Emma – Chapter 14

Chapter 14

With George Knightley’s recommendations in mind Emma undertook to call around to see Jane Fairfax the very next day. Emma knew that George would be pleased if she were to extend a personal welcome, and this Emma intended to do, along with an invitation to attend her birthday party. Emma inspected her closet carefully; for another of Jane Fairfax’s virtues was that she was held to be both beautiful and elegant. Emma did not want a repeat of yesterday’s humiliation. She had felt totally out of place in the shopping mecca of Selfridges’ department store, and overshadowed by Harriet, whose sense of style had not hitherto stricken Emma as being great.
Emma sucked her bottom lip as she perused the much slimmed down but still bulging closet full of clothes, all of which were patently unsuitable for the morning’s venture. She had nothing at all suitable to wear to greet the exemplary Jane Fairfax. Come on Emma what’s the matter with you? Emma demanded from her reflection in the mirror with a scowl. Ah photographs! Emma suddenly recollected the day when she had first invited Harriet around, and the younger girl had obligingly recorded some of her newly contrived outfits on Emma’s iPhone.
Emma scrolled through masses of photos of the children taken at Christmas and finally found the ones that Harriet had taken. She really must organise her photos into albums. And the closet had gotten totally out of hand again. Emma peered at the photos that she had once been quite pleased with, and experienced a sense of mounting panic. Nothing was remotely suitable for anything other than a walk to Randalls to see Anne Weston, or to have supper with her father. Emma tried on outfit after outfit until she was close to tears with frustration. She had absolutely nothing to wear.
Two hours later Emma tied her horse’s reins to the fence in the small car park that adjoined Bates’ Grocery Store and Delicatessen. At least she looked fine in her jodhpurs, riding boots and hacking jacket. Carrying her hard hat under her arm Emma made her way to the front of the shop.
‘Good morning Miss Bates’ Emma issued in her best cut glass accent.
‘Oh Miss Woodhouse, what a pleasant surprise to see you, and how well you look, though you always do; look well that is’ Miss Bates rushed from behind the counter to greet Emma chattering non stop as she declared her gratitude for Emma’s visit at the same time as she overpowered her visitor with the news that she had already heard. Jane had arrived yesterday, rather unexpectedly, but it was so delightful for her mother, and for herself to have Jane at home; such a treat it was to be sure.
‘You must come upstairs Miss Woodhouse and say hello to Jane. I expect that you two girls hardly remember one another, it has been so long since Jane last was able to visit.’
Emma managed to assure Miss Bates that she had in fact come on purpose to do that very thing, as she had heard the news of Jane’s arrival from Mr. Knightley.
‘Of course you would have heard it from Mr. Knightley because he was so kind and obliging to deliver our fruit and veg order in person yesterday, and he arrived not long after Jane got here. He was, he said, delighted to see Jane and he complimented her on her good looks, and also on her passing all her exams and being now a qualified teacher. For Jane is you know, qualified to teach that is. She will be getting a job to teach in a school you know after she has stayed with us here for a while. She could have gone with the Campbells to Ireland for a holiday but Jane said that she told them that she would rather come and see us for a family visit before she goes to work. She told them that it had been far too long since she had made a proper visit to us. There now, how kind of Jane to think of us in that way when I’m sure she could have had a much better time in Ireland with her friends the Campbells, and with her best friend who is now Mrs. Dixon you know.’
By this juncture in the conversation Emma was on the threshold of the Bates’ flat above the shop. Emma barely had time to gather her thoughts before she was hustled into the small living room where Jane Fairfax had been sitting quietly reading a book.
‘Jane, Jane, here is Emma, Miss Woodhouse to visit you. So kind and thoughtful as Miss Woodhouse always is…’
‘Not at all’ Emma interceded politely, ‘I heard that you were come on a visit to Highbury, and wished to make you welcome’ Emma smiled, and took in the vision that was Jane Fairfax.
‘Thank you so much for calling’ Jane responded equally politely, I have heard so much about you.’
‘Oh and I of you’ Emma responded, ‘I assure you that Miss Bates, that is your aunt, has always kept us up to speed with your activities, and I have been longing to see you in person now we are both grown up.’
‘Thank you, and I too have been looking forward to making your acquaintance’ Jane responded, wondering whatever her aunt had told the renowned and snooty Emma Woodhouse about her lowly life.
Emma took in the refined profile of Jane Fairfax whilst her aunt fussed around insisting that Emma should stay and take coffee with them. Jane Fairfax was undoubtedly a good-looking young woman. Emma thought that the other girl looked older and more sophisticated than she. Jane was tall and slim, though not quite as tall as Emma. She looked casually, and effortlessly well dressed in dark jeans, a ribbed sweater and boots that didn’t look dissimilar from her own, though Jane’s were not intended for riding a horse, they were altogether more stylish.
‘I must apologise for my appearance’ Emma mentioned casually, ‘I called on the way home from a ride. I meant to just call to say hello, and to invite you to my birthday party, which is on Friday, at the Crown.’
