“You speak as if you envied him”
“And I do envy him, Emma. In one respect he is the object of my envy.”
Emma could say no more. They seemed to be within half a sentence of Harriet, and her immediate feeling was to avert the subject, if possible. She made her plan; she would speak of something totally different- the children in Brunswick Square; yet before she could execute her diversion Hannah (James’s daughter) came running towards them.
“Miss. Woodhouse you must come quickly!” She said in intense exasperation
“Oh miss it has caught us all off our guard! The misses has gone into labor, much sooner than Mr. Perry suspected. You must come at once miss, please. Make haste!”
“I shall call the carriage immediately” Mr. Knightly offered in vane, for Emma upon seeing Hannah had already begun to make her deductions and was in pursuit of Randalls by foot.
Her fear had carried her faster than any horse could and she arrived, quite out of breath and dampened, in under the usual ten minutes. Upon entering the estate she found a very agitated Mr. Weston, so far from his normal countenance that had Emma not already been vexed this abrupt change in his person would have caused her deep perturbation.
“When did this happen?”
“We had just started our second turn after supper when a cramp set in. It was over so quickly that we thought nothing of it. Moments later it came again, but with such intensity and pain she could not contain. Oh Emma, I cannot handle this suspense, my mind-”
“Who is with her now?”
“We sent Hannah for Mr. Perry knowing he would be with Mr. Woodhouse and in turn sent for you. He and Mrs. Jenkins are seeing to her now.”
Turning away from him, Emma made her way down the hall towards the lie-in room. Emma had little expectation of what to find, having never been present for a birth. Isabella had been the safe distance of sixteen miles at Brunswick Square, and Emma did not have the knowledge of growing up near livestock. Despite her ignorance she knew she could not leave her friend alone and with what was left of her waning confidence turned the door handle and entered the room where she found both mother and child safely at rest.
Only moments had passed since the babe, a daughter, had entered the world and the site of such a miracle took what little breath Emma had left.
“I hope you will forgive me and my impudence, but I could not let you be without kinship.” Emma ventured, walking over to the bed.
Reaching out her hand Mrs. Weston brought Emma to sit beside her to share in her joy, and perhaps lift the sorrow of her recent pain. She could not know how long in this manner they stayed until the sound of multiplying footsteps jolted her back to her senses and Emma rose to bring the happy and relieving news to Mr. Weston
Entering the drawing room Emma found Mr. Knightley tirelessly working to console Mr. Weston in spite of the vehement rebuttals of Mr. Woodhouse on the numerous perils of childbirth. Mr. Woodhouse had the deepest disapproval of childbirth, stating repeatedly what he believed to be an eternal verity that “Mother’s die”. The smile on Emma’s face was a consolation to all.
Wanting to allow the new family privacy, the small party set off to return to Hartfield, looking forward to the calming habit of their evening traditions. Emma could not comprehend all the feelings that were swimming in her heart, but was thankful, however conflicted, at having avoided what she believed to be an excruciating conversation with Mr. Knightley. She made a mental note to give her thanks to God later that night for a diversion that resulted in the happiest of circumstances, when it so easily could have been the opposite.
Emma indeed thought she was quite clear of anything else unpleasant occurring this evening. Her father’s worry had settled and he was beginning to gently drift to sleep in his fireside chair, when Mr. Knightley turned to Emma and appeared to begin to resurrect their interrupted conversation. Emma could feel the color draining from her face and was unsure she would be able to avoid him this time. Upon seeing this however Mr. Knightley changed his course stating “But, you are fatigued, are you not?”
Fatigued indeed. She had no notion of how much her mind had been working since she had discovered the root of her feelings for him, yes fatigued she was indeed. Emma felt a strange sensation and deep understanding for Jane Fairfax.
“Indeed, I do not think I can handle anymore excitement at present -nor anything of a mediocre nature if it requires clever consideration.” She added in hesitant reply. Emma thought she noted a hint of disappointment on his face, but it was so fleeting she could not be sure.
“Yes I quite agree, a very suspenseful day indeed. I shall leave you to recollect your cleverness then.” He said in Jest.
Mr. Knightley’s long strides and fast pace brought him home sooner than he would have pleased. Despite his own fatigue, he found his mind reeling at the development of the day. It had begun with him in London, quite determined- though failing miserably- to put Emma from his mind. His attachment to her had been growing exponentially in the course of the year, furthered by his belief in her apparent attachment of Frank Churchill, and he had left with design to become indifferent. When he had received a letter from Mr. Weston stating the engagement between Mr. Churchill and Ms. Fairfax, his own feelings had such abrupt progressions he had hardly taken notice of his leave of Brunswick Square and found himself, quite foolishly, riding through an unseasonable downpour on his way back to Highbury.
His first inclination was relief at such news, Frank Churchill would be out of his way and he could maintain his measured presence in Emma’s life without vulnerability. This feeling was quickly replaced however with a deep concern for Emma’s feelings. How he had used her, abominable scoundrel! He could not stand the idea of her heart being injured, not when he himself held it so dear. Then to find out that she indeed was not injured by Mr. Churchill’s marked advances towards her, but instead was quick to blame herself, it was enough to make his own heart break. Her vanity was correcting and he could not help but feel partially responsible at the torment such an alteration presented. That was when he had decided to reveal his own feelings to her, he could not have her go on believing that her character was repugnant or to be pitied. No indeed, her corrections had made her all the more irresistible in his estimation.
The interruption brought by Hannah had felt like a rip to the chest and he was keen to continue his proclamation. Yet he knew she was just as enervated by change in many aspects as her father and had decided to conceal his attachment for the time being. However vexation was setting in as he realized how quickly the right moment could pass for such a declaration and he began to worry that should he wait too long what was to stop another, more amiable, more responsible Frank Churchill from securing her affections. Furthermore he did not think he would be able to mask his feelings in the way Mr. Churchill had tried, nor even in the more sensible manner of Ms. Fairfax. His attachment was changing his own character. He could not bear to think of her belonging to another. He knew she would always put her father first, he had resigned to that reality years ago. Her commitment to her father was honorable and raised her in the eyes of everyone in Highbury.
Even though she made claims of never marrying, he knew that eventually she would find herself seeking an attachment and he had always imagined, without question, that he would be the natural fit. He now realized his own irony in chastising Mr. Robert Martin for not waiting to make his sentiments known. He was seven and thirty years old for God sake! And though Emma was his considerable junior in age, she was not so far behind him in sensibility, no certainly she was the most sensible of the family, and seemed even more so in the short course of the last month. He was determined not to procrastinate the subject any longer.
Sleep did not come easily to Emma that night. Her mind was reeling and her thoughts were bouncing between the happiness of having Mrs. Weston secure with all the prospect joys of having her own daughter, and the uneasiness of her heart. Though she preferred joyful thoughts her mind kept wandering back to the extremely vexing conversation that superseded such joy.
Was it not unfair of her to wish to stop such a discourse from taking place? Mr. Knightley clearly desired to consult her on the matter, and as his friend she ought to hear him out. Even if the subject were to break her heart. Yes, that is what a good friend would do, is it not? Or, should she warn him of the evils of such an attachment? Though she had once been vehement in defending the good naturedness of Harriet Smith she surely must remind Mr. Knightley of the perils of such a match. He had once considered Harriet nowhere near the equal of Robert Martin, his own tennant. As she mused on this recollection a small voice in the back of her mind softly pointed out that it was because of her own marked attachment to Harriet that Mr. Knightley had been obliged to observe any amiable qualities in her at all, and to admonish those qualities now, when it suited her, would make her the most accursed hypocrite. That voice also pointed out that it had been Emma’s influence that encouraged Harriet to think above her station in the first place, as Mr. Knightley had once warned her against. Why had she not listened? Why had she not been content enough to find a new friend in Harriet and leave her happiness to her own agenda.
“It is all my own fault!” She cried
She could not help the tears that followed, and allowed herself, just this once, to feel the full force of her misery. It was a small comfort and soon made her head heavy and eyes grow weary. The warm embrace of her bed beckoned her.
The following morning Emma found herself moving rather slowly. She had resolved not to cry anymore on the subject, but she grew weary at the idea of having to put on an agreeable countenance before facing her father. She did not want him to worry, indeed she could not be the subject of his worry. She would never have allowed that even when she was ill! And now when the calamity was a matter of her heart, after she had spent years assuring him of the security of her company- she could not allude to any discomfort. No, this remorse could only be known to her, and as it was of her own design she would not subject anyone else to its consideration.
She called for her maid and readied herself for the day ahead. Her hair was tended to and every curl placed to perfection. She wore a bright dress that she hoped would distract from the suckeness of her eyes. As she quit her chambers and made her way down to the drawing room for their before breakfast tete-a-tete she was met with a most surprising scene. Mr. Perry was in the hallway having a hushed conversation with a group of servants. Upon seeing Ms. Woodhouse he bowed deeply and motioned for them to have a private word in the entryway. After some brief pleasantries the nature of his early visit was revealed.
“It appears, Ms. Woodhouse, that your father had a small fainting spell upon quitting his bed this morning.”
Emma’s shock was apparent.
“Do not distress yourself, he is much better now, though perhaps a little shaken. I have prescribed extra rest and an increase of fluids. I am sure he will be feeling much his old self soon, but I will be back this afternoon to check on him.”
“To be sure Mr. Perry, thank you for your diligence, he shall be under careful watch today and your recommendations shall be religiously adhered to. I thank you.” Was all she could muster in reply. She thanked him again for his concern and attentions and upon his leave rushed to her father’s side.
“Father, what happened? Did you injure yourself?”
“No, no Emma I am quite well, at least I think I am. So silly it is, Mr. Perry thinks me dehydrated, like a wilting plant you see. I really cannot account for such behavior, I am truly such an invalid.” He sighed
Before she could rebut such a statement Mr. Knighley entered, rather hurriedly, into the room.
“I fancied and earlier walk today and saw Mr. Perry leaving Hartfield. He said you were unwell this morning sir, I hope it is nothing serious” His eyes wandered from father to daughter as he said this, searching for signs of concern in her eyes.
“I’m afraid I have given everyone quite a scare this morning, such foolishness on my part.”
“No father, no one could blame you, I am sure it is this rather extreme change in weather that has permitted such a response. The heat and dampness in the air has extracted your strength, that is all. We shall listen very closely to Mr. Perry, no excursions today, and lots of water, that shall be the trick.” Emma consoled.
“I quite agree, and you shall not be without company sir, I am sure all of your friends in Highbury are as eager to see you well as those in Hartfield.” Mr. Knightley added warmly.
“Perhaps Mr. Knightley can sit with you father, whilst I talk to cook and the servants. We must make Mr. Perry’s recommendations known” She said, patting his hand comfortingly.
“I will be most happy to oblige, sir.”
While Mr. Knightley sat across from her father and began to talk of his plans for this years harvest, Emma felt her heart swell in gratitude. She knew quite well how to handle her father on her own under normal circumstances, however when something was amiss it was always nice to have backup and with Mrs. Weston disposed to her own familial events, Mr. Knightley’s steadfastness was a most welcome reinforcement. This was the kind of friend Mr. Knightley was, he had always cared for her father and showed him the utmost attention. How could she part with such comradery of spirit? She yearned for things to stay exactly as they were, yet she knew that Mr. Knightley was a stubborn creature and had he set his mind to a task, let alone his heart, it was only a matter of time until such a task was complete. Still Emma prayed for a little more time. Time to grow accustomed to such a change, if that were even possible. Time to observe these so-called attachments Harriet had spoken of. Time to armor her heart in case there was verity in Harriet’s conviction. And perhaps time to share her own feelings, if time could make her brave.
Mr. Knightley was not usually an early riser. He enjoyed the slowness of the morning light and, with exception to the occasional indulgence of a pre-breakfast walk, preferred to keep his mornings tranquil and quiet. However on this particular morning he was listless, restless even, while happy images of Emma as Mrs. Knightley had set his mind to sleep, anxieties of securing such images had awakened him and disturbed his peace.
Though she had claimed indifference to Frank Churchill that was not the same as her showing willingness to change her situation. She had everything at present she could desire, and he worried that she still saw him as the foreboding and reprimanding man who was quite her senior and thought it his duty to correct her. He hoped, at least, she still saw him with some semblance of friendship. For friendship he could build from.
He came to the conclusion that he could not move forward without reading her character and, after many back and forths as to the forethought of acquiring such evidence, set off in pursuit of Hartfield. The short journey had allowed him more time to command the direction of conversation in his head and he had decided to begin with an apology for making himself so disagreeable after Box-Hill. He knew his reproof had been half the conclusion of her treatment of Ms. Bates and half of his own jealousy of seeing her so attentive to Frank Churchill. He could at least apologize for the latter and that would allow him, in turn, to see how she received his feelings.
However, upon reaching this conclusion, and his destination, he saw Mr. Perry exiting the estate and his mind rushed to the worst conclusions. Could Emma be ill? She had seemed so very unlike herself yesterday, even with the excitement of such an evening. Or, was it Mr. Woodhouse? Everyone knew how likely he was to call on Mr. Perry at any sign of distress, yet even paranoid Mr. Woodhouse liked to refrain from such excentricities until normal calling hours. Despite his reeling thoughts he met Mr. Perry with a countenance of general concern, nothing close to the overwhelming unease he truly felt. When Mr. Perry had assured him of the well being of everyone at Hartfield he alluded to a slight scare Mr. Woodhouse had experienced upon waking up feeling rather faint and he insisted that the root of such an ailment was the result of the increased heat and humidity.
Mr. Knightley was relieved to hear that there was no immediate danger to the members of the Woodhouse family, but knew that Emma would be distressed on any account of apprehension for her father’s well being. He felt himself being pulled to Hartfield, not only to give his sympathies to the patient but provide solace to his most anxious attendant.
He found them in the drawing room, Emma dutifully kneeling beside her father attempting to comfort him. Hastily he made his entrance and excuse for such an early visit. He thought he saw relief on Emma’s face at the sight of him, perhaps he just hoped. She made quick use of him and he was more than happy to oblige her requests. He stayed through breakfast when Mrs. and Ms. Bates arrived afterwords to check on Mr. Woodhouse. They, along with Jane, had been to Randalls to offer their congratulations on such joys when they saw Mr. Perry and he had privately informed them of his whereabouts this morning at Hartfield. They decided they must come and check on Mr. Woodhouse before returning home. They had left Jane at Randalls for she had more she wished to discuss with the Westons regarding her engagement to Mr. Weston’s son. And, he suspected, she was not yet ready to face Ms. Woodhouse and making their amends would require some time.
Mr. Knightley took this distraction as an excuse to check on Emma. She had been busily tending to her father all morning. Keeping up his spirits while behind the scenes being strict in the regiment of his care. She was currently off meeting with the cook making accommodations to their dinner plan, insisting on fresh fruit, watermelon if possible to continue the intake of fluids for her father. Upon seeing him she started, worrying that a change had occurred in her father’s health.
“He is well, Mrs. and Ms. Bates are with him now, and assured him that Mr. Perry would be on his way after tending to the new Weston family. No, I came to check on you, Emma. Are you well?”
She felt her heart flutter at his consideration and responded in as checked a manner as she could.
“I would be lying to you if I said otherwise, and I take pride in our always being honest with one another, but I can assure you I am as well as possible. I shall be more composed though if my anxieties are so outwardly apparent as to suspect ill health.”
“No, you quite misunderstand me.” he said. “No one could mistake you for being anything but the doting daughter we all know you to be. No, I ask in concern for your feelings, for your wellbeing as I know your devotion would not allow for you to be unaffected.”
“You are too kind, Mr. Knightley. I do not deserve such attentions, though I thank you most heartily. Your friendship has been the greatest comfort to us both.”
There, he had his answer. Though he wished for more, he knew today was not the day to exert her feelings for more than they had been through. He made his excuses, stating he had business to tend to back at Donwell, but he would return for his usual evening visit and was available should Emma, or her father, need him at the drop of a hat.
By the afternoon much of Highbury had been privy to Mr. Woodhouse’s startling morning and many had come to check on him. The Elton’s brought with them a plethora of remedies, as if Hartfield was not already stocked with the very best of Mr. Perry’s concoctions. Even the Cole’s had come and Emma was thankful for their bringing a new collection of rocks from one of Mr. Cole’s brother’s recent voyages. Mr. Weston had spent much more time than he ought at Hartfield with a new baby awaiting him and Emma had to be rather coarse in her reproof that he should return to wife and daughter. Mr. Perry was contented with his previous diagnosis and was pleased with Mr. Woodhouse’s current condition. He would return once more this evening, but was quite satisfied that heat and the stimulation of the day previous was the culprit.
Around three o’clock Mrs. Goddard and Harriet came by to check on Mr. Woodhouse. Emma was expecting this visit, but that did not deter from the dread she felt at such a reconnection. Emma knew, however reserved she felt on the matter, that Harriet was not to blame for her feelings towards Mr. Knightley and that it had all been a result of her own meddling. Still, she did not know how to go on in the affectionate manner of their normal intimacies. She was thankful that the visit was short and courteous, there were no dangers of private conversations in such a limited visit and no further plans were made.
Dinner passed and Mr. Perry came for his final visit of the day. While he and Mr. Woodhouse talked Emma took her chance to finally get some fresh air. The evenings were beginning to shorten, though their temperature remained unchecked. She reveled in the gentle breeze and wondered how long she was to expect this ache in her chest to remain. She supposed this was the aftermath of discovering one should be in love for so long. How long she could not say. She had known Mr. Knightley her whole life and it seemed the older she got the more dear he became to her. She feared that if this be the case she would be inconsolable in a few years time. Shaking this thought from her head she noticed the man in question's shadowy figure making his way towards her.
