Emma was not required, by any subsequent discovery, to retract her ill
opinion of Mrs. Elton. Her observation had been pretty correct. Such as
Mrs. Elton appeared to her on this second interview, such she appeared
whenever they met again,—self-important, presuming, familiar,
ignorant, and ill-bred. She had a little beauty and a little
accomplishment, but so little judgment that she thought herself coming
with superior knowledge of the world, to enliven and improve a country
neighbourhood; and conceived Miss Hawkins to have held such a place in
society as Mrs. Elton's consequence only could surpass.
There was no reason to suppose Mr. Elton thought at all differently from
his wife. He seemed not merely happy with her, but proud. He had the air
of congratulating himself on having brought such a woman to Highbury, as
not even Miss Woodhouse could equal; and the greater part of her new
acquaintance, disposed to commend, or not in the habit of judging,
following the lead of Miss Bates's good-will, or taking it for granted
that the bride must be as clever and as agreeable as she professed
herself, were very well satisfied; so that Mrs. Elton's praise passed from
one mouth to another as it ought to do, unimpeded by Miss Woodhouse, who
readily continued her first contribution and talked with a good grace of
her being "very pleasant and very elegantly dressed."
In one respect Mrs. Elton grew even worse than she had appeared at first.
Her feelings altered towards Emma.—Offended, probably, by the little
encouragement which her proposals of intimacy met with, she drew back in
her turn and gradually became much more cold and distant; and though the
effect was agreeable, the ill-will which produced it was necessarily
increasing Emma's dislike. Her manners, too—and Mr. Elton's, were
unpleasant towards Harriet. They were sneering and negligent. Emma hoped
it must rapidly work Harriet's cure; but the sensations which could prompt
such behaviour sunk them both very much.—It was not to be doubted
that poor Harriet's attachment had been an offering to conjugal unreserve,
and her own share in the story, under a colouring the least favourable to
her and the most soothing to him, had in all likelihood been given also.
She was, of course, the object of their joint dislike.—When they had
nothing else to say, it must be always easy to begin abusing Miss
Woodhouse; and the enmity which they dared not shew in open disrespect to
her, found a broader vent in contemptuous treatment of Harriet.
Mrs. Elton took a great fancy to Jane Fairfax; and from the first. Not
merely when a state of warfare with one young lady might be supposed to
recommend the other, but from the very first; and she was not satisfied
with expressing a natural and reasonable admiration—but without
solicitation, or plea, or privilege, she must be wanting to assist and
befriend her.—Before Emma had forfeited her confidence, and about
the third time of their meeting, she heard all Mrs. Elton's
knight-errantry on the subject.—
"Jane Fairfax is absolutely charming, Miss Woodhouse.—I quite rave
about Jane Fairfax.—A sweet, interesting creature. So mild and
ladylike—and with such talents!—I assure you I think she has
very extraordinary talents. I do not scruple to say that she plays
extremely well. I know enough of music to speak decidedly on that point.
Oh! she is absolutely charming! You will laugh at my warmth—but,
upon my word, I talk of nothing but Jane Fairfax.—And her situation
is so calculated to affect one!—Miss Woodhouse, we must exert
ourselves and endeavour to do something for her. We must bring her
forward. Such talent as hers must not be suffered to remain unknown.—I
dare say you have heard those charming lines of the poet,
'Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
'And waste its fragrance on the desert air.'
We must not allow them to be verified in sweet Jane Fairfax."
"I cannot think there is any danger of it," was Emma's calm answer—"and
when you are better acquainted with Miss Fairfax's situation and
understand what her home has been, with Colonel and Mrs. Campbell, I have
no idea that you will suppose her talents can be unknown."
"Oh! but dear Miss Woodhouse, she is now in such retirement, such
obscurity, so thrown away.—Whatever advantages she may have enjoyed
with the Campbells are so palpably at an end! And I think she feels it. I
am sure she does. She is very timid and silent. One can see that she feels
the want of encouragement. I like her the better for it. I must confess it
is a recommendation to me. I am a great advocate for timidity—and I
am sure one does not often meet with it.—But in those who are at all
inferior, it is extremely prepossessing. Oh! I assure you, Jane Fairfax is
a very delightful character, and interests me more than I can express."
"You appear to feel a great deal—but I am not aware how you or any
of Miss Fairfax's acquaintance here, any of those who have known her
longer than yourself, can shew her any other attention than"—
"My dear Miss Woodhouse, a vast deal may be done by those who dare to act.
You and I need not be afraid. If we set the example, many will
follow it as far as they can; though all have not our situations. We
have carriages to fetch and convey her home, and we live in a style
which could not make the addition of Jane Fairfax, at any time, the least
inconvenient.—I should be extremely displeased if Wright were to
send us up such a dinner, as could make me regret having asked more
than Jane Fairfax to partake of it. I have no idea of that sort of thing.
