A Confession of Folly
"My dear Mr. Knightley!" exclaimed Emma Woodhouse when her betrothed entered the drawing room at Hartfield.
"Ah, my own dear Emma! What good it does my heart to be so addressed by you!" On noticing that Emma's countenance was downcast, however, Mr. Knightley sobered immediately and strode forward to grasp her wringing hands. "Whatever is the matter, Emma! Not your good father!" Emma assured him it was not. "Then what, my dear?" Emma drew him to their favorite seat by the window, and when they were settled wondered aloud how to begin.
"Mr. Knightley, you of all people are the most aware of all my faults and all the flaws in my makeup. I know enough of your goodness to be sure you are incapable of triumphing at my expense." Mr. Knightley's expression grew even more perplexed and begged her again to tell her what was wrong. "I have a confession to make, Mr. Knightley."
"A confession? Good God, Emma, what on earth can you possibly have to confess?!"
"Oh, how I wish I had told you this long ago! But how could I?!" Mr. Knightley again expressed his impatience. "You will remember, I am sure, that I had hopes for Harriet, high hopes."
"Of Mr. Elton, do you mean? I recall telling you once that you would have chosen better for him than he chose for himself. My dear Emma, I know all this already! Surely you cannot believe I would harbor any ill feelings toward you for your hopes for Harriet's marrying Mr. Elton! I may not have agreed with you persuading her to refuse Robert Martin the first time, but surely this is all over and done with."
"There is more to the story, Mr. Knightley, more things to which I was blind that I had not nerve enough to explain to you before. As I said, I had hopes for Harriet, that Mr. Elton might see her goodness, her pliant nature, and I took every opportunity of throwing them together, of showing Harriet in the best of lights. Mr. Elton was very attentive, he spent some part of nearly every day here at Hartfield during that part of our acquaintance. It was he who took the portrait of Harriet to London to be framed. It was he who read to us the entire time I was taking that very likeness of Harriet. And then there was the riddle!"
"Riddle?" Mr. Knightley was perplexed.
"Oh, yes, for Harriet's riddle collection. Miss Nash at the school was making one up, and nothing but having one herself would satisfy Harriet. So we found all the riddles we could and Harriet, who has a very nice hand, I may say, wrote them into her little book. One afternoon, when Mr. Elton was visiting, I told him about our little endeavor, and the next day, he brought a riddle of his own writing to Hartfield. It was about courtship."
"Yes, indeed, courtship. I was surprised, especially at some of the expressions he used to describe Harriet in this riddle. But I saw him as a man in love, I saw him blinded to her imperfections!" Emma shook her head in remembrance of her own folly.
"Please, my dear, go on."
"Now I must jump ahead to Christmas. Oh, my remembrances of Christmas are horrid indeed! How John tried to warn me and I paid him no heed!"
"Warn you of what, Emma?" Mr. Knightley was puzzled indeed!
"You recall that John and Isabella came for the holidays, that we all spent Christmas Eve with the Westons. All except Harriet, that is. She had a cold and had to stay home. When we picked up Mr. Elton at the vicarage, he expressed his concern for her, but said nothing beyond that, seemed not dejected or worried at all. He seemed quite jovial all evening in fact, much more so that I thought was appropriate when the woman I thought he was in love with was in bed with a bad throat. We had a very pleasant time, but you will recall it snowed, and will remember my father's consternation. He was anxious to be at home by his own fireside. Everything seemed to be accomplished in a hurry, and how it happened I truly don't know, but I found the carriage door was closed upon myself and Mr. Elton alone. Oh, Mr. Knightley, what happened next is the worst part of all. I must say it quickly. Mr. Elton proposed!"
"Proposed! Do you mean he proposed marriage?! To you, my dear?"
"Yes, Mr. Knightley, Mr. Elton thought I had given him encouragement. All my attentions to him on behalf of Harriet he saw as acceptance of his suit! Everything he did for Harriet he did only because she was my friend! I was aghast! I had been so wrong in everything! I had taken everything I had seen and twisted it to my own wishes! How could I have been so blind?"
Mr. Knightley sat a moment in silence. "Pardon me, my dear, but I do not understand how John comes into this?"
"Oh, Mr. Knightley, he tried to warn me of Mr. Elton's regard for me. He told me that Mr. Elton had eyes for me, not my friend, but I thought so well of my own powers of observation that I could not admit of his."
Mr. Knightley was again silent. Emma sat silently as well, waiting for her beloved to make some remark on her actions. She had known him too long to doubt he would express his disappointment in her if he had any. In the meantime she was wretched, thinking that perhaps this would make him regret his asking for her hand. Mr. Knightley, seeing that she was in some apprehension of his feelings, grasped her hand in his own.
"My dear Emma, surely you cannot doubt that I love you?"
"Oh, no, Mr. Knightley!"
"Then why, pray tell, would the confession of this situation, which is now so long over, be any blight on our future happiness together?"
"I only wanted to be totally honest, for you to understand why it really was that Mr. Elton wanted to injure me after he married Mrs. Elton, why he has always been so cold to me since then. Most of all, I wanted you to know what a foolish woman you were about to marry!"
"Emma, you are not foolish. You made mistakes. You saw some things that were not there, and did not see others that were. But this does not make you foolish. You are not insensible of your own merits, but you did not see Mr. Elton's actions and attentions for what they were. You are not guilty of toying with his emotions, for I am sure everything was most unconsciously done."
"Then it is done, it is over. It has no bearing on what is to come, which is our marriage, our happiness in each other. You need not doubt that the confession of your faults will ever make me love you less. I have been your advisor for too long for you to doubt that. Now, you may put the entire matter out of your mind. I came here today, not to be confessor, but rather to have your advice on another more important matter."
Emma, who was a great deal soothed and relieved by Mr. Knightley's words, had her turn to be perplexed.
"I want to discuss where we shall spend our honeymoon!"
Mr. Elton was forgotten, her past follies put aside to be taken out only when they could serve her to her betterment. Joy and their future happiness was all that mattered.
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