Emma was awoken by a slant of strong sunshine creeping into her room. She sprang out of bed, and threw open the curtains, to be greeted by a fairy tale world of pristine whiteness. The snow had covered everything in a thick layer. Emma could already hear cries of excitement, and the muffled sound of running feet from the other end of the house. The children would be so excited by Santa’s nighttime visit, and by the snowfall.
Emma pulled on three tee shirts, and a thick sweater, a pair of exercise leggings, some track pants, and her old Ugg boots. She could change later. For now Emma was bent on a building a snowman before breakfast, and she would be sure to have a stockpile of snowballs at the ready for John Knightley and the boys. She could still show them a thing or two in the snowball throwing stakes.
Emma stood poised on the doorstep, and held her breath as she admired the perfect unbroken snow. She stepped out very carefully placing her foot to make a clear print. She walked across the snow-covered gravel and looked back at her footprints. It was like she was the only person awake in the world. Emma’s reverie was broken by the smack of a snowball catching her on her right shoulder. She turned with a gasp of surprise to see George Knightley laughing at her. She stooped to collect a handful of snow to retaliate, her eyes danced with the anticipation of a good match. Her snowball struck him a glancing blow on the arm as he dodged deftly to one side, but she hit him square on with her next volley. George stooped for reinforcements, and caught her a grazing glance as she ran towards him with a handful of snow destined for the back of his neck. George grabbed Emma and held her tight as she wriggled and shrieked with laughing protests. Emma and George fell onto the snow covered lawn still grappling with each other, and laughing hysterically, as they each tried to stuff snow down the other’s neck.
John Knightley and his two sons burst from the house with cries of excitement, and soon joined in the fun hurling snowballs at one another, and running around like crazy things. Emma finally extricated herself from George Knightley’s grip, and set about brushing snow off her soaked clothing. Her skin glowed with health, and her eyes danced. She had forgotten how enjoyable the snow could be, and George Knightley. He had always used to be playful and spirited, it was nice to see his youthful side again. He could be so pompous berating and correcting her, yet underneath his mature 36 year-old persona, he could still be fun.
Emma started the boys off to build a snowman, and reluctantly headed indoors to change out of her wet clothes. Her father fussed over her; sure that she would catch cold or worse. Emma promised to change into dry things immediately, and took Mr. Woodhouse’s advice of a nice hot shower. She reappeared downstairs newly dressed in a thick roll-neck sweater and casual pants, and having reassured her father of her perfect health, addressed it to a very good breakfast.
The rest of the day went according to plan, and, concentrated as it was on the children’s enjoyment, it required only a modicum of effort to enjoy a happy occasion. The children were beyond excited about Santa’s nighttime visit, the snow, and by the abundance of other presents they received, dished out by Uncle George from under the tree. Emma had wisely chosen to seat the children at a separate table next to that of the adults, and to serve them with Christmas fare to suit their pallets. The result was a twofold success, the children could enjoy their meal without too many remonstrations about table manners, and the adults likewise enjoyed eating without the distraction of urging the children to eat their greens.
George Knightley, obligingly, took the older children out for a walk, and for a snowball fight to kelp them out of the way. Meanwhile Mr. Woodhouse, John and Isabella dozed a little after the unaccustomed huge lunch, and the Queen’s speech on TV. Emma stacked the dishwasher, and put everything ready for tea. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without mince pies and Christmas cake.
Emma then wandered over to the French window to watch George and the children at play. He looked up and caught sight of her at the window, and waved at her to come and join them. Emma gesticulated her unsuitable attire and declined the invitation with a pantomime curtsey. George laughed and renewed his assault on the Knightley children who were all fighting against him. Henry and John, she could see, had organised the girls into supplying snowballs for them to hurl at their uncle. It seemed a fairly even match to Aunt Emma’s eye.
Emma retreated to the fireside, and curled up on the sofa with her pile of presents to reexamine at her leisure. She detected Anne Weston’s hand in the sweater she had from her father, which matched exactly with the scarf and gloves that she had from her and Mr. Weston. John, Isabella and children’s offer was perfect; a new Smythson diary in a sophisticated berry colour. Emma carefully wrote her name on the front page, in her best writing, with her fountain pen, and then spent ages wafting the diary in front of the fire to be sure that the ink was dry. Sort of silly, but handwriting looked so nice in proper pen, Emma justified her peccadillo.
