Note: This turned out to be a lot longer than a true epilogue, so it's really a misnomer. It is in three unrelated parts that take place after "Emma's Excellent Adventures," but I've put them all into one long chapter.
Epilogue – Part 1 of 3, About Four Months After Departing London –
Though the sun was shining brilliantly on this late January afternoon, it was cold and windy outside, an atmosphere unfit for even considering venturing from the house, according to Mr. Woodhouse, so he had bundled himself in front of the oppressively hot fire in his favorite parlor and was reading a book. Emma and her seemingly ever-present (according to Mr. Knightley) little friend, Harriet Smith, were busy working on their needlepoint projects. Mr. Knightley, who had joined the three of them an hour or so earlier, and for whom the cold weather provided no deterrent from visiting his friends at Hartfield, was reading the newspaper; occasionally he would read aloud or summarize a particular story that he thought would be of interest to Mr. Woodhouse.
"Now Emma, here is news that will surely interest you. It is about Lord Byron." He glanced at her sideways to judge her reaction, but as she did not look up from her sewing, she gave away no hint of what she was thinking. She had actually blushed at Mr. Knightley's words, though she did not want him to know it.
"Who is Lord Byron?" asked Harriet.
"Oh, he is just a poet," said Emma with feigned indifference, still not looking up. In reality, her interest was greatly piqued.
"A poet? Should I know who he is? Is he famous? Should I have read his poems?" Harriett inquired, in rapid succession, in her pretty little voice. Emma just smiled at her friend and shook her head, "No."
Mr. Woodhouse then asked, "Emma, why should a story about Lord Byron interest you?"
"It does not, Father. Mr. Knightley is mistaken. Lord Byron is of no consequence to me. We met him briefly once, when we were in London. That is all." She purposely avoided Mr. Knightley's keen gaze as she spoke.
"Well, in any event," Mr. Knightley said, "it says here that on the second of January, Lord Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke at Seaham Hall. She is apparently an heiress, and no doubt provided a substantial dowry," he said.
"Ah, how nice for Lord Byron," said Emma casually. "I wish him a long and happy marriage."
"I doubt that it will be either," said Mr. Knightley dryly, and gave her a smirk.
"Really, Mr. Knightley, how unlike you to be so ungenerous." This time she looked directly at him, and it was Emma's turn to give him a smirk. He buried his head in the newspaper again. He tried to recall since when Emma had so easily been able to parlay his teasing of her into an evenly matched challenge. Clever girl, he thought. He couldn't decide whether to be rueful or impressed.
Epilogue, Part 2 of 3 – About A Year After Departing London – The Letter
Emma and Mr. Knightley had been engaged for but a few weeks, and Mr. Woodhouse had tacitly given his consent to their marriage, although he had not yet acquiesced to their setting a date, unless "a year or two from now" could be considered "setting a date." The news of their engagement and of Mr. Knightley's impending removal to Hartfield had spread through Highbury and beyond, and had been met with almost universal approval (that is, with Mr. and Mrs. Elton apparently being the sole dissenters).
Mr. Knightley had taken to spending as much time at Hartfield as possible, mostly to be with his beloved Emma, but also to encourage Mr. Woodhouse to get used to the idea (and perhaps even recognize some advantages) of having him always about the house. On the days he was not meeting with William Larkins it was fast becoming his habit to arrive at Hartfield in time for breakfast and spend an hour or so there. He would then return in the late afternoon and stay for supper. Otherwise, he generally arrived in the early afternoon. Today, Mr. Knightley headed to Hartfield shortly after the noon hour, having just finished a review of his accounts and ledgers with Mr. Larkins. He brought with him certain correspondence that he had received from London that morning, and while he had misgivings about how Emma might react to some of its contents, it felt he must share it with her forthwith.
Mr. Knightley entered the parlor unannounced, as he had for years, and was glad to find Emma alone, writing a letter. Her eyes lit up and she smiled as he entered. He closed the door behind him and said, "Hello, Emma. How are you today, my love?"
She put down her quill. "Wonderful, now that you are here," she laughed.
