Mansfield park, p.13
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       Mansfield Park, p.13

           Jane Austen


  The Honourable John Yates, this new friend, had not much to recommendhim beyond habits of fashion and expense, and being the younger son ofa lord with a tolerable independence; and Sir Thomas would probablyhave thought his introduction at Mansfield by no means desirable. Mr.Bertram's acquaintance with him had begun at Weymouth, where they hadspent ten days together in the same society, and the friendship, iffriendship it might be called, had been proved and perfected by Mr.Yates's being invited to take Mansfield in his way, whenever he could,and by his promising to come; and he did come rather earlier than hadbeen expected, in consequence of the sudden breaking-up of a large partyassembled for gaiety at the house of another friend, which he had leftWeymouth to join. He came on the wings of disappointment, and with hishead full of acting, for it had been a theatrical party; and the playin which he had borne a part was within two days of representation,when the sudden death of one of the nearest connexions of the familyhad destroyed the scheme and dispersed the performers. To be so nearhappiness, so near fame, so near the long paragraph in praise of theprivate theatricals at Ecclesford, the seat of the Right Hon. LordRavenshaw, in Cornwall, which would of course have immortalised thewhole party for at least a twelvemonth! and being so near, to loseit all, was an injury to be keenly felt, and Mr. Yates could talk ofnothing else. Ecclesford and its theatre, with its arrangements anddresses, rehearsals and jokes, was his never-failing subject, and toboast of the past his only consolation.

  Happily for him, a love of the theatre is so general, an itch for actingso strong among young people, that he could hardly out-talk the interestof his hearers. From the first casting of the parts to the epilogue itwas all bewitching, and there were few who did not wish to have been aparty concerned, or would have hesitated to try their skill. The playhad been Lovers' Vows, and Mr. Yates was to have been Count Cassel. "Atrifling part," said he, "and not at all to my taste, and such a oneas I certainly would not accept again; but I was determined to make nodifficulties. Lord Ravenshaw and the duke had appropriated the only twocharacters worth playing before I reached Ecclesford; and though LordRavenshaw offered to resign his to me, it was impossible to take it, youknow. I was sorry for _him_ that he should have so mistaken his powers,for he was no more equal to the Baron--a little man with a weak voice,always hoarse after the first ten minutes. It must have injured thepiece materially; but _I_ was resolved to make no difficulties. SirHenry thought the duke not equal to Frederick, but that was becauseSir Henry wanted the part himself; whereas it was certainly in the besthands of the two. I was surprised to see Sir Henry such a stick. Luckilythe strength of the piece did not depend upon him. Our Agatha wasinimitable, and the duke was thought very great by many. And upon thewhole, it would certainly have gone off wonderfully."

  "It was a hard case, upon my word"; and, "I do think you were very muchto be pitied," were the kind responses of listening sympathy.

  "It is not worth complaining about; but to be sure the poor old dowagercould not have died at a worse time; and it is impossible to helpwishing that the news could have been suppressed for just the three dayswe wanted. It was but three days; and being only a grandmother, and allhappening two hundred miles off, I think there would have been no greatharm, and it was suggested, I know; but Lord Ravenshaw, who I suppose isone of the most correct men in England, would not hear of it."

  "An afterpiece instead of a comedy," said Mr. Bertram. "Lovers' Vowswere at an end, and Lord and Lady Ravenshaw left to act My Grandmotherby themselves. Well, the jointure may comfort _him_; and perhaps,between friends, he began to tremble for his credit and his lungs in theBaron, and was not sorry to withdraw; and to make _you_ amends, Yates, Ithink we must raise a little theatre at Mansfield, and ask you to be ourmanager."

  This, though the thought of the moment, did not end with the moment; forthe inclination to act was awakened, and in no one more strongly than inhim who was now master of the house; and who, having so much leisure asto make almost any novelty a certain good, had likewise such a degree oflively talents and comic taste, as were exactly adapted to the noveltyof acting. The thought returned again and again. "Oh for the Ecclesfordtheatre and scenery to try something with." Each sister could echo thewish; and Henry Crawford, to whom, in all the riot of his gratificationsit was yet an untasted pleasure, was quite alive at the idea. "I reallybelieve," said he, "I could be fool enough at this moment to undertakeany character that ever was written, from Shylock or Richard III down tothe singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and cocked hat. I feelas if I could be anything or everything; as if I could rant and storm,or sigh or cut capers, in any tragedy or comedy in the English language.Let us be doing something. Be it only half a play, an act, a scene; whatshould prevent us? Not these countenances, I am sure," looking towardsthe Miss Bertrams; "and for a theatre, what signifies a theatre? Weshall be only amusing ourselves. Any room in this house might suffice."

  "We must have a curtain," said Tom Bertram; "a few yards of green baizefor a curtain, and perhaps that may be enough."

