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Chapter 17

While Sir Walter and Elizabeth were assiduously pushing their good fortune in Laura Place, Anne was renewing an acquaintance of a very different description.

She had called on her former governess, and had heard from her of there being an old school-fellow in Bath, who had the two strong claims on her attention of past kindness and present suffering. Miss Hamilton, now Mrs Smith, had shewn her kindness in one of those periods of her life when it had been most valuable. Anne had gone unhappy to school, grieving for the loss of a mother whom she had dearly loved, feeling her separation from home, and suffering as a girl of fourteen, of strong sensibility and not high spirits, must suffer at such a time; and Miss Hamilton, three years older than herself, but still from the want of near relations and a settled home, remaining another year at school, had been useful and good to her in a way which had considerably lessened her misery, and could never be remembered with indifference.

Miss Hamilton had left school, had married not long afterwards, was said to have married a man of fortune, and this was all that Anne had known of her, till now that their governess's account brought her situation forward in a more decided but very different form.

She was a widow and poor. Her husband had been extravagant; and at his death, about two years before, had left his affairs dreadfully involved. She had had difficulties of every sort to contend with, and in addition to these distresses had been afflicted with a severe rheumatic fever, which, finally settling in her legs, had made her for the present a cripple. She had come to Bath on that account, and was now in lodgings near the hot baths, living in a very humble way, unable even to afford herself the comfort of a servant, and of course almost excluded from society.

Their mutual friend answered for the satisfaction which a visit from Miss Elliot would give Mrs Smith, and Anne therefore lost no time in going. She mentioned nothing of what she had heard, or what she intended, at home. It would excite no proper interest there. She only consulted Lady Russell, who entered thoroughly into her sentiments, and was most happy to convey her as near to Mrs Smith's lodgings in Westgate Buildings, as Anne chose to be taken.

The visit was paid, their acquaintance re-established, their interest in each other more than re-kindled. The first ten minutes had its awkwardness and its emotion. Twelve years were gone since they had parted, and each presented a somewhat different person from what the other had imagined. Twelve years had changed Anne from the blooming, silent, unformed girl of fifteen, to the elegant little woman of seven-and-twenty, with every beauty except bloom, and with manners as consciously right as they were invariably gentle; and twelve years had transformed the fine-looking, well-grown Miss Hamilton, in all the glow of health and confidence of superiority, into a poor, infirm, helpless widow, receiving the visit of her former protegee as a favour; but all that was uncomfortable in the meeting had soon passed away, and left only the interesting charm of remembering former partialities and talking over old times.

Anne found in Mrs Smith the good sense and agreeable manners which she had almost ventured to depend on, and a disposition to converse and be cheerful beyond her expectation. Neither the dissipations of the past--and she had lived very much in the world--nor the restrictions of the present, neither sickness nor sorrow seemed to have closed her heart or ruined her spirits.

In the course of a second visit she talked with great openness, and Anne's astonishment increased. She could scarcely imagine a more cheerless situation in itself than Mrs Smith's. She had been very fond of her husband: she had buried him. She had been used to affluence: it was gone. She had no child to connect her with life and happiness again, no relations to assist in the arrangement of perplexed affairs, no health to make all the rest supportable. Her accommodations were limited to a noisy parlour, and a dark bedroom behind, with no possibility of moving from one to the other without assistance, which there was only one servant in the house to afford, and she never quitted the house but to be conveyed into the warm bath. Yet, in spite of all this, Anne had reason to believe that she had moments only of languor and depression, to hours of occupation and enjoyment. How could it be? She watched, observed, reflected, and finally determined that this was not a case of fortitude or of resignation only. A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from nature alone. It was the choicest gift of Heaven; and Anne viewed her friend as one of those instances in which, by a merciful appointment, it seems designed to counterbalance almost every other want.

