Mr Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty, was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected with it, as the elder brother of Isabella’s husband. He walked with an air of confidence envied, and a stride she followed with her gaze. He lived about a mile from Highbury, was a frequent visitor, always welcome, and at this time more welcome than usual, as coming directly from their mutual connections in London. He had returned to a late dinner, after some days’ absence, and now walked up to Hartfield to say that all were well in Brunswick Square. It was a happy circumstance, and animated Mr Woodhouse for some time. Mr Knightley had a cheerful manner and warm smile which always did him good, and his many enquiries after ‘poor Isabella’ and her children were answered most satisfactorily, a twinkle of humour lighting his eyes upon each reply.
When this was over, Mr Woodhouse gratefully observed, “It is very kind of you, Mr Knightley, to come out at this late hour to call upon us. I am afraid you must have had a shocking walk.”
“Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful moonlit night and so mild that I must draw back from your great fire and claim a spot beside .”
“But you must have found it very damp and dirty. I wish you may not catch cold.”
“Dirty, sir! Look at my shoes. Not a speck on them.” Mr Knightley indeed left the close fire for the cooler bench where sat, but well within range of the conversation shared with her father.
“Well! That is quite surprising, for we have had a vast deal of rain here. It rained dreadfully hard for half an hour while we were at breakfast. I wanted them to put off the wedding.”
“By the by—I have not wished you joy. Being pretty well aware of what sort of joy you must both be feeling, I have been in no hurry with my congratulations, but I hope it all went off tolerably well. How did you all behave? Who cried most?” Mr Knightley’s knowing brow lifted in her direction.
“Ah! Poor Miss Taylor! ’Tis a sad business.”
“Poor Mr and Miss Woodhouse, if you please, but I cannot possibly say ‘poor Miss Taylor’. I have a great regard for you and , but when it comes to the question of dependence or independence! At any rate, it must be better to have only one to please than two.”
“Especially when one of those two is such a fanciful, troublesome creature!” said playfully, resting her hand on Mr Knightley’s sleeve. “That is what you have in your head, I know—and what you would certainly say if my father were not by.”
“I believe it is very true, my dear, indeed,” said Mr Woodhouse, with a sigh. “I am afraid I am sometimes very fanciful and troublesome.”
“My dearest papa! You do not think I could mean you, or suppose Mr Knightley to mean you. What a horrible idea! Oh no! I meant only myself. Mr Knightley loves to find fault with me, you know—in a joke—it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another.”
Mr Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them, and though this was not particularly agreeable to herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by everybody. Though she suspected Mr Knightley chose to correct her in place of a more telling discussion regarding her person, and his. She had not missed his many looks, or the regard he held when he thought he had not been seen. Together with Miss Taylor, she determined it to be certainly true. Mr Knightley sought her out and not being one to forego freedom for any man, it was her duty to resist. Though claiming innocence of the effect of small touches and smiles, she knew that should he wish for more, she would dance away unscathed yet pleased for securing his continued interest.
“ knows I never flatter her,” said Mr Knightley, “but I meant no reflection on anybody. Miss Taylor has been used to have two persons to please, she will now have but one. The chances are that she must be a gainer.”
“Well,” said , removing her hand and willing to let his words pass, “you want to hear about the wedding, and I shall be happy to tell you, for we all behaved charmingly. Everybody was punctual, everybody in their best looks, not a tear and hardly a long face to be seen. Oh no, we all felt that we were going to be only half a mile apart, and were sure of meeting every day.”
“Dear bears everything so well,” said her father. “But Mr Knightley, she is really very sorry to lose poor Miss Taylor, and I am sure she will miss her more than she thinks for.”
turned away her head, divided between tears and smiles. “It is impossible that should not miss such a companion,” said Mr Knightley. “We should not like her so well as we do, sir, if we could suppose it, but she knows how much the marriage is to Miss Taylor’s advantage, she knows how very acceptable it must be, at Miss Taylor’s time of life, to be settled in a home of her own, and how important to her to be secure of a comfortable provision, and therefore cannot allow herself to feel so much pain as pleasure. Every friend of Miss Taylor must be glad to have her so happily married.”
