Here's Emma. I had a lot of fun with this one. If you want to read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, or Northanger Abbey, click on the links. Enjoy!
The wedding was over, the new Mrs. Martin safely placed in the midst of those who loved her, ensconced in her home at Abbey-Mill Farm, but unlike a previous occasion, when Emma lost her dear Miss Taylor, this event was not tinged by attendant sorrow. Mr. Woodhouse could deplore a marriage of any sort, but only a person of his great delicacy could find hardship in such an unexceptional marriage as Harriet Smith’s to Robert Martin. Fortunately, all the Knghtley’s were at Hartfield to help alleviate his melancholy.
“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 poultry 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 must render life elsewhere a trial, and Mrs. Martin does not have a proper cook in her employ.“ 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, even with the benefits of a proper staff, though I can’t say I like your Betty.”
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 content 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 visits to Randells, taken in upon our return route.”
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 companion to you, my dear Emma, 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?”
At the mention of the baby, which inevitably conjured thoughts of her own, Mrs. Knightley was predictably sentimental. She had much to contribute on the subject, all of which can be understood from her conclusion: “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 pay the doctor’s bill?” 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 look at her 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 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 think there could not be a more devoted wife than I!”
“I am sure he believes nothing of the sort, Isabella,” replied Emma on her brother’s behalf, as he was once again engaged in talk of land and improvements.
“One cannot be too careful with the health of the young. It is best to take no risks. As I was telling dear Mrs. Weston just 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, as well as to myself. 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 happy here.”
“For shame, Papa! We must rejoice for the establishment of Miss Fairfax at Enscombe, 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 poorly for the two members of it with whom we are particularly concerned. 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. 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, 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 it was to Serle to receive orders for a full five bowls of gruel one can only surmise.
Hartfield was not the only house in Highbury alive with matrimonial chatter. 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 thought of Miss Smith taking a place amongst society, while our Jane was clearly born to play such a role,” mused a contented Mr. Weston.
“I do think Emma aimed 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 with those whom birth and circumstances had 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. Why, Emma was made for him, and he for her, for that matter. Anyone might depend upon it.”
Mrs. Weston did not deem it necessary to remind her husband of the hopes they once harbored for a match between Emma and Frank, instead turning her attention to the baby. “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 it doesn’t hinder my joy at having a young Weston around once more! I do not think I can help being a bit sorry when the day comes that she must take on a new identity. I don’t 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 his gentleness. “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 for Mr. and Mrs. Elton.
“Her dress was not out of the ordinary, as befit her situation, of course, but I do believe Martin is quite pleased with his bride. 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, and before Miss Woodhouse succeeded in foisting her off on some unsuspecting gentleman.”
“Exactly so, 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 protégée now. 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 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 husband.”
“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 dies. 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! It is worse than I thought! 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 becoming gown, and I am certain it will be 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 the height of elegance once you have transformed it!' Such a fashionable notion! Why, I do believe even our dear Jane would be enthused on the subject. 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 confirm it was. Such a kind man! As you may expect, Ma'am, we soon fell into conversation about Jane and Mr. Churchill – he had not yet heard about their recent evening at the theater, for dear Mr. Churchill cannot be expected to be the correspondent Jane is – and though I urged him to come inside and read Jane's letter for himself, he was so anxious to return to Randalls and little Anna 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! 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.”
Emma could wish for some of Miss Bates’ optimism regarding her prospects, which were beginning to appear grim. Neither of the Mr. Knightleys had the heart to broach the subject again with Mr. Woodhouse, as one could not wish 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, this state of affairs had not at first overly troubled her. 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 told herself. She and George (a name that still sat awkwardly on her tongue) had determined 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, Emma’s courage began to fail. She could not bear to see him suffering – to know him fancying himself neglected – and though her understanding almost acquiesced to the assurances of both the Mr. Knightleys that when once the event was over, his distress would soon be over too, she hesitated. As 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.
Fate, so unaccountable and never to be relied upon, will on occasion prove surprisingly accommodating. I fear that the fervency of Emma's hopes had little to do with their fulfillment, and action is always more dependable than desire in the achievement of one's goals, but as, in this particular case, action, persuasion, and even mild coercion had all proved equally ineffective in moving Mr. Woodhouse, it is highly felicitous that Fate chose to intervene on our heroine's behalf.
