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'I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.'Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.
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Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortablehome and happydisposition, seemed to unite some of the bestblessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years inthe world with very little to distress or vex her.
She was the youngest of the two daughters of a mostaffectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of hersister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a veryearly period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have morethan an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place hadbeen supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallenlittle short of a mother in affection.
Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse’sfamily, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of bothdaughters, but particularly of Emma. Betweenthemit was more theintimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold thenominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardlyallowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authoritybeing now long passed away, they had been living together as friendand friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what sheliked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment, but directedchiefly by her own.
The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the powerof having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think alittle too well of herself; these were the disadvantages whichthreatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, wasat present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank asmisfortunes with her.
Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in theshape of any disagreeable consciousness.—Miss Taylor married.It was Miss Taylor’s loss which first brought grief. It wason the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat inmournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over, and thebride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dinetogether, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Herfather composed himself to sleep after dinner, as usual, and shehad then only to sit and think of what she had lost.
The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr.Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune,suitable age, and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfactionin considering with what self-denying, generous friendshipshe hadalways wished and promoted the match; but it was a blackmorning’s work for her. The want of Miss Taylor would be feltevery hour of every day. She recalled her past kindness—thekindness, the affection of sixteen years—how she had taughtand howshe had played with her from five years old—how shehad devoted all her powers to attach and amuse her inhealth—and how nursed her through the various illnesses ofchildhood. A large debt of gratitude was owing here; but theintercourse of the last sevenyears, the equal footing and perfectunreserve which had soon followed Isabella’s marriage, ontheir being left to each other, was yet a dearer, tendererrecollection. She had been a friend and companion such as fewpossessed: intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing allthe ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, andpeculiarly interested in herself, in every pleasure, everyscheme ofhers—one to whom she could speak every thought as it arose,and who had such an affection for her ascould never find fault.
How was she to bear the change?—It was true that herfriend was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was awarethat great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only halfa mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all heradvantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger ofsuffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father,but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her inconversation, rational or playful.
The evil ofthe actual disparity in their ages (and Mr. Woodhousehad not married early) was much increased by his constitution andhabits; for having been a valetudinarian all his life, withoutactivity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than inyears;and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of hisheart and his amiable temper, his talents could not haverecommended him at any time.
Her sister, though comparatively but little removed bymatrimony, being settled in London, only sixteen miles off, wasmuch beyond her daily reach; and many a long October and Novemberevening must be struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmasbrought the next visit from Isabella and her husband, and theirlittle children, to fill the house, and give her pleasant societyagain.
Highbury, the large and populous village, almost amounting to atown, to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn, andshrubberies, and name, did really belong, afforded her no equals.The Woodhouses were first in consequence there. All looked up tothem. She had many acquaintance in the place, for her father wasuniversally civil, but not one among them who could be accepted inlieu of Miss Taylor for even half a day. It was a melancholychange; and Emma could not but sigh over it, and wish forimpossible things, till her father awoke, and made it necessary tobe cheerful. His spirits required support. He was a nervous man,easily depressed; fond of every body that he was used to, andhating to part with them; hating change of every kind. Matrimony,as the origin of change, was always disagreeable; and he was by nomeans yet reconciled to his own daughter’s marrying, norcould ever speak of her but with compassion, though it had beenentirely a match of affection, when he was now obliged to part withMiss Taylor too; and from his habits of gentle selfishness, and ofbeing never able to suppose that other people could feeldifferently from himself, he was very much disposed to think MissTaylor had done as sad a thing for herself as for them, and wouldhave been a great deal happier if she had spent all the rest of herlife at Hartfield. Emma smiled and chatted as cheerfully as shecould, to keep him from such thoughts; but when tea came, it wasimpossible for him not to say exactly ashe had said at dinner,
“Poor Miss Taylor!—I wish she were here again. Whata pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!”
“I cannot agree with you, papa; you know I cannot. Mr.Weston is such a good-humoured, pleasant, excellent man, that hethoroughly deserves a good wife;—and you would not have hadMiss Taylor live with us for ever, and bear all my odd humours,when she might have a house of her own?”
“A house of her own!—But where is the advantage of ahouse of her own? This is three times as large.—And you havenever any odd humours, my dear.”
“How often we shall be going to see them, and they comingto see us!—We shall be always meeting!Wemust begin; we mustgo and pay wedding visit very soon.”
“My dear, how am I to get so far? Randalls is suchadistance. I could not walk half so far.”
“No, papa, nobody thought of your walking. We must go inthe carriage, to be sure.”
“The carriage! But James will not like to put the horsesto for such a little way;—and where are the poor horses to bewhile we are paying our visit?”
“They are to be put into Mr. Weston’s stable, papa.You know we have settled all that already. We talked it all overwith Mr. Weston last night. And as for James, you may be very surehe will always like going to Randalls, because of hisdaughter’s being housemaid there. I only doubt whether hewill ever take us anywhere else. That was your doing, papa. You gotHannah that good place. Nobody thought of Hannah till you mentionedher—James is so obliged to you!”
“I am very glad I did think of her. It was very lucky, forI would not have had poor James think himself slighted upon anyaccount; and I am sure she will make a very good servant: she is acivil, pretty-spoken girl; I have a great opinion of her. WheneverI see her, she always curtseys and asks me how I do, in a verypretty manner; and when you have had her here to do needlework, Iobserve she always turns the lock of the door the right way andnever bangs it. I am sure she will be an excellent servant; and itwill be a great comfort to poor Miss Taylor to have somebody abouther that she is used to see. Whenever James goes over to see hisdaughter, you know, she will be hearing of us. He will be able totell her how we all are.”
Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas,and hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerablythrough the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own. Thebackgammon-table was placed; but a visitor immediately afterwardswalked in and made it unnecessary.
Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty,was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, butparticularly connected with it, as the elder brother ofIsabella’s husband. He lived about a mile from Highbury, wasa frequent visitor, and always welcome, and at this time morewelcome than usual, as coming directly from their mutual connexionsin London. He had returned to a late dinner, after some days’absence, and now walked up to Hartfield to say that all were wellin Brunswick Square.It was a happy circumstance, and animated Mr.Woodhouse for some time. Mr. Knightley had a cheerful manner, whichalways did him good; and his many inquiries after “poorIsabella” and her children were answered most satisfactorily.When this was over, Mr.Woodhouse gratefully observed, “It isvery kind of you, Mr. Knightley, to come out at this late hour tocall upon us. I am afraid you must have had a shockingwalk.”
“Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful moonlight night; andso mild that I must draw back from your great fire.”
“But you must have found it very damp and dirty. I wishyou may not catch cold.”
“Dirty, sir! Look at my shoes. Not a speck onthem.”
“Well! that is quite surprising, for we have had a vastdeal of rain here. It rained dreadfully hardfor half an hour whilewe were at breakfast. I wanted them to put off thewedding.”
“By the bye—I have not wished you joy. Being prettywell aware of what sort of joy you must both be feeling, I havebeen in no hurry with my congratulations; but I hope itall went offtolerably well. How did you all behave? Who cried most?”
“Ah! poor Miss Taylor! ‘Tis a sadbusiness.”
“Poor Mr. and Miss Woodhouse, if you please; but I cannotpossibly say ‘poor Miss Taylor.’ I have a great regardfor you and Emma; but whenit comes to the question of dependence orindependence!—At any rate, it must be better to have only oneto please than two.”
“Especially whenoneof those two is such a fanciful,troublesome creature!” said Emma playfully. “That iswhat you have in your head, I know—and what you wouldcertainly say if my father were not by.”
“I believe it is very true, my dear, indeed,” saidMr. Woodhouse, with a sigh. “I am afraid I am sometimes veryfanciful and troublesome.”
“My dearest papa! You do not think I could meanyou, orsuppose Mr. Knightley to meanyou. What a horrible idea! Oh no! Imeant only myself. Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me, youknow—in a joke—it is all a joke. We always say what welike to one another.”
Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could seefaults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her ofthem: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emmaherself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, thatshe would not have him really suspectsuch a circumstance as her notbeing thought perfect by every body.
“Emma knows I never flatter her,” said Mr.Knightley, “but I meant no reflection on any body. MissTaylor has been used to have two persons to please; she will nowhave but one. The chances are that she must be a gainer.”
“Well,” said Emma, willing to let itpass—“you want to hear about the wedding; and I shallbe happy to tell you, for we all behaved charmingly. Every body waspunctual, every body in their best looks: not a tear, and hardly along face to be seen. Oh no; we all felt that we were going to beonly half a mile apart, and were sure of meeting everyday.”
“Dear Emma bears every thing so well,” said herfather. “But, Mr. Knightley, she is really very sorry to losepoor Miss Taylor, and I am sure shewillmiss her more than shethinks for.”
Emma turned away her head, divided between tears and smiles.“It is impossible that Emma should not miss such acompanion,” said Mr. Knightley. “We should not like herso well as we do, sir, if we could suppose it; but she knows howmuch the marriage is to Miss Taylor’s advantage; she knowshow very acceptable it must be, at Miss Taylor’s time oflife, to be settled in a home of her own, and how important to herto be secure of a comfortable provision, and therefore cannot allowherself to feel so much pain as pleasure. Every friend of MissTaylor must be glad to have her sohappily married.”
“And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me,”said Emma, “and a very considerable one—that I made thematch myself. I made the match, you know, four years ago; and tohave it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many peoplesaid Mr. Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for anything.”
Mr. Knightley shook his head at her. Her father fondly replied,“Ah! my dear, I wish you would not make matches and foretellthings, for whatever you say always comes to pass. Pray do not makeany more matches.”
“I promise you to make none for myself, papa; but I must,indeed, for other people. It is the greatest amusement in theworld! And after such success, you know!—Every body said thatMr. Weston would never marry again. Oh dear,no! Mr. Weston, who hadbeen a widower so long, and who seemed so perfectly comfortablewithout a wife, so constantly occupied either in his business intown or among his friends here, always acceptable wherever he went,always cheerful—Mr. Weston need not spend a single evening inthe year alone if he did not like it. Oh no! Mr. Weston certainlywould never marry again. Some people even talked of a promise tohis wife on her deathbed, and others of the son and the uncle notletting him. All manner of solemn nonsense was talked on thesubject, but I believed none of it.
“Ever since the day—about four years ago—thatMiss Taylor and I met with him in Broadway Lane, when, because itbegan to drizzle, he darted away with so much gallantry, andborrowed two umbrellas for us from Farmer Mitchell’s, I madeup my mind on the subject. I planned the match from that hour; andwhen such success has blessed me in this instance, dear papa, youcannot think that I shall leave off match-making.”
“I do not understand what you mean by‘success,’” said Mr. Knightley. “Successsupposes endeavour. Your time has been properly and delicatelyspent, if you have been endeavouring for the last four years tobring about this marriage. A worthy employment for a younglady’s mind! But if, which I rather imagine, your making thematch, as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying toyourself one idle day, ‘I think it would be a very good thingfor Miss Taylor if Mr. Weston were to marry her,’ and sayingit again to yourself every now and then afterwards, why do you talkof success? Where is your merit? What are you proud of? You made alucky guess; andthatis all that can be said.”
“And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of alucky guess?—I pity you.—I thought youcleverer—for, depend upon it a lucky guess is never merelyluck. There is always some talent in it. And as to my poor word‘success,’ which you quarrel with, I do not know that Iam so entirely without any claim to it. You have drawn two prettypictures; butI think there may be a third—a something betweenthe do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not promoted Mr.Weston’s visits here, and given many little encouragements,and smoothed many little matters, it might not have come to anything after all. I thinkyou must know Hartfield enough tocomprehend that.”
“A straightforward, open-hearted man like Weston, and arational, unaffected woman like Miss Taylor, may be safely left tomanage their own concerns. You are more likely to have done harm toyourself, than good to them, by interference.”
“Emma never thinks of herself, if she can do good toothers,” rejoined Mr. Woodhouse, understanding but in part.“But, my dear, pray do not make any more matches; they aresilly things, and break up one’s family circlegrievously.”
“Only one more, papa; only for Mr. Elton. Poor Mr. Elton!You like Mr. Elton, papa,—I must look about for a wife forhim. There is nobody in Highbury who deserves him—and he hasbeen here a whole year, and has fitted up his house socomfortably,that it would be a shame to have him single anylonger—and I thought when he was joining their hands to-day,he looked so very much as if he would like to have the same kindoffice done for him! I think very well of Mr. Elton, and this isthe only way I have of doing him a service.”
