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"Harriet, poor Harriet!"—Those were the words; in them lay the
tormenting ideas which Emma could not get rid of, and which constituted
the real misery of the business to her. Frank Churchill had behaved very
ill by herself—very ill in many ways,—but it was not so much
<i>his</i> behaviour as her <i>own</i>, which made her so angry with him.
It was the scrape which he had drawn her into on Harriet's account, that
gave the deepest hue to his offence.—Poor Harriet! to be a second
time the dupe of her misconceptions and flattery. Mr. Knightley had spoken
prophetically, when he once said, "Emma, you have been no friend to
Harriet Smith."—She was afraid she had done her nothing but
disservice.—It was true that she had not to charge herself, in this
instance as in the former, with being the sole and original author of the
mischief; with having suggested such feelings as might otherwise never
have entered Harriet's imagination; for Harriet had acknowledged her
admiration and preference of Frank Churchill before she had ever given her
a hint on the subject; but she felt completely guilty of having encouraged
what she might have repressed. She might have prevented the indulgence and
increase of such sentiments. Her influence would have been enough. And now
she was very conscious that she ought to have prevented them.—She
felt that she had been risking her friend's happiness on most insufficient
grounds. Common sense would have directed her to tell Harriet, that she
must not allow herself to think of him, and that there were five hundred
chances to one against his ever caring for her.—"But, with common
sense," she added, "I am afraid I have had little to do."
She was extremely angry with herself. If she could not have been angry
with Frank Churchill too, it would have been dreadful.—As for Jane
Fairfax, she might at least relieve her feelings from any present
solicitude on her account. Harriet would be anxiety enough; she need no
longer be unhappy about Jane, whose troubles and whose ill-health having,
of course, the same origin, must be equally under cure.—Her days of
insignificance and evil were over.—She would soon be well, and
happy, and prosperous.—Emma could now imagine why her own attentions
had been slighted. This discovery laid many smaller matters open. No doubt
it had been from jealousy.—In Jane's eyes she had been a rival; and
well might any thing she could offer of assistance or regard be repulsed.
An airing in the Hartfield carriage would have been the rack, and
arrowroot from the Hartfield storeroom must have been poison. She
understood it all; and as far as her mind could disengage itself from the
injustice and selfishness of angry feelings, she acknowledged that Jane
Fairfax would have neither elevation nor happiness beyond her desert. But
poor Harriet was such an engrossing charge! There was little sympathy to
be spared for any body else. Emma was sadly fearful that this second
disappointment would be more severe than the first. Considering the very
superior claims of the object, it ought; and judging by its apparently
stronger effect on Harriet's mind, producing reserve and self-command, it
would.—She must communicate the painful truth, however, and as soon
as possible. An injunction of secresy had been among Mr. Weston's parting
words. "For the present, the whole affair was to be completely a secret.
Mr. Churchill had made a point of it, as a token of respect to the wife he
had so very recently lost; and every body admitted it to be no more than
due decorum."—Emma had promised; but still Harriet must be excepted.
It was her superior duty.
In spite of her vexation, she could not help feeling it almost ridiculous,
that she should have the very same distressing and delicate office to
perform by Harriet, which Mrs. Weston had just gone through by herself.
The intelligence, which had been so anxiously announced to her, she was
now to be anxiously announcing to another. Her heart beat quick on hearing
Harriet's footstep and voice; so, she supposed, had poor Mrs. Weston felt
when <i>she</i> was approaching Randalls. Could the event of the
disclosure bear an equal resemblance!—But of that, unfortunately,
there could be no chance.
"Well, Miss Woodhouse!" cried Harriet, coming eagerly into the room—"is
not this the oddest news that ever was?"
"What news do you mean?" replied Emma, unable to guess, by look or voice,
whether Harriet could indeed have received any hint.
"About Jane Fairfax. Did you ever hear any thing so strange? Oh!—you
need not be afraid of owning it to me, for Mr. Weston has told me himself.
I met him just now. He told me it was to be a great secret; and,
therefore, I should not think of mentioning it to any body but you, but he
said you knew it."
"What did Mr. Weston tell you?"—said Emma, still perplexed.
"Oh! he told me all about it; that Jane Fairfax and Mr. Frank Churchill
are to be married, and that they have been privately engaged to one
another this long while. How very odd!"
It was, indeed, so odd; Harriet's behaviour was so extremely odd, that
Emma did not know how to understand it. Her character appeared absolutely
changed. She seemed to propose shewing no agitation, or disappointment, or
peculiar concern in the discovery. Emma looked at her, quite unable to
"Had you any idea," cried Harriet, "of his being in love with her?—You,
perhaps, might.—You (blushing as she spoke) who can see into every
body's heart; but nobody else—"
"Upon my word," said Emma, "I begin to doubt my having any such talent.
