A/N: Sorry this chapter took so long... I drafted it a while back, but it took forever to edit... here it is...
"Pray, eat your supper, Wobble!" Emma pleaded to her puppy the third time.
Shortly after supper, while her father was lost in the advertiser pages next to his fire, and under the pretence of writing to Isabella in her chamber, Emma had sneaked out of the house to bring supper to her puppy at the stable. But either because the spaniel was not accustomed to his new home and the cooking of Serle, or he was missing his master at Donwell Abbey, Wobble had not the same appetite since he left his Abbey home, half of his meal was left untouched every time.
The young mistress, needless to say, was immensely worried over the state of her beloved puppy's health. Though it had only been three days, fancying that her precious pet had already felt lighter in her arms, and her hands feeling his frame more readily than before, she vowed that Wobble's person as well as his lively spirit had taken toll.
"Pray, my darling, eat your supper," pleading desperately again, "I must return to the house before Papa finishes reading his advertisements, or he would be horrified to discover that I had been out in this rain," Emma rubbed Wobble's head gently as she spoke tenderly to him, "I promise you that we would play ball as soon as it is dry outside, but you must eat or you would be too weak to play!"
At the delicate touch of his beloved mistress, the fur ball looked up with his unseeing eyes, rubbed his flat black nose against her soft cheeks affectionately before taking two nonchalant sniffs at his meal. As if wishing to please his mistress but could not bring his heart to do it, Wobble dug his tongue into the dish perfunctorily for several meagre bites, looked up again at his mistress to show her the crumbs daubed on his mouth as proof of fulfilling his duty.
And when he heard the sweet voice of his mistress praising, "Good boy!" the pup, losing no time, plummeted down into his doting mistress's lap.
"But you know that it was not enough!" Emma chastened half-heartedly, "You must finish the entire supper, Wobble!"
The clever spaniel cocked his right brow languidly, twitched his left furry ear once, gave a little careless whine to his mistress as if saying, "That would do for now!"
Emma sighed, conceding another battle of the will lost to her puppy. While her hands stroking Wobble's fine coat absently, her eyes sought the sky outside the stable window, wondering how long the rain would go on, when she and Wobble could go out and play ball to improve Wobble's spirit. But, ere long, her mind began wandering off... to about a mile away... to the ancient Abbey of Donwell... where its master was due to return the next day... soon... her mind drifting back to the rain... wishing it would let-up for Mr. Knightley's journey home... how dreadful, not to say dangerous, it would be for him to ride in this rain... would he put off his return until the harsh weather receded... what if he insisted on journeying through the heavy rain... what if the thunder frightened General... what if General threw him off his saddle...
"He must delay his return!" the young mistress suddenly cried aloud, rousing the bored Wobble to crank his neck looking up at her.
"I am sorry!" Emma quickly apologized to Wobble, patting his head to assure him that all was well.
And as soon as the warm furry resettled into his cosy bed (his mistress's lap), more troubling thoughts were concocting in the young lady's head, and, naturally, Wobble had become her devoted audience.
"I dare say he would not put off his return!" Emma grumbled, "Why?" speaking to Wobble but scowling at the image in her head, where the equestrian knight dodging torrents of rain and thunders to carry his sacred mission for the Arctic Princess. "Because" the young Hartfield Mistress crinkled her nose, "he needs to feed her excellent mind!"
A very unpleasant pout had formed on the young lady's rosebud lips.
Evidently, the image had irritated Emma no end, but regrettably, even with all her might, she could not cast it out of her youthful mind. And as the imaginary image dwelled longer in her head, the smile on the knight (the same indulgent smile that Mr. Knightley had on his face when he listened to Jane Fairfax's music at the Hartfield dinner party) grew more vivid, and the smirk on the insufferable princess only added to Emma's agitation.
Then, right at the moment when the sodden knight, in Emma's head, fell on one knee unhanding an offensive object, which bore a great resemblance to a book, to the frosty princess, a loud sound came crashing from the stable entrance, the door flung open, and a violent wind swept across the entire space, from the doorway to where the young mistress and her pup sat.
The half asleep Wobble immediately awoke, springing to his paws from his mistress's lap. Expeditiously, the cunning spaniel slipped, like a bar of wet soap, away from his mistress's fine fingers, charging excitedly at the opened door. And when his boisterous barking began to draw his mistress out of her daydream, the silhouette of the equestrian knight from her imagination standing at the stable threshold caused Emma to leap up and gasp.
Only one dazed look at the dark shadow, the fair mistress, apparently still in her abstraction, blurted out with passion, "Why is feeding HER mind so important to you?"
If Mr. Knightley had not known his young friend all her life, seen and heard her myriad of whims and mischief seemingly all his life, the ridiculousness of Emma's current question would have been sufficient for the magistrate to declare the young lady fit for Bedlam. The last few days while he was away from Donwell, frustrations and puzzlements were his constant companion. He had come, urgently, to find out the reasons for Emma's strange deportment, not only those that Old Harry and Mrs. Hodges had accounted to him today, but the ones that he experienced firsthand on the night at the Hartfield dinner party. Although the gentleman had ran off from his estate with bubbling lava threatening to gush from his crater, the mile wet walk had put out much of the steam burning inside. Nevertheless, to be greeted with such odd inquiry, his cooling lava, again, was smouldering within.
"Feed whose mind, Emma?" Mr. Knightley asked as he strode towards his young friend, "And with what?"
