Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable homeand happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessingsof existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the worldwith very little to distress or vex her.
She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate,indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage,been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her motherhad died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinctremembrance of her caresses; and her place had been suppliedby an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little shortof a mother in affection.
Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family,less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters,but particularly of Emma. Between them
it was more the intimacyof sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominaloffice of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowedher to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority beingnow long passed away, they had been living together as friend andfriend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked;highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly byher own.
The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of havingrather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a littletoo well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatenedalloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at presentso unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortuneswith her.
Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of anydisagreeable consciousness.—Miss Taylor married. It was MissTaylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-dayof this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thoughtof any continuance. The wedding over, and the bride-people gone,her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospectof a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himselfto sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sitand think of what she had lost.
The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Westonwas a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age,and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in consideringwith what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wishedand promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her.The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day.She recalled her past kindness—the kindness, the affection of sixteenyears—how she had taught and how she had played with her from fiveyears old—how she had devoted all her powers to attach and amuseher in health—and how nursed her through the various illnessesof childhood. A large debt of gratitude was owing here; but theintercourse of the last seven years, the equal footing and perfectunreserve which had soon followed Isabella's marriage, on theirbeing left to each other, was yet a dearer, tenderer recollection.She had been a friend and companion such as few possessed: intelligent,well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family,interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself,in every pleasure, every scheme of hers—one to whom she could speakevery thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for heras could never find fault.
How was she to bear the change?—It was true that her friend wasgoing only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great mustbe the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them,and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages,natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of sufferingfrom intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but hewas no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation,rational or playful.
The evil of the actual disparity in their ages (and Mr. Woodhouse hadnot married early) was much increased by his constitution and habits;for having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activityof mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years;and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heartand his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended himat any time.
Her sister, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony,being settled in London, only sixteen miles off, was much beyondher daily reach; and many a long October and November evening mustbe struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmas brought the nextvisit from Isabella and her husband, and their little children,to fill the house, and give her pleasant society again.
Highbury, the large and populous village, almost amounting to a town,to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn, and shrubberies,and name, did really belong, afforded her no equals. The Woodhouseswere first in consequence there. All looked up to them. She hadmany acquaintance in the place, for her father was universally civil,but not one among them who could be accepted in lieu of MissTaylor for even half a day. It was a melancholy change; and Emmacould not but sigh over it, and wish for impossible things,till her father awoke, and made it necessary to be cheerful.His spirits required support. He was a nervous man, easily depressed;fond of every body that he was used to, and hating to part with them;hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the origin of change,was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciledto his own daughter's marrying, nor could ever speak of her butwith compassion, though it had been entirely a match of affection,when he was now obliged to part with Miss Taylor too; and fromhis habits of gentle selfishness, and of being never able tosuppose that other people could feel differently from himself,he was very much disposed to think Miss Taylor had done as sada thing for herself as for them, and would have been a great dealhappier if she had spent all the rest of her life at Hartfield.Emma smiled and chatted as cheerfully as she could, to keep himfrom such thoughts; but when tea came, it was impossible for himnot to say exactly as he had said at dinner,
"Poor Miss Taylor!—I wish she were here again. What a pity itis that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!"
"I cannot agree with you, papa; you know I cannot. Mr. Weston is sucha good-humoured, pleasant, excellent man, that he thoroughly deservesa good wife;—and you would not have had Miss Taylor live with usfor ever, and bear all my odd humours, when she might have a house of her own?"
"A house of her own!—But where is the advantage of a house of her own?This is three times as large.—And you have never any odd humours,my dear."
"How often we shall be going to see them, and they coming to seeus!—We shall be always meeting! We
must begin; we must go and paywedding visit very soon."
"My dear, how am I to get so far? Randalls is such a distance.I could not walk half so far."
"No, papa, nobody thought of your walking. We must go in the carriage,to be sure."
"The carriage! But James will not like to put the horses to forsuch a little way;—and where are the poor horses to be while weare paying our visit?"
