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
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
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 every thing.
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's 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 rumour
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 shewed 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 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 the 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, tranquillised 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 than
not, she added soon afterwards—as if quite another subject,
"It is so cold, so very cold—and looks and feels so very much like
snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should
really try not to go out to-day—and dissuade my father from
venturing; but as he has made up his mind, and does not seem to feel the
cold himself, I do not like to interfere, as I know it would be so great a
disappointment to Mr. and Mrs. Weston. But, upon my word, Mr. Elton, in
your case, I should certainly excuse myself. You appear to me a little
hoarse already, and when you consider what demand of voice and what
fatigues to-morrow will bring, I think it would be no more than common
prudence to stay at home and take care of yourself to-night."
Mr. Elton looked as if he did not very well know what answer to make;
which was exactly the case; for though very much gratified by the kind
care of such a fair lady, and not liking to resist any advice of her's, he
had not really the least inclination to give up the visit;—but Emma,
too eager and busy in her own previous conceptions and views to hear him
impartially, or see him with clear vision, was very well satisfied with
his muttering acknowledgment of its being "very cold, certainly very
cold," and walked on, rejoicing in having extricated him from Randalls,
and secured him the power of sending to inquire after Harriet every hour
of the evening.
"You do quite right," said she;—"we will make your apologies to Mr.
and Mrs. Weston."
But hardly had she so spoken, when she found her brother was civilly
offering a seat in his carriage, if the weather were Mr. Elton's only
objection, and Mr. Elton actually accepting the offer with much prompt
satisfaction. It was a done thing; Mr. Elton was to go, and never had his
broad handsome face expressed more pleasure than at this moment; never had
his smile been stronger, nor his eyes more exulting than when he next
looked at her.
"Well," said she to herself, "this is most strange!—After I had got
him off so well, to chuse to go into company, and leave Harriet ill
behind!—Most strange indeed!—But there is, I believe, in many
men, especially single men, such an inclination—such a passion for
dining out—a dinner engagement is so high in the class of their
pleasures, their employments, their dignities, almost their duties, that
any thing gives way to it—and this must be the case with Mr. Elton;
a most valuable, amiable, pleasing young man undoubtedly, and very much in
love with Harriet; but still, he cannot refuse an invitation, he must dine
out wherever he is asked. What a strange thing love is! he can see ready
wit in Harriet, but will not dine alone for her."
Soon afterwards Mr. Elton quitted them, and she could not but do him the
justice of feeling that there was a great deal of sentiment in his manner
of naming Harriet at parting; in the tone of his voice while assuring her
that he should call at Mrs. Goddard's for news of her fair friend, the
last thing before he prepared for the happiness of meeting her again, when
he hoped to be able to give a better report; and he sighed and smiled
himself off in a way that left the balance of approbation much in his
After a few minutes of entire silence between them, John Knightley began
"I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr.
Elton. It is downright labour to him where ladies are concerned. With men
he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please, every
"Mr. Elton's manners are not perfect," replied Emma; "but where there is a
wish to please, one ought to overlook, and one does overlook a great deal.
Where a man does his best with only moderate powers, he will have the
advantage over negligent superiority. There is such perfect good-temper
and good-will in Mr. Elton as one cannot but value."
"Yes," said Mr. John Knightley presently, with some slyness, "he seems to
have a great deal of good-will towards you."
"Me!" she replied with a smile of astonishment, "are you imagining me to
be Mr. Elton's object?"
"Such an imagination has crossed me, I own, Emma; and if it never occurred
to you before, you may as well take it into consideration now."
"Mr. Elton in love with me!—What an idea!"
"I do not say it is so; but you will do well to consider whether it is so
or not, and to regulate your behaviour accordingly. I think your manners
to him encouraging. I speak as a friend, Emma. You had better look about
you, and ascertain what you do, and what you mean to do."
"I thank you; but I assure you you are quite mistaken. Mr. Elton and I are
very good friends, and nothing more;" and she walked on, amusing herself
in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial
knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high
pretensions to judgment are for ever falling into; and not very well
pleased with her brother for imagining her blind and ignorant, and in want
of counsel. He said no more.
Mr. Woodhouse had so completely made up his mind to the visit, that in
spite of the increasing coldness, he seemed to have no idea of shrinking
from it, and set forward at last most punctually with his eldest daughter
in his own carriage, with less apparent consciousness of the weather than
either of the others; too full of the wonder of his own going, and the
pleasure it was to afford at Randalls to see that it was cold, and too
well wrapt up to feel it. The cold, however, was severe; and by the time
the second carriage was in motion, a few flakes of snow were finding their
way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to
want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time.
Emma soon saw that her companion was not in the happiest humour. The
preparing and the going abroad in such weather, with the sacrifice of his
children after dinner, were evils, were disagreeables at least, which Mr.
