On a warm summer day Highbury came alive and people from all over flocked to the town. The local children danced while the elderly sold fresh oranges at the market. The scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns floating through the air.
“I adore these country scenes,” Mrs. Elton exclaimed to Mr. E, the man who was unfortunate enough to marry her. She was dressed to the height of fashion; pastel blue with delicate lace trimmings.
“But look at all these sad creatures. I could give them the benefit of my wisdom and instruction. Would that not be marvellous? To improve these simple minds and raise their spirits could be my greatest achievement,” she continued almost loud enough for them to hear.
Mr. Elton had learned long ago to endure his wife’s incessant speeches on her own virtues. He had also long known that she had none.
“I have every faith in your abilities.”
She barely took note of the compliment; she expected to be praised and admired wherever she went.
“I shall ask Mrs. Knightley for assistance in this matter. Some people in this community still look to her for advice, despite all her past transgressions with that Smith person.”
“I would rather not mention that unfortunate matter again, dear.”
Mrs. Elton was speaking again. He saw her lips move but he did not hear the words. All he heard was the wind brushing against his cheek.
Later that afternoon, they called on the Knightley’s. Relations between the two couples had been strained of late.
Mr. Knightley greeted them with cordiality as was his habit. Emma was more reserved in her manner.
“My wife was hoping to solicit Mrs. Knightley’s advice regarding a grave social matter,” he said lightly and saw Emma trying to hide a smile.
But Mrs. Elton was rather struck by his furniture and exclaimed: “Oh, what a stupendous little writing table I can see in the corner. Might I have a look? It reminds me greatly of one we used to keep in the drawing room at Maple Grove.”
Mr. Knightley obligingly escorted her to the far side of the room and Elton chanced a glance at Emma. “I am so glad to see you happily settled. Happiness in marriage is life’s greatest blessing.”
His hostess gave him an inquisitive look. “Thank you. I hope you are equally blessed, Mr. Elton.”
For a moment, he knew not how to reply. His marriage had been a mercenary one he had come to regret.
“We used to be such good friends. I have felt the deprivation of your friendship profoundly and I only wish there was some way of restoring it to me.”
She was most astonished to hear him speak thus and after moment’s hesitation, she spoke again:
“If you are sincere, then I suggest you address yourself to the other injured party. She suffered more than I and it is on her behalf I am unable to renew our friendship at present.”
Elton thought only of happier days when Emma brightened up his solemn moods with her laughter and easy manners.
“It will be done,” he whispered and for the first time in a long time, he smiled.
Any distraction from his wife’s presence was welcome, even if they occasioned him pain and embarrassment.
The servant announced his arrival and he found Mr. and Mrs. Martin in a modest drawing room. Harriet was serving tea while her husband read the morning paper. Upon seeing his face, the smile she bore slowly faded and she sat down, a red hue spreading across her face. Mr. Martin put away the paper.
“Mr. Elton, I am delighted! I do not believe I have had the pleasure of welcoming you in our home before. I received your note regarding the purchase of chickens. I didn’t know your interests extended to farm animals.”
Mr. Elton was surprised to find him most gentlemanly for a farmer.
“I recently adopted a wild chicken that stumbled into my vegetable garden. I have been keeping him in the shed and would like to find him a friend.”
At this unusual speech for a clergyman, Harriet raised her eyes and faced him with a hesitant smirk.
“Can I offer you a cup of tea, Mr. Elton?” she asked him sweetly.
His heart leapt at the simple gesture. He could not remember the last time she addressed him directly.
“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Martin,” he said with his most charming smile.
“I have several chicks that would do nicely,” Martin remarked.
Mr. Elton took the tea cup from Harriet and he beheld her as if seeing her for the first time; her fair complexion and her eyes so beautiful and blue. Emma intended her for him. In that moment, his heart ached with what could have been.
“We are hosting a small soiree in a se’ennight. I hope you will be able to join us. I have already invited the Knightley’s,” he said warmly with a fleeting glance in Harriet’s direction.
“I should like to see dear Emma again. I so rarely have time to visit her these days,” she said with a pleading look.
“Very well. I cannot keep such friends apart,” her husband agreed. He had not seen much of society and was keen to sample these delights first-hand.
Mr. Elton smiled in relief. But secretly, he hoped that Harriet had agreed to attend to renew their acquaintance. He should never have blamed her for Emma’s refusal. It pleased him to right the wrongs he had made. But what did that flutter in his stomach signify?