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Part 2 Chapter 17

When the ladies returned to the drawing-room after dinner, Emma found it hardly possible to prevent their making two distinct parties; - with so much perseverance in judging and behaving ill did Mrs. Elton engross Jane Fairfax and slight herself. She and Mrs. Weston were obliged to be almost always either talking together or silent together. Mrs. Elton left them no choice. If Jane repressed her for a little time, she soon began again; and though much that passed between them was in a half-whisper, especially on Mrs. Elton's side, there was no avoiding a knowledge of their principal subjects: The post-office - catching cold - fetching letters - and friendship, were long under discussion; and to them succeeded one, which must be at least equally unpleasant to Jane - inquiries whether she had yet heard of any situation likely to suit her, and professions of Mrs. Elton's meditated activity.

`Here is April come!' said she, `I get quite anxious about you. June will soon be here.'

`But I have never fixed on June or any other month - merely looked forward to the summer in general.'

`But have you really heard of nothing?'

`I have not even made any inquiry; I do not wish to make any yet.'

`Oh! my dear, we cannot begin too early; you are not aware of the difficulty of procuring exactly the desirable thing.'

`I not aware!' said Jane, shaking her head; `dear Mrs. Elton, who can have thought of it as I have done?'

`But you have not seen so much of the world as I have. You do not know how many candidates there always are for the first situations. I saw a vast deal of that in the neighbourhood round Maple Grove. A cousin of Mr. Suckling, Mrs. Bragge, had such an infinity of applications; every body was anxious to be in her family, for she moves in the first circle. Wax-candles in the schoolroom! You may imagine how desirable! Of all houses in the kingdom Mrs. Bragge's is the one I would most wish to see you in.'

`Colonel and Mrs. Campbell are to be in town again by midsummer,' said Jane. `I must spend some time with them; I am sure they will want it; - afterwards I may probably be glad to dispose of myself. But I would not wish you to take the trouble of making any inquiries at present.'

`Trouble! aye, I know your scruples. You are afraid of giving me trouble; but I assure you, my dear Jane, the Campbells can hardly be more interested about you than I am. I shall write to Mrs. Partridge in a day or two, and shall give her a strict charge to be on the look-out for any thing eligible.'

`Thank you, but I would rather you did not mention the subject to her; till the time draws nearer, I do not wish to be giving any body trouble.'

`But, my dear child, the time is drawing near; here is April, and June, or say even July, is very near, with such business to accomplish before us. Your inexperience really amuses me! A situation such as you deserve, and your friends would require for you, is no everyday occurrence, is not obtained at a moment's notice; indeed, indeed, we must begin inquiring directly.'

`Excuse me, ma'am, but this is by no means my intention; I make no inquiry myself, and should be sorry to have any made by my friends. When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something - Offices for the sale - not quite of human flesh - but of human intellect.'

`Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.'

`I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,' replied Jane; `governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices, and that by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do.'

`Something that would do!' repeated Mrs. Elton. `Aye, that may suit your humble ideas of yourself; - I know what a modest creature you are; but it will not satisfy your friends to have you taking up with any thing that may offer, any inferior, commonplace situation, in a family not moving in a certain circle, or able to command the elegancies of life.'

`You are very obliging; but as to all that, I am very indifferent; it would be no object to me to be with the rich; my mortifications, I think, would only be the greater; I should suffer more from comparison. A gentleman's family is all that I should condition for.'

`I know you, I know you; you would take up with any thing; but I shall be a little more nice, and I am sure the good Campbells will be quite on my side; with your superior talents, you have a right to move in the first circle. Your musical knowledge alone would entitle you to name your own terms, have as many rooms as you like, and mix in the family as much as you chose; - that is - I do not know - if you knew the harp, you might do all that, I am very sure; but you sing as well as play; - yes, I really believe you might, even without the harp, stipulate for what you chose; - and you must and shall be delightfully, honourably and comfortably settled before the Campbells or I have any rest.'

