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Chapter 27

On reaching home Fanny went immediately upstairs to deposit this unexpected acquisition, this doubtful good of a necklace, in some favourite box in the East room, which held all her smaller treasures; but on opening the door, what was her surprise to find her cousin Edmund there writing at the table! Such a sight having never occurred before, was almost as wonderful as it was welcome.

"Fanny," said he directly, leaving his seat and his pen, and meeting her with something in his hand, "I beg your pardon for being here. I came to look for you, and after waiting a little while in hope of your coming in, was making use of your inkstand to explain my errand. You will find the beginning of a note to yourself; but I can now speak my business, which is merely to beg your acceptance of this little trifle--a chain for William's cross. You ought to have had it a week ago, but there has been a delay from my brother's not being in town by several days so soon as I expected; and I have only just now received it at Northampton. I hope you will like the chain itself, Fanny. I endeavoured to consult the simplicity of your taste; but, at any rate, I know you will be kind to my intentions, and consider it, as it really is, a token of the love of one of your oldest friends."

And so saying, he was hurrying away, before Fanny, overpowered by a thousand feelings of pain and pleasure, could attempt to speak; but quickened by one sovereign wish, she then called out, "Oh! cousin, stop a moment, pray stop!"

He turned back.

"I cannot attempt to thank you," she continued, in a very agitated manner; "thanks are out of the question. I feel much more than I can possibly express. Your goodness in thinking of me in such a way is beyond-- "

"If that is all you have to say, Fanny" smiling and turning away again.

"No, no, it is not. I want to consult you."

Almost unconsciously she had now undone the parcel he had just put into her hand, and seeing before her, in all the niceness of jewellers' packing, a plain gold chain, perfectly simple and neat, she could not help bursting forth again, "Oh, this is beautiful indeed! This is the very thing, precisely what I wished for! This is the only ornament I have ever had a desire to possess. It will exactly suit my cross. They must and shall be worn together. It comes, too, in such an acceptable moment. Oh, cousin, you do not know how acceptable it is."

"My dear Fanny, you feel these things a great deal too much. I am most happy that you like the chain, and that it should be here in time for to-morrow; but your thanks are far beyond the occasion. Believe me, I have no pleasure in the world superior to that of contributing to yours. No, I can safely say, I have no pleasure so complete, so unalloyed. It is without a drawback."

Upon such expressions of affection Fanny could have lived an hour without saying another word; but Edmund, after waiting a moment, obliged her to bring down her mind from its heavenly flight by saying, "But what is it that you want to consult me about?"

It was about the necklace, which she was now most earnestly longing to return, and hoped to obtain his approbation of her doing. She gave the history of her recent visit, and now her raptures might well be over; for Edmund was so struck with the circumstance, so delighted with what Miss Crawford had done, so gratified by such a coincidence of conduct between them, that Fanny could not but admit the superior power of one pleasure over his own mind, though it might have its drawback. It was some time before she could get his attention to her plan, or any answer to her demand of his opinion: he was in a reverie of fond reflection, uttering only now and then a few half-sentences of praise; but when he did awake and understand, he was very decided in opposing what she wished.

"Return the necklace! No, my dear Fanny, upon no account. It would be mortifying her severely. There can hardly be a more unpleasant sensation than the having anything returned on our hands which we have given with a reasonable hope of its contributing to the comfort of a friend. Why should she lose a pleasure which she has shewn herself so deserving of?"

"If it had been given to me in the first instance," said Fanny, "I should not have thought of returning it; but being her brother's present, is not it fair to suppose that she would rather not part with it, when it is not wanted?"

"She must not suppose it not wanted, not acceptable, at least: and its having been originally her brother's gift makes no difference; for as she was not prevented from offering, nor you from taking it on that account, it ought not to prevent you from keeping it. No doubt it is handsomer than mine, and fitter for a ballroom."

"No, it is not handsomer, not at all handsomer in its way, and, for my purpose, not half so fit. The chain will agree with William's cross beyond all comparison better than the necklace."

"For one night, Fanny, for only one night, if it _be_ a sacrifice; I am sure you will, upon consideration, make that sacrifice rather than give pain to one who has been so studious of your comfort. Miss Crawford's attentions to you have been--not more than you were justly entitled to-- I am the last person to think that _could_ _be_, but they have been invariable; and to be returning them with what must have something the _air_ of ingratitude, though I know it could never have the _meaning_, is not in your nature, I am sure. Wear the necklace, as you are engaged to do, to-morrow evening, and let the chain, which was not ordered with any reference to the ball, be kept for commoner occasions. This is my advice. I would not have the shadow of a coolness between the two whose intimacy I have been observing with the greatest pleasure, and in whose characters there is so much general resemblance in true generosity and natural delicacy as to make the few slight differences, resulting principally from situation, no reasonable hindrance to a perfect friendship. I would not have the shadow of a coolness arise," he repeated, his voice sinking a little, "between the two dearest objects I have on earth."

