The picnic at Box Hill turned out to be not very pleasant, even if everything had started in a most charming way. The weather was lovely, and Emma and Harriet were to go to Box Hill in the company of Mr Frank Churchill. Harriet thought that Miss Woodhouse would be delighted to be in such lively company, but neither was Mr Churchill lively, nor was Miss Woodhouse in good temper. She seemed to be discontented with their company altogether, and did not look as if her manner would change.
In the course of the day, Harriet had reason enough to believe that Miss Woodhouse was, indeed, in love with Mr Churchill. They flirted excessively; it was rather embarrassing to watch them. Mr Knightley seemed to think so, too. He sometimes gave Miss Woodhouse an earnest, disapproving look, but she did not seem to notice. She went on, talking with Mr Churchill, laughing at nearly everything he said in an unnaturally penetrating voice, and her vivacity had now reached nearly unbearable dimensions.
Mr Churchill was sitting next to Emma, saying something to her in a low voice, and then announcing, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who, wherever she is, presides), to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of."
Harriet laughed, but her laugh stopped when Mr Knightley said, in a calm, but threatening voice, "Is Miss Woodhouse sure that she would like to hear what we are all thinking?"
This is getting quite distressing. What is going on here? Did I miss something? Mr Knightley seems to be angry about something, but what is it? , Harriet thought.
Emma laughed, but Harriet observed that her laugh was not really merry, it sounded affected.
"Oh, no, no! Upon no account in the world! It is the very last thing I would stand the brunt of just now. Let me hear anything rather than what you are thinking of. I will not say quite all. There are one or two, perhaps, whose thoughts I might not be afraid of knowing."
With these words, she glanced at Harriet and Mr Weston.
Mrs Elton was very displeased with Emma's answer, and started muttering to her husband. Only parts of her speech were intelligible to the rest of the party, but she seemed to tell him that there had never been such a thing as this, and that young unmarried ladies were definitely trying to put themselves forward too much. The party were now in even worse spirits than before, and Mr Churchill, again, took charge of saying something amusing, and to get the conversation going.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse to say that she waves her right of knowing exactly what you may all be thinking of, and only requires something very entertaining from each of you, in a general way. Here are seven of you, besides myself, (who, as she is pleased to say, am very entertaining already), and she only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated, or two things moderately clever or three things very dull indeed, and she engages to laugh heartily at them all."
"Oh," Miss Bates exclaimed," very well! Then I need not be uneasy. Three things very dull indeed. That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I? Do not you think I shall?"
She looked around her with a good-humoured smile on her face, and Harriet could not help but smile at her, too.
She knows very well about her faults, and still she is able to make fun of herself. Dear Miss Bates! If only she were not quite as tiresome as she is!
But Harriet was shocked by Emma's answer.
"Ah! Ma'am, but there may be one difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number. Only three at once."
How mean! That hurt! How can Miss Woodhouse say such a dreadful thing? I do not believe what I just heard! Poor Miss Bates! She did not deserve being treated like that!
When Miss Bates caught the full meaning of what Emma had said, she blushed slightly, and turned to Mr Knightley, saying, "Ah, well! To be sure! Yes, I see what she means, and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend."
Harriet cast a glance at Mr Knightley's face. Nothing showed his anger, only his eyes had gone dark, and Harriet felt that he strongly disapproved of Emma's behaviour.
Well; he has always been a sort of older brother to Miss Woodhouse. No doubt he will wait until he gets to talk to her alone, and I hope he will not talk to her today. It would be really upsetting for her! Poor Miss Woodhouse will be scolded very severely, to be sure!
Mr Weston, meanwhile, had attempted desperately to save the situation and had contributed a conundrum.
"Two letters or the alphabet express perfection, Miss Woodhouse."
"Ah, Mr Weston, I am sure I do not know."
"M and A. Em - ma. Do you understand?"
Emma laughed heartily at this, and so did Harriet, mainly because she felt ill at ease and was glad to have something to laugh at.
Mr Knightley only looked at them gravely and said, "This explains the sort of clever thing that is wanted, and Mr Weston has done very well for himself, but he must have knocked up every body else. Perfection should not have come quite so soon."
That was hard! I did not know Mr Knightley could be like that!
After a short time, he walked off with Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax, and Harriet, Emma, Mr Churchill and Mr Weston were left behind.
Mr Churchill's spirits were rising even more, and he kept talking to Emma merrily.
He is as cheerful as can be. Why do I still think that this is not real, that he is everything else but not in good spirits? , Harriet thought.
Later, when Harriet went to the spot where they were to meet the carriages, she saw that Mr Knightley was walking up to Emma and that he was saying something to her. She could not hear what it was, but, considering Emma's mood when they were going home in the carriage, she thought that it had had something to do with Emma's behaviour towards Miss Bates. Emma seemed to be depressed, and so Harriet judged it to be the best if she left Miss Woodhouse alone and did not talk to her.
The next morning, Harriet went to Hartfield, and, on arriving, was informed that Miss Woodhouse was not at home. She was shown into the drawing room, where Mr Woodhouse was sitting, with another visitor. Harriet's heart jumped with joy when she perceived who the visitor was. It was Mr Knightley.
However, he did not seem to be in a very good mood. When Emma finally arrived, he rose immediately, and said, "I would not go away without seeing you, but I have no time to spare, and therefore must be gone now directly. I am going to London, to spend a few days with John and Isabella. Have you anything to send or say, besides the love, which nobody carries?"
Emma was surprised, and answered, "Nothing at all. But is not this a sudden scheme?"
"Yes, rather, I have been thinking of it some little time."
Mr Woodhouse, then, began to inquire after his friends, the Bates, and Harriet noticed that Emma felt rather uncomfortable. Her face reddened, and she seemed to be exceedingly uncomfortable.
So she has been with the Bateses? Good! She sees the fault of what she has done, and is trying to make up for it. But what is wrong with Mr Knightley? He seems to be so unlike himself. Perhaps...perhaps he is sorry to leave us? Sorry to leave me? Oh, Harriet, stop dreaming! Still, if it were true...
Even if Mr Knightley was not there any more, Harriet kept thinking of him. There was something in his manner towards her that had changed in the last few weeks. Could it be that he felt more for her than he wanted to admit to himself, let alone to anyone else?
He had talked so pleasantly with her the other day.
The next day, shocking news reached Highbury. Mrs Churchill, Mr Churchill's aunt, had died. The very lady whom everyone had believed to be a hypochondriac, a lady who used her illnesses only to manipulate her husband and her nephew!
Obviously, her illness had been worse than she herself had ever suspected.
Some days later, Harriet met Mr Weston on her way to Hartfield, and was startled at what he told her.
"Miss Smith! How nice to meet you! How are you?"
"I am fine, thank you very much, Mr Weston. I hope Mrs Weston is well? And your son, Mr Churchill, too?"
Mr Weston hesitated for a moment, before he said, "Oh yes, they are both well. Thank you for inquiring. Well, Miss Smith, the most extraordinary thing has happened. But it is to be a secret for the moment, so I will only tell you. We also told Miss Woodhouse about it, though, but no one else is to know."
"Mr Weston, what on earth can it be," exclaimed Harriet, eager to hear the news.
"Miss Smith, you must promise not to tell anybody."
"I won't tell anybody, Mr Weston, upon my word I won't."
"My son and Miss Fairfax are engaged to be married, Miss Smith. There has been a secret engagement ever since last autumn."
"Engaged to be married! Indeed, this is a most remarkable piece of news, Mr Weston! And for such a long time, and nobody noticing... Well, I never!"
"But you will not tell anyone, will you, Miss Smith? It is to be a secret for some time, until everything is settled. Only you and Miss Woodhouse know about it."
"I won't tell anybody about it, Mr Weston. Let me congratulate you! Miss Fairfax is the worthiest young lady I know. I hope she and Mr Churchill will be very happy."
Mr Weston thanked her, his whole countenance expressing how delighted he was. Then he left, to visit the Eltons.
Harriet hurried her steps to reach Hartfield.
Poor Miss Woodhouse! How terrible her disappointment must be! Why did Mr Churchill flirt with Miss Woodhouse if he was engaged to Miss Fairfax? This was very wrong, indeed! He hurt Miss Fairfax's feelings, and Miss Woodhouse's feelings as well. How could he do such a cruel thing? I am afraid he is not as agreeable as I always thought him.
Harriet resolved to help Emma to get over her disappointment.
She has done so much for me, now I can repay her friendliness.
She had not yet closed the door behind her, when she cried out, "Well, Miss Woodhouse! Is this not the oddest news that ever was!"
Emma looked at her uncomprehendingly, not understanding what she was referring to.
"What news do you mean?"
"About Jane Fairfax! Did you ever hear any thing so strange? Oh! You need not be afraid of owning it to me, for Mr Weston has told me himself. I met him just now. He told me it was to be a great secret; and, therefore, I should not think of mentioning it to any body but you, but he said you knew it."
Now Emma seemed to see matters a bit clearer.
"What did Mr Weston tell you," she asked cautiously.
"Oh, he told me all about it; that Jane Fairfax and Mr Frank Churchill are to be married, and that they have been privately engaged to one another this long while. How very odd!"
Emma looked at her, quite unable to speak. Harriet guessed that this was caused by her disappointment.
"Had you any idea of his being in love with her? You, perhaps, might. You, who can see into everybody's heart; but nobody else."
Now Emma could speak again.
"Upon my word, I begin to doubt my having any such talent. Can you seriously ask me, Harriet, whether I imagined him attached to another woman at the very time that I was--tacitly, if not openly-- encouraging you to give way to your own feelings?--I never had the slightest suspicion, till within the last hour, of Mr. Frank Churchill's having the least regard for Jane Fairfax. You may be very sure that if I had, I should have cautioned you accordingly."
"Me!" cried Harriet, all astonishment.
This cannot be true! No, this cannot be true! Miss Woodhouse does not think that...
"Why should you caution me?--You do not think I care about Mr. Frank Churchill."
"I am delighted to hear you speak so stoutly on the subject," replied Emma, smiling; "but you do not mean to deny that there was a time--and not very distant either--when you gave me reason to understand that you did care about him?"
"Him!--never, never. Dear Miss Woodhouse, how could you so mistake me?"
Harriet turned away from Emma.
What made her think I was in love with Mr Churchill? I never said so, did I?
For a moment, none of them spoke. Then Emma cried, "Harriet! What do you mean?-- Good Heaven! what do you mean?--Mistake you!--Am I to suppose then?--"
Harriet stood a bit away from Emma, and had to compose herself at first, before she answered, "I should not have thought it possible, that you could have misunderstood me! I know we agreed never to name him-- but considering how infinitely superior he is to every body else; I should not have thought it possible that I could be supposed to mean any other person. Mr. Frank Churchill, indeed! I do not know who would ever look at him in the company of the other. I hope I have a better taste than to think of Mr. Frank Churchill, who is like nobody by his side."
Who would ever care for a Mr Churchill, when a Mr Knightley is around? Miss Woodhouse, be reasonable!
" And that you should have been so mistaken, is amazing!--I am sure, but for believing that you entirely approved and meant to encourage me in my attachment, I should have considered it at first too great a presumption almost, to dare to think of him. At first, if you had not told me that more wonderful things had happened; that there had been matches of greater disparity (those were your very words);-- I should not have dared to give way to--I should not have thought it possible--But if you, who had been always acquainted with him-"
Emma looked at her, completely aghast.
"Harriet!" , she cried, "Let us understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are you speaking of--Mr. Knightley?"
"To be sure I am. I never could have an idea of any body else-- and so I thought you knew. When we talked about him, it was as clear as possible."
It was as clear as if I had actually mentioned his name!
"Not quite," answered Emma, with forced calmness, "for all that you then said, appeared to me to relate to a different person. I could almost assert that you had named Mr. Frank Churchill. I am sure the service Mr. Frank Churchill had rendered you, in protecting you from the gypsies, was spoken of."