“Mr. Elton is a very pretty young man, to be sure, and avery good young man, and I have a great regard for him. But if youwant to shew him any attention, my dear, ask him to come and dinewith us some day. That will be a muchbetter thing. I dare say Mr.Knightley will be so kind as to meet him.”
“With a great deal of pleasure, sir, at any time,”said Mr. Knightley, laughing, “and I agree with you entirely,that it will be a much better thing. Invite him to dinner, Emma,and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave himto chuse his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six orseven-and-twenty can take care of himself.”
Mr. Weston was a native of Highbury, and born of a respectablefamily, which for the last two or three generations had been risinginto gentility and property. He had received a good education, but,on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had becomeindisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which hisbrotherswere engaged, and had satisfied an active, cheerful mindand social temper by entering into the militia of his county, thenembodied.
Captain Weston was a general favourite; and when the chances ofhis military life had introduced him to Miss Churchill, of a greatYorkshire family, and Miss Churchill fell in love with him, nobodywas surprized, except her brother and his wife, who had never seenhim, and who were full of pride and importance, which the connexionwould offend.
Miss Churchill, however, beingof age, and with the full commandof her fortune—though her fortune bore no proportion to thefamily-estate—was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, andit took place, to the infinite mortification of Mr. and Mrs.Churchill, who threw her off with due decorum. It was an unsuitableconnexion, and did not produce much happiness. Mrs. Weston ought tohave found more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart andsweet temper made him think every thing due to her in return forthe great goodness of beingin love with him; but though she had onesort of spirit, she had not the best. She had resolution enough topursue her own will in spite of her brother, but not enough torefrain from unreasonable regrets at that brother’sunreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of her formerhome. They lived beyond their income, but still it was nothing incomparison of Enscombe: she did not cease to love her husband, butshe wanted at once to be the wife of Captain Weston, and MissChurchill of Enscombe.
CaptainWeston, who had been considered, especially by theChurchills, as making such an amazing match, was proved to havemuch the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died, after athree years’ marriage, he was rather a poorer man than atfirst, and with a child to maintain. From the expense of the child,however, he was soon relieved. The boy had, with the additionalsoftening claim of a lingering illness of his mother’s, beenthe means of a sort of reconciliation; and Mr. and Mrs. Churchill,having no children of their own, nor any other young creature ofequal kindred to care for, offered to take the whole charge of thelittle Frank soon after her decease. Some scruples and somereluctance the widower-father may be supposed to have felt; but asthey were overcome by other considerations, the child was given upto the care and the wealth of the Churchills, and he had only hisown comfort to seek, and his own situation to improve as hecould.
A complete change of life became desirable. He quitted themilitia and engaged in trade, having brothers already establishedin a good way in London, which afforded him a favourable opening.It was a concern which brought just employment enough. He had stilla small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days werespent; and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society,the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfullyaway. He had, by that time, realised an easycompetence—enough to secure the purchase of a little estateadjoining Highbury, which he had always longed for—enoughtomarry a woman as portionless even as Miss Taylor, and to liveaccording to the wishes of his own friendly and socialdisposition.
It was now some time since Miss Taylor had begun to influencehis schemes; but as it was not the tyrannic influence of youth onyouth, it had not shaken his determination of never settling tillhe could purchase Randalls, and the sale of Randalls was longlooked forward to; but he had gone steadily on, with these objectsin view, till they were accomplished. He had made his fortune,bought his house, and obtained his wife; and was beginning a newperiod of existence, with every probability of greater happinessthan in any yet passed through. He had never been an unhappy man;his own temper had secured him from that, even in his firstmarriage; but his second must shew him how delightful awell-judging and truly amiable woman could be, and must give himthe pleasantest proof of its being a great deal better to choosethan to be chosen, to excite gratitude than to feel it.
He had only himself to please in his choice: his fortune was hisown; for as to Frank, it was more than being tacitly brought up ashis uncle’s heir, it had become so avowed an adoption as tohave him assume the name of Churchill on coming of age. It was mostunlikely, therefore, that he should ever want his father’sassistance. His father had no apprehension of it. The aunt was acapricious woman, and governed her husband entirely; but it was notin Mr. Weston’s nature to imagine that any caprice could bestrong enough to affect one so dear, and, as he believed, sodeservedly dear. He saw his son every year in London, and was proudof him; and his fond report of him as a very fine young man hadmade Highbury feel a sort of pridein him too. He was looked on assufficiently belonging to the place to make his merits andprospects a kind of common concern.
Mr. Frank Churchill was one of the boasts of Highbury, and alively curiosity to see him prevailed, though the compliment wassolittle returned that he had never been there in his life. Hiscoming to visit his father had been often talked of but neverachieved.
Now, upon his father’s marriage, it was very generallyproposed, as a most proper attention, that the visit should takeplace. There was not a dissentient voice on the subject, eitherwhen Mrs. Perry drank tea with Mrs. and Miss Bates, or when Mrs.and Miss Bates returned the visit. Now was the time for Mr. FrankChurchill to come among them; and the hope strengthened when it wasunderstood that he had written to his new mother on the occasion.For a few days, every morning visit in Highbury included somemention of the handsome letter Mrs. Weston had received. “Isuppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchillhas written to Mrs. Weston? I understand it was a very handsomeletter, indeed. Mr. Woodhouse told me of it. Mr. Woodhouse saw theletter, and he says he never saw such a handsome letter in hislife.”
It was, indeed, a highly prized letter. Mrs. Westonhad, ofcourse, formed a very favourable idea of the young man; and such apleasing attention was an irresistible proof of his great goodsense, and a most welcome addition to every source and everyexpression of congratulation which her marriage had alreadysecured. She felt herself a most fortunate woman; and she had livedlong enough to know how fortunate she might well be thought, wherethe only regret was for a partial separation from friends whosefriendship for her had never cooled, and who could ill bear to partwith her.
She knew that at times she must be missed; and could not think,without pain, of Emma’s losing a single pleasure, orsuffering an hour’s ennui, from the want of hercompanionableness: but dear Emma was of no feeble character; shewas more equal to her situation than most girls would have been,and had sense, and energy, and spirits that might be hoped wouldbear her well and happily through its little difficulties andprivations. And then there was such comfort in the very easydistance of Randalls from Hartfield, so convenient for evensolitary female walking, and in Mr. Weston’s disposition andcircumstances, which would make the approaching season no hindranceto their spending half the evenings in the week together.
