It’s been more years than I care to think about since the George Knightley, Esquire series was published, and at long last, a sequel is on its way!
A Match Made in Worthing is the story of the Knightleys’ honeymoon, spent at the seaside in Worthing. It seems that Emma just cannot give up her role as matchmaker, and even Mr. Knightley is pulled into the scheme. Things take a serious turn, however, and the newlyweds must use their wits for more than just the pairing off of two kindred spirits.
The new book is due out by Christmas!
Here is a preview:
“…I hope you are fortified by the sea breezes and the granting of your heart’s desire, because when you return, there will be a severe trial to be borne—the Sucklings will arrive next week.
Your faithful brother,
Knightley folded up the letter with a half-smile, laid it aside, and pulled a clean sheet of paper toward himself.
Thank you for all the news from Hartfield, and for forewarning about the Eltons’ relations coming for a visit. Emma is shopping as I write this, but I will tell her about the Sucklings as soon as she returns. I do not think that she will be daunted by the advent of the illustrious Selena, but she might find it a trifle tedious. Just as Mrs. Elton has puffed up the Sucklings to all her acquaintance in Highbury, I suspect that she has puffed up her friendship with “Mr. E’s friend, Knightley, the largest landowner in the area” to her relatives. Heaven knows what she has told her dear Selena about Emma, and the marriage she deems a mistake. I’m certain you will find it all most entertaining, but that is because you will only hear of the incidents of the visit through the mails.
You expressed doubts, I recall, about my taking Harry with us as my manservant for this trip. He has not proven to be the disaster you thought he might be. He has only done one clumsy thing on this trip, and his enjoyment of seeing the sea was only equal to Emma’s. The one clumsy thing he did has had a tiresome consequence, however; he dropped a loaded basket he was carrying and fell over it himself, which caused Emma’s maid, who was walking behind him, to trip over him and sprain her wrist in her fall. She manages very well, however, with the help of one of the maids at the inn, who seems quite a superior servant, and knowledgeable about putting up hair and mending small tears in hems.
I cannot believe that I am writing to you about how my wife contrives to get her hair arranged; I suppose it is positive proof that I am, indeed, a married man.
You may look for our return in a very few days from now.
Your happily married brother,
He looked at his watch and then smiled at himself. Emma had gone to the shops to look out a pair of gloves to bring back for her sister, and after only an hour’s absence, he was impatient for her return. They had been married for over a week and he still felt the loss of her company whenever she was not at his side. Of course, things would not continue in this vein; certainly sometime not long hence he would not be looking for her arrival every time she left his presence. How long would it take, he mused, before he was content without her for an hour or two? Did she feel the same, or was she pleased to have an hour to herself?
The sound of footsteps in the corridor outside their room drew nearer, and he watched the door open. Emma came in, and he saw her eyes searching to find him in the room. She smiled when she saw him, and it was a triumph to see that she felt about him the same way he felt about her. He greeted her with a kiss as soon as she had removed her bonnet.
“Look,” she said, “kid gloves for Isabella, and at less cost than at Ford’s.”
“You are a savvy shopper, my dear.”
Her left eyebrow lifted. “No, no, it is only your frugal-mindedness influencing me.”
“Oh, are you so easily swayed? Perhaps I ought to be careful how much parsimony I display: you may take the notion too far and dismiss Mrs. Hodges to save money on her wages.”
Emma laughed. “I think we should at least wait until the Sucklings have seen Donwell. If they ever deign to appear.”
“Oh, ye of little faith! A letter from John arrived this morning to say that the Sucklings will be in Highbury next week.”
Both eyebrows went up at that. “Will they? How very…unexpected, to be sure.”
“I hope the thought of their advent is not too disconcerting.”
“No…not disconcerting, exactly.” Emma moved to put the newly-purchased gloves in her trunk, and turned to face him again. “I suppose it is only that I will be under scrutiny from those who are, no doubt, predisposed to disapprove of me. I would not wish to disgrace you, or Donwell.”
“You would not, Emma. You could not.”
“I could, in fact,” said Emma. “I have done many an ill-judged thing, and while I earnestly hope that I have learned from my mistakes, I know that I still have a great deal to learn.”
Knightley pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head.
“So do we all, my dear Emma. And since the Sucklings are already married, there will be no temptation for you to make a match for either of them, and you are safe from making that sort of mistake, at least.”
“Very true,” said Emma. She pulled away from her husband enough to look mischievously into his face. “I shall have to confine my talents to the natives of Highbury and Donwell.”
Knightley rolled his eyes. “And you were just saying that you have learned from your mistakes!”
“Indeed. And one thing I have learned is that I must not attempt to let Betsy arrange my hair until her wrist is completely healed. I believe I praised Rebecca’s skill a little too highly yesterday, and hurt Betsy’s feelings, so I allowed Betsy to do it this morning when she asked if she might try. Not only were her efforts sadly not up to her usual standard, but I believe it did her wrist harm, as well.”
“I am sorry to hear it. I hope the owner of the inn does not mind Rebecca performing these services for you?”
“He does not appear to.” Emma paused for a moment and frowned. “I hope there is nothing seriously the matter with her.”
“What do you mean?”
“Surely you noticed her downcast manner as she brought in the tea today.”
“No, Emma, I cannot say that I did. I only remember thinking how beautiful you were looking.”
“She is unhappy about something. There were distinct traces of tears on her cheeks when she came in to serve breakfast, and when I passed her downstairs just now, she looked so forlorn I almost asked her what the trouble was.”
