Poor Miss Taylor
"Mr. Knightley, I cannot believe you walked all this way - there is a wind blowing!" Mr. Woodhouse fretted as he led Mr. Knightley into the parlor.
"Indeed there is, sir," replied Mr. Knightley with a smile, "and no wind has ever felt better."
"A young man such as yourself should not be exposing himself to such danger. You are not yet twenty, but I fear that if you continue to subject yourself to the elements in this manner, we shall soon be hearing of your untimely death."
"And what a tragedy that would be, considering that I would not have been privileged enough to get to know your new governess."
"I am glad you have come to meet her, Mr. Knightley, but I am sure she would agree with me in telling you that making her acquaintance is not worth chancing your death."
The two gentlemen approached a young woman, about eighteen, with delicate features and a handsome figure. Mr. Woodhouse made the introduction. "George Knightley, this is Hartfield's new governess, Anne Taylor." Mr. Knightley bowed politely, and Miss Taylor performed a graceful curtsy. She is lovely, he thought.
"I am so pleased to meet you, Mr. Knightley," began Anne when they were seated. "Mr. Woodhouse speaks of you with nothing but the highest praise."
"I am glad to know that you approve of me, since I did risk my life to get here. The wind was blowing enough to stir the leaves, and we all know what danger to one's health that entails."
Mr. Woodhouse took him seriously, and said gravely, "You should come out of it unharmed, if you eat a bowl of gruel when you get back to Donwell. And go to bed early, of course. 8:30 would be too late for a person at such high risk of infection."
Mr. Knightley bowed his head to conceal a grin, and Anne found a need to lean over and smooth her skirts. The former cleared his throat and said, "Miss Taylor, what do you think of the Woodhouse ladies?"
Before Anne could answer, Mr. Woodhouse exclaimed, "Why don't you bring them in, Miss Taylor? I am sure they would love to see Mr. Knightley. He is a great favorite with them!" Anne rose and left the room to fetch the girls.
"She will do a fine job, Mr. Woodhouse," remarked Mr. Knightley. "She has an air of elegance and sense about her. I like her very much."
Eleven-year-old Isabella entered the room and quietly took a seat near her father, and Anne followed her in, leading four-year-old Emma by the hand.
"How do you do, Mr. Knightley?" Isabella greeted him shyly.
Emma, on the other hand, broke away from her governess and ran to him, her short blond curls bouncing and her cheeks flushing with excitement. "Mr. Knightley!" she cried, flinging herself into his arms. She pressed her small red lips against his cheek.
Mr. Knightley laughed and situated the child on his lap. "How are you today, Little Emma?" he asked with a broad grin.
"I was finding husbands for all my dolls."
"Ah! I see, and what was your success?"
"They are not married yet because Miss Taylor came and took me away."
Anne had returned to her seat, and watched this exchange with amusement and something like tenderness. She was very impressed with this Mr. Knightley - so tall and handsome and gentlemanly and...
Her thoughts were interrupted when Mr. Knightley teased, "Miss Taylor, you should not have forced Little Emma to postpone such an important event for her dolls. One of the husbands-to-be might catch some ill wind and fall fatally ill before the wedding can take place."
"No, Mr. Knightley," insisted Emma, "I decide what happens to my dolls. They only die if I make them die, and I shan't do that before the wedding."
Mr. Woodhouse inquired after Mr. Knightley's younger brother John, and was informed that he was out shooting with some good friends.
Presently, after pointing out to Mr. Woodhouse that the breeze was now quite calm, Mr. Knightley and Anne set out for a walk around the grounds. Isabella chose to remain inside with her father, but Emma saw more fun in engaging a ride from Mr. Knightley, and she joined them outside. Mr. Knightley lifted her to his shoulder.
Emma pulled leaves and twigs from bushes and low branches and was happily arranging them in Mr. Knightley's hair as he talked to Anne about various things. Anne enjoyed his conversation, judging him to be sensible, kind, witty, and above all things, honest. If he weren't so much above her, perhaps... no, she mustn't fancy such things! A simple governess and the owner of Donwell Abbey!
Mr. Knightley studied Anne with equal admiration, noting her good sense and graceful manner. He cast glances at her from the corner of his eye and observed the fine lines of her face and neck. Anne turned her head to ask him something and burst into laughter at his hair. Mr. Knightley smiled good-naturedly. "Is not my Little Emma talented?" he asked, lifting the girl from his shoulder and setting her on the ground.
"I look forward to teaching such a bright and gifted student," replied Anne.
"Perhaps your dolls will want to be married now," Mr. Knightley suggested to Emma.
"Oh, I forgot about them! Good-bye, Miss Taylor! Good-bye, Mr. Knightley!" She turned to run off, but suddenly stopped and came back. "Are you coming back tomorrow?"
