After being long fed with hopes of a speedy visit from Mr. and Mrs. Suckling, the Highbury world were obliged to endure the mortification of hearing that they could not possibly come till the autumn. No such importation of novelties could enrich their intellectual stores at present. In the daily interchange of news, they must be again restricted to the other topics with which for a while the Sucklings' coming had been united, such as the last accounts of Mrs. Churchill, whose health seemed every day to supply a different report, and the situation of Mrs. Weston, whose happiness it was to be hoped might eventually be as much increased by the arrival of a child, as that of all her neighbours was by the approach of it.
Mrs. Elton was very much disappointed. It was the delay of a great deal of pleasure and parade. Her introductions and recommendations must all wait, and every projected party be still only talked of. So she thought at first;--but a little consideration convinced her that every thing need not be put off. Why should not they explore to Box Hill though the Sucklings did not come? They could go there again with them in the autumn. It was settled that they should go to Box Hill. That there was to be such a party had been long generally known: it had even given the idea of another. Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what every body found so well worth seeing, and she and Mr. Weston had agreed to chuse some fine morning and drive thither. Two or three more of the chosen only were to be admitted to join them, and it was to be done in a quiet, unpretending, elegant way, infinitely superior to the bustle and preparation, the regular eating and drinking, and picnic parade of the Eltons and the Sucklings.
This was so very well understood between them, that Emma could not but feel some surprise, and a little displeasure, on hearing from Mr. Weston that he had been proposing to Mrs. Elton, as her brother and sister had failed her, that the two parties should unite, and go together; and that as Mrs. Elton had very readily acceded to it, so it was to be, if she had no objection. Now, as her objection was nothing but her very great dislike of Mrs. Elton, of which Mr. Weston must already be perfectly aware, it was not worth bringing forward again:--it could not be done without a reproof to him, which would be giving pain to his wife; and she found herself therefore obliged to consent to an arrangement which she would have done a great deal to avoid; an arrangement which would probably expose her even to the degradation of being said to be of Mrs. Elton's party! Every feeling was offended; and the forbearance of her outward submission left a heavy arrear due of secret severity in her reflections on the unmanageable goodwill of Mr. Weston's temper.
"I am glad you approve of what I have done," said he very comfortably. "But I thought you would. Such schemes as these are nothing without numbers. One cannot have too large a party. A large party secures its own amusement. And she is a good-natured woman after all. One could not leave her out."
Emma denied none of it aloud, and agreed to none of it in private.
It was now the middle of June, and the weather fine; and Mrs. Elton was growing impatient to name the day, and settle with Mr. Weston as to pigeon-pies and cold lamb, when a lame carriage-horse threw every thing into sad uncertainty. It might be weeks, it might be only a few days, before the horse were useable; but no preparations could be ventured on, and it was all melancholy stagnation. Mrs. Elton's resources were inadequate to such an attack.
"Is not this most vexations, Knightley?" she cried.--"And such weather for exploring!--These delays and disappointments are quite odious. What are we to do?--The year will wear away at this rate, and nothing done. Before this time last year I assure you we had had a delightful exploring party from Maple Grove to Kings Weston."
"You had better explore to Donwell," replied Mr. Knightley. "That may be done without horses. Come, and eat my strawberries. They are ripening fast."
If Mr. Knightley did not begin seriously, he was obliged to proceed so, for his proposal was caught at with delight; and the "Oh! I should like it of all things," was not plainer in words than manner. Donwell was famous for its strawberry-beds, which seemed a plea for the invitation: but no plea was necessary; cabbage-beds would have been enough to tempt the lady, who only wanted to be going somewhere. She promised him again and again to come--much oftener than he doubted--and was extremely gratified by such a proof of intimacy, such a distinguishing compliment as she chose to consider it.
"You may depend upon me," said she. "I certainly will come. Name your day, and I will come. You will allow me to bring Jane Fairfax?"
"I cannot name a day," said he, "till I have spoken to some others whom I would wish to meet you."
"Oh! leave all that to me. Only give me a carte-blanche.--I am Lady Patroness, you know. It is my party. I will bring friends with me."
"I hope you will bring Elton," said he: "but I will not trouble you to give any other invitations."
"Oh! now you are looking very sly. But consider--you need not be afraid of delegating power to _me_. I am no young lady on her preferment. Married women, you know, may be safely authorised. It is my party. Leave it all to me. I will invite your guests."
"No,"--he calmly replied,--"there is but one married woman in the world whom I can ever allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell, and that one is--"
"--Mrs. Weston, I suppose," interrupted Mrs. Elton, rather mortified.
"No--Mrs. Knightley;--and till she is in being, I will manage such matters myself."
"Ah! you are an odd creature!" she cried, satisfied to have no one preferred to herself.--"You are a humourist, and may say what you like. Quite a humourist. Well, I shall bring Jane with me-- Jane and her aunt.--The rest I leave to you. I have no objections at all to meeting the Hartfield family. Don't scruple. I know you are attached to them."
"You certainly will meet them if I can prevail; and I shall call on Miss Bates in my way home."
"That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day:--but as you like. It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here,--probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see. And Jane will have such another. There is to be no form or parade--a sort of gipsy party. We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees;--and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors--a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible. Is not that your idea?"
"Not quite. My idea of the simple and the natural will be to have the table spread in the dining-room. The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house."
"Well--as you please; only don't have a great set out. And, by the bye, can I or my housekeeper be of any use to you with our opinion?-- Pray be sincere, Knightley. If you wish me to talk to Mrs. Hodges, or to inspect anything--"
"I have not the least wish for it, I thank you."
"Well--but if any difficulties should arise, my housekeeper is extremely clever."
"I will answer for it, that mine thinks herself full as clever, and would spurn any body's assistance."
"I wish we had a donkey. The thing would be for us all to come on donkeys, Jane, Miss Bates, and me--and my caro sposo walking by. I really must talk to him about purchasing a donkey. In a country life I conceive it to be a sort of necessary; for, let a woman have ever so many resources, it is not possible for her to be always shut up at home;--and very long walks, you know--in summer there is dust, and in winter there is dirt."
"You will not find either, between Donwell and Highbury. Donwell Lane is never dusty, and now it is perfectly dry. Come on a donkey, however, if you prefer it. You can borrow Mrs. Cole's. I would wish every thing to be as much to your taste as possible."
"That I am sure you would. Indeed I do you justice, my good friend. Under that peculiar sort of dry, blunt manner, I know you have the warmest heart. As I tell Mr. E., you are a thorough humourist.-- Yes, believe me, Knightley, I am fully sensible of your attention to me in the whole of this scheme. You have hit upon the very thing to please me."
Mr. Knightley had another reason for avoiding a table in the shade. He wished to persuade Mr. Woodhouse, as well as Emma, to join the party; and he knew that to have any of them sitting down out of doors to eat would inevitably make him ill. Mr. Woodhouse must not, under the specious pretence of a morning drive, and an hour or two spent at Donwell, be tempted away to his misery.
He was invited on good faith. No lurking horrors were to upbraid him for his easy credulity. He did consent. He had not been at Donwell for two years. "Some very fine morning, he, and Emma, and Harriet, could go very well; and he could sit still with Mrs. Weston, while the dear girls walked about the gardens. He did not suppose they could be damp now, in the middle of the day. He should like to see the old house again exceedingly, and should be very happy to meet Mr. and Mrs. Elton, and any other of his neighbours.--He could not see any objection at all to his, and Emma's, and Harriet's going there some very fine morning. He thought it very well done of Mr. Knightley to invite them-- very kind and sensible--much cleverer than dining out.--He was not fond of dining out."
Mr. Knightley was fortunate in every body's most ready concurrence. The invitation was everywhere so well received, that it seemed as if, like Mrs. Elton, they were all taking the scheme as a particular compliment to themselves.--Emma and Harriet professed very high expectations of pleasure from it; and Mr. Weston, unasked, promised to get Frank over to join them, if possible; a proof of approbation and gratitude which could have been dispensed with.-- Mr. Knightley was then obliged to say that he should be glad to see him; and Mr. Weston engaged to lose no time in writing, and spare no arguments to induce him to come.
In the meanwhile the lame horse recovered so fast, that the party to Box Hill was again under happy consideration; and at last Donwell was settled for one day, and Box Hill for the next,--the weather appearing exactly right.
Under a bright mid-day sun, at almost Midsummer, Mr. Woodhouse was safely conveyed in his carriage, with one window down, to partake of this al-fresco party; and in one of the most comfortable rooms in the Abbey, especially prepared for him by a fire all the morning, he was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved, and advise every body to come and sit down, and not to heat themselves.-- Mrs. Weston, who seemed to have walked there on purpose to be tired, and sit all the time with him, remained, when all the others were invited or persuaded out, his patient listener and sympathiser.
It was so long since Emma had been at the Abbey, that as soon as she was satisfied of her father's comfort, she was glad to leave him, and look around her; eager to refresh and correct her memory with more particular observation, more exact understanding of a house and grounds which must ever be so interesting to her and all her family.
She felt all the honest pride and complacency which her alliance with the present and future proprietor could fairly warrant, as she viewed the respectable size and style of the building, its suitable, becoming, characteristic situation, low and sheltered-- its ample gardens stretching down to meadows washed by a stream, of which the Abbey, with all the old neglect of prospect, had scarcely a sight--and its abundance of timber in rows and avenues, which neither fashion nor extravagance had rooted up.--The house was larger than Hartfield, and totally unlike it, covering a good deal of ground, rambling and irregular, with many comfortable, and one or two handsome rooms.--It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was--and Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding.--Some faults of temper John Knightley had; but Isabella had connected herself unexceptionably. She had given them neither men, nor names, nor places, that could raise a blush. These were pleasant feelings, and she walked about and indulged them till it was necessary to do as the others did, and collect round the strawberry-beds.--The whole party were assembled, excepting Frank Churchill, who was expected every moment from Richmond; and Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking--strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.--"The best fruit in England-- every body's favourite--always wholesome.--These the finest beds and finest sorts.--Delightful to gather for one's self--the only way of really enjoying them.--Morning decidedly the best time--never tired-- every sort good--hautboy infinitely superior--no comparison-- the others hardly eatable--hautboys very scarce--Chili preferred-- white wood finest flavour of all--price of strawberries in London-- abundance about Bristol--Maple Grove--cultivation--beds when to be renewed--gardeners thinking exactly different--no general rule-- gardeners never to be put out of their way--delicious fruit-- only too rich to be eaten much of--inferior to cherries-- currants more refreshing--only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping--glaring sun--tired to death--could bear it no longer-- must go and sit in the shade."
Such, for half an hour, was the conversation--interrupted only once by Mrs. Weston, who came out, in her solicitude after her son-in-law, to inquire if he were come--and she was a little uneasy.-- She had some fears of his horse.
Seats tolerably in the shade were found; and now Emma was obliged to overhear what Mrs. Elton and Jane Fairfax were talking of.-- A situation, a most desirable situation, was in question. Mrs. Elton had received notice of it that morning, and was in raptures. It was not with Mrs. Suckling, it was not with Mrs. Bragge, but in felicity and splendour it fell short only of them: it was with a cousin of Mrs. Bragge, an acquaintance of Mrs. Suckling, a lady known at Maple Grove. Delightful, charming, superior, first circles, spheres, lines, ranks, every thing--and Mrs. Elton was wild to have the offer closed with immediately.--On her side, all was warmth, energy, and triumph--and she positively refused to take her friend's negative, though Miss Fairfax continued to assure her that she would not at present engage in any thing, repeating the same motives which she had been heard to urge before.-- Still Mrs. Elton insisted on being authorised to write an acquiescence by the morrow's post.--How Jane could bear it at all, was astonishing to Emma.--She did look vexed, she did speak pointedly--and at last, with a decision of action unusual to her, proposed a removal.-- "Should not they walk? Would not Mr. Knightley shew them the gardens-- all the gardens?--She wished to see the whole extent."--The pertinacity of her friend seemed more than she could bear.
It was hot; and after walking some time over the gardens in a scattered, dispersed way, scarcely any three together, they insensibly followed one another to the delicious shade of a broad short avenue of limes, which stretching beyond the garden at an equal distance from the river, seemed the finish of the pleasure grounds.-- It led to nothing; nothing but a view at the end over a low stone wall with high pillars, which seemed intended, in their erection, to give the appearance of an approach to the house, which never had been there. Disputable, however, as might be the taste of such a termination, it was in itself a charming walk, and the view which closed it extremely pretty.--The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood;-- and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.
It was a sweet view--sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.