"Do you really expect me to believe that my mere arrival can cause your day to be wonderful?" he teased as he walked over to the desk at which she sat.
"Well, perhaps not your mere arrival. Perhaps it will take something more than that," she said coyly, looking up at him.
"More? Hmmm, how about this?" He leaned down and gently put one hand behind her head, bringing her lips towards his, and kissed her, first imparting small kisses that tempted her mouth, then teasing her lips apart with the tip of his tongue. When he finally ended the kiss, he kept his head inches from hers. Her eyes were still closed and she had a look on her face that he could only describe as "contentment." "Will that do?" he asked in a husky voice.
She opened her eyes and whispered, with a sigh, "Hmmm, yes. That will do nicely. Now you truly have made my day wonderful." Her face was still flushed when she added, "I think I should to encourage Father to take more naps, so we can find more time to be alone together."
"Better yet, I think you should encourage your father to allow us to set our wedding day, and not too far in the future, either, so we can have more time to be alone together," he said mischievously, sinking into the chair next to the desk.
"Really, Mr. Knightley, how you make me blush sometimes."
"Perhaps if you could finally learn to call me George, speaking of such matters might come easier to you, dear Emma," he teased.
"I shall take that under advisement. No promises however, George," she laughed. She still found it difficult to use his Christian name – after all, he had been nothing but "Mr. Knightley" to her for all of her life – but at least she could make an effort. "Now, how was your morning? Do you think Mr. Larkins is getting used to the idea of your moving to Hartfield?"
"I believe so. As you know, I have assured him that we will continue to meet at Donwell our usual three mornings a week, and I will not allow my relocation to cause a lapse in any of my duties. He understands that we will not close up Donwell in any respect and that I hope that you will be able to spend time there every week, as well. He will just have to get used to the idea that he may have to come to me at Hartfield if he there is any matter that requires urgent attention. Not to worry. And so, how was your day, before I arrived and it became wonderful, that is?"
"Mr. Knight … I mean, George, I may have to temper my praise of you, lest your vanity cause your head to inflate to such a degree that you will not be able to get through the doorway," she giggled. "Anyway, this morning I visited Mrs. Bates, Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax. The Campbells have returned from Ireland and are anxious to see Jane again, so she will be leaving Highbury soon. Poor Miss Bates is already missing her terribly."
"It was good of you to go to see them."
"Well, it was my duty, I know, but I am glad I did. It's sad, but now that Jane and I have settled on our futures, I feel that we might have become true friends. However, now it seems that there is not the time. Anyway, after visiting the Bateses, I visited Mr. and Mrs. Weston and baby Anna. It was a much more cheerful call. Anna Weston is such a pretty baby, and Mrs. Weston is so happy to dote on her. Mr. Weston dotes on Anna, too, but I must say he still seems almost afraid to hold her! It is quite comical to watch his nervousness with his own little daughter."
"Well, that's to be expected, I suppose. It's been a long time since he was around an infant, Emma. He just needs a little more time to get used to Anna, I think."
"Yes, not many unmarried men are as experienced with children as you are," she laughed. "My sister and your brother have certainly seen to that!"
He covered her hand with his and said, "Well, I look forward to spending time with my – our – own children one day." She blushed again, so he decided it was time to change the subject. "Emma, I have brought a letter that I thought you would want to read."
"Of course! Who is it from?"
Mr. Knightley took a letter from his coat, but did not hand it to her. "You can see for yourself. Come," he said, "let's sit together on the sofa." They rose and moved to the sofa facing the unlit fireplace. He handed the letter to Emma as she sat down.
"This is rather mysterious, isn't it? Is everything alright?" she asked with concern as she took the letter from him.
"Just read it."
She did not recognize the writing on the outside, so she immediately looked at the signature and smiled. The signature read, "With all my love and best wishes, Aunt Catherine."
