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Chapter 7

"Well, Fanny, and how do you like Miss Crawford _now_?" said Edmund the next day, after thinking some time on the subject himself. "How did you like her yesterday?"

"Very well--very much. I like to hear her talk. She entertains me; and she is so extremely pretty, that I have great pleasure in looking at her."

"It is her countenance that is so attractive. She has a wonderful play of feature! But was there nothing in her conversation that struck you, Fanny, as not quite right?"

"Oh yes! she ought not to have spoken of her uncle as she did. I was quite astonished. An uncle with whom she has been living so many years, and who, whatever his faults may be, is so very fond of her brother, treating him, they say, quite like a son. I could not have believed it!"

"I thought you would be struck. It was very wrong; very indecorous."

"And very ungrateful, I think."

"Ungrateful is a strong word. I do not know that her uncle has any claim to her _gratitude_; his wife certainly had; and it is the warmth of her respect for her aunt's memory which misleads her here. She is awkwardly circumstanced. With such warm feelings and lively spirits it must be difficult to do justice to her affection for Mrs. Crawford, without throwing a shade on the Admiral. I do not pretend to know which was most to blame in their disagreements, though the Admiral's present conduct might incline one to the side of his wife; but it is natural and amiable that Miss Crawford should acquit her aunt entirely. I do not censure her _opinions_; but there certainly _is_ impropriety in making them public."

"Do not you think," said Fanny, after a little consideration, "that this impropriety is a reflection itself upon Mrs. Crawford, as her niece has been entirely brought up by her? She cannot have given her right notions of what was due to the Admiral."

"That is a fair remark. Yes, we must suppose the faults of the niece to have been those of the aunt; and it makes one more sensible of the disadvantages she has been under. But I think her present home must do her good. Mrs. Grant's manners are just what they ought to be. She speaks of her brother with a very pleasing affection."

"Yes, except as to his writing her such short letters. She made me almost laugh; but I cannot rate so very highly the love or good-nature of a brother who will not give himself the trouble of writing anything worth reading to his sisters, when they are separated. I am sure William would never have used _me_ so, under any circumstances. And what right had she to suppose that _you_ would not write long letters when you were absent?"

"The right of a lively mind, Fanny, seizing whatever may contribute to its own amusement or that of others; perfectly allowable, when untinctured by ill-humour or roughness; and there is not a shadow of either in the countenance or manner of Miss Crawford: nothing sharp, or loud, or coarse. She is perfectly feminine, except in the instances we have been speaking of. There she cannot be justified. I am glad you saw it all as I did."

Having formed her mind and gained her affections, he had a good chance of her thinking like him; though at this period, and on this subject, there began now to be some danger of dissimilarity, for he was in a line of admiration of Miss Crawford, which might lead him where Fanny could not follow. Miss Crawford's attractions did not lessen. The harp arrived, and rather added to her beauty, wit, and good-humour; for she played with the greatest obligingness, with an expression and taste which were peculiarly becoming, and there was something clever to be said at the close of every air. Edmund was at the Parsonage every day, to be indulged with his favourite instrument: one morning secured an invitation for the next; for the lady could not be unwilling to have a listener, and every thing was soon in a fair train.

A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment. Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use: it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at. Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love; and to the credit of the lady it may be added that, without his being a man of the world or an elder brother, without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen, and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by any common rule: he talked no nonsense; he paid no compliments; his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity, which Miss Crawford might be equal to feel, though not equal to discuss with herself. She did not think very much about it, however: he pleased her for the present; she liked to have him near her; it was enough.

Fanny could not wonder that Edmund was at the Parsonage every morning; she would gladly have been there too, might she have gone in uninvited and unnoticed, to hear the harp; neither could she wonder that, when the evening stroll was over, and the two families parted again, he should think it right to attend Mrs. Grant and her sister to their home, while Mr. Crawford was devoted to the ladies of the Park; but she thought it a very bad exchange; and if Edmund were not there to mix the wine and water for her, would rather go without it than not. She was a little surprised that he could spend so many hours with Miss Crawford, and not see more of the sort of fault which he had already observed, and of which _she_ was almost always reminded by a something of the same nature whenever she was in her company; but so it was. Edmund was fond of speaking to her of Miss Crawford, but he seemed to think it enough that the Admiral had since been spared; and she scrupled to point out her own remarks to him, lest it should appear like ill-nature. The first actual pain which Miss Crawford occasioned her was the consequence of an inclination to learn to ride, which the former caught, soon after her being settled at Mansfield, from the example of the young ladies at the Park, and which, when Edmund's acquaintance with her increased, led to his encouraging the wish, and the offer of his own quiet mare for the purpose of her first attempts, as the best fitted for a beginner that either stable could furnish. No pain, no injury, however, was designed by him to his cousin in this offer: _she_ was not to lose a day's exercise by it. The mare was only to be taken down to the Parsonage half an hour before her ride were to begin; and Fanny, on its being first proposed, so far from feeling slighted, was almost over-powered with gratitude that he should be asking her leave for it.