Her situationwas altogether the subject of hours of gratitude toMrs. Weston, and of moments only of regret; and hersatisfaction—her more than satisfaction—her cheerfulenjoyment, was so just and so apparent, that Emma, well as she knewher father, was sometimes taken by surprize at his being still ableto pity ‘poor Miss Taylor,’ when they left her atRandalls in the centre of every domestic comfort, or saw her goaway in the evening attended by her pleasant husband to a carriageof her own. But never did she go without Mr. Woodhouse’sgiving a gentle sigh, and saying, “Ah, poor Miss Taylor! Shewould be very glad to stay.”
There was no recovering Miss Taylor—nor much likelihood ofceasing to pity her; but a few weeks brought some alleviation toMr. Woodhouse. The compliments of his neighbours were over; he wasno longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; andthe wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was alleat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could neverbelieve other people to be different from himself. What wasunwholesome to him he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had,therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having anywedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly triedto prevent any body’s eating it. He had been at the pains ofconsulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry wasan intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were oneof the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse’s life; and upon beingapplied to, he could not but acknowledge (though it seemed ratheragainst the bias of inclination) that wedding-cake might certainlydisagree with many—perhaps with most people, unless takenmoderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr.Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the newly marriedpair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for hisbenevolent nerves till it was all gone.
There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrysbeing seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston’s wedding-cake intheir hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it.
Mr. Woodhouse was fond of society in his own way. He liked verymuch to have his friends come and see him; and from various unitedcauses, from his long residenceat Hartfield, and his good nature,from his fortune, his house, and his daughter, he could command thevisits of his own little circle, in a great measure, as he liked.He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle;his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfitfor any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms.Fortunately for him, Highbury, including Randalls in the sameparish, and Donwell Abbey in the parish adjoining, the seat of Mr.Knightley, comprehended many such. Not unfrequently, throughEmma’s persuasion, he had some of the chosen and the best todine with him: but evening parties were what he preferred; and,unless he fancied himself at any time unequal to company, there wasscarcely an evening in the week in which Emma could not make up acard-table for him.
Real, long-standing regard brought the Westons and Mr.Knightley; and by Mr. Elton, a young man living alone withoutliking it, the privilege of exchanging any vacant evening of hisownblank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr.Woodhouse’s drawing-room, and the smiles of his lovelydaughter, was in no danger of being thrown away.
After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able ofwhom were Mrs. and Miss Bates, and Mrs. Goddard, three ladiesalmost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield, andwho were fetched and carried home so often, that Mr. Woodhousethought it no hardship for either James or the horses. Had it takenplace only once a year, it wouldhave been a grievance.
Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a veryold lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She livedwith her single daughter in a very small way, and was consideredwith all the regard and respect whicha harmless old lady, undersuch untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed amost uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young,handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worstpredicament in the world for having much of the public favour; andshe had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself,or frighten those who might hate her into outward respect. She hadnever boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passedwithout distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the careof a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go asfar as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom noone named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will andcontented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body,was interested in every body’s happiness, quicksighted toevery body’s merits; thought herself a most fortunatecreature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellentmother, and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home thatwanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature,her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to everybody, and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a great talkerupon little matters, which exactly suited Mr. Woodhouse, full oftrivial communications and harmless gossip.
Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School—not of aseminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, inlong sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirementswith elegant morality, upon new principles and newsystems—and where young ladies for enormous pay might bescrewed out of health and into vanity—but a real, honest,old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity ofaccomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girlsmight be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into alittle education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. Mrs.Goddard’s school was in high repute—and verydeservedly; for Highbury wasreckoned a particularly healthy spot:she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty ofwholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, andin winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands. It was nowonder that a train oftwenty young couple now walked after her tochurch. She was a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had workedhard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to theoccasional holiday of a tea-visit; and having formerly owed much toMr. Woodhouse’s kindness, felt his particular claim on her toleave her neat parlour, hung round with fancy-work, whenever shecould, and win or lose a few sixpences by his fireside.
These were the ladies whom Emma found herself very frequentlyable to collect; and happy wasshe, for her father’s sake, inthe power; though, as far as she was herself concerned, it was noremedy for the absence of Mrs. Weston. She was delighted to see herfather look comfortable, and very much pleased with herself forcontriving things so well;but the quiet prosings of three suchwomen made her feel that every evening so spent was indeed one ofthe long evenings she had fearfully anticipated.
As she sat one morning, looking forward to exactly such a closeof the present day, a note was brought from Mrs. Goddard,requesting, in most respectful terms, to be allowed to bring MissSmith with her; a most welcome request: for Miss Smith was a girlof seventeen, whom Emma knew very well by sight, and had long feltan interest in, on account of her beauty. A very graciousinvitation was returned, and the evening no longer dreaded by thefair mistress of the mansion.
Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody hadplaced her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, andsomebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar tothat of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known ofher history. She had no visible friends but what had been acquiredat Highbury, and was now just returned from a long visit in thecountry to some young ladies who had been at school there withher.
She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of asort which Emma particularly admired. She was short, plump, andfair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features,anda look of great sweetness, and, before the end of the evening,Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quitedetermined to continue the acquaintance.
She was not struck by any thing remarkably clever in MissSmith’s conversation, but she found her altogether veryengaging—not inconveniently shy, not unwilling totalk—and yet so far from pushing, shewing so proper andbecoming a deference, seeming so pleasantly grateful for beingadmitted to Hartfield, and so artlessly impressed by the appearanceofevery thing in so superior a style to what she had been used to,that she must have good sense, and deserve encouragement.Encouragement should be given. Those soft blue eyes, and all thosenatural graces, should not be wasted on the inferiorsociety ofHighbury and its connexions. The acquaintance she had alreadyformed were unworthy of her. The friends from whom she had justparted, though very good sort of people, must be doing her harm.They were a family of the name of Martin, whom Emma well knew bycharacter, as renting a large farm of Mr. Knightley, and residingin the parish of Donwell—very creditably, shebelieved—she knew Mr. Knightley thought highly ofthem—but they must be coarse and unpolished, and very unfitto be the intimates ofa girl who wanted only a little moreknowledge and elegance to be quite perfect.Shewould notice her; shewould improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance,and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinionsand her manners.It would be an interesting, and certainly a verykind undertaking; highly becoming her own situation in life, herleisure, and powers.
