“I never saw any gentleman’s handwriting”—Emma began, looking also at Mrs. Weston; but stopped, on perceiving that Mrs. Weston was attending to some one else—and the pause gave her time to reflect, “Now, how am I going to introduce him?—Am I unequal to speaking his name at once before all these people? Is it necessary for me to use any roundabout phrase?—Your Yorkshire friend— your correspondent in Yorkshire;—that would be the way, I suppose, if I were very bad.—No, I can pronounce his name without the smallest distress. I certainly get better and better.—Now for it.”
Mrs. Weston was disengaged and Emma began again—“Mr. Frank Churchill writes one of the best gentleman’s hands I ever saw.”
“I do not admire it,” said Mr. Knightley. “It is too small— wants strength. It is like a woman’s writing.”
This was not submitted to by either lady. They vindicated him against the base aspersion. “No, it by no means wanted strength— it was not a large hand, but very clear and certainly strong. Had not Mrs. Weston any letter about her to produce?” No, she had heard from him very lately, but having answered the letter, had put it away.
“If we were in the other room,” said Emma, “if I had my writing-desk, I am sure I could produce a specimen. I have a note of his.— Do not you remember, Mrs. Weston, employing him to write for you one day?”
“He chose to say he was employed”—
“Well, well, I have that note; and can shew it after dinner to convince Mr. Knightley.”
“Oh! when a gallant young man, like Mr. Frank Churchill,” said Mr. Knightley dryly, “writes to a fair lady like Miss Woodhouse, he will, of course, put forth his best.”
Dinner was on table.—Mrs. Elton, before she could be spoken to, was ready; and before Mr. Woodhouse had reached her with his request to be allowed to hand her into the dining-parlour, was saying—
“Must I go first? I really am ashamed of always leading the way.”
Jane’s solicitude about fetching her own letters had not escaped Emma. She had heard and seen it all; and felt some curiosity to know whether the wet walk of this morning had produced any. She suspected that it had; that it would not have been so resolutely encountered but in full expectation of hearing from some one very dear, and that it had not been in vain. She thought there was an air of greater happiness than usual—a glow both of complexion and spirits.
She could have made an inquiry or two, as to the expedition and the expense of the Irish mails;—it was at her tongue’s end— but she abstained. She was quite determined not to utter a word that should hurt Jane Fairfax’s feelings; and they followed the other ladies out of the room, arm in arm, with an appearance of good-will highly becoming to the beauty and grace of each.