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Chapter 13

The Honourable John Yates, this new friend, had not much to recommend him beyond habits of fashion and expense, and being the younger son of a lord with a tolerable independence; and Sir Thomas would probably have thought his introduction at Mansfield by no means desirable. Mr. Bertram's acquaintance with him had begun at Weymouth, where they had spent ten days together in the same society, and the friendship, if friendship it might be called, had been proved and perfected by Mr. Yates's being invited to take Mansfield in his way, whenever he could, and by his promising to come; and he did come rather earlier than had been expected, in consequence of the sudden breaking-up of a large party assembled for gaiety at the house of another friend, which he had left Weymouth to join. He came on the wings of disappointment, and with his head full of acting, for it had been a theatrical party; and the play in which he had borne a part was within two days of representation, when the sudden death of one of the nearest connexions of the family had destroyed the scheme and dispersed the performers. To be so near happiness, so near fame, so near the long paragraph in praise of the private theatricals at Ecclesford, the seat of the Right Hon. Lord Ravenshaw, in Cornwall, which would of course have immortalised the whole party for at least a twelvemonth! and being so near, to lose it all, was an injury to be keenly felt, and Mr. Yates could talk of nothing else. Ecclesford and its theatre, with its arrangements and dresses, rehearsals and jokes, was his never-failing subject, and to boast of the past his only consolation.

Happily for him, a love of the theatre is so general, an itch for acting so strong among young people, that he could hardly out-talk the interest of his hearers. From the first casting of the parts to the epilogue it was all bewitching, and there were few who did not wish to have been a party concerned, or would have hesitated to try their skill. The play had been Lovers' Vows, and Mr. Yates was to have been Count Cassel. "A trifling part," said he, "and not at all to my taste, and such a one as I certainly would not accept again; but I was determined to make no difficulties. Lord Ravenshaw and the duke had appropriated the only two characters worth playing before I reached Ecclesford; and though Lord Ravenshaw offered to resign his to me, it was impossible to take it, you know. I was sorry for _him_ that he should have so mistaken his powers, for he was no more equal to the Baron--a little man with a weak voice, always hoarse after the first ten minutes. It must have injured the piece materially; but _I_ was resolved to make no difficulties. Sir Henry thought the duke not equal to Frederick, but that was because Sir Henry wanted the part himself; whereas it was certainly in the best hands of the two. I was surprised to see Sir Henry such a stick. Luckily the strength of the piece did not depend upon him. Our Agatha was inimitable, and the duke was thought very great by many. And upon the whole, it would certainly have gone off wonderfully."

"It was a hard case, upon my word"; and, "I do think you were very much to be pitied," were the kind responses of listening sympathy.

"It is not worth complaining about; but to be sure the poor old dowager could not have died at a worse time; and it is impossible to help wishing that the news could have been suppressed for just the three days we wanted. It was but three days; and being only a grandmother, and all happening two hundred miles off, I think there would have been no great harm, and it was suggested, I know; but Lord Ravenshaw, who I suppose is one of the most correct men in England, would not hear of it."

"An afterpiece instead of a comedy," said Mr. Bertram. "Lovers' Vows were at an end, and Lord and Lady Ravenshaw left to act My Grandmother by themselves. Well, the jointure may comfort _him_; and perhaps, between friends, he began to tremble for his credit and his lungs in the Baron, and was not sorry to withdraw; and to make _you_ amends, Yates, I think we must raise a little theatre at Mansfield, and ask you to be our manager."

This, though the thought of the moment, did not end with the moment; for the inclination to act was awakened, and in no one more strongly than in him who was now master of the house; and who, having so much leisure as to make almost any novelty a certain good, had likewise such a degree of lively talents and comic taste, as were exactly adapted to the novelty of acting. The thought returned again and again. "Oh for the Ecclesford theatre and scenery to try something with." Each sister could echo the wish; and Henry Crawford, to whom, in all the riot of his gratifications it was yet an untasted pleasure, was quite alive at the idea. "I really believe," said he, "I could be fool enough at this moment to undertake any character that ever was written, from Shylock or Richard III down to the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and cocked hat. I feel as if I could be anything or everything; as if I could rant and storm, or sigh or cut capers, in any tragedy or comedy in the English language. Let us be doing something. Be it only half a play, an act, a scene; what should prevent us? Not these countenances, I am sure," looking towards the Miss Bertrams; "and for a theatre, what signifies a theatre? We shall be only amusing ourselves. Any room in this house might suffice."

