Everything was now in a regular train: theatre, actors, actresses, an_resses, were all getting forward; but though no other great impediment_rose, Fanny found, before many days were past, that it was not al_ninterrupted enjoyment to the party themselves, and that she had not t_itness the continuance of such unanimity and delight as had been almost to_uch for her at first. Everybody began to have their vexation. Edmund ha_any. Entirely against his judgment, a scene-painter arrived from town, an_as at work, much to the increase of the expenses, and, what was worse, of th_clat of their proceedings; and his brother, instead of being really guided b_im as to the privacy of the representation, was giving an invitation to ever_amily who came in his way. Tom himself began to fret over the scene-painter'_low progress, and to feel the miseries of waiting. He had learned hi_art—all his parts, for he took every trifling one that could be united wit_he Butler, and began to be impatient to be acting; and every day thu_nemployed was tending to increase his sense of the insignificance of all hi_arts together, and make him more ready to regret that some other play had no_een chosen.
Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener a_and, came in for the complaints and the distresses of most of them. She kne_hat Mr. Yates was in general thought to rant dreadfully; that Mr. Yates wa_isappointed in Henry Crawford; that Tom Bertram spoke so quick he would b_nintelligible; that Mrs. Grant spoiled everything by laughing; that Edmun_as behindhand with his part, and that it was misery to have anything to d_ith Mr. Rushworth, who was wanting a prompter through every speech. She knew,
also, that poor Mr. Rushworth could seldom get anybody to rehearse with him:
his complaint came before her as well as the rest; and so decided to her ey_as her cousin Maria's avoidance of him, and so needlessly often the rehearsa_f the first scene between her and Mr. Crawford, that she had soon all th_error of other complaints from him. So far from being all satisfied and al_njoying, she found everybody requiring something they had not, and givin_ccasion of discontent to the others. Everybody had a part either too long o_oo short; nobody would attend as they ought; nobody would remember on whic_ide they were to come in; nobody but the complainer would observe an_irections.
Fanny believed herself to derive as much innocent enjoyment from the play a_ny of them; Henry Crawford acted well, and it was a pleasure to her to cree_nto the theatre, and attend the rehearsal of the first act, in spite of th_eelings it excited in some speeches for Maria. Maria, she also thought, acte_ell, too well; and after the first rehearsal or two, Fanny began to be thei_nly audience; and sometimes as prompter, sometimes as spectator, was ofte_ery useful. As far as she could judge, Mr. Crawford was considerably the bes_ctor of all: he had more confidence than Edmund, more judgment than Tom, mor_alent and taste than Mr. Yates. She did not like him as a man, but she mus_dmit him to be the best actor, and on this point there were not many wh_iffered from her. Mr. Yates, indeed, exclaimed against his tameness an_nsipidity; and the day came at last, when Mr. Rushworth turned to her with _lack look, and said, "Do you think there is anything so very fine in al_his? For the life and soul of me, I cannot admire him; and, betwee_urselves, to see such an undersized, little, mean-looking man, set up for _ine actor, is very ridiculous in my opinion."
From this moment there was a return of his former jealousy, which Maria, fro_ncreasing hopes of Crawford, was at little pains to remove; and the chance_f Mr. Rushworth's ever attaining to the knowledge of his two-and-fort_peeches became much less. As to his ever making anything tolerable of them,
nobody had the smallest idea of that except his mother; she, indeed, regrette_hat his part was not more considerable, and deferred coming over to Mansfiel_ill they were forward enough in their rehearsal to comprehend all his scenes;
but the others aspired at nothing beyond his remembering the catchword, an_he first line of his speech, and being able to follow the prompter throug_he rest. Fanny, in her pity and kindheartedness, was at great pains to teac_im how to learn, giving him all the helps and directions in her power, tryin_o make an artificial memory for him, and learning every word of his par_erself, but without his being much the forwarder.
Many uncomfortable, anxious, apprehensive feelings she certainly had; but wit_ll these, and other claims on her time and attention, she was as far fro_inding herself without employment or utility amongst them, as without _ompanion in uneasiness; quite as far from having no demand on her leisure a_n her compassion. The gloom of her first anticipations was proved to hav_een unfounded. She was occasionally useful to all; she was perhaps as much a_eace as any.
There was a great deal of needlework to be done, moreover, in which her hel_as wanted; and that Mrs. Norris thought her quite as well off as 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 be always walking from on_oom to the other, and doing the lookings-on at your ease, in this way; I wan_ou here. I have been slaving myself till I can hardly stand, to contrive Mr.
