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Chapter 25

The intercourse of the two families was at this period more nearly restored to what it had been in the autumn, than any member of the old intimacy had thought ever likely to be again. The return of Henry Crawford, and the arrival of William Price, had much to do with it, but much was still owing to Sir Thomas's more than toleration of the neighbourly attempts at the Parsonage. His mind, now disengaged from the cares which had pressed on him at first, was at leisure to find the Grants and their young inmates really worth visiting; and though infinitely above scheming or contriving for any the most advantageous matrimonial establishment that could be among the apparent possibilities of any one most dear to him, and disdaining even as a littleness the being quick-sighted on such points, he could not avoid perceiving, in a grand and careless way, that Mr. Crawford was somewhat distinguishing his niece-- nor perhaps refrain (though unconsciously) from giving a more willing assent to invitations on that account.

His readiness, however, in agreeing to dine at the Parsonage, when the general invitation was at last hazarded, after many debates and many doubts as to whether it were worth while, "because Sir Thomas seemed so ill inclined, and Lady Bertram was so indolent!" proceeded from good-breeding and goodwill alone, and had nothing to do with Mr. Crawford, but as being one in an agreeable group: for it was in the course of that very visit that he first began to think that any one in the habit of such idle observations _would_ _have_ _thought_ that Mr. Crawford was the admirer of Fanny Price.

The meeting was generally felt to be a pleasant one, being composed in a good proportion of those who would talk and those who would listen; and the dinner itself was elegant and plentiful, according to the usual style of the Grants, and too much according to the usual habits of all to raise any emotion except in Mrs. Norris, who could never behold either the wide table or the number of dishes on it with patience, and who did always contrive to experience some evil from the passing of the servants behind her chair, and to bring away some fresh conviction of its being impossible among so many dishes but that some must be cold.

In the evening it was found, according to the predetermination of Mrs. Grant and her sister, that after making up the whist-table there would remain sufficient for a round game, and everybody being as perfectly complying and without a choice as on such occasions they always are, speculation was decided on almost as soon as whist; and Lady Bertram soon found herself in the critical situation of being applied to for her own choice between the games, and being required either to draw a card for whist or not. She hesitated. Luckily Sir Thomas was at hand.

"What shall I do, Sir Thomas? Whist and speculation; which will amuse me most?"

Sir Thomas, after a moment's thought, recommended speculation. He was a whist player himself, and perhaps might feel that it would not much amuse him to have her for a partner.

"Very well," was her ladyship's contented answer; "then speculation, if you please, Mrs. Grant. I know nothing about it, but Fanny must teach me."

Here Fanny interposed, however, with anxious protestations of her own equal ignorance; she had never played the game nor seen it played in her life; and Lady Bertram felt a moment's indecision again; but upon everybody's assuring her that nothing could be so easy, that it was the easiest game on the cards, and Henry Crawford's stepping forward with a most earnest request to be allowed to sit between her ladyship and Miss Price, and teach them both, it was so settled; and Sir Thomas, Mrs. Norris, and Dr. and Mrs. Grant being seated at the table of prime intellectual state and dignity, the remaining six, under Miss Crawford's direction, were arranged round the other. It was a fine arrangement for Henry Crawford, who was close to Fanny, and with his hands full of business, having two persons' cards to manage as well as his own; for though it was impossible for Fanny not to feel herself mistress of the rules of the game in three minutes, he had yet to inspirit her play, sharpen her avarice, and harden her heart, which, especially in any competition with William, was a work of some difficulty; and as for Lady Bertram, he must continue in charge of all her fame and fortune through the whole evening; and if quick enough to keep her from looking at her cards when the deal began, must direct her in whatever was to be done with them to the end of it.

He was in high spirits, doing everything with happy ease, and preeminent in all the lively turns, quick resources, and playful impudence that could do honour to the game; and the round table was altogether a very comfortable contrast to the steady sobriety and orderly silence of the other.

Twice had Sir Thomas inquired into the enjoyment and success of his lady, but in vain; no pause was long enough for the time his measured manner needed; and very little of her state could be known till Mrs. Grant was able, at the end of the first rubber, to go to her and pay her compliments.

"I hope your ladyship is pleased with the game."

"Oh dear, yes! very entertaining indeed. A very odd game. I do not know what it is all about. I am never to see my cards; and Mr. Crawford does all the rest."

"Bertram," said Crawford, some time afterwards, taking the opportunity of a little languor in the game, "I have never told you what happened to me yesterday in my ride home." They had been hunting together, and were in the midst of a good run, and at some distance from Mansfield, when his horse being found to have flung a shoe, Henry Crawford had been obliged to give up, and make the best of his way back. "I told you I lost my way after passing that old farmhouse with the yew-trees, because I can never bear to ask; but I have not told you that, with my usual luck--for I never do wrong without gaining by it--I found myself in due time in the very place which I had a curiosity to see. I was suddenly, upon turning the corner of a steepish downy field, in the midst of a retired little village between gently rising hills; a small stream before me to be forded, a church standing on a sort of knoll to my right-- which church was strikingly large and handsome for the place, and not a gentleman or half a gentleman's house to be seen excepting one--to be presumed the Parsonage-- within a stone's throw of the said knoll and church. I found myself, in short, in Thornton Lacey."

"It sounds like it," said Edmund; "but which way did you turn after passing Sewell's farm?"

"I answer no such irrelevant and insidious questions; though were I to answer all that you could put in the course of an hour, you would never be able to prove that it was _not_ Thornton Lacey--for such it certainly was."

"You inquired, then?"

"No, I never inquire. But I _told_ a man mending a hedge that it was Thornton Lacey, and he agreed to it."

"You have a good memory. I had forgotten having ever told you half so much of the place."

