Emma’s party was in full swing. A plethora of Champagne had done away with inhibitions, and most of the party had made their way on to the dance floor on multiple occasions, encouraged by, Emma had to admit, Robert Martin and his band. The music they had selected to play was perfect for a party that mixed young and mature alike, and Robert proved to be a talented singer and guitarist, and an entertaining front man.
Emma had danced almost all the evening, a waltz, the cha-cha-cha, a salsa; she had even attempted a tango with Geoff Weston who proved to be light on his feet and a versatile performer. Mostly though, Emma danced with Frank. He was charming and witty to talk to between sets, and an excellent mover on the dance floor both in and out of hold. Emma had enjoyed herself so much that she barely had eyes for anyone else.
When Robert Martin announced that the buffet was to be served and the band left the stage for a well-earned break, Emma resolved to redouble her hostess duties. Apart from to greet everyone, she had barely talked to a dozen of her guests. She would mingle during supper. Emma moved from group to group thanking everyone for coming, admiring outfits, asking after absent family members, recounting an hundred times that her father was well, and happy to stay at home by his own fire, and accepting compliments galore on her good looks and stunning outfit.
Emma spied Harriet across the room standing near to the stage from whence the band had disappeared; her brows drew together for a moment. Was she hanging around waiting to flirt with Robert Martin despite Emma’s efforts to dissuade her of his suitability? Oh well Emma shrugged, one could only do ones best. Emma’s rumination on Harriet was replaced by astonishment as she caught sight of Frank Churchill gazing into the distance, his attention rapt. Emma followed his gaze and thought that she detected Jane Fairfax as his object. Well that is a surprise! Emma had thought that Frank had no liking for Miss Fairfax. Emma hovered near his elbow to catch his attention and, feeling her presence, Frank turned to greet Emma.
‘Hi, what a great party this is. I do declare that Highbury parties are much better than London ones’ he laughed, his eyes dancing with pleasure.
‘I’m afraid that you are referring to the only Highbury party, at least that I remember’ Emma laughed, ‘and although it’s very kind of you to say so, I can’t say that I believe a word of it.’
‘No, no, I swear. The ONLY Highbury party is fantastic and much better than London parties, the ones that I have attended at any rate. We must have another one, as soon as may be. There is nothing so much fun as a party’ Frank declared.
‘Have you danced with Jane Fairfax yet?’ Emma asked innocently.
‘Well as a matter of fact I did once. She is not nearly so much fun to dance with as you are’ Frank grinned, ‘much too reserved I suppose’, he added with a gleam of amusement. ‘Do you think that I should again? I do think that she looks rather odd with her hair in that peculiar arrangement.’ Emma followed his gaze to inspect Jane’s appearance, which to Emma’s eye looked remarkably elegant and sophisticated. Jane Fairfax caught his and her attention on her, she turned away deliberately, and began to speak to someone. Emma frowned at Frank with mock severity,
‘Now you have made me upset her again. She will never be my friend if she thinks that I am laughing at her, and I was not, that was you.’ Emma administered a little smack to Frank’s arm and wandered off to join another group of her guests. She made a deft detour to avoid being caught by Vera Bates, Jane’s garrulous aunt, feeling slightly guilty for dodging the woman who had been so kind to her father, and to Emma all her life.
‘Mr. Knightley!’ Emma spied her brother-in-law and dimpled up at him, ‘my how different you look in black tie.’ Emma took in his broad shoulders and strong frame set off by the old style but beautifully tailored suit. George Knightley looks very handsome Emma approved, quite as handsome as Frank Churchill. Emma reached up and tweaked his bowtie and brushed an imaginary spec from his shoulder,
‘There now, you look perfect’ Emma smiled up at him.
‘And you dear Emma look very beautiful’ George felt an unaccustomed desire to bend forward and kiss Emma on her parted lips. His grey eyes held her hazel ones for a long moment.
‘Thank you’ Emma responded lightly, but a slight flush spread across her cheeks, as she felt uncomfortably aware of George Knightley in a way that she was not anticipating. Emma swallowed and regrouped her thoughts,
‘I have not seen you dancing Mr. Knightley’ she rebuked, ‘so many pretty girl and you must hang around talking with the old fogies. Let me recommend a likely partner for you. What about Harriet? Though I think she is in great demand, or Jane Fairfax? I haven’t seen her dancing much, and you like Jane Fairfax’ Emma teased.
‘Anyone may know that I like Jane Fairfax’ George responded drily. ‘I’ll dance with you, if you’ll do me the honour?’ George took her hand and carried it towards his lips and bent his head in a gallant little bow.
