The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield--but in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Emma resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her. She longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Mr. Perry's coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give her father, she lost no time ill hurrying into the shrubbery.--There, with spirits freshened, and thoughts a little relieved, she had taken a few turns, when she saw Mr. Knightley passing through the garden door, and coming towards her.--It was the first intimation of his being returned from London. She had been thinking of him the moment before, as unquestionably sixteen miles distant.--There was time only for the quickest arrangement of mind. She must be collected and calm. In half a minute they were together. The "How d'ye do's" were quiet and constrained on each side. She asked after their mutual friends; they were all well.--When had he left them?--Only that morning. He must have had a wet ride.--Yes.--He meant to walk with her, she found. "He had just looked into the dining-room, and as he was not wanted there, preferred being out of doors."--She thought he neither looked nor spoke cheerfully; and the first possible cause for it, suggested by her fears, was, that he had perhaps been communicating his plans to his brother, and was pained by the manner in which they had been received.
They walked together. He was silent. She thought he was often looking at her, and trying for a fuller view of her face than it suited her to give. And this belief produced another dread. Perhaps he wanted to speak to her, of his attachment to Harriet; he might be watching for encouragement to begin.--She did not, could not, feel equal to lead the way to any such subject. He must do it all himself. Yet she could not bear this silence. With him it was most unnatural. She considered--resolved--and, trying to smile, began--
"You have some news to hear, now you are come back, that will rather surprize you."
"Have I?" said he quietly, and looking at her; "of what nature?"
"Oh! the best nature in the world--a wedding."
After waiting a moment, as if to be sure she intended to say no more, he replied,
"If you mean Miss Fairfax and Frank Churchill, I have heard that already."
"How is it possible?" cried Emma, turning her glowing cheeks towards him; for, while she spoke, it occurred to her that he might have called at Mrs. Goddard's in his way.
"I had a few lines on parish business from Mr. Weston this morning, and at the end of them he gave me a brief account of what had happened."
Emma was quite relieved, and could presently say, with a little more composure,
"_You_ probably have been less surprized than any of us, for you have had your suspicions.--I have not forgotten that you once tried to give me a caution.--I wish I had attended to it--but--(with a sinking voice and a heavy sigh) I seem to have been doomed to blindness."
For a moment or two nothing was said, and she was unsuspicious of having excited any particular interest, till she found her arm drawn within his, and pressed against his heart, and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low,
"Time, my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound.--Your own excellent sense--your exertions for your father's sake--I know you will not allow yourself--." Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, "The feelings of the warmest friendship--Indignation--Abominable scoundrel!"-- And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, "He will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for _her_. She deserves a better fate."
Emma understood him; and as soon as she could recover from the flutter of pleasure, excited by such tender consideration, replied,
"You are very kind--but you are mistaken--and I must set you right.-- I am not in want of that sort of compassion. My blindness to what was going on, led me to act by them in a way that I must always be ashamed of, and I was very foolishly tempted to say and do many things which may well lay me open to unpleasant conjectures, but I have no other reason to regret that I was not in the secret earlier."
"Emma!" cried he, looking eagerly at her, "are you, indeed?"-- but checking himself--"No, no, I understand you--forgive me--I am pleased that you can say even so much.--He is no object of regret, indeed! and it will not be very long, I hope, before that becomes the acknowledgment of more than your reason.--Fortunate that your affections were not farther entangled!--I could never, I confess, from your manners, assure myself as to the degree of what you felt-- I could only be certain that there was a preference--and a preference which I never believed him to deserve.--He is a disgrace to the name of man.--And is he to be rewarded with that sweet young woman?-- Jane, Jane, you will be a miserable creature."
"Mr. Knightley," said Emma, trying to be lively, but really confused-- "I am in a very extraordinary situation. I cannot let you continue in your error; and yet, perhaps, since my manners gave such an impression, I have as much reason to be ashamed of confessing that I never have been at all attached to the person we are speaking of, as it might be natural for a woman to feel in confessing exactly the reverse.-- But I never have."
He listened in perfect silence. She wished him to speak, but he would not. She supposed she must say more before she were entitled to his clemency; but it was a hard case to be obliged still to lower herself in his opinion. She went on, however.
"I have very little to say for my own conduct.--I was tempted by his attentions, and allowed myself to appear pleased.-- An old story, probably--a common case--and no more than has happened to hundreds of my sex before; and yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding. Many circumstances assisted the temptation. He was the son of Mr. Weston--he was continually here--I always found him very pleasant--and, in short, for (with a sigh) let me swell out the causes ever so ingeniously, they all centre in this at last--my vanity was flattered, and I allowed his attentions. Latterly, however--for some time, indeed-- I have had no idea of their meaning any thing.--I thought them a habit, a trick, nothing that called for seriousness on my side. He has imposed on me, but he has not injured me. I have never been attached to him. And now I can tolerably comprehend his behaviour. He never wished to attach me. It was merely a blind to conceal his real situation with another.--It was his object to blind all about him; and no one, I am sure, could be more effectually blinded than myself--except that I was _not_ blinded--that it was my good fortune--that, in short, I was somehow or other safe from him."
She had hoped for an answer here--for a few words to say that her conduct was at least intelligible; but he was silent; and, as far as she could judge, deep in thought. At last, and tolerably in his usual tone, he said,
"I have never had a high opinion of Frank Churchill.--I can suppose, however, that I may have underrated him. My acquaintance with him has been but trifling.--And even if I have not underrated him hitherto, he may yet turn out well.--With such a woman he has a chance.--I have no motive for wishing him ill--and for her sake, whose happiness will be involved in his good character and conduct, I shall certainly wish him well."
"I have no doubt of their being happy together," said Emma; "I believe them to be very mutually and very sincerely attached."
"He is a most fortunate man!" returned Mr. Knightley, with energy. "So early in life--at three-and-twenty--a period when, if a man chuses a wife, he generally chuses ill. At three-and-twenty to have drawn such a prize! What years of felicity that man, in all human calculation, has before him!--Assured of the love of such a woman--the disinterested love, for Jane Fairfax's character vouches for her disinterestedness; every thing in his favour,-- equality of situation--I mean, as far as regards society, and all the habits and manners that are important; equality in every point but one-- and that one, since the purity of her heart is not to be doubted, such as must increase his felicity, for it will be his to bestow the only advantages she wants.--A man would always wish to give a woman a better home than the one he takes her from; and he who can do it, where there is no doubt of _her_ regard, must, I think, be the happiest of mortals.--Frank Churchill is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good.--He meets with a young woman at a watering-place, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment--and had he and all his family sought round the world for a perfect wife for him, they could not have found her superior.--His aunt is in the way.--His aunt dies.--He has only to speak.--His friends are eager to promote his happiness.-- He had used every body ill--and they are all delighted to forgive him.-- He is a fortunate man indeed!"
"You speak as if you envied him."
"And I do envy him, Emma. In one respect he is the object of my envy."
Emma could say no more. They seemed to be within half a sentence of Harriet, and her immediate feeling was to avert the subject, if possible. She made her plan; she would speak of something totally different--the children in Brunswick Square; and she only waited for breath to begin, when Mr. Knightley startled her, by saying,
"You will not ask me what is the point of envy.--You are determined, I see, to have no curiosity.--You are wise--but _I_ cannot be wise. Emma, I must tell you what you will not ask, though I may wish it unsaid the next moment."
"Oh! then, don't speak it, don't speak it," she eagerly cried. "Take a little time, consider, do not commit yourself."
"Thank you," said he, in an accent of deep mortification, and not another syllable followed.
Emma could not bear to give him pain. He was wishing to confide in her-- perhaps to consult her;--cost her what it would, she would listen. She might assist his resolution, or reconcile him to it; she might give just praise to Harriet, or, by representing to him his own independence, relieve him from that state of indecision, which must be more intolerable than any alternative to such a mind as his.--They had reached the house.
"You are going in, I suppose?" said he.
"No,"--replied Emma--quite confirmed by the depressed manner in which he still spoke--"I should like to take another turn. Mr. Perry is not gone." And, after proceeding a few steps, she added-- "I stopped you ungraciously, just now, Mr. Knightley, and, I am afraid, gave you pain.--But if you have any wish to speak openly to me as a friend, or to ask my opinion of any thing that you may have in contemplation--as a friend, indeed, you may command me.--I will hear whatever you like. I will tell you exactly what I think."
"As a friend!"--repeated Mr. Knightley.--"Emma, that I fear is a word--No, I have no wish--Stay, yes, why should I hesitate?-- I have gone too far already for concealment.--Emma, I accept your offer-- Extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer myself to you as a friend.--Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?"
He stopped in his earnestness to look the question, and the expression of his eyes overpowered her.
"My dearest Emma," said he, "for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour's conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma--tell me at once. Say `No,' if it is to be said."-- She could really say nothing.--"You are silent," he cried, with great animation; "absolutely silent! at present I ask no more."
Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.
"I cannot make speeches, Emma:" he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.--"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.--You hear nothing but truth from me.--I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.-- Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.-- But you understand me.--Yes, you see, you understand my feelings-- and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice."
While he spoke, Emma's mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able--and yet without losing a word-- to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole; to see that Harriet's hopes had been entirely groundless, a mistake, a delusion, as complete a delusion as any of her own--that Harriet was nothing; that she was every thing herself; that what she had been saying relative to Harriet had been all taken as the language of her own feelings; and that her agitation, her doubts, her reluctance, her discouragement, had been all received as discouragement from herself.--And not only was there time for these convictions, with all their glow of attendant happiness; there was time also to rejoice that Harriet's secret had not escaped her, and to resolve that it need not, and should not.--It was all the service she could now render her poor friend; for as to any of that heroism of sentiment which might have prompted her to entreat him to transfer his affection from herself to Harriet, as infinitely the most worthy of the two-- or even the more simple sublimity of resolving to refuse him at once and for ever, without vouchsafing any motive, because he could not marry them both, Emma had it not. She felt for Harriet, with pain and with contrition; but no flight of generosity run mad, opposing all that could be probable or reasonable, entered her brain. She had led her friend astray, and it would be a reproach to her for ever; but her judgment was as strong as her feelings, and as strong as it had ever been before, in reprobating any such alliance for him, as most unequal and degrading. Her way was clear, though not quite smooth.--She spoke then, on being so entreated.-- What did she say?--Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.-- She said enough to shew there need not be despair--and to invite him to say more himself. He _had_ despaired at one period; he had received such an injunction to caution and silence, as for the time crushed every hope;--she had begun by refusing to hear him.--The change had perhaps been somewhat sudden;--her proposal of taking another turn, her renewing the conversation which she had just put an end to, might be a little extraordinary!--She felt its inconsistency; but Mr. Knightley was so obliging as to put up with it, and seek no farther explanation.
Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material.-- Mr. Knightley could not impute to Emma a more relenting heart than she possessed, or a heart more disposed to accept of his.
