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Chapter 19

How is the consternation of the party to be described? To the greater number it was a moment of absolute horror. Sir Thomas in the house! All felt the instantaneous conviction. Not a hope of imposition or mistake was harboured anywhere. Julia's looks were an evidence of the fact that made it indisputable; and after the first starts and exclamations, not a word was spoken for half a minute: each with an altered countenance was looking at some other, and almost each was feeling it a stroke the most unwelcome, most ill-timed, most appalling! Mr. Yates might consider it only as a vexatious interruption for the evening, and Mr. Rushworth might imagine it a blessing; but every other heart was sinking under some degree of self-condemnation or undefined alarm, every other heart was suggesting, "What will become of us? what is to be done now?" It was a terrible pause; and terrible to every ear were the corroborating sounds of opening doors and passing footsteps.

Julia was the first to move and speak again. Jealousy and bitterness had been suspended: selfishness was lost in the common cause; but at the moment of her appearance, Frederick was listening with looks of devotion to Agatha's narrative, and pressing her hand to his heart; and as soon as she could notice this, and see that, in spite of the shock of her words, he still kept his station and retained her sister's hand, her wounded heart swelled again with injury, and looking as red as she had been white before, she turned out of the room, saying, "_I_ need not be afraid of appearing before him."

Her going roused the rest; and at the same moment the two brothers stepped forward, feeling the necessity of doing something. A very few words between them were sufficient. The case admitted no difference of opinion: they must go to the drawing-room directly. Maria joined them with the same intent, just then the stoutest of the three; for the very circumstance which had driven Julia away was to her the sweetest support. Henry Crawford's retaining her hand at such a moment, a moment of such peculiar proof and importance, was worth ages of doubt and anxiety. She hailed it as an earnest of the most serious determination, and was equal even to encounter her father. They walked off, utterly heedless of Mr. Rushworth's repeated question of, "Shall I go too? Had not I better go too? Will not it be right for me to go too?" but they were no sooner through the door than Henry Crawford undertook to answer the anxious inquiry, and, encouraging him by all means to pay his respects to Sir Thomas without delay, sent him after the others with delighted haste.

Fanny was left with only the Crawfords and Mr. Yates. She had been quite overlooked by her cousins; and as her own opinion of her claims on Sir Thomas's affection was much too humble to give her any idea of classing herself with his children, she was glad to remain behind and gain a little breathing-time. Her agitation and alarm exceeded all that was endured by the rest, by the right of a disposition which not even innocence could keep from suffering. She was nearly fainting: all her former habitual dread of her uncle was returning, and with it compassion for him and for almost every one of the party on the development before him, with solicitude on Edmund's account indescribable. She had found a seat, where in excessive trembling she was enduring all these fearful thoughts, while the other three, no longer under any restraint, were giving vent to their feelings of vexation, lamenting over such an unlooked-for premature arrival as a most untoward event, and without mercy wishing poor Sir Thomas had been twice as long on his passage, or were still in Antigua.

The Crawfords were more warm on the subject than Mr. Yates, from better understanding the family, and judging more clearly of the mischief that must ensue. The ruin of the play was to them a certainty: they felt the total destruction of the scheme to be inevitably at hand; while Mr. Yates considered it only as a temporary interruption, a disaster for the evening, and could even suggest the possibility of the rehearsal being renewed after tea, when the bustle of receiving Sir Thomas were over, and he might be at leisure to be amused by it. The Crawfords laughed at the idea; and having soon agreed on the propriety of their walking quietly home and leaving the family to themselves, proposed Mr. Yates's accompanying them and spending the evening at the Parsonage. But Mr. Yates, having never been with those who thought much of parental claims, or family confidence, could not perceive that anything of the kind was necessary; and therefore, thanking them, said, "he preferred remaining where he was, that he might pay his respects to the old gentleman handsomely since he _was_ come; and besides, he did not think it would be fair by the others to have everybody run away."

Fanny was just beginning to collect herself, and to feel that if she staid longer behind it might seem disrespectful, when this point was settled, and being commissioned with the brother and sister's apology, saw them preparing to go as she quitted the room herself to perform the dreadful duty of appearing before her uncle.

Too soon did she find herself at the drawing-room door; and after pausing a moment for what she knew would not come, for a courage which the outside of no door had ever supplied to her, she turned the lock in desperation, and the lights of the drawing-room, and all the collected family, were before her. As she entered, her own name caught her ear. Sir Thomas was at that moment looking round him, and saying, "But where is Fanny? Why do not I see my little Fanny?"--and on perceiving her, came forward with a kindness which astonished and penetrated her, calling her his dear Fanny, kissing her affectionately, and observing with decided pleasure how much she was grown! Fanny knew not how to feel, nor where to look. She was quite oppressed. He had never been so kind, so _very_ kind to her in his life. His manner seemed changed, his voice was quick from the agitation of joy; and all that had been awful in his dignity seemed lost in tenderness. He led her nearer the light and looked at her again-- inquired particularly after her health, and then, correcting himself, observed that he need not inquire, for her appearance spoke sufficiently on that point. A fine blush having succeeded the previous paleness of her face, he was justified in his belief of her equal improvement in health and beauty. He inquired next after her family, especially William: and his kindness altogether was such as made her reproach herself for loving him so little, and thinking his return a misfortune; and when, on having courage to lift her eyes to his face, she saw that he was grown thinner, and had the burnt, fagged, worn look of fatigue and a hot climate, every tender feeling was increased, and she was miserable in considering how much unsuspected vexation was probably ready to burst on him.

