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Emma and Harriet had been walking together one morning, and, in Emma's
opinion, had been talking enough of Mr. Elton for that day. She could not
think that Harriet's solace or her own sins required more; and she was
therefore industriously getting rid of the subject as they returned;—but
it burst out again when she thought she had succeeded, and after speaking
some time of what the poor must suffer in winter, and receiving no other
answer than a very plaintive—"Mr. Elton is so good to the poor!" she
found something else must be done.
They were just approaching the house where lived Mrs. and Miss Bates. She
determined to call upon them and seek safety in numbers. There was always
sufficient reason for such an attention; Mrs. and Miss Bates loved to be
called on, and she knew she was considered by the very few who presumed
ever to see imperfection in her, as rather negligent in that respect, and
as not contributing what she ought to the stock of their scanty comforts.
She had had many a hint from Mr. Knightley and some from her own heart, as
to her deficiency—but none were equal to counteract the persuasion
of its being very disagreeable,—a waste of time—tiresome women—and
all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second-rate and
third-rate of Highbury, who were calling on them for ever, and therefore
she seldom went near them. But now she made the sudden resolution of not
passing their door without going in—observing, as she proposed it to
Harriet, that, as well as she could calculate, they were just now quite
safe from any letter from Jane Fairfax.
The house belonged to people in business. Mrs. and Miss Bates occupied the
drawing-room floor; and there, in the very moderate-sized apartment, which
was every thing to them, the visitors were most cordially and even
gratefully welcomed; the quiet neat old lady, who with her knitting was
seated in the warmest corner, wanting even to give up her place to Miss
Woodhouse, and her more active, talking daughter, almost ready to
overpower them with care and kindness, thanks for their visit, solicitude
for their shoes, anxious inquiries after Mr. Woodhouse's health, cheerful
communications about her mother's, and sweet-cake from the beaufet—"Mrs.
Cole had just been there, just called in for ten minutes, and had been so
good as to sit an hour with them, and <i>she</i> had taken a piece of cake
and been so kind as to say she liked it very much; and, therefore, she
hoped Miss Woodhouse and Miss Smith would do them the favour to eat a
The mention of the Coles was sure to be followed by that of Mr. Elton.
There was intimacy between them, and Mr. Cole had heard from Mr. Elton
since his going away. Emma knew what was coming; they must have the letter
over again, and settle how long he had been gone, and how much he was
engaged in company, and what a favourite he was wherever he went, and how
full the Master of the Ceremonies' ball had been; and she went through it
very well, with all the interest and all the commendation that could be
requisite, and always putting forward to prevent Harriet's being obliged
to say a word.
This she had been prepared for when she entered the house; but meant,
having once talked him handsomely over, to be no farther incommoded by any
troublesome topic, and to wander at large amongst all the Mistresses and
Misses of Highbury, and their card-parties. She had not been prepared to
have Jane Fairfax succeed Mr. Elton; but he was actually hurried off by
Miss Bates, she jumped away from him at last abruptly to the Coles, to
usher in a letter from her niece.
"Oh! yes—Mr. Elton, I understand—certainly as to dancing—Mrs.
Cole was telling me that dancing at the rooms at Bath was—Mrs. Cole
was so kind as to sit some time with us, talking of Jane; for as soon as
she came in, she began inquiring after her, Jane is so very great a
favourite there. Whenever she is with us, Mrs. Cole does not know how to
shew her kindness enough; and I must say that Jane deserves it as much as
any body can. And so she began inquiring after her directly, saying, 'I
know you cannot have heard from Jane lately, because it is not her time
for writing;' and when I immediately said, 'But indeed we have, we had a
letter this very morning,' I do not know that I ever saw any body more
surprized. 'Have you, upon your honour?' said she; 'well, that is quite
unexpected. Do let me hear what she says.'"
Emma's politeness was at hand directly, to say, with smiling interest—
"Have you heard from Miss Fairfax so lately? I am extremely happy. I hope
she is well?"
"Thank you. You are so kind!" replied the happily deceived aunt, while
eagerly hunting for the letter.—"Oh! here it is. I was sure it could
not be far off; but I had put my huswife upon it, you see, without being
aware, and so it was quite hid, but I had it in my hand so very lately
that I was almost sure it must be on the table. I was reading it to Mrs.
Cole, and since she went away, I was reading it again to my mother, for it
is such a pleasure to her—a letter from Jane—that she can
never hear it often enough; so I knew it could not be far off, and here it
is, only just under my huswife—and since you are so kind as to wish
to hear what she says;—but, first of all, I really must, in justice
to Jane, apologise for her writing so short a letter—only two pages
you see—hardly two—and in general she fills the whole paper
and crosses half. My mother often wonders that I can make it out so well.
