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Every body in and about Highbury who had ever visited Mr. Elton, was
disposed to pay him attention on his marriage. Dinner-parties and
evening-parties were made for him and his lady; and invitations flowed in
so fast that she had soon the pleasure of apprehending they were never to
have a disengaged day.
"I see how it is," said she. "I see what a life I am to lead among you.
Upon my word we shall be absolutely dissipated. We really seem quite the
fashion. If this is living in the country, it is nothing very formidable.
From Monday next to Saturday, I assure you we have not a disengaged day!—A
woman with fewer resources than I have, need not have been at a loss."
No invitation came amiss to her. Her Bath habits made evening-parties
perfectly natural to her, and Maple Grove had given her a taste for
dinners. She was a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the
poor attempt at rout-cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury
card-parties. Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. Goddard and others, were a good
deal behind-hand in knowledge of the world, but she would soon shew them
how every thing ought to be arranged. In the course of the spring she must
return their civilities by one very superior party—in which her
card-tables should be set out with their separate candles and unbroken
packs in the true style—and more waiters engaged for the evening
than their own establishment could furnish, to carry round the
refreshments at exactly the proper hour, and in the proper order.
Emma, in the meanwhile, could not be satisfied without a dinner at
Hartfield for the Eltons. They must not do less than others, or she should
be exposed to odious suspicions, and imagined capable of pitiful
resentment. A dinner there must be. After Emma had talked about it for ten
minutes, Mr. Woodhouse felt no unwillingness, and only made the usual
stipulation of not sitting at the bottom of the table himself, with the
usual regular difficulty of deciding who should do it for him.
The persons to be invited, required little thought. Besides the Eltons, it
must be the Westons and Mr. Knightley; so far it was all of course—and
it was hardly less inevitable that poor little Harriet must be asked to
make the eighth:—but this invitation was not given with equal
satisfaction, and on many accounts Emma was particularly pleased by
Harriet's begging to be allowed to decline it. "She would rather not be in
his company more than she could help. She was not yet quite able to see
him and his charming happy wife together, without feeling uncomfortable.
If Miss Woodhouse would not be displeased, she would rather stay at home."
It was precisely what Emma would have wished, had she deemed it possible
enough for wishing. She was delighted with the fortitude of her little
friend—for fortitude she knew it was in her to give up being in
company and stay at home; and she could now invite the very person whom
she really wanted to make the eighth, Jane Fairfax.— Since her last
conversation with Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley, she was more
conscience-stricken about Jane Fairfax than she had often been.—Mr.
Knightley's words dwelt with her. He had said that Jane Fairfax received
attentions from Mrs. Elton which nobody else paid her.
"This is very true," said she, "at least as far as relates to me, which
was all that was meant—and it is very shameful.—Of the same
age—and always knowing her—I ought to have been more her
friend.—She will never like me now. I have neglected her too long.
But I will shew her greater attention than I have done."
Every invitation was successful. They were all disengaged and all happy.—The
preparatory interest of this dinner, however, was not yet over. A
circumstance rather unlucky occurred. The two eldest little Knightleys
were engaged to pay their grandpapa and aunt a visit of some weeks in the
spring, and their papa now proposed bringing them, and staying one whole
day at Hartfield—which one day would be the very day of this party.—His
professional engagements did not allow of his being put off, but both
father and daughter were disturbed by its happening so. Mr. Woodhouse
considered eight persons at dinner together as the utmost that his nerves
could bear—and here would be a ninth—and Emma apprehended that
it would be a ninth very much out of humour at not being able to come even
to Hartfield for forty-eight hours without falling in with a dinner-party.
She comforted her father better than she could comfort herself, by
representing that though he certainly would make them nine, yet he always
said so little, that the increase of noise would be very immaterial. She
thought it in reality a sad exchange for herself, to have him with his
grave looks and reluctant conversation opposed to her instead of his
The event was more favourable to Mr. Woodhouse than to Emma. John
Knightley came; but Mr. Weston was unexpectedly summoned to town and must
be absent on the very day. He might be able to join them in the evening,
but certainly not to dinner. Mr. Woodhouse was quite at ease; and the
seeing him so, with the arrival of the little boys and the philosophic
composure of her brother on hearing his fate, removed the chief of even
The day came, the party were punctually assembled, and Mr. John Knightley
seemed early to devote himself to the business of being agreeable. Instead
of drawing his brother off to a window while they waited for dinner, he
was talking to Miss Fairfax. Mrs. Elton, as elegant as lace and pearls
could make her, he looked at in silence—wanting only to observe
enough for Isabella's information—but Miss Fairfax was an old
acquaintance and a quiet girl, and he could talk to her. He had met her
before breakfast as he was returning from a walk with his little boys,
when it had been just beginning to rain. It was natural to have some civil
hopes on the subject, and he said,
"I hope you did not venture far, Miss Fairfax, this morning, or I am sure
you must have been wet.—We scarcely got home in time. I hope you
"I went only to the post-office," said she, "and reached home before the
rain was much. It is my daily errand. I always fetch the letters when I am
here. It saves trouble, and is a something to get me out. A walk before
breakfast does me good."