In this walk Emma and Mr. Weston found all the others assembled; and towards this view she immediately perceived Mr. Knightley and Harriet distinct from the rest, quietly leading the way. Mr. Knightley and Harriet!--It was an odd tete-a-tete; but she was glad to see it.--There had been a time when he would have scorned her as a companion, and turned from her with little ceremony. Now they seemed in pleasant conversation. There had been a time also when Emma would have been sorry to see Harriet in a spot so favourable for the Abbey Mill Farm; but now she feared it not. It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending.--She joined them at the wall, and found them more engaged in talking than in looking around. He was giving Harriet information as to modes of agriculture, etc. and Emma received a smile which seemed to say, "These are my own concerns. I have a right to talk on such subjects, without being suspected of introducing Robert Martin."--She did not suspect him. It was too old a story.--Robert Martin had probably ceased to think of Harriet.--They took a few turns together along the walk.--The shade was most refreshing, and Emma found it the pleasantest part of the day.
The next remove was to the house; they must all go in and eat;-- and they were all seated and busy, and still Frank Churchill did not come. Mrs. Weston looked, and looked in vain. His father would not own himself uneasy, and laughed at her fears; but she could not be cured of wishing that he would part with his black mare. He had expressed himself as to coming, with more than common certainty. "His aunt was so much better, that he had not a doubt of getting over to them."--Mrs. Churchill's state, however, as many were ready to remind her, was liable to such sudden variation as might disappoint her nephew in the most reasonable dependence--and Mrs. Weston was at last persuaded to believe, or to say, that it must be by some attack of Mrs. Churchill that he was prevented coming.-- Emma looked at Harriet while the point was under consideration; she behaved very well, and betrayed no emotion.
The cold repast was over, and the party were to go out once more to see what had not yet been seen, the old Abbey fish-ponds; perhaps get as far as the clover, which was to be begun cutting on the morrow, or, at any rate, have the pleasure of being hot, and growing cool again.--Mr. Woodhouse, who had already taken his little round in the highest part of the gardens, where no damps from the river were imagined even by him, stirred no more; and his daughter resolved to remain with him, that Mrs. Weston might be persuaded away by her husband to the exercise and variety which her spirits seemed to need.
Mr. Knightley had done all in his power for Mr. Woodhouse's entertainment. Books of engravings, drawers of medals, cameos, corals, shells, and every other family collection within his cabinets, had been prepared for his old friend, to while away the morning; and the kindness had perfectly answered. Mr. Woodhouse had been exceedingly well amused. Mrs. Weston had been shewing them all to him, and now he would shew them all to Emma;--fortunate in having no other resemblance to a child, than in a total want of taste for what he saw, for he was slow, constant, and methodical.--Before this second looking over was begun, however, Emma walked into the hall for the sake of a few moments' free observation of the entrance and ground-plot of the house--and was hardly there, when Jane Fairfax appeared, coming quickly in from the garden, and with a look of escape.-- Little expecting to meet Miss Woodhouse so soon, there was a start at first; but Miss Woodhouse was the very person she was in quest of.
"Will you be so kind," said she, "when I am missed, as to say that I am gone home?--I am going this moment.--My aunt is not aware how late it is, nor how long we have been absent--but I am sure we shall be wanted, and I am determined to go directly.--I have said nothing about it to any body. It would only be giving trouble and distress. Some are gone to the ponds, and some to the lime walk. Till they all come in I shall not be missed; and when they do, will you have the goodness to say that I am gone?"
"Certainly, if you wish it;--but you are not going to walk to Highbury alone?"
"Yes--what should hurt me?--I walk fast. I shall be at home in twenty minutes."
"But it is too far, indeed it is, to be walking quite alone. Let my father's servant go with you.--Let me order the carriage. It can be round in five minutes."
"Thank you, thank you--but on no account.--I would rather walk.-- And for _me_ to be afraid of walking alone!--I, who may so soon have to guard others!"
She spoke with great agitation; and Emma very feelingly replied, "That can be no reason for your being exposed to danger now. I must order the carriage. The heat even would be danger.--You are fatigued already."
"I am,"--she answered--"I am fatigued; but it is not the sort of fatigue--quick walking will refresh me.--Miss Woodhouse, we all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted. The greatest kindness you can shew me, will be to let me have my own way, and only say that I am gone when it is necessary."
Emma had not another word to oppose. She saw it all; and entering into her feelings, promoted her quitting the house immediately, and watched her safely off with the zeal of a friend. Her parting look was grateful--and her parting words, "Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes alone!"--seemed to burst from an overcharged heart, and to describe somewhat of the continual endurance to be practised by her, even towards some of those who loved her best.
"Such a home, indeed! such an aunt!" said Emma, as she turned back into the hall again. "I do pity you. And the more sensibility you betray of their just horrors, the more I shall like you."
Jane had not been gone a quarter of an hour, and they had only accomplished some views of St. Mark's Place, Venice, when Frank Churchill entered the room. Emma had not been thinking of him, she had forgotten to think of him--but she was very glad to see him. Mrs. Weston would be at ease. The black mare was blameless; _they_ were right who had named Mrs. Churchill as the cause. He had been detained by a temporary increase of illness in her; a nervous seizure, which had lasted some hours--and he had quite given up every thought of coming, till very late;--and had he known how hot a ride he should have, and how late, with all his hurry, he must be, he believed he should not have come at all. The heat was excessive; he had never suffered any thing like it--almost wished he had staid at home--nothing killed him like heat--he could bear any degree of cold, etc., but heat was intolerable--and he sat down, at the greatest possible distance from the slight remains of Mr. Woodhouse's fire, looking very deplorable.
"You will soon be cooler, if you sit still," said Emma.
"As soon as I am cooler I shall go back again. I could very ill be spared--but such a point had been made of my coming! You will all be going soon I suppose; the whole party breaking up. I met _one_ as I came--Madness in such weather!--absolute madness!"
Emma listened, and looked, and soon perceived that Frank Churchill's state might be best defined by the expressive phrase of being out of humour. Some people were always cross when they were hot. Such might be his constitution; and as she knew that eating and drinking were often the cure of such incidental complaints, she recommended his taking some refreshment; he would find abundance of every thing in the dining-room--and she humanely pointed out the door.
"No--he should not eat. He was not hungry; it would only make him hotter." In two minutes, however, he relented in his own favour; and muttering something about spruce-beer, walked off. Emma returned all her attention to her father, saying in secret--
"I am glad I have done being in love with him. I should not like a man who is so soon discomposed by a hot morning. Harriet's sweet easy temper will not mind it."
He was gone long enough to have had a very comfortable meal, and came back all the better--grown quite cool--and, with good manners, like himself--able to draw a chair close to them, take an interest in their employment; and regret, in a reasonable way, that he should be so late. He was not in his best spirits, but seemed trying to improve them; and, at last, made himself talk nonsense very agreeably. They were looking over views in Swisserland.
"As soon as my aunt gets well, I shall go abroad," said he. "I shall never be easy till I have seen some of these places. You will have my sketches, some time or other, to look at--or my tour to read--or my poem. I shall do something to expose myself."
"That may be--but not by sketches in Swisserland. You will never go to Swisserland. Your uncle and aunt will never allow you to leave England."
"They may be induced to go too. A warm climate may be prescribed for her. I have more than half an expectation of our all going abroad. I assure you I have. I feel a strong persuasion, this morning, that I shall soon be abroad. I ought to travel. I am tired of doing nothing. I want a change. I am serious, Miss Woodhouse, whatever your penetrating eyes may fancy--I am sick of England-- and would leave it to-morrow, if I could."
"You are sick of prosperity and indulgence. Cannot you invent a few hardships for yourself, and be contented to stay?"
"_I_ sick of prosperity and indulgence! You are quite mistaken. I do not look upon myself as either prosperous or indulged. I am thwarted in every thing material. I do not consider myself at all a fortunate person."
"You are not quite so miserable, though, as when you first came. Go and eat and drink a little more, and you will do very well. Another slice of cold meat, another draught of Madeira and water, will make you nearly on a par with the rest of us."
"No--I shall not stir. I shall sit by you. You are my best cure."
"We are going to Box Hill to-morrow;--you will join us. It is not Swisserland, but it will be something for a young man so much in want of a change. You will stay, and go with us?"
"No, certainly not; I shall go home in the cool of the evening."
"But you may come again in the cool of to-morrow morning."
"No--It will not be worth while. If I come, I shall be cross."
"Then pray stay at Richmond."
"But if I do, I shall be crosser still. I can never bear to think of you all there without me."
"These are difficulties which you must settle for yourself. Chuse your own degree of crossness. I shall press you no more."
The rest of the party were now returning, and all were soon collected. With some there was great joy at the sight of Frank Churchill; others took it very composedly; but there was a very general distress and disturbance on Miss Fairfax's disappearance being explained. That it was time for every body to go, concluded the subject; and with a short final arrangement for the next day's scheme, they parted. Frank Churchill's little inclination to exclude himself increased so much, that his last words to Emma were,
"Well;--if _you_ wish me to stay and join the party, I will."
She smiled her acceptance; and nothing less than a summons from Richmond was to take him back before the following evening.
They had a very fine day for Box Hill; and all the other outward circumstances of arrangement, accommodation, and punctuality, were in favour of a pleasant party. Mr. Weston directed the whole, officiating safely between Hartfield and the Vicarage, and every body was in good time. Emma and Harriet went together; Miss Bates and her niece, with the Eltons; the gentlemen on horseback. Mrs. Weston remained with Mr. Woodhouse. Nothing was wanting but to be happy when they got there. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and every body had a burst of admiration on first arriving; but in the general amount of the day there was deficiency. There was a languor, a want of spirits, a want of union, which could not be got over. They separated too much into parties. The Eltons walked together; Mr. Knightley took charge of Miss Bates and Jane; and Emma and Harriet belonged to Frank Churchill. And Mr. Weston tried, in vain, to make them harmonise better. It seemed at first an accidental division, but it never materially varied. Mr. and Mrs. Elton, indeed, shewed no unwillingness to mix, and be as agreeable as they could; but during the two whole hours that were spent on the hill, there seemed a principle of separation, between the other parties, too strong for any fine prospects, or any cold collation, or any cheerful Mr. Weston, to remove.
At first it was downright dulness to Emma. She had never seen Frank Churchill so silent and stupid. He said nothing worth hearing-- looked without seeing--admired without intelligence--listened without knowing what she said. While he was so dull, it was no wonder that Harriet should be dull likewise; and they were both insufferable.
When they all sat down it was better; to her taste a great deal better, for Frank Churchill grew talkative and gay, making her his first object. Every distinguishing attention that could be paid, was paid to her. To amuse her, and be agreeable in her eyes, seemed all that he cared for--and Emma, glad to be enlivened, not sorry to be flattered, was gay and easy too, and gave him all the friendly encouragement, the admission to be gallant, which she had ever given in the first and most animating period of their acquaintance; but which now, in her own estimation, meant nothing, though in the judgment of most people looking on it must have had such an appearance as no English word but flirtation could very well describe. "Mr. Frank Churchill and Miss Woodhouse flirted together excessively." They were laying themselves open to that very phrase--and to having it sent off in a letter to Maple Grove by one lady, to Ireland by another. Not that Emma was gay and thoughtless from any real felicity; it was rather because she felt less happy than she had expected. She laughed because she was disappointed; and though she liked him for his attentions, and thought them all, whether in friendship, admiration, or playfulness, extremely judicious, they were not winning back her heart. She still intended him for her friend.
"How much I am obliged to you," said he, "for telling me to come to-day!-- If it had not been for you, I should certainly have lost all the happiness of this party. I had quite determined to go away again."
"Yes, you were very cross; and I do not know what about, except that you were too late for the best strawberries. I was a kinder friend than you deserved. But you were humble. You begged hard to be commanded to come."
"Don't say I was cross. I was fatigued. The heat overcame me."
"It is hotter to-day."
"Not to my feelings. I am perfectly comfortable to-day."
"You are comfortable because you are under command."
"Perhaps I intended you to say so, but I meant self-command. You had, somehow or other, broken bounds yesterday, and run away from your own management; but to-day you are got back again--and as I cannot be always with you, it is best to believe your temper under your own command rather than mine."
"It comes to the same thing. I can have no self-command without a motive. You order me, whether you speak or not. And you can be always with me. You are always with me."
"Dating from three o'clock yesterday. My perpetual influence could not begin earlier, or you would not have been so much out of humour before."
"Three o'clock yesterday! That is your date. I thought I had seen you first in February."
"Your gallantry is really unanswerable. But (lowering her voice)-- nobody speaks except ourselves, and it is rather too much to be talking nonsense for the entertainment of seven silent people."
"I say nothing of which I am ashamed," replied he, with lively impudence. "I saw you first in February. Let every body on the Hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell to Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other. I saw you first in February." And then whispering-- "Our companions are excessively stupid. What shall we do to rouse them? Any nonsense will serve. They _shall_ talk. Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who, wherever she is, presides) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of?"
Some laughed, and answered good-humouredly. Miss Bates said a great deal; Mrs. Elton swelled at the idea of Miss Woodhouse's presiding; Mr. Knightley's answer was the most distinct.
"Is Miss Woodhouse sure that she would like to hear what we are all thinking of?"