There had been a time, Mrs Smith told her, when her spirits had nearly failed. She could not call herself an invalid now, compared with her state on first reaching Bath. Then she had, indeed, been a pitiable object; for she had caught cold on the journey, and had hardly taken possession of her lodgings before she was again confined to her bed and suffering under severe and constant pain; and all this among strangers, with the absolute necessity of having a regular nurse, and finances at that moment particularly unfit to meet any extraordinary expense. She had weathered it, however, and could truly say that it had done her good. It had increased her comforts by making her feel herself to be in good hands. She had seen too much of the world, to expect sudden or disinterested attachment anywhere, but her illness had proved to her that her landlady had a character to preserve, and would not use her ill; and she had been particularly fortunate in her nurse, as a sister of her landlady, a nurse by profession, and who had always a home in that house when unemployed, chanced to be at liberty just in time to attend her. "And she, " said Mrs Smith, "besides nursing me most admirably, has really proved an invaluable acquaintance. As soon as I could use my hands she taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little thread-cases, pin-cushions and card-racks, which you always find me so busy about, and which supply me with the means of doing a little good to one or two very poor families in this neighbourhood. She had a large acquaintance, of course professionally, among those who can afford to buy, and she disposes of my merchandise. She always takes the right time for applying. Everybody's heart is open, you know, when they have recently escaped from severe pain, or are recovering the blessing of health, and Nurse Rooke thoroughly understands when to speak. She is a shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman. Hers is a line for seeing human nature; and she has a fund of good sense and observation, which, as a companion, make her infinitely superior to thousands of those who having only received `the best education in the world, ' know nothing worth attending to. Call it gossip, if you will, but when Nurse Rooke has half an hour's leisure to bestow on me, she is sure to have something to relate that is entertaining and profitable: something that makes one know one's species better. One likes to hear what is going on, to be au fait as to the newest modes of being trifling and silly. To me, who live so much alone, her conversation, I assure you, is a treat. "

Anne, far from wishing to cavil at the pleasure, replied, "I can easily believe it. Women of that class have great opportunities, and if they are intelligent may be well worth listening to. Such varieties of human nature as they are in the habit of witnessing! And it is not merely in its follies, that they are well read; for they see it occasionally under every circumstance that can be most interesting or affecting. What instances must pass before them of ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation: of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most. A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes. "

"Yes, " said Mrs Smith more doubtingly, "sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial; but generally speaking, it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick chamber: it is selfishness and impatience rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of. There is so little real friendship in the world! and unfortunately" (speaking low and tremulously) "there are so many who forget to think seriously till it is almost too late. "

Anne saw the misery of such feelings. The husband had not been what he ought, and the wife had been led among that part of mankind which made her think worse of the world than she hoped it deserved. It was but a passing emotion however with Mrs Smith; she shook it off, and soon added in a different tone--

"I do not suppose the situation my friend Mrs Rooke is in at present, will furnish much either to interest or edify me. She is only nursing Mrs Wallis of Marlborough Buildings; a mere pretty, silly, expensive, fashionable woman, I believe; and of course will have nothing to report but of lace and finery. I mean to make my profit of Mrs Wallis, however. She has plenty of money, and I intend she shall buy all the high-priced things I have in hand now. "

Anne had called several times on her friend, before the existence of such a person was known in Camden Place. At last, it became necessary to speak of her. Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs Clay, returned one morning from Laura Place, with a sudden invitation from Lady Dalrymple for the same evening, and Anne was already engaged, to spend that evening in Westgate Buildings. She was not sorry for the excuse. They were only asked, she was sure, because Lady Dalrymple being kept at home by a bad cold, was glad to make use of the relationship which had been so pressed on her; and she declined on her own account with great alacrity--"She was engaged to spend the evening with an old schoolfellow. " They were not much interested in anything relative to Anne; but still there were questions enough asked, to make it understood what this old schoolfellow was; and Elizabeth was disdainful, and Sir Walter severe.

"Westgate Buildings!" said he, "and who is Miss Anne Elliot to be visiting in Westgate Buildings? A Mrs Smith. A widow Mrs Smith; and who was her husband? One of five thousand Mr Smiths whose names are to be met with everywhere. And what is her attraction? That she is old and sickly. Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you. But surely you may put off this old lady till to-morrow: she is not so near her end, I presume, but that she may hope to see another day. What is her age? Forty?"

