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COD, 6

September 19, 2017 01:14AM
Thanks Tina and Tobe for commenting. I hope you enjoy this chapter too.

If you're wondering what I did with Harriet’s plot line, read on. Oh, and I have some Emma + George interactions, too.

The Churchills of Donwell


Chapter 6: Noxious Connections



As the largest landowners in the area, holding the lease on almost all the farmland for miles in all directions, the Churchills of Donwell were accustomed to being viewed as fonts of wisdom on all manner of topics.

Mr. Churchill was frequently solicited for his opinion by tenants, other farmers and landowners, shopkeepers, and even the local vicar. Being more gentleman than farmer by choice, he certainly was better informed and able to orate on some topics more than others. In matters agricultural, he usually attempted to delay the petitioner until he could speak with his steward, Mr. Endicott. When the question required an immediate answer, however, he tended to turn the question around by asking the inquirer what they thought. If their reasoning seemed sound, he would agree with them at once, mentioning it later to Mr. Endicott and Mrs. Churchill in case he had erred and needed to issue a correction.

Mrs. Churchill preferred to take the bull by the horns, as it were, by giving her opinion where she suspected it was needed. It saved time, she found, to be open, and greatly reduced her disappointments as people around her better knew what was expected of them. She had even, gradually, convinced her husband to consult with her to provide the best advice to their neighbors and dependents.

So it was that Mr. Churchill brought before his wife the case of Robert Martin of Abbey-Mill Farm. The Martin family had been living in Abbey-Mill for ages; the last two generations had proven to be more than typically competent and Mr. Robert, rushed too soon into his majority by the death of his father, showed that he had not spent his earliest years in ignorance or idleness. Young enough to have a mother and two sisters still at home, he still had the funds to provide the girls with a little schooling. Mrs. Churchill had always impressed everyone with her own intelligence, and Robert Martin thought nothing wrong with having sisters who knew a few French phrases or who could help with the accounts. While attending a local school, the Miss Martins had befriended a Harriet Smith, and their intimacy grew to the point where they invited Miss Smith to stay with them at the farm for a visit of some weeks. It was there that Mr. Martin made her acquaintance, and by degrees fell in love with her.

Here was the crux of his problem, the reason he sought a private audience with his landlord: he thought he wanted to marry Miss Smith. She was sweet and kind, close with both his sisters, and a favorite of his mother's. Miss Smith had no wealth, no known family, but she was a friend to all. She was a boarder at the school and, having completed her education, she had nowhere else to go. The headmistress, Mrs. Goddard, was happy to let her stay, but even Mr. Martin knew she could not remain there indefinitely. That had led to the thought of bringing her to stay at Abbey-Mill Farm.

He had set aside enough money for taking a wife, yet he was not sure if he was ready. He felt young to be taking this step yet he could not endure it if she married someone else. He didn't want to ask his mother for advice on this subject. And so he sought out Mr. Churchill, hoping to hear a cheerful prescription.

Mr. Churchill, however, could not be quick to judge this affair. Matrimony was his wife's jurisdiction, and he would not deny her standing in this case. Instead, he inquired minutely into the particulars, storing away the details to share with his wife later.

Mrs. Churchill, upon hearing her husband's version, reached the following conclusions: Miss Smith was a nameless foundling, conceived in sin and cast off at an early age by her disgraced family; Miss Smith, having reached the natural end of her lodging at the school, was now desperate for a new situation; and as the head of Abbey-Mill Farm, Mr. Martin occupied a respected position around Donwell and, as such, was an attractive catch for any grasping girl. Mr. Martin's mother, Mrs. Joshua Martin, had been a frequent guest to tea at the abbey, coming two or three times every summer, and accompanying her husband to the annual harvest dinner and Christmas open house. No one could doubt that Mrs. Robert Martin would expect the same access, although one could doubt her motives for venturing to the Churchills' exalted home. Having recently learned that Frank's natural father had chosen for a second wife a woman better suited to being recognized at Donwell as a servant than a guest, how could the Churchills allow a respectable tenant to marry a woman so devoid of virtue? No, Robert Martin must not marry such a low woman as Harriet Smith! Let his sisters keep the acquaintance if they must, but let the man remain untainted by that noxious connection.

