Mr. Woodhouse was fond of fellowship in his own way. He liked very much to have his friends come and see him; and from various united causes, from his long residence in the neighborhood, and his good nature, from his high standing in the homeschool community, his in-ground pool, and his daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure as he liked. He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his horror of late hours and large potluck suppers made him unfit for any acquaintance, but such as would visit him on his own terms. Fortunately for him, the Highbury church family comprehended many such. Not unfrequently, through Emma's persuasion, he had some of the chosen and the best over for dinner with him, but game nights were what he preferred, and, unless he fancied himself at any time unequal to company, there was scarcely an evening in the week in which Emma could not make up a Boggle table for him.
Real, long-standing regard brought the Westons and Mr. Knightley; and by Pastor Elton, a young man living alone without liking it (after all, the Bible itself states that it is not good for man to be alone!), the privilege of exchanging any evening spent with his laptop and a frozen dinner for the cheerful chatter and board games of Mr. Woodhouse's living room (not to mention the smiles and conversation of his attractive and single daughter), was in no danger of being thrown away.
After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able of whom were Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies almost always at the service of an invitation from the Woodhouses, and who traveled there and back so often that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for their health to be venturing out in the weather, as they were used to it. Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.
Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former Highbury pastor, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but instant coffee and Wheel of Fortune. She lived with her single daughter in a very small house, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, stylish, well-to-do or possessing a Better Half. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favor; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness-- she had been in the science fair as a child but have never got past preliminary competition. Her youth had passed without courtship or any other distinction, and her middle age was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavor to make a small income go as far as possible without the help of food stamps or other government assistance. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom few named without a smile. It was her own universal goodwill and positive attitude which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's happiness, quick-sighted to every body's talents and skills; thought herself a blessed woman, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and such a good church family, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body and an example to the young children in her Sunday School class. She was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mr. Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip. Indeed, her Twitter account was in danger of being suspended because she constantly misinterpreted 140 characters as 140 words.
Mrs. Goddard was the principal of a local private girls’ school-- a Christian, conservative, well-regulated establishment that held to good old-fashioned principles regarding skirt length and language in the hallways. The school was held in some reasonable regard by the homeschooling elite of the Highbury church-- it was not, after all, the same as good parental education, but several church members did send their daughters there and one had to be respectful of other people’s views even if they weren’t as good as one’s own. Besides, Mrs. Goddard herself was a cousin of Mr. Woodhouse, as well as being a kind, motherly sort of woman. She who had worked hard throughout her whole life, and enjoyed the treat of an occasional visit at Hartfield; and having formerly owed much to Mr. Woodhouse's kindness, felt his particular claim on her to drive out to his house every so often for a round or two of Scrabble.
These were the ladies whom Emma found herself very frequently able to invite; and happy was she, for her father's sake; though, as far as she was herself concerned, it was no remedy for the absence of Mrs. Weston. She was delighted to see her father look comfortable, and very much pleased with herself for contriving things so well; but the lengthy deliberation before each turn and consulting of the Scrabble dictionary from three such women made her feel that every evening so spent, was indeed one of the long evenings she had fearfully anticipated. Being neither antisocial nor rude, she could not feel comfortable hiding her face in her phone all evening, and so she was compelled by politeness to sit beside Miss Bates and wait while that worthy lady deliberated over what sort of word she could devise with the letters ACODAVO.
As she opened her iPad one morning, looking forward to exactly such a close of the present day, an email arrived t from Mrs. Goddard, requesting, in most respectful terms, to be allowed to bring Harriet Smith with her; a most welcome request: for Harriet was a girl of nineteen whom Emma knew very well by sight and had long felt an interest in, on account of her excellent sense of modest fashion. A very gracious invitation was returned, and the evening no longer dreaded by the fair homemaker of the Woodhouse domain-- in fact, Emma hopped up straightaway to set about making some bran muffins to pass around that evening as a little treat.
Harriet Smith was the daughter of parents who traveled extensively and had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard's school. She had graduated the year before with few honors but a reasonably good report in all subjects, and owing to her natural ability to connect with young children, had acquired the position of assistant teacher at the school. She had no visible friends but what had been acquired at the Highbury church, and was now just returned from a young ladies’ retreat at a summer mountain camp, at which she had met some young women who happened to live nearby. She and the Martin girls, in consequence, had become rather friendly and indeed their family had begun attending services at Highbury with some regularity.