Thornton Lacey was the name of his impending living, as Miss Crawford well knew; and her interest in a negotiation for William Price's knave increased.

"Well," continued Edmund, "and how did you like what you saw?"

"Very much indeed. You are a lucky fellow. There will be work for five summers at least before the place is liveable."

"No, no, not so bad as that. The farmyard must be moved, I grant you; but I am not aware of anything else. The house is by no means bad, and when the yard is removed, there may be a very tolerable approach to it."

"The farmyard must be cleared away entirely, and planted up to shut out the blacksmith's shop. The house must be turned to front the east instead of the north-- the entrance and principal rooms, I mean, must be on that side, where the view is really very pretty; I am sure it may be done. And _there_ must be your approach, through what is at present the garden. You must make a new garden at what is now the back of the house; which will be giving it the best aspect in the world, sloping to the south-east. The ground seems precisely formed for it. I rode fifty yards up the lane, between the church and the house, in order to look about me; and saw how it might all be. Nothing can be easier. The meadows beyond what _will_ _be_ the garden, as well as what now _is_, sweeping round from the lane I stood in to the north-east, that is, to the principal road through the village, must be all laid together, of course; very pretty meadows they are, finely sprinkled with timber. They belong to the living, I suppose; if not, you must purchase them. Then the stream--something must be done with the stream; but I could not quite determine what. I had two or three ideas."

"And I have two or three ideas also," said Edmund, "and one of them is, that very little of your plan for Thornton Lacey will ever be put in practice. I must be satisfied with rather less ornament and beauty. I think the house and premises may be made comfortable, and given the air of a gentleman's residence, without any very heavy expense, and that must suffice me; and, I hope, may suffice all who care about me."

Miss Crawford, a little suspicious and resentful of a certain tone of voice, and a certain half-look attending the last expression of his hope, made a hasty finish of her dealings with William Price; and securing his knave at an exorbitant rate, exclaimed, "There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me. I am not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it."

The game was hers, and only did not pay her for what she had given to secure it. Another deal proceeded, and Crawford began again about Thornton Lacey.

"My plan may not be the best possible: I had not many minutes to form it in; but you must do a good deal. The place deserves it, and you will find yourself not satisfied with much less than it is capable of. (Excuse me, your ladyship must not see your cards. There, let them lie just before you.) The place deserves it, Bertram. You talk of giving it the air of a gentleman's residence. _That_ will be done by the removal of the farmyard; for, independent of that terrible nuisance, I never saw a house of the kind which had in itself so much the air of a gentleman's residence, so much the look of a something above a mere parsonage-house--above the expenditure of a few hundreds a year. It is not a scrambling collection of low single rooms, with as many roofs as windows; it is not cramped into the vulgar compactness of a square farmhouse: it is a solid, roomy, mansion-like looking house, such as one might suppose a respectable old country family had lived in from generation to generation, through two centuries at least, and were now spending from two to three thousand a year in." Miss Crawford listened, and Edmund agreed to this. "The air of a gentleman's residence, therefore, you cannot but give it, if you do anything. But it is capable of much more. (Let me see, Mary; Lady Bertram bids a dozen for that queen; no, no, a dozen is more than it is worth. Lady Bertram does not bid a dozen. She will have nothing to say to it. Go on, go on.) By some such improvements as I have suggested (I do not really require you to proceed upon my plan, though, by the bye, I doubt anybody's striking out a better) you may give it a higher character. You may raise it into a _place_. From being the mere gentleman's residence, it becomes, by judicious improvement, the residence of a man of education, taste, modern manners, good connexions. All this may be stamped on it; and that house receive such an air as to make its owner be set down as the great landholder of the parish by every creature travelling the road; especially as there is no real squire's house to dispute the point--a circumstance, between ourselves, to enhance the value of such a situation in point of privilege and independence beyond all calculation. _You_ think with me, I hope" (turning with a softened voice to Fanny). "Have you ever seen the place?"

Fanny gave a quick negative, and tried to hide her interest in the subject by an eager attention to her brother, who was driving as hard a bargain, and imposing on her as much as he could; but Crawford pursued with "No, no, you must not part with the queen. You have bought her too dearly, and your brother does not offer half her value. No, no, sir, hands off, hands off. Your sister does not part with the queen. She is quite determined. The game will be yours," turning to her again; "it will certainly be yours."

"And Fanny had much rather it were William's," said Edmund, smiling at her. "Poor Fanny! not allowed to cheat herself as she wishes!"

"Mr. Bertram," said Miss Crawford, a few minutes afterwards, "you know Henry to be such a capital improver, that you cannot possibly engage in anything of the sort at Thornton Lacey without accepting his help. Only think how useful he was at Sotherton! Only think what grand things were produced there by our all going with him one hot day in August to drive about the grounds, and see his genius take fire. There we went, and there we came home again; and what was done there is not to be told!"

Fanny's eyes were turned on Crawford for a moment with an expression more than grave--even reproachful; but on catching his, were instantly withdrawn. With something of consciousness he shook his head at his sister, and laughingly replied, "I cannot say there was much done at Sotherton; but it was a hot day, and we were all walking after each other, and bewildered." As soon as a general buzz gave him shelter, he added, in a low voice, directed solely at Fanny, "I should be sorry to have my powers of _planning_ judged of by the day at Sotherton. I see things very differently now. Do not think of me as I appeared then."