"Oh! It is from your aunt," Emma exclaimed. She was relieved, as Mr. Knightley had acted rather curiously about the letter, but any momentary worry she had had was now erased. "You wrote to her … about us?" Mr. Knightley nodded, "Yes." Emma couldn't help but smile as she began to read the letter aloud:
"My Dearest Nephew,
"Felicitations! I offer my congratulations to you and my best wishes to Miss Woodhouse, though I hope that I may call her 'Emma' now, just as she must call me 'Aunt Catherine,' as she is soon to become my niece. I was absolutely delighted to read your letter. You and Emma make the most splendid match! But there is one account on which I must correct your assumptions forthwith. You wrote that you had news that would be of great surprise to me, but I must inform you that the only surprise was why it took you so long to …"
Here, Emma gasped. She read aloud, "...announce your engagement, as I had long expected …" and then continued to read, but only to herself.
"Good heavens!" she cried and looked up at him. "Your aunt thought that we … last year … when we were in London … But how can this be?" She returned her eyes to the letter and continued to read quickly, an anxious look on her face. She read snippets aloud, mumbling them under her breath: "…it was obvious…" and "…the way you looked at one another…" and "…the gown she wore…" and "…Almack's…" and "…Lady Rawlings…"
"Oh, Mr. Knight… George! Why would she think such a thing? Were we acting inappropriately in some way? No, surely we were not! We were just acting as friends, as we always used to do." Emma voice trailed off, and she looked at him with dismay as she waved the letter in the air.
"Emma, my initial reaction was the same as yours, and I even wondered if it might be better not to share the letter with you at all. I thought about it the whole way from Donwell, if truth be told. But Aunt Catherine will surely say something to you at one time or another, so it's best that you learn her assumptions now." He stopped and looked at her. She was clearly upset. "Before I go on, Emma, let me say that you must not reproach yourself. We … you … did nothing wrong. I did not show you my aunt's letter to upset you. Come here," he said, and gently gathered her into his arms, as she had looked like she was about to cry. He kissed her forehead, and said softly, "Don't worry, Emma. As I said, I have thought about it, and I can attribute Aunt Catherine's views to two things. The first is that we have been friends, good friends, for such a long time. Remember at Almack's, when Lady Rawlings said that when she saw us with Henry and John in Regent's Park, she thought we were married? It was because we were so comfortable with one another. We have long been able to tease each other and say what we like and even disagree with each other, but still be friends. I think that couples who are courting probably tiptoe around one another, each just saying what they think the other wants to hear, rather than what is really on their minds. We've never been like that. We never will be like that. Our family and our friends in Highbury are so used to seeing us together that they would never have made any such assumption about us, but, I suppose, in London, people seeing us together just assumed, well, that we had a different sort of connection. It's not really such a bad thing, is it?" He looked down at her and smiled.
"Well, I suppose you are right. If I'm going to marry you now, I can't very well complain that people saw us as well-matched a year ago, now can I?" she laughed weakly. "It's just … discomforting … to think that we were the subject of such gossip… Good heavens! I just realized that last year when I overhead your aunt saying that she expected you to announce your engagement before you left London, she did not mean you and Mrs…." Emma could not bring herself to say it.
"That's right," he said. "She must have meant the two of us."
Emma blushed. "Oh, my word! And here I thought… What a fool I was! But thank goodness you did not say anything to your aunt! Can you imagine…." Fortunately, Emma started to laugh, and Mr. Knightley joined her. "I can't believe that I was such a silly goose. Lucky for us that things turned out as they did, don't you think?"
"I do, indeed, think that I am very lucky at the way things turned out, Emma," he laughed, and hugged her to him.
"Wait – you said there was a second thing you could attribute Aunt Catherine's view to. What is it?"
Mr. Knightley took a deep breath and said, "Well, I suppose I could just summarize by saying that I was in love with you when we were in London, Emma."
"Oh, George, that doesn't count. You've loved me forever, just like I've loved you forever."
"No. What I mean is that … I mean that I was in love with you last year. As a man loves the woman he wants to marry. As I love you now."
Emma looked up at him with sheer astonishment; she could hardly even speak. "But … but you never said or did anything to …." She was at a loss for more words.
"Of course not."
"But why not?"
