No misfortune occurred, again to prevent the ball. The day approached, the da_rrived; and after a morning of some anxious watching, Frank Churchill, in al_he certainty of his own self, reached Randalls before dinner, and every thin_as safe.
No second meeting had there yet been between him and Emma. The room at th_rown was to witness it;—but it would be better than a common meeting in _rowd. Mr. Weston had been so very earnest in his entreaties for her arrivin_here as soon as possible after themselves, for the purpose of taking he_pinion as to the propriety and comfort of the rooms before any other person_ame, that she could not refuse him, and must therefore spend some quie_nterval in the young man's company. She was to convey Harriet, and they drov_o the Crown in good time, the Randalls party just sufficiently before them.
Frank Churchill seemed to have been on the watch; and though he did not sa_uch, his eyes declared that he meant to have a delightful evening. They al_alked about together, to see that every thing was as it should be; and withi_ few minutes were joined by the contents of another carriage, which Emm_ould not hear the sound of at first, without great surprize. "So unreasonabl_arly!" she was going to exclaim; but she presently found that it was a famil_f old friends, who were coming, like herself, by particular desire, to hel_r. Weston's judgment; and they were so very closely followed by anothe_arriage of cousins, who had been entreated to come early with the sam_istinguishing earnestness, on the same errand, that it seemed as if half th_ompany might soon be collected together for the purpose of preparator_nspection.
Emma perceived that her taste was not the only taste on which Mr. Westo_epended, and felt, that to be the favourite and intimate of a man who had s_any intimates and confidantes, was not the very first distinction in th_cale of vanity. She liked his open manners, but a little less of open- heartedness would have made him a higher character.—General benevolence, bu_ot general friendship, made a man what he ought to be.— She could fancy suc_ man. The whole party walked about, and looked, and praised again; and then, having nothing else to do, formed a sort of half-circle round the fire, t_bserve in their various modes, till other subjects were started, that, thoug_ay, a fire in the evening was still very pleasant.
Emma found that it was not Mr. Weston's fault that the number of priv_ouncillors was not yet larger. They had stopped at Mrs. Bates's door to offe_he use of their carriage, but the aunt and niece were to be brought by th_ltons.
Frank was standing by her, but not steadily; there was a restlessness, whic_hewed a mind not at ease. He was looking about, he was going to the door, h_as watching for the sound of other carriages,— impatient to begin, or afrai_f being always near her.
Mrs. Elton was spoken of. "I think she must be here soon," said he. "I have _reat curiosity to see Mrs. Elton, I have heard so much of her. It cannot b_ong, I think, before she comes."
A carriage was heard. He was on the move immediately; but coming back, said,
"I am forgetting that I am not acquainted with her. I have never seen eithe_r. or Mrs. Elton. I have no business to put myself forward."
Mr. and Mrs. Elton appeared; and all the smiles and the proprieties passed.
"But Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax!" said Mr. Weston, looking about. "We though_ou were to bring them."
The mistake had been slight. The carriage was sent for them now. Emma longe_o know what Frank's first opinion of Mrs. Elton might be; how he was affecte_y the studied elegance of her dress, and her smiles of graciousness. He wa_mmediately qualifying himself to form an opinion, by giving her very prope_ttention, after the introduction had passed.
In a few minutes the carriage returned.—Somebody talked of rain.— "I will se_hat there are umbrellas, sir," said Frank to his father: "Miss Bates must no_e forgotten:" and away he went. Mr. Weston was following; but Mrs. Elto_etained him, to gratify him by her opinion of his son; and so briskly did sh_egin, that the young man himself, though by no means moving slowly, coul_ardly be out of hearing.
"A very fine young man indeed, Mr. Weston. You know I candidly told you _hould form my own opinion; and I am happy to say that I am extremely please_ith him.—You may believe me. I never compliment. I think him a very handsom_oung man, and his manners are precisely what I like and approve—so truly th_entleman, without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vas_islike to puppies— quite a horror of them. They were never tolerated at Mapl_rove. Neither Mr. Suckling nor me had ever any patience with them; and w_sed sometimes to say very cutting things! Selina, who is mild almost to _ault, bore with them much better."
While she talked of his son, Mr. Weston's attention was chained; but when sh_ot to Maple Grove, he could recollect that there were ladies just arriving t_e attended to, and with happy smiles must hurry away.
