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Chapter 29

The ball was over, and the breakfast was soon over too; the last kiss was given, and William was gone. Mr. Crawford had, as he foretold, been very punctual, and short and pleasant had been the meal.

After seeing William to the last moment, Fanny walked back to the breakfast-room with a very saddened heart to grieve over the melancholy change; and there her uncle kindly left her to cry in peace, conceiving, perhaps, that the deserted chair of each young man might exercise her tender enthusiasm, and that the remaining cold pork bones and mustard in William's plate might but divide her feelings with the broken egg-shells in Mr. Crawford's. She sat and cried _con_ _amore_ as her uncle intended, but it was _con_ _amore_ fraternal and no other. William was gone, and she now felt as if she had wasted half his visit in idle cares and selfish solicitudes unconnected with him.

Fanny's disposition was such that she could never even think of her aunt Norris in the meagreness and cheerlessness of her own small house, without reproaching herself for some little want of attention to her when they had been last together; much less could her feelings acquit her of having done and said and thought everything by William that was due to him for a whole fortnight.

It was a heavy, melancholy day. Soon after the second breakfast, Edmund bade them good-bye for a week, and mounted his horse for Peterborough, and then all were gone. Nothing remained of last night but remembrances, which she had nobody to share in. She talked to her aunt Bertram-- she must talk to somebody of the ball; but her aunt had seen so little of what had passed, and had so little curiosity, that it was heavy work. Lady Bertram was not certain of anybody's dress or anybody's place at supper but her own. "She could not recollect what it was that she had heard about one of the Miss Maddoxes, or what it was that Lady Prescott had noticed in Fanny: she was not sure whether Colonel Harrison had been talking of Mr. Crawford or of William when he said he was the finest young man in the room-- somebody had whispered something to her; she had forgot to ask Sir Thomas what it could be." And these were her longest speeches and clearest communications: the rest was only a languid "Yes, yes; very well; did you? did he? I did not see _that_; I should not know one from the other." This was very bad. It was only better than Mrs. Norris's sharp answers would have been; but she being gone home with all the supernumerary jellies to nurse a sick maid, there was peace and good-humour in their little party, though it could not boast much beside.

The evening was heavy like the day. "I cannot think what is the matter with me," said Lady Bertram, when the tea-things were removed. "I feel quite stupid. It must be sitting up so late last night. Fanny, you must do something to keep me awake. I cannot work. Fetch the cards; I feel so very stupid."

The cards were brought, and Fanny played at cribbage with her aunt till bedtime; and as Sir Thomas was reading to himself, no sounds were heard in the room for the next two hours beyond the reckonings of the game--"And _that_ makes thirty-one; four in hand and eight in crib. You are to deal, ma'am; shall I deal for you?" Fanny thought and thought again of the difference which twenty-four hours had made in that room, and all that part of the house. Last night it had been hope and smiles, bustle and motion, noise and brilliancy, in the drawing-room, and out of the drawing-room, and everywhere. Now it was languor, and all but solitude.

A good night's rest improved her spirits. She could think of William the next day more cheerfully; and as the morning afforded her an opportunity of talking over Thursday night with Mrs. Grant and Miss Crawford, in a very handsome style, with all the heightenings of imagination, and all the laughs of playfulness which are so essential to the shade of a departed ball, she could afterwards bring her mind without much effort into its everyday state, and easily conform to the tranquillity of the present quiet week.

They were indeed a smaller party than she had ever known there for a whole day together, and _he_ was gone on whom the comfort and cheerfulness of every family meeting and every meal chiefly depended. But this must be learned to be endured. He would soon be always gone; and she was thankful that she could now sit in the same room with her uncle, hear his voice, receive his questions, and even answer them, without such wretched feelings as she had formerly known.

