Mrs Elton Comes to Highbury
The evening at Mr and Mrs Cole’s house had been a very happy one. Emma looked back on it and smiled and so did Frank Churchill. He had enjoyed the dancing so much that all the next day he was thinking of how to arrange more.
When Mr Woodhouse and Emma called at Randalls the next evening, he told Emma his idea.
‘The dancing we started at the Coles’ could be finished here at Randalls,’ he said, ‘with the same people and the same musician — what do you think?’
They thought it was a good idea. Mr and Mrs Weston were happy to use their house and Mrs Weston said she would play the music as long as they wanted to dance. Together, they added up the number of couples and then looked at the size of the two rooms at Randalls that could be used.
‘Five couples — is the room big enough?’
‘Perhaps the other room …’
‘Should we also invite Miss Cox? And Miss Gilbert? And her cousins?’
Soon the five couples had become ten and Randalls was certainly not big enough for that. If it was so crowded, nobody could dance, they decided.
Frank did not give up the idea though, and by the middle of the next day he was at Hartfield to suggest another plan to Emma and her father.
‘What do you think of having our little ball at the Crown Inn?’ he asked.
They discussed the idea and decided it was a possibility. The room was much bigger and there was another room for dinner.
‘My father and Mrs Weston are at the Crown at this moment, looking at the rooms,’ said Frank. ‘They would like you to join them and give your opinion.’
Mr Woodhouse stayed at home but Frank and Emma went immediately to the Crown.
Emma and Mrs Weston thought the room was a little dirty although Mr Weston and Frank did not agree. Someone suggested asking Miss Bates to come and look, and Frank went across to her house. Miss Bates and Jane came and looked at the rooms and listened to the plan. Yes, they agreed, the Crown was the best place for the dance and they all spent the next half an hour walking from room to room and talking about the ball.
The only other thing to arrange was that Frank must write to his aunt and uncle to tell them he was staying in Highbury for another few days.
As people heard the news about the ball they were very excited. Jane Fairfax told Emma she was looking forward to it and Harriet talked about it a lot. Mr Knightley was the only one of Emma’s friends who did not seem interested.
Unfortunately, a few days before the ball a letter came from Mrs Churchill. She was very ill, it said, and Frank must return home immediately. Emma was very upset when she heard the news. All their plans for the ball were ended and Frank was going away.
He came to Hartfield to see Emma and her father before he left for home.
‘Of all the most horrible things, saying goodbye is the worst.’ he said to Emma. He looked very unhappy.
‘You will come again,’ she replied.
‘But I cannot say when. I shall certainly try, and then we shall have our ball.’
‘And now there is no time to say goodbye to Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax before you go,’ said Emma.
‘I did call there on my way here. Just for three minutes,’ he said. ‘My father will be here very soon and then I must leave immediately. Miss Woodhouse, it has been a wonderful fortnight. I shall think of you all and dear Highbury. Mrs Weston has said she will write with all the news, but until I can be here again …’
He stopped and looked at Emma and she thought, ‘He must really be in love with me.’
He was just going to speak again when his father arrived with Mr Woodhouse behind him and there was only time to shake her hand and say goodbye before he left.
It was a sad change for Emma. They had met almost every day that Frank had been in Highbury and now Emma’s life seemed very quiet. That night she wrote in her diary, I suppose I am in love with him. I think about him a lot and everything is so very boring without him.
Mr Knightley was not sorry to see Frank go, but he was sorry that Emma was upset.
‘You have so few opportunities for dancing, Emma. You are really very much out of luck,’ he said to her.
In time, Emma told herself she was only a little in love with Frank. She was happy to hear about him from Mrs Weston and see his letters but she was not really unhappy without him. Soon she thought of him as only a dear friend. In his first letter he had spoken about Harriet.
‘Please say my goodbye to Miss Woodhouse’s beautiful little friend.’
Now that Emma was not in love with Frank herself, a little idea started to grow in her mind. She told herself not to think about it because, after Mr Elton, she knew match-making was a dangerous thing. But once the idea had come into her mind, she could not completely forget it.
Almost as soon as Frank Churchill left Highbury Mr Elton and his new wife arrived and suddenly everyone was talking about them. Harriet was unhappy about meeting them and talked about it a lot.
They first saw Mrs Elton at church but soon after Emma decided she and Harriet must call on her at her home.