In two blinks, the dark shadow of the knight had emerged clearly, revealing the tall, handsome, and dripping, Mr. Knightley, clutching an unopened umbrella in his hand, standing arm's-length in front of her. But another gasp spurted soundly out of Emma – this time her previous agitation was temporarily thrown away.
"You are wet!" cried the young lady, shocked by the gentleman's soaked state. "You rode back in this rain?" she stared at him incredulously. "This is madness! Did not you know how dangerous it was to ride in this weather? You would never have let John ride in such rain! You could have been thrown off from General, did not you know?
"You shall catch your death in these wet clothes!" declared the young mistress ardently, a little out-of breath, "You know how you dislike the scent of mustard, Mrs. Hodges shall order mustard bathes for you for an entire week!"
This nonsensical girl was scolding him; at least her impertinence was intact! – Mr. Knightley was slightly, only slightly, relieved. But now, more than ever, he wished to find out what had gotten into his young friend's pretty head that caused her peculiar demeanours.
Wishing for an answer, in a firmer voice, Mr. Knightley repeated, "Feed whose mind, Emma?"
The icy image of the insufferable princess reappeared in Emma's head, stiffening her instantly, and reminding her of her resolve. The young lady no longer felt it her right to chastise the gentleman for his foolishness, she immediately averted her face from Mr. Knightley's view.
"Emma..." Mr. Knightley prompted keenly, but Emma would not answer, she turned away from him.
Slipping his hand under his wet riding cape, and from his frockcoat pocket Mr. Knightley pulled out the piece of paper that he had been keeping with him since the night it was discovered.
Carefully unfolding the paper, holding it out for Emma, he asked, "Does it have anything to do with this?"
Standing stalk still where she was, through the corners of her eyes, Emma saw her most recent booklist in Mr. Knightley's hand. She was surprised by it, but her mind was in too much frenzy to conjecture how her list had fallen into his hands. Fearing that the astute gentleman would soon find out the falsehood she told him several nights ago, she looked away entirely, determined to keep her lips sealed.
Tucking the piece of paper back in his pocket, Mr. Knightley kept his gaze steadfastly on his young friend.
"Emma," judging from the quivers in her eyes that he caught the moment she turned away he knew that he was on the right path, "why did not you tell me that you had wished to make better acquaintance of Miss Fairfax?"
With her back to him, but without a sound, Emma fidgeted uneasily, and Mr. Knightley carried on, "The other night when I spoke to you after the dinner party why did you tell me that you had no intention to befriend Miss Fairfax?"
Still refusing to answer, Emma moved further away from Mr. Knightley, but he would follow wherever she would go.
"Miss Taylor said that you spent nearly two hours making up this list, why did not you tell me the truth?" Mr. Knightley's pleading was firm and resolute.
But when Emma insisted her silence, he came in front of her. Unfortunately, the young lady quickly walked away from him again, only this time, she had unwisely walked near the end of the stable. As there was little room for her to move further, the stubborn youth decided to fix her eyes at the ground, solemnly pledged to her muteness.
In two long strides, Mr. Knightley was, again, in front of her.
"Emma," the gentleman was as insistence as the young lady, "why did you tell Mrs. Hodges that I was expecting new company?"
Even without looking up, Emma could feel Mr. Knightley's unwavering gaze fixed upon her. She knew that he was willing her to look up at him, but she would not, could not, and she would be vigilant with her concealment.
"Emma," his young friend's obstinacy was a trial to Mr. Knightley's patience, "does it have anything to do with Miss Fairfax?"
It was the third time he said Jane Fairfax's name since he came, which was three times too many for the young mistress to endure! Emma looked up sharply from the ground, into Mr. Knightley's eyes, and groaned before turning round to scowl at the stable wall.
By Emma's agitation, her insistent silence, he knew whatever that was on her mind must have something to do with Jane Fairfax. If only she would tell him what it was he would not have to suffer from this vexing solitary conversation. Mr. Knightley moved another step closer to Emma, so close that he could hear her shallow breathing, but his headstrong friend would rather be cornered against the stable wall than peeped a sound at him!
For three months since the Andertons' removal, the gentleman had been worrying for Emma's lack of spirit to distraction. The reappearance of Jane Fairfax in Highbury not only did not bring upon the relief that he was anxious for, but the entire situation had been exacerbated into a catastrophe. He had been ashamed for accusing Emma for her unwillingness to make a new friend, for not knowing her earnest effort to make better acquaintance of Jane Fairfax. But why did not she tell him the truth? The night after the dinner party during their brief conversation, had she not acted so cold and distant, he would have been able to detect her intention, but she was decidedly aloof and disinterested, to the point of haughtiness, as if she wished to have nothing to do with Jane Fairfax – nothing to do with him!
He had known Emma all her life, and she was practically an opened book to him. He had watched over her since she was a little girl, guided her openly or influenced her covertly, in spite of whether it was agreeable to her since about the same time. Yet, there was nothing he could do about her listless spirit these three months past! The perpetual feeling of helplessness had driven this most sensible man to the peak of frustration, and her sudden uncharacteristic enigma that he encountered after the dinner party had added a formidable perplexity to it. The confusion, the frustration, the powerlessness that he had endured had finally formed tight knots in his stomach (and the lack of a warm meal since the morning did not help the matter either), mixed with the fact that he was wet, cold, and there were throbs in his temples, even a saint could be driven mad!
"Tell me, Emma," Mr. Knightley's waned patience was diminishing – fast, "why did you say all those strange things to Mrs. Hodges and Harry?"