"We miss our two young men," was Sir Thomas's observation on both the first and second day, as they formed their very reduced circle after dinner; and in consideration of Fanny's swimming eyes, nothing more was said on the first day than to drink their good health; but on the second it led to something farther. William was kindly commended and his promotion hoped for. "And there is no reason to suppose," added Sir Thomas, "but that his visits to us may now be tolerably frequent. As to Edmund, we must learn to do without him. This will be the last winter of his belonging to us, as he has done."

"Yes," said Lady Bertram, "but I wish he was not going away. They are all going away, I think. I wish they would stay at home."

This wish was levelled principally at Julia, who had just applied for permission to go to town with Maria; and as Sir Thomas thought it best for each daughter that the permission should be granted, Lady Bertram, though in her own good-nature she would not have prevented it, was lamenting the change it made in the prospect of Julia's return, which would otherwise have taken place about this time. A great deal of good sense followed on Sir Thomas's side, tending to reconcile his wife to the arrangement. Everything that a considerate parent _ought_ to feel was advanced for her use; and everything that an affectionate mother _must_ feel in promoting her children's enjoyment was attributed to her nature. Lady Bertram agreed to it all with a calm "Yes"; and at the end of a quarter of an hour's silent consideration spontaneously observed, "Sir Thomas, I have been thinking--and I am very glad we took Fanny as we did, for now the others are away we feel the good of it."

Sir Thomas immediately improved this compliment by adding, "Very true. We shew Fanny what a good girl we think her by praising her to her face, she is now a very valuable companion. If we have been kind to _her_, she is now quite as necessary to _us_."

"Yes," said Lady Bertram presently; "and it is a comfort to think that we shall always have _her_."

Sir Thomas paused, half smiled, glanced at his niece, and then gravely replied, "She will never leave us, I hope, till invited to some other home that may reasonably promise her greater happiness than she knows here."

"And _that_ is not very likely to be, Sir Thomas. Who should invite her? Maria might be very glad to see her at Sotherton now and then, but she would not think of asking her to live there; and I am sure she is better off here; and besides, I cannot do without her."

The week which passed so quietly and peaceably at the great house in Mansfield had a very different character at the Parsonage. To the young lady, at least, in each family, it brought very different feelings. What was tranquillity and comfort to Fanny was tediousness and vexation to Mary. Something arose from difference of disposition and habit: one so easily satisfied, the other so unused to endure; but still more might be imputed to difference of circumstances. In some points of interest they were exactly opposed to each other. To Fanny's mind, Edmund's absence was really, in its cause and its tendency, a relief. To Mary it was every way painful. She felt the want of his society every day, almost every hour, and was too much in want of it to derive anything but irritation from considering the object for which he went. He could not have devised anything more likely to raise his consequence than this week's absence, occurring as it did at the very time of her brother's going away, of William Price's going too, and completing the sort of general break-up of a party which had been so animated. She felt it keenly. They were now a miserable trio, confined within doors by a series of rain and snow, with nothing to do and no variety to hope for. Angry as she was with Edmund for adhering to his own notions, and acting on them in defiance of her (and she had been so angry that they had hardly parted friends at the ball), she could not help thinking of him continually when absent, dwelling on his merit and affection, and longing again for the almost daily meetings they lately had. His absence was unnecessarily long. He should not have planned such an absence--he should not have left home for a week, when her own departure from Mansfield was so near. Then she began to blame herself. She wished she had not spoken so warmly in their last conversation. She was afraid she had used some strong, some contemptuous expressions in speaking of the clergy, and that should not have been. It was ill-bred; it was wrong. She wished such words unsaid with all her heart.

Her vexation did not end with the week. All this was bad, but she had still more to feel when Friday came round again and brought no Edmund; when Saturday came and still no Edmund; and when, through the slight communication with the other family which Sunday produced, she learned that he had actually written home to defer his return, having promised to remain some days longer with his friend.

