They had a very fine day for Box Hill; and all the other outward circumstance_f arrangement, accommodation, and punctuality, were in favour of a pleasan_arty. Mr. Weston directed the whole, officiating safely between Hartfield an_he Vicarage, and every body was in good time. Emma and Harriet went together; Miss Bates and her niece, with the Eltons; the gentlemen on horseback. Mrs.
Weston remained with Mr. Woodhouse. Nothing was wanting but to be happy whe_hey got there. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, an_very body had a burst of admiration on first arriving; but in the genera_mount of the day there was deficiency. There was a languor, a want o_pirits, a want of union, which could not be got over. They separated too muc_nto parties. The Eltons walked together; Mr. Knightley took charge of Mis_ates and Jane; and Emma and Harriet belonged to Frank Churchill. And Mr.
Weston tried, in vain, to make them harmonise better. It seemed at first a_ccidental division, but it never materially varied. Mr. and Mrs. Elton, indeed, shewed no unwillingness to mix, and be as agreeable as they could; bu_uring the two whole hours that were spent on the hill, there seemed _rinciple of separation, between the other parties, too strong for any fin_rospects, or any cold collation, or any cheerful Mr. Weston, to remove.
At first it was downright dulness to Emma. She had never seen Frank Churchil_o silent and stupid. He said nothing worth hearing— looked withou_eeing—admired without intelligence—listened without knowing what she said.
While he was so dull, it was no wonder that Harriet should be dull likewise; and they were both insufferable.
When they all sat down it was better; to her taste a great deal better, fo_rank Churchill grew talkative and gay, making her his first object. Ever_istinguishing attention that could be paid, was paid to her. To amuse her, and be agreeable in her eyes, seemed all that he cared for—and Emma, glad t_e enlivened, not sorry to be flattered, was gay and easy too, and gave hi_ll the friendly encouragement, the admission to be gallant, which she ha_ver given in the first and most animating period of their acquaintance; bu_hich now, in her own estimation, meant nothing, though in the judgment o_ost people looking on it must have had such an appearance as no English wor_ut flirtation could very well describe. "Mr. Frank Churchill and Mis_oodhouse flirted together excessively." They were laying themselves open t_hat very phrase—and to having it sent off in a letter to Maple Grove by on_ady, to Ireland by another. Not that Emma was gay and thoughtless from an_eal felicity; it was rather because she felt less happy than she ha_xpected. She laughed because she was disappointed; and though she liked hi_or his attentions, and thought them all, whether in friendship, admiration, or playfulness, extremely judicious, they were not winning back her heart. Sh_till intended him for her friend.
"How much I am obliged to you," said he, "for telling me to come to-day!— I_t had not been for you, I should certainly have lost all the happiness o_his party. I had quite determined to go away again."
"Yes, you were very cross; and I do not know what about, except that you wer_oo late for the best strawberries. I was a kinder friend than you deserved.
But you were humble. You begged hard to be commanded to come."
"Don't say I was cross. I was fatigued. The heat overcame me."
"It is hotter to-day."
"Not to my feelings. I am perfectly comfortable to-day."
"You are comfortable because you are under command."
"Perhaps I intended you to say so, but I meant self-command. You had, someho_r other, broken bounds yesterday, and run away from your own management; bu_o-day you are got back again—and as I cannot be always with you, it is bes_o believe your temper under your own command rather than mine."
"It comes to the same thing. I can have no self-command without a motive. Yo_rder me, whether you speak or not. And you can be always with me. You ar_lways with me."
"Dating from three o'clock yesterday. My perpetual influence could not begi_arlier, or you would not have been so much out of humour before."
"Three o'clock yesterday! That is your date. I thought I had seen you first i_ebruary."
"Your gallantry is really unanswerable. But (lowering her voice)— nobod_peaks except ourselves, and it is rather too much to be talking nonsense fo_he entertainment of seven silent people."
"I say nothing of which I am ashamed," replied he, with lively impudence. "_aw you first in February. Let every body on the Hill hear me if they can. Le_y accents swell to Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other. I saw yo_irst in February." And then whispering— "Our companions are excessivel_tupid. What shall we do to rouse them? Any nonsense will serve. They shal_alk. Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who, wherever sh_s, presides) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of?"
Some laughed, and answered good-humouredly. Miss Bates said a great deal; Mrs.
Elton swelled at the idea of Miss Woodhouse's presiding; Mr. Knightley'_nswer was the most distinct.
"Is Miss Woodhouse sure that she would like to hear what we are all thinkin_f?"
"Oh! no, no"—cried Emma, laughing as carelessly as she could— "Upon no accoun_n the world. It is the very last thing I would stand the brunt of just now.
Let me hear any thing rather than what you are all thinking of. I will not sa_uite all. There are one or two, perhaps, (glancing at Mr. Weston an_arriet,) whose thoughts I might not be afraid of knowing."
"It is a sort of thing," cried Mrs. Elton emphatically, "which I should no_ave thought myself privileged to inquire into. Though, perhaps, as th_haperon of the party— I never was in any circle—exploring parties—youn_adies—married women—"
Her mutterings were chiefly to her husband; and he murmured, in reply,
"Very true, my love, very true. Exactly so, indeed—quite unheard of— but som_adies say any thing. Better pass it off as a joke. Every body knows what i_ue to you."
"It will not do," whispered Frank to Emma; "they are most of them affronted. _ill attack them with more address. Ladies and gentlemen—I am ordered by Mis_oodhouse to say, that she waives her right of knowing exactly what you ma_ll be thinking of, and only requires something very entertaining from each o_ou, in a general way. Here are seven of you, besides myself, (who, she i_leased to say, am very entertaining already,) and she only demands from eac_f you either one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original o_epeated—or two things moderately clever— or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all."
"Oh! very well," exclaimed Miss Bates, "then I need not be uneasy. `Thre_hings very dull indeed.' That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sur_o say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I? (lookin_ound with the most good-humoured dependence on every body's assent)—Do no_ou all think I shall?"
Emma could not resist.
"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limite_s to number—only three at once."
Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediatel_atch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though _light blush shewed that it could pain her.
"Ah!—well—to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or sh_ould not have said such a thing to an old friend."
"I like your plan," cried Mr. Weston. "Agreed, agreed. I will do my best. I a_aking a conundrum. How will a conundrum reckon?"
"Low, I am afraid, sir, very low," answered his son;—"but we shall b_ndulgent—especially to any one who leads the way."
"No, no," said Emma, "it will not reckon low. A conundrum of Mr. Weston'_hall clear him and his next neighbour. Come, sir, pray let me hear it."
"I doubt its being very clever myself," said Mr. Weston. "It is too much _atter of fact, but here it is.—What two letters of the alphabet are there, that express perfection?"
"What two letters!—express perfection! I am sure I do not know."
"Ah! you will never guess. You, (to Emma), I am certain, will never guess.—_ill tell you.—M. and A.—Em-ma.—Do you understand?"
Understanding and gratification came together. It might be a very indifferen_iece of wit, but Emma found a great deal to laugh at and enjoy in it—and s_id Frank and Harriet.—It did not seem to touch the rest of the party equally; some looked very stupid about it, and Mr. Knightley gravely said,
"This explains the sort of clever thing that is wanted, and Mr. Weston ha_one very well for himself; but he must have knocked up every body else.
Perfection should not have come quite so soon."
"Oh! for myself, I protest I must be excused," said Mrs. Elton; "I reall_annot attempt—I am not at all fond of the sort of thing. I had an acrosti_nce sent to me upon my own name, which I was not at all pleased with. I kne_ho it came from. An abominable puppy!— You know who I mean (nodding to he_usband). These kind of things are very well at Christmas, when one is sittin_ound the fire; but quite out of place, in my opinion, when one is explorin_bout the country in summer. Miss Woodhouse must excuse me. I am not one o_hose who have witty things at every body's service. I do not pretend to be _it. I have a great deal of vivacity in my own way, but I really must b_llowed to judge when to speak and when to hold my tongue. Pass us, if yo_lease, Mr. Churchill. Pass Mr. E., Knightley, Jane, and myself. We hav_othing clever to say— not one of us.
"Yes, yes, pray pass me," added her husband, with a sort of sneerin_onsciousness; "I have nothing to say that can entertain Miss Woodhouse, o_ny other young lady. An old married man— quite good for nothing. Shall w_alk, Augusta?"
"With all my heart. I am really tired of exploring so long on one spot. Come, Jane, take my other arm."
Jane declined it, however, and the husband and wife walked off. "Happ_ouple!" said Frank Churchill, as soon as they were out of hearing:—"How wel_hey suit one another!—Very lucky—marrying as they did, upon an acquaintanc_ormed only in a public place!—They only knew each other, I think, a few week_n Bath! Peculiarly lucky!— for as to any real knowledge of a person'_isposition that Bath, or any public place, can give—it is all nothing; ther_an be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, amon_heir own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment.
Short of that, it is all guess and luck— and will generally be ill-luck. Ho_any a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all th_est of his life!"
Miss Fairfax, who had seldom spoken before, except among her own confederates, spoke now.
"Such things do occur, undoubtedly."—She was stopped by a cough. Fran_hurchill turned towards her to listen.
"You were speaking," said he, gravely. She recovered her voice.
"I was only going to observe, that though such unfortunate circumstances d_ometimes occur both to men and women, I cannot imagine them to be ver_requent. A hasty and imprudent attachment may arise— but there is generall_ime to recover from it afterwards. I would be understood to mean, that it ca_e only weak, irresolute characters, (whose happiness must be always at th_ercy of chance,) who will suffer an unfortunate acquaintance to be a_nconvenience, an oppression for ever."
He made no answer; merely looked, and bowed in submission; and soon afterward_aid, in a lively tone,
"Well, I have so little confidence in my own judgment, that whenever I marry, I hope some body will chuse my wife for me. Will you? (turning to Emma.) Wil_ou chuse a wife for me?—I am sure I should like any body fixed on by you. Yo_rovide for the family, you know, (with a smile at his father). Find some bod_or me. I am in no hurry. Adopt her, educate her."
"And make her like myself."
"By all means, if you can."
"Very well. I undertake the commission. You shall have a charming wife."
"She must be very lively, and have hazle eyes. I care for nothing else. _hall go abroad for a couple of years—and when I return, I shall come to yo_or my wife. Remember."
Emma was in no danger of forgetting. It was a commission to touch ever_avourite feeling. Would not Harriet be the very creature described? Hazl_yes excepted, two years more might make her all that he wished. He might eve_ave Harriet in his thoughts at the moment; who could say? Referring th_ducation to her seemed to imply it.
"Now, ma'am," said Jane to her aunt, "shall we join Mrs. Elton?"
"If you please, my dear. With all my heart. I am quite ready. I was ready t_ave gone with her, but this will do just as well. We shall soon overtake her.
There she is—no, that's somebody else. That's one of the ladies in the Iris_ar party, not at all like her.— Well, I declare—"
They walked off, followed in half a minute by Mr. Knightley. Mr. Weston, hi_on, Emma, and Harriet, only remained; and the young man's spirits now rose t_ pitch almost unpleasant. Even Emma grew tired at last of flattery an_erriment, and wished herself rather walking quietly about with any of th_thers, or sitting almost alone, and quite unattended to, in tranqui_bservation of the beautiful views beneath her. The appearance of the servant_ooking out for them to give notice of the carriages was a joyful sight; an_ven the bustle of collecting and preparing to depart, and the solicitude o_rs. Elton to have her carriage first, were gladly endured, in the prospect o_he quiet drive home which was to close the very questionable enjoyments o_his day of pleasure. Such another scheme, composed of so many ill-assorte_eople, she hoped never to be betrayed into again.
While waiting for the carriage, she found Mr. Knightley by her side. He looke_round, as if to see that no one were near, and then said,
"Emma, I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do: a privileg_ather endured than allowed, perhaps, but I must still use it. I cannot se_ou acting wrong, without a remonstrance. How could you be so unfeeling t_iss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of he_haracter, age, and situation?— Emma, I had not thought it possible."
Emma recollected, blushed, was sorry, but tried to laugh it off.
"Nay, how could I help saying what I did?—Nobody could have helped it. It wa_ot so very bad. I dare say she did not understand me."
"I assure you she did. She felt your full meaning. She has talked of it since.
I wish you could have heard how she talked of it— with what candour an_enerosity. I wish you could have heard her honouring your forbearance, i_eing able to pay her such attentions, as she was for ever receiving fro_ourself and your father, when her society must be so irksome."
"Oh!" cried Emma, "I know there is not a better creature in the world: but yo_ust allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunatel_lended in her."
"They are blended," said he, "I acknowledge; and, were she prosperous, I coul_llow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. Wer_he a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take it_hance, I would not quarrel with you for any liberties of manner. Were sh_our equal in situation— but, Emma, consider how far this is from being th_ase. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if sh_ive to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure you_ompassion. It was badly done, indeed! You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to hav_ou now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her—and before her niece, too—and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her.—This i_ot pleasant to you, Emma—and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,—I will tell you truths while I can; satisfied with proving myself you_riend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that you will some time or othe_o me greater justice than you can do now."
While they talked, they were advancing towards the carriage; it was ready; and, before she could speak again, he had handed her in. He had misinterprete_he feelings which had kept her face averted, and her tongue motionless. The_ere combined only of anger against herself, mortification, and deep concern.
She had not been able to speak; and, on entering the carriage, sunk back for _oment overcome—then reproaching herself for having taken no leave, making n_cknowledgment, parting in apparent sullenness, she looked out with voice an_and eager to shew a difference; but it was just too late. He had turned away, and the horses were in motion. She continued to look back, but in vain; an_oon, with what appeared unusual speed, they were half way down the hill, an_very thing left far behind. She was vexed beyond what could have bee_xpressed—almost beyond what she could conceal. Never had she felt s_gitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was mos_orcibly struck. The truth of this representation there was no denying. Sh_elt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Mis_ates! How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one sh_alued! And how suffer him to leave her without saying one word of gratitude, of concurrence, of common kindness!
Time did not compose her. As she reflected more, she seemed but to feel i_ore. She never had been so depressed. Happily it was not necessary to speak.
There was only Harriet, who seemed not in spirits herself, fagged, and ver_illing to be silent; and Emma felt the tears running down her cheeks almos_ll the way home, without being at any trouble to check them, extraordinary a_hey were.