"If I can get these leaves out of my hair and make myself fit to be seen, you have my word, Little Emma."
Satisfied, she started running back to the house.
Mr. Knightley turned to Anne and smiled. "That one is clever, Miss Taylor. She has quite stolen my heart!"
"I could not help but notice, sir," she answered. "Were she about fifteen years older..."
"She would be spoiled, pretentious, and wholly unbearable."
"You have so little faith in her?" asked Anne seriously.
"No one could have more faith in a child than I have in Emma, but in all likelihood she will grow to be exactly as I have described."
"With such a mentor as yourself, I do not think that is possible. Emma admires you more than anyone in the world. Take advantage of that, and guide her."
Mr. Knightley laughed. "She would soon learn to hate her teacher."
"I do not think so," said Anne. "Shall we continue our walk?" she continued after a few moments' silence.
Mr. Knightley offered her his arm and found that he liked the feel of her hand resting there. He knew he mustn't allow himself to...
"What was Mrs. Woodhouse like?" asked Anne.
"She was handsome, good, and sweet-tempered, but quite diffident - much like Isabella."
"I must own that I'm quite afraid of attempting to take their mother's place," she said softly.
"You will do a fine job, Miss Taylor. I have no doubt of your abilities."
"That means so much to me, Mr. Knightley. I thank you." She turned to him and smiled. A twig was dangling close to his ear, and she asked him to stop for a moment so she could remove it. She reached up and tried to work it out of his hair, for Emma had indeed done a good job.
Without quite thinking about what he was doing, Mr. Knightley removed her hands from his hair and pressed them to his lips. Then he leaned towards her, still holding her hands, and kissed her lightly. When he drew away, her eyes widened with surprise. She was a bit shaken by how much she had enjoyed the kiss.
"Please forgive me, Miss Taylor," said Mr. Knightley, running his hand through his hair. A shower of leaves drifted to the ground, along with the stubborn twig. "I cannot begin to comprehend my behavior. I vow to you, it will never happen again." He turned around and started walking quickly back to the house, leaving a trail of foliage behind him.
"You look beautiful, Isabella!" exclaimed Emma as she straightened her sister's veil. Emma was sixteen, and her sister three-and-twenty. "John will faint when he catches sight of you!"
"Oh, Emma, dearest," gasped Isabella, "you mustn't think of such horrid things."
"If he doesn't faint," joined Anne, now thirty, "he will certainly feel a little short of breath. I hope he does not tie his cravat too tight."
"Isabella will loosen it for him, I'm sure, Miss Taylor," teased Emma.
"Emma, you really ought not speak of such things," said Isabella.
"And now that we have his younger brother settled so well, we must be happy for Mr. Knightley! I only hope he will not be too lonely," said Emma.
"Mr. Knightley should get married," Isabella remarked as she patted her hair.
"Oh," Emma said lightly, "Mr. Knightley does not want to marry! He is happy as he is."
"Yes," said Anne quietly, "we should let Mr. Knightley decide things for himself."
"The very thought of a woman being at the Abbey eating his strawberries seems altogether horrid," Emma continued with feeling. "He would not come to Hartfield half as often as he does now. Besides, Papa would never approve!"
Anne laughed along with the girls, but could not deny the nagging pain in her heart. Over the past twelve years, she had been hiding her great love for George Knightley... and hiding her pain in seeing his affections for Emma change. Where once he had eyes only of laughter and fraternal affection, he now watched Emma with admiration and appreciation - perhaps love? It seemed rather strange that the very same little girl who rode on his shoulder and kissed his cheek was now the object of his affection. But Anne could not be sure. Mr. Knightley was a very complex sort of man, and she could not pretend to understand him.
That afternoon after John and Isabella Knightley had said their good-byes and driven off in their carriage, and all the other guests had left, Mr. Knightley joined Emma and Anne in the parlor. Anne watched him pick up a book and settle comfortably in a chair across from Emma, and tried to force the ache inside to stop. "A lovely wedding, didn't you think so, Mr. Knightley?" asked Emma.
He closed his book and leaned towards her. "I could not be happier for my brother. He seems to have captured the heart of the better half of the Woodhouse sisters." His eyes were merry and a grin played at the corners of his mouth.
Emma turned to Anne. "Miss Taylor, are we going to allow this impudence?"
"Indeed not," said Anne with a look of mischief; "Mr. Knightley, when one is in good society and is forced to choose between truth and decorum, the latter must always triumph."
"Am I to be assaulted in this fashion in my own parlor?" asked Emma, sharing in the laughter at her expense.
Mr. Knightley rejoined, "Miss Taylor's remark was not aimed at you, dearest Emma, for I believe she said good society. Besides, one had much better suffer abuse in the comfort of home than in public."
"Ah!" said Emma. "Such abuse simply cannot be tolerated!"
