Christmas and Carrots

Notes: Did Mr. Knightley ever find out that Mr. Elton had proposed to Emma after the Weston's party on Christmas Eve? Perhaps the answer is "yes."

This story takes place the day after the proposal. If you saw Emma (2009), you saw that Mr. Knightley left Donwell to venture out to Hartfield on Christmas morning. In this story, he does not walk but rather he rides his horse, Bessie. Some of the introductory dialogue is directly from this version of Emma.

***

On the morning after the Weston's party, Highbury woke to a beautiful Christmas day, with sunshine, blue skies, crisp air, and a landscape blanketed in snow. Mr. Knightley, intending to spend the holiday with his brother's family, as well and Mr. Woodhouse and Emma, happily rode out for Hartfield. Leaving his steadfast mount with the Hartfield groom, he readily sought out the whoops and hollers coming from Mr. John Knightley and the children as they played in the snow.

"Morning, John," Mr. Knightley said, giving his brother a friendly shove. "This is how we used to play; do you remember?" asked Mr. Knightley, pointing to where little George and Bella were piling snow against a statue of a nymph.

"Oh yes, we used to load up that poor nymph till she was almost buried!" Mr. John Knightley replied enthusiastically, as he picked up some snow to form a snowball.

"Right then, let's show your boys how it's done, shall we? You know, Emma used to be the best at it. Do you remember? She certainly bested me last year, as I recall. Where is she?" He looked up to the house and spotted Emma standing in a window on the second floor. "There she is." He waved and she gave an unenthusiastic little gesture in reply. He then motioned for her to come join them, but she did not respond. "I wonder why she doesn't come down to join us?" Mr. Knightley mused.

"Well, I don't think Emma will be celebrating much today."

"Really? Why not? Is she not feeling well?"

"George, did you not think Mr. Elton's behavior strange last night?

"Mr. Elton? That man is so full of himself, I might always class his behavior as strange. Why do you ask? What has that got to do with Emma?"

"Well, last night, on the return from Randalls," here John Knightley lowered his voice, "Elton proposed to Emma."

Mr. Knightley was stunned. "He what? Proposed? Marriage?

"Best lower your voice, or the children might hear. Yes, of course marriage. What else would he propose?"

"Why, that aggrandizing …. Good heavens! Emma refused him, did she not?" asked Mr. Knightley, obviously alarmed.

"Oh course!"

"Well, John, I'm sure I don't know what to say. Are you sure of this? Emma told you herself?"

"Emma arrived from Randalls last night in quite a state. She told Isabella about it, who told me. She and Elton took the second carriage by themselves, you know, and apparently Elton practically threw himself at her in a declaration of love. She was completely taken by surprise. As surprised as you look right now, I should venture. And according to Emma, the worst part of it is that she had thought Elton's attentions were all for her friend, Harriet Smith, not for herself. She was completely blind to it. She said as much to Elton – she came right out and said his attachment was surely to Miss Smith, not herself, and not only did Elton say that Emma was mistaken, he was exceedingly uncharitable in his remarks about Miss Smith. Emma was aghast. The interview ended badly, very badly indeed. It was embarrassing enough for her to have to rebuke Elton's unexpected advance – an unwanted proposal, no less – but now she must break the news to her Miss Smith, whose hopes have thus been crushed twice: First, in that Elton did not at all have her (Miss Smith) in his sights, and second, that he actually preferred Emma, who was, mostly likely, the architect behind Miss Smith's infatuation with Elton in the first place. It is a messy state of affairs for Emma, to be sure. I will tell you, though, that I was not blind. I had noticed Elton's attentions to Emma, and had even mentioned it to her. Had you not noticed?

"That Elton had set his sights on Emma? No, no. I did not. He might have said a thing or two about marrying, but never would I have expected that Emma was the object of his affections. How did this evade me? It is beyond comprehension. But you said you noticed. Why did you think so? And said you mentioned your suspicions to Emma? What did she say?"

"One question at a time, if you please, George. I happened to notice that on one a particular occasion, when Miss Smith was nowhere in sight, I might add, Elton's demeanor towards Emma was quite – solicitous – so it gave me pause. I said as much to Emma, and she laughed and said I was completely mistaken. But you see? I was proven right. I am never mistaken about these things. Emma might look the part of a grown woman, but in certain respects, particularly where matters relevant to the heart – indeed, her own heart – are concerned, I think she has much to learn. Her feelings were not entangled on this occasion, but I dare say that if she does not learn, and learn soon, she may find her own heart badly broken one day. Isabella is concerned, of course, but I say there is nothing for any of us to do. Emma must learn her own lessons. I told Isabella so."