"We must have a curtain," said Tom Bertram; "a few yards of green baize for a curtain, and perhaps that may be enough."

"Oh, quite enough," cried Mr. Yates, "with only just a side wing or two run up, doors in flat, and three or four scenes to be let down; nothing more would be necessary on such a plan as this. For mere amusement among ourselves we should want nothing more."

"I believe we must be satisfied with _less_," said Maria. "There would not be time, and other difficulties would arise. We must rather adopt Mr. Crawford's views, and make the _performance_, not the _theatre_, our object. Many parts of our best plays are independent of scenery."

"Nay," said Edmund, who began to listen with alarm. "Let us do nothing by halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play, no matter what, with a good tricking, shifting afterpiece, and a figure-dance, and a hornpipe, and a song between the acts. If we do not outdo Ecclesford, we do nothing."

"Now, Edmund, do not be disagreeable," said Julia. "Nobody loves a play better than you do, or can have gone much farther to see one."

"True, to see real acting, good hardened real acting; but I would hardly walk from this room to the next to look at the raw efforts of those who have not been bred to the trade: a set of gentlemen and ladies, who have all the disadvantages of education and decorum to struggle through."

After a short pause, however, the subject still continued, and was discussed with unabated eagerness, every one's inclination increasing by the discussion, and a knowledge of the inclination of the rest; and though nothing was settled but that Tom Bertram would prefer a comedy, and his sisters and Henry Crawford a tragedy, and that nothing in the world could be easier than to find a piece which would please them all, the resolution to act something or other seemed so decided as to make Edmund quite uncomfortable. He was determined to prevent it, if possible, though his mother, who equally heard the conversation which passed at table, did not evince the least disapprobation.

The same evening afforded him an opportunity of trying his strength. Maria, Julia, Henry Crawford, and Mr. Yates were in the billiard-room. Tom, returning from them into the drawing-room, where Edmund was standing thoughtfully by the fire, while Lady Bertram was on the sofa at a little distance, and Fanny close beside her arranging her work, thus began as he entered--"Such a horribly vile billiard-table as ours is not to be met with, I believe, above ground. I can stand it no longer, and I think, I may say, that nothing shall ever tempt me to it again; but one good thing I have just ascertained: it is the very room for a theatre, precisely the shape and length for it; and the doors at the farther end, communicating with each other, as they may be made to do in five minutes, by merely moving the bookcase in my father's room, is the very thing we could have desired, if we had sat down to wish for it; and my father's room will be an excellent greenroom. It seems to join the billiard-room on purpose."

"You are not serious, Tom, in meaning to act?" said Edmund, in a low voice, as his brother approached the fire.

"Not serious! never more so, I assure you. What is there to surprise you in it?"

"I think it would be very wrong. In a _general_ light, private theatricals are open to some objections, but as _we_ are circumstanced, I must think it would be highly injudicious, and more than injudicious to attempt anything of the kind. It would shew great want of feeling on my father's account, absent as he is, and in some degree of constant danger; and it would be imprudent, I think, with regard to Maria, whose situation is a very delicate one, considering everything, extremely delicate."

"You take up a thing so seriously! as if we were going to act three times a week till my father's return, and invite all the country. But it is not to be a display of that sort. We mean nothing but a little amusement among ourselves, just to vary the scene, and exercise our powers in something new. We want no audience, no publicity. We may be trusted, I think, in chusing some play most perfectly unexceptionable; and I can conceive no greater harm or danger to any of us in conversing in the elegant written language of some respectable author than in chattering in words of our own. I have no fears and no scruples. And as to my father's being absent, it is so far from an objection, that I consider it rather as a motive; for the expectation of his return must be a very anxious period to my mother; and if we can be the means of amusing that anxiety, and keeping up her spirits for the next few weeks, I shall think our time very well spent, and so, I am sure, will he. It is a _very_ anxious period for her."

As he said this, each looked towards their mother. Lady Bertram, sunk back in one corner of the sofa, the picture of health, wealth, ease, and tranquillity, was just falling into a gentle doze, while Fanny was getting through the few difficulties of her work for her.

Edmund smiled and shook his head.

"By Jove! this won't do," cried Tom, throwing himself into a chair with a hearty laugh. "To be sure, my dear mother, your anxiety--I was unlucky there."