The mechanism though which the marriage of Miss Woodhouse to Mr. Knightley was enabled to proceed was as auspicious as a man wearing one sandal. News of the couple's good fortune (though they little recognized it at the time) was first relayed to Emma by the new Mrs. Martin, in the course of her wedding visit to Abbey-Mill Farm. With great joy did she show Emma her new domain, not forgetting the smaller parlor, the summer-house, and most particularly, the Welch cow that was now truly Harriet's own. Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella were not asked to brave the pasturage, instead enjoying the comforts of the large parlor with the dowager. While the apple tart offered to Mr. Woodhouse in way of refreshment caused him no little concern for the fate of the bride's digestive tract in her new surroundings, even Mr. Woodhouse had to admit, upon their departure, that “poor Miss Smith” seemed happily settled. The only true care that marred Harriet's marriage, thus far, was what appeared to be an attempt to break in to the Martin's poultry-yard. William Larkins, always attentive, had heard a disturbance and investigated before any damage occurred, and it was largely believed by the residents of Donwell that the incident was either the work of a fox, or that of a young rascal. As no harm had been done, the occurrence was not deemed of significance, and Emma was careful not to allow it to come to Mr. Woodhouse's ears. She did, however, discuss it at length with Mr. Knightley, who had taken the measure of increasing surveillance on both his property and at Hartfield, just in case more mischief arose.
Fortunately, it did. Rain on the next morning prevented Mr. Woodhouse from risking his horses on a trip to Randalls, but as the skies cleared in the afternoon, Hartfield was honored with a most loquacious visitor.
“My dear sir, how are you this morning? Quite dreadful weather, is it not? And Miss Woodhouse, Mr. and Mrs. Knightley, how does this day find you? The children are well, I am sure! Young Henry and John quite made mother's day when you were so obliging as to bring them by. She does so love children. Have you heard the news? Shocking, that such things could occur in Highbury! Never was I more taken aback. When Mrs. Cole told me I was stunned, thoroughly stunned! What can one say upon hearing such news? And I hear that the Perrys, the Coxs, and the Westons all suffered similar intrusions. What can one do, Miss Woodhouse? Such goings on are unheard of, except on that one occasion, of so many years ago, when Mr. Johnson – you remember our old curate, do you not, Mr. Woodhouse? – when Mr. Johnson mislaid the tithes, and we were all convinced they had been stolen, but then they were found again, and in the most unusual location, though I cannot recall where. I must ask my mother, as she will surely remember.”
Though no real sense of what the shocking news Miss Bates was trying to convey was thus attainable, the content of her speech was sufficient to cause a most alarmed look upon Mr. Woodhouse's face. Emma hesitated to seek clarity, remembering her determination to be patient with Miss Bates, but she had just reached the point of intervening, lest her father suffer apoplexy, when her brother-in-law performed that office on the lady’s behalf.
“Am I to understand, Miss Bates, that some sort of burglary has taken place?”
“Burglary, Mr. Knightley? I'm not sure that is the word I would have chosen, as it does convey as sense of housebreaking, does it not? I do not want to cause any undo alarm, and no person has been molested in last night's occurrences. A chicken cannot be thought a person, but it is most certainly true that several poultry-yards have been pilfered, and that all of Mrs. Weston's turkeys are gone!”
“Oh dear me,” cried Isabella, heedless of the impact of her words upon her trembling father. “What is to be done? We hear of such happenings in London, of course, but never in the vicinity of Brunswick Square! Are we not safe in my own home, John? What about the children?”
“Calm my dear. There is a dramatic difference between a pilfered chicken coop and a housebreak. As Miss Bates just explained, a chicken cannot be thought a person, and therefore it cannot claim similar rights and privileges under the law.”
“I do not see the difference,” declared an extremely pale Mr. Woodhouse. “Oh dear! Why, this is dreadful! Poor Mrs. Weston! And Perry! Are none of us our beyond reach of such assault? Poor Mrs. Weston, and dear little Miss Weston! If Randalls is vulnerable, can any house be sound?”
