“Well, as I was saying, Mother was looking quite poorly last week. Yes, I do believe it was last week and I spoke to her doctor and her doctor told me that the thing to do is to buy artichokes.”
Emma Woodhouse took a breath to give her opinion of artichokes, but Miss Bates was not finished talking. Not by a long shot.
“Artichokes! Well, I was surprised. I never thought artichokes were good for anything but her doctor said that artichoke hearts can cure almost any ill. Do you suppose they can heal a broken heart?”
Emma was about to respond to that, but Miss Bates went on.
“Oh, of course not! Nothing can heal a broken heart. At least, that’s what Mother told me I do believe it was last May she told me that. Or was it last June? No. No, I am quite sure it was last May because that was the same month that we received that lovely letter from Jane Fairfax. Oh, Jane is such a lovely thing.”
The mere mention of Jane Fairfax’s name almost made Emma bolt out of the room.
“Why, last time she visited Mother and I she brought us a whole watermelon. Can you believe it? A watermelon! I hardly know how she came about it. I meant to ask her but then we got talking about Frank Churchill and how charming he is.”
Emma warmed to this new topic. Any news about Frank Churchill was always good news.
“I daresay that Frank and Jane would make a charming couple.” Miss Bates laughed. “But what do I know? I haven’t your matchmaking skills oh indeed not! Otherwise I would have matchmaked myself. Matchmaked? Or ought it be matchmade? I will have to ask Mother about it. Mother is very particular about past tenses. I’m sure you know how she can get about such matters. Why, last summer she scolded Mr. Knightley over him saying ‘have lain’ instead of ‘laid’.”
Emma tried to imagine a conversation where her Mr. Knightley would use either word. Sadly enough, she failed. She concluded that it must have been a very mysterious conversation, indeed.
“Oh, Mr. Knightley is a wonderful man. Why, I’m surprised no one has snatched him up yet. He’s so genial. I’m rather surprised you haven’t made that match for yourself.”
Emma was in the middle of sipping her tea when Miss Bates made that statement. It startled her so badly she sprayed tea everywhere.
Miss Bates somehow missed Emma’s spit take and kept talking. “And he is such a fine dancer. I have seen him dance on occasion and I must say he cuts a fine figure. Maybe not as fine as Frank Churchill.”
Emma went into the kitchen for a towel. When she returned, Miss Bates had mysteriously turned the one-sided conversation back to artichokes and beets.
“I do wonder if there is a connection between artichokes and beets. Oh, they don’t have the same appearance. Hardly, dear! Oh, hardly at all! But they are both very healthy for a person. Especially for one like Mother. She eats beets and artichokes daily and look at how much good it has done her. So much good! I admit I am still thinking about Jane Fairfax’s watermelon. Oh, I do hope she will bring us another one when she comes. She is such a dear, sweet girl. And I do love watermelon. I don’t get it as often as I would like. But did you know I saw lemons at the market today? Lemons! And they were perfectly ripe. Oh, I do wish I could have bought one. It would taste heavenly in this tea, don’t you think? I must write Jane and tell her to bring us another watermelon. Oh! Speaking of Jane! She sent Mother and I the most wonderful tin of chocolates around Christmas.”
Emma thought it quite sinister that Jane Fairfax kept sending them food. Sinister and vexing. After all, how could Emma extend a charitable hand to Miss Bates and her mother if Jane Fairfax insisted on doing it first? It was terribly vexing and a small part of the reason why she detested the poor girl.
“I hardly know where she got them from. They were so decadent. I dare say that it cost quite a bit. But I am sure that her benefactor was only too happy to help cover part of the bill. I do wish that—Oh! Is that the time? I’m so sorry I must get to the post office to check for any letters. Who knows? I might get one from Jane and from Frank! Oh, that would be a treat! I will be sure to read her next letter to you. She writes so well. Her words are so well chosen. Her penmanship is perfect! But oh yes! I’m dreadfully sorry. But I must go. Would you care to walk to the post office with me, Miss Woodhouse?”
“Uh, no. I promised my father that I would help him with something.” It was a weak response, but Emma simply couldn’t come up with anything better.
Miss Bates didn’t seem to mind or notice. “I understand that.” She rose from her seat and Emma followed her lead. “It was such a pleasure to see you, my dear Miss Woodhouse. Please do stop by again.”
Despite her irritation over Jane Fairfax’s constant presence in the conversation, Emma smiled and it was a genuine smile. “Of course.”