Here's a diverting little piece of Emma fan-fiction. It's a short-short story prequel to Emma.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly seventeen years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
She was the youngest of two daughters and the eldest one being married and gone, she remained under the care of a gentlewoman – Miss Ann Taylor. Miss Taylor was only a governess in name; between her and Emma, there was more the intimacy of sisters.
Emma had been reading her book for at least two minutes and the exertion was proving too much for her. She could not; indeed it was quite impossible to set her mind on anything when the day was so fine. “Miss Taylor, have we not read enough for today?” she asked good-naturedly and without a doubt what Miss Taylor’s answer would be. It came just as she expected.
“Oh, Emma, we have just started…”
“But the day is so fine…we can walk down Broadway-lane. You know how much we both love that walk,” Emma countered.
“Yes, well, I suppose we can return to our books when we come back.” Miss Taylor noticed Emma’s mischievous look. “We will return to them,” Miss Taylor said sternly, trying to hide a smile.
Emma smiled knowingly but said “Of course, Miss Taylor. I have no doubt of it.”
“Are you going out, Emma?” Mr Woodhouse called from his comfortable chair by the fire.
“Yes, papa. We shall not be gone long but the day is too beautiful to miss.”
“I am sure I heard thunder, Emma. You had better stay home. It will probably rain.”
Emma and Miss Taylor exchanged smiles. “Do not worry, sir,” Miss Taylor said, “We shall not be gone longer than twenty minutes at most. I shall take good care of Emma.”
“Make sure you take umbrellas and wrap up warmly…” Mr Woodhouse started to say, but they were already almost gone from the room.
“Do not worry, papa. We shall not catch cold.”
Miss Taylor and Emma set off at a brisk pace. Broadway-lane was one of their favorite walks. It was relatively close to Hartfield and Highbury and had soft grass and shady trees on either side of the path. They chatted together as they walked. “Oh look,” Emma said, “There is Randalls.”
“It is a lovely house,” Miss Taylor returned, “I do wish it was inhabited. The Carltons never come to Highbury so it would be much better to have a settled family living there.” Emma nodded her agreement.
Suddenly a loud clap of thunder was heard. “Oh,” Emma said disappointedly, “Papa was right. There is the end of our walk.”
“We had better hurry back to the house before we are soaked through.”
“Ladies!” Emma and Miss Taylor both turned to see who was calling them. It was Mr Weston. Mr Weston was an amiable gentleman of middle years. He came towards them, holding out two umbrellas. “I borrowed these from Farmer Mitchell. I noticed your predicament and came directly over.”
“Thank you, sir,” Emma said gratefully as she took one of the umbrellas. As Mr Weston was about to hand Miss Taylor the other, she playfully said “Come, come, Mr Weston. I am sure there is room under that umbrella for both of you. You will be sadly wet through if you do not have some shelter also.” Mr Weston said she was quite right and asked Miss Taylor if she didn’t mind sharing her umbrella with him. “No objection at all,” Miss Taylor said, smiling. They were soon both situated under the umbrella and Emma trailed behind, her mind busy at work.
“They seem very well matched,” she thought to herself, “I am sure I never saw a better pair. They are so well suited that I believe it could lead to something more serious than a mere shared umbrella. Everyone has said that Mr Weston would never marry again so what a triumph it would be to contrive a match between him and dear Miss Taylor. It could be done. At the end of this walk, I shall ask him to come in and dry himself off and maybe stay for dinner.” Thus ran Emma’s train off thoughts all the way to Hartfield.
“Will you not stay for dinner, Mr Weston?” Emma asked graciously.
“I would be very happy to,” Mr Weston said, his jovial face beaming.
Dinner was a very enjoyable meal. After Mr Woodhouse was talked out of his fears of Emma’s catching a cold – no easy task – he was quite quiet and said nothing more than his fears that Mr Weston would have a bad time going home with all the dirt and wet. Mr Weston assured him it was inconsequential.
“It was very lucky that we met just at that moment,” Emma said, smiling, “Was it not Miss Taylor? I am sure that I would never have thought of inquiring at Farmer Mitchell’s for umbrellas?”
