Fanny seemed nearer being right than Edmund had supposed. The business o_inding a play that would suit everybody proved to be no trifle; and th_arpenter had received his orders and taken his measurements, had suggeste_nd removed at least two sets of difficulties, and having made the necessit_f an enlargement of plan and expense fully evident, was already at work,
while a play was still to seek. Other preparations were also in hand. A_normous roll of green baize had arrived from Northampton, and been cut out b_rs. Norris (with a saving by her good management of full three-quarters of _ard), and was actually forming into a curtain by the housemaids, and stil_he play was wanting; and as two or three days passed away in this manner,
Edmund began almost to hope that none might ever be found.
There were, in fact, so many things to be attended to, so many people to b_leased, so many best characters required, and, above all, such a need tha_he play should be at once both tragedy and comedy, that there did seem a_ittle chance of a decision as anything pursued by youth and zeal could hol_ut.
On the tragic side were the Miss Bertrams, Henry Crawford, and Mr. Yates; o_he comic, Tom Bertram, not quite alone, because it was evident that Mar_rawford's wishes, though politely kept back, inclined the same way: but hi_eterminateness and his power seemed to make allies unnecessary; and,
independent of this great irreconcilable difference, they wanted a piec_ontaining very few characters in the whole, but every character first-rate,
and three principal women. All the best plays were run over in vain. Neithe_amlet, nor Macbeth, nor Othello, nor Douglas, nor The Gamester, presente_nything that could satisfy even the tragedians; and The Rivals, The Schoo_or Scandal, Wheel of Fortune, Heir at Law, and a long et cetera, wer_uccessively dismissed with yet warmer objections. No piece could be propose_hat did not supply somebody with a difficulty, and on one side or the othe_t was a continual repetition of, "Oh no, that will never do! Let us have n_anting tragedies. Too many characters. Not a tolerable woman's part in th_lay. Anything but that, my dear Tom. It would be impossible to fill it up.
One could not expect anybody to take such a part. Nothing but buffoonery fro_eginning to end. That might do, perhaps, but for the low parts. If I mus_ive my opinion, I have always thought it the most insipid play in the Englis_anguage. I do not wish to make objections; I shall be happy to be of any use,
but I think we could not chuse worse."
Fanny looked on and listened, not unamused to observe the selfishness which,
more or less disguised, seemed to govern them all, and wondering how it woul_nd. For her own gratification she could have wished that something might b_cted, for she had never seen even half a play, but everything of highe_onsequence was against it.
"This will never do," said Tom Bertram at last. "We are wasting time mos_bominably. Something must be fixed on. No matter what, so that something i_hosen. We must not be so nice. A few characters too many must not frighte_s. We must double them. We must descend a little. If a part is insignificant,
the greater our credit in making anything of it. From this moment I make n_ifficulties. I take any part you chuse to give me, so as it be comic. Let i_ut be comic, I condition for nothing more."
For about the fifth time he then proposed the Heir at Law, doubting onl_hether to prefer Lord Duberley or Dr. Pangloss for himself; and ver_arnestly, but very unsuccessfully, trying to persuade the others that ther_ere some fine tragic parts in the rest of the dramatis personae.
The pause which followed this fruitless effort was ended by the same speaker,
who, taking up one of the many volumes of plays that lay on the table, an_urning it over, suddenly exclaimed—"Lovers' Vows! And why should not Lovers'
Vows do for us as well as for the Ravenshaws? How came it never to be though_f before? It strikes me as if it would do exactly. What say you all? Here ar_wo capital tragic parts for Yates and Crawford, and here is the rhymin_utler for me, if nobody else wants it; a trifling part, but the sort of thin_ should not dislike, and, as I said before, I am determined to take anythin_nd do my best. And as for the rest, they may be filled up by anybody. It i_nly Count Cassel and Anhalt."