  "Oh, quite enough," cried Mr. Yates, "with only just a side wing or tworun up, doors in flat, and three or four scenes to be let down; nothingmore would be necessary on such a plan as this. For mere amusement amongourselves we should want nothing more."

  "I believe we must be satisfied with _less_," said Maria. "There wouldnot be time, and other difficulties would arise. We must rather adoptMr. Crawford's views, and make the _performance_, not the _theatre_, ourobject. Many parts of our best plays are independent of scenery."

  "Nay," said Edmund, who began to listen with alarm. "Let us do nothingby halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fittedup with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire frombeginning to end; so as it be a German play, no matter what, with a goodtricking, shifting afterpiece, and a figure-dance, and a hornpipe, and asong between the acts. If we do not outdo Ecclesford, we do nothing."

  "Now, Edmund, do not be disagreeable," said Julia. "Nobody loves a playbetter than you do, or can have gone much farther to see one."

  "True, to see real acting, good hardened real acting; but I would hardlywalk from this room to the next to look at the raw efforts of those whohave not been bred to the trade: a set of gentlemen and ladies, who haveall the disadvantages of education and decorum to struggle through."

  After a short pause, however, the subject still continued, and wasdiscussed with unabated eagerness, every one's inclination increasingby the discussion, and a knowledge of the inclination of the rest; andthough nothing was settled but that Tom Bertram would prefer a comedy,and his sisters and Henry Crawford a tragedy, and that nothing in theworld could be easier than to find a piece which would please them all,the resolution to act something or other seemed so decided as tomake Edmund quite uncomfortable. He was determined to prevent it, ifpossible, though his mother, who equally heard the conversation whichpassed at table, did not evince the least disapprobation.

  The same evening afforded him an opportunity of trying his strength.Maria, Julia, Henry Crawford, and Mr. Yates were in the billiard-room.Tom, returning from them into the drawing-room, where Edmund wasstanding thoughtfully by the fire, while Lady Bertram was on the sofa ata little distance, and Fanny close beside her arranging her work, thusbegan as he entered--"Such a horribly vile billiard-table as ours is notto be met with, I believe, above ground. I can stand it no longer, and Ithink, I may say, that nothing shall ever tempt me to it again; but onegood thing I have just ascertained: it is the very room for a theatre,precisely the shape and length for it; and the doors at the fartherend, communicating with each other, as they may be made to do in fiveminutes, by merely moving the bookcase in my father's room, is the verything we could have desired, if we had sat down to wish for it; andmy father's room will be an excellent greenroom. It seems to join thebilliard-room on purpose."

  "You are not serious, Tom, in meaning to act?" said Edmund, in a lowvoice, as his brother approached the fire.

  "Not seriou
s! never more so, I assure you. What is there to surprise youin it?"

  "I think it would be very wrong. In a _general_ light, privatetheatricals are open to some objections, but as _we_ are circumstanced,I must think it would be highly injudicious, and more than injudiciousto attempt anything of the kind. It would shew great want of feelingon my father's account, absent as he is, and in some degree of constantdanger; and it would be imprudent, I think, with regard to Maria, whosesituation is a very delicate one, considering everything, extremelydelicate."

  "You take up a thing so seriously! as if we were going to act threetimes a week till my father's return, and invite all the country. Butit is not to be a display of that sort. We mean nothing but a littleamusement among ourselves, just to vary the scene, and exercise ourpowers in something new. We want no audience, no publicity. We may betrusted, I think, in chusing some play most perfectly unexceptionable;and I can conceive no greater harm or danger to any of us in conversingin the elegant written language of some respectable author than inchattering in words of our own. I have no fears and no scruples. Andas to my father's being absent, it is so far from an objection, that Iconsider it rather as a motive; for the expectation of his return mustbe a very anxious period to my mother; and if we can be the means ofamusing that anxiety, and keeping up her spirits for the next few weeks,I shall think our time very well spent, and so, I am sure, will he. Itis a _very_ anxious period for her."

  As he said this, each looked towards their mother. Lady Bertram, sunkback in one corner of the sofa, the picture of health, wealth, ease,and tranquillity, was just falling into a gentle doze, while Fanny wasgetting through the few difficulties of her work for her.

  Edmund smiled and shook his head.

  "By Jove! this won't do," cried Tom, throwing himself into a chair witha hearty laugh. "To be sure, my dear mother, your anxiety--I was unluckythere."

  "What is the matter?" asked her ladyship, in the heavy tone of onehalf-roused; "I was not asleep."

  "Oh dear, no, ma'am, nobody suspected you! Well, Edmund," he continued,returning to the former subject, posture, and voice, as soon as LadyBertram began to nod again, "but _this_ I _will_ maintain, that we shallbe doing no harm."

  "I cannot agree with you; I am convinced that my father would totallydisapprove it."

