Something is amiss, Emma thought, immediately upon entering her tidy bedchamber. What is it . . . ?
She scanned the neatly made bed, orderly side table, and dressing chest. . . . There. She stepped forward, heart squeezing.
In the special teacup she kept as decoration nestled a clutch of tiny pink roses. The flowers had likely been picked from her aunt’s garden next door, but they had been picked for her, and they had been picked by him, and that was all that mattered.
She knew instantly who had left them—Phillip Weston. Her favorite from among her father’s many pupils. And likely the only one who knew it was her birthday—her sixteenth. How much kinder Phillip was than his older brother, Henry, who had boarded with them a few years before.
Emma carefully lifted the cup, bringing the flowers to her nose and breathing in the fragrance of apple-sweet roses and fresh greenery. Mmm . . . She held the cup away, admiring how the flowers’pink petals and green leaves brought out the colorful painting on its side.
She found herself thinking back to the day her mother had given her this teacup three years before. The very day Henry Weston had nearly broken it. . . .
Emma untied the ribbon, peeled back the tissue paper—careful not to rip it—and opened the box. Looking inside, pleasure filled her. She had been right about its contents. For she had noticed the prized teacup missing from its place in the china cupboard.
“It was your grandmother’s,” her mother said. “She purchased it on her wedding trip. All the way to Italy. Can you imagine?”
“Yes,” Emma breathed, admiring anew the gold-rimmed cup with its detailed painting of a Venetian gondola and bridge. “It’s beautiful. I’ve always admired it.”
A rare dimple appeared in her mother’s pale cheek. “I know you have.”
Emma smiled. “Thank you, Mamma.”
“Happy birthday, my dear.”
Emma returned the cup and saucer gingerly into the box, planning to carry it up to her bedchamber. She stepped out of the sitting room and—wham—a wooden ball slammed into the wall opposite, nearly knocking the box from her hands. She looked up, infuriated to see one of her father’s pupils smirking at her.
“Henry Weston!” Emma clutched the box to her young bosom, shielding it with her arms. “Do be careful.”
His green eyes slid from her face to her arms, and he stepped closer. “What is in the box?”
“Ah, that’s right. It is your birthday. How old are you now—ten?”
She lifted her chin. “I am thirteen, as you very well know.”
He reached over, pulled back the paper, and peered into the box. His eyes glinted, and then he chuckled, the chuckle soon growing into a laugh.
She glared at the smug sixteen-year-old. “I don’t see what is so funny.”
“It is the perfect gift for you, Emma Smallwood. A single teacup. A single solitary teacup. Have I not often said you will end a spinster?”
“I will not,” she insisted.
“Sitting about and reading all day as you do, your head will continue to grow but your limbs will shrivel, and who would want to marry that?”
“Someone far better than you.”
He snorted. “If someone marries you, Emma Smallwood, I shall . . . I shall perform the dance of the swords at your wedding breakfast.” He grinned. “Naked.”
She scoffed in disgust. “Who would want to seethat? Besides, who says I would invite you to my wedding?”
He tweaked her chin in a patronizing fashion. “Bluestocking.”
She scowled. “Jackanapes!”
“Emma Smallwood . . .” Her mother appeared in the doorway, eyes flashing. “What word did I hear coming from your mouth? I give you a beautiful gift and you repay me with an ugly word?”
“Hello, Mr. Weston.” Her mother slanted Henry a dismissive look. “Do excuse us.”
“Mrs. Smallwood.” He bowed and then turned toward the stairs.
“Emma,” her mother hissed. “Young ladies do not speak to gentlemen in such a manner.”
“He’s no gentleman,” Emma said, hoping Henry would hear. “He certainly does not act like one.”
Her mother’s lips tightened. “Be that as it may, it isn’t proper. I want you to go to your room and read the chapter on polite manners in the book I gave you.”
Emma protested, “Mamma . . .”
Her mother held up her hand. “Not another word. I know I say you read too many books, but I would rather you read one on the feminine graces than those horrid scholarly tomes of your father’s.”
