Having had the good fortune to marry one of his oldest friends, Mr. Knightley expected no great revelations upon his marriage. The true state of his heart with respect to Emma had necessarily preceded and precipitated the wedding, and that surely was revelation enough for a lifetime. To remove from Donwell Abbey to Hartfield seemed less an upheaval than an extension of the existing state of affairs—his visits to the Woodhouses were regular and extensive, even more so following his engagement to the lady of the house. What did it matter where one kept one’s greatcoat, after all, so long as one could pass the evenings in the company of those one loved?
He learned very soon that it did matter, if not greatly, then still more than he had initially anticipated, for it is one thing to sit an evening with a lady and her father and offer one’s good wishes at the end of the night, don one’s hat, and return to a separate house and a solitary bed; it is quite another to pass the evening in this way and repair to the lady’s bedchamber at the end of the night.
After the well-wishers had returned home (with the exception of the Westons, who stayed for Mr. Woodhouse’s company, that the newlyweds might be excused), Mr. Knightley, having washed and dressed for bed, knocked on the door that connected Emma’s bedchamber to his own. Upon being invited to enter, he opened the door, but found himself unable to pass much beyond the threshold.
Emma, turning to face him from where she stood wringing a towel over the washbasin, blinked. “You look…stunned.”
He looked as he felt. After a moment he recovered himself sufficiently to explain, “It’s—I’ve never seen your hair down.” In actuality, he had not seen her with so much as a curl out of place in her entire adult life. Now her hair hung loose about her shoulders, soft and shining in the candlelight, and suddenly all he could think of was burying his hands in it, feeling it between his fingers. He felt a bit faint.
“I thought it wouldn’t do to put it in curling rags tonight,” she said, padding toward him on bare feet.
Good Lord, he thought, he’d never seen her feet bare either.
She slid her hands beneath his dressing gown, wrapping her arms around his waist. He could feel the warmth of her palms through his nightshirt.
Emma smiled up at him, a smile that was altogether too knowing for his own good. “Does your befuddled expression have anything to do with the fact that I’m in my nightdress?”
He gave a short laugh, entirely at his own expense. “And here I’ve worried you might be shy about all this. I feel I should have known better.”
“I will remind you that Mrs. Weston is like a mother to me, my sister is married with five children, and women talk to each other.” She rested her head against his shoulder and buried her face in the crook of his neck.
“I am going to try very hard not to imagine your correspondence with Isabella on this subject.”
“I can think of any number of things you could do to distract both of us.”
He started by raking his fingers through her hair.
Two weeks after the wedding, he watched Emma fall asleep in the bed they shared at a well-appointed inn near the seaside and thought about how much they knew about each other now that they had not known before.
Emma had learned, for example, that he made a dreadfully satisfying noise if she kissed the underside of his jaw; that he didn’t mind the marks her nails left on his skin; that he loved kneeling between her legs as much as she loved having him there.
And he had learned, in turn, that her neck smelled of orange blossom water; that kissing her wrists drove her to distraction; and that she had a tendency to pull his hair (which he found he rather enjoyed).
That they were the only people who knew these things about each other was no small source of satisfaction to both of them.
After all, Mr. Knightley mused as he blew out the candle, no one would guess that such an elegant, poised woman as Emma Knightley was when awake would be so completely disheveled when asleep. Her face was half-buried in her pillow, her hair rioting across the pillowcase, one arm thrown over her head.
He kept thinking it wasn’t possible to fall more completely in love with her, and she continued to prove him spectacularly wrong.
“You know you do not have to stay,” she said, the first evening after they returned from the wedding trip. “Unless you want to.”
“Do you not want me to?” he asked, propping himself up on one elbow. Good God, she was beautiful, cheeks still flushed, lips tender and red.
“I only mean I understand if you want to make use of your own room.”
“I do use it.”
“As your dressing room.”
“Yes, that falls within the definition of ‘use’.” He bent down to kiss her, softly, barely a brush of his lips against her. “Emma, my love, if you want your bed to yourself, you need only say so.”
“It isn’t that at all.”
“Then would you please care to explain yourself? Your insinuations so far are too sophisticated for either the hour of night or my present state of mind.”
One corner of Emma’s mouth twitched into the beginning of a satisfied smirk that was soon brought back under control. “I do not flatter myself that I am a particularly easy person to share a bed with. You may make impudent comments when I am finished, sir,” –here she pressed a finger to his mouth. “I have not shared a bed with another living soul since Isabella married, and judging by the usual state of my coverlet when I wake, I suspect I kick. You, as far as I am aware, are also accustomed to a bed all your own. I merely wanted to say that if you did not want to spend your nights being set upon by my wayward limbs, you need not spare my feelings. Do you laugh at me?”
