Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush shewed that it could pain her.
`Ah! - well - to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend.'
`I like your plan,' cried Mr. Weston. `Agreed, agreed. I will do my best. I am making a conundrum. How will a conundrum reckon?'
`Low, I am afraid, sir, very low,' answered his son; - `but we shall be indulgent - especially to any one who leads the way.'
`No, no,' said Emma, `it will not reckon low. A conundrum of Mr. Weston's shall clear him and his next neighbour. Come, sir, pray let me hear it.'
`I doubt its being very clever myself,' said Mr. Weston. `It is too much a matter of fact, but here it is. - What two letters of the alphabet are there, that express perfection?'
`What two letters! - express perfection! I am sure I do not know.'
`Ah! you will never guess. You, (to Emma), I am certain, will never guess. - I will tell you. - M. and A. - Em-ma. - Do you understand?'
Understanding and gratification came together. It might be a very indifferent piece of wit, but Emma found a great deal to laugh at and enjoy in it - and so did Frank and Harriet. - It did not seem to touch the rest of the party equally; some looked very stupid about it, and Mr. Knightley gravely said,
`This explains the sort of clever thing that is wanted, and Mr. Weston has done very well for himself; but he must have knocked up every body else. Perfection should not have come quite so soon.'
`Oh! for myself, I protest I must be excused,' said Mrs. Elton; `I really cannot attempt - I am not at all fond of the sort of thing. I had an acrostic once sent to me upon my own name, which I was not at all pleased with. I knew who it came from. An abominable puppy! - You know who I mean (nodding to her husband). These kind of things are very well at Christmas, when one is sitting round the fire; but quite out of place, in my opinion, when one is exploring about the country in summer. Miss Woodhouse must excuse me. I am not one of those who have witty things at every body's service. I do not pretend to be a wit. I have a great deal of vivacity in my own way, but I really must be allowed to judge when to speak and when to hold my tongue. Pass us, if you please, Mr. Churchill. Pass Mr. E., Knightley, Jane, and myself. We have nothing clever to say - not one of us.
`Yes, yes, pray pass me,' added her husband, with a sort of sneering consciousness; `I have nothing to say that can entertain Miss Woodhouse, or any other young lady. An old married man - quite good for nothing. Shall we walk, Augusta?'
`With all my heart. I am really tired of exploring so long on one spot. Come, Jane, take my other arm.'
Jane declined it, however, and the husband and wife walked off. `Happy couple!' said Frank Churchill, as soon as they were out of hearing: - `How well they suit one another! - Very lucky - marrying as they did, upon an acquaintance formed only in a public place! - They only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath! Peculiarly lucky! - for as to any real knowledge of a person's disposition that Bath, or any public place, can give - it is all nothing; there can be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment. Short of that, it is all guess and luck - and will generally be ill-luck. How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all the rest of his life!'
Miss Fairfax, who had seldom spoken before, except among her own confederates, spoke now.
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