By Jane Austen
This text is complete, though further annotation is desirable.
In Three Volumes.
Author of "Sense and Sensibility,"
And "Pride and Prejudice."
Printed for T. Egerton,
Military Library, Whitehall.
It was not in Miss Crawford’s power to talk Fanny into any real forgetfulness of what had passed. When the evening was over, she went to bed full of it, her nerves still agitated by the shock of such an attack from her cousin Tom, so public and so persevered in, and her spirits sinking under her Aunt’s unkind reflection and reproach. To be called into notice in such manner, to hear that it was but the prelude to some thing so infinitely worse, to be told that she must do what was so impossible as to act; and then to have the charge of obstinacy and ingratitude, follow it, enforced with such a hint at the dependence of her situation, had been too distressing at the time, to make the remembrance when she was alone much less so,—especially with the superadded dread of what the morrow might produce in continuation of [end page 313] the subject. Miss Crawford had protected her only for the time; and if she were applied to again among themselves with all the authoritative urgency that Tom and Maria were capable of; and Edmund perhaps away—what should she do? She fell asleep before she could answer the question, and found it quite as puzzling when she awoke the next morning. The little white attic, which had continued her sleeping room ever since her first entering the family, proving incompetent to suggest any reply, she had recourse, as soon as she was dressed, to another apartment, more spacious and more meet for walking about in, and thinking, and of which she had now for some time been almost equally mistress. It had been their school-room; so called till the Miss Bertrams would not allow it to be called so any longer, and inhabited as such to a later period. There Miss Lee had lived, and there they had read and written, and talked and laughed, till within the last three [end page 314] years, when she had quitted them.—The room had then become useless, and for some time was quite deserted, except by Fanny, when she visited her plants, or wanted one of the books, which she was still glad to keep there, from the deficiency of space and accommodation in her little chamber above;—but gradually, as her value for the comforts of it increased, she had added to her possessions, and spent more of her time there; and having nothing to oppose her, had so naturally and so artlessly worked herself into it, that it was now generally admitted to be her’s. The East room as it had been called, ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now considered Fanny’s, almost as decidedly as the white Attic;—the smallness of the one making the use of the other so evidently reasonable, that the Miss Bertrams, with every superiority in their own apartments, which their own sense of superiority could demand, were entirely approving [end page 315] it;—and Mrs. Norris having stipulated for there never being a fire in it on Fanny’s account, was tolerably resigned to her having the use of what nobody else wanted, though the terms in which she sometimes spoke of the indulgence, seemed to imply that it was the best room in the house.
The aspect was so favourable, that even without a fire it was habitable in many an early spring, and late autumn morning, to such a willing mind as Fanny’s, and while there was a gleam of sunshine, she hoped not to be driven from it entirely, even when winter came. The comfort of it in her hours of leisure was extreme. She could go there after any thing unpleasant below, and find immediate consolation in some pursuit, or some train of thought at hand.—Her plants, her books—of which she had been a collector, from the first hour of her commanding a shilling—her writing desk, and her works of charity and ingenuity, were all within her reach; [end page 316] —or if indisposed for employment, if nothing but musing would do, she could scarcely see an object in that room which had not an interesting remembrance connected with it.—Every thing was a friend, or bore her thoughts to a friend; and though there had been sometimes much of suffering to her—though her motives had been often misunderstood, her feelings disregarded, and her comprehension under valued; though she had known the pains of tyranny, of ridicule, and neglect, yet almost every recurrence of either had led to something consolatory; her Aunt Bertram had spoken for her, or Miss Lee had been encouraging, or what was yet more frequent or more dear—Edmund had been her champion and her friend;—he had supported her cause, or explained her meaning, he had told her not to cry, or had given her some proof of affection which made her tears delightful—and the whole was now so blended [end page 317] together, so harmonized by distance, that every former affliction had its charm. The room was most dear to her, and she would not have changed its furniture for the handsomest in the house, though what had been originally plain, had suffered all the ill-usage of children—and its greatest elegancies and ornaments were a faded foot-stool of Julia's work, too ill done for the drawing-room, three transparencies, made in a rage for transparencies, for the three lower panes of one window, where Tintern Abbey held its station held its station between a cave in Italy, and a moonlight lake in Cumberland; a collection of family profiles thought unworthy of being anywhere else, over the mantle piece, and by their side and pinned against the wall, a small sketch of a ship sent four years ago from the Mediterranean by William, with H. M. S. Antwerp at the bottom, in letters as tall as the main-mast.
