Posted on 2010-02-17
'I do envy him, Emma. In one respect he is the object of my envy.' He met her eyes then almost for the first time in their conversation, as if trying to gauge her thoughts. She looked away quickly.
Emma could not trust herself to speak. She took a deep breath, trying to quell the sobs she could feel rising up in her throat, the sobs she was all too afraid she would not be able to contain if she heard him speak of his love for Harriet.
'I must tell you what you will not ask,' he continued, his hands clenching and unclenching by his sides as he spoke, 'though I may wish it unsaid the next moment.'
The words burst out of her spontaneously. 'Oh! then don't speak it, don't speak it!' She covered her face with a shaking hand, turning away. 'Take a little time, consider, do not commit yourself!'
He was silent for a long moment, but then nodded stiffly. 'Thank you,' he said quietly, and not another syllable followed.
They walked back to the house in silence, and she managed to sneak a few glances at his face on the way. What she saw almost broke her heart; dejection seemed written in the slump of his shoulders and the turn of his downcast eyes. His plans had probably met with a similar manner when he had confided them to John, and he was undoubtedly hurt at her lack of support for his choice. She could not bear to give him pain, but she was selfish and cowardly. She could and would do anything for him, anything but listen as he confided his love for another. She had not the strength for hearing the confirmation of that heart-crushing truth.
They reached the door. 'You are going in, I suppose,' he said, his voice sounding rather hollow.
She nodded, unable to meet his eyes. 'I am.'
And so she did, after they had muttered subdued goodbyes and parted. She could see him through the window of the entrance hall, his tread heavy, kicking a stray pebble from the gravel path as he walked. It was all she could do to make it to the secluded safety of her room before the dam broke and the floods of tears which had been building up inside her were released.
Life in Highbury continued to go on around Emma. She still met with Harriet, although rather more seldom than formerly; she still visited Mrs. Weston, who was nearing her confinement; she still tried now and then to visit the poor and give them what relief she could.
Not everything was the same. Emma was making sure of that: she would go regularly to visit Miss Bates, determined to be a genuine friend to her instead of conferring her visits with the idea that she was doing the lady a great favour. It made her ashamed to think of what her behaviour had been before, and even though Miss Bates, in the excellence of her heart, never alluded to it, and indeed, appeared to have really forgotten it, it was always in the back of Emma's mind, and it only made her more determined to do what was right.
She was also continuing in her efforts to make friends with Jane Fairfax, and those efforts were now being met with equal acceptance and eagerness on the other side. They had early apologised to one another, Emma for her behaviour of the past several years, and Jane for hers of the past several weeks. However, despite all her endeavours, sometimes when she saw how happy Miss Fairfax was, when she saw her face light up at the sight of her beloved, when she saw in her eyes the contented glow of loving and being loved in return, some part of Emma envied and resented her just as much as ever.
She fully understood Mr. Knightley's sentiments when he had told her that he envied Mr. Churchill's situation. It was hard to witness such happiness when one knew that one's own love was unrequited and hopeless. Of course Mr. Knightley's love was no such thing, and a few words from Emma could have cleared up his problems, but she could not bring herself to do it. She could not take even the smallest step towards assisting that match.
Mr. Knightley had also changed. He did not come to Hartfield nearly as often as he had used to, and he had taken to bowing in greeting when he did see her. He had known her all her life, and she had always thought that they were beyond such formalities. She often had to fight back tears as she curtsied to him in return, the gesture feeling clumsy, awkward. She wished she could put things right between them, apologise for not letting him speak that day; however, that seemed to be inviting him to continue the conversation she had cut off, and she did not think she could stand that.
Her thoughts were never far from wandering in this direction, and such introspection made her noticeably quieter. At first the Westons had worried that despite her claims of indifference she really had been hurt by Frank, but their minds were soon set at rest as they saw the perfectly easy way the two conversed together on the occasions when he was able to visit from Richmond.
Although she was far from happy, Emma had achieved a sort of uneasy acceptance of her life. A few weeks had passed since he had returned from London, and Mr. Knightley was still single, and as far as she knew from what she could glean from either him or Harriet, matters were not yet progressing to the stage where they would come to a head. If things would only remain that way, then she might hold out hope that Harriet's affections would transfer themselves elsewhere in the interim.
However, there remained one major problem which she could not do away with; and that was that Mr. Knightley was so kind and considerate towards everyone that he, unlike Mr. Elton, would do absolutely nothing to assist the cure.
Her legs felt like lead. Each breath was drawn with difficulty, as the air suddenly seemed to have become thick. She could feel a blinding headache coming on. Her heart had sunk down to somewhere in the vicinity of her navel. Was this, she wondered, what Robert Martin had felt like when he had received Harriet's rejection letter? If the feeling had been even half as horrible, then she was heartily sorry for it, and she was determined never to interfere in such a way again.
