The wedding was over, the new Mrs. Martin safely ensconced in her home at Abbey-Mill Farm, placed in the midst of those who loved her, but unlike a previous occasion, when Emma had lost her dear Miss Taylor, this event was not tinged by attendant sorrow. Mr. Woodhouse and his daughter were not left alone to contemplate their loss, for all the Knghtley’s were at Hartfield to enliven the dining hour. Nevertheless, a wedding, even one as unexceptional as Harriet Smith’s to Robert Martin, would rouse melancholy feelings in Mr. Woodhouse.
“Poor Miss Smith! How I wish she were here to enjoy this repast. Mrs. Martin cannot understand the boiling of an egg as well as Serle - nobody does! What a pity Mr. Martin ever thought of our dear Miss Smith!”
“I would say that the pity lies in the abundance of chickens kept at Abbey-Mill. All those eggs, and the new mistress too spoiled by Serle to eat them!” retorted Mr. John Knightley, not without good humor.
“Her time at Hartfield would make life anywhere else rather unbearable, would you not agree, my dears?” he turned towards Isabella. “I do not know how you can bear London, my poor child. It is a dreadful thing to have you living so far off!”
Here was dangerous ground, but the elder Mr. Knightley was quick to take up the defense. “I plan to add an additional room to the Farm house to honor the occasion come spring. What say you, John, to accompanying William Larkins and myself on our survey of the property tomorrow? Henry and John will enjoy the outing. The apples should be ready for picking, and I am sure Martin wouldn’t mind if they pilfered a few from his trees.”
The diversion succeeded, and the brothers spent many contented minutes in contemplation of the scheme, leaving the redirection of Mr. Woodhouse’s mind in the capable hands of his youngest daughter.
“We shall make our wedding visit soon, Papa. It can easily be accomplished before one of our trips to Randells, which can be taken in upon our return route, you know.”
But this suggestion did not sit as well with Mr. Woodhouse as Emma had hoped, he being, at present, most determined upon seeing everything, particularly regarding the subject of matrimony, in the most negative light. “I do not know the ways of Abbey-Mill Farm. Where are the poor horses to be while we are paying our visit?”
“We shall not visit long, Papa, and while the weather remains mild James can have no objection to walking them for fifteen minutes. A bride must not be neglected, you know.”
“Oh, dear me, no. I hope I shall never be guilty of not doing my duty towards a newly married woman, especially one who has been such a good friend to you, Emma dear, as poor Miss Smith. How she will miss your company! She so delighted in her time at Hartfield!”
“I remember you saying something very similar, Papa, upon Mrs. Weston’s marriage, and look how happy she is now, with her dear little Anna. Is it not wonderful how our father dotes on the child, Isabella dear?”
At the mention of the baby, which inevitably conjured thoughts of her own, Mrs. Knightley was predictably sentimental: “Children are the greatest blessing of marriage.”
“I shall remember that, my love,” inserted his husband from the opposite end of the table. “What role has a man to play in the felicities of the matrimonial state, except to see the doctor’s bills paid.” Turning towards his brother, “Most married men have cause to complain of charges to the dressmaker or milliner, but my Isabella will insist on single-handedly funding the education of all the little Wingfields.”
“The children have not been ill, have they, Isabella my dear?” asked her father in alarm. “I did not think little Emma looked quite as rosy as on her last visit. I shall have Perry here in the morning.”
“That is most unnecessary, sir, though I am always happy to see dear Mr. Perry. John only jests. He would make out that I quite coddle the children, but indeed, I only call on Mr. Wingfield when there is true cause for alarm, of which we have thankfully had none this summer. And you do me an injustice, dear, in thinking I do not value your contribution. I do not think there could be a more devoted wife than I.”
“I am sure he believes nothing of the sort, Isabella,” replied Emma on behalf of her brother-in-law, who was once again engaged in talk of land and improvements with his brother.
“One cannot be too careful with the health of the young. It is best to take no risks. It would be much better if you let Perry examine the children. As I was just telling dear Mrs. Weston the other day, one should always send for Perry if a child appears in the slightest degree disordered, be it only for a moment. One can not be too soon alarmed, nor send for Perry too often.”
“Miss Fairfax should now be comfortably settled again with the Campbells. What fascinating tales they must have to tell of their travels in Ireland!” Silently, Emma considered what a vast improvement such conversation must be over that of Miss Bates, but she schooled herself to keep such opinions confined to her own mind.
“Dear Jane Fairfax! One could not be happier for her. Such a deserving young woman, and such an unexpectedly advantageous match! Who would have thought that our own Mr. Churchill and Miss Fairfax would suit so well? It is such a satisfyingly romantic result to all our concern for her future, is it not, Papa?” beamed Isabella.
“One must be happy that poor Jane Fairfax should not be forced to make her own way in the world. The prospect was most distressing to her aunt and grandmother, I know. Yet now she is forced back into the bad air of London, and Mr. Frank Churchill as well. They would have both done better to remain in Highbury. Everyone was so comfortable here.”
“We must rejoice for the establishment of Miss Fairfax at Enscombe, Papa, once the Churchill’s complete their period of mourning. Only think of what it will mean for her well-being, instead of being confined to the small rooms the Bateses inhabit here. And consider also what she will be able to do to improve the comfort of your old friends - they who deserve so much, but have been forced to subsist on so little,” reasoned Emma.
“Very true, my dear. I cannot help but be glad of what must benefit my friends. The match is a necessary evil, I suppose. How I do deplore a marriage! They are silly things, and break up one’s family circle most grievously.”
This statement garnered the attention of all the table, as it bode so particularly poorly for two members of it. Quite against his custom, but driven by a strong sense of brotherly affection, it was John Knightley who attempted to placate his father-in-law. “My dear sir, surely you cannot believe such to always be the case. Only look at the forthcoming union of your own daughter and my brother, which will consequently expand your family circle, not contract it. Only think how comfortable you all will be!” He spoke well, if not perfectly honestly, for no incentive would have induced him to take a similar step as his brother proposed by residing at Hartfield.
“We are all quite comfortable as we presently are,” insisted an agitated Mr. Woodhouse. “I perceive no reason for alteration, at least not for a great while. Someday, I admit, the arrangement will be quite suitable, and it imparts a good deal of comfort to a man of my years to know his daughters will be well cared for, but at present such an abrupt change seems most unnecessary.”
Emma, always so quick to sooth her father’s spirits, had no ready reply to this. John Knightley too, feeling that there was not much he could say in response to such an irrational line of argument, returned with doubled attention to his plate. As Mr. Knightley did not wish to incense the poor man anymore by defending his claim, it was to Isabella whom this onerous task fell, and she rose to the occasion, though quite inadvertently, by reaching for the oysters.
“My dear child!” exclaimed Mr. Woodhouse. “A delicate constitution such as yours cannot tolerate such rich foods! Whatever can you be thinking? No indeed, a nice bowl of thin gruel would be much more the thing, do you not agree? I recommend that we all enjoy one this evening. Shall we all partake of a small bowl of gruel, Emma dear?”
As none of the assembled family had the heart to decline, for the first time ever they all acceded to this unpalatable request. What a shock Serle suffered later that night, upon receiving orders for a full five bowls of gruel, one can only surmise.
Come back next Friday for another weekly dose!
Come back next Friday for another weekly dose!