He was gone as he spoke; and Fanny remained to tranquillise herself as she could. She was one of his two dearest-- that must support her. But the other: the first! She had never heard him speak so openly before, and though it told her no more than what she had long perceived, it was a stab, for it told of his own convictions and views. They were decided. He would marry Miss Crawford. It was a stab, in spite of every long-standing expectation; and she was obliged to repeat again and again, that she was one of his two dearest, before the words gave her any sensation. Could she believe Miss Crawford to deserve him, it would be--oh, how different would it be-- how far more tolerable! But he was deceived in her: he gave her merits which she had not; her faults were what they had ever been, but he saw them no longer. Till she had shed many tears over this deception, Fanny could not subdue her agitation; and the dejection which followed could only be relieved by the influence of fervent prayers for his happiness.

It was her intention, as she felt it to be her duty, to try to overcome all that was excessive, all that bordered on selfishness, in her affection for Edmund. To call or to fancy it a loss, a disappointment, would be a presumption for which she had not words strong enough to satisfy her own humility. To think of him as Miss Crawford might be justified in thinking, would in her be insanity. To her he could be nothing under any circumstances; nothing dearer than a friend. Why did such an idea occur to her even enough to be reprobated and forbidden? It ought not to have touched on the confines of her imagination. She would endeavour to be rational, and to deserve the right of judging of Miss Crawford's character, and the privilege of true solicitude for him by a sound intellect and an honest heart.

She had all the heroism of principle, and was determined to do her duty; but having also many of the feelings of youth and nature, let her not be much wondered at, if, after making all these good resolutions on the side of self-government, she seized the scrap of paper on which Edmund had begun writing to her, as a treasure beyond all her hopes, and reading with the tenderest emotion these words, "My very dear Fanny, you must do me the favour to accept" locked it up with the chain, as the dearest part of the gift. It was the only thing approaching to a letter which she had ever received from him; she might never receive another; it was impossible that she ever should receive another so perfectly gratifying in the occasion and the style. Two lines more prized had never fallen from the pen of the most distinguished author--never more completely blessed the researches of the fondest biographer. The enthusiasm of a woman's love is even beyond the biographer's. To her, the handwriting itself, independent of anything it may convey, is a blessedness. Never were such characters cut by any other human being as Edmund's commonest handwriting gave! This specimen, written in haste as it was, had not a fault; and there was a felicity in the flow of the first four words, in the arrangement of "My very dear Fanny," which she could have looked at for ever.

Having regulated her thoughts and comforted her feelings by this happy mixture of reason and weakness, she was able in due time to go down and resume her usual employments near her aunt Bertram, and pay her the usual observances without any apparent want of spirits.

Thursday, predestined to hope and enjoyment, came; and opened with more kindness to Fanny than such self-willed, unmanageable days often volunteer, for soon after breakfast a very friendly note was brought from Mr. Crawford to William, stating that as he found himself obliged to go to London on the morrow for a few days, he could not help trying to procure a companion; and therefore hoped that if William could make up his mind to leave Mansfield half a day earlier than had been proposed, he would accept a place in his carriage. Mr. Crawford meant to be in town by his uncle's accustomary late dinner-hour, and William was invited to dine with him at the Admiral's. The proposal was a very pleasant one to William himself, who enjoyed the idea of travelling post with four horses, and such a good-humoured, agreeable friend; and, in likening it to going up with despatches, was saying at once everything in favour of its happiness and dignity which his imagination could suggest; and Fanny, from a different motive, was exceedingly pleased; for the original plan was that William should go up by the mail from Northampton the following night, which would not have allowed him an hour's rest before he must have got into a Portsmouth coach; and though this offer of Mr. Crawford's would rob her of many hours of his company, she was too happy in having William spared from the fatigue of such a journey, to think of anything else. Sir Thomas approved of it for another reason. His nephew's introduction to Admiral Crawford might be of service. The Admiral, he believed, had interest. Upon the whole, it was a very joyous note. Fanny's spirits lived on it half the morning, deriving some accession of pleasure from its writer being himself to go away.

