Mr. Elton must now be left to himself. It was no longer in Emma’s power to superintend his happiness or quicken his measures.
The coming of her sister’s family was so very near at hand that first in anticipation and then, in reality, it became her prime object of interest henceforth; and during the ten days of their stay at Hartfield, it was not to be expected — she did not herself expect — that anything beyond occasional, fortuitous assistance could be afforded by her to the lovers. They might advance rapidly if they would. However, they must advance somehow or other they would or not. She hardly wished to have more leisure for them. There are people for who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.
Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley, from having been longer than usual absent from Surry, were exciting, of course, rather more than the usual interest. Till this year, every long vacation since their marriage had been divided between Hartfield and Donwell Abbey; but all the holidays of this autumn had been given to sea-bathing for the children, and it was, therefore, many months since they had been seen in a regular way by their Surry connexions, or seen at all by Mr. Woodhouse, who could not be induced to get so far as London, even for poor Isabella’s sake; and who consequently was now most nervously and apprehensively happy in forestalling this too short visit.
He thought much of the evils of the journey for her and not a little of the fatigues of his own horses and coachman who were to bring some of the party the last half of the way, but his alarms were needless; the sixteen miles being happily accomplished, and Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley, their five children, and a competent number of nursery-maids, all reaching Hartfield in safety. The bustle and joy of such an arrival, the many to be talked to, welcomed, encouraged, and variously dispersed and disposed of, produced noise and confusion which his nerves could not have borne under any other cause, nor have endured much longer even for this; but the ways of Hartfield and the feelings of her father were so respected by Mrs. John Knightley, that in spite of maternal solicitude for the immediate enjoyment of her little ones, and for their having all the liberty and attendance, all the eating and drinking, and sleeping instantly and playing, which they could possibly wish for, without the smallest delay, the children were never allowed to be long a disturbance to him, either in themselves or in any restless attendance on them.
Mrs. John Knightley was a pretty, elegant little woman of gentle, quiet manners and a disposition remarkably amiable and affectionate; wrapt up in her family; a devoted wife, a doting mother, and so tenderly attached to her father and sister that, but for these higher ties, a warmer love might have seemed impossible. She could never see a fault in any of them. She was not a woman of strong understanding or any quickness; and with this resemblance of her father, she also inherited much of his constitution; she was delicate in her own health, over-careful of that of her children, had many fears and many nerves and was as fond of her own Mr. Wingfield in town as her father could be of Mr. Perry. They were alike, too, in a general benevolence of temper and a strong habit of regard for every old acquaintance.
Mr. John Knightley was a tall, gentleman-like, and very clever man; rising in his profession, domestic, and respectable in his private character; but with reserved manners which prevented his being generally pleasing; and capable of being sometimes out of humor. He was not an ill-tempered man, not so often unreasonably cross as to deserve such a reproach, but his temper was not his great perfection; and, indeed, with such a worshipping wife, it was hardly possible that any natural defects in it should not be increased. The extreme sweetness of her temper must hurt his. He had all the clearness and quickness of mind that she wanted,
Mr. Knightley was to dine with them — rather against the inclination of Mr. Woodhouse, who did not like that any one should share with him on 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. She certainly had not been in the wrong, and he would never own that he had. Concession must be out of the question, but it was time to appear to forget that they had ever quarreled, 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, who was now making her first visit to Hartfield, and 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 are sometimes very different; 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.” “Yes,” said he, smiling —” and reason well. I was sixteen years old when you were born.” “A material difference then,” she replied —” and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives, but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?” “Yes — a good deal nearer.” “But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right if we think differently.”
“I still have 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. Now, Mr. Knightley, a word or two more, and I have done. As far as good intentions went, we were both right, and I must say that no effects on my side of the argument have yet proved wrong. I only want to know that Mr. Martin is not very, very bitterly disappointed.” “A man cannot be more so,” was his short, full answer. “Ah! — Indeed, I am very sorry. — Come, shake hands with me.”
This had just taken place and with great cordiality when 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. The evening was quiet and conversable, as Mr. Woodhouse declined cards entirely for the sake of comfortable talk with his dear Isabella, and the little party made two natural divisions; on one side, he and his daughter; on the other, the two Mr. Knightleys; their subjects totally distinct, or very rarely mixing.
There could hardly be a happier creature in the world than Mrs. John Knightley, in this short visit to Hartfield, going about every morning among her old acquaintance with her five children and talking over what she had done every evening with her father and sister. She had nothing to wish otherwise but that the days did not pass so swiftly. It was a delightful visit — perfect, in being much too short. In general, their evenings were less engaged with friends than their mornings; but one complete dinner engagement, and out of the house too, there was no avoiding, though at Christmas. Mr. Weston would take no denial; they must all dine at Randalls one day — even Mr. Woodhouse was persuaded to think it a possible thing in preference to a division of the party.
How they were all to be conveyed, he would have made a difficulty if he could, but as his son and daughter’s carriage and horses were actually at Hartfield, he was not able to make more than a simple question on that head; it hardly amounted to a doubt; nor did it occupy Emma long to convince him that they might in one of the carriages find room for Harriet also. Harriet, Mr. Elton, and Mr. Knightley, their own especial set, were the only persons invited to meet them — the hours were to be early, as well as the numbers few; Mr. Woodhouse’s habits and inclination being consulted in everything.
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 raise her spirits by representing how much Mr. Elton would be depressed when he knew her state; and left her at last tolerably comfortable, in the sweet dependence of his having a most comfortless visit, and of their all missing her very much. She had not advanced many yards from Mrs. Goddard’s door when she was met by Mr. Elton himself, evidently coming towards it, and as they walked on slowly together in conversation about the invalid — of whom he, on the rumor of considerable illness, had been going to inquire, that he might carry some report of her to Hartfield — they were overtaken by Mr. John Knightley returning from the daily visit to Donwell, with his two eldest boys, whose healthy, glowing faces showed all the benefit of a country run, and seemed to ensure a quick despatch of the roast mutton and rice pudding they were hastening home for. They joined the company and proceeded together. Emma was just describing the nature of her friend’s complaint — “a throat very much inflamed, with a great deal of heat about her, a quick, low pulse, &c. and she was sorry to find from Mrs. Goddard that Harriet was liable to very bad sore-throats, and had often alarmed her with them.” Mr. Elton looked all alarm on occasion as he exclaimed,
“A sore-throat! — I hope not infectious. I hope not of a putrid infectious sort. Has Perry seen her? Indeed you should take care of yourself as well as of your friend. Let me entreat you to run no risks. Why does not Perry see her?” Emma, who was not really at all frightened herself, tranquilized this excess of apprehension by assurances of Mrs. Goddard’s experience and care; but as there must still remain a degree of uneasiness which she could not wish to reason away, which she would rather feed and assist
Some change of countenance was necessary for each gentleman as they walked into Mrs. Weston’s drawing-room — Mr. Elton must compose his joyous looks, and Mr. John Knightley disperses his ill-humor. Mr. Elton must smile less and Mr. John Knightley more to fit them for the place. — Emma only might be as nature prompted, and shew herself just as happy as she was. To her, it was real enjoyment to be with the Westons. Mr. Weston was a great favorite, and there was not a creature in the world to whom she spoke with such unreserve as to his wife; not anyone to whom she related with such conviction of being listened to and understood, of being always interesting and always intelligible, the little affairs, arrangements, perplexities, and pleasures of her father and herself. She could tell nothing of Hartfield, in which Mrs. Weston had not a lively concern, and half an hour’s uninterrupted communication of all those little matters on which the daily happiness of private life depends was one of the first gratifications of each.
This was a pleasure which perhaps the whole day’s visit might not afford, which certainly did not belong to the present half-hour; but 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 oddities, or of anything else unpleasant, and enjoy all that was enjoyable to the utmost. The misfortune of Harriet’s cold had been pretty well gone through before her arrival. Mr. Woodhouse had been safely seated long enough to give the history of it, besides all the history of his own and Isabella’s coming and of Emma’s being to follow, and had indeed just got to the end of his satisfaction that James should come and see his daughter when the others appeared, and Mrs. Weston, who had been almost wholly engrossed by her attentions to him, was able to turn away and welcome her dear Emma.
Emma’s project of forgetting Mr. Elton for a while made her rather sorry to find when they had all taken their places that he was close to her. The difficulty was great of driving his strange insensibility towards Harriet from her mind while he not only sat at her elbow but was continually obtruding his happy countenance on her notice and solicitously addressing her upon every occasion. Instead of forgetting him, his behavior was such that she could not avoid the internal suggestion, “Can it really be as my brother imagined? can it be possible for this man to be beginning to transfer his affections from Harriet to me? — Absurd and insufferable!”— Yet he would be so anxious for her being perfectly warm, would be so interested about her father, and so delighted with Mrs. Weston; and at last would begin admiring her drawings with so much zeal and so little knowledge as seemed terribly like a would-be lover, and made it some effort with her to preserve her good manners. For her own sake, she could not be rude; and for Harriet’s, in the hope that all would yet turn out right, she was even positively civil; but it was an effort; especially as something was going on amongst the others, in the most overpowering period of Mr. Elton’s nonsense, which she particularly wished to listen to. She heard enough to know that Mr. Weston was giving some information about his son; she heard the words “my son,” and “Frank,” and “my son,” repeated several times over; and, from a few other half-syllables very much suspected that he was announcing an early visit from his son; but before she could quiet Mr. Elton, the subject was so completely past that any reviving question from her would have been awkward.
Now, it so happened that in spite of Emma’s resolution of never marrying, there was something in the name, in the idea of Mr. Frank Churchill, which always interested her. She had frequently thought — especially since his father’s marriage with Miss Taylor — that if she were to marry, he was the very person.
Mr. Woodhouse was soon ready for his tea, and when he had drank his tea, he was quite ready to go home; and it was as much as his three companions could do to entertain away his notice of the lateness of the hour before the other gentlemen appeared. Mr. Weston was chatty and convivial and no friend to early separations of any sort, but at last, the drawing-room party did receive an augmentation. Mr. Elton, in very good spirits, was one of the first to walk in. Mrs. Weston and Emma were sitting together on a sofa. He joined them immediately and, with scarcely an invitation, seated himself between them. Emma, in good spirits too, from the amusement afforded her mind by the expectation of Mr. Frank Churchill, was willing to forget his late improprieties and be as well satisfied with him as before, and on his making Harriet his very first subject, was ready to listen with most friendly smiles.
He professed himself extremely anxious about her fair friend — her fair, lovely, amiable friend. “Did she know? — Has she heard anything about her since their being at Randalls? — he felt much anxiety — he must confess that the nature of her complaint alarmed him considerably.” And in this style, he talked on for some time very properly, not much attending to any answer, but altogether sufficiently awake to the terror of a bad sore throat; and Emma was quite in charity with him.
But at last, there seemed a perverse turn; it seemed all at once as if he were more afraid of its being a bad sore throat on her account than on Harriet’s — more anxious that she should escape the infection than that there should be no infection in the complaint. 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 learned his opinion; and though she tried to laugh it off and bring the subject back into its proper course, there was no putting an end to his extreme solicitude about her. She was vexed. It did appear — there was no concealing it — exactly like the pretense of being in love with her, instead of Harriet; an inconstancy, if real, the most contemptible and abominable! and she had difficulty in behaving with temper. He turned to Mrs. Weston to implore her assistance, “Would not she give him her support? — would not she add her persuasions to his to induce Miss Woodhouse not to go to Mrs. Goddard’s till it was certain that Miss Smith’s disorder had no infection? He could not be satisfied without a promise — would not she give him her influence in procuring it?”
“So scrupulous for others,” he continued, “and yet so careless for herself! She wanted me to nurse my cold by staying at home today 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? I am sure of your kind support and aid.” Emma saw Mrs. Weston’s surprize and felt that it must be great, at an address which, in words and manner, was assuming to himself the right of first interest in her; and 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, but it was such a look as she thought must restore him to his senses, and then left the sofa, removing to a seat by her sister and giving her all her attention.
She had not to 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, and of its still snowing fast, with strong drifting wind; concluding with these words to Mr. Woodhouse: “This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir.
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