"Oh! Miss Woodhouse, how you do forget!"
She must have forgotten the evening at the Crown, then! Well, it can be excused, it was not as important to her as it was to me.
"My dear Harriet, I perfectly remember the substance of what I said on the occasion. I told you that I did not wonder at your attachment; that considering the service he had rendered you, it was extremely natural:--and you agreed to it, expressing yourself very warmly as to your sense of that service, and mentioning even what your sensations had been in seeing him come forward to your rescue.--The impression of it is strong on my memory."
"Oh, dear," cried Harriet, "now I recollect what you mean; but I was thinking of something very different at the time. It was not the gypsies--it was not Mr. Frank Churchill that I meant. No! I was thinking of a much more precious circumstance-- of Mr. Knightley's coming and asking me to dance, when Mr. Elton would not stand up with me; and when there was no other partner in the room. That was the kind action; that was the noble benevolence and generosity; that was the service which made me begin to feel how superior he was to every other being upon earth."
"Good God! This has been a most unfortunate-- most deplorable mistake!--What is to be done?"
Harriet looked at Emma bewilderedly.
Is there anything that has to be done? Why not let Mr Knightley decide what he wants?
"You would not have encouraged me, then, if you had understood me? At least, however, I cannot be worse off than I should have been, if the other had been the person; and now--it is possible--"
For a few moments, she could not speak. How was she to express what she felt, without leading to further misunderstanding?
"I do not wonder, Miss Woodhouse," she resumed, "that you should feel a great difference between the two, as to me or as to any body. You must think one five hundred million times more above me than the other. But I hope, Miss Woodhouse, that supposing--that if-- strange as it may appear--. But you know they were your own words, that more wonderful things had happened, matches of greater disparity had taken place than between Mr. Frank Churchill and me; and, therefore, it seems as if such a thing even as this, may have occurred before-- and if I should be so fortunate, beyond expression, as to-- if Mr. Knightley should really--if he does not mind the disparity, I hope, dear Miss Woodhouse, you will not set yourself against it, and try to put difficulties in the way. But you are too good for that, I am sure."
Harriet was standing at one of the windows, staring outside, and trying to hide the tears that were welling up in her eyes.
Emma turned round to look at her in consternation, and hastily said, "Have you any idea of Mr. Knightley's returning your affection?"
"Yes, I must say that I have," Harriet answered in a troubled voice.
The way he was talking to me the other day, at Donwell Abbey. And the way he looked at me at several occasions. There can be no doubt! I am not imagining things! And he seemed to be very agitated when he took leave the other day.
She looked at Emma, who was standing there, looking very unhappy, and waited for her to speak.
"Harriet, may I ask what your reasons for believing this are?"
Harriet explained to Emma her having noticed that Mr Knightley was talking to her more often, and that he had talked to her in Donwell Abbey, showing her the grounds, the fields and the meadows, and talking about his property and his tenants as if he were ready to ask her for her hand in marriage.
"He did ask me about my affection for the Martins, for example, as if he wanted to know what I feel for them, or if my heart was still free to love him."
"Might he not?--Is not it possible, that when inquiring, as you thought, into the state of your affections, he might be alluding to Mr. Martin-- he might have Mr. Martin's interest in view?"
"Mr. Martin! No indeed!--There was not a hint of Mr. Martin. I hope I know better now, than to care for Mr. Martin, or to be suspected of it."
Why does she allude to Mr Martin? She knows exactly how painful this is! Me, in love with Mr Martin! Never! And what would make Mr Knightley interfere with Mr Martin's affairs!
"Dear Miss Woodhouse, tell me, do I not have good reasons for hope? I never should have presumed to think of it at first but for you. You told me to observe him carefully, and let his behaviour be the rule of mine--and so I have. But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him; and that if he does choose me, it will not be any thing so very wonderful."
Harriet looked at Emma anxiously.
"Harriet, I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does."
Hearing this from Emma made Harriet extremely happy. If Miss Woodhouse, who had known Mr Knightley for such a long time, said something like that, she was sure that it was true.
Harriet heard Mr Woodhouse's footsteps outside the door, and decided that it would be wiser not to see him. So she took leave of Emma, and left, absorbed in happy thoughts about her future with Mr Knightley.
Harriet did not go to Hartfield the following two days. Somehow she felt that it might be improper to go there. Miss Woodhouse had acted in such a peculiar way, when they had talked about Mr Knightley, that Harriet thought a meeting might not be wished for at the moment.
This was so very odd. Miss Woodhouse was very uneasy when she heard about my feelings for Mr Knightley. Strange. She would not have minded my being in love with Mr Churchill, but she objected to my being in love with Mr Knightley. She acted as if it were the most impossible thing in the world. I always thought her to be in love with Mr Churchill, but obviously she wasn't, or she would not have thought that I was in love with him. Perhaps she is in love with Mr Knightley? I couldn't blame her...
Harriet knew that nothing could be done at the moment.
I have to leave everything to Mr Knightley. He has to decide what he wants. He has to make up his mind if he is going to propose to me or not. All I can do is wait. Oh, Mr Knightley, do hurry up with making your decision!
Early in the morning of the third day, Harriet received a letter from Hartfield. She was just breakfasting with Mrs Goddard and her fellow parlour boarders, so she took the letter and put it into her pocket. She did not want to read it in the presence of others, half fearing that it might contain news she did not really want to know.
After breakfast, she went into the garden, to read the letter in privacy.
Hartfield, July _____________
After all that the two of us have talked about on Monday, I thought that you have a right to know what has happened yesterday; and to know it from me, instead of being told by someone else.
Mr Knightley has returned from London yesterday evening. I met him while I was walking, and during this walk he offered me his hand in marriage. What more can I say than that I was overjoyed by his proposal, and that I have, of course, accepted it? In one way I have to thank you, dear Harriet, because your telling me about your feelings for Mr Knightley opened my eyes for mine.
The only thing that keeps me from being completely happy is your disappointment. After all you have hoped and wished for, receiving a letter like this from me must be a shock, indeed.
I can only tell you that I perfectly understand your feelings, and that I will also understand it if you choose to stay away from Hartfield and me for a while.
I feel sorry for inflicting such pain, but I still hope that your generous heart does wish both Mr Knightley and me well.
While reading this letter, Harriet had felt her knees go weak and had to sit down on a bench. She read the letter again and again. How could this be? She had been so sure. And Mr Knightley had been in love with Miss Woodhouse all the time, not with her!
Harriet did not blame anybody but herself for what had happened.
How stupid I was! How could I ever presume that Mr Knightley was in love with me! Me, the most unimportant, most boring and stupid girl for miles around. A man like him, in love with me! Indeed, Harriet, what an insufferable presumption! Of course, a man like Mr Knightley will prefer a Miss Woodhouse if he can get her to marry him! Miss Woodhouse, charming, beautiful, clever, and most of all RICH, and with good connections! Not a girl who might disgrace him by her connections, the natural daughter of nobody-knows-whom!
Not that I suspect him of marrying for money, he has money enough, himself! Oh, Harriet, why do you always fall in love with the wrong men?
Then she realised that maybe not all the men she had been in love with had been wrong for her. There was one...
Mr Martin was in love with me, and he was serious about it. He made me an offer of marriage, and I refused him. Why did I? At one point I was so sure that I loved him, and I know I did. I know it now. I refused him out of ambition; I thought that Mr Elton might be a better match than Mr Martin. And then there was Mr Knightley, and I was flattered by his attention. Ambition again, nothing but ambition has made me unhappy.
But what hopes should a girl really have, except the one to be happy in marriage, to be with those who really love her, to love and to be loved? I could have been happy on Abbey Mill Farm, and I am the only one to blame for my being unhappy now. It was me who was too weak to stand up against my own ambition, and against Miss Woodhouse's ambition, too. If I had been true to my own feelings and wishes, I'd also have been constant to Mr Martin. Miss Woodhouse would never have got me to write that letter, had I been faithful to myself. He offered me everything he had, and I declined him. I did not deserve him, then, and I still am not worthy of him.
I had the chance to be happy, once, but I let it slip away, out of foolish ambition that was fed by Miss Woodhouse's flattery. Who am I, after all, to believe that Mr Knightley, or Mr Churchill, or even Mr Elton might be in love with me? Just a stupid girl with a tolerable face, that is what I am. No money, no family, no wit. What was it that Mr Martin liked about me?
I'll never know, and it is my own fault.
Meanwhile, Harriet's tears were gone, and all she felt was anger. She was furious with herself for having made a fool of herself, and for having deprived herself of the chance of happiness.
I have been an utter, complete fool! I should have done as I felt it right to do, instead of asking for Miss Woodhouse's advice. What did Miss Woodhouse's advice do? It only made me miserable, every time that I followed it. Well, there is enough of that. I will never again listen to Miss Woodhouse or any one else, if my own happiness is at stake. I will think for myself, I will stand up for myself, and I will not be fooled any more! Enough is enough! Harriet Smith will not be pushed around by anybody any more! I will not put up with it any longer!
"Miss Smith! Come into the house, or you will catch a cold," someone said behind her, in a rather impatient tone.
"I don't care if I do!" Harriet said fiercely and turned around. It was Miss Nash who had talked to her. "And I do not think you would, either," Harriet added in an ice-cold voice.
Then she walked away, leaving a flabbergasted Miss Nash behind.
It took Harriet some time to answer Emma's letter. She did not want to show her hurt pride, but she also wanted to be sincere. So she thought for a while, before she started writing, letting Miss Woodhouse know that she wished her all the best for her future, but that she would rather not meet her for some time.
She spent the rest of the week walking, and talking with Caroline Bickerton. They were reading novels together, and doing their needlework, and Harriet had time to get over the shock of knowing about Mr Knightley's and Miss Woodhouse's engagement.
Harriet was surprised that it took her only little time to get over her disappointment concerning Mr Knightley, but then she judged that it was, perhaps, only because she had not really been in love with him, but had only thought so.
I must have mistaken gratefulness and friendship for love. I certainly was not really in love with him, or I would still suffer, now, on his account. But I don't...I am sad, but not because of Mr Knightley. I am sad because of my lost chances.
She did not wish to see Emma Woodhouse, though, mostly because she did not wish to be reminded of what a fool she had been.
One afternoon, on a walk with Caroline Bickerton, she met Catherine and Elizabeth Martin. While Catherine talked very readily, and seemed to be happy to meet her, Elizabeth only gave her a cold look and turned away to talk to Miss Bickerton, as soon as she had acknowledged Harriet's presence with a short nod.
I cannot blame her. I have hurt them all too much, and most of all happened because I was not able to stand up for myself, and to tell Miss Woodhouse about their claim for my friendship. I should have done what I knew to be right, but instead I followed Miss Woodhouse in everything she said. I wonder that Catherine still talks to me, after all that has happened.
How very much like her brother Elizabeth is! The same eyes, and the same cold look, now that she is angry. She reminds me of what he looked like when he saw Mr Edward Mason trying to kiss me...
I wonder how he is...I hope he has got over his disappointment by now.
I am sure he will find a woman who appreciates him for what he is, and who loves him. I hope he will be very happy...
Two days after that, Harriet received a letter from Emma again. This time it was a proposal that suited her very well.
Mrs John Knightley, Emma's sister, had invited her to come to London to consult a dentist (Harriet had complained about one of her teeth the other day, and had mentioned that she would wish a dentist to see it).
The prospect of going to London, and to get away from the people in Highbury, to forget about her present worries because of new things to see and to do, was tempting. Harriet did not hesitate; she answered Emma's letter at once, and gladly accepted the invitation.
London! Harriet had never been there before, and the thought of going there excited her. Two weeks of amusement in London were just what she wished for at the moment, it would distract her thoughts, and she would be her own self again when she returned.
