Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid (Part Seven)

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five / Part Six

Some change of countenance was necessary for all three members of the party, as they walked into Mrs. Weston's drawing-room: Mr. Elton must compose his joyous looks, Mr. John Knightley disperse his ill-humor, and Miss Woodhouse succumb to the real relief of being with the Westons. The very sight of Mrs. Weston - her smile, her touch, her voice - was grateful to Emma, and she determined to think as little as possible of Mr. Elton's affections, or of anything else unpleasant, and enjoy all that was enjoyable to the utmost.

Emma's project of forgetting Mr. Elton made her rather sorry to find, when they had all taken their places, that he was close to her. The difficulty was great in driving his persistent attentions from her mind while he not only sat at her elbow, but was continually intruding his happy countenance upon her notice, and solicitously addressing her upon every occasion. Instead of forgetting him, his behavior was such that she could only brood upon his insensibility to all her most determined hints of disinterest. He would be so anxious for her being perfectly warm, would be so interested about her father, and so delighted with Mrs. Weston, at last admiring her drawings with so much zeal and so little knowledge as seemed perfectly like a lover. Those who had not yet considered a possibility of such a match between them must do so now, and she saw with chagrin the surprised looks exchanged by Mr. and Mrs. Weston. Those shared between the two Knightley brothers seemed smug and presumptuous, and Emma’s indignation rose under their censorious glares. It was fortunate her father was so insensible to such developments, for had he imbibed the same notions as the rest of the party, all his enjoyment of the evening must be irrevocably erased.

Emma found herself so very occupied with Mr. Elton that she could not attend to the conversation of the others. Even when she heard enough to know that Mr. Weston was giving some information about his son, she could not attend. There had always been something in the name, in the idea of Mr. Frank Churchill, which interested her, but such musings had no place amidst her current evils. Something must be done in regards to Mr. Elton, before his attentions irrevocably linked her to him in the minds of all their friends and neighbors.

As she sat beside Mr. Weston in the dining room, she tried to pay attention to his determined expectation of a visit from his son, but the attempt was in vain. She would be distracted. She again tried when the ladies withdrew, but though Mrs. Weston and Isabella canvassed the subject with zeal, her mind soon slipped back to the gentlemen and what further miseries their return might bring. She saw her friend’s concerned look, and had the ladies a few more minutes alone, the entire predicament would surely have been laid before her, but Mr. Woodhouse soon made his appearance, eliminating the possibility of confidence. Mr. Elton, in very good spirits, soon followed. With scarcely an invitation, he seated himself between Emma and Mrs. Weston on the sofa, and revived the topic of Harriet’s sore throat.

He was anxious that the condition might prove putrid, and his first concern was that Miss Woodhouse should escape the infection. He began with great earnestness to entreat her to refrain from visiting the sick chamber again, for the present, to entreat her to promise him not to venture into such hazard till he had seen Mr. Perry and learnt his opinion. He turned to Mrs. Weston to implore her assistance, "Will not you give me your support? Will not you add your persuasions to mine, to induce Miss Woodhouse not to go to Mrs. Goddard's till it is certain Miss Smith's disorder is not infectious? I cannot be satisfied without a promise. So scrupulous for others, and yet so careless for herself! She wanted me to stay at home today, lest I suffer from exposure, and yet will not promise to avoid the danger of catching an ulcerated sore throat herself. Is this fair, Mrs. Weston? Judge between us. Have not I some right to complain?"

Emma saw Mrs. Weston’s attempt to catch her eye, which she studiously avoided. Such an intimate must be taken aback at an address which, in words and manner, was assuming to himself the right of first interest in her. As for herself, she was too much provoked and offended to have the power of directly saying anything to the purpose. She could only give him a look, and such a look as she hoped must restore him to his senses, though nothing hitherto had worked, and then left the sofa, removing to a seat by her sister, and giving her all her attention.

She had not time to know how Mr. Elton took the reproof, so rapidly did another subject succeed, for Mr. John Knightley now came into the room from examining the weather, and opened on them all with the information of the ground being covered with snow.

Poor Mr. Woodhouse was silent from consternation, but everybody else had something to say.  Everybody was either surprised or not surprised, and had some question to ask, or some comfort to offer. Mr. Elton finally forgotten, Mrs. Weston and Emma tried earnestly to cheer him and turn his attention from his son-in-law, who was pursuing his triumph rather unfeelingly.

Mr. Weston, with triumph of a different sort, was confessing that he had known it to be snowing some time, but had not said a word, lest it should make Mr. Woodhouse uncomfortable, and be an excuse for his hurrying away.

"What is to be done, my dear Emma? What is to be done?" was Mr. Woodhouse's first exclamation, and all that he could say for some time. To her he looked for comfort, and for the moment her attention must be completely consumed by his need.

His eldest daughter's alarm was equal to his own, and of a kind to escalate the father’s. Fortunately, Mr. Knightley had left the room immediately after his brother's first report of the snow and now returned, bringing assurance that he had been out of doors to examine, and could answer for there not being the smallest difficulty in their getting home. He had seen the coachmen, and they both agreed with him in there being nothing to apprehend.

To Isabella, the relief of such tidings was very great, and they were scarcely less acceptable to Emma on her father's account, who was immediately set as much at ease on the subject as his nervous constitution allowed, but the alarm that had been raised could not be appeased so as to admit of any comfort for him while he continued at Randalls. He was satisfied of there being no present danger in returning home, but no assurances could convince him that it was safe to stay, and while the others were variously urging and recommending, Mr. Knightley and Emma settled it in a few brief sentences.

"Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?"

"I am ready, if the others are," she replied gratefully.

"Shall I ring the bell?"

"Yes, do."

Here was good come from bad! Such an intolerable evening could not come to an end too soon for Emma. The bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. A few minutes more, and she hoped to see one troublesome companion deposited in his own house, the other in command of his temper, her father and sister assuaged, and the entire horrid evening behind her.

The carriage came, and Mr. Woodhouse, always the first object on such occasions, was carefully attended to his own by Mr. Knightley and Mr. Weston. Isabella stepped in after her father, and John Knightley, forgetting that he did not belong to their party, stepped in after his wife very naturally, displaying a level of thoughtlessness that earned him Emma’s utmost disdain. Anger notwithstanding, Emma found that the door was to be lawfully shut on Mr. Elton and herself, and that they were to have a tete-a-tete drive. She met Mr. Knightley’s eye pleadingly, begging him to intervene, but just when she thought he stepped forward to prevent the oversight, Mr. Weston shut the door. They were instantly off, and she could see the two men remonstrating as they drove away, little good it did her now. 

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Our story ends on Halloween. Come back tomorrow to read part eight!!

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