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This letter must make its way to Emma's feelings. She was obliged, in
spite of her previous determination to the contrary, to do it all the
justice that Mrs. Weston foretold. As soon as she came to her own name, it
was irresistible; every line relating to herself was interesting, and
almost every line agreeable; and when this charm ceased, the subject could
still maintain itself, by the natural return of her former regard for the
writer, and the very strong attraction which any picture of love must have
for her at that moment. She never stopt till she had gone through the
whole; and though it was impossible not to feel that he had been wrong,
yet he had been less wrong than she had supposed—and he had
suffered, and was very sorry—and he was so grateful to Mrs. Weston,
and so much in love with Miss Fairfax, and she was so happy herself, that
there was no being severe; and could he have entered the room, she must
have shaken hands with him as heartily as ever.
She thought so well of the letter, that when Mr. Knightley came again, she
desired him to read it. She was sure of Mrs. Weston's wishing it to be
communicated; especially to one, who, like Mr. Knightley, had seen so much
to blame in his conduct.
"I shall be very glad to look it over," said he; "but it seems long. I
will take it home with me at night."
But that would not do. Mr. Weston was to call in the evening, and she must
return it by him.
"I would rather be talking to you," he replied; "but as it seems a matter
of justice, it shall be done."
He began—stopping, however, almost directly to say, "Had I been
offered the sight of one of this gentleman's letters to his mother-in-law
a few months ago, Emma, it would not have been taken with such
He proceeded a little farther, reading to himself; and then, with a smile,
observed, "Humph! a fine complimentary opening: But it is his way. One
man's style must not be the rule of another's. We will not be severe."
"It will be natural for me," he added shortly afterwards, "to speak my
opinion aloud as I read. By doing it, I shall feel that I am near you. It
will not be so great a loss of time: but if you dislike it—"
"Not at all. I should wish it."
Mr. Knightley returned to his reading with greater alacrity.
"He trifles here," said he, "as to the temptation. He knows he is wrong,
and has nothing rational to urge.—Bad.—He ought not to have
formed the engagement.—'His father's disposition:'—he is
unjust, however, to his father. Mr. Weston's sanguine temper was a
blessing on all his upright and honourable exertions; but Mr. Weston
earned every present comfort before he endeavoured to gain it.—Very
true; he did not come till Miss Fairfax was here."
"And I have not forgotten," said Emma, "how sure you were that he might
have come sooner if he would. You pass it over very handsomely—but
you were perfectly right."
"I was not quite impartial in my judgment, Emma:—but yet, I think—had
<i>you</i> not been in the case—I should still have distrusted him."
When he came to Miss Woodhouse, he was obliged to read the whole of it
aloud—all that related to her, with a smile; a look; a shake of the
head; a word or two of assent, or disapprobation; or merely of love, as
the subject required; concluding, however, seriously, and, after steady
"Very bad—though it might have been worse.—Playing a most
dangerous game. Too much indebted to the event for his acquittal.—No
judge of his own manners by you.—Always deceived in fact by his own
wishes, and regardless of little besides his own convenience.—Fancying
you to have fathomed his secret. Natural enough!—his own mind full
of intrigue, that he should suspect it in others.—Mystery; Finesse—how
they pervert the understanding! My Emma, does not every thing serve to
prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings
with each other?"
Emma agreed to it, and with a blush of sensibility on Harriet's account,
which she could not give any sincere explanation of.
"You had better go on," said she.
He did so, but very soon stopt again to say, "the pianoforte! Ah! That was
the act of a very, very young man, one too young to consider whether the
inconvenience of it might not very much exceed the pleasure. A boyish
scheme, indeed!—I cannot comprehend a man's wishing to give a woman
any proof of affection which he knows she would rather dispense with; and
he did know that she would have prevented the instrument's coming if she
After this, he made some progress without any pause. Frank Churchill's
confession of having behaved shamefully was the first thing to call for
more than a word in passing.
"I perfectly agree with you, sir,"—was then his remark. "You did
behave very shamefully. You never wrote a truer line." And having gone
through what immediately followed of the basis of their disagreement, and
his persisting to act in direct opposition to Jane Fairfax's sense of
right, he made a fuller pause to say, "This is very bad.—He had
induced her to place herself, for his sake, in a situation of extreme
difficulty and uneasiness, and it should have been his first object to
prevent her from suffering unnecessarily.—She must have had much
more to contend with, in carrying on the correspondence, than he could. He
should have respected even unreasonable scruples, had there been such; but
hers were all reasonable. We must look to her one fault, and remember that
she had done a wrong thing in consenting to the engagement, to bear that
she should have been in such a state of punishment."
Emma knew that he was now getting to the Box Hill party, and grew
uncomfortable. Her own behaviour had been so very improper! She was deeply
ashamed, and a little afraid of his next look. It was all read, however,
steadily, attentively, and without the smallest remark; and, excepting one
momentary glance at her, instantly withdrawn, in the fear of giving pain—no
remembrance of Box Hill seemed to exist.
"There is no saying much for the delicacy of our good friends, the
Eltons," was his next observation.—"His feelings are natural.—What!
actually resolve to break with him entirely!—She felt the engagement
to be a source of repentance and misery to each—she dissolved it.—What
a view this gives of her sense of his behaviour!—Well, he must be a
"Nay, nay, read on.—You will find how very much he suffers."
"I hope he does," replied Mr. Knightley coolly, and resuming the letter.
"'Smallridge!'—What does this mean? What is all this?"