"What is the matter?" asked her ladyship, in the heavy tone of one half-roused; "I was not asleep."

"Oh dear, no, ma'am, nobody suspected you! Well, Edmund," he continued, returning to the former subject, posture, and voice, as soon as Lady Bertram began to nod again, "but _this_ I _will_ maintain, that we shall be doing no harm."

"I cannot agree with you; I am convinced that my father would totally disapprove it."

"And I am convinced to the contrary. Nobody is fonder of the exercise of talent in young people, or promotes it more, than my father, and for anything of the acting, spouting, reciting kind, I think he has always a decided taste. I am sure he encouraged it in us as boys. How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to _be'd_ and not _to_ _be'd_, in this very room, for his amusement? And I am sure, _my_ _name_ _was_ _Norval_, every evening of my life through one Christmas holidays."

"It was a very different thing. You must see the difference yourself. My father wished us, as schoolboys, to speak well, but he would never wish his grown-up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict."

"I know all that," said Tom, displeased. "I know my father as well as you do; and I'll take care that his daughters do nothing to distress him. Manage your own concerns, Edmund, and I'll take care of the rest of the family."

"If you are resolved on acting," replied the persevering Edmund, "I must hope it will be in a very small and quiet way; and I think a theatre ought not to be attempted. It would be taking liberties with my father's house in his absence which could not be justified."

"For everything of that nature I will be answerable," said Tom, in a decided tone. "His house shall not be hurt. I have quite as great an interest in being careful of his house as you can have; and as to such alterations as I was suggesting just now, such as moving a bookcase, or unlocking a door, or even as using the billiard-room for the space of a week without playing at billiards in it, you might just as well suppose he would object to our sitting more in this room, and less in the breakfast-room, than we did before he went away, or to my sister's pianoforte being moved from one side of the room to the other. Absolute nonsense!"

"The innovation, if not wrong as an innovation, will be wrong as an expense."

"Yes, the expense of such an undertaking would be prodigious! Perhaps it might cost a whole twenty pounds. Something of a theatre we must have undoubtedly, but it will be on the simplest plan: a green curtain and a little carpenter's work, and that's all; and as the carpenter's work may be all done at home by Christopher Jackson himself, it will be too absurd to talk of expense; and as long as Jackson is employed, everything will be right with Sir Thomas. Don't imagine that nobody in this house can see or judge but yourself. Don't act yourself, if you do not like it, but don't expect to govern everybody else."

"No, as to acting myself," said Edmund, "_that_ I absolutely protest against."

Tom walked out of the room as he said it, and Edmund was left to sit down and stir the fire in thoughtful vexation.

Fanny, who had heard it all, and borne Edmund company in every feeling throughout the whole, now ventured to say, in her anxiety to suggest some comfort, "Perhaps they may not be able to find any play to suit them. Your brother's taste and your sisters' seem very different."

"I have no hope there, Fanny. If they persist in the scheme, they will find something. I shall speak to my sisters and try to dissuade _them_, and that is all I can do."

"I should think my aunt Norris would be on your side."

"I dare say she would, but she has no influence with either Tom or my sisters that could be of any use; and if I cannot convince them myself, I shall let things take their course, without attempting it through her. Family squabbling is the greatest evil of all, and we had better do anything than be altogether by the ears."

His sisters, to whom he had an opportunity of speaking the next morning, were quite as impatient of his advice, quite as unyielding to his representation, quite as determined in the cause of pleasure, as Tom. Their mother had no objection to the plan, and they were not in the least afraid of their father's disapprobation. There could be no harm in what had been done in so many respectable families, and by so many women of the first consideration; and it must be scrupulousness run mad that could see anything to censure in a plan like theirs, comprehending only brothers and sisters and intimate friends, and which would never be heard of beyond themselves. Julia _did_ seem inclined to admit that Maria's situation might require particular caution and delicacy--but that could not extend to _her_-- she was at liberty; and Maria evidently considered her engagement as only raising her so much more above restraint, and leaving her less occasion than Julia to consult either father or mother. Edmund had little to hope, but he was still urging the subject when Henry Crawford entered the room, fresh from the Parsonage, calling out, "No want of hands in our theatre, Miss Bertram. No want of understrappers: my sister desires her love, and hopes to be admitted into the company, and will be happy to take the part of any old duenna or tame confidante, that you may not like to do yourselves."

