Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Five

Emma 2009

Chapter Five – A Meeting of Extreme Importance

 

 

 

Emma’s blissful state slowly glided into awareness as she began hearing birdsong. Irritated, she  snuggled deeper     under her covers. No, it was too early to rise, surely! She groaned when Maud drew  open the curtains and then         sat up with a start when she realised George would be there! No, no, no! She didn’t want Maud to come in while       her husband was lying nude in her bed! It was totally inappropriate!

However, the only one sitting up nude was Emma herself. George had already left. Emma was unsure if         she was relieved or saddened that he had gone before she awoke.

“Come, ma’am, you must rise. You have a visitor waiting downstairs.”

“Oh, pray tell who it is! Surely, it is not yet eleven of the clock?” Emma said, remembering that today was      to be the meeting for the news paper committee. She rose and stepped into her dressing room where her copper        hip bath stood waiting, delicious wafts of rose scented steam rising up from it.

“It is the vicar’s wife, Mrs Elton. She appears to be in an uproar because she refused Mr Knightley’s offer        for tea and did not want to sit down and wait for you. You had better hurry, ma’am.”

With a humph, Emma stepped out of bed and slid her feet into her bed slippers.

“I will not forego the pleasures of my morning ablutions for anyone and certainly not for that woman! She    called on me and not the other way round! Let her stew.”

Maud giggled while she helped her mistress into the bath.

“She is wearing a trench in your Papa’s parlour floor with her pacing, as we speak. I know it is not my            place to say but she is a horrible woman indeed, Ma’am.”

Now it was Emma’s turn to giggle.

“You may say so only in the private of this dressing room, Maud. I won’t tell anyone.”

 

Dignity and distinction, Emma! Thus Emma admonished herself before she glided into the parlour as elegantly as she could. That odious woman would not see her stoop to the level that woman herself was on! She entered and saw the woman in question walking to and fro over the carpet while George was trying to make her sit down. In vain, Emma saw. Well, that would not do!

“Mrs Elton, good morning. To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?”

The vicar’s wife whirled around to face her hostess and barely managed a civilised curtsy.

“Mrs Knightley …”

Emma waved a hand toward the sofa and seated herself on the other side of the coffee table, the side where she could bask in the pearly rosy sun of midmorning. Mrs Elton’s mouth opened, then  closed again. She hurried to the sofa and plumped down on it in an unladylike manner.

“Can I offer you some refreshments, ma’am?” Emma asked, her face bearing an expression as if butter would not melt in her mouth. She quickly had to stifle a giggle when she saw George’s eyebrows lift in suspicion.

Mrs Elton waved away the offer with an impatient fluttering of her hand and – almost but not quite – snapped, “Mrs Knightley, I will not beat around the bush here! I know you have invited several ladies to a special meeting this morning. I am very chagrined that I was not included in this invitation. As the wife of Highbury’s vicar, I am entitled to have my say in every activity that concerns the welfare of our small community!”

Emma pasted a smile on her face that only showed her even white teeth and replied sweetly,              “But Mrs Elton, you must be sadly misinformed! I invited a few friends for a chat and a cup of tea, that is all. Nothing of what we will chatter about will be of great importance for Highbury’s community, I assure you.”

Mrs Elton’s brow furrowed while she digested this. It was, Emma thought, a most comical thing to watch the woman, dressed up as if she would be presented at court, and holding herself stiff as if she was meeting with the Prince Regent himself, but all that conceit vanishing as soon as she was confronted with something she did not understand. Mrs Elton, Emma mused, often did not understand the most simple aspects of social intercourse. She was too self-absorbed for that and thought herself to be the centre of the universe. It was time to put an end to this ridiculous spectacle, Emma decided and stood.

“Now, if you will not take tea, ma’am, you must excuse me. My dear sister and her husband depart

It took Mrs Elton several moments to realise she was being dismissed.

 

“My dears, welcome!”

Her arms spread and her face alight with pleasure, Emma entered the parlour where her friends had gathered for the committee meeting. George, to her astonishment, was there as well. Emma decided not to confront her husband right now, even though she did not care for him to be there. Later, when they were alone, there would be ample opportunity.