The visit in London might also keep her from thinking of Mr Martin. She would not have admitted it to herself before, but Mr Martin had been in her thoughts constantly since she had refused his offer of marriage. She knew that there was no chance of her ever being happy with him, and this knowledge, and the knowledge that it was her alone who was to blame for it, hurt her extremely.
Not too long ago she had said to Miss Woodhouse that she "knew better than to think of Mr Martin." Now she knew that she had thought of him all the time, and that she had not admitted it to herself, let alone to Miss Woodhouse. After all, Miss Woodhouse had told her often enough what her opinion of Mr Martin was...
"Stop it!!!" Harriet shouted at her reflection in the mirror.
Am I going crazy ? I'll end up in a lunatic asylum, to be sure!
Harriet's trunk was soon packed, and she set off to London in Mr Woodhouse's carriage.
Although Mr Woodhouse would not normally send his carriage as far as London, he had been persuaded by his daughter to let this be an exception, so Miss Smith might get to London to see a dentist in safety.
Harriet was tired when she arrived in Brunswick Square. She was welcomed by Mr and Mrs John Knightley and their children.
The boys surrounded her, demanding to hear the story about the gypsies once again.
"Will you leave Miss Smith alone, you rascals," Mr John Knightley said, smiling.
"Let her unpack her trunk and refresh herself, first! I must apologise for my sons, Miss Smith, they know how to behave themselves, usually."
Harriet smiled. "You need not apologise, sir. I like children, and I know their ways. What do you think, boys, will you be able to wait for half an hour? I will tell you the story as soon as I have unpacked my trunk."
The boys nodded, and Mr John Knightley said, "Meanwhile, off you go boys. Go and get on someone else's nerves." But he smirked, so one could see clearly that he was only joking.
Mrs Knightley showed Harriet to her room, and said, "I am glad to have you here, Miss Smith. The children are so very fond of you. How are my dear sister, Emma, and my father?"
"They are both in excellent health, Mrs Knightley."
"Oh, it is good to hear such a thing. I am often worried about my father, you must know. At his age, even a cold can be dangerous."
"Oh, but your sister does take good care of your father, Mrs Knightley."
"Oh yes she does, there can be no doubt. But I am talking too much. Make yourself feel at home here, Miss Smith, and when you are finished, join us in the drawing room."
With these words, Mrs Knightley left the room and Harriet had time to look about her. The room was beautifully furnished, and comfy. Mrs Knightley definitely had a good taste in furnishing her house. And Mr John Knightley...Harriet was surprised that he was so different from the John Knightley she had known in Hartfield. At that time, he had been rather uncivil, sometimes, and not very fond of company. But here, in his own house, surrounded by his own family, he seemed to be a warm-hearted gentleman with pleasing manners, who was exceedingly fond of his wife and children. Harriet began to like him, although her first impression of him had not been very favourable.
Harriet finished unpacking her trunks, and then went to the drawing room to meet the family. The boys were already impatient to hear the story about the gypsies, and Harriet obliged them by telling it. She was tired, and a bit anxious about the impending visit at the dentist's, but otherwise she felt well.
I am sure I will enjoy being here, Harriet thought when she retired to her room, later that evening. I only hope I can stay here longer than two weeks. I do not care to go back to Highbury at the moment.
Harriet got up early the next morning. Mrs John Knightley had told her that she loved to go for a walk with her children in the morning, and had asked her if she wanted to join them. Harriet was delighted. She wanted to see as much of the city as possible, and to take every chance to go out.
After breakfast, they set off to Hyde Park. Harriet was astonished to see so many people in the streets. Having spent all her life in the country, she would not have dared to imagine that London could be such a huge place, and so full of people.
Soon, Mrs Knightley recognised some of her friends in the crowd, and after Harriet had been introduced to them, she idly stood by, while Mrs Knightley chattered away happily and had quite forgotten about her presence.
Suddenly, it seemed to her as if she had noticed a familiar face. This could not be...but it was him, it was Mr George Mason. He was walking towards her, accompanied by a young officer in regimentals, but he had not yet noticed that she was there.
However, his attention was attracted when she gave a little shriek, and exclaimed, "Mr Mason!"
He turned towards her, and gave her a broad smile.
"Miss Smith! What a surprise to meet you here! You were the very last person I would have expected to meet in London, but it is a pleasure, nevertheless. What a small world this is!"
His open and friendly manner of addressing her encouraged Harriet to inquire after the Martins.
"How are our friends, the Martins, Mr Mason? It is such a long time since I have heard from them. I met the Miss Martins once, but that is some time ago now, and we did not have the time to talk to each other, as we used to do."
"They are all well, as far as I know, Miss Smith."
"Oh, that is good to hear. It is such a pity that we do not meet any more, do you not think so, too?"
"It certainly is, Miss Smith."
"And they are really well? All of them?"
George Mason nodded.
"I am so glad, so glad...How is your family, Mr Mason?"
"Very well, too."
The other gentleman, the young officer, now approached them, and Harriet recognised Mr Edward Mason, Mr Mason's younger brother. She was not at all pleased to see him, but it could not be helped.
"Miss Smith, what a pleasure to see you here," he said, looking at her in just the way he had always done. Being looked at like that gave her the creeps.
"Good morning, Mr Mason," she said stiffly, looking at him in a cold manner and hoping that he might take the hint and leave.
George was standing next to his brother, giving him a warning look, but Edward Mason was not the sort of man to be discouraged by looks.
"I have not seen you since the ball at the Crown in Highbury, Miss Smith. You do look well," he said, staring at her shamelessly.
"Thank you, Mr Mason," Harriet answered coldly.
Can't he see that I don't want to talk to him? Can't he just leave me alone? At least his brother is here, that will make him behave, I hope.
Edward Mason offered her his arm. "Would you do us the honour of taking a turn with us, Miss Smith," he said.
Where does that man get his cheek from, I'd like to know? I'd love to slap his face, but I guess he wouldn't even notice that I don't like him if I did. He'd probably think that I am secretly in love with him...well, try to be polite, Harriet.
"I am afraid I cannot, Mr Mason, I am here with Mrs John Knightley, and it would be terribly rude to leave her behind."
"Oh, I am sure you could be spared for a few minutes. We have always been friends, haven't we?"
Harriet looked at George, who was drawing a sharp breath, and was probably just trying to think of a way to get his brother away from Harriet without causing embarrassment.
Harriet resolved that it was about time she told Edward Mason what she thought of him.
"I do not know what your definition of friendship is, Mr Mason, but I do not think our acquaintance ever deserved that name; and I do not wish it to exceed its present state of intimacy."
Was that really me? I cannot believe it! And the look in his face...priceless!
Having said that feels so good!
Edward Mason's face expressed astonishment, and anger. But, for the first time in his life, he did not know what to answer, and so he just turned away from her, after a short bow.
Harriet turned to his brother.
"I am sorry for having been so rude, Mr Mason, but I couldn't help it..." she started, trying to explain why she had reacted that way.
George Mason gave a short, good-humoured laugh.
"I cannot say he did not deserve it, Miss Smith. You were absolutely right; he was behaving abominably and it was about time that someone told him about it. Perhaps it is your having said it that makes it more efficient." He winked at her, and took his leave.
"Mr Mason," Harriet said, not knowing what to say when he turned. Tell Mr Martin I love him? Not a good idea, Harriet.
George Mason turned towards her. "Miss Smith?"
"Please give my regards to our friends, the Martins."
He smiled, and said, "I certainly will, Miss Smith." Then he lifted his hat, and went away.
The next evening, George was invited to dine with the Martins. After dinner, he and Robert stayed in the dining room, while the ladies went to the drawing room.
George looked at his friend. During the last year, he had changed. He had become more serious than he had ever been before, and he was not likely to change for the better again. George knew what Robert had been through, perhaps better than any other of Robert's family and friends. It had been George who had found him that evening he had got Harriet's letter; George had been his confidant all the time. He also knew that Robert still loved Harriet, and his meeting Harriet the day before had convinced him that she did not feel indifferent about Robert. But what could he do to make them both happy, and to give Robert an opportunity to see Harriet again? Would Robert even wish to see her? He decided to tell Robert about the meeting with Harriet.
"Guess whom I met in Hyde Park yesterday," he said.
"I have not the slightest idea, George," was Robert's answer.
"Well, just guess."
"Napoleon Bonaparte?" Robert said, dryly.
"Robert, no jokes."
"I said I have no idea. You sounded as if it was someone unusual."
"I met Miss Smith."
"Well, nearly as extraordinary as Bonaparte, then. What does she do in London?"
"She said she was there with Mr and Mrs John Knightley."
Why does George tell me all about that? What does he want me to say? It is none of my business!
"Was she," Robert said, feigning lack of interest, even if he was, in fact, VERY interested in everything Harriet Smith did.
"I think she looked prettier than ever."
Robert sighed. "She always looks prettier than ever, whenever I meet her. I do not know how she does it."
"Edward thought so, too, actually. He couldn't take his eyes off her."
George watched Robert. The mention of Edward Mason had done the trick.
Robert's face reddened, and he suddenly felt extremely jealous, even if he tried to tell himself that it was not so.
I have no right to be jealous, have I? Edward Mason can look at Miss Smith as long as he wants, if she doesn't object to it.
"You still love her," said George. This was not a question, but stating a fact.
"How could I not love her, George? Believe me, I have tried, but it never worked. I am doomed to be in love with her for the rest of my life, without a chance of her returning that feeling."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that, Robert. She inquired about you very seriously, and seemed to care for you a great deal."
"George, don't try to fool me."
"I would never do that, Robert. I know you are not to be fooled in any possible way. I just thought you would be interested in what I have to say."
Robert looked at him and said sharply, "Well, I thank you for your pains, George, but you'd better leave that to me. What do you expect me to do? Should I go to London and wait at the front door of Mr John Knightley's house until someone lets me in? Don't be ridiculous. I asked her once, and she refused me. I won't ask again. Sorry George, but I do have some pride in me after all."
George only shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Well, that is it, then. It's your decision, Robert."
Men in love, aren't they insufferable? Have I ever been like this? I can't remember, but then Catherine accepted me. I had no reason to be insufferable.
What can I do to bring that matter to a good end? Well, I could ask Mr Knightley....he might have a good idea.
If Robert does not go to London for himself, he will have to go for Mr Knightley. I am sure Mr Knightley will agree. Poor Robert, your two best friends plotting against you, just to make you happy. One day you'll thank us...
After Harriet had been to see the dentist, she thoroughly enjoyed her visit in London. Mr and Mrs John Knightley were delightful people on closer acquaintance. They exerted themselves to make her visit pleasant.
Harriet liked to be with them, and she also loved to be with the children. She was particularly fond of John and Henry, the two eldest boys. She joined them in their games readily, read to them and told them stories. The gypsy story had somehow lost their interest, their favourite story now was a story Harriet had invented to amuse them. She encouraged them to think of what happened, as soon as she herself did not know how to go on, and the boys took up the challenge eagerly. They spent many afternoons sitting there, and imagining fights with dragons, or the rescue of some princess. The princess always looked the same, she had a pretty face with blue eyes and golden curls, and her name was Henrietta. The knights who saved her were either named Henry or John, that depended on which of the boys was just telling the story.
Sometimes they played hide and seek in the conservatory, or were romping in the garden. Harriet was often asked to join them, and she always did.
Harriet's fondness for Mrs Knightley's children had soon won her Mrs Knightley's heart. She invited her to stay for a longer period of time, and Harriet gladly obliged her. She was now to stay with the Knightley family until they went to Highbury to visit Mr Woodhouse and Emma, and she was to travel there with them.
Meanwhile, she was to enjoy her visit, and sometimes she nearly forgot about her worries. Only one thought bothered her: She was never to experience the happiness the Knightleys had, a happy marriage and children of her own.
