It was a very great relief to Emma to find Harriet as desirous as herself t_void a meeting. Their intercourse was painful enough by letter. How muc_orse, had they been obliged to meet!
Harriet expressed herself very much as might be supposed, without reproaches, or apparent sense of ill-usage; and yet Emma fancied there was a something o_esentment, a something bordering on it in her style, which increased th_esirableness of their being separate.— It might be only her ow_onsciousness; but it seemed as if an angel only could have been quite withou_esentment under such a stroke.
She had no difficulty in procuring Isabella's invitation; and she wa_ortunate in having a sufficient reason for asking it, without resorting t_nvention.—There was a tooth amiss. Harriet really wished, and had wished som_ime, to consult a dentist. Mrs. John Knightley was delighted to be of use; any thing of ill health was a recommendation to her—and though not so fond o_ dentist as of a Mr. Wingfield, she was quite eager to have Harriet under he_are.—When it was thus settled on her sister's side, Emma proposed it to he_riend, and found her very persuadable.— Harriet was to go; she was invite_or at least a fortnight; she was to be conveyed in Mr. Woodhouse'_arriage.—It was all arranged, it was all completed, and Harriet was safe i_runswick Square.
Now Emma could, indeed, enjoy Mr. Knightley's visits; now she could talk, an_he could listen with true happiness, unchecked by that sense of injustice, o_uilt, of something most painful, which had haunted her when remembering ho_isappointed a heart was near her, how much might at that moment, and at _ittle distance, be enduring by the feelings which she had led astray herself.
The difference of Harriet at Mrs. Goddard's, or in London, made perhaps a_nreasonable difference in Emma's sensations; but she could not think of he_n London without objects of curiosity and employment, which must be avertin_he past, and carrying her out of herself.
She would not allow any other anxiety to succeed directly to the place in he_ind which Harriet had occupied. There was a communication before her, on_hich she only could be competent to make— the confession of her engagement t_er father; but she would have nothing to do with it at present.—She ha_esolved to defer the disclosure till Mrs. Weston were safe and well. N_dditional agitation should be thrown at this period among those she loved— and the evil should not act on herself by anticipation before the appointe_ime.—A fortnight, at least, of leisure and peace of mind, to crown ever_armer, but more agitating, delight, should be hers.
She soon resolved, equally as a duty and a pleasure, to employ half an hour o_his holiday of spirits in calling on Miss Fairfax.— She ought to go—and sh_as longing to see her; the resemblance of their present situations increasin_very other motive of goodwill. It would be a secret satisfaction; but th_onsciousness of a similarity of prospect would certainly add to the interes_ith which she should attend to any thing Jane might communicate.
She went—she had driven once unsuccessfully to the door, but had not been int_he house since the morning after Box Hill, when poor Jane had been in suc_istress as had filled her with compassion, though all the worst of he_ufferings had been unsuspected.— The fear of being still unwelcome, determined her, though assured of their being at home, to wait in the passage, and send up her name.— She heard Patty announcing it; but no such bustl_ucceeded as poor Miss Bates had before made so happily intelligible.—No; sh_eard nothing but the instant reply of, "Beg her to walk up;"—and a momen_fterwards she was met on the stairs by Jane herself, coming eagerly forward, as if no other reception of her were felt sufficient.— Emma had never seen he_ook so well, so lovely, so engaging. There was consciousness, animation, an_armth; there was every thing which her countenance or manner could ever hav_anted.— She came forward with an offered hand; and said, in a low, but ver_eeling tone,
"This is most kind, indeed!—Miss Woodhouse, it is impossible for me t_xpress—I hope you will believe—Excuse me for being so entirely withou_ords."
Emma was gratified, and would soon have shewn no want of words, if the soun_f Mrs. Elton's voice from the sitting-room had not checked her, and made i_xpedient to compress all her friendly and all her congratulatory sensation_nto a very, very earnest shake of the hand.
Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Elton were together. Miss Bates was out, which accounte_or the previous tranquillity. Emma could have wished Mrs. Elton elsewhere; but she was in a humour to have patience with every body; and as Mrs. Elto_et her with unusual graciousness, she hoped the rencontre would do them n_arm.
She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton's thoughts, and understan_hy she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax'_onfidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret t_ther people. Emma saw symptoms of it immediately in the expression of he_ace; and while paying her own compliments to Mrs. Bates, and appearing t_ttend to the good old lady's replies, she saw her with a sort of anxiou_arade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading alou_o Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold reticule by her side, saying, with significant nods,
"We can finish this some other time, you know. You and I shall not wan_pportunities. And, in fact, you have heard all the essential already. I onl_anted to prove to you that Mrs. S. admits our apology, and is not offended.
You see how delightfully she writes. Oh! she is a sweet creature! You woul_ave doated on her, had you gone.—But not a word more. Let us be discreet— quite on our good behaviour.—Hush!—You remember those lines— I forget the poe_t this moment:
"For when a lady's in the case,
"You know all other things give place."
Now I say, my dear, in our case, for lady, read——mum! a word to the wise.—I a_n a fine flow of spirits, an't I? But I want to set your heart at ease as t_rs. S.—My representation, you see, has quite appeased her."
And again, on Emma's merely turning her head to look at Mrs. Bates's knitting, she added, in a half whisper,
"I mentioned no names, you will observe.—Oh! no; cautious as a minister o_tate. I managed it extremely well."
Emma could not doubt. It was a palpable display, repeated on every possibl_ccasion. When they had all talked a little while in harmony of the weathe_nd Mrs. Weston, she found herself abruptly addressed with,
"Do not you think, Miss Woodhouse, our saucy little friend here is charmingl_ecovered?—Do not you think her cure does Perry the highest credit?—(here wa_ side-glance of great meaning at Jane.) Upon my word, Perry has restored he_n a wonderful short time!— Oh! if you had seen her, as I did, when she was a_he worst!"— And when Mrs. Bates was saying something to Emma, whispere_arther, "We do not say a word of any assistance that Perry might have; not _ord of a certain young physician from Windsor.—Oh! no; Perry shall have al_he credit."
"I have scarce had the pleasure of seeing you, Miss Woodhouse," she shortl_fterwards began, "since the party to Box Hill. Very pleasant party. But yet _hink there was something wanting. Things did not seem—that is, there seemed _ittle cloud upon the spirits of some.—So it appeared to me at least, but _ight be mistaken. However, I think it answered so far as to tempt one to g_gain. What say you both to our collecting the same party, and exploring t_ox Hill again, while the fine weather lasts?— It must be the same party, yo_now, quite the same party, not one exception."
Soon after this Miss Bates came in, and Emma could not help being diverted b_he perplexity of her first answer to herself, resulting, she supposed, fro_oubt of what might be said, and impatience to say every thing.
"Thank you, dear Miss Woodhouse, you are all kindness.—It is impossible t_ay—Yes, indeed, I quite understand—dearest Jane's prospects— that is, I d_ot mean.—But she is charmingly recovered.— How is Mr. Woodhouse?—I am s_lad.—Quite out of my power.— Such a happy little circle as you find u_ere.—Yes, indeed.— Charming young man!—that is—so very friendly; I mean goo_r. Perry!— such attention to Jane!"—And from her great, her more tha_ommonly thankful delight towards Mrs. Elton for being there, Emma guesse_hat there had been a little show of resentment towards Jane, from th_icarage quarter, which was now graciously overcome.— After a few whispers, indeed, which placed it beyond a guess, Mrs. Elton, speaking louder, said,
"Yes, here I am, my good friend; and here I have been so long, that anywher_lse I should think it necessary to apologise; but, the truth is, that I a_aiting for my lord and master. He promised to join me here, and pay hi_espects to you."
"What! are we to have the pleasure of a call from Mr. Elton?— That will be _avour indeed! for I know gentlemen do not like morning visits, and Mr.
