Mr Knightley and the Fairies by Amanda Grange

Mr Knightley and the Fairies
by Amanda Grange
created for Mr Knightley's Picnic 2010

Today has been a strange day! I can scarcely believe it all happened, but the piece of gossamer is indisputable, a reminder of the oddest but most amusing day of my life.

It began normally enough. Emma and her father, Mr and Mrs Elton, Harriet Smith, Jane Fairfax, Frank Churchill, the Westons, and the Bateses joined me at Donwell Abbey for an al fresco party to pick strawberries.

Most of my guests were happy. Mrs Elton was holding forth, saying she wanted to ride on a donkey, and the Westons were revelling in the company of young Churchill, but Emma appeared dissatisfied.

‘Are the strawberries not to your liking?’ I asked her.

‘The strawberries are delicious. It is everything else which disappoints’ she said. ‘I wish . . .’

‘What do you wish?’

‘I wish it were Harriet that Mr Elton loved. I wish he were going to take her home to the rectory, and not the wretched Augusta. I wish Jane Fairfax were not quite so beautiful or quite so accomplished. And I wish . . . ’ She stopped suddenly, and gave a mischievous smile.

‘Yes?’ I prompted her.

But she would not tell me what she wished, and said, ‘Let us walk awhile.’

I offered her my arm, and together we strolled between the strawberry beds, enjoying the fine weather. She bent to pick one of the ripe, red fruits and suddenly she let out an exclamation of pity.

‘Oh, poor butterfly, it has caught one of its wings on the straw.’ She bent closer and then said in astonishment, ‘No, not a butterfly. It’s a fairy!’

I smiled at her joke, and bent down to humour her, but there amidst my strawberries I saw a tiny creature. It was very beautiful, with a spider silk gown, golden hair and a pair of gossamer wings. Next to it was another similar being, trying, without success, to set it free.

‘You poor thing,’ said Emma, and with great delicacy she untangled the creature, to the delight of both the fairies.

But alas! A part of the wing remained caught in the straw. I managed to free it, and held out the tiny spot of iridescence, which shimmered on my finger.

‘I do not need it. My torn wing will mend,’ said the fairy, in a bell-like voice. She shook herself. ‘Oh, I am so glad to be free.’ She turned to Emma. ‘As a reward, I will grant your wish.’

And with that, she flew from the ground.

‘You haven’t heard my wish yet!’ said Emma, as the fairy prepared to depart.

‘Oh, yes, I heard it. Your thoughts preceded you,’ said the fairy, and she and her friend danced in the air like dust motes, before flying away.
Emma and I exchanged glances.

‘Did that really happen?’ she asked.

‘No,’ I said. ‘We must both have caught a touch of the sun.’

‘Then what is that?’ she asked, looking at the piece of wing on my finger.

‘A petal. What else could it be?’ I said. I wrapped it carefully in my handkerchief nonetheless. ‘Let us return to the rest of the party and sit in the shade.’

She took my arm and we returned to the others, seating ourselves next to Harriet.

‘Is it my imagination, or is Jane Fairfax less beautiful than she was five minutes ago?’ I asked.

‘Your imagination,’ said Emma promptly. ‘She is every bit as lovely as she was.’
But I could tell that she did not think so, and she looked distinctly uncomfortable.

‘Dear Jane, do entertain us,’ said Mrs Weston. ‘Sing for us!’

Miss Fairfax obliged, but although her voice was pleasant enough, it lacked its usual purity. The rest of the party looked surprised, and Jane excused herself, saying she had a sore throat.

‘I have always thought Miss Fairfax’s voice overrated,’ came a low voice beside us, and looking round, I saw that Mr Elton had joined us and was now sitting on the other side of Harriet. ‘Your voice, Miss Smith, is the only one worth listening to.’

‘Mr Elton, hush, you are a married man!’ said Harriet, blushing.