It is your own fault, Harriet, she sometimes thought. You had the chance to marry, and to be happy, but you did not want to marry then. Now you will have to stay single for the rest of your life, and turn into another Miss Nash. Not a very cheering thought, but you will have to face it.
Robert had thought of Harriet very often lately. He blamed George for it, for telling him about meeting Harriet in town.
One of his worst nightmares was that Harriet might fall in love with Edward Mason. Had George not said that "Edward could not take his eyes off Harriet"? Certainly, Edward could be charming, if he chose to. And he was just as good-looking as his brother. Perhaps he would make Harriet believe herself in love with him, and what would happen to her then? Edward was not the sort of man to be trusted...
But then, after all that had happened between the two of them, her falling in love with Edward was not likely...still, who said that Harriet could not change her mind? If she had disliked Edward Mason last summer, did that really mean that she still disliked him?
Well, he had to go to London on business in a few days, and he might meet her in the park, as well, perhaps....
Stop thinking of her, will you? You are behaving like an idiot. What about buying a guitar and singing love songs under her window, Robert? You're a romantic fool.
Then he received a note from Mr Knightley, who asked him a favour. Would he be so kind as to take some papers with him on going to London? There were some important documents that Mr Knightley wanted his brother to have, and which he would rather have taken to London by someone he trusted.
Why not? That would give me the chance to inquire after Miss Smith. I don't want to see her, and she will not want to see me, either. I'll just take these papers to Mr John Knightley's chambers, and if I can talk to him I'll ask how Miss Smith is. But I won't deliver the papers to Brunswick Square. There might be the danger of meeting her if I did, and I don't want to make her uneasy. Just remember her at Ford's...I don't want to see her like that. No, I'll bring those papers to Mr John Knightley's chambers, and that's it. She won't have to see me.
Even if Robert tried to convince himself that it would be better if he did not see Harriet, he hoped to see her. George's narrative had made a much deeper impression on him than he actually wanted to admit.
What if she really cared for him? But George could be mistaken, could he not? There was only one thing to find this out. He had to see Harriet; he had to see her at all cost. She had never been able to hide her feelings. If she were happy to see him, she would show it.
Robert Martin, stop thinking of her! It's over, can't you believe it?
This did not help, of course. While he was on the coach on the way to London, all he could do was think of Harriet, and to imagine her surprise if she saw him. IF she saw him.
When Robert arrived in London, he went to Mr John Knightley's chambers immediately.
"What can I do for you, sir," a young office clerk asked him when he entered.
"I would like to see Mr John Knightley. I have some papers here, from his brother," Robert answered.
The clerk took the papers, and a letter, from Robert and asked him to wait a moment. Then he disappeared behind a door. Shortly afterwards, he came back and asked Robert to come in. Mr John Knightley was standing by the window, and was reading a letter. He turned to Robert and smiled at him.
"Mr Martin, it has been quite some time since we last met. I hope everyone in your family is in good health?"
"Oh yes, they are, thank you sir."
"How long are you going to stay in town, Mr Martin?"
"I'll go back to Highbury the day after tomorrow, Mr Knightley."
"The day after tomorrow, I see...Well, if you do not have any other engagement for tonight, would you like to join us? My wife and I are taking our two eldest sons to Astley's, and our guest, Miss Smith, is going with us. You know Miss Smith, do you not?"
Robert could hardly believe his luck.
"Oh yes, I do...She used to be a friend of my sisters'. But, Mr Knightley, I would not wish to inconvenience you, or to be an intruder on a family party."
"Nonsense, Mr Martin, you are not. You are very welcome to join us, if you wish to, and if you have no other plans for tonight." John Knightley looked at him inquiringly.
I'm going to see Harriet again.... but what will she say? Never mind, if she doesn't like to have me around, I'll go back home the day after tomorrow and that's it. I've got nothing to lose, have I?
"I have no other plans sir, and I will be glad to join you."
Mr John Knightley smiled at him benevolently. "Good," he said. "We will pick you up at your lodgings."
They agreed upon the time the John Knightleys would call on Robert, then he left.
John Knightley grinned, and reread the letter his brother had sent him, along with the papers. He did not know what George was up to, but he seemed to have some idea in the back of his mind, or he would not have asked him to "entertain young Mr Martin while he was in town". Somehow, he had a suspicion that Miss Smith had something to do with it....
Even though it was still an hour before the appointed time, Robert was already dressed and was listening anxiously for every sound of an approaching carriage.
He was anxious, and afraid that some thing or another might happen and prevent his going to the theatre with the Knightleys and Harriet. Harriet's behaviour was also something he thought about. What if she did not want him to be there?
I shouldn't have accepted the invitation, he thought. It was wrong. She won't have a chance to keep out of my way, if she wishes to. She'll have to spend the evening in my company, without being asked. I should have declined. But then, I want to see her, so much! Only once, tonight. There cannot be so much fault in that. After that, she won't ever have to see me again, if she doesn't want to. All I want is to be sure...
In the carriage, John Knightley turned to his wife.
"Isabella, dear, did I tell you that we are going to have another guest tonight?"
Mrs Knightley looked at him, all astonishment. "But John, why did you not tell me earlier? Who is it?"
"I did not tell you earlier, dear, because I invited him this afternoon, and I did not have the time to tell you. But you will like him, be sure of that. A very agreeable young gentleman, his father used to be one of our tenants."
The mention of the "agreeable young gentleman" made Harriet nervous. No, this could not be...
"His name is Robert Martin." John Knightley smiled at his wife. "Do you know him?"
"I have heard his name before, yes, but I do not know him. Well, I hope he will enjoy it here," said Mrs Knightley.
Mr Martin is in London! And he is not only in London, but will spend a whole evening with us! Harriet, pull yourself together. Show him that you...well, try to be calm, and show him that his presence is not disagreeable to you. There is no hope of his renewing his offers, but at least you could show him that you respect him as a friend. I am sure he will appreciate that.
The carriage stopped, and Robert got in. He took his seat next to Mr Knightley and the boys, and greeted everyone politely. Harriet blushed, and did not dare to look in his way. What if he looked at her in that cold, reserved way? She would not be able to bear it if he did.
Mr John Knightley, meanwhile, introduced Robert to his wife, and then said, "You do know Miss Smith, I suppose."
"Yes, I do. How are you, Miss Smith?"
"I am very well, sir." The warm tone of his voice gave her enough courage to look at him. No, the way he looked at her was not at all cold, or reserved...
She smiled. "Your sisters are both well, I hope? I am so sorry we do not meet more often, I will visit them as soon as I get back to Highbury."
"I am sure they will be delighted, Miss Smith," Robert answered, smiling.
She is different. Her behaviour has changed. She is still a bit shy, but she seems to have gained self-esteem. It suits her, actually. And she is more beautiful than ever...but then, she always is.
Meanwhile, they had reached Astley's, and made their way to their box. The boys were both anxious to see the show, and both clung to Harriet's hands. They attacked her with lots of questions, and she was so busy answering them that she did not notice Robert watching her.
She has a very pleasant way with children. She is also pleasant with grown-ups, but in a different way. With children, she can be just like herself, unaffected and lively. That's what they like about her. That's what I love about her.
It had been a long time since he had heard her laugh so heartily. He was glad to see her like this; it meant that she did not take offence by his being here. Maybe George was right, and there was still hope?
Robert sighed. One evening was not enough to find out about that. All he could do was hope that Harriet really kept her promise and visited Catherine and Elizabeth when she got back to Highbury. If she did not....well, perhaps Elizabeth could be prevailed upon to renew her friendship with Harriet?
I'd better ask Catherine. It seems that Liz does not like Harriet very much any more. I don't know what has happened, but it must have been something unpleasant.
Both Robert and Harriet did not see much of the show. Robert was busy casting admiring looks at her, and not being caught by her in doing so. Harriet, in her turn, sometimes looked at Robert, wondering if he enjoyed the evening, and if he really noticed that she was here.
He seemed to be perfectly at ease, and in good spirits.
He seems to like me still. Would it not be wonderful if he still loved me? But then, Harriet, you cannot expect him to make a second offer. You have hurt him once; he will not want to go through the same experience again. Even if he is still in love with you, he will rather keep it to himself. Except...no, you cannot show your feelings too openly. It would be highly improper, if you did.
During the break, they had the chance to talk to each other, but John and Henry demanded very much of Harriet's attention.
"Don't you think Miss Smith is pretty, Mr Martin?", Henry said to Robert.
Robert smiled. "I think she is very pretty."
"I think she is the prettiest lady I have ever seen," replied Henry, and added, "besides Mama and Aunt Emma, that is. When I am old enough, I will ask Miss Smith to marry me. Do you think she will marry me, Mr Martin?"
Robert laughed. "I cannot answer such a question for Miss Smith. I think you will have to ask her."
The boy turned to Harriet. "Miss Smith, will you marry me when I am old enough to marry?"
Harriet blushed, seeing the conscious look Robert Martin gave her.
"Oh, well, I do not know...but I think when you will be old enough to marry, I will be old and wrinkly and ugly, and you will not wish to marry me any more. I am sure you will find a much prettier and cleverer girl than me, and you will marry her."
The boy turned back to Robert. "You see, she does not want to marry me," he said.
"She didn't say so, did she? She said that you might not want to marry her any more, when you are old enough to marry."
Now Mrs Knightley called Henry to her, and Harriet and Robert had a few moments for themselves.
"I have to apologise, I do not know what made the boy act like that," Harriet said, feeling uncomfortable. This was a topic she would rather have avoided.
"I do," was Robert's answer. "His behaviour is perfectly natural, believe me." He grinned. "I used to be a boy, too."
Harriet laughed. Robert Martin had a way about him that made her feel more at ease again.
"And who was the young lady you wanted to marry then?"
"You'd never believe me, Miss Smith."
"This is unfair! You made me curious, and now you must answer my question, or I..."
"Or what, Miss Smith," Robert answered, his eyes sparkling mischievously.
"Or I will not be able to sleep all night. I am sure you do not want to cause sleepless nights, do you?"
"Not normally, no. Well, but you do not know the lady."
"Never mind! Tell me!" Harriet exclaimed animatedly.
Robert laughed. "It was Sue Harris, Davey's mother. You do remember Davey Harris, don't you?"
"Was she the girl your sister was referring to the other day?"
Robert frowned. "I do not quite know what occasion you are talking about."
"The day when Davey gave me his catapult."
"Ah, yes, now I remember. I guess that was she, yes. I cannot remember any other girl I wanted to marry until..."
He stopped. Harriet blushed and turned away. Robert could have kicked himself.
Why did you have to say that? Couldn't you keep quiet? Look at her now; you've made her uneasy. And it all seemed to go so well...
Both were glad that the show went on, and that they had time to think of what had happened.
Robert pondered about their conversation they had had. It seemed that Harriet had really changed. She had never before been so lively, and at ease, in his presence. If he had not known better, he would have thought that she had flirted with him. He thought too well of Harriet to suppose that she would flirt with him without really caring for him, a bit, at least.
If only he could be sure about it. One evening was not enough...
When the show was over, they left their box and headed for their carriage. Mr and Mrs John Knightley were walking ahead of them, taking John with them, and Harriet and Robert followed with Henry.
They stepped out into the street and were immediately surrounded by a crowd of people, who were waiting for their carriages to arrive. Harriet felt oppressed by this crowd; she had a feeling as if she were unable to breathe.
"Oh, God, so many people," she cried. "I am not used to such crowded places, they always make me feel uneasy."
Robert smiled at her and offered her his arm, which was gladly accepted. With him, she felt not uneasy any more. His presence made her feel safe. She took Henry by the hand, so as not to lose him. Then Robert aided her to get into the carriage, before he, too, got in.
Mr John Knightley smiled at him.
"Did you enjoy your evening with us, Mr Martin?"
"Oh yes, Mr Knightley, it was very pleasant."
