Posted on 2011-01-05
Jane Fairfax had not been having a good week. Or indeed a good month. In fact, the last time she could remember herself being truly happy had been at the ball at the Crown Inn, the ball she had known Frank had organised especially for her, knowing how much she loved a dance.
Before that he had sent her the pianoforte, and although she would rather have dispensed with it and would have been content with the smaller gifts of letters, pressed flowers and smaller trinkets which he had been in the habit of sending her, at least it had been a sign that he had been thinking of her.
For the past month all that had ceased, and though he had said that it was for safety's sake, as her aunt might happen upon a letter as she almost had that one time, and then their secret would be all over Highbury, she was hurt by it. Her rational mind had agreed with him, but she could not help the stab of jealousy as she saw the true reason behind it. He had been for the past several months despite all her protests, not just for her own sake paying attention to Emma Woodhouse, at first supposedly as a blind to conceal his situation with herself, but now it seemed that he had truly fallen in love with her.
She could not get Frank's words at the Box Hill picnic out of her mind, his cold looks as he had all but told her right there in front of everyone that he regretted his hasty proposal to her. He had spent the rest of the picnic flirting with Miss Woodhouse, who had responded in kind, and Jane knew now that he was lost to her.
She had decided that she would not be a burden to him forever. In fact, she would set him free so that he could marry Miss Woodhouse as he clearly wished to. Accordingly, she had stayed up all night to compose the letter that would break all the ties between them, as well as the one which formed her acceptance of the situation she had hoped she would never have to enter.
Although there was no change in her enthusiasm or rather, lack thereof as regarded entering a position as a governess, she could see no other option before her. She would rather live in a house being despised and tormented by unruly children, treated as little more than a servant by the people of the house and held aloof from the servants themselves than become an object of resentment and hatred with Frank by holding him to his promise and trapping him in an unhappy marriage.
It had not been easy to let him go, but she hoped that she had cried all the tears that it could provoke already.
She walked briskly away from the post office after having delivered the letters which were to seal her fate, and decided to extend her walk past Highbury and into the pretty fields that bordered the woods. She needed to restore her tranquility somewhat if she stood any chance of listening to Aunt Hetty with the patience which she knew she deserved, especially after Miss Woodhouse's hurtful slight to her just the previous day.
She tried not to think of Miss Woodhouse, for she only seemed to raise negative feelings, and in the next moment was assisted in her resolution by almost walking into Mr. Knightley.
'Miss Fairfax,' he said, without so much as a preliminary greeting, 'I was wishing to speak with you, and your aunt said you had gone for a walk.'
'Indeed, I had,' was all she could think of saying. Although she was in no mood to speak to anyone, she let Mr. Knightley walk beside her, because he had never been anything but kind and considerate towards herself and her aunt, and he surely deserved at least a little common courtesy from her in return.
After walking along some moments in silence, uncomfortable on her part, abstracted on his, she decided to assist him to his point. 'You wished to speak with me, sir?'
He started, almost as if he had forgotten she was there, and then he nodded. 'Yes.' After a brief pause, he sighed. 'I was wondering, Miss Fairfax, if you would consent to give me your hand in marriage,' he said flatly.
She was astounded, and not just at the fact that he was asking her to marry him. It was the most hideously unromantic proposal she had ever received well, not that she had ever received any apart from Frank's, but still. She had known Mr. Knightley to be a man of few words, but this was ridiculous.
She tried to think of a way to gently let him down for, naturally to marry him without loving him was impossible and of course, even more importantly, she had only sent her letter off to Frank that morning. Until it reached him and he had time to reply not that she was hoping for him to rush back to Highbury and beg her to reconcile with him she must consider herself as still bound to him.
But then it struck her that Mr. Knightley was not even looking at her, and did not in fact even seem to be listening for a reply. In that moment, it was clear to Jane that he loved her as much as she loved him that is, not at all; and her curiosity was piqued. Mr. Knightley had always seemed to her to be perfectly content with his life as a bachelor, and if he was looking for a wife merely for the purpose of providing himself with an heir then surely he would find many a willing heiress in London his picking her was unaccountable. 'May I ask, sir, why you would wish me to marry you?'
He looked down at her without any sign that he found the question an odd one. 'Emma Miss Woodhouse is going to marry Frank Churchill,' he said finally, and his eyes were filled with raw anguish.
His words were like a sharp slap and she realised two things simultaneously: one, that Mr. Knightley was in love with Miss Woodhouse, and two, that her Frank was as well, and was in fact going to marry her. 'Do you know it for certain?' she managed to choke. 'Have either of them said anything?'
'Not directly, no,' he said, 'but I know it I cannot answer for Mr. Churchill, but Emma would never have behaved with him as she did at Box Hill had they not had an understanding.' His voice caught on the last word and he looked away, clearing his throat hastily.
She took the moment to swipe roughly at her eyes, and when he turned back to her both of them were models of outward composure. 'Do you have an answer for me, Miss Fairfax?' he asked.
Suddenly he sighed, shaking his head. 'I'm sorry it was presumptuous of me to ask when we both know I can never give you the love you deserve. I just thought, well, if Emma is going to marry and also you might prefer it to becoming a governess'
After a moment's hesitation she stopped him by taking his hand. Despite the summer sun which beat down relentlessly over them, both of them had icy fingers. 'You're right, I would,' she said resolutely. She knew Mr. Knightley to be a good, kind man, and while she did not love him and indeed, despite everything loved another still she did like him. And Frank was going to marry Miss Woodhouse. If he thought so little of their promise to each other, if he could so lightly break it and attach himself to another, she would show him that it had meant just as little to her. 'In answer to your question, Mr. Knightley, I would be honoured to be your wife.'
She dropped his hand then, for it was too strange, and they both walked together in silence for some time longer before parting their ways.
Posted on 2011-01-10
As Emma exited the Bates' house, she sighed in relief, grateful that Miss Bates had been so receptive to her remorse and so forgiving of her dreadful error. Where from the time of Mr. Knightley's pointing out just how reprehensible her behaviour had been until this morning she had felt physically sick at the thought of what she had done, at how much she had hurt Miss Bates, at how she had lost Mr. Knightley's respect, now she was beginning to feel a little better.
It seemed her mistake had not been irreparable. Miss Bates seemed to have forgiven her, and if future attentions could make up for past neglect, then Emma was willing to do everything in her power to make amends and repair their friendship. She could only hope that her friendship with Mr. Knightley was similarly restorable. She hoped she would walk into him on the way home, for he was not likely to call at Hartfield when he would no doubt be anxious to avoid her as he had done all those months ago when they had argued about Harriet and Robert Martin.
She was sure that if he could only look into her heart he would see that she truly regretted her cruel words to Miss Bates, and that she was truly eager to make up for them.
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she did not observe Miss Fairfax walking back to the Bates' cottage as she walked away, but if she had, she might have noticed that her face was a mask of grim determination which did not entirely succeed in hiding the despair behind it.
Ordinarily, Mr. Knightley might have avoided Hartfield, unwilling to face Emma again so soon after their albeit rather one-sided argument at Box Hill, but today he just wished to see her and tell her of his engagement. It might encourage the same candour in her, and he would finally know once and for all that she was with Frank Churchill. He knew that she must be in love with Churchill; he knew that Churchill was increasingly beginning to influence her behaviour; he knew he had to hear the news from her mouth. He knew he needed that closure before he could move on with his life.
Accordingly, once he had left Miss Fairfax, he directed his steps towards Hartfield, but the walk was not nearly long enough to have completely calmed his agitation at the thought of facing Emma. He was just entering the grounds through the large back gate, taking a deep breath and steeling himself for the encounter ahead, when he heard her voice call out to him.
'Mr. Knightley,' she said, sounding surprised. She had just entered the grounds from a little side gate. At first he could not tell whether she was glad or sorry to see him, but then she smiled tentatively. 'I did not expect to see you,' she said softly.
He walked up slowly until he was by her side, but could not think of a reply to her statement. She knew him well usually whenever they had had a serious argument he would stay away from Hartfield for a time until they had both had time to cool down and reflect. But today was different; today he could not delay confirming the knowledge of her engagement. 'Have you been somewhere?' he asked instead, trying to open up a new line of conversation, gesturing towards the empty basket she carried.
'I went to visit Miss Bates,' she said, so softly that he only just heard her. She was looking at the ground and her face was starting to colour deeply. A surge of tenderness for her welled up in him as he realised two things simultaneously: one, that she realised and truly repented her error and had gone to make amends, and two, that she was so far from looking for praise for doing it that she was afraid just acknowledging the fact of her visit would sound like boasting.
'Emma...' He could not think; all he knew was that he had to let her know, somehow, that he understood her and honoured her for her genuine repentance. Hardly knowing what he was about, he caught one of her hands in his, and was on the point of bringing it up to his lips when he suddenly let go. Two things were holding him back Frank Churchill, and Jane Fairfax. She was with Frank; therefore it was not right. He was with Jane; therefore it was not right.
He had never thought that becoming engaged to Jane Fairfax could make him feel so trapped, like he had even less control over his own life; he had thought that if Emma were to marry, it would be in his best interests to marry also. Perhaps it would not heal him, but it might numb him, and his conscience would be assisted by a second motive for eradicating his feelings for Emma. And, well, Jane Fairfax was in need of a home, and her hesitation that morning proved to him her disinterestedness. Of course he was aware she did not love him, and he expected no such thing of her, but at least he knew she was not marrying him for Donwell Abbey.
