What to Expect When Emma Is Expecting
Note: Here is a "fluffy" little story that has a few details that carry through from "The Honeymoon Begins" and "Sojourn at Donwell." I hope you will like it!
Emma was uncharacteristically exhausted. She could barely keep her eyes open during dinner, and afterwards, when they had retreated to the parlor for tea, she had politely declined her father's suggestion that she play her violin and had actually dozed off a few times as George read aloud to the two of them. During the short time that they had been married, Emma and George usually stayed up for awhile after Mr. Woodhouse had excused himself for the evening; in Emma's view, it lacked decorum for the newlyweds to be rushing off to their bedroom at the first opportunity. This evening, however, George could see that she was greatly fatigued, and indeed, she did not refuse his offer to retire when her father did.
Emma's head was half buried under the covers on this cold December night, as she snuggled up to his warmth. "I'm sorry that I'm too tired to … you know," she whispered.
"Emma, you never have to apologize for that. Our intimacy is something that we do for each other, when both of us want to."
"Well," she giggled sleepily, "I haven't exactly noticed that you have ever not wanted to."
"Goodness, is that a complaint?" George asked sarcastically, raising his eyebrows in mock dismay. They both knew well that ever since he had patiently helped Emma to overcome her initial trepidations on the afternoon of their wedding day, she had become a most enthusiastic participant in their marital intimacies.
She raised her head and replied, "Heavens no, Mr. Knightley." George recognized that when she called him "Mr. Knightley" in that particular tone of voice, there was an excellent chance she was about to tease him, and he was not disappointed. "For a man of your age, you comport yourself quite well." She laughed and sought refuge under the covers as he tickled her.
She settled in again, and George asked quietly "Emma, may I ask you a question?"
"How long have we been married now?
She answered without a moment's hesitation, "One month, three weeks and two days."
The duration of their marriage had become a continuing joke between them, as they marveled how in some ways it seemed like they had been married forever, but they were still just newlyweds. In a sense, their closeness was not surprising. They had known each other for such a very long time: first, as mentor and student; then, as caring friends; and now, as husband and wife. Because they had outwardly moved from friends to lovers in practically the span of an afternoon, they had experienced none of the coy musings and flirtations that would have been expected during a courtship; by the time their love for one another had been mutually realized and declared, they were well beyond that stage. And their early weeks in marriage were not consumed with learning the little whims that a couple might come to know about one another early on: She already knew exactly how much milk he liked in his tea. He already knew that she had a fondness for a ridiculously generous serving of orange marmalade with her toast at breakfast. She already knew that he liked to sneak lumps of sugar to his horse, Bessie. And he already knew that she never had finished and never would finish any book authored by Milton. They had discovered those endearing traits about each other years before. Yet in their recent time alone together, the newlyweds were still surprised to learn the most unexpected intimate details about one another, as well as about themselves. For one thing, Emma realized that George's beard was quite heavy; on the first morning that she had awakened as Mrs. Knightley, she found that a miserable rash had begun on her chin where he had massaged his face against her soft skin as he had lavished her with kisses the afternoon and evening before. George vowed to shave twice a day from then on; it was the least he could do to assure her comfort. And for his part, George discovered that no matter how perturbed she might be about one thing or another, Emma's disposition could be improved considerably by a few carefully placed kisses on the back of her neck.
"I was thinking," George said softly, with a grin on his face, "that in that one month, three weeks and two days, our … ummm … our marital activities ... have been … quite regular, have they not?"
She giggled from under the covers, "Really, you make me blush! Why do you ask such a question?"
He pulled the covers back from her face. "Well, it's just that I was wondering … I think that ... that usually a husband would expect that his bride would be … indisposed … for a few days out of each month, you know, for her … her feminine cycle. And yet, I can't help but realize that … at least, I believe it to be the case … that you have not been so imposed upon. Not that I am complaining, mind you, but I was just wondering, if that is usual for you? That is, before our wedding day, were you … or rather was it … a regular occurrence?"
She propped herself up on one elbow and looked at her husband for a time, then reached over and lovingly caressed the side of his face with one hand. "My dearest Mr. Knightley," she asked softly, this time using his proper name not to tease him, but because in her heart she felt it was still the most profound endearment she could invoke, "is this your way of asking me if … if we are going to have a baby?"
He raised his eyebrows and practically croaked, "Are we?" while he held his breath.
She broke into an enormous smile, nodded and said, "I think so!" Then she fell on top of him, hugging his chest and laughing.
He hugged her to him and joined in her laugh, but then he said seriously, "But why have you not said anything to me sooner, Emma? You waited for me to guess?"
Emma immediately stopped her giggling. "Oh, George, I was not keeping it a secret. I promise you that I was not. It's just that I cannot say that I am one hundred percent certain yet. I have missed my … monthly event … twice now, and if truth be told, I know that in the last week or so I have been feeling … differently. But I wasn't sure if that was just because I am married now and, well, I am feeling many things now that I did not even know existed before, quite aside from the question of whether I might be …. in the family way. I wanted to ask Isabella about it, so I could be sure before I said anything to you. I did not want to give you cause to be … excited … or worried … until I knew for certain. But then I did not want to write to Isabella to ask her. My questions aren't proper topics for a letter, so I thought I should just wait until she is here later this week, for the holidays. Do you mind that I did not say anything sooner?"