As for the ball, so near at hand, she had too many agitations and fears to have half the enjoyment in anticipation which she ought to have had, or must have been supposed to have by the many young ladies looking forward to the same event in situations more at ease, but under circumstances of less novelty, less interest, less peculiar gratification, than would be attributed to her. Miss Price, known only by name to half the people invited, was now to make her first appearance, and must be regarded as the queen of the evening. Who could be happier than Miss Price? But Miss Price had not been brought up to the trade of _coming_ _out_; and had she known in what light this ball was, in general, considered respecting her, it would very much have lessened her comfort by increasing the fears she already had of doing wrong and being looked at. To dance without much observation or any extraordinary fatigue, to have strength and partners for about half the evening, to dance a little with Edmund, and not a great deal with Mr. Crawford, to see William enjoy himself, and be able to keep away from her aunt Norris, was the height of her ambition, and seemed to comprehend her greatest possibility of happiness. As these were the best of her hopes, they could not always prevail; and in the course of a long morning, spent principally with her two aunts, she was often under the influence of much less sanguine views. William, determined to make this last day a day of thorough enjoyment, was out snipe-shooting; Edmund, she had too much reason to suppose, was at the Parsonage; and left alone to bear the worrying of Mrs. Norris, who was cross because the housekeeper would have her own way with the supper, and whom _she_ could not avoid though the housekeeper might, Fanny was worn down at last to think everything an evil belonging to the ball, and when sent off with a parting worry to dress, moved as languidly towards her own room, and felt as incapable of happiness as if she had been allowed no share in it.

As she walked slowly upstairs she thought of yesterday; it had been about the same hour that she had returned from the Parsonage, and found Edmund in the East room. "Suppose I were to find him there again to-day!" said she to herself, in a fond indulgence of fancy.

"Fanny," said a voice at that moment near her. Starting and looking up, she saw, across the lobby she had just reached, Edmund himself, standing at the head of a different staircase. He came towards her. "You look tired and fagged, Fanny. You have been walking too far."

"No, I have not been out at all."

"Then you have had fatigues within doors, which are worse. You had better have gone out."

Fanny, not liking to complain, found it easiest to make no answer; and though he looked at her with his usual kindness, she believed he had soon ceased to think of her countenance. He did not appear in spirits: something unconnected with her was probably amiss. They proceeded upstairs together, their rooms being on the same floor above.

"I come from Dr. Grant's," said Edmund presently. "You may guess my errand there, Fanny." And he looked so conscious, that Fanny could think but of one errand, which turned her too sick for speech. "I wished to engage Miss Crawford for the two first dances," was the explanation that followed, and brought Fanny to life again, enabling her, as she found she was expected to speak, to utter something like an inquiry as to the result.

"Yes," he answered, "she is engaged to me; but" (with a smile that did not sit easy) "she says it is to be the last time that she ever will dance with me. She is not serious. I think, I hope, I am sure she is not serious; but I would rather not hear it. She never has danced with a clergyman, she says, and she never _will_. For my own sake, I could wish there had been no ball just at--I mean not this very week, this very day; to-morrow I leave home."

Fanny struggled for speech, and said, "I am very sorry that anything has occurred to distress you. This ought to be a day of pleasure. My uncle meant it so."

"Oh yes, yes! and it will be a day of pleasure. It will all end right. I am only vexed for a moment. In fact, it is not that I consider the ball as ill-timed; what does it signify? But, Fanny," stopping her, by taking her hand, and speaking low and seriously, "you know what all this means. You see how it is; and could tell me, perhaps better than I could tell you, how and why I am vexed. Let me talk to you a little. You are a kind, kind listener. I have been pained by her manner this morning, and cannot get the better of it. I know her disposition to be as sweet and faultless as your own, but the influence of her former companions makes her seem--gives to her conversation, to her professed opinions, sometimes a tinge of wrong. She does not _think_ evil, but she speaks it, speaks it in playfulness; and though I know it to be playfulness, it grieves me to the soul."

"The effect of education," said Fanny gently.

Edmund could not but agree to it. "Yes, that uncle and aunt! They have injured the finest mind; for sometimes, Fanny, I own to you, it does appear more than manner: it appears as if the mind itself was tainted."

Fanny imagined this to be an appeal to her judgment, and therefore, after a moment's consideration, said, "If you only want me as a listener, cousin, I will be as useful as I can; but I am not qualified for an adviser. Do not ask advice of _me_. I am not competent."

"You are right, Fanny, to protest against such an office, but you need not be afraid. It is a subject on which I should never ask advice; it is the sort of subject on which it had better never be asked; and few, I imagine, do ask it, but when they want to be influenced against their conscience. I only want to talk to you."

