Emma was both happy, and sad to see her sister and family depart back home to Brunswick Square. Happy to have a little peace and quiet, and to recover from the unremitting hard work of catering for two additional adults, four children and a baby; sad for the house to be so quiet again. Emma sighed inwardly as she prepared a simple supper for her father and for her to eat alone, and prepared herself for the inevitable moroseness of her father’s company. Having been deprived of that which he had been dreading in the first place.
‘But aren’t you glad to be nice and quiet at home again Papa?’ Emma asked solicitously, having endured the barrage of regrets that Isabella’s departure required.
‘Yes, yes, my dear’ Mr. Woodhouse patted Emma’s hand gratefully, ‘it is quite nice to be on our own again, and far less work for you…’ he admitted resigning himself to the new order, ‘but such a shame that Isabella ever went away…’ Emma let this one go, there were only so many times that one could conciliate on that old score. She wished of all things that George Knightley would appear to appease her father, and to cheer her spirits a little. For once her wishes were not to be granted in this quarter, and Emma went up to bed feeling sad and out of sorts.
Not being one to be of depressed spirits for long, Emma decided that she would pick up where she had left off before Christmas and the family visit. She would walk over to Goddard’s to see Harriet Smith whom, she felt sure, must have recovered from her cold by now. Supposing that Harriet was well again, Emma considered that it was high time to resurrect project makeover.
Harriet was delighted to see Emma, and not only had she made a full recovery, but was full of news of her recent overnight visit to her friends the Martins. Elizabeth and Phoebe had invited Harriet to spend Boxing Day with them at Abbey-Mill farm, and Harriet had enjoyed her visit with them immensely. It didn’t take Emma long to fathom that a major attraction for Harriet was young Mr. Martin. Robert was, though not a particularly handsome young man, very caring and considerate, and had spent many hours patiently showing Harriet around the farm, and telling of his plans for the future.
I bet he did Emma thought as she listened to Harriet’s breathless monologue. I expect he thought Christmas had come in more ways than one. Harriet was so incredibly pretty that he could hardly not have tried to monopolise her attention. Emma remembered her plan to pair Harriet with, to her, the much more attractive proposition of Philip Elton, and, as soon as she got the chance, made a rather disparaging remark about the Martin’s only being tenant farmers. Harriet looked downcast for a moment while she digested this information, not really understanding its significance. Emma used the silence to tell of her outing to Randalls, and of how she had met Philip Elton there. She waxed lyrical for some minutes outlining his virtues, and amazing good looks to Harriet.
‘Oo he sounds awesome’ Harriet answered her blue eyes wide, ‘did he ask you out?’
‘No of course not’ Emma answered with a puzzled look, ‘I was thinking that you might like him…’ Emma looked under her lashes at Harriet, ‘I mentioned Goddard’s, and you, and he said that he knew you by sight, and that he thinks you are very pretty…’
‘That was nice of him’ Harriet answered with a slight flush of pleasure, ‘I have seen him, but I thought that he was y’know…’
‘What?’ Emma asked, her brow corrugating.
‘Well one of the girls said that he’s gay…’ Harriet whispered to Emma.
‘Oh no I assure you he is not’ Emma responded without a hint of doubt in her voice, ‘quite the contrary, I got the impression that he’s looking to find the right partner to settle down. He said, I remember quite distinctly, that the Old Rectory is too big for him all alone. I expect that he’s thinking of getting married and having children before very long. He’s just at the right age for all that stuff’ Emma gesticulated to convey her certainty of the fact.
‘Well if you say so’ Harriet acquiesced immediately, ‘I wonder what made Margie say that he was…y’know…’
‘I expect that she fancies him and he doesn’t like her’ Emma sounded worldly. Harriet giggled and wrinkled her nose prettily,
‘She is always throwing herself at blokes! Last year she kept making up to Robert Martin. Every time he came to school to fetch his sisters she would make a beeline for him, and flirt like crazy. She made a real fool of herself, as he clearly wasn’t interested…’ Harriet rolled her eyes and happily reengaged with the subject of her visit to Abbey-Mill farm. Hm! Emma thought of another distraction for Harriet, and soon decided to introduce the subject of Project Makeover. This topic had the desired effect of diverting Harriet’s thoughts away from the Martins.
‘I have to do a project for my final exams and I need a model…’ Harriet broached the subject for the first time with Emma, slightly nervous of the reception, for Emma Woodhouse was considered by all the locals to be a cut above the rest. ‘That is I wondered if I could practice on you as part of Project Makeover?’ Harriet ventured.
‘Great idea’ Emma responded without hesitation. ‘Grooming should definitely be part of the project, and if you have to do someone anyhow, that makes it perfect.’ The two girls exchanged a complicit smile. ‘When do we start and what do I have to do?’
Harriet explained all the intricacies to a rather inattentive audience as Emma had just remembered that she had promised to call in to see Anne Weston that afternoon. It all sounded fine and rather a treat from what Emma could ascertain, amongst Harriet’s gushing enthusiasm. She would be required to attend Goddard’s for two mornings a week, and spend a lot of time being pampered.
