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COD, 12

October 09, 2017 10:33PM

The Churchills of Donwell


Chapter 12: Unfortunate Setback



Emma Woodhouse was lonely.

She was not lonely because she was bored and lacked for things to do. She met often and sometimes for hours with the various senior members of the household staff to ensure the smooth management of Hartfield. She had her usual routine of calls and callers. She had her charity visits. She had her correspondence. She had her father. When truly bored, she had her music. What she wanted, however, was a companion, and she had no idea how to procure one.

Her father was, in some respects, a dependable companion; he never left Hartfield unless she was with him and she always knew where to find him, but he was her father. He would not do as a peer or confidant.

Mrs. Weston had been her companion, and Isabella before that. Both had left Hartfield to enter their husbands’ houses, and both were still close to her. And yet, Isabella's letters were getting shorter as the children made more claims on her time. The content of her letters, too, was growing more and more removed from a life Emma recognized. Perhaps that would change when Mrs. Weston had a child and Emma could witness firsthand every advance rather than reading about it for ten or eleven months of the year. Or perhaps Mrs. Weston would simply be too busy being a mother to have time for Emma.

Harriet Smith had been a perfect companion for Emma -- lively and pretty, slightly younger, not very educated, with no family home to claim her. Emma had well imagined the seasons they would pass, until Harriet had received an offer of marriage from an unlikely source. And, as much as Emma would have liked to keep her friend close to her, she knew it was better for Harriet to become Mrs. Robert Martin. Indeed, after overcoming a few unpleasant obstacles, Harriet had thrived as a farmer’s wife, up to the moment her new family was forced to leave the area.

That departure had been a blow to Emma, even more than it had been for Harriet. For while Harriet was going to an unknown place with people who loved and valued her, and quitting a place that had become a constant reminder of acrimony, Emma was staying behind. And not only had Emma played a significant part in finding a distant home for the Martins, she had practically guaranteed that she would never see Harriet again, because the Martins would surely never return to Donwell after how they had been treated by the Churchills, and Emma could not imagine the fortuitous circumstance that would allow her to travel so far from Hartfield as Enscombe.

As it had been with Isabella, Emma was forced to interpret a life through letters as the demands of the here-and-now slowly made Emma less and less relevant to her correspondent.

There were others in her circle of acquaintances -- Mrs. Elton, Miss Bates, Mrs. Cole, Mr. Avery, Mrs. Hodges; she had even asked Mrs. Goddard if there were any more boarders that would benefit from her guidance -- but she could not find the sort of companion she sought anywhere she looked.

But at least she still had Frank Churchill, or so she thought. Yes, they hadn't spoken to each other since the dinner party at Donwell Abbey, but that was a temporary break. It needed only last as long as it took for Mrs. Churchill to realize that Emma would never marry Frank. Granted, that was probably longer than Emma would like, but she was certain that everything would be back to normal soon enough. In the meantime, she needed to be steadfastly cool at the mention of her friend, and make it clear to all observers how mistaken their assumptions were.

And then she had talked with Frank, and she realized it would never be the same again. He had claimed that Jane Fairfax had heard rumors linking his name with Emma’s. Emma could see in an instant how the mischief was done, and just how badly this must have hurt Miss Fairfax who, like Emma, was dependent upon her correspondents for an imperfect understanding of a community that was out of reach.

Frank loved Jane and, while his past easy behavior had hurt her, he would not intentionally cause her additional suffering. He had to be more cautious from now on. And, should he succeed at last, should Miss Fairfax forgive his youthful indiscretion of harmlessly flirting with a neighbor, there was no guarantee that Miss Fairfax’s forgiveness would extend to Emma. Jane Fairfax might never see Emma as a friend, and she might never want Frank to treat her as such either. And besides, how long would it take before a married Frank developed cares and interests which Emma could not share with equal vigor?

Emma did not love Frank. Not romantically, of that she was certain. But he was like a brother to her, and a dear friend. And she was running out of friends.

Talking with her father, listening to him bemoan the natural progression of time -- weddings, christenings, illnesses, funerals -- she felt a darkness fall across her future and couldn’t not imagine what might lift it.




