"May I, indeed? — Then I will speak the truth, and nothing suits me so well. I met her frequently at Weymouth. I had known the Campbells a little in town; and at Weymouth we were very much in the same set. Colonel Campbell is a very agreeable man, and Mrs. Campbell a friendly, warm-hearted woman. I like them all."
"You know Miss Fairfax's situation in life, I conclude; what she is destined to be?"
"Yes — (rather hesitatingly) — I believe I do."
"You get upon delicate subjects, Emma," said Mrs. Weston smiling; "remember that I am here. — Mr. Frank Churchill hardly knows what to say when you speak of Miss Fairfax's situation in life. I will move a little farther off."
"I certainly do forget to think of her," said Emma, "as having ever been any thing but my friend and my dearest friend."
He looked as if he fully understood and honoured such a sentiment.
When the gloves were bought, and they had quitted the shop again, "Did you ever hear the young lady we were speaking of, play?" said Frank Churchill.
"Ever hear her!" repeated Emma. "You forget how much she belongs to Highbury. I have heard her every year of our lives since we both began. She plays charmingly."
"You think so, do you? — I wanted the opinion of some one who could really judge. She appeared to me to play well, that is, with considerable taste, but I know nothing of the matter myself. — I am excessively fond of music, but without the smallest skill or right of judging of any body's performance. — I have been used to hear her's admired; and I remember one proof of her being thought to play well: — a man, a very musical man, and in love with another woman — engaged to her — on the point of marriage — would yet never ask that other woman to sit down to the instrument, if the lady in question could sit down instead — never seemed to like to hear one if he could hear the other. That, I thought, in a man of known musical talent, was some proof."
"Proof indeed!" said Emma, highly amused. — "Mr. Dixon is very musical, is he? We shall know more about them all, in half an hour, from you, than Miss Fairfax would have vouchsafed in half a year."
"Yes, Mr. Dixon and Miss Campbell were the persons; and I thought it a very strong proof."
"Certainly — very strong it was; to own the truth, a great deal stronger than, if I had been Miss Campbell, would have been at all agreeable to me. I could not excuse a man's having more music than love — more ear than eye — a more acute sensibility to fine sounds than to my feelings. How did Miss Campbell appear to like it?"
"It was her very particular friend, you know."
"Poor comfort!" said Emma, laughing. "One would rather have a stranger preferred than one's very particular friend — with a stranger it might not recur again — but the misery of having a very particular friend always at hand, to do every thing better than one does oneself! — Poor Mrs. Dixon! Well, I am glad she is gone to settle in Ireland."
"You are right. It was not very flattering to Miss Campbell; but she really did not seem to feel it."
"So much the better — or so much the worse: — I do not know which. But be it sweetness or be it stupidity in her — quickness of friendship, or dulness of feeling — there was one person, I think, who must have felt it: Miss Fairfax herself. She must have felt the improper and dangerous distinction."
"As to that — I do not — "
"Oh! do not imagine that I expect an account of Miss Fairfax's sensations from you, or from any body else. They are known to no human being, I guess, but herself. But if she continued to play whenever she was asked by Mr. Dixon, one may guess what one chuses."
"There appeared such a perfectly good understanding among them all — " he began rather quickly, but checking himself, added, "however, it is impossible for me to say on what terms they really were — how it might all be behind the scenes. I can only say that there was smoothness outwardly. But you, who have known Miss Fairfax from a child, must be a better judge of her character, and of how she is likely to conduct herself in critical situations, than I can be."
"I have known her from a child, undoubtedly; we have been children and women together; and it is natural to suppose that we should be intimate, — that we should have taken to each other whenever she visited her friends. But we never did. I hardly know how it has happened; a little, perhaps, from that wickedness on my side which was prone to take disgust towards a girl so idolized and so cried up as she always was, by her aunt and grandmother, and all their set. And then, her reserve — I never could attach myself to any one so completely reserved."
"It is a most repulsive quality, indeed," said he. "Oftentimes very convenient, no doubt, but never pleasing. There is safety in reserve, but no attraction. One cannot love a reserved person."
"Not till the reserve ceases towards oneself; and then the attraction may be the greater. But I must be more in want of a friend, or an agreeable companion, than I have yet been, to take the trouble of conquering any body's reserve to procure one. Intimacy between Miss Fairfax and me is quite out of the question. I have no reason to think ill of her — not the least — except that such extreme and perpetual cautiousness of word and manner, such a dread of giving a distinct idea about any body, is apt to suggest suspicions of there being something to conceal."
He perfectly agreed with her: and after walking together so long, and thinking so much alike, Emma felt herself so well acquainted with him, that she could hardly believe it to be only their second meeting. He was not exactly what she had expected; less of the man of the world in some of his notions, less of the spoiled child of fortune, therefore better than she had expected. His ideas seemed more moderate — his feelings warmer. She was particularly struck by his manner of considering Mr. Elton's house, which, as well as the church, he would go and look at, and would not join them in finding much fault with. No, he could not believe it a bad house; not such a house as a man was to be pitied for having. If it were to be shared with the woman he loved, he could not think any man to be pitied for having that house. There must be ample room in it for every real comfort. The man must be a blockhead who wanted more.
Mrs. Weston laughed, and said he did not know what he was talking about. Used only to a large house himself, and without ever thinking how many advantages and accommodations were attached to its size, he could be no judge of the privations inevitably belonging to a small one. But Emma, in her own mind, determined that he did know what he was talking about, and that he shewed a very amiable inclination to settle early in life, and to marry, from worthy motives. He might not be aware of the inroads on domestic peace to be occasioned by no housekeeper's room, or a bad butler's pantry, but no doubt he did perfectly feel that Enscombe could not make him happy, and that whenever he were attached, he would willingly give up much of wealth to be allowed an early establishment.