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Part 3 Chapter 6

After being long fed with hopes of a speedy visit from Mr. and Mrs. Suckling, the Highbury world were obliged to endure the mortification of hearing that they could not possibly come till the autumn. No such importation of novelties could enrich their intellectual stores at present. In the daily interchange of news, they must be again restricted to the other topics with which for a while the Sucklings' coming had been united, such as the last accounts of Mrs. Churchill, whose health seemed every day to supply a different report, and the situation of Mrs. Weston, whose happiness it was to be hoped might eventually be as much increased by the arrival of a child, as that of all her neighbours was by the approach of it.

Mrs. Elton was very much disappointed. It was the delay of a great deal of pleasure and parade. Her introductions and recommendations must all wait, and every projected party be still only talked of. So she thought at first; - but a little consideration convinced her that every thing need not be put off. Why should not they explore to Box Hill though the Sucklings did not come? They could go there again with them in the autumn. It was settled that they should go to Box Hill. That there was to be such a party had been long generally known: it had even given the idea of another. Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what every body found so well worth seeing, and she and Mr. Weston had agreed to chuse some fine morning and drive thither. Two or three more of the chosen only were to be admitted to join them, and it was to be done in a quiet, unpretending, elegant way, infinitely superior to the bustle and preparation, the regular eating and drinking, and picnic parade of the Eltons and the Sucklings.

This was so very well understood between them, that Emma could not but feel some surprise, and a little displeasure, on hearing from Mr. Weston that he had been proposing to Mrs. Elton, as her brother and sister had failed her, that the two parties should unite, and go together; and that as Mrs. Elton had very readily acceded to it, so it was to be, if she had no objection. Now, as her objection was nothing but her very great dislike of Mrs. Elton, of which Mr. Weston must already be perfectly aware, it was not worth bringing forward again: - it could not be done without a reproof to him, which would be giving pain to his wife; and she found herself therefore obliged to consent to an arrangement which she would have done a great deal to avoid; an arrangement which would probably expose her even to the degradation of being said to be of Mrs. Elton's party! Every feeling was offended; and the forbearance of her outward submission left a heavy arrear due of secret severity in her reflections on the unmanageable goodwill of Mr. Weston's temper.

`I am glad you approve of what I have done,' said he very comfortably. `But I thought you would. Such schemes as these are nothing without numbers. One cannot have too large a party. A large party secures its own amusement. And she is a good-natured woman after all. One could not leave her out.'

Emma denied none of it aloud, and agreed to none of it in private.

It was now the middle of June, and the weather fine; and Mrs. Elton was growing impatient to name the day, and settle with Mr. Weston as to pigeon-pies and cold lamb, when a lame carriage-horse threw every thing into sad uncertainty. It might be weeks, it might be only a few days, before the horse were useable; but no preparations could be ventured on, and it was all melancholy stagnation. Mrs. Elton's resources were inadequate to such an attack.

`Is not this most vexations, Knightley?' she cried. - `And such weather for exploring! - These delays and disappointments are quite odious. What are we to do? - The year will wear away at this rate, and nothing done. Before this time last year I assure you we had had a delightful exploring party from Maple Grove to Kings Weston.'

`You had better explore to Donwell,' replied Mr. Knightley. `That may be done without horses. Come, and eat my strawberries. They are ripening fast.'

If Mr. Knightley did not begin seriously, he was obliged to proceed so, for his proposal was caught at with delight; and the `Oh! I should like it of all things,' was not plainer in words than manner. Donwell was famous for its strawberry-beds, which seemed a plea for the invitation: but no plea was necessary; cabbage-beds would have been enough to tempt the lady, who only wanted to be going somewhere. She promised him again and again to come - much oftener than he doubted - and was extremely gratified by such a proof of intimacy, such a distinguishing compliment as she chose to consider it.

`You may depend upon me,' said she. `I certainly will come. Name your day, and I will come. You will allow me to bring Jane Fairfax?'

`I cannot name a day,' said he, `till I have spoken to some others whom I would wish to meet you.'

`Oh! leave all that to me. Only give me a carte-blanche. - I am Lady Patroness, you know. It is my party. I will bring friends with me.'

`I hope you will bring Elton,' said he: `but I will not trouble you to give any other invitations.'

`Oh! now you are looking very sly. But consider - you need not be afraid of delegating power to me. I am no young lady on her preferment. Married women, you know, may be safely authorised. It is my party. Leave it all to me. I will invite your guests.'

`No,' - he calmly replied, - `there is but one married woman in the world whom I can ever allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell, and that one is - '

` - Mrs. Weston, I suppose,' interrupted Mrs. Elton, rather mortified.

`No - Mrs. Knightley; - and till she is in being, I will manage such matters myself.'

`Ah! you are an odd creature!' she cried, satisfied to have no one preferred to herself. - `You are a humourist, and may say what you like. Quite a humourist. Well, I shall bring Jane with me - Jane and her aunt. - The rest I leave to you. I have no objections at all to meeting the Hartfield family. Don't scruple. I know you are attached to them.'

`You certainly will meet them if I can prevail; and I shall call on Miss Bates in my way home.'

`That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day: - but as you like. It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here, - probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see. And Jane will have such another. There is to be no form or parade - a sort of gipsy party. We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees; - and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors - a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible. Is not that your idea?'

`Not quite. My idea of the simple and the natural will be to have the table spread in the dining-room. The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house.'

`Well - as you please; only don't have a great set out. And, by the bye, can I or my housekeeper be of any use to you with our opinion? - Pray be sincere, Knightley. If you wish me to talk to Mrs. Hodges, or to inspect anything - '

`I have not the least wish for it, I thank you.'

`Well - but if any difficulties should arise, my housekeeper is extremely clever.'

`I will answer for it, that mine thinks herself full as clever, and would spurn any body's assistance.'