"One thing more. Excuse the liberty; but take care _how_ you talk to me. Do not tell me anything now, which hereafter you may be sorry for. The time may come--"

The colour rushed into her cheeks as she spoke.

"Dearest Fanny!" cried Edmund, pressing her hand to his lips with almost as much warmth as if it had been Miss Crawford's, "you are all considerate thought! But it is unnecessary here. The time will never come. No such time as you allude to will ever come. I begin to think it most improbable: the chances grow less and less; and even if it should, there will be nothing to be remembered by either you or me that we need be afraid of, for I can never be ashamed of my own scruples; and if they are removed, it must be by changes that will only raise her character the more by the recollection of the faults she once had. You are the only being upon earth to whom I should say what I have said; but you have always known my opinion of her; you can bear me witness, Fanny, that I have never been blinded. How many a time have we talked over her little errors! You need not fear me; I have almost given up every serious idea of her; but I must be a blockhead indeed, if, whatever befell me, I could think of your kindness and sympathy without the sincerest gratitude."

He had said enough to shake the experience of eighteen. He had said enough to give Fanny some happier feelings than she had lately known, and with a brighter look, she answered, "Yes, cousin, I am convinced that _you_ would be incapable of anything else, though perhaps some might not. I cannot be afraid of hearing anything you wish to say. Do not check yourself. Tell me whatever you like."

They were now on the second floor, and the appearance of a housemaid prevented any farther conversation. For Fanny's present comfort it was concluded, perhaps, at the happiest moment: had he been able to talk another five minutes, there is no saying that he might not have talked away all Miss Crawford's faults and his own despondence. But as it was, they parted with looks on his side of grateful affection, and with some very precious sensations on hers. She had felt nothing like it for hours. Since the first joy from Mr. Crawford's note to William had worn away, she had been in a state absolutely the reverse; there had been no comfort around, no hope within her. Now everything was smiling. William's good fortune returned again upon her mind, and seemed of greater value than at first. The ball, too--such an evening of pleasure before her! It was now a real animation; and she began to dress for it with much of the happy flutter which belongs to a ball. All went well: she did not dislike her own looks; and when she came to the necklaces again, her good fortune seemed complete, for upon trial the one given her by Miss Crawford would by no means go through the ring of the cross. She had, to oblige Edmund, resolved to wear it; but it was too large for the purpose. His, therefore, must be worn; and having, with delightful feelings, joined the chain and the cross--those memorials of the two most beloved of her heart, those dearest tokens so formed for each other by everything real and imaginary--and put them round her neck, and seen and felt how full of William and Edmund they were, she was able, without an effort, to resolve on wearing Miss Crawford's necklace too. She acknowledged it to be right. Miss Crawford had a claim; and when it was no longer to encroach on, to interfere with the stronger claims, the truer kindness of another, she could do her justice even with pleasure to herself. The necklace really looked very well; and Fanny left her room at last, comfortably satisfied with herself and all about her.

Her aunt Bertram had recollected her on this occasion with an unusual degree of wakefulness. It had really occurred to her, unprompted, that Fanny, preparing for a ball, might be glad of better help than the upper housemaid's, and when dressed herself, she actually sent her own maid to assist her; too late, of course, to be of any use. Mrs. Chapman had just reached the attic floor, when Miss Price came out of her room completely dressed, and only civilities were necessary; but Fanny felt her aunt's attention almost as much as Lady Bertram or Mrs. Chapman could do themselves.

范妮一回到家里,便急忙上楼,把她这意外的收获,这令人生疑的项链放进东屋专门保存她心爱的小玩意的盒子里。但是一开门,她大吃一惊,发现埃德蒙表哥坐在桌边写什么!这情景以前从未发生过,她不由得又惊又喜。

“范妮,”埃德蒙当即撂下笔离开座位,手里拿着什么迎了上来,一边说道,“请原谅我走进你的房间。我是来找你的,等了一会儿,以为你会回来,正在给你留言说明我的来意。你可以看到字条的开头,不过我可以直接告诉你我的来意。我是来求你接受这份小小的礼物——一条系威廉送你的十字架的链子。本来一个星期前就该交给你的,可我哥哥到伦敦比我预料的晚了几天,给耽搁了。我刚从北安普敦取来。我想你会喜欢这条链子的,范妮。我是根据你喜欢朴实来选择的。不管怎么说,我知道你会体谅我的用心的,把这条链子看做一位老朋友的爱的象征。实际上也是这种爱的象征。”