She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired. She was short and perhaps inclined to plumpness (an attribute she sought to correct by abstention from carbs in any form, a fact Emma only remembered after she had taken the bran muffins out of the oven), with a lovely smile, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness; and before the end of the evening, Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person (though of course Emma knew better than to judge a person on looks alone), and quite determined to continue the acquaintance.
She was not struck by any thing remarkably clever in Harriet’s conversation (what, after all, could be expected from a girl who had attended a boarding school?), but she found her altogether very engaging -- not inconveniently shy, not unwilling to talk -- and yet so far from being obnoxious, showing such nice manners, seeming so pleasantly grateful for being invited to one of the almost-famous Hartfield game nights, and so artlessly impressed by the appearance of every thing in so superior a style to what she had been used to, that she must have good sense and deserve encouragement. Encouragement should be given. Those soft blue eyes and all those natural graces should not be wasted on the inferior society of Mrs. Goddard’s school and its connections. The acquaintance she had already formed were unworthy of her. The friends from whom she had just parted, though very good sort of people, must be doing her harm. Emma knew quite a bit of the Martin family, as she made it her business to know all she could about every attendee at Highbury (without the slightest idea of gossiping, of course) and though they seemed a genteel sort of family, the parents both worked outside the home and the children had all gone to public school. They were by now graduated, and the eldest son showed a creditable interest in an agricultural career, but they must certainly have experienced ungodly and liberal influences in a government-run institution, and were in point of fact unworthy companions for a girl who only needed a little more fine-tuning to be made practically perfect in Emma’s sight. She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her lowly acquaintance, and introduce her to better companions; she would form her opinions and her manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming her own situation in life and giving her more material for blogging.
She was so busy in admiring Harriet’s skill in eyeshadow application, in talking and listening, and forming all these schemes in the in-betweens, that the evening flew away at a very unusual rate; and the popcorn, muffins and cocoa, which always closed such parties, and for which she had been used to sit and watch the due time, was all set out and ready, before she was aware. With an alacrity beyond the common impulse of a spirit which yet was never indifferent to the credit of doing every thing well and attentively, with the real good-will of a mind delighted with its own ideas (well, all right, she got them off Pinterest but at least she was the executor), did she then do all the honors of the snack, and passed her matching napkins and styrofoam bowls with an urgency she knew would be acceptable to the early hours of their guests.
Upon such occasions poor Mr. Woodhouse's feelings were in sad warfare. He loved to have people over and exercise his daughter’s hospitality skills; but his conviction of snacks being very unwholesome made him rather sorry to see any thing actually served to the guests; and while his generosity would have welcomed his visitors to every thing, his care for their health made him grieve that they would eat.
Such another small glass of gluten-free soy milkshake as his own, was all that he could, with thorough self-approbation, recommend, though he might constrain himself, while the ladies were comfortably clearing the nicer things, to say:
"Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these muffins. A muffin made with oat bran and rice flour, sweetened with agave nectar, is not unwholesome. Emma understands about making muffins to suit a healthy diet; I would not recommend a muffin baked by any body else -- but you need not be afraid -- they are very small, you see -- one of our small muffins will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of cocoa -- a very little bit. Ours is always made with raw milk. You need not be afraid of unwholesome nastiness here. I do not advise the popcorn; it is made with processed butter. Mrs. Goddard, what say you to some of my soy milkshake? A small half glass -- put into a tumbler of water with a vitamin C supplement? I do not think it could disagree with you."
Emma allowed her father to talk -- but quietly supplied her visitors in a much more satisfactory style; and on the present evening had particular pleasure in sending them away satisfied. The happiness of Harriet Smith was quite equal to her intentions. Emma Woodhouse was so great a personage in the Highbury congregation, that the prospect of the introduction had given as much panic as pleasure -- but the awed, appreciative girl went off with highly gratified feelings, delighted with the affability with which Emma Woodhouse had treated her all the evening, and actually exchanged email addresses with her at the last!