`You may well class the delight, the honour, and the comfort of such a situation together,' said Jane, `they are pretty sure to be equal; however, I am very serious in not wishing any thing to be attempted at present for me. I am exceedingly obliged to you, Mrs. Elton, I am obliged to any body who feels for me, but I am quite serious in wishing nothing to be done till the summer. For two or three months longer I shall remain where I am, and as I am.'

`And I am quite serious too, I assure you,' replied Mrs. Elton gaily, `in resolving to be always on the watch, and employing my friends to watch also, that nothing really unexceptionable may pass us.'

In this style she ran on; never thoroughly stopped by any thing till Mr. Woodhouse came into the room; her vanity had then a change of object, and Emma heard her saying in the same half-whisper to Jane,

`Here comes this dear old beau of mine, I protest! - Only think of his gallantry in coming away before the other men! - what a dear creature he is; - I assure you I like him excessively. I admire all that quaint, old-fashioned politeness; it is much more to my taste than modern ease; modern ease often disgusts me. But this good old Mr. Woodhouse, I wish you had heard his gallant speeches to me at dinner. Oh! I assure you I began to think my caro sposo would be absolutely jealous. I fancy I am rather a favourite; he took notice of my gown. How do you like it? - Selina's choice - handsome, I think, but I do not know whether it is not over-trimmed; I have the greatest dislike to the idea of being over-trimmed - quite a horror of finery. I must put on a few ornaments now, because it is expected of me. A bride, you know, must appear like a bride, but my natural taste is all for simplicity; a simple style of dress is so infinitely preferable to finery. But I am quite in the minority, I believe; few people seem to value simplicity of dress, - show and finery are every thing. I have some notion of putting such a trimming as this to my white and silver poplin. Do you think it will look well?'

The whole party were but just reassembled in the drawing-room when Mr. Weston made his appearance among them. He had returned to a late dinner, and walked to Hartfield as soon as it was over. He had been too much expected by the best judges, for surprize - but there was great joy. Mr. Woodhouse was almost as glad to see him now, as he would have been sorry to see him before. John Knightley only was in mute astonishment. - That a man who might have spent his evening quietly at home after a day of business in London, should set off again, and walk half a mile to another man's house, for the sake of being in mixed company till bed-time, of finishing his day in the efforts of civility and the noise of numbers, was a circumstance to strike him deeply. A man who had been in motion since eight o'clock in the morning, and might now have been still, who had been long talking, and might have been silent, who had been in more than one crowd, and might have been alone! - Such a man, to quit the tranquillity and independence of his own fireside, and on the evening of a cold sleety April day rush out again into the world! - Could he by a touch of his finger have instantly taken back his wife, there would have been a motive; but his coming would probably prolong rather than break up the party. John Knightley looked at him with amazement, then shrugged his shoulders, and said, `I could not have believed it even of him.'

Mr. Weston meanwhile, perfectly unsuspicious of the indignation he was exciting, happy and cheerful as usual, and with all the right of being principal talker, which a day spent anywhere from home confers, was making himself agreeable among the rest; and having satisfied the inquiries of his wife as to his dinner, convincing her that none of all her careful directions to the servants had been forgotten, and spread abroad what public news he had heard, was proceeding to a family communication, which, though principally addressed to Mrs. Weston, he had not the smallest doubt of being highly interesting to every body in the room. He gave her a letter, it was from Frank, and to herself; he had met with it in his way, and had taken the liberty of opening it.

`Read it, read it,' said he, `it will give you pleasure; only a few lines - will not take you long; read it to Emma.'

The two ladies looked over it together; and he sat smiling and talking to them the whole time, in a voice a little subdued, but very audible to every body.

