Mansfield park, p.15
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       Mansfield Park, p.15

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XV

  Miss Crawford accepted the part very readily; and soon after MissBertram's return from the Parsonage, Mr. Rushworth arrived, and anothercharacter was consequently cast. He had the offer of Count Casseland Anhalt, and at first did not know which to chuse, and wanted MissBertram to direct him; but upon being made to understand the differentstyle of the characters, and which was which, and recollecting that hehad once seen the play in London, and had thought Anhalt a very stupidfellow, he soon decided for the Count. Miss Bertram approved thedecision, for the less he had to learn the better; and though she couldnot sympathise in his wish that the Count and Agatha might be to acttogether, nor wait very patiently while he was slowly turning over theleaves with the hope of still discovering such a scene, she very kindlytook his part in hand, and curtailed every speech that admitted beingshortened; besides pointing out the necessity of his being very muchdressed, and chusing his colours. Mr. Rushworth liked the idea of hisfinery very well, though affecting to despise it; and was too muchengaged with what his own appearance would be to think of the others,or draw any of those conclusions, or feel any of that displeasure whichMaria had been half prepared for.

  Thus much was settled before Edmund, who had been out all the morning,knew anything of the matter; but when he entered the drawing-room beforedinner, the buzz of discussion was high between Tom, Maria, and Mr.Yates; and Mr. Rushworth stepped forward with great alacrity to tell himthe agreeable news.

  "We have got a play," said he. "It is to be Lovers' Vows; and I am to beCount Cassel, and am to come in first with a blue dress and a pink satincloak, and afterwards am to have another fine fancy suit, by way of ashooting-dress. I do not know how I shall like it."

  Fanny's eyes followed Edmund, and her heart beat for him as she heardthis speech, and saw his look, and felt what his sensations must be.

  "Lovers' Vows!" in a tone of the greatest amazement, was his only replyto Mr. Rushworth, and he turned towards his brother and sisters as ifhardly doubting a contradiction.

  "Yes," cried Mr. Yates. "After all our debatings and difficulties, wefind there is nothing that will suit us altogether so well, nothing sounexceptionable, as Lovers' Vows. The wonder is that it should not havebeen thought of before. My stupidity was abominable, for here we haveall the advantage of what I saw at Ecclesford; and it is so useful tohave anything of a model! We have cast almost every part."

  "But what do you do for women?" said Edmund gravely, and looking atMaria.

  Maria blushed in spite of herself as she answered, "I take the partwhich Lady Ravenshaw was to have done, and" (with a bolder eye) "MissCrawford is to be Amelia."

  "I should not have thought it the sort of play to be so easily filledup, with _us_," replied Edmund, turning away to the fire, where sathis mother, aunt, and Fanny, and seating himself with a look of greatvexation.

  Mr. Rushworth followed him to say, "I come in three times, and havetwo-and-forty speeches. That's something, is not it? But I do not muchlike the idea of being so fine. I shall hardly know myself in a bluedress and a pink satin cloak."

  Edmund could not answer him. In a few minutes Mr. Bertram was calledout of the room to satisfy some doubts of the carpenter; and beingaccompanied by Mr. Yates, and followed soon afterwards by Mr. Rushworth,Edmund almost immediately took the opportunity of saying, "I cannot,before Mr. Yates, speak what I feel as to this play, without reflectingon his friends at Ecclesford; but I must now, my dear Maria, tell _you_,that I think it exceedingly unfit for private representation, and that Ihope you will give it up. I cannot but suppose you _will_ when you haveread it carefully over. Read only the first act aloud to either yourmother or aunt, and see how you can approve it. It will not be necessaryto send you to your _father's_ judgment, I am convinced."

  "We see things very differently," cried Maria. "I am perfectlyacquainted with the play, I assure you; and with a very few omissions,and so forth, which will be made, of course, I can see nothingobjectionable in it; and _I_ am not the _only_ young woman you find whothinks it very fit for private representation."

  "I am sorry for it," was his answer; "but in this matter it is _you_ whoare to lead. _You_ must set the example. If others have blundered, itis your place to put them right, and shew them what true delicacy is.In all points of decorum _your_ conduct must be law to the rest of theparty."

  This picture of her consequence had some effect, for no one loved betterto lead than Maria; and with far more good-humour she answered, "I ammuch obliged to you, Edmund; you mean very well, I am sure: but I stillthink you see things too strongly; and I really cannot undertake toharangue all the rest upon a subject of this kind. _There_ would be thegreatest indecorum, I think."

  "Do you imagine that I could have such an idea in my head? No; let yourconduct be the only harangue. Say that, on examining the part, you feelyourself unequal to it; that you find it requiring more exertion andconfidence than you can be supposed to have. Say this with firmness, andit will be quite enough. All who can distinguish will understand yourmotive. The play will be given up, and your delicacy honoured as itought."

