Emma glanced at her watch surreptitiously as she scurried along the High street. She was already late for her lunch with the Weston’s, owing to the idle morning that she had spent as Harriet’s ‘model’ at Goddard’s. Emma had quite forgotten her undertaking to Harriet when she had accepted the invitation to lunch. Now she was more than a trifle disconcerted by her promise. Emma was about to turn up for a casual lunch at the pub with her hair in a rather chic chignon, and sporting full make-up. With her lateness in mind, Emma was unaware of some rather admiring glances, leveled at her hurrying form, as she negotiated the main street on her way to her engagement.
‘I’m so sorry I’m late’ Emma met Anne’s surprised look with feigned nonchalance, ‘I was delayed slightly at Goddard’s, I promised to help Harriet with her final project. She needs a model to practice hair and make-up’ Emma announced airily, plopping down on the chair that Geoff held ready for her.
‘You look stunning’ Anne offered with no hint of disapproval, ‘really gorgeous, doesn’t she Geoff?’ she applied to her husband for collaboration.
‘Beautiful my dear’ Geoff confirmed, ‘but then you always do’ he added gallantly, ‘what would you like to drink Emma? Anne was persuaded to take a glass of white, will you join her?’
‘Oh yes please, that would be lovely’ Emma agreed taking the proffered menu.
‘What are you having to eat?’
‘I’m having soup of the day, which is carrot and ginger, and Geoff’s having a ploughman’s lunch with Stilton. I love your hair done like that, Harriet is very clever, the style is perfect for you.’
‘Thank you, you don’t think it’s a bit over the top?’ Emma bit her lip thoughtfully as she perused the menu, and tried to appear as though she didn’t care about looking ‘done-up’.
‘Not at all, you look very sophisticated, as though you were on lunch break from a rather important, high powered job’ Anne reassured.
‘Really?’ Emma replied, rather pleased with the idea. ‘Harriet is rather clever isn’t she. I rather thought I might have to rush home and scrub my face…’
‘Not at all, the make-up is subtle and very suitable for the day time which shows that Harriet understands your personality and natural style.’
Geoff reappeared with Emma’s drink, and the conversation turned to party planning and, of course, to the impending visit from Frank Churchill. Geoff Weston was so excited about the prospect that Emma wished fervently that he would not be disappointed once more.
‘Did you know that the Bates’ expect Jane home at much the same time?’ Anne asked.
‘Mm yes Mr. Knightley told us last night’ Emma responded slipping back into the form with which she had used to address him as a child.
‘What a coincidence eh Emma’ Geoff chuckled, ‘and more young people here to enjoy your birthday bash, wonderful, wonderful…’
Emma remembered what George Knightley had said about her party becoming a welcome home one for Frank Churchill. What the hell Emma shrugged off the thought. It wouldn’t be much of a party without guests. Of all people that Emma would want to be at her special party it would be Frank Churchill she admitted inwardly. She had so often wondered about him; what he was like, and sometimes if there really was some strange connection between them. Sometimes she felt like she knew him already.
He was awfully handsome she already knew. Emma had seen his picture in the gossip columns of a couple of Harriet’s magazines (which bore out George Knightley’s assertion that he had got time to visit London, and to socialise with his friends, though not to visit Highbury and his father), as well as the more formal photo that Geoff Weston had on prominent display at Randalls.
‘Did you decide what to eat Emma?’ Anne’s request interrupted Emma’s daydreaming.
‘Oh yes please, I’ll have the club sandwich with salmon’ Emma smiled and passed her menu back to the waitress.
‘Cheers’ Geoff clinked his glass against Emma’s, and again with Anne, ‘Mrs. Stokes has agreed to show us upstairs after we’ve lunched, it will be quieter down here, and, she says, the workmen will be having a break too.’
The upstairs rooms proved to be exactly what Emma could have wished for (with a little imagination). The old owner’s accommodation had been completely reconfigured from a three bedroomed flat into one spacious room for ‘functions’ and another, smaller, attached room for meetings and private dinner parties. Mrs. Stokes explained her plans for the decor as she showed the three around the space, advising them all to be careful not to trip on wires or over any of the tools that lay on the, exceedingly dusty, floor.
Emma could envisage the place all done up with candles and streamers and balloons, tasteful ones of course. She exchanged a smile of pleasure with Anne Weston.
‘When will it be ready Mrs. Stokes?’ Emma turned her attention to the landlady who seemed a rather respectable sort of a person to be in the pub trade.
‘End of February, not a day after’ Mrs. Stokes promised briskly.
‘When had you in mind Miss Woodhouse?’
‘I will have to discuss the arrangements with my father first’ Emma prevaricated, ‘would it be possible to make a provisional booking for the 14th March? It’s a Friday.’
‘Yes that will be fine, but I’ll need a confirmation by the end of the week as I have other provisional bookings.’ Emma didn’t doubt it; Mrs. Stokes was a rather awesome businesswoman, not at all what she had expected.
