Chapter Six – Tasks Are Handed Out
“As you might well know, my dears, a newspaper is a difficult project to realise. I will need all of you to pull it off successfully. I have composed a list and lined up all the tasks that need to be tackled. First and foremost, there is a great need for someone who can manage our funds.”
Emma’s gaze skimmed over the small gathering.
“Funds?” a deep voice sounded, all of a sudden.
In utter astonishment, four faces turned to George. The ladies had forgotten that he was there with them. Emma was the first to recover.
“Oh, my love, I had no notion that you were still in the room. You startled us, you know.”
George’s mouth twisted to suppress a smile and instead, he endeavoured to keep a straight face. “I am here, indeed, my love. I thought it best to offer you the vast experience I gathered as a landowner and manager of an estate. You will need some very specific skills if you want to accomplish this task.”
Emma’s brow furrowed which made it even more difficult for George to keep a serious expression on his features. She was so adorable when she was angry. Oh, and she was becoming angry very quickly, he saw.
“My dearest,” she said in a clipped tone of voice, “there is no need for you to waste your precious time with us, women, and neglect your many duties. If you insist on concerning yourself with our little project, I shall give you a full account of our actions after dinner tonight. By then, I will have outlined all the issues and dealt with them to our mutual satisfaction.”
Emma raised her chin in defiance. She needed to be in charge here but her husband – confound it! – was having difficulties hiding his mirth. Tongue in cheek, George challenged her with mocked gravity.
“You speak of funds, my sweet. Where are you planning to acquire them? Are you providing for the money, then?”
“Of course, I am!” Emma snapped and immediately regretted that she lost her temper in front of her friends. “Yes, I will provide for the funds that will create “The Highbury Chronicles” but I expect the project to gain its own profits after a time.”
The committee members of “The Highbury Chronicles” had hitherto followed the exchange between the consorts in baffled silence, but now Anne Weston could no longer contain her thoughts.
“Emma, George, I beg you, this is leading nowhere! Let us stick to the problems at hand and follow up Emma’s suggestion that we assign the various tasks to the persons most suitable for them. A treasurer is what is wanted first, is it not?”
“Quite so, dearest Anne,” George agreed in an enthused manner. “I have just the right person in mind, as a matter of fact. It must be Miss Bates, there is no doubt about it!”
Emma’s jaw dropped. She gasped so violently that she choked and coughed in order to conceal her displeasure about George’s suggestion. Fortunately, there was someone present who was even more bewildered than Emma.
Miss Bates’ plain face had gone white as a sheet with bright red blossoms of excitement colouring her thin cheekbones.
“Oh, erm … oh, my! Oh, I’m sure I’m … oh, dear, oh dear … Mr Knightley, how wonderful that you think me – of all people – little old me capable of managing the funds!”
“Yes, Miss Bates,” George acquiesced, “you are the perfect person. Have you not managed to keep you and your mother out of harm’s ways, only with your skilful management of your little household? In my opinion, the committee must be called upon to grant you a salary for the talents you will apply. I propose a monthly compensation of five shillings. That would be to begin with, mind! As soon as the newspaper begins to prosper, you should have a raise.”
At this point, poor Miss Bates swooned in her chair, and Anne and Harriet hurried to her side to assist her. Emma – still baffled – now began to ponder over George’s proposal. Miss Bates may be poor but she had indeed managed to keep her head above water for many years. Always she kept a decent tea table when Emma visited and her clothes were always pristine and not too old-fashioned, although she did not have the money to buy new ones. Instead, Miss Bates was forever altering her old clothes so that they had a more modern outlook. Emma, for the first time in her life, understood a little bit about Miss Bates’ unfortunate circumstances and she was forced to admire the woman for her courage and optimism. George was right, as always.
After she had rung for tea, Emma informed her companions that Miss Bates would indeed have the control over the Chronicle’s finances which would be a hundred pounds a year, to start with.
Harriet Martin was then assigned with the task of local news gatherer as she was the one that went into every corner of the small country town of Highbury on behalf of the farm’s business. And finally, Anne Weston would be the editor of all the stories that each member would gather when they happened upon one. Not only stories of things that passed but also of matters of daily life in Highbury, the little facts of Highbury life itself.
There would be tales of babies born, of young people marrying and of good old people dying. There would be sorrow in those tales but also joy.
Emma Knightley would see to that. There would always be joy and the blessing of living in Highbury, the best of villages.
“Are you pleased with the way the committee meeting went, my love?” George Knightley asked his wife when they retired after dinner.
“I am! We are in business and have you noticed how everyone is having fun with it? But, my dearest, I must thank you for your support and help. You handled everyone just the way that was needed, including me.”
“Oh, did I?” George took the brush out of Emma’s hand and began working on the long golden strands with slow strokes. Emma sighed and leaned back in her chair while George gathered her hair and draped it over the chair’s back before continuing his labour of love.
“George, I am sorry for being such a headstrong creature. I should have taken your advice from the start. Fortunately, you were there to put things right.”
“My lovely Emma,” George replied in a husky voice. “I think this Chronicle project might prove to be the thing Highbury needs to gain a bit of liveliness. You were right to think this little town of ours is a bit dreary.”
Emma stood and retrieved her hair brush from her husband. She embraced him and looked into his beautiful brown eyes.
“Dearest George … please say you are not angry with me … I was so wrong and …”
George Knightley, Esquire of Donwell Abbey and husband to the petulant Emma, née Woodhouse, silenced his wife with a kiss.
“My sweet Emma,” he breathed, “I will not be angry with you … on one condition.”
“And what condition is that, sir?” Emma replied, tongue in cheek.
“That I will be allowed to ravish you, this instant …”
“Then, by all means, sir, do your ravishing …”