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One thing only was wanting to make the prospect of the ball completely
satisfactory to Emma—its being fixed for a day within the granted
term of Frank Churchill's stay in Surry; for, in spite of Mr. Weston's
confidence, she could not think it so very impossible that the Churchills
might not allow their nephew to remain a day beyond his fortnight. But
this was not judged feasible. The preparations must take their time,
nothing could be properly ready till the third week were entered on, and
for a few days they must be planning, proceeding and hoping in uncertainty—at
the risk—in her opinion, the great risk, of its being all in vain.
Enscombe however was gracious, gracious in fact, if not in word. His wish
of staying longer evidently did not please; but it was not opposed. All
was safe and prosperous; and as the removal of one solicitude generally
makes way for another, Emma, being now certain of her ball, began to adopt
as the next vexation Mr. Knightley's provoking indifference about it.
Either because he did not dance himself, or because the plan had been
formed without his being consulted, he seemed resolved that it should not
interest him, determined against its exciting any present curiosity, or
affording him any future amusement. To her voluntary communications Emma
could get no more approving reply, than,
"Very well. If the Westons think it worth while to be at all this trouble
for a few hours of noisy entertainment, I have nothing to say against it,
but that they shall not chuse pleasures for me.—Oh! yes, I must be
there; I could not refuse; and I will keep as much awake as I can; but I
would rather be at home, looking over William Larkins's week's account;
much rather, I confess.—Pleasure in seeing dancing!—not I,
indeed—I never look at it—I do not know who does.—Fine
dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. Those who are
standing by are usually thinking of something very different."
This Emma felt was aimed at her; and it made her quite angry. It was not
in compliment to Jane Fairfax however that he was so indifferent, or so
indignant; he was not guided by <i>her</i> feelings in reprobating the
ball, for <i>she</i> enjoyed the thought of it to an extraordinary degree.
It made her animated—open hearted—she voluntarily said;—
"Oh! Miss Woodhouse, I hope nothing may happen to prevent the ball. What a
disappointment it would be! I do look forward to it, I own, with <i>very</i>
It was not to oblige Jane Fairfax therefore that he would have preferred
the society of William Larkins. No!—she was more and more convinced
that Mrs. Weston was quite mistaken in that surmise. There was a great
deal of friendly and of compassionate attachment on his side—but no
Alas! there was soon no leisure for quarrelling with Mr. Knightley. Two
days of joyful security were immediately followed by the over-throw of
every thing. A letter arrived from Mr. Churchill to urge his nephew's
instant return. Mrs. Churchill was unwell—far too unwell to do
without him; she had been in a very suffering state (so said her husband)
when writing to her nephew two days before, though from her usual
unwillingness to give pain, and constant habit of never thinking of
herself, she had not mentioned it; but now she was too ill to trifle, and
must entreat him to set off for Enscombe without delay.
The substance of this letter was forwarded to Emma, in a note from Mrs.
Weston, instantly. As to his going, it was inevitable. He must be gone
within a few hours, though without feeling any real alarm for his aunt, to
lessen his repugnance. He knew her illnesses; they never occurred but for
her own convenience.
Mrs. Weston added, "that he could only allow himself time to hurry to
Highbury, after breakfast, and take leave of the few friends there whom he
could suppose to feel any interest in him; and that he might be expected
at Hartfield very soon."
This wretched note was the finale of Emma's breakfast. When once it had
been read, there was no doing any thing, but lament and exclaim. The loss
of the ball—the loss of the young man—and all that the young
man might be feeling!—It was too wretched!—Such a delightful
evening as it would have been!—Every body so happy! and she and her
partner the happiest!—"I said it would be so," was the only
Her father's feelings were quite distinct. He thought principally of Mrs.
Churchill's illness, and wanted to know how she was treated; and as for
the ball, it was shocking to have dear Emma disappointed; but they would
all be safer at home.
Emma was ready for her visitor some time before he appeared; but if this
reflected at all upon his impatience, his sorrowful look and total want of
spirits when he did come might redeem him. He felt the going away almost
too much to speak of it. His dejection was most evident. He sat really
lost in thought for the first few minutes; and when rousing himself, it
was only to say,
"Of all horrid things, leave-taking is the worst."
"But you will come again," said Emma. "This will not be your only visit to
"Ah!—(shaking his head)—the uncertainty of when I may be able
to return!—I shall try for it with a zeal!—It will be the
object of all my thoughts and cares!—and if my uncle and aunt go to
town this spring—but I am afraid—they did not stir last spring—I
am afraid it is a custom gone for ever."
"Our poor ball must be quite given up."
"Ah! that ball!—why did we wait for any thing?—why not seize
the pleasure at once?—How often is happiness destroyed by
preparation, foolish preparation!—You told us it would be so.—Oh!
Miss Woodhouse, why are you always so right?"
"Indeed, I am very sorry to be right in this instance. I would much rather
have been merry than wise."
"If I can come again, we are still to have our ball. My father depends on
it. Do not forget your engagement."
Emma looked graciously.