That was the pronouncement Mrs. Churchill gave her husband, who had to find a way to soften and reshape the arguments before presenting them to Robert Martin. He prepared by reviewing some of the points he had drawn up to present to his nephew on the impending remarriage of Mr. Weston lest Frank get similar low ideas, namely that as a young man with a comfortable establishment, he would be the target of many young women. It would take wisdom and discipline not to let a pretty girl turn his head and embroil him in a mistake which would cost him all his domestic happiness. In summary, Robert Martin should not marry Miss Smith; it was, in many ways, an aspiration beneath him, and while he was certain to doubt this advice now, when sufficient time had passed and he had met a woman worthy of Abbey-Mill, he would look back on this moment and feel overwhelming gratitude.

These words were not what the farmer was expecting to hear. Indeed, they were a blow to all his hopes. He had recently seen his lady fair attain the notice of Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, and he could observe small alterations in her dress and manner and the way she styled her hair, barely noticeable to the casual observer, that told Martin her star was rising, and that if he did not make his offer now, he might never get the chance.

But Mr. Churchill's words put her out of reach. He could not offer for her now without giving direct offense to his landlord. He bore it like a man, but still it brought him low. He could no longer meet with Miss Smith, it was too painful. He hinted at his sisters to break off the connection and when his mother wondered at how such an action was to be suggested much less perceived, he mumbled quietly to himself and went to the barn.

Miss Smith was no longer invited to Abbey-Mill without warning Mr. Martin well in advance. He could not avoid her entirely -- Donwell and Highbury were near neighbors -- but he did not approach or speak with her, however much he might stare. These changes were noted by Miss Smith, canvassed with her new friend, and so whenever she thought of Robert Martin, she became sad and wistful.

Miss Emma Woodhouse was in her friend's confidence and knew well her heartbreak. Her initial thought was one of good riddance, because she was unable to imagine her young friend saddled to such a weary existence. But she one day heard Mrs. Churchill's version and it filled her with indignation on her friend's behalf. That Harriet should be viewed as inferior to a farmer! From there, she made it her point to learn more about Robert Martin and everything she heard convinced her that he was Harriet's true love.

She began to scheme for ways to bring the two crossed lovers together, to achieve an understanding between them. It was hard work, for the Martins of Abbey-Mill were in different social orbits than the Woodhouses of Hartfield, but after the first "impromptu" meeting, Emma found she had to struggle less for future encounters.

Finally Harriet Smith received a letter that, had Miss Woodhouse not worked so diligently in leading Mr. Martin to writing it, she would have discouraged her friend's acceptance of. Securing Harriet's future happiness, however, was only the first milestone. Breaking the news to Donwell Abbey was the next daunting challenge. Mr. Churchill was, as expected, surprised and disappointed. That Robert Martin should seek his opinion and then spurn it, especially after all the pertinent warnings, was a disappointment. But Mrs. Churchill took the announcement as a dagger to her heart. She took immediately to her bed and ordered her nephew home from Weymouth in such tones as could not be gainsaid.

Grievously insulted, Mrs. Churchill nurtured the defection in her bosom. It colored all her conversations with her nephew in the weeks that followed, and led her to seek ways to delay or deny the inevitable. She had been too sure of the girl's origins previously, but she now sent a letter to Mrs. Goddard's school asking for confirmation of the details only assumed. She invited Mrs. Joshua Martin to tea to quiz her on the sort of girl her son was intent on marrying. She spoke to her husband, and Emma Woodhouse, and the vicar, and her maid, and anyone else who she ran into, of this dreadful situation. She spoke, indeed, to nearly everyone who could have an interest in the case except the two principles although it must be assumed that they heard of it.

Miss Smith was heartily mortified, and more than once begged with Mr. Martin that they should break off the engagement lest it drag the Martin family down in scandal. Robert Martin, on the other hand, strengthened in resolve. Having made up his mind and declared his intention, he was in no position to reverse his decision. On a number of topics he must defer to his landlord, but when it came to who and when he should marry, that was no business of the Churchills.

From that point on, Abbey-Mill Farm was at odds with Donwell Abbey. The girls were often upset about it, but the arrival of Harriet eased their worries. Mrs. Joshua was proud of her son's independence and trusted that the whole affair would blow over in another twelve-month, although perhaps it was naïve to hope that they would eventually continue much as they always had.