His effect was immediate. She worked to steady her breath and cursed the new sensation of turbulence that his presence now contrived in her. The closer he got the worse she suffered. Her stomach tied in knots, her heart raced, even her fingers began to twitch and her hands dampened. At least the ache in her chest had lifted.
“How is the patient this evening?” He bowed and continued her trajectory.
“He is perfectly well, much improved from this morning.”
“All thanks to his devoted nurse, no doubt.” He offered.
“No, no thanks to me. I believe it is the determined devotion of friendship that has aided his spirits today, I could offer no such consolation in that manner being the mistress of his domain. Even Mr. Weston spared the better part of an hour with us today.”
“Ha! I would suspect nothing less from the members of Highbury. It seems we are all drawn to Hartfield like moths to a flame.” At this Mr. Knightley tempted a look at Emma, and despite the dwindling light thought he noted a slight color in her cheeks.
“Yes my father’s popularity is quite unmatched. If he was not so amiable I think Mrs. Elton would take great offence in his social standing.”
“Oh yes, quite. I assume the Elton’s managed a visit today, hm? And what did they make of the patient? I am sure Mrs. Elton had much to offer on the matter.” He quipped.
“Mrs. Elton was most concerned, and thought he looked rather pale and in bad spirits. She brought with her an assortment of remedies from Bath, though most were for rather odious skin conditions…” At this they shared some much needed laughter.
“I am sorry to have missed it then.” he joked.
After a few moments of silence in which Emma was debating the vacillate of either continuing to enjoy the undisturbed presence of his company or probe into the affiliation of his affections, the latter of which could cause a most vexing change of conversation for Emma. She decided to continue and gently prod the conversation as cautiously as possible.
“Harriet and Mrs. Goddard came by as well.” She studied him carefully at this but noticed no sudden change in the mention of her name.
“I am sure he appreciated that. Mrs. Goddard has always been a close friend to him, they have many similarities in their gentle natures, which I’m sure was a comfort to him today.”
It appeared that he was determined to conceal any attachment on his part Emma thought. Oh how she wished she could intercept the inner workings of his mind in this moment. She needed to know the level of his attachment to Harriet. Was there room for Emma to hope or should she renew the heavy lease in her chest. It appeared she would gain no more intelligence on the matter tonight and would just have to be content with the presence of his company.
They reached the foyer and Mr. Woodhouse, recognizing the sound of his friend, called the two back inside.
The next few days saw no unwarranted excitement in Highbury. The Weston’s had named their new daughter Anna and all of Highbury was abuzz with news of her beauty and loveliness. Mr. Woodhouse had no new afflictions and seemed recovered in both health and spirit. Frank managed to convince his uncle, Mr. Churchill, to accompany him to Highbury and make the introductions of not only his new sister but his fiance as well. All was well except for one looming presence that Emma had to deal with quite on her own. Harriet. How was she to deal with this woman, this friend, whom she could not stand to be around without inflicting pain to the both of them.
Emma debated whether or not she should tell Harriet of her own feelings towards Mr. Knightley. She knew that honesty was typically the best course of action to take in regards to matters of the heart, but she could not bring herself to be the cause of anymore of Harriet’s heartbreak. Emma was quite at a loss as to how to deal with the dilemma of Harriet, when a letter arrived from Mr. John Knightley stating he would be returning to Highbury on business and would bring Henry and little John along with him if Emma would so desire. Immediately a solution to her current predicament began to form. Isabella had expressed keen interest in Harriet when visiting over Christmas and would no doubt extend an invitation for Harriet to stay with them in Brunswick Square for a matter of weeks. Emma wrote back immediately, expressing her great desire to dote upon her nephews and began to subtly suggest the idea of Harriet joining them for the remainder of summer and onset of Autumn.
The letter was answered by Mrs. Knightley with the utmost enthusiasm. The plan was set. Mr. John Knightly would arrive at Hartfield in one week’s time, stay for another week on business and bring Ms. Smith back with them to Brunswick Square, if Harriet accepted. Emma was thrilled, a perfect distraction! It held the appearance of great care and attachment on Emma’s part without having to exert her own emotional energies.
Harriet was thrilled and so appreciative of Ms. Woodhouse’s kindness in thinking of her. She had never been to London before, what excellent society she was to encounter! She could hardly believe her good fortune in having such thoughtful friends.
Emma finally felt like she could breath. Though the situation was far from being solved, she had at least bought herself a few weeks time and in a mere fortnight Harriet was to be sixteen miles away from both Highbury and Donwell Abbey. It was providence indeed.
Though a fortnight was a considerably short duration to prepare for an extended journey, to Emma it seemed to drag on for eternity. She was extremely thankful for the distraction of the little Anna Weston in providing new topics of conversation amongst the members of Highbury, Ms. Smith and herself included. Emma spent a substantial amount of time in the week leading up to Mr. John Knightley’s arrival at Randalls.
The day prior to John’s arrival at Hartfield found both Emma and Harriet at Randalls. They were in the drawing room accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Weston, the Mr. Churchill’s being out calling on the Bates. The new Miss. Weston was taking one of her many daily naps. They were just discussing her new ability to form the most adorably small fists when Mr. Knightley greeted them bringing a gift for the new Miss. Weston.
Emma felt her stomach turn. He was here?! With Harriet?! Oh the misfortune of it! She watched with bated breath as he took the seat next to Harriet. Emma tried to maintain a semblance of neutrality. It was, afterall the only open seat left. She must contain her composure if she was to assess his affections properly. She searched his person for any sign of favor. His legs remained crossed towards Mrs. Weston, as did his countenance. He appeared to be relaxed whilst remaining composed. She couldn’t help but notice the gentle movements of his jaw when he spoke and how his eyes attended to the speaker with such civility. Suddenly she was jerked back to consciousness at the sound of her own name escaping his lips.
“Hmm?” she mused trying to seem inconspicuous.
“I was merely reminding the Westons that you did not form the ability to make fists until you were a month old, though your use of said fists was already quite accomplished for so young a person.”
“I am sure Miss. Weston will be much more civil and sensible than myself at any age. Besides, she will have no need of such burlish behavior as myself with having a brother of such sense and composure to aid in her upbringing.”
“I had no idea Isabella was so combative. Shall I warn John of this secretive nature?” He teased.
“Isabella was not the aggressor I had in mind.” She retorted.
“Yes, I suppose John has always been slightly more the ruphiant in nature.”
At this Mrs. Weston interjected, “I seem to remember Mr. John Knightley and Isabella being the models of quarrelsome behaviors, while you Mr. Knightley have always shown the most gentle nature. If little Emma ever showed such behavior it was clearly the consequence of one of John and Isabella’s rows and not a response to your attendance.”
“I am sure we can get Mr. John Knightley’s side of this dilemma at dinner next Thursday. He will surely attest to it being all my own nature to display such ferocity.” Emma replied
“To be sure, but we shall ask him nonetheless.” Mr. Knightley said with a curl of his lip.
The remainder of their visit was spent crooning over a sleepy Miss. Weston as she tried to keep her eyes awake safely wrapped in her mother's arms. Emma was pleased to see that very little interaction besides brief pleasantries were extended between the persons in question that Emma was so anxious to assess and upon quitting the estate she was relieved to find Mr. Knightley had business in town leaving Emma and Harriet to accompany themselves back to Hartfield. The true test of attachment would be held this coming Thursday when the two persons were to be in attendance to an intimate dinner at Hartfield. Emma’s agitation increased everyday for this appraisal to be over with and her judgement, she prayed, to be impartial.
Mr. John Knightley arrived with his two eldest sons on Saturday evening. The sight of his carriage was a most welcome addition to Hartfield. Emma was delighted to have the distraction of youth in the form of her nephews to divert her thoughts, which bordered on obsessiveness towards the boy’s uncle. They were lively children and adored their aunt dearly. This was one matter in which Emma felt justified in allowing her vanity to be flattered, and she doted on them accordingly.
On Sunday after church an invitation to tea at Donwell was extended to all the current members of Hartfield. Mr. Knightley had business to discuss with his brother regarding the estate. In the past an invitation from Donwell would summon no more excitement than one from Randalls, but now, with Emma’s feelings so entangled with the estate’s occupant, she felt utterly befuddled. She must remind herself that he was the same Mr. Knightley she had known all her life, the same Mr. Knightley that she quarrelled with on occasion, the same Mr. Knightley that she was used to speaking to directly, without pretence and without apprehension.
Henry and little John were most excited to run the grounds of Dowell Abbey again and Emma found herself most willing to humor their anticipation. The carriage was called and all occupants of Hartfield departed. The journey was short, but for Emma and her nephews felt longer than they remembered. Mr. Knightley awaited them outside greeting his nephews jovially, scooping them up in his playful manner. This did nothing to ease in the flutterings of Emma’s heart. She had never had cause to think of Mr. Knightley in a paternal manner before, but now she was struck with the realization that he would be the most affectionate, caring, and instinctive father one could ever hope for. She felt the all too recently familiar tightness in her chest and inability to catch her breath. Why must he torture her so? If she were not so infatuated she might have some cross words with him, but that would expose her feelings and she was not quite ready for that.
Donwell Abbey was a most striking home, it felt unceremoniously majestic when one considered the humble nature of its occupant. After their tea Emma settled her father with a few of the Knightley collections he so dearly enjoyed and left him to explore the manner. Emma found herself wandering the estate with new vision. What if she was to be mistress of this estate? She amused herself for a moment with visions of ordering dinners and organizing friendly gatherings at Donwell. Holidays spent with the whole family gathered in the great drawing room, playing with the children and sitting near the fireside. Then, like an avalanche, crushing her down beneath the snow, Emma remembered her father. How could she, even for a moment, forget her commitment to him? She could never leave him, not even for beloved Mr. Knightley. She felt her breath catch and tried as hard as she could to prevent the tears that were welling up inside her from escaping. How foolish she was to allow herself to be so carried away with her emotions. It would not do, she would not allow any pity on her part. She had a perfect situation, a home and father she loved and all the occupation she could require. She remembered her claims of never being inclined to marry and felt foolish at her own obstinance.
Suddenly the echoing footsteps of Donwell’s master ejected her from her pensive thoughts.
“There you are.” He said smiling at her warmly. “I was beginning to think that you took Henry and John’s game of hide and seek too seriously and had lost yourself among the labyrinth of corridors.
“Oh?” she feigned a smile. “Nothing of the sort, though had I been involved in such a game waiting out in the open for all to find would surely disqualify me from advancing another round.” She found it extremely difficult to meet his gaze and instead directed her eyes towards the many portraits hanging on the great stone walls. She could feel his gaze inspecting her and tried to look as unobtrusive as possible. It was to no avail.
“Are you quite well, Emma?” He asked her gently.
“Why yes, why shouldn’t I be?” She tried harder to enliven her appearance.
“You seem preoccupied is all. Like something is vexing you. Is there something on your mind, come you can tell me. We have always been able to speak openly with one another, have we not?”
She cursed at herself for not putting on a better performance. Now she was forced to deceive him. Well, if she was going to lie, she might as well uncover some truths in turn.
“I suppose I am thinking of Harriet.” she answered.
He hesitated. “Of Harriet? What ever for? You’re not anxious about her travels, she must have traveled before.”
“She has never been to London.”
“I do not think that is reason to be anxious on her part. Ms. Smith will be fine, Isabella will be most keen to make her feel welcomed and comfortable and though he may not always be the most amiable traveling companion, John will secure her a safe arrival, and she will have Henry and little John to provide all the entertainment lacking of my brother.”
She could not gather anything from his response and was left to interpret the meaning of his hesitation on the subject. He was so calculating and unaffected, she could not detect from his words whether he truly cared for Harriet or not. It was infuriating!
“That is not all that occupies your mind though. I can see, there is more.”
Emma turned from him. She could not omit anymore truths now and she could not answer him. It was hard enough to be occupying the same space as him, let alone be drifting so closely to the matters most weighing on her heart. He seemed to sense her unease and, hesitating, took hold of her hand, turning her towards him.
“Your father, he- that is, I assume you are more worried than you let on- he has frightened us all, certainly, but Mr. Perry is quite adamant that he is much recovered, and he himself appears to be returned to his normal character. Emma, your devotion will never allow you to be easy, but I hope you can take comfort in the fact that we- your friends and neighbors- we are all eager for his well-being. And the more so for his well-being is so entwined with your own.”
She felt completely dumbstruck. He stood there, utterly gallant, consoling her in the most gentle way imaginable and all she could do was gape in return. Luckily, she was spared the necessity of response by their two nephews barreling down the corridor calling for their uncle to play with them. Emma smiled as he ran after the boys in mock barbarity. How well he knew her. He could read her countenance like a novel and seemed to have an innate intuition to the clutter of thoughts obstructing her mind. He might even know her better than she herself. How then was she to keep her feelings towards him unknown? She stood rooted, overwhelmed by the impossibility of the feat before her.
Mr. Knightley was eager to invite his brother and nephews to Donwell Abbey again, he had business to discuss with John pertaining to the estate and always enjoyed filling his home with familial presence. Though he was accustomed to living alone he often felt that Donwell was too large an estate to belong to a single occupant. Perhaps that is why he spent so much of his time in Highbury. He had never thought of himself as lonely, but the recent notion of securing himself a Mrs. Knightley had brought to fruition the sheer emptiness of his normal accommodations. Though his invitation was sent under the pretense of occupation it was also sent in part to examine Emma in his home, to see her appearance first hand so as to place a better image in his head of the possibility of her being mistress of Donwell.
He prepared earnestly for the day, setting out a number of collections for Mr. Woodhouse to study, and dusting off the contents of his and John’s old play things for his nephews to enjoy. While looking at the old playroom he imagined what Donwell would feel like with the permanent presence of youth and stood happily for a moment seeing images of little blonde children running through the halls echoing out their make-believe. He adored his nephews and niece, but a small part of him had always felt envious of his brother’s good fortune in being settled so young. Patience, he reminded himself, he did not wish to rush her and lose her affections.
The Hartfield party arrived and his nephews raced out of the carriage, eager to charge at their uncle who rather enjoyed roughhousing with them. They still minded their manners greatly when accompanied by their aunt. She had such a supportive nature about her that they could not help but heed her regards and behave accordingly. As such their tea was uneventful but not unpleasant. Mr. Knightley thought Emma looked a little distracted. She did not add to their conversation, but attended in response to all matters pertaining to her. She was usually more open than this and he thought to ask her if anything was the matter, when John expressed his desire to see the reports of the coming harvest and he was torn from the party to attend to their business.
He was glad that his communication with his brother was mostly tended to through the already meticulously managed reports as his mind was occupied elsewhere. John, after a general perusal, was satisfied with the reports and did not care to prod any further into matters of business. Mr. Knightley thought he was free to seek out Emma at last when John began to ask him about his prompt departure from them in the previous month. Knowing he could not deflect the accusation he instead opted for a collected confirmation.
“Yes I suppose it was a rather hasty departure. I hope I did not cause offense to your Mrs. Knightley.”
“Offense, no, never. You could not offend Isabella nor myself. I merely asked out of curiosity towards the object of such hurriedness. You seemed most motivated by a letter from Mr. Weston exposing his son's engagement to Ms. Fairfax.” He raised a knowing eyebrow in mocked rebuke.
Mr. Knightley sighed, he knew better than to try and deceive his brother, though he did not wish to have this conversation without expressing his designs to Emma first. John was not the soul of discretion in matters pertaining to the heart, he was often avowed to let his wife in on gossip and goodness knows that would find its way back to Emma eventually.
“It’s not what you imagine.” He finally replied.
“Oh? Pray tell me, what do I think is your reasoning?”
“You imagine me to have been distressed at the news, wishing to intervene perhaps.”
John remained silent, and simply arched his brow in response, teasing his brother in his manipulative, prosecutive manner that his occupation provided for.
He sighed again. “I cannot endanger myself any further on the subject. But rest assured you and Isabella will be the first to know if anything is subject to change.” he replied simply.
“Fine.” John said coolly. “You may have your secrets. Though I may be more inclined than before to investigate them.” He said laughingly, giving his brother a harty slap on the back, taking his leave of the study.
Mr. Knightley was left standing in the study considering his next steps. He so wanted to rush to Emma and reveal his affections, but the more time he spent contemplating the less confident he became. He felt totally vulnerable. He knew his happiness was dependent on her, in part it always had been. Yet he worried. She was his junior and had never expressed any inclination to marry. How was he to persuade her when he could not win a simple argument with her. He was not the lawyer of the family, he had no skills of persuasion, he was truthful and carried no airs to guard himself with. All he could do was hope and pray that he would not miss his opportunity, for he did not think he could recover from such a rejection.
Leaving the study he went in search of the mistress of his fate. He found her and, after joking of the nature of her absence noticed that she was indeed out of spirits. He could not let it go unnoticed, he must ask her.
“Are you quite well, Emma?” He tried to ask as gently as he could
“Why yes, why shouldn’t I be?” she retorted. He could tell she was trying to put him at ease, but it would not do. She could never lie to him without any trouble. He fought against his better judgement and prodded her further.
“You seem preoccupied is all. Like something is vexing you. Is there something on your mind, come you can tell me. We have always been able to speak openly with one another, have we not?” He studied her carefully, eager to know the root of her discomfort.