“Yes, Mamma.” Emma sighed and carried her cup upstairs.
Unhappy memory fading, Emma smiled at the sweet bouquet left for her by Henry’s younger brother, Phillip. She wondered what Henry Weston would say if he could see her now and knew who had given her flowers.
When Henry Weston left the Smallwood Academy, Emma had been relieved, but she would be sad to see Phillip depart. It was difficult to believe two brothers could be so very different.
Before, however, Lucy had been an hour in the house she had contrived a place for everything and put everything in its place.
—The Naughty Girl Won, circa 1800
Five years later
Twenty-one-year-old Emma Smallwood carefully dusted the collection of favorite books atop her dressing chest. It was the one bit of housekeeping she insisted on doing herself, despite Mrs. Malloy’s protestations. She then carefully wiped her cherished teacup against any dust particle daring to lodge there. The cup and saucer were a gift from her mother—fine porcelain rimmed with real gold.
Emma set the cup and saucer back atop the leather-bound volume of Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Sheangled the cup to best display the image on its side—a lovely painting of a graceful gondola in Venice.
Emma had never sipped from the gold-rimmed cup. But she did like to look at it. To remember her mother, gone these two years. To remember a young man who had once left roses inside it. And to imagine visiting Italy someday herself.
Morning ritual finished, Emma stowed her cleaning supplies and checked the chatelaine watch hooked to her bodice. She closed the cover with a satisfying snap. Precisely as she’d thought. Time to go down and send off their last remaining pupil.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she saw Edward Sims standing in the hall, fidgeting with his valise. He wore a smart frock coat and top hat, and looked the picture of a young man ready to take on the world.
“All set, Mr. Sims?”
He turned. “Yes, Miss Smallwood.”
Though she was only four years his senior, Emma felt a fondness bordering on the maternal when she looked at the young man who had lived with them for most of the last three years. She glanced around the empty hall. “Has my father bid you farewell?”
Mr. Sims shifted and shook his head. “I have not seen him this morning.”
Emma forced a smile. “What a pity. He shall be so sorry to have missed you. I know he wanted to be here to see you off.”
Her father ought to have been there. But no doubt he had gone to the churchyard to visit her grave. Again.
Mr. Sims gave an awkward smile. “Tell him good-bye for me, and thank him for everything.”
“And I thank you especially, Miss Smallwood. I learned a great deal from you.”
“You are very welcome, Mr. Sims. I wish you every success at university.”
From the front window, she watched the young man walk past the Smallwood Academy sign, and down the cobbled lane, feeling the wistful letdown she often felt when a pupil left them. This time all the more, since there were no new students to replace him.
The house seemed suddenly quiet and empty. She wished Mr. Sims had a younger brother. Six younger brothers. She sighed. Perhaps even amiable Mr. Sims would hesitate to recommend Mr. Smallwood as tutor, considering how little her father had actually been involved in his education. But how would they pay their cook-housekeeper and maid, not to mention the languishing pile of bills, without more pupils?
Emma walked to the desk in the family sitting room, pulled out the bound notebook she kept there, and flipped past previous lists:
Books read this year.
Books to read next.
Improvements needed to boys’ chambers.
Places to visit someday.
New texts and primers to order for next term: None.
Diversions to improve Papa’s moods/Improvement noted: None.
Pupils by year.
Her pupil lists, which had grown shorter with each passing year, included notes on each young man’s character and his plans for the future.
She turned to the list from three years before, running her finger over the few names, lingering on one in particular.
Phillip Weston. Kind and amiable. Second son. Plans to follow his brother to Oxford and read the law.
The brief note hardly did him justice. Phillip Weston had been her only true friend among her father’s pupils over the years.
Seeing his name caused her to turn to another page. Another list.
Prospective pupils for the future: Rowan and Julian Weston?
Emma thought again of the letter she had sent a fortnight before. She knew perfectly well Henry and Phillip Weston had two younger half brothers. Phillip had mentioned them often enough. Julian and Rowan were at least fifteen by now—older than Phillip when he’d been sent to the academy.