Peace was not to be. In the spring, Mr. Martin found out that his lease was not to be renewed. He and his family had until midsummer to vacate. The Martins were stunned, Mrs. Robert Martin most of all. When she was finally able to dry her eyes, she made haste to Hartfield where she renewed her weeping. Miss Woodhouse received the news with quiet fury on her friend's behalf. It was quite clear who was the author -- or rather the authoress -- of the Martins' predicament.

There was no time to devote to tantrums, however. A suitable situation must be found. The area surrounding Donwell was completely off limits. Even Highbury was too close for comfort. Miss Woodhouse would have offered Mr. Martin land surrounding Hartfield except there was no such land; the acreage had been sold before her father was a boy. Those, however, were the bounds of Miss Woodhouse's acquaintance. Confined by choice at Hartfield, she had no large circle of friends to write to, not like Isabella must have in London.

Oh, but that gave Emma an idea!

She sent Mrs. Martin home with a seed of hope, and instructions to write to anyone she remembered from school who might be in a position to help, while Emma would do the same. Then alone, she read through Isabella's last letter from London. There was the news that George and John Knightley had decided that the family would spend Easter at Enscombe. The news was softened by the fact that George Knightley had extended the invitation to include the residents of Hartfield. Isabella had declined on her family's behalf, expecting to find time in summer for Emma to join her sister in London. It was perhaps more important to the elder sister than to the younger for Emma to have some opportunity to travel beyond her small society, but it seemed impossible at Easter, for who could imagine Mr. Woodhouse traveling that far on muddy spring roads?

The mention of the holiday was all the opening Emma needed. She pulled out a clean sheet of paper and began to pen her reply. She wrote

To my dear sister and all her family,

We shall miss you terribly for Easter, as you well know. For Papa’s sake, I shall not dwell on the fact that John chose Enscombe over Highbury, but will gently stress to him that it is only fair of you to divide your time equally between both your families. We will find ways to make ourselves merry at Easter without you. I have tremendous hopes that we will have a new addition to the neighborhood by then: Jane Fairfax. You no doubt remember hearing of her from Miss Bates. The Campbells appear finally ready to give her up and allow her to return to her family. Everything I hear about her tells me that she is exactly the sort of person we need. However, I will save the rest of my praises until I actually see her again.

Unfortunately, I have also heard that we will experience a loss at Donwell. The Churchills have decided not to renew the lease on Abbey-Mill Farm to Mr. Martin and his family. The Martins have been living at Abbey-Mill for ages and it breaks my heart that they must leave. I had befriended his wife last year when she was still only a Miss Smith, and a sweeter girl you simply will not find in town or country. Not only does Mr. Martin have his wife, but also his mother and two sisters at home. Mr. Martin married Miss Smith against the recommendation of his landlord, and the plain fact is that Mrs. Churchill disapproves of the match and wishes to punish them all. The Churchills are being petty and cruel, and I cannot bear to think of this without being spurred to action. As you are aware, Hartfield has no tenant farms to offer them, and I do not know where they will go, only that they must be gone by midsummer. I hope you will bring this case to your brother and see if he has room at Enscombe for such a man and such a family. He will not be disappointed. Or if he does not, which strikes me as more likely, see if anyone else you know might be able to aid them.

Give my love to John and the children, and Papa’s too. Enjoy your time at Enscombe, but not so much that you won’t come to Hartfield in a few month’s time. Until then, I am, etc.

Miss Woodhouse sealed the letter and sighed. She had done all she could think of for now. Mrs. Knightley would mention the problem to her brother, and anyone else she could think of. It really was too much to expect Mr. Knightley would leap to the aid of someone he had never met and on so slim a recommendation, but she pinned her hopes on her sister knowing the perfect good Samaritan.

A week brought no good news to Abbey-Mill Farm. The flurry of letters sent to all points on the compass did not receive encouraging replies. Friends and family knew of no opportunities, but would forward to more distant connections. Then, a terse missive arrived at Hartfield that was too brief to offer hope but did invite speculation.

Mr. Woodhouse,

I have to travel through Surrey some time in the next fortnight and beg your hospitality for two nights at most. If you and your daughter can accommodate me, I promise to be a most obliging house guest, and your obedient servant, Geo Knightley.

