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.”