Author's Note: This story takes place in present time and may take on some aspects of classics such as "Wuthering Heights" and "Camille." I'm not a professional writer, but I play one on the internet. I hope you enjoy this emotional tale.
Packing up the last of her suitcases, Laura Knight took a good look around the bedroom she and her husband had shared since their wedding night, five years earlier. She sighed deeply, remembering both the good and bad moments that had played out in that very room. Now they were leaving it far behind, for a new adventure.
Adam Knight had been notified two months ago that his great Uncle John had left him his estate just outside of London. Adam had never met this uncle, but his family had long died out, leaving him the only living heir. By all accounts from the barrister in England, the property was both enormous and in need of attention. This did not please Laura one bit. They fought about it from the beginning.
"I am not leaving my country, my family, friends and job to go live in a monstrosity!" Laura pouted and plopped down on the sofa.
Adam looked exasperated. "Please, think this out clearly. If we go over there and fix things up, we could put it on the market, maybe sell it to a cultural organization for tours. We may never have to work again."
"For all you know, this place is a big, empty death trap. Even if we could make it livable, it might take decades to sell!" Realizing she was losing the battle, she stated flatly, "England is so damp and dreary. It's going to be so depressing."
But Adam had convinced her that it was worth a look. So they packed up most of their belongings. They would take a months worth with them, and send for the rest if things looked promising. Adam took a sabbatical from the University where he taught History, but Laura was forced to give up her position at the marketing firm. Adam assured her that it would be easy to find a new job if things didn't work out. She had her doubts, but she was willing to give her husband the benefit.
Her husband called to her from downstairs, the taxi had arrived. Laura gave the place one last look around and followed Adam out the front door. 'Good-bye house. Thanks for the memories.'
Upon their arrival in London, Adam and Laura hired a cab immediately to drive them to Highbury, the small town in which their new home stood. It was just morning there, the sun was just beginning to peek through the fog and there was a light morning dew covering all of the trees and plants. Laura couldn't decide if the town was spooky or lovely. She grabbed Adam's arm and rested her head on his shoulder as the driver pulled off of the main road onto a small paved stretch.
"This is it, sir. Donwell Abbey. Looks as if you need a gardener, first thing." Adam surveyed the property. Well, yes - it certainly was overgrown. Nothing that couldn't be remedied with some elbow grease and a riding mower. As they passed the first row of trees and brush they came upon a clearing. Here you could see the Abbey and all of the land which surrounded it.
"Its a castle!" cried Laura. "This can't be it."
The taxi driver interrupted. "Yes, ma'am. This is Donwell. Its not quite a castle, but it's got all the stories to go with it."
"What type of stories," Laura inquired cautiously.
"You know the lot ma'am -- ghosts, goblins, tales of murder and lost lovers. The stuff that houses like that are made of..."
This time Adam interrupted. "Don't be ridiculous. Uncle John did not live in a haunted house." Seeing the frightened look on his wife's face he continued, "The Abbey is not haunted Laura. You can be sure of it. Its just big and old. Nothing to be frightened of."
They were met at the drive by the caretaker, Mr. Thomas Martin. Introductions were made. Thomas was a quiet man. He lived in his ancestral home just south of the Abbey. In days long ago, his family were farming tenants. It relaxed Laura quite a bit to know that she would have the company of this man and his wife to entertain her. She was afraid that they would be all alone in this desolate place.
Martin gave them a short tour of the property and then showed them to the main entrance. "I'll just give you a quick look at things and show you to the main bedrooms, I've cleaned them up for you - so you could rest a bit after your trip."
"Thank you Thomas, that was very thoughtful." Laura gave him a tired smiled.
As they entered the foyer Laura was struck. This was grand. It was the stuff of old movies, "Rebecca" and "Jane Eyre." She half expected Mr. Rochester to push open one of the enormous doors. Adam saw the wide-eyed expression on her face and smiled, "So you are warming to it?"
Laura carefully replied, not to give to much away, "It is definitely interesting."
That night the Martin's brought a light supper up to the Abbey and the two couples dined together in the great hall.
"Its all a little overwhelming. I feel a little ridiculous, having fried chicken in a dining hall like this." Laura laughed.
Mrs. Eliza Martin spoke up. "I will have to share with you all the wonderful stories of the great parties that took place in this very room. Thomas' great-grandmother only died a few years back - and she loved to spin yarns of Highbury society. Her grandmother was the best friend to the Mistress of Donwell and enjoyed many gatherings here."
Adam smiled as he watched the expression on his wife's face. Her eyes were wide with interest and she begged Eliza to continue.
Thomas Martin broke the spell when he leaned over to speak, "These two will be lost in the past for the rest of the evening. Would you like to walk about the grounds. We can discuss your plans."
Adam agreed and the gentlemen excused themselves from the table, but not before the new Master of Donwell Abbey could give his Mistress a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll be back a little later. Don't stay up too late." They smiled at each other. Adam was so glad to see Laura smile. Lately, it had been a rare occurrence.
While the Knight's gave the general appearance of a happily married couple, their marriage had been in trouble for almost a year now. It all began 10 months ago when Laura miscarried the child they were expecting. Following the ordeal she seemed to sink into a general state of constant depression. No matter how many times Adam encouraged her, suggesting that they try again, Laura seemed to be far off somewhere. She was short tempered with him and he walked on eggshells every time they spoke. He had hoped that this change of scenery would alter her demeanor as well.
Laura Knight and Eliza Martin retired to the sitting room. Laura begged for Eliza to share her stories and she was only to happy to oblige. Eliza began to unravel the long history of Donwell Abbey. She covered centuries, however when she came to the story of the George Knightley's she took a deep breath.
"Now this is the most fascinating and interesting of the Masters. Mr. George Knightley. He was the most respected and most giving Master. Liked by all of Highbury, and especially by Thomas' relations, who considered him, not just a landlord, but a dear friend."
Laura was on the edge of her seat. "Yes, you mentioned him before. Tell me, why does he fascinate you? What makes his story so unique?"
Eliza smiled, "Because its a love story. Which is rare as you know, because so many of the marriages of that day were simply arranged or of convenience. Mr. George Knightley married Miss Emma Woodhouse who was not only his sister-in-law, but also sixteen years his junior."
Laura's interest was piqued. "That's quite an age difference, even by today's modern standards."
Eliza replied, "But not so for the Knightleys. You see, Mr. Knightley had known Emma since the day she was born. Indeed, he was known to remark to her tenderly of how he held her in his arms as a babe. It was not until Emma was 21 that they both discovered their relationship was changing. Emma, who had resolved not to marry, found herself in love with her dearest friend. And George, who considered himself more a brotherly figure, fell under her spell as well."
"Tell me Eliza, was Mr. Knightley a dashing figure? Was he handsome?" Laura inquired.
"Ah! I know it to be true! But you can judge for yourself. Come, there are several family portraits throughout the Abbey."
Laura was in her element! The history of this great home was beginning to draw her in. She couldn't wait to see for herself. The ladies hurried along the hallways together.
"Here! Here is our Mr. Knightley. They say that this portrait was done when he was a younger man -- about 30 I think. Next to him is his younger brother John."
Lost in the blending of colors and the expression on his face, Laura was in awe. This was indeed a handsome man. It was wonderful to imagine his figure walking the very hall she was standing in. "What of Mrs. Knightley? Is she represented here?"
"Of course! Mr. Knightley commissioned a portrait shortly after their marriage. It hung in Hartfield, the Woodhouse estate, for many years before it was moved here." Eliza motioned to the portrait at the top of the stairs.
It was exquisite. Mrs. Emma Knightley was the picture of loveliness. She seemed to empower everything that was grace and glamour. "She's beautiful. I can see how they would have made an enchanting pair. But how is it that the portrait was originally hung in Hartfield and not Donwell?"
Eliza sat down on the top stair. "You see, this is where the story takes a turn. Mr. and Mrs. Knightley were unable to live in Donwell after their marriage. The frailty of Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse, kept them both at Hartfield for several years after their marriage. Mr. Woodhouse, while frail in spirit, was not weak of body -- he lived many years and so the Knightleys were forced to remain at Hartfield. While they cherished each other dearly, the lack of privacy and intimacy was very tiresome. They had little private time together and both silently longed to move to Donwell Abbey."
"How sad. I can't imagine being a newlywed and having to live with Adam's family for years! How on earth did they get any peace?" Laura was further intrigued.
"Well, as you can imagine, with a love as true as theirs, they found joy in every moment they spent together. Even if it was in the presence of Mr. Woodhouse.
"It was not until Emma was expecting their first child that the Knightleys were finally able to leave Hartfield. While Mr. Woodhouse was still quite well, it was obvious that the family would need more room. And of course, the Knightleys wanted their first child to be born in Donwell Abbey."
Laura's face took on a sad expression. "Yes, I can imagine," she said silently, lost for a moment in the grief that still plagued her.
Eliza did not notice the change in Laura's expression and continued. "Mr. Knightley doted on his wife day and night during her confinement. He was constantly at her side. They were such a charming sight. They were often seen walking the grounds together, Mr. Knightley holding fast to his wife, his arm around her waist as he shortened his step to accommodate her delicate ones."
Eliza and Laura had begun to walk about the house, as she continued. "Emma put most of her available energy at the time into designing a nursery for the child. She planned it out to the letter and supervised its completion during her final term. Mr. Knightley beamed as he watched her take charge." Pointing to a doorway, Eliza remarked, "This is it."
"The nursery? Laura took a step towards the door. "Is it still the same as Emma designed it?"
Eliza opened the door and they stepped inside. "To the letter. It has been an unwritten law that this room not be altered one bit and every Master since has heeded it."
Laura was fascinated. The room was exquisite, and in perfect condition, save the occasional cobweb. The bassinet looked to be hand carved of the finest oak, as was the bureau and toy chest. Antique ornaments and playthings were placed delicately about. Laura was curious, "Why was it so important that it not be altered?"
"Again, this is where the tale begins to sadden. In Emma's eighth month, Mr. Knightley was called away to London. And seeing as how Emma was still several weeks from her date, she encouraged him to go. He would be only a day or two and she insisted he see to his business. While he was gone, she went into labor. She lost the child. Its was a breech you see. The apothecary was not available and the mid-wife did all she could, but it was hopeless.
Both of the Knightleys were devastated at the loss. Emma became withdrawn and Mr. Knightley was unable to forgive himself for not being there, as if he could have prevented it." Eliza stopped, realizing that her new friend was crying. "Oh dear, I am sorry. It is a sad story. I will stop. Why don't we go see what the gentlemen are up to?"
"It's all right," Laura replied. "Please, what happened? Surely they had other children."
"I'm afraid they did not. Unfortunately, Mr. Knightley felt so much to blame that he assumed that his wife's silence was a reflection of the bitterness she felt for his absence that night. And Mrs. Knightley, who desperately needed to be consoled by her husband found no shoulder to lean on. Both believing the other did not want their attentions, they spent the next decade of their married life in silence."
"No!" Laura cried out. "Its impossible, from your story... they loved each other so much. They must have seen... must have realized they needed each other."
"Sadly, Mrs. Knightley became further reclusive. She rarely took meals, rarely was seen in society and became ill. When she was 35 she was plagued with consumption. Her friend and my husband's ancestor, Mrs. Harriet Martin nursed her daily. At her sickbed Emma confided to Harriet that she wished things had been different, and that she wished Mr. Knightley would have not taken the death of their child so hard, as to blame her and cut her off."
