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Monday, July 5, 2010

Such an Inclination


(2010)
Emma
Specific request for Emma fanfic
Mr John Knightley's remarks cause Emma to reconsider her opinion on Mr Elton's matrimonial interests—and to discover where her own interests lie as well.



‘Mr Elton in love with me! What an idea!’

‘I do not say it is so; but you will do well to consider whether it is so or not, and to regulate your behaviour accordingly. I think your manners to him encouraging. I speak as a friend, Emma. You had better look about you, and ascertain what you do, and what you mean to do.’

‘I thank you; but I assure you, you are quite mistaken. Mr Elton and I are very good friends, and nothing more;’ and she walked on, amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgement are for ever falling into; and not very well pleased with her brother for imagining her blind, and ignorant, and in want of counsel.

—Chapter 13, Emma




A minute passed before Mr John Knightley continued the subject. “Had I known the possibility had never even occurred to you, I might not have offered Mr Elton a seat in my carriage. Under the circumstances, it would be best if he were not to have everything made easy for him.”

Emma, rather offended that her brother persisted in speaking of the matter, looked coldly at him. “What can you mean?”

“Do you think I did not see his look of pleasure, of exultation, I dare say, when he accepted my offer and turned to you? It was not simply because he thought I understood his intentions and approved of them. Yes,” he insisted as she stared at him in disbelief, “I am sure he thought exactly that. And it was certainly not because I shall spare him a very cold walk.” He turned a fond eye towards his boys, who had run ahead, well out of hearing of their father and aunt’s quiet conversation. “I cannot say whether his feelings are deep or shallow at present, but I know the meaning of that look. I am a man, Emma, who has not been so long married as to have forgotten the beginnings of romance or how quickly admiration can turn to love.”

“If you must you continue to entertain this fanciful notion,” she said, not bothering to hide her exasperation, “I only ask that you not seek to persuade me to take it up as well. I have never had such an idea, and I cannot adopt it now.”

“You may protest all you like, but I am convinced that it is hardly my company he anticipates, or that of the Westons.” He said no more.

Emma was too angry to respond, and her only satisfaction stemmed from having shown enough of her displeasure to keep John quiet. Eager to be at Hartfield again, she hurried on to keep pace with her nephews. Her brother’s words would not leave her mind, however, and the more she endeavoured to put them out of her head, the less secure she became in her ability to refute his conjectures. He had a man’s view, something in any other situation she believed she would be disposed at least to value for its own sake, whether she agreed with that view or not. Moreover, John rarely offered an unsolicited opinion on a matter so unconnected with himself. ‘I speak as a friend,’ he had said.

His brother had already declared that Mr Elton would not choose Harriet Smith, that the vicar would never marry so imprudently. Emma would be forced to examine Mr Elton’s actions in a very different light if she accepted these two pieces of intelligence as the impartial observations of two intelligent men. And she ought to do so, for what could the brothers truly gain or lose if she, and not Harriet, were Mr Elton’s choice? Especially as she would never consider marrying the man! It would be madness and presumption for Mr Elton to think himself worthy of her.

Yet what pain and humiliation lay ahead if he really preferred her to Harriet! What an idea, indeed. How would Harriet bear it? How would Emma herself bear with the awkwardness of being in company with her or Mr Elton again?

Her brow creased as she made polite conversation with her family. Sigh followed sigh as she dressed for dinner. By the time the carriages were brought round to convey them all to Randalls, her head positively throbbed. Isabella noticed something was amiss and fretted, but Emma assured her that she was well enough to go, more for her sister’s sake and her father’s than honesty’s, and declared that in any case she should be miserable at home, which was true enough.

To her surprise, her brother approached her and remarked in a low voice, “You have been unusually quiet since our walk. Are you concerned about that matter we discussed earlier? You need not worry. George and I shall be ready to intervene if the need arises.”

“I thank you for your concern, but I do not expect any difficulties.”

“You are not very good at dissembling, Emma.”

His rueful smile made her feel even worse. If she had drawn the attention of both Isabella and John, how was she to appear tolerably cheerful at Randalls? Mrs Weston would immediately take note. “I am well,” she determined, “if not perfectly so. Let us talk no more of this. I am anxious to see Mrs Weston.”

“Now, that I can easily believe.” He smiled and they walked together to the carriage.

The evening turned out to be just as dreadful as she had feared. Mr Elton clung to her side, inserted himself into nearly every conversation she attempted with others, raised a few eyebrows with his overly solicitous behaviour, and generally cast a pall over the otherwise cheerful holiday atmosphere. John and his brother did what they could to draw Mr Elton’s attention away without being uncivil, but the vicar proved a tenacious suitor. Emma could only be grateful Harriet had been spared those mortifying scenes.

