Jane Austen.

Emma online

. (page 1 of 37)
Online LibraryJane AustenEmma → online text (page 1 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home
and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings
of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world
with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate,
indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage,
been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother
had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct
remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied
by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short
of a mother in affection.

Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family,
less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters,
but particularly of Emma. Between _them_ it was more the intimacy
of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal
office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed
her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being
now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and
friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked;
highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by
her own.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having
rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little
too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened
alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present
so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes
with her.

Sorrow came - a gentle sorrow - but not at all in the shape of any
disagreeable consciousness. - Miss Taylor married. It was Miss
Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day
of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought
of any continuance. The wedding over, and the bride-people gone,
her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect
of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself
to sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit
and think of what she had lost.

The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston
was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age,
and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering
with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished
and promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her.
The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day.
She recalled her past kindness - the kindness, the affection of sixteen
years - how she had taught and how she had played with her from five
years old - how she had devoted all her powers to attach and amuse
her in health - and how nursed her through the various illnesses
of childhood. A large debt of gratitude was owing here; but the
intercourse of the last seven years, the equal footing and perfect
unreserve which had soon followed Isabella's marriage, on their
being left to each other, was yet a dearer, tenderer recollection.
She had been a friend and companion such as few possessed: intelligent,
well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family,
interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself,
in every pleasure, every scheme of hers - one to whom she could speak
every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her
as could never find fault.

How was she to bear the change? - It was true that her friend was
going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must
be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them,
and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages,
natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering
from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he
was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation,
rational or playful.

The evil of the actual disparity in their ages (and Mr. Woodhouse had
not married early) was much increased by his constitution and habits;
for having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activity
of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years;
and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart
and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him
at any time.

Her sister, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony,
being settled in London, only sixteen miles off, was much beyond
her daily reach; and many a long October and November evening must
be struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmas brought the next
visit from Isabella and her husband, and their little children,
to fill the house, and give her pleasant society again.

Highbury, the large and populous village, almost amounting to a town,
to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn, and shrubberies,
and name, did really belong, afforded her no equals. The Woodhouses
were first in consequence there. All looked up to them. She had
many acquaintance in the place, for her father was universally civil,
but not one among them who could be accepted in lieu of Miss
Taylor for even half a day. It was a melancholy change; and Emma
could not but sigh over it, and wish for impossible things,
till her father awoke, and made it necessary to be cheerful.
His spirits required support. He was a nervous man, easily depressed;
fond of every body that he was used to, and hating to part with them;
hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the origin of change,
was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciled
to his own daughter's marrying, nor could ever speak of her but
with compassion, though it had been entirely a match of affection,
when he was now obliged to part with Miss Taylor too; and from
his habits of gentle selfishness, and of being never able to
suppose that other people could feel differently from himself,
he was very much disposed to think Miss Taylor had done as sad
a thing for herself as for them, and would have been a great deal
happier if she had spent all the rest of her life at Hartfield.
Emma smiled and chatted as cheerfully as she could, to keep him
from such thoughts; but when tea came, it was impossible for him
not to say exactly as he had said at dinner,

"Poor Miss Taylor! - I wish she were here again. What a pity it
is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!"

"I cannot agree with you, papa; you know I cannot. Mr. Weston is such
a good-humoured, pleasant, excellent man, that he thoroughly deserves
a good wife; - and you would not have had Miss Taylor live with us
for ever, and bear all my odd humours, when she might have a house of her own?"

"A house of her own! - But where is the advantage of a house of her own?
This is three times as large. - And you have never any odd humours,
my dear."

"How often we shall be going to see them, and they coming to see
us! - We shall be always meeting! _We_ must begin; we must go and pay
wedding visit very soon."

"My dear, how am I to get so far? Randalls is such a distance.
I could not walk half so far."

"No, papa, nobody thought of your walking. We must go in the carriage,
to be sure."

"The carriage! But James will not like to put the horses to for
such a little way; - and where are the poor horses to be while we
are paying our visit?"

"They are to be put into Mr. Weston's stable, papa. You know we
have settled all that already. We talked it all over with Mr. Weston
last night. And as for James, you may be very sure he will always like
going to Randalls, because of his daughter's being housemaid there.
I only doubt whether he will ever take us anywhere else. That was
your doing, papa. You got Hannah that good place. Nobody thought
of Hannah till you mentioned her - James is so obliged to you!"