  "And I am convinced to the contrary. Nobody is fonder of the exerciseof talent in young people, or promotes it more, than my father, and foranything of the acting, spouting, reciting kind, I think he has always adecided taste. I am sure he encouraged it in us as boys. How many a timehave we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to _be'd_ andnot _to_ _be'd_, in this very room, for his amusement? And I am sure,_my_ _name_ _was_ _Norval_, every evening of my life through oneChristmas holidays."

  "It was a very different thing. You must see the difference yourself. Myfather wished us, as schoolboys, to speak well, but he would neverwish his grown-up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum isstrict."

  "I know all that," said Tom, displeased. "I know my father as well asyou do; and I'll take care that his daughters do nothing to distresshim. Manage your own concerns, Edmund, and I'll take care of the rest ofthe family."

  "If you are resolved on acting," replied the persevering Edmund, "I musthope it will be in a very small and quiet way; and I think a theatreought not to be attempted. It would be taking liberties with my father'shouse in his absence which could not be justified."

  "For everything of that nature I will be answerable," said Tom, in adecided tone. "His house shall not be hurt. I have quite as great aninterest in being careful of his house as you can have; and as to suchalterations as I was suggesting just now, such as moving a bookcase, orunlocking a door, or even as using the billiard-room for the space of aweek without playing at billiards in it, you might just as well supposehe would object to our sitting more in this room, and less in thebreakfast-room, than we did before he went away, or to my sister'spianoforte being moved from one side of the room to the other. Absolutenonsense!"

  "The innovation, if not wrong as an innovation, will be wrong as anexpense."

  "Yes, the expense of such an undertaking would be prodigious! Perhapsit might cost a whole twenty pounds. Something of a theatre we must haveundoubtedly, but it will be on the simplest plan: a green curtain and alittle carpenter's work, and that's all; and as the carpenter's workmay be all done at home by Christopher Jackson himself, it will betoo absurd to talk of expense; and as long as Jackson is employed,everything will be right with Sir Thomas. Don't imagine that nobody inthis house can see or judge but yourself. Don't act yourself, if you donot like it, but don't expect to govern everybody else."

  "No, as to acting myself," said Edmund, "_that_ I absolutely protestagainst."

  Tom walked out of the room as he said it, and Edmund was left to sitdown and stir the fire in thoughtful vexation.

  Fanny, who had heard it all, and borne Edmund company in every feelingthroughout the whole, now ventured to say, in her anxiety to suggestsome comfort, "Perhaps they may not be able to find any play to suitthem. Your brother's taste and your sisters' seem very different."

  "I have no hope there, Fanny. If they persist in the scheme, they willfind something. I shall speak to my sisters and try to dissuade _them_,and that is all I can do."

  "I should think my aunt Norris would be on your side."

  "I dare say she would, but she has no influence with either Tom or mysisters that could be of any use; and if I cannot convince them myself,I shall let things take their course, without attempting it throughher. Family squabbling is the greatest evil of all, and we had better doanything than be altogether by the ears."

  His sisters, to whom he had an opportunity of speaking the next morning,were quite as impatient of his advice, quite as unyielding to hisrepresentation, quite as determined in the cause of pleasure, as Tom.Their mother had no objection to the plan, and they were not in theleast afraid of their father's disapprobation. There could be no harm inwhat had been done in so many respectable families, and by so many womenof the first consideration; and it must be scrupulousness run mad thatcould see anything to censure in a plan like theirs, comprehending onlybrothers and sisters and intimate friends, and which would never beheard of beyond themselves. Julia _did_ seem inclined to admit thatMaria's situation might require particular caution and delicacy--butthat could not extend to _her_--she was at liberty; and Maria evidentlyconsidered her engagement as only raising her so much more aboverestraint, and leaving her less occasion than Julia to consult eitherfather or mother. Edmund had little to hope, but he was still urging thesubject when Henry Crawford entered the room, fresh from the Parsonage,calling out, "No want of hands in our theatre, Miss Bertram. No wantof understrappers: my sister desires her love, and hopes to be admittedinto the company, and will be happy to take the part of any old duennaor tame confidante, that you may not like to do yourselves."

  Maria gave Edmund a glance, which meant, "What say you now? Can webe wrong if Mary Crawford feels the same?" And Edmund, silenced,was obliged to acknowledge that the charm of acting might well carryfascination to the mind of genius; and with the ingenuity of love, todwell more on the obliging, accommodating purport of the message than onanything else.

  The scheme advanced. Opposition was vain; and as to Mrs. Norris, hewas mistaken in supposing she would wish to make any. She started nodifficulties that were not talked down in five minutes by her eldestnephew and niece, who were all-powerful with her; and as the wholearrangement was to bring very little expense to anybody, and none at allto herself, as she foresaw in it all the comforts of hurry, bustle,and importance, and derived the immediate advantage of fancying herselfobliged to leave her own house, where she had been living a month ather own cost, and take up her abode in theirs, that every hour might bespent in their service, she was, in fact, exceedingly delighted with theproject.

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