Isabella was coming to Hartfield, with all her Knightleys. Let that be the bright spot in Emma’s future, the happiness she could work toward. Calls had to be made. Amusements had to be planned. Rooms and menus had to be prepared. And, if she was lucky, a visit to London could be arranged.

Miss Woodhouse even managed to convince Mrs. Churchill to host a strawberry party at the abbey; it was just the sort of thing that the children would love. Mrs. Churchill had been difficult to persuade at first, but Emma was not above mentioning that George Knightley would enjoy that sort of gathering. The older woman had a soft spot for the gentleman of Enscombe and Emma did not scruple to exploit that.

As the arrival of the Knightleys drew nigh, Emma was in a flurry of preparation. She went on her usual circuit of calls, nearly giddy with the announcement that the next time her neighbours saw her, her sister would be by her side.

That news, however, was nothing compared to what Miss Bates had to share, for as Emma was shown into the Bateses’ sitting room, she found a vaguely familiar face already there which could only belong to Jane Fairfax. Seated next to her was a cosmopolitan-looking woman of an age with Miss Bates who was introduced as Mrs. Campbell.

Of course, Miss Bates did the introductions so it was not immediately that Emma learned the identity of the other woman or how the two came to Mrs. Bates’ sitting room. But, by listening to one word in ten, Emma was soon able to figure it out.

During Miss Bates’ rambling monologue, Emma had plenty of time to observe Miss Fairfax and Mrs. Campbell. The younger woman could barely look about her and, on the rare instances in which she did, Jane dropped her gaze again as soon as she noticed Emma's attention. Miss Fairfax might be shy but she was extremely beautiful, so Emma could not fault Frank’s taste. She also knew from listening to her neighbors that Jane had a not-inconsiderable list of accomplishments. Were Emma to compare Miss Fairfax with someone else of her acquaintance -- Mrs. Elton, perhaps -- she was sure that Miss Fairfax would be rated superior despite a lack of obvious fortune. The shyness, however, was a serious impediment, Emma realized, for Mrs. Churchill would not simply give over with good grace, and Frank needed a young woman willing to fight alongside him for her place in that family. But then again, maybe Miss Fairfax simply felt awkward around Miss Woodhouse due to rumors linking Emma to Frank. Maybe Miss Fairfax was far more open and well-spoken around those who made her feel comfortable. Maybe all she needed was time to exert herself.

Mrs. Campbell, on the other hand, met Emma’s eyes boldly and took her measure in such a way that Emma wondered if she had found an ally. Emma extended an olive branch of sorts by expressing a hope that these guests would be able to attend the numerous events that were planned once the Knightleys were here. She personally invited the two to Hartfield for the tea she had organized and Mrs. Campbell gladly accepted for the both of them. Emma chatted with her until it was time to leave. As she listened to Miss Bates’ parting effusions, she felt hopeful that Mrs. Campbell understood that Frank Churchill was not a romantic object to Emma or, if she was not quite convinced, Emma believed that there would be ample opportunity to make her disinterest clear over the coming week.

Emma went through the rest of her calls with uncharacteristic inattentiveness. It was a relief to her when she was home and able to indulge in the musings of what had brought Jane Fairfax to Highbury, and what Frank Churchill would do about it. While Emma missed spending time with her friend, she still wanted him to be happy, and strove to figure out how she could help. She wanted desperately to send a note to the Abbey to break the news, but she had found out that Mrs. Elton had already carried it to Donwell yesterday, and that Frank was dancing attendance on his aunt after Mr. Perry had been called there yesterday evening. Frank had to know by now, but it did not follow that he was at liberty to call on Jane today. Emma did not know how exactly matters had been left between the two, but she knew it was not peaceful. Jane might not welcome Frank yet, or she might not approve of him abandoning his sick relative to pursue a woman who did not wish to be pursued. It was most distracting and, had Emma not expected her sister the next day, she would have certainly spent hours trying to puzzle out the thoughts and feelings of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax.




Until the carriages came into view, Emma still held some fear that they would be delayed. The Knightleys travelled in two carriages -- one devoted solely to the children and their nurse -- and any number of mishaps could have stopped them before they even got on the road. She had admitted none of this to her father; he spent too much time darkly predicting untold misfortunes for Emma to add anything to it. Instead, she was silent and watchful until she could dash to the front door and skip about the gravel as they approached.

