Summary: After Jane Fairfax collapses during the Weston’s ball, Frank Churchill’s love and engagement is exposed.
Emma could not help but notice that Jane Fairfax looked too flushed as she took her spot in the dance line. Emma’s partner, Frank Churchill, was looking at Jane as well and Emma hoped he was not going to make another joke at Jane’s expense. Thus far all Emma’s hopes for the evening had been answered. Frank did not seem in love with her and Mr. Knightley did not seem in love with Jane, Downwell Abbey was safe for little Henry.
Many people were looking at her and Frank and she had no doubt as to why; they made a handsome couple. However, in her opinion, Mr. Knightley looked just as well as her much younger partner. There he stood so tall and looking so young and firm compared with the elderly and soft. If Emma could have an additional wish for the evening, it would be for Knightley to join in the fun and dance.
Mrs. Elton called the set to order and they began a lively dance but before too many steps they heard the gasps of alarm and surprise around them. Turning, Emma saw Jane collapsed to the floor, barely caught by her partner. Frank dashed to Jane’s side and Emma was proud her friend, son of the evening’s host, sought to do his duty.
Jane’s aunt, Miss Bates, was loudly fretting over Jane’s health and then immediately worried about her nieces reputation, seen in the arms of a gentleman. Emma sidled in close and could clearly see and hear Frank’s actions and words.
Lifting Jane’s dainty hand, he kissed it and clutched it until Jane’s eyes fluttered open. “Darling, what happened? Are you ill?”
Frank was acting every bit the lover! Emma was all astonishment!
Miss Bates must not have seen or heard him for she soon cried out, “Oh, Mr. Elton, you will tell us what to do! Must Mr. Pine marry Jane now?”
Frank’s head snapped up. “That will not be possible!”
Jane attempted to shush him, but Frank persisted. “Miss Fairfax and I have been betrothed since October. She is bound to me.”
Emma could barely fathom an attachment between the two but oh, the romance of his declaration!
She soon felt a tall body near her own. “Did you matchmake this, Emma?” Mr. Knightley teased.
“No! I could not be more surprised! But why would they keep it a secret? Jane was having to look at positions as a governess!”
“Perhaps his aunt was not disposed to favor the match. I can scarce imagine being so unscrupulous as to engage myself to a young lady and demand secrecy out of fear of my aunt. If he is man enough to marry he should accept the consequences of his choice.”
“It is very easy for you to say! You have independent wealth and never mean to marry!”
“I am not so dense about the courtships of others that I did to see their secret looks.”
“Secret looks! What would you know about secret looks?”
When he did not reply immediately, Emma looked at him and noticed his look. Her brow furrowed in confusion.
“Time will heal the wound.”
“Heal the wound?”
“He entered the community and clearly attached himself to you, never acting the part of an engaged gentleman.”
“You thought I was in love with Frank Churchill!”
“You did favour him.”
“Dear Mr. Knightley! How little you know me! I do not think I will ever be in love. You see we are of like minds on that.”
“Now, we have settled all that, let us return to dancing!” Mr. Weston’s voice interrupted. Jane had been sent home with her aunt in the Eltons’ carriage. Frank was no where to be seen.
“Who will you dance with?”
“Well, I am uncertain if this is still the first set but my partner is absent and so I will dance with you if you will ask me, for we are not brother and sister.”
He smiled the small smile she knew so well. “No, certainly not brother and sister! I would very much like to have the honour of dancing with you.”
Emma smiled as she placed her hand in Knightley’s and they joined the set. He insisted he disliked dancing but he performed very well. She was certain she had seldom enjoyed a dance more, but then Highbury seldom had balls and no other gentleman was so well informed.
Later in the evening he did the most gallant deed and danced with Emma’s friend, Harriet Smith when she was snubbed by Mr. Elton. Emma had never been more proud of her old friend! He was so very honourable, and gracious too, as they were able to at last mend their differences over their argument of Harriet as a potential bride for Mr. Elton. Knightley was correct about the littleness within Mr. Elton’s character while he acknowledged Harriet had first rate qualities. Emma observed to herself that neither were so stubborn or conceited that they could not come to so good an understanding and that in many cases their opinions were much alike.
The next day the most alarming thing happened. While walking with a friend, Harriet had been attacked by a band of gypsies! She managed to run away and was near Hartfield when Frank Churchill came upon her. He escorted her safely to Hartfield.
Before many days later Harriet confessed to a growing admiration for a gentleman who recently rescued her but vowed she had no hopes of marriage.
Emma was very happy Harriet had given up regretting Mr. Elton but could not support her admiration of an engaged man.
“Beware Harriet, for his circumstances make this a most impossible fancy.”
Harriet sniffled a little. “It is as I feared. You believe him too superior to me. It is well, I have not the presumption.”
“Superior? Presumption? You mean you admire a gentleman and what stands in the way of your attachment is his position in society?” Emma had a growing feeling of dread.
