At last another new novel. Daisy May is alive an well and hanging out on Amazon!
A romantic comedy perfect for a summer holiday read. Enjoy!
At last another new novel. Daisy May is alive an well and hanging out on Amazon!
A romantic comedy perfect for a summer holiday read. Enjoy!
Emma’s party was in full swing. A plethora of Champagne had done away with inhibitions, and most of the party had made their way on to the dance floor on multiple occasions, encouraged by, Emma had to admit, Robert Martin and his band. The music they had selected to play was perfect for a party that mixed young and mature alike, and Robert proved to be a talented singer and guitarist, and an entertaining front man.
Emma had danced almost all the evening, a waltz, the cha-cha-cha, a salsa; she had even attempted a tango with Geoff Weston who proved to be light on his feet and a versatile performer. Mostly though, Emma danced with Frank. He was charming and witty to talk to between sets, and an excellent mover on the dance floor both in and out of hold. Emma had enjoyed herself so much that she barely had eyes for anyone else.
When Robert Martin announced that the buffet was to be served and the band left the stage for a well-earned break, Emma resolved to redouble her hostess duties. Apart from to greet everyone, she had barely talked to a dozen of her guests. She would mingle during supper. Emma moved from group to group thanking everyone for coming, admiring outfits, asking after absent family members, recounting an hundred times that her father was well, and happy to stay at home by his own fire, and accepting compliments galore on her good looks and stunning outfit.
Emma spied Harriet across the room standing near to the stage from whence the band had disappeared; her brows drew together for a moment. Was she hanging around waiting to flirt with Robert Martin despite Emma’s efforts to dissuade her of his suitability? Oh well Emma shrugged, one could only do ones best. Emma’s rumination on Harriet was replaced by astonishment as she caught sight of Frank Churchill gazing into the distance, his attention rapt. Emma followed his gaze and thought that she detected Jane Fairfax as his object. Well that is a surprise! Emma had thought that Frank had no liking for Miss Fairfax. Emma hovered near his elbow to catch his attention and, feeling her presence, Frank turned to greet Emma.
‘Hi, what a great party this is. I do declare that Highbury parties are much better than London ones’ he laughed, his eyes dancing with pleasure.
‘I’m afraid that you are referring to the only Highbury party, at least that I remember’ Emma laughed, ‘and although it’s very kind of you to say so, I can’t say that I believe a word of it.’
‘No, no, I swear. The ONLY Highbury party is fantastic and much better than London parties, the ones that I have attended at any rate. We must have another one, as soon as may be. There is nothing so much fun as a party’ Frank declared.
‘Have you danced with Jane Fairfax yet?’ Emma asked innocently.
‘Well as a matter of fact I did once. She is not nearly so much fun to dance with as you are’ Frank grinned, ‘much too reserved I suppose’, he added with a gleam of amusement. ‘Do you think that I should again? I do think that she looks rather odd with her hair in that peculiar arrangement.’ Emma followed his gaze to inspect Jane’s appearance, which to Emma’s eye looked remarkably elegant and sophisticated. Jane Fairfax caught his and her attention on her, she turned away deliberately, and began to speak to someone. Emma frowned at Frank with mock severity,
‘Now you have made me upset her again. She will never be my friend if she thinks that I am laughing at her, and I was not, that was you.’ Emma administered a little smack to Frank’s arm and wandered off to join another group of her guests. She made a deft detour to avoid being caught by Vera Bates, Jane’s garrulous aunt, feeling slightly guilty for dodging the woman who had been so kind to her father, and to Emma all her life.
‘Mr. Knightley!’ Emma spied her brother-in-law and dimpled up at him, ‘my how different you look in black tie.’ Emma took in his broad shoulders and strong frame set off by the old style but beautifully tailored suit. George Knightley looks very handsome Emma approved, quite as handsome as Frank Churchill. Emma reached up and tweaked his bowtie and brushed an imaginary spec from his shoulder,
‘There now, you look perfect’ Emma smiled up at him.
‘And you dear Emma look very beautiful’ George felt an unaccustomed desire to bend forward and kiss Emma on her parted lips. His grey eyes held her hazel ones for a long moment.
‘Thank you’ Emma responded lightly, but a slight flush spread across her cheeks, as she felt uncomfortably aware of George Knightley in a way that she was not anticipating. Emma swallowed and regrouped her thoughts,
‘I have not seen you dancing Mr. Knightley’ she rebuked, ‘so many pretty girl and you must hang around talking with the old fogies. Let me recommend a likely partner for you. What about Harriet? Though I think she is in great demand, or Jane Fairfax? I haven’t seen her dancing much, and you like Jane Fairfax’ Emma teased.
‘Anyone may know that I like Jane Fairfax’ George responded drily. ‘I’ll dance with you, if you’ll do me the honour?’ George took her hand and carried it towards his lips and bent his head in a gallant little bow.
‘Of course I’ll dance with you’ Emma exclaimed happily, ‘it will be like old times when Isabella and I would roll up the carpet in the drawing room and practice our steps, and you would come in and solemnly pretend to be my dance partner…’ Emma smiled up at George, ‘D’you remember?’
‘Yes I do, though I remember that you preferred to cavort about to Madonna or the Spice Girls than to learn ballroom or Latin steps’ he chortled at the recollection, and Emma found her colour rising once more.
‘Come!’ she pulled at George Knightley’s sleeve as Robert Martin announced the first number of the final set ‘Come Away With Me’, with his sister on vocals. George Knightley took Emma in his arms and led her expertly into a waltz; the pressure of his hand on her back guided her through the steps. Emma relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of gliding around the floor held in his strong arms, ‘Why Mr. Knightley what a fraud, you dance better than anyone’ she rebuked him playfully as the number ended to a round of applause. George relaxed his hold but retained Emma in his arms awaiting the next number; he smiled down at her quizzically. Emma felt a strange sensation of perfect contentment for a moment, until the peace was broken.
As the band struck up a kafuffle broke out near the corner of the stage. Emma craned to see what was happening as George excused himself and wormed his way speedily through the crowd. Robert Martin handed his mike back to Phoebe with a terse instruction to continue without him. He vaulted from the stage and met with George Knightley at the scene of the problem. Harriet, looking scared and disheveled was struggling with a young man who was bent on groping her. The youth was rather the worse for wear, and, obviously from his casual attire, had not been invited. Robert Martin took the interloper by the collar and heaved him off Harriet while George Knightley swept Harriet away from curious onlookers.
‘Get out of here’ Robert ordered with a strong shove that sent the troublemaker sprawling, ‘and don’t come back or I’ll teach you a lesson.’ He stood with his fists balled glaring after the transgressor. ‘Should have had a bouncer, there’s always someone who’ll gatecrash’ Robert muttered darkly as he cast around for Harriet.
‘Is your other sister nearby Rob’ George asked in a low voice, ‘Harriet could do with a bit of help and morale support while she sorts herself out.’ He gesticulated kindly at Harriet whose mascara had run, and her hair had tumbled lopsidedly from an up-do. Robert, who thought that Harriet looked beyond charming with her tear stained face and wobbly lower lip, turned immediately to fetch Elizabeth from the wings. She had seen none of the incident but rushed to the aid of her friend as soon as she was alerted to the problem.
