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COD, 7

September 21, 2017 09:53PM
Thanks again to those who commented on the last chapter.

I had originally taken what I remembered of Mrs. Churchill from the original novel (a tyrannical hypochondriac) and extrapolated from there. In absence of Knightley, the Churchills form a great influence on Emma's behavior although she is more apt to do the opposite of their behavior with certain people (e.g., Harriet, the Bateses).

I tried something new to me (in my opinion) with the structure of this story. Rather than focusing on a single main character and following them with a mostly linear narrative, I tried to have a lot of stand alone chapters that each told a portion of the larger story, with chapters that layered upon each other temporally. I'm not sure what it's like from your POV to read it but it is a bear to write, especially when I realize that I've painted Frank into another dead-end and I have to rip up the story in lots of random chapters. So it was a lovely experiment and I'm ready to not do that again. But my point is that the day in which George meets the Martins appears in a few more chapters, so there will be more of that if you were hoping for more Emma+George… and, sadly for Frank, it's not a good day.

P.s., I love to hate Augusta Elton, like she's Caroline Bingley but with fewer redemption opportunities.

The Churchills of Donnwell


Chapter 7: Tedious Dissipations



Mr. Elton's bride was the subject of avid and romantic speculation. She must have been very beautiful indeed if he couldn't stop thinking of her and had to hie to Bath as soon as his responsibilities waned.

As reports filtered back to Highbury through Mr. Cole, and from there to Donwell, a more complete picture began to emerge. She was absolutely lovely, if Mr. Elton was allowed to judge: the prize from a family of beauties. The height of physical perfection, ornamented with impeccable taste, wrapped in wit and intelligence.

Her physical qualities were only surpassed by her accomplishments. She played the piano-forte and sang. She sketched and painted. She embroidered. She was perfectly fluent in Italian, and could read French, German, and Russian.

Added to the whole was a dowry of £10,000, and the good people of the neighborhood felt proud that their vicar had won her hand! Mrs. Churchill, like the rest of the community, was eager to meet this paragon who seemed to rival, if not exceed, Miss Woodhouse's own attractions.

Mr. Elton brought his new bride to the Abbey at the earliest opportunity. She was indeed beautiful, well-dressed, and accomplished, sprinkling her conversation with a charming laugh, an occasional Italian phrase, and references to her married sister. The cream, however, was the deference she showed to the Churchills, for she was very astute when it came to matters of class and social hierarchy.

Mrs. Churchill found her delightful, and sang her praises to all who would listen. She hosted a dinner party to formally introduce Mrs. Elton to the local society. Miss Woodhouse, for her part, declared the vicar's wife to be "very elegant" and organised an assembly in her honor.

In truth, it was Miss Woodhouse and Mrs. Weston who were to organize it, but Mrs. Weston was at that point frequently indisposed. Mrs. Churchill suspected the cause but was too offended by the possibilities to dare inquire. The loss of Mrs. Weston garnered Miss Woodhouse so much support from others, however, that by the time the Churchill carriage rolled up to the hall just five minutes past the desired time, the crowd had been at the assembly hall for half an hour at least.

The Churchills sat at the head table with the Eltons, the Westons and Miss Woodhouse. By some miracle, Mr. Woodhouse also joined them, and Mrs. Churchill was forced to consider which she held in lower regard: Mr. Woodhouse's usual unwillingness to venture from his home, or uneven numbers at the table. His complaints about the excessive noise of the crowd, the large number of dishes, and the richness of the desserts did not endear him in the slightest.

To irk her further, Mr. Woodhouse left immediately after supper despite all his daughter's entreaties that he stay to watch a few dances. He was determined to go, for he knew that all those dancers would heat the room to broiling, and if he were to leave then, the shock of going outside into the cold air, no matter how many blankets and warm bricks were in the carriage, would surely do him in.

As Miss Woodhouse led her father to collect his coat, the couples started forming for the first set. Normally Frank's duty to step up with Miss Woodhouse for the first dance, his aunt had decided to give that honor to Mrs. Elton tonight. Mr. and Mrs. Churchill would dance together, leaving with Mr. Elton the implied duty of shepherding Miss Woodhouse to the dance floor.