Mrs John Knightley smiled, too. "Mr Martin, if you are not otherwise engaged tomorrow evening, would you do us the honour of dining with us?"
Robert hesitated for a moment. This was his dearest wish come true, but what about Harriet? He cast a glimpse at her and saw that she was looking at him eagerly, pleadingly, but unable to say anything. This settled it.
"I am exceedingly honoured, Madam, and I shall be most happy to come."
This evening would show him, Robert was convinced of that. One more evening with Harriet, and he would be sure what to do. If she behaved towards him like she had done the evening before, he would try to talk to her alone, and see what she thought about their marriage now. Her manner, last evening, had been very encouraging.
If he did not have the chance to talk to her that evening, he would wait until she got back to Highbury. Surely he would get an opportunity to talk to her there, if he could not speak to her here in London.
Harriet's thoughts were as absorbed with thinking of Robert as his were absorbed with her. She tried to imagine every moment of the last evening, and tried to make a meaning out of everything he had said. His way of talking to her, and his behaviour towards her, had ascertained her that he was still in love, but perhaps too proud to address her once more in the way he had already done.
It must have taken a lot of courage to write the letter he wrote to me then, Harriet thought. And I have done nothing to encourage him yesterday evening. At least, I hope I have not been too encouraging, or what would Mr and Mrs John Knightley think of me? Harriet, stop worrying about what other people might think about you. It is your happiness that is at stake, at the moment. Don't care about others, for heaven's sake, or you'll make the same mistake all over again!
She spent the rest of the afternoon worrying about what to wear tonight. She wanted to look her best, and so she was trying to decide between her light blue and her white gown. But then she remembered that she had worn the light blue one at his birthday dinner, the year before, and that he had seemed to like it very much...
No, she would wear the white one, it became her very well, and he had not seen her in that dress before...
Oh Harriet, do you really think he will notice your dress? Men never care about the dress a woman is wearing, and surely Mr Martin will know better than to notice what your attire looks like!
Then Harriet had another thought. She would wear the white gown, but with it she would wear the shawl Elizabeth and Catherine had given her for her birthday. Perhaps he would recognise it, and would say something about it, and that would give them something to talk about...something that reminded them of a happier past.
When Harriet retired to her room to get dressed for dinner, she was so nervous that she could hardly handle the buttons of her dress. She spent more time in front of her mirror than was necessary, wondering if she ought to use some powder and lip paste to freshen up her countenance.
Now don't be ridiculous, Harriet! You never used that sort of thing, and you never needed to use it either! If he really likes you, he will like you just the way you are, and if he doesn't like you, a painted face will not make him change his mind.
She put the shawl around her shoulders, and then went downstairs to the drawing room to meet Mr and Mrs John Knightley and the children. She knew that Mr Martin would not be with them yet.
John Knightley was not very fond of company; normally he was quite happy to have his wife and children around him, with no further addition to their party. But tonight he was looking forward to the visitor he was going to have. Robert Martin was just the sort of sensible young man that suited his image of pleasant company, and besides he had noticed that his suspicion concerning Miss Smith had been right. Mr Martin was obviously in love with her, and his brother, George, had asked him to invite Mr Martin to give him an opportunity to talk to her. Why George had exerted himself so much was a mystery to him, but he wanted to be of assistance nevertheless. So he decided that Mr Martin, during that evening, would get his chance.
He knew, however, that his wife had a very strong sense of propriety, and that it would not be easy to convince her to leave the young couple to themselves. He needed a trick to get her out of the drawing room first...
When Harriet entered the drawing room, the children, demanding to hear a story, surrounded her. Harriet assented to read a story out of a picture book to them, and settled on a sofa with one little Knightley on each side.
In this way Robert Martin found her when he was shown into the Knightleys' drawing room. He was welcomed very civilly by the master and mistress of the house, and Harriet had to take extra care not to show too much affection when she greeted him. Her smile, however, told Robert everything he wanted to know.
It really looks as if she were happy to have me here. Well, we'll see what she will be like tonight. I envy those boys, I wish I were one of them...
They went to the dining room, and they took their seats.
"You know, Mr Martin, I want my sons to get used to company, that is why they always dine with us," Mrs Knightley said. "But they will leave us soon after dinner."
"Oh, they are delightful boys, Madam," answered Robert. "I dare say they are an addition to our party."
Harriet did not speak much, but sometimes cast a sidelong glance at Robert, who was conversing with Mrs Knightley. John Knightley noticed that, and smiled. This girl was just as much in love with the gentleman as the gentleman was in love with her. They needed to talk to each other as soon as possible....
After dinner, the ladies retired to the drawing room.
Harriet took a seat by the table and opened her workbasket. She needed something to do, something to distract her thoughts from Robert Martin. He had not talked to her as much as he had done the evening before. Sure, he had to be polite to Mrs Knightley, but did he have to overdo it like that? He could have talked to her a bit more, at least, could he not?
Harriet, is it possible that you are jealous? Jealous of a married woman, too? Come, you are not serious about it, are you?
She was so absorbed in her thoughts, that she did not understand Mrs Knightley's question at first.
"I beg your pardon, Mrs Knightley, I was not listening. What was your question?"
"I was just wondering for how long you have been acquainted with Mr Martin."
"Oh, I spent most of last summer on Abbey Mill Farm, that is where I met him. His sisters were very close friends of mine. They went to school at Mrs Goddard's with me."
"He has got two sisters, is that right?"
"Yes, two sisters. Miss Martin is twenty years old, now, and Elizabeth Martin is my age."
"Do you still meet them ?"
"Only occasionally, Mrs Knightley. A lot of things have happened..." Harriet hesitated before she went on.
"We have moved in different circles since I left the farm, and then, it is not the nearest way from Abbey Mill Farm to Highbury."
Mrs Knightley looked at her inquiringly.
"I hope my sister has not interfered with that friendship, Miss Smith. It would be grievously wrong if she had done that. I know she is perfectly up to such a thing."
"No, Miss Woodhouse has never interfered with my friendship with the Martins," Harriet said, wondering if one could see the word "liar" written on her forehead.
But Mrs Knightley was Emma Woodhouse's sister, and Harriet had no right to speak ill of Emma in her presence. Besides, it had been just as much Harriet's own fault, as it had been Emma Woodhouse's.
Mrs Knightley smiled.
"Good, " she said. "I should have been very sorry to see such worthy people, as they obviously are, slighted on my sister's account."
Harriet blushed, but gave no answer. What could she answer, anyway? Mrs Knightley had said all there had been to say.
Soon after that, the gentlemen joined them, and they agreed on playing cards to pass the time.
Harriet was to play with Mr John Knightley, while Mrs Knightley was to be Robert Martin's partner.
"Mr Knightley, it looks as if you are going to win tonight," Robert joked. "I am sure you know that I cannot concentrate on my cards, sitting at one table with two lovely ladies."
Mr Knightley laughed. "Good for you, Mr Martin. You know there is a saying that a man can never be lucky in card games and in love? It has to be the one or the other. By the way," he added gallantly, "I would love to win once in a while, somehow I am not as lucky in playing as I used to be before I married."
Mrs Knightley laughed. "Stop flirting with me, sir, you are a married man. And it will not help, anyway. I am sure Mr Martin and I will win, will we not, Mr Martin?"
"I will do my very best, Madam."
Soon after they had started playing, however, the nurse entered the room and went to Mrs Knightley.
"If you please, Madam, Miss Emma has woken up and she is crying for her Mama. Shall I bring her here?"
Mrs Knightley rose. "I'd rather go and see her myself," she said. "Please excuse me for a moment."
Shortly after that Mr Knightley rose, too, and told them he had just remembered some urgent business he had to attend to at once.
"You must think me exceedingly rude, Mr Martin, but I am a busy man. I think you know exactly what it is like to be so absorbed in your work, that you sometimes forget to do something just because there has been so much to do. I am sure my wife will not be gone long, and I will not be away for more than five minutes."
With these words, he left the room and Robert and Harriet were left alone. All of a sudden, Harriet felt a bit uncomfortable, but did not wish to show it.
Instead, she tried to look cheerful and said, "How is your friend, Mr Mason? Did he tell you we met?"
This is an ordinary topic, there is nothing wrong with that, she thought.
Suddenly, Robert felt jealous.
What makes her care for the Masons so much? Now that she is alone with me, she is talking about them, he thought.
"George told me that he and his brother met you, yes."
His voice sounded reserved, completely different from what he had been before.
What have I said that was wrong, I wonder? Has there been some sort of disagreement between Mr Mason and Mr Martin? And why does he stress the name of Edward Mason like that?
"Have I said something wrong, Mr Martin?"
He looked into her eyes. Had his feelings been so obvious? He resolved to test her.
"I cannot tell you much about Mr Edward Mason, though. I haven't seen him since last summer," he said.
Can it be that he is jealous? Can it really be? Oh, if only...
"Why should I inquire after Mr Edward Mason, after all that he has done to me," she asked.
"I do not care if he was dead or alive, really. I wish I hadn't seen him since last summer. I wish I had never seen him at all."
"Really?" Robert did not quite believe what he heard.
" I told him so, actually. Well, these were not my exact words, but I told him I didn't like him and didn't care for his company. Did Mr Mason not tell you? He seemed to be pretty amused..."
Robert smiled. "I dare say he was."
Just let me get back home, George Mason! That was a masterpiece of yours, to be sure. To make me believe that your brother...
Harriet watched him. He seemed to be very much relieved after her saying that she did not like Edward Mason. He had not really believed...after all that...
"You did not believe that I was in love with Mr Edward Mason, did you, Mr Martin?" she said, frowning.
What gives him the idea that I would? I must seem a real simpleton to him if he believes that! I am not that stupid!
Robert laughed. "In fact, I did. I've been such a fool, I can hardly believe it. What made me believe such a story? I cannot tell. Well, I can tell, if you care to hear it..."
He looked into her eyes, pleadingly.
"If you don't want to know, just tell me, and I'll be quiet, and will never refer to it again as long as I live."
Harriet could not avert her gaze from his eyes. She smiled, but did not say a word.
"Nothing could have changed my feelings for you, Harriet, nothing that you or anybody else could say. I loved you all the time, even though I knew there was no hope for me to be happy with you. And when George mentioned his brother to me, and that his brother was obviously fond of you, I thought that he wanted to prepare me for bad news...I've been a fool, I told you before."
"I thought you might be in love with someone else, and that you would marry soon. Or, even worse, Edward Mason might be the man. I didn't know what to do. All I could do was love you, in vain, without hope, but..." He paused, and then took both her hands in his.
"May I hope this time, Harriet?"
Harriet was not able to speak. This moment was so precious to her; she hoped it would last forever. She nodded, while the tears were running down her cheeks.
Robert smiled at her affectionately. "Can you tell my why you are crying, dear?" he asked, in a tender voice.
"I am so happy, that is why," she managed to say, timidly.
Robert laughed, and started to wipe off her tears with his handkerchief.
"Does that mean you cry when you are happy," he asked.
"What a dilemma!" he said with a theatrical sigh.
Harriet gave him a puzzled look. "Why?"
"Because I hate to see you cry, but I want you to be happy. What's a poor fellow like me to do?"
Harriet couldn't help laughing, now. He was such a dear...
"Now, that is much better Harriet, even if I have to take care that you don't laugh at me too often," he said, with sparkling eyes.
He put his arms around her. "You know what, Harriet? I'd love to kiss you."
Harriet smiled. "You can kiss me whenever you like, Mr Martin," she said.
"Good. That is exactly what I intend to do."
Had anyone asked her later, Harriet would not have been able to tell how long this kiss had lasted. It could have lasted a moment, or a thousand years, she would not have noticed the difference. It made no difference to her. All she felt was perfect happiness, and to be in his arms felt like the place where she had always wished to be. She felt safe, happy, and calm, and she knew she could not bear to part with him any more.