"Oh! no, no"--cried Emma, laughing as carelessly as she could-- "Upon no account in the world. It is the very last thing I would stand the brunt of just now. Let me hear any thing rather than what you are all thinking of. I will not say quite all. There are one or two, perhaps, (glancing at Mr. Weston and Harriet,) whose thoughts I might not be afraid of knowing."
"It is a sort of thing," cried Mrs. Elton emphatically, "which _I_ should not have thought myself privileged to inquire into. Though, perhaps, as the _Chaperon_ of the party-- _I_ never was in any circle--exploring parties--young ladies--married women--"
Her mutterings were chiefly to her husband; and he murmured, in reply,
"Very true, my love, very true. Exactly so, indeed--quite unheard of-- but some ladies say any thing. Better pass it off as a joke. Every body knows what is due to _you_."
"It will not do," whispered Frank to Emma; "they are most of them affronted. I will attack them with more address. Ladies and gentlemen--I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse to say, that she waives her right of knowing exactly what you may all be thinking of, and only requires something very entertaining from each of you, in a general way. Here are seven of you, besides myself, (who, she is pleased to say, am very entertaining already,) and she only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated--or two things moderately clever-- or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all."
"Oh! very well," exclaimed Miss Bates, "then I need not be uneasy. `Three things very dull indeed.' That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I? (looking round with the most good-humoured dependence on every body's assent)--Do not you all think I shall?"
Emma could not resist.
"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me--but you will be limited as to number--only three at once."
Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush shewed that it could pain her.
"Ah!--well--to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend."
"I like your plan," cried Mr. Weston. "Agreed, agreed. I will do my best. I am making a conundrum. How will a conundrum reckon?"
"Low, I am afraid, sir, very low," answered his son;--"but we shall be indulgent--especially to any one who leads the way."
"No, no," said Emma, "it will not reckon low. A conundrum of Mr. Weston's shall clear him and his next neighbour. Come, sir, pray let me hear it."
"I doubt its being very clever myself," said Mr. Weston. "It is too much a matter of fact, but here it is.--What two letters of the alphabet are there, that express perfection?"
"What two letters!--express perfection! I am sure I do not know."
"Ah! you will never guess. You, (to Emma), I am certain, will never guess.--I will tell you.--M. and A.--Em-ma.--Do you understand?"
Understanding and gratification came together. It might be a very indifferent piece of wit, but Emma found a great deal to laugh at and enjoy in it--and so did Frank and Harriet.--It did not seem to touch the rest of the party equally; some looked very stupid about it, and Mr. Knightley gravely said,
"This explains the sort of clever thing that is wanted, and Mr. Weston has done very well for himself; but he must have knocked up every body else. _Perfection_ should not have come quite so soon."
"Oh! for myself, I protest I must be excused," said Mrs. Elton; "_I_ really cannot attempt--I am not at all fond of the sort of thing. I had an acrostic once sent to me upon my own name, which I was not at all pleased with. I knew who it came from. An abominable puppy!-- You know who I mean (nodding to her husband). These kind of things are very well at Christmas, when one is sitting round the fire; but quite out of place, in my opinion, when one is exploring about the country in summer. Miss Woodhouse must excuse me. I am not one of those who have witty things at every body's service. I do not pretend to be a wit. I have a great deal of vivacity in my own way, but I really must be allowed to judge when to speak and when to hold my tongue. Pass us, if you please, Mr. Churchill. Pass Mr. E., Knightley, Jane, and myself. We have nothing clever to say-- not one of us.
"Yes, yes, pray pass _me_," added her husband, with a sort of sneering consciousness; "_I_ have nothing to say that can entertain Miss Woodhouse, or any other young lady. An old married man-- quite good for nothing. Shall we walk, Augusta?"
"With all my heart. I am really tired of exploring so long on one spot. Come, Jane, take my other arm."
Jane declined it, however, and the husband and wife walked off. "Happy couple!" said Frank Churchill, as soon as they were out of hearing:--"How well they suit one another!--Very lucky--marrying as they did, upon an acquaintance formed only in a public place!--They only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath! Peculiarly lucky!-- for as to any real knowledge of a person's disposition that Bath, or any public place, can give--it is all nothing; there can be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment. Short of that, it is all guess and luck-- and will generally be ill-luck. How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all the rest of his life!"
Miss Fairfax, who had seldom spoken before, except among her own confederates, spoke now.
"Such things do occur, undoubtedly."--She was stopped by a cough. Frank Churchill turned towards her to listen.
"You were speaking," said he, gravely. She recovered her voice.
"I was only going to observe, that though such unfortunate circumstances do sometimes occur both to men and women, I cannot imagine them to be very frequent. A hasty and imprudent attachment may arise-- but there is generally time to recover from it afterwards. I would be understood to mean, that it can be only weak, irresolute characters, (whose happiness must be always at the mercy of chance,) who will suffer an unfortunate acquaintance to be an inconvenience, an oppression for ever."
He made no answer; merely looked, and bowed in submission; and soon afterwards said, in a lively tone,
"Well, I have so little confidence in my own judgment, that whenever I marry, I hope some body will chuse my wife for me. Will you? (turning to Emma.) Will you chuse a wife for me?--I am sure I should like any body fixed on by you. You provide for the family, you know, (with a smile at his father). Find some body for me. I am in no hurry. Adopt her, educate her."
"And make her like myself."
"By all means, if you can."
"Very well. I undertake the commission. You shall have a charming wife."
"She must be very lively, and have hazle eyes. I care for nothing else. I shall go abroad for a couple of years--and when I return, I shall come to you for my wife. Remember."
Emma was in no danger of forgetting. It was a commission to touch every favourite feeling. Would not Harriet be the very creature described? Hazle eyes excepted, two years more might make her all that he wished. He might even have Harriet in his thoughts at the moment; who could say? Referring the education to her seemed to imply it.
"Now, ma'am," said Jane to her aunt, "shall we join Mrs. Elton?"
"If you please, my dear. With all my heart. I am quite ready. I was ready to have gone with her, but this will do just as well. We shall soon overtake her. There she is--no, that's somebody else. That's one of the ladies in the Irish car party, not at all like her.-- Well, I declare--"
They walked off, followed in half a minute by Mr. Knightley. Mr. Weston, his son, Emma, and Harriet, only remained; and the young man's spirits now rose to a pitch almost unpleasant. Even Emma grew tired at last of flattery and merriment, and wished herself rather walking quietly about with any of the others, or sitting almost alone, and quite unattended to, in tranquil observation of the beautiful views beneath her. The appearance of the servants looking out for them to give notice of the carriages was a joyful sight; and even the bustle of collecting and preparing to depart, and the solicitude of Mrs. Elton to have _her_ carriage first, were gladly endured, in the prospect of the quiet drive home which was to close the very questionable enjoyments of this day of pleasure. Such another scheme, composed of so many ill-assorted people, she hoped never to be betrayed into again.
While waiting for the carriage, she found Mr. Knightley by her side. He looked around, as if to see that no one were near, and then said,
"Emma, I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do: a privilege rather endured than allowed, perhaps, but I must still use it. I cannot see you acting wrong, without a remonstrance. How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character, age, and situation?-- Emma, I had not thought it possible."
Emma recollected, blushed, was sorry, but tried to laugh it off.
"Nay, how could I help saying what I did?--Nobody could have helped it. It was not so very bad. I dare say she did not understand me."
"I assure you she did. She felt your full meaning. She has talked of it since. I wish you could have heard how she talked of it-- with what candour and generosity. I wish you could have heard her honouring your forbearance, in being able to pay her such attentions, as she was for ever receiving from yourself and your father, when her society must be so irksome."
"Oh!" cried Emma, "I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in her."
"They are blended," said he, "I acknowledge; and, were she prosperous, I could allow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. Were she a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance, I would not quarrel with you for any liberties of manner. Were she your equal in situation-- but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed! You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her--and before her niece, too--and before others, many of whom (certainly _some_,) would be entirely guided by _your_ treatment of her.--This is not pleasant to you, Emma--and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,--I will tell you truths while I can; satisfied with proving myself your friend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now."
While they talked, they were advancing towards the carriage; it was ready; and, before she could speak again, he had handed her in. He had misinterpreted the feelings which had kept her face averted, and her tongue motionless. They were combined only of anger against herself, mortification, and deep concern. She had not been able to speak; and, on entering the carriage, sunk back for a moment overcome--then reproaching herself for having taken no leave, making no acknowledgment, parting in apparent sullenness, she looked out with voice and hand eager to shew a difference; but it was just too late. He had turned away, and the horses were in motion. She continued to look back, but in vain; and soon, with what appeared unusual speed, they were half way down the hill, and every thing left far behind. She was vexed beyond what could have been expressed--almost beyond what she could conceal. Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of this representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates! How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued! And how suffer him to leave her without saying one word of gratitude, of concurrence, of common kindness!
Time did not compose her. As she reflected more, she seemed but to feel it more. She never had been so depressed. Happily it was not necessary to speak. There was only Harriet, who seemed not in spirits herself, fagged, and very willing to be silent; and Emma felt the tears running down her cheeks almost all the way home, without being at any trouble to check them, extraordinary as they were.
The wretchedness of a scheme to Box Hill was in Emma's thoughts all the evening. How it might be considered by the rest of the party, she could not tell. They, in their different homes, and their different ways, might be looking back on it with pleasure; but in her view it was a morning more completely misspent, more totally bare of rational satisfaction at the time, and more to be abhorred in recollection, than any she had ever passed. A whole evening of back-gammon with her father, was felicity to it. _There_, indeed, lay real pleasure, for there she was giving up the sweetest hours of the twenty-four to his comfort; and feeling that, unmerited as might be the degree of his fond affection and confiding esteem, she could not, in her general conduct, be open to any severe reproach. As a daughter, she hoped she was not without a heart. She hoped no one could have said to her, "How could you be so unfeeling to your father?-- I must, I will tell you truths while I can." Miss Bates should never again--no, never! If attention, in future, could do away the past, she might hope to be forgiven. She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so; remiss, perhaps, more in thought than fact; scornful, ungracious. But it should be so no more. In the warmth of true contrition, she would call upon her the very next morning, and it should be the beginning, on her side, of a regular, equal, kindly intercourse.
She was just as determined when the morrow came, and went early, that nothing might prevent her. It was not unlikely, she thought, that she might see Mr. Knightley in her way; or, perhaps, he might come in while she were paying her visit. She had no objection. She would not be ashamed of the appearance of the penitence, so justly and truly hers. Her eyes were towards Donwell as she walked, but she saw him not.
"The ladies were all at home." She had never rejoiced at the sound before, nor ever before entered the passage, nor walked up the stairs, with any wish of giving pleasure, but in conferring obligation, or of deriving it, except in subsequent ridicule.
There was a bustle on her approach; a good deal of moving and talking. She heard Miss Bates's voice, something was to be done in a hurry; the maid looked frightened and awkward; hoped she would be pleased to wait a moment, and then ushered her in too soon. The aunt and niece seemed both escaping into the adjoining room. Jane she had a distinct glimpse of, looking extremely ill; and, before the door had shut them out, she heard Miss Bates saying, "Well, my dear, I shall _say_ you are laid down upon the bed, and I am sure you are ill enough."
Poor old Mrs. Bates, civil and humble as usual, looked as if she did not quite understand what was going on.
"I am afraid Jane is not very well," said she, "but I do not know; they _tell_ me she is well. I dare say my daughter will be here presently, Miss Woodhouse. I hope you find a chair. I wish Hetty had not gone. I am very little able--Have you a chair, ma'am? Do you sit where you like? I am sure she will be here presently."
Emma seriously hoped she would. She had a moment's fear of Miss Bates keeping away from her. But Miss Bates soon came--"Very happy and obliged"--but Emma's conscience told her that there was not the same cheerful volubility as before--less ease of look and manner. A very friendly inquiry after Miss Fairfax, she hoped, might lead the way to a return of old feelings. The touch seemed immediate.
"Ah! Miss Woodhouse, how kind you are!--I suppose you have heard-- and are come to give us joy. This does not seem much like joy, indeed, in me--(twinkling away a tear or two)--but it will be very trying for us to part with her, after having had her so long, and she has a dreadful headache just now, writing all the morning:-- such long letters, you know, to be written to Colonel Campbell, and Mrs. Dixon. `My dear,' said I, `you will blind yourself'-- for tears were in her eyes perpetually. One cannot wonder, one cannot wonder. It is a great change; and though she is amazingly fortunate--such a situation, I suppose, as no young woman before ever met with on first going out--do not think us ungrateful, Miss Woodhouse, for such surprising good fortune--(again dispersing her tears)--but, poor dear soul! if you were to see what a headache she has. When one is in great pain, you know one cannot feel any blessing quite as it may deserve. She is as low as possible. To look at her, nobody would think how delighted and happy she is to have secured such a situation. You will excuse her not coming to you--she is not able--she is gone into her own room-- I want her to lie down upon the bed. `My dear,' said I, `I shall say you are laid down upon the bed:' but, however, she is not; she is walking about the room. But, now that she has written her letters, she says she shall soon be well. She will be extremely sorry to miss seeing you, Miss Woodhouse, but your kindness will excuse her. You were kept waiting at the door--I was quite ashamed-- but somehow there was a little bustle--for it so happened that we had not heard the knock, and till you were on the stairs, we did not know any body was coming. `It is only Mrs. Cole,' said I, `depend upon it. Nobody else would come so early.' `Well,' said she, `it must be borne some time or other, and it may as well be now.' But then Patty came in, and said it was you. `Oh!' said I, `it is Miss Woodhouse: I am sure you will like to see her.'-- `I can see nobody,' said she; and up she got, and would go away; and that was what made us keep you waiting--and extremely sorry and ashamed we were. `If you must go, my dear,' said I, `you must, and I will say you are laid down upon the bed.'"
