Mr. Knightley's Side of the Story
Cautionary note: I use actual wording from Jane Austen's Emma here throughout the story. I am not in any way attempting to plagiarize -- it's all in fun to support my supposition that both Emma and Mr. Knightley were going through hell!
Mr. Knightley immediately got up, and in a manner decidedly graver than usual, said, "I would not go away without seeing you, but I have no time to spare, and therefore must now be gone directly. I am going to London, to spend a few days with John and Isabella. Have you any thing to send or say, besides the 'love', which nobody carries?"
"Nothing at all. But is not this a sudden scheme?" asked Emma.
"Yes--rather--I have been thinking of it some little time."
Though he must go to London, it was very much against his inclination, that he left home at all. He found himself unable to linger any longer, and immediately took his leave. Once outside, he mounted his horse and rode off at a gallop.
Mr. Knightley was a man used to being in control of his emotions, and that made his present circumstance all the more difficult. He had cared about Emma for so long that it was instinct to him, but his affections were now somehow altered, almost without his notice. The very real probability of Emma's marrying Frank Churchill caused him great consternation -- not just for her happiness, but also for his own. He suddenly realized that he had never before considered even the idea of her marrying, which was foolish indeed. Of course she would marry, but when she married...these words gave his thoughts pause, and a few moments were then sufficient for making him acquainted with his own heart --– it darted through him with the speed of an arrow that Emma must marry no one but himself!
But that was now impossible. How could he have been so blind to the change in his feelings for Emma? -- the blunders, the blindness of his own head and heart! To understand, thoroughly understand, his own heart was the first endeavor. How long had Emma been so dear to him, as every feeling declared her now to be? He had loved her and watched over her from a girl, but till now that he was threatened with its loss, he had never known how much of his happiness depended on Emma's place in his life.
He now saw that he had been in love with Emma and jealous of Frank, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him to the other. Yet, was it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, uncertain, incongruous, or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate? He had no hope, nothing to deserve the name of hope, that he could have that sort of affection from her as that was now in question. That he was wretched, and should probably find this day to be the beginning of wretchedness, was the only certainty he could own.
Mr. Knightley reached his brother John's house at dusk, in as much turmoil as when he had left Hartfield that morning. He quickly repressed those feelings, however, became his gentlemanly self, and greeted his family with real warmth. The exchange of news with John and Isabella, the bustle of his beloved nieces and nephews, soothed his anxious heart greatly -- and he soon settled into the rhythm of their busy household.
Even this respite from Highbury was not devoid of distressing elements, however: Isabella was simply an inferior version of Emma, and therefore that dear person was both on his mind and, in one sense, in front of him, at all times. He could not forget her for a moment.
Some days into his visit, Mr. Knightley was sitting alone in the house when John entered. Isabella and the children were out in the city, and the solitude had given free rein to Mr. Knightley's melancholy thoughts. Although John had previously felt that something was amiss, he had not wanted to interfere unless his advice was solicited; now, his concern for his elder brother caused him to overcome his hesitations and speak.
"George," he began carefully, "you know I would never impose upon you, but if there is anything you wish to discuss with me, I would be a most willing ear."
On any other occasion, Mr. Knightley would have graciously demurred, but John had found him with his spirits so low that he welcomed a confidant -- he bespoke his despair.
"It is Emma, John; I confess she is much in my thoughts."
John, who had suspected this attachment for some time -- clearly far longer than his brother -- still kept his silence regarding it. "And what is it that troubles you about Emma?"
"In truth, John, I know not where to begin."
But begin he did, first telling John about Emma's apparent attachment to Frank Churchill and the manner in which she showed this preference, and ending with her abhorrent behavior on Box Hill.
"I am ashamed to say that I berated her most grievously regarding the latter. I say ashamed, because although my comments were properly motivated by her mortifying behavior, the manner in which I delivered those comments was motivated by the basest jealousy of the influence that blackguard Churchill must have with her to cause her to behave in such a way! My shame was further strengthened the morning I left Hartfield to come here, when I found she had been to see Miss Bates -- to offer an apology, I'll warrant. I am sure she can never forgive me, John. We parted on the most awkward of terms."
"You and Emma have disagreed before, George -- I do not find this cause for great concern. But, George, please forgive my bluntness in asking what I must: are you saying that you are in love with Emma? Is this what has so much occupied your mind during your stay here?"
Mr. Knightley met his younger brother's eyes. "I would wish to say it with a less heavy heart, but yes, John, I am afraid that that is my dilemma. I have probably been in love with Emma for some time, but I seem to have been doomed to blindness. Little good it does me to discover it now, as she is to be attached to Frank Churchill any day; indeed, she may have accepted his proposal of marriage even as we speak."
"Then you must return to Highbury at once. If she has not yet accepted him, you must let her know your feelings before she does. Have you no hope then that she returns yours?"
"None at all, I'm afraid, John. She has made her preference for Churchill most clear, and she is angry with me regarding my own manner to her. I do not think she has ever in her life considered me as other than a friend. No, it is only I who have experienced this profound change in feeling."
