Part I Posted on Tuesday, 2 May 2000
"Aren't you ready yet?"
"Um, just give me a minute. Will you help me get my trunk fastened?"
Mary Martin walked across the room she had shared with Harriet to help her by sitting on top of the trunk which contained all of Harriet's belongings. The girls giggled as they tried to smoosh the clothes down enough to fasten the metal buckles.
"Mary, Harriet, Gib is downstairs waiting with the carriage. Is that trunk still not full?" Belinda Martin asked as she entered their room.
"Help us get this outside, please," begged Harriet. The three girls proceeded to drag the trunk across the floor and then collapsed, panting and laughing.
"Harry, you know you don't possibly need all your things. We have quite a comfortable house, you know," said Belinda. "You will never want for anything."
Harriet sighed. "I just don't want Mrs. Goddard to be put out," she explained. "I want to leave her with as little to clean up as possible, and if my parents should call for me while I am at your house, I would like to be ready to go as soon as they ask," replied Harriet.
Mary jumped up. "I'll go get Gib to help us with this," she called, running out the door.
Soon the girls were all settled in the simple carriage, their luggage in a small cart attached to the back. Gib, one of the farm hands from their farm, was to drive them the three miles out to Abbey Mill Farm, home of the Martins. The Martin girls had invited Harriet to stay with them for a month or so, now that their schooling was done, and, not having anywhere else to go, Harriet had agreed.
Harriet Smith had only been to the Martins once before, when Mrs. Martin threw a party for her neighbors. The two girls helped host the party, so they had been kept busy. Harriet had been shy, seeing that everyone there knew each other, and had sat in a chair by herself. Robert Martin, the girls' older brother, had come to sit by her and keep her company. He even brought her a piece of cake when she thought the crowd too oppressive. The sisters had spent much of their time at school persuading Harriet to come out of her shell, and Harriet had opened up to them quite ell. She was most grateful to the Martins for this opportunity of passing a summer pleasantly. It did not look as if she had anywhere else to go.
"I had hoped Robert would be out to meet us," broke in Belinda. "But I guess he's busy in the barn or at Donwell."
"Oh, look, Harriet! The summer house I told you Robert was working on for us is almost finished. We can make some decorations while you are with us. You'll have to make one of those lovely table coverings like you did in class," Mary said.
"Mother!" exclaimed Belinda. Gib stopped the carriage and the three girls climbed out as daintily as possible, hoping to show off the manners they had learned at Mrs. Goddard's.
Mrs. Martin smiled as she embraced the girls one by one. "How lovely to have you home, Mary. I'm so happy to see you, Belle! And, Harriet, you're looking prettier than ever! Oh, let me look at you!" and then the ladies fussed over who had grown, whether or not they looked any different, and the different styles their gowns had taken over the past few months.
After the luggage was brought out and the carriage put away, the girls set to organizing their things, though Belinda spent most of her time in the room Mary and Harriet were to share. The sisters were ecstatic that they were home again, and Harriet was anticipating four or five lovely weeks. Mrs. Martin came in to oversee the putting-away, and told them,
"What do you think, girls? Robert is at Donwell, and he told me he'd have some good news for us when he returned. He'll be home for dinner!" and the girls all smiled and chatted. Mary said she missed Robert dreadfully while she was away, and Belinda declared that she did not miss him, but she hoped he had missed her. She explained to Harriet that her older brother was quite a tease to them.
"Robert loves the girls," said Mrs. Martin gently, "but he forgets that they are now young ladies and must be treated as such. They all get on so well that he thinks of the days when they were all playful puppies."
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly, and soon they were all seated around the supper table. Robert had returned from Donwell Abbey, and told them the good news he had.
"Mr. Knightley said that our planting went quickly, and had made better use of our land than anyone," boasted Robert. "He is going to have a feast for all us tenants to relax for a change."
"What wonderful news, Robert! Will there be dancing?" the girls wanted to know.
"I don't see why not. He is fond of music, so he may well have some revelry to go with our celebration."
