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Chapter 13

  • The Honourable John Yates, this new friend, had not much to recommend hi_eyond habits of fashion and expense, and being the younger son of a lord wit_ tolerable independence; and Sir Thomas would probably have thought hi_ntroduction at Mansfield by no means desirable. Mr. Bertram's acquaintanc_ith him had begun at Weymouth, where they had spent ten days together in th_ame society, and the friendship, if friendship it might be called, had bee_roved and perfected by Mr. Yates's being invited to take Mansfield in hi_ay, whenever he could, and by his promising to come; and he did come rathe_arlier than had been expected, in consequence of the sudden breaking-up of _arge party assembled for gaiety at the house of another friend, which he ha_eft Weymouth to join. He came on the wings of disappointment, and with hi_ead full of acting, for it had been a theatrical party; and the play in whic_e had borne a part was within two days of representation, when the sudde_eath of one of the nearest connexions of the family had destroyed the schem_nd dispersed the performers. To be so near happiness, so near fame, so nea_he long paragraph in praise of the private theatricals at Ecclesford, th_eat of the Right Hon. Lord Ravenshaw, in Cornwall, which would of course hav_mmortalised the whole party for at least a twelvemonth! and being so near, t_ose it all, was an injury to be keenly felt, and Mr. Yates could talk o_othing else. Ecclesford and its theatre, with its arrangements and dresses, rehearsals and jokes, was his never-failing subject, and to boast of the pas_is only consolation.
  • Happily for him, a love of the theatre is so general, an itch for acting s_trong among young people, that he could hardly out-talk the interest of hi_earers. From the first casting of the parts to the epilogue it was al_ewitching, and there were few who did not wish to have been a part_oncerned, or would have hesitated to try their skill. The play had bee_overs' Vows, and Mr. Yates was to have been Count Cassel. "A trifling part,"
  • said he, "and not at all to my taste, and such a one as I certainly would no_ccept again; but I was determined to make no difficulties. Lord Ravenshaw an_he duke had appropriated the only two characters worth playing before _eached Ecclesford; and though Lord Ravenshaw offered to resign his to me, i_as impossible to take it, you know. I was sorry for him that he should hav_o mistaken his powers, for he was no more equal to the Baron—a little ma_ith a weak voice, always hoarse after the first ten minutes. It must hav_njured the piece materially; but I was resolved to make no difficulties. Si_enry thought the duke not equal to Frederick, but that was because Sir Henr_anted the part himself; whereas it was certainly in the best hands of th_wo. I was surprised to see Sir Henry such a stick. Luckily the strength o_he piece did not depend upon him. Our Agatha was inimitable, and the duke wa_hought very great by many. And upon the whole, it would certainly have gon_ff wonderfully."
  • "It was a hard case, upon my word"; and, "I do think you were very much to b_itied," were the kind responses of listening sympathy.
  • "It is not worth complaining about; but to be sure the poor old dowager coul_ot have died at a worse time; and it is impossible to help wishing that th_ews could have been suppressed for just the three days we wanted. It was bu_hree days; and being only a grandmother, and all happening two hundred mile_ff, I think there would have been no great harm, and it was suggested, _now; but Lord Ravenshaw, who I suppose is one of the most correct men i_ngland, would not hear of it."
  • "An afterpiece instead of a comedy," said Mr. Bertram. "Lovers' Vows were a_n end, and Lord and Lady Ravenshaw left to act My Grandmother by themselves.
  • Well, the jointure may comfort him; and perhaps, between friends, he began t_remble for his credit and his lungs in the Baron, and was not sorry t_ithdraw; and to make you amends, Yates, I think we must raise a littl_heatre at Mansfield, and ask you to be our manager."
  • This, though the thought of the moment, did not end with the moment; for th_nclination to act was awakened, and in no one more strongly than in him wh_as now master of the house; and who, having so much leisure as to make almos_ny novelty a certain good, had likewise such a degree of lively talents an_omic taste, as were exactly adapted to the novelty of acting. The though_eturned again and again. "Oh for the Ecclesford theatre and scenery to tr_omething with." Each sister could echo the wish; and Henry Crawford, to whom, in all the riot of his gratifications it was yet an untasted pleasure, wa_uite alive at the idea. "I really believe," said he, "I could be fool enoug_t this moment to undertake any character that ever was written, from Shyloc_r Richard III down to the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat an_ocked hat. I feel as if I could be anything or everything; as if I could ran_nd storm, or sigh or cut capers, in any tragedy or comedy in the Englis_anguage. Let us be doing something. Be it only half a play, an act, a scene; what should prevent us? Not these countenances, I am sure," looking toward_he Miss Bertrams; "and for a theatre, what signifies a theatre? We shall b_nly amusing ourselves. Any room in this house might suffice."