Unfortunately, the harder he pressed, the closer the unyielding Emma would cling to the stable wall.
"Why did you tell Harry that you were no longer my friend?" The colour on his face was now rivalling a burbling volcano. "Why did you take Wobble away when your father did not approve to let him in the house?"
The gentleman's surging vexation was on the verge of bursting, and the young lady was doing nothing to help!
"Why did you thank my Donwell staffs as if you would never see them again?" His questions succeeded without as little as a pause. "Why did you tell Mrs. Hodges that I was expecting new company? And why would I not wish to see you and Wobble?"
Mr. Knightley's questions were like the torrential rain hammering at Emma. Midway through his speech, the obstinate youth had squeezed her eyes shut, pressed both hands firmly against her ears, and pinched her lips so tight that even a spadesman and his tool could not pry it open.
By now, Mr. Knightley had reached the point where his patience had worn off, his frustration, hunger, and headache had taken over. In a thoroughly nettled voice, the Donwell Master bellowed one more interrogation, "Tell me Emma – What had gotten into your NONSENSICAL head?"
But little did the gentleman know that the moment he issued his last inquest and drew his vexatious breath he would be thrown into despair by the scene unfolding before his eyes...
For several very, very long moments, there was only an abysmal silence – even the rapturous Wobble had ceased his incessant barking as if sensing his adored mistress swallowing her sob.
Then, slowly, excruciatingly slowly, Emma turned from the stable wall to Mr. Knightley, in the same agonizing pace, the young mistress lowered her hands from her ears, clasping them tremblingly to her sides, while, breathing with sorrowing exertion, she opened her eyes, unveiling sparks of deep indignation, and hurt, looking at Mr. Knightley with brimful of tears that blinded her hazel irises.
There it was – that word, that dreadful word which she had heard many a time from him before, but now wished to never hear again – that word held the very power that pried open Emma's mouth at last!
"Why... " her tearful voice was nearly inaudible, "...must you... must you... remind me of... t-that..." and she hiccoughed a doleful little sob.
Instantly, Mr. Knightley's vexation dissolved; his volcano dormant, his red face discoloured, and his voice went considerably softer, "Remind you of... what... Emma?"
It might be impossible to believe that even the sensible Mr. Knightley could, albeit amid great agitation, speak of something that he was unaware of its effect. But the gentleman was truly at a loss, he wished he knew what he had said that had suddenly turned his unbending young friend into a weeping willow.
Pearly tears were trickling down her cheeks; intermittent sobs kept breaking up Emma's speeches. While searching for her handkerchief fervently, Emma managed to choke out the same few words, "Why...must you... must you... remind me of...that..."
Her maddening pocket would not yield, the wilting willow could not find the slit on her gown that opened to her pocket; Emma flung her hands off her frock in frustration, gave up on her search as well as her broken speech.
What had happened to him today! – Mr. Knightley's heart chided himself severely. It was a mere hour ago that the gentleman had felt ashamed of being unreasonable to his servants, but – now – he felt ten times guiltier for making Emma cry. And what was more, he had not an inkling of what he said that caused her puddle of tears!
Where Emma gave up, Mr. Knightley had prevailed. While Emma was frantically searching for her handkerchief to no avail, Mr. Knightley had begun his own search with like frenzy – for even he seemed to have forgotten where his pockets were! Fortunately, he succeeded in retrieving his handkerchief and began dabbing the tears on Emma's face.
"What... what did I say that made you so... sad, Emma?" the gentleman asked with humility.
Emma had removed the fine linen from Mr. Knightley's hand and was mopping her eyes furiously with it. Only after what seemed an eternity to the gentleman that she began to speak.
"Why..." she sniffled, "must you..." and sniffled some more, "must you remind me that... I am... non... non... nonsensical?" Her tears were mostly gone, which had made clear the deep injury in her eyes.
Though, for the first time today, Mr. Knightley had received an answer from Emma, he was just as muddled as before.
"But..." indeed, he was more muddled than before, "I have called you nonsensical more times than I could count..."
"That was it!" Emma snapped, stamped a foot, and frowned. "You have called me that more times than I could count!" The hurt in her eyes was now replaced with annoyance.
"But it had never bothered you before!" confessed Mr. Knightley wholeheartedly.
If the young lady were not so determined to be chagrin, she would have found the dumbfounded look on the gentleman's face comical and burst into giggles. But instead, Emma returned rashly, "It sure did!" only to regret it straight away.
She knew what she said was not true, not entirely, and her good nature piqued her conscience, which in turn compelled her to mend what she said. "I mean..." she looked down, feeling slightly ashamed of her rashness, "it started bothering me... recently... very recently..."
Mr. Knightley swallowed a repressed sigh – compunctious of the fact that his innocent word had wounded his young friend.
Looking down at Emma, whose eyes were fixed at her twisted hands, Mr. Knightley, mind racing through the scant conversations they had had of late, soon surmised the beginning of Emma's recent change.
"Since" his voice went even gentler, "the news of Miss Fairfax coming to Highbury?" asked he.
Emma did not look up; Mr. Knightley waited patiently for a long moment, until he saw her shoulders drooped in defeat and her head gave a small nod.
"And what I said had... injured you?" implored the gentleman, remorse seething in his breast.
Rather than looking up at Mr. Knightley, Emma's head had dipped even lower. She swallowed and gave him another downcast nod.
"Would you tell me, Emma," he knew it would not be easy on her, but he needed to know, "why my calling you non..." he checked himself, "I mean... why what I called you never bothered you before until recently?"
