大吃一惊。我向你担保,我对她从没动过那样的念头。”过了一会,又说:“简·费尔法克斯是个非常可爱的姑娘——但就连她也不是十全十美。她有个缺点,就是不够坦诚,而男人都喜欢找坦诚的女人做妻子。”

爱玛听说简有个缺点,不由得乐滋滋的。“看来,”她说,“你马上就把科尔先生顶回去啦?”

“是的,马上。他悄悄给我露了个口风,我说他搞误会了。他请我原谅,没再吱声。科尔并不想显得比邻居更聪明、更机灵。”

“在这一点上,亲爱的埃尔顿太太可大不一样了,她就想比天下所有的人都聪明、都机灵啊!我不知道她是怎样议论科尔一家的——管他们叫什么!她又放肆又粗俗,怎么来称呼他们呢?她管你叫奈特利——她能管科尔先生叫什么呢?所以,简·费尔法克斯接受她的邀请,答应跟她在一起,我并不觉得奇怪。韦斯顿太太,我最看重你的意见。我宁可相信费尔法克斯小姐情愿离开贝茨小姐,而不相信费尔法克斯小姐在智力上胜过埃尔顿太太。我不相信埃尔顿太太会承认自己在思想和言行上不如别人。我也不相信她除了受点教养懂点可怜巴巴的规矩之外,还会受什么别的约束。我可以想象,费尔法克斯小姐去她家时,她会没完没了地夸奖她、鼓励她、款待她,还会喋喋不休地细说她那些宏伟的打算,从给她找一个永久性的职位,到带她乘坐四轮四座大马车出去游玩。”

“简·费尔法克斯是个有感情的人,”奈特利先生说,“我不责怪她缺乏感情。我认为她的感情是强烈的——性情也很好,凡事能宽容、忍耐、自制,但却并不坦率。她沉默寡言,我看比以前还要沉默——而我却喜欢性情坦率的人。不——要不是科尔提到我所谓的对她有意思,我脑子里还从未转过这个念头。我每次见到简·费尔法克斯,跟她交谈,总是怀着赞赏和欣快的心情——但除此之外,没有别的想法。”

“我说,韦斯顿太太,”奈特利先生走了以后,爱玛洋洋得意地说,“你现在对奈特利先生娶简·费尔法克斯有什么看法?”

“哦,说真的,亲爱的爱玛,我看他一门心思总想着不爱她,要是到头来终于爱上了她,我是不会感到奇怪的。别跟我争啦。”



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