She was so busy in admiring those soft blue eyes, in talking andlistening, and forming all these schemes in the in-betweens, thatthe evening flew away at a very unusual rate; and the supper-table,which always closed such parties, and for which she had been usedto sit and watch the due time, was all set out and ready, and movedforwards to the fire, before she was aware.With an alacrity beyondthe common impulse of a spirit which yet was never indifferent tothe credit of doing every thing well and attentively, with the realgood-will of a mind delighted with its own ideas, did she then doall the honours of the meal, andhelp and recommend the mincedchicken and scalloped oysters, with an urgency which she knew wouldbe acceptable to the early hours and civil scruples of theirguests.
Upon such occasions poor Mr. Woodhouse’s feelings were insad warfare. He loved to havethe cloth laid, because it had beenthe fashion of his youth, but his conviction of suppers being veryunwholesome made him rather sorry to see any thing put on it; andwhile his hospitality would have welcomed his visitors to everything, his care for their health made him grieve that they wouldeat.
Such another small basin of thin gruel as his own was all thathe could, with thorough self-approbation, recommend; though hemight constrain himself, while the ladies were comfortably clearingthe nicer things, to say:
“Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of theseeggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understandsboiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an eggboiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are verysmall, you see—one of our small eggs will not hurt you. MissBates, let Emma help you to alittlebit of tart—averylittlebit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid ofunwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mrs.Goddard,what say you tohalfa glass of wine? Asmallhalf-glass, putinto a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree withyou.”
Emma allowed her father to talk—but supplied her visitorsin a much more satisfactory style, and on the present evening hadparticular pleasure in sending them away happy. The happiness ofMiss Smith was quite equal to her intentions. Miss Woodhouse was sogreat a personage in Highbury, that the prospect of theintroduction had given as much panic aspleasure; but the humble,grateful little girl went off with highly gratified feelings,delighted with the affability with which Miss Woodhouse had treatedher all the evening, and actually shaken hands with her atlast!
Harriet Smith’s intimacy at Hartfield was soon a settledthing. Quick and decided in her ways, Emma lost no time ininviting, encouraging, and telling her to come very often; and astheir acquaintance increased, so did their satisfaction in eachother. As a walking companion, Emma had very early foreseen howuseful she might find her. In that respect Mrs. Weston’s losshad been important. Her father never went beyond the shrubbery,where two divisions of the ground sufficed him for his long walk,or his short, as the year varied; and since Mrs. Weston’smarriage her exercise had been too much confined. She had venturedonce alone to Randalls, but it was not pleasant; and a HarrietSmith, therefore, one whom she could summon at any time to a walk,would be a valuable addition to her privileges. But ineveryrespect, as she saw more of her, she approved her, and wasconfirmed in all her kind designs.
Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile,grateful disposition, was totally free from conceit, and onlydesiring to be guided by any one she looked up to. Her earlyattachment to herself was very amiable; and her inclination forgood company, and power of appreciating what was elegant andclever, shewed that there was no want of taste, though strength ofunderstanding must not be expected. Altogether she was quiteconvinced of Harriet Smith’s being exactly the young friendshe wanted—exactly the something which her home required.Such a friend as Mrs. Weston was out of the question. Two suchcould never be granted. Two such she did not want. It was quite adifferent sort of thing, a sentiment distinct and independent. Mrs.Weston was the object of a regard which had its basis in gratitudeand esteem. Harriet would be loved as one to whom she could beuseful. For Mrs. Weston there was nothing to be done; for Harrietevery thing.
Her first attempts at usefulness were in an endeavour to findout who were the parents, but Harriet could not tell. She was readyto tell every thing in her power, but on this subject questionswere vain. Emma was obliged to fancy what she liked—but shecould never believe that in the same situationsheshould not havediscovered the truth. Harriet had no penetration. She had beensatisfied to hear and believe just what Mrs. Goddard chose to tellher; and looked no farther.
Mrs. Goddard, and the teachers, and the girls and the affairs ofthe school in general, formed naturally a great part of theconversation—and but for her acquaintance with the Martins ofAbbey-Mill Farm, it must have been the whole. But the Martinsoccupied her thoughts a good deal; she had spent two very happymonths with them, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of hervisit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place.Emma encouraged her talkativeness—amused by such a picture ofanother set of beings, and enjoying the youthful simplicity whichcould speak with so much exultation of Mrs. Martin’s having“twoparlours, two very good parlours, indeed; one of themquite as large as Mrs. Goddard’s drawing-room; and of herhaving an uppermaid who had lived five-and-twenty years with her;and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one alittle Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and ofMrs. Martin’s saying as she was so fond of it, it should becalledhercow;and of their having a very handsome summer-house intheir garden, where some day next year they were all to drinktea:—a very handsome summer-house, large enough to hold adozen people.”
For some time she was amused, without thinking beyond theimmediate cause; but as she came to understand the family better,other feelings arose. She had taken up a wrong idea, fancying itwas a mother and daughter, a son and son’s wife, who alllived together; but when it appeared that the Mr. Martin, who borea part in the narrative, and was always mentioned with approbationfor his great good-nature in doing something or other, was a singleman; that there was no young Mrs. Martin, no wife in the case; shedid suspect danger to her poor little friend from all thishospitality and kindness, and that, if she were not taken care of,she might be required to sink herself forever.
With this inspiriting notion, her questions increased in numberand meaning; and she particularly led Harriet to talk more of Mr.Martin, and there was evidently no dislike to it. Harriet was veryready to speak of the share he had had in their moonlight walks andmerry evening games; and dwelt a good deal upon his being so verygood-humoured and obliging. He had gone three miles round one dayin orderto bring her some walnuts, because she had said how fondshe was of them, and in every thing else he was so very obliging.He had his shepherd’s son into the parlour one night onpurpose to sing to her. She was very fond of singing. He could singa littlehimself. She believed he was very clever, and understoodevery thing. He had a very fine flock, and, while she was withthem, he had been bid more for his wool than any body in thecountry. She believed every body spoke well of him. His mother andsisterswere very fond of him. Mrs. Martin had told her one day (andthere was a blush as she said it,) that it was impossible for anybody to be a better son, and therefore she was sure, whenever hemarried, he would make a good husband. Not that shewantedhimtomarry. She was in no hurry at all.
