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Chapter 26

William's desire of seeing Fanny dance made more than a momentary impression on his uncle. The hope of an opportunity, which Sir Thomas had then given, was not given to be thought of no more. He remained steadily inclined to gratify so amiable a feeling; to gratify anybody else who might wish to see Fanny dance, and to give pleasure to the young people in general; and having thought the matter over, and taken his resolution in quiet independence, the result of it appeared the next morning at breakfast, when, after recalling and commending what his nephew had said, he added, "I do not like, William, that you should leave Northamptonshire without this indulgence. It would give me pleasure to see you both dance. You spoke of the balls at Northampton. Your cousins have occasionally attended them; but they would not altogether suit us now. The fatigue would be too much for your aunt. I believe we must not think of a Northampton ball. A dance at home would be more eligible; and if--"

"Ah, my dear Sir Thomas!" interrupted Mrs. Norris, "I knew what was coming. I knew what you were going to say. If dear Julia were at home, or dearest Mrs. Rushworth at Sotherton, to afford a reason, an occasion for such a thing, you would be tempted to give the young people a dance at Mansfield. I know you would. If _they_ were at home to grace the ball, a ball you would have this very Christmas. Thank your uncle, William, thank your uncle!"

"My daughters," replied Sir Thomas, gravely interposing, "have their pleasures at Brighton, and I hope are very happy; but the dance which I think of giving at Mansfield will be for their cousins. Could we be all assembled, our satisfaction would undoubtedly be more complete, but the absence of some is not to debar the others of amusement."

Mrs. Norris had not another word to say. She saw decision in his looks, and her surprise and vexation required some minutes' silence to be settled into composure. A ball at such a time! His daughters absent and herself not consulted! There was comfort, however, soon at hand. _She_ must be the doer of everything: Lady Bertram would of course be spared all thought and exertion, and it would all fall upon _her_. She should have to do the honours of the evening; and this reflection quickly restored so much of her good-humour as enabled her to join in with the others, before their happiness and thanks were all expressed.

Edmund, William, and Fanny did, in their different ways, look and speak as much grateful pleasure in the promised ball as Sir Thomas could desire. Edmund's feelings were for the other two. His father had never conferred a favour or shewn a kindness more to his satisfaction.

Lady Bertram was perfectly quiescent and contented, and had no objections to make. Sir Thomas engaged for its giving her very little trouble; and she assured him "that she was not at all afraid of the trouble; indeed, she could not imagine there would be any."

Mrs. Norris was ready with her suggestions as to the rooms he would think fittest to be used, but found it all prearranged; and when she would have conjectured and hinted about the day, it appeared that the day was settled too. Sir Thomas had been amusing himself with shaping a very complete outline of the business; and as soon as she would listen quietly, could read his list of the families to be invited, from whom he calculated, with all necessary allowance for the shortness of the notice, to collect young people enough to form twelve or fourteen couple: and could detail the considerations which had induced him to fix on the 22nd as the most eligible day. William was required to be at Portsmouth on the 24th; the 22nd would therefore be the last day of his visit; but where the days were so few it would be unwise to fix on any earlier. Mrs. Norris was obliged to be satisfied with thinking just the same, and with having been on the point of proposing the 22nd herself, as by far the best day for the purpose.

The ball was now a settled thing, and before the evening a proclaimed thing to all whom it concerned. Invitations were sent with despatch, and many a young lady went to bed that night with her head full of happy cares as well as Fanny. To her the cares were sometimes almost beyond the happiness; for young and inexperienced, with small means of choice and no confidence in her own taste, the "how she should be dressed" was a point of painful solicitude; and the almost solitary ornament in her possession, a very pretty amber cross which William had brought her from Sicily, was the greatest distress of all, for she had nothing but a bit of ribbon to fasten it to; and though she had worn it in that manner once, would it be allowable at such a time in the midst of all the rich ornaments which she supposed all the other young ladies would appear in? And yet not to wear it! William had wanted to buy her a gold chain too, but the purchase had been beyond his means, and therefore not to wear the cross might be mortifying him. These were anxious considerations; enough to sober her spirits even under the prospect of a ball given principally for her gratification.