Harriet sat and thought. She knew Mr. Knightley from the information the girls had given them about their home. He seemed a fair and concerned landlord. Like all the gentry, she thought him proud and aloof, but since she did not move in that circle, his manner did not concern her. "Besides, he's quite old," she thought.
After the dining room had been cleared and the table reset, the family and Harriet retired to the evening parlor. Mary and Belinda wrote letters to some of the other girls who had also finished and moved back to their respective homes; Mrs. Martin worked on a bit of needlework she had begun; Mr. Martin enjoyed his pipe and tobacco, and Harriet read from one of the books she had brought with her.
"Miss Smith, my sisters tell me you have accomplished quite a bit on the pianoforte. Do you sing as well?" Mr. Martin interrupted her reading.
"Oh!" Harriet blushed. "I do sing a little bit. I am fond of music."
"Would you sing for our entertainment this evening?" he pressed.
"Oh, Mr. Martin, that is very kind, but I do not think my voice sounds well enough to sing to you without accompaniment," Harriet stammered.
"Harriet, you know you had the best voice out of all of our form. Even though we have no pianoforte, you sang that lovely piece for us a capella in your recital," Mary encouraged.
"Very well, then, I will." Harriet took a deep breath and began her song. She had a sweet voice; a bit breathy, but high and lilting. She only sang because she did not want to contradict Mary. As she sang, though, she became more confident. The Martins all listened to her willingly, but without staring at her too intently. Robert made her feel comfortable, with his wide smile and open features. "He's plain," she thought. "He looks very ordinary. But I feel we could be friends."
When she finished, the family all applauded. "That was beautiful!" commended Mrs. Martin.
"Yes, Harriet, that was very nice." added Mr. Martin.
"You see, he shall not tease you as he does his sisters," reproved Belinda.
"Perhaps he does not wish to torment her as he did us growing up," teased Mary.
Then the other girls had to perform, and Mary brought out the lap harp she had learned to play. They put on quite a show, Belinda most anxious to show off.
Mrs. Martin was delighted. She enjoyed Harriet as a companion for her daughters. In the two years since they had been at the school, they had grown closest to Harriet Smith. She knew that Harriet was unsure of herself because she was unsure of her family.
Part II Posted on Thursday, 4 May 2000
Harriet had heard infrequently from her parents, and when they did write, they did not disclose their identity. Mrs. Martin knew enough of the world to speculate that the parents had a reason to be secretive. Harriet had hoped to meet them very often, and was disappointed when she could not know who or where she had come from.
The next day, the girls showed Harriet around the farm. They saw the crops, just beginning to bud. On the hill sloping toward Donwell Abbey, sheep grazed as a shepherd family watched. The youngest girl told them excitedly that they were going to wash the sheep the next two days in preparation for shearing them.
When they came to the cattle barn, Mr. Martin was there, tending to the stalls. He walked out in the grazing area with the girls and told Harriet about the different breeds they owned. He owned eight, all told, he said. Two of them were prized Alderneys, and one that the family had found wandering near the farm, a Welsh cow, was their newest addition. The Martins had inquired at all the nearby farms, but not one of their honest neighbors would claim the cow. They kept it with the others, and had already come to think of it as their own. Harriet said she thought it a very pretty cow, indeed.
The girls went to explore the garden. Though not as big as some large estate gardens, the Martins kept a very pretty little garden that the neighbors called tranquil and lovely. Mrs. Martin was proud of her roses. Belinda said she would have to get straight to work on her section, and Mary declared she didn't know how she'd ever get her part untangled. Then Mary thought Harriet should have a little part, since she was the guest for a while, and then when she quit them they would have a living thing to remember her by.
The next week passed in a lovely way. Harriet decided to grow white roses and lilacs, and got her little patch in the garden started. She went to the cattle barn every morning, to help with the Welsh cow, and she spent so much time combing it and hand feeding it that Mrs. Martin declared that it was Harriet's own pet. The family all laughed to think of a cow being a pet, but Robert was always by Harriet's side when she tended the cow. He saw sympathy between the two misplaced creatures, both being pretty, but both wandering.
Robert remarked to Harriet, "Your cow seems to be doing better. Before you came, she didn't eat as much, and her coat wasn't as glossy. But you seem to have worked a miracle in her."