Earlier that day she had been making her way to Mrs. Goddard's, feeling guilty for neglecting Harriet of late. She could not blame the poor girl for being fortunate enough to be the beloved of Mr. Knightley (for that Emma had only herself to blame); it was not fair to Harriet to allow her own jealousy and heartache to cause unwarranted coldness towards her. When her friendship and guidance had done no good and a great deal of harm to Harriet, what right had she now to show resentment?
Such were her thoughts, at least until she encountered the sight of Harriet and Mr. Knightley – her Mr. Knightley – walking side by side back to the school together. They were approaching the Highbury Road from the path which came from Donwell.
Whatever her other faults, Emma had never lacked the ability to put two and two together. Her gasp must have been audible, for they both looked up at her then, seeming surprised to see her there. Mr. Knightley seemed to take a step in her direction and opened his mouth as if to say something, but she did not stay to hear it. Turning away abruptly, with quick, jerky movements she walked all the way back home, where she would pace with similar movements around the shrubbery, reliving the day's events and cursing the hour she had met Harriet Smith.
In the days that followed, Emma was to find out that such pangs as that unexpected meeting had caused her were not isolated. Often when she called at Mrs. Goddard's, she would be informed that Harriet had gone out to Donwell. She tried to be rational and told herself that Donwell was an entire village, and to say that Harriet visited Donwell did not necessarily mean that Harriet visited Donwell Abbey. But even the thought that Harriet might be out with an increased chance of running into Mr. Knightley as he went about on his business was something which she did not wish to contemplate.
From the times that she did talk to Harriet, Emma was never equal to listening to the girl's effusions about her hopes, and she always found a way to cut the conversation short. For the first time in her life, it seemed Harriet had taken the hint, for she did not mention Mr. Knightley these days. However, perverse as it was, Emma could not take comfort in this either. At least previously she had known exactly how matters had stood between Harriet and Mr. Knightley – now, she had no idea, and could only make inferences and draw conclusions using the clues of Harriet's frequent jaunts to Donwell. The outlook was not good.
Much as she fancied herself a changed person now, Emma was occasionally tempted to use what powers she could to prevent the match from happening, but she sternly reproached herself when the inclination arose. She might not stir a finger to assist the match in any way, but she was determined not to interfere at the other end of the spectrum either. It would not be fair, either to Harriet or to Mr. Knightley.
She could not bear to see him unhappy, as the smile which no longer reached his eyes told her he was everytime they met. If only he could truly smile again, she found herself thinking she would not mind so very dreadfully that it was directed at Harriet and not her. As long as he was happy, perhaps she could be as well.
How wrong she was. She sat in the chair in which Mr. Knightley had used to sit when he came to Hartfield, as if to draw strength from it as she gazed, frozen, at the letter in her hand. She knew all too well that if Harriet were writing to her instead of talking to her in person, she could be communicating only one thing, something which she had perhaps begun to suspect Emma would not like.
For a second she contemplated throwing it into the fire and delaying the knowledge of the truth for a few more days, but then she admonished herself sternly. She was sick and tired of being a coward. She would open this letter, read it and face the truth like a woman of spirit. She would apologise to Mr. Knightley for refusing to hearing him out. Of course any explanation would be impossible, but she would let him know that she regretted her rudeness and perhaps he might in time forgive her for it. And then... the hardest part of all. She would learn to be happy for them. She would smile at their joys and cry at their sorrows. She would try to rid herself of the jealousy and envy which had been tormenting her for the past several weeks, and would not allow it to consume her. She would go on loving Mr. Knightley, but unselfishly.
She gave a choked laugh. It would be interesting to see if she, possibly the most selfish, arrogant, self-centred woman in England, would be able to pull that off. But in any case she would try. She would try to smile at their wedding. She would try to sincerely wish them joy. She would try and control the sudden impulse which sometimes seized her, of wishing to rip Harriet's hair out.
She tore open the letter.
My dear Miss Woodhouse, (it began)
Perhaps you will think it odd that I write instead of telling you, but I do so fear that you will dislike my news. (Emma took a deep breath and forced herself to keep reading)
I was not sure what you would think, so I did not tell you before that I am once again friends with the Miss Martins of Abbey Mill. (She frowned. Perhaps this was all Harriet really wanted to tell her?)
But Miss Woodhouse, that is not the worst of it. (Her temporary relief faded, and she returned to the letter with her heart in her mouth)
I thought that day you had a queer look about you as you saw me and Mr. Knightley coming from there, although at first I thought it a little odd that you had suspected already, when even I had known nothing for sure. But of course you of all people would have known – you with your superior powers of sniffing out a match! ('Hardly, Harriet,' Emma managed to scoff through the lump in her throat. 'If I ever had such powers I would have foreseen and prevented this.')
