At Home in the Abbey
Chapter 1: In the Year Twenty-Four
It was a brisk evening in October when Mr. Woodhouse looked last upon his world as he was taken from it. Always fancying himself ill, Mr. Woodhouse had died at the venerable age of 72. He had outlived even Mr. Perry. Despite being troublesome, Mr. Woodhouse was sincerely missed. His family at least had the comfort in being prepared, and knowing his pain had not lasted long. Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley, brother and sister respectively to Mr and Mrs George Knightley, arrived from their home in London in time to give their last expressions of love. No man could ask for a pleasanter death than being surrounded by a loving and devoted family. It is a comfort to know that when one passes from this world they have left in it the mark of happy, well-established children. During the year of mourning, Hartfield remained a lonely place, without the father who, though his Emma was a wife and mother in her own right, had till the last, doted on and worried about her as if she were a child. The year passed as his absence marked each holiday. Christmas was dismal and grey and none after could really be called a celebration.
Soon the year was over and fall approached, bringing her glorious colours. Having cried and been lonely enough, Emma returned to a happier state. The mourning period now over but not forgotten . Mr. Knightley was hopeful the arrival of his daughter and winter season might bring back a little of the joy his family had lost. Highbury was to see an addition, or rather a return to their society. Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley were to take up residence in Hartfield, since George Knightley's family were concluding a their removal to Donwell Abbey. Emma who had once supposed her nephew would inherit Donwell was happy to relinquish Hartfield to his parents. The legal settlement was fair and all were satisfied the best arrangements had been made. Well not all, but most, and in some situations that is the best one can expect.
Chapter 2: Boys will be Boys
Emma and her Mr. Knightley had been blessed with two sons and the recent arrival of a daughter. Both the Knightley boys were known for being a charming mixture of their parents' best traits. However, Master Matthew Knightley was said to be a little more precocious than his younger brother. Good-natured and lively, they were loved by Hartfield's staff and fast becoming favourites with Donwell's. Though he would never admit it, Mr. Knightley had received his wish in a daughter. He had two sons and was anxious for a girl on whom he could dote. Despite it being far too early to tell, he insisted that little Charlotte was the image of her mother in both personality and beauty. Emma only laughed. Certainly, the expressions of a newborn cannot mark out a lifetime's personality or looks. Mr. Knightley's wife had it on good authority from some of the older staff that her husband had been an obstinate child. Gracious enough to keep such knowledge to herself, Emma rarely teased her husband for loving his daughter. Nevertheless, she began to wonder where her rational levelheaded husband had gone.
With the recent move to Donwell not three weeks before Christmas, whole house was tirelessly preparing for the holiday and a dinner to welcome the John Knightley family to Highbury. On this particular day, Master Knightley and his brother James were instructing Mrs. Wellson as to their preferred arrangement of the decorations. They were also very helpful in expressing all sorts of opinions on the proper food to be cooked, especially concerning the desserts. All week they had heard of nothing but the welcome dinner and arrival of their cousins. Master Knightley knew it was going to be wonderful again in Highbury. With Mama not so sad, he looked forward to the arrival of new friends, especially the older ones. It would be like having older brothers. He had always wanted an older brother. His cousins could teach him everything they knew and being from London, the boy was sure they must know a great deal. In addition to the improvement of his education, Master Knightley found the prospect of having extras for cricket or base ball very agreeable. There were too few young people around and their nearest neighbours had only girls that were old enough to play. While Grace Weston was a decent pitcher, it would be better to have more boys around. The boys on the surrounding farms were always called away just as a game was getting good. Master Knightley was sure he would have more fun with cousins. And as he helped prepare his new home, he thought about all the things he could show his family when they arrived. With such a day spent and their activities finished, sleep should have come easily to both boys. To Master Knightley sleep came like water over the falls and he was under its spell before the first star appeared in the sky. Master James was not so tired, or rather he had other things on his mind.
Chapter 3: A Night Time Journey
Eventually, as evening passed into night, the only person not sleeping was Master James Knightley. This child had none of the self-assurance and ignorance that youth often possesses. He was keenly aware his mortality. The winter wind rattled the Abbey's windows and the old home creaked. To own the truth, the only one unhappy with the removal to Donwell was James Knightley. He could not understand why they all had to leave a perfectly good home and come to this place. He missed his room and his bed. He missed the way he could move about in the dark and never bump into anything. He missed his toys, but according to Mama, they would be arriving soon. Though his parents assured him he would get used to Donwell, James could not believe them. It seemed silly to leave a perfectly nice home. Better his cousins and his aunt and uncle should live in Donwell, then his family could have stayed at Hartfield and everyone would have been satisfied. He had suggested it but his father said it was not possible. Perhaps Papa did not understand the plan and he should explain it again.
