You can't do that to Knightly!!! Chapter 3
Updated: May 18, 2019
Mrs. Woodhouse was fond of society in her own way. She liked very much to have her friends come and see her; and from various united causes, from her long residence at Hartfield, and her good nature, from her fortune, her house, and her son, she could command the visits of her own circle, in great measure, as she liked. She had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; her horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made her unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit her on her own terms. Fortunately for her, Highbury, including Randalls in the same parish, and Donwell Abbey in the parish adjoining, the seat of Ms. Knightley, comprehended many such. Not unfrequently, through Eric’s persuasion, she had some of the chosen and the best to dine with her: but evening parties were what she preferred; and, unless she fancied herself at any time unequal to company, there was scarcely an evening in the week in which Eric could not make up a card-table for her.
Real, long-standing regard brought the Westons and Ms. Knightley; and by Ms. Elton, a young woman living alone without liking it, the privileges of exchanging any vacant evening of her own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mrs. Woodhouse’s drawing-room, and the smiles of her lovely son, was in no danger of being thrown away.
After these came a second set; among the most come-at-table of whom were Mr. and Master Bates, and Mr. Goddard, three gentlemen almost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield, and who were fetched and carried home so often, that Mrs. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either Janet or the horses. Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.
Mr. Bates, the widower of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old gentleman, almost past everything but tea and quadrille. He lived with his single son in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old gentleman, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. His son enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a man neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Master Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and he had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to himself, or frighten those who might hate him into outward respect. He had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. His youth had passed without distinction, and his middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing father, and the endeavor to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet he was a happy man, and a man whom no one named without good-will. It was his own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. He loved everybody, was interested in everybody’s happiness, quicksighted to everybody’s merits; thought himself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent father, and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of his nature, his contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to everybody, and a mine of felicity to himself. He was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mrs. Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip.
Mr. Goddard was the master of a School – not of a seminary, or an establishment, or anything which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems – and where young gentlemen for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity – but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where boys might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. Mr. Goddard’s school was in high repute – and very deservedly; for Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot: he had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in the winter dressed their chilblains with his own hands. It was no wonder that a train of twenty young couple now walked after him to church. He was a plain, fatherly kind of man, who had worked hard in his youth, and now thought himself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit; and having formerly owed much to Mrs. Woodhouse’s kindness, felt her particular claim on him to leave his neat parlour, hung round with fancy-work, whenever he could, and win or lose a few sixpences by her fireside.
These were the gentlemen whom Eric found himself very frequently able to collect; and happy was he, for his mother’s sake, in the power; though, as far as he was himself concerned, it was no remedy for the absence of Mr. Weston. He was delighted to see his mother look comfortable, and very much pleased with himself for contriving things so well; but the quiet prosings of three such men made him feel that every evening so spent was indeed one of the long evenings he had fearfully anticipated.
As he sat one morning, looking forward to exactly such a close of the present day, a note was brought from Mr. Goddard, requesting, in most respectful terms, to be allowed to bring Master Smith with him; a most welcome request: for Master Smith was a boy of seventeen, whom Eric knew very well by sight, and had long felt an interest in, on account of his exceptional good-looks. A very gracious invitation was returned, and the evening no longer dreaded by the fair master of the mansion.
Harold Smith was the natural son of somebody. Somebody had placed him, several years back, at Mr. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised him from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known of his history. He had no visible friends but what had been acquired at Highbury, and was now just returned from a long visit in the country to some young gentlemen who had been at school with him.
He was a very pretty boy, and his good looks happened to be of the sort which Eric particularly admired. He was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness, and, before the end of the evening, Eric was as much pleased with his manners as his person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance.
He was not struck by anything remarkably clever in Master Smith’s conversation, but he found him altogether very engaging – not inconveniently shy, not unwilling to talk – and yet so far from pushing, shewing so proper and becoming a deference, seeming so pleasantly grateful for being admitted to Hartfield, and so artlessly impressed by the appearance of everything in so superior a style to what he had been used to, that he must have good sense, and deserve encouragement. Encouragement should be given. Those soft blue eyes, and all those natural graces, should not be wasted on the inferior society of Highbury and its connexions. The acquantaince he had already formed were unworthy of him. The friends from whom he had just parted, though very good sort of people, must be doing him harm. They were a family of the name of Martin, whom Eric well knew by character, as renting a large farm of Ms. Knightley, and residing in the parish of Donwell – very creditably, he believed – he knew Ms. Knightly thought highly of them – but they must be coarse and unpolished, and very unfit to be the intimates of a boy who wanted only a little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect. He would notice him; he would improve him; he would detach him from his bad acquaintance, and introduce him into good society; he would form his opinions and his manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming his own situation in life, hi sleisure, and powers.
He was so busy admiring those soft blue eyes, in talking and listening, and forming all these schemes in the in-betweens, that the evening flew away at a very unusual rate; and the supper-table, which always closed such parties, and for which he had been used to sit and watch the due time, was all set out and ready, and moved forwards to the fire, before he was aware. With an alacrity beyond the common impulse of a spirit which yet was never indifferent to the credit of doing everything well and attentively, with the real good-will of a mind delighted with its own ideas, did he then do all the honours of the meal, and help and recommend the minced chicken and scalloped oysters, with an urgency which he knew would be acceptable to the early hours and civil scruples of their guests.
Upon such occasions poor Mrs. Woodhouse’s feelings were in sad warfare. She loved to have the cloth laid, because it had been the fashion of her youth, but her conviction of suppers being very unwholesome made her rather sorry to see anything put on it; and while her hospitality would have welcomed her visitors to everything, her care for their health made her grieve that they would.
Such another small basin of thin gruel as her own was all that she could, with thorough self-approbation, recommend; though she might constrain herself, while the gentlemen were comfortably clearing the nicer things, to say:
“Mr. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than anybody. I would not recommend an egg boiled by anybody else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see – one of our small eggs will not hurt you. Master bates, let Eric help you to a little bit of tart – a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mr. Goddard, what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you?
Eric allowed his mother to talk – but supplied his visitors in a much more satisfactory style, and on the present evening had particular pleasure in sending them away happy. The happiness of Master Smith was quite equal to his intentions. Eric Woodhouse was so great a personage in Highbury, that the prospect of the introduction had given as much panic as pleasure; but the humble, grateful little boy went off with highly gratified feelings, delighted with the affability with which Mr. Eric Woodhouse had treated him all the evening, and actually shaking hands with him at last!