Emma was looking up at him with a curious expression on her face which he could not quite make sense of: astonishment was there, certainly, confusion also, and something else which looked oddly like frustration. He had to say something, quickly, divert her attention. 'I am glad to hear that you went there,' he said finally.
She gave him a somewhat strained smile. 'Thank you,' she said quietly, 'for your words to me yesterday and for always being honest with me.'
His heart beat thick with longing. If only she did not love Frank Churchill! Were it not for that man, surely in time he could have nurtured her friendly regard for him into something more. What a perfect couple they would have made; for while they each had their own flaws, they would complement each other. He guided her when her judgment failed her and she had always been able to brighten his day and bring a smile to his face. The long years of their friendship gave support to her words they would always be honest and open with one another.
And yes, he would be honest and open now (or at least as honest and open as propriety, taking in the current situations of each, would permit). He would tell her of his news, and hope that she would be similarly open with him. 'I am engaged to Jane Fairfax,' he said suddenly.
Emma abruptly stopped walking. 'Engaged?' she repeated, as if she had not understood the meaning of the word. 'Engaged to dance with her? Engaged to send your carriage to transport her somewhere?' She spoke very quickly, her large hazel eyes fixed on his face with a strange intensity.
He frowned slightly. Why on earth would he choose such a word to express something as oblique as what she was suggesting? 'No, engaged to marry her,' he said.
The blood drained out of Emma's face. 'But you can't,' she cried.
Perhaps any other man might have felt hope at this point, but Mr. Knightley knew too well Emma's slightly selfish feeling of entitlement to her friends' affection. Had she not imagined herself the one to make the match of Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston, she would probably have reacted similarly to hearing about their engagement. It was about time she realised that she could not be the centre of everyone's world, even if she was hopelessly, eternally the centre of his. 'Why not?' he demanded. 'Give me one solid reason why I cannot.'
At first her mouth opened and closed without her making a sound, but then she said, 'Little Henry would lose Donwell!'
He smiled, but there was no humour in it. 'I highly doubt little Henry will be supplanted as the heir to Donwell.'
'If you married, you would not visit us so much at Hartfield!' He thought he could actually see tears forming in her eyes, and he was astonished that it would upset her so to experience a mere few weeks of not having his friendship and attention all to herself before she moved away with Churchill.
It caused him a pang to remind her of that fact. 'Oh Emma,' he said softly, 'that will hardly be an issue when you are off to Enscombe.'
Emma's jaw dropped. 'Enscombe? Why on earth would I go there? I could never leave Father, even for a short visit.'
She clearly had no conception that he had alluded to her moving to Enscombe to live. His heart sank as he began to realise the magnitude of the error he had made. 'Then... you are not engaged to Mr. Churchill?'
She laughed, but there was no humour in it. 'No, of course not, and I never will be. I know my behaviour gave that impression, and I do not need you to make me feel it; I am heartily ashamed of the things I said and did yesterday.'
He could hardly believe it. 'So you were never, at any point, in love with him?'
She sighed. 'I will be completely honest with you. There was a time when he first came here that I imagined myself in love with him. I don't think I ever actually was I saw his faults too clearly, and never even considered the idea of leaving Father for him. In fact, for some time I have been wishing him for Harriet.'
He did not trust himself to discuss her plans for Harriet with her; the last time they had, they had not spoken again for two weeks. He was still trying to adjust his mistaken assumptions when she spoke again, sounding as though she were fighting back tears with some difficulty. 'Mr. Knightley, am I to understand then that Mrs. Weston was right, that you really were in love with Jane Fairfax since the time of the Coles' party?'
He did a double take. 'Mrs. Weston thought I loved Miss Fairfax?' He had been afraid that his feelings for Emma would have been only too plain to everyone; could it be that he had not been as obvious as he had feared?
Emma nodded. 'Yes; she told me of her suspicions long ago.' She made a curious noise that was half-laugh, half-sob. 'At least she will be happy to hear of your engagement.' She turned away to swipe roughly at her eyes.
His heart was pounding in his chest. Surely Emma, self-assured, confident, open-hearted Emma, would not be so upset, unless... 'Yet you are not happy to hear of it, Emma,' he said carefully, simultaneously hoping and dreading to hear what she would say. 'Why is that?'
'You are not supposed to marry Jane Fairfax!' she burst out immediately. 'You are not supposed to marry anyone...' Suddenly her eyes widened. 'Anyone except me,' she whispered.
He could not breathe; he could not think; he could not speak. All he could feel was an overwhelming sense that everything he desired had been within his grasp if he had only known it, and through his own actions he had lost something which would never be recovered. He was engaged to Jane Fairfax, who would be forced to become a governess if he did not stick to his word and marry her; he was bound in honour to another woman when Emma, his Emma, had all but told him that she loved him. He staggered back from her; he had to get away. 'I I have something forgive me; I must my regards to your father goodbye.'
Turning abruptly, he hurriedly made his way out of the grounds, not trusting himself to look back. If he had turned, he would have seen Emma watching him leave, unable to stop the tears which flowed down her face without respite.
Posted on 2011-01-16
Emma Woodhouse paced agitatedly back and forth in her room, exhausted in body but unable to sleep, trying for the hundredth time to make sense of the revelations of the morning. Mr. Knightley was engaged to marry Jane Fairfax, and there was nothing she could do about it; and yet she could not bear the thought of the union coming to pass. She could not endure it because she loved Mr. Knightley herself.
Perhaps in a way she always had for as long as she could remember she had looked up to him. He had been 'her' Mr. Knightley, whose approval she had always been eager for as a child, no matter how much she spoke saucy words to the contrary. Then as she had grown older, he had been a friend to whom she could speak without reserve, always there for her, always happy to listen to her woes and concerns, no matter how trivial. Then as she had grown older still, her feelings for him had shifted to something more than friendship, so gradually that she had hardly noticed it happening.
As long as four years ago she could remember seething inside when he spoke in a friendly way to a pretty young woman who had been visiting the Gilberts from London. She could remember thinking at the time that he was her friend, and should pay attention to no one else but her, and that that other woman had no business at all to be looking at her handsome Mr. Knightley like that.
Now she understood, only too late. Only too late for now her worst nightmare was to come true (and she had actually had nightmares about it in the past, although she had attributed them to her solicitude for her nephew Henry and his claims on Donwell Abbey) Mr. Knightley was to marry, was to marry someone who was not her.
Good it was what she deserved. In a way she almost took a savage pleasure in the fact that he was lost to her. What did she think that he could ever love her? That she could ever deserve him? It was a fitting punishment for her she who had never acknowledged half his merits and had instead quarrelled with him time and again because he would not acknowledge her false and insolent estimates of her own; was she to be rewarded with his hand? No, and it was only right that she was not. After all she had done after her cruelty to Miss Bates, her coldness to Miss Fairfax, her flirtation with Frank Churchill, her meddling in Harriet's life she needed such a lesson as this to open her eyes.
It would be a lesson in humility, fortitude and quiet, patient endurance. She would learn it well. She would make up for her outburst to Mr. Knightley yesterday. She would first visit Jane Fairfax and congratulate her genuinely and sincerely on their engagement; and then when Mr. Knightley next called at Hartfield she was tempted to seek him out at Donwell, but she did not wish to make him any more uncomfortable, as his response to her confession yesterday had clearly shown him to be she would apologise for her highly ungracious reception of his news. She would congratulate him, and would try to be happy for him. If he were in love with Jane Fairfax, he should be with her; Emma could not would not hinder him for her own selfish purposes.
She set her chin in determination. She would show him that she had grown, that she could change herself, that she could be a strong person. Despite all her brave resolutions, the tears ran down her face and she swiped at them almost impatiently. Perhaps if she showed him that she could accept his engagement to another, she could gain his respect, even if she knew she could never gain his love.
Mr. Knightley felt himself to be between a rock and a hard place. What on earth was he to do now? If he broke off his engagement to Miss Fairfax, he would be condemning her to a life of drudgery the life which he had promised to save her from. It would be more than just a breach of promise it would be a thorough compromise of the honour he had always upheld in all the doings in his life. Miss Fairfax did not deserve such duplicity and fickleness from him; it would be cruel of him to turn his back on her, especially for another woman. It was impossible to follow this path.
And yet to marry her would mean to forfeit Emma, whom he now knew he had a solid chance with. She had all but told him that she loved him, and he was sure that if their feelings were mutual, they could overcome Mr. Woodhouse's objections and marry eventually and this was the glowing future he had to give up if he remained with Jane Fairfax. It was impossible to give up this dream.
He hated himself for putting himself in this position. If only he had not jumped to conclusions about Emma and Frank Churchill he ought to have given her enough credit to at least approach her first and make sure of her feelings before impulsively attempting to show her he could move on with his life even if she were not in it.
Perhaps if he were truly honest with himself, he had hoped for some jealousy in her reaction to his engagement of course he had never expected that it would force such a confession from her as it had, but still it would have been gratifying in and of itself for her to bemoan no longer being the first and fondest object of his affections, as she had used to do as a child whenever he had given his attention to anyone else but her.
He was sick of this whole situation. Perhaps he would call on Miss Fairfax after he had finished the monthly accounts with William Larkins not to gauge her feelings to see if he could break off their engagement; that would be utterly dishonourable. But perhaps he could... no, it was no use denying it. If he did visit, that would be the purpose and it was fruitless to pretend otherwise. After all, the knowledge of having been perfectly gentlemanly would be but a poor consolation if it meant he were to be divided from Emma forever.
Frank Churchill was sitting in his aunt's sick-room playing the dutiful nephew and reading aloud to her, but his mind was not on the words. He was thinking of Jane and wishing he could go back to Highbury and make amends for their argument. If only that were possible but his aunt had only just let him go there for the strawberry party at Donwell and the picnic at Box Hill, and so was unlikely to regard yet another trip in a positive light.
It unsettled him to have left her on such cold terms, and as was always the case when they argued he wished he had not left her on that note. He had been wrong to provoke her in such a way, he knew that and yet he could not help it. He had needed to get some reaction, any reaction from her he had needed to know that she cared for him, that she was not indifferent to him. She was not as a rule very demonstrative in her affection, and he had to be sure.
It had always rankled with him at the back of his mind that he should be so much her inferior in every particular except that of wealth, and perhaps that was why he clung to that so strongly perhaps that was why he was willing to risk anything for the sake of keeping that wealth. For its own sake he did not unduly desire it indeed that was not to say he minded receiving it or had any ideas of taking a profession, but money had always been to him merely something which someone else would always provide him with something nice to have in one's possession, but not something he gave much thought to. He had never coveted it as such for its own sake.
But it really would be too much if he were no better than her in the respect of wealth as well. And yet she did not understand this in him. She persisted in wishing him to be open with his aunt and uncle, in wishing that he would publicly acknowledge their relationship. She wished him to jeopardise if not altogether give up the one thing which gave their union some equality. He was irritated at her for wishing it, and at himself for feeling so inferior that he was irritated in the first place.
He had never in his life before had reason to compare himself with another and think poorly of his own merits, and it was not something which sat easily with him. If Jane had been a young man, he would have hated her him beyond reason; but as she was a young woman, he loved her beyond reason, and found that her very superiority when compared with himself attracted him to her.
Still, whatever the reasons behind their late disagreement, he felt wretched under its oppression. There was nothing he wanted more than to be on good terms with her again, and if he could not visit, then he would write her a long letter, offering an apology, deprecating himself and reaffirming his love for her.
Having formed the resolution, he immediately felt a little more cheerful. His was a nature which was never disposed to be unhappy, and although of late he had felt oppressed by more than one circumstance, even the mere thought of action for the better managed to lift his mood.
As he continued to read to his aunt, he was secretly forming the phrases which would make up his letter in his mind. He could not suppress the small smile which played around his lips at the thought of all soon being well between them once more.
Posted on 2011-01-22
When she heard the knock on the front door downstairs, Jane's heart sank. She had been hoping that Mr. Knightley would not feel the necessity of meeting daily as most engaged couples did. When they had been simply friends, she probably would have been glad to receive him and converse with him, but their situation with one another seemed to have tied their tongues yesterday, and she did not relish an awkward half hour trying to think of something to say to him. Well, at least Aunt Hetty had gone out to visit Mrs. Cole; that would make Mr. Knightley's call a great deal shorter.
She sighed and sat waiting to receive him, and when the servant came up to tell her that it was Miss Woodhouse calling to see her, she was so surprised she had not the presence of mind to think up an excuse. 'Send her in, Patty,' she said, before she could think twice about it.
She had only a few moments in which to compose herself. Her aunt had told her of Miss Woodhouse's call yesterday morning, and of her kindness during that visit, and Jane had been pleasantly surprised that the other young woman had felt remorse for her words and had tried to make amends. As such, she was determined to receive her civilly, and as warmly as she could, even if she knew Miss Woodhouse to be Frank's new love. It was not Miss Woodhouse's fault; she could not have known that Frank had previously pledged himself to Jane, and if he had not told her of it, then she would not make it known and ruin their happiness.
Yes! Despite everything, she wished Frank to be happy, and if that happiness were only to be found with another, then so be it. She would let him go and resign herself to a sedate, comfortable life with Mr. Knightley.
When Miss Woodhouse was shown in, looking pale, tired and uncertain, Jane's heart went out to her. If she had had any doubt of the other young woman's sincerity in calling on Aunt Hetty yesterday, it was banished. She clearly wished to make amends. Jane tried to receive her as kindly as possible. 'It's a pleasure to see you, Miss Woodhouse,' she said. 'I'm afraid my aunt is out visiting Mrs. Cole, but if you'd like to sit and wait for her, I'm sure she'll be back soon.'
Miss Woodhouse sat with quiet thanks, but then to Jane's surprise, she said, 'I was actually wishing to speak with you, Miss Fairfax.'
Jane looked at her, unable to disguise her bemusement. Although everyone had always assumed that because they were of the same age, they would be the best of friends, it had never happened, and she had always felt that Miss Woodhouse had rather avoided her society than not. She could not think of anything the other young woman would wish to discuss with her. 'Of course,' was all she said aloud, however.
Miss Woodhouse sighed, and then tried to smile. 'I simply wanted to wish you joy on your engagement,' she said, and for a moment Jane panicked, wondering frantically how she had found out about Frank. 'Mr. Knightley told me of it yesterday,' she added softly.
Mr. Knightley. Of course. That was right she was not engaged to Frank anymore; she had to learn to live with that knowledge. 'Thank you,' she said, not knowing what else to say.
Suddenly Miss Woodhouse took her hand, seemingly unaware of how tightly she was gripping it. 'Miss Fairfax,' she said quickly, 'I hope you do not think I am taking a great liberty, but I just wanted to say to request' She stopped, swallowing. 'Take care of Mr. Knightley make him happy. He deserves that he deserves all the happiness in the world.' She tried to smile again, but this time her eyes were full of tears. 'I wish you both are very happy together,' she whispered, her voice choking on the last words.
Before an astonished Jane could so much as open her mouth to form a reply, Miss Woodhouse had stood abruptly and left. She sat silently in a fixed attitude for a few minutes, and a few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted both with the workings of the other girl's heart and with the decision that she Jane must make.
It was obvious that Miss Woodhouse loved Mr. Knightley, just as dearly, just as hopelessly as he loved Miss Woodhouse. He had been entirely mistaken in thinking Miss Woodhouse had a regard for Frank, and his assumption had almost cost him the happiness of both. Jane thanked her stars that the mistake had not continued further. She would set him free just as soon as she saw him next she would not stand in their way.
Frank would be heartbroken to lose Miss Woodhouse, undoubtedly but for her to carry through with marrying Mr. Knightley would leave two others heartbroken, and there was no guarantee that her marrying Mr. Knightley would enable Frank to marry Miss Woodhouse, as she clearly did not love him. Just as certainly, there was no guarantee that Miss Woodhouse becoming engaged to Mr. Knightley would lead Frank back to her she was well aware of that, and her decision was not influenced by that in the least.
No, she had the post as governess for Mrs. Smallridge's children to look forward to, and she hoped that the knowledge of having made two people deeply in love very happy would be her solace in the grim future that lay ahead of her.
Frank Churchill's teeth were rattling in his head, his fingers were almost numb from gripping the reins so tightly, his behind was sore from bumping against the saddle, but still he spurred his horse on to go faster.
If he were too late if she had left already... well, then he would follow her to her post at Mrs. Elton's snob of a friend's house. He would follow her to the ends of the earth to prove to her that his love for her was sincere. If she saw how empty his life was without her, if she saw how much he regretted his unpardonable behaviour...
Her letter was burning a hole in his pocket, and each word was etched in his memory, causing him a pang. He wished she had cursed him, raged at him, filled it with contemptuous words and only-too-true accusations; her tone of quiet disappointment and the sincerity with which she wished him happy in his future life were worse than anything.
He knew he was to blame for everything for coercing her into secrecy, for not standing up to his aunt, for flirting with Miss Woodhouse to fool those around them, for resenting her discretion in his heart as coldness and indifference, for needling her to get a reaction any reaction from her...
Well, he had got his reaction. She wanted nothing more to do with him. Jane, his dearest, most beloved Jane, had broken their engagement because she felt he was too much of a coward for not daring to tell his aunt the truth about their relationship. She had not said it in those exact words, she had only said something about 'setting him free so that he could be with someone whom he would not scruple to approach his aunt with', but her meaning was clear.
Upon receiving her letter that morning, he had paced his rooms in some agitation for a few minutes, and a few minutes were sufficient for making him acquainted with his own heart. His aunt's fortune, the estate of Enscombe were nothing to him if he did not have Jane to share them with. The former would be a poor consolation indeed if he had to sacrifice the latter to obtain them.
As his horse's hooves ate up the ground between Richmond and Highbury, he smiled ruefully at the memory of what had happened next.
He had immediately gone to find his aunt in her sick room where she had taken to lying all day, bemoaning to whoever would listen her cursed fate to be struck down with such a condition.