Emma studied the scrap. Enough time had passed since her letter to Isabella for Mr. Knightley to have received her message. He could have just asked Isabella to include his answer in her next letter to Hartfield. It would be so strange to receive him without the other Knightleys as a buffer. And then she had agreed to attend a dinner party at Donwell in 10 days time. George Knightley would no doubt arrange his visit to coincide with that evening for maximum inconvenience. Still, if he felt the need to meet Robert Martin before making a decision, then Emma would remove any impediment. The Martins needed to move to a new situation as soon as possible if they were not to lose the year. Emma sighed and ordered the carriage. She had an errand to run before she penned a welcoming reply to Mr. Knightley.

Mrs. Churchill was delighted to hear that George Knightley was coming to Highbury, not suspecting it had anything to do with her wayward tenants. She offered to have him for tea if he was unable to attend her dinner, for Mr. Churchill continued to speak highly of the man. But in Mr. Knightley's next letter, tea was proved unnecessary, as he would arrive the evening before the party, in perfect time to attend it. Mrs. Churchill went to work, rearranging her table to suit her new honored guest. Highbury's vicar and his wife were accommodatingly understanding.

Mr. Knightley arrived on horseback at Hartfield on the appointed day as early evening was falling. He was made welcome and warm and, once refreshed, joined Mr. Woodhouse for a game of backgammon. Mr. Woodhouse inquired distractedly into what business had brought him into Surrey.

"It is your daughter's business," he answered.

"But why did not Isabella come herself?" asked his host. "Is she not well? Is something wrong with the children?"

He would have continued in this vein for many minutes had not Mr. Knightley stopped him.

"Forgive me, sir, but I meant your other daughter. She wrote to London looking for a new situation for a friend. As much as I trust her opinion, it does not do to enter into contracts like this sight-unseen."

This did not decrease Mr. Woodhouse's agitation, and he would not be calm until Emma was called before him to explain what was happening to the Martins. George Knightley thought Emma managed her father rather well despite the old man's lamentation. Mr. Woodhouse was firmly opposed to the Martins leaving Donwell though he had no say in the matter, but after soothing words, Emma was at last able to get him to admit that if the Martins were forced to leave, Enscombe was as good a place as any for them to go.

After a bland evening meal, Mr. Woodhouse retired and Mr. Knightley was able to have a few private words with Miss Woodhouse about the following day.

"Am I to take it that the general neighborhood does not know I am here to meet with Mr. Martin, or is it just your father who had no warning?"

She glared at him over her tea cup. "Father would never be happy with the news and I sought to spare him some grief. Besides, I could hardly broadcast the announcement considering that you hadn't declared your business. And of course Mrs. Churchill will be seriously displeased to think you, a favorite of hers, would betray her like this."

"A favorite of hers? How is that even possible? I met her for the first time three months ago."

"There is no accounting for taste," Emma shrugged.

George Knightley reacted with unabashed surprise. "I beg your pardon," he said, preparing to do no such thing, "but is there some reason why I should expect such open hostility while I am a guest in your home, performing an errand at your request?"

Emma had the grace to be embarrassed. "You upset my father," she gave as her excuse.

"It was never my intention to upset him," he said. "I expected him to be aware of what is going on in his neighborhood."

Here Miss Woodhouse became thoughtful. "He was so distressed last year at the Westons' wedding, and again when Harriet married Mr. Martin. I know he will take this change poorly, but there is nothing to be done about it; they must go. I had thought that to delay the news would at least spare him a few weeks of anxiety."

By the glow of the fireplace she looked so isolated that he forgave her earlier coldness, turning the conversation to when they were to visit Abbey-Mill on the morrow.

She took a moment to clear her throat and drink her tea before replying. Her answer was a detailed schedule that started with breakfast and involved an early tea at Abbey-Mill before the carriage was needed to pick up Mrs. and Miss Bates who would keep Mr. Woodhouse company that evening while the other two supped at Donwell Abbey.

"And if you would be so good as to not mention the true purpose of your visit to the Churchills, I promise to be grateful," she added.




The next morning passed exactly as scheduled and Mr. Knightley handed Miss Woodhouse from the carriage as the Martins gathered outside Abbey-Mill to greet them.

Every face eagerly looked up to Mr. Knightley, except Miss Woodhouse who sought to convey that this was a regular call. Her calm presence did much to help the girls settle their own nerves. After starting a mundane conversation with her friend, she could not keep her eyes or ears from straying, however, to the quiet words exchanged by Mr. Knightley and Mr. Martin. Eventually, even Miss Woodhouse gave up her pretense and allowed herself to eavesdrop.