“My dear sir,” assured his son-in-law, setting aside his amusement in the wake of Mr. Woodhouse’s distress, “be not alarmed. Surely George has already been informed of the situation, and if he does not apprehend the culprits he will certainly insure that no such further events can occur within his jurisdiction. If the perpetrators are local, they will most certainly be caught, and if they are not, they are undoubtedly hurrying themselves as far from this neighborhood as they can get, in order to avoid arrest. They will not return.”
Both Isabella and Mr. Woodhouse seemed somewhat assuaged by his words, but Emma was still hurrying to have the fire built up, and securing an additional blanket for her father, knowing very well that his physical comfort would contribute directly to his mental well-being. While a housemaid saw to her mistress' immediate orders, Emma was on the verge of taking it upon herself to procure refreshments, of precisely the nature to most alleviate her father's tremors, when Miss Bates uttered these highly felicitous words: “How comforting to you, Mr. Woodhouse, must be the knowledge of our good Mr. Knightleys' protection. With either in the house, you surely have nothing to fear.”
Never had a pronouncement of Miss Bates' resonated so well with Emma. Against all her previous endeavors, so calculated to restore her father's calm, she now spoke to heighten his alarm. “Indeed, Papa, we must be grateful that John and Isabella are with us at such a time, but what, sir, are we to do when they must return to London? I believe you may only remain with us until November, is that not correct?”
John, always quick to comprehend, and in no doubt that Emma was fully aware of their intended departure time, rallied to her cause. “Yes, I must get back to my offices, but surely my brother is capable of seeing to Hartfield's safety from Donwell. Why, it is not more than a mile away.”
“A mile away, sir!” cried the distraught Mr. Woodhouse. “At a distance of a mile, in no telling what sort of weather, how might your brother be of service?”
“But surely Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley do not intend to wait so very long before marrying?” Miss Bates asked. “I was of the opinion, that is I understood, that there were no great reasons for delay. When young people of good fortune are in love, there is no need to wait.”
Emma could have embraced Miss Bates. Never before had she so appreciated that lady's lack of perception, nor found it so to the point! Mr. Woodhouse, although taken aback by his old friend's words, was quick to adopt the idea. “Yes, Emma dear, you must speak to Mr. Knightley at once. I know you feel no haste to marry, for how could anyone so comfortably situated as you wish to alter their state, my dear, but there must be no delay.”
“Mr. Knightley, as you recall, sir, will be dining with us this evening. I will certainly take the opportunity to discuss the situation with him. I foresee no reason why he should not be happy to comply with your wishes. He is always so concerned for your comfort, Papa.”
“Indeed, my brother is most self-sacrificing. And if you can manage your arrangements promptly, Emma, perhaps you and he might even be able to take that journey to the seaside you discussed, and all before Isabella and I need to depart.”
“The seaside! I do not know why Emma would wish to journey so far from Hartfield, but if anyone can manage an affair with speed, it is certainly my Emma,” Mr. Woodhouse defended his daughter from the perceived slight, torn between his conviction of her perfections and a rooted dislike of travel, but it was enough to secure her happiness. The wedding would take place as planned, and the event would, remarkably, bring her father relief rather than distress. Never had lost poultry so pleased.
It took all of Emma's notable contrivance to greet her fiancé alone that evening, but being determined to share with him the good news herself, it was well worth the exertion. Her father was easily left in his usual chair in the parlor, happily ensconced near a comfortable fire. John and Isabella needed only to be asked and happily joined Mr. Woodhouse there. But as for the many nieces and nephews, whose presence at Hartfield Emma had never before begrudged, it took no little amount of stratagem to ensure they were safely employed in the nursery and not underfoot. For the little ones the feat was not so monumental, a simple game of spillikins, to which she had abandoned them, serving to suffice, but Henry and John proved far more difficult to manage. Emma was ashamed to admit that she had at last resorted to bribery, but no other means in her arsenal proved effective, the boys rather desiring to tell Uncle George of the man they had dubbed the “fowl thief” themselves. She would pay the price on the morrow, no doubt spending what Mr. Woodhouse would deem an unconscionable amount of time gallivanting around the park on whatever adventure the boys devised. Yet as that was tomorrow's concern, she relished her ability to usher Mr. Knightley into one of the smaller sitting rooms as soon as he arrived for dinner, in order to indulge in a few precious moments alone.
