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December 27, 2014
This story is available for download at Amazon and other retailers: https://www.amazon.com/Emma-Elton-Something-Truly-Horrid-ebook/.
Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid
by Alexa Adams
”Nonsense, arrant nonsense, as ever was talked!” cried Mr. Knightley. “Robert Martin’s manners have sense, sincerity, and good humor to recommend them, and his mind has more true gentility than Harriet Smith could understand.”
Emma Woodhouse made no answer. She tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but was really feeling uncomfortable and wanting him very much to be gone. She did not repent what she had done. She thought Harriet destined for far greater things than farm life, but a habitual respect for his judgment in general made her dislike having it so loudly against her. To have him sitting just opposite to her in angry state was very disagreeable.
”Robert Martin has no great loss,” he continued, “if he can but think so, and I hope it will not be long before he does. Your views for Harriet are best known to yourself, but as you make no secret of your love of matchmaking, it is fair to suppose that views, and plans, and projects you have. As a friend I shall just hint to you that if Elton is the man, I think it will be all labor in vain.”
Emma laughed and disclaimed. He continued, “Depend upon it, Elton will not do. Elton is a very good sort of man, and a very respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an imprudent match.”
”I am very much obliged to you,” said Emma, laughing again. “If I had set my heart on Mr. Elton’s marrying Harriet, it would have been very kind to open my eyes, but at present I only want to keep Harriet to myself.”
“I do not believe you, I am sorry to say.”
Now Emma was offended. “You do not believe me? What a thing to imply!”
“It will not do to prevaricate, Emma. I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do. I cannot see you acting wrongly without a remonstrance.”
Emma rose. “Mr. Knightley! I think myself a better judge of such a point of female right and refinement -”
“This conversation no longer has anything to do with Harriet Smith and Robert Martin, poor man! If you are not playing at matchmaking, why are you showing Elton such favor? Believe me, he will misconstrue your intentions. He will believe you give him encouragement.”
“Encouragement?” she repeated in disbelief. “Mr. Elton never forgets his place!”
“I assure you he had good reason to think highly of himself. He knows that he is a very handsome young man, and a great favorite wherever he goes, and from his general way of talking in unreserved moments, when there are only men present, I am convinced that he does not mean to throw himself away. I have heard him speak with great animation of a large family of young ladies that his sisters are intimate with, who have all twenty thousand pounds apiece.”
“Then he can have no possible designs on me!”
“Nonsense! If he can do better, he will.”
As she absorbed the full implications of Mr. Knightley’s words, Emma felt a wave of heat. She turned away from the ever present fire, which her father’s valetudinarian habits required, and went to the window, never daring to open it, in deference to those same requirements, but finding some relief in the coolness of the glass.
Mr. Knightley took her response as a dismissal. “You would do well to consider what I have said. Good morning to you,” said he, rising and walking off abruptly.
Emma dared not detain him. She desperately needed to be alone with her thoughts. Quickly she searched her memory for some evidence to the contrary: anything to quelch the sickly sensation that threatened to overwhelm her. His frequent praise of Harriet – all he ever did was talk of Miss Smith – but yet, did he not praise Emma almost as often? No. That was just his way: sighing and languishing, and studying for compliments. She could not be so deceived. His manner was so very particular regarding the portrait. “No husbands and wives in the case at present …” is what he said, and if she had not been so selfish as to put her own gratification before her friend’s, they might already be engaged. She could not be mistaken.
Mr. Knightley might quarrel with her, but Emma refused to quarrel with herself. He was so much displeased, that it was longer than usual before he came to Hartfield again; and when they did meet, his grave looks showed that the subject of Mr. Elton was still paramount in his mind.
He sought her in the shrubbery, where Harriet’s absence, having been called home by Mrs. Goddard, confined her morning walk. She smiled in greeting, determined they should not argue a second time. “Good morning, Mr. Knightley. We have missed you these past days.”
“Hello, Emma. It will do no good, you know.”
“What will?” she asked, genuinely curious.
“Pretending all is well. We cannot erase the parting of last week. The matter must be discussed.”
“I do not see why. We both behaved disagreeably, and it is best forgotten. You see how readily I acknowledge my own part in the conflict. Let us make peace and be done with it.”
“If the matter were more trifling, I would happily agree to your plan, but matters most serious take a good deal of negotiation to come to resolution. I cannot be easy until assured you have taken my warnings seriously.”
“Mr. Knightley, I do appreciate your concern for my wellbeing, and please feel secure that your opinions will always hold merit with me. I have thought on our last conversation and weighed the matter in my mind, and though certain you are mistaken – a rare occurrence, I concede – I have determined to regulate my behavior so as to preclude further conjecture.”
“I am glad,” he said seriously, “that you heed my words. The more I have considered the matter, the more I am certain how right I was to give you notice. Hopefully, I will never be required to do so again.”
“Such a happening is entirely within your direction,” she replied, irritated by the suggestion.
“If your manners remain overly friendly, than you will leave me little choice. I cannot see you fall into a blunder without attempting to prevent it.”
“You have no need to concern yourself in the matter. If there were any danger before, there surely can be none now, when you have so kindly put me on alert.”
He shook his head. “I see you are unrepentant.”
“Why should I be? It is you who departed so unceremoniously.”
“Excuse me if I showed myself ungracious. I shall not infringe further upon your hospitality,” and bowing with the utmost ceremony, Mr. Knightley left Hartfield.
Emma was not sorry, for it was he who ought to be repentant, and despite his protestations otherwise, she knew his apology lacked conviction. She did not like to be at odds with so old a friend, but determined that her plans and proceedings would be justified by the general appearances of the next few days, she hoped they would soon return to friendly intercourse.
Attempting to wipe all tinge of unpleasantness from her mind, Emma threw herself into Harriet’s new project of collecting riddles. Mr. Woodhouse was asked to contribute, and through him Mr. Perry, allowing Emma to invite Mr. Elton to provide any really good enigmas, charades, or conundrums that he might recollect, without giving any appearance of partiality. She had the pleasure of seeing him most intently at work with his recollections, and at the same time, as she could perceive, most earnestly careful that nothing ungallant, nothing that did not breathe a compliment to the sex should pass his lips. They owed to him their two or three politest puzzles, and she saw him leave with every confidence that such delicacy would never allow him to be so uncouth as to presume beyond his sphere.
The very next day, however, saw Emma’s assurance crumble. He called for a few moments, just to leave a piece of paper on the table containing, as he said, a charade, which a friend of his had addressed to a young lady, the object of his admiration, but which, from his manner, Emma was immediately convinced must be his own.
”I do not offer it for Miss Smith’s collection,” said he. “Being my friend’s, I have no right to expose it in any degree to the public eye, but perhaps you may not dislike looking at it.”
The speech was more to Emma than to Harriet, which the former found alarming. There was deep consciousness about him, but perhaps he found it easier to meet her eye than her friend’s. He was gone the next moment, and after another moment’s pause, Emma hastily clasped the paper and consumed its contents.
My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
But ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.
Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!
She cast her eye over it, pondered, caught the meaning, read it through again to be certain, and quite mistress of the lines, passed it to Harriet with a shaking hand. She sat in misery, struggling to construct some meaning to words other than what she knew to be true. Courtship! Very clever, indeed. But whom did he mean?
“May its approval beam in that soft eye!”
Harriet exactly. Soft is the very word for her eye, but yet, could not nearly any eye be described so?
“Thy ready wit the word will soon supply.”
Harriet’s ready wit! Never! A man would have to be very much in love to describe her so. Ah! Mr. Knightley, I am grateful you have not the benefit of this! He could not say more plainly, “My dear Miss Woodhouse, give me leave to pay my addresses to you. Approve my charade and my intentions in the same glance.” That is what I most certainly will not do.
She was obliged to break off from these truly horrid observations, which were otherwise of a sort to run into great length, by the eagerness of Harriet’s wondering questions.
”What can it be, Miss Woodhouse? What can it be? I have not an idea. I cannot guess it in the least. What can it possibly be? Do try to find it out, Miss Woodhouse. Do help me. I never saw any thing so hard. Is it kingdom? I wonder who the friend was, and who could be the young lady. Do you think it is a good one? Can it be woman?”
“I am sorry Harriet, but I am afraid I do not feel quite myself. It must be a headache coming on. I think I had best lay down.”
Harriet was all solicitude, the charade forgotten. Duty dictated that Miss Woodhouse must be made comfortable, but such mystery could not be neglected forever. The charade must be solved. Later in the morning, Emma was able to help her through the lines, though she despised their very sight.
”Oh! Miss Woodhouse, what a pity that I must not write this beautiful charade into my book! I am sure I have not got one half so good.”
“It would be a betrayal of trust to do so. Besides, I am not sure it is so very clever. It expresses the kind of sentiments that can only be of interest to those for whom they are intended. It was very wrong for Mr. Elton to expose his friend in such a manner.”
“I had not thought it improper!”
“It only became so when Mr. Elton bandied it about. The less public such sentiments are made, the better.”
Later in the morning, and just as the girls were going to separate in preparation for the regular four o’clock dinner, the vicar returned to Hartfield. Emma could not receive him with the usual smile, but nor could she be uncivil. Her quick eye soon discerned in his the consciousness of having made a push – of having thrown a die, and she imagined he was come to see how it might turn up, poor man. His ostensible reason, however, was to ask whether Mr. Woodhouse’s party could be made up in the evening without him, or whether he should be in the smallest degree necessary at Hartfield. If he were, everything else must give way, but otherwise his friend Cole had been saying so much about his dining with him – had made such a point of it, that he had promised him conditionally to come.
Here was her opportunity. Emma thanked him, but his presence was not required at Hartfield that night. Her father was sure of his rubber. He re-urged, and she re-declined, and he seemed then about to make his bow, when with a stroke of determination Emma took the paper from the table and returned it, saying casually: “Oh! here is the charade you were so obliging as to leave with us. Thank you for the sight of it.”
Mr. Elton certainly did not very well know what to say. He looked rather doubtingly – rather confused. He said something about “honor” and glanced at Emma most searchingly, but seeing the hardness in her eyes, he was gone as soon as possible. Emma could not think it too soon; there was a extreme awkwardness in the entire proceeding that had best not be belabored. She felt for the man, as he had looked sincerely disappointed, but there was little alternative. She trusted his feelings were not so deep as to leave a great wound, and that soon they would all be back on customary footing. Perhaps then there might be hope for Harriet, but in the meantime, she had best tamper those affections already rising in her susceptible friend’s breast.
Though now the middle of December, there had yet been no weather to prevent the young ladies from tolerably regular exercise, and on the morrow Emma had a charitable visit to pay to a poor sick family, who lived a little way out of Highbury.
Their road to this detached cottage was down Vicarage Lane, a lane leading at right angles from the broad, though irregular, main street of the place, and, as may be inferred, containing the dreaded abode of Mr. Elton. If her assistance had not been a manner of some urgency, the visit would surely have been put off, for reminders of that disappointing gentleman were precisely what neither she nor Harriet required. It was a discouraging turn of events, his preferring herself rather than Harriet, for not only was the vicarage an ideal place to situate her friend, but also Mr. Elton had been providing the perfect remedy to Robert Martin. She would now need to find another manner in which to distract Harriet, but few methods would be as efficacious.
Emma sighed, contemplating the matter. There was certainly no reason to abandon all hope of her project someday coming to fruition. Mr Elton was a reasonable man. Though he presumed too much, he seemed to take her dismissal just as he ought. She must be patient and wait for him to recover from disappointment, but with time and opportunity, there was every reason to suppose he would come to see what an infinitely more appropriate wife Harriet would make him. Her sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people: such qualities he must notice and admire.
Also she was beautiful. A girl with such loveliness as Harriet has a certainty of being admired and sought after – of having the power of choosing from among many. There was a notion: if Mr. Elton saw Harriet receiving her due attention from other members of his sex, he would surely come to value her himself more quickly. Nine times out of ten it is the admiration of others that forms a mind like Mr. Elton’s. She would have to see what could be done.
A few inferior dwellings were first to be passed, and then, about a quarter of a mile down the lane rose the vicarage, an old and not very good house, almost as close to the road as it could be. It had no advantage of situation, but had been very much smartened up by the present proprietor. Such as it was, there could be no possibility of the two friends passing it without a slackened pace and observing eyes. Harriet, who was perceptive enough to see Miss Woodhouse was deep in thought, had been unusually quiet during the course of their walk, but now she could not help but exclaim: “Oh, what a sweet house! How very beautiful! There are the yellow curtains that Miss Nash admires so much.”
“I am afraid it is old and poorly situated,” observed Emma, “but it has been very much smartened up by the present proprietor. He has made a number of improvements, and you would not know the inside from its former state.”
“I never saw it at all,” Harriet said forlornly.
“Have you not?” Emma was much struck. “Well, I suppose you might very well have occasion to see it someday, though I can think of no possible pretense at the moment: no servant that I want to inquire about of his housekeeper, nor message from my father.” Though she saw her companion’s disappointment, it she would not lament. No good could come from Harriet dwelling too fixedly on the vicar until she was sure of his affections.
They fell back into silence until having reached their destination. Turning from the lane onto the slippery path which lead through the cottage garden, Emma declared, “Here will be sights to do one good! How trifling they make everything else appear.” She had no small hope that everything else included both Robert Martin and Mr. Elton.
Inside, Emma was very compassionate, and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. In the present instance, it was sickness and poverty together which she came to visit; and after remaining there as long as she could give comfort or advice, she quitted the cottage with such an impression of the scene as made her say to Harriet, as they walked away, “Well Harriet, I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day: what say you?”
”Very true,” said Harriet. “Poor creatures! One can think of nothing else.”
”The impression should not soon be over,” said Emma, stopping to look once more at all the outward wretchedness of the place, and recall the still greater within.
”Oh! dear, no,” said her companion.
They walked on. The lane made a slight bend, and when that bend was passed, Mr. Elton was immediately in sight, and so near as to only give Emma time enough to silently, and futilely, wish him away.
The gentleman joined them. The wants and sufferings of the poor family were the first subject on meeting. He had been going to call on them. His visit he would now defer, yet that must not be allowed. They could not interrupt him in such a necessitous mission of mercy. A very interesting parley about what could be done and should be done for the family ensued, a topic imminently appropriate for Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Elton to converse upon, and the former welcomed it as a sign of their continuing good relations. However, when Harriet remembered that the sufferer was returning to bed upon their departure, Mr. Elton declared he dared not disturb the family now, and vowing to return later in the morning, he turned back to accompany them.
Emma heartily blamed him for not knowing he was unwanted. What could he possibly achieve by imposing his presence upon her now? Is it possible he still had designs on her? Anxious to separate herself from him as far as she could, she soon took possession of a narrow footpath, a little raised on one side of the lane, leaving them together in the main road. But she had not been there two minutes when she found that Harriet’s habits of dependence and imitation were bringing her up too, and that, in short, they would both be soon after her. This would not do; she immediately stopped, under pretence of having some alteration to make in the lacing of her half-boot, and stooping down in complete occupation of the footpath, begged them to have the goodness to walk on, and she would follow in half a minute. They did as they were desired, and by the time she judged it reasonable to have done with her boot, she had the comfort of further delay in her power, being overtaken by a child from the cottage, setting out, according to orders, to fetch broth from Hartfield. But the child’s pace was quick, and upon both looking around, she was obliged to send the child on and join them.
Mr. Elton was giving an account of yesterday’s party at his friend Cole’s, detailing the Stilton cheese, the north Wiltshire, the butter, the celery, the beet-root, and all the dessert. “Such petty nothing do not justify him neglecting his business,” was Emma’s disturbed reflection. “Surely he cannot carry on so for a great time. If I could but have kept longer away!”
He continued with them even after falling into silence, and the three companions walked on together quietly, till within view of the vicarage pales. Surely they must now part, but here was Mr. Elton offering them refreshments. Incorrigible man! Though Harriet looked with longing at this opportunity to achieve what had so recently been determined impossible, Emma firmly refused. Mr. Elton looked conscious, and Emma sincerely hoped he would now relinquish such presumptuous desires. She was sorry for her friend’s disappointment, but it was far more important to convince Mr. Elton that his hopes were totally unfounded, than to gratify a desire that might be fulfilled at any time.
Mr. Elton must now be left to himself. It was no longer in Emma’s power to concern herself with his either his pretension or disappointment. The coming of her sister’s family was so very near at hand, that first in anticipation, and then in reality, it became henceforth her prime object of interest. The only manner in which the vicar continued in her mind was her sincere thankfulness that, during the ten days of their stay at Hartfield, it was not to be expected – she did not herself expect – that anything beyond the most casual interaction with him would be afforded. He was not invited to Hartfield to dine, his company being not only unrequired by Mr. Woodhouse, but unwanted, happy as he was in his own family circle. Time and distance would cure Mr. Elton. The Knightleys’ arrival could not be more timely.
Mr. Knightley was to dine with them – rather against the inclination of Mr. Woodhouse, who did not like that anyone should share with him in Isabella’s first day. Emma’s sense of right however had decided it, and besides the consideration of what was due to each brother, she had particular pleasure, from the circumstance of the late disagreement between Mr. Knightley and herself, in procuring him the proper invitation.
She hoped they might now become friends again. She thought it was time to make up. Making-up indeed would not do, but it was time to appear to forget that they had ever quarrelled, and she hoped it might rather assist the restoration of friendship, that when he came into the room she had one of the children with her. The youngest, a nice little girl about eight months old, was now making her first visit to Hartfield, and she showed herself very happy to be danced about in her aunt’s arms. It did assist, for though he began with grave looks and short questions, he was soon led on to talk of them all in the usual way, and to take the child out of her arms with all the unceremoniousness of perfect amity. Emma felt they were friends again, and the conviction giving her at first great satisfaction, and then a little sauciness, she could not help saying, as he was admiring the baby, “What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces! As to men and women, our opinions might sometimes differ, but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree.”
”If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike.”
”To be sure – our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong.”
”I do have still the advantage of you by sixteen years’ experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends, and say no more about it. Tell your aunt, little Emma, that she ought to set you a better example than to be renewing old grievances, and that if she were not wrong before, she is now.”
”That’s true,” she cried, “very true. Little Emma, grow up a better woman than your aunt. Be infinitely cleverer and not half so conceited.”
Mr. Knightley smiled at this speech, and Emma momentarily wondered if she should not seize the opportunity to make a full confession of her difficulties. She regretted her misplaced levity, when Mr. Elton’s attentions remained so troublesome, but before she could repent John Knightley made his appearance, and “How d’ye do, George?” and “John, how are you?” succeeded in the true English style, burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do everything for the good of the other.
Emma could only greet with dissatisfaction the Westons’ invitation to dine on Christmas Eve. Normally a diversion of this sort was just what Emma most enjoyed: designed to accommodate Mr. Woodhouse’s preferences and comfort, it was to be an early party, limited to their own especial set. If that set happened to include Mr. Elton, she supposed there was no one to blame but herself. It did occur to Emma that a hint to Mrs. Weston might result in a more limited guest list – just the family – but soon learning that Mr. Weston, in his enthusiasm, had already extended the invitation to Mr. Elton and been eagerly accepted, the notion was necessarily abandoned.
The evening before this great event (for it was a very great event that Mr. Woodhouse should dine out, on the 24th of December) had been spent by Harriet at Hartfield, and she had gone home so much indisposed with a cold, that, but for her own earnest wish of being nursed by Mrs. Goddard, Emma could not have allowed her to leave the house. Emma called on her the next day, and found her doom already signed with regard to Randalls. She was very feverish and had a bad sore throat: Mrs. Goddard was full of care and affection, Mr. Perry was talked of, and Harriet herself was too ill and low to resist the authority which excluded her from this delightful engagement, though she could not speak of her loss without many tears.
Emma sat with her as long as she could, to attend her in Mrs. Goddard’s unavoidable absences, and endeavored to leave her at last tolerably comfortable. She had not advanced many yards from Mrs. Goddard’s door, when she was met by Mr. Elton, evidently coming towards it. On the rumour of considerable illness, he had been going to inquire after Miss Smith. Here was action that Emma could easily approve, and hoping it was the beginning of his affection’s transfer towards a more appropriate quarter, they walked on slowly together in conversation about poor Miss Smith. This was promising indeed, but when she learned that his interest was driven by the hope of carrying some report of the invalid back to Hartfield, and that he had no intention, after meeting her, to follow through with his call, she became anxious to expend with his company as soon as possible. Fortunately, they were soon overtaken by Mr. John Knightley returning from the daily visit to Donwell, ending the tete-a-tete as they joined company and proceeded together. His two eldest boys were with him, their healthy, glowing faces showing all the benefit of a country run, and rallying Emma’ spirits with their antics. Having little alternative but endure Mr. Elton’s company until their ways parted, she determined to use this opportunity to free herself of his nuisance by dissuading him from attendance that evening.
”It is so cold, so very cold – and looks and feels so very much like snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should really try not to go out today and dissuade my father from venturing, but as he has made up his mind, and does not seem to feel the cold himself, I do not like to interfere, as I know it would be so great a disappointment to Mr. and Mrs. Weston. But, upon my word, Mr. Elton, in your case, I should certainly excuse myself. You who have such fatigues to confront tomorrow will most readily agree that it would be no more than common prudence to stay at home and take care of yourself tonight, rather than expose yourself to a frigid – perhaps unhealthful – walk. My father, I know, will be most distressed to think of you proceeding on foot.”
Surely he could not mistake such a near command, and indeed Mr. Elton looked as if he did not very well know what answer to make, which was exactly the case, but hardly had Emma finished this tidy speech when she was provoked to find her brother civilly offering a seat in his carriage, and Mr. Elton accepting the offer with much prompt satisfaction. It was a done thing. Mr. Elton was to go, and never had his broad handsome face expressed more pleasure than at this moment. Never had his smile been stronger, nor his eyes more exalting than when he next looked at her. Emma was most displeased.
Soon afterwards Mr. Elton quitted them, and she could only think his parting too particular. The tone of his voice while assuring her that he should call at Mrs. Goddard’s for news of her friend, the last thing before he prepared for the happiness of meeting her again, showed a particularity and attentiveness that made her blush before her perceptive brother. Taking such a response as an indication of her approval, he sighed and smiled himself off in a way that left Emma in little doubt that Mr. Elton considered the entire episode a triumph to his cause. It was a most disastrous blunder.
After a few minutes of entire silence between them, Emma began with forced civility, “Is there a particular reason you felt the need to provide Mr. Elton conveyance this evening?”
He looked surprised. “It seemed you were hinting I do so, and in a most particular manner.”
“Oh, John! How could you think so? I was determined he should stay home.”
“Indeed! Well, I am very sorry if that was your intention. Do you have a reason for wanting him away?”
Emma ignored this question. “I would think you would prefer a party confined to the family.”
“I certainly would! Better us all stay home and forego such foolishness entirely. I admire your father’s resolution in venturing out in such weather, for it looks as though there will be snow very soon. Something new for his coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow, is it not?”
Emma could make no response to such an attack, and fell back into the disquietude of her own thoughts. She was very angry with John Knightley for offering precisely the encouragement she wished to avoid. The manner in which the entire episode must appear to Mr. Elton! As if she had contrived to share a carriage with him! It could not be more unfortunate. Barely had she begun to wonder how the impression might best be undone, when she found herself once again under interrogation from a Knightley regarding Mr. Elton.
”I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton. It is downright labor to him where ladies are concerned: every feature works. He seems to work particularly hard to please you, Emma. Has he become a nuisance to you?”
She turned away to conceal her blush. “Certainly not! Mr. Elton’s manners are not perfect,” came the cautious reply, “but knowing he has a great wish to please, we can overlook the exaggerated nature of his statements.” She laughed affectedly, “Are you imagining me to be Mr. Elton’s object?”
”Such an imagination has crossed me, I own, Emma, and if it never occurred to you before, you may as well take it into consideration now.”
”What an idea! I assure you you are quite mistaken. Mr. Elton and I are very good friends, and nothing more,” and she walked on, not very well pleased with her brother for imagining her blind, ignorant, and in want of counsel, particularly when it was he who had exasperated her difficulties. He said no more, and some few minutes passed in silence before Emma found herself unable to let the topic alone. “If you are entertaining such unfounded suspicions, and I cannot help but wonder in what quarter they originate, then why on Earth should you offer encouragement to Mr. Elton by placing your carriage at his disposal?”
He looked at her with a degree of bemusement most calculated to incense. “What I wonder at is that any of us should be going out in such weather! We would do far better to remain at Hartfield; but where do you imagine my ‘suspicions’ originate?”
Determined not to further betray that she and Mr. Knightley had already canvassed the humiliating topic, she again ignored his question. “I hope you will say nothing to dissuade my father now, when he is so bent on the excursion. It means so much to the Westons, who have been to a great deal of trouble to insure his comfort.”
”A man must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him,” he grumbled. “He must think himself a most agreeable fellow. I could not do such a thing, but fear not; if Mr. Woodhouse is determined upon such foolishness, I shall not be the one to throw a rub in his way.”
“Thank you,” she replied stiffly, little trusting herself to say more.
“Do think of what I said, Emma. And you needn’t fear a half mile’s carriage ride in his company, as I will be there to chaperone.”
“I have no concerns of the sort!” she retorted. “I am not afraid of meeting Mr. Elton anywhere.”
“Excellent! Too much has been made of the matter already,” and silence reigned, leaving Emma to ponder feelings of indignation uninterrupted.
Mr. Woodhouse had so completely made up his mind to the visit, that in spite of the increasing coldness, he seemed to have no idea of shrinking from it, and set forward at last most punctually with his eldest daughter in his own carriage, with less apparent consciousness of the weather than either of the others. The cold, however, was severe, and by the time the second carriage was in motion, a few flakes of snow were finding their way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time.
Neither Emma nor her companion were in the happiest humor. The preparing and the going abroad in such weather, with the sacrifice of his children after dinner, were evils, were disagreeables at least, which Mr. John Knightley did not by any means like. He anticipated nothing in the visit that could be at all worth the purchase, and such circumstances being particularly inclined to render him disagreeable, the whole of their drive to the vicarage was spent by him in expressing his discontent.
Emma did not find herself equal to give the pleased assent to his complaints, which no doubt he was in the habit of receiving from her sister. She could not be complying, and she dreaded being quarrelsome. Their conversation of that morning already bordered far too closely upon open dissent for her liking, but her feelings remaining injured, her heroism could only reach to silence. She allowed him to talk, and arranged the glasses, and wrapped herself up, without opening her lips.
Though he said no more of Mr. Elton, a rather conspicuous omission, particularly considering they were bound to collect him, Emma easily imagined her brother’s sharp eyes prepared for discovery. Anything resembling particular attention from the vicar would be immediately perceived and made much of, and she schooled herself to be as distant towards her suitor as courtesy permitted.
They arrived, the carriage turned, the step was let down, and Mr. Elton, spruce, black, and smiling, was with them instantly. Mr. Elton was all obligation and cheerfulness; he was so very cheerful in his civilities, indeed, that she felt certain her companion was heartily congratulating himself on being proved correct. She dared not look at him, but determining upon what was surely a harmless topic of conversation, turned Mr. Elton’s attentions towards her suffering friend.
”My report from Mrs. Goddard’s,” said she presently, “was not so pleasant as I had hoped. ‘Not better’ was my answer.”
His face lengthened immediately, and his voice was the voice of sentiment as he answered.
”Oh! No, I am grieved to find, I was on the point of telling you that when I called at Mrs. Goddard’s door, which I did the very last thing before I returned to dress, I was told that Miss Smith was not better. By no means better, rather worse. Very much grieved and concerned. I had flattered myself that she must be better after such a cordial as I knew had been given her in the morning.”
Emma thought she perceived a self-satisfied noise emanating from Mr. John Knightley’s direction. Ignoring the compliment, she continued, “Mr. Perry has been with her, as you probably heard.”
”Yes. I imagined – that is – I did not -“
”He has been used to her in these complaints, and I hope tomorrow morning will bring us both a more comfortable report. But it is impossible not to feel uneasiness. Such a sad loss to our party today!”
”Dreadful! Exactly so, indeed. She will be missed every moment.”
This was very proper; the sigh which accompanied it was really estimable. She hoped here was proof enough that Mr. Elton was rather free with his gallantries, lessening the importance in her brother’s mind of those reserved for her. She would have liked to interpret his despondency as a sign of burgeoning feelings for her little friend, but it did not last. Only half a minute afterwards he began to speak of other things, and in a voice of the greatest alacrity and enjoyment to compliment to accommodations of the carriage. His determination to see everything in the most pleasant light, even the inclimate weather, made Emma’s spirits sink. Only a man in the deepest throes of love could continue on so cheerfully with so little encouragement. She said nothing, and her brother spoke only to censure. When Mr. Elton suggested the possibility of being snowed in at Randalls, maybe for days on end, and with such a look of pleasure, Emma dared a glance at her neighbor and saw his eyes raised in astonishment. He caught her eye, in which she read all he must be thinking, though he only said, “I cannot wish to be snowed up a week at Randalls.”
“Nor can I,” Emma was quick to comply.
”We are sure of excellent fires,” continued Mr. Elton, undaunted, “and everything in the greatest comfort. Charming people, Mr. and Mrs. Weston. Mrs. Weston indeed is much beyond praise, and he is exactly what one values, so hospitable, and so fond of society. It will be a small party, but where small parties are select, they are perhaps the most agreeable of any. I think you will agree with me,” he turned with a soft air to Emma, “I think I shall certainly have your approbation, though Mr. Knightley perhaps, from being used to the large parties of London, may not quite enter into our feelings.”
”I know nothing of the large parties of London, sir. I never dine with anybody.”
”Indeed!” in a tone of wonder and pity, “I had no idea that the law had been so great a slavery. Well, sir, the time must come when you will be paid for all this, when you will have little labor and great enjoyment.”
”My first enjoyment,” replied John Knightley, as they passed through the sweep gate, “will be to find myself safe at Hartfield again.”
In spite of all her former contrary feelings, never had Emma known herself to be in such complete agreement with her brother.
Some change of countenance was necessary for all three members of the party, as they walked into Mrs. Weston’s drawing-room: Mr. Elton must compose his joyous looks, Mr. John Knightley disperse his ill-humor, and Miss Woodhouse succumb to the real relief of being with the Westons. The very sight of Mrs. Weston – her smile, her touch, her voice – was grateful to Emma, and she determined to think as little as possible of Mr. Elton’s affections, or of anything else unpleasant, and enjoy all that was enjoyable to the utmost.
Emma’s project of forgetting Mr. Elton made her rather sorry to find, when they had all taken their places, that he was close to her. The difficulty was great in driving his persistent attentions from her mind while he not only sat at her elbow, but was continually intruding his happy countenance upon her notice, and solicitously addressing her upon every occasion. Instead of forgetting him, his behavior was such that she could only brood upon his insensibility to all her most determined hints of disinterest. He would be so anxious for her being perfectly warm, would be so interested about her father, and so delighted with Mrs. Weston, at last admiring her drawings with so much zeal and so little knowledge as seemed perfectly like a lover. Those who had not yet considered a possibility of such a match between them must do so now, and she saw with chagrin the surprised looks exchanged by Mr. and Mrs. Weston. Those shared between the two Knightley brothers seemed smug and presumptuous, and Emma’s indignation rose under their censorious glares. It was fortunate her father was so insensible to such developments, for had he imbibed the same notions as the rest of the party, all his enjoyment of the evening must be irrevocably erased.
Emma found herself so very occupied with Mr. Elton that she could not attend to the conversation of the others. Even when she heard enough to know that Mr. Weston was giving some information about his son, she could not attend. There had always been something in the name, in the idea of Mr. Frank Churchill, which interested her, but such musings had no place amidst her current evils. Something must be done in regards to Mr. Elton, before his attentions irrevocably linked her to him in the minds of all their friends and neighbors.
As she sat beside Mr. Weston in the dining room, she tried to pay attention to his determined expectation of a visit from his son, but the attempt was in vain. She would be distracted. She again tried when the ladies withdrew, but though Mrs. Weston and Isabella canvassed the subject with zeal, her mind soon slipped back to the gentlemen and what further miseries their return might bring. She saw her friend’s concerned look, and had the ladies a few more minutes alone, the entire predicament would surely have been laid before her, but Mr. Woodhouse soon made his appearance, eliminating the possibility of confidence. Mr. Elton, in very good spirits, soon followed. With scarcely an invitation, he seated himself between Emma and Mrs. Weston on the sofa, and revived the topic of Harriet’s sore throat.
He was anxious that the condition might prove putrid, and his first concern was that Miss Woodhouse should escape the infection. He began with great earnestness to entreat her to refrain from visiting the sick chamber again, for the present, to entreat her to promise him not to venture into such hazard till he had seen Mr. Perry and learnt his opinion. He turned to Mrs. Weston to implore her assistance, “Will not you give me your support? Will not you add your persuasions to mine, to induce Miss Woodhouse not to go to Mrs. Goddard’s till it is certain Miss Smith’s disorder is not infectious? I cannot be satisfied without a promise. So scrupulous for others, and yet so careless for herself! She wanted me to stay at home today, lest I suffer from exposure, and yet will not promise to avoid the danger of catching an ulcerated sore throat herself. Is this fair, Mrs. Weston? Judge between us. Have not I some right to complain?”
Emma saw Mrs. Weston’s attempt to catch her eye, which she studiously avoided. Such an intimate must be taken aback at an address which, in words and manner, was assuming to himself the right of first interest in her. As for herself, she was too much provoked and offended to have the power of directly saying anything to the purpose. She could only give him a look, and such a look as she hoped must restore him to his senses, though nothing hitherto had worked, and then left the sofa, removing to a seat by her sister, and giving her all her attention.
She had not time to know how Mr. Elton took the reproof, so rapidly did another subject succeed, for Mr. John Knightley now came into the room from examining the weather, and opened on them all with the information of the ground being covered with snow.
Poor Mr. Woodhouse was silent from consternation, but everybody else had something to say. Everybody was either surprised or not surprised, and had some question to ask, or some comfort to offer. Mr. Elton finally forgotten, Mrs. Weston and Emma tried earnestly to cheer him and turn his attention from his son-in-law, who was pursuing his triumph rather unfeelingly.
Mr. Weston, with triumph of a different sort, was confessing that he had known it to be snowing some time, but had not said a word, lest it should make Mr. Woodhouse uncomfortable, and be an excuse for his hurrying away.
”What is to be done, my dear Emma? What is to be done?” was Mr. Woodhouse’s first exclamation, and all that he could say for some time. To her he looked for comfort, and for the moment her attention must be completely consumed by his need.
His eldest daughter’s alarm was equal to his own, and of a kind to escalate the father’s. Fortunately, Mr. Knightley had left the room immediately after his brother’s first report of the snow and now returned, bringing assurance that he had been out of doors to examine, and could answer for there not being the smallest difficulty in their getting home. He had seen the coachmen, and they both agreed with him in there being nothing to apprehend.
To Isabella, the relief of such tidings was very great, and they were scarcely less acceptable to Emma on her father’s account, who was immediately set as much at ease on the subject as his nervous constitution allowed, but the alarm that had been raised could not be appeased so as to admit of any comfort for him while he continued at Randalls. He was satisfied of there being no present danger in returning home, but no assurances could convince him that it was safe to stay, and while the others were variously urging and recommending, Mr. Knightley and Emma settled it in a few brief sentences.
”Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?”
”I am ready, if the others are,” she replied gratefully.
”Shall I ring the bell?”
Here was good come from bad! Such an intolerable evening could not come to an end too soon for Emma. The bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. A few minutes more, and she hoped to see one troublesome companion deposited in his own house, the other in command of his temper, her father and sister assuaged, and the entire horrid evening behind her.
The carriage came, and Mr. Woodhouse, always the first object on such occasions, was carefully attended to his own by Mr. Knightley and Mr. Weston. Isabella stepped in after her father, and John Knightley, forgetting that he did not belong to their party, stepped in after his wife very naturally, displaying a level of thoughtlessness that earned him Emma’s utmost disdain. Anger notwithstanding, Emma found that the door was to be lawfully shut on Mr. Elton and herself, and that they were to have a tete-a-tete drive. She met Mr. Knightley’s eye pleadingly, begging him to intervene, but just when she thought he stepped forward to prevent the oversight, Mr. Weston shut the door. They were instantly off, and she could see the two men remonstrating as they drove away, little good it did her now.
To restrain him as much as might be, by her own manners, she was immediately preparing to speak with exquisite calmness and gravity on the weather and the night, but scarcely had she begun, scarcely had they passed the sweep gate and joined the other carriage, when she found her subject cut up, her hand seized, and her attention demanded. Her worst fears were coming true: Mr. Elton was actually making violent love to her. Availing himself of this precious opportunity, he declared sentiments which must be already well known – hoping, fearing, adoring, and ready to die if she refused him.
Acute was Emma’s misery at such a moment. Despite all her attempts to discourage his passion, the man could not be more in love with her. She felt all the pity he deserved while summoning words of rejection, determined to make such a heavy blow as gentle as possible, but before she could elucidate her thoughts, he took the silence as encouragement to press on: “There was a time, dear Miss Woodhouse, when hope almost left me. I was sure you were displeased with the charade I offered for Miss Smith’s collection, which you must have known to be my very own, despite protestations otherwise, but when you continued to offer your beloved friendship my dreams revived. I began to believe it not presumptuous to think my affections returned. Humbled I was, but optimism refused to abandon me. Such ardent attachment, unequalled love, and unexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and the encouragement I received this very day has given me the confidence to speak.”
Emma was astonished. Such intensity of feeling had claim to indulgence, especially as she acknowledged her own fault in stoking the flame. Shakily, she forced herself to speak: “If, by encouragement, Mr. Elton, you mean my brother’s offer to include you in our carriage …”
“Yes!” he exclaimed joyously, before she could further proceed. “Exactly so! Never would I have anticipated such favor being bestowed, had I not your family’s approval of my attentions. But knowing, as I do, your good father’s anxiety regarding the turn into Vicarage Lane, such an exception gave me courage to express myself tonight. Please, Miss Woodhouse, my dear Emma! Say you will make me the happiest of men!”
