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In Defense of Mrs. Elton was the conference gift for the 1999 JASNA AGM. It is tasseled and bound in purple-and-gold, with original illustrations by Juliet McMaster, and a new introduction, copies are available for $10 (which includes mailing). Please contact Diana Birchall at Birchalls@aol.com, or 225 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403.

In Defense of Mrs Elton

The following has been written by Diana Birchall as a serial which appeared on Janeites in May 1999, she (and Mrs Elton) have graciously allowed us to reproduce.

La! have discovered she has written a prequel to this story, The Courtship of Mrs Elton which is published on the web courtesy of those nice people in the Southern Arizona branch of JASNA.


Foreward | In Defense of Mrs Elton part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Foreward:

Mrs Elton has been so kind as to send us a letter which we offer as a foreward to her book:

A LETTER FROM MRS. ELTON

    I see how it is, upon my word! I am to be so absolutely popular among you all, that I am never to have a disengaged day. I thought it would be that way; I told Mr. E., when Mrs. Birchall awoke us, that this was treating me as ought to be done, as I am the chaperon of the party. Diana is a sweet girl, and knows very well what is due to Me; but I very much fear that she is nobody at all, herself - a mere Newbie. I cannot find that she has been on this list since before Thanksgiving, whereas I have been here since 1814. She does not even pretend to have ever been acquainted with The Creator. There is a note in The Letters that Miss Austen - dear Jane - did know a Robert Birchall, but he was a mere music-publisher in New Bond Street, and even if poor Diana's husband is a descendant of his (which I very much doubt), they would not be people one could visit, you know. And there is no saying who she was before her marriage, though much, to be sure, may be suspected. However, I must not cavil at the person who has brought me back, for I have lived long enough in the world to know its worth, and I do not chuse to leave it again. That Miss Moody, though, is not quite the thing. She is more Miss Woodhouse's friend than I could like.

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IN DEFENSE OF MRS. ELTON - part 1

Augusta Hawkins was neither handsome, clever, nor rich, and had lived five-and-twenty years in the world with a good deal to vex and distress her. Her father and mother had died when she was very young, and the fortune divided between Augusta and her older sister Selina, was so moderate, after her father's dry-goods establishment in Bristol was sold, that it was plain the young women could reasonably look forward to no brilliant or distinguished destiny. Their home with an uncle, an attorney's clerk, was not the home of comfort and plenty: the interest on the girls' portions formed an important part of the household income, and the uncle was a mean, narrow-minded, illiterate man, whose home in the very heart of Bristol was not one calculated to give a young woman any advantage in society.

With the luck that defies prediction in matrimonial affairs, Selina Hawkins, with only so many thousands of pounds as would always be called ten, attracted, in her first season at Bath, the attentions of a young man both rich and liberal, and was rapidly and triumphantly married, while Augusta's lot in life remained to be fixed. It was to be hoped that Selina's triumph would be to her sister's advantage, in being the means of introducing her to other rich young men, but this did not occur: Maple Grove, Mr. Suckling's seat, was certainly all that was luxurious and comfortable, far superior to anything Augusta had ever seen in her straitened Bristol life; but it was in a location very retired, in a small community (as was reflected in the size of the school), so that among all the families the Sucklings visited, there was no eligible young man worthy of the name.

Augusta had, to be sure, a sufficiency to live upon; and she was a welcome guest at Maple Grove, as often as she cared to be there; which, as the place was to her a paradise of peace and plenty, in comparison with her Bristol home, was very often indeed. Maple Grove formed her tastes probably more than it should; and Selina, anxious for her sister, began to give her many hints that it would be well for her to be mistress of such an establishment of her own. As Augusta fully agreed with this, there was nothing for her to do, but to visit Bath, as often as might be. Her uncle, to be sure, never went into society, and would not make a figure in any circle in Bath that could do his niece any good. Selina could not often be spared from her duties at Maple Grove; and so Augusta was forced into a kind of half-and-half Bath life, making shift with friends married and single, who took young lady guests, and provided the necessary chaperonage to the Rooms and the various private dances and card parties that were so important to a young woman whose object was matrimony.

Eight long seasons did Augusta spend in Bath, without attracting any wished-for Mr. Suckling; and she was in truth growing desperate, if a young lady may ever be said to be desperate, while Selina had given up her chances altogether. "That girl," she declared, "will never find a husband; she is too nice. I will tell you what, Augusta, you will end as an old maid, indeed you will. You are always very welcome to make your home at Maple Grove, to be sure - very welcome - but I should think you would be too proud, and would try a little harder to do something for yourself."

Three months after Selina uttered these words, Augusta had met a young man who was as anxious to marry her as she could wish to be married; and one month from that date, she was Mrs. Philip Elton, being carried in the ecstasy of her bridal achievement, from her meagre Bath rooms to a new home, a respectable and prosperous vicarage in the Surry village of Highbury.

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Part 2

Mr. Elton was a match, all her friends agreed, beyond any thing that Augusta Hawkins deserved. A young man so handsome, of such unexceptionable character, so universally popular, a clergyman with a good income and a comfortable home - he certainly might have claimed a wife of more than ten thousand pounds; he might have aspired to twenty. In fact, Mr. Elton had aspired to thirty thousand pounds, and had met with such disagreeable mortification in his very unreasonable application, that he had removed himself in no happy temper to Bath, determined not to return to Highbury until he could bring with him a bride that would astonish the place with her style and eclat. In such a mood, he was ready to be caught; and in Miss Hawkins, he found a woman handsome enough, if not an acknowledged beauty, and of fortune useful if not vast. It was, in short, her vivacity, her liveliness of mind and manner, and her extreme willingness to have him, that fixed the matter. Mr. Elton was not a man of more than common manners, and had not discernment enough to know that his bride had not received an education, or mixed in exclusive enough society, for true elegance. She was good-natured, and very well disposed to him; and he found her chat amusing and entertaining. He knew that when he returned to Highbury, he might no longer spend the long winter evenings at Hartfield, as he had been wont to do before the late debacle with the proud, contemptuous heiress, Miss Woodhouse. To have a pleasing, talking young woman like Miss Hawkins as mistress of his home, agreeable and fond of social life as she was, would animate his lonely fireside, and make him happy.

Mr. Elton did not scruple to paint a very agreeable picture of Highbury for his future wife. He feared she would find the village too retired; the society was not extensive. Certainly the vicarage was small, it was nothing at all compared to what she was used to at Maple Grove. The Woodhouses were unfortunately the first family in the neighborhood, and Mr. Elton anticipated all the social awkwardness that this implied, upon his return. When once Miss Hawkins' affections and promises were engaged, he described to her the families she would soon be intimate with, and on the night following their wedding, that time of all when no secrets need be kept back, he confided to her the whole story of Miss Woodhouse and Miss Smith. The new Mrs. Elton heard it with indignation. Fancy a young woman, with every advantage like that, so rich and so proud, the Queen of her society, daring to look down on her own Mr. E, and treating him as if he were not even a gentleman! And wanting to marry him to her friend - a girl who was not even the product of a legitimate union, the daughter of nobody knew who! Disgraceful. Augusta herself had struggled all her life, had endured more humiliations and rejections in the fine society of Bath than she would care to have admitted. She could feel little sympathy for those who effortlessly reigned over others, and who could even take up a low, baseborn girl on a whim, without fear of social disapproval. Imagine if she, Augusta, tried doing such a thing! She was prepared to hate both Miss Woodhouse - whom her husband had apparently been quite in love with - and Miss Smith, who was absolutely in love with him.

