Geoffrey Weston was still a young man, at 46, not above ten years older than George Knightley. Geoff was a native of Highbury, although he had been an infrequent visitor, once he had left school, and departed the county for Yorkshire, in the north of England, to study agriculture and land management.
While Geoff was studying he had met, and, to his bemusement, been courted by a young woman of good family, far above his own in financial and social terms. The Churchills were very wealthy landowners and, of course, the family name was renowned worldwide through a not so distant relationship with a greater statesman. Lydia Churchill, the younger sister of the present incumbent of Enscombe, threw herself in Geoff Weston’s way at every opportunity. In retrospect he had had occasion to admit to himself that his whirlwind romance with Lydia had been a little one-sided, and that perhaps he may not have chased her so relentlessly if the situation had been reversed.
However, be as it may, the outcome had been an early marriage that he may have had reason to regret, if it had not been for the fact that it did not last for very long. Not that the relationship broke down, but tragically Lydia was struck down by cancer not three years into their marriage. During these three years she had occasion to regret her haste in marrying Geoff, not because she ceased to love him in her way, but because her family disapproved. More particularly her sister-in-law threw the spanner in the works. Though truthfully from a family background no more elevated than Geoff Weston’s, her brother’s wife had assiduously cultivated the higher echelons of society since her marriage, and cared nothing for her own lower-middle class roots. Alice Churchill was a snob.
Mr. Stephen Churchill, Alice’s husband and Lydia’s brother, was in effect an easygoing character, not disinclined to like his sister’s choice. Yet he was of a weak personality, too idle to argue against his wife, of whom he remained fond despite her manifest peccadillos. The result of Alice’s officious interference resulted in a rift between Lydia and her family and, once Lydia had got her way in marrying Geoffrey, she was dissatisfied at being cut off from the wealth and prestige of the Churchill family.
Despite the imagined difficulties that beset the young couple they managed to beget a child, a boy, who, after the family tradition, was named Frank Spencer Churchill Weston. When the child was a toddler his mother became terminally ill, and the illness affected a reconciliation of sorts between the couples. Unable to have children themselves the Churchills became besotted with their nephew. Little Frank was accorded every luxury that their copious wealth could supply. Very gradually Geoffrey Weston was made to see that his in-laws could provide everything material for the child’s welfare that he, as a single father, was unable to do himself. When he was widowed at the age of only 23 he was persuaded to allow the Churchill’s to take Frank into their care, and to formally adopt him some years later.
It was in this way that Frank Spencer Churchill Weston left Highbury at the tender age of three years old, never as yet to return to his roots. Of course Frank Churchill, as he had become known, was much talked of in Highbury, certainly since his father had returned thither, and particularly since his recent marriage.
After the loss of his wife and, effectively, his young son, Geoffrey Weston had thrown himself into a new career. He had determined that one day he should return to Highbury and take up his residence there in some style. To this end he had worked unremittingly to build his business and then to sell it for a goodly profit, enabling him to fulfill his ambitions of ‘retiring’ to a comfortable existence back in his hometown.
A charming Georgian farmhouse, long devoid of its attached acres had come onto the market at just the right time. Geoffrey had made a visit to Randalls with the agent from Knight Frank Estates, and had made up his mind immediately. The house was perfectly situated on the outskirt of the, now, rather upmarket little town. Surrounded by well-kept gardens, and with a gravel sweep to the front, the place was separate enough to be private, but near enough to make for a pleasant stroll to enjoy local society. In addition a small paddock, an old coach house, and stables suitable for conversion into to garage space for Geoff collection of vintage vehicles, sealed the deal.
Geoffrey Weston had soon settled into life in Highbury, where he had been welcomed as a spiritual son, rather than with the reserve usually accorded to new folk. Mr. Woodhouse remembered Weston as a young man, and where the old man’s hospitality was extended that of the rest of Highbury was certain to follow. Within a year of his return Geoffrey Weston was considered a fine fellow. He attended church regularly, and volunteered his services to support the village hall, and he had been elected to the parish council. In short Geoff Weston had become a great favourite, welcomed wherever he went.
It was inevitable that Geoffrey’s path should cross that of Anne Taylor’s and, both of them, being of cordial manners, and pleasant temperament, certain that they would like one another. Emma held that this amicable relationship might have been all the pair achieved. Yet one-day Emma’s eagle eye had spotted what she thought to be certain favoritism for Anne Taylor that Geoffrey Weston did not show to others. She watched him carefully, and convinced herself forthwith that she had been correct. All she then had needed to do was to throw the two together, through invitations to dine, or to play cards with her father, or to join them in a walk back from church, and to come into the house for a glass of sherry or a G&T.
Anne Taylor, of course, soon detected what Emma was up to. She had been wondering for sometime what she should do with her life post Emma, for her charge was almost 21, and certainly no longer needed a Governess. Anne had not given much thought to the idea of marriage, and had assumed that having reached her mid-thirties would be unlikely to meet a suitable husband. Yet Geoffrey Weston was ideal. Kind and considerate, sociable and good humoured, as well as being materially comfortable, made him a very enticing prospect. That he had taken a fancy to her was very flattering.
Anne Taylor had long ago forgone an early fantasy of a romance with George Knightley. He was always charming, and a pleasure to talk to, as he could discourse intelligently on a variety of subjects, albeit chiefly on agriculture and Emma. Agriculture because Donwell Abbey was his life, and Emma because he sought to counter balance the indulgence of her father’s treatment, as well as sometimes, the supposed leniency of Emma’s governess. Anne had sighed and given up the project with good grace when Emma had been too young to guess at any attachment on her part. Anne Taylor was totally sure that George Knightley had not given her a thought, wholly mistaking her playfulness, in defence of Emma’s work ethic, as a willful and misguided attempt to allow Emma to dumb down, as he referred to her charge’s lack of application to her studies. He had expressed his exasperation on more than one occasion,
‘Emma is bright, much more so than Isabella. You allow her to rest on her laurels Anne. She could do far better than most students, yet she runs rings around you, and her father, she could easily go to University; though I suppose her father could not be persuaded to spare her from home…’
Now, all was changed, much to Mr. Woodhouse’s abiding regret. Anne had accepted Geoff Weston’s offer of marriage, and, although close by, to keep an eye on Emma, and her father, they would never share the same degree of intimacy as once they had done. Poor Emma Anne thought, she will lack the comfort of a friend under the same roof, and she will bear sole responsibility for her father’s welfare and comfort. Anne knew from vast experience that although Henry Woodhouse was a dear and amiable character, he was tiresome to the extreme at times.
Still, Anne had few regrets for the decision that she had made, as she sat in comfort, sipping a cup of tea, while her new husband read the newspaper, and glanced up at her with a smile every now and then, to share some tidbit of gossip, or to exclaim on some news item or other. She would be happy with Geoff. Anne had dreamed, now and then, of having independence, and owning her own home. Although much smaller in size and status that Hartfield, she would have the management of the sizable Georgian property of Randalls, being mistress of the house.
Now that the master of Randalls had found a wife, it was universally supposed in Highbury, that they should expect a visit from Mr. Weston’s son. Frank Churchill had gained something akin to a legendary status through his dramatic upturn in fortune, and, although he had not attended the wedding, which had been small and low-key, rumour had it that he was expected at Randalls any time soon. His father and new wife had already received a very conciliatory and well-written letter of congratulations, to which most of Highbury could attest, as Geoff had shown the letter to several of his intimates.
Emma, of course, was the first to know that they may expect a visit from Frank in the near future. It was the dearest wish of the Weston’s that their son may be friends with Emma, and possibly even more.