Rushworth's cloak without sending for any more satin; and now I think you ma_ive me your help in putting it together. There are but three seams; you ma_o them in a trice. It would be lucky for me if I had nothing but th_xecutive part to do. You are best off, I can tell you: but if nobody did mor_han you, we should not get on very fast"
Fanny took the work very quietly, without attempting any defence; but he_inder aunt Bertram observed on her behalf—
"One cannot wonder, sister, that Fanny should be delighted: it is all new t_er, you know; you and I used to be very fond of a play ourselves, and so am _till; and as soon as I am a little more at leisure, I mean to look in a_heir rehearsals too. What is the play about, Fanny? you have never told me."
"Oh! sister, pray do not ask her now; for Fanny is not one of those who ca_alk and work at the same time. It is about Lovers' Vows."
"I believe," said Fanny to her aunt Bertram, "there will be three act_ehearsed to-morrow evening, and that will give you an opportunity of seein_ll the actors at once."
"You had better stay till the curtain is hung," interposed Mrs. Norris; "th_urtain will be hung in a day or two— there is very little sense in a pla_ithout a curtain— and I am much mistaken if you do not find it draw up int_ery handsome festoons."
Lady Bertram seemed quite resigned to waiting. Fanny did not share her aunt'_omposure: she thought of the morrow a great deal, for if the three acts wer_ehearsed, Edmund and Miss Crawford would then be acting together for th_irst time; the third act would bring a scene between them which intereste_er most particularly, and which she was longing and dreading to see how the_ould perform. The whole subject of it was love— a marriage of love was to b_escribed by the gentleman, and very little short of a declaration of love b_ade by the lady.
She had read and read the scene again with many painful, many wonderin_motions, and looked forward to their representation of it as a circumstanc_lmost too interesting. She did not believe they had yet rehearsed it, even i_rivate.
The morrow came, the plan for the evening continued, and Fanny's consideratio_f it did not become less agitated. She worked very diligently under he_unt's directions, but her diligence and her silence concealed a very absent,
anxious mind; and about noon she made her escape with her work to the Eas_oom, that she might have no concern in another, and, as she deemed it, mos_nnecessary rehearsal of the first act, which Henry Crawford was jus_roposing, desirous at once of having her time to herself, and of avoiding th_ight of Mr. Rushworth. A glimpse, as she passed through the hall, of the tw_adies walking up from the Parsonage made no change in her wish of retreat,
and she worked and meditated in the East room, undisturbed, for a quarter o_n hour, when a gentle tap at the door was followed by the entrance of Mis_rawford.
"Am I right? Yes; this is the East room. My dear Miss Price, I beg you_ardon, but I have made my way to you on purpose to entreat your help."
Fanny, quite surprised, endeavoured to shew herself mistress of the room b_er civilities, and looked at the bright bars of her empty grate with concern.
"Thank you; I am quite warm, very warm. Allow me to stay here a little while,
and do have the goodness to hear me my third act. I have brought my book, an_f you would but rehearse it with me, I should be so obliged! I came here to-
day intending to rehearse it with Edmund— by ourselves—against the evening,
but he is not in the way; and if he were, I do not think I could go through i_ith him, till I have hardened myself a little; for really there is a speec_r two. You will be so good, won't you?"
Fanny was most civil in her assurances, though she could not give them in _ery steady voice.
"Have you ever happened to look at the part I mean?" continued Miss Crawford,
opening her book. "Here it is. I did not think much of it at first—but, upo_y word. There, look at that speech, and that, and that. How am I ever to loo_im in the face and say such things? Could you do it? But then he is you_ousin, which makes all the difference. You must rehearse it with me, that _ay fancy you him, and get on by degrees. You have a look of his sometimes."
"Have I? I will do my best with the greatest readiness; but I must read th_art, for I can say very little of it."
"None of it, I suppose. You are to have the book, of course. Now for it. W_ust have two chairs at hand for you to bring forward to the front of th_tage. There—very good school-room chairs, not made for a theatre, I dare say;
much more fitted for little girls to sit and kick their feet against when the_re learning a lesson. What would your governess and your uncle say to se_hem used for such a purpose? Could Sir Thomas look in upon us just now, h_ould bless himself, for we are rehearsing all over the house. Yates i_torming away in the dining-room. I heard him as I came upstairs, and th_heatre is engaged of course by those indefatigable rehearsers, Agatha an_rederick. If they are not perfect, I shall be surprised. By the bye, I looke_n upon them five minutes ago, and it happened to be exactly at one of th_imes when they were trying not to embrace, and Mr. Rushworth was with me. _hought he began to look a little queer, so I turned it off as well as _ould, by whispering to him, 'We shall have an excellent Agatha; there i_omething so maternal in her manner, so completely maternal in her voice an_ountenance.' Was not that well done of me? He brightened up directly. Now fo_y soliloquy."
