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THE YOUNGER SISTER
Catherine Anne Austen Hubback
IN THREE VOLUMES.—VOL. III.
Originally Published By
THOMAS CAUTLEY NEWBY, PUBLISHER, LONDON
ABELA PUBLISHING, LONDON
The Younger Sister
Typographical arrangement of this edition
©Abela Publishing 2017
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London, United Kingdom
TO THE MEMORY OF HER AUNT,
THE LATE JANE AUSTEN,
THIS WORK IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED
BY THE AUTHORESS
WHO, THOUGH TOO YOUNG TO HAVE KNOWN
WAS FROM CHILDHOOD TAUGHT TO
ESTEEM HER VIRTUES,
AND ADMIRE HER TALENTS.
The afternoon passed away, and Margaret, who had been incessantly walking from one window to another, to watch for her lover's curricle, now began to create a new sensation for herself, by a conviction which suddenly seized on her, that some dreadful accident had happened to him. It was towards the end of March, and the lengthened days allowed them plenty of time to dine by daylight, and enjoy a long twilight afterwards; as the evening began to close in, her alarm and tribulation increased; when, at length, her fears were dissipated by seeing the curricle drive up to the door with a most important bustle, followed by a loud and prolonged knock, which instantly brought twenty heads to the neighbouring windows.
Margaret sank on a sofa, and exclaimed in feeble tones,
"He is there—my heart tells me he is there—support me, my dear sisters—support me in this trying hour."
Before anyone had time to answer her, his step was heard on the stairs, and recovering as rapidly as she had appeared to lose her strength, she flew to the door and was ready to have thrown herself into his arms on the smallest encouragement. He did not, however, seem to desire her embraces, but coolly held out his hand, and enquired how she was—then, without waiting for an answer, turned and paid a similar compliment to the other ladies. She looked a little disappointed at the want of tenderness her lover displayed, but consoled herself by smoothing down the nap of his hat, which she took from his hand, and stretching out the fingers of his driving gloves—of which she also assumed the care.
At this moment, Robert Watson and Mr. Morgan, who had been sitting over their wine in the dining-parlour, appeared up-stairs, and Robert immediately suggested to Mr. Musgrove that he must want some dinner, to which the latter readily acceded.
Jane and Margaret who appeared to be almost equally interested in the new-comer, both left the room to see after the necessary preparations, and whilst they were gone George Millar came in and persuaded Elizabeth to go home with him, to take tea with his sister and mother-in-law. Robert and his new guest adjourned to the dining-room where the two ladies joined them, and Emma was left to a tête-à-tête with Mr. Morgan.
He had seated himself in a corner, and was looking over the newspaper during all the bustle attending the arrival of Tom Musgrove, and the successive entrances and exits of the several members of the party. But when they were all gone, and Emma was quietly sitting down to work, he threw away the paper and walking across the room drew a chair close to hers and seemed inclined to enter into conversation.
"How happy your sister must be," was his first speech, whilst he fixed his uncommonly penetrating eyes on her face.
"Which sister?" replied Emma, without looking up from her embroidery.
"Both must be happy," replied he; "but at this moment I imagine your sister Margaret's feelings must be the most agreeable; meeting after a prolonged absence must be so delightful. Don't you envy her?"
"I hope not," said Emma, for she was not quite satisfied with his tone and manner; there was something of sarcasm in it which she did not like.
"I did not mean envy in the bad sense," he remarked, as if comprehending her thoughts from her tone; "of that I know you to be incapable; but can you not fancy how pleasant her emotions must be when again enjoying the society of an attached and faithful lover like the gentleman in question?"
"Perhaps I can—but I must be in her situation thoroughly to enter into her feelings," said Emma rather wishing to drop the subject.
"And hitherto you have not been placed in this interesting situation?"
There was something in the tone in which Mr. Morgan made this comment, with his eyes fixed on her countenance, that gave it rather the character of a question than a reply. She felt offended at his manner and tone, and proudly raised her head with a look which seemed to ask what right he had to enquire on that subject. He understood her meaning, but did not seem inclined to take any notice of it, proceeding in the same way to observe,
"They whose hearts are untouched cannot of course understand all the pleasing emotions which the sight of a beloved object raises after a prolonged absence—nor indeed does it require a prolonged absence to give occasion to the emotions I speak of. A month, a fortnight, even a week passed without the intercourse which becomes dear and therefore necessary, is sufficient to raise a variety of pleasing but most overpowering feelings in an affectionate heart."
"Very likely," replied Emma coolly, and then she added immediately an enquiry as to whether he thought the next change of the moon would bring them more settled weather.