Mrs. Elton turned to Mrs. Weston. "I have no doubt of its being our carriag_ith Miss Bates and Jane. Our coachman and horses are so extremel_xpeditious!—I believe we drive faster than any body.— What a pleasure it i_o send one's carriage for a friend!— I understand you were so kind as t_ffer, but another time it will be quite unnecessary. You may be very sure _hall always take care of them."
Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax, escorted by the two gentlemen, walked into th_oom; and Mrs. Elton seemed to think it as much her duty as Mrs. Weston's t_eceive them. Her gestures and movements might be understood by any one wh_ooked on like Emma; but her words, every body's words, were soon lost unde_he incessant flow of Miss Bates, who came in talking, and had not finishe_er speech under many minutes after her being admitted into the circle at th_ire. As the door opened she was heard,
"So very obliging of you!—No rain at all. Nothing to signify. I do not car_or myself. Quite thick shoes. And Jane declares— Well!—(as soon as she wa_ithin the door) Well! This is brilliant indeed!—This i_dmirable!—Excellently contrived, upon my word. Nothing wanting. Could no_ave imagined it.—So well lighted up!— Jane, Jane, look!—did you ever see an_hing? Oh! Mr. Weston, you must really have had Aladdin's lamp. Good Mrs.
Stokes would not know her own room again. I saw her as I came in; she wa_tanding in the entrance. `Oh! Mrs. Stokes,' said I— but I had not time fo_ore." She was now met by Mrs. Weston.— "Very well, I thank you, ma'am. I hop_ou are quite well. Very happy to hear it. So afraid you might have _eadache!— seeing you pass by so often, and knowing how much trouble you mus_ave. Delighted to hear it indeed. Ah! dear Mrs. Elton, so obliged to you fo_he carriage!—excellent time. Jane and I quite ready. Did not keep the horse_ moment. Most comfortable carriage.— Oh! and I am sure our thanks are due t_ou, Mrs. Weston, on that score. Mrs. Elton had most kindly sent Jane a note, or we should have been.— But two such offers in one day!—Never were suc_eighbours. I said to my mother, `Upon my word, ma'am—.' Thank you, my mothe_s remarkably well. Gone to Mr. Woodhouse's. I made her take her shawl—for th_venings are not warm—her large new shawl— Mrs. Dixon's wedding-present.—S_ind of her to think of my mother! Bought at Weymouth, you know—Mr. Dixon'_hoice. There were three others, Jane says, which they hesitated about som_ime. Colonel Campbell rather preferred an olive. My dear Jane, are you sur_ou did not wet your feet?—It was but a drop or two, but I am so afraid:—bu_r. Frank Churchill was so extremely— and there was a mat to step upon—I shal_ever forget his extreme politeness.—Oh! Mr. Frank Churchill, I must tell yo_y mother's spectacles have never been in fault since; the rivet never cam_ut again. My mother often talks of your good-nature. Does not she, Jane?—D_ot we often talk of Mr. Frank Churchill?— Ah! here's Miss Woodhouse.—Dea_iss Woodhouse, how do you do?— Very well I thank you, quite well. This i_eeting quite in fairy-land!— Such a transformation!—Must not compliment, _now (eyeing Emma most complacently)—that would be rude—but upon my word, Mis_oodhouse, you do look—how do you like Jane's hair?—You are a judge.— She di_t all herself. Quite wonderful how she does her hair!— No hairdresser fro_ondon I think could.—Ah! Dr. Hughes I declare— and Mrs. Hughes. Must go an_peak to Dr. and Mrs. Hughes for a moment.—How do you do? How do you do?—Ver_ell, I thank you. This is delightful, is not it?—Where's dear Mr. Richard?— Oh! there he is. Don't disturb him. Much better employed talking to the youn_adies. How do you do, Mr. Richard?—I saw you the other day as you rod_hrough the town—Mrs. Otway, I protest!— and good Mr. Otway, and Miss Otwa_nd Miss Caroline.—Such a host of friends!—and Mr. George and Mr. Arthur!—Ho_o you do? How do you all do?—Quite well, I am much obliged to you. Neve_etter.— Don't I hear another carriage?—Who can this be?—very likely th_orthy Coles.—Upon my word, this is charming to be standing about among suc_riends! And such a noble fire!—I am quite roasted. No coffee, I thank you, for me—never take coffee.—A little tea if you please, sir, by and bye,—n_urry—Oh! here it comes. Every thing so good!"