Miss Crawford made her first essay with great credit to herself, and no inconvenience to Fanny. Edmund, who had taken down the mare and presided at the whole, returned with it in excellent time, before either Fanny or the steady old coachman, who always attended her when she rode without her cousins, were ready to set forward. The second day's trial was not so guiltless. Miss Crawford's enjoyment of riding was such that she did not know how to leave off. Active and fearless, and though rather small, strongly made, she seemed formed for a horsewoman; and to the pure genuine pleasure of the exercise, something was probably added in Edmund's attendance and instructions, and something more in the conviction of very much surpassing her sex in general by her early progress, to make her unwilling to dismount. Fanny was ready and waiting, and Mrs. Norris was beginning to scold her for not being gone, and still no horse was announced, no Edmund appeared. To avoid her aunt, and look for him, she went out.

The houses, though scarcely half a mile apart, were not within sight of each other; but, by walking fifty yards from the hall door, she could look down the park, and command a view of the Parsonage and all its demesnes, gently rising beyond the village road; and in Dr. Grant's meadow she immediately saw the group--Edmund and Miss Crawford both on horse-back, riding side by side, Dr. and Mrs. Grant, and Mr. Crawford, with two or three grooms, standing about and looking on. A happy party it appeared to her, all interested in one object: cheerful beyond a doubt, for the sound of merriment ascended even to her. It was a sound which did not make _her_ cheerful; she wondered that Edmund should forget her, and felt a pang. She could not turn her eyes from the meadow; she could not help watching all that passed. At first Miss Crawford and her companion made the circuit of the field, which was not small, at a foot's pace; then, at _her_ apparent suggestion, they rose into a canter; and to Fanny's timid nature it was most astonishing to see how well she sat. After a few minutes they stopped entirely. Edmund was close to her; he was speaking to her; he was evidently directing her management of the bridle; he had hold of her hand; she saw it, or the imagination supplied what the eye could not reach. She must not wonder at all this; what could be more natural than that Edmund should be making himself useful, and proving his good-nature by any one? She could not but think, indeed, that Mr. Crawford might as well have saved him the trouble; that it would have been particularly proper and becoming in a brother to have done it himself; but Mr. Crawford, with all his boasted good-nature, and all his coachmanship, probably knew nothing of the matter, and had no active kindness in comparison of Edmund. She began to think it rather hard upon the mare to have such double duty; if she were forgotten, the poor mare should be remembered.

Her feelings for one and the other were soon a little tranquillised by seeing the party in the meadow disperse, and Miss Crawford still on horseback, but attended by Edmund on foot, pass through a gate into the lane, and so into the park, and make towards the spot where she stood. She began then to be afraid of appearing rude and impatient; and walked to meet them with a great anxiety to avoid the suspicion.

"My dear Miss Price," said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, "I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself--I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure."

Fanny's answer was extremely civil, and Edmund added his conviction that she could be in no hurry. "For there is more than time enough for my cousin to ride twice as far as she ever goes," said he, "and you have been promoting her comfort by preventing her from setting off half an hour sooner: clouds are now coming up, and she will not suffer from the heat as she would have done then. I wish _you_ may not be fatigued by so much exercise. I wish you had saved yourself this walk home."

"No part of it fatigues me but getting off this horse, I assure you," said she, as she sprang down with his help; "I am very strong. Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like. Miss Price, I give way to you with a very bad grace; but I sincerely hope you will have a pleasant ride, and that I may have nothing but good to hear of this dear, delightful, beautiful animal."

The old coachman, who had been waiting about with his own horse, now joining them, Fanny was lifted on hers, and they set off across another part of the park; her feelings of discomfort not lightened by seeing, as she looked back, that the others were walking down the hill together to the village; nor did her attendant do her much good by his comments on Miss Crawford's great cleverness as a horse-woman, which he had been watching with an interest almost equal to her own.

"It is a pleasure to see a lady with such a good heart for riding!" said he. "I never see one sit a horse better. She did not seem to have a thought of fear. Very different from you, miss, when you first began, six years ago come next Easter. Lord bless you! how you did tremble when Sir Thomas first had you put on!"

In the drawing-room Miss Crawford was also celebrated. Her merit in being gifted by Nature with strength and courage was fully appreciated by the Miss Bertrams; her delight in riding was like their own; her early excellence in it was like their own, and they had great pleasure in praising it.

"I was sure she would ride well," said Julia; "she has the make for it. Her figure is as neat as her brother's."

"Yes," added Maria, "and her spirits are as good, and she has the same energy of character. I cannot but think that good horsemanship has a great deal to do with the mind."

When they parted at night Edmund asked Fanny whether she meant to ride the next day.

"No, I do not know--not if you want the mare," was her answer.

"I do not want her at all for myself," said he; "but whenever you are next inclined to stay at home, I think Miss Crawford would be glad to have her a longer time-- for a whole morning, in short. She has a great desire to get as far as Mansfield Common: Mrs. Grant has been telling her of its fine views, and I have no doubt of her being perfectly equal to it. But any morning will do for this. She would be extremely sorry to interfere with you. It would be very wrong if she did. _She_ rides only for pleasure; _you_ for health."

