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Chapter 36

Edmund now believed himself perfectly acquainted with all that Fanny could tell, or could leave to be conjectured of her sentiments, and he was satisfied. It had been, as he before presumed, too hasty a measure on Crawford's side, and time must be given to make the idea first familiar, and then agreeable to her. She must be used to the consideration of his being in love with her, and then a return of affection might not be very distant.

He gave this opinion as the result of the conversation to his father; and recommended there being nothing more said to her: no farther attempts to influence or persuade; but that everything should be left to Crawford's assiduities, and the natural workings of her own mind.

Sir Thomas promised that it should be so. Edmund's account of Fanny's disposition he could believe to be just; he supposed she had all those feelings, but he must consider it as very unfortunate that she _had_; for, less willing than his son to trust to the future, he could not help fearing that if such very long allowances of time and habit were necessary for her, she might not have persuaded herself into receiving his addresses properly before the young man's inclination for paying them were over. There was nothing to be done, however, but to submit quietly and hope the best.

The promised visit from "her friend," as Edmund called Miss Crawford, was a formidable threat to Fanny, and she lived in continual terror of it. As a sister, so partial and so angry, and so little scrupulous of what she said, and in another light so triumphant and secure, she was in every way an object of painful alarm. Her displeasure, her penetration, and her happiness were all fearful to encounter; and the dependence of having others present when they met was Fanny's only support in looking forward to it. She absented herself as little as possible from Lady Bertram, kept away from the East room, and took no solitary walk in the shrubbery, in her caution to avoid any sudden attack.

She succeeded. She was safe in the breakfast-room, with her aunt, when Miss Crawford did come; and the first misery over, and Miss Crawford looking and speaking with much less particularity of expression than she had anticipated, Fanny began to hope there would be nothing worse to be endured than a half-hour of moderate agitation. But here she hoped too much; Miss Crawford was not the slave of opportunity. She was determined to see Fanny alone, and therefore said to her tolerably soon, in a low voice, "I must speak to you for a few minutes somewhere"; words that Fanny felt all over her, in all her pulses and all her nerves. Denial was impossible. Her habits of ready submission, on the contrary, made her almost instantly rise and lead the way out of the room. She did it with wretched feelings, but it was inevitable.

They were no sooner in the hall than all restraint of countenance was over on Miss Crawford's side. She immediately shook her head at Fanny with arch, yet affectionate reproach, and taking her hand, seemed hardly able to help beginning directly. She said nothing, however, but, "Sad, sad girl! I do not know when I shall have done scolding you," and had discretion enough to reserve the rest till they might be secure of having four walls to themselves. Fanny naturally turned upstairs, and took her guest to the apartment which was now always fit for comfortable use; opening the door, however, with a most aching heart, and feeling that she had a more distressing scene before her than ever that spot had yet witnessed. But the evil ready to burst on her was at least delayed by the sudden change in Miss Crawford's ideas; by the strong effect on her mind which the finding herself in the East room again produced.

"Ha!" she cried, with instant animation, "am I here again? The East room! Once only was I in this room before"; and after stopping to look about her, and seemingly to retrace all that had then passed, she added, "Once only before. Do you remember it? I came to rehearse. Your cousin came too; and we had a rehearsal. You were our audience and prompter. A delightful rehearsal. I shall never forget it. Here we were, just in this part of the room: here was your cousin, here was I, here were the chairs. Oh! why will such things ever pass away?"

Happily for her companion, she wanted no answer. Her mind was entirely self-engrossed. She was in a reverie of sweet remembrances.

