Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid (Part Eight)

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

To restrain him as much as might be, by her own manners, she was immediately preparing to speak with exquisite calmness and gravity on the weather and the night, but scarcely had she begun, scarcely had they passed the sweep gate and joined the other carriage, when she found her subject cut up, her hand seized, and her attention demanded. Her worst fears were coming true: Mr. Elton was actually making violent love to her. Availing himself of this precious opportunity, he declared sentiments which must be already well known - hoping, fearing, adoring, and ready to die if she refused him.

Acute was Emma’s misery at such a moment. Despite all her attempts to discourage his passion, the man could not be more in love with her. She felt all the pity he deserved while summoning words of rejection, determined to make such a heavy blow as gentle as possible, but before she could elucidate her thoughts, he took the silence as encouragement to press on: “There was a time, dear Miss Woodhouse, when hope almost left me. I was sure you were displeased with the charade I offered for Miss Smith’s collection, which you must have known to be my very own, despite protestations otherwise, but when you continued to offer your beloved friendship my dreams revived. I began to believe it not presumptuous to think my affections returned. Humbled I was, but optimism refused to abandon me. Such ardent attachment, unequalled love, and unexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and the encouragement I received this very day has given me the confidence to speak.”

Emma was astonished. Such intensity of feeling had claim to indulgence, especially as she acknowledged her own fault in stoking the flame. Shakily, she forced herself to speak: “If, by encouragement, Mr. Elton, you mean my brother’s offer to include you in our carriage ...”

“Yes!” he exclaimed joyously, before she could further proceed. “Exactly so! Never would I have anticipated such favor being bestowed, had I not your family’s approval of my attentions. But knowing, as I do, your good father’s anxiety regarding the turn into Vicarage Lane, such an exception gave me courage to express myself tonight. Please, Miss Woodhouse, my dear Emma! Say you will make me the happiest of men!”

She saw the hope in his eyes, and considered with dismay the predicament John Knightley had thrust her into. She blamed both Mr. Knightleys, for with such claim to understanding, placing her in this untenable situation was unforgivable. At such a moment of crisis she dwelled on their neglect, feeling they deserved the very worst punishment. Tears pricked her eyes, and Emma, perhaps out of pure spite, or maybe those habits of martyrdom she was so long used to practice with her father, found herself resolving upon the unimaginable. She would accept the vicar. Before she could seriously consider the matter, she must made some sign of affirmation, for again her hand was grasped, kissed most passionately, and her ear attacked with declarations that he would accompany her to Hartfield and seek Mr. Woodhouse’s immediate approval.

“No!” she declared, and with such vehemence as to make her lover sit back in confusion. “No, Mr. Elton, that is precisely what you must not do.” She found her voice and explained with a calmness contrary to her internal turmoil. “My father is no friend to marriage, as you must know. Change of any sort he finds difficult. Having always professed to never marry, such altered intentions require a great deal of preparation for him to accept. You must provide me with the time to inure him to the notion.”

He was disappointed but complacent. Some delay he would allow. It could not shake his happiness. She thankfully saw him to the door of his own house, endured his sentimental leave taking, and was finally left to the turmoil of her mind. What inextricable folly had she committed!

At Hartfield she was welcomed, with the utmost delight, by her father, who had been trembling for the dangers of a solitary drive from Vicarage Lane, and it seemed as if her return only were wanted to make everything go well: for Mr. John Knightley, ashamed of his ill-humour and repentant for inattention, was now all kindness and attention. The day was concluding in peace and comfort to all their little party, except herself, for her mind had never been in such perturbation; it needed a very strong effort to appear attentive and cheerful till the usual hour of separating allowed her the relief of quiet reflection. Sadly, such thoughts as were hers to contemplate could bring nothing but further pain, and the more she considered her predicament, the worse it began to appear.