“And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me,” said , “and a very considerable one—that I made the match myself. I made the match, you know, four years ago, and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for anything.”
Mr Knightley shook his head at her. Her father fondly replied, “Ah! My dear, I wish you would not make matches and foretell things, for whatever you say always comes to pass. Pray do not make any more matches.”
“I promise you to make none for myself, papa, for I shall never marry and leave you, but I must indeed for other people. It is the greatest amusement in the world. And after such success, you know! Everybody said that Mr Weston would never marry again. Oh dear, no! Mr Weston, who had been a widower so long, and who seemed so perfectly comfortable without a wife, so constantly occupied either in his business in town or among his friends here—always acceptable wherever he went, always cheerful—Mr Weston need not spend a single evening in the year alone if he did not like it. Oh no! Mr Weston certainly would never marry again. Some people even talked of a promise to his wife on her deathbed, and others of the son and the uncle not letting him. All manner of solemn nonsense was talked on the subject, but I believed none of it.
“Ever since the day—about four years ago—that Miss Taylor and I met with him in Broadway Lane, when, because it began to drizzle, he darted away with so much gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellas for us from Farmer Mitchell’s, I made up my mind on the subject. I planned the match from that hour, and when such success has blessed me in this instance, dear papa, you cannot think that I shall leave off match-making.”
“I do not understand what you mean by ‘success’,” said Mr Knightley, a patronising smile on his handsome face. “Success supposes endeavour. Your time has been properly and delicately spent, if you have been endeavouring for the last four years to bring about this marriage. A worthy employment for a young lady’s mind! But if, which I rather imagine, your making the match, as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying to yourself one idle day, ‘I think it would be a very good thing for Miss Taylor if Mr Weston were to marry her’, and saying it again to yourself every now and then afterwards, why do you talk of success? Where is your merit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess, and that is all that can be said.”
“And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess? I pity you. I thought you cleverer—for, depend upon it, a lucky guess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it. And as to my poor word ‘success’, which you quarrel with, I do not know that I am so entirely without any claim to it. You have drawn two pretty pictures, but I think there may be a third—a something between the do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not promoted Mr Weston’s visits here, and given many little encouragements, and smoothed many little matters, it might not have come to anything after all. I think you must know Hartfield enough to comprehend that.”
“A straightforward, open-hearted man like Weston, and a rational, unaffected woman like Miss Taylor, may be safely left to manage their own concerns. You are more likely to have done harm to yourself than good to them by interference.”
“ never thinks of herself, if she can do good to others,” rejoined Mr Woodhouse, understanding but in part. “But my dear, pray do not make any more matches, they are silly things, and break up one’s family circle grievously.”
“Only one more, papa, only for Mr Elton. Poor Mr Elton! You like Mr Elton, papa, I must look about for a wife for him. There is nobody in Highbury who deserves him—and he has been here a whole year, and has fitted up his house so comfortably that it would be a shame to have him single any longer—and I thought when he was joining their hands today, he looked so very much as if he would like to have the same kind office done for him! I think very well of Mr Elton, and this is the only way I have of doing him a service.”
“Mr Elton is a very pretty young man, to be sure, and a very good young man, and I have a great regard for him. But if you want to show him any attention, my dear, ask him to come and dine with us some day. That will be a much better thing. I dare say Mr Knightley will be so kind as to meet him.”
“With a great deal of pleasure, sir, at any time,” said Mr Knightley, laughing, “and I agree with you entirely that it will be a much better thing. Invite him to dinner, , and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to choose his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take care of himself.”
“I doubt that very much, Mr Knightley, as you yourself have yet to secure a wife of your own. I can only assume that you either think little of the attachment or believe yourself above it. If you knew your own mind so freely, you would wish for my assistance in all matters, as my father has. Or perhaps you bide your time, observing my success until you gather your courage to request my talents?”
“Your father is right. Matchmaking is an unsettling endeavour to occupy your time. Pray be done with it and move on to your own matching lest you interfere where you shouldn’t and perplex the clear of mind.” Mr Knightley’s firm delivery could not be misconstrued.
Owning as much determination as he possessed, saw his words as a challenge to be met and met it would be.