If she had felt impatience and regret before--if she had been sorry for what she said, and feared its too strong effect on him--she now felt and feared it all tenfold more. She had, moreover, to contend with one disagreeable emotion entirely new to her--jealousy. His friend Mr. Owen had sisters; he might find them attractive. But, at any rate, his staying away at a time when, according to all preceding plans, she was to remove to London, meant something that she could not bear. Had Henry returned, as he talked of doing, at the end of three or four days, she should now have been leaving Mansfield. It became absolutely necessary for her to get to Fanny and try to learn something more. She could not live any longer in such solitary wretchedness; and she made her way to the Park, through difficulties of walking which she had deemed unconquerable a week before, for the chance of hearing a little in addition, for the sake of at least hearing his name.

The first half-hour was lost, for Fanny and Lady Bertram were together, and unless she had Fanny to herself she could hope for nothing. But at last Lady Bertram left the room, and then almost immediately Miss Crawford thus began, with a voice as well regulated as she could--"And how do _you_ like your cousin Edmund's staying away so long? Being the only young person at home, I consider _you_ as the greatest sufferer. You must miss him. Does his staying longer surprise you?"

"I do not know," said Fanny hesitatingly. "Yes; I had not particularly expected it."

"Perhaps he will always stay longer than he talks of. It is the general way all young men do."

"He did not, the only time he went to see Mr. Owen before."

"He finds the house more agreeable _now_. He is a very-- a very pleasing young man himself, and I cannot help being rather concerned at not seeing him again before I go to London, as will now undoubtedly be the case. I am looking for Henry every day, and as soon as he comes there will be nothing to detain me at Mansfield. I should like to have seen him once more, I confess. But you must give my compliments to him. Yes; I think it must be compliments. Is not there a something wanted, Miss Price, in our language--a something between compliments and-- and love--to suit the sort of friendly acquaintance we have had together? So many months' acquaintance! But compliments may be sufficient here. Was his letter a long one? Does he give you much account of what he is doing? Is it Christmas gaieties that he is staying for?"

"I only heard a part of the letter; it was to my uncle; but I believe it was very short; indeed I am sure it was but a few lines. All that I heard was that his friend had pressed him to stay longer, and that he had agreed to do so. A _few_ days longer, or _some_ days longer; I am not quite sure which."

"Oh! if he wrote to his father; but I thought it might have been to Lady Bertram or you. But if he wrote to his father, no wonder he was concise. Who could write chat to Sir Thomas? If he had written to you, there would have been more particulars. You would have heard of balls and parties. He would have sent you a description of everything and everybody. How many Miss Owens are there?"

"Three grown up."

"Are they musical?"

"I do not at all know. I never heard."

"That is the first question, you know," said Miss Crawford, trying to appear gay and unconcerned, "which every woman who plays herself is sure to ask about another. But it is very foolish to ask questions about any young ladies--about any three sisters just grown up; for one knows, without being told, exactly what they are: all very accomplished and pleasing, and one very pretty. There is a beauty in every family; it is a regular thing. Two play on the pianoforte, and one on the harp; and all sing, or would sing if they were taught, or sing all the better for not being taught; or something like it."

"I know nothing of the Miss Owens," said Fanny calmly.

"You know nothing and you care less, as people say. Never did tone express indifference plainer. Indeed, how can one care for those one has never seen? Well, when your cousin comes back, he will find Mansfield very quiet; all the noisy ones gone, your brother and mine and myself I do not like the idea of leaving Mrs. Grant now the time draws near. She does not like my going."

Fanny felt obliged to speak. "You cannot doubt your being missed by many," said she. "You will be very much missed."

Miss Crawford turned her eye on her, as if wanting to hear or see more, and then laughingly said, "Oh yes! missed as every noisy evil is missed when it is taken away; that is, there is a great difference felt. But I am not fishing; don't compliment me. If I _am_ missed, it will appear. I may be discovered by those who want to see me. I shall not be in any doubtful, or distant, or unapproachable region."

Now Fanny could not bring herself to speak, and Miss Crawford was disappointed; for she had hoped to hear some pleasant assurance of her power from one who she thought must know, and her spirits were clouded again.

