Mansfield park, p.14
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       Mansfield Park, p.14

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XIV

  Fanny seemed nearer being right than Edmund had supposed. The businessof finding a play that would suit everybody proved to be no trifle; andthe carpenter had received his orders and taken his measurements, hadsuggested and removed at least two sets of difficulties, and having madethe necessity of an enlargement of plan and expense fully evident, wasalready at work, while a play was still to seek. Other preparationswere also in hand. An enormous roll of green baize had arrived fromNorthampton, and been cut out by Mrs. Norris (with a saving by her goodmanagement of full three-quarters of a yard), and was actually forminginto a curtain by the housemaids, and still the play was wanting; andas two or three days passed away in this manner, Edmund began almost tohope that none might ever be found.

  There were, in fact, so many things to be attended to, so many peopleto be pleased, so many best characters required, and, above all, such aneed that the play should be at once both tragedy and comedy, that theredid seem as little chance of a decision as anything pursued by youth andzeal could hold out.

  On the tragic side were the Miss Bertrams, Henry Crawford, and Mr.Yates; on the comic, Tom Bertram, not _quite_ alone, because it wasevident that Mary Crawford's wishes, though politely kept back, inclinedthe same way: but his determinateness and his power seemed to makeallies unnecessary; and, independent of this great irreconcilabledifference, they wanted a piece containing very few characters in thewhole, but every character first-rate, and three principal women. Allthe best plays were run over in vain. Neither Hamlet, nor Macbeth, norOthello, nor Douglas, nor The Gamester, presented anything that couldsatisfy even the tragedians; and The Rivals, The School for Scandal,Wheel of Fortune, Heir at Law, and a long et cetera, were successivelydismissed with yet warmer objections. No piece could be proposed thatdid not supply somebody with a difficulty, and on one side or the otherit was a continual repetition of, "Oh no, _that_ will never do! Let ushave no ranting tragedies. Too many characters. Not a tolerablewoman's part in the play. Anything but _that_, my dear Tom. It would beimpossible to fill it up. One could not expect anybody to take such apart. Nothing but buffoonery from beginning to end. _That_ might do,perhaps, but for the low parts. If I _must_ give my opinion, I havealways thought it the most insipid play in the English language. _I_ donot wish to make objections; I shall be happy to be of any use, but Ithink we could not chuse worse."

  Fanny looked on and listened, not unamused to observe the selfishnesswhich, more or less disguised, seemed to govern them all, and wonderinghow it would end. For her own gratification she could have wished thatsomething might be acted, for she had never seen even half a play, buteverything of higher consequence was against it.

  "This will never do," said Tom Bertram at last. "We are wasting timemost abominably. Something must be fixed on. No matter what, so thatsomething is chosen. We must not be so nice. A few characters too manymust not frighten us. We must _double_ them. We must descend a little.If a part is insignificant, the greater our credit in making anything ofit. From this moment I make no difficulties. I take any part you chuseto give me, so as it be comic. Let it but be comic, I condition fornothing more."

  For about the fifth time he then proposed the Heir at Law, doubting onlywhether to prefer Lord Duberley or Dr. Pangloss for himself; and veryearnestly, but very unsuccessfully, trying to persuade the others thatthere were some fine tragic parts in the rest of the dramatis personae.

  The pause which followed this fruitless effort was ended by the samespeaker, who, taking up one of the many volumes of plays that lay on thetable, and turning it over, suddenly exclaimed--"Lovers' Vows! And whyshould not Lovers' Vows do for _us_ as well as for the Ravenshaws? Howcame it never to be thought of before? It strikes me as if it would doexactly. What say you all? Here are two capital tragic parts for Yatesand Crawford, and here is the rhyming Butler for me, if nobody elsewants it; a trifling part, but the sort of thing I should not dislike,and, as I said before, I am determined to take anything and do my best.And as for the rest, they may be filled up by anybody. It is only CountCassel and Anhalt."

