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COD, 9

September 28, 2017 09:44PM
Again, a little bit of Emma + George for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

And Mr. Churchill is also a favorite not-favorite of mine.

The Churchills of Donwell

Chapter 9: Pernicious Upstart

"Miss Woodhouse, I could not help but notice Frank Churchill's behavior tonight," Mr. Knightley began as the carriage pulled away from Donwell.

"Do you think his aunt noticed?" asked Emma with some worry.

"She would be blind not to," he answered.

"Oh, dear," was all she could say. Whatever had happened between Frank and Jane had spilled out into tonight's party and now Frank was going to hear about it, make no mistake of that.

"You are far too generous," he told her. "Reason was offended on your behalf. If Frank Churchill was trying to make you jealous of Miss Platt, then it was in poor taste. And if Frank Churchill honestly prefers Miss Platt to you, then he has no taste at all."

Emma was surprised at his warm defense. She knew from letters from town that Isabella viewed George Knightley as a brother, but Emma had seen him so rarely over the years that she could not feel the same. Indeed, she viewed Frank Churchill like a brother and, in such capacity, she worried about him and what tonight's performance meant about his long-term happiness. Frank was simply not clever enough to test the waters with someone so unsuitable as Miss Platt before revealing Jane Fairfax to be his first choice.

"What was he thinking?" she mused aloud. She would get no answers tonight, nor tomorrow in all probability.

"I doubt he was thinking at all!" Mr. Knightley huffed. "For my part, I cannot see the attractions of a girl like Miss Platt. She is not the sort of girl I would prefer."

"Forgive me, Mr. Knightley but, as a bachelor, there are so many women you do not prefer that one cannot discern any slight intended in your comment."

"Am I unclear?" he asked. "Very well. Her fortune -- and any sense it should have bought -- was not on display in Donwell's dining room. Her conversation consisted of saying, Oh really? Do tell! and laughing uproariously. And her manners were more suited to a pantomime on a stage."

Emma silently agreed with him. Miss Platt was a little too close to Emma's imagined caricature for comfort, but she could not resist the urge to tease. "If I am too generous with Frank, you are too stinting with Miss Platt. Her manners were stilted but only because she was among strangers and desirous of being pleased with all she encountered. Her looks, while you are ready to disregard them, are what many men regard as handsome, and some may call beautiful. I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess, her £7,000 notwithstanding."

"You cannot be serious," he told her, not seeing her sly smile in the dimness. "A man of sense will not bind himself to a Miss Platt, be she uncommonly pretty and rich. He knows that sooner or later, looks or money will not paper over the flaws in character and intelligence, and he will be trapped in an unhappy marriage until the end of his days."

"You have much to say on this subject for an old bachelor," Emma commented.

“I have thought on it a great deal. Had I any less, I might not be a bachelor.”

Emma thought he was being intentionally humorous. The moon had outstripped the clouds and shone down on the landscape, and now he could see her white teeth smiling. He returned the gesture.

"Come now," he said. "Take my hand and tell me truly, were you not hurt by Frank Churchill's performance tonight?"

Emma sighed. How many times did she have to tell this man that there was nothing between her and Frank before he believed her? Nothing short of being courted by some handsome young fellow, marrying him, bearing his children, and watching said children grow and develop lives of their own which would be on display at her golden wedding anniversary would convince Mr. Knightley that she was no longer in love with Frank. Still she reached out to pat his wrist absently when she was suddenly seized by a bit of cleverness.

"I say, Mr. Knightley," she said, gripping his wrist, "you are a man who occasionally possesses greater insight than others around you. Are you absolutely sure that Mrs. Churchill noticed Frank's behavior?"

"Absolutely!" he averred.

"And are you certain that she interpreted it as a romantic interest in Miss Platt at my expense?"

"Yes," he said. "There can be no two interpretations of tonight's events."

"And she will naturally assume that I am wounded by Frank's public rejection?"

"Of course!" he agreed. "That is what I am saying."

Emma released her hold on him and leaned back in her seat. If Mrs. Churchill thought that Emma had taken offense, if Emma continued to act hurt by Frank's display, perhaps it would convince the older woman that Emma and Frank were never going to marry each other. It was not as good as securing the Churchills' blessing for Frank and Miss Fairfax, but knowing that Emma was resolved against Frank would make other steps easier to take.

"You are perfectly right, Mr. Knightley," she said at last. "I do not know why I refused to see it before. I have been ill-used, and I will not soon forget it."

Her companion stared at her. A transformation had seemed to take place before his very eyes though it had been too dim to notice. It also rang false, but he could scarcely accuse her of inventing outrage, not after he had repeatedly attempted to get her to admit of secretly harboring plans to marry the dolt.

Still, he couldn't stop himself from saying, "You are teasing me, Emma."