He answered that he could not tell, and then added,
"Do you not think your future brother, Mr. Musgrove, is a very charming young man?"
"I have often heard him called so," said Emma; "but you know it is not my business to be charmed with him," smiling a little as she spoke.
"You are most discreet," said he, delighted that she appeared inclined to relax a little from her former gravity; "but to tell you the truth I should not have expected, from what I know, that you would be charmed with him."
"From what you know of him or of me?" inquired Emma.
"Of you both, but especially of you: it is not for nothing that I have been studying your character, and I am convinced that a man who would attract you, Miss Emma, must possess more good qualities than Mr. Musgrove can boast of."
"Perhaps I might be a little difficult to please," replied Emma; "but do you think there is any harm in that?"
"Harm, no!" replied he with enthusiasm; "minds of a common order cannot discriminate between what is good or evil in its tendency; they see only what is evil to their own capacities, and are entirely unaware of the vast difference between the intellects of one man and another. Whilst those who by their own intellectual powers are raised above the common level, take in, at one keen and rapid view, the different mental altitudes of their companions, and appreciating alone the grand and elevated turn from more ordinary minds with indifference, contempt or disgust."
"I hope," said Emma rather doubtingly, "that your description is not intended to apply to me: that is, if I understand you rightly. I should be very sorry to think I am guilty of setting up my understanding as a measure for that of others, or of despising any of my companions as thinking them less clever than myself."
"Indeed I did not mean to accuse you of voluntarily giving way to such feelings—the sensation I meant to depict is as involuntary as your perception of light or colour. A person endowed with a superior understanding could no more help deciding on the different mental capacities of her companions than she could on the beauty or fitness of the patterns of their gowns."
"But the superiority of mental capacities, or our own estimation of them ought not to be the standard by which we should judge of the merits of our fellow-creatures, Mr. Morgan. Surely their moral superiority is a far more important point, and it would be much better to live with a good but ignorant man, than with a wicked one however clever and well-informed."
Mr. Morgan rather curled his lip.
"I doubt whether you will find your maxim work well in every day life, however well it may sound in theory. The practice of mankind is against it universally, and where that is the case it is because the sense of the world leads them to the conclusion which you reject. Look around, and see who has most success in life, the clever, unscrupulous, and if you will the unprincipled man, or the sober, plodding, moral one, without wit or wisdom to prevent his sinking lower than the condition in which he was born."
Emma had not the vanity to suppose that she could be a match for Mr. Morgan in dispute, she was, therefore, contented to let the subject drop. Finding she did not reply, he moved his chair a little closer than before, and said, in a tone of the softest sympathy,
"Are you quite well this evening? dusk as it is, I am struck with your looks, and was so at dinner."
She thanked him, and replied she was pretty well. He did not seem satisfied.
"Are you sure you have no head-ache? there is a languor in your movements, and a heaviness about your eyes, which plainly shows that all is not quite right with you. Confess the truth—does not your head ache?"
She owned it did a little.
"I thought I knew your countenance too well to be misled," said he, complacently—then taking her hand, without the smallest ceremony, in both of his, he felt her pulse, and told her she was nervous and feverish. She smiled, and said she was only a little tired, and that he must not persuade her she was ill; she had not time for that.
"I am certain," replied he, still detaining her hand, which she had made a slight attempt to withdraw, "I am certain, from the tremulous motion of your little fairy-like fingers that you are suffering from over-excitement of mind. You have so much to worry and distress you, so many small privations and never ceasing annoyances, that your nervous temperament is wrought up to too high a pitch. This little hand is looking too white and delicate for health. You must indeed, for your own sake, and for the sake of those that love you, take care of yourself, and do not tax your constitution too far."
"I do not mind what you say, Mr. Morgan," replied Emma, playfully, again attempting to withdraw her hand from a clasp which she felt rather too tender for a doctor. "I know you only speak professionally, and it is your business to persuade those who listen to you that they are ill, that you may have the satisfaction of making them believe you cure them afterwards."
"Fie, fie," replied he, tapping her on the arm, "I did not expect such malice from you, fair Emma!"
She decidedly drew her hand from his, and moved her chair away towards the window, saying, as she did so, in a graver tone,
"Remember I have not placed myself under your power, Mr. Morgan, and you have no business to attempt to mislead me."
The rapidly decreasing light prevented his reading the expression of her countenance; but he felt from her tone and action that she would not endure the small personal liberties in which some of his patients permitted him.
There was a pause, which she broke, by saying,
"My sisters are a long time away, I must go to see for them."
"No, pray stay another moment," cried he, rising too, as she rose. "Allow me one moment more, one other word."
She stopped; and he was silent for a minute, till she said,
"Well, Mr. Morgan, what am I to stop for?"
"Tell me," said he, "why you freeze me with that look and manner—did I offend you with my remarks? is my friendship—the warm interest I feel for you—is it unpleasant—or in what way have I sinned to deserve this sudden check."
She was excessively embarrassed, and mentally determined not to remain in the dusk tête-à-tête with a man again, at least, not with Mr. Morgan: but this resolution, however good for the future, did not help her at the present moment; when she was thus standing before him, and under the unpleasant necessity of either admitting that she was capricious, or allowing that she attached more importance than, perhaps, it deserved to a trifling action on his part. Seeing that she hesitated, he continued—
"I will not press for an answer if it vexes you; and you must own mentally, if not openly, that you judged me harshly. I forgive you, convinced when you know me better, you will not do so again."
He took her hand again, and was just in the act of putting his lips to it, when the door opened suddenly, and several young ladies—whom in the dusk she could hardly distinguish—burst into the room.
"Is that you Margaret?" said one advancing, "that we have caught making love in the dark—no, upon my honour it's Emma Watson and my brother! ha, ha; so you are found out, James?"
"Oh, it's not the first time that Miss Emma Watson has indulged your brother in a tête-à-tête" cried a voice, which Emma recognised as belonging to Miss Jenkins, a particular friend of Margaret's, towards whom she felt a strong repugnance. "They have been found out before now—they are very fond of taking long walks together, aren't you, Mr. Morgan—and carrying Janetta, too."
It was too dark for the expression of any one's countenance to be seen, so that the angry look with which Mr. Morgan received this attack, and the confusion and distress which Emma betrayed, were alike invisible; but could he have annihilated the young ladies who thus intruded, including his sister, he would certainly have done it with pleasure. Any answer, on his part, was prevented by the entrance of the party from the dining-room with lights, when a general scene of confusion and chattering followed, which concluded by a general invitation to the young visitors to stay for tea, and have a little fun, to which they readily assented.
Tom Musgrove having eaten and drank soon made himself very agreeable to the whole party, and after the tea and bread and butter were removed, he proposed a game at blind man's buff, or hunt the slipper, to finish the evening. The former was adopted, and a very noisy party it proved. Tom, of course, was the first to be blinded, and, unless he contrived to see out from under the handkerchief, the dexterity with which he avoided catching Margaret, though she perpetually threw herself in his way, was quite wonderful. His first victim was the younger Miss Morgan, a pretty, giggling girl, who laughed so excessively, and twisted about so much, that he had great difficulty in holding her at all, and it was only by clasping his arm very tightly round her waist, that he succeeded in keeping her prisoner. However, he named her rightly, and the handkerchief was secured on her; her brother was the next—apparently he threw himself in her way, whether because he disliked her going through the process of catching and naming Mr. Musgrove was not quite certain. Perhaps he wished himself to succeed her; he certainly was very successful in catching prisoners, but made extraordinary blunders in recognising them; never once hitting on the proper name, and, consequently, having no right to make over the bandage to another. At length, after several attempts, he succeeded in catching Emma herself. She had not been able to avoid joining in the game, though it was not much to her taste; but she took great pains to move about as quietly and keep as much out of the way as possible. His ear, however, was quick at detecting her light footstep, and, unknown to her, he had traced her into a corner, where she was quietly resting, when he succeeded in laying hold of her. As she neither struggled nor laughed, he knew instantly who it was, and whilst he held her hand in his, and made believe, as usual, to feel her features, and ascertain her identity, he whispered, under cover of the noise which some of the other girls were making,
"Do you wish to be blinded, Emma Watson?"
"Certainly not," replied she in the same tone, and he immediately guessed her to be someone else, and with a gentle pressure of her hand he let her go.
Emma was very well pleased to escape, but she felt a half scruple at the manner in which it was done, from the sort of private understanding which Mr. Morgan assumed to exist between them. On turning away too, she caught the malevolent eyes of Miss Jenkins fixed on her, and she could not encounter their look without a feeling of embarrassment. Mr. Morgan soon afterwards caught and rightly named Mrs. Watson herself, who in her turn chased with great vigour but little success her different visitors. The whole affair ended in a complete romp—the table was upset, chairs thrown over, and Emma's gown narrowly escaped from a lighted candle, which the dexterity of Mr. Morgan alone succeeded in averting. It was now judged that they had enjoyed fun enough for one evening, and Emma, wondering much at the taste which could select such an amusement, retired to recover from the fatigue it occasioned. She had never seen anything of the kind before, for the associates of her uncle and aunt were very quiet people, and she had been quite ignorant of the extent to which liveliness might be carried when unchecked by the restraints of good breeding.