Either John somehow knew when she had reached the limits of her endurance, or for once their separate, selfish concerns coincided in a joint wish for an early end to the evening. Soon after the gentlemen rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room, he took the opportunity to glance outside. One well-aimed remark about the amount of snow covering the ground, and Mr Woodhouse rapidly grew anxious to depart; moments later, Mr Knightley rang the bell and the party broke up.

Mr Elton escorted Emma outside, to her great consternation, and for an instant she feared the two would have a tête-à-tête drive. Fortunately she caught her brother’s eye just as he, having forgotten their previous arrangement, very naturally prepared to enter the first carriage with his wife and father-in-law. He came to her aid immediately.

“Go with Isabella and your father,” he whispered. “I shall see Mr Elton home.”

Emma thanked him, surprised to discover her throat was too thick with emotion to say any more, and she did what he advised without looking back.

At Hartfield, gruel was sent round for some and the usual sort of refreshments for others. Mr Knightley had joined them instead of continuing on to Donwell, and at the first opportunity he drew Emma aside. “Now tell me, Emma, what brought on this crisis of courtship that I witnessed tonight. Elton could not have demonstrated his preference for your company more plainly had he stood atop the Westons’ dining table and shouted it to us all. Either he did not notice your manner had cooled towards him, or he did not care.”

“Foolish man! How could he imagine for a moment I would be pleased?” She immediately blushed as she recalled several instances when her words, manner, or both might have given more than enough encouragement to a man so self-deceived. “Must have been the wine,” she said half-heartedly.

Mr Knightley smiled and took a sip from his own glass. “Did you not take it upon yourself to find him a bride? I heard you say, in this very parlour, that such was your intention.”

“I never meant to include myself among the possibilities!”

“I know that, but it is only because I know you so well that I have never believed the preference you have lately shown him was meant to bring on his addresses.”

“I am just glad the evening is over and he is away from us all.”

“Do not be so hard on him.”

“That is easy for you to say. He did not follow you about all evening. ‘Miss Woodhouse, may I get you some more cake?’ ‘Miss Woodhouse, I fear you are too warm. Might I suggest a seat farther from the fire? Or perhaps you are too cold, Miss Woodhouse.’ ‘Miss Woodhouse, Miss Woodhouse, Miss Woodhouse!’ I was growing weary of my own name.”

“You must admit that so many smiles and compliments as he has received in the last several weeks might turn a man’s head, especially coming from a young lady as beautiful and witty as she is charming.”

“Mr Knightley, you flatter me.”

“I only speak the truth.”

“There are several beautiful faces in Highbury, some of which I had hoped he would notice.” There was one, at least. Poor Harriet!

“Confess, Emma, that you did want him to marry Miss Smith.”

She looked down. There was no use in denying it. “Yes, I did. I can only be thankful that he did not say something so pointed as to force a confession from me tonight as well.”

His smile made her almost comfortable again, and his next words soothed her even further. “Tell me, Emma,” Mr Knightley entreated, clasping her hand. “Are you truly well?”

“While I am still shocked by Mr Elton’s boldness, I sincerely hope I have not injured him. Yet I cannot believe he is really in love with me, for anyone who knows me at all must know we should not suit.” She sighed. “I am well.”

“John will be glad to hear it.”

“Your brother’s assistance was invaluable. I have thanked him, but it seems so little. I hope he understands how much I appreciate his efforts. And I appreciate yours as well.”

He squeezed her hand and held it. “I am certain John knows, and I am always glad to be of assistance to you. Now, the material question is this: are you convinced that you ought to have done with match-making?” He looked into her eyes and would not allow her to avoid his gaze.

“But what about Har—”

“Emma?”

What about Harriet, she had been about to say. She no longer cared if Mr Elton ever found a companion to share the vicarage.

“If you are worried about your friend,” Mr Knightley said, “I know of one deserving young man who still pines for her. Perhaps—but we need not revive that subject.”

She quite agreed; she was not so chagrined as to have reconsidered her opinion of Robert Martin. “A thousand things may arise in the next weeks and months.”

“Highbury may be inundated with eligible young men, for instance.”

“At least one eligible young man is long overdue.”

He stopped smiling. “You speak of Frank Churchill.”

“Of course.”

“You have never even met him! You cannot intend him for Harriet Smith, can you?”

“No. I had no thought of it.”

“For yourself, then?” This time he looked down, but she could not fathom why.

“I own that if I were inclined to marry, Mr Frank Churchill would seem the perfect choice.” Even with Mr Knightley’s face turned away, she could see him grimace. “Yet tonight, I found myself quite out of charity with him.”

“Oh?” He raised his head.

“I resented his absence, and you will not think better of me when you hear why. Oh, of course I felt the slight to dear Mrs Weston, but my anger also had selfish roots. I know it is ridiculous, but I cannot help but think that had he done as he ought and visited his father’s new bride, I might have had an easier time tonight.”

“He would have taken Elton’s place as your suitor.”