The long lapse of silence had returned, after wringing her fingers for a long time, Emma looked up a little, fixing her gaze at the buttons of his riding cape in disquieted muteness, as if a thousand troubling thoughts were preventing her to speak.
Nevertheless, the young lady's insistent silence was no longer a trial to his patience. The instant he saw Emma's glistening tears Mr. Knightley had reclaimed all his patience; rather than allowing Frustration be the better of him, Sense and Sensitivity shall be his guide. The gentleman was prepared for his young friend's hesitation, and now, he would wait as long as it would take.
After more prolonged silence, his patience was rewarded, for Emma, albeit unsurely, began to utter.
"When I was a little girl... you had… you had often said that... Miss Fairfax was the… perfect child..." her voice was small and diffident, "and I... and I... the..." she felt the rest of her words clinging to her throat, "the ...nonsensical girl..."
She paused, thoughtfully, and he waited, patiently.
"I suppose it did bother me..." still fixing her eyes on the buttons of his riding cape, "only that I never gave it much thought..."
"But something happened..." prompted Mr. Knightley.
Even after a long delay, Emma would not go on; Mr. Knightley could tell that she was struggling to reveal a matter of great significance.
"What happened, Emma?" he implored again, very softly and sincerely.
At last, Emma stopped twisting her fingers, and with much reluctance, she gave into Mr. Knightley's entreaty.
"That night... at the dinner party..." her gaze had removed from his buttons, it was now fixed at the ground, a far distant ground, beneath where they stood, "I saw the truth... of what you said..." her voice was as distant as her gaze, "What an accomplished, perfect young lady Miss Fairfax was..." he could hear her swallowing, and he knew it was her youthful pride, "and I..." she sighed, "...was just... a nonsensical girl!" Emma looked up briefly at Mr. Knightley, and the hurt in her eyes thrust Mr. Knightley into deep regret.
"Emma," Mr. Knightley heaved a self-loathing breath, "I am sorry for what I said!"
Emma gave him a rueful smile. "But you only speak the truth, Mr. Knightley!"
"Not when it comes to you being non..." he cursed himself for nearly committing the dreadful crime, "being... what I said, Emma!"
Emma shook her head, too unwilling to listen to the gentleman's confession, and too settled to believe that she was right. "There is no need to tell me differently, Mr. Knightley. You have said that I was a nonsensical girl for as long as I could remember..."
Mr. Knightley interjected immediately, "But I never meant it in that way, Emma! And I certainly never meant to compare you to Miss Fairfax or anyone for that matter!"
Unfortunately, his words had no effect on the stubborn youth.
"You are meaning to make me feel better, Mr. Knightley," her tone had now changed from wistful to certain, "even I know what I am! I am all that is fanciful and mischievous; comparing to Miss Fairfax who is accomplished in every way, I am only a nonsensical girl." Emma finally raised her eyes to look at Mr. Knightley with defeat, "You have always been right. Others might not dare to speak the truth to me, but you – you would never deliberately say anything that you do not mean!"
"But this is too far from the truth, Emma!" Mr. Knightley appealed urgently.
In a dejected but not an unsteady voice, Emma added, "I know you have pitied me for being a motherless child for years. And I thank you for your kindness, Mr. Knightley, for taking me as your friend ever since..."
Mr. Knightley was astounded. Indignation was clearly written on his face. He refused to let Emma go on with this ridiculousness. "But this is utterly untrue!"
Emma drew a long sigh; for three long days she had bitterly resented the notion of Mr. Knightley being her friend only out of pity. After all, how could she believe that the source of the gentleman's guidance, his kindness, and his friendship bestowed upon her was rooted solely in sympathy! Even had he befriended her, the nonsensical girl, out of pity, there ought to be a vestige of genuine affection he had for her, and that she had merited, by chance or by endeavour, such affection. The fact that he continued to wish to conceal his true intention even after she had found him out was enough proof to Emma that she had not been a complete unworthy friend to him.
The young lady laid a sincere hand on the gentleman's forearm, "I am very grateful for your kindness through all these years, Mr. Knightley," looking innocently into his eyes, "but I am quite grown up now, quite capable of caring for myself, I assure you, you must not go on worrying about me! Besides, Papa and Miss Taylor shall always be with me. I think it is time..." Emma looked away as her voice took a doleful turn, "it is time... that... that... I stop imposing on you..." gulping down the ache that was rushing from her heart to her throat, "you could stop... being my friend now..."
It was a moment of epoch for Emma – for, at last, she was ready to let her dear friend go, willingly, unselfishly, without looking back at the laughter and joy they had shared together for years past, or dreading the loneliness that shall be rooted from without the faithful friendship from such remarkable gentleman.
Unfortunately, the gentleman did not look as if he appreciated her selfless act, not even in the slightest! The dismayed expression on Mr. Knightley's red face was most surprising to Emma. She was taken aback by him demanding, "Have you listened to a word I said, Emma?"
"Of course I have heard every word you said!" cried she. "What a queer question you asked! For years you have told me that I was nonsensical, but I heeded not what you said. And now that I am willing to admit that I am what you said, you insist that I am not listening!"
The sense of pride that came from her willingness to free her friend from her long-hold had dissipated. Feeling unappreciated and his demand unjust, an irritating feeling was arising in Emma. The young mistress knitted her brows, wishing to know what Mr. Knightley was about.