"How could I, Emma? You did not feel the same way about me. Think about how you feel about me now, and how differently you felt back then." She looked down, embarrassed, and he knew that he was exactly right. "It's alright, though. I understand now, as I understood then. Back then, I was the same Mr. Knightley who had teased you and, in your mind, probably sometimes tortured you, for years, trying in my own way to improve upon what was already perfect. You loved me as a brother, or an old friend. I had felt the same way about you for such a long time, but then somewhere along the way, I came to realize what an intelligent, charming, beautiful and kind young woman you had become, and I could not help but wish that somehow, someday, I could make you mine. I am sure that Aunt Catherine was right when she wrote that I could not keep my eyes off of you that night we went to Almack's, and I have to admit that it was not solely attributable to the fact that I was your chaperone for the evening. You have always looked beautiful to me, long before I realized that I was in love with you. But that evening, I still remember so clearly, my feelings were … of a different sort, and very difficult for me to accept."
"But you did not even try to tell me!"
"No. I could not. What if you had rejected me?"
"But did you really think that I would have done so?"
"Mightn't you have? Emma, I have never been a man to take a gamble. You know that. It was not worth the risk. It still amazes me that I finally took a risk and admitted my feelings to you just weeks ago. Last year, though, it was enough for me that we could at least be friends, though I have to admit that playing the role of a mere friend was not always easy for me. My thoughts were decidedly not only the thoughts of a chaperone when I saw you with Lord Byron at the symphony."
Emma blushed. "Oh! But surely you knew that I would never have …"
"Of course I did. I never doubted that for a moment. I just did not like the way he looked at you. I was ridiculous to have reacted that way, and I hated myself for it."
"Oh, you have never been ridiculous, Mr. … I mean, George. You know that. I am sorry that I put you through all of that. I suppose that I was so wrapped up in my own self … in all of the new things I was experiencing in London … that I never realized it." Suddenly Emma started to laugh and said "Oh! And you must have been insanely jealous of Mr. Tuttle!"
Mr. Knightley laughed, too. "No, not Mr. Tuttle. Somehow I knew that you were safe from Mr. Tuttle's charms. As you said yourself, you could never live without a little cow or two! But the whole time we were in London, there I was, trying to be so gentlemanly and protective of you. I never realized that some people could see that I was wearing my heart on my sleeve," he said.
"Well, maybe it was just a coincidence that Aunt Catherine and Lady Rawlings saw something between us. Could that be possible?"
"Well, there was also the clerk at Easton's Haberdashery. Do you remember?"
"Oh yes. I had forgotten about that!" she replied.
"And there was at least one other person, Emma."
"What?" she exclaimed. "No! She told you this? When?"
"Well, yes, she did, after a fashion. That night at the Cavendish's soirée, when I finally managed to speak with her about her … intentions for me … she said that she knew I could never fall in love with her because it was obvious that I was in love with someone else. She did not say your name, but it was clear she meant you. She said she could tell when a man is in love, because of the way he looks at his lady every chance he gets, when he thinks she is not looking, and when he thinks no one else is looking. She said I was doing that, as I had never done with her. And the only woman I have ever looked at that way is you, Emma."
"This is still such a new revelation for me," Emma said. "It is almost too much to take in all at once. But even then, I thought that you had said it was Frank Churchill's arrival in Highbury that awakened you to your feelings about … me."
"It was, but that was after I had already vowed to set my feelings aside during our trip to London. As I said, I could not risk ruining our friendship; I was happy for us to carry on as we were. Think how awkward it would be for us otherwise, if you had rejected me, which I was sure you would do. I don't know if you recall, but at the Cavendish's, after Isabella told me about Mrs. Chesterfield and told you that Mr. Tuttle was looking for you, you said to me that it was distressing to have someone in love with you when you did not return the sentiment."
"Oh, George! Did I really say that? I am so sorry! I meant Mr. Tuttle, surely not you."
"It doesn't matter now, Emma. You always said that you would not marry, and since I could never marry anyone but you, at least I would still have you in my life if we just went on as we were. That was my plan, anyway, until FrankChurchill showed up."
"But if you thought I was attracted to him, would you not tell me of your feelings, even then?"
