Thursday, October 25, 2012

Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid (Part Two)

Part One

Mr. Knightley might quarrel with her, but Emma refused to quarrel with herself. He was so much displeased, that it was longer than usual before he came to Hartfield again; and when they did meet, his grave looks showed that the subject of Mr. Elton was still paramount in his mind.

He sought her in the shrubbery, where Harriet’s absence, having been called home by Mrs. Goddard, confined her morning walk. She smiled in greeting, determined they should not argue a second time. “Good morning, Mr. Knightley. We have missed you these past days.”

“Hello, Emma. It will do no good, you know.”

“What will?” she asked, genuinely curious.

“Pretending all is well. We cannot erase the parting of last week. The matter must be discussed.”

“I do not see why. We both behaved disagreeably, and it is best forgotten. You see how readily I acknowledge my own part in the conflict. Let us make peace and be done with it.”

“If the matter were more trifling, I would happily agree to your plan, but matters most serious take a good deal of negotiation to come to resolution. I cannot be easy until assured you have taken my warnings seriously.”

“Mr. Knightley, I do appreciate your concern for my wellbeing, and please feel secure that your opinions will always hold merit with me. I have thought on our last conversation and weighed the matter in my mind, and though certain you are mistaken - a rare occurrence, I concede - I have determined to regulate my behavior so as to preclude further conjecture.”

“I am glad,” he said seriously, “that you heed my words. The more I have considered the matter, the more I am certain how right I was to give you notice. Hopefully, I will never be required to do so again.”

“Such a happening is entirely within your direction,” she replied, irritated by the suggestion.

“If your manners remain overly friendly, than you will leave me little choice. I cannot see you fall into a blunder without attempting to prevent it.”

“You have no need to concern yourself in the matter. If there were any danger before, there surely can be none now, when you have so kindly put me on alert.”

He shook his head. “I see you are unrepentant.”

“Why should I be? It is you who departed so unceremoniously.”

“Excuse me if I showed myself ungracious. I shall not infringe further upon your hospitality,” and bowing with the utmost ceremony, Mr. Knightley left Hartfield.

Emma was not sorry, for it was he who ought to be repentant, and despite his protestations otherwise, she knew his apology lacked conviction. She did not like to be at odds with so old a friend, but determined that her plans and proceedings would be justified by the general appearances of the next few days, she hoped they would soon return to friendly intercourse.

Attempting to wipe all tinge of unpleasantness from her mind, Emma threw herself into Harriet’s new project of collecting riddles. Mr. Woodhouse was asked to contribute, and through him Mr. Perry, allowing Emma to invite Mr. Elton to provide any really good enigmas, charades, or conundrums that he might recollect, without giving any appearance of partiality. She had the pleasure of seeing him most intently at work with his recollections, and at the same time, as she could perceive, most earnestly careful that nothing ungallant, nothing that did not breathe a compliment to the sex should pass his lips. They owed to him their two or three politest puzzles, and she saw him leave with every confidence that such delicacy would never allow him to be so uncouth as to presume beyond his sphere.

The very next day, however, saw Emma’s assurance crumble. He called for a few moments, just to leave a piece of paper on the table containing, as he said, a charade, which a friend of his had addressed to a young lady, the object of his admiration, but which, from his manner, Emma was immediately convinced must be his own.

"I do not offer it for Miss Smith's collection," said he. "Being my friend's, I have no right to expose it in any degree to the public eye, but perhaps you may not dislike looking at it."

The speech was more to Emma than to Harriet, which the former found alarming. There was deep consciousness about him, but perhaps he found it easier to meet her eye than her friend's. He was gone the next moment, and after another moment's pause, Emma hastily clasped the paper and consumed its contents.

To Miss—
My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

But ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!

She cast her eye over it, pondered, caught the meaning, read it through again to be certain, and quite mistress of the lines, passed it to Harriet with a shaking hand. She sat in misery, struggling to construct some meaning to words other than what she knew to be true. Courtship! Very clever, indeed. But whom did he mean?

“May its approval beam in that soft eye!”

Harriet exactly. Soft is the very word for her eye, but yet, could not nearly any eye be described so?

“Thy ready wit the word will soon supply.”

Harriet's ready wit! Never! A man would have to be very much in love to describe her so. Ah! Mr. Knightley, I am grateful you have not the benefit of this! He could not say more plainly, “My dear Miss Woodhouse, give me leave to pay my addresses to you. Approve my charade and my intentions in the same glance.” That is what I most certainly will not do.

She was obliged to break off from these truly horrid observations, which were otherwise of a sort to run into great length, by the eagerness of Harriet's wondering questions.

"What can it be, Miss Woodhouse? What can it be? I have not an idea. I cannot guess it in the least. What can it possibly be? Do try to find it out, Miss Woodhouse. Do help me. I never saw any thing so hard. Is it kingdom? I wonder who the friend was, and who could be the young lady. Do you think it is a good one? Can it be woman?”

“I am sorry Harriet, but I am afraid I do not feel quite myself. It must be a headache coming on. I think I had best lay down.”

Harriet was all solicitude, the charade forgotten. Duty dictated that Miss Woodhouse must be made comfortable, but such mystery could not be neglected forever. The charade must be solved. Later in the morning, Emma was able to help her through the lines, though she despised their very sight.

"Oh! Miss Woodhouse, what a pity that I must not write this beautiful charade into my book! I am sure I have not got one half so good."

“It would be a betrayal of trust to do so. Besides, I am not sure it is so very clever. It expresses the kind of sentiments that can only be of interest to those for whom they are intended. It was very wrong for Mr. Elton to expose his friend in such a manner.”

“I had not thought it improper!”

“It only became so when Mr. Elton bandied it about. The less public such sentiments are made, the better.”

Later in the morning, and just as the girls were going to separate in preparation for the regular four o'clock dinner, the vicar returned to Hartfield. Emma could not receive him with the usual smile, but nor could she be uncivil. Her quick eye soon discerned in his the consciousness of having made a push - of having thrown a die, and she imagined he was come to see how it might turn up, poor man. His ostensible reason, however, was to ask whether Mr. Woodhouse's party could be made up in the evening without him, or whether he should be in the smallest degree necessary at Hartfield. If he were, everything else must give way, but otherwise his friend Cole had been saying so much about his dining with him - had made such a point of it, that he had promised him conditionally to come.

Here was her opportunity. Emma thanked him, but his presence was not required at Hartfield that night. Her father was sure of his rubber. He re-urged, and she re-declined, and he seemed then about to make his bow, when with a stroke of determination Emma took the paper from the table and returned it, saying casually: "Oh! here is the charade you were so obliging as to leave with us. Thank you for the sight of it."

Mr. Elton certainly did not very well know what to say. He looked rather doubtingly - rather confused. He said something about "honor" and glanced at Emma most searchingly, but seeing the hardness in her eyes, he was gone as soon as possible. Emma could not think it too soon; there was a extreme awkwardness in the entire proceeding that had best not be belabored. She felt for the man, as he had looked sincerely disappointed, but there was little alternative. She trusted his feelings were not so deep as to leave a great wound, and that soon they would all be back on customary footing. Perhaps then there might be hope for Harriet, but in the meantime, she had best tamper those affections already rising in her susceptible friend’s breast. 


Come back tomorrow to read part three!

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