The prospect of an imminent visit from the fabled figure of Frank Churchill had led Emma to make a reconnaissance of her wardrobe. It seemed rather full, but on close inspection most of the garments therein were several years old, and most only suited to a teenager, not for a mature, almost 21 year-old.
Emma set about sorting her wardrobe systematically. She divided her clothes into three (following a format that she had seen on a TV program); the ones she should keep (her newest acquisitions, and a few old favourites), those she was not sure how to wear, (consequently they had rarely had an outing), and those that were hopelessly unstylish, much too young for her, and possibly even too small. She made a pile of clothes to go to the charity shop, and put them ready for Mrs. Wright to take into Newbridge, the nearest large town.
The wardrobe rehabilitation experiment took Emma most of an afternoon to accomplish, and she viewed her efforts with the satisfaction of a job well done. The next part of the process, apropos the TV series, was for a stylist to perform a makeover with the remaining items, which would then be followed by a shopping spree to purchase the key pieces that would transform her closet. This part was less easy to accomplish, for Emma had discounted the idea of inviting a perfect stranger to dictate to her what she must or must not wear. Emma was not good at taking direction.
Emma, we have already found, had developed a liking for IT, and through her experiments had discovered a whole world of information at her fingertips. Emma spent the rest of the evening, between tending to her father’s comforts, exploring the world of fashion and style. There was a mind boggling amount of information to digest Emma soon saw. She was though, as George Knightley had oft times attested, a clever girl. She read, perused the photographs, and inwardly digested information on ‘How to Get the Look’, ‘The Season’s Must Have Items’, ‘Copy Her Style’, ‘Style For Less’, ‘Street Style’, and ‘How to Dress Like a Supermodel’. Then there were reports from fashion shows in all the major cities in the world, Paris, New York, London, Milan…
Emma’s face lit up as she heard a tap at the French window announcing one of George Knightley’s impromptu visits.
‘Papa, its Knightley come to visit you’ she informed, jumping to her feet to welcome their visitor. ‘Hello, how are you?’ Emma greeted in the excepted form, yet her smile showed real pleasure in seeing him.
‘Well, thank you Emma’ he responded making his way to shake hands with Mr. Woodhouse, ‘No don’t get up Henry’ he pressed gently his old friend’s shoulder to stay his efforts. ‘How are you today?’ From experience George Knightley was aware that his question would elicit an answer, and he waited patiently to hear the old man’s reply. Emma listened to her father’s answer, faintly amused by his detailed account, for she knew that he was quite well at the moment. She was grateful for George Knightley attentive interest, and solicitous responses. He was such a dear, and never showed any sign of impatience with her father. Emma smiled tenderly.
George Knightley’s eyes met Emma’s across the room. She looks well he thought, different somehow. His glance returned to Henry’s face, and he thanked him for his present enquiry. Yes he would have a nightcap with them, and yes he would pour it himself. George poured the customary drinks for all three, a small sherry for Henry, white wine for Emma, and a whisky for himself, and regained his usual position on the sofa.
As Henry’s eyes closed and his head nodded, George carefully removed the sherry glass from his friend’s hand. His attention now turned to Emma and he enquired kindly on her welfare hoping that she was not missing the company of Anne Taylor, or more correctly Anne Weston, overly. Emma thanked him, and on his asking how she was occupying her time, told him of her latest project. George Knightley listened to Emma’s account of her day with faint bemusement. Vanity was not one of Emma’s faults, although it could easily have been, for she was undoubtedly a very attractive young woman. He inspected her covertly as she explained the wardrobe sifting process with enthusiasm. Ah! She’s done her hair differently; it suits her he thought with an tolerant smile.
‘So what’s brought this on then Emma?’ George inquired innocently, ‘I’ve never known you to be interested in fashions before.’
‘We-ll’ Emma hesitated, not really sure why she had suddenly become so fixated on her appearance. She drew her brows together as she thought about it, ‘I do believe it’s since we heard that Frank Churchill is to visit…’
‘Ah! The great Frank Churchill’ a mask of indifference fell across George’s face, ‘all I hear about is when the prodigal son will return…So even Miss Woodhouse is in the thrall of this rich and idle young man, who should have visited his father regularly for many years past, for he is no longer at the back and call of his aunt. I understand that he has been allowed to attend University, and that he often travels to London for leisure pursuits, we are certainly not so far distant that he could not have visited before.’ Emma’s eyes met George Knightley’s rounded with surprise, for she had rarely heard him sound so embittered, and almost jealous. She placed a gentle hand on his arm and sought to sooth his outburst.
‘I expect that you are right, but it must be hard for Frank Churchill as he hardly knows his father any more. It’s almost 20 years since he left Highbury, and, certainly in his early exile, visits to his father were discouraged. Since he came of age I agree he has been remiss, yet I can understand it. We all know HIM, though he hardly knows any of US, it must be tough to come here.
George Knightley had to agree to the fairness of Emma’s defence, yet he still felt unaccountably unsettled by the news that Frank Churchill was to come amongst their tight knit circle. George felt threatened somehow, by what he could not say.