“He would have been the focus of the evening! All attention would have been on him! Mr Elton would not have found it so easy to vex me, that is all.” She laughed at his forlorn look and wondered at it. “The more I think on it, the more I am convinced Mr Churchill and I would not suit, either. He really should have come to pay his respects to my friend. How can he neglect his father so?” She glanced at her own father. “His continued absence savours of disrespect or disapprobation, and I have not made up my mind as to which is worse.”

“Truly?”

Mr Knightley’s face took on a more familiar look now, and to prevent his lecturing her, Emma said, “I know I should not speak ill of Mr Weston’s son. I am sure he is a worthy young gentleman, despite the influence of Mrs Churchill.”

“You may be right. And we have spent far too much time on the subject of matrimony, I think.”

“Yes. It is pointless for me to talk of marriage, at least for myself. I could not leave my father.”

“No. I suppose not.”

“Therefore it does not matter whether Mr Churchill is disrespectful or disapproving.”

“True.” He looked as if nothing mattered very much at the moment.

“Do you smile because you agree, or because I have continued to talk of marriage despite your claim that we have talked of it long enough?”

His smile widened into a playful grin, making him appear for an instant to be the younger of the two Knightley men. “You may speak of whatever you like. You are mistress of this house.”

“Yes, I am. The topic was marriage, I believe. You never speak of it in regard to yourself. But then who is good enough for you?”

“Who, indeed?”

He seemed to be staring hard at her, almost staring into her, studying her. There was no anger, no anxiety; it seemed a look to signify a great deal of curiosity and interest, but what was there about her that he did not already know and had not known these many years?

“May I tell you something in confidence?” he asked her.

“Certainly.”

“It has been a long time since I thought seriously of marriage. We live in a rather confined, unvarying society.”

“True. Highbury has no more been inundated with eligible young women than with young men.”

“Precisely.” His smile was brief. “Recently, however—very recently, in fact—I have found myself considering the possibility again.”

“But little Henry would be supplanted!” She felt instantly stupid for having voiced her thoughts, but for some reason the very idea disturbed her and she had been unable to check herself.

Thankfully, his chastisement was gentle. “I said possibility, Emma, although John would rather see me married than gain the estate for his son. He speaks highly of the institution himself, as well you know.”

She smiled. For all his faults of temper, John truly did love Isabella.

Caught up in her thoughts, she was unaware of how close Mr Knightley had leant towards her until she felt his breath warm her cheek. She shivered. “I have a proposition for you,” he whispered.

“Do you?” she breathed, hardly knowing where to look.

“If you must make matches, perhaps you had better limit your efforts to finding me a wife. I shall not mind sacrificing myself to your scheming if it will spare our neighbours.”

The suggestion, the intimate nature of it, was wholly unexpected. “Mr Knightley, you surprise me.”

“Will you consider it?”

“Are you certain you wish to commit such an important matter to my care?”

He looked at her a moment before replying, “I would be quite happy to commit myself to you.”

She stared at him, bewildered. “Oh.”

“In fact, Emma, I—”

“The snow is still falling, George.” John strode over, interrupting them. “If you do not want to stay the night here, well…”

“Trying to be rid of me?”

“Certainly not! You look quite cosy in this corner.” His light-hearted chuckle belied the depth of his penetrating gaze, and he said slyly as he walked off, “Tucked away like lovers rather than brother and sister.”

Mr Knightley laughed warmly at the remark and glanced at Emma.

She made no reply. Her mind was busy, and once open to suspicion, made rapid progress; she touched, she admitted, she acknowledged the whole truth. Why had the mere mention of a future Mrs Knightley discomfited her? Why had Mr Knightley’s warm breath made her quiver, while his daring request, so coolly delivered, had made her flush with heat?

Moreover, why had John’s impertinent comment seemed anything but preposterous?

The answer darted through her with the speed of an arrow.

How she would tell him all that her heart had begun to discover, how she would enlighten Harriet and avoid Mr Elton, how she would accomplish that most monumental of tasks: convincing her father to let her go—all these problems were safely left to the next day’s contemplation. Tonight, she needed to do only one thing, and after all the blunders of the past weeks, she determined to do this one thing well.

“Mr Knightley, you are most welcome to stay.”

“Thank you. I may do just that.” His look told her he would have said more had this been the time or place for such disclosures, but they had already been interrupted once.

“It has been quite an eventful day. I believe I am ready to retire, but before I do, I wish to assure you…” She had never been as forward as she was about to be with him now. She had never in her life felt such an inclination as this. The fact that he had put himself in her hands gave her the courage to complete what she had begun. “I assure you that I will be content,” she said. “No,” she corrected herself, smiling. “I shall be extraordinarily pleased to devote…myself…to your happiness.”

Mr Knightley’s eyes lit up, and she knew that he had understood her. He escorted her from the room, and if Emma entertained hopes for a very particular goodnight gesture once they were truly alone (and if Mr Knightley satisfied those hopes), this authoress surely would not tell.


~The End~

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