Emma – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Emma was distracted momentarily from her wardrobe rehabilitation project by another amusement. Wednesday was the normal night for her father to receive his old friends for a game of cards or backgammon. Mrs. Bates, an elderly woman, widow of the previous (and last) Rector of Highbury, and her daughter Vera Bates were expected. As usual, their friend and neighbour, Brenda Goddard, would accompany the mother and daughter. The momentary distraction came in the form of Harriet Smith. Brenda Goddard had phoned the previous evening to ask if Harriet might accompany her. She was a nice young woman, Brenda had assured her old friend Henry Woodhouse, and would be company for Emma while the ‘oldies’ played bridge.
Now Emma knew of Harriet Smith who was a student at Goddard’s School of Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy. Emma had spied the younger girl on a few occasions, always surrounded by her friends. Harriet Smith, in Emma’s opinion, was the epitome of beauty. She was of medium height with a spectacular curvy figure, with the kind of breasts that men admired enormously, Emma had reason to believe. Harriet was also blessed with big cornflower blue eyes, set in a heart shaped face, and a tumble of blonde curls.
Emma spent the afternoon of the planned visit engaged as she had intended, on the second stage of her wardrobe rehabilitation project. Armed with a plethora of information that she had gleaned from various on-line magazines and websites Emma set about trying on the ‘maybe’ category of clothing that she had in the past rather ignored, as she had dressed in haste. Emma may have been more pleased with her reflection in the mirror if she had not recently been engaged in cataloging Harriet Smith’s physical perfection. But Emma was undeterred by odious comparisons; she assessed each outfit with determined objectivity, and tried different combinations of accessories until she was satisfied that she looked as she ought. With frequent reference to her notes, Emma tried different permutations until she thought that she had established her own style. Where there appeared to be gaps in her new wardrobe, Emma started a list of requirements. By the time Emma’s patience had worn, out the shopping list was rather extensive.
Emma methodically tidied everything back into her wardrobe and chest of drawers, and sighed with satisfaction once order had been re-established in her bedroom. For this evening’s outfit she had decided on navy silk drawstring pants and cream cashmere roll neck. One must never be overdressed when entertaining at home, she assured her reflection, slipping her feet into ballet flats, and tugged a brush through her mane of hair. She was ready for the evening.
Emma sped downstairs in time to organise last minute details, and to make sure that her father was comfortable with all that he could possibly need to hand. He was, as usual, rather excited about seeing his old friends, although it was a weekly ritual, often interspersed by other chance encounters. The guests would eat a light supper, followed by a game of Bridge. Emma was not needed to make up a card table, and had no real interest in doing so. She would spend the evening getting to know Harriet Smith by whom she had been fascinated for some time.
Although Emma were the elder of the two Harriet appeared to be a rather exotic creature to Emma who was always conscious of her own limited experience of the world beyond Highbury. Harriet, Emma had been told, was of unknown lineage, which added to her appeal. She could imagine Harriet to be the natural daughter of a foreign prince, or of a noble family, not able to own to her birth. Before Harriet had come to Goddard’ Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy School she had attended one of the best UK girls’ schools as a boarder. The same arrangement had been made there for her as at Goddard’s. No expense was spared on her education, her board, or on her spending. Harriet could purchase whatever she required or wanted.
Although Emma’s family was far from poor, she had never had access to money of her own, and always had to seek permission from Miss Taylor before she made a purchase. This arrangement was about to change completely; firstly, Miss Taylor was no longer in a position of authority over Emma, and secondly, Emma would inherit a substantial sum from her mother when she came of age in only a couple of months time.
Harriet Smith greeted Emma with less savoir-faire and sophistication than Emma had been expecting. Secretly Emma was quite pleased that her new acquaintance was a little in awe of her. Emma made her guests comfortable, and ensured that her father’s concerns for their welfare did not totally ruin the enjoyment of a light repast, which, however carefully chosen, could harbour an amazing degree of dietary dangers. Emma seemingly agreed with her father’s worries and assertions, at the same time as encouraging their guests to ignore his prognostications, and to enjoy, what was in fact, a very tasty and healthy array of victuals.
At least conversation was never a difficulty in present company. Miss Bates was a renowned chatterbox. She talked incessantly from the moment that she entered the house until the moment that she left. Emma had known the middle aged woman all of her life, and had never known her to be different. The constant prattle sometimes gave Emma a headache, but whenever she was tempted to let her irritation show, Emma reminded herself that Miss Bates was a genuine and terribly kind person who had been unfailingly loyal to her father.