Emma was most sincerely interested. Her heart had been long growing kinder towards Jane; and this picture of her present sufferings acted as a cure of every former ungenerous suspicion, and left her nothing but pity; and the remembrance of the less just and less gentle sensations of the past, obliged her to admit that Jane might very naturally resolve on seeing Mrs. Cole or any other steady friend, when she might not bear to see herself. She spoke as she felt, with earnest regret and solicitude--sincerely wishing that the circumstances which she collected from Miss Bates to be now actually determined on, might be as much for Miss Fairfax's advantage and comfort as possible. "It must be a severe trial to them all. She had understood it was to be delayed till Colonel Campbell's return."
"So very kind!" replied Miss Bates. "But you are always kind."
There was no bearing such an "always;" and to break through her dreadful gratitude, Emma made the direct inquiry of--
"Where--may I ask?--is Miss Fairfax going?"
"To a Mrs. Smallridge--charming woman--most superior--to have the charge of her three little girls--delightful children. Impossible that any situation could be more replete with comfort; if we except, perhaps, Mrs. Suckling's own family, and Mrs. Bragge's; but Mrs. Smallridge is intimate with both, and in the very same neighbourhood:--lives only four miles from Maple Grove. Jane will be only four miles from Maple Grove."
"Mrs. Elton, I suppose, has been the person to whom Miss Fairfax owes--"
"Yes, our good Mrs. Elton. The most indefatigable, true friend. She would not take a denial. She would not let Jane say, `No;' for when Jane first heard of it, (it was the day before yesterday, the very morning we were at Donwell,) when Jane first heard of it, she was quite decided against accepting the offer, and for the reasons you mention; exactly as you say, she had made up her mind to close with nothing till Colonel Campbell's return, and nothing should induce her to enter into any engagement at present--and so she told Mrs. Elton over and over again--and I am sure I had no more idea that she would change her mind!--but that good Mrs. Elton, whose judgment never fails her, saw farther than I did. It is not every body that would have stood out in such a kind way as she did, and refuse to take Jane's answer; but she positively declared she would _not_ write any such denial yesterday, as Jane wished her; she would wait--and, sure enough, yesterday evening it was all settled that Jane should go. Quite a surprize to me! I had not the least idea!--Jane took Mrs. Elton aside, and told her at once, that upon thinking over the advantages of Mrs. Smallridge's situation, she had come to the resolution of accepting it.--I did not know a word of it till it was all settled."
"You spent the evening with Mrs. Elton?"
"Yes, all of us; Mrs. Elton would have us come. It was settled so, upon the hill, while we were walking about with Mr. Knightley. `You _must_ _all_ spend your evening with us,' said she--`I positively must have you _all_ come.'"
"Mr. Knightley was there too, was he?"
"No, not Mr. Knightley; he declined it from the first; and though I thought he would come, because Mrs. Elton declared she would not let him off, he did not;--but my mother, and Jane, and I, were all there, and a very agreeable evening we had. Such kind friends, you know, Miss Woodhouse, one must always find agreeable, though every body seemed rather fagged after the morning's party. Even pleasure, you know, is fatiguing--and I cannot say that any of them seemed very much to have enjoyed it. However, _I_ shall always think it a very pleasant party, and feel extremely obliged to the kind friends who included me in it."
"Miss Fairfax, I suppose, though you were not aware of it, had been making up her mind the whole day?"
"I dare say she had."
"Whenever the time may come, it must be unwelcome to her and all her friends--but I hope her engagement will have every alleviation that is possible--I mean, as to the character and manners of the family."
"Thank you, dear Miss Woodhouse. Yes, indeed, there is every thing in the world that can make her happy in it. Except the Sucklings and Bragges, there is not such another nursery establishment, so liberal and elegant, in all Mrs. Elton's acquaintance. Mrs. Smallridge, a most delightful woman!--A style of living almost equal to Maple Grove--and as to the children, except the little Sucklings and little Bragges, there are not such elegant sweet children anywhere. Jane will be treated with such regard and kindness!-- It will be nothing but pleasure, a life of pleasure.--And her salary!-- I really cannot venture to name her salary to you, Miss Woodhouse. Even you, used as you are to great sums, would hardly believe that so much could be given to a young person like Jane."
"Ah! madam," cried Emma, "if other children are at all like what I remember to have been myself, I should think five times the amount of what I have ever yet heard named as a salary on such occasions, dearly earned."
"You are so noble in your ideas!"
"And when is Miss Fairfax to leave you?"
"Very soon, very soon, indeed; that's the worst of it. Within a fortnight. Mrs. Smallridge is in a great hurry. My poor mother does not know how to bear it. So then, I try to put it out of her thoughts, and say, Come ma'am, do not let us think about it any more."
"Her friends must all be sorry to lose her; and will not Colonel and Mrs. Campbell be sorry to find that she has engaged herself before their return?"
"Yes; Jane says she is sure they will; but yet, this is such a situation as she cannot feel herself justified in declining. I was so astonished when she first told me what she had been saying to Mrs. Elton, and when Mrs. Elton at the same moment came congratulating me upon it! It was before tea--stay--no, it could not be before tea, because we were just going to cards--and yet it was before tea, because I remember thinking--Oh! no, now I recollect, now I have it; something happened before tea, but not that. Mr. Elton was called out of the room before tea, old John Abdy's son wanted to speak with him. Poor old John, I have a great regard for him; he was clerk to my poor father twenty-seven years; and now, poor old man, he is bed-ridden, and very poorly with the rheumatic gout in his joints-- I must go and see him to-day; and so will Jane, I am sure, if she gets out at all. And poor John's son came to talk to Mr. Elton about relief from the parish; he is very well to do himself, you know, being head man at the Crown, ostler, and every thing of that sort, but still he cannot keep his father without some help; and so, when Mr. Elton came back, he told us what John ostler had been telling him, and then it came out about the chaise having been sent to Randalls to take Mr. Frank Churchill to Richmond. That was what happened before tea. It was after tea that Jane spoke to Mrs. Elton."
Miss Bates would hardly give Emma time to say how perfectly new this circumstance was to her; but as without supposing it possible that she could be ignorant of any of the particulars of Mr. Frank Churchill's going, she proceeded to give them all, it was of no consequence.
What Mr. Elton had learned from the ostler on the subject, being the accumulation of the ostler's own knowledge, and the knowledge of the servants at Randalls, was, that a messenger had come over from Richmond soon after the return of the party from Box Hill-- which messenger, however, had been no more than was expected; and that Mr. Churchill had sent his nephew a few lines, containing, upon the whole, a tolerable account of Mrs. Churchill, and only wishing him not to delay coming back beyond the next morning early; but that Mr. Frank Churchill having resolved to go home directly, without waiting at all, and his horse seeming to have got a cold, Tom had been sent off immediately for the Crown chaise, and the ostler had stood out and seen it pass by, the boy going a good pace, and driving very steady.
There was nothing in all this either to astonish or interest, and it caught Emma's attention only as it united with the subject which already engaged her mind. The contrast between Mrs. Churchill's importance in the world, and Jane Fairfax's, struck her; one was every thing, the other nothing--and she sat musing on the difference of woman's destiny, and quite unconscious on what her eyes were fixed, till roused by Miss Bates's saying,
"Aye, I see what you are thinking of, the pianoforte. What is to become of that?--Very true. Poor dear Jane was talking of it just now.-- `You must go,' said she. `You and I must part. You will have no business here.--Let it stay, however,' said she; `give it houseroom till Colonel Campbell comes back. I shall talk about it to him; he will settle for me; he will help me out of all my difficulties.'-- And to this day, I do believe, she knows not whether it was his present or his daughter's."
Now Emma was obliged to think of the pianoforte; and the remembrance of all her former fanciful and unfair conjectures was so little pleasing, that she soon allowed herself to believe her visit had been long enough; and, with a repetition of every thing that she could venture to say of the good wishes which she really felt, took leave.
Emma's pensive meditations, as she walked home, were not interrupted; but on entering the parlour, she found those who must rouse her. Mr. Knightley and Harriet had arrived during her absence, and were sitting with her father.--Mr. Knightley immediately got up, and in a manner decidedly graver than usual, said,
"I would not go away without seeing you, but I have no time to spare, and therefore must now be gone directly. I am going to London, to spend a few days with John and Isabella. Have you any thing to send or say, besides the `love,' which nobody carries?"
"Nothing at all. But is not this a sudden scheme?"
"Yes--rather--I have been thinking of it some little time."
Emma was sure he had not forgiven her; he looked unlike himself. Time, however, she thought, would tell him that they ought to be friends again. While he stood, as if meaning to go, but not going-- her father began his inquiries.
"Well, my dear, and did you get there safely?--And how did you find my worthy old friend and her daughter?--I dare say they must have been very much obliged to you for coming. Dear Emma has been to call on Mrs. and Miss Bates, Mr. Knightley, as I told you before. She is always so attentive to them!"
Emma's colour was heightened by this unjust praise; and with a smile, and shake of the head, which spoke much, she looked at Mr. Knightley.-- It seemed as if there were an instantaneous impression in her favour, as if his eyes received the truth from her's, and all that had passed of good in her feelings were at once caught and honoured.-- He looked at her with a glow of regard. She was warmly gratified-- and in another moment still more so, by a little movement of more than common friendliness on his part.--He took her hand;-- whether she had not herself made the first motion, she could not say-- she might, perhaps, have rather offered it--but he took her hand, pressed it, and certainly was on the point of carrying it to his lips-- when, from some fancy or other, he suddenly let it go.--Why he should feel such a scruple, why he should change his mind when it was all but done, she could not perceive.--He would have judged better, she thought, if he had not stopped.--The intention, however, was indubitable; and whether it was that his manners had in general so little gallantry, or however else it happened, but she thought nothing became him more.-- It was with him, of so simple, yet so dignified a nature.-- She could not but recall the attempt with great satisfaction. It spoke such perfect amity.--He left them immediately afterwards-- gone in a moment. He always moved with the alertness of a mind which could neither be undecided nor dilatory, but now he seemed more sudden than usual in his disappearance.
Emma could not regret her having gone to Miss Bates, but she wished she had left her ten minutes earlier;--it would have been a great pleasure to talk over Jane Fairfax's situation with Mr. Knightley.-- Neither would she regret that he should be going to Brunswick Square, for she knew how much his visit would be enjoyed--but it might have happened at a better time--and to have had longer notice of it, would have been pleasanter.--They parted thorough friends, however; she could not be deceived as to the meaning of his countenance, and his unfinished gallantry;--it was all done to assure her that she had fully recovered his good opinion.--He had been sitting with them half an hour, she found. It was a pity that she had not come back earlier!
In the hope of diverting her father's thoughts from the disagreeableness of Mr. Knightley's going to London; and going so suddenly; and going on horseback, which she knew would be all very bad; Emma communicated her news of Jane Fairfax, and her dependence on the effect was justified; it supplied a very useful check,-- interested, without disturbing him. He had long made up his mind to Jane Fairfax's going out as governess, and could talk of it cheerfully, but Mr. Knightley's going to London had been an unexpected blow.
"I am very glad, indeed, my dear, to hear she is to be so comfortably settled. Mrs. Elton is very good-natured and agreeable, and I dare say her acquaintance are just what they ought to be. I hope it is a dry situation, and that her health will be taken good care of. It ought to be a first object, as I am sure poor Miss Taylor's always was with me. You know, my dear, she is going to be to this new lady what Miss Taylor was to us. And I hope she will be better off in one respect, and not be induced to go away after it has been her home so long."
The following day brought news from Richmond to throw every thing else into the background. An express arrived at Randalls to announce the death of Mrs. Churchill! Though her nephew had had no particular reason to hasten back on her account, she had not lived above six-and-thirty hours after his return. A sudden seizure of a different nature from any thing foreboded by her general state, had carried her off after a short struggle. The great Mrs. Churchill was no more.
It was felt as such things must be felt. Every body had a degree of gravity and sorrow; tenderness towards the departed, solicitude for the surviving friends; and, in a reasonable time, curiosity to know where she would be buried. Goldsmith tells us, that when lovely woman stoops to folly, she has nothing to do but to die; and when she stoops to be disagreeable, it is equally to be recommended as a clearer of ill-fame. Mrs. Churchill, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances. In one point she was fully justified. She had never been admitted before to be seriously ill. The event acquitted her of all the fancifulness, and all the selfishness of imaginary complaints.
