Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Twenty

Emma 2009

Chapter Twenty

 

“My darlings!” Emma exclaimed, dropping her now empty baskets to envelop each man in turn, first her husband, and then her father. “Were you looking for me?”

Her sunny countenance suddenly turned anxious, as she seemed to consider something she had not thought of before. “Oh, good Lord! Is everything in good order? Has something dreadful happened? Is it Anne? Or …”

“Calm yourself, my love,” George’s deep voice rumbled. “Nothing of the sort has happened. Your father and I were merely waiting for you to come home, so that we could have a private talk with you. Come, let us go to the morning room.”

Mr Woodhouse was nodding in a vigorous way, Emma saw, while she let her husband take her by the arm. What were they up to? She sat herself down on one of the sofas and waited for her father to nestle himself in his favourite, overstuffed chair by the hearth. George went to stand by the mantelpiece and leaned against it, his elbow on the top, and his booted foot on the rail.

“My dearest,” he began, smiling at her. Emma had the direst of forebodings. This sounded serious. But George was already continuing.

“Emma, my love, your father and I are concerned about you. You are brooding, you are far too quiet, and moreover, you no longer rush headlong into impulsive decisions. That is not the Emma we know. Are you ailing? Are you in low spirits? You must not shut us out, dearest. We are both here to help you.”

 

George nor Mr Woodhouse could have predicted Emma’s startling reaction.

She was simply … bewildered. She gasped for breath, sat still for a few moments, and then, she laughed. No, she was suddenly in stitches. Neither man had the courage to do something about it, and they just let her go on with it. But eventually, Emma wiped her eyes with her handkerchief an looked at them gravely.

“My darlings … I do love you so. I apologize for my behaviour, but … let me reassure you. I am very well, and I have not been in low spirits – ever – in my entire life.”

She gestured to George to sit down next to her on the sofa and took his hand when he did so. She grasped her father’s hand, too.

“Papa, George, I have been doing some introspection, lately. What have I done with my life, up until this moment? The answer is startling, my dears; I have wasted it away.”

She saw the bewilderment on their faces and hastily and emphatically continued, “Yes! I have been so bored that I could not stop myself from meddling in other peoples’ lives, and that will not do! If you will just recall how I behaved towards poor Miss Bates and to Harriet Martin, then you will agree with me.”

She squeezed the hands she was holding. “No more of this silly behaviour! I have apologized to all my friends, and even to those whom I do not particularly care for, such as the Eltons. I have assured them I will mind my own business from now on.”

Both Mr Woodhouse and George were, of course, speechless.

 

Later that night, in the intimacy of their bedroom, George breeched the subject once again.

“Emma, my love, I have the distinct impression that you have not told me the whole story. You were gone for a long time, early this morning, and then you returned to collect your strawberry baskets. I believe I am not wrong in assuming that you went to the gypsy camp, am I?”

Comfortably settled against her husband’s chest, Emma sighed deeply. “No, my love, you are very right. I did go to see the old gypsy woman they call Elsbietha. I … well, I was concerned about something, and needed her advice.”

When she did not proceed, George kissed the top of her head. Softly and full of concern, he said, “You want a child so desperately, then, my darling?”

“How did you know?” Emma sobbed, now in earnest weeping in her husband’s arms.

“You adorable, foolish, lovable girl,” George whispered, then fell silent because emotion coked his voice.

After a while, George said, “Emma, give it a bit of time, my heart. If it is God’s will, we will have a child of our own, and if it is not, we will be as happy as we can without it. These matters are important, I know, but they are not so unsurmountable as they appear. Our mutual happiness, my sweet Emma, is solely in our own hands. We are the only ones who can make our lives worthy of living No one or anything else has the power to dampen our spirits, if we do not allow it.”

 

In later years, Emma frequently recalled the wise words her husband said to her during that night. She had followed his advice and stopped fretting about matters she had no control over. She had just enjoyed life to the full.

“Come here, you little imp,” she said as she got hold of eight-month-old Matthew, who was trying to snatch a miniature wooden horse from his older brother George, aged three. Their sister Meredith, now five, did not even look up from her drawing, at the childish behaviour of her brothers.

Ladies, Meredith was prone to repeat, never paid any attention to the machinations of silly male persons.