Maria gave Edmund a glance, which meant, "What say you now? Can we be wrong if Mary Crawford feels the same?" And Edmund, silenced, was obliged to acknowledge that the charm of acting might well carry fascination to the mind of genius; and with the ingenuity of love, to dwell more on the obliging, accommodating purport of the message than on anything else.

The scheme advanced. Opposition was vain; and as to Mrs. Norris, he was mistaken in supposing she would wish to make any. She started no difficulties that were not talked down in five minutes by her eldest nephew and niece, who were all-powerful with her; and as the whole arrangement was to bring very little expense to anybody, and none at all to herself, as she foresaw in it all the comforts of hurry, bustle, and importance, and derived the immediate advantage of fancying herself obliged to leave her own house, where she had been living a month at her own cost, and take up her abode in theirs, that every hour might be spent in their service, she was, in fact, exceedingly delighted with the project.

贵介公子约翰·耶茨是我们初次见面的新朋友。此人衣着讲究,出手大方,是一位勋爵的二儿子,有一笔可观的财产,除此之外,并没有多少可取之处。托马斯爵士若是在家的话,很可能不会欢迎把此人引到曼斯菲尔德。伯特伦先生和他是在韦茅斯结识的,两人在那里一起参加了十天的社交活动。伯特伦先生邀请他方便时到曼斯菲尔德做客,他又答应要来,他们之间的友谊——如果可以称做友谊的话——便得以确立与发展。后来他从韦茅斯赶到另一个朋友家参加一场大型娱乐活动,不想与会者突然散去,他便提前来到了曼斯菲尔德。他是扫兴而来的,满脑子全是演戏的事,因为大家是为了演戏而聚在一起的,还给他安排了角色,两天内就要登台演出了,突然间这家的一个近亲去世,打乱了原先的计划,演戏的人也都散去。眼看一场欢乐就要到来,眼看就要大出一番风头,眼看康瓦尔郡雷文肖勋爵大人埃克尔斯福德府上的这场业余演出就要见诸报端,被记者们大加吹捧,至少名噪一年!眼看就要到手的东西,一下子全泡汤了,这种事真是令人痛心,耶茨先生讲起话来总离不开这个话题,一张口便是埃克尔斯福德及其剧场,演出的安排,演员的服装,怎样预演彩排,开些什么玩笑,夸耀这已过去的事成了他唯一的安慰。

算他走运,这里的年轻人都很喜欢戏剧,都巴不得能有个演出的机会,所以尽管他说个没完,他的听众却百听不厌。从最初选派角色,到最后的收场白,样样都让他们心醉神迷,谁都巴望一试身手,扮演其中的某个角色。剧名为《山盟海誓》①,(译注:①《山盟海誓》是德国戏剧家科泽毕于1791年发表的一个诗体剧本,由因奇博尔德夫人译成英文,1798年在英国出版后深受欢迎,曾多次再版,频繁上演。)耶茨先生原本要扮演卡斯尔伯爵。“一个不重要的角色,”他说,“一点也不合我的口味,今后我肯定不会再同意演这样的角色,可当时我不想让人家犯难。剧中只有两个角色值得扮演,可还没等我来到埃克尔斯福德,那两个角色就被雷文肖勋爵和公爵挑走了。虽然雷文肖勋爵提出把他的角色让给我演,可你知道,我是不能接受的。我替他感到难过,他居然自不量力,他根本不配演男爵这个角色!个子那么小,声音那么低,每次演练说不上十分钟嗓子就哑了!这出戏让他来演,肯定会大煞风景,可是我就不想让人家犯难。亨利爵士认为公爵演不好弗雷德里克,可那是因为亨利爵士自己想演这个角色,不过就他们两人而言,这个角色由公爵来演肯定更好一些。我万万没有想到亨利爵士的演技那么蹩脚。幸好这出戏并不靠他来撑场面。我们的阿加莎演得妙不可言,许多人认为公爵演得非常出色。总的说来,这出戏要是正式演出,一定十分精彩。”

“说实话,没演成真是不幸。”“很为你感到惋惜。”听的人深表同情地说。

“这件事没有什么好怨天尤人的,不过那个可怜的老寡妇死得实在不是时候。你不由得会想,要是她去世的消息照我们的需要晚公布三天就好了。只需要三天。她不过是这家的外婆,又死在二百英里以外,我觉得把死讯压三天也没有什么大不了的。据我所知,还真有人提出了这个建议。可雷文肖勋爵就是不同意,我想他是全英国最讲究规矩的一个人。”

