A very Jane Austen Christmas story; Part Six
A Very Jane Austen Christmas
PART SIX – THE ARTICHOKE
When Jane opened her eyes, they rested on a lovely white settee with lion’s paws for feet and a rolled chairback supported by sphinx heads. A small, boxy bookcase with a metal grill stood beside it with an ornate tray on top. The room smelled of cocoa. A plume of smoke billowed from the spout of a silver chocolate pot confirming Jane’s suspicion that one of the Mrs. Godwins must have tiptoed in recently, softly rousing her from her sleeping. A clock in the hall struck nine. Nine! Jane sprang to the window and relaxed. Surely all of that snow would halt their travel. More piano forte! More sandwiches by the fire! Maybe a frame of linen for her today so that she too might start upon a sampler… A light knock on her door interrupted her thoughts and the elder Mrs. Godwin padded in.
“Are you well enough to travel, my dear” she asked? “You haven’t caught sick after yesterday, have you”?
“Oh no, Mrs. Godwin, I am quite fit. I’m afraid I have just overslept. But will we travel in the snow?”
“Time and Parliament wait for no man. I will bundle you up with an extra quilt”.
“Parliament,” Jane asked?
“Oh, yes. Mr. Godwin and Mr. Atwood are in the House of Commons. Mr. Wright just rides in to visit his sister when they travel to town. They are all good boys.”
“Oh, how very nice,” Jane smiled, feeling both disappointed to leave and rather excited to be riding into town with members of Parliament. “I hope I haven’t delayed their progress by myself oversleeping”.
“Not at all,” Mrs. Godwin reassured her. “My sons are outside now clearing a path.”
Mrs. Godwin insisted Jane take some hot chocolate and a little pudding while she checked that the clothing had all dried. Soon, Jane was dressed back into her own clothes and her hair was dressed. Daphne came in to help with packing and within the shake of a lamb’s tail Jane was downstairs by the fire. A lovely, fragrant bough of greenery rested on the mantle mingling the scent of fir with the fire and the coffee pots left out on the sideboard. Mr. Ewan Godwin entered and bowed. A quantity of snow fell from his coat, and he joined her at the fire.
“Are you feeling equal to the ride into town after yesterday’s adventures,” he asked?
“Perfectly equal,” she smiled, moving toward the door. The piano forte, however, was pulling at her pelisse like a powerful magnet. She dutifully left the warmth and cheer of the cozy room and followed Mr. Godwin out to the stable. Mr. Roderick, shovel in hand, looked up from his task.
“Blowsabella leaves for town,” he sneered, “No more musical concerts tonight”.
Mr. Ewan Godwin ignores his brother’s remark. “I will return at the week-end,” he said shortly as he passed, “Send word if you need anything in town.
Jane climbed into the buggy and settled onto the cold leather seat. Mrs. Godwin leaned in and covered Jane’s lap with an exquisite quilt of diagonal lattice design, made up of patched pieces of sundry fabrics, and a beautiful whole piece basket patch in the center.*
“Oh, my, how lovely,” Jane exclaimed!
“Thank you,” the Mrs. Godwins answered in unison, for Daphne’s face had appeared in the doorway to bid Jane farewell.
“We have but barely gotten to know one another,” Daphne frowned, “But I will miss you, Jane”.
“I have a feeling in my bones that she will return to us,” Mrs. Godwin said.
Mr. Ewan Godwin, blushing a little, pushed in to ask, “Are you comfortable, Miss Austen?”
She assured him she was, thanked and bade the Mrs. Godwins farewell. For now. The buggy rolled a little and then shot forward over the snow. The rhythm of the carriage and the fine view out the little window, over the countryside felt like a dream. As they traversed the small villages, church spires poked through the blanket of snow giving Jane ideas for small watercolor paintings to give as gifts. For much of the ride she sketched into a small book she kept in her reticule to try to capture the passing scenes. Now and then she could hear the sound of carols wafting to her through the air that Mr. Godwin was humming.
Soon, they stopped for Mr. Wright, a lanky, friendly young man with a sideways smile and a rather worn hat. When they stopped a second time in the center of Barkhamstead, Mr. Godwin stabled the buggy and they all met Mr. Atwell at The Artichoke**.
“We’re traveling a little slowly on account of the snow,” Mr. Godwin told Jane, “I thought we all might benefit from a hearty luncheon. Ah, there you are, James.”
Mr. James Atwell was as tall and thin as Mr. Wright, but much shyer and more reserved. He turned the color of a lobster shell when Jane emerged from the buggy on Mr. Godwin’s hand. Over a table of cold meats, beef steak, sage cheese, and gooseberry pie the little party talked about the snow, the latest songs, and the coming of Christmastime. Jane excused herself to a back room where she relived herself into a creamware bourdaloue in a very civilized manner. When she returned the men were talking over Parliamentary matters. They immediately retreated to the subject of popular songs, and she begged them to carry on with their former conversation; scotched eggs had appeared on the table, and she was interested in listening to more substantial conversation.
When they rolled out of The Artichoke, they felt like snow people made of lumping round balls of snow. Filled with the delicious fare and ready for the last leg of the journey, Jane pulled her sketchbook back out. Mr. Godwin sat opposite her, taking a break from driving. The scene, moving by the window like a magic lantern, quickly changed. Cottages appeared closer together, and then linked into rows as they entered the city. Jane began to recognize buildings she’d seen on former visits to Aunt Phoebe. As they turned the corner at a small, fenced-in cottage yard they saw two women tying balls of mistletoe to a bare apple tree’s branch with ribbons. One of the mistletoes fell and rolled across the lawn like a bowling ball. Jane and Mr. Godwin laughed companionably, and Jane quickly captured the moment in a sketch.
Her heart dropped when their buggy turned the corner to the Seymour residence. Jane closed her sketchbook and returned it to her reticule, wondering if this would be the last occasion on which she would meet with Mr. Godwin and his friends.
“May I call on you in the next days to learn of your progress in recovering your cousin”, he asked, depositing her trunk on the top step of the Seymour residence. “Parliament will keep me occupied for the next day or so, I fear”.
“Yes, indeed,” she smiled, waving the Mr. Wright and Mr. Atwood as Aunt Sophie’s maid opened the door. “Whenever your work presents an opening, you will be warmly received here”.
“Until them…” Mr. Godwin grinned, backing down the steps.
Aunt Phoebe came to the door in time to see the buggy pull away down the road. It jostled with a hundred other carriages and carts on its way to the city center.
“Why, my dear, I am most gladdened and relieved that you have arrived at last. And you are not a moment too soon, I assure you.”
Aunt Phoebe towed Jane by the kid glove into a front room where a rough-looking man in a rough wool waistcoat stood by the fire. His expression was most sinister and his manner uncouth.
There are no choices at this juncture. Come back later today for the next twists and turns and to hear the latest on poor Cousin Imogene.
*the quilt I’m describing is actually one made by Jane, her sister, Cassandra, and her mother in the early part of the 19thcentury. It’s made up of 64 different prints and on display at Jane’s house, Chawton, open to the public for tours.
** I worked at a pub called ‘The Artichoke’ on the main street of Orpington in Kent when I was a student.