"Not a walk in the rain, I should imagine."
"No, but it did not absolutely rain when I set out."
Mr. John Knightley smiled, and replied,
"That is to say, you chose to have your walk, for you were not six yards
from your own door when I had the pleasure of meeting you; and Henry and
John had seen more drops than they could count long before. The
post-office has a great charm at one period of our lives. When you have
lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going
through the rain for."
There was a little blush, and then this answer,
"I must not hope to be ever situated as you are, in the midst of every
dearest connexion, and therefore I cannot expect that simply growing older
should make me indifferent about letters."
"Indifferent! Oh! no—I never conceived you could become indifferent.
Letters are no matter of indifference; they are generally a very positive
"You are speaking of letters of business; mine are letters of friendship."
"I have often thought them the worst of the two," replied he coolly.
"Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does."
"Ah! you are not serious now. I know Mr. John Knightley too well—I
am very sure he understands the value of friendship as well as any body. I
can easily believe that letters are very little to you, much less than to
me, but it is not your being ten years older than myself which makes the
difference, it is not age, but situation. You have every body dearest to
you always at hand, I, probably, never shall again; and therefore till I
have outlived all my affections, a post-office, I think, must always have
power to draw me out, in worse weather than to-day."
"When I talked of your being altered by time, by the progress of years,"
said John Knightley, "I meant to imply the change of situation which time
usually brings. I consider one as including the other. Time will generally
lessen the interest of every attachment not within the daily circle—but
that is not the change I had in view for you. As an old friend, you will
allow me to hope, Miss Fairfax, that ten years hence you may have as many
concentrated objects as I have."
It was kindly said, and very far from giving offence. A pleasant "thank
you" seemed meant to laugh it off, but a blush, a quivering lip, a tear in
the eye, shewed that it was felt beyond a laugh. Her attention was now
claimed by Mr. Woodhouse, who being, according to his custom on such
occasions, making the circle of his guests, and paying his particular
compliments to the ladies, was ending with her—and with all his
mildest urbanity, said,
"I am very sorry to hear, Miss Fairfax, of your being out this morning in
the rain. Young ladies should take care of themselves.—Young ladies
are delicate plants. They should take care of their health and their
complexion. My dear, did you change your stockings?"
"Yes, sir, I did indeed; and I am very much obliged by your kind
solicitude about me."
"My dear Miss Fairfax, young ladies are very sure to be cared for.—I
hope your good grand-mama and aunt are well. They are some of my very old
friends. I wish my health allowed me to be a better neighbour. You do us a
great deal of honour to-day, I am sure. My daughter and I are both highly
sensible of your goodness, and have the greatest satisfaction in seeing
you at Hartfield."
The kind-hearted, polite old man might then sit down and feel that he had
done his duty, and made every fair lady welcome and easy.
By this time, the walk in the rain had reached Mrs. Elton, and her
remonstrances now opened upon Jane.
"My dear Jane, what is this I hear?—Going to the post-office in the
rain!—This must not be, I assure you.—You sad girl, how could
you do such a thing?—It is a sign I was not there to take care of
Jane very patiently assured her that she had not caught any cold.
"Oh! do not tell <i>me</i>. You really are a very sad girl, and do not
know how to take care of yourself.—To the post-office indeed! Mrs.
Weston, did you ever hear the like? You and I must positively exert our
"My advice," said Mrs. Weston kindly and persuasively, "I certainly do
feel tempted to give. Miss Fairfax, you must not run such risks.—Liable
as you have been to severe colds, indeed you ought to be particularly
careful, especially at this time of year. The spring I always think
requires more than common care. Better wait an hour or two, or even half a
day for your letters, than run the risk of bringing on your cough again.
Now do not you feel that you had? Yes, I am sure you are much too
reasonable. You look as if you would not do such a thing again."
"Oh! she <i>shall</i> <i>not</i> do such a thing again," eagerly rejoined
Mrs. Elton. "We will not allow her to do such a thing again:"—and
nodding significantly—"there must be some arrangement made, there
must indeed. I shall speak to Mr. E. The man who fetches our letters every
morning (one of our men, I forget his name) shall inquire for yours too
and bring them to you. That will obviate all difficulties you know; and
from <i>us</i> I really think, my dear Jane, you can have no scruple to
accept such an accommodation."
"You are extremely kind," said Jane; "but I cannot give up my early walk.