‘Thank you’ Jane Fairfax turned her head away from Emma with a swish of long straight hair, ‘Thank you Aunt’ she took the proffered cup of coffee. She looked back to Emma meaning to refuse politely. After all she would hardly know anyone there.
‘How kind Miss Woodhouse’ her aunt interceded, ‘I shall be going Jane dear. Well everyone will be there. It’s quite the party of the year Miss Woodhouse’s 21st Birthday you know. Mother is spending the evening with Mr. Woodhouse, and I daresay that everyone else in Highbury will be at the party, well anyone who is anyone will be there…’ Miss Bates rattled on.
‘How kind indeed’ Jane smiled formally, ‘thank you Miss Woodhouse, it seems that yours is an invitation impossible to refuse.’
‘Not at all, I’m glad you are able to attend’ Emma responded politely with the feeling that Jane Fairfax would rather be anywhere in the world other than at her party. What have I done to offend her? Emma drank her coffee, thanked her hostess, and made an excuse to leave.
Emma untied her chestnut mare and patted her neck fondly.
‘Good girl’ Emma rewarded her mount’s patience as she hopped on one foot and swung her leg over into the saddle. ‘Walk on’ she encouraged with a squeeze of her thighs. As horse and rider sidled from the car park Emma was conscious of being observed from above. She glanced around to see Jane’s dark head receding quickly from view. Emma felt uncomfortable as though she may have done something wrong.
‘Emma called to welcome Jane Fairfax to Highbury, and to invite her to attend her party on Friday’ Henry Woodhouse informed George Knightley that same evening.
‘Excellent’ George responded with a smile for Emma, ‘and how did you find Miss Fairfax?’
‘Very well, as you say she is very elegant’ Emma responded neutrally. George Knightley leveled a questioning look, quickly surmising from Emma’s expression that the introductory meeting had not lived up to expectations, at least on his count. George turned back to his conversation with Mr. Woodhouse and the two fell to discussing the renewable energy projects that George was in the process of exploring for Donwell. Emma half listened but her attention was far more committed to last minute party planning, and, it has to be said, her thoughts kept returning to this morning’s visit, which had not turned out anything like Emma had intended.
‘So Emma’ George Knightley began once her father had dozed off, ‘tell me?’
‘Nothing to tell’ Emma responded half-heartedly.
‘Its not like you to be dejected’ George stated. Emma had certainly inherited her temperament from her mother’s side. ‘Tell me what’s wrong.’
‘Oh nothing honestly’ Emma appeared listless and out of sorts.
‘Did you and Jane Fairfax not get along then?’
‘We hardly had a chance, you know how Miss Bates is.’
‘But…’ George encouraged.
‘Well she didn’t seem to want to see me’ Emma sounded doleful.
‘How so?’ George asked, puzzled.
‘She was sort of off hand, and kind of stuck up’ Emma wrinkled her nose, ‘I think she was going to refuse my invitation until her aunt told her that she and everyone else in Highbury would be there. Why would she do that?’ Emma asked rather petulantly, ‘and another thing, she was watching me out of the window when I left. Not in a nice way to wave goodbye or anything. She rushed away as soon as I caught sight of her.’
‘That does sound rather perplexing’ George admitted with a smile, ‘perhaps she wanted to see Conker?’ he suggested.
‘No it wasn’t like that’ Emma responded, ‘It was like she doesn’t like me, and I hardly know the girl, how could she not like me?’
‘How indeed’ George echoed valiantly attempting not to smile at Emma’s introspective mood. ‘How was your trip to London?’
‘Oh it was sort of interesting and it was OK but I feel such a bumpkin’ Emma responded morosely.
‘Why?’
‘Well for a start even Harriet was more appropriately dressed than I. God I felt so dowdy and old fashioned’ Emma admitted in a rush. ‘We went to Selfridges, this enormous, smart department store, and everyone, and I do mean everyone, shop assistants and all, looked much more the thing. I felt really miserable and unconfident’ Emma admitted looking beseechingly at George Knightley. ‘Do you think that I should get a job? I could commute to London and be back each night for father.’
‘What’s brought this on’ George responded gently, trying to get to the route of Emma’s unusual ennui.
‘I’m so ignorant, of life I mean, not books, just that I’ve never been anywhere interesting, or done anything, other than live here and look after father, in Highbury. I’ve hardly even been to London even though its only 30 minutes away on the train. Don’t you think that it’s rather strange that I’ve never even been to stay with Isabella when she’s been expecting? You’ve been there for every birth, and I not for any.’ Emma shrugged her shoulders and grimaced her unsaid thoughts.
‘Well at least I have one piece of news to lighten your heart’ George Knightley opened gallantly, for the news was not the best as far as he was concerned, ‘the longed for visit of the wonderful Frank Churchill has come to fruition. He arrived this very morning, a full two days ahead of schedule. I’m sure you will receive a visit from him and his father tomorrow.
‘Really?’ Emma’s spirits lifted, ‘how strange that after all this waiting he should arrive sooner than expected.’ Emma’s eyes inspected George Knightley’s expression covertly, she had though that George was predisposed not to like Frank Churchill, yet here he was volunteering the information to cheer her. Emma smiled indulgently he was such a kind man, like a big brother to her.
