"It would not be a bad thing for her to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good."
- Mr. Knightley, 'Emma', pg. 39Chapter One A Proper Object
Posted on 2010-09-08
When young Mr. Frank Churchill arrived in Highbury for his father's wedding, he exceeded even the expectations of the people who had been hearing for the past twenty-one years since he had left how amiable, charming, handsome and well-bred he was. He was all of that and more: he always had a smile and a ready word for everybody, and he had the unique talent of making all he spoke to feel that he thought them the most interesting person in the room while they were with him; he could give compliments that were sincere and stopped well short of meaningless flattery; he could adapt his conversation to suit his listener in short, he was perfect, and nobody who met him could dislike him.
Except for Mr. Knightley. He could not put his finger on it, but there was something which he did not like about the young man to be sure, he had done his duty to his father by coming to his wedding, and his manners could not be faulted for they were friendly while still being perfectly proper, and his dress showed him to be neat and presentable while yet not giving any impression of vanity or foppery, but... but... there was something wrong with him. There had to be.
'What,' Miss Emma Woodhouse demanded of him one morning at Hartfield, 'do you have against Mr. Churchill? I confess, I myself can see no fault in him.' Well, nothing which could provoke such an unwarranted and unfair dislike in Mr. Knightley, who usually judged so well.
If you liked him less, I might like him the more, he thought, and then he was surprised at himself. What did Emma's opinion of the young man matter in the formation of his own judgment? 'He smiles too much,' he muttered finally, well aware of how weak his reply sounded.
Emma raised her eyebrows incredulously, but to his relief let it pass, saying no more about it. He did not think the matter could have borne closer scrutiny in point of fact, he would rather not think about it himself. Churchill was occupying everyone's thoughts far too much as it was.
Emma had been out walking with Mrs. Weston and Mr. Churchill three out of the past six mornings he had called at Hartfield, and Mr. Knightley's dislike of the young man was stronger than ever. Certainly he and Emma had a chaperone in Mrs. Weston and three mornings out of six was not so often as to be untoward, but... but... it was still improper of Churchill to be paying such attentions to Emma!
Such attentions? His rational mind was too fair to admit the point. The young man adhered disgustingly faithfully to all notions of propriety, and he had never been able to fault his behaviour with Emma when he had observed it. Was it then improper for a man to so much as look at Emma or speak a friendly word to her?
Of course it was nobody else should look at or speak to Emma like that. Suddenly he did a double take. Nobody "else"?
He dropped his face in his hands and groaned.
Churchill stayed for a month after his father's wedding, which was surprising to everyone who had heard about his aunt's illness and how capricious it could make her, and how unwilling she usually was to part with her nephew it appeared that he must have insisted to his aunt that he must do his duty in paying a suitably long visit to his father and stepmother on their marriage, and everyone admired him the more for it.
Except for Mr. Knightley. Perhaps he was being unfair, and perhaps he would have held the young man in contempt for not doing his duty if he had made a shorter visit, and yet one whole month was a month too long for him. Much could happen in one month much had already happened in the three weeks he had been here. Mr. Knightley had never seen Emma so taken with any man before: she always had a genuinely happy smile for that man whenever she saw him; she made it a point to spend some time sitting and talking with him at whichever gathering they were both at; she laughingly accepted his compliments when he offered them and responded in kind.
It was dreadful, and the more so for it was not concrete enough for him to speak with her and warn her about regulating her behaviour or remaining on guard against Churchill's intentions.
How he disliked Churchill for being so... perfect. He could now fully understand why Emma had never warmed to Jane Fairfax before imagine trying to be friends with the one person who could do everything better than oneself, including gaining the affection of the person one was in love with.
For he admitted it fully to himself now, that he was in love with Emma, had been in love with her probably for some time without being aware of it himself. And yet what was the use of realising it only now, when it was too late? Had he known his own heart before Churchill had arrived, he could have been trying to woo her and gradually make her love him perhaps they might even have been happily married by now if not for his own obtuseness. He knew that for all their bickering and differences of opinion she was fond of him, and deeply valued his friendship in time, had he tried, might he not have nurtured something more in her?
Too late now all too late. He could not enter the field now when she was enamoured of another. It would not be fair to ruin her happiness like that. Perhaps she would be better off with Churchill. Reluctant as he was to acknowledge it, the man seemed to bring out her good qualities. By being friendly to Miss Bates he had Emma following his example; by being friendly to Jane Fairfax, he had Emma being so too.
No matter how much he didn't want to, he had to face it: the promise of Frank Churchill's smile was a better motivator to Emma than the threat of Mr. Knightley's lectures. His own approach had been all wrong from the beginning; he ought to have known that one day it would make things incredibly difficult with Emma, for how was one to go about winning the heart of the woman whom one had lectured and scolded and treated like a child for so many years?
But no that was not fair. For so many years she had been a child, and a child in need of occasional correction. He could not have known then that one day he would fall in love with her. And now, he was seeing that that man was the one who was influencing her for the better; the one who was slowly but surely filling the place he had once held in her life, and worst of all that new place he now wished he could fill.
Exemplary young man as he was, amiable, charming, handsome and apparently good-hearted in point of fact, the very embodiment of the 'proper object' he had once wished to see Emma in love with Mr. Knightley hated Frank Churchill.
Chapter Two No Doubt of a Return
Posted on 2010-09-12
It was at the dinner party the Westons held at Randalls on Churchill's last night in Highbury that he decided he could not stand it anymore.
The evening had begun well enough, with Emma and himself arriving at almost the same time, bantering about his use of a carriage and whether or not it enhanced his gentility. This was the Emma he knew, the Emma who had been his friend long before Churchill had arrived, the one who was not afraid to tease him, the one who could share a laugh with him. She had not changed; was it possible that she was not so much in love with Churchill as he had at first feared?
He had his answer when as soon as they were inside she went straight over to where Churchill was standing with Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax (who had arrived only the previous week), joining their little circle.
Mrs. Weston came to stand beside him, and followed his gaze to the party of young people who were standing with Miss Bates. 'Does Miss Fairfax not look well tonight, Mr. Knightley?' she asked.
'Hmm? Oh, yes, very well, I suppose.' He saw Emma laugh at something Churchill said to her, and a muscle in his jaw tensed slightly.
'It is sad that such a beautiful and accomplished young woman should be fated to leave her home and seek employment as a governess,' continued Mrs. Weston, watching him carefully.
'Indeed,' he said dutifully, and Mrs. Weston smiled in approval, though he did not see it for his eyes were fixed on the small group at the opposite end of the room. He saw Churchill smile as he said something to Miss Fairfax and she smiled back. 'Someone should marry her,' he said suddenly. Churchill should marry her instead of Emma, and then both Miss Fairfax's and his own problems would be solved.
For some reason Mrs. Weston looked delighted at his answer. 'I think,' she said with a strange emphasis, 'that that is a very good idea.' Then she left his side to go and speak to Emma. He was not sure what their conversation was about, but they seemed often looking at him, and the speculative light in their eyes made him rather uncomfortable. He shifted his gaze over to Miss Fairfax and Mr. Churchill, who were now conversing quietly together.
Some minutes later, when he deemed it safe, he moved his gaze back to Emma, and tried to make sense of the shifting expressions of her face. She seemed genuinely happy to be in that man's company, and was often laughing and smiling at the things he said. And yet he could not fault the behaviour of either. They were not inappropriately focused on just each other; Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax had equal part in their conversation (well, Miss Bates perhaps more than Miss Fairfax), and he was especially glad to see that Emma was befriending the latter despite his generally low mood he could not help smiling in approval.
He shifted his glance from Miss Fairfax back to Emma and found that she was looking at him, with an expression on her face which he could not quite read. It held a mixture of many emotions, most gone before he could identify them: he saw unsettlement, alarm, and something else which he could not quite put a name to before she looked away quickly.
Mr. Churchill followed her gaze and his eyes met Mr. Knightley's shrewdly for a moment before he turned and said something to Emma in a low voice. She shook her head and tried to laugh, but the mirth didn't quite reach her eyes.
Had she noticed him staring at her? Perhaps it had displeased her, or perhaps she was anxious that he found something to disapprove in her behaviour and feared he would lecture her about it. It seemed he did little else, after all.
With an effort he tore his gaze from her, but though he did not see her, his mind was focused on nothing but Emma, and what Churchill could have said to her.