Sir Thomas was indeed the life of the party, who at his suggestion now seated themselves round the fire. He had the best right to be the talker; and the delight of his sensations in being again in his own house, in the centre of his family, after such a separation, made him communicative and chatty in a very unusual degree; and he was ready to give every information as to his voyage, and answer every question of his two sons almost before it was put. His business in Antigua had latterly been prosperously rapid, and he came directly from Liverpool, having had an opportunity of making his passage thither in a private vessel, instead of waiting for the packet; and all the little particulars of his proceedings and events, his arrivals and departures, were most promptly delivered, as he sat by Lady Bertram and looked with heartfelt satisfaction on the faces around him--interrupting himself more than once, however, to remark on his good fortune in finding them all at home--coming unexpectedly as he did-- all collected together exactly as he could have wished, but dared not depend on. Mr. Rushworth was not forgotten: a most friendly reception and warmth of hand-shaking had already met him, and with pointed attention he was now included in the objects most intimately connected with Mansfield. There was nothing disagreeable in Mr. Rushworth's appearance, and Sir Thomas was liking him already.

By not one of the circle was he listened to with such unbroken, unalloyed enjoyment as by his wife, who was really extremely happy to see him, and whose feelings were so warmed by his sudden arrival as to place her nearer agitation than she had been for the last twenty years. She had been _almost_ fluttered for a few minutes, and still remained so sensibly animated as to put away her work, move Pug from her side, and give all her attention and all the rest of her sofa to her husband. She had no anxieties for anybody to cloud _her_ pleasure: her own time had been irreproachably spent during his absence: she had done a great deal of carpet-work, and made many yards of fringe; and she would have answered as freely for the good conduct and useful pursuits of all the young people as for her own. It was so agreeable to her to see him again, and hear him talk, to have her ear amused and her whole comprehension filled by his narratives, that she began particularly to feel how dreadfully she must have missed him, and how impossible it would have been for her to bear a lengthened absence.

Mrs. Norris was by no means to be compared in happiness to her sister. Not that _she_ was incommoded by many fears of Sir Thomas's disapprobation when the present state of his house should be known, for her judgment had been so blinded that, except by the instinctive caution with which she had whisked away Mr. Rushworth's pink satin cloak as her brother-in-law entered, she could hardly be said to shew any sign of alarm; but she was vexed by the _manner_ of his return. It had left her nothing to do. Instead of being sent for out of the room, and seeing him first, and having to spread the happy news through the house, Sir Thomas, with a very reasonable dependence, perhaps, on the nerves of his wife and children, had sought no confidant but the butler, and had been following him almost instantaneously into the drawing-room. Mrs. Norris felt herself defrauded of an office on which she had always depended, whether his arrival or his death were to be the thing unfolded; and was now trying to be in a bustle without having anything to bustle about, and labouring to be important where nothing was wanted but tranquillity and silence. Would Sir Thomas have consented to eat, she might have gone to the housekeeper with troublesome directions, and insulted the footmen with injunctions of despatch; but Sir Thomas resolutely declined all dinner: he would take nothing, nothing till tea came--he would rather wait for tea. Still Mrs. Norris was at intervals urging something different; and in the most interesting moment of his passage to England, when the alarm of a French privateer was at the height, she burst through his recital with the proposal of soup. "Sure, my dear Sir Thomas, a basin of soup would be a much better thing for you than tea. Do have a basin of soup."

Sir Thomas could not be provoked. "Still the same anxiety for everybody's comfort, my dear Mrs. Norris," was his answer. "But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea."

"Well, then, Lady Bertram, suppose you speak for tea directly; suppose you hurry Baddeley a little; he seems behindhand to-night." She carried this point, and Sir Thomas's narrative proceeded.

At length there was a pause. His immediate communications were exhausted, and it seemed enough to be looking joyfully around him, now at one, now at another of the beloved circle; but the pause was not long: in the elation of her spirits Lady Bertram became talkative, and what were the sensations of her children upon hearing her say, "How do you think the young people have been amusing themselves lately, Sir Thomas? They have been acting. We have been all alive with acting."

"Indeed! and what have you been acting?"

"Oh! they'll tell you all about it."

"The _all_ will soon be told," cried Tom hastily, and with affected unconcern; "but it is not worth while to bore my father with it now. You will hear enough of it to-morrow, sir. We have just been trying, by way of doing something, and amusing my mother, just within the last week, to get up a few scenes, a mere trifle. We have had such incessant rains almost since October began, that we have been nearly confined to the house for days together. I have hardly taken out a gun since the 3rd. Tolerable sport the first three days, but there has been no attempting anything since. The first day I went over Mansfield Wood, and Edmund took the copses beyond Easton, and we brought home six brace between us, and might each have killed six times as many, but we respect your pheasants, sir, I assure you, as much as you could desire. I do not think you will find your woods by any means worse stocked than they were. _I_ never saw Mansfield Wood so full of pheasants in my life as this year. I hope you will take a day's sport there yourself, sir, soon."