"The scene we were rehearsing was so very remarkable! The subject of it so very--very--what shall I say? He was to be describing and recommending matrimony to me. I think I see him now, trying to be as demure and composed as Anhalt ought, through the two long speeches. 'When two sympathetic hearts meet in the marriage state, matrimony may be called a happy life.' I suppose no time can ever wear out the impression I have of his looks and voice as he said those words. It was curious, very curious, that we should have such a scene to play! If I had the power of recalling any one week of my existence, it should be that week--that acting week. Say what you would, Fanny, it should be _that_; for I never knew such exquisite happiness in any other. His sturdy spirit to bend as it did! Oh! it was sweet beyond expression. But alas, that very evening destroyed it all. That very evening brought your most unwelcome uncle. Poor Sir Thomas, who was glad to see you? Yet, Fanny, do not imagine I would now speak disrespectfully of Sir Thomas, though I certainly did hate him for many a week. No, I do him justice now. He is just what the head of such a family should be. Nay, in sober sadness, I believe I now love you all." And having said so, with a degree of tenderness and consciousness which Fanny had never seen in her before, and now thought only too becoming, she turned away for a moment to recover herself. "I have had a little fit since I came into this room, as you may perceive," said she presently, with a playful smile, "but it is over now; so let us sit down and be comfortable; for as to scolding you, Fanny, which I came fully intending to do, I have not the heart for it when it comes to the point." And embracing her very affectionately, "Good, gentle Fanny! when I think of this being the last time of seeing you for I do not know how long, I feel it quite impossible to do anything but love you."

Fanny was affected. She had not foreseen anything of this, and her feelings could seldom withstand the melancholy influence of the word "last." She cried as if she had loved Miss Crawford more than she possibly could; and Miss Crawford, yet farther softened by the sight of such emotion, hung about her with fondness, and said, "I hate to leave you. I shall see no one half so amiable where I am going. Who says we shall not be sisters? I know we shall. I feel that we are born to be connected; and those tears convince me that you feel it too, dear Fanny."

Fanny roused herself, and replying only in part, said, "But you are only going from one set of friends to another. You are going to a very particular friend."

"Yes, very true. Mrs. Fraser has been my intimate friend for years. But I have not the least inclination to go near her. I can think only of the friends I am leaving: my excellent sister, yourself, and the Bertrams in general. You have all so much more _heart_ among you than one finds in the world at large. You all give me a feeling of being able to trust and confide in you, which in common intercourse one knows nothing of. I wish I had settled with Mrs. Fraser not to go to her till after Easter, a much better time for the visit, but now I cannot put her off. And when I have done with her I must go to her sister, Lady Stornaway, because _she_ was rather my most particular friend of the two, but I have not cared much for _her_ these three years."

After this speech the two girls sat many minutes silent, each thoughtful: Fanny meditating on the different sorts of friendship in the world, Mary on something of less philosophic tendency. _She_ first spoke again.

"How perfectly I remember my resolving to look for you upstairs, and setting off to find my way to the East room, without having an idea whereabouts it was! How well I remember what I was thinking of as I came along, and my looking in and seeing you here sitting at this table at work; and then your cousin's astonishment, when he opened the door, at seeing me here! To be sure, your uncle's returning that very evening! There never was anything quite like it."

Another short fit of abstraction followed, when, shaking it off, she thus attacked her companion.