  The suggestion was generally welcome. Everybody was growing weary ofindecision, and the first idea with everybody was, that nothing had beenproposed before so likely to suit them all. Mr. Yates was particularlypleased: he had been sighing and longing to do the Baron at Ecclesford,had grudged every rant of Lord Ravenshaw's, and been forced to re-rantit all in his own room. The storm through Baron Wildenheim was theheight of his theatrical ambition; and with the advantage of knowinghalf the scenes by heart already, he did now, with the greatestalacrity, offer his services for the part. To do him justice, however,he did not resolve to appropriate it; for remembering that there wassome very good ranting-ground in Frederick, he professed an equalwillingness for that. Henry Crawford was ready to take either. WhicheverMr. Yates did not chuse would perfectly satisfy him, and a short parleyof compliment ensued. Miss Bertram, feeling all the interest of anAgatha in the question, took on her to decide it, by observing to Mr.Yates that this was a point in which height and figure ought tobe considered, and that _his_ being the tallest, seemed to fit himpeculiarly for the Baron. She was acknowledged to be quite right, andthe two parts being accepted accordingly, she was certain of the properFrederick. Three of the characters were now cast, besides Mr. Rushworth,who was always answered for by Maria as willing to do anything; whenJulia, meaning, like her sister, to be Agatha, began to be scrupulous onMiss Crawford's account.

  "This is not behaving well by the absent," said she. "Here are not womenenough. Amelia and Agatha may do for Maria and me, but here is nothingfor your sister, Mr. Crawford."

  Mr. Crawford desired _that_ might not be thought of: he was very surehis sister had no wish of acting but as she might be useful, and thatshe would not allow herself to be considered in the present case. Butthis was immediately opposed by Tom Bertram, who asserted the part ofAmelia to be in every respect the property of Miss Crawford, if shewould accept it. "It falls as naturally, as necessarily to her,"said he, "as Agatha does to one or other of my sisters. It can be nosacrifice on their side, for it is highly comic."

  A short silence followed. Each sister looked anxious; for each felt thebest claim to Agatha, and was hoping to have it pressed on her by therest. Henry Crawford, who meanwhile had taken up the play, and withseeming carelessness was turning over the first act, soon settled thebusiness.

  "I must entreat Miss _Julia_ Bertram," said he, "not to engage in thepart of Agatha, or it will be the ruin of all my solemnity. You mustnot, indeed you must not" (turning to her). "I could not stand yourcountenance dressed up in woe and paleness. The many laughs we have hadtogether would infallibly come across me, and Frederick and his knapsackwould be obliged to run away."

  Pleasantly, courteously, it was spoken; but the manner was lost in thematter to Julia's feelings. She saw a glance at Maria which confirmedthe injury to herself: it was a scheme, a trick; she was slighted, Mariawas preferred; the smile of triumph which Maria was trying to suppressshewed how well it was understood; and before Julia could commandherself enough to speak, her brother gave his weight against her too,by saying, "Oh yes! Maria must be Agatha. Maria will be the best Agatha.Though Julia fancies she prefers tragedy, I would not trust her in it.There is nothing of tragedy about her. She has not the look of it. Herfeatures are not tragic features, and she walks too quick, and speakstoo quick, and would not keep her countenance. She had better do the oldcountrywoman: the Cottager's wife; you had, indeed, Julia. Cottager'swife is a very pretty part, I assure you. The old lady relieves thehigh-flown benevolence of her husband with a good deal of spirit. Youshall be Cottager's wife."

  "Cottager's wife!" cried Mr. Yates. "What are you talking of? The mosttrivial, paltry, insignificant part; the merest commonplace; not atolerable speech in the whole. Your sister do that! It is an insultto propose it. At Ecclesford the governess was to have done it. Weall agreed that it could not be offered to anybody else. A little morejustice, Mr. Manager, if you please. You do not deserv
e the office, ifyou cannot appreciate the talents of your company a little better."

  "Why, as to _that_, my good friend, till I and my company have reallyacted there must be some guesswork; but I mean no disparagement toJulia. We cannot have two Agathas, and we must have one Cottager'swife; and I am sure I set her the example of moderation myself in beingsatisfied with the old Butler. If the part is trifling she will havemore credit in making something of it; and if she is so desperately bentagainst everything humorous, let her take Cottager's speeches instead ofCottager's wife's, and so change the parts all through; _he_ is solemnand pathetic enough, I am sure. It could make no difference in the play,and as for Cottager himself, when he has got his wife's speeches, _I_would undertake him with all my heart."

