One morning, about ten days after Mrs. Churchill's decease, Emma was called downstairs to Mr. Weston, who "could not stay five minutes, and wanted particularly to speak with her." — He met her at the parlour-door, and hardly asking her how she did, in the natural key of his voice, sunk it immediately, to say, unheard by her father,
"Can you come to Randalls at any time this morning? — Do, if it be possible. Mrs. Weston wants to see you. She must see you."
"Is she unwell?"
"No, no, not at all — only a little agitated. She would have ordered the carriage, and come to you, but she must see you alone, and that you know — (nodding towards her father) — Humph! — Can you come?"
"Certainly. This moment, if you please. It is impossible to refuse what you ask in such a way. But what can be the matter? — Is she really not ill?"
"Depend upon me — but ask no more questions. You will know it all in time. The most unaccountable business! But hush, hush!"
To guess what all this meant, was impossible even for Emma. Something really important seemed announced by his looks; but, as her friend was well, she endeavoured not to be uneasy, and settling it with her father, that she would take her walk now, she and Mr. Weston were soon out of the house together and on their way at a quick pace for Randalls.
"Now," — said Emma, when they were fairly beyond the sweep gates, — "now Mr. Weston, do let me know what has happened."
"No, no," — he gravely replied. — "Don't ask me. I promised my wife to leave it all to her. She will break it to you better than I can. Do not be impatient, Emma; it will all come out too soon."
"Break it to me," cried Emma, standing still with terror. — "Good God! — Mr. Weston, tell me at once. — Something has happened in Brunswick Square. I know it has. Tell me, I charge you tell me this moment what it is."
"No, indeed you are mistaken." —
"Mr. Weston do not trifle with me. — Consider how many of my dearest friends are now in Brunswick Square. Which of them is it? — I charge you by all that is sacred, not to attempt concealment."
"Upon my word, Emma." —
"Your word! — why not your honour! — why not say upon your honour, that it has nothing to do with any of them? Good Heavens! — What can be to be broke to me, that does not relate to one of that family?"
"Upon my honour," said he very seriously, "it does not. It is not in the smallest degree connected with any human being of the name of Knightley."
Emma's courage returned, and she walked on.
"I was wrong," he continued, "in talking of its being broke to you. I should not have used the expression. In fact, it does not concern you — it concerns only myself, — that is, we hope. — Humph! — In short, my dear Emma, there is no occasion to be so uneasy about it. I don't say that it is not a disagreeable business — but things might be much worse. — If we walk fast, we shall soon be at Randalls."
Emma found that she must wait; and now it required little effort. She asked no more questions therefore, merely employed her own fancy, and that soon pointed out to her the probability of its being some money concern — something just come to light, of a disagreeable nature in the circumstances of the family, — something which the late event at Richmond had brought forward. Her fancy was very active. Half a dozen natural children, perhaps — and poor Frank cut off! — This, though very undesirable, would be no matter of agony to her. It inspired little more than an animating curiosity.
"Who is that gentleman on horseback?" said she, as they proceeded — speaking more to assist Mr. Weston in keeping his secret, than with any other view.
"I do not know. — One of the Otways. — Not Frank; — it is not Frank, I assure you. You will not see him. He is half way to Windsor by this time."
"Has your son been with you, then?"
"Oh! yes — did not you know? — Well, well, never mind."
For a moment he was silent; and then added, in a tone much more guarded and demure,
"Yes, Frank came over this morning, just to ask us how we did."
They hurried on, and were speedily at Randalls. — "Well, my dear," said he, as they entered the room — "I have brought her, and now I hope you will soon be better. I shall leave you together. There is no use in delay. I shall not be far off, if you want me." — And Emma distinctly heard him add, in a lower tone, before he quitted the room, — "I have been as good as my word. She has not the least idea."
Mrs. Weston was looking so ill, and had an air of so much perturbation, that Emma's uneasiness increased; and the moment they were alone, she eagerly said,
"What is it my dear friend? Something of a very unpleasant nature, I find, has occurred; — do let me know directly what it is. I have been walking all this way in complete suspense. We both abhor suspense. Do not let mine continue longer. It will do you good to speak of your distress, whatever it may be."
"Have you indeed no idea?" said Mrs. Weston in a trembling voice. "Cannot you, my dear Emma — cannot you form a guess as to what you are to hear?"
"So far as that it relates to Mr. Frank Churchill, I do guess."
"You are right. It does relate to him, and I will tell you directly;" (resuming her work, and seeming resolved against looking up.) "He has been here this very morning, on a most extraordinary errand. It is impossible to express our surprize. He came to speak to his father on a subject, — to announce an attachment — "
She stopped to breathe. Emma thought first of herself, and then of Harriet.
"More than an attachment, indeed," resumed Mrs. Weston; "an engagement — a positive engagement. — What will you say, Emma — what will any body say, when it is known that Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax are engaged; — nay, that they have been long engaged!"
Emma even jumped with surprize; — and, horror-struck, exclaimed,
"Jane Fairfax! — Good God! You are not serious? You do not mean it?"
"You may well be amazed," returned Mrs. Weston, still averting her eyes, and talking on with eagerness, that Emma might have time to recover — "You may well be amazed. But it is even so. There has been a solemn engagement between them ever since October — formed at Weymouth, and kept a secret from every body. Not a creature knowing it but themselves — neither the Campbells, nor her family, nor his. — It is so wonderful, that though perfectly convinced of the fact, it is yet almost incredible to myself. I can hardly believe it. — I thought I knew him."
Emma scarcely heard what was said. — Her mind was divided between two ideas — her own former conversations with him about Miss Fairfax; and poor Harriet; — and for some time she could only exclaim, and require confirmation, repeated confirmation.
"Well," said she at last, trying to recover herself; "this is a circumstance which I must think of at least half a day, before I can at all comprehend it. What! — engaged to her all the winter — before either of them came to Highbury?"
"Engaged since October, — secretly engaged. — It has hurt me, Emma, very much. It has hurt his father equally. Some part of his conduct we cannot excuse."
Emma pondered a moment, and then replied, "I will not pretend not to understand you; and to give you all the relief in my power, be assured that no such effect has followed his attentions to me, as you are apprehensive of."