Harriet only smiled and said, "Thank you."
That night was the party at Donwell Abbey. Mr. Knightley had his kitchen staff prepare a summer feast for the tenants. He had indeed hired musicians from a nearby town, and delighted to see them all dance. The girls had had dancing lessons at Mrs. Goddard's, and were the coveted dancing partners for the evening. Harriet danced with several young men from farms near Abbey Mill. She had gotten quite familiar with the easygoing Martins, and felt at ease to dance and chat with everyone.
A particular young man, known around the neighborhood for being unusually enthusiastic, gave Harriet quite a whirl. While they were going down the set, he spun her a bit and joked so much that he made her giggle. After the dance, she collapsed on the sofa, laughing.
The night was breathtaking. Harriet had never known such dancing, such excitement! Her own life was ordinary compared to the wonders she knew that night.
Part III Posted on Friday, 5 May 2000
There was a small table next to the sofa. Harriet reached her hand in a small bowl set out and got a handful of walnuts. She cracked them open and ate the sweet meat inside. She smiled as she crunched on her favorite snack.
Robert Martin came and sat beside her. "Are you having fun, Miss Smith?"
"Oh yes! This is them most fun I've ever had! We never had such fun at Mrs. Goddard's."
He nodded at the walnuts in her hand. "Do you like those?"
She realized that she must look ridiculous, stuffing her face with the nuts. She admitted that, yes, she liked them very much. She put a few uncracked nuts back into the bowl.
"Miss Smith, could I engage you for the next two dances? Unless you are too tired. You have been dancing all evening."
"Mr. Martin, I would be delighted. I'm not the least bit tired." He took her arm and led her to a set when a new song began to play. She noticed that his eyes never left her, even when the dance took him stepping around the lady next to her. He was much more dignified than the boy who had danced with her before. Before she knew it, the two dances were over, Mrs. Martin was saying how fatigued she was, and Robert had ordered the carriage. Harriet thought it was over too soon, but felt that more had happened that night than all the other nights she had ever spent.
Mrs. Martin sat the girls down after breakfast the next morning. She asked what lessons in deportment they had had from Mrs. Goddard. Mary told her that they had often learned etiquette and conversation in their classes. Belinda asked, "Why, Mother? Didn't we dance well last night?"
Mrs. Martin replied, "Belinda, your dancing was beautiful. What I am concerned about is your behavior. You three pranced about like silly girls. Harriet, I speak to you as a mother, and when in company, you must beware how you carry yourself. Why, Mr. Knightley must think us vulgar farmers indeed if this is the way my daughters behave themselves! Dancing with numerous partners, twirling about, laughing too loudly. I dare say the young men were intrigued, but they may get the wrong impression of you if you keep this impropriety up."
"Oh!" Harriet colored, remembering her carriage at the party. She had thought only of the amusement of the evening and not of her reputation. "Mrs. Martin, I hope you can forgive me. As your guest, I ought to be particularly concerned with the appearances which I show to others. It reflects badly on you, and I hope no offense is taken."
The other two girls made similar responses, and all three vowed to be better girls. Mrs. Martin was a perfect model of everything a woman ought to be, and though she had been a farmer's wife, took care to give an air of comfortable grace. She made it a point to always think before she spoke or acted.
Two nights later, Mrs. Martin announced that it was Robert's birthday. "We'll have a special supper for him, of course," she planned. "What shall we do for entertainment?"
"I can play the dulcimer, and Harriet can sing!" Belinda cried. "Robert has been quite fond of your singing, Harriet. Do you remember that song that Miss Prince taught us in music class?"
"Of course," said Harriet. She blushed as she thought of Mr. Martin watching her sing. His calm blue eyes had grown on her lately, and she liked to look into his eyes, if only for a moment. His presence made her tingly and warm, though not nervous. She was glad to sing for his birthday, even though she didn't think her voice entertaining.
Their supper was ready at the usual time, but still Robert had not returned. "I wonder what could have detained him?" pondered Mrs. Martin. "He loves roast fowl. He is not selling the fleeces until tomorrow. Where could he be?"