The suggestion was generally welcome. Everybody was growing weary o_ndecision, and the first idea with everybody was, that nothing had bee_roposed before so likely to suit them all. Mr. Yates was particularl_leased: he had been sighing and longing to do the Baron at Ecclesford, ha_rudged every rant of Lord Ravenshaw's, and been forced to re-rant it all i_is own room. The storm through Baron Wildenheim was the height of hi_heatrical ambition; and with the advantage of knowing half the scenes b_eart already, he did now, with the greatest alacrity, offer his services fo_he part. To do him justice, however, he did not resolve to appropriate it;
for remembering that there was some very good ranting-ground in Frederick, h_rofessed an equal willingness for that. Henry Crawford was ready to tak_ither. Whichever Mr. Yates did not chuse would perfectly satisfy him, and _hort parley of compliment ensued. Miss Bertram, feeling all the interest o_n Agatha in the question, took on her to decide it, by observing to Mr. Yate_hat this was a point in which height and figure ought to be considered, an_hat his being the tallest, seemed to fit him peculiarly for the Baron. Sh_as acknowledged to be quite right, and the two parts being accepte_ccordingly, she was certain of the proper Frederick. Three of the character_ere now cast, besides Mr. Rushworth, who was always answered for by Maria a_illing to do anything; when Julia, meaning, like her sister, to be Agatha,
began to be scrupulous on Miss Crawford's account.
"This is not behaving well by the absent," said she. "Here are not wome_nough. Amelia and Agatha may do for Maria and me, but here is nothing fo_our sister, Mr. Crawford."
Mr. Crawford desired that might not be thought of: he was very sure his siste_ad no wish of acting but as she might be useful, and that she would not allo_erself to be considered in the present case. But this was immediately oppose_y Tom Bertram, who asserted the part of Amelia to be in every respect th_roperty of Miss Crawford, if she would accept it. "It falls as naturally, a_ecessarily to her," said he, "as Agatha does to one or other of my sisters.
It can be no sacrifice on their side, for it is highly comic."
A short silence followed. Each sister looked anxious; for each felt the bes_laim to Agatha, and was hoping to have it pressed on her by the rest. Henr_rawford, who meanwhile had taken up the play, and with seeming carelessnes_as turning over the first act, soon settled the business.
"I must entreat Miss Julia Bertram," said he, "not to engage in the part o_gatha, or it will be the ruin of all my solemnity. You must not, indeed yo_ust not" (turning to her). "I could not stand your countenance dressed up i_oe and paleness. The many laughs we have had together would infallibly com_cross me, and Frederick and his knapsack would be obliged to run away."
Pleasantly, courteously, it was spoken; but the manner was lost in the matte_o Julia's feelings. She saw a glance at Maria which confirmed the injury t_erself: it was a scheme, a trick; she was slighted, Maria was preferred; th_mile of triumph which Maria was trying to suppress shewed how well it wa_nderstood; and before Julia could command herself enough to speak, he_rother gave his weight against her too, by saying, "Oh yes! Maria must b_gatha. Maria will be the best Agatha. Though Julia fancies she prefer_ragedy, I would not trust her in it. There is nothing of tragedy about her.
She has not the look of it. Her features are not tragic features, and sh_alks too quick, and speaks too quick, and would not keep her countenance. Sh_ad better do the old countrywoman: the Cottager's wife; you had, indeed,
Julia. Cottager's wife is a very pretty part, I assure you. The old lad_elieves the high-flown benevolence of her husband with a good deal of spirit.
You shall be Cottager's wife."
"Cottager's wife!" cried Mr. Yates. "What are you talking of? The mos_rivial, paltry, insignificant part; the merest commonplace; not a tolerabl_peech in the whole. Your sister do that! It is an insult to propose it. A_cclesford the governess was to have done it. We all agreed that it could no_e offered to anybody else. A little more justice, Mr. Manager, if you please.
You do not deserve the office, if you cannot appreciate the talents of you_ompany a little better."
"Why, as to that, my good friend, till I and my company have really acte_here must be some guesswork; but I mean no disparagement to Julia. We canno_ave two Agathas, and we must have one Cottager's wife; and I am sure I se_er the example of moderation myself in being satisfied with the old Butler.
If the part is trifling she will have more credit in making something of it;
and if she is so desperately bent against everything humorous, let her tak_ottager's speeches instead of Cottager's wife's, and so change the parts al_hrough; he is solemn and pathetic enough, I am sure. It could make n_ifference in the play, and as for Cottager himself, when he has got hi_ife's speeches, I would undertake him with all my heart."
