Jane was forced to smile completely, for a moment; and the smile partly remained as she turned towards him, and said in a conscious, low, yet steady voice,
“How you can bear such recollections, is astonishing to me!— They will sometimes obtrude—but how you can court them!”
He had a great deal to say in return, and very entertainingly; but Emma’s feelings were chiefly with Jane, in the argument; and on leaving Randalls, and falling naturally into a comparison of the two men, she felt, that pleased as she had been to see Frank Churchill, and really regarding him as she did with friendship, she had never been more sensible of Mr. Knightley’s high superiority of character. The happiness of this most happy day, received its completion, in the animated contemplation of his worth which this comparison produced.
If Emma had still, at intervals, an anxious feeling for Harriet, a momentary doubt of its being possible for her to be really cured of her attachment to Mr. Knightley, and really able to accept another man from unbiased inclination, it was not long that she had to suffer from the recurrence of any such uncertainty. A very few days brought the party from London, and she had no sooner an opportunity of being one hour alone with Harriet, than she became perfectly satisfied—unaccountable as it was!— that Robert Martin had thoroughly supplanted Mr. Knightley, and was now forming all her views of happiness.
Harriet was a little distressed—did look a little foolish at first: but having once owned that she had been presumptuous and silly, and self-deceived, before, her pain and confusion seemed to die away with the words, and leave her without a care for the past, and with the fullest exultation in the present and future; for, as to her friend’s approbation, Emma had instantly removed every fear of that nature, by meeting her with the most unqualified congratulations.— Harriet was most happy to give every particular of the evening at Astley’s, and the dinner the next day; she could dwell on it all with the utmost delight. But what did such particulars explain?— The fact was, as Emma could now acknowledge, that Harriet had always liked Robert Martin; and that his continuing to love her had been irresistible.—Beyond this, it must ever be unintelligible to Emma.
The event, however, was most joyful; and every day was giving her fresh reason for thinking so.—Harriet’s parentage became known. She proved to be the daughter of a tradesman, rich enough to afford her the comfortable maintenance which had ever been hers, and decent enough to have always wished for concealment.—Such was the blood of gentility which Emma had formerly been so ready to vouch for!— It was likely to be as untainted, perhaps, as the blood of many a gentleman: but what a connexion had she been preparing for Mr. Knightley—or for the Churchills—or even for Mr. Elton!— The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.