"Why, Fanny, you are absolutely in a reverie. Thinking, I hope, of one who is always thinking of you. Oh! that I could transport you for a short time into our circle in town, that you might understand how your power over Henry is thought of there! Oh! the envyings and heartburnings of dozens and dozens; the wonder, the incredulity that will be felt at hearing what you have done! For as to secrecy, Henry is quite the hero of an old romance, and glories in his chains. You should come to London to know how to estimate your conquest. If you were to see how he is courted, and how I am courted for his sake! Now, I am well aware that I shall not be half so welcome to Mrs. Fraser in consequence of his situation with you. When she comes to know the truth she will, very likely, wish me in Northamptonshire again; for there is a daughter of Mr. Fraser, by a first wife, whom she is wild to get married, and wants Henry to take. Oh! she has been trying for him to such a degree. Innocent and quiet as you sit here, you cannot have an idea of the _sensation_ that you will be occasioning, of the curiosity there will be to see you, of the endless questions I shall have to answer! Poor Margaret Fraser will be at me for ever about your eyes and your teeth, and how you do your hair, and who makes your shoes. I wish Margaret were married, for my poor friend's sake, for I look upon the Frasers to be about as unhappy as most other married people. And yet it was a most desirable match for Janet at the time. We were all delighted. She could not do otherwise than accept him, for he was rich, and she had nothing; but he turns out ill-tempered and _exigeant_, and wants a young woman, a beautiful young woman of five-and-twenty, to be as steady as himself. And my friend does not manage him well; she does not seem to know how to make the best of it. There is a spirit of irritation which, to say nothing worse, is certainly very ill-bred. In their house I shall call to mind the conjugal manners of Mansfield Parsonage with respect. Even Dr. Grant does shew a thorough confidence in my sister, and a certain consideration for her judgment, which makes one feel there _is_ attachment; but of that I shall see nothing with the Frasers. I shall be at Mansfield for ever, Fanny. My own sister as a wife, Sir Thomas Bertram as a husband, are my standards of perfection. Poor Janet has been sadly taken in, and yet there was nothing improper on her side: she did not run into the match inconsiderately; there was no want of foresight. She took three days to consider of his proposals, and during those three days asked the advice of everybody connected with her whose opinion was worth having, and especially applied to my late dear aunt, whose knowledge of the world made her judgment very generally and deservedly looked up to by all the young people of her acquaintance, and she was decidedly in favour of Mr. Fraser. This seems as if nothing were a security for matrimonial comfort. I have not so much to say for my friend Flora, who jilted a very nice young man in the Blues for the sake of that horrid Lord Stornaway, who has about as much sense, Fanny, as Mr. Rushworth, but much worse-looking, and with a blackguard character. I _had_ my doubts at the time about her being right, for he has not even the air of a gentleman, and now I am sure she was wrong. By the bye, Flora Ross was dying for Henry the first winter she came out. But were I to attempt to tell you of all the women whom I have known to be in love with him, I should never have done. It is you, only you, insensible Fanny, who can think of him with anything like indifference. But are you so insensible as you profess yourself? No, no, I see you are not."

There was, indeed, so deep a blush over Fanny's face at that moment as might warrant strong suspicion in a predisposed mind.

"Excellent creature! I will not tease you. Everything shall take its course. But, dear Fanny, you must allow that you were not so absolutely unprepared to have the question asked as your cousin fancies. It is not possible but that you must have had some thoughts on the subject, some surmises as to what might be. You must have seen that he was trying to please you by every attention in his power. Was not he devoted to you at the ball? And then before the ball, the necklace! Oh! you received it just as it was meant. You were as conscious as heart could desire. I remember it perfectly."

"Do you mean, then, that your brother knew of the necklace beforehand? Oh! Miss Crawford, _that_ was not fair."

"Knew of it! It was his own doing entirely, his own thought. I am ashamed to say that it had never entered my head, but I was delighted to act on his proposal for both your sakes."

"I will not say," replied Fanny, "that I was not half afraid at the time of its being so, for there was something in your look that frightened me, but not at first; I was as unsuspicious of it at first--indeed, indeed I was. It is as true as that I sit here. And had I had an idea of it, nothing should have induced me to accept the necklace. As to your brother's behaviour, certainly I was sensible of a particularity: I had been sensible of it some little time, perhaps two or three weeks; but then I considered it as meaning nothing: I put it down as simply being his way, and was as far from supposing as from wishing him to have any serious thoughts of me. I had not, Miss Crawford, been an inattentive observer of what was passing between him and some part of this family in the summer and autumn. I was quiet, but I was not blind. I could not but see that Mr. Crawford allowed himself in gallantries which did mean nothing."

"Ah! I cannot deny it. He has now and then been a sad flirt, and cared very little for the havoc he might be making in young ladies' affections. I have often scolded him for it, but it is his only fault; and there is this to be said, that very few young ladies have any affections worth caring for. And then, Fanny, the glory of fixing one who has been shot at by so many; of having it in one's power to pay off the debts of one's sex! Oh! I am sure it is not in woman's nature to refuse such a triumph."

Fanny shook her head. "I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman's feelings; and there may often be a great deal more suffered than a stander-by can judge of."

