This story starts after Emma hears about Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax's engagement. Emma has heard of Harriet's hopes concerning Mr. Knightley, and has realized that she (Emma) loves him.
Emma was quiet with concern. She had heard that Mr. Knightley had come back from London only that morning, yet he had not called at Hartfield.
"It is so strange," she murmured to herself. "He always came here almost the first thing whenever he returned." She paused to reflect. "Indeed, he should come here to tell us about Isabella and the children like always. What can be the reason?"
Her mind drifted back to her conversation with Harriet a few days before. Harriet was in love with Mr. Knightley! Impossible, Emma thought at first. Then, doubt clouded her mind. His behaviour to her at Box Hill--that could not be the language or tone of a man who cared for her, who loved her. "No," she thought to herself, "he does not love me--never thought of loving me--doesn't even think of me as a woman. To him, I'm still a child."
She started as she heard servants' voices. She almost believed that she had heard the front door swing shut. She waited nervously for Mr. Knightley. Oh, how could she bear it, when she first saw him? She paced about the room, determined to control herself so that he would realize no difference. "I must be calm," she whispered through gritted teeth. "Whatever happens--will he never get here? What is the matter?"
She heard footsteps right outside the door. "He is here. I must be calm." The door opened, and she turned to see only the servants bringing in the things for tea.
Emma let her breath out in a rush. He was not here after all. She sank into the nearest chair.
"Oh, how could I have been such a fool?" she asked herself. "I know how. I've been a fool all my life. Only Mr. Knightley saw it, and now he's gone. He doesn't love me, I know. But can he love Harriet? Why did I ever notice her! My penance is just and severe. If I had never met her, she would be Robert Martin's wife now, with perhaps a child on the way. And now--Mrs. Knightley! How could it be? What will John and Isabella say? Will they like such a sister? Mr. Knightley noticed some good things about her, which I must say are to her credit,--but does that make up for her want of education?" Emma smiled ruefully. "Education! What about my lack of education? I never would stay with anything long enough to become mistress of it. Mr. Knightley was right--as always--I envy Jane Fairfax for her accomplishments. I envy her for what I ought to be, and for what I could have been, had I chosen to make the effort."
Jane Fairfax was another subject where Emma dared not stay. Emma's behaviour to her was slighting at best and rude at worst. "I would never take the trouble to try to be her friend. The fault is entirely mine. It was my position to make the first move, not hers." She drew a deep breath, "Well, she is happy now. She is engaged to Frank Churchill, and I wish her well. She has suffered, I know. Anyone forced to spend an hour with Mrs. Elton has been punished most severely."
It was time for tea, but Emma was not hungry. She forced herself to eat a little, so her father would not worry. She knew he was concerned over Mr. Knightley, and would not heighten that feeling into anxiety for her. She ate methodically, her mind constantly renewing those subjects which were most painful for her. She attempted to think of other things, but everything sent her thoughts back to those which caused her most distress. Thinking of Mrs. Weston brought Frank Churchill to her mind--he had trifled with her affections, although without really attempting to; he had caused her to become open to criticisms by her behaviour; and it was under his influence that she had been so cruel to Miss Bates. Her thoughts whirled from Frank to Jane to Mrs. Elton to Mr. Elton to Harriet, and finally to Mr. Knightley. Nothing in her memory pleased her. Everywhere she looked, she saw how despicably she had acted. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she turned her face so her father couldn't see. Her jaw was set--she would not cry. Her lips trembled as she blinked back tears. Emma could keep the facade no longer, and quickly left the room.
She walked out to the garden, hoping that the cool breeze would dry her tears and ease her mind. She inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly, forcing herself into a sort of calm. She heard steps behind her and hoped it was a servant. She turned to see if someone was coming to tell her something about her father and saw Harriet. Emma had never seen her look so well. Her blue eyes were shining, and her smile was radiant. Emma wanted to run away, but she knew that she could not.
"Oh, Miss Woodhouse, how perfectly, perfectly happy I am!" Harriet began. "If you could not guess the reason--as I am sure you must know--I am engaged, just this morning, to Mr. Knightley! Can you believe it? I'm sure you can. He professed himself so elegantly--just like a gentleman should, of course. Oh, dear Miss Woodhouse, is not this heavenly? I never knew he felt so much--he seemed so reserved before. Please say something, Miss Woodhouse, I know you must feel the same joy I do."
Emma felt sick. It could not be! Harriet could not be engaged to Mr. Knightley--it was impossible! Surely there was some mistake; Harriet must be a liar. But Emma knew that Harriet indeed spoke the truth. There was nothing sly in her manner--it was all open and truthful.
"I wish you great joy," Emma said tonelessly, hoping her face did not betray the turmoil of emotions inside her. "I'm sure you will be very happy," she said, but within herself, she said, "You will be happy, I'm sure, but can Mr. Knightley be happy with such a choice? You have received every advantage--Donwell Abbey is a great prize to be sure, and you will be married to a gentleman.--But him! How can he even entertain such an idea?! He will comprehend your lack of understanding when it is too late. If you really loved him, you would never marry him. You will make his life a misery."
Harriet was talking again, unaware of Emma's reserve. Indeed, she could think of nothing but herself and her own happiness. Harriet drew Emma's arm within her own, and together they walked back to the house.
"That is what he went to London for," Harriet was saying. "He had to talk to his brother about all of this. They were so happy, of course, that Mr. Knightley (I should call him George, shouldn't I) lost no time in coming back and asking for my hand. I was never so surprised in all of my life!"
Emma could not really attend to what Harriet was saying. She did not want to know. Every word was painful to her. But Harriet did not stop speaking until they were in the house, at which time they met Mr. Knightley talking to Mr. Woodhouse. Then, Harriet released Emma and took Mr. Knightley's arm. He patted her arm gently, and smiled as he looked in her eyes. If Emma had doubted before, this would certainly have put an end to whatever lingering hope had been hers.
"Mr. Woodhouse," said Mr. Knightley, "you see before you the happiest of men. That phrase has been used before, but never with such truth."
Emma forced herself to smile, and even heard herself make some acknowledgment of this. She could not meet his eyes. She knew that if she tried, she would most certainly lose what little control she currently had over herself.
"But Mr. Knightley," Mr. Woodhouse said, "Why must you marry? I see no need for that. This is nothing against you, my dear," he said, turning to Harriet, "for who could object to such a pretty creature? But you had better stay as you are. I like things how they are."
"Mr. Woodhouse, as you know, is no friend to marriage," Mr. Knightley said to Harriet with a smile. "Come, sir, you must not say such things. We will not be as we were before, certainly. We will be happier. We shall come and see you as often as before--indeed more often, since we have such an inducement: Harriet and Emma are already close friends, and such a relationship must only blossom at such an occasion."
Emma's very being revolted at this idea: Harriet coming to visit Hartfield every day?--staying many or most of the hours with her?--Mrs. Knightley talking over the dissatisfaction that must arise from slovenly or wasteful servants, or the difficulties of managing such a large house? She wanted to scream and rant against this. Emma longed to run through the woods shouting protestations. But she was not afforded such an opportunity. She must stay and see the happy couple and hear all their delights. Would this visit never end?
Emma gasped and woke up from her dream. She got out of bed and walked about her room to clear her mind.
"What a terrible dream! But fortunately, it was just a dream. Mr. Knightley is still in London with John and Isabella. If he were to come back for only such a reason as that, I pray that he will stay in London forever. Harriet, I must hope you are completely mistaken about him!"
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.