For the present the danger was over, and Fanny's sick feelings subsided; but when tea was soon afterwards brought in, and Sir Thomas, getting up, said that he found that he could not be any longer in the house without just looking into his own dear room, every agitation was returning. He was gone before anything had been said to prepare him for the change he must find there; and a pause of alarm followed his disappearance. Edmund was the first to speak--

"Something must be done," said he.

"It is time to think of our visitors," said Maria, still feeling her hand pressed to Henry Crawford's heart, and caring little for anything else. "Where did you leave Miss Crawford, Fanny?"

Fanny told of their departure, and delivered their message.

"Then poor Yates is all alone," cried Tom. "I will go and fetch him. He will be no bad assistant when it all comes out."

To the theatre he went, and reached it just in time to witness the first meeting of his father and his friend. Sir Thomas had been a good deal surprised to find candles burning in his room; and on casting his eye round it, to see other symptoms of recent habitation and a general air of confusion in the furniture. The removal of the bookcase from before the billiard-room door struck him especially, but he had scarcely more than time to feel astonished at all this, before there were sounds from the billiard-room to astonish him still farther. Some one was talking there in a very loud accent; he did not know the voice--more than talking--almost hallooing. He stepped to the door, rejoicing at that moment in having the means of immediate communication, and, opening it, found himself on the stage of a theatre, and opposed to a ranting young man, who appeared likely to knock him down backwards. At the very moment of Yates perceiving Sir Thomas, and giving perhaps the very best start he had ever given in the whole course of his rehearsals, Tom Bertram entered at the other end of the room; and never had he found greater difficulty in keeping his countenance. His father's looks of solemnity and amazement on this his first appearance on any stage, and the gradual metamorphosis of the impassioned Baron Wildenheim into the well-bred and easy Mr. Yates, making his bow and apology to Sir Thomas Bertram, was such an exhibition, such a piece of true acting, as he would not have lost upon any account. It would be the last-- in all probability--the last scene on that stage; but he was sure there could not be a finer. The house would close with the greatest eclat.

There was little time, however, for the indulgence of any images of merriment. It was necessary for him to step forward, too, and assist the introduction, and with many awkward sensations he did his best. Sir Thomas received Mr. Yates with all the appearance of cordiality which was due to his own character, but was really as far from pleased with the necessity of the acquaintance as with the manner of its commencement. Mr. Yates's family and connexions were sufficiently known to him to render his introduction as the "particular friend," another of the hundred particular friends of his son, exceedingly unwelcome; and it needed all the felicity of being again at home, and all the forbearance it could supply, to save Sir Thomas from anger on finding himself thus bewildered in his own house, making part of a ridiculous exhibition in the midst of theatrical nonsense, and forced in so untoward a moment to admit the acquaintance of a young man whom he felt sure of disapproving, and whose easy indifference and volubility in the course of the first five minutes seemed to mark him the most at home of the two.

Tom understood his father's thoughts, and heartily wishing he might be always as well disposed to give them but partial expression, began to see, more clearly than he had ever done before, that there might be some ground of offence, that there might be some reason for the glance his father gave towards the ceiling and stucco of the room; and that when he inquired with mild gravity after the fate of the billiard-table, he was not proceeding beyond a very allowable curiosity. A few minutes were enough for such unsatisfactory sensations on each side; and Sir Thomas having exerted himself so far as to speak a few words of calm approbation in reply to an eager appeal of Mr. Yates, as to the happiness of the arrangement, the three gentlemen returned to the drawing-room together, Sir Thomas with an increase of gravity which was not lost on all.

"I come from your theatre," said he composedly, as he sat down; "I found myself in it rather unexpectedly. Its vicinity to my own room--but in every respect, indeed, it took me by surprise, as I had not the smallest suspicion of your acting having assumed so serious a character. It appears a neat job, however, as far as I could judge by candlelight, and does my friend Christopher Jackson credit." And then he would have changed the subject, and sipped his coffee in peace over domestic matters of a calmer hue; but Mr. Yates, without discernment to catch Sir Thomas's meaning, or diffidence, or delicacy, or discretion enough to allow him to lead the discourse while he mingled among the others with the least obtrusiveness himself, would keep him on the topic of the theatre, would torment him with questions and remarks relative to it, and finally would make him hear the whole history of his disappointment at Ecclesford. Sir Thomas listened most politely, but found much to offend his ideas of decorum, and confirm his ill-opinion of Mr. Yates's habits of thinking, from the beginning to the end of the story; and when it was over, could give him no other assurance of sympathy than what a slight bow conveyed.

"This was, in fact, the origin of _our_ acting," said Tom, after a moment's thought. "My friend Yates brought the infection from Ecclesford, and it spread--as those things always spread, you know, sir--the faster, probably, from _your_ having so often encouraged the sort of thing in us formerly. It was like treading old ground again."