Eliza continued, and as she spoke Laura could clearly picture the heartbroken couple living in silent distress. "Harriet tried to assure her friend that Mr. Knightley had always loved her dearly, but to no avail. In desperation to see her friend have something to live for, Harriet decided to approach Mr. Knightley on the very delicate subject of his marriage. When Harriet related Emma's words to Mr. Knightley his heart sunk in his chest."
"You are telling me," said Mr. Knightley frantically, "that my wife who lies frail and dying in her sick bed, has all this time thought I blamed her for the death of our child? She has been silent because she thought I... this cannot be."
"It is her own words I repeat to you sir." Harriet implored him, "Go to her Mr. Knightley. Perhaps it is not to late."
But Mr. Knightley was hesitant, "I cannot, for surely you are mistaken. It was my fault... I was the one who left her side those many years ago. I was the one who was not present to hold her hand and wipe her brow... to be there when the terrible news... She must hate me. She must, or how can I live with knowing that we might have been happy together!"
In the silence of the sitting room, Knightley sobbed and Harriet placed her hand on his shaking shoulder. "Don't let it be too late. Go to her. She does not hate you. She adores you! She has always adored you. I beg you to go now, while there is time to make a difference."
Mr. Knightley looked up to meet Harriet's eyes. "My god... let there still be time. I must go!" With that Knightley sprung to his feet and dashed up the stairs to his wife's bedchamber. But as he approached the door, he slowed... hesitant. He knocked softly and the nurse opened the door. "May I..." he asked "I would like to sit with my wife alone please."
The nurse left the room and George Knightley softly made his way to his wife's bed. She lay so frail and delicate. It was not difficult to see the girl she once was in those features that now seemed aged and tired. She was still the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. Knightley fell to his knees and sobbed. "Oh Emma... darling Emma. How can it be that we have been so misguided yet again. You must get well. We have so much time to make up. We can still be happy darling. I love you so dearly. You are everything to me."
Mr. Knightley clasped her hand in his. He placed her palm against his cheek, kissing her hand over and over and allowing his tears to roll onto her fingers. "Emma, I cannot bear it if you go. I beg you Lord! Allow my darling wife to stay... she deserves the happiness she lost so long ago. Give me the chance, I implore you!"
The elegant fingers of her right hand reached up and touched his face gently. His eyes darted towards hers, eager to see some reflection of understanding. "Emma!" he cried.
She attempted to speak, but her husband silenced her. "No darling, do not speak. But allow me this... it seems, my love, that we have been at cross purposes once again." He smiled lightly. "Emma, dear Emma. I have all this time blamed myself for that tragedy which befell us so long ago. I was a fool in believing that you, my darling wife, also found fault with me. I felt that your silence, which I now know to be a longing to be consoled, was proof of your hatred of me for being absent during your loss and misery. Your dear friend Harriet was so kind as to explain your feelings. Dearest, I could never blame you for the death of our child. And now I see how foolish it was of me to blame myself, and to cause our marriage to fall into disrepair. How it breaks me to know that you longed for my arms about you in comfort -- to know that I was not there for you when you needed me most. It is little consolation now I realize, but darling I am here. I adore you and will not leave your side ever again."
Tears streamed down the face of Emma Woodhouse Knightley, for she knew that he was right. They had been so wrong for so many years. They had wasted so much time being miserable that they failed to remember the happiness that had brought them together.
She spoke but two words out loud, "George, darling..." With that Mr. Knightley encircled his delicate wife in his arms and held her there in her bed. He lay her head upon his shoulder, gently stroking her hair. There in the privacy of her bedchamber he held her through the night, speaking words of love that he had bottled inside him for ten years. She slipped in and out of consciousness, but he never ceased. Each time she awakened she heard his loving voice tenderly speaking the words of love she had longed to hear.
Laura was now sobbing herself. "She died in his arms then? Can it possibly be that desperate?"