The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable. It was a wretched business, indeed! Such an overthrow of everything she had been wishing for! Such a development of everything most unwelcome, and none but herself to blame! Certainly the natives of Donwell shared no small part in the mischief, but why had she not refused him? Pride, inexcusable pride: defiance of the sound advice of her friends, and inability to acknowledge her own fault! Such a blow in store for Harriet! But that consideration must be an afterthought. Her feelings must be for herself at such a moment. Every part of it brought pain and humiliation. There was no course open to her but the degradation of rescinding her acceptance, for to proceed with such a union could only bring greater embarrassment. She, Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, to marry Mr. Elton, a man from a family of no account, and lacking in those superior qualities that might make his situation acceptable! It was unthinkable. She must put an end to it with all haste. How she had allowed herself to agree to such a notion was the true wonder of it all, and it was in a state of deep perplexion at her own temerity that she was finally able to close her eyes.

Nightmares ruled her sleep. She first dreamed of Mr. Elton’s dismay upon rejection, and the reaction of her neighbors when they learned of the affair. She heard accusations of flirtatiousness, fickleness, and worse; saw her dignity destroyed and reputation in tatters. Just when she thought she would break under the assault, the dream changed. She was a new bride: mistress of the vicarage, sitting prim and pleased in her new domain. Exactly so! Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax called, and she heard herself imposing upon all their little affairs: finding an unwanted situation for Jane amongst vulgar people, and sitting the aunt beside her in church, a picture of self-satisfied condescension. Again, she saw herself walking down the aisle, an unrecognizable bundle of veils and lace, only it was Mr. Knightley presiding over the N’s to M’s, a sneering grin contorting his countenance. Such images haunted her the whole night through, and she woke on the morrow in even deeper in misery than she had gone to bed: more ready to see the evil before her, and with less hope of getting tolerably out of it.

As sunlight cast away the demons of the night, so did it illuminate the full consequence of her folly. Only now did she thoroughly understand the repercussions of ending such an ill-conceived engagement. While Mr. Elton might keep it a secret now, when Mr. Woodhouse’s blessings remain unsought, were she to break it off, there would be no restraining his tongue. He would be indignant, and rightfully so. As Mr. Elton stood in high favor with all in HIghbury, her rejection would certainly evoke their disdain. There was no escaping the neighborhood, and with a sense of hopelessness never before known, she began to think that resigning herself to the degrading union was the best hope for maintaining her character. Surely her father could not be expected to accept a short engagement, and it might be many years before such a union could even be contemplated. In the meantime, she could hope to improve Mr. Elton: he might be made more tolerable, his mind less inelegant. The evils of her predicament might be mitigated, and perhaps there was some chance - some unforeseen, future impediment - that might be held reasonable excuse for her extraction.

Such train of thought had its gradual effect. To youth and natural cheerfulness like Emma's, sensations of softened pain and brighter hope will materialize, no matter how dire the circumstances. Snow proved no barrier to Mr. Elton’s affections, and as soon as his duties and the thaw made such an excursion feasible, he was at Hartfield, paying court to Miss Woodhouse in so transparent a manner as everyone, including Mr. Woodhouse, must question the basis of his claim. She saw Mr. Knightley look on in wonder, and it struck Emma that more than any other concern, she was determined to save face before this most demanding judge. Even more that the effect on her father, she cared for Mr. Knightley’s reaction. News of her engagement would shock him, undoubtedly - such an eventuality could only make him wonder - but he must not see her repent: must not know her sorry. Any other humiliation she thought she could endure but that of his triumph. But no, she was unjust. Mr. Knightley was not the figure of her dreams, exulting in her downfall. She knew he would never congratulate himself on her suffering: would always stand her friend. Of this she could be certain. It was a friendship she hoped to better appreciate now, and do more to deserve than she had hitherto, for when the future appeared so bleak, it was sure to prove one of her few comforts amidst countless years of remorse.

**********
Happy Halloween, Janeites!

2 comments:

  1. Say it isn't so! How ghastly! This may sound so pathetic, but even with the given title - I didn't see that coming! ;)

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    Replies
    1. Happy Halloween Meredith! Ghastly, isn't it? I hope you found the story entertaining, despite the miserable ending. Thanks for reading (and commenting)!

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