"She had engaged to go as governess to Mrs. Smallridge's children—a
dear friend of Mrs. Elton's—a neighbour of Maple Grove; and, by the
bye, I wonder how Mrs. Elton bears the disappointment?"
"Say nothing, my dear Emma, while you oblige me to read—not even of
Mrs. Elton. Only one page more. I shall soon have done. What a letter the
"I wish you would read it with a kinder spirit towards him."
"Well, there <i>is</i> feeling here.—He does seem to have suffered
in finding her ill.—Certainly, I can have no doubt of his being fond
of her. 'Dearer, much dearer than ever.' I hope he may long continue to
feel all the value of such a reconciliation.—He is a very liberal
thanker, with his thousands and tens of thousands.—'Happier than I
deserve.' Come, he knows himself there. 'Miss Woodhouse calls me the child
of good fortune.'—Those were Miss Woodhouse's words, were they?—
And a fine ending—and there is the letter. The child of good
fortune! That was your name for him, was it?"
"You do not appear so well satisfied with his letter as I am; but still
you must, at least I hope you must, think the better of him for it. I hope
it does him some service with you."
"Yes, certainly it does. He has had great faults, faults of
inconsideration and thoughtlessness; and I am very much of his opinion in
thinking him likely to be happier than he deserves: but still as he is,
beyond a doubt, really attached to Miss Fairfax, and will soon, it may be
hoped, have the advantage of being constantly with her, I am very ready to
believe his character will improve, and acquire from hers the steadiness
and delicacy of principle that it wants. And now, let me talk to you of
something else. I have another person's interest at present so much at
heart, that I cannot think any longer about Frank Churchill. Ever since I
left you this morning, Emma, my mind has been hard at work on one
The subject followed; it was in plain, unaffected, gentlemanlike English,
such as Mr. Knightley used even to the woman he was in love with, how to
be able to ask her to marry him, without attacking the happiness of her
father. Emma's answer was ready at the first word. "While her dear father
lived, any change of condition must be impossible for her. She could never
quit him." Part only of this answer, however, was admitted. The
impossibility of her quitting her father, Mr. Knightley felt as strongly
as herself; but the inadmissibility of any other change, he could not
agree to. He had been thinking it over most deeply, most intently; he had
at first hoped to induce Mr. Woodhouse to remove with her to Donwell; he
had wanted to believe it feasible, but his knowledge of Mr. Woodhouse
would not suffer him to deceive himself long; and now he confessed his
persuasion, that such a transplantation would be a risk of her father's
comfort, perhaps even of his life, which must not be hazarded. Mr.
Woodhouse taken from Hartfield!—No, he felt that it ought not to be
attempted. But the plan which had arisen on the sacrifice of this, he
trusted his dearest Emma would not find in any respect objectionable; it
was, that he should be received at Hartfield; that so long as her father's
happiness in other words his life—required Hartfield to continue her
home, it should be his likewise.
Of their all removing to Donwell, Emma had already had her own passing
thoughts. Like him, she had tried the scheme and rejected it; but such an
alternative as this had not occurred to her. She was sensible of all the
affection it evinced. She felt that, in quitting Donwell, he must be
sacrificing a great deal of independence of hours and habits; that in
living constantly with her father, and in no house of his own, there would
be much, very much, to be borne with. She promised to think of it, and
advised him to think of it more; but he was fully convinced, that no
reflection could alter his wishes or his opinion on the subject. He had
given it, he could assure her, very long and calm consideration; he had
been walking away from William Larkins the whole morning, to have his
thoughts to himself.
"Ah! there is one difficulty unprovided for," cried Emma. "I am sure
William Larkins will not like it. You must get his consent before you ask
She promised, however, to think of it; and pretty nearly promised,
moreover, to think of it, with the intention of finding it a very good
It is remarkable, that Emma, in the many, very many, points of view in
which she was now beginning to consider Donwell Abbey, was never struck
with any sense of injury to her nephew Henry, whose rights as
heir-expectant had formerly been so tenaciously regarded. Think she must
of the possible difference to the poor little boy; and yet she only gave
herself a saucy conscious smile about it, and found amusement in detecting
the real cause of that violent dislike of Mr. Knightley's marrying Jane
Fairfax, or any body else, which at the time she had wholly imputed to the
amiable solicitude of the sister and the aunt.
This proposal of his, this plan of marrying and continuing at Hartfield—the
more she contemplated it, the more pleasing it became. His evils seemed to
lessen, her own advantages to increase, their mutual good to outweigh
every drawback. Such a companion for herself in the periods of anxiety and
cheerlessness before her!—Such a partner in all those duties and
cares to which time must be giving increase of melancholy!
She would have been too happy but for poor Harriet; but every blessing of
her own seemed to involve and advance the sufferings of her friend, who
must now be even excluded from Hartfield. The delightful family party
which Emma was securing for herself, poor Harriet must, in mere charitable
caution, be kept at a distance from. She would be a loser in every way.
Emma could not deplore her future absence as any deduction from her own
enjoyment. In such a party, Harriet would be rather a dead weight than
otherwise; but for the poor girl herself, it seemed a peculiarly cruel
necessity that was to be placing her in such a state of unmerited
In time, of course, Mr. Knightley would be forgotten, that is, supplanted;
but this could not be expected to happen very early. Mr. Knightley himself
would be doing nothing to assist the cure;—not like Mr. Elton. Mr.
Knightley, always so kind, so feeling, so truly considerate for every
body, would never deserve to be less worshipped than now; and it really
was too much to hope even of Harriet, that she could be in love with more
than <i>three</i> men in one year.