It was a very unexpected pleasure to her, to receive the next morning a letter from Miss Osborne, containing an announcement that the day for her wedding was fixed and that it was to be celebrated in about three weeks. She hoped Emma would be able to keep her promise and spend some time with them whilst at Osborne Castle, but she did not assign any particular time as the date of their visit.
Margaret likewise had her share of excitement and pleasure. It appeared that Tom Musgrove had come down with serious intentions of persuading her to marry on the same day as Sir William Gordon and Miss Osborne had fixed on. To be distinguished, and to appear connected with the great, was so completely the object of his life, that he did not like even to fix a day for his own wedding entirely with regard to his own convenience, and now he was determined to make it as important as the reflected grandeur of Miss Osborne and her noble family could do.
The credit of this idea, however, was not entirely due to him; it was suggested originally by Sir William himself. Miss Osborne, who could not feel quite happy or at her ease with regard to his steadiness of purpose, until the ceremony had actually passed, which would make it certain that her testimony would never be required, induced Sir William Gordon to question him as to when he intended to marry, and though he found Tom's ideas rather vague and unsettled on the subject, he had not much difficulty in persuading him of the advantage of fixing on the same day as their own. The notion delighted Mr. Musgrove, and he immediately determined to run down to Croydon and make the proposal at once.
"Well, Margaret," said he, the morning after his arrival, "since it seems we must be married sooner or later, do you see any good in delay?"
Margaret simpered and blushed, and did not know very well which way to look or what to say.
"I say," continued he, "there is no use in wasting time, when the thing must be done—unless, indeed, you have changed your mind."
"Oh dear no, Tom," cried Margaret, "mine is a mind not lightly to be changed—you know that much, I am sure, of me."
"Miss Osborne is to married this day three weeks," observed Tom, "to my friend Sir William Gordon, and he was proposing to me that we should celebrate ours on the same day. I should rather like it, I own, as they are such particular friends of mine, and we are going to the same county. They come down to Osborne Castle for their honey-moon, and we might; indeed of course we should be asked up there on our wedding."
"Oh delightful, Tom," cried Margaret, perfectly enchanted at the prospect, and in the rapture of the view, quite overlooking the coolness of her lover's manner, and the total absence of even any pretence of affection. "I should like that of all things, only perhaps I might have some difficulty in getting my wedding things ready in time; to be sure, as I must wear mourning I should not want much just at first, but a gown and hat—what should my gown be, dear Tom?"
"Hang your gown! what do I know about your gown? or what has that got to do with it; but women always make such a confounded fuss about their gowns and their petticoats. I say, will you marry me this day three weeks?—because, if you will not, you may just let it alone, for anything I care."
"You are always so funny, Tom," said Margaret trying to laugh; "I never know what you will say next. But you do hurry and flurry one so, asking in that sort of off-hand way—upon my word I do not know what to answer—what can I say to him, Jane—is he not odd?"
"For heaven's sake, Mrs. Watson, do try and persuade Margaret to act with a little common sense, if she has such a commodity in her brain," cried Tom, impatiently.
"Really," simpered Mrs. Watson, "you are the most unlover-like lover that ever I saw—if I were you, Margaret, I would tease him unceasingly for these speeches. I would say him nay, and nay, and nay again, before I would give him his own way."
"Oh! I am not so very cruel," said Margaret, "he knows my disposition, and how much he may venture on with me."
"Well, when you have made up your mind, let me know," said he, settling himself in an easy chair, and pretending to drop asleep.
"Upon my word, Margaret," said Mrs. Watson, "he gives himself precious airs—would I submit to such a thing from any man in the world—no, indeed—I would see the whole sex annihilated first, that I would."
"Do not be so dreadfully severe, Mrs. Watson," said Tom, without unclosing his eyes, "Allow me to enjoy my last few days of liberty; when I have taken to myself a wife, where will my domestic freedom be?"
"Impudent fellow," said Mrs. Watson, going up and pretending to pat his cheek; he caught her hand and told her in return, she was his prisoner now, and must pay the penalty of the box on the ear, which she had so deliberately bestowed on him. She giggled exceedingly, and he was insisting on his right, when Robert entered the room and said, in a cool off-hand way:
"I suppose, Margaret, Musgrove has told you he wants to marry this day three weeks, and as I presume, you have no objection, I have resolved to get the settlements in hand immediately. I suppose you have not much to do in the way of preparation, have you?"