“Emma, do you imagine that I, who have given you my opinion at the slightest provocation since you were at least thirteen, would fail to mention if I found discomfort in my own marriage bed?”
“One does not know how marriage may soften a man’s temperament.”
“Ha! Depend upon it, my Emma, if I wished to forsake your bed for the one in the room next door, I would say so. You do not kick, as it happens, although your feet are often abysmally cold.”
“I am very glad you shall remain here to warm them, then,” said she, tangling her legs with his.
“How?” cried Mr. Knightley, “How are your feet still freezing when we have been beneath the blankets this past hour at least?”
“I am sure it is a flaw in my nature, for I used to torment Isabella so, and on occasion Mrs. Weston, if I had a nightmare. Oh, Isabella would shriek! You are braver than she, if you will not remove next door to escape it, for she removed all the way to London.”
They both dissolved into laughter, Mr. Knightley rolling onto his back and Emma draping herself across his chest. She pressed a hand over his heart; its steady rhythm was a comfort, and the warmth of his skin against hers was a pleasure she sometimes scarcely believed was hers to enjoy.
When the last of their laughter subsided, Mr. Knightley wound his fingers through her hair. She lifted her head and met his gaze.
“I have lived most of my life,” said he, “as a bachelor, and was content as such, until I realized how I longed for you. Now that I am married I do not expect—nay, I do not wish—to live as I did when I was a bachelor. To wake up in the night and have you there, to hold you in the dark, to feel the sheets warm from your body and know your pillow smells of you—Having shared your bed I have no desire to quit it, unless you will not have me here.”
She moved to kiss him, soft and unhurried. “You are proving a very affectionate husband, Mr. Knightley, and you will hear no complaints from me on that subject. I would have you here every night, excepting four or five days out of the month when I am extremely irritable and would not share a bed with myself if I could find a way out of it.”
“Understood,” he murmured, and chafed his legs against her feet. “Good God, Emma, do you never make use of a warming pan?”
“I had one earlier in the evening, but it went cold before you came in, and what need have I of a warming pan when I have you?”
“That is an argument very ill constructed, for it overlooks entirely the bit about marriage being ordained for mutual comfort. Do I not deserve as full and fair a bed as you shall couch upon, and warm feet besides?”
“There is no need to bring both the Book of Common Prayer and Shakespeare into this discussion; surely one would have sufficed.”
“I was not entirely sure you would recognize the Shakespeare.”
“I admit I am no great reader, but I do enjoy his plays. They’re certainly easier to parse than Milton, and frankly more rewarding.”
Mr. Knightley kissed the top of her head. “We shall go up to London someday and go to the theatre, if you would like.”
“I think I would,” said Emma, yawning, “only do not tell Papa, he does not trust the close air of theatres. We shall have to make it part of a visit to John and Isabella—”
“And it cannot be too soon, or he will think that our trip to the seaside has given me a taste for travel.”
“I suppose, in that it has shown me I need not be always at Highbury. I could not live anywhere else, and I could not be away for too long a time, but I would happily see more places, if you were with me to share them.” She tucked herself more closely against Mr. Knightley’s side and yawned again. “I expect I’ll be asleep presently.”
“Sleep well, dear Emma. We’ll plan further adventures in the morning.”
“Not before breakfast, I pray you. You know I’m useless before breakfast.”
“You’re very good at pretending otherwise.”
But he received no response; his wife was fast asleep.
And that was the true revelation, he supposed, of sharing Emma’s private life: he saw her now as perhaps no one had seen her since she became mistress of Hartfield—completely unguarded, without artifice, unpretending. He knew that she would get up at any early hour of the morning, that once she got out of bed there was no getting her back in, and that she would discuss serious business before breakfast but preferred not to. He saw her prepare herself for the day as her maid dressed her hair and sigh with relief each night when she removed the hairpins and shook out her curls. It was a life that she might have kept entirely to herself, whether they had married or not, and instead she drew him into it, as if to say, “There is nothing of me you may not see.”
To see her clearly, and to know that she saw him, was a comfort so deep he could scarcely understand it, much less convey to her the fullness of his gratitude for it. And yet there was the joy of it: they each saw the other, which rendered communication of the fact superfluous.