Emma Woodhouse - handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition - had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress her. Until the vampire attacks began.
Emma resided with her affectionate, indulgent father at their estate, Hartfield, in the village of Highbury. She had been the mistress of the house ever since her sister Isabella's marriage seven years past. Her mother had died too long ago for Emma to have had more than a vague remembrance of her caresses. In her mother's place, an excellent woman named Miss Taylor had served as governess.
Miss Taylor was less a governess than a friend - their relationship had more the intimacy of sisters. Miss Taylor imposed hardly any restraints on Emma, living together as mutual friends, and Emma doing just what she liked. The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of getting too much her own way and a disposition to think a bit too well of herself.
These were disadvantages that would lead to dangers which were presently unperceived - everyone in Emma's village was pale, this being England, so the vampire gentlemen of Highbury blended in quite nicely. Emma was blithely unaware when she found herself in their presence. And especially when she found herself attracted to them.
A gentle sorrow came when Miss Taylor married. The wedding had every promise of happiness for Emma's former governess. Her new husband, Mr. Weston, was a vampire of exceptional character, easy fortune, appealing scent, and eternally suitable age. He had the pale blue-coloured eyes of a vegan who feasted only on animal blood. Emma thought it slightly odd that Mr. Weston requested the wedding be held at midnight. The guests struggled to stay awake, but since Mr. Weston never slept, he was quite alert throughout the ceremony.
How was Emma to bear the loss of Miss Taylor? With whom would she now share an intimate acquaintance? She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not equal her in conversation, and the disparity in their ages was much increased by his having been a hypochondriac all his life. And with the recent vampire attacks, he was quite fearful of leaving home.
Emma's sister Isabella, being settled in London sixteen miles off, was much too distant for daily contact. Many a long October and November evening must be endured at Hartfield before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella, her husband, and their little children to fill the house and give her pleasant company again.
Highbury, the large and populous village in which Hartfield was located, afforded Emma no possibility of new friends. The Woodhouses were the grandest family in town. All looked up to them. She had many acquaintances, but not one among them who could be considered a replacement for Miss Taylor.
It was a melancholy change losing Miss Taylor, and Emma could only sigh over it. But she needed to act cheerful for her father. He was a nervous man, easily depressed, hating change of every kind. He was still not reconciled to his daughter Isabella's marrying, when he now had to part with Miss Taylor too.
"Poor Miss Taylor! I wish she were here again."
"But Papa, Mr. Weston is such a good-humoured, pleasant, and excellent man that he thoroughly deserves a good wife. We shall often visit with them. We must pay a dinner visit very soon."
"But - "
"What is it, Papa?"
"My dear, you know how I dread leaving the gates of Hartfield. I just heard of another young lady, a boarder at Mrs. Goddard's school, being murdered by a vampire as she walked home from the village, her blood sucked completely dry."
"Yes, Papa, that was tragic indeed. I hope in my heart she was not pretty - it would have been such a waste! That makes the third attack in just a few months. It seems no one is safe in Highbury any more. But we would take the carriage to visit the Westons. That would relieve your worry, would it not?"
"Yes, but - "
"What is it now, Papa?"
"It is just that Mr. Weston - he never eats. We shall arrive at dinner and there will be no food to sustain us."
Emma nodded at her father's wisdom. "Perhaps we ought to visit for tea."
Her father smiled, and Emma hoped that a game of backgammon might help him through the evening.
The backgammon table was set up, but before they could commence, Mr. George Knightley paid a call.
Mr. Knightley was a strikingly handsome vampire who claimed to be thirty-seven but was actually two hundred thirty-seven, with alabaster skin and thick brown hair combed back off his high aristocratic forehead. He had deep purple circles under his eyes from never sleeping.
A traditional vampire who favoured human blood, Mr. Knightley had not feasted for a great while and thus his eyes were black from need of sustenance. Being a gentleman, of course, he would never consider roaming about at night attacking young ladies to whom he had not been properly introduced.
Mr. Knightley was not only an intimate friend of the Woodhouse family but an in-law as well - his younger brother John Knightley was married to Emma's sister Isabella. He lived about a mile from Highbury at his estate, Donwell Abbey. Mr. Knightley was a frequent visitor and always welcome at Hartfield - tonight more welcome than usual, having come directly from John and Isabella's house in London to say that everyone was well there.
His visit this evening cheered Mr. Woodhouse for some time. Mr. Knightley had a reserved but pleasant manner which always did him good. And since his eyes never blinked, he flattered everyone with an uninterrupted gaze. Mr. Woodhouse gratefully observed, "It is very kind of you, Mr. Knightley, to come out at this late hour to call upon us. I am afraid you must have had a shocking walk, with so much danger lurking about."
"Not at all, sir. It is my favourite time of day - a beautiful moonlit night. I now find myself so warm that I must draw back from your great fire." Lest, he thought, I should spontaneously combust into flames.
"But you must have found your walk very damp. I wish you may not catch cold."
"Damp, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Knightley. "I thrive in the dampness and cold. The sun quite disagrees with me. And by the by, I have not wished you joy about the wedding. I trust it all went off well. How did you all behave? Who cried the most?"
"Ah! Poor Miss Taylor!" said Mr. Woodhouse.
"I should think she would indeed be crying on her nuptial night," said Mr. Knightley, "from the anticipation of the coldness of her new husband's - uh, skin. Well, at any rate, Miss Taylor has been accustomed to having two persons to please, sir - you and Emma. She will now have but one - her husband. It must be better to have only one to please than two."
"Especially when one of us is such a fanciful, troublesome creature!" said Emma playfully. "That is what you have in your head, I know. Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me, Papa - it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another."
Mr. Knightley was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse. In fact, he seemed to possess a strange ability to look into her mind and discern what she was thinking. He was the only one who ever told Emma of her faults. This was not agreeable to Emma - she wanted to be thought of as perfect by everybody.
"Emma knows I never flatter her," said Mr. Knightley. But she also knew how much he cared. On his advice, Emma now carried a wooden stake under her skirt, tied to her leg with a fashionable pink ribbon. Moreover, he instructed her in its proper use, all the while on tenterhooks that she should ever have occasion to employ the weapon against him. "I know that Emma will miss such a companion as Miss Taylor," continued Mr. Knightley, "but she knows how much joy the marriage brings to her former governess."