The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield — but in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Emma resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her. She longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Mr. Perry's coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give her father, she lost no time ill hurrying into the shrubbery. — There, with spirits freshened, and thoughts a little relieved, she had taken a few turns, when she saw Mr. Knightley passing through the garden door, and coming towards her. — It was the first intimation of his being returned from London. She had been thinking of him the moment before, as unquestionably sixteen miles distant. — There was time only for the quickest arrangement of mind. She must be collected and calm. In half a minute they were together. The "How d'ye do's" were quiet and constrained on each side. She asked after their mutual friends; they were all well. — When had he left them? — Only that morning. He must have had a wet ride. — Yes. — He meant to walk with her, she found. "He had just looked into the dining-room, and as he was not wanted there, preferred being out of doors." — She thought he neither looked nor spoke cheerfully; and the first possible cause for it, suggested by her fears, was, that he had perhaps been communicating his plans to his brother, and was pained by the manner in which they had been received.
They walked together. He was silent. She thought he was often looking at her, and trying for a fuller view of her face than it suited her to give. And this belief produced another dread. Perhaps he wanted to speak to her, of his attachment to Harriet; he might be watching for encouragement to begin. — She did not, could not, feel equal to lead the way to any such subject. He must do it all himself. Yet she could not bear this silence. With him it was most unnatural. She considered — resolved — and, trying to smile, began —
"You have some news to hear, now you are come back, that will rather surprize you."
"Have I?" said he quietly, and looking at her; "of what nature?"
"Oh! the best nature in the world — a wedding."
After waiting a moment, as if to be sure she intended to say no more, he replied,
"If you mean Miss Fairfax and Frank Churchill, I have heard that already."
"How is it possible?" cried Emma, turning her glowing cheeks towards him; for, while she spoke, it occurred to her that he might have called at Mrs. Goddard's in his way.
"I had a few lines on parish business from Mr. Weston this morning, and at the end of them he gave me a brief account of what had happened."
Emma was quite relieved, and could presently say, with a little more composure,
"You probably have been less surprized than any of us, for you have had your suspicions. — I have not forgotten that you once tried to give me a caution. — I wish I had attended to it — but — (with a sinking voice and a heavy sigh) I seem to have been doomed to blindness."
For a moment or two nothing was said, and she was unsuspicious of having excited any particular interest, till she found her arm drawn within his, and pressed against his heart, and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low,
"Time, my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound. — Your own excellent sense — your exertions for your father's sake — I know you will not allow yourself — ." Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, "The feelings of the warmest friendship — Indignation — Abominable scoundrel!" — And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, "He will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for her. She deserves a better fate."
Emma understood him; and as soon as she could recover from the flutter of pleasure, excited by such tender consideration, replied,
"You are very kind — but you are mistaken — and I must set you right. — I am not in want of that sort of compassion. My blindness to what was going on, led me to act by them in a way that I must always be ashamed of, and I was very foolishly tempted to say and do many things which may well lay me open to unpleasant conjectures, but I have no other reason to regret that I was not in the secret earlier."
"Emma!" cried he, looking eagerly at her, "are you, indeed?" — but checking himself — "No, no, I understand you — forgive me — I am pleased that you can say even so much. — He is no object of regret, indeed! and it will not be very long, I hope, before that becomes the acknowledgment of more than your reason. — Fortunate that your affections were not farther entangled! — I could never, I confess, from your manners, assure myself as to the degree of what you felt — I could only be certain that there was a preference — and a preference which I never believed him to deserve. — He is a disgrace to the name of man. — And is he to be rewarded with that sweet young woman? — Jane, Jane, you will be a miserable creature."
"Mr. Knightley," said Emma, trying to be lively, but really confused — "I am in a very extraordinary situation. I cannot let you continue in your error; and yet, perhaps, since my manners gave such an impression, I have as much reason to be ashamed of confessing that I never have been at all attached to the person we are speaking of, as it might be natural for a woman to feel in confessing exactly the reverse. — But I never have."
He listened in perfect silence. She wished him to speak, but he would not. She supposed she must say more before she were entitled to his clemency; but it was a hard case to be obliged still to lower herself in his opinion. She went on, however.
"I have very little to say for my own conduct. — I was tempted by his attentions, and allowed myself to appear pleased. — An old story, probably — a common case — and no more than has happened to hundreds of my sex before; and yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding. Many circumstances assisted the temptation. He was the son of Mr. Weston — he was continually here — I always found him very pleasant — and, in short, for (with a sigh) let me swell out the causes ever so ingeniously, they all centre in this at last — my vanity was flattered, and I allowed his attentions. Latterly, however — for some time, indeed — I have had no idea of their meaning any thing. — I thought them a habit, a trick, nothing that called for seriousness on my side. He has imposed on me, but he has not injured me. I have never been attached to him. And now I can tolerably comprehend his behaviour. He never wished to attach me. It was merely a blind to conceal his real situation with another. — It was his object to blind all about him; and no one, I am sure, could be more effectually blinded than myself — except that I was not blinded — that it was my good fortune — that, in short, I was somehow or other safe from him."
She had hoped for an answer here — for a few words to say that her conduct was at least intelligible; but he was silent; and, as far as she could judge, deep in thought. At last, and tolerably in his usual tone, he said,
"I have never had a high opinion of Frank Churchill. — I can suppose, however, that I may have underrated him. My acquaintance with him has been but trifling. — And even if I have not underrated him hitherto, he may yet turn out well. — With such a woman he has a chance. — I have no motive for wishing him ill — and for her sake, whose happiness will be involved in his good character and conduct, I shall certainly wish him well."
"I have no doubt of their being happy together," said Emma; "I believe them to be very mutually and very sincerely attached."