Monday, December 6, 2010

A Skating Party in Willoughby's Return

As I look through my window this morning I see Jack Frost has been in the night decorating the trees and hedges with ice crystals and sprinkling the grass with fairy sparkles and spangles. There is a robin chirruping on the holly tree, his scarlet breast glowing as he surveys the scene. The picture could be from a Christmas card and all it needs is a large red velvet ribbon to frame it in a swag and bow.
The wintry weather here in England reminded me of this extract in Willoughby's Return. Margaret Dashwood and her sister Marianne Brandon are in London for the season. The snow has arrived and they are tempted out to enjoy the wintry weather by Margaret's friends. However, Marianne has not reckoned on bumping into a certain person she would really wish to avoid at all costs.

Mr Carey and his sister came with an invitation for Margaret to go skating with them in Hyde Park on Thursday. The Serpentine had frozen to a solid thickness, they reported, adding that Mr Mortimer and his sister were to be of the party also. Their excitement at the scheme soon infected Margaret with the idea that this venture might be as fun as it was proclaimed and so she accepted.
The following afternoon, as good as their word, the party called. Marianne greeted them in the hallway as they arrived.
“I do hope that you will consider joining us, Mrs Brandon,” pronounced Charles.
“Oh, Mr Carey, that is very kind of you,” Marianne answered, “but I am sure you young people won’t need me to chaperone you.”
“Marianne, please come,” entreated Margaret, who thought the change of scene would do her sister good. Moreover, she considered that another person added to the party could only be of benefit, although she was glad to see that Charles spent all his time observing Caroline Mortimer when he thought no one was looking. Indeed, his behaviour toward that young lady was becoming very particular, she surmised.
Everyone declared how much they would all enjoy Mrs Brandon’s company. Before she could make any further protest against their entreaties, Margaret summoned a warm pelisse and fur muff for Marianne to face the chill outside.
The main roads were quite clear so that the carriages made steady progress, arriving at Hyde Park in a very short while. All were astonished to see the great crowds of people intent on trudging through the snow for their amusement. Children with sledges slid down any likely hump in the landscape, their faces bright with laughter. Snow figures lined the roadways and a crowd of rowdy youths pelted one another with snowballs. As they approached the frozen lake, Margaret craned her neck to see the wintry scene. She had heard of famous frost fairs in London when the great River Thames had frozen over but nothing had prepared her for the sight of the Serpentine Lake fringed with glowing lanterns in the dim afternoon light, the branches of trees dipping their lacy fingers into the polished, black ice. Crossing and re-crossing the vast expanse skated a myriad of figures in a stately ballet, silhouetted against ribbon streams of sunshine in tints of rosy pink to gild the clouds. There were icemen sweeping and burnishing the lagoon to a gleaming finish, hiring out skates for those intrepid enough to try them. Several booths had been set up from which hot ginger wine, ale, or brandy could be purloined. The costermongers were setting up shop by selling fruit, their wives tempting weary skaters with oysters and hot meat pies. The noise of people shouting, cheering, and laughing echoed in the still air to the accompaniment of cracking ice, loud as a firing musket.
They soon had their skates on and were taking their first cautious steps upon the ice. The frozen water was very thick; leaves imprisoned in layers within the depths gleamed like amber jewels in Venetian glass. Margaret linked arms with her sister and before long Miss Carey and Miss Mortimer joined them. They kept up a swift pace to skate behind the gentleman and were soon out of breath, Marianne begging them to stop so that she could rest for a while.
“I cannot go any further,” she cried. “I will stop awhile and watch if you will excuse me.”
“Then I will sit with you,” added Margaret, holding onto her sister’s arm.
“That is quite unnecessary,” Marianne insisted, “you go on or the others will disappear. I am quite happy to sit on this bench until you have exhausted yourselves. Go and have fun!”
Marianne sat down, watching her breath in little puffs on the cold air gradually slow to a normal rhythm. Margaret disappeared from view. It was very gratifying to see her laugh again, thought Marianne. Miss Carey and Miss Mortimer were clearly intent on making her feel most welcome into their circle. Skating had lifted her spirits too. It was only now that she began to wonder about Brandon again. There had been no more post since last week but she knew that the weather was responsible for that.
“Will you take a turn with me, Aunt Brandon?”
Henry Lawrence’s voice brought Marianne out of her reverie. She looked up to see not only Mr Lawrence standing before her grinning from ear to ear, but also Mr Willoughby at his side, regarding her with an air of study.
“Good afternoon Mr Lawrence, Mr Willoughby,” Marianne managed to say. She was shocked enough to see Henry here at all but the recollection of Willoughby’s gift was enough to emblazon her cheeks the same hue as the setting sun.


The painting I've chosen to go with it was originally painted for a cover I did for Fenella J Miller for her book, Miss Bennet and Mr Bingley. I thought it would be very suitable to illustrate this post.

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