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|Though now the middle of December, there had yet been no weather to prevent the young ladies from tolerably regular exercise; and on the morrow, Emma had a charitable visit to pay to a poor sick family, who lived a little way out of Highbury.
Their road to this detached cottage was down Vicarage Lane, a lane leading at right angles from the broad, though irregular, main street of the place; and, as may be inferred, containing the blessed abode of Mr. Elton. A few inferior dwellings were first to be passed, and then, about a quarter of a mile down the lane rose the Vicarage, an old and not very good house, almost as close to the road as it could be. It had no advantage of situation; but had been very much smartened up by the present proprietor; and, such as it was, there could be no possibility of the two friends passing it without a slackened pace and observing eyes. – Emma’s remark was –
`There it is. There go you and your riddle-book one of these days.’ – Harriet’s was –
`Oh, what a sweet house! – How very beautiful! – There are the yellow curtains that Miss Nash admires so much.’
`I do not often walk this way now,’ said Emma, as they proceeded, `but then there will be an inducement, and I shall gradually get intimately acquainted with all the hedges, gates, pools and pollards of this part of Highbury.’
Harriet, she found, had never in her life been within side the Vicarage, and her curiosity to see it was so extreme, that, considering exteriors and probabilities, Emma could only class it, as a proof of love, with Mr. Elton’s seeing ready wit in her.
`I wish we could contrive it,’ said she; `but I cannot think of any tolerable pretence for going in; – no servant that I want to inquire about of his housekeeper – no message from my father.’
She pondered, but could think of nothing. After a mutual silence of some minutes, Harriet thus began again –
`I do so wonder, Miss Woodhouse, that you should not be married, or going to be married! so charming as you are!’ –
Emma laughed, and replied,
`My being charming, Harriet, is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming – one other person at least. And I am not only, not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all.’
`Ah! – so you say; but I cannot believe it.’
`I must see somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet, to be tempted; Mr. Elton, you know, (recollecting herself,) is out of the question: and I do not wish to see any such person. I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to repent it.’
`Dear me! – it is so odd to hear a woman talk so!’ –
`I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband’s house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.’
`But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!’