Mr. Knightley's Story
"Why Brother dear!" exclaimed Isabella. "I had no idea you were coming to London."
"A sudden scheme of mine. Forgive me Isabella. I have some pressing business to discuss with John that could not wait."
"It is indeed a pleasure to see you. And I know the boys will be delighted as well. John shall be home shortly. Oh-but do tell me all the news from Highbury. How are Father and Emma? And-Frank Churchill-is he as handsome and charming as everyone says. Dearest Emma writes so fondly of him in her letters.
At the mere mention of her name, Mr. Knightley felt a sharp pain seize his heart. "Why George dear! Are you quite well? You look so pale. You know John had a nasty cold about a month ago. But, thanks to Mr. Wingfield, he is much better now. I hardly feel any uneasiness about it.
"My dear Isabella," replied Mr. Knightley softly, "pray do not concern yourself. I am quite well. A little tired perhaps from the journey."
"Of course Brother. And here I am rattling away. You know John says I do have a tendency to go on and on...."
"Uncle George!" cried John and Henry in unison. Much to the chagrin of the boys, Mr. Knightley neglected to toss them up to the ceiling. Greeting them instead with an affectionate pat on the head, he gingerly made his way upstairs.
Alone once again with his thoughts, Mr. Knightley sunk into a nearby chair. Instantly, he realized the futility of his situation. He had gone to Brunswick Square to make himself indifferent, only to conclude how desperately and hopelessly he was in love with Emma. The distance only made his feelings more painfully apparent.
The events of this morning should have shown him that, try as he might, he could not forget her. Insanely jealous of Frank Churchill, Mr. Knightley had decided that he could not bear another sleepless night, fearing that the coming day would bring about the announcement of their engagement. For weeks, this dread had weighed on his soul as he paced the floors of Donwell. Like some madman, he finally decided, early this morning, that he could bear this torture no longer and would go to London, without even seeing her. Only to find himself an hour later in Mr. Woodhouse's parlour, inanely chatting about the weather with Miss Smith. An inexplicable, invisible bond always drew him to her. Indeed, he had postponed his journey an extra hour, just to see his dearest Emma one last time.
How long he had loved Emma, he did not know. For too long he had been a stranger to his own heart. The arrival of Frank Churchill and the threat of losing her had obviously stirred his emotions. It was as if one sentiment had enlightened him to the other.
"To lose her is torture enough, but to such a man," Mr. Knightley cried passionately. He had known for quite some time that Emma was intended for Mr. Frank Churchill. It was the favorite wish of both Mr. and Mrs. Weston. Mr. Knightley had seen the pleasure and hope in their eyes during Emma and Frank's duet at the Coles' party. He also believed that Emma fancied herself in love with Frank. For Mr. Knightley, the Box Hill party and Emma's shameful treatment of Miss Bates only confirmed her partiality and his influence.
"God knows, I have been an indifferent lover, always lecturing her-determined never to flatter her. Still, I was determined that she would hear nothing but truth from me." Sighing deeply, Mr. Knightley took out a delicate, lace-covered ladies handkerchief from his breast pocket. Like some adolescent schoolboy, he had seen Emma drop it at the ball and had hastily retrieved it, keeping it with him always.
Pressing the handkerchief to lips, he suddenly thought: "She is loveliness itself." Indeed, for Knightley, she had never looked more beautiful than this morning, her cheeks a bewitching, rosy hue from the walk. It touched him deeply that that she had visited the Bates. As he had long known, Emma, faultless in spite of her faults, was capable of great kindness. For the briefest of seconds this very morning, he had even entertained the notion that if it weren't for Frank, he could in time make her care for him. The change in her countenance, when he got up to leave, had startled him so much that he impulsively bent to kiss her hand. Only to hold back, for fear of her hearing how fast his heart was beating.
"If there were some chance of winning her, I would wait forever! Dearest, Beloved-Emma." With a sinking feeling in his heart, Mr. Knightley rose from his self-induced reverie and furiously splashed water on his face; the water felt cool against his brow.
"I'm a damned fool!" he disdainfully thought, throwing the handkerchief against the chair.
It had been only three days since Mr. Knightley's arrival at Brunswick Square. For Mr. Knightley, however, it seemed like an eternity. His brother's house had long been a place of comfort to him, but now this domestic bliss, a reminder of what he would never have, only served to heighten his anguish. Indeed, Emma was never a moment out his thoughts. It pained him, in particular, to see Isabella who was too much like Emma, differing only in those striking inferiorities which always brought the other in brilliancy before him. Even looking at little Emma was torture. Mr. Knightley's very soul ached as the child sat smiling at him, her plump, rosy hands toying with the yellow rose he had given her. Emma had always loved yellow roses; Mr. Knightley felt that the flower best complimented her brilliant hazel eyes and warm, vibrant complexion.
All at once, Isabella, who had been entertaining everyone at the pianoforte, interrupted his thoughts. "Dearest Brother! Do you really think Emma will marry Mr. Churchill? I strongly suspect an attachment. She writes so highly of him in her letters." A red-faced Mr. Knightley, offering no response, immediately began adjusting the top buttons on his leather boots. Still, Isabella persisted.
"What do you believe, John? Can she love him? Poor Father will be so distressed. And so soon after Miss Taylor. No doubt, Mr. Churchill will insist on taking her into Yorkshire. And, Mr. Wingfield tells me that the air in Yorkshire is not very at all favourable."
"My dear Isabella," Mr. John Knightley exclaimed abruptly, "pray do not concern yourself. If Emma were to marry Mr. Churchill, she would be a very fortunate girl, indeed. The man stands to inherit quite a fortune."
"Please excuse me, Isabella. But, I think I shall retire for the evening. Good-night John."
About to climb the stairs, Mr. Knightley instead decided to take a turn about the square. The night air emanating from the parlour window was soft, caressing, and even beckoning. Outside, his attention was immediately transfixed by the brilliant full moon, lighting up the sky. Everywhere he turned and from every angle its power and golden beauty entranced, moved and bewitched him. And thus for hours, Mr. Knightley remained under its haunting spell, comforted by the thought that she too, so many miles away, was also beholding such perfect majestry.
"Isabella-Has the morning post come yet?"
"Yes-and there is a letter for you from Mr. Weston. It must be some parish business"
With trembling hands, Mr. Knightley tore open the letter. His attention was drawn to the paragraph at the end of the page:
You will probably be shocked by this news but Mrs. Weston and I have just learned that Frank and Jane Fairfax have been secretly engaged these past months. It was formed at Weymouth, last October, through their friend, Mr. Dixon.
Mr. Knightley felt a torrent of emotions rush through his body. It was if he had been re-born. Shock, however, was not one of the many, all-encompassing emotions that he was experiencing. "Contemptible, selfish-a disgrace to the name of man," he thought angrily. Mr. Knightley had long suspected a connection between Frank Chuchill and Jane Fairfax. He had even tried to warn Emma.
"OH Emma-the dearest and sweetest of all creatures. What she must be suffering from this discovery!" Without even a moment's thought to how this news might affect his own situation, Mr. Knightley immediately knew he must get to Highbury. Filled with only the most sincere anxiety for her feelings, he needed above all to see her and comfort her.
"I will ride all day in the rain if I have to," he muttered passionately. Hastily making his excuses to Isabella, he ran for his horse.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.