Mansfield park, p.18
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       Mansfield Park, p.18

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER XVIII

  Everything was now in a regular train: theatre, actors, actresses, anddresses, were all getting forward; but though no other great impedimentsarose, Fanny found, before many days were past, that it was not alluninterrupted enjoyment to the party themselves, and that she had not towitness the continuance of such unanimity and delight as had been almosttoo much for her at first. Everybody began to have their vexation.Edmund had many. Entirely against _his_ judgment, a scene-painterarrived from town, and was at work, much to the increase of theexpenses, and, what was worse, of the eclat of their proceedings; andhis brother, instead of being really guided by him as to the privacy ofthe representation, was giving an invitation to every family who camein his way. Tom himself began to fret over the scene-painter's slowprogress, and to feel the miseries of waiting. He had learned hispart--all his parts, for he took every trifling one that could be unitedwith the Butler, and began to be impatient to be acting; and every daythus unemployed was tending to increase his sense of the insignificanceof all his parts together, and make him more ready to regret that someother play had not been chosen.

  Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the onlylistener at hand, came in for the complaints and the distresses ofmost of them. _She_ knew that Mr. Yates was in general thought to rantdreadfully; that Mr. Yates was disappointed in Henry Crawford; thatTom Bertram spoke so quick he would be unintelligible; that Mrs. Grantspoiled everything by laughing; that Edmund was behindhand with hispart, and that it was misery to have anything to do with Mr. Rushworth,who was wanting a prompter through every speech. She knew, also, thatpoor Mr. Rushworth could seldom get anybody to rehearse with him: _his_complaint came before her as well as the rest; and so decided to hereye was her cousin Maria's avoidance of him, and so needlessly often therehearsal of the first scene between her and Mr. Crawford, that she hadsoon all the terror of other complaints from _him_. So far from beingall satisfied and all enjoying, she found everybody requiring somethingthey had not, and giving occasion of discontent to the others. Everybodyhad a part either too long or too short; nobody would attend as theyought; nobody would remember on which side they were to come in; nobodybut the complainer would observe any directions.

  Fanny believed herself to derive as much innocent enjoyment from theplay 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 firstact, in spite of the feelings it excited in some speeches for Maria.Maria, she also thought, acted well, too well; and after the firstrehearsal or two, Fanny began to be their only audience; and sometimesas prompter, sometimes as spectator, was often very useful. As far asshe could judge, Mr. Crawford was considerably the best actor of all: hehad more confidence than Edmund, more judgment than Tom, more talent andtaste than Mr. Yates. She did not like him as a man, but she must admithim to be the best actor, and on this point there were not many whodiffered from her. Mr. Yates, indeed, exclaimed against his tameness andinsipidity; and the day came at last, when Mr. Rushworth turned to herwith a black look, and said, "Do you think there is anything so veryfine in all this? For the life and soul of me, I cannot admire him; and,between ourselves, to see such an undersized, little, mean-looking 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; andthe chances of Mr. Rushworth's ever attaining to the knowledge of histwo-and-forty speeches became much less. As to his ever making anything_tolerable_ of them, nobody had the smallest idea of that excepthis mother; _she_, indeed, regretted that his part was not moreconsiderable, and deferred coming over to Mansfield till they wereforward enough in their rehearsal to comprehend all his scenes; but theothers aspired at nothing beyond his remembering the catchword, and thefirst line of his speech, and being able to follow the prompter throughthe rest. Fanny, in her pity and kindheartedness, was at great pains toteach him how to learn, giving him all the helps and directions in herpower, trying to make an artificial memory for him, and learning everyword 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 wasas far from finding herself without employment or utility amongst them,as without a companion in uneasiness; quite as far from having nodemand on her leisure as on her compassion. The gloom of her firstanticipations was proved to have been unfounded. She was occasionallyuseful to all; she was perhaps as much at peace as any.