Now she was offended. She couldn't be in love with Frank Churchill and she couldn't not be in love with Frank Churchill. George Knightley simply did not know what to make of a woman who knew her own mind. "If you know the truth of my feelings better than I," she challenged him, "pray explain it to me. Be sure to use simple, unambiguous words so that I may finally understand myself."

Mr. Knightley frowned but he knew better than to take the bait. All he had wanted to do was to ease the heartache Miss Woodhouse was no doubt feeling after tonight's dinner party, and all he had succeeded in doing was to offend her far more than Frank Churchill had. Having grown up without a sister, having reached middle age without a wife, he was forced to admit he did not understand women in the slightest and would probably remain a bachelor to the end of his days.

He did not voice these thoughts, and it would have given him no comfort to learn that this was one topic on which Emma Woodhouse agreed with him.

Frank Churchill was deservedly miserable. His aunt had devoted the entire morning to letting him know how just how abominable his behavior had been at dinner. She had been haughty and imperious, commanding him to break off all ties with Miss Platt. It was one thing to be friendly and welcoming, but his flirtatious behavior went too far, to the point where he had offended his family and Miss Woodhouse and any other person of good sense, and no doubt excited expectations in a young woman who was so totally unsuitable and grasping. Frank found this observation especially disturbing when he compared Miss Platt's £7,000 to Jane's significantly smaller fortune. That thought led him back to the realization that his future with Jane was likely impossible, which only drove him deeper into misery.

Mrs. Churchill finally returned to her rooms, declaring herself too ill to receive visitors today. Lest Frank believed her present indisposition was unrelated to his earlier misbehavior, she set him straight on that account before she retired, and as she swept from the breakfast room she issued a final injunction forbidding him from having any further contact with the loathsome Miss Platt ever again.

His uncle was unsympathetic to the point of accusing Frank of staging the whole debacle to bring this Miss Fairfax business to a head. And if matters did not turn out the way he had planned, Frank had only himself to blame! For his part, Mr. Churchill had felt physically unwell ever since the disaster began and he would be very much surprised if there was another dinner party at Donwell before summer. And then there was the Elton-Platt business to patch up, for he was certain that expectations were raised there, and naturally Miss Woodhouse was a smart girl and had seen a sorry eyeful last night.

"But I've already told you," interrupted Frank piteously, "Emma and I --"

"Have you told your aunt?" countered Mr. Churchill, knowing his nephew had not. "Then you cannot have told me!" Those words clanged painfully in Frank’s head, rolling around with a dark echo of Colonel Campbell’s words from the day before.

That settled the matter, making clear to Frank just how much his thoughtlessness had cost him. He had no ally, no mediator at home; not even a messenger. If anyone was to convince his aunt to accept Jane, it would have to be Frank. Likewise, if there was anyone to prove to Jane’s family that he deserved her, it would be him. And at this moment, he felt completely unequal to these challenges.

His only possible salvation lay with Emma Woodhouse. His uncle had the right of it, Emma was intelligent, far more clever than Frank. If there was a way out of this mess, Emma would find it.

Custom and experience, however, dictated that he would get no help from his friend today. The day was sufficiently advanced that George Knightley was already on the London road, but Hartfield and Mr. Woodhouse were no doubt still recovering from the change in their quotidian routines, and Emma would be too busy seeing to her father's comfort to consider Frank's dismal situation.

But he could not go to Emma, he realized. Had the colonel not just verbally stropped him for spending too much time in Miss Woodhouse's company, giving rise to all sorts of rumor? What would Jane think if he immediately flew to Hartfield after being sent away by the colonel?

But he must escape from the Abbey! His uncle and his aunt had made the building so unaccommodating, and the dining room and parlor revived such unfortunate memories of yesterday, that he could not bear it.

He decided a ride to Randalls would clear his head, and he was smart enough about it not to mention his exact destination to the groom in case the Churchills did not appreciate the Westons' influence on Frank at this moment.

His father was unable to greet him when he arrived so he sat down to tea with his stepmother until Mr. Weston was finished with his letters.

Mrs. Weston had never harbored any romantic delusions about Emma and Frank, having been the governess at Hartfield for many years. But for all that she knew of who Frank was not in love with, she was unaware of Jane Fairfax, having never been in Frank's confidence before. After having witnessed Frank's attentions to Miss Platt at the party, however, she was willing to champion Mrs. Elton's cousin; she had experienced for herself the coldness from Mrs. Churchill when she had traded the name Taylor for Weston and she knew that anyone who won Frank's heart would face a serious challenge in overcoming the dislike of the Churchills of Donwell. If she could in any way help her stepson and his intended, she was happy to do so.

"So!" she began when Frank was equipped with cup and saucer. "Miss Platt --"

Frank groaned loudly. "Ma'am, please may we not discuss that subject! I am too much embarrassed to endure additional scrutiny."