“It was nothing,” Mr Weston said, “I was more than happy to be of service.” He smiled at Miss Taylor and she returned it.
Over the next few months, Emma watched the progress of the friendship between Mr Weston and Miss Taylor with the greatest satisfaction. “I would so love to have Miss Taylor settled in a comfortable home,” she thought to herself one day, “Although I should miss her very much. However, if she really and truly loved him, I could and would make such a sacrifice.”
The household was thrown into a flutter the next day because the Knightley family was coming down from London to visit. Mr Woodhouse was worried about their trip. “I am sure that Mr John Knightley’s carriage is draftier than ours. One time I went out riding in it and I was chilled when I came back in the house. Do you remember it Emma?” Emma could not remember it. “Do not worry papa,” she said, “Isabella is as careful as you are. She will make sure the children are bundled up warmly.”
The Knightley’s arrived. Mr Woodhouse was full of anxious cares that their travels did not go well. Emma and Isabella did their best to allay those fears but had little success. Mr John Knightley on the most part, ignored Mr Woodhouse’s worries and the children, John, Henry and Bella, ran around boisterously. Then Mr Knightley came in.
“Uncle George! Uncle George!” the boys and Bella called out in delight. Mr Knightley laughed and then tossed them up into the air. The squealed delightedly until he stopped. Then a chorus of requests for more tosses filled the room. “Your uncle is tired,” Isabella said gently.
The children were soon put to bed and the adults settled down to a leisurely dinner.
“Emma,” Isabella said. It was the day after they had arrived and the sisters were sitting beside each other – one was embroidering, the other watching her children fondly. “Would you undertake the task of doing my, John, and the children’s portraits?”
Emma set down her book and gave her sister undivided attention. “My dear Isabella,” she said, “I would be happy to take your family’s portrait. I wonder we have not thought of it before. But are you sure that I am the right one for the task? A professional…”
“John and I have discussed it and we feel sure that you would be best. I have seen several of your likenesses. They are very good.”
“Not half as good as I would like. However, it is my own fault as Mr Knightley is always telling me. I do not practice my small talent as much as I ought. But if you think I could do it, then I will be happy to do it.”
The sitting began the next day. Isabella was the first one who would benefit from Emma’s handiwork. Miss Taylor, by her own request, sat and read to them. After two hours of work, Emma decided that she had made a good enough start and the painting was left off until the morrow. She was satisfied enough with the work to wish to continue it the next day, and Miss Taylor promised to read to them.
The next day, Isabella began to become impatient. “I hope we will be done soon…I do so want the children’s portraits to be taken before we leave.” Emma was silent and concentrated on her work. She knew that Isabella was sometimes irrational where her children were concerned. She resolved to finish the picture as soon as possible.
It was finished and everyone admired it just as they ought although Emma was not altogether pleased with the finished product. Because she had hurried through it, it was not as well done as she would have liked. Isabella was anxious for her to begin the children. Emma was somewhat concerned for children never sat still for prolonged periods of time. She dashed off a pencil and watercolor sketch of them and then sighed over the result. “It is nigh impossible to tell one from the other,” she said to herself, “I do hope that John’s portrait goes better.” She resolved to take her time on that one for she knew Isabella would be most particular about it, and John Knightley was always difficult to please.
John’s portrait was begun directly. It was to be a full-length in watercolors. Emma took pains with it. She refined and corrected the painting and overall it was the longest she had ever taken with a painting. Near the end John did begin to fuss, but for most of the portrait he was relatively good humored.
“Very prettily done, my dear,” said Mr Woodhouse as he gazed on the finished product, “I never knew anyone with such a talent for likenesses. I remember your mother would often sit in this very room and sketch apples and peaches.”
Isabella was the first to find fault with it. “Emma, I regret to say this, but you have not captured John’s air, you have made him less handsome and more clownish in his looks.”
Emma stayed calm. “But besides that, Isabella, is it not a good likeness?”