  "Do not act anything improper, my dear," said Lady Bertram. "Sir Thomaswould not like it.--Fanny, ring the bell; I must have my dinner.--To besure, Julia is dressed by this time."

  "I am convinced, madam," said Edmund, preventing Fanny, "that Sir Thomaswould not like it."

  "There, my dear, do you hear what Edmund says?"

  "If I were to decline the part," said Maria, with renewed zeal, "Juliawould certainly take it."

  "What!" cried Edmund, "if she knew your reasons!"

  "Oh! she might think the difference between us--the difference in oursituations--that _she_ need not be so scrupulous as _I_ might feelnecessary. I am sure she would argue so. No; you must excuse me; Icannot retract my consent; it is too far settled, everybody would be sodisappointed, Tom would be quite angry; and if we are so very nice, weshall never act anything."

  "I was just going to say the very same thing," said Mrs. Norris."If every play is to be objected to, you will act nothing, and thepreparations will be all so much money thrown away, and I am sure _that_would be a discredit to us all. I do not know the play; but, as Mariasays, if there is anything a little too warm (and it is so with most ofthem) it can be easily left out. We must not be over-precise, Edmund. AsMr. Rushworth is to act too, there can be no harm. I only wish Tom hadknown his own mind when the carpenters began, for there was the lossof half a day's work about those side-doors. The curtain will be a goodjob, however. The maids do their work very well, and I think we shall beable to send back some dozens of the rings. There is no occasion to putthem so very close together. I _am_ of some use, I hope, in preventingwaste and making the most of things. There should always be onesteady head to superintend so many young ones. I forgot to tell Tom ofsomething that happened to me this very day. I had been looking about mein the poultry-yard, and was just coming out, when who should I see butDick Jackson making up to the servants' hall-door with two bits of dealboard in his hand, bringing them to father, you may be sure; mother hadchanced to send him of a message to father, and then father had bidhim bring up them two bits of board, for he could not no how do withoutthem. I knew what all this meant, for the servants' dinner-bellwas ringing at the very moment over our heads; and as I hate suchencroaching people (the Jacksons are very encroaching, I have alwayssaid so: just the sort of people to get all they can), I said to the boydirectly (a great lubberly fellow of ten years old, you know, who oughtto be ashamed of himself), '_I'll_ take the boards to your father, Dick,so get you home again as fast as you can.' The boy looked very silly,and turned away without offering a word, for I believe I might speakpretty sharp; and I dare say it will cure him of coming marauding aboutthe house for one while. I hate such greediness--so good as your fatheris to the family, employing the man all the year round!"

  Nobody was at the trouble of an answer; the others soon returned; andEdmund found that to have endeavoured to set them right must be his onlysatisfacti
on.

  Dinner passed heavily. Mrs. Norris related again her triumph over DickJackson, but neither play nor preparation were otherwise much talkedof, for Edmund's disapprobation was felt even by his brother, thoughhe would not have owned it. Maria, wanting Henry Crawford's animatingsupport, thought the subject better avoided. Mr. Yates, who was tryingto make himself agreeable to Julia, found her gloom less impenetrable onany topic than that of his regret at her secession from their company;and Mr. Rushworth, having only his own part and his own dress in hishead, had soon talked away all that could be said of either.

  But the concerns of the theatre were suspended only for an hour or two:there was still a great deal to be settled; and the spirits of eveninggiving fresh courage, Tom, Maria, and Mr. Yates, soon after their beingreassembled in the drawing-room, seated themselves in committee at aseparate table, with the play open before them, and were just gettingdeep in the subject when a most welcome interruption was given by theentrance of Mr. and Miss Crawford, who, late and dark and dirty as itwas, could not help coming, and were received with the most gratefuljoy.

  "Well, how do you go on?" and "What have you settled?" and "Oh! wecan do nothing without you," followed the first salutations; and HenryCrawford was soon seated with the other three at the table, while hissister made her way to Lady Bertram, and with pleasant attention wascomplimenting _her_. "I must really congratulate your ladyship," saidshe, "on the play being chosen; for though you have borne it withexemplary patience, I am sure you must be sick of all our noise anddifficulties. The actors may be glad, but the bystanders must beinfinitely more thankful for a decision; and I do sincerely give youjoy, madam, as well as Mrs. Norris, and everybody else who is in thesame predicament," glancing half fearfully, half slyly, beyond Fanny toEdmund.