‘Of course I’ll dance with you’ Emma exclaimed happily, ‘it will be like old times when Isabella and I would roll up the carpet in the drawing room and practice our steps, and you would come in and solemnly pretend to be my dance partner…’ Emma smiled up at George, ‘D’you remember?’
‘Yes I do, though I remember that you preferred to cavort about to Madonna or the Spice Girls than to learn ballroom or Latin steps’ he chortled at the recollection, and Emma found her colour rising once more.
‘Come!’ she pulled at George Knightley’s sleeve as Robert Martin announced the first number of the final set ‘Come Away With Me’, with his sister on vocals. George Knightley took Emma in his arms and led her expertly into a waltz; the pressure of his hand on her back guided her through the steps. Emma relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of gliding around the floor held in his strong arms, ‘Why Mr. Knightley what a fraud, you dance better than anyone’ she rebuked him playfully as the number ended to a round of applause. George relaxed his hold but retained Emma in his arms awaiting the next number; he smiled down at her quizzically. Emma felt a strange sensation of perfect contentment for a moment, until the peace was broken.
As the band struck up a kafuffle broke out near the corner of the stage. Emma craned to see what was happening as George excused himself and wormed his way speedily through the crowd. Robert Martin handed his mike back to Phoebe with a terse instruction to continue without him. He vaulted from the stage and met with George Knightley at the scene of the problem. Harriet, looking scared and disheveled was struggling with a young man who was bent on groping her. The youth was rather the worse for wear, and, obviously from his casual attire, had not been invited. Robert Martin took the interloper by the collar and heaved him off Harriet while George Knightley swept Harriet away from curious onlookers.
‘Get out of here’ Robert ordered with a strong shove that sent the troublemaker sprawling, ‘and don’t come back or I’ll teach you a lesson.’ He stood with his fists balled glaring after the transgressor. ‘Should have had a bouncer, there’s always someone who’ll gatecrash’ Robert muttered darkly as he cast around for Harriet.
‘Is your other sister nearby Rob’ George asked in a low voice, ‘Harriet could do with a bit of help and morale support while she sorts herself out.’ He gesticulated kindly at Harriet whose mascara had run, and her hair had tumbled lopsidedly from an up-do. Robert, who thought that Harriet looked beyond charming with her tear stained face and wobbly lower lip, turned immediately to fetch Elizabeth from the wings. She had seen none of the incident but rushed to the aid of her friend as soon as she was alerted to the problem.
‘Thank you, thank you soo much’ Harriet mumbled incoherently fixing Rob and George with her tearful big blue eyes, I c-couldn’t bear to r-ruin Emma’s s-special p-party. I didn’t w-want to m-make any t-trouble b-but h-he grabbed hold of m-me a-and…’
‘It wasn’t your fault Harriet. Nobody saw what happened. Go and get tidied up and enjoy the rest of the party. There’s nothing to worry about, really’ George reassured kindly, as he bundled Harriet off with Elizabeth.
‘Only that Elton bloke’ Rob muttered under his breath to George Knightley,
‘Yep he scarpered at the first sign of trouble. Before that he was sniffing around Harriet’ Robert Martin’s face spoke a thousand words about what he thought of that.
‘I am surprised’ George’s puzzled expression pulled his eyebrows into a frown, ‘I had him down as er otherwise inclined.’
‘Yeah me too, but it appears otherwise. I was chatting to Harriet, well chatting up I suppose, during the break and he butted in. God he’s an oily…’ Robert substituted ‘so and so’ recollecting his surroundings. ‘Look I’ve got to get back to the stage. Keep an eye out for Harriet will you please George? Thanks’ the men exchanged a friendly nod and parted company.
Harriet appeared before too long, looking none the worse for wear. George marveled on the efficacy of make-up, and endeavored to cheer her spirits, which hadn’t been so quick to mend. By the time that the party ended George’s opinion of Harriet had improved immensely, she wasn’t nearly as dim as he had first thought. In fact he felt quite convinced that she and Robert Martin would make a fine couple. He wondered idly if he should promote the idea with Emma. Hm perhaps not, he had, after all, been rather dismissive of matchmaking as an activity. George glanced about him trying to locate Emma in the throng. There she was, still dancing. Well she deserved to have some fun. George smiled fondly.
The music changed tempo and the lights were lowered for the last dance of the night, announced by Robert Martin from the stage. George watched as Emma’s form, unmistakable in the column of red chiffon, was drawn into the body of a tall, handsome young man. The smile froze on George Knightley’s face as he watched Emma laugh up into the face of Frank Churchill. He experienced a stab of pain and caught his breath. George stood for a moment in the gloom confused by his reaction. He closed his eyes, took a deep inhalation and shook his head slightly. He must have a touch of indigestion.