A Secret Engagement

Emma thought about the trip to Box Hill all evening. Maybe the rest of the party had enjoyed it, but she could only think of Miss Bates and how angry Mr Knightley had been with her. She knew she had been wrong and she was certain she would never do it again. She decided to call on Miss Bates the next morning.

Emma went early, and as she walked into the room she just had time to see Jane go out of the opposite door.

‘We are very happy to see you, Miss Woodhouse,’ Miss Bates said, although Emma thought her voice was not quite as friendly as usual. She asked about Jane.

‘Poor Jane has an awful headache,’ she told her. She has been writing letters all morning — to the Campbells and to her other friends. We shall be so sad when she goes, but it is a very good opportunity for her, you know.’

Emma was surprised. ‘Where is Miss Fairfax going?’ she asked.

‘To a Mrs Smallridge — three delightful little girls to look after. An old friend of Mr Elton’s. Jane will be just like Mrs Weston was to you and your sister. She finally decided to go yesterday evening when we were at Mrs Elton’s house. A lovely evening, with good friends.’

‘And when is she going?’

‘Very soon, within a fortnight. My dear mother does not like to think about it,’ said Miss Bates sadly.

Emma stayed a little longer and then walked home.

When she arrived Mr Knightley was at Hartfield and he seemed more serious than usual.

‘I wanted to see you before I went away, Emma. I am going to London to spend a few days with John and Isabella. I have been thinking about it for some time.’

Emma thought he looked as if he had not forgiven her. He stood, ready to go but not going, and Mr Woodhouse chose that moment to ask her how Mrs and Miss Bates were.

Mr Knightley suddenly appeared to be pleased with her. He took her hand and she at first thought he might kiss it, but he let it go again. Then he left immediately.

Emma felt happier now that they were friends again. Her father said he had been there for half an hour and she thought, ‘What a pity I did not come home sooner!’

The next day brought news from Richmond. Mrs Churchill, Frank’s aunt, had suddenly died. Mr and Mrs Weston were shocked and Emma wondered how Frank’s life might change now. Perhaps he would be able to marry Harriet if he wanted to. Emma still hoped for this, but it was too soon to make any plans.

Emma’s first wish at this time was not for Harriet but for Jane. She wanted to be a friend to her now, before it was too late and she went away to Mrs Smallridge.

She wrote to her and invited her to come to Hartfield for the day. Jane thanked her for her invitation but refused. Emma heard that she was not feeling well and thought an hour or two in the countryside might help, so she offered to call in her carriage one day. Jane replied that she was not well enough to go out, but when Harriet said she had seen Jane out walking only that morning, Emma had no doubt. Jane did not want any kindness from her, and she was very, very sorry.

One morning, about ten days after Mrs Churchill had died, Mr Weston called at Hartfield and asked Emma to go back to Randalls with him. ‘Mrs Weston must see you alone,’ he said.

Emma could not guess what might be so urgent and when they arrived Mr Weston left them alone together.

‘Frank has been here this morning,’ said Mrs Weston. ‘He came to talk to his father about something, a young lady he is in love with’

Emma thought first about herself, then Harriet.

‘… Frank and Jane Fairfax have been secretly engaged since they met in Weymouth last October,’ she said.

Emma was very surprised.

‘Jane Fairfax! So they were engaged before either of them came to Highbury!’

‘And nobody knew about it. We are very upset by the way he has behaved, specially to you, Emma. We cannot excuse him for that.’

‘You need not worry about me. When we first met I did think he was very attractive,’ said Emma, ‘And I thought I was in love with him. But for at least the last three months I have not felt at all like that.’

Mrs Weston was much happier then and called her husband into the room.

‘It was our wish that you should love each other and we thought you did. Since this morning we have felt very upset for you,’ she said.

‘But he was very wrong. He might have made me love him, and what about Jane? She is going to Mrs Smallridge now.’

‘He did not know about that, Emma. It was only when he found out that he decided to tell his uncle and then come here,’ said Mr Weston. ‘And Mr Churchill was happy with the match. While Mrs Churchill was alive there was no hope of them marrying, but now they can.’

‘She will be a good wife for him,’ said Emma. ‘I congratulate you and them.’

Emma now had to do a difficult thing — tell Harriet before she heard about it in Highbury.

Harriet had just come home when Emma arrived.

Miss Woodhouse — isn’t the news very strange?’

‘What do you mean? What news?’

‘About Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. They have been secretly engaged and are now going to be married. I just saw Mr Weston and he said you already knew.’


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