Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interestin_ituations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of bein_indly spoken of.
A week had not passed since Miss Hawkins's name was first mentioned i_ighbury, before she was, by some means or other, discovered to have ever_ecommendation of person and mind; to be handsome, elegant, highl_ccomplished, and perfectly amiable: and when Mr. Elton himself arrived t_riumph in his happy prospects, and circulate the fame of her merits, ther_as very little more for him to do, than to tell her Christian name, and sa_hose music she principally played.
Mr. Elton returned, a very happy man. He had gone away rejected an_ortified—disappointed in a very sanguine hope, after a series of wha_ppeared to him strong encouragement; and not only losing the right lady, bu_inding himself debased to the level of a very wrong one. He had gone awa_eeply offended—he came back engaged to another—and to another as superior, o_ourse, to the first, as under such circumstances what is gained always is t_hat is lost. He came back gay and self-satisfied, eager and busy, carin_othing for Miss Woodhouse, and defying Miss Smith.
The charming Augusta Hawkins, in addition to all the usual advantages o_erfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of s_any thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as wel_s some convenience: the story told well; he had not thrown himself away—h_ad gained a woman of 10,000 l. or thereabouts; and he had gained her wit_uch delightful rapidity— the first hour of introduction had been so very soo_ollowed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mrs. Col_f the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious—the steps so quick,
from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green's, and the party a_rs. Brown's—smiles and blushes rising in importance— with consciousness an_gitation richly scattered—the lady had been so easily impressed—so sweetl_isposed—had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very read_o have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.
He had caught both substance and shadow—both fortune and affection, and wa_ust the happy man he ought to be; talking only of himself and his ow_oncerns—expecting to be congratulated—ready to be laughed at—and, wit_ordial, fearless smiles, now addressing all the young ladies of the place, t_hom, a few weeks ago, he would have been more cautiously gallant.
The wedding was no distant event, as the parties had only themselves t_lease, and nothing but the necessary preparations to wait for; and when h_et out for Bath again, there was a general expectation, which a certai_lance of Mrs. Cole's did not seem to contradict, that when he next entere_ighbury he would bring his bride.
During his present short stay, Emma had barely seen him; but just enough t_eel that the first meeting was over, and to give her the impression of hi_ot being improved by the mixture of pique and pretension, now spread over hi_ir. She was, in fact, beginning very much to wonder that she had ever though_im pleasing at all; and his sight was so inseparably connected with some ver_isagreeable feelings, that, except in a moral light, as a penance, a lesson,
a source of profitable humiliation to her own mind, she would have bee_hankful to be assured of never seeing him again. She wished him very well;
but he gave her pain, and his welfare twenty miles off would administer mos_atisfaction.
The pain of his continued residence in Highbury, however, must certainly b_essened by his marriage. Many vain solicitudes would be prevented— man_wkwardnesses smoothed by it. A Mrs. Elton would be an excuse for any chang_f intercourse; former intimacy might sink without remark. It would be almos_eginning their life of civility again.
Of the lady, individually, Emma thought very little. She was good enough fo_r. Elton, no doubt; accomplished enough for Highbury— handsome enough—to loo_lain, probably, by Harriet's side. As to connexion, there Emma was perfectl_asy; persuaded, that after all his own vaunted claims and disdain of Harriet,
he had done nothing. On that article, truth seemed attainable. What she was,
must be uncertain; but who she was, might be found out; and setting aside th_0,000 l., it did not appear that she was at all Harriet's superior. Sh_rought no name, no blood, no alliance. Miss Hawkins was the youngest of th_wo daughters of a Bristol— merchant, of course, he must be called; but, a_he whole of the profits of his mercantile life appeared so very moderate, i_as not unfair to guess the dignity of his line of trade had been ver_oderate also. Part of every winter she had been used to spend in Bath; bu_ristol was her home, the very heart of Bristol; for though the father an_other had died some years ago, an uncle remained— in the law line—nothin_ore distinctly honourable was hazarded of him, than that he was in the la_ine; and with him the daughter had lived. Emma guessed him to be the drudg_f some attorney, and too stupid to rise. And all the grandeur of th_onnexion seemed dependent on the elder sister, who was very well married, t_ gentleman in a great way, near Bristol, who kept two carriages! That was th_ind-up of the history; that was the glory of Miss Hawkins.
Could she but have given Harriet her feelings about it all! She had talked he_nto love; but, alas! she was not so easily to be talked out of it. The char_f an object to occupy the many vacancies of Harriet's mind was not to b_alked away. He might be superseded by another; he certainly would indeed;
nothing could be clearer; even a Robert Martin would have been sufficient; bu_othing else, she feared, would cure her. Harriet was one of those, who,
having once begun, would be always in love. And now, poor girl! she wa_onsiderably worse from this reappearance of Mr. Elton. She was always havin_ glimpse of him somewhere or other. Emma saw him only once; but two or thre_imes every day Harriet was sure just to meet with him, or just to miss him,
just to hear his voice, or see his shoulder, just to have something occur t_reserve him in her fancy, in all the favouring warmth of surprize an_onjecture. She was, moreover, perpetually hearing about him; for, exceptin_hen at Hartfield, she was always among those who saw no fault in Mr. Elton,
and found nothing so interesting as the discussion of his concerns; and ever_eport, therefore, every guess—all that had already occurred, all that migh_ccur in the arrangement of his affairs, comprehending income, servants, an_urniture, was continually in agitation around her. Her regard was receivin_trength by invariable praise of him, and her regrets kept alive, and feeling_rritated by ceaseless repetitions of Miss Hawkins's happiness, and continua_bservation of, how much he seemed attached!— his air as he walked by th_ouse—the very sitting of his hat, being all in proof of how much he was i_ove!
Had it been allowable entertainment, had there been no pain to her friend, o_eproach to herself, in the waverings of Harriet's mind, Emma would have bee_mused by its variations. Sometimes Mr. Elton predominated, sometimes th_artins; and each was occasionally useful as a check to the other. Mr. Elton'_ngagement had been the cure of the agitation of meeting Mr. Martin. Th_nhappiness produced by the knowledge of that engagement had been a little pu_side by Elizabeth Martin's calling at Mrs. Goddard's a few days afterwards.
Harriet had not been at home; but a note had been prepared and left for her,
written in the very style to touch; a small mixture of reproach, with a grea_eal of kindness; and till Mr. Elton himself appeared, she had been muc_ccupied by it, continually pondering over what could be done in return, an_ishing to do more than she dared to confess. But Mr. Elton, in person, ha_riven away all such cares. While he staid, the Martins were forgotten; and o_he very morning of his setting off for Bath again, Emma, to dissipate some o_he distress it occasioned, judged it best for her to return Elizabet_artin's visit.
How that visit was to be acknowledged—what would be necessary— and what migh_e safest, had been a point of some doubtful consideration. Absolute neglec_f the mother and sisters, when invited to come, would be ingratitude. It mus_ot be: and yet the danger of a renewal of the acquaintance!—
After much thinking, she could determine on nothing better, than Harriet'_eturning the visit; but in a way that, if they had understanding, shoul_onvince them that it was to be only a formal acquaintance. She meant to tak_er in the carriage, leave her at the Abbey Mill, while she drove a littl_arther, and call for her again so soon, as to allow no time for insidiou_pplications or dangerous recurrences to the past, and give the most decide_roof of what degree of intimacy was chosen for the future.
She could think of nothing better: and though there was something in it whic_er own heart could not approve—something of ingratitude, merely glosse_ver—it must be done, or what would become of Harriet?