Frank Churchill returned to his station by Emma; and as soon as Miss Bates wa_uiet, she found herself necessarily overhearing the discourse of Mrs. Elto_nd Miss Fairfax, who were standing a little way behind her.—He wa_houghtful. Whether he were overhearing too, she could not determine. After _ood many compliments to Jane on her dress and look, compliments very quietl_nd properly taken, Mrs. Elton was evidently wanting to be complimente_erself— and it was, "How do you like my gown?—How do you like my trimming?— How has Wright done my hair?"—with many other relative questions, all answere_ith patient politeness. Mrs. Elton then said, "Nobody can think less of dres_n general than I do—but upon such an occasion as this, when every body's eye_re so much upon me, and in compliment to the Westons—who I have no doubt ar_iving this ball chiefly to do me honour—I would not wish to be inferior t_thers. And I see very few pearls in the room except mine.— So Frank Churchil_s a capital dancer, I understand.—We shall see if our styles suit.—A fin_oung man certainly is Frank Churchill. I like him very well."
At this moment Frank began talking so vigorously, that Emma could not bu_magine he had overheard his own praises, and did not want to hear more;—an_he voices of the ladies were drowned for a while, till another suspensio_rought Mrs. Elton's tones again distinctly forward.—Mr. Elton had just joine_hem, and his wife was exclaiming,
"Oh! you have found us out at last, have you, in our seclusion?— I was thi_oment telling Jane, I thought you would begin to be impatient for tidings o_s."
"Jane!"—repeated Frank Churchill, with a look of surprize and displeasure.—
"That is easy—but Miss Fairfax does not disapprove it, I suppose."
"How do you like Mrs. Elton?" said Emma in a whisper.
"Not at all."
"You are ungrateful."
"Ungrateful!—What do you mean?" Then changing from a frown to a smile—"No, d_ot tell me—I do not want to know what you mean.— Where is my father?—When ar_e to begin dancing?"
Emma could hardly understand him; he seemed in an odd humour. He walked off t_ind his father, but was quickly back again with both Mr. and Mrs. Weston. H_ad met with them in a little perplexity, which must be laid before Emma. I_ad just occurred to Mrs. Weston that Mrs. Elton must be asked to begin th_all; that she would expect it; which interfered with all their wishes o_iving Emma that distinction.—Emma heard the sad truth with fortitude.
"And what are we to do for a proper partner for her?" said Mr. Weston. "Sh_ill think Frank ought to ask her."
Frank turned instantly to Emma, to claim her former promise; and boaste_imself an engaged man, which his father looked his most perfect approbatio_f—and it then appeared that Mrs. Weston was wanting him to dance with Mrs.
Elton himself, and that their business was to help to persuade him into it, which was done pretty soon.— Mr. Weston and Mrs. Elton led the way, Mr. Fran_hurchill and Miss Woodhouse followed. Emma must submit to stand second t_rs. Elton, though she had always considered the ball as peculiarly for her.
It was almost enough to make her think of marrying. Mrs. Elton had undoubtedl_he advantage, at this time, in vanity completely gratified; for though sh_ad intended to begin with Frank Churchill, she could not lose by the change.
Mr. Weston might be his son's superior.— In spite of this little rub, however, Emma was smiling with enjoyment, delighted to see the respectable length o_he set as it was forming, and to feel that she had so many hours of unusua_estivity before her.— She was more disturbed by Mr. Knightley's not dancin_han by any thing else.—There he was, among the standers-by, where he ough_ot to be; he ought to be dancing,—not classing himself with the husbands, an_athers, and whist-players, who were pretending to feel an interest in th_ance till their rubbers were made up,—so young as he looked!— He could no_ave appeared to greater advantage perhaps anywhere, than where he had place_imself. His tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stoopin_houlders of the elderly men, was such as Emma felt must draw every body'_yes; and, excepting her own partner, there was not one among the whole row o_oung men who could be compared with him.—He moved a few steps nearer, an_hose few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with wha_atural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble.—Wheneve_he caught his eye, she forced him to smile; but in general he was lookin_rave. She wished he could love a ballroom better, and could like Fran_hurchill better.— He seemed often observing her. She must not flatter hersel_hat he thought of her dancing, but if he were criticising her behaviour, sh_id not feel afraid. There was nothing like flirtation between her and he_artner. They seemed more like cheerful, easy friends, than lovers. That Fran_hurchill thought less of her than he had done, was indubitable.
The ball proceeded pleasantly. The anxious cares, the incessant attentions o_rs. Weston, were not thrown away. Every body seemed happy; and the praise o_eing a delightful ball, which is seldom bestowed till after a ball has cease_o be, was repeatedly given in the very beginning of the existence of this. O_ery important, very recordable events, it was not more productive than suc_eetings usually are. There was one, however, which Emma thought somethin_f.—The two last dances before supper were begun, and Harriet had n_artner;—the only young lady sitting down;— and so equal had been hitherto th_umber of dancers, that how there could be any one disengaged was th_onder!—But Emma's wonder lessened soon afterwards, on seeing Mr. Elto_auntering about. He would not ask Harriet to dance if it were possible to b_voided: she was sure he would not—and she was expecting him every moment t_scape into the card-room.
Escape, however, was not his plan. He came to the part of the room where th_itters-by were collected, spoke to some, and walked about in front of them, as if to shew his liberty, and his resolution of maintaining it. He did no_mit being sometimes directly before Miss Smith, or speaking to those who wer_lose to her.— Emma saw it. She was not yet dancing; she was working her wa_p from the bottom, and had therefore leisure to look around, and by onl_urning her head a little she saw it all. When she was half-way up the set, the whole group were exactly behind her, and she would no longer allow he_yes to watch; but Mr. Elton was so near, that she heard every syllable of _ialogue which just then took place between him and Mrs. Weston; and sh_erceived that his wife, who was standing immediately above her, was not onl_istening also, but even encouraging him by significant glances.—The kind- hearted, gentle Mrs. Weston had left her seat to join him and say, "Do not yo_ance, Mr. Elton?" to which his prompt reply was, "Most readily, Mrs. Weston, if you will dance with me."
"Me!—oh! no—I would get you a better partner than myself. I am no dancer."
"If Mrs. Gilbert wishes to dance," said he, "I shall have great pleasure, I a_ure—for, though beginning to feel myself rather an old married man, and tha_y dancing days are over, it would give me very great pleasure at any time t_tand up with an old friend like Mrs. Gilbert."
"Mrs. Gilbert does not mean to dance, but there is a young lady disengage_hom I should be very glad to see dancing—Miss Smith." "Miss Smith!—oh!—I ha_ot observed.—You are extremely obliging— and if I were not an old marrie_an.—But my dancing days are over, Mrs. Weston. You will excuse me. Any thin_lse I should be most happy to do, at your command—but my dancing days ar_ver."
Mrs. Weston said no more; and Emma could imagine with what surprize an_ortification she must be returning to her seat. This was Mr. Elton! th_miable, obliging, gentle Mr. Elton.— She looked round for a moment; he ha_oined Mr. Knightley at a little distance, and was arranging himself fo_ettled conversation, while smiles of high glee passed between him and hi_ife.
She would not look again. Her heart was in a glow, and she feared her fac_ight be as hot.
In another moment a happier sight caught her;—Mr. Knightley leading Harriet t_he set!—Never had she been more surprized, seldom more delighted, than a_hat instant. She was all pleasure and gratitude, both for Harriet an_erself, and longed to be thanking him; and though too distant for speech, he_ountenance said much, as soon as she could catch his eye again.
His dancing proved to be just what she had believed it, extremely good; an_arriet would have seemed almost too lucky, if it had not been for the crue_tate of things before, and for the very complete enjoyment and very hig_ense of the distinction which her happy features announced. It was not throw_way on her, she bounded higher than ever, flew farther down the middle, an_as in a continual course of smiles.
Mr. Elton had retreated into the card-room, looking (Emma trusted) ver_oolish. She did not think he was quite so hardened as his wife, thoug_rowing very like her;—she spoke some of her feelings, by observing audibly t_er partner,
"Knightley has taken pity on poor little Miss Smith!—Very goodnatured, _eclare."
Supper was announced. The move began; and Miss Bates might be heard from tha_oment, without interruption, till her being seated at table and taking up he_poon.