"I do not defend him. I leave him entirely to your mercy, and when he has got you at Everingham, I do not care how much you lecture him. But this I will say, that his fault, the liking to make girls a little in love with him, is not half so dangerous to a wife's happiness as a tendency to fall in love himself, which he has never been addicted to. And I do seriously and truly believe that he is attached to you in a way that he never was to any woman before; that he loves you with all his heart, and will love you as nearly for ever as possible. If any man ever loved a woman for ever, I think Henry will do as much for you."

Fanny could not avoid a faint smile, but had nothing to say.

"I cannot imagine Henry ever to have been happier," continued Mary presently, "than when he had succeeded in getting your brother's commission."

She had made a sure push at Fanny's feelings here.

"Oh! yes. How very, very kind of him."

"I know he must have exerted himself very much, for I know the parties he had to move. The Admiral hates trouble, and scorns asking favours; and there are so many young men's claims to be attended to in the same way, that a friendship and energy, not very determined, is easily put by. What a happy creature William must be! I wish we could see him."

Poor Fanny's mind was thrown into the most distressing of all its varieties. The recollection of what had been done for William was always the most powerful disturber of every decision against Mr. Crawford; and she sat thinking deeply of it till Mary, who had been first watching her complacently, and then musing on something else, suddenly called her attention by saying: "I should like to sit talking with you here all day, but we must not forget the ladies below, and so good-bye, my dear, my amiable, my excellent Fanny, for though we shall nominally part in the breakfast-parlour, I must take leave of you here. And I do take leave, longing for a happy reunion, and trusting that when we meet again, it will be under circumstances which may open our hearts to each other without any remnant or shadow of reserve."

A very, very kind embrace, and some agitation of manner, accompanied these words.

"I shall see your cousin in town soon: he talks of being there tolerably soon; and Sir Thomas, I dare say, in the course of the spring; and your eldest cousin, and the Rushworths, and Julia, I am sure of meeting again and again, and all but you. I have two favours to ask, Fanny: one is your correspondence. You must write to me. And the other, that you will often call on Mrs. Grant, and make her amends for my being gone."

The first, at least, of these favours Fanny would rather not have been asked; but it was impossible for her to refuse the correspondence; it was impossible for her even not to accede to it more readily than her own judgment authorised. There was no resisting so much apparent affection. Her disposition was peculiarly calculated to value a fond treatment, and from having hitherto known so little of it, she was the more overcome by Miss Crawford's. Besides, there was gratitude towards her, for having made their _tete-a-tete_ so much less painful than her fears had predicted.

It was over, and she had escaped without reproaches and without detection. Her secret was still her own; and while that was the case, she thought she could resign herself to almost everything.

In the evening there was another parting. Henry Crawford came and sat some time with them; and her spirits not being previously in the strongest state, her heart was softened for a while towards him, because he really seemed to feel. Quite unlike his usual self, he scarcely said anything. He was evidently oppressed, and Fanny must grieve for him, though hoping she might never see him again till he were the husband of some other woman.

When it came to the moment of parting, he would take her hand, he would not be denied it; he said nothing, however, or nothing that she heard, and when he had left the room, she was better pleased that such a token of friendship had passed.

On the morrow the Crawfords were gone.

埃德蒙现在认为,对于范妮的想法,他或是听她本人讲的,或是凭他自己猜的,已经掌握得一清二楚了,因而感到颇为满意。正像他先前判断的那样,克劳福德这样做有点操之过急,他应该给以充裕的时间,让范妮先熟悉他的想法,再进而觉得可取。必须让她习惯于想到他在爱她,这样一来,要不了多久她就会以情相报了。

他把这个意见作为这次谈话的结果告诉了父亲,建议再不要对她说什么了,再不要试图去影响她,劝说她,一切要靠克劳福德的不懈努力,靠她感情的自然发展。

托马斯爵士同意这么办。埃德蒙对范妮性情的描述,他可以信以为真,他认为她是会有这些想法的,不过他又觉得她有这样的想法很是不幸。他不像他儿子那样对未来充满信心,因而不能不担心,如果她需要那么长时间来习惯,也许还没等她愿意接受的时候,那年轻人可能已经不愿意再向她求爱了。不过,也没有什么办法,只能不声不响地由着她,并往最好里想。