To this nest of comforts Fanny now [end page 318] walked down to try its influence on an agitated, doubting spirit—to see if by looking at Edmund’s profile she could catch any of his counsel, or by giving air to her geraniums she might inhale a breeze of mental strength herself. But she had more than fears of her own perseverance to remove; she had begun to feel undecided as to what she ought to do; and as she walked round the room her doubts were increasing. Was she right in refusing what was so warmly asked, so strongly wished for? What might be so essential to a scheme on which some of those to whom she owed The greatest complaisance, had set their hearts? Was it not ill-nature—selfishness—and a fear of exposing herself? And would Edmund's judgement, would his persuasion of Sir Thomas’s disapprobation of the whole, be enough to justify her in a determined denial in spite of all the rest? It would be so horrible to her act, that she was inclined to suspect the truth and purity of her own [end page 319] scruples, and as she looked around her, the claims of her cousins to being obliged, were strengthened by the sight of present upon present that she had received from them. The table between the windows was covered with work-boxes and netting-boxes, which had been given her at different times, principally by Tom; and she grew bewildered as to the amount of the debt which all these kind remembrances produced. A tap at the door roused her in the midst of this attempt to find her way to her duty, and her gentle "come in," was answered by the appearance of one, before whom all her doubts were wont be laid. Her eyes brightened at the sight of Edmund.
"Can I speak to you, Fanny, for a few minutes?" said he.
"I want to consult. I want your opinion."
"My opinion!" she cried, shrinking [end page 320] from such a compliment, highly as it gratified her.
"Yes, your advice and opinion. I do not know what to do. This acting scheme gets worse and worse you see. They have chosen almost a bad a play as the could; and now, to complete the business, are going to ask the help of a young man very slightly known to any of us This is the end of all the privacy and propriety which was talked about at first. I know no harm of Charles Maddox, but the excessive intimacy which must spring from his being admitted among us in this manner, is highly objectionable, the more than intimacy—the familiarity. I cannot think of it with any patience—and it does appear to me an evil of such magnitude as must, if possible, be prevented. Do not you see it in the same light?"
"Yes, but what can be done? Your brother is so determined?"
"There is but one thing to be done, Fanny. I must take Anhalt myself. I [end page 321] am well aware that nothing else will quite Tom."
Fanny could not answer him.
"It is not at all what I like," he continued. "No man can like being driven into the appearance of such inconsistency. After being known to oppose the scheme from the beginning, there is absurdity in the face of my joining them now, when they are exceeding their first plan in every respect; but I can think of no other alternative. Can you, Fanny?"
"No," said Fanny, slowly, "not immediately—but—"
"But what? I see your judgement is not with me.Think it a little over. Perhaps you are not so much aware as I am, of the mischief that may, of the unpleasantnesses that must, arise from a young man’s being received in this manner—domesticated among us— authorized to come at all hours—and placed suddenly on a footing which must do away all restraints. To think [end page 322] only of the license which every rehearsal must tend to create. It is all very bad! Put yourself in Miss Crawford’s place, Fanny. Consider what it would be to act Amelia with a stranger. She has a right to be felt for, because she evidently feels for herself. I heard enough of what she said to you last night, to understand her unwillingness to be acting with a stranger; and as she probably engaged in the part with different expectations—perhaps, without considering the subject enough to know what was likely to be, it would be ungenerous, it would be really wrong to expose her to it. Her feelings ought to be respected. Does not it strike you so, Fanny? You hesitate."
"I am sorry for Miss Crawford; but I am more sorry to see you drawn in to do what you had resolved against, and what you are known to think will be disagreeable to my uncle. It will be such a triumph to the others?"
"They will not have much cause of [end page 323] triumph, when they see how infamously I act. But, however, triumph there certainly will be and I must brave it. But if I can be the means of restraining the publicity of the business, of limiting, the exhibition, of concentrating our folly, I shall be well repaid. As I am now, I have no influence, I can do nothing; I have offended them, and they will not hear me; but when I have put them in good humour by this concession, I am not without hopes of persuading them to confine the representation within a much smaller circle than they are now in the high road for. This will be a material gain. My object is to confine it to Mrs. Rushworth and the Grants. Will not this be worth gaining?"