They spent the following minutes discussing what they would do, now that they had finally got together. Robert wanted to speak to her father, to attain his consent. Harriet was obliged to tell him that she did not know anything about her father's identity.
"Well, someone must know," Robert said, thoughtfully. "Do you think Mrs Goddard might be able to help?"
"I think so, yes. But you are not going to tell her about us, are you?"
"Why not? She will get to know about our engagement sooner or later, so why not sooner?"
Harriet smiled. "You are right, of course, why not sooner? It is just that I am still not used to the thought of marrying soon, you know."
"You are not going to change your mind, are you?" Robert said, looking at her anxiously.
"Never! What would I do without you," was Harriet's reply.
Soon after that, both Mr and Mrs Knightley arrived in the drawing room and they had to rest their conversation for the moment. But it was very hard for both of them to hide their happiness, and Mr and Mrs Knightley exchanged meaningful glances.
They had enough delicacy of feeling to move away from them, before Robert left, to let him take leave of his sweetheart without them standing by and overhearing every word.
"When will you come back to Highbury," he asked.
"In a few days, Robert. I won't be gone long."
"You say a few days isn't long? It's too long, Harriet, even a minute will seem like an eternity to me."
"I am sure you won't get bored. You will have a lot to do."
"Oh yes, I will. First of all I will have to beat up George Mason."
Harriet looked at him, horrified. "You are not serious, are you?"
Robert laughed. "No, I am not. I am infinitely obliged to him, and I will have to thank him properly. I suspect him of some matchmaking here."
"Are you sure?"
"No, but I will be sure after I've met him. All I know is that this is just the thing George would do."
"In that case, I ought to thank him, too. Oh, and give my love to your mother and sisters, will you?"
"I certainly will, dear."
Then Robert took leave of the Knightleys and Harriet, and left. His head was full of happy thoughts, and he could not wait until Harriet came back to Highbury. But what was he to do to find out about her parents? Robert decided to see Mr Knightley as soon as he got back home.
The next day, Robert returned back home to Abbey Mill Farm. His mother and sisters anxiously awaited his arrival. George Mason had told Catherine everything about his plans concerning Robert and Harriet, and even if Catherine did not quite approve of George's interference, she hoped for her brother's sake that everything had turned out the way it was planned.
Mrs Martin, too, wished that Robert's visit in London had not been without consequences. It had hurt her to see her own son so unhappy, and all she wanted for him was happiness. If his happiness depended on Harriet Smith, then nothing could be done about it.
Elizabeth waited for her brother's arrival with mixed emotions. On one side, she sincerely wished for her brother and Harriet's happiness. On the other hand, she remembered her own behaviour towards Harriet, and hoped that Harriet might be able to forgive her. Elizabeth knew her brother well enough to know that he would be furious with her, if he ever knew what had passed between her and Harriet. After all, he had always asked her to be friendly to Harriet.
Let's hope she didn't tell him... Elizabeth thought. But then, Harriet is not a vengeful sort of person. I am sure I can sort out everything, as soon as she is back. I'll visit her and I'll tell her I am sorry.
When Robert entered the house, the expression in his face told them everything, before he could even open his mouth. He told them about his evening at Astley's, Harriet's behaviour then, and his dinner with the John Knightleys. When he told them that Harriet had, at last, accepted his offer of marriage, they congratulated him, and expressed their best wishes for the young couple.
Robert turned to Catherine, and said, grinning, "Cathy, do you happen to know if George Mason had anything to do with it? I mean, the day after I told George I was not going to see Harriet in London, Mr Knightley asked me to take some papers to his brother. I don't quite believe in coincidence, at least not in that case."
Catherine laughed. "Perhaps you'd better ask George, not me. Or you can ask Mr Knightley himself, if you want to know his reasons for sending you to London. Perhaps it was a coincidence?"
Robert laughed. "I will talk to both of them, you can be sure of that."
Then he noticed that Elizabeth seemed to be a bit out of spirits.
"Liz, what is the matter with you? Aren't you happy, now that one of your dearest wishes has come true?"
"One of my dearest wishes, Rob?"
"You know what I mean, Liz. I have been well aware that you always wanted Harriet and me to marry. Now that this event is going to take place, you look a bit... well, unhappy, and that makes me wonder, I cannot help it."
He looked at her inquiringly. " Has anything happened between you and Harriet that I ought to know?"
Elizabeth sighed. "Nothing that I cannot sort out by myself, Rob. I am very happy for both of you, and I wish you to be happy with all my heart. I have always been very fond of Harriet, you know that."
"Do you think I am stupid, sister? At the end of your last sentence there was a huge BUT, even if you didn't pronounce it."
Elizabeth sighed. "Even if I was fond of her, I did not like the way she has treated us lately, and you know me, Rob, I cannot keep silent if I think I am treated badly."
"Liz, I told you..."
"I know, Rob, and you were right, you were perfectly right. I promise, I'll visit Harriet as soon as she gets back to Mrs Goddard's, and I'll tell her that I am sorry. Please, do not let this spoil your happiness in any way."
She looked at him pleadingly, and Robert nodded.
"All right, Liz, try to make up for it. I should be very sorry if my wife and my sister were at odds with each other. Your temper might get you into trouble one day, Liz. Try to get more self control."
Elizabeth smiled. "I am trying all the time, and you know it, Rob."
"Just remember that it is wiser sometimes to leave things unsaid, Liz."
After he had had something to eat, Robert set off to Donwell Abbey. He had to deliver a letter from Mr John Knightley, and he wanted some advice from Mr Knightley as well.
He still was not sure what to do concerning Harriet's father. How was he to find out about his identity? Was it proper to ask Mrs Goddard for any information about him? Would she be willing - or allowed - to be of assistance?
Mr Knightley was delighted to hear the news of Robert's and Harriet's engagement, and he even admitted to have had a hand in Robert's invitation.
"I asked my brother to invite you, Mr Martin. I could not resist such a chance of helping you, not after your friend, Mr Mason, had mentioned this possibility to me."
"So it was George Mason and you to whom I owe my present happiness."
"You owe us nothing, Mr Martin, believe me. Miss Smith's attachment to you is all your own doing."
"There is only one problem left, Mr Knightley."
"I would like to ask for her father's consent, but I do not know anything about him. The only person who could be of assistance is Mrs Goddard. Do you think it is wise to ask her?"
"Of course, Mr Martin, it is the best thing to do, really."
Before Robert took leave, Mr Knightley asked him if he was allowed to tell Miss Woodhouse of the engagement, or if he ought to wait until Harriet returned.
Robert laughed. "I think she will like to hear it, Mr Knightley. It will not do any harm if she is prepared for the news."
Mrs Goddard was not surprised to hear the news of Harriet and Robert's impending marriage.
"The only thing that surprises me is that it has not taken place already, Mr Martin. I wish you all the best. You deserve to be happy."
"Mrs Goddard, I came here to ask a favour from you."
"I'll be very glad to help you whenever I can, Mr Martin."
"It concerns...Harriet's father. As far as I know, you are the only person who knows him."
"I see. Of course you want to get to know him, or to write him a letter to attain his consent to your marriage."
"That is what I came to ask for, Mrs Goddard. Would you be so kind as to give me his name and address?"
"Oh, I am afraid that will not be so easy, Mr Martin. Harriet's father has always wished for concealment in this matter, for obvious reasons. I cannot give you his name and address before he has given me leave to do so. All I can do is write to him and ask him."
"I understand, Mrs Goddard."
"I will write to him, and I will ask him for his permission to give you his name and address. I am afraid this is all I can do for you at the moment."
"Thank you very much for your kindness, Mrs Goddard."
A few days later, Harriet and the John Knightleys arrived in Highbury. Robert had already waited impatiently for her return. He had still some difficulty with believing in his own happiness, sometimes he still thought he was dreaming, and half expected to wake up at one point.
He was happy to see that Harriet had not changed, but that she was as happy to see him, as he was to see her. He told her what had happened in the last few days, that he had told his family about their engagement, and that they were all as contented as he was.
"All of them," was Harriet's anxious reply.
"All of them, yes."
Robert looked at her. She seemed to be worried. What had happened ?
Harriet smiled. "I am glad to hear that. Hopefully I'll see your mother and sisters soon."
"They are going to visit you tomorrow, Harriet. Now, what did Miss Woodhouse say when you told her the news?"
"She already knew it. Mr Knightley has told her. But she was very anxious to hear all the details, and she appeared to be very happy about our engagement. She said she would like to meet you."
"Did she? Well, perhaps there will be an opportunity in the future." He laughed. "She will meet me at the wedding, I think. I know I will be there, and I am sure you will invite Miss Woodhouse."
Harriet laughed. "Of course I will. Do you think she will like to be one of my bridesmaids? I want to ask your sisters, too."
"They'll be delighted, no doubt."
The next day, Mrs Martin, Catherine and Elizabeth came to visit Harriet, as they had promised. Harriet felt a bit nervous.
After all I have done to them, she thought, I can hardly expect them to be very friendly, even if Robert thinks they will. But I will try to make up for it. I will show them that I love them all, and that I want to be a part of their family. I will have to live with them, and it would be a bad start if there were any disagreements.
Harriet's worries turned out to be completely unfounded. Mrs Martin embraced her, called her "my dearest Harriet", and treated her in the warmest manner.
Catherine, too, was affectionate, and told her that Harriet was "just the person she had always wished for a sister-in-law."
Elizabeth was unusually silent, though. She seemed to feel uncomfortable, and did not talk very much.
After they had spent some time together, Mrs Martin and Catherine rose and told Harriet that they had some business at Ford's to attend to.
Elizabeth turned to Harriet and said, "Harriet, would you like to go for a short walk with me, while Mother and Cathy are at Ford's?"
Harriet smiled. "Of course, Elizabeth. I'll just go and fetch my shawl."
They went out and decided to take the Donwell road. It was a fine, late summer afternoon, with a bit of autumn in the air. The sun was shining brightly, and some of the leaves were already changing their colour.
For a while, none of them spoke, but then Elizabeth turned to Harriet and said, "Harriet, there is one thing I have to tell you. I want to say how sorry I am for the way I treated you when you were last at Abbey Mill Farm. It was wrong, and I know it. Please, let us be friends again."
Harriet was surprised. She knew how hard it was for Elizabeth to admit a mistake, especially if she had believed to be right. After all, she had been right, in a way...
"Elizabeth, I have always been your friend, and I was never angry with you because of that... because of what you said that afternoon. I know that I did you wrong, and I have hurt your feelings. Your reaction was perfectly natural, and I always took it for what it was. I'd be very happy if you were more than just a friend in the future. You are going to be my sister soon, and I am looking forward to it."
She looked at Elizabeth, smiling. "Still, I am happy that you said you were sorry. I am sorry for my behaviour, too. Let us not talk about the past any more. There are much nicer things to talk about."
Elizabeth nodded. They both turned around, and went back to Highbury, where Mrs Martin and Catherine were already waiting for them. Harriet promised to visit them at Abbey Mill Farm the next day. Then the Martins left, and Harriet went back to Mrs Goddard's house. She was happier than she had ever been before.
Finally, she had a family.
A few days had passed since Harriet's return to Highbury, and she had met Robert and his family nearly every day.
Robert, meanwhile, did everything to organise the marriage, and gaining Harriet's father's consent was, at the moment, the most important task for him.
Mrs Goddard had given Robert the name and address of Harriet's father, and had suggested that he should write to him, to ask his consent for their marriage. She had also promised him to write to Harriet's father, to let him know what sort of letter he might expect soon.
Still, Robert felt that he would rather go and see the gentleman. He wanted to know who Harriet's parents were, and he also wished to make their acquaintance, if possible. So he decided that he would go to London again, for a few days, and try to get acquainted with this Mr Walker. There were some questions he had which he would not wish to ask in a letter, and he would rather have seen this gentleman at least once.