"No, sir, she is not one-and-thirty; but I do not think I can put off my engagement, because it is the only evening for some time which will at once suit her and myself. She goes into the warm bath to-morrow, and for the rest of the week, you know, we are engaged. "

"But what does Lady Russell think of this acquaintance?" asked Elizabeth.

"She sees nothing to blame in it, " replied Anne; "on the contrary, she approves it, and has generally taken me when I have called on Mrs Smith.

"Westgate Buildings must have been rather surprised by the appearance of a carriage drawn up near its pavement, " observed Sir Walter. "Sir Henry Russell's widow, indeed, has no honours to distinguish her arms, but still it is a handsome equipage, and no doubt is well known to convey a Miss Elliot. A widow Mrs Smith lodging in Westgate Buildings! A poor widow barely able to live, between thirty and forty; a mere Mrs Smith, an every-day Mrs Smith, of all people and all names in the world, to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be preferred by her to her own family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland! Mrs Smith! Such a name!"

Mrs Clay, who had been present while all this passed, now thought it advisable to leave the room, and Anne could have said much, and did long to say a little in defence of her friend's not very dissimilar claims to theirs, but her sense of personal respect to her father prevented her. She made no reply. She left it to himself to recollect, that Mrs Smith was not the only widow in Bath between thirty and forty, with little to live on, and no surname of dignity.

Anne kept her appointment; the others kept theirs, and of course she heard the next morning that they had had a delightful evening. She had been the only one of the set absent, for Sir Walter and Elizabeth had not only been quite at her ladyship's service themselves, but had actually been happy to be employed by her in collecting others, and had been at the trouble of inviting both Lady Russell and Mr Elliot; and Mr Elliot had made a point of leaving Colonel Wallis early, and Lady Russell had fresh arranged all her evening engagements in order to wait on her. Anne had the whole history of all that such an evening could supply from Lady Russell. To her, its greatest interest must be, in having been very much talked of between her friend and Mr Elliot; in having been wished for, regretted, and at the same time honoured for staying away in such a cause. Her kind, compassionate visits to this old schoolfellow, sick and reduced, seemed to have quite delighted Mr Elliot. He thought her a most extraordinary young woman; in her temper, manners, mind, a model of female excellence. He could meet even Lady Russell in a discussion of her merits; and Anne could not be given to understand so much by her friend, could not know herself to be so highly rated by a sensible man, without many of those agreeable sensations which her friend meant to create.

Lady Russell was now perfectly decided in her opinion of Mr Elliot. She was as much convinced of his meaning to gain Anne in time as of his deserving her, and was beginning to calculate the number of weeks which would free him from all the remaining restraints of widowhood, and leave him at liberty to exert his most open powers of pleasing. She would not speak to Anne with half the certainty she felt on the subject, she would venture on little more than hints of what might be hereafter, of a possible attachment on his side, of the desirableness of the alliance, supposing such attachment to be real and returned. Anne heard her, and made no violent exclamations; she only smiled, blushed, and gently shook her head.

"I am no match-maker, as you well know, " said Lady Russell, "being much too well aware of the uncertainty of all human events and calculations. I only mean that if Mr Elliot should some time hence pay his addresses to you, and if you should be disposed to accept him, I think there would be every possibility of your being happy together. A most suitable connection everybody must consider it, but I think it might be a very happy one. "

"Mr Elliot is an exceedingly agreeable man, and in many respects I think highly of him, " said Anne; "but we should not suit. "

Lady Russell let this pass, and only said in rejoinder, "I own that to be able to regard you as the future mistress of Kellynch, the future Lady Elliot, to look forward and see you occupying your dear mother's place, succeeding to all her rights, and all her popularity, as well as to all her virtues, would be the highest possible gratification to me. You are your mother's self in countenance and disposition; and if I might be allowed to fancy you such as she was, in situation and name, and home, presiding and blessing in the same spot, and only superior to her in being more highly valued! My dearest Anne, it would give me more delight than is often felt at my time of life!"

Anne was obliged to turn away, to rise, to walk to a distant table, and, leaning there in pretended employment, try to subdue the feelings this picture excited. For a few moments her imagination and her heart were bewitched. The idea of becoming what her mother had been; of having the precious name of "Lady Elliot" first revived in herself; of being restored to Kellynch, calling it her home again, her home for ever, was a charm which she could not immediately resist. Lady Russell said not another word, willing to leave the matter to its own operation; and believing that, could Mr Elliot at that moment with propriety have spoken for himself!--she believed, in short, what Anne did not believe. The same image of Mr Elliot speaking for himself brought Anne to composure again. The charm of Kellynch and of "Lady Elliot" all faded away. She never could accept him. And it was not only that her feelings were still adverse to any man save one; her judgement, on a serious consideration of the possibilities of such a case was against Mr Elliot.

Though they had now been acquainted a month, she could not be satisfied that she really knew his character. That he was a sensible man, an agreeable man, that he talked well, professed good opinions, seemed to judge properly and as a man of principle, this was all clear enough. He certainly knew what was right, nor could she fix on any one article of moral duty evidently transgressed; but yet she would have been afraid to answer for his conduct. She distrusted the past, if not the present. The names which occasionally dropt of former associates, the allusions to former practices and pursuits, suggested suspicions not favourable of what he had been. She saw that there had been bad habits; that Sunday travelling had been a common thing; that there had been a period of his life (and probably not a short one) when he had been, at least, careless in all serious matters; and, though he might now think very differently, who could answer for the true sentiments of a clever, cautious man, grown old enough to appreciate a fair character? How could it ever be ascertained that his mind was truly cleansed?

Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.

Mr Elliot was too generally agreeable. Various as were the tempers in her father's house, he pleased them all. He endured too well, stood too well with every body. He had spoken to her with some degree of openness of Mrs Clay; had appeared completely to see what Mrs Clay was about, and to hold her in contempt; and yet Mrs Clay found him as agreeable as any body.

Lady Russell saw either less or more than her young friend, for she saw nothing to excite distrust. She could not imagine a man more exactly what he ought to be than Mr Elliot; nor did she ever enjoy a sweeter feeling than the hope of seeing him receive the hand of her beloved Anne in Kellynch church, in the course of the following autumn.

正当沃尔特爵士和伊丽莎白在劳拉巷拼命高攀的时候,安妮却恢复了一起性质截然不同的旧交。

她去探访她以前的女教师,听她说起巴思有个老同学,过去对安妮很有交情,现在遇到了不幸,安妮应该关心关心她。此人原是汉密尔顿小姐,现为史密斯夫人,曾在安妮生平最需要帮助的时刻,向她表示了珍贵的友情。当时,安妮郁郁不乐地来到了学校,一方面为失去自己亲爱的母亲而悲哀,一方面又为离开家庭而伤感,这对于一个多情善感、情绪低落的十四岁小姑娘来说,此时此刻岂能不感到悲痛。汉密尔顿小姐比安妮大三岁,但是由于举目无亲,无家可归,便在学校里又呆了一年。她对安妮关怀体贴,大大减轻了她的痛苦,安妮每次回想起来,总觉得十分感动。

汉密尔顿小姐离开了学校,此后不久便结了婚,据说嫁给了一个有钱人,这是安妮原来所了解的有关她的全部情况。现在,她们的女教师比较确切地介绍了她后来的情况,说的与安妮了解的大不相同。

她是个穷苦的寡妇。她的丈夫一向挥金如土,大约两年前,他临死的时候,家境搞得一塌糊涂。她得应付种种困难,除了这些烦恼以外,她还染上了严重的风湿病,最后落到腿上,现在成了残废。她正是由于这个缘故才来到巴思,眼下住在温泉浴场附近。她过着十分简陋的生活,甚至连个用人都雇不起,当然也几乎是与世隔绝的。

她们的女教师担保说,埃利奥特小姐要是去看望一下,一定会使史密斯夫人感到高兴,因此安妮决定立即就去。她回到家里,没有提起她听到的情况,也没提起她的打算。这在那里不会引起应有的兴趣。她只和拉塞尔夫人商量了一下,因为她完全体谅她的心情。拉塞尔夫人极为高兴,便根据安妮的意愿,用车把她送到史密斯夫人住所附近的西门大楼。