Instead, she hugged her sweet Anne – Mrs Weston, formerly Miss Taylor and Emma’s governess – and exclaimed, “Oh Anne, how delightful is it to see you! How is little Anna today? Have you brought her with you?”

“Yes, indeed, I have!” Mrs Weston replied. “But she was whisked away by Isabelle as soon as I stepped in. It seems your Papa has not yet admired her enough!”

“Good, good! Do sit down, Anne. And who have we here? Oh, my dear Harriet! How good of you to come!”

Harriet – now Mrs Martin of Abbey Mill Farm – curtsied while a rosy blush spread over her round young face. “Mrs Knightley, how kind of you to invite me.”

“Pish and nonsense!” Emma laughed. “No Mrs here, Harriet! Emma, it shall be. Sit down, my dear, sit down. Miss Bates, I’m so happy you could make it!”

“Oh … erm … Miss Woo … oh, so sorry, Mrs Knightley, I am sure I … oh, so delighted, what a pleasure, I’m sure … oh, oh …”

George, sensing the elder spinster’s usual embarrassment, came forward and took Miss Bates hand to bow over it. “Miss Bates, allow me to escort you and point you to a seat. Here we are, please.”

Fluttering her hands in front of her face, Miss Bates let herself down very gingerly onto a seat.

Emma surveyed her little company with fondness, before she sat down herself in front of everyone else, like it behoved a true chairwoman.

“Now, my fellow members of the board, I declare the first monthly meeting of “The Highbury Chronicles” opened. Let us do some good work here, if you please!”

 

Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Four

Emma 2009

 

Chapter Four –  Marriage or the Protection of a Loved One

 

The dinner was soon over, and the first couple by the name of Knightley – John and Isabella –  eagerly retired to bed, excusing themselves as they had a journey to London to make the following day.

As an unmarried girl, Emma had not understood the readiness Isabella displayed to abandon the company and rejoin her husband in their bedroom. Often, she had thought it of ill manner and of low esteem for herself and her father to leave them so early for the rest of the evening. Now, Emma knew better, of course. She could hardly wait for her father to retire so that she could step into George’s waiting embrace.

Mr Woodhouse, however, was in too much of a fluster to cease his complaints about Isabella’s return to London. It took him a long time to finally give himself over to the administrations of Crampton, his elderly valet, and let himself be readied for bed. Emma always waited on the landing outside her father’s rooms with something of an agony yet she would not have retired without kissing the old man goodnight. Her dear Papa devoted his life to her and Isabella, ever since Mama passed away. It was a small price to pay that she, Emma, would care for him in return.

Finally, Crampton stepped outside and bowed at Emma.

“The Master is ready for you, Miss Emma,” he said in his croaking old voice.

“Thank you, Mr Crampton,” Emma replied. “But I am Mrs Knightley now, remember?”

Crampton smiled. “Oh, you will always be Miss Emma to me. Do not forget my dear Elsie – God rest her soul – was your nanny.”

It was true. Elsie Crampton and her husband Ebenezer had come into her father’s service when they were first married. They had lived at Hartfield all their married life until Elsie died a few years before.

Mr Woodhouse was sitting up in bed, supported by several thick pillows. He beckoned his daughter to come nearer and pointed at the chair next to his bed.

“Now, my dear Emma, you must tell me all about your life these past two weeks. I imagine you and Mr Knightley have done many things I would find too dangerous to mention but I would know them nevertheless. Where have you been and what have you done?”

“Well, Papa,” Emma replied as she sat down on the chair. “We have been to the Surrey coast and Brighton. That is a very large town -or so I thought – but Mr Knightley says it much smaller than London. This I find very difficult to believe! Imagine an even larger city than Brighton!”

She rattled on in filial duty for half an hour, parrying Mr Woodhouse’s remarks and objections, and soothing his anxieties, until she saw his eyes droop. Emma stood and bowed over her father to kiss his brow. Mr Woodhouse took her hand, opened his eyes one last time and asked, “Emma, my love, I hope you are happy with Mr Knightley and that he is treating you well? Do not hesitate to tell me if he does not, please?”