Robert arrived half an hour late for supper, panting and glistening with perspiration. Mrs. Martin said that a man of twenty-four should realize his obligations and make an attempt to be prompt for their dining. He only smiled, looked at Miss Smith, and made an apology.
"I do apologize for detaining you all. But I think when we sit in the parlour tonight, you will be pleasantly surprised."
Belinda and Mary exchanged happy glances. They knew their brother had most pleasant surprises, and they had begun to speculate on his intentions toward Miss Smith.
The surprise was a small but meaningful one: walnuts. Miss Smith gasped, and Belinda exclaimed, "But the nearest grove isn't for..."
"Three miles," informed Robert. He looked a little shy when he said, "I know we are all fond of the produce."
Belinda took out the small dulcimer the family used on special occasions. Harriet rose to sing. The duet sounded beautiful, with the sweet instrument perfectly accompanying Harriet's sweet voice. When they finished, Mary and Mrs. Martin applauded. Robert looked at Harriet with so firm and happy a gaze that she was glad he hadn't clapped; the feeling she got from that stare, impolite as it may be, meant that he was pleased with her. She broke the eye contact and sat down, confused at the emotions swirling inside her.
Mary said, "So does twenty-four feel any different, Robert?"
"Ha ha, sister. When one gets to be an adult, one should not feel as one does as a child."
Mary told Harriet, "When Robert was twelve, he told us that he felt just like Papa, only shorter." The girls giggled at this reverie.
"I do feel like Papa. I have all his responsibilities."
Mrs. Martin looked sad as she said, "I don't know what I should do if you were to get married anytime soon, Robert. You really have taken your father's place."
The room grew quiet, and Harriet, meaning to break the silence, said, "My birthday is in a fortnight." The group looked toward her. "I mean, a fortnight and a day. I shall be seventeen." She hoped she had not embarrassed anyone.
Mary spoke first. "I forget that you are two years younger than me. You sometimes seem so mature. But Belinda is your age."
The conversation was steered away from anything uncomfortable. Harriet applauded herself inwardly for moving toward a light, comfortable topic. "You certainly know the art of conversation, Miss Smith," she told herself.
Part IV - The Flirtation Posted on Saturday, 13 May 2000
Before the party went to bed that evening, Robert sat down next to Harriet. He was quiet a minute, watching the fire crackle in the hearth, before saying, "You sang beautifully tonight, Miss Smith."
Harriet blushed. She was glad the dim lighting hid her reaction. "Thank you for the walnuts, Mr. Martin," she said softly. Suddenly she did not know what else to say. Robert also looked uncomfortable while he stirred the embers with the fire iron.
"So we shall have to celebrate your birthday soon, Miss Smith."
"Oh! Well, perhaps. I think my parents might be sending for me soon. They said they would, as soon as my schooling was over. They live in London, you know. Can you imagine me living in London?"
"Would you be living there?"
Harriet sighed. "I don't know, Mr. Martin. They've never given me an idea of their full plans for my future. I was always passed about from relative to relative. They have been most thoughtful, though, in providing me with Mrs. Goddard's school. I have been so grateful to her for the kindnesses she's shown me. She's been as the mother I've never known."
"It would be nice, though, to have some idea of what is to become of you. You have no plans to settle anywhere?"
"No. I would like to stay with Mrs. Goddard, as some of the other girls have done, to help look after the little girls. But as I have no idea of what I will be doing even next month, I hope to be as good a companion as I can be to Mary and Belinda."
"What about me?" interrupted Belle. "Look at you two, over in the corner like that. Harry, I hope Robert isn't becoming too familiar with you. Look at how he teases me since we've been home! What a dreadful fate for my poor friend, to have my brother giving her the same horrid teasing!"
"He's doing nothing of the sort, Belle. Mr. Martin is behaving perfectly well."
"Indeed I am, sister. I was just telling Miss Smith what a good price I'm sure to get tomorrow, because of the luck she has brought on us so far."
"Really? Is Harriet all that lucky?"
"Oh, yes, Belle. Miss Smith has already improved the condition of our little dairy. Her presence has caused the cows to produce more milk, and the sheep to grow long, fluffy coats for our benefit."
