"I hope I shall soon have the pleasure of introducing my son to you," said Mr. Weston.
Mrs. Elton, very willing to suppose a particular compliment intended her by such a hope, smiled most graciously.
"You have heard of a certain Frank Churchill, I presume," he continued — "and know him to be my son, though he does not bear my name."
"Oh! yes, and I shall be very happy in his acquaintance. I am sure Mr. Elton will lose no time in calling on him; and we shall both have great pleasure in seeing him at the Vicarage."
"You are very obliging. — Frank will be extremely happy, I am sure. — He is to be in town next week, if not sooner. We have notice of it in a letter to-day. I met the letters in my way this morning, and seeing my son's hand, presumed to open it — though it was not directed to me — it was to Mrs. Weston. She is his principal correspondent, I assure you. I hardly ever get a letter."
"And so you absolutely opened what was directed to her! Oh! Mr. Weston — (laughing affectedly) I must protest against that. — A most dangerous precedent indeed! — I beg you will not let your neighbours follow your example. — Upon my word, if this is what I am to expect, we married women must begin to exert ourselves! — Oh! Mr. Weston, I could not have believed it of you!"
"Aye, we men are sad fellows. You must take care of yourself, Mrs. Elton. — This letter tells us — it is a short letter — written in a hurry, merely to give us notice — it tells us that they are all coming up to town directly, on Mrs. Churchill's account — she has not been well the whole winter, and thinks Enscombe too cold for her — so they are all to move southward without loss of time."
"Indeed! — from Yorkshire, I think. Enscombe is in Yorkshire?"
"Yes, they are about one hundred and ninety miles from London. a considerable journey."
"Yes, upon my word, very considerable. Sixty-five miles farther than from Maple Grove to London. But what is distance, Mr. Weston, to people of large fortune? — You would be amazed to hear how my brother, Mr. Suckling, sometimes flies about. You will hardly believe me — but twice in one week he and Mr. Bragge went to London and back again with four horses."
"The evil of the distance from Enscombe," said Mr. Weston, "is, that Mrs. Churchill, as we understand, has not been able to leave the sofa for a week together. In Frank's last letter she complained, he said, of being too weak to get into her conservatory without having both his arm and his uncle's! This, you know, speaks a great degree of weakness — but now she is so impatient to be in town, that she means to sleep only two nights on the road. — So Frank writes word. Certainly, delicate ladies have very extraordinary constitutions, Mrs. Elton. You must grant me that."
"No, indeed, I shall grant you nothing. I Always take the part of my own sex. I do indeed. I give you notice — You will find me a formidable antagonist on that point. I always stand up for women — and I assure you, if you knew how Selina feels with respect to sleeping at an inn, you would not wonder at Mrs. Churchill's making incredible exertions to avoid it. Selina says it is quite horror to her — and I believe I have caught a little of her nicety. She always travels with her own sheets; an excellent precaution. Does Mrs. Churchill do the same?"
"Depend upon it, Mrs. Churchill does every thing that any other fine lady ever did. Mrs. Churchill will not be second to any lady in the land for" —
Mrs. Elton eagerly interposed with,
"Oh! Mr. Weston, do not mistake me. Selina is no fine lady, I assure you. Do not run away with such an idea."
"Is not she? Then she is no rule for Mrs. Churchill, who is as thorough a fine lady as any body ever beheld."
Mrs. Elton began to think she had been wrong in disclaiming so warmly. It was by no means her object to have it believed that her sister was not a fine lady; perhaps there was want of spirit in the pretence of it; — and she was considering in what way she had best retract, when Mr. Weston went on.
"Mrs. Churchill is not much in my good graces, as you may suspect — but this is quite between ourselves. She is very fond of Frank, and therefore I would not speak ill of her. Besides, she is out of health now; but that indeed, by her own account, she has always been. I would not say so to every body, Mrs. Elton, but I have not much faith in Mrs. Churchill's illness."
"If she is really ill, why not go to Bath, Mr. Weston? — To Bath, or to Clifton?" "She has taken it into her head that Enscombe is too cold for her. The fact is, I suppose, that she is tired of Enscombe. She has now been a longer time stationary there, than she ever was before, and she begins to want change. It is a retired place. A fine place, but very retired."
"Aye — like Maple Grove, I dare say. Nothing can stand more retired from the road than Maple Grove. Such an immense plantation all round it! You seem shut out from every thing — in the most complete retirement. — And Mrs. Churchill probably has not health or spirits like Selina to enjoy that sort of seclusion. Or, perhaps she may not have resources enough in herself to be qualified for a country life. I always say a woman cannot have too many resources — and I feel very thankful that I have so many myself as to be quite independent of society."
"Frank was here in February for a fortnight."
"So I remember to have heard. He will find an addition to the society of Highbury when he comes again; that is, if I may presume to call myself an addition. But perhaps he may never have heard of there being such a creature in the world."
This was too loud a call for a compliment to be passed by, and Mr. Weston, with a very good grace, immediately exclaimed,
"My dear madam! Nobody but yourself could imagine such a thing possible. Not heard of you! — I believe Mrs. Weston's letters lately have been full of very little else than Mrs. Elton."
He had done his duty and could return to his son.
"When Frank left us," continued he, "it was quite uncertain when we might see him again, which makes this day's news doubly welcome. It has been completely unexpected. That is, I always had a strong persuasion he would be here again soon, I was sure something favourable would turn up — but nobody believed me. He and Mrs. Weston were both dreadfully desponding. 'How could he contrive to come? And how could it be supposed that his uncle and aunt would spare him again?' and so forth — I always felt that something would happen in our favour; and so it has, you see. I have observed, Mrs. Elton, in the course of my life, that if things are going untowardly one month, they are sure to mend the next."
"Very true, Mr. Weston, perfectly true. It is just what I used to say to a certain gentleman in company in the days of courtship, when, because things did not go quite right, did not proceed with all the rapidity which suited his feelings, he was apt to be in despair, and exclaim that he was sure at this rate it would be May before Hymen's saffron robe would be put on for us. Oh! the pains I have been at to dispel those gloomy ideas and give him cheerfuller views! The carriage — we had disappointments about the carriage; — one morning, I remember, he came to me quite in despair."
She was stopped by a slight fit of coughing, and Mr. Weston instantly seized the opportunity of going on.