"Well, I suppose, as you all come upon me so suddenly, there is nothing for me to do but to submit," said Margaret, "and really, I see no harm in it. Of course you will have the marriage put in the newspapers; it must be sent to 'The Morning Post,' Tom."
"I have no objection," observed the ardent lover.
"Well then, Jane, I suppose I had better be seeing about my gown and wedding clothes—will you come with me and help me choose some dresses, Tom?"
"Not I, by Jove! what do I know about dresses, I tell you!—it's all woman's nonsense, and I will have nothing to do with it. I believe if a woman were dying, her only care would be to secure a handsome shawl—and the idea of a plain funeral would break her heart."
"Don't be so dreadfully severe, Tom," interposed Mrs. Watson again, "you are a naughty, spiteful, ill-tempered satirist, and we must teach you better manners before we have done with you."
"Beyond a question you will soon do that," returned he, "I already feel wonderfully humbled and penitent, from sitting with you for the last hour; and what I shall arrive at, after being your brother for a twelvemonth, can only be guessed at now."
Margaret and Jane soon afterwards set off on the important business of looking for wedding dresses, and purchasing more clothes than she would know what to do with, whilst obliged to wear her deep mourning—a circumstance which was particularly distressing to Margaret—who, whilst anxious to make a very splendid figure in her new establishment, was perpetually checked in her aspirations by the remembrance that she must, for many months, continue to wear black. It was, however, a great delight to her to think that she should be married almost as soon as Penelope, and before Elizabeth; but, since her own good luck was now certain, she felt no particular envy of either of her elder sisters; for, though she could not help seeing that Elizabeth's establishment, house and carriage, would be more expensive and grand than her own, she did not think that she would have given up the independence and idleness of Tom's situation as a gentleman, for the large income and luxuries accompanying the brewer's occupation.
Emma looked on and wondered at Margaret's state of contentment under the indifference and contemptuous treatment which her lover bestowed on her. She would not have borne it for a single hour; but Margaret seemed to feel nothing of it—and her own foolish and caressingly fond ways, were enough to disgust a sensible man altogether.
He did not mean to remain more than a couple of days; and, during that time, Mrs. Watson took care to occupy each evening with a party of young people; a most judicious arrangement, which saved an immense deal of unwilling labour and unnecessary love-making. The Morgans, the Millars, and many others, joined them—and they had country dances and reels enough to tire many indefatigable dancers. Emma continued to refuse to dance; and, as the ladies out-numbered the gentlemen, she was less tempted to break her resolution. In consequence of this, she was, on the second evening, for a good while left quite alone, until Mr. Morgan, declaring himself quite knocked up, took refuge in the corner where she was sitting and engaged her in an agreeable conversation.
They were not discussing any thing very remarkable, but Emma was amused and lively, when she heard Miss Jenkins say, in reply to something:
"Oh! no doubt, Emma Watson finds it quite agreeable to sit out—no great sacrifice there, I fancy! She takes every opportunity of throwing herself in somebody's way!"
It was said so loud that there could be no doubt but that it was intended for them to hear, and from the quick glance round, and the elevation of eyebrows which followed it on his part, it was evident it had not failed of its object. Emma wished she could have stopped the blood which rushed to her face and coloured her cheeks so deeply; but she could neither conceal her feelings nor command her voice sufficiently to finish her sentence, for she felt that Mr. Morgan's eyes were fixed on her with a keen, scrutinizing glance, which seemed to read her thoughts in a moment. When Miss Jenkins was out of hearing, he observed very quietly,
"I think, Miss Emma, you have not been brought up in a country town?"
"No, indeed," said Emma.
"You seem peculiarly unfitted to continue in one, with any comfort or peace of mind," continued he.
"Indeed—I doubt whether I am to take that as a compliment or the reverse," replied Emma smiling a little.
"I never pay compliments," said he, "but if you want to know why I think so, learn that I can see you mind being talked about, dislike gossip and scandal, and have no taste for romping or noise: therefore you are unfitted for a resident in a country town!"
"You are not complimentary to-night, Mr. Morgan; what has put you out of humour with your fellow towns-women?"
"I assure you I feel most amiably disposed towards them all, especially those who by dancing to-night have left me at liberty to converse with you. They are all charming chatterers, and delightful dancers, and equally exquisite, enlightened, eloquent and endearing."
"Your compliments are rather equivocal, Mr. Morgan, I do not know that I should like such problematic praises."