Had he perhaps discerned that Mr. Knightley was in love with Emma, and had he perhaps warned her about it? If Churchill was in love with Emma himself, no doubt he would have easily discerned the feelings of a potential rival. He stifled a sigh; from Emma's response to Churchill's quiet comment, he doubted that she would ever see him as a contender for her feelings.
Dinner proceeded just as miserably. He was seated close enough that he had a good view of Emma where she was sitting in between Mr. Churchill and Miss Fairfax, but far enough that he could not hear more than an occasional word or two of their conversation, which only served to tell him that Emma was enjoying Churchill's company.
After dinner, once the gentlemen had rejoined the ladies, it had been Churchill's idea to have music, a suggestion which had delighted both Miss Fairfax and Emma of course, he would be the one to make Emma happy and which found them all sitting in the drawing room with the pianoforte.
Miss Fairfax performed first, very well, and despite the pang it caused when he knew it to be from Churchill's influence, he was glad when Emma seemed to genuinely appreciate it and urged Miss Fairfax to play another. Previously she might have disliked the possibility of another outshining her, but now she could give credit where it was due.
During the second song however, Miss Fairfax's voice began to show some strain, particularly in the high parts, and he seemed to be the only one who noticed, for most others were clamouring for a third song.
He was about to speak up and relieve the poor girl when Frank Churchill pre-empted him. 'I fear Miss Fairfax is tired,' he said. 'We should allow her to rest this time perhaps we can have the pleasure of hearing Miss Woodhouse now.' This was assented to by all with a good grace, but Mr. Knightley could not help his low mood. Of course that man would come to Miss Fairfax's rescue, and be the one to request the pleasure of listening to Emma's music. He seemed to know how to manipulate everyone in his favour so well that he practically made an art form out of it.
Miss Fairfax gratefully retreated, and Emma smiled and walked over to the piano stool.
For a while he just allowed himself to enjoy her voice, but then he noticed that as she sang the words of the love song for it would be a love song, his luck was just like that she was smiling in the direction of Churchill where he was sitting next to Miss Fairfax.
'But love is such a mystery,
I cannot find it out;
For when I think I'm best resolved,
I then am in most doubt.'
She raised her eyebrows slightly, and her look seemed to hold some significant meaning as she smiled over at him. Mr. Knightley closely observed Churchill and was dismayed to see that he was blushing, smiling back before looking away. So his heart was touched by Emma, and he would offer for her if not before he left Highbury on the morrow, then when he came back and she clearly returned his feelings and would accept him. That is, unless they were already engaged...
The thought was like a blow to the stomach, and it made him feel physically sick. He could not do this he could not keep watching in suspense anymore. He had to speak to Emma and ascertain her feelings and the true extent of her relationship with Churchill, and he would do so first thing tomorrow.
The next morning he walked into Hartfield and was in the passage when he heard voices coming from the drawing room. He immediately recognised them to be Emma and Churchill, and a few seconds were sufficient to tell him they were alone in the room, for he heard no one else. It went against everything he knew to be honourable and gentlemanly, but he stood outside the door, silent, listening. He would save his guilt for later; now he had to know.
'I finally recognise that Miss Fairfax is just the sort of person I could be good friends with,' he heard Emma saying, and for a second he felt relief that their conversation did not appear to be of any consequence, but then he stiffened as he heard her next words. 'I have you to thank for helping me overcome my prejudice against her, and helping me to see that my dislike of her was from jealousy for it was only then that I understood my own feelings.' Mr. Knightley's hands clenched until his knuckles turned white.
Churchill laughed. 'If I must be thanked for that, then allow me to thank you for the same, and for all your reassurance. I just could not help feeling threatened such a close friendship with another man...'
He could see in his mind's eye Emma taking the man's hand and smiling that devastating smile of hers as she reassured him that there had been nothing as far as she knew, anyway between herself and her old friend. But even he could not have imagined her reply and how it would wound him. 'What an idea,' she cried, laughing merrily. 'I'm sure you never had anything to worry about from that quarter,' she said, and he could hear the amusement the incredulity in her voice.
His heart stopped for a moment, and his shoulders slumped. But then he could have laughed at his own stupidity. Of course she would find the idea ludicrous, perhaps even repulsive. After all he was so much older than her, and practically a brother to her; and on top of all that he had never flattered her as a lover ought he had instead lectured her and scolded her, in a way hardly designed to recommend him.