她的“朋友”(埃德蒙把克劳福德小姐称做她的朋友)说是要来拜访,这对范妮来说可是个可怕的威胁,她一直生活在惊恐之中。她这位做妹妹的,那么偏爱哥哥,那么怒气冲冲,说起话来毫不顾忌。从另一角度看,她又那么盛气凌人,那么盲目自信,无论从哪方面来说,都是一个让范妮痛苦生畏的人。她的不悦,她的敏锐,她的快乐,样样都令人可怕。范妮料想起这次会面来,唯一的慰藉是可望届时有别人在场。为了提防她的突然袭击,她尽量不离开伯特伦夫人,不去东屋,不独自到灌木林里散步。

她这一招果然有效。克劳福德小姐到来的时候,她安然无恙地和姨妈待在早餐厅里。第一关过去了,克劳福德小姐无论在表情上还是在言语上,都远远没有料想的什么特别之处。范妮心想,只不过有点不安而已,最多再忍受半个小时。但她想得过于乐观了,克劳福德小姐可不是听任机会摆布的人。她是打定主意要和范妮单独谈一谈,因此,过了不久就悄悄对她说:“我要找个地方和你谈几分钟。”这句话让范妮大为震惊,她的每条血管、每根神经都为之震颤。她没法不答应。相反,由于温温顺顺地听人使唤惯了,她立刻站了起来,领着她走出了早餐厅。她这样做心里很不情愿,但又不能不这样做。

她们一来到门厅,克劳福德小姐顿时控制不住了。她立即对范妮摇了摇头,眼里露出狡黠而亲切的责怪目光,随即抓住她的手,似乎等不及要马上开口。然而.她只说了一句:“可悲呀,可悲的姑娘!我不知道什么时候才能不骂你。”她还比较谨慎,余下的话要等进到房里没人听见的时候再说。范妮自然转身上楼,把客人领进了如今总是温暖适用的那个房间。然而,她开门的时候,心里痛苦不堪,她觉得自己从没在这屋里遇到过这么令她痛苦的场面。不过,克劳福德小姐突然改变了主意,她发现自己又来到了东屋,这使她心里感慨万端,因此,要降临在范妮身上的灾难至少是推迟了。

“哈!”她立即兴奋起来,大声嚷道,“我又来到这里啦?东屋。以前我只进过这间屋子一次呀!”她停下来环顾四周,好像在追忆往事,然后接着说:“只进过一次。你还记得吗?我是来排练的。你表哥也来了。我们一起排练。你是我们的观众兼提词员。一次愉快的排练。我永远忘不了。我们在这儿,就在屋里的这个地方。你表哥在这儿,我在这儿,这儿是椅子。唉!这种事情为什么要一去不复返呢?”

算她的同伴幸运,她并不要求回答。她在全神贯注地自我回顾,陶醉于甜蜜的回忆之中。

“我们排练的那一场棒极啦!那一场的主题非常——非常——叫我怎么说呢?他要向我描绘结婚生活,并且向我建议结婚。他当时的情景我现在还觉得历历在目,他在背诵那两段长长的台词时,就想做到又庄重又沉静,像是安哈尔特的样子。‘当两颗情愫相通的心结合在一起的时候,婚姻就可以称为幸福生活。’他说这句话时的音容笑貌给我留下的印象,我想不论再过多久,也永远不会磨灭。奇怪,真是奇怪,我们居然会演这么一场戏!我这一生中,如果有哪一星期的经历我还能回忆起来,那就是那个星期,演戏的那个星期。不管你怎么说,范妮,就是那个星期,因为在任何其他星期里,我都不曾这样无比幸福过。那么刚强的人居然给那样折服了!噢!美妙得无以言表。可是,唉!就在那天晚上一切全完了。那天晚上,你那最不受欢迎的姨父回来了。可怜的托马斯酹士,谁愿意见到你呀?不过,范妮,不要认为我现在讲到你姨父时有失敬重,虽说我恨他恨了几个星期。不,我现在要公正地看待他。作为这样一个家庭的家长,他就该是这个样子。再说,在这伤心而冷静的时候,我相信我现在对你们人人都爱。”说完这话之后,她便带着温柔、娇羞的神情转过身去,想镇定一下。范妮以前未见过她有这般神情,现在觉得她格外妩媚了。“你可能看得出来,我一走进这间屋子就有点气冲冲的。”接着她便嬉笑着说:“不过,现在已经过去了。让我们坐下来轻松一下。范妮,我完全是为了骂你而来的,可事到临头又骂不出来了。”说着极其亲热地搂住了范妮,“好范妮,温文尔雅的范妮啊!我一想到这是最后一次和你见面,因为我不知道要走多久——我觉得除了爱你之外,其他的我什么也做不出来了。”