"Yes, it will be a great point."
"But still it has not your approbation. Can you mention any other measure by which I have a chance of doing equal good?"
"No, [end page 324] I cannot think of anything else."
"Give me your approbation, then, Fanny. I am not comfortable without it."
"If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself—and yet. But it is absolutely impossible to let Tom go on in this way, riding about the country in quest of anybody who can be persuaded to act—no matter whom; the look of a gentleman is to be enough. I thought you would have entered more into Miss Crawford’s feelings."
"No doubt she will be very glad. It must be a great relief to her," said Fanny, trying for greater warmth of manner.
"She never appeared more amiable than in her behaviour to you last night. It gave her a very strong claim on my good will."
"She was very kind, indeed, and I am glad to have her spared."
She [end page 325] could not finish the generous effusion. Her conscience stopt her in the middle, but Edmund was satisfied.
"I shall walk down immediately after breakfast," said he, "and am sure of giving pleasure there. And now, dear Fanny, I will not interrupt you any longer. You want to be reading. But I could not be easy till I had spoken to you, and come to a decision. Sleeping or waking, my head has been full of this matter all night. It is an evil—but I am certainly making it less than it might be. If Tom is up, I shall go to him directly and get it over ; and when we meet at breakfast we shall all be in high good humour at the prospect of acting the fool together with such unanimity. You in the meanwhile will be taking a trip into China, I suppose. How does Lord Macartney go on?—(opening a volume on the table and then taking up some others.) And here are Crabbe’s Tales, and The Idler. [end page 326] I admire you little establishment exceedingly; and as soon as I am gone, you will empty your head of all this nonsense of acting, and sit comfortably down to you table. But do not stay here to be cold."
He went; but there was no reading, no China, no composure for Fanny. He had told her the most extraordinary, the most inconceivable, the most unwelcome news; and she could think of nothing else. To be acting! After all his objections—objections so just and so public! After all that she had heard him say, and seen him look, and known him to be feeling. Could it be possible? Edmund so inconsistent. Was he not deceiving himself? Was he not wrong? Alas! it was all Miss Crawford’s doing. She had seen her influence in every speech, and was miserable. The doubts and alarms as to her own conduct, which had previously distressed her, and which had all slept while she listened to him, were become of little [end page 327] consequence now. This deeper anxiety swallowed them up. Things should take their course; she cared not how it ended. Her cousins might attack, but should hardly teize her. She was beyond their reach; and if at last obliged to yield—no matter—it was all misery now.[end page 328]
It was, indeed, a triumphant day to Mr. Bertram and Maria. Such a victory over Edmund’s discretion had been beyond their hopes, and was most delightful. There was no longer anything to disturb them in their darling project, and they congratulated each other in private on the jealous weakness to which they attributed the change, with all the glee of feelings gratified in every way. Edmund might still look grave, and say he did not like the scheme in general, and must disapprove the play in particular; their point was gained; he was to act, and he was driven to it by the force of selfish inclinations only. Edmund had descended from that moral elevation which he had maintained before, and they were both as much the better as the happier for the descent.[end page 329]
They behaved very well, however, to him on the occasion, betraying no exultation beyond the lines about the corners of the mouth, and seemed to think it as great an escape to be quit of the intrusion of Charles Maddox, as if they had been forced into admitting him against their inclination. "To have it quite in their own family circle was what they had particularly wished. A stranger among them would have been the destruction of all their comfort," and when Edmund, pursuing that idea, gave a hint of his hopes as to the limitation of the audience, they were ready, in the complaisance of the moment, to promise anything. It was all good humour and encouragement. Mrs. Norris offered to contrive his dress, Mr. Yates assured him, that Anhalt’s last scene with the Baron, admitted a good deal of action and emphasis, and Mr. Rushworth undertook to count his speeches.
"Perhaps," said Tom, "Fanny may[end page 330]
be more disposed to oblige up now. Perhaps you may persuade her."
"No, she is quite determined. She certainly will not act."
"Oh! very well. And not another word was said; but Fanny felt herself again in danger, and her indifference to the danger was beginning to fail her already.