Mr. Yates took the subject from his friend as soon as possible, and immediately gave Sir Thomas an account of what they had done and were doing: told him of the gradual increase of their views, the happy conclusion of their first difficulties, and present promising state of affairs; relating everything with so blind an interest as made him not only totally unconscious of the uneasy movements of many of his friends as they sat, the change of countenance, the fidget, the hem! of unquietness, but prevented him even from seeing the expression of the face on which his own eyes were fixed--from seeing Sir Thomas's dark brow contract as he looked with inquiring earnestness at his daughters and Edmund, dwelling particularly on the latter, and speaking a language, a remonstrance, a reproof, which _he_ felt at his heart. Not less acutely was it felt by Fanny, who had edged back her chair behind her aunt's end of the sofa, and, screened from notice herself, saw all that was passing before her. Such a look of reproach at Edmund from his father she could never have expected to witness; and to feel that it was in any degree deserved was an aggravation indeed. Sir Thomas's look implied, "On your judgment, Edmund, I depended; what have you been about?" She knelt in spirit to her uncle, and her bosom swelled to utter, "Oh, not to _him_! Look so to all the others, but not to _him_!"

Mr. Yates was still talking. "To own the truth, Sir Thomas, we were in the middle of a rehearsal when you arrived this evening. We were going through the three first acts, and not unsuccessfully upon the whole. Our company is now so dispersed, from the Crawfords being gone home, that nothing more can be done to-night; but if you will give us the honour of your company to-morrow evening, I should not be afraid of the result. We bespeak your indulgence, you understand, as young performers; we bespeak your indulgence."

"My indulgence shall be given, sir," replied Sir Thomas gravely, "but without any other rehearsal." And with a relenting smile, he added, "I come home to be happy and indulgent." Then turning away towards any or all of the rest, he tranquilly said, "Mr. and Miss Crawford were mentioned in my last letters from Mansfield. Do you find them agreeable acquaintance?"

Tom was the only one at all ready with an answer, but he being entirely without particular regard for either, without jealousy either in love or acting, could speak very handsomely of both. "Mr. Crawford was a most pleasant, gentleman-like man; his sister a sweet, pretty, elegant, lively girl."

Mr. Rushworth could be silent no longer. "I do not say he is not gentleman-like, considering; but you should tell your father he is not above five feet eight, or he will be expecting a well-looking man."

Sir Thomas did not quite understand this, and looked with some surprise at the speaker.

"If I must say what I think," continued Mr. Rushworth, "in my opinion it is very disagreeable to be always rehearsing. It is having too much of a good thing. I am not so fond of acting as I was at first. I think we are a great deal better employed, sitting comfortably here among ourselves, and doing nothing."

Sir Thomas looked again, and then replied with an approving smile, "I am happy to find our sentiments on this subject so much the same. It gives me sincere satisfaction. That I should be cautious and quick-sighted, and feel many scruples which my children do _not_ feel, is perfectly natural; and equally so that my value for domestic tranquillity, for a home which shuts out noisy pleasures, should much exceed theirs. But at your time of life to feel all this, is a most favourable circumstance for yourself, and for everybody connected with you; and I am sensible of the importance of having an ally of such weight."

Sir Thomas meant to be giving Mr. Rushworth's opinion in better words than he could find himself. He was aware that he must not expect a genius in Mr. Rushworth; but as a well-judging, steady young man, with better notions than his elocution would do justice to, he intended to value him very highly. It was impossible for many of the others not to smile. Mr. Rushworth hardly knew what to do with so much meaning; but by looking, as he really felt, most exceedingly pleased with Sir Thomas's good opinion, and saying scarcely anything, he did his best towards preserving that good opinion a little longer.

该如何描述这伙人惊恐失措的狼狈相呢?对大多数人来说,这是个惊骇万分的时刻。托马斯爵士已回到了家里!大家立即对此深信不疑。谁也不会认为这是讹诈或误传。从朱莉娅的表情可以看出,这是无可辩驳的事实。经过最初的张皇惊叫之后,有半分钟光景大家都一声不响,个个吓得脸蛋变了样,直瞪瞪地盯着别人,几乎人人都觉得这次打击真是太糟糕,太可怕,来得太不是时候!耶茨先生也许认为只不过是晚上的排练给令人恼火地打断了,拉什沃思先生或许认为这是幸事,但是其他人却个个沮丧,都有几分自咎之感,或莫名的惊恐。这些人都在盘算:“我们会落个什么样的下场?现在该怎么办?”一阵可怕的沉默。与此同时,每个人都听到了开门声和脚步声,足以证明大事不好,越发感到心惊胆战。

朱莉娅是第一个挪动脚步,第一个开口说话。嫉妒和愤懑之情暂时搁置起来,共患难中又收起了自私之心。但是,就在她来到门口的时候,弗雷德里克正在情意绵绵地倾听阿加莎的道白,把她的手压在他的心口。朱莉娅一见到这个场面,见到尽管她已宣布了这可怕的消息,弗雷德里克仍然保持原来的姿势,抓着她姐姐的手不放,她那颗受到伤害的心又给刺痛了,刚才吓白了的脸又气得通红,她转身走出房去,嘴里说:“我才用不着害怕见他呢。”