"They are to be put into Mr. Weston's stable, papa. You know wehave settled all that already. We talked it all over with Mr. Westonlast night. And as for James, you may be very sure he will always likegoing to Randalls, because of his daughter's being housemaid there.I only doubt whether he will ever take us anywhere else. That wasyour doing, papa. You got Hannah that good place. Nobody thoughtof Hannah till you mentioned her—James is so obliged to you!"
"I am very glad I did think of her. It was very lucky, for I wouldnot have had poor James think himself slighted upon any account;and I am sure she will make a very good servant: she is a civil,pretty-spoken girl; I have a great opinion of her. Whenever I see her,she always curtseys and asks me how I do, in a very pretty manner;and when you have had her here to do needlework, I observe shealways turns the lock of the door the right way and never bangs it.I am sure she will be an excellent servant; and it will be a greatcomfort to poor Miss Taylor to have somebody about her that she isused to see. Whenever James goes over to see his daughter, you know,she will be hearing of us. He will be able to tell her how weall are."
Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas,and hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerablythrough the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own.The backgammon-table was placed; but a visitor immediately afterwardswalked in and made it unnecessary.
Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty, was notonly a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularlyconnected with it, as the elder brother of Isabella's husband.He lived about a mile from Highbury, was a frequent visitor,and always welcome, and at this time more welcome than usual,as coming directly from their mutual connexions in London. He hadreturned to a late dinner, after some days' absence, and now walkedup to Hartfield to say that all were well in Brunswick Square.It was a happy circumstance, and animated Mr. Woodhouse for some time.Mr. Knightley had a cheerful manner, which always did him good;and his many inquiries after "poor Isabella" and her children wereanswered most satisfactorily. When this was over, Mr. Woodhousegratefully observed, "It is very kind of you, Mr. Knightley, to comeout at this late hour to call upon us. I am afraid you must havehad a shocking walk."
"Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful moonlight night; and so mildthat I must draw back from your great fire."
"But you must have found it very damp and dirty. I wish you maynot catch cold."
"Dirty, sir! Look at my shoes. Not a speck on them."
"Well! that is quite surprising, for we have had a vast dealof rain here. It rained dreadfully hard for half an hourwhile we were at breakfast. I wanted them to put off the wedding."
"By the bye—I have not wished you joy. Being pretty well awareof what sort of joy you must both be feeling, I have been in no hurrywith my congratulations; but I hope it all went off tolerably well.How did you all behave? Who cried most?"
"Ah! poor Miss Taylor! 'Tis a sad business."
"Poor Mr. and Miss Woodhouse, if you please; but I cannot possiblysay `poor Miss Taylor.' I have a great regard for you and Emma;but when it comes to the question of dependence or independence!—Atany rate, it must be better to have only one to please than two."
"Especially when one
of those two is such a fanciful, troublesome creature!"said Emma playfully. "That is what you have in your head,I know—and what you would certainly say if my father were not by."
"I believe it is very true, my dear, indeed," said Mr. Woodhouse,with a sigh. "I am afraid I am sometimes very fanciful and troublesome."
"My dearest papa! You do not think I could mean you
, or supposeMr. Knightley to mean you
. What a horrible idea! Oh no! I meantonly myself. Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me, you know—in a joke—it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another."
Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could seefaults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them:and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself,she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she wouldnot have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not beingthought perfect by every body.
"Emma knows I never flatter her," said Mr. Knightley, "but Imeant no reflection on any body. Miss Taylor has been usedto have two persons to please; she will now have but one.The chances are that she must be a gainer."
"Well," said Emma, willing to let it pass—"you want to hearabout the wedding; and I shall be happy to tell you, for we allbehaved charmingly. Every body was punctual, every body in theirbest looks: not a tear, and hardly a long face to be seen. Oh no;we all felt that we were going to be only half a mile apart,and were sure of meeting every day."
"Dear Emma bears every thing so well," said her father."But, Mr. Knightley, she is really very sorry to lose poor Miss Taylor,and I am sure she will
miss her more than she thinks for."