‘Thank you; did you see him yourself?’
‘No, I just had it from Miss Bates’ George rolled his eyes up, ‘I’m beginning to think that I’m as big a gossip as she…’
‘That would be impossible…’ Emma defended with a giggle, ‘though I must say that I do hear most of the Highbury news from you.’
‘Exactly what I mean’ George declared humorously, ‘I have to blame it on regular calls to Bates’ Deli with fresh deliveries. Vera is always full of the latest gossip in exchange for her supplies. I have to admit that I also had a blow-by-blow account of your visit to Jane Fairfax, from Miss Bates’ account it was a triumph and you, of course, are an angel for making the effort. Second only to Jane in Miss Bates’ good books’ George Knightley’s eyes crinkled in fun, ‘I’m sure you must have imagined the animosity from Jane dear Emma.’
‘Do you think so?’ Emma sounded more optimistic, ‘perhaps I did.’
‘Do you think that it’s a little strange that Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill should show up practically at the same time as one another after they have both been so long gone from Highbury?’ George asked Emma tentatively, for he felt sure that somehow it was not a coincidence.
‘It is a little odd’ Emma granted, ‘but I’m glad that he has come. The Westons must be overjoyed that he is here at last’ Emma declared without further thought to the chance. Her head was already full of Frank Churchill. What would he be like? Was he as handsome in the flesh as he appeared in photos? Would he like her?
‘Yes indeed they must’ Mr. Knightley agreed before he left Emma to her imaginings. He was glad to leave her in a better frame of mind, but something told him that no good would come of Frank Churchill’s visit. George was very well aware that the Westons intended Frank for Emma. Why he disliked the idea so much he was not sure, perhaps because such a liaison would take Emma away from Hartfield, and he had got used to having her around.
Emma lay awake for sometime wondering about Frank Churchill, and of the expectations she held. She was not wholly unaware that Frank’s father and stepmother both had hopes of a friendship between the two of them, possibly even more. Well I’ll find out for myself tomorrow Emma thought as she finally drifted into sleep.
Geoff Weston and his son arrived at Hartfield in time for morning coffee. Frank Churchill had already received a conducted tour of the town, and been introduced to practically all the residents by his proud parent. Emma alone had escaped the introduction as she had been at Goddard’s. Fortunately Harriet was bent on practicing hair styling and make up, so by the time Emma arrived back at Hartfield she looked very presentable. Frank and his father were about to depart, having taken coffee with Mr. Woodhouse and chatted for sometime.
Emma heard voices coming from the drawing room as soon as she entered the hall. She guessed the identity of the visitors immediately, and made haste to greet them. The drawing room door stood ajar giving Emma a moment to observe the father and son before she made Frank’s acquaintance, Geoff Weston’s face beamed with paternal pride, Frank’s face in profile was remarkably handsome, just as the photos showed him to be. Blonde wavy hair, a straight nose neither too big or too small, a strong chin and… Frank Churchill turned towards the door aware of Emma’s scrutiny. Emma smiled a welcome and blushed slightly as he stood and walked forward to greet her. His smile exhibited perfect teeth, and a dimple in his chin softened the severity of his strongly masculine features.
‘Emma! I may call you Emma mayn’t I? I feel like I have known you forever’ Frank Churchill took her hands in his and squeezed them fondly. His lively green eyes held hers for a moment before he bent to kiss her to each cheek. ‘At last we meet.’
‘Well if it isn’t THE Frank Churchill in the flesh’ Emma teased, playfully pinching his arm, ‘you are really come at last!’
‘Yes indeed, and I’m sorry for not coming sooner’ Frank laughed, ‘It is so nice to see my father after so long, and to meet his new wife who I understand used to be your Governess? I must say that I had never expected such a young and attractive stepmother, nor one of such intelligence and wit.’
Emma smiled happily to hear Frank’s fulsome praise of her great friend Anne Weston. ‘It seems that everyone in Highbury has extended a huge welcome, and I am most grateful for it though totally undeserving’ Frank continued with a modest shrug.
‘Oh who have you met?’ Emma asked, ‘you must have seen Miss Bates because no one can pass her door without being spied and waylaid.’
‘Yes Miss Bates, I think, is she the lady who talks non stop? And her elderly mother.’
‘That’s her’ Emma agreed with a grin, ‘and her niece who is staying with them, Miss Fairfax, did you see her too?’
‘As a matter of fact I did’ Frank admitted, ‘I met her in Weymouth you know, so it was only polite to say hello.’
‘And did you like what you saw?’ Emma asked unguardedly.
‘She is considered to be quite a beauty’ Frank responded his eyes lighting with fun, ‘but some think she is a little…’ he dropped his voice and whispered to Emma, ‘snooty.’
‘Really’ Emma responded sotto voce, ‘I thought she was a little…reserved and not so very friendly…’
‘Exactly’ Frank responded, ‘I feel that we see eye to eye already Miss Woodhouse’ he chuckled, his amusement apparent.

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