Chapter Twenty – Hope Once More Blossoms in Highbury
George Knightley knew the foursome of farmers had some information about Charles Weston, but extracting it from them might need some cunning.
“Gentlemen,” he said, in a casual manner, “my friend, Mr Weston, lacks some skill on horseback. We told him to take the carriage, but he refused, claiming he needed the practice. I am fairly certain he might have been taking just a little bit too much of a risk. Or maybe, his horse lost a shoe and has gone lame. I would make it worth your while and offer a reward, gentlemen, if you have some information for me.”
Half an hour later, George knocked on the door of a small, neat cottage, belonging to an elderly gentleman. Dr Richards used to be a London physician but had retired some years before and returned to his childhood village. A few days ago, our four farmers had found a man, lying unconscious in the ditch beside the Portsmouth Road. A horse stood grazing next to him. The men had brought their find to the good doctor, who tended the patient’s nasty, bleeding head wound.
Dr Richards took George to see the man, still unconscious and slightly feverish.
“I think he might have lain there for a good many hours, sir,” the doctor explained. “When they brought him in, he was soaked to the bone, and it has not rained for two nights. So I guess it may have happened at least three days ago.”
George nodded pensively and looked down on the pale, still form of his friend. “I would not want to move him back home now, doctor,” he said. “I think that might be unwise, in his condition.”
“Absolutely, sir. He should at least regain consciousness. It would be my pleasure to offer you my hospitality, if you wanted to stay until your friend gets better.”
That same night, a wandering tradesman brought a message to Hartfield. Emma, Anne and Miss Bates were infinitely relieved to hear that Mr Weston had been found, and was alive but wounded.
Anne Weston instantly wanted to rush at her husband’s side, but her friends dissuaded her, stating that, in her delicate condition, she needed to be properly rested.
They set forth in George’s chaise-and-four, the next morning, bringing along Mr Woodhouse, who insisted that he should accompany them. Three ladies travelling on their own without male company, was not his idea of safely behaviour, he stated.
Emma was utterly bewildered over her father’s decision. She was grateful but bewildered, nevertheless. Moreover, Mr Woodhouse did not behave in his usual wavering, complaining way, but instead, offered consolation and courage to poor Anne Weston, during the whole journey.
“Please, my dear Miss Taylor – erm – I mean, Mrs Weston, do not despair. He lives, remember? I am convinced that Mr Knightley has made all the necessary arrangements to make your husband regain his health. Such a reliable gentleman, Mr Knightley is, Ma’am! A veritable rock!”
“Oh, yes, Mrs Weston!” Miss Bates chimed in. “You should have seen how he handled Mother’s funeral. Such diligence, and such delicacy, Mr Knightley displayed, you have no idea. I could not have managed without him, I am sure.”
Emma listened to all this with amusement. Of course, she knew her George was a paragon of strength and sympathy, but it was nice to hear it from someone else. She could not wait to be at his side, and wished the couch would go faster still. Emma had reasons of her own why she would like to speak to George.
Two hours of travelling brought the company to Kingston-upon-Thames, where they met with George and Dr Richards. Anne rushed to her husband’s sickbed just in time to witness him open his eyes. Mr Weston looked about him in confusion, at first, but when he recognized his anxious spouse, his eyes lit with pleasure. His voice, however, proved a bit lacking in strength, after three days of silence. This was easily remediated with some of Dr Richard’s own herbal tea of sage and honey.
“My dear…” Mr Weston whispered, “there was no need to come to my rescue. I am sure that I am in good hands, with Dr Richards and Mr Knightley.”
Anne dashed away some foolish tears and said softly, “I wanted to tell you something marvellous, my love.” She then bent over her husband’s ear to give him her news about the new baby. Mr Weston’s eyes filled with tears of joy.
High summer found the Highbury company in great spirits.
Miss Bates found a new purpose in life, becoming Clarissa Weston’s governess. She sold her meagre possessions and came to live at Randall, where she assisted the nanny with Clarissa.
Harriet Martin and her husbandRobert became frequent guests to the parties thrown at Hartfield and Randall. The new mistress of Abbey Mill Farm was doing splendidly in her pregnancy, her morning sickness having subsided by now.
Mr Weston fully recovered from his head wound and rejoiced in becoming a father again in December. Anne Weston basked in the joy of motherhood and the devotion her husband paid her.
The Eltons… ah! There was an upcoming pin to burst their enormous bubble of arrogance and ignorance. Mrs Elton discovered she was to be a mother in five months time! Because she never learned to watch the signs of her body – hare-brained woman that she was – she had failed to notice that her bodily functions had changed. It was not until she consulted a Harley Street London doctor that she learned of her pregnancy. Baffled and ashamed, the Eltons retired from Highbury society to move to Bath, which left the village without a minister.
Now Frank and Jane Churchill…that was yet another kettle of fish. Tucked away in Yorkshire and at a far distance from Highbury, they lost contact with their former friends altogether. Mr Weston did get an announcement that their daughter Honoria was born, early September, but by then, the new grandfather had his hands full with his own offspring. The Westons promised to go and visit in the spring, and that was it.
And Emma and George? It was only natural with the present wave of fertility that reigned in Highbury, one supposed. Emma was with child, finally and to her and George’s immense delight. Mr Woodhouse wept with joy when he heard the happy news.
In January, a little Knightley would present himself to Highbury and the world.
All is well that ends well.
I hope you enjoyed my little dalliance with Miss Austen’s ‘Emma’.
Next week, I will be embarking on a new project. A period drama novel of my own, set in France and England during the restless and dangerous time of the French Revolution. France is being re-shaped into a nation that will become a model of modern democracy, and England is at the height of its power under the reign of the Prince Regent, ‘Prinny’ or the future George IV.
Sir Richard de Briers, baronet of Bearsham Manor in Hampshire, promises his dying father to search for his sister’s family in Paris. He finds his niece, twenty year old, gorgeous Manon Favier, and his nephew, five year old Jéhan, the day after their father has been slaughtered by revolutionaries.
The task on Sir Richard’s broad shoulders is heavy – to bring Manon and her brother to England and establish them as a member of English society. Yet love and passion emerge to disturb his carefully laid-out plans.
Please join me on Thursday next for