She often says, when the letter is first opened, 'Well, Hetty, now I think
you will be put to it to make out all that checker-work'—don't you,
ma'am?—And then I tell her, I am sure she would contrive to make it
out herself, if she had nobody to do it for her—every word of it—I
am sure she would pore over it till she had made out every word. And,
indeed, though my mother's eyes are not so good as they were, she can see
amazingly well still, thank God! with the help of spectacles. It is such a
blessing! My mother's are really very good indeed. Jane often says, when
she is here, 'I am sure, grandmama, you must have had very strong eyes to
see as you do—and so much fine work as you have done too!—I
only wish my eyes may last me as well.'"
All this spoken extremely fast obliged Miss Bates to stop for breath; and
Emma said something very civil about the excellence of Miss Fairfax's
"You are extremely kind," replied Miss Bates, highly gratified; "you who
are such a judge, and write so beautifully yourself. I am sure there is
nobody's praise that could give us so much pleasure as Miss Woodhouse's.
My mother does not hear; she is a little deaf you know. Ma'am," addressing
her, "do you hear what Miss Woodhouse is so obliging to say about Jane's
And Emma had the advantage of hearing her own silly compliment repeated
twice over before the good old lady could comprehend it. She was
pondering, in the meanwhile, upon the possibility, without seeming very
rude, of making her escape from Jane Fairfax's letter, and had almost
resolved on hurrying away directly under some slight excuse, when Miss
Bates turned to her again and seized her attention.
"My mother's deafness is very trifling you see—just nothing at all.
By only raising my voice, and saying any thing two or three times over,
she is sure to hear; but then she is used to my voice. But it is very
remarkable that she should always hear Jane better than she does me. Jane
speaks so distinct! However, she will not find her grandmama at all deafer
than she was two years ago; which is saying a great deal at my mother's
time of life—and it really is full two years, you know, since she
was here. We never were so long without seeing her before, and as I was
telling Mrs. Cole, we shall hardly know how to make enough of her now."
"Are you expecting Miss Fairfax here soon?"
"Oh yes; next week."
"Indeed!—that must be a very great pleasure."
"Thank you. You are very kind. Yes, next week. Every body is so surprized;
and every body says the same obliging things. I am sure she will be as
happy to see her friends at Highbury, as they can be to see her. Yes,
Friday or Saturday; she cannot say which, because Colonel Campbell will be
wanting the carriage himself one of those days. So very good of them to
send her the whole way! But they always do, you know. Oh yes, Friday or
Saturday next. That is what she writes about. That is the reason of her
writing out of rule, as we call it; for, in the common course, we should
not have heard from her before next Tuesday or Wednesday."
"Yes, so I imagined. I was afraid there could be little chance of my
hearing any thing of Miss Fairfax to-day."
"So obliging of you! No, we should not have heard, if it had not been for
this particular circumstance, of her being to come here so soon. My mother
is so delighted!—for she is to be three months with us at least.
Three months, she says so, positively, as I am going to have the pleasure
of reading to you. The case is, you see, that the Campbells are going to
Ireland. Mrs. Dixon has persuaded her father and mother to come over and
see her directly. They had not intended to go over till the summer, but
she is so impatient to see them again—for till she married, last
October, she was never away from them so much as a week, which must make
it very strange to be in different kingdoms, I was going to say, but
however different countries, and so she wrote a very urgent letter to her
mother—or her father, I declare I do not know which it was, but we
shall see presently in Jane's letter—wrote in Mr. Dixon's name as
well as her own, to press their coming over directly, and they would give
them the meeting in Dublin, and take them back to their country seat,
Baly-craig, a beautiful place, I fancy. Jane has heard a great deal of its
beauty; from Mr. Dixon, I mean—I do not know that she ever heard
about it from any body else; but it was very natural, you know, that he
should like to speak of his own place while he was paying his addresses—and
as Jane used to be very often walking out with them—for Colonel and
Mrs. Campbell were very particular about their daughter's not walking out
often with only Mr. Dixon, for which I do not at all blame them; of course
she heard every thing he might be telling Miss Campbell about his own home
in Ireland; and I think she wrote us word that he had shewn them some
drawings of the place, views that he had taken himself. He is a most
amiable, charming young man, I believe. Jane was quite longing to go to
Ireland, from his account of things."