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Dear Reader,

this concludes my continuation of Emma. I hope you will join me next Saturday for a completely different story.

I could not help myself but I simply had to write a new version of our most beloved period drama. It is now John Thornton’s turn to explain how matters truly stood, when he met Margaret Hale for the first time.

The Reform of John Thornton

 

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Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Nineteen

Emma 2009

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.

 

 

Bewteen Boredom and Brilliance – Part Eighteen

Emma 2009

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.

 

 

 

Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Seventeen

Emma 2009

   Chapter Seventeen – Emma’s Secret Concern

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Knightley was a man who, as a rule, was in control of his life.

As the master of Donwell Abbey, and the head of his family, he knew his duties well. The estate’s daily running kept him only partly occupied, since everything was organized to perfection and everything was in good order. Since his marriage to Emma, the upkeep of Mr Woodhouse’s small estate Hartley had been added to his responsibilities. George took it in his usual, brisk stride. He wished he could say the same of his task as head of their combined families, however.

Although his brother John and his family lived in London, George occasionally did worry about them. After his marriage to Emma’s sister Isabella, John had settled down in London, yet sometimes Isabella’s need to see her father and sister forced John into impetuous action. They would turn up at Hartley unexpectedly and in the most boisterous manner. They would startle Mr Woodhouse out of his placid existence, even though the elderly man was always delighted to see them.

Mr Woodhouse. Ah, he was another of George’s concerns.

Often George had asked himself how he would have put up when he experienced Mr Woodhouse’s dreadful setbacks of the past.

Losing one’s wife in childbirth had been extremely hard on Mr Woodhouse, especially since he had been left on his own to raise his two infant daughters. The poor man had never really recovered from his ordeal. A constant fear of losing other members of his family made him old before his time and was taking a toll on his health. Emma’s foolish behaviour did not contribute to easing his mind, of course.

Emma … his wife, his heart. And also, his nemesis, unfortunately.

George found himself constantly in bewildered consternation about what his Emma would concoct next. She was full of restless energy, which she used to meddle and pry in other people’s life. It was all done in innocent concern for their happiness, he knew, but nevertheless it was none of Emma’s business how other chose to organize their life. And Emma did not seem to understand that people’s privacy was sacrosanct and untouchable.

Not that she was entirely happy when she could meddle, no. She would worry that she was making the right decision, George was prepared to give her that much. Yet she failed to grasp the meaning of the word privacy and would be unhappy when she could not find an acceptable solution. Acceptable for Emma, that was. Her protégés were not always in agreement, unfortunately.

Now, all that was old news, George mused. He had known Emma’s meddling for as long as he knew her. Recently, however, he had become aware of some other bee in her bonnet. She was brooding over something, but George could not fathom what it must be, not for the life of him. He was, by Jove, going to do everything he could to know what ailed her!

 

Emma walked home from Randall in deep thought. Everybody seemed so happy, yet she did not. She knew where to put her finger; every one of her friends was increasing, and she was not.

Why was that? And who, if anyone, could advise her, let alone, help her?

Emma’s greatest fear was that she would not be able to conceive, due to some physical irregularity in her own body. She had heard rumours about barrenness in women from the servants.

Ah, she never missed her dear mama more than on occasions such as this one. Whom could she speak with? Who could give her some advice in this matter? All the way to Hartley, Emma brooded about it, yet she found no answer.

The house was quiet and empty. Her father, Peter the footman informed her, was taking his daily stroll in the gardens, and Mr Knightley had gone off to Donwell Abbey. Since she had taken luncheon at Randall with her friend Anne, Emma knew she would not meet with her husband until dinner time. She was at leisure to do as she pleased all afternoon, thus. So why not take a stroll into the woods, to the clearing where the gypsies camped?

Emma left her house with no inkling as to why she would want to meet with gypsies, but a little voice in her head told her just to do that. Gypsies knew much more about many things, Emma knew, especially the things a well-bred lady was not allowed talk about openly. Nevertheless she was feeling just a tad apprehensive about meeting people she did not truly know. People with very different habits and culture from her own. People who spoke a language she did not understand. People who were not always behaving according to English law and society rules. So when Emma reached the clearing, she was in a state of fearsome uproar, and she would as lief have turned around instantly, had not a clear female voice addressed her in heavy accented, but faultless English.

“Welcome, lady! You are Mrs Knightley, are you not? My name is Agnetha, and I am the granddaughter of our queen, Elsbietha. How can we serve you?”

Emma watched a girl approaching her, a girl with long, wildly curving locks, spilling down her back like water. They were so black that they formed an indigo halo around her heart-shaped face, in which her dark eyes sparkled with joy.

Emma was so tongue-tied that she could only stammer, “Oh … erm … good afternoon … erm … Miss Agnetha …” The name came hesitatingly from her lips, as if they were frozen.

The girl gave a tingle of laughter. “Oh, please! No ‘Miss’, just Agnetha. Come … my grandmother awaits you. She knew you were coming, you see. She has the eye, and she can see the future.”

“The … eye?” Emma asked in bewilderment, while she followed Agnetha into the camp. It was like a small village with the wagons set in a circle around one wagon that was painted a bright red. Agnetha led Emma up the three steps and opened the door. Emma stepped inside.

The interior was warm, and cosy, and neat as a pin. That surprised Emma, because she had always had a prejudice about gypsies being untidy, even dirty. She was humbled by her own stupid and unfounded thoughts about these people.

Near one of the windows stood a rocking chair. A very old woman occupied it, a colourful blanket thrown over her legs. She was painfully thin and looked very frail, but her voice was strong and melodious when she welcomed Emma.

“Come in, child, and sit here next to me. I know what troubles you, and I shall try to help you.”

Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Sixteen

Emma 2009

 

 

 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.”

“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.”

Between Boredom and BRilliance – Part Fifteen

Emma 2009

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen – Farewell to a Dear Friend

 

It was indeed a sad day for Highbury. Mrs Bates would be laid to rest next to her late husband, the former vicar of the village and the church was overflowing with people, wanting to pay their respects. Many parishioners remembered the Reverend Bates and secretly nourished a fondness for the time before the present vicar, Mr Elton. That minister was not so much interested in worshipping the Lord than he was in putting himself on a pedestal, so that everyone could see how well off he was and how well he knew the wonders of the world.

His wife, the fastidious Mrs Elton, once more was striving to take centre stage in the proceedings. She was entirely dressed in lavender silk, her skirt billowing with a broad crinoline and her hat the highest Emma had ever seen. Ridiculous! This was not a celebration but a mourning! Had the woman no brains at all?

Apparently not, because she chose to pounce on poor Miss Bates as soon as the latter descended from Frank Churchill’s chaise-and-four, brushing aside Jane, to escort Miss Bates inside in her stead.

Emma scowled at the Elton couple, when the vicar took Miss Bates’ other arm, as if the poor bereaved woman was all alone and without relatives. They paid her no heed, unfortunately.

“Dearest,” George Knightley whispered in his wife’s ear, “do not cause a row over this. Today is a time for quiet modesty and respectful grieving. I loathe these two as much as you do, but we must think of Miss Bates and Jane. We must not add to their distress.”

“Pish!” Emma huffed. “We need to put those two in their rightful places, George! They ruin everything with their ridiculous behaviour.”

“I agree, my love, but not today, if you please.”

Her clever husband was right, of course, so Emma held her peace and joined the mourners’ procession behind Frank and Jane. Mr Woodhouse was not with them. He had chosen to remain at home. “Emma, my dear, you know how draughty that church can be, even on a summer day. I am sure my old friend, Mrs Bates, will understand if I do not risk to catch a cold.”

The ceremony began with Mr Elton welcoming the congregation in his most ringing tones. Thereafter, he elaborated on Mrs Bates’ life as a minister’s wife, which was actually a kind and true exposé. However, the pompous man ruined that when he proceeded to dwell on the unfortunate circumstances the ladies Bates had come to, elaborating explicitly on their reduced financial means.

That, Emma thought, was not only completely uncalled for, but also rude and callous. She heard George’s exasperated gasp and squeezed his hand to prevent him from retaliating. When she caught his gaze, he bent over and whispered, “I am going to give him a trashing for this.”

Emma nodded. “I will do the same to his scatter-brained wife.”

 

After the service, Emma and George accompanied Miss Bates, Frank and Jane to Randall, where the Westons had laid out refreshments for the mourners. Mr Woodhouse had been persuaded to attend but as soon as he set eyes on Emma, he was complaining about the lack of a fire in the large drawing room. “Tsk, tsk!” he muttered under his breath. “Why does Miss Taylor not order the hearth to be set alight? Does she not know how chilly these summer days can become as soon as luncheon has passed?”