Augusta's only security in her new Highbury life, where she was altogether a stranger, was in the heart and hand of Mr. Elton. It was an unlucky fate that put her down in the very village where lived the woman he had wanted to marry, and the woman who had wanted to marry him, without a hope of their removal from the place. But she was the bride, she was Mrs. Elton; she had achieved the height of her aims and ambitions, and if she was not to be the mistress of an estate like Maple Grove, she might yet be an important, an influential, a useful figure, the great lady of the small village, with only this Miss Woodhouse as a rival.

It behooved her, therefore, to make of Miss Woodhouse an ally, for it would be intolerable to be dictated to, for a whole lifetime perhaps, by such a person. As things started out, so they would go on. Together, Mrs. Elton and Miss Woodhouse might run Highbury affairs comfortably between them, and have every thing their own way. They would do so much good! Mrs. Elton prepared for the first meeting with this formidable young lady, with the greatest care and anxiety. It was not too much to say that everything depended upon it.

END OF PART TWO.

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Part 3

The introduction was alarming. Hartfield was a very fine and beautiful old house, of such antiquity and comfort as Mrs. Elton had never seen before in her life; and she could only maintain her composure, and conceal how overwhelmed and unimportant she really felt, by making comparisons with Maple Grove. She knew she was mentioning it too often - she could not help talking too much when she was nervous - and she felt the impression being made upon Miss Woodhouse was an unfortunate one. When she mentioned the staircase at Maple Grove, she distinctly saw a contemptuous expression pass over Miss Woodhouse's proud features. Rattled, she tried to compensate, to overcome the young lady's evident disdain, by throwing a little extra warmth into her manner, and assuming a higher degree of friendship and amity for Miss Woodhouse than she really felt, or than was possible to feel on such short acquaintance. She and Miss Woodhouse must be friends; their situations relative to each other demanded it; and not knowing how to engage so very formidable and proud a young lady, possessed of manners of such icy perfection, Mrs. Elton unwisely chose the unfortunate method of an over-assumption of intimacy. In her anxiety she heard herself suggesting that she and Miss Woodhouse unite to form a musical society - highly desirable and important to Mrs. Elton, to be sure - but it was with chagrin that she saw Miss Woodhouse coldly passing over the suggestion. She tried to present as prepossessing a portrait of herself as she could, impressing upon Miss Woodhouse the position that she, as Miss Hawkins, had held in society; but Miss Woodhouse was not, would not be, impressed. Not by Maple Grove, not by several mentions of her brother-in-law Mr. Suckling's fine carriages, not by her kind offer to introduce her to friends in Bath - what more could she possibly say to appease and engage this young lady?

Augusta knew, even as she was speaking, that everything she was saying was wrong, but she thought that Miss Woodhouse might show some consideration, might feel some sympathy for the uncertainty she felt as a stranger, as a bride. But no sympathy, no warmth was forthcoming. A powerful resentment began to come over Augusta. This Miss Woodhouse was intolerable! Dreadful woman! So self-satisfied, so certain of everything she said! Augusta could hardly keep from putting her down, correcting her when she so arrogantly looked down her nose and declared, "Many counties are called the garden of England, I believe." She argued about everything. Mrs. Elton had not had the advantage of the best music masters, in Bristol, and was thankful to be able to give up the painful obligation to have to play and sing before every body, at evening parties at Bath as well as before every group of newcomers to Maple Grove. But from Miss Woodhouse's sneers, you would think that giving up music as a married woman, was something reprehensible. It was plain by the end of a quarter of an hour, that she and Miss Woodhouse were not to be bosom friends. Hopelessly, Augusta tried to impress on Miss Woodhouse that she was to be respected as a married woman, at least; that she had held an important position in society before her marriage; that her sister was well married - but each implied boast, or direct brag, hit the wrong spot, and Miss Woodhouse only looked more and more scornful, if that was possible. Even a compliment spoken about that nice Mrs. Weston, who had been Miss Woodhouse's governess but now had risen to be quite an enviable and important figure in Highbury society, did not serve. Showing interest and approval of the man who might almost be considered the King of Highbury, Mr. Knightley, an intimate friend of the Woodhouses, did not answer either. Mrs. Elton was hurt, disappointed, at her wits' end. She would have to seek for friends elsewhere, it was very plain. Where could she look? That elegant young Miss Fairfax was more come-at-able, certainly less unpleasing, than this Miss Woodhouse, and might be properly grateful for friendly overtures. Perhaps she would find a friend, an ally, there.

END OF PART THREE.

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Part 4

Injured by the reception she had received from Miss Woodhouse, who refused to treat her either as an equal or as a friend, Mrs. Elton was mollified by the friendly effusions of Miss Bates, whose warmth did something to compensate for the elegant coldness of Miss Woodhouse's manners.

"Very welcome - to be sure, it has quite hurt me that the dear old Vicarage had no mistress - and it is so charming to see our dear Mr. Elton so happy! It is quite a romance. I was telling Jane, that when my dear father was alive, the vicarage was always overflowing. You, my dear, perhaps cannot remember it - I am always forgetting how very young you are, Jane - but our house was so very lively! I know Mrs. Elton will restore it to what it was, and what it ought to be. A vicarage is the heart of a village, you know, quite the heart. The soup we dispensed - I have long been sorry that our circumstances are now too reduced to enable us to carry on that tradition, but when my dear father was here, we were able to be more bountiful, and I shall look out all our good old receipts for you. I believe they are stored in my mother's chest, at least, they used to be. I do not quite like to ask Jane to open it, for she is not strong, but there is no hurry. You will be at the Vicarage a long time, dear Mrs. Elton, and we will find the receipts for you."

Mrs. Elton assented graciously. It was her intention that the Vicarage should be a house of bounty and benevolence, and she asserted that she would by no means suffer any one in the parish to go hungry.

"Indeed," said she, "I would be sorry if more than the poor ever had too little to eat. If you and your mother, Miss Bates, in your reduced circumstances, should ever require any addition to your diet, I should be only too glad to send over a baking of biscuits, or a chicken. I am quite concerned that Miss Fairfax is not sufficiently nourished. She is so pale and thin, though it is a becoming thinness."

Miss Bates could hardly stop to thank her enough. "Never were such neighbors! But it's quite unnecessary. Dear Mr. Woodhouse lately sent us such a hindquarter of pork - and Mr. Knightley is always so generous with his garden stuff. But you are right about Jane, I cannot persuade her to eat, and sometimes I suspect - I should not say this, but I cannot help suspecting - that some of her meals make their appearance more than once. She cannot always keep her food down."

"How shocking!" exclaimed Mrs. Elton. "We must not allow that to happen. We must take care of you, Jane, indeed we must."

"I am most grateful to you for your concern," said Jane earnestly, "but indeed, I do partake of all that I require; and I have very seldom really been ill. My dear aunt worries about me, but I beg you will not, Mrs. Elton." "But indeed I shall worry about you, Jane. I knew from the first moment I saw you that we should be the very best of friends; I made up my mind then, that I should visit you every day. You will help me to make my house the perfect vicarage. I can hardly succeed without some hints, for you are a clever creature, I know, and will be an invaluable aide-de-camp, now that I am transplanted and have blossomed into a vicar's wife."