She began, and Fanny joined in with all the modest feeling which the idea o_epresenting Edmund was so strongly calculated to inspire; but with looks an_oice so truly feminine as to be no very good picture of a man. With such a_nhalt, however, Miss Crawford had courage enough; and they had got throug_alf the scene, when a tap at the door brought a pause, and the entrance o_dmund, the next moment, suspended it all.
Surprise, consciousness, and pleasure appeared in each of the three on thi_nexpected meeting; and as Edmund was come on the very same business that ha_rought Miss Crawford, consciousness and pleasure were likely to be more tha_omentary in them. He too had his book, and was seeking Fanny, to ask her t_ehearse with him, and help him to prepare for the evening, without knowin_iss Crawford to be in the house; and great was the joy and animation of bein_hus thrown together, of comparing schemes, and sympathising in praise o_anny's kind offices.
She could not equal them in their warmth. Her spirits sank under the glow o_heirs, and she felt herself becoming too nearly nothing to both to have an_omfort in having been sought by either. They must now rehearse together.
Edmund proposed, urged, entreated it, till the lady, not very unwilling a_irst, could refuse no longer, and Fanny was wanted only to prompt and observ_hem. She was invested, indeed, with the office of judge and critic, an_arnestly desired to exercise it and tell them all their faults; but fro_oing so every feeling within her shrank—she could not, would not, dared no_ttempt it: had she been otherwise qualified for criticism, her conscienc_ust have restrained her from venturing at disapprobation. She believe_erself to feel too much of it in the aggregate for honesty or safety i_articulars. To prompt them must be enough for her; and it was sometimes mor_han enough; for she could not always pay attention to the book. In watchin_hem she forgot herself; and, agitated by the increasing spirit of Edmund'_anner, had once closed the page and turned away exactly as he wanted help. I_as imputed to very reasonable weariness, and she was thanked and pitied; bu_he deserved their pity more than she hoped they would ever surmise. At las_he scene was over, and Fanny forced herself to add her praise to th_ompliments each was giving the other; and when again alone and able to recal_he whole, she was inclined to believe their performance would, indeed, hav_uch nature and feeling in it as must ensure their credit, and make it a ver_uffering exhibition to herself. Whatever might be its effect, however, sh_ust stand the brunt of it again that very day.
The first regular rehearsal of the three first acts was certainly to tak_lace in the evening: Mrs. Grant and the Crawfords were engaged to return fo_hat purpose as soon as they could after dinner; and every one concerned wa_ooking forward with eagerness. There seemed a general diffusion o_heerfulness on the occasion. Tom was enjoying such an advance towards th_nd; Edmund was in spirits from the morning's rehearsal, and little vexation_eemed everywhere smoothed away. All were alert and impatient; the ladie_oved soon, the gentlemen soon followed them, and with the exception of Lad_ertram, Mrs. Norris, and Julia, everybody was in the theatre at an earl_our; and having lighted it up as well as its unfinished state admitted, wer_aiting only the arrival of Mrs. Grant and the Crawfords to begin.
They did not wait long for the Crawfords, but there was no Mrs. Grant. Sh_ould not come. Dr. Grant, professing an indisposition, for which he ha_ittle 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 ever sinc_e did not eat any of the pheasant today. He fancied it tough, sent away hi_late, and has been suffering ever since".
Here was disappointment! Mrs. Grant's non-attendance was sad indeed. He_leasant manners and cheerful conformity made her always valuable amongs_hem; but now she was absolutely necessary. They could not act, they could no_ehearse with any satisfaction without her. The comfort of the whole evenin_as destroyed. What was to be done? Tom, as Cottager, was in despair. After _ause of perplexity, some eyes began to be turned towards Fanny, and a voic_r two to say, "If Miss Price would be so good as to read the part." She wa_mmediately surrounded by supplications; everybody asked it; even Edmund said,
"Do, Fanny, if it is not very disagreeable to you."
But Fanny still hung back. She could not endure the idea of it. Why was no_iss Crawford to be applied to as well? Or why had not she rather gone to he_wn room, as she had felt to be safest, instead of attending the rehearsal a_ll? She had known it would irritate and distress her; she had known it he_uty to keep away. She was properly punished.
"You have only to read the part," said Henry Crawford, with renewed entreaty.
"And I do believe she can say every word of it," added Maria, "for she coul_ut Mrs. Grant right the other day in twenty places. Fanny, I am sure you kno_he part."
Fanny could not say she did not; and as they all persevered, as Edmun_epeated his wish, and with a look of even fond dependence on her good-nature,
she must yield. She would do her best. Everybody was satisfied; and she wa_eft to the tremors of a most palpitating heart, while the others prepared t_egin.
They did begin; and being too much engaged in their own noise to be struck b_n unusual noise in the other part of the house, had proceeded some way whe_he door of the room was thrown open, and Julia, appearing at it, with a fac_ll aghast, exclaimed, "My father is come! He is in the hall at this moment."