Mrs. Weston immediately surmised that the Churchills had already taken young Frank to task for his interest. "Frank, you must not let others decide such personal and weighty matters for you. We must all of us follow the dictates of our own hearts, because we are the ones who must live with the consequences. Some in your family may be disappointed at first, but they will outgrow it. And you may always depend upon your father and me to support you whatever you do.”

She thought she managed that speech rather well but Frank could only feel a numb horror at her words as they applied to both Jane Fairfax and Arabelle Platt. Even as she turned the conversation to more comfortable topics, he could not be easy and after a quarter-hour’s tête-à-tête begged his excuses to his father and was gone.

He was not yet ready to return home, but now Randalls and Hartfield were closed to him. The Bateses’ modest apartments should likewise be avoided after the colonel’s clear rejection of his suit, but he could not alter his direction once he had set himself on that path.

But there he found a sort of repose. He need not say much so long as he looked encouraging. Mrs. Bates was more than a trifle deaf so she could never hear him anyway, and Miss Bates presented such a steady stream of innocuous, unvarying chatter, that he could forget whether he and Jane had recently fallen out or if they had already reconciled, or perhaps they had not even met yet.

He went there often in the days following his disgrace. Mrs. Elton never visited the Bateses, so he need not fear to encounter her, and his aunt would never call on these modest apartments. Miss Bates was such a remarkable contrast to Mrs. Churchill that for the longest time he didn't realise he was comparing the two women, but it humbled him when he finally realized it and knew it would make his aunt furious.

Mrs. Churchill did not cease to berate her nephew until Arabelle Platt was returned to town. What made it worse was that a coolness had sprung up from Hartfield; Miss Woodhouse called but only when Frank was not at home, and she always had some ready excuse to leave at the end of her quarter-hour. When Mrs. Churchill brought up the topic of her nephew, Emma’s mouth pressed into a thin line and her eyes traced patterns on the carpet. It was as if Miss Woodhouse had suddenly woken to the thought that Frank Churchill was not her ideal match and was trying desperately to find a way to extricate herself from the unspoken understanding.

As the aggrieved local party in the Platt Debacle, the larger community would side with her whichever way she chose. True, Miss Platt was the vicar’s cousin but she had been trucked back to town under such a cloud that her innocence in the scandal was only protested as a matter of form. If Emma Woodhouse could forgive Frank Churchill for his ridiculous behavior, nobody else would ever be so rude and thoughtless as to speak of it again. If she could not forgive him, then it did not much matter how preordained their union was. Frank Churchill had squandered his chance and there was no reason why anyone else should suffer for it.

Mrs. Churchill heard enough scraps of hastily silenced rumors to fill in the rest. Frank’s future with Miss Woodhouse was dangling on a precipice, and a cold wind was blowing.

Increasingly worried that an irreparable rift was growing between Frank and Emma, Mrs. Churchill decided to speak plainly to her nephew at dinner a fortnight after the scandal first happened.

"I do so hate to see you at odds with Miss Woodhouse, but you brought it upon yourself with that ridiculous Miss Platt," she reminded him with her usual candor. "I am curious to hear how you plan to win Miss Woodhouse’s forgiveness. Surely enough time has passed for you to begin your attempt?" It was too much to hope that Miss Woodhouse would force Frank to come to the point, not with her father so unseasonably hale. But Mrs. Churchill would not refuse the connection no matter the timing.

Frank, however, had spent the last two weeks thinking of all the mistakes he had made that had led him to this defeat, not just in the time since he had met Jane, but the many months and years prior which had established his character and reputation. His desire to avoid conflict had put him too much in his uncle and aunt's power, and unbeknownst to them, he had never before been so at odds with them as now.

“I am sure there is nothing to worry about with Miss Woodhouse,” said Frank, feeling again the impropriety of befriending his neighbor.

“I hate to see a coolness between you,” his aunt said again.

“If there is any perception of coolness now, it is only because there was too much warmth between us earlier,” he said, feeling testy. It had never seemed like mischief before, to go to Emma constantly for help or intervention, but now he could clearly see how others viewed the situation and it embarrassed him. To think that he had unwittingly hurt Jane brought the pain back to himself.

Mr. and Mrs. Churchill shared a look. This sounded too much like the Frank that had run off to town at a moment's notice for a haircut. He had been so meek in the last fortnight that they were hoping he had outgrown some of his recklessness. Mr. Churchill in particular wished to believe that Frank had ended an unworthy fascination.

“But it is perfectly natural for the two of you to be close; you have known each other all your lives,” said Mrs. Churchill. Had she left it at that it was not a point against which Frank could have argued. “You two make the perfect couple and I am sure that people are merely worried that Miss Platt has driven a wedge between you. Settling matters with Miss Woodhouse would go a long way to easing everyone's minds.”

