She was hunching over the wooden fence, the only barrier between her and her favourite dairy cow Miss Emily, when she vaguely heard Miss Taylor calling out her name from a distance.
She heard Miss Taylor's call again, but did not heed it.
"Emma my dear…"
As Miss Taylor's voice grew much closer, Emma quickly swiped her eyes with her sleeves and waved at Miss Emily with a long hay straw.
"There you are!" Only a few feet away, Miss Taylor sounded both kind and relieved.
As much as she loved Miss Taylor, Emma would not turn to look at her governess; her eyes fixated at the dairy cow, her hand wagging the hay straw pretending to be solely interested in getting the attention of her animal friend.
"I have been looking all over for you, Emma my dear!" Standing right beside her young charge, Miss Taylor said gently, lifting her hand to smooth Emma's long curls which had been blown into small disarray by the spring evening breeze.
"Oh… you were…" Emma said spiritlessly, would not lift her gaze off of the dairy cow.
"I should have known you were here, Emma!" Miss Taylor's voice was soft, her hand still stroking her young charge's tangled hair. "You always come here when you're feeling a little…"
"Oh, Miss Taylor," young Emma would not let her governess went on, she deliberately raised the volume of her voice, "have you noticed how Miss Emily's udder grew the last couple weeks, I think she might be having… you know…"
Miss Taylor noticed Emma's large hazel eyes trying to shine, they always did when she spoke with so much animation, but just now - only dullness came through Emma's eyes; she softly finished what she was saying, "…a little sad!"
Emma pretended she did not hear it, "Really, Miss Taylor, upon my word I know Miss Emily, no, Mrs. Emily, is… you know… in a family way!"
"Emma - Isabella has been asking for you!" Not that Miss Taylor did not hear what her young charge just said, she only knew her sweet Emma too well to fall into her distraction trap.
"Miss Taylor! You ought to agree with me, Miss Emily, I mean Mrs. Emily is blooming, can you not see?"
"Emma, my dear…" Miss Taylor laid a very gentle hand on Emma's arm, her voice was just as gentle, "Isabella has been looking for you… she has been waiting for you to return to the house for the past hour!"
"Why would she care?" Emma suddenly cried out in pain. Her eyes grew red and wet again.
"Emma my dear, of course Isabella cares!" Miss Taylor's voice went even gentler, "She cares about you more than anything in the world…"
"That is not true! How could she care when she's getting married and removing to London the morrow!"
Emma dropped the hay straw from her small hand, threw herself into Miss Taylor's embrace and began sobbing loudly into her governess' chest.
Miss Taylor held young Emma tightly in her arms in the same way she used to when she first came to the Woodhouses and took little Emma under her charge - as little Emma often had nightmares dreaming of her mother being swallowed by big scary monsters, sweating and screaming violently for help in the middle of nights. Those nights, the nightmares, the sweating and the screaming had long been forgotten – but it wrenched her heart at this moment to see her dear charge so sad and distraught. She squeezed Emma in her motherly bosom tenderly and let her cried her young heart out, which, from her years of experience as Emma's governess, she knew was the best way to console this sweet child.
Her tears finally subsided, and her breathing almost returned to normal, Emma slowly removed her face from Miss Taylor's bosom, with her arms still clinging to her waist, she looked up at her governess longingly with her blurred hazel eyes.
"My dearest Emma,' Miss Taylor's hands tenderly cupping Emma's tear-streaked cheeks, "you're feeling upset because you dread being apart from Isabella… you know how much Isabella loves you, do you not?"
Emma could hardly remember what her mother's voice was like, but Miss Taylor's gentle voice, laced with the softness that was so much like what a mother used on her dearest child, always soothed Emma's spirit and drained whatever sadness she had out of her heart.
She wiped her wet eyes dry with the back of her hands and nodded.
"Miss Taylor," she said beseechingly, "why must Isabella remove to London? Can she not stay at Donwell Abbey and be close to Hartfield… to me?"
"My dearest Emma, Mr. John Knightley desires to become a barrister, which requires him to be in London in order to advance in his profession; as Isabella and he will wed the morrow, it's just natural that she removes to London with her husband."
"But she will be so far away and I will hardly see her!" Emma buried her face in Miss Taylor's embrace again and muttered softly, "I shall miss Isabella so much!"