“I suppose I am thinking of Harriet” was her reply
Harriet?! Why ever would Harriet Smith be causing her such turmoil? He prayed she was done with her meddling in Harriet’s affairs and though he would attest that his original opinion of the girl was slightly lacking she was not so perplexing in character for Emma to be truly vexed over, or so he thought. No this could not be the true nature of her apprehensions, but he humored her nonetheless.
After offering her assurance of Harriet’s safe travels and undeniably eager hostess he could see she was, in fact, still agitated. Why wasn’t she being honest with him? Did they not pride themselves with their honest candor towards one another? He watched her closely and noted her refusal to return his gaze. It would not do, he hated to have her uneasy, especially at Donwell.
“That is not all that occupies your mind though. I can see, there is more.” He said bluntly. She turned from him quickly and he immediately cursed himself for having caused her pain. He was trying to shield her from torment and yet seemed only to be adding to it. How could he be a devoted husband to her if he could not comfort her in her time of need. Then suddenly it dawned on him, her father. Of course her devotion to him would render this kind of silent response. She would never admit to being vexed by his account, yet he knew that she was the most committed daughter in his attendance. As this thought permeated he in turn realized that he could never ask her to leave her father successfully. She was his loyal, faithful companion and would not be taken from him under any condition. He sighed and doing his best to share his feelings in a manner that matched his intent without exposing his truth took her hand.
“Your father, he- that is, I assume you are more worried than you let on- he has frightened us all, certainly, but Mr. Perry is quite adamant that he is much recovered, and he himself appears to be returned to his normal character. Emma, your devotion will never allow you to be easy, but I hope you can take comfort in the fact that we- your friends and neighbors- we are all eager for his well-being. And the more so for his well-being is so entwined with your own.”
He released her hand slowly and looked to her face for a sense of understanding, yet before he could successfully interpret the acknowledgement of his attempts Henry and little John appeared demanding his presence in their play. With a slight bow and warm smile he left her. And as he chased his nephews in pretend his heart was lifted with the idea that it did not matter in which home he dwelled, so long as she was there. For family was his true home, and he knew in the deepest corners of his heart that she was his.
The tormenting Thursday dinner was fast approaching and Emma was as eager as she was apprehensive. Those in attendance would be the current occupants of Hartfield, Ms. Smith, Mr. Knightley, the Mr. Churchills were to come in place of the Westons, who were still confined to home on account of their lovely new addition. Ms. Jane Fairfax and her aunt and grandmother would be expected as well. John had protested at the idea of so large a party, but in Highbury news of a dinner party traveled quickly and Emma felt it her duty (as much her relief) to extend a few extra invitations than was originally intended. Emma reminded him that they had narrowly escaped extending an invitation to the Elton’s had it not been for Mrs. Elton receiving a letter from her sister and brother-in-law in Maple Grove expressing their eager intent to visit Highbury in the very near future. Mrs. Elton had been elated at such news and showed the letter to everyone she could. The Sucklings had therefore been obliged to solidify their visit and were to be in Highbury in three weeks time. Mrs. Elton felt completely overwhelmed at their quick approach and eagerly told whoever would listen of the multitude of tasks she had yet to complete in anticipation of their arrival.
In regards to Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, Emma was eager to assuage their guilt and apprehensions in relation to herself. Frank had written his mother-in-law a very detailed account of his misbehavior and disdain of his own appearance in regards to Ms. Woodhouse. He went on in lengthy paragraphs of her good nature and how warmly he thought of her, how blameworthy he felt in misleading her. He went on to regard her, in the most affectionate of terms, as the sister he had always wanted in equality of age. Emma of course forgave him and felt no animosity towards either him or his betrothed.
The day before the dinner Emma was not expecting any company other than that of the ones already among them in Hartfield. She was therefore most surprised when Jane Fairfax came to call on her in the early afternoon hours. Ms. Fairfax walked into the parlor rather hesitantly and curtseyed quickly upon seeing Ms. Woodhouse. Emma greeted her warmly and offered her some tea. Ms. Fairfax refused but instead requested the honor of Emma’s presence in a turn about the grounds. Emma agreed, happy that Jane expressed desire in her company for once.
They walked cordially for some time remarking about the gentle transition into autumn the weather was permitting. How the trees were just beginning to color and would soon fill Highbury with the most astonishing ornamentation. Jane inquired into Emma’s nephews and remarked on how enjoyable and good natured they appeared, what fine young men they were to become. They spent a little longer continuing in this fashion until Emma felt compelled to wish Jane congratulations. She composed herself in the most affable and honest manner. She was truly happy that their liaison had resulted in such a momentously happy ending. Jane was stunned for a brief moment and then replied…
“I have attempted to call upon you for days, so eager to apologize for my actions and avail myself to your kindness. I am most ashamed for my dismissive, cold regard, it was totally unwarranted and I fear had cost me a friendship I should have only been too lucky to ever hope for.”
Emma grabbed her hands and said earnestly that she too had felt shame in her conduct and had felt so foolish and remorseful that her actions had been the cause of grief to Ms. Fairfax. They were both so keen for forgiveness that they agreed to forget all the disagreeable matters and begin their relationship anew, and on much friendlier terms. This filled Emma’s heart enormously. She felt a companionship with Ms. Fairfax now that she was sure would last a lifetime.
The two of them spent the remainder of the afternoon cheerfully discussing the future plans of the soon to be Churchill’s. They talked of wedding details and made some wonderful strides in regards to menu and entertainment. They talked of the undisclosed courtship that piqued the curiosity of everyone in Highbury, and it gave Emma a delightful insight into Frank’s truest nature. By the time dinner was announced Emma insisted that Jane stay and though she dearly wanted to, Jane had plans of her own, but was most excited to continue their conversation tomorrow.
Emma was so elated at the prospect of this new friend that her mind had been put quite at ease as to the events of tomorrow. She felt, in the truest sense possible, that in having a friend like Jane in attendance she could not, and would not, be alone in her spirit even if her friend was not privy to any sense of turmoil.
The clock in the parlor announced the five o’clock hour, though it was an unnecessary reminder as Emma had been rhythmically checking the time for hours. Any moment the footmen might announce the presence of guests and though every necessary detail had been attended to most diligently, Emma was still apprehensive to the details of the most delicate matters of the night. This was her chance to truly understand the level of attachment between Harriet and Mr. Knightley.
Emma had meticulously designed for Harriet and Mr. Knightley to be seated next to one another whilst also placing herself in a position to be privy to any conversations they may have. Though she dearly wanted the support of her new intimacies with Jane near her, Emma knew better than to place herself in a position to be distracted. She had therefore positioned her brother-in-law to be at her right hand. John was not necessarily an introvert in nature, though he had a tendency to be dismissive of unnecessary socialization and Emma knew he would be inclined to reservations. This made him the perfect neighbor for her intended purposes at dinner. While she reviewed her plans one last time the arrival of Jane and the Mr. Churchills was announced. Emma made her way eagerly to greet them.
Mr. Churchill senior was a rather timid man. He was very tall and looked rather stately in appearance but his manner was much quieter and gentler than his person suggested. Emma found him to be an agreeable sort of man and was pleased at his introduction to her father, she thought they would have much in common and many mutually pleasing topics of conversation. Shortly after their arrival Mr. Knightley’s carriage appeared carrying Mrs. and Ms. Bates inside. Mr. Knightley held open the door and attended to the ladies diligently. Whilst Emma was noticing his Chivalry she was shocked at the appearance of Harriet exiting his carriage as well. Emma felt a large pit in her stomach and was sure the color had drained entirely from her face. This was surely a testament of his affections! She tried to remind herself that this was not out of character for him as he had once done similarly in regards to Ms. Fairfax whom he had certainly not been in love with.
He greeted her sincerely, removing his hat while speaking to her.
“I hope we have not kept you waiting”
“I think I shall permit you this offence as you have brought half of our party with you” She tried to sound grateful.
“Ah, well, I believe it is a waste to use one’s carriage for only oneself, and as you are so adamant for gentlemen to arrive at a dinner party in a carriage, I could not disappoint you again dear Emma.” He smiled at her playfully and she laughed at her own folly as they walked into the house together.
As the party settled in the parlor, Emma contrived for Harriet and Ms. Fairfax to be seated next to each other. Emma thought this was the safest place for Harriet and was making her rounds when she was stopped by Mr. Frank Churchill.
“Ms. Woodhouse you must allow me to express my eternal gratitude to you.” He said matter of factly.
“While I appreciate the gesture, it is most unnecessary. We are, after all, friends and friendship shall always provide for the acquittal of our lesser qualities and the extension of grace in our doubts.”
He sighed as if a great weight had been lifted from him and took her hand, giving it an affectionate squeeze.
“Jane has told me how gracious you have been with her, she is most grateful of your renewed intimacies. Selfishly this news has made me excessively happy. It is a relief that she should be secure in a friendship of closer proximity and to one so lovely in all qualities.” He remarked.
“I believe I am the lucky one in that regard. She has had more to forgive in our relationship and as you are well aware conducts herself in the most saintly manner. She is all loveliness and civility.” Emma replied.
“She is an angel sent to me on earth!” He declared.
“Then I trust she will be treated thusly.” Emma said, giving him a look of mock reproof. He bowed to her smirking as she moved on to attend her guests.
Emma was beginning to make her way to settle with Harriet and Jane when she heard her name being called by Mr. Knightley himself. He was standing next to the fire with his brother and motioned for her to join them. She walked over hesitantly, trying to contain her nerves.
“John and I were just discussing the nature of your feisty infancy. I thought you would like to be privy to his account.”
Emma laughed and eagerly awaited the tales of nostalgia she held so dear as they connected her and Mr. Knightley in a manner that Harriet could never obtain.
“While I agree with Mrs. Weston’s account that Isabella and I were most likely the archetypes of your behavior, I do think some of the culpability falls on one Ms. Taylor for never censuring our pursuits.” John remarked.
“Now I cannot agree with you there. She was not your governess. It was not under the pretense of her employment to make corrections for the Knightley household.” Emma rebuked.
“No, however, she did not appear to advise Isabella otherwise, in fact, if I did not know better I might be inclined to think Ms. Taylor rather encouraged her.” He baited.
Mr. Knightley chimed in to the defense. “I daresay that a Ms. Taylor’s judgement on the matter would be much the same as a Mrs. Weston’s, and as I was the eldest witness of such accounts can appease Ms. Taylor’s design by simply reminding you brother, that had Isabella not been allowed to defend herself she would not have grown up to be the woman to gain your affections.”
“Yes, I daresay you are correct brother. I find that Isabella is one of the few people who can challenge me with any success, it is a quality I find most becoming.”
“Oh please.” Said Emma incredulously. “You have prompted him to say such things have you not Mr. Knightley?”
“And why would I do that?” He asked her sincerely
“You wish to have support in disclaiming my previous argument that men do not like women who argue.”
“I think my dear sister that I can appease you there and say you are partially correct. Men do not seem to mind vivaciousness but cannot stand to be corrected, it is our one true defect.” John answered.
“Your one?” Emma asked mockingly. The two gentlemen laughed heartily as Emma continued.
“So, what say you to silliness then? What place does silliness hold in the perspective of your sex. I am led to believe it is a most disagreeable quality.” Emma prompted, hoping for clarity.
“Oh silliness is indeed most unbecoming.” John agreed.
“I’m not so sure, to a certain, measured degree, silliness has grown on me.” replied Mr. Knightley.
Emma was stunned. Could this be in regard to Harriet? Before Emma could make any further inquiry dinner was announced. Emma found it extremely difficult to move herself towards the dinning room. Her heart was pounding and her mind turning over this new information and all she truly wanted to do was run upstairs and escape to her room. How wearisome it was to pretend that one was well when they were really experiencing the weight of the world.
The dinner began without a hitch. Everyone in their meticulously designed placements and the first course was distributed beautifully. Conversation was slim at Emma’s side of the table and was confined to remarks pertaining to the pleasing decor Emma had selected. Mr. Churchill senior and Mr. Woodhouse were cheerfully discussing the topic of rich foods and how detrimental they could be to one’s health. Frank Churchill gave Emma a slight nod on observation of this before directing his attentions back to his betrothed and her aunt.
Emma, usually prone to careful prodding in social matters, found herself adopting more of her brother-in-law’s mannerisms at present and was relieved when John began discussing topics of the upcoming Donwell Harvest with his brother. Mr. Knightley was subject to hold a dinner in conclusion of the harvest season at Donwell. All his tenants were to attend and much of Highbury was invited to partake in the festivities, it was one of Emma’s favorite events of the year. John was inquiring as to the proposed date of said dinner suggesting that, if Harriet were so inclined, she would remain with them in Brunswick Square until the event when the London Knightley family would return to Highbury.
“It is a few weeks longer than your intended stay, however it would be a most effortless conclusion of your journey. I am sure Isabella would be most inclined to the idea of you staying longer with us.” John suggested to Harriet.
“Oh that would be most civil, I should enjoy that most of all, so long as it is no imposition. Though I do wonder, Mr. Knightley, how you manage to organize such a large and extravagant event such as this every year without assistance? It must be a very tiresome task, though I have heard it is always most anticipated and fondly thought of among your tenants.” Harriet inquired.
Mr. Knightley took his time in contemplating his response. “While it is a laborious effort to hold such an event each year, it is not unwelcome on my part. Though I do worry it is more an effort on account of my housekeeper. She maintains her enthusiasm that the event is most dear to her, though I fear the nostalgia of tradition may wane in the coming years and it is my hope that she shall not be subject to suffer with only my assistance in the design for much longer.”
Emma felt her heart stop, she was sure. Subject to suffer with only his assistance?! He truly did have every intention of securing a Mrs. Knightley then. Her greatest fears had been confirmed and she was expected to remain calm and neutral. She struggled to catch her breath feeling it catch in her chest as though it were attempting to restart her heart.
“To be sure, Mr. Knightley, you will have no great struggle in obtaining help. I can only imagine how many young ladies would be most keen to assist you.” Harriet said smiling tenderly.
To this Mr. Knightley made no response except a slight arch of his brow while he returned his attentions to the course before him. Emma finally gained her courage and made the suggestion that he may always have the ready assistance of Mrs. Isabella Knightley at his disposal.
“Though I am confident-” She continued, “that you have always been able to attend to such matters on your own with great success. You would not wish to be hasty in securing lasting help.” She finished, hoping to put the matter to rest. However, when she looked up from her bisque, she found Mr. Knightley’s eyes piercing through her as if searching for her meaning at such words. She thought she detected a degree of hurt and immediately regretted her addition to the topic.
“Indeed, Isabella will always be at the ready to assist you brother, and when she is old enough I am sure little Emma will be most willing.” John replied lazily.
Emma could take his gaze no longer and retreated back to her bowl, chastising herself for her jealousy that made her appear most unfeeling. She must find a way to make it up to him. She absolutely hated to be the cause of his distress, and though she could not bring herself to rekindle their interrupted conversation on the day of Miss Weston’s arrival, she vowed to work diligently to attend to his feelings more sensitively from here on out.
The remainder of dinner continued in a much more checked and civil manner. The topic of matrimony was restricted to the upcoming celebration of Mr. Churchill and Ms. Fairfax, though it was only mentioned in the most constrained of terms so as to not overshadow the period of mourning still in observation in the Churchill household. By the end of the meal Emma was quite exhausted, racking her conscious for a way to make careful amends with Mr. Knightley.
The women removed to the parlor and the men remained for their after dinner drink. Ms. Bates entrapped Harriet in a conversation about her travels asking her a number of questions from the manner of her wardrobe to her abilities in travel and even her apprehensions of London air. Emma was most appreciative of this distraction and even more so as it allowed the perpetrator's niece to remove herself for a private conversation with the hostess. Jane happily moved over to sit next to Emma and, once secured of the privacy of their arrangement, lowered her voice to ask Emma if all was well.
“You seemed troubled over dinner. I could not hear the conversations occurring on your end of the table, so I thought I would ask.” Jane said to her reassuringly.
Emma felt her entire body relax. How nice it was to have someone to talk to, even if she could not be entirely forthcoming.
“I will confess to being disturbed by the manner of conversation on my end of the table. Though I cannot disclose every detail, it is a relief to have the companionship of an understanding spirit such as yourself.” Emma replied.
Jane considered her and in the most careful manner inquired as to the amount of detail Emma could freely disclose. Emma contemplated and decided that it would be no great trouble to impart with the concern she held on behalf of Mr. Knightley.
“I am worried” She began, “that my dear friend Mr. Knightley has set himself up to censure with an idea of conjuring a match for himself that could greatly injure his standing in the eyes of so many.”
Jane’s shock was apparent, she covered her mouth from letting out an audible gasp.
“You do not mean, you cannot mean, Ms. Smith?”
“I cannot confirm nor deny the object of his affections, I have no tangible evidence of any attachment. Though I can confirm his increased interest in the idea of matrimony.”
“Surely, Ms. Woodhouse, he will be sensible in his attachments. Though I myself find Ms. Smith a most good natured creature, I am not however averse to the censure in which you speak. It is most wearisome on both accounts in question and should not be attempted by the faint of heart. I am not sure how I managed to make it out alive in my own case and it was not so disparaging a match as the one in question.”
“To be sure, Ms. Fairfax, I would never doubt Mr. Knightley’s judgement and my concern is merely the result of friendship on both accounts. I am deeply fond of Harriet and it has been my dearest wish to see her happily settled. Again, I cannot confirm the allegation on my part, but I have my suspicions, which have been wrong in the past and cannot be totally relied upon. Pray, do not divulge this information to anyone. I would be totally remiss to cause injury to either party, but I must confess it is the greatest solace to have you to confide in.”