"The Miss Owens," said she, soon afterwards; "suppose you were to have one of the Miss Owens settled at Thornton Lacey; how should you like it? Stranger things have happened. I dare say they are trying for it. And they are quite in the light, for it would be a very pretty establishment for them. I do not at all wonder or blame them. It is everybody's duty to do as well for themselves as they can. Sir Thomas Bertram's son is somebody; and now he is in their own line. Their father is a clergyman, and their brother is a clergyman, and they are all clergymen together. He is their lawful property; he fairly belongs to them. You don't speak, Fanny; Miss Price, you don't speak. But honestly now, do not you rather expect it than otherwise?"

"No," said Fanny stoutly, "I do not expect it at all."

"Not at all!" cried Miss Crawford with alacrity. "I wonder at that. But I dare say you know exactly-- I always imagine you are--perhaps you do not think him likely to marry at all--or not at present."

"No, I do not," said Fanny softly, hoping she did not err either in the belief or the acknowledgment of it.

Her companion looked at her keenly; and gathering greater spirit from the blush soon produced from such a look, only said, "He is best off as he is," and turned the subject.

舞会结束了,早饭也很快吃完了,最后的亲吻给过了,威廉走了。克劳福德先生果然来得很准时,饭吃得又紧凑又惬意。

送走了威廉之后,范妮才心情沉重地回到早餐厅,为这令人心酸的变化感到悲伤。姨父出于好意,让她在早餐厅里静静地流泪。他心里也许在想,两个年轻人刚刚坐过的椅子会勾起她的一番柔情,威廉盘子里剩下的冷猪排骨头和芥末,只不过能分散一下克劳福德先生盘子里的蛋壳在她心里引起的伤感罢了。正如姨父所希望的那样,她坐在那里痛哭,但她哭得伤心只是因为走了哥哥,并不是为了别人。威廉走了,她现在觉得,她那些与他无关的无谓的操心和自私的烦恼,使他在这里虚度了一半的时日。

范妮天性敦厚,就连每次一想到诺里斯姨妈住在那么局促、那么凄凉的一座小屋里,就要责备自己上次和她在一起时对她那么冷漠,现在再想到两周来对威廉的一言一行、一思一念,更觉得问心有愧。

这是一个沉重沮丧的日子。第二次早餐吃过不久,埃德蒙向家人告别,骑马去彼得伯勒,一个星期后才回来。于是,人都走了。昨晚的一切只剩下了记忆,而这些记忆又无人可以分享。范妮总得跟什么人谈谈舞会,她便讲给伯特伦姨妈听,可是姨妈看到的很少,又不怎么感兴趣,和她谈没有什么意思。伯特伦夫人记不清谁穿了什么衣服,谁吃饭时坐在什么位置,她只记得她自己。“我记不得听人讲起了马多克斯家的哪位小姐的什么事,也记不得普雷斯科特夫人是怎么谈论范妮的。我拿不准哈里森上校是说克劳福德先生还是说威廉是舞厅里最漂亮的小伙子。有人悄悄地对我嘀咕了几句,我忘了问问托马斯爵士那话是什么意思。”这是她说得最长、也最清楚的一段话,其余的只是些懒洋洋的话:“是的——是的——挺好——你是这样吗?他是这样吗?——我没看出这一点——我不知道这两者有什么不同。”这实在令人扫兴。只比诺里斯太太的刻薄回答好一些。不过,诺里斯太太已经回家了,还把剩下的果冻都带走了,说是要给一个生病的女仆吃。这样一来,这一小伙人虽说没有别的好夸口的,却也安安静静,和和气气的。

这天晚上像白天一样沉闷。“我不知道我是怎么啦!”茶具撤去之后,伯特伦夫人说。“我觉得昏昏沉沉的。一定是昨天夜里睡得太晚了。范妮,你得想个办法别让我睡着了。我做不成活了。把牌拿来,我觉得头昏脑涨。”

