Chapter Nineteen – Male Concerns
Mr Woodhouse was not in a happy frame of mind. He had some very serious concerns about his daughter, because she seemed to have turned into a completely different woman, of lately.
Instead of rushing headlong from one scheme into another, Emma seemed calm and serene, which was not in her habit. What could cause such a change, Mr Woodhouse asked himself. He pondered over several reasons, or events, or even mood swings, which could probably be the source of Emma’s serenity.
Was she unwell? Although it was the end of July, the afternoons sometimes turned frisky, and young persons were not inclined to notice such temperature drops, until it was too late.
Was she perhaps unhappy? Mr Woodhouse remembered his own marriage to Emma’s mother, and how they had fared during those first months. Although they had done tolerably well, and been more than tolerably happy, they had to endure various changes in their status and consequence. Emotions ran high when two people were so intimately involved with each other.
Ah, emotions … Mr Woodhouse did fervently disapprove of the cursed things, and more to point, of expressing them in public. And to be precise, Mr Woodhouse considered the marriage bed the only place where those dangerous emotions were to be let loose. Never, ever should they be allowed to pass the threshold of the conjugal bedchamber.
In short, Mr Woodhouse was so thoroughly uneasy that he decided – albeit reluctantly – to take action. He went in search of Mr Knightley.
George Knightley sat behind his desk in Mr Woodhouse’s study, which was now his study. Emma’s father happily left the estate matters to his son-in-law, so he gladly made use of the spacious, loftily furnished room.
Yet George was not doing anything useful, and had not been doing it for the last two hours. He was brooding over Emma, and there was nothing new in that. After they had returned to the house, that morning, Emma had excused herself to her husband, claiming she had important and urgent matters to see to. She had left the house, carrying two wicker baskets, which contained – or so George surmised – the acclaimed Donwell Abbey strawberries. Since then, she had not returned.
George’s brooding was disturbed when his father-in-law entered, and the old man was wearing the same brooding expression that was visible on George’s own face.
“Good afternoon, sir,” George greeted his visitor. “How can I help you?”
“Ah, Mr Knightley, I apologize for disturbing you, but there is a matter of great concern that asks for your insight and remediation.”
“Please, have a seat. I think I know what worries you so, sir. It worries me just the same. Forgive my boldness, but is it Emma you are concerned of?”
“Yes!” Mr Woodhouse exclaimed. “How did you guess?”
“Ah, my dear sir, it is very obvious, is it not? She has been behaving strangely for the past days, has she not? I tried to wriggle it out of her, but failed. I presumed you have made the same effort?”
“Well, erm, I have but … I fear I am not very skilled in prodding for Emma’s thoughts. She always manages to escape as soon as I start prodding, wretched girl that she is! But, Mr Knightley, we are digressing. So you do not know what ails her, either?”
“It is, in my opinion, not an ailment we have to reckon with. It is a frame of mind which I have never seen on her before. She is … and here I find myself searching for the right word – being surreptitious, Mr Woodhouse. She is avoiding us, and that we cannot have. We must try and entrap her, and then force her to make a full confession. Not an easy task, if you ask me.”
Mr Woodhouse sighed. “No, Mr Knightley, it certainly is not.”
And so it happened to be that Emma was waylaid the minute she entered Hartley’s hall. The two men in her life that were most important to her were waiting, Papa seated in a high-backed chair, and George standing near the banister, arm crossed and a mocking smile on his handsome face.
As always, Emma’s defence was ready.