Miss Bates smiled happily. "It will be a privilege to have an interest in the vicarage again, won't it, Jane?" she said. "My mother will be so glad, for old times' sake. It is such a benefit to have proper useful work again."

Jane did not appear to know what to say. "Are you - are you pleased with the house, ma'am?" she asked. "Do you mean to make many changes?"

"It is so very small, that there is not much we can do," replied Mrs. Elton, "other than to throw out a bow or a wing or two, but that will be the work of another year. At present I can only venture to get rid of the yellow curtains, which the housekeeper would inflict upon my poor dear Mr. E. But I do mean to entertain very often, to have card parties and sweet little dinners, in addition to my charitable duties; and you will be my right hand, will not you, Jane?"

Jane said something, which did not carry far, but it was enough encouragement for Mrs. Elton to go on in a confiding vein. "To say the truth, I am aware that my inexperience requires aid - for being the Lady Bountiful of such a parish is quite outside my knowledge - and I did hope to engage Miss Woodhouse as my assistant, as she is so very important in Highbury. But I met with no success in my application."

"So I would imagine," Jane could not help saying.

"Ah! I understand. You are well acquainted with Miss Woodhouse's ways. Of course, you have known her from childhood, have you not? You are quite of an age, and have been visiting in Highbury often."

"Yes, I have always known her."

"Yet I see that you are not intimate. May I ask - forgive me, but is it not your opinion that Miss Woodhouse is a very haughty and proud young lady, above being friends in an ordinary way?"

"You are right, Mrs. Elton, in thinking that we are not intimate friends. I cannot pretend otherwise. We ought to be - and from time to time I have tried; but she has made it very difficult for me to like her, because, to say the truth, I do not believe that she likes me."

"Not like you! Well, Jane, that is very bad - and most inexplicable. You are the person that I like most in Highbury, next to my caro sposo, and so I told him, as soon as ever I saw you. Not to like such an elegant young woman, with such talents, such beauty, and such modesty! I have never seen your equal, not in Bath nor in London neither, and I daresay Miss Woodhouse is jealous. That is it, depend upon it, she is positively jealous."

"Oh! do not run away with such an idea, dear Mrs. Elton," protested Miss Bates. "Miss Woodhouse is such an old friend - and she is so handsome and so rich herself, she could never be jealous of any one, certainly not poor Jane, who has no money you know, and as we suppose, will have to be a governess."

"Such a fate," declared Mrs. Elton positively, "I certainly shall endeavor to spare you. We must find you a husband, as I found my Mr. E.; though I ordinarily despise match-making, I do indeed - I consider it quite vulgar. To be sure, I have heard that Miss Woodhouse prides herself on being an expert, and tries to marry off her friends, but it is not a thing *I* could ever bring myself to do. Indeed, except for introducing my sister to her Mr. Suckling, and the Bragges to one another, I never have. Still, it cannot be denied that a good husband is the very answer for you. What say you to Mr. Knightley?"

"Mr. Knightley!"

"Yes; he likes you. I am sure he does. I observed him the other night when we were at Hartfield. He is at a dangerous age, and when such a man spends so much time looking at a pretty young woman and listening to her sing, I can assure you there is mischief afoot. I have seen a great deal of the world, and understand these matters thoroughly."

'"I must beg you not to pursue that line of thinking, Mrs. Elton," said Jane quietly, "Mr. Knightley never has had a thought of me, I am sure, and I do not think of him."

"Oh! well, that's a mistake; he is the only man in Highbury I could accept for you; but if you are determined not to marry, then an eligible situation you must have, and I shall seek one for you. We must not allow you to be lost entirely. If you do not chuse to remain in Highbury, then you must be transplanted to Maple Grove, or its neighborhood - I have many charming married friends there, you must know. Then I can be sure of seeing you whenever I visit Selina."

"I thank you for your concern, but you are too precipitate, Mrs. Elton, indeed you are. I remain here until the Campbells return."

"Do you? Well, you know your own interest best, I hope you do; but there is a readiness about me when it comes to business. When I see a thing to be done I do it, and I imagine that this executive turn will serve me well in my vicarage life. Passivity is all very charming, and all that - but not in a married woman." She nodded vigorously. "And so I will do all the work for you, indeed I will. I could do no less for a true friend, and I am determined that I shall prove myself a true friend to you."

"Jane will be so obliged," interrupted Miss Bates, "she has never had a real young woman friend in Highbury before, have you, Jane? And where can she look for a more proper friend, than the vicar's wife? We are so obliged, are not we Jane?"

"Yes, we shall be such friends, and no one will recognize Highbury when *we* have done our work together, will they Jane? We shall modernize it entirely. A musical society - a soup kitchen - visits to the poor - card parties - exploring expeditions - a delightful situation as a governess - oh! only think! what a summer opens before us!"

END OF PART 4

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Part 5

Mrs. Elton's kind attentions to Jane Fairfax had become habit with her, and accordingly she dispatched her carriage to fetch her friend and Miss Bates on the night of the ball at the Crown. She was in great hopes of this ball, for it would introduce her to Mr. Weston's son, Frank Churchill. He would be a new, and it might be, a friendly element in the society that was so sternly arrayed against her; and it had not failed to enter her mind that, with some leading from herself, a match between him and Jane might be brought about. Frank Churchill was said to be a very fine young man; and Jane had a heart unattached. She had shown no disposition to try to marry Mr. Knightley, so perhaps Frank Churchill would be the lucky man.

All Mrs. Elton's happy hopes and schemes were doomed, however, by her very early seeing that Frank Churchill did not take to her. She wore lace and pearls, and Wright had spent hours curling her hair into an elaborate arrangement, but Mr. Churchill did not seem to notice her elegant appearance, and only joined with Miss Woodhouse in directing disapproving looks toward the vicar's wife. It could not have been any thing she did herself; their acquaintance was not more than ten minutes old, she had only had time to exchange compliments on their dress with Jane, and yet it was plain that he did not like her. He had been told not to like her, by Miss Woodhouse. They talked like intimate friends; probably they had matrimony in mind for

themselves: no hopes for Jane there. Mrs. Elton reflected on the consoling thought that the result of a match between Mr. Churchill and Miss Woodhouse would be the removal of the lady from Highbury. As the new Mrs. Churchill, living at Enscombe, she would be quite out of Mrs. Elton's sphere. It was of all things to be desired.

Mrs. Elton was somewhat cheered by seeing how very much she was the queen of the evening, as a bride had every right to be. She had the honor of opening the ball with Mr. Weston, though it did not escape her notice that Frank Churchill was guilty of some maneuvering to avoid dancing with *her*. He wanted to dance with Miss Woodhouse instead. Mrs. Elton could excuse that; but she felt evidences of coldness and exclusion everywhere she turned. In the glances exchanged by Mr. Knightley and Miss Woodhouse - by Miss Woodhouse and Miss Smith. They were all her enemies, yet what had she done to any of them? Her ways, her manners were not like theirs; she knew *that* well enough. She was not capable of their sort of superior insolence, the exquisite politeness that only pointed up the disdain beneath: when she thought a thing, she said it. If they were so petty and exacting as to mind such a difference in her, and disapprove of the manner when the heart was right, what hope had she of ever living in harmony with any of them?

