Chapter One – After The Honeymoon
Emma Knightley, née Woodhouse, strolled down Highbury’s High Street, looking very fetching in a russet-coloured pelisse and matching bonnet. While she walked, and greeted old friends or acquaintances, Emma covertly watched, and took in everything that happened there. And that was the misery of it all; as usual, nothing was happening in the quiet country town of Highbury.
The market place and green were almost deserted, though from the Crown Inn taproom the bragging of a few inebriated farmers could be heard. Farmers. Harriet Smith was now a farmer’s wife. Mr Ford’s boutique still showed the same items of clothing that had been there before Emma departed on her honeymoon. Incredible. A string of dawdling children round the baker’s little bow-window were eyeing the gingerbread as they had done so for years. There always seemed to be plenty of dawdling children in Highbury, Emma mused. She passed a butcher with his tray and bowed her head to his cheerful greeting.
It was most astonishing. Just one month ago, she would have considered Highbury to be one of the joys of life, and its inhabitants the most interesting people that ever existed. Now, two weeks later, she faced the horrible ordeal of having to settle down in England’s most boring village.
How was it possible that a honeymoon at the Surrey coast could so thoroughly change her opinion about her home town?
Emma knew why this had come about; before her honeymoon, she had never ventured outside Highbury. In all of her twenty years, she never experienced the urge for travelling. She had never seen the sea, never been to London. That was why dearest George took her to the coast in the first place.
As a rule, Emma dreaded leaving Highbury’s sanctity, and the one time, she had done it and gone on an expedition to Box Hill – which was situated in her own county of Surrey – that one adventure had turned into a nightmare. That day, she had managed to offend all the picnic’s attendants with her ill-considered words and her flirting with that wretched Frank Churchill.
As she glanced up to Miss Bates’ dismal little house, Emma felt a flood of appalling memories rush over her. Her cheeks grew hot, and her chest contracted when she remembered how she had so viciously mocked poor Miss Bates. Everybody in Highbury was aware of Miss Bates’ stupidity but she, Emma Woodhouse, indulged herself into highlighting it.
“Badly done, Emma,” George had scolded her. She surely deserved his angry reproof, even if it had brought her to tears of helpless rage. Yet, as distressing it all had been, it had also opened her eyes and made her realise that George Knightley was the one that captured her heart. A warm glow of love kindled deep in Emma’s chest at the thought of her handsome husband.
Suddenly, she knew what was to be done in Highbury; the sleepy little village had to be livened up and must open to the world! It had to be made conscious of all the exciting things outside of Highbury. She, Emma Knightley, née Woodhouse, would be the one to accomplish it.
Emma’s step grew quicker and bolder as she returned home.
George Knightley stood in front of his study window and stared at his wide, beautiful lawn, that stretched out to the Donwell Abbey Home Wood. A touch of unwanted gloominess chilled his hitherto undisturbed newly-wed happiness. Today, he would leave his estate and move to Hartfield.
Donwell Abbey had been his family home for nearly two centuries, and he and countless previous heirs had been born and raised there without interruption. As matters presented themselves now, however, his own heir – should Emma conceive – might well be born and raised at Hartfield.
He had only himself to blame for that. After he declared his love for Emma and proposed marriage, she had burst into tears. Oh, not because of the proposal, which she accepted with boundless joy, but because she realised her father would be alone at Hartfield when she married.
Mr Woodhouse had a constant and very genuine fear of losing the people he loved, which was only natural because he had indeed lost his wife at a very early stage in their marriage. The way he saw it, Mr Woodhouse lost also his daughter Isabella when she married John Knightley and moved to London. Now, the worst had happened; his last child, Emma, had also been taken from him, or so he thought. He was appalled by the idea that he would be all alone in that big house, with no one, other than servants, to be with him. So, Emma and Knightley agreed upon moving to Hartfield.
It would not be so very hard, Knightley mused, to reach Donwell Abbey on a swift horse, every time he wished for it. His steward, Mr Henley, was a very competent man, who did not need the master’s presence to perform his duties in a most satisfactory way. Some of Knightley’s tenants lived closer to Hartfield than to his own estate so they would also be easier to visit. Hartfield was closer to Highbury than Donwell Abbey and only half a mile from Randall, where the Westons lived. Now that Anne Weston had her newborn daughter, Emma would no doubt be there every day. She adored little Anna, who proved to be the quietest child ever born. Mr Weston could be heard praising his little daughter all day long.
Knightley fervently wished for a child of his own, albeit to keep his lively Emma happily entertained, so that she would not endeavour in foolish meddling, like she used to do in the past. What commotion had arisen when all Emma’s schemes for happy reunions had gone awry! Such sadness for all concerned!
A knock on the study door heralded the advent of Blaise Geoffroy, his French valet.
During his military days, Knightley once found a half-starved and wounded boy in a ditch near his
camp. He took the child with him, dressed his wounds himself and fed him. The boy had begged him
to be allowed to accompany him to England. At Donwell Abbey, Knightley’s former valet
was growing old and had already asked to be retired from the service. He was only too happy to
instruct the youngster in his duties as a valet.
“Sir, will you take a portmanteau or will you wait for the entire wardrobe to be transported
to Hartfield? Ne vous trompez pas, Monsieur! It would take several days for that task to be
“You may ready a vast portmanteau, Geoffroy. My wife is most anxious to see me properly dressed
at all times.”
“Very well, monsieur.” The valet retreated into the hall, and Knightley reached for the leather bag,
filled with some of the most urgent cases he would need to attend to in the next days. Henley would
see to the rest of them. Looking about him one last time, Knightley sighed and left the room, not
knowing when he would ever be back in his familiar surroundings.
Well, at least, he would not be bored at Hartfield. There was Emma, and she would most
certainly keep his spirits up. So he went to collect Phineas, his black stallion, and was soon riding
home at a brisk trot.