“Papa, she is Mrs Weston now,” Emma said, soothing the old man by offering him a hot cup of tea.

“Well, yes, that is just another thing,” Mr Woodhouse replied, shaking his head. “How could she do this to us, Emma?”

“Papa …”

Emma shook her head in bewilderment. Her father had never been able to endure changes and never would so, too. She directed her gaze to Miss Bates, who was sitting on a settee between Frank and Jane. The elderly spinster seemed to hold up rather well, all things considered, Emma mused. Miss Bates daintily sipped a glass of Madeira, and by the look of it, it was not the first drink she had consumed. Her cheeks were flushed a bright red and she occasionally hiccupped. Albeit discretely, behind her kerchief, Emma observed.

Anne Weston’s voice brought Emma back into reality. “My dear, how are you faring? Is your father comfortable, do you think? He seems a bit under the weather.”

“Oh, Anne, you know Papa. He is never comfortable unless he is in his own parlour. Do not fret about him. Instead, tell me how baby Anna is doing.”

“She is very well, I thank you. Oh, Emma, there was never a happier and more adorable little girl on earth! Mr Weston says so, too.”

“Well, of course, Anne! He is bound to say that about his own daughter, is he not? Is it true Mr Weston is leaving for London, on the morrow?”

“Yes, I am afraid so. Business matters claim his attention forthwith. I hear Frank and Jane will also leave for Yorkshire, in the morning. Randall will be quiet and lonely for me, unless you come and spend the day?”

“I will come, dearest. We will take little Anna for a walk in her pram, and afterwards, have ourselves a large tea. What think you of that?”

“Capital, dear Emma!”

 

George Knightley, on the look-out for the Eltons, quietly left the room, as soon as he spotted their gig turning onto the driveway. The couple was stepping out of the vehicle when George waylaid them.

“Vicar,” he addressed Mr Elton sternly, “ I do not think it is appropriate for you to be in Miss Bates’ presence at this moment. I am sure you will understand my meaning.”

Mr Elton drew himself up to his full height, which left him shorter by a foot of George.

“Mr Knightley, whatever do you mean?”

“I did not care much about the way your sermon sounded, during the service, vicar. You were unforgivably rude to expose Miss Bates’ reduced circumstances in front of the entire community.”

“But … but …” the stupid man sputtered. “Does not everyone in the community know about this? It is not a secret.”

“No, and that is the reason why you should have kept your mouth about it. Unless you apologize in public to Miss Bates, I cannot allow you to speak to her again.”

Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Fourteen

Emma 2009

 

 

 

 Chapter Fourteen – The Westons or the Blessings of True Friendship

 

 

 

Randall, the Westons’ home, was as stately a manor as was Hartfield, though not as large. The grounds were considerably smaller but the house itself had fair proportions. The easy distance of half a mile from Hartfield allowed Emma to visit her former governess twice a day, if she wished to. Now that Anne Weston, the former Miss Taylor, had given birth to little Clarissa, Emma was an even more frequent visitor. Randall had become Emma’s second home, to be sure.

 

After their conversation on the way to Randall, Frank Churchill and Emma were late to arrive for luncheon. They found the company impatiently waiting for them, and even slightly irritated. Emma noticed her husband’s frown, as he checked his fob watch upon her arrival. George instantly came to join her on the couch and whispered, “What took you so long, my love? I have returned from Donwell Abbey nearly an hour ago. I was about to ride to the village and see what delayed you.”

“I cannot dwell on explanations at this moment, George!” Emma hissed back. “Suffice it to say that an important revelation took place.”

George Knightley raised a surprised eyebrow at his wife – and God knew he did that frequently these days – but refrained from deepening the subject. His feisty Emma was already asking Mrs Weston about little Clarissa. Their hostess began replying eagerly when Mr Weston’s butler stepped in and announced that luncheon was served.

 

After the meal, which passed in companiable and shallow conversation, Emma accompanied her husband home to Hartfield. She had promised her father to return speedily with news on his old friend, Mrs Bates. Emma dreaded what she had to tell him. Mrs Bates’ condition was at her worst.

As was to be expected, Mr Woodhouse did not take this news well.