说着便匆匆往外走。范妮悲喜交加,百感交集,一时说不出话来。但是,在一种至高愿望的驱使下,她叫了起来:“噢!表哥,等一等,请等一等。”

埃德蒙转过身来。

“我不知道怎样谢你才好,”范妮非常激动地继续说道。“我说不出有多么感激你,这种感激之情真是无法表达。你这样替我着想,你的好心好意超出了——”

“如果你只是要说这些话,范妮——”埃德蒙笑了笑,又转身要走。

“不,不,不光是这些话。我想和你商量点事。”

这时,范妮几乎是无意识地解开了埃德蒙刚才放到她手里的小包,看到小包包得非常考究,只有珠宝商才能做得到。小包里放着一条没有花饰的金链,又朴素又精美。她一看见,又情不自禁地叫了出来:“噢!真美呀!这正是我求之不得的东西!是我唯一想要的装饰。跟我的十字架正相配。两样东西应该戴在一起,我一定把它们戴在一起。而且来得正是时候。噢!表哥,你不知道我有多么喜欢啊。”

“亲爱的范妮,你把这些东西看得太重了。我很高兴你能喜欢这条链子,很高兴明天正好用得上,可你这样谢我就大可不必了。请相信我,我最大的快乐就是给你带来快乐。是的,我绝对可以说,没有任何快乐这样彻底,这样纯真,丝毫没有一点缺欠。”

范妮听他如此表白真情,久久说不出话来。等了一会儿,埃德蒙问了一声,才把她那飞往天外的心灵唤了回来:“你想和我商量什么事?”

关于那条项链的事。她现在想马上把它退回丢,希望表哥能同意她这样做。她诉说了刚才去牧师住宅的原委,这时她的喜悦可以说是已经过去了,因为埃德蒙听后心弦为之一振,他对克劳福德小姐的行为感到不胜高兴,也为他们两人在行动上不谋而合而喜不自禁,范妮只得承认他心里有一种更大的快乐,尽管这种快乐有其缺憾的一面。埃德蒙许久没去注意表妹在讲什么,也没回答她的问题。他沉浸在充满柔情的幻想之中,只是偶尔说上几声赞扬的话。但等他醒悟过来以后,他坚决反对范妮退回项链。

“退回项链!不,亲爱的范妮,说什么也不能退。那会严重伤害她的自尊心。世界上最令人不快的事,就是你好心好意给朋友送了件东西,满以为朋友会很高兴,不想却给退了回来。她的举动本该得到快乐,为什么要扫她的兴呢?”

“如果当初就是给我的,”范妮说,“我就不会想要退给她。可这是她哥哥送她的礼物,现在我已经不需要了,让她收回去不是理所当然的事吗?”

“她不会想到你已经不需要了,至少不会想到你不想要。这礼物是她哥哥送她的也没关系。她不能因此就不能送给你,你也不能因此就不能接受。这条项链肯定比我送你的那条漂亮,更适合戴到舞场上去。”

“不,并不比你送的漂亮,就其本身来说绝不比你送的漂亮,而就用场来说,适合我的程度还不及你送我的这条的一半。你这条链子配威廉的十字架非常合适,那条项链根本无法和它相比。”

“戴一个晚上吧,范妮,就戴一个晚上,哪怕这意味着将就——我相信,你经过慎重考虑,是会将就一下的,而不会让一个这样关心你的人伤心。克劳福德小姐对你的关心并没有超过你应得的限度,我也决不认为会有超过的可能,但她的关心是始终如一的。我相信,你的天性不会让你这样去报答她,因为这样做会显得有点忘恩负义,虽说我知道你绝没有那个意思。明天晚上,按照原来的计划,戴上那条项链,至于这条链子,本来就不是为这次舞会订做的,你就把它收起来,留着在一般场合戴。这是我的建议。我不希望你们两人之间出现一点点隔阂。眼看着你们两人关系这么亲密,我感到万分高兴,你们两人的性格又非常相像,都为人忠厚大度,天生对人体察入微,虽然由于处境关系导致了一些细微的差异,但并不妨碍你们做知心朋友。我不希望你们两人之间出现一点点隔阂,”埃德蒙声音稍微低沉地重复了一句,“你们俩可是我在这世界上最亲爱的两个人。”