牌拿来了,范妮陪姨妈玩克里比奇牌戏①(译注:①一种二至四人玩的牌戏,用插在有孔的记分板上的小钉记分。),一直玩到就寝的时候。托马斯爵士在黩默地看书,一连两个小时,除了算分的声音外,再没有别的声响。“这就够三十一点了。一手牌四张,配点牌八张。该你发牌了,姨妈。要我替你发吗?”范妮翻来覆去地想着这间屋子及整幢房子这一带一天来发生的变化。昨天夜里,不管是客厅内,还是客厅外,到处都是希望和笑脸,大家忙忙碌碌,人声鼎沸,灯火辉煌。现在,却死气沉沉,一片寂静。

范妮夜里睡好了,人也就来了精神,第二天想起威廉来,心情已不那么低沉。上午她有机会跟格兰特太太和克劳福德小姐兴致勃勃地谈起星期四晚上的那场舞会,一个个驾起想象的翅膀,高兴得纵声大笑,这对舞会过后的感伤是极为重要的。后来,她没怎么费劲就恢复了平时的心情,轻易地适应了这一星期的寂静生活。

这一整天,她觉得家里的人从来没有这样少过。每次家里有聚会,每次在一起吃饭,她所以感到欣慰、快乐,主要是因为有一个人在场,而他现在却不在了。不过,她必须学会去习惯这种情况。过不久,他就要经常离家在外了。她感到庆幸的是,她现在能跟姨父坐在同一间屋子里,能听到他的声音,听到他向她提问,即使在回答他的问题时,也不像以前那样忐忑不安了。

“见不到两个年轻人,心里挺惦念的,”接连两天,当这大大缩小了的一家人晚饭后坐在一起时,托马斯爵士都这样说。第一天,看到范妮眼泪汪汪,他没再说别的话,只建议为他们的健康干杯。可在第二天,话就扯得远了些。托马斯爵士又称赞起了威廉,盼望他能晋升。“我们有充分的理由相信,”他接着说道,“他今后可以常来看望我们。至于埃德蒙,我们要习惯于他长年不在家。这是他在家里度过的最后一个冬天。”“是的,”伯将伦夫人说,“不过,我希望他不要远走。我看他们都要远走高飞。我希望他们能待在家里。”

她这个愿望主要是针对朱莉娅说的。朱莉娅不久前请求和玛丽亚一起去伦敦,托马斯爵士觉得这对两个姑娘都有好处,便同意了。伯特伦夫人天生一副好脾气,自然不会阻拦。但按照说定的日期,朱莉娅这时也该回来了,伯特伦夫人只能埋怨临时有变,使她不能如期归来。托马斯爵士尽量好言相劝,想让妻子对这样的安排想通一些。一个体贴的母亲应该怎样处处为儿女着想,他样样都替她说全了;一个疼爱儿女的母亲必须怎样事事让儿女快乐,他说她天生就有这样的情怀。伯特伦夫人表示赞成这些话,平静地说了一声“是的”。她默默地想了一刻钟后,不由自主地说道:“托马斯爵士,我一直在想——我很高兴我们收养了范妮。如今别人都走了,我们感受到了这一招的好处。”

托马斯爵士想把话说得周全一些,立即补充道:“一点不错。我们当面夸奖范妮,让她知道我们把她看做多好的一个姑娘。现在,她是一个非常可贵的伙伴。我们一直对她好,她现在对我们也十分重要。”

“是的,”伯特伦夫人紧接着说,“一想到她会永远和我们在一起,真令人感到欣慰。”

托马斯爵士稍顿了顿,微微一笑,瞥了一眼外甥女,然后一本正经地答道:“希望她永远不要离开我们,直到有一个比我们更能使她幸福的家把她请去。”

“这是不大可能的,托马斯爵士。谁会请她呢?也许玛丽亚乐于偶尔请她去索瑟顿做客,但不会想要请她在那里长住——我敢说,她在这里比去哪里都好——再说我也离不开她。”