'Aunt,' he had said without so much as a preliminary nicety, 'I am in love, and I am going to marry the most beautiful, kind, accomplished, wonderful woman in the world if she will still have me; I know that she has hardly a penny to her name, but she is of good family and education and will be the best niece you could ask for.'
His aunt had been too shocked to give him more of a reply than incoherent splutters of rage, and he had been too busy to stop and listen to them. He had left her to it, and had immediately gone to the stables to saddle up his horse.
Despite the uncertainty of Jane's forgiving him, his heart felt curiously light at the thought that the truth was finally out, that he had no need to hide his love from anyone anymore. Without his aunt's fortune and Enscombe, he would be just as penniless as Jane was, but his situation was not desperate. Although his whole life had been idle, he was sure that if he put his mind to it he could enter into a profession of some sort, or he could learn how his father conducted business in London in the hopes of setting up something similar.
He only hoped he could prove to her just how much she meant to him, and that he could persuade her to come back to him. He did not know what he would do if he could not.
Posted on 2011-01-30
Emma rushed into Mrs. Weston's parlour, out of breath, and frantic lest something had happened to her friend or the baby, or perhaps to her own family in London. Very shortly after she had returned to Hartfield following her visit to Miss Fairfax, Mrs. Weston's note had reached her; it had been extremely short and almost illegible, and the servant who had delivered it had spoken as if it were a matter of some urgency. 'Are you well?' she asked quickly. 'Is everything all right?'
Mrs. Weston hurriedly reassured her. 'I am quite well, Emma but I have some news which I fear you will not like.'
Emma sank into a chair, heart pounding. Would she have to hear of Mr. Knightley's engagement again? How did Mrs. Weston know that it would upset her? Did everyone know? Had she been that obvious, even if she had not known it herself?
'Frank is engaged,' Mrs. Weston said, and Emma had barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief for herself and to think with satisfaction of Harriet before she continued, 'to Jane Fairfax.'
Emma's mouth fell open. 'No, that is impossible she cannot be engaged to him!' Jane Fairfax was engaged to Mr. Knightley, not Frank Churchill. Frank Churchill had never looked at Jane Fairfax but to criticise, and Jane Fairfax had never seemed anything more than reservedly civil towards Frank Churchill.
Mrs. Weston looked painfully concerned as she placed a hand over Emma's. 'It is true, Emma they have been engaged for months and months, since October when they were in Weymouth together.' She sighed. 'Mr. Weston and I just found out of it in a very angry letter from Mrs. Churchill who is planning to disinherit him unless he reconsiders, and she advises us not to assist Frank in any way ourselves. Our first thought was for you, my Emma and we were wretched in thinking of how it would affect you. I'm so sorry.'
Emma had been astonished at the news never more so but she came to her senses quick enough to reassure her friend. 'Do not distress yourself,' she said quietly. 'I am not upset I confess there was a time when I imagined myself to be in love with him, but that has long passed, and for many months now I have not thought of him like that.'
The words were almost too good to be true, and yet Mrs. Weston heard with the greatest relief the perfect sincerity in them. This had been her one great fear upon hearing the news, especially as she knew that she and her husband had always encouraged Emma and Frank, and had wished for their union. If Emma could be sanguine about the news, then she could begin to be as well.
However, Emma was not sanguine. This was not due to any disappointment for her own sake but rather because the pending disappointments of two others began to become clear to her. Poor Mr. Knightley would be heartbroken when he found out that Jane Fairfax, whom he had thought engaged to himself, had in fact been engaged all along to Frank Churchill. And poor Harriet, whose hopes had been for some time now directed towards that same Frank Churchill!
But something was not right. For the first time in quite some time, Emma felt Jane Fairfax to be more in the wrong than Frank Churchill. How could she accept Mr. Knightley's proposal when she was already engaged to another? That was unfair both to Mr. Knightley and to Frank Churchill who would she marry in the end, and why had she done such a thing? Why was she toying with the feelings of both men, not realising that quite apart from them she had been the cause of two other disappointed hearts?
But Emma could overlook the fact that it was hurting her, and could even overlook that it would hurt Harriet. That it would hurt Mr. Knightley was her chief concern, and she could not help feeling a fierce stab of anger towards Miss Fairfax for being its cause. How could she cause Mr. Knightley such pain? Did she not see how lucky she was to be the object of his love? How could she show so little regard for it, that she could throw it away like that?
She left Randalls after leaving Mrs. Weston fully reassured that she was not heartbroken over Frank Churchill's engagement. However, she had the awful premonition that she might have to be the one to convey this same news to two of her friends who would not be so unaffected by it as she was.
When Emma returned home, she found Harriet waiting for her, looking rather nervous. Emma quailed at the thought of having to break the news to her now; she had been hoping for some time to herself to reflect on it before she would be obliged to make the revelation. But yet perhaps it would be best to get it over with, so that they could put it behind them as soon as possible.
Taking a deep breath, without so much as a preliminary greeting, Emma said, 'Harriet, I'm afraid I have some bad news.'
Harriet immediately looked concerned. 'Dear Miss Woodhouse, what is the matter? You look wretchedly pale.' She took Emma's arm and helped her to a seat, arranging a cushion behind her. 'Is it your father? Or your family in London? What has happened?'
Emma had never felt more affection towards Harriet than at that moment; and it only made her feel worse that she would have to break such news as would dash Harriet's every hope once again. 'Nothing like that, Harriet,' she gathered herself enough to say hurriedly, 'I am afraid the news concerns you.'
Harriet turned a little pale, but although looking serious she did not manifest any signs of grief. 'You have heard then, Miss Woodhouse?' she asked.
Emma was amazed could Harriet have found out about Frank and Jane somehow? But if so, she was taking it extremely well far better than when she had been told of the whole debacle with Mr. Elton. 'Yes, I have; and I was dismayed for your sake. My first thought was for you, and what you would be thinking.'
Harriet looked grave. 'Miss Woodhouse, I can assure you I was thinking perfectly clearly at the time.' Emma thought she heard something that was almost coldness in her friend's tone and she was astonished and a little hurt. 'There is no need for you to feel dismayed about it for my sake,' continued Harriet, 'for it makes me happier than anything else in the world.'
Emma felt that she was missing something here. Despite all her efforts she had not been able to feel genuine happiness for Mr. Knightley and his engagement to another; so how on earth had Harriet managed it with Frank Churchill? 'Harriet, even a saint could not feel happy under such a prospect, surely it is all very well to be generously wishing them well, but surely it must hurt you terribly to lose all hope of him?'
Harriet looked as if she were developing a headache. 'Miss Woodhouse, what are you talking about?'
Emma was confused beyond measure. 'Why, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax's engagement, of course!'
There was a brief, animated interest in Harriet's face but it was the interest of a seventeen-year-old girl who has heard some exclusive, momentous gossip about prominent members of her acquaintance rather than the interest of one who was personally invested in the news in any way. 'Are they engaged, really? But I never thought of it Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax! How very odd.'
From this little speech Emma could see beyond a doubt that Harriet's heart had not been touched by Frank Churchill, and that she was not in the least upset. She heaved an inward sigh of relief, but then she frowned slightly in confusion. 'Harriet,' she said slowly, 'what did you think I was talking about?'
Harriet suddenly looked rather apprehensive once more, but there was also a certain determined set to her chin, and she met Emma's eyes steadily. 'I thought you must have heard,' she said, 'of my engagement to Mr. Robert Martin.'
Emma was on the point of giving up being astonished at the news each of her friends was coming out with these days; but it had to be admitted, that this was by far the most pleasant tiding she had received in the past two days. Her smile as she congratulated Harriet was genuine. 'I am very surprised,' she admitted, 'but I'm sure the two of you will be very happy together. But this is all rather sudden, is it not?'
'Oh, not at all, Miss Woodhouse,' she said eagerly. 'It really started from that day when we accidentally met at Fords' in the rain...' Harriet's relief at Emma's positive reception of her news made her more than willing to pour out the whole story, and Emma, glad that her friend was so happy one of them should be, at least was equally willing to listen.
She made a good audience, making all the right noises of astonishment and approval when she was given the cue.
'...and it was really when he finally spoke to me of his feelings that I realised what my own were, and indeed had been all along! I had been deluding myself to think I liked Mr. Elton, or Mr.'
Suddenly she stopped, colouring. However, suddenly uncomfortable, Emma quickly made a comment to turn the tide of the conversation. Harriet had not been in love with Frank Churchill, that much was clear which left only one other gentleman in their circle of acquaintance who could fit the description of being so much above her as to be unlikely to ever think of her.
The thought unsettled Emma, even if nothing would come of it since Harriet now loved Robert Martin, and Mr. Knightley loved Jane Fairfax. Perhaps it was jealousy because she loved Mr. Knightley herself; but surely that was unlikely to be the predominant emotion when she had no hope of him anyway. Perhaps it was really the sting of the fresh proof that others had seen and valued Mr. Knightley's merits before she had.
If only she had not been so blind about her own feelings! If she had known earlier, could she not have been kinder and more respectful of his judgment instead of pursuing her own flawed modes of thought? She could have been more polite and civil towards him, could have worked more diligently at the things he had always encouraged her in but which she had always quickly given up out of boredom, could have exerted herself to be kinder to those around her like Miss Bates whom she had previously regarded as simply someone whom it was her rather odious duty to occasionally visit.