Mrs. Martin smiled. "Robert, dear, you know the cold winter of last year brought that thick hair of which you speak."
"Why, yes, it did, Mother. I'm glad you remembered." He thought to himself, "We had a cold winter. But now that Harriet is come, we live in only warmth and sunshine."
The next day, Robert and the shepherd family, the Littles, drove to town to sell the fleeces. He let Mr. Little do the selling while he went to a few shops. He passed a merchant by the name of "Smith's". He wondered... but passed by.
In a jewelry shop, he looked at necklaces and rings. Ford's in Highbury had nothing this fancy. He imagined the fleeces yielding a high earning and himself buying some pieces for his family... and Miss Smith. He imagined her blue eyes lighting up when she saw the diamond... not a large one, but just right for Harriet's delicate finger.
Robert was in danger of becoming very much in love with Harriet. Although he had only spent two weeks with her, her sweet, unassuming air had captured him. The care with which she approached all her tasks enamored him. She was innocence made flesh, a star sent from heaven to brighten his life. He could scarcely believe his sisters had been friends with her all this time, and yet he noticed her only now. Of course, he had only seen her in church, and then from a distance. There had been very little opportunity before of knowing her. But now that he did, he hoped she would not go away any time soon. He hoped the parents who had been so long mysterious would not show themselves now. But, of course, he would not have Harriet miserable. He then thought that, if Harriet would relocate to town, he should have to make frequent trips there. His imagination carried him far down the path of courtship and engagement before he had to go to meet Mr. Little.
When he met Mr. Little, the family was all gathered around, laughing and hugging each other. Robert smiled and said, "Did we get a good price?"
Mr. Little patted Robert on the shoulder. "Mr. Knightley should have a party in our honor! We sold the fleeces at three times last year's price!"
Robert could scarcely believe his ears. "Thrice the price? Oh, let's celebrate. We certainly should celebrate. What shall we do first?" The children wanted to see the performing animals, while Mrs. Little wanted some new fabrics. At last the party settled on small presents for each of the Martins and the Littles, and a token to Mr. Knightley. Robert managed to buy a simple chain for Harriet, similar to the ones he bought his sisters. He knew she wouldn't accept it unless he provided ones for his sisters as well.
He only hoped she saw past the gift into his heart.
Part V - The Strengthening of a Woman Posted on Saturday, 27 May 2000
When the party returned home, they found the household in quite an uproar. The Littles retired to their small cottage while Robert attended his family and Harriet.
It seemed that Mrs. Goddard had received a letter from Harriet's parents. Mr. Smith provided a stipend for Harriet, enough to keep her a parlor boarder for at least a year. He did not want Harriet to live in town. He did not provide a reason. Harriet was heartbroken, her hopes of at last meeting her parents dashed. Robert stayed downstairs in the morning parlor, too confused to go up to her. Belinda and Mary were in with Harriet, comforting her.
Robert wondered why Harriet's parents did not want her. He thought about the phrase "natural daughter". Harriet was illegitimate, that was certain. Perhaps the Smiths, or just Mr. Smith, were in a position that would make a seventeen-year-old daughter embarrassing or inconvenient. There were worse things for Harriet than never meeting her parents, he decided. She could be sent to work places that were inappropriate for a young lady. She could have an illegitimate child, herself. Or worse, she could be with her parents, in a world that did not want her, exposed to all manner of evils. Robert preferred to have Harriet with him, in his house, at least for the rest of the summer. There was something about her that was delicate and ladylike that should be nurtured. Although she had never had any formal training, other than what she had gleaned from Mrs. Goddard and the teachers at the school, Harriet had a naturally charming manner. She belonged to an upper society. "Harriet is too good for this life she's been thrown into," Robert decided.
Harriet remained in her miserable state for the next ten days. She could not come out to go to church, even, claiming that she felt too ill to be moved. The Martins hated to watch her suffer so. Mrs. Martin was a godsend to Harriet, gently sitting and patting her.
