Harriet slept at Hartfield that night. For some weeks past she had bee_pending more than half her time there, and gradually getting to have a bed- room appropriated to herself; and Emma judged it best in every respect, safes_nd kindest, to keep her with them as much as possible just at present. Sh_as obliged to go the next morning for an hour or two to Mrs. Goddard's, bu_t was then to be settled that she should return to Hartfield, to make _egular visit of some days.
While she was gone, Mr. Knightley called, and sat some time with Mr. Woodhous_nd Emma, till Mr. Woodhouse, who had previously made up his mind to walk out, was persuaded by his daughter not to defer it, and was induced by th_ntreaties of both, though against the scruples of his own civility, to leav_r. Knightley for that purpose. Mr. Knightley, who had nothing of ceremon_bout him, was offering by his short, decided answers, an amusing contrast t_he protracted apologies and civil hesitations of the other.
"Well, I believe, if you will excuse me, Mr. Knightley, if you will no_onsider me as doing a very rude thing, I shall take Emma's advice and go ou_or a quarter of an hour. As the sun is out, I believe I had better take m_hree turns while I can. I treat you without ceremony, Mr. Knightley. W_nvalids think we are privileged people."
"My dear sir, do not make a stranger of me."
"I leave an excellent substitute in my daughter. Emma will be happy t_ntertain you. And therefore I think I will beg your excuse and take my thre_urns—my winter walk."
"You cannot do better, sir."
"I would ask for the pleasure of your company, Mr. Knightley, but I am a ver_low walker, and my pace would be tedious to you; and, besides, you hav_nother long walk before you, to Donwell Abbey."
"Thank you, sir, thank you; I am going this moment myself; and I think th_ooner you go the better. I will fetch your greatcoat and open the garden doo_or you."
Mr. Woodhouse at last was off; but Mr. Knightley, instead of being immediatel_ff likewise, sat down again, seemingly inclined for more chat. He bega_peaking of Harriet, and speaking of her with more voluntary praise than Emm_ad ever heard before.
"I cannot rate her beauty as you do," said he; "but she is a pretty littl_reature, and I am inclined to think very well of her disposition. He_haracter depends upon those she is with; but in good hands she will turn ou_ valuable woman."
"I am glad you think so; and the good hands, I hope, may not be wanting."
"Come," said he, "you are anxious for a compliment, so I will tell you tha_ou have improved her. You have cured her of her school-girl's giggle; sh_eally does you credit."
"Thank you. I should be mortified indeed if I did not believe I had been o_ome use; but it is not every body who will bestow praise where they may. Yo_o not often overpower me with it."
"You are expecting her again, you say, this morning?"
"Almost every moment. She has been gone longer already than she intended."
"Something has happened to delay her; some visitors perhaps."
"Highbury gossips!—Tiresome wretches!"
"Harriet may not consider every body tiresome that you would."
Emma knew this was too true for contradiction, and therefore said nothing. H_resently added, with a smile,
"I do not pretend to fix on times or places, but I must tell you that I hav_ood reason to believe your little friend will soon hear of something to he_dvantage."
"Indeed! how so? of what sort?"
"A very serious sort, I assure you;" still smiling.
"Very serious! I can think of but one thing—Who is in love with her? Who make_ou their confidant?"
Emma was more than half in hopes of Mr. Elton's having dropt a hint. Mr.
Knightley was a sort of general friend and adviser, and she knew Mr. Elto_ooked up to him.
"I have reason to think," he replied, "that Harriet Smith will soon have a_ffer of marriage, and from a most unexceptionable quarter:—Robert Martin i_he man. Her visit to Abbey-Mill, this summer, seems to have done hi_usiness. He is desperately in love and means to marry her."
"He is very obliging," said Emma; "but is he sure that Harriet means to marr_im?"
"Well, well, means to make her an offer then. Will that do? He came to th_bbey two evenings ago, on purpose to consult me about it. He knows I have _horough regard for him and all his family, and, I believe, considers me a_ne of his best friends. He came to ask me whether I thought it would b_mprudent in him to settle so early; whether I thought her too young: i_hort, whether I approved his choice altogether; having some apprehensio_erhaps of her being considered (especially since your making so much of her) as in a line of society above him. I was very much pleased with all that h_aid. I never hear better sense from any one than Robert Martin. He alway_peaks to the purpose; open, straightforward, and very well judging. He tol_e every thing; his circumstances and plans, and what they all proposed doin_n the event of his marriage. He is an excellent young man, both as son an_rother. I had no hesitation in advising him to marry. He proved to me that h_ould afford it; and that being the case, I was convinced he could not d_etter. I praised the fair lady too, and altogether sent him away very happy.
If he had never esteemed my opinion before, he would have thought highly of m_hen; and, I dare say, left the house thinking me the best friend an_ounsellor man ever had. This happened the night before last. Now, as we ma_airly suppose, he would not allow much time to pass before he spoke to th_ady, and as he does not appear to have spoken yesterday, it is not unlikel_hat he should be at Mrs. Goddard's to-day; and she may be detained by _isitor, without thinking him at all a tiresome wretch."
"Pray, Mr. Knightley," said Emma, who had been smiling to herself through _reat part of this speech, "how do you know that Mr. Martin did not spea_esterday?"
"Certainly," replied he, surprized, "I do not absolutely know it; but it ma_e inferred. Was not she the whole day with you?"
"Come," said she, "I will tell you something, in return for what you have tol_e. He did speak yesterday—that is, he wrote, and was refused."
This was obliged to be repeated before it could be believed; and Mr. Knightle_ctually looked red with surprize and displeasure, as he stood up, in tal_ndignation, and said,
"Then she is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolis_irl about?"
"Oh! to be sure," cried Emma, "it is always incomprehensible to a man that _oman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woma_o be ready for any body who asks her."
"Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing. But what is the meaning o_his? Harriet Smith refuse Robert Martin? madness, if it is so; but I hope yo_re mistaken."
"I saw her answer!—nothing could be clearer."
"You saw her answer!—you wrote her answer too. Emma, this is your doing. Yo_ersuaded her to refuse him."
"And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing) I should not feel tha_ had done wrong. Mr. Martin is a very respectable young man, but I canno_dmit him to be Harriet's equal; and am rather surprized indeed that he shoul_ave ventured to address her. By your account, he does seem to have had som_cruples. It is a pity that they were ever got over."
"Not Harriet's equal!" exclaimed Mr. Knightley loudly and warmly; and wit_almer asperity, added, a few moments afterwards, "No, he is not her equa_ndeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, you_nfatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Harriet Smith's claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connexion higher than Rober_artin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably n_ettled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is know_nly as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor _irl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too youn_nd too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have n_xperience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any tha_an avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. M_nly scruple in advising the match was on his account, as being beneath hi_eserts, and a bad connexion for him. I felt that, as to fortune, in al_robability he might do much better; and that as to a rational companion o_seful helpmate, he could not do worse. But I could not reason so to a man i_ove, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in her, to her havin_hat sort of disposition, which, in good hands, like his, might be easily le_right and turn out very well. The advantage of the match I felt to be all o_er side; and had not the smallest doubt (nor have I now) that there would b_ general cry-out upon her extreme good luck. Even your satisfaction I mad_ure of. It crossed my mind immediately that you would not regret you_riend's leaving Highbury, for the sake of her being settled so well. _emember saying to myself, `Even Emma, with all her partiality for Harriet, will think this a good match.'"
"I cannot help wondering at your knowing so little of Emma as to say any suc_hing. What! think a farmer, (and with all his sense and all his merit Mr.
Martin is nothing more,) a good match for my intimate friend! Not regret he_eaving Highbury for the sake of marrying a man whom I could never admit as a_cquaintance of my own! I wonder you should think it possible for me to hav_uch feelings. I assure you mine are very different. I must think you_tatement by no means fair. You are not just to Harriet's claims. They woul_e estimated very differently by others as well as myself; Mr. Martin may b_he richest of the two, but he is undoubtedly her inferior as to rank i_ociety.—The sphere in which she moves is much above his.—It would be _egradation."
"A degradation to illegitimacy and ignorance, to be married to a respectable, intelligent gentleman-farmer!"
"As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense she may b_alled Nobody, it will not hold in common sense. She is not to pay for th_ffence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she i_rought up.—There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman—and _entleman of fortune.—Her allowance is very liberal; nothing has ever bee_rudged for her improvement or comfort.—That she is a gentleman's daughter, i_ndubitable to me; that she associates with gentlemen's daughters, no one, _pprehend, will deny.—She is superior to Mr. Robert Martin."
"Whoever might be her parents," said Mr. Knightley, "whoever may have had th_harge of her, it does not appear to have been any part of their plan t_ntroduce her into what you would call good society. After receiving a ver_ndifferent education she is left in Mrs. Goddard's hands to shift as sh_an;—to move, in short, in Mrs. Goddard's line, to have Mrs. Goddard'_cquaintance. Her friends evidently thought this good enough for her; and i_as good enough. She desired nothing better herself. Till you chose to tur_er into a friend, her mind had no distaste for her own set, nor any ambitio_eyond it. She was as happy as possible with the Martins in the summer. Sh_ad no sense of superiority then. If she has it now, you have given it. Yo_ave been no friend to Harriet Smith, Emma. Robert Martin would never hav_roceeded so far, if he had not felt persuaded of her not being disinclined t_im. I know him well. He has too much real feeling to address any woman on th_aphazard of selfish passion. And as to conceit, he is the farthest from it o_ny man I know. Depend upon it he had encouragement."
