Chapter Five of *Ezra*, by Jane Austen


“I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston,” said Mr. Knightley, “of this great intimacy between Ezra and Dylan Matthews, but I think it a bad thing.”

“A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing?—why so?”

“I think they will neither of them do the other any good.”

“You surprize me! Ezra must do Dylan good: and by supplying him with a new object of interest, Dylan may be said to do Ezra good. I have been seeing their intimacy with the greatest pleasure. How very differently we feel!—Not think they will do each other any good! This will certainly be the beginning of one of our quarrels about Ezra, Mr. Knightley.”

“Perhaps you think I am come on purpose to quarrel with you, knowing Weston to be out, and that you must still fight your own battle.”

“Mr. Weston would undoubtedly support me, if he were here, for he thinks exactly as I do on the subject. We were speaking of it only yesterday, and agreeing how fortunate it was for Ezra, that there should be such a boy in Washington for him to associate with. Mr. Knightley, I shall not allow you to be a fair judge in this case. You are so much used to live alone, that you do not know the value of a companion; and, perhaps no man can be a good judge of the comfort a man feels in the society of one of his own sex, after being used to it all his life. I can imagine your objection to Dylan Matthews. He is not the superior young man which Ezra’s friend ought to be. But on the other hand, as Ezra wants to see him better informed, it will be an inducement to him to read more himself. They will read together. He means it, I know.”

“Ezra has been meaning to read more ever since he was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of his drawing-up at various times of books that he meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list he drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did his judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say he may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Ezra. He will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate, I may safely affirm that Dylan Matthews will do nothing.—You never could persuade him to read half so much as you wished.—You know you could not.”

“I dare say,” replied Mrs. Weston, smiling, “that I thought so then;—but since we have parted, I can never remember Ezra’s omitting to do any thing I wished.”

“There is hardly any desiring to refresh such a memory as that,”—said Mr. Knightley, feelingly; and for a moment or two he had done. “But I,” he soon added, “who have had no such charm thrown over my senses, must still see, hear, and remember. Ezra is spoiled by being the cleverest of his family. At ten years old, he had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled his sister at seventeen. He was always quick and assured: Isabella slow and diffident. And ever since he was twelve, Ezra has been master of the house and of you all. In his mother he lost the only person able to cope with him. He inherits his mother’s talents, and must have been under subjection to her.”

“I should have been sorry, Mr. Knightley, to be dependent on your recommendation, had I quitted Mr. Hiatt’s family and wanted another situation; I do not think you would have spoken a good word for me to any body. I am sure you always thought me unfit for the office I held.”

“Yes,” said he, smiling. “You are better placed here; very fit for a wife, but not at all for a governess. But you were preparing yourself to be an excellent wife all the time you were at the Post. You might not give Ezra such a complete education as your powers would seem to promise; but you were receiving a very good education from him, on the very material matrimonial point of submitting your own will, and doing as you were bid; and if Weston had asked me to recommend him a wife, I should certainly have named Miss Taylor.”

“Thank you. There will be very little merit in making a good wife to such a man as Mr. Weston.”

“Why, to own the truth, I am afraid you are rather thrown away, and that with every disposition to bear, there will be nothing to be borne. We will not despair, however. Weston may grow cross from the wantonness of comfort, or his son may plague him.”

“I hope not that.—It is not likely. No, Mr. Knightley, do not foretell vexation from that quarter.”

“Not I, indeed. I only name possibilities. I do not pretend to Ezra’s genius for foretelling and guessing. I hope, with all my heart, the young man may be a Weston in merit, and a Churchill in fortune.—But Dylan Matthews—I have not half done about Dylan Matthews. I think him the very worst sort of companion that Ezra could possibly have. He knows nothing himself, and looks upon Ezra as knowing every thing. He is a flatterer in all his ways; and so much the worse, because undesigned. His ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Ezra imagine he has any thing to learn himself, while Dylan is presenting such a delightful inferiority? And as for Dylan, I will venture to say that he cannot gain by the acquaintance. The Post will only put him out of conceit with all the other places he belongs to. He will grow just refined enough to be uncomfortable with those among whom birth and circumstances have placed his home. I am much mistaken if Ezra’s doctrines give any strength of mind, or tend at all to make a boy adapt himself rationally to the varieties of his situation in life.—They only give a little polish.”