"Especially not then, Emma. I told myself that if I loved you that much, then surely your happiness was paramount, and I could not be so selfish as to interfere."
"Sometimes I wonder if a man can be too much of a gentleman for his own good."
"Luckily for me, we did not have to find out, now did we?"
"Luckily for both of us, you mean, George."
"I like hearing you call me that. I think it is becoming easier for you."
"You've always admonished me to practice. Practice makes perfect," she laughed.
"Yes, that is true, and there are other things I think you should practice now," he said as he took her into his arms and kissed her.
Mindful that her father might come down at any moment, she broke away, though too soon for his tastes. "Well, I'd best finish Aunt Catherine's letter. There is but one more paragraph." She took a deep breath and began to read again to herself. "Oh! She plans to come for the wedding! That is wonderful! How happy we will all be to see her here. It has been years since she has been to Donwell. Oh, and perhaps, after the wedding, when we are on our honeymoon," Emma blushed as she said that word, "she can stay at Hartfield with Father, Isabella and John. They can have gruel together every evening …"
"At half past eight, sharp!" they said together, in unison, and then they laughed, practically until tears fell from their eyes.
Then she leaned over and placed her head on his shoulder. "I am sorry that I made you wait so long for me. And I'm sorry that we haven't been able to set a wedding date."
"Don't you know, Emma, that I'll wait for you for as long as I have to? Till I'm old and gray, if need be, which will be quite soon at the rate we are going!"
"Don't worry, I will love you even when your hair turns gray," she giggled as she reached up and ran her fingers through the hair at his temple.
"Good thing, since no doubt you will be the cause when it does."
"Ha! I'll make you pay for that remark, Mr. Knightley!" she said as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Well, as magistrate, I decree that you should extract your punishment forthwith," he said as he brought his lips to hers.
Trivia: Final bits of trivia for this story: First, it was reported that among Lord Byron's many affairs was a scandalous liaison with his half-sister, Augusta Byron Leigh, and that he fathered one of Mrs. Leigh's children. Reprehensible! Second, the "Lady Patronesses" at Almack's comprised the committee at the club that determined, among other things, who might attend Almack's balls. They were the considered the epitome of London's high society.
Epilogue, Part 3 of 3 – Honeymoon Indiscretions
Emma and Mr. Knightley decided to spend the last three nights of their honeymoon in London with Mrs. Winthrop at Manning House. Aunt Catherine had come to Donwell only two days before their wedding, and Emma and Isabella had been so consumed with the wedding plans that Emma felt she had not given the lady her due. A few days in London would also give them an opportunity to visit with the Prestons, the Cavandishes and other well-wishing friends, not to mention allow Emma to complete her trousseau.
Mr. Knightley was happy to advise Emma that the Prestons had once again secured vouchers for the four of them to attend the weekly ball at Almack's, but he was surprised at her apparent antipathy. "You do not seem particularly enthusiastic about Almack's, Emma, though last year you were keen to go. You do not wish to go again?"
Emma was mindful of Isabella's revelation last year that Almack's held no draw for Mr. Knightley and he had attended simply to "see to her happiness." She told herself that she must not be selfish now. "Oh yes, I would enjoy Almack's again, but what attraction does it hold for you? Though you have proved yourself to be an excellent dancer, you do not like to dance, and though you are a superb card player, you are not a gambler. I would not wish to go if there is any chance you might not be entertained."
"Emma, don't you realize that Almack's will have one attraction that I simply cannot resist? In fact, you will not be able to keep me away."
She raised her eyebrows and asked curiously, "What is that?"
"You, my darling." He grinned. He was actually looking forward to escorting his lovely young bride to Almack's, where London's best society could see his own treasure. He knew that being prideful was a sin, but he would repent later.
Mr. Knightley knocked on their bedroom door but did not wait for a response before entering and taking a few steps in. Emma was sitting at the dressing table, her maid carefully placing tiny pearls in her lovely coiffure. She was wearing a low-cut ball gown of shimmery sage green silk with a creamy silk undergown. Their eyes met as she looked at him, reflected in the mirror on the dressing table, and she said, "That'll be all, Sally. Thank you very much." Their eyes did not part until Sally had left the room. Emma rose and turned to him.
She smiled and gracefully held her hands out to her sides. "Well? What do you think?"
Her beauty was breathtaking, and he told her so. He walked over to her and said, "You look so beautiful, Emma. I can't believe that you are mine. I am so very, very lucky. I would like to change just one thing - your necklace."
"My locket? But it has your likeness now, in addition to my mother's. You do not like it?" She was disappointed.
"I like it very much. It's just that I thought perhaps you might wear this instead." He reached into his coat pocket, took out a blue velvet case and presented it to her. She looked at it and then at him, wide-eyed. "Go ahead, open it," he said.
Emma took the case and opened it slowly. She gasped when she saw the necklace: three rows of perfectly matched pearls, with an emerald broach surrounded by baguette-shaped diamonds. There were matching earrings.
"Oh my! They are so beautiful, George! You shouldn't have!" Tears started to well in her eyes.
"What's this? Do I see tears? This was supposed to make you happy, Emma, not make you cry! And of course I should have. I've always been about scolding you and lecturing you. Perhaps it's about time that I spoiled you, just a little bit. I have to admit that it makes me very happy to do so."
She blinked her eyes a few times. "I am happy. So happy that I could cry!" she laughed. "Thank you so much! I love them! They are exquisite!"
"Here, turn around and let me put the necklace on for you." She did so, and he unclasped her locket, allowing it to fall into her hand, and then carefully fastened the necklace around her elegant neck. He bade her turn to the side so she could see herself in the full length mirror, with him standing, proud and tall, behind her. "How lovely you look. You will be the belle of Almack's again, Emma, even though you are Mrs. Knightley now."
Smiling broadly, she turned around to face him, put her hands on his shoulders, stood on her tip toes and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. Then she moved one hand to the back of his neck and softly whispered in his ear, "Thank you," just before she licked down outer edge of his ear and ended by nibbling on his earlobe while whispering, "Ummm." The shiver that went down his spine made him react instinctively, roughly drawing her length against him with one arm, then responding in a low, husky voice, "Let me warn you that if you do that again, we will not be going to Almack's this evening. In fact, we won't be leaving this bedroom."
She was surprised but pleased by the fervor of his response, and she responded by pushing away from him playfully and saying, "Then let me warn you that I fully intend to do that again … later." He laughed and marveled that in the span of less than a fortnight she had learned to quickly stoke his desire. But then again, he mused, Emma had always been a clever girl and a quick learner.
They sat next to one another in the carriage on the way to Almack's. It was unseasonably cold and damp that evening, so Mr. Knightley wore his topcoat and Emma had around her shoulders the warmest cloak she had brought. "It's very cold out tonight, Emma. I'm afraid it may be too cold to escort you to Almack's terrace and gardens. What do you think? Will you be disappointed?"
Emma laughed, "No, not too disappointed. What did you say about the maze last year? Something about cozy corners? Fortunately, since I've become Mrs. Knightley, we can always find a cozy corner somewhere, now can't we?"
She said a prayer of thanks for her good fortune in securing this man's love and devotion; she hoped that she would always deserve it. At that very moment he must have read her mind, because he picked up her hand at kissed it.
Emma was once again having a delightful time at Almack's. Mr. Knightley had already danced with her three times, and she was quite certain that he had actually enjoyed himself. She had also danced with Mr. Preston and another gentleman whom her husband had known for years. She was happy to see that being a married woman did not mean she had to avoid the dance floor. At the moment, she was speaking with a small assemblage of married ladies, into whose friendly bosom she was warmly welcomed.
Across the room, Mr. Knightley was himself speaking with a group of gentlemen. Mr. Preston said to him, "You know, Knightley, it seems that you can't take your eyes off of your beautiful bride."
