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 husband, 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 be 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.