“You may be assured of my discretion. I shall not breathe a word, no mention shall pass my lips but in total confidence to yourself.” Jane said reassuringly.
“I thank you Ms. Fairfax.”
“Please, call me Jane, I should be most happy to retire any cold formalities between us.”
“I would like that as well, you must call me Emma. This shall be the beginning of a new era of friendship among us.”
“If you are so inclined Emma, I would offer to keep a careful eye on the manner of your apprehensions?”
“Oh, I would be most appreciative. Though I do not wish to trouble you.”
“For a friend, it is no trouble at all.” Jane answered.
Emma sighed happily, what a wonderful conclusion to such a disastrous situation. Before long the men rejoined their party and Emma found herself entertained with the one-sided conversation between Ms. Bates and Mr. Churchill senior. They seemed well matched for their degree of acquaintance. Ms. Bates was inclined to speak on all things trivial and easy, Mr. Churchill senior was practiced at measured and uncontroversial responses. After a half hour continued in this manner Mr. Woodhouse began to exhibit signs of fatigue and his guests took their cue. Emma walked the party to the foyer and began her goodbyes. When she finally came to Mr. Knightley she was unable to form her thoughts concretely and was saddened by his measured attempt of departure. She watched desperately as he walked away from her without her showing the slightest sign of amendment. It would not do.
“Mr. Knightley!” She called after him. He turned abruptly and, removing his hat, returned to her side with rapt agility.
“I just, that is-I mean…” Oh why couldn’t her mind form a proper sentence!
“Thank you.” She finally said.
“What ever for?”
“Thank you for bringing Harriet and Mrs. and Ms. Bates tonight. You are always so thoughtful in your regards to others.” She said sheepishly
“It is no matter, Emma. I am fully able to admit my lacking preconception of Ms. Smith. I am pleased she has been able to be a friend to you.”
“Yes... her friendship has been most entertaining.” Emma said, trying to contain her regret. After a moment of silence she continued.
“I hope you know how greatly I appreciate your friendship as well. For though Harriet has been a companion to me when I lacked sisterhood, you have been a friend to me when I lacked judgement.” She said in earnest.
He sighed, and taking her hand in his own, looked upon it as he replied.
“Though I am your senior in age and have therefore taken it upon myself to criticize you in substance, I hope you know that I would not sacrifice our friendship for the world. We may always be friends. I only hope that when I begin to lack judgement your treatment is far more gracious than that of my own.” And with that he released her hand and took his leave.
Emma could feel her breath leave with him and the subsequent tears that followed did not behave themselves as they slid fervently down her face. She did not wait up with her brother-in-law and immediately took to her room, confined to the fate that Mr. Knightley was in fact setting his sights on Harriet. Her only comfort was that soon Harriet would be gone to London and Emma might be able to avoid the object of her heartbreak.
Upon his arrival to Donwell, Mr. Knightley kicked off his boots and trudged his way into his study. Collapsing in his leather armchair he covered his face with his hands and let out a frustrated moan. What a horrid evening! He had hoped that Emma would be more responsive to his suggestion of a one Mrs. Knightley yet she retained her steadfast retention of their relationship remaining that of friendship. He was beginning to think that they might never grow past that. While he maintained his sentiments, they would always be friends, he was deeply distressed at the notion of them never being moreso.
He found himself picking up and rifling through a box of their old correspondence. Most of them letters of invitation or intention of Mr. Knightley’s visits to Hartfield. His favorite however were the ones received upon his visits to London. He picked up the one from when their niece had been born a little over a year ago.
Dear Mr. Knightley,
Thank you for your letter, though I daresay I gave father quite a fright upon reading it. My enthusiasm could not be matched. A niece! Finally! Though you know I dote upon our wonderful selection of nephews you cannot disavowal me of the excitement this news has brought.
I so wish I could have been present for her arrival. I appreciate your accounts of her beauty and delicacy. I shall however make my own judgements upon making her acquaintance in person, but for now your recommendations will have to suit me.
Please find attached a blanket and bonnet for her presentation. These shall be the first of many packages in the weeks to come and you must relay to me her use of them all.
Though he was inclined to sometimes think her silly, she always had the ability to make him laugh. They shared the same dry sarcastic humor that required a certain degree of cleverness to understand. He found himself rather missing those moments in their friendship. Ever since he had admitted the degree of his feelings towards her he had found it much more difficult to tease her without a degree of trepidation and, he thought, she had also appeared more reserved as of late. She must be in tune to the nature of his affections and was meaning to put him at bay.
Reading through the letter again he vowed to himself that he would find a way back to their easy and effortless exchanges. He missed his friend who he could tease and expect just treatment in return. It would not be easy to repress his endearments but he would do anything to keep her happy. Retiring to his chambers that night he tried to forget the emptiness of the house around him and pushed the images of her sharing his bed out of his head.
Autumn approached Highbury with a gentleness that assuaged its inhabitants like a lullaby, until at last they were met with the season’s dramatic ornamentation and their senses reawakened. Harriet had been in London for almost a month and her correspondence with Emma had subdued over that time. She had been to see a dentist for a rather troublesome tooth, taken in the latest fashions, and been to tea with all of Isabella’s dear friends. Emma was pleased that her social obligations had rendered her almost too busy to reply to Emma’s brief, yet polite, inquiries.
Hartfield was rather quieter than usual. Jane had removed with the Campbell’s back to Weymouth for one last visit before the wedding, the Mr. Churchill’s back to Enscombe, and even the Elton’s were too busy with their in-laws to call on them, though to Emma the last was no great loss at all. The most noticeable change was that of Mr. Knightley. His visits to Hartfield had been rather limited as of late and his company slightly muted. He was occupied with the season and though he stuck to this excuse in his relayed regrets, Emma knew that was only half his reasoning. He must be avoiding Highbury due to its lack of Ms. Smith. His calls were brief and few and far between, she felt the sting of his absence keenly and, try as she might, she could not dampen his occupation of her thoughts.
One day, about midway through the October month, Mr. Perry came to call upon Mr. Woodhouse for one of their many tete-a-tetes. Mr. Perry had convinced Mr. Woodhouse to take a few turns among the shrubbery with him on account of the beautiful weather and slightly warmer temperature. Emma took the time to continue her needlework. She was working on a new bonnet for Miss Anna Weston as she had quite grown out of Emma’s first attempt. Emma was concentrating closely on a french knot and, in consequence, did not hear the arrival of Mr. Knightley. He opened the parlor door rather suddenly and the shock of the moment caused Emma to poke herself with the needle. She tried to suppress the exclamation of pain but it was to no avail. Mr. Knightley walked to his usual spot pulling out his handkerchief and presenting it to Emma on his way. He sat down and watched her for a moment. His expression was rather pained and apprehensive.
“To what do we owe the pleasure?” She asked nervously.
“I have some news for you, but I do not think you will like it.” He finally admitted.
She dropped his handkerchief in shock. This was it, this was the time of his confession. Perhaps he had already proposed to Harriet and was telling Emma after the fact. She felt as if the room was disappearing before her very eyes and she was falling into the abyss that was left. Mr. Knightley knelt down to pick up the dropped fabric and in turn sat next to Emma on the settee. He placed the handkerchief gently back in her injured hand inspecting the mark left by the needle.
“I have been rather busy preparing for the Harvest as you know. There were some accounts that had to be delivered to London. I sent Mr. Robert Martin in my absence and he has just returned with the news that he and Ms. Smith are engaged.” He watched her very closely upon this revelation, studying her every feature.
If Emma felt shocked at Mr. Knightley’s arrival, it was nothing compared to the surprise she felt now. She could hardly believe it to be true. No, indeed it seemed entirely too good to be true on her account.
“Are you quite certain that Harriet has given her consent? Is there any room for misunderstanding here?” She asked cautiously
“Misunderstanding? Not at all. No, I just heard it from the man himself. Robert Martin holds no vanity, and he is sure to be certain on account of his previous heartbreak in regards to Ms. Smith. No, I am quite positive in his account, though I know this will not be welcomed news to you Emma, I hope you may in time warm up to the idea of him.”
Her heart began to beat very quickly and she had to constrain herself from leaping up in joy. However as quickly as her elation began it dissipated with the concern for his feelings. How his heart must be breaking, she thought!
“I know” she began hesitantly, “that I held some prejudice in the past in regards Mr. Martin, but I am willing to admit that such judgement is unwarranted, so long as you remain unwavered in your opinion that their liaison is a worthy one?” she prompted
“I do not wish you to imagine that it was my design in sending Robert to London to play the matchmaker between them-”
“Oh no, no I do not think that at all! I know your judgement is far too tempered to subject to the mistakes of my past.” Emma cried vehemently.
“I do think this match will suit them both. Robert is an amiable man and every ounce a gentleman in his actions. I think he will make Ms. Smith a very good husband.”
“Then I shall wish them both every happiness.” she replied evenly.
Emma sighed as the room began to dissolve back to its normal appearance before her. Her senses were returning and she was finally able to take notice of his hand still gently wrapped around hers, tenderly holding in place the handkerchief over her injured finger. As soon as she did take notice he pulled away and stood up.
“It is almost time for supper, will you stay, Mr. Knightley?” She asked hopefully
“Oh… no, I’m sorry I cannot stay tonight. I need to look over the reports that Robert has returned. No, I just ventured over to tell you the news before you heard it elsewhere.” He looked around, avoiding her gaze. “But I shall be back tomorrow for my usual visit and can attend dinner then.”
“Good. I think father has rather taken offense at your absence.” she said in mocked accusation.
Sensing the jest in her tone he replied in turn, “How rude of me. I shall have to make my apologies to him, though I am rather pressed for time. Perhaps you can relay them dear Emma, though you may want to put down the needle first, it appears your ability to multitask is rather lacking these days.”
“I should like to see you attempt to converse whilst doing needlework, I daresay your injuries would be more vast than my own.” She retorted.
“I daresay they would, and I am sure my product would be far lacking the beauty of yours.” He said earnestly.
“Undoubtedly so.” She joked, smiling warmly up at him.
He bowed deeply and turned to quit the room. Emma’s mind was swimming. Was he distraught at the news? If he was, why would he venture so quickly to relay it to herself? Perhaps he was looking for solace. Maybe he came to tell her in hopes that she would disparage the match yet again and wanted to hear someone as upset on the matter as he. Or was it possible that he was not disturbed? Did she dare hope that he was in fact indifferent to Ms. Smith or that his attachment had only been the effect of mere fancy? Whatever the case Emma said her prayers of gratitude and silently rejoiced. Mr. Knightley was safe and all was as it should be. Well, almost all. There was still the matter of her being desperately in love with him and she was totally lacking any idea of how to move forward with her feelings.
The news of Harriet’s engagement to Robert Martin filled Highbury quickly. They were to be wed shortly after the Harvest was over. Having been in love with her for well over a year Mr. Martin did not wish to wait any longer than necessary to make her his wife. However before the festivities of the Martin’s, the Churchill’s were to have their own celebration.
Emma received her invitation for the Churchill wedding three weeks prior to the Donwell harvest dinner and the date was to be directly after the dinner. There was but one looming issue. The wedding was to be in London. Emma felt torn, she had never traveled outside of Highbury and the anxiety it should cause her father would be great. Emma did not see how it was possible for her to attend if it meant either conveying or leaving behind her father. She was quite distraught at the idea of declining the invitation until Mr. Knightley suggested that perhaps John and Isabella would remain at Hartfield while she was away. Mr. Woodhouse did not enjoy this proposal, though he did not dismiss it either. There was however the issue of a traveling companion for Emma. The Weston’s and Bates would be leaving earlier than Emma intended and she could not go along with them. Mr. Knightley had a solution to this issue as well. He would be her chaperone, they would ride together in his carriage and, along with the Weston’s, would stay in the Knightley residence of Brunswick Square. With all logistics settled Emma was happily anticipating her first journey outside of the Highbury area.
Shortly after her invitation arrived Emma received another letter from Jane. This correspondence contained plans of a brief stay in Highbury before the wedding and she was most looking forward to meeting with Emma again. Emma did not have to wait long, only a few days passed between the arrival of Jane’s letter and the arrival of Jane, and what a happy sight that was for Emma. They greeted each other warmly and decided a walk was needed to catch one another up on their current affairs. Emma was relieved to be able to speak openly about the news of Harriet’s engagement and what it might mean for Mr. Knightley. Jane had heard of the engagement from her aunt and had been very keen to discuss it with Emma. They relayed their equal shock at the agreement but were in harmony with their opinions that it should be a most advantageous and happy match.
“Forgive me for suggesting my dear friend, but you seem rather relieved at the news. Is it possible that your investment in the matter had more levity than just friendly concern?” Jane inquired gently. Emma was hesitant, she had not yet voiced her feelings and though she was frightened to admit her attachment she knew her confession would be safe with a companion so understanding to the circumstance.
“Is it so terribly apparent? I have been totally overcome with the shock of my own feelings.” They ceased their stroll and Emma felt the alleviation that accompanies the release of suppressing one's feelings for so long. She could not help the tears welling up in her eyes.
“I think I have loved him my whole life. I had no idea how dear he was to me until I was threatened with the possibility of him belonging to another.”
The weight that had been settling in Emma’s chest took a break for the first time in weeks. She felt clarity and assurance of herself in this confession, it was the first time in so long that Emma finally felt herself. Jane seemed to sense this and reassuringly took her friend’s hand.
“I’m so pleased you told me. I understand the weight of concealment and the sheer relief that accompanies its release. You can be assured of my secrecy, but I hope you know how very much I will be wishing and praying for your happiness in the matter. I think you would make the most excellent couple.” She added with a sly smile.
It was exactly what Emma needed to hear. With joy in her heart for the first time in what felt like ages they walked on. Perhaps she might have the courage to share her feelings with him after all.
Feeling confident and exhibiting confidence turned out to be two very different things Emma learned. Whenever she had convinced herself to approach Mr. Knightley the moment she saw him all conviction failed. She told herself a million excuses; his heart needed time to become open again, maybe he would find her advances abhorrent, they were better off remaining friends. Doubts plagued and mocked her daily, it was absolutely infuriating. She decided to wait until after Jane and Frank’s wedding. She did not think she could handle the awkwardness of having him as her chaperone and being rejected.
The Donwell harvest dinner was approaching and Emma was apprehensively awaiting her meeting with Harriet again. She wanted to attend to Harriet’s feelings and support her in her choice, she only hoped that Harriet was as elated at the prospect as the rest of Highbury. She worried that Harriet would feel resigned rather than contented, and though Emma did not want Harriet to attach herself to Mr. Knightley, she still dearly wished her friend to be happy.
Emma would have her chance to evaluate Harriet’s sentiments before the dinner as John and Isabella decided to arrive at Hartfield two days prior to the event. John was anxious to settle some accounts for the estate and Isabella was called to help review the finishing touches at Donwell. The day of their arrival was dull and dreary and the crisp temperatures of autumn had chilled the air. Despite the less than ideal weather Mr. Woodhouse awaited his eldest daughter’s arrival anxiously, often rushing outdoors to check if their carriage approached. Finally at half past one the sound of the horses arrived and the occupants of Brunswick Square were deposited. Emma was elated to see her sister again and promptly took hold of her dear niece whilst ushering her nephews into the house. Harriet seemed rather timid upon entering Hartfield and kept her distance from Emma, greeting her with a curt nod and a rather muted smile.
Emma knew the duty of leading the conversation would fall to her, as it was she that needed to set the tone for their friendship from here on out. It was, after all, Emma’s original influence that had convinced Harriet to reject Robert Martin after his first proposal. Emma gently relinquished her niece to the careful arms of her father and walked over to Harriet. She put on her warmest countenance and took Harriet’s hands in her own.
“My dear friend, I hope you enjoyed your journey.” She said honestly
“Oh yes, your sister and brother-in-law were the most gracious hosts.”
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence between them and Harriet looked very apprehensive. After a deep breath Harriet continued. “You will have heard the news, I am sure Ms. Woodhouse, that is, I am to be married… To Mr. Martin.” Harriet could not meet Emma’s gaze upon her last sentence and instead looked to her hands.
“I did hear, and I offer my sincerest congratulations. I hope this is a welcomed arrangement for you dear friend.”
Harriet looked shocked and was finally able to look Emma in the eyes, searching for truth in her sentiments.
“Yes.” She said finally “Yes, I believe it shall. He was most ardent in his affections. He claims to have been in love with me for over a year. And he pronounced his feelings with such civility and alacrity, I found myself unable to say no. He was so very sincere.”
“Then he is the luckiest man of my acquaintance, and I hope very much to get to know him more.” Emma replied, smiling widely at her friend. The relief at this revelation was equal to both parties and the two embraced happily at such a welcome conclusion.
It was the day of the Donwell harvest and Mr. Knightley was utterly spent. There was a natural fatigue that accompanied the fruition of the harvest season, he knew this, yet this year his tiredness seemed to stem from a multitude of outlets. Most of all his heart. It had been many weeks since he had resolved to restrain his romantic feelings towards Emma, sensing a resistance from her that he did not wish to pester for fear of losing her entirely. It was absolutely exhausting. He was thankful that he had the excuse of the season to hide behind yet he was unsure how he could keep up this facade going further. He had been mostly successful in his attempts to reawaken the lightheartedness of their friendship and Emma’s reception had been reanimated in reception, but the veil of suppression was beginning to take its toll.
Only a few hours remained until guests were to arrive and Mr. Knightley was expecting the early arrival of his brother and sister-in-law. Isabella had been most helpful in the final arrangements of the day and she had agreed to arrive early to finish the endmost details. John, he suspected, was eager for a little solitude before the festivities, a trait they both shared. When the carriage arrived he was surprised to find that Isabella had remained at Hartfield. Little Emma had not slept well the night before and Isabella did not want to leave her just yet. Instead she had supplied Emma with a detailed list and a note of apology for the host.
“Isabella was most apologetic at the sudden change of course.” John supplied.
“It is but no matter, I am just as confident in the abilities of Emma as I am of your Mrs. Knightley.” He replied cordially bowing his head towards Emma. She smiled warmly in reply and John, taking his unnecessary que, eagerly left them for a quick walk about the grounds.
“I see you come bearing direction.” He noted.
“Oh yes, Isabella was quite specific as to the order of appeals.” Emma replied.
“Well, I will not keep you. I daresay you know your way around, but should you need me I’ll be in my study, and Mrs. Reynolds will be at your disposal, though-”
“I shall not bother her if I can help it.” Emma interjected, finishing his thought. He smiled brightly at this. He always enjoyed her ability to know his mind and on intensive days like this it was a most welcome quality. With that, they walked into the house together and she went straight to work. He couldn’t help the images of her acting as mistress of his domain that accompanied her help, it felt absolutely just. Shaking his head he pushed them out of his mind and carried on to his study, it would not do to dwell in his daydreams, not when it seemed their foundation was crumbling.
Though the harvest was well underway and all accounts settled, Mr. Knightley still liked to double check his work. He had found after his first solo dinner that many farmers would like to discuss plans for the next year and if he did not have the previous years numbers at the ready he would be caught off his guard. He therefore spent the next few hours perusing reports and making notes pertaining to the next year. He was a diligent keeper of his records. He had learned rather early from his father, who took all direction from their mother. It was Mrs. Knightley that had been the true intellect of the family. She was always occupied in the running of the estate and took great pride in giving the final look over all matters. The Knightley’s had a very equal marriage, and growing up with them as a model George would never allow for anything different in his own. When his mother had died his father seemed lost. It was not long until Mr. Knightley senior passed away. It seemed he could not bear to live without her, and though this left George feeling rather unprepared and alone, he could not help but feel comforted by the fact that his parents did not remain apart for long. About an hour before guests were to arrive Mr. Knightley heard a gentle knock on the door of his study. Emma timidly opened the door, and peeked around the frame.
“Come in.” He answered. She walked in holding her sister's list examining the room before her. She had never been in his private study before and felt a little displaced, though in his perception she was most welcome.
“There is only an hour left.” She told him. “I have been instructed to pick out your attire for the event, though... I do not wish to pry. It was Isabella’s direction, not my own.” She added hastily. He laughed being able to hear his sister-in-law’s voice in his head, commanding Emma that she must pick him out something smart to wear and, “for heaven’s sake do not let him traipse around in his work boots!”
“It is no great imposition, and I believe your sister would chastise us both for not complying.” He joked. She sighed in relief as he led her out of his study and to his chambers. The awkwardness of this task did not dawn on him until he saw her standing in his room. He felt his pulse quicken and the color drain from his face. How picturesque she looked standing there before his wardrobe, inspecting his attire. She held up an emerald green coat and brought it over to him, holding it up in front of his person.
“Hmmmm.” She studied. “Hold that up please.” She went back and fetched a crisp white shirt. She held it up inside the coat, pushing them against his chest and he willed with all his might for his heart to stop racing.
“Yes, that will work quite nicely.” She said, still studying his ensemble. Suddenly she turned her attention to his gaze, “The black pants, and wellington boots, the dark ones with the short heel.” She instructed quickly. He nodded perfunctorily in response, unable to form his thoughts into words. She turned hastily and hurried to quit his room, leaving him entirely out of breath.
Just outside of Mr. Knightley’s bedchambers Emma slumped against the wall covering her face in her hands. She let out a frustrated sigh and cursed Isabella for pushing them together in such a manner. It was as if they were children again and Isabella had cleverly conjured up a very specific form of torment for Emma. Now she would have to assuage the images of him dressing from her head. She did not have time to delay in this manner, guests would be arriving soon and she must make sure everything was in place. She pushed herself up and, straightening her posture, returned her attention to the task at hand.
She was downstairs taking one last glance over the guest list when he emerged, dressed and ready. He was somehow dignified yet unceremonious in his appearance, he had a way of looking like he always belonged without any conceit. As he approached her she felt the thudding of her heart and the blush in her face start to rise.
“I trust this will do then?” He asked her motioning to his appearance.
“Oh yes, I am never wrong about these things.” She said assuredly.
He laughed. “Nonsensical as always.” He said with a grin. She turned to take her leave, not wishing to impose as hostess like Mrs. Elton so often did, yet as she left he called her back.
“You’ll not wait with me?” He asked intently.
“As I am not the hostess, nor the mistress of Donwell it would be impertinent of me to welcome guests.” She said evenly, trying to mask her excitement.
“Surely you do not mean to wait alone in the great hall? Besides, Isabella and John usually attend to guests alongside me and seeing as they are not present I can imagine no greater surrogate.”
“Fine, if you insist. Though I will submit my duties when Isabella arrives.” She said directly, praying that her sister would be slightly delayed in her arrival. He nodded and she took her place beside him as the first carriages arrived. No one seemed to bat an eye seeing Emma aside Mr. Knightley upon their admittance to Donwell and she found herself welcomed and accepted by his tenants who all greeted her with warmth and enthusiasm. “Oh, Ms. Woodhouse” They would say “How lovely to see you again.”
When the Martin family arrived they were all grace and civility and Emma felt so pleased that soon her friend was to be among them. After almost a half hour of greeting a steady flow of guests the rest of the Hartfield party arrived. Little John and Henry raced to greet their uncle and Emma took her place on her father’s arm, she turned her head however to check on the host and he gave her a warm smile and slight nod in return.
As the guests took their seats and the first course distributed, Emma found herself across from Harriet and Mr. Martin. She was pleased to see them looking perfectly happy in one another’s company and was eager for the opportunity to get to know them as a pair. She was pleased to find that they had many mutual interests and complementary mannerisms. Harriet was apt to be very smiley and merry, Mr. Martin warm and tranquil. They balanced each other quite harmoniously. Emma thoroughly enjoyed their conversation. Mr. Martin was well read and had excellent, even, manners. He was interested in the collection of riddles that Emma and Harriet had begun last winter and after Harriet implored, agreed to relinquish some of his own scripts for addition.
Before long the meal was over and there was some talk of dancing. Isabella offered her skills in a few selections of country dances on the piano forte. Emma was happy to have any excuse to dance and spent the first with her brother-in-law, the second with Mr. Martin and the third with the host of the evening. After which the natural formation of conversation took place and Emma found herself alone in attendance with Mr. Knightley.
“I saw you speaking with Robert Martin during dinner.” He prompted
“Yes, I was very glad at the chance to further our acquaintance. He is everything you have made him up to be, very amiable and most noble in his character. You were right, and I can admit that my prejudice had clouded my judgement.” she replied.
“I am glad you found him to your liking.” He said, and after careful consideration added “I have never found your judgement to be prejudiced, perhaps misinformed, but I do not believe you to create lasting impressions for yourself that are borne without the best of intentions.”
“I thank you, but do not deserve such praise. I am fully able to admit the faults of my past.” she answered humbly
“Learning and acquiring better informed opinions is no small feat, and accepting your mistakes is grace in itself.”
She felt the sting of tears in her eyes. Why must he complement her so gently? She was so used to his critique that she did not know how to respond to his sincerity. She could feel her face color and in a desperate attempt to hide it began fumbling with her shall. His chivalry did not hesitate and he gently secured her shall around her before giving her arm a small squeeze and excusing himself to speak with some of his tenants.
Emma did not know how long she remained frozen to her spot, nor did she have any recollection of how quickly the evening came to pass. Before she knew it Mr. Knightley was walking them to their carriage, battling his nephews advances along the way, and bidding them goodnight. As he handed Emma off into the carriage he turned their conversation to their upcoming expedition.
“I shall see you in the morning for our Journey?”
“Please come for breakfast and we shall leave directly after.” She offered.
“Until breakfast then.”
And with that he closed the carriage door, tipped his hat and returned to his remaining guests. As she watched him walk back into Donwell Emma couldn’t help but feel that breakfast was entirely too far away.
Emma woke before dawn when the moon was still visible. She had never been so excited. She could not believe her good fortune. She was traveling for the very first time, a proper journey, to see her friend whom she held so dear get married and was to be accompanied by the man who occupied her heart. She buzzed around eagerly unable to accomplish a single task, except the unnecessary, habitual, checking of her case. As the sun began to kiss the sky Emma called upon her maid and readied herself for a day she never dreamed would come.
Emma checked her case yet again before allowing it to be taken to the foyer. She felt sure that she would forget something, but reminded herself that whatever she might need Isabella would surely have in supply and allow her to borrow. It was nearing the eight o’clock hour and Emma was now positively agitated. Mr. Knightley had still not arrived and Emma was all but ready to ride over to Donwell herself to acquire him when she heard the sound of his coach turn into the Hartfield lane. She could not contain herself, she raced out the door despite the chilled morning temperature and waited with bated breath. He stepped out and before he could so much as tip his hat Emma pounced.
“What has kept you? I have been up for hours, we must make use of the day, we do not want to be caught traveling after dark.”
“Good morning to you too.” He said sarcastically. “There will be no danger of us traveling after dark, even if we were to leave after noon.” She made an attempt to reproach but was stopped by his saying, “I seem to remember I was promised breakfast before we left.” and she was forced to invite him inside.
Breakfast progressed far too slowly for Emma’s comfort. It seemed as if her family was trying to delay their journey. Though she could not fault her nephews for their wanting Mr. Knightley’s attention, Emma was almost cross when her brother-in-law seemed to begin a conversation of crop rotation for the new season. Fortunately one stern look was all that was needed and John retreated this subject allowing Mr. Knightley to finally declared that they must begin their journey, much to the chagrin of Mr. Woodhouse.
They were escorted to Mr. Knightley’s coach and, after a prolonged embrace from her father, Emma was departing Hartfield for her very first trip. As the Highbury hills faded and the road turned to unknown landscapes Emma watched them with the awe of rapt attention. It was such an unexpected joy to look upon new surroundings, and though they were not so vastly different than the ones she held so dear, it was exhilarating to experience something new however familiar. Emma looked through the coach window until her neck began to stiffen and she could bear the pain no longer. She turned her attention to the inside of the coach to find a dozing Mr. Knightley, which Emma decided, was not entirely unwelcome. She was glad of any opportunity to admire him and finally had an occasion that prevented disruption or suspicion. She took in every line of his face, noticing how the early hours afforded him more stubble. His eyelashes were particularly long and she delighted in their gentle twitch under sleep. His chest would rise and fall in cadence with his breath, she found it utterly tantalizing when it would stop before gently gravitate back down on his exhale. After a few precious moments of undisturbed appreciation a particularly jolting bump forced Mr. Knightley to sit up and relinquish his attempts at slumber.
“I don’t know how you can possibly sleep Mr. Knightley.” Emma said loftily.
“I do not often have the pleasure of viewing this journey through unspoilt eyes, and I hardly ever take my coach. Though I had hoped the road would be a bit smoother.”
“Well I do not mind. There is nothing that could dampen my spirits today.” Emma said defiantly. He laughed and stretched out his neck before continuing.
“I thought we might do some exploring upon our arrival, if the excitement of the journey does not steal your spirits.” He added the last in a slightly mocking tone.
“Will we have time? I assumed the travels would take all day?” She said surprised, choosing to ignore his slight at her excitement.
“We shall have plenty of time. In Fact, we will be there in time for tea.”
“Then I should like that very much.” She replied happily.
They spent the remainder of their journey happily discussing the Suckling’s and how, if it were at all possible, they were even more unbearable than the Elton’s. Mr. Suckling in particular, though he did have one spectacular talent in being able to silence Mrs. Elton just by his speaking, she seemed to attend to him with the most captivating attention.
When they arrived in London Emma could no longer hold a conversation. She was mesmerized. She had never seen so many people nor so many buildings. It was buzzing. Everywhere she looked there were people moving about their daily activities, people of all walks of life and all classes. There was a dirtiness that Emma found appalling, but could not tear her eyes from. Finally they reached Brunswick Square and it was as if they had stepped into another city all together. Isabella was quite correct in her descriptions, it was beautiful and quaint. And though it was hugged by the bustling noise of the streets they had just experienced, it had a tranquility all its own that felt entirely homely to Emma. The coach stopped outside of a beautiful white stone townhouse and Emma could immediately feel her sister's influence. The Weston’s opened the door greeting them most eagerly, thrilled that Emma could come to such a happy occasion.
After a brief tea they walked to a nearby park and were delighted at the arrival of the bride to be. The reception Emma received upon this meeting was so vastly different from their measured reception in the spring, it made Emma ponder how quickly relationships could change. When Emma and Jane were afforded the opportunity of private conversation, Jane quickly inquired as to the progression of the feelings Emma proclaimed upon their last heart to heart.
“I’m afraid I have made no progress other than increased endurance due to my nerves. Indeed I don’t think I have been in better shape in all my life.” Emma said jokingly
“Do not fret, when the time is right you will know. You are under no hurry and, it appears, have less obstacles than before.”
“Yes, I daresay you are correct.” Emma replied musing on their situation.
“Perhaps the wedding will give you both some necessary prompting.” Jane suggested excitedly.
They laughed heartily at the idea of a Mrs. Churchill producing a Mrs. Knightley and carried on in their merry way until it was time to part and say goodbye to Ms. Fairfax until they would be reacquainted in her new title.
The Brunswick Square party had a lovely dinner, happily discussing the excitement of the next day’s events and how lovely it was to share this day. The weather would be a perfect autumn day and none of the guests had far to travel. The luncheon was to be held at the most beautiful venue inside one of London’s most well kept parks. Mr. Knightley had even made plans for them to attend a production of Shakespear’s The Taming of the Shrew . Emma delighted in any comedy, but this was by far her favorite.
That night Emma had no trouble obtaining sleep. The sheer happiness of the day had left her exhausted, but it was not unwelcomed. She had every hope that tomorrow would be even moreso, and with that peace of mind she was able to fall into one of the deepest, most relaxed sleeps she had been gifted in months.
The early morning sun permeated Mr. Knightley’s chambers in Brunswick Square. It was one of the few rooms in the house that afforded such natural lighting and he welcomed it as it bathed him in warmth, tending to his tired spirits. He had not slept well, not with Emma being so near. The chambers in Brunswick Square were rather close quarters and he found his mind slipping two doors down to hers far too often for his own comfort. The tempting glow of the morning made him long for his quiet country walks, and though London would barely suffice, he was far too disconcerted to remain stagnant.
He dressed and met the morning with as much energy as he could muster. The bracing breezes provided him the clarity he had been after. He would not allow his waning spirits to be noticed, not to Emma, and not on a day she had been so happily anticipating. He would be pleased to bask in her joy, even if he was unable to share it with her in the manner he wished. When he returned to the house he found her and the Weston’s happily attending breakfast and he was able to join them with alacrity and unfiltered spirits. They did not spend much time eating, for the ladies were quick to ready themselves for the festivities.
When it was finally time to depart, Mr. Knightley found his morning testimony put on trial at the sight of Emma in her celebratory attire. She wore a bright coral dress that embellished her every feature. Her hair glistened with all the brilliance of the morning that awoke him and her eyes shone starkly in their deep contrast with the luminosity of her being. He finally shook himself from his awestruck state and walked forward to receive her, attending her to the coach, and upon such action thought it only necessary to address her person.
“You look lovely.” Was all he could muster without revealing too much of the inner workings of his mind. He thought he noted a coloring of her cheeks and could not help but wonder at the welcomeness of his attentions.
As they approached the church he felt his stomach turn. The last wedding he had attended with her had been that of his brother and her sister and he did not have the comprehension of his feelings then as he did now.
The ceremony was short and sweet but not without sentiment. Mr. Knightley tried desperately to attend to it with his full focus but the images of his desire were far too easily represented and he struggled to hear a word. Even so, when they departed for the luncheon he was committed to being as even and imperceptible as possible. When they finally arrived at the venue, and they were able to address the happy couple, Mr. Knightley was able to present himself honestly and spoke happily with the bride.
“Congratulations Mrs. Churchill, I wish you and your husband every possible happiness, though judging by appearance that has already been achieved.”
“You are too kind, thank you Mr. Knightley. It has been a great joy to us to be able to be transparent about our happiness.” Jane replied.
“Hmm I can imagine. The months of concealment must have been some of the darkest, most difficult to face.” He said all too knowingly, for Jane picked up on his tone and replied inquisitively, “Do you speak from experience sir?”
He swallowed hard and put on a smile of camouflage. He was spared the necessity of answering due to the Cole’s, who were eager to approach the happy couple. He considered for a moment how long he had been keeping his feelings to himself. He detested secrets, it was not in the nature of a gentleman to construct them as they usually caused injury in some fashion. He preferred simplicity and right now his thoughts were anything but. He would try however and he must tell himself that there could still be a change in her heart. She was still young and as much as her judgement had changed recently it was not out of the question for her to reconsider her life situation, especially when he offered no great threat to her father’s happiness.
When the luncheon had concluded they took in the park with a lovely stroll and delighted in the autumn colors of London. As they walked in the finer London air he thought it pertinent to check in on Emma’s perception of travel.
“You seem to be enjoying yourself.” He noted. “Perhaps you have acquired a desire for traveling after all?”
“I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and though I am not looking forward to leaving so soon, I cannot begin to entertain the notion of leaving father for any longer than I already have.”
“But you will have only been away for two nights! That is hardly time enough for him to worry, let alone need you. Besides John and Isabella are there and you deserve your chance to see more of the world.” He said, trying to ease her anxieties. She made no attempt at reply, and he felt like he had gone too far in his suggestion.
“Forgive me, I do not wish you vex you. You have been the most devoted daughter all your life and though I deeply admire your father I hope that you can discern that his preconceived notions are often the product of his own anxieties and do not need to be adopted by you. He wants you to be happy Emma, that is all he has ever wanted.”
“Perhaps one day I might be able to convince him to enjoy the splendors of the sea airs, but I mustn’t be hasty. As with all matters of change he would require much time to get used to the idea.” She replied impartially.
“Yes, you’re quite right. I shall not say more on the subject, for you are the expert in maintaining tempers after all.” He said with a sly grin.
They did not stay long in the park for Mrs. Weston was eager to return to little Anna and the rest of the party wished to have some rest before the evening events. When they had rested and finished their dinner the party eagerly packed into the coach and departed for the theatre. Emma had never been to a proper theatre before and was most looking forward to the production. He knew when he decided on their seeing a play that he must pick a comedy for as much as Emma loved to laugh he loved to bear witness to her laughter. The play did not disappoint and Emma laughed heartily and often, filling his heart with gratitude and joy.
By the time of their return to Brunswick Square the party was rather tired. They had packed much more into a day than they were used to. As the Weston’s bid their goodnights Emma and Mr. Knightley were left in the foyer to consider the culmination of the day.
“I think I prefer the production to the written word.” Emma declared.
“I will grant you this levity this once, for the cast did it a true justice.” They stood for a moment taking in the events of the day in mutual contented silence.
“I have never seen such happiness from Jane. It was a very pleasant ceremony, they both truly deserve their moment of pure happiness. Though I know you have not always favored Mr. Churchill, I hope you will not be too envious of him now.” She said.
“I cannot beseech him the happiness of this day. No, not when he shares it with such a lovely creature. He is, however, still the most ignorantly fortunate man I have ever known.” He said with only a touch of resentment.
She gave a slight laugh and willed “I believe I understand your sentiment. I have found myself feeling rather similarly in regards to Jane. Not because of her choice of husband, but rather because of how unobscured her happiness has become.”
“What do you mean?” He asked, not able to believe that she might be suggesting a change of heart.
“I suppose I mean that they are free. They may be wherever they choose and are not tied to a single situation. Should their happiness drive them to Highbury they may go there, should it drive them to Enscombe they are welcomed, to Weymouth and Ireland the like. They are in no short supply of being subjected to a single way of living. Not that I am at all regretful of my situation, it is the luckiest and most occupying situation a woman could hope for. But it can be tiresome knowing that there is no great change awaiting for myself.” She said pensively.
“And why are you so sure there is no such possibility?” He said, taking a step towards her.
“You said it yourself, A man would always wish to give a woman a better home than the one he takes her from, and as I can have no better home there is no reason for any man to be tempted.”
“You mistake me.” He replied.
“How? Did you not call this man the happiest of mortals?” She prompted, mirroring his action as she too stepped closer.
“Yes, but that was said under the assumption that the man in question knows his home to be better. If he knows the woman’s happiness is already tied to her own home, why would he wish to take her from that?”
“Exactly!” She said vivaciously, “He would not, therefore, be tempted and would make no such advancements.”
“If he was a very fickle man perhaps. But a true gentleman would feel no great loss in relinquishing the possession of his domain, not when it ensured his happiness.”
They now stood within a foot of each other and he was finding it very difficult to maintain his composure. It would not do, he could not keep his feelings a secret anymore. He must tell her what she might not wish to hear, though he prayed that she would not dismiss him without consideration. He took a deep breath and steadied his focus, gazing into her piercing eyes.
“Emma, I… I must tell you-” He began but was cut off at the sound of a knock at the door. The noise startled them both and they quickly backed away from one another.
An emergency courier awaited them at the door carrying a letter from Hartfield. It was written in Isabella’s hand and hastily addressed. The chill in the air upon leaving the door ajar was nothing compared to the chill of the scream permitted by Emma upon reading.
The moon was full and bright, it shone throughout the crispness of the autumn night and Emma, for a brief moment, could feel its light piercing her eyes as they sped through the roads desperately trying to return to Hartfield before it was too late. Emma had very little recollection of how she and Mr. Knightley had ended up back in the coach, traveling well after dark. She did not remember the Weston’s sprinting down the stairs of Brunswick Square upon hearing her outcry, nor the gentle guidance of Mr. Knightley as he ushered her into the coach. She did not remember Mrs. Weston rushing to the kitchen to produce them food for their journey, though it would not have mattered, Emma could not even feel her stomach. She did not remember Mr. Weston promising to depart first thing in the morning with their contents and arrive directly at Hartfield. She did not remember Mr. Knightley reassuringly taking her hand, vowing to her that they would make it home as quickly as humanly possible. All she could remember were the contents of the letter that confirmed her deepest fear, so deep that she could never venture to consider it before now. She had been in London sixteen miles away from him when her father had collapsed during his pre dinner turn of a heart attack. She had been gone from him when he needed her most and that was the only thought her mind could repetitively, blairingly, entertain.
It was very early in the morning when they arrived at Hartfield, and though there was not a single light on in all of Highbury the entirety of the Woodhouse estate was aglow. John was waiting for them and he quickly helped Emma depart the coach before she ran faster than she had ever run, through the house and up the stairs to her father’s chambers.
Isabella was sitting beside him stroking his hand when Emma burst into the room. She ran to him, falling to her knees beside him. His breathing was shallow and his eyes were unfocused but he still managed a small smile upon her arrival.
“Emma my dear, you were not traveling after dark I hope.” He said weakly
She took his hand in hers, tears streaming down her face as she shushed and reassured him, pleading with him to contain his strength. It was not long before Mr. Perry arrived, having run back to the apothecary to produce some concoctions he hoped would alleviate Mr. Woodhouse’s pain. Mr. Perry knew better than to ask for privacy with his patient and though Isabella could not bear to see any procedure, Emma stayed exactly where she was. She was determined and would not leave his side, never again. Traveling and freedom be damned. She was his faithful companion and she would give up anything for him to be well. She prayed that the draft Mr. Perry was delivering would ease him into a healing sleep that he would awaken from restored to his jovial, cheerful, good self that she loved so dearly.
George Knightley did not like stress. His life had been mostly simple and, despite a few matters unavoidable in life’s course, he had largely been able to circumvent it. The worst stressors had been the days leading up to his mother’s death. He was very close to his mother, they shared many of the same traits and likenesses. She was loving and honest and tended to his heart in a manner that had been lacking since her departure. His mother had fallen ill and for many months he had spent the nights awake and tending to her as best he could which was often only accomplished with his presence and being near her. He felt quite similarly now, and though he was deeply worried for Mr. Woodhouse, his mind was fixated on the patient’s youngest daughter. He had been replaying the horrible moment when the news was broken over and over again in his mind. He was just about to tell Emma how much he loved her when the courier announced his presence carrying the dark, daunting, pressure of another. He remembered Emma as she hesitantly took the letter before ripping it open. He remembered seeing the color drain from her face even in the darkness, and he remembered her scream, her time stopping, heartbreaking, chilling scream. She had not said a word since and he could only imagine the multitude of silent pleads that were now engulfing her mind.
It was nearing the five o’clock hour. There had been no sound or movement since Mr. Perry had arrived and Isabella had retreated to the comfort of her husband. Emma had remained with Mr. Woodhouse, and though he would not expect otherwise, he selfishly wished to be with her. Instead he was downstairs with John and a desolate Isabella. The silence was impenetrable to an almost unbearable state. He altered between pacing and sitting and could not keep his hands still. After a while John came over to speak with him.
“Thank you for getting Emma home so quickly brother. It has been a most distressing ordeal. You have gone above and beyond your duty and I could not fault you if you wish to return to Donwell, though your company would be most welcome if you should like to stay.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He said simply and resolutely. John seemed to relax at this and gratefully shook his brother’s hand.
As the sun began to peek through the curtains Mr. Knightley could bear it no longer. Isabella and John were dozing rather discomposedly on the settee. He quietly seized his opportunity and slipped away. He climbed the stairs as noiselessly as possible so as to not wake the children and halted outside Mr. Woodhouse’s door. For a moment he pushed his ear against the wood and after being assured that there was nothing dire happening he softly knocked on the door. He opened it slightly and peered in to find her alert and guarding her father’s sleeping state. She looked up and seemed to indicate his welcome with a small smile. He walked over and knelt beside her on the floor.
“How is he?” he asked in a whisper.
“He is resting, but not peacefully. He often cannot seem to catch his breath and has fits of coughing. I am worried that he has not stirred in a while.” She answered, not taking her eyes off her father. He sighed hoping to hear better news.
“How are you? Can I bring you anything? Are you drinking, do you need food?” He searched her person as he asked, desperate to tend to her.
“I am fine. I do not think- I cannot come up with anything I might need.” She said vaguely. He recognized that her attention would not be distracted with her own necessities, it did not matter though for he could at least bring her some comforts. He went and fetched her a blanket and pillow to sit upon, some water, and some toast, though he knew the last was in vain as she would not be able to eat. After that, and for a long while, he simply sat with her. She made no protest and no attempts at conversation, but when the bell rang announcing the presence of well wishers and he was forced to remove himself she gave his hand a squeeze, mouthing the words “thank you.”
The Eltons were in the drawing room when He returned downstairs. Mr. Elton was in his clergy attire having come to pray with the family and Mrs. Elton was surprisingly quiet. They stayed for the better part of an hour and promised to come again later in the day, though that was no great comfort to anyone. Mr. Perry arrived yet again. He had been in and out all through the night and was providing as many updates as possible, though there had been no great change for hours. It was now nearing noon and Mr. Knightley was growing increasingly concerned for Emma. She had not eaten since dinner the previous day and showed no signs of leaving Mr. Woodhouse’s side. He tempted a suggestion to Isabella but found it to be a rather grave mistake as she jumped up almost hysterically to produce Emma a plate. John was not pleased.
As penance for his mistake in worrying Isabella, Mr. Knightley decided to take the children outside to provide them some much needed release and their parents some much needed peace. They were on their way walking to Donwell to fetch some toys and, he hoped, to tire them out with a slightly longer walk than they were accustomed to. When they arrived Mr. Knightley had half a mind to order a case of his things to be brought to Hartfield, but resisted and simply related to Mrs. Reynolds that he would be in touch. When they returned the Weston’s had arrived from Brunswick Square. He was relieved to find that Mrs. Weston had wasted no time in tending to Emma, forcing her to take a break and get some food and tea.
They had their tea in total silence, not even Henry or little James attempted to make conversation. It seemed as though everyone was waiting with bated breath. After their quick tea Emma excused herself and returned upstairs. Mr. Knightley went to check on her and was surprised to find her in her father’s study perusing through his many books. He walked in and noticed she had pulled all the titles having anything to do with medicine, of which Mr. Woodhouse had quite an extensive collection. He cleared his throat so as not to frighten her.
“Interesting collection.” He said warmly.
“I suppose you think me foolish, attempting to learn how to aid him right now, I should have tended to these titles ages ago.” She replied solemnly.
“I think no such thing Emma. I am just worried that you are taking on too much.” He walked over and picked the books up from her arms, placing them on Mr. Woodhouse’s great mahogany desk.
“Do not you think you would be better able to tend to him if you were to get some rest yourself? You have been awake for far too long.” He suggested tenderly.
“I do not think I would be able to sleep even if Mr. Perry provided me with a very powerful draft. I cannot help but feel responsible.” She replied, tears swelling in her eyes. He could not stand to see her blame herself, he grabbed her hands and steadied her in his grasp.
“This is not your fault Emma.” He said seriously. “You could not have predicted nor prevented it. Your father would not want you to make yourself ill with worry, please I beg you, do not blame yourself.”
She breathed deeply letting out a sigh of release as a tear trickled down her cheek. Wiping it away she replied with her thanks.
“Thank you. You did not have to stay, but your presence has been a comfort to us all.”
He tried not to seem too hurt at the generality of her sentiment and instead offered his handkerchief and replied in the most gentle manner that her thanks was not necessary, for indeed there was nowhere else he would rather be.
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.
The sun was setting on Hartfield yet the house was anything but peaceful. Mr. Perry had been called for a rather intense fit that seemed to be a seizure that Mr. Woodhouse had displayed upon eating. The Weston’s including little Anna, and the Elton’s had remained in attendance and Mr. Knightley was left to tend to them while John, Isabella and Emma gathered close to Mr. Woodhouse’s bed. The situation was looking very grim indeed. There was nothing to say, no words to be had, yet that had never stopped Mrs. Elton in the past.
“I do so pity poor Ms. Woodhouse. Indeed what will become of her if her father dies?” She said bluntly and without decorum. Mrs. Weston could not help the outwardly aghast look of disdain that penetrated her face. Not even Mr. Weston could venture a reply, but Mr. Knightley felt his color rising and he struggled to keep his frustration at bay.
Mrs. Elton continued, much to the chagrin of everyone in the room even, it appeared, her husband. “She has spent the entirety of her life tending to him; she will not know what to do with herself when he is to die, whether that be soon or far off. She has made no such connections to provide her adequate occupation, nor distraction, and with the exception of those of us in attendance now, will be entirely left to her own devices.”
It would not do, Mr. Knightley could not stop himself. “Emma,” he began defiantly, “has always and will always be able to occupy herself. She has been the cleverest woman in Highbury since her upbringing and she will always have the deepest devotion of its citizens. As to her connections, though she has never been one to travel far and make acquaintances in the vast capacity you desire, her connections are so deep that no amount of distance could keep them from being with her in every spirit. No, I would venture as much to say that Emma will never be lonely. You have not had the privilege of knowing her for very long I might remind you Mrs. Elton, for if there is one thing I know about Emma to be true it is that she sincerely occupies the minds of everyone she is acquainted with in the dearest of terms.”
It was enough. Mrs. Elton was silenced at last. It was not much longer before the Elton’s took their leave, much to the relief of the Weston’s and Mr. Knightley.
“I could not have said it better myself, Mr. Knightley” Mrs. Weston offered warmly.
“I do believe Mrs. Elton is not as empathetic in her nature as I was once led to believe.” Mr. Weston mused. From him this was as close to an insult as either his wife or Mr. Knightley had ever heard.
The sun had now disappeared for the night and there had been no emergence from the faithful attendee’s upstairs. Mr. Knightley’s mind was full of concern and he was glad of the silence of the companions with him. He mused for a moment that any other family in any other home would probably require total privacy in this state, and while the whole of Highbury was holding Hartfield in their hearts from their respective homes, he was most thankful that he and the Weston’s had the kind of friendship that allowed them to be in attendance without the slightest suspicion or hesitation. He supposed this allowance was in equal parts due to both father and daughter, for no one who had ever stepped foot into Hartfield did not but instantaneously feel the warmest welcome. He had been lucky to have been afforded this welcome very early in his life, in fact before the passing of either of his parents. When his parents had passed away it had been Mr. Woodhouse who insisted on an increase in his attendance at Hartfield. Mr. Woodhouse had provided George with a familial presence when he had needed it most. Mr. Woodhouse had always been a trusted advisor of his and had aided him with the gentle guiding hand of a parent. Indeed, George thought, had it not been for Mr. Woodhouse’s presence in his life, he may have made some very ill mistakes in the early days of his manhood. He suddenly felt a deep stabbing pain at the idea of losing him, and at the idea of how that sting would be felt ten fold in the heart of Emma.
It was well after the ten o’clock hour when there was the slightest inclination of movement from upstairs. The sound of Mr. Woodhouse’s bedroom door was quietly opened and shut. A few moments later Mr. Perry appeared in the parlor, clutching his hat and staring gravely at the floor. Mrs. Weston let out a gasp as Mr. Weston cried out “Good God!” Mr. Knightley felt as if the room was spinning and the floor beneath him was turning to ash. His mind raced upstairs to Emma. All he wanted to do was hold her but he stood rooted, stuck to his spot on the parlor floor.
It was a good twenty minutes before John came down stairs. Mr. Knightley could tell there had been a considerable amount of tears both on John’s shirt and emanating from his own eyes. Nevertheless John shook Mr. Perry’s hand, thanking him for his diligence and devotion to his father-in-law. Mr. Perry responded with his deepest sympathies and stated that he would be back first thing in the morning to prepare Mr. Woodhouse’s final accommodations. No one expected Emma to appear, but she emerged and offered her gratitude to Mr. Perry. Mr. Knightley felt his heart tearing in two. She stood there, offering her thanks to Mr. Perry completely composed, though rather pale, yet her face was dry. She looked utterly exhausted and entirely small, though she was still determined to tend to her guests. Mrs. Weston embraced her as tears streamed down her own face, yet Emma remained collected. Mr. Knightley could not account for this behavior in any other sense than that she was in shock, his death had not hit her yet and he feared deeply for when the full force of it would attach itself to her.
The Weston’s stayed a while longer offering sympathies and saying goodbyes before departing. Emma walked them to their coach, graciously accepting their embraces. She remained in the cold night air after their departure and Mr. Knightley found himself at her side. He did not know what to say, indeed he did not think there was anything to say but he turned to her and simply called her name, “Emma.”
“I do not think I can talk just now. I fear I am overly tired.” was her even reply. He nodded and, offering his arm, escorted her upstairs to her bedroom door. Before she entered she turned to him suddenly and said, “It is very late, I should order you a bed to be made.”
“Do not worry on my account dear Emma.”
“But you’ll not leave, will you? No, do not, please stay.” She said looking at him with almost pleading eyes. He took her hand and gave it a kiss. “If you wish.” She smiled slightly and turned into her room, leaving him on the side of the door he would have given anything to be opposite of.
The funeral was held at the end of November. It was a frosty day and the whole of Highbury was in attendance. Mr. Woodhouse would have been entirely distraught at the number of people who might catch a chill on his account, Emma mused. The service was warm and thoughtful, Mr. Elton had tended to it in the most meaningful way.
Hartfield had been filled with the affections of all of Highbury, and though Emma was extremely gratified to bear witness to the effect of her father, she was exhausted. She had never been so weary. Each visit, though made with the very best intentions, had taken its toll on her. Emma was feeling utterly numb.
This numbness had engulfed Emma and therefore it had not taken much persuasion on the part of Isabella to convince her to return with them to Brunswick Square for a while. They were to leave in three days time. Enough time to tend to the estate for her departure and enough for Mr. Woodhouse’s last will and testament to be read. They were expecting the solicitor to arrive tomorrow, he was a partner at John’s firm.
As they departed from the funeral Emma was met with more sympathies and well wishers. She put on her best face but was beginning to feel almost faint until she felt the gentle tug of Mr. Knightley, ready to escort her to the coach. He had been very quiet since the day of her father’s passing. Emma knew he felt her father’s death deeply, but she appreciated his quiet, steadfast presence, it had kept some semblance of normalcy. As he walked her to the coach he took a moment to comment on the state of the funeral.
“It was a lovely turn out.” She replied in agreement.
“Yes, I would not have expected otherwise. Though I think if your father had been able to have a say in the matter he would have entreated us all to attend indoors rather than out.”
She laughed lightly. “I had the same thought.” They walked together quietly for some time until Mr. Knightley stopped and turned to look at Emma.
“Forgive me for suggesting, but you look rather tired Emma. That is natural and to be expected, but… are you... are you well?” He asked timidly. She did not answer immediately. She did not wish to deceive him though she could not bring herself to worry him.
“I am tired, I think I just need time. It feels like years have elapsed in the last few weeks but it also seems but a blink of an eye since London.”
He sighed, understanding her meaning perfectly and began walking again. “I know you have John and Isabella and even the children, but I dearly hope that if there is anything you might need, you would allow me to assist you, Emma.”
She smiled and squeezed his hand affectionately in response and he handed her off to John in the coach for their return to Hartfield. When they walked in the door Emma could feel the chill in the air. The children went running past her to the dining room in hopes of food, Isabella and John scolding them in their wake, leaving Emma in the hall suddenly feeling completely lost in her own home. She could feel her breath catch in her chest and her heart begin to pound, but she shook herself, following her family, determined to not cause anxiety to any of them.
Mr. Knightley joined them for dinner, as he had most every night. Emma was grateful for the continued tradition, though tonight he seemed out of spirits. She knew he was grieving the loss of her father, they all were, but he and John were usually able to hold some dinner conversation. Tonight only Henry, John, and their parents were speaking. Following the subdued dinner the grown ups were set to spend a very quiet evening in the parlor. As John and Isabella bid goodnight to their children, Mr. Knightley came to sit with Emma on the settee.
“I hear you are going to London again.” He said, looking at his hands.
“Isabella thought it best. Some time away to tend the heart, or something in that manner.” She replied.
“Yes, that will be a good idea, I suppose. I did similarly after my father passed. I joined John in London for almost three months.” He paused. “You’ll not be gone for that long, will you?” he asked, finally looking at her.
“Oh, no, we will return for Christmas.” She replied and hesitated before adding, “I do not think I can stand to be here alone just yet.” She felt very small all of a sudden, until he grabbed her hand and with a somber look told her, “Emma, you will never be alone if you do not wish to be. I can promise you that.”
For the second time that day Emma felt the tears stinging her eyes and breath catching in her chest. She was thankful for the return of Isabella and John to halt her anguish. The party did not stay long in the parlor, for they were all weary from the day's events and wanted to be rested for the solicitor’s arrival tomorrow. As Mr. Knightley bid his nightly farewells Emma was struck with the feeling that this was her least favorite time of each day. At least when he was present she did not feel so alone in her own house, for even though she had the constant presence of her family, he was the one that made it feel normal, like the home she knew and loved. She watched him walk away and the numbness that had been encompassing her heart began to thaw, leaving a very striking ache in its wake.
The arrival of the solicitor had been much anticipated by all members of Hartfield, except for Emma. She knew very well what her father’s will stated and the appearance of a solicitor was nothing more than another guest for her to attend to. Nevertheless when he arrived Emma was the most gracious hostess and welcomed him with all the warmth her father would have required.
The solicitor was an older gentleman, though not as old as her father had been. He was quiet and serious, and did not care much for small talk, which Emma currently appreciated greatly. After a few pleasantries and expressions of sympathies he was ready to begin.
“The following depicts the last will and testament of one Henry Woodhouse…”
Mr. Woodhouse had left something behind for nearly everyone in Highbury. This was no surprise to anybody except perhaps the solicitor, who raised a judgmental eyebrow at the idea of many of Highbury’s inhabitants being bequeathed a screen for their parlor’s use. He had left John behind all of his old law and text books and some of his most beloved office details. Isabella had been left the remainder of her fortune, some of her mother’s beloved jewelry, and a lovely heartfelt note that left them all teary eyed. Mr. Knightley had been left whichever books from Mr. Woodhouse’s private collection he desired, a large globe, and a collection of different flies and beetles to add to his own. Finally they arrived to Emma, though she already knew exactly what was left to her. The estate of Hartfield, the remains of her fortune and his deepest love were all related in the most warm and feeling terms. At the conclusion of such Emma stood up ready to begin the signing process but was stopped when the solicitor cleared his throat to indicate one final addition.
“My final request is in regards to the safety and well-being of my youngest daughter Emma. As I am sure that when I die she will be tended to most diligently by all of our dear friends and neighbors, I would like to make the formal request that the guarantee of her safety be turned over to one Mr. George Knightley. I know he will tend to this assignment dutifully and with honor and will have already considered it his own without my asking, though I thought it pertinent to be assured. I thank him eternally for his devotion to my family and hope he knows that I have long considered him a member of it.”
The silence following this sentiment was great. No one in attendance had expected this. Emma’s eyes shot over to Mr. Knightley and though he looked surprised, he did not seem to be quite as shocked as the rest of the room. He looked almost calm at such an allocation. When the solicitor indicated for his compliance, Mr. Knightley nodded easily and with absolute assurance.
After the necessary signatures were collected Emma invited everyone for tea. They sat together at the table and John began to converse about matters of business, much to the annoyance of his wife. Emma took the opportunity to consult Mr. Knightley.
“You did not seem surprised about my father’s last request of you. Did you know?” She asked quietly. He turned to look at her with wide eyes.
“No, I did not know he would make such a statement in his final testament, though I cannot say it was unexpected.” He paused for a moment before adding, “Though I do not necessarily think you are in need of my protection, you have always been able to take care of yourself. I hope you know that you may always call upon me should you need anything.”
“Oh I know that. I was honestly a little amused by father’s asking at all.” She said honestly.
“Hmmm.” He mused, “Yes it was an unnecessary formality. I hope the courtliness will not change how you think of me.” He said teasingly.
“Unfortunately I think the formality makes me wish to contradict you even more.” She replied matter of factly. They tried to stifle their laughter so as not to attract Isabella’s stare of reproof, which was already in full occupation in direction to her husband. It was the first time Emma had felt more like herself in days. Though it was short lived, Emma appreciated his lightness and ability to make her feel normal. She did not know how life would ever be normal for her again, but his company was as close to such as was currently possible. She began to feel some pain at leaving him for London, but reminded herself that their friendship was one that could withstand the occasional separation, and now with his new promise to her father she was at least assured of his company in regards to her safety and well-being.
Emma had been in London for almost a month and it had proven to be total agony for Mr. Knightley. They had kept a steady correspondence, though he could not gauge her true manner of being through writing. He had been up twice, under the pretense of business, to check on her. She had seemed fine in spirits, but subdued and quieter than usual. Isabella had recently written to express her worry on account of her sister’s demeanor and asked what Mr. Knightley thought about extending Emma’s stay. He of course did not like this idea at all and would have vehemently denied it, but he knew it was not his decision to make. He therefore relayed to his sister-in-law that Emma needed no help in making up her mind and had every ability and opportunity to speak openly on the subject should Isabella inquire.
He was growing increasingly restless and agitated. Poor Mrs. Reynolds had borne the brunt of some of his frustrations and he decided he must get a grip on himself. Thankfully the Christmas season was upon them and Emma was finally expected back at Hartfield. The entire staff of Donwell breathed a sigh of relief when Mr. Knightley departed to Hartfield for their arrival. As he approached the house he saw his nephews playing out in the shrubbery with their father and looked hopefully around for Emma. He found her at last in the parlor reading a book of all occupations. When she heard his approach she quickly discarded her book making him laugh.
“You’re home.” He said fondly
She smiled at him warmly and he came to sit across from her in their usual manner.
“Did you enjoy your stay, Emma?”
“Yes, it was very pleasant. Though rather cold.” She said unconvincingly. He paused unsure of how to continue.
“Jane visited you, did she not?”
“Oh yes, that was most definitely the highlight of my stay.” She said with more candor this time.
“You look well. I am happy the outcome of your journey was mostly pleasant, but I know your homecoming has been much anticipated.”
“Oh yes, Ms. Bates and Mrs. Weston wrote to me almost daily, I think I can safely say my return is a relief to them.” She supplied
“Among others.” He mused quietly in return.
Soon it was time for dinner and Mr. Knightley was starved, both for comfort of company and familiarity. They sat and spoke warmly and freely for much of the dinner until almost the end when little Henry noted how loney his grandfather’s old spot looked without him occupying it. Mr. Knightley’s eyes shot to Emma and he could almost see her breath escape her. He was not sure if she had fully come to terms with his death yet. He feared that she had been in denial for far too long and knew, from his own experience with the loss of his mother, how prolonged neglect of such feelings made their arrival all the more painful. He thought that her stay in Brunswick Square had only prolonged the inevitable, eventually she would need to come to terms with his loss and he prayed that when that time came he would know how best to help her.
After dinner Isabella made the suggestion that they might host a Christmas Eve dinner party at Hartfield, since Emma’s presence was in such high demand upon their return. They would of course invite the Weston’s, the Bates’s, Churchill’s and the new Martin’s. There was some debate as to the necessity of inviting the Elton’s, at which Mr. Knightley kindly suggested that the Elton’s were likely to have plans already set in place with the Cole’s for the night in question. To be quite honest he was not sure if that were entirely true or not, but he was in no hurry to have the Elton’s back at Hartfield after Mrs. Elton’s last display of effrontery that the rest of the family had not been privileged to.
The dinner plan was set and the invitations both quickly delivered and responded to. Everyone would be in attendance and Emma and Isabella were swift to get to work in their plans. Mr. Knightley was pleased to see Emma back in her element, though he thought he noted that she was not as enthusiastic in her pursuit as she had been in the past.
Christmas Eve came and there was no chance of snow this year. Though it was exceedingly cold there was such dryness to the air that everyone was sure any arrival of precipitation was far off. Everyone was eager to be merry, even Emma looked restored to her carefree, jovial self. He delighted to witness the closeness of Emma and Jane. He had always wished for them to be friends and was pleased that they had become such trusted confidants. Seeing her laugh was more than enough to fill the whole party with joy, and he suddenly realized how reliant the members of Highbury were on Emma’s good spirits for their own. It was very late when the guests departed, everyone had been enjoying themselves so much that they had not cared to tend to the time, yet it was getting very late and they must be rested for church the next day. Mr. Knightley was to stay at Hartfield that night at the bequest of Emma and Isabella, so as to be present for the entirety of Christmas day. After the guests had departed and the children put to bed Isabella proposed that the grownups fill the children’s stockings, and turned to ask her sister where they could procure hangers for them when they all realized that Emma was no longer with them in the parlor. Mr. Knightley offered to fetch her, thinking she must have anticipated Isabella’s request and already gone to find the hangers. He searched for sometime and finally came upon her in Mr. Woodhouse’s old study. She was standing behind his great desk facing the blazing fire and holding something in her hands. He knocked the door as he walked in, but she did not turn to face him.
“There you are,” he began “Isabella had the idea to hang the children’s stockings and she thought you might be privy to the location of some hangers.”
She made no answer and remained in her same position. He walked in closer and noticed that her shoulders were shaking. He came up to the desk and saw in her hands were a pair of her father’s old slippers. She was clutching them and weeping, her whole body in tremors. He quickly walked to the other side of the desk and put his hands on her shoulders so as to steady them.
“Emma, what is the matter?” he asked completely aghast.
She struggled to catch her breath and through great endeavor replied, “I came to find the hangers and found these under his desk. He always kept a pair there, he would get so cold when he wrote.”
He knew not what to do or say. This was the moment he had been fearing, and all he knew was that her pain was unmatched, and nothing he could say would be sufficient. Before he could act she cleared the distance between them walking, almost falling, into his arms. He hesitated for the briefest of moments before embracing her fully. They stayed in this manner for a long time. It could have been hours, he had no notion nor did he care. He would hold her for as long as she needed and he did, he held her until her shaking ceased and her eyes could produce no more tears. When she finally lifted her head she could not look at him. He gently pulled the hair from her face.
“Sorry.” She mumbled looking downwards. He quickly took her chin in his hand and pulled her face up. “There is nothing to be sorry for Emma. Now tell me, what can I do to help you feel better?”
“You can tell Isabella that I have already retired for the night. I do not think I am in the spirit for festivities.” He nodded and walked her to her room. When they arrived she hesitated. He waited patiently for her to speak, knowing that words were not easy to come by when grief had placed its weight on one’s heart.
“You once told me that time would heal my wound.” She began. He nodded in encouragement as she continued. “You were speaking of the loss of romantic love which I was not afflicted with in regards to the subject.” She paused, as if frightened to finish.
“What about this loss? Will time truly heal me, or will I feel this gaping hole for the rest of my life? I do not know that I can grow accustomed to it.” She finally finished as a few more tears slowly slipped down her cheek. He went to stop them, but could not produce a handkerchief as it had already been used thoroughly, instead he tenderly used his hand.
“Time will heal this wound as well dear Emma, though it will not be easy and the scar that is left behind may always be visible. You will not always feel this depth of grief, and you need not experience it alone.”
With that last sentiment Emma smiled thoughtfully and turned into her room, still in possession of his handkerchief. Though she could not put it into words Emma always slept better knowing he was near.
With all of the hope of the new year Emma found herself slightly disappointed. She could tell no great difference between the eve and the day of and indeed she felt just as stuck as she had been when the year had ended. In fact, stuck did not adequately describe how she felt. She often catapulted between feeling nothing and everything. Ever since she had broken down on Christmas Eve, Emma found herself entirely too quick to tears for her own comfort. It frustrated her to no end. She had become rather masterful in disguising her own anguish and no one in the house suspected otherwise, no one except Mr. Knightley. He seemed to have an utterly clairvoyant capability for recognizing her emotions, though she did not seem to mind.
When she was succumbed with sadness he would sit with her. When she was overwhelmed with anger he gave her space or walked with her and listened without judgement. When she felt numb he would distract her and bring her back to herself. He brought her books that he said had helped him through the loss of his parents and she drank them in like no other titles she had ever read before. She was not sure what she had done to deserve him, but she did not know what she would have done without him.
A few nights before Isabella, John and the children were set to return to London they sat around the table for their normal dinner, when Isabella began entreating Emma to return with them. Emma was rather stunned. She had not thought to return with them, but had also not fully considered what their departure might mean. They would leave and Emma would stay, alone. All eyes seemed to be glued to her. She scanned the table looking at the wanting eyes of her family, and then she looked at Mr. Knightley. He seemed rather tense as if he was waiting with bated breath. As she watched him she realized that she did not want to leave, not yet.
“I appreciate your consideration dear sister, but I shall have to learn to be here on my own at some point. I am ready, or as ready as I can ever hope to be. I do wish you will keep the invitation open for me, however, I am sure I will be in need of it eventually.” She said earnestly. She thought she could see Mr. Knightley relax at her reply in the corner of her eye.
The day of departure arrived and Emma, though confident in her decision, could not help but feel a little forlorn. What was she to do without the happy distraction of her sister, or the joyful noises of her nieces and nephews. Even John would be missed with his dry wit and knowing looks at his wife’s eccentricities. As Emma waved them off she was excessively glad to have the company of Mr. Knightley and the Weston’s. It seemed her father’s belief in the devotion of their friends and neighbors was not without merit. Emma had dinner plans that seemed to extend for weeks, though at present she was occupying most of her time with Jane. She wanted to spend as much time with her friend before she was to remove to Enscombe.
One unseasonably warm day for the middle of January, Emma and Jane decided to take a relaxing walk. They walked for some time delighting in the warm rays of the sun and filling their lungs with fresh air and laughter.
“I am so pleased to see you smile again Emma. It makes my removing slightly more bearable to know that I shall be leaving you in higher spirits.” Jane said thoughtfully.