"You're right, Preston. It's silly of me to admire her from afar, isn't it? I think I'll go admire her up close. If you'll excuse me," he replied, with an iniquitous grin on his face. Though Mr. Preston laughed at his old friend, he had to admit that he'd never seen him happier. Mr. Preston watched Mr. Knightley approach the group of ladies and after exchanging a few words, he spoke to Emma and held his hand out to her. She smiled and took it, and then he led her to the dance floor. I'd never thought I'd see the day, Mr. Preston thought to himself, that George Knightley would willingly approach the dance floor.
A little later that evening, Mrs. Preston and Emma excused themselves from the supper table at which they sat with their husbands to powder their noses. On their return, they were intercepted by a gentleman who exclaimed, "Miss Emma Woodhouse. How lucky I am to see you again. You see, the fates have once again thrown us together. There must be something to this coincidence."
Mrs. Preston raised her eyebrows and looked at Emma with a smirk. "Lord Byron," Emma said, nonchalantly, and gave a small curtsey. "I see that you haven't changed. But I must tell you that I have. I am Miss Woodhouse no longer. I am now Mrs. George Knightley. Now, please allow me to introduce you to my friend, Mrs. Gordon Preston."
After a few pleasantries had been exchanged between Mrs. Preston and Lord Byron, he said, "So, Mrs. Knightley, what brings you back to London? Did you decide you couldn't keep away from me any longer?"
"Really, Lord Byron, lucky for you that your poetry is superior to your humor. My husband and I are in London for just a few days, on the return from our honeymoon at the seaside."
"Your honeymoon," he said, lasciviously. "Please accept my best wishes. I myself was married earlier this year."
"Oh, were you?" she said, hiding the fact that Mr. Knightley had alerted her to Lord Byron's wedding months ago. "Congratulations. Is Lady Byron here? Perhaps you might introduce Mrs. Preston and me."
"Oh, she's here somewhere. I managed to lose track of her some time ago. May I inquire if Mr. Knightley is the gentleman I met at the symphony last year?" Emma nodded, "Yes," and Lord Byron continued, "Well, he is a lucky man. Though I wonder that he had the patience to be engaged to you for such a long time. Over a year – a man could go mad at the prospect of waiting that long for the likes of you."
Annoyed by his impertinence, Emma said, "While it is none of your business, I will tell you that we were only engaged a few months. Last year Mr. Knightley was merely my chaperone. Nothing more. He might readily have played the part of my older brother."
"Ah, filial love. There is nothing quite like it, now is there, Mrs. Knightley?"
Emma had heard from Isabella that Lord Byron was reputed to have had an affair with his own sister – well, his half sister – and that she had born him a child. She was immediately repulsed. "I wouldn't know about anything but the most innocent filial love, Lord Byron, unlike some people," she said, rather heatedly. Lord Byron laughed; he seemed to enjoy toying with her sensibilities.
Mrs. Preston laughed, too, and said, "Really, Lord Byron, it seems that your reputation is well-deserved."
"I'll take that as a compliment, Mrs. Preston," he said.
Still irritated, Emma said curtly, "Mrs. Preston, perhaps it is time that we returned to … more civilized company."
"I'll be sorry to see you go, Mrs. Knightley," Lord Byron laughed. "I think you are even more beautiful when you are angry." As Emma and Mrs. Preston walked away from him, he laughingly called after her, "When will you return to London? The fates will see to it, you know."
"Mrs. Preston, what a perfectly wicked man Lord Byron is. So indiscreet. Didn't you think so? Or did you interpret his wickedness as humor?"
"My dear Mrs. Knightley, please do not be shocked at my reaction. He was both wicked and humorous. The two can be combined, you know. You are young, and you see things through a different light. But one day you will change your mind and see that he was just having a bit of fun."
"Oh, I doubt that, Mrs. Preston. I doubt that very much."
A short time later, Mr. Knightley noticed Emma stifle a yawn. He asked, "Are you tired, Emma? We can leave whenever you wish."
"Actually, I am a little tired. It seems like we've been in a whirlwind of activity since we arrived in London. The pace is decidedly different here to the seaside, or Hartfield, for that matter. I would not mind going home, but I would not wish the Prestons to think we were not appreciative of their generosity in bringing us here."