Harriet was, in fact, going through a profound change. She had previously thought her parents meant to send for her. She now realized how foolish her hopes had been. The time that she spent alone, for the most part, helped her realize that she would have to become a stronger person. She had received an education. If need be, she could support herself. But how? She was not even suited to teaching, although she had been very helpful with the younger ones. She decided that, upon going back to Mrs. Goddard's, she would inquire about how to become a teacher. At least she would then have some peace of mind that she was not doomed to remain under someone else's care the rest of her life.
One morning, Harriet awoke to find herself feeling surprisingly better. The sun streamed in her window like a signal from heaven that she was to find the right track and stick with it. She sat up and listened to a lark singing just outside the window.
Belinda came in. "Harriet? Look at you, you're feeling better, aren't you?" she said with joy in her voice.
"Oh, Belinda, look at that sky. Listen to that bird. Can you believe I just wasted all that time in bed? I want to go outside."
"Mary! Come quickly!" shouted Belinda. Mary came in, having already risen, washing behind her ears with a flannel square. The three girls hugged and almost cried with joy, except that they had been crying over the sad situation the past week and a half. They spent the morning in their summerhouse, which was looking lovely.
At dinnertime, Mrs. Martin sent Harriet to her room to fetch something out of her trunk. This gave the family the opportunity to begin thinking of her birthday, which was in four days. Mrs. Martin said, "After that time that she just had, I think we should do something special for her, the poor dear. Let's have a special performing time."
Everyone thought that was a great idea. Each thought of a special surprise for the party, and when Harriet returned to the table, she wondered what they were all grinning at.
They had a difficult time keeping the secret. It was so much fun to perform for one's family and friends. Practicing was nearly impossible, when Harriet was around all the time. But somehow they managed until Friday night. Belinda recited a poem by Cowper, Mary played her lap harp, and Mrs. Martin sang a song that had been popular when she was seventeen. Then Mr. Martin exclaimed, "Miss Smith, I know how fond you are of singing. I have a special visitor here to sing just for you!"
He brought in the youngest of the Littles to sing for Harriet. He sang a pretty song in his high, male soprano voice. Harriet was delighted. She had never been so honored as the Martins had done for her this night.
Then Mary started laughing and saying how Harriet was taller than she had been the day before. There was no reason for it, she just began to tease. Belinda said she thought that Harriet was shorter. Mrs. Martin had them all stand against the doorframe while she marked their heights off with a pencil. Mary was actually taller than Harriet, but they called it even because Mary had shoes on with a little heel. Actually, they wanted Harriet to feel bigger on her birthday. It was a very nice birthday present, to be considered so stately.
Harriet was ready to go to church with them that Sunday. They had to go back to Highbury to attend, because they were in the parish of Donwell Abbey, of whom Mr. Elton was the rector. The girls all giggled about how handsome he was. Robert felt that there was nothing very handsome about Mr. Elton; there was a look about him that was untrustworthy. He thought that a hard thing, that a parson should have any qualities about him that made people feel that he was not holy and pious. He had liked the Rev'd Bates better, the parson who had died when Robert was 14.
While sitting with the Martins in their pew, Harriet felt very happy to be with them. She had always felt a little silly, sitting with all the girls from Mrs. Goddard's. The Goddard girls sat three rows behind the Martins on the other side. People sat in church according to social rank. Harriet saw the icons of Highbury, as the girls at Mrs. Goddard's had called them, the Woodhouses, sitting in the very front. Harriet thought what a lucky woman that Miss Taylor was. She had gotten the position as Miss Woodhouse's governess when she was just sixteen. Of course, now she was an old maid, at 34 years old. Harriet wondered why a girl of twenty years old still needed a governess. Perhaps Mr. Woodhouse needed her around. Perhaps he enjoyed her around the house. Harriet giggled as she imagined an illicit love affair between old, timid Mr. Woodhouse and pretty Miss Taylor.
Part VI - End of the visit Posted on Saturday, 10 June 2000
The next two weeks passed without much excitement. Harriet found that keeping herself busy was the best cure for her feelings of worthlessness. The Martins certainly helped her feel needed and helpful. The family continued to cater to Harriet, to give her tasks and lots of praise so that she felt herself useful to them.
