(CONCLUSION AT LAST)
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 said wisely.
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.