‘Perfect’ Emma returned, once she could get a word in, ‘I have to rush off now but I’ll see you on Tuesday morning?’ Emma delivered a perfect air kiss to each cheek and departed leaving a very satisfied Harriet in her wake.
Emma’s visit to Randalls brought great news, for Anne had just received a long letter from Frank Churchill. The letter was a very good one in that it was the vehicle for profound apologies for his past omissions, and also the bearer of positive tidings. Frank was certainly coming to visit, and had settled on the first two weeks in March, if it suited his new stepmother.
‘It is a very well written letter and he sounds very sincere in his apology as well as his intent’ Emma decided judiciously as she folded the letter and handed it back to Anne Weston, ‘do you not think so Anne?’
‘Yes, indeed I do’ Anne responded, ‘I feel sure that this time it is more than an intention, more of a commitment to visit.’
‘So you may relax with the expectation of meeting him at last. I’m sure that Geoff is looking forward to seeing him.’
‘Yes indeed, he has been disappointed not to see him before but now he seems certain of the undertaking’ Anne smiled indulgently as she dwelt for a moment on her husband’s disappointments, which he had borne philosophically.
‘He’ll be here when I have my party!’ Emma exclaimed remembering the suggested 21st birthday celebration that George Knightley had broached.
‘Of course it will be your birthday’ Anne responded with equal felicity, ‘you must have a party! That will be such a good opportunity for you young people to get to know one another…’
‘George Knightley suggested that we might have the party at the Crown instead of at home’ Emma elaborated slightly wistfully.
‘George did? What a good idea’ Anne responded with scarcely concealed surprise.
‘Yes, he thinks that the new people at the Crown have plans for a function room, ghastly expression,’ Emma wrinkled her nose, ‘they’re planning to do up the old coach house and stables apparently.’
‘So Geoff says, but that won’t be completed for another year or more’ Anne Weston responded, ‘but they already have started on the rooms above the pub, and that facility will be ready soon. I know it because the new Landlady offered to show it to Geoff and some of the others when they had their parish council meeting last night.
‘Ah! Well that sounds perfect’ Emma beamed happy to know why George Knightley had been absent from Hartfield the previous evening, and that the Crown might be ready for her birthday.
‘Here’s Geoff now’ Anne pricked up her ears as the front door banged announcing her husband’s arrival home, ‘you can ask him yourself.’
‘Ask me what?’ Geoff Weston asked once he had greeted his wife with a kiss, and Emma with a fond squeeze of the hand.
‘Emma might have her 21st party at the Crown, if it’s ready in time, and suitable?’ she cocked an eyebrow and shot him a questioning look.
‘What a good idea’ Geoff beamed, ‘actually George mentioned it to me last evening when Mrs. Stokes showed us around the place. The work is almost completed. It’s not the couple’s first business venture, and they have invested quite a considerable sum in buying the place, and updating it so that it is completely family friendly. We should go and have lunch there and get her to show us the new space…’
‘Excellent idea’ his wife agreed with alacrity, ‘what do you think Emma?’
‘I’d love to, thank you Geoff. When do you suggest?’
‘How about tomorrow? If that’s convenient with you my love?’ Geoff Weston enquired solicitously, ‘I don’t suppose they will be fully booked on a week day, but it wont hurt to ring and book a table’ he scurried off to his study to perform the office leaving the two women to discuss the notion together.
The same evening, after supper, Emma looked out for George Knightley to appear. She hoped to hear his opinion on the Crown as a location for her birthday party, and planned to enlist his help with the inevitable effort of persuading her father to the idea. She was not to be disappointed two evenings in a row. George appeared as though by clockwork, and tapped on the French window to be admitted. He smiled with pleasure on Emma, and greeted his old friend effulgently as though it had indeed been a long time since they had seen one another.
‘Henry! How are you? No don’t get up’ his hand exerted a gentle pressure on Mr. Woodhouse’ shoulder to hamper his efforts, and he sat down next to the fire to listen to the inevitable longwinded response to his question. Henry Woodhouse had been concerned not to see his friend on the previous evening, and he and Emma had both worried that George may have contracted some terrible virus, or met with an accident…’ George listened patiently to the old man’s worries, and apologised most sincerely for not having forewarned his friend that he was to be detained by a parish council meeting, even though he was certain that he had mentioned the fact on more than one occasion.
Henry Woodhouse was finally placated and having partaken of a couple of sips of sherry dozed a little in front of the fire. George Knightley removed himself a little from the heat, and turned his attention to Emma.
‘Well Emma’ he opened the conversation, ‘I wonder if you have given anymore thought to the venue for your party?’ George Knightley’s expression told that he had news for her. Emma wondered if she should tease him a little, or to confess her prior knowledge of his visit to the Crown.
‘I was at Randalls earlier’ she confessed.
‘Ah! Well Geoff will have told you then’ George sounded slightly deflated.
