Emma – Chapter 13

Chapter 13

The campaign to get Emma’s father to agree to her birthday party at the Crown had proved to be successful, yet Mr. Woodhouse was disinclined to attend himself. Emma had tried her hardest to persuade him that her party would not be the same without him, yet he still held fast to his objection. In the end they had compromised with the suggestion that old Mrs. Bates spent the evening with her father while ‘the young people’ enjoyed themselves dancing.
George Knightley had promised his services to chauffer the old lady to and fro, from the Bates’ flat over the shop in Highbury, the half-mile or so to Hartfield House. Henry Woodhouse was content, he would be at peace at home by his foreside, and Emma would enjoy partying with her friends without occasioning him undue worries. Henry operated quite well on the principal of ‘out of sight out of mind’.
Mrs. Stokes had proved to be as good as her word, the upstairs facility was all finished and ready for business a fortnight before Emma’s party. She had also proved to be a formidable party planner, and consequently risen even higher in Emma’s estimation. As far as the band was concerned Emma had finally had to admit that Robert Martin’s band, the House Martins, was the only one worth considering for her party. George Knightley’s recommendation had been seconded by many of her school and college friends as well as, most enthusiastically, by Harriet. Emma had duly phoned and made a booking. She was surprised that Robert Martin did sound very nice on the phone.
Emma’s plans to throw Harriet in Philip Elton’s way had progressed a little, though Emma felt that neither party showed any real inclination towards the other. Still, on the night of her party, the opportunity to dance together may just do the trick. Certainly Harriet would not be in danger of Robert Martin in that capacity, as he would be playing not dancing.
With the major organisation completed, and the invitations answered with pleasing alacrity, Emma allowed herself to relax and enjoy ‘project makeover’ which had now morphed into Harriet’s ‘body project’, the name of which made Emma feel somewhat akin to a corpse. That aside, Emma enjoyed her time at Goddard’s being pampered. She had received regular facial treatments, back massages, and manicure and pedicures, as well as having her hair and make-up done professionally. Emma had to admit that her hair and skin glowed with health as a consequence. Harriet was fast becoming Emma’s particular friend, in whom she confided her party plans each time that they met. Harriet was agog with excitement and the girls spent much time planning what Emma should wear (most important as she was to be the belle of the ball). The girls more than once bemoaned the lack of choice in the Highbury shops. Ford’s Drapery shop was hopelessly outdated, and the only other fashion boutique boasted by the small town was not that much better. It was easy for the men, Emma had determined on black tie. It was so nice to see men properly dressed up, instead of wearing old jeans and sweaters, Emma thought. In consequence of the black tie Emma considered that she must wear long. As a guest, Harriet might get away with cocktail, but as the hostess Emma deemed that long was imperative.
It was Harriet that recommended a shopping trip to London.
‘It’s less than half an hour on the train’ she persuaded, ‘we could shop till we drop, do lunch and be back in plenty of time so that your father isn’t worried.’
‘That’s a great idea’ Emma responded, not entirely sure why she hadn’t considered the option herself. She could ask Anne to spend the day with her father so that he didn’t feel neglected.
‘Do you know where we should go?’ Emma asked her worldlier friend, feeling slightly at a disadvantage from her own ignorance of London.
‘I usually go to Selfridges’ Harriet supplied, ‘you can get absolutely everything under one roof, but we could go to Top Shop as well.
‘Great’ Emma agreed with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. ‘When could you go?’
‘I don’t have classes on Wednesday’ Harriet responded immediately, ‘could you manage next week?’ Harriet’s face glowed with excitement, ‘I haven’t been shopping for ages, well not for a month or so anyhow…’
‘OK next Wednesday then’ Emma, who hadn’t been shopping for a year, agreed with a smile of anticipation. ‘I’ll write a list and we’ll plan the day accordingly.’ Harriet smiled agreement, willing to fall in with Emma’s plan, she was due her allowance in a couple of days, and she had an account at Selfridges. Harriet allowed herself to dream of Emma’s party and the success that she would be amongst the county set, Emma never ceased to assure Harriet that she was beautiful, and that she could have her pick of the crop. Harriet was beginning to believe her new friend, though, of course, she knew that Emma would be the star of her own party. Miss Woodhouse was fawned over wherever she went.
The shopping trip to London proved to be interesting and, in most ways, successful. Harriet’s choice of Selfridges as a starting point proved inspired. The girls headed for the designer section, on Harriet’s advice, where she proved to have an uncanny knack for knowing what would suit her friend. Emma was persuaded into trying several dresses that she would have avoided as being too glamorous. She quickly had to admit that the red chiffon strapless number with a split up the side was completely gorgeous, and that it made the most of her figure and flattered her colouring. The neckline looked stylish rather than sexually alluring on Emma’s slim frame, and the split would only show a glimpse of leg if she were to twirl enthusiastically, Emma was satisfied that the dress was suitable. Harriet recommended an up do and dramatic, though not too over the top, make-up, and enthused wildly about Emma’s sophisticated look.
Her own choice seemed to Emma much less assured. The primrose yellow suited Harriet’s colouring, yet the style was much too revealing, being both low cut and short. Emma eyed Harriet’ s stunning physique with a mixture of awe and alarm. If her friend were to move with any kind of exuberance her body looked in danger of escaping the confines of the miniscule dress. It had not though, entirely escaped Emma’s notice that her friend’s breasts seemed unnaturally static, the feature had reminded Emma of her Barbie doll on more than one occasion. Emma wondered if she should warn Harriet that the chosen dress, though awesome, might be a little over the top for a country 21st Birthday bash.