In short, she could have been all that she knew Jane Fairfax to be, and then perhaps Mr. Knightley might have fallen in love with her instead.
When her thoughts reached this pitch Emma could not but sigh. Still, she had not come out of this whole ordeal empty-handed. She had had her eyes opened, and she was confident that however inferior in spirit and gaiety the following and every future winter of her life might be to the past, it would yet find her more rational, more acquainted with herself, and leave her less to regret when it was gone.
Posted on 2011-02-06
Miss Woodhouse had not been long gone when another knock sounded at the door of the Bates' cottage. Jane, whose mind had been dwelling not without some trepidation on her future life as a governess for the little Smallridges, was glad to be brought out of her rather unpleasant reverie, even if the distraction would be the reason why her prospects would be so dismal.
She waited for Patty to show Mr. Knightley up to the small sitting room, but it was not Patty whose feet pounded up the narrow staircase; it was not Patty who burst in without being announced; it was not Patty whose presence caused her heart to leap into her throat.
For the record, it was not Mr. Knightley either.
'I came as soon as I got your letter,' Frank panted, leaning with one hand against the mantelpiece to catch his breath.
'Oh,' she managed to say softly, and then her mouth felt too dry for speech.
Her mind was racing as she was trying to come up with a plausible explanation for Frank's presence here. Had he perhaps heard something to make him suspect that Mr. Knightley was intending to propose to Miss Woodhouse, and did he perhaps wish for her advice and reassurance?
Surely not... it was enough that she had stepped out of his way; it would be too cruel of him to expect her to offer him comfort in the matter of his love for another. The only other conclusion her fevered brain could come up with was that he had come to contest her letter, and convince her that she had made a mistake in ending everything between them.
The haste with which he had made his entrance, and his first words to her being about her letter supported this theory, though she could hardly dare believe it.
Frank was still clutching at the stitch in his side, and Jane realised that she had been standing staring dumbly at him for almost a minute without either of them having said anything further. It was hardly a very romantic reunion and suddenly, inexplicably, inappropriately, at the thought she found herself giggling aloud.
He looked rather disgruntled at her amusement, and she smiled apologetically. 'Sorry.' Then she gestured belatedly towards a chair. 'Do sit down,' she said.
He made as if to sit, but then winced involuntarily and hastily straightened after the attempt. 'I think I should remain standing,' he said, grimacing.
Again that mad urge to laugh threatened to overwhelm her.
'A "source of repentance and misery"?' he said finally, looking at her with eyes that were filled with hurt. 'Is that what our engagement was to you?' His words, which had the quality of continuing a conversation which had never really occurred, might not have made sense to many but she knew exactly what he was talking about, for she recognised the words from her letter.
Abruptly her amusement died. 'I felt that it was becoming so for you,' she said quietly, 'and how could that not make me miserable too?'
He shook his head, looking at her earnestly. 'If I was miserable, it was never because of you our engagement was the one bright spot in my life, and it was just the circumstances which seemed designed to thwart and frustrate me which made up the misery.' His eyes became beseeching. 'You have to believe me.'
She felt almost faint with relief and happiness, and was almost ready to throw herself into his arms but then she remembered why she had decided to end everything in the first place. 'What about Miss Woodhouse?' she said.
'What about her? What has she got to do with anything?' he asked impatiently.
'What can you say for your behaviour towards her?'
He reddened slightly, but ran a hand through his hair in frustration. 'Jane, we've been through this before my behaviour towards her didn't mean anything; it was just to distract everyone. Would you rather they had found out about us?'
'Actually, yes,' she said, looking up at him steadily. 'If it could have spared the harm you almost did Miss Woodhouse, then I would rather it had happened that way.'
He stared for a moment. 'What are you talking about? Miss Woodhouse just took my attentions as her due; she doesn't care two straws for me how on earth could I have harmed her?'
Jane was frustrated to see once more in him that inability to look forward to the consequences of his actions any normal person would have assessed the possible risks of accidentally making Miss Woodhouse fall in love with him, or the possibility of unintentionally harming her reputation with Frank those possibilities might as well have not existed. It was like Miss Woodhouse was to Frank simply a tool designed to assist him in deflecting suspicion. He seemed to think of everyone only as they related to himself and his own desires.
'For your information,' she said rather coldly, 'you almost destroyed her best chance of happiness with Mr. Knightley, because he thought she had an understanding with you.'
Frank turned white. For all his self-centredness, and his slight resentment of Miss Woodhouse for her attitude towards Jane, he had never wished to harm her in any way. 'You say "almost",' he said finally.
'Thankfully,' she said somewhat severely, 'I believe it can still be rectified but it might almost have been too late.'
Frank sighed in relief, and then he looked at her hopefully. 'So tell me... is there still a chance for us?'
In all the scenarios she had played out in her mind of how this might happen in the extremely unlikely event that it did happen at all, she had always joyfully acceded to his request to reconcile, but now she found herself hesitating. 'Frank,' she said softly, 'how will it be any different from before?'
His face fell as he realised that she was not convinced, and he looked so forlorn that her heart went out to him. But still she had to say what was in her mind. 'Before it was Miss Woodhouse; next it will be Miss Smith or Miss Cox or Miss Gilbert whom you flirt with to "distract" people. We will always be hiding the truth, and living in fear that people will find out; I will be constantly deferring taking up my position as a governess, constantly finding excuses to satisfy Mrs. Elton as to why I do not wish to go yet, constantly waiting for a union which seems as if it will never happen.
'I can't live like that anymore and I know you can't either. I know the constant fear that your aunt will find out somehow is eating away at you and I believe ending things here will give you more of that freedom which you have always longed for. And it is no use telling me you will tell your aunt at some time in the distant future I am tired of hearing of all the good things you will do, and anxious to see a little more of what you actually do.'
'I told my aunt about us before I left,' he said quietly, and for a moment she thought she had misheard, but he continued to look at her seriously, his eyes betraying how anxious he was about her reaction.
'You you did?' He nodded. 'And... how did she react?'
He smiled ruefully. 'Not very well, but that was what I expected. At any rate, the thing is done she knows now, and we can make it known to anyone we want.' He hesitated a moment, looking at her uncertainly. 'That is, if anything remains to make known.'
Before she was aware of it, she had taken three quick steps forward and thrown her arms around him, hugging him tightly. She had never been one to show much of the emotion that she felt, but she could not help the sobs which wracked her frame now.
He laughed joyfully and brought his own arms around her to return her embrace, but then suddenly he drew away slightly to look down at her seriously. Terrified as he was to do anything to jeopardise their fragile reunion, he had to tell her the whole truth. 'My aunt will probably disinherit me; I will have only what little my mother left me. I will have to make my own way and it may be some time before we can afford to be married.'
She only hugged him more tightly. 'I don't mind about poverty I need so little no new clothes and we will learn what everything costs.'
Eyes closed, in his arms, she was filled with the overwhelming sense that this was right, and that this was the way things should be. The past few days had been full of misunderstandings and absurd, improbable twists but now, finally, she felt as if the proper order of the universe was becoming recognisable once more.
At a small noise by the door, she opened her eyes to find herself meeting Mr. Knightley's stunned gaze. Although she started slightly upon observing his presence, she did not move herself out of Frank's arms, and Frank himself seemed disinclined to relinquish his hold on her. After months of living in dread of a single touch or word or look revealing their secret to others, it was bliss not to have to worry about people finding out anymore.
She opened her mouth to speak, to explain what now needed no explanation, for she could see that Mr. Knightley had pieced it together fairly completely himself. 'I cannot marry you, Mr. Knightley,' she said, unable to hide her delight, and he smiled in a joy which shone out of his eyes.
'I am so glad to hear that, Miss Fairfax,' he said.
'You should speak to Miss Woodhouse,' Jane said. 'I strongly believe you were mistaken in thinking she had no regard for you.'
He nodded, smiling gratefully at her. 'I fully intend to do so.'
Frank, who had been silent this whole time now spoke up indignantly, glaring at Mr. Knightley. 'Could someone please enlighten me on what exactly is happening here?' He looked down at Jane reproachfully. 'What do you mean in saying you won't marry him?'
Jane raised a playful eyebrow, unable to resist. 'Do you mean that I should marry him?'
Frank was not amused. 'You know what I mean. How did such a possibility even arise?'
Mr. Knightley came to her rescue. 'It was all a misunderstanding,' he said, and then at Frank's still-mutinous gaze, he elaborated. 'I love Miss Woodhouse, but I thought Miss Woodhouse loved you, and Miss Fairfax thought you loved Miss Woodhouse, and then we thought it might be best if we married since we could not be with those we loved, and then I told Miss Woodhouse of our engagement and she thought I loved Miss Fairfax, and it made her realise she loved me, and then I was stuck in the ridiculous position of loving a woman who loved me in return, but being bound in honour to another whom I had only become engaged to because I thought the first woman did not love me in return, and so I came here hoping that something could be done, and I found that you love Miss Fairfax, and that she loves you, which leaves me free to be with Miss Woodhouse.' He stopped and took a deep breath. 'Was that really as complicated as it sounded?'
Frank shook his head slightly, bemused. 'More, perhaps. But I have your assurance that you will not come between us?'