George Knightley had presented a Kindle e-reader, which Emma now examined with mixed feelings. She so liked a proper book, yet she was devoted to her iPad. Emma acknowledged, with a wry smile, that the gift was a not so subtle reminder of her good intentions to read more. She really must try, if only to appease George Knightley, although, of course, it would also improve her mind. Harriet had sent a cute little manicure set with 3 colours of nail polish, all rather adventurous shades for Emma, but a kind thought, never the less, from her new little friend. Emma must make a visit to Goddard’s to see if she were recovered from her cold.
Emma looked up with a smile as the door banged shut behind George and the children. She leaped to her feet and shepherded the children straight upstairs to get bathed and changed, they were all soaking wet. It seemed advisable to preempt their mother and grandfather’s worries on the count of pneumonia. She shook her head in wordless admonition in George Knightley’s direction, and gesticulated him over to the fire to dry out.
‘Yes Mam’ he mouthed in response, with a grin. He made his way as directed, and was glad of the heat from the blazing log fire, his fingers tingled as the blood circulated to his chilled hands. By the time Emma returned to the hearth, and announced that tea was ready, George had dozed off by the heat of the fire. The rest of the adults were talking together quietly, whilst Isabella helped Henry make a start to his Christmas jigsaw puzzle, a joint present from his daughters, who spent much time deliberating on the perfect puzzle for him prior to each Christmas.
After the children were put to bed, a prolonged activity followed by almost instant sleep, the adults once again sat down to eat. Very practically Emma had prepared a light repast of smoked salmon accompanied by a glass of champagne. Isabella, already sad to be departing, albeit not for another few days, reminisced on family gatherings, and wondered aloud when next they would all be together.
‘Why for Emma’s 21st I should expect’ George Knightley professed. It is less than three months away.’
‘Oh of course’ Isabella beamed, ‘I had forgotten. You will have a party for Emma won’t you Papa?’
‘Yes of course. Emma must have a special party’ he acceded immediately, ‘but it will be so much work for poor Emma, and now poor Miss Taylor is no longer with us…’
‘I expect that Mrs. Weston will be more than happy to help Emma to plan a birthday party’ John interceded unexpectedly. ‘You should have it at the Crown, much less work involved. The new people there are making a lot of changes didn’t you say George?’ he appealed to his brother for confirmation and support.
‘Indeed they are’ George Knightley nodded thoughtfully, ‘there was talk of doing up the old coach house and stables into a new function room. It could be a good idea, if Emma would like it, and Henry approves?’ he sought confirmation with a quizzical glance for Emma and her father.
‘If Emma likes the idea…’ Henry Woodhouse answered querulously, ‘and if the place is suitable, and if it’s ready in time for March, which is not far away you know…’
‘Of course Papa, we will find out what are the plans, and only consider it as an option if the place would be totally suitable, otherwise there is no reason not to have a family party here at Hartfield’ Emma soothed her father’s worries. She knew all to well that he found sudden ideas very disconcerting. George Knightley smiled at Emma’s composure, and consideration for her father’s feelings. Privately he thought that a party at the pub would be so much more fun for Emma. There would be space there to have a disco, and for the young people to dance. Maybe even for live music. Come to that it would be possible, though not so convenient for most, to host a party for Emma at Donwell Abbey. The old ballroom hadn’t been used in years, but it would not require much work to make it suitable.
Emma was left to dream about a proper birthday party, as conversation drifted off to plans for the morrow. John was to join his brother at Donwell for a spot of game shooting, and the sisters were to be joined by Anne Weston as her husband was also to be of the shooting party. Emma’s eyes rested on George, grateful that he had raised the subject. Emma had wondered about having a party, but had held no great hopes of anything outside of the immediate family. A party at the Crown brought with it hopes of inviting a much wider circle of friends and neighbours. George looked up, feeling her gaze on him, a conspiratorial grin flashed across his features for an instant, rendering him boyishly good looking. Emma wondered that she had never noticed it before.