‘Thank you, thank you soo much’ Harriet mumbled incoherently fixing Rob and George with her tearful big blue eyes, I c-couldn’t bear to r-ruin Emma’s s-special p-party. I didn’t w-want to m-make any t-trouble b-but h-he grabbed hold of m-me a-and…’
‘It wasn’t your fault Harriet. Nobody saw what happened. Go and get tidied up and enjoy the rest of the party. There’s nothing to worry about, really’ George reassured kindly, as he bundled Harriet off with Elizabeth.
‘Only that Elton bloke’ Rob muttered under his breath to George Knightley,
‘Yep he scarpered at the first sign of trouble. Before that he was sniffing around Harriet’ Robert Martin’s face spoke a thousand words about what he thought of that.
‘I am surprised’ George’s puzzled expression pulled his eyebrows into a frown, ‘I had him down as er otherwise inclined.’
‘Yeah me too, but it appears otherwise. I was chatting to Harriet, well chatting up I suppose, during the break and he butted in. God he’s an oily…’ Robert substituted ‘so and so’ recollecting his surroundings. ‘Look I’ve got to get back to the stage. Keep an eye out for Harriet will you please George? Thanks’ the men exchanged a friendly nod and parted company.
Harriet appeared before too long, looking none the worse for wear. George marveled on the efficacy of make-up, and endeavored to cheer her spirits, which hadn’t been so quick to mend. By the time that the party ended George’s opinion of Harriet had improved immensely, she wasn’t nearly as dim as he had first thought. In fact he felt quite convinced that she and Robert Martin would make a fine couple. He wondered idly if he should promote the idea with Emma. Hm perhaps not, he had, after all, been rather dismissive of matchmaking as an activity. George glanced about him trying to locate Emma in the throng. There she was, still dancing. Well she deserved to have some fun. George smiled fondly.
The music changed tempo and the lights were lowered for the last dance of the night, announced by Robert Martin from the stage. George watched as Emma’s form, unmistakable in the column of red chiffon, was drawn into the body of a tall, handsome young man. The smile froze on George Knightley’s face as he watched Emma laugh up into the face of Frank Churchill. He experienced a stab of pain and caught his breath. George stood for a moment in the gloom confused by his reaction. He closed his eyes, took a deep inhalation and shook his head slightly. He must have a touch of indigestion.
Harriet arrived after lunch, as she had promised to do, armed with the tools of her trade. She admired all of Emma’s cards and presents with pleasing enthusiasm. The necklace got Harriet’s seal of approval; apparently it was by some on trend designer whom Emma had never heard of. After the party she must resurrect project wardrobe rehab.
The girls spent the afternoon happily in preparation for Emma’s birthday bash. As Harriet worked her magic on Emma’s hair and makeup, Emma took the opportunity to influence Harriet of the possibilities that the evening held. She was determined to distract Harriet’s thoughts from Robert Martin, and to direct them toward Philip Elton. A relationship that Emma deemed much more suitable for her friend. What was Robert Martin other than the son of one of Knightley’s tenants? Well aside, that was, from fronting a band. Whereas Philip Elton was a wealthy entrepreneur, Emma thought, though how he had come by his money she was not totally assured.
Not that Harriet needed funds. It had come to Emma’s attention that Harriet lacked for nothing. The mystery of her parentage aside, whoever was responsible for her upkeep and her allowance, was certainly very generous. Emma let her mind wonder for a few moments on the matter. It suited her to believe that Harriet was the love child of nobility, or even of royalty. No, Robert Martin was not suitable for her particular friend.
‘I think my party will be an excellent opportunity for you to dance with a superior sort of boy, or man I should say. Like Philip Elton, I’m sure he likes you’ Emma hinted offhandedly. ‘There will be the Perrys, the Hughes, the Richards, the Otways, the Coles and the Gilberts from Highbury, and the Coxes and quite a few of the county set as well, Emma continued thoughtfully. There would be, of course, a few Right Honorables and such like amongst the county lot.
The Woodhouse family had owned Hartfield for many generations, and as a consequence of the family history and lineage Mr. Woodhouse could command the respect of all the preeminent families in the county, not just of the neighbourhood. The Knightleys and the Woodhouses were held in high regard, a position in society that had not been harmed in the least by the family alliance through the marriage of John Knightley and Isabella Woodhouse, some ten years previous.
Emma wondered for a moment with whom she would dance. Of course she would be asked by the young men of all the leading families as a protocol, although Emma hoped that her company was a little more entertaining, and her appearance more pleasing, than would necessitate mere duty in the performance. Of course she had wondered about Frank Churchill and the likelihood of his asking. She expected that he was as aware of the wishes of his parents as much as was she. Fortunately her own father would never dream for a moment that some man would appear to tempt his second daughter away from hearth and home. He remained so oblivious to the possibility that it was one worry she could count on him not exercising.
Yes she was sure Frank Churchill would ask her, perhaps she would open the dancing with him. Emma still felt that somehow his and her destinies were entwined. Though clearly she had no thoughts of a serious relationship. That, as she had informed her intimates on many occasions, was totally out of the question.
Finally the girls were ready to depart for the Crown. As hostess, Emma was to be at the party a little early to greet her guests. Emma twirled obediently in front of her father and old Mrs. Bates to show off her dress.
‘You look very nice my dear’ complimented Mr. Woodhouse, ‘but you must wear a shawl and a coat to keep you warm. It is cold now and will get colder as soon as the sun goes down.’
‘Yes Papa dear, I have Mama’s fur wrap to put around me, and Harriet has a maxi coat’ her father’s eyes had almost swiveled in his head as he eyed Harriet’s state of undress with obvious terror.
‘You must be careful of your health. Young ladies are delicate flowers are they not Mrs. Bates? Don’t sit in any draughts and be careful not to over exert yourselves’ Mr. Woodhouse fussed as the girls waited for James, the chauffer, cum gardener, cum odd job man, to bring the Bentley round to the front door. ‘Now don’t wait up’ Emma admonished with a fond kiss, ‘James will take Mrs. Bates home when she’s ready and then come back to the Crown to collect us. Everything will be fine as Mrs. Weston is to look after us.’ This assurance above all things, Emma knew, would set her father’s mind at rest.
Emma slid out of the car and stood for a few moments in front of the Crown taking in the atmosphere. Silver and white streamers and helium balloons lined the entrance way to the upstairs room. A banner proclaimed 21st birthday wishes, and fairy lights lit the route from the car park. Emma held her breath taking in the magical sight; it was an arrangement to which she had not been party. Tears pricked Emma’s eyes as she looked about her and admired the effect.
‘Emma come on up!’ Anne Weston’s voice commanded, ‘come and see how it all looks.’ Anne sounded awed, she had never thought that the Crown could ever look so festive and well, glamorous, she supposed. ‘Emma you look beautiful’ Anne swallowed a lump in her throat as she hugged her young protégé with pride. ‘Doesn’t Emma look wonderful Geoff?’
‘She does indeed, beautiful, beautiful’ Geoff Weston bent forward and took her hand in the old fashioned way. ‘Frank come and wish Emma happy returns’ he commanded jovially. Frank Churchill stopped forward and emulated his father’s bow.