‘No, only that the new people had showed you round, and that the upstairs rooms should be ready in time. He suggested that I might have lunch there with him and Anne tomorrow, and take a look round. But I’m interested in what you thought of the place, please tell…’ Emma begged with only slightly feigned enthusiasm.
‘Alright, though if you are visiting yourself you will make up your own mind no doubt.’
‘Still…’ Emma encouraged.
‘The new people are really professional in my opinion’ George told, ‘they have turned around the pub trade already. The old smoke room has been completely done away with, and the lounge bar made into one big room with doors out on to the garden, which they’ve cleverly turned into a terrace with patio heaters so that it can be used in winter. The trade is mostly in food now, and its simple and good. Folk are flocking in from miles around. The upstairs used to be family accommodation, but they have a house to live in Mrs. Stokes was telling us. It made sense to them to make the flat into a separate room for meetings and parties, weddings and the like. I was misled about the stables they are planning to convert them into overnight accommodation, rooms with en suite facilities.’
‘And does it seem suitable to you?’ Emma asked nonchalantly, his opinion carried weight with her, yet she did not want to appear unworldly and overly young in his eyes.
‘You must decide for yourself Emma’ George laughed, ‘for my part I thought that it could be ideal if that’s what you decide that you want. There is room enough for 60 or so guests to set down to dinner, or more, buffet style. They have a dance floor, and space for a disco or even for a live band. I understand that they intend to host live music shows every couple of weeks anyway.’
‘Oh a band would be fab’ Emma clapped her hands in delight at the thought, ‘and a disco…I soo love dancing’ she declared her eyes shining with excitement. George nodded and smiled being fully aware that one of Emma’s secret passions was to watch the TV show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ to see all the dance moves. He had fond recollections of Isabella and Emma practicing dance routines when they had been younger. He wondered for a moment if Emma still practiced dancing and singing into her hairbrush, much at the same time as Emma recollected George being amused by her efforts, when she had been a teenager. Emma coloured slightly as a smile of recollection flitted across George’s features. Emma’s face registered a look of defiance mixed, rather amusingly, George considered, with one of embarrassment. George Knightley reigned in his levity, and fixed a conciliatory smile to his features.
‘I remembered that you did’ he responded smoothly without giving further provocation.
‘Anne has heard again from Frank Churchill’ Emma supplied, wonderingly if she had been goaded into this line of conversation.
‘Oh’ George Knightley responded with studied lack of enthusiasm.
‘Yes’ Emma continued, not sure that the topic was going to afford much amusement, ‘she had received a letter from him not long before I arrived. She showed it to me. It was a really good letter, you would have thought it so.’ George Knightley raised an eyebrow and took a sip of his drink.
‘Anyway be that is it may’ Emma shrugged, seeing that George’s earlier antipathy to the subject had in no way abated, ‘he’s coming to visit in March. In fact he will be here for my party’ Emma informed with a rather defiant swing of her hair.
‘How very lucky for Frank Churchill’ George Knightley responded rather bitingly, ‘he dithers and dallies about a visit in a way that would vex any normal parent, then when he finally makes up his mind that he should honour a commitment that he should have made months ago, his plans are met with universal pleasure. Not only are his father and step-mother willing to forgive in an instant, but the whole of Highbury is talking of his visit as being the most perfect timing’ George Knightley stopped to draw breath and to steady his mounting annoyance.
‘You mean you already knew?’ Emma guessed.
‘Yes I heard it on the way over here’ George admitted, irritated with himself for revealing his unguarded emotion, ‘I met with Geoff Weston, who is undoubtedly visiting every household in Highbury with the same news, he seemed sure that the visit is a reality this time. From what everyone is saying one would have thought that your birthday party is really a welcome home party for the prodigal’ George managed to sound exasperated rather than downright annoyed. He had absolutely no idea why he felt so provoked by Frank Churchill and his impending visit, but he was undoubtedly rattled by it.
‘Well it will be fun’ Emma pointed out with a soothing tone and expression, ‘more young people to join in the dancing means that you won’t have to bother yourself. You’ve said on more than one occasion that you hate dancing.’
‘That is one way of looking at it for sure’ George rallied his normally laid back persona. ‘There will be one other as well, though not, perhaps, so much to your liking…’ George hung out the suspense for a moment while Emma furrowed her brow in guessing to whom he might possibly refer.
‘Who? Tell me…’ Emma insisted, failing to identify the potential visitor of George’s hint.
‘I saw Vera Bates too, I dropped some apples off at the shop’ he explained, ‘Miss Bates was full of the surprise news…’
‘Jane Fairfax!’ Emma guessed, ‘how strange that she should return to Highbury at the same time as Frank Churchill, and for my party too…’ Emma’s thoughts reverted to her childhood belief that the fate of she, Frank and Jane were somehow entwined, for they had all lost their mother’s within a year of one another.
‘Yes’ George Knightley agreed, ‘strange indeed’ though his mind was occupied with other suppositions.