Emma swallowed at the lump in her throat and replied, “You need not worry, dearest Papa. Mr Knightley is the gentlest of husbands and we love each other very much.”

 

The master bedroom had hitherto been occupied by Emma’s father but the old man had moved into a set of rooms on the south side of the house, a few weeks before Emma’s marriage to Knightley. Emma had spent these weeks redecorating the suite according to her own likings and made it look quite lovely. The colours were all a shade of pastel green with trimmings of gold, giving the room a sea-like quality.

George was not present, Emma saw. Her maid, Maud Pratt, was waiting to help her undress and Emma subjected to the manipulations, while listening absently to the girl’s chattering.

“Now, Ma’am, I have laid out the lavender silk for you to wear tonight, with the matching shawl and bed  slippers. If you would care to instruct me on what dress you want to wear tomorrow, I can hang it out and give it a touch of the iron to work out the wrinkles.”

“Thank you, Maud. You may prepare the pink muslin morning dress and my white silk day slippers. I shan’t be going out because I have a lot of writing and preparation to do for my meeting with the newspaper committee.”

“Very well, Ma’am,” Maud said, slipping the silk nightgown over Emma’s head. Her mistress was standing before the tall cheval mirror and Maud saw how the fine material flowed down Emma’s body like a waterfall. “Now, shall I brush out your hair for you?”

“No, Maud, you may retire. I will do my own brushing tonight.”

Maud suppressed a smile. That meant the young master was visiting his wife tonight. She hurried her tidying of the room and left soon thereafter.

 

In the adjacent room, Blaise Geoffroy, George’s  French valet, held up the silk burgundy coloured dressing gown for his master. It matched the pair of silk drawers George had donned for tonight.

“Will that be all, sir, or do you require additional services for tonight?”

“No, you rascal, and get that smirk off your lips. You know very well I never need your after I retire.”

Blaise bowed and smiled. “Very well, sir. Have a good night’s rest, sir.”

In the corridor, he came upon Maud who left her mistress’s room at the same moment.

“All done for tonight, ma belle?,” he joked and got a scowl in return from the feisty Maud.

“Do not try your frippery French on me, Blaise Geoffroy! Now, scoot. They want privacy, tonight.”

“Yes, I gathered that already,” Blaise snickered and gave the pretty lady’s maid a friendly pat on the buttocks. He barely had time to duck when her hand snapped up to slap him in the face.

 

George Knightley heard some of this banter and smiled. Of lately, he had noticed his valet’s interest in pretty Maud Pratt. It was not uncommon for a valet to marry his mistress’s lady’s maid and George was curious to see how this little love affair would develop.

Why was it, George mused, that he had started to consider every encounter between a man and a woman as a possible love interest, of lately? He knew the answer. It was because he himself had been blessed with mutual love and affection in his marriage.

He pushed open the connecting doors between their rooms and was immediately rewarded by the lovely sight of his Emma, sitting before the mirror of her dressing table, and brushing her long strands of honey-coloured hair.  When Emma’s gaze lifted up to look at him in the mirror, George’s desire suddenly and violently stirred. God! She was beautiful beyond words.

Emma rose and put down her hair brush. She remained standing in front of her mirror, her back to her husband, but she followed his every move as he came to stand behind her. His dark head bent over the nape of her neck and Emma shivered when she felt the light brush of his lips on her skin.

“Will you honour me with your love tonight, Ma’am?” he breathed. “I find myself in great need of it.”

Emma turned and slid her arms around her husband’s neck.

“You are always in need of my love, sir,” she smiled. “And I find myself inclined to fulfil your desire, every time you ask for it.”

She kissed him lightly on the lips.

“And, sir,” she continued. “I seem to have a great need myself, every time you ask for it.”

George groaned and scooped up his lovely bride, making her gasp in mock anxiety. He laid her down onto their bed and kissed her, instantly revelling in her ardent reaction to his courtship.

