Chapter Sixteen – Changes and Adjustments
With George Knightley’s stern, masterly gaze upon him, Mr Elton had no choice but to comply, even though his wife was whispering in his ear, not to do so. He manfully lifted his head and strode into Randall’s hall, where he gave his hat and cane to the waiting footman.
“Dearest, you cannot lower yourself this way,” Mrs Elton kept harassing him. “You are entitled to express your thoughts in a sermon, the way you choose! You are Highbury’s vicar, for Heaven’s sake!”
None of her wiles worked on the vicar who now strode into the drawing room, where the guests were assembled. Miss Bates was talking to Jane and Frank, probably discussing their upcoming departure. Mr Elton approached her, wringing his hands, and with a hesitant smile on his features.
“Miss Bates, I wonder if you could spare me a few moments of your time. I have a private matter to lay before you.”
The spinster brought her hands to her meagre chest and instantly was flustered.
“Well … yes, Mr Elton, certainly … erm … shall we go into the hall, maybe?”
“Perfect,” the vicar answered and offered her his arm. However, on their way to the hall door, they encountered the towering figure of George Knightley, staring pointedly into Mr Elton’s fearful eyes.
The vicar began choking and coughing but George only raised his eyebrows. Mr Elton then resigned himself to the worst. “Miss Bates, I feel I have done you a great wrong. Please forgive me my bluntness in mentioning your circumstances in public. I am afraid that was very clumsy of me.”
“Oh, dear Mr Elton, I could never accuse you of being blunt! You are the soul of tact! Do not dwell on that anymore, I beg you.”
When George imperceptibly nodded, the vicar felt himself go off the hook and sighed with relief. His wife, on the other hand, glared at George with eyes full of resentment. George only grinned mischievously into her face.
Emma quickly coughed to hide her mirth. Dear George …
The next morning dawned rosy and mild, the perfect day for travelling.
Frank and Jane Churchill witnessed the departure of Mr Weston for the capital and Mrs Weston’s distress over it. Anne did not cry nor did she throw a tantrum but her eyes were glittering with unshed tears. Emma heard her whispered words to her husband. “Be safe, my love. Return as swiftly as you can.”
Mr Weston mounted his big grey gelding by the name of Titan and rode off, turning one last time at the gate and raising his hand in a last salute. Anne Weston bravely swallowed back her tears and turned to Frank and Jane. The Randall footmen had just finished loading their boxes and Frank’s coachman and grooms were already in place on his chaise-and-four.
“Now, Frank, take good care of my Jane,” Miss Bates implored. “Let me know when you have arrived at your Yorkshire home, I beg you.”
“Of course, dear cousin,” Frank assured her. “We hope you will visit us there, one day. Surely, when the baby is born, you will want to see your great-nephew or great-niece?”
“Oh, if that were possible!” exclaimed Miss Bates. “I would be the happiest woman on earth.”
George Knightley, who kept himself in the background up until now, stepped forward. “Dear Miss Bates, I will personally see to it that you are able to visit Frank and Jane. I am sure my dear Emma would love it, too.”
Emma nodded in agreement, and Miss Bates began to thank George profusely, until Frank cleared his throat. “I am afraid we must leave now, my dears. Jane and I wish to make it to London and stay the night at ‘The Lion and Lamb Inn’.”
The couple mounted into their carriage, whereupon their coachman cracked his whip. Frank’s four matched greys darted forward, making the coach disappear from view soon thereafter.
Anne sighed, and Emma took her arm and guided her inside. George devoted himself escorting poor weeping Miss Bates to the drawing room. Emma rang for tea and scones, which greatly contributed to enlighten the sad mood. George then excused himself to go and attend to estate business. Miss Bates retired to her room to lie down, and Emma and Anne went upstairs to the nursery. It would soon be time for little Anna’s bath and feed, and Anne Weston made a point to always be present, when that ritual took place. Emma was just curious and excited to learn about the caring for a baby. Not that she would need that in the near future, because just that morning, her courses had started, smashing once again her hopes of becoming a mother.
“I have asked Miss Bates if she would stay with us for a while,” Anne Weston said. “I am thinking of keeping her here at Randall for good. I just cannot abide that dreary set of rooms above Mr Ford’s shop. They are so gloomy. I will have to invent some task for her to fulfil, of course. She cannot be made aware of her being ‘de trop’.”
“Why not ask her to be little Anna’s governess?” Emma proposed. “Miss Bates is a very educated woman, Anne, and her father was a vicar. Did you know she speaks French and German fairly fluently?”
Anne looked at her friend in surprise. “In truth? No, I ignored that! How do you know?”
“From George, of course! My husband knows everything about everyone in this village. He is very interested in people’s lives, so that he is fully informed, should they have need for his support.”
“Well, I will keep it in mind but I will have to speak about it with Mr Weston, of course.”
The two women became absorbed by the lovely spectacle of little Miss Clarissa Weston, three months old, who was being disrobed, bathed and fed by her nanny. Afterwards, Anne tucked her daughter into her cradle and kissed the rosy little face.
Tucking her arm under Emma’s, Anne led her back to the drawing room, where they installed themselves on a couch.
“My sweet friend,” Anne said, “I have something to tell you, and you are the first to know. Not even Mr Weston knows. I am again with child.”