But Miss Woodhouse was not presently available! What was Mr. Elton to do? He turned to Mrs. Weston and made a gallant offer. Unwilling to give offense to a guest of honor, she accepted but with a worried look to her husband, who read in it the wish that Emma would not be inadvertently slighted. As Mr. Woodhouse forbade his daughter to linger over a long farewell in front of a drafty door, Emma hurried back to the head table, and she and Mr. Weston were able to join the set before Mr. Churchill signaled the musicians to begin.

After the first dance, Mrs. Churchill was ready to call for her carriage. The room was uncomfortably warm and loud, and would only grow hotter and noisier as the evening wore on. Mr. Elton, however, coaxed her into staying for one more song, bribing the musicians for a slower tune than originally planned so he could dance with the grand dame of Donwell. She took his flattery very well, and Mr. Churchill himself asked Mrs. Elton to join him in the set.

When it was over and the dancers could return to the advertised program, Mr. and Mrs. Churchill made their goodbyes and left the young people to their amusements.

Mr. Elton danced two dances with his wife, and once with many of the women who attended. He stood up nearly as often as his wife. Sadly, he did not engage Miss Woodhouse for a single set. It must have slipped his mind. But he did manage to converse with her for a quarter-hour, during a musicians' break, about how lovely his wife was, and how pleased she was with her new home.




Mrs. Elton spent the next day at home glorying in the attention she received as everyone came to welcome her again to Highbury and to exclaim over the assembly. Everyone came -- including Mrs. Weston and Miss Woodhouse -- except Mrs. Churchill. That poor woman was laid up in bed until the afternoon. Between the fatigue of dancing, the riotous noise, and the rich foods from the night before, she was utterly fagged. Add to that the chill brought on by leaving the superheated assembly room for her carriage, and it was amazing she could raise her head.

Mrs. Elton came to visit her the next day, full of wishes for a speedy recovery. The vicar had already warned her of Mrs. Churchill's delicate health and so she had come prepared with sympathetic phrases and anecdotes.

Mrs. Churchill was almost not of a mind to receive her guest, so miserable she felt, but it was such a kindness to receive the visit, and it would show too much attention for the Donwell carriage to return the call at the Highbury vicarage.

Mrs. Elton had not been long married, but she had already determined that she should set herself up as protégée to Mrs. Churchill. To that end, she applied flattery and attention with a skill matching her husband's. It had already begun to bear fruit, with Mrs. Churchill referring to her as, "Augusta," in an unguarded moment.

"Mrs. Churchill," said the newlywed, "I cannot figure Mr. Woodhouse out. He confounds me!"

"Whatever do you mean?" came the encouraging reply.

"I was speaking with Miss Woodhouse when she came by yesterday, and suggested she take her father to Bath. The waters would do him a world of good, I know, but she said her father wouldn't hear of it. I swear she was even a little offended for his sake that I brought it up." Mrs. Elton had learned that, while she might not attack Miss Woodhouse directly, Mrs. Churchill was more than willing to listen to criticisms of Mr. Woodhouse.

Mrs. Churchill tutted. "The poor man fancies himself an invalid," she sighed regretfully. "Much as I approve of her devotion, I quite despair for his daughter. A change of scenery would be her salvation."

"If only she would go to Bath!" opined Mrs. Elton.

After a lull, Mrs. Elton continued. "I believe I interrupted two girls in the bakery yesterday, gossiping about one of your tenants," she said conspiratorially for there could be no doubt who she meant. "I wanted to say something but my hands were tied. After all, it is not a cautionary tale that teaches brazenness over decorum."

This was all the encouragement Mrs. Churchill needed, and she expounded on that subject for many minutes.

"What I do not understand," said Mrs. Elton when she could get a word in, "is why so many people still stand by her! Why, even Miss Woodhouse --"

"Emma had befriended her before the scandal broke, and thus could not appear to abandon her."

