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Jane Fairfax

Joan Aiken



  About the Book

  Title Page


  Book One

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Book Two

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  About the Author

  Also by Joan Aiken



  A favourite game of the rich and beautiful Emma Woodhouse is dabbling in the marriage market, where she plays with everyone’s hearts except her own. But for Jane Fairfax, the other heroine of Jane Austen’s Emma, marriage is not a game. Orphaned and without a dowry to attract a husband, she must rely on her charms to secure an engagement, or find work as a governess. In a superb companion novel to Austen’s romance, Joan Aiken reveals another world unknown to Emma – Jane’s secret story of love and heartache.

  The Regency seaside resort of Weymouth, like the town of Sanditon in Austen’s last unfinished novel, is the glamorous setting for this romance and intrigue, where the young people of polite society could enjoy assemblies, balls and boating excursions, and all the freedom of the summer season. It is the perfect place for dissipation, as Jane Austen’s Mr Knightley remarks about Frank Churchill’s extended visit there:

  ‘He cannot want money – he cannot want leisure. We know, on the contrary, that he has so much of both, that he is glad to get rid of them at the idlest haunts in the kingdom.’

  If you are a fan of Jane Austen’s Emma you will find this companion novel fascinating.


  The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen’s Emma

  Joan Aiken


  Liz Francke

  in New Zealand


  Chapter 1

  The marriage of Miss Jane Bates to Lieutenant Fairfax was accompanied by the usual good omens: church bells rang, the sun shone, and many handkerchiefs were waved. But these omens were to prove delusive, for the Lieutenant, an excellent officer and a most deserving young man, had the misfortune, not more than three weeks after the wedding, to be posted overseas with his regiment, and killed in action before he had another chance to revisit his native land. His young widow, soon sinking under the combined assaults of consumption and sorrow, bequeathed the care of the fatherless child to her elderly parents, for Lieutenant Fairfax possessed no family of his own.

  The Reverend George Bates, vicar of Highbury, a man already in frail health and advanced years at the time of this occurrence, proved unequal to the unwonted exertions and fatigues laid on him by the addition to his modest household of a lively four-year-old girl: an attack of the bronchial affection to which he was at all times subject soon carried him off. His widow and remaining unmarried daughter (considerably older than her sister Jane) were thereupon obliged to remove themselves from the vicarage and since he, a man of keen intelligence but little judgment and much given to impulsive, unthinking generosity, had left them remarkably ill-provided for, their new quarters must necessarily be very humble: the drawing-room floor of a house in the middle of Highbury village. The ground premises were occupied by people in business (a barber shop); the establishment owned no garden. The village itself, however, enjoyed a pleasant, airy situation in the lovely county of Surry, and early anxieties that the little girl might inherit such a weakness of the lungs as had despatched her unfortunate mother and grandfather were in due course allayed. All that the fond care of a doting grandmother and deeply attached aunt might accomplish was done; and nobody had any expectation but that little Jane would remain in Highbury, taught only what very limited means could command, growing up with no advantages of connection or improvement to be engrafted on what nature had given her in good understanding and a pleasing person.

  That the child’s disposition and capacities were both above average was a fact not lost upon either her affectionate relatives or on more impartial and discerning neighbours; and such services as might, without offence, be offered were soon at her disposal. Mrs Pryor, wife of the incoming vicar, who had seen her own four children carried off untimely by the cholera, was very ready to teach little Jane her letters and multiplication tables, finding the child an eager and biddable pupil. Equally advantageous, but on a more mundane level, was an attention from the chief family of the village: wearing-apparel, very little spoiled and of excellent quality, was contributed by Mr and Mrs Woodhouse, who had two daughters, both of larger size than the orphan. Isabella, the firstborn, was seven years older, while Emma Woodhouse, though born in the same year as Jane, was so remarkably healthy, well-grown, and forward for her age that she had the appearance of being at least two years older. — This system of outgrown clothes being handed on was begun so early, while the children concerned were not of an age to comprehend the difference between worn or new garments, that it soon became a matter of accustomed usage by most of the parties to it. Indeed the scheme was so sensible, and so well-intentioned, that none of the adults involved ever paused a moment to conjecture as to the possible effect on a proud and sensitive nature of being perpetually obliged to appear in the village street clad in bonnets, boots, and pelisses, however superior in quality, which were already familiar to neighbours as having been worn several years previously by the young Misses Woodhouse, and having been chosen, in the first place, to fit the tastes and measurements of another.

  “That cerise muslin becomes you far better than it ever did Emma Woodhouse, especially now that it has faded,” some old lady would be sure to exclaim, encountering small Jane on her way to daily lessons at the vicarage; or, “Bless me, child! you must take to growing a little quicker, indeed you must! Why, I can remember that Isabella wore that pelisse when she was but four years old, and here you are turned six and it still fits you well enough!”

  Little Jane remained, indeed, over a number of years, diminutive for her age, possibly due to the somewhat cramped and airless circumstances of her nurture; at this time she was a thin, dark, soft-spoken child; pale to a fault, her single manifestation of possible future beauty a pair of large expressive dark eyes inherited from her father; her Aunt Hetty continually lamented the lank straightness of her hair, while the similarly lanky proportions of hands, feet, and limbs appeared to indicate that in years to come her present deficiency of stature might be rectified. — She never made any outward complaint when the parcels of used clothing were delivered at the shop below-stairs, but silently attended as her aunt and grandmother clucked and contrived, patching and re-lining articles where necessary, fitting the sleeves of one garment to the bodice of another; she stood in patient compliance while petticoats were tried on her and deep tucks pinned into them, sleeves shortened and hems adjusted; only, sometimes, she would let out an involuntary, almost inaudible sigh; and once, upon her grandmother’s thoughtfully remarking, “I wonder that poor dear Mrs Woodhouse will so often put little Emma into that particularly brilliant shade of puce, I do not think it a very becoming colour,” little Jane was heard to murmur a heartfelt “Yes!” of agreement. Her Aunt Hetty, a woman of boundlessly kind nature but not distinguished either for intellect or observation, made no conjectures as to why Jane would sometimes linger wistfully outside the windows of Ford’s the draper’s shop, studying the goods therein displayed, but was simply thankful that their darling should be so well and warmly clothed at so little cost to themselves; and J
ane, who was noticing and intelligent well in advance of her years, rapidly began to understand how straitened were the means that provided her home, how every halfpenny must be stretched to its limit and beyond. — She had never owned a new garment in her life.

  Besides wearing-apparel, the Woodhouse family supplied another benefit which was reckoned at an infinitely greater value by its recipient.

  Mrs Pryor, while teaching her apt pupil various nursery songs and ballads, had soon discovered in the child a sweet true voice and a remarkably accurate musical ear. Accordingly she ventured to suggest to the well-disposed Mrs Woodhouse the possibility of little Jane’s being permitted to share the services of Signor Negretti who came twice weekly from London to give Isabella and Emma instruction on the pianoforte. A request so reasonable and so practical was instantly acceded to, and it therefore became a matter of habit that Patty the maid should, every Tuesday and Thursday, escort Jane round to the shrubbery side-door of Hartfield, the large comfortable house on the outskirts of Highbury where dwelt Mr Woodhouse and his family.

  Soon, for Jane, those two days would become the most precious of the week, haloed around with joy.

  The peculiar disposition of Mr Woodhouse, a nervous man, whose flow of spirits, never high, could easily be irritated by unwelcome sounds (such as the jangle and repetition of juvenile finger-exercises on the pianoforte) had rendered essential the introduction into his establishment of a secondary instrument, used solely for the children’s lessons and inevitable hours of practice, situated at a sufficient distance from the rooms normally occupied by the master of the house to afford him no source of distress. A disused store-room adjacent to the housekeeper’s parlour was allotted for the purpose, and to this haven Jane was soon permitted to repair whenever she chose, her right to make use of it seldom, if ever, challenged by the Woodhouse young ladies, and her ingress by the side door precluding, in general, the necessity of encountering either servants or members of the family. How many hours of solitude and happiness were passed by Jane in this chamber it would be impossible to compute, but the portion of her childhood thus occupied became paramount in shaping her whole character and therefore her subsequent career.

  After a year of lessons, to the great wonder of all the village, Signor Negretti put forward a request to Mrs Woodhouse that he might be permitted to give Jane tuition on her own, since she had wholly outstripped both her fellow-pupils, even the thirteen-year-old Isabella.

  “And I should be most happy to teach the young lady gratis, for nothing,” asseverated the enthusiastic teacher, who of course was well aware of his pupil’s circumstances, “for she has a talent quite formidable — prodigious!”

  But this offer the generous Woodhouses would not, for a moment, consider: “They were only too happy to pay for the dear child, were rejoiced at her talent, the more especially since this might afford the means of her being able to earn for herself a respectable living in years to come.”

  Young Miss Isabella Woodhouse had no ear at all for music, and no taste for it. The day when, after numerous entreaties, her parents permitted her to discontinue the lessons with Signor Negretti was the happiest of her childhood. But little Emma, her junior, though sadly idle and disinclined for practice, possessed a good ear and considerable taste and could, if only she would apply herself, play charmingly; it was a thousand pities, and the teacher’s continual despair, that her application was so infrequent and so unequal. “Ah, Miss Emma!” he lamented, week after week, “if only you would give yourself to practise as does little Miss Jane.”

  These declarations Jane, of course, did not hear; she only observed that the teacher, invariably weary and discouraged-looking when she first entered the music-room and Emma skipped out of the door, would appear refreshed, and gradually return to better spirits as her own lesson proceeded.

  Emma Woodhouse was at this time a cheerful, handsome, easy-tempered child, on to whose fundamentally amiable and carefree disposition beautiful manners were being engrafted by her gentle sensitive mother. In the fullness of time Emma would grow completely aware of what was due from her to persons less fortunate than herself. But her character was not, and had no capacity to be, a highly perceptive one; alertness to the feelings of other individuals would never form a prime factor. And to find herself adversely compared, week after week, to a child in all other ways so seemingly inferior, so less well endowed in every visible particular: birth, looks, residence, manner, family — and one who, furthermore, was invariably dressed in her own outworn garments — was something she found perplexing, equally hard to bear and hard to understand, the hardest thing, in fact, yet encountered in her otherwise indulged and comfortable existence.

  The connection between the two children remained, simply, that they shared the same music teacher twice a week; no spontaneous friendship had ever sprung up.

  “Should we not invite little Jane Fairfax round to play with you some time, Emma dear?” was a proposal sometimes tentatively put forward by Mrs Woodhouse, whose own relations with the Bates ladies had been established when the former vicar was still alive, and were both benevolent and cordial, taking into consideration their very different styles of living.

  But Emma would always answer her mother’s suggestion with: “Oh, Mamma — need we? Jane is so stiff and dull, she never has anything to say, except about books.”

  “Well, but, my darling, that is because poor Jane leads such a narrow, confined life, shut up in those three small rooms with her aunt and grandmother; kind, well-meaning ladies to be sure, but both of them past their first youth; whereas you have dear Bella to teach you I do not know how many games, and Papa and myself to take you for drives with James, and our big garden to roll and run and jump about in; only think how lucky you are compared with poor Jane.”

  Such arguments carry remarkably little weight with the young, however; and liking cannot be forced; apart from their parity of age the natures of the two children were really so dissimilar that, lacking some cataclysm, there seemed remarkably little chance of a bond between them ever forming.

  Mrs Woodhouse possessed too much good nature, and also too much sound common sense, to exert the weight of authority in such a matter over her extremely strong-willed younger child, where the issue would be of only doubtful benefit to either of the parties concerned. For would it, in the end, be a true kindness to little Jane Fairfax to be instilling in her a taste for such a wider and more agreeable existence as she might never again experience, destined, as she seemed to be, for a life passed in the service of others? And would it advantage little Emma, already rather too fond of her own way, to expose to her almost certain domination a silent, gentle, more self-effacing child upon whom, because of her humble circumstances, Emma was accustomed to look as inferior?

  Solicitous to protect Jane, Emma’s mother did not reflect that the boot might conceivably be on the other foot; that Jane, because of her mental attainments, might be in a position to give Emma some salutary set-down.

  The value of friendship between two rather lonely children began, in any case, to seem of minor importance to Mrs Woodhouse, beset, as she was, with greater cares, the chief of which were well-founded anxieties about her own health and about the ability of her husband, a kindly and devoted but not strong-natured man, to shoulder the responsibilities of the household, should she be obliged to take to her bed for any protracted period. — She was in expectation of a confinement which, judging from her two previous experiences, might be difficult, even dangerous. Her frame was not robust. Many matters must be set in order before the approaching event. And a fervent wish to avoid any discord or household upset, such as might ensue if little Emma were constrained to some course that did not please her, became the overriding factor. Mrs Woodhouse did not attempt to enforce her private, intuitive feeling that a friendship between the two children might be of value to both. Only the unspoken wish was picked up and, as such things do, may have influenced her daughter in a contrary direction.

Woodhouse, a valetudinarian himself, in continual agitation about his own health, was acutely afflicted by the sight of indisposition in others, even the thought of it; therefore, on the increasingly frequent occasions when she found herself unfit for the kind of lively, cheerful conversation he preferred, it became his wife’s habit to plead household duties and betake herself to the housekeeper’s parlour where Mrs Hill, a kindly woman with understanding far in advance of her education, would leave her mistress in peace to enjoy the solace of music. For, from here, if the door were left ajar, the sound of Jane’s piano practising could be heard, and the pleasure this afforded to Mrs Woodhouse it would be impossible to overestimate. She would sit for a half-hour or so, listening to whatever Jane chanced to be playing, whether Haydn, Scarlatti, or Cramer, then return, refreshed and with strength and optimism renewed, to the demands of her husband’s company.

  In the month of October, after a disastrously mismanaged birth, Mrs Woodhouse was interred, with due ceremony, in Highbury churchyard, along with her third and stillborn child. Her husband, utterly stricken by this event, found himself obliged to take to his bed, from which, three weeks later, he arose, aged, apparently, by ten years, piteous and woe-begone, with white hair and faltering gait.

  At the commencement of this period of mourning, thirteen-year-old Isabella had been carried off by kindly cousins to stay at their house in Kent. But six-year-old Emma refused to be removed from her home into what she envisaged as a place of exile. She kicked, she screamed, she wept, she stormed, and in general behaved herself so abominably that the invitation on her behalf by the cousins was hastily withdrawn, since they had no confidence that they would be able to manage the child.

  “I have never known her behave so,” said Mrs Hill the housekeeper, into whose charge Emma was, perforce, relinquished.

  Some days of total solitude were therefore passed by the unhappy orphan, and it was left to the compassion and initiative of a friend and neighbour, young Mr Knightley, a sensible and well-disposed man still in his twenties, to undertake the search for a governess who might be able to come at short notice and undertake her charge. — He achieved this through the Pryors, who, by great good luck, were acquainted with the very person for the task, a young lady, a connection of theirs, recently obliged to quit her first post at Weybridge, not through any fault of her own, but because the family were departing abroad. She was free to commence her new duties at the end of a week, did so, and rapidly grew to be so much a part of the Woodhouse family circle that Emma, for once, apparently almost forgetting her own mother, turned to dear Miss Taylor for all the affection, the kindness, the support, and continuous, happy, unimpeded intercourse that would normally be expected from a parent. All these Miss Taylor was able to provide without stint, and the only evil of Emma’s new life must be, as before, that of being allowed rather too much of her own way.