范妮被打动了。她根本没有料到这一招,她心里抵御不住“最后一次”这个字眼的悲感力量。她痛哭起来,好像她对克劳福德小姐爱得不得了。克劳福德小姐见此情景,心肠更软了,亲呢地纠缠她,说道:“我真不愿离开你。我要去的地方找不到有你一半可爱的人。谁说我们成不了姑嫂啊?我知道我们准会成为姑嫂。我觉得我们生来就要结为亲戚。你的眼泪使我相信,你也有同感,亲爱的范妮。”

范妮警觉起来,只做了部分回答:“不过,你是从一伙朋友这里到另一伙朋友那里去。你是到一个非常要好的朋友那里去的。”

“是的,一点不错。弗雷泽太太多年来一直是我的亲密朋友。可我丝毫不想到她那里去。我心里只有我就要离开的朋友们,我极好的姐姐,你,还有伯特伦一家人。你们比世界上任何人都重感情。你们都使我觉得可以信任,可以推心置腹,和别人交往就没有这种感觉。我后悔没和弗雷泽太太约定过了复活节再去看她,复活节以后再去好多了——不过,现在是没法往后拖了。我在她那里住上一段时间以后,还得到她妹妹斯托诺韦夫人那里去,因为她可是两人中跟我更要好的朋友。不过,这三年来我可没怎么把她放在心上。”

这番话之后,两位姑娘不言不语地坐了许久,各自想着自己的心事。范妮在琢磨世上不同类型的友谊,玛丽盘算的问题却没有那么深奥。还是她又先说话了。

“我多么清楚地记得,我打算上楼来找你。我压根儿不知道东屋在什么地方,硬是摸索着找来啦!我走来的时候心里在想些什么,现在还记得清清楚楚。我往里一看,看见你在这里,坐在这张桌前做活。你表哥一开门看见我在这里,他好惊讶呀!当然,也记得你姨父是那天晚上回来的!我从没见过这样的事情。”