In short, Miss Woodhouse, I fear I must tell you that I am engaged to Mr. Robert Martin.
Emma had to reread this line several times before she could take any of it in. Surely this was some sort of cruel joke? It was too good to be true. She skimmed the remains of the letter (...when I visited his sisters... asked to see me again... still loves me!... am the luckiest creature in the world... to be married next month...), and then just to be sure, she read the whole thing through once more, slowly so as to avoid the slightest possibility of a misunderstanding.
But no – it was really true. Incredible, unaccountable as it was, it seemed as if Robert Martin had thoroughly supplanted Mr. Knightley in Harriet's affections and was now the one forming all her views of happiness. Strange as it might have seemed to someone who had witnessed her dissuading Harriet from young Martin last year, Emma wished them well from her heart, and she actually sat and cried a whole half hour in her relief.
Harriet was to marry Robert Martin, which meant she could not marry Mr. Knightley, which meant that Mr. Knightley...
...would be heartbroken.
Emma stood suddenly. How horrible, how selfish she had been, not to think of that! How could she rejoice in his despair? She must go to him now, must see how the news affected him, must comfort him with no selfish view, no view at all for herself. She must simply be there for him, as a true friend would.
Emma's resolution was no sooner formed than she set off, impatient to see him and to ascertain just how far he was feeling the loss. The walk to Donwell Abbey had never seemed to her to be so long as it was this day. She was finding it hard to believe that it was only a mile; the more eager she was to see Mr. Knightley, the longer the route seemed to stretch out before her, until she was convinced that the journey must be at least five miles, if not more.
When she finally reached the Abbey, she hesitated outside the door for a moment, before taking a deep breath and knocking. The door was opened by Mr. Knightley's housekeeper, Mrs. Hodges. When she saw Emma, her normally stern face broke into a rare smile. She had always had a soft spot for little Miss Emma, and it had been too long since her father's cares had allowed her to visit at Donwell. She greeted her kindly, and asked what she could do for her.
Emma, who had followed hesitantly into the sitting room into which Mrs. Hodges led her, forced herself to speak steadily. 'Is Mr. Knightley at home?' she asked. 'I would like to see him.'
If she had been any other young woman, Mrs. Hodges would have immediately become suspicious and disapproving at such a request, but as it was Miss Emma, who had known Mr. Knightley all her life, she didn't even bat an eyelid. 'He is, miss,' she said, 'if you'll sit a moment, I'll go fetch him.'
As the housekeeper's footsteps become fainter and fainter, Emma twisted her hands about in her lap, trying to quell the nervous flutters in her stomach. She had not seen Mr. Knightley since that day outside Mrs. Goddard's, and she was anxious to know how he bore the news.
Then another thought occurred to her. Would he even accept her sympathy, she wondered, after she had refused to hear him that day? She couldn't blame him if he wouldn't; how insincere it would seem in her, to be sorry that Harriet was going to marry elsewhere. And yet it would not be insincere; although she could not claim to be sorry that Harriet was not marrying Mr. Knightley, she was heartily sorry that he would be hurt in this way. If only he could look into her heart, he would see that her feelings were true, that she was anxious to be a friend to him at this time, to offer what little comfort she could.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the familiar firm tread which she could hear approaching the room in some haste. She stood up abruptly, but she had only a split second to try and compose herself before he was in the room. 'Emma,' he said, and then her heart leapt into her throat as he unexpectedly took two great strides towards her to take her hands in his. 'What's the matter?' he asked, his worry obvious in his voice and eyes. 'Your father–'
She was highly gratified by his concern, and hurriedly tried to put his fears at rest. 'My father is perfectly well,' she assured him. She took a deep breath, unconsciously tightening her grip on his hands slightly before she next spoke. 'I came to see whether you were alright.'
His brow furrowed slightly, and he opened his mouth as if to speak, but she continued, her words coming out in a rush. 'I know you must have been cruelly disappointed by the news, but I hope you will not let yourself be unhappy for long.' She closed her eyes for a moment, and then she forced the words out, trying to stop her voice from trembling. 'If it makes you happy, I hope you will find someone else.' She could not meet his eyes.
'Emma,' he said slowly, but there was a note of such dreadful fear in his voice that she had to look up at him then. Her heart sank as she observed his unusual pallor. He did not know. She had been premature and had burst the news on him in the worst possible way. His next words confirmed the conclusion she had reached. 'What is this news that you speak of?'
There was no gentle way of breaking it to him. Taking a deep breath, she told him straight. 'Harriet is engaged to marry Robert Martin.'