"No, no. I understand," he responded quickly.
"You happy about it, are you not, George?"
"Happy?" he exclaimed. "No man could be happier, Emma. I love you so much, and you have given me more joy than I ever imagined was possible. And now, a baby? I could not ask for more. Oh Emma, we are a fortunate pair, are we not?"
He hugged her tightly and kissed her soundly, then gently pushed her over onto her back. He leaned over her, brushing the curls from her face before reaching down and smoothing his large hand over her abdomen, feeling her body through her nightgown. "Hmmm, I can't feel anything yet. It is still too early. But I cannot wait to see you with your belly out to here, with our baby inside." He raised his hand above her hips a good two feet and grinned. "You will look so beautiful."
She laughed, "Ha! When I am as big as a horse, I'll remind you that you said that! We'll see if you really think I am beautiful then!" Then she asked, "Do you want a boy or a girl?"
"Either. It does not matter. A healthy baby. Ten fingers and ten toes. And a happy wife. That's all I ask."
"Well, I'd like a little girl, I think. She can play with little Anna Weston and they will grow up being best friends. And then our nephew Henry can remain heir to Donwell, as least for the time being." She glanced at George briefly, to gauge his reaction.
"Emma, you know that is not important to John. I have told you that he and I have spoken about it. It was never his expectation. He's pleased for me, for us. I know you did not think so at first, but he knows how happy you make me."
"I'm so very glad of that, George. So now the only obstacle to our increasing happiness would be: How would we tell Father? Good heavens, he is only beginning to accept that we are actually married, and now this!" She laughed lightly, though the thought of breaking the news to her father, who was likely to associate babies with infections and the like, was rather distressing for her.
"We will figure out a way. We are experienced at breaking good news to him, are we not? We need not say anything immediately, and in any event, he will have time to get used to the idea. When you do you think the baby will come?
"Well, I am not sure. That is one of the things I need to ask Isabella, but I would guess perhaps at the end of July."
"So, in any case, your father should have a good number of months to get used to the idea."
They were both pensive for a moment, basking in their joy, until George interrupted their quietude. "May I ask, Emma, why you have not asked Mrs. Weston your questions about the baby, instead of waiting for Isabella to arrive?"
"Oh, I have thought about doing so every day for the past week or so, when I first began to suspect. But, honestly, I find that Mrs. Weston does not keep secrets from Mr. Weston," then she added hastily, "which I completely understand, of course. I appreciate that it is only right that a husband and wife would tell each other everything." Emma paused, thinking how she previously might have thought it best to keep certain details from George, but now she did not think she would ever again countenance such concealment. "So, I feared that if I told Mrs. Weston, she would surely tell Mr. Weston, and once Mr. Weston knew, well, all of Highbury would likely find out, and it might be Miss Bates who broke the news to Father!" Both of them laughed till tears came to their eyes.
When their laughter finally subsided, Emma snuggled close to him again and as he gently stroked her hair, she fell asleep with a sweet, contented smile on her face – a smile that was matched his.
Later that week, after the John Knightley family had arrived at Hartfield, Emma sought a few minutes alone with Isabella to tell her the presumed good news and to make her inquiries about her condition. Unfortunately, her plan was foiled at every turn: the family had been late in arriving, and Emma's efforts were required to overcome her father's continuing anxiety over imagined dangers in their journey that had never come to pass; the children were tired and fussy after the drive, and Isabella needed to tend to them; dinner would be served soon, but Henry and John were unhappy that they were to eat with their younger siblings rather than in the dining room with the adults, and both Emma and Isabella's finest diplomatic efforts were put forth to soothe the situation. Emma saw that her questions would simply have to wait.
At dinner, Mr. Woodhouse, from his place at head of the table, carved a serving from the large roast in front of him and announced to the butler, "This slice is for Mrs. Knightley – or shall I say, Mrs. John Knightley, as this evening we are graced with two Mrs. Knightley's." He smiled at his own humor. After carving the next portion of rare roast, he said, "And this slice is for the new Mrs. Knightley."
Emma immediately responded, "Oh, no Father, that is much too large. Just a small piece for me. I'm not very hungry this evening."
"Emma, you have not been eating properly. Look at you. You look positively peaked. Do you not think Emma looks peaked, Isabella? A healthy serving of red meat will put color in your cheeks."
The plate was set in front of Emma. She looked down at it. Where once she might have seen a tantalizing slice of the finest filet of beef, she now saw only a massive lump of pink flesh, oozing with blood that circled her plate and mixed with the pudding. She instantly thought she might become nauseous, and she put hand to her mouth and looked across the table to her husband. George eyed her sympathetically, knowing that recently certain smells or tastes might set her stomach reeling. Fortunately, the feeling passed quickly, so she smiled at him to let him know she was alright. She reached for her water glass. Suddenly the nausea came back, more strongly; Emma knew she could not fight it this time. She looked quickly around her and as her father continued to carve another serving of roast, she yelped "'scuse me," pushed back her chair quickly and, dropping her shawl, ran for the French door to the outside, opened it and raced through.