The preparations meanwhile went on, and Lady Bertram continued to sit on her sofa without any inconvenience from them. She had some extra visits from the housekeeper, and her maid was rather hurried in making up a new dress for her: Sir Thomas gave orders, and Mrs. Norris ran about; but all this gave _her_ no trouble, and as she had foreseen, "there was, in fact, no trouble in the business."

Edmund was at this time particularly full of cares: his mind being deeply occupied in the consideration of two important events now at hand, which were to fix his fate in life--ordination and matrimony--events of such a serious character as to make the ball, which would be very quickly followed by one of them, appear of less moment in his eyes than in those of any other person in the house. On the 23rd he was going to a friend near Peterborough, in the same situation as himself, and they were to receive ordination in the course of the Christmas week. Half his destiny would then be determined, but the other half might not be so very smoothly wooed. His duties would be established, but the wife who was to share, and animate, and reward those duties, might yet be unattainable. He knew his own mind, but he was not always perfectly assured of knowing Miss Crawford's. There were points on which they did not quite agree; there were moments in which she did not seem propitious; and though trusting altogether to her affection, so far as to be resolved--almost resolved-- on bringing it to a decision within a very short time, as soon as the variety of business before him were arranged, and he knew what he had to offer her, he had many anxious feelings, many doubting hours as to the result. His conviction of her regard for him was sometimes very strong; he could look back on a long course of encouragement, and she was as perfect in disinterested attachment as in everything else. But at other times doubt and alarm intermingled with his hopes; and when he thought of her acknowledged disinclination for privacy and retirement, her decided preference of a London life, what could he expect but a determined rejection? unless it were an acceptance even more to be deprecated, demanding such sacrifices of situation and employment on his side as conscience must forbid.

The issue of all depended on one question. Did she love him well enough to forego what had used to be essential points? Did she love him well enough to make them no longer essential? And this question, which he was continually repeating to himself, though oftenest answered with a "Yes," had sometimes its "No."

Miss Crawford was soon to leave Mansfield, and on this circumstance the "no" and the "yes" had been very recently in alternation. He had seen her eyes sparkle as she spoke of the dear friend's letter, which claimed a long visit from her in London, and of the kindness of Henry, in engaging to remain where he was till January, that he might convey her thither; he had heard her speak of the pleasure of such a journey with an animation which had "no" in every tone. But this had occurred on the first day of its being settled, within the first hour of the burst of such enjoyment, when nothing but the friends she was to visit was before her. He had since heard her express herself differently, with other feelings, more chequered feelings: he had heard her tell Mrs. Grant that she should leave her with regret; that she began to believe neither the friends nor the pleasures she was going to were worth those she left behind; and that though she felt she must go, and knew she should enjoy herself when once away, she was already looking forward to being at Mansfield again. Was there not a "yes" in all this?

With such matters to ponder over, and arrange, and re-arrange, Edmund could not, on his own account, think very much of the evening which the rest of the family were looking forward to with a more equal degree of strong interest. Independent of his two cousins' enjoyment in it, the evening was to him of no higher value than any other appointed meeting of the two families might be. In every meeting there was a hope of receiving farther confirmation of Miss Crawford's attachment; but the whirl of a ballroom, perhaps, was not particularly favourable to the excitement or expression of serious feelings. To engage her early for the two first dances was all the command of individual happiness which he felt in his power, and the only preparation for the ball which he could enter into, in spite of all that was passing around him on the subject, from morning till night.

Thursday was the day of the ball; and on Wednesday morning Fanny, still unable to satisfy herself as to what she ought to wear, determined to seek the counsel of the more enlightened, and apply to Mrs. Grant and her sister, whose acknowledged taste would certainly bear her blameless; and as Edmund and William were gone to Northampton, and she had reason to think Mr. Crawford likewise out, she walked down to the Parsonage without much fear of wanting an opportunity for private discussion; and the privacy of such a discussion was a most important part of it to Fanny, being more than half-ashamed of her own solicitude.