Sotherton was a word to catch Mrs. Norris, and being just then in the happy leisure which followed securing the odd trick by Sir Thomas's capital play and her own against Dr. and Mrs. Grant's great hands, she called out, in high good-humour, "Sotherton! Yes, that is a place, indeed, and we had a charming day there. William, you are quite out of luck; but the next time you come, I hope dear Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth will be at home, and I am sure I can answer for your being kindly received by both. Your cousins are not of a sort to forget their relations, and Mr. Rushworth is a most amiable man. They are at Brighton now, you know; in one of the best houses there, as Mr. Rushworth's fine fortune gives them a right to be. I do not exactly know the distance, but when you get back to Portsmouth, if it is not very far off, you ought to go over and pay your respects to them; and I could send a little parcel by you that I want to get conveyed to your cousins."

"I should be very happy, aunt; but Brighton is almost by Beachey Head; and if I could get so far, I could not expect to be welcome in such a smart place as that-- poor scrubby midshipman as I am."

Mrs. Norris was beginning an eager assurance of the affability he might depend on, when she was stopped by Sir Thomas's saying with authority, "I do not advise your going to Brighton, William, as I trust you may soon have more convenient opportunities of meeting; but my daughters would be happy to see their cousins anywhere; and you will find Mr. Rushworth most sincerely disposed to regard all the connexions of our family as his own."

"I would rather find him private secretary to the First Lord than anything else," was William's only answer, in an undervoice, not meant to reach far, and the subject dropped.

As yet Sir Thomas had seen nothing to remark in Mr. Crawford's behaviour; but when the whist-table broke up at the end of the second rubber, and leaving Dr. Grant and Mrs. Norris to dispute over their last play, he became a looker-on at the other, he found his niece the object of attentions, or rather of professions, of a somewhat pointed character.

Henry Crawford was in the first glow of another scheme about Thornton Lacey; and not being able to catch Edmund's ear, was detailing it to his fair neighbour with a look of considerable earnestness. His scheme was to rent the house himself the following winter, that he might have a home of his own in that neighbourhood; and it was not merely for the use of it in the hunting-season (as he was then telling her), though _that_ consideration had certainly some weight, feeling as he did that, in spite of all Dr. Grant's very great kindness, it was impossible for him and his horses to be accommodated where they now were without material inconvenience; but his attachment to that neighbourhood did not depend upon one amusement or one season of the year: he had set his heart upon having a something there that he could come to at any time, a little homestall at his command, where all the holidays of his year might be spent, and he might find himself continuing, improving, and _perfecting_ that friendship and intimacy with the Mansfield Park family which was increasing in value to him every day. Sir Thomas heard and was not offended. There was no want of respect in the young man's address; and Fanny's reception of it was so proper and modest, so calm and uninviting, that he had nothing to censure in her. She said little, assented only here and there, and betrayed no inclination either of appropriating any part of the compliment to herself, or of strengthening his views in favour of Northamptonshire. Finding by whom he was observed, Henry Crawford addressed himself on the same subject to Sir Thomas, in a more everyday tone, but still with feeling.

"I want to be your neighbour, Sir Thomas, as you have, perhaps, heard me telling Miss Price. May I hope for your acquiescence, and for your not influencing your son against such a tenant?"

Sir Thomas, politely bowing, replied, "It is the only way, sir, in which I could _not_ wish you established as a permanent neighbour; but I hope, and believe, that Edmund will occupy his own house at Thornton Lacey. Edmund, am I saying too much?"

Edmund, on this appeal, had first to hear what was going on; but, on understanding the question, was at no loss for an answer.

"Certainly, sir, I have no idea but of residence. But, Crawford, though I refuse you as a tenant, come to me as a friend. Consider the house as half your own every winter, and we will add to the stables on your own improved plan, and with all the improvements of your improved plan that may occur to you this spring."

"We shall be the losers," continued Sir Thomas. "His going, though only eight miles, will be an unwelcome contraction of our family circle; but I should have been deeply mortified if any son of mine could reconcile himself to doing less. It is perfectly natural that you should not have thought much on the subject, Mr. Crawford. But a parish has wants and claims which can be known only by a clergyman constantly resident, and which no proxy can be capable of satisfying to the same extent. Edmund might, in the common phrase, do the duty of Thornton, that is, he might read prayers and preach, without giving up Mansfield Park: he might ride over every Sunday, to a house nominally inhabited, and go through divine service; he might be the clergyman of Thornton Lacey every seventh day, for three or four hours, if that would content him. But it will not. He knows that human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon can convey; and that if he does not live among his parishioners, and prove himself, by constant attention, their well-wisher and friend, he does very little either for their good or his own."

Mr. Crawford bowed his acquiescence.

"I repeat again," added Sir Thomas, "that Thornton Lacey is the only house in the neighbourhood in which I should _not_ be happy to wait on Mr. Crawford as occupier."

Mr. Crawford bowed his thanks.

"Sir Thomas," said Edmund, "undoubtedly understands the duty of a parish priest. We must hope his son may prove that _he_ knows it too."

Whatever effect Sir Thomas's little harangue might really produce on Mr. Crawford, it raised some awkward sensations in two of the others, two of his most attentive listeners-- Miss Crawford and Fanny. One of whom, having never before understood that Thornton was so soon and so completely to be his home, was pondering with downcast eyes on what it would be _not_ to see Edmund every day; and the other, startled from the agreeable fancies she had been previously indulging on the strength of her brother's description, no longer able, in the picture she had been forming of a future Thornton, to shut out the church, sink the clergyman, and see only the respectable, elegant, modernised, and occasional residence of a man of independent fortune, was considering Sir Thomas, with decided ill-will, as the destroyer of all this, and suffering the more from that involuntary forbearance which his character and manner commanded, and from not daring to relieve herself by a single attempt at throwing ridicule on his cause.

All the agreeable of _her_ speculation was over for that hour. It was time to have done with cards, if sermons prevailed; and she was glad to find it necessary to come to a conclusion, and be able to refresh her spirits by a change of place and neighbour.

