They were soon joined by some of the gentlemen; and the very first of the early was Frank Churchill. In he walked, the first and the handsomest; and after paying his compliments en passant to Miss Bates and her niece, made his way directly to the opposite side of the circle, where sat Miss Woodhouse; and till he could find a seat by her, would not sit at all. Emma divined what every body present must be thinking. She was his object, and every body must perceive it. She introduced him to her friend, Miss Smith, and, at convenient moments afterwards, heard what each thought of the other. "He had never seen so lovely a face, and was delighted with her naivete." And she, "Only to be sure it was paying him too great a compliment, but she did think there were some looks a little like Mr. Elton." Emma restrained her indignation, and only turned from her in silence.
Smiles of intelligence passed between her and the gentleman on first glancing towards Miss Fairfax; but it was most prudent to avoid speech. He told her that he had been impatient to leave the dining-room — hated sitting long — was always the first to move when he could — that his father, Mr. Knightley, Mr. Cox, and Mr. Cole, were left very busy over parish business — that as long as he had staid, however, it had been pleasant enough, as he had found them in general a set of gentlemanlike, sensible men; and spoke so handsomely of Highbury altogether — thought it so abundant in agreeable families — that Emma began to feel she had been used to despise the place rather too much. She questioned him as to the society in Yorkshire — the extent of the neighbourhood about Enscombe, and the sort; and could make out from his answers that, as far as Enscombe was concerned, there was very little going on, that their visitings were among a range of great families, none very near; and that even when days were fixed, and invitations accepted, it was an even chance that Mrs. Churchill were not in health and spirits for going; that they made a point of visiting no fresh person; and that, though he had his separate engagements, it was not without difficulty, without considerable address at times, that he could get away, or introduce an acquaintance for a night.
She saw that Enscombe could not satisfy, and that Highbury, taken at its best, might reasonably please a young man who had more retirement at home than he liked. His importance at Enscombe was very evident. He did not boast, but it naturally betrayed itself, that he had persuaded his aunt where his uncle could do nothing, and on her laughing and noticing it, he owned that he believed (excepting one or two points) he could with time persuade her to any thing. One of those points on which his influence failed, he then mentioned. He had wanted very much to go abroad — had been very eager indeed to be allowed to travel — but she would not hear of it. This had happened the year before. Now, he said, he was beginning to have no longer the same wish.
The unpersuadable point, which he did not mention, Emma guessed to be good behaviour to his father.
"I have made a most wretched discovery," said he, after a short pause. — "I have been here a week to-morrow — half my time. I never knew days fly so fast. A week to-morrow! — And I have hardly begun to enjoy myself. But just got acquainted with Mrs. Weston, and others! — I hate the recollection."
"Perhaps you may now begin to regret that you spent one whole day, out of so few, in having your hair cut."
"No," said he, smiling, "that is no subject of regret at all. I have no pleasure in seeing my friends, unless I can believe myself fit to be seen."
The rest of the gentlemen being now in the room, Emma found herself obliged to turn from him for a few minutes, and listen to Mr. Cole. When Mr. Cole had moved away, and her attention could be restored as before, she saw Frank Churchill looking intently across the room at Miss Fairfax, who was sitting exactly opposite.
"What is the matter?" said she.
He started. "Thank you for rousing me," he replied. "I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way — so very odd a way — that I cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw any thing so outree! — Those curls! — This must be a fancy of her own. I see nobody else looking like her! — I must go and ask her whether it is an Irish fashion. Shall I? — Yes, I will — I declare I will — and you shall see how she takes it; — whether she colours."
He was gone immediately; and Emma soon saw him standing before Miss Fairfax, and talking to her; but as to its effect on the young lady, as he had improvidently placed himself exactly between them, exactly in front of Miss Fairfax, she could absolutely distinguish nothing.
Before he could return to his chair, it was taken by Mrs. Weston.
"This is the luxury of a large party," said she: — "one can get near every body, and say every thing. My dear Emma, I am longing to talk to you. I have been making discoveries and forming plans, just like yourself, and I must tell them while the idea is fresh. Do you know how Miss Bates and her niece came here?"
"How? — They were invited, were not they?"
"Oh! yes — but how they were conveyed hither? — the manner of their coming?"
"They walked, I conclude. How else could they come?"
"Very true. — Well, a little while ago it occurred to me how very sad it would be to have Jane Fairfax walking home again, late at night, and cold as the nights are now. And as I looked at her, though I never saw her appear to more advantage, it struck me that she was heated, and would therefore be particularly liable to take cold. Poor girl! I could not bear the idea of it; so, as soon as Mr. Weston came into the room, and I could get at him, I spoke to him about the carriage. You may guess how readily he came into my wishes; and having his approbation, I made my way directly to Miss Bates, to assure her that the carriage would be at her service before it took us home; for I thought it would be making her comfortable at once. Good soul! she was as grateful as possible, you may be sure. 'Nobody was ever so fortunate as herself!' — but with many, many thanks — 'there was no occasion to trouble us, for Mr. Knightley's carriage had brought, and was to take them home again.' I was quite surprized; — very glad, I am sure; but really quite surprized. Such a very kind attention — and so thoughtful an attention! — the sort of thing that so few men would think of. And, in short, from knowing his usual ways, I am very much inclined to think that it was for their accommodation the carriage was used at all. I do suspect he would not have had a pair of horses for himself, and that it was only as an excuse for assisting them."