Eliza placed an arm around Laura. "No dear, not that desperate. While she never recovered fully, Emma Knightley did live for quite a few years more. Her husband was forever at her side as he had promised. And while she was weak, she was never without his love and attention. John Knightley and his family eventually came to live at Donwell Abbey. Emma and Mr. Knightley treated their children as if they were their own, and found much pleasure in spoiling them."
The ladies walked on towards the master bedroom, as Eliza completed her story, "It is said that Emma left this world quietly with her husband speaking words of love to her. It was very peaceful from what I have been told. Mr. Knightley was never quite the same, but continued to bestow his affections on his nieces and nephews for the remainder of his days -- taking special pleasure in the well-being of little Emma, the namesake of his beloved wife."
Laura gave Eliza a quick hug, "Thank you Eliza. You will never know how much your story has meant to me. Maybe someday I will tell you all my secrets. I'd like it very much if you became the Harriet to my Emma Knightley."
Eliza smiled sweetly at her new friend. "I would like that very much."
Just then the gentlemen reappeared. "I see you two have become fast friends," announced Thomas Martin. "How wonderful."
Laura Knight flew into her husband's arms. "We must never leave this place Adam!"
Adam was flabbergasted. Certainly his wife had her share of mood swings over the past year, but this was incredible. However, he did not doubt or question it. She was smiling, happy and in his arms. That was enough for him. He held her to him and whispered in her ear, "You are the Mistress of Donwell Abbey now."
That night Adam and Laura spent their first romantic evening in months in the Master bedroom of Donwell Abbey. The evening passed as they made love and talked through the night of how everything would be different now.
Close to sun-up, Laura awoke in the comfort of her husbands arms, in the bedchamber that had once been occupied by George and Emma Knightley. She gently slipped out of the bed and made her way to the window. Here the sun was just beginning to peek out from behind the horizon, casting a soft light on Box Hill. Yes, it was beautiful and not at all spooky. Laura felt at peace here and she felt a strange stirring of emotions inside her. As she looked out towards the strawberry fields she was startled. She was sure that she had seen two figures there walking. But it was far to early for the Martin's to be out and there was no one else around for miles.
She stood unmoving for several minutes and after a time again saw figures in the fields -- they were dressed quite formally she thought -- why it was impossible, wasn't it? Then again, why should it be? The man stopped, bent down and picked something from the earth, a flower she thought, and placed it in the hair of the woman.
Laura once again smiled to herself and silently said good morning to her hosts, the Knightley's. "I think we will all be very happy here."
Laura and Emma
Laura and Adam Knight had officially settled into their new home in Highbury. Donwell Abbey was far from being restored to its former glory, but it had definitely become "livable." It was difficult to know which of the couple was happiest. Laura's demeanor had changed so much she seemed to walk on air -- gone were her mood swings and depressions -- and Adam was elated because his wife at last resembled the woman he had married five years ago.
The Knight's had made fast friends with the Martin's and the two couples often suppered together, followed by nights by the fire sipping wine and talking. It was a peaceful existence, and Laura filled her days with plans of restoration. It had been her intention, almost since the day she arrived, to recreate the Donwell Abbey which was home to its most famous master and mistress - The George Knightley's.
Adam and Laura had decided that renovating and then opening the building to the public would be the best course of action. Originally, Laura had reservations about opening the building up for all to trample though, but Adam had convinced her otherwise. He appealed to her romantic side, declaring that the Knightley's would like to know that their love inspired countless tourists as they passed through the halls. Indeed, Laura thought that very true - Emma and Knightley would be ideal romantic figures.
Adam now came to Laura as she scraped woodwork in the study. The little bit of hair that wasn't covered with a bandanna was coated in plaster and paint. Adam admired her beauty, even in this state. His wife wiped a bit of perspiration from the tip of her nose and looked up to catch her husband's eye. "Adam! You scared me to death."
"I'm sorry. I just wanted to tell you that I'm about ready to leave." Laura stood up from her crouching position and came nearer to him. "Are you sure you'll be all right by yourself?"