她这一走,众人如梦方醒。那兄弟俩同时走上前来,觉得不能按兵不动。他们之间只需几句话就足够了。这件事不容再有什么分歧:他们必须马上到客厅里去。玛丽亚抱着同样的想法跟他们一起去,而且此刻三人中数她最有勇气。原来,刚才把朱莉娅气走的那个场面,现在对她倒是最惬意的支持。在这样一个时刻,一个面对特殊考验的重要时刻,亨利·克劳福德依然握着她的手不放,足以打消她长期以来的怀疑和忧虑。她觉得这是忠贞不渝的爱的征兆,不由得心花怒放,连父亲也不怕去见了。他们只顾往外走,拉什沃思先生反复问他们:“我也去吗?我是不是最好也去?我也去是否合适?”他们理也不理。不过,他们刚走出门去,亨利·克劳福德便来回答他急迫的提问,鼓动他一定要赶紧去向托马斯爵士表示敬意,于是他便喜冲冲地紧跟着出了门。

这时,剧场上只剩下了范妮,还有克劳福德兄妹和耶茨先生。表哥、表姐全然不管她,她自己也不敢奢望托马斯爵士对她会像对自己的孩子们一样疼爱,因此她也乐于留在后边,定一定心。尽管事情全不怪她,但她生性正直,比其他人还要忐忑不安,提心吊胆。她快要昏过去了。她过去对姨父一贯的畏惧感又复原了;与此同时,让他眼见着这般局面,她又同情他,也同情几乎所有这帮人——而对埃德蒙的忧虑更是无法形容。她找了个座位,心里尽转着这些可怕的念头,浑身直打哆嗦。而那三人此时已无所顾忌,便发起牢骚来,埋怨托马斯爵士这么早就不期而归,真是一件倒霉透顶的事。他们毫不怜悯这可怜的人,恨不得他在路上多花一倍时间,或者还没离开安提瓜。

克劳福德兄妹俩比耶茨先生更了解这家人,更清楚爵士这一归来会造成什么危害,因此一谈起这件事来,也就更加激愤。他们知道戏是肯定演不成了,觉得他们的计划马上就会彻底告吹。而耶茨先生却认为这只是暂时中断,只是晚上的一场灾难而已。他甚至觉得等喝完了茶,迎接托马斯爵士的忙乱场面结束后,他可以悠闲自得地观赏时,还可以继续排练。克劳福德兄妹俩听了不禁大笑。两人很快就商定,现在最好悄悄走掉,让这家人自己去折腾。他们还建议耶茨先生随他们一起回家,在牧师住宅消磨一个晚上。可是耶茨先生过去交往的人中,没有一个把听父母的话或家人之间要赤诚当做一回事,因而也就看不出有溜之大吉的必要。于是,他谢了他们,说道:“我还是不走为好,既然老先生回来了,我要大大方方地向他表示敬意。再说,我们都溜走了也是对人家的不尊重。”

范妮刚刚镇定了一些,觉得继续待在这里似乎有些失敬。这时,她把这个问题想清楚了。那兄妹俩又托她代为表示歉意,她便在他们准备离去之际走出房去,去履行面见姨父的可怕使命。

好像一眨眼工夫,她就来到了客厅门口。她在门外停了停,想给自己鼓鼓勇气,但她知道勇气是来不了的。她硬着头皮开了门,客厅里的灯火以及那一家人,豁然出现在她眼前。她走进屋来,听见有人提到自己的名字。这时,托马斯爵士正在四下环顾,问道:“范妮呢?我怎么没看见我的小范妮?”等一看到她,便朝她走去,那个亲切劲儿,真叫她受宠若惊、刻骨铭心。他管她叫亲爱的范妮,亲切地吻她,喜不自禁地说她长了好高啊!范妮说不清自己心里是什么滋味,眼也不知道往哪里看是好。她真是百感交集。托马斯爵士从没这么亲切过,从没对她这样亲切。他的态度好像变了,由于欣喜激动的缘故,说起话来也不慢声慢气了,过去那可怕的威严似乎不见了,变得慈祥起来了。他把范妮领到灯光跟前,又一次端详她——特意问了问她身体可好,接着又自我纠正说,他实在没有必要问,因为她的外表可以充分说明问题。范妮先前那张苍白的脸上这时泛起了艳丽的红晕,托马斯爵士的看法一点也不错,她不仅增进了健康,而且出落得越来越美了。接着爵士又问起她家人的情况,特别问起威廉的情况。姨父这么和蔼可亲,范妮责备自己以前为什么不爱他,还把他从海外归来视为不幸。她鼓起勇气抬眼望着他的脸,发现他比以前瘦了,由于劳累和热带气候的缘故,人变黑了,也憔悴了。这时,她心里更是怜惜不已,并且想起来真替他难过:还不知道有多少意想不到的恼人的事在等着他。

一家人按照托马斯爵士的吩咐围着炉火坐下,托马斯爵士还真成了大家活力的源泉。他最有权利滔滔不绝地说话。久离家园,现在又回到家中,回到妻子儿女中间,心里一兴奋,嘴里也就特别爱说话。他想把自己漂洋过海的一桩桩见闻都讲给大家听,乐于回答两个儿子提出的每个问题,几乎是不等提问就回答。他在安提瓜的事情后来办得顺利快当,他没等着坐班轮,而是趁机搭乘一条私人轮船去了利物浦,然后直接从利物浦回到家。他坐在伯特伦夫人身边,怀着由衷的喜悦,环视着周围的一张张面庞,一股脑儿讲述了他办的大大小小的事情,他来来去去的行踪——不过,在讲述的过程中,他不止一次地夹上两句:尽管他事先没有通知,但回来后看到一家人都在这里,真是感到幸运——他在路上虽然盼望如此,但又不敢抱这样的希望。他也没有忘记拉什沃思先生,先是非常友好地接待他,跟他热情地握手,现在又对他特意关照,把他看做与曼斯菲尔德关系最密切的亲朋之一。拉什沃思先生的外表没有令人生厌的地方,托马斯爵士已经喜欢上他了。

这一圈人里,没有一个人像伯特伦夫人那样自始至终带着不折不扣的喜悦,倾听丈夫讲述他的经历。她看到丈夫回来真是高兴至极。丈夫的突然归来使她心花怒放,二十年来都几乎不曾这样激动过。头几分钟,她激动得几乎不知如何是好,随后依然十分兴奋,但能清醒地收起针线活,推开身边的叭儿狗,把沙发上余下的地方全腾给丈夫,并把注意力也全集中到丈夫身上。她没有为任何人担忧的事,不会给她的愉快心情投下阴影。丈夫在海外期间,她自己过着无可指摘的生活,织了不少毛毯,还织了许多花边。她不仅能坦然地为自己的行为担保,而且可以坦然地为所有的年轻人担保,保证他们个个都是行为端正,干的都是有益的事情。她现在又见到丈夫,听他谈笑风生,又悦耳又赏心,感到十分惬意。因此,她开始意识到,假如丈夫推迟归期的话,那朝思暮想的日子该有多么可怕,她怎么能忍受得了。

诺里斯太太绝对不如她妹妹来得快乐。她倒并非担心家里弄成这个样子,托马斯爵士知道后会责备。她已经失去了理智,刚才她妹夫进来的时候,她只是出于本能的谨慎,赶紧收起了拉什沃思先生的红缎子斗篷,此外几乎再无其他惊慌的表现。不过,托马斯爵士回来的方式却令她气恼。她被撇在一边,没起任何作用。托马斯爵士没有先请她走出房来,第一个跟他相见,然后由她把这喜讯传遍全家,他大概比较相信妻子儿女的神经受得起这场惊喜,回来后不找亲友却找管家,几乎是跟管家同时进入客厅。诺里斯太太一向相信,托马斯爵士不管回到家来还是死在外边,消息总得由她来公布于众,可她觉得自己给剥夺了这一职权。现在她想张罗一番,但又没有什么事需要她张罗。她想显示一下她的作用,但眼下什么也不需要,只需要安静和沉默。托马斯爵士要是同意吃饭,她就会去找女管家,令人讨厌地吩咐这吩咐那,并给男仆下达任务,责令他们东奔西跑。但是托马斯爵士坚决不吃晚饭,他什么都不要吃,等到喝茶时再说——等到喝茶时吃点茶点。可诺里斯太太还是不时地劝他来点什么,就在他正讲到他回归英国途中最精彩的一段,他们的船得到警报可能遇到一艘法国武装民船的时候,她突然插嘴要他喝汤。“亲爱的托马斯爵士,你喝碗汤肯定要比喝茶好得多。你就喝碗汤吧。”

托马斯爵士依然无动于衷。“还是那样关心大家的安适,亲爱的诺里斯太太,”他答道。“我真的只等着喝茶,别的什么都不要。”

“那好吧,伯特伦夫人,你这就叫上茶吧,你催一催巴德利,他今天晚上好像拖拖拉拉的。”伯特伦夫人还是照着她的意思办了,托马斯爵士继续讲他的故事。

最后,终于停顿了下来。托马斯爵士把一时能想到的话讲完了,便乐滋滋地环顾四周的亲人,时而看看这个,时而瞧瞧那个,似乎够他满足的了。然而沉默的时间不长。伯特伦夫人由于过于兴奋,不由得话就多起来了。她也不顾孩子们听了心里会是什么滋味,便说:“托马斯爵士,你知道这些年轻人近来在搞什么娱乐活动吗?他们在演戏。我们大家都在为演戏的事忙活。”

“真的啊!你们在演什么戏呀?”