"Poor Mrs. Churchill! no doubt she had been suffering a great deal: more than any body had ever supposed--and continual pain would try the temper. It was a sad event--a great shock--with all her faults, what would Mr. Churchill do without her? Mr. Churchill's loss would be dreadful indeed. Mr. Churchill would never get over it."-- Even Mr. Weston shook his head, and looked solemn, and said, "Ah! poor woman, who would have thought it!" and resolved, that his mourning should be as handsome as possible; and his wife sat sighing and moralising over her broad hems with a commiseration and good sense, true and steady. How it would affect Frank was among the earliest thoughts of both. It was also a very early speculation with Emma. The character of Mrs. Churchill, the grief of her husband--her mind glanced over them both with awe and compassion--and then rested with lightened feelings on how Frank might be affected by the event, how benefited, how freed. She saw in a moment all the possible good. Now, an attachment to Harriet Smith would have nothing to encounter. Mr. Churchill, independent of his wife, was feared by nobody; an easy, guidable man, to be persuaded into any thing by his nephew. All that remained to be wished was, that the nephew should form the attachment, as, with all her goodwill in the cause, Emma could feel no certainty of its being already formed.
Harriet behaved extremely well on the occasion, with great self-command. What ever she might feel of brighter hope, she betrayed nothing. Emma was gratified, to observe such a proof in her of strengthened character, and refrained from any allusion that might endanger its maintenance. They spoke, therefore, of Mrs. Churchill's death with mutual forbearance.
Short letters from Frank were received at Randalls, communicating all that was immediately important of their state and plans. Mr. Churchill was better than could be expected; and their first removal, on the departure of the funeral for Yorkshire, was to be to the house of a very old friend in Windsor, to whom Mr. Churchill had been promising a visit the last ten years. At present, there was nothing to be done for Harriet; good wishes for the future were all that could yet be possible on Emma's side.
It was a more pressing concern to shew attention to Jane Fairfax, whose prospects were closing, while Harriet's opened, and whose engagements now allowed of no delay in any one at Highbury, who wished to shew her kindness--and with Emma it was grown into a first wish. She had scarcely a stronger regret than for her past coldness; and the person, whom she had been so many months neglecting, was now the very one on whom she would have lavished every distinction of regard or sympathy. She wanted to be of use to her; wanted to shew a value for her society, and testify respect and consideration. She resolved to prevail on her to spend a day at Hartfield. A note was written to urge it. The invitation was refused, and by a verbal message. "Miss Fairfax was not well enough to write;" and when Mr. Perry called at Hartfield, the same morning, it appeared that she was so much indisposed as to have been visited, though against her own consent, by himself, and that she was suffering under severe headaches, and a nervous fever to a degree, which made him doubt the possibility of her going to Mrs. Smallridge's at the time proposed. Her health seemed for the moment completely deranged-- appetite quite gone--and though there were no absolutely alarming symptoms, nothing touching the pulmonary complaint, which was the standing apprehension of the family, Mr. Perry was uneasy about her. He thought she had undertaken more than she was equal to, and that she felt it so herself, though she would not own it. Her spirits seemed overcome. Her present home, he could not but observe, was unfavourable to a nervous disorder:-- confined always to one room;--he could have wished it otherwise-- and her good aunt, though his very old friend, he must acknowledge to be not the best companion for an invalid of that description. Her care and attention could not be questioned; they were, in fact, only too great. He very much feared that Miss Fairfax derived more evil than good from them. Emma listened with the warmest concern; grieved for her more and more, and looked around eager to discover some way of being useful. To take her--be it only an hour or two--from her aunt, to give her change of air and scene, and quiet rational conversation, even for an hour or two, might do her good; and the following morning she wrote again to say, in the most feeling language she could command, that she would call for her in the carriage at any hour that Jane would name-- mentioning that she had Mr. Perry's decided opinion, in favour of such exercise for his patient. The answer was only in this short note:
"Miss Fairfax's compliments and thanks, but is quite unequal to any exercise."
Emma felt that her own note had deserved something better; but it was impossible to quarrel with words, whose tremulous inequality shewed indisposition so plainly, and she thought only of how she might best counteract this unwillingness to be seen or assisted. In spite of the answer, therefore, she ordered the carriage, and drove to Mrs. Bates's, in the hope that Jane would be induced to join her-- but it would not do;--Miss Bates came to the carriage door, all gratitude, and agreeing with her most earnestly in thinking an airing might be of the greatest service--and every thing that message could do was tried-- but all in vain. Miss Bates was obliged to return without success; Jane was quite unpersuadable; the mere proposal of going out seemed to make her worse.--Emma wished she could have seen her, and tried her own powers; but, almost before she could hint the wish, Miss Bates made it appear that she had promised her niece on no account to let Miss Woodhouse in. "Indeed, the truth was, that poor dear Jane could not bear to see any body--any body at all-- Mrs. Elton, indeed, could not be denied--and Mrs. Cole had made such a point--and Mrs. Perry had said so much--but, except them, Jane would really see nobody."
Emma did not want to be classed with the Mrs. Eltons, the Mrs. Perrys, and the Mrs. Coles, who would force themselves anywhere; neither could she feel any right of preference herself-- she submitted, therefore, and only questioned Miss Bates farther as to her niece's appetite and diet, which she longed to be able to assist. On that subject poor Miss Bates was very unhappy, and very communicative; Jane would hardly eat any thing:-- Mr. Perry recommended nourishing food; but every thing they could command (and never had any body such good neighbours) was distasteful.
Emma, on reaching home, called the housekeeper directly, to an examination of her stores; and some arrowroot of very superior quality was speedily despatched to Miss Bates with a most friendly note. In half an hour the arrowroot was returned, with a thousand thanks from Miss Bates, but "dear Jane would not be satisfied without its being sent back; it was a thing she could not take--and, moreover, she insisted on her saying, that she was not at all in want of any thing."
When Emma afterwards heard that Jane Fairfax had been seen wandering about the meadows, at some distance from Highbury, on the afternoon of the very day on which she had, under the plea of being unequal to any exercise, so peremptorily refused to go out with her in the carriage, she could have no doubt--putting every thing together-- that Jane was resolved to receive no kindness from _her_. She was sorry, very sorry. Her heart was grieved for a state which seemed but the more pitiable from this sort of irritation of spirits, inconsistency of action, and inequality of powers; and it mortified her that she was given so little credit for proper feeling, or esteemed so little worthy as a friend: but she had the consolation of knowing that her intentions were good, and of being able to say to herself, that could Mr. Knightley have been privy to all her attempts of assisting Jane Fairfax, could he even have seen into her heart, he would not, on this occasion, have found any thing to reprove.
One morning, about ten days after Mrs. Churchill's decease, Emma was called downstairs to Mr. Weston, who "could not stay five minutes, and wanted particularly to speak with her."-- He met her at the parlour-door, and hardly asking her how she did, in the natural key of his voice, sunk it immediately, to say, unheard by her father,
"Can you come to Randalls at any time this morning?--Do, if it be possible. Mrs. Weston wants to see you. She must see you."
"Is she unwell?"
"No, no, not at all--only a little agitated. She would have ordered the carriage, and come to you, but she must see you _alone_, and that you know--(nodding towards her father)--Humph!--Can you come?"
"Certainly. This moment, if you please. It is impossible to refuse what you ask in such a way. But what can be the matter?-- Is she really not ill?"
"Depend upon me--but ask no more questions. You will know it all in time. The most unaccountable business! But hush, hush!"
To guess what all this meant, was impossible even for Emma. Something really important seemed announced by his looks; but, as her friend was well, she endeavoured not to be uneasy, and settling it with her father, that she would take her walk now, she and Mr. Weston were soon out of the house together and on their way at a quick pace for Randalls.
"Now,"--said Emma, when they were fairly beyond the sweep gates,-- "now Mr. Weston, do let me know what has happened."
"No, no,"--he gravely replied.--"Don't ask me. I promised my wife to leave it all to her. She will break it to you better than I can. Do not be impatient, Emma; it will all come out too soon."
"Break it to me," cried Emma, standing still with terror.-- "Good God!--Mr. Weston, tell me at once.--Something has happened in Brunswick Square. I know it has. Tell me, I charge you tell me this moment what it is."
"No, indeed you are mistaken."--
"Mr. Weston do not trifle with me.--Consider how many of my dearest friends are now in Brunswick Square. Which of them is it?-- I charge you by all that is sacred, not to attempt concealment."
"Upon my word, Emma."--
"Your word!--why not your honour!--why not say upon your honour, that it has nothing to do with any of them? Good Heavens!--What can be to be _broke_ to me, that does not relate to one of that family?"
"Upon my honour," said he very seriously, "it does not. It is not in the smallest degree connected with any human being of the name of Knightley."
Emma's courage returned, and she walked on.
"I was wrong," he continued, "in talking of its being _broke_ to you. I should not have used the expression. In fact, it does not concern you-- it concerns only myself,--that is, we hope.--Humph!--In short, my dear Emma, there is no occasion to be so uneasy about it. I don't say that it is not a disagreeable business--but things might be much worse.--If we walk fast, we shall soon be at Randalls."
Emma found that she must wait; and now it required little effort. She asked no more questions therefore, merely employed her own fancy, and that soon pointed out to her the probability of its being some money concern--something just come to light, of a disagreeable nature in the circumstances of the family,--something which the late event at Richmond had brought forward. Her fancy was very active. Half a dozen natural children, perhaps--and poor Frank cut off!-- This, though very undesirable, would be no matter of agony to her. It inspired little more than an animating curiosity.
"Who is that gentleman on horseback?" said she, as they proceeded-- speaking more to assist Mr. Weston in keeping his secret, than with any other view.
"I do not know.--One of the Otways.--Not Frank;--it is not Frank, I assure you. You will not see him. He is half way to Windsor by this time."
"Has your son been with you, then?"
"Oh! yes--did not you know?--Well, well, never mind."
For a moment he was silent; and then added, in a tone much more guarded and demure,
"Yes, Frank came over this morning, just to ask us how we did."
They hurried on, and were speedily at Randalls.--"Well, my dear," said he, as they entered the room--"I have brought her, and now I hope you will soon be better. I shall leave you together. There is no use in delay. I shall not be far off, if you want me."-- And Emma distinctly heard him add, in a lower tone, before he quitted the room,--"I have been as good as my word. She has not the least idea."
Mrs. Weston was looking so ill, and had an air of so much perturbation, that Emma's uneasiness increased; and the moment they were alone, she eagerly said,
"What is it my dear friend? Something of a very unpleasant nature, I find, has occurred;--do let me know directly what it is. I have been walking all this way in complete suspense. We both abhor suspense. Do not let mine continue longer. It will do you good to speak of your distress, whatever it may be."
"Have you indeed no idea?" said Mrs. Weston in a trembling voice. "Cannot you, my dear Emma--cannot you form a guess as to what you are to hear?"
"So far as that it relates to Mr. Frank Churchill, I do guess."
"You are right. It does relate to him, and I will tell you directly;" (resuming her work, and seeming resolved against looking up.) "He has been here this very morning, on a most extraordinary errand. It is impossible to express our surprize. He came to speak to his father on a subject,--to announce an attachment--"
She stopped to breathe. Emma thought first of herself, and then of Harriet.
"More than an attachment, indeed," resumed Mrs. Weston; "an engagement-- a positive engagement.--What will you say, Emma--what will any body say, when it is known that Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax are engaged;--nay, that they have been long engaged!"
Emma even jumped with surprize;--and, horror-struck, exclaimed,
"Jane Fairfax!--Good God! You are not serious? You do not mean it?"
"You may well be amazed," returned Mrs. Weston, still averting her eyes, and talking on with eagerness, that Emma might have time to recover-- "You may well be amazed. But it is even so. There has been a solemn engagement between them ever since October--formed at Weymouth, and kept a secret from every body. Not a creature knowing it but themselves--neither the Campbells, nor her family, nor his.-- It is so wonderful, that though perfectly convinced of the fact, it is yet almost incredible to myself. I can hardly believe it.-- I thought I knew him."
Emma scarcely heard what was said.--Her mind was divided between two ideas--her own former conversations with him about Miss Fairfax; and poor Harriet;--and for some time she could only exclaim, and require confirmation, repeated confirmation.
"Well," said she at last, trying to recover herself; "this is a circumstance which I must think of at least half a day, before I can at all comprehend it. What!--engaged to her all the winter-- before either of them came to Highbury?"
"Engaged since October,--secretly engaged.--It has hurt me, Emma, very much. It has hurt his father equally. _Some_ _part_ of his conduct we cannot excuse."
Emma pondered a moment, and then replied, "I will not pretend _not_ to understand you; and to give you all the relief in my power, be assured that no such effect has followed his attentions to me, as you are apprehensive of."