Mrs. Elton could only shake her head over "Country manners! In the towns like London and Bath, one can drop an unworthy acquaintance and be respected for it."

She had just realized she had more to say when a servant announced Miss Woodhouse.

"Miss Woodhouse!" Mrs. Elton exclaimed, tittering nervously, "we were just talking about you."

"All good, I hope," responded Miss Woodhouse as she stepped forward to greet her hostess.

Mrs. Elton did not trust herself to speak, but she needn't have worried as Mrs. Churchill had the situation very much in hand.

"And how is your father?" asked the mistress of Donwell. "Is he fully recovered from his exertions?"

Miss Woodhouse smiled and took her usual seat. "He is much as he always is, thank you for asking. And how are you, dear Mrs. Churchill? I heard that you were quite unwell."

That was a subject Mrs. Churchill loved to discuss.

When that topic was sufficiently canvassed, Miss Woodhouse spoke again. "I confess, my reasons for coming are twofold. And knowing you are better, I can come to my next object. As I mentioned before, George Knightley will travel through Surrey on business and has asked to stay at Hartfield -- so much better than an inn! -- while he is in the area."

"Who is George Knightley? My caro sposo has never mentioned him," said Mrs. Elton cautiously, not unconvinced that Miss Woodhouse had another undesirable friend.

"Oh, Mr. Knightley is a true gentleman," said Mrs. Churchill, and waxed long in her proofs, leaving Mrs. Elton firmly convinced that she should cultivate an acquaintance with such a man.

"Yes, he is quite wonderful," agreed Emma Woodhouse with less enthusiasm, "but I have received confirmation from him on the exact dates of his stay. I despair that his visit will coincide with the dinner you plan to give."

That was all the hint Mrs. Churchill needed. "You must bring him! I insist!"

"But your numbers," Emma protested.

"I am sure --" she began. "Oh, but he will make 13! We must think of something."

Mrs. Elton saw a way she could be of use. "I have just the thing! A cousin who was unable to attend the wedding is right now in London. I could have Mr. E pop into town early next week to collect her and then bring her to dinner. That would even your numbers, ma'am."

"A cousin? Who is she?" Mrs. Churchill asked, unwilling to open her home to strangers.

"Arabelle is a cousin on my mother's side," explained Mrs. Elton. "She only has 7,000, but I vouch she is a perfect gentlewoman."

That was all the evidence required, and the young women sat and watched Mrs. Churchill pen two invitations to go out in the evening post. Miss Woodhouse stayed a little longer, discussing parish business and the date determined for Miss Fairfax's return to Highbury.

"You will be so pleased that I have already begun to prepare for Jane Fairfax," announced Mrs. Elton.

"How so?" Emma inquired.

"Since I have learned of her tenuous position, I have written to some friends to see if they know anyone seeking a governess."

"A governess!" Miss Woodhouse remarked with dismay. "I believe her guardians brought her up to be a gentlewoman."

Mrs. Elton was nettled by the comment. After all, Cousin Arabelle's £7,000 was surely sign of a gentlewoman, but she had not heard that the Campbells had set aside any provision for their ward. It was foolhardy to have raised the girl to standards she could not hope to maintain, and Mrs. Elton pitied her, but it was time to set aside childish dreams and to be practical.

"The story of Miss Fairfax's parents is indeed sad," Mrs. Elton said, having endured Miss Bates' retelling many times, "and the charity the Campbells have shown in raising her is commendable. They may have brought her up as their own daughter but in returning her to her family, they are signalling the end of their obligation on that score. And if Jane Fairfax, for all the advantages of her upbringing, was unable to snare a rich husband in London, she surely will not find one in Highbury where the best catch for miles around is Frank Churchill now that Mr. Elton is off the market, if you don't mind my saying so."