Emma kept her own counsel, and the girls made for the shoe department. Here Emma selected superbly soft ballet pumps, which she felt confident would be supremely comfortable for a long night on her feet. She also liked that she would be nearer normal height for dancing, Emma was aware that she was rather on the tall side. A fact that was an advantage in the most part, yet towering over ones dance partner may not be such a good idea. Emma envied Harriet’s choice of very high Louboutin pumps for a moment, until her practical nature deemed that the shoes would be excruciatingly uncomfortable to wear. Although Harriet, of petite stature and consequently used to wearing high heels, denied the surmise entirely.
With the major tasks accomplished the girls allowed themselves a break for lunch. The light repast gave the pair a few minutes to review their shopping strategy for the rest of the day, and to rest aching calves and sore feet (Harriet) and allow for major people watching (Emma). Emma apprehended, as she sat in the middle of Selfridges sipping a glass of champagne and nibbling an array of Hors d’oeuvres, that she was hopelessly unstylish. All the girls and women who frequented the department store looked way more sophisticated than did she. Even Harriet, Emma understood with a squirm of embarrassment, was dressed much more appropriately; or at least in the fashion of the times.
Emma had chosen to wear a calf length skirt with comfy loafers, and a blouse with a frill at the neck that she had used to rather like. A Barbour coat that served perfectly well at home finished her attire. Emma’s confidence wobbled alarmingly and she wondered that Harriet had allowed her to look so embarrassingly frumpy. Her friend looked much more the thing in skinny jeans, high bootees and a leather biker jacket. Emma resolved to buy a few fashion magazines, and to resurrect project makeover; she was in desperate need of a new look. Emma mentally tore up the list that she had written when she had commenced the wardrobe rehabilitation program. She needed to start again!
The girls spent the remainder of the day trawling the various departments of the vast store. Harriet bought several new items that were, in her opinion, essential. Emma started to feel depressed by her own lack of decisiveness. She could not imagine that she would be able to wear the clothes that she rather liked the look of anywhere other than in London. Perhaps it was her life that needed a makeover not just the wardrobe. But in her heart Emma knew that a new life was not possible. She was needed at home to care for her father. Yet it had only taken half an hour on the train, plus another fifteen or so in a taxi to get to the center of the metropolis. Perhaps Emma should get a job and commute each day?
Emma wondered what it would be like to work, particularly in a big place like London. She was used to being a person of note in Highbury. Everyone knew of Mr. Woodhouse and his daughter Emma. She was of first importance in the small town, and even within the county the Woodhouses were one of the foremost families, living as they did in Hartfield house. Emma didn’t think that she would like to be a small fish in a big pond, yet her life was so parochial. She felt like an anachronism in her own lifetime.
Harriet meanwhile prattled happily and indulged her fancy for fashion, jewelry and makeup without noticing Emma’s preoccupation. For her part Emma didn’t once think of unburdening her thoughts to Harriet, she had no notion of her understanding how Emma felt. It would be to her great friend Anne Weston that Emma would confide her fears, and possibly to George Knightley. He would always listen to Emma’s thoughts and dreams even if he didn’t always agree with her flights of fancy.
Emma was glad to get home at the end of the day. She had tired of the hustle and bustle of London for one day at least. Her father was overjoyed to see her home safely, which made Emma feel really disloyal for her thoughts of leaving him each day. She spent the early part of the evening sitting at her father’s feet on a little footstool that she had used to use as a small child. She stroked his hand, and reminisced of happy times a little with him until his anxieties receded. He had had all sort of dire imaginings that Emma had been involved in an accident he told her. Emma soothed her father with words and actions, making him comfortable, bringing in his tea and helping him with his new jigsaw puzzle. She was almost hoping that George Knightley would not call by this evening when she finally managed to turn the conversation away from the perils of London.
She need not have worried that Mr. Knightley’s arrival would herald an reopening of her father’s worries. George arrived armed with some news to distract them both.
‘Who did they think had arrived in Highbury this very afternoon?’ Mr. Woodhouse’ and Emma’s guesses proved to be wide of the mark as the person they were expecting to see, one Frank Churchill, was not the object of the conundrum.
‘Why Jane Fairfax has come to visit her aunt and her grandmother’ George Knightley revealed, pleased to have kept them in suspense for some time. ‘Her aunt tells me that it is to be a visit of some duration. Jane has elected to stay with them for the whole summer while the Campbells visit with their daughter’s new family in Ireland. Jane’s great friend, Colonel Campbell’s daughter is newly married you know, to a Mr. Dixon.’
Emma felt not wholly sure that Jane’s visit was welcome (she had been rather relieved when the previous plan had been scuppered). Emma had been compared to Jane Fairfax as a youngster, often with unfavourable results. Jane appeared to be a paragon of virtues. She had gained the best grades and been top of almost every subject at school, and then had gained a place at Cambridge University. She had elected instead, however, to train to teach in the comparative backwater of Weymouth. Jane was musical and played the piano and sang perfectly. She, according to her aunt Miss Bates, could also draw and paint, and produce exquisite needlework. Jane had learnt to cook, and could be a professional chef if she had chosen.
George Knightley caught Emma’s pensive expression.
‘Jane will be good company for you Emma. She is clever and well educated, and she has travelled a little. I’m sure that you will find her interesting and stimulating company.’ George wisely did not allude to Harriet’s lack of good sense, although he was still of the opinion that she was not a desirable friend for Emma, not that he had anything against the girl per se, more that he imagined that Emma would benefit from a more equal intellectual relationship. George continued in his belief that Harriet was dim.