He had, in fact, been wholly unsuspicious of his own influence. He had followed her into the shrubbery with no idea of trying it. He had come, in his anxiety to see how she bore Frank Churchill's engagement, with no selfish view, no view at all, but of endeavouring, if she allowed him an opening, to soothe or to counsel her.--The rest had been the work of the moment, the immediate effect of what he heard, on his feelings. The delightful assurance of her total indifference towards Frank Churchill, of her having a heart completely disengaged from him, had given birth to the hope, that, in time, he might gain her affection himself;--but it had been no present hope--he had only, in the momentary conquest of eagerness over judgment, aspired to be told that she did not forbid his attempt to attach her.--The superior hopes which gradually opened were so much the more enchanting.-- The affection, which he had been asking to be allowed to create, if he could, was already his!--Within half an hour, he had passed from a thoroughly distressed state of mind, to something so like perfect happiness, that it could bear no other name.
_Her_ change was equal.--This one half-hour had given to each the same precious certainty of being beloved, had cleared from each the same degree of ignorance, jealousy, or distrust.--On his side, there had been a long-standing jealousy, old as the arrival, or even the expectation, of Frank Churchill.--He had been in love with Emma, and jealous of Frank Churchill, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him as to the other. It was his jealousy of Frank Churchill that had taken him from the country.--The Box Hill party had decided him on going away. He would save himself from witnessing again such permitted, encouraged attentions.--He had gone to learn to be indifferent.-- But he had gone to a wrong place. There was too much domestic happiness in his brother's house; woman wore too amiable a form in it; Isabella was too much like Emma--differing only in those striking inferiorities, which always brought the other in brilliancy before him, for much to have been done, even had his time been longer.--He had stayed on, however, vigorously, day after day--till this very morning's post had conveyed the history of Jane Fairfax.--Then, with the gladness which must be felt, nay, which he did not scruple to feel, having never believed Frank Churchill to be at all deserving Emma, was there so much fond solicitude, so much keen anxiety for her, that he could stay no longer. He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults, bore the discovery.
He had found her agitated and low.--Frank Churchill was a villain.-- He heard her declare that she had never loved him. Frank Churchill's character was not desperate.--She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.
What totally different feelings did Emma take back into the house from what she had brought out!--she had then been only daring to hope for a little respite of suffering;--she was now in an exquisite flutter of happiness, and such happiness moreover as she believed must still be greater when the flutter should have passed away.
They sat down to tea--the same party round the same table-- how often it had been collected!--and how often had her eyes fallen on the same shrubs in the lawn, and observed the same beautiful effect of the western sun!--But never in such a state of spirits, never in any thing like it; and it was with difficulty that she could summon enough of her usual self to be the attentive lady of the house, or even the attentive daughter.
Poor Mr. Woodhouse little suspected what was plotting against him in the breast of that man whom he was so cordially welcoming, and so anxiously hoping might not have taken cold from his ride.--Could he have seen the heart, he would have cared very little for the lungs; but without the most distant imagination of the impending evil, without the slightest perception of any thing extraordinary in the looks or ways of either, he repeated to them very comfortably all the articles of news he had received from Mr. Perry, and talked on with much self-contentment, totally unsuspicious of what they could have told him in return.
As long as Mr. Knightley remained with them, Emma's fever continued; but when he was gone, she began to be a little tranquillised and subdued--and in the course of the sleepless night, which was the tax for such an evening, she found one or two such very serious points to consider, as made her feel, that even her happiness must have some alloy. Her father--and Harriet. She could not be alone without feeling the full weight of their separate claims; and how to guard the comfort of both to the utmost, was the question. With respect to her father, it was a question soon answered. She hardly knew yet what Mr. Knightley would ask; but a very short parley with her own heart produced the most solemn resolution of never quitting her father.--She even wept over the idea of it, as a sin of thought. While he lived, it must be only an engagement; but she flattered herself, that if divested of the danger of drawing her away, it might become an increase of comfort to him.-- How to do her best by Harriet, was of more difficult decision;-- how to spare her from any unnecessary pain; how to make her any possible atonement; how to appear least her enemy?-- On these subjects, her perplexity and distress were very great-- and her mind had to pass again and again through every bitter reproach and sorrowful regret that had ever surrounded it.-- She could only resolve at last, that she would still avoid a meeting with her, and communicate all that need be told by letter; that it would be inexpressibly desirable to have her removed just now for a time from Highbury, and--indulging in one scheme more-- nearly resolve, that it might be practicable to get an invitation for her to Brunswick Square.--Isabella had been pleased with Harriet; and a few weeks spent in London must give her some amusement.-- She did not think it in Harriet's nature to escape being benefited by novelty and variety, by the streets, the shops, and the children.-- At any rate, it would be a proof of attention and kindness in herself, from whom every thing was due; a separation for the present; an averting of the evil day, when they must all be together again.
She rose early, and wrote her letter to Harriet; an employment which left her so very serious, so nearly sad, that Mr. Knightley, in walking up to Hartfield to breakfast, did not arrive at all too soon; and half an hour stolen afterwards to go over the same ground again with him, literally and figuratively, was quite necessary to reinstate her in a proper share of the happiness of the evening before.
He had not left her long, by no means long enough for her to have the slightest inclination for thinking of any body else, when a letter was brought her from Randalls--a very thick letter;--she guessed what it must contain, and deprecated the necessity of reading it.-- She was now in perfect charity with Frank Churchill; she wanted no explanations, she wanted only to have her thoughts to herself-- and as for understanding any thing he wrote, she was sure she was incapable of it.--It must be waded through, however. She opened the packet; it was too surely so;--a note from Mrs. Weston to herself, ushered in the letter from Frank to Mrs. Weston.
"I have the greatest pleasure, my dear Emma, in forwarding to you the enclosed. I know what thorough justice you will do it, and have scarcely a doubt of its happy effect.--I think we shall never materially disagree about the writer again; but I will not delay you by a long preface.--We are quite well.-- This letter has been the cure of all the little nervousness I have been feeling lately.--I did not quite like your looks on Tuesday, but it was an ungenial morning; and though you will never own being affected by weather, I think every body feels a north-east wind.-- I felt for your dear father very much in the storm of Tuesday afternoon and yesterday morning, but had the comfort of hearing last night, by Mr. Perry, that it had not made him ill.
[To Mrs. Weston.]
WINDSOR-JULY. MY DEAR MADAM,
"If I made myself intelligible yesterday, this letter will be expected; but expected or not, I know it will be read with candour and indulgence.-- You are all goodness, and I believe there will be need of even all your goodness to allow for some parts of my past conduct.-- But I have been forgiven by one who had still more to resent. My courage rises while I write. It is very difficult for the prosperous to be humble. I have already met with such success in two applications for pardon, that I may be in danger of thinking myself too sure of yours, and of those among your friends who have had any ground of offence.--You must all endeavour to comprehend the exact nature of my situation when I first arrived at Randalls; you must consider me as having a secret which was to be kept at all hazards. This was the fact. My right to place myself in a situation requiring such concealment, is another question. I shall not discuss it here. For my temptation to _think_ it a right, I refer every caviller to a brick house, sashed windows below, and casements above, in Highbury. I dared not address her openly; my difficulties in the then state of Enscombe must be too well known to require definition; and I was fortunate enough to prevail, before we parted at Weymouth, and to induce the most upright female mind in the creation to stoop in charity to a secret engagement.-- Had she refused, I should have gone mad.--But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this?--What did you look forward to?-- To any thing, every thing--to time, chance, circumstance, slow effects, sudden bursts, perseverance and weariness, health and sickness. Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured, in obtaining her promises of faith and correspondence. If you need farther explanation, I have the honour, my dear madam, of being your husband's son, and the advantage of inheriting a disposition to hope for good, which no inheritance of houses or lands can ever equal the value of.--See me, then, under these circumstances, arriving on my first visit to Randalls;--and here I am conscious of wrong, for that visit might have been sooner paid. You will look back and see that I did not come till Miss Fairfax was in Highbury; and as _you_ were the person slighted, you will forgive me instantly; but I must work on my father's compassion, by reminding him, that so long as I absented myself from his house, so long I lost the blessing of knowing you. My behaviour, during the very happy fortnight which I spent with you, did not, I hope, lay me open to reprehension, excepting on one point. And now I come to the principal, the only important part of my conduct while belonging to you, which excites my own anxiety, or requires very solicitous explanation. With the greatest respect, and the warmest friendship, do I mention Miss Woodhouse; my father perhaps will think I ought to add, with the deepest humiliation.-- A few words which dropped from him yesterday spoke his opinion, and some censure I acknowledge myself liable to.--My behaviour to Miss Woodhouse indicated, I believe, more than it ought.-- In order to assist a concealment so essential to me, I was led on to make more than an allowable use of the sort of intimacy into which we were immediately thrown.--I cannot deny that Miss Woodhouse was my ostensible object--but I am sure you will believe the declaration, that had I not been convinced of her indifference, I would not have been induced by any selfish views to go on.-- Amiable and delightful as Miss Woodhouse is, she never gave me the idea of a young woman likely to be attached; and that she was perfectly free from any tendency to being attached to me, was as much my conviction as my wish.--She received my attentions with an easy, friendly, goodhumoured playfulness, which exactly suited me. We seemed to understand each other. From our relative situation, those attentions were her due, and were felt to be so.--Whether Miss Woodhouse began really to understand me before the expiration of that fortnight, I cannot say;--when I called to take leave of her, I remember that I was within a moment of confessing the truth, and I then fancied she was not without suspicion; but I have no doubt of her having since detected me, at least in some degree.-- She may not have surmised the whole, but her quickness must have penetrated a part. I cannot doubt it. You will find, whenever the subject becomes freed from its present restraints, that it did not take her wholly by surprize. She frequently gave me hints of it. I remember her telling me at the ball, that I owed Mrs. Elton gratitude for her attentions to Miss Fairfax.-- I hope this history of my conduct towards her will be admitted by you and my father as great extenuation of what you saw amiss. While you considered me as having sinned against Emma Woodhouse, I could deserve nothing from either. Acquit me here, and procure for me, when it is allowable, the acquittal and good wishes of that said Emma Woodhouse, whom I regard with so much brotherly affection, as to long to have her as deeply and as happily in love as myself.-- Whatever strange things I said or did during that fortnight, you have now a key to. My heart was in Highbury, and my business was to get my body thither as often as might be, and with the least suspicion. If you remember any queernesses, set them all to the right account.-- Of the pianoforte so much talked of, I feel it only necessary to say, that its being ordered was absolutely unknown to Miss F--, who would never have allowed me to send it, had any choice been given her.-- The delicacy of her mind throughout the whole engagement, my dear madam, is much beyond my power of doing justice to. You will soon, I earnestly hope, know her thoroughly yourself.-- No description can describe her. She must tell you herself what she is-- yet not by word, for never was there a human creature who would so designedly suppress her own merit.--Since I began this letter, which will be longer than I foresaw, I have heard from her.