Note: Here is the last of the final three chapters. I hope that you have liked the story. I am rather sad that it's finished– it was such fun to write it!
A beautiful spring morning dawned for Easter Sunday. Emma and Mr. Woodhouse had invited Highbury's two finest bachelors, Mr. Weston and Mr. Knightley, to join the Woodhouse's for an early holiday dinner, so Emma was up early to see that all necessary preparations had been made for a grand meal when they returned from church.
When Emma, Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Taylor entered the church, Mr. Knightley immediately noticed that Emma was wearing a new dress and bonnet, and he could not help but admire her loveliness. They sat in the pew in front of him, and the four of them exchanged greetings. Emma gave him a smile as bright as sunshine and remarked that they were looking forward to his company at Easter dinner. Mr. Knightley was feeling quite content on this quiet holiday as he shared greetings with Highbury's other residents as they filled the church pews: Mrs. and Miss Bates, Mr. Weston, Mrs. Goddard and three of her boarders, Mrs. Martin, Mr. Robert Martin and his sisters…. And then the Cox family entered the church: the two Cox daughters, followed by Mr. and Mrs. Cox and Mr. William Cox. Alarm bells rang in Mr. Knightley's head. William Cox was back in Highbury. He could not help but notice that Emma had noticed him and had nodded to him and given him a smile – that same bright smile she had offered Mr. Knightley just a few minutes before. He observed William smile back at her with that ridiculous toothy grin of his. The Coxes took a pew off to the side. Mr. Knightley watched William's every move and the direction of his every glance, and anyone watching him watching William would have thought Mr. Knightley was a seasoned constable on the trail of some hardened criminal; such was the intensity of his gaze.
After services, Mr. Knightley kept an eye on Emma and William's movements as they exited the church. He was surprised that they did not speak to one another, and in fact, they went off in different directions. Perhaps they were being discreet. In any event, Mr. Woodhouse was ready to return home in his carriage, but Emma had decided the day was too beautiful not to walk back to Hartfield, so she, Miss Taylor, Mr. Knightley and Mr. Weston set off on foot. They all chatted gaily for a time, but Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston seemed to be walking quite slowly, and by the time Emma and Mr. Knightley were nearing the Hartfield gate sweep, Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston were almost out of sight behind them.
As Hartfield came into view, Mr. Knightley forced himself to say, "It seems to me that you have been smiling all day, Emma, and I am glad of it. What makes you so happy, may I ask?" He knew very well why she was in such high spirits, and while it pained him to do so, he needed to understand the degree of her continued attachment to William Cox.
"Well, Mr. Knightley, I think I must be happy because it is spring. And they say that in spring a man's thoughts turn to love." She gave him a rather sly look.
He did not let his voice betray the panic that overcame him in that instant, as Emma had now affirmed that William Cox had not faded from her memory. "And what might you be speaking of, Emma?" he asked casually, refusing to look her way.
"Isn't it obvious, Mr. Knightley?" She glanced over her shoulder. "I think Mr. Weston will ask her before Midsummer's Eve. Then all of my plans will have worked perfectly. Not a single effort for naught. Won't Miss Taylor make a wonderful Mrs. Weston?" She sighed happily.
Mr. Knightley stopped in his tracks. He could scarcely form the words: "Mmm … Mrs. Weston?"
Emma stopped, too, and turned to him. "Yes, Mrs. Weston. It has a lovely sound to it, does it not?"
Mr. Knightley looked over his shoulder at the pair that was following some distance behind them. "Mr. Weston. And Miss Taylor. You …. You are talking of … Mr. Weston asking Miss Taylor to marry him."
"Yes, Mr. Weston. And Miss Taylor. Why do you seem so surprised, Mr. Knightley?" she laughed. "I made you my confidant last winter, the day after your dinner party at Donwell. Or had you forgotten that you made it so clear that you were unhappy about my meddling into the affairs of others? I trust you have forgiven me by now, though." She appraised his countenance and then continued. "Indeed, I knew you could be trusted with this secret, Mr. Knightley, as you are my most trustworthy confidant. But I certainly did not expect you to forget it completely! Did you really forget? Or are you just teasing me?" Mr. Knightley smiled weakly. "Oh, you are teasing me. Ha! You had me going for one moment. But 'April Fool's' was last week, so you are too late to make jokes about it! Well, perhaps you simply do not want to admit that I have perfectly aimed my cupid's arrow, whereas you seem to have had serious doubts, did you not? So, can you now finally admit that Mr. Weston and Miss Taylor just might be a wonderful match?"
As much as he tried, he could not stop an absurdly enormous smile from beaming across his face, which Emma delightedly took as a sign of his happiness at her efforts and their friends' impending good news. "Ah! So you finally admit that you agree with me," she laughed and clapped her hands.
"I will only say this, Emma. I believe that you may be right, but if he does ask her, and if she does say yes, it will be because they have found love for themselves, not because you have aimed your cupid's arrow at them. But in any event, I would wish them well. I would wish them a lifetime of happiness!"
Emma smiled back at him. "Oh, I do agree with you, Mr. Knightley. A lifetime of happiness, I would wish them, as well. And if Mr. Weston does ask her, I will be so happy for Miss Taylor that I will not care who is responsible for the match! But … we must keep our secret until the matter is settled."
Mr. Knightley had now sufficiently recovered from his momentary lapse into unabashed glee. "Indeed we shall. We shall keep our secret, dear Emma," he said with feigned seriousness. He offered her his arm, and she took it gratefully, as they finished their journey to Hartfield.
As Mr. Knightley walked home to Donwell that evening, he pondered the ridiculous set of circumstances, the misplaced assumptions and the ill-formed conclusions that had led him to believe that Emma's heart had been pledged to William Cox. He had been terribly wrong, just as John had been. And he had never been more pleased, relieved and thankful to be wrong in all of his life. He had endured months of unease for no good reason at all, but all that seemed completely inconsequential now. He laughed out loud at himself because at that moment, that most proper and discreet gentleman, the master of Donwell Abbey and a magistrate of the county, wanted to shout to the world at the top of his lungs, "Emma Woodhouse does not love William Cox! Emma Woodhouse is not going to marry him!" His world was not about to change, and in fact, it had never even been in danger! He had a fleeting return of well-worn anxiety over having allowed himself to become so attached to her in the first place, but he decided that he would think about that some other time. Tonight, he would allow himself to just think sweet, happy thoughts of Emma, his most dear Emma.
Mr. Weston did, in fact, propose to Miss Taylor just before Midsummer's Eve. And she did, in fact, accept him.