Emma – Chapter 12

Chapter 12

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.

Emma – Chapter 11

Chapter 11

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.

Emma – Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Emma was awoken by a slant of strong sunshine creeping into her room. She sprang out of bed, and threw open the curtains, to be greeted by a fairy tale world of pristine whiteness. The snow had covered everything in a thick layer. Emma could already hear cries of excitement, and the muffled sound of running feet from the other end of the house. The children would be so excited by Santa’s nighttime visit, and by the snowfall.
Emma pulled on three tee shirts, and a thick sweater, a pair of exercise leggings, some track pants, and her old Ugg boots. She could change later. For now Emma was bent on a building a snowman before breakfast, and she would be sure to have a stockpile of snowballs at the ready for John Knightley and the boys. She could still show them a thing or two in the snowball throwing stakes.
Emma stood poised on the doorstep, and held her breath as she admired the perfect unbroken snow. She stepped out very carefully placing her foot to make a clear print. She walked across the snow-covered gravel and looked back at her footprints. It was like she was the only person awake in the world. Emma’s reverie was broken by the smack of a snowball catching her on her right shoulder. She turned with a gasp of surprise to see George Knightley laughing at her. She stooped to collect a handful of snow to retaliate, her eyes danced with the anticipation of a good match. Her snowball struck him a glancing blow on the arm as he dodged deftly to one side, but she hit him square on with her next volley. George stooped for reinforcements, and caught her a grazing glance as she ran towards him with a handful of snow destined for the back of his neck. George grabbed Emma and held her tight as she wriggled and shrieked with laughing protests. Emma and George fell onto the snow covered lawn still grappling with each other, and laughing hysterically, as they each tried to stuff snow down the other’s neck.
John Knightley and his two sons burst from the house with cries of excitement, and soon joined in the fun hurling snowballs at one another, and running around like crazy things. Emma finally extricated herself from George Knightley’s grip, and set about brushing snow off her soaked clothing. Her skin glowed with health, and her eyes danced. She had forgotten how enjoyable the snow could be, and George Knightley. He had always used to be playful and spirited, it was nice to see his youthful side again. He could be so pompous berating and correcting her, yet underneath his mature 36 year-old persona, he could still be fun.
Emma started the boys off to build a snowman, and reluctantly headed indoors to change out of her wet clothes. Her father fussed over her; sure that she would catch cold or worse. Emma promised to change into dry things immediately, and took Mr. Woodhouse’s advice of a nice hot shower. She reappeared downstairs newly dressed in a thick roll-neck sweater and casual pants, and having reassured her father of her perfect health, addressed it to a very good breakfast.
The rest of the day went according to plan, and, concentrated as it was on the children’s enjoyment, it required only a modicum of effort to enjoy a happy occasion. The children were beyond excited about Santa’s nighttime visit, the snow, and by the abundance of other presents they received, dished out by Uncle George from under the tree. Emma had wisely chosen to seat the children at a separate table next to that of the adults, and to serve them with Christmas fare to suit their pallets. The result was a twofold success, the children could enjoy their meal without too many remonstrations about table manners, and the adults likewise enjoyed eating without the distraction of urging the children to eat their greens.
George Knightley, obligingly, took the older children out for a walk, and for a snowball fight to kelp them out of the way. Meanwhile Mr. Woodhouse, John and Isabella dozed a little after the unaccustomed huge lunch, and the Queen’s speech on TV. Emma stacked the dishwasher, and put everything ready for tea. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without mince pies and Christmas cake.
Emma then wandered over to the French window to watch George and the children at play. He looked up and caught sight of her at the window, and waved at her to come and join them. Emma gesticulated her unsuitable attire and declined the invitation with a pantomime curtsey. George laughed and renewed his assault on the Knightley children who were all fighting against him. Henry and John, she could see, had organised the girls into supplying snowballs for them to hurl at their uncle. It seemed a fairly even match to Aunt Emma’s eye.
Emma retreated to the fireside, and curled up on the sofa with her pile of presents to reexamine at her leisure. She detected Anne Weston’s hand in the sweater she had from her father, which matched exactly with the scarf and gloves that she had from her and Mr. Weston. John, Isabella and children’s offer was perfect; a new Smythson diary in a sophisticated berry colour. Emma carefully wrote her name on the front page, in her best writing, with her fountain pen, and then spent ages wafting the diary in front of the fire to be sure that the ink was dry. Sort of silly, but handwriting looked so nice in proper pen, Emma justified her peccadillo.
George Knightley had presented a Kindle e-reader, which Emma now examined with mixed feelings. She so liked a proper book, yet she was devoted to her iPad. Emma acknowledged, with a wry smile, that the gift was a not so subtle reminder of her good intentions to read more. She really must try, if only to appease George Knightley, although, of course, it would also improve her mind. Harriet had sent a cute little manicure set with 3 colours of nail polish, all rather adventurous shades for Emma, but a kind thought, never the less, from her new little friend. Emma must make a visit to Goddard’s to see if she were recovered from her cold.
Emma looked up with a smile as the door banged shut behind George and the children. She leaped to her feet and shepherded the children straight upstairs to get bathed and changed, they were all soaking wet. It seemed advisable to preempt their mother and grandfather’s worries on the count of pneumonia. She shook her head in wordless admonition in George Knightley’s direction, and gesticulated him over to the fire to dry out.
‘Yes Mam’ he mouthed in response, with a grin. He made his way as directed, and was glad of the heat from the blazing log fire, his fingers tingled as the blood circulated to his chilled hands. By the time Emma returned to the hearth, and announced that tea was ready, George had dozed off by the heat of the fire. The rest of the adults were talking together quietly, whilst Isabella helped Henry make a start to his Christmas jigsaw puzzle, a joint present from his daughters, who spent much time deliberating on the perfect puzzle for him prior to each Christmas.
After the children were put to bed, a prolonged activity followed by almost instant sleep, the adults once again sat down to eat. Very practically Emma had prepared a light repast of smoked salmon accompanied by a glass of champagne. Isabella, already sad to be departing, albeit not for another few days, reminisced on family gatherings, and wondered aloud when next they would all be together.
‘Why for Emma’s 21st I should expect’ George Knightley professed. It is less than three months away.’
‘Oh of course’ Isabella beamed, ‘I had forgotten. You will have a party for Emma won’t you Papa?’
‘Yes of course. Emma must have a special party’ he acceded immediately, ‘but it will be so much work for poor Emma, and now poor Miss Taylor is no longer with us…’
‘I expect that Mrs. Weston will be more than happy to help Emma to plan a birthday party’ John interceded unexpectedly. ‘You should have it at the Crown, much less work involved. The new people there are making a lot of changes didn’t you say George?’ he appealed to his brother for confirmation and support.
‘Indeed they are’ George Knightley nodded thoughtfully, ‘there was talk of doing up the old coach house and stables into a new function room. It could be a good idea, if Emma would like it, and Henry approves?’ he sought confirmation with a quizzical glance for Emma and her father.
‘If Emma likes the idea…’ Henry Woodhouse answered querulously, ‘and if the place is suitable, and if it’s ready in time for March, which is not far away you know…’
‘Of course Papa, we will find out what are the plans, and only consider it as an option if the place would be totally suitable, otherwise there is no reason not to have a family party here at Hartfield’ Emma soothed her father’s worries. She knew all to well that he found sudden ideas very disconcerting. George Knightley smiled at Emma’s composure, and consideration for her father’s feelings. Privately he thought that a party at the pub would be so much more fun for Emma. There would be space there to have a disco, and for the young people to dance. Maybe even for live music. Come to that it would be possible, though not so convenient for most, to host a party for Emma at Donwell Abbey. The old ballroom hadn’t been used in years, but it would not require much work to make it suitable.
Emma was left to dream about a proper birthday party, as conversation drifted off to plans for the morrow. John was to join his brother at Donwell for a spot of game shooting, and the sisters were to be joined by Anne Weston as her husband was also to be of the shooting party. Emma’s eyes rested on George, grateful that he had raised the subject. Emma had wondered about having a party, but had held no great hopes of anything outside of the immediate family. A party at the Crown brought with it hopes of inviting a much wider circle of friends and neighbours. George looked up, feeling her gaze on him, a conspiratorial grin flashed across his features for an instant, rendering him boyishly good looking. Emma wondered that she had never noticed it before.

Emma – Chapter 9

Chapter 9

After a full on day, attending to the needs of her nephews and nieces, Emma was glad of the dinner party at Randalls, planned for the evening. A walk to Donwell, and a day spent in company with his brother, inspecting the estate on which they had both been raised, had improved John Knightley’s frame of mind. Isabella had enjoyed the day swapping news, and imaginary symptoms of impending aliments, with her father.
Miss Bates and her mother had arrived in good time to relieve Emma of her child-minding duties, in time to prepare for the evening out, and, for once in her adult life, Emma was very pleased to see them. The children were exhausting however much one loved them. Emma was confirmed in her decision never to marry, and to have children of her own. Giving them back to the parents at the end of the day was infinitely more preferable.
Emma sped upstairs with Vera Bates’s voice still ringing in her ears. The older woman scolded the children good-humouredly, and worried her father about the possibility of snow during the evening. That was all Emma needed, her father, disinclined to leave his hearth at the best of times, would likely be very fretful about venturing forth into a snowstorm.
By the time Emma returned downstairs, dressed for the evening in a very becoming red silk dress that she had not previously worn (despite it residing in her closet for over a year), with high heeled, strappy sandals, John Knightley had added his voice to the dire prognostications on the weather. He gave one look at Emma’s lightly clad form and burst out with another recrimination against their neighbour whose only sin had been to invite them to dine.
‘We will all catch our death of cold’ he warned direly.
‘I do have a warm coat John, and the Weston’s have central heating at Randalls’ Emma responded, exasperated to have the renewed task of placating her father, who was now seriously rattled by the idea of venturing out. Isabella, torn between the pleasant expectation of the visit, and the worry of leaving her children, possibly to be snowbound, vacillated between semi-hysterical worry and pragmatic felicity. Emma closed her eyes and wished desperately that George Knightley had been with them, but he was to join them at Randalls direct from Donwell. Emma summoned her patience, and ushered the children off to bed with pleas for Vera Bates to go up and supervise their bedtime preparations. With one Cassandra removed, Emma managed to persuade John Knightley that the road between Hartfield and Randalls was already gritted, and if any foul weather should descend whilst they were out, it was but five minutes drive to get home,
‘And, I daresay, your brother will be in his Land Rover, as I can never persuade him to use a respectable vehicle, and he will be able to tow us if the worst came to the worst’ Emma smiled beatifically through gritted teeth wishing her brother-in-law far from her immediate vicinity.
A glance at her watch informed that they were already late. Emma dispatched a text message to Anne Weston and hustled everyone else out to the car. It had been decided to travel in John’s vehicle, as it was a newer model than Mr. Woodhouse’s old Bentley, better suited to bad weather conditions. John drove, and Mr. Woodhouse sat next to him in the front, with the sisters behind. As Emma had foretold, the journey took only five minutes and the roads were perfectly clear, and bore signs of earlier gritting as attested by Miss Bates.
Randalls looked perfect, Emma thought as they alighted outside, and were greeted immediately by the host and hostess, standing by the front door. The outside light shed a glow across the gravel sweep, and lit the three stone steps up to the entrance. A huge Christmas tree stood in the hall, its lights twinkling a welcome. Isabella and Anne Weston greeted each other with tears of affection, and Geoff Weston welcomed his guests with his normal bonhomie.
Emma caught sight of George Knightley standing by the fire in the drawing room. She met his smile of greeting with a roll of her eyes heavenward. His eyebrow tweaked questioningly, and she mouthed SNOW in response. Emma grinned as she detected his wry smile of understanding. George was engaged in talking to another, she noticed, it must be Philip Elton, Emma supposed, as the other guests had cried off. Harriet as she was still full of a cold, and Frank Churchill for reasons best known to himself.
It would be interesting to see more of Philip Elton, Emma considered, she would see if he was a suitable candidate for Harriet. With this thought in mind, she greeted him warmly, and bent her considerable charm to getting to know him better. It was true what people said about him, Emma reflected, he was very good looking at close quarters. He was tall, though not as tall as the Knightley brothers, and of slim, though muscular build, as though he worked out regularly. His hair was thick and dark, and his face tanned as if he had recently been away on holiday somewhere hot. His features were regular, and just the right size for his face, his eyes dark and thickly lashed, and his mouth full lipped but firm. He could be an actor, Emma believed, inwardly congratulating her choice of him and Harriet; they would make a gorgeous couple she decided smugly.
Emma continued her animated conversation with Philip Elton throughout the dinner, once she found herself to be seated next to him. She chose to ignore the pointed glances John Knightley cast in her direction, and managed to stay out of the general conversation which vacillated between farming, and the countryside in general, the workings of the rural district council (tedious), and the weather, that is until the later topic could be ignored no longer. It had definitely started to snow. Emma’s concern for her father’s apparent distress served to terminate her tête-à-tête with Mr. Elton, with whom she had enjoyed an entertaining conversation.
Emma glanced around for George Knightley’s calming presence as the voices of alarm gained traction. John Knightley’s repetitions of his earlier dire warnings did nothing to sooth Emma’s fears for her father’s nerves. She needed a voice of reason, and George’s was not to be heard. He had disappeared and left her in the lurch. Emma intervened between her sister and father, seeking to sooth his anxieties, and remove Isabella from making them worse. Emma apologised to Anne and Geoff for breaking up the party, as she begged leave to make an early departure. Her father would feel more comfortable at home, she explained, and stuck to her guns against Geoff Weston’s assurances that it was nothing, a mere flurry of snow, which would be all the more enjoyable for the children come Christmas morning.
Although Emma agreed with him there was, in her opinion, nothing to be done, other than departing early, to set her father and Isabella’s fears at rest. Just then George reentered the house, stamping his feet to shake of the snow, he came into the dinning room with a reassuring smile.
‘I’ve been along the road half way to Hartfield, its nothing much, but I’m sure you’ll be wanting to get back home before it settles, he took in Henry’s agitated state, and Isabella’s worried look. Again Emma was conscious of his good sense and calmness, and of the amount of dependence she had on him.
‘Thank you George, yes I was just making our apologies we must make a move.
‘I’ll follow you in the Land Rover in case of mishap’ George Knightley reassured aside to his brother, ‘Did you walk over Elton? I can give you a lift if you like.’ Philip Elton who had no desire to get his designer shoes wet, accepted George Knightley’s offer with alacrity. He also had it in mind to cement his acquaintanceship with George Knightley; he saw him and the Woodhouses as key to being accepted into Highbury society.
Emma cajoled her father out to John’s waiting car (ready warmed up and pulled right up to the door), and tucked a travel rug around him for extra warmth. She and Isabella snuggled up together in the back; both regretting thin dresses and open sandals. Still it had been worth it, Emma thought. It wasn’t often that she got out of the house, and her outfit had been universally admired (except by her brother-in-law, of course).
True to the older Knightley brother’s prediction, they were home safe in less than ten minutes. Miss Bates was surprised to see them home so early, but, with nothing to report, she was anxious to get her mother home. George Knightley obligingly offered them a lift if they didn’t mind travelling in his ancient Land Rover.
‘Oh thank you so much Mr. Knightley that is so kind of you, I was wondering how I would get mother home because we had a lift here with Mr. Perry, so kind as he is to ferry us here and there when really there is no need. We could walk, or at least I could and I’m used to pushing mother’s wheel chair but of course it is rather dark on the little stretch between the town and the gates of Hartfield I worry that I might trip in the dark and then what would mother do?’ George Knightley reassured kindly and loaded the two women into his vehicle, much to Philip Elton’s chagrin as he was moved unceremoniously into the back to make room for old Mrs. Bates. Vera Bates prattled happily for the entire short journey back into Highbury, to their flat above the shop. The children were growing so fast, and the boys were so like their father and their uncle whom she remembered as little boys, and the little girls were so pretty and charming and she did believe that little April looked a lot like her Aunt Emma. Emma was always such a beautiful child and didn’t she look lovely this evening. Miss Bates had rarely seen Emma look so fetching. The red dress suited her and her hair that always looked so beautifully shiny looked so chic up in a chignon Miss Bates could barely recognise her she looked so grown up and sophisticated…
George Knightley grunted in all the right places, assured of there being no necessity to respond. Philip Elton, less au fait with Miss Bates’s non-stop chatter, managed, ill-advisedly, to squeeze in a couple of unctuous words of approbation on Miss Woodhouse’s good looks and charming nature. George Knightley eyed him for a moment in his rear view mirror. What was Elton up to? George had him marked down as a man with different proclivities.