He could listen no longer. He could not bear it. He had to get out. Hardly knowing where he was going, he made his solitary way out of the door, out of the grounds, and then further and further still.
He walked through Highbury, through the village of Donwell, through the fields at its borders, unseeing. If Mr. Knightley was a fool in the morning, as he assured himself at least twenty times he was for having ever entertained a doubt about Emma and Churchill let alone a hope for himself, he did not grow much wiser in the afternoon. All he gained in return for his ridiculously long walk was a more vivid conviction that there never was, never could be anyone like Emma, that he had lost her forever and that there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.
Chapter Three Not a Bad Thing
Posted on 2010-09-16
For the next few days he avoided Hartfield for the most part. He could not bear to be in Emma's company for long, even though he knew it was perverse of him to deprive himself of her company before she had even left with Churchill. He couldn't stop thinking about how soon she would be gone to him forever, lost to Enscombe, and that cast a shade over the prospect of meeting her.
When he did go to Hartfield, he tried to act normally, and although he was rather more subdued and quiet than usual, he didn't think Emma or her father had noticed. Mr. Woodhouse was not in general known for being observant, and Emma seemed too preoccupied with her own thoughts; her spirits seemed low. No doubt she was missing Churchill already and wishing for his return.
He wondered when they would make their engagement public. Weak and cowardly as it was, he didn't think he could remain in Highbury throughout the period where Emma and Churchill would be the wonder of every evening circle and the fodder of the village gossips. He would schedule a visit to John and Isabella in London as soon as Emma announced her engagement, and hopefully nobody would notice the extremely convenient timing.
Frank Churchill had hardly been gone a week before he returned, and soon after his return the news that he was engaged to Jane Fairfax was all over Highbury.
When he first heard the news and had recovered from his astonishment somewhat, Mr. Knightley was torn between overwhelming relief that Emma was not going to marry Churchill and stabbing guilt that he should find so much to rejoice about when she would no doubt be heartbroken.
From what he had heard her say the other day, he knew she would never be able to love him in the way that he wanted the way that he loved her but with Churchill no longer in the picture, perhaps she would remain single, and their friendship could be just as it was. That would be enough for his life to be almost content. And after what he had been through in the past month, "almost content" trumped "alone and in despair".
Which he knew was how Emma would be feeling right now. He could not find words bad enough to describe Churchill's character for leading Emma on, for forming an understanding with her only to break it and engage himself to someone else. He had to go to Hartfield now, with no selfish view no view at all for himself. He must just be with her and give her all the reassurance and comfort in his power. He must simply be there for her, as her friend.
He met her in the shrubbery at Hartfield and she started as she saw him. 'Mr. Knightley,' she said softly, after a moment. 'I did not expect to see you.'
She seemed unable to meet his eyes, and her agitation at having unexpected company when she had probably hoped for a solitary walk to compose herself convinced him that she had been hurt by that abominable scoundrel.
He wished he could do something, anything to relieve her pain. He took her arm within his and pressed it against his heart. 'My dearest Emma, time will heal your wound,' he said earnestly. 'Your own excellent sense, your exertions for your father's sake I know you will not allow yourself' He broke off, sighing in frustration, wishing he could be more articulate. 'He will soon be gone,' he said, after he had collected himself somewhat. 'They will soon be in Yorkshire.'
Emma, who had been looking up at him in the greatest bewilderment for much of this speech, now spoke. 'Mr. Knightley... do you comfort me?' He nodded, still looking down at her anxiously, and he had never been more astonished in his life than when he heard her merry laugh. 'I thought I should be comforting you after all, I know how you felt about Miss Fairfax.'
'You thought I was in love with Jane Fairfax?' Now it was his turn to feel utterly bewildered. 'What on earth could have made you think that?'
Emma looked greatly relieved, and a little embarrassed to have mistakenly assumed such a thing, but she rallied herself enough to give a defensive reply. 'Mrs. Weston told me you sent your carriage around for her to convey her to the Randalls dinner party because you knew she was unwell, Miss Bates told me you sent them a barrel of your best apples knowing them to be her favourite and I know you've always admired her playing...'
