Sunday, October 28, 2012

Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid (Part Five)

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four

Emma could only greet with dissatisfaction the Westons’ invitation to dine on Christmas Eve. Normally a diversion of this sort was just what Emma most enjoyed: designed to accommodate Mr. Woodhouse’s preferences and comfort, it was to be an early party, limited to their own especial set. If that set happened to include Mr. Elton, she supposed there was no one to blame but herself. It did occur to Emma that a hint to Mrs. Weston might result in a more limited guest list - just the family - but soon learning that Mr. Weston, in his enthusiasm, had already extended the invitation to Mr. Elton and been eagerly accepted, the notion was necessarily abandoned.

The evening before this great event (for it was a very great event that Mr. Woodhouse should dine out, on the 24th of December) had been spent by Harriet at Hartfield, and she had gone home so much indisposed with a cold, that, but for her own earnest wish of being nursed by Mrs. Goddard, Emma could not have allowed her to leave the house. Emma called on her the next day, and found her doom already signed with regard to Randalls. She was very feverish and had a bad sore throat: Mrs. Goddard was full of care and affection, Mr. Perry was talked of, and Harriet herself was too ill and low to resist the authority which excluded her from this delightful engagement, though she could not speak of her loss without many tears.

Emma sat with her as long as she could, to attend her in Mrs. Goddard's unavoidable absences, and endeavored to leave her at last tolerably comfortable. She had not advanced many yards from Mrs. Goddard's door, when she was met by Mr. Elton, evidently coming towards it. On the rumour of considerable illness, he had been going to inquire after Miss Smith. Here was action that Emma could easily approve, and hoping it was the beginning of his affection’s transfer towards a more appropriate quarter, they walked on slowly together in conversation about poor Miss Smith. This was promising indeed, but when she learned that his interest was driven by the hope of carrying some report of the invalid back to Hartfield, and that he had no intention, after meeting her, to follow through with his call, she became anxious to expend with his company as soon as possible. Fortunately, they were soon overtaken by Mr. John Knightley returning from the daily visit to Donwell, ending the tete-a-tete as they joined company and proceeded together. His two eldest boys were with him, their healthy, glowing faces showing all the benefit of a country run, and rallying Emma’ spirits with their antics. Having little alternative but endure Mr. Elton’s company until their ways parted, she determined to use this opportunity to free herself of his nuisance by dissuading him from attendance that evening.

"It is so cold, so very cold - and looks and feels so very much like snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should really try not to go out today and dissuade my father from venturing, but as he has made up his mind, and does not seem to feel the cold himself, I do not like to interfere, as I know it would be so great a disappointment to Mr. and Mrs. Weston. But, upon my word, Mr. Elton, in your case, I should certainly excuse myself. You who have such fatigues to confront tomorrow will most readily agree that it would be no more than common prudence to stay at home and take care of yourself tonight, rather than expose yourself to a frigid - perhaps unhealthful - walk. My father, I know, will be most distressed to think of you proceeding on foot."

Surely he could not mistake such a near command, and indeed Mr. Elton looked as if he did not very well know what answer to make, which was exactly the case, but hardly had Emma finished this tidy speech when she was provoked to find her brother civilly offering a seat in his carriage, and Mr. Elton accepting the offer with much prompt satisfaction. It was a done thing. Mr. Elton was to go, and never had his broad handsome face expressed more pleasure than at this moment. Never had his smile been stronger, nor his eyes more exalting than when he next looked at her. Emma was most displeased.

Soon afterwards Mr. Elton quitted them, and she could only think his parting too particular. The tone of his voice while assuring her that he should call at Mrs. Goddard's for news of her friend, the last thing before he prepared for the happiness of meeting her again, showed a particularity and attentiveness that made her blush before her perceptive brother. Taking such a response as an indication of her approval, he sighed and smiled himself off in a way that left Emma in little doubt that Mr. Elton considered the entire episode a triumph to his cause. It was a most disastrous blunder.

After a few minutes of entire silence between them, Emma began with forced civility, “Is there a particular reason you felt the need to provide Mr. Elton conveyance this evening?”

He looked surprised. “It seemed you were hinting I do so, and in a most particular manner.”

