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.