Emma – Chapter 8

Chapter 8

George Knightley was as good as his word. He arrived as usual after dinner, and accessed the house via the French window, being sure to exclaim with pleasure on Emma’s efforts of the day. Truthfully he had no need of subterfuge, for Emma had decorated the Christmas tree in just the way that he always remembered it. The tree had, over the years, become a traditional hotchpotch of decorations old and new. Each year Emma bought (usually from the school fete), or made a dozen or so new ones to replace those that had been broken, or simply disintegrated from old age. The cheerful result gladdened George’s heart. He and she, and their guests could reminisce for ages on the history of a particular bauble, many of them handmade by Emma and Isabella when they were children.
‘Perfect Emma’ George congratulated with a wide grin, ‘would you like me to organise the fairy lights?’ It was a task that he had accomplished for what seemed like forever.
‘Oh yes please. Let me get drinks for you and Papa while you do it, the electrical bits are in the bottom of the box…’ Emma wondered momentarily what she would do if George Knightley were not always around to accomplish little tasks for her, and to humour her father.
‘Thank you’ Emma rewarded with a smile and a small glass of whisky as George completed his task, and sat in his customary place near to Mr. Woodhouse.
‘I expect you are looking forward to seeing Isabella and the children Henry’ George hazarded with no risk of being incorrect.
‘Yes, yes, it will be nice to see them. But so much upheaval, and so much extra work for Emma; she never complains, but she has been busy for weeks with bedrooms, and baking, and decorating. So much fuss over Christmas and a family visit. It is a shame Isabella ever went away…’ George and Emma shared a look over the head of Henry Woodhouse, and took to their customary roles of placating, and cajoling the old man into a better frame of mind.
‘Just think Papa there would be no little Knightleys if Isabella and John had not married, and Brunswick Square is barely an hour away.’
‘That is so indeed, but we were perfectly happy just as we were. Why does everyone have to go away?’ Mr. Woodhouse asked plaintively.
‘It would be less fuss for you if the family were to stay at Donwell next year…’ George introduced the topic with some trepidation.
‘No, no they must be with us, here at Hartfield. Isabella would not like to stay at Donwell’ Henry Woodhouse responded without consideration of the idea.
‘Well them a certain amount of extra effort goes with the territory’ George explained sagely, ‘yet if Emma does not mind it, all is well.’
‘Of course I don’t mind it’ Emma scoffed at the idea, ‘I can barely wait to see the children, and the new baby. You forget I have not yet seen my niece, baby Emma.’
‘Oh you will love baby Emma, she is very cute, just like her aunt used to be’ George Knightley teased. ‘Anyway I must be off, I’ll see you all tomorrow evening for dinner. What time would you like me?’
‘Well we’ll be dining at 8.00, but come earlier so that you see the children before they go to bed.’
‘Thank you, yes I’d like to do that. Good night then Henry, goodnight Emma, you’ve made the house look very pretty and festive, I’m sure your efforts will be appreciated.’ George put his arm around Emma and bent to kiss her on the cheek. She lifted her face to his, a smile of pleasure lighting her face,
‘Thank you for all your help, I don’t know what I’d do without you.’ Emma recognised that it was true, her heart felt full and happy; she was so lucky to have such a good friend. She must try not to squabble with him; it was such a waste of time. George released Emma from his embrace with a strange sensation of déjà vu. He shrugged inwardly and put the feeling down to the magical look of the moonlight shining in through the window, illuminating the festive tree, and bathing Emma in soft light.
‘Goodnight’ Emma breathed softly to George’s retreating back.
The following day brought the much longed for disruption of the family’s arrival. The older children Henry and John were excited, yet their tendency to boisterous behaviour had been tempered by strict instructions from their father, on the journey down. Their grandfather must be treated with respect for his nerves. He was an old man and needed his rest. The younger two, both girls, were good, well behaved children, and would play happily with their aunt’s toys and dolls, and read her story books with relish. Fortunately baby Emma was of a calm disposition, slept a lot, and hardly ever cried.
By the time the London Knightleys arrived at Hartfield, towards the later end of the timescale that John had been reluctantly obliged to provide, Mr. Woodhouse had worked himself up into a state of high anxiety. They had been involved in an accident on the motorway. They were in hospital, or worse… Fortunately this proved not to be the case, and Isabella, John and family appeared in good time for afternoon tea as promised.
By the time George Knightley appeared, Emma and Isabella between them had organised the children’s sleeping arrangements, and managed the preliminary stage of getting four over excited children to bed. They had no hope, however, of achieving the whole until Uncle George had been greeted. George responded in his best avuncular manner, playing with, and teasing the children good-humouredly, at the same time as he manhandled the two boys up towards bed, despite their yells of protest.
‘Do as your aunt says’ he commanded, gently but firmly, ‘into bed, and I’ll read you a story.’ Emma grinned at him as she promised the same service to the girls. Emma and George met again on the landing outside the children’s dormitories, both in the process of tiptoeing quietly away lest they should awake newly sleeping children. Their eyes met conspiratorially as they departed the scene and crept downstairs together.
‘All asleep, at least for now’ George informed his brother John, with an affectionate smile. The brothers were fond of each other, and looked forward to catching up without the constant interruptions that the children brought. Isabella was already ensconced beside her father, with no intention on either side of their companionship being sundered. The two shared a common interest of anxiety, for one another, and for the family. Isabella had inherited her father’s tendency to fret needlessly about the health of each and everyone dear to her. Thankfully the pragmatic nature of her husband provided a perfect counterfoil to her nature. He could never worry enough; she could worry for them both.
John Knightley, the younger brother by two years, was a sensible and intelligent man. He had graduated with honours in law from Cambridge University, and had subsequently worked his way up to a partnership with a well established, respectable law firm in London. He, Isabella, and family lived in what had been the Knightley family townhouse, in Brunswick Square. They had made their home thence since their marriage, almost ten years before. The arrangement to share the family estate thus making perfect sense to both brothers, for George Knightley’s interests were in farming and the countryside, whereas John’s career necessitated being in the city.