The wind picked up, as did a storm. Cracks of thunder drove Master James under his blankets for protection. Flashes of light and noise kept coming and every moment he was nearer to crying. He tried to be brave, really he did, but it was so difficult under the circumstances. No longer able to bare it, James headed off to see his parents. Had it not been for the constant flashes of lightning the boy would have certainly become lost roaming about the dark house. It was still so new to him that he found it difficult to remember which corridors led where and he was not allowed to light candles without an adult around. The shivering boy padded along the cold floors in his slippers and nightgown, with the tie to his open housecoat dragging along the floor behind him. Stumbling across his parent's suite, James swiftly entered. He didn't know the time, but he could hear one of his parents breathing from inside the bedchamber. James paused. Papa had told him many times he must stay in his own room and be brave. He had told him not to come for help unless it was really necessary. James wasn't sure if this was one of those times. He stood in the dark sitting room pondering the question. Suddenly a flash of lighting illuminated the whole room, instantly followed by a crack of thunder. James' bravery dissolved; his quaking hand knocked furiously on the bedchamber door. "MAMA, PAPA," he called repeatedly.
Chapter 4: The Beast of Donwell
Emma heard a faint voice calling and went to the door out of curiosity, waking her husband in the process. Immediately when she answered, James burst into tears. "I'm sorry. Mama I tried to be brave, but I cannot sleep." Emma knew she should scold him, but the sound of his sobs melted her resolve and she heaved him up in her arms, stoking his hair telling him he was safe. "James," broke in Mr. Knightley, now fully awake and a little annoyed, "what is the matter?"
"He is scared dear. The storm."
"Emma he is supposed to remain in his room."
"Leave him be sir."
Mr. Knightley softly whispered to his wife that he would never learn if he was allowed to do whatever he wanted. Emma ignored him sitting down on the chaise with her boy resting his head on her breast. His cries now softened by the comfort of his mother's arms, he was able to speak. "Mama, if we were to go home to Hartfield I am sure neither a storm nor anything else would bother me. Everything here is so queer. I am sure I saw an animal lurking about in the halls."
"The dogs are all locked up my dear. There is nothing to fear."
"It was not a dog. If was a horrible creature with horns."
"There is no such thing in the house," answered his father who had taken up residence on the chaise after lighting some candles.
"Papa I am sure there is. Wouldn't we all be happier if we went home? I think this house is too big and drafty. You will catch cold Papa or the baby. You wouldn't like her to become ill? It would be much better to be home in Hartfield."
"Charlotte will be fine," answered Mr. Knightley, steadfast and calm.
"James we have talked about this many times," Emma responded softly. "Donwell Abbey is our home now and you will see it has many good qualities. You have a bigger schoolroom and you and your brother have a playroom now. Is that not an improvement? And soon all your things will be here. In time you will come to like Donwell as much as Hartfield."
"I will not," James retorted with confident defiance. "I do not see why we needed to move."
"Because your aunt and uncle are going to live there. And you will have many cousins to play with. It will be much better. You will see." Emma tried to be cheerful, though it was late and she was tired. Sometimes even her motherly heart could only handle so much of James' stubbornness in the early morning hours.
"Why don't they live here if they want to come to Highbury so much? I don't see why we must give up our home for them. Let them stay at Donwell." The little boy pouted, while he crossed his arms. Mr. Knightley could not help but chuckle at his son. He had tried to explain that Donwell was the home of many Knightleys and that Hartfield had been Grandpa Woodhouse's and would now be his brother's, but James had refused to accept the reason. "My dear," Emma continued, "we have explained it. Houses go from father to eldest son and Papa is Uncle John's elder brother so we must stay at Donwell."
"But then why does Uncle John get Hartfield? Shouldn't papa get that as well?"
"No because Hartfield was Grandpa Woodhouse's home. He was my father and father to your Aunt Isabella and she is older. Now that Grandpa Woodhouse has gone to heaven, your Aunt is going to live at there because we have no brothers."
"Can't you trade?" Mr. Knightley took his son from Emma's lap and stood the boy on his own two feet. "No James we cannot. Besides, I lived here when I was a boy and for many years after and I never saw any horned beasts. I assure you, you are perfectly safe here." The boy looked skeptically at his mother for reassurance. She nodded as Mr. Knightley took his hand to lead him back to his room. But the boy let go and ran to the arms of his mother with fresh tears. "Let him stay a while sir. What can it hurt?"
Mr. Knightley gave in, as he usually did to the whims of his wife where their children were concerned, knowing that tomorrow when they were alone words would pass between them. In the meantime, Emma wrapped her son in a blanket and placed him on the chaise where he fell asleep instantly, assured his parents were within reach.
Chapter 5: It Would Raise Me to the Stars
The next day, Mr. Knightley tried to convince his wife she was indulging the boy and that James would never learn if he knew they would always yield. Emma would not have it. She knew her son to be good-natured and the storm must have been terribly frightening. She wondered if her husband could even remember being a child. "Emma what do we have a nursery maid for if her will never go to her?"
"A nursery maid is no good in a storm. I am his mother, Mr. Knightley. Would you rather your son prefer the protection of a stranger?"
"Emile is no stranger and I would prefer he be reasonable and let us get some sleep."
