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.