He had been blessed, he knew, with the loveliest companion a man could dream of and he would love, honour and protect his Emma in everything she cared to undertake. Starting now.

 

Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Three

Emma 2009

 

Chapter Three – Mr George Knightley or the Benevolence of a Loving Husband

 

Upon Emma’s impetuous burst into her father’s parlour, George Knightley sat up in his chair and smiled fondly at his young wife.

“Ah,” he laughed. “There you are, my love. Have you encountered many friends on your walk? How did you find Highbury after your absence of a fortnight?”

Emma was momentarily – though very briefly – distracted from what she wanted to impart by her husband’s endearment. She readily returned Knightley’s smile but soon enough focussed on the matter at hand.

“Do not trouble yourself with that, dearest,” she discarded his words of greeting. “Highbury is as it always has been and nothing has changed.”

The genuine indignation that rang in her statement caused a stirring of concern in Knightley’s mind. Emma – he saw – was on the war path. Her hazel eyes were blazing with fervour and her whole body was quivering with the exuberant zeal she displayed on every task she undertook.

“Oh,” Knightley laughed, “Well, that is surely no surprise to you, I wonder? Why should it have changed in two weeks?”

Mr Woodhouse, who had been startled out of his complacent mood by his daughter’s vigorous invasion, hesitantly ventured, “My dearest Emma, surely Highbury has no need for any change? It has been perfect all these years and change can only bring misery and worry.”

“Oh, dearest Papa!” Emma exclaimed. “You cannot begin to understand how dull Highbury is, since you have never ventured one step outside of it! Now that I have seen the sea and Brighton and Eastbourne and so many other beautiful places, I cannot be content with my home town and let it quietly simmer in sleep!”

Inwardly sighing, Knightley knew that there were troublesome times ahead. Emma was determined to cause mischief – not out of malice – but because she was genuinely convinced she could make a difference with her meddling. Recalling her past matchmaking disaster involving Harriet Smith and her misinterpretation of the relationship between Franck Churchill and Miss Jane Fairfax, Knightley feared she once again lived under a serious misconception. Highbury was indeed a quiet little village but one that dwelled under a genuine spirit of contentment. Its inhabitants were well established in their own way of life, their daily existence and pastime well organized and their circumstances steady and without hardship. Knightley shuddered at the thought of what Emma’s meddling might disrupt in the benevolent peace and quiet.

Knowing full well that he must proceed with extreme caution, Knightley inquired in a pleasant voice, “And what have you conjured up as a remedy for our beloved village’s boredom, then, my love?”

Emma threw her hands up in disbelief and cried, “Is it not obvious to you? You, the most intelligent mind I have ever encountered, you do not instantly see what is called upon for here? You astonish me, husband!”

“Please, enlighten us, Emma,” Knightley replied in growing concern. “Your dear father and I are at the edge of our seats.”

“Oh, no! Not I!” Mr Woodhouse interjected. “Mr Knightley, I beg you, do not let her go forth with this. She will only stir trouble, I assure you.”

“Oh, Papa, you tease me but I adore you too much to take offence!”

Emma divested herself from her bonnet and pelisse and tossed them in the direction of a hastily approaching Peter who deftly caught them before retiring to the hall. With a radiant smile on her lovely face, Emma flopped herself onto her husband’s lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. She gave him a sound kiss on the mouth and laughed aloud at his visible consternation.

“George, my dear, I have just the thing for Highbury! I will set up a newspaper where all the tidbits of daily life will be gathered for all to read. Its name will be ‘The Highbury Chronicles’ and all my friends will have to participate in its contents. We will strive for a weekly issue on – let me think – Thursday! Yes, that is the best day since it is the day after Market Day which brings on new matters every time. Is that not a fair prospect? After dinner, I will start writing letters to all my acquaintances and summon them to a meeting. Now, let me see. Tomorrow morning at eleven will be appropriate, do you not agree?”

She leapt up and began dancing around the room with delight in her eyes.

“Oh, there is such a multitude of tasks to perform! I cannot wait to begin!”