Mrs. Weston, whom Mrs. Elton had never supposed capable of a deliberate unkindness, was the originator of the evening's most uncomfortable moment. Mr. Elton and her husband had privately agreed that he would not dance with Miss Woodhouse or Miss Smith, if he could help it. To be sure, the question of dancing with Miss Woodhouse did not arise; he could be no more eager to avoid the encounter than she was. There came, however, a moment when Harriet was disengaged. Mr. Elton would not ask her to dance. It must be common knowledge to every one in the room that the girl was still in love with him, he, a married man - only observe how she sat in the corner, making sheep's eyes at him, in a way that every body must understand. That was how she had goggled at him, several times each day, since long before his marriage. It was only to be expected that Mr. Elton's asking Miss Smith to dance would feature prominently in Highbury gossip. Therefore, to show the Highbury world that he cared nothing for her, he walked about, ostentatiously disengaged. It was then that Mrs. Weston, kindly but with ill-judging interference, directly asked him to dance with Miss Smith!

Mr. Elton caught his wife's eye. He would not pain her for the world, by dancing with a girl so obviously, so embarrassingly in love with him; and he made some fumbling excuse and backed away from Mrs. Weston. She was mortified, which he regretted, but could not help. Miss Woodhouse had heard and seen the whole thing, and was glaring daggers at them both. For her part, Augusta could not be sorry that her husband had been loyal to her, and she smiled at him, with relief. What was her astonishment, a moment later, when Mr. Knightley himself led Harriet to the set! She understood his action well enough. Mr. Knightley felt sorry for Harriet, and was another of those who disliked Mrs. Elton - influenced by Miss Woodhouse of course - and wished to spite her. She was sorry for it. She had thought better of his good nature.

The Westons, to soothe the ruffled feelings that were fluttering about the room, took special care to invite Mrs. Elton to lead the train into the chamber where the supper was laid. All eyes were upon her as she swept by, and she felt her cheeks burning, but tried to hold her head up with some dignity, and to show herself unconcerned, though she saw Miss Woodhouse's dark, resentful looks upon her the whole time.

Whatever snobberies her neighbors practiced, Mrs. Elton was no faint spirit to be daunted by them, and would not desist in her tries to be liked and accepted by the best society in Highbury. She must live here always; she was fixed to the spot; and in her position as the vicar's wife, it would be most becoming to forgive her enemies. In consequence of such like reflections, she determined that there should be a dinner party, arranged in the proper style; and not many days had passed since the ball at the Crown, before she graciously invited Mr. Knightley, Jane, and Mr. and Mrs. Weston to dine, with the intention of showing that she harbored no ill will to any one. She dared not go so far as to invite Miss Woodhouse, even though there had been a dinner given for her at Hartfield; for she was quite certain that Miss Woodhouse would never accept her invitation.

If Augusta had some lingering hopes of creating an opportunity for an attachment to develop between Mr. Knightley and Jane, her efforts were not met with success. Jane spent the evening sitting by Frank Churchill, who amused her with stories that seemed to be about Ireland, and the Dixon party - Mrs. Elton could not quite catch the sense of it, but Mr. Churchill's mirth was evident, and seemed to give Mr. Knightley much pain. His eyes were often on the young pair, and she could see jealousy written plainly on his features. There could be no doubt that he was in love with Jane Fairfax, and doomed to disappointment.

The dinner carried on like most such occasions; a little flirtation, some indifferent wit, and the most remarkable feature of the evening being Augusta's elaborate piles of exotic fruit, berries and even a pine-apple, that she had imported at great expense from London.

End of part 5

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Part 6

As the summer wore on, Mrs. Elton was disappointed by her sister and brother-in-law, who repeatedly put off their visit to Highbury, and she began to have unhappy thoughts about their refusals. She knew she had not married as high as Selina, but she had hoped her sister would want to make an early visit to inspect her happiness; and there could be no doubt that the arrival of the prosperous couple in their barouche-landau would have been of assistance in improving Augusta's own standing in Highbury. But the Sucklings did not come. Was Selina ashamed that Augusta was only a clergyman's wife? The Sucklings had seemed to approve of the match, but perhaps it was only that they thought she was old enough to catch at any thing. Yet Mr. E. was not any thing - he was the best husband in all the world, as Selina should have seen for herself when they made their wedding trip to Maple Grove. Augusta would have enjoyed showing her Highbury and showing Highbury the famous Mrs. Suckling.

It was not to be. A restless summer lay ahead, without any schemes of happiness, and Augusta daily felt more uneasy and out of things. This would never do; some attempt toward cheerfulness must be made. She proposed the plan of a drive to Box Hill; but was only rewarded by the mortification of understanding that Miss Woodhouse was so little disposed to join her party, that she insisted on undertaking a separate trip of her own. Mr. Weston, however, was ever Mrs. Elton's kind friend, if nobody else was; and he, with his good heart and social manner, brought about a joining of the two parties. They were all to go together. Miss Woodhouse could not excuse herself without extreme awkwardness, and embarrassing the Westons. In the event, the party had to be put off; but Mrs. Elton's excessive disappointment was completely done away with by Mr. Knightley's good-natured proposal that they all come to Donwell to eat his strawberries. She seized at this suggestion with delight. Perhaps he did like her, after all! She had always thought he honestly did, that it was his nature to be benevolent and kind-hearted, and that it was only Miss Woodhouse who poisoned him with her own dislike. It was beyond doubt that the strawberry-party was made for her; and her spirits rose at the prospect, even to a pitch a little too high. She pictured herself at last, in her excitement, as all she had ever dreamed of being in Highbury: the Lady Patroness, the inviter of all guests, the bringer of Jane Fairfax. If Mr. Knightley reproved her mildly, he did not rescind the invitation, and Mrs. Elton checked herself, aware that she had been a little too eager. It was her way to be vivacious, it was her love of life. To show that she had no resentment, she warmly assured Mr. Knightley that she had no objection to meeting Miss Woodhouse, and she even offered him the use of her housekeeper.

The day dawned with perfect Midsummer beauty. Donwell was lovelier than Mrs. Elton could have conceived, with its ripening berries, and sweet views; and best of all she had received tidings that morning of the very situation she had been seeking for Jane. Her friend Mrs. Smallridge was in want of a governess. She instantly laid the good news before Jane, but Jane was in no good humor. It was understandable; she could not rejoice in the reality that she must be a governess after all. And today of all days, her fate would seem harder than ever, placed as she was in such a setting as Donwell, regarding Mr. Knightley's verdant fields and the mellow, handsome old Abbey. She, who might have chosen to be mistress of Donwell, would be cast off from good society forever. Mrs. Elton was sorry for her, but really the girl must face facts: with all her loveliness, and with every virtue and talent in the world besides, she had no money. If she would not seek a great match, then she must accept the consequence. There was no other choice. The Campbells must have thrown her off; and to remain in the penury and squalor of the Bateses' upstairs apartment for month after month, was no answer. Yes, it was time for her to be practical, and accept what must be.

But Jane would not acquiesce, she would not see reason, she would not accept the situation with Mrs. Smallridge at once, and when Mrs. Elton, with the determination of a forceful nature, persisted in importuning her, she impetuously walked away from Donwell, declaring - to Miss Woodhouse, of all people! - that she was fatigued. Fatigued! There was that spirit of independence about Jane, that was too ridiculous. Mrs. Elton truly wished to help her, and knew what was for her own good; why then must the girl be walking all over the countryside on a hot day, agitating herself? She gave it up. Some people are more unreasonable, the more you try to do for them.