他话音未落便走开了,剩下范妮一个人尽力抑制自己的心情。她是他最亲爱的两个人之一——这当然是对她莫大的安慰。但是那另外一个人!那占第一位的!她以前从来没有听到他这样直言不讳过。尽管他表白的只是她早就察觉了的事实,但这仍然刺痛了她的心,因为这道出了他的心思想法。他的心思想法已经很明确了。他要娶克劳福德小姐。尽管这早已在意料之中,但听到后对她依然是个沉重打击。她茫然地一次又一次重复着她是他最亲爱的两个人之一,却不知道自己究竟在念叨什么。她要是认为克劳福德小姐真的配得上他,那就会——噢!那就会大不相同——她就会感到好受得多!可是他没有看清她,给她加了一些她并不具备的优点,而她的缺点却依然存在,但他已视而不见。她为他看错了人痛哭了一场,心情才平静下来。为了摆脱接踵而来的沮丧,她只好借助于拼命地为他的幸福祈祷。

她要尽量克服她对埃德蒙感情中那些过分的、接近自私的成分,她觉得自已也有义务这样做。她如果把这件事称做或看做自己的失落或受挫,那未免有些自作多情,她谦卑的天性不允许她这样做。她要是像克劳福德小姐那样期待于他,那岂不是发疯。她在任何情况下都不能对他抱非分之想——他顶多只能做自己的朋友。她怎么能这样想入非非,然后再自我责备、自我禁止呢?她的头脑中根本就不该冒出这种非分之想。她要力求保持头脑清醒,要能判断克劳福德小姐的为人,并且理智地、真诚地关心埃德蒙。

她有坚守节操的英勇气质,决心履行自己的义务,但也有年轻人生性中的诸多情感。因此,说来并不奇怪,在她难能可贵地下定决心自我克制之后,还一把抓起埃德蒙没有写完的那张字条,当做自天而降的珍宝,满怀柔情地读了起来:“我非常亲爱的范妮,你一定要赏光接受——”她把字条和链子一起锁了起来,并把字条看得比链子还要珍贵。这是她收到的他唯一的一件类似信的东西,她可能再也收不到第二件了,而这种从内容到形式都让她无比喜爱的东西,以后绝不可能再收到第二件了。最杰出的作家也从没写出过比这更令她珍惜的一句话——最痴情的传记作家也没找到一句比这让人更珍惜的话。一个女人甚至比传记作家爱得还要热烈。在她看来,且不论内容是什么,单看那笔迹就是一件圣物。埃德蒙的笔迹虽说极为平常,但世界上还没有第二个人能写出这样让她珍惜的字来!这行字尽管是匆匆忙忙写就的,但却写得完美无缺。开头那八个字“我非常亲爱的范妮”,安排得恰到好处,她真是百看不厌。

就这样,她将理智和弱点巧妙地掺杂起来,用以清理好自己的思想,安抚了自己的情感,然后按时走下楼,在伯特伦姨妈身旁做起日常的针线活,对她一如既往地恭敬不怠,看不出任何情绪不高的样子。

预定要给人带来希望和快乐的星期四来到了。对于范妮来说,这一天比执拗的、难以控制的日子开始得要吉利一些,因为早饭后不久,克劳福德先生给威廉送来一封非常客气的短简,说他第二天早晨要去伦敦几天,想找一个人做伴,如果威廉愿意提前半天动身,可以顺便乘他的马车。克劳福德先生打算在叔父傍晚吃正餐时赶到伦敦,请威廉和他一起在海军将军家里用餐。这个建议很合威廉的心意。一想到要和这样一位性情开朗、讨人喜欢的人,乘着四匹驿马拉的马车一路奔驰,他大为高兴。他觉得这等于坐专用马车回去,想象中真是又快乐又体面,于是便高高兴兴地接受了。范妮出于另一动机,也感到非常高兴。按原来的计划,威廉得在第二天夜里乘邮车从北安普敦动身,连一个小时都休息不上,就得坐进朴次茅斯的公共马车。克劳福德先生的建议虽然使威廉提前离开她许多小时,但却可以使他免除旅途劳顿,她为此感到高兴,也不去想别的了。托马斯爵士由于另外一个原因,也赞成这样做。他外甥将被介绍给克劳福德将军,这对他会有好处。他相信,这位将军很有势力。总的说来,这封信真令人高兴。范妮为这件事快活了半个上午,这其中的部分原因是那个写便笺的人也要走了。