The chief of the party were now collected irregularly round the fire, and waiting the final break-up. William and Fanny were the most detached. They remained together at the otherwise deserted card-table, talking very comfortably, and not thinking of the rest, till some of the rest began to think of them. Henry Crawford's chair was the first to be given a direction towards them, and he sat silently observing them for a few minutes; himself, in the meanwhile, observed by Sir Thomas, who was standing in chat with Dr. Grant.

"This is the assembly night," said William. "If I were at Portsmouth I should be at it, perhaps."

"But you do not wish yourself at Portsmouth, William?"

"No, Fanny, that I do not. I shall have enough of Portsmouth and of dancing too, when I cannot have you. And I do not know that there would be any good in going to the assembly, for I might not get a partner. The Portsmouth girls turn up their noses at anybody who has not a commission. One might as well be nothing as a midshipman. One _is_ nothing, indeed. You remember the Gregorys; they are grown up amazing fine girls, but they will hardly speak to _me_, because Lucy is courted by a lieutenant."

"Oh! shame, shame! But never mind it, William" (her own cheeks in a glow of indignation as she spoke). "It is not worth minding. It is no reflection on _you_; it is no more than what the greatest admirals have all experienced, more or less, in their time. You must think of that, you must try to make up your mind to it as one of the hardships which fall to every sailor's share, like bad weather and hard living, only with this advantage, that there will be an end to it, that there will come a time when you will have nothing of that sort to endure. When you are a lieutenant! only think, William, when you are a lieutenant, how little you will care for any nonsense of this kind."

"I begin to think I shall never be a lieutenant, Fanny. Everybody gets made but me."

"Oh! my dear William, do not talk so; do not be so desponding. My uncle says nothing, but I am sure he will do everything in his power to get you made. He knows, as well as you do, of what consequence it is."

She was checked by the sight of her uncle much nearer to them than she had any suspicion of, and each found it necessary to talk of something else.

"Are you fond of dancing, Fanny?"

"Yes, very; only I am soon tired."

"I should like to go to a ball with you and see you dance. Have you never any balls at Northampton? I should like to see you dance, and I'd dance with you if you _would_, for nobody would know who I was here, and I should like to be your partner once more. We used to jump about together many a time, did not we? when the hand-organ was in the street? I am a pretty good dancer in my way, but I dare say you are a better." And turning to his uncle, who was now close to them, "Is not Fanny a very good dancer, sir?"

Fanny, in dismay at such an unprecedented question, did not know which way to look, or how to be prepared for the answer. Some very grave reproof, or at least the coldest expression of indifference, must be coming to distress her brother, and sink her to the ground. But, on the contrary, it was no worse than, "I am sorry to say that I am unable to answer your question. I have never seen Fanny dance since she was a little girl; but I trust we shall both think she acquits herself like a gentlewoman when we do see her, which, perhaps, we may have an opportunity of doing ere long."

"I have had the pleasure of seeing your sister dance, Mr. Price," said Henry Crawford, leaning forward, "and will engage to answer every inquiry which you can make on the subject, to your entire satisfaction. But I believe" (seeing Fanny looked distressed) "it must be at some other time. There is _one_ person in company who does not like to have Miss Price spoken of."

True enough, he had once seen Fanny dance; and it was equally true that he would now have answered for her gliding about with quiet, light elegance, and in admirable time; but, in fact, he could not for the life of him recall what her dancing had been, and rather took it for granted that she had been present than remembered anything about her.

He passed, however, for an admirer of her dancing; and Sir Thomas, by no means displeased, prolonged the conversation on dancing in general, and was so well engaged in describing the balls of Antigua, and listening to what his nephew could relate of the different modes of dancing which had fallen within his observation, that he had not heard his carriage announced, and was first called to the knowledge of it by the bustle of Mrs. Norris.

"Come, Fanny, Fanny, what are you about? We are going. Do not you see your aunt is going? Quick, quick! I cannot bear to keep good old Wilcox waiting. You should always remember the coachman and horses. My dear Sir Thomas, we have settled it that the carriage should come back for you, and Edmund and William."

Sir Thomas could not dissent, as it had been his own arrangement, previously communicated to his wife and sister; but _that_ seemed forgotten by Mrs. Norris, who must fancy that she settled it all herself.

Fanny's last feeling in the visit was disappointment: for the shawl which Edmund was quietly taking from the servant to bring and put round her shoulders was seized by Mr. Crawford's quicker hand, and she was obliged to be indebted to his more prominent attention.

这阵子,两家人的交往差不多又像秋季那样频繁,这是这些老相识中谁也不曾料到的事情。亨利·克劳福德的返回和威廉·普莱斯的到来对此起了很大的作用,不过,这跟托马斯爵士对于与牧师府的友好交往采取了宽容有加的态度,也有很大关系。他现在已经解脱了当初的烦恼,心里有了闲情逸致,发现格兰特夫妇和那两个年轻伙伴的确值得交往。他虽说全然没有考虑自己的儿女与这家的少爷小姐结亲,尽管这对他们家极为有利,而且明显地存在这种可能,但谁要是在这件事上过于敏感,他都不以为然。不过,他不用留意就能看出克劳福德先生对他外甥女的态度有些与众不同——也许就是由于这个原因,每逢那边邀请,他无意之中更会欣然同意。

牧师府上经过反复讨论,终于决定把这家人都请去吃饭。他们起初犹豫来犹豫去,拿不准这样做好不好,“因为托马斯爵士好像不怎么愿意!伯特伦夫人又懒得出门!”不过托马斯爵士欣然接受了邀请,他这样做完全是出于礼貌和友好,想和大家一起快活快活,而与克劳福德先生毫无关系。正是在这次做客中,他才第一次意识到:任何人只要随意观察,都会认为克劳福德先生看上了范妮·普莱斯。

大家聚在一起,爱讲话的人和爱听讲的人比例适中,因而个个都感到挺快活。按照格兰特家平时的待客之道,饭菜既讲究又丰盛,大家都觉得实在太多,无暇他顾,只有诺里斯太太例外。她时而嫌饭桌太宽,时而怨菜做得太多,每逢仆人从她椅子后面经过,她总要挑一点毛病,离席后越发觉得,上了这么多菜,有一些必然是凉的。

到了晚上,大家发现,根据格兰特太太和她妹妹的预先安排,组成玩惠斯特的一桌人之后,剩下的人可以玩一种轮回牌戏①(译注:①指由四人或四人以上参加,但互不结为同伴的牌戏。)。在这种情况下,自然是人人都愿意参加,没有选择的余地。于是,几乎是一定下打惠斯特,就决定再摆一桌玩投机②(译注:②一种轮回牌戏,参加者各打各的,相互买牌卖牌,最后拥有点数最多者胜。)。过了不久,伯特伦夫人觉得自己很为难,大家让她来选择,是打惠斯特,还是玩投机。她犹豫不决。幸好托马斯爵士就在身旁。

“我玩什么呢,托马斯爵士?惠斯特和投机,哪一种更好玩?”

托马斯爵士想了想,建议她玩投机。他自己爱打惠斯特,也许怕跟她做搭档没意思。

“好吧,”夫人满意地答道。“那我就玩投机吧,格兰特太太。我一点也不会打,范妮得教我。”

范妮一听也急忙说她也丝毫不懂,她长这么大还从没玩过这种牌戏,也从没见别人玩过。伯特伦夫人又犹豫了一番——但人人都跟她说这比什么都容易,是牌戏中最容易打的一种。恰在这时,亨利·克劳福德走上前来,极其恳切地要求坐在夫人和普莱斯小姐中间,同时教她们两人,于是问题解决了。托马斯爵士、诺里斯太太和格兰特博士夫妇几位既老练又尊贵的人围成一桌,余下的六人听从克劳福德小姐的安排,围着另一张桌子坐下。这种安排正合亨利·克劳福德的心意,他挨着范妮,忙得不可开交,既要照看自己的牌,又要关注另两个人的牌——尽管范妮不到三分钟就掌握了牌的打法,但他还得鼓励她要有勇气,要贪得无厌,要心狠手辣,不过这还有一定的难度,特别是与威廉竞争时尤其如此。至于伯特伦夫人,整个晚上他都得对她的胜负输赢负责。从发牌开始,不等她看就替她起到手上,然后从头到尾指导她出每一张牌。

他兴致勃勃,如鱼得水,牌翻得潇洒,出得敏捷,风趣赖皮,真是样样出色,给整个牌戏增添不少光彩。这张牌桌又轻松又活跃,与另一张牌桌的秩序井然、沉闷不语形成了鲜明的对照。

托马斯爵士两次询问夫人玩得是否开心,输赢如何,但却没有问出个结果。牌隙间的停顿都太短,容不得他从容不迫地打听。直至打完了第一局,格兰特太太跑到夫人跟前恭维她时,大家才知道她的情况。

“我想夫人您很喜欢这种牌戏吧。”

“噢!是的。确实很有意思。一种很奇怪的玩法。我不懂到底是怎么打的。我根本就看不到我的牌,全是克劳福德先生替我打的。”

“伯特伦,”过了一阵,克劳福德趁打牌打得有些倦怠的时候说,“我还没告诉你昨天我骑马回来的路上出了什么事。”原来他们在一起打猎,正在纵马驰骋,到了离曼斯菲尔德很远的一个地方时,发现亨利·克劳福德的马掉了一个马掌,他只得半途而废,抄近路回家。“我对你说过,由于我不爱问路,过了周围种着紫杉树的那座旧农舍就迷了路。可是我没有告诉你,我一向运气不错——出了差错总会有所补偿——我正好走到了原先很想游览的一个地方。我转过一块陡坡地,一下子来到了坐落在平缓山坡上的一个幽静的小村庄,前面是一条必须涉水而过的小溪,右边的山岗上有一座教堂,这座教堂在那里显得又大又漂亮,非常醒目。除了离山岗和教堂一箭之地有一幢上等人家的房子外,周围再也看不到一处甚至半处上等人家的房子,而那座房子想必是牧师住宅。总之一句话,我发现自己来到了桑顿莱西。”

“听起来像是那地方,”埃德蒙说。“不过,你过了休厄尔农场之后是往哪条路上拐的?”

“我不回答这种毫不相干、耍小心眼的问题。即使你问我一个钟头,我把你的问题都回答完,你也无法证明那不是桑顿莱西——因为那地方肯定是桑顿莱西。”

“那你向人打听过了?”

“没有,我从不向人打听。不过,我对一个正在修篱笆的人说那是桑顿莱西,他表示同意。”

“你的记性真好。我都不记得给你说过这个地方。”

桑顿莱西是埃德蒙即将就任的教区,克劳福德小姐对此十分清楚。这时,她对争夺威廉·普莱斯手里的J来了兴趣。

“那么,”埃德蒙接着说,“你喜欢那个地方吗?”

