About the Author
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The Reverend Henry Watson, of Stanton in the county of Surrey, was a man whose many good qualities had never won him the position he deserved. His living was small and poor, and his wife died after a short illness leaving him with six children; the eldest, Robert, a schoolboy of eighteen, and the youngest, Emma, a girl of barely five. All the neighbourhood said that the family must now live with the strictest economy, and that the four girls could hardly hope to be sought in marriage by men of their own rank. But help came, from a sister of Mrs Watson's who had for ten years been married to a gentleman with a fine estate in Shropshire, Mr Turner. This aunt, childless herself, was anxious to do anything she could for her sister's children. The Turners came at once to the bereaved family, putting up in the White Hart at D., and it ended with their offering to take the little Emma home with them and bring her up in all respects as their own.
Mr Watson hesitated, but not for long. He wished, but he could not think it right to keep his youngest child with him, as he had perfect confidence in the kindness of Mr and Mrs Turner and believed that they would eventually leave her eight or nine thousand pounds. Robert, who was then about to start work as a clerk, warmly seconded the plan. 'Emma will be off our hands for good', he said, 'and she will be an heiress'.
So Emma was carried off to Shropshire, over a hundred miles away, and for fourteen years saw almost nothing of her family, as Mr Watson was too poor and too busy to travel, and Mr Turner had long been in indifferent health. The eldest daughter Elizabeth, a girl of fifteen when her mother died, became her father's housekeeper and the family somehow survived on its slender income. Meanwhile Emma lived on the most affectionate terms with her aunt and uncle, who educated her carefully and gave her every rational pleasure they could procure. She heard of Robert's marriage, of Sam's apprenticeship to a medical man in Guildford, but she could scarcely recall their faces or voices after so long a separation. At seventeen she lost her truest friend when Mr Turner died, but there seemed no reason why she and her aunt should not go on as they were for several years.
Mrs Turner grieved bitterly, but perhaps not very deeply. She had always loved society and been long deprived of it, and two years after her widowhood took her niece to a ball in a grand house near Ludlow. She herself, she said, could never expect to be happy again, but her dear Emma must not be deprived of the pleasures of youth. Yet it was the aunt, and not the niece, whose fate was decided at this ball. Captain O'Brien, an Irish gentleman spending his leave with Shropshire friends, was introduced to Mrs Turner and immediately made himself agreeable to her. In the shortest possible space of time they were married and the Captain, recalled to his regiment in Dublin, naturally expected to be accompanied by his new wife.
Emma had thought that she should be of the party. She could not like the man; she was distressed that her aunt, at her time of life and so soon after the loss of an excellent husband, should rush into marriage with one who was almost a stranger, but could only pray that she would be happy in her chosen lot. Her neighbours, less charitable, were of the opinion that Mrs Turner had run mad. As soon as his objective was gained, Captain O'Brien let go his charming manners and showed a hardness and roughness which shocked both women. He did not want his wife's niece to come to Ireland; she was only a niece and not a daughter; she had a family of her own who could very well provide for her. As for the fortune which she should have had one day, that was now his and not hers.
So Emma was sent home to the vicarage at Stanton, where she found everything much changed. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.