John Knightley had not been expecting his brother to arrive at Brunswick Square that day. Nor had he any idea of what was making his brother so agitated. He knew his brother had not been anticipating such an abrupt change in his tenant’s accounts, however George Knightley was usually all composure and collectedness when it came to matters of business. Today however, his brother hardly had time for a word. He refused to come to tea and instead went to the bank eager to settle the accounts. He returned in the afternoon to obtain John’s signature and then swiftly turned around for the bank once more. Upon his final return George did not even venture into the house, staying in the foyer to deliver John’s copies of the new lease. John sighed and, taking his copy, resigned to get to the bottom of his brother’s abrupt change of character.
“Come inside brother, dinner will be ready soon. Isabella will insist upon it.” John said knowing full well the type of response he was about to receive.
“I’m afraid I shall have to disobey your Mrs. Knightley upon this occasion dear brother. Please give her my sincerest apologies, I must return to Highbury tonight.”
“But brother the business is done and fully tended to, what difference should it make if Mr. Fuller is to receive his lease tomorrow as opposed to tonight? I see no need for you to expose yourself to this terrible cold front we are experiencing. In fact, I have a very ominous sense that there will be snow tonight. It is not in your nature to be so reckless. Come inside and stay for the night, I insist.”
But Mr. George Knightley did not listen. He tipped his hat and walked back to his horse.
“Please give Isabella and the children my regards, and thank you for your assistance today brother. Do not worry, I shall be home before Henry and little John are even in bed.”
And with that he mounted his horse and rode off into the dark evening that was getting colder by the minute, leaving John to ruminate as to his brother’s true intentions. It dawned on John that his brother had insisted on returning to Highbury, not Donwell. He laughed at himself for not realizing it sooner. Only Emma could inflict this kind of foolishness on his otherwise overly reasonable brother. He walked back into his home only to be accosted by his wife immediately.
“Where on earth is George going? I thought he was to stay with us tonight?” Isabella asked aghast.
“It appears he is tending to your father’s final wish my dear.” John said coolly
“What do you mean John? Surely he does not mean to return tonight. It is very cold, he will catch a chill!”
“Come darling.” John replied, “You know as well as I do how stubborn my brother can be. Let us eat our dinner and be thankful that the foolish days of reckless abandon in our courtship are behind us.” Isabella scowled in response not totally understanding his meaning or implication.
George Knightley hated it when his brother’s pessimism was correct. It had started snowing within the first hour of his journey home and he was riding, rapidly, into the heart of the storm. The wind was whipping at his face, stinging his eyes and slashing at his hands as they gripped the reins. Perhaps he was being reckless, but he could not stand the idea of Emma being alone. Not so shortly after the death of her father, he would not have it. Whenever he felt himself slipping or wishing to stop his mind conjured up the image of her waiting up all alone for him and he trudged on.
He arrived at Donwell, the snow still falling heavily with large, fat flakes. Mrs. Reynolds came running towards him.
“Sir! What have you done, how foolish to have been out in such a storm. Come in quickly so we may warm you.” She instructed.
“I’m afraid I am not staying madam. I have only returned to switch out my horse before calling upon Emma.” He said evenly.
“But sir!” She cried.
“Did Ms. Woodhouse return my letter Mrs. Reynolds?”
“Yes, sir, but surely you do not mean to call upon her now. It is very late and you are very cold.”
“I assure you I am fine.” He said lying, for his hands were numb and his face a deep crimson. He turned and took his leave, returning to the bitter cold that still lingered in his person.
His arrival at Hartfield was a surprise to all. The footmen seemed totally dumbfounded and Emma audibly gasped at his entrance. She leaped up from her reading and ran to guide him to the fireplace.
“Mr. Knightley!” She said incredulously. “What do you mean showing up here in such weather?! I thought you meant to stay in London tonight!”
“I told you I would return for our normal evening and I did not intend to deceive you dear Emma.” He replied
“But to subject your coachmen to such conditions, surely sir, you would not do that on my account?”
“My coachmen?” said he, “Oh no, I traveled on horseback.” He could tell immediately that this was the wrong thing to say, for Emma must at once begin to chastise him, however, he had a very difficult time understanding her lecture as the room was beginning to spin and dissolve before his very eyes. His last vision was that of Emma rushing towards him, grabbing onto his coat as he began to slump into the armchair beneath him. He could barely feel her cool hands cupping his burning face, nor hear the sounds of her frantically calling for help. How foolish of him to cause her such distress. With his remaining strength he grabbed hold of her hand bringing it to his lips before the darkness encompassed his eyes and he submitted to its gentle clutches.