Brunswick Square was central to all the amenities important for a young family, and to a mother with tendencies towards anxiety; that is to say they were in close proximity to good schools, to the park, and to a plethora of hospitals. John was within easy walking distance of his chambers, and was able to walk home for lunch if he a mind too. The proximity of his work also allowed him to collect one or other of the children from school should Isabella required it.
George and John were prepared to postpone their business conversations for the morrow, when John had proposed that he walk across to Donwell Abbey for breakfast. The brothers contented themselves with family matters for the here and now. Both bowed to Mr. Woodhouse’s greater need to spend some quality time with his elder daughter, for George often made a trip to town to see his brother and family.
Emma flitted to and fro from the kitchen, to ensure that all was well with the meal that she had planned and supervised, and prepared with the help of Mrs. Wright. The whole menu was of her sister’s favourite things, so Emma had been pleased to see John Knightley helping himself to the children’s fare, and had expectations that earlier George would have partaken of something substantial. Hartfield was not renowned for over catering at the best of times, and with Isabella’s tastes being catered to there would be no expectation for large helpings, or of any meat. Emma hoped that her strategy of preparing several courses would still the Knightley’s hunger pangs.
George took it upon himself to look after pre dinner drinks, and poured the wine, leaving Emma to relax and sit with her sister and father, who would monopolise his older daughter’s attention. Emma soon found that she was often mentioned in the dialogue. Her father was bent on singing her praises for undertaking all the extra work to entertain the Knightleys, and Isabella, keen to approve her sister, at the same time as to mitigate the inconvenience that their visit had caused. Emma smiled inwardly as she listened to them talk, barely aware of her presence at their elbows.
George Knightley patted the sofa invitingly for Emma to sit between the brothers, which she did for a while, although her thoughts were distracted by the food preparations, and she did feel that the brothers would be better without her, as they oft times leant forward to address something to the other across her.
John Knightley was, in Emma’s opinion, not so amiable and patient as his brother. He oft times scowled as he listened to the conversation between his wife and her father. When Isabella was away from her father’s influence she was much less inclined to worry over every minor detail. At Hartfield she was already inclined to talk solely of the children’s health, and of her worries about each of them, who, as far as John was aware, were amongst the healthiest children in the country. But Mr. Woodhouse would have it that the air in London was unhealthy, and that the children were exposed to an unwholesome environment to grow up in. People in London were not like country people, and there were far too many foreigners with their strange customs and weird food.
Once they had sat down and commenced to eat Mr. Woodhouse’s anxieties turned to another subject of some disquiet to him. In direct opposition to the advice of his favourite doctor, Mr. Perry, Isabella and John had taken the children for a summer holiday by the sea at Southend. Emma gritted her teeth as the trajectory of the conversation between her father and Isabella became more heated. Isabella attempted to defend her own Doctor (of whom she was equally enthralled as was her father to his), and her husband’s decision, conscious as she was of his clouded brow, and growing impatience. Emma was not surprised at John’s mounting irritation, for it really was not her father’s business to suggest that it was an error of judgment. Her attempts to head off the topic proved futile, and her eyes met George Knightley’s with a plea for help writ large.
‘John did I mention the new turkey shed when I saw you last? It is a project in which I’m sure you will be most interested. We are building it where the old pig stys were. If you recall, the wall is high there which will protect the house from the look of the new building…’ John’s attention swung reluctantly to his brother’s discourse, and as he listened to George his attention to the others was eclipsed. Emma breathed a sigh of relief, and smiled heartfelt at George Knightley. All she needed to do now was to distract her father from the seaside topic.
A diversion came to her aid in the recollection that the following evening they were all to dine at Randalls. The topic seemed to be a sure fire hit, and she soon had Isabella attention, reminiscing on old times with Miss Taylor, and wondering about the life and home of the new Mrs. Weston. Unfortunately for Emma, this subject was not perfect for John Knightley, who interrupted with a rhetorical surmise that a man who invited others into his home when they had just travelled, and it was winter weather, and da de da must have an uncommon conceit for his own importance.
Of course, this Emma could not allow. Mr. Weston was a great favourite of hers, and Mrs. Weston beyond reproach. She sprang to the defence of her friends at Randalls with the rationale that Isabella would want to see her old governess and friend happily established in her own home.
‘It will be nice to see her, them, at Randalls’ Isabella interceded, ‘but it is a shame to leave the comfort of home when I rarely get to be here…’
‘There, what did I tell you’ John triumphed.
‘Yet I do have a curiosity to see Randalls now Anne has made it her home, John darling’ Isabella placated, ‘and I’m sure once we make the effort it will be worthwhile. I’m assuming that the children will remain here?’
‘Oh yes’ Emma reassured with the detailed plans for childcare arrangements. Her father loyally chipped in with further praise of Emma’s hard work and organisational skills, although his nature was more prone to agree with John Knightley’s point of view. He hated to go anywhere when he could stay at home by his own fire. But Emma had persuaded him of the necessity to go, so that he would not give offence to ‘poor Miss Taylor’.
‘So there you are John dear, all is organised, and I daresay that an evening in grown-up conversation will be stimulating.’
‘I doubt it’ John muttered under his breath, though loud enough for Emma to hear.
‘As I was saying about the turkey shed…’ George Knightley stepped in again, ‘we plan to use biomass fueled boilers which will cut our heating costs by over a third, and further more we will used LED lighting inside, and the roof will be covered in solar PV panels to maximise renewable energy sources…’ George’s patent enthusiasm for his pet project soon wholly captivated John’s attention, and Emma managed to relax for the rest of the meal, which was highly praised by her father and Isabella, and politely so by the brothers.
Emma’s attention strayed to listening to George’s account of the new farm project, and, although she didn’t really understand the technical points that he raised, she liked to hear him talk so animatedly. George was so positive in his outlook, and modern in his thoughts. The elder Knightley brother felt her glance upon him, and looked up to deliver a swift grin, which seemed to say to Emma good job, what a team! Emma grinned back at him, before her sister, who wanted to know who would be the guest at Randalls, once more caught her attention.

