The very day of Mr. Elton's going to London produced a fresh occasion fo_mma's services towards her friend. Harriet had been at Hartfield, as usual, soon after breakfast; and, after a time, had gone home to return again t_inner: she returned, and sooner than had been talked of, and with a_gitated, hurried look, announcing something extraordinary to have happene_hich she was longing to tell. Half a minute brought it all out. She ha_eard, as soon as she got back to Mrs. Goddard's, that Mr. Martin had bee_here an hour before, and finding she was not at home, nor particularl_xpected, had left a little parcel for her from one of his sisters, and gon_way; and on opening this parcel, she had actually found, besides the tw_ongs which she had lent Elizabeth to copy, a letter to herself; and thi_etter was from him, from Mr. Martin, and contained a direct proposal o_arriage. "Who could have thought it? She was so surprized she did not kno_hat to do. Yes, quite a proposal of marriage; and a very good letter, a_east she thought so. And he wrote as if he really loved her very much—but sh_id not know—and so, she was come as fast as she could to ask Miss Woodhous_hat she should do.—" Emma was half-ashamed of her friend for seeming s_leased and so doubtful.
"Upon my word," she cried, "the young man is determined not to lose any thin_or want of asking. He will connect himself well if he can."
"Will you read the letter?" cried Harriet. "Pray do. I'd rather you would."
Emma was not sorry to be pressed. She read, and was surprized. The style o_he letter was much above her expectation. There were not merely n_rammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced _entleman; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and th_entiments it conveyed very much to the credit of the writer. It was short, but expressed good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, eve_elicacy of feeling. She paused over it, while Harriet stood anxiousl_atching for her opinion, with a "Well, well," and was at last forced to add,
"Is it a good letter? or is it too short?"
"Yes, indeed, a very good letter," replied Emma rather slowly—"so good _etter, Harriet, that every thing considered, I think one of his sisters mus_ave helped him. I can hardly imagine the young man whom I saw talking wit_ou the other day could express himself so well, if left quite to his ow_owers, and yet it is not the style of a woman; no, certainly, it is to_trong and concise; not diffuse enough for a woman. No doubt he is a sensibl_an, and I suppose may have a natural talent for—thinks strongly an_learly—and when he takes a pen in hand, his thoughts naturally find prope_ords. It is so with some men. Yes, I understand the sort of mind. Vigorous, decided, with sentiments to a certain point, not coarse. A better writte_etter, Harriet (returning it,) than I had expected."
"Well," said the still waiting Harriet;—"well—and—and what shall I do?"
"What shall you do! In what respect? Do you mean with regard to this letter?"
"But what are you in doubt of? You must answer it of course—and speedily."
"Yes. But what shall I say? Dear Miss Woodhouse, do advise me."
"Oh no, no! the letter had much better be all your own. You will expres_ourself very properly, I am sure. There is no danger of your not bein_ntelligible, which is the first thing. Your meaning must be unequivocal; n_oubts or demurs: and such expressions of gratitude and concern for the pai_ou are inflicting as propriety requires, will present themselves unbidden t_our mind, I am persuaded. You need not be prompted to write with th_ppearance of sorrow for his disappointment."
"You think I ought to refuse him then," said Harriet, looking down.
"Ought to refuse him! My dear Harriet, what do you mean? Are you in any doub_s to that? I thought—but I beg your pardon, perhaps I have been under _istake. I certainly have been misunderstanding you, if you feel in doubt a_o the purport of your answer. I had imagined you were consulting me only a_o the wording of it."
Harriet was silent. With a little reserve of manner, Emma continued:
"You mean to return a favourable answer, I collect."
"No, I do not; that is, I do not mean—What shall I do? What would you advis_e to do? Pray, dear Miss Woodhouse, tell me what I ought to do."
"I shall not give you any advice, Harriet. I will have nothing to do with it.
This is a point which you must settle with your feelings."
"I had no notion that he liked me so very much," said Harriet, contemplatin_he letter. For a little while Emma persevered in her silence; but beginnin_o apprehend the bewitching flattery of that letter might be too powerful, sh_hought it best to say,
"I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as t_hether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. I_he can hesitate as to `Yes,' she ought to say `No' directly. It is not _tate to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart. _hought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say thus much t_ou. But do not imagine that I want to influence you."
"Oh! no, I am sure you are a great deal too kind to—but if you would jus_dvise me what I had best do—No, no, I do not mean that—As you say, one's min_ught to be quite made up—One should not be hesitating—It is a very seriou_hing.—It will be safer to say `No,' perhaps.—Do you think I had better say `No?'"
"Not for the world," said Emma, smiling graciously, "would I advise you eithe_ay. You must be the best judge of your own happiness. If you prefer Mr.
Martin to every other person; if you think him the most agreeable man you hav_ver been in company with, why should you hesitate? You blush, Harriet.—Doe_ny body else occur to you at this moment under such a definition? Harriet, Harriet, do not deceive yourself; do not be run away with by gratitude an_ompassion. At this moment whom are you thinking of?"
The symptoms were favourable.—Instead of answering, Harriet turned awa_onfused, and stood thoughtfully by the fire; and though the letter was stil_n her hand, it was now mechanically twisted about without regard. Emma waite_he result with impatience, but not without strong hopes. At last, with som_esitation, Harriet said—
"Miss Woodhouse, as you will not give me your opinion, I must do as well as _an by myself; and I have now quite determined, and really almost made up m_ind—to refuse Mr. Martin. Do you think I am right?"
"Perfectly, perfectly right, my dearest Harriet; you are doing just what yo_ught. While you were at all in suspense I kept my feelings to myself, but no_hat you are so completely decided I have no hesitation in approving. Dea_arriet, I give myself joy of this. It would have grieved me to lose you_cquaintance, which must have been the consequence of your marrying Mr.
Martin. While you were in the smallest degree wavering, I said nothing abou_t, because I would not influence; but it would have been the loss of a frien_o me. I could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm. Now _m secure of you for ever."
Harriet had not surmised her own danger, but the idea of it struck he_orcibly.
"You could not have visited me!" she cried, looking aghast. "No, to be sur_ou could not; but I never thought of that before. That would have been to_readful!—What an escape!—Dear Miss Woodhouse, I would not give up th_leasure and honour of being intimate with you for any thing in the world."
"Indeed, Harriet, it would have been a severe pang to lose you; but it mus_ave been. You would have thrown yourself out of all good society. I must hav_iven you up."
"Dear me!—How should I ever have borne it! It would have killed me never t_ome to Hartfield any more!"
"Dear affectionate creature!—You banished to Abbey-Mill Farm!—You confined t_he society of the illiterate and vulgar all your life! I wonder how the youn_an could have the assurance to ask it. He must have a pretty good opinion o_imself."
"I do not think he is conceited either, in general," said Harriet, he_onscience opposing such censure; "at least, he is very good natured, and _hall always feel much obliged to him, and have a great regard for—but that i_uite a different thing from—and you know, though he may like me, it does no_ollow that I should—and certainly I must confess that since my visiting her_ have seen people—and if one comes to compare them, person and manners, ther_s no comparison at all, one is so very handsome and agreeable. However, I d_eally think Mr. Martin a very amiable young man, and have a great opinion o_im; and his being so much attached to me—and his writing such a letter—but a_o leaving you, it is what I would not do upon any consideration."
"Thank you, thank you, my own sweet little friend. We will not be parted. _oman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he i_ttached to her, and can write a tolerable letter."
"Oh no;—and it is but a short letter too."
Emma felt the bad taste of her friend, but let it pass with a "very true; an_t would be a small consolation to her, for the clownish manner which might b_ffending her every hour of the day, to know that her husband could write _ood letter."
"Oh! yes, very. Nobody cares for a letter; the thing is, to be always happ_ith pleasant companions. I am quite determined to refuse him. But how shall _o? What shall I say?"
Emma assured her there would be no difficulty in the answer, and advised it_eing written directly, which was agreed to, in the hope of her assistance; and though Emma continued to protest against any assistance being wanted, i_as in fact given in the formation of every sentence. The looking over hi_etter again, in replying to it, had such a softening tendency, that it wa_articularly necessary to brace her up with a few decisive expressions; an_he was so very much concerned at the idea of making him unhappy, and though_o much of what his mother and sisters would think and say, and was so anxiou_hat they should not fancy her ungrateful, that Emma believed if the young ma_ad come in her way at that moment, he would have been accepted after all.
This letter, however, was written, and sealed, and sent. The business wa_inished, and Harriet safe. She was rather low all the evening, but Emma coul_llow for her amiable regrets, and sometimes relieved them by speaking of he_wn affection, sometimes by bringing forward the idea of Mr. Elton.
"I shall never be invited to Abbey-Mill again," was said in rather a sorrowfu_one.
"Nor, if you were, could I ever bear to part with you, my Harriet. You are _reat deal too necessary at Hartfield to be spared to Abbey-Mill."
"And I am sure I should never want to go there; for I am never happy but a_artfield."
Some time afterwards it was, "I think Mrs. Goddard would be very muc_urprized if she knew what had happened. I am sure Miss Nash would—for Mis_ash thinks her own sister very well married, and it is only a linen-draper."
"One should be sorry to see greater pride or refinement in the teacher of _chool, Harriet. I dare say Miss Nash would envy you such an opportunity a_his of being married. Even this conquest would appear valuable in her eyes.
As to any thing superior for you, I suppose she is quite in the dark. Th_ttentions of a certain person can hardly be among the tittle-tattle o_ighbury yet. Hitherto I fancy you and I are the only people to whom his look_nd manners have explained themselves."
Harriet blushed and smiled, and said something about wondering that peopl_hould like her so much. The idea of Mr. Elton was certainly cheering; bu_till, after a time, she was tender-hearted again towards the rejected Mr.
"Now he has got my letter," said she softly. "I wonder what they are al_oing—whether his sisters know—if he is unhappy, they will be unhappy too. _ope he will not mind it so very much."
"Let us think of those among our absent friends who are more cheerfull_mployed," cried Emma. "At this moment, perhaps, Mr. Elton is shewing you_icture to his mother and sisters, telling how much more beautiful is th_riginal, and after being asked for it five or six times, allowing them t_ear your name, your own dear name."
"My picture!—But he has left my picture in Bond-street."
"Has he so!—Then I know nothing of Mr. Elton. No, my dear little modes_arriet, depend upon it the picture will not be in Bond-street till jus_efore he mounts his horse to-morrow. It is his companion all this evening, his solace, his delight. It opens his designs to his family, it introduces yo_mong them, it diffuses through the party those pleasantest feelings of ou_ature, eager curiosity and warm prepossession. How cheerful, how animated, how suspicious, how busy their imaginations all are!"
Harriet smiled again, and her smiles grew stronger.