"Such a fortnight as it has been!" he continued; "every day more precious
and more delightful than the day before!—every day making me less
fit to bear any other place. Happy those, who can remain at Highbury!"
"As you do us such ample justice now," said Emma, laughing, "I will
venture to ask, whether you did not come a little doubtfully at first? Do
not we rather surpass your expectations? I am sure we do. I am sure you
did not much expect to like us. You would not have been so long in coming,
if you had had a pleasant idea of Highbury."
He laughed rather consciously; and though denying the sentiment, Emma was
convinced that it had been so.
"And you must be off this very morning?"
"Yes; my father is to join me here: we shall walk back together, and I
must be off immediately. I am almost afraid that every moment will bring
"Not five minutes to spare even for your friends Miss Fairfax and Miss
Bates? How unlucky! Miss Bates's powerful, argumentative mind might have
"Yes—I <i>have</i> called there; passing the door, I thought it
better. It was a right thing to do. I went in for three minutes, and was
detained by Miss Bates's being absent. She was out; and I felt it
impossible not to wait till she came in. She is a woman that one may, that
one <i>must</i> laugh at; but that one would not wish to slight. It was
better to pay my visit, then"—
He hesitated, got up, walked to a window.
"In short," said he, "perhaps, Miss Woodhouse—I think you can hardly
be quite without suspicion"—
He looked at her, as if wanting to read her thoughts. She hardly knew what
to say. It seemed like the forerunner of something absolutely serious,
which she did not wish. Forcing herself to speak, therefore, in the hope
of putting it by, she calmly said,
"You are quite in the right; it was most natural to pay your visit, then"—
He was silent. She believed he was looking at her; probably reflecting on
what she had said, and trying to understand the manner. She heard him
sigh. It was natural for him to feel that he had <i>cause</i> to sigh. He
could not believe her to be encouraging him. A few awkward moments passed,
and he sat down again; and in a more determined manner said,
"It was something to feel that all the rest of my time might be given to
Hartfield. My regard for Hartfield is most warm"—
He stopt again, rose again, and seemed quite embarrassed.—He was
more in love with her than Emma had supposed; and who can say how it might
have ended, if his father had not made his appearance? Mr. Woodhouse soon
followed; and the necessity of exertion made him composed.
A very few minutes more, however, completed the present trial. Mr. Weston,
always alert when business was to be done, and as incapable of
procrastinating any evil that was inevitable, as of foreseeing any that
was doubtful, said, "It was time to go;" and the young man, though he
might and did sigh, could not but agree, to take leave.
"I shall hear about you all," said he; "that is my chief consolation. I
shall hear of every thing that is going on among you. I have engaged Mrs.
Weston to correspond with me. She has been so kind as to promise it. Oh!
the blessing of a female correspondent, when one is really interested in
the absent!—she will tell me every thing. In her letters I shall be
at dear Highbury again."
A very friendly shake of the hand, a very earnest "Good-bye," closed the
speech, and the door had soon shut out Frank Churchill. Short had been the
notice—short their meeting; he was gone; and Emma felt so sorry to
part, and foresaw so great a loss to their little society from his absence
as to begin to be afraid of being too sorry, and feeling it too much.
It was a sad change. They had been meeting almost every day since his
arrival. Certainly his being at Randalls had given great spirit to the
last two weeks—indescribable spirit; the idea, the expectation of
seeing him which every morning had brought, the assurance of his
attentions, his liveliness, his manners! It had been a very happy
fortnight, and forlorn must be the sinking from it into the common course
of Hartfield days. To complete every other recommendation, he had <i>almost</i>
told her that he loved her. What strength, or what constancy of affection
he might be subject to, was another point; but at present she could not
doubt his having a decidedly warm admiration, a conscious preference of
herself; and this persuasion, joined to all the rest, made her think that
she <i>must</i> be a little in love with him, in spite of every previous
determination against it.
"I certainly must," said she. "This sensation of listlessness, weariness,
stupidity, this disinclination to sit down and employ myself, this feeling
of every thing's being dull and insipid about the house!— I must be
in love; I should be the oddest creature in the world if I were not—for
a few weeks at least. Well! evil to some is always good to others. I shall
have many fellow-mourners for the ball, if not for Frank Churchill; but
Mr. Knightley will be happy. He may spend the evening with his dear
William Larkins now if he likes."
Mr. Knightley, however, shewed no triumphant happiness. He could not say
that he was sorry on his own account; his very cheerful look would have
contradicted him if he had; but he said, and very steadily, that he was
sorry for the disappointment of the others, and with considerable kindness
"You, Emma, who have so few opportunities of dancing, you are really out
of luck; you are very much out of luck!"
It was some days before she saw Jane Fairfax, to judge of her honest
regret in this woeful change; but when they did meet, her composure was
odious. She had been particularly unwell, however, suffering from headache
to a degree, which made her aunt declare, that had the ball taken place,
she did not think Jane could have attended it; and it was charity to
impute some of her unbecoming indifference to the languor of ill-health.