  She was very civilly answered by Lady Bertram, but Edmund said nothing.His being only a bystander was not disclaimed. After continuing in chatwith the party round the fire a few minutes, Miss Crawford returnedto the party round the table; and standing by them, seemed tointerest herself in their arrangements till, as if struck by a suddenrecollection, she exclaimed, "My good friends, you are most composedlyat work upon these cottages and alehouses, inside and out; but pray letme know my fate in the meanwhile. Who is to be Anhalt? What gentlemanamong you am I to have the pleasure of making love to?"

  For a moment no one spoke; and then many spoke together to tell the samemelancholy truth, that they had not yet got any Anhalt. "Mr. Rushworthwas to be Count Cassel, but no one had yet undertaken Anhalt."

  "I had my choice of the parts," said Mr. Rushworth; "but I thought Ishould like the Count best, though I do not much relish the finery I amto have."

  "You chose very wisely, I am sure," replied Miss Crawford, with abrightened look; "Anhalt is a heavy part."

  "_The_ _Count_ has two-and-forty speeches," returned Mr. Rushworth,"which is no trifle."

  "I am not at all surprised," said Miss Crawford, after a short pause,"at this want of an Anhalt. Amelia deserves no better. Such a forwardyoung lady may well frighten the men."

  "I should be but too happy in taking the part, if it were possible,"cried Tom; "but, unluckily, the Butler and Anhalt are in together. Iwill not entirely give it up, however; I will try what can be done--Iwill look it over again."

  "Your _brother_ should take the part," said Mr. Yates, in a low voice."Do not you think he would?"

  "_I_ shall not ask him," replied Tom, in a cold, determined manner.

  Miss Crawford talked of something else, and soon afterwards rejoined theparty at the fire.

  "They do not want me at all," said she, seating herself. "I only puzzlethem, and oblige them to make civil speeches. Mr. Edmund Bertram, asyou do not act yourself, you will be a disinterested adviser; and,therefore, I apply to _you_. What shall we do for an Anhalt? Is itpracticable for any of the others to double it? What is your advice?"

  "My advice," said he calmly, "is that you change the play."

  "_I_ should have no objection," she replied; "for though I should notparticularly dislike the part of Amelia if well supported, that is, ifeverything went well, I shall be sorry to be an inconvenience; butas they do not chuse to hear your advice at _that_ _table_" (lookinground), "it certainly will not be taken."

  Edmund said no more.

  "If _any_ part could tempt _you_ to act, I suppose it would be Anhalt,"observed the lady archly, after a short pause; "for he is a clergyman,you know."

  "_That_ circumstance would by no means tempt me," he replied, "for Ishould be sorry to make the character ridiculous by bad acting. Itmust be very difficult to keep Anhalt from appearing a formal, solemnlecturer; and the man who chuses the profession itself is, perhaps, oneof the last who would wish to represent it on the stage."

  Miss Crawford was silenced, and with some feelings of resentment andmortification, moved her chair considerably nearer the tea-table, andgave all her attention to Mrs. Norris, who was presiding there.

  "Fanny," cried Tom Bertram, from the other table, where the conferencewas eagerly carrying on, and the conversation incessant, "we want yourservices."

  Fanny was up in a moment, expecting some errand; for the habit ofemploying her in that way was not yet overcome, in spite of all thatEdmund could do.

  "Oh! we do not want to disturb you from your seat. We do not want your_present_ services. We shall only want you in our play. You must beCottager's wife."

  "Me!" cried Fanny, sitting down again with a most frightened look."Indeed you must excuse me. I could not act anything if you were to giveme the world. No, indeed, I cannot act."

  "Indeed, but you must, for we cannot excuse you. It need not frightenyou: it is a nothing of a part, a mere nothing, not above half a dozenspeeches altogether, and it will not much signify if nobody hears a wordyou say; so you may be as creep-mouse as you like, but we must have youto look at."

  "If you are afraid of half a dozen speeches," cried Mr. Rushworth, "whatwould you do with such a part as mine? I have forty-two to learn."

  "It is not that I am afraid of learning by heart," said Fanny, shockedto find herself at that moment the only speaker in the room, and to feelthat almost every eye was upon her; "but I really cannot act."

  "Yes, yes, you can act well enough for _us_. Learn your part, and wewill teach you all the rest. You have only two scenes, and as I shallbe Cottager, I'll put you in and push you about, and you will do it verywell, I'll answer for it."

  "No, indeed, Mr. Bertram, you must excuse me. You cannot have an idea.It would be absolutely impossible for me. If I were to undertake it, Ishould only disappoint you."

  "Phoo! Phoo! Do not be so shamefaced. You'll do it very well. Everyallowance will be made for you. We do not expect perfection. You mustget a brown gown, and a white apron, and a mob cap, and we must makeyou a few wrinkles, and a little of the crowsfoot at the corner of youreyes, and you will be a very proper, little old woman."

