Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happ_isposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and ha_ived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or ve_er.
She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgen_ather; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of hi_ouse from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her t_ave more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place ha_een supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little shor_f a mother in affection.
Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as _overness than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly o_mma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Mis_aylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of he_emper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow o_uthority being now long passed away, they had been living together as frien_nd friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highl_steeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.
The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rathe_oo much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.
The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by an_eans rank as misfortunes with her.
Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of any disagreeabl_onsciousness.—Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which firs_rought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emm_irst sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over, and th_ride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with n_rospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself t_leep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of wha_he had lost.
The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a ma_f unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasan_anners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self- denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; bu_t was a black morning's work for her. The want of Miss Taylor would be fel_very hour of every day. She recalled her past kindness—the kindness, th_ffection of sixteen years—how she had taught and how she had played with he_rom five years old—how she had devoted all her powers to attach and amuse he_n health—and how nursed her through the various illnesses of childhood. _arge debt of gratitude was owing here; but the intercourse of the last seve_ears, the equal footing and perfect unreserve which had soon followe_sabella's marriage, on their being left to each other, was yet a dearer, tenderer recollection. She had been a friend and companion such as fe_ossessed: intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways o_he family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested i_erself, in every pleasure, every scheme of hers—one to whom she could spea_very thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her as coul_ever find fault.
How was she to bear the change?—It was true that her friend was going onl_alf a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the differenc_etween a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in th_ouse; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in grea_anger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful.
The evil of the actual disparity in their ages (and Mr. Woodhouse had no_arried early) was much increased by his constitution and habits; for havin_een a valetudinarian all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was _uch older man in ways than in years; and though everywhere beloved for th_riendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not hav_ecommended him at any time.
Her sister, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony, bein_ettled in London, only sixteen miles off, was much beyond her daily reach; and many a long October and November evening must be struggled through a_artfield, before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella and he_usband, and their little children, to fill the house, and give her pleasan_ociety again.
Highbury, the large and populous village, almost amounting to a town, to whic_artfield, in spite of its separate lawn, and shrubberies, and name, di_eally belong, afforded her no equals. The Woodhouses were first i_onsequence there. All looked up to them. She had many acquaintance in th_lace, for her father was universally civil, but not one among them who coul_e accepted in lieu of Miss Taylor for even half a day. It was a melanchol_hange; and Emma could not but sigh over it, and wish for impossible things, till her father awoke, and made it necessary to be cheerful. His spirit_equired support. He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of every bod_hat he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of ever_ind. Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable; and he wa_y no means yet reconciled to his own daughter's marrying, nor could eve_peak of her but with compassion, though it had been entirely a match o_ffection, when he was now obliged to part with Miss Taylor too; and from hi_abits of gentle selfishness, and of being never able to suppose that othe_eople could feel differently from himself, he was very much disposed to thin_iss Taylor had done as sad a thing for herself as for them, and would hav_een a great deal happier if she had spent all the rest of her life a_artfield. Emma smiled and chatted as cheerfully as she could, to keep hi_rom such thoughts; but when tea came, it was impossible for him not to sa_xactly as he had said at dinner,
"Poor Miss Taylor!—I wish she were here again. What a 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 he thoroughly deserves a goo_ife;—and you would not have had Miss Taylor live with us for ever, and bea_ll my odd humours, when she might have a house of her own?"
"A house of her own!—But where is the advantage of a house of her own? This i_hree times as large.—And you have never any odd humours, my dear."
"How often we shall be going to see them, and they coming to see us!—We shal_e always meeting! We must begin; we must go and pay wedding visit very soon."
"My dear, how am I to get so far? Randalls is such a distance. I could no_alk half so far."
"No, papa, nobody thought of your walking. We must go in the carriage, to b_ure."
"The carriage! But James will not like to put the horses to for such a littl_ay;—and where are the poor horses to be while we are paying our visit?"
"They are to be put into Mr. Weston's stable, papa. You know we have settle_ll that already. We talked it all over with Mr. Weston last night. And as fo_ames, you may be very sure he will always like going to Randalls, because o_is daughter's being housemaid there. I only doubt whether he will ever tak_s anywhere else. That was your doing, papa. You got Hannah that good place.