"I shall not ride to-morrow, certainly," said Fanny; "I have been out very often lately, and would rather stay at home. You know I am strong enough now to walk very well."

Edmund looked pleased, which must be Fanny's comfort, and the ride to Mansfield Common took place the next morning: the party included all the young people but herself, and was much enjoyed at the time, and doubly enjoyed again in the evening discussion. A successful scheme of this sort generally brings on another; and the having been to Mansfield Common disposed them all for going somewhere else the day after. There were many other views to be shewn; and though the weather was hot, there were shady lanes wherever they wanted to go. A young party is always provided with a shady lane. Four fine mornings successively were spent in this manner, in shewing the Crawfords the country, and doing the honours of its finest spots. Everything answered; it was all gaiety and good-humour, the heat only supplying inconvenience enough to be talked of with pleasure-- till the fourth day, when the happiness of one of the party was exceedingly clouded. Miss Bertram was the one. Edmund and Julia were invited to dine at the Parsonage, and _she_ was excluded. It was meant and done by Mrs. Grant, with perfect good-humour, on Mr. Rushworth's account, who was partly expected at the Park that day; but it was felt as a very grievous injury, and her good manners were severely taxed to conceal her vexation and anger till she reached home. As Mr. Rushworth did _not_ come, the injury was increased, and she had not even the relief of shewing her power over him; she could only be sullen to her mother, aunt, and cousin, and throw as great a gloom as possible over their dinner and dessert.

Between ten and eleven Edmund and Julia walked into the drawing-room, fresh with the evening air, glowing and cheerful, the very reverse of what they found in the three ladies sitting there, for Maria would scarcely raise her eyes from her book, and Lady Bertram was half-asleep; and even Mrs. Norris, discomposed by her niece's ill-humour, and having asked one or two questions about the dinner, which were not immediately attended to, seemed almost determined to say no more. For a few minutes the brother and sister were too eager in their praise of the night and their remarks on the stars, to think beyond themselves; but when the first pause came, Edmund, looking around, said, "But where is Fanny? Is she gone to bed?"

"No, not that I know of," replied Mrs. Norris; "she was here a moment ago."

Her own gentle voice speaking from the other end of the room, which was a very long one, told them that she was on the sofa. Mrs. Norris began scolding.

"That is a very foolish trick, Fanny, to be idling away all the evening upon a sofa. Why cannot you come and sit here, and employ yourself as _we_ do? If you have no work of your own, I can supply you from the poor basket. There is all the new calico, that was bought last week, not touched yet. I am sure I almost broke my back by cutting it out. You should learn to think of other people; and, take my word for it, it is a shocking trick for a young person to be always lolling upon a sofa."

Before half this was said, Fanny was returned to her seat at the table, and had taken up her work again; and Julia, who was in high good-humour, from the pleasures of the day, did her the justice of exclaiming, "I must say, ma'am, that Fanny is as little upon the sofa as anybody in the house."

"Fanny," said Edmund, after looking at her attentively, "I am sure you have the headache."

She could not deny it, but said it was not very bad.

"I can hardly believe you," he replied; "I know your looks too well. How long have you had it?"

"Since a little before dinner. It is nothing but the heat."

"Did you go out in the heat?"

"Go out! to be sure she did," said Mrs. Norris: "would you have her stay within such a fine day as this? Were not we _all_ out? Even your mother was out to-day for above an hour."

"Yes, indeed, Edmund," added her ladyship, who had been thoroughly awakened by Mrs. Norris's sharp reprimand to Fanny; "I was out above an hour. I sat three-quarters of an hour in the flower-garden, while Fanny cut the roses; and very pleasant it was, I assure you, but very hot. It was shady enough in the alcove, but I declare I quite dreaded the coming home again."

"Fanny has been cutting roses, has she?"

"Yes, and I am afraid they will be the last this year. Poor thing! _She_ found it hot enough; but they were so full-blown that one could not wait."

"There was no help for it, certainly," rejoined Mrs. Norris, in a rather softened voice; "but I question whether her headache might not be caught _then_, sister. There is nothing so likely to give it as standing and stooping in a hot sun; but I dare say it will be well to-morrow. Suppose you let her have your aromatic vinegar; I always forget to have mine filled."

"She has got it," said Lady Bertram; "she has had it ever since she came back from your house the second time."

"What!" cried Edmund; "has she been walking as well as cutting roses; walking across the hot park to your house, and doing it twice, ma'am? No wonder her head aches."

Mrs. Norris was talking to Julia, and did not hear.

"I was afraid it would be too much for her," said Lady Bertram; "but when the roses were gathered, your aunt wished to have them, and then you know they must be taken home."

"But were there roses enough to oblige her to go twice?"

"No; but they were to be put into the spare room to dry; and, unluckily, Fanny forgot to lock the door of the room and bring away the key, so she was obliged to go again."