Mrs. Weston looked up, afraid to believe; but Emma's countenance was as steady as her words.
"That you may have less difficulty in believing this boast, of my present perfect indifference," she continued, "I will farther tell you, that there was a period in the early part of our acquaintance, when I did like him, when I was very much disposed to be attached to him--nay, was attached--and how it came to cease, is perhaps the wonder. Fortunately, however, it did cease. I have really for some time past, for at least these three months, cared nothing about him. You may believe me, Mrs. Weston. This is the simple truth."
Mrs. Weston kissed her with tears of joy; and when she could find utterance, assured her, that this protestation had done her more good than any thing else in the world could do.
"Mr. Weston will be almost as much relieved as myself," said she. "On this point we have been wretched. It was our darling wish that you might be attached to each other--and we were persuaded that it was so.-- Imagine what we have been feeling on your account."
"I have escaped; and that I should escape, may be a matter of grateful wonder to you and myself. But this does not acquit _him_, Mrs. Weston; and I must say, that I think him greatly to blame. What right had he to come among us with affection and faith engaged, and with manners so _very_ disengaged? What right had he to endeavour to please, as he certainly did--to distinguish any one young woman with persevering attention, as he certainly did--while he really belonged to another?--How could he tell what mischief he might be doing?-- How could he tell that he might not be making me in love with him?-- very wrong, very wrong indeed."
"From something that he said, my dear Emma, I rather imagine--"
"And how could _she_ bear such behaviour! Composure with a witness! to look on, while repeated attentions were offering to another woman, before her face, and not resent it.--That is a degree of placidity, which I can neither comprehend nor respect."
"There were misunderstandings between them, Emma; he said so expressly. He had not time to enter into much explanation. He was here only a quarter of an hour, and in a state of agitation which did not allow the full use even of the time he could stay-- but that there had been misunderstandings he decidedly said. The present crisis, indeed, seemed to be brought on by them; and those misunderstandings might very possibly arise from the impropriety of his conduct."
"Impropriety! Oh! Mrs. Weston--it is too calm a censure. Much, much beyond impropriety!--It has sunk him, I cannot say how it has sunk him in my opinion. So unlike what a man should be!-- None of that upright integrity, that strict adherence to truth and principle, that disdain of trick and littleness, which a man should display in every transaction of his life."
"Nay, dear Emma, now I must take his part; for though he has been wrong in this instance, I have known him long enough to answer for his having many, very many, good qualities; and--"
"Good God!" cried Emma, not attending to her.--"Mrs. Smallridge, too! Jane actually on the point of going as governess! What could he mean by such horrible indelicacy? To suffer her to engage herself-- to suffer her even to think of such a measure!"
"He knew nothing about it, Emma. On this article I can fully acquit him. It was a private resolution of hers, not communicated to him--or at least not communicated in a way to carry conviction.-- Till yesterday, I know he said he was in the dark as to her plans. They burst on him, I do not know how, but by some letter or message-- and it was the discovery of what she was doing, of this very project of hers, which determined him to come forward at once, own it all to his uncle, throw himself on his kindness, and, in short, put an end to the miserable state of concealment that had been carrying on so long."
Emma began to listen better.
"I am to hear from him soon," continued Mrs. Weston. "He told me at parting, that he should soon write; and he spoke in a manner which seemed to promise me many particulars that could not be given now. Let us wait, therefore, for this letter. It may bring many extenuations. It may make many things intelligible and excusable which now are not to be understood. Don't let us be severe, don't let us be in a hurry to condemn him. Let us have patience. I must love him; and now that I am satisfied on one point, the one material point, I am sincerely anxious for its all turning out well, and ready to hope that it may. They must both have suffered a great deal under such a system of secresy and concealment."
"_His_ sufferings," replied Emma dryly, "do not appear to have done him much harm. Well, and how did Mr. Churchill take it?"
"Most favourably for his nephew--gave his consent with scarcely a difficulty. Conceive what the events of a week have done in that family! While poor Mrs. Churchill lived, I suppose there could not have been a hope, a chance, a possibility;--but scarcely are her remains at rest in the family vault, than her husband is persuaded to act exactly opposite to what she would have required. What a blessing it is, when undue influence does not survive the grave!-- He gave his consent with very little persuasion."
"Ah!" thought Emma, "he would have done as much for Harriet."
"This was settled last night, and Frank was off with the light this morning. He stopped at Highbury, at the Bates's, I fancy, some time--and then came on hither; but was in such a hurry to get back to his uncle, to whom he is just now more necessary than ever, that, as I tell you, he could stay with us but a quarter of an hour.-- He was very much agitated--very much, indeed--to a degree that made him appear quite a different creature from any thing I had ever seen him before.--In addition to all the rest, there had been the shock of finding her so very unwell, which he had had no previous suspicion of-- and there was every appearance of his having been feeling a great deal."
"And do you really believe the affair to have been carrying on with such perfect secresy?--The Campbells, the Dixons, did none of them know of the engagement?"
Emma could not speak the name of Dixon without a little blush.
"None; not one. He positively said that it had been known to no being in the world but their two selves."
"Well," said Emma, "I suppose we shall gradually grow reconciled to the idea, and I wish them very happy. But I shall always think it a very abominable sort of proceeding. What has it been but a system of hypocrisy and deceit,--espionage, and treachery?-- To come among us with professions of openness and simplicity; and such a league in secret to judge us all!--Here have we been, the whole winter and spring, completely duped, fancying ourselves all on an equal footing of truth and honour, with two people in the
midst of us who may have been carrying round, comparing and sitting in judgment on sentiments and words that were never meant for both to hear.--They must take the consequence, if they have heard each other spoken of in a way not perfectly agreeable!"
"I am quite easy on that head," replied Mrs. Weston. "I am very sure that I never said any thing of either to the other, which both might not have heard."
"You are in luck.--Your only blunder was confined to my ear, when you imagined a certain friend of ours in love with the lady."
"True. But as I have always had a thoroughly good opinion of Miss Fairfax, I never could, under any blunder, have spoken ill of her; and as to speaking ill of him, there I must have been safe."
At this moment Mr. Weston appeared at a little distance from the window, evidently on the watch. His wife gave him a look which invited him in; and, while he was coming round, added, "Now, dearest Emma, let me intreat you to say and look every thing that may set his heart at ease, and incline him to be satisfied with the match. Let us make the best of it--and, indeed, almost every thing may be fairly said in her favour. It is not a connexion to gratify; but if Mr. Churchill does not feel that, why should we? and it may be a very fortunate circumstance for him, for Frank, I mean, that he should have attached himself to a girl of such steadiness of character and good judgment as I have always given her credit for-- and still am disposed to give her credit for, in spite of this one great deviation from the strict rule of right. And how much may be said in her situation for even that error!"
"Much, indeed!" cried Emma feelingly. "If a woman can ever be excused for thinking only of herself, it is in a situation like Jane Fairfax's.--Of such, one may almost say, that `the world is not their's, nor the world's law.'"
She met Mr. Weston on his entrance, with a smiling countenance, exclaiming,
"A very pretty trick you have been playing me, upon my word! This was a device, I suppose, to sport with my curiosity, and exercise my talent of guessing. But you really frightened me. I thought you had lost half your property, at least. And here, instead of its being a matter of condolence, it turns out to be one of congratulation.--I congratulate you, Mr. Weston, with all my heart, on the prospect of having one of the most lovely and accomplished young women in England for your daughter."
A glance or two between him and his wife, convinced him that all was as right as this speech proclaimed; and its happy effect on his spirits was immediate. His air and voice recovered their usual briskness: he shook her heartily and gratefully by the hand, and entered on the subject in a manner to prove, that he now only wanted time and persuasion to think the engagement no very bad thing. His companions suggested only what could palliate imprudence, or smooth objections; and by the time they had talked it all over together, and he had talked it all over again with Emma, in their walk back to Hartfield, he was become perfectly reconciled, and not far from thinking it the very best thing that Frank could possibly have done.
"Harriet, poor Harriet!"--Those were the words; in them lay the tormenting ideas which Emma could not get rid of, and which constituted the real misery of the business to her. Frank Churchill had behaved very ill by herself--very ill in many ways,--but it was not so much _his_ behaviour as her _own_, which made her so angry with him. It was the scrape which he had drawn her into on Harriet's account, that gave the deepest hue to his offence.--Poor Harriet! to be a second time the dupe of her misconceptions and flattery. Mr. Knightley had spoken prophetically, when he once said, "Emma, you have been no friend to Harriet Smith."--She was afraid she had done her nothing but disservice.--It was true that she had not to charge herself, in this instance as in the former, with being the sole and original author of the mischief; with having suggested such feelings as might otherwise never have entered Harriet's imagination; for Harriet had acknowledged her admiration and preference of Frank Churchill before she had ever given her a hint on the subject; but she felt completely guilty of having encouraged what she might have repressed. She might have prevented the indulgence and increase of such sentiments. Her influence would have been enough. And now she was very conscious that she ought to have prevented them.--She felt that she had been risking her friend's happiness on most insufficient grounds. Common sense would have directed her to tell Harriet, that she must not allow herself to think of him, and that there were five hundred chances to one against his ever caring for her.--"But, with common sense," she added, "I am afraid I have had little to do."
She was extremely angry with herself. If she could not have been angry with Frank Churchill too, it would have been dreadful.-- As for Jane Fairfax, she might at least relieve her feelings from any present solicitude on her account. Harriet would be anxiety enough; she need no longer be unhappy about Jane, whose troubles and whose ill-health having, of course, the same origin, must be equally under cure.--Her days of insignificance and evil were over.--She would soon be well, and happy, and prosperous.-- Emma could now imagine why her own attentions had been slighted. This discovery laid many smaller matters open. No doubt it had been from jealousy.--In Jane's eyes she had been a rival; and well might any thing she could offer of assistance or regard be repulsed. An airing in the Hartfield carriage would have been the rack, and arrowroot from the Hartfield storeroom must have been poison. She understood it all; and as far as her mind could disengage itself from the injustice and selfishness of angry feelings, she acknowledged that Jane Fairfax would have neither elevation nor happiness beyond her desert. But poor Harriet was such an engrossing charge! There was little sympathy to be spared for any body else. Emma was sadly fearful that this second disappointment would be more severe than the first. Considering the very superior claims of the object, it ought; and judging by its apparently stronger effect on Harriet's mind, producing reserve and self-command, it would.-- She must communicate the painful truth, however, and as soon as possible. An injunction of secresy had been among Mr. Weston's parting words. "For the present, the whole affair was to be completely a secret. Mr. Churchill had made a point of it, as a token of respect to the wife he had so very recently lost; and every body admitted it to be no more than due decorum."-- Emma had promised; but still Harriet must be excepted. It was her superior duty.
In spite of her vexation, she could not help feeling it almost ridiculous, that she should have the very same distressing and delicate office to perform by Harriet, which Mrs. Weston had just gone through by herself. The intelligence, which had been so anxiously announced to her, she was now to be anxiously announcing to another. Her heart beat quick on hearing Harriet's footstep and voice; so, she supposed, had poor Mrs. Weston felt when _she_ was approaching Randalls. Could the event of the disclosure bear an equal resemblance!-- But of that, unfortunately, there could be no chance.
"Well, Miss Woodhouse!" cried Harriet, coming eagerly into the room-- "is not this the oddest news that ever was?"
"What news do you mean?" replied Emma, unable to guess, by look or voice, whether Harriet could indeed have received any hint.
"About Jane Fairfax. Did you ever hear any thing so strange? Oh!--you need not be afraid of owning it to me, for Mr. Weston has told me himself. I met him just now. He told me it was to be a great secret; and, therefore, I should not think of mentioning it to any body but you, but he said you knew it."
"What did Mr. Weston tell you?"--said Emma, still perplexed.
"Oh! he told me all about it; that Jane Fairfax and Mr. Frank Churchill are to be married, and that they have been privately engaged to one another this long while. How very odd!"
It was, indeed, so odd; Harriet's behaviour was so extremely odd, that Emma did not know how to understand it. Her character appeared absolutely changed. She seemed to propose shewing no agitation, or disappointment, or peculiar concern in the discovery. Emma looked at her, quite unable to speak.
"Had you any idea," cried Harriet, "of his being in love with her?--You, perhaps, might.--You (blushing as she spoke) who can see into every body's heart; but nobody else--"
"Upon my word," said Emma, "I begin to doubt my having any such talent. Can you seriously ask me, Harriet, whether I imagined him attached to another woman at the very time that I was--tacitly, if not openly-- encouraging you to give way to your own feelings?--I never had the slightest suspicion, till within the last hour, of Mr. Frank Churchill's having the least regard for Jane Fairfax. You may be very sure that if I had, I should have cautioned you accordingly."
"Me!" cried Harriet, colouring, and astonished. "Why should you caution me?--You do not think I care about Mr. Frank Churchill."