Nobody thought of Hannah till you mentioned her—James is so obliged to you!"
"I am very glad I did think of her. It was very lucky, for I would not hav_ad poor James think himself slighted upon any account; and I am sure she wil_ake a very good servant: she is a civil, pretty-spoken girl; I have a grea_pinion of her. Whenever I see her, she always curtseys and asks me how I do, in a very pretty manner; and when you have had her here to do needlework, _bserve she always turns the lock of the door the right way and never bang_t. I am sure she will be an excellent servant; and it will be a great comfor_o poor Miss Taylor to have somebody about her that she is used to see.
Whenever James goes over to see his daughter, you know, she will be hearing o_s. He will be able to tell her how we all are."
Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas, and hoped, b_he help of backgammon, to get her father tolerably through the evening, an_e attacked by no regrets but her own. The backgammon-table was placed; but _isitor immediately afterwards walked in and made it unnecessary.
Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty, was not only _ery old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected wit_t, as the elder brother of Isabella's husband. He lived about a mile fro_ighbury, was a frequent visitor, and always welcome, and at this time mor_elcome than usual, as coming directly from their mutual connexions in London.
He had returned to a late dinner, after some days' absence, and now walked u_o Hartfield to say that all were well in Brunswick Square. It was a happ_ircumstance, and animated Mr. Woodhouse for some time. Mr. Knightley had _heerful manner, which always did him good; and his many inquiries after "poo_sabella" and her children were answered most satisfactorily. When this wa_ver, Mr. Woodhouse gratefully observed, "It is very kind of you, Mr.
Knightley, to come out at this late hour to call upon us. I am afraid you mus_ave had a shocking walk."
"Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful moonlight night; and so mild that I mus_raw back from your great fire."
"But you must have found it very damp and dirty. I wish you may not catc_old."
"Dirty, sir! Look at my shoes. Not a speck on them."
"Well! that is quite surprising, for we have had a vast deal of rain here. I_ained dreadfully hard for half an hour while we were at breakfast. I wante_hem to put off the wedding."
"By the bye—I have not wished you joy. Being pretty well aware of what sort o_oy you must both be feeling, I have been in no hurry with my congratulations; but I hope it all went off tolerably well. How did you all behave? Who crie_ost?"
"Ah! poor Miss Taylor! 'Tis a sad business."
"Poor Mr. and Miss Woodhouse, if you please; but I cannot possibly say `poo_iss Taylor.' I have a great regard for you and Emma; but when it comes to th_uestion of dependence or independence!—At any rate, it must be better to hav_nly one to please than two."
"Especially when one of those two is such a fanciful, troublesome creature!"
said Emma playfully. "That is what you have in your head, I know—and what yo_ould certainly say if my father were not by."
"I believe it is very true, my dear, indeed," said Mr. Woodhouse, with a sigh.
"I am afraid I am sometimes very fanciful and troublesome."
"My dearest papa! You do not think I could mean you, or suppose Mr. Knightle_o mean you. What a horrible idea! Oh no! I meant only myself. Mr. Knightle_oves to find fault with me, you know— in a joke—it is all a joke. We alway_ay what we like to one another."
Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emm_oodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was no_articularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less s_o her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstanc_s her not being thought perfect by every body.
"Emma knows I never flatter her," said Mr. Knightley, "but I meant n_eflection on any body. Miss Taylor has been used to have two persons t_lease; she will now have but one. The chances are that she must be a gainer."
"Well," said Emma, willing to let it pass—"you want to hear about the wedding; and I shall be happy to tell you, for we all behaved charmingly. Every bod_as punctual, every body in their best looks: not a tear, and hardly a lon_ace to be seen. Oh no; we all felt that we were going to be only half a mil_part, and were sure of meeting every day."
"Dear Emma bears every thing so well," said her father. "But, Mr. Knightley, she is really very sorry to lose poor Miss Taylor, and I am sure she will mis_er more than she thinks for."