Mr. Knightley then suggested that the two men go outside and admire the herd, leaving the women behind.

Harriet Martin was in a pitiable state, unable to sit, unable to pace, unable to attend, unable to talk sense. Convinced that the men had enough time to move out of earshot, Miss Woodhouse suggested her friend take a turn on the gravel to quiet her nerves. The suggestion was approved with alacrity and once outside, Harriet was able to unburden herself more fully.

It was very near the soliloquies that Miss Woodhouse had heard the year before when Mrs. Churchill began in earnest her campaign to break Robert Martin's engagement to Harriet Smith. Harriet, too ready to see the merit of others and blind to her own, fretted that Mr. Knightley might have heard of the rumors and would therefore disdain to make the connection. And if Harriet was responsible for losing this opportunity...

"You must not say such a thing!" ordered Miss Woodhouse. "You must not think it! Mr. Knightley will judge your family on its merits. And if he does fall prey to those falsehoods, then he is not worth you. And I shall tell him so myself!"

The two young women kept pacing the gravel until they saw the men returning, and hurried to meet them in the parlor. The smiles that greeted the ladies were all that needed to be said, and Mrs. Joshua Martin began to make offers of refreshments before remembering to defer to her daughter-in-law. Harriet was ecstatic with joy and, so far from taking offense, gave her mother leave to serve their savior herself.

Mr. Knightley now apologized, but he knew the carriage was expected back at Hartfield for another errand, and he had no wish to inconvenience Mr. Woodhouse. The men exchanged a few more details, then the maid announced the coachman was ready, and they were off.

Miss Woodhouse sat in silence, considering what she had just witnessed. She was pleased for her friend, so very pleased. She felt guilty for the unjust things she had said to Mr. Knightley. She was grateful and penitent. And underneath all her happiness for Harriet's sake, she felt sadness to lose her friend to such an insurmountable distance. Her father's words that marriage was disruptive to one's social circle resonated in a way they hadn't before.

By the time they reached Hartfield, her spirits were quite low. Mr. Knightley noticed it and tried to address it. After all, he had been very well behaved today, and could find no fault with the outcome.

"Are you well, Miss Woodhouse?" he asked.

Emma had hoped to retire immediately but she did not. She owed Isabella's brother more than that. Instead, she held her chin up and took his hand.

"Thank you, Mr. Knightley, for what you have done today," she said simply.

He received her thanks solemnly and gave her hand an answering squeeze. Had she left it at that, she might have retreated with her dignity intact.

"The Martins are the best of people," she continued with a sniff, "and I hope you recognize their worth. I am sure you could not find a more excellent addition to Enscombe." Here she let out a sob to think that she would never see Harriet again. Before she could stop herself, she pulled him into a fierce hug and cried on his shoulder.

Poor Mr. Knightley just stood there flabbergasted until the tears passed. When she regained enough self control, she apologized in a hurried mumble and left him.




Robert Martin left later that week for a trip to Enscombe to see the farm offered by Mr. Knightley. It suited his purpose admirably, and the two men signed the agreement before Mr. Martin returned to his family with dates and other details. In the end, it was not hard for Mr. Martin to convince his wife that they were leaving for a better situation which went a long way toward easing her mind.

It was then a mad flurry to prepare for the move. What could not come with them had to be sold or given away. Before a month had gone, they had made their last goodbyes.

Mrs. Churchill was glad to see the back of them but she would have preferred that they not look so cheerful about going to an obviously inferior situation. She had been unable to learn whither they were bound, the Martins having decided it was no longer the Churchills' business, but she was still curious. And, besides, there might come a day when the Martins' new landlord might appreciate information that Mrs. Churchill could provide.
SubjectAuthorPosted

COD, 6

NN SSeptember 19, 2017 01:14AM

Re: COD, 6

TinaSeptember 20, 2017 04:45AM

Re: COD, 6

TinaSeptember 20, 2017 04:40AM

Re: COD, 6

MichaSeptember 19, 2017 10:29PM

Re: COD, 6

TobeSeptember 19, 2017 04:21AM

Re: COD, 6

TobeSeptember 19, 2017 10:59PM



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