“没演成喜剧倒来了场悲剧,”伯特伦先生说。“《山盟海誓》结束了,雷文肖勋爵夫妇只能独自去演《我的外婆》①。(译注:①《我的外婆》是霍尔王子发表于1794年的一个闹剧。)外婆的遗产或许会给勋爵带来安慰,不过我们朋友之间私下说一句,他也许因为要扮演男爵,怕演不好而丢面子,怕他的肺受不了,就想撤销原来的计划。耶茨,为了弥补你的损失,我想我们应该在曼斯菲尔德建个小戏院,由你来主管。”

这虽说是一时的意念,但并非只是说说而已。经他这么一提,大家又冒出了演戏的欲望,其中最想演的就是他本人。眼下他成了一家之主,有的是闲暇,几乎什么新鲜事都能让他玩个痛快,加上头脑灵活,富有喜剧素养,因而也就十分适合演戏。他的这一想法翻来覆去地总有人提出。“啊!要是能用埃克尔斯福德的戏院和布景演演戏该有多好。”他的两个妹妹也有同感。亨利·克劳福德虽然经历过种种寻欢作乐的事情,但却没有尝试过这种欢乐,因此一听到这一想法,便大为活跃起来。“我倒真以为,”他说,“我此时此刻会不知天高地厚,敢于扮演任何剧本里的任何角色,从夏洛克、理查德三世,到滑稽剧里身穿红色外衣、头戴三角帽演唱的主人公。我觉得我什么都能演,英语里的任何悲剧或喜剧,无论是慷慨激昂、大发雷霆、唉声叹气还是活蹦乱跳,我似乎都行。我们选个剧目演一演吧。哪怕是半个剧——一幕——一场。有什么能难住我们呢?我想总不会是我们这些人长相不行吧,”说着把目光投向两位伯特伦小姐,“至于说戏院,要戏院干什么?我们只是自娱自乐。这座大宅里的哪间屋子都够用了。”

“我们得有个幕,”汤姆·伯特伦说,“买上几码绿绒布做个幕,这也许就够了。”

“噢!完全够了,”耶茨嚷道,“只需要布置一两个侧景,几个房间的门,三四场布景就行了,演这么点戏再不需要什么了。只不过是自娱自乐,这就足够了。”

“我认为我们还应该再简单一些,”玛丽亚说。“时间不多,还会遇到别的困难。我们还得采纳克劳福德先生的意见,我们的目标是演戏,而不是搞舞台布景。许多最优秀戏剧的许多地方都不是依靠布景。”

“不,”埃德蒙听到这里感到惊讶了,便说。“我们做事可不要马虎。我们真要演戏的话,那就找个正规的戏院去演,正厅、包厢、楼座一应俱全,从头到尾完完整整地演上一出戏,不管演哪出德国戏,在幕与幕之间都要有幽默滑稽的表演,有花样舞蹈,有号笛,有歌声。如果我们演得还不如埃克尔斯福德,那就索性不要演了。”

“得啦,埃德蒙,不要讲泄气话啦,”朱莉娅说。“你比谁都爱看戏,为了看戏,你比别人多跑多少路都不在乎。”

“不错,那是看真正的演出,看演技娴熟的真正演出。但是要让我看一群从未受过训练的少爷小姐们的蹩脚表演,即使在隔壁房间演我也不会过去看。这些人在所受教育和礼仪规矩上存在种种不利因素,演戏时势必受到束缚。”

过了不久,又谈起了这个话题,而且热情丝毫不减,个个都是越谈越想干,加之听到别人愿意,自己也就越发愿意。不过,谈来谈去什么事也没谈妥,只知道汤姆·伯特伦要演喜剧,他的两个妹妹和亨利·克劳福德要演悲剧,想找一个人人喜欢的剧本比什么都难。尽管如此,要演戏的决心却是坚定不移的,埃德蒙为此感到十分不安。他打定主意,只要可能,就要阻止他们,然而他母亲同样听到了饭桌边的这番谈话,却丝毫没有不赞成的表示。