This evening Emma was more inclined to be patient with Vera Bates’ constant stream of inconsequential information, and comment than usual, for the main part was to do with the pending arrival of her niece, Jane Fairfax. Emma was agog to hear of the unexpected visit, for Jane Fairfax had been adopted at a young age, in much the same way as had Frank Churchill. Jane had resided, as a much loved ‘daughter’ to Colonel and Mrs. Campbell. She owed this distinction to her deceased father’s valour. According to Colonel Campbell, Captain Fairfax had saved his life during the Falkland’s war between Britain and Argentina. When, a few years later, the Captain had been killed in another pointless outbreak of hostilities, his young wife, the much younger sister of Vera Bates, had been left penniless and distraught.
Mrs. Fairfax had gone to live with her elderly mother, and older sister, who had done their best by her, and the toddler. Colonel Campbell had stepped in to help when young Jane had been beset by another tragedy; the death of her second parent. Jane had left Highbury, at only three-years-old, to lead a much more comfortable existence than the Bates family could have afforded her.
Jane had repaid the continuing kindness of the Aunt and Grandmother by working diligently, and sending weekly reports of her efforts to the same. Emma was agog to see Jane Fairfax, if only to put a face to the paragon of virtue that Jane had been in Emma’s young eyes. Of course she had seen photographs of the beautiful and refined creature that was the mythological Miss Fairfax. But Emma was fascinated to meet her, now that they were both grown women, notwithstanding the faint misgiving that Jane in the flesh may be even more perfect than the one on paper. Emma had squirmed through many a letter from Jane to her relatives that detailed the studies in which she was occupied, her revision strategy for exams, and her outstanding marks for course work, and top exam grades.
Emma had also been privy to conversations between Anne Taylor and George Knightley wherein he took pains to point out that she was equally capable as was Jane Fairfax, and that Emma, with a little diligence, could do equally well. Emma clearly remembered keeping a low profile during these conversations in the hope that Miss Taylor would not feel obliged to set her extra work. Emma sighed quietly and turned her mind back to the present. Harriet Smith would never be a competitor in that department Emma, had already ascertained.
Emma drew Harriet away from the card table and encouraged her to talk about Goddard’s, and her life at the beauty school. As Harriet spoke enthusiastically about her training and of her hopes for the future, Emma’s mind wandered a little from the narrative. Harriet was not the smartest of wits, yet Emma was totally engrossed by her new friend’s appearance. Emma smiled with satisfaction as she recollected of whom she was reminded. Of course, Harriet Smith is just like the Barbie doll I used to play with! Everything about her was so perfect, the golden skin tone, flawless complexion, huge blue eyes with long lashes, dimpled cheeks and a delightful pout. And the body was amazing, even down to the pneumatic Barbie breasts.
Integral to Harriet’s information about her life, and her training at Goddard’s was her friendships with two sisters, the Martin’s. She had formed a friendship with Elizabeth and Phoebe and had been invited to stay with the Martin family at their farmhouse, which formed part of the Donwell Estate. Emma’s ears pricked with interest for she knew that the Martin’s were tenants of George Knightley, and that he held the family in high regard. Harriet was undoubtedly fond of the family and they of her. Emma was amused by Harriet’s account of the size and grandeur of the Martin’s farm for she herself knew Donwell Abbey intimately, and one of its tenancies was assuredly small and lowly by comparison. Yet, it had become apparent over Emma’s life span that such dwellings were highly sought after by outsiders wanting to move out from the city and pretend to a rural ideal. Take the vicarage for example. When the Church of England had decided, in a cost cutting exercise, to amalgamate the parishes of Highbury and Donwell, and to sell off the old vicarage there had been a positive barrage of interest in the property.
The purchaser, a young and single man of private fortune, had moved into the town six months since. Philip Elton was an attractive young man in his mid to late twenties, handsome and debonair; he had made efforts to make friends in the community, and was reported by all the locals as being an amiable sort. Of course to establish oneself in a small society such as Highbury would take Elton considerably longer than six months, but he had made a good start. Good enough for Emma to have noticed his existence at any rate.
Emma wondered for a moment what had made her think of Philip Elton just now. She wrinkled her nose thoughtfully as she half listened to Harriet’s account of her holiday with the Martins. Ah! Harriet Smith and Philip Elton, perfect! Emma would take Harriet Smith under her wing, and with her good influence, and consequent entry into the top echelons of Highbury society, Harriet would soon forget about the Martins. Tenant farmer indeed! Harriet Smith could mix with and marry anyone she chose.
The girl was perfect wife material with her porcelain doll looks, and docile biddable air. Come to think of it Philip Elton bore more than a passing resemblance to ‘Ken’, Barbie’s counterpart for whom Emma had begged as a Christmas gift when she had been eight or nine-years-old. Emma had staged many a love match and subsequent wedding ceremony between Barbie and Ken. Excellent, Emma needed another project to keep her occupied until a suitable business property became vacant.

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