This, however, deserved to be refuted. “But I do not want to settle things with Miss Woodhouse,” Frank whined. “Or, at least, not in the way you have in mind. We have long ago decided not to marry each other.”

Mrs. Churchill was shocked by this pronouncement, and Mr. Churchill looked even more surprised than she did.

“What can you mean by that?” she asked uncomprehendingly.

“Only that I shall never marry Emma Woodhouse, and she shall never marry me.” It was a relief to say it aloud to his aunt but it was not a pleasure in which he could long indulge. He listened briefly to inarticulate protestations before rising from the table, tendering his apologies, and retiring to his room for the remainder of the evening.

His uncle and aunt gaped silently at each other after he had gone, wondering what they had just witnessed.

“Do you understand what has gotten into him?” asked Mrs. Churchill with some concern.

Mr. Churchill started to shake his head before he shrugged and said, “I was going to ask you the same thing.” With that, he fell silent.

“Well, do not you think you should speak with him?” prompted the wife.

“Now?” begged the husband. “He does not appear to wish to speak with either of us. I shall talk with him tomorrow when he is in a better mood.”

Mrs. Churchill tried to use gentle persuasion but she was unable to shift her husband and master; Mr. Churchill would not speak with his nephew again today. Mrs. Churchill was left to her own imagination as to what was behind Frank’s outburst.

Morning brought Frank out of sequester and down to breakfast where his uncle and aunt were waiting for him.

No one spoke of the night before, not even after Mrs. Churchill rose and left the room with a prompting look to her husband. Bartholomew Churchill planned to avoid this confrontation for as long as possible.

It was not until the men retired to a sitting room favored for its morning light, speaking of some pet project of Endicott’s, that Mrs. Churchill greeted them with an expectant, “Well?” and they realized they were trapped.

“Well, Ma'am?” Frank repeated with innocence.

“Well,” repeated Mrs. Churchill with a tinge of annoyance, “has your uncle coaxed from you a satisfying explanation for your behavior yesterday?”

“We did not discuss it,” Frank said, taking a juvenile pleasure in putting his uncle on the spot, even though he knew his reprieve would be short lived.

Mrs. Churchill spared a disapproving glare for her husband before she turned once more to the matter at hand.

“Frank,” she said, “your behavior yesterday was something of a mystery. You said such strange and confusing things that we do not know what to make of it.” It was a generous opening from her.

Frank began with the simple declaration that, “I am not going to marry Emma Woodhouse.” After a short pause, he decided to leave it at that. It was not in his power to announce another engagement; the colonel had seen to that. And he was also against bringing Jane to his aunt's attention; his hopes for her were dashed but he felt more than ever the need to shield her from further harm.

Mrs. Churchill was as perplexed by this announcement in the morning as she had been the day previous. “But how is that possible? Everyone knows you are meant for each other.”

Frank came dangerously close to being angry but realized he was just as much to blame as anyone else. He took a deep breath before speaking. “Then I must make clear my intentions before any additional mischief is done.” With that he rose as if he would immediately leave the Abbey to broadcast his lack of intent across the county.

“Stop!” commanded his aunt. “You cannot be serious! This is Emma Woodhouse you are talking about, take care,” she warned.

Instead of quitting the room, Frank stepped to his aunt and sat next to her. He took one of her hands in his. “Emma knows my feelings, and she shares them. I never wanted to disappoint you, but I cannot continue to deceive you. I cannot go on like this.”

Mrs. Churchill gaped in mute horror. For a moment, all her plans for the future of Donwell Abbey came crashing about her ears.

“No!” The denial came from deep within her. “No, you are wrong. Emma is hurt and angered by your recent idiocy; that is all. She will forgive you if you are supplicant. You are dangerously close to throwing away your chance at happiness over a girl who is not fit to grace a farmer’s sitting room!”

Frank’s knew that his aunt was still incensed over Miss Platt, that she knew not enough to suspect Jane Fairfax of being Frank's inamorata, but her reaction only underscored the soundness of his decision to make no mention of Jane.

They were at an impasse and there was no point in continuing. Frank was unable to persuade his aunt to accept his decision -- it was futile for him to try -- and, despite the strength of her arguments, Mrs. Churchill could not convince Frank that he was wrong enough to abandon his foolhardy resolution. He tendered his apologies again and bowed himself out.

COD, 9

NN SSeptember 28, 2017 09:44PM

Re: COD, 9

AiOctober 05, 2017 03:57AM

Re: COD, 9

TinaOctober 02, 2017 04:49AM

Re: COD, 9

NickiSeptember 29, 2017 10:08AM

Re: COD, 9

JiannsSeptember 29, 2017 07:03AM


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