"I am delighted to hear you speak so stoutly on the subject," replied Emma, smiling; "but you do not mean to deny that there was a time--and not very distant either--when you gave me reason to understand that you did care about him?"
"Him!--never, never. Dear Miss Woodhouse, how could you so mistake me?" turning away distressed.
"Harriet!" cried Emma, after a moment's pause--"What do you mean?-- Good Heaven! what do you mean?--Mistake you!--Am I to suppose then?--"
She could not speak another word.--Her voice was lost; and she sat down, waiting in great terror till Harriet should answer.
Harriet, who was standing at some distance, and with face turned from her, did not immediately say any thing; and when she did speak, it was in a voice nearly as agitated as Emma's.
"I should not have thought it possible," she began, "that you could have misunderstood me! I know we agreed never to name him-- but considering how infinitely superior he is to every body else, I should not have thought it possible that I could be supposed to mean any other person. Mr. Frank Churchill, indeed! I do not know who would ever look at him in the company of the other. I hope I have a better taste than to think of Mr. Frank Churchill, who is like nobody by his side. And that you should have been so mistaken, is amazing!--I am sure, but for believing that you entirely approved and meant to encourage me in my attachment, I should have considered it at first too great a presumption almost, to dare to think of him. At first, if you had not told me that more wonderful things had happened; that there had been matches of greater disparity (those were your very words);-- I should not have dared to give way to--I should not have thought it possible--But if _you_, who had been always acquainted with him--"
"Harriet!" cried Emma, collecting herself resolutely--"Let us understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are you speaking of--Mr. Knightley?"
"To be sure I am. I never could have an idea of any body else-- and so I thought you knew. When we talked about him, it was as clear as possible."
"Not quite," returned Emma, with forced calmness, "for all that you then said, appeared to me to relate to a different person. I could almost assert that you had _named_ Mr. Frank Churchill. I am sure the service Mr. Frank Churchill had rendered you, in protecting you from the gipsies, was spoken of."
"Oh! Miss Woodhouse, how you do forget!"
"My dear Harriet, I perfectly remember the substance of what I said on the occasion. I told you that I did not wonder at your attachment; that considering the service he had rendered you, it was extremely natural:--and you agreed to it, expressing yourself very warmly as to your sense of that service, and mentioning even what your sensations had been in seeing him come forward to your rescue.--The impression of it is strong on my memory."
"Oh, dear," cried Harriet, "now I recollect what you mean; but I was thinking of something very different at the time. It was not the gipsies--it was not Mr. Frank Churchill that I meant. No! (with some elevation) I was thinking of a much more precious circumstance-- of Mr. Knightley's coming and asking me to dance, when Mr. Elton would not stand up with me; and when there was no other partner in the room. That was the kind action; that was the noble benevolence and generosity; that was the service which made me begin to feel how superior he was to every other being upon earth."
"Good God!" cried Emma, "this has been a most unfortunate-- most deplorable mistake!--What is to be done?"
"You would not have encouraged me, then, if you had understood me? At least, however, I cannot be worse off than I should have been, if the other had been the person; and now--it _is_ possible--"
She paused a few moments. Emma could not speak.
"I do not wonder, Miss Woodhouse," she resumed, "that you should feel a great difference between the two, as to me or as to any body. You must think one five hundred million times more above me than the other. But I hope, Miss Woodhouse, that supposing--that if-- strange as it may appear--. But you know they were your own words, that _more_ wonderful things had happened, matches of _greater_ disparity had taken place than between Mr. Frank Churchill and me; and, therefore, it seems as if such a thing even as this, may have occurred before-- and if I should be so fortunate, beyond expression, as to-- if Mr. Knightley should really--if _he_ does not mind the disparity, I hope, dear Miss Woodhouse, you will not set yourself against it, and try to put difficulties in the way. But you are too good for that, I am sure."
Harriet was standing at one of the windows. Emma turned round to look at her in consternation, and hastily said,
"Have you any idea of Mr. Knightley's returning your affection?"
"Yes," replied Harriet modestly, but not fearfully--"I must say that I have."
Emma's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched-- she admitted--she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet's having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!
Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few minutes. She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before. How improperly had she been acting by Harriet! How inconsiderate, how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling had been her conduct! What blindness, what madness, had led her on! It struck her with dreadful force, and she was ready to give it every bad name in the world. Some portion of respect for herself, however, in spite of all these demerits-- some concern for her own appearance, and a strong sense of justice by Harriet--(there would be no need of _compassion_ to the girl who believed herself loved by Mr. Knightley--but justice required that she should not be made unhappy by any coldness now,) gave Emma the resolution to sit and endure farther with calmness, with even apparent kindness.--For her own advantage indeed, it was fit that the utmost extent of Harriet's hopes should be enquired into; and Harriet had done nothing to forfeit the regard and interest which had been so voluntarily formed and maintained--or to deserve to be slighted by the person, whose counsels had never led her right.-- Rousing from reflection, therefore, and subduing her emotion, she turned to Harriet again, and, in a more inviting accent, renewed the conversation; for as to the subject which had first introduced it, the wonderful story of Jane Fairfax, that was quite sunk and lost.-- Neither of them thought but of Mr. Knightley and themselves.
Harriet, who had been standing in no unhappy reverie, was yet very glad to be called from it, by the now encouraging manner of such a judge, and such a friend as Miss Woodhouse, and only wanted invitation, to give the history of her hopes with great, though trembling delight.--Emma's tremblings as she asked, and as she listened, were better concealed than Harriet's, but they were not less. Her voice was not unsteady; but her mind was in all the perturbation that such a development of self, such a burst of threatening evil, such a confusion of sudden and perplexing emotions, must create.-- She listened with much inward suffering, but with great outward patience, to Harriet's detail.--Methodical, or well arranged, or very well delivered, it could not be expected to be; but it contained, when separated from all the feebleness and tautology of the narration, a substance to sink her spirit-- especially with the corroborating circumstances, which her own memory brought in favour of Mr. Knightley's most improved opinion of Harriet.
Harriet had been conscious of a difference in his behaviour ever since those two decisive dances.--Emma knew that he had, on that occasion, found her much superior to his expectation. From that evening, or at least from the time of Miss Woodhouse's encouraging her to think of him, Harriet had begun to be sensible of his talking to her much more than he had been used to do, and of his having indeed quite a different manner towards her; a manner of kindness and sweetness!--Latterly she had been more and more aware of it. When they had been all walking together, he had so often come and walked by her, and talked so very delightfully!--He seemed to want to be acquainted with her. Emma knew it to have been very much the case. She had often observed the change, to almost the same extent.-- Harriet repeated expressions of approbation and praise from him-- and Emma felt them to be in the closest agreement with what she had known of his opinion of Harriet. He praised her for being without art or affectation, for having simple, honest, generous, feelings.-- She knew that he saw such recommendations in Harriet; he had dwelt on them to her more than once.--Much that lived in Harriet's memory, many little particulars of the notice she had received from him, a look, a speech, a removal from one chair to another, a compliment implied, a preference inferred, had been unnoticed, because unsuspected, by Emma. Circumstances that might swell to half an hour's relation, and contained multiplied proofs to her who had seen them, had passed undiscerned by her who now heard them; but the two latest occurrences to be mentioned, the two of strongest promise to Harriet, were not without some degree of witness from Emma herself.--The first, was his walking with her apart from the others, in the lime-walk at Donwell, where they had been walking some time before Emma came, and he had taken pains (as she was convinced) to draw her from the rest to himself--and at first, he had talked to her in a more particular way than he had ever done before, in a very particular way indeed!--(Harriet could not recall it without a blush.) He seemed to be almost asking her, whether her affections were engaged.-- But as soon as she (Miss Woodhouse) appeared likely to join them, he changed the subject, and began talking about farming:-- The second, was his having sat talking with her nearly half an hour before Emma came back from her visit, the very last morning of his being at Hartfield--though, when he first came in, he had said that he could not stay five minutes--and his having told her, during their conversation, that though he must go to London, it was very much against his inclination that he left home at all, which was much more (as Emma felt) than he had acknowledged to _her_. The superior degree of confidence towards Harriet, which this one article marked, gave her severe pain.
On the subject of the first of the two circumstances, she did, after a little reflection, venture the following question. "Might he not?--Is not it possible, that when enquiring, as you thought, into the state of your affections, he might be alluding to Mr. Martin-- he might have Mr. Martin's interest in view? But Harriet rejected the suspicion with spirit.
"Mr. Martin! No indeed!--There was not a hint of Mr. Martin. I hope I know better now, than to care for Mr. Martin, or to be suspected of it."
When Harriet had closed her evidence, she appealed to her dear Miss Woodhouse, to say whether she had not good ground for hope.
"I never should have presumed to think of it at first," said she, "but for you. You told me to observe him carefully, and let his behaviour be the rule of mine--and so I have. But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him; and that if he does chuse me, it will not be any thing so very wonderful."
The bitter feelings occasioned by this speech, the many bitter feelings, made the utmost exertion necessary on Emma's side, to enable her to say on reply,
"Harriet, I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does."
Harriet seemed ready to worship her friend for a sentence so satisfactory; and Emma was only saved from raptures and fondness, which at that moment would have been dreadful penance, by the sound of her father's footsteps. He was coming through the hall. Harriet was too much agitated to encounter him. "She could not compose herself-- Mr. Woodhouse would be alarmed--she had better go;"--with most ready encouragement from her friend, therefore, she passed off through another door--and the moment she was gone, this was the spontaneous burst of Emma's feelings: "Oh God! that I had never seen her!"
The rest of the day, the following night, were hardly enough for her thoughts.--She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last few hours. Every moment had brought a fresh surprize; and every surprize must be matter of humiliation to her.--How to understand it all! How to understand the deceptions she had been thus practising on herself, and living under!--The blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart!--she sat still, she walked about, she tried her own room, she tried the shrubbery--in every place, every posture, she perceived that she had acted most weakly; that she had been imposed on by others in a most mortifying degree; that she had been imposing on herself in a degree yet more mortifying; that she was wretched, and should probably find this day but the beginning of wretchedness.
To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first endeavour. To that point went every leisure moment which her father's claims on her allowed, and every moment of involuntary absence of mind.
How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun?-- When had he succeeded to that place in her affection, which Frank Churchill had once, for a short period, occupied?--She looked back; she compared the two--compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation, from the time of the latter's becoming known to her-- and as they must at any time have been compared by her, had it-- oh! had it, by any blessed felicity, occurred to her, to institute the comparison.--She saw that there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr. Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart--and, in short, that she had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!
This was the conclusion of the first series of reflection. This was the knowledge of herself, on the first question of inquiry, which she reached; and without being long in reaching it.-- She was most sorrowfully indignant; ashamed of every sensation but the one revealed to her--her affection for Mr. Knightley.-- Every other part of her mind was disgusting.
With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing--for she had done mischief. She had brought evil on Harriet, on herself, and she too much feared, on Mr. Knightley.--Were this most unequal of all connexions to take place, on her must rest all the reproach of having given it a beginning; for his attachment, she must believe to be produced only by a consciousness of Harriet's;--and even were this not the case, he would never have known Harriet at all but for her folly.
Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith!--It was a union to distance every wonder of the kind.--The attachment of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax became commonplace, threadbare, stale in the comparison, exciting no surprize, presenting no disparity, affording nothing to be said or thought.--Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith!--Such an elevation on her side! Such a debasement on his! It was horrible to Emma to think how it must sink him in the general opinion, to foresee the smiles, the sneers, the merriment it would prompt at his expense; the mortification and disdain of his brother, the thousand inconveniences to himself.--Could it be?--No; it was impossible. And yet it was far, very far, from impossible.--Was it a new circumstance for a man of first-rate abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers? Was it new for one, perhaps too busy to seek, to be the prize of a girl who would seek him?--Was it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous--or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate?
Oh! had she never brought Harriet forward! Had she left her where she ought, and where he had told her she ought!--Had she not, with a folly which no tongue could express, prevented her marrying the unexceptionable young man who would have made her happy and respectable in the line of life to which she ought to belong-- all would have been safe; none of this dreadful sequel would have been.
How Harriet could ever have had the presumption to raise her thoughts to Mr. Knightley!--How she could dare to fancy herself the chosen of such a man till actually assured of it!-- But Harriet was less humble, had fewer scruples than formerly.-- Her inferiority, whether of mind or situation, seemed little felt.-- She had seemed more sensible of Mr. Elton's being to stoop in marrying her, than she now seemed of Mr. Knightley's.-- Alas! was not that her own doing too? Who had been at pains to give Harriet notions of self-consequence but herself?--Who but herself had taught her, that she was to elevate herself if possible, and that her claims were great to a high worldly establishment?-- If Harriet, from being humble, were grown vain, it was her doing too.