It was most convenient to Emma not to make a direct reply to this assertion; she chose rather to take up her own line of the subject again.
"You are a very warm friend to Mr. Martin; but, as I said before, are unjus_o Harriet. Harriet's claims to marry well are not so contemptible as yo_epresent them. She is not a clever girl, but she has better sense than yo_re aware of, and does not deserve to have her understanding spoken of s_lightingly. Waiving that point, however, and supposing her to be, as yo_escribe her, only pretty and good-natured, let me tell you, that in th_egree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the worl_n general, for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so b_inety-nine people out of an hundred; and till it appears that men are muc_ore philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired an_ought after, of having the power of chusing from among many, consequently _laim to be nice. Her good-nature, too, is not so very slight a claim, comprehending, as it does, real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, _ery humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with othe_eople. I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think suc_eauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess."
"Upon my word, Emma, to hear you abusing the reason you have, is almost enoug_o make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do."
"To be sure!" cried she playfully. "I know that is the feeling of you all. _now that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in—what a_nce bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick an_huse. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you. An_s she, at seventeen, just entering into life, just beginning to be known, t_e wondered at because she does not accept the first offer she receives?
No—pray let her have time to look about her."
"I have always thought it a very foolish intimacy," said Mr. Knightle_resently, "though I have kept my thoughts to myself; but I now perceive tha_t will be a very unfortunate one for Harriet. You will puff her up with suc_deas of her own beauty, and of what she has a claim to, that, in a littl_hile, nobody within her reach will be good enough for her. Vanity working o_ weak head, produces every sort of mischief. Nothing so easy as for a youn_ady to raise her expectations too high. Miss Harriet Smith may not fin_ffers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. Men o_ense, whatever you may chuse to say, do not want silly wives. Men of famil_ould not be very fond of connecting themselves with a girl of suc_bscurity—and most prudent men would be afraid of the inconvenience an_isgrace they might be involved in, when the mystery of her parentage came t_e revealed. Let her marry Robert Martin, and she is safe, respectable, an_appy for ever; but if you encourage her to expect to marry greatly, and teac_er to be satisfied with nothing less than a man of consequence and larg_ortune, she may be a parlour-boarder at Mrs. Goddard's all the rest of he_ife—or, at least, (for Harriet Smith is a girl who will marry somebody o_ther,) till she grow desperate, and is glad to catch at the old writing- master's son."
"We think so very differently on this point, Mr. Knightley, that there can b_o use in canvassing it. We shall only be making each other more angry. But a_o my letting her marry Robert Martin, it is impossible; she has refused him, and so decidedly, I think, as must prevent any second application. She mus_bide by the evil of having refused him, whatever it may be; and as to th_efusal itself, I will not pretend to say that I might not influence her _ittle; but I assure you there was very little for me or for any body to do.
His appearance is so much against him, and his manner so bad, that if she eve_ere disposed to favour him, she is not now. I can imagine, that before sh_ad seen any body superior, she might tolerate him. He was the brother of he_riends, and he took pains to please her; and altogether, having seen nobod_etter (that must have been his great assistant) she might not, while she wa_t Abbey-Mill, find him disagreeable. But the case is altered now. She know_ow what gentlemen are; and nothing but a gentleman in education and manne_as any chance with Harriet."
"Nonsense, errant nonsense, as ever was talked!" cried Mr. Knightley.—"Rober_artin's manners have sense, sincerity, and good-humour to recommend them; an_is mind has more true gentility than Harriet Smith could understand."
Emma made no answer, and tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but was reall_eeling uncomfortable and wanting him very much to be gone. She did not repen_hat she had done; she still thought herself a better judge of such a point o_emale right and refinement than he could be; but yet she had a sort o_abitual respect for his judgment in general, which made her dislike having i_o loudly against her; and to have him sitting just opposite to her in angr_tate, was very disagreeable. Some minutes passed in this unpleasant silence, with only one attempt on Emma's side to talk of the weather, but he made n_nswer. He was thinking. The result of his thoughts appeared at last in thes_ords.
"Robert Martin has no great loss—if he can but think so; and I hope it wil_ot be long before he does. Your views for Harriet are best known to yourself; but as you make no secret of your love of match-making, it is fair to suppos_hat views, and plans, and projects you have;—and as a friend I shall jus_int to you that if Elton is the man, I think it will be all labour in vain."
Emma laughed and disclaimed. He continued,
"Depend upon it, Elton will not do. Elton is a very good sort of man, and _ery respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an impruden_atch. He knows the value of a good income as well as any body. Elton may tal_entimentally, but he will act rationally. He is as well acquainted with hi_wn claims, as you can be with Harriet's. He knows that he is a very handsom_oung man, and a great favourite wherever he goes; and from his general way o_alking in unreserved moments, when there are only men present, I am convince_hat he does not mean to throw himself away. I have heard him speak with grea_nimation of a large family of young ladies that his sisters are intimat_ith, who have all twenty thousand pounds apiece."
"I am very much obliged to you," said Emma, laughing again. "If I had set m_eart on Mr. Elton's marrying Harriet, it would have been very kind to open m_yes; but at present I only want to keep Harriet to myself. I have done wit_atch-making indeed. I could never hope to equal my own doings at Randalls. _hall leave off while I am well."
"Good morning to you,"—said he, rising and walking off abruptly. He was ver_uch vexed. He felt the disappointment of the young man, and was mortified t_ave been the means of promoting it, by the sanction he had given; and th_art which he was persuaded Emma had taken in the affair, was provoking hi_xceedingly.
Emma remained in a state of vexation too; but there was more indistinctness i_he causes of her's, than in his. She did not always feel so absolutel_atisfied with herself, so entirely convinced that her opinions were right an_er adversary's wrong, as Mr. Knightley. He walked off in more complete self- approbation than he left for her. She was not so materially cast down, however, but that a little time and the return of Harriet were very adequat_estoratives. Harriet's staying away so long was beginning to make her uneasy.
The possibility of the young man's coming to Mrs. Goddard's that morning, an_eeting with Harriet and pleading his own cause, gave alarming ideas. Th_read of such a failure after all became the prominent uneasiness; and whe_arriet appeared, and in very good spirits, and without having any such reaso_o give for her long absence, she felt a satisfaction which settled her wit_er own mind, and convinced her, that let Mr. Knightley think or say what h_ould, she had done nothing which woman's friendship and woman's feeling_ould not justify.
He had frightened her a little about Mr. Elton; but when she considered tha_r. Knightley could not have observed him as she had done, neither with th_nterest, nor (she must be allowed to tell herself, in spite of Mr.
Knightley's pretensions) with the skill of such an observer on such a questio_s herself, that he had spoken it hastily and in anger, she was able t_elieve, that he had rather said what he wished resentfully to be true, tha_hat he knew any thing about. He certainly might have heard Mr. Elton spea_ith more unreserve than she had ever done, and Mr. Elton might not be of a_mprudent, inconsiderate disposition as to money matters; he might naturall_e rather attentive than otherwise to them; but then, Mr. Knightley did no_ake due allowance for the influence of a strong passion at war with al_nterested motives. Mr. Knightley saw no such passion, and of course though_othing of its effects; but she saw too much of it to feel a doubt of it_vercoming any hesitations that a reasonable prudence might originall_uggest; and more than a reasonable, becoming degree of prudence, she was ver_ure did not belong to Mr. Elton.
Harriet's cheerful look and manner established hers: she came back, not t_hink of Mr. Martin, but to talk of Mr. Elton. Miss Nash had been telling he_omething, which she repeated immediately with great delight. Mr. Perry ha_een to Mrs. Goddard's to attend a sick child, and Miss Nash had seen him, an_e had told Miss Nash, that as he was coming back yesterday from Clayton Park, he had met Mr. Elton, and found to his great surprize, that Mr. Elton wa_ctually on his road to London, and not meaning to return till the morrow, though it was the whist-club night, which he had been never known to mis_efore; and Mr. Perry had remonstrated with him about it, and told him ho_habby it was in him, their best player, to absent himself, and tried ver_uch to persuade him to put off his journey only one day; but it would not do; Mr. Elton had been determined to go on, and had said in a very particular wa_ndeed, that he was going on business which he would not put off for an_nducement in the world; and something about a very enviable commission, an_eing the bearer of something exceedingly precious. Mr. Perry could not quit_nderstand him, but he was very sure there must be a lady in the case, and h_old him so; and Mr. Elton only looked very conscious and smiling, and rod_ff in great spirits. Miss Nash had told her all this, and had talked a grea_eal more about Mr. Elton; and said, looking so very significantly at her,
"that she did not pretend to understand what his business might be, but sh_nly knew that any woman whom Mr. Elton could prefer, she should think th_uckiest woman in the world; for, beyond a doubt, Mr. Elton had not his equa_or beauty or agreeableness."