Elton's time is so engaged."
"Upon my word it is, Miss Bates.—He really is engaged from morning t_ight.—There is no end of people's coming to him, on some pretence o_ther.—The magistrates, and overseers, and churchwardens, are always wantin_is opinion. They seem not able to do any thing without him.—`Upon my word, Mr. E.,' I often say, `rather you than I.— I do not know what would become o_y crayons and my instrument, if I had half so many applicants.'—Bad enough a_t is, for I absolutely neglect them both to an unpardonable degree.—I believ_ have not played a bar this fortnight.—However, he is coming, I assure you: yes, indeed, on purpose to wait on you all." And putting up her hand to scree_er words from Emma—"A congratulatory visit, you know.—Oh! yes, quit_ndispensable."
Miss Bates looked about her, so happily!—
"He promised to come to me as soon as he could disengage himself fro_nightley; but he and Knightley are shut up together in deep consultation.—Mr.
E. is Knightley's right hand."
Emma would not have smiled for the world, and only said, "Is Mr. Elton gone o_oot to Donwell?—He will have a hot walk."
"Oh! no, it is a meeting at the Crown, a regular meeting. Weston and Cole wil_e there too; but one is apt to speak only of those who lead.—I fancy Mr. E.
and Knightley have every thing their own way."
"Have not you mistaken the day?" said Emma. "I am almost certain that th_eeting at the Crown is not till to-morrow.—Mr. Knightley was at Hartfiel_esterday, and spoke of it as for Saturday."
"Oh! no, the meeting is certainly to-day," was the abrupt answer, whic_enoted the impossibility of any blunder on Mrs. Elton's side.— "I d_elieve," she continued, "this is the most troublesome parish that ever was.
We never heard of such things at Maple Grove."
"Your parish there was small," said Jane.
"Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talke_f."
"But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you spea_f, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children."
"Ah! you clever creature, that's very true. What a thinking brain you have! _ay, Jane, what a perfect character you and I should make, if we could b_haken together. My liveliness and your solidity would produce perfection.—No_hat I presume to insinuate, however, that some people may not think yo_erfection already.—But hush!— not a word, if you please."
It seemed an unnecessary caution; Jane was wanting to give her words, not t_rs. Elton, but to Miss Woodhouse, as the latter plainly saw. The wish o_istinguishing her, as far as civility permitted, was very evident, though i_ould not often proceed beyond a look.
Mr. Elton made his appearance. His lady greeted him with some of her sparklin_ivacity.
"Very pretty, sir, upon my word; to send me on here, to be an encumbrance t_y friends, so long before you vouchsafe to come!— But you knew what a dutifu_reature you had to deal with. You knew I should not stir till my lord an_aster appeared.— Here have I been sitting this hour, giving these youn_adies a sample of true conjugal obedience—for who can say, you know, how soo_t may be wanted?"
Mr. Elton was so hot and tired, that all this wit seemed thrown away. Hi_ivilities to the other ladies must be paid; but his subsequent object was t_ament over himself for the heat he was suffering, and the walk he had had fo_othing.
"When I got to Donwell," said he, "Knightley could not be found. Very odd!
very unaccountable! after the note I sent him this morning, and the message h_eturned, that he should certainly be at home till one."
"Donwell!" cried his wife.—"My dear Mr. E., you have not been to Donwell!—Yo_ean the Crown; you come from the meeting at the Crown."
"No, no, that's to-morrow; and I particularly wanted to see Knightley to-da_n that very account.—Such a dreadful broiling morning!— I went over th_ields too—(speaking in a tone of great ill-usage,) which made it so much th_orse. And then not to find him at home! I assure you I am not at all pleased.
And no apology left, no message for me. The housekeeper declared she kne_othing of my being expected.— Very extraordinary!—And nobody knew at al_hich way he was gone. Perhaps to Hartfield, perhaps to the Abbey Mill, perhaps into his woods.— Miss Woodhouse, this is not like our frien_nightley!—Can you explain it?"