接着又出了一阵神。等出完了神,她又向伙伴发起了攻击。

“嗨,范妮,你完全心不在焉呀!我看是在想一个总在想你的人吧。噢!我多么想把你带到我们在伦敦的社交圈里待一段时间,好让你知道,你能征服亨利在他们看来是多么了不起呀!噢!会有多少人嫉妒你、嫉恨你啊!人家一听说你有这本事,该会多么惊讶,多么不可思议呀!至于说保密,亨利就像是古老传奇中的主人公,甘愿受到枷锁的束缚。你应该到伦敦去,好知道如何评价你的情场得意。你要是看到有多少人追求他,看到有多少人为了他而来讨好我就好了!我现在心里很清楚,就因为他和你的事情,弗雷泽太太绝不会那么欢迎我了。等她知道了这件事,她很可能希望我再回到北安普敦郡,因为弗雷泽先生有一个女儿,是第一个妻子留下的,她急于把她嫁出去,想让亨利娶了她。噢!她追他追得好紧哪!你天真无邪、安安静静地坐在这里,你不会知道你会引起多大的轰动,你不会知道会有多少人急着看你一眼,你不会知道我得没完没了地回答多少问题!可怜的玛格丽特·弗雷泽会不停地问我你的眼睛怎么样,牙齿怎么样,头梳的什么式样,鞋是哪家做的。为我可怜的朋友着想,我真希望玛格丽特快嫁出去,因力我觉得弗雷泽夫妇像大多数夫妇一样过得不大幸福。不过,当时对珍妮特来说,能嫁给弗雷泽先生还真不错呢。我们全都很高兴。她只能嫁给他,因为他有的是钱,而她却什么都没有。但他后来脾气变坏了,要求苛刻了,想让一个年轻女人,一个二十五岁的漂亮的年轻女人,像他一样情绪上不能有什么波动。我的朋友驾驭不住他,她好像不知道怎么办是好。丈夫动不动就发火,就是不往坏处说,至少是很没有教养。待在他们家里,我会想起曼斯菲尔德牧师府上的夫妇关系,不由得肃然起敬。连格兰特博士都能充分信任我姐姐,还能适当考虑她的意见,让人觉得他们彼此确有感情。但是在弗雷泽夫妇身上,我丝毫看不到这样的迹象。我要永远住在曼斯菲尔德,范妮。按照我的标准,我姐姐是个十全十美的妻子,托马斯·伯特伦爵士是个十全十美的丈夫。可怜的珍妮特不幸上当了,不过她倒没有什么不得当的地方。她并不是不假思索地贸然嫁给了他,她也并不是没有一点远虑。她花了三天时间考虑他的求婚。在这三天中,她征求了每一个与她有来往的、有见识的人的意见,特别是征求了我那亲爱的婶母的意见,因为我婶母见多识广,和她相识的年轻人全都理所当然地尊重她的意见。她明确地偏袒弗雷泽先生。从这件事看来,似乎没什么能保证婚后的幸福!关于我的朋友弗洛拉,我就没有那么多要说的了。为了这位极其讨厌的斯托诺韦勋爵的缘故,她抛弃了皇家禁卫骑兵队里的一位非常可爱的青年。斯托诺韦勋爵和拉什沃思先生的头脑差不多,范妮,但比拉什沃思先生难看得多,而且像个无赖。我当时就怀疑她这一步走得不对,因为他连上等人的派头都没有,现在我敢肯定,她那一步是走错了。顺便告诉你,弗洛拉·罗斯进入社交界的第一个冬天,她想亨利都想疯了。不过,要是让我把我知道的爱他的女人都说出来,我永远也说不完。是你,只有你,麻木不仁的范妮,才会对他无动于衷。不过,你真像你说的那祥无动于衷吗?不,不,我看你不是这样。”

这时,范妮真是窘得满脸通红,这对一个早有猜疑的人来说,势必会越发大起疑心。

“你真是好极了!我不想强逼你。一切听其自然。不过,亲爱的范妮,你应该承认,你并不像你表哥说的那样对这个问题毫无思想准备。这不可能,你肯定考虑过这个问题,肯定有所猜测。你肯定看得出他在竭尽全力讨好你。他在那次舞会上不是忠心耿耿地跟着你吗?还有,舞会的前一天还送给你那条项链呢!噢!你把它作为他的礼物接受下来了。你心里很明白。我记得清清楚楚。”

“你是不是说你哥哥事先知道项链的事情?噢!克劳福德小姐,这可不公平呀。”

“事先知道!完全是他安排的,是他自己的主意。说起来真不好意思,我事先想都没想到要这样做。不过,为了他也为了你,我很高兴地按他的主意办了。”

“我不想说,”范妮答道,“我当时一点也不担心会是这么回事,因为你的神情有点让我害怕——但并不是一开始——一开始我还一点没往这方面想呢!真的,我真没往这方面想。千真万确。我要是想到了这一点,说什么也不会接受那条项链的。至于你哥哥的行为,我当然意识到有些不正常”。我意识到这一点已经有一段时间了,也许有两三个星期。不过,我当时认为他并非有什么意思,只权当他就是这么个人,既不希望他会认真考虑我,也没想到他会认真考虑我。克劳福德小姐,去年夏天和秋天他和这个家里有的人之间发生的一些事情,我并非没有注意到。我虽然嘴里不说,眼睛却看得清楚。我看到克劳福德先生向女人献殷勤,其实一点诚意也没有。”

