A New Beginning

Emma Knightley, comely, clever and comfortable, blessed with a beloved husband and a delightful child, seemed to enjoy all that happy human life could offer — except that she was imposed upon by her own imagination, and imposed upon by it to a degree and with a frequency that distressed and vexed her when she realized — not often — that it was so. Most of the time, however, she contentedly imagined that she was not the victim of her imagination, and that rendered her doubly victimized.

She fought against her imagination from time to time, won occasional battles, and vowed that she would learn to discipline it, but, like almost all Emma's plans to acquire self-discipline, her plan had been more deliberation than execution. She hoped to win the war, but she would have preferred for her imagination to capitulate than to have to defeat it. Emma normally won unqualified victories just by showing up, and she rather preferred that. She did not fancy herself as an opponent.

Emma was seated in a chair, gazing out the window. Mr. Woodhouse, her father, walked unsteadily next to her husband, George Knightley. They were taking Mr. Woodhouse's turn in the garden. The older man had his arm locked in the younger man's, steadying himself. A certain tension in her husband's shoulders told her of the effort he was expending in securing her father without seeming to do so, and she could see how her husband, always a quick and determined walker, exerted himself to shorten and slow his steps, matching the pace of her father. She felt an upwelling of her deep affection for George — Mr. Knightley — as she watched. In the time he'd spent living with her and her father at Hartfield, he had exerted himself constantly, faithfully. He had not only moved from Donwell to Hartfield, but he had submitted to its small commonwealth and made himself a subject in Mr. Woodhouse's sovereign realm, conformed himself to her father's habits and tastes as far as was possible for a man who still possessed vital heat. Her father was chronically cold, and growing steadily colder. That recognition chilled Emma as her affection for Mr. Knightley had warmed her. It was unclear how much longer Mr. Woodhouse would be a living part of Hartfield, more than a memory to her.

She sighed and dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve, then realized what she had done and looked around the drawing-room to make sure no one saw. She stood up and walked around the empty room, trying to walk away from the chill, to think more pleasantly.

Without decision, Emma's feet silently took her up the stairs and into the nursery. Her son, George, was sleeping peacefully. Emma put her hand down carefully, allowing the warmth of his small body, the rhythm of his breathing to calm her, soothe her heart. He was beautiful, stationed in age between little baby and small boy. He was beginning to show his father's strong features, and he had long shown his mother's delicate coloring. She draped his blanket over his feet, they had escaped, and she smiled to herself. Whatever else was true of her, she had done this, this one thing well, her son. She wished he were awake so that she could hold him close, play with him, but she did not want to wake him from his nap. His nanny, Joanna, was napping too, in a chair near the nursery window, and Emma smiled at the older woman's peaceful, broad face. Mr. Knightley had found her — she was a relative of the Martins, of Robert Martin, who farmed on Donwell and who was now the husband of Harriet Martin, one of Emma's close friends, and the centerpiece of Emma's worst previous misadventures as an imaginist. Harriet remained devoted to Emma — and seemed unaware of the role she had played in the misadventures. She simply liked to repeat that life with Emma as a friend was rarely uneventful. While Harriet might not have a ready wit, she was not without all gifts of expression, and Emma liked that one. Mr. Knightley seemed less fond of the expression, and less fond of events, as he was also less fond of surprises, but he shared Emma's fondness for Harriet. That was buttressed by his deep, genuine respect for Harriet's husband.

Standing there, in the pleasant sound and feel of little George's breathing, and the sound of the nanny's in the background, Emma lost herself in images of what might come to be — of little George growing and grown, of the pride she and Mr. Knightley would feel in him when he realized his ample promise. She began to wonder about who little George might come to feel affection for, what sort of woman would best suit him, and she began to consider the qualifications that would be necessary, to consider which woman, among those she knew best, would serve as a model for the woman little George might someday have as a wife. Emma realized, with a twinge of annoyance, that she could think of no woman who was a better model than Jane Churchill.

Jane Churchill and Emma had become friends, even close friends. Once Jane was married to Frank Churchill, Jane's manners had grown less reserved, her nature less closed. She and Emma now kept up a regular correspondence, and they saw each other anytime Frank and Jane visited Highbury, which was often, since each had close family there, the Westons on his side, the Bates on hers. Emma and Jane also saw one another now and then in London, where Frank and Jane now lived.

But, despite the changes in Jane — and the changes in Emma since marrying Mr. Knightley — Emma could never find friendship with Jane entirely easy. She was unsure why that was so. Likely Mr. Knightley would have pressed her more about it, and encouraged her to see Jane more often, had not Jane normally brought her husband with her to visit. Just as Emma did not find friendship with Jane entirely easy, Mr. Knightley did not find friendship with her husband entirely easy. The two men were of very different sorts — both were gentlemen with fine manners and ample conversation, but their depths were different. Mr. Knightley had them, and Frank Churchill did not. Marriage to Jane had sobered Frank, but it had not made him a thoughtful man, a feeling man of the sort that Mr. Knightley was. Emma had once said of Mr. Knightley that he was not gallant but was humane. She had been wrong that he was not gallant, she came to realize, and partly because of his contrast with Frank Churchill. Frank Churchill had a glittering kind of gallantry, gallantry meant to be witnessed and remarked. Mr. Knightley was simply gallant — without glitter, careless of witness or remark. In fact, Emma knew, as his wife, just how gallant he could be toward her when no one but she could witness the gallantry.

"Emma," she heard Mr. Knightley whisper from the nursery door, "I thought I might find you here. How is our boy?" He entered the room to stand beside Emma. He looked down on George with a father's smile, and then, when he saw the sleeping nanny, his smile changed, became less indulgent and more playful.

"I wonder who needs this afternoon rest most, our boy or his nanny?"

Emma laughed softly at Mr. Knightley's question. "I suspect it is his nanny. Now that he is beginning to pull himself up, it will not be long until he walks, and then we may all need afternoon rest. — Speaking of rest, how is my father?"

Mr. Knightley did not lose his smile but his posture stiffened just a little. "He is fine, although he shortened his turn in the garden again today. He is in his chair, close to the fire, his blanket on his legs, but he still talks of being chilled. I was hoping the warmer spring weather would help, but although the weather has warmed, it does not seem to have warmed him." He looked into Emma's eyes and what he saw there made him go on: "But it is not yet nearly so warm as it will be this spring, and summer is not too distant."

Emma let him take her hand in his. He carried it to his lips and kissed it gently. "Do not worry, my dear. Your father's manner makes him seem weaker than he is. He may be with us for many years yet."

His gentle kiss and kind words lifted Emma's spirits further. "Yes, you are right. Father takes such excessively good care of himself I am sometimes deceived into thinking it truly necessary."

Mr. Knightley chuckled quietly and the sound pleased Emma. She liked few things more than making him laugh. As he laughed, his eyes seemed to focus in the distance. "Do you remember when we were up here with little Emma, your sister's baby, not long after our quarrel over Robert Martin and Harriet Smith?"

"You would remind me of that," she said, with low-toned, mock severity. "Why is it that the scenes you remember best are always those in which I behaved the worst?"

He chuckled again and looked at the nanny before speaking. "I could say because such scenes are so plentiful," he stopped and looked directly into her eyes, "but that would be just me teasing you. I remember many scenes, dearest Emma, in which you behaved best."

She was unsure what he intended, but his words made her color rise. "Mr. Knightley," she whispered, "George, the nanny."

"Why Emma, what are you thinking?" He asked as if his innocence were Edenic. "I cannot guess."

She smiled at him, a large and sweet smile. She enjoyed him so much, and so much more than she had even expected. It was one thing to know him at Hartfield before they were wed, but entirely another to know him afterward. They had always enjoyed each other's company more than anyone else's, but daily intimacy between them had taught them just how true that was. Theirs was a love of laughter as well as of longing.

"If you do not stop this," she said with deliberate pertness and a lift of her chin, "I shall be forced to speak with you only when we have a chaperone, a wakeful chaperone, in our company."

Mr. Knightley kissed her cheek and chuckled again. "The choice is yours, my wife."

She did not answer but she did take his hand and squeeze it in her own.

They left the nursery holding hands and only separated when they reached the stairs. As they descended, Emma looked at Mr. Knightley. "I saw you had a note from John. Are he and Isabella still to arrive the day after tomorrow?"

"Yes, and not only with the children. There has been a last-minute addition to their party. That was why John wrote."

"Who — is it someone I know?"

"No, Emma. I do not know the woman either. But she is a friend of your sister, a widow, Mrs. Modesta Shivers, and Isabella is eager to introduce her to us. John hopes this will not be too much of an inconvenience. May I write to him and say that it is not?"

"Yes, please. I'll be sure to have a room ready for Mrs. Shivers too."

"Then I shall write John now," Mr. Knightley said with his typical decision as they reached the foot of the stairs. He turned to go into the library. Emma turned to go and see her father — the news of an addition to the family party would take him time to accept.