‘Many happy returns of the day dear Emma’ he purred smoothly, kissing the back of Emma’s hand. Emma looked up with a gurgle of amusement, yet caught her breath as her eyes took in the mischievous gleam of the green eyes set in Frank Churchill’s devastatingly handsome visage.
‘Thank you kind Sir’ she ventured playfully, taking in the impeccable cut of Frank’s DJ. Emma suddenly felt light headed with happiness. It was her party and she would dance all night. Her eyes sparkled with expectation.
‘Would you do me the honour of the first dance?’ Frank beseeched earnestly, the sparkle of his eyes belying the seriousness of his intent. Anne and Geoff Weston exchanged a little smile of approval. A perfect beginning to what was to be a perfect birthday party.
It was still dark when Emma woke. She lay with her eyes closed for a moment, wondering if she should get up, or try to catch another half hour of sleep. As she deliberated a thought entered her head and rendered more sleep impossible. Today was her 21st birthday.
Emma’s thoughts had been so taken up with her party that she had not given much thought to presents. Now her mind turned to such things. What would her father have got for her? Not that her father would have gone shopping, but Emma felt sure that he would have sought Anne Weston’s help to source something special for her 21st, or perhaps he would have enlisted her sister’s help. More likely, Emma decided, Isabella had all of the London shops on her doorstep; she would have been dispatched to get her present. But what would it be?
Emma’s mind drifted through possible items, the sorts of presents that people gave for 21sts. A watch perhaps, or a smart handbag, a silk scarf, a new fountain pen; but Emma had all of these things. She had a watch of her mother’s, and a fountain pen that she had begged for when she was but 13. She had a handbag, albeit not a smart one by some famous designer, and she had a silk scarf, which was a rather good one Emma thought. (Harriet had admired it, and deemed that it should not be sent to the charity shop at any rate). No nearer deciding what she may receive, Emma gave up the game in favour of getting up and finding out for sure.
Emma dressed with haste and sped downstairs. Her father was already dressed and sitting at the breakfast table.
‘Good morning Emma, my dear’ he smiled as she bent to kiss him affectionately, ‘many happy returns of the day’ he congratulated, ‘I can’t quite believe that my baby is 21!’ Henry Woodhouse’ eyes looked suspiciously moist.
‘Thank you Papa’ Emma returned, helping herself to coffee and toast. She could see immediately that there was a pile of colourful envelopes sitting beside her plate waiting to be opened.
‘Lots of cards’ Mr. Woodhouse smiled genially; he knew that Emma loved to open cards.
‘Goody’ Emma responded, turning each one carefully in her hands and guessing from whom they came. Some handwriting she recognised immediately, others not. The postmark afforded a clue when it was a nice clear one, otherwise her suspense was only rewarded once she had slit open the envelope and retrieved the card. Emma kept up a running commentary, and read out messages for her father’s edification; she was truly touched to receive messages from folk whom she had long since forgotten. At the bottom of the pile was a rather bulky envelope addressed in her father’s spidery handwriting.
‘Oh here’s one from you’ Emma smiled across at him, still unable to guess the surprise. She opened the envelope carefully and extracted a rather flowery birthday card, the sort that her father favoured, but that she did not care for that much. Still Emma read the card and the message out loud her eyes stinging a little with emotion at her father’s lavish praise.
‘Thank you Papa’ she jumped up to administer a hug.
‘There’s something else in the envelope…’
‘Yes’ Emma turned it up and a car ignition key landed on the table. ‘Oh!’ Emma’s eyes rounded in shock, she had not expected to get a car. Other of her friends had been given cars for their birthdays but Emma had always assumed that her father would be far to cautious on Emma’s behalf. She wondered who’s influence had been brought to bear. ‘Thank you Papa’ Emma’s eyes filled with tears, ‘I will drive very carefully I promise.’
‘Yes, yes, my dear’ Mr. Woodhouse patted her hand feeling a little choked himself. ‘It is the safest little car available, with FIVE air bags, Knightley says. He read all of the car reviews and chose this one for you.
‘Where is it?’ Emma asked, her heart thudding with anticipation.
‘In the garage, it’s been there for almost a week since George brought it round, while you were out visiting with Miss Bates and her niece.’ Emma dimpled indulgently at the scale of the subterfuge that her father and Knightley had wrought.
‘How did you manage to keep it such a secret?’ she asked, rather awed that he had succeeded. ‘Will you put on your coat and scarf and come out with me to see it?’ Emma encouraged. She fussed a little as she arranged her father’s muffler carefully and buttoned up his coat to keep him warm. Once he was ready Emma shrugged on her old Barbour and took her father’s arm. They walked around to the back of the house chattering inconsequentially and Emma unlocked and unbolted the old coach house door. She swung the heavy old door to one side to reveal her own little car. Dwarfed by the size of her father’s Bentley the Ford Fiesta looked small but rather sweet. It was a brand new model and shiny black with rather racy red leather seats and interior.
‘It’s so cute, thank you Papa I love it’ Emma declared, ‘I’m so lucky, I never guessed that you would get me a car.’ Emma had quite forgotten that she could, had she wanted, have bought herself a fleet of cars as today she came into her inheritance from her mother. John Knightley, the family lawyer naturally, had acquainted Emma of the size of her fortune some time ago. Emma became not only 21, but also a several times millionaire this very day. Emma walked around her car inspecting every detail. Unsurprisingly George Knightley had chosen an Eco model. But the interior styling was so sporty that it didn’t matter at all to Emma that it wasn’t a flashier motor. Emma pressed the remote control and laughed happily as the little car’s lights flashed. She slipped into the driver’s side and started up the engine. It had been some time since Emma had driven, though Anne had encouraged her to practice once in a while since she had passed her test a couple of years before.
‘I’m going to drive around the circle’ Emma called out to her father, ‘would you like a ride?’
Emma drove her father carefully around the gravel sweep exclaiming happily as she tried various levers, knobs and switches.
‘Emma be careful darling’ Mr. Woodhouse exclaimed in some alarm as one of these explorations of the dashboard caused a slight swerve as her concentration wavered. ‘Oh don’t run Mr. Knightley down!’ he issued in some panic. Emma grinned and made as though she were to, although George Knightley was some distance from the vehicle which was inching gingerly around the drive way. ‘Emma!’ her father exclaimed again as George Knightley raised his hand in a cheerful wave and made to dive out of Emma’s way in jest. Emma braked gently and turned off the ignition. She patted her father’s hand and smiled contritely,
‘It’s a wonderful present Papa. I must thank George for helping you choose.’ She hopped from the car and administered and excited and grateful hug.
‘I never ever dreamt of a car!’ Emma exclaimed, ‘Never, ever, not once’ she emphasised, her expression of amazement confirming the declaration. ‘How did you persuade Papa? For I know he would never have thought of it on his own’ Emma asked sotto voce.
‘Happy Birthday! You like it then?’ George responded with a laugh.
‘Like it? I love it. It is the most perfect birthday present in the world’ Emma declared fervently, ‘I’ll be able to nip to the shops, or over to see Anne, or to Goddard’s to meet Harriet. I could even visit you at Donwell and be there in a trice…’
George Knightley stooped to help Mr. Woodhouse from the little car.
‘Well, well, you were right Mr. Knightley Emma says that she likes her birthday present very much indeed. What say you to that?’
‘I say that between us we have chosen well’ George responded diplomatically. ‘Emma let me show you some of the refinements…’ Knightley demonstrated a few of the car’s features much to Emma’s delight. She had never driven anything brand new, certainly nothing with such modern technology. The bit about the small engine size compensated by the horsepower to provide astonishing performance went over her head rather, and she had to change the subject abruptly as George mentioned the satellite navigation. The thought of Emma driving anywhere beyond know terrain was in danger of bringing on one of her father’s panic attacks.
George Knightley apprehended his error and smoothly switched to a demonstration of how Emma would be able to call her father from the car, with perfect safety, using voice control technology. Emma smiled her relieved thanks and listened attentively to his instructions, she could appreciate the usefulness of such a device.
‘Will you come in for a coffee?’ Emma invited, expecting a polite negative, ‘we will be having some directly.’
‘OK thanks’ George responded after a quick glance at his watch, ‘then I have to get off, I’m on the bench this afternoon which will require a change of clothing, naturally.’
‘Poor you’ Emma screwed up her nose having heard several accounts regarding the dullness of Magistrate’s duties.
‘Indeed’ George agreed with an ironic smile, ‘not so exciting as opening cards and presents I’ll wager.’
‘Not half’ Emma agreed with a giggle, ‘especially if the day continues as well as it has started’ she demonstrated her array of birthday cards with a wave of her arm.
‘Excellent’ George browsed for a few moments, ‘I have a little something for you’ he fished in his coat pocket and produced a book sized package and an envelope, ‘I hope that you enjoy the rest of your day, and I’ll see you later at the Crown’ Mr. Knightley finished his coffee and was off before Emma had time to inspect her gift.
Emma turned the package over and surveyed it closely. Wrapped in the shop she reckoned, too neat for male wrapping. Not a book, too squashy. Emma finished her coffee and glanced out of the window to admire her new car, still parked on the driveway, as she savoured the moment of suspense.
‘What did Knightley give you Emma?’ her father interrupted Emma’s pondering.
‘I haven’t opened it yet’ she responded, proceeding to unwrap the parcel carefully, ‘Oh, lovely’ Emma’s eyes sparkled as her exploration revealed a dark red leather writing folder, complete with writing pad, and a place for her beloved fountain pen, ‘perfect!’ she exclaimed, ‘what a thoughtful present, how lucky am I?’ She showed the folder to her father who took it an examined it carefully.
‘Very good’ he approved with a nod, ‘I expect he remembered how well you like to write letters Emma, and what lovely handwriting that you have’ he smiled benignly as he handed the gift back. Emma slit open the envelope of her card and read George Knightley’s message with a smile.
‘He says that he hopes there may be enough pages for all the thank you notes that I will have to write after today…’ she handed the card for her father to read the rest of the message not quite trusting her voice to repeat the kind words.
‘Oh here are the Westons’ Emma announced with a beam of pleasure. Today was turning into a very good day. ‘Shall we offer them coffee? Or perhaps a small drink?’ Emma’s watch showed the time to be gone 12.00.
‘I expect they’d like a little sherry’ her father observed. ‘Poor’ Anne Taylor, or more correctly Weston, was always most welcome at Hartfield. ‘Did you see Emma’s new car?’ he asked unnecessarily as the Westons were discussing the same animatedly as they entered the house.
‘Happy birthday darling Emma’ Anne hugged and kissed Emma to the cheek. ‘What a lovely birthday gift!’ If Anne had any prior knowledge Emma could not detect it from her demeanour.
‘Yes, isn’t it perfect’ Emma enthused, ‘Papa got it for me, with a little help from Mr. Knightley.’ The meaningful look that the two women exchanged shared the knowledge that Mr. Knightley’s input would have been far from small.
‘How wonderful, what an excellent idea Mr. Woodhouse, ‘just what Emma needs to buzz about a little, especially when the weather is cold and wet. Why you could be at Randalls in less than five minutes’ Anne declared.
‘Would you like to see it?’ Emma took her friend’s arm in hers and escorted her back out onto the driveway to take a closer look.
‘Oh my dear its perfect’ Anne smiled, the little car would give Emma a little much needed freedom, and that her father had been cajoled into giving the gift made it even more delightful, as he could not reasonably prevent Emma from making use of it. ‘Clever Mr. Knightley’ Anne murmured feelingly.
The Weston’s were persuaded to partake in pre lunch drinks and they spent an amusing hour together as Emma showed her array of cards and accumulation of presents. For her part Anne had racked her brains for an idea for Emma’s special birthday. Knowing her as she did, Anne was aware of Emma’s likes’ hobbies and interests, but also of her possessions. Emma was difficult to buy for as she had pretty much everything that she could have possibly wanted. It was to her ex charge’s credit that she showed appreciation for what she was given. Anne had finally decided on a necklace, a rather dashing modern one that she thought would look well with Emma’s party dress, and could equally be worn with more casual clothes. The seed pearl and leather collar tied at the back with a grosgrain ribbon was an immediate hit with the recipient.
‘Oh thank you Anne, and Geoff, its wonderful! I’ll be able to wear it this evening with my dress’ Emma skipped with excitement and planted a kiss to Anne’s cheek, ‘it’s soo unusual, I love it. Don’t tell me that you bought it in Highbury!’
‘No’ Anne laughed and shook her head, ‘it necessitated a special trip up to town. Frank came and helped me chose, he has great taste.’ The Westons took their leave of Mr. Woodhouse, and with Emma in the knowledge that they would see her again in a short while,
‘I expect that you are looking forward to your birthday party young lady, I know that we all are’ were Geoff Weston’s parting words. He was of a very gregarious nature and certainly spoke the truth. Emma wondered for a moment what Frank Churchill would think of parochial birthday do at the pub. He was undoubtedly used to much grander balls and parties.
Emma woke early and decided that she would ride out. She had forgotten how much she had used to enjoy riding, and how much she loved her chestnut mare, Conker. On the spur of the moment she decided to ride over to Donwell. If George Knightley were to be at home (unlikely) she would call and partake of a cold drink or a coffee. Otherwise she would just enjoy a gallop across the fields, and still be back home in time for lunch. She could have decided on a visit to Randalls, yet something stayed her inclination. She would see Frank Churchill again at her party on the following day.
Emma wondered if her new inclination to ride was anything to do with her recent wardrobe challenge. She seemed to feel more confident in her jodhpurs and hacking jacket than she did in anything else at the moment. She made a mental note to tackle a shopping expedition to London, alone this time, once her birthday party was out of the way.
The dress she had bought for her birthday though, Emma believed was perfect. Harriet had promised to call around to Hartfield, after she finished college, to do Emma’s hair and make-up. The style had already been agreed between the two, and Harriet had practiced the casual up do several times to make sure that she could manage to get the desired effect on the night.
Emma gave Conker her head and they cantered along the public pathway onto Donwell Abbey land. Emma grinned as the horse gathered speed, and the wind whipped her hair free from under her hard hat. It was a beautiful spring morning, and Emma felt as free as a bird as she and her mount hurtled headlong towards the Abbey.
‘Whoa!’ Emma caught sight of George’s old Land Rover and reined in. She stood up in her stirrups and waved to catch his attention, but to no avail. George Knightley was obviously intent on his work, Emma assumed feeling rather disappointed that she had not found him at home. Oh well if he did not call this evening, she would certainly see him at her party the next evening. Emma turned Conker homeward and they cantered sedately until they reached the road again. Emma walked the horse through the outskirts of Highbury admiring the first signs of spring as she rode.
Conker was startled by a red sports car as they turned the corner towards Hartfield. The horse skittered in fright for a moment, and Emma had to use all her skill to avoid a fall. She calmed her mount after a few moments and glared balefully after the already disappeared vehicle. Some tourist with no notion that livestock were likely to be traversing the country lanes, Emma surmised rather crossly. Thankfully she had not been in sight of half of Highbury, although Emma felt uncomfortably sure that she had caught a glimpse of Miss High and Mighty Fairfax striding out of the town. She would have had a real chuckle if Emma had been unseated.
Emma returned Conker to the stable, and gave her a rub down and a bucket of feed. The horse nuzzled her affectionately as Emma rubbed her forehead and pulled her ears gently. She administered one last pat and returned to the house to get lunch for her father. Emma took a swift shower and dressed in her old sweat pants and a baggy jumper. Her father hated her to wear what he called ‘sportswear’ at meal times Emma knew, but she was totally without the wardrobe basics that would render her stylish, and elegant like Jane Fairfax. Or fashionable and sexy like Harriet, come to that.
‘Did you enjoy your ride Emma?’ her father asked solicitously.
‘Thank you yes Papa’ Emma responded with a kiss to his cheek, ‘very much. I went out to Donwell but George wasn’t there, or at least I saw him in the distance but he didn’t see me.’ She refrained from telling her father about the near incident with the sports car. It would only worry him.
‘You missed young Churchill’ her father informed, ‘he called around not long before you got back. He arrived in one of those flashy motors’ Mr. Woodhouse spoke with mild censure.
‘Oh, what type?’ Emma asked, her interest piqued by mention of the car.
‘No idea, it was red’ her father responded.
‘Oh’ Emma now felt sure that Frank Churchill had been the culprit that had almost unhorsed her. She concentrated on eating for a few moments as she adjusted her thoughts. She had felt disappointed that she had missed Frank’s visit, yet now she wondered about his behaviour. It was nice of him to call at Hartfield. Yet surely he must have recognised her, and he did not stop to see if she was all right after the horse had taken fright. And, it seemed to Emma, Frank Churchill should be aware of the ways of the country. He should not have been driving so fast on the bends outside Highbury. Emma grew pensive as she finished her lunch.
With George Knightley’s recommendations in mind Emma undertook to call around to see Jane Fairfax the very next day. Emma knew that George would be pleased if she were to extend a personal welcome, and this Emma intended to do, along with an invitation to attend her birthday party. Emma inspected her closet carefully; for another of Jane Fairfax’s virtues was that she was held to be both beautiful and elegant. Emma did not want a repeat of yesterday’s humiliation. She had felt totally out of place in the shopping mecca of Selfridges’ department store, and overshadowed by Harriet, whose sense of style had not hitherto stricken Emma as being great.
Emma sucked her bottom lip as she perused the much slimmed down but still bulging closet full of clothes, all of which were patently unsuitable for the morning’s venture. She had nothing at all suitable to wear to greet the exemplary Jane Fairfax. Come on Emma what’s the matter with you? Emma demanded from her reflection in the mirror with a scowl. Ah photographs! Emma suddenly recollected the day when she had first invited Harriet around, and the younger girl had obligingly recorded some of her newly contrived outfits on Emma’s iPhone.
Emma scrolled through masses of photos of the children taken at Christmas and finally found the ones that Harriet had taken. She really must organise her photos into albums. And the closet had gotten totally out of hand again. Emma peered at the photos that she had once been quite pleased with, and experienced a sense of mounting panic. Nothing was remotely suitable for anything other than a walk to Randalls to see Anne Weston, or to have supper with her father. Emma tried on outfit after outfit until she was close to tears with frustration. She had absolutely nothing to wear.
Two hours later Emma tied her horse’s reins to the fence in the small car park that adjoined Bates’ Grocery Store and Delicatessen. At least she looked fine in her jodhpurs, riding boots and hacking jacket. Carrying her hard hat under her arm Emma made her way to the front of the shop.
‘Good morning Miss Bates’ Emma issued in her best cut glass accent.
‘Oh Miss Woodhouse, what a pleasant surprise to see you, and how well you look, though you always do; look well that is’ Miss Bates rushed from behind the counter to greet Emma chattering non stop as she declared her gratitude for Emma’s visit at the same time as she overpowered her visitor with the news that she had already heard. Jane had arrived yesterday, rather unexpectedly, but it was so delightful for her mother, and for herself to have Jane at home; such a treat it was to be sure.
‘You must come upstairs Miss Woodhouse and say hello to Jane. I expect that you two girls hardly remember one another, it has been so long since Jane last was able to visit.’
Emma managed to assure Miss Bates that she had in fact come on purpose to do that very thing, as she had heard the news of Jane’s arrival from Mr. Knightley.
‘Of course you would have heard it from Mr. Knightley because he was so kind and obliging to deliver our fruit and veg order in person yesterday, and he arrived not long after Jane got here. He was, he said, delighted to see Jane and he complimented her on her good looks, and also on her passing all her exams and being now a qualified teacher. For Jane is you know, qualified to teach that is. She will be getting a job to teach in a school you know after she has stayed with us here for a while. She could have gone with the Campbells to Ireland for a holiday but Jane said that she told them that she would rather come and see us for a family visit before she goes to work. She told them that it had been far too long since she had made a proper visit to us. There now, how kind of Jane to think of us in that way when I’m sure she could have had a much better time in Ireland with her friends the Campbells, and with her best friend who is now Mrs. Dixon you know.’
By this juncture in the conversation Emma was on the threshold of the Bates’ flat above the shop. Emma barely had time to gather her thoughts before she was hustled into the small living room where Jane Fairfax had been sitting quietly reading a book.
‘Jane, Jane, here is Emma, Miss Woodhouse to visit you. So kind and thoughtful as Miss Woodhouse always is…’
‘Not at all’ Emma interceded politely, ‘I heard that you were come on a visit to Highbury, and wished to make you welcome’ Emma smiled, and took in the vision that was Jane Fairfax.
‘Thank you so much for calling’ Jane responded equally politely, I have heard so much about you.’
‘Oh and I of you’ Emma responded, ‘I assure you that Miss Bates, that is your aunt, has always kept us up to speed with your activities, and I have been longing to see you in person now we are both grown up.’
‘Thank you, and I too have been looking forward to making your acquaintance’ Jane responded, wondering whatever her aunt had told the renowned and snooty Emma Woodhouse about her lowly life.
Emma took in the refined profile of Jane Fairfax whilst her aunt fussed around insisting that Emma should stay and take coffee with them. Jane Fairfax was undoubtedly a good-looking young woman. Emma thought that the other girl looked older and more sophisticated than she. Jane was tall and slim, though not quite as tall as Emma. She looked casually, and effortlessly well dressed in dark jeans, a ribbed sweater and boots that didn’t look dissimilar from her own, though Jane’s were not intended for riding a horse, they were altogether more stylish.
‘I must apologise for my appearance’ Emma mentioned casually, ‘I called on the way home from a ride. I meant to just call to say hello, and to invite you to my birthday party, which is on Friday, at the Crown.’
‘Thank you’ Jane Fairfax turned her head away from Emma with a swish of long straight hair, ‘Thank you Aunt’ she took the proffered cup of coffee. She looked back to Emma meaning to refuse politely. After all she would hardly know anyone there.
‘How kind Miss Woodhouse’ her aunt interceded, ‘I shall be going Jane dear. Well everyone will be there. It’s quite the party of the year Miss Woodhouse’s 21st Birthday you know. Mother is spending the evening with Mr. Woodhouse, and I daresay that everyone else in Highbury will be at the party, well anyone who is anyone will be there…’ Miss Bates rattled on.
‘How kind indeed’ Jane smiled formally, ‘thank you Miss Woodhouse, it seems that yours is an invitation impossible to refuse.’
‘Not at all, I’m glad you are able to attend’ Emma responded politely with the feeling that Jane Fairfax would rather be anywhere in the world other than at her party. What have I done to offend her? Emma drank her coffee, thanked her hostess, and made an excuse to leave.
Emma untied her chestnut mare and patted her neck fondly.
‘Good girl’ Emma rewarded her mount’s patience as she hopped on one foot and swung her leg over into the saddle. ‘Walk on’ she encouraged with a squeeze of her thighs. As horse and rider sidled from the car park Emma was conscious of being observed from above. She glanced around to see Jane’s dark head receding quickly from view. Emma felt uncomfortable as though she may have done something wrong.
‘Emma called to welcome Jane Fairfax to Highbury, and to invite her to attend her party on Friday’ Henry Woodhouse informed George Knightley that same evening.
‘Excellent’ George responded with a smile for Emma, ‘and how did you find Miss Fairfax?’
‘Very well, as you say she is very elegant’ Emma responded neutrally. George Knightley leveled a questioning look, quickly surmising from Emma’s expression that the introductory meeting had not lived up to expectations, at least on his count. George turned back to his conversation with Mr. Woodhouse and the two fell to discussing the renewable energy projects that George was in the process of exploring for Donwell. Emma half listened but her attention was far more committed to last minute party planning, and, it has to be said, her thoughts kept returning to this morning’s visit, which had not turned out anything like Emma had intended.
‘So Emma’ George Knightley began once her father had dozed off, ‘tell me?’
‘Nothing to tell’ Emma responded half-heartedly.
‘Its not like you to be dejected’ George stated. Emma had certainly inherited her temperament from her mother’s side. ‘Tell me what’s wrong.’
‘Oh nothing honestly’ Emma appeared listless and out of sorts.
‘Did you and Jane Fairfax not get along then?’
‘We hardly had a chance, you know how Miss Bates is.’
‘But…’ George encouraged.
‘Well she didn’t seem to want to see me’ Emma sounded doleful.
‘How so?’ George asked, puzzled.
‘She was sort of off hand, and kind of stuck up’ Emma wrinkled her nose, ‘I think she was going to refuse my invitation until her aunt told her that she and everyone else in Highbury would be there. Why would she do that?’ Emma asked rather petulantly, ‘and another thing, she was watching me out of the window when I left. Not in a nice way to wave goodbye or anything. She rushed away as soon as I caught sight of her.’
‘That does sound rather perplexing’ George admitted with a smile, ‘perhaps she wanted to see Conker?’ he suggested.
‘No it wasn’t like that’ Emma responded, ‘It was like she doesn’t like me, and I hardly know the girl, how could she not like me?’
‘How indeed’ George echoed valiantly attempting not to smile at Emma’s introspective mood. ‘How was your trip to London?’
‘Oh it was sort of interesting and it was OK but I feel such a bumpkin’ Emma responded morosely.
‘Well for a start even Harriet was more appropriately dressed than I. God I felt so dowdy and old fashioned’ Emma admitted in a rush. ‘We went to Selfridges, this enormous, smart department store, and everyone, and I do mean everyone, shop assistants and all, looked much more the thing. I felt really miserable and unconfident’ Emma admitted looking beseechingly at George Knightley. ‘Do you think that I should get a job? I could commute to London and be back each night for father.’
‘What’s brought this on’ George responded gently, trying to get to the route of Emma’s unusual ennui.
‘I’m so ignorant, of life I mean, not books, just that I’ve never been anywhere interesting, or done anything, other than live here and look after father, in Highbury. I’ve hardly even been to London even though its only 30 minutes away on the train. Don’t you think that it’s rather strange that I’ve never even been to stay with Isabella when she’s been expecting? You’ve been there for every birth, and I not for any.’ Emma shrugged her shoulders and grimaced her unsaid thoughts.
‘Well at least I have one piece of news to lighten your heart’ George Knightley opened gallantly, for the news was not the best as far as he was concerned, ‘the longed for visit of the wonderful Frank Churchill has come to fruition. He arrived this very morning, a full two days ahead of schedule. I’m sure you will receive a visit from him and his father tomorrow.
‘Really?’ Emma’s spirits lifted, ‘how strange that after all this waiting he should arrive sooner than expected.’ Emma’s eyes inspected George Knightley’s expression covertly, she had though that George was predisposed not to like Frank Churchill, yet here he was volunteering the information to cheer her. Emma smiled indulgently he was such a kind man, like a big brother to her.
‘Thank you; did you see him yourself?’
‘No, I just had it from Miss Bates’ George rolled his eyes up, ‘I’m beginning to think that I’m as big a gossip as she…’
‘That would be impossible…’ Emma defended with a giggle, ‘though I must say that I do hear most of the Highbury news from you.’
‘Exactly what I mean’ George declared humorously, ‘I have to blame it on regular calls to Bates’ Deli with fresh deliveries. Vera is always full of the latest gossip in exchange for her supplies. I have to admit that I also had a blow-by-blow account of your visit to Jane Fairfax, from Miss Bates’ account it was a triumph and you, of course, are an angel for making the effort. Second only to Jane in Miss Bates’ good books’ George Knightley’s eyes crinkled in fun, ‘I’m sure you must have imagined the animosity from Jane dear Emma.’
‘Do you think so?’ Emma sounded more optimistic, ‘perhaps I did.’
‘Do you think that it’s a little strange that Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill should show up practically at the same time as one another after they have both been so long gone from Highbury?’ George asked Emma tentatively, for he felt sure that somehow it was not a coincidence.
‘It is a little odd’ Emma granted, ‘but I’m glad that he has come. The Westons must be overjoyed that he is here at last’ Emma declared without further thought to the chance. Her head was already full of Frank Churchill. What would he be like? Was he as handsome in the flesh as he appeared in photos? Would he like her?
‘Yes indeed they must’ Mr. Knightley agreed before he left Emma to her imaginings. He was glad to leave her in a better frame of mind, but something told him that no good would come of Frank Churchill’s visit. George was very well aware that the Westons intended Frank for Emma. Why he disliked the idea so much he was not sure, perhaps because such a liaison would take Emma away from Hartfield, and he had got used to having her around.
Emma lay awake for sometime wondering about Frank Churchill, and of the expectations she held. She was not wholly unaware that Frank’s father and stepmother both had hopes of a friendship between the two of them, possibly even more. Well I’ll find out for myself tomorrow Emma thought as she finally drifted into sleep.
Geoff Weston and his son arrived at Hartfield in time for morning coffee. Frank Churchill had already received a conducted tour of the town, and been introduced to practically all the residents by his proud parent. Emma alone had escaped the introduction as she had been at Goddard’s. Fortunately Harriet was bent on practicing hair styling and make up, so by the time Emma arrived back at Hartfield she looked very presentable. Frank and his father were about to depart, having taken coffee with Mr. Woodhouse and chatted for sometime.
Emma heard voices coming from the drawing room as soon as she entered the hall. She guessed the identity of the visitors immediately, and made haste to greet them. The drawing room door stood ajar giving Emma a moment to observe the father and son before she made Frank’s acquaintance, Geoff Weston’s face beamed with paternal pride, Frank’s face in profile was remarkably handsome, just as the photos showed him to be. Blonde wavy hair, a straight nose neither too big or too small, a strong chin and… Frank Churchill turned towards the door aware of Emma’s scrutiny. Emma smiled a welcome and blushed slightly as he stood and walked forward to greet her. His smile exhibited perfect teeth, and a dimple in his chin softened the severity of his strongly masculine features.
‘Emma! I may call you Emma mayn’t I? I feel like I have known you forever’ Frank Churchill took her hands in his and squeezed them fondly. His lively green eyes held hers for a moment before he bent to kiss her to each cheek. ‘At last we meet.’
‘Well if it isn’t THE Frank Churchill in the flesh’ Emma teased, playfully pinching his arm, ‘you are really come at last!’
‘Yes indeed, and I’m sorry for not coming sooner’ Frank laughed, ‘It is so nice to see my father after so long, and to meet his new wife who I understand used to be your Governess? I must say that I had never expected such a young and attractive stepmother, nor one of such intelligence and wit.’
Emma smiled happily to hear Frank’s fulsome praise of her great friend Anne Weston. ‘It seems that everyone in Highbury has extended a huge welcome, and I am most grateful for it though totally undeserving’ Frank continued with a modest shrug.
‘Oh who have you met?’ Emma asked, ‘you must have seen Miss Bates because no one can pass her door without being spied and waylaid.’
‘Yes Miss Bates, I think, is she the lady who talks non stop? And her elderly mother.’
‘That’s her’ Emma agreed with a grin, ‘and her niece who is staying with them, Miss Fairfax, did you see her too?’
‘As a matter of fact I did’ Frank admitted, ‘I met her in Weymouth you know, so it was only polite to say hello.’
‘And did you like what you saw?’ Emma asked unguardedly.
‘She is considered to be quite a beauty’ Frank responded his eyes lighting with fun, ‘but some think she is a little…’ he dropped his voice and whispered to Emma, ‘snooty.’
‘Really’ Emma responded sotto voce, ‘I thought she was a little…reserved and not so very friendly…’
‘Exactly’ Frank responded, ‘I feel that we see eye to eye already Miss Woodhouse’ he chuckled, his amusement apparent.
The campaign to get Emma’s father to agree to her birthday party at the Crown had proved to be successful, yet Mr. Woodhouse was disinclined to attend himself. Emma had tried her hardest to persuade him that her party would not be the same without him, yet he still held fast to his objection. In the end they had compromised with the suggestion that old Mrs. Bates spent the evening with her father while ‘the young people’ enjoyed themselves dancing.
George Knightley had promised his services to chauffer the old lady to and fro, from the Bates’ flat over the shop in Highbury, the half-mile or so to Hartfield House. Henry Woodhouse was content, he would be at peace at home by his foreside, and Emma would enjoy partying with her friends without occasioning him undue worries. Henry operated quite well on the principal of ‘out of sight out of mind’.
Mrs. Stokes had proved to be as good as her word, the upstairs facility was all finished and ready for business a fortnight before Emma’s party. She had also proved to be a formidable party planner, and consequently risen even higher in Emma’s estimation. As far as the band was concerned Emma had finally had to admit that Robert Martin’s band, the House Martins, was the only one worth considering for her party. George Knightley’s recommendation had been seconded by many of her school and college friends as well as, most enthusiastically, by Harriet. Emma had duly phoned and made a booking. She was surprised that Robert Martin did sound very nice on the phone.
Emma’s plans to throw Harriet in Philip Elton’s way had progressed a little, though Emma felt that neither party showed any real inclination towards the other. Still, on the night of her party, the opportunity to dance together may just do the trick. Certainly Harriet would not be in danger of Robert Martin in that capacity, as he would be playing not dancing.
With the major organisation completed, and the invitations answered with pleasing alacrity, Emma allowed herself to relax and enjoy ‘project makeover’ which had now morphed into Harriet’s ‘body project’, the name of which made Emma feel somewhat akin to a corpse. That aside, Emma enjoyed her time at Goddard’s being pampered. She had received regular facial treatments, back massages, and manicure and pedicures, as well as having her hair and make-up done professionally. Emma had to admit that her hair and skin glowed with health as a consequence. Harriet was fast becoming Emma’s particular friend, in whom she confided her party plans each time that they met. Harriet was agog with excitement and the girls spent much time planning what Emma should wear (most important as she was to be the belle of the ball). The girls more than once bemoaned the lack of choice in the Highbury shops. Ford’s Drapery shop was hopelessly outdated, and the only other fashion boutique boasted by the small town was not that much better. It was easy for the men, Emma had determined on black tie. It was so nice to see men properly dressed up, instead of wearing old jeans and sweaters, Emma thought. In consequence of the black tie Emma considered that she must wear long. As a guest, Harriet might get away with cocktail, but as the hostess Emma deemed that long was imperative.
It was Harriet that recommended a shopping trip to London.
‘It’s less than half an hour on the train’ she persuaded, ‘we could shop till we drop, do lunch and be back in plenty of time so that your father isn’t worried.’
‘That’s a great idea’ Emma responded, not entirely sure why she hadn’t considered the option herself. She could ask Anne to spend the day with her father so that he didn’t feel neglected.
‘Do you know where we should go?’ Emma asked her worldlier friend, feeling slightly at a disadvantage from her own ignorance of London.
‘I usually go to Selfridges’ Harriet supplied, ‘you can get absolutely everything under one roof, but we could go to Top Shop as well.
‘Great’ Emma agreed with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. ‘When could you go?’
‘I don’t have classes on Wednesday’ Harriet responded immediately, ‘could you manage next week?’ Harriet’s face glowed with excitement, ‘I haven’t been shopping for ages, well not for a month or so anyhow…’
‘OK next Wednesday then’ Emma, who hadn’t been shopping for a year, agreed with a smile of anticipation. ‘I’ll write a list and we’ll plan the day accordingly.’ Harriet smiled agreement, willing to fall in with Emma’s plan, she was due her allowance in a couple of days, and she had an account at Selfridges. Harriet allowed herself to dream of Emma’s party and the success that she would be amongst the county set, Emma never ceased to assure Harriet that she was beautiful, and that she could have her pick of the crop. Harriet was beginning to believe her new friend, though, of course, she knew that Emma would be the star of her own party. Miss Woodhouse was fawned over wherever she went.
