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Friend and Ship

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"I am very much obliged to you," said Emma, laughing again. "If I had set my heart on Mr. Elton's marrying Harriet, it would have been very kind to open my eyes; but at present I only want to keep Harriet to myself. I have done with match-making indeed. I could never hope to equal my own doings at Randalls. I shall leave off while I am well." - Volume I, Chapter VIII

Emma glanced up from the flowers at the sound of the glass door. The house, despite its lofty dimensions, murals of clouds and the heavens, had driven her outside. The actual sunlight had proven superior to that of a brush, the fragrance of flowers the sweeter uncut. She had left her basket, and servants behind.

"Miss Woodhouse," Harriet called out.

As Emma turned from the rose brush, it pricked her finger and she let out a little oh.

"Oh," Harriet repeated, having rounded the roses, "Oh dear."

Wide-eyed, Harriet's gaze followed Emma’s hand as she brought it to her mouth. It lingered there, as Emma sucked at the wound with a little frown. 

"Don't tell my father," Emma said, half-serious. "We have fielded Doctor Perry quite well these days. I would prefer to add to that tally."

Harriet fumbled in her coat pockets, and with little grace she offered up a white handkerchief. The plain cloth was adorned with Harriet's initials in neat little stitches, splashes of blue fibre on cotton. "Mr. Woodhouse seemed perfectly comfortable at the fire. Mr. Knightley was tending to him."

"Mr. Knightley is here?" Emma questioned. "Than it is fortuitous indeed that you came out to look for me."

While Harriet had grown comfortable in her role as confidante, she had not the confidence to inquire why Mr. Knightley was to be avoided. She would not be surprised to learn that they had quarrelled. "I'm sure you can't be blamed."

Emma's lips twitched. "Mr. Knightley held me as mere babe, but I'm sure he found fault in the manner of my crying."

"You are severe."

"No, I would not tease him half as well if he was deserving of it." 

Emma let out a dramatic little sigh, then looked at Harriet with real attention. "How beautiful you look there, nestled between the flowers. This is a scene more suited to that ridiculous frame."

"I like that frame," Harriet exclaimed. "Emma, why did you not state your opinion before? You hate it, you do! Don't deny it now."

"Because it can hardly take away from the image," Emma teased. "But the frame- no, its beauty was to be found in the gesture, the romantic appeal, but as it stands, Mr. Elton appears quite content at collecting the gaudy."

Harriet looked like she wanted to object.

"I can see Mr. Knightley has rubbed off on you after all," Emma said. "You want to chide me."

Harriet remained quiet, feeling herself blush.

"Consider me properly chided," Emma said, and she tossed her curls back. "Now, take a turn with me through the gardens."

The little blue notebook had been thrown out of the carriage. Good riddance it was. It made a pretty splash, the muddy water rippling before everything returned to the normal state of things. There had been something delicious in the impulsiveness of it, but mostly Harriet had liked the shock in Emma's voice. It had thrilled her quite unlike anything else. Compliments worked on Harriet's soul, like sunlight to a flower, but to surprise Emma was to water the ground itself.

Harriet held up a page, where a poem had been printed with fine penmanship. "And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone," she recites forlornly, while waving around the torn out paper.

Harriet preferred sermons to riddles; there was little mystery to pride before the fall, while the pomp of kings, left her unequal. Mr. Elton might look down his nose at her, and his new wife had less grace about it, but at least it was honest dislike. It would have been unchristian to voice it, and one of the things Harriet loved about Emma, it was her readiness to blurt out her opinion, all self-assurance and secret smiles. 

"Well she does," Emma retorts. "No shame in that."

As Harriet caught her meaning, her agitated posture deflated. "I'm not a ship," she replied. "Though the winds can blow me wherever which way it pleases."

Emma looked at her from her bed. 

Harriet was reminded of the tabby cat, that had quite dominated the boarding house this winter. She would not voice a likeness to the ginger monstrosity, yet there was something in the posture - unmoving and supple, with an unblinking stare. 

"Are you not in control of the sails, even if you're powerless about the elements?"

"I've run the vessel into the rocks," Harriet complained. "Twice!" 

"Please, leave nautical terms for what they are." Emma's eyes were wide and dark. "Do you blame me for any of it?"

"You are my dear friend," Harriet said with feeling. "How could I?"

If Emma was uncomfortable at that, she refused to show it. Rather she put her attention on the reason of this visit. For Harriet had shown up with a parcel, and a harried explanation. The little keep-sakes that Harriet had collected from Mr Elton had been unpacked with much ceremony, and the hearth was burning a tad too warm. "You're confident you want to burn them?"

"I ought to have destroyed it some time ago," Harriet said. "But it was shame that held me back, yet the desire to share it with you - so you may see how rational I have grown since I last fancied myself in love."

And so, Harriet fed them to the flames, one by one. The old pencil first, then the court-plaiser (Harriet, that could be useful!), then the fire licked at the paper, and The Charade curled up as the inked page changed to black and then crumbled into nothing.

Emma stood next to Harriet, then held out her hands, as Harriet looked sad rather than free.

"It's for the better," Emma soothed, as she pressed Harriet's hands.

"I do not regret it," Harriet told her. "You had the right of it, Emma. I will follow your example. I shall never marry."

Interest danced across Emma's face. "Never marry! This is a new resolution, indeed. And do not blame me, that I might hold some doubt to your meaning." Her tone softened. "I have said that I want to keep you to myself."

Before she knew quite knew what she was about, Emma pressed her lips to Harriet's. 

"Oh," Harriet said, after Emma had leaned back again.

It had been a soft brush of lips, with Harriet's hands still resting in Emma's. Whether it was the closeness to the fire, a warmth spread through her body, with all the devastation of an embarrassed blush.

After another short hesitation, Emma let go off Harriet's hands, "I hope this resolution does not proceed from-I hope it is not in compliment to Mr. Elton?"

Harriet looked a little dazed. "Mr. Elton?"

But Emma, who might want to keep Harriet to herself, had no such allusions. It was Mr. Churchill who had rendered such a service, that Harriet had found herself able to let another man go. "It is your situation in life, that might hold you back from believing that the person whom you prefer, could pursue you. Is it not?"

Harriet floundered a little, discomfited enough to confess to it. "It is a pleasure to me to admire him at a distance-and to think of his infinite superiority to all the rest of the world, with the gratitude, wonder, and veneration, which are so proper, in me especially."

"I am not at all surprized at you, Harriet. The service he rendered you was enough to warm your heart."

"The very recollection of it, and all that I felt at the time," Harriet said, and she took a step towards Emma. "When I saw him coming- his noble look - and my wretchedness before. Such a change! In one moment such a change! From perfect misery to perfect happiness!"

Emma stepped away, needing the distance to collect herself. "To choose so well and so gratefully," Emma replied. "But that it will be a fortunate preference is more that I can promise. I do not advise you to give way to it, Harriet. Do you not let your feelings carry you far, unless you believe them to be returned. And for my own resolution, henceforward I know nothing of the matter - I will not interfere. Let no name ever pass our lips."

"Emma," Harriet started, but was not able to decide on a question.

Emma opened the door, in a clear dismissal, "However it may end, be assured your raising your thoughts to him, is a mark of good taste which I shall always know how to value."