Edmund got up and walked about the room, saying, "And could nobody be employed on such an errand but Fanny? Upon my word, ma'am, it has been a very ill-managed business."

"I am sure I do not know how it was to have been done better," cried Mrs. Norris, unable to be longer deaf; "unless I had gone myself, indeed; but I cannot be in two places at once; and I was talking to Mr. Green at that very time about your mother's dairymaid, by _her_ desire, and had promised John Groom to write to Mrs. Jefferies about his son, and the poor fellow was waiting for me half an hour. I think nobody can justly accuse me of sparing myself upon any occasion, but really I cannot do everything at once. And as for Fanny's just stepping down to my house for me-- it is not much above a quarter of a mile--I cannot think I was unreasonable to ask it. How often do I pace it three times a day, early and late, ay, and in all weathers too, and say nothing about it?"

"I wish Fanny had half your strength, ma'am."

"If Fanny would be more regular in her exercise, she would not be knocked up so soon. She has not been out on horseback now this long while, and I am persuaded that, when she does not ride, she ought to walk. If she had been riding before, I should not have asked it of her. But I thought it would rather do her good after being stooping among the roses; for there is nothing so refreshing as a walk after a fatigue of that kind; and though the sun was strong, it was not so very hot. Between ourselves, Edmund," nodding significantly at his mother, "it was cutting the roses, and dawdling about in the flower-garden, that did the mischief."

"I am afraid it was, indeed," said the more candid Lady Bertram, who had overheard her; "I am very much afraid she caught the headache there, for the heat was enough to kill anybody. It was as much as I could bear myself. Sitting and calling to Pug, and trying to keep him from the flower-beds, was almost too much for me."

Edmund said no more to either lady; but going quietly to another table, on which the supper-tray yet remained, brought a glass of Madeira to Fanny, and obliged her to drink the greater part. She wished to be able to decline it; but the tears, which a variety of feelings created, made it easier to swallow than to speak.

Vexed as Edmund was with his mother and aunt, he was still more angry with himself. His own forgetfulness of her was worse than anything which they had done. Nothing of this would have happened had she been properly considered; but she had been left four days together without any choice of companions or exercise, and without any excuse for avoiding whatever her unreasonable aunts might require. He was ashamed to think that for four days together she had not had the power of riding, and very seriously resolved, however unwilling he must be to check a pleasure of Miss Crawford's, that it should never happen again.

Fanny went to bed with her heart as full as on the first evening of her arrival at the Park. The state of her spirits had probably had its share in her indisposition; for she had been feeling neglected, and been struggling against discontent and envy for some days past. As she leant on the sofa, to which she had retreated that she might not be seen, the pain of her mind had been much beyond that in her head; and the sudden change which Edmund's kindness had then occasioned, made her hardly know how to support herself.

“喂,范妮,你现在觉得克劳福德小姐怎么样?”第二天,埃德蒙对这个问题思索了一番以后问道。“你昨天对她喜欢不喜欢?”

“很好啊——我很喜欢。我喜欢听她说话。她使我感到快乐。她漂亮极了,我非常喜欢看她。”

“她的容貌是很招人喜欢,面部表情也很妩媚动人!不过,范妮,你有没有发现她说的话有的不大妥当?”

“噢!是呀,她不该那样说她的叔叔。我当时大为惊讶。她跟她叔叔一起生活了那么多年,这位叔叔不管有什么过错,却非常喜欢她的哥哥,据说待她哥哥就像亲生儿子一样。我不敢相信她会那样说她叔叔!”

“我早知道你会听不惯的。她这样做很不合适——很不合规矩。”

“而且,我还觉得是忘恩负义。”

“说忘恩负义是重了些。我不知道她叔叔是否有恩于她,她婶婶肯定有恩于她。她对婶母强烈的敬重之情把她误引到了这一步。她的处境颇为尴尬。她有这样热烈的感情,加上朝气蓬勃,也就很难在一片深情对待克劳福德太太的同时,难免不使将军相形见绌。我不想妄论他们夫妇俩不和主要应该怪谁,不过将军近来的行为可能会让人站在他妻子一边。克劳福德小姐认为她婶母一点过错都没有,这是合情合理的,说明她为人随和。我不指摘她的看法,但是她把这些看法公诸于众,无疑是不妥当的。”

“克劳福德小姐完全是克劳福德太太带大的,”范妮想了一想说,“出了这么不妥当的行为,难道你不觉得克劳福德太太难辞其咎吗?应该如何对待这位将军,克劳福德太太不可能给侄女灌输什么正确的思想。”

“这话说得有道理。是的,我们必须把侄女的过错视为婶母的过错。这样一来,人们就更能看清克劳福德小姐处于多么不利的环境。不过我认为,她现在这个家定会给她带来好处。格兰特太太待人接物十分得体。克劳福德小姐讲到她哥哥时所流露出的情感是很有意思的。”

“是的,只是抱怨他写信短时除外。她的话逗得我差一点笑出声来。不过,一个做哥哥的和妹妹分别之后,都懒碍给妹妹写一封值得一读的信,我可不敢恭维他的爱心和好性子。我相信,不管在什么情况下,威廉决不会这样对待我。克劳福德小姐凭什么说,你要是出门在外,写起信来也不会长?”