“噢!他们会全都告诉你的。”

“很快会全都告诉你的,”汤姆急忙叫道,一边装出一副毫不在乎的样子。“不过,用不着现在就向父亲唠叨这件事。我们明天再向您细说吧,爸爸。我们只是在上个星期由于没事可干,想给母亲逗逗趣,排练了几场,实在算不了什么。从10月以来,几乎一直在下雨,我们差不多给连日闷在家里。从3号到今天,我简直就没动过一支枪。月初那头两天还多少打了些猎物,但随后就什么也搞不成了。头一天我去了曼斯菲尔德树林,埃德蒙去了伊斯顿那边的矮树丛,总共打回了六对野鸡。其实,我们一个人就能打六倍这么多。不过.您放心好了,我们尽量遵照您的心意,爱护您的野鸡。我想,您会发现您林子里的野鸡决不比以往少。我长到这么大,还从没见过曼斯菲尔德树林里的野鸡像今年这样多。我希望您最近能去打一天猎,爸爸。”

危险暂时过去了,范妮也稍微放了心。但是,不久茶上来之后,托马斯爵士站起来,说他回来了还得去看看他自己的房间,顿时人人又紧张起来。还没来得及跟他说一声房里有些变化,让他有个思想准备,他已经走了。他出去以后,客厅里的人都吓得闷声不响。埃德蒙第一个开口。

“必须想个办法。”他说。

“该想想我们的客人,”玛丽亚说。她仍然觉得自己的手被按在亨利·克劳福德的心口,对别的事情都不在乎。“范妮,你把克劳福德小姐留在哪儿了?”

范妮说他们走了,并把他们的话转告了一下。

“那只剩下可怜的耶茨一个人了,”汤姆嚷道。“我去把他领来。等事情败露以后,他还能帮我们解解围呢。”

汤姆向剧场走去,到了那里刚好看到他父亲和他朋友初次见面的情景。托马斯爵士看到自己房里烛光通明,再往四下一看,发现有近来被人占用的迹象,家具呈现一片杂乱无章的景象,不由得大吃一惊。尤其引他注目的,是弹子房门前的书橱给搬走了。他对这一切惊犹未定,又听到弹子房里有动静,使他越发惊异。有人在那里大声说话——他听不出是谁的声音——还不仅是说话——几乎是吆喝。他朝门口走去,当时还觉得挺高兴,反正有门相通。他一开门,发现自己竟然站在剧场的舞台上,迎面站着一个年轻人,在扯着嗓子念台词,那架势好像要把他打翻在地。就在耶茨看清了托马斯爵士,并表现出比哪次排练表演得都出色的猛地一惊时,汤姆·伯特伦从房间的另一头进来了。有生以来,他从未觉得这样难以做到不动声色。他父亲破例第一遭上戏台,愕然板着一副面孔,惊慨激昂的维尔登海姆男爵渐渐变成了彬彬有礼、笑容可掬的耶茨先生,向托马斯·伯特伦爵士又鞠躬又道歉,那样子活像真的在演戏,他说什么也不愿错过。这将是最后一场——十有八九是这个舞台上的最后一场,不过他相信这是精彩无比的一场,全场会爆发出雷鸣般的掌声。

不过,他没有闲暇沉湎于惬意的想象。他必须走上前去,帮助介绍一下。尽管心里狼狈不堪,他还是尽力而为了。托马斯爵士出于他的为人之道,热情洋溢地欢迎耶茨先生,但是非要结识这样一个人,而且以这样的方式来结识,还真让他心里大为不快。其实,爵士倒也很了解耶茨先生的家人及其亲友,因此,当他儿子把耶茨先生介绍成自己“特别要好的朋友”(他上百个“特别要好的朋友”中的又一个)时,他心里反感至极。他在自己家里受到这样的捉弄,在乌七八糟的舞台上上演了这样可笑的一幕,在这样不幸的时刻被迫去认识一个他不喜欢的年轻人,而在最初五分钟里,这家伙却从容不迫满不在乎,说起话来滔滔不绝,似乎比托马斯爵士更像是这家的人,托马斯爵士只是因为刚回到家正在兴头上,对什么事都能多忍耐三分,才没有发作。

汤姆明白父亲是怎么想的,真心希望他始终能保持良好的心情,不要彻底发作。他现在比什么时候看得都清楚:父亲确有理由生气——他注视天花板和墙上的泥灰并非没有缘故;他也算是出于好奇,一本正经地询问弹子台到哪里去了。双方都有些不愉快,不过只持续了几分钟。耶茨先生热切地请求他对布置是否合适发表意见,他勉强地说了几句不冷不热表示赞同的话,于是三个人一起回到客厅。这时托马斯爵士更加郁郁不乐,这一点人人都注意到了。

“我是从你们的剧场回来的,”他坐下时平静地说道。“我役有料到会闯进剧场。紧挨着我的房间——不过真是完全出乎我的意料,我丝毫没有想到你们演得这么郑重其事。就烛光下见到的情况看来,好像布置得很漂亮,我的朋友克里斯托弗·杰克逊给你们干得不错。”随后,他本想换个话题,平心静气地边喝咖啡边聊些比较平静的家庭事务。但是,耶茨先生没有洞察力,闹不明白托马斯爵士的意思。他身为外人毫无冒昧唐突之感,一点也不畏首畏尾,不懂谦虚谨慎,不会体念别人,非要引着托马斯爵士继续谈演戏的事,拿这方面的问题和言词纠缠他,最后还把他在埃克尔斯福德遇到的扫兴的事原原本本地讲给他听。托马斯爵士客客气气地听着,但觉得耶茨先生很不懂规矩,越听越加深对他的不良印象。听完之后,只是微微鞠了个躬,没做别的表示。