`Well, he is coming, you see; good news, I think. Well, what do you say to it? - I always told you he would be here again soon, did not I? - Anne, my dear, did not I always tell you so, and you would not believe me? - In town next week, you see - at the latest, I dare say; for she is as impatient as the black gentleman when any thing is to be done; most likely they will be there to-morrow or Saturday. As to her illness, all nothing of course. But it is an excellent thing to have Frank among us again, so near as town. They will stay a good while when they do come, and he will be half his time with us. This is precisely what I wanted. Well, pretty good news, is not it? Have you finished it? Has Emma read it all? Put it up, put it up; we will have a good talk about it some other time, but it will not do now. I shall only just mention the circumstance to the others in a common way.'

Mrs. Weston was most comfortably pleased on the occasion. Her looks and words had nothing to restrain them. She was happy, she knew she was happy, and knew she ought to be happy. Her congratulations were warm and open; but Emma could not speak so fluently. She was a little occupied in weighing her own feelings, and trying to understand the degree of her agitation, which she rather thought was considerable.

Mr. Weston, however, too eager to be very observant, too communicative to want others to talk, was very well satisfied with what she did say, and soon moved away to make the rest of his friends happy by a partial communication of what the whole room must have overheard already.

It was well that he took every body's joy for granted, or he might not have thought either Mr. Woodhouse or Mr. Knightley particularly delighted. They were the first entitled, after Mrs. Weston and Emma, to be made happy; - from them he would have proceeded to Miss Fairfax, but she was so deep in conversation with John Knightley, that it would have been too positive an interruption; and finding himself close to Mrs. Elton, and her attention disengaged, he necessarily began on the subject with her.

 

女士们吃完饭回到了客厅,爱玛发现简直没法阻止她们分成界线分明的两伙。埃尔顿太太心怀成见,又没礼貌,硬是缠住简·费尔法克斯不放,而故意冷落她。她和韦斯顿太太只好一直待在一起,有时说话聊天,有时沉默不语,埃尔顿太太搞得她们别无选择。即使简叫她安静一会,她马上又会打开话匣。虽然两人大部分时间是在低声耳语,特别是埃尔顿太太声音更低,但是别人仍能听出她们主要在谈些什么:邮局——着凉——取信——还有友情,扯了老半天。后来又说起了一件事,至少是简同样不愿谈的一个话题——问她是否听说有什么适合她的职位,埃尔顿太太自然要表白自己如何为她煞费苦心。

“眼下已经是四月了!”她说,“我真为你着急。眼看就是六月了。”

“可我从没说定非要在六月或别的什么月份——我只想大致等到夏天。”

“你真没听到什么消息吗?”

“我连打听都没打听过。我现在还不想打听。”

“哦!亲爱的,越早打听越好。你不知道找一个称心的人家有多难哪。”

“我不知道!”简摇摇头说。“亲爱的埃尔顿太太,谁能像我这样来考虑这个问题呢?”

“可你见的世面没有我多呀。你是不知道,最好的职位总有好多人抢着要。这种事我在枫园见得可多了。萨克林先生的侄女布雷格太太,找她求职的人就多得不得了。谁都想去她家,因为她常在上流社会活动。教室里还点蜡烛哪!你可以想象那有多好啊!全英国的所有人家中,我最希望你去布雷格太太家。”

“坎贝尔上校夫妇要在仲夏回伦敦,”简说。“我得去陪他们一阵子,他们肯定也希望我去。在那之后,我大概就可以自行安排了。不过,我希望你现在可不要费神去打听。”

“费神!咳,我知道你过虑了。你怕给我添麻烦,可是说实话,亲爱的简,坎贝尔夫妇不一定比我更关心你。过一两天我给帕特里奇太太写封信,叫她仔细留心给找个合适的人家。”

“谢谢,我倒宁愿你别跟她提起这件事。不到时候我不想麻烦任何人。”

“好孩子,时间就快到了。现在是四月,很快就到六月,甚至七月,我们要办的这件事可不容易。你太没经验了,真叫人好笑!你要找的职位,你的朋友们想要给你找的职位,可不是天天都有的,也不是说找就找得到的。我们确确实实要马上开始打听。”

“对不起,太太,我还真没有这个打算。我自己没有打听,也不希望我的朋友们为我打听。等定下时间以后,我才不担心会长期找不到差事呢。城里有些办事的地方,去找他们总会有结果的——那些事务所——倒不全是出卖人身的——而是出卖脑力的。”