The shopping trip to London proved to be interesting and, in most ways, successful. Harriet’s choice of Selfridges as a starting point proved inspired. The girls headed for the designer section, on Harriet’s advice, where she proved to have an uncanny knack for knowing what would suit her friend. Emma was persuaded into trying several dresses that she would have avoided as being too glamorous. She quickly had to admit that the red chiffon strapless number with a split up the side was completely gorgeous, and that it made the most of her figure and flattered her colouring. The neckline looked stylish rather than sexually alluring on Emma’s slim frame, and the split would only show a glimpse of leg if she were to twirl enthusiastically, Emma was satisfied that the dress was suitable. Harriet recommended an up do and dramatic, though not too over the top, make-up, and enthused wildly about Emma’s sophisticated look.
Her own choice seemed to Emma much less assured. The primrose yellow suited Harriet’s colouring, yet the style was much too revealing, being both low cut and short. Emma eyed Harriet’ s stunning physique with a mixture of awe and alarm. If her friend were to move with any kind of exuberance her body looked in danger of escaping the confines of the miniscule dress. It had not though, entirely escaped Emma’s notice that her friend’s breasts seemed unnaturally static, the feature had reminded Emma of her Barbie doll on more than one occasion. Emma wondered if she should warn Harriet that the chosen dress, though awesome, might be a little over the top for a country 21st Birthday bash.
Emma kept her own counsel, and the girls made for the shoe department. Here Emma selected superbly soft ballet pumps, which she felt confident would be supremely comfortable for a long night on her feet. She also liked that she would be nearer normal height for dancing, Emma was aware that she was rather on the tall side. A fact that was an advantage in the most part, yet towering over ones dance partner may not be such a good idea. Emma envied Harriet’s choice of very high Louboutin pumps for a moment, until her practical nature deemed that the shoes would be excruciatingly uncomfortable to wear. Although Harriet, of petite stature and consequently used to wearing high heels, denied the surmise entirely.
With the major tasks accomplished the girls allowed themselves a break for lunch. The light repast gave the pair a few minutes to review their shopping strategy for the rest of the day, and to rest aching calves and sore feet (Harriet) and allow for major people watching (Emma). Emma apprehended, as she sat in the middle of Selfridges sipping a glass of champagne and nibbling an array of Hors d’oeuvres, that she was hopelessly unstylish. All the girls and women who frequented the department store looked way more sophisticated than did she. Even Harriet, Emma understood with a squirm of embarrassment, was dressed much more appropriately; or at least in the fashion of the times.
Emma had chosen to wear a calf length skirt with comfy loafers, and a blouse with a frill at the neck that she had used to rather like. A Barbour coat that served perfectly well at home finished her attire. Emma’s confidence wobbled alarmingly and she wondered that Harriet had allowed her to look so embarrassingly frumpy. Her friend looked much more the thing in skinny jeans, high bootees and a leather biker jacket. Emma resolved to buy a few fashion magazines, and to resurrect project makeover; she was in desperate need of a new look. Emma mentally tore up the list that she had written when she had commenced the wardrobe rehabilitation program. She needed to start again!
The girls spent the remainder of the day trawling the various departments of the vast store. Harriet bought several new items that were, in her opinion, essential. Emma started to feel depressed by her own lack of decisiveness. She could not imagine that she would be able to wear the clothes that she rather liked the look of anywhere other than in London. Perhaps it was her life that needed a makeover not just the wardrobe. But in her heart Emma knew that a new life was not possible. She was needed at home to care for her father. Yet it had only taken half an hour on the train, plus another fifteen or so in a taxi to get to the center of the metropolis. Perhaps Emma should get a job and commute each day?
Emma wondered what it would be like to work, particularly in a big place like London. She was used to being a person of note in Highbury. Everyone knew of Mr. Woodhouse and his daughter Emma. She was of first importance in the small town, and even within the county the Woodhouses were one of the foremost families, living as they did in Hartfield house. Emma didn’t think that she would like to be a small fish in a big pond, yet her life was so parochial. She felt like an anachronism in her own lifetime.
Harriet meanwhile prattled happily and indulged her fancy for fashion, jewelry and makeup without noticing Emma’s preoccupation. For her part Emma didn’t once think of unburdening her thoughts to Harriet, she had no notion of her understanding how Emma felt. It would be to her great friend Anne Weston that Emma would confide her fears, and possibly to George Knightley. He would always listen to Emma’s thoughts and dreams even if he didn’t always agree with her flights of fancy.
Emma was glad to get home at the end of the day. She had tired of the hustle and bustle of London for one day at least. Her father was overjoyed to see her home safely, which made Emma feel really disloyal for her thoughts of leaving him each day. She spent the early part of the evening sitting at her father’s feet on a little footstool that she had used to use as a small child. She stroked his hand, and reminisced of happy times a little with him until his anxieties receded. He had had all sort of dire imaginings that Emma had been involved in an accident he told her. Emma soothed her father with words and actions, making him comfortable, bringing in his tea and helping him with his new jigsaw puzzle. She was almost hoping that George Knightley would not call by this evening when she finally managed to turn the conversation away from the perils of London.
She need not have worried that Mr. Knightley’s arrival would herald an reopening of her father’s worries. George arrived armed with some news to distract them both.
‘Who did they think had arrived in Highbury this very afternoon?’ Mr. Woodhouse’ and Emma’s guesses proved to be wide of the mark as the person they were expecting to see, one Frank Churchill, was not the object of the conundrum.
‘Why Jane Fairfax has come to visit her aunt and her grandmother’ George Knightley revealed, pleased to have kept them in suspense for some time. ‘Her aunt tells me that it is to be a visit of some duration. Jane has elected to stay with them for the whole summer while the Campbells visit with their daughter’s new family in Ireland. Jane’s great friend, Colonel Campbell’s daughter is newly married you know, to a Mr. Dixon.’
Emma felt not wholly sure that Jane’s visit was welcome (she had been rather relieved when the previous plan had been scuppered). Emma had been compared to Jane Fairfax as a youngster, often with unfavourable results. Jane appeared to be a paragon of virtues. She had gained the best grades and been top of almost every subject at school, and then had gained a place at Cambridge University. She had elected instead, however, to train to teach in the comparative backwater of Weymouth. Jane was musical and played the piano and sang perfectly. She, according to her aunt Miss Bates, could also draw and paint, and produce exquisite needlework. Jane had learnt to cook, and could be a professional chef if she had chosen.
George Knightley caught Emma’s pensive expression.
‘Jane will be good company for you Emma. She is clever and well educated, and she has travelled a little. I’m sure that you will find her interesting and stimulating company.’ George wisely did not allude to Harriet’s lack of good sense, although he was still of the opinion that she was not a desirable friend for Emma, not that he had anything against the girl per se, more that he imagined that Emma would benefit from a more equal intellectual relationship. George continued in his belief that Harriet was dim.