Under any other circumstance, listening to his young friend avowing that she was nonsensical would have caused Mr. Knightley to grin mischievously and tease her to her saucy rebuff. But in a serious moment as this, there was no humour to it; all he wished was to let the truth be known. Nevertheless, Mr. Knightley knew that once Emma had herself a notion in her head, even his stoutest oxen would not be able to plough it out of her – he needed a way to open the young lady's obstinate mind...
"Emma," he said, "when was the last time you call someone a silly goose?" Though the inquiry seemed completely out of place, might even be a little silly for the occasion, the tone in Mr. Knightley's voice was nothing but seriousness.
The question surprised Emma; she looked up at Mr. Knightley with flabbergasted eyes.
"W-what..." it was impossible for her to see the relevance of his inquiry. Emma paused, closing her mouth without another word. Nevertheless, as Mr. Knightley's dark eyes beckoning her intently, she opened her mouth to speak again, still muddled and astonished, "It was... the day when the Andertons left Donwell..." she remembered, it was a bittersweet day, bitter, for she had lost her dear friend to Longfield, sweet, for her friend could at last return to where she called her home.
"You called Miss Anderton a silly goose, did not you?" asked Mr. Knightley.
"What does how I called Agnes have anything to do with what we are speaking of?" Emma wondered if Mr. Knightley's state of wetness had affected his sensible brain.
"No, how you called Miss Anderton had nothing to do with you being nonsensical, but I need you to answer my questions, Emma!" And the gentleman was not funning.
The young lady frowned, but was willing, for now, to oblige the gentleman so that she could decipher if he had caught a chill in his head.
"Yes, I called Agnes... a silly goose..." she confessed with a pout.
"How often did you call Miss Anderton a silly goose?"
The young lady was perturbed by the gentleman's inquisition, "What..." but Mr. Knightley returned her stare with an unwavering gaze. "O-often... very often..." she supplied, under protest.
"How many times?" Mr. Knightley succeeded immediately.
Emma's frown deepened, growing cross, "Countless times!"
"Why did you call her a silly goose?" he wasted no time to press.
"Why... why are you doing this?" she looked incredulously at him, "What does it have to do with anything?"
"Did you really think Miss Anderton silly?" The gentleman was focus and resolute.
"Of course not!" retorted she. "Agnes was the most sensible girl I ever knew, I had never thought her silly for one moment of my life!"
"And yet you called her a silly goose countless times!"
"I just liked calling her a silly goose!"
"But why, Emma?" he demanded.
"I... I..." he was maddening to her, "I do not know!" cried she, stamping a foot of protestation.
"Of course you do!" instantly, Mr. Knightley returned.
Suffused with annoyance, Emma glared up at Mr. Knightley in torment, willing him to stop.
But Mr. Knightley was unshaken by his young friend's distress.
"Tell me, Emma!" he continued to press her.
Vexed, Emma shut her eyes and covered her ears, refusing to look at Mr. Knightley's penetrating eyes or listen to his commanding voice. In an effort to drown his maddening nonsense, she cried, "Why... why are you doing this?"
"I need you to answer my question, Emma!" Pressing her even harder, Mr. Knightley asked firmly, "Why did you call Miss Anderton a silly goose?"
She was exasperated, her heart was pounding in her ears, and all she wished was for him to stop this absurdity at once.
Yet, the gentleman would not relent. "Answer me, Emma!"
The youth was now pushed to extreme irritation, and in her infuriated state, she emitted aloud, "Agnes was my dearest friend... I liked... I liked calling her by that name... because... because..."
"Because – what – Emma?" Mr. Knightley ordered authoritatively.
"Because... because..." her hands crushing her ears, "because..." and at last, "because... it was... endearing to me!"
Suddenly, the entire stable fell into silence.
But, as if the lightening outside had struck through the stable roof – something was igniting inside the stubborn youth. Emma opened her eyes slowly, unclasped her ears seeming in disbelief, and stared, in confused clarity, up at Mr. Knightley, who, presently breathing heavily, with a face as hot and scarlet as his young friend's, was looking down at her with thousands of pleading sparkles in his eyes!
The annoyance in Emma's eyes had faded, and, for the first time in three months, Mr. Knightley saw lights in her eyes, the sparkles of his young friend's beautiful hazel jewels were, at long last, returning! Though they were soft sparkles, not the tantalizing brilliance that shone through in her saucy moments, nevertheless, they told him that her headstrong mind was softening, and that she was about to open her mind's eyes to see the truth.
"You called Miss Anderton a silly goose," the commanding air in Mr. Knightley's voice had gone, only gentleness and sincerity were left in it, "because it was – endearing – to you?"
Emma could not answer. Instead, she drew several deep breaths to steady her rackety heart, before blinking to examine the sincere figure in front of her.
For some silent moments, the soft sparkles in her eyes shimmered bewilderedly under the flickering lanterns in the stable, then, as they travelled from Mr. Knightley's person to his pleading eyes, the two old friends held each other's gaze, and Emma, slowly, gave Mr. Knightley a very sheepish nod.
For someone as clever as this Hartfield Mistress, the young lady was quite ashamed of not able to discern sooner the stratagem that Mr. Knightley employed to make his case.
"But..." her sheepishness seemed to grow by the moment, "I had called Miss Bates... erm... a silly goose... without her knowledge... quite often..."
Emma, indeed, was not proud of her insolence towards Miss Bates, had not she been chastised by Mr. Knightley on many occasions for her intolerance for the good lady? But she needed more clarity – after all, she was still a little confused.
