Mrs Goddard said, ‘Harriet, I have delightful news for you.’
I certainly hoped that she had – and news specifically about Hartfield, for I had never spelled harder for an invitation in all my life. I was forever saying such things as, ‘I saw Emma Wodehouse pass by, wearing the sweetest pelisse I ever saw. How I wish I could meet her!’ Or, ‘Miss Woodhouse has just been visiting those poor Turners. I long to tell her how she inspires me, but – to be sure – she must not even know that I exist!’
But these hints, though tedious, had not been polished in vain, for my headmistress continued, ‘I have procured you an invitation – and from Hartfield. Miss Woodhouse has graciously consented to my proposal that you accompany me to dinner on Thursday.’
‘Oh, Mrs Goddard!’ I cried, as if astonished.
‘You need not thank me – in fact, she seemed quite taken with the notion. However, I beg you to say nothing unless applied to, and to behave with the greatest respect to Mr Woodhouse as well as to his daughter. This is a chance that your fellow pupils might envy.’
Which was true, for the other girls were not merely envious, but incredulous. (‘Why choose Harriet? – for no one in the world knows who her family might be, and Amelia is every bit as pretty!’… ‘Nay, I am not jealous, not in the least, for Miss Woodhouse is woefully high, and thinks no one equal to her’… ‘To Hartfield, fancy! Do you suppose Mr Elton might be of the party?’) Though my friend Amelia did consent to loan me her newest shoes, for mine were forlorn indeed. Thus I had the comfort of knowing that, from the ankle downwards at least, my appearance was unexceptionable.
How fast my heart beat as I trotted along the High Street with Mrs Goddard! I knew it all too well, for I had lived in Highbury since I was five, only departing from it to attend a concert in town, or a play at the Little Theatre. How I longed for the day when I might entrance some high-born gentleman, and live in a London Square, and walk my pug about the Serpentine! (For I would have a pug, or – at very least – a Pomeranian, and marrying a gentleman was most assuredly my plan.)
I sometimes found myself wondering if, should I succeed in captivating some Surrey gentleman instead, I might persuade him to move to town. Though whom that might be I could not conceive, for Highbury was just as deficient in young gentlemen as it was in every other particular – with one or two exceptions. What a sad place Highbury was – hardly more than a village, indeed – where every creature either young or personable was forever rushing about without the leisure to enjoy anything – everyone, that is, except for the enviable Miss Woodhouse!
I had already determined that it would serve me exceedingly ill to be my true self with Emma Woodhouse. It was not just her high reputation – it was because I understood what Miss Woodhouse was in want of and suspected that I might be able to supply it.
I had thought a great deal about her situation: lauded, envied and admired, with her independence, her beauty, her £30,000. Her father believed her to be perfection; she enjoyed all the freedom that his family fortune could procure and – though she could have visited Bath, Tunbridge or even London – she chose to reign over Highbury, instead. Thus, I reasoned that Miss Woodhouse preferred to direct rather than to contend – while the loss of her governess had reduced her to all the delights of her aged father’s company.
In short, I believed there to be a vacancy – not for another governess, but for someone youthful and doe-eyed, submissive and easily led, to give the young mistress of Hartfield an object. And though supremely unqualified for the post – in that I was neither submissive nor easily led – I had faith in my powers to appear so.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish