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Frank and Emma: An Alternate Ending to Jane Austen's Emma

Chapter Text

Chapter I

Upon returning home from the wretched Box Hill venture, Emma went straight to her room to compose herself. Her chest did not stop heaving with sobs for a good while yet, and it seemed as soon as she washed the tears from her face, they quickly sprung back into her eyes. Emma had never been so miserable in her life. Her words spoken to Miss Bates during the silly game echoed in her head. To be so cruel, so unfeeling to an old-worse yet, destitute-friend! Mr. Knightley was right, and Emma suddenly felt very doubtful of her own character.

However, Emma had to cease her crying and emerge from her room, lest Mr. Woodhouse begin to concern himself. When she entered the parlor, she enquired after her father and was informed by the servant that he was taking his walk about the garden. Emma had time then to situate herself by the window and take up a bit of embroidery, so that by the time Mr. Woodhouse returned, she should look as collected as usual. It was while Emma was fiddling about with the embroidery that she heard the knock at the window. Could it be Papa? Emma thought, but that would be most irregular, as Mr. Woodhouse would be aware of the startling capacity such a knock at the window could possess. Emma turned in her chair to look out the window directly behind her, and gave a start when she saw none other than Frank Churchill.

“Frank!” she cried, loud enough that he could hear her through the window pane. What a shocking, rather ill-mannered thing to do. Frank had given her quite a fright. On any other day, Emma would have laughed at Frank’s unorthodox antics and it would have been quite in keeping with one of their little games. Today, however, she had had quite enough of Frank and his play. At the back of her mind, Emma quite blamed Frank for encouraging her on in her spiteful teasing of Miss Bates. At least he was part of the instrument of her cruelty, if not the primary cause.

Yet Frank was motioning to her to come outside. He looked tense; rather than smiling as if he thought himself amusing, his brow was furrowed and he seemed to urgently desire her presence outside. Looking at him, Emma suddenly grew alarmed, worried that there was something amiss at Randalls, and that either Mr. or Mrs. Weston was in distress. At that prospect, Emma threw on her shawl and hurried outside to meet Frank where he waited at the window.

“My dear Emma,” Frank said, giving her a stiff little bow.

“What is it Frank? Is your father ill; is Mrs. Weston ill?”

Frank gave an expression of surprise. “Oh no. I am sorry to have alarmed you. It is nothing like that.”

“Well of course you alarmed me,” Emma replied crossly. “Coming to the window like this instead of entering through the house like a civilized person. I immediately supposed that something was wrong.”

“I am sorry. It was folly on my part. I would never have you worry on my account, due to my foolishness. Pray forgive me.”

Emma, against her will, found herself moved by Frank’s urgent entreaty and softened her countenance. “Well are you alright? You seem in distress yourself.”

“I confess I am. Emma, do you have a while to sit and talk with me? I have something to explain to you, and I must allow for it taking some time.”

“Of course, Frank. I always have time for a friend such as yourself and if you are distressed, I hope I can help to alleviate your troubles. I confess myself to be out of spirits because of some unfeeling sentiments I expressed at the picnic. Indeed, I am quite put out with myself.”

“Oh, whatever sentiments you are regretting could not be as damaging as the thoughts I expressed at the picnic. Nay, my conduct of the past several months has been wildly damaging, and you shall see what I mean in a moment.”

Intrigued, Emma suggested they sit upon a stone bench under the shade of a tree. When they were seated, Frank began.

“My story dates back to last October, before I had the pleasure of your acquaintance, before I had returned to Highbury and become reunited with my father and the whole community and begun to know our dear Mrs. Weston. I was quite a fool back then, though it was not even a year ago. Yet I am much changed now; I hope you believe me when I say that I am much altered.

“In October as you know, I was in Weymouth and ran in the same circles as Jane Fairfax. Miss Fairfax and myself have professed to being only a little acquainted but alas, this is a falsehood on both our parts. We were very much acquainted in Weymouth, at least we supposed ourselves to be, enough so that we became betrothed and planned on matrimony as soon as I could approach Mrs. Churchill on the subject, and have the hope of getting her blessing.”

Frank paused here and looked on Emma as the signs of shock began to bloom across her face. Her mouth fell agape in an unbecoming manner yet she could not close it. A pink stain flushed her cheeks and finally, her lips twisted in anger. “You have me deceived during the whole of our intercourse! You have been a false friend, a false son, a false stranger among us! We welcomed you with open arms, we welcomed Jane with open arms, and the whole time you rewarded us with falsehoods and intrigues. It was very badly done.” That last part echoed Mr. Knightley’s remonstration of Emma for her behavior towards Miss Bates; she thought it fitting to say in response to Frank’s deplorable behavior.

“I know. I know. And I hate myself for it. I just could not make my engagement known, because as soon as Mrs. Churchill got wind of it, she would have put an end to it at once. When I first arrived in Hatfield, I thought myself very much in love with Jane. I was in love with the memory of her, for truth be told I could not really know her from our brief, secret courtship in Weymouth. I thought no amount of deceit too much to protect the woman I loved and to conceal our attachment. That is, until I met you.”

“Oh don’t Frank! Please don’t!” Emma turned her face away from him; she couldn’t bear to look at him. She abruptly felt the flood of feelings she had been suppressing these past months. Her pragmatic voice that told her it was not true love she was experiencing, that selflessly set aside her admirer for her friend Harriet, was gone. She was suddenly, painfully aware of the deep affection she felt for Frank and it was terribly heartrending because it was all too late.

“May I continue?” Frank implored. As Emma could not reply, her throat was too thick with tears, Frank went on. “Our friendship was so instantaneous I felt as though I had known you all my life. I loved being in your company; I basked in the flow of your wit and beauty and vivacity. You were so full of life and so similar to me with your love of balls and merriment and mischief. And there was Jane in comparison to you. And she was so sullen and impenetrable and so not like I remembered. Do you recall what I said at Box Hill? That one could not really make a good judgement of a person’s character based on knowing them in a place that was not their natural element? I knew Jane in a place we were both strangers to and I believe now we were both playacting. She was more lively and engaging there and I more serious. I subdued myself to impress Jane and she did not truly know me for who I am, much as I did not truly know her.

“Jane and I had to be indifferent, even cold to one another in public. Yet I took pains to visit her at the Bates’ and to try to carry on our courtship. But I found her cold even in stolen moments and disapproving of my carefree ways. I began to see she was too solemn and I was too flippant for us to ever really be happy together. But I had contracted myself to her and I was the only hope she had of escaping a life of penury or servitude. So I resigned myself to my fate and left early during my first visit so that I could remove myself from the temptation of you. I was falling in love with you and I couldn’t risk spending anymore time in your company, lest I led you on too much or betrayed myself with my feelings for you. I wanted to tell you of Jane before I left you, but I couldn’t bring myself to.”

“Oh! That’s what you wanted to tell me.”

“Yes. So I left and when I returned I tried to distance myself from you, to temper our flirtation. But it was so hard. We get on so easily and I forget myself when I look into your hazel eyes.”

“My hazel eyes,” Emma repeated. “You were referring to me today at Box Hill, when you declared you would have no wife but one with hazel eyes.” Frank nodded. “Not Harriet,” Emma muttered.

Frank looked at her oddly, because of course he knew nothing of Emma’s matchmaking schemes for him and Harriet. He kept on with his story. “Yet today I turned my discourse on the idea that one should never marry one that they have only known for a few weeks in a public place. And Jane replied by saying she did not think such a contract should hold two people to ruin the rest of their lives. It was unfeeling of me to express myself so in public. So after Box Hill, I went round to the Bates’ to have a private discourse with Jane. She informed me that she has resolved to take up the governess position Mrs. Elton secured for her. Her mind was very firmly made up. I professed my love for her out of honor, for I couldn’t conceive of abandoning her to the fate she has so long dreaded just because she discovered that my feelings for her had changed. Yet Jane expressed herself to have honestly fallen out of love with me and to feel as burdened by our engagement as I did. She informed me that she could never stoop to marry me for money instead of love. She very wisely said that two people as disalike as ourselves could never be well matched and that we could never be happy together. With this I could not argue. Jane reassured to me that governessing does not seem such a hell to her now as she once imagined it to be. It is a very good situation-rather like what Mrs. Weston experienced with your family when she was still Miss Taylor. Jane even said that Miss Taylor’s happy experience as a governess and eventual good fortune had assuaged her fears as to being a governess, and she is quite excited to start upon her profession. I dare say she has the temperament, refinement, and learning that will make an excellent governess.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Emma checked her tears on her shawl. She was mortified. That she should be shedding tears over this rake, this scoundrel-

“Emma I am sorry to have grieved you,” Frank began. “I am sorry for all the damage I have caused to everybody’s lives in Highbury. You were right to say I abused you all and abused your good faith in my character. I am undeserving of the warm welcome I have received here. Yet I hope in future to make it up to you all. To repay all the kindnesses bestowed upon me. To prove myself an honorable man.”

“Honorable! Honorable indeed!”

“You are right. I have not been honorable. Yet I mean to improve myself, to atone for my sins. And dare I hope, that as my speech has moved you to some degree, that I still possess some small chance?”

“What chance?” Emma had thoroughly recovered herself and dried her tears. She was studying her hands and refusing to look up.

“A chance with you. A chance to prove my love for you. Because I do love you, Emma. I have done so for months and if you would have me, I would be the happiest man in the world.”

Quite jarringly, Emma began to laugh. She laughed for a good moment and Frank began to grow alarmed, that his sincere declaration of love should be the cause of such mirth. “I am sorry my proposal is so ridiculous to you. Of course you could not take me seriously after my conduct. I have ruined my own chances. And to think, I ruined them before I even met you, by becoming betrothed to another, never knowing that you were waiting for me in Highbury!”

“No.” Emma managed to halt her laughter and speak. “I was just thinking how this is the second proposal I’ve received in a year from a man I was intending for Harriet!”

Frank was obliged to induce Emma to explain herself, and when she explained her matchmaking, he laughed too. “Miss Smith is a delightful creature and a very nice addition to our parties. However, I have only had eyes for you and never had any romantic designs on her. I am sorry to hear you believe that she has affection for me, because I should hate to see her disappointed again. What a bad business with Mr. Elton! He behaved rather unfeelingly towards you both.”

“Indeed.” There was a pregnant pause as both Emma and Frank ruminated on unfeeling behavior. Finally, Emma spoke. “Perhaps you believe yourself to love me now. But not so long ago you supposed yourself in love with Jane. Just an hour ago you were her betrothed! Even if I did believe you, how could I depend upon you? You are a fickle lover, to be sure.”

“But I have known you longer than I knew Jane when I proposed. I have seen you among your friends and family, in your everyday life as I had never witnessed her. I feel that I truly know you and that you truly know me. Now you know everything and there are no more secrets between us. I venture to say that you and I are alike in so many ways. I am obviously deficient where you are virtuous, but we possess the same temperament, the same interests, and before today-at least I fear this has ceased on your part but never on mine-a mutual admiration for each other. I can confidently say that I love you, that I will always love you, and that I would be resolutely happy being married to you.”

“I will admit I have felt myself tied to you from our very first meeting,” Emma said. “I feel such a connection to-as you expressed it-as if I had known you my whole life. And I argue with you that you are so much more lacking in virtues than myself. I have lately become aware that I can be cruel and unfeeling and I have sins I must atone for as well. But at this time, Frank, I cannot accept your proposal.”

Frank looked crestfallen. “At this time. But perhaps in future?”