"I am aware of it, Emma," said Mr. Knightley, deliberately overlooking his young friend's admission, "but it does not mean that you thought of Miss Bates and Miss Anderton the same way."
Emma nodded ponderingly – she was not quite ready to be convinced.
"What about... the things I did that... you disapproved..." reluctantly she named, "like the time I lied... in order to go to the abandoned brewery with the Anderton children... er... was not it nonsensical to you?"
"Emma," replied Mr. Knightley, "did not you say that Miss Anderton was the most sensible girl you ever knew? Just because Miss Anderton was sensible does not mean that she did not have her silly moments." Looking into her hazel round eyes kindly, he added, "And just because you had a lapse in judgement did not make you nonsensical."
The young lady nodded again; her pondering countenance seemed gradually brightening.
"Humph..." she wished to hear more, "what about the time when I hid the French books from our library... what did you think of that?"
Mr. Knightley cocked an amused brow, "Telling Serle to use the books for the burning stove was not exactly hiding the books, Emma!"
In a trice, the cunning youth's eyes sparked. "I was going to bury... er... I mean hide them in the garden!" she quickly came to her own defence, "But I ran out of time! The rain was beginning to pour, and the hole I dug was not nearly big enough for all the French titles that Miss Taylor made me read, I had to get back to the house before Papa found out that I was out in the rain! Besides, had a little mud sprinkled on the hem of my dress, I could blame it on a short walk in the shrubbery, but would not a lot of mud soiling my gown be incriminating evidence that I was up for mischief? Of course I must stop digging before mud splashed all over my person!" The young lady stood tall, tilted her chin up to the sky, resting her case in youthful dignity.
But through the corner of her eyes she caught the quirks on Mr. Knightley's lips, and immediately a small panic overtook her dignity. "You thought... you thought I was... nonsensical, did not you!"
Mr. Knightley shook his head, "No, I did not think you were nonsensical, Emma, only that it was your pathetic attempt to avoid learning French!"
The young lady winced, unable to disagree with the gentleman.
Blushing, feeling a little ashamed, "Ah... you must be... glad that Serle did not listen to me..." Emma asked, looking up sheepishly at Mr. Knightley under her long lashes.
Stifling his amusement, "Yes, I was glad that Serle knew the value of books and had the good sense to ask for your father's approval before burning the books in the stove," supplied Mr. Knightley.
Momentarily forgetting the shame of her blunder, the comical image of her father's shocked expression (tea-spitting, eyes-bursting, and jaw-dropping to his chin!) when the Hartfield cook asked if his master wished him to burn the generations-old Woodhouse's treasure to make supper afloat in the doted daughter's mind, and, without warning, unleashed several adorable giggles out of mischievous Emma.
Pleased by his young friend's lovely giggles, which he had missed so very much over the last three months, Mr. Knightley was hopeful that Emma might finally be seeing the truth.
But doubts continued to befall Emma, as soon as her giggles faded, she turned pensive quickly.
"I..." her voice was small, "I... am not accomplished... I mean... I am not accomplished as... as... Miss... Fairfax..." and her imploring eyes were on Mr. Knightley's.
"Emma," Mr. Knightley looked kindly into Emma's eyes, his voice was just as kind, "have not I said that I had never compared you with anyone?"
Emma only nodded meekly.
"And there has never been any doubt in my mind that you can be as accomplished as you set your mind to be, Emma," confessed the gentleman.
Emma's contemplating eyes stared at Mr. Knightley for a while, considering his words, and before long, a crimson blush slowly irradiating her face. She looked down, self-consciously, at her half-boots.
"You..." her sweet voice was as bashful as her soft pink cheeks, "call me... nonsensical..." the dreadful word was no longer dreadful to her, "because it was... erm... endearing... to you?"
"I am afraid that is the truth, Emma!" Mr. Knightley's confession was as sheepish as Emma's inquiry.
"And you..." she slowly turned her twinkling eyes up at him, "never thought that... I was... erm... nonsensical?"
Mr. Knightley could detect a hint of nervousness in his young friend.
"Emma," he smiled, "would not it be a falsehood if I told you that you had never committed a nonsensical act?" She gave him a helpless nod, and he saw the twinkles in her eyes dimming.
"But," he quickly assured, "I have not a single doubt in my mind that you can be just as sensible as you are fanciful at your choosing. Though I agree with you that you are fanciful, you are not the nonsensical girl as you so vehemently declared!"
Mr. Knightley's honesty and sincerity had finally affected Emma; she seemed ready and willing to believe him. But right when her assuaged face was about to break into a smile, a forgotten string suddenly tucking at her heart, instantly sent away her smile, casting a despondent spell over her entire person.
It did not take Mr. Knightley long to surmise the reason for Emma's reluctance, and the reason plagued him greatly!
"Emma," he said, and she lifted her dejected gaze at him, "do you really believe that I had been your friend only out of pity since your mother died?"
She looked down dimly, swallowed an ache, and shrugged. "Is not it the truth?" was her quiet reply.
Troubled by Emma's answer, Mr. Knightley asked, "Is that really what you think?"
The challenge in Mr. Knightley's tone caused Emma to look up at him in surprise.
"Were not we friends when I saddled you on Bull's Eye at the Abbey, dug you out of the pond in the Donwell garden, rescued you from the bee hives at Hartfield, and visited with you your first dairy cow?" Mr. Knightley asked, he saw Emma's intent eyes lightened, "What...what was her name?" searching his memory, "Lady... Lady Moo... Moo..."