"You—you need not be afraid, I should never think of applying such terms to you—did I not begin with observing that you were not brought up in a country town."
"There are some people I have observed," said Emma thoughtfully, "who always hold the society in which they happen to move very cheap, because they have an unfortunate power of vision which enables them alone to see the weak, the ridiculous, the faulty side of things."
"Thank you—do not find fault with my compliments after that speech—I never made one more severe."
"I beg your pardon," replied she colouring deeply. "Perhaps it did sound a little harsh."
"Yes, I am deeply indebted to you for your good opinion—you probably suppose me incapable of appreciating the beautiful and excellent when I meet it, because I am alive to the follies, the littleness, and the absurdities of those amongst whom I am forced to mix—someday I trust you will judge me better."
He understood Emma's character completely—the idea that she had been harsh in her speech, and that he felt hurt by her injustice, was decidedly the most likely thing to produce kindness and conciliatory manners to make it up. He assumed an air and tone of injured innocence which quite touched her, for straightforward and artless herself, she never suspected he was only acting. She wanted him to speak again, but he was determined to leave it to her to make that effort, and he partly drew back and turned his chair slightly away, as if he had not courage again to address her. She renewed the conversation by enquiring whether he had long been resident in the town—the soft tone of her voice immediately drew him back to his former position, and he began to tell her that he had come to Croydon about fifteen years before, that like herself he had lived in his youth in the country, and the only towns he had previously been acquainted with were Oxford and London.
"Like yourself too," continued he, "I came here frank and open-hearted—ready to place the best construction on anything I saw or heard, and believing that the neighbourhood would do as much for me. Experience has taught me a very different lesson; but perhaps nothing but experience will do. With the consciousness of the amount it cost me to buy my knowledge with suffering, I sometimes idly think of saving others by my cautions from a similar expense of feeling, but it is vain—and I do not think I shall make the attempt again."
"And so," said Emma, after a short pause, "you think me ungrateful and self-willed, because I do not like to hear whole-sale depreciation of your fellow-townspeople."
"I certainly will be wiser another time, and keep my opinion to myself," replied he still in a proud and injured tone.
"Well, I do not like to seem ungracious, and if you really wanted to give me advice—your superior age and experience certainly entitle you to form an opinion, and to be listened to with deference. So if you speak for my good, I will attend—but do not be too bitter, or I shall rebel again."
"I only wished to caution you against the spirit of prying curiosity and foolish censoriousness, which seems indigenous amongst the inhabitants of a small town."
"And you thought me likely to fall into a similar error, did you?" enquired she simply.
"You, my dear girl, no indeed; but I thought you likely to be the victim to this spirit, unless you took care and were cautioned against it."
"If I do nothing wrong," said Emma, "nothing blameworthy, how can there be any danger that I shall incur censure? I hope I shall not provoke enmity in any way."
"That will be a vain and illusive hope," replied he earnestly; "there is too much about you to provoke ill-will, for your conduct to be regarded with a friendly eye. Youth and beauty have innumerable enemies in a place like this; your superior education, your acquaintance, I may say intimacy, with those very much above your present associates in rank, your frank and confiding disposition, all expose you to enmity and envy of the most malignant kind."
"You will make me quite unhappy, Mr. Morgan, if you talk in that way. I cannot believe that those I see around me are so very wicked; and why should any one try to injure a portionless orphan like myself."
"Because they are not all possessed of the generous feelings and high principles which form such a charm in that helpless and portionless orphan—and which, when joined to her personal beauty, endow her more richly than the wealthiest of all our townsmen's daughters."
"I cannot help hoping that your warnings are not more sincere than your compliments, and then I shall have the less to fear, Mr. Morgan," replied Emma, smiling.
"I wish you would give me credit for sincerity, Miss Watson; it is disheartening to find myself constantly doubted. I shall give you up in despair. Look beautiful and merry—prove yourself lively and amusing—wear becoming bonnets—pretty gowns—and well-made shoes, and you will soon not have a female friend in the town."
"This must be your prejudice—or you are quizzing me. I cannot believe that bonnets and shoes have anything to do with female friends."
"You will persist in judging every one by yourself, and you cannot set up a more erroneous standard. Do you suppose that your wardrobe will be less commented on than your neighbours. Does Miss Tomson make any one a new bonnet without its being known and abused by all the owner's most intimate friends."
"But you must be wrong," said Emma; "it is impossible that all can be watched over in that way; we do not know a great many people who live here; even my sister does not; and why should I suppose that I am so conspicuous a personage?"