There were not fewer smiles at the parsonage than at the park on this change in Edmund; Miss Crawford looked very lovely in her’s, and entered with such an instantaneous renewal of cheerfulness into the whole affair, as could have but one effect on him. "He was certainly right in respecting such feelings; he was glad he had determined on it." And the morning wore away in satisfactions very sweet, if not very sound. One advantage resulted from it to Fanny; at the earnest request of Miss Crawford, Mrs. Grant had with her usual good humour agreed to undertake the part which Fanny had[end page 331]
been wanted—and this was all occurred to gladden her heart during the day; and even this, when imparted by Edmund, brought a pang with it, for it was Miss Crawford to whom she was obliged, it was Miss Crawford whose kind exertions were to excite her gratitude, and whose merit in making them was spoken of with a glow of admiration. She was safe; but peace and safety were connected here. Her mind had been never farther from peace. She could not feel that she had done wrong herself, but she was disquieted in every other way. Her heart and her judgment were equally against Edmund’s decision; she could not acquit his unsteadiness; and his happiness under it made her wretched. She was full of jealousy and agitation. Miss Crawford came with looks gaiety which seemed an insult, with friendly expressions towards herself which she could hardly answer calmly. Every body around her was gay and busy, [end page 332] prosperous and important, each had their object of interest, their part, their dress, their favourite scene, their friends and confederates, all were finding employment in consultations and comparisons, or diversion in the playful conceits they suggested. She alone was sad and insignificant; she had no share in any thing; she might be in the midst of their noise, or retreat from it to the solitude of the east room, without being seen or missed. She could almost think any thing would have been preferable to this. Mrs. Grant was of consequence; her good nature had honourable mention—her taste and her time were considered—her presence was wanted—she was sought for and attended, and praised; and Fanny was at first in some danger of envying her the character she had accepted. But reflection brought better feelings, and shewed her that Mrs. Grant was entitled to respect, which could never have belonged to [end page 333] her, and that had she received even the greatest, she could never have been easy in joining a scheme which, considering only her uncle, she must condemn altogether.
Fanny’s heart was not absolutely the only sadden’d one amongst them, as she soon began to acknowledge herself —Julia was a sufferer too, though not quite so blamelessly.
Henry Crawford had trifled with her feelings; but she had very long allowed and even sought his attentions, with a jealousy of her sister so reasonable as ought to have been their cure; and now that the conviction of his preference for Maria had been forced on her, she submitted to it without any alarm for Maria’s situation, or any endeavour at rational tranquillity for herself.—She either sat in gloomy silence, wrapt in such gravity as nothing could subdue, no curiosity touch, no wit amuse; or allowing the attentions of Mr. Yates, was talking with forced gaiety to him[end page 334]
For a day or two after the affront was given, Henry Crawford had endeavoured to do it away by the usual attack of gallantry and compliment, but he had not cared enough about it to persevere against a few repulses; and becoming soon too busy with his play to have time for more than one flirtation, he grew indifferent to the quarrel, or rather thought it a luck occurrence, as quietly putting an end to what might ere long have raised expectations in more than Mrs. Grant.—She was not pleased to see Julia excluded from the play, and sitting by disregarded; but as it was not a matter which really involved her happiness, as Henry must be the best judge of his own, and as he did assure her, with a most persuasive smile, that neither he nor Julia had ever had a serious thought of each other, she could only renew her former caution as to the elder Sister, intreat him not to risk his tran— [end page 335] quillity by too much admiration there, and then gladly take her share in any thing that brought cheerfulness to the young people in general, and that did so particularly promote the pleasure of the two so dear to her.
"I rather wonder Julia is not in love with Henry," was her observation to Mary.
"I dare say she is," replied Mary, coldly. "I imagine both sisters are." "Both! no, no, that must not be. Do not give him a hint of it. Think of Mr. Rushworth."
"You had better tell Miss Bertram to think of Mr. Rushworth. It may do her some good. I often think of Mr. Rushworth’s property and independence, and wish them in other hands—but I never think of him. A man might represent the county with such an estate; a man might escape a profession and represent the county."
"I dare say he will be in parliament soon. When Sir Thomas comes, I dare [end page 336] say he will be in for some borough, but there has been nobody to put him in the way of doing any thing yet."
