Harriet Smith's regular visits at Hartfield were soon a settled thing. Quick and decided in her ways, Emma lost no time in inviting, encouraging, and telling her to come very often; and as their acquaintance increased, so did their satisfaction in each other. As a morning jog companion, Emma had very early foreseen how useful she might find her. In that respect Mrs. Weston's loss had been important. Her father never went beyond his little stationary bike in the basement (which never went above four miles per hour); and since Mrs. Weston's marriage Emma had felt her exercise had been too much confined. She did not like to go out jogging all alone, and her only other options were to use her father’s bike (which was not a fun prospect) or to do sit-ups all by herself in her bedroom, and she hated sit-ups. She had ventured once alone to the gym, but it was not pleasant; and a Harriet Smith, therefore, one whom she could summon at any time to a nice little run, would be a valuable addition to her privileges. But in every respect as she saw more of her, she approved her, and was confirmed in all her kind designs.
Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition; was totally free from conceit; and only desiring to be guided by any one she looked up to. Her early attachment to Emma was very amiable; and her inclination for good company, and power of appreciating what was well done and respectable, showed that there was no want of taste, though strength of understanding must not be expected from a girl who had had such an inferior education. Altogether Emma was quite convinced of Harriet Smith's being exactly the young friend she wanted -- exactly the something which her happy little home required. Another such a friend as Mrs. Weston was out of the question. Two such could never be granted. Two such she did not want. It was quite a different sort of thing -- a sentiment distinct and independent. Mrs. Weston was the object of a regard, which had its basis in gratitude and esteem. Harriet would be loved as one to whom she could be exemplary. For Mrs. Weston there was nothing to be done; for Harriet every thing.
Her first attempts at usefulness were in an endeavour to secure Harriet a place teaching Sunday School, as she felt this would elevate Harriet to a social status in the church that could not go unnoticed by eligible young men in the membership. Harriet, however, was content merely to assist Emma as she in turn assisted at youth group, and to talk Emma’s ear off in the process.
Mrs. Goddard, and the teachers, and the girls, and the affairs of the school in general, formed naturally a great part of her conversation -- and but for her acquaintance with the Martins (those she had met at the youth retreat), it must have been the whole. But the Martins occupied her thoughts a good deal; she had met up with them several times since the retreat, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of their visit and describe the many comforts and wonders of their lovely home. Emma encouraged her talkativeness -- amused by such a picture of another set of beings (not going much in the company of the Modern Sort herself), and enjoying the youthful simplicity which could speak with so much exultation of Rebecca Martin’s being valedictorian in her high school graduating class and Emily Martin’s having been in the championship finals for her lacrosse team.
For some time she was amused, without thinking beyond the immediate cause; but as she came to understand the family better, other feelings arose. She had taken up a wrong idea, thinking the fellow Harriet referred to as Robert was yet in middle school; but when it appeared that the Robert Martin, who bore a part in the narrative, and was always mentioned with approbation for his great good-nature in doing something or other, was a single young man with a degree from a secular college; that there was no twelve-year-old Martin at all; she did suspect danger to her poor little friend from all this hospitality and kindness -- and that if she were not taken care of, she might be required to sink herself for ever.
With this inspiriting notion, her questions increased in number and meaning; and she particularly led Harriet to talk more of Robert Martin, -- and there was evidently no dislike to it. Harriet was very ready to speak of the share he had had in their lunches at Denny’s and woodland hikes; and dwelt a good deal upon his being so very good-humoured and obliging.
"He had gone out of his way after work one day, in order to bring her a lime slushie from Sonic, because she had said how fond she was of them -- and in every thing else he was so very obliging! He had played his guitar for her, original compositions at that. She was very fond of guitar playing. He had written the lyrics to his own songs, too. She believed he was very clever, and understood every thing. He had a very fine car; and frequently when she went out with the girls, he had been the one to drive them in his Subaru. She believed every body spoke well of him. His mother and sisters were very fond of him. Mrs. Martin had told her one day, (and there was a blush as she said it,) that it was impossible for any body to be a better son; and therefore she was sure whenever he married he would make a good husband. Not that she wanted him to marry. She was in no hurry at all."