Halting with a jolt before her father’s chair and startling the old man a great deal, she knelt before him and tapped her fingers one by one to tick off the items she had in mind.

“First, we need an editor who, of course, shall be me as I am the one with a large portion of common sense. We also must have a writer for each topic we want to cover. A list will have to be dressed so that we won’t forget any of the required subjects. A general manager is also very useful, someone with a knack for the money issues. Hmmm … I wonder who could fit that post.”

“Emma, Emma, please? Will you stop and ready yourself for dinner? Can you not see that your father is more than ready for his evening gruel?” Knightley chided her gently but firmly. He must do this, he knew, for his wife would be enthusing away time until they all fainted with hunger.

“Oh, yes! Right you are, my love! I will go to my room now and we can resume our conversation at dinner. Toodeloo!!”

Toodeloo? Where had she picked up that ridiculous outcry, Knightley mused. Nobody except the frivolous and hare-brained Mrs Elton used that and Knightley doubted that Emma would have talked to the woman. Emma loathed the vicar’s wife with a passion.

 

Fortunately for Knightley, the presence of his brother John and his sister-in-law, Isabella, prevented Emma from continuing her chattering about her new project.

Mr Woodhouse never ceased complaining over the upcoming journey back to London for his daughter and her family.

Could not Isabella and the children stay here at Hartfield while her husband resided in London?  Surely, the best possible place to dwell in was Hartfield? Surely, Isabella, my child, you would not venture a jolting journey in a close-confined carriage with five children and two adults? The roads were downright damnable,  did you know that, Isabella?

And so on, and so on …

Knightley stopped listening around the time the fish course was served and instead, turned his thoughts toward his wife’s new project, “The Highbury Chronicles”.

Emma, he mused, was a darling. She had not a bad bone in her body and she possessed the kindest of hearts and the gentlest of souls. He loved her. She was born when he was still at Eton, so he had surprised himself that he would show such an interest in a mere female infant when he was at the respectable age of sixteen. But that was how matters lay. He had always felt a deep concern and a genuine fondness for little Emma Woodhouse. Now, he had come to love her properly and she was his dearest wife.

As Knightley sat quietly enjoying his custard, he made the solemn vow to himself to help Emma in her newest project and watch over the whole business and the people involved. He had an inkling of foreboding that it might be needed!

 

Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part Two

Emma 2009

Chapter Two – Mr Henry Woodhouse or the Anxieties of a Widowed Father

 

Mr Woodhouse returned from his stroll there-and-back to the hedgerows which very suitably divided his grounds and sighed deeply when he knocked on his front door with his walking cane’s silver head.

So very amiss of Peter, his ground floor footman, not to have noticed that his master had indeed stepped under the porch of his own house. Footmen should always be aware of their master’s presence, Mr Woodhouse mused. That was why one employed them in the first place.

“Peter, Peter,” Mr Woodhouse gently scolded, “at my age, a gentleman should never be forced to tap for entry at his own front door. It should be opened long afore so that the master can step inside without having to hold his stride. I am sure there is nothing so deplorable for an older gentleman’s muscles as to be slowed in his stride. Kindly attempt to pay more attention to the matter in the future, will you?”

“Yes, Mr Woodhouse, sir,” Peter replied in a deferential manner. Had Mr Woodhouse ventured to look at his footman, he would have noticed the slight smile the man was trying to conceal. However, Mr Woodhouse was already shedding his hat and coat, and too much absorbed in these manipulations to have a notion of what transpired. His mind was almost immediately swept into the many concerns that awaited him at his home.

For indeed, many ill things could befall the people in Mr Woodhouse’s world, as he himself knew best.

They could sink into injury or illness due to the weather as it had not been very mild these last days, he worried. The weather itself was a great source of concern and the very idea of venturing into the outdoors,  brought him great sorrow. Why should people even want to go walking about in the open? In fact, why should anyone with a sprig of sense even leave one’s house unless it was absolutely necessary? To go to church, for instance, one might consider stepping into one’s carriage  and drive through whatever weather occurred. Yet, why vicars would not be encouraged to come to people’s houses and speak mass there, he did not know.