Adam was leaving for the States, to settle things there. They would become official citizens of Highbury soon and they needed to close up their home in Connecticut. Laura gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then wiped away the dust. "I'll be fine. Besides the Martin's are just down the road. And I'll have Emma and George to keep me company!" she smiled cleverly.
Adam's eyes sparkled at the playful nature of his wife. "Ah yes, the illustrious Knightley's. But they haven't officially made your acquaintance yet have they?"
Laura gave Adam a playful swipe to his back, as if to injure him. "Don't mock me. While I haven't made their acquaintance yet, I know they are here."
"Ah yes, you saw them on Box Hill. I forgot. Do tell them hello for me -- should they drop by that is," then more seriously, "I will be back as soon as I can. Call Thomas if there is anything you need."
They exchanged I love you's and a few kisses and embraces, and then Adam Knight was on his way across the pond. Laura missed him the moment he left the study. For as much as she loved Donwell, it was a very desolate place.
That night, Laura ate alone in the sitting room in front of the television. She laughed to herself. I wonder what Emma and George think of this contraption! It was one of the first things Adam did when they arrived -- had a satellite dish installed on the grounds. She made sure he put it in a very inconspicuous place -- such a sight would surely detract from the illusion she was trying to create here. But she admitted that she too would be lost without the telly.
American Movie Classics was playing one of her all time favorites -- Jane Eyre. Before she moved here, she imagined that life really never imitates art, but she was wrong. After all, George and Emma had been proof of that -- their story was as real as hers and Adams, but infinitely more interesting. They certainly would never make a movie about my romance!
Ah, but the Knightley's were the stuff of film's like these. She could just imagine them on the big screen. How enchanting. If she were only clever enough to write the story, she would see to it that it came to fruition. Perhaps one day, if the Abbey were to become a successful tourist stop, she could hire a writer.
The sound of music jolted her from her thoughts. It seemed like the noise came from the ballroom. She was sure that she had not left anything on -- no radio or television. The music was nothing like she would have had in her CD player, it was Beethoven or Handel. She recalled the tune from music theory class in college.
As much as Laura had been eager to meet her hosts, she was a little weary of coming face to face with any -- spirits. The music continued as she approached the ballroom doors. She gently turned the handle... ok Laura, its no big deal -- there's either a good explanation or the ghost of Emma Knightley is waiting in there for you!
Deciding not to prolong her fear she opened the door wide. The music had stopped. The ballroom still had no working electric -- she reached for the candles and matches she and Adam had left behind the last time they had ventured into this room. Would Emma and George be shocked to know that they had "christened" each and every room in Donwell Abbey? Had Emma and George done the same? Would that have been very improper? What a pity if it was.
Laura lit the candles and made her way across the room to light those scattered about. After lighting almost 20 in the room, she felt a little more at ease and wandered about, investigating. There was no one here, that was certain. The candlelight and the beauty of the ballroom inspired Laura to imagine herself a guest at a Donwell ball. How easy it was to place herself in another day and age.
Laura spied the old pianoforte in the corner. These things didn't play on their own did they? No, that was a player piano and surely not of the same era she thought. She touched one of the keys and it made a sour sound. She made a mental note to have it looked at as soon as possible. While she couldn't play herself, it seemed sacrilegious not to have it in working order.
Laura again made her way around the perimeter of the room -- taking it in and making plans to recreate the grandeur that had once been. She sat down on a fainting couch and rested her head. Gazing about the room, she began to drift off a little. In seconds she was fast asleep.
Graceful ladies and dashing gentlemen passes by her in exquisite clothes. Everyone smiling, laughing, dancing. It was the Donwell Ballroom, and she was a guest! She caught her reflection in one of the many mirrors. She herself was dressed in a long ballgown of periwinkle blue. Her hair was done up on top of her head and adorned with ornaments. She hardly recognized herself. She overheard conversations... "Mrs. Knightley has certainly outdone herself.." and "there's not a single lady here that can hold a candle to our hostess."
