Fate, so unaccountable at times, may occasionally be relied upon to provide precisely what is desired. I fear that the fervency of Emma's hopes had little to do with their fulfillment, and so cannot recommend proceeding likewise to those who wish to hold some sway over the future. Action is certainly 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 hero and heroine's behalf.
The mechanism though which the marriage of Miss Woodhouse to Mr. Knightley was enabled to proceed was as mundane as the means to an elevated romance could possibly be. The initial news of the couple's good fortune (though at the time they little knew that it would prove to be so) was first relayed to Emma by the new Mrs. Martin, in the course of the Woodhouses visit to Abbey-Mill Farm, paid in honor of the recent wedding. Not a week had elapsed since Emma stood beside her friend as Mr. Elton united her in wedlock to the man whom had previously been disregarded as entirely unacceptable, but whom now stood in the eyes of both ladies as something of a savior, yet that time was sufficient to establish Mrs. Martin comfortably in her new home, amongst her new family. With great joy did she show Emma her domain, including the smaller parlor, the summer-house, and, in particular, the Welch cow that was now truly Harriet's own, in far more than just name. Meanwhile, Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella were entertained by the elder Mrs. Martin in the larger parlor, in a manner much more in keeping with their sedate tastes, although 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. Yet even Mr. Woodhouse had to admit, upon their departure, that “poor Miss Smith” seemed happily settled. The only true care that had marred Harriet's marriage, thus far, was what had 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 in a trip to Randalls, but as the skies cleared in the afternoon, Hartfield was honored with a most loquacious visitor. While Emma had often cause to lament both the rapidity and insensibility of Miss Bates' tongue, the news which she had to share on this day, though it did, at first, cause Emma some chagrin, proved quite efficacious in her cause.
“My dear sir, how are you this morning? Quite dreadful weather, indeed. And Miss Woodhouse, Mr. and Mrs. Knightley, how does this day find you? And the children are well, I assume? 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 – but 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, in the most unusual location, though I cannnot recall where. I must ask my mother, as she will surely remember.”
Though no real sense of what the shocking news was that Miss Bates was trying to convey had been attained thus far, 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 for her.
“Am I to understand, Miss Bates, that some sore 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, can it Mr. Knightley? 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 happening in London, of course, but never in the vicinity of Brunswick Square! Are we not safe in my own home, John dear? What about the children?”
“Calm my dear. There is a dramatic difference between a pilfered chicken coop and a housebreak.”
“I do not see the difference,” declared an extremely pale Mr. Woodhouse. “Oh dear, oh dear! Why, this is dreadful! Poor Mrs. Weston! And Perry! What can be done, when none of us our beyond reach of such assault. If Randalls is vulnerable, can any house be sound?”
“My dear sir,” assured his son-in-law, now fully awake to the mayhem Miss Bates' pronouncement had unleashed upon the delicate sensibilities of his relations, “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 directly affect 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 well-aimed to restore her father's comfort, 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, correct?”
John, always quick to comprehend, in and no doubt that Emma was fully aware of their intended departure time, rallied to her cause. “Yes, I must be back in the office by then. 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? I was of the opinion, that is I understood, that there were no great reasons for delay. When young people, and of good fortune, are in love there is no reason to wait.”
Emma could have embraced Miss Bates. Never before had she so appreciated that lady's lack of perception. 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 hast to marry, as how could anyone so comfortably situated as you, 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.”
This was good enough for her. The wedding would take place as planned, and the event would, remarkably, bring her father relief rather than distress. Never had the loss of poultry proved so pleasing.