Mr. Knightley still thought her conclusion a bizarre one to draw; if she had mistaken his mere good-will and friendliness to be love, then Lord knows how she interpreted his much stronger feelings for herself. 'I can assure you from the bottom of my heart, Emma, that I have never thought of Miss Fairfax in that way.' Cautiously, he decided to get some clearer indication of her own feelings for Mr. Churchill, for now he had no idea what to think. She had seemed to laugh at his supposition that she was hurt by the match, but if that was true, why had she been so agitated and low when he had first found her? 'In turn, may I ask if you have thought of Mr. Churchill like that?'
Emma smiled and shook her head, and he could tell she was being sincere. 'Never. We are good friends, and that is all. He told me very early in our acquaintance of his feelings for someone else, so there was never a chance that I might imagine anything more between us.' She looked up at him thoughtfully for a moment. 'Although I do not believe I would have fallen in love with him even had I not known of his intentions towards another though I must confess I had no idea of the woman in question being Miss Fairfax, until he told me on his last day in Highbury.'
Mr. Knightley had never been so confused in his life. He was so sure that he had heard them practically declare their feelings for one another how could he possibly have misunderstood that? 'He told you?' he repeated, hoping she would make things somewhat clearer.
She nodded, smiling. 'Yes, just before he left to inform his aunt of his intention to propose to Miss Fairfax; but for a while now I have been trying to help him overcome his doubts and pursue his love for I was sure no woman whom he loved could turn him down.'
He knew she was not finished speaking, but he could not help himself. 'Even you?'
Emma rolled her eyes, smiling up at him fondly. 'You will insist on picking out my inconsistencies, won't you, Mr. Knightley? Very well, perhaps I am the sole exception, but the point is moot, because he never has loved me.' She continued with her version of events. 'Anyway, Mr. Churchill was afraid that Jane loved Mr. Dixon.'
'Mr. Dixon, her friend Miss Campbell's fiancι?' Mr. Knightley was elated: for Mr. Churchill to suspect the woman he loved of a secret affair with or at the very least, extremely reprehensible feelings for her closest friend's fiancι exposed in him the faults of a suspicious mind, a clouded judgment and a most unbecoming jealousy. Suddenly he realised he could have been describing himself, and for a moment he felt a mad urge to laugh. Who would have thought that he and Mr. Churchill might have something in common?
'The very one,' Emma replied in answer to his query, 'but looking back I could tell from the way she looked at him, the way she smiled at him, that his feelings were most certainly returned, and that any suspicion he might have had of Mr. Dixon simply because he had been a childhood friend of both Jane and Miss Campbell was unfounded. They were probably more like brother and sister.'
'Oh,' he said dully, the hope which had been building since he had found she did not love Churchill fading once more. It had been beyond foolish to begin to hope that simply because she did not love Churchill, that she might be able to love him. 'I suppose you believe people who have been friends for so long should be like brother and sister.'
She looked up at him with an expression which had something rather wistful about it. 'Not always,' she said finally, not taking her eyes off his. He forgot how to breathe, and his mind had gone completely blank; he could not for the life of him think of what to say. Finally she sighed, looking away. 'Remember John and Isabella fell in love and married.'
'Ah,' he said, regaining his breath again in a sigh. Only John and Isabella. 'Of course.'
'And of course,' Emma continued, sounding as if she were striving to sound cheerful, 'Mr. Dixon and Miss Campbell were also the best of friends before they fell in love. And Mrs. Goddard was telling me of a former pupil of hers, a Miss Smith who is now engaged to a Mr. Martin, the brother of the school friends with whom she has spent many happy summers. So perhaps it is not so uncommon.' She smiled up at him, but her smile looked a little strained. 'I think,' she began, and then she hesitated a moment. Then she continued, looking anywhere but at him. 'I think that marrying a dear friend must be the key to the greatest happiness possible there is something to be said for knowing someone so well, knowing not only their merits but also all their faults'
'and loving them in spite, or maybe even because of them,' he finished softly. While she had been speaking, his heart had begun to hammer in his chest, and a wild, impossible hope was spiralling around his brain. Surely Emma would be too careful of the effects of her speech to muse on such a subject merely rhetorically when in his company he, who fitted the criteria of the ideal mate she was talking about in every particular? Surely she would not speak so unless she wished him to draw his own conclusions from it...