She was warm in her greetings to the point of being effusive. The children revelled in it until their grandfather began to fidget, and then Emma sent them into the garden with a maid to run around while their nurse got the nursery tea ready. Even George Knightley was included in her greetings which left him confused and wary. In their dealings together, she tended to run hot and cold with him, and this graciousness was sure to be soon offset by some affront.

She at last sent the travellers upstairs to recover from their journey, with the promise of tea when they were refreshed. She and her father repaired to the sitting room where Mr. Woodhouse resumed his favorite seat by the fire and promptly fell asleep.

Emma picked up her latest embroidery project and smiled at the domestic tableau. It was good to have Isabella in the house again, she thought, and waited for her sister to appear.

George Knightley was the first to arrive, Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley having stopped at the nursery before joining the adults. He brought with him a small bundle which he gave to Emma.

“Of course you remember the Martins,” he began, “and you may be sure they remember you. Had I known I was accepting a tenant who worshipped you like a saint, I might have reconsidered, for I hear nothing from Mrs. Robert but how good you are. It makes me feel quite rotten in comparison.”

Emma smile again and accepted the gift which bore evidence of Harriet’s wrapping technique. “Come now, Mr. Knightley,” she teased him, “your opinion of me must certainly be too fixed to be moved much by the words of another.”

“Fixed?” he repeated. “You are not constant, so why should my opinion be? Every time I think you sweet and kind, a feminine ideal, you lash out at me. And every time I think you pitiless and unfeeling, you reveal inner beauty.” It was more true that he intended to admit but it would be worse to attempt a retraction. The Martins had all taken Miss Woodhouse as their champion and savior and could not see him without voicing their thanks to her. In consequence, George had thought a great deal about Emma Woodhouse recently; as an old bachelor, there was enough novelty in it that he persisted despite the futility.

Emma was uncertain how to respond, so she settled for opening the package from Harriet. It was a drawing of a farmhouse with a family arrayed in front. Harriet had never excelled at drawing, but Emma recognized the figures instantly as being the members of the Martin family, with Harriet herself included as an afterthought on the end. She must have asked the others to pose in front of the house as she sketched it.

“What have you there?” asked John Knightley as he escorted his wife into the room. Emma showed them the drawing and George explained its history lest they think the gift originated with him.

Then, setting it aside, Emma performed her duties as hostess, making tea for her guests and gently rousing her father. There was much to discuss and, after settling Mr. Woodhouse’s repeatedly voiced concerns about the children and their travel, Isabella was able to pry from her sister the details of planned amusements.

“We are having a tea at Hartfield,” Emma began to list them off; “a dinner at the Coles’; Mrs. Elton is organizing an afternoon musicale at which you and I will both be expected to exhibit, Isabella; Mrs. Churchill is having a strawberry party; and the Westons are having a ball.”

“And, if Papa does not mind, I shall finally whisk you off to London for a day or two while John and George keep an eye on the children,” said Isabella with a wink at her husband.

“All that!” cried John with some humor. “I thought we came to the country to get away from the bustle of the city. It turns out we have merely swapped one venue for another. Had I wanted a rest, I suppose I should have insisted on going to Enscombe.”

“I doubt that you will have too much to do,” said Isabella. “After all, you will not be involved in any of the planning or preparation, with the exception of staying out of the way when the ladies come for tea. If you wish to remain home for the other activities, I am sure my father can keep you company.” Mr. Woodhouse seconded that offer.

John was neatly trapped by his wife. He laughed in good-natured defeat and promised to appear wherever she wished, and to be pleasant about it. They engaged in more banter until Mr. Woodhouse had forgotten all about the option of staying home.




Emma had chosen a tea at Hartfield because she did not believe her father would be happy with more. That is not to say he was unsocial or unneighborly but the tea would end early in the evening, giving guests ample time to return safely to their homes, and a tea had a far more healthy menu than a supper where he would naturally be concerned that his guests would overindulge.

But the demands of hosting a tea were significantly less than hosting a ball or even a strawberry party, and Emma and Isabella had much to do to help their neighbors. The two Mr. Knightleys were informed that they could help or shift for themselves, and it was obvious which option the sisters preferred.