"Lady Moolington!" exasperated the young lady, rolling her gleaming eyes, "How could you forget?"
"Pardon me, my friend!" the gentleman bade with a gracious bow. "What about" he carried on, "the time when you told me you hated that 'disgusting' boy Arthur Otway? You ought to remember that day!"
Emma immediately snorted, "Of course I remember that day! That person was a disgrace to men, he had no manners whatsoever! It was my misfortune that I met him again yesterday at the Ford's! He is still the same disgusting boy – only taller!" The young mistress pouted and folded her arms crossly across her bosom.
The gentleman broke into chuckles – recalling the day when the Knightleys and Otways were invited to the Woodhouses for a dinner party, witnessing how four-year-old Emma Woodhouse scowled furiously at the Otway boy when he called her a freckled-nose, and how his little friend screamed "Murderer!" when the same boy tore the arm out of her favourite doll. He had never seen anyone's face turning beet red faster than Mrs. Otway's since that day!
"What about," once the gaiety of his chuckle dispersed, "after my father died," Mr. Knightley resumed gently, "when you told me that there must be more tall trees he could climb and more rabbits he could chase in Heaven, that there were far more oxen and lambs grazing the meadows than he could count, that he must be the happiest man up in the Almighty's House?"
Mr. Knightley looked gratefully and beckoningly at Emma, "Were not we friends then, Emma? Before your mother passed away?"
Emma felt a pang in her heart, the gleam in her eyes vanished. Her shoulders drooped and she looked down, casting her eyes at her hands. An ache borne out of the fresh harsh memory rushing at her, she swallowed, and then muttered dishearteningly, "But... Mrs. Goddard said... that... when my mother died Papa was distraught... and that... a kind gentleman such as you could not have resisted being kind to our family... particularly..." her voice faltering, "...little Miss Woodhouse..."
There! There was the root cause of that ridiculous absurd notion in her! – Mr. Knightley was certain.
The gentleman looked thoroughly and absolutely appalled! "Did Mrs. Goddard tell you that?" he demanded.
"No..." Emma replied quietly to the ground, "I overheard her speaking to Miss Bates after the dinner party..."
Mr. Knightley shook his head in uttered dismay – though he held high regards for Mrs. Goddard's accomplishment as a schoolmistress, how he wished she would set a better example for her pupils than being a gossipmonger!
"Since when did you start listening to anyone's words, especially Mrs. Goddard's, Emma?" He could hardly suppress the mounting irritation brought forth by the revelation.
Pursing her lips, the young lady would not answer.
From the tone of his voice, Emma knew that Mr. Knightley wanted her to look at him – and such tone implied that he refused to take no for an answer – she reluctantly complied.
"I am aware that I have told you countless times to respect the words of those, such as Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, who are far older and wiser than you. But I would make an exception this time – There is absolutely no truth in what Mrs. Goddard told Miss Bates the night after the dinner party, you must not heed what she said!" instructed Mr. Knightley firmly.
Unfortunately, Emma remained wordless, and the dubious light in her eyes caused Mr. Knightley to ask, "You do not believe me?"
She only stared at him with her obstinate eyes.
Mr. Knightley ran a hand through his damp dark hair, took a deep breath to quiet the growing grudge he had for the cause of Emma's disbelief, inwardly vowing to eradicate the unfounded notion in his young friend's heart!
"Emma," he began, "do you recall our conversations regarding true friends on the day the Andertons removed?"
Her hazel eyes shone quizzically.
"Do you recall" asked the gentleman, "what I wished for in a true friend?"
Even though it had already been three months, their conversation on that day was still fresh in Emma's mind. She nodded, mindfully.
"Then – do you recollect how you wished me all the luck in England in finding a true friend?"
She nodded again, but in worried silence.
"Do you know that I need not any luck in England to find my true friend?"
Emma stood there motionless. The fear that Mr. Knightley was about to reveal that Jane Fairfax was his true friend nearly overtook the youth. She could feel her tears coming, and she was desperately trying to brace herself for the harshest reality she ever had to face.
"For I already have one, Emma!" imparted Mr. Knightley, his gaze never left her face, "And – she –" he saw her squeezing her eyes shut, "is standing in front of me at this very instant!"
Emma gasped! Her teary eyes flung wide-open in astonishment.
"Did it ever occur to you" Mr. Knightley continued, "that you had every one of the qualities that I wished for in a true friend?"
"I... I..." her heart kept hammering at her chest, the usually clever Emma seemed lost for words. "I... I... No!" she yelped, still astounded.
Mr. Knightley's mouth quirked, "Well," his eyes dancing, "do you see it now?"
Such revelation in stubborn Emma had the effect of making it difficult for her to breathe. But with mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made – indeed – rapid progress!
"I... I..." her mind careening wildly through the conversation she had with Mr. Knightley on the day Agnes left, she could almost laugh at her own daftness in not seeing the truth in its entirety! And in two blinks, her eyes were beaming like the summer sun. "Yes!" she inhaled to catch her breaths, "I see it... I see it... I see it now!"
Hardly able to contain his own excitement, "Emma," the gentleman smiled, "even though we are sixteen years apart, you have always shown understanding beyond your years, and you understand me, this is why we are friends, why I value our friendship. I have never pitied you for one single moment in my life," looking deeply into her eyes, "I hope you believe me now!"
The vivacious sparkles that marked the lively spirit of the young mistress had made a victorious comeback, and they are currently bearing delightfully into the Donwell Master's heart.
"I believe you, Mr. Knightley! I believe you now!" Emma exhaled with overwhelming joy.
And along with the joy that was exhaled, was the unbearable notion that had given Emma misery for three very, very long days. This young Hartfield Mistress, the once, and still, favourite guest of Donwell Abbey, the beloved Miss Emma of all the Abbey servants – and – the one true friend of the very worthy Donwell Master revelled in exhilarations. The fair mistress's angelic features were no longer marred by the glumness that had shadowed her since the Andertons removed; her magnificent eyes dazzled lustrously at the present, as millions of fresh water droplets clinging onto green forest foliage, reflecting the glorious colours of the rainbow rays after the summer rain. The lively lass's buoyancy that had been dormant for three dreary months, had, at long last, sprang back to live! The dampness in the stable air was expelled by her jubilant aura; everything that was insipid an hour ago had now magically come alive. The gaiety of Emma's joyful awakening had infused curious envy into all the stable inhabitants – snorts, sniggers, and snickers abound were echoing songfully in the place.
Now that peace and understanding and the genuine friendship between two old friends were restored, the presence of their faithful admirer was at last given notice! Wobble – who had been waiting patiently for some desperately craved attention from his beloved master and mistress, listening fastidiously to the exchanges between the two deities, as if rising and falling in moments of hope and disappointment with his worshipped god, and gulping down the tiniest of sobs and sighs and whimpering in sadness along with his equally worshipped goddess all this time – had, assuredly, concluded that the sudden decline in his spirit the last two and three quarters days was a mere short-lived freakish episode that took place in his happy puppyhood. The separation from his master, undoubtedly, was unthinkably disagreeable to the golden pup, but the separation between his two deities and the plunge of his goddess's spirit were utterly unbearable to him. Just as Emma's heavy heart had been uplifted, Wobble's rumbustious spirit was now exuberated up into the clouds! The elated spaniel was wagging his tails feverishly, hopping, dancing, springing to triumphant glee, and weaving his busy furry self ecstatically between Emma's skirt and Mr. Knightley's boots.
"Oh, Wobble!" exclaimed Emma, scooping up the fur ball with surfeit of love and affection, "I am sorry that you had to wait so long!"
Squirming excitedly in his goddess's arms, the golden furry slobbered a glut of wet tickles on Emma's cheeks.
"Mr. Knightley..." dodging the puppy's slobbery tongue right and left, "pray... take... Wobble... back to Donwell..." Hands, paws, flabby ears, rapturous woofs, resounding kisses, and unruly giggles were fluttering in the air, "He misses... you and... the Abbey too much... he has not been... eating as he should... the last few days!"
Drinking in the blissful scenery in front of him, Mr. Knightley received the overjoyed spaniel from Emma's hands. He felt the urge to tease his young friend coming, and he fully intended to deploy it at once.
Mr. Knightley cocked a sportive brow at Emma, "Ah... so Wobble has not been eating..." shaking his head, "Poor Wobble!" he sighed, "Poor, poor innocent Wobble!" he sighed some more. And then with an insufferable, ridiculously wide grin on his face, the gentleman said to his young friend, "I sure hope you have learnt your lesson, Emma. This ought to teach you to never act rashly before you find out the truth!"
"Never!" wrinkling her pretty little nose, Emma beamed her smuggest, sauciest, and most brilliant smile at her grown up friend. "I shall never learn my lesson in case it would please you!" And with that, the mischievous nearly-fifteen-year-old broke into a peal of lovely giggles.
Could there be a greater burden lifted? Mr. Knightley did not know. But after three long months of worries, frustrations, and feeling of helplessness, he was immensely grateful to once again see the unstrained radiance of his dear young friend returning. And what was more, her sauciness pleased him!
But he would never admit it to her... Rolling his eyes, the gentleman's dark eyes twinkled remarkably. He straightened the curls on his lips, attempting to pull a severe face as he declared, "Nonsensical girl..."
Only failing miserably when he burst into a ferocious sneeze!
A/N: If you have read through the whole chapter, you are a very patient person! :-) It's a very long chapter, isn't it? But as the misunderstanding was quite deep on Emma's side and she could be very stubborn, it had to take Mr. Knightley some persuading to convince her.
I had never thought Emma was really jealous of Jane Fairfax. Emma was fanciful, but she never struck me as the jealous sort. Had Mr. Knightley not in the picture, I believe she would have been able to brush aside her uneasiness for the accomplished Jane Fairfax with ease. Obviously the two girls were too different to suit as friends, but it was only when she was in fear of losing Mr. Knightley's good opinions that she began to have apprehension for Jane – much like when she thought Mr. Knightley was in love with Harriet in canon that's when she began to 'distant' herself from Harriet and examine the true station of the girl.
Btw - just wondering if anyone connected Emma's booklist in this plot to the list that Mr. Knightley spoke of with Mrs. Weston... "This list she drew up when she was only fourteen – I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time..." Chapter V, Emma
I actually think that Mr. Knightley had kept that list much longer, he just didn't tell Mrs. Weston. ;-)
Oh, and I love the way JLM (Mr. Knightley) called RG (Emma) 'nonsensical girl' in the 2009 Emma! It was an absolute term of endearment, and one of the many inspirations for this plot.
Alright, this wraps it up. Thank you so much, as always, for reading and commenting! And thank you for those whom I could not PM to express my gratitude for your reviews, for all reviews serve as encouragement and motivation for me to write! :-)