Her courage, forwardness whatever it was gave him the bravery to speak some more himself. 'There is something to be said for that love indeed,' he said, 'the love where a person is only truly open, only truly himself when in the company of the one he loves; where he is equally comfortable with speech or silence when with her; where he lectures and scolds her, but loves all the same perhaps loves even more dearly for that.' His voice shook slightly on the last few words, and he took a deep, shaky breath. This was it there was no way Emma could mistake him. Everything depended on her reaction.
They had stopped walking some time in the middle of their conversation, and were now facing each other. Emma's eyes were on his face, intently, almost desperately searching his expression which he could not guard any longer. Whatever he was feeling must be written all over his face.
After a second she made a curious noise which was somewhere between a laugh and a sob, and then she stepped forward and took his hand. His heart was now threatening to break out of his ribcage, but he forced himself to wait, to not jump to any conclusions, to listen to what she had to say. 'Mr. Knightley,' she breathed, and her voice trembled, 'do you really'
Chapter Four Very Much In Love
Posted on 2010-09-21
Emma hurriedly dropped his hand and they both immediately took a step back from each other as they turned to look at the housemaid who had just walked up to them from around the corner.
The girl fortunately had not seemed to observe anything out of the ordinary. 'Miss Woodhouse, Mr. Churchill has called; he's waiting for you in the drawing room.'
Emma looked just as frustrated as he felt at the interruption, but ever the lady, her words gave no indication of the fact. 'Thank you, Hannah. Tell him I'll be there in a few minutes.'
The girl curtseyed and went back to deliver the message, but any hope that he and Emma could continue from where they had left off was fast fading the fragile moment had been broken and rendered supremely awkward. Emma's face was turning steadily more pink and she seemed unable to meet his eyes. He wished fervently that he could return to where they had been a minute ago, just after he had all but told her his feelings, and her reaction had seemed positive...
Could he take her hand? Perhaps he could take her hand; she had done it first, after all, so surely it would not be improper for him to do so... he just had gather up his courage to reach out and
Emma sighed. 'Perhaps we should go inside,' she said quietly, and then still not looking at him, she began to walk.
No! His window of opportunity was closing, and he had no more time to waste in second-guessing himself. Almost without his conscious thought, his hand shot out to grab her arm, staying her, preventing her from walking away.
She looked up at him then, searching his face, her eyes registering surprise, hope and shining more potently than either, longing. It was enough.
And that was how the man who had previously been debating with himself over whether or not taking her hand would be breaching propriety, without an ounce of hesitation lowered his head to cover her lips with his.
At first he felt Emma freeze as if in surprise, but after a split second he felt her mouth move tentatively against his, and a weight he hadn't realised he'd been carrying fell away as any remaining uncertainty as to her feelings was banished. He reached one hand up to cup her face while the other found her waist, drawing her in to him; and then he gasped into her mouth as he felt one of her hands bury itself in his hair while the other clasped the back of his neck, pulling him closer to her.
And then he could not stop smiling even as he hugged her close and immersed himself thoroughly in the business of making their first kiss one to remember. His Emma. His Emma, whom he had thought lost to Frank Churchill but a day ago; his Emma, who was not only not engaged to that man, but who was not even heartbroken at his engagement to another; his Emma, who was currently situated in his arms, kissing him back with the same trembling eagerness that was his
Emma, who had just placed both hands on his chest and pushed him away.
As fast as it had leapt up before, his heart plummeted. Could he possibly have been mistaken in her feelings for him? Had it been an ill-judged measure to throw caution to the wind and express his regard for her in he blanched such an utterly ungentlemanlike manner?
If he had made a mistake, he knew Emma would never trust, never respect him again, and their friendship would be utterly ruined. Taking a million-to-one chance, had he just gambled away something which, once lost, might never be recovered? Heart in his mouth, he searched her face anxiously for some clue, anything to tell him what she was feeling, and then he realised she was staring at something past his left shoulder, and her blush was deepening by the second.
Following her gaze he turned hurriedly to meet the stunned and rather embarrassed gaze of Frank Churchill.
'I came out to find Miss Woodhouse,' he said automatically, and then he coloured, looking anywhere but at the two whom he had stumbled upon. 'I'm so sorry,' he muttered to the hedge behind them. 'I'll just go and wait in the drawing room, shall I?'