“Well done, Mrs. Martin!” thought Emma. “Youknow what you are about.”
“And when she had come away, Mrs. Martin was so very kindas to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose—the finest gooseMrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on aSunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and MissPrince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her.”
“Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyondthe line of his own business? He does not read?”
“Oh yes!—that is, no—I do not know—but Ibelieve he has read a good deal—but not what you would thinkany thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports, and some otherbooks that lay in one of the window seats—but he readsallthemto himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went tocards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts,very entertaining. And I know he has read the Vicar of Wakefield.He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor The Children of theAbbey. He had never heard of suchbooks before I mentioned them, buthe is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can.”
The next question was—
“What sort of looking man is Mr. Martin?”
“Oh! not handsome—not at all handsome. I thought himvery plain at first, but I do not think him so plain now. One doesnot, you know, after a time. But did you never see him?He is inHighbury every now and then, and he is sure to ride through everyweek in his way to Kingston. He has passed you veryoften.”
“That may be, and I may have seen him fiftytimes, butwithout having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether onhorseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise mycuriosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whomI feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and acreditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be usefulto their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need noneof my help, and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above mynotice as in every other he is below it.”
“To be sure. Oh yes! It is not likely you should ever haveobserved him; but he knows you very well indeed—I mean bysight.”
“I have no doubt of his being a very respectable youngman. I know, indeed, that he is so, and, as such, wish him well.What do you imagine his age to be?”
“He was four-and-twenty the 8th of last June, and mybirthday is the 23rd just a fortnight and a day’sdifference—which is very odd.”
“Only four-and-twenty. That is too young to settle. Hismother is perfectly right not to be in a hurry. They seem verycomfortable as they are, and if she were to take any pains to marryhim, she would probably repent it. Six years hence, if he couldmeet with a good sort of young woman in the same rank as his own,with a little money, it might be verydesirable.”
“Six years hence! Dear Miss Woodhouse, he would be thirtyyears old!”
“Well, and that is as early as most men can afford tomarry, who are not born to an independence. Mr. Martin, I imagine,has his fortune entirely to make—cannot be at all beforehandwith the world. Whatever money he might come into when his fatherdied, whatever his share of the family property, it is, I dare say,all afloat, all employed in his stock, and so forth; and though,with diligence and good luck, he may be rich in time, it is next toimpossible that he should have realised any thing yet.”
“To be sure, so it is. But they live very comfortably.They have no indoors man, else they do not want for any thing; andMrs. Martin talks of taking a boy another year.”
“I wish you may not get into a scrape, Harriet, wheneverhe does marry;—I mean, as to being acquainted with hiswife—for though his sisters, from a superior education, arenot to be altogether objected to, it does not follow that he mightmarry any body at all fit for you to notice. The misfortune of yourbirth ought to make you particularly careful as to your associates.There can be no doubt of your being a gentleman’s daughter,and you must support your claim to that station by every thingwithin your own power, or there will be plenty of people who wouldtake pleasure in degrading you.”
“Yes, to be sure, I suppose there are. But while I visitat Hartfield, and you are so kind to me, Miss Woodhouse, I am notafraid of what any body can do.”
“You understand theforce of influence pretty well,Harriet; but I would have you so firmly established in goodsociety, as to be independent even of Hartfield and Miss Woodhouse.I want to see you permanently well connected, and to that end itwill be advisable to have as few odd acquaintance as may be; and,therefore, I say that if youshould still be in this country whenMr. Martin marries, I wish you may not be drawn in by your intimacywith the sisters, to be acquainted with the wife, who will probablybe some mere farmer’s daughter, without education.”
“To be sure. Yes. Not that I think Mr. Martin would evermarry any body but what had had some education—and been verywell brought up. However, I do not mean to set up my opinionagainst yours—and I am sure I shall not wishfor theacquaintance of his wife. I shall always have a great regard forthe Miss Martins, especially Elizabeth, and should be very sorry togive them up, for they are quite as well educated as me. But if hemarries a very ignorant, vulgar woman, certainly I had better notvisit her, if I can help it.”
Emma watched her through the fluctuations of this speech, andsaw no alarming symptoms of love. The young man had been the firstadmirer, but she trusted there was no other hold, and that therewould be noserious difficulty, on Harriet’s side, to opposeany friendly arrangement of her own.
They met Mr. Martin the very next day, as they were walking onthe Donwell road. He was on foot, and after looking veryrespectfully at her, looked with most unfeigned satisfaction at hercompanion. Emma was not sorry to have such an opportunity ofsurvey; and walking a few yards forward, while they talkedtogether, soon made her quick eye sufficiently acquainted with Mr.Robert Martin. His appearance was very neat, and helooked like asensible young man, but his person had no other advantage; and whenhe came to be contrasted with gentlemen, she thought he must loseall the ground he had gained in Harriet’s inclination.Harriet was not insensible of manner; she had voluntarily noticedher father’s gentleness with admiration as well as wonder.Mr. Martin looked as if he did not know what manner was.
They remained but a few minutes together, as Miss Woodhouse mustnot be kept waiting; and Harriet then came running to her with asmiling face, and in a flutter of spirits, which Miss Woodhousehoped very soon to compose.
“Only think of our happening to meet him!—How veryodd! It was quite a chance, he said, that he had not gone round byRandalls. He did not think we ever walkedthis road. He thought wewalked towards Randalls most days. He has not been able to get theRomance of the Forest yet. He was so busy the last time he was atKingston that he quite forgot it, but he goes again to-morrow. Sovery odd we should happen to meet! Well, Miss Woodhouse, is he likewhat you expected? What do you think of him? Do you think him sovery plain?”
“He is very plain, undoubtedly—remarkablyplain:—but that is nothing compared with his entire want ofgentility. I had no right to expect much, and I did not expectmuch; but I had no idea that he could be so very clownish, sototally without air. I had imagined him, I confess, a degree or twonearer gentility.”
“To be sure,” said Harriet, in a mortified voice,“he is not so genteel as real gentlemen.”
“I think, Harriet, since your acquaintance with us, youhave been repeatedly in the company of some such very realgentlemen, that you must yourself be struck with the difference inMr. Martin. At Hartfield, you have had very good specimens ofwelleducated, well bred men. I should be surprized if, after seeingthem, you could be in company with Mr. Martin again withoutperceiving him to be a very inferior creature—and ratherwondering at yourself for having ever thought him at all agreeablebefore.Do not you beginto feel that now? Were not you struck? I amsure you must have been struck by his awkward look and abruptmanner, and the uncouthness of a voice which I heard to be whollyunmodulated as I stood here.”