“Oh, John! How could you think so? I was determined he should stay home.”

“Indeed! Well, I am very sorry if that was your intention. Do you have a reason for wanting him away?”

Emma ignored this question. “I would think you would prefer a party confined to the family.”

“I certainly would! Better us all stay home and forego such foolishness entirely. I admire your father’s resolution in venturing out in such weather, for it looks as though there will be snow very soon. Something new for his coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow, is it not?”

Emma could make no response to such an attack, and fell back into the disquietude of her own thoughts. She was very angry with John Knightley for offering precisely the encouragement she wished to avoid. The manner in which the entire episode must appear to Mr. Elton! As if she had contrived to share a carriage with him! It could not be more unfortunate. Barely had she begun to wonder how the impression might best be undone, when she found herself once again under interrogation from a Knightley regarding Mr. Elton.  

"I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton. It is downright labor to him where ladies are concerned: every feature works. He seems to work particularly hard to please you, Emma. Has he become a nuisance to you?"

She turned away to conceal her blush. "Certainly not! Mr. Elton's manners are not perfect," came the cautious reply, "but knowing he has a great wish to please, we can overlook the exaggerated nature of his statements.” She laughed affectedly, "Are you imagining me to be Mr. Elton's object?"

"Such an imagination has crossed me, I own, Emma, and if it never occurred to you before, you may as well take it into consideration now."

"What an idea! I assure you you are quite mistaken. Mr. Elton and I are very good friends, and nothing more," and she walked on, not very well pleased with her brother for imagining her blind, ignorant, and in want of counsel, particularly when it was he who had exasperated her difficulties. He said no more, and some few minutes passed in silence before Emma found herself unable to let the topic alone. “If you are entertaining such unfounded suspicions, and I cannot help but wonder in what quarter they originate, then why on Earth should you offer encouragement to Mr. Elton by placing your carriage at his disposal?”

He looked at her with a degree of bemusement most calculated to incense. “What I wonder at is that any of us should be going out in such weather! We would do far better to remain at Hartfield; but where do you imagine my ‘suspicions’ originate?”

Determined not to further betray that she and Mr. Knightley had already canvassed the humiliating topic, she again ignored his question. “I hope you will say nothing to dissuade my father now, when he is so bent on the excursion. It means so much to the Westons, who have been to a great deal of trouble to insure his comfort.”

"A man must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him,” he grumbled. “He must think himself a most agreeable fellow. I could not do such a thing, but fear not; if Mr. Woodhouse is determined upon such foolishness, I shall not be the one to throw a rub in his way.”

“Thank you,” she replied stiffly, little trusting herself to say more.

“Do think of what I said, Emma. And you needn’t fear a half mile’s carriage ride in his company, as I will be there to chaperone.”

“I have no concerns of the sort!” she retorted. “I am not afraid of meeting Mr. Elton anywhere.”

“Excellent! Too much has been made of the matter already,” and silence reigned, leaving Emma to ponder feelings of indignation uninterrupted.

**********

Come back tomorrow to read part six!

6 comments:

  1. My goodness, Mr. Elton can't take a hint! :)

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  2. Hey Meredith. As I began to conceive this story, the impediment proper manners created for women expressing themselves clearly was high in my mind - Fanny's inability to clearly reject Mr. Crawford, Catherine Morland's difficulties escaping John Thorpe, and even Mr. Collins' unwillingness to believe Elizabeth's most direct rejection. My thought was that until a man actually proposed, and often even before then, a lady was rather hampered in her ability to put him off. I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether I pull this off convincingly in E&E!

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  3. Friends indeed.... lol... we'll see how fast that changes.

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    1. This is where the noose begins to tighten on Emma - I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!

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  4. That is so true, Alexa! And I could easily believe Mr. Elton to be so obtuse and vainglorious to not take Emma's hints!

    I didn't mean to imply that I found the situation implausible - I was just feeling exasperated for poor Emma!

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    1. Of course you didn't, Meredith! I never thought so! I just get a bit long winded at times, and your comment made me reflective. I hope you are enjoying (or at least amused by - not sure enjoyable is an appropriate description for this tale) the story!

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