“I either depend more upon Ezra’s good sense than you do, or am more anxious for his present comfort; for I cannot lament the acquaintance. How well he looked last night!”

“Oh! you would rather talk of his person than his mind, would you? Very well; I shall not attempt to deny Ezra’s being pretty.”

“Pretty! say beautiful rather. Can you imagine any thing nearer perfect beauty than Ezra altogether—face and figure?”

“I do not know what I could imagine, but I confess that I have seldom seen a face or figure more pleasing to me than his. But I am a partial old friend.”

“Such an eye!—the true hazle eye—and so brilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! oh! what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size; such a firm and upright figure! There is health, not merely in his bloom, but in his air, his head, his glance. One hears sometimes of a child being ‘the picture of health;’ now, Ezra always gives me the idea of being the complete picture of grown-up health. He is loveliness itself. Mr. Knightley, is not he?”

“I have not a fault to find with his person,” he replied. “I think him all you describe. I love to look at him; and I will add this praise, that I do not think him personally vain. Considering how very handsome he is, he appears to be little occupied with it; his vanity lies another way. Mrs. Weston, I am not to be talked out of my dislike of Dylan Matthews, or my dread of its doing them both harm.”

“And I, Mr. Knightley, am equally stout in my confidence of its not doing them any harm. With all dear Ezra’s little faults, he is an excellent creature. Where shall we see a better son, or a kinder brother, or a truer friend? No, no; he has qualities which may be trusted; he will never lead any one really wrong; he will make no lasting blunder; where Ezra errs once, he is in the right a hundred times.”

“Very well; I will not plague you any more. Ezra shall be an angel, and I will keep my spleen to myself till Christmas brings John and Isabella. John loves Ezra with a reasonable and therefore not a blind affection, and Isabella always thinks as he does; except when he is not quite frightened enough about the children. I am sure of having their opinions with me.”

“I know that you all love him really too well to be unjust or unkind; but excuse me, Mr. Knightley, if I take the liberty (I consider myself, you know, as having somewhat of the privilege of speech that Ezra’s mother might have had) the liberty of hinting that I do not think any possible good can arise from Dylan Matthews’s intimacy being made a matter of much discussion among you. Pray excuse me; but supposing any little inconvenience may be apprehended from the intimacy, it cannot be expected that Ezra, accountable to nobody but his father, who perfectly approves the acquaintance, should put an end to it, so long as it is a source of pleasure to himself. It has been so many years my province to give advice, that you cannot be surprized, Mr. Knightley, at this little remains of office.”

“Not at all,” cried he; “I am much obliged to you for it. It is very good advice, and it shall have a better fate than your advice has often found; for it shall be attended to.”

“Mrs. John Knightley is easily alarmed, and might be made unhappy about her brother.”

“Be satisfied,” said he, “I will not raise any outcry. I will keep my ill-humour to myself. I have a very sincere interest in Ezra. Isabella does not seem more my sister; has never excited a greater interest; perhaps hardly so great. There is an anxiety, a curiosity in what one feels for Ezra. I wonder what will become of him!”

“So do I,” said Mrs. Weston gently, “very much.”

“He always declares he will never marry, which, of course, means just nothing at all. But I have no idea that he has yet ever seen a man he cared for. It would not be a bad thing for him to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Ezra in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do him good. But there is nobody hereabouts to attach him; and he goes so seldom from home.”

“There does, indeed, seem as little to tempt him to break his resolution at present,” said Mrs. Weston, “as can well be; and while he is so happy at the Post, I cannot wish him to be forming any attachment which would be creating such difficulties on poor Mr. Hiatt’s account. I do not recommend matrimony at present to Ezra, though I mean no slight to the state, I assure you.”

Part of her meaning was to conceal some favourite thoughts of her own and Mr. Weston’s on the subject, as much as possible. There were wishes at Randalls respecting Ezra’s destiny, but it was not desirable to have them suspected; and the quiet transition which Mr. Knightley soon afterwards made to “What does Weston think of the weather; shall we have rain?” convinced her that he had nothing more to say or surmise about the Post.