Mr. Knightley laughed, but even his current good mood and his knowledge that Frank Churchill had never been his rival for Emma's affections could not prevent his inward feeling of scorn at the younger man's hypocrisy. 'Certainly,' was all he said though, and pleasantly enough. 'If I have your assurance that you will not come between myself and Emma... again?' The slight emphasis on again was the only betrayal of the resentment whose vestiges still remained.
Frank acquiesced without protest, and the two men even managed to shake hands cordially enough as Mr. Knightley wished the couple joy.
'I should be leaving now,' he said after the congratulations had been given, and he turned to do so, his thoughts already leaping ahead to Emma at Hartfield.
He turned back. 'Yes, Miss Fairfax?'
She smiled at him sincerely. 'Good luck.'
He nodded in grateful acknowledgement, suddenly nervous at the thought of speaking to Emma. Perhaps it was ridiculous to be doubting himself when he practically had the confession of her feelings, but it could not be helped; until actually assured of it, he did not dare fancy himself the object of her affections. There was still the possibility that he had misunderstood her somehow, and he could not be easy until he had spoken to her himself and told her all.
He only hoped that she could forgive him for the false assumptions he had made and the resultant misguided actions which had almost destroyed the happiness of both.
Posted on 2011-02-13
When he arrived at Hartfield, he found only Mr. Woodhouse and Dr. Perry conversing in the sitting room. After greeting them both and exchanging some pleasantries, he asked what was foremost in his mind. 'Where is Emma?'
Mr. Woodhouse shook his head sadly. 'Ah, Mr. Knightley, you will find her practising in the room upstairs with the piano, even though I tried to impress upon her the dangers of the abysmal draught which inevitably enters that room due to how open it is to the corridor.'
Mr. Knightley knew the room in question well; it was the room where Emma had often had her lessons with Miss Taylor as a child, and while it was true that it was less of a room and more simply a widening of the corridor which had no doors and just opened on either end, only Mr. Woodhouse would worry about draughts at the height of summer.
However, he said nothing of his opinion, for Mr. Woodhouse would never be persuaded that there was no danger, and it would be a fruitless endeavour to try. Instead he thanked him and voiced his intention of going up and speaking to her.
Once he got to the landing, he followed the sound of the music which was coming from the room where she sat, his doubts weighing him down more with each step. What if he had misunderstood her, and inferred merely what he wished to be true rather than what actually was? After all, she had not said I love you, Mr. Knightley she had only said something about not wishing him to marry anyone; could that be merely a sentiment of possessive friendship?
His resolve wavered, and as he quietly reached the doorway to the room in which she sat playing with her back to him, he had almost decided not to hazard anything by a declaration, but simply to inform her that he was no longer engaged to Jane Fairfax.
But then he took in the music she was playing it was a sweet, but very sad, lilting tune which he had never heard her play before, although he had heard it at Hartfield in the past. He had only ever heard Emma play songs with a lively rhythm or a happy tune; she had once told him that she could never be as accomplished at Jane Fairfax at the piano because playing anything very solemn made her feel far too depressed and weary. It had been said in an arch tone and had been accompanied by a playfully raised eyebrow, but he had suspected even then that the sentiment behind it was real; in the past he had often noticed and deplored how isolated and confined her father's needs made her. After she had made that comment, he had ceased urging her to better her music.
His memory of the song she was now playing came from the time when Miss Taylor had begun to teach Emma the piano, and had displayed a variety of tunes to see which Emma liked. This had been her favourite, and she had for some weeks requested it constantly, listening intently with her large, serious hazel eyes fixed on Miss Taylor's fingers as she played. Her mother had died the previous year.
The passage of seventeen years since that time made it unlikely that that same wound had opened up once more. Heart hammering in his chest, he could only conclude that she was mourning another loss now.
His courage strengthened and he resolved to speak.
After stumbling through and repeating the difficult parts until she got them right, Emma finally finished the song. At the quiet applause from behind her, she whirled around in shock to see Mr. Knightley standing in the doorway he had been listening for God only knew how long, but certainly long enough to hear all her obvious mistakes.
She coloured in embarrassment at the thought, and then had her heart not been lodged in her throat she might have laughed at the idea. Her awareness of what was in her own heart had been leading her to this sort of ridiculous coyness often in the past few days. When in the past had she ever been embarrassed by Mr. Knightley witnessing her errors? It was something only flirting couples who were hardly more than strangers or acquaintances worried about Mr. Knightley had always witnessed everything, her numerous errors included and the simple fact that they had not driven him away, but instead brought him closer as he had earnestly tried to correct her and been anxious for her to do right was perhaps why she loved him so much.
'That was well played,' he said quietly, as he took a few steps closer, entering the room.
She stood from the piano stool, but even though her stomach was in knots, she could not help but look at him incredulously.
He read her expression. 'Really,' he said. 'You may have made mistakes, but you tried again and set them right the ability to do that is more important than executing a perfect performance. Perfection can only come after much trial and error.'
She was gratified by his words, but muttered without looking at him, 'Perhaps, but my playing was hardly up to your standards, surely.' At any rate, I can hardly compete with Jane Fairfax, she thought to herself with an inward sigh.
Jane Fairfax! Suddenly she remembered the dreadful news she would have to convey to Mr. Knightley, and she was only trying to collect her thoughts before somehow making a beginning when she froze and all such thoughts were lost as his hand gently tipped up her chin so that she was meeting his eyes.
He looked serious and a little sad at the same time. 'Don't play in order to reach my standards, Emma,' he said gently. 'Play because you want to, and practice because you want to get things right.'
Emma got the feeling they weren't really talking about music anymore, but she was not quite sure what the topic was. She felt agitated and hopeful and despondent all at once and she had no idea why. 'How can I do that?' she asked softly. 'What you want for me is usually what I eventually realise I want for myself.' It was true, she thought it was as if he saw what was good for her, and anticipated her desires before she knew of them herself; he was more herself than she was, and perhaps she would not be who she was without him.
'And if I told you...' He hesitated for a moment before continuing, in a tone that was mesmerising in its intensity, '...if I told you what I want for you now, or rather what I have wanted for myself for months now, would you want it too?'
He was gazing intently at her, but her brow furrowed in confusion. She felt like his words were important somehow, but she did not comprehend them. Did he perhaps wish for her his old friend to feel happy for him and Miss Fairfax? It would cost her a great deal, and she was not sure if she was capable of it, but for his sake she would try her hardest. At any rate she would not be petty and make him unhappy by her lack of support. 'I suppose I could try,' she began cautiously, 'but it depends on what it is.' Her heart could only bear so much, after all.
His expression was inscrutable. 'That is sensible,' he said finally. 'You do not follow me blindly indeed, you never have.'
She bit her lip anxiously. She did not wish to show a lack of trust in his judgment, which had always led her right. 'If you ask something of me, it must be reasonable,' she said quickly. 'I am sure I would be happy to follow you.'
Suddenly he smiled, and she recognised the smile as that rare and beautiful smile of pride in her and approval of her conduct. He shook his head. 'Emma, you mistake me I would rather you used your own judgment, as you always have done. It is part of what I have come to admire so much in you.' Then a shadow passed over his face and he sighed. 'And if I ever had any right to expect you would listen to me, my actions in the past few days have surely forfeited all of it.'
She understood him now, and her heart went out to him. He had found out of the news of Jane Fairfax's long-standing engagement to Frank Churchill, and he was longing for a sympathetic ear to listen to his feelings, and yet he was afraid from her reaction the other day that he had forfeited the right to speak to her as a friend. With a small sigh for herself, she steeled herself to be the friend he needed with no selfish view no view at all for herself.
She took his hand in hers and squeezed it gently. 'Mr. Knightley, you can be sure that I will always listen to you, as a friend. Whenever you need to unburden yourself, you should not hesitate. You need not pretend for me.' She shook her head. 'I don't understand how she could do that to you I had thought her better than this. Time will heal your wound, Mr. Knightley. Your exertions I know you will not allow yourself' She was frustrated at her own inability to articulate her deep sympathy. She tried to collect her thoughts and continue. 'She will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire.'
He looked astonished. 'How did you know of it?'
'Mrs. Weston told me; she had a letter from Mrs. Churchill,' she said. 'My first thought was for you. I know you must have been cruelly disappointed by her secret, but I hope you will realise that it is for the best if she could deceive you so, you would never have been happy with her.'
Mr. Knightley, who had looked first rather bewildered and then rather agitated, now spoke. 'Emma, you are very kind, but you are mistaken, and I must set you right. I am not in want of that sort of compassion. I have never loved Miss Fairfax'
Emma broke in incredulously. 'Mr. Knightley, you were engaged to her! I am glad you feel that she is no object of regret, but surely if you proposed to her, you must have had some feeling for her.'
'Emma, you misunderstand me; it is difficult to explain.' He took a deep breath. 'I was going to say, that I have never loved Miss Fairfax as I love you.'
She couldn't help it. Her jaw dropped.
Posted on 2011-02-22
For a moment Emma could not think; she froze and her mind went blank. And then the next instant her mind was flooded with hopes and fears and doubts. Had she heard him correctly? Was it really possible that he could be in love with her? She continued to stare up at him, hardly daring to believe it.
