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and Mrs. John Knightley were not detained long at Hartfield. The
weather soon improved enough for those to move who must move; and Mr.
Woodhouse having, as usual, tried to persuade his daughter to stay
behind with all her children, was obliged to see the whole party set
off, and return to his lamentations over the destiny of poor
Isabella;--which poor Isabella, passing her life with those she doated
on, full of their merits, blind to their faults, and always innocently
busy, might have been a model of right feminine happiness.
The evening of the very day on which they went brought a note from Mr.
Elton to Mr. Woodhouse, a long, civil, ceremonious note, to say, with
Mr. Elton's best compliments, "that he was proposing to leave Highbury
the following morning in his way to Bath; where, in compliance with the
pressing entreaties of some friends, he had engaged to spend a few
weeks, and very much regretted the impossibility he was under, from
various circumstances of weather and business, of taking a personal
leave of Mr. Woodhouse, of whose friendly civilities he should ever
retain a grateful sense-- and had Mr. Woodhouse any commands, should be
happy to attend to them."
Emma was most agreeably surprized.--Mr. Elton's absence just at this
time was the very thing to be desired. She admired him for
contriving it, though not able to give him much credit for the manner
in which it was announced. Resentment could not have been
plainly spoken than in a civility to her father, from which she was so
pointedly excluded. She had not even a share in his opening
compliments.--Her name was not mentioned;-- and there was so striking a
change in all this, and such an ill-judged solemnity of leave-taking in
his graceful acknowledgments, as she thought, at first, could not
escape her father's suspicion.
It did, however.--Her father was quite taken up with the surprize of so
sudden a journey, and his fears that Mr. Elton might never get safely
to the end of it, and saw nothing extraordinary in his language. It was
a very useful note, for it supplied them with fresh matter for thought
and conversation during the rest of their lonely evening. Mr. Woodhouse
talked over his alarms, and Emma was in spirits to persuade them away
with all her usual promptitude.
She now resolved to keep Harriet no longer in the dark. She
reason to believe her nearly recovered from her cold, and it was
desirable that she should have as much time as possible for getting the
better of her other complaint before the gentleman's return. She went
to Mrs. Goddard's accordingly the very next day, to undergo the
necessary penance of communication; and a severe one it was.-- She had
to destroy all the hopes which she had been so industriously
feeding--to appear in the ungracious character of the one preferred--
and acknowledge herself grossly mistaken and mis-judging in all her
ideas on one subject, all her observations, all her convictions, all
her prophecies for the last six weeks.
The confession completely renewed her first shame--and the sight of
Harriet's tears made her think that she should never be in charity with
Harriet bore the intelligence very well--blaming nobody-- and in every
thing testifying such an ingenuousness of disposition and lowly opinion
of herself, as must appear with particular advantage at that moment to
Emma was in the humour to value simplicity and modesty to the utmost;
and all that was amiable, all that ought to be attaching, seemed on
Harriet's side, not her own. Harriet did not consider herself
having any thing to complain of. The affection of such a man
Mr. Elton would have been too great a distinction.-- She never could
have deserved him--and nobody but so partial and kind a friend as Miss
Woodhouse would have thought it possible.
Her tears fell abundantly--but her grief was so truly artless, that no
dignity could have made it more respectable in Emma's eyes-- and she
listened to her and tried to console her with all her heart and
understanding--really for the time convinced that Harriet was the
superior creature of the two--and that to resemble her would be more
for her own welfare and happiness than all that genius or intelligence
It was rather too late in the day to set about being simple-minded and
ignorant; but she left her with every previous resolution confirmed of
being humble and discreet, and repressing imagination all the rest of
her life. Her second duty now, inferior only to her father's
claims, was to promote Harriet's comfort, and endeavour to prove her
own affection in some better method than by match-making. She got her
to Hartfield, and shewed her the most unvarying kindness, striving to
occupy and amuse her, and by books and conversation, to drive Mr. Elton
from her thoughts.
Time, she knew, must be allowed for this being thoroughly done; and she
could suppose herself but an indifferent judge of such matters in
general, and very inadequate to sympathise in an attachment to Mr.
Elton in particular; but it seemed to her reasonable that at Harriet's
and with the entire extinction of all hope, such a progress might be
made towards a state of composure by the time of Mr. Elton's return, as
to allow them all to meet again in the common routine of acquaintance,
without any danger of betraying sentiments or increasing them.
Harriet did think him all perfection, and maintained the non-existence
of any body equal to him in person or goodness--and did, in truth,
prove herself more resolutely in love than Emma had foreseen; but yet
it appeared to her so natural, so inevitable to strive against an
inclination of that sort unrequited, that she could not comprehend its
continuing very long in equal force.
If Mr. Elton, on his return, made his own indifference as evident and
indubitable as she could not doubt he would anxiously do, she could not
imagine Harriet's persisting to place her happiness in the sight or the
recollection of him.
Their being fixed, so absolutely fixed, in the same place, was bad for
each, for all three. Not one of them had the power of
of effecting any material change of society. They must
each other, and make the best of it.
Harriet was farther unfortunate in the tone of her companions at Mrs.
Goddard's; Mr. Elton being the adoration of all the teachers and great
girls in the school; and it must be at Hartfield only that she could
have any chance of hearing him spoken of with cooling moderation or
repellent truth. Where the wound had been given, there must
cure be found if anywhere; and Emma felt that, till she saw her in the
way of cure, there could be no true peace for herself.
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