• Victoria Reeve

Oh No! Not Jane Austen's Emma! Chapter 2

Ms. Weston was a native of Highbury, and born of a respectable family, which for the last two or three generations had been rising into gentility and property. She had received a good education, b, on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had become indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which her sisters were engaged, and had satisfied an active, cheerful mind and social temper by entering into the militia of his county, then embodied.

Captain Weston was a general favourite; and when the chances of her military life had introduced her to Mr. Churchill, of a great Yorkshire family, and Mr. Churchill fell in love with her, nobody was surprised, except his sister and her husband, who had never seen her, and who were full of pride and importance, which the connexion would offend.

Mr. Churchill, however, being of age, and with the full command of his fortune – though his fortune bore no proportion to the family-estate – was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, and it took place, to the infinite mortification of Mrs. and Mr. Churchill, who threw him off with due decorum. It was an unsuitable connexion, and did not produce much happiness. Mr. Churchill, on marrying Ms. Weston, ought to have found more in it, for he had a wife whose warm heart and sweet temper made her think everything to him in return for the great goodness of being in love with her; but though he had one sort of spirit, he had not the best. He had resolution enough to pursue his own will in spite of his sister, but not enough to refrain from unreasonable regrets at that sister’s unreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of his former home. They lived beyond their income, but still it was nothing in comparison of Enscombe: he did not cease to love his wife, but he wanted at once to be the husband of Captain Weston, and Mr. Churchill of Enscombe.

Captain Weston, who had been considered, especially by the Churchills, as making such an amazing match, was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when her husband died, after three years’ of marriage, she was rather a poorer woman than at first, and with a child to maintain. From the expense of the child, however, she was soon relieved. The girl had, with the additional softening claim of a lingering illness of her father’s, been the means of a sort of reconciliation; and Mrs. and Mr. Churchill, having no children of their own, nor any other young creature of equal kindred to care for, offered to take the whole charge of little Fanny soon after his decease. Some scruples and some reluctance the widow-mother may be supposed to have felt; but as they were overcome by other considerations, the child was given up to the care and wealth of the Churchills, and she had her own comfort to seek, and her own situation to improve as she could.

A complete change of life became desirable. She quitted the militia and engaged in trade, having sisters already established in a good way in London, which afforded her a favourable opening. It was a concern which brought just employment enough. She still had a small house in Highbury, where most of her leisure days were spent; and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of her life passed cheerfully away. She had, by that time, realized an easy competence – enough to secure the purchase of a little estate adjoining Highbury, which she had always longed for – enough to marry a man as portionless as Mr. Taylor, and to live according to the wishes of her own friendly and social disposition.

It was now some time since Mr. Taylor had begun to influence her schemes; but as it was not the tyrannic influence of youth on youth, it had not shaken her determination of never settling till she could purchase Randalls, and the sale of Randalls was long looked forward to; but she had gone steadily on, with these objects in view, till they were accomplished. She had made her fortune, bought her house, and obtained her husband; and was beginning a new period of existence, with every probability of greater happiness than in any yet passed through. She had never been an unhappy woman; her own temper had secured her from that, even in her first marriage; but her second must shew her how delightful a well-judging and truly amiable man could be, and must give her the pleasantest proof of its being a great deal better to choose that to be chosen, to excite gratitude than to feel it.

She had only herself to please in her choice: her fortune was her own; for as to Fanny, it was more than being tacitly brought up as her aunt’s heir, it had become so avowed an adoption as to have her assume the name of Churchill on coming of age. It was most unlikely, therefore, that she should ever want her mother’s assistance. Her mother had no apprehension of it. The uncle was a capricious man, and governed his wife entirely; but it was not in Ms. Weston’s nature to imagine that any caprice could be strong enough to affect one so dear, and, as she believed, so deservedly dear. She saw her daughter every year in London, and was proud of her; and her fond report of her as a very fine young woman had made Highbury feel a sort of pride in her too. She was looked on as sufficiently belonging to the place to make her merits and prospects a kind of common concern.

Miss Fanny Churchill was one of the boasts of Highbury, and a lively curiosity to see her prevailed, though the compliment was so little returned that she had never been there in her life. Her coming to visit her mother had been often talked of but never achieved.

Now, upon her mother’s marriage, it was very generally proposed, as a most proper attention, that the visit should take place. There was not a dissentient voice on the subject, either when Mr. Perry drank tea with Mr. and Master Bates, or when Mr. and Master Bates returned the visit. – Poor Master Bates, though well past that youthful stage and having been so far along having come of age as to have gone round that number twice, was addressed by that juvenile term in order to distinguish him from his father. What began as a jest became a habit of address so well-worn that no one – not even Master Bates himself – saw any irregularity in it.

Now was the time for Miss Fanny Churchill to come among them; and the hope strengthened when it was understood that she had written to her new father on the occasion. For a few days, every morning visit in Highbury included some mention of the handsome letter Mr. Weston had received. “I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Miss Fanny Churchill has written to Mr. Weston? I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mrs. Woodhouse told me of it. Mrs. Woodhouse saw the letter, and she says she never saw such a handsome letter in her life.”

It was, indeed, a highly prized letter. Mr. Weston had, of course, formed a very favourable idea of the young woman; and such a pleasing attention was an irresistible proof of her great good sense, and a most welcome addition to every source and every expression of congratulation which his marriage had already secured. He felt himself a most fortunate man; and he had lived long enough to know how fortunate he might well be thought, where the only regret was a partial separation from friends whose friendship for him had never cooled, and who could ill bear to part with him.

He knew that at times he must be missed; and could not think, without pain, of Eric’s losing a single pleasure, or suffering an hour’s ennui, from want of his companionableness: but dear Eric was of no feeble character; he was more equal to his situation that most boys would have been, and had sense, and energy, and spirits that might be hoped would bear him well and happily through its little difficulties and privations. And then there was such comfort in the very easy distance of Randalls from Hartfield, so convenient for even solitary male walking, and in Mrs. Weston’s disposition and circumstances, which would make the approaching season no hindrance to their spending half the evenings in the week together.

His situation was altogether the subject of hours of gratitude to Mr. Weston, and of moments only of regret; and his satisfaction – his more than satisfaction – his cheerful enjoyment, was so just and so apparent, that Eric, well as he knew his mother, was sometimes taken by surprise at being able to pity ‘poor Mr. Taylor,’ when they left him at Randalls in the centre of every domestic comfort, or saw him go away in the evening attended by his pleasant wife to a carriage of his own. But never did he go without Mrs. Woodhouse’s giving a gentle sigh, and saying, “Ah, poor Mr. Taylor! He would be very glad to stay.”

There was no recovering Mr. Taylor – nor much likelihood of ceasing to pity him; but a few weeks brought some alleviation to Mrs. Woodhouse. The compliments of her neighbours were over; she was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to her, was all eat up. Her own stomach could bear nothing rich, and she could never believe other people to be different from herself. What was unwholesome to her she regarded as unfit for anybody; and she had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent anybody eating it. She had been at pains of consulting Mrs. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mrs. Perry was an intelligent, ladylike woman, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mrs. Woodhouse’s life; and upon being applied to, she could not but acknowledge (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many – perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of her own, Mrs. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the newly married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for her benevolent nerves till it was all gone.

There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mr. Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mrs. Woodhouse would never believe it.

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