“啊!这我不否认。他有时候是个没治的调情鬼,毫不顾忌会不会撩乱姑娘们的芳心。我经常为此骂他,不过他也只有这一个弱点。而且有一点需要说明:感情上值得让人珍惜的姑娘并不多。再说,范妮,能捞到一个被这么多姑娘追求的男人,有本事为女人家出口气,这有多么光彩啊!唉,我敢说,拒绝接受这样的荣耀,这不符合女人的天性。”

范妮摇了摇头。“我不会看得起一个玩弄女人感情的人。这种人给女人带来的痛苦往往比旁观者想象的要多得多。”

“我不替他辩护,任凭你爱怎么发落就怎么发落他吧。等他把你娶到埃弗灵厄姆之后,你怎么训他我都不管。不过,有一点我要说明,他喜欢让姑娘们爱他,这个弱点对于妻子的幸福来说,远没有他自己爱上别人来得危险,而他从来没有爱上哪个姑娘。我真心诚意地相信,他真是喜欢你,以前从没这样喜欢过任何女人。他一心一意地爱你,将会永远地爱你。如果真有哪个男人永远爱着一个女人的话,我想亨利对你是会做到这一步的。”

范妮禁不住淡然一笑,但没有什么可说。

“我觉得,”玛丽随即又说,“亨利把你哥哥晋升的事办成之后,那个高兴劲儿从来没有过。”

她这话自然是想触及范妮的痛处。

“噢!是的。我们非常、非常地感激他啊!”

“我知道他一定费了很大的劲儿,因为我了解他要活动的那些人。海军将军怕麻烦,不屑于求人。再说有那么多年轻人都要求他帮忙,如果不是铁了心的话,光凭着友情和能力,很容易给撂在一边。威廉该有多高兴啊!我们能见到他就好了。”

范妮好可怜,她的心被抛人极度的痛苦之中。一想到克劳福德为威廉办的事,她拒绝他的决心总要受到巨大的干扰。她一直坐在那里沉思默想,玛丽起初洋洋得意地看着她,接着又揣摩起了别的什么事,最后突然把她唤醒了,说道:“我本想和你坐在这里谈上一天,可是我们又不能忘了楼下的太太们,因此,就再见吧,我亲爱的、可爱的、再好不过的范妮。虽然我们名义上要在早餐厅里分手,但我要在这里向你告别。我就向你告别了,希望能幸福地再见。我相信,等我们再见面的时候,情况将会有所改变,我们彼此之间能推心置腹,毫无保留。”

这话说完之后,就是一番极其亲热的拥抱,神情显得有些激动。

“我不久就能在伦敦见到你表哥。他说他要不了多久就会去那里。我敢说,托马斯爵士春天会去的。你大表哥、拉什沃思夫妇和朱莉娅,我相信会经常见面的,除了你之外,都能见到。范妮,我求你两件事:一是和我通信,你一定要给我写信;另一件是,你常去看看格兰特太太,算是为她弥补一下我走后的损失。”

这两个要求,至少是第一个,范妮但愿她不曾提出。但是她又无法拒绝通信,甚至还不能不欣然答应,答应之痛快都超出了她自己的意愿。克劳福德小姐表现得这么亲热,真让她无法抵御。她的天性就特别珍惜别人善待自己,加上一向很少受到这种善待,所以,克劳福德小姐的青睐使她受宠若惊。此外,她还要感激她,因为她们交谈的过程中,她没有像她料想的那样让她痛苦。

事情过去了。她算逃脱了,既没有受到责备,也没有泄露天机。她的秘密仍然只有她自己知道。既然如此,她觉得自己什么都可以答应。

晚上还有一场道别。亨利·克劳福德来坐了一会。她事先精神不是很好,她的心对他软了些——因为他看上去真是难受。他跟平时大为不同,几乎什么话都没说。他显然感到很沮丧,范妮必然也替他难过,不过却希望在他成为别的女人的丈夫之前,她永远不要再见到他。

临别的时候,他要握她的手,并且不许她拒绝。不过,他什么也没说,或者说,他说了她也没听见。他走出房间之后,他们友谊的象征已经结束了,她感到越发高兴。

第二天,克劳福德兄妹走了。



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