"Thank you, dear Miss Woodhouse, you are all kindness. — It is impossible to say — Yes, indeed, I quite understand — dearest Jane's prospects — that is, I do not mean. — But she is charmingly recovered. — How is Mr. Woodhouse? — I am so glad. — Quite out of my power. — Such a happy little circle as you find us here. — Yes, indeed. — Charming young man! — that is — so very friendly; I mean good Mr. Perry! — such attention to Jane!" — And from her great, her more than commonly thankful delight towards Mrs. Elton for being there, Emma guessed that there had been a little show of resentment towards Jane, from the vicarage quarter, which was now graciously overcome. — After a few whispers, indeed, which placed it beyond a guess, Mrs. Elton, speaking louder, said,
"Yes, here I am, my good friend; and here I have been so long, that anywhere else I should think it necessary to apologise; but, the truth is, that I am waiting for my lord and master. He promised to join me here, and pay his respects to you."
"What! are we to have the pleasure of a call from Mr. Elton? — That will be a favour indeed! for I know gentlemen do not like morning visits, and Mr. Elton's time is so engaged."
"Upon my word it is, Miss Bates. — He really is engaged from morning to night. — There is no end of people's coming to him, on some pretence or other. — The magistrates, and overseers, and churchwardens, are always wanting his opinion. They seem not able to do any thing without him. — 'Upon my word, Mr. E.,' I often say, 'rather you than I. — I do not know what would become of my crayons and my instrument, if I had half so many applicants.' — Bad enough as it is, for I absolutely neglect them both to an unpardonable degree. — I believe I have not played a bar this fortnight. — However, he is coming, I assure you: yes, indeed, on purpose to wait on you all." And putting up her hand to screen her words from Emma — "A congratulatory visit, you know. — Oh! yes, quite indispensable."
Miss Bates looked about her, so happily! —
"He promised to come to me as soon as he could disengage himself from Knightley; but he and Knightley are shut up together in deep consultation. — Mr. E. is Knightley's right hand."
Emma would not have smiled for the world, and only said, "Is Mr. Elton gone on foot to Donwell? — He will have a hot walk."
"Oh! no, it is a meeting at the Crown, a regular meeting. Weston and Cole will be there too; but one is apt to speak only of those who lead. — I fancy Mr. E. and Knightley have every thing their own way."
"Have not you mistaken the day?" said Emma. "I am almost certain that the meeting at the Crown is not till to-morrow. — Mr. Knightley was at Hartfield yesterday, and spoke of it as for Saturday."
"Oh! no, the meeting is certainly to-day," was the abrupt answer, which denoted the impossibility of any blunder on Mrs. Elton's side. — "I do believe," she continued, "this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove."
"Your parish there was small," said Jane.
"Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of."
"But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children."
"Ah! you clever creature, that's very true. What a thinking brain you have! I say, Jane, what a perfect character you and I should make, if we could be shaken together. My liveliness and your solidity would produce perfection. — Not that I presume to insinuate, however, that some people may not think you perfection already. — But hush! — not a word, if you please."
It seemed an unnecessary caution; Jane was wanting to give her words, not to Mrs. Elton, but to Miss Woodhouse, as the latter plainly saw. The wish of distinguishing her, as far as civility permitted, was very evident, though it could not often proceed beyond a look.
Mr. Elton made his appearance. His lady greeted him with some of her sparkling vivacity.
"Very pretty, sir, upon my word; to send me on here, to be an encumbrance to my friends, so long before you vouchsafe to come! — But you knew what a dutiful creature you had to deal with. You knew I should not stir till my lord and master appeared. — Here have I been sitting this hour, giving these young ladies a sample of true conjugal obedience — for who can say, you know, how soon it may be wanted?"
Mr. Elton was so hot and tired, that all this wit seemed thrown away. His civilities to the other ladies must be paid; but his subsequent object was to lament over himself for the heat he was suffering, and the walk he had had for nothing.
"When I got to Donwell," said he, "Knightley could not be found. Very odd! very unaccountable! after the note I sent him this morning, and the message he returned, that he should certainly be at home till one."
"Donwell!" cried his wife. — "My dear Mr. E., you have not been to Donwell! — You mean the Crown; you come from the meeting at the Crown."
"No, no, that's to-morrow; and I particularly wanted to see Knightley to-day on that very account. — Such a dreadful broiling morning! — I went over the fields too — (speaking in a tone of great ill-usage,) which made it so much the worse. And then not to find him at home! I assure you I am not at all pleased. And no apology left, no message for me. The housekeeper declared she knew nothing of my being expected. — Very extraordinary! — And nobody knew at all which way he was gone. Perhaps to Hartfield, perhaps to the Abbey Mill, perhaps into his woods. — Miss Woodhouse, this is not like our friend Knightley! — Can you explain it?"
Emma amused herself by protesting that it was very extraordinary, indeed, and that she had not a syllable to say for him.
"I cannot imagine," said Mrs. Elton, (feeling the indignity as a wife ought to do,) "I cannot imagine how he could do such a thing by you, of all people in the world! The very last person whom one should expect to be forgotten! — My dear Mr. E., he must have left a message for you, I am sure he must. — Not even Knightley could be so very eccentric; — and his servants forgot it. Depend upon it, that was the case: and very likely to happen with the Donwell servants, who are all, I have often observed, extremely awkward and remiss. — I am sure I would not have such a creature as his Harry stand at our sideboard for any consideration. And as for Mrs. Hodges, Wright holds her very cheap indeed. — She promised Wright a receipt, and never sent it."
"I met William Larkins," continued Mr. Elton, "as I got near the house, and he told me I should not find his master at home, but I did not believe him. — William seemed rather out of humour. He did not know what was come to his master lately, he said, but he could hardly ever get the speech of him. I have nothing to do with William's wants, but it really is of very great importance that I should see Knightley to-day; and it becomes a matter, therefore, of very serious inconvenience that I should have had this hot walk to no purpose."
Emma felt that she could not do better than go home directly. In all probability she was at this very time waited for there; and Mr. Knightley might be preserved from sinking deeper in aggression towards Mr. Elton, if not towards William Larkins.
She was pleased, on taking leave, to find Miss Fairfax determined to attend her out of the room, to go with her even downstairs; it gave her an opportunity which she immediately made use of, to say,