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Chapter 17
Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley were not detained long at Hartfield. The weather
soon improved enough for those to move who must move; and Mr. Woodhouse
having, as usual, tried to persuade his daughter to stay behind with all her
children, was obliged to see the whole party set off, and return to his
lamentations over the destiny of poor Isabella;--which poor Isabella, passing her
life with those she doted on, full of their merits, blind to their faults, and always
innocently busy, might have been a model of right feminine happiness.
The evening of the very day on which they went brought a note from Mr. Elton to
Mr. Woodhouse, a long, civil, ceremonious note, to say, with Mr. Elton's best
compliments, "that he was proposing to leave Highbury the following morning in
his way to Bath; where, in compliance with the pressing entreaties of some
friends, he had engaged to spend a few weeks, and very much regretted the
impossibility he was under, from various circumstances of weather and business,
of taking a personal leave of Mr. Woodhouse, of whose friendly civilities he
should ever retain a grateful sense-- and had Mr. Woodhouse any commands,
should be happy to attend to them."
Emma was most agreeably surprised.--Mr. Elton's absence just at this time was
the very thing to be desired. She admired him for contriving it, though not able to
give him much credit for the manner in which it was announced. Resentment
could not have been more plainly spoken than in a civility to her father, from
which she was so pointedly excluded. She had not even a share in his opening
compliments.--Her name was not mentioned;-- and there was so striking a
change in all this, and such an ill-judged solemnity of leave-taking in his graceful
acknowledgments, as she thought, at first, could not escape her father's
It did, however.--Her father was quite taken up with the surprise of so sudden a
journey, and his fears that Mr. Elton might never get safely to the end of it, and
saw nothing extraordinary in his language. It was a very useful note, for it
supplied them with fresh matter for thought and conversation during the rest of
their lonely evening. Mr. Woodhouse talked over his alarms, and Emma was in
spirits to persuade them away with all her usual promptitude.
She now resolved to keep Harriet no longer in the dark. She had reason to
believe her nearly recovered from her cold, and it was desirable that she should
have as much time as possible for getting the better of her other complaint before
the gentleman's return. She went to Mrs. Goddard's accordingly the very next
day, to undergo the necessary penance of communication; and a severe one it
was.-- She had to destroy all the hopes which she had been so industriously
feeding--to appear in the ungracious character of the one preferred-- and
acknowledge herself grossly mistaken and misjudging in all her ideas on one
subject, all her observations, all her convictions, all her prophecies for the last six
The confession completely renewed her first shame--and the sight of Harriet's
tears made her think that she should never be in charity with herself again.