"Jane, Jane, my dear Jane, where are you?—Here is your tippet. Mrs. Westo_egs you to put on your tippet. She says she is afraid there will be draught_n the passage, though every thing has been done—One door nailed up—Quantitie_f matting—My dear Jane, indeed you must. Mr. Churchill, oh! you are to_bliging! How well you put it on!—so gratified! Excellent dancing indeed!— Yes, my dear, I ran home, as I said I should, to help grandmama to bed, an_ot back again, and nobody missed me.—I set off without saying a word, just a_ told you. Grandmama was quite well, had a charming evening with Mr.
Woodhouse, a vast deal of chat, and backgammon.—Tea was made downstairs, biscuits and baked apples and wine before she came away: amazing luck in som_f her throws: and she inquired a great deal about you, how you were amused, and who were your partners. `Oh!' said I, `I shall not forestall Jane; I lef_er dancing with Mr. George Otway; she will love to tell you all about i_erself to-morrow: her first partner was Mr. Elton, I do not know who will as_er next, perhaps Mr. William Cox.' My dear sir, you are too obliging.—I_here nobody you would not rather?—I am not helpless. Sir, you are most kind.
Upon my word, Jane on one arm, and me on the other!—Stop, stop, let us stand _ittle back, Mrs. Elton is going; dear Mrs. Elton, how elegant sh_ooks!—Beautiful lace!—Now we all follow in her train. Quite the queen of th_vening!—Well, here we are at the passage. Two steps, Jane, take care of th_wo steps. Oh! no, there is but one. Well, I was persuaded there were two. Ho_ery odd! I was convinced there were two, and there is but one. I never sa_ny thing equal to the comfort and style—Candles everywhere.—I was telling yo_f your grandmama, Jane,—There was a little disappointment.— The baked apple_nd biscuits, excellent in their way, you know; but there was a delicat_ricassee of sweetbread and some asparagus brought in at first, and good Mr.
Woodhouse, not thinking the asparagus quite boiled enough, sent it all ou_gain. Now there is nothing grandmama loves better than sweetbread an_sparagus— so she was rather disappointed, but we agreed we would not speak o_t to any body, for fear of its getting round to dear Miss Woodhouse, wh_ould be so very much concerned!—Well, this is brilliant! I am all amazement!
could not have supposed any thing!—Such elegance and profusion!—I have see_othing like it since— Well, where shall we sit? where shall we sit? Anywhere, so that Jane is not in a draught. Where I sit is of no consequence. Oh! do yo_ecommend this side?—Well, I am sure, Mr. Churchill— only it seems to_ood—but just as you please. What you direct in this house cannot be wrong.
Dear Jane, how shall we ever recollect half the dishes for grandmama? Sou_oo! Bless me! I should not be helped so soon, but it smells most excellent, and I cannot help beginning."
Emma had no opportunity of speaking to Mr. Knightley till after supper; but, when they were all in the ballroom again, her eyes invited him irresistibly t_ome to her and be thanked. He was warm in his reprobation of Mr. Elton'_onduct; it had been unpardonable rudeness; and Mrs. Elton's looks als_eceived the due share of censure.
"They aimed at wounding more than Harriet," said he. "Emma, why is it tha_hey are your enemies?"
He looked with smiling penetration; and, on receiving no answer, added, "Sh_ught not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be.—To tha_urmise, you say nothing, of course; but confess, Emma, that you did want hi_o marry Harriet."
"I did," replied Emma, "and they cannot forgive me."
He shook his head; but there was a smile of indulgence with it, and he onl_aid,
"I shall not scold you. I leave you to your own reflections."
"Can you trust me with such flatterers?—Does my vain spirit ever tell me I a_rong?"
"Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit.—If one leads you wrong, I a_ure the other tells you of it."
"I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr. Elton. There is _ittleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I wa_ully convinced of his being in love with Harriet. It was through a series o_trange blunders!"
"And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice t_ay, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen fo_imself.—Harriet Smith has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Elton i_otally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl— infinitely t_e preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs. Elton. _ound Harriet more conversable than I expected."
Emma was extremely gratified.—They were interrupted by the bustle of Mr.
Weston calling on every body to begin dancing again.
"Come Miss Woodhouse, Miss Otway, Miss Fairfax, what are you all doing?— Com_mma, set your companions the example. Every body is lazy! Every body i_sleep!"
"I am ready," said Emma, "whenever I am wanted."
"Whom are you going to dance with?" asked Mr. Knightley.
She hesitated a moment, and then replied, "With you, if you will ask me."
"Will you?" said he, offering his hand.
"Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are no_eally so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper."