Author's Notes: This story stems from my new obsession with the BBC's 2009 adaption of Emma, starring Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller. After watching it a million times, I re-read the book, which had never been at any time my favorite Austen novel. I preferred Persuasion or Pride & Prejudice. But . . . things change. After I got past Mr. Knightley's proposal scene, I was happy to recall that Austen's denouements are always very long and satisfying. Still, when I got to the end, I wanted more. What had John's letter said? How was Emma able to convince Mr. Woodhouse to let her marry? What did Frank Churchill think of the match, if he thought anything at all? And then I wondered some more, and finally thought, "Well, am I a fanfic writer or am I not?"
So here you are! I lifted a shameful bit of Austen's text for the first part, but subsequent parts (if I get around to writing them) on Mrs. Weston, possibly Frank Churchill, and Mrs. Elton too, will be completely original. Nor is this merely a copy. Austen seldom writes motion. The characters, for all you know, are sitting down talking for whole conversations. So I've inserted a bit more movement, while still trying to keep to Austen's voice.
Let me know what you think. Please let me know if you catch any typos.
The News Must be Spread Further
That Emma Woodhouse sitting with Mr. Knightley on the chaise, her small hand in his much larger one, should be so natural and easy would never have been imagined by their mutual friends or acquaintance. They themselves had blundered upon their feelings only when forced into a corner, and though now self-reflection revealed the match to be inevitable, they knew it could not appear so to others. Their friendship had never steered into the flirtations and gallantries of a public courtship that prepare a couple's wider circle for the inevitable announcement. No one suspected them; consequently, their explanations must be more elaborate. The first letters they sent were to John and Isabella in London, both thick missives bundled in the same packet, which were both long and thorough in preparing their readers for the pronouncement and quick to supply evidence in its favor.
It was mid-July, nearly a fortnight since they had formed the engagement, and the replies from their brother and sister comprised the first well-wishing they had received, and were consequently more prized and discussed than those they would read later. They were sitting with heads bent close together, in no danger of being discovered as Mr. Woodhouse took his customary turns outside the house, and enjoying each other's company and correspondence. Isabella's letter had been read and praised, but John's was longer and Mr. Knightley, who was listening to Emma's account of little Anna Weston, had trouble attending to it.
"I am so glad Mrs. Weston has a girl and not a boy," said Emma. "A boy has only so much to learn from his mother before he becomes dull and looks to his father, and it would be quite a pity that any one who so well knew how to teach, should not have their powers in exercise again."
Mr. Knightley could not but agree. He had called on Randalls the day before and found Anna Weston so robust and precious a child that no one who had seen her could wish her other than she was.
"She has had the advantage, you know, of practising on me," Emma continued—"like La Baronne d'Almane on La Comtesse d'Ostalis', in Madame de Genlis' Adelaide and Theodore, and we shall now see her own little Adelaide educated on a more perfect plan."
"That is," replied Mr. Knightley, pressing her hand meaningfully, "she will indulge her even more than she did you, and believe that she does not indulge her at all. It will be the only difference."
"Poor child!" cried Emma, rising from her seat, for Mr. Knightley had been gazing at her so earnestly as to make her feel vulnerable, and walking round him on the excuse that she wanted to read over his shoulder, she placed the back of the sofa safely in between them. "At that rate, what will become of her?"
"Nothing very bad. The fate of thousands. She will be disagreeable in infancy, and correct herself as she grows older," said Mr. Knightley, who dropped his severe tone and allowed himself to be petted. He emitted a sigh of contentment when Emma placed her chin playfully upon his broad shoulder. "I am losing all my bitterness against spoilt children, my dearest Emma. I, who am owing all my happiness to you, would not it be horrible ingratitude in me to be severe on them?"
Emma laughed and, going to the window, replied: "But I had the assistance of all your endeavours to counteract the indulgence of other people. I doubt whether my own sense would have corrected me without it."
"Do you? I have no doubt. Nature gave you understanding:—Miss Taylor gave you principles. You must have done well. My interference was quite as likely to do harm as good. It was very natural for you to say, 'What right has he to lecture me?' and I am afraid very natural for you to feel that it was done in a disagreeable manner. I do not believe I did you any good. The good was all to myself, by making you an object of the tenderest affection to me. I could not think about you so much without doting on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least."
Emma could not help smiling Mr. Knightley's gracious confession, hoping to hear more. His lectures and scolding had ceased, having given way into this new and easy way of falling into tender proclamations that delighted her. Her own inexperience and feelings of unworthiness mingled to make her shy, and she was unequal to matching his candid devotion, but she could ensure that her manner was not uninviting. Though she felt as much, she could not summon the words to express those precious sentiments to which he was so deservedly entitled. Her exertions to reassure him of her affections were all in the mode of praising him for his superior character and judgment while belittling herself. Where in the past they might have quarreled over who was right, she felt that in giving way now she was showing him every proof of love that he required, and by deferring to his opinions she was paying homage to those excellent qualities which had drawn her unpracticed heart into its present state of bliss. But he would have none of it. She was not to be censured, not even by herself. She was the author of all his happiness and the paragon of womanhood. Her faults were endearments, and other women who had them not stood at a disadvantage, carrying all the unforgiveable defects of personality and predictability, which could never recommend them to an active mind such as his. Nor could those refined members of her sex who behaved with all due decorum out of habit compare to her, who had learnt true understanding of human nature and folly from trial and affliction. She was his own dear Emma, and though she knew it pleased him to hear her praise his guidance, she was happy in knowing he would not always require it.
At length he came to join her at the window. She had been away too long, and her soft eyes cast in his direction had beckoned as they conversed.
'Mr. Knightley.' You always called me, 'Mr. Knightley;' and, from habit, it has not so very formal a sound," said he, taking her hand in his again. "And yet it is formal. I want you to call me something else, but I do not know what."
"I remember once calling you 'George,' in one of my amiable fits, about ten years ago. I did it because I thought it would offend you; but, as you made no objection, I never did it again."
"And cannot you call me 'George' now?"
She tried it, but found the word would not form in her mouth let alone leave it, and with a great deal of self-consciousness pronounced his request impossible. Twenty-one years of calling him by one name could not in a single day give way to another. "I never can call you any thing but 'Mr. Knightley.' I will not promise even to equal the elegant terseness of Mrs. Elton, by calling you Mr. K. But I will promise," she added presently, laughing and blushing, "I will promise to call you once by your Christian name. I do not say when, but perhaps you may guess where; -- in the building in which N. takes M. for better, for worse."
He did not look entirely pleased with her answer, but was un-offended, and they fell into easy conversation again, until, upon recollecting that John's letter sat opened upon the sofa for all eyes to see should they be interrupted, for indeed her father would presently be returning to the house.
"John does not even mention your friend," said Mr. Knightley, retrieving the letter and placing it in her hands. "Here is his answer, if you like to see it." It was the answer to the communication of his intended marriage. Emma accepted it with a very eager hand, with an impatience all alive to know what he would say about it, and not at all checked by hearing that her friend was unmentioned.
"John enters like a brother into my happiness," continued Mr. Knightley, "but he is no complimenter; and though I well know him to have, likewise, a most brotherly affection for you, he is so far from making flourishes, that any other young woman might think him rather cool in her praise. But I am not afraid of your seeing what he writes."
Emma took it eagerly, expecting to find some intimation from John of how ill his brother had looked in London, or perhaps the expression of his relief at finally being admitted into the secret of why he had so recklessly quitted London on the 6th without so much as an excuse. She would have enjoyed hearing anything concerning the influence she had unconsciously exerted these past few months, which could allow her to more accurately speculate over what might have happened had she known her own heart sooner. She was disappointed, however. The opening of the letter was devoted to the merits of matrimony, with only a brief paragraph to spare in modest praise of the bride-to-be before it veered into a long and unrelated discussion of the outings John and Isabella had planned for their boys, a series of triumphs at the inns of court, and then a mention of their upcoming visit to Highbury. "My Dearest Brother:," it began:
I shall leave you in no suspense, but immediately offer that most hearty congratulations for your welcome news, which, I feel at full liberty to add, I had once completely despaired of ever having the opportunity to bestow! You will not endure from my corner any of the usual mockery that accompanies such sudden reversals of bachelor resolve. You'll get no jibes on "bull's horns" or "good horse to hire" from me. It gives me infinite pleasure to think of you at last enjoying the pleasant company of a family gathered round your fire, and deriving that renewed sense of purpose in your daily endeavors and business which a man only feels when the comfort of his nearest and dearest is in question. You, who have enjoyed toil hitherto for its own sake and reaped the rewards alone, will find your joy increased tenfold to see that everything you do, all your exertions and accomplishments, have the immediate effect that your children and your wife are more safe, more secure, and more happy, and to know it was your hard labor that made them so. A single man may conserve his wealth, but a married man who spends a shilling upon some trifle for his wife and children receives more pleasure from their smiles than from any accounting in his ledger book.
Perhaps I waste my ink in reinforcing a course of action you have already taken, for I have no doubt that over the course of this past year all these reflections and many more must have crossed your mind. From the opening tone of your letter of the 16th, I think you were expecting me to feel some great shock, but I have noted for many a month your softening views on domesticity. Your slew of projects for Donwell Abbey first gave you away, for after so many years of being master of your estate, I could not conceive why it should have been so pressing to undertake them now unless you had a particular object. As for the other symptoms, they are too numerous to write, but I will only say that I have been expecting a message such as this for several weeks, and that my only surprise is the choice of bride.
Miss Emma Woodhouse has been my sister for so long that this development requires little adjustment on my part, but as for you, I cannot help but wonder when your affections transformed from those of a teacher towards a promising pupil into those of so dear a kind. She always was a clever girl, if a bit too apt to think herself always in the right, but has since grown into such a pretty young creature that I should perhaps not wonder at your change of heart. She is young yet. The disparity of judgment brought about by the considerable gap in your ages has narrowed but an inch. Still, under your continued tutelage I have no doubt she shall grow to be the worthy Mistress that Donwell Abbey has lacked since the passing of our beloved mother. Indeed my only real regret in learning of your plans is to know that in marrying Emma, Donwell gains not a Mistress, but even loses its Master for an indefinite period. Yet I know my father too well to suppose it can be helped.
He will certainly disapprove of my latest scheme. Isabella and I will take the boys to Astley's soon . . .
"He writes like a sensible man," replied Emma, when she had read the letter. Mr. Knightley's assessment had been more flattering than hers. The letter contained no compliments at all apart from calling her somewhat pretty, and had all but laughed at Mr. Knightley for having fallen prey to the very same unexceptionable attractions that bewitched lesser men. It left her vanity, dormant after the barrage it had suffered of late, smarting, but she had not so much left that she could disagree with John. "I honour his sincerity. It is very plain that he considers the good fortune of the engagement as all on my side, but that he is not without hope of my growing, in time, as worthy of your affection, as you think me already. Had he said any thing to bear a different construction, I should not have believed him."
"My Emma, he means no such thing. He only means—"
"He and I should differ very little in our estimation of the two,"—interrupted she, with a sort of serious smile— "much less, perhaps, than he is aware of, if we could enter without ceremony or reserve on the subject."
"Emma, my dear Emma—"
She found his gentle hands framing her face, and his soft lips most unexpectedly pressed upon her own, and in this manner they continued for some time until they heard the latch of the door creak and her father's shuffling on the stoop. They parted with reluctance, he retreating to his chair and she remaining at the window, and there they waited like thieves nearly caught in the act as Mr. Woodhouse appeared at the entry of the drawing room.
"You are here again, Mr. Knightley," said he. "You must be careful about spoiling us with your morning visits, for we begin to expect them as much as your evening calls. I am afraid that I have been a negligent host this morning, but I must take my turns you see. Mr. Perry is adamant that I should keep to my regimen, but the heat is so tiresome. I rather wonder at your having come at all on such a day when it is broiling before noon."
"Oh, it was nothing at all, Sir," said Mr. Knightley, tucking his letter safely into his waistcoat pocket. "I am one who finds Mr. Perry entirely justified in recommending daily exercise. And I do not like to be long absent from Hartfield, for I think of it as quite my own home."
Mr. Woodhouse had since moved closer to his daughter, preparing to sit on the sofa, when he started at her strange expression. "Dear me, Emma you seem flushed. Are you quite well? My dear Emma, I wish you would not stand so near the window. You young people think yourselves immune, but last week there were several days when I thought you looked not at all well. Your cheek was so pale. Mr. Knightley, I had never seen her so altered, but she seemed to rally quickly. Only you have tired her and made her relapse."
"I don't think so," said Mr. Knightley, who sat straighter and looked more fully and with some degree of concern at Emma, who recalled that without hearing of her communications with Harriet, he did not have any reason to know why she had seemed out of humour.
"I am perfectly well, Papa," she said, but found herself unequal to regaining her composure. "Do not trouble Mr. Knightley on my account. But I am sure we would all benefit from Polly's lemonade. Indeed, let me call for some. On a hot day such as this, it can only do us good. I shall call for it directly."
And she hurried from the room to find the housekeeper. She had not gone five steps into the hall, when she heard Mr. Knightley fall in behind her. He had excused himself from the drawing room, wanting to be of assistance if Polly could not be found.
"Oh!" Emma cried with more thorough gaiety, as he caught up to her. "If you fancy your brother does not do me justice, only wait till my dear father is in the secret, and hear his opinion. Depend upon it, he will be much farther from doing you justice. He will think all the happiness, all the advantage, on your side of the question; all the merit on mine. I wish I may not sink into 'poor Emma' with him at once. His tender compassion towards oppressed worth can go no farther."
"Ah!" he cried, with the memory of what had just passed between them making him more open, more playful than she had ever seen him. "I wish your father might be half as easily convinced as John will be, of our having every right that equal worth can give, to be happy together. I am amused by one part of John's letter—did you notice it? where he says, that my information did not take him wholly by surprise, that he was rather in expectation of hearing something of the kind."
"If I understand your brother, he only means so far as your having some thoughts of marrying. He had no idea of me. He seems perfectly unprepared for that."
"Yes, yes—but I am amused that he should have seen so far into my feelings. What has he been judging by? I am not conscious of any difference in my spirits or conversation that could prepare him at this time for my marrying any more than at another. But it was so, I suppose. I dare say there was a difference when I was staying with them the other day. I believe I did not play with the children quite so much as usual. I remember one evening the poor boys saying, 'Uncle seems always tired now.'"
"Well, you are not tired now," said she. "You are positively boyish, and, if they were here, I am sure you could run circles round little Henry and George, and then they really would be crying, 'Uncle.'"
A few more days of secrecy were all either could withstand. She felt taxed by the deception, rather wondering how Jane Fairfax could have endured it for ten months. He, being unused to putting off any task once he had set his mind to it, was anxious to begin the difficult planning that must accompany the joining not just of two hands, but of two households. The time was right, for Mrs. Weston had recovered enough to receive visitors, and with her approbation and gentle encouragement, so honoured at Harfield, there was no doubt that Mr. Woodhouse's would soon follow. The inevitable revelation was planned and rehearsed. Emma had but to choose her moment, which came one evening while Mr. Knightley had accepted a dinner invitation from the Coles, leaving her and her father alone by the backgammon table.
His absence was remarked upon, being the first evening in a fortnight that they had not seen him bent over his letters upon the old oak desk, when Mr. Woodhouse said, "The room seems emptier without Mr. Knightley here. He is always coming and going, but has been here so often of late that I had almost begun to think of him as almost a fixture."
Emma, who was at his feet setting up their game, saw her opening had arrived. She rallied her courage. It could not be put off. "I am so glad you have said so, Papa, for there is something I have been wanting to tell you for a while, and—if you would but give your consent—then Mr. Knightley might always be at your service, even more than he is now."
His welcoming countenance gave her hope; she was encouraged to continue. "I must prepare you that it is a strange scheme indeed, and one which no one but ourselves could think of, and even we took a very long time to alight upon it. You will feel surprise, I am sure. But it is an excellent plan, which he (that is Mr. Knightley) and I have discussed in great detail and organized so that it will result in increased happiness for all parties concerned. Whereas, if it is not put into effect, I am afraid that his and my comfort will decrease considerably, so much so that our health might be put at risk, and I am sure that you could never wish that upon anyone."
"Good Heavens, no! Tell me at once of this plan, and I am sure I will not object to it if it is so essential to anyone's well-being."
"Well, then I must tell you immediately that he (and by he, I mean Mr. Knightley) and I have been growing more highly in each other's estimation for some time now, and it is chiefly for this reason that we have decided upon this particular course of action now rather than sooner or later. . . And that action of which I am speaking should, in all fairness, take place within the next few months while John and Isabella and the children are able to be nearby . . . and while the weather is still so very fine, but not hot or cold enough to put anyone in the way of discomfort . . . and furthermore, what it is . . . well, he (and again by he, I mean Mr. Knightley, whom you love) and I . . . we mean to marry, and he shall move to Hartfield."
The last words were spoken very quickly, and when she paused to see how her father would take this news, for a moment she wondered if he had not caught them. But he was smiling only, and he took her hand with a laugh saying, "My dear child, here you have introduced this idea as something to promote our welfare, but I think you do not quite understand all that marriage entails for a young woman, for having a husband and a husband's affairs to manage are quick tasking and shall age you very quickly. Suitors are all gallantry and compliments, but husbands are a plague. They create headaches, pains, and sufferings of all kinds for their unfortunate wives. Think of poor Isabella, and poor Miss Taylor. And oh, your poor, unhappy mother!
"Let me assure you, my dear, that I am not in so bad a way as to require you to marry Mr. Knightley simply that he may have an excuse for removing to Hartfield to care for me. I know you have no intention of ever marrying. I have heard you say so a thousand times, and although it is thoughtful of you to put your resolution aside and risk your health for my sake, let me assure you how unnecessary such a drastic step would be."
This was not at all what Emma had expected, and she tried a different tact. "But Papa, you forget that Mr. Knightley and I have been friends so long and get along so well that we are quite a different element from John and Isabella and Mr. and Mrs. Weston; for Mr. Knightley and I are more likely to be ill and out of sorts when apart than together. Were you not complaining that I looked pale while he was in London? And did I not recover as soon as he returned?"
"You did, but consider that you regained yourself while being yet unmarried and after such regular visits as Mr. Knightley has always paid while single. And you do not think of your other friends. I am sure you cannot do without them as much as you cannot do without Mr. Knightley. Marriage would take you away from your home and your duties, for though you say now that a husband will not steal you away, consider how Isabella and poor Miss Taylor have withdrawn into their families so as to have very little to do with their former acquaintance, although I am sure they would not neglect us if they were free to do otherwise."
This was not entirely fair to either her sister or to Mrs. Weston, thought Emma, nor to their husbands, but it would not do to class herself with them. She must work on breaking the analogy insofar as she could. "Yet Papa, but Isabella and Mrs. Weston moved away from Hartfield, while Mr. Knightley will come here. If, as you say, marriage causes its subscribers to retreat into domesticity, then he will be more frequently here than anywhere else. And even this past fortnight when he has been here twice a day, it is not so often that you do not miss him tonight. You will not deny it, can you?"
"Indeed, I do not, my dearest, but—"
"Whom are you always wishing to consult on business? Who else is so useful to us? Think how he carried the pitcher of lemonade for me this Tuesday. Even Polly could not manage such a heavy object. And who is so ready to write your letters and so glad assist without ever grudging you his time? He is always so cheerful and attentive and so very attached you. Can you not see the benefits of having him always on the spot?"
"When you put it that way, I can see a great advantage to myself. I will not deny it. Yet think of the great burden it will place on Mr. Knightley to be managing my affairs as well as Donwell's, and to do it in a house not his own. Recall how much older he is than you, my dearest. Sixteen years! You, with your youth and vigour may never have thought how much it will take for a man of Mr. Knightley's age to maintain such energy as is needed to manage two households. No, he is here every day, which is often enough, and more is not to be desired by anyone."
Here Emma's lip trembled and her eyes grew wet with tears to think of Mr. Knightley as being at all ill or tired for her sake. How glad she was that he was not present to hear her father! "But consider, Papa, how deeply I love him, and think how much he feels in return if he would risk his health as you say merely to secure your happiness and mine. Consider how where love is concerned, marriage is always, nay the only, proper course of action."
This was enough to silence him. His obstinacy could not persist long against the fatherly affection that cherished his daughter's happiness above all. But he was distressed, most distressed that his earthly peace should be so unexpectedly disturbed. He pushed the backgammon table away and looked for a long time at the unlit fireplace while his daughter fidgeted over her work on the sofa. She glanced at him now and then, spoiling her needlework in her preoccupation with how grieved her news had made him. An hour passed this way before he moved again when he called for his tea in a voice of tolerable strength as could convince Emma that the worst had passed. Her deepest fears subsided. The fluttering of anxiety dissipated. The idea of marriage had been introduced, and her father's resistance, though it had upset her exceedingly, was quelled for the moment. If she heard him muttering from time to time, "To think you should ever drop your resolution of never marrying," it was not enough to raise her alarm. Mr. Knightley would come in the morning, and smooth it all over, and soon Mrs. Weston, that kindest and best loved of friends, would be among her arbiters.