“凭她心性活泼,范妮,不管什么东西只要能使她高兴,或者能使别人高兴,她就会抓住不放。只要没染上坏脾气和粗暴无礼,心性活泼点倒也没有什么不好的。从克劳福德小姐的仪容和言谈举止来看,她脾气一点也不坏,也不粗暴无礼,为人一点不尖刻,也不粗声粗气。除了我们刚才讲的那件事以外,她表现出了不折不扣的女人气质。而在那件事情上,她怎么说都是不对的。我很高兴你跟我的看法是一致的。”

埃德蒙一直在向范妮灌输自己的想法,并且赢得了她的好感,因此范妮很可能跟他有一致的看法。不过在这期间,在这个问题上,却开始出现了看法不同的危险,因为他有点倾慕克劳福德小姐,照此发展下去,范妮就不会听他的了。克劳福德小姐的魅力未减。竖琴运来了,越发给她平添了几分丽质、聪颖与和悦,因为她满腔热情地为他们弹奏,从神情到格调都恰到好处,每支曲子弹完之后,总有几句巧言妙语好说。埃德蒙每天都到牧师住宅去欣赏他心爱的乐器,今天上午听完又被邀请明天再来,因为小姐还就愿意有人爱听,于是事情很快就有了苗头。

一个漂亮活泼的年轻小姐,依偎着一架和她一样雅致的竖琴,临窗而坐,窗户是落地大窗,面向一小块草地,四周是夏季枝繁叶茂的灌木林,此情此景足以令任何男人为之心醉魂迷。这季节,这景致,这空气,都会使人变得温柔多情。格兰特太太在一旁做刺绣也不无点缀作用,一切都显得那么协调。人一旦萌发了爱情,什么东西都觉得有意思,就连那只放三明治的盘子,以及正在尽主人之谊的格兰特博士,也都值得一看。然而,埃德蒙既未认真考虑,也不明白自己在干什么,就这么来往了一个星期之后,便深深地坠入了情网。那位小姐令人赞许的是,尽管小伙子不谙世故.不是长子,不懂恭维的诀窍,也没有闲聊的风趣,可她还是喜欢上了他。她感觉是这样的,虽说她事先未曾料到,现在也难以理解。因为按平常标准来看,埃德蒙并不讨人喜欢,不会说废话,不会恭维人,他的意见总是坚定不移,他献殷勤总是心态平静,言语不多。也许在他的真挚、坚定和诚实中有一种魅力,这种魅力,克劳福德小姐虽然不能进行分析,却能感觉得到。不过,她并不多去想它。现在,他能使她欢心,她喜欢让他跟她在一起,这就足够了。

埃德蒙天天上午都跑到牧师住宅,范妮对此并不感到诧异。假如她能不经邀请,神不知鬼不觉地进去听琴的话,她又何尝不想进去呢。她同样不感到诧异的是,晚上散完了步,两家人再次分别的时候,埃德蒙总觉得该由他送格兰特太太和她妹妹回家,而克劳福德先生则陪伴庄园里的太太小姐们。不过,她觉得这样的交换很不好。如果埃德蒙不在场给她掺和酒水,她宁肯不喝。她有点惊奇的是,埃德蒙天天和克劳福德小姐在一起那么长时间,却再没有在她身上发现他过去曾看到过的缺点,而她自己每逢和她在一起的时候,那位小姐身上总有一种同样性质的东西使她想起那些缺点。不过,实际情况就是如此。埃德蒙喜欢跟她谈克劳福德小姐,他似乎觉得克劳福德小姐再也没有抱怨过将军,这已经满不错了。范妮没敢向他指出克劳福德小姐都说了些什么,免得让他认为自己不够厚道。克劳福德小姐第一次给她带来的真正痛苦,是由于她想学骑马而引起的。克劳福德小姐来到曼斯菲尔德不久,看到庄园里的年轻小姐都会骑马,自己也想学骑马。埃德蒙和她熟悉后,便鼓励她有这样的想法,并主动提出让她在初学期间骑他那匹性情温和的雌马,说什么两个马厩中就数这匹马最适合刚学骑马的人骑。他提这个建议的时候,并不想惹表妹难过,更不想惹表妹伤心:表妹还可照常骑,一天也不受影响。那匹马只是在表妹开始骑之前,牵到牧师住宅用上半个小时。这个建议刚提出的时候,范妮丝毫没有受轻慢之感,而表哥居然征求她的意见,她简直有点受宠若惊了。