It is not likely that I should, considering what I have been used
to. My greatest danger, perhaps, in housekeeping, may be quite the other
way, in doing too much, and being too careless of expense. Maple Grove
will probably be my model more than it ought to be—for we do not at
all affect to equal my brother, Mr. Suckling, in income.—However, my
resolution is taken as to noticing Jane Fairfax.—I shall certainly
have her very often at my house, shall introduce her wherever I can, shall
have musical parties to draw out her talents, and shall be constantly on
the watch for an eligible situation. My acquaintance is so very extensive,
that I have little doubt of hearing of something to suit her shortly.—I
shall introduce her, of course, very particularly to my brother and sister
when they come to us. I am sure they will like her extremely; and when she
gets a little acquainted with them, her fears will completely wear off,
for there really is nothing in the manners of either but what is highly
conciliating.—I shall have her very often indeed while they are with
me, and I dare say we shall sometimes find a seat for her in the
barouche-landau in some of our exploring parties."
"Poor Jane Fairfax!"—thought Emma.—"You have not deserved
this. You may have done wrong with regard to Mr. Dixon, but this is a
punishment beyond what you can have merited!—The kindness and
protection of Mrs. Elton!—'Jane Fairfax and Jane Fairfax.' Heavens!
Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Emma Woodhouse-ing me!—But
upon my honour, there seems no limits to the licentiousness of that
Emma had not to listen to such paradings again—to any so exclusively
addressed to herself—so disgustingly decorated with a "dear Miss
Woodhouse." The change on Mrs. Elton's side soon afterwards appeared, and
she was left in peace—neither forced to be the very particular
friend of Mrs. Elton, nor, under Mrs. Elton's guidance, the very active
patroness of Jane Fairfax, and only sharing with others in a general way,
in knowing what was felt, what was meditated, what was done.
She looked on with some amusement.—Miss Bates's gratitude for Mrs.
Elton's attentions to Jane was in the first style of guileless simplicity
and warmth. She was quite one of her worthies—the most amiable,
affable, delightful woman—just as accomplished and condescending as
Mrs. Elton meant to be considered. Emma's only surprize was that Jane
Fairfax should accept those attentions and tolerate Mrs. Elton as she
seemed to do. She heard of her walking with the Eltons, sitting with the
Eltons, spending a day with the Eltons! This was astonishing!—She
could not have believed it possible that the taste or the pride of Miss
Fairfax could endure such society and friendship as the Vicarage had to
"She is a riddle, quite a riddle!" said she.—"To chuse to remain
here month after month, under privations of every sort! And now to chuse
the mortification of Mrs. Elton's notice and the penury of her
conversation, rather than return to the superior companions who have
always loved her with such real, generous affection."
Jane had come to Highbury professedly for three months; the Campbells were
gone to Ireland for three months; but now the Campbells had promised their
daughter to stay at least till Midsummer, and fresh invitations had
arrived for her to join them there. According to Miss Bates—it all
came from her—Mrs. Dixon had written most pressingly. Would Jane but
go, means were to be found, servants sent, friends contrived—no
travelling difficulty allowed to exist; but still she had declined it!
"She must have some motive, more powerful than appears, for refusing this
invitation," was Emma's conclusion. "She must be under some sort of
penance, inflicted either by the Campbells or herself. There is great
fear, great caution, great resolution somewhere.—She is not
to be with the Dixons. The decree is issued by somebody. But why
must she consent to be with the Eltons?—Here is quite a separate
Upon her speaking her wonder aloud on that part of the subject, before the
few who knew her opinion of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Weston ventured this apology
"We cannot suppose that she has any great enjoyment at the Vicarage, my
dear Emma—but it is better than being always at home. Her aunt is a
good creature, but, as a constant companion, must be very tiresome. We
must consider what Miss Fairfax quits, before we condemn her taste for
what she goes to."
"You are right, Mrs. Weston," said Mr. Knightley warmly, "Miss Fairfax is
as capable as any of us of forming a just opinion of Mrs. Elton. Could she
have chosen with whom to associate, she would not have chosen her. But
(with a reproachful smile at Emma) she receives attentions from Mrs.
Elton, which nobody else pays her."
Emma felt that Mrs. Weston was giving her a momentary glance; and she was
herself struck by his warmth. With a faint blush, she presently replied,
"Such attentions as Mrs. Elton's, I should have imagined, would rather
disgust than gratify Miss Fairfax. Mrs. Elton's invitations I should have
imagined any thing but inviting."
"I should not wonder," said Mrs. Weston, "if Miss Fairfax were to have
been drawn on beyond her own inclination, by her aunt's eagerness in
accepting Mrs. Elton's civilities for her. Poor Miss Bates may very likely
have committed her niece and hurried her into a greater appearance of
intimacy than her own good sense would have dictated, in spite of the very
natural wish of a little change."