"George, I am most heartily sorry. You must do what you think best, but I wish to be of service to you in any way I can. For now, I will leave you with your thoughts," said John, rising and making good his word.
Little time had passed (indeed, Mr. Knightley sat as before), when Isabella and the children returned with a letter for him from Mr. Weston. He did not open it for quite some time, finding himself half-eager, half-reluctant to see its contents. In the end, he knew he could not prolong the inevitable -- he would have to face Emma's attachment at some point, and the sooner he could begin to inure himself to its effects, the better it would be for him.
The first portion of the letter was devoted to parish business, and Mr. Knightley actually relished the temporary diversion. Soon enough, however, the topic he was dreading was raised.
Mr. Weston began by telling of Mrs. Churchill's sudden and unexpected death. No one had really believed her ill, so it was a complete shock to everyone. "I do feel for her," murmured Mr. Knightley, but the next item in the letter quickly drew his interest away from Mrs. Churchill.
"I know hardly how to tell you, Mr. Knightley," Mr. Weston began, "but we have had other news of such measure of surprise as to almost totally eclipse the notice of Mrs. Churchill's death. There is no gentle way to approach such news, so I will not attempt it. My son, Frank, and Jane Fairfax are engaged, and have been secretly so since they met in Weymouth. The secrecy was necessary because of Mrs. Churchill's certain objection, but as that impediment no longer exists, the attachment has been made public."
"Upon my word!" interjected Mr. Knightley. "A blackguard indeed!" But his words, even though spoken aloud, belied his primary, unspoken thought: Poor Emma! How was she to accept this news?
The letter continued, "As I know you understand, Mr. Knightley, there is one other whose feelings Mrs. Weston and I are most heartily cognizant of. It is no secret to you, I'm sure, that we had hoped an attachment might be made there."
Mr. Knightley read no further. Collecting his things, and saying good-bye to John, Isabella, and the children --– these actions were all performed in great haste, and he was on his way to Highbury within the hour.
The weather was abominable -- in fact, Isabella had begged him to reconsider and take his leave the next day, but Mr. Knightley would not be dissuaded. His horse was a good one and sure-footed, and he let him have his head, even occasionally spurring him on. He could not reach his destination quickly enough, and this rain and mud would occasion a brief stop at Donwell for a change of clothing, which his anxious spirits would ill allow. Every moment was a moment in which Emma despaired without his ability to comfort her!
As soon as humanly possible, Mr. Knightley found himself at the door to Hartfield. He knocked, and was admitted. Miss Emma, he was told, was walking on the grounds, and he went in search of her. He finally espied her --– his dearest Emma! -- walking away from him. He called her name, and she turned -- he went to her. She was clearly surprised to see him, but he could not tell from her demeanor the lowness of her spirits. They exchanged civilities, which were quiet and constrained on both sides.
She was first to mention Frank Churchill's engagement, and a few moments of gentle and heartfelt commiseration on his part acquainted him with the fact that she not in the least affected by it! For a time, the joy this confession elicited eclipsed all other feelings. His relief that she had not been made unhappy was great indeed, and he found himself then able to discuss with her the details of the engagement and the luck, or lack thereof, of its participants.
At length, Mr. Knightley's own torment again rose in his heart -- yet it was now accompanied by the briefest glimmer of hope. If she had not been, and was not now, attached to Frank Churchill, could he then aspire to attach her himself? He attempted to speak of it, but was quickly rebuffed. Mortified beyond all measure, he knew not what to say and lapsed into silence. He scarcely heard Emma's apology and subsequent entreaty to speak to her as a friend.
As a friend!! Every feeling in him recoiled from this eventuality, but he heard himself speak nevertheless --– indeed, he did not believe, at that moment, that he could have stopped himself from speaking.
"Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?"
He searched her eyes. Finding no answer there, and afraid of her spoken response, he talked on -- for once, in his agitation, completely unable to curb his tongue.
"I cannot make speeches, Emma:" he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.--"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.--You hear nothing but truth from me.--I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.-- Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.-- But you understand me.--Yes, you see, you understand my feelings-- and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice."
He waited in terrible anticipation for her response, but when at last his dearest Emma finally spoke, the words were all he could have hoped for: the affection, which he had been asking to be allowed to create, if he could, was already his! She returned his feelings --– happy thought, indeed! -- and she had been as desolate as he during his visit to London! As each had despaired equally of the other's affection, they had even shared many of the same thoughts!
They walked, and within half an hour, he had passed from a thoroughly distressed state of mind, to something so like perfect happiness, that it could bear no other name. She was his own Emma, by hand and word, by the time they prepared to enter the house.
Pressing that sweet hand to his lips, Mr. Knightley said earnestly, "My dearest Emma, you do not know --– you cannot know --– how very happy you have made me."
"On the contrary, Mr. Knightley," said Emma, smiling up at him, "I believe I can most fully appreciate what you are feeling at this very moment."
...and they lived happily ever after!
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.