安妮进去拜访,两人重建了友情,相互间重新激起了浓厚的兴趣。最初十分钟还有些尴尬和激动。她们阔别十二年了,各人早已不是对方想象中的模样。十二年来,安妮已经从一个花容月貌、沉默寡言、尚未定型的十五岁小姑娘,变成了一个雍容典雅的二十七岁的小女人,面容妩媚多姿,只是失去了青春的艳丽,举止谨慎得体,总是十分文雅;十二年来,汉密尔顿小姐已经从一个漂亮、丰满、容光焕发、充满自尊的少女,变成一个贫病交迫、孤苦无告的寡妇,把她过去的被保护人的来访视为一种恩典。不过,相见后的拘束感很快便消失了,剩下的只是回忆以往癖好和谈论昔日时光的乐趣。

安妮发现,史密斯夫人就像她先前大胆期待的那样,富有理智,举止和悦,而她那健谈、乐天的性情却出乎她的意料。她是个涉世较深的人,无论过去的放荡,还是现在的节制,患病也好,悲哀也罢,似乎都没有使她心灰意冷,垂头丧气。

安妮第二次来访时,史密斯夫人说起话来十分坦率,这就使安妮越发感到惊奇。她简直无法想象,谁的境况还会比史密斯夫人更凄惨。她很喜爱她的丈夫,可是他死了。她过惯了富裕的生活,可是财产败光了。她没有儿女给她的生活重新带来乐趣,没有亲戚帮她料理那些乱糟糟的事务,再加上自己身体不好,没法支撑今后的生活。她的住处只有一间嘈杂的客厅,客厅后面是一间昏暗的卧室。她要从一个房间来到另一个房间,非得有人帮忙不可,而整幢房子只有一个用人可以帮帮忙,因此她除了让用人把她送到温泉浴场之外,从来不离家门。然而尽管如此,安妮有理由相信,她沉闷不乐的时刻毕竟是短暂的,大部分时间还是处于忙碌和欢愉之中。

这怎么可能呢?安妮留心观察,仔细思量,最后得出结论:这不单单是个性格刚强或是能够逆来顺受的问题。性情温顺的人能够忍耐,个性强的人表现得比较果断,但是史密斯夫人的情况并非如此。她性情开朗,容易得到安慰,也容易忘掉痛苦,往好里着想,找点事情自我解脱。这完全出自天性,是最可贵的天赋。安妮认为她的朋友属于这样一种情况,似乎只要有了这个天赋,别的缺陷几乎都可抵消。

史密斯夫人告诉她,有那么一段时间,她险些失去勇气。同她刚到巴思的情况相比,她现在还称不上是病人。她当时确实令人可怜。路上伤了风,刚找到住所便又卧床不起,始终感到疼痛不已。这一切发生在举目无亲的情况下,的确需要请一个正规的护士,可惜眼下缺乏钱财,根本无法支付任何额外的开销。不过她还是渡过了难关,而且确实可以说,使她经受了锻炼。她觉得自己遇到了好人,因而感到越发宽慰。她过去见的世面太多了,认为不管走到哪里,也不会突如其来地受到别人慷慨无私的关心,但是这次生病使她认识到,她的女房东要保持自己的声誉,不想亏待她。特别幸运的是,她有个好护士。女房东的妹妹是个职业护士,没人雇用的时候总要住到姐姐家里,眼下她闲着没事,正好可以护理史密斯夫人。“她呀,”史密斯夫人说,“除了无微不至地关照我之外,还着实成为一个难能可贵的朋友。一旦我的手能动了,她就教我做编织活,给我带来了很大的乐趣。你总是发现我在忙着编织这些小线盒、针插、卡片架,这都是她教给我的,使我能够为这附近的一两户穷人家做点好事。她有一大帮朋友,当然是当护士结识的,他们买得起,于是她就替我推销货物。她总是选择恰当的时候开口。你知道,当你刚刚逃过一场重病,或者正在恢复健康的时候,每个人的心都是虔诚的。鲁克护士完全懂得该什么时候开口。她是个机灵精明的女人。她的行业十分适于观察人性。她富有理性,善于观察,因此,作为一个伙伴,她要大大胜过成千上万的人,那些人只是受过‘世界上最好的教育’,却不知道有什么值得做的事情。你要是愿意的话,就说我们是在聊天吧,反正鲁克护士要是能有半个钟头的闲暇陪伴我,她肯定要对我说些既有趣又有益的事情,这样一来,能使我更好地了解一下自己的同类。人们都爱听听天下的新闻,以便熟悉一下人们追求无聊的最新方式。对于孤苦伶仃的我来说,她的谈话真是一种难得的乐趣。”