Emma spent the afternoon making lists for her party. Guests, food and drinks, decorations; Emma was in planning Nirvana. All she needed to do now was to persuade her father to the idea. Not that he would begrudge the expense, far from it. But he was such a creature of habit, and, coupled with his multiple phobias, it was difficult to get him to leave his own fireside. Emma had already enlisted the help of Anne and Geoff Weston who had promised to paint the idea in the most positive light, but to succeed, Emma knew that George Knightley’s support for the plan was imperative. No one could persuade her father to an idea quite like George Knightley, and he managed to influence her father without causing anxieties on his side. Emma hoped fervently that George would stop by this evening; two and a half months warning was cutting the whole thing rather fine.
Emma’s face lit up in a smile of welcome as she heard Knightley’s tap on the French window, that he used to announce his arrival. The door was always left unlocked in expectation of his nocturnal visit. George was a little later than usual, and Henry Woodhouse was already nodding by the fire. George Knightley took in the sight, and moderated his accustomed greeting choosing instead to sit beside Emma and engage her in conversation.
‘I’m so glad you called’ Emma began, ‘I had almost given up on you for this evening. You see that Papa has already’ she smiled benevolently at her sleeping father.
‘I almost didn’t call as it is getting late and I didn’t want to disturb’ George Knightley responded, ‘yet I had it direct from Anne Taylor, Weston that is, that I should call by. She said that you needed my help with something, and that I should see how well you look…’ he raised an eyebrow comically. ‘I think I understand the first part but I’m not sure that I grasped the significance of the second. That is you always look well to me’ he peered closely at Emma and detected flawless skin, shiny eyes and soft lips, but nothing out of the ordinary. Emma eyed George Knightley observing her and pulled a face,
‘You look the same as always’ George responded almost accusingly, ‘what was Anne thinking of?’
‘Oh it must be that Harriet put my hair up this morning. Anne said it suited me but I took it down when I got home. Did she tell you about the visit upstairs in the Crown?’
‘She did. Or at least she said they’d seen it with you, and I guessed that you wanted my help to talk your father into the idea?’
‘Mm please’ Emma nodded her head, her eyes shining with excitement, ‘I think it will be perfect for my party.’ Emma drew out her Smythson notebook and waved it under George’s nose. ‘Look, I’ve started the guest list, and I’ve planned the decor, and the food, I think we’ll have a buffet so that there’s more time for dancing. I have to research local bands and discos, as I don’t really know much about that sort of thing. Perhaps Harriet will know’ Emma added pensively.
‘Well she knows someone who will know’ George supplied enigmatically.
‘Really? Who?’ Emma asked, puzzled by George’s insider knowledge.
‘Her friends the Martins’ George responded with a grin, ‘Robert Martin plays in a band in his spare time, and I think that one of the sisters sings sometimes…’ Emma digested this information with a little disquiet; it wasn’t part of her plan to throw Harriet together with Robert Martin. She held far higher ambitions for her beautiful friend.
‘What?’ George inspected Emma’s face closely; he could tell that something was amiss with his information in Emma’s eyes.
‘I shall ask my college friends, and Philip Elton, he will probably have contacts, he told me that he’s very interested in music.
‘Ah well obviously if Elton knows someone that would be perfect’ George Knightley responded with a bite of sarcasm. He sat silently for a few moments rearranging his thoughts. Did Emma have hopes of Elton asking her out? He cast his mind back to the evening of the Weston’s party at Randalls. Emma had seemed quite taken with Elton; yet George Knightley was convinced that Elton was not at all interested in women in that way. He wondered if he should warn Emma against setting her hopes on him.
‘Emma, I think that I should perhaps warn you about Elton, er I have a feeling that all is not as it appears with him…Not anything dishonest. Just that he er he’s not that in to women.’
‘He just hasn’t met the right one yet’ Emma responded, surprised by George Knightley’s avowal.
‘Maybe not’ George responded thoughtfully, ‘but just be careful, that’s all. I’ve said enough. When will you tell your father about the Crown?’ he changed the subject adroitly.
‘I thought that I might mention it tomorrow at breakfast and then if you were to bring up the subject tomorrow night…’ Emma met his eyes with a cheeky smile that he was used to seeing when she was trying to get round him. ‘Then Anne is having lunch with father on Friday, and she’s going to mention what a good idea they think that it is, y’know less work for me, no disruption at home and that sort of thing…’
‘Excellent, well I see that you have it all worked out. I meant it about young Robert Martin though; I think that they’re the best bet for a local band. I hear nothing but good about them, and Rob’s a great lad.’
‘Oh I haven’t offered you a drink’ Emma jumped up and headed towards the drink cabinet.
‘I’m fine thank you Emma; I had a whisky with Geoff. I’d better be off now. Tell Henry that I called briefly but that I’ll be here tomorrow, a little earlier.’
‘Oh, OK then’ Emma regretted his precipitate departure she had wanted to further discuss her party plans. Yet she had averted more discussion of Robert Martin and his band. Emma wished George Knightley a good evening and settled down by the fireside chewing her lip and screwing a lock of hair idly between her fingers as she planned her party, and waited for her father to wake so that she could persuade him up to bed.