"The inhabitants of the town," said Mr. Morgan, "are divided into many different sets, it is true; they move in different circles, and there is no mixture; but the individuals of each class have their eyes constantly fixed on those above as well as those equal with themselves; the former, that they may imitate their actions; the latter, that they may detect the first symptom of mounting to a higher circle. They have likewise to detect and repress the first encroachment from the ranks beneath them, so that you see each individual has her attention fully occupied in this perpetual watching."
"You must be exaggerating, Mr. Morgan; I trust you are, at least."
"Do you want a proof of the jealousy and exclusive spirit which reigns amongst them? look into the church. There, where men and women ought, if ever, to meet as equals, what do you see?—the aristocratic classes—those who have their carriages and horses to bring them to their Sunday devotions, who have their comfortable and elegant dwellings out of the town, have likewise their comfortable pews for lounging through their prayers—their cushions, their carpets, their footstools, that they may not be too much fatigued by worship—their curtains, too, lest the vulgar gaze should distress their modesty, or intrude on their privacy. Then come the townspeople—the higher classes, those in professions, or, perhaps, in business, on a large scale, like George Millar, or the Greenes. These have their cushions and carpets, but are forced to forego the privacy of curtains, for which they make up by the superior brilliancy of their pew linings, and the elegance of the fringe drapery, which hangs down in front of the galleries. Inferior classes are forced to sit on benches without cushions, whilst the poorest of all may enjoy what comfort they can on the hard open seats in the stone aisle."
Emma looked thoughtful, but did not answer.
"You must admit the truth of my description," continued he; "there is sufficient stuff expended on the galleries of that church to have clothed half the children in the parish school."
"I am sorry that you should have the power of saying such things, Mr. Morgan, or that I cannot contradict them. Have you ever made an effort to procure a reform?"
"Reform, no—do you suppose I should even hint at such plain truths to a native of the town? do you imagine I impart my opinions on the subject indiscriminately? no, indeed—my popularity, such as it is, would be soon blown away were I to venture to contradict all their dearest prejudices. It is a far better plan to tell Miss Jenkins that she looks like an angel in the sky, when sitting in her blue pew, or to hint to old Mrs. Adams, that the crimson moreen gives quite a juvenile glow to her complexion."
"In short," said Emma, gravely, "to encourage people's weaknesses in order to gain their good will."
"Precisely so—it is the only way to live at peace with all the world; at least, the world of Croydon; why should I risk their repose and mine, by voluntarily encountering them on their hobbies. Follow my advice, my dear Miss Watson, and make the best of those you meet with here."
They were interrupted by the conclusion of the dance; and Mr. Morgan thought it best to move away. He left Emma thoughtful and dispirited; and as he watched her from a distance, he was quite satisfied with the general expression of her countenance.
Her next neighbour was Mr. Alfred Freemantle, who threw himself into the chair Mr. Morgan had vacated, and began a series of enquiries as to who Mr. Tom Musgrove might be, and whether it was really true that her sister Margaret was on the point of marriage with him? Emma soon grew tired of his "bald, disjointed chat," and moved away; she was met by Mrs. Turner.
"My dear child," cried she, catching hold of both her arms, "I have been wanting to speak to you this age, but I would not interrupt you whilst you were talking to that pleasant man, Mr Morgan—yes, what a nice man he is, ain't he, dear? Now I did not mean to make you blush; but take care, don't flirt with him too much, because it may mean nothing, you know, there's no saying. But I wanted to tell you how excessively I am delighted with your sister, and how glad I am that she is to marry George. Poor girl, I dare say she is glad of it too; young women like to be married; but then I don't know where you could find a nicer young woman than Elizabeth—or one that would suit my son better. Now, I don't mean that as any reflection upon you, my dear, on the contrary, so never mind what I say."
"I assure you, madam, what you say of my sister gives me sincere pleasure, and I could not, I hope, be so unreasonable as to expect you to regard us in the same light. It is a great happiness when the friends on each side are equally satisfied with any projected marriage."
"Very true, my dear, I agree with what you say; yes, Elizabeth is a charming girl, and much better suited to my son-in-law than you would be perhaps—so we ought to be satisfied on all sides, as you say."
"I am certain she will make a most excellent wife," replied Emma warmly.
"And who do you mean to marry, my dear? Suppose you were to tell me now, I would promise not to tell any one."
"I have not made up my mind yet," said Emma laughing a little; "but I will let you know as soon as I can."
"Don't try for Mr. Morgan, my dear, he will only disappoint you—do not trust him too far; you had better not."