Laura's heart skipped a beat. She was seconds from seeing Emma, she could feel it. Emma Knightley was in the same room with her somewhere! Just then a voice caught her attention, louder than the rest. "My dear! You are not dancing! You must dance." It was she. Emma Knightley was approaching Laura and talking to her! Laura stammered, "Mrs. Knightley... you... I'm..."
Emma interrupted, "I won't have you standing about alone. You are my guest and I insist on seeing you dance. Come... let us find you a suitable partner." Emma took Laura's arm and began to walk with her.
Laura at last found her voice. "Mrs. Knightley... it is such a pleasure to be here with you."
Emma again interrupted, "Dear, please. We are such close acquaintances, you may call me Emma surely? Oh, and here! I know what we will do with you. You must dance with Mr. Knightley."
This was too much for Laura! Dance with George Knightley? Impossible. Her knees began to give way. "Knightley!" Emma's voice beckoned desperately.
In seconds Laura found herself being seating in a nearby chair.
"Are you well? Can we fetch Mr. Perry for you?" It was the man himself who inquired of her. Laura looked up at him in amazement, for his portrait did not do him justice. He was truly a very handsome man. If she was indeed dreaming, Laura began to pray she wouldn't awake.
Upon more inquiries of her health Laura finally replied, "I am fine really. I must have slipped on something. I'm perfectly well." The crowd that had surrounded them began to disperse on hearing her words -- all but her hosts.
"You gave me quite a fright dear." And then to her husband, "Knightley, I would very much like to see Laura dance."
The gallant Mr. Knightley reached his hand down to Laura. "It would be my pleasure if you would except my invitation to the floor."
Laura was dumbfounded, she would have no idea how to begin to imitate their dances, surely. "Oh no, please. I would much prefer to see you dance with Mrs. Knightley."
Again, Emma implored her, "It is out of the question. I will have many more dances with my husband this evening. This one is yours. I insist."
George Knightley reached out once again to take Laura's hand. And some unknown force made her hand take it in response. She was being escorted to the dance floor. Her head once again began to swim. This was impossible. She could not do it! But as they faced each other on the floor something happened. The same force that had allowed her to accept Mr. Knightley's hand seemed to be guiding her steps. She was in perfect unison with the other's.
As they glided across the floor, Laura was sure this was the closest thing to heaven. The smells in the air of burning candle wax and delicious foods, the sounds of laughter and music, and the beautiful sight of her partner and his wife watching on quite joyfully -- it was all so overwhelming. Most of all Laura found herself quite taken with the way that Mrs. Emma Knightley observed the situation. Emma's eyes were full of love and pride in her husband. It pleased Laura to see that the sentiments she had imagined were indeed real. This was a woman completely devoted to her husband.
As they danced, Laura dared herself to speak. "Mrs. Knightley has done a beautiful job this evening -- and she is the picture of loveliness."
George Knightley smiled at his partner. "Thank you for saying so. I am in complete agreement." He caught the glance of Emma and smiled at her warmly. "I am a very lucky man."
The song ended, Mr. Knightley bowed and escorted Laura back to Emma. Laura graciously thanked her partner. "Now I insist that you take your wife to the floor sir."
Knightley smiled lovingly at his wife, "What do you say Mrs. Knightley? It wouldn't be improper for us to dance?"
Emma freely accepted his hand, "Indeed, it would not... George dear." The smile on George Knightley's face lit up the room. And Laura recalled that it was a rare occurrence for Emma to call her husband by his given name. From all accounts, she saved it for their most intimate moments. Laura was grateful to have been privy to this one.
As she watched the couple dancing together Laura found herself practically moved to tears. To be in the presence of such undying love, and to have knowledge of what was to befall them. It was inspiring. The music seemed to grow fainter. The couples twirling about in front of Laura seemed to float on air. Her head was spinning and her eyelids seemed very heavy. Somewhere in the distance the music played on... softer still now and more solitary. A voice... the sweet voice of a woman, singing in the background.
