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Chapter 14
Fanny seemed nearer being right than Edmund had supposed. The business of
finding a play that would suit everybody proved to be no trifle; and the carpenter
had received his orders and taken his measurements, had suggested and
removed at least two sets of difficulties, and having made the necessity of 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. An enormous roll of
green baize had arrived from Northampton, and been cut out by Mrs. Norris (with
a saving by her good management of full three-quarters of a yard), and was
actually forming into a curtain by the housemaids, and still the 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 be
pleased, so many best characters required, and, above all, such a need that the
play should be at once both tragedy and comedy, that there did seem as little
chance of a decision as anything pursued by youth and zeal could hold out.
On the tragic side were the Miss Bertrams, Henry Crawford, and Mr. Yates; on
the comic, Tom Bertram, not quite alone, because it was evident that Mary
Crawford's wishes, though politely kept back, inclined the same way: but his
determinateness and his power seemed to make allies unnecessary; and,
independent of this great irreconcilable difference, they wanted a piece
containing very few characters in the whole, but every character first-rate, and
three principal women. All the best plays were run over in vain. Neither Hamlet,
nor Macbeth, nor Othello, nor Douglas, nor The Gamester, presented anything
that could satisfy even the tragedians; and The Rivals, The School for Scandal,
Wheel of Fortune, Heir at Law, and a long et cetera, were successively
dismissed with yet warmer objections. No piece could be proposed that did not
supply somebody with a difficulty, and on one side or the other it was a continual
repetition of, "Oh no, that will never do! Let us have no ranting tragedies. Too
many characters. Not a tolerable woman's part in the play. 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 from beginning to end. That might do,
perhaps, but for the low parts. If I must give my opinion, I have always thought it
the most insipid play in the English language. I do not wish to make objections; I
shall be happy to be of any use, but I think we could not choose 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 would
end. For her own gratification she could have wished that something might be
acted, for she had never seen even half a play, but everything of higher
consequence was against it.
"This will never do," said Tom Bertram at last. "We are wasting time most
abominably. Something must be fixed on. No matter what, so that something is
chosen. We must not be so nice. A few characters too many must not frighten us.
We must double them. We must descend a little. If a part is insignificant, the