Emma turned away her head, divided between tears and smiles."It is impossible that Emma should not miss such a companion,"said Mr. Knightley. "We should not like her so well as we do, sir,if we could suppose it; but she knows how much the marriage is toMiss Taylor's advantage; she knows how very acceptable it must be,at Miss Taylor's time of life, to be settled in a home of her own,and how important to her to be secure of a comfortable provision,and therefore cannot allow herself to feel so much pain as pleasure.Every friend of Miss Taylor must be glad to have her so happilymarried."
"And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me," said Emma,"and a very considerable one—that I made the match myself.I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place,and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr. Weston wouldnever marry again, may comfort me for any thing."
Mr. Knightley shook his head at her. Her father fondly replied,"Ah! my dear, I wish you would not make matches and foretell things,for whatever you say always comes to pass. Pray do not make anymore matches."
"I promise you to make none for myself, papa; but I must, indeed,for other people. It is the greatest amusement in the world! Andafter such success, you know!—Every body said that Mr. Weston wouldnever marry again. Oh dear, no! Mr. Weston, who had been a widowerso long, and who seemed so perfectly comfortable without a wife,so constantly occupied either in his business in town or among hisfriends here, always acceptable wherever he went, always cheerful—Mr. Weston need not spend a single evening in the year alone if he didnot like it. Oh no! Mr. Weston certainly would never marry again.Some people even talked of a promise to his wife on her deathbed,and others of the son and the uncle not letting him. All mannerof solemn nonsense was talked on the subject, but I believed noneof it.
"Ever since the day—about four years ago—that Miss Taylor and Imet with him in Broadway Lane, when, because it began to drizzle,he darted away with so much gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellasfor us from Farmer Mitchell's, I made up my mind on the subject.I planned the match from that hour; and when such success has blessedme in this instance, dear papa, you cannot think that I shall leaveoff match-making."
"I do not understand what you mean by `success,'" said Mr. Knightley."Success supposes endeavour. Your time has been properly anddelicately spent, if you have been endeavouring for the last fouryears to bring about this marriage. A worthy employment for a younglady's mind! But if, which I rather imagine, your making the match,as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying to yourselfone idle day, `I think it would be a very good thing for Miss Taylorif Mr. Weston were to marry her,' and saying it again to yourselfevery now and then afterwards, why do you talk of success? Whereis your merit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess;and that
is all that can be said."
"And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess?—I pity you.—I thought you cleverer—for, depend upon it a luckyguess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it.And as to my poor word `success,' which you quarrel with, I do notknow that I am so entirely without any claim to it. You have drawntwo pretty pictures; but I think there may be a third—a somethingbetween the do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not promoted Mr. Weston'svisits here, and given many little encouragements, and smoothedmany little matters, it might not have come to any thing after all.I think you must know Hartfield enough to comprehend that."
"A straightforward, open-hearted man like Weston, and a rational,unaffected woman like Miss Taylor, may be safely left to manage theirown concerns. You are more likely to have done harm to yourself,than good to them, by interference."
"Emma never thinks of herself, if she can do good to others,"rejoined Mr. Woodhouse, understanding but in part. "But, my dear,pray do not make any more matches; they are silly things, and break upone's family circle grievously."
"Only one more, papa; only for Mr. Elton. Poor Mr. Elton! Youlike Mr. Elton, papa,—I must look about for a wife for him.There is nobody in Highbury who deserves him—and he has beenhere a whole year, and has fitted up his house so comfortably,that it would be a shame to have him single any longer—and I thoughtwhen he was joining their hands to-day, he looked so very much as ifhe would like to have the same kind office done for him! I thinkvery well of Mr. Elton, and this is the only way I have of doinghim a service."
"Mr. Elton is a very pretty young man, to be sure, and a verygood young man, and I have a great regard for him. But if youwant to shew him any attention, my dear, ask him to comeand dine with us some day. That will be a much better thing.I dare say Mr. Knightley will be so kind as to meet him."
"With a great deal of pleasure, sir, at any time," said Mr. Knightley,laughing, "and I agree with you entirely, that it will be a muchbetter thing. Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the bestof the fish and the chicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife.Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take careof himself."
Copyright © 2002 by Jane Austen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.