-- She gives a good account of her own health; but as she never complains, I dare not depend. I want to have your opinion of her looks. I know you will soon call on her; she is living in dread of the visit. Perhaps it is paid already. Let me hear from you without delay; I am impatient for a thousand particulars. Remember how few minutes I was at Randalls, and in how bewildered, how mad a state: and I am not much better yet; still insane either from happiness or misery. When I think of the kindness and favour I have met with, of her excellence and patience, and my uncle's generosity, I am mad with joy: but when I recollect all the uneasiness I occasioned her, and how little I deserve to be forgiven, I am mad with anger. If I could but see her again!--But I must not propose it yet. My uncle has been too good for me to encroach.--I must still add to this long letter. You have not heard all that you ought to hear. I could not give any connected detail yesterday; but the suddenness, and, in one light, the unseasonableness with which the affair burst out, needs explanation; for though the event of the 26th ult., as you will conclude, immediately opened to me the happiest prospects, I should not have presumed on such early measures, but from the very particular circumstances, which left me not an hour to lose. I should myself have shrunk from any thing so hasty, and she would have felt every scruple of mine with multiplied strength and refinement.-- But I had no choice. The hasty engagement she had entered into with that woman--Here, my dear madam, I was obliged to leave off abruptly, to recollect and compose myself.--I have been walking over the country, and am now, I hope, rational enough to make the rest of my letter what it ought to be.--It is, in fact, a most mortifying retrospect for me. I behaved shamefully. And here I can admit, that my manners to Miss W., in being unpleasant to Miss F., were highly blameable. _She_ disapproved them, which ought to have been enough.--My plea of concealing the truth she did not think sufficient.--She was displeased; I thought unreasonably so: I thought her, on a thousand occasions, unnecessarily scrupulous and cautious: I thought her even cold. But she was always right. If I had followed her judgment, and subdued my spirits to the level of what she deemed proper, I should have escaped the greatest unhappiness I have ever known.--We quarrelled.-- Do you remember the morning spent at Donwell?--_There_ every little dissatisfaction that had occurred before came to a crisis. I was late; I met her walking home by herself, and wanted to walk with her, but she would not suffer it. She absolutely refused to allow me, which I then thought most unreasonable. Now, however, I see nothing in it but a very natural and consistent degree of discretion. While I, to blind the world to our engagement, was behaving one hour with objectionable particularity to another woman, was she to be consenting the next to a proposal which might have made every previous caution useless?--Had we been met walking together between Donwell and Highbury, the truth must have been suspected.-- I was mad enough, however, to resent.--I doubted her affection. I doubted it more the next day on Box Hill; when, provoked by such conduct on my side, such shameful, insolent neglect of her, and such apparent devotion to Miss W., as it would have been impossible for any woman of sense to endure, she spoke her resentment in a form of words perfectly intelligible to me.-- In short, my dear madam, it was a quarrel blameless on her side, abominable on mine; and I returned the same evening to Richmond, though I might have staid with you till the next morning, merely because I would be as angry with her as possible. Even then, I was not such a fool as not to mean to be reconciled in time; but I was the injured person, injured by her coldness, and I went away determined that she should make the first advances.--I shall always congratulate myself that you were not of the Box Hill party. Had you witnessed my behaviour there, I can hardly suppose you would ever have thought well of me again. Its effect upon her appears in the immediate resolution it produced: as soon as she found I was really gone from Randalls, she closed with the offer of that officious Mrs. Elton; the whole system of whose treatment of her, by the bye, has ever filled me with indignation and hatred. I must not quarrel with a spirit of forbearance which has been so richly extended towards myself; but, otherwise, I should loudly protest against the share of it which that woman has known.-- `Jane,' indeed!--You will observe that I have not yet indulged myself in calling her by that name, even to you. Think, then, what I must have endured in hearing it bandied between the Eltons with all the vulgarity of needless repetition, and all the insolence of imaginary superiority. Have patience with me, I shall soon have done.-- She closed with this offer, resolving to break with me entirely, and wrote the next day to tell me that we never were to meet again.-- _She_ _felt_ _the_ _engagement_ _to_ _be_ _a_ _source_ _of_ _repentance_ _and_ _misery_ _to_ _each_: _she_ _dissolved_ _it_.--This letter reached me on the very morning of my poor aunt's death. I answered it within an hour; but from the confusion of my mind, and the multiplicity of business falling on me at once, my answer, instead of being sent with all the many other letters of that day, was locked up in my writing-desk; and I, trusting that I had written enough, though but a few lines, to satisfy her, remained without any uneasiness.--I was rather disappointed that I did not hear from her again speedily; but I made excuses for her, and was too busy, and--may I add?-- too cheerful in my views to be captious.--We removed to Windsor; and two days afterwards I received a parcel from her, my own letters all returned!--and a few lines at the same time by the post, stating her extreme surprize at not having had the smallest reply to her last; and adding, that as silence on such a point could not be misconstrued, and as it must be equally desirable to both to have every subordinate arrangement concluded as soon as possible, she now sent me, by a safe conveyance, all my letters, and requested, that if I could not directly command hers, so as to send them to Highbury within a week, I would forward them after that period to her at--: in short, the full direction to Mr. Smallridge's, near Bristol, stared me in the face. I knew the name, the place, I knew all about it, and instantly saw what she had been doing. It was perfectly accordant with that resolution of character which I knew her to possess; and the secrecy she had maintained, as to any such design in her former letter, was equally descriptive of its anxious delicacy. For the world would not she have seemed to threaten me.--Imagine the shock; imagine how, till I had actually detected my own blunder, I raved at the blunders of the post.-- What was to be done?--One thing only.--I must speak to my uncle. Without his sanction I could not hope to be listened to again.-- I spoke; circumstances were in my favour; the late event had softened away his pride, and he was, earlier than I could have anticipated, wholly reconciled and complying; and could say at last, poor man! with a deep sigh, that he wished I might find as much happiness in the marriage state as he had done.--I felt that it would be of a different sort.--Are you disposed to pity me for what I must have suffered in opening the cause to him, for my suspense while all was at stake?--No; do not pity me till I reached Highbury, and saw how ill I had made her. Do not pity me till I saw her wan, sick looks.--I reached Highbury at the time of day when, from my knowledge of their late breakfast hour, I was certain of a good chance of finding her alone.--I was not disappointed; and at last I was not disappointed either in the object of my journey. A great deal of very reasonable, very just displeasure I had to persuade away. But it is done; we are reconciled, dearer, much dearer, than ever, and no moment's uneasiness can ever occur between us again. Now, my dear madam, I will release you; but I could not conclude before. A thousand and a thousand thanks for all the kindness you have ever shewn me, and ten thousand for the attentions your heart will dictate towards her.--If you think me in a way to be happier than I deserve, I am quite of your opinion.--Miss W. calls me the child of good fortune. I hope she is right.--In one respect, my good fortune is undoubted, that of being able to subscribe myself,
Your obliged and affectionate Son,
F. C. WESTON CHURCHILL.
This letter must make its way to Emma's feelings. She was obliged, in spite of her previous determination to the contrary, to do it all the justice that Mrs. Weston foretold. As soon as she came to her own name, it was irresistible; every line relating to herself was interesting, and almost every line agreeable; and when this charm ceased, the subject could still maintain itself, by the natural return of her former regard for the writer, and the very strong attraction which any picture of love must have for her at that moment. She never stopt till she had gone through the whole; and though it was impossible not to feel that he had been wrong, yet he had been less wrong than she had supposed--and he had suffered, and was very sorry--and he was so grateful to Mrs. Weston, and so much in love with Miss Fairfax, and she was so happy herself, that there was no being severe; and could he have entered the room, she must have shaken hands with him as heartily as ever.
She thought so well of the letter, that when Mr. Knightley came again, she desired him to read it. She was sure of Mrs. Weston's wishing it to be communicated; especially to one, who, like Mr. Knightley, had seen so much to blame in his conduct.
"I shall be very glad to look it over," said he; "but it seems long. I will take it home with me at night."
But that would not do. Mr. Weston was to call in the evening, and she must return it by him.
"I would rather be talking to you," he replied; "but as it seems a matter of justice, it shall be done."
He began--stopping, however, almost directly to say, "Had I been offered the sight of one of this gentleman's letters to his mother-in-law a few months ago, Emma, it would not have been taken with such indifference."
He proceeded a little farther, reading to himself; and then, with a smile, observed, "Humph! a fine complimentary opening: But it is his way. One man's style must not be the rule of another's. We will not be severe."
"It will be natural for me," he added shortly afterwards, "to speak my opinion aloud as I read. By doing it, I shall feel that I am near you. It will not be so great a loss of time: but if you dislike it--"
"Not at all. I should wish it."
Mr. Knightley returned to his reading with greater alacrity.
"He trifles here," said he, "as to the temptation. He knows he is wrong, and has nothing rational to urge.--Bad.--He ought not to have formed the engagement.--`His father's disposition:'-- he is unjust, however, to his father. Mr. Weston's sanguine temper was a blessing on all his upright and honourable exertions; but Mr. Weston earned every present comfort before he endeavoured to gain it.--Very true; he did not come till Miss Fairfax was here."
"And I have not forgotten," said Emma, "how sure you were that he might have come sooner if he would. You pass it over very handsomely-- but you were perfectly right."
"I was not quite impartial in my judgment, Emma:--but yet, I think-- had _you_ not been in the case--I should still have distrusted him."
When he came to Miss Woodhouse, he was obliged to read the whole of it aloud--all that related to her, with a smile; a look; a shake of the head; a word or two of assent, or disapprobation; or merely of love, as the subject required; concluding, however, seriously, and, after steady reflection, thus--
"Very bad--though it might have been worse.--Playing a most dangerous game. Too much indebted to the event for his acquittal.-- No judge of his own manners by you.--Always deceived in fact by his own wishes, and regardless of little besides his own convenience.-- Fancying you to have fathomed his secret. Natural enough!-- his own mind full of intrigue, that he should suspect it in others.--Mystery; Finesse--how they pervert the understanding! My Emma, does not every thing serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?"
Emma agreed to it, and with a blush of sensibility on Harriet's account, which she could not give any sincere explanation of.
"You had better go on," said she.
He did so, but very soon stopt again to say, "the pianoforte! Ah! That was the act of a very, very young man, one too young to consider whether the inconvenience of it might not very much exceed the pleasure. A boyish scheme, indeed!--I cannot comprehend a man's wishing to give a woman any proof of affection which he knows she would rather dispense with; and he did know that she would have prevented the instrument's coming if she could."
After this, he made some progress without any pause. Frank Churchill's confession of having behaved shamefully was the first thing to call for more than a word in passing.
"I perfectly agree with you, sir,"--was then his remark. "You did behave very shamefully. You never wrote a truer line." And having gone through what immediately followed of the basis of their disagreement, and his persisting to act in direct opposition to Jane Fairfax's sense of right, he made a fuller pause to say, "This is very bad.--He had induced her to place herself, for his sake, in a situation of extreme difficulty and uneasiness, and it should have been his first object to prevent her from suffering unnecessarily.--She must have had much more to contend with, in carrying on the correspondence, than he could. He should have respected even unreasonable scruples, had there been such; but hers were all reasonable. We must look to her one fault, and remember that she had done a wrong thing in consenting to the engagement, to bear that she should have been in such a state of punishment."
Emma knew that he was now getting to the Box Hill party, and grew uncomfortable. Her own behaviour had been so very improper! She was deeply ashamed, and a little afraid of his next look. It was all read, however, steadily, attentively, and without the smallest remark; and, excepting one momentary glance at her, instantly withdrawn, in the fear of giving pain--no remembrance of Box Hill seemed to exist.