At this moment, an ingenious and animating suspicion entering Emma's brain
with regard to Jane Fairfax, this charming Mr. Dixon, and the not going to
Ireland, she said, with the insidious design of farther discovery,
"You must feel it very fortunate that Miss Fairfax should be allowed to
come to you at such a time. Considering the very particular friendship
between her and Mrs. Dixon, you could hardly have expected her to be
excused from accompanying Colonel and Mrs. Campbell."
"Very true, very true, indeed. The very thing that we have always been
rather afraid of; for we should not have liked to have her at such a
distance from us, for months together—not able to come if any thing
was to happen. But you see, every thing turns out for the best. They want
her (Mr. and Mrs. Dixon) excessively to come over with Colonel and Mrs.
Campbell; quite depend upon it; nothing can be more kind or pressing than
their <i>joint</i> invitation, Jane says, as you will hear presently; Mr.
Dixon does not seem in the least backward in any attention. He is a most
charming young man. Ever since the service he rendered Jane at Weymouth,
when they were out in that party on the water, and she, by the sudden
whirling round of something or other among the sails, would have been
dashed into the sea at once, and actually was all but gone, if he had not,
with the greatest presence of mind, caught hold of her habit— (I can
never think of it without trembling!)—But ever since we had the
history of that day, I have been so fond of Mr. Dixon!"
"But, in spite of all her friends' urgency, and her own wish of seeing
Ireland, Miss Fairfax prefers devoting the time to you and Mrs. Bates?"
"Yes—entirely her own doing, entirely her own choice; and Colonel
and Mrs. Campbell think she does quite right, just what they should
recommend; and indeed they particularly <i>wish</i> her to try her native
air, as she has not been quite so well as usual lately."
"I am concerned to hear of it. I think they judge wisely. But Mrs. Dixon
must be very much disappointed. Mrs. Dixon, I understand, has no
remarkable degree of personal beauty; is not, by any means, to be compared
with Miss Fairfax."
"Oh! no. You are very obliging to say such things—but certainly not.
There is no comparison between them. Miss Campbell always was absolutely
plain—but extremely elegant and amiable."
"Yes, that of course."
"Jane caught a bad cold, poor thing! so long ago as the 7th of November,
(as I am going to read to you,) and has never been well since. A long
time, is not it, for a cold to hang upon her? She never mentioned it
before, because she would not alarm us. Just like her! so considerate!—But
however, she is so far from well, that her kind friends the Campbells
think she had better come home, and try an air that always agrees with
her; and they have no doubt that three or four months at Highbury will
entirely cure her—and it is certainly a great deal better that she
should come here, than go to Ireland, if she is unwell. Nobody could nurse
her, as we should do."
"It appears to me the most desirable arrangement in the world."
"And so she is to come to us next Friday or Saturday, and the Campbells
leave town in their way to Holyhead the Monday following—as you will
find from Jane's letter. So sudden!—You may guess, dear Miss
Woodhouse, what a flurry it has thrown me in! If it was not for the
drawback of her illness—but I am afraid we must expect to see her
grown thin, and looking very poorly. I must tell you what an unlucky thing
happened to me, as to that. I always make a point of reading Jane's
letters through to myself first, before I read them aloud to my mother,
you know, for fear of there being any thing in them to distress her. Jane
desired me to do it, so I always do: and so I began to-day with my usual
caution; but no sooner did I come to the mention of her being unwell, than
I burst out, quite frightened, with 'Bless me! poor Jane is ill!'—which
my mother, being on the watch, heard distinctly, and was sadly alarmed at.
However, when I read on, I found it was not near so bad as I had fancied
at first; and I make so light of it now to her, that she does not think
much about it. But I cannot imagine how I could be so off my guard. If
Jane does not get well soon, we will call in Mr. Perry. The expense shall
not be thought of; and though he is so liberal, and so fond of Jane that I
dare say he would not mean to charge any thing for attendance, we could
not suffer it to be so, you know. He has a wife and family to maintain,
and is not to be giving away his time. Well, now I have just given you a
hint of what Jane writes about, we will turn to her letter, and I am sure
she tells her own story a great deal better than I can tell it for her."
"I am afraid we must be running away," said Emma, glancing at Harriet, and
beginning to rise—"My father will be expecting us. I had no
intention, I thought I had no power of staying more than five minutes,
when I first entered the house. I merely called, because I would not pass
the door without inquiring after Mrs. Bates; but I have been so pleasantly
detained! Now, however, we must wish you and Mrs. Bates good morning."
And not all that could be urged to detain her succeeded. She regained the
street—happy in this, that though much had been forced on her
against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane
Fairfax's letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself.