Now that the holidays are behind us, I can take a deep breath and look forward to MY favorite holiday: Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I don’t love Christmas (gifts ARE fun and twinkle lights ARE pretty), but the combination of excessive gift giving with the religious aspect of what Christmas actually means creates a conflict of interest in my opinion. Plus, the January bills, quite frankly, are depressing.
Not so with Valentine’s Day. It’s so simple…sharing an evening with your sweetheart. For me, that means a nice dinner out and a simple gift that says “I love you” (or, in my case, “I’d marry you all over again, even when you drive me crazy!” lol). I love getting dressed up and sitting in a fancy restaurant with Marc, enjoying being served (and not having to clean up…makes me actually feel like I’m living in the Regency period for once!), and having uninterrupted conversation for the duration of the meal. No interruptions from teenagers, dogs, parrots, cats, or the goat (yes, I have a house-goat).
But what if you don’t have a sweetheart? What if, like Emma, you are not only determined to be a spinster but also to ensure that others are NOT spinsters? Emma’s love of matchmaking and the unfortunate situations that occur because of her misguided, although well-intentioned, efforts make for one of my favorite Jane Austen novels. I suppose that is why we love romance novels.
Romance is a fanciful idea. Most of us have experienced the highs and lows of romance. In the beginning, everything is flowers and unicorns. But after a while, romance becomes a relationship and reality sinks in. My Prince Charming might have ridden in on a white horse (literally), but he also leaves the toilet seat up and doesn’t put his dirty clothes in the hamper. He spills his coffee on the counter and doesn’t wipe it up (grr). But, deep down, he’s still my Prince Charming and I can still feel romance in the smallest of gestures: how he brings me coffee each morning, how he runs errands for me without a complaint, how he loves our menagerie of animals that wander through the house, and how, when he thinks I’m not aware, he looks at me with that same hint of adoration from our very first days of falling in love.
Yes, romance is all around us and I love it! That being said, for my January blog, I’m very happy to provide a short excerpt of my adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, The Matchmaker.
Leaning over the back of the kitchen chair, a very busy Emma Weaver struck an unknowingly pretty picture as she bent forward to rearrange the yellow and purple flowers in the glass jar. The late summer blooms had been plucked from her flower garden only an hour before, and their sweet scent wafted through the room as she moved them around for the third or fourth time in less than ten minutes. Satisfied at last, she stood upright, nodded her self-approval toward the bouquet, then quickly assessed the room with her cornflower-blue eyes.
The table was set with plain white linen and her maem’s best china, a gift from her daed when they had just been married. It was something that Emma loved to use when guests came for supper, especially on Sunday evenings. The sitting area was freshly cleaned just the day prior, for it was forbidden to clean on Sunday, regardless of whether or not it was a church Sunday or a visiting Sunday. The blue sofa and two rocking chairs with blue and white quilted cushions looked welcoming for their soon-to-arrive guests.
“Ah, Emma!” a deep voice sounded out from the staircase.
She looked up in time to see her daed shuffling down the stairs, taking each step one at a time as his weathered hand held the railing. With his long white beard and his thinning hair, he looked older than his sixty-five years, a fact that worried Emma on a regular basis. “I thought you were resting, Daed,” she said as she hurried to meet him at the bottom of the stairs. Taking his arm, she helped lead him to his favorite chair: a blue recliner that was covered with a pretty crocheted blanket she had made for him last winter.
“Such a quiet house nowadays,” he mumbled as he sat down and raised the foot of the chair so that he could rest his legs. “How sad for you that Anna went off to get married!” He clucked his tongue a few times and shut his eyes as he rested his head on the back of the chair. “Poor Anna, indeed! Why ever would she want to do such a thing anyway?”
Emma laughed, the sound light and airy. “Nee, Daed,” she quickly retorted. “We must be happy for Anna! Old Widower Wagler seemed right pleased last Tuesday, and I dare say that Anna was radiant in her blue wedding dress!”
“Radiant indeed!” her daed scoffed. “Left us alone is what she did. Who shall entertain you now, my dear Emma?”
“Now, Daed!” she reprimanded him gently. “I don’t need anyone to entertain me and you know that. We have quite enough to keep us busy, and I’m happy for Anna to finally have a home of her own.”
Without giving him a chance to retort, Emma turned and hurried back into the main part of the kitchen. Everything was set up for their soon-to-be arriving guests. The bread that she had baked just the day before was sliced and on a plate, covered with plastic wrap so that the flies wouldn’t land upon it. The bowls of chow-chow, beets, and pickled cabbage were likewise covered and set upon the counter. Only the cold cuts and fruit spreads remained in the refrigerator.
For a few long, drawn-out moments, Emma fussed at the table, wanting everything to be absolutely perfect for their dear soon-to-arrive guests.
“Careful there, Emma,” her daed said, lifting his hand to point in her direction. “That’s a sharp knife there on the edge of the table!”
Laughing, Emma put her hands on her hips and frowned at him, a playful twinkle in her eyes. “Ach, Daed! I’m not a child anymore! I see the knife!” As if to make a point, she picked it up and wiggled it in the air. “No danger here.”
“Emma Weaver!” a disapproving voice came out from behind her. Startled, she dropped the knife and jumped backward as it clanked on the linoleum floor. “Gideon King! You scared me!” she cried at the sight of the man standing in the doorframe. Annoyed, she quickly bent down to pick up the knife. Wiping it on her apron, she set it back on the table before hurrying over to greet their first guest.
“And you were teasing your daed!” he said, a stern look upon his face. “Good thing I walked in when I did! You could have cut yourself!”
“I almost did cut myself!” she retorted, making a playful face at him. “No thanks to you for scaring me so!” Despite her words, it was clear that the presence of the newcomer pleased her.
“That’s no way to greet our guest, Emma,” her daed chided. “Come, Gideon! Greet this old man!”
The tall Amish man with thick black hair and broad shoulders crossed the room in three easy strides. He shook the older man’s outstretched hand. Emma watched with a smile on her lips, knowing that it had been a long week for her daed without Gideon stopping in to visit him. With no sons of his own, her daed had come to look upon Gideon as a son of sorts. Since Gideon’s younger bruder had married Irene, her older and only sister, Gideon was as good as family. And by the way he constantly reprimanded Emma, his voice more oft full of criticism than pleasure, she often felt as if she had, indeed, acquired an older bruder.
“It’s gut to see you, Henry,” Gideon said. “Looking well, as always.”
Henry gestured toward the sofa, indicating that Gideon should sit down. “Have you just returned, then?” He didn’t wait for the man to answer before he continued. “Tell us about your trip.”
Without waiting for an invitation, Emma joined the two men, plopping herself on the sofa next to the new visitor. “Ja, Gideon. Do tell us about Ohio. We missed you at Anna’s wedding last week!”
Stretching out his legs, Gideon smiled at the young woman next to him. “I wouldn’t have missed it if I hadn’t needed to attend to some business in the Dutch Valley,” he said. “And I rode out with a couple who were going to visit their dochder who recently married a widowed bishop out there. They were traveling with a young woman from around here.”
“From around here?” Emma’s mouth fell open. “Do I know her, then?”
“Elizabeth Blank,” was the simple response.
“Why! I wonder that she must be related to Widow Blank and Hetty!” She looked from Gideon to her daed. “Have we met this woman, Daed?”
Henry seemed to ponder the name for a moment, his brows knitted together and his eyes squinting as he did so. “I’m not so sure of our being acquainted with an Elizabeth Blank,” came the answer.
Emma, observing Gideon brushing some dirt from his pants, smiled to herself at how fastidious he always was about his appearance, especially on Sundays. He glanced up at her and sighed, the hint of a smile on his face. “You can’t know everyone, Emma. I know how hard you try, but it would be quite impossible, it seems.”
“Gideon! You tease me so!”
He laughed. “I am all but a bruder to you, Emma. Isn’t that what bruders are supposed to do?” He changed the subject back to his trip. “It was a nice visit and she is a lovely young woman. A shame you didn’t know her, Emma. Her wit would have amused you immensely!” With a pause, he turned his gaze to her daed. “Ohio was sure nice, especially at this time of the year. The rolling hills and winding roads make for a lovely backdrop for the long drive there!”
“Such a romantic!” Emma teased, which prompted Gideon to frown at her. Still, the fierce look on his face could not hide his pleasure at being reunited with his good friends after being away for so long.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!
I will be giving away a paperback copy of The Matchmaker to one US reader and an ebook copy to one non-US reader to those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018. The winners will be announced in my January 31st blog post. Good luck!