She met Miss Crawford within a few yards of the Parsonage, just setting out to call on her, and as it seemed to her that her friend, though obliged to insist on turning back, was unwilling to lose her walk, she explained her business at once, and observed, that if she would be so kind as to give her opinion, it might be all talked over as well without doors as within. Miss Crawford appeared gratified by the application, and after a moment's thought, urged Fanny's returning with her in a much more cordial manner than before, and proposed their going up into her room, where they might have a comfortable coze, without disturbing Dr. and Mrs. Grant, who were together in the drawing-room. It was just the plan to suit Fanny; and with a great deal of gratitude on her side for such ready and kind attention, they proceeded indoors, and upstairs, and were soon deep in the interesting subject. Miss Crawford, pleased with the appeal, gave her all her best judgment and taste, made everything easy by her suggestions, and tried to make everything agreeable by her encouragement. The dress being settled in all its grander parts-- "But what shall you have by way of necklace?" said Miss Crawford. "Shall not you wear your brother's cross?" And as she spoke she was undoing a small parcel, which Fanny had observed in her hand when they met. Fanny acknowledged her wishes and doubts on this point: she did not know how either to wear the cross, or to refrain from wearing it. She was answered by having a small trinket-box placed before her, and being requested to chuse from among several gold chains and necklaces. Such had been the parcel with which Miss Crawford was provided, and such the object of her intended visit: and in the kindest manner she now urged Fanny's taking one for the cross and to keep for her sake, saying everything she could think of to obviate the scruples which were making Fanny start back at first with a look of horror at the proposal.

"You see what a collection I have," said she; "more by half than I ever use or think of. I do not offer them as new. I offer nothing but an old necklace. You must forgive the liberty, and oblige me."

Fanny still resisted, and from her heart. The gift was too valuable. But Miss Crawford persevered, and argued the case with so much affectionate earnestness through all the heads of William and the cross, and the ball, and herself, as to be finally successful. Fanny found herself obliged to yield, that she might not be accused of pride or indifference, or some other littleness; and having with modest reluctance given her consent, proceeded to make the selection. She looked and looked, longing to know which might be least valuable; and was determined in her choice at last, by fancying there was one necklace more frequently placed before her eyes than the rest. It was of gold, prettily worked; and though Fanny would have preferred a longer and a plainer chain as more adapted for her purpose, she hoped, in fixing on this, to be chusing what Miss Crawford least wished to keep. Miss Crawford smiled her perfect approbation; and hastened to complete the gift by putting the necklace round her, and making her see how well it looked. Fanny had not a word to say against its becomingness, and, excepting what remained of her scruples, was exceedingly pleased with an acquisition so very apropos. She would rather, perhaps, have been obliged to some other person. But this was an unworthy feeling. Miss Crawford had anticipated her wants with a kindness which proved her a real friend. "When I wear this necklace I shall always think of you," said she, "and feel how very kind you were."

"You must think of somebody else too, when you wear that necklace," replied Miss Crawford. "You must think of Henry, for it was his choice in the first place. He gave it to me, and with the necklace I make over to you all the duty of remembering the original giver. It is to be a family remembrancer. The sister is not to be in your mind without bringing the brother too."

Fanny, in great astonishment and confusion, would have returned the present instantly. To take what had been the gift of another person, of a brother too, impossible! it must not be! and with an eagerness and embarrassment quite diverting to her companion, she laid down the necklace again on its cotton, and seemed resolved either to take another or none at all. Miss Crawford thought she had never seen a prettier consciousness. "My dear child," said she, laughing, "what are you afraid of? Do you think Henry will claim the necklace as mine, and fancy you did not come honestly by it? or are you imagining he would be too much flattered by seeing round your lovely throat an ornament which his money purchased three years ago, before he knew there was such a throat in the world? or perhaps"--looking archly-- "you suspect a confederacy between us, and that what I am now doing is with his knowledge and at his desire?"

With the deepest blushes Fanny protested against such a thought.