“Perhaps she has a tooth-ache and is dreading a visit to the dentist.”
Emma gave her husband a disdainful glance. “Nothing of the sort. I believe she has a broken heart.”
“And how did you come to this conclusion?”
“Any girl that beautiful must have a sweetheart.”
“Of course. And since the course of true love never did run smooth, I am certain that there is some impediment to their union.”
“Perhaps he has been untrue to her.”
Emma shook her head. “Impossible. She is too beautiful for that.”
Knightley was reminded how little his wife knew about men in general. “However that may be,” he said, “I trust that you are not planning to match her with some local groom during our sojourn here?”
Emma laughed. “No, not while we are only visiting Worthing. If we were at Hartfield, I would know enough of the girl and her circumstances to hazard a fairly accurate guess as to what the trouble was…or should I say who was causing the trouble. Seriously, I do wish I could be of some service to that poor girl.”
She paused and looked up at her husband. “I do know that my interference in Harriet’s life almost ruined it, and I would not make the same mistake again. Beautiful things, and beautiful people, do interest me, but I hope I am more attracted by goodness that mere prettiness.”
“I daresay you are,” he said in a teasing tone; “after all, you married me.”
“But you are both good and handsome…George.”
The look on her face as she said this was irresistible, and for the next few moments the unknown cause of the distress of the pretty maid was forgotten.
* * * *
Rebecca the maid really was in distress, and Emma was accurate as to its origin. She had a sweetheart, and he had not been untrue, and the course of true love really was not running smooth. She had already cried once that morning, and she was sure that some of the inn’s guests had noticed something amiss. She had been anxious all day, and was hurrying now to keep her appointment with Richard at three o’clock, before the busy hours when she would be needed to attend to the guests’ needs, whether it be serving their dinners, finding a needle and thread to fix a torn hem on a lady’s gown (only discovered as she was dressing for dinner), or, as in the case of the pretty Mrs. Knightley, taking the part of a personal maid and arranging her hair. She slipped out of the inn and walked briskly to their appointed meeting place: a bench on the seaward-side of Marine Parade, placed for the comfort of those who might wish to sit as they viewed the sea.
Richard was already there, handsome as always in his militia uniform; but although he smiled in greeting, there was a worried crease on his brow.
“You spoke to my father,” she said as they sat down together on the bench. It was not a question, for the worry on his face could have no other origin.
“He would not listen me,” said Richard.
“I told you he would not,” said Rebecca, grasping his hand. “I told you it was hopeless.”
“I thought that perhaps he might change his mind when I told him about my prospects.”
“And you might have been right, if he cared more for my happiness than for the benefit I bring to him.” Rebecca looked out toward the sea. She had known that Richard’s insistence on asking her father for her hand was futile, but she had not been able to damp down all hope that in spite of everything, her father might give his consent. Now she knew with certainty that there was nothing more to be done. Richard’s regiment would leave in a few days, her father would probably tell her that they would leave Worthing within a fortnight, and she and Richard would never see each other again. She could only hope that Richard’s speaking to her father would not make him more angry at her.
“Was my father angry?” she asked.
“He was, wasn’t he?”
“Not in the beginning. At first he was as polite as I was, saying only that he could not oblige me, as I was only the son of a shop-keeper, and my militia pay was not enough to keep his daughter in comfort. Whereupon I said that my prospects were very good, and that I am not dependent on my pay alone. To which he replied that his daughter deserved much better than that.” Richard paused again. “And that goaded me into saying that she also deserved better than to be a cat’s-paw for his schemes, and perhaps end her days in Newgate, as he no doubt would!”
Rebecca closed her eyes and groaned.
“It was a foolish thing to do, of course, but knowing what he has put you through, and then to see him playing the loving, protective father, was too much.”
“I suppose he threatened you—that is his way when he is frightened.”
“He didn’t look frightened. He told me that I had best take care…that accidents may happen at any time.”
“Of course he is frightened. You said enough that he knows I have told you everything, and with the cargo the smugglers are expecting any day, he must be afraid of you informing on him to the excise officers.” She grasped his hand tightly. “And you must be careful, Richard. It was not an idle threat he made. He is very good at arranging accidents to those who grow suspicious of him. Oh! If only I were a year older, and could marry you without his consent!”
“There is nothing for it, then. We must go to Scotland. I will not abandon you to his anger or anything else he may put you through.”
“But I have no money and you do not have enough to take us to the Border; and you said there was very little chance of you being able to get leave!”
“I will think of something. I must.”
Rebecca had very little faith in this optimistic pronouncement, but she smiled at her beloved and told him that she would be missed if she did not return to the inn immediately.
He clasped her hand, looked into her eyes with a tenderness that brought tears to her own, and told her not to worry. “I will see you tomorrow afternoon,” he said, and stood there watching her as she walked away.
Richard’s hopefulness made everything seem that much more tragic, she thought. To be sure, for a little while it had looked as if she would be able to escape the life she hated, and she had begun to take a cheerful view of the future. Now all that was at an end, and she was vexed with herself for having let herself hope.
She had not travelled more than a hundred yards when the sounds of a dog barking and men arguing somewhere behind her broke into her thoughts. She turned around in time to see a small crowd gathered where she and Richard had been, and a rough-looking man holding back a large dog by a rope around his neck. The man was yelling something at Richard. He seemed to be losing control of his dog, who kept on barking and pulling at the rope. All at once, the dog lunged at Richard, biting him in the calf. A woman in the crowd screamed.
“No!” said Rebecca with a sob, and hurried back toward Richard.
To Be Continued…