Dazed and still half asleep Laura began to stretch on the fainting couch. Her first reaction was one of sorrow -- it had been a dream. Of course it had. Emma and George Knightley were still visions in her head and sprits of the past. No more real to her than Jane Eyre or Mr. Rochester. She recalled every moment of the dream, so she would not forget it... and was startled to realize that the music was no longer in her head, but in the very room with her!
She shot up in the chair and glanced about the room quickly. In the far corner --she blinked her eyes hard -- it was Emma! A faint apparition, not the body that she had walked with in her dream, but a faded resemblance, played the pianoforte. A sweet song escaped her lips and filled the air. Laura, shocked but not frightened, listened as Emma completed the aire. The last note of the pianoforte slowly dissipated and then silence. But Emma did not move from her station. Laura silently stood and began walking towards her.
"May I speak to you?" she inquired. "Can you hear me?"
After a moment, Emma turned to look upon Laura's face. "Of course dear. I can hear just perfectly. Did you enjoy my song? I'm not quite as accomplished as Jane Churchill, but playing always did give me pleasure.. .and Mr. Knightley."
"It was a beautiful song. Thank you for allowing me to listen." Laura was unsure, but steadfast.
"Are you happy here? At Donwell? You seem to be." The spirit seemed quite interested in her well-being.
Laura took a step closer to the pianoforte. "We are very happy. I hope that you don't mind... the changes, the noise... us. We want to make it beautiful again."
Emma beckoned Laura to sit down on a chair near her. "Mr. Knightley and I are very satisfied. Thank you for coming to our ball."
Laura who had just seated herself was amazed. "Then it was real? I was there."
"You were, as were we. I knew it would give you pleasure." Emma smiled brightly. "We will be sure to ask you again sometime. Mr. Knightley was quite pleased to have had the opportunity to dance with you."
This time it was Laura who smiled. However, she soon grew concerned. "You aren't stuck here or something are you? Forced to remain at Donwell..."
"Oh no!" Emma laughed. "We come and go. It gives us great enjoyment to return here... we walk the grounds together as we used to... visit the rooms where we spent our happiest days."
"I have seen you! Walking at Box Hill?"
"Oh dear!" Emma seemed disturbed. "Are we trespassing? If we are interfering...."
Laura was quick to stop her. "No! Please... this is, will always be, your home. You and Mr. Knightley may come and go as you wish. We are your guests."
"Laura... you are happier now? Happier than you were when you arrived? I have been concerned for you."
It was jolting, Emma seemed to read her thoughts. "I am very happy really. Coming here -- it helped quite a bit to get over the..." Laura did not want to mention her tragedy, for she knew it was Emma's as well.
"You do not need to spare my feelings. This is why we wanted you here. Indeed, it is why Mr. Knightley asked John to bring you here. You and I shared the same misfortune. Your husband is a good man. I did not want you to lose what I did - time."
Again, it was unfathomable. The idea that the Knightley's had conspired, long before she even knew there was a Donwell Abbey, or an Uncle John Knight! Instead of questioning it, she decided to accept the unexplainable. "I will never be able to thank you enough. How I wish you and Mr. Knightley had the same type of guardians."
"Don't wish for things that cannot be Laura." Emma reached out to her without touching. "Mr. Knightley and I have eternity together. The years we were estranged is nothing in comparison to the endless time we now share." Emma's face grew concerned. "Make sure you are always open with your husband. Never hide your thoughts from him. Too much time is wasted in deception it seems."
Laura shook her head in agreement. "I have learned from you that it is the most important thing in a marriage, to open yourself to your lover. I've dedicated myself to it."
Emma smiled at Laura, looked at the clock and announced, "It is late. Mr. Knightley will be retiring soon. I should go to him. Thank you for our talk."
It distressed Laura to have Emma leave. "Thank you Emma. Please, I would like very much to talk to you again. May I?"
Emma rose from the bench. "To be sure! Goodnight Laura. Sleep well."
And she was gone.