Posted on 2010-04-20
The man quickly surveyed his reflection in a puddle, making sure that his face was entirely hidden behind the black cloth he had secured around it, before swiftly and silently making his way towards Randalls. In his dark attire he seemed to blend in with the starry night sky, and the confident yet noiseless tread of his boots denoted someone who was intimately familiar with the landscape he traversed.
Ordinarily he might have been tempted to walk at a more leisurely pace and enjoy the beauties of the countryside in the moonlight, but tonight he had a mission to complete.
Hidden behind the cover of a tree some twenty yards away from the entrance to Randalls, he did a quick check of his bag, making absolutely certain that he had all the tools he required.
Then, looking towards the Westons' poultry house, he smiled the smile of a man who knew exactly what he had to do and was confident that he could do it.
By the next morning the news was all over Highbury that the Westons' poultry house had been broken into, and all their best turkeys had been stolen.
For the ladies of Highbury, it was the first topic of conversation over tea as they visited each other, and they all agreed that it was a most shocking turn of events very unfortunate for the Westons quite terrifying, by all accounts they were sure they would die of fright if the thieves paid them a visit next (this fear universally present regardless of whether or not the lady kept poultry).
The men were rather more temperate (or, as some ladies felt, unfeeling) in their reaction. Those who were on the parish council such as Mr. Knightley, Mr. Weston, Mr. Cole and Mr. Elton held meetings to discuss the incident and the implications for the security of Highbury's residents, but the matter occupied their thoughts little otherwise.
The exception was dear Mr. Woodhouse whose extremely becoming sensibility to the threat made him a sudden favourite with the ladies of Highbury who was becoming increasingly convinced of the danger, despite all the comforting words given to him by his daughter Emma and his old friend and unfortunately (not to the couple in question, but to he who deplored any change to their current situation) son-in-law to be, Mr. Knightley.
These thieves had clearly had no compunction about breaking into the Westons' poultry house. This meant that Mr. Woodhouse's own chickens were unsafe. And once the ruffians had got through the gates of Hartfield, who was to say that they would not take it into their wicked heads to break into the house itself in search of more valuables? And once in the house, who was to say that those thugs would not murder them all in their beds?
Thank goodness he had Mr. John Knightley in the house to protect them; although the worry still niggled at him, for he knew his son-in-law couldn't stay forever (indeed, couldn't stay past November).
As if this were not worry enough, Emma and Mr. Knightley both seemed to talk incessantly of marriage and weddings and moving into Hartfield and
Moving into Hartfield.
Suddenly he found he quite liked the idea of having tall, strong, fearless Mr. Knightley as a son-in-law.
He would have to speak to Emma about it, ask her when they had set the date and recommend that they brook no delay in the proceedings.
The man stood in the dark poultry-house for a moment, double-checking that all the roosts were filled once more with the birds he had taken a few days before. They were. He had taken especial care that no harm come to them, and despite the deep sleep they were in currently from the sedative he had mixed in with their feed, he knew they would wake up in the morning as healthy as ever.
Satisfied, he turned and noiselessly exited the shed, careful to avoid the soft patches of ground where the outline of his soles might become imprinted.
At the gates of Randalls, he glanced back at the poultry-house and smiled the smile of a man who knew exactly what he had to do and was confident that he could do it.
The news of the impending wedding of Mr. Knightley of Donwell Abbey and Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield had barely made the rounds before it was overshadowed by the mystifying safe return of the Westons' turkeys.
Apparently they had been returned to the poultry-house in the dead of the night, as noiselessly as they had been taken, none the worse for their adventure. Nobody could make head or tail of it, and speculations as to the thieves' motive became increasingly wild.
Some maintained that the repentant thieves had discovered God and in their newly found piety had decided to leave Highbury to become ordained; others were equally convinced that the stealing of the turkeys had been a bizarre initiation rite into the gypsy camp that roamed the borders of Highbury.
Their motive made no difference to Mr. Woodhouse; nor did the fact that the turkeys had been returned, unharmed. The terror of house-breaking was still as strong as ever, and he would not be lulled into a false sense of security. He would take no risks. Oh no, he would not leave anything to chance; he would secure Mr. Knightley at Hartfield to keep him and his dear Emma safe.
And thus it was without reluctance, with even a good grace that a few days later Mr. Woodhouse gave his daughter away to the man whose love for her was matched only by her love for him.
As Emma finally beheld the surprise he had been planning for her, as she finally gazed, mesmerised, at the breathtaking blue of the ocean before her, Mr. Knightley had all the delight of seeing the wonder and joy in her eyes.
Finally she turned to him, her smile radiant. Bringing a hand up to his cheek, she leaned forward and kissed him. 'Thank you,' she said softly. She sighed happily. 'Promise me that we will always be like this.'
His heart almost too full to speak, for a moment he simply smiled down at her the smile of a man who knew exactly what he had to do and was confident that he could do it.
'I think we can arrange that,' he said finally, before leaning down to capture her lips with his once more.The End