在曼斯菲尔德的大宅里,这个星期过得平平静静,但在牧师府上,情况却大不相同。至少是两家的两位小姐,心情大不相同。让范妮感到宁静和欣慰的事情,却使玛丽感到厌烦和苦恼。这与性情习惯不同有一定关系——一个容易满足,另一个遇事不能容忍。但更主要的原因是境遇不同。在某些利害问题上,两人恰好完全相反。范妮觉得,埃德蒙离家外出,就其动机和意向而言,的确令人感到欣慰。而玛丽却感到痛苦不堪。她每天、几乎每小时都渴望与他相聚,一想到他这次外出的动机,她只会为之恼火。她哥哥走了,威廉·普莱斯也走了,他再偏要在这个星期外出,使他们这个原本生气勃勃的小圈子彻底瓦解,他这次离去比什么都更能提高他的身价。她心里真不是滋味。现在就剩下他们可怜巴巴的三个人,被连续的雨雪困在家里,无事可做,也没有什么新鲜事可企盼。虽然她恨埃德蒙固执己见,恨他无视她的意愿(她由于愤恨不已,在舞厅里可以说是和他不欢而散),可是等他离家之后,她又禁不住老是想念他,不停地琢磨他的好处和深情,又盼着能像先前那样几乎天天和他相聚。他没有必要出去这么久。她眼看就要离开曼斯菲尔德了,他不该在这个时候外出——不该离家一个星期。接着她又责怪起自己来。在最后那次谈话中,她不该出言那么激烈。在讲到牧师的时候,她恐怕用了一些激烈的——一些轻蔑的言词,这是不应该的。这是没有教养的表现——这是不对的。她对这些话感到由衷的悔恨。

一个星期过去了,她的烦恼却没有完结。这一切已够她心烦的了,可现在她还要烦上加烦。星期五又来到了,埃德蒙却没有回来,星期六也到了,埃德蒙依然没有回来,星期天和他家里联系了一下,得知他给家里写信说,他要推迟他的归期,已答应在朋友那里再住几天!

如果说她已经感到不耐烦,感到悔恨——如果说她已经为自己说的话感到后悔,担心那些话会给他带来过分强烈的刺激,那她现在的悔恨和担心则增加了十倍。此外,她还得和一种她从来不曾体会过的讨厌心情——嫉妒作斗筝。他的朋友欧文有妹妹,他会觉得她们很迷人。不管怎么说,在她按照原先计划要去伦敦的时候,他却待在外地,这总是有点不像话,让她无法忍受。如果亨利真如他说的那样走后三四天便回来,那她现在就该离开曼斯菲尔德了。她必须去找范妮,向她了解点情况。她不能再这样一个人愁闷下去。她向庄园走去,只想再听到一点消息,至少能听到他的名字。一个星期以前,她会觉得路太难走,决不会跑这一趟的。

头半个小时白白地过去了,因为范妮和伯特伦夫人在一起,除非她和范妮单独在一起,否则她什么也休想听到。不过,伯特伦夫人终于出去了——这时,克劳福德小姐迫不及待地开口了,以尽可能得体的口气说道:“你埃德蒙表哥离家这么久,你觉得怎么样?家里只剩下你一个年轻人,我想你是最苦闷的。你一定在想念他。你没料到他会逾期不归吧?”

“我说不准,”范妮支支吾吾地说。“是的——我没有料到。”

“也许他将来总也不能说什么时候回就什么时候回。年轻男人一般都是这样。”

“他以前只去过欧文先生家一次,那一次并没有逾期不归。”

“这一次他发现那家人比以前讨人喜欢了。他自己就是一个非常——非常讨人喜欢的年轻人,我不由得在担心,我去伦敦之前再也见不到他了。现在看来肯定会是这样的。我每天都在盼着亨利回来,他一回来,曼斯菲尔德就再也没有什么事情能拦住我不走了。说实话,我想再见他一次。不过,请你代我向他表示敬慕之意。是的——我想应该是敬慕。普莱斯小姐,我们的语言里是否缺少一个适当的字眼,介于敬慕和——和爱慕之间,来表达我们友好相处的那种关系?我们相处了那么久啊!不过,用个敬慕也许就够了。他的信写得长吗?他是否详细告诉了你们他在干什么?他是否要待在那里过圣诞节?”