Perhaps it would also be possible to get information about Harriet's mother from him?
Mrs Goddard had said that Harriet's mother had never been mentioned in any of Mr Walker's letters, and that she therefore did not know who that lady was.
"Maybe Mr Walker wants to protect her, or wants to keep this matter as secret as possible. He has always been very liberal, in everything. Everything that Harriet wanted was granted; he paid for all her expenses," Mrs Goddard had said. "But never a word was mentioned about her mother. I do think that is strange, Mr Martin, but then it is none of my business, really. Perhaps you will be able to extract this information from Mr Walker. It might be worth a try. You know that Harriet always longed to know her mother?"
Robert had smiled. "I did not know it, Mrs Goddard, but considering her warm and loving nature I would have wondered if she had not. You are right, perhaps Mr Walker will reveal the identity of Harriet's mother to me, and then I might be able to see her, too."
Now Robert was in the drawing room of Abbey Mill Farm, talking to his mother, and asking for her advice. He told her what Mrs Goddard had said about Harriet's father, and asked her what she thought to be the best thing to do.
"Do you think I ought to write to him first, or do you think that I should go to London and introduce myself to him?"
"That would be a most improper thing to do, Robert, and I do not think it would make a good impression. If you want to go there, you should ask Mrs Goddard for a letter of introduction. What does she think? She has known this gentleman for quite some time, what is her idea of him?"
"She thought that I should write."
"Well, then I think that this is the right thing to do. As I said before, she knows Mr Walker better than we do, and so we must believe that her suggestions in this case are well founded. If Mr Walker wants to meet you, Robert, he will let you know, be sure of that."
The letter was written, sealed, and sent, and Robert spent the next two days waiting eagerly for an answer. Finally, it arrived, and it was very satisfactory.
I was surprised, but also very pleased, to receive your letter.
Now, however, I have got time to write, and can only express my best wishes for you and my daughter, and assure you that I am happy to hear the news of your impending marriage.
You expressed your wish to see me, and I heartily agree with you. A young man should know his father in law, at least by sight. I therefore suggest that you visit me in my house in ______________ Street, London, at any time that is convenient for you. I am eagerly looking forward to making your acquaintance.
London, August 18_____
Please forgive me for not answering immediately, I know that young men in love tend to count every minute as an hour, but I was so absorbed in business matters that nothing was to be done until these matters were settled.
Robert read the letter to Harriet, and grinned.
I was surprised, but also very pleased, to receive your letter.
Now, however, I have got time to write, and can only express my best wishes for you and my daughter, and assure you that I am happy to hear the news of your impending marriage.
You expressed your wish to see me, and I heartily agree with you. A young man should know his father in law, at least by sight. I therefore suggest that you visit me in my house in ______________ Street, London, at any time that is convenient for you. I am eagerly looking forward to making your acquaintance.
"I think your father and I will get on very well with each other."
"How do you know?" Harriet asked anxiously. "He could turn out to be a very disagreeable gentleman."
Robert laughed. "Harriet, he is your father. I don't think he can be disagreeable, at least no more than you can."
Harriet smiled. "You do know how to make compliments, Mr Martin!"
"No, I don't, but I have always been a fast learner." Then his face became more earnest. "Well, it's off to London I go, then."
Harriet felt a pang of disappointment and anxiety. "How long will you stay away?"
"Only one or two days, not for very long, Harriet." He looked at her, and smiled encouragingly. "What is the matter, dear, do you think you will miss me?"
Harriet nodded, with tears in her eyes.
"It won't be for long, Harriet. You'll have to get used to that, I will have to go away on business sometimes. And I couldn't feel at ease and concentrate on my work if I knew that my wife is at home, crying bitter tears and spoiling her pretty eyes because of that."
He laughed, and added, "But I am sure I will soon be a nuisance to you, and you will be quite happy to have me out of the house now and then."
Harriet had to laugh, too. That thought was too ridiculous. "Never, Robert!"
"That sounded very convincing." He smiled mischievously. "I'll remind you of what you said just now as soon as it is the case."
"Feel free to do so, but I do not think I will ever be tired of your being around."
He drew her near him, put his arms around her and said," This sounds like a confession, Miss Smith. Have you made up your mind to be in love with me?"
"I have made up my mind as to that a long time ago, Mr Martin."
When Robert arrived in London the next day, he went to ______________ Street directly. What he saw was a big, handsome house. Robert looked at Mrs Goddard's note with Mr Walker's address. This was the place.
Mr Walker seems to be richer than I imagined him to be, Robert thought.
He rang the doorbell, and gave his card to the servant who opened the door. The servant asked him to come in and wait in the hall, while Mr Walker would be informed of his arrival.
While waiting for the servant to return, Robert looked around. The furniture was expensive, and gave a good testimony to the house owner's taste. Mr Walker seemed to be a man who was fond of everything beautiful, and did not seem to care about how much he spent on purchasing it.
The servant came back, and asked Robert to follow him. He was led into one of the rooms, where a gentleman in his late forties was waiting for him. One could not really tell his age, he seemed to be older than he looked, for sure. He was good looking. Even though his hair was already grey, his face seemed surprisingly young. Robert could not spot any likeness in looks with Harriet, though, and concluded that she would look like her mother, then.
The gentleman smiled at him, and came up to him to shake hands.
"Do come in, Mr Martin, do come in. Did you have a pleasant journey?"
"Yes, I did, thank you Mr Walker."
"That is good. I hate to travel myself, I must admit, I do not like all the fuss with packing, and the fatigue of the journey. Sometimes I have to travel, but I try to keep these occasions as few as possible. But there, I am talking and not even offering you a seat! Do sit down, Mr Martin, and ask me what you want to know."
Robert sat down in a chair. What am I going to say? I don't really know how to address that man, he thought.
Mr Walker noticed that Robert hesitated, and said, "I guess you do not know what to say, Mr Martin, so I will take the task in my hand, for the moment, and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask. I guess you will want to know about Harriet's....dowry."
"Of course you do, Mr Martin. I am glad to tell you that Harriet, even if she is an illegitimate daughter, is well provided for. When she was born, I set aside three thousand pounds to provide for her expenses, and she will be in possession of that money as soon as she is married."
"Three thousand pounds, yes." Mr Walker sighed. "I wish I could give her more, but this is not possible. Oh, of course I will also pay for her wedding clothes. Please tell her that she is welcome to come to any of my warehouses, and to choose whatever she wishes to have."
"I am sure she will be very pleased to hear that, sir."
"If she comes to London to buy her wedding clothes, I should be very glad to see her, too."
"I think this will please her even more, Mr Walker. She always wished to make your acquaintance - and her mother's, too."
Now I said it. I hope he will get the hint.
"Her mother..." Suddenly, Mr Walker's face darkened. Robert could not make out what the expression in his face meant. Guilt? Regret? Grief?
Mr Walker got up, went to the window and looked out for a few moments. He did not speak, and Robert did not dare to say anything, either. Then Mr Walker took a deep breath, turned around, and said, "I am afraid it is not possible for Harriet to meet her mother, Mr Martin."
"Oh, I see..."
"Let me tell you the sad story of Harriet's mother, Mr Martin. Feel free to tell Harriet everything she may want to know, even if she may get a wrong impression of me. I admit that my dealings with her mother will give her the impression that I am a villain, but believe me I am not. If I had to describe myself, I would rather use the term "coward.""
"I was a coward because I did not stand by Harriet's mother when she needed me most. I left her alone, with all the shame and misery that were connected with giving birth to an illegitimate child. And all this just happened to her because of me."
"Mr Walker, I am not sure if I have a claim to know all that..."
"Yes, you do. You are going to marry my daughter, and Harriet's daughter..."
"Harriet's mother's name is Harriet?"
"Yes, her name was Harriet Smith. She used to live in the neighbourhood, a very beautiful, sweet tempered girl. She did not have much money, though. Her parents had died early, and had not left much money for her. She lived with a spinster aunt of hers. I met her very often, being neighbours...and I have to admit I always liked her. I liked her, and she attracted me.
After all, it is very flattering for a man if a girl falls in love with him. It was my fault, I should have told her that I did not love her, and should have left her alone. Instead, I seduced her.
A few weeks later, I announced my engagement with another woman, a woman whom I did not love, but who had a dowry of ten thousand pounds. Money has always compensated a lack of feelings," he added, in a bitter tone of voice.
Robert was too shocked to say anything. He had not expected such a story. He had not wished to hear it, but now he felt that Mr Walker wanted to tell him to be relieved of his feelings of guilt.
"Harriet was heartbroken. She came here to tell me what she felt, and she told me that she was pregnant. I was shocked. What was I to do? I knew that the right thing to do would be to ask my fiancee to release me from our engagement, and to marry Harriet as fast as possible. But, as I said before, I was a coward. I was afraid of telling my fiancee what had happened, and I did not want to lose ten thousand pounds for the sake of marrying Harriet, a sweet girl, to be sure, but with no money or connections."
"Mr Walker, I..."
"Please, let me finish, Mr Martin. I know you must be shocked to hear this story, but I want my daughter to know the truth about her mother. I do not want her to believe that her mother was...well, you know the terms that are used to describe that sort of women. She was not THAT sort. No, she was not. It was all my fault.
I told her that I would not marry her, and I told her that I would pay for the child's upbringing, provided that my name should not be mentioned. I will never forget the expression in her face. She turned round and left the house, and that was the last I saw of Harriet Smith."
Mr Walker sighed. "After a few months, her aunt came here to tell me that Harriet had given birth to a girl, and had died shortly afterwards. She reminded me of my promise and told me that she would make the matter known in public if I did not keep it. The news of Harriet's death had grieved me deeply, more than I can say. I promised myself that my daughter would never have to experience the shame her mother had to suffer from. I made sure that she was taken care of by respectable, reliable people. Now I am glad to hear that she is going to get married, and is going to live with a good family."
"Mr Walker, I am sorry to hear that Harriet's mother is dead. I would not have mentioned the matter, but I knew that Harriet had always wished to see her."
"Oh, it is good you asked me, Mr Martin. I think Harriet has a right to know who her parents are."
Mr Walker opened a drawer in his desk.
"There is something I would like Harriet to have."
He took a medallion on a chain out of the drawer and gave it to Robert.
"Take a look at it."
Robert opened the medallion and saw a small portrait. He was surprised.
"But that is...that is Harriet, Mr Walker."
"You are right, this is Harriet Smith. The mother, though, not the daughter."
Robert could not take his eyes off the picture. The golden curls, the blue eyes, the whole countenance...this could have been as well a portrait of his Harriet.
"The likeness is astonishing, Mr Walker. Harriet looks exactly like her mother."
The next evening, Harriet was to dine with the Martins, and they all went for a walk before dinner.
Robert took the opportunity and told Harriet everything about his meeting with her father, including all he knew about her mother.
"I hope it was right to tell you all this, Harriet," he said, when he had finished his narrative.
"It was right, Robert." Harriet sighed. "I never knew my mother, and still I feel so sorry for her death as if I had."
Robert looked at her and saw that there were tears in her eyes.
He put his arm around her. "Your father gave me something. He said he wanted you to have it."
With these words, he took the medallion out of his pocket and gave it to Harriet. Harriet opened the locket, and was as astonished to see the picture as he himself had been.
"This cannot be true, Robert, she looked just like me!"
Robert smiled. "That's right, Harriet, she was just as beautiful."
He offered her his arm, and they went back to the house.
Whenever, in the following years, Harriet looked back on the weeks between Robert's proposal of marriage and the wedding, she could not help wondering how fast they had passed.