Mrs. Weston at Randalls was far more capable of preparing a midsummer ball now than she had been of organizing the assembly that welcomed Mrs. Elton months before. Despite the improvements in her health, she still had a number of smaller decisions that she had left as a courtesy for her former charges. Emma and Isabella spent a pleasant afternoon deciding where the musicians should sit and how the buffet tables should be arranged as Mrs. Weston had already engaged the musicians and planned the menu.

At Donwell Abbey, however, they found a very different situation. Preparation had come to a standstill during Mrs. Churchill’s recent illness. She had given a great deal of direction to the housekeeper prior to taking to her bed, but she was the sort of person who had always been deeply concerned with the minutiae so that there was much still undecided. What was worse, no one at Donwell felt able to make the decisions for her, being all too familiar with the sting of her disappointment.

Frank was still dancing attendance on her, having left her side but little since she first fell ill. She reached for him in agitation whenever he tried to claim some other demands on his time until he gave in and remained with her. As such, he was still ignorant that Jane Fairfax was in the area.

The Woodhouse sisters were invited to Mrs. Churchill's room and met with her there. They were both shocked to meet their neighbor thus, but showed only their best manners until Mrs. Churchill grew fatigued. So they left her to rest, and sought out Frank who was waiting to speak with them.

He greeted Isabella Knightley like an older sister and she lost no time in replying in kind, “Frank, what is wrong with your aunt? This is not her usual indisposition.”

Frank shook his head powerlessly. “I do not know. I asked Perry to call on her five days ago and he seemed to think it was indigestion but he cannot have been right if she is getting weaker. Unfortunately, between my presumption in sending for him and his original diagnosis being wrong, Aunt is adamant that she will not see him again. Uncle supports her decision.”

The sisters frowned and shared a look. The afternoon among Donwell’s strawberries must be forgotten. More important than that, however, Mrs. Churchill needed to see that this obstinacy was detrimental to her health. She could barely receive two favorites for ten minutes before needing to rest. Surely something must be done!

“I shall send a note to Mr. Perry asking him to check on his patient,” decided Emma. “You can take no blame for that. But how did this happen? What led to this current illness? And have you spent the last five days in that room keeping you aunt company?”

Frank smiled sadly. “She fell ill when Mrs. Elton was visiting and you know how she is,” he reminded them. “Aunt insists that I comfort her whenever she is ill. I spend about thirty minutes in the morning with Endicott but otherwise, yes, I stay with her.”

“Where is your uncle throughout all this?” asked Isabella.

He could give no flattering answer. Mr. Churchill had not had much of anything to say to Frank since their argument after Mr. Perry had left, and had stayed to himself to avoid further conflict.

“So you have not been to see the Bateses recently?” Emma asked. “You haven't heard any of the latest news from Highbury?”

“What news?” He wasn't much concerned but Emma seemed to think it was worth his attention.

Emma glanced cautiously at her sister. She did not know if Frank would appreciate Isabella learning his secret. “Frank, for your sake, get away from the abbey for an hour or two,” she said instead. “You should not spend all your time in a sick room. It is not healthy.”

Isabella seconded the suggestion. Since Mrs. Churchill had just begun to nap, “now is a perfect time. You can be gone and back before she wakes.”

“Yes,” said Frank, warming to the idea, “but where should I go?”

“If there is any news to be had, you will hear it from Miss Bates,” Emma said, feeling immensely clever. “Now be quick. Isabella and I shall take care of Mr. Perry.”

“Yes, indeed,” agreed Isabella, getting into the spirit of it. “You do not want to be here when Mr. Perry arrives. That will make your protestations of innocence more believable.”

Thus sending him on his way, they also left, stopping by the apothecary before returning to Hartfield as promised.
SubjectAuthorPosted

COD, 12

NN SOctober 09, 2017 10:33PM

Re: COD, 12

AiOctober 10, 2017 09:52PM

Re: COD, 12

TinaOctober 10, 2017 05:09PM

Re: COD, 12

KateROctober 09, 2017 10:57PM

Re: COD, 12

TobeOctober 11, 2017 09:53AM



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