On the subject of the first of the two circumstances, she did, after a little reflection, venture the following question. "Might he not? — Is not it possible, that when enquiring, as you thought, into the state of your affections, he might be alluding to Mr. Martin — he might have Mr. Martin's interest in view? But Harriet rejected the suspicion with spirit.
"Mr. Martin! No indeed! — There was not a hint of Mr. Martin. I hope I know better now, than to care for Mr. Martin, or to be suspected of it."
When Harriet had closed her evidence, she appealed to her dear Miss Woodhouse, to say whether she had not good ground for hope.
"I never should have presumed to think of it at first," said she, "but for you. You told me to observe him carefully, and let his behaviour be the rule of mine — and so I have. But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him; and that if he does chuse me, it will not be any thing so very wonderful."
The bitter feelings occasioned by this speech, the many bitter feelings, made the utmost exertion necessary on Emma's side, to enable her to say on reply,
"Harriet, I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does."
Harriet seemed ready to worship her friend for a sentence so satisfactory; and Emma was only saved from raptures and fondness, which at that moment would have been dreadful penance, by the sound of her father's footsteps. He was coming through the hall. Harriet was too much agitated to encounter him. "She could not compose herself — Mr. Woodhouse would be alarmed — she had better go;" — with most ready encouragement from her friend, therefore, she passed off through another door — and the moment she was gone, this was the spontaneous burst of Emma's feelings: "Oh God! that I had never seen her!"
The rest of the day, the following night, were hardly enough for her thoughts. — She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last few hours. Every moment had brought a fresh surprize; and every surprize must be matter of humiliation to her. — How to understand it all! How to understand the deceptions she had been thus practising on herself, and living under! — The blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart! — she sat still, she walked about, she tried her own room, she tried the shrubbery — in every place, every posture, she perceived that she had acted most weakly; that she had been imposed on by others in a most mortifying degree; that she had been imposing on herself in a degree yet more mortifying; that she was wretched, and should probably find this day but the beginning of wretchedness.
To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first endeavour. To that point went every leisure moment which her father's claims on her allowed, and every moment of involuntary absence of mind.
How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun? — When had he succeeded to that place in her affection, which Frank Churchill had once, for a short period, occupied? — She looked back; she compared the two — compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation, from the time of the latter's becoming known to her — and as they must at any time have been compared by her, had it — oh! had it, by any blessed felicity, occurred to her, to institute the comparison. — She saw that there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr. Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart — and, in short, that she had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!
This was the conclusion of the first series of reflection. This was the knowledge of herself, on the first question of inquiry, which she reached; and without being long in reaching it. — She was most sorrowfully indignant; ashamed of every sensation but the one revealed to her — her affection for Mr. Knightley. — Every other part of her mind was disgusting.
With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing — for she had done mischief. She had brought evil on Harriet, on herself, and she too much feared, on Mr. Knightley. — Were this most unequal of all connexions to take place, on her must rest all the reproach of having given it a beginning; for his attachment, she must believe to be produced only by a consciousness of Harriet's; — and even were this not the case, he would never have known Harriet at all but for her folly.
Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith! — It was a union to distance every wonder of the kind. — The attachment of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax became commonplace, threadbare, stale in the comparison, exciting no surprize, presenting no disparity, affording nothing to be said or thought. — Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith! — Such an elevation on her side! Such a debasement on his! It was horrible to Emma to think how it must sink him in the general opinion, to foresee the smiles, the sneers, the merriment it would prompt at his expense; the mortification and disdain of his brother, the thousand inconveniences to himself. — Could it be? — No; it was impossible. And yet it was far, very far, from impossible. — Was it a new circumstance for a man of first-rate abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers? Was it new for one, perhaps too busy to seek, to be the prize of a girl who would seek him? — Was it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous — or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate?
Oh! had she never brought Harriet forward! Had she left her where she ought, and where he had told her she ought! — Had she not, with a folly which no tongue could express, prevented her marrying the unexceptionable young man who would have made her happy and respectable in the line of life to which she ought to belong — all would have been safe; none of this dreadful sequel would have been.
How Harriet could ever have had the presumption to raise her thoughts to Mr. Knightley! — How she could dare to fancy herself the chosen of such a man till actually assured of it! — But Harriet was less humble, had fewer scruples than formerly. — Her inferiority, whether of mind or situation, seemed little felt. — She had seemed more sensible of Mr. Elton's being to stoop in marrying her, than she now seemed of Mr. Knightley's. — Alas! was not that her own doing too? Who had been at pains to give Harriet notions of self-consequence but herself? — Who but herself had taught her, that she was to elevate herself if possible, and that her claims were great to a high worldly establishment? — If Harriet, from being humble, were grown vain, it was her doing too.