But they had not come.
She had broached the subject with her father several times in the past, suggesting he write to the boys’ father. But he had hemmed, hawed, and sighed, saying he was sure, if Sir Giles meant to send his younger sons to them, he would have done so already. No, more likely, Sir Giles and his second wife had eschewed their humble establishment in favor of prestigious Winchester, Harrow, or Eton.
“Well, it would not hurt to ask,” Emma had urged.
But her father had grimaced and said maybe another day.
Therefore Emma, who had been acting with increasing frequency as her father’s secretary, had taken up quill and ink and written to Sir Giles in her father’s stead, to ask if he might consider sending his younger sons, as he had his older two.
She still could hardly believe she had done so. What had come over her? In hindsight, she knew very well. She had read an account of the daring travels of the Russian princess Catherine Dashkov. Reading about the princess’s exploits had inspired Emma’s rare act of bravery—or foolishness—whichever the letter had been. In the end, her letter apparently made no difference. Her assertiveness had been in vain, for there had been no reply. She hoped if Sir Giles had been offended at their presumption that word of it had not reached Phillip, who was, she believed, still away at university.
Turning a page in her notebook, Emma tapped a quill in ink and began a new list.
Measures to acquire new pupils.
Someone knocked on the doorjamb, and Emma looked up. There stood Aunt Jane, who had let herself in through the side door as usual.
“Mr. Sims departed on schedule?” Jane asked with one of her frequent smiles, punctuated by slightly crooked eyeteeth.
“Yes. You only just missed him.” Emma set her quill back in its holder.
Her aunt laid her bonnet on the sideboard and smoothed back her hair. Amidst the brown, Emma glimpsed a few silver hairs that had escaped her ruthless plucking.
Jane, her father’s sister, younger by six years, had never married. She lived in the house next door, which had been their parents’ home. There she ran a sister school to the Smallwood Academy—a boarding school for young ladies.
Jane peeled off her gloves. “Dare I ask where your father is?”
Emma shook her head. “He’s been gone since breakfast.”
Aunt Jane pulled in her lips in a regretful expression, her shaking head mirroring Emma’s.
Mrs. Malloy, the Smallwoods’ cook-housekeeper, brought in the tea tray and seemed not in the least surprised to see Jane Smallwood there. In fact, three cups already sat upon the tray.
“You will join me, I hope?” Emma asked politely, knowing full well her aunt had planned to do so all along.
“Thank you, my dear.”
As if drawn by the warm trail of steam from the kettle or the smell of Mrs. Malloy’s shortbread, the front door opened and Emma’s father shuffled in, head bowed, thin mouth downturned, looking older than his forty-eight years.
Mrs. Malloy bustled over to take his hat and muffler, scolding, “Mr. Smallwood . . . yer shoes are a right mess! And wet trouser ’ems in the bargain. Did ya swim ’ome?”
“Do forgive me, Mrs. Malloy,” he said dryly. Irony glinted in his round, blue eyes. “I did not step in that puddle to spite you.” He wiped his shoes and looked across at his daughter and sister. “Am I in time for tea?”
“Yes,” Emma replied. “Though you have missed Mr. Sims.”
Her father blinked, clearly surprised and chagrined. “Left already? Good heavens. I wanted to be here. I do hope you passed along my gratitude and farewells.”
“Of course I did.”
Her father sat down, rubbing his hands together. “Chilly day. Damp too.”
“You ought not to have stayed outdoors so long, John,” Jane said. “You’ll catch your death.”
“I should be so lucky,” he murmured.
Aunt and niece shared a look of concern.
Emma poured tea into their plain everyday cups, and conversation dwindled while they partook of the simple repast of hot tea, bread, cheese, and shortbread. Her father ate a little of everything, she noticed, though his appetite was not what it once was.
Emma nibbled bread and cheese but resisted the shortbread, though it was her favorite. Her slim figure was one of the few things her mother had praised. Emma allowed herself sweets only at Christmas and her birthday.
She sipped her tea, then set down her cup. “Well, Papa,” she began, “I have started a list.”
“Another? What is it this time?”
She felt a flicker of annoyance at his condescending tone but replied evenly, “A list of things we might try to acquire new pupils.”
“Ah.” He waved a dismissive hand as though the topic were trivial.
Her aunt said more encouragingly, “And what have you thought of so far?”
Emma looked at her gratefully. “A new advertisement in the paper. Perhaps expanding to other newspapers as well, though that would be expensive. A larger sign might help. Our old one is showing signs of wear, I fear. And hardly visible unless one is looking for it.”
Aunt Jane nodded. “Yes, a smart, well-maintained sign is very important, I feel.”
“Ours is fine,” John Smallwood muttered into his tea. “It is not as though parents go wandering through the streets in search of a tutor.”
Emma weighed her best course, then said, “You are exactly right, Papa. It is not passersby we need to attract, but rather well-to-do families farther afield.”
His eyes dulled, and his mouth slackened. “I just don’t have the energy for all of that, Emma. I am not a young man anymore.”
“Oh come, John,” his sister said. “You have many good years ahead of you.”
He sighed. “What a depressing thought.”
With a glance at her niece, Jane said, “You have Emma to think of, John, if not yourself.”
He shrugged, unconvinced. “Emma is more than capable of taking care of herself. As are you.”
At that, Emma and her aunt shared another long look.
If Emma didn’t think of some way to help her father soon, they would be in serious trouble, both financially and otherwise. They might very well lose their home and school—his only livelihood . . . and hers.
Emma spent the next two days combing her memory and the newspapers for names of families with sons who were not already enrolled elsewhere, as far as she knew. She was hunched over the desk when Mrs. Malloy entered the sitting room with the day’s post. “’Ere you go, love.”
Needing to stretch, Emma rose and looked idly through the stack, dreading to find more bills or final notices. Her hand hesitated on one of the letters addressed to her father. The return direction: Ebbington Manor, Ebford, Cornwall.
Ebbington Manor was the primary estate of Sir Giles Weston and his family. Excitement and fear twisted through her stomach and along her spine. She had all but given up hope of a reply.
Because her father left it to her to open his correspondence—especially the increasingly depressing bills—she felt only minor qualms about lifting the seal and unfolding this letter as she had so many others.
She glanced toward the door with a twinge of self-consciousness, then read the lines written in what appeared to be a somewhat hurried hand:
My dear Mr. Smallwood,
Thank you for your letter and your kind interest in my younger sons. You are correct that they have reached—nay, surpassed—the age when my two older boys left us to spend a few years with you there in Longstaple. However, Lady Weston feels that our youngest are too delicate to live apart from their mamma. While I personally think the experience would be as good for them as it was for Henry and Phillip, and would no doubt strengthen their developing characters in the bargain, I feel I must defer to my wife’s wishes in this matter.
I don’t suppose you would consider coming to Ebbington Manor and teaching the boys here at, say, twice the boarding rate? If you could but spend one year here preparing them for university, how ideal that would be for us. Of course I realize that is a great deal to ask, especially considering the loss of your wife, which I was very sorry to hear of. But if you ever desire a change of scenery, do not hesitate to let me know. You would be most welcome. Your daughter as well.
Yours most sincerely,
Sir Giles Weston, Bart
Good heavens, what a thought. That her father would give up his established academy to tutor two pupils. What personal service that would be! Many young gentlemen, fresh from university but without fortune, served as tutors in grand houses. But to presume that Mr. John Smallwood would leave his home and academy to do the same . . . ? Emma felt offended on her father’s behalf. Had word gotten around that the Smallwoods were in dire straits? Emma huffed and tossed the letter back onto the pile.
She stood there, stewing. But after vexation passed, she read the letter again. In reality, Sir Giles’s tone was perfectly polite, nearly apologetic to even suggest such an idea. He merely wanted to see his sons well educated—all while kowtowing to his wife’s irrational coddling.
