Mr. Woodhouse was soon ready for his tea; and when he had drank his tea he wa_uite ready to go home; and it was as much as his three companions could do, to entertain away his notice of the lateness of the hour, before the othe_entlemen appeared. Mr. Weston was chatty and convivial, and no friend t_arly separations of any sort; but at last the drawing-room party did receiv_n augmentation. Mr. Elton, in very good spirits, was one of the first to wal_n. Mrs. Weston and Emma were sitting together on a sofa. He joined the_mmediately, and, with scarcely an invitation, seated himself between them.
Emma, in good spirits too, from the amusement afforded her mind by th_xpectation of Mr. Frank Churchill, was willing to forget his lat_mproprieties, and be as well satisfied with him as before, and on his makin_arriet his very first subject, was ready to listen with most friendly smiles.
He professed himself extremely anxious about her fair friend— her fair, lovely, amiable friend. "Did she know?—had she heard any thing about her, since their being at Randalls?— he felt much anxiety—he must confess that th_ature of her complaint alarmed him considerably." And in this style he talke_n for some time very properly, not much attending to any answer, bu_ltogether sufficiently awake to the terror of a bad sore throat; and Emma wa_uite in charity with him.
But at last there seemed a perverse turn; it seemed all at once as if he wer_ore afraid of its being a bad sore throat on her account, than o_arriet's—more anxious that she should escape the infection, than that ther_hould be no infection in the complaint. He began with great earnestness t_ntreat her to refrain from visiting the sick-chamber again, for th_resent—to entreat her to promise him not to venture into such hazard till h_ad seen Mr. Perry and learnt his opinion; and though she tried to laugh i_ff and bring the subject back into its proper course, there was no putting a_nd to his extreme solicitude about her. She was vexed. It did appear—ther_as no concealing it—exactly like the pretence of being in love with her, instead of Harriet; an inconstancy, if real, the most contemptible an_bominable! and she had difficulty in behaving with temper. He turned to Mrs.
Weston to implore her assistance, "Would not she give him her support?—woul_ot she add her persuasions to his, to induce Miss Woodhouse not to go to Mrs.
Goddard's till it were certain that Miss Smith's disorder had no infection? H_ould not be satisfied without a promise— would not she give him her influenc_n procuring it?"
"So scrupulous for others," he continued, "and yet so careless for herself!
She wanted me to nurse my cold by staying at home to-day, and yet will no_romise to avoid the danger of catching an ulcerated sore throat herself. I_his fair, Mrs. Weston?—Judge between us. Have not I some right to complain? _m sure of your kind support and aid."
Emma saw Mrs. Weston's surprize, and felt that it must be great, at an addres_hich, in words and manner, was assuming to himself the right of firs_nterest in her; and as for herself, she was too much provoked and offended t_ave the power of directly saying any thing to the purpose. She could onl_ive him a look; but it was such a look as she thought must restore him to hi_enses, and then left the sofa, removing to a seat by her sister, and givin_er all her attention.
She had not time to know how Mr. Elton took the reproof, so rapidly di_nother subject succeed; for Mr. John Knightley now came into the room fro_xamining the weather, and opened on them all with the information of th_round being covered with snow, and of its still snowing fast, with a stron_rifting wind; concluding with these words to Mr. Woodhouse:
"This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir.
Something new for your coachman and horses to be making their way through _torm of snow."
Poor Mr. Woodhouse was silent from consternation; but every body else ha_omething to say; every body was either surprized or not surprized, and ha_ome question to ask, or some comfort to offer. Mrs. Weston and Emma trie_arnestly to cheer him and turn his attention from his son-in-law, who wa_ursuing his triumph rather unfeelingly.
"I admired your resolution very much, sir," said he, "in venturing out in suc_eather, for of course you saw there would be snow very soon. Every body mus_ave seen the snow coming on. I admired your spirit; and I dare say we shal_et home very well. Another hour or two's snow can hardly make the roa_mpassable; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over in the bleak par_f the common field there will be the other at hand. I dare say we shall b_ll safe at Hartfield before midnight."
Mr. Weston, with triumph of a different sort, was confessing that he had know_t to be snowing some time, but had not said a word, lest it should make Mr.
Woodhouse uncomfortable, and be an excuse for his hurrying away. As to ther_eing any quantity of snow fallen or likely to fall to impede their return, that was a mere joke; he was afraid they would find no difficulty. He wishe_he road might be impassable, that he might be able to keep them all a_andalls; and with the utmost good-will was sure that accommodation might b_ound for every body, calling on his wife to agree with him, that with _ittle contrivance, every body might be lodged, which she hardly knew how t_o, from the consciousness of there being but two spare rooms in the house.
"What is to be done, my dear Emma?—what is to be done?" was Mr. Woodhouse'_irst exclamation, and all that he could say for some time. To her he looke_or comfort; and her assurances of safety, her representation of th_xcellence of the horses, and of James, and of their having so many friend_bout them, revived him a little.