"I am very glad I did think of her. It was very lucky, for I would
not have had poor James think himself slighted upon any account;
and I am sure she will make a very good servant: she is a civil,
pretty-spoken girl; I have a great opinion of her. Whenever I see her,
she always curtseys and asks me how I do, in a very pretty manner;
and when you have had her here to do needlework, I observe she
always turns the lock of the door the right way and never bangs it.
I am sure she will be an excellent servant; and it will be a great
comfort to poor Miss Taylor to have somebody about her that she is
used to see. Whenever James goes over to see his daughter, you know,
she will be hearing of us. He will be able to tell her how we
all are."

Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas,
and hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerably
through the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own.
The backgammon-table was placed; but a visitor immediately afterwards
walked in and made it unnecessary.

Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty, was not
only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly
connected with it, as the elder brother of Isabella's husband.
He lived about a mile from Highbury, was a frequent visitor,
and always welcome, and at this time more welcome than usual,
as coming directly from their mutual connexions in London. He had
returned to a late dinner, after some days' absence, and now walked
up to Hartfield to say that all were well in Brunswick Square.
It was a happy circumstance, and animated Mr. Woodhouse for some time.
Mr. Knightley had a cheerful manner, which always did him good;
and his many inquiries after "poor Isabella" and her children were
answered most satisfactorily. When this was over, Mr. Woodhouse
gratefully observed, "It is very kind of you, Mr. Knightley, to come
out at this late hour to call upon us. I am afraid you must have
had a shocking walk."

"Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful moonlight night; and so mild
that I must draw back from your great fire."

"But you must have found it very damp and dirty. I wish you may
not catch cold."

"Dirty, sir! Look at my shoes. Not a speck on them."

"Well! that is quite surprising, for we have had a vast deal
of rain here. It rained dreadfully hard for half an hour
while we were at breakfast. I wanted them to put off the wedding."

"By the bye - I have not wished you joy. Being pretty well aware
of what sort of joy you must both be feeling, I have been in no hurry
with my congratulations; but I hope it all went off tolerably well.
How did you all behave? Who cried most?"

"Ah! poor Miss Taylor! 'Tis a sad business."

"Poor Mr. and Miss Woodhouse, if you please; but I cannot possibly
say `poor Miss Taylor.' I have a great regard for you and Emma;
but when it comes to the question of dependence or independence! - At
any rate, it must be better to have only one to please than two."

"Especially when _one_ of those two is such a fanciful, troublesome creature!"
said Emma playfully. "That is what you have in your head,
I know - and what you would certainly say if my father were not by."

"I believe it is very true, my dear, indeed," said Mr. Woodhouse,
with a sigh. "I am afraid I am sometimes very fanciful and troublesome."

"My dearest papa! You do not think I could mean _you_, or suppose
Mr. Knightley to mean _you_. What a horrible idea! Oh no! I meant
only myself. Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me, you know -
in a joke - it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another."

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see
faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them:
and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself,
she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would
not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being
thought perfect by every body.

"Emma knows I never flatter her," said Mr. Knightley, "but I
meant no reflection on any body. Miss Taylor has been used
to have two persons to please; she will now have but one.
The chances are that she must be a gainer."

"Well," said Emma, willing to let it pass - "you want to hear
about the wedding; and I shall be happy to tell you, for we all
behaved charmingly. Every body was punctual, every body in their
best looks: not a tear, and hardly a long face to be seen. Oh no;
we all felt that we were going to be only half a mile apart,
and were sure of meeting every day."

"Dear Emma bears every thing so well," said her father.
"But, Mr. Knightley, she is really very sorry to lose poor Miss Taylor,
and I am sure she _will_ miss her more than she thinks for."

Emma turned away her head, divided between tears and smiles.
"It is impossible that Emma should not miss such a companion,"
said Mr. Knightley. "We should not like her so well as we do, sir,
if we could suppose it; but she knows how much the marriage is to
Miss Taylor's advantage; she knows how very acceptable it must be,
at Miss Taylor's time of life, to be settled in a home of her own,
and how important to her to be secure of a comfortable provision,
and therefore cannot allow herself to feel so much pain as pleasure.
Every friend of Miss Taylor must be glad to have her so happily

"And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me," said Emma,
"and a very considerable one - that I made the match myself.
I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place,
and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr. Weston would
never marry again, may comfort me for any thing."