She saw the hope in his eyes, and considered with dismay the predicament John Knightley had thrust her into. She blamed both Mr. Knightleys, for with such claim to understanding, placing her in this untenable situation was unforgivable. At such a moment of crisis she dwelled on their neglect, feeling they deserved the very worst punishment. Tears pricked her eyes, and Emma, perhaps out of pure spite, or maybe those habits of martyrdom she was so long used to practice with her father, found herself resolving upon the unimaginable. She would accept the vicar. Before she could seriously consider the matter, she must made some sign of affirmation, for again her hand was grasped, kissed most passionately, and her ear attacked with declarations that he would accompany her to Hartfield and seek Mr. Woodhouse’s immediate approval.
“No!” she declared, and with such vehemence as to make her lover sit back in confusion. “No, Mr. Elton, that is precisely what you must not do.” She found her voice and explained with a calmness contrary to her internal turmoil. “My father is no friend to marriage, as you must know. Change of any sort he finds difficult. Having always professed to never marry, such altered intentions require a great deal of preparation for him to accept. You must provide me with the time to inure him to the notion.”
He was disappointed but complacent. Some delay he would allow. It could not shake his happiness. She thankfully saw him to the door of his own house, endured his sentimental leave taking, and was finally left to the turmoil of her mind. What inextricable folly had she committed!
At Hartfield she was welcomed, with the utmost delight, by her father, who had been trembling for the dangers of a solitary drive from Vicarage Lane, and it seemed as if her return only were wanted to make everything go well: for Mr. John Knightley, ashamed of his ill-humour and repentant for inattention, was now all kindness and attention. The day was concluding in peace and comfort to all their little party, except herself, for her mind had never been in such perturbation; it needed a very strong effort to appear attentive and cheerful till the usual hour of separating allowed her the relief of quiet reflection. Sadly, such thoughts as were hers to contemplate could bring nothing but further pain, and the more she considered her predicament, the worse it began to appear.
The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable. It was a wretched business, indeed! Such an overthrow of everything she had been wishing for! Such a development of everything most unwelcome, and none but herself to blame! Certainly the natives of Donwell shared no small part in the mischief, but why had she not refused him? Pride, inexcusable pride: defiance of the sound advice of her friends, and inability to acknowledge her own fault! Such a blow in store for Harriet! But that consideration must be an afterthought. Her feelings must be for herself at such a moment. Every part of it brought pain and humiliation. There was no course open to her but the degradation of rescinding her acceptance, for to proceed with such a union could only bring greater embarrassment. She, Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, to marry Mr. Elton, a man from a family of no account, and lacking in those superior qualities that might make his situation acceptable! It was unthinkable. She must put an end to it with all haste. How she had allowed herself to agree to such a notion was the true wonder of it all, and it was in a state of deep perplexion at her own temerity that she was finally able to close her eyes.
Nightmares ruled her sleep. She first dreamed of Mr. Elton’s dismay upon rejection, and the reaction of her neighbors when they learned of the affair. She heard accusations of flirtatiousness, fickleness, and worse; saw her dignity destroyed and reputation in tatters. Just when she thought she would break under the assault, the dream changed. She was a new bride: mistress of the vicarage, sitting prim and pleased in her new domain. Exactly so! Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax called, and she heard herself imposing upon all their little affairs: finding an unwanted situation for Jane amongst vulgar people, and sitting the aunt beside her in church, a picture of self-satisfied condescension. Again, she saw herself walking down the aisle, an unrecognizable bundle of veils and lace, only it was Mr. Knightley presiding over the N’s to M’s, a sneering grin contorting his countenance. Such images haunted her the whole night through, and she woke on the morrow in even deeper in misery than she had gone to bed: more ready to see the evil before her, and with less hope of getting tolerably out of it.
As sunlight cast away the demons of the night, so did it illuminate the full consequence of her folly. Only now did she thoroughly understand the repercussions of ending such an ill-conceived engagement. While Mr. Elton might keep it a secret now, when Mr. Woodhouse’s blessings remain unsought, were she to break it off, there would be no restraining his tongue. He would be indignant, and rightfully so. As Mr. Elton stood in high favor with all in HIghbury, her rejection would certainly evoke their disdain. There was no escaping the neighborhood, and with a sense of hopelessness never before known, she began to think that resigning herself to the degrading union was the best hope for maintaining her character. Surely her father could not be expected to accept a short engagement, and it might be many years before such a union could even be contemplated. In the meantime, she could hope to improve Mr. Elton: he might be made more tolerable, his mind less inelegant. The evils of her predicament might be mitigated, and perhaps there was some chance – some unforeseen, future impediment – that might be held reasonable excuse for her extraction.
Such train of thought had its gradual effect. To youth and natural cheerfulness like Emma’s, sensations of softened pain and brighter hope will materialize, no matter how dire the circumstances. Snow proved no barrier to Mr. Elton’s affections, and as soon as his duties and the thaw made such an excursion feasible, he was at Hartfield, paying court to Miss Woodhouse in so transparent a manner as everyone, including Mr. Woodhouse, must question the basis of his claim. She saw Mr. Knightley look on in wonder, and it struck Emma that more than any other concern, she was determined to save face before this most demanding judge. Even more then the effect on her father, she cared for Mr. Knightley’s reaction. News of her engagement would shock him, undoubtedly – such an eventuality could only make him wonder – but he must not see her repent: must not know her sorry. Any other humiliation she thought she could endure but that of his triumph. But no, she was unjust. Mr. Knightley was not the figure of her dreams, exulting in her downfall. She knew he would never congratulate himself on her suffering: would always stand her friend. Of this she could be certain. It was a friendship she hoped to better appreciate now, and do more to deserve than she had hitherto, for when the future appeared so bleak, it was sure to prove one of her few comforts amidst countless years of remorse.
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