Till now that she was threatened with its loss, Emma had never known how much of her happiness depended on being _first_ with Mr. Knightley, first in interest and affection.--Satisfied that it was so, and feeling it her due, she had enjoyed it without reflection; and only in the dread of being supplanted, found how inexpressibly important it had been.--Long, very long, she felt she had been first; for, having no female connexions of his own, there had been only Isabella whose claims could be compared with hers, and she had always known exactly how far he loved and esteemed Isabella. She had herself been first with him for many years past. She had not deserved it; she had often been negligent or perverse, slighting his advice, or even wilfully opposing him, insensible of half his merits, and quarrelling with him because he would not acknowledge her false and insolent estimate of her own--but still, from family attachment and habit, and thorough excellence of mind, he had loved her, and watched over her from a girl, with an endeavour to improve her, and an anxiety for her doing right, which no other creature had at all shared. In spite of all her faults, she knew she was dear to him; might she not say, very dear?-- When the suggestions of hope, however, which must follow here, presented themselves, she could not presume to indulge them. Harriet Smith might think herself not unworthy of being peculiarly, exclusively, passionately loved by Mr. Knightley. _She_ could not. She could not flatter herself with any idea of blindness in his attachment to _her_. She had received a very recent proof of its impartiality.-- How shocked had he been by her behaviour to Miss Bates! How directly, how strongly had he expressed himself to her on the subject!--Not too strongly for the offence--but far, far too strongly to issue from any feeling softer than upright justice and clear-sighted goodwill.-- She had no hope, nothing to deserve the name of hope, that he could have that sort of affection for herself which was now in question; but there was a hope (at times a slight one, at times much stronger,) that Harriet might have deceived herself, and be overrating his regard for _her_.--Wish it she must, for his sake--be the consequence nothing to herself, but his remaining single all his life. Could she be secure of that, indeed, of his never marrying at all, she believed she should be perfectly satisfied.--Let him but continue the same Mr. Knightley to her and her father, the same Mr. Knightley to all the world; let Donwell and Hartfield lose none of their precious intercourse of friendship and confidence, and her peace would be fully secured.--Marriage, in fact, would not do for her. It would be incompatible with what she owed to her father, and with what she felt for him. Nothing should separate her from her father. She would not marry, even if she were asked by Mr. Knightley.
It must be her ardent wish that Harriet might be disappointed; and she hoped, that when able to see them together again, she might at least be able to ascertain what the chances for it were.--She should see them henceforward with the closest observance; and wretchedly as she had hitherto misunderstood even those she was watching, she did not know how to admit that she could be blinded here.-- He was expected back every day. The power of observation would be soon given--frightfully soon it appeared when her thoughts were in one course. In the meanwhile, she resolved against seeing Harriet.-- It would do neither of them good, it would do the subject no good, to be talking of it farther.--She was resolved not to be convinced, as long as she could doubt, and yet had no authority for opposing Harriet's confidence. To talk would be only to irritate.--She wrote to her, therefore, kindly, but decisively, to beg that she would not, at present, come to Hartfield; acknowledging it to be her conviction, that all farther confidential discussion of _one_ topic had better be avoided; and hoping, that if a few days were allowed to pass before they met again, except in the company of others--she objected only to a tete-a-tete--they might be able to act as if they had forgotten the conversation of yesterday.--Harriet submitted, and approved, and was grateful.
This point was just arranged, when a visitor arrived to tear Emma's thoughts a little from the one subject which had engrossed them, sleeping or waking, the last twenty-four hours--Mrs. Weston, who had been calling on her daughter-in-law elect, and took Hartfield in her way home, almost as much in duty to Emma as in pleasure to herself, to relate all the particulars of so interesting an interview.
Mr. Weston had accompanied her to Mrs. Bates's, and gone through his share of this essential attention most handsomely; but she having then induced Miss Fairfax to join her in an airing, was now returned with much more to say, and much more to say with satisfaction, than a quarter of an hour spent in Mrs. Bates's parlour, with all the encumbrance of awkward feelings, could have afforded.
A little curiosity Emma had; and she made the most of it while her friend related. Mrs. Weston had set off to pay the visit in a good deal of agitation herself; and in the first place had wished not to go at all at present, to be allowed merely to write to Miss Fairfax instead, and to defer this ceremonious call till a little time had passed, and Mr. Churchill could be reconciled to the engagement's becoming known; as, considering every thing, she thought such a visit could not be paid without leading to reports:-- but Mr. Weston had thought differently; he was extremely anxious to shew his approbation to Miss Fairfax and her family, and did not conceive that any suspicion could be excited by it; or if it were, that it would be of any consequence; for "such things," he observed, "always got about." Emma smiled, and felt that Mr. Weston had very good reason for saying so. They had gone, in short--and very great had been the evident distress and confusion of the lady. She had hardly been able to speak a word, and every look and action had shewn how deeply she was suffering from consciousness. The quiet, heart-felt satisfaction of the old lady, and the rapturous delight of her daughter--who proved even too joyous to talk as usual, had been a gratifying, yet almost an affecting, scene. They were both so truly respectable in their happiness, so disinterested in every sensation; thought so much of Jane; so much of every body, and so little of themselves, that every kindly feeling was at work for them. Miss Fairfax's recent illness had offered a fair plea for Mrs. Weston to invite her to an airing; she had drawn back and declined at first, but, on being pressed had yielded; and, in the course of their drive, Mrs. Weston had, by gentle encouragement, overcome so much of her embarrassment, as to bring her to converse on the important subject. Apologies for her seemingly ungracious silence in their first reception, and the warmest expressions of the gratitude she was always feeling towards herself and Mr. Weston, must necessarily open the cause; but when these effusions were put by, they had talked a good deal of the present and of the future state of the engagement. Mrs. Weston was convinced that such conversation must be the greatest relief to her companion, pent up within her own mind as every thing had so long been, and was very much pleased with all that she had said on the subject.
"On the misery of what she had suffered, during the concealment of so many months," continued Mrs. Weston, "she was energetic. This was one of her expressions. `I will not say, that since I entered into the engagement I have not had some happy moments; but I can say, that I have never known the blessing of one tranquil hour:'-- and the quivering lip, Emma, which uttered it, was an attestation that I felt at my heart."
"Poor girl!" said Emma. "She thinks herself wrong, then, for having consented to a private engagement?"
"Wrong! No one, I believe, can blame her more than she is disposed to blame herself. `The consequence,' said she, `has been a state of perpetual suffering to me; and so it ought. But after all the punishment that misconduct can bring, it is still not less misconduct. Pain is no expiation. I never can be blameless. I have been acting contrary to all my sense of right; and the fortunate turn that every thing has taken, and the kindness I am now receiving, is what my conscience tells me ought not to be.' `Do not imagine, madam,' she continued, `that I was taught wrong. Do not let any reflection fall on the principles or the care of the friends who brought me up. The error has been all my own; and I do assure you that, with all the excuse that present circumstances may appear to give, I shall yet dread making the story known to Colonel Campbell.'"
"Poor girl!" said Emma again. "She loves him then excessively, I suppose. It must have been from attachment only, that she could be led to form the engagement. Her affection must have overpowered her judgment."
"Yes, I have no doubt of her being extremely attached to him."
"I am afraid," returned Emma, sighing, "that I must often have contributed to make her unhappy."
"On your side, my love, it was very innocently done. But she probably had something of that in her thoughts, when alluding to the misunderstandings which he had given us hints of before. One natural consequence of the evil she had involved herself in," she said, "was that of making her _unreasonable_. The consciousness of having done amiss, had exposed her to a thousand inquietudes, and made her captious and irritable to a degree that must have been-- that had been--hard for him to bear. `I did not make the allowances,' said she, `which I ought to have done, for his temper and spirits-- his delightful spirits, and that gaiety, that playfulness of disposition, which, under any other circumstances, would, I am sure, have been as constantly bewitching to me, as they were at first.' She then began to speak of you, and of the great kindness you had shewn her during her illness; and with a blush which shewed me how it was all connected, desired me, whenever I had an opportunity, to thank you--I could not thank you too much--for every wish and every endeavour to do her good. She was sensible that you had never received any proper acknowledgment from herself."
"If I did not know her to be happy now," said Emma, seriously, "which, in spite of every little drawback from her scrupulous conscience, she must be, I could not bear these thanks;--for, oh! Mrs. Weston, if there were an account drawn up of the evil and the good I have done Miss Fairfax!--Well (checking herself, and trying to be more lively), this is all to be forgotten. You are very kind to bring me these interesting particulars. They shew her to the greatest advantage. I am sure she is very good-- I hope she will be very happy. It is fit that the fortune should be on his side, for I think the merit will be all on hers."
Such a conclusion could not pass unanswered by Mrs. Weston. She thought well of Frank in almost every respect; and, what was more, she loved him very much, and her defence was, therefore, earnest. She talked with a great deal of reason, and at least equal affection-- but she had too much to urge for Emma's attention; it was soon gone to Brunswick Square or to Donwell; she forgot to attempt to listen; and when Mrs. Weston ended with, "We have not yet had the letter we are so anxious for, you know, but I hope it will soon come," she was obliged to pause before she answered, and at last obliged to answer at random, before she could at all recollect what letter it was which they were so anxious for.
"Are you well, my Emma?" was Mrs. Weston's parting question.
"Oh! perfectly. I am always well, you know. Be sure to give me intelligence of the letter as soon as possible."
Mrs. Weston's communications furnished Emma with more food for unpleasant reflection, by increasing her esteem and compassion, and her sense of past injustice towards Miss Fairfax. She bitterly regretted not having sought a closer acquaintance with her, and blushed for the envious feelings which had certainly been, in some measure, the cause. Had she followed Mr. Knightley's known wishes, in paying that attention to Miss Fairfax, which was every way her due; had she tried to know her better; had she done her part towards intimacy; had she endeavoured to find a friend there instead of in Harriet Smith; she must, in all probability, have been spared from every pain which pressed on her now.--Birth, abilities, and education, had been equally marking one as an associate for her, to be received with gratitude; and the other--what was she?--Supposing even that they had never become intimate friends; that she had never been admitted into Miss Fairfax's confidence on this important matter-- which was most probable--still, in knowing her as she ought, and as she might, she must have been preserved from the abominable suspicions of an improper attachment to Mr. Dixon, which she had not only so foolishly fashioned and harboured herself, but had so unpardonably imparted; an idea which she greatly feared had been made a subject of material distress to the delicacy of Jane's feelings, by the levity or carelessness of Frank Churchill's. Of all the sources of evil surrounding the former, since her coming to Highbury, she was persuaded that she must herself have been the worst. She must have been a perpetual enemy. They never could have been all three together, without her having stabbed Jane Fairfax's peace in a thousand instances; and on Box Hill, perhaps, it had been the agony of a mind that would bear no more.
The evening of this day was very long, and melancholy, at Hartfield. The weather added what it could of gloom. A cold stormy rain set in, and nothing of July appeared but in the trees and shrubs, which the wind was despoiling, and the length of the day, which only made such cruel sights the longer visible.
The weather affected Mr. Woodhouse, and he could only be kept tolerably comfortable by almost ceaseless attention on his daughter's side, and by exertions which had never cost her half so much before. It reminded her of their first forlorn tete-a-tete, on the evening of Mrs. Weston's wedding-day; but Mr. Knightley had walked in then, soon after tea, and dissipated every melancholy fancy. Alas! such delightful proofs of Hartfield's attraction, as those sort of visits conveyed, might shortly be over. The picture which she had then drawn of the privations of the approaching winter, had proved erroneous; no friends had deserted them, no pleasures had been lost.--But her present forebodings she feared would experience no similar contradiction. The prospect before her now, was threatening to a degree that could not be entirely dispelled-- that might not be even partially brightened. If all took place that might take place among the circle of her friends, Hartfield must be comparatively deserted; and she left to cheer her father with the spirits only of ruined happiness.
The child to be born at Randalls must be a tie there even dearer than herself; and Mrs. Weston's heart and time would be occupied by it. They should lose her; and, probably, in great measure, her husband also.--Frank Churchill would return among them no more; and Miss Fairfax, it was reasonable to suppose, would soon cease to belong to Highbury. They would be married, and settled either at or near Enscombe. All that were good would be withdrawn; and if to these losses, the loss of Donwell were to be added, what would remain of cheerful or of rational society within their reach? Mr. Knightley to be no longer coming there for his evening comfort!-- No longer walking in at all hours, as if ever willing to change his own home for their's!--How was it to be endured? And if he were to be lost to them for Harriet's sake; if he were to be thought of hereafter, as finding in Harriet's society all that he wanted; if Harriet were to be the chosen, the first, the dearest, the friend, the wife to whom he looked for all the best blessings of existence; what could be increasing Emma's wretchedness but the reflection never far distant from her mind, that it had been all her own work?
When it came to such a pitch as this, she was not able to refrain from a start, or a heavy sigh, or even from walking about the room for a few seconds--and the only source whence any thing like consolation or composure could be drawn, was in the resolution of her own better conduct, and the hope that, however inferior in spirit and gaiety might be the following and every future winter of her life to the past, it would yet find her more rational, more acquainted with herself, and leave her less to regret when it were gone.