  • "We must have a curtain," said Tom Bertram; "a few yards of green baize for _urtain, and perhaps that may be enough."
  • "Oh, quite enough," cried Mr. Yates, "with only just a side wing or two ru_p, doors in flat, and three or four scenes to be let down; nothing more woul_e necessary on such a plan as this. For mere amusement among ourselves w_hould want nothing more."
  • "I believe we must be satisfied with less," said Maria. "There would not b_ime, and other difficulties would arise. We must rather adopt Mr. Crawford'_iews, and make the performance, not the theatre, our object. Many parts o_ur best plays are independent of scenery."
  • "Nay," said Edmund, who began to listen with alarm. "Let us do nothing b_alves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up wit_it, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play, no matter what, with a good tricking, shiftin_fterpiece, and a figure-dance, and a hornpipe, and a song between the acts.
  • If we do not outdo Ecclesford, we do nothing."
  • "Now, Edmund, do not be disagreeable," said Julia. "Nobody loves a play bette_han you do, or can have gone much farther to see one."
  • "True, to see real acting, good hardened real acting; but I would hardly wal_rom this room to the next to look at the raw efforts of those who have no_een bred to the trade: a set of gentlemen and ladies, who have all th_isadvantages of education and decorum to struggle through."
  • After a short pause, however, the subject still continued, and was discusse_ith unabated eagerness, every one's inclination increasing by the discussion, and a knowledge of the inclination of the rest; and though nothing was settle_ut that Tom Bertram would prefer a comedy, and his sisters and Henry Crawfor_ tragedy, and that nothing in the world could be easier than to find a piec_hich would please them all, the resolution to act something or other seeme_o decided as to make Edmund quite uncomfortable. He was determined to preven_t, if possible, though his mother, who equally heard the conversation whic_assed 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, returnin_rom them into the drawing-room, where Edmund was standing thoughtfully by th_ire, while Lady Bertram was on the sofa at a little distance, and Fanny clos_eside her arranging her work, thus began as he entered—"Such a horribly vil_illiard-table as ours is not to be met with, I believe, above ground. I ca_tand it no longer, and I think, I may say, that nothing shall ever tempt m_o it again; but one good thing I have just ascertained: it is the very roo_or a theatre, precisely the shape and length for it; and the doors at th_arther end, communicating with each other, as they may be made to do in fiv_inutes, by merely moving the bookcase in my father's room, is the very thin_e could have desired, if we had sat down to wish for it; and my father's roo_ill be an excellent greenroom. It seems to join the billiard-room o_urpose."
  • "You are not serious, Tom, in meaning to act?" said Edmund, in a low voice, a_is brother approached the fire.
  • "Not serious! never more so, I assure you. What is there to surprise you i_t?"
  • "I think it would be very wrong. In a general light, private theatricals ar_pen to some objections, but as we are circumstanced, I must think it would b_ighly injudicious, and more than injudicious to attempt anything of the kind.
  • It would shew great want of feeling on my father's account, absent as he is, and in some degree of constant danger; and it would be imprudent, I think, with regard to Maria, whose situation is a very delicate one, considerin_verything, extremely delicate."
  • "You take up a thing so seriously! as if we were going to act three times _eek till my father's return, and invite all the country. But it is not to b_ display of that sort. We mean nothing but a little amusement amon_urselves, just to vary the scene, and exercise our powers in something new.
  • We want no audience, no publicity. We may be trusted, I think, in chusing som_lay most perfectly unexceptionable; and I can conceive no greater harm o_anger to any of us in conversing in the elegant written language of som_espectable author than in chattering in words of our own. I have no fears an_o scruples. And as to my father's being absent, it is so far from a_bjection, that I consider it rather as a motive; for the expectation of hi_eturn must be a very anxious period to my mother; and if we can be the mean_f amusing that anxiety, and keeping up her spirits for the next few weeks, _hall think our time very well spent, and so, I am sure, will he. It is a ver_nxious period for her."
  • As he said this, each looked towards their mother. Lady Bertram, sunk back i_ne corner of the sofa, the picture of health, wealth, ease, and tranquillity, was just falling into a gentle doze, while Fanny was getting through the fe_ifficulties of her work for her.
  • Edmund smiled and shook his head.
  • "By Jove! this won't do," cried Tom, throwing himself into a chair with _earty laugh. "To be sure, my dear mother, your anxiety—I was unlucky there."
  • "What is the matter?" asked her ladyship, in the heavy tone of one half- 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 Lady Bertra_egan to nod again, "but this I will maintain, that we shall be doing n_arm."
  • "I cannot agree with you; I am convinced that my father would totall_isapprove it."
  • "And I am convinced to the contrary. Nobody is fonder of the exercise o_alent in young people, or promotes it more, than my father, and for anythin_f the acting, spouting, reciting kind, I think he has always a decided taste.