“Emma, my dear, what is all this? Not that I am sorry to find you alone, but you look as if you might burst with news. What is it?”
“You have of course heard of the events of last night, have you not Mr. Knightley?”
“I presume you refer to the mysterious disappearance of poultry from the neighborhood?”
“Precisely. You have no notion how advantageous this event has been in our favor.”
In fact, Mr. Knightley had a very good notion. He had met Miss Bates in Highbury following her visit to Hartfield, and that good lady made short work of Emma’s contrivances, as she quickly spread the word throughout the neighborhood. Most of the residents duly rejoiced, except for Mrs. Elton, who continued to lament Mr. Knightley's fate. Mrs. Weston was quite tempted to disregard both weather and missing turkeys to rush to Hartfield and express her joy, but Mr. Knightley's timely arrival at Randalls prevented this occurrence, as, accurately convinced Emma would be quite anxious to impart their good fortune herself, he convinced the good lady that revealing how widespread the knowledge was would ruin some of the excitement for her favorite. However, as he had no intention of betraying his lack of ignorance on the subject, he replied quite convincingly, “Indeed? How could such an unfortunate act possibly bring any one good? It has already been the cause of a great deal of inconvenience to myself, as I was forced to spend the day investigating the matter, when I had much rather have spent it with you.”
At this Emma laughed. “Oh yes, I am sure, as if William Larkins would not have had something to say about such a notion. He must already deplore our engagement as the downfall of Donwell. You neglect your duties for Hartfield, and marriage will only worsen the matter.”
“William is not my keeper, despite what you think, Emma, and what duty has gone neglected, may I ask?”
“I am sure Mr. Larkins would be quite happy to furnish a list of offenses if pressed, Mr. Knightley.”
“Well, we had best not importune him in that case, and do call me George, Emma.”
“Very well, George, I will try, but the habits of a lifetime cannot be expected to disappear overnight. But you have distracted me from my purpose. The incident at Randalls quite over set my father's piece of mind, as you can well imagine. Miss Bates broke it upon him most unceremoniously, and I was rather vexed with the creature, as I am sure you may well imagine, until she made everything right, and more so. Never before has she stood so high in my good graces. We are eternally indebted to her.”
“Are we indeed?” he responded with an amused smile. “And how has this miracle occurred?”
“When Miss Bates first arrived and rambled on for several minutes about shocking going-ons, intrusions, and long forgotten mysteries, I felt all my old impatience for her. My father was notably upset, and I was bent on putting an end to conversation posthaste until she burst out with the least silly thing I have ever heard her say, informing Papa what comfort it must be to him to have the Mr. Knightleys in residence for protection. Well, he clung to this notion so fiercely that he practically ordered me to marry at once! Not what have you to say to my fine news?”
Mr. Knightley laughed and embraced Emma, “I have merely to ask what stretch of ocean it most behooves you to visit. My dear Emma, these are superior tidings! And to think we owe it all to Miss Bates! I always knew you would come to appreciate her one day.”
“She has performed for us a most invaluable service. I had already resolved to never say another uncharitable thing about her again, but now that I am quite in her debt, I shall rather sing her praises to the entire neighborhood. I will make a point of visiting her regularly, and on the day she expects her letter from Jane Fairfax, too, that she may enjoy the felicity of both describing all of its content as well as reciting the note itself, and I will be thankful to have brought her the opportunity of doing so.”
Such altruistic feelings on his intended's part only doubled Mr. Knightley's gratitude that she remained ignorant of the rapidity with which Miss Bates had managed to spread her announcement. “But where shall we go, Emma? You who have traveled so very little must have a particular notion as to our destination.”
“Well, while Papa is now thoroughly reconciled, even desirous, of our expeditious union, he is not so enthused about the notion of my traveling. We had best not venture too far, so as to spare his nerves some anxiety, though we are all so well aware of Mr. Perry's predilection for Cromer. Besides, John and Isabella must depart by November, so we haven't much time for a long journey.”
“True. Shall I consult with Perry as to his nearest recommendation?”