He regarded her with earnest eyes. 'I mean it, Emma. You've always been there. We have been friends, old friends for so long that I cannot remember a time when I have not loved you. Do you think you could that is, would you... would you marry me?'
At his mention of their being old friends, a pang had gone through her heart and she knew that he was only proposing to her because he felt that he needed to move on from Miss Fairfax quickly to heal his broken heart, and he trusted that his habitual, friendly, familial regard the feeling which he was deluded enough to call love for her would be enough for them to marry.
Her eyes filled with tears. 'Mr. Knightley,' she finally managed through the lump in her throat, 'it is cruel of you to use your knowledge of my feelings against me like this. You know what I desperately want to say in answer to your proposal, but how can I when I know you only ask out of I don't even know friendship, or pity, or the desire to get back at Miss Fairfax?' She couldn't suppress a small sob. 'I will not no matter what I want, I will not marry you only to have you regretting it and slowly coming to hate me. I would rather remain single for the rest of my life.'
She sank back down onto the piano stool and covered her face in her hands, her energy drained from the carrying out of the resolution which would deprive from her the next best thing after having Mr. Knightley's love.
Instantly he was kneeling at her side, and then he took her hand in his; it was a gesture that was not in itself unusual between them, but the strength of his grip, and the tone of his voice as he next spoke made it so. 'Emma, look at me,' he said quietly. After he had taken her hand and thereby removed the cover which hid her face she had been looking down at her lap, wishing he was not able to see her pale, tear-stained face. She simply had to lift her eyes from her lap for their gazes to be almost level.
'I have never loved Miss Fairfax,' he repeated. Before she could even open her mouth to phrase all her objections and questions, he continued, 'I only proposed to her because I thought you were engaged to Frank Churchill, and that all hope of you was gone, and she only accepted me because my assumptions led her to believe Frank Churchill was engaged to you. We both despaired of ever being with those we truly loved, and perhaps we saw it as a way of having someone to share our pain with, or perhaps it was revenge, plain and simple to show the world and the one we loved that we could go on without them. Whatever it was, it was ill-judged and ought not to have been attempted.'
She had been listening to him with wide eyes, suddenly remembering the odd, seemingly disconnected questions he had asked about Frank Churchill when he had told her of his engagement. Could it be true? Could he have actually loved her all along? With bated breath she waited for him to go on.
'I cannot tell you what I felt upon finding out from you that not only did you not love Frank Churchill, but that there was a distinct possibility that you might have been persuaded to accept me.'
Emma almost laughed at this ridiculous understatement.
'After a sleepless night,' he continued, 'I decided that, however slim it was, I could not give up the hope of marrying you and so I went to call on Miss Fairfax, in the hope that I could somehow do the utterly dishonourable thing of breaking our engagement without hurting her too much.' He smiled wryly. 'With such an ungentlemanly intention, I probably did not deserve to be let off so easily as I was. I arrived to find her with Frank Churchill and then I knew that I was free; free to marry the person I really love.' He was now looking at her anxiously. 'If she will have me, that is.'
Her mind seemed to be moving too slowly to comprehend all this; the past few minutes had been a complete reversal of all she had forced herself to believe as the hard, cold, unchangeable truth. 'You love me,' she said slowly, 'and not Miss Fairfax. You mean that? It is not just that you wish to move on quickly from the pain Miss Fairfax caused you?'
He shook his head, and nobody who saw the utterly earnest expression of his eyes could have doubted his sincerity. 'It has always been you,' he said softly. 'I have never loved any woman before; my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. But now I love, and will love.'
That was all the confirmation she needed. Expelling a rather shaky sigh, she brought her forehead to rest against his. Eyes closed, for a minute she just savoured his closeness, the feeling of the two of them there together, finally.
Then he broke the silence. 'Emma?'
'Can I rise from this position before I kiss you? Only, my knees are beginning to hurt.'
She could not help laughing at that. 'By rights, Mr. Knightley, I should keep you down there for some time longer for what you've put me through in the past few days, but,' she sighed, 'I have been just as much to blame, for if I had not behaved so with Frank Churchill, you would never have made the assumption which started it all.' She gave him a small smile. 'Yes, you may rise.'
They both rose to their feet, and for a moment they looked at each other without moving. Then suddenly, both realising that they had been simply standing there staring at each other, they moved forward simultaneously, colliding. Mr. Knightley's arms came out to steady her, but he did not let go.
'I'm sorry,' Emma muttered, flushing slightly.
'Don't be,' he smiled, and one of his hands came up to gently cradle her face. 'I find I quite like things the way they are.'
And at his words, her embarrassment evaporated, and she could only smile softly up at him. 'Mmm, yes,' she said, 'I quite like it too.'
Such words, such a smile, such a loving look were not to be resisted. Without further ado, Mr. Knightley leaned forward to close the gap between them and bring his lips to hers.
Mr. Woodhouse was growing rather worried. His anxiety had been excited at the sight of Emma emerging from that dreadfully draughty room with flushed cheeks and an almost feverish brightness in her eyes, but she had stifled all his concerns by insisting that she was perfectly well, or would be, as soon as she was able to get some fresh air and exercise by taking a walk in the shrubbery.
He had not even been able to persuade her to stay indoors, let alone sit by the fire and take some gruel. Thankfully Mr. Knightley had behaved far more sensibly or at least, he had thought so at first, for the younger man had come to sit by the fire for a time with himself and Dr. Perry. But even for the very few minutes he sat with them, he seemed abstracted and restless, and Mr. Woodhouse observed with some alarm the same unusual brightness in his eyes as in Emma's. Could it be that at this very moment an infection was lurking within Hartfield's walls?
He was about to ask Mr. Knightley if he were feeling quite alright, and was going to suggest consulting Dr. Perry, who was so conveniently at hand, but before he could, Mr. Knightley suddenly stood and quickly excused himself, saying something about wanting to get some fresh air and exercise by taking a walk in the shrubbery.
Before he could utter a word of protest or urge him to reconsider, he was gone, and Mr. Woodhouse could only lament the inexplicable folly of his daughter and his old friend, who were usually so sensible.
Posted on 2011-03-09
It is a truth which acknowledged or not all too often prevails, that a person whose death will bring some significant gain to someone will never perish until all hope of such gain is lost. It was not surprising to Frank Churchill, therefore, that after lingering for months beyond what all the most eminent physicians had predicted, his aunt after declaring that he would never see a penny of her fortune promptly expired.
The news of her death spread through Highbury like wildfire, but scarcely had it made the rounds before all sympathy for the dead woman was eradicated by the news that this rich sickly aunt, who had taken Frank Churchill away from Highbury and more than tacitly brought him up as her heir, had completely cut him off the reason being his engagement to Jane Fairfax, one of Highbury's boasts.
Highbury owned Jane Fairfax, and even if she had spent most of her life away from it, her accomplishments were a native source of pride. This caprice of Mrs. Churchill's was therefore taken as a personal insult to a majority of the citizens of Highbury. Who was this Mrs. Churchill to turn up her nose at one of theirs? For someone who had had neither fortune nor connection before she had made a fortuitous marriage into the Enscombe family, her pride was both abominable and incomprehensible.
Everyone's sympathies were with Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, for the struggle they would have to endure to achieve an easy competence in their income, and for the delay which this would occasion for their marriage.
And yet the couple themselves were nowhere near as upset as their fond well-wishers. Frank had been resigned to losing his fortune ever since he had resolved to hazard telling his aunt the whole truth, and to Jane, the money and estate had never been of consequence in the first place.
In fact, at times they were even glad that things had happened the way they had, for it had shown them who their true friends were. Mrs. Elton may have renewed her attempts to ship Jane off to be a governess to some friend of hers in Wales, but genuine assistance had been given to them by the Westons, who were housing Frank for as long as he required; by Mr. Knightley, who had, upon hearing of Frank's intention to take up some profession, spoken with him and after gauging his interests had helped him to find, through John's connections, an opening for studying the law; by the Campbells, who had sent Jane their hearty congratulations, and enough money for a generous trousseau; and Mrs. Goddard, who had delicately, kindly, fearful of offending asked Jane if she could spare a few hours each week to teach music to the girls at her seminary until she married, a position which happened to be paid.
Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, despite all their setbacks, despite the inevitable delays which would not allow them to set a definite wedding date, in love with each other and perfectly happy in truth and openness, looked to be in a fairer way for happiness than any other period of their relationship had promised. Frank felt, that in preparing himself for a profession, he was finally becoming worthy to be considered Jane's equal, and the contentment this gave him was matched only by Jane's contentment in being able now not only to love him, but to respect and admire him also.
So it might be a year, it might be five before they were able to marry but finally they no longer had to trust their future happiness to an uncertainty; they had a course of action to follow they had a foreseeable future. And for the moment, that was enough.
But what of Emma and Mr. Knightley? Once the delirium of initial joy had tempered slightly, both had quickly realised how impossible it would be for Mr. Woodhouse ever to part with his daughter, whose desertion for such was how he would see it would rob him of all comfort.
Clearly Emma could not leave her father to come and live with him at Donwell so what was to be done? The obvious option was to have a long engagement, and so long as Mr. Woodhouse's comfort in other words, his life required Hartfield to continue Emma's home, so it would be. But Mr. Knightley balked at such a plan; he was no Frank Churchill who could in all good conscience look forward to someone's death as a gain to himself (and if one were to learn anything from Frank Churchill's story, it would be that such a practice did not always bring about the desired results).