Can you seriously ask me, Harriet, whether I imagined him attached to
another woman at the very time that I was—tacitly, if not openly—encouraging
you to give way to your own feelings?—I never had the slightest
suspicion, till within the last hour, of Mr. Frank Churchill's having the
least regard for Jane Fairfax. You may be very sure that if I had, I
should have cautioned you accordingly."
"Me!" cried Harriet, colouring, and astonished. "Why should you caution
me?—You do not think I care about Mr. Frank Churchill."
"I am delighted to hear you speak so stoutly on the subject," replied
Emma, smiling; "but you do not mean to deny that there was a time—and
not very distant either—when you gave me reason to understand that
you did care about him?"
"Him!—never, never. Dear Miss Woodhouse, how could you so mistake
me?" turning away distressed.
"Harriet!" cried Emma, after a moment's pause—"What do you mean?—Good
Heaven! what do you mean?—Mistake you!—Am I to suppose then?—"
She could not speak another word.—Her voice was lost; and she sat
down, waiting in great terror till Harriet should answer.
Harriet, who was standing at some distance, and with face turned from her,
did not immediately say any thing; and when she did speak, it was in a
voice nearly as agitated as Emma's.
"I should not have thought it possible," she began, "that you could have
misunderstood me! I know we agreed never to name him—but considering
how infinitely superior he is to every body else, I should not have
thought it possible that I could be supposed to mean any other person. Mr.
Frank Churchill, indeed! I do not know who would ever look at him in the
company of the other. I hope I have a better taste than to think of Mr.
Frank Churchill, who is like nobody by his side. And that you should have
been so mistaken, is amazing!—I am sure, but for believing that you
entirely approved and meant to encourage me in my attachment, I should
have considered it at first too great a presumption almost, to dare to
think of him. At first, if you had not told me that more wonderful things
had happened; that there had been matches of greater disparity (those were
your very words);—I should not have dared to give way to—I
should not have thought it possible—But if <i>you</i>, who had been
always acquainted with him—"
"Harriet!" cried Emma, collecting herself resolutely—"Let us
understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are
you speaking of—Mr. Knightley?"
"To be sure I am. I never could have an idea of any body else—and so
I thought you knew. When we talked about him, it was as clear as
"Not quite," returned Emma, with forced calmness, "for all that you then
said, appeared to me to relate to a different person. I could almost
assert that you had <i>named</i> Mr. Frank Churchill. I am sure the
service Mr. Frank Churchill had rendered you, in protecting you from the
gipsies, was spoken of."
"Oh! Miss Woodhouse, how you do forget!"
"My dear Harriet, I perfectly remember the substance of what I said on the
occasion. I told you that I did not wonder at your attachment; that
considering the service he had rendered you, it was extremely natural:—and
you agreed to it, expressing yourself very warmly as to your sense of that
service, and mentioning even what your sensations had been in seeing him
come forward to your rescue.—The impression of it is strong on my
"Oh, dear," cried Harriet, "now I recollect what you mean; but I was
thinking of something very different at the time. It was not the gipsies—it
was not Mr. Frank Churchill that I meant. No! (with some elevation) I was
thinking of a much more precious circumstance—of Mr. Knightley's
coming and asking me to dance, when Mr. Elton would not stand up with me;
and when there was no other partner in the room. That was the kind action;
that was the noble benevolence and generosity; that was the service which
made me begin to feel how superior he was to every other being upon
"Good God!" cried Emma, "this has been a most unfortunate—most
deplorable mistake!—What is to be done?"
"You would not have encouraged me, then, if you had understood me? At
least, however, I cannot be worse off than I should have been, if the
other had been the person; and now—it <i>is</i> possible—"
She paused a few moments. Emma could not speak.
"I do not wonder, Miss Woodhouse," she resumed, "that you should feel a
great difference between the two, as to me or as to any body. You must
think one five hundred million times more above me than the other. But I
hope, Miss Woodhouse, that supposing—that if—strange as it may
appear—. But you know they were your own words, that <i>more</i>
wonderful things had happened, matches of <i>greater</i> disparity had
taken place than between Mr. Frank Churchill and me; and, therefore, it
seems as if such a thing even as this, may have occurred before—and
if I should be so fortunate, beyond expression, as to—if Mr.
Knightley should really—if <i>he</i> does not mind the disparity, I
hope, dear Miss Woodhouse, you will not set yourself against it, and try
to put difficulties in the way. But you are too good for that, I am sure."
Harriet was standing at one of the windows. Emma turned round to look at
her in consternation, and hastily said,
"Have you any idea of Mr. Knightley's returning your affection?"
"Yes," replied Harriet modestly, but not fearfully—"I must say that
Emma's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in
a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for
making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening
to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched—she admitted—she
acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should
be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil
so dreadfully increased by Harriet's having some hope of a return? It
darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must
marry no one but herself!
Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few
minutes. She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her
before. How improperly had she been acting by Harriet! How inconsiderate,
how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling had been her conduct! What
blindness, what madness, had led her on! It struck her with dreadful
force, and she was ready to give it every bad name in the world. Some
portion of respect for herself, however, in spite of all these demerits—some
concern for her own appearance, and a strong sense of justice by Harriet—(there
would be no need of <i>compassion</i> to the girl who believed herself
loved by Mr. Knightley—but justice required that she should not be
made unhappy by any coldness now,) gave Emma the resolution to sit and
endure farther with calmness, with even apparent kindness.—For her
own advantage indeed, it was fit that the utmost extent of Harriet's hopes
should be enquired into; and Harriet had done nothing to forfeit the
regard and interest which had been so voluntarily formed and maintained—or
to deserve to be slighted by the person, whose counsels had never led her
right.—Rousing from reflection, therefore, and subduing her emotion,
she turned to Harriet again, and, in a more inviting accent, renewed the
conversation; for as to the subject which had first introduced it, the
wonderful story of Jane Fairfax, that was quite sunk and lost.—Neither
of them thought but of Mr. Knightley and themselves.
Harriet, who had been standing in no unhappy reverie, was yet very glad to
be called from it, by the now encouraging manner of such a judge, and such
a friend as Miss Woodhouse, and only wanted invitation, to give the
history of her hopes with great, though trembling delight.—Emma's
tremblings as she asked, and as she listened, were better concealed than
Harriet's, but they were not less. Her voice was not unsteady; but her
mind was in all the perturbation that such a development of self, such a
burst of threatening evil, such a confusion of sudden and perplexing
emotions, must create.—She listened with much inward suffering, but
with great outward patience, to Harriet's detail.—Methodical, or
well arranged, or very well delivered, it could not be expected to be; but
it contained, when separated from all the feebleness and tautology of the
narration, a substance to sink her spirit—especially with the
corroborating circumstances, which her own memory brought in favour of Mr.
Knightley's most improved opinion of Harriet.
Harriet had been conscious of a difference in his behaviour ever since
those two decisive dances.—Emma knew that he had, on that occasion,
found her much superior to his expectation. From that evening, or at least
from the time of Miss Woodhouse's encouraging her to think of him, Harriet
had begun to be sensible of his talking to her much more than he had been
used to do, and of his having indeed quite a different manner towards her;
a manner of kindness and sweetness!—Latterly she had been more and
more aware of it. When they had been all walking together, he had so often
come and walked by her, and talked so very delightfully!—He seemed
to want to be acquainted with her. Emma knew it to have been very much the
case. She had often observed the change, to almost the same extent.—Harriet
repeated expressions of approbation and praise from him—and Emma
felt them to be in the closest agreement with what she had known of his
opinion of Harriet. He praised her for being without art or affectation,
for having simple, honest, generous, feelings.—She knew that he saw
such recommendations in Harriet; he had dwelt on them to her more than
once.—Much that lived in Harriet's memory, many little particulars
of the notice she had received from him, a look, a speech, a removal from
one chair to another, a compliment implied, a preference inferred, had
been unnoticed, because unsuspected, by Emma. Circumstances that might
swell to half an hour's relation, and contained multiplied proofs to her
who had seen them, had passed undiscerned by her who now heard them; but
the two latest occurrences to be mentioned, the two of strongest promise
to Harriet, were not without some degree of witness from Emma herself.—The
first, was his walking with her apart from the others, in the lime-walk at
Donwell, where they had been walking some time before Emma came, and he
had taken pains (as she was convinced) to draw her from the rest to
himself—and at first, he had talked to her in a more particular way
than he had ever done before, in a very particular way indeed!—(Harriet
could not recall it without a blush.) He seemed to be almost asking her,
whether her affections were engaged.—But as soon as she (Miss
Woodhouse) appeared likely to join them, he changed the subject, and began
talking about farming:—The second, was his having sat talking with
her nearly half an hour before Emma came back from her visit, the very
last morning of his being at Hartfield—though, when he first came
in, he had said that he could not stay five minutes—and his having
told her, during their conversation, that though he must go to London, it
was very much against his inclination that he left home at all, which was
much more (as Emma felt) than he had acknowledged to <i>her</i>. The
superior degree of confidence towards Harriet, which this one article
marked, gave her severe pain.
On the subject of the first of the two circumstances, she did, after a
little reflection, venture the following question. "Might he not?—Is
not it possible, that when enquiring, as you thought, into the state of
your affections, he might be alluding to Mr. Martin—he might have
Mr. Martin's interest in view? But Harriet rejected the suspicion with
"Mr. Martin! No indeed!—There was not a hint of Mr. Martin. I hope I
know better now, than to care for Mr. Martin, or to be suspected of it."