"I carried you around on my shoulder for years - I think I am entitled to verbally abuse you now and then. Besides, I mustn't allow you to be spoiled by hearing nothing but incessant flattery." protested Mr. Knightley.
Anne added very little to the conversation after that. She spent the rest of the time admiring the sparkle in Mr. Knightley's eyes and noting the exact way his mouth crinkled into a smile. There was ample opportunity for the latter, for her young friend drew many a smile from him during the course of the conversation. Again, there was pain, and as always, she ignored it, disguising it with a smile.
Mr. Knightley remained the rest of the evening with them, and walked back to Donwell Abbey in the dark, much to the despair of Mr. Woodhouse: "All this walking outside will surely be the death of poor Mr. Knightley!"
"I can't believe it is finally time for our ball!" exclaimed Emma as she and Anne slipped out of their capes at Mr. Weston's house. "Mr. Weston has never held a ball at Randalls," she continued slyly; "perhaps, Miss Taylor, it is all on your account?"
"Don't say such things, Emma," insisted Anne, feeling the blush creeping to her cheeks.
"I have always thought that after a man has offered an umbrella to a young single woman..."
"Ah! there is Miss Bates. We should go and greet her." Anne composed herself and walked with Emma to Miss Bates.
"Oh! Miss Taylor and Miss Woodhouse!" exclaimed that lady; "what a lovely evening Mr. Weston has planned for us. I could not be more obliged... except that I was, last week, Miss Woodhouse. Oh, you would not believe! Someone - I dare not say who - sent Mother and I a large basket of fruit. It was the best fruit that I ever tasted. Well, now, it was you, wasn't it, Miss Woodhouse? I had quite forgot. I'm so obliged to you. It was the very best fruit. I thank you! And Mr. Knightley sent us some strawberries. They were quite lovely. So much fruit we had! Had not a letter from Jane arrived, our week could not have passed better! Jane is seventeen now, Miss Woodhouse, just like you. She has grown so tall I shall hardly know her anymore. Mr. Knightley is such a gentleman for sending us strawberries; oh, Miss Woodhouse, your dress is charming! There you are, Mr. Knightley! I was just telling dear Miss Woodhouse and Miss Taylor about all the fruit I had last week. I'm so obliged!"
Mr. Knightley bowed. "I'm glad you enjoyed your strawberries, Miss Bates. It was my pleasure to send them. Emma, you must promise to save a dance for me. And Miss Taylor, I also expect the pleasure of your hand this evening."
"But you detest dancing, Mr. Knightley," observed Emma. "As charming as Miss Taylor and I are, I cannot believe that you would lower yourself to it merely for the pleasure of our hands."
"Silly girl," was his only reply, and he promptly moved away to get some punch.
They were next approached by Mr. Weston himself. "Miss Taylor, I am so pleased to see you this evening. Won't you give me the honor of your first dance? And Miss Woodhouse! How do you do?"
Couples arranged themselves for the first dance. Mr. Knightley claimed Emma and led her to the floor, where they stood by Mr. Weston and Anne. Emma winked at Anne, who quickly turned away.
Mr. Weston was a kind man who made interesting conversation and danced with grace. Anne liked him truly, but could not deny the way she trembled when the set called for her to hold Mr. Knightley's hand or dance in his arms. Those steps she did not take with Mr. Knightley, she envied Emma for them. Whenever he took her hands, she imagined that day long ago when he had carried them to his lips, and she struggled not to blush. She recalled that after the garden incident, Mr. Knightley had never again kissed a lady's hand, though all the gentlemen around him did so.
After the dance, Mr. Weston led her to the balcony and engaged her in further conversation. He really was a handsome man, and she had heard nothing but good of him. Furthermore, she was over thirty years old now, and this would perhaps be her last chance to settle herself. She decided to make herself love him. It shouldn't be too hard, she reasoned. After all, he was handsome, charming, sensible, and good. But always, always, there was that image of a young Mr. Knightley with the twig dangling so adorably from his hair...
Mr. Knightley danced with her later that evening, but she was hardly aware of it, so lost was she in her thoughts. "Miss Taylor, are you quite well?" he eventually asked, a concerned look on his face.
"Oh! yes - please forgive me for keeping so silent."
"No apology is necessary, I assure you." - and after a moment or two - "If you will pardon me for being so bold, may I ask the state of your relationship with Mr. Weston?"
She hoped he would not notice how the color rushed into her cheeks. "I do not mind telling you that I consider him amiable and pleasant."
"I see. And is that all?" Anne could tell he was prompting her, but she could not lie - not to him.
