“Oh! no, the meeting is certainly to-day,” was the abrupt answer, which denoted the impossibility of any blunder on Mrs. Elton’s side.— “I do believe,” she continued, “this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove.”
“Your parish there was small,” said Jane.
“Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of.”
“But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children.”
“Ah! you clever creature, that’s very true. What a thinking brain you have! I say, Jane, what a perfect character you and I should make, if we could be shaken together. My liveliness and your solidity would produce perfection.—Not that I presume to insinuate, however, that some people may not think you perfection already.—But hush!— not a word, if you please.”
It seemed an unnecessary caution; Jane was wanting to give her words, not to Mrs. Elton, but to Miss Woodhouse, as the latter plainly saw. The wish of distinguishing her, as far as civility permitted, was very evident, though it could not often proceed beyond a look.
Mr. Elton made his appearance. His lady greeted him with some of her sparkling vivacity.
“Very pretty, sir, upon my word; to send me on here, to be an encumbrance to my friends, so long before you vouchsafe to come!— But you knew what a dutiful creature you had to deal with. You knew I should not stir till my lord and master appeared.— Here have I been sitting this hour, giving these young ladies a sample of true conjugal obedience—for who can say, you know, how soon it may be wanted?”
Mr. Elton was so hot and tired, that all this wit seemed thrown away. His civilities to the other ladies must be paid; but his subsequent object was to lament over himself for the heat he was suffering, and the walk he had had for nothing.
“When I got to Donwell,” said he, “Knightley could not be found. Very odd! very unaccountable! after the note I sent him this morning, and the message he returned, that he should certainly be at home till one.”
“Donwell!” cried his wife.—“My dear Mr. E., you have not been to Donwell!—You mean the Crown; you come from the meeting at the Crown.”
“No, no, that’s to-morrow; and I particularly wanted to see Knightley to-day on that very account.—Such a dreadful broiling morning!— I went over the fields too—(speaking in a tone of great ill-usage,) which made it so much the worse. And then not to find him at home! I assure you I am not at all pleased. And no apology left, no message for me. The housekeeper declared she knew nothing of my being expected.— Very extraordinary!—And nobody knew at all which way he was gone. Perhaps to Hartfield, perhaps to the Abbey Mill, perhaps into his woods.— Miss Woodhouse, this is not like our friend Knightley!—Can you explain it?”