“Certainly, he is not like Mr. Knightley. He has not sucha fine air and way of walking as Mr. Knightley. I see thedifference plain enough. But Mr. Knightley is so very fine aman!”
“Mr. Knightley’s air is so remarkably good that itis not fair to compare Mr. Martin withhim. You might notsee one ina hundred withgentlemanso plainly written as in Mr. Knightley. Buthe is not the only gentleman you have been lately used to. What sayyou to Mr. Weston and Mr. Elton? Compare Mr. Martin with eitherofthem. Compare their manner of carrying themselves; of walking; ofspeaking; of being silent. You must see the difference.”
“Oh yes!—there is a great difference. But Mr. Westonis almost an old man. Mr. Weston must be between forty andfifty.”
“Which makes his good manners the more valuable. The oldera person grows, Harriet, the more important it is that theirmanners should not be bad; the more glaring and disgusting anyloudness, or coarseness, or awkwardness becomes. What is passablein youth is detestable in later age. Mr. Martin is now awkward andabrupt; what will he be at Mr. Weston’s time oflife?”
“There is no saying, indeed,” replied Harriet rathersolemnly.
“But there may be pretty good guessing. He will be acompletely gross, vulgar farmer, totally inattentive toappearances, and thinking of nothing but profit andloss.”
“Will he, indeed? That will be very bad.”
“How much his business engrosses him already is very plainfrom the circumstance of his forgetting to inquire for the book yourecommended. He was a great deal too full of the market to think ofany thing else—which is just as it should be, for a thrivingman. What has he to do with books? And I have no doubt thathewillthrive, and be a very rich man in time—and his beingilliterate and coarse need not disturbus.”
“I wonder hedid not remember the book”—was allHarriet’s answer, and spoken with a degree of gravedispleasure which Emma thought might be safely left to itself. She,therefore, said no more for some time. Her next beginning was,
“In one respect, perhaps, Mr. Elton’smanners aresuperior to Mr. Knightley’s or Mr. Weston’s. They havemore gentleness. They might be more safely held up as a pattern.There is an openness, a quickness, almost a bluntness in Mr.Weston, which every body likes inhim, because there is somuchgood-humour with it—but that would not do to be copied.Neither would Mr. Knightley’s downright, decided, commandingsort of manner, though it suitshimvery well; his figure, and look,and situation in life seem to allow it; but if any young man weretoset about copying him, he would not be sufferable. On thecontrary, I think a young man might be very safely recommended totake Mr. Elton as a model. Mr. Elton is good-humoured, cheerful,obliging, and gentle. He seems to me to be grown particularlygentle of late. I do not know whether he has any design ofingratiating himself with either of us, Harriet, by additionalsoftness, but it strikes me that his manners aresofter than theyused to be. If he means any thing, it must be to please you. Didnot I tell you what he said of you the other day?”
She then repeated some warm personal praise which she had drawnfrom Mr. Elton, and now did full justice to; and Harriet blushedand smiled, and said she had always thought Mr. Elton veryagreeable.
Mr. Elton wasthe very person fixed on by Emma for driving theyoung farmer out of Harriet’s head. She thought it would bean excellent match; and only too palpably desirable, natural, andprobable, for her to have much merit in planning it. She feared itwas what everybody else must think of and predict. It was notlikely, however, that any body should have equalled her in the dateof the plan, as it had entered her brain during the very firstevening of Harriet’s coming to Hartfield. The longer sheconsidered it, thegreater was her sense of its expediency. Mr.Elton’s situation was most suitable, quite the gentlemanhimself, and without low connexions; at the same time, not of anyfamily that could fairly object to the doubtful birth of Harriet.He had a comfortable home for her, and Emma imagined a verysufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was notlarge, he was known to have some independent property; and shethought very highly of him as a good-humoured, well-meaning,respectable young man, withoutany deficiency of usefulunderstanding or knowledge of the world.
She had already satisfied herself that he thought Harriet abeautiful girl, which she trusted, with such frequent meetings atHartfield, was foundation enough on his side; and onHarriet’s there could be little doubt that the idea of beingpreferred by him would have all the usual weight and efficacy. Andhe was really a very pleasing young man, a young man whom any womannot fastidious might like. He was reckoned very handsome; hisperson much admired in general, though not by her, there being awant of elegance of feature which she could not dispensewith:—but the girl who could be gratified by a RobertMartin’s riding about the country to get walnuts for hermight very well be conquered byMr. Elton’s admiration.
“I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs.Weston,” said Mr. Knightley, “of this great intimacybetween Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it a badthing.”
“A bad thing! Do you really think it a badthing?—whyso?”
“I think they will neither of them do the other anygood.”
“You surprize me! Emma must do Harriet good: and bysupplying her with a new object of interest, Harriet may be said todo Emma good. I have been seeing their intimacy with thegreatestpleasure. How very differently we feel!—Not thinkthey will do each other any good! This will certainly be thebeginning of one of our quarrels about Emma, Mr.Knightley.”
“Perhaps you think I am come on purpose to quarrel withyou, knowing Weston to be out, and that you must still fight yourown battle.”
“Mr. Weston would undoubtedly support me, if he were here,for he thinks exactly as I do on the subject. We were speaking ofit only yesterday, and agreeing how fortunate it was for Emma, thatthere shouldbe such a girl in Highbury for her to associate with.Mr. Knightley, I shall not allow you to be a fair judge in thiscase. You are so much used to live alone, that you do not know thevalue of a companion; and, perhaps no man can be a good judge ofthe comfort a woman feels in the society of one of her own sex,after being used to it all her life. I can imagine your objectionto Harriet Smith. She is not the superior young woman whichEmma’s friend ought to be. But on the other hand, as Emmawants to seeher better informed, it will be an inducement to her toread more herself. They will read together. She means it, Iknow.”
“Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she wastwelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-upat varioustimes of books that she meant to read regularlythrough—and very good lists they were—very well chosen,and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, andsometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when onlyfourteen—I remember thinking it didher judgment so muchcredit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may havemade out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting anycourse of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to anything requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of thefancy to the understanding. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate,I may safely affirm that Harriet Smith will do nothing.—Younever could persuade her to read half so much as youwished.—You know you could not.”