安妮决不想对这种乐趣吹毛求疵,于是答道:“这我完全可以相信。那个阶层的女子有着极好的机会,她们如果是聪明人的话,那倒很值得听她们说说。她们经常观察的人性真是五花八门!她们熟悉的不仅仅是人性的愚蠢,因为她们偶尔也在极其有趣、极其感人的情况下观察人性。她们一定见到不少热情无私、自我克制的事例,英勇不屈、坚韧不拔和顺从天命的事例,以及使我们变得无比崇高的奋斗精神和献身行为。一间病室往往能提供大量的精神财富。”

“是的,”史密斯夫人不以为然地说道,“有时候会这样,不过,人性所表现的形式恐怕往往不像你说的那样高尚。有的地方,人性在考验的关头可能是了不起的,但是总的说来,在病室里显露出来的是人性的懦弱,而不是人性的坚强,人们听说的是自私与急躁,而不是慷慨与刚毅。世界上真正的友谊如此少见!遗憾的是,”她带着低微而颤抖的声音说,“有许许多多人忘了要认真思考,后来想起来已经为时过晚。”

安妮意识到了这种痛苦的心情。做丈夫的不称心,做妻子的置身于这样一伙人当中,使她觉得人世间并不像她想望的那样美好。不过,对于史密斯夫人来说,这仅仅是一种瞬息即逝的感情。她消除了这种感情,马上用另外一种语气接着说道:

“我认为我的朋友鲁克夫人目前的工作既不会使我感兴趣,也不会给我带来影响。她在护理马尔巴勒大楼的沃利斯夫人——我想那只不过是个时髦漂亮、用钱撒漫的愚蠢女人,当然,她除了花边和漂亮的衣着之外,没有别的话好说。不过,我还是想从沃利斯夫人身上捞点油水。她有的是钱,我打算让她把我手头那些高价货统统买去。”

安妮到她的朋友那儿拜访了几次之后,卡姆登巷的人们才知道天下还有这么个人,最后,不得不说起她了。一天上午,沃尔特爵士、伊丽莎白和克莱夫人从劳拉巷回到家里,突然又接到达尔林普尔夫人的请帖,要他们一家晚上再次光临,不想安妮早已约定,当晚要在西门大楼度过。她并不为自己去不成而感到惋惜。她知道,他们之所以受到邀请,那是因为达尔林普尔夫人得了重感冒,给关在家里,于是便想利用一下强加给她的这门亲戚关系。安妮满怀高兴地替自己谢绝了:“我已经约定晚上要到一个老同学家里去。”他们对安妮的事情并不很感兴趣,不过还是提了不少问题,到底了解到了这位老同学是个什么人。伊丽莎白听了大为蔑视,沃尔特爵士则极为严厉。

“西门大楼!”他说,“安妮·埃利奥特小姐要去西门大楼拜访谁呢?一位史密斯夫人。一位守寡的史密斯夫人。她的丈夫是谁呢?一位史密斯先生,这个名字到处都可以遇见,他只是数以千计中的一位。她有什么吸引人的地方?就因为她老弱多病?说实话,安妮·埃利奥特小姐,你的情趣真是不同凡响啊!别人所厌恶的一切,什么低贱的伙伴啊,简陋的房间啊,污浊的空气啊,令人作呕的朋友啊,对你却很有吸引力。不过,你实在可以推迟到明天再去看望这位老太太,我想她没有接近末日,还有希望再活一天。她多大年纪了?四十?”