Frank Churchill arrived from Richmond late in the afternoon, and accepted the invitation to join the party to Box Hill, which was to take place on the following day. That day was less festive than the previous one. There was a long and tiresome drive to get through, before Box Hill could be reached; and upon arrival, every one seemed out of sorts. Mr. and Mrs. Elton's best attempts to be sociable, went for nothing. Mr. Knightley walked with Jane and Miss Bates, and seemed to veer away whenever Augusta approached, though she was sure she could have done nothing to offend him yesterday, and was truly grateful for the memory of the Donwell party, as she told him over and over again. Was it her manner again, her unfortunate manner? Why was it that these people would never hear the good sense and intention of what she was saying, and be more generous in their assessment of her address? Mr. Churchill walked apart with Miss Woodhouse and Miss Smith. They put their noses up in the air and would not allow her to come near them, though Mrs. Elton was as ready as any body could possibly be, to let bygones be bygones.

When they all came to sit down, it was Mrs. Elton's time to be positively shocked at the rate at which Mr. Churchill and Miss Woodhouse went on together. They must have a private understanding; such intimate chat and flirtation could only be permissable between an engaged couple. Augusta had never talked to Mr. Elton with such freedom, before their engagement. Mr. Churchill all but declared his love openly, before them all - and Miss Woodhouse encouraged him with the most blatant, the most insolent complacence. What did the girl think she was, the queen of Box Hill as well as of Highbury, the queen of everybody's hearts? Why oh why was it that nobody saw through Miss Woodhouse, but Mrs. Elton? No, Miss Woodhouse was always the standard of perfection it seemed, no matter how shocking her behavior. The crowning evidence of this was in the very joke Mr. Weston so gallantly made, calling "perfection" M and A - Emma.

To turn aside this sort of insufferable pleasantry, Mrs. Elton was forced to absolutely protest Mr. Churchill's and Miss Woodhouse's rude demand to hear what every body was thinking of. How dared they ask such a thing? If Mrs. Elton really told them what she was thinking of, they would be shocked and sorry enough. She wished she could. She had never in her life witnessed such self-centered, arrogant behavior as theirs. She was disgusted in every particular.

At the last, not content with offensive joking, Miss Woodhouse even stooped to make poor Miss Bates the target of her cruel taunts. This was a kind of poor taste that Mrs. Elton found infinitely distressing, as everyone must, who had a heart. Poor Miss Bates - as tiresome as she could be, it was a wicked thing to make unkind jests at one so poor, so harmless, so kind. Bristling, Mrs. Elton had had enough, and showed that she had. Her husband instantly proposed that they walk, and she was relieved to rise and take his arm. They moved away, but not so quickly that they did not collect that Frank Churchill was embarking on some very unkind remarks upon them as a couple.

"Oh Philip," said Augusta, in misery, "what is it? Have we not tried every thing? - but it is a complete failure. You were popular and happy in Highbury before I came, I know, but instead of being a helpmeet, and making your life easier, I have only brought you trouble. They all hate me - I know they do. Miss Woodhouse, Knightley, Frank Churchill. You will never be comfortable again, and it is all my doing. I have only tried to be friendly. Perhaps my city ways are not what they are used to in a country village."

"Do not distress yourself, Augusta," said her husband tenderly. "You are imagining things. I have been a thousand times happier since we were married; a million. No one dislikes you. There is no pleasing Miss Woodhouse, you know - I could not do it myself, long before I ever met you; and the animosity between us had its origins in nothing to do with you. And that proud young lady leads all the others. But I feel sure that in time they will come to appreciate your real goodness, as I do. To my mind, the whole town should be in love with you, and I do not believe they are not."

Mrs. Elton laughed a little, and leaned on him affectionately. "You do make me feel better, Philip. When I am in my right mind, I know very well it is just Miss Woodhouse's dislike that causes all the trouble. Have you ever heard anything like her insolent talk? She is the most unladylike young woman that I ever saw."

"Exactly so, my dear," he replied, "exactly so. But she will get her comeuppance in the end, and be taught the error of her ways, you may depend upon it."

end of part 6

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Part 7

Mrs. Elton's most exclusive circle of friends was straitened, and reduced of much of its sense and intelligence, by the loss of Jane Fairfax, that followed as the almost immediate result of her engagement. It was a loss so considerable, so complete, that Mrs. Elton only became sensible of its scope and irreparability, after it was accomplished. No other acquaintance of hers had Jane's refinement, her sensibility, her elegance. Mrs. Cole, Miss Bates, Mrs. Goddard - how were they to be compared to a Jane Fairfax? But Jane was gone, and gone for ever; she had first gone to London with the Campbells, and at last into Yorkshire with her husbandl and gone happily, without a backward look or remembrance of old friends, as far as Augusta could see. It was a certainty that she only would appear again in Highbury on fleeting visits to her grandmother and aunt, and at such times it was not to be expected that Mr. Frank Churchill would allow his wife much leisure for visiting with Mrs. Elton, whom he cordially disliked. The friendship would sink. In sober sadness, it had never recovered from the very moment of the astonishing, the tremendous revelation that Jane and Mr. Frank Churchill had long been secretly engaged.

Mrs. Elton had been disappointed - very disappointed. It was not that she did not rejoice in Jane's good fortune, in her escape from a life of servitude; every good friend must rejoice in that; but the idea rankled, that Jane had kept a secret of such magnitude from one who had supposed herself her dearest friend. No: Augusta's hurt feelings were all a result of the knowledge breaking in on her that the girl whom she had patronized, brought forward, done endless favors for, planned for, soothed, and loved, that this person could care so little for her as to be always enacting a lie, the very same lie she acted before the most indifferent people, indeed to the world at large. Surely she could have made a confidante of Mrs. Elton, if no one else - a married woman, older and wiser, as she was. Perhaps she might not, as it was a matter of honor; but with honor, Jane Fairfax seemed to have had very little to do. At the very least, however, she might have given a hint, so that Mrs. Elton might not be so humiliated in the eyes of the world. How must she look to Mrs. Smallridge, and to Selina, too! Offering up the pearl of all governesses, backing Jane with her word, her reputation, her judgement; and then having to take back the offer in such a way as to show that she had never really known this Jane Fairfax at all?

To be sure, Jane had made an apology of a sort; but it was so triumphant, so careless an apology as to sound more like a rebuke. Her attentions to Mrs. Elton had ceased the instant Frank Churchill appeared to publicly take charge of her, and Mrs. Elton was left with most wounded feelings, and a sure knowledge that she had only been used. Jane's so-called, much-vaunted friendship, was only a deliberate deceit, a ruse to keep others from suspecting the real state of affairs with regard to Frank Churchill. That was how much Jane Fairfax had cared for Augusta Elton. Mrs. Elton's vanity, of which she was sensible she possessed a great deal, was stung to the quick. She had judged Jane to be the fairest of true, grateful friends; and she had been wrong. She had loved her, and not been loved in return - she had not even been respected. Augusta was within a moment of reflecting pensively on what quality in her own character, failed to win her the love of those whose love she sought. She turned over in her mind poetry associated with the thought..."They flee from me that sometime me did seek"...Then came the more fortunate recollection of Mr. Elton, and she was at once buoyed up and reassured. There, she had wished to attach, and she had attached him. What was more, they had expectations of another to love; and as a wife, the mistress of a vicarage, and a mother to be, Mrs. Elton would soon be too busy and too important to seek female friendship.