`I wish we had a donkey. The thing would be for us all to come on donkeys, Jane, Miss Bates, and me - and my caro sposo walking by. I really must talk to him about purchasing a donkey. In a country life I conceive it to be a sort of necessary; for, let a woman have ever so many resources, it is not possible for her to be always shut up at home; - and very long walks, you know - in summer there is dust, and in winter there is dirt.'

`You will not find either, between Donwell and Highbury. Donwell Lane is never dusty, and now it is perfectly dry. Come on a donkey, however, if you prefer it. You can borrow Mrs. Cole's. I would wish every thing to be as much to your taste as possible.'

`That I am sure you would. Indeed I do you justice, my good friend. Under that peculiar sort of dry, blunt manner, I know you have the warmest heart. As I tell Mr. E., you are a thorough humourist. - Yes, believe me, Knightley, I am fully sensible of your attention to me in the whole of this scheme. You have hit upon the very thing to please me.'

Mr. Knightley had another reason for avoiding a table in the shade. He wished to persuade Mr. Woodhouse, as well as Emma, to join the party; and he knew that to have any of them sitting down out of doors to eat would inevitably make him ill. Mr. Woodhouse must not, under the specious pretence of a morning drive, and an hour or two spent at Donwell, be tempted away to his misery.

He was invited on good faith. No lurking horrors were to upbraid him for his easy credulity. He did consent. He had not been at Donwell for two years. `Some very fine morning, he, and Emma, and Harriet, could go very well; and he could sit still with Mrs. Weston, while the dear girls walked about the gardens. He did not suppose they could be damp now, in the middle of the day. He should like to see the old house again exceedingly, and should be very happy to meet Mr. and Mrs. Elton, and any other of his neighbours. - He could not see any objection at all to his, and Emma's, and Harriet's going there some very fine morning. He thought it very well done of Mr. Knightley to invite them - very kind and sensible - much cleverer than dining out. - He was not fond of dining out.'

Mr. Knightley was fortunate in every body's most ready concurrence. The invitation was everywhere so well received, that it seemed as if, like Mrs. Elton, they were all taking the scheme as a particular compliment to themselves. - Emma and Harriet professed very high expectations of pleasure from it; and Mr. Weston, unasked, promised to get Frank over to join them, if possible; a proof of approbation and gratitude which could have been dispensed with. - Mr. Knightley was then obliged to say that he should be glad to see him; and Mr. Weston engaged to lose no time in writing, and spare no arguments to induce him to come.

In the meanwhile the lame horse recovered so fast, that the party to Box Hill was again under happy consideration; and at last Donwell was settled for one day, and Box Hill for the next, - the weather appearing exactly right.

Under a bright mid-day sun, at almost Midsummer, Mr. Woodhouse was safely conveyed in his carriage, with one window down, to partake of this al-fresco party; and in one of the most comfortable rooms in the Abbey, especially prepared for him by a fire all the morning, he was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved, and advise every body to come and sit down, and not to heat themselves. - Mrs. Weston, who seemed to have walked there on purpose to be tired, and sit all the time with him, remained, when all the others were invited or persuaded out, his patient listener and sympathiser.

It was so long since Emma had been at the Abbey, that as soon as she was satisfied of her father's comfort, she was glad to leave him, and look around her; eager to refresh and correct her memory with more particular observation, more exact understanding of a house and grounds which must ever be so interesting to her and all her family.

She felt all the honest pride and complacency which her alliance with the present and future proprietor could fairly warrant, as she viewed the respectable size and style of the building, its suitable, becoming, characteristic situation, low and sheltered - its ample gardens stretching down to meadows washed by a stream, of which the Abbey, with all the old neglect of prospect, had scarcely a sight - and its abundance of timber in rows and avenues, which neither fashion nor extravagance had rooted up. - The house was larger than Hartfield, and totally unlike it, covering a good deal of ground, rambling and irregular, with many comfortable, and one or two handsome rooms. - It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was - and Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding. - Some faults of temper John Knightley had; but Isabella had connected herself unexceptionably. She had given them neither men, nor names, nor places, that could raise a blush. These were pleasant feelings, and she walked about and indulged them till it was necessary to do as the others did, and collect round the strawberry-beds. - The whole party were assembled, excepting Frank Churchill, who was expected every moment from Richmond; and Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking - strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of. - `The best fruit in England - every body's favourite - always wholesome. - These the finest beds and finest sorts. - Delightful to gather for one's self - the only way of really enjoying them. - Morning decidedly the best time - never tired - every sort good - hautboy infinitely superior - no comparison - the others hardly eatable - hautboys very scarce - Chili preferred - white wood finest flavour of all - price of strawberries in London - abundance about Bristol - Maple Grove - cultivation - beds when to be renewed - gardeners thinking exactly different - no general rule - gardeners never to be put out of their way - delicious fruit - only too rich to be eaten much of - inferior to cherries - currants more refreshing - only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping - glaring sun - tired to death - could bear it no longer - must go and sit in the shade.'

Such, for half an hour, was the conversation - interrupted only once by Mrs. Weston, who came out, in her solicitude after her son-in-law, to inquire if he were come - and she was a little uneasy. - She had some fears of his horse.

Seats tolerably in the shade were found; and now Emma was obliged to overhear what Mrs. Elton and Jane Fairfax were talking of. - A situation, a most desirable situation, was in question. Mrs. Elton had received notice of it that morning, and was in raptures. It was not with Mrs. Suckling, it was not with Mrs. Bragge, but in felicity and splendour it fell short only of them: it was with a cousin of Mrs. Bragge, an acquaintance of Mrs. Suckling, a lady known at Maple Grove. Delightful, charming, superior, first circles, spheres, lines, ranks, every thing - and Mrs. Elton was wild to have the offer closed with immediately. - On her side, all was warmth, energy, and triumph - and she positively refused to take her friend's negative, though Miss Fairfax continued to assure her that she would not at present engage in any thing, repeating the same motives which she had been heard to urge before. - Still Mrs. Elton insisted on being authorised to write an acquiescence by the morrow's post. - How Jane could bear it at all, was astonishing to Emma. - She did look vexed, she did speak pointedly - and at last, with a decision of action unusual to her, proposed a removal. - `Should not they walk? Would not Mr. Knightley shew them the gardens - all the gardens? - She wished to see the whole extent.' - The pertinacity of her friend seemed more than she could bear.