“I appreciate your sentiment, but it does not negate how much I shall miss you!” Emma said vehemently. “When do you think you and Frank might return to Highbury?” She asked intently.
“I am not sure when, but I imagine we shall return very often. Neither of us feel very tied to Enscombe, though we are very fond of Mr. Churchill. He has his own agenda and his own social obligations and is not in need of our company all the time. I think we will both want to return to Highbury as it has begun to feel more like home than either of us could have predicted.” Jane replied. Emma felt her face split into a wide grin. “That makes me excessively happy to hear. Perhaps Mr. Churchill will become just as fond of Highbury as you and Frank one day.” She said musingly.
Though Emma missed her father greatly she was beginning to feel more like herself in the coming weeks. Her friends and neighbors were dedicated and steadfast, and she knew that it was in part due to the legacy of her father. She loved Highbury now more than ever. How lucky she was to live in a community that cared about one another so devotedly.
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.
After her return from Donwell, Emma struggled greatly to fall asleep. Her mind was too abuzz with the prospects of the sea. She thought of how the sand must feel, how the waves might tickle her toes and how different the air would be from her beloved Highbury. Now that Mr. Knightley had given his consent to accompany, Emma was unable to think of anything else. The anticipation kept her up for hours and she prayed that soon the temperatures would rise and the spring would arrive once more.
Due to her late slumber, Emma did not wake until very late in the morning. She was getting used to sleeping in, but felt it to be entirely too lavish and would chastise herself typically for such an extravagance. However this morning she was entirely too content to be convicted. When Emma arrived downstairs a letter was awaiting her at the table. It was addressed from Donwell and Emma panicked for a brief moment presuming that Mr. Knightley had written to rescind his willingness of the previous night. She ripped into the letter and found the following…
I am writing rather hastily this morning to let you know that I am on my way to London. I had some business arise very early. A tenant of mine turned over his farm to a family member without notice and I am needing to settle his accounts before the arrangement can proceed. I will try to keep my business swift, but am fearful that I may be returning too late to dine with you and the Martin’s tonight. Please extend my regards to them, and, if it is not too late I will attempt to call on you upon my return. Please leave word with Mrs. Reynolds as to your preference upon the last.
She sighed and for a moment was lost in admiration of his script. He had one of the most delicate and intricate styles of handwriting she had ever seen from the male sex. Even when he was writing in a hurry, his penmanship was unmatched. Eventually she shook herself from her silly musings and wrote her reply.
Dear Mr. Knightley,
I am sorry to hear of your stress filled morning and hope your journey is both smooth and productive. Do not vex yourself for your missing dinner, I shall be happy to relay your regards to the Martins, they will be most sympathetic. I should not wish to impose upon your energies and therefore must insist that you will not exhaust yourself on my account, however , should your energy not be fatigued by your return I would be more than willing to receive you at any time.
She sealed her response and promptly sent it off to Donwell. She prayed that he would not trouble himself on her account and began to worry slightly at the chill in the air. She hoped he had been sensible enough to have taken his coach.
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.
For the second instance in far too short a span of time, Emma found herself tethered to a bedside, caring for someone who’s health and well-being was totally intertwined with her own. It had been over a day since Mr. Knightley had collapsed in the parlor ridden with a fever. She was part indignation, part despair and totally anxious. How could he have been so foolish to travel in such weather for her sake! She would never forgive him for such folly and prayed he would wake soon so she could chastise him accordingly.
Mr. Perry could not be called as quickly as Emma would have liked due to the storm. Emma wasted no time, ordering him to a bed and tending to his temperature. His fever was persistent and strong and when Mr. Perry was finally able to arrive he expressed fear at the sheer intensity of it. Emma would not allow for panic, she had no time for such frivolities. She was determined to do everything in her power to heal him. She ordered willowbark, meadowsweet and fresh arrowroot. She kept his blankets tight and fresh, and the fire blazing. She washed his face and forced him to take fluids in his incoherently conscious states. She did not leave his side and the staff at Hartfield knew better than to try and tempt her otherwise. She poured herself over the medical texts in her father’s old collection taking notes and cross-referencing every treatment she thought applicable.
As the second day of his fever drew closer Mr. Perry thought it was beginning to break. He waited with Emma for a few hours and afterwards determined that his temperature was finally returning to a safe zone, but he remained adamant that Emma continue her regimental care. He promised to return in the morning, but had every hope that Mr. Knightley would be restored and conscious by then. Though this news was exceedingly welcome, Emma could not help but feel distrustful. There had been a moment similar in her father’s demise when Mr. Perry was almost sure of his recovery and Emma could not bring herself to hope now as she had then.
She stayed abrupt in her care and despite her being awake and alert for two full days, did not feel the least bit tired. She was washing his face with a cool rag when he began to stir. She could tell he was not fully aware of his surroundings and was struggling to speak. She hastily turned to fetch him some fresh water when he finally uttered some incoherent words…
“Tell her I will be home soon.” He said deliriously. Emma ran over to him desperately.
“Say again, Mr. Knightley?”
“Tell her I will be home soon.” He said more defiantly.
“To whom do you wish me to tell? Mrs. Reynolds?” Emma asked, perplexed.
“Emma.” He moaned.
“I am here Mr. Knightley, right here.” She said comfortingly, patting his hand.
“Make sure she is not alone.” He replied scratchily, unable to attain his whereabouts. His head fell back against the pillow and his body relaxed. Emma sat rooted to the bed. She did not understand his meaning but could not help but feel comforted that she was in his thoughts even in his most unaware state. She covered him back up and washed his face once more with the cool wash rag before settling in the armchair that was pulled next to his bed and returning to her study, still determined to aid him however she could.
Soft warm rays of sunshine penetrated through the curtains of where Mr. Knightley was slumbering, awaking and alerting him to the sheer heat that encompassed him. He was drenched in sweat and rose weakly to survey the situation of his current state. A multitude of blankets were weighing him down and as he pushed them off to allow his body to breath he was finally able to bear witness to the scene surrounding him. He was not in his bed after all. He was at Hartfield, and it’s mistress was asleep, passed out in a chair quite near where he had been sleeping. He watched her breathlessly. She was curled up in the armchair with her hair unkempt as rogue curls had escaped their constraints and were now gently cascading down her face. In one hand she held a dripping rag, in her lap and beside her chair lay a multitude of books. He peered closer and realized they were all medical titles and suddenly he remembered the events that had led him to his current situation. He sighed, rubbing his face and cursing his recklessness that had forced her to a state of no doubt ceaseless worry for all of its correlation with her recent grief.
He looked at his own person and let out a sigh of relief. Thank god he had not been redressed in one of Mr. Woodhouse’s old night shirts. He looked around for the remainder of his ensemble and found his coat and boots hanging next to the fire-still ablaze, no doubt because of Emma’s careful attendance to it. He quietly quit the bed and walked over to dress himself into a more presentable state. He splashed some water on his face and washed his hands before gingerly walking over to Emma. He knelt beside her and contemplated how best to wake her. He considered not waking her at all and for a moment just watched her with deep admiration. How long had she been tending to him? He knew how diligent she was, bearing witness to how she had cared for her father in his final days. He felt terrible for causing her such distress and knew he must alert her to his recovery. Gently he stroked the rogue curls behind her ear and whispered her name. Her eyes flashed open and she sprung out of her chair.
“You are awake!” She almost shouted.
“Emma, I-” he began but was interrupted.
“You must return to bed-”
She swiftly moved to the fire prodding it unnecessarily. “I shall call for Mr. Perry immediately.”
“Or perhaps Dr. Wingfield, Isabella is most confident in his abilities.”
It was no use, she was practically hysterical.
“You must return to bed, you could catch cold again, I will call for cook to bring up some gruel or toast.” she began to quit the room but he ran after her and grabbed her hand, pulling her back to him. She whipped around and almost lost her balance. He steadied her in his grasp.
“I cannot lose you too!” she cried, tears streaming down her face. He was stunned and for a moment watched unbelieving as she clutched his arms and her tears fell to the floor.
“Oh Emma,” he began softly “You will not lose me. I feel abominable for making you worry so, it was foolish on my part.”
She pushed him back and turned away from him “Very foolish! How could you do such a thing?!” her gaze still glued upon the floor.
He walked back to her and gently lifted her face up, gazing into her piercing blue eyes that seemed to glisten with the reflection of her tears.
“I could not stand the thought of you being alone. I acted recklessly, but… you must forgive me dear Emma, for I fear I would do it all again without a second thought.”
She shook her head, tears still coursing down her face. “You cannot, I will not allow it, you must swear to me, never to put yourself in such danger ever again. Not for me, not for anyone. Swear to me George Knightley!”
He was shocked, he had never heard her so commanding, he almost did not catch the use of his christian name. He grabbed her hands and pulled them to his chest.
“Emma, I…” He was lost for words
“I love you.” She interjected.
He thought his heart would burst from his chest. She loved him?! He worried that his fever had given him delusions. Could this really be true? He had spent so long wishing and longing for her affections that he almost could not believe her. Yet here she was, in the flesh, her hands in his and her tears dripping onto his boots. She had not left his side and he was beginning to recall all the times she had stroked his face or clutched his hands, begging him to get better. He thought it had all been a dream.
“Dearest Emma,” He finally managed to say, “For that is what you always have been and always will be, my most beloved Emma.”
She looked up at him unbelieving, her tears finally stopped in total shock.
“I cannot make speeches. If I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. I have blamed you, and lectured you and you have borne it as no other woman would have.”
“Can this be true?” She asked incredulously.
“Emma I have loved you for, I fear, far too long without making my sentiments known. Lord knows I have been a very indifferent lover, but you may always be assured of my honesty.”
He pressed his face against hers as she laughed, making his heart flutter and, ever so tenderly, lowered his lips to hers and kissed her.
“Tell me I am not dreaming.” he whispered when their lips parted.
She cupped his face in her hands in response.
“You have been asleep for two days, if anyone is dreaming it is I.”
He kissed her, more deeply this time, drinking her in like the first drink of water after being stranded in the desert. When at last they parted for loss of breath they embraced and laughed deeply.
“We are not dreaming.” He said happily. “Thank god, for I fear I should never want to wake from a dream like this.”
She threw her arms around him, deliriously and totally happy.
It was not long until the news of their engagement had reached not only the inhabitants of Highbury but all of their acquaintances near and far. Isabella had been blindsided and totally shocked. She did not understand the unconcerned and almost indifferent approach to the news her husband displayed when their letter arrived. He had barely even looked up from his paper when his wife had told him only uttering the phrase “Took them long enough.”
Jane and Frank were elated at the news and took it as an early opportunity to return to Highbury. They offered their services as a newly married couple to act as chaperones and in turn spent their stay at Hartfield for the remainder of their engagement. It was the happiest time having one's close friends staying with one while also planning one's wedding Emma thought.
Their engagement was not long as they felt they had spent too much of their lives not as man and wife and were eager to enter into the next chapter of their story. There was only one matter to discuss. Where they should live. Mr. Knightley was adamant that Emma choose her desire of domain, insisting that he would be happy in either home so long as she was with him. About a week before their wedding Emma had still not come to a decision and Mr. Knightley thought it pertinent to have a discussion, perhaps together they could come up with a plan.
“Emma my love, have you given anymore thought as to our living situation for after the wedding?” he tried to ask in a gently open sort of manner.
“Oh yes my dear. I think I have come up with a rather brilliant solution.” She said casually.
“Oh?” He questioned. “Pray tell, what is this plan you have devised so cunningly?” He said teasingly.
“It occurred to me recently that Jane and Frank are in a rather precarious manner of living in regards to privacy. They are in no short supply of fashionable living arrangements but are totally lacking a dwelling of their own. I have also noted how relaxed and happy they appear to be when in Highbury. I thought they might enjoy having a lease at Hartfield for the time being until their arrangements at Enscombe is secured.”
Mr. Knightley was amazed. He felt his face split into a wide toothy grin that he should have the cleverest and most considerate woman to be his wife.
“And you my love? Will this arrangement secure your happiness?” He asked
“Oh that has already been secured, but I fear, this arrangement may make me entirely too happy for any mortal to adequately contain.”
He took her hand and kissed it, thrilled beyond words that she was not only to be Mrs. Knightley very soon, but also mistress of Donwell Abbey. It was almost too good to be true.
The wedding was much like any other wedding, though anyone in attendance would have gone into fine detail about the sheer happiness of such an unexpected, joyful day. There were many tears shed in the process of the day, and for once Emma was pleased that they did not emanate from her own eyes. She felt entirely too joyful to cry, although she knew the tears that were present were sourced from such joy. Such displays did not afflict Emma, though she thought she saw Mr. Knightley wipe away a tear upon her entrance to the chapel. They ended their day with the company of all those they held dear, but did not feel the least bit sorry for their removal to Donwell, thrilled that for once the night did not have to end with their departure from one another and that the day would begin with them in the same light again. It was a routine they could easily grow accustom to and would enjoy for a great many years to come.
George Knightley stretched out to find his wife’s spot in their bed unoccupied. He moaned at the lack of her warmth and lifted his head to locate her. She was sitting at her vanity absentmindedly running a comb through her silky hair. He walked over and began to massage her shoulders.
“My love, come back to bed, it is very early and guests will not arrive for many hours.” He requested sleepily
“There is still so much that needs to be done. There are decorations still to put out, the stockings must be procured from Hartfield, and I fear I may need to make some amendments to the menu.” she retorted.
“I am sure that a few more hours of sleep will not deter the progression of events and may afford us more clarity as to the conclusion of some matters.” he said reassuringly. She looked up at him unconvinced.
“My love, this may very well be our first and last tranquil Christmas Eve morning together.” He noted looking down lovingly at the ever so small bump in her belly that had only just begun to take form.
She sighed, “Yes I suppose you are correct. But only a few hours mind, I do not think I will be pacified into sleep.”
He took her hand and led her back to the warm embrace of their bed.
The evening brought all prospective guests to Donwell for the festivities. The London Knightley’s had arrived first and settled for the Christmas holiday, followed shortly after by the Churchill’s, the Weston’s and the Bates’s, the Coles and the Martin’s. The Eltons had chosen to spend their holiday with their in-laws and no one was at all the worse for it. They had a lovely, lively dinner and Emma was delighted to be able to host so many of their closest friends and family all at once, it was one of the many advantages of living at Donwell. After the dinner they all retired happily to the parlor where the party began hanging stockings for the children. Little Emma was walking circles around her brothers and sisters, happily followed by little Ms. Anna Weston. The two had become as thick as thieves and everyone delighted to bear witness to their play. Emma looked on fondly imagining their own child and saying her thanks that they were assured of very close friendships in both age and proximity with the anticipated arrival of not only a little Martin, but also a small soon to be Churchill. Jane and Harriet were but a few months away from receiving their little bundles of joy and Emma and George were expecting their happy arrival in mid summer.
Emma could never have anticipated their stories to have turned out like this, it was a conclusion far sweeter than any of her predictions could have procured. She knew that her father would be beaming down at them all and would happily watch the progression of Highbury’s newest generation from above. As Emma mused on these happy thoughts her husband walked over to join her.
“You seem contended.” He noted, stringing her arm through his.
“Very.” She responded sincerely.
“I hate to tear you away from the subject of your happiness, but I have a surprise for you that I simply cannot wait to present you with.” He said with a sly grin. “Come, we’ll be but a moment.” he said leading her out of the parlor and up the stairs. He led her down the corridor and into the nursery. There were white sheets hanging over most of the furniture in the room and blueprints laying out on a large work bench in the middle. Just behind the bench lay two new coverings, he walked them over to stand in between them. He lifted off the sheets to uncover two new, delicately crafted bassinets. One encrusted with elegant light blue embellishments, the other a rosy pink. At the front held two blank gold plates, awaiting their future patron’s name. Emma smiled widely, sweeping her hand over the pink bassinet.
“When our daughter arrives,” she said with an air of confidence, “we shall use your lovely script to encrypt her name.”
“Oh?” he said inquisitively, “And pray tell my love, what makes you so sure our child will be a girl?”
“Because, I have already chosen her name.” Emma replied matter of factly.
“Funny, so have I, but rather for a son.” He replied.
“Go on then, what is your decided name if our child is born a son.” Emma asked
“Well, I thought they must have the name Henry, but seeing as that is already our nephews name and it would be rather cumbersome to have two young Henry Knightley’s, I thought we might add my father’s name first. James Henry Knightley. What say you to that?”
“I say, that I believe that to be the perfect name for our future son, we may as well engrave it at once, though I dearly believe he shall have to wait for his appearance.”
Mr. Knightley laughed heartily at his wife’s conviction and wrapped her gently up in his arms before placing his hand on her stomach.
“I am inclined to believe you my love. Do not keep me in anticipation any longer, tell me, what will our daughter’s name be?”
“Mary Katherine Knightley.” She said decidedly. He looked into her eyes with tears beginning to fill his own.
“I thought it only proper to name her after both of our mother’s.” She turned to take his face in her hands as a tear slid down his cheek.
“Yes, I quite agree.” He replied scratchily, “I see we had similar approaches.”
“I would not have expected otherwise.” She said warmly before giving him a tender kiss.
“Now come Mr. Knightley, we must return to our guests.” She said in a mockingly firm tone.
Clearing his throat he responded in likewise sincerity, “Yes, we must at once. After you Mrs. Knightley.”
And with that they quit the nursery and returned to their party, knowing fully that whatever their child may be, they would grow up surrounded by constant love, admiration and all the cleverness of their parent’s combined.