"Sir Thomas is to achieve mighty things when he comes home," said Mary, after a pause. "Do you remember Hawkins Browne’s ‘Address to Tobacco’ in imitation of Pope?— ‘Blest leaf, whose aromatic gales dispense, to Templars modesty, to Parsons sense.’ I will parody them. Blest knight! whose dictatorial looks dispense, to Children affluence, to Rushworth sense. Will not that do, Mrs. Grant? Every thing seems to depend upon Sir Thomas’s return."
"You will find his consequence very just and reasonable when you see him in his family, I assure you. I do not think we do so well without him. He has a fine dignified manner, which suits the head of such a house, and keeps every body in their place. Lady Bertram seems more of a cypher now than when he is at home; and nobody else can [end page 337] Mary, do not fancy that Maria Bertram cares for Henry. I am sure Julia does not, or she would not have flirted as she did last night with Mr. Yates; and though he and Maria are very good friends, I think she likes Sotherton too well to be inconstant."
"I would not give much for Mr. Rushworth’s chance, if Henry stept in before the articles were signed."
"If you have such a suspicion, something must be done, and as soon as the play is all over, we will talk to him seriously, and make him know his own mind, and if he means nothing, we will send him off, though he is Henry, for a time."
Julia did suffer, however, though Mrs. Grant discerned it not, and though it escaped the notice of many of her own family likewise. She had loved, she did love still, and she had all the suffering which a warm temper and a high spirit were likely to endure under the disappointment of a dear, though irrational [end page 338] hope, with a strong sense of ill-usage. Her heart was sore and angry, and she was capable only of angry consolations. The sister with whom she was used to be on easy terms, was now become her greatest enemy; they were alienated from each other, and Julia was not superior to the hope of some distressing end to the attentions which were still carrying on there, some punishment to Maria for conduct so shameful towards herself, as well as towards Mr. Rushworth. With no material fault of temper, or difference of opinion, to prevent their being very good friends while their interests were the same, the sisters, under such a trial as this, had not affection or principle enough to make them merciful or just, to give them honour or compassion. Maria felt her triumph, and pursued her purpose careless of Julia; and Julia could never see Maria distinguished by Henry Crawford, without trusting that it would [end page 339] create jealousy, and bring a public disturbance at last.
Fanny saw and pitied much of this in Julia; but there was no outward fellowship between them. Julia made no communication, and Fanny took no liberties. They were two solitary sufferers, or connected only by Fanny’s consciousness.
The inattention of the two brothers and the aunt, to Julia’s discomposure, and their blindness to its true cause, must be imputed to the fulness of their own minds. They were totally preoccupied. Tom was engrossed by the concerns of her theatre, and saw nothing that did not immediately relate to it. Edmund, between his theatrical and his real part, between Miss Crawford’s claims and his own conduct, between love and consistency, was equally unobservant; and Mrs. Norris was too busy in contriving and directing the general little matters of the company, superintending their various dresses with economical expedient for which nobody [end page 340] thanked her, and saving with delighted integrity, half-a-crown here and there to the absent Sir Thomas, to have leisure for watching the behavior, or guarding the happiness of his daughters.[end page 341]
EVERYthing was now in a regular train; theatre, actors, actresses, and dresses, were all getting forward; but though no other great impediments arose, Fanny found, before many days were past, that it was not all uninterrupted enjoyment to the party themselves, and that she had not to witness the continuance of such unanimity and delight, as had been almost too much for her at first. Every body began to have their vexation. Edmund had many. Entirely against his judgement, a scene painter arrived from town, and was at work, much to the increase of the expenses, and what was worse, of the eclat of their proceedings; and his brother, instead of being really guided by him as to the privacy of the representation, was giving an invitation to every family who came in his way. Tom himself began to fret over the scene painter’s [end page 342] slow progress, and to feel the miseries of waiting. He had learned his part—all his parts—for he took every trifling one that could be united with the butler, and began to be impatient to be acting; and every day thus unemployed, was tending to increase his sense of the insignificance of all his parts together, and make him more ready to regret that some other play had not been chosen.
Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and distresses of most of them. She knew that Mr. Yates was in general thought to rant dreadfully, that Mr. Yates was disappointed in Henry Crawford, that Tom Bertram spoke so quick he would be unintelligible, that Mrs. Grant spoilt every thing by laughing, that Edmund was behind-hand with his part, and that it was misery to have any thing to do with Mr. Rushworth, who was wanting a prompter through every speech. She knew, also, that poor Mr. Rush- [end page 343] worth could seldom get any body to rehearse with him; his complaint came before her as well as the rest; and so decided to her eye was her cousin Maria’s avoidance to him, and so needlessly often the rehearsal of the first scene between her and Mr. Crawford, that she had soon all the terror of other complaints from him.—So far from being all satisfied and all enjoying, she found every body requiring something they had not, and giving occasion of discontent to the others.—Every body had a part either too long or too short;—nobody would attend as they ought, nobody would remember on which side they were to come in—nobody but the complainer would observe any directions.
Fanny believed herself to derive as much innocent enjoyment as much innocent enjoyment from the Play as any of them;—Henry Crawford acted well, and it was a pleasure to her to creep into the Theatre, and attend the rehearsal of the first act— [end page 344] in spite of the feelings it excited in some speeches for Maria.—Maria, she also thought acted —well—too well;— and after the first rehearsal or two, Fanny began to be their only audience—and sometimes as prompter, sometimes as spectator—was often very useful.—As far as she could judge, Mr. Crawford was considerably the best actor of all; he had more confidence than Edmund, more judgement than Tom, more talent and taste than Mr. Yates.—She did not like him as a man, but she must admit him to be the best actor, and on this point there were not many different from her. Mr. Yates, indeed, exclaimed against his tameness and insipidity-and the day came to last, when Mr. Rushworth turned to her with a black look,—and said "Do you think there is any thing so very fine in all this? For the life and soul of me, I cannot admire him;—and between ourselves, to see such an undersized, little, mean-look- [end page 345] ing man, set up for a fine actor, is very ridiculous in my opinion."
From this moment, there was a return of his former jealousy, which Maria from increasing hopes of Crawford, was at little pains to remove; and the chances of Mr. Rushworth’s ever attaining to the knowledge of his two and forty speeches became much less. As to his ever making any thing tolerable of them, nobody had the smallest idea of that except his Mother—She, indeed, regretted that his part was not more considerable, and deferred coming over to Mansfield till they were forward enough in their rehearsal to comprehend all his scenes, but the others aspired at nothing beyond his remembering the catchword, and the first line of his speech, and being able to follow the prompter through the rest. Fanny, in her pity and kind-heartedness, was at great pains to teach him how to learn, giving him all the helps and directions in her [end page 346] power, trying to make an artificial memory for him, and learning every word of his part herself, but without his being much the forwarder.
Many uncomfortable, anxious, apprehensive feelings she certainly had; but with all these, and other claims on her time and attention, she was as far from finding herself without employment or utility amongst them, as without a companion in uneasiness; quite as far from having no demand on her leisure as on her compassion. The gloom of her first anticipations was proved to have been unfounded. She was occasionally useful to all; she was perhaps as much as peace as any.
There was a great deal of needlework to be dome moreover, in which her help was wanted, and that Mrs. Norris thought her quite as well of as the rest, was evident by the manner in which she claimed it, "Come Fanny," she cried, "these are fine times for you, but you must not be always walking from one [end page 347] room to the other and doing the lookings on, at your ease, in this way,—I want you here.—I have been slaving myself till I can hardly stand, to contrive Mr. Rushworth’s cloak without sending for any more satin; and now I think you may give me your help in putting it together.—There are but three seams, you may do them in a trice.—It would be lucky for me if I had nothing but the executive part to do.—You are best off, I can tell you, but if nobody did more than you, we should not get on very fast."
Fanny took the work very quietly without attempting any defence; but her kinder aunt Bertram observed on her behalf,
"One cannot wonder, Sister, that Fanny should be delighted; it is all new to her, you know,—you and I used to be very fond of a play ourselves—and so am I still;—and as soon as I am a little more at leisure, I mean to look in at their Rehearsals too. What is the [end page 348] play about, Fanny, you have never told me?"
"Oh! sister, pray do not ask her now; for Fanny is not one of those who can talk and work at the same time.—It is about Lovers Vows
"I believe" said Fanny to her aunt Bertram, "there will be three Acts rehearsed tomorrow evening, and that will give you an opportunity of seeing all the actors at once"
"You had better stay till the curtain is hung," interposed Mrs. Norris—"the curtain will be hung in a day of two,—there is very little sense in a play without a curtain—and I am much mistaken if you do not find it draw up into very handsome festoons."
Lady Bertram seemed quite resigned to waiting.—Fanny did not share her aunt’s composure; she thought of the morrow a great deal,—for if the three acts were rehearsed, Edmund and Miss Crawford would then be acting together for the first time;—the third act [end page 349] would bring a scene between them which interested her most particularly, and which she was longing and dreading to see how they would perform. The whole subject of it was love—a marriage of love was to be described by the gentleman, and very little short of a declaration of love be made by the lady.
She had read, and read the scene again with many painful, many wondering emotions, and looked forward to their representation of it as a circumstance almost too interesting. She did not believe they had yet rehearsed it even in private.
The morrow came, the plan for the evening continued, and Fanny’s consideration of it did not become less agitated. She worked very diligently under her aunt’s directions, but her work to the east room, that she might have no concern in another, and, as she deemed [end page 350] it, most unnecessary rehearsal of the first act, which Henry Crawford was just proposing, desirous at once of having her time to herself, and of avoiding the sight of Mr. Rushworth. A glimpse, as she passed through the hall, of the two ladies walking up from the parsonage, made no change in her wish of retreat, and she worked and meditated in the east room, undisturbed, for a quarter of an hour, when a gentle tap at the door was followed by the entrance of Miss Crawford.
"Am I right?—Yes; this is the east room. My dear Miss Price, I beg your pardon, but I have made my way to you on purpose to intreat your help."
Fanny, quite surprised, endeavoured to shew herself mistress of the room by her civilities, and looked at the bright bars of her empty grate with concern.
"Thank you—I am quite warm, very warm. Allow me to stay here a little while, and do have the goodness to hear me my third act. I have brought my [end page 351] book, and if you would but rehearse it with me, I should be so obliged! I came here today intending to rehearse it with Edmund—by ourselves—against the evening, but he is not in the way; and if he were, I do not think I could go through it with him, till I have hardened myself a little, for really there is a speech or two—a speech or two—You will be so good, won’t you?"
Fanny was most civil in her assurances, though she could not give them in a very steady voice.
"Have you ever happened to look at the part I mean?" continued Miss Crawford, opening her book. "Here it is. I did not think much of it at first—but, upon my word—. There, look at that speech, and that, and that. How am I ever to look him in the face and say such things? Could you do it? But then he is your cousin, which makes all the difference. You must rehearse it with me, that I may fancy you him, and get [end page 352] on by degrees. You have a look of his sometimes.
"Have I? —I will do my best with the greatest readiness—but I must read the part, for I can say very little of it."
"None of it, I suppose. You are to have the book of course. Now for it. We must have two chairs at hand for you to bring forward to the front of the stage. There —very good schoolroom chairs, not made for a theater, I dare say; much more fitted for little girls to sit and kick their feet against when they are learning a lesson. What would your governess and your uncle say to see them used for such a purpose? Could Sir Thomas look it upon us just now, he would bless himself, for we are rehearsing all over the house. Yates is storming away in the dinning room. I heard him as I came up stairs, and the theater is engaged of course by those indefatigable rehearses, Agatha and Frederic. If they are not perfect, I shall be surprised. By the bye, I looked in [end page 353] upon them five minutes ago, and it happened to be exactly at one of the times when they were trying not to embrace, and Mr. Rushworth was with me. I thought he began to look a little queer, so I turned it off as well as I could, by whispering to him, ‘We shall have an excellent Agatha, there something so maternal in her manner, so completely maternal in her voice and countenance.’ Was not that well done of me? He brightened up directly. Now for my soliloquy."
She began, and Fanny joined in with all the modest feeling which the idea of representing Edmund was so strongly calculated to inspire; but with looks and voice so truly feminine, as to be no very good picture of a man. With such an Anhalt, however, Miss Crawford had courage enough, and they had got through half of the scene when a tap at the door brought a pause, and the entrance of Edmund the next moment, suspended it all.[end page 354]
Surprise, consciousness, and pleasure, appeared in each of the three on this unexpected meeting; and as Edmund was come on the very same business that had brought Miss Crawford, consciousness and pleasure were very likely to be momentarily in them. He too had his book, and was seeking Fanny, to ask her to rehearse with him, and help him prepare for the evening, without knowing Miss Crawford was there to be in the house; and great was the joy and animation of being thus thrown together—of comparing schemes—and sympathizing in praise of Fanny’s kind offices.