Yet whenever she did think of Jane, she must be troubled, irritated, hurt. It had been her unpleasant duty to write to Mrs. Smallridge and acquaint her with her misfortune; a letter written in humiliation, anger, and chagrin. The frustration of all her well-meant, well-laid plans in that direction was hard to bear. She had acted with such a complete and certain sense of what would be best for Jane! She had argued, she had forced her opinion, she had been even peremptory, all for Jane's benefit. Even Miss Bates knew the worth of what she had done - had she not called her the best, most far seeing, indefatigable, true friend to Jane, for not admitting a denial about Mrs. Smallridge: those words had formed part of her apology to the vicar's wife. Miss Bates, at least, had tried to smooth over the hurt feelings that Augusta betrayed, and the indifference, the callous, joyous indifference to them, that Jane herself made only too plain.

Jane had left Highbury, recovered, blithe, and rich; and Augusta remained, to reflect on her own bitterness and failure. She had been eight months transplanted to Highbury, eight months had elapsed from her own wedding day to Jane's; and what had been accomplished, what learned in that time? She had established a happy marriage, that could not been disputed, and she had made some, if not many, friends. But she, who had always prided herself on her clear thinking, her capability, her judgment of character, her management of affairs - she was so shaken in her estimate of herself, as to be closer to a depression of spirits than she had ever known since her marriage. Was it wrong to be a do-all, to try to arrange other people's lives, in the name of helping them, or was it really a vanity-bait for one's own imagined talents? She saw a resemblance to Mrs. Knightley in herself in this way, and she did not like it. Now that she was to be a mother, Augusta reflected, she would have to be more sober, more staid, more sensible.

TO BE CONCLUDED

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Part 8 - not the conclusion yet

Miss Woodhouse had held a position in Highbury society, that could only be surpassed by Mrs. Knightley. At not yet two and twenty, to be the mistress of both Hartfield and Donwell, and of the combined fortunes of both the Woodhouse and Knightley families, would be called an enviable situation by almost anybody; and Mrs. Elton did envy it. She had known how it would be from the first. Miss Woodhouse had disliked her so much, that she could expect no love from her in her married state; and to be excluded from eery thing desirable that might be going on in Highbury, was all that Mrs. Elton expected. She knew she had acted unwisely in her treatment of Jane Fairfax, and that she had got off on the wrong foot with Miss Woodhouse; nothing could be clearer. She had been made senbile, by the reserve and coldness she had met with, that her manners were not those of the Highbury set that Mrs. Knightley deemed to be the best and the chosen. She repented; she was sorry for her presumptuous, vain behavior, and for whatever in her own address was not acceptable to others. What could she do? It was rather late in life to become meek and retiring, to go about in a close bonnet ministering to the poor, and giving up all the fun of a really first rate card party. She had always prided herself on her resouces, but the truer knowledge of herself that she had gained in this past year, showed her that she was a person who loved society, who could not do without intercourse with her fellow beings; and to be hated by all those around her, was to a person of Augusta's temper the worst fate imaginable. She held this fate, the condition that was to be her future, in gloomy contemplation. To be sent to Coventry in Highbury: a heavy conclusion for one who had spent whole seasons in the gay world of Bath and Bristol.

She had reckoned, however, without Mr. Knightley and his influence. His fairness of mind, and true good nature, would not rest easy in allowing the social persecution of the vicar and his wife, however his own wife might wish to institute such a system of proceeding. That Mr. Knightley's good nature was even increased since his marriage, could not be doubted by any observer, not even by the critical Mrs. Elton. She had early calculated that there would be an end to all visiting, and it was true enough that the bachelor Knightley could come no more; but to her infinite surprise (as almost all of life is a surprise), Augusta found that the Knightleys did visit the Eltons, and even invited the Eltons, at intervals, to visit them. On all such occasions, to be sure, the doating husband was to be seen beaming rather foolishly at his beautiful young wife, and attending to very little else; but the toleration of this was a tax easily paid.

It was during the round of wedding visits that the Eltons were first astonished by the spectacle of the newly married Knightleys seated happily at the vicarage dinner-table, a place Miss Woodhouse had always disdained. It is true, nothing very sensible was said on the occasion; the happy couple was so absorbed in one another they had, as the saying goes, no eyes for any one else, though they were unaware of it, and considered that they were behaving as politely as before Hymen had tied her silken strands. It was delight enough for Mrs. Elton, to have these guests in her house, to show the Highbury world that she was of the elite circle, after all.

She was thankful that the state of affairs between her and Mrs. Knightley seemed to be mending, as was highly desirable, not only because Mr. Knightley and Mr. Elton were mutually involved in a thousand parish matters, but because the two ladies perforce must also be thrown together, like it or not. After all, there were not many married women in Highbury Mr. Knightley could visit - one could think if she could be happy strolling down to the Martins' farmhouse now, for a talk about the cows with Harriet. Mrs. Knightley and Mrs. Elton had got off to a bad start, and they must try again: their husbands were united on this point. They must agree to tolerate one another's ways, and within a few months, both were grown so hardened to meetings by chance or by design in the daily wayfaring life of Highbury, as not to give their prejudices more weight than was absolutely necessary. Change, however, was in the air. First came the momentous event, the birth of Mrs. Elton's child. Her caro bambino was, she was sure, the finest little boy ever born in Highbury; Mr. Perry said so, and he was a judge. All the world must come to inspect little Philip Augustus, and Mr. and Mrs. Elton were so very delighted, and so hospitable in greeting all comers, and inviting them to partake of seedcake and port, that the good feeling Mr. Elton had brought to Highbury with the announcement of his marriage, seemed positively to revive.

The second great event of the new year, was the long-awaited visit of the Suckings. It being the depths of winter, and not the more open season of summer, exploring-parties in the barouche-landau were prohibited; but Mrs. Elton did not now have a regret. It was in a most exulting state that she prepared to show her house, her husband, her child, her society, to her most beloved sister, Selina.

NOT THE CONCLUSION. Nope. Sorry if anybody's feeling that so much Mrs. Elton is "the outside of enough," but the Sucklings have started talking, and I cannot get away from them. Who could?.

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Part 9

"My dear Mr. Knightley," said his wife, "I am resigned to the daily display of a sort of good fellowship with Mrs. Elton, as it tends to our living in peace together; but really this is going too far. Tell me we do not have to invite her sister to Hartfield, that the name of diplomacy does not demand such a thing."

"My beloved Emma," her husband replied, "you answer your own question. In a community life, diplomacy is always required; and we can hardly show friendship to Mrs. Elton, and not to her sister. This visit, as you know, is very important to her, and in all probability, will never recur again."

Emma threw a despairing look at her friend. "Mrs. Weston, surely you do not agree with my husband? You have never given in to Mrs. Elton's good nature - you still consider her a designing, petty, presuming, interfering little woman, do you not, with her caro sposo, and now her caro bambino, and all her airs?"