"Well, then," replied Miss Crawford more seriously, but without at all believing her, "to convince me that you suspect no trick, and are as unsuspicious of compliment as I have always found you, take the necklace and say no more about it. Its being a gift of my brother's need not make the smallest difference in your accepting it, as I assure you it makes none in my willingness to part with it. He is always giving me something or other. I have such innumerable presents from him that it is quite impossible for me to value or for him to remember half. And as for this necklace, I do not suppose I have worn it six times: it is very pretty, but I never think of it; and though you would be most heartily welcome to any other in my trinket-box, you have happened to fix on the very one which, if I have a choice, I would rather part with and see in your possession than any other. Say no more against it, I entreat you. Such a trifle is not worth half so many words."

Fanny dared not make any farther opposition; and with renewed but less happy thanks accepted the necklace again, for there was an expression in Miss Crawford's eyes which she could not be satisfied with.

It was impossible for her to be insensible of Mr. Crawford's change of manners. She had long seen it. He evidently tried to please her: he was gallant, he was attentive, he was something like what he had been to her cousins: he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquillity as he had cheated them; and whether he might not have some concern in this necklace--she could not be convinced that he had not, for Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a friend.

Reflecting and doubting, and feeling that the possession of what she had so much wished for did not bring much satisfaction, she now walked home again, with a change rather than a diminution of cares since her treading that path before.

威廉想看范妮跳舞,姨父把这件事牢记在心。托马斯爵士答应要给他一个机会,并非说过就抛到脑后了。他打定主意要满足威廉对妹妹的这份亲切情意,满足想要看范妮跳舞的其他人的心愿,同时给所有年轻人一次娱乐的机会。他经过仔细考虑,暗自做了决定,第二天早晨吃早饭时,重又提起了外甥说的话,并加以赞赏,接着补充说:“威廉,我要让你在离开北安普敦郡之前参加这样一次活动。我很乐意看着你们俩跳舞。你上次提到北安普敦的舞会。你表哥表姐偶尔去参加过,不过那里的舞会现在并不完全适合我们,太累人了,你姨妈吃不消。依我看,我们不要去考虑北安普敦什么时候举行舞会,在家里开个舞会可能更合适。要是——”

“啊!亲爱的托马斯爵士,”诺里斯太太打断了他的话,“我知道下面会怎么样。我知道下面你要说什么。要是亲爱的朱莉娅在家,要是最亲爱的拉什沃思太太在索瑟顿,就为举行这样的活动提供了一个理由,你会想在曼斯菲尔德给年轻人开个舞会。我知道你会这样做的。要是她们俩能在家为舞会增色,你今年圣诞节就可以举行舞会。谢谢你姨父,威廉,谢谢你姨父。”

“我的女儿们,”托马斯爵士一本正经地插嘴道,“在布赖顿自有她们的娱乐活动,我想她们玩得非常快乐。我想在曼斯菲尔德举办的舞会是为她们的表弟表妹举办的。如果全家人都在,那肯定会高兴极了。不过,不能因为有的人不在家,就不让其他人组织娱乐活动。”

诺里斯太太没再说话。她从脸色上看出,托马斯爵士主意已定。她又惊奇又恼火,过了一会才平静下来。居然在这个时候举办舞会!他的女儿都不在家,事先也不征求她的意见!不过,她马上就感到欣慰了。一切必然由她操办。伯特伦夫人当然不会费心出力,事情会整个落在她身上。舞会将由她主持,一想到这里,她的心情立即大为好转,大家表示高兴和感谢的话还没说完,她便和大家一起有说有笑了。

埃德蒙、威廉和范妮听说要开舞会,正如托马斯爵士所希望的那样,在神情和言词中,都以不同的方式表现了自己的欣喜感激之情。埃德蒙是为那兄妹俩感激父亲。父亲以前给人帮忙或做好事,从来没有让他这样高兴过。

伯特伦夫人一动不动地坐着,感到十分满意,没有任何意见。托马斯爵士向她保证舞会不会给她增添什么麻烦,她则向丈夫保证说:她压根儿不怕麻烦,其实她也想象不出会有什么麻烦。