“Yes. Court me. After an appropriate amount of time has passed since the end of your engagement to Jane. Visit Highbury often, dine with the Westons here at Hartfield, help me plan another ball. Only do not rush this courtship. Let us be sure of our intent to marry before we contract ourselves to do so. I will give you hope, Frank. I have thought, many times, that I am in love with you. I did notice your distancing yourself from me, and so it cooled my ardor. Yet now that you profess your love, I am aware that my feeling ran deeper than I even knew. I could see us happily married to one another. We are very well suited to each other. Only time will tell however, if our love can bear the passage of time, and until we are certain it can, I cannot engage myself to you.”

Frank took one of Emma’s hands in his. “But you do love me?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“And you are giving me another chance.”

“Yes.”

The two smiled upon each other, radiant with youth and unexpected joy. Frank brought Emma’s hand to his lips and held it there. When finally he let it go, Emma came to her senses.

“My father must be sick with worry! He has decidedly reentered the house by now and must be wondering where I am. I do hope the servants informed him that I did return home from Box Hill and am not missing. I must go in to see him and reassure him. I must attend to him for the rest of the day I’m afraid, and then tomorrow morning I must see Miss Bates directly, and show her some special attention, for I fear I wounded her with my biting comments this morning.”

“Then you will see Jane,” Frank remarked nervously.

“Yes. I shall wish her well on her venture and be particularly kind to her. I shall not reveal any of my knowledge of her ended engagement with you. Do not fear.”

“I won’t. I trust in your discretion.”

The young people stood up from the bench. It seemed that they had sat there for an eternity, and everything was changed from when they were first seated. Frank kissed Emma’s hand once more and took his leave of her, and Emma ambled into the house, with a smile on her face, that Mr. Woodhouse commented upon right before he began worrying that she had got sunburnt from being outside too much of the day.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Emma was feeling much reconciled with herself and assured of her own good character, when her world of Highbury began crumbling apart. Emma was walking home to Hartfield after a very satisfactory visit at the Bates home. At first, Miss Bates’s regular conduct had been altered towards Emma; Emma found her more reserved and less inclined to prattle. Yet after Emma had greeted Jane, Mrs. Bates, and particularly Miss Bates warmly, and thoroughly engaged Miss Bates in conversation-willingly asking her to elaborate upon many a topic, as she had previously been loath to do-Miss Bates’s usual congenial and welcoming manner was in full effect. Jane was subdued as usual but looked less sickly than of late, and even spoke to Emma with some anticipation of her newfound situation. She declared she was equal to the task and quite ready to embark on her new life. If there was some sadness around her eyes, Emma supposed it was due to the disappointment one feels from failed expectations, and not from a broken heart.

Miss Bates was exceptionally appreciative of Emma’s special attentions to her niece, and Emma felt herself even more in Miss Bates’s good favor. What a relief, a weight lifted, to have her previous negligence to this old friend forgiven! Emma would be a changed woman and never treat Miss Bates poorly again or think ill of Jane Fairfax. She would be warm and attentive to them both, and never forget that they deserved her sincere respect, as they were so much less fortunate than she in their station in life. Yet look at them, somehow managing. They now seemed admirable to Emma in their resourcefulness, in how they managed to get along and still be in company with the best circles in Highbury. And to perceive Jane; so moral she would not marry for money and so industrious that she would join a household of strangers to make her keep.

So when Emma arrived home, all seemed right with the world. Instead, Harriet and Mr. Knightley were in the parlour with her father, and Mr. Knightley announced that he was going away to visit John and Isabella Knightley in Brunswick Square.

“Is this not a sudden scheme?” Emma inquired after he had made his plans known. He couldn’t leave now-not when he was looking so disapprovingly at her, with the memory of the Box Hill outing fresh in his mind, and no chance to see how she was already improving her character, already becoming a kinder and more generous friend.

“Yes-rather,” Knightley replied to her query. “I have been thinking of it some little time.”

Just then, Mr. Woodhouse asked after Mrs. and Miss Bates, finishing with, “Dear Emma has been to call on Mrs. and Miss Bates, Mr.Knightley, as I told you before. She is always so attentive to them.”

