Notes: This story explores two aspects of Emma and Mr. Knightley's relationship: First, what was the long-standing affection between them like? Surely, they must enjoy spending time together and Mr. Knightley must do more than scold her, just as Emma must do more than argue with him. (Did anyone besides me wonder, after reading the book, what Mr. Knightley saw in the conceited, spoiled child that Emma proved herself to be (even after she showed compassion for Miss Bates)? Though I admired her spirit, I questioned why he thought her "perfect in spite of her imperfections." At least their affection was more believable in the 2009 "Emma" production.) Second, do others, who aren't Highbury residents long used to seeing Emma and Mr. Knightley together, see their friendship in a different light?
There are a few references from another story, "Sojourn at Donwell" (such as Emma's violin playing). Thank you in advance if you have time to review.
Chapter One: Mr. Woodhouse Receives Deplorable News
If the truth be told, a subtle sense of melancholy had settled over the Woodhouse household after Miss Taylor's departure from Hartfield, several weeks earlier, to become the new Mrs. Weston. Most assuredly, that there was any cause and effect between the two was not anything to which Emma would admit, as she herself was apt to claim credit for making the match between Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston. Nor was it anything to which Mr. Woodhouse was particularly sensitive, as it was his nature to enjoy the quietude at Hartfield. Fortunately, Emma's spirits returned whenever either of her two favorite guests, Mrs. Weston herself and Mr. Knightley, arrived for a visit. On this particular late summer afternoon, the master of Donwell Abbey made his almost daily journey to Hartfield, and Emma's mood was lifted when he suggested a game of backgammon. The two were soon competing keenly while Mr. Woodhouse was engrossed in reading correspondence that had been delivered earlier in the day.
"Oh dear," exclaimed Mr. Woodhouse after reading a certain letter. "This is terrible news. Most deplorable."
"Father, what is it?" Emma was immediately concerned - was something wrong with Isabella or one of the children?
"It is my agent, Mr. Andrews. It seems that he has broken his leg in a fall on the stairwell in his home. Stairs are so dangerous, are they not? One must always be certain to maintain a good grip on the banister. You must always remember to do so, Emma. In any event, Mr. Andrews writes that for at least two or three months he will be unable to make the trip to Highbury for his annual meeting with me. The broken leg is quite serious, and he has been consulting with a surgeon as well as his apothecary. The poor man! I wish him a complete recovery. What dreadful news this is. And what it will do to my business interests will surely be dreadful, as well, as in the meantime, I'm afraid that many of my investments shall have to languish. He was scheduled to be here in less than a fortnight."
"Poor Mr. Andrews! I hope he recovers quickly," said Emma. She was relieved that their family was not implicated in the bad news, and that Mr. Andrews would recuperate. "But surely you can conduct your business by corresponding with him, Father?"
"Oh, no. That is out of the question. These particular matters are always conducted between Mr. Andrews and me in person. You know that he always comes to see me at least once a year."
"I would be happy to meet with your agent in London on your behalf, Mr. Woodhouse, as soon as he is able to receive vistors," Mr. Knightley offered. Emma smiled at him from across the little game table. It was a generous offer on his part, and she appreciated his efforts to accommodate her father.
"That is most kind of you, Mr. Knightley, but it is impossible. I must meet with Mr. Andrews myself. To do otherwise would be incomprehensible to me." Emma knew that her father was nothing if not a creature of habit. How dismayed he must be!
"I understand, Mr. Woodhouse. But do let me know if you change your mind. My offer to assist stands."
Mr. Knightley accepted Emma's invitation to stay for supper, during which Mr. Woodhouse several times lamented the misfortune that had befallen his agent and, vicariously, Mr. Woodhouse's investments. "Well, Mr. Woodhouse," said Mr. Knightley, "as your agent is incapacitated at present, perhaps you ought to consider going to London to meet with him in person."
"To London? Me? Travel to London?" Mr. Woodhouse seemed aghast at the mere thought. Mr. Knightley might as well have suggested going to the moon, Emma thought. Her father continued, "I have not ventured there in many years now. Such a journey might be dangerous, especially in my state of health, and one can never be certain that the roads will be safe these days." Emma thought back and realized it was five years ago, when she had just turned sixteen, that she, her father and Miss Taylor had last made the journey to London. The trip was a short one - just three days - and had been made necessary because her father had been brought low by a toothache; Mr. Woodhouse had sought the services of a dentist in London who had been highly recommended by Dr. Perry.