“What had you imagined?”
“You spoke of him rescuing you! Of course I thought of Frank Churchill!”
“Frank Churchill! Good heavens! Oh no, this gentleman is far superior, is far more honourable than Mr. Churchill.”
“Harriet…let me be clear, are you speaking of Mr. Knightley?”
“I know, it is quite a presumption, but I had thought there had been many unequal marriages before.”
“Do you have any idea of him returning your regard?”
“I was most surprised by his attention to me at the ball and he did…”
“He did send a note to Mrs. Goddard wishing me the fullest recovery and offering his services in any way.” Harriet blushed prettily.
“I…I can only say that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world that would raise a lady’s expectations.” Why should the notion bother her so?
“That is what I believe as well. So, you do think I have reason to hope?”
“Perhaps…perhaps you need more time to determine things.”
“You mean to put me on my guard and let his actions guide mine.”
“Yes, but it is growing very late now.”
“Oh! Of course, your father must not see me when I am in such a state.”
The next day Emma walked the path to Donwell Abbey. A night full of reflections had made many things perfectly clear to her..
“Too late. I have been so busy managing everyone else’s hearts that I never considered my own and there Mr. Knightley is, never to be removed. Yet I have realized it too late and it is all my own doing.”
She returned to her home in low spirits but hoped she hid it from her father. News of Frank and Jane’s betrothal soon passed through the area and, most astonishing of all, his aunt was persuaded to look upon it with favor in her ill health. Mrs. Churchill could not but be reminded of Frank’s mother and when the Churchills did not support her marriage to Mr. Weston they only pained themselves by breaking the connection. Frank was resolute in his determination to marry Jane and having no desire to lose the affection and company of her beloved nephew, the aunt gave way.
Another two days after the news fell passed before Mr. Knightley called. He found her sitting in the drawing-room staring at the chair he favored.
“Are you well, Emma?”
His question startled her. Recovering, she replied, “I am always well.”
“Your father says you have been on poor spirits.”
“My father imagines all the world is unwell.”
“Maybe, but you look it.”
Emma let out a resigned sigh. “Is the state of my spirits what drew you to Hartfield when the last five days you have stayed away? What happened to your daily walk?”
He remained silent for a moment and Emma grew alarmed. “Forgive me, I did not ask after you earlier. You have not been ill, have you?”
“No, no. I am in perfect health. I have stayed away. I was more sensible than perhaps you were about the matter of your heart with Frank Churchill and it seems I was correct. The news of their engagement has brought you grief.”
“My vanity was flattered by his attentions. He was so new and refreshing, so amiable, he has imposed on me, but he has not injured me. I was never attached to him and I can see now he never meant to be attached to me. I am ashamed of my conduct, of the path I was following him down while he attempted to conceal his attachment to Jane.”
“I have never thought very highly of him, but it may be with such a wife he will turn out quite well.”
“I have no doubt of their mutual attachment.”
“He is a fortunate man! He meets a young woman and at such a time as most choose badly he is able to find one that will do him the greatest credit. She is willing to conceal their betrothal. His aunt is in the way, she experiences a sudden change of heart. He uses everyone but they are all so ready to forgive him.”
“You sound jealous.”
“I am on one point.”
Emma could only sit in silence. They seemed within half a sentence of Harriet and Emma resolved to change the subject immediately but Mr. Knightley began speaking again.
“You will not ask me the point of my curiosity? You are wise but I cannot be.”
“If you think you will regret it, then do not speak it!”
He was clearly displeased by her suggestion but seemed just as determined to obey her and stood to leave.
Standing, she pleaded, “Oh! Please, stay. I will call for some tea.”
“No, you wish me to go.”
“Forgive me, just now. I am your friend and will listen to anything you are willing to say.”
“My friend! Yes, we are friends but tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?”
He stopped speaking but the expression of his eyes overpowered her.
“My dearest Emma, for dearest you will always be, my dearest, most beloved Emma–tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.
Still, she could not speak.
“You are silent! Absolutely silent!”
Emma was incapable of speech but could only think that she might wake from this happiest dream.
“I cannot make speeches, Emma. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it. But now I will say the truth of my own manner, I have been an indifferent lover but now I only wish to hear your voice.”
She felt for Harriet, she had led her friend astray, but she could not be so generous as to give Mr. Knightley up. She hardly knew what to say.
Putting her hand in his she replied. “I am your own Emma and no one else’s, if you are giving me your hand.”
Raising her hand to his lips he replied, “I am. If I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more.”
Emma smiled broadly and Knightley laughed. “Now that I think on it, Frank Churchill is a rather good sort of fellow, for I owe his slip of the tongue for giving me hope and until he came into the area I did not realize I loved you.”
Emma laughed in return. “You mean you owe Jane Fairfax for that is why Frank came in the area and if she had not fainted in the dance he would not have said a thing!”
“Well, then I certainly wish her well! She is the reason for our good understanding!”