  • I am sure he encouraged it in us as boys. How many a time have we mourned ove_he dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be'd and not to be'd, in this ver_oom, for his amusement? And I am sure, my name was Norval, every evening o_y life through one Christmas holidays."
  • "It was a very different thing. You must see the difference yourself. M_ather wished us, as schoolboys, to speak well, but he would never wish hi_rown-up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict."
  • "I know all that," said Tom, displeased. "I know my father as well as you do; and I'll take care that his daughters do nothing to distress him. Manage you_wn concerns, Edmund, and I'll take care of the rest of the family."
  • "If you are resolved on acting," replied the persevering Edmund, "I must hop_t will be in a very small and quiet way; and I think a theatre ought not t_e attempted. It would be taking liberties with my father's house in hi_bsence which could not be justified."
  • "For everything of that nature I will be answerable," said Tom, in a decide_one. "His house shall not be hurt. I have quite as great an interest in bein_areful of his house as you can have; and as to such alterations as I wa_uggesting just now, such as moving a bookcase, or unlocking a door, or eve_s using the billiard-room for the space of a week without playing a_illiards in it, you might just as well suppose he would object to our sittin_ore in this room, and less in the breakfast-room, than we did before he wen_way, or to my sister's pianoforte being moved from one side of the room t_he other. Absolute nonsense!"
  • "The innovation, if not wrong as an innovation, will be wrong as an expense."
  • "Yes, the expense of such an undertaking would be prodigious! Perhaps it migh_ost a whole twenty pounds. Something of a theatre we must have undoubtedly, but it will be on the simplest plan: a green curtain and a little carpenter'_ork, and that's all; and as the carpenter's work may be all done at home b_hristopher Jackson himself, it will be too absurd to talk of expense; and a_ong as Jackson is employed, everything will be right with Sir Thomas. Don'_magine that nobody in this house can see or judge but yourself. Don't ac_ourself, if you do not like it, but don't expect to govern everybody else."
  • "No, as to acting myself," said Edmund, "that I absolutely protest against."
  • Tom walked out of the room as he said it, and Edmund was left to sit down an_tir the fire in thoughtful vexation.
  • Fanny, who had heard it all, and borne Edmund company in every feelin_hroughout the whole, now ventured to say, in her anxiety to suggest som_omfort, "Perhaps they may not be able to find any play to suit them. You_rother's taste and your sisters' seem very different."
  • "I have no hope there, Fanny. If they persist in the scheme, they will fin_omething. I shall speak to my sisters and try to dissuade them, and that i_ll 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 my sister_hat could be of any use; and if I cannot convince them myself, I shall le_hings take their course, without attempting it through her. Family squabblin_s the greatest evil of all, and we had better do anything than be altogethe_y the ears."
  • His sisters, to whom he had an opportunity of speaking the next morning, wer_uite as impatient of his advice, quite as unyielding to his representation, quite as determined in the cause of pleasure, as Tom. Their mother had n_bjection to the plan, and they were not in the least afraid of their father'_isapprobation. There could be no harm in what had been done in so man_espectable families, and by so many women of the first consideration; and i_ust be scrupulousness run mad that could see anything to censure in a pla_ike theirs, comprehending only brothers and sisters and intimate friends, an_hich would never be heard of beyond themselves. Julia did seem inclined t_dmit that Maria's situation might require particular caution and delicacy—bu_hat could not extend to her— she was at liberty; and Maria evidentl_onsidered her engagement as only raising her so much more above restraint, and leaving her less occasion than Julia to consult either father or mother.
  • Edmund had little to hope, but he was still urging the subject when Henr_rawford entered the room, fresh from the Parsonage, calling out, "No want o_ands in our theatre, Miss Bertram. No want of understrappers: my siste_esires her love, and hopes to be admitted into the company, and will be happ_o take the part of any old duenna or tame confidante, that you may not lik_o do yourselves."
  • Maria gave Edmund a glance, which meant, "What say you now? Can we be wrong i_ary Crawford feels the same?" And Edmund, silenced, was obliged t_cknowledge that the charm of acting might well carry fascination to the min_f genius; and with the ingenuity of love, to dwell more on the obliging, accommodating purport of the message than on anything else.
  • The scheme advanced. Opposition was vain; and as to Mrs. Norris, he wa_istaken in supposing she would wish to make any. She started no difficultie_hat were not talked down in five minutes by her eldest nephew and niece, wh_ere all-powerful with her; and as the whole arrangement was to bring ver_ittle expense to anybody, and none at all to herself, as she foresaw in i_ll the comforts of hurry, bustle, and importance, and derived the immediat_dvantage of fancying herself obliged to leave her own house, where she ha_een living a month at her own cost, and take up her abode in theirs, tha_very hour might be spent in their service, she was, in fact, exceedingl_elighted with the project.