Isabella rose from her chair and exclaimed, "Emma! Are you ill?"
"Emma!" cried Mr. Woodhouse, with a look of horror on his face. "What is wrong?!"
George calmly said, "No need for alarm, Father, Isabella. Emma is fine. Now if you will excuse me." He rose, bowed slightly, then went around to Emma's place at the other side of the table. Through the open door, the unmistakable sound of retching could be heard. George picked up Emma's shawl and glass of water, and quickly followed her path outside, pushing the door shut behind him. Mr. Woodhouse, Isabella and John were left staring at each other, open mouthed, around the table.
Emma recovered quickly, and after drinking the glass of water George had brought for her and allowing him to wrap her shawl about her and dab her damp face with his handkerchief, she declared herself ready to return to the dining room.
"Well," said George, hugging her close to him, "I suppose there is no time like the present to announce our good news. I'm sure you no longer harbor any doubts about your condition, do you?"
"No. None whatsoever." Her voice was a bit shaky.
"Then let's go inside. It is freezing out here, and you need to keep our baby warm. Would you like to tell them, or shall I do the honors?"
"Would you, please? I'm sure I wouldn't even know how to begin."
At first Mr. Woodhouse stood speechless. Still holding the carving knife, he waived it about as he finally managed to exclaim, "But Emma! Your health will be ruined! You are too young! You are just a child yourself!" As nonchalantly as possible, Emma took the knife from him and set it down.
"Father, you know that I have always been in excellent health. I'm not too young and I am certainly not a child myself. I'll be almost twenty three by the time the baby comes."
"And remember that I was a year younger than Emma when I had my first child, Father," offered a beaming Isabella, trying to be helpful.
"Yes, and look how tired you are!" Mr. Woodhouse said to Isabella. "Five children! It is bad business, I tell you." Isabella looked stricken.
"Isabella is a perfect mother," said John Knightley sternly, ready to defend his wife. "She…"
George cut his brother off with a wave of his hand and an imploring look. This was not going well. George quickly said, "But children are such a blessing, Father. Have you not said as much about Isabella and Emma? Have you not said, many times over, that you are happy to have such caring daughters who could comfort you in your old age?"
"Well, yes, of course, but…"
"Ah, there you have it, Father." Emma picked up on George's argument. "Surely you would not wish for George to have no children to comfort him in his old age?"
"Well, when you put it that way, it does seem reasonable," Mr. Woodhouse said quietly, seemingly defeated. Emma breathed a sigh of relief, as the worst appeared to be over. Mr. Woodhouse picked up the carving knife again and approached the roast. Then he suddenly lifted his head and, brandishing the knife, asked, "But really, George, was it necessary for you to act so soon?" John Knightley barely stifled his guffaw, instead pretending to cough before gulping down a glass of water. George colored immediately and could find no words to respond.
Fortunately, Emma saved him. "George is a number of years older than me, Father, as you have pointed out on many occasions. He will be forty in no time at all, so we would not wish to wait too long. You would not wish him to be an old man by the time a child arrived, now would you? That might strain his health. Surely you would agree." George felt that Emma was portraying him as a veritable invalid, and he did not appreciate it, even though this line of reasoning seemed to be delighting John immensely. More important, though, her logic seemed to be working on her father, so he held back his protest as John continued to snigger.
Later, after Mr. Woodhouse had eaten his gruel, with a grand sigh and several mutterings about infants in the household, he said his good nights and retired. Emma and Isabella finally were able to sit down in peace so Emma could satisfy her maternal curiosities. John pulled George aside and chided him, "Did you know that a child that is conceived on his parents' wedding night is called a 'champagne baby'?" George had no interest in debating the point, though he smiled to himself as he remembered that the truth was that Emma might well have conceived on their wedding night, but it just as easily could have been earlier in the day, before supper.
"John, I will not be drawn into such a conversation, not even by my own brother."
But John was not ready to let the subject die; he could not resist. "Very well, George. But really, did you have to act so soon. Couldn't you have waited a reasonable period before acting? Perhaps a year or two? Then you could have acted. It would've been the proper thing, you know."
George growled, "A fine sentiment from a man who has fathered five children in eight years!"
"So, it would seem that I have acted five times in eight years. Surely even our wives' father would not think that is too much acting," John laughed, and clapped George on the back.
George was still irritated at being the butt of this joke, so he said, "As I recall, Henry was born less than a year after your wedding day, John, so don't be too hasty in your assessment. That would be the pot calling the kettle black."
"Alright, alright, 'kettle,'" John laughed. "No more, I promise. All joking aside, George, I offer you my best congratulations. I am so very happy for you and Emma. I look forward to the day when you, too, will experience firsthand the true felicity of fatherhood, for the first time your baby wraps his tiny little hand around your finger, he will have taken hold of your heart for life."
As he looked over at his beautiful wife, George said, "Hmmm, yes. That is something I shall very much look forward to, John."
Note: I just had to end with Mr. Knightley saying, "Hmmm, yes"! :-)