John Knightley did not by any means like; he anticipated nothing in the
visit that could be at all worth the purchase; and the whole of their
drive to the vicarage was spent by him in expressing his discontent.
"A man," said he, "must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks
people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for
the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable
fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdity—Actually
snowing at this moment!—The folly of not allowing people to be
comfortable at home—and the folly of people's not staying
comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an
evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we
should deem it;—and here are we, probably with rather thinner
clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in
defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to
his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under
shelter that he can;—here are we setting forward to spend five dull
hours in another man's house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not
said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow.
Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse;—four horses
and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering
creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at
Emma did not find herself equal to give the pleased assent, which no doubt
he was in the habit of receiving, to emulate the "Very true, my love,"
which must have been usually administered by his travelling companion; but
she had resolution enough to refrain from making any answer at all. She
could not be complying, she dreaded being quarrelsome; her heroism reached
only to silence. She allowed him to talk, and arranged the glasses, and
wrapped herself up, without opening her lips.
They arrived, the carriage turned, the step was let down, and Mr. Elton,
spruce, black, and smiling, was with them instantly. Emma thought with
pleasure of some change of subject. Mr. Elton was all obligation and
cheerfulness; he was so very cheerful in his civilities indeed, that she
began to think he must have received a different account of Harriet from
what had reached her. She had sent while dressing, and the answer had
been, "Much the same—not better."
"My report from Mrs. Goddard's," said she presently, "was not so
pleasant as I had hoped—'Not better' was my answer."
His face lengthened immediately; and his voice was the voice of sentiment
as he answered.
"Oh! no—I am grieved to find—I was on the point of telling you
that when I called at Mrs. Goddard's door, which I did the very last thing
before I returned to dress, I was told that Miss Smith was not better, by
no means better, rather worse. Very much grieved and concerned—I had
flattered myself that she must be better after such a cordial as I knew
had been given her in the morning."
Emma smiled and answered—"My visit was of use to the nervous part of
her complaint, I hope; but not even I can charm away a sore throat; it is
a most severe cold indeed. Mr. Perry has been with her, as you probably
"Yes—I imagined—that is—I did not—"
"He has been used to her in these complaints, and I hope to-morrow morning
will bring us both a more comfortable report. But it is impossible not to
feel uneasiness. Such a sad loss to our party to-day!"
"Dreadful!—Exactly so, indeed.—She will be missed every
This was very proper; the sigh which accompanied it was really estimable;
but it should have lasted longer. Emma was rather in dismay when only half
a minute afterwards he began to speak of other things, and in a voice of
the greatest alacrity and enjoyment.
"What an excellent device," said he, "the use of a sheepskin for
carriages. How very comfortable they make it;—impossible to feel
cold with such precautions. The contrivances of modern days indeed have
rendered a gentleman's carriage perfectly complete. One is so fenced and
guarded from the weather, that not a breath of air can find its way
unpermitted. Weather becomes absolutely of no consequence. It is a very
cold afternoon—but in this carriage we know nothing of the matter.—Ha!
snows a little I see."
"Yes," said John Knightley, "and I think we shall have a good deal of it."
"Christmas weather," observed Mr. Elton. "Quite seasonable; and extremely
fortunate we may think ourselves that it did not begin yesterday, and
prevent this day's party, which it might very possibly have done, for Mr.
Woodhouse would hardly have ventured had there been much snow on the
ground; but now it is of no consequence. This is quite the season indeed
for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about
them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up
at a friend's house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter. I went
for only one night, and could not get away till that very day se'nnight."
Mr. John Knightley looked as if he did not comprehend the pleasure, but
said only, coolly,
"I cannot wish to be snowed up a week at Randalls."
At another time Emma might have been amused, but she was too much
astonished now at Mr. Elton's spirits for other feelings. Harriet seemed
quite forgotten in the expectation of a pleasant party.
"We are sure of excellent fires," continued he, "and every thing in the
greatest comfort. Charming people, Mr. and Mrs. Weston;—Mrs. Weston
indeed is much beyond praise, and he is exactly what one values, so
hospitable, and so fond of society;—it will be a small party, but
where small parties are select, they are perhaps the most agreeable of
any. Mr. Weston's dining-room does not accommodate more than ten
comfortably; and for my part, I would rather, under such circumstances,
fall short by two than exceed by two. I think you will agree with me,
(turning with a soft air to Emma,) I think I shall certainly have your
approbation, though Mr. Knightley perhaps, from being used to the large
parties of London, may not quite enter into our feelings."
"I know nothing of the large parties of London, sir—I never dine
with any body."
"Indeed! (in a tone of wonder and pity,) I had no idea that the law had
been so great a slavery. Well, sir, the time must come when you will be
paid for all this, when you will have little labour and great enjoyment."
"My first enjoyment," replied John Knightley, as they passed through the
sweep-gate, "will be to find myself safe at Hartfield again."