克劳福德小姐第一次学骑马很讲信用,没有耽误范妮的时间。埃德蒙把马送过去,并且为之负责到底。他非常守时间,范妮和表姐不在时总跟随着她骑马的那个稳妥可靠的老车夫还没做好出发的准备,他就把马牵来了。第二天的情况就不这么无可指摘了。克劳福德小姐骑马骑到了兴头上,欲罢不能了。她人又活跃,又胆大,虽然个子很小,长得倒挺结实,好像天生就适于骑马。除了骑马本身所具有的纯真乐趣之外,也许还有埃德蒙陪伴指导的缘故,再加上她一开始就进步很快,因而觉得自己大大胜过其他女性。这样一来,她骑在马上就不想下来了。范妮已装束停当,等在那里,诺里斯太太责怪她怎么还不去骑马。可是仍然没有传报马的到来,也不见埃德蒙归来。范妮走了出去,一是想避开姨妈,二是去找表哥。

这两家的住宅虽然相距不足半英里,却彼此不能相望。不过,从前厅门口往前走五十码,她可以顺着庭园往下看去,牧师住宅及其园地尽收眼底,就在村子里大路那边,地势微微隆起。她一眼看到那伙人就在格兰特博士的草地上——埃德蒙和克劳福德小姐两人都骑在马上,并辔而行,格兰特博士夫妇、克劳福德先生,带着两三个马夫,站在那里观看。范妮觉得这些人在一起很高兴——他们的兴趣都集中在一个人身上——毫无疑问都很开心,她甚至都能听到他们的嬉笑之声。这嬉笑声却没法让她开心,她奇怪埃德蒙居然忘记了她,心里不禁一阵酸楚。她目不转睛地望着那片草地,不由自主地瞅着那边的情景。起初,克劳福德小姐和她的骑伴徐步绕场而行——那一圈可真不小。后来,显然是经小姐提议,两人催马小跑起来。范妮天生胆小,眼看克劳福德小姐骑得这么好,感到非常吃惊。过了一会,两匹马全停下来了,埃德蒙离小姐很近,他在对她说话,显然是在教她怎样控制马缰,并且抓住了她的手。范妮看见了这一幕,或者说并非视力所及,而是凭想象捕捉到的。对于这一切,她不必感到奇怪。埃德蒙对谁都肯帮忙,对谁都很和善,这难道不是再自然不过的事情吗?她只是觉得,克劳福德先生完全可以让他省了这份麻烦。他身为做哥哥的,本该由他自己来给妹妹帮忙,这是再合适、再恰当不过了。可是,克劳福德先生虽然给吹得为人敦厚,虽然那么会骑马赶车,但却不大懂得这个道理,和埃德蒙比起来,毫无助人为乐的热忱。范妮开始觉得,让这匹马承受这样的双重负担,未免有些残酷。她自己被人遗忘也就罢了,这匹可怜的马还得有人牵挂才行。

她对这一位和另一位所浮起的纷纭思绪很快平静了一些,因为她看到草地上的人群散了,克劳福德小姐仍然骑在马上,埃德蒙步行跟着。两人穿过一道门上了小路,于是就进了庭园,向她站的地方走来。这时她便担起心来,唯恐自己显得鲁莽无礼,没有耐心。因此,她急不可待地迎上前去,以免他们疑心。

“亲爱的普莱斯小姐,”克劳福德小姐一走到彼此可以听得见的地方便说,“我来向你表示歉意,让你久等了——我没有理由为自己辩解——我知道已经超过时间了,知道我表现得很不好。因此,请你务必要原谅我。你知道,自私应该永远受到原谅,因为这是无法医治的。”

范妮回答得极其客气,埃德蒙随即补充说:他相信范妮是不会着急的。“我表妹即使想比平时骑得远一倍,时间也绰绰有余,”他说。“你叫她晚动身半个小时,她倒因此更舒服了。云彩现在出来了,她骑起来就不会像先前那样热得不好受了。但愿你骑了这么久没把你累着。你还得走回家,你要是不用走回去就好了。”

“跟你说实话,骑在马上一点也不累,”克劳福德小姐一边说,一边由埃德蒙扶着跳下马背。“我很结实。只要不是做我不爱做的事,无论做什么我都没累过。普莱斯小姐,真不好意思让你久等了,我衷心希望你骑得快快活活的,也看望这匹心爱的、讨人喜欢的、漂亮的马样样令你满意。”

老车夫一直牵着他那匹马在一旁等着,这时走过来,扶范妮上了她自己的马,随即几个人便动身朝庭园的另一边走去。范妮回过头来,看见那两个人一起下坡向村里走去,她那忐忑不安的心情并未得到缓解。她的随从夸奖克劳福德小姐骑马多么机灵,自然也不会让她心里好受。克劳福德小姐骑马的时候,他一直在旁边观看,那兴趣和她范妮的兴趣几乎不相上下。

“看到一位小姐骑起马来这么大胆,真是一桩赏心乐事啊!”他说。“我从未见过有哪个小姐骑得这么稳当的。她好像心里一点也不害怕。跟你大不一样啊,小姐。你从开始学骑马到下一个复活节,整整六年了。上帝保佑!托马斯爵士第一次把你放在马背上的时候,你抖得多厉害啊!”