Mr. Knightley responded with prudence, "Well, you might consult with Dr. Perry, to confirm that it would be acceptable for your constitution. And as for any other danger, I would be glad to escort Emma and you, though I would not foresee any hazard or difficulty whatsoever. It would be a trip of but two hours or so with horses as lively as yours, Mr. Woodhouse."
"That is very good of you to offer, Mr. Knightley, but I am sure it is out of the question. Besides, where would we stay? We could not stay with Isabella and John. No, with five children, including a new baby, it would be impossible for a man of my age and situation to find comfort there. Their house is not nearly so large as to make the arrangements feasible. It might be unfortunate for my health or the health of my newest granddaughter."
"Yes, that is a valid concern." Emma was disappointed to hear Mr. Knightley agree with her father on this point. She had almost held her breath at this exchange between the two gentlemen, as she held out hope that her father would be even a little bit open to the idea of a trip to London. The change of scenery might be just what she needed, she thought. She seemed to have been brooding lately, and she simply could not put her finger on the cause. "Why don't you stay with my Aunt Catherine?" Mr. Knightley continued. "I know that she would dearly love to see you and Emma again. She asks after the two of you every time John or I see her. I am quite sure that it would mean a great deal to her to be able to host you at Manning House."
Emma's hopes now returned. Mr. Knightley's aunt, Mrs. Catherine Winthrop, was the only sister of his deceased father. Born Catherine Knightley, she had been raised at Donwell Abbey and had grown up with Mr. Woodhouse, who was five years her junior. She had left Hartfield upon her marriage to Mr. Alistair Winthrop, the heir of a fine estate in Kent. It was a successful and happy match for both, though sadly, they had never been blessed with children. Upon Mr. Winthrop's death a number of years earlier, his entailed estate in Kent was inherited by the oldest son of a cousin. Fortunately, Mr. Winthrop had provided handsomely for his wife upon his death, though the substantial dowry that Miss Catherine Knightley had brought to their marriage would have been more than sufficient to leave her well off in her own right. After her husband's death, Mrs. Winthrop retreated to their London home, Manning House, having lost interest in travelling away from London, even to see her childhood home at Donwell. While she adored company at home and tolerated small dinner parties and intimate gatherings at which she might learn the gossip of the day, she eschewed balls and other large affairs, believing them to be bad for her wellbeing. Some might even say that she had become reclusive, and the sad fact was that where matters of health and constitution were concerned, her views were quite comparable to Mr. Woodhouse's.
"Ah, my dear friend, Mrs. Winthrop! I do hope she is doing well. It has been a long time since I have had the pleasure of seeing her. We do correspond every year at Christmas, and you, Isabella and John provide regular reports, but it is not the same as a real visit. It would be wonderful, indeed, to see Mrs. Winthrop."
"Well, it is a thought, Mr. Woodhouse. Why don't you take it under consideration, and if you believe it would be in the best interests of your business dealings with Mr. Andrews to do so, I would be most happy to make the arrangements with my aunt." Mr. Woodhouse gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. Although this last exchange of conversation made Emma practically delirious at the prospect of a trip to London, she outwardly maintained her indifference, and to her dismay, neither her father nor Mr. Knightley raised the subject again that evening.
After tea, when Mr. Knightley rose to bid them adieu and return to Donwell Abbey, Emma said, in a tone that was as nonchalant as she could muster, "Mr. Knightley, I think I shall walk with you to the gate sweep. It is a warm evening, and I ... I could use a bit of fresh air."
As soon as they had travelled a short way down the garden path, well enough away from the parlor door so that her father could not overhear them, Emma exclaimed, "Mr. Knightley, thank you so much for suggesting that Father and I might go to London! To London! We have not been in five years! And it would be so wonderful to see your aunt again. She has always been so kind to our family."
"Please do not get your hopes up, Emma. Your father is a long way from approving of the journey. He merely agreed to consider it. I would not wish for you to be disappointed."
"Oh, I know that you are right, Mr. Knightley. But just think … I could meet baby Emma, and spend time with Isabella, and we could take our nephews to the zoological gardens – little Henry has said he that would very much like to go and even I have never been. And do you think we might see the 'Elgin Marbles,' Mr. Knightley? How marvelous that would be! We've read so much about them! Oh, I do hope Father will say yes."
As Mr. Knightley listened to Emma recite her prospects dreamily, he reflected that any other young lady of her age and circumstances, when eying the possibility of a rare visit to London, would be thinking of adding to her wardrobe, attending balls and meeting eligible suitors. But dear Emma was thinking only of such mundane pastimes as being with her family and visiting the zoo and the museum. But then again, he mused, Emma Woodhouse must be unlike any other young lady in all of England.