Chapter 17When the ladies returned to the drawing-room after dinner, Emma found it hardly possible to prevent their making two distinct parties; - with so much perseverance in judging and behaving ill did Mrs. Elton engross Jane Fairfax and slight herself. She and Mrs. Weston were obliged to be almost always either talking together or silent together. Mrs. Elton left them no choice. If Jane repressed her for a little time, she soon began again; and though much that passed between them was in a half-whisper, especially on Mrs. Elton's side, there was no avoiding a knowledge of their principal subjects: The post-office - catching cold - fetching letters - and friendship, were long under discussion; and to them succeeded one, which must be at least equally unpleasant to Jane - inquiries whether she had yet heard of any situation likely to suit her, and professions of Mrs. Elton's meditated activity.
`Here is April come!' said she, `I get quite anxious about you. June will soon be here.'
`But I have never fixed on June or any other month - merely looked forward to the summer in general.'
`But have you really heard of nothing?'
`I have not even made any inquiry; I do not wish to make any yet.'
`Oh! my dear, we cannot begin too early; you are not aware of the difficulty of procuring exactly the desirable thing.'
`I not aware!' said Jane, shaking her head; `dear Mrs. Elton, who can have thought of it as I have done?'
`But you have not seen so much of the world as I have. You do not know how many candidates there always are for the first situations. I saw a vast deal of that in the neighbourhood round Maple Grove. A cousin of Mr. Suckling, Mrs. Bragge, had such an infinity of applications; every body was anxious to be in her family, for she moves in the first circle. Wax-candles in the schoolroom! You may imagine how desirable! Of all houses in the kingdom Mrs. Bragge's is the one I would most wish to see you in.'
`Colonel and Mrs. Campbell are to be in town again by midsummer,' said Jane. `I must spend some time with them; I am sure they will want it; - afterwards I may probably be glad to dispose of myself. But I would not wish you to take the trouble of making any inquiries at present.'
`Trouble! aye, I know your scruples. You are afraid of giving me trouble; but I assure you, my dear Jane, the Campbells can hardly be more interested about you than I am. I shall write to Mrs. Partridge in a day or two, and shall give her a strict charge to be on the look-out for any thing eligible.'
`Thank you, but I would rather you did not mention the subject to her; till the time draws nearer, I do not wish to be giving any body trouble.'
`But, my dear child, the time is drawing near; here is April, and June, or say even July, is very near, with such business to accomplish before us. Your inexperience really amuses me! A situation such as you deserve, and your friends would require for you, is no everyday occurrence, is not obtained at a moment's notice; indeed, indeed, we must begin inquiring directly.'
`Excuse me, ma'am, but this is by no means my intention; I make no inquiry myself, and should be sorry to have any made by my friends. When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something - Offices for the sale - not quite of human flesh - but of human intellect.'
`Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.'
`I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,' replied Jane; `governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices,
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