The evening brought even more well wishers to Hartfield. Harriet and her Mr. Martin came and brought with them a basket of some of the loveliest produce Hartfield had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard came and stayed for nearly three hours, she insisted on reading to Mr. Woodhouse from one of their favorite novels. The Eltons returned and all were surprised at how subdued their presence was, for even Mrs. Elton had been assuring without her usual pretentious airs. The Cole’s came before they had even arrived home from the Churchill wedding. Mrs. Cole tended to Emma while Mrs. Weston returned home for a while to care for her daughter. There was even a note from Mrs. and Ms. Bates saying they were to return early from London and would be bringing Jane and Frank along with them. They had made their plan once they had heard the news. Jane had even written a separate note just for Emma relaying her deepest sympathies and dearest prayers of recovery. Though Emma would not be at ease until her father showed true signs of recovery, it was a deep comfort to know that he was in the hearts of so many. She felt her heart swell with gratitude for their little haven of Highbury.
Mr. Woodhouse had been drifting in and out of consciousness all day. He had a low rattle to his breath and his head and hands shook with tremor. Emma was with him for every moment he was awake and had been successful in keeping his thirst quenched as well as his temperature measured. He had not eaten, but Emma had hopes that tonight he would be able to take some gruel before Mr. Perry produced another draft.
Emma was exceedingly thankful for the presence of her family. Isabella, though frantic, was with Emma and their father as much as possible. John was deliberate in his care for both his wife and sister, being sure that they were unworried about the running of the house and tending of guests. And Mr. Knightley had all together refused to leave. When he was not entertaining the children he spent hours sitting with Emma and Mr. Woodhouse, and though he did not say much, Emma felt deeply soothed by his presence.
When dinner time arrived Isabella tried to get Emma to take it in the dining room with the rest of the family. Emma refused, but did agree to take a tray and would try her best to eat. Emma had not expected Mr. Knightley to be the one to return with the tray and to bring one of his own as well. He sat them down at the small table that was brought up and walked over to Emma, helping her to her feet.
“Isabella did not trust my promise to eat, I see.” Emma said wearily.
“Perhaps, or perhaps I just wished for you to not eat alone.” He said kindly.
They ate together in silence for a while until Mr. Knightley broke it by recounting the nights spent tending to his mother. Emma had hardly ever heard him speak of her. She had been very young when Mrs. Knightley had passed away and she knew that her death had pained him greatly. He spoke eloquently, voicing all of the feelings that Emma had been experiencing herself and she found herself comforted in knowing that they had a shared experience. At the end of his reminisce Emma asked a question she hoped would not be found impertinent, for it was burning in her head.
“Were you relieved, when she passed that is, that it was over?”
He considered for a moment, taking his time in designing his answer.
“I was thankful she was no longer in pain, that she passed in peace and comfort and that she departed knowing how loved she was. But in all honesty dear Emma, it did not suppress the pain that her death inflicted. No amount of preparedness could have muted the sting that accompanied.”
It was not what she wanted to hear, but she could find no fault in his honesty. Her appetite dissipated and she prayed with all her might that she would have to wait for the appearance of such a sting in her own life.