His eldest daughter's alarm was equal to his own. The horror of being blocke_p at Randalls, while her children were at Hartfield, was full in he_magination; and fancying the road to be now just passable for adventurou_eople, but in a state that admitted no delay, she was eager to have i_ettled, that her father and Emma should remain at Randalls, while she and he_usband set forward instantly through all the possible accumulations o_rifted snow that might impede them.
"You had better order the carriage directly, my love," said she; "I dare sa_e shall be able to get along, if we set off directly; and if we do come t_ny thing very bad, I can get out and walk. I am not at all afraid. I shoul_ot mind walking half the way. I could change my shoes, you know, the moment _ot home; and it is not the sort of thing that gives me cold."
"Indeed!" replied he. "Then, my dear Isabella, it is the most extraordinar_ort of thing in the world, for in general every thing does give you cold.
Walk home!—you are prettily shod for walking home, I dare say. It will be ba_nough for the horses."
Isabella turned to Mrs. Weston for her approbation of the plan. Mrs. Westo_ould only approve. Isabella then went to Emma; but Emma could not so entirel_ive up the hope of their being all able to get away; and they were stil_iscussing the point, when Mr. Knightley, who had left the room immediatel_fter his brother's first report of the snow, came back again, and told the_hat he had been out of doors to examine, and could answer for there not bein_he smallest difficulty in their getting home, whenever they liked it, eithe_ow or an hour hence. He had gone beyond the sweep— some way along th_ighbury road—the snow was nowhere above half an inch deep—in many place_ardly enough to whiten the ground; a very few flakes were falling at present, but the clouds were parting, and there was every appearance of its being soo_ver. He had seen the coachmen, and they both agreed with him in there bein_othing to apprehend.
To Isabella, the relief of such tidings was very great, and they were scarcel_ess acceptable to Emma on her father's account, who was immediately set a_uch at ease on the subject as his nervous constitution allowed; but the alar_hat had been raised could not be appeased so as to admit of any comfort fo_im while he continued at Randalls. He was satisfied of there being no presen_anger in returning home, but no assurances could convince him that it wa_afe to stay; and while the others were variously urging and recommending, Mr.
Knightley and Emma settled it in a few brief sentences: thus—
"Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?"
"I am ready, if the others are."
"Shall I ring the bell?"
And the bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. A few minutes more, an_mma hoped to see one troublesome companion deposited in his own house, to ge_ober and cool, and the other recover his temper and happiness when this visi_f hardship were over.
The carriage came: and Mr. Woodhouse, always the first object on suc_ccasions, was carefully attended to his own by Mr. Knightley and Mr. Weston; but not all that either could say could prevent some renewal of alarm at th_ight of the snow which had actually fallen, and the discovery of a muc_arker night than he had been prepared for. "He was afraid they should have _ery bad drive. He was afraid poor Isabella would not like it. And there woul_e poor Emma in the carriage behind. He did not know what they had best do.
They must keep as much together as they could;" and James was talked to, an_iven a charge to go very slow and wait for the other carriage.
Isabella stept in after her father; John Knightley, forgetting that he did no_elong to their party, stept in after his wife very naturally; so that Emm_ound, on being escorted and followed into the second carriage by Mr. Elton, that the door was to be lawfully shut on them, and that they were to have _ete-a-tete drive. It would not have been the awkwardness of a moment, i_ould have been rather a pleasure, previous to the suspicions of this ver_ay; she could have talked to him of Harriet, and the three-quarters of a mil_ould have seemed but one. But now, she would rather it had not happened. Sh_elieved he had been drinking too much of Mr. Weston's good wine, and fel_ure that he would want to be talking nonsense.
To restrain him as much as might be, by her own manners, she was immediatel_reparing to speak with exquisite calmness and gravity of the weather and th_ight; but scarcely had she begun, scarcely had they passed the sweep-gate an_oined the other carriage, than she found her subject cut up—her han_eized—her attention demanded, and Mr. Elton actually making violent love t_er: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments whic_ust be already well known, hoping—fearing—adoring—ready to die if she refuse_im; but flattering himself that his ardent attachment and unequalled love an_nexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and in short, ver_uch resolved on being seriously accepted as soon as possible. It really wa_o. Without scruple—without apology— without much apparent diffidence, Mr.
Elton, the lover of Harriet, was professing himself her lover. She tried t_top him; but vainly; he would go on, and say it all. Angry as she was, th_hought of the moment made her resolve to restrain herself when she did speak.
She felt that half this folly must be drunkenness, and therefore could hop_hat it might belong only to the passing hour. Accordingly, with a mixture o_he serious and the playful, which she hoped would best suit his half and hal_tate, she replied,
"I am very much astonished, Mr. Elton. This to me! you forget yourself— yo_ake me for my friend—any message to Miss Smith I shall be happy to deliver; but no more of this to me, if you please."
"Miss Smith!—message to Miss Smith!—What could she possibly mean!"— And h_epeated her words with such assurance of accent, such boastful pretence o_mazement, that she could not help replying with quickness,
"Mr. Elton, this is the most extraordinary conduct! and I can account for i_nly in one way; you are not yourself, or you could not speak either to me, o_f Harriet, in such a manner. Command yourself enough to say no more, and _ill endeavour to forget it."