To her amazement, his face broke into a grin, as relieved as it was happy. 'So he took my advice!' he muttered to himself. Then he looked down at Emma, with the first genuine smile she had seen since before he had gone to London. It took her breath away. 'That is the best news I've heard in a long while,' he said, sounding perfectly sincere. Then his smile became a little bemused. 'Why on earth would you think it would make me unhappy?' He looked a little sheepish as he continued. 'I know I once underestimated your Miss Smith and disdained her as Robert's equal, but I have since gotten to know her better, and I believe he is almost as lucky in his choice as she is.'
Emma stared, hardly able to believe what she was hearing. 'Then... you are not in love with Harriet?'
Much to her disappointment, he let go of her hands, turning away for a moment. When he faced her again, she was taken aback to see the spark of anger in his eyes. 'Matchmaking again?' he asked, and despite the bite in his voice, he sounded tired. 'Emma, when are you going to learn that a person's inclination may not always adhere to your plans? You do not have the power of creating what does not exist, and–' he sighed heavily– 'you certainly do not have the power of eradicating what does.'
Even while she did not quite understand him, she could feel her eyes beginning to fill with tears at the disappointment in his voice – disappointment in her. She bit her lip.
He noticed, and sighed. His voice when he next spoke was softer. 'Emma,' he said gently, 'I know my feelings make you uncomfortable, and I know you could never love me as I love you. But you don't have to feel guilty about it – you were honest with me, and that's the most important thing. You do not need to offer me Harriet or anyone else as a consolation prize.' He tried to smile, but couldn't quite manage it. 'If I cannot be with you, Emma, I would rather not be with anyone – and you should learn to respect that.' He turned and began to move towards the door.
Without her conscious thought, her hand found his arm and arrested his departure. 'What did you say?' She held her breath, and over the sound of the blood rushing in her ears, she listened with all her might.
He turned to face her, his expression a mixture of surprise, anger and... panic. 'You heard perfectly well what I said, Emma.'
She tightened her grip on the sleeve of his coat, shaking her head slightly, her eyes pleading. 'Please, I...' She took a deep, shuddering breath. 'I need to hear it again.'
His voice was wooden and he was determinedly not looking at her. 'I do not want you to attempt to match me with anyone; not Jane Fairfax, not Harriet Smith, not anyone.'
She made a tiny noise of suppressed frustration, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment before opening them again. 'Not that. Before that – what did you say?'
Now it was his turn to look pleading. 'Emma, it's not fair to ask me.' His free hand was fidgeting with rather desperate determination with one of the buttons on his coat as he spoke. 'Lord knows, it was hard enough trying to tell you the first time, and that was before you crushed every hope with your injunction to caution and silence.'
Emma's eyes widened. 'You were trying to tell me about... this... before? Not about Harriet?'
He nodded silently, and Emma's mind was whirring, piecing together all the facts as she now had them. He had encouraged Robert Martin to try again for Harriet's hand; had run into Harriet at Abbey Mill and seen that his work was all but done for him. He had been trying to tell her not of his love for Harriet, but of this, and she had refused to hear him – and what she had meant as discouragement from speaking of Harriet, had been taken as the language of her own feelings; had been taken as discouragement from herself.
She gasped as the full magnitude of her error impressed itself upon her. If she had only listened to him, if she had only heard him out that day, how many weeks of heartache she might have saved them both! Looking up at the confusion, hurt and aching longing in his eyes as he watched the various thoughts flit through her mind, her course was clear before her. Her resolve solidified and she wasted no more time.
'"I could never love you as you love me",' she repeated, 'is that not what you said?' He gave a tiny, almost imperceptible nod, never taking his eyes off her face. The complete sincerity, the utter vulnerability in his eyes as he regarded her made her heart swell with tenderness. Slowly, hesitantly, lovingly, she stepped closer, and reaching out, gently cradled his face in her hands, bringing her forehead to rest against his.
She heard and felt him exhale a shaky breath, and then she was losing the battle to keep her voice from trembling. 'Well, Mr. Knightley,' she said, as firmly as she could manage, 'you should know that I will not tolerate you telling me what I can and can't do.' And without further ado she closed the distance between them to bring her lips to his.
'[She saw] that Harriet's hopes had been groundless, a mistake, a delusion... that Harriet was nothing; that she was everything herself...
He had, in fact, been wholly unsuspicious of his own influence... he had only, in the momentary conquest of eagerness over judgment, aspired to be told that she did not forbid his attempt to attach her...
The superior hopes which gradually opened were so much the more enchanting... this one half hour had given to each the same precious certainty of being beloved.'
- "Emma", pgs. 403–405