"He is adjusting. Donwell must be very frightening to him."
"Matthew is fine."
"Matthew is older and James is very sensitive. Oh, come now. You must admit this is rather an odd home. You were never frightened here as a child?"
"If I was I did not burst in on my parents in the middle of the night. If I had I would have been sorry for it."
"You are not suggesting we Ò?," Emma cried, passionately wagging her finger at her husband. "Mr. Knightley I will not allow it. You lay one finger on my boy and so help me you will regret it." Mr. Knightley took her in his arms, gently holding down her hand and said, "Emma calm yourself. I never said anything of the sort. Nevertheless, this cannot continue. He must obey the rules."
"He is just a child. Give him time."
"We will do it your way for now. But soon ,if it does not improve, you must let me have my turn."
"So long as you promise me."
"I assure you, I will never do that. I intend to keep my promise to you on that score."
Emma laid her head on Mr. Knightley's chest next to his beating heart, now assured he actually had one for his child. Long before the birth of a tiny baby later to be named Matthew, George Knightley promised his wife never to punish their children with his hands. Emma could not bear the thought of anybody, much less her own husband, hurting them. Neither her father nor Miss Taylor had ever laid a finger on either of the Woodhouse girls and Emma believed she and her sister had turned out rather well. Mr. Knightley was still unsure it was a prudent resolution on her side, but he had no heart to fight with her about such a disagreeable topic and as of yet his promise had been fairly easy to keep. Now it was becoming increasingly difficult. As of late, James' stubbornness was trying his father's patience.
Chapter 6: Differences of Fate
It is often surprising that parents can produce children so different from each other, though they love and treat them much the same. James Knightley was a timid serious boy, only truly comfortable in the company of his immediate family. He could speak articulately, though usually chose to say very little and like his grandfather, James hated change. The move to Donwell was absolutely unacceptable to him. He longed for home and missed his grandfather, though Mr. Woodhouse was quickly fading from the boy's memory. A year is a long time in the life of a six-year-old. James tried very hard to obey his father. He wanted very much for his father to be proud of him, but it was so difficult. Matthew did everything so well; he never made mistakes. Matthew was brave; he was never scared of storms or beasts in the dark. Knowing how he had disappointed his father, James resolved to stay out of his father's way the whole of the next day. He remained in the schoolroom practicing his letters.
Master Knightley on the other hand was eager to be outside. Three days of rain were over and a bright sky beckoned. Unusually warm for the Christmas season, the landscape was still green. The boy was impatient to survey his new home from the outside, as he had already explored much of its interior. If he met with a little mud along the way, so much the better.
Colliding with the legs of his father and then the cold stone floor, Master Knightley was informed that gentlemen do not run when within doors. "I'm sorry Papa. I will try to remember. Though I must say Sir, such a rule is very hard to obey after three days of rain." Mr. Knightley could not but smile at his son's confidence. "Even when rules are hard to obey Matthew, a gentleman does his best to follow them. That is what it means to be a good man. Where are you going in such a hurry?"
"I don't know," shrugged the boy. "There was a clearing I remember from the carriage. I thought I might try to find it."
"It is due west, if I remember."
"Papa, may I ask you a question? You lived here before, a long time ago?"
"Yes," laughed Mr. Knightley. "A whole lifetime ago."
"Do remember any exciting spots?"
Mr. Knightley paused, as if in deep thought. "Well it is a long time since I was your age, but beyond the western clearing, behind a low hill, there is a little pond and beside it should be a very fine tree. I can remember climbing that tree some once or twice." With that Master Knightley was off, thanking his father, as he again ran through Donwell, out the door and due west.
As was the case more times than Matthew would like to admit, his father was right - the tree was a giant. In this instance, though, Master Knightley was very pleased with his father's wide knowledge of the world. The spot had all that a boy could want, a large tree, a multitude of frogs and a pond. The pond was covered with small floating sheets of ice that glimmered in the midday light. Master Knightley occupied himself with an investigation of the pond's bottom, by means of a large stick. When bored of this analysis, he took to the tree, climbing as high as he could manage. Perched far above the ground, Master Knightley viewed his whole world; he could even see Hartfield. For a moment, he shared his brother's melancholy and longed for home, but it lasted only an instant, before a lark passed by and he followed its flight over the fields.
During that day the large old tree revealed itself to the boy. He became intimate with all its angles and outgrowths. When he, at last, descended to return home, Matthew observed a marking. Someone had carved something. But upon investigation, he found it was neither a treasure map nor a mysterious coded message. It was only two lovers' initials carved inside a heart - reading JK + IW. Whoever they were was of no interest to him.
When arriving back home, Master Knightley met with the familiar exasperation of his mother. "Matthew where have you been? You are positively filthy," sighed Emma, as she removed his boots and called a maid to have him cleaned up. "Now I will have to wash up as well. Do try to stay out of trouble till dinner." Emma wondered that George could find James so exasperating when his eldest son seemed to have a love affair with dirt.
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