Mrs. Goddard sent word to Harriet that the new school season would begin the following week, and Harriet would be needed to help the new girls adjust to the school. When Harriet read it, her heart began to pound.
"What does good Mrs. Goddard have to say, dear?" asked Mrs. Martin over the cup of tea she was pouring.
"She...wants me to come within the week. The new girls will arrive soon, and I am to be there to welcome them."
"One week!" shrieked Belinda. "Oh Harriet, I'll miss you so much!" She began to cry.
"Now, Belle, you know that Harriet will not be far away. She can come to us very often." Mary was a little more reasonable.
"Very true, Mary. Harriet, please know that your welcome here is open whenever you feel like it. Just send word, and we'll have one of the hands come with the carriage."
"You are so kind," said Harriet, a big smile on her face. "You have become my family." Tears welled up in her eyes. "No one else could take your place."
"And no one ever could!" cried Mary.
Robert Martin had been tending to his cows during this scene. He now entered the dining room where four weepy women were clasping hands and loving all over one another. He was quite unprepared for this festival of emotion and stood in the doorway, unsure of whether he should proceed into the cloud of female-ness.
Harriet noticed Robert standing so uncomfortably and wiped her eyes. "Mr. Martin, we are humiliated," she almost giggled.
"Harriet is going away in less than a week, and we will miss her," said Mary.
"But she's welcome to come back, is she not?" said Mrs. Martin.
"Oh, um, of course!" replied Robert.
Harriet's giggling had caught on. The other women began to laugh, and soon they were in each other's arms, laughing. Robert backed out, not wanting to get caught in the middle again. He was sure he'd never understand women.
The following Friday, Harriet's trunk was packed, and she was seated in the carriage. The Martin ladies all kissed her good-bye one last time, and wished her well as a parlour boarder.
"Remember that we have an appointment for next summer," reminded Belle. "We will have tea again in our summer house."
"How could I forget?" Harriet sighed. She carried so many things with her: a barrage of lovely memories to last her through any lonely times, all the love they gave her, some new patterns Mrs. Martin lent her that were family traditions, and a necklace. She was most astounded at the necklace, even now. He had been so kind to include her in the gift he gave to his family. She was certain to wear it always.
Robert was driving the carriage to town. He said that Gib was too burdened today to drive, so he would take Harriet in himself. Mrs. Martin was happy about this. She was certain Robert had fallen in love with Harriet, and wondered if a marriage proposal would come soon.
At last they were off over the rutted road to Highbury. Harriet chatted merrily to make the trip more pleasant.
"I'm sure the Baker twins will be back. Also, the Pennyweather girls, and that Elinor Copperfield... I do so love all the younger ones. It is so intriguing to watch them struggle with the same lessons I had to learn."
"Really, Miss Smith."
"Oh, yes. We older girls would sometimes help, but mostly we let them eke out their own educations."
"I liked to help the younger ones at my school," Robert said.
"Now, where did you go to school, Mr. Martin?"
"Bainsbury's, not too far from London. I enjoyed it very much."
"Were you very good at your lessons?"
"I think so. We studied a good deal about new scientific techniques to farming. Papa was glad when I brought back some new suggestions."
"So that is why your farm runs so smoothly. I always wondered why you were so interested in those agricultural reports."
"They help a lot, certainly. And Mr. Knightley is a good landlord. He said he'd help me out when I was ready for my own farm. Mother has enough help that she shouldn't have to struggle at all."
They chatted more about farming until they were at Mrs. Goddard's. Mr. Martin helped her with her bags, then cordially shook her hand. She sent her love back to his sisters and mother, and then he drove off.
Robert drove away with a happy heart. Harriet had seemed most interested in the farm he could have of his own. He decided to talk to Mr. Knightley about this as soon as possible. Harriet was an unspoiled, unpretentious girl who gave her emotions freely. He did not care about her lack of family. He was a hard worker and knew he was able to provide a good living. Some people of his day depended on having money given to them by inheritance, but he was more self-sufficient than that. He wanted something of his own, and the two things he wanted more than anything were his own farm, and Harriet Smith.