Mr. Knightley nodded in grateful acknowledgement, and Emma, her cheeks now rosy red, managed to say admirably steadily, 'Thank you, Mr. Churchill. We shall only be a few minutes, but we still have some unfinished business here.'
At this Mr. Churchill's lips twitched as if he were trying not to smile, and he looked over at Emma, eyebrows raised. Emma's blush deepened, but she rolled her eyes and waved him away, smiling a little self-consciously.
As soon as his footsteps had faded, Emma, her face still rather pink, began to laugh helplessly, even as she stepped back into his arms and rested her head against his chest. 'I suppose Father will interrupt us next,' she smiled.
He brought his arms around her slowly, and his predominant emotions were joy and overwhelming relief. The enormity of the situation was only just starting to sink in. 'Does this mean we are engaged?' he asked.
Emma raised her head to look up at him, eyebrow raised. 'Mr. Knightley,' she said severely, 'you just kissed me in broad daylight right outside my father's house.' Then, even as the edge of his old panic began to set in, her face split into a broad smile. 'If after that we are not engaged, I warn you, I will have to slap you.'
He could have laughed in relief if he had not been staring at her in wonder. 'In that case,' he said, a little breathless from the expression of her smiling eyes as she looked up at him, 'if you have no objection, we are most definitely engaged.'
'Oh, but I do have an objection,' she said, and had her hand not come up to gently lovingly cradle his face, he might have been worried at her words. 'I imagine,' she continued, 'that it is an objection most engaged couples feel.'
He raised an eyebrow. 'Oh? And what is that, my Emma?'
'Simply this: that I do not wish you to remain my fiancι very long.' And if there had been any ambiguity in her words, it was banished when she reached up to place a soft kiss on his lips.
After some time of delicious silence, a new thought occurred to Mr. Knightley and he looked down at Emma, feeling slightly sheepish. 'I just realised,' he said, 'that I did not even make a declaration as such.' He rubbed the back of his neck a little self-consciously. 'I cannot make speeches, but if you would wish it, I can try, even though we're probably inverting the order of events somewhat.'
Emma laughed and shook her head before hugging him close. 'I appreciate the thought, Mr. Knightley, but there is no need, truly. We understand one another now, and that is all that matters.' Then she looked up at him impishly, a playful eyebrow raised. 'And after all, as such tried and true friends, we don't need words to express our feelings, do we?'
Just for that comment he had to indulge in some wordless communication with her. He was fairly sure she understood the sentiment he was attempting to convey. 'Indeed we do not,' he finally agreed aloud, his voice very low.
Emma smiled, and then she sighed. 'I suppose we should be getting back to the drawing room. Mr. Churchill will be waiting.' However, she made no move to step out of his arms.
Mr. Knightley nodded reluctantly, for a moment also unmoving, but then finally he relinquished his hold on her with a sigh.
'I owe much to Mr. Churchill,' Emma said, as they walked arm-in-arm back to the house. 'He was the one who helped me understand why I was so set against you marrying Jane Fairfax, or anybody, for that matter.'
Mr. Knightley had for the past half hour been trying to readjust his mistaken assumptions with reference to reality, but this defied comprehension. To think that Mr. Churchill, whom he had been hating and envying in almost equal measure for over a month now, was not only not an obstacle to himself and Emma, but was actually the catalyst to their union was astounding. 'Then I owe him my gratitude,' he said, 'for he also helped me albeit unintentionally understand my own feelings.'
Emma's eyes were bright with amusement. 'Oh, of course,' she smiled, 'you had imagined an attachment between myself and Mr. Churchill, hadn't you?'
'You make it sound so preposterous,' he said gruffly, pretending to be annoyed, 'but I assure you I had never believed anything more strongly, and nothing has ever given me more pain.' He might have begun in jest, but he ended seriously.
Emma's smile faded, and she pressed his arm. 'Then, indeed, I am sorry for it. I only wish we could have reached our understanding earlier without all this pain and confusion.'
Mr. Knightley smiled down at her warmly, content in the knowledge that whatever they had been through, their attachment was mutual and sincere. 'Well, we are here now,' he said. 'And for all we know it might have been a whole lot worse.'The End