Emma colored at this exaggeration, even though she was now remedying the situation to make her father’s words be true. Mr. Knightley saw her chagrin and instantly read in it her remorse and resolve to do better. After that, it was nothing but warmness between them, and Emma saw that to Mr. Knightley, she was forgiven. Oh, how blessed it was to have the whole wretched business behind her!

As Mr. Knightley was taking his leave, a peculiar thing passed between himself and Emma. He took her hand in his and raised her hand almost to his lips. Then he hesitated and released her hand without kissing it. There should have been nothing remiss if he had kissed her hand in parting; they were old friends after all; to Emma he was as an older brother, not just as in-laws but by the nature of their intercourse. Yet, the termination of the nicety before it was completed gave Emma pause. It seemed almost as if Mr. Knightley had stopped midway not because of any distaste, but as if there was an excess of feeling he did not wish to betray. Emma may not have perceived it had it not been for the events of yesterday noon, but-although she had postponed Frank’s proposal-she felt herself promised to Frank, and the slightest admiration from another man would now be sharply perceptible to her, as it felt like some uncomfortable betrayal. Mr. Knightley was looking at her the way Frank had looked at her yesterday in the garden, and Emma did not like it at all. It did not sit well with her one bit. She could honestly say that she felt relieved when Mr. Knightley had gone.

Knightley’s departure and subsequent behavior was the beginning of the alteration of the world as Emma knew it. The next catalyst of upset to Highbury commenced the next day. News came from Frank to the Westons (and to Emma in a personal missive, that she must pretend she had never received), that soon after his return to Richmond, upon leaving Randalls the day of the Box Hill venture-and the discrete understanding between himself and Emma-Mrs. Churchill had perished. A sudden seizure, quite separate from her usual ailments, had carried her off.

Mrs. Churchill was much more beloved in death to the occupants of Highbury than she had been while living. Everyone expressed their sorrow at this much talked about but never known woman’s passing, and Emma in particular felt very moved on Frank’s account. She knew him to have a great deal of affection for his aunt, trying though she may have been, and he was certainly beholden and grateful to her. His letter to Emma expressed true regret.

After Frank had helped prepare the funeral and settled Mrs. Churchill’s affairs with Mr. Churchill, Emma would be glad of his return so that she might offer him any comfort that she could. Yet aside from her feeling for Frank and his loss, Emma had something else entirely to trouble her. Harriet. Of course all the concern and regret of late had been due to her leading Harriet astray when it came to matters of the heart. Yet this terrible blunder could become the most calamitous of all her wrongdoings to her dear friend. Harriet, such an ardent admirer of Frank, who thought herself in love, who entertained notions of him reciprocating such feelings to a certain degree, all because of Emma’s misguided encouragement, could not be kept in the dark any longer. Emma must tell Harriet the truth, painful as it would be.

Emma went to call on Harriet at Mrs. Goddard’s, her heart full of dread at being the bearer of such unwelcome news. Ah, after today, Harriet must rue ever making Emma’s acquaintance, for she had suffered nothing but heartbreak and disappointment since the connection had been formed! After Harriet had met her in the parlour of Mrs. Goddard’s, Emma embarked on her thankless task.

“I trust you have heard of poor Mrs. Churchill’s passing.”

“Indeed! A sad business to be sure. And no one even knew of her being so very unwell, and in that capacity! At least Mr. Frank Churchill was with her to the last.”

Oh! Emma groaned inwardly. Here was Harriet, so concerned and attentive to Frank’s state of affairs because of her great love for him! It was unbearable!

“My dear, dear friend,” Emma prefaced. “May I take your hand?” Harriet handed over one of her small white hands and Emma took it, sure it would be snatched away in a rebuff of her friendship the instant she uttered her confession. “Before Mr. Churchill took his leave of us to go to Richmond on this last occasion, he had a private audience with me and it was discovered that, there has existed for quite some time, a mutual affection between us. We have agreed to keep our courtship for the time being a thing only known to ourselves, but I had to tell you, as my close confidante and bosom companion, of this new development in my relationship with Mr. Churchill. I had to offer my sincerest apology for hurting you and betraying your trust in me. Harriet, I am sincerely sorry for this turn of events and I hope you may find it in yourself to forgive me.”

