No misfortune occurred, again to prevent the ball. The day approached, the day arrived; and after a morning of some anxious watching, Frank Churchill, in all the certainty of his own self, reached Randalls before dinner, and every thing was safe.
No second meeting had there yet been between him and Emma. The room at the Crown was to witness it; — but it would be better than a common meeting in a crowd. Mr. Weston had been so very earnest in his entreaties for her arriving there as soon as possible after themselves, for the purpose of taking her opinion as to the propriety and comfort of the rooms before any other persons came, that she could not refuse him, and must therefore spend some quiet interval in the young man's company. She was to convey Harriet, and they drove to the Crown in good time, the Randalls party just sufficiently before them.
Frank Churchill seemed to have been on the watch; and though he did not say much, his eyes declared that he meant to have a delightful evening. They all walked about together, to see that every thing was as it should be; and within a few minutes were joined by the contents of another carriage, which Emma could not hear the sound of at first, without great surprize. "So unreasonably early!" she was going to exclaim; but she presently found that it was a family of old friends, who were coming, like herself, by particular desire, to help Mr. Weston's judgment; and they were so very closely followed by another carriage of cousins, who had been entreated to come early with the same distinguishing earnestness, on the same errand, that it seemed as if half the company might soon be collected together for the purpose of preparatory inspection.
Emma perceived that her taste was not the only taste on which Mr. Weston depended, and felt, that to be the favourite and intimate of a man who had so many intimates and confidantes, was not the very first distinction in the scale of vanity. She liked his open manners, but a little less of open-heartedness would have made him a higher character. — General benevolence, but not general friendship, made a man what he ought to be. — She could fancy such a man. The whole party walked about, and looked, and praised again; and then, having nothing else to do, formed a sort of half-circle round the fire, to observe in their various modes, till other subjects were started, that, though May, a fire in the evening was still very pleasant.
Emma found that it was not Mr. Weston's fault that the number of privy councillors was not yet larger. They had stopped at Mrs. Bates's door to offer the use of their carriage, but the aunt and niece were to be brought by the Eltons.
Frank was standing by her, but not steadily; there was a restlessness, which shewed a mind not at ease. He was looking about, he was going to the door, he was watching for the sound of other carriages, — impatient to begin, or afraid of being always near her.
Mrs. Elton was spoken of. "I think she must be here soon," said he. "I have a great curiosity to see Mrs. Elton, I have heard so much of her. It cannot be long, I think, before she comes."
A carriage was heard. He was on the move immediately; but coming back, said,
"I am forgetting that I am not acquainted with her. I have never seen either Mr. or Mrs. Elton. I have no business to put myself forward."
Mr. and Mrs. Elton appeared; and all the smiles and the proprieties passed.
"But Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax!" said Mr. Weston, looking about. "We thought you were to bring them."
The mistake had been slight. The carriage was sent for them now. Emma longed to know what Frank's first opinion of Mrs. Elton might be; how he was affected by the studied elegance of her dress, and her smiles of graciousness. He was immediately qualifying himself to form an opinion, by giving her very proper attention, after the introduction had passed.
In a few minutes the carriage returned. — Somebody talked of rain. — "I will see that there are umbrellas, sir," said Frank to his father: "Miss Bates must not be forgotten:" and away he went. Mr. Weston was following; but Mrs. Elton detained him, to gratify him by her opinion of his son; and so briskly did she begin, that the young man himself, though by no means moving slowly, could hardly be out of hearing.
"A very fine young man indeed, Mr. Weston. You know I candidly told you I should form my own opinion; and I am happy to say that I am extremely pleased with him. — You may believe me. I never compliment. I think him a very handsome young man, and his manners are precisely what I like and approve — so truly the gentleman, without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vast dislike to puppies — quite a horror of them. They were never tolerated at Maple Grove. Neither Mr. Suckling nor me had ever any patience with them; and we used sometimes to say very cutting things! Selina, who is mild almost to a fault, bore with them much better."
While she talked of his son, Mr. Weston's attention was chained; but when she got to Maple Grove, he could recollect that there were ladies just arriving to be attended to, and with happy smiles must hurry away.