"With all your partiality for Cottager's wife," said Henry Crawford, "it wil_e impossible to make anything of it fit for your sister, and we must no_uffer her good-nature to be imposed on. We must not allow her to accept th_art. She must not be left to her own complaisance. Her talents will be wante_n Amelia. Amelia is a character more difficult to be well represented tha_ven Agatha. I consider Amelia is the most difficult character in the whol_iece. It requires great powers, great nicety, to give her playfulness an_implicity without extravagance. 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 _entlewoman—a Julia Bertram. You will undertake it, I hope?" turning to he_ith a look of anxious entreaty, which softened her a little; but while sh_esitated what to say, her brother again interposed with Miss Crawford'_etter claim.
"No, no, Julia must not be Amelia. It is not at all the part for her. Sh_ould not like it. She would not do well. She is too tall and robust. Ameli_hould be a small, light, girlish, skipping figure. It is fit for Mis_rawford, and Miss Crawford only. She looks the part, and I am persuaded wil_o it admirably."
Without attending to this, Henry Crawford continued his supplication. "Yo_ust oblige us," said he, "indeed you must. When you have studied th_haracter, I am sure you will feel it suit you. Tragedy may be your choice,
but it will certainly appear that comedy chuses you. You will be to visit m_n prison with a basket of provisions; you will not refuse to visit me i_rison? I think I see you coming in with your basket"
The influence of his voice was felt. Julia wavered; but was he only trying t_oothe and pacify her, and make her overlook the previous affront? Sh_istrusted him. The slight had been most determined. He was, perhaps, but a_reacherous play with her. She looked suspiciously at her sister; Maria'_ountenance was to decide it: if she were vexed and alarmed—but Maria looke_ll serenity and satisfaction, and Julia well knew that on this ground Mari_ould not be happy but at her expense. With hasty indignation, therefore, an_ tremulous voice, she said to him, "You do not seem afraid of not keepin_our countenance when I come in with a basket of provisions—though one migh_ave supposed—but it is only as Agatha that I was to be so overpowering!" Sh_topped—Henry Crawford looked rather foolish, and as if he did not know wha_o 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, with angr_uickness: "I am not to be Agatha, and I am sure I will do nothing else; an_s to Amelia, it is of all parts in the world the most disgusting to me. _uite detest her. An odious, little, pert, unnatural, impudent girl. I hav_lways protested against comedy, and this is comedy in its worst form." And s_aying, she walked hastily out of the room, leaving awkward feelings to mor_han one, but exciting small compassion in any except Fanny, who had been _uiet auditor of the whole, and who could not think of her as under th_gitations of jealousy without great pity.
A short silence succeeded her leaving them; but her brother soon returned t_usiness and Lovers' Vows, and was eagerly looking over the play, with Mr.
Yates's help, to ascertain what scenery would be necessary—while Maria an_enry Crawford conversed together in an under-voice, and the declaration wit_hich she began of, "I am sure I would give up the part to Julia mos_illingly, but that though I shall probably do it very ill, I feel persuade_he would do it worse," was doubtless receiving all the compliments it calle_or.
When this had lasted some time, the division of the party was completed by To_ertram and Mr. Yates walking off together to consult farther in the room no_eginning to be called the Theatre, and Miss Bertram's resolving to go down t_he Parsonage herself with the offer of Amelia to Miss Crawford; and Fann_emained alone.
The first use she made of her solitude was to take up the volume which ha_een left on the table, and begin to acquaint herself with the play of whic_he had heard so much. Her curiosity was all awake, and she ran through i_ith an eagerness which was suspended only by intervals of astonishment, tha_t could be chosen in the present instance, that it could be proposed an_ccepted in a private theatre! Agatha and Amelia appeared to her in thei_ifferent ways so totally improper for home representation—the situation o_ne, and the language of the other, so unfit to be expressed by any woman o_odesty, that she could hardly suppose her cousins could be aware of what the_ere engaging in; and longed to have them roused as soon as possible by th_emonstrance which Edmund would certainly make.