Harriet was studying Emma inquisitively. “Why Emma, I don’t know what you mean. It has seemed perfectly clear to me that you and Mr. Churchill should become engaged at some time in the near future; I dare say everyone has been expecting it. Oh! As to your apology to me, do you mean you are sorry for breaking your resolution never to marry? I would not hold you to such a promise, even though I must never marry, as the man of my affections is too highborn and above me to ever stoop so low as to marrying me. Though I shall ever admire this gentleman from afar-who we agreed not to name but you know who I refer to just the same-and shall never marry, I feel nothing but happiness for your newfound situation and decision to be united with Frank.”

Emma blinked rapidly, dropping her friend’s hand and trying to make sense of Harriet’s speech. Could she really have the audacity to be saying that she would forever love Frank-Emma’s suitor-but still wish Emma happiness with him? What sort of romantic notions had Harriet in her head that she thought this a permissible declaration, no matter how close she and Emma felt themselves to be? And then it dawned on Emma like a sudden burst of light over a dark landscape, that once again she had found herself to be very, very mistaken.

“Let us be clear on this subject once and for all. The unnamed gentleman you professed to love before was not Frank Churchill?”

“Frank Churchill?” Harriet looked indignant and shifted agitatedly on the red embroidered settee on which she sat. “How could you ever suppose me to be in love with Frank Churchill-your obvious admirer-and oh, I had thought it so clear! I had thought there could be no mistaking who I hold in such high estimation, to whom I owe such gratitude for the great service he rendered me!”

“The service he rendered you,” Emma repeated, clutching at the piece of evidence that had induced her to think Frank to be the recipient of Harriet’s devotion in the first place. “Surely you meant the occasion when Frank rescued you from those awful gypsies.”

“Nay! I never in my life did mean that. Rescuing me from those vagabonds was a great service to be sure, but it never was the service-and Frank never was the gentleman I referred to-that I was thinking of.”

Emma felt herself grown impatient. They must have out with it at once. “Please, for my sanity’s sake, correct me on this matter and name the gentleman that you fancy.”

Harriet’s pale cheeks colored and she made a careful study of the carpet. Finally she spoke, barely above a whisper. “Mr. George Knightley.”

“Mr. Knightley!” Emma cried, her voice tinged with shock. She had to prevent herself from adding, that had she supposed that the gentleman’s identity was Mr. Knightley, she should never have encouraged Harriet’s hope and fancy. A Frank Churchill deigning to marry a Harriet Smith was one matter; a Mr. Knightley condescending to such a match was another matter entirely. So the heartbreak would not be avoided, despite Emma not having stolen Harriet’s intended love.

“I never would have dreamt it possible,” Harriet explained. “But you assured me that more miraculous matches had been made, and then there are the little signs that Mr. Knightley himself may have some measure of admiration for me.”

Emma had Harriet explain these little signs, and even had to admit that they seemed to be rather substantial proof. She had even herself noticed some of these changes in Mr. Knightley towards Harriet. He did nowadays go out of his way to walk with Harriet and engage her in conversation; the great service he had rendered Harriet had been quite a gesture-for a man who did not dance to stand up twice with her when she was in want of a partner. He had even admitted to Emma that he had misjudged Harriet before and that she had many good and pleasing qualities. So at the end of Harriet’s careful reasonings, Emma found herself conceding that even such a match as this may be possible, and that stranger things had taken place. She hoped dearly for Harriet’s sake that this was the case, and they parted as friends, the whole visit being less disastrous than Emma had supposed it would be.

And then, the next day Mr. Knightley rushed home from London, ending his stay much sooner than planned. It was said that he rushed straight to the Bates’ abode before even going to Donwell Abbey, and immediately upon arriving, he had asked Miss Bates for permission to wed her niece, and then, upon receiving not only consent but a hearty and grateful blessing, he proposed to Jane herself and was accepted.