It was hot; and after walking some time over the gardens in a scattered, dispersed way, scarcely any three together, they insensibly followed one another to the delicious shade of a broad short avenue of limes, which stretching beyond the garden at an equal distance from the river, seemed the finish of the pleasure grounds. - It led to nothing; nothing but a view at the end over a low stone wall with high pillars, which seemed intended, in their erection, to give the appearance of an approach to the house, which never had been there. Disputable, however, as might be the taste of such a termination, it was in itself a charming walk, and the view which closed it extremely pretty. - The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; - and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.

It was a sweet view - sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.

In this walk Emma and Mr. Weston found all the others assembled; and towards this view she immediately perceived Mr. Knightley and Harriet distinct from the rest, quietly leading the way. Mr. Knightley and Harriet! - It was an odd tete-a-tete; but she was glad to see it. - There had been a time when he would have scorned her as a companion, and turned from her with little ceremony. Now they seemed in pleasant conversation. There had been a time also when Emma would have been sorry to see Harriet in a spot so favourable for the Abbey Mill Farm; but now she feared it not. It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending. - She joined them at the wall, and found them more engaged in talking than in looking around. He was giving Harriet information as to modes of agriculture, etc. and Emma received a smile which seemed to say, `These are my own concerns. I have a right to talk on such subjects, without being suspected of introducing Robert Martin.' - She did not suspect him. It was too old a story. - Robert Martin had probably ceased to think of Harriet. - They took a few turns together along the walk. - The shade was most refreshing, and Emma found it the pleasantest part of the day.

The next remove was to the house; they must all go in and eat; - and they were all seated and busy, and still Frank Churchill did not come. Mrs. Weston looked, and looked in vain. His father would not own himself uneasy, and laughed at her fears; but she could not be cured of wishing that he would part with his black mare. He had expressed himself as to coming, with more than common certainty. `His aunt was so much better, that he had not a doubt of getting over to them.' - Mrs. Churchill's state, however, as many were ready to remind her, was liable to such sudden variation as might disappoint her nephew in the most reasonable dependence - and Mrs. Weston was at last persuaded to believe, or to say, that it must be by some attack of Mrs. Churchill that he was prevented coming. - Emma looked at Harriet while the point was under consideration; she behaved very well, and betrayed no emotion.

The cold repast was over, and the party were to go out once more to see what had not yet been seen, the old Abbey fish-ponds; perhaps get as far as the clover, which was to be begun cutting on the morrow, or, at any rate, have the pleasure of being hot, and growing cool again. - Mr. Woodhouse, who had already taken his little round in the highest part of the gardens, where no damps from the river were imagined even by him, stirred no more; and his daughter resolved to remain with him, that Mrs. Weston might be persuaded away by her husband to the exercise and variety which her spirits seemed to need.

Mr. Knightley had done all in his power for Mr. Woodhouse's entertainment. Books of engravings, drawers of medals, cameos, corals, shells, and every other family collection within his cabinets, had been prepared for his old friend, to while away the morning; and the kindness had perfectly answered. Mr. Woodhouse had been exceedingly well amused. Mrs. Weston had been shewing them all to him, and now he would shew them all to Emma; - fortunate in having no other resemblance to a child, than in a total want of taste for what he saw, for he was slow, constant, and methodical. - Before this second looking over was begun, however, Emma walked into the hall for the sake of a few moments' free observation of the entrance and ground-plot of the house - and was hardly there, when Jane Fairfax appeared, coming quickly in from the garden, and with a look of escape. - Little expecting to meet Miss Woodhouse so soon, there was a start at first; but Miss Woodhouse was the very person she was in quest of.

`Will you be so kind,' said she, `when I am missed, as to say that I am gone home? - I am going this moment. - My aunt is not aware how late it is, nor how long we have been absent - but I am sure we shall be wanted, and I am determined to go directly. - I have said nothing about it to any body. It would only be giving trouble and distress. Some are gone to the ponds, and some to the lime walk. Till they all come in I shall not be missed; and when they do, will you have the goodness to say that I am gone?'

`Certainly, if you wish it; - but you are not going to walk to Highbury alone?'

`Yes - what should hurt me? - I walk fast. I shall be at home in twenty minutes.'

`But it is too far, indeed it is, to be walking quite alone. Let my father's servant go with you. - Let me order the carriage. It can be round in five minutes.'

`Thank you, thank you - but on no account. - I would rather walk. - And for me to be afraid of walking alone! - I, who may so soon have to guard others!'

She spoke with great agitation; and Emma very feelingly replied, `That can be no reason for your being exposed to danger now. I must order the carriage. The heat even would be danger. - You are fatigued already.'

`I am,' - she answered - `I am fatigued; but it is not the sort of fatigue - quick walking will refresh me. - Miss Woodhouse, we all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted. The greatest kindness you can shew me, will be to let me have my own way, and only say that I am gone when it is necessary.'

Emma had not another word to oppose. She saw it all; and entering into her feelings, promoted her quitting the house immediately, and watched her safely off with the zeal of a friend. Her parting look was grateful - and her parting words, `Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes alone!' - seemed to burst from an overcharged heart, and to describe somewhat of the continual endurance to be practised by her, even towards some of those who loved her best.

`Such a home, indeed! such an aunt!' said Emma, as she turned back into the hall again. `I do pity you. And the more sensibility you betray of their just horrors, the more I shall like you.'

Jane had not been gone a quarter of an hour, and they had only accomplished some views of St. Mark's Place, Venice, when Frank Churchill entered the room. Emma had not been thinking of him, she had forgotten to think of him - but she was very glad to see him. Mrs. Weston would be at ease. The black mare was blameless; they were right who had named Mrs. Churchill as the cause. He had been detained by a temporary increase of illness in her; a nervous seizure, which had lasted some hours - and he had quite given up every thought of coming, till very late; - and had he known how hot a ride he should have, and how late, with all his hurry, he must be, he believed he should not have come at all. The heat was excessive; he had never suffered any thing like it - almost wished he had staid at home - nothing killed him like heat - he could bear any degree of cold, etc., but heat was intolerable - and he sat down, at the greatest possible distance from the slight remains of Mr. Woodhouse's fire, looking very deplorable.

`You will soon be cooler, if you sit still,' said Emma.

`As soon as I am cooler I shall go back again. I could very ill be spared - but such a point had been made of my coming! You will all be going soon I suppose; the whole party breaking up. I met one as I came - Madness in such weather! - absolute madness!'

Emma listened, and looked, and soon perceived that Frank Churchill's state might be best defined by the expressive phrase of being out of humour. Some people were always cross when they were hot. Such might be his constitution; and as she knew that eating and drinking were often the cure of such incidental complaints, she recommended his taking some refreshment; he would find abundance of every thing in the dining-room - and she humanely pointed out the door.

`No - he should not eat. He was not hungry; it would only make him hotter.' In two minutes, however, he relented in his own favour; and muttering something about spruce-beer, walked off. Emma returned all her attention to her father, saying in secret -

`I am glad I have done being in love with him. I should not like a man who is so soon discomposed by a hot morning. Harriet's sweet easy temper will not mind it.'

He was gone long enough to have had a very comfortable meal, and came back all the better - grown quite cool - and, with good manners, like himself - able to draw a chair close to them, take an interest in their employment; and regret, in a reasonable way, that he should be so late. He was not in his best spirits, but seemed trying to improve them; and, at last, made himself talk nonsense very agreeably. They were looking over views in Swisserland.

`As soon as my aunt gets well, I shall go abroad,' said he. `I shall never be easy till I have seen some of these places. You will have my sketches, some time or other, to look at - or my tour to read - or my poem. I shall do something to expose myself.'

`That may be - but not by sketches in Swisserland. You will never go to Swisserland. Your uncle and aunt will never allow you to leave England.'

`They may be induced to go too. A warm climate may be prescribed for her. I have more than half an expectation of our all going abroad. I assure you I have. I feel a strong persuasion, this morning, that I shall soon be abroad. I ought to travel. I am tired of doing nothing. I want a change. I am serious, Miss Woodhouse, whatever your penetrating eyes may fancy - I am sick of England - and would leave it to-morrow, if I could.'

`You are sick of prosperity and indulgence. Cannot you invent a few hardships for yourself, and be contented to stay?'

`I sick of prosperity and indulgence! You are quite mistaken. I do not look upon myself as either prosperous or indulged. I am thwarted in every thing material. I do not consider myself at all a fortunate person.'

`You are not quite so miserable, though, as when you first came. Go and eat and drink a little more, and you will do very well. Another slice of cold meat, another draught of Madeira and water, will make you nearly on a par with the rest of us.'

`No - I shall not stir. I shall sit by you. You are my best cure.'

`We are going to Box Hill to-morrow; - you will join us. It is not Swisserland, but it will be something for a young man so much in want of a change. You will stay, and go with us?'

`No, certainly not; I shall go home in the cool of the evening.'

`But you may come again in the cool of to-morrow morning.'

`No - It will not be worth while. If I come, I shall be cross.'

`Then pray stay at Richmond.'

`But if I do, I shall be crosser still. I can never bear to think of you all there without me.'

`These are difficulties which you must settle for yourself. Chuse your own degree of crossness. I shall press you no more.'

The rest of the party were now returning, and all were soon collected. With some there was great joy at the sight of Frank Churchill; others took it very composedly; but there was a very general distress and disturbance on Miss Fairfax's disappearance being explained. That it was time for every body to go, concluded the subject; and with a short final arrangement for the next day's scheme, they parted. Frank Churchill's little inclination to exclude himself increased so much, that his last words to Emma were,

`Well; - if you wish me to stay and join the party, I will.'

She smiled her acceptance; and nothing less than a summons from Richmond was to take him back before the following evening.

 

海伯里的人们早就期盼萨克林夫妇尽快来访,后来听说他们要到秋天才可能来,不免感到失望。眼下,没有这一类的新鲜事来丰富人们的精神生活了。每天交换新闻时,大家只得再谈起一度和萨克林夫妇来访有关的其他话题,例如邱吉尔太太的最新消息,她的身体状况似乎每天都有个不同的说法,又如韦斯顿太太的景况,她因为一个孩子要出世而感到越发幸福,她的邻居们也为此感到欣喜。

埃尔顿太太大失所望。她本想尽情地乐一乐,好好地炫耀一番,这下全给推迟了。对她的介绍和举荐只好等一等再说,每一个计划中的聚会只能谈一谈而已。起初她是这样想的,后来再一琢磨,觉得不必什么都要推迟。萨克林夫妇不来,为什么就不能去游一游博克斯山(译注:英格兰南部风景区,人们尤为喜欢去那里野餐)呢?秋天他们来了,还可以跟他们再去一次嘛。于是,大家说定了要去博克斯山。要组织这样一次活动,这早就是尽人皆知的事,甚至还让另一个人动了念头。爱玛从未去过博克斯山,很想看看众人认为值得一看的景物。她跟韦斯顿先生说好,拣一个风和日丽的早晨坐马车去那里。原来择定的人中,只叫两三个人跟他们一起去,不加声张,不搞排场,但要讲究雅致,比起埃尔顿夫妇和萨克林夫妇的吵吵嚷嚷,大张旗鼓,讲吃讲喝,还要大摆野餐,不知要强多少。

他们两人把这事完全谈妥了,后来韦斯顿先生说他向埃尔顿太太提议,既然她姐姐姐夫来不了,他们两帮人不如合起来一道去,埃尔顿太太满口答应,如果爱玛不反对,那就这么办。爱玛听了不禁有些惊讶,还有点不高兴。爱玛即便反对,也不过是因为极端讨厌埃尔顿太太罢了,韦斯顿先生对此早已十分清楚了,现在也不值得再提出来。要提的话,势必要责怪韦斯顿先生,那样一来就会伤韦斯顿太太的心。因此,她不得不同意一项她本来要千方百计加以避免的安排。她接受这项安排,很可能会惹人耻笑,说她甘愿与埃尔顿太太为伍!她满腹委屈,虽然表面上顺从了,心里却在暗暗责备韦斯顿先生心眼太好,做事没有分寸。

“你赞成我的做法,我很高兴,”韦斯顿先生颇感欣慰地说。“不过,我料到你会同意的。这类活动人少了就没有意思。人越多越好。人多才有意思。再说她毕竟是个性情和善的人,不大好把她撇在一边。”

爱玛嘴里没表示反对,心里也没表示同意。

眼下正是六月中旬,天清气朗。埃尔顿太太迫不及待地要定下日期,跟韦斯顿先生商定带鸽肉饼和冷羊肉的事,恰在这时,一匹拉车的马跌跛了腿,把计划全给打乱了。要用那匹马,也许要过几个星期,也许只要几天,不过准备工作却不能贸然进行了,只好垂头丧气地静等着。埃尔顿太太办法虽多,却难以应付这样的意外打击。

“这岂不是太让人恼火了吗,奈特利?”她嚷道。“多好的游玩天气呀!这样一次次耽搁,一次次让人扫兴,真令人讨厌。我们怎么办呢?照此下去,这一年眼看过去了还一事无成。跟你说吧,去年还没到这个时候,我们已经从枫园到金斯韦斯顿痛痛快快游玩了一番。”

“你最好去当维尔玩玩,”奈特利先生答道。“去那儿没有马也行。来尝尝我的草莓吧,熟得很快。”

如果奈特利先生开始说的时候还不是很当真,说到后来就不能不当真了,因为他的提议被对方欣喜地抓住不放了。“哦!这再好不过了,”话说得明确,态度也不含糊。当维尔的草莓圃很有名气,这似乎是邀请的一个借口。不过,其实也不必有什么借口,即使大白菜也可以,这位太太只不过想出去玩玩。她三番五次地答应去——频繁得叫他无法怀疑——她把这看成一种亲密的表示,一种特别的恭维,感到万分得意。

“你尽管放心好啦,”埃尔顿太太说。“我肯定会来。你定个日子,我一定来。你会允许我把简·费尔法克斯也带来吗?”

“我想再请些人跟你相见,”奈特利先生说,“在跟他们说好以前,我没法定下日子。”

“啊!这事儿交给我吧。只要全权委托给我就行了。你知道,我是女主顾呀。这可是我的聚会呀,我要带朋友来。”

“我希望你带埃尔顿来,”奈特利先生说,“可我不想劳驾你去邀请别人。”

“啊!现在你看上去真狡猾。可你想一想:你委托我来办,就不必担心了。我可不是任性的年轻小姐。你要知道,委托结了婚的女人办事是很稳妥的。这是我的聚会,都交给我吧。我来给你邀请客人。”

“不,”奈特利先生平静地答道,“世界上只有一个结了婚的女人,我可以让她随意邀请客人来当维尔,那就是——”

“我想是韦斯顿太太吧,”埃尔顿太太觉得很委屈,打断了他的话。

“不,是奈特利太太——在她没出现之前,我要自己来办这类事情。”

“啊!你真是个怪人!”埃尔顿太太嚷道,发现没有人比她更受器重,不由得很是得意。“你这个人真幽默,想说什么就说什么。真是个幽默家。好吧,我把简带来——简和她姨妈。其他人由你去请。我压根儿不反对跟哈特菲尔德一家人见面。不用顾虑,我知道你跟他们有交情。”

“只要我能请得到,你肯定会见到他们的。我回家的路上,顺便去看看贝茨小姐。”

“完全没有必要,我天天看见简。不过,随你的便。你知道,奈特利,就是一个上午的活动,非常简单。我要戴一顶大帽子,胳膊上挎着一只小篮子。你瞧,也许就是有粉红色缎带的这一只。要知道,没什么比这更简单了。简也会带这么只篮子。不拘形式,不搞排场——就像吉普赛人的聚会。我们就在你的园子里逛逛,自己采草莓,坐在树底下。不管你还要搞什么,都要安排在户外——你知道,桌子要摆在树阴下。一切都要尽量自然,尽量简单。难道你不这样想吗?”

“不完全这样。我心目中的自然简单,是把桌子放在餐厅里。先生们、女士们及其仆从、家具要做到自然简单,我想只有在室内就餐最能显现出来。等你在园子里吃厌了草莓以后,屋子里还有冷肉。”

“好吧——随你的便,只是不要搞得太丰盛了。顺便问一声,需不需要我或者我的管家帮助出出主意?请直说吧,奈特利。如果你想让我去跟霍奇斯太太谈谈,或者查看一下什么——”

“我丝毫没有这样的想法,谢谢。”

“好吧——不过,要是有什么困难的话,我的管家可是非常机灵的。”

“我敢担保,我的管家也认为自己非常机灵,不会要别人帮忙。”

“我们要是有头驴子就好了。我们大家最好都骑驴子来——简、贝茨小姐和我——我的caro sposo在旁边走着。我真要劝他买头驴子。在乡下生活,我看这是必不可少的,因为一个女人不管有多少消遣办法,总不可能叫她一天到晚关在家里,而要让她跑远路,你知道——夏天尘土飞扬,冬天道路泥泞。”

“在当维尔和海伯里之间,你遇不到这样的问题。当维尔小路从来没有尘土,现在完全是干的。不过,你要是愿意,就骑驴子来吧。你可以借科尔太太的。我希望一切都尽量让你满意。”

“我想你肯定会这么做的。我的好朋友,我对你的看法是很公道的。尽管你外表上看起来很冷淡,态度显得比较生硬,但我知道你的心最热情不过。我常对埃先生说,你是个不折不扣的幽默家。是呀,请相信我,奈特利,在这项计划中,我完全感受到了你对我的关心。你想起的这件事真叫我高兴。”