"And Isabella will miss you just as much, my dearest Emma!"
"Of course she will! And London is only sixteen miles away, she will come back and visit you and your papa as often as she can – she promised you, did she not?" Miss Taylor lifted Emma's chin with her gentle hand, bestowing a reassuring smile on the confused child.
Emma nodded softly.
"The morrow is an important day for Isabella – it would mean so much to Isabella if we all are happy for her, for marrying such a wonderful man as Mr. John Knightley. Are you not happy for Isabella, my dearest Emma?"
Young Emma gathered up her courage and good sense to muster a brave smile and said, "Hum!" She nodded with so much conviction that brought a bright smile to Miss Taylor's face!
"That's my girl!" Miss Taylor gave Emma an enormous hug overflow with affection before grabbing her hand and urged, "Your father and Isabella have been worrying about you dreadfully! We must get back to the house before it gets dark."
The time it took to walk from the field to the house was all Emma needed to return to her lively self – needless to say that she could not have done it without the loving solace from the gentle Miss Taylor, who knew just every right word to say to smooth all the wrinkles in the tender heart of her young charge.
As soon as Emma came inside the house and assured her father that she did not catch cold being out in the field for so long, Isabella jumped to her feet and swept her little sister up to her chamber. In the twelve years of being Isabella's sister, Emma had never seen her sibling being this exuberant.
"Look what I put on your dress, my dearest Emma!"
Isabella held up Emma's white bridesmaid frock and glided her delicate fingers along the pretty pink laces on the hem.
"You did that for me, Isabella!" Emma exaggerated a gasp, which had such an effect on Isabella that she wrapped young Emma in her arms and cried, "I'm so glad you like it!"
Emma was in fact either too young, or had too little sense for fashion to appreciate the exquisiteness of the laces. But it did not escape her that instead of having the tailor who made her wedding gown to tend the task, Isabella wanted it to be special for her dear little sister and insisted on stitching the laces with her own hands. Emma took great care to show her sincere gratitude to Isabella for her beautiful labour of love.
"The morrow, you, my little sister, Emma Woodhouse will be the prettiest bridesmaid in all of Highbury!" Isabella, who adored her little sister, boasted indulgently.
Examining her childish image in front of the tall mirror, Emma burst into disbelieving laugher, "My dearest Isabella, pray let me tell you the truth - prettiest bridesmaid I shall not be… but me, your little sister with long lanky arms and legs, I dare say will be the most awkward looking bridesmaid in all of Highbury!"
"Do not be silly, my dearest Emma!" with an incredulous look on her pretty face, Isabella sat down on her bed and said earnestly, "You know you will grow into the most beautiful and graceful lady like our own Mama - you are only too young to see it in yourself! Papa always says how much you are like our mother, and I remember how beautiful Mama was - I know you will be just like her!"
Hanging on the wall in the Hartfield drawing-room was a portrait of her beautiful mother, Emma had often sat on the sofa admiring her mother in the stillness of the portrait and fancying her moving about the room receiving guests in her splendor and liveliness. She would be so proud to be liked her beautiful mother - but it was the idea of being liked her own mother that she was so fond of, not the idea of being beautiful. Still looking at her own image in the mirror, Emma asked Isabella, "You really think I shall be just like Mama?"
"Without a doubt!" Isabella could not sound more certain.
That brought a happy smile on young Emma's face! But – young Emma reminded herself - tonight was not about her, it was about her dear sister getting married the next day; she must find out the answers to the burning questions in her chest. Emma turned away from the mirror, "Isabella… do you think you will be happy in London?"
Isabella gazed at her little sister and instantly she smiled brightly, "Of course, my dearest Emma! I am marrying the most wonderful man in the world; I shall be happy wherever Mr. John Knightley takes me!"
Emma sat down on Isabella's bed next to Isabella and twined her hands through her dear sister's arm.
"So…" she proceeded seriously, "you think… Mr. John Knightley will always be kind to you, will cherish you and love you for the rest of your life?"
Isabella knew in the depth of her heart how much her little sister's loved her, and how much young Emma wanted to be certain of her happiness. She laid her affectionate hands on Emma's shoulders and looked determinedly in her eyes, "Yes, Emma! I'm certain that Mr. John Knightley will always be kind to me, will cherish me and love me for the rest of his life!"