诺里斯太太欣欣然地正想建议用哪些房间举行舞会.却发现舞场早已安排妥当,她想在日期上发表个意见,看来舞会的日期也已经定好了。托马斯爵士饶有兴味地制订了一个周密的计划,一旦诺里斯太太能静下来听他说话,他便念了念准备邀请的家庭名单,考虑到通知发得比较晚,预计能请到十二或十四对年轻人,接着又陈述了他把日期定在二十二日的理由。威廉二十四日就得赶回朴次茅斯,因而二十二日是他来此探亲的最后一天。再说,鉴于时间已很仓促,又不宜于再往前提,诺里斯太太只得表示这正符合她的想法,她本来也打算建议定在二十二日,认为这一天合适极了。

举办舞会的事已完全说定了,黄昏未到,相关的人已个个皆知。请帖迅速发出了,不少年轻小姐像范妮一样,当晚就寝时心里乐滋滋地琢磨来琢磨去。范妮琢磨的事情有时几乎越出了快乐的范畴。她年纪轻,经历少,没有多少选择的余地,加上对自己的眼光又缺乏自信,“我该怎么打扮”也就成了一个伤脑筋的问题。威廉从西西里岛给她带回的一个十分漂亮的琥珀十字架,是她拥有的唯一的装饰品。正是这件装饰品给她带来了最大的苦恼,因为她没有别的东西来系这十字架,只有一条缎带。她以前曾经这样戴过一次,但是这一次其他小姐都会戴着贵重的装饰品,她还能那样戴着出现在她们中间吗?然而要是不戴呀!威廉原来还想给她买一根金项链,但钱不够没有买成。因此,她要是不戴这个十字架,那会伤他的心。这重重顾虑使她焦灼不安。尽管舞会主要是为她举办的,她也打不起精神。

舞会的准备工作正在进行,伯特伦夫人依然坐在沙发上,全都不用她操心。女管家多来了几趟,侍女在为她赶制新装。托马斯爵士下命令,诺里斯太太跑腿,这一切没给伯特伦夫人带来丝毫麻烦,像她预料的那样:“其实,这件事没什么麻烦的。”

埃德蒙这时候的心事特别多,满脑子都在考虑行将决定他一生命运的两件事——接受圣职和结婚——两件事都很重大,其中一件舞会过后就要来临,因此他不像家里其他人那样看重这场舞会。二十三日他要到彼得伯勒附近去找一个与他境况相同的朋友,准备在圣诞节那个星期一起去接受圣职。到那时,他的命运就决定了一半——另外一半却不一定能顺利解决。他的职责将确定下来,但是分担他的职责、给他的职责带来欢乐和奖赏的妻子,却可能还得不到。他清楚自己内心的想法,但是克劳福德小姐是怎么想的,他有时并没有把握。有些问题他们的看法不尽一致,有些时候她似乎不很合意。尽管他完全相信她的情意,决定(几乎决定)一旦眼前的种种事务安排妥当,一旦他知道有什么可以奉献给她,他便尽快做出决断,但他对后果如何常常忧虑重重,放心不下。有时候,他深信她有意于他。他能回想起她长期对他情意绵绵,而且像在其他方面一样,对他的情意完全不是出于金钱的考虑。但有的时候,他的希望当中又掺杂着疑虑和担心。他想起她曾明确表示不愿隐居乡下,而要生活在伦敦——这不是对他的断然拒绝又是什么?除非他做出自我牺牲,放弃他的职位和职业,她也许会接受他,但那越发使不得了,他的良心不允许他这样做。

这件事整个取决于一个问题。她是否十分爱他,甘愿放弃那些极为重要的条件——是否十分爱他,已经觉得那些条件不再那么重要了?他经常拿这个问题自问自答,虽然他的回答常常是肯定的,但有时也会是否定的。