Emma amused herself by protesting that it was very extraordinary, indeed, an_hat she had not a syllable to say for him.
"I cannot imagine," said Mrs. Elton, (feeling the indignity as a wife ought t_o,) "I cannot imagine how he could do such a thing by you, of all people i_he world! The very last person whom one should expect to be forgotten!—M_ear Mr. E., he must have left a message for you, I am sure he must.—Not eve_nightley could be so very eccentric;— and his servants forgot it. Depend upo_t, that was the case: and very likely to happen with the Donwell servants, who are all, I have often observed, extremely awkward and remiss.—I am sure _ould not have such a creature as his Harry stand at our sideboard for an_onsideration. And as for Mrs. Hodges, Wright holds her very cheap indeed.—Sh_romised Wright a receipt, and never sent it."
"I met William Larkins," continued Mr. Elton, "as I got near the house, and h_old me I should not find his master at home, but I did not believ_im.—William seemed rather out of humour. He did not know what was come to hi_aster lately, he said, but he could hardly ever get the speech of him. I hav_othing to do with William's wants, but it really is of very great importanc_hat I should see Knightley to-day; and it becomes a matter, therefore, o_ery serious inconvenience that I should have had this hot walk to n_urpose."
Emma felt that she could not do better than go home directly. In al_robability she was at this very time waited for there; and Mr. Knightle_ight be preserved from sinking deeper in aggression towards Mr. Elton, if no_owards William Larkins.
She was pleased, on taking leave, to find Miss Fairfax determined to atten_er out of the room, to go with her even downstairs; it gave her a_pportunity which she immediately made use of, to say,
"It is as well, perhaps, that I have not had the possibility. Had you not bee_urrounded by other friends, I might have been tempted to introduce a subject, to ask questions, to speak more openly than might have been strictl_orrect.—I feel that I should certainly have been impertinent."
"Oh!" cried Jane, with a blush and an hesitation which Emma thought infinitel_ore becoming to her than all the elegance of all her usual composure—"ther_ould have been no danger. The danger would have been of my wearying you. Yo_ould not have gratified me more than by expressing an interest—. Indeed, Mis_oodhouse, (speaking more collectedly,) with the consciousness which I have o_isconduct, very great misconduct, it is particularly consoling to me to kno_hat those of my friends, whose good opinion is most worth preserving, are no_isgusted to such a degree as to—I have not time for half that I could wish t_ay. I long to make apologies, excuses, to urge something for myself. I fee_t so very due. But, unfortunately—in short, if your compassion does not stan_y friend—"
"Oh! you are too scrupulous, indeed you are," cried Emma warmly, and takin_er hand. "You owe me no apologies; and every body to whom you might b_upposed to owe them, is so perfectly satisfied, so delighted even—"
"You are very kind, but I know what my manners were to you.— So cold an_rtificial!—I had always a part to act.—It was a life of deceit!—I know that _ust have disgusted you."
"Pray say no more. I feel that all the apologies should be on my side. Let u_orgive each other at once. We must do whatever is to be done quickest, and _hink our feelings will lose no time there. I hope you have pleasant account_rom Windsor?"
"And the next news, I suppose, will be, that we are to lose you— just as _egin to know you."
"Oh! as to all that, of course nothing can be thought of yet. I am here til_laimed by Colonel and Mrs. Campbell."
"Nothing can be actually settled yet, perhaps," replied Emma, smiling—"but, excuse me, it must be thought of."
The smile was returned as Jane answered,
"You are very right; it has been thought of. And I will own to you, (I am sur_t will be safe), that so far as our living with Mr. Churchill at Enscombe, i_s settled. There must be three months, at least, of deep mourning; but whe_hey are over, I imagine there will be nothing more to wait for."
"Thank you, thank you.—This is just what I wanted to be assured of.— Oh! i_ou knew how much I love every thing that is decided and open!— Good-bye, good-bye."