Emma heard all this from Mrs. Weston on the second day of Mr. Knightley’s return, when Mrs. Weston came to visit her in the morning. Apparently, the news was spreading through Highbury like a conflagrant fire. Emma felt mortified to be nearly the last to know, to have the news not broken to her by Mr. Knightley himself.

“So you were right,” Emma breathed, after hearing the amazing news. “You saw Mr. Knightley’s especial admiration of Jane Fairfax early on and yet I would not believe you.”

Mrs. Weston, nodded acquiescence, never a friend to relish in being right. “Though I foresaw some little bit of it, it is still astonishing to me as well. I had listened to your opinions and thought myself mistaken, and it having just been settled upon that Jane would leave to begin governessing nearly at once-it took me quite by surprise as well.”

“Indeed,” Emma agreed. “I had quite determined that Mr. Knightley should never marry, yet here it is. The thought of Jane leaving and becoming employed must have spurred him into action.” She shook away the remembrance of Mr. Knightley’s almost kissing of her hand; it was of no consequence now.

“I dare say that was it. A very honorable thing to do, to relieve Jane of her situation. Not that I doubt his sincere love for her as well.”

“Mmmm, indeed.” But Emma’s mind was already reeling away, over to Highbury and Mrs. Goddard’s place, where Harriet must have heard the dreadful news. Dreadful to Harriet, unexpected and not necessarily welcome to Emma-because she had always supposed he should not marry as he had not done so for a good thirty and seven years, and for the sake of her little nephew Henry, that he might inherit Donwell Abbey someday. And if Mr. Knightley had had to marry, she should have preferred dear Harriet to be his intended bride, because it was a match Harriet had longed for so fervently and now once more, Emma must contend with her friend’s heartache. Once again, Emma was aware of Harriet’s disappointment being quite her fault; she had kept the embers of Harriet’s hope growing by encouragement, and Harriet would never have run in the same circles as Mr. Knightley and thus never fallen in love with him, if it were not for Emma.

After Mrs. Weston had departed and Emma had seen Mr. Woodhouse comfortably situated by the fire (despite the summer’s day, Mr. Woodhouse was given to chill), Emma was resolved to venture forth again to Mrs. Goddard’s. Before she could be on her way, Harriet herself was ushered in. Emma took her to the parlor that Mr. Woodhouse was not seated in, so that they could talk openly and so that Emma could comfort Harriet if she began to cry. Harriet did not cry, though she was worrying a handkerchief in her hands and her eyes were red, so that Emma fretted that Harriet had cried all during her walk to Hartfield.

“I am aware of the news of Mr. Knightley’s engagement to Jane Fairfax,” Harriet began querulously. “I confess myself to be disappointed. I mistook common kindness for more marked attentions and built up foolish hope in my own heart.”

Emma could not restrain herself and cut in. “My dearest Harriet, do not blame yourself. If it were not for my encouragement-first when I was mistaken as to who you were referring to, then again when you identified Mr. Knightley to me and I professed that such a match could be possible-you may not have set your hopes so high. I fear I had a great hand in setting you up for disappointment, and for that I am deeply sorry. Yet, you're mistaking Mr. Knightley’s conduct is to be understood. He did show you special attention of late and even I took these signs as probable flirtation.”

“Do not blame yourself, Emma. I will not have it. Now I am truly resolved never to marry.”

“As you say, Harriet. As you say. And you shall always be welcome at Hartfield, as my particular friend, after you should quit Mrs. Goddard’s. If I should marry Frank, we should both be happy to have you. He was just praising you the other day, and saying what an excellent addition to our gatherings you are.”

“Truly?” Harriet sniffed.

“Truly.”

“Well, I thank you, for all the kindnesses you have shown me.”

Emma inwardly cringed at this undue thanks.

“Of course, Harriet. I am happy to help in any way that I can.”

“I don’t know what I should do without you!”

You should probably be a great deal happier, Emma thought, but she did not say so, and she and Harriet turned their attentions to happier matters for the rest of the visit.