奈特利先生不愿把桌子摆在树阴下,还有一个理由。他想说服爱玛以及伍德豪斯先生也来参加。他知道,要让他们中的任何一位坐在户外吃饭,势必会把伍德豪斯先生害病了。千万不能假借上午驾车出游,到当维尔玩一两个小时的机会,引得伍德豪斯先生受罪。

伍德豪斯先生受到真挚的邀请。没有什么潜在的恐怖来责怪他的轻信,他确实同意了。他已有两年没去当维尔了。“遇上个风和日丽的上午,我、爱玛以及哈丽特满可以去一趟。我可以跟韦斯顿太太静静地坐着,让两个亲爱的姑娘到花园里去逛逛。我想到了这个季节,人在中午是不会受潮的。我很想再看看那栋老房子,也很乐意见见韦斯顿夫妇和别的邻居。我要和爱玛以及哈丽特在一个风和日丽的上午去一趟,我看这没有什么不可以的。我觉得奈特利先生请我们去是理所当然的——非常友好,非常明智——比在外面吃饭明智多了。我可不喜欢在外面吃饭。”

奈特利先生很幸运,每个人都欣然接受了邀请。这请帖到处受到欢迎,看来人人都像埃尔顿太太一样,全都把这项活动看成是对他们自己的特别恭维。爱玛和哈丽特声称,大家一定会玩个痛快。韦斯顿先生则主动承诺,如果可能的话,把弗兰克也叫来参加;以此表示赞同和感激,其实大可不必。这样一来,奈特利先生只得说欢迎他来。韦斯顿先生便立即写信,摆出种种理由劝他来。

这时候,那匹跛腿马很快就复元了,大家又在乐滋滋地盘算去博克斯山游玩的事了。最后终于说定,先在当维尔玩一天,第二天去博克斯山。看来,天公也挺作美。

在临近施洗约翰节的一个阳光灿烂的中午,伍德豪斯先生安安稳稳地坐上马车出去游玩了,马车的一扇窗户还拉了下来。他给安顿在寺院一个最舒适的房间里,那是特地为他准备的,生了一上午的火,因此他觉得很高兴,也很自在,便兴致勃勃地谈起为他作的安排,劝说大家都来坐下,不要中暑了。韦斯顿太太似乎是走来的,故意累一累,好始终陪他坐着,等别人应邀或受劝出去玩了,可以耐心地听他说话,随声附和他。

爱玛已有好久没来寺院了,见父亲给安顿得舒舒服服的,觉得挺满意,便高高兴兴地离开了他,到四处看看。她和她一家人对这房子和庭园一向都很感兴趣,她一心就想仔细地观察一下,真切地了解一番,以便唤醒以前的记忆,记错的地方也好纠正过来。

那座房子又大又气派,位置适宜,富有特色,地势较低,也挺隐蔽——花园很大,一直延伸到草场,草场上有一条小溪流过,由于以前不大讲究视野,从寺院几乎看不见那条小溪——那儿还有一排排、一行行茂密的树木,既没有因为赶时髦而破坏掉,也没有因为挥霍无度而糟蹋掉。爱玛看着这一切,想到自己跟目前和未来主人的亲戚关系,不禁感到由衷的骄傲和得意。与哈特菲尔德相比,这座房子来得大些,式样截然不同,地盘铺得很大,格局有些杂乱,好多房间都挺舒适,有一两间比较漂亮。房子恰到好处,看起来颇为得体——爱玛对它越来越怀有敬意,觉得住在里面的人家是个从血统到意识都纯正无瑕的地道绅士世家。约翰·奈特利性情上有些缺陷,可伊莎贝拉结下这门亲事却是无可指摘的。她自家的亲属、名声和地位,都不会使那家人脸红。爱玛心里乐滋滋的,一边四处溜达,一边沾沾自喜,直至不得不像别人一样,来到种草莓的地方。大家都聚集在这里,只缺弗兰克-邱吉尔,众人都盼着他随时从里士满赶来。埃尔顿太太用上了她最喜欢的装束,戴着大帽子,挎着篮子,准备带头采草莓,接受草莓,谈论草莓——现在大家心里想的,嘴上谈的,全是草莓,只有草莓。“英国最好的水果——人人都喜爱——总是很有营养。这是最好的草莓圃,最好的品种。自己采才有意思——只有这样吃起来才有滋味。上午无疑是最好的时间——决不会感到累——哪个品种都挺好——阔少爷比别的不知要好多少——真是无与伦比——别的简直不能吃——阔少爷草莓很少见——大家都喜欢辣椒莓——白木莓味道最好——伦敦的草莓价格——布里斯托尔产得多——枫园——培育——草莓圃什么时候翻整——园丁的意见不一致——没有常规——园丁决不会放弃自己的做法——鲜美的水果——只是太腻了,不宜多吃——不如樱桃——红醋栗比较清爽——采草莓的唯一缺点是要弯腰——太阳晃眼——累死了——再也受不了啦——得去树阴里坐坐。”

这类话谈了半个小时——中间只被韦斯顿太太打断过一次,她牵挂继子,出来问问他来了没有——她有点放心不下,怕他的马出事。

树阴下还可以找到坐的地方。这一来,爱玛没法不听到埃尔顿太太跟简-费尔法克斯在说话。她们谈的是一个职位,一个非常理想的职位。埃尔顿太太那天早上得到消息,高兴得不得了。不是在萨克林太太家,也不是在布雷格太太家,不过就福气和富贵而言,也仅次于这两家。那是在布雷格太太的表姐家,她是萨克林太太的熟人,在枫园颇有名气。她快活、可爱、高贵,她的背景、势力、职业、地位等,全都是第一流的。埃尔顿太太急于马上定下这件事。她热情满怀,劲头十足,得意洋洋——决不让她的朋友拒绝,尽管费尔法克斯小姐一再跟她说,她目前还不想做什么事,她还是把以前敦促她快点谋职的理由重复了一遍又一遍。埃尔顿太太坚持要代她写一封表示认可的信,第二天就寄出去。简怎么能受得了这一切,真叫爱玛感到吃惊。简看样子的确有些懊恼,话也说得尖刻起来——最后,她采取了一个在她来说并不寻常的果断行动,建议再走一走。“干吗不散散步呢?奈特利先生不想带我们看看花园——整个花园吗?我想整个都看看。”她的朋友那样执拗,看来真让她受不了啦。