  "With all your partiality for Cottager's wife," said Henry Crawford, "itwill be impossible to make anything of it fit for your sister, and wemust not suffer her good-nature to be imposed on. We must not _allow_her to accept the part. She must not be left to her own complaisance.Her talents will be wanted in Amelia. Amelia is a character moredifficult to be well represented than even Agatha. I consider Ameliais the most difficult character in the whole piece. It requires greatpowers, great nicety, to give her playfulness and simplicity withoutextravagance. I have seen good actresses fail in the part. Simplicity,indeed, is beyond the reach of almost every actress by profession.It requires a delicacy of feeling which they have not. It requires agentlewoman--a Julia Bertram. You _will_ undertake it, I hope?" turningto her with a look of anxious entreaty, which softened her a little; butwhile she hesitated what to say, her brother again interposed with MissCrawford's better claim.

  "No, no, Julia must not be Amelia. It is not at all the part for her.She would not like it. She would not do well. She is too tall androbust. Amelia should be a small, light, girlish, skipping figure. It isfit for Miss Crawford, and Miss Crawford only. She looks the part, and Iam persuaded will do it admirably."

  Without attending to this, Henry Crawford continued his supplication."You must oblige us," said he, "indeed you must. When you have studiedthe character, I am sure you will feel it suit you. Tragedy may be yourchoice, but it will certainly appear that comedy chuses _you_. Youwill be to visit me in prison with a basket of provisions; you willnot refuse to visit me in prison? I think I see you coming in with yourbasket."

  The influence of his voice was felt. Julia wavered; but was he onlytrying to soothe and pacify her, and make her overlook the previousaffront? She distrusted him. The slight had been most determined. Hewas, perhaps, but at treacherous play with her. She looked suspiciouslyat her sister; Maria's countenance was to decide it: if she were vexedand alarmed--but Maria looked all serenity and satisfaction, and Juliawell knew that on this ground Maria could not be happy but at herexpense. With hasty indignation, therefore, and a tremulous voice, shesaid to him, "You do not seem afraid of not keeping your countenancewhen I come in with a basket of provisions--though one might havesupposed--but it is only as Agatha that I was to be so overpowering!"She stopped--Henry Crawford looked rather foolish, and as if he did notknow what to say. Tom Bertram began again--

  "Miss Crawford must be Amelia. She will be an excellent Amelia."

  "Do not be afraid of _my_ wanting the character," cried Julia, withangry quickness: "I am _not_ to be Agatha, and I am sure I will donothing else; and as to Amelia, it is of all parts in the world themost disgusting to me. I quite detest her. An odious, little, pert,unnatural, impudent girl. I have always protested against comedy, andthis is comedy in its worst form." And so saying, she walked hastilyout of the room, leaving awkward feelings to more than one, but excitingsmall compassion in any except Fanny, who had been a quiet auditor ofthe whole, and who could not think of her as under the agitations of_jealousy_ without great pity.

  A short silence succeeded her leaving them; but her brother soonreturned to business and Lovers' Vows, and was eagerly looking overthe play, with Mr. Yates's help, to ascertain what scenery would benecessary--while Maria and Henry Crawford conversed together in anunder-voice, and the declaration with which she began of, "I am sure Iwould give up the part to Julia most willingly, but that though I shallprobably do it very ill, I feel persuaded _she_ would do it worse," wasdoubtless receiving all the compliments it called for.

  When this had lasted some time, the division of the party was completedby Tom Bertram and Mr. Yates walking off together to consult farther inthe room now beginning to be called _the_ _Theatre_, and Miss Bertram'sresolving to go down to the Parsonage herself with the offer of Ameliato Miss Crawford; and Fanny remained alone.

  The first use she made of her solitude was to take up the volume whichhad been left on the table, and begin to acquaint herself with the playof which she had heard so much. Her curiosity was all awake, and she ranthrough it with an eagerness which was suspended only by intervals ofastonishment, that it could be chosen in the present instance, that itcould be proposed and accepted in a private theatre! Agatha and Ameliaappeared to her in their different ways so totally improper for homerepresentation--the situation of one, and the language of the other,so unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty, that she could hardlysuppose her cousins could be aware of what they were engaging in; andlonged to have them roused as soon as possible by the remonstrance whichEdmund would certainly make.

 
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