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Excerpt from Chapter 1: Emma
AS EMMA WILSON TRAVELLED back to London, her mind was in turmoil. As for her heart, well, that had been left behind with her family and friends at Pemberley. Her two daughters, still weary from enjoying themselves so thoroughly, had fallen asleep.
Their nurse, equally exhausted as her little charges, had nodded off as well.
While she was herself rather tired, she had stayed awake, trying to read, but the movement of the carriage would not let her concentrate.
Sitting across from her, James Wilson was immersed in his papers, which he had explained related to his client's business and were very dull indeed. Dull they may have been, but Mr Wilson applied himself to their study most assiduously, Emma noticed.
There was little left for her to do but contemplate the passing countryside.
As twilight overtook them, even this was difficult, and Emma was wondering what she could do to pass the time when her brother-in-law put his documents away and said cheerfully, "It is too dark to read, so we may as well talk."
He changed his seat to sit beside her, and Emma, surprised and pleased, said, "What would you like to talk about?"
She half expected some polite enquiry about the children, and she was quite surprised when he said, without hesitation, "Tell me about Pemberley and your friends and family. I enjoyed very much meeting them on Saturday, but there was so little time and so many interesting people." Emma laughed. "I thought you would have remembered most of them. They were all at my wedding," she said.
James looked abashed as he admitted that he was not very good at recalling names, and anyway, there had been such a crowd at that wedding, he would never have met them all.
"I was busy being best man, remember? I do recall Mr and Mrs Darcy very well-they are such a handsome couple-but hardly anyone else, except your parents and your brother Jonathan, of course. I had also met Fitzwilliam at Westminster when he was in Parliament some years ago; he was a member of the Reform Group. But you must tell me about the others. It is quite clear they all love you very much. They were obviously delighted when you arrived with Victoria and Stephanie. I was very glad I had taken you. I believe I acquired some immediate popularity with your family," he said lightly.
Emma smiled and acknowledged her debt to him, thanking him again for his kindness. "I cannot tell you how much joy you gave us, especially to my dear parents, who had quite given up hope of seeing us there."
James Wilson begged her not to thank him for what had been a genuine pleasure and asked only that she tell him more about the people he had met at Pemberley. "I can truthfully say I have never met so many attractive and interesting people in one place before," he declared.
Relating some of their stories, Emma was surprised at how much he had noticed in so short a time-like Fitzwilliam's obsession with Palmerston, Rebecca Tate's preoccupation with education for girls, the sound common sense of Mr Gardiner, and how deeply Richard and Cassandra loved each other.
"Theirs must have been a great love story," he said, and Emma agreed.
"What made it perfect was that it brought great happiness to everyone in the family, especially their parents, who are the closest of friends. Yes, Richard and Cassy are special," she said, a little wistfully. "Until their marriage, Pemberley had not shaken off the gloom of William's death. Even the birth of Julian, a few years later, did not seem to help much. William remained in all our thoughts each time we visited Pemberley. Aunt Lizzie certainly had not recovered from the loss; it was as if she would never stop grieving after losing him so suddenly.
"The wedding of Richard and Cassandra was the first occasion on which we noticed a change. They were so much in love and so keen for everyone to share in their happiness that it seemed to splash over all of us like the water from a fountain, and it brought back some of the magic that had been lost.
"I shall never forget watching them walk from the church through the crowds of people, frequently stopping to thank particular persons and then standing with their parents on the steps of Pemberley House. I thought at the time, 'Today is the day on which we can let go of our dear William at last and share the happiness of Cassy and Richard.' So you see, they are a very special couple and mean a lot to us."
"Indeed, I can and I understand why. I knew of William's death, of course, but I did not know how deeply it had affected the family," James said quietly.
"He was everyone's favourite-a very gentle boy, and with so much talent. He wanted to be a concert pianist. My parents were distraught, and Jonathan blamed himself for not having stopped the boys from riding out that day. You see, the Fitzwilliams lost young Edward on the same day. Oh, it was a dreadful time for all of us!"
Noting his grave expression, she stopped and said, "I did warn you they were not all happy stories."
"And your story, Emma, is it one of the happy ones?" he asked, quietly. Taken aback by his question, she was embarrassed and tongue-tied.
Seeing her discomfiture, he was immediately contrite, "I'm sorry, I did not mean to pry. It was not unkindly meant. If I have offended you, Emma, I apologise."
Emma found her voice in time to assure him that she was certainly not offended. How could she be? "I know you were not intending to pry, and I do thank you for your concern, but there is very little to tell. It was not very long after the deaths of William and Edward. I was very young, very sad, and rather lonely in London. I fell in love and married David. At the time, I believed I was the happiest girl in London. Everyone told me I was the most fortunate."
He persisted, though gently, taking her hand in his. "And are you happy now?" he asked.
One of the children stirred and glancing quickly at her, Emma gently withdrew her hand from his-but in that instant, meeting his eyes, she knew she could not lie. Uneasy, she bit her lip and shook her head.
His entire expression changed as her meaning sank in. Looking most concerned, he turned to her and said, "Emma, is there anything I can do to help?"
When she said nothing, he continued, "It grieves me that you have joined our family and you are unhappy. I would certainly like to help. I know you cannot speak of it now, but at a more appropriate time and place, will you tell me about it?" He sounded anxious and concerned.
Looking directly at him, but unwilling to speak lest the nurse or one of the children should hear, she nodded and said, "Thank you, yes," in a voice that was hardly audible.
Darkness had fallen as they reached the outskirts of London. The streets were busier and noisier. James returned to his place beside the window oppo¬site Emma, but before he moved, placed his hand on hers to reassure her. Without understanding why, Emma felt she was not as alone as she had been before. While nothing had happened to relieve her situation in any way, the merest glimmer of hope, which had resulted from their brief conversation, seemed to lift a weight from her heart as the carriage pulled up before the house in Mayfair.
They had travelled as expeditiously as possible, breaking journey only for a meal and to rest the horses, arriving around dinner time.
Mrs Wilson, who was entertaining a couple of old friends from Bath- a Colonel and Mrs Barclay-welcomed them home. She was happy to see them, especially Victoria and Stephanie, who were her particular favourites.