Of course, most of her time was occupied by preparing for the wedding. First of all, she had to buy her wedding clothes, and her father's suggestion was most welcome to her. She went to London, accompanied by Mrs Goddard and Mrs Martin, and attended to that business there. On this occasion, she also met her father. Though he was very attentive and agreeable, and ready to be of assistance, she felt that he was rather uncomfortable in her presence. This disappointed her, even if she could understand his feelings very well. She reminded him of her mother, so it was no wonder that he did not feel at ease. Still, she had always imagined a meeting with her father when she had been a little girl, and her hopes for this event had been different. She had imagined him to be more affectionate than he actually was.
Buying clothes with Mrs Goddard and Mrs Martin was not easy, either. Both ladies had a very particular opinion as to what clothes ought to look like, but unfortunately their opinions differed. So, whenever Harriet asked for their advice, she was sure to get two completely different answers, and had to do what she thought to be right.
Back in Highbury, Harriet spent most of her time on Abbey Mill Farm. Her friendship with Emma Woodhouse had changed; Emma felt this as strongly as Harriet did.
One evening, Harriet and Robert were invited to dine in Hartfield, and Robert was to be introduced to Emma.
Harriet was happy to see that Emma, finally, seemed to approve of Robert Martin. She had not forgotten what Emma had said about him earlier. She had called him "clownish", and "vulgar". Now Emma seemed to have changed her mind about Robert. She talked to him in a very friendly, easy manner, and later told Harriet that she was "impressed to see how gentleman-like Mr Martin was". Knowing how hard it was for Emma to admit a mistake, Harriet took this praise very seriously, and was delighted about the change in Emma's opinion.
Before Robert took leave, he bowed and said to Emma, "Miss Woodhouse, I always wanted to thank you for your friendliness towards Harriet. I know it has done her good, and I will never forget it."
Even though he said this in a very pleasant manner, Harriet knew exactly what he meant. He would never forget Emma's interference in his own affairs, no matter how kindly she might treat him now...
The weeks went past and, finally, the wedding day approached. It was now the end of September, and autumn had changed the scenery around Highbury into a colourful picture.
Harriet was walking with Elizabeth and Catherine, and they - naturally - had no other topic to talk about but the wedding that was to take place the next day.
"You know, Harriet," Elizabeth said," I always wished that this might happen. I think that was mainly because I was always afraid that my brother might fall in love with someone I might not like, and what was I to do then? I am glad he is going to marry you."
Harriet smiled. Having seen Elizabeth at her worst, she was quite sure that Robert's wife, if Elizabeth had not liked her, would have had a hard time before her.
Catherine sighed. "I wish I could be in your place tomorrow, Harriet."
Elizabeth looked at her, grinning. "You mean, you want to marry Rob?"
"Liz, you know what I mean. George and I have been engaged for so long now, sometimes I think we will never get married."
"Oh, cheer up, Catherine," Harriet answered. "I am sure you are the next one in the family to marry. It won't be long, believe me. But what about you, Elizabeth, do you not think of marrying?"
Elizabeth laughed. "Oh, sure, there are several young men who are already waiting for their turn. If it wasn't so hard to decide..." She gave a theatrical sigh, and looked skywards.
"I'm afraid I'll trespass on your hospitality for some time, Harriet. Until I've made up my mind, that is. It can only be a matter of ... about twenty or thirty years, not much, really."
Harriet and Catherine laughed out loud at Elizabeth's comical face.
"Come, Liz," Catherine gasped, "don't be so hard on yourself. You know you could have any young man you want. You are witty, intelligent, and pretty, too."
"Well, sister, perhaps if I go to some place where no one knows about my nasty habits, like reading good books, or thinking for myself... then it might work. If I were a bit more beautiful, that is, but there is only room for one beauty in every family, and in our family that place was already taken when I was born."
"Now stop talking like that, I will not have it," said Harriet. "You know you are pretty, Elizabeth, and you only keep saying that you aren't because you want us to disagree with you. Don't worry, Catherine, I am sure we will see Elizabeth happily married before two years are over."
"You want to bet," Elizabeth asked, smiling.
Harriet laughed. "Of course, Elizabeth. I know I am going to win."
In the evening, Harriet was sitting in Mrs Goddard's drawing room and tried hard not to think of the next day. She had wished for this day to come, and yet, now that it was approaching, she wished that this day might still be far ahead.
"Mrs Goddard," she asked, after a while.
"I am so scared because of tomorrow. Is this...normal, Mrs Goddard?"
Mrs Goddard gave a good- humoured laugh. "I think it is. When I think of my own wedding day, I remember I thought I was going to run away in a moment. I was very nervous."
Harriet sighed. "I mean, I am sure that I am going to do the right thing, but still..."
Mrs Goddard took both her hands. "Believe me, Harriet, this is perfectly natural. A marriage is a very important decision, and there are few days in life when we know that everything we do will affect the rest of our life. A wedding day is such a day. All your future lies ahead of you, and you do not know what is to come. This is what scares you, Harriet. But what do you feel when you think of your husband to be? This is the only important thing."
Harriet nodded. "You are right, Mrs Goddard. This is the only important thing."
It was late at night, and everything had gone quiet on Abbey Mill Farm, when Robert, unable to sleep, decided that he would go downstairs to read. When he passed the dining room door, however, he saw that it was open, and that there was light in the room.
He entered the room, and saw that his mother was sitting there, looking at his father's portrait. She noticed that he had come in, and quickly dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. She had been crying.
"Is something wrong, Mother," Robert asked anxiously.
"Oh no, there isn't," she answered in a half-choked voice.
"But you've been crying, Mother. Is there something that bothers you?"
Mrs Martin sighed. "It is only.... I wish your father could be here with us tomorrow, Robert."
Robert nodded. "Me, too." He gave a laugh. "I'm sure he would enjoy it. He has always been fond of celebrations, even if he acted as if he did not care."
Now Mrs Martin smiled, too. "You remember the fuss he made on his fiftieth birthday? He swore he did not want a celebration."
"How could I forget that? "What's the point in celebrating the fact that I am old and grey now," he said. Of course he only wanted us to oppose him. He did enjoy his birthday as if..." Robert stopped.
"As if it were his last, you meant to say. It was, in fact."
Robert shook his head. "I am sorry, Mother, I did not mean to..."
"I know, Robert, I know. I never said this before, Robert, but I think he would be proud of you."
Robert smiled. "Thank you, Mother, you know how much that means to me. I've always admired him, even if it did not always look as if I did. And whenever I think of myself as a married man, I hope that my marriage will be like yours and Father's. You've set a good example to us."
Mrs Martin gave a sad smile. "You are so very much like your father, Robert, that I have no doubt you will make a good husband. But now, what are you doing here, still awake? You ought to go to bed now, or do you want to oversleep and miss your own wedding, young man?"
Robert laughed. "Very well, Madam, I will try to go to sleep. Good night."
When he was in the door, he turned round once more. "You ought to go to sleep, too, Mother. Tomorrow will be a very busy day for all of us. And, you know what? I'm quite sure Father will be there, too, even if we cannot see him."
Mrs Martin gave a sigh and looked at the portrait, once again. " I guess you will, won't you, Mr Martin?"
Harriet woke up early, and the first thing she saw was the ray of sunlight coming in through the window. She got out of her bed and looked out.
Indeed, what a wonderful day, she thought. She still felt a bit nervous. Would everything take place as it was planned?
There was a knock at the door. It was Lucy, Mrs Goddard's housemaid, bringing hot water.
"Good morning, Miss Smith," she said, good-humouredly. "What a beautiful day for getting married."
"Good morning, Lucy. Oh yes, it is a beautiful day."
"Breakfast will be ready in half an hour, Miss Smith."
"Thank you, Lucy, but I am afraid I will not be able to eat one single bite. I am so nervous..."
"Nonsense, Miss Smith, do you want to faint in church? You'll have to eat, at least a bit."
Harriet laughed. "I'll try, Lucy, I'll try."
"If there is anything you want me to do for you, Miss Smith, just tell me."
Half an hour later, Harriet sat down for her breakfast, and as she had already predicted, she was hardly able to eat anything. Mrs Goddard looked at her anxiously.
"Are you allright, Harriet?"
"I am fine, Mrs Goddard, but I am so nervous I cannot eat."
"Try, at least."
Harriet obediently ate a few bits of toast, but she could hardly swallow them.
"What time is it, Mrs Goddard?"
"There is still plenty of time to get ready, Harriet, you do not have to worry."
Two hours later, Mrs Martin and her daughters arrived. Elizabeth and Catherine went to Harriet's room immediately, to have a first look at the bride in her wedding dress.
"Oh, Harriet, you do look so beautiful," Catherine exclaimed, when she saw Harriet in her light blue gown.
"If Rob wasn't in love with you already, Harriet, this dress would do the trick," Elizabeth added. "No one would be able to resist you."
Harriet blushed and smiled. "I am glad you like it," she said.
"Like it? I LOVE it, Harriet," was Elizabeth's answer. "You'll be talked about in Highbury for at least a month."
Catherine smiled. "I've got something for you, Harriet," she said and handed her a sixpence. "Put this into one of your shoes. It is supposed to a lucky charm."
Harriet embraced her. "You are a dear, Catherine. Thank you very much."
There was a knock at the door, and Emma Woodhouse entered the room. She looked at her friend and smiled.
"You are a very beautiful bride, dearest Harriet," she said. "Let me tell you once again how happy I am for you."
"Thank you, Miss Woodhouse, you are very kind."
Harriet turned to the Martin sisters. "What is the time? Am I late already?"
"No, not at all," was Elizabeth's answer. "And, after all, we will have to wait for Mr Knightley, won't we?"
As Harriet's father had refused to come to the wedding ("I do not want to spoil your day, Harriet," he had said), Mr Knightley had been asked to attend to the bride on her wedding day, and had accepted at once. Both Robert and Harriet had thought that Mr Knightley deserved that honour, after all he was an old friend of the Martin family, and he had had a hand in the wedding taking place.
They passed the time chatting with each other, until Lucy knocked at the door to tell them that Mr Knightley had arrived.
Well, Harriet, there is no turning back now, Harriet thought. But then, she did not want to turn back, did she?
Mr Knightley looked at her as she descended the stairs and said, "Miss Smith, you look very pretty. Mr Martin is a lucky man, indeed."
Later, Harriet could not remember much of the wedding ceremony itself. All she could remember was her walking up the aisle, and seeing Robert waiting for her at the altar. Next to him was George Mason, smiling at her. She remembered that, somehow, all her anxiety was gone as soon as she had entered the church, and all she felt now was happiness. She knew she had made the right decision.
Not even Mr Elton's presence or Edward Mason's being there disturbed her.
The presence of the former could not be avoided, he was the clergyman, after all, and Harriet was too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice that the latter was there.
One thing that Harriet kept in her mind for the rest of her life was the way Robert looked at her during the service. There was so much feeling in his eyes, and in his voice when he said his vows, that she felt a lump in her throat and thought she was going to cry for happiness.
They left the church together, and received the good wishes of everybody who was there. Even Miss Nash had come and told Harriet that she was "a very pretty bride, nearly as pretty as her sister had been at her wedding". Harriet knew that this was the highest praise she was ever to get from Miss Nash, smiled and thanked her.
Elizabeth tried hard to hide her red eyes, but Robert noticed them and said, "Liz, have you been crying?"
"Don't tell anybody I cried at your wedding," was Elizabeth's answer, "because if you do I will deny everything. I HATE weddings."
Robert laughed. "I will keep your secret, Liz. You do hate weddings, do you?"
"I like them, actually, but they always make me cry. That's why I hate them, too. I mean, just look at me. I must look like a clown."
"Well, someone has to make the people laugh, sister," Robert answered and grinned.
Then he turned to Harriet. "I love you, Mrs Martin," he whispered into her ear.
Harriet turned to him, smiling, and kissed him on his cheek. " And I love you," she whispered.
He put his arms around her, and kissed her, and once again, everything around them lost its importance. There they were, together, and they knew that each of them would always be there for the other. And after all, this was all they had to know....