“不,父亲,她还不到三十一岁。不过,我想我的约会不能往后推,因为在一段时间之内,只有今天晚上对她和我都方便。她明天要去温泉浴场,而本周余下的几天,我们又有事情。”

“不过,拉塞尔夫人是如何看待你的这位朋友的?”伊丽莎白问道。

“她一点也不见怪,”安妮答道,“相反,她表示赞成,而且她一般都用车送我去看望史密斯夫人。”

“西门大楼的人们见到一辆马车停在人行道附近,一定非常吃惊,”沃尔特爵士说。“的确,亨利·拉塞尔爵士的寡妇没有什么荣誉来炫耀她的族徽,不过那辆马车还是很漂亮的。毫无疑问,人们都知道车子拉来了一位埃利奥特小姐。一位守寡的史密斯夫人,住在西门大楼!一个勉强能够维持生计的三四十岁的穷寡妇。不过是个普通的史密斯夫人,天下这么多人,姓什么的都有,安妮·埃利奥特小姐偏偏要选个普普通通的史密斯夫人做朋友,而且看得比她家在英格兰和爱尔兰贵族中的亲戚还高贵!史密斯夫人!姓这么个姓!”

就在他们这样说来说去的时候,克莱夫人一直呆在旁边,她觉得还是离开这个屋子为好。安妮本来是可以多说些的,而且也确实想分辩两句,说她的朋友和他们的朋友情况没有多大差别,但是她对父亲的尊敬阻止她这么做。她没有回答,索性让他自己去思忖吧,反正在巴思这个地方,年纪三四十岁,生活拮据,姓氏不够尊贵的寡妇也不止史密斯夫人一个。

安妮去赴自己的约会,其他人也去赴他们的约会。当然,她第二天早晨听他们说,他们当天晚上过得十分愉快。她是唯一缺席的,因为沃尔特爵士和伊丽莎白不仅奉命来到子爵夫人府上,而且竟然高高兴兴地奉命为她招徕客人,特意邀请了拉塞尔夫人和埃利奥特先生。埃利奥特先生硬是早早地离开了沃利斯上校,拉塞尔夫人重新安排了整个晚上的活动,以便能去拜访子爵夫人。安妮听拉塞尔夫人一五一十地把整个晚上的情况述说了一番。对安妮来说,使她最感兴趣的是,她的朋友和埃利奥特先生没有少议论她,他们惦念她,为她感到惋惜,同时又敬佩她因为去看望史密斯夫人而不来赴约。她一再好心好意地去看望这位贫病交迫的老同学,这似乎博得了埃利奥特先生的好感。他认为她是个十分卓越的年轻女性,无论在性情上,举止上,还是心灵上,都是优秀女性的典范。他甚至还能投拉塞尔夫人所好,同她谈论谈论安妮的优点长处。安妮听朋友说起这么多事情,知道自己受到一位聪明人的器重,心里不由得激起了一阵阵愉快的感觉,而这种感觉也正是她的朋友有意要激发的。

现在,拉塞尔夫人完全明确了她对埃利奥特先生的看法。她相信,他迟早是想娶安妮为妻的,而且他也配得上她。她开始算计,埃利奥特先生还要多少个星期才能从服丧的羁绊中解放出来,以便能无拘无束地公开施展出他那殷勤讨好的高超本领。她觉得这件事是十拿九稳的,但是她决不想对安妮说得那么肯定。她只想给她点暗示,让她知道以后会出现什么情况。埃利奥特先生可能有情于她,假如他的情意是真的,而且得到了报答,那倒是一门美满的姻缘。安妮听她说着,并没有大声惊叫。她只是嫣然一笑,红着脸,轻轻摇了摇头。

“你知道,我不是个媒婆,”拉塞尔夫人说,“因为世人行事和考虑问题都变化莫测,对此我了解得太清楚了。我只是想说,万一埃利奥特先生以后向你求婚,而你又愿意答应他的时候,我认为你们完全可以幸福地生活在一起。谁都会觉得这是一起天设良缘,我认为这也许是一起非常幸福的姻缘。”