Both felt rather anxious to hear him speak again; and after a few minutes
silence, he said,
"Another thing must be taken into consideration too—Mrs. Elton does
not talk to Miss Fairfax as she speaks of her. We all know
the difference between the pronouns he or she and thou, the plainest
spoken amongst us; we all feel the influence of a something beyond common
civility in our personal intercourse with each other—a something
more early implanted. We cannot give any body the disagreeable hints that
we may have been very full of the hour before. We feel things differently.
And besides the operation of this, as a general principle, you may be sure
that Miss Fairfax awes Mrs. Elton by her superiority both of mind and
manner; and that, face to face, Mrs. Elton treats her with all the respect
which she has a claim to. Such a woman as Jane Fairfax probably never fell
in Mrs. Elton's way before—and no degree of vanity can prevent her
acknowledging her own comparative littleness in action, if not in
"I know how highly you think of Jane Fairfax," said Emma. Little Henry was
in her thoughts, and a mixture of alarm and delicacy made her irresolute
what else to say.
"Yes," he replied, "any body may know how highly I think of her."
"And yet," said Emma, beginning hastily and with an arch look, but soon
stopping—it was better, however, to know the worst at once—she
hurried on—"And yet, perhaps, you may hardly be aware yourself how
highly it is. The extent of your admiration may take you by surprize some
day or other."
Mr. Knightley was hard at work upon the lower buttons of his thick leather
gaiters, and either the exertion of getting them together, or some other
cause, brought the colour into his face, as he answered,
"Oh! are you there?—But you are miserably behindhand. Mr. Cole gave
me a hint of it six weeks ago."
He stopped.—Emma felt her foot pressed by Mrs. Weston, and did not
herself know what to think. In a moment he went on—
"That will never be, however, I can assure you. Miss Fairfax, I dare say,
would not have me if I were to ask her—and I am very sure I shall
never ask her."
Emma returned her friend's pressure with interest; and was pleased enough
"You are not vain, Mr. Knightley. I will say that for you."
He seemed hardly to hear her; he was thoughtful—and in a manner
which shewed him not pleased, soon afterwards said,
"So you have been settling that I should marry Jane Fairfax?"
"No indeed I have not. You have scolded me too much for match-making, for
me to presume to take such a liberty with you. What I said just now, meant
nothing. One says those sort of things, of course, without any idea of a
serious meaning. Oh! no, upon my word I have not the smallest wish for
your marrying Jane Fairfax or Jane any body. You would not come in and sit
with us in this comfortable way, if you were married."
Mr. Knightley was thoughtful again. The result of his reverie was, "No,
Emma, I do not think the extent of my admiration for her will ever take me
by surprize.—I never had a thought of her in that way, I assure
you." And soon afterwards, "Jane Fairfax is a very charming young woman—but
not even Jane Fairfax is perfect. She has a fault. She has not the open
temper which a man would wish for in a wife."
Emma could not but rejoice to hear that she had a fault. "Well," said she,
"and you soon silenced Mr. Cole, I suppose?"
"Yes, very soon. He gave me a quiet hint; I told him he was mistaken; he
asked my pardon and said no more. Cole does not want to be wiser or
wittier than his neighbours."
"In that respect how unlike dear Mrs. Elton, who wants to be wiser and
wittier than all the world! I wonder how she speaks of the Coles—what
she calls them! How can she find any appellation for them, deep enough in
familiar vulgarity? She calls you, Knightley—what can she do for Mr.
Cole? And so I am not to be surprized that Jane Fairfax accepts her
civilities and consents to be with her. Mrs. Weston, your argument weighs
most with me. I can much more readily enter into the temptation of getting
away from Miss Bates, than I can believe in the triumph of Miss Fairfax's
mind over Mrs. Elton. I have no faith in Mrs. Elton's acknowledging
herself the inferior in thought, word, or deed; or in her being under any
restraint beyond her own scanty rule of good-breeding. I cannot imagine
that she will not be continually insulting her visitor with praise,
encouragement, and offers of service; that she will not be continually
detailing her magnificent intentions, from the procuring her a permanent
situation to the including her in those delightful exploring parties which
are to take place in the barouche-landau."
"Jane Fairfax has feeling," said Mr. Knightley—"I do not accuse her
of want of feeling. Her sensibilities, I suspect, are strong—and her
temper excellent in its power of forbearance, patience, self-control; but
it wants openness. She is reserved, more reserved, I think, than she used
to be—And I love an open temper. No—till Cole alluded to my
supposed attachment, it had never entered my head. I saw Jane Fairfax and
conversed with her, with admiration and pleasure always—but with no
"Well, Mrs. Weston," said Emma triumphantly when he left them, "what do
you say now to Mr. Knightley's marrying Jane Fairfax?"
"Why, really, dear Emma, I say that he is so very much occupied by the
idea of not being in love with her, that I should not wonder if it
were to end in his being so at last. Do not beat me."