克劳福德小姐很快就要离开曼斯菲尔德了,因此在最近,那肯定和否定的念头在交替出现。她收到了朋友的来信,请她到伦敦多住些日子,而亨利答应在这里住到元月,以便把她送到伦敦。她一说起朋友的这封信和亨利的这番厚意,两眼不禁闪烁着喜悦的光芒。她谈到伦敦之行的喜悦时,他从她兴奋的语调中听出了否定。不过,这只是在做出决定的第一天发生的,而且是在得到这可喜消息后的一个钟头之内,当时她心中只有她要去看望的朋友。自那以后,他听她说起话来不一样了,感情也有所不同——心里比较矛盾。他听她对格兰特太太说她舍不得离开她,还说她要去见的朋友、要去寻求的快乐,都赶不上她要告别的朋友、要舍弃的乐趣。尽管她非去不可,也知道去了后会过得很快活,但她已在盼望重返曼斯菲尔德。难道这里面没有肯定的成分吗?

由于有这样一些问题要考虑,要筹划来筹划去,埃德蒙也就无法像家里其他人那样兴致勃勃地期盼那个夜晚。在他看来,那个夜晚除了能给表弟表妹带来快乐之外,跟两家人的平常聚会比起来,也没有什么大不了的。往常每次聚会的时候,他都渴望克劳福德小姐进…步向他表白真情。但在熙熙攘攘的舞场上,也许不太利于她产生和表白这样的情感。他提前和她约定,要跟她跳头两曲舞,这是这次舞会所能给他个人带来的全部快乐,也是别人从早到晚都在为舞会忙碌的时候,他所做的唯一一点准备工作。

舞会在星期四举行。星期三早晨,范妮仍然拿不准她应该穿什么衣服,便决心去征求更有见识的人的意见,于是就去请教格兰特太太和她妹妹。大家公认这两个人富有见识,按照她们的意见去办,肯定万无一失。既然埃德蒙和威廉到北安普敦去了,她有理由猜想克劳福德先生也不会在家,于是便向牧师住宅走去,心想不会找不到机会和那姐妹俩私下商量。对于范妮来说,这次求教要在私下进行是非常重要的,因为她对自己这样操心打扮有点害羞。

她在离牧师住宅几米远的地方碰到了克劳福德小姐。克劳福德小姐正要去找她。范妮觉得,她的朋友虽然不得不执意要折回去,但并不乐意失去散步的机会。因此范妮立即道明来意,说对方如果愿意帮忙,给她出出主意,在户外说和在家里说都一样。克劳福德小姐听说向她求教,似乎感到很高兴,稍微想了想,便显出更加亲热的样子,请范妮跟她一起回去,并建议到楼上她的房里,安安静静地聊聊天,而不要打扰了待在客厅里的格兰特夫妇。这正合范妮的心思。她非常感激朋友的一片好意。她们走进房内,上了楼梯,不久就深入地谈起了正题。克劳福德小姐很乐于范妮向她求教,尽力把自己的见识传授给她,替她出主意,使样样事情都变容易了,一边又不断鼓励她,使样样事情都带上了快乐的色彩。服装的大问题已经解决了,“不过你戴什么项链呢?”克劳福德小姐问。“你戴不戴你哥哥送你的十字架?”她一边说一边解开一个小包,她们在门外相遇的时候,范妮就看见她手里拿着这个小包。范妮向她坦言了自己在这个问题上的心愿和疑虑,不知道是戴好还是不戴好。她得到的答复是,一个小小的首饰盒摆在了她面前,请她从儿条金链子和金项链中任选一条。这就是克劳福德小姐拿的那个小包里的东西,她要去看范妮也就是要把这些东西送给她挑选。现在,她极其亲切地恳求范妮挑一条配她的十字架,也好留做纪念,范妮一听吓了一跳,脸上露出惊恐的神色,她再三好言相劝,帮她打消顾虑。

“你看我有多少条,”克劳福德小姐说,“我连一半都用不上,平时也想不起来了。我又不是给你新买的,只不过送你一条旧项链。你要原谅我的冒失,给我点面子。”

