Posted on Friday, 9 June 2006
One morning in mid-May, Mr. Knightley looked thoughtfully at his wife over the breakfast table. “I think I will send our steward on the tenant visits this month, Emma,” he said. “I would hate to be away from Hartfield should you need me.”
“Dearest George, you are beginning to sound like my father,” his expectant wife replied with a smile. “Not that I should mind having you at my side constantly for the next two months, but I think I could spare you for this one day while you make your visits. Besides, I shan’t be home this afternoon; I planned to stop in at the Westons and the Martins one last time, since Papa made me promise to stay at home after today.”
“A wise move, especially since the doctor is sure you are further along than you think,” he reminded her.
“Nonsense, who would know better than I? I am considerably smaller than my sister Isabella or Mrs. Weston were when they were with child. I am sure I shall have the pleasure of this tenant’s company for some time yet,” she said patting her tummy. “Make your visits, my love. Should I be wrong, which I highly doubt, I shall send for you at the first sign of anything being amiss.”
“Very well - for today – Emma, but take Sarah with you. However, for my piece of mind, and that of your father’s, from this evening hence we should both plan on staying close to home.”
She gave him an indulgent nod and bid him farewell.
“I am afraid you will have to visit me at Hartfield for a while,” said Emma as she took the seat Mrs. Weston offered. “The men in my life have requested I stay at home for the duration. Although how I shall keep myself occupied for the next few months, I haven’t a clue.”
“There are always baby things to knit, and perhaps it shall not be as long as all that. Mr. Knightley mentioned to my husband that the doctor thought it likely the baby would come in June rather than July. Perhaps the baby will come early.”
“I should think that is very unlikely, no matter what the doctor says. My sister delivered her first child much later than expected, which I understand happens more often than not with most women.”
“And when have you ever been like most women, Emma?” asked her former governess. “You were never inclined to be indisposed as often as other ladies. On the rare occasion when you were under-the-weather, you never let it show. Even as far along with child as you are, if I saw you from the back and did not know better, I should never think you were expecting.”
“It is kind of you to say, and I have been fortunate thus far – poor Isabella suffered terrible morning sickness with each of her children – thankfully I have had none.”
“May the rest of your confinement be just as trouble-free.”
“Speaking of confinement, before I begin mine at Hartfield, I am going to the Martin farm to visit Harriet. If you would like to accompany me, I brought the phaeton.”
“I would love to, Emma, but I promised to accompany Mr. Weston to the village today. I could do that another day, however, if you would rather not go to the Martins alone.”
“I shan’t be alone; George insisted I bring my maid Sarah along, She is the niece of Mrs. Martin’s upper maid, you know, and enjoys visiting with her aunt as much as I do Harriet.”
The ladies finished their visit with a promise from Mrs. Weston to call on Emma in a few days.
A short time later Emma and Sarah arrived at the Martin’s farm. Harriet ushered the ladies into the house, where Sarah excused herself to find her aunt while Emma followed Harriet into the bigger of the home’s two parlors. Harriet's mother-in-law, Mrs. Martin was just pouring tea.
“Mother Martin has just returned from checking on Mrs. Johnson in the village,” commented Harriet. “She helped her deliver her baby last week. My husband says Mother Martin is the best midwife in the county.”
“Yes, Mr. Knightley has told me as much,” said Emma with a nod to the older woman. The three ladies discussed Mrs. Johnson's latest child - a son, her delivery, and babies in general for some time. Although she tried not to be obvious, Emma occasionally shifting in her chair, trying to get comfortable.
“Would you like another cake, Emma?” Harriet asked when the conversation lulled.
“No thank you, Harriet,” she replied, putting down the plate that still held a half-eaten cake. “I haven’t much of an appetite today.”
Harriet looked crestfallen, for she had made the cakes herself. Emma noted Mrs. Martin’s raised eyebrow and hurried to reassure her friend.
“The cake was lovely, Harriet, I’m just a bit off today. Perhaps it was the drive over - it was not the most comfortable ride. My back has a bit of a spasm.
“Oh dear. Does it hurt much?” asked Harriet.
“It’s nothing really, just a little pain now and again.” She flinched slightly. “There it is again.”
“It comes and goes?” inquired the older woman. Emma nodded.
“How odd,” commented Harriet, "But you are looking very well, much better than Mrs. Johnson.”