Mrs. Elton turned to Mrs. Weston. "I have no doubt of its being our carriage with Miss Bates and Jane. Our coachman and horses are so extremely expeditious! — I believe we drive faster than any body. — What a pleasure it is to send one's carriage for a friend! — I understand you were so kind as to offer, but another time it will be quite unnecessary. You may be very sure I shall always take care of them."
Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax, escorted by the two gentlemen, walked into the room; and Mrs. Elton seemed to think it as much her duty as Mrs. Weston's to receive them. Her gestures and movements might be understood by any one who looked on like Emma; but her words, every body's words, were soon lost under the incessant flow of Miss Bates, who came in talking, and had not finished her speech under many minutes after her being admitted into the circle at the fire. As the door opened she was heard,
"So very obliging of you! — No rain at all. Nothing to signify. I do not care for myself. Quite thick shoes. And Jane declares — Well! — (as soon as she was within the door) Well! This is brilliant indeed! — This is admirable! — Excellently contrived, upon my word. Nothing wanting. Could not have imagined it. — So well lighted up! — Jane, Jane, look! — did you ever see any thing? Oh! Mr. Weston, you must really have had Aladdin's lamp. Good Mrs. Stokes would not know her own room again. I saw her as I came in; she was standing in the entrance. 'Oh! Mrs. Stokes,' said I — but I had not time for more." She was now met by Mrs. Weston. — "Very well, I thank you, ma'am. I hope you are quite well. Very happy to hear it. So afraid you might have a headache! — seeing you pass by so often, and knowing how much trouble you must have. Delighted to hear it indeed. Ah! dear Mrs. Elton, so obliged to you for the carriage! — excellent time. Jane and I quite ready. Did not keep the horses a moment. Most comfortable carriage. — Oh! and I am sure our thanks are due to you, Mrs. Weston, on that score. Mrs. Elton had most kindly sent Jane a note, or we should have been. — But two such offers in one day! — Never were such neighbours. I said to my mother, 'Upon my word, ma'am — .' Thank you, my mother is remarkably well. Gone to Mr. Woodhouse's. I made her take her shawl — for the evenings are not warm — her large new shawl — Mrs. Dixon's wedding-present. — So kind of her to think of my mother! Bought at Weymouth, you know — Mr. Dixon's choice. There were three others, Jane says, which they hesitated about some time. Colonel Campbell rather preferred an olive. My dear Jane, are you sure you did not wet your feet? — It was but a drop or two, but I am so afraid: — but Mr. Frank Churchill was so extremely — and there was a mat to step upon — I shall never forget his extreme politeness. — Oh! Mr. Frank Churchill, I must tell you my mother's spectacles have never been in fault since; the rivet never came out again. My mother often talks of your good-nature. Does not she, Jane? — Do not we often talk of Mr. Frank Churchill? — Ah! here's Miss Woodhouse. — Dear Miss Woodhouse, how do you do? — Very well I thank you, quite well. This is meeting quite in fairy-land! — Such a transformation! — Must not compliment, I know (eyeing Emma most complacently) — that would be rude — but upon my word, Miss Woodhouse, you do look — how do you like Jane's hair? — You are a judge. — She did it all herself. Quite wonderful how she does her hair! — No hairdresser from London I think could. — Ah! Dr. Hughes I declare — and Mrs. Hughes. Must go and speak to Dr. and Mrs. Hughes for a moment. — How do you do? How do you do? — Very well, I thank you. This is delightful, is not it? — Where's dear Mr. Richard? — Oh! there he is. Don't disturb him. Much better employed talking to the young ladies. How do you do, Mr. Richard? — I saw you the other day as you rode through the town — Mrs. Otway, I protest! — and good Mr. Otway, and Miss Otway and Miss Caroline. — Such a host of friends! — and Mr. George and Mr. Arthur! — How do you do? How do you all do? — Quite well, I am much obliged to you. Never better. — Don't I hear another carriage? — Who can this be? — very likely the worthy Coles. — Upon my word, this is charming to be standing about among such friends! And such a noble fire! — I am quite roasted. No coffee, I thank you, for me — never take coffee. — A little tea if you please, sir, by and bye, — no hurry — Oh! here it comes. Every thing so good!"