Harriet arrived after lunch, as she had promised to do, armed with the tools of her trade. She admired all of Emma’s cards and presents with pleasing enthusiasm. The necklace got Harriet’s seal of approval; apparently it was by some on trend designer whom Emma had never heard of. After the party she must resurrect project wardrobe rehab.
The girls spent the afternoon happily in preparation for Emma’s birthday bash. As Harriet worked her magic on Emma’s hair and makeup, Emma took the opportunity to influence Harriet of the possibilities that the evening held. She was determined to distract Harriet’s thoughts from Robert Martin, and to direct them toward Philip Elton. A relationship that Emma deemed much more suitable for her friend. What was Robert Martin other than the son of one of Knightley’s tenants? Well aside, that was, from fronting a band. Whereas Philip Elton was a wealthy entrepreneur, Emma thought, though how he had come by his money she was not totally assured.
Not that Harriet needed funds. It had come to Emma’s attention that Harriet lacked for nothing. The mystery of her parentage aside, whoever was responsible for her upkeep and her allowance, was certainly very generous. Emma let her mind wonder for a few moments on the matter. It suited her to believe that Harriet was the love child of nobility, or even of royalty. No, Robert Martin was not suitable for her particular friend.
‘I think my party will be an excellent opportunity for you to dance with a superior sort of boy, or man I should say. Like Philip Elton, I’m sure he likes you’ Emma hinted offhandedly. ‘There will be the Perrys, the Hughes, the Richards, the Otways, the Coles and the Gilberts from Highbury, and the Coxes and quite a few of the county set as well, Emma continued thoughtfully. There would be, of course, a few Right Honorables and such like amongst the county lot.
The Woodhouse family had owned Hartfield for many generations, and as a consequence of the family history and lineage Mr. Woodhouse could command the respect of all the preeminent families in the county, not just of the neighbourhood. The Knightleys and the Woodhouses were held in high regard, a position in society that had not been harmed in the least by the family alliance through the marriage of John Knightley and Isabella Woodhouse, some ten years previous.
Emma wondered for a moment with whom she would dance. Of course she would be asked by the young men of all the leading families as a protocol, although Emma hoped that her company was a little more entertaining, and her appearance more pleasing, than would necessitate mere duty in the performance. Of course she had wondered about Frank Churchill and the likelihood of his asking. She expected that he was as aware of the wishes of his parents as much as was she. Fortunately her own father would never dream for a moment that some man would appear to tempt his second daughter away from hearth and home. He remained so oblivious to the possibility that it was one worry she could count on him not exercising.
Yes she was sure Frank Churchill would ask her, perhaps she would open the dancing with him. Emma still felt that somehow his and her destinies were entwined. Though clearly she had no thoughts of a serious relationship. That, as she had informed her intimates on many occasions, was totally out of the question.
Finally the girls were ready to depart for the Crown. As hostess, Emma was to be at the party a little early to greet her guests. Emma twirled obediently in front of her father and old Mrs. Bates to show off her dress.
‘You look very nice my dear’ complimented Mr. Woodhouse, ‘but you must wear a shawl and a coat to keep you warm. It is cold now and will get colder as soon as the sun goes down.’
‘Yes Papa dear, I have Mama’s fur wrap to put around me, and Harriet has a maxi coat’ her father’s eyes had almost swiveled in his head as he eyed Harriet’s state of undress with obvious terror.
‘You must be careful of your health. Young ladies are delicate flowers are they not Mrs. Bates? Don’t sit in any draughts and be careful not to over exert yourselves’ Mr. Woodhouse fussed as the girls waited for James, the chauffer, cum gardener, cum odd job man, to bring the Bentley round to the front door. ‘Now don’t wait up’ Emma admonished with a fond kiss, ‘James will take Mrs. Bates home when she’s ready and then come back to the Crown to collect us. Everything will be fine as Mrs. Weston is to look after us.’ This assurance above all things, Emma knew, would set her father’s mind at rest.
Emma slid out of the car and stood for a few moments in front of the Crown taking in the atmosphere. Silver and white streamers and helium balloons lined the entrance way to the upstairs room. A banner proclaimed 21st birthday wishes, and fairy lights lit the route from the car park. Emma held her breath taking in the magical sight; it was an arrangement to which she had not been party. Tears pricked Emma’s eyes as she looked about her and admired the effect.
‘Emma come on up!’ Anne Weston’s voice commanded, ‘come and see how it all looks.’ Anne sounded awed, she had never thought that the Crown could ever look so festive and well, glamorous, she supposed. ‘Emma you look beautiful’ Anne swallowed a lump in her throat as she hugged her young protégé with pride. ‘Doesn’t Emma look wonderful Geoff?’
‘She does indeed, beautiful, beautiful’ Geoff Weston bent forward and took her hand in the old fashioned way. ‘Frank come and wish Emma happy returns’ he commanded jovially. Frank Churchill stopped forward and emulated his father’s bow.
‘Many happy returns of the day dear Emma’ he purred smoothly, kissing the back of Emma’s hand. Emma looked up with a gurgle of amusement, yet caught her breath as her eyes took in the mischievous gleam of the green eyes set in Frank Churchill’s devastatingly handsome visage.
‘Thank you kind Sir’ she ventured playfully, taking in the impeccable cut of Frank’s DJ. Emma suddenly felt light headed with happiness. It was her party and she would dance all night. Her eyes sparkled with expectation.
‘Would you do me the honour of the first dance?’ Frank beseeched earnestly, the sparkle of his eyes belying the seriousness of his intent. Anne and Geoff Weston exchanged a little smile of approval. A perfect beginning to what was to be a perfect birthday party.