“Poor Mrs. Johnson, this was her sixth child and her feet swelled badly,” explained Mrs. Martin, “Especially towards the end. But I agree with Harriet, Mrs. Knightley, you look very well. You are eight months along, are you not?"
"Seven months," corrected Emma confidently.
Mrs. Martin looked skeptical. "I would have expected the child to be a bit higher with so much time remaining. Of course, every woman carries differently.”
“Strange you should mention that,” replied Emma, “the baby was higher a week or two ago, but I woke up one morning and he seemed to have settled. Apparently he is content where he is, for he turns less often than he used to.”
“He? It is a boy?” asked her friend.
“Just a figure of speech, Harriet. But I am hoping for a boy. Mr. Knightley would prefer a girl.”
“As long as it is healthy,” added Mrs. Martin. The two younger women could do nothing but agree.
“Ohhhh!” exclaimed Emma. She grasped her middle at a disturbing pang.
“What is it?”
“My back pain… moved!” said a confused Emma.
“Is it getting worse?”
Emma nodded, “And longer.” Suddenly she was willing to admit that someone in the room might know a bit more that she, at least on this topic. She looked to Mrs. Martin for some reassurance.
“From what I’ve observed, Mrs. Knightley, it’s your time,” said the older woman. “I expect that baby will be coming today.”
“But it is only May - it is too soon!” whined Emma.
“The baby has his own ideas about that, and so do I. Everything will be fine, you’ll see. Harriet, help Mrs. Knightley to my chamber and make her comfortable. I’ll send Robert for Mr. Knightley.”
Harriet chattered as she walked with her bewildered friend. “It is lucky Mother Martin was here, isn’t it Emma? But even if she was still out, my Robert could have helped you deliver the baby. He has brought countless foals, calves and lambs into the world. I’m sure it can’t be much different for people.” Emma looked horrified. “You don’t have to worry about a thing!”
Mrs. Martin sent Sarah to fetch Robert Martin from a nearby field. After learning from his mother that Mr. Knightley was making calls on the tenants, and as he had not yet been to the Martins, Robert had a rough idea of where to find his landlord and set off directly to the suspected area.
Although Mr. Knightley was not at the first neighbor that Robert inquired at, he was at the second. The two men hurried back to the Martin farm, arriving just in time to hear a wail come from Mrs. Martin’s chamber. Robert did his best to reassure Mr. Knightley that his wife was in good hands.
It was a fast labor, even by Mrs. Martin’s reckoning. Shortly after sunset Harriet came out and congratulated Mr. Knightley on becoming a father.
“Is Emma alright? Can I see her?” he asked urgently.
“She is fine, sir. Mother Martin asks you wait a few moments for her to finish up, then she will let you in.” Harriet replied, then returned to the chamber.
Mr. Knightley nodded reluctantly, confused at the delay, which seemed to stretch on for hours, although it was as Harriet had said, no more than a few minutes. Mrs. Martin opened the door and beckoned the new father in with an enormous grin on her face. He fairly ran to his wife.
“Emma, you had me so worried!” he exclaimed, then quieted when he noticed the bundle she held.
“It is a girl, George, just as you hoped,” she held the baby out to him, which he accepted with the utmost care.
“She’s a bit smaller than most I’ve helped into the world, Mr. Knightley,” said Mrs. Martin from the doorway, “But she is as healthy as the best of them.” She motioned Harriet out of the room, then closed the door behind her, giving the new parents some privacy.
“She is beautiful,” Mr. Knightley murmured, then leaned over to kiss his wife. “You’ve done us proud, Emma.”
His wife blushed, pleased with the compliment. “I did have some help, George. But I can not understand why she came so soon. I was sure the baby would not come for another two months! And yet Mrs. Martin assures me that our Elizabeth does not look at all like a baby that was born too early.”
“I would not dwell on it, my love. She seems to have come right on time, for she looks perfect to me.” He cuddled the babe then asked, “Elizabeth? I thought you favored the name Isabella?”
Emma blushed again. “Harriet told me Mrs. Martin’s name is Elizabeth. I don’t know what I would have done had she not been here for me, especially since the baby did come so quickly.” She paused then added emphatically “Although I certainly would not have named her Roberta!”
Mr. Knightley was confused by this last, but he let it go. There were more enjoyable things to speak of.
“Elizabeth Isabella Knightley,” he cooed to his daughter, “You are so like your mother; just as lovely and determined to have your own way in this world.”
Emma could not but agree.