"Don't worry about that, Emma. Mr. Preston will understand the reason for our early departure when I remind him that I am on my honeymoon."
"Oh, George, you wouldn't!"
"Indeed, I would," he grinned.
"You know, I think there is a decidedly wicked side to you, Mr. Knightley, of which I was unaware until we married."
"I hope you don't mind it, especially since you are the sole cause of it, Mrs. Knightley."
"Actually, I don't mind it at all. It is a secret side of you that only I am entitled to know."
"… And enjoy," he added.
"Oh! Such cheek!" she laughed.
Mr. Knightley had gathered their coats and taken Emma to the front hall. It was still very crowded, as guests were still arriving; the doors had not even been closed yet, as Almack's always did at the direction of the Lady Patronesses. He then went to see about retrieving their carriage, but returned with disappointing news.
"I'm sorry, Emma, but since people are still arriving, the situation with the carriages is dismal. It may take another twenty minutes or so for our carriage to arrive."
"Oh dear! It's a pity we have to wait here, obviously looking like we are trying to escape. What would the Lady Patronesses say if they saw us? They might forbid us to return!" she said, only half in jest.
"Come with me," he said, and took her hand. There was a series of rooms of varying size along the front expanse of Almack's, which were used for small private receptions, as meeting rooms or for card parties. No doubt, from time to time some of them had been used for unmentionable assignations in the wee hours of the morning. Mr. Knightley walked to an open door and found a cozy room that was set up for playing cards, with a small fire burning in the fireplace. "We can wait here, if you'd like, or we can go back to the salon for twenty minutes or so until the carriage arrives. What do you think?"
Emma walked to the fireplace. "I am quite content here to stay for a few minutes. It is nice by the fire. Would you mind?"
Mr. Knightley quietly closed the door behind him and replied, "Not at all," and joined her in front of the fireplace.
The gentleman opened the door to the room and immediately saw the couple engaged in a passionate embrace. A true gentleman would have immediately closed the door and left, but not this gentleman. He silently chuckled, as he found something wickedly enticing in being a voyeur. The couple was obviously enjoying themselves, and while he could only see the back of the gentleman's black topcoat as he leaned over the lady, his broad shoulders shielding her from view, as well as the lady's gloved hands as they caressed his neck and tousled the back of his hair, he could tell that the man's hands were inside the lady's cloak and whatever he was doing, combined with his kisses, was having a decidedly rewarding effect on the lady, as she uttered an occasional gasp or whimper. Grinning, the gentleman folded his arms, leaned against the doorway, and wondered who they were. He hoped they were married and not to each other. A bit of scandal aimed at someone besides himself from time to time was always a welcome diversion. Just then his wife saw him standing in the doorway from down the hall. "There you are," she said pertly as she walked past him into the room. She took one look at the couple and exclaimed, "Oh! So sorry to disturb you!"
Mr. Knightley and Emma immediately broke away from one another and turned to look at the intruders. Three out of the four pairs of eyes instantly registered recognition. Emma was mortified, but Mr. Knightley, who did not seem embarrassed in the least, calmly said, "Please forgive us for our indiscretion. It was badly done. You see, we are on our honeymoon, which I realize is not an excuse for such a lack of decorum, but it was entirely my fault, and I shall endeavor to be more discreet. We'll leave you now. Shall we, my beloved?" Emma nodded, but she was still too embarrassed to say anything, nor did she meet the eyes of either the lady or the gentleman as she hurried through the doorway. Mr. Knightley, with a half smile on his face, looked every bit like the cat that had swallowed the canary.
After the couple had gone, Lady Byron said to her husband, plaintively, "We've been married since January, and you've never kissed me like that."
"No, I don't suppose I have," replied Lord Byron in a distracted tone, his throat having suddenly gone dry, as he watched the couple return down the hall towards Almack's front entry. "I suppose I've never thought of it." But he supposed he would be thinking of Mrs. Knightley for some time to come.
Final Note: Thanks for taking the time to read this story, and special thanks to all of who reviewed any of the chapters or added this story to their alerts or favorites. I very much appreciate it!