Mr Elton’s Choice
That night it was difficult for Emma to sleep. For herself, she did not worry about what had happened in the carriage with Mr Elton, but she felt very sad for Harriet.
‘Harriet has grown to like this man and then to love him,’ she thought,’ and it was because of me.’
She remembered what Mr Knightley had said to her about him, that day in the garden. ‘Mr Elton will choose sensibly,’ he had said, and now it seemed he was right. He had not wanted Harriet, had never thought about her as a wife. All the time it had been Emma he wanted. But she knew the first and worst mistake had been hers. It was wrong and foolish to try to bring two people together and she was ashamed of herself.
‘It was enough that I talked her out of love with Mr Martin. There, at least, I was right,’ she thought.
The next day, Emma was pleased to see a lot of snow outside. This was a good thing because it meant she could not go to church and see Mr Elton, or go to visit Harriet, and none of them could meet. The snow stayed for several days after Christmas and the only visitor to Hartfield was Mr Knightley.
As soon as the snow disappeared, Isabella, John and the children went back to London. The same evening, a letter arrived for Mr Woodhouse from Mr Elton. It said he was leaving Highbury the next day and going to Bath to spend a few weeks with friends. There was no message in the letter for Emma and she was a little angry about that, but also pleased he was going away. She knew the next thing she must do was to speak to Harriet and tell her everything.
Harriet cried, but she did not blame Emma at all for what had happened. They went back to Hartfield together and Emma tried very hard to make Harriet feel better, but she knew only time could help her to forget. Perhaps when Mr Elton returned they might all be able to meet without feeling embarrassed.
Mr Frank Churchill did not come. He wrote a letter of excuse and in it he said, I hope to come to Randalls quite soon.
Both Mr and Mrs Weston were very sorry but they decided perhaps the spring was a better time to visit and maybe he could stay for a longer time then.
Emma gave Mr Knightley the news and blamed the Churchills, especially his aunt. Mr Knightley did not agree.
‘If he wanted to see his father, he could come. He is twenty-three or -four — at that age it is not impossible. A short time ago he was in Weymouth, so he can leave the Churchills when he wants to,’ he said.
‘It may not be easy for him all the time. His aunt and uncle may need him at home. Why do you dislike him so much?’ asked Emma.
‘I neither like nor dislike him because we have never met. But I cannot understand why this is so difficult for him. He seems a very weak young man.’
‘We shall never agree about that,’ said Emma. ‘Perhaps he is just a kind and gentle man. Perhaps he does not want to make his aunt unhappy.’
‘He is certainly very good at writing letters and making excuses. But Mrs Weston must feel very insulted because he has not come to meet her.’
Emma knew Mr Knightley was becoming angry about Frank Churchill and she could not understand why.
‘I believe he will come soon,’ she said. ‘And when he does, everyone in Highbury will be very excited. We are all interested and want to meet him.’
‘Oh? I never think of him from one month to another,’ was all Mr Knightley said.
Emma and Harriet were out walking one morning and in Emma’s opinion had talked enough about Mr Elton for one day. Harriet could not forget him and still loved to hear his name. They were near the house where some old friends lived and Emma decided a visit to them may help Harriet to think about other things.
Mrs and Miss Bates loved to have visitors and Emma did not call at their house as often as she knew she should. They were quite poor but there was always tea and cake and a warm welcome for their visitors. Miss Bates loved to talk and because her old mother was deaf she repeated conversations by shouting at her.
They were delighted to see Emma and Harriet and made them sit near the fire and have tea with them. They asked Emma about their old friend Mr Woodhouse and were happy when she said he was in very good health.
‘Have you heard from Miss Fairfax recently?’ asked Emma, hoping they had not just received a letter.
Jane Fairfax was Miss Bates’s niece. Her parents had died when she was young and she had come to Highbury to live with her grandmother and aunt. But then, an old friend of her father’s, a Mr Campbell, had offered to look after her and Jane had gone to live with his family. Mr and Mrs Campbell had a daughter the same age as Jane and they were a rich family, so Jane was very lucky. Mrs and Miss Bates were very sad when she left Highbury but they knew it was much better for her to live in London with the Campbell family. She wrote to her aunt and grandmother regularly, and sometimes came to stay with them.
Emma and Jane Fairfax were about the same age and they knew each other but they were never friends. Miss Bates liked to tell everyone in Highbury about Jane because they were generally interested in her. Only Emma was not interested. She was bored with Jane’s letters and hearing all about her life, but Miss Bates was a very kind lady and she knew it was polite to ask.