(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 every 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 sensible, 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 resources, 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 Mrs. 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 Sucklings. 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.