“的确很喜欢。你这家伙很走运。至少要干五个夏天,那地方才能住人。”

“不,不,没有那么糟。跟你说吧,那个农家院肯定要迁移,别的我都不在意。那座房子决不算糟,等把农家院迁走以后,就会修一条像样的路。”

“场院必须彻底迁走,还要多种些树把铁匠铺子遮开。房子要由向北改为向东——我的意思是说,房子的正门和主要房间必须处在风景优美的一面,我想这是可以做得到的。你那条路应该修在那里——让它穿过花园现在坐落的地方。在现在的房子背后修一个新花园,向东南方向倾斜——这就构成了世界上最美妙的景观。那地形似乎十分适宜这样安排。我骑马顺着教堂和农舍间的那条小路走了五十码,向四下嘹望一番,看出了怎么改造为好。事情容易极了。现在这座花园以及将来新修花园外边的那些草地,从我站的地方向东北面延伸,也就是通向穿村而过的那条主要道路,当然要统统连成一片。这些草地在树木的点缀下,显得十分漂亮。我想,这些草地属于牧师的产业,不然的话,你应该把它们买下来。还有那条小溪——也要采取点措施,不过我还拿不准怎么办。我有两三个想法。”

“我也有两三个想法,”埃德蒙说,“一个想法是,你关于桑顿莱西的计划是不会付诸实施的。我喜欢朴实无华。我想不要花很多的钱,就能把房子庭园搞得舒舒适适的,一看就知道是个上等人住的地方,我觉得这就足够了。我希望所有关心我的人也会感到满足。”

埃德蒙最后说到他的希望的时候,他的口气,有意无意的目光,引起了克劳福德小姐的猜疑和气恼,她匆匆结束了和威廉·普莱斯的斗牌,一把抓过他的J,叫道:“瞧吧,我要做个有勇气的人,把最后的老本都拼上。我不会谨小慎微的。我天生就不会坐在那里无所作为。即使输了,也不是因为没有为之一拼。”

这一局她赢了,只不过赢来的还抵不上她付出的老本。又打起了另一局,克劳福德又谈起了桑顿菜西。

“我的计划也许不是最好的,当时我也没有多少时间去考虑。不过,你还得多下工夫。那地方值得多下工夫,要是不下足工夫,你自己也不会满意的。(对不起,夫人,您不要看您的牌。对,就让它们在您面前扣着。)那地方值得下工夫,伯特伦。你谈到要让它像个上等人家的住宅。要做到这一点,就得去掉那个农家院。抛开那个糟糕透顶的农家院,我还从没见到有哪座房子比它更像一幢上等人家的住宅,不像是一幢不起眼的牧师住宅,家里一年只有几百英镑的收入。这房子不是把一些矮小的单间屋子拼凑在一起,弄得屋顶和窗子一样多——也不是搞得局局促促、土里土气,像座四四方方的农舍——而是一座墙壁坚固、居室宽敞的房子,看上去像座大宅,让人觉得里面住着一户德高望重的古老世家,代代相传,至少有二百年的历史,现在每年的开支有两三千英镑。”对于这番话,克劳福德小姐仔细听着,埃德蒙表示赞同。“因此,你只要下点工夫,就能使它看起来像是上等人的宅第。不过,你还能改造得比上等人的住宅好得多。(让我想一想,玛丽。伯特伦夫人出一打要这张Q。不行,不行,这张Q值不了一打。伯特伦夫人不出一打。她不会出的。过,过。)如果按照我的建议加以改造(我并非真的要求你按照我的计划去做,不过我想未必有人能想出更好的计划),那就会提高这幢房子的档次。你可以把它改造成一幢宅第。如果改造得好,那就不仅仅是一座上等人的住宅,而且是一座有学识、有情趣、举止高雅、结交不凡的人家的住宅。这一切都要在宅第上展示出来。这座房子就是要有这样的气派,每一个路过的人都会认为房主人是本教区的大地主,特别要看到,附近没有真正的地主宅第与它相比,也就不会引起疑义。我跟你私下说一句,这个情况对于保持特权和独立自主大有好处。我希望你同意我的想法——(以柔和的声音转向范妮)——你去过那地方吗?”

范妮连忙给了个否定的回答,极力想掩饰她对这个话题的兴趣,急忙把注意力转向她哥哥。她哥哥正在讨价还价,一个劲地劝她达成交易,可克劳福德却紧跟着说:“不行,不行,你不能出Q。你得来的代价太高,你哥哥的出价还不到它价值的一半。不行,不行,先生,不许动——不许动。你妹妹不出Q。她决不会出。这一盘是你的。”说着又转向范妮:“肯定是你赢。”

“范妮情愿让威廉赢,”埃德蒙笑着对范妮说。“可怜的范妮!想故意打输都不成啊!”

“伯特伦先生,”过了一会,克劳福德小姐说,“你知道,亨利是个了不起的环境改造专家,你要在桑顿莱西进行这样的改造,不请他帮忙是不行的。你只要想一想:他在索瑟顿起了多大的作用啊!只要想一想:我们在8月的一个大热天一起坐车在庭园里转悠,看着他施展才能,在那里取得了多么了不起的成绩。我们跑到那里,又从那里回来,到底干了些什么,简直没法说呀!”

范妮瞅了瞅克劳福德,神情比较严厉,甚至有点责怪的意味。但是一触到他的目光,两眼马上就退缩了。克劳福德似乎意识到妹妹话中的意思,便向她摇了摇头,笑呵呵地答道:“我不敢说我在索瑟顿干了多少事情。不过,那天天气太热,我们都是步行着你找我我找你,弄得晕头转向的。”这时,大家唧唧喳喳地议论起来,他在这嘈杂声的掩护下,趁机悄悄对范妮说:“我感到遗憾,大家拿我在索瑟顿那天的表现来判断我的设计才能。我现在的见解与那时大不一样了。不要以我当时的表现来看待我。”