Emma's suggestion that they all remove to Donwell was one which it pained him to dismiss, but in all realism he knew that Mr. Woodhouse, who was still somewhat in shock over their engagement, even though it had been a few weeks now, could never bear such a change.
'If only there were some way for us all to be together,' Emma sighed one morning after he had called and they had begun to discuss what had been weighing on their minds for some time now. 'But Father could never leave Hartfield, and it would be ridiculous for us to be married, but for me to live at Hartfield while you are at Donwell.'
Mr. Knightley grimaced at the idea; much as he and Emma had emphasised to Mr. Woodhouse how little their plan to marry would change their current lives, he thought that would be taking it a little too far. He did not relish the notion of visiting his wife at her father's home almost every day as he had used to visit Miss Emma Woodhouse.
But it seemed like their only option if they wished to be married any time within the next decade could they make it work? He could visit everyday, and stay the night, and...
Suddenly he was astonished at his own stupidity. He laughed delightedly as the perfect solution occurred to him. 'That's it!' he cried.
Emma looked bewildered and yet could not help smiling at the enthusiasm in his face. 'What is it?' she asked quickly. 'What is your idea?'
Mr. Knightley placed a finger on his chin, his expression deeply contemplative. 'I was thinking, Emma, that I visit Hartfield almost every day, and dine here almost more frequently than at the Abbey so why should I not make my removal from the Abbey official, and come and live here?'
Emma's eyes were wide. 'You would give up the Abbey?'
He smiled a little wryly. 'Wouldn't that be romantic?' He shook his head. 'No, I shall do what the hero of a novel can never do I will have both. I shall live at Hartfield with you as my wife, and I shall visit the Abbey often and still oversee its running.'
Her expression was a mixture of amusement and affection. 'Ah!' she sighed. 'So no sacrifices will be made for me how tragic!' But even as she said it jokingly, she took his hand in hers and squeezed it gratefully.
She knew that he would not pain her by alluding to living with her father as a sacrifice, but still for all his delicacy (and his real affection for Mr. Woodhouse), she knew that in removing from Donwell, he would at the very least be giving up a great deal of independence of hours and habits, and she was sensible of all the affection it must evince.
For Mr. Knightley's part, that affection was so strong that despite his rational acknowledgment to himself that at times he would require much patience to bear with Mr. Woodhouse's foibles, and that he would have to set about the difficult task of somehow convincing William Larkins that he wasn't abandoning his estate and tenants, he could not in all truth think of himself as making a sacrifice. The ultimate result was that he would be with Emma, and beside that, all other facts paled into insignificance.
And when they informed Mr. Woodhouse of their plan, he was so much less perturbed at the thought of their engagement under these new conditions that he even acknowledged that their marriage might not be such a very bad thing if it took place in a year or two.
And even if in his private moments Mr. Knightley sighed over this, at Hartfield, this was progress. Nothing would be achieved in leaps and bounds, and when it came to Mr. Woodhouse, acceptance of change came only in small steps.
They were fortunate at least, in having the unequivocal support of almost everybody they knew. Isabella and Mrs. Weston were most active in their support of the match, and it seemed that their reasoning and coaxing would go a long way towards reconciling Mr. Woodhouse to it. Mr. Weston was at first astonished but soon convinced that he had always seen it coming, Miss Bates was all delight, Jane Fairfax could never see them without a smile that was as relieved as it was satisfied, and Frank Churchill's congratulations had been sincere even if he had looked a little shamefaced as he had talked to Emma.
Of the Eltons' opinions Mr. Knightley and Emma neither knew nor particularly cared, but it might be inferred easily enough from Elton's slightly sullen look and his wife's false shows of concern over how 'sudden' it all was that neither particularly approved. And if private discussions at the vicarage had concluded that it was a 'great misfortune for poor Knightley' and that 'hopefully the young lady's pride would now be contented', perhaps it was a good thing that the couple in question knew nothing of them, for they would not have been able to disagree more.
The only disapproval they cared about was Mr. Woodhouse's, although thankfully it seemed that under the onslaught of congratulations, happy predictions and pleasant anticipations, he was slowly warming to the idea. They had managed to whittle down the time at which their marriage 'might not be such a very bad thing' to three months hence, and if that seemed long, well, only the week before they had almost despaired of contriving to marry within a twelvemonth. It was something, at least, and if one were to compare it with the indefinite and probably long wait of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, it actually became an attractive prospect.
'When you put it that way,' Emma said, smiling ruefully, 'I suppose three months does not seem so dreadfully long especially when you consider that they had already been secretly engaged for over nine months, and still have very little hope of marrying any time soon.'
Mr. Knightley shook his head, as always torn between disapproval of their conduct and relief that their situation had been such, for otherwise his blunder with Jane Fairfax might have had far more serious consequences. 'While I'd normally say that that is nobody's fault but their own, they seem to have suffered enough for it. I have always thought highly of Miss Fairfax, and I am inclined now to think more of Frank Churchill than I ever did before. On the whole he has behaved far better than I would have expected of him.'
Emma was highly amused. 'By far the most generous thing I have ever heard you say of Frank Churchill but a little backhanded, don't you think, Mr. Knightley? It savours a little of your praise of me: always tempered at the end by a criticism or a suggestion for further improvement.'
He raised an eyebrow. 'And how else would you have learnt, Miss Woodhouse?'
For a second Emma frowned in confusion at the formality of his address, but then comprehension dawned and she laughed even as she grimaced. 'I'm sorry, I keep forgetting it's just that "Mr. Knightley" doesn't even feel formal to me anymore; and it just feels so strange to try and call you... George.' She looked mildly triumphant at bringing herself to say it, foreign as it felt to her tongue.
Without warning he leaned down and kissed her, and before she could recover from her surprise enough to say anything, he asked, 'Do you dislike it when I call you "Miss Woodhouse"?'
She did not have to think to give her answer. 'Yes I am so used to being just "Emma" with you that it feels odd cold, distant even. No, from you I much prefer my Christian name, Mr. Knightley.'
He looked torn between amusement and fond exasperation. 'As, I might remind you, do I, Miss Woodhouse.'
Emma laughed helplessly. 'Oh dear I fear I will be spending the remainder of our lives lapsing and apologising. Very well; I will try my best to remember, George.'
Another moment of delicious silence ensued.
When Mr. Knightley released her for the second time, once Emma's eyes had focused, they narrowed in suspicion. 'I am beginning to sense a pattern here,' she said slowly. 'I get punished with a "Miss Woodhouse" for every "Mr. Knightley" and get rewarded with a kiss for every "George". What am I, a dog to whom you are trying to teach a new trick?'
'Of course not!' He tried to look innocent and failed rather dismally. Then his face broke into a reluctant grin. 'Very well, something like that. That's not how I would phrase it, but the basic principle is the same if your action has a negative consequence you're less likely to repeat it; if it has a positive consequence, you're more likely to do it again.'
Emma's eyes were wide in outrage. 'You mean all these years, you were... conditioning me to make me more suited to your taste? Holding out the scolding as a stick, and the praise as a carrot?'
Mr. Knightley looked a little uncomfortable. 'No! I don't know. Well, before now it wasn't conscious, at least. And you're mixing your metaphors a little, Emma are you a dog or a horse?'
When their conversation had reached this level of absurdity she could not remain annoyed; she burst into laughter. 'Neither, I hope,' she gasped finally, wiping away a tear. 'And I suppose that your intervention did do me good.'
He smiled rather sheepishly. 'Interference, you almost said, did you not? And I'm afraid you're right it was probably only natural for you to feel that it was undue, and probably unpleasantly done.'
Emma took his hand, both to contradict him and to show him that he was fully forgiven. 'If I ever did feel that way, it was only because of immaturity and ingratitude,' she said firmly. 'Often more often than I liked to admit your words influenced me to do right. I would not be myself if you had not been in my life, George.'
A soft, tentative smile spread across his face, and when he leaned down to kiss her this time, Emma could not suspect that it was a behaviour modification tactic.
And really, if she thought about it, it was useless resenting attempts to change her behaviour, for the mitigating factor was not only that Mr. Knightley had always been well-intentioned and anxious for her to do right it was that everybody did this sort of thing to everybody else around them.
Why had Jane Fairfax broken her engagement to Frank Churchill? To punish him for his cruelty towards her at Box Hill. If she broke his heart, in the event that they were ever together again, he would be less likely to treat her so badly.
And why had Mr. Knightley proposed to Jane Fairfax? In the hope that Emma cared for him at least somewhat, and, if that were the case, to punish her for her flirtation with Frank Churchill.
Why had she herself at first rejected Mr. Knightley's proposal? To hurt him or at least to discompose him for daring to think that she would settle for being second best; to prevent him from using her as a last resort again in the future.
It did not make them bad people it simply made them human, and fallible.
And... there were probably a great many more profound realisations she could have made, but Mr. Knightley's lips on hers tended to make clear thought very difficult, and so Emma decided to leave the philosophising to others, and simply tightened the grip of her fingers behind his neck as she gave herself up to the perfect happiness of their union.The End