范妮仍然拒不肯收,而且是从心坎里不想收。这礼物太贵重了。然而克劳福德小姐不肯作罢,情真意切地向她说明理由,叫她替威廉和那十字架着想,替舞会着想,也替她自己着想,终于把她说服了。范妮不得不从命,免得落个瞧不起人、不够朋友之类的罪名。她有些勉强地答应了她,开始挑选。她看了又看,想断定哪一条价钱最便宜。其中有一条她觉得她见到的次数多一些,最后便选择了这一条。这是条精致的金项链。虽说她觉得一条比较长的、没有特殊花样的金链子对她更合适,但她还是选择了这一条,认为这是克劳福德小姐最不想保留的。克劳福德小姐笑了笑表示十分赞许,赶忙来了个功戚愿满的举动,把项链戴在她脖子上,让她对着镜子看看多么合适。

范妮觉得戴在脖子上是很好看,能得到这样一件合适的装饰,不由得感到很高兴,不过心里的顾虑并未完全消除。她觉得这份人情若是欠了别的什么人,也许会好些。不过她不该这么想。克劳福德小姐待她这么好,事先考虑到了她的需要,证明是她的真正朋友。“我戴着这条项链的时候,时刻都会想着你,”她说,“记着你对我多么好。”

“你戴着这条项链的时候,还应该想起另外一个人,”克劳福德小姐回答道。“你应该想起亨利,因为这原是他买的。他给了我,我现在把它转赠给你,由你来记住这原来的赠链人吧。想到妹妹也要想到哥哥。”

范妮听了大为骇然,不知所措,想立即归还礼物。接受别人授之于人的礼物——而且是哥哥赠的——决不能这样做!绝对不行!她急急忙忙、慌慌张张地把项链又放回棉花垫上,似乎想要再换一条,或者一条也不要,让朋友觉得很有意思。克劳福德小姐心想,她还从没见过这么多虑的人。“亲爱的姑娘,”她笑着说道,“你怕什么呀?你以为亨利见了会说这条项链是我的,你用不正当的手段弄到手的吗?你以为亨利看到这条项链戴在这么漂亮的脖子上,会感到异常高兴吗?要知道,他还没看到这漂亮的脖子之前,那项链已买了三年了。或许——”露出调皮的神情,“你大概怀疑我们串通一气,他事前已经得知,而且是他授意我这么做的吧?”

范妮面红耳赤,连忙分辩说她没有这么想。

“那好,”克劳福德小姐认真起来了,但并不相信她的话,回答道,“为了证明你不怀疑我耍弄花招,像往常一样相信我一片好心,你就把项链拿去,什么话都不要再讲。告诉你吧,我不会因为这是我哥哥送给我的,我就不能再送给别人;同样,也不能因为这是我哥哥送给我的,我再送你的时候你就不能接受。他总是送我这个送我那个的。他送我的礼物不计其数.我不可能样样都当宝贝,他自己也大半都忘记了。至于这条项链,我想我戴了不到六次。这条项链是很漂亮,可我从没把它放在心上。虽然首饰盒里的链子和项链你挑哪一条我都欢迎之至,但说实话,你恰好挑了我最舍得送人,也最愿意让你挑去的一条。我求你什么也别说了。这么一件小事,不值得我们费这么多口舌。”

范妮不敢再推辞了,只好重新道谢,接受了项链。不过,她不像起初那么高兴了,因为克劳福德小姐眼里有一股神气,使她看了不悦。

克劳福德先生的态度变了,她不可能没有察觉。她早就看出来了。他显然想讨她的欢心,对她献殷勤,有点像过去对她的两个表姐那样。她猜想,他是想像耍弄她们那样耍弄她。他未必与这条项链没有关系吧!她不相信与他无关。克劳福德小姐虽然是个关心哥哥的妹妹,但却是个漫不经心的女人,不会体贴朋友。

范妮在回家的路上想来想去,满腹疑云,即便得到了自己朝思暮想的东西,心里也不觉得多么高兴。来时的重重忧虑现在并没有减少,只不过换了一种性质而已。



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