As Mr Woodhouse entered the large parlour at the front of the house, where he usually sat in the afternoons, he saw a horse and rider approaching in the lane. His eyes were not as sharp as they used to be, but the height of the horseman and his regal attitude suggested that it might be Mr Knightley. He must be right, Mr Woodhouse thought, for no one else in Highbury rode such a huge black stallion by the name of Hector.

Now there, Mr Woodhouse said to himself, was a rarely and truly enjoyable matter.

Mr Knightley and his wife – Mr Woodhouse’s own sweet daughter Emma – would take up residence at Hartfield for good. His heart rejoiced at the happy evocation of the many pleasant evenings the three of them would enjoy in the future. Not only was his dearest Emma to live in his house and care for him, but there would also be a young and vigorous man about to keep them safe. Mr Woodhouse suddenly shuddered at the recollection of the many years he and Emma had lived by themselves at Hartfield, with only the servants to keep them safe. Hartfield had never been unsafe, he mused, but there was a first time for everything, and he would prefer to have Mr Knightley at hand, should it ever occur.

While he waited for his new son-in-law to stable his horse and come into the house, Mr Woodhouse found yet another reason for joy. To his own astonishment – for it was highly uncommon to detect  a source of enjoyment, let alone two – Mr Woodhouse felt his heart lift. He had only just come to the conclusion that he would never have cause to ever resent Emma’s wish to be with her husband, unlike he had with her sister Isabella. Mr Woodhouse recalled the many occasions upon which he was profoundly saddened by the thought that Isabella preferred to return to London with Mr John Knightley and not stay at Hartfield instead. Due to Mr and Mrs George Knightley’s wish to come and live at Hartfield, he would never have to miss his Emma. Praise be to the Lord, Mr Woodhouse reflected.

Thus it was with a hearty greeting that Mr Woodhouse welcomed his new son-in-law into his parlour.

“Ah, Mr Knightley, sir! Please, make yourself at home and sit down by the fire. There is a definite chill in the air tonight. I felt it quite positively when I took my walk earlier. I fear we will have an early autumn, my good sir, mark my words. Now, might I recommend a small basin of gruel to bridge the remaining time until dinner? Nothing, in my opinion, is as soothing and healthy as gruel, thin but not too thin, on an empty stomach.”

George Knightley felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he took in the image of Emma’s father, sitting beside the blazing fire. Mr Woodhouse was busying himself with tucking in a heavy duvet around his legs. Knightley, transpiration already trickling down his back, resisted the urge to shed his coat but nevertheless chose a seat as far away as possible from the hearth.

“No, thank you, sir,” he replied to the offer of gruel, a substance he heartily detested. “Have you seen my brother? I should like to discuss some estate matters with him before he leaves for London tomorrow.”

“Oh, no. No, I haven’t laid eyes on anyone after I returned from my walk. Not even on Isabella or the children, I’m afraid. And where is Emma, Mr Knightley? Did she not come with you from Donwell Abbey?”

Knightley inwardly sighed as his father-in-law touched a subject he himself worried about.

“No, sir,” he answered, anxious to keep any distress out of his voice. “Emma has gone to Highbury to meet some of her friends. I expect she will be here soon.”

“Ah …” Mr Woodhouse sighed and said no more, leaving Knightley to his own reflections on his wife.

It was most curious, Knightley mused, that a simple statement like ‘Emma has gone to Highbury’ left him with such a multitude of ill forebodings. Yet there it was. If he knew his wife – and he did indeed know her since the day she was born – Emma would be up to no good, now that she was back in Highbury.

His brooding was interrupted by the very person on his mind as Emma burst into the parlour, her bonnet askew and her pretty round cheeks flushed with excitement.

“Oh, my dears!” she cried, overflowing with unmitigated joy. “How merry we will all be as soon as I bring into motion my brilliant new scheme to amuse ourselves … and the whole of Highbury!”

 

 

Between Boredom and Brilliance – Part One

Emma 2009

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

accomplished!”

“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.