至于即将举行的舞会,她由于过分激动,过分忧虑,期盼中的兴致远远没有达到应有的程度,或者说远远没有达到许多姑娘认为应有的程度。这些姑娘像她一样在盼望舞会,她们的处境比她来得轻松,不过在她们看来,这件事对范妮来说更为新鲜,更有兴趣,更值得特别高兴。普莱斯小姐的名字,应邀的人中只有一半人知道,现在她要第一次露面了,势必被宠为当晚的皇后。谁能比普莱斯小姐更快活呢?但是,普莱斯小姐从来没有受过这方面的教育,不知道如何初次进入社交界。她如果知道大家都认为这次舞会是为她而举行的,那她就会更加担心自己举止不当,更加当心受到众人注目,因而也就大大减少了她的快乐。跳舞的时候能不太引人注意,能跳得不太疲惫,能有精力跳它半个晚上,半个晚上次次有舞伴,能和埃德蒙跳上一阵,不要和克劳福德先生跳得太多,能看到威廉跳得开心,能避开诺里斯姨妈,这是她最大的愿望,似乎也是她能得到的最大快乐。既然这是她最大的希望,她也不可能总是抱着不放。在上午这段漫长的时间里,她主要是在两位姨妈身边度过的,常常受到一些不快活念头的影响。这是威廉在这里的最后一天,决计好好玩一玩,便外出打鹬去了。埃德蒙呢,她料想一定在牧师府上。就剩下她一人来忍受诺里斯太太的困扰。由于女管家非要按自己的意见安排晚饭,诺里斯太太在发脾气。女管家可以对她敬而远之,她范妮却避不开她。范妮最后被折磨得一点情绪都没有了,觉得跟舞会有关的样样事情都令人痛苦。最后,被打发去换衣服的时候,她感到十分苦恼,有气无力地向自己的房间走去。她觉得自己快活不起来,好像快活没有她的份似的。

她慢吞吞地走上楼,心里想起了昨天的情景。昨天大约就是这个时候,她从牧师府上回来,发现埃德蒙就在东屋。“但愿今天还能在那儿见到他!”她异想天开地自言自语道。

“范妮,”这时在离她不远的地方有一个声音说。她吃了一惊,抬头望去,只见在她刚刚到达的门厅的对面,在另一道楼梯的顶端,站着的正是埃德蒙。他向她走来。“你看上去非常疲惫,范妮。你走路走得太多了。”

“不,我根本就没出去。”

“那你就是在室内累着了,这更糟糕。还不如出去的好。”

范妮一向不爱叫苦,觉得最好还是不答话。尽管埃德蒙还像平常一样亲切地打量她,但她认为他已很快不再琢磨她的面容。他看样子情绪也不高,大概是一件与她无关的什么事没有办好。他们的房间在上边的同一层楼上,两人一起走上楼去。

“我是从格兰特博士家来的,”埃德蒙没等多久便说。“你会猜到我去那儿做什么,范妮。”他看上去很难为情,范妮觉得他去那里只能是为一件事,因此心里很不是滋味,一时说不出话来。“我想事先约定,和克劳福德小姐跳头两曲舞,”他接着解释说,范妮一听又来了劲儿,她发现埃德蒙在等她说话,便说了一句什么话,像是打听他约请克劳福德小姐跳舞的结果。

“是的,”埃德蒙答道,“她答应和我跳。不过(勉强地一笑),她说她这是最后一次和我跳舞。她不是当真说的。我想,我希望,我断定她不是当真说的。不过,我不愿意听到这样的话。她说她以前从没和牧师跳过舞,以后也决不会和牧师跳舞。为我自己着想,我但愿不要举行舞会——我的意思是不要在这个星期,不要在今天举行舞会——我明天就要离开家。”

范妮强打精神说道:“你遇到不称心的事情,我感到很遗憾。今天应该是个快乐的日子。这是姨父的意思。”

“噢!是的,是的,今天会过得很快活的。最后会一切如意的。我只是一时烦恼。其实,我并不认为舞会安排得不是时候。这到底是什么意思呢?不过,范妮,”他一把拉住她的手,低声严肃地说道:“你知道这一切是什么意思。你看得清楚,能告诉我,我为什么烦恼,也许比我说得更清楚。让我给你稍微讲一讲。你心地善良,能耐心地听。她今天早晨的表现伤了我的心,我怎么也开心不起来。我知道她的性子像你的一样温柔,一样完美,但是由于受到她以往接触的那些人的影响,使她显得有时候有欠妥当,说话也好,发表意见也好,都有欠妥的时候。她心里并没有坏念头,但她嘴上却要说,一开玩笑就说出来。虽然我知道她是说着玩的,但却感到非常伤心。”

“是过去所受教育的影响,”范妮柔和地说。

埃德蒙不得不表示同意。“是的,有那么一位婶婶,那么一位叔叔!他们伤害了一颗最美好的心灵啊!范妮,实话对你说,有时候还不只是谈吐问题,似乎心灵本身也受到了污染。”

范妮猜想这是要她发表意见,于是略加思索后说道:“表哥,如果你只是要我听一听,我会尽量满足你的要求。可是,让我出主意我就不够格了。不要叫我出主意。我胜任不了。”

“范妮,你不肯帮这个忙是对的,不过你用不着担心。在这样的问题上,我永远不会征求别人的意见。在这样的问题上,最好也不要去征求别人的意见。我想实际上很少有人征求别人的意见,要征求也只是想接受一些违背自己良心的影响。我只是想跟你谈一谈。”

“还有一点。请恕我直言——对我说话要慎重。不要对我说任何你会后悔不该说的话。你早晚会——”

范妮说着脸红了起来。

“最亲爱的范妮!”埃德蒙大声嚷道,一边把她的手摁在自己的嘴唇上,那个热烈劲儿,几乎像是抓着克劳福德小姐的手。“你处处都在替别人着想!可在这件事上没有必要。那一天永远不会到来。你所说的那一天是不会到来的。我开始感到这是决不可能的。可能性越来越小。即使真有这个可能,不论是你还是我,对我们今天谈的话也没有什么可后悔的,因为我永远不会对自己的顾虑感到羞愧。我只有看到这样的变化,一回想起她过去的缺陷,能越发感受到她人品的可贵,才会打消那些顾虑。世界上只有你一个人会听到我刚才说的这番话。不过你一向知道我对她的看法。你可以为我作证,范妮,我从来没有陷入盲目。我们有多少次在一起谈论她的小毛病啊!你用不着怕我。我几乎已经完全不再认真考虑她了。不管出现什么情况,我一想到你对我的好意和盛情,而能不感到由衷的感激,那我一定是个十足的傻瓜。”

他这番话足以震撼一个只有十八年阅历的姑娘,让范妮心里感到了近来不曾有过的快慰,只见她容光焕发地答道:“是的,表哥,我相信你一定会是这样的,尽管有人可能不是这样的。你说什么我都不会怕。你就说下去吧。想说什么就说吧。”

他们眼下在三楼,由于来了个女仆,他们没有再谈下去。就范妮此时的快慰而言,这次谈话可以说是在最恰到好处的时刻中止的。如果让埃德蒙再说上五分钟,说不定他会把克劳福德小姐的缺点和他自己的沮丧全都说没了。不过,尽管没有再说下去,两人分手的时候,男的面带感激,含情脉脉,女的眼里也流露出一种弥足珍贵的情感。几个小时以来,她心里就没有这样痛快过。自从克劳福德先生给威廉的信最初带给她的欢欣逐渐消退后,她一直处于完全相反的心态:从周围得不到安慰,自己心里又没有什么希望。现在,一切都喜气洋洋的。威廉的好运又浮现在她的脑海中,似乎比当初更加可喜可贺。还有舞会——一个多么快乐的夜晚在等待着她呀!现在,这舞会真使她感到兴奋啊!她怀着姑娘参加舞会前的那种激动、喜悦之情,开始打扮起来。一切都很如愿——她觉得自己并不难看。当她要戴项链的时候,她的好运似乎达到了顶峰,因为经过试验,克劳福德小姐送她的那条项链怎么也穿不过十字架上的小环。原来,看在埃德蒙的面上,她已决定戴上这条项链,不想它太大了,穿不上去。因此,她必须戴埃德蒙送的那条。她兴高采烈地把链子和十字架——她最亲爱的两个人送她的纪念品,从实物到意义如此相配的两个最珍贵的信物——穿在了一起,戴到了脖子上。她看得出来,也感受得到,这两件礼物充分展示了她与威廉、埃德蒙之间的深情厚意,于是便毫不勉强地决定把克劳福德小姐的项链一起戴上。她认为应该这样做。她不能拂却了克劳福德小姐的情谊。当她这位朋友的情谊不再干扰,不再妨害另一个人更深厚的情谊、更真挚的感情的时候,她倒能公正地看待她,自己也感到快乐。这条项链的确好看。范妮最后走出房时,心里颇为舒畅,对自己满意,也对周围的一切满意。

这时,伯特伦姨妈已经异常清醒了,不由得想起了范妮。她也没经人提醒,就想到范妮在为舞会做准备,光靠女仆帮忙恐怕还不够,她穿戴打扮好以后,就吩咐自己的女佣去帮助她,当然为时已晚,也帮不上什么忙。查普曼太太刚来到阁楼上,普莱斯小姐就从房里走出来,已经完全穿戴好了,彼此只需寒暄一番。不过,范妮几乎像伯特伦夫人或查普曼太太本人那样,能感受到姨妈对她的关心。
 



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