Saturday, December 01, 2007
A Christmas House Party
It’s December, and we’re celebrating with a Christmas serial. We’ll be posting a new installment every other day, so come back and join in the fun! The Christmas graphics are from Pat's Web Graphics and the beautiful watercolours are by our very own Jane Odiwe.
A Christmas House Party - Part 1
‘My house,’ said Miss Emma Carstairs, firmly listing her Things To Be Thankful For as she went down into the basement. ‘My school. My health.’
She set about making her breakfast of hot rolls and chocolate and then carried it into the parlour, where she sat at the small table in the window to eat.
‘I will not be lonely,’ she told herself, ‘even though it is almost Christmas, and all the girls have gone home for the holidays and my dear maid Molly has deserted me . . . ‘ She caught herself up ‘ . . . even though my dear maid Molly has gone to spend Christmas with her grandmother.’
She ate her rolls and drank her chocolate, then washed the plates in the large stone sink before putting on her pelisse, her cloak and her bonnet and setting out for the post office.
The morning was crisp and fresh. A heavy frost coated the ground, making it sparkle. Emma pulled her cloak more firmly around her and quickened her pace until she reached the post office. She took her letters and leafed through them as she headed back to her house. Two were letters of business, but one . . . . It was from Bessy! Although she shouldn’t think of her as Bessy any longer, for the noisy twelve-year old had grown into a beautiful young lady who was now Mrs Elizabeth Dawlish.
Once indoors, she dealt with her letters of business quickly and then savoured the letter from Bessy, opening it slowly and drawing out a card. It was a portrait of Emma, and it was beautifully done.
‘I hope you like it,’ read the letter. ‘It’s to replace the portrait I painted of you when I was fourteen. It was very good of you to display it above your mantlepiece but I cannot bear to think of you sitting and looking at it every day, with its cross eyes and its lopsided smile, and so I have painted you something better.’
Emma glanced at the offending portrait. Although it was, indeed, very badly done, she held it in great affection and decided that she would display both portraits, side by side, to remind herself how much progress her former pupil had made, for the new portrait was both attractive and accomplished.
She turned back to the letter.
‘ . . . Mama well, Charles in good health . . . house party . . . dear Miss Carstairs, do say you will come. We will be a full house . . . games . . . . balls . . . outings . . . . will not be the same without you . . .’
Emma finished the letter in far better spirits than she had begun. A house party! Games and balls and company! She ran upstairs, feeling, for the first time in years, her true age of eight and twenty, instead of eight and forty, and began to pack.
She was soon ready. She went round the house closing windows, seeing to the fire, making sure the house was in a state to be left for a few weeks, and then set out for the stage.
Her cheeks glowed as she crunched along the road, carrying her valise in one hand and holding on to her bonnet with the other, for a wind had sprung up and threatened to blow it away.
She was in luck. As she entered the inn yard she saw that a coach was already there. Ostlers were changing the horses and passengers were climbing in and out of the coach. She bought her ticket and took her place inside. The steps were pulled away, the door was closed and the carriage pulled away. As it slowed to turn into the road a young gentleman ran up, shouting, 'Ho! Driver! Stop!'
But the driver had a schedule to keep and he would not oblige. The young man sprinted down the road after the coach and then, throwing his valise onto the roof, jumped after it, pulling himself up to the roof amidst tuts of disapproval from the older passengers and cheers from the young men already there.
Emma laughed, catching their exhilaration, and then settled down for the long journey north.
The weather grew more wintry as they went along. Flakes of snow fell from the sky, large and soft and dry. They began to settle on the ground and by the time Emma reached her destination the ground was covered with a white blanket.
She climbed out of the coach and went into the inn, hoping to hire a conveyance to take her on, but there was nothing to be had. Nothing daunted, she picked up her valise and set off - 'no more than a two mile walk,' the innkeeper had told her - towards the hall.
She had not gone far, however, when a hand closed round her valise and, thinking she was being attacked, she fought to hang on to it. But the sound of laughter made her look round, to find that the young man from the coach was laughing merrily.
'I only wanted to carry it for you,' he said. 'It seems that we are going the same way.'
'Oh, thank you,' she said. 'I am going to Wintersmede Hall.'
He looked taken aback, and then said, 'Are you indeed? Well, it is on my way.'
And so saying, he lifted her valise as though it had weighed no more than a feather, and set off at a good pace. The wind was by now blowing so hard that conversation was impossible and Emma was glad of his assistance, for without it she would have been a lot longer on her way. At last they reached the turning for the hall.
'This is where I must leave you,' he said, his words scarcely reaching her before being blown away by the wind.
'Thank you for your help, Mr . . . ?' she said.
But he did not supply his name, only tipped his hat and then, shouldering his own valise, he walked away.
Emma watched him - until she realised what she was doing and then set off up the drive to Wintersmede Hall. But as she went on her way she could not help wondering if he was staying in the neighbourhood and if she would see him again.