She could not equal them in their warmth. Her spirits sank under the glow of theirs, and she felt herself becoming too nearly nothing to both, to have any comfort in having been sought by either. They must now rehearse together. Edmund proposed, urged, entertained it—till the lady, not very unwilling at first, could refuse no longer [end page 355] —and Fanny was wanted only to prompt and observe them. She was invested, indeed, with the office of judge and critic, and earnestly desired to exercise it and tell them all their faults; but from doing so every feeling within her shrank, she could not, would not, dared attempt it; had she been otherwise qualified for criticism, her conscience must have restrained her from venturing at disapprobation. She believed herself to feel too much of it in the aggregate for honesty or safety in particulars. To prompt them must be enough for her; and it was sometimes more than enough; for she could not always pay attention to the book. In watching them she forgets herself; and agitated by the increasing spirit of Edmund’s manner, had once closed the page and turned away exactly as he wanted help. It was imputed to very reasonable weariness, and she was thanked and pitied; but she deserved their pity, more than she hoped they would [end page 356] ever surmise. At last the scene was over, and fanny forced herself to add praise to the compliments each was giving the other; and when again alone and able to recall the whole, she was inclined to believe their performance would, indeed, have such a nature and feeling in it as must ensure their credit, and make it a very suffering exhibition to herself. Whatever might be its effect, however, she must stand the brunt of it again that very day.
The first regular rehearsal of the three first acts was certainty to take place in the evening; Mrs. Grant and the Crawfords were engaged to return for that purpose as soon as they could after dinner; and every one concerned was looking forward to with eagerness. There seemed as general diffusion of cheerfulness on the occasion; Tom was enjoying such an advance towards the end, Edmund was in spirits from the morning’s rehearsal, and little vexations seemed every where soothed away.[end page 357]
All were alert and impatient; the ladies moved soon, the gentlemen soon followed them, and with the exception of Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Julia, every body was in theatre at an early hour, and having lighted it up as well as its unfinished state admitted, were waiting only the arrival of Mrs. Grant and the Crawfords to begin.
They did not wait long for the Crawfords, but there was no Mrs. Grant. She could not come. Dr. Grant, professing an indisposition, for which he had little credit with his fair sister-in-law, could not spare his wife.
"Dr. Grant is ill," said she, with mock solemnity. "He has been ill ever since; he did not eat any of the pheasant to day. He fancied it tough—sent away his plate—and has been suffering ever since."
Here was disappointment! Mrs. Grant’s non-attendance was sad indeed. Her pleasant manners and cheerful conformity made her always valuable [end page 358] amongst them—but now she was absolutely necessary. They could not act, they could not rehearse with any satisfaction without her. The comfort of the whole evening was destroyed. What was to be done? Tom, as Cottager, was in despair. After a pause of perplexity, some eyes began to be turned towards Fanny, and a voice or two, to say, "If Miss Price would be so good as to read the part." She was immediately surrounded by supplications, every body asked it, even Edmund said, "Do Fanny, if it is not very disagreeable to you."
But Fanny still hung back. She could not endure the idea of it. Why was not Miss Crawford to be applied to as well? Or why had not she rather gone to her own room, as she had felt to be safest, instead of attending the rehearsal at all? She had known it would irritate and distress her—she had known it her duty to keep away. She was properly punished.[end page 359]
"You have only to read the part," said Henry Crawford, with renewed intreaty.
"And I do believe she can say every word of it," added Maria, "for she could put Mrs. Grant right the other day in twenty places. Fanny, I am sure you know the part."
Fanny could not say she did not—and as they all persevered—as Edmund repeated his wish, and with a look of even fond dependence on her good nature, she must yield. She would do her best. Every body was satisfied—and she was left to the tremors of a most palpitating heart, while the others prepared to begin.
They did begin—and being too much engaged in their own noise, to be struck by an usual noise in the other part of the house, had proceeded some way, when the door of the room was thrown open, and Julia appearing at it, with a face allaghast, exclaimed, "My father is come! He is in the hall at this moment."
END OF VOL. I.[end page 360]
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