Emma woke early and decided that she would ride out. She had forgotten how much she had used to enjoy riding, and how much she loved her chestnut mare, Conker. On the spur of the moment she decided to ride over to Donwell. If George Knightley were to be at home (unlikely) she would call and partake of a cold drink or a coffee. Otherwise she would just enjoy a gallop across the fields, and still be back home in time for lunch. She could have decided on a visit to Randalls, yet something stayed her inclination. She would see Frank Churchill again at her party on the following day.
Emma wondered if her new inclination to ride was anything to do with her recent wardrobe challenge. She seemed to feel more confident in her jodhpurs and hacking jacket than she did in anything else at the moment. She made a mental note to tackle a shopping expedition to London, alone this time, once her birthday party was out of the way.
The dress she had bought for her birthday though, Emma believed was perfect. Harriet had promised to call around to Hartfield, after she finished college, to do Emma’s hair and make-up. The style had already been agreed between the two, and Harriet had practiced the casual up do several times to make sure that she could manage to get the desired effect on the night.
Emma gave Conker her head and they cantered along the public pathway onto Donwell Abbey land. Emma grinned as the horse gathered speed, and the wind whipped her hair free from under her hard hat. It was a beautiful spring morning, and Emma felt as free as a bird as she and her mount hurtled headlong towards the Abbey.
‘Whoa!’ Emma caught sight of George’s old Land Rover and reined in. She stood up in her stirrups and waved to catch his attention, but to no avail. George Knightley was obviously intent on his work, Emma assumed feeling rather disappointed that she had not found him at home. Oh well if he did not call this evening, she would certainly see him at her party the next evening. Emma turned Conker homeward and they cantered sedately until they reached the road again. Emma walked the horse through the outskirts of Highbury admiring the first signs of spring as she rode.
Conker was startled by a red sports car as they turned the corner towards Hartfield. The horse skittered in fright for a moment, and Emma had to use all her skill to avoid a fall. She calmed her mount after a few moments and glared balefully after the already disappeared vehicle. Some tourist with no notion that livestock were likely to be traversing the country lanes, Emma surmised rather crossly. Thankfully she had not been in sight of half of Highbury, although Emma felt uncomfortably sure that she had caught a glimpse of Miss High and Mighty Fairfax striding out of the town. She would have had a real chuckle if Emma had been unseated.
Emma returned Conker to the stable, and gave her a rub down and a bucket of feed. The horse nuzzled her affectionately as Emma rubbed her forehead and pulled her ears gently. She administered one last pat and returned to the house to get lunch for her father. Emma took a swift shower and dressed in her old sweat pants and a baggy jumper. Her father hated her to wear what he called ‘sportswear’ at meal times Emma knew, but she was totally without the wardrobe basics that would render her stylish, and elegant like Jane Fairfax. Or fashionable and sexy like Harriet, come to that.
‘Did you enjoy your ride Emma?’ her father asked solicitously.
‘Thank you yes Papa’ Emma responded with a kiss to his cheek, ‘very much. I went out to Donwell but George wasn’t there, or at least I saw him in the distance but he didn’t see me.’ She refrained from telling her father about the near incident with the sports car. It would only worry him.
‘You missed young Churchill’ her father informed, ‘he called around not long before you got back. He arrived in one of those flashy motors’ Mr. Woodhouse spoke with mild censure.
‘Oh, what type?’ Emma asked, her interest piqued by mention of the car.
‘No idea, it was red’ her father responded.
‘Oh’ Emma now felt sure that Frank Churchill had been the culprit that had almost unhorsed her. She concentrated on eating for a few moments as she adjusted her thoughts. She had felt disappointed that she had missed Frank’s visit, yet now she wondered about his behaviour. It was nice of him to call at Hartfield. Yet surely he must have recognised her, and he did not stop to see if she was all right after the horse had taken fright. And, it seemed to Emma, Frank Churchill should be aware of the ways of the country. He should not have been driving so fast on the bends outside Highbury. Emma grew pensive as she finished her lunch.