Mr. Knightley folded his arms, failing to dodge a well-timed snowball from Henry that hit his hat. He ignored it and turned back to his brother. "I am astonished. I truly am. For Mr. Elton, who could do nothing to improve Emma's station in life, and who has nothing to offer a young woman of her stature but handsome looks and a place in the vicarage, to think so highly of himself, so as to think that he had curried Emma's favor to an extent that she would agree to marry him… Ha! I believe I know what Emma thinks of Elton, and while she might have thought him a fine match for her little friend, he would never do for Emma. And then for him to be uncharitable towards Miss Smith, who surely has never been other than a picture of sweetness and deference to him, and to say such things to Miss Smith's own friend, no less ….. It is abominable behavior, I tell you."

"Well, Emma will have to endure her mistake, for she'll have to tell Miss Smith, and Elton will still be in Hartfield's social circle. We'll see if his visits to Hartfield, under pretense of seeing her father or who knows what, will continue. I'll wager not. Though they shall still have to endure one another's presence in church every Sunday. Lucky for Emma that her father would not agree to venture out into the snow this morning for Christmas services. …. I say, George, Emma is quite put out by this, so you'd best not let on that you know. Her spirits are quite down, so at least now you'll know why. Perhaps you ought to go easy on her today. I know how you like to spar with her. She won't be up to it today, I think."

"Spar with her? I don't –"

"Of course you do, George. You love to give Emma unsolicited advice, and she loves to ignore it. I've seen the two of you go on like you were jousting for the King's prize."

"That's ridiculous. I won't be drawn into that line of conversation. Besides, the important thing is how Emma must be feeling right now." Mr. Knightley looked up to the window again, but Emma was not there.

***

What a dreadful Christmas this was! From the window of her room Emma had been watching the obviously intense exchange between the two brothers and had realized with trepidation that Mr. John Knightley must be telling Mr. Knightley about the wretched business of Mr. Elton's proposal. Mr. Knightley had looked up at the window several times. Now she had hidden behind the draperies, her stomach in knots. This situation had gone from bad to worse. She should have known that Isabella would tell John, and John had made a thinly veiled reference to her disaster at breakfast this morning. If only she had thought to take John aside, to entreat him not to tell Mr. Knightley. Of course, John probably would have told him, anyway, she rationalized. John was like that. Ugh! She was so very angry with him. And what would Mr. Knightley say to her now? He would admonish her and gloat and call her ridiculous for her disastrous attempt at matchmaking. He had warned her …. This was deplorable! Perhaps she should say she was ill, so she could stay in her room for the rest of the day. But no, she could not do that – her father would worry, and besides, it was Christmas. No, not only did Emma have to contend with her own humiliation and the evil soon to be rendered upon Harriet Smith, but now she would have to endure Mr. Knightley's company as well as his remonstrations. It would be part of her penance for the heartache she was to bring to poor Harriet. Emma mused that in her own mind, she might refer to her friend forever more as "poor Harriet Smith." Poor Harriet Smith!

***

Emma finally ventured down to the parlor with some needlework in hand. Isabella sat quietly with baby Emma, while Mr. Woodhouse was reading a journal. Mr. Knightley and Mr. John Knightley were warming themselves by the fire. The children had run upstairs to get changed out of their clothes, made damp from their play in the snow.

"Happy Christmas, Emma," said Mr. Knightley casually.

"Happy Christmas," Emma said quietly. She quickly sat down on the sofa, immediately feigning intense concentration on her needlework so as to avoid eye contact, let alone conversation, with anyone.

"Mr. Elton was very animated last night, was he not?" asked Mr. Woodhouse. Emma pricked her finger and let out a loud, "Ouch!" She quickly added, "Don't worry, it's nothing," and put her finger to her mouth so the drop of blood from the sharp needle's poke would not fall on her sewing project.

To Emma's dismay, Mr. Woodhouse continued, "Emma, I wonder how your friend Miss Smith is feeling today? I must say that I agree with Mr. Elton that you must not attempt to visit her while she remains ill, but you might send a messenger, perhaps tomorrow, to inquire after her health. If Mr. Knightley could get through the snow to Hartfield today, perhaps James could make it through to Mrs. Goddard's tomorrow. You must write to her, Emma, inquiring after her, and telling her about the Weston's party last night. It is a shame that she missed it. James will deliver your letter."

The subject caused an already disquieted Emma to prick herself again. "Ouch!"

"Do be careful, Emma. Perhaps you do not have enough light there for your sewing," cautioned Mr. Woodhouse.