“I really cannot separate the two. Perhaps you should try again.”
“You will be leaving tomorrow. I cannot possibly do another one. You will want to take the portraits, of course.”
“I don’t know…perhaps we had rather not. I don’t like John’s portrait and although mine is tolerable, the children did not sit well and overall the portraits…well…”
“Then they will stay here,” Emma said, a trifle sharply.
“Yes, well…maybe it would be better…at least for awhile…”
The Knightleys left. Emma took out her drawings again and then flung them down in a passion. “I shall never draw anyone again…especially when there are husbands and wives concerned. I know that Isabella wanted better portraits, but what was I to do when she rushed me through her sitting, the children were not quiet and still and she found too many faults with John’s picture, although I must say it is the best one I have ever done. No – I will give up drawing and turn to a more pleasant pursuit; matchmaking.”
Emma began inviting Mr Weston over to Hartfield much more regularly. Although he would have been content just playing backgammon with her father, she drew him into her and Miss Taylor’s conversations and they both found out that he was an entertaining talker…full of useful information and funny anecdotes. Emma was convinced that her friend could not do better.
Three years passed. Emma invited Mr Weston, Mr Elton – the village vicar – and Mr Knightley over for dinner. They had a pleasant meal and Mr Weston then said he had something to say that everyone would like to hear. A hush descended over the table.
“Today I have finally settled it all with Mr Carlton and Randalls Park is now mine.” Everyone gave their congratulations. Mr Weston had had his heart set on owning Randalls for several years and it was a cause for celebration. “I shall now be able to settle,” said he, “As I have been longing to do these past two years.”
“He says that he will be able to settle,” Emma thought as dessert was brought to the table, “Is that a subtle hint to say that he will now be looking for a wife? He smiled especially at Miss Taylor as he gave the good news and I have a feeling that things must come to a crisis soon.” Her thoughts were interrupted by Mr Weston. “When I have Randalls fixed up in such a way that I will not be ashamed to have visitors, I should like you, Miss Woodhouse, to be among the first.”
“Thank you very much, Mr Weston, I shall look forward to it with great pleasure.”
Two months later, Emma received a verbal invitation to come to dinner party at Randalls. Her father and Miss Taylor were also invited and although the former would not go, Emma thought she detected a slight blush on the cheeks of the latter when she agreed to go.
The dinner party went very well. Emma had the happiness of seeing Miss Taylor and Mr Weston in an animated discussion on the décor of the room. “Things are moving along very well,” Emma thought, “Discussing decoration plans is plainly saying ‘I would have these rooms decorated in the style you want, Miss Taylor, for you will soon be their mistress’.” Emma smiled to herself and resolved that if possible, she would leave the two only as soon as possible.
The opportunity presented itself the very next day. Emma invited Mr Weston for tea. After tea, Mr Woodhouse took his daily walk, assured that Emma would entertain his guest. Under some trifling excuse, Emma left the room. She went up to her room, read for fifteen minutes and then could bear it no longer. She went down to the drawing room.
Mr Weston and Miss Taylor both looked embarrassed, too happy for words, and bursting with a secret all at the same time. Emma knew instantly that all her efforts had been successful.
“Dear Miss Woodhouse,” Mr Weston said, “We are engaged.” Miss Taylor blushed, smiled, and laughed a little.
“Dear, dear Miss Taylor,” Emma exclaimed, embracing ‘dear, dear Miss Taylor’, “I am so happy for you. And you too Mr Weston,” she added, “I believe you are quite perfect for each other.”
“As soon as your father comes in, we shall break the happy news to him,” Mr Weston said.
Emma merely nodded, holding back a smile for she knew what her father’s view of matrimony was.
Mr Woodhouse was told and though he was shocked at first, he gradually, over the next few weeks became accustomed to the idea and all he could say was that was a sad business indeed and that Miss Taylor was one of the most unfortunate people.
However, the hopes and dreams of Mr Weston and Miss Taylor were gratified when they were the chief participants in the ceremony that bound them together and fulfilled one of Emma’s dearest wishes.