‘I must have been mad to marry her,’ said Mr Elton, looking at his wife. ‘I never loved her. I married her only because I thought I had no hope of you, Harriet. Miss Woodhouse was right, I was in love with you all the time. I thought you stayed away from the Christmas party in order to avoid me, because you had noticed my admiration and did not feel able to return it. I tried to cover my wounded feelings by proposing to Miss Woodhouse in the carriage, knowing she would refuse me, and then I left Highbury in an effort to heal my wounded pride. I met Augusta soon afterwards and she dazzled me with her tales of Mr Suckling and Maple Grove. I proposed to her in a fit of madness, thinking I had no hope of you. But she is nothing beside you. You are so lovely, so beautiful, so perfect in every way. It is you I love, dear Harriet, it has always been you.’

‘What is that you are saying?’ brayed Mrs Elton, as she noticed that her husband had left her side.

I looked at her incredulously, for something was happening to her.

Then I looked at Emma, who had the grace to blush.

‘Emma, when you wished for Jane to be less beautiful and wished for Mr Elton to love Harriet, what else did you wish for?’

‘Nothing,’ she said, looking uncomfortable.

‘Mr E!’ called Mrs Elton.

‘Emma!’ I said in horror.

For there before me, Mrs Elton was changing. Her nose was becoming longer, and growing soft fur. She was sprouting long ears on the top of her head. Her eyes were becoming larger and her hands were turning into hooves.

‘Mr E!’ she called again. ‘Mr E-ore. Eeyore. Eeyore!’

‘Has something happened to Mrs Elton?’ whispered Mrs Weston in shocked tones.

‘No, of course not,’ said Emma. ‘My dear Mrs Weston, you must have eaten something that disagreed with you.’

‘Yes, I think I must,’ said Mrs Weston, ‘for Jane Fairfax looks like a hag and is speaking in a voice like a toad, Mr Elton has just swept Harriet Smith off her feet and has set off with her towards the rectory, and Mrs Elton is a donkey!’

‘Emma!’ I said. ‘What have you done?’

‘It isn’t my fault!’ she protested. ‘How was I to know there were fairies at the bottom of the garden?’

I looked at her in exasperation, but I had to agree with her.

‘Then we must find them again,’ I said.

We excused ourselves and returned to the strawberry beds, calling out as we did so, ‘Come back! Put it right!’

There was a tinkle of laughter and the tiniest flurry of wings.

‘You knew that wasn’t what I wanted!’ whispered Emma to the unrepentant fairy.

‘Of course it was! I saw it in your mind,’ the fairy said.

‘But I only wanted it in my mind! It was fun to think of it, but not to actually do it. You must put things back the way they were.’

‘Humans! You can never make up your own minds,’ said the fairy in a huff. But with a shrug of her delicate shoulders and a wave of her wand, she said, ‘Very well, I have done as you asked. And now, you will see me no more.’

With a silvery laugh and a rainbow ripple of wings, she was gone.

In some trepidation, Emma and I returned to the other guests. There was Mrs Elton, talking about riding a donkey instead of being one. Mr Elton was at her feet. And Jane Fairfax was singing in the sweetest, purest voice.

‘I have always been envious of Jane Fairfax,’ said Emma with a sigh. ‘But now, never again.’

A tiny voice whispered in my ear, ‘You have always wanted Emma to be more kindly disposed towards Jane Farifax, and when my friend granted Emma’s wish, I decided to granted yours as well. I know what you are thinking: that Emma’s newfound appreciation of Jane Fairfax is not the only thing you wished for. But give it time, Mr Knightley. One day soon you will find that all your wishes come true.’

All my wishes? Frank Churchill disgraced, Emma realising she does not love him and realising that she loves me? I am inclined to think it impossible, but then I remembered Mrs Elton with long, furry ears and I think there is perhaps some hope for me!

Amanda Grange, author of Mr Knightley's Diary and other Jane Austen-related stories listed here.

* image source fairy
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