When Harriet had closed her evidence, she appealed to her dear Miss
Woodhouse, to say whether she had not good ground for hope.
"I never should have presumed to think of it at first," said she, "but for
you. You told me to observe him carefully, and let his behaviour be the
rule of mine—and so I have. But now I seem to feel that I may
deserve him; and that if he does chuse me, it will not be any thing so
The bitter feelings occasioned by this speech, the many bitter feelings,
made the utmost exertion necessary on Emma's side, to enable her to say on
"Harriet, I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last
man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his
feeling for her more than he really does."
Harriet seemed ready to worship her friend for a sentence so satisfactory;
and Emma was only saved from raptures and fondness, which at that moment
would have been dreadful penance, by the sound of her father's footsteps.
He was coming through the hall. Harriet was too much agitated to encounter
him. "She could not compose herself— Mr. Woodhouse would be alarmed—she
had better go;"—with most ready encouragement from her friend,
therefore, she passed off through another door—and the moment she
was gone, this was the spontaneous burst of Emma's feelings: "Oh God! that
I had never seen her!"
The rest of the day, the following night, were hardly enough for her
thoughts.—She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had
rushed on her within the last few hours. Every moment had brought a fresh
surprize; and every surprize must be matter of humiliation to her.—How
to understand it all! How to understand the deceptions she had been thus
practising on herself, and living under!—The blunders, the blindness
of her own head and heart!—she sat still, she walked about, she
tried her own room, she tried the shrubbery—in every place, every
posture, she perceived that she had acted most weakly; that she had been
imposed on by others in a most mortifying degree; that she had been
imposing on herself in a degree yet more mortifying; that she was
wretched, and should probably find this day but the beginning of
To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first
endeavour. To that point went every leisure moment which her father's
claims on her allowed, and every moment of involuntary absence of mind.
How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared
him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun?— When
had he succeeded to that place in her affection, which Frank Churchill had
once, for a short period, occupied?—She looked back; she compared
the two—compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation,
from the time of the latter's becoming known to her—and as they must
at any time have been compared by her, had it—oh! had it, by any
blessed felicity, occurred to her, to institute the comparison.—She
saw that there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr.
Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not
been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in
fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely under a
delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart—and, in short, that she
had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!
This was the conclusion of the first series of reflection. This was the
knowledge of herself, on the first question of inquiry, which she reached;
and without being long in reaching it.—She was most sorrowfully
indignant; ashamed of every sensation but the one revealed to her—her
affection for Mr. Knightley.—Every other part of her mind was
With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every
body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every
body's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she
had not quite done nothing—for she had done mischief. She had
brought evil on Harriet, on herself, and she too much feared, on Mr.
Knightley.—Were this most unequal of all connexions to take place,
on her must rest all the reproach of having given it a beginning; for his
attachment, she must believe to be produced only by a consciousness of
Harriet's;—and even were this not the case, he would never have
known Harriet at all but for her folly.
Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith!—It was a union to distance every
wonder of the kind.—The attachment of Frank Churchill and Jane
Fairfax became commonplace, threadbare, stale in the comparison, exciting
no surprize, presenting no disparity, affording nothing to be said or
thought.—Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith!—Such an elevation on
her side! Such a debasement on his! It was horrible to Emma to think how
it must sink him in the general opinion, to foresee the smiles, the
sneers, the merriment it would prompt at his expense; the mortification
and disdain of his brother, the thousand inconveniences to himself.—Could
it be?—No; it was impossible. And yet it was far, very far, from
impossible.—Was it a new circumstance for a man of first-rate
abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers? Was it new for one,
perhaps too busy to seek, to be the prize of a girl who would seek him?—Was
it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent,
incongruous—or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to
direct the human fate?
Oh! had she never brought Harriet forward! Had she left her where she
ought, and where he had told her she ought!—Had she not, with a
folly which no tongue could express, prevented her marrying the
unexceptionable young man who would have made her happy and respectable in
the line of life to which she ought to belong—all would have been
safe; none of this dreadful sequel would have been.
How Harriet could ever have had the presumption to raise her thoughts to
Mr. Knightley!—How she could dare to fancy herself the chosen of
such a man till actually assured of it!—But Harriet was less humble,
had fewer scruples than formerly.—Her inferiority, whether of mind
or situation, seemed little felt.—She had seemed more sensible of
Mr. Elton's being to stoop in marrying her, than she now seemed of Mr.
Knightley's.—Alas! was not that her own doing too? Who had been at
pains to give Harriet notions of self-consequence but herself?—Who
but herself had taught her, that she was to elevate herself if possible,
and that her claims were great to a high worldly establishment?—If
Harriet, from being humble, were grown vain, it was her doing too.