"Doesn't Emma look particularly well this evening? She seems to have quite recovered from her sore throat." Anne followed his eyes to the punch bowl, where Emma stood sipping from her cup and listening to the raptures of Miss Bates. Her golden curls were piled on top of her head, and tumbled gracefully down her elegant neck. The bloom in her cheeks and the luster of her face seemed to defy the fact that just last week, she had been ill. Her eyes sparkled as she laughed with Miss Bates about something. No one could deny Emma's incredible loveliness. Anne tried to interpret the look in Mr. Knightley's eyes, but honestly could not. Was he remarking on her good recovery, or admiring her beauty?
"Emma is the picture of health," Anne acknowledged finally.
"Indeed," replied Mr. Knightley absently. And after that, they both fell into silence.
"I really cannot express to you, Miss Taylor, how much I love you, which is why I ask you, beg you, to consider being my wife. I have a comfortable home and respectable position, and you have the assurance of my lasting affection."
Mr. Weston squeezed her hand and his eyes probed hers for some sign of how she felt. Anne knew how much he had been hurt by the death of his first wife, and she knew what a worthy man he was. She really loved him, though as more of a brother than a husband - but time would correct that.
Did Mr. Knightley love Emma? She could not know. Sometimes it seemed certain, and other times she could see nothing there. And she had absolutely no idea about how Emma felt. One thing, however, was certain - he did not love her. He had, perhaps, long ago, when they were both young. She was beautiful and sensible, and he was eager to settle down. However, his brotherly affection for Emma had always exceeded his shallow feelings for Anne. The little girl had "stolen his heart," as he admitted that day in the garden. But Emma had grown up, and with each passing month after she was twelve or thirteen, she had replaced a piece of Anne in his heart, until Anne was nothing more than a shadow of Emma's brilliance. She had watched him grow from an impetuous young man to a refined gentleman; and as his youth passed, so had his affection for Anne Taylor.
And here was a man who had been courting her for the past four years, whose love could not be questioned, whose place in life was comfortable. Emma was constantly inviting him to Hartfield and encouraging visits to Randalls. Everyone in Highbury expected their marriage, despite their earlier convictions that Mr. Weston would never marry again. Her path seemed clear. It was time to stop waiting for something that could never be and accept what was right here in front of her.
She returned Mr. Weston's gaze, smiled her assurance, and said truthfully, "Mr. Weston, I would be honored to become your wife."
They were perfect together, as they always had been - Mr. Knightley and his Emma. Anne Weston watched their wedding ceremony with tears flowing down her face, overcome with her love for them both. Emma was more luminous than she had ever been, and Mr. Knightley looked as if he would burst with happiness.
The last year had been a string of mistaken emotions and misunderstandings; a parade of matches and mismatches. During this period Anne had seriously begun to doubt Mr. Knightley's being in love with Emma - there was a time when she thought him in love with Jane Fairfax, and she had even told Emma so - and had been entirely certain that Emma herself would be married to Frank Churchill. But Mr. Knightley and Emma had been meant for each other from the beginning; the adored little sister had become the beloved wife, and what destiny had decreed, no Franks or Janes or Harriets or foolish matches or picnic lectures or confused feelings - or Miss Taylors - could separate.
Anne remembered the day Emma had run to her at Randalls, glowing with happiness, telling her about the engagement. The pain she had always expected to feel upon hearing such news did not come; there was only a dull, hollow kind of ache, easily overcome by her sincere joy in the match. Later that evening, though, a few tears wet her pillow before she could fall asleep. She really loved Mr. Weston, although there was still a certain something she felt for Mr. Knightley, something she could not explain.
The couple spoke their vows and exchanged rings, and they were pronounced man and wife.
As he led Emma to the carriage, Mr. Knightley suddenly swept his new wife into his arms and lifted her to his shoulder as if she weighed no more than the curly-haired four-year-old she had been seventeen years ago. Emma laughed with all the spirit that so characterized her, lifted her arms to the nearby trees, and showered him with leaves and twigs and flowers. He reached up and lowered her to his arms, spinning her around. Her long wedding dress was lifted into the breeze and wrapped itself around them both as they were showered with flower petals from the delighted crowd. They continued towards the carriage, Mr. Knightley still carrying Emma in his arms. As they approached Anne, she noticed a leaf still stuck in Mr. Knightley's hair. As she leaned forward to hug them, she reached up to take it out, but Emma's hand got there first.
"I'll get it, Mrs. Weston," said Emma. She removed the leaf and ran her fingers down the side of Mr. Knightley's face. "I love you." Anne saw Emma's mouth form the words, though she couldn't hear them over the shouts of the crowd. Emma drew Mr. Knightley's face to her own and kissed him tenderly, love plainly written in the light of her eyes, and as Anne lifted a handkerchief to her own eyes, she knew that no happiness could be more perfect than theirs.
The carriage drew the happy new couple away, and Anne walked quietly home, arm-in-arm with Mr. Weston.
© 1997 Copyright held by author