Mr. Knightley shook his head at her. Her father fondly replied,
"Ah! my dear, I wish you would not make matches and foretell things,
for whatever you say always comes to pass. Pray do not make any
more matches."

"I promise you to make none for myself, papa; but I must, indeed,
for other people. It is the greatest amusement in the world! And
after such success, you know! - Every body said that Mr. Weston would
never marry again. Oh dear, no! Mr. Weston, who had been a widower
so long, and who seemed so perfectly comfortable without a wife,
so constantly occupied either in his business in town or among his
friends here, always acceptable wherever he went, always cheerful -
Mr. Weston need not spend a single evening in the year alone if he did
not like it. Oh no! Mr. Weston certainly would never marry again.
Some people even talked of a promise to his wife on her deathbed,
and others of the son and the uncle not letting him. All manner
of solemn nonsense was talked on the subject, but I believed none
of it.

"Ever since the day - about four years ago - that Miss Taylor and I
met with him in Broadway Lane, when, because it began to drizzle,
he darted away with so much gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellas
for us from Farmer Mitchell's, I made up my mind on the subject.
I planned the match from that hour; and when such success has blessed
me in this instance, dear papa, you cannot think that I shall leave
off match-making."

"I do not understand what you mean by `success,'" said Mr. Knightley.
"Success supposes endeavour. Your time has been properly and
delicately spent, if you have been endeavouring for the last four
years to bring about this marriage. A worthy employment for a young
lady's mind! But if, which I rather imagine, your making the match,
as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying to yourself
one idle day, `I think it would be a very good thing for Miss Taylor
if Mr. Weston were to marry her,' and saying it again to yourself
every now and then afterwards, why do you talk of success? Where
is your merit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess;
and _that_ is all that can be said."

"And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess? -
I pity you. - I thought you cleverer - for, depend upon it a lucky
guess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it.
And as to my poor word `success,' which you quarrel with, I do not
know that I am so entirely without any claim to it. You have drawn
two pretty pictures; but I think there may be a third - a something
between the do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not promoted Mr. Weston's
visits here, and given many little encouragements, and smoothed
many little matters, it might not have come to any thing after all.
I think you must know Hartfield enough to comprehend that."

"A straightforward, open-hearted man like Weston, and a rational,
unaffected woman like Miss Taylor, may be safely left to manage their
own concerns. You are more likely to have done harm to yourself,
than good to them, by interference."

"Emma never thinks of herself, if she can do good to others,"
rejoined Mr. Woodhouse, understanding but in part. "But, my dear,
pray do not make any more matches; they are silly things, and break up
one's family circle grievously."

"Only one more, papa; only for Mr. Elton. Poor Mr. Elton! You
like Mr. Elton, papa, - I must look about for a wife for him.
There is nobody in Highbury who deserves him - and he has been
here a whole year, and has fitted up his house so comfortably,
that it would be a shame to have him single any longer - and I thought
when he was joining their hands to-day, he looked so very much as if
he would like to have the same kind office done for him! I think
very well of Mr. Elton, and this is the only way I have of doing
him a service."

"Mr. Elton is a very pretty young man, to be sure, and a very
good young man, and I have a great regard for him. But if you
want to shew him any attention, my dear, ask him to come
and dine with us some day. That will be a much better thing.
I dare say Mr. Knightley will be so kind as to meet him."

"With a great deal of pleasure, sir, at any time," said Mr. Knightley,
laughing, "and I agree with you entirely, that it will be a much
better thing. Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best
of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife.
Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take care
of himself."


Mr. Weston was a native of Highbury, and born of a respectable family,
which for the last two or three generations had been rising into
gentility and property. He had received a good education, but,
on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had become
indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which his brothers
were engaged, and had satisfied an active, cheerful mind and social
temper by entering into the militia of his county, then embodied.

Captain Weston was a general favourite; and when the chances
of his military life had introduced him to Miss Churchill,
of a great Yorkshire family, and Miss Churchill fell in love
with him, nobody was surprized, except her brother and his wife,
who had never seen him, and who were full of pride and importance,
which the connexion would offend.

Miss Churchill, however, being of age, and with the full command
of her fortune - though her fortune bore no proportion to the
family-estate - was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, and it
took place, to the infinite mortification of Mr. and Mrs. Churchill,
who threw her off with due decorum. It was an unsuitable connexion,
and did not produce much happiness. Mrs. Weston ought to have found
more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart and sweet temper
made him think every thing due to her in return for the great goodness
of being in love with him; but though she had one sort of spirit,
she had not the best. She had resolution enough to pursue
her own will in spite of her brother, but not enough to refrain
from unreasonable regrets at that brother's unreasonable anger,
nor from missing the luxuries of her former home. They lived beyond
their income, but still it was nothing in comparison of Enscombe:
she did not cease to love her husband, but she wanted at once
to be the wife of Captain Weston, and Miss Churchill of Enscombe.

Captain Weston, who had been considered, especially by the Churchills,
as making such an amazing match, was proved to have much the worst
of the bargain; for when his wife died, after a three years' marriage,
he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain.
From the expense of the child, however, he was soon relieved.
The boy had, with the additional softening claim of a lingering
illness of his mother's, been the means of a sort of reconciliation;
and Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, having no children of their own,
nor any other young creature of equal kindred to care for, offered to
take the whole charge of the little Frank soon after her decease.
Some scruples and some reluctance the widower-father may be supposed
to have felt; but as they were overcome by other considerations,
the child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Churchills,
and he had only his own comfort to seek, and his own situation to
improve as he could.

A complete change of life became desirable. He quitted the militia
and engaged in trade, having brothers already established in a
good way in London, which afforded him a favourable opening.
It was a concern which brought just employment enough. He had still
a small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days were spent;
and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society,
the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away.
He had, by that time, realised an easy competence - enough to secure
the purchase of a little estate adjoining Highbury, which he had
always longed for - enough to marry a woman as portionless even
as Miss Taylor, and to live according to the wishes of his own
friendly and social disposition.

It was now some time since Miss Taylor had begun to influence
his schemes; but as it was not the tyrannic influence of youth
on youth, it had not shaken his determination of never settling
till he could purchase Randalls, and the sale of Randalls was long
looked forward to; but he had gone steadily on, with these objects
in view, till they were accomplished. He had made his fortune,
bought his house, and obtained his wife; and was beginning a new
period of existence, with every probability of greater happiness
than in any yet passed through. He had never been an unhappy man;
his own temper had secured him from that, even in his first marriage;
but his second must shew him how delightful a well-judging and truly
amiable woman could be, and must give him the pleasantest proof
of its being a great deal better to choose than to be chosen,
to excite gratitude than to feel it.

He had only himself to please in his choice: his fortune was
his own; for as to Frank, it was more than being tacitly brought
up as his uncle's heir, it had become so avowed an adoption
as to have him assume the name of Churchill on coming of age.
It was most unlikely, therefore, that he should ever want his
father's assistance. His father had no apprehension of it.
The aunt was a capricious woman, and governed her husband entirely;
but it was not in Mr. Weston's nature to imagine that any caprice
could be strong enough to affect one so dear, and, as he believed,
so deservedly dear. He saw his son every year in London,
and was proud of him; and his fond report of him as a very fine
young man had made Highbury feel a sort of pride in him too.
He was looked on as sufficiently belonging to the place to make his
merits and prospects a kind of common concern.

Mr. Frank Churchill was one of the boasts of Highbury, and a lively
curiosity to see him prevailed, though the compliment was so little
returned that he had never been there in his life. His coming
to visit his father had been often talked of but never achieved.

Now, upon his father's marriage, it was very generally proposed,
as a most proper attention, that the visit should take place.
There was not a dissentient voice on the subject, either when
Mrs. Perry drank tea with Mrs. and Miss Bates, or when Mrs. and
Miss Bates returned the visit. Now was the time for Mr. Frank
Churchill to come among them; and the hope strengthened when it was
understood that he had written to his new mother on the occasion.
For a few days, every morning visit in Highbury included some mention
of the handsome letter Mrs. Weston had received. "I suppose you
have heard of the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchill has written
to Mrs. Weston? I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed.
Mr. Woodhouse told me of it. Mr. Woodhouse saw the letter, and he
says he never saw such a handsome letter in his life."

It was, indeed, a highly prized letter. Mrs. Weston had, of course,
formed a very favourable idea of the young man; and such a pleasing

Online LibraryJane AustenEmma → online text (page 1 of 37)