"Mr. Morgan, my dear madam," repeated Emma almost laughing outright, "why he is quite an old man! old enough to be my father I am sure. No, no, I will lay no snares for Mr. Morgan; I am sure if I did the ladies of Croydon would never forgive me."
"I dare say not—but indeed I do not think he deserves you, my dear; I know things of him which I will not tell you; but don't let him make you in love with him."
Emma only smiled at this warning, and the breaking up of the party at the moment prevented her hearing more on the subject from Mrs. Turner.
Tom Musgrove did not stay longer than he had originally proposed, but the next time he came everything was to be ready for the wedding, and Margaret was in such high spirits at the prospect, as plainly showed that she had quite forgotten the unpleasant difficulties which had previously interfered with this happy consummation.
Emma had often wondered that she had heard no more from Lady Fanny Allston. She knew she had been ill, but did not apprehend that her illness was of so serious a nature as necessarily to cause this long delay. But she was at length surprised one day by receiving from her ladyship's housekeeper an abrupt and rather uncivil note, completely breaking off the negotiation. There was something in the tone of the announcement which hurt her exceedingly, and she was in a very uncomfortable frame of mind when she walked out that afternoon with Janetta, for she had lately resumed this custom. She took her little charge into some meadows to look for primroses and violets on the sunny banks, and whilst the child was busy plucking all she could find, Emma herself sat down on the stump of a tree to try and discover the meaning of this communication. She had nothing, however, to guide her conjectures; there was no clue in the note, and she was forced to remain satisfied with the conclusion that her ladyship was capricious and had changed her mind.
Whilst occupied in considering this subject, she was startled by footsteps, and she looked up with a sort of fearful expectation that she should see Mr. Morgan; it was not however the doctor who presented himself, but Mr. Bridge, the clergyman, whom she had formerly met at the Millars'. He took off his hat with a very respectful bow, and addressed her with an air of politeness and courtesy which pleased her exceedingly. After a slight remark on the bright day and the beauty of the scenery, he passed on a few steps, and Emma supposed he was going to leave her; suddenly however he seemed to change his mind, and surprised her by returning to her side. He enquired if she was intending to sit there long, as he feared it must be damp and unsafe.
"I do not perceive any damp, sir," replied she; "and it is so pleasant I am unwilling to think it can be dangerous."
"That is not a rule," he replied smiling a little, and then gravely shaking his head; "many things extremely agreeable are invisibly surrounded with risks and dangers. It is a common-place remark I acknowledge, but one which is as constantly forgotten, as it is frequently enforced. Young people like yourself are particularly apt to slight it—but if you would bear with an old man—"
He paused and regarded her with a look of interest, which she noticed, and finding he hesitated, she ventured to say with warmth and earnestness,
"Pray go on, sir; if you think me in need of caution, I will listen with the attention and reverence which is every way your due."
"I have been interested for you, my dear young lady, not only by your own sweet and ingenuous countenance, your misfortunes and your unprotected situation, but by the representations of my young friend Annie Millar, and I feel that whilst you reside under my pastoral care, I should not be doing my duty were I not to exert myself to save you from inconveniences which you may perhaps be very innocently entailing on yourself."
Emma coloured and felt quite astonished at this address, the purport of which she could not guess, but after a moment's hesitation, she begged Mr. Bridge to proceed without ceremony; if he had any censure to bestow on her, she would listen and feel obliged.
"It is not censure, it is only a caution I wish to give you—I mean with regard to your intimacy with Mr. Morgan: you probably do not know his character, nor is it necessary that you should learn minute particulars; I am sure it will be enough for you to hear that he is not a safe companion for a young woman of your age and appearance."
"I think you must be under some misapprehension," replied Emma surprised; "there is nothing between us which can warrant the appellation of intimacy. He visits my sister-in-law, and as her visitor only I have known him."
"I had hoped," replied Mr. Bridge gravely, "to have met with more candour from you; I am under a very great mistake, if you have not on several occasions met him when walking only with that little girl, and allowed him to walk with you for a long time. Is it not so?"
"That is perfectly true—but the meetings were quite accidental," said Emma.
"So far as you were concerned, I can believe it; but the world will only know that you were seen walking tête-à-tête with a man of known bad principles and immoral conduct; and more than that, he has been found with you in the drawing-room alone, and you have passed many hours in his company when visiting in other houses."
"I was not aware," said Emma, perfectly astonished at the charge; "that my actions could have thus been the subject of comment and inspection; but what you say, though perfectly true in itself, is capable of a very different interpretation—will you listen to my defence?"