天气很热。大家零零散散地在花园里走着,几乎没有三个人在一起的,溜达了一阵之后,无意中一个接一个地来到一条宽而短的路上,路两旁都是欧椴树,树阴下非常凉爽。这条路在花园外边,与小河平行,似乎是游乐场地的尽头。它并不通向什么地方,顶头只看到一道立着高柱的矮石墙。建造这些高柱,似乎是想让人觉得那是房子的人日,尽管房子并不在那儿。这样的格局是否得体还值得商榷,但这路本身却是迷人的,周围的景色美不胜收。寺院差不多就坐落在一大片斜坡的脚下,斜坡到了庭园外边,就渐渐地越来越陡,在半英里以外的地方是一道巍峨峭拔的陡坡,坡上林木茂盛,坡下是阿比一米尔农场,地势适宜而隐蔽,前面是草场,小河就在近旁,绕着草场蜿蜒而过。

这儿景色宜人——真令人赏心悦目。英国的青葱草木,英国的农林园艺,英国的宜人景色,在灿烂的阳光的辉映下,毫无令人抑郁之感。

爱玛和韦斯顿先生发现,别人全都聚集在这条路上。她朝路那边望去,一眼就瞧见了奈特利先生和哈丽特。这两人十分显眼,静静地走在最前面。奈特利先生与哈丽特!这是一对奇怪的搭挡,可是见他们俩在一起,她又很高兴。曾经有一度,奈特利先生不屑跟哈丽特做伴,见到她就要毫不客气地转身走开。现在,他们似乎谈得很投机。过去也曾有一度,爱玛不愿意看见哈丽特处于对阿比一米尔农场这么有利的位置上,可现在她不担心了。让她看看那繁茂旖旎的景物,那丰饶的牧场,遍地的羊群,花儿盛开的果园,袅袅上升的炊烟,是不会出什么问题的。她在墙边那儿赶上了他们,发现他们俩只顾说话,并不在观赏景色。奈特利先生在向哈丽特介绍农作物种类方面的知识,见到爱玛时微微一笑,仿佛是说:“这都是我所关心的事。我有权利谈论这些事,谁也不会怀疑我在给罗伯特·马丁作媒。”爱玛没有怀疑他。这件事早已成为历史了。罗伯特·马丁可能已经不再想哈丽特了。他们在这条路上又转了一会。树阴下非常清凉,爱玛觉得这一天就数这段时间最快活。

接下来要到屋里去,大家都得进去用餐。等众人坐下忙碌起来,弗兰克·邱吉尔还是没来。韦斯顿太太望了一次又一次,都是白搭。他父亲不承认自己心神不定,还嘲笑他太太多虑。不过韦斯顿太太说什么也放心不下,一个劲儿地巴望弗兰克不要骑他的黑马。他非常肯定地表示过要来。“我舅妈身体大大好转,我毫无疑问一定能来。”然而,正如许多人提醒的那样,邱吉尔太太的身体很可能突然发生变化,那样一来,自然只能依靠她外甥来照料了,那外甥想来也来不了啦——最后,韦斯顿太太终于给说服了,于是便相信,或者是这么说的:一定是邱吉尔太太犯病了,他来不成了。在琢磨这件事时,爱玛拿眼望着哈丽特,只见她神态自若,没露声色。

用过冷餐之后,大家再一次出去,看看还没看过的景物:寺院的老鱼池。那也许要走到明天就要开割的苜蓿地,至少可以去领受一下先热后凉的乐趣。伍德豪斯先生觉得园子最高的地方没有小河的湿气,便在那儿兜了一小圈,然后就不想再动了。他女儿决意留下来陪他,这样韦斯顿先生可以动员他太太去活动活动,散散心,看来她需要调剂一下精神。

奈特利先生竭尽了全力,要让伍德豪斯先生玩好。他为他的老朋友准备了一本本的版画册,从柜子里拿出一抽屉又一抽屉的纪念章、浮雕宝石、珊瑚、贝壳等家藏珍品,供他消磨一个上午。这番好心完全得到了回报。伍德豪斯先生玩得极其快活。这些东西都是韦斯顿太太拿给他看的,现在他要把它们拿给爱玛看。所幸的是,除了对看到的东西毫无鉴赏力之外,他没有别的地方像个孩子,因为他行动迟缓,呆滞古板,有条不紊。然而,还没等他开始欣赏第二遍,爱玛就走进了门厅,想看一看房子的人口和平面图。她刚一进去,就见简·费尔法克斯匆匆从花园里闯进来,看样子想溜走。她没料到一下子就遇见了伍德豪斯小姐,起先吃了一惊。不过,她要找的也正是伍德豪斯小姐。

“要是有人问起我,”她说,“是否请你说一声我回家去了?我这就走。我姨妈不知道天这么晚了,也不知道我们出来这么久了——不过,我想家里一定在等我们,我非得立刻回去不可。我对谁也没说,说了只会引起麻烦,让人担心,有人去鱼池了,有人去了欧椴路。他们要全回来了,才会想起我。到时候,是否请你说一声我回家了?”

“你有这个要求,当然可以。可你总不见得一个人走回海伯里吧?”

“是一个人走——这对我有什么害处呢?我走路快,二十分钟就到家了。”

“不过,一个人走太远了,实在太远了。让我爸爸的仆人送你去吧。我去叫马车,五分钟就到。”

“谢谢,谢谢——千万别叫车。我还是走回去。我会怕一个人走路!说不定我马上要去照料别人啦!”

