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 shed her slippers and stepped into the bath tub.
“I will not forego on 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 pin up her long, golden locks.
“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 for London soon and I want to make my adieux properly.”
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, as 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!”