Young Emma cocked a suspicious brow and compressed her mouth into a line (an expression that she often observed in her grown up friend Mr. Knightley); she studied the truth in her sister's answers for a moment, and then said, with as much determination as Isabella did, "Good! And he'd better be - or he will have to answer to me!" She held up her small fist and made a bullying face that was far more hilarious than intimidating, and moved Isabella into hysterical giggles.
Disappointed by the opposite effect on Isabella from her antics, Emma caught a glimpse of her ridiculous expression in the mirror and burst into uncontrollable giggles herself! The lovely laughter of the two sisters filled the candlelit chamber, and when their happy tears came down their faces, together they dropped on their backs down on the bed!
Their laughers finally faded.
"Emma…" Isabella said gently, eyeing the ceiling above her bed.
"Will you be fine with Papa… I mean taking care of Papa on your own?" Isabella sounded concerned.
"Of course, Isabella!" Emma smiled and said lively, "Papa is happy when I am happy, and I am always happy! With Mr. Perry comes every other day, that ought to make Papa feels safe… and there's nothing in Papa's constitution that Serle's gruel could not make better. There is absolutely nothing here at Hartfield for you to worry about!" Then she teased saucily, "You just worry about being in love with your Mr. John Knightley, my Mrs. Isabella-Knightley-to-be-the-morrow!"
Isabella blushed prettily, as every bride-to-be always did!
Another quiet moment later, "Emma…" Isabella said softly.
"Thank you for convincing Papa to accept Mr. John Knightley's offer for my hand! I would not have known what to do if Papa insisted on his refusal…" The thought of not being able to marry John still rattled Isabella's delicate soul.
"You are very welcome, Isabella! It was not so difficult to convince Papa, you know… as soon as I told him that you were sleep walking at night to Donwell Abbey, he fretted that you might catch cold, trip over some rocks on the road and fall on your head and die… he changed his mind right away!" Emma giggled triumphantly.
"Only you could conjure up such a horrible lie to Papa!" Isabella was sorry for having to deceive her father, but apparently not sorry enough to conceal the ecstatic smile that came from the thought of marrying John in less than twelve hours time.
"Yes, yes, yes…" Her hazel eyes sparkled, young Emma said saucily, "only I could conjure up such a horrible thing to say to Papa – but it was not so much a lie! The two nights after Papa refused John's proposal, you were pacing up and down your chamber all night long crying your eyes out! I thought any minute you would run away to Donwell Abbey and eloped with your Mr. John Knightley - you might indeed trip over a rock and fall on your head on your way… I only embellished what might happen a little so that Papa would change his mind!" She proudly congratulated herself again, laid on her hands behind her neck, gazing at the ceiling and basking in her own ingenuity!
"Emma…" Isabella said softly again.
"Now what, silly goose?" Young Emma wondered what came over her older sister who was overjoyed only moments ago had now become so melancholy all of the sudden.
"Will you be fine in charge of Hartfield? I know you are far cleverer than me… but my dearest Emma, you are only twelve! I truly regret leaving you with such a grown up responsibility!"
Emma pushed herself up on an elbow and rolled her eyes, "Don't you worry, Isabella! Taking care of Hartfield is not difficult at all - with the generous income that we have, it is easy to manage all our expenses. Miss Taylor had taught me all the mathematics I need to make this a breeze! Since I already know all the workings at Hartfield for ages, I am certain that I shall be a fine Mistress of Hartfield indeed! Besides, Miss Taylor will always be here when I need help!"
Isabella also pushed herself up on her elbow, "But - Miss Taylor will not always be here at Hartfield, Emma my dear!"
"Of course she will, Isabella!" Emma thought what a ridiculous thing that Isabella had just said!
"Well… when you are all grown, you will no longer need a governess… Miss Taylor will have to leave Hartfield!"
Instantly Emma sprung straight up sitting in bed, "Miss Taylor – leaving Hartfield!" The idea shocked young Emma beyond belief!
"Yes, Emma, Miss Taylor will have to leave Hartfield, all governesses do when their charges grow up!"
"But… I will miss her so much!" Emma was now almost in tears, "And… what will become of Miss Taylor after she leaves? Hartfield has been her home for so long!"