到了客厅,克劳福德小姐也备受赞扬。两位伯特伦小姐十分赏识她那天生的力量和勇气。她像她们俩一样喜欢骑马,一开始就骑得这么好,这一点也像她们俩。两人兴致勃勃地夸赞她。

“我早就知道她肯定会骑得很好,”朱莉娅说。“她天生就适合骑马。她的身材像她哥哥的一样好。”

“是的,”玛丽亚接着说,“她也像她哥哥一样兴致勃勃,像她哥哥一样充满活力。我认为,骑马好不好跟一个人的精神有很大关系。”

晚上道别时,埃德蒙问范妮第二天是否想骑马。

“不,我不知道。如果你要用马,我就不骑了。”范妮答道。

“我自己倒是不会用的,”埃德蒙说。“不过,你下次想待在家里的时候,克劳福德小姐可能想要多骑一些时间——说明了,骑一上午。她很想一直骑到曼斯菲尔德共用牧场那儿,格兰特太太总跟她说那儿风景好,我毫不怀疑她完全可以骑到那儿。不过,随便哪天上午都行。要是妨碍了你,她会十分抱歉的。妨碍你是很不应该的。她骑马只是为了快乐,而你是为了锻炼身体。”

“我明天真的不骑,”范妮说。“最近我常出去,因此宁愿待在家里。你知道我现在身体很好,挺能走路的。”

埃德蒙喜形于色,范妮为此感到宽慰,于是去曼斯菲尔德共用牧场之事,第二天上午便付诸于行动了——一行人中包括所有的年轻人,就是没有范妮。大家显得非常高兴,晚上议论的时候更是加倍的高兴。这类计划完成一项,往往会引出第二项。那些人去过曼斯菲尔德共用牧场之后,都想在第二天去个别的什么地方。还有许多风景可以观赏,虽然天气炎热,但是走到哪里都有阴凉小道。一群年轻人总会找到一条阴凉小道的。一连四个晴朗的上午就是这样度过的:带着克劳福德兄妹游览这个地区,观赏这一带最美的景点。事事如意,个个兴高采烈、喜笑颜开,就连天气炎热也只当笑料来谈——直到第四天,有一个人的快乐心情被蒙上了一层浓重的阴影。此人就是伯特伦小姐。埃德蒙和朱莉娅接到邀请去牧师府上吃饭,而她却被排除在外。这是格兰特太太的意思,是她安排的,不过她倒完全是一片好心,是为拉什沃思先生着想,因为估计这天他可能到庄园来。然而,伯特伦小姐的自尊心受到了严重的损害,她要极力靠文雅的举止来掩饰内心的苦恼和愤怒,直至回到家中。由于拉什沃思先生根本没来,那损害就越发沉重,她甚至都不能向拉什沃思先生施展一下她的威力,以求得一点慰藉。她只能给母亲、姨妈和表妹脸色看,搅得她们在吃正餐和甜点时,一个个全都忧郁不已。

在十点到十一点之间,埃德蒙和朱莉娅走进了客厅,夜晚的空气使得他们面色滋润,容光焕发,心情畅快,与坐在屋里的三位女士样子截然不同。玛丽亚在埋头看书,眼都不抬一下,伯特伦夫人半睡不睡,就连诺里斯太太也让外甥女闹情绪搅得心绪不宁,问了一两声有关宴会的问题,见无人答理,似乎也打定主意不再做声。那兄妹俩一心在称赞这个夜晚,赞美天上的星光,有一阵子心里没有想到别人。可是,等话头第一次断下来的时候,埃德蒙环顾了一下四周,问道:“范妮呢?她睡觉了吗?”

“没有,我想没有吧,”诺里斯太太答道。“她刚才还在这儿。”

从长长的房间的另一端传来范妮轻柔的声音,大家这才知道她在沙发上。诺里斯太太便骂起来了。

“范妮,一个人待在沙发上消磨一个晚上,你这是犯傻呀。你就不能坐到这儿,像我们一样找点事儿干?你要是没有活干,这教堂济贫筐里有的是活给你干。我们上星期买的印花布还都在这儿,动也没动。我剪裁花布差一点把背都累折了。你应该学会想到别人。说实在的,一个年轻人总是懒洋洋地躺在沙发上,这也太不像话了。”

她的话还没说到一半,范妮已回到她桌边的座位上,又做起活来。朱莉娅快活了一天,心情非常好,便为她主持公道,大声叫道:“姨妈,我要说,范妮在沙发上待的时间比这屋里的哪个人都不多。”

“范妮,”埃德蒙仔细地看了她一阵之后说,“我想你一定是犯头痛病了吧?”

范妮无可否认,不过说是不严重。

“我不大相信你的话,”埃德蒙说。“我一看你的脸色就知道了。你病了多长时间啦?”

“饭前不久开始的。没什么,是热的。”

“你大热天的跑出去啦?”

