Chapter Eighteen – Understanding Dawns
As if drawn by an invisible force, Emma did as she was told. She let herself down on a hassock at the old gypsy woman’s feet. An unfamiliar, though not unpleasant scent reached her nose, and when the woman took her hand, Emma found the touch warm and strong.
“You, my child, have two heavy burdens weighing upon your young life. One of them is about your fear that you will not bear your husband an heir.”
Emma looked up in surprise. The old woman’s face was still, her eyes closed, as if her touch alone was able to make her read Emma’s thoughts. She opened her mouth to ask questions, but Elsbietha quieted her with a gesture of her hand.
“Many young women of your class have that same fear, child. It is a burden, laid upon you by English society, in which young women are sold into marriage. Yes, sold. Their fathers or brothers bargain for a marriage that brings advantage to both families. Such a shame, because it brings only sorrow and heartache. But you, my child, are not one of those unfortunates. You have married for love.”
How did this woman know all that? Emma was stunned, because she had thought that her private life had been very much her own. Yet here was a stranger, both to her class and her nation, who knew her so well that she could read Emma’s mind. How was that possible? She wanted to ponder over it, but Elsbietha was speaking again.
“Because you love your husband, you will give him children. You do not have to do anything, nor concern yourself over it. Nature – our mutual Mother, who guides both our lives – will prevail.”
“But … I do not understand,” Emma stammered. “Why has it not happened yet, if you speak the truth?”
Elsbietha smiled. “How long have you been married, my child?”
Emma – her wit returning – said in defiance, “If you are so omniscient, you must surely know that, ma’am!”
A cackle of high-pitched laughter escaped the old woman. “Very good! I like a bit of spirit in a young woman!” Then she grew serious again.
“It has only been these three months, child. It is too early yet to be increasing. A woman’s body has to grow accustomed to a man’s touch, and to adjust to the state of marriage. Give yourself some time and do not fret unnecessarily. If you keep worrying, you will close off your heart and your body for the touches of your husband. His seed will not take root inside you.”
Such talk was very unfamiliar to Emma, and she blushed fiercely. Elsbietha smiled and touched her cheek with a withered finger. “It is high summer now. Before the heat of next year, you will have a son. I make this vow to you, child, because I know. I have seen a little boy in your future.”
“How?” Emma asked, her voice trembling. “How can you see such a thing? You are telling me this, just to soothe me and maybe, to extract money from me. Is it money you want? I will not give you any, ma’am! I think you are a fraud!”
Elsbietha smiled again, unperturbed. “We will see who is right, my child. Now, let me tell you about your other deep concern.”
She opened her eyes, for the first time since Emma had been there. Her eyes were a bright green, Emma saw, and they fixed on her with intent.
“You must not worry over your dear father, child. He is getting on in years, I know, but he is stronger than he looks. Do you think a man weak, when he has been able to rise two infant daughters on his own? No, your papa will live to be old, but there will be the curses of old age to be reckoned with. He will slowly lose his memory, forget about his family, only to dwell in the far past, when he was in the bliss of youth. It was then that he knew your mama, and was extremely happy with her.”
“Oh, you are mean to tell me this!” Emma blurted out, jumping up from the hassock. “My papa is the best, the cleverest, the sweetest of men!”
She turned and ran past Agnetha, out of the wagon and the camp. All the way to Hartley, Emma cried and sobbed, hurrying from the woods in deep distress. She had reached the outer borders of the grounds, when she ran into her husband. She threw herself against him and sobbed her heart out.
George caught her hastily in his arms, lest she fell to the ground. “Emma, Emma, my love, whatever happened? Are you hurt? Unwell? Blast it, Emma, talk!”
“Oh, George, I am such a hare-brained idiot!” She clung to him, staring him in the face with tears running down her cheeks. “I was such a foolish, shallow, arrogant creature, that I cannot imagine you could ever have me as your wife!”
Oh, dear. George scooped her up and walked toward a bench bordering the formal gardens. He knew this place well. It had been on that same spot, where he and Emma had first professed their love for each other. He sat down and put Emma on his lap. Framing her face in his big hands, he said in a stern voice, “Emma Knightley, if you do not instantly tell me what is wrong, I am going to spank you.”
He grinned when he saw her scowling at him in her almost usual fiery mood. “Oh, good! You are with me, then! Start talking, woman.”
Emma hiccupped, accepted George’s proffered handkerchief, and wiped her face.
“George, I apologize for being such a nitwit, but I promise I will mend my ways. I have been acting in a most inappropriate way, and not only to my friends and neighbours, but also, and foremost, to you.”
Puzzled – for he had still not an inkling of what his Emma was talking about – George asked, “Inappropriate? You, my love? Pray, tell me, in what way?”
“My dearest George, you are the sweetest of men, but I cannot believe that you do not conceive of what I am talking! You are only indulging me, are you not?”
“Emma, I give in. Please, free me of this conundrum!”
Emma jumped up, took her husband’s hand and said, “Let us go home, my love. Papa will not know where we have gone to.”
George could not do otherwise but follow his wife home.