I am advised to be out of doors as much as I can, I must walk somewhere,
and the post-office is an object; and upon my word, I have scarcely ever
had a bad morning before."
"My dear Jane, say no more about it. The thing is determined, that is
(laughing affectedly) as far as I can presume to determine any thing
without the concurrence of my lord and master. You know, Mrs. Weston, you
and I must be cautious how we express ourselves. But I do flatter myself,
my dear Jane, that my influence is not entirely worn out. If I meet with
no insuperable difficulties therefore, consider that point as settled."
"Excuse me," said Jane earnestly, "I cannot by any means consent to such
an arrangement, so needlessly troublesome to your servant. If the errand
were not a pleasure to me, it could be done, as it always is when I am not
here, by my grandmama's."
"Oh! my dear; but so much as Patty has to do!—And it is a kindness
to employ our men."
Jane looked as if she did not mean to be conquered; but instead of
answering, she began speaking again to Mr. John Knightley.
"The post-office is a wonderful establishment!" said she.—"The
regularity and despatch of it! If one thinks of all that it has to do, and
all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!"
"It is certainly very well regulated."
"So seldom that any negligence or blunder appears! So seldom that a
letter, among the thousands that are constantly passing about the kingdom,
is even carried wrong—and not one in a million, I suppose, actually
lost! And when one considers the variety of hands, and of bad hands too,
that are to be deciphered, it increases the wonder."
"The clerks grow expert from habit.—They must begin with some
quickness of sight and hand, and exercise improves them. If you want any
farther explanation," continued he, smiling, "they are paid for it. That
is the key to a great deal of capacity. The public pays and must be served
The varieties of handwriting were farther talked of, and the usual
"I have heard it asserted," said John Knightley, "that the same sort of
handwriting often prevails in a family; and where the same master teaches,
it is natural enough. But for that reason, I should imagine the likeness
must be chiefly confined to the females, for boys have very little
teaching after an early age, and scramble into any hand they can get.
Isabella and Emma, I think, do write very much alike. I have not always
known their writing apart."
"Yes," said his brother hesitatingly, "there is a likeness. I know what
you mean—but Emma's hand is the strongest."
"Isabella and Emma both write beautifully," said Mr. Woodhouse; "and
always did. And so does poor Mrs. Weston"—with half a sigh and half
a smile at her.
"I never saw any gentleman's handwriting"—Emma began, looking also
at Mrs. Weston; but stopped, on perceiving that Mrs. Weston was attending
to some one else—and the pause gave her time to reflect, "Now, how
am I going to introduce him?—Am I unequal to speaking his name at
once before all these people? Is it necessary for me to use any roundabout
phrase?—Your Yorkshire friend—your correspondent in Yorkshire;—that
would be the way, I suppose, if I were very bad.—No, I can pronounce
his name without the smallest distress. I certainly get better and better.—Now
Mrs. Weston was disengaged and Emma began again—"Mr. Frank Churchill
writes one of the best gentleman's hands I ever saw."
"I do not admire it," said Mr. Knightley. "It is too small—wants
strength. It is like a woman's writing."
This was not submitted to by either lady. They vindicated him against the
base aspersion. "No, it by no means wanted strength—it was not a
large hand, but very clear and certainly strong. Had not Mrs. Weston any
letter about her to produce?" No, she had heard from him very lately, but
having answered the letter, had put it away.
"If we were in the other room," said Emma, "if I had my writing-desk, I am
sure I could produce a specimen. I have a note of his.—Do not you
remember, Mrs. Weston, employing him to write for you one day?"
"He chose to say he was employed"—
"Well, well, I have that note; and can shew it after dinner to convince
"Oh! when a gallant young man, like Mr. Frank Churchill," said Mr.
Knightley dryly, "writes to a fair lady like Miss Woodhouse, he will, of
course, put forth his best."
Dinner was on table.—Mrs. Elton, before she could be spoken to, was
ready; and before Mr. Woodhouse had reached her with his request to be
allowed to hand her into the dining-parlour, was saying—
"Must I go first? I really am ashamed of always leading the way."
Jane's solicitude about fetching her own letters had not escaped Emma. She
had heard and seen it all; and felt some curiosity to know whether the wet
walk of this morning had produced any. She suspected that it <i>had</i>;
that it would not have been so resolutely encountered but in full
expectation of hearing from some one very dear, and that it had not been
in vain. She thought there was an air of greater happiness than usual—a
glow both of complexion and spirits.
She could have made an inquiry or two, as to the expedition and the
expense of the Irish mails;—it was at her tongue's end—but she
abstained. She was quite determined not to utter a word that should hurt
Jane Fairfax's feelings; and they followed the other ladies out of the
room, arm in arm, with an appearance of good-will highly becoming to the
beauty and grace of each.