“其实,我们的演戏就是由此引起的,”汤姆经过一番思索,说道。“我的朋友耶茨从埃克尔斯福德带来了这传染病,您知道,这类事情总是要到处感染的,因而也就感染了我们——您以前经常鼓励我们开展这种活动,所以对我们的感染就更快,就像轻车走熟路一样。”

耶茨先生迫不及待地从他朋友那里抢过这个话题,立即向托马斯爵士述说了他们已经做过和正在进行的事情,对他讲起了他们的计划是怎样逐步扩充的,他们起初遇到的困难是怎样圆满解决的,目前的局面如何一片大好。他讲得兴致勃勃,全然没有意识到在座的许多朋友已经坐立不安,脸上红一阵白一阵,身子动来动去,嘴里不住地咳嗽!可他对这一切全都视而不见,连他目不转睛地望着的那张面孔上的表情都看不清楚——看不见托马斯爵士在紧蹙着眉头以急切的探询的目光瞅着他的两个女儿和埃德蒙,尤其是瞅着埃德蒙,这目光像是会说话似的,形成一种责备,一种训斥,埃德蒙倒能心领神会。范妮也有同样痛切的感受,便把自己的椅子移到了姨妈的沙发后面,避开了人们的注意,但却看见了面前发生的一切。她从没料到会眼见着姨父用这种责备的目光来对待埃德蒙。她觉得根本不应该这样对待他,真为他受到这样的责备而恼火。托马斯爵士的目光是在说:“埃德蒙,我本来指望你是有主见的。你在干什么来着?”范妮的心灵跪倒在姨父面前,气鼓鼓地说道:“噢!别这样对待他。拿这种目光去看其他所有的人,但不要这样看他!”

耶茨先生还在滔滔不绝。“托马斯爵士,说实话,今天晚上你到家的时候,我们正在排练。我们先排练前三幕,总的说来,还不算不成功。克劳福德兄妹已经回家去了,我们的班子现在凑不齐了,今天晚上演不成了。不过明天晚上你要是肯赏光的话,我想不会有问题。您知道,我们都是年轻人演戏,请求您的包涵。我们请求您的包涵。”

“我会包涵的,先生,”托马斯爵士板着脸答道,“不过,不要再排练了。”接着温和地笑了笑,补充说道:“我回到家来就是想要快活,想要包涵。”随即转过脸去,像是朝着某人又像是朝着众人,平静地说道:“你们从曼斯菲尔德写给我的最后几封信中,都提到了克劳福德先生和克劳福德小姐。你们觉得和他们交往愉快吗?”

在场的只有汤姆一个人能爽快地回答这个问题,但他并不特别关注这两个人,无论在情场上还是在演戏上对他们都不嫉妒,因此尽可以宽怀大度地夸赞两人。“克劳福德先生举止非常文雅,很有绅士气派。他妹妹是个温柔漂亮、文雅活泼的姑娘。”

拉什沃思先生再也不能沉默了。“总的说来,我倒并不觉得他没有绅士气派。不过,你应该告诉你父亲,他的身高不超过五英尺八英寸,不然的话,你父亲会以为他仪表堂堂呢。”

托马斯爵士不大明白这番话的意思,带着几分莫名其妙的神情望着说话人。

“如果要我实话实说的话,”拉什沃思先生继续说道,“我觉得总是排练是很讨厌的。好东西吃多了也倒胃口。我不像一开始那样喜欢演戏了。我认为大家舒舒服服地坐在这里,什么事情也不做,要比演戏好得多。”

托马斯爵士又看了看他,然后赞许地笑着答道:“我很高兴发现我们在这个问题上的看法大为一致,这使我由衷地感到高兴。我应该谨慎,目光敏锐,考虑到我的孩子考虑不到的许多问题,这是理所当然的。同样理所当然的是,我应该远比他们更重视家庭的安静,重视家中不搞吵吵闹闹的娱乐。不过,你这样的年龄就有这样的想法,这对你个人,对每一个与你有关系的人来说,都是很值得称道的事。能有这样一个志同道合的人,我觉得真是难能可贵。”

托马斯爵士本想用更漂亮的字眼赞扬一下拉什沃思先生的见解,只可惜找不到这样的字眼。他知道他不能指望拉什沃思先生是什么天才,但觉得他是个明白是非、踏实稳重的青年,虽然不善言辞,头脑却很清楚,因此他很器重他。在座的许多人听了忍不住想笑。拉什沃思先生面对这种局面简直不知如何是好。不过,托马斯爵士的好评使他喜不自禁,他喜形于色,几乎一言不发,想尽情多玩味一下这番好评。



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