"There is no saying much for the delicacy of our good friends, the Eltons," was his next observation.--"His feelings are natural.-- What! actually resolve to break with him entirely!--She felt the engagement to be a source of repentance and misery to each-- she dissolved it.--What a view this gives of her sense of his behaviour!--Well, he must be a most extraordinary--"
"Nay, nay, read on.--You will find how very much he suffers."
"I hope he does," replied Mr. Knightley coolly, and resuming the letter. "`Smallridge!'--What does this mean? What is all this?"
"She had engaged to go as governess to Mrs. Smallridge's children-- a dear friend of Mrs. Elton's--a neighbour of Maple Grove; and, by the bye, I wonder how Mrs. Elton bears the disappointment?"
"Say nothing, my dear Emma, while you oblige me to read--not even of Mrs. Elton. Only one page more. I shall soon have done. What a letter the man writes!"
"I wish you would read it with a kinder spirit towards him."
"Well, there _is_ feeling here.--He does seem to have suffered in finding her ill.--Certainly, I can have no doubt of his being fond of her. `Dearer, much dearer than ever.' I hope he may long continue to feel all the value of such a reconciliation.--He is a very liberal thanker, with his thousands and tens of thousands.--`Happier than I deserve.' Come, he knows himself there. `Miss Woodhouse calls me the child of good fortune.'--Those were Miss Woodhouse's words, were they?-- And a fine ending--and there is the letter. The child of good fortune! That was your name for him, was it?"
"You do not appear so well satisfied with his letter as I am; but still you must, at least I hope you must, think the better of him for it. I hope it does him some service with you."
"Yes, certainly it does. He has had great faults, faults of inconsideration and thoughtlessness; and I am very much of his opinion in thinking him likely to be happier than he deserves: but still as he is, beyond a doubt, really attached to Miss Fairfax, and will soon, it may be hoped, have the advantage of being constantly with her, I am very ready to believe his character will improve, and acquire from hers the steadiness and delicacy of principle that it wants. And now, let me talk to you of something else. I have another person's interest at present so much at heart, that I cannot think any longer about Frank Churchill. Ever since I left you this morning, Emma, my mind has been hard at work on one subject."
The subject followed; it was in plain, unaffected, gentlemanlike English, such as Mr. Knightley used even to the woman he was in love with, how to be able to ask her to marry him, without attacking the happiness of her father. Emma's answer was ready at the first word. "While her dear father lived, any change of condition must be impossible for her. She could never quit him." Part only of this answer, however, was admitted. The impossibility of her quitting her father, Mr. Knightley felt as strongly as herself; but the inadmissibility of any other change, he could not agree to. He had been thinking it over most deeply, most intently; he had at first hoped to induce Mr. Woodhouse to remove with her to Donwell; he had wanted to believe it feasible, but his knowledge of Mr. Woodhouse would not suffer him to deceive himself long; and now he confessed his persuasion, that such a transplantation would be a risk of her father's comfort, perhaps even of his life, which must not be hazarded. Mr. Woodhouse taken from Hartfield!--No, he felt that it ought not to be attempted. But the plan which had arisen on the sacrifice of this, he trusted his dearest Emma would not find in any respect objectionable; it was, that he should be received at Hartfield; that so long as her father's happiness in other words his life--required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise.
Of their all removing to Donwell, Emma had already had her own passing thoughts. Like him, she had tried the scheme and rejected it; but such an alternative as this had not occurred to her. She was sensible of all the affection it evinced. She felt that, in quitting Donwell, he must be sacrificing a great deal of independence of hours and habits; that in living constantly with her father, and in no house of his own, there would be much, very much, to be borne with. She promised to think of it, and advised him to think of it more; but he was fully convinced, that no reflection could alter his wishes or his opinion on the subject. He had given it, he could assure her, very long and calm consideration; he had been walking away from William Larkins the whole morning, to have his thoughts to himself.
"Ah! there is one difficulty unprovided for," cried Emma. "I am sure William Larkins will not like it. You must get his consent before you ask mine."
She promised, however, to think of it; and pretty nearly promised, moreover, to think of it, with the intention of finding it a very good scheme.
It is remarkable, that Emma, in the many, very many, points of view in which she was now beginning to consider Donwell Abbey, was never struck with any sense of injury to her nephew Henry, whose rights as heir-expectant had formerly been so tenaciously regarded. Think she must of the possible difference to the poor little boy; and yet she only gave herself a saucy conscious smile about it, and found amusement in detecting the real cause of that violent dislike of Mr. Knightley's marrying Jane Fairfax, or any body else, which at the time she had wholly imputed to the amiable solicitude of the sister and the aunt.
This proposal of his, this plan of marrying and continuing at Hartfield-- the more she contemplated it, the more pleasing it became. His evils seemed to lessen, her own advantages to increase, their mutual good to outweigh every drawback. Such a companion for herself in the periods of anxiety and cheerlessness before her!-- Such a partner in all those duties and cares to which time must be giving increase of melancholy!
She would have been too happy but for poor Harriet; but every blessing of her own seemed to involve and advance the sufferings of her friend, who must now be even excluded from Hartfield. The delightful family party which Emma was securing for herself, poor Harriet must, in mere charitable caution, be kept at a distance from. She would be a loser in every way. Emma could not deplore her future absence as any deduction from her own enjoyment. In such a party, Harriet would be rather a dead weight than otherwise; but for the poor girl herself, it seemed a peculiarly cruel necessity that was to be placing her in such a state of unmerited punishment.
In time, of course, Mr. Knightley would be forgotten, that is, supplanted; but this could not be expected to happen very early. Mr. Knightley himself would be doing nothing to assist the cure;-- not like Mr. Elton. Mr. Knightley, always so kind, so feeling, so truly considerate for every body, would never deserve to be less worshipped than now; and it really was too much to hope even of Harriet, that she could be in love with more than _three_ men in one year.
It was a very great relief to Emma to find Harriet as desirous as herself to avoid a meeting. Their intercourse was painful enough by letter. How much worse, had they been obliged to meet!
Harriet expressed herself very much as might be supposed, without reproaches, or apparent sense of ill-usage; and yet Emma fancied there was a something of resentment, a something bordering on it in her style, which increased the desirableness of their being separate.-- It might be only her own consciousness; but it seemed as if an angel only could have been quite without resentment under such a stroke.
She had no difficulty in procuring Isabella's invitation; and she was fortunate in having a sufficient reason for asking it, without resorting to invention.--There was a tooth amiss. Harriet really wished, and had wished some time, to consult a dentist. Mrs. John Knightley was delighted to be of use; any thing of ill health was a recommendation to her--and though not so fond of a dentist as of a Mr. Wingfield, she was quite eager to have Harriet under her care.--When it was thus settled on her sister's side, Emma proposed it to her friend, and found her very persuadable.-- Harriet was to go; she was invited for at least a fortnight; she was to be conveyed in Mr. Woodhouse's carriage.--It was all arranged, it was all completed, and Harriet was safe in Brunswick Square.
Now Emma could, indeed, enjoy Mr. Knightley's visits; now she could talk, and she could listen with true happiness, unchecked by that sense of injustice, of guilt, of something most painful, which had haunted her when remembering how disappointed a heart was near her, how much might at that moment, and at a little distance, be enduring by the feelings which she had led astray herself.
The difference of Harriet at Mrs. Goddard's, or in London, made perhaps an unreasonable difference in Emma's sensations; but she could not think of her in London without objects of curiosity and employment, which must be averting the past, and carrying her out of herself.
She would not allow any other anxiety to succeed directly to the place in her mind which Harriet had occupied. There was a communication before her, one which _she_ only could be competent to make-- the confession of her engagement to her father; but she would have nothing to do with it at present.--She had resolved to defer the disclosure till Mrs. Weston were safe and well. No additional agitation should be thrown at this period among those she loved-- and the evil should not act on herself by anticipation before the appointed time.--A fortnight, at least, of leisure and peace of mind, to crown every warmer, but more agitating, delight, should be hers.
She soon resolved, equally as a duty and a pleasure, to employ half an hour of this holiday of spirits in calling on Miss Fairfax.-- She ought to go--and she was longing to see her; the resemblance of their present situations increasing every other motive of goodwill. It would be a _secret_ satisfaction; but the consciousness of a similarity of prospect would certainly add to the interest with which she should attend to any thing Jane might communicate.
She went--she had driven once unsuccessfully to the door, but had not been into the house since the morning after Box Hill, when poor Jane had been in such distress as had filled her with compassion, though all the worst of her sufferings had been unsuspected.-- The fear of being still unwelcome, determined her, though assured of their being at home, to wait in the passage, and send up her name.-- She heard Patty announcing it; but no such bustle succeeded as poor Miss Bates had before made so happily intelligible.--No; she heard nothing but the instant reply of, "Beg her to walk up;"--and a moment afterwards she was met on the stairs by Jane herself, coming eagerly forward, as if no other reception of her were felt sufficient.-- Emma had never seen her look so well, so lovely, so engaging. There was consciousness, animation, and warmth; there was every thing which her countenance or manner could ever have wanted.-- She came forward with an offered hand; and said, in a low, but very feeling tone,
"This is most kind, indeed!--Miss Woodhouse, it is impossible for me to express--I hope you will believe--Excuse me for being so entirely without words."
Emma was gratified, and would soon have shewn no want of words, if the sound of Mrs. Elton's voice from the sitting-room had not checked her, and made it expedient to compress all her friendly and all her congratulatory sensations into a very, very earnest shake of the hand.
Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Elton were together. Miss Bates was out, which accounted for the previous tranquillity. Emma could have wished Mrs. Elton elsewhere; but she was in a humour to have patience with every body; and as Mrs. Elton met her with unusual graciousness, she hoped the rencontre would do them no harm.
She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton's thoughts, and understand why she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax's confidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret to other people. Emma saw symptoms of it immediately in the expression of her face; and while paying her own compliments to Mrs. Bates, and appearing to attend to the good old lady's replies, she saw her with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold reticule by her side, saying, with significant nods,
"We can finish this some other time, you know. You and I shall not want opportunities. And, in fact, you have heard all the essential already. I only wanted to prove to you that Mrs. S. admits our apology, and is not offended. You see how delightfully she writes. Oh! she is a sweet creature! You would have doated on her, had you gone.--But not a word more. Let us be discreet-- quite on our good behaviour.--Hush!--You remember those lines-- I forget the poem at this moment:
"For when a lady's in the case,
"You know all other things give place."
Now I say, my dear, in _our_ case, for _lady_, read----mum! a word to the wise.--I am in a fine flow of spirits, an't I? But I want to set your heart at ease as to Mrs. S.--_My_ representation, you see, has quite appeased her."
And again, on Emma's merely turning her head to look at Mrs. Bates's knitting, she added, in a half whisper,
"I mentioned no _names_, you will observe.--Oh! no; cautious as a minister of state. I managed it extremely well."
