I got ridiculously over-excited at the sight of Erminia and Sir Charles dancing, and this is the result. I'm not entirely happy with it, so I may come back and change or expand it. Any thoughts you have would be helpful (hint, hint).
It really was quite charming, watching all the old ladies bustle about, chattering happily and becoming ever so merry on wine and, Erminia had heard, whisky. Their best gowns fluttered about them and their faces became pinker by the minute. Odd really, that she should find herself tucked up in a corner, perfectly content the watch the ladies of Cranford enjoy themselves, while she stood alone largely ignored by everyone. Erminia had been accustomed to being the focus of everyone's attention for quite some time, especially at parties; on any other occasion she would be in the centre of the room, flirting outrageously and demanding everyone's opinion on her gloves or necklace. But not tonight. Tonight was for them- she knew it, everyone knew it. It was the unspoken rule of the evening, so prominent it might as well have been written upon the invitations. And why not? For they had been through so much, these beautiful, wonderful, ridiculous women, they deserved a night of pure happiness.
Erminia smiled to herself and snuggled up a little further into her corner, sipping her wine and listening to the chatter. Her eyes wandered lazily across the room until they fell upon another young woman standing in a corner. She was very pretty, with golden hair and a face that was shining with joy, her eyes crinkling with laughter. And this young woman was not alone, she was talking to a handsome man, with yellow curls of hair which were, Erminia reflected, really far too young for him.
"Does something amuse you, Miss Whyte?"
She turned to face her enquirer, and hastily curtsied when she recognised who it was.
"Sir Charles, you must forgive me, I did not see you approach."
He gave a small bow in response and chuckled, "I imagine, Miss Whyte, that the blame lies with me, on account of having crept up beside you."
Erminia relaxed a little and smiled back at him. On all other occasions, when she had found herself conversing with Sir Charles Maulver, the atmosphere had been formal and almost aggressively polite- mostly because all other occasions had revolved around some business dealing with her guardian who, when all was said and done, was not the most tranquil of hosts. In this different place, full of candlelight and merriment, the hard lines of his jaw had softened and he was already far more likable.
"I cannot give credit to the notion of you creeping anywhere, Sir Charles." She said lightly, as he nodded and cast a look over the crowd.
"Normally you would be right, dear lady, but tonight I find myself compelled not to draw attention to myself. Much better, I feel, to let others bask a little in the sun, and" he turned back to her with a sly grin, "given that I have come across you doing exactly the same thing, I can only conclude that great minds, as they say, think alike." This elected a laugh from Erminia, who was beginning to warm to her new companion.
"In answer to your question, Sir Charles, I was admiring my cousin and his bride to be," she said, gesturing towards the happy couple, "and had just concluded that he really should get a haircut."
He smirked at this and followed her gaze towards William and Peggy, now surrounded by the Cranford ladies and being interrogated about their wedding plans. A few comfortable moments were spent thus, listening in on the various titbits of advice and suggestions of Miss Pole and Mrs Forrester, which varied from the nostalgic to the ridiculous.
After a while, Sir Charles leaned towards Erminia and said quietly, "I must say, I was surprised Mr Buxton gave his blessing to the match. Charming as Miss Bell is, I understood he had great hopes for his son's future, and marrying the penniless daughter of a Curate was not one of them." Erminia snapped her head up, and said in her iciest tone "Peggy Bell is one of the best people I have the honour the know, and I would ask you not to speak of her in such a way, as if she were worthless." At this she made to move away, angry and insulted on behalf of her friend, when she felt a gentle but firm grip on her arm pulling her back.
"Please forgive me, Miss Whyte, I had not meant to demean or insult your friend and I apologise for doing so." She looked back at Sir Charles' humble expression and softened almost at once. "I see you have genuine affection for her, she must truly be special to evoke such a reaction." There was a short pause before Erminia replied, embarrassed and blushing, "She is."
There was an awkward silence between them, before Sir Charles finally spoke up. "The truth is," he said, in the manner in which one might confess, "I was under the impression that you were to become Mrs Buxton."
Erminia stared at him with look of utter bewilderment. "Why, in God's name?" She said, unable to fathom how anyone could have come to that conclusion; yes, her uncle had suggested as such, but it had been nothing more then a desperate idea that had come out of nowhere and was never mentioned again. Sir Charles, no doubt greatly amused by her expression, smirked. "A beautiful, highly educated young lady, living in the same house as a promising young man and his ambitious father? I can promise you dear, I would not have been the first person to whom the thought occurred."
As Erminia processed his statement, she caught the compliment within it and looked down, flattered. It was only when she did that she noticed that Sir Charles still had hold of her arm. Realisation dawned on him, and he released her from his grip. There was another quiet moment as Erminia tried not to giggle.
She eventually met his eye. "I can assure you, Sir Charles, that William is as a brother to me. I could never marry him, nor have I ever wanted to." Erminia smiled impishly. "Besides, he can be so incredibly dull about bridges and railways," she continued as he laughed, "that I would make the most bored wife in all of history."
"All in all, it's best that he's marrying Miss Bell." Sir Charles said, after a few moments of once again comfortable silence.
"He is smart and she is good," Erminia replied, looking him in the eye, "and they love each other. They'll make it work."
Before them, the crowd began to move to the sides of the room, clearing a space for a dance as the musicians starting playing. They both looked towards the stage where Peter Jenkyns now stood, tapping his glass. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the first dance is the waltz, please take your positions."
As couples began to come forward, Sir Charles turned to Erminia. "Miss Whyte, would you grant me the honour of the first dance?" She took his hand and beamed at him. "It would be a pleasure, Sir Charles." With that, he led her out upon the floor, and when the music started, he placed his arm around her waist, while she put her hands upon his shoulder, and they danced.
Two days later, Sir Charles called upon the Buxton household. He brought flowers.