  There was a great deal of needlework to be done, moreover, in which herhelp was wanted; and that Mrs. Norris thought her quite as well offas 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 bealways walking from one room to the other, and doing the lookings-on atyour ease, in this way; I want you here. I have been slaving myself tillI can hardly stand, to contrive Mr. Rushworth's cloak without sendingfor any more satin; and now I think you may give me your help in puttingit together. There are but three seams; you may do them in a trice. Itwould 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; buther kinder aunt Bertram observed on her behalf--

  "One cannot wonder, sister, that Fanny _should_ be delighted: it isall new to her, you know; you and I used to be very fond of a playourselves, and so am I still; and as soon as I am a little more atleisure, _I_ mean to look in at their rehearsals too. What is the playabout, Fanny? you have never told me."

  "Oh! sister, pray do not ask her now; for Fanny is not one of those whocan talk and work at the same time. It is about Lovers' Vows."

  "I believe," said Fanny to her aunt Bertram, "there will be three actsrehearsed to-morrow evening, and that will give you an opportunity ofseeing 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 or two--there is very little sense ina play without a curtain--and I am much mistaken if you do not find itdraw up into very handsome festoons."

  Lady Bertram seemed quite resigned to waiting. Fanny did not share heraunt's composure: she thought of the morrow a great deal, for if thethree acts were rehearsed, Edmund and Miss Crawford would then be actingtogether for the first time; the third act would bring a scene betweenthem which interested her most particularly, and which she was longingand dreading to see how they would perform. The whole subject of it waslove--a marriage of love was to be described by the gentleman, and verylittle short of a declaration of love be made by the lady.

  She had read and read the scene again with many painful, many wonderingemotions, and looked forward to their representation of it as acircumstance almost too interesting. She did not _believe_ they had yetrehearsed it, even in private.

  The morrow came, the plan for the evening continued, and Fanny'sconsideration of it did not become less agitated. She worked verydiligently under her aunt's directions, but her diligence and hersilence concealed a very absent, anxious mind; and about noon shemade her escape with her work to the East room, that she might have noconcern in another, and, as she deemed it, most unnecessary rehearsal ofthe first act, which Henry Crawford was just proposing, desirous atonce 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 ladieswalking up from the Parsonage made no change in her wish of retreat, andshe worked and meditated in the East room, undisturbed, for a quarter ofan hour, when a gentle tap at the door was followed by the entrance ofMiss Crawford.

  "Am I right? Yes; this is the East room. My dear Miss Price, I beg yourpardon, but I have made my way to you on purpose to entreat your help."

  Fanny, quite surprised, endeavoured to shew herself mistress of the roo
mby her civilities, and looked at the bright bars of her empty grate withconcern.

  "Thank you; I am quite warm, very warm. Allow me to stay here a littlewhile, and do have the goodness to hear me my third act. I have broughtmy book, and if you would but rehearse it with me, I should be _so_obliged! I came here to-day intending to rehearse it with Edmund--byourselves--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 havehardened myself a little; for really there is a speech or two. You willbe so good, won't you?"

  Fanny was most civil in her assurances, though she could not give themin a very steady voice.

  "Have you ever happened to look at the part I mean?" continued MissCrawford, opening her book. "Here it is. I did not think much of it atfirst--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? Couldyou 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 on bydegrees. 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 forit. We must have two chairs at hand for you to bring forward to thefront of the stage. There--very good school-room chairs, not made for atheatre, I dare say; much more fitted for little girls to sit and kicktheir feet against when they are learning a lesson. What would yourgoverness and your uncle say to see them used for such a purpose? CouldSir Thomas look in upon us just now, he would bless himself, for weare rehearsing all over the house. Yates is storming away in thedining-room. I heard him as I came upstairs, and the theatre is engagedof course by those indefatigable rehearsers, Agatha and Frederick. If_they_ are not perfect, I _shall_ be surprised. By the bye, I looked inupon them five minutes ago, and it happened to be exactly at one of thetimes when they were trying _not_ to embrace, and Mr. Rushworth was withme. I thought he began to look a little queer, so I turned it off aswell as I could, by whispering to him, 'We shall have an excellentAgatha; there is 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 theidea of representing Edmund was so strongly calculated to inspire; butwith looks and voice so truly feminine as to be no very good picture ofa man. With such an Anhalt, however, Miss Crawford had courage enough;and they had got through half the scene, when a tap at the door broughta pause, and the entrance of Edmund, the next moment, suspended it all.

