Friday, October 26, 2012

Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid (Part Three)

Part One / Part Two

Though now the middle of December, there had yet been no weather to prevent the young ladies from tolerably regular exercise, and on the morrow Emma had a charitable visit to pay to a poor sick family, who lived a little way out of Highbury.

Their road to this detached cottage was down Vicarage Lane, a lane leading at right angles from the broad, though irregular, main street of the place, and, as may be inferred, containing the dreaded abode of Mr. Elton. If her assistance had not been a manner of some urgency, the visit would surely have been put off, for reminders of that disappointing gentleman were precisely what neither she nor Harriet required. It was a discouraging turn of events, his preferring herself rather than Harriet, for not only was the vicarage an ideal place to situate her friend, but also Mr. Elton had been providing the perfect remedy to Robert Martin. She would now need to find another manner in which to distract Harriet, but few methods would be as efficacious.  

Emma sighed, contemplating the matter. There was certainly no reason to abandon all hope of her project someday coming to fruition. Mr Elton was a reasonable man. Though he presumed too much, he seemed to take her dismissal just as he ought. She must be patient and wait for him to recover from disappointment, but with time and opportunity, there was every reason to suppose he would come to see what an infinitely more appropriate wife Harriet would make him. Her sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people: such qualities he must notice and admire.

Also she was beautiful. A girl with such loveliness as Harriet has a certainty of being admired and sought after - of having the power of choosing from among many. There was a notion: if Mr. Elton saw Harriet receiving her due attention from other members of his sex, he would surely come to value her himself more quickly. Nine times out of ten it is the admiration of others that forms a mind like Mr. Elton’s. She would have to see what could be done.

A few inferior dwellings were first to be passed, and then, about a quarter of a mile down the lane rose the vicarage, an old and not very good house, almost as close to the road as it could be. It had no advantage of situation, but had been very much smartened up by the present proprietor. Such as it was, there could be no possibility of the two friends passing it without a slackened pace and observing eyes. Harriet, who was perceptive enough to see Miss Woodhouse was deep in thought, had been unusually quiet during the course of their walk, but now she could not help but exclaim: "Oh, what a sweet house! How very beautiful! There are the yellow curtains that Miss Nash admires so much."

“I am afraid it is old and poorly situated,” observed Emma, “but it has been very much smartened up by the present proprietor. He has made a number of improvements, and you would not know the inside from its former state.”

“I never saw it at all,” Harriet said forlornly.

“Have you not?” Emma was much struck. “Well, I suppose you might very well have occasion to see it someday, though I can think of no possible pretense at the moment: no servant that I want to inquire about of his housekeeper, nor message from my father." Though she saw her companion’s disappointment, it she would not lament. No good could come from Harriet dwelling too fixedly on the vicar until she was sure of his affections.

They fell back into silence until having reached their destination. Turning from the lane onto the slippery path which lead through the cottage garden, Emma declared, “Here will be sights to do one good! How trifling they make everything else appear.” She had no small hope that everything else included both Robert Martin and Mr. Elton.

Inside, Emma was very compassionate, and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. In the present instance, it was sickness and poverty together which she came to visit; and after remaining there as long as she could give comfort or advice, she quitted the cottage with such an impression of the scene as made her say to Harriet, as they walked away, "Well Harriet, I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day: what say you?"

"Very true," said Harriet. "Poor creatures! One can think of nothing else."

"The impression should not soon be over," said Emma, stopping to look once more at all the outward wretchedness of the place, and recall the still greater within.

"Oh! dear, no," said her companion.

They walked on. The lane made a slight bend, and when that bend was passed, Mr. Elton was immediately in sight, and so near as to only give Emma time enough to silently, and futilely, wish him away.

The gentleman joined them. The wants and sufferings of the poor family were the first subject on meeting. He had been going to call on them. His visit he would now defer, yet that must not be allowed. They could not interrupt him in such a necessitous mission of mercy. A very interesting parley about what could be done and should be done for the family ensued, a topic imminently appropriate for Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Elton to converse upon, and the former welcomed it as a sign of their continuing good relations. However, when Harriet remembered  that the sufferer was returning to bed upon their departure, Mr. Elton declared he dared not disturb the family now, and vowing to return later in the morning, he turned back to accompany them.

Emma heartily blamed him for not knowing he was unwanted. What could he possibly achieve by imposing his presence upon her now? Is it possible he still had designs on her? Anxious to separate herself from him as far as she could, she soon took possession of a narrow footpath, a little raised on one side of the lane, leaving them together in the main road. But she had not been there two minutes when she found that Harriet's habits of dependence and imitation were bringing her up too, and that, in short, they would both be soon after her. This would not do; she immediately stopped, under pretence of having some alteration to make in the lacing of her half-boot, and stooping down in complete occupation of the footpath, begged them to have the goodness to walk on, and she would follow in half a minute. They did as they were desired, and by the time she judged it reasonable to have done with her boot, she had the comfort of further delay in her power, being overtaken by a child from the cottage, setting out, according to orders, to fetch broth from Hartfield. But the child's pace was quick, and upon both looking around, she was obliged to send the child on and join them.

Mr. Elton was giving an account of yesterday's party at his friend Cole's, detailing the Stilton cheese, the north Wiltshire, the butter, the celery, the beet-root, and all the dessert. "Such petty nothing do not justify him neglecting his business," was Emma’s disturbed reflection. “Surely he cannot carry on so for a great time. If I could but have kept longer away!"

He continued with them even after falling into silence, and the three companions walked on together quietly, till within view of the vicarage pales. Surely they must now part, but here was Mr. Elton offering them refreshments. Incorrigible man! Though Harriet looked with longing at this opportunity to achieve what had so recently been determined impossible, Emma firmly refused. Mr. Elton looked conscious, and Emma sincerely hoped he would now relinquish such presumptuous desires. She was sorry for her friend’s disappointment, but it was far more important to convince Mr. Elton that his hopes were totally unfounded, than to gratify a desire that might be fulfilled at any time. 


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Come back tomorrow and read part four!

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