The first Lady Weston, Phillip and Henry’s mother, had died when the boys were quite young. And Emma knew from comments Phillip had made that his stepmother, the second Lady Weston, was somewhat difficult—and that she favored her sons by birth far above her sons by marriage. Emma recalled feeling sorry for Phillip when he’d described his tenuous relationship with the woman.
Emma did not recall Henry speaking of his stepmother one way or the other, though she and Henry had not been friends and therefore had not spoken of such personal matters.
Emma thought of Ebbington Manor, a place she had never seen but had often imagined, high on a cliff on the windswept Cornwall coast. Of course she would enjoy seeing Phillip Weston again. But she reminded herself that he was away at Oxford, likely in his third year at Balliol. Not sitting at home waiting for her to visit.
Should she show the letter to her father? She doubted he would even consider the notion, not when he spent hours each day visiting his wife’s grave. And if he did agree, what would she do—pack up her father and send him off to Cornwall for a year while she remained behind with Aunt Jane?
On one hand, that scenario appealed to her. How many times had her aunt suggested Emma teach with her someday, eventually becoming Jane’s partner in the girls’ school, if and when she felt comfortable leaving her father on his own?
But her father still needed her. Emma had been helping him for years—first during her mother’s long illness and then even more so after she’d passed on and her father’s depression of spirits began. Emma wasn’t certain he was capable of managing on his own. Although, at Ebbington Manor, he would be responsible for only the boys’ education, and not the administration of an entire academy—juggling day scholars, tuition notices, as well as special sessions with the dancing master, drawing instructor, and French tutor. Yes, it might help her father if his focus were narrowed. Yet Emma couldn’t be certain, and she couldn’t abide the thought of sending him away on his own. What if he should fail? Embarrass himself and suffer the mortification of being dismissed? That would be too much for him to bear in his current state.
You’re fretting over nothing, Emma, she chided herself.He won’t want to go.
But when she broached the subject after dinner, her father stunned her by straightening and becoming alert, looking at her with more animation than she’d seen in years.
“Did Sir Giles really invite us to come and live there?” he asked.
“Yes, but . . .”
“Interesting notion . . .” His eyes brightened as he looked toward the ceiling in thought.
“Father, I assure you I did not hint at any such arrangement, only asked if he might consider sending his younger sons to us here.”
Her father nodded, but he seemed not at all vexed about the invitation, nor her presumption in writing.
He asked to see the letter, and she produced it.
He read it, lowered his spectacles, and said, “In all honesty, my dear, I long for a change. Being here in this house, day after day, night after night. The place where my dear one suffered so long . . . Constantly surrounded by things that remind me—not of the happy years, as I should like, but of the last years. The painful years. Why do you think I leave so often?”
“I . . . thought it was to visit her in the churchyard,” Emma said quietly.
He shrugged. “I go there now and again, to make certain the plot is kept up. To pull weeds or lay a few flowers. But not to visit her. She is not there, Emma. She is somewhere far better than a dreary Longstaple churchyard.”
Tears brightened his eyes, and Emma blinked back her own tears. At the moment she was too worried about the future to mourn the past.
“But . . . Ebford is . . . such a long way,” she stammered. “In the very north of Cornwall.”
“Not so very far. And it would only be for a year.” He sat back, musing, “I remember Phillip describing Ebbington Manor. Rambling old house, high on a cliff near the sea. Beautiful paths along the coast. . . .”
“But you would not be there to walk along the coast,” Emma reminded him. “You would be there to teach.”
“Yes, I know. But certainly we would have some time to enjoy the out-of-doors.” He hesitated for the first time. “Though I should not presume you would wish to go with me, my dear. I realize you are not a little girl any longer.”
Emma rose and stepped to the window, thoughts whirling. Could she really do it—uproot herself and leave all she knew to live in Cornwall for a year? Emma felt her sense of control slipping away and her panic rising. “I . . . I need to think.”
“Of course you do, my dear. This is all very sudden. Quite a shock, though a pleasant one, at least for me. But you consider what is best. I shall abide by your decision.”
Such responsibility! Should she, could she, accept and thereby place herself under the same roof as Henry and Phillip Weston? At least she assumed Phillip would be there during school vacations. She wasn’t sure where his older brother was nowadays.
In her mind’s eye, she saw Henry Weston, wavy dark hair wild about his sharp-featured face. His eerie green eyes narrowing in menace as he commanded her to stay out of his room or pulled some nasty trick on her.
Fire irons clanged belowstairs, and Emma started. How foolish, she thought, despising irrational emotion.
She rose with determination. She knew what to do. She would go and speak with levelheaded Aunt Jane. Aunt Jane who would hate to see them go. Aunt Jane who so often spoke of a fond “someday” when she and Emma might teach together in her school. Cautious Aunt Jane who had avoided the attentions of men all her days. Yes, Aunt Jane would help her decide.
Sitting in her aunt’s snug parlor that evening, Emma handed her the letter and sat back while Jane read it. While she waited, Emma looked from the plain, chipped teacup in her hand to the fine rose-and-white tea set—cups, saucers, small plates—displayed in the corner cabinet. How often she had admired the set. She remembered asking Aunt Jane why she never used it—instead using the same old mismatched cups and saucers for years.
“Those are too good for everyday use,” she’d said. “I’m saving them.”
“Saving them for what?” young Emma had asked. “Your wedding?”
“My wedding? Heavens no.” Jane had winked and tweaked Emma’s nose. “Maybe yours.” Then her eyes had grown thoughtful and distant. “I . . . don’t know really. Someday I’ll use it. But not today.”
Now, again eyeing the lovely tea set sitting on the shelf, Emma’s heart twisted. The sight saddened her, though she knew it should not. She thought of her own special teacup from her mother. Emma polished and admired it but never used it either, so who was she to question Aunt Jane?
Emma returned her gaze to Jane Smallwood’s angular face with pointed nose and chin. Her eyes were large and soft green, like Emma’s. It was a face Emma loved, had always loved. With each passing year, the lines around her aunt’s eyes and across her forehead became more pronounced. Even so, Emma thought it a beautiful face, though she imagined not everyone shared her opinion.
Jane’s brow furrowed as she neared the end of the letter. She said quietly, “He mentions his sons, Henry and Phillip. . . . I remember them both.”
Yes, her aunt had met them both on many occasions—when slipping over for tea as she did, or walking to church together and sharing a meal afterward, as she so often had over the years.
She looked at Emma from beneath her lashes. “I believe you were rather fond of one of them.”
Emma felt her cheeks grow warm. “Phillip and I were friends—that is all. But that was years ago.”
Aunt Jane pursed her thin lips. “What has your father said?”
“Oddly enough, he seems keen on the idea. Though he says he’ll leave the decision to me. But I have no desire to pack up and move. And what would become of our house? And all of our books?”
“A tenant might easily be found,” Jane said. “And I can look after the place for you in your absence.”
Emma stared in disbelief. This wasn’t the reaction she had expected. Hoped for. “But I don’t want to go.” Her voice rose plaintively, very unlike her normally reserved tone.
Jane said, “I know you have read about Cornwall. Here is your opportunity to see it for yourself.”
“You want us to leave?”
“Emma . . .” Jane’s forehead crinkled once more, her eyes large and expressive. “This isn’t about what I want.”
“But . . . ” Emma pulled a face. “You have never felt it necessary to leave here, to go gallivanting off on some ill-conceived venture. To put yourself in the path of gentlemen.”
Jane looked off into the distance. “Perhaps I should have.”
Emma sat speechless. She wondered if her aunt was thinking of Mr. Farley, an admirer she once turned down to continue teaching. Emma had never met Mr. Farley, but her aunt had described their meeting, and allowed her to read his letter.
Jane Smallwood reached over and laid a hand on hers. “Don’t misunderstand me, Emma. I am content with my lot. I derive great satisfaction from teaching. But that does not mean I don’t sometimes wonder what I have missed. What my life might have been like, had I said yes to a little adventure of my own.”
Edward Ferrars was privately tutored in the home of the Reverend Mr. Pratt at Longstaple, near Plymouth. . . .
—Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels.