CHAP­TER XVII

Emma - - CONTENTS -

When the ladies re­turned to the draw­ing-room after din­ner, Emma found it hardly pos­si­ble to pre­vent their mak­ing two dis­tinct par­ties;—with so much per­se­ver­ance in judg­ing and be­hav­ing ill did Mrs. El­ton en­gross Jane Fair­fax and slight her­self. She and Mrs. We­ston were obliged to be al­most al­ways ei­ther talk­ing to­gether or silent to­gether. Mrs. El­ton left them no choice. If Jane re­pressed her for a lit­tle time, she soon be­gan again; and though much that passed be­tween them was in a half-whis­per, espe­cially on Mrs. El­ton's side, there was no avoid­ing a knowl­edge of their prin­ci­pal sub­jects: The post-of­fice—catch­ing cold—fetch­ing let­ters—and friend­ship, were long un­der dis­cus­sion; and to them suc­ceeded one, which must be at least equally un­pleas­ant to Jane—in­quiries whether she had yet heard of any sit­u­a­tion likely to suit her, and pro­fes­sions of Mrs. El­ton's med­i­tated ac­tiv­ity.

“Here is April come!” said she, “I get quite anx­ious about you. June will soon be here.”

“But I have never fixed on June or any other month—merely looked for­ward to the sum­mer in gen­eral.”

“But have you re­ally heard of noth­ing?”

“I have not even made any in­quiry; I do not wish to make any yet.” “Oh! my dear, we can­not be­gin too early; you are not aware of the dif­fi­culty of procur­ing ex­actly the de­sir­able thing.”

“I not aware!” said Jane, shak­ing her head; “dear Mrs. El­ton, who can have thought of it as I have done?”

“But you have not seen so much of the world as I have. You do not know how many can­di­dates there al­ways are for the first sit­u­a­tions. I saw a vast deal of that in the neigh­bour­hood round Maple Grove. A cousin of Mr. Suck­ling, Mrs. Bragge, had such an in­fin­ity of ap­pli­ca­tions; every body was anx­ious to be in her fam­ily, for she moves in the first cir­cle. Wax-can­dles in the school­room! You may imag­ine how de­sir­able! Of all houses in the king­dom Mrs. Bragge's is the one I would most wish to see you in.”

“Colonel and Mrs. Camp­bell are to be in town again by mid­sum­mer,” said Jane. “I must spend some time with them; I am sure they will want it; —af­ter­wards I may prob­a­bly be glad to dis­pose of my­self. But I would not wish you to take the trou­ble of mak­ing any in­quiries at present.”

“Trou­ble! aye, I know your scru­ples. You are afraid of giv­ing me trou­ble; but I as­sure you, my dear Jane, the Camp­bells can hardly be more in­ter­ested about you than I am. I shall write to Mrs. Par­tridge in a day or two, and shall give her a strict charge to be on the look-out for any thing el­i­gi­ble.”

“Thank you, but I would rather you did not men­tion the sub­ject to her; till the time draws nearer, I do not wish to be giv­ing any body trou­ble.”

“But, my dear child, the time is draw­ing near; here is April, and June, or say even July, is very near, with such busi­ness to ac­com­plish be­fore us. Your in­ex­pe­ri­ence re­ally amuses me! A sit­u­a­tion such as you de­serve, and your friends would re­quire for you, is no ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence, is not ob­tained at a mo­ment's no­tice; in­deed, in­deed, we must be­gin in­quir­ing di­rectly.”

“Ex­cuse me, ma'am, but this is by no means my in­ten­tion; I make no in­quiry my­self, and should be sorry to have any made by my friends. When I am quite de­ter­mined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of be­ing long un­em­ployed. There are places in town, of­fices, where in­quiry would soon pro­duce some­thing—Of­fices for the sale—not quite of hu­man flesh—but of hu­man in­tel­lect.”

“Oh! my dear, hu­man flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I as­sure you Mr. Suck­ling was al­ways rather a friend to the abo­li­tion.”

“I did not mean, I was not think­ing of the slave-trade,” replied Jane; “gov­erness-trade, I as­sure you, was all that I had in view; widely dif­fer­ent cer­tainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater mis­ery of the vic­tims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are ad­ver­tis­ing of­fices, and that by ap­ply­ing to them I should have no doubt of very soon meet­ing with some­thing that would do.”

“Some­thing that would do!” re­peated Mrs. El­ton. “Aye, that may suit your hum­ble ideas of your­self;—I know what a mod­est crea­ture you are; but it will not sat­isfy your friends to have you tak­ing up with any thing that may of­fer, any in­fe­rior, com­mon­place sit­u­a­tion, in a fam­ily not mov­ing in a cer­tain cir­cle, or able to com­mand the el­e­gan­cies of life.”

“You are very oblig­ing; but as to all that, I am very in­dif­fer­ent; it would be no ob­ject to me to be with the rich; my mor­ti­fi­ca­tions, I think, would only be the greater; I should suf­fer more from com­par­i­son. A gentle­man's fam­ily is all that I should con­di­tion for.”

“I know you, I know you; you would take up with any thing; but I shall be a lit­tle more nice, and I am sure the good Camp­bells will be quite on my side; with your su­pe­rior tal­ents, you have a right to move in the first cir­cle. Your mu­si­cal knowl­edge alone would en­ti­tle you to name your own terms, have as many rooms as you like, and mix in the fam­ily as much as you chose;—that is—I do not know—if you knew the harp, you might do all that, I am very sure; but you sing as well as play;—yes, I re­ally be­lieve you might, even without the harp, stip­u­late for what you chose;—and you must and shall be de­light­fully, hon­ourably and com­fort­ably set­tled be­fore the Camp­bells or I have any rest.”

“You may well class the de­light, the hon­our, and the com­fort of such a sit­u­a­tion to­gether,” said Jane, “they are pretty sure to be equal; how­ever, I am very se­ri­ous in not wish­ing any thing to be at­tempted at present for me. I am ex­ceed­ingly obliged to you, Mrs. El­ton, I am obliged to any body who feels for me, but I am quite se­ri­ous in wish­ing noth­ing to be done till the sum­mer. For two or three months longer I shall re­main where I am, and as I am.”

“And I am quite se­ri­ous too, I as­sure you,” replied Mrs. El­ton gaily, “in re­solv­ing to be al­ways on the watch, and em­ploy­ing my friends to watch also, that noth­ing re­ally un­ex­cep­tion­able may pass us.”

In this style she ran on; never thor­oughly stopped by any thing till Mr. Wood­house came into the room; her van­ity had then a change of ob­ject, and Emma heard her say­ing in the same half-whis­per to Jane,

“Here comes this dear old beau of mine, I protest!—Only think of his gal­lantry in com­ing away be­fore the other men!—what a dear crea­ture he is;—I as­sure you I like him ex­ces­sively. I ad­mire all that quaint, old­fash­ioned po­lite­ness; it is much more to my taste than mod­ern ease; mod­ern ease of­ten dis­gusts me. But this good old Mr. Wood­house, I wish you had heard his gal­lant speeches to me at din­ner. Oh! I as­sure you I be­gan to think my caro sposo would be ab­so­lutely jeal­ous. I fancy I am rather a favourite; he took no­tice of my gown. How do you like it?—Selina's choice— hand­some, I think, but I do not know whether it is not over-trimmed; I have

the great­est dis­like to the idea of be­ing over-trimmed—quite a hor­ror of fin­ery. I must put on a few or­na­ments now, be­cause it is ex­pected of me. A bride, you know, must ap­pear like a bride, but my nat­u­ral taste is all for sim­plic­ity; a sim­ple style of dress is so in­fin­itely prefer­able to fin­ery. But I am quite in the mi­nor­ity, I be­lieve; few peo­ple seem to value sim­plic­ity of dress,—show and fin­ery are every thing. I have some no­tion of putting such a trim­ming as this to my white and sil­ver poplin. Do you think it will look well?”