  Surprise, consciousness, and pleasure appeared in each of the threeon this unexpected meeting; and as Edmund was come on the very samebusiness that had brought Miss Crawford, consciousness and pleasure werelikely to be more than momentary in _them_. He too had his book, and wasseeking Fanny, to ask her to rehearse with him, and help him to preparefor the evening, without knowing Miss Crawford to be in the house;and great was the joy and animation of being thus thrown together, ofcomparing schemes, and sympathising in praise of Fanny's kind offices.

  _She_ could not equal them in their warmth. _Her_ spirits sank under theglow of theirs, and she felt herself becoming too nearly nothing toboth to have any comfort in having been sought by either. They must nowrehearse together. Edmund proposed, urged, entreated it, till the lady,not very unwilling at first, could refuse no longer, and Fanny waswanted only to prompt and observe them. She was invested, indeed, withthe office of judge and critic, and earnestly desired to exercise it andtell them all their faults; but from doing so every feeling within hershrank--she could not, would not, dared not attempt it: had she beenotherwise qualified for criticism, her conscience must have restrainedher from venturing at disapprobation. She believed herself to feel toomuch of it in the aggregate for honesty or safety in particulars. Toprompt them must be enough for her; and it was sometimes _more_ thanenough; for she could not always pay attention to the book. In watchingthem she forgot herself; and, agitated by the increasing spirit ofEdmund's manner, had once closed the page and turned away exactly as hewanted help. It was imputed to very reasonable weariness, and she wasthanked and pitied; but she deserved their pity more than she hoped theywould ever surmise. At last the scene was over, and Fanny forced herselfto add her praise to the compliments each was giving the other; and whenagain alone and able to recall the whole, she was inclined to believetheir performance would, indeed, have such nature and feeling in it asmust ensure their credit, and make it a very suffering exhibition toherself. Whatever might be its effect, however, she must stand the bruntof it again that very day.

  The first regular rehearsal of the three first acts was certainly totake place in the evening: Mrs. Grant and the Crawfords were engaged toreturn for that purpose as soon as they could after dinner; and everyone concerned was looking forward with eagerness. There seemed a generaldiffusion of cheerfulness on the occasion. Tom was enjoying such anadvance towards the end; Edmund was in spirits from the morning'srehearsal, and little vexations seemed everywhere smoothed away. Allwere alert and impatient; the ladies moved soon, the gentlemen soonfollowed them, and with the exception of Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, andJulia, everybody was in the theatre at an early hour; and having lightedit up as well as its unfinished state admitted, were waiting only thearrival 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 hehad 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 eversince he did not eat any of the pheasant today. 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 valuableamongst them; but _now_ she was absolutely necessary. They could notact, they could not rehearse with any satisfaction without her. Thecomfort of the whole evening was destroyed. What was to be done? Tom, asCottager, was in despair. After a pause of perplexity, some eyes beganto be turned towards Fanny, and a voice or two to say, "If Miss Pricewould be so good as to _read_ the part." She was immediately surroundedby supplications; everybody asked it; even Edmund said, "Do, Fanny, ifit is not _very_ disagreeable to you."

  But Fanny still hung back. She could not endure the idea of it. Why wasnot Miss Crawford to be applied to as well? Or why had not she rathergone to her own room, as she had felt to be safest, instead of attendingthe 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.

  "You have only to _read_ the part," said Henry Crawford, with renewedentreaty.

  "And I do believe she can say every word of it," added Maria, "for shecould put Mrs. Grant right the other day in twenty places. Fanny, I amsure you know the part."

  Fanny could not say she did _not_; and as they all persevered, asEdmund repeated his wish, and with a look of even fond dependence onher good-nature, she must yield. She would do her best. Everybody wassatisfied; 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 bestruck by an unusual noise in the other part of the house, had proceededsome way when the door of the room was thrown open, and Julia, appearingat it, with a face all aghast, exclaimed, "My father is come! He is inthe hall at this moment."

 
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