当天晚上,他找到一个机会,想试试他有没有能力阻止。玛丽亚、朱莉娅、亨利·克劳福德以及耶茨先生都在弹子房里。汤姆从他们那里回到了客厅,这时埃德蒙正若有所思地站在炉火跟前,伯特伦夫人坐在不远的沙发上,范妮紧挨着她在料理针线活。汤姆进来的时候说:“像我们这样糟糕透顶的弹子台,我相信天底下再找不到第二个!我再也不能容忍它了,我想我可以这样说:没有什么能诱使我再来打弹子。不过,我刚刚给它想出了一个好用场。这间屋子演戏正合适,形状和长度都正好,屋那头的几扇门,只需把父亲房里的书橱挪一挪,五分钟内就能互相连通。如果我们决定演戏,这正符合我们的需要。父亲的房间做演员休息室非常好。它与弹子房相通,好像有意满足我们的需要似的。”

“汤姆,你说要演戏,不会当真吧?”汤姆来到炉旁的时候,埃德蒙低声说道。

“不会当真!告诉你吧,再当真不过了。你有什么好奇怪的?”

“我认为这样做很不妥当。一般说来,私人演戏容易受人指责,而考虑我们的家庭境况,我认为我们去演戏尤其不慎重,而且还不仅仅是不慎重。父亲不在家,时时刻刻都处在危险之中,我们演戏会让人觉得我们太不把父亲放在心上。再说玛丽亚的情况也很值得我们操心,把各种因素都考虑进去,让人极不放心,眼看她处于这般境况,我们再去演戏,也太欠考虑。”

“你把事情看得这么严重啊!好像我们在父亲没回来之前每星期都要演三次,还要邀请全国的人都来看似的。可我们不是要搞这样的演出。我们只不过是来点自娱自乐,调剂调剂生活,尝试来点新花样。我们不要观众,也不去登报。我想,应该相信我们会挑选一个无可指摘的剧目来演。我认为,我们用某个令人敬重的作家写出的优美文字对话,比用我们自己的话闲聊,不会有更多的害处和危险。我毫不担心,毫无顾虑。至于父亲还在海外,这决不应该成为反对演戏的理由,我倒认为这正是我们演戏的动机所在。母亲在此期间盼望父亲归来,心里焦灼不安,如果我们能在这几个星期里使母亲忘却忧愁,提起精神,我觉得我们的时光就会过得很有意义,而且我相信父亲也会这样想的。这是母亲最焦灼不安的一段时期。”

他说这话时,两人都朝他们的母亲望去。伯特伦夫人正靠在沙发的一角,安然入睡了,那样子既健康,又富贵;既恬静,又无忧无虑。范妮正在替她做那几件颇费工夫的针线活。

埃德蒙微微一笑,摇了摇头。

“啊!这可不算个理由,”汤姆嚷道,一边扑地坐到一把椅子上,纵声大笑起来。“亲爱的妈妈,我说你焦灼不安——算我说错了。”

“怎么啦?”伯特伦夫人以半睡半醒的沉重语调问道。“我没有睡着呀。”

“噢!是没有,妈妈——没有人怀疑你睡着了——喂,埃德蒙,”一见伯特伦夫人又打起盹来,汤姆又以原来的姿态和腔调,谈起了原来的话题,“不过我还要坚持这一点——我们演戏并没有什么害处。”

“我不同意你的看法——我相信父亲是肯定不会同意这样做的。”

“我认为恰恰相反。父亲比谁都更加喜欢发挥年轻人的才干,并且提倡这样做。至于演戏、高谈阔论、背诵台词等,我想他一向是很喜欢的。我们小时候,他还真鼓励我们培养这方面的才能呢。就在这间屋子里,为了使他开心,我们多少次对朱利亚斯·恺撒的遗体表示哀悼,多少次学着哈姆雷特说‘活下去还是不活’!我记得很清楚,有一年圣诞节,我们每天晚上都要说‘我叫诺弗尔’①。”(译者注:①“我叫诺弗尔”引自当时广为流传的一部悲剧的开场白,剧名为《道格拉斯》,作者为约翰·霍姆,发表于1757年。)

“那完全是另一回事。你自己肯定知道不一样。我们上小学的时候,父亲希望我们练练口才,但他决不会想要他已长大成人的女儿们去演戏。他是很讲规矩的。”

“这我都知道,”汤姆怏怏不快地说。“我像你一样了解父亲,我会注意不让他的女儿们做什么惹他生气的事。你管住你自己好了,埃德蒙,我来关照家里的其他人。”