Mr. Elton had set his sights too high when he had aimed for Miss Woodhouse, but he had struck too low with Miss Hawkins, thought Emma. She was silently furious that Mrs. Elton had put the idea in Mrs. Churchill's head, for the older woman immediately began to fear the girl. Frank, for all the time he had snuck off to London on some trumped-up pretext or other, had yet to mention his beloved Jane even to his uncle, by far the more reasonable of the pair, and Mrs. Elton had made everything suddenly harder.

"I am afraid Augusta is right, Emma dear," said Mrs. Churchill. "If the Campbells have provided Miss Fairfax with an education but not a fortune, then her lot must be that of a governess. I will begin to mention her in my own letters and we shall see, Mrs. Elton, which of us is able to place her first."

Miss Woodhouse attempted to stay those helpful hands. "Let us wait until Miss Fairfax arrives before we get rid of her," she suggested. "She has been so long away from her family that she may not choose to quit it immediately."

"Oh, as for that," Mrs. Elton said with authority, "make no mistake, Jane Fairfax knows to strike while the iron is hot. Being cast off by the Campbells, she will be desperate to secure some future for herself. I only hope she will show a little prudence and not go grasping at any improper opportunity."

That response could only excite greater fears in Mrs. Churchill, who imagined Frank as that improper opportunity. Emma was forced to be firm.

"Forgive me for disagreeing with you, Mrs. Elton," she said, "but I have known Jane Fairfax since we were children. She is nothing like the person you describe." Emma wished to go further in her praise but feared what she might say were she to speak too freely.

Mrs. Elton smiled benevolently. "Her aunt tells me that Jane Fairfax has not been seen in Highbury, except briefly, for several years. I am sure, Miss Woodhouse, that however close you were as children, you are both of you changed so much as to render yourselves unrecognizable one to the other."

Mrs. Churchill could see the larger argument building and, having no desire to see a rift between her two close friends, intervened to end the subject. "I suppose there is nothing to do but to wait for Miss Fairfax to arrive and to judge for ourselves how she is. Personally, I hope she is just like you, Miss Woodhouse, but one must not expect to meet with such admirable young women every day."

Emma was now much too worried for Frank's cause to stay much longer. Having secured an invitation for her brother-in-law, she had no further announced aim, and thanked her hostess one last time before departing. She had to find Frank right away and make him talk with his uncle!

With Miss Woodhouse gone, Mrs. Elton would have dearly loved to have criticized the girl's defense of Jane Fairfax. It was all of a piece: Anne Weston, Jane Fairfax, Harriet Martin. Who knew what undeserving slattern would Miss Woodhouse champion next? As the belle of Highbury, Miss Woodhouse should be more discriminating in her friendships.

Mrs. Elton tried to lead by example. After all, as Mr. Elton's wife she was expected to interact with all levels of society, but as a respectable woman she would not allow herself to become too close with anyone undeserving. Miss Woodhouse, too indulged by a father who would not or could not rein her in, did not realize the damage she did to the social fabric. Mrs. Elton was even slightly shocked to see how the Churchills indulged Emma Woodhouse, especially when one considered their plans for Emma and Frank.

Mrs. Elton would have happily remained in her seat for another half-hour longer but Mrs. Churchill began to hint that she was fatigued. The vicar's wife was not perfectly willing to quit her place, however, and began a new line of conversation.

"Mrs. Churchill, I hate to say it, but have you ever considered taking your family to Bath?" Mrs. Churchill had not. "It is all perfectly respectable, I assure you," she said. "There are plenty of family entertainments: plays, musicals, dancing. Typically, the price of admission separates the wheat from the chaff, so you need not fear the quality of the people you meet. I do so wish you would go, all three of you. The waters are so very salubrious, Mrs. Churchill, and you could introduce your nephew to a wider circle than he will encounter around Donwell." That was as bold as she dared be about the unsuitability of Emma Woodhouse for the next mistress of the Abbey.

Mrs. Churchill first pooh-poohed the idea, but not vehemently. Mrs. Elton recorded it as progress and bid her goodbye.
SubjectAuthorPosted

COD, 7

NN SSeptember 21, 2017 09:53PM

Re: COD, 7

NickiSeptember 22, 2017 09:25AM



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