Emma could not doubt. It was a palpable display, repeated on every possible occasion. When they had all talked a little while in harmony of the weather and Mrs. Weston, she found herself abruptly addressed with,
"Do not you think, Miss Woodhouse, our saucy little friend here is charmingly recovered?--Do not you think her cure does Perry the highest credit?--(here was a side-glance of great meaning at Jane.) Upon my word, Perry has restored her in a wonderful short time!-- Oh! if you had seen her, as I did, when she was at the worst!"-- And when Mrs. Bates was saying something to Emma, whispered farther, "We do not say a word of any _assistance_ that Perry might have; not a word of a certain young physician from Windsor.--Oh! no; Perry shall have all the credit."
"I have scarce had the pleasure of seeing you, Miss Woodhouse," she shortly afterwards began, "since the party to Box Hill. Very pleasant party. But yet I think there was something wanting. Things did not seem--that is, there seemed a little cloud upon the spirits of some.--So it appeared to me at least, but I might be mistaken. However, I think it answered so far as to tempt one to go again. What say you both to our collecting the same party, and exploring to Box Hill again, while the fine weather lasts?-- It must be the same party, you know, quite the same party, not _one_ exception."
Soon after this Miss Bates came in, and Emma could not help being diverted by the perplexity of her first answer to herself, resulting, she supposed, from doubt of what might be said, and impatience to say every thing.
"Thank you, dear Miss Woodhouse, you are all kindness.--It is impossible to say--Yes, indeed, I quite understand--dearest Jane's prospects-- that is, I do not mean.--But she is charmingly recovered.-- How is Mr. Woodhouse?--I am so glad.--Quite out of my power.-- Such a happy little circle as you find us here.--Yes, indeed.-- Charming young man!--that is--so very friendly; I mean good Mr. Perry!-- such attention to Jane!"--And from her great, her more than commonly thankful delight towards Mrs. Elton for being there, Emma guessed that there had been a little show of resentment towards Jane, from the vicarage quarter, which was now graciously overcome.-- After a few whispers, indeed, which placed it beyond a guess, Mrs. Elton, speaking louder, said,
"Yes, here I am, my good friend; and here I have been so long, that anywhere else I should think it necessary to apologise; but, the truth is, that I am waiting for my lord and master. He promised to join me here, and pay his respects to you."
"What! are we to have the pleasure of a call from Mr. Elton?-- That will be a favour indeed! for I know gentlemen do not like morning visits, and Mr. Elton's time is so engaged."
"Upon my word it is, Miss Bates.--He really is engaged from morning to night.--There is no end of people's coming to him, on some pretence or other.--The magistrates, and overseers, and churchwardens, are always wanting his opinion. They seem not able to do any thing without him.--`Upon my word, Mr. E.,' I often say, `rather you than I.-- I do not know what would become of my crayons and my instrument, if I had half so many applicants.'--Bad enough as it is, for I absolutely neglect them both to an unpardonable degree.--I believe I have not played a bar this fortnight.--However, he is coming, I assure you: yes, indeed, on purpose to wait on you all." And putting up her hand to screen her words from Emma--"A congratulatory visit, you know.--Oh! yes, quite indispensable."
Miss Bates looked about her, so happily!--
"He promised to come to me as soon as he could disengage himself from Knightley; but he and Knightley are shut up together in deep consultation.--Mr. E. is Knightley's right hand."
Emma would not have smiled for the world, and only said, "Is Mr. Elton gone on foot to Donwell?--He will have a hot walk."
"Oh! no, it is a meeting at the Crown, a regular meeting. Weston and Cole will be there too; but one is apt to speak only of those who lead.--I fancy Mr. E. and Knightley have every thing their own way."
"Have not you mistaken the day?" said Emma. "I am almost certain that the meeting at the Crown is not till to-morrow.--Mr. Knightley was at Hartfield yesterday, and spoke of it as for Saturday."
"Oh! no, the meeting is certainly to-day," was the abrupt answer, which denoted the impossibility of any blunder on Mrs. Elton's side.-- "I do believe," she continued, "this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove."
"Your parish there was small," said Jane.
"Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of."
"But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children."
"Ah! you clever creature, that's very true. What a thinking brain you have! I say, Jane, what a perfect character you and I should make, if we could be shaken together. My liveliness and your solidity would produce perfection.--Not that I presume to insinuate, however, that _some_ people may not think _you_ perfection already.--But hush!-- not a word, if you please."
It seemed an unnecessary caution; Jane was wanting to give her words, not to Mrs. Elton, but to Miss Woodhouse, as the latter plainly saw. The wish of distinguishing her, as far as civility permitted, was very evident, though it could not often proceed beyond a look.
Mr. Elton made his appearance. His lady greeted him with some of her sparkling vivacity.
"Very pretty, sir, upon my word; to send me on here, to be an encumbrance to my friends, so long before you vouchsafe to come!-- But you knew what a dutiful creature you had to deal with. You knew I should not stir till my lord and master appeared.-- Here have I been sitting this hour, giving these young ladies a sample of true conjugal obedience--for who can say, you know, how soon it may be wanted?"
Mr. Elton was so hot and tired, that all this wit seemed thrown away. His civilities to the other ladies must be paid; but his subsequent object was to lament over himself for the heat he was suffering, and the walk he had had for nothing.
"When I got to Donwell," said he, "Knightley could not be found. Very odd! very unaccountable! after the note I sent him this morning, and the message he returned, that he should certainly be at home till one."
"Donwell!" cried his wife.--"My dear Mr. E., you have not been to Donwell!--You mean the Crown; you come from the meeting at the Crown."
"No, no, that's to-morrow; and I particularly wanted to see Knightley to-day on that very account.--Such a dreadful broiling morning!-- I went over the fields too--(speaking in a tone of great ill-usage,) which made it so much the worse. And then not to find him at home! I assure you I am not at all pleased. And no apology left, no message for me. The housekeeper declared she knew nothing of my being expected.-- Very extraordinary!--And nobody knew at all which way he was gone. Perhaps to Hartfield, perhaps to the Abbey Mill, perhaps into his woods.-- Miss Woodhouse, this is not like our friend Knightley!--Can you explain it?"
Emma amused herself by protesting that it was very extraordinary, indeed, and that she had not a syllable to say for him.
"I cannot imagine," said Mrs. Elton, (feeling the indignity as a wife ought to do,) "I cannot imagine how he could do such a thing by you, of all people in the world! The very last person whom one should expect to be forgotten!--My dear Mr. E., he must have left a message for you, I am sure he must.--Not even Knightley could be so very eccentric;-- and his servants forgot it. Depend upon it, that was the case: and very likely to happen with the Donwell servants, who are all, I have often observed, extremely awkward and remiss.--I am sure I would not have such a creature as his Harry stand at our sideboard for any consideration. And as for Mrs. Hodges, Wright holds her very cheap indeed.--She promised Wright a receipt, and never sent it."
"I met William Larkins," continued Mr. Elton, "as I got near the house, and he told me I should not find his master at home, but I did not believe him.--William seemed rather out of humour. He did not know what was come to his master lately, he said, but he could hardly ever get the speech of him. I have nothing to do with William's wants, but it really is of very great importance that _I_ should see Knightley to-day; and it becomes a matter, therefore, of very serious inconvenience that I should have had this hot walk to no purpose."
Emma felt that she could not do better than go home directly. In all probability she was at this very time waited for there; and Mr. Knightley might be preserved from sinking deeper in aggression towards Mr. Elton, if not towards William Larkins.
She was pleased, on taking leave, to find Miss Fairfax determined to attend her out of the room, to go with her even downstairs; it gave her an opportunity which she immediately made use of, to say,
"It is as well, perhaps, that I have not had the possibility. Had you not been surrounded by other friends, I might have been tempted to introduce a subject, to ask questions, to speak more openly than might have been strictly correct.--I feel that I should certainly have been impertinent."
"Oh!" cried Jane, with a blush and an hesitation which Emma thought infinitely more becoming to her than all the elegance of all her usual composure--"there would have been no danger. The danger would have been of my wearying you. You could not have gratified me more than by expressing an interest--. Indeed, Miss Woodhouse, (speaking more collectedly,) with the consciousness which I have of misconduct, very great misconduct, it is particularly consoling to me to know that those of my friends, whose good opinion is most worth preserving, are not disgusted to such a degree as to--I have not time for half that I could wish to say. I long to make apologies, excuses, to urge something for myself. I feel it so very due. But, unfortunately--in short, if your compassion does not stand my friend--"
"Oh! you are too scrupulous, indeed you are," cried Emma warmly, and taking her hand. "You owe me no apologies; and every body to whom you might be supposed to owe them, is so perfectly satisfied, so delighted even--"
"You are very kind, but I know what my manners were to you.-- So cold and artificial!--I had always a part to act.--It was a life of deceit!--I know that I must have disgusted you."
"Pray say no more. I feel that all the apologies should be on my side. Let us forgive each other at once. We must do whatever is to be done quickest, and I think our feelings will lose no time there. I hope you have pleasant accounts from Windsor?"
"And the next news, I suppose, will be, that we are to lose you-- just as I begin to know you."
"Oh! as to all that, of course nothing can be thought of yet. I am here till claimed by Colonel and Mrs. Campbell."
"Nothing can be actually settled yet, perhaps," replied Emma, smiling--"but, excuse me, it must be thought of."
The smile was returned as Jane answered,
"You are very right; it has been thought of. And I will own to you, (I am sure it will be safe), that so far as our living with Mr. Churchill at Enscombe, it is settled. There must be three months, at least, of deep mourning; but when they are over, I imagine there will be nothing more to wait for."
"Thank you, thank you.--This is just what I wanted to be assured of.-- Oh! if you knew how much I love every thing that is decided and open!-- Good-bye, good-bye."
Mrs. Weston's friends were all made happy by her safety; and if the satisfaction of her well-doing could be increased to Emma, it was by knowing her to be the mother of a little girl. She had been decided in wishing for a Miss Weston. She would not acknowledge that it was with any view of making a match for her, hereafter, with either of Isabella's sons; but she was convinced that a daughter would suit both father and mother best. It would be a great comfort to Mr. Weston, as he grew older-- and even Mr. Weston might be growing older ten years hence--to have his fireside enlivened by the sports and the nonsense, the freaks and the fancies of a child never banished from home; and Mrs. Weston-- no one could doubt that a daughter would be most to her; and it would be quite a pity that any one who so well knew how to teach, should not have their powers in exercise again.
"She has had the advantage, you know, of practising on me," she continued--"like La Baronne d'Almane on La Comtesse d'Ostalis, in Madame de Genlis' Adelaide and Theodore, and we shall now see her own little Adelaide educated on a more perfect plan."
"That is," replied Mr. Knightley, "she will indulge her even more than she did you, and believe that she does not indulge her at all. It will be the only difference."
"Poor child!" cried Emma; "at that rate, what will become of her?"
"Nothing very bad.--The fate of thousands. She will be disagreeable in infancy, and correct herself as she grows older. I am losing all my bitterness against spoilt children, my dearest Emma. I, who am owing all my happiness to _you_, would not it be horrible ingratitude in me to be severe on them?"
Emma laughed, and replied: "But I had the assistance of all your endeavours to counteract the indulgence of other people. I doubt whether my own sense would have corrected me without it."
"Do you?--I have no doubt. Nature gave you understanding:-- Miss Taylor gave you principles. You must have done well. My interference was quite as likely to do harm as good. It was very natural for you to say, what right has he to lecture me?-- and I am afraid very natural for you to feel that it was done in a disagreeable manner. I do not believe I did you any good. The good was all to myself, by making you an object of the tenderest affection to me. I could not think about you so much without doating on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least."
"I am sure you were of use to me," cried Emma. "I was very often influenced rightly by you--oftener than I would own at the time. I am very sure you did me good. And if poor little Anna Weston is to be spoiled, it will be the greatest humanity in you to do as much for her as you have done for me, except falling in love with her when she is thirteen."
"How often, when you were a girl, have you said to me, with one of your saucy looks--`Mr. Knightley, I am going to do so-and-so; papa says I may, or I have Miss Taylor's leave'--something which, you knew, I did not approve. In such cases my interference was giving you two bad feelings instead of one."
"What an amiable creature I was!--No wonder you should hold my speeches in such affectionate remembrance."
"`Mr. Knightley.'--You always called me, `Mr. Knightley;' and, from habit, it has not so very formal a sound.--And yet it is formal. I want you to call me something else, but I do not know what."
"I remember once calling you `George,' in one of my amiable fits, about ten years ago. I did it because I thought it would offend you; but, as you made no objection, I never did it again."
"And cannot you call me `George' now?"
"Impossible!--I never can call you any thing but `Mr. Knightley.' I will not promise even to equal the elegant terseness of Mrs. Elton, by calling you Mr. K.--But I will promise," she added presently, laughing and blushing--"I will promise to call you once by your Christian name. I do not say when, but perhaps you may guess where;--in the building in which N. takes M. for better, for worse."
Emma grieved that she could not be more openly just to one important service which his better sense would have rendered her, to the advice which would have saved her from the worst of all her womanly follies--her wilful intimacy with Harriet Smith; but it was too tender a subject.--She could not enter on it.-- Harriet was very seldom mentioned between them. This, on his side, might merely proceed from her not being thought of; but Emma was rather inclined to attribute it to delicacy, and a suspicion, from some appearances, that their friendship were declining. She was aware herself, that, parting under any other circumstances, they certainly should have corresponded more, and that her intelligence would not have rested, as it now almost wholly did, on Isabella's letters. He might observe that it was so. The pain of being obliged to practise concealment towards him, was very little inferior to the pain of having made Harriet unhappy.
Isabella sent quite as good an account of her visitor as could be expected; on her first arrival she had thought her out of spirits, which appeared perfectly natural, as there was a dentist to be consulted; but, since that business had been over, she did not appear to find Harriet different from what she had known her before.-- Isabella, to be sure, was no very quick observer; yet if Harriet had not been equal to playing with the children, it would not have escaped her. Emma's comforts and hopes were most agreeably carried on, by Harriet's being to stay longer; her fortnight was likely to be a month at least. Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley were to come down in August, and she was invited to remain till they could bring her back.
"John does not even mention your friend," said Mr. Knightley. "Here is his answer, if you like to see it."
It was the answer to the communication of his intended marriage. Emma accepted it with a very eager hand, with an impatience all alive to know what he would say about it, and not at all checked by hearing that her friend was unmentioned.
"John enters like a brother into my happiness," continued Mr. Knightley, "but he is no complimenter; and though I well know him to have, likewise, a most brotherly affection for you, he is so far from making flourishes, that any other young woman might think him rather cool in her praise. But I am not afraid of your seeing what he writes."
"He writes like a sensible man," replied Emma, when she had read the letter. "I honour his sincerity. It is very plain that he considers the good fortune of the engagement as all on my side, but that he is not without hope of my growing, in time, as worthy of your affection, as you think me already. Had he said any thing to bear a different construction, I should not have believed him."
"My Emma, he means no such thing. He only means--"
"He and I should differ very little in our estimation of the two," interrupted she, with a sort of serious smile--"much less, perhaps, than he is aware of, if we could enter without ceremony or reserve on the subject."
"Emma, my dear Emma--"
"Oh!" she cried with more thorough gaiety, "if you fancy your brother does not do me justice, only wait till my dear father is in the secret, and hear his opinion. Depend upon it, he will be much farther from doing _you_ justice. He will think all the happiness, all the advantage, on your side of the question; all the merit on mine. I wish I may not sink into `poor Emma' with him at once.-- His tender compassion towards oppressed worth can go no farther."
"Ah!" he cried, "I wish your father might be half as easily convinced as John will be, of our having every right that equal worth can give, to be happy together. I am amused by one part of John's letter-- did you notice it?--where he says, that my information did not take him wholly by surprize, that he was rather in expectation of hearing something of the kind."
"If I understand your brother, he only means so far as your having some thoughts of marrying. He had no idea of me. He seems perfectly unprepared for that."
"Yes, yes--but I am amused that he should have seen so far into my feelings. What has he been judging by?--I am not conscious of any difference in my spirits or conversation that could prepare him at this time for my marrying any more than at another.-- But it was so, I suppose. I dare say there was a difference when I was staying with them the other day. I believe I did not play with the children quite so much as usual. I remember one evening the poor boys saying, `Uncle seems always tired now.'"
The time was coming when the news must spread farther, and other persons' reception of it tried. As soon as Mrs. Weston was sufficiently recovered to admit Mr. Woodhouse's visits, Emma having it in view that her gentle reasonings should be employed in the cause, resolved first to announce it at home, and then at Randalls.-- But how to break it to her father at last!--She had bound herself to do it, in such an hour of Mr. Knightley's absence, or when it came to the point her heart would have failed her, and she must have put it off; but Mr. Knightley was to come at such a time, and follow up the beginning she was to make.--She was forced to speak, and to speak cheerfully too. She must not make it a more decided subject of misery to him, by a melancholy tone herself. She must not appear to think it a misfortune.--With all the spirits she could command, she prepared him first for something strange, and then, in a few words, said, that if his consent and approbation could be obtained--which, she trusted, would be attended with no difficulty, since it was a plan to promote the happiness of all-- she and Mr. Knightley meant to marry; by which means Hartfield would receive the constant addition of that person's company whom she knew he loved, next to his daughters and Mrs. Weston, best in the world.
Poor man!--it was at first a considerable shock to him, and he tried earnestly to dissuade her from it. She was reminded, more than once, of having always said she would never marry, and assured that it would be a great deal better for her to remain single; and told of poor Isabella, and poor Miss Taylor.--But it would not do. Emma hung about him affectionately, and smiled, and said it must be so; and that he must not class her with Isabella and Mrs. Weston, whose marriages taking them from Hartfield, had, indeed, made a melancholy change: but she was not going from Hartfield; she should be always there; she was introducing no change in their numbers or their comforts but for the better; and she was very sure that he would be a great deal the happier for having Mr. Knightley always at hand, when he were once got used to the idea.--Did he not love Mr. Knightley very much?-- He would not deny that he did, she was sure.--Whom did he ever want to consult on business but Mr. Knightley?--Who was so useful to him, who so ready to write his letters, who so glad to assist him?-- Who so cheerful, so attentive, so attached to him?--Would not he like to have him always on the spot?--Yes. That was all very true. Mr. Knightley could not be there too often; he should be glad to see him every day;--but they did see him every day as it was.--Why could not they go on as they had done?
Mr. Woodhouse could not be soon reconciled; but the worst was overcome, the idea was given; time and continual repetition must do the rest.-- To Emma's entreaties and assurances succeeded Mr. Knightley's, whose fond praise of her gave the subject even a kind of welcome; and he was soon used to be talked to by each, on every fair occasion.-- They had all the assistance which Isabella could give, by letters of the strongest approbation; and Mrs. Weston was ready, on the first meeting, to consider the subject in the most serviceable light--first, as a settled, and, secondly, as a good one-- well aware of the nearly equal importance of the two recommendations to Mr. Woodhouse's mind.--It was agreed upon, as what was to be; and every body by whom he was used to be guided assuring him that it would be for his happiness; and having some feelings himself which almost admitted it, he began to think that some time or other-- in another year or two, perhaps--it might not be so very bad if the marriage did take place.
Mrs. Weston was acting no part, feigning no feelings in all that she said to him in favour of the event.--She had been extremely surprized, never more so, than when Emma first opened the affair to her; but she saw in it only increase of happiness to all, and had no scruple in urging him to the utmost.--She had such a regard for Mr. Knightley, as to think he deserved even her dearest Emma; and it was in every respect so proper, suitable, and unexceptionable a connexion, and in one respect, one point of the highest importance, so peculiarly eligible, so singularly fortunate, that now it seemed as if Emma could not safely have attached herself to any other creature, and that she had herself been the stupidest of beings in not having thought of it, and wished it long ago.--How very few of those men in a rank of life to address Emma would have renounced their own home for Hartfield! And who but Mr. Knightley could know and bear with Mr. Woodhouse, so as to make such an arrangement desirable!-- The difficulty of disposing of poor Mr. Woodhouse had been always felt in her husband's plans and her own, for a marriage between Frank and Emma. How to settle the claims of Enscombe and Hartfield had been a continual impediment--less acknowledged by Mr. Weston than by herself--but even he had never been able to finish the subject better than by saying--"Those matters will take care of themselves; the young people will find a way." But here there was nothing to be shifted off in a wild speculation on the future. It was all right, all open, all equal. No sacrifice on any side worth the name. It was a union of the highest promise of felicity in itself, and without one real, rational difficulty to oppose or delay it.
Mrs. Weston, with her baby on her knee, indulging in such reflections as these, was one of the happiest women in the world. If any thing could increase her delight, it was perceiving that the baby would soon have outgrown its first set of caps.
The news was universally a surprize wherever it spread; and Mr. Weston had his five minutes share of it; but five minutes were enough to familiarise the idea to his quickness of mind.-- He saw the advantages of the match, and rejoiced in them with all the constancy of his wife; but the wonder of it was very soon nothing; and by the end of an hour he was not far from believing that he had always foreseen it.
"It is to be a secret, I conclude," said he. "These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out.--I wonder whether Jane has any suspicion."
He went to Highbury the next morning, and satisfied himself on that point. He told her the news. Was not she like a daughter, his eldest daughter?--he must tell her; and Miss Bates being present, it passed, of course, to Mrs. Cole, Mrs. Perry, and Mrs. Elton, immediately afterwards. It was no more than the principals were prepared for; they had calculated from the time of its being known at Randalls, how soon it would be over Highbury; and were thinking of themselves, as the evening wonder in many a family circle, with great sagacity.
In general, it was a very well approved match. Some might think him, and others might think her, the most in luck. One set might recommend their all removing to Donwell, and leaving Hartfield for the John Knightleys; and another might predict disagreements among their servants; but yet, upon the whole, there was no serious objection raised, except in one habitation, the Vicarage.--There, the surprize was not softened by any satisfaction. Mr. Elton cared little about it, compared with his wife; he only hoped "the young lady's pride would now be contented;" and supposed "she had always meant to catch Knightley if she could;" and, on the point of living at Hartfield, could daringly exclaim, "Rather he than I!"-- But Mrs. Elton was very much discomposed indeed.--"Poor Knightley! poor fellow!--sad business for him.--She was extremely concerned; for, though very eccentric, he had a thousand good qualities.-- How could he be so taken in?--Did not think him at all in love-- not in the least.--Poor Knightley!--There would be an end of all pleasant intercourse with him.--How happy he had been to come and dine with them whenever they asked him! But that would be all over now.-- Poor fellow!--No more exploring parties to Donwell made for _her_. Oh! no; there would be a Mrs. Knightley to throw cold water on every thing.--Extremely disagreeable! But she was not at all sorry that she had abused the housekeeper the other day.--Shocking plan, living together. It would never do. She knew a family near Maple Grove who had tried it, and been obliged to separate before the end of the first quarter.
Time passed on. A few more to-morrows, and the party from London would be arriving. It was an alarming change; and Emma was thinking of it one morning, as what must bring a great deal to agitate and grieve her, when Mr. Knightley came in, and distressing thoughts were put by. After the first chat of pleasure he was silent; and then, in a graver tone, began with,
"I have something to tell you, Emma; some news."
"Good or bad?" said she, quickly, looking up in his face.
"I do not know which it ought to be called."
"Oh! good I am sure.--I see it in your countenance. You are trying not to smile."
"I am afraid," said he, composing his features, "I am very much afraid, my dear Emma, that you will not smile when you hear it."
"Indeed! but why so?--I can hardly imagine that any thing which pleases or amuses you, should not please and amuse me too."
"There is one subject," he replied, "I hope but one, on which we do not think alike." He paused a moment, again smiling, with his eyes fixed on her face. "Does nothing occur to you?-- Do not you recollect?--Harriet Smith."
Her cheeks flushed at the name, and she felt afraid of something, though she knew not what.
"Have you heard from her yourself this morning?" cried he. "You have, I believe, and know the whole."
"No, I have not; I know nothing; pray tell me."
"You are prepared for the worst, I see--and very bad it is. Harriet Smith marries Robert Martin."
Emma gave a start, which did not seem like being prepared-- and her eyes, in eager gaze, said, "No, this is impossible!" but her lips were closed.
"It is so, indeed," continued Mr. Knightley; "I have it from Robert Martin himself. He left me not half an hour ago."
She was still looking at him with the most speaking amazement.
"You like it, my Emma, as little as I feared.--I wish our opinions were the same. But in time they will. Time, you may be sure, will make one or the other of us think differently; and, in the meanwhile, we need not talk much on the subject."
"You mistake me, you quite mistake me," she replied, exerting herself. "It is not that such a circumstance would now make me unhappy, but I cannot believe it. It seems an impossibility!--You cannot mean to say, that Harriet Smith has accepted Robert Martin. You cannot mean that he has even proposed to her again--yet. You only mean, that he intends it."
"I mean that he has done it," answered Mr. Knightley, with smiling but determined decision, "and been accepted."
"Good God!" she cried.--"Well!"--Then having recourse to her workbasket, in excuse for leaning down her face, and concealing all the exquisite feelings of delight and entertainment which she knew she must be expressing, she added, "Well, now tell me every thing; make this intelligible to me. How, where, when?--Let me know it all. I never was more surprized--but it does not make me unhappy, I assure you.--How--how has it been possible?"
"It is a very simple story. He went to town on business three days ago, and I got him to take charge of some papers which I was wanting to send to John.--He delivered these papers to John, at his chambers, and was asked by him to join their party the same evening to Astley's. They were going to take the two eldest boys to Astley's. The party was to be our brother and sister, Henry, John--and Miss Smith. My friend Robert could not resist. They called for him in their way; were all extremely amused; and my brother asked him to dine with them the next day--which he did--and in the course of that visit (as I understand) he found an opportunity of speaking to Harriet; and certainly did not speak in vain.--She made him, by her acceptance, as happy even as he is deserving. He came down by yesterday's coach, and was with me this morning immediately after breakfast, to report his proceedings, first on my affairs, and then on his own. This is all that I can relate of the how, where, and when. Your friend Harriet will make a much longer history when you see her.-- She will give you all the minute particulars, which only woman's language can make interesting.--In our communications we deal only in the great.--However, I must say, that Robert Martin's heart seemed for _him_, and to _me_, very overflowing; and that he did mention, without its being much to the purpose, that on quitting their box at Astley's, my brother took charge of Mrs. John Knightley and little John, and he followed with Miss Smith and Henry; and that at one time they were in such a crowd, as to make Miss Smith rather uneasy."
He stopped.--Emma dared not attempt any immediate reply. To speak, she was sure would be to betray a most unreasonable degree of happiness. She must wait a moment, or he would think her mad. Her silence disturbed him; and after observing her a little while, he added,
"Emma, my love, you said that this circumstance would not now make you unhappy; but I am afraid it gives you more pain than you expected. His situation is an evil--but you must consider it as what satisfies your friend; and I will answer for your thinking better and better of him as you know him more. His good sense and good principles would delight you.--As far as the man is concerned, you could not wish your friend in better hands. His rank in society I would alter if I could, which is saying a great deal I assure you, Emma.--You laugh at me about William Larkins; but I could quite as ill spare Robert Martin."
He wanted her to look up and smile; and having now brought herself not to smile too broadly--she did--cheerfully answering,
"You need not be at any pains to reconcile me to the match. I think Harriet is doing extremely well. _Her_ connexions may be worse than _his_. In respectability of character, there can be no doubt that they are. I have been silent from surprize merely, excessive surprize. You cannot imagine how suddenly it has come on me! how peculiarly unprepared I was!--for I had reason to believe her very lately more determined against him, much more, than she was before."
"You ought to know your friend best," replied Mr. Knightley; "but I should say she was a good-tempered, soft-hearted girl, not likely to be very, very determined against any young man who told her he loved her."
Emma could not help laughing as she answered, "Upon my word, I believe you know her quite as well as I do.--But, Mr. Knightley, are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright _accepted_ him. I could suppose she might in time--but can she already?-- Did not you misunderstand him?--You were both talking of other things; of business, shows of cattle, or new drills--and might not you, in the confusion of so many subjects, mistake him?--It was not Harriet's hand that he was certain of--it was the dimensions of some famous ox."
The contrast between the countenance and air of Mr. Knightley and Robert Martin was, at this moment, so strong to Emma's feelings, and so strong was the recollection of all that had so recently passed on Harriet's side, so fresh the sound of those words, spoken with such emphasis, "No, I hope I know better than to think of Robert Martin," that she was really expecting the intelligence to prove, in some measure, premature. It could not be otherwise.
"Do you dare say this?" cried Mr. Knightley. "Do you dare to suppose me so great a blockhead, as not to know what a man is talking of?-- What do you deserve?"
"Oh! I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other; and, therefore, you must give me a plain, direct answer. Are you quite sure that you understand the terms on which Mr. Martin and Harriet now are?"
"I am quite sure," he replied, speaking very distinctly, "that he told me she had accepted him; and that there was no obscurity, nothing doubtful, in the words he used; and I think I can give you a proof that it must be so. He asked my opinion as to what he was now to do. He knew of no one but Mrs. Goddard to whom he could apply for information of her relations or friends. Could I mention any thing more fit to be done, than to go to Mrs. Goddard? I assured him that I could not. Then, he said, he would endeavour to see her in the course of this day."
"I am perfectly satisfied," replied Emma, with the brightest smiles, "and most sincerely wish them happy."
"You are materially changed since we talked on this subject before."
"I hope so--for at that time I was a fool."
"And I am changed also; for I am now very willing to grant you all Harriet's good qualities. I have taken some pains for your sake, and for Robert Martin's sake, (whom I have always had reason to believe as much in love with her as ever,) to get acquainted with her. I have often talked to her a good deal. You must have seen that I did. Sometimes, indeed, I have thought you were half suspecting me of pleading poor Martin's cause, which was never the case; but, from all my observations, I am convinced of her being an artless, amiable girl, with very good notions, very seriously good principles, and placing her happiness in the affections and utility of domestic life.-- Much of this, I have no doubt, she may thank you for."
"Me!" cried Emma, shaking her head.--"Ah! poor Harriet!"
She checked herself, however, and submitted quietly to a little more praise than she deserved.
Their conversation was soon afterwards closed by the entrance of her father. She was not sorry. She wanted to be alone. Her mind was in a state of flutter and wonder, which made it impossible for her to be collected. She was in dancing, singing, exclaiming spirits; and till she had moved about, and talked to herself, and laughed and reflected, she could be fit for nothing rational.
Her father's business was to announce James's being gone out to put the horses to, preparatory to their now daily drive to Randalls; and she had, therefore, an immediate excuse for disappearing.
The joy, the gratitude, the exquisite delight of her sensations may be imagined. The sole grievance and alloy thus removed in the prospect of Harriet's welfare, she was really in danger of becoming too happy for security.--What had she to wish for? Nothing, but to grow more worthy of him, whose intentions and judgment had been ever so superior to her own. Nothing, but that the lessons of her past folly might teach her humility and circumspection in future.
Serious she was, very serious in her thankfulness, and in her resolutions; and yet there was no preventing a laugh, sometimes in the very midst of them. She must laugh at such a close! Such an end of the doleful disappointment of five weeks back! Such a heart--such a Harriet!
Now there would be pleasure in her returning--Every thing would be a pleasure. It would be a great pleasure to know Robert Martin.
High in the rank of her most serious and heartfelt felicities, was the reflection that all necessity of concealment from Mr. Knightley would soon be over. The disguise, equivocation, mystery, so hateful to her to practise, might soon be over. She could now look forward to giving him that full and perfect confidence which her disposition was most ready to welcome as a duty.
In the gayest and happiest spirits she set forward with her father; not always listening, but always agreeing to what he said; and, whether in speech or silence, conniving at the comfortable persuasion of his being obliged to go to Randalls every day, or poor Mrs. Weston would be disappointed.
They arrived.--Mrs. Weston was alone in the drawing-room:-- but hardly had they been told of the baby, and Mr. Woodhouse received the thanks for coming, which he asked for, when a glimpse was caught through the blind, of two figures passing near the window.
"It is Frank and Miss Fairfax," said Mrs. Weston. "I was just going to tell you of our agreeable surprize in seeing him arrive this morning. He stays till to-morrow, and Miss Fairfax has been persuaded to spend the day with us.--They are coming in, I hope."
In half a minute they were in the room. Emma was extremely glad to see him--but there was a degree of confusion--a number of embarrassing recollections on each side. They met readily and smiling, but with a consciousness which at first allowed little to be said; and having all sat down again, there was for some time such a blank in the circle, that Emma began to doubt whether the wish now indulged, which she had long felt, of seeing Frank Churchill once more, and of seeing him with Jane, would yield its proportion of pleasure. When Mr. Weston joined the party, however, and when the baby was fetched, there was no longer a want of subject or animation-- or of courage and opportunity for Frank Churchill to draw near her and say,
"I have to thank you, Miss Woodhouse, for a very kind forgiving message in one of Mrs. Weston's letters. I hope time has not made you less willing to pardon. I hope you do not retract what you then said."
"No, indeed," cried Emma, most happy to begin, "not in the least. I am particularly glad to see and shake hands with you--and to give you joy in person."
He thanked her with all his heart, and continued some time to speak with serious feeling of his gratitude and happiness.
"Is not she looking well?" said he, turning his eyes towards Jane. "Better than she ever used to do?--You see how my father and Mrs. Weston doat upon her."
But his spirits were soon rising again, and with laughing eyes, after mentioning the expected return of the Campbells, he named the name of Dixon.--Emma blushed, and forbade its being pronounced in her hearing.
"I can never think of it," she cried, "without extreme shame."
"The shame," he answered, "is all mine, or ought to be. But is it possible that you had no suspicion?--I mean of late. Early, I know, you had none."
"I never had the smallest, I assure you."
"That appears quite wonderful. I was once very near--and I wish I had-- it would have been better. But though I was always doing wrong things, they were very bad wrong things, and such as did me no service.-- It would have been a much better transgression had I broken the bond of secrecy and told you every thing."
"It is not now worth a regret," said Emma.
"I have some hope," resumed he, "of my uncle's being persuaded to pay a visit at Randalls; he wants to be introduced to her. When the Campbells are returned, we shall meet them in London, and continue there, I trust, till we may carry her northward.--But now, I am at such a distance from her--is not it hard, Miss Woodhouse?-- Till this morning, we have not once met since the day of reconciliation. Do not you pity me?"
Emma spoke her pity so very kindly, that with a sudden accession of gay thought, he cried,
"Ah! by the bye," then sinking his voice, and looking demure for the moment--"I hope Mr. Knightley is well?" He paused.--She coloured and laughed.--"I know you saw my letter, and think you may remember my wish in your favour. Let me return your congratulations.-- I assure you that I have heard the news with the warmest interest and satisfaction.--He is a man whom I cannot presume to praise."
Emma was delighted, and only wanted him to go on in the same style; but his mind was the next moment in his own concerns and with his own Jane, and his next words were,
"Did you ever see such a skin?--such smoothness! such delicacy!-- and yet without being actually fair.--One cannot call her fair. It is a most uncommon complexion, with her dark eye-lashes and hair-- a most distinguishing complexion! So peculiarly the lady in it.-- Just colour enough for beauty."
"I have always admired her complexion," replied Emma, archly; "but do not I remember the time when you found fault with her for being so pale?-- When we first began to talk of her.--Have you quite forgotten?"
"Oh! no--what an impudent dog I was!--How could I dare--"
But he laughed so heartily at the recollection, that Emma could not help saying,
"I do suspect that in the midst of your perplexities at that time, you had very great amusement in tricking us all.--I am sure you had.-- I am sure it was a consolation to you."
"Oh! no, no, no--how can you suspect me of such a thing? I was the most miserable wretch!"
"Not quite so miserable as to be insensible to mirth. I am sure it was a source of high entertainment to you, to feel that you were taking us all in.--Perhaps I am the readier to suspect, because, to tell you the truth, I think it might have been some amusement to myself in the same situation. I think there is a little likeness between us."
"If not in our dispositions," she presently added, with a look of true sensibility, "there is a likeness in our destiny; the destiny which bids fair to connect us with two characters so much superior to our own."
"True, true," he answered, warmly. "No, not true on your side. You can have no superior, but most true on mine.--She is a complete angel. Look at her. Is not she an angel in every gesture? Observe the turn of her throat. Observe her eyes, as she is looking up at my father.-- You will be glad to hear (inclining his head, and whispering seriously) that my uncle means to give her all my aunt's jewels. They are to be new set. I am resolved to have some in an ornament for the head. Will not it be beautiful in her dark hair?"
"Very beautiful, indeed," replied Emma; and she spoke so kindly, that he gratefully burst out,
"How delighted I am to see you again! and to see you in such excellent looks!--I would not have missed this meeting for the world. I should certainly have called at Hartfield, had you failed to come."
The others had been talking of the child, Mrs. Weston giving an account of a little alarm she had been under, the evening before, from the infant's appearing not quite well. She believed she had been foolish, but it had alarmed her, and she had been within half a minute of sending for Mr. Perry. Perhaps she ought to be ashamed, but Mr. Weston had been almost as uneasy as herself.--In ten minutes, however, the child had been perfectly well again. This was her history; and particularly interesting it was to Mr. Woodhouse, who commended her very much for thinking of sending for Perry, and only regretted that she had not done it. "She should always send for Perry, if the child appeared in the slightest degree disordered, were it only for a moment. She could not be too soon alarmed, nor send for Perry too often. It was a pity, perhaps, that he had not come last night; for, though the child seemed well now, very well considering, it would probably have been better if Perry had seen it."
Frank Churchill caught the name.
"Perry!" said he to Emma, and trying, as he spoke, to catch Miss Fairfax's eye. "My friend Mr. Perry! What are they saying about Mr. Perry?--Has he been here this morning?--And how does he travel now?--Has he set up his carriage?"
Emma soon recollected, and understood him; and while she joined in the laugh, it was evident from Jane's countenance that she too was really hearing him, though trying to seem deaf.
"Such an extraordinary dream of mine!" he cried. "I can never think of it without laughing.--She hears us, she hears us, Miss Woodhouse. I see it in her cheek, her smile, her vain attempt to frown. Look at her. Do not you see that, at this instant, the very passage of her own letter, which sent me the report, is passing under her eye-- that the whole blunder is spread before her--that she can attend to nothing else, though pretending to listen to the others?"
Jane was forced to smile completely, for a moment; and the smile partly remained as she turned towards him, and said in a conscious, low, yet steady voice,
"How you can bear such recollections, is astonishing to me!-- They _will_ sometimes obtrude--but how you can court them!"
He had a great deal to say in return, and very entertainingly; but Emma's feelings were chiefly with Jane, in the argument; and on leaving Randalls, and falling naturally into a comparison of the two men, she felt, that pleased as she had been to see Frank Churchill, and really regarding him as she did with friendship, she had never been more sensible of Mr. Knightley's high superiority of character. The happiness of this most happy day, received its completion, in the animated contemplation of his worth which this comparison produced.
If Emma had still, at intervals, an anxious feeling for Harriet, a momentary doubt of its being possible for her to be really cured of her attachment to Mr. Knightley, and really able to accept another man from unbiased inclination, it was not long that she had to suffer from the recurrence of any such uncertainty. A very few days brought the party from London, and she had no sooner an opportunity of being one hour alone with Harriet, than she became perfectly satisfied--unaccountable as it was!-- that Robert Martin had thoroughly supplanted Mr. Knightley, and was now forming all her views of happiness.
Harriet was a little distressed--did look a little foolish at first: but having once owned that she had been presumptuous and silly, and self-deceived, before, her pain and confusion seemed to die away with the words, and leave her without a care for the past, and with the fullest exultation in the present and future; for, as to her friend's approbation, Emma had instantly removed every fear of that nature, by meeting her with the most unqualified congratulations.-- Harriet was most happy to give every particular of the evening at Astley's, and the dinner the next day; she could dwell on it all with the utmost delight. But what did such particulars explain?-- The fact was, as Emma could now acknowledge, that Harriet had always liked Robert Martin; and that his continuing to love her had been irresistible.--Beyond this, it must ever be unintelligible to Emma.
The event, however, was most joyful; and every day was giving her fresh reason for thinking so.--Harriet's parentage became known. She proved to be the daughter of a tradesman, rich enough to afford her the comfortable maintenance which had ever been hers, and decent enough to have always wished for concealment.--Such was the blood of gentility which Emma had formerly been so ready to vouch for!-- It was likely to be as untainted, perhaps, as the blood of many a gentleman: but what a connexion had she been preparing for Mr. Knightley--or for the Churchills--or even for Mr. Elton!-- The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.
No objection was raised on the father's side; the young man was treated liberally; it was all as it should be: and as Emma became acquainted with Robert Martin, who was now introduced at Hartfield, she fully acknowledged in him all the appearance of sense and worth which could bid fairest for her little friend. She had no doubt of Harriet's happiness with any good-tempered man; but with him, and in the home he offered, there would be the hope of more, of security, stability, and improvement. She would be placed in the midst of those who loved her, and who had better sense than herself; retired enough for safety, and occupied enough for cheerfulness. She would be never led into temptation, nor left for it to find her out. She would be respectable and happy; and Emma admitted her to be the luckiest creature in the world, to have created so steady and persevering an affection in such a man;--or, if not quite the luckiest, to yield only to herself.
Harriet, necessarily drawn away by her engagements with the Martins, was less and less at Hartfield; which was not to be regretted.-- The intimacy between her and Emma must sink; their friendship must change into a calmer sort of goodwill; and, fortunately, what ought to be, and must be, seemed already beginning, and in the most gradual, natural manner.
Before the end of September, Emma attended Harriet to church, and saw her hand bestowed on Robert Martin with so complete a satisfaction, as no remembrances, even connected with Mr. Elton as he stood before them, could impair.--Perhaps, indeed, at that time she scarcely saw Mr. Elton, but as the clergyman whose blessing at the altar might next fall on herself.--Robert Martin and Harriet Smith, the latest couple engaged of the three, were the first to be married.
Jane Fairfax had already quitted Highbury, and was restored to the comforts of her beloved home with the Campbells.--The Mr. Churchills were also in town; and they were only waiting for November.
The intermediate month was the one fixed on, as far as they dared, by Emma and Mr. Knightley.--They had determined that their marriage ought to be concluded while John and Isabella were still at Hartfield, to allow them the fortnight's absence in a tour to the seaside, which was the plan.--John and Isabella, and every other friend, were agreed in approving it. But Mr. Woodhouse--how was Mr. Woodhouse to be induced to consent?--he, who had never yet alluded to their marriage but as a distant event.
When first sounded on the subject, he was so miserable, that they were almost hopeless.--A second allusion, indeed, gave less pain.-- He began to think it was to be, and that he could not prevent it-- a very promising step of the mind on its way to resignation. Still, however, he was not happy. Nay, he appeared so much otherwise, that his daughter's courage failed. She could not bear to see him suffering, to know him fancying himself neglected; and though her understanding almost acquiesced in the assurance of both the Mr. Knightleys, that when once the event were over, his distress would be soon over too, she hesitated--she could not proceed.
In this state of suspense they were befriended, not by any sudden illumination of Mr. Woodhouse's mind, or any wonderful change of his nervous system, but by the operation of the same system in another way.-- Mrs. Weston's poultry-house was robbed one night of all her turkeys-- evidently by the ingenuity of man. Other poultry-yards in the neighbourhood also suffered.--Pilfering was _housebreaking_ to Mr. Woodhouse's fears.--He was very uneasy; and but for the sense of his son-in-law's protection, would have been under wretched alarm every night of his life. The strength, resolution, and presence of mind of the Mr. Knightleys, commanded his fullest dependence. While either of them protected him and his, Hartfield was safe.-- But Mr. John Knightley must be in London again by the end of the first week in November.
The result of this distress was, that, with a much more voluntary, cheerful consent than his daughter had ever presumed to hope for at the moment, she was able to fix her wedding-day--and Mr. Elton was called on, within a month from the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Martin, to join the hands of Mr. Knightley and Miss Woodhouse.
The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.--"Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!--Selina would stare when she heard of it."--But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.