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
"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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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
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.
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