简说得十分激动。爱玛深为同情地答道:“那也用不着现在就去冒险啊。我得去叫马车。就连炎热也会让你受不了啊。你已经累了。”

“是的,”简答道,“我是累了,但不是累得不行了——一走快就来精神了。伍德豪斯小姐,人有时候都会尝到心烦的滋味。说实话,我心烦透了。你要是真想帮忙,最好不要管我,只在必要的时候说一声我走了。”

爱玛没再坚持。她全明白了,体谅她的心情,催她快走,怀着朋友的热忱,目送她安然离去。简临别时的神情充满了感激之情——她那告别的话“哦!伍德豪斯小姐,有时候一个人待着真适意!”——似乎是从一颗过分沉重的心里迸发出来的,多少可以看出长期以来她一直在忍耐,甚至对一些最爱她的人也要忍耐。

“唁,这样的家!这样的姨妈!”爱玛回到门厅时,心里在想。“我的确同情你。你越是流露出理所当然的惧怕心理,我越是喜欢你。”

简走了不到一刻钟,那父女俩刚看了威尼斯圣马克广场的几张风景画,弗兰克·邱吉尔便走了进来。爱玛没在想他,也忘了想他——可是见到他却很高兴。韦斯顿太太可以放心了。黑马是无可指责的,把问题归因于邱吉尔太太生病的那些人说对了。弗兰克是让她一时病情加重绊住了。那是一次神经性发作,持续了几个小时——他都完全放弃了要来的念头,直至很晚。他要是早知道一路上骑着马有多么热,赶得那么急还到得那么晚,那他肯定就不会来了。天热得厉害,他从没吃过这样的苦头——简直后悔不该不待在家里——最要他命的就是天热——天再怎么冷,再怎么糟,他都能忍受,可就是受不了热。他坐了下来,尽可能离伍德豪斯先生火炉里的余烬远一些,看上去一副可怜相。

“你静静地坐着,一会儿就凉快了,”爱玛说。

“等我一凉快了,就又得回去了。我真是走不开呀——可是不来又不行啊!我看你们都快走了吧。大家都要散了。我来的时候碰到一位——在这样的天气里真是发疯啊!绝对是发疯!”

爱玛听着看着,马上就意识到:弗兰克·邱吉尔眼下的状况,最好用“心境不佳”这个富有表现力的字眼来形容。有些人热了就要烦躁,他也许就是这样的体质。爱玛知道,吃喝往往可以治好这种无关痛痒的抱怨,于是便劝他吃点东西,说他可以在餐厅找到吃的,样样都很丰富,还好心地指了指门。

“不——我不要吃。我不饿,吃了只会更热。”然而,刚过两分钟,他对自己发了慈悲,咕哝了一声要喝云杉啤酒,便走开了。爱玛又一心一意关照起父亲来,心想:

“幸好我不爱他了。因为上午天热就闹情绪,我才不喜欢这样的人呢。哈丽特性情温柔随和,她不会在意的。”

弗兰克去了好久,足以痛痛快快地吃上一顿,回来时就好多了——完全冷静下来了,又像往常一样彬彬有礼了——能够拉张椅子坐到他们身边,对他们的活动发生了兴趣,还人情人理地说他不该来晚了。他的心情还不是最好,不过似乎在竭力使之好转,最后终于能谈笑风生地说些闲话了。他们一道看着瑞士的风景画。

“等舅妈病一好,我就到国外去,”他说。.“这样的地方不去看它几个,我是决不会甘心的。有朝一日,你们会看到我的素描——读到我的游记——或者我的诗。我要露一手。”

“那倒可能——但不会是瑞士的素描。你决不会去瑞士。你舅舅舅妈决不会让你离开英国。”

“也许可以说服他们也去。医生可能叫舅妈去一个气候温暖的地方。我看我们很可能一起出去。我敢说真有这个可能。今天早上我有一个强烈的信念:我不久就要出国了。我应该去旅行。无所事事让我厌烦,我要换个环境。我是当真的,伍德豪斯小姐,不管你瞪着一双敏锐的眼睛在想什么——我对英国已经厌烦了——只要办得到,我明天就想离开。”

“你是过腻了荣华富贵、恣意享乐的生活。难道你不能找几件吃苦的事儿,安心地留下来吗?”

“我过腻了荣华富贵、恣意享乐的生活!你完全想错了。我觉得自己既没有荣华富贵,也没有恣意享乐。我在生活上没一件事是称心的,我根本就不认为自己是个幸运儿。”

“不过,你也不像你刚进来时那么可怜呀。再去吃一点,喝一点,就会没事儿了。再吃一片冷肉,再喝一口兑水马德拉白葡萄酒,你就差不多跟我们大家一样了。”

“不——我不想动。我要坐在你身边。你是我最好的良药。”

“我们明天去博克斯山,你跟我们一块去吧。那不是瑞士,但是对于一个想换换环境的年轻人来说,还是有好处的。你别走了,跟我们一起去吧?”

“不,真不能去。我晚上要趁天凉回去。”

“你可以趁明天早上天凉再来呀。”

“不——那划不来。来了还要上火。”

“那就请你待在里士满吧。”

“可要是那样的话,我就更要上火了。想到你们都去了却撇下我,我可受不了。”

“这些难题由你自己解决。你自己选择上火的程度吧。我不再勉强你了。”

这时其余的人陆续回来了,大家马上都聚到了一起。一看到弗兰克-邱吉尔,有些人兴高采烈,有些人却安之若素。可是听说费尔法克斯小姐走了,大家都感到又惋惜又沮丧。由于已经到了该走的时候,这件事也就到此了结了。最后把明天的活动简要安排了一下,众人便分手了。弗兰克·邱吉尔本来就有点不愿意,现在更不想将自己排斥在外,因此他对爱玛讲的最后一句话是:

“好吧,你要是想让我留下,跟大家一起去,我就照办。”

爱玛笑吟吟地表示欢迎。除非里士满下令招他,否则他不会在明天天黑前赶回去。



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