“哦!亲爱的,出卖人身!你真把我吓坏了。如果你是在抨击买卖奴隶,那我可要告诉你,萨克林先生是一向主张废除买卖奴隶的。(译注:1811年,英国国会通过法案禁止买卖奴隶)”

“我不是这个意思,我没想到买卖奴隶,”简答道。“你放心好啦,我想的是家庭教师这个行当。干这一行的人,罪过是大不一样的,但是说到受害人,很难说哪一行的人吃的苦头更大。我只是说,有登广告的事务所,我只要去找他们,肯定会很快找到一个合适的职位。”

“合适的职位!”埃尔顿太太重复了一遍。“是呀,那也许比较适合被你看得很低的你。我知道你有多么谦虚,但是你的朋友却不愿意你随便接受一个职位,一个不起眼的、普普通通的人家,也不在什么社会圈子里活动,生活又不优裕。”

“你是一片好心,不过我并不在乎这些。我并不想去富人家,跟富人在一起,我只会觉得更难受,跟人家一比,心里越发痛苦。我只想找一个绅士家庭。”

“我了解你,我了解你。你是什么人家都肯去的,我可要比你挑剔一些,我敢肯定,善良的坎贝尔夫妇一定支持我的看法。你有那么高的天分,应该出入在上层的圈子里。就凭你的音乐知识,你就有资格提出条件,想要几个房间就有几个房间,与主人家想要怎么密切就怎么密切。这就是说——我也拿不准——如果你会弹竖琴的话,我敢肯定,你什么都好办。不过,你琴弹得好,歌也唱得好。是呀,即使你不会弹竖琴,我看你真可以随意提出什么条件。你一定得找一个快活、体面、舒适的职位,而且也一定找得到,不然的话,坎贝尔夫妇和我都不会安心的。”

“你尽可以把这样一种职位的快活、体面、舒适列在一起,”简说,“这些当然都是同样重要的。不过,我决不是说着玩的,我真不希望别人现在就来帮我这个忙。我非常感激你,埃尔顿太太,我感谢关心我的每个人,但我当真希望等到夏天再说。我要在这儿再待两三个月,就想像现在这样。”

“你尽管放心,”埃尔顿太太欣然答道,“我也决不是说着玩的,我一定要随时留心,还要叫我的朋友随时留心,不要错过任何大好的机会。”

她就这样喋喋不休地说着,直到伍德豪斯先生走进屋来才停住嘴。这时,她的虚荣心又换了个目标,爱玛听见她对简低声耳语道:

“瞧,我这位亲爱的老相好来啦!你想想他多会献殷勤呀,别的男士还没来他就来了!真是个可爱的人儿。说实话,我太喜欢他了。我赞赏那些奇特有趣的老派礼节,比现代的落落大方更合我的口味,现在的落落大方常常叫我觉得讨厌。不过,这位善良的伍德豪斯老先生,你要是听见他吃饭时对我讲的那番献殷勤的话就好了。哦!跟你说吧,我都在担心我那位caro sposo要嫉妒死了。我想我真成了宠儿了,他很注意我的衣服。你觉得我这件衣服怎么样?是塞丽娜挑选的——我觉得挺好看的,但不知道是否装饰过多了。我最讨厌过多的装饰——花里胡哨的叫人害怕。我现在可得搞点装饰,因为人家期望我这样做。你也知道,新娘就得像个新娘,不过我生来就喜欢朴素,穿着朴素比穿着华丽不知要好多少。可我知道,像我这样的人是少数,如今好像没什么人讲究衣着朴素,而都在追求虚饰与华丽。我想把我那件银白色的毛葛料衣服也加上这样的装饰,你觉得会好看吗?”