索瑟顿这几个字对诺里斯太太最有吸引力。这时,她和托马斯爵士刚刚靠巧计赢了格兰特博士夫妇的一手好牌,情绪正高,一听到这几个字,诺里斯太太兴冲冲地叫道:“索瑟顿!是呀,那真是个好地方,我们在那儿度过好痛快的一天。威廉,你来得真不巧。不过你下次来的时候,但愿亲爱的拉什沃思夫妇不要再外出了,我敢担保他们两人都会盛情接待你。你的表姐们都不是会忘掉亲戚的那种人,而拉什沃思先生又是个顶顶和蔼的人。你知道吧,他们现在在布赖顿——住的是最上等的房子,因为拉什沃思先生有的是钱,完全住得起。我说不出确切的距离,不过你回到朴次茅斯的时候,如果不太远的话,你应该去看看他们。我有一个小包要给你的两个表姐,你顺便给我带去。”

“大姨妈,我倒是很愿意去。不过布赖顿几乎紧挨着比奇角,我即使能跑那么远,我这么一个小小的海军候补少尉,到了那样一个时髦的阔地方恐怕是不会受欢迎的。”

诺里斯太太急切地刚开口向他保证说,他尽管放心,肯定会受到热情的接待,托马斯爵士便打断了她的话,以权威的口吻说道:“威廉,我倒不劝你去布赖顿。我相信你们不久就会有更方便的见面机会。不过,我的女儿们在任何地方见到她们的表弟、表妹都会很高兴。你还会发现,拉什沃思先生真心诚意地把我们家的亲戚当做他自己的亲戚。”

“我倒宁愿他当上海军大臣的私人秘书,”威廉小声说了一句,不想让别人听见,这个话题也就撂下不谈了。

到现在为止,托马斯爵士还没看出克劳福德先生的举止中有什么值得注意的地方。但是,等打完第二局惠斯特牌桌已经解散,只剩下格兰特博士和诺里斯太太在为上一盘争论的时候,托马斯爵士在旁边观看另一张牌桌,发现他外甥女成了献殷勤的对象,或者说得确切点,对外甥女说的话带有一定的针对性。

亨利·克劳福德又满腔热情地提出了一个改造桑顿莱西的方案,因为没能引起埃德蒙的兴趣,便一本正经地向他漂亮的邻座细说起来。他打算来年冬天由他自己把那房子租下来,这样他就可以在附近有一个自己的家。他租房子并不像他刚才说的那样,仅仅是为了打猎季节用一下,尽管这也是个重要因素,因为他觉得虽说格兰特博士为人极其厚道,但他连人带马住在别人家里总会给人家带来很大不便。他之所以喜欢这一带,并不仅仅是基于一个季节打猎的考虑,他一心想在这里有一个安身之处,想什么时候来就什么时候来,有一个自己的小院,一年的假日都可以在这里度过,跟曼斯菲尔德庄园的一家人继续保持、不断增进他越来越珍惜的情谊,使这情谊日臻完美。托马斯爵士听到了他这话,并不觉得刺耳。这年轻人的话里并没有轻薄之词,范妮的反应适度得体,冷静淡漠,他没有什么好指摘的。范妮话很少,只是偶尔对这句话那句话表示同意,听到恭维丝毫没有流露出感激之情,听他夸奖北安普敦郡也不去随声附和。亨利·克劳福德发现托马斯爵士在注意自己,便转过身跟他扯起了这个话题,语气比较平淡,但言词依然热烈。

“我想做您的邻居,托马斯爵士,我刚才告诉了普莱斯小姐,您可能已经听见了。我是否可望得到您的同意,您是否能允许您的儿子不要拒绝我这个房客?”

托马斯爵士客气地点了点头,答道:“先生,你要在附近定居,跟我们家长久为邻,这我欢迎,但却不能以做房客的方式。不过我想,而且也相信,埃德蒙要住进他桑顿莱西的那座房子。埃德蒙,我这样说过不过分?”

埃德蒙听父亲这样问他,先得听听他们刚才在谈什么,等一打听清楚,就觉得没什么不好回答的。

“当然啦,爸爸,我已打定主意住到那儿。不过,克劳福德,虽然我拒不接受你做房客,但是欢迎你以朋友的身份到我那儿去住。每年冬天都把我的房子当做一半属于你,我们将根据你修改后的计划增加马厩,并根据你今年春天可能想出的修正方案,再进行一些改建。”

“受损失的是我们,”托马斯爵士接着说。“他要走了,虽然离我们只有八英里,我们还是不愿意家里又少了一个人。不过,我的哪个儿子要是做不到这一点,我会感到莫大的耻辱。当然,克劳福德先生,你在这个问题上不会想这么多。一个牧师如果不经常住在教区,他就不知道教区需要什么,有什么要求,靠代理人是了解不到那么多的。埃德蒙可以像人们常说的那样,既履行他在桑顿莱西的职责,也就是做祈祷、讲道,同时又不放弃曼斯菲尔德庄园。他可以每星期天骑马到他名义上的住宅去一次,领着大家做一次礼拜。他可以每七天去桑顿莱西当上三四个小时的牧师,如果他感到心安理得的话。但他是不会心安理得的。他知道,人性需要的教导不是每星期一次讲道就能解决的。他还知道,如果他不生活在他的教民中间,不通过经常的关心表明他是他们的祝愿者和朋友,那他给他们和他自己都带来不了多少好处。”

克劳福德先生点头表示同意。

“我再说一遍,”托马斯爵士补充说道,“在那一带,桑顿莱西是我不想让克劳福德先生租用的唯一的一幢房子。”

克劳福德先生点头表示谢意。

“毫无疑问,”埃德蒙说,“托马斯爵士了解教区牧师的职责。我们应该希望,他的儿子能表明自己也懂得这种职责。”