“I think I had rather that we choose a location ourselves and then inform Mr. Perry of how salubrious he finds it, before sharing our plans with my father.”
“Brilliant notion. What shall it be then? Brighton? Mrs. Elton will be all envy.”
Emma made a face. “I think we can enjoy ourselves quite thoroughly without engaging Mrs. Elton's better instincts. Though Brighton should be growing quieter at this time of year, I think some place rather less showy might better fit our tastes, do you not agree?”
“You know I do. Personally, I had much rather go to Worthing. Still very fashionable and elegant, but not the crush it was a few years ago. To travel there would be easy, and as I have a friend residing in the district, we can receive very good guidance as to where to stay. Besides, as I have never been there either, we will be discovering it together, which notion rather pleases me.”
“Then Worthing it shall be. How soon can you speak to Mr. Perry? It is very likely that he shall be here in the morning, and I would not like Papa to consult him before we have our say.”
“I shall send him a note immediately, if you will be so kind as to supply me with writing materials.”
“I am at your beck and call, Mr. Kni – George, I mean to say.”
“Much better, my dear. It shall be rolling off your tongue in no time.”
Emma laughed. “Do not presume too much, Mr. Knightley, lest you see my tongue regress.”
The dinner that evening found everyone at Hartfield in high spirits except Mr. Woodhouse. The fright of morning had left him shaken, but none of his fidgets and worries could dampen the atmosphere, no matter how acute Emma’s guilty feelings regarding her happiness at his expense. The Knightleys, both present and future, did not openly gloat over the setting of a wedding date, but having the matter finally resolved, and so conveniently for all involved, left them feeling both satisfied and agreeable. Even Mr. John Knightley showed unusual patience with his father-in-law, going so far as to suggest a game of backgammon to him, an occupation he cheerfully kept up until Mr. Woodhouse had his fill, and Isabella, catching her husband's good humor, never once showed the slightest concern for the health and well-being of any member of her brood. All this goodwill eventually had its effect on Mr. Woodhouse, and he too began to forget his fears. Those of us who know the players involved cannot expect that such a happy family party could become the norm, but a stranger looking in on that evening would never have guessed that peace and harmony did not always reign amongst those gathered together.
It has been said that when any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, particularly when the couple in question is so lucky as to be possessed of two independent fortunes between them, with no familial obstacles to overcome. Once Mr. Woodhouse threw his rather urgent support behind the notion of Emma's marriage, what remained to be done other than make haste to the alter? In a very few weeks the town of Highbury was gratified by the marriage of two of its most prominent citizens: the lady whose example set the fashions, and the gentleman whose counsel and support ensured both their well-being and prosperity. Few were not gratified. Though Mrs. Elton felt some personal chagrin at this consolidation of power, her better judgment (and personal ambition) told her to confine her more adamant criticisms to the parsonage. Within the security of her own home, her irritation was profusely expressed, yet no amount of vexation would have hindered her from accepting an invitation to the ceremony, had she been so fortunate as to receive one. Instead she had to watch her friends, the Bateses, set forth to the church without her, leaving her behind to ponder the injustice of her exclusion.
The sun shown warmly upon the attendees that October morning, as if the heavens were determined to share their approbation for the blessed event. The closest friends and family of the bride and groom gathered within the church, while a great deal of the townspeople assembled outside, excitedly awaiting their first glimpse of the married couple. Mrs. Bates was happily ensconced next to her old friend, Mr. Woodhouse, while her daughter happily chatted away to all who would listen about how very pleased she was with the match, and share her enthusiasm for her dear Jane's upcoming nuptials, which the present occasion could not help but inflame. Mr. and Mrs. Martin sat behind these ladies, Harriet all aglow with contentment. Clearly her former infatuation for the groom was long forgotten. The Weston's, of course, were also in attendance, and though Mrs. Weston had left little Anna in the care of her nurse, she had her hand's full with the young Knightleys, each of whom was determined to play an instrumental role in the days festivities, except the still mute baby, who had fortunately not yet found a voice with which to demand her rights. The marriage of an aunt to an uncle was no ordinary occasion, and it took all of Mrs. Westons' notable skills to contain their enthusiasm. The Perrys, invited at Mr. Woodhouse's insistence, and a stern looking William Larkins, intent on displaying his sense of the moment's gravity, completed the party. Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley attended the bride and groom. Overall, it was a convivial gathering, as befit the occasion, and if the Rector did not officiate with as much zeal as might have been desired, no one, least of all the happy couple, took notice.