“跑出去!她当然跑出去啦,”诺里斯太太说。“这么好的天气,你想让她待在家里?我们不是都出去了吗?连你母亲都在外边待了一个多小时。”

“的确是这样,埃德蒙,”伯特伦夫人加了一句,诺里斯太太对范妮的厉声斥责把她彻底吵醒了。“我出去了一个多小时。我在花园里坐了三刻钟,范妮在那儿剪玫瑰,确实是很惬意,不过也很热。凉亭里倒挺阴凉的,可是说实话,我真害怕再走回冢。”

“范妮一直在剪玫瑰,是吗?”

“是的,恐怕这是今年最后的一茬花了。可怜的人儿!她也觉得天热,不过花都盛开了,不能再等了。”

“这实在是没有办法呀,”诺里斯太太轻声细语地说。“不过,妹妹,我怀疑她是不是就是那时候得的头痛。站在大太阳底下.,一会儿直腰、一会儿弯腰地剪花,最容易让人头痛。不过我敢说,明天就会好的。你把你的香醋给她喝点,我总是忘带我的香醋。”

“她喝过啦,”伯特伦夫人说。“她第二次从你家回来,就给她喝过了。”

“什么!”埃德蒙嚷道。“她是又剪花又跑路,在大太阳底下穿过庭园跑到你家,而且跑了两次,是吧,姨妈?怪不得她头痛呢。”

诺里斯太太在和朱莉娅说话,对埃德蒙的话置若罔闻。

“当时我怕她受不了,”伯特伦夫人说。“可是等玫瑰花剪完之后,你姨妈想要,于是,你知道,必须把花送到她家去。”

“可是有那么多玫瑰吗,非要叫她跑两趟。”

“没那么多。可是要放在那个空房间里去晾,范妮不巧忘了锁房门,还忘了把钥匙带来,因此她不得不再跑一趟。”

埃德蒙站了起来,在屋里走来走去,说道:“除了范妮,再派不出人干这个差使了吗?说实在话,妈妈,这件事办得非常糟糕。”

“我真不知道怎样办才算好,”诺里斯太太不能再装聋了,便大声叫道,“除非让我自己跑。可我又不能把自己劈成两半呀。当时我正和格林先生谈你母亲牛奶房女工的事,是你母亲让我谈的。我还答应过约翰·格鲁姆替他给杰弗里斯太太写封信,讲讲他儿子的情况,这可怜的家伙已等了我半个钟头。我想谁也没有理由指责我什么时侯偷过懒,但我的确不能同时做几件事。至于让范妮替我到我家里去一趟,那也不过是四分之一英里多一点,我想我要她去没有什么不合理的。我常常不分早晚,日晒雨淋,一天跑三趟,可我一句话也没说过。”

“范妮的气力能顶上你一半就好了,姨妈。”

“范妮如果能经常坚持锻炼,也不会跑这么两趟就垮掉。她这么久没有去骑马了,我认为她不骑马的时候就该走一走。她要是天天骑马的话,我就不会要她跑那一趟。不过我当时心想,她在玫瑰丛中弯那么长时间的腰,走一走反而会对她有好处,因为那种活干累了,走走路最能提精神。再说当时虽然烈日当头,但天气并不很热。咱俩私下里说句话,埃德蒙,”诺里斯太太意味深长地向伯特伦夫人那边点了点头,“她是剪玫瑰和在花园里跑来跑去引起头痛的。”

“恐怕真是这样引起的,”伯特伦夫人比较坦率,她无意中听到了诺里斯太太的话,“我真怕她的头痛病是剪玫瑰时得的,那儿当时能热死人。我自己也是勉强捱得住的。我坐在那儿,叫住哈巴狗,不让它往花坛里钻,就连这也让我差一点受不了。”

埃德蒙不再答理两位太太,闷声不响地走向另一张桌子,桌上的餐盘还没有撤走。他给范妮端了一杯马德拉白葡萄酒,劝她喝下大半杯。范妮本想推辞,怎奈百感交集,热泪盈眶,饮酒下肚比张口说话来得容易。

埃德蒙虽然对母亲和姨妈不满,但他对自己更加气愤。他没把范妮放在心上,这比两位太太的所作所为更为糟糕。如果他适当地考虑到范妮,这种事情就决不会发生。可他却让她一连四天没有选择伙伴的余地,也没有锻炼身体的机会,两个没有理智的姨妈不论叫她做什么事,她都无法推托。一想到接连四天使她失去了骑马的权利,他感到很是惭愧,因此十分郑重地下定决心:尽管他不愿意扫克劳福德小姐的兴,这样的事情再也不能发生。

范妮像她来到庄园的第一个晚上那样心事重重地上床了。她的精神状态可能是她生病的原因之一。几天来,她觉得自己受人冷落,一直在压抑自己的不满和妒忌。她躲在沙发上是为了不让人看见,就在她靠在沙发上的时候,她心头的痛苦远远超过了她的头痛。埃德蒙的关心所带来的突然变化,使她几乎不知道如何支撑自己。
 



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