托马斯爵士的简短训导不管能对克劳福德先生起多大作用,却使两个在座的人,两个最专心听他讲话的人——克劳福德小姐和范妮,感到局促不安。其中一个从没想到埃德蒙这么快就要完全以桑顿为家,于是耷拉着眼皮思索不能天天见到他该是个什么滋味。那另一个听了哥哥的描述之后,原来还抱着惬意的幻想,在她对桑顿的未来憧憬中,教堂给排除在外,牧师也被置诸脑后,桑顿成了一位富贵人士的高雅考究、现代化的、偶尔来住几天的宅第。现在,她被托马斯爵士的话从梦幻中惊醒,心中的那幅图画也随之破灭。她认为这一切都是托马斯爵士破坏的,因而对他满怀敌意。他的那个德性和那副面孔令她生畏,她不碍不强忍着,就连想要泄愤对他来个反唇相讥都不敢。这使她越发感到痛苦。

眼下她打的如意算盘全都完了。由于不断有人说话,牌也无法再打下去。她很高兴能结束这一局面,趁机换个地方,换个人坐在一起,振作一下精神。

多数人都围着火炉散乱地坐着,等待最后散场。威廉和范妮却没有跟着过来,依然坐在散掉了的牌桌边,愉快地聊着天,忘掉了其余的人,直至其余的人想到了他们。亨利·克劳福德第一个把椅子转向他们,默默不语地坐在那里观察了他们好一阵。与此同时,托马斯爵士一边站在那里和格兰特博士闲聊,一边在观察他。

“今晚该有舞会,”威廉说。“我要是在朴次茅斯的话,也许会去参加的。”

“可你不会希望你现在是在朴次茅斯吧,威廉?”

“是的,范妮,我不希望。你不在我身边时,朴次茅斯够我玩的了,舞也够我跳的了。我觉得去参加舞会也没有什么意思,我可能连个舞伴都找不到。朴次茅斯的姑娘只瞧得起当官的。当个海军候补少尉还不如什么都不是,真不如什么都不是。你记得格雷戈里家的姑娘吧,她们已经出落成光彩夺目的漂亮小姐,但是简直都不爱答理我,因为有一位海军上尉在追露西。”

“噢!真不像话,真不像话!不过,你不要放在心上,威廉。(说话间她自己的脸气得通红。)不值得放在心上。这完全无损于你。那些最伟大的海军将领们年轻时或多或少都经历过这类事情。你要这样想,你要把它看成每个水手都会遇到的不如意的事情,就像恶劣的天气和艰苦的生活一样,但是这种不如意的事也有它的好处,那就是它总有结束的时候,总有一天你用不着再去忍受这种不如意的事了。等你当上海军上尉再看吧!你想想看,威廉,等你当上了海军上尉,你就不用计较这类无聊的事了。”

“范妮,我觉得我永远也当不上海军上尉。人家个个都升官了,就是我没有。”

“噢!亲爱的威廉,别这样说,别这样灰心丧气。姨父虽然没有说出来,但我相信他会竭尽全力使你得到提拔。他和你一样清楚这是多么重要的一件事情。”

范妮发现姨父距离他们比她原以为的要近得多,便连忙住口。两人只得谈起别的事情。

“你喜欢跳舞吗,范妮?”

“喜欢,非常喜欢。只是跳一会儿就会累的。”

“我倒想和你一起去参加舞会,看看你跳得怎么样。你们北安普敦从不举行舞会吗?我想看你跳舞,你要是愿意,还想陪你一起跳,反正这里没有人认识我,我想再做你的舞伴。我们以前曾多次在一起跳来跳去,对吧?当时街上还响起手摇风琴吧?我跳得相当好,独具一格,不过你比我跳得还要好。”这时,他们的姨父来到他们跟前,他转向姨父说:“范妮跳舞跳得很好吧,姨父?”

范妮听到这个突如其来的问题颇为惊愕,她不知道眼睛往哪里看是好,也不知道姨父会说出什么话。姨父肯定会严厉地训斥几句,至少会冷若冰霜地不屑一顾,让哥哥感到难堪,她自己无地自容。然而,与之相反,姨父只不过说:“很抱歉,我无法回答你的问题。范妮从小到现在,我还从没看见她跳过舞。不过我相信,她要是跳起舞来,我们都会觉得她像个大家闺秀,也许我们不久就会有这样的机会。”

“普莱斯先生,我有幸见到过你妹妹跳舞,”亨利·克劳福德倾身向前说道,“你有什么问题尽管问我好了,我负责回答,保证让你百分之百满意。不过我想(看到范妮神情尴尬),必须以后找个时候再说。茌场的人里,有一个人不喜欢普莱斯小姐给说来说去。”

一点不错,他曾经看到过范妮跳舞。同样一点不错,他现在可以回答说范妮悠然迈着轻盈优美的步履在场子里跳来跳去,实际上根本记不起她跳舞跳得怎么样。可以说,他觉得她理所当然到过舞场,而不是他记起了什么。

不过,大家也只是以为他夸范妮舞跳得好而已。托马斯爵士没有因此而感到丝毫不悦,反倒继续谈论跳舞,兴致勃勃地描绘安提瓜的舞会,听外甥讲述他所见过的各种舞蹈,仆人通报马车到了他都没听见,后来看见诺里斯太太张罗起来他才知道。

“喂,范妮,你在干什么呀?我们走了。你没看见二姨妈已经起身了吗?快,快。我不忍心让威尔科克斯老汉在外面等着。你得时刻替车夫和马着想。亲爱的托马斯爵士,我们就这么定了,让马车回来接你和埃德蒙、威廉。”

托马斯爵士不能不表示同意,因为这原是他安排的,事前就告诉了他妻子和大姨子。不过诺里斯太太似乎忘了这一点,自以为是由她决定的。

范妮这次做客临走时感到有些失意:埃德蒙正不声不响地从仆人手里接过披巾,要给她披上,不想克劳福德先生动作更快,一把抢了过去。尽管这是更加露骨的献殷勤,她还不得不表示感激。



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