“埃利奥特先生是个极其和蔼可亲的人,我在许多方面都很钦佩他,”安妮说道。“不过,我们并不匹配。”

拉塞尔夫人对这话并未反驳,只是回答说,“我承认,能把你视为未来的凯林奇的女主人,未来的埃利奥特夫人,能期望看见你占据你亲爱的母亲的位置,继承她的全部权利,她的全部人缘,以及她的全部美德,对我将是最大的称心乐事。你在相貌和性情上与你母亲一模一样。我最亲爱的安妮,如果我可以认为你在地位、名誉和家庭方面也和她一模一样,在同一个地方掌管家务,安乐享福,只是比她更受尊重,那么,在我这个年纪上,我会觉得这使我感到无比快乐!”

安妮不得不转过脸,立起身子,朝远处的桌子走去,靠在那儿假装忙乎什么,试图克制住这幅美景引起的激动。一时间,她的想象、她的心仿佛着了魔似的。一想到由她取代她母亲的位置,第一次由她来复活“埃利奥特夫人”这个可贵的名字,让她重新回到凯林奇,把它重新称作她自己的家,她永久的家,这种魅力是一时无法抗拒的。拉塞尔夫人没有再吭声,她愿意让事情水到渠成。她认为,要是埃利奥特先生当时能彬彬有礼地亲自来求婚该多好——总之一句话,她相信安妮不相信的事情。安妮也想到了埃利奥特先生会亲自来求婚,这不禁使她又恢复了镇静。凯林奇和“埃利奥特夫人”的魅力统统消失了。她决不会接受他的求爱。这不单单因为她在感情上除了一个人以外,其他男人一概都不喜欢。她对这件事情的种种可能性经过认真思考之后,在理智上是不赞成埃利奥特先生的。

他们虽说已经结识了一个月,但是她并不认为自己真正了解他的品格。他是个聪明人,和蔼可亲,能说会道,卓有见解,似乎也很果断,很讲原则,这些特点都是明摆着的。不用说,他是明白事理的,安妮找不出他有一丝一毫明显违背道义的地方。然而,她不敢为他的行为打包票。她如果不怀疑他的现在,却怀疑他的过去。有时,他嘴里无意漏出一些老朋友的名字,提到过去的行为和追求,不免要引起她的疑心,觉得他过去的行为有失检束。她看得出来,他过去有些不良的习惯,星期日出去旅行是家常便饭;他生活中有一段时间(很可能还不短),至少是马马虎虎地对待一切严肃的事情;他现在也许改弦易辙了,可是他是个聪明谨慎的人,到了这个年纪也懂得要有个清白的名声,谁能为他的真情实感作担保呢?怎么能断定他已经洗心革面了呢?

埃利奥特先生谙熟世故,谈吐谨慎,举止文雅,但是并不坦率。他对别人的优缺点从来没有激动过,从来没有表示过强烈的喜怒。

这在安妮看来,显然是个缺陷。她早先的印象是无法补救的。她最珍视真诚、坦率而又热切的性格。她依然迷恋热情洋溢的人。她觉得,有些人虽然有时样子漫不经心,说起话来有些轻率,但是却比那些思想从不溜神,舌头从不滑边的人更加真诚可信。

埃利奥特先生对谁都过于谦和。安妮父亲的屋里有各种脾性的人,他却能个个讨好。他对谁都过于容忍,受到人人的偏爱。他曾经颇为坦率地向安妮议论过克莱夫人,似乎完全明白她在搞什么名堂,因而很瞧不起她。可是克莱夫人又和别人一样,觉得他很讨人喜欢。

拉塞尔夫人比她的年轻朋友或者看得浅些,或者看得深些,她觉得这里面没有什么可怀疑的。她无法想象还有比埃利奥特先生更完美的男子。她想到秋天可能看见他与她亲爱的朋友安妮在凯林奇教堂举行婚礼,心里觉得再惬意不过了。



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