Chapter 7

The Christmas holiday was fast approaching, and Emma’s thoughts were taken up by preparations for the early arrival of her sister and family. Mr. Woodhouse was sweetly anxious that everything should be perfect for his elder daughter. Although he had, over time, got used to the idea of her marriage and motherhood and, if he thought about it, he actually liked John Knightley, all thoughts were for Isabella. Would she be comfortable on the journey? Would the children behave, would any of them be sick? Henry Woodhouse fretted over any ailments that could potentially infect the household, and ultimately of course, himself.
Emma’s friend Harriet, who had become somewhat of a fixture at Hartfield, had been banned willy-nilly when she displayed symptoms of cold (which most probably would be flu or even pneumonia), not to return until she was completely cured. Although Emma had remonstrated over her father’s preemptive behaviour, she was quite glad to be able to concentrate her attentions on the arrival of her family. There were rooms to prepare, meals to organise, and obviously all the Christmas decorations, and present buying, and wrapping for all the little Knightleys.
Emma’s nephews and nieces were of great importance to their aunt. She had thought long and hard over each of them, and consulted with her sister regarding new interests, and particular wishes. Isabella, John and family were due to arrive the next day. They would dine at home at Hartfield with George Knightley as their only other guest. (Emma had encountered stiff opposition from her father regarding his inclusion in the party. Mr. Woodhouse was so jealous of his family time with Isabella. Emma had argued that George had invited Isabella’s whole family to Donwell Abbey and had given way, although it had been his ‘turn’, in favour of Henry’s claim). Finally her father had been placated, and George Knightley was to be included in the family party.
The night of Christmas Eve they were all to dine with the Weston’s at Randalls. Emma had treasured expectations of meeting Frank Churchill for the first time. His visit had been scheduled, broken and then rescheduled. Then Emma had received a call from Anne Weston, earlier in the day, to notify Emma that his visit had been postponed yet again, and to commiserate. Emma was upset on her old friend’s behalf, the constant promises and rearrangement of a well over due visit was unsettling for her. Each time the visit was called off Anne must reassure her husband of her indifference to the slight, and bolster his anxieties that the much longed for visit would happen in good time.
Emma was annoyed with Frank Churchill. She was therefor amused to find that she leapt to defend his behaviour that same evening. George Knightley would have it that Frank Churchill could easily have visited before now, had he really a mind to it. His aunt’s ill health was being used as a convenient excuse to skip doing a duty that he owed to his father and new wife. Although Emma largely agreed with this arguement, she sprang to Frank’s defence.
‘Honestly George Knightley I don’t know what it is about poor Frank Churchill that you should so dislike! Since the first moment his name was mentioned in Highbury you have taken to undermining him in such an unfair way’ Emma smiled archly to take the sting from her words, as she knew that George Knightley was generally scrupulously fair, yet in this one instance she believed that he was being inconsistent.
‘I’m surprised that you would defend him Emma, as it is clear to me that your great friend Anne Weston is put out by the endless changes of plan, and her husband even more so, as he takes the blame on himself for his son’s woeful manners.’
‘Anne is not upset for herself, only for Geoff’s disappointment’ Emma conceded, ‘but she told me earlier that she thinks to postpone the visit now is for the best, because of the winter weather, and Christmas season approaching which would necessarily cut his visit short. Should he come in the spring then he will be able to spend more time with his father and Anne, and come to know them properly which would not happen during a flying visit.’
‘But come Spring will there not follow another excuse not to make the visit?’ George waved away an interruption from Emma, ‘you must agree on this Emma, surely it is discourteous to keep the Weston’s on tenterhooks in this way.’
‘He is, as you know, subject to his aunt’s whims. It is different for you. You answer to no one and may come and go as you please. It is not the same for Frank Churchill, he owes his whole livelihood to his uncle and aunt and consequently must be at their beck and call.’
‘Not if he had a mind to it’ George Knightley countered, ‘he is what 23 or 24 year old, a grown man. Shame on him if he is dependent on his relatives!’
‘It is not as though he can just go off and get a job’ Emma objected stoutly, ‘he is to inherit the Enscombe estate, he must be there to learn the management of it.’
‘He has been away from home when it suits him. We hear of his visits to London and recently he has spent months in Weymouth…’