诸位宾客刚重新聚集在客厅里,韦斯顿先生就来了。他很晚才回家吃晚饭,一吃完便赶到了哈特菲尔德。有人早就料到他会来,因而对他的到来并不感到意外——但大家都觉得很高兴。要是在吃饭前看见他,伍德豪斯先生定会感到很遗憾,现在见到他心里却很快活。只有约翰·奈特利先生虽然嘴里不说,心里却很诧异。一个人去伦敦办事奔波了一天,晚上也不肯安安静静地待在家里,却又要往外跑,走上半英里路来到别人家,为的是跟一群男女泡到就寝时间,在寒暄客套和吵吵嚷嚷中过完这一天,这委实让他难以理解。一个人从早晨八点就开始忙碌,现在本该好好歇一歇;本来已经磨了不少嘴皮了,现在可以闭口不语;白天已经接触了不少人,现在本可一个人清静清静!此人居然不在自家的火炉边独自图个清闲,却在夜里冒着四月间雨夹雪的阴冷天跑到别人家!他来了若是能立即把妻子接回家,那倒也情有可原,可他这一来,也许大家会散得更晚,而不是更早。约翰·奈特利惊异地望着他,然后耸耸肩说:“即使是他,我也很难相信会做出这样的事。”

这时候,韦斯顿先生全然不知道自己激起了别人的气愤,而仍然像往常一样兴高采烈。他因为外出了一整天,也就有了夸夸其谈的权利,于是便充分利用这一权利,来讨得众人的欢喜。韦斯顿太太问起他吃晚饭的事,他一一作了回答,让太太尽管放心,她仔细交代仆人的事,仆人一概没有忘记,还把他在外面听到的消息告诉了大家,然后就转人夫妻间的话题,虽然主要是对他太太说的,但他丝毫也不怀疑,屋里的人全都很感兴趣。他交给太太一封信。信是弗兰克写给他太太的,送到了他手里,他擅自拆开了。

“看看吧,看看吧,”他说,“你看了会高兴的。只有几行字——要不了多久。念给爱玛听听。”

两位女士在一起看信。韦斯顿先生笑嘻嘻地坐在一旁,一直在跟她们说话。他把声音压低了一点,但大家都还听得见。

“你瞧,他要来了。我看是个好消息。你怎么看呢?我总跟你说他不久还会来的,对吧?安妮,亲爱的,我不是总跟你这么说,而你不肯相信我吗?你瞧,下星期就到城里了——我敢说,最迟是下星期。因为那邱吉尔太太,要是有什么事要办的话,就像魔鬼一样性急,他们说不定明天或星期六就到。至于她的病,当然算不了什么。不过,弗兰克就近在伦敦,让他来一趟再好不过了。他们一来就能待上很长时间,弗兰克会有一半时间跟我们在一起。正合我的心意。哦,是个好消息吧?你看完了吗?爱玛也看完了吧?收起来,收起来。我们另找个时间好好谈谈,现在不行。这件事我对别人只是随便说一声就行了。”

韦斯顿太太这时感到万分欣慰,她的神情和谈吐对此毫不掩饰。她很高兴,知道自己很高兴,也知道自己应该高兴。她的恭贺话说得既热烈又坦率,可是爱玛说得就不那么顺畅了。她多少有点分心,掂量起了自己的心情,想搞清楚自己激动到什么地步。她觉得,自己是相当激动的。

然而,韦斯顿先生心里过于急切,顾不上观察别人,只管自己说话,不让别人说话,听到他太太说的话,倒觉得挺悦耳,马上就走开了,把全屋的人早已听见的消息又述说了一番,让他们也高兴高兴。

幸亏他理所当然地认为人人都很高兴,要不然,他也不会认为伍德豪斯先生或奈特利先生特别开心。韦斯顿太太和爱玛得知了这好消息之后,接下来就应该告诉他们俩,让他们高兴高兴。再接下来,就轮到费尔法克斯小姐,可是她眼下跟约翰·奈特利先生谈得正起劲,他凑上去,肯定要打扰人家。后来见埃尔顿太太离得很近,而且正闲着,便跟她扯起了这件事。



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