The image of Miss Bates suddenly appeared in young Emma's mind - an old maid with endless but empty chatters, with no beauty or wit to recommend her, day in and day out longing pathetically for the posts from her faraway niece only to find out how many classics she had read and how many Mozart and Clementi piano pieces she had come to master in a week!
"Good Heavens!" Emma screamed with pain in her voice, "Miss Taylor will be old, sad, lonely, and silly!"
"Not if she settles in a home of her own and a husband who loves her!" Isabella interpolated.
"A home of her own… and a husband who loves her?" This all sounded too foreign to Emma.
"Well, look at me, Emma my dear, I will be marrying the most wonderful gentleman and be the happiest woman on earth!"
"Miss Taylor… married!" The idea never crossed Emma's mind.
"Will you not wish Miss Taylor to be happy?"
First it was Isabella, and then it would be Miss Taylor - no wonder her father said marriage was a sorry business indeed! The idea of losing Miss Taylor was as shocking as the idea of losing Isabella to John Knightley at first, but Emma's immense love for her family - and Miss Taylor was like family to her in every sense - always put their happiness ahead of her own!
Emma thought deeply for a moment and made up her mind, "Of course I wish Miss Taylor to be happy… I want her to be as happy as you, Isabella!"
"Then you would wish her married someday?"
"Yes! Miss Taylor must marry someday!" Young Emma said with absolute certainty.
Daydreaming of Miss Taylor's wedding day - she would put on her pretty wedding gown, just like the one Isabella had hanging in her dressing-room, though she might be an older bride, she would be lovely! But - Who would be the groom? In one churn of her quick and juvenile mind, Emma had resolved that before Miss Taylor would leave Hartfield, she must ensure her happiness! - Yes - She would take on the charge of searching for the perfect groom for her Miss Taylor!
"And what about you, my dearest Emma?" Emma's groom-seeking resolution for Miss Taylor was interrupted.
"What about me?" Emma was bewildered.
Isabella sat up on the bed and looked Emma in the eyes earnestly, "Yes, you, my dearest little sister!"
"What about me?" Emma asked again, looking lost.
"You will wish to marry when you grow up, will you not?"
"Me!" Emma astounded.
"Emma my dear, this is what all grown women do – settling in a home with a husband of her own! Fortunately in our case we could choose to marry for love instead of dowry; my only wish for you, my dearest Emma, is that you would find a perfect gentleman like my Mr. John Knightley… which I'm afraid might only be a wish…"
"Me – married!" Emma was beyond astonished at the notion! "Why would I ever want to marry, Isabella? Who will be taking care of Papa… and Hartfield?"
"But you must wish it, Emma my dear, that's what every woman does!"
This conversation had gone too far! Much as young Emma loved her dear sister, she thought Isabella had gone matrimony-mad! She was sure that nothing could ever entice her to marry and to leave her Papa - she would be happy to live at Hartfield with her Papa for the rest of their lives!
"NO!" Emma cried out, "Not me! You and Miss Taylor could marry off all you want, but I shall never marry… never leave Hartfield… never leave Papa!"
Emma shook her head severely and covered her ears with her hands, "Pray Isabella! I wish we would speak no more of matrimony!"
"I am so sorry, my dearest Emma!" Isabella panicked, regretting the distress she had caused her little sister, "we could talk of anything… anything you wish, my darling!"
Slowly Emma removed her hands from her ears, took a deep breath, and thought for a moment.
"May I sleep in your bed with you tonight, Isabella? We could chat about other things all night long just like we used to!" Emma asked softly, her pleading eyes penetrating her sister's heart.
"Of course, Emma, it will be just like old times!" Isabella snuggled her little sister in her arms, pressing her own face on top of Emma's head and said softly to her, "I shall miss you so much, Emma!"
"I shall miss you even more, Isabella!" Emma whispered into Isabella's bosom, drenching in the love of her dearest and only sister!
A/N: You must be wondering where I'm going with this. :-) I want to explore a little the different relationships and love that, I think, were implied in the novel. This is to be a very short story, I have only three chapters planned for now. The setting, as you already know, is the eve and the day of Isabella and John's wedding. I would love to know what you think! :-)