Read Part One.
Of course, the party at Hartfield were not the only ones in the vicinity of Highbury with matrimony on their minds. A wedding of any sort will naturally generate a great deal of talk, especially in a small community. At Randalls, feelings were optimistic for the young couple.
“It is a highly satisfying match. I'm sure no one could think otherwise. Not so great as Frank and Jane's, of course, but I suppose no one ever contemplated Miss Smith taking a place amongst society, while our Jane was surely born to play such a role,” mused a contented Mr. Weston.
“I did think that Emma had hoped higher for her friend at one point, but she certainly seems content with the match now. Mr. Knightley once predicted that their friendship would cause Harriet to grow uncomfortable among those whom birth and circumstances placed her. The conversation seems ages ago, so much has happened since! How wrong he was, and how little he knew then where his own heart would lead him in the course of a mere year.”
“Now there is a fine match. One could not conceive a more appropriate pairing, and if Mr. Knighltey did not see it coming, he was blinder than I would ever credit him with being. Why, Emma was made for him, and he for her, for that matter.”
“Someday, my little darling, it will be your turn to stand at the alter,” cooed Mrs. Weston to the infant in her arms.
“Let's not be so hasty, Mrs. Weston. There are a good many years before any such event need be contemplated.”
“Do you not wish for Anna to be well established in life?” questioned his wife, all too familiar with the import of marriage to a female.
“Yes, yes. Of course I do, my dear. But I do admit that I enjoy having a young Weston around. I do not think I can help being a bit sorry when the day comes that she must take on a new identity. I do not begrudge Frank his name, nor the care the Churchill's have provided him, but it is nice to have an offspring that bears my own.”
Mrs. Weston smiled at her husband in sympathy, her heart touched by the gentleness of the man she had married. “Perhaps someday you will have another son to carry on the Weston name.”
Mr. Weston's eyes lit with the thought. “Indeed, my dear. Perhaps we may.”
At the parsonage, sentiments were of a rather different nature. For two individuals who professed to think little of a Miss Smith, a Mrs. Martin provoked a great deal of interest in Mr. and Mrs. Elton, though not quite as much as the rumor of another young lady's engagement.
“Her dress was not out of the ordinary, as befit her situation, of course, but I do believe Martin is quite pleased with his bide. Indeed, it is a good match for a young farmer. Her father has behaved quite handsomely, I understand, and Martin has use for the capital. I suppose we must be thankful her hand is safely bestowed, before Miss Woodhouse succeeded in foisting her off on some unsuspecting gentleman.”
“Quite right, Mr. E. I suppose Miss Woodhouse will drop the connection now, as I cannot imagine her visiting at Abbey-Mill. Quite surprising she even stood up with the poor girl, but it would have been rather awkward to abandon her protegee so quickly. We shall see if Mrs. Martin attends Miss Woodhouse's wedding. How could poor Knightley be so taken in?”
“The young lady's pride should now be contented. I suppose she had always meant to catch Knightley if she could.”
“This will be the end of all pleasant intercourse with him, you know. A disagreeable wife's personality will have adverse effects on a susceptible gentleman.”
“Exactly so, my dear.”
“I am extremely concerned for him, for, though eccentric, he has a thousand good qualities. I do not think him at all in love – not in the least. Poor fellow! It is a sad business for him.”
“Weston tells me they plan on living at Hartfield, at least until the old gentleman says goodbye to this world. Miss Woodhouse would not be parted from her father. A strange arrangement, I thought, but Weston seems to think it a blessing.”
“A shocking plan! What can they mean, living all together in such a manner? It will never do, Mr. E, mark my words! I know a family near maple Grove who attempted it, and they were obliged to separate before the end of the first quarter. Poor Knightley! I wonder how she convinced him to agree to such a notion?”
“Rather him than I!”
Mrs. Elton did not find this response particularly satisfying, as all reminders of her husband's prior interest in Miss Woodhouse rankled. She turned the discussion to the demerits of the Donwell housekeeper, to which Mr. Elton had little option but to add his assent.
Let us return to those more charitably inclined, both towards the newlyweds and the newly engaged, by listening in on the entirely one-sided discourse Miss Bates maintained on the subject with her mother:
“Mrs. Cole saw Mr. Elton after the ceremony, and he told her that it all went off very well. Dear little Miss Smith! It does one good to see such a sweet creature happily settled. I am sure Miss Woodhouse must be content with the match, such care she has shown towards her! So kind, so obliging is Miss Woodhouse. As I was saying to Mrs. Cole when I saw her outside of Ford's where she had just purchased some new trim for her blue spotted muslin – you know the gown I mean ma'am? Such a lovely dress, and I am sure it will be quite born again with the red trim she bought. I told her so much. I said, 'My dear Mrs. Cole, though the gown is perfectly lovely in its current state, I am sure it will be quite the thing once you have transformed it!' Such a fashionable notion! Why, I do believe even our dear Jane would be enthused by it. I must tell her all about it when I next write. I understand Miss Smith wore white muslin - so appropriate for a bride! I am sure she looked perfectly lovely. Such a pretty girl! And after I parted from Mrs. Cole, I bumped into Mr. Weston, just as he was leaving the Crown. 'My dear Mr. Weston!' I said. 'Have you heard about the wedding? Mrs. Cole assures me it was most elegant.' And Mr. Weston, having just been at Hartfield, was able to assure me it was certainly so. Such a kind man! As you may expect, ma'am, we soon fell into conversation about Jane and Frank – he had not yet heard about their recent evening at the theater – and though I urged him quite incessantly to come inside and read Jane's letter for himself, he was so anxious to return to Randalls and little Anne that he deferred, promising to call on us tomorrow. Is that not something to look forward to? Perhaps he will have more news of Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley's plans, as today he was still unable to confirm if they had set a date or not. What a happy notion for dear Mr. Woodhouse! I am sure he must be thrilled by the match. Can you imagine anything more perfect? Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley! Why, it is almost as exciting as Jane's engagement to Frank! I will write to her directly and share all our news. She will be most interested to learn that they have still not decided on a date.”
And at Hartfield? How did matters progress amongst those most concerned? Neither of the Mr. Knightley's had the heart to broach the subject again with Mr. Woodhouse, as neither wished to be subjected to another round of gruel, leaving Emma to carry forth her cause virtually unaided. As she was undoubtedly the most skilled handler of her father, the current state of affairs did not overly trouble her at first. Though her once perfect confidence in her ability to manage the hearts of others had been sadly shaken, she still retained faith in her capacity to see to her own, or at least so she assured herself. She and George (a name that still sat awkwardly on her tongue) had determined that their marriage ought to be concluded while John and Isabella were still at Hartfield, as their presence would allow the newlyweds a fortnight's absence to tour the seaside in way of a honeymoon, but as the days slipped by, September making way for October, and Mr. Woodhouse continued unhappy, her courage began to fail. She could not bear to see him suffering - to know him fancying himself neglected – and though her understanding almost acquiesced in the assurances of both the Mr. Knightleys, that when once the event were over, his distress would soon be over too, she hesitated. She could not proceed to urge him when it caused him so much pain. The once resourceful young woman was left with little recourse but to hope that some unforeseen event would intercede on her behalf.
Come back next Friday (I hope) for another weekly dose!