‘That is not fair’ Emma protested, ‘you heard as well as I, that Frank was near Weymouth applying his training for estate management. Geoff Weston told us all that he was staying with a relative, on a sort of work experience placement with one who owns considerable land down in Dorset.’
‘All right I grant you that, but you must admit that his trips to London, and reputation as a bit of a playboy do not stack up with the protestations of filial loyalty…’
‘I think that whatever I say in his defence you will have a counter arguement. You are determined not to like him George Knightley, and I can’t think why you would be so anti someone whom you have never met.’ Emma rolled her eyes and shrugged in a declaration of submission, ‘come lets not argue for we are brother and sister’ she slipped her arm through his and smiled beguilingly as she had used to as a child.
‘Emma, Emma!’ George shook his head and smiled despite himself, ‘you always know how to get around me, and everyone else. One day you will find that you cannot charm and smile your way out of a situation, and then what will you do?’ Emma bit her lower lip and looked almost contrite for a moment. George Knightley covertly watched the expression fleet across her lovely features to be replaced almost immediately by a mischievous sparkle. ‘Come let me help you with the tree. I suppose you want it in the usual place?’
‘Of course’ Emma sounded almost shocked, ‘over by the French window but not so close that you can’t get through’ she dimpled up at him.
‘Right, I bought a heavy drum over with me, its clean but will need a bit of sprucing up. I’ll go and bring it in, and then I’ll get the tree set up for you to decorate. I have a sack of stuff for the kids in the Land Rover as well.’ George grinned delighted to be on good terms with Emma once again. Why he felt obliged to argue endlessly with her he could not figure. He wished that he could stop, it always ate away at him when they had quarreled.
By the time George reappeared with the promised drum in which to place the Christmas tree, Emma had collected wrapping paper, scissors, string and various bits and pieces for decorating the same. Emma watched George manhandle the tree into position and secure it carefully. She noticed how strong and deftly he worked, his muscles clearly rippling beneath his aged denims. Funny she hadn’t really noticed his raw physicality before. She was used to his intelligence and wit being displayed, not his strength. Except for sometimes, she reminded with an inward smile, when he was roughhousing with his nephews who cared for nothing more than being tossed about by their uncle.
‘Oh thank you George’ Emma nodded her appreciation, ‘that’s the perfect place, and the tree is superb, the children will love it!’ Emma’s eyes sparkled as they met George’s, both thinking of the forthcoming excitement of John and Isabella’s children.
‘Can I do anything else to help?’ George enquired.
‘Would you be a dear and fetch down the box of decorations for the tree?’ Emma asked, ‘it’s in my room.’
‘Which is?’ George’s eyebrow twitched questioningly, he knew the downstairs rooms of Hartfield almost as well as he knew Donwell but he only knew the children’s rooms upstairs.
‘Oh’ it seemed odd to Emma that George needed to ask where was her room. He had been such a fixture at Hartfield all her life, ‘Turn right at the top of the stairs, along the landing and last door on the right’ she supplied with a smile, ‘and don’t fall over the box its just inside the door, you can’t miss it.’
‘Yes Mam’ George disappeared obediently. Emma was right he couldn’t miss the box, a large cardboard one, full to the brim with baubles and glitter, rolls of festive paper and streamers. He hesitated in the doorway of Emma’s bedroom feeling slightly voyeuristic. The room was spacious and airy, feminine yet not frilly. The air smelt faintly of Emma, a perfume that teased his senses with its faint waft. What it was he could not say, perfume? Soap? Shampoo? Whatever the ingredients, to him it was the essence of Emma.
George lifted the box easily; it was light yet awkward in shape for Emma to manage alone. George delivered the box to Emma who had already made a start on the old oil drum, which she had covered with red crepe paper and was busy cutting out star shapes to stick around the base.
‘Just one more thing before I go.’
‘Hm?’ Emma asked vaguely.
‘I have a bag of presents to go under the tree. Can I give them to you for safekeeping?’
‘Yes of course’ Emma smiled up at him from her position on the floor. ‘Could you take them up to my room and stash them in my closet? Sorry if I’d have thought you could have been saved a journey.’
‘No matter’ George reappeared baring a sack bulging with presents that attested to how seriously he took his position as favourite uncle. ‘Shall I call by this evening to survey your handiwork?’ George asked with a grin, Emma looked like she had used to as a child surrounded by glue and glitter, paper and scissors, ribbon and baubles.
‘Oh yes please’ Emma beamed.
‘Excellent, see you later then. Have fun’ George recommended with a friendly wave.