The whole party were but just re­assem­bled in the draw­ing-room when Mr. We­ston made his ap­pear­ance among them. He had re­turned to a late din­ner, and walked to Hart­field as soon as it was over. He had been too much ex­pected by the best judges, for sur­prize—but there was great joy. Mr. Wood­house was al­most as glad to see him now, as he would have been sorry to see him be­fore. John Knight­ley only was in mute as­ton­ish­ment.— That a man who might have spent his evening qui­etly at home after a day of busi­ness in Lon­don, should set off again, and walk half a mile to an­other man's house, for the sake of be­ing in mixed com­pany till bed-time, of fin­ish­ing his day in the ef­forts of ci­vil­ity and the noise of num­bers, was a cir­cum­stance to strike him deeply. A man who had been in mo­tion since eight o'clock in the morn­ing, and might now have been still, who had been long talk­ing, and might have been silent, who had been in more than one crowd, and might have been alone!—Such a man, to quit the tran­quil­lity and in­de­pen­dence of his own fire­side, and on the evening of a cold sleety April day rush out again into the world!—Could he by a touch of his fin­ger have in­stantly taken back his wife, there would have been a mo­tive; but his com­ing would prob­a­bly pro­long rather than break up the party. John Knight­ley looked at him with amaze­ment, then shrugged his shoul­ders, and said, “I could not have be­lieved it even of him.”

Mr. We­ston mean­while, per­fectly un­sus­pi­cious of the in­dig­na­tion he was ex­cit­ing, happy and cheer­ful as usual, and with all the right of be­ing prin­ci­pal talker, which a day spent any­where from home con­fers, was mak­ing him­self agree­able among the rest; and hav­ing sat­is­fied the in­quiries of his wife as to his din­ner, con­vinc­ing her that none of all her care­ful di­rec­tions to the ser­vants had been for­got­ten, and spread abroad what pub­lic news he had heard, was pro­ceed­ing to a fam­ily com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which, though prin­ci­pally ad­dressed to Mrs. We­ston, he had not the small­est doubt of be­ing highly in­ter­est­ing to every body in the room. He gave her a let­ter, it

was from Frank, and to her­self; he had met with it in his way, and had taken the lib­erty of open­ing it.

“Read it, read it,” said he, “it will give you plea­sure; only a few lines— will not take you long; read it to Emma.”

The two ladies looked over it to­gether; and he sat smil­ing and talk­ing to them the whole time, in a voice a lit­tle sub­dued, but very au­di­ble to every body.

“Well, he is com­ing, you see; good news, I think. Well, what do you say to it?—I al­ways told you he would be here again soon, did not I?—Anne, my dear, did not I al­ways tell you so, and you would not be­lieve me?—In town next week, you see—at the lat­est, I dare say; for she is as im­pa­tient as the black gentle­man when any thing is to be done; most likely they will be there to-mor­row or Satur­day. As to her ill­ness, all noth­ing of course. But it is an ex­cel­lent thing to have Frank among us again, so near as town. They will stay a good while when they do come, and he will be half his time with us. This is pre­cisely what I wanted. Well, pretty good news, is not it? Have you fin­ished it? Has Emma read it all? Put it up, put it up; we will have a good talk about it some other time, but it will not do now. I shall only just men­tion the cir­cum­stance to the oth­ers in a com­mon way.”

Mrs. We­ston was most com­fort­ably pleased on the oc­ca­sion. Her looks and words had noth­ing to re­strain them. She was happy, she knew she was happy, and knew she ought to be happy. Her con­grat­u­la­tions were warm and open; but Emma could not speak so flu­ently. She was a lit­tle oc­cu­pied in weigh­ing her own feel­ings, and try­ing to un­der­stand the de­gree of her ag­i­ta­tion, which she rather thought was con­sid­er­able.

Mr. We­ston, how­ever, too ea­ger to be very ob­ser­vant, too com­mu­nica­tive to want oth­ers to talk, was very well sat­is­fied with what she did say, and soon moved away to make the rest of his friends happy by a par­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tion of what the whole room must have over­heard al­ready.

It was well that he took every body's joy for granted, or he might not have thought ei­ther Mr. Wood­house or Mr. Knight­ley par­tic­u­larly de­lighted. They were the first en­ti­tled, after Mrs. We­ston and Emma, to be made happy;—from them he would have pro­ceeded to Miss Fair­fax, but she was so deep in con­ver­sa­tion with John Knight­ley, that it would have been too pos­i­tive an in­ter­rup­tion; and find­ing him­self close to Mrs. El­ton, and her at­ten­tion dis­en­gaged, he nec­es­sar­ily be­gan on the sub­ject with her.

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