“我只听说了部分内容。信是写给我姨父的。不过,我想写得很短,我敢说只有寥寥几行。我光听说他的朋友非要让他多住几天,他也就答应了。是多住几天还是多住些天,我不是很有把握。”

“噢!要是写给他父亲的——我原以为是写给伯特伦夫人或者你的。如果是写给他父亲的,自然话就不多了。谁会给托马斯爵士在信里写那么多闲话呢?他要是给你写信,就会写得很详细。你就会了解到舞会、宴会的情况。他会把每件事、每个人都向你描述一番。欧文家有几位小姐?”

“有三位长大成人的。”

“她们爱好音乐吗?”

“我不知道。从来没有听说过。”

“你知道,”克劳福德小姐说,一边装出快活的、若无其事的样子,“每个喜欢乐器的女士打听别的女士时,首先问的就是这个问题。不过,你可不能犯傻去打听年轻小姐——刚长大成人的三个姊妹。你不用打听,就知道她们怎么样——个个都多才多艺,招人喜爱,有一个还很漂亮。每家都有一个美人,这是规律。两个弹钢琴,一个弹竖琴——个个都会唱——要是有人教的话,个个都会唱——要是没人教的话,反倒唱得更好——如此这般吧。”

“我一点也不了解欧文家的几位小姐,”范妮平静地说。

“常言说,不知少操心。这话说得再好不过了。的确,对于你从没见过的人,你怎么会在意呢?唉,等你表哥回来,他会发现曼斯菲尔德异常安静。爱说爱笑的人,你哥哥、我哥哥和我全走了。眼见行期临近了,我一想到要和格兰特太太分手,心里就不是滋味。她不想让我走。”

范妮觉得自己不得不说几句。“你走后肯定会有很多人想你,”她说。“大家会非常想念你。”

克劳福德小姐转眼望着她,像是想要多听一听,多看一看,接着笑道:“噢!是的,大家会想念我的,就像令人讨厌的吵闹声一旦消失,也会让人思念一样,因为这让人感到了巨大的反差。不过,我可不是在转弯抹角讨恭维,你也不要恭维我。要是真有人想我,那是看得出来的。谁想见我都能找到我。我不会住在什么神秘莫测或遥不可及的地方。”

范妮没有心思说话,克劳福德小姐感到失望。她原以为对方深知她的魅力,会说一些合她心意的奉承话。她的心头又罩上了阴影。

“欧文家的几位小姐,”过了不久她又说,“假如她们中的哪一位能在桑顿莱西找到归属,你觉得怎么样?更稀奇的事都发生过。我敢说她们尽力争取。她们完全应该这么做,因为对她们来说,这是一份很不错的家业。我一点也不感到奇怪,也不怪她们。人人都有义务尽量为自己谋利益。托马斯爵士的公子算得上一个人物了,如今他已进入她们家那一行了。她们的父亲是牧师,她们的哥哥是牧师,他们是牧师跟牧师凑到一起了。他成了她们的合法财产,他理所应当是属于她们的。你是不说,范妮——普莱斯小姐——你是明知不说。不过,请你说实话,这难道不是你意料中的事情吗?”

“不,”范妮果决地说,“我丝毫没有料到。”

“丝毫没料到!”克劳福德小姐急忙嚷道。“我感到奇怪。不过我敢说,你了解得一清二楚——我一直以为你——也许你认为他压根儿不想结婚——或者目前不想结婚。”

“是的,我是这样认为的,”范妮婉转地说——既不希望自己判断错误,也拿不准该不该承认自己的看法。

她的伙伴目光犀利地盯着她,范妮马上涨红了脸,克劳福德小姐精神为之一振,只说了声“他现在这样对他来说是最好的”,随即转变了话题。



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