"You might be right about the light, Father," she said, setting down her needlework, "and yes, what an excellent idea about Harriet." Emma desperately needed to change the subject, or better yet, to leave the room, so she said, "Mr. Knightley, I saw that you rode your horse here today."

Mr. Woodhouse spoke before Mr. Knightley could respond. "Ah, it is well that you did, Mr. Knightley. Your boots would have been soaked through had you walked in the snow. You might have caught your death of cold."

Mr. Knightley seemed surprised to be addressed by Emma. "Yes, I did ride Bess. The snow was not too deep, and it seemed she was in want of an outing."

Emma fabricated a smile and said, "Yes, well, Bessie is a fine horse. In fact, I think I'll ask Cook to fetch some carrots that I can take to her out in the stables. It'll be my Christmas present to her. If you will excuse me, I'll see to it." She rose from the sofa.

"Emma, who ever heard of giving a Christmas present to a horse?" said Mr. Woodhouse. "I think it is a silly idea. I wonder why you should ever think of it?"

"It is … just something I would like to do," she said, as she moved towards the door. She stopped briefly in front of the table at which Mr. Knightley and Mr. John Knightley were playing backgammon, and added quietly, so only the two of them might hear, "I shall bring carrots to Bessie, and she shall not think that I am a ridiculous girl and she shall not think, 'I told you so.' She'll just think, 'I like carrots.'" She did not stay to gauge their reactions.

"But Emma, it is too cold outside. You will catch cold," worried Mr. Woodhouse.

"I shall wear my cloak and winter boots, Father, so I'll be fine. And I am only walking to the stables. It is not far," Emma replied, without turning around. "Besides, I think I could use a little fresh air."

As Emma walked out the parlor door, Mr. Woodhouse called out to her, "Well, I assure you that you won't find any fresh air in the stables." Then he said, to no one in particular, "Such an odd idea. I think Emma has been acting strangely this morning. She did not want to play with the children. She did not want to play her music for me." He addressed Isabella next. "Isabella, do you think Emma is ill? Should we not have allowed her to go outside?"

"Father, I think Emma is fine. Perhaps she is still just a bit tired from last night's festivities at Randalls." Mr. Woodhouse nodded in agreement.

A few minutes later, Mr. John Knightley exclaimed, "George, you've just moved my checker instead of your own for the third time. You don't seem to be playing attention. Are you sure you want to play?"

"Actually, I might afford you better competition a little later. I'm sorry." Mr. Knightley stood up and said, "If you will excuse me, something just occurred to me, which I feel I should attend to now."

"On Christmas Day? What are you about, George?" inquired his brother.

"It's an odd thing, perhaps. It has just occurred to me that … that … I like carrots." And with that declaration, Mr. Knightley quitted himself of the parlor.

Mr. John Knightley watched his brother leave and shook his head. "I think more than one member of our family is acting strangely today."

***

Mr. Knightley found Emma in one of stalls in the stables, standing with Bessie and feeding her carrots, one at a time, while petting the horse's long face.

"Hello, Emma."

Emma must have been lost in her thoughts, because she jumped at his voice. She gave a weak "hello," but said nothing more. Mr. Knightley smiled at her, walked over to where she was standing and began to rub his horse's nose as Emma continued to feed the carrots to Bess. Finally, Emma said, "You don't need to say it. I know that you were right. My meddling has created an unmitigated disaster."

He replied, gently, "I did not come here to say that, or anything like it, Emma. Whatever lessons you may have learned are for your own consideration. I just came to see if you are well. I am sorry for what transpired last night. John told me. Mr. Elton's conduct, both in his assumptions about you and his views about Miss Smith, was reprehensible."

"Ah, you have touched on the worst of it. The worst of it is -- how will I ever tell poor Harriet Smith? I hope it snows till spring, so that I may have an excuse not to venture to Mrs. Goddard's, or Harriet to Hartfield, for a good, long while."

"Well, I will say only this: it is probably better that you accomplish this unenviable duty sooner than later. Do not prolong the inevitable. Let Miss Smith begin to get over Mr. Elton."

"I will grant that you are right, Mr. Knightley. I accept your advice. This time," she said with a weak smile, and she looked at him. He returned her smile. "And I must advise you that I am through with matchmaking, I truly am."

Mr. Knightley laughed softly, "Well, that is the best news I have heard in a while," then added, "So … you are truly alright, then, Emma?"

"Yes, Mr. Knightley. I am fine, truly, I am," she replied. "Thank you, for your … concern, and for … not renewing your warnings about Harriet and Mr. Elton and match-- …"

He interrupted her here. "It is an old grievance, Emma, one which we shall not retread. Are we agreed?"