Truth be told, Mr. Elton could not be happy about his task that day. He had long since purged his heart of any lingering affection it once harbored towards Miss Woodhouse, wounded pride having served as a useful aid in converting professed ardor into resentment, yet the same pained dignity that had proven so beneficial now caused chagrin, for he could not see the man whom the lady deemed worthy of her hand without acknowledging that his own person did not quite measure up. As the possessor of a respectable living, an independent property, and no small quantity of personal charm, he had fancied himself the equal of the local heiress, but when compared to the worldly position of Mr. Knightley, owner of Donwell Abbey and all its attendant honors, even he had to admit that this was a more appropriate choice of groom for a lady of 30,000 pounds. He did not share his thoughts with his wife, who, perhaps sensing his hidden humiliation, talked at great length about the disadvantages of the marriage, but he did regale Augusta with many a detail of dress and decoration, knowing that her disdain for the proceedings would help to assuage his troubled sensibilities.
After the ceremony concluded and Emma signed the registry, using her maiden name one last time, the guests repaired to Hartfield for the wedding breakfast. In keeping with his sense of hospitality, Mr. Woodhouse had instructed Serle to provided all the delicacies the occasion required, including the essential cake, though its presence caused him no small amount of anxiety. The overall consensus of the guests was that “nothing could be more complete, everything the best of its kind, the hospitality of Hartfield always surpassing one's expectations.” Despite the host’s best efforts to urge attendees towards more wholesome fare, the cake somehow managed to be entirely consumed, thanks in no small part to Mr. John Knightley's determined efforts to keep his brood well supplied with the delicacy.
Soon the new Mr. and Mrs. Knightley took their leave, it being their intention to travel as far as Horsham that evening. The couple had enjoyed their day and appreciated the well-wishes of their friends and family, but the luxury of finally being alone, ensconced in the privacy of the new carriage with which Mr. Knightley surprised his bride, was temptingly beckoning them both. Mr. Woodhouse showed some agitation upon the leave taking, he not being accustomed to parting with his dear Emma, but the notion that the sooner she left, the sooner she would return, was found efficacious in comforting his distress.
Emma was happy for once to leave the task of alleviating his nerves to Isabella, and only allowed her mind to passingly hope that John would not prove a barrier to his wife's efforts. Waving goodbye as long as Hartfield remained in sight, the married couple finally turned to each other, an unaccustomed sense of shyness pervading the carriage as the reality of their new relationship sunk in. Mr. Knightley cleared his throat and, not knowing what else to do, spoke in such a way as to restore their normal banter. “Well Mrs. Knightley, am I not to hear of your approbation for this very proper conveyance? I did not think you would approve of us journeying on horseback.”
“Certainly no mode of transport so properly suits a Mrs. Knightley. Could that really be my name? It all seems so odd and unaccustomed.”
“Then I will just have to remind you of it often by using it with the utmost frequency, Mrs. Knightley.”
“Very good, as it gives me an excellent excuse to continue referring to you as Mr. Knightley.”
“Now that will not do at all. I shall have to rely on innkeepers and my fellow travelers to enforce your new title. You must remain Emma to me.”
“Certainly, Mr. Knightley. I fancy I am rather like my father, in that I cling to old ways.”
Though the couple temporarily left Highbury behind, their names remained the most often spoken for weeks to come. Mrs. Elton’s verdict of the wedding proved precisely what her husband predicted: “Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it.” Such sentiments were quickly conveyed to the mistress of Maple Grove, whose approval or disapproval must have been engaged in one direction or the other, though to little effect, for the catalogue of fanfare deficiency proved no barrier to the perfect happiness of the union, which proved just what Emma and Mr. Knightley’s true friends most hoped. It should be further noted that, despite Mrs. Elton's disdain, the material used for Emma's wedding gown, proudly displayed to the neighborhood by Mrs. Ford, was declared to be the best selling fabric that notable shop had ever stocked.