  "You must excuse me, indeed you must excuse me," cried Fanny, growingmore and more red from excessive agitation, and looking distressfullyat Edmund, who was kindly observing her; but unwilling to exasperatehis brother by interference, gave her only an encouraging smile. Herentreaty had no effect on Tom: he only said again what he had saidbefore; and it was not merely Tom, for the requisition was now backed byMaria, and Mr. Crawford, and Mr. Yates, with an urgency which differedfrom his but in being more gentle or more ceremonious, and whichaltogether was quite overpowering to Fanny; and before she could breatheafter it, Mrs. Norris completed the whole by thus addressing her in awhisper at once angry and audible--"What a piece of work here is aboutnothing: I am quite ashamed of you, Fanny, to make such a difficulty ofobliging your cousins in a trifle of this sort--so kind as they are toyou! Take the part with a good grace, and let us hear no more of thematter, I entreat."

  "Do not urge her, madam," said Edmund. "It is not fair to urge herin this manner. You see she does not like to act. Let her chuse forherself, as well as the rest of us. Her judgment may be quite as safelytrusted. Do not
urge her any more."

  "I am not going to urge her," replied Mrs. Norris sharply; "but I shallthink her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what heraunt and cousins wish her--very ungrateful, indeed, considering who andwhat she is."

  Edmund was too angry to speak; but Miss Crawford, looking for a momentwith astonished eyes at Mrs. Norris, and then at Fanny, whose tears werebeginning to shew themselves, immediately said, with some keenness, "Ido not like my situation: this _place_ is too hot for me," and movedaway her chair to the opposite side of the table, close to Fanny, sayingto her, in a kind, low whisper, as she placed herself, "Never mind,my dear Miss Price, this is a cross evening: everybody is cross andteasing, but do not let us mind them"; and with pointed attentioncontinued to talk to her and endeavour to raise her spirits, in spite ofbeing out of spirits herself. By a look at her brother she prevented anyfarther entreaty from the theatrical board, and the really good feelingsby which she was almost purely governed were rapidly restoring her toall the little she had lost in Edmund's favour.

  Fanny did not love Miss Crawford; but she felt very much obliged to herfor her present kindness; and when, from taking notice of her work,and wishing _she_ could work as well, and begging for the pattern, andsupposing Fanny was now preparing for her _appearance_, as of course shewould come out when her cousin was married, Miss Crawford proceeded toinquire if she had heard lately from her brother at sea, and said thatshe had quite a curiosity to see him, and imagined him a very fine youngman, and advised Fanny to get his picture drawn before he went to seaagain--she could not help admitting it to be very agreeable flattery, orhelp listening, and answering with more animation than she had intended.

  The consultation upon the play still went on, and Miss Crawford'sattention was first called from Fanny by Tom Bertram's telling her,with infinite regret, that he found it absolutely impossible for him toundertake the part of Anhalt in addition to the Butler: he had been mostanxiously trying to make it out to be feasible, but it would not do;he must give it up. "But there will not be the smallest difficulty infilling it," he added. "We have but to speak the word; we may pick andchuse. I could name, at this moment, at least six young men within sixmiles of us, who are wild to be admitted into our company, and there areone or two that would not disgrace us: I should not be afraid to trusteither of the Olivers or Charles Maddox. Tom Oliver is a very cleverfellow, and Charles Maddox is as gentlemanlike a man as you will seeanywhere, so I will take my horse early to-morrow morning and ride overto Stoke, and settle with one of them."

  While he spoke, Maria was looking apprehensively round at Edmund in fullexpectation that he must oppose such an enlargement of the plan as this:so contrary to all their first protestations; but Edmund said nothing.After a moment's thought, Miss Crawford calmly replied, "As far as Iam concerned, I can have no objection to anything that you all thinkeligible. Have I ever seen either of the gentlemen? Yes, Mr. CharlesMaddox dined at my sister's one day, did not he, Henry? A quiet-lookingyoung man. I remember him. Let _him_ be applied to, if you please, forit will be less unpleasant to me than to have a perfect stranger."

  Charles Maddox was to be the man. Tom repeated his resolution of goingto him early on the morrow; and though Julia, who had scarcely openedher lips before, observed, in a sarcastic manner, and with a glancefirst at Maria and then at Edmund, that "the Mansfield theatricals wouldenliven the whole neighbourhood exceedingly," Edmund still held hispeace, and shewed his feelings only by a determined gravity.

  "I am not very sanguine as to our play," said Miss Crawford, in anundervoice to Fanny, after some consideration; "and I can tell Mr.Maddox that I shall shorten some of _his_ speeches, and a great many of_my_ _own_, before we rehearse together. It will be very disagreeable,and by no means what I expected."

 
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