Emma nodded with relief. At least she needn't worry about Mr. Knightley. She cared not one wit for what the conceited Mr. Elton was thinking at this moment, so she faced no distress there. And now she could focus her anxiety on poor Harriet Smith; it pained her greatly to think of her little friend. But at least her mind was now sufficiently at ease that she might enjoy the day a little bit, and even acquire appetite enough to partake in Cook's superb Christmas dinner.

"But there is one more thing I came to tell you, dear Emma."

"What is that?" she asked warily.

Emma was holding the last two carrots of the bunch in her hand. Mr. Knightley reached over and took one of them from her and said, "I like carrots." Then he took a bite, grimaced a little bit, and laughed. His horse moved its head to nudge him.

Emma giggled. "Thank you for making me laugh, Mr. Knightley. But I think you have made Bessie here jealous. You've stolen her carrot. Here, Bess, here's the last one. Besides, I'll wager that you prefer lemon biscuits to carrots, and I've asked Cook to bake some for today. Shall we see if they are ready yet?

"An excellent idea, Emma," he said, as he gave the rest of his carrot to his horse. "Lemon biscuits are my favorite."

"I know," said Emma.

***

They walked to stable door, arranging their scarves, gloves and hats. After they'd taken a few steps up the snowy path, Emma stopped abruptly and turned to Mr. Knightley.

"Mr. Knightley," she said, with a curious look on her face. "I was wondering … shall we have a race back to the house?"

"You want to have a race?"

She nodded quickly, then reached up towards him, grasped the brim of his hat, tossed it several yards away into the snow, and before he could register an astonished look, she cried, "Mark, get set, go!" She quickly turned and began to run up the path, laughing all the way.

"What an audacious creature you are, Emma Woodhouse!" he called after her. He moved through the deeper snow to fetch his hat, and then ran up the path after her. He caught up to her about half way to the house, lightly grabbing her arm and spinning her towards him, then sliding her hand into his. He was greeted by her rosy cheeks and brilliant smile. She was laughing and trying to catch her breath. "I may be sixteen years your senior, Emma, but I am glad to say that it looks like I can still out run you. Do you want to continue the race to the house? I wonder which of us would win?" he teased her.

"That won't be necessary, since I'd probably let you win, anyway."

"Ha!" was his only reply. He kept her gloved hand in his as they walked together to the house, still laughing and trying catching their breath.

***

In the hallway near the kitchen entrance, a servant helped them with their scarves and coats, and Mr. Knightley sat down next to Emma on the bench while she removed her boots and replaced them with her shoes. He remarked, "You may be all grown up now, Emma, but I think you shall always carry a bit of that same mischievousness and spirit that you exhibited when you were a girl."

"Hmm. I suppose that is a very bad thing."

"No, actually I think it is a very good thing," he said. "I think a sense of humor is … a very agreeable characteristic."

"Ah, like when a person eats his horse's carrots, for instance?" Emma laughed, and then rose to return to the parlor.

***

It was a different Emma who joined her family in the parlor than the agitated young woman who had left an hour or so earlier. She was one of those rare persons with a smile so comely and sincere that it could brighten an entire room, and she was wearing that smile now. Isabella was pleased. Mr. Knightley, following just behind Emma, looked equally renewed.

"John, what do you say to a rematch in backgammon. Hmm? Are you up to the challenge?" asked Mr. Knightley of his brother. Mr. John Knightley immediately began to set up the game board.

"Tell me, Emma," said Mr. Woodhouse, "did Mr. Knightley's horse like the carrots?"

"Yes, I think Bess liked them exceedingly, Father. I believe they were excellent carrots, do you not agree, Mr. Knightley?" She gave him a certain look, and giggled.

"Indeed, they were, Emma." He smiled as sat down at the backgammon table.

"Bella," called Emma to her niece, "I think I did not have a chance to properly meet your new doll this morning -- the one that St. Nicholas brought for you. Will you introduce me again?"

"Oh yes, Aunt Emma, I would love to" Bella replied, and she jumped up and came running over to her aunt, her pretty doll in tow.

Mr. Knightley finished his turn at the backgammon game and handed the dice over to John Knightley. He looked over at Emma for what he had intended would only be a brief moment, but then he saw that she was looking at him. Their eyes met, and she silently mouthed the words, "Thank you." Mr. Knightley smiled and gave the slightest nod to her, then turned to his brother and said, "Double sixes. Lucky throw, John."

It was a fine Christmas at Hartfield, after all.