“Now we will have it, my dear Emma!” he wailed, mopping his brow with his handkerchief. The afternoon heath never sat well on Emma’s father.

“Yes, Papa,” Emma conceded, “I fear you are right but there is not much we can do but wait. Miss Bates will keep us informed, never fear. In the mean time, you should have a rest in your chamber where it is much cooler than here, in the drawing room.”

Mr Woodhouse was easily persuaded to go and lie down, and Emma helped him to his room.

“I must see to some estate matters, Emma,” George announced. “Would you care to accompany me to Donwell Abbey?”

Before Emma could answer her husband, the front door knocker interrupted her. A few moments later, Peter, their downstairs footman, brought in a message. Mrs Bates had passed away at noon, that day, without having regained consciousness.

 

It was a sad party that climbed into George’s chaise to go and pay their respects to poor Miss Bates, that afternoon. Mr Woodhouse was quietly weeping into his handkerchief, and Emma had to swallow back her own tears when she witnessed her father’s grief. George supported his wife by firmly holding her hand.

Miss Bates’ dwelling above the shop had been tied up and refreshments had been laid out for the mourners, wanting to offer condolences. Emma wondered where the food had come from. Surely, Miss Bates’ finances were too insignificant to pay for them. Her curiosity was immediately satisfied when Miss Bates grabbed her outstretched hand and cried, “Oh, Mrs Knightley, is it not splendid? Dear Mrs Weston provided us with the help we needed to give Mother a proper wake. Moreover, she invited me to come and stay at Randall for a while, to regain my strength.”

Anne … Dear Anne! Emma sighed in relief when she realised what a truly gentle woman her former governess was, and not for the first time.

“Dear Miss Bates,” she began, “allow me to offer you my sincere condolences. We shall miss your dear Mother greatly.”

Mr Woodhouse stepped forward, adding his respects to his daughter’s.

“My dear child,” he said in a voice husky with sorrow, “the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, takes it upon Him to bestow suffering upon us, so that we may remain humble and redeem ourselves for the sins we commit. Your Mama was a dear friend to me, as you know very well.”

He lowered his voice to a whisper, but Emma heard anyway. “It shall be my privilege to spring for the funeral costs, my child. Do not break your head on such trivialities, I beg you.”

Miss Bates’ eyes misted over once again and she pressed Mr Woodhouse’s hands in an affectionate manner.

All of a sudden, Jane Churchill came hurtling into the room, her blue eyes blazing.

“Mr Woodhouse! I cannot believe what I’m hearing! Do you think I would let my cousin take money from strangers? Mr Churchill and I will do all that is necessary to bury my aunt in a proper way.”

“Oh … erm, but Jane, … oh … Jane, dear, are you not just a tiny bit … well, rude?”

“Cousin, I do not want to hear another thing about it! We will pay and that is that!”

George Knightley had heard enough and cleared his throat in a way to turn everyone’s attention towards him. “Kindly remember, everyone, that we have the body of our beloved Mrs Bates still above earth. In a house where a deceased person is laid out, it is proper and respectful to behave quietly.”

His unmistakeable authority had everyone back into silence. Emma was beaming with pride with her intelligent husband and she smiled at him in adoration.

Mrs Weston, practical as ever, spoke into the silence.

“Dear friends, we women shall all in turn keep watch beside Mrs Bates’ death bed. Emma, darling, maybe you could start now? I shall relieve you at ten this evening and Mrs Churchill can maybe take my place at two in the morning. That way, Miss Bates can have a good night’s rest.”

Emma and Jane nodded their agreement. George then asked, “Has anybody given word to Mr Elton yet? Should he not come to make arrangements for the burial?”

“I will fetch him, this instant,” Frank Churchill said, and promptly left the room.

“Emma, my dear, shall I stay here with you?” her father asked.

Emma could see that Mr Woodhouse seemed to have a great need in staying at his former friend’s bedside and she readily agreed. They both took their places on either side of the bed, while the others left to perform other tasks.

The remaining hours passed peacefully, giving comfort to both father and daughter. Mrs Bates’ thin face, waxed in death forever, rested upon her pillow and her bony hands were clasped upon her meagre chest, where they held a little bouquet of wild flowers.

Death was in the room but Emma and her father accepted its presence in quiet resignation.