Emma turned away her head, divided between tears and smiles. "It is impossibl_hat Emma should not miss such a companion," said Mr. Knightley. "We shoul_ot like her so well as we do, sir, if we could suppose it; but she knows ho_uch the marriage is to Miss Taylor's advantage; she knows how very acceptabl_t must be, at Miss Taylor's time of life, to be settled in a home of her own, and how important to her to be secure of a comfortable provision, an_herefore cannot allow herself to feel so much pain as pleasure. Every frien_f Miss Taylor must be glad to have her so happily married."
"And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me," said Emma, "and a ver_onsiderable one—that I made the match myself. I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when s_any people said Mr. Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for an_hing."
Mr. Knightley shook his head at her. Her father fondly replied, "Ah! my dear, I wish you would not make matches and foretell things, for whatever you sa_lways comes to pass. Pray do not make any more matches."
"I promise you to make none for myself, papa; but I must, indeed, for othe_eople. It is the greatest amusement in the world! And after such success, yo_now!—Every body said that Mr. Weston would never marry again. Oh dear, no!
Mr. Weston, who had been a widower so long, and who seemed so perfectl_omfortable without a wife, so constantly occupied either in his business i_own or among his friends here, always acceptable wherever he went, alway_heerful— Mr. Weston need not spend a single evening in the year alone if h_id not like it. Oh no! Mr. Weston certainly would never marry again. Som_eople even talked of a promise to his wife on her deathbed, and others of th_on and the uncle not letting him. All manner of solemn nonsense was talked o_he subject, but I believed none of it.
"Ever since the day—about four years ago—that Miss Taylor and I met with hi_n Broadway Lane, when, because it began to drizzle, he darted away with s_uch gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellas for us from Farmer Mitchell's, _ade up my mind on the subject. I planned the match from that hour; and whe_uch success has blessed me in this instance, dear papa, you cannot think tha_ shall leave off match-making."
"I do not understand what you mean by `success,'" said Mr. Knightley. "Succes_upposes endeavour. Your time has been properly and delicately spent, if yo_ave been endeavouring for the last four years to bring about this marriage. _orthy employment for a young lady's mind! But if, which I rather imagine, your making the match, as you call it, means only your planning it, you_aying to yourself one idle day, `I think it would be a very good thing fo_iss Taylor if Mr. Weston were to marry her,' and saying it again to yoursel_very now and then afterwards, why do you talk of success? Where is you_erit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess; and that is all that ca_e said."
"And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess?— I pit_ou.—I thought you cleverer—for, depend upon it a lucky guess is never merel_uck. There is always some talent in it. And as to my poor word `success,'
which you quarrel with, I do not know that I am so entirely without any clai_o it. You have drawn two pretty pictures; but I think there may be a third—_omething between the do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not promoted Mr.
Weston's visits here, and given many little encouragements, and smoothed man_ittle matters, it might not have come to any thing after all. I think yo_ust know Hartfield enough to comprehend that."
"A straightforward, open-hearted man like Weston, and a rational, unaffecte_oman like Miss Taylor, may be safely left to manage their own concerns. Yo_re more likely to have done harm to yourself, than good to them, b_nterference."
"Emma never thinks of herself, if she can do good to others," rejoined Mr.
Woodhouse, understanding but in part. "But, my dear, pray do not make any mor_atches; they are silly things, and break up one's family circle grievously."
"Only one more, papa; only for Mr. Elton. Poor Mr. Elton! You like Mr. Elton, papa,—I must look about for a wife for him. There is nobody in Highbury wh_eserves him—and he has been here a whole year, and has fitted up his house s_omfortably, that it would be a shame to have him single any longer—and _hought when he was joining their hands to-day, he looked so very much as i_e would like to have the same kind office done for him! I think very well o_r. Elton, and this is the only way I have of doing him a service."
"Mr. Elton is a very pretty young man, to be sure, and a very good young man, and I have a great regard for him. But if you want to shew him any attention, my dear, ask him to come and dine with us some day. That will be a much bette_hing. 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 th_hicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six o_even-and-twenty can take care of himself."