“你若是一定要演的话,”埃德蒙坚持不懈地答道,“我希望悄悄地搞,不要大张旗鼓。我看不要布置什么剧场。父亲不在家,随便用他的房子不好。”

“这类事情一概由我负责,”汤姆以果断的口气说道,“我们不会损坏他的房子。我会像你一样用心关照他的房子的。至于我刚才提出的那些小小的变动,比如挪个书橱,打开一扇门,甚至一星期不打弹子,把弹子房另作他用,如果你认为他会反对的话,那我们比他在家时在这间屋里多坐一会儿,在早餐厅里少坐一会儿,或者把妹妹的钢琴从房间的这边移到那边,你大概认为他也会表示反对吧。纯属无稽之谈!”

“这样的变动即使本身不算错,但要花钱总不对吧。”

“是呀,干这样的事是会花掉巨额资金啊!也许可以花掉整整二十英镑。毫无疑问我们好歹需要一个剧场,但我们要尽可能从简:一幅绿幕,一点木工活——仅此而已。而那点木工活完全可以在家里让克里斯托弗·杰克逊自己去做,再说花费多,那是胡说八道。只要活是让杰克逊干的,托马斯爵士什么意见都不会有。不要以为这屋里就你一个人高明。你不喜欢演戏你自己不演就是了,可你不要以为你能管得住大家。”

“我没这样以为,至于我自己演戏,”埃德蒙说,“我是绝对不会那样做的。”

汤姆没等他说完就走出屋去,埃德蒙只好坐下来,忧心忡忡地拨动炉火。

这席谈话全让范妮听到了,她始终是赞成埃德蒙的看法的,眼下很想给他点安慰,便鼓起勇气说:“也许他们找不到合适的剧本。你哥哥和你妹妹的趣味好像大不一样。”

“我不抱这种希望,范妮。他们要是打定主意要演,总会找到剧本的——我要跟两个妹妹谈谈,劝说她俩不要演。我只能这样做。”

“我想诺里斯姨妈会站在你这一边。”

“我相信她会站在我们这一边,但她对汤姆和我妹妹都起不了什么作用。我要是说服不了他们,就只能听其自然,用不着让她去说。一家人争吵是最糟糕的事情,我们说什么也不能吵架。”

第二天早晨,埃德蒙找了个机会劝说两个妹妹,没想到她们像汤姆一样丝毫不爱听他的劝告,一点也不肯接受他的意见,一心一意要寻欢作乐。母亲压根儿不反对他们的计划,他们也丝毫不怕父亲不赞成他们的行为。这么多体面的家庭,这么多的大家闺秀演了戏都没有什么,而他们只是兄弟姊妹加上亲朋好友关起门来演演戏,又不让外人知道,如果认为这也不对,那筒直是太谨小慎微了。朱莉娅的确有意表明玛丽亚的情况需要特别谨慎、特别稳重——但这不能要求于她——她是不受任何约束的。而玛丽亚则显然认为,正因为她订了婚,她就更加无拘无束,不用像朱莉娅那样事事需要和父母商量。埃德蒙已不抱什么希望,但仍在继续劝说。恰在这时,亨利·克劳福德刚从牧师住宅赶来,走进屋里,叫道:“我们演戏不缺人了,伯特伦小姐。也不缺演仆从的人——我妹妹求大家赏个脸,把她吸收到戏班子里来,年老的保姆,温顺的女伴,你们不愿演的角色她都乐意演。”

玛丽亚瞥了埃德蒙一眼,意思是说:“你现在还有什么话说?玛丽·克劳福德和我们有同感,你还能说我们不对吗?”埃德蒙哑口无言,心里不得不承认演戏的魅力都会令聪明人着迷。他怀着无限深情,久久地在琢磨她那助人为乐的精神。

计划在向前推进。反对是徒劳无益的。他原以为诺里斯姨妈会表示反对,其实他估计错了。大姨妈一向奈何不了大外甥和大外甥女,她刚提出了一点异议,不到五分钟便被他们说服了。事实上,她是非常乐意他们这样干的。根据整个安排,谁都花不了多少钱,她自己更是一个钱也不用花。办事的过程中,免不了要她张罗,显一显她的重要,一想到这里,她心里不禁乐滋滋的。另外,她还会马上沾到一点便宜:她在自己家里已经住了一个月,花的都是自己的钱,现在为了随时给他们帮忙,觉得自己不得不离开自己家,搬到他们家来住。



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