Mrs. Weston's eyes were on her little Anna, who at eight months old was attempting to creep forward on a blanket laid upon the floor. Mr. Weston was down on the floor himself, overseeing the child's progress. Such was the disarray at Randalls since the birth of the little household tyrant.

"I do not know - oh, Mr. Weston, she must not eat the blanket, do take it away from her - it is dirty, quite dirty."

"Nonsense! who was it said a child must eat a pound of dirt in the first year."

"She shall not eat it all at once, while I look on, Mr. Weston. Here, my precious, come to mamma."

"Do not let the child eat any thing dirty, Mrs. Weston," said Mr. Woodhouse anxiously, "and I am very glad you have picked her up. It is very chilly on the floor, I know. My own feet are resting upon the floor, and I feel the draught passing over them. I do indeed. She is much better upon your lap."

"But Mrs. Suckling," said Emma impatiently, "what about Mrs. Suckling."

"Oh - well, Emma, she is not my first favorite person, as you know, but I confess that I must incline toward Mr. Knightley's view. It would never do to offend her. I know your good nature will accept the truth of this. Is my love hungry? Perhaps we may give her some of the milk pudding that you have recommended, Mr. Woodhouse, now."

"I do not recommend most solid food for the first year of life," he replied, "indeed, poor Isabella and poor Emma did not take any thing thicker than pudding for the first two years, if I recall aright - and then gruel, a nice thin gruel, may be taken. But I think your little Anna is not quite ready for that yet. She has only two teeth. The greatest care must be taken of her teeth, you know. Babies are delicate plants, especially young lady babies."

"That's a consideration," cried Mr. Weston. "I am sure little Anna will like some of Mr. Woodhouse's good gruel when she is old enough. But you were talking about the Suckings, Emma. I hope you will invite them to Hartfield; we will have them to Randalls, will we not, my dear? In the winter, at such times as these, good company, good fires, good cheer, and plenty of it, is what is needed to help us all on."

`"There, you see, Emma," said Mr. Knightley with a smile, "you are out voted. But do not dread the event. With your interest in studying human nature, Mrs. Suckling will be sure to afford you a new subject. You know you will be talking of her and thinking of her, and so she will be a new source of pleasure, in one sense."

"Very well," said Emma with a sigh, "I shall send out my cards, and we will have a full dinner, in state, for the Sucklings. I am sure they will be horrible in every way."

(Is everybody ready to Meet The Sucklings? Dragging it out! By the by - I have been surprised to discover that the Internet lends itself so well to serial storytelling. Who'd have thunk it.)

End of part 9

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Part 10

It was a very great event, that a dinner for as many as ten people should be given at Hartfield on a dark and early February evening, but all the invitations were accepted, and the Eltons, the Sucklings, and the Westons, as well as Miss Bates, joined the Knightleys and Mr. Woodhouse, in being seated around a table with sufficient abundance and variety of food placed upon it, as to make Mr. Woodhouse very uneasy.

"Upon my word," said Miss Bates, "this is quite - I never saw a more brilliant table, Mrs. Knightley. Goose, and pheasants, and such a pudding of larks! Goodness me! Did you ever see the like, Mrs. Weston? You, Mrs. Suckling, used as you are to great spreads, may not be surprised at the sight, but I assure you, living in such a small way as I do, I am quite overcome. But no one ever had such neighbors - shall I really have some of the goose's breast, Mr. Woodhouse? and juniper berry sauce? Do you not consider it too rich?"

"Indeed I do think goose is a meat no stomach can bear," said Mr. Woodhouse, "and I would advise you to satisfy yourself, as I do, with plainer fare. The bread pudding, I think, could not harm you. Mrs. Suckling, we are honored by your presence in this house, and I wish you to be as comfortable as possible. But I do not recommend the goose to you either, or to any body." Mrs. Suckling, a little woman with a sharp face and a very large feathered headdress, looked at him with some respect.

"Thank you for your concern, sir. My sister has told me of your great solicitude for the health of your guests, Mr. Woodhouse, and what a kind gentleman you are. Quite a worthy after my own heart. Indeed, I will follow your advice, for I never eat rich food, and very little meat at all. I prefer to eat only greens, and pulse, and a little fish."

"Is that so, Mrs. Suckling?" said Mr. Weston in wonderment, "and does this resolve proceed from a concern for your health?"

"It proceeds from a concern for every body's health, Mr. Weston," she replied, "it can be of no benefit to any one, to eat animals."

"My wife is a very fine lady," spoke up Mr. Suckling, a tall gentleman with a sarcastic expression, "ordinary food is too coarse for her, and she exists upon mere air."

"But that is so very strange!" exclaimed Miss Bates. "You resemble Jane in that - my niece Jane - Mrs. Elton will have told you all about her. Mrs. Churchill, as she is now, I should say. The most delicate appetite that any lady ever had. While she was here, I could hardly get her to take half an ounce of meat, and six to one it would reappear again - though I should not say that - Jane would not like me to say that. But I assure you she grew so thin, I was quite terrified. I hope her husband, Mr. Frank Churchill, will have better luck in making her take her food properly. It is sad to see a young woman with no appetite. I like to see a young person with a bit of flesh about her. Mrs. Knightley likes to eat - Mrs. Weston does - so do we all - all except Jane - "

"I hope Mrs. Suckling will take just what she likes," exclaimed Emma, to cut Miss Bates off a little; and she attempted a change of subject. "Now that you have seen Surry, Mrs. Suckling, how do you like this part of the country? - You cannot see many of our most striking views at this time of year, to be sure, but I hope the neighborhood around Highbury pleases you." "I have seen it before, in more favorable seasons, Mrs. Knightley; my sister may have told you about our exploring parties, and we have traveled very widely in all parts of England. Indeed, it was our extensive journeying that has made it necessary to delay our engagements in Highbury. We have this year traveled to Dorset - to the Lakes - to Yorkshire - to Birmingham - to London, and back again, more than once."

"She hates traveling," put in Mr. Suckling, "and it is a misery to go any where with her."

"Do not joke, my love; you know I always accompany my lord and master wherever you journey, and I make very little complaint, I assure you." "No - you do not complain; but the degree of commotion you make about having the right sheets, and not eating any animal food, and about the draughts, and the gait of the different horses, is scarcely to be conceived. It is enough to drive one mad. Did our business, and social engagements, not require it, I should never stir from home."

"And what is your business, sir?" asked Mr. Knightley with interest. "Forgive me, but we have never heard."

"Sugar, my good sir, sugar. My plantations in the West Indies are extensive, but business cannot look after itself, and it is necessary for me to travel the country, up and down, to all four corners, in order to assure myself of the best trade."

"And does your business require that you visit the West Indies?" asked Mr. Weston curiously.

"No, no, I leave that part of the concern in the hands of others - a man cannot be everywhere at once, and I have people who can be trusted to look after my property in the West Indies, and deal with the plantations, and the rebellions, and the overseers, and the absurd death rate, and things of that nature. But we must not be distressing the ladies. Ladies do not have a head for business, you know, sir. They take on about every least thing." "Oh, my dear brother," interjected Mrs. Elton eagerly, "I beg you should not say such a thing about ladies. Ladies are quite as capable as gentlemen: they are indeed. I always take the part of women, at every opportunity, and I am convinced that some day, women will be quite as good at business as men. I am sure I have a fine head for business, have I not, Mr. Elton? Is it not so?"