"Well done, Mrs. Martin!" thought Emma. "You know what you are about.” Aloud she said, "Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business. He does not read?"
"Oh, yes! that is, no -- I do not know -- but I believe he has read a good deal -- but not what you would think any thing of. He reads the New York Times and an occasional book on his Kindle, I think. I know he had read Animal Farm in high school and thought it would be about agriculture, but it was not-- do you not think the title misleading in that case, Emma? He never read anything by Beverly Lewis, nor Lynn Austin either. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but I recommended The Redemption of Sarah Cain and he is going to see if he can get a copy."
The next question was, "What sort of looking man is Robert Martin?"
"Oh! not particularly attractive -- not really. I thought him very normal at first, but I do not think him so ordinary now. One does not, you know, after a time. But, did you never see him! He is at Highbury services every now and then with his sisters; he has been in the church lobby when you were there very often."
"That may be -- and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young man with no connections to my friends and whose shirt is not tucked in, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The middle-class suburban soccer families are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. An income bracket lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. After all, it is the responsibility of churches to help the poor and needy, and not expect the federal government to do it. But a young man of his sort can need none of my help, and is therefore in one sense as much above my notice as in every other he is below it. Public school and all that, you know, dear."
"To be sure. Oh! yes, it is not likely you should ever have observed him -- but he knows you very well indeed -- I mean by sight."
"I have no doubt of his being a very Nice Young Man. I know indeed that he is so, if you say it; and as such wish him well. What do you imagine his age to be?"
"He turned twenty-four on June 8th, and my birthday is the 23rd -- just a two weeks and a day's difference! Which is very odd!"
"Not odd at all-- have you never heard that in a room of twenty-one people or more, the odds are fifty-fifty that two of them will share a birthday? Hmmm, only twenty-four. For a young man, that is a bit young to marry. His mother is perfectly right not to be in a hurry. They seem very comfortable as they are, and if she were to take any pains to marry him, she would probably repent it. Besides, I suppose he expects to find his own wife, at a coffee shop or some such nonsense. Six years hence, if he could meet with a good sort of young woman in the same social circles as his own, with at least the ability to make a casserole and clean a bathroom, it might be very desirable."
"Six years hence! Dear Emma, he would be thirty years old!"
"Well, and that is as early as most men begin to show at least the beginning signs of maturity if they have been set back by a public high school. Robert Martin, I imagine, takes little more interest in his future than whether he will get to the next level in Call of Duty this weekend. It is next to impossible that he should have gotten his act together yet."
"To be sure... so it is... But I really do believe he is an exception. His conversational skills are really very good, and he never texts while he is talking to me. He is quite an adult in all ways of looking at it-- I really think he could get married whenever he chooses, if he could find the right girl."
"I wish you may not get into an awkward situation, Harriet, whenever he does marry; -- I mean, as to being acquainted with his wife -- for though his sisters, from their frequent attendance at Highbury and the good influence of the youth camp, are not to be altogether objected to, it does not follow that their brother might marry anybody at all fit for you to notice. The misfortune of your own education and background ought to make you particularly careful as to your associates. There can be no doubt now, at least, of your being introduced into better and higher circles, and you cannot afford to lose your good standing at Highbury by spending too much time with a family that shops almost exclusively at Walmart and has probably never seen the inside of Trader Joe’s in their combined lives."
"Yes, to be sure -- I suppose that is true. But while I visit at Hartfield, and you are so kind to me, Emma, I am not afraid of what any body can say of me."
"You understand the force of influence pretty well, Harriet; but I would have you so firmly established in good fellowship, as to be independent even of Hartfield and me. I want to see you permanently well connected -- and to that end it will be advisable to have as few odd acquaintance as may be; and, therefore, I say that if you should still be in this neighborhood when Robert Martin marries, I wish you may not be drawn in, by your intimacy with the sisters, to be acquainted with the wife, who will probably be some former high school cheerleader, with a community college education."
"To be sure. Yes. Not that I think Robert Martin would ever marry any body but what had had at least a passable education -- and been very well brought up. However, I do not mean to set up my opinion against yours -- and I am sure I shall not wish for the acquaintance of his wife. I shall always have a great regard for the Miss Martins, especially Emily, and should be very sorry to give them up, for they are quite as well educated as me. But if he marries a very obnoxious, feministic sort of woman, certainly I had better not visit her, if I can help it."
Emma watched her through the fluctuations of this speech, and saw no alarming symptoms of love. The young man had been the first admirer, but she trusted there was no other hold, and that there would be no serious difficulty on Harriet's side to oppose any friendly arrangement of her own.
They met Robert Martin the very next day, as they were walking the 2-mile loop at the Donwell park. He was walking his dog (Emma detested dogs), and after nodding very respectfully at Emma, looked with most unfeigned satisfaction at her companion. Emma was not sorry to have such an opportunity of survey; and walking a few yards forward, while they talked together, soon made her quick eye sufficiently acquainted with Mr. Robert Martin. His appearance was very neat (he was wearing a windbreaker and she could not tell if his shirt was tucked in or not, but his hair was parted on the side and that at least was a good sign), and he looked like a sensible young man, but his dog was of course a count against him in Emma’s opinion; and when he came to be contrasted with the gentlemen she was acquainted with, she thought he must lose all the ground he had gained in Harriet's inclination. Harriet was not insensible of good old-fashioned manners; she had voluntarily noticed Mr. Knightley’s general attitude with admiration as well as wonder. Robert Martin, on the other hand, had probably never opened a door for a lady in his life.
They remained but a few minutes together, as Emma must not be kept waiting; and Harriet then came running to her with a smiling face, and in a flutter of spirits, which Emma hoped very soon to compose.
"Only think of our happening to meet him! How very odd! It was quite a chance, he said, that he had not gone round by the playground. He did not think we ever walked this way. He thought did our walking in the morning, most days. He has not been able to get The Redemption of Sarah Cain yet. He was so busy the last time he was at Mardel that he quite forgot it, but he’s going shopping with his sisters again tomorrow. So very odd we should happen to meet! Well, Emma, is he like what you expected? What do you think of him? Do you think him so very plain?"
"He is very plain, undoubtedly -- remarkably plain, and needs a shave, I think: -- but that is nothing, compared with his entire want of maturity. I had no right to expect much, and I did not expect much; but I had no idea that he could be so very clownish, so totally without the air of a gentleman. I had imagined him, I confess, a degree or two nearer actual adulthood."
"To be sure," said Harriet, in a mortified voice, "he is not so genteel as-- as some at Highbury."
"I think, Harriet, since your acquaintance with us, you have been repeatedly in the company of some, such very real gentlemen, that you must yourself be struck with the difference in Robert Martin. At Highbury you have seen some very good specimens of well-educated, well-bred young men. I should be surprised if, after seeing them, you could be in company with Robert Martin again without perceiving him to be a very inferior creature -- and rather wondering at yourself for having ever thought him at all agreeable before. Do not you begin to feel that now? Were not you struck? I am sure you must have been struck by his awkward look and abrupt manner -- and the modern slang he used, which I heard several times as I stood here.”
"Certainly, he is not like Mr. Knightley. He has not such a fine air and way of talking as Mr. Knightley. I see the difference plain enough. But Mr. Knightley is so very fine a man!"
"Mr. Knightley's personality is so remarkably good, that it is not fair to compare Mr. Martin with him. You might not see one in a hundred, with ‘gentleman’ so plainly written as in Mr. Knightley. But he is not the only gentleman you have been lately used to. What say you to Mr. Weston and Pastor Elton? Compare Mr. Martin with either of them. Compare their manner of carrying themselves; of walking; of speaking; of being silent. You must see the difference."
"Oh, yes! -- there is a great difference. But Mr. Weston is quite middle-aged. Mr. Weston must be between forty and fifty."
"Which makes his good manners the more valuable. The older a person grows, Harriet, the more important it is that their manners should not be bad -- the more glaring and disgusting any loudness, or coarseness, or awkwardness becomes. What is passable in youth, is detestable in later age. Mr. Martin is now awkward and abrupt and rather like a teenager; what will he be at Mr. Weston's time of life?"
"There is no saying, indeed!" replied Harriet, rather solemnly.
"But there may be pretty good guessing. He will be a completely gross, annoying man who goes out in public in pajama bottoms -- totally inattentive to appearances, and thinking of nothing but whether he will be home again in time to catch his cop show."
"Will he, indeed? That will be very bad."
"How much his inferior interests engross him already, is very plain from the circumstance of his forgetting to buy the book you recommended. He was a great deal too full of -- what is it you said he does for a living? window installation? the idea!-- to think of any thing else -- which is just as it should be, for a successful man. But Robert Martin is not -- he probably makes less than minimum wage -- he probably listens to Top 40 radio on his way to work.”
"I wonder he did not remember the book" -- was all Harriet's answer, and spoken with a degree of grave displeasure which Emma thought might be safely left to itself. She, therefore, said no more for some time. Her next beginning was,
"In one respect, perhaps, Pastor Elton's manners are superior to Mr. Knightley's or Mr. Weston's. They have more gentleness. They might be more safely held up as a pattern. There is an openness, a quickness, almost a bluntness in Mr. Weston, which every body likes in him because there is so much good humor with it -- but that would not do to be copied. You must remember he has been in the armed forces, and is not accustomed to all the social niceties of a place like Highbury. Neither would Mr. Knightley's downright, decided, commanding sort of manner -- though it suits him very well; his age and situation in life seem to allow it; but if any young man were to set about copying him, he would not be sufferable. On the contrary, I think a young man might be very safely recommended to take Pastor Elton as a model. Pastor Elton is good-humoured, cheerful, obliging, and polite. He seems to me, to be grown particularly attentive and courteous of late. I do not know whether he has any design of ingratiating himself with either of us, Harriet, by additional pleasantness, but it strikes me that his manners are more attentive than they used to be. If he means anything, it must be to please you. Did not I tell you what he said of you the other day?"
She then repeated some warm personal praise which she had drawn from Pastor Elton-- something to do with how nicely Harriet cleaned the whiteboards after the last youth group meeting--, and now did full justice to; and Harriet blushed and smiled, and said she had always thought Pastor Elton very nice.
Pastor Elton was the very person fixed on by Emma for driving the young window-installer out of Harriet's head. She thought it would be an excellent match (Harriet would make an ideal minister’s wife); and only too palpably desirable, natural, and probable, for her to have much merit in planning it. She feared it was what every body else must think of and predict. It was not likely, however, that any body should have equalled her in the date of the plan, as it had entered her brain during the very first evening of Harriet's coming to Hartfield. The longer she considered it, the greater was her sense of its expediency. Pastor Elton's education and situation were most suitable, without low connections; at the same time having no close family that could fairly object to the doubtful origins of Harriet. There would be no overly picky mother-in-law to contend with, no sisters who would sneer at Harriet for not knowing how to play the harp. He had a comfortable home for her, and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; and she thought very highly of him as a good-humoured, godly, respectable young man, with no dog, no motorcycle and no apparent taste for video games.
She had already satisfied herself that he thought Harriet a pretty girl, which she trusted, with such frequent meetings at Hartfield, was foundation enough on his side; and on Harriet's, there could be little doubt that the idea of being preferred by him would have all the usual weight and efficacy. And he was really a very pleasing young man, a young man whom any single young woman who was not overly picky might like. He was reckoned very handsome; his appearance was not exactly to Emma’s taste, but the girl who could be gratified by a Robert Martin's going two minutes out of his way to get her a lime slushie, might very well be conquered by Pastor Elton's admiration.