“I dare say,” replied Mrs. Weston, smiling,“that I thought sothen;—but since we have parted, I cannever remember Emma’s omitting to do any thing Iwished.”
“There is hardly any desiring to refresh such a memoryasthat,”—said Mr. Knightley, feelingly; and for amoment or two he had done. “But I,” he soon added,“who have had no such charm thrown over my senses, must stillsee, hear, and remember. Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest ofher family. At ten years old, she had the misfortune of being ableto answer questions which puzzled her sister at seventeen. She wasalways quick andassured: Isabella slow and diffident. And eversince she was twelve, Emma has been mistress of the house and ofyou all. In her mother she lost the only person able to cope withher. She inherits her mother’s talents, and must have beenunder subjection to her.”
“I should have been sorry, Mr. Knightley, to be dependentonyourrecommendation, had I quitted Mr. Woodhouse’s familyand wanted another situation; I do not think you would have spokena good word for me to any body. I am sure you always thought meunfit for the office I held.”
“Yes,” said he, smiling. “You are betterplacedhere; very fit for a wife, but not at all for a governess.But you were preparing yourself to be an excellent wife all thetime you were at Hartfield. You might not give Emma such a completeeducation as your powers would seem to promise; but you werereceiving a very good education fromher, on the very materialmatrimonial point of submitting your own will, and doing as youwere bid; and if Weston had asked me to recommend him a wife, Ishould certainly have named Miss Taylor.”
“Thank you. There will be verylittle merit in making agood wife to such a man as Mr. Weston.”
“Why, to own the truth, I am afraid you are rather thrownaway, and that with every disposition to bear, there will benothing to be borne. We will not despair, however. Weston may growcrossfrom the wantonness of comfort, or his son may plaguehim.”
“I hope notthat.—It is not likely. No, Mr.Knightley, do not foretell vexation from that quarter.”
“Not I, indeed. I only name possibilities. I do notpretend to Emma’s genius for foretelling and guessing. Ihope, with all my heart, the young man may be a Weston in merit,and a Churchill in fortune.—But Harriet Smith—I havenot half done about Harriet Smith. I think her the very worst sortof companion that Emma could possibly have. She knows nothingherself, and looks upon Emma as knowing every thing. She is aflatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, becauseundesigned. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Emma imagineshe has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presentingsucha delightful inferiority? And as for Harriet, I will venture to saythatshecannot gain by the acquaintance. Hartfield will only put herout of conceit with all the other places she belongs to. She willgrow just refined enough to be uncomfortable with those among whombirth and circumstances have placed her home. I am much mistaken ifEmma’s doctrines give any strength of mind, or tend at all tomake a girl adapt herself rationally to the varieties of hersituation in life.—They only give a little polish.”
“I either depend more upon Emma’s good sense thanyou do, or am more anxious for her present comfort; for I cannotlament the acquaintance. How well she looked last night!”
“Oh! you would rather talk of her person than her mind,would you? Very well; I shall not attempt to deny Emma’sbeing pretty.”
“Pretty! say beautiful rather. Can you imagine any thingnearer perfect beauty than Emma altogether—face andfigure?”
“I do not know what I could imagine, but I confess that Ihave seldom seen a face or figure more pleasing to me than hers.But I am a partial old friend.”
“Such an eye!—the true hazle eye—and sobrilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion!oh! what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size;such a firm and upright figure! There is health, not merely in herbloom, but in her air, her head, her glance. One hears sometimes ofa child being ‘the picture of health;’ now, Emma alwaysgives me the idea of being the complete picture of grown-up health.She is loveliness itself. Mr. Knightley, is not she?”
“I have not a fault to find with her person,” hereplied. “I think her all you describe. I love to look ather; and I will add this praise, that I do not think her personallyvain. Considering how very handsome she is, she appears to belittle occupied with it; her vanity lies another way. Mrs. Weston,I am not to be talked out of my dislike of Harriet Smith, or mydread of its doing them both harm.”
“And I, Mr. Knightley, am equally stout in my confidenceof itsnot doing them any harm. With all dear Emma’s littlefaults, she is an excellent creature. Where shall we see a betterdaughter, or a kinder sister, or a truer friend? No, no; she hasqualities which may be trusted; she will never lead any one reallywrong; she will make no lasting blunder; where Emma errs once, sheis in the right a hundred times.”
“Very well; I will not plague you any more. Emma shall bean angel, and I will keep my spleen to myself till Christmas bringsJohn and Isabella. John loves Emmawith a reasonable and thereforenot a blind affection, and Isabella always thinks as he does;except when he is not quite frightened enough about the children. Iam sure of having their opinions with me.”
“I know that you all love her really too well to be unjustor unkind; but excuse me, Mr. Knightley, if I take the liberty (Iconsider myself, you know, as having somewhat of the privilege ofspeech that Emma’s mother might have had) the liberty ofhinting that I do not think any possible good can arise fromHarriet Smith’s intimacy being made a matter of muchdiscussion among you. Pray excuse me; but supposing any littleinconvenience may be apprehended from the intimacy, it cannot beexpected that Emma, accountable to nobody but her father, whoperfectlyapproves the acquaintance, should put an end to it, solong as it is a source of pleasure to herself. It has been so manyyears my province to give advice, that you cannot be surprized, Mr.Knightley, at this little remains of office.”
“Not at all,” criedhe; “I am much obliged toyou for it. It is very good advice, and it shall have a better fatethan your advice has often found; for it shall be attendedto.”
“Mrs. John Knightley is easily alarmed, and might be madeunhappy about her sister.”
“Be satisfied,” said he, “I will not raise anyoutcry. I will keep my ill-humour to myself. I have a very sincereinterest in Emma. Isabella does not seem more my sister; has neverexcited a greater interest; perhaps hardly so great. There is ananxiety, a curiosity inwhat one feels for Emma. I wonder what willbecome of her!”
“So do I,” said Mrs. Weston gently, “verymuch.”
“She always declares she will never marry, which, ofcourse, means just nothing at all. But I have no idea that she hasyet ever seen a man she cared for. It would not be a bad thing forher to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like tosee Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do hergood. But there is nobody hereabouts to attach her; and she goes soseldom from home.”
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