"Exactly so, my love; better than mine, truth be told. You are the business woman in our family. I do not care about it so much as you do." "No more do I," put in Mr. Woodhouse. "Our family made its fortune so long ago, that I have never had to know any thing about it. It is very lucky. I am very glad of it. I should not like to be such a man of incessant action as you are obliged to be, sir. And I hope you will be very comfortable while you are here, and take some of our good broth, if nothing else - our broth is perfectly clear, you see, with not a speck of any thing in it, boiled just as Serle knows how to do. It is really not much stronger than water. It will settle your stomach after the hardships of your travels, I am sure."

"The sugar business!" exclaimed Emma, when her father had stopped speaking. "I am sure, Mr. Suckling, that Mrs. Elton has told us that you were a friend to the abolition. Yet you seem to imply that slaves are employed in your business."

"Certainly," he replied calmly, "I would wish to abolish the slave trade, a degrading business; but those who are already slaves, may doubtless be used with impunity. However, ladies do not understand these things." "My dear brother, there is no limit to what ladies understand - " "That's true - very true," said Mr. Knightley hastily, "no one wants to discuss trade at dinner. So, Mrs. Suckling, this is your first visit to Hartfield. Do you find it much like your own home, Maple Grove, of which we have heard so much? Mrs. Elton has told us that you would say so."

"Nothing like it at all," said Mrs. Suckling. "No resemblance. Maple Grove is much larger - and much more retired. Augusta, how could you say such a thing?"

"Why, Selina, the staircase - and the garden grouping - you know it is like Maple Grove in those respects."

"Only as much as any great house is like any other. But your own house is so small, my dear Augusta, that you are no judge. You have grown accustomed to living in little rooms."

Mrs. Elton was silenced.

"Oh, Mrs. Suckling, do you think the Vicarage is small?" said Miss Bates. "If I may be allowed to contradict you, I do not think it so very small. It was always adequate for our needs, when we lived there; and now that Mr. and Mrs. Elton have a family, they may enlarge it perhaps, and make improvements."

"Another year," said Mr. Elton, "and we shall make an addition. Do you not recommend it, Mr. Suckling?"

"Whatever you like," he said indifferently, "you cannot expect to be able to afford to do much, with your present income. I have told you, Elton, that you ought to come into business with me. Sugar is the thing. That is where the money is."

"It is very tempting, my dear sir - but a clergyman - the West Indies - slaves - it is perhaps not compatible with the duty I owe to my parish." "Such scruples are absurd. How do you suppose I can afford to give my Selina her barouche-landau, and all the luxuries of Maple Grove, were it not for sugar? We are not of an old landed family, you know, and must do the best we can for ourselves. A clergyman, in these days, is not expected to starve himself in the name of duty."

"And you must remember, Augusta, that howsoever rich we may be, we cannot be expected to help you, should you grow impoverished; for we have a family of our own, and all our money must go to our dear children," said Mrs. Suckling, nodding vehemently until her feathered headdress shook.

"I should not think of anything else, sister," said Mrs. Elton, rather offended, and not knowing where to look to hide her embarrassment.

Emma, amazed by the real vulgarity and heartlessness of such a discussion at her own dinner-table, lifted her eyes expressively. Mr. Knightley seemed to feel her distress, as well as his own, and he proposed that the gentlemen should sit apart with their port, with rather more alacrity than ordinarily was his custom.

End of part 10

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Part 11

The Sucklings were gone from Highbury, and nobody was sorry to see them go, or regretted them when they were gone. Mrs. Suckling's selfishness and haughtiness, not to mention the shocking revelation of her husband's involvement in a low business, had not won friends for them among those in Highbury whom they had visited. However, there was one result of their visit which might not have been expected: it was that they left behind them a new feeling of pity for Mrs. Elton, in Mrs. Knightley's bosom.

It was absolutely necessary, after that momentous dinner party, for her to talk it over with Mrs. Weston; and for once Emma found her friend tolerably disengaged, for the baby was asleep, and Mr. Weston was not at home. "I never would have believed it, Mrs. Weston," Emma began, "that I should actually feel sorry for Mrs. Elton. Never would I have thought it possible to entertain such a sentiment."

"It is very natural, Emma," said her friend, "the Eltons may have their little imperfections, but the Sucklings seem far less amiable." "Less amiable! Far, far too weak a word. Oh, Mrs. Weston, did you not perceive that Mrs. Suckling is a cold hearted woman, who cares nothing for her sister, and disdains every body else; she is a fit wife for a man who persecutes slaves, and admits it!"

"Persecute, Emma! I must think your language is too strong. Would you like Mr. Suckling better if he did not admit his practices? But his conduct, in speaking of such matters at the dinner table, and before ladies, was certainly most improper."

"Improper! he is so very opposite to all that a gentleman should be, that I think we may take exception with any one who calls him a gentleman at all. Poor Mrs. Elton, to have such connections, and to be treated so shabbily by them. I wonder how she will talk of her dear sister Selina now - if she will dare ever mention her again, now that the veil has been removed from our eyes, and we all know what she is. I confess that I shall not be sorry to have heard the last of Maple Grove."

"Maple Grove - and Jane! Only think, my Emma, what a narrow escape Jane Fairfax has had. What if she had gone to the Sucklings' friends as governess, and found herself settled in such a society as that? Dear, dear. I hate to think of it."

"Well, you do not need to think of it; Mrs. Frank Churchill is safe, quite safe. I tell you what, Mrs. Weston, I have made a resolution, and it is that in future, I shall be kinder to Mrs. Elton."

Mrs. Weston smiled gently, and looked up from the infant's dress she was embroidering. "I do not think you will regret it, my dear Emma," she said wisely.

The new friendship of Mrs. Knightley and Mrs. Elton could not be said to leap ahead into any remarkable intimacy. It did not proceed with the youthful rapidity of Emma's infatuation for Harriet Smith, or Mrs. Elton's own with Jane Fairfax. They were older, wiser, soberer women now, who had learned to judge their neighbors better, and to move more cautiously. But they worked amicably on parish affairs, visited the cottages of the poor together, and as Emma remained unpersuadable on the subject of card parties, they finally did unite, after all, to form a musical society, an institution that brought the greatest of pleasure and satisfaction to them both. Mrs. Elton had neglected her instrument shamefully since her marriage; but so had Mrs. Knightley, and neither was therefore in any danger of outdoing the other's musical or voval performance in any alarming way. Emma was quite certain that Augusta's skill on the pianoforte was comfortably inferior to her own; and Augusta thought that her own performance was just so superior, as to be in no danger of any challenge from Emma.

Music, though a pleasant diversion, could not be as important or prominent in the lives of the two young women as their own growing families; for it was less than a year after the birth of Mrs. Elton's caro bambino, that Mrs. Knightley, too, gave birth to a son, quite as stout and healthy as Mrs. Elton's own child. And so, apart from the disputations that arose over which lady would receive precedence in all the drawing rooms of Highbury, and the resentment that occasionally arose in Augusta's bosom when she felt her husband was not held in sufficient esteem by Knightley, and the jealousies that were uncovered whenever Mrs. Frank Churchill made a visit and was in demand simultaneously at Hartfield and the vicarage - apart from these little differences, and conflicts, and rubs, there was no end to the perfect happiness and amity in which they all lived together.

FINIS

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