But Mr. Elton had only drunk wine enough to elevate his spirits, not at all t_onfuse his intellects. He perfectly knew his own meaning; and having warml_rotested against her suspicion as most injurious, and slightly touched upo_is respect for Miss Smith as her friend,— but acknowledging his wonder tha_iss Smith should be mentioned at all,—he resumed the subject of his ow_assion, and was very urgent for a favourable answer.
As she thought less of his inebriety, she thought more of his inconstancy an_resumption; and with fewer struggles for politeness, replied,
"It is impossible for me to doubt any longer. You have made yourself to_lear. Mr. Elton, my astonishment is much beyond any thing I can express.
After such behaviour, as I have witnessed during the last month, to Mis_mith—such attentions as I have been in the daily habit of observing—to b_ddressing me in this manner—this is an unsteadiness of character, indeed, which I had not supposed possible! Believe me, sir, I am far, very far, fro_ratified in being the object of such professions."
"Good Heaven!" cried Mr. Elton, "what can be the meaning of this?— Mis_mith!—I never thought of Miss Smith in the whole course of my existence—neve_aid her any attentions, but as your friend: never cared whether she were dea_r alive, but as your friend. If she has fancied otherwise, her own wishe_ave misled her, and I am very sorry—extremely sorry—But, Miss Smith, indeed!—Oh! Miss Woodhouse! who can think of Miss Smith, when Miss Woodhous_s near! No, upon my honour, there is no unsteadiness of character. I hav_hought only of you. I protest against having paid the smallest attention t_ny one else. Every thing that I have said or done, for many weeks past, ha_een with the sole view of marking my adoration of yourself. You canno_eally, seriously, doubt it. No!—(in an accent meant to be insinuating)—I a_ure you have seen and understood me."
It would be impossible to say what Emma felt, on hearing this— which of al_er unpleasant sensations was uppermost. She was too completely overpowered t_e immediately able to reply: and two moments of silence being ampl_ncouragement for Mr. Elton's sanguine state of mind, he tried to take he_and again, as he joyously exclaimed—
"Charming Miss Woodhouse! allow me to interpret this interesting silence. I_onfesses that you have long understood me."
"No, sir," cried Emma, "it confesses no such thing. So far from having lon_nderstood you, I have been in a most complete error with respect to you_iews, till this moment. As to myself, I am very sorry that you should hav_een giving way to any feelings— Nothing could be farther from my wishes—you_ttachment to my friend Harriet—your pursuit of her, (pursuit, it appeared,) gave me great pleasure, and I have been very earnestly wishing you success: but had I supposed that she were not your attraction to Hartfield, I shoul_ertainly have thought you judged ill in making your visits so frequent. Am _o believe that you have never sought to recommend yourself particularly t_iss Smith?—that you have never thought seriously of her?"
"Never, madam," cried he, affronted in his turn: "never, I assure you. I thin_eriously of Miss Smith!—Miss Smith is a very good sort of girl; and I shoul_e happy to see her respectably settled. I wish her extremely well: and, n_oubt, there are men who might not object to—Every body has their level: bu_s for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. I need not s_otally despair of an equal alliance, as to be addressing myself to Mis_mith!— No, madam, my visits to Hartfield have been for yourself only; and th_ncouragement I received—"
"Encouragement!—I give you encouragement!—Sir, you have been entirely mistake_n supposing it. I have seen you only as the admirer of my friend. In no othe_ight could you have been more to me than a common acquaintance. I a_xceedingly sorry: but it is well that the mistake ends where it does. Had th_ame behaviour continued, Miss Smith might have been led into a misconceptio_f your views; not being aware, probably, any more than myself, of the ver_reat inequality which you are so sensible of. But, as it is, th_isappointment is single, and, I trust, will not be lasting. I have n_houghts of matrimony at present."
He was too angry to say another word; her manner too decided to invit_upplication; and in this state of swelling resentment, and mutually dee_ortification, they had to continue together a few minutes longer, for th_ears of Mr. Woodhouse had confined them to a foot-pace. If there had not bee_o much anger, there would have been desperate awkwardness; but thei_traightforward emotions left no room for the little zigzags of embarrassment.
Without knowing when the carriage turned into Vicarage Lane, or when i_topped, they found themselves, all at once, at the door of his house; and h_as out before another syllable passed.—Emma then felt it indispensable t_ish him a good night. The compliment was just returned, coldly and proudly; and, under indescribable irritation of spirits, she was then conveyed t_artfield.
There she was welcomed, with the utmost delight, by her father, who had bee_rembling for the dangers of a solitary drive from Vicarage Lane—turning _orner which he could never bear to think of— and in strange hands—a mer_ommon coachman—no James; and there it seemed as if her return only wer_anted to make every thing go well: for Mr. John Knightley, ashamed of hi_ll-humour, was now all kindness and attention; and so particularly solicitou_or the comfort of her father, as to seem—if not quite ready to join him in _asin of gruel—perfectly sensible of its being exceedingly wholesome; and th_ay was concluding in peace and comfort to all their little party, excep_erself.—But her mind had never been in such perturbation; and it needed _ery strong effort to appear attentive and cheerful till the usual hour o_eparating allowed her the relief of quiet reflection.