February arrived and the desperately chilled temperatures returned with a fervor. Jane and Frank had removed to Enscombe and although Emma missed their company she was so busy with the inhabitants of Highbury to truly feel at a loss without them. Harriet was now fully settled at the Abbey Mill Farms and Emma found her previous prejudice of never being able to visit a Mrs. Martin of Abbey Mill Farms totally unfounded. She delighted in seeing Harriet so happy and her new sisters and mother-in-law were truly lovely. The Cole’s had also taken it upon themselves to increase their acquaintance with Emma and she was now very pleased for their company. They had many exciting tales of adventures from travels in far off places that left Emma thirsting for more. Little Anna Weston was beginning to crawl every which way, providing such entertainment to Emma despite the apprehensions of Mr. and Mrs. Weston. Emma spent a considerable amount of time at Randalls happy to finally be privy to the milestones of a young lady that she had missed out on with her own nieces.
If there was ever a night that Emma did not have engagements Mr. Knightley was always present. He would come for tea and dinner and they would stay up reading or playing backgammon, but still every night he would leave and return to Donwell. Emma hated that time the most. She often struggled to fall asleep, her mind often wandering to the worst possible scenarios. What if someone should break into Hartfield in the dead of night? She of course had the protection of James and the footmen, but being that her chambers were upstairs she felt alone and vulnerable. Instead she would stay up reading until she could no longer fight off sleep, but the long cold nights were starting to take their toll on her spirits.
Luckily a letter arrived from Isabella giving Emma the relief she needed and something to anticipate excitedly. The London Knightley’s were planning another seaside trip to South End when the spring should arrive and wrote with the hope that Emma might accompany them this time. Emma was delighted! She had always dreamed of going to the seaside and was sure to enjoy their company. She wondered if Mr. Knightley might be persuaded to accompany them. When he came around for tea the next day she thought to begin the maneuver of persuasion.
“It really has been unbearably cold lately.” She began. He was engrossed in some reports and nodded his agreement. “It makes me feel totally dumb, listless and bored to no end.”
“It sounds like you are in need of a project.” He mused. “I have been thinking of redecorating some of the rooms at Donwell, perhaps I could entreat your expertise in the matter.”
She set her tea down. This was not the direction of conversation she had in mind nevertheless, she was pleased at the idea of having some more immediate occupation.
“Yes.” She replied, “you may count upon my expertise in the process, most happily. Though I will be most anticipating when the warmer temperatures return, perhaps even as soon as March.”
“I would not get your hopes up dear Emma, I have reason to believe that March will be just as cold, and perhaps snowier than what we have seen so far in February.” He said scowling at his reports. She could tell that he was too preoccupied to consider any proposition of traveling at present so she decided to let the matter rest until she had his more undivided attention.
The following day Emma took the coach to Donwell to inspect the rooms in question that Mr. Knightley had wanted redecorated. The morning room, parlor and dining room required some reupholstering of fabrics; the foyer needed a fresh coat of paint and Mr. Knightley was keen to have his study reorganized and modernized. Emma was thrilled to get started and began to make her plans of attack straight away. Within two weeks Emma had all the refurbishing and repainting done and now all that was left was the completion of the study. This task proved to be slightly more cumbersome than the rest as Mr. Knightley spent most of his time in the study and was now in preparation for the new planting season. Emma was so invested in completing the room to the most perfect standards that she felt totally nervous with his audience. She therefore convinced him one early March day to remove his current work to her father’s old study at Hartfield. She promised to have the plans finalized and prepared for his viewing by dinner time. He was not exactly happy at the prospect, but he abided by her nonetheless.
Emma worked fervently. She reorganized his files of previous years productions via crop rotations, she had heard him speak on it enough to know that he desired a fast catalogue of their schedule. She measured and put in an order for some new curtains that would allow for more natural light. She hated how much one had to strain their eyes to see and thought it a totally unproductive trait for a study. As such she ordered new lighting fixtures, a new rug and made a plan to replace the buttons on his leather chair. She was in the process of deliberating which fresh stain to renew his desk with when she heard a light knock on the door. Mr. Knightley peeked his head in awaiting permission to enter.
“I do not think you should require permission to enter your own study, now should you Mr. Knightley?” She asked mockingly
“I did not wish to startle you.” He replied as he walked inside. “You have been working assiduously I see, come show me your plans.” He said warmly. She happily showed him all the organizational improvements she had made and he responded with animated gratitude and appreciation.
After all the improvements were revealed Mr. Knightley offered his deepest appreciations and stated matter of factly, “You are well deserving of a break.” She knew he intended this to mean dinner but she took her opportunity to ask him about the trip to South End.
“Yes I think I do, in fact, I have been thinking of accompanying Isabella and the rest of our family on their upcoming trip to South End.” She said nonchalantly
“Really?” He questioned, “I did not realize you were inclined to travel.” He replied.
“Isabella has been imploring me to come and I have even heard from Jane that she and Frank may attend as well. Do you think you will go?” She asked the last casually.
“Well” He began in mocked admiration, “If Jane and Frank are to attend, and you wish me to go, I shall happily join.” He finished sincerely. She smiled widely, pleased at his willingness and together they withdrew to the dining room for a late, but happy, supper.