"MR. PATTIN'S PENCHANT - A SILHOUETTE ON THE ICE" (C.J. KIRKBY FENTON)
Mr. Pattin was a skating enthusiast; not of the young and inexperienced type, hut one of the many middle-aged experts. Regularly every winter he was to be found in the Low Countries with his skates and his friend Lucas.
Yet it was Mr. Pattin who came home after a day's skating, and swore deeply. He hurled his skates - yes, his beautiful, gleaming, Dowler-bladed skates, that he had cleaned and oiled so scrupulously last winter - hurled them upon the floor with a crash.
"I'll never wear them again; and next winter I'll go to Egypt!" he exclaimed savagely. "It's all their fault; it's all because of that confounded "Grapevine" that I oh, well, I'm not going over it again; what's the use?" and he sank wearily into a chair. "I'm wet through - frozen to the bone. I'm miserable! I'm - I'm everything," and he flung himself out of the room, leaving Lucas speechless with astonishment.
The events of a foregoing week must be given here to account for the very remarkable change in Mr. Pattin's demeanor. A week ago he had arrived in the marshy land of Flanders, full of enthusiasm and a superabundance of skating energy. All the summer he had waited for the winter, and then shortly before Christmas a letter from his friends the Templetons told him that the marshes outside Bruges would very soon bear. "You'll be back for Christmas Day?" said his home circle. "Yes, if the frost breaks." "And if it doesn't?" "You'll not see me here. Goodbye!" And the enthusiast had gone.
When Mr. Pattin arrived at Bruges his first care was to visit the Templetons, and his second words to them were, "What skating prospects are there?" He liked the two young Templetons, for they skated well and talked much on the subject; he also liked their eldest sister, for she tried her best to learn the outside edge under his supervision; but the youngest, Miss Marjory, who never would seriously consider the third edge, who shook her little head and declared that it was very poor fun to go round and round in a circle when every one else was rushing over the ice - he adored her.
Miss Marjory and he had nearly come to a complete understanding last winter, but Mr. Pattin was determined that this year should bring him an answer that would decide his fate. "What have you been doing all the summer, Mr. Pattin?" she asked. "You are indeed a stranger here, except when you are attracted by the skating." "Ah, Miss Templeton, I have been endeavouring to turn summer into winter by compiling a book on skating. In this book I have introduced a new theory for teaching that most intricate of figures the 'Grapevine.' You know that people talk about the figure being only learnt by instinct."
"I have heard that too," chimed in the eldest Miss Templeton. "Don't believe them, Miss Templeton, it's all nonsense; it's absolutely a false idea that has become general. I can prove it," and Mr. Pattin became quite excited over the fact. And thus he continued to talk skating, skating, to him the all-absorbing topic of skating. The marvel was that Marjory was not bored. On the contrary, she listened with the greatest admiration to Mr. Pattin's learned propoundings, heard with interest the 'Grapevine' theory and the descriptions of Rockers, for "omne ignotum pro magnifico."
A few days later the enthusiast rose betimes, and after an early breakfast betook himself to the marshes. His energy was rewarded, the ice bore. A peasant had skated all the way from a distant village, and had reported the ice to be safe and good. Mr. Pattin hurried to the Templetons. "Miss Templeton, there is skating on the marshes. I was there this morning to see for myself. The ice is glorious - a sheet of glass."
"What energy, Mr. Pattin, and such a long walk too!" exclaimed Marjory. "I must really try the outside edge this year, only I wish it wasn't so troublesome." "You will find it quite easy this year, I assure you, Miss Templeton."
"Good morning, Pattin. I hope you've come to tell us that there is skating," said young Templeton, entering the room at that moment. "Oh, that's good news! Do you remember how you came hurrying in last year and surprised us almost before we had begun to think of a frost? Well, we will have the waggonette out and make up a small party. What do you say, Marjory?" "That will be fun! Whom can we ask? Let me see. There's Mr. and Mrs. White, they just love skating; and then we might ask those new people - those nice people in the Grand Place; and - there's Monsieur Chicon; we must ask Monsieur Chicon."
"But skating isn't much in his line, is it?" suggested Marjory's brother. "Oh, I think so; he skates fairly well, and he's certainly very amusing." So a servant hurried out with notes, and a luncheon basket was prepared. Presently the invited guests arrived, and with them Monsieur Chicon, all bows and smiles. The waggonette waited outside, and the horses stamped upon the hard ground. Then the skating-party filled the carriage, and they were off. Mr. Pattin sat next to Marjory, and Monsieur Chicon sat opposite to them, dangling his skates carelessly.
Mr. Pattin eyed the Frenchman's skates. "Humph! There's an old-fashioned contrivance," he said to himself. "Long pointed toes. Very dangerous, and no good for figuring; and I do declare there's rust upon the blades!" And after noticing that, he took quite a dislike to poor little smiling Monsieur Chicon.
Half an hour's drive brought the party to the edge of this vast sheet of ice, that stretched many miles away into the far distance. Mr. Pattin secured a camp stool, and placed it on the bank for Marjory. "Vill you give me the pleesure, Mees Templeton, of fastening your feets to your skates?" said a cheery voice in broken English. "Thank you very much, Monsieur Chicon, but Mr. Pattin has already volunteered to do so," she replied with a smile. "Now, is that quite comfortable?" asked Mr. Pattin, pulling gently at a strap. "Not too tight, I hope?" "No, not a bit too tight. You have put them on beautifully, Mr. Pattin!"
"So very pleased," he murmured. Then they skated away together. "Left, right; left, right," said Mr. Pattin in a soft undertone. "This is splendid!" exclaimed Marjory, her dark eyes sparkling and her cheeks glowing with the exercise. "Splendid indeed!" echoed the enthusiast; and after that there was a long silence. At last Mr. Pattin spoke. "A day like this makes one feel perfectly happy - at least, it has that effect on me; almost perfectly happy, I ought to say, for people are very seldom absolutely content. There's always something missing. Isn't that so, Miss Templeton?" "Yes, I think so; at least, I mean, I don"t believe I ever thought much about it. Some days I am far happier than on others."
Then it flashed across Mr. Pattin's mind that now was a good opportunity for asking Marjory the question; but it was lost, for at that very moment their skates clashed violently together. "Oh! Mr. Pattin, the outside edge was the cause of that. We can't keep time when you are circling round and I am going forward. I protest against the outside edge - I do indeed," laughed Marjory, but in her voice there was just the faintest suspicion of annoyance. "I am sorry, Miss Templeton. I will try and never do such a thing again. But I get on to the edge quite unconsciously. It is so - so blissful; it isn't to be compared to the inside. Won't you try and learn, Miss Templeton - just for a short time?"
"Ahoy! ahoy!" came across the ice. "Hockey! come and play hockey!" and several skaters, flourishing sticks, headed by Monsieur Chicon, flew towards Marjory and Mr. Pattin. "Of course I'll come!" exclaimed Marjory eagerly; "and you will come, Mr. Pattin, and join us - do." "I am afraid I am going to be rude and refuse," he replied. "The fact is, I ought to practice the 'Grapevine' and - and I always consider that hockey ruins both ankles and skates."
"Wonder if I ought to have gone," Mr. Pattin asked himself as he watched Marjory skating away. "She seemed sorry that I didn't; but hockey !" and he turned away to revel in his 'Grapevine' and the outside edge. Nearly an hour passed by, and Mr. Pattin was still figuring; the time seemed but a few minutes to him, and he would have still stayed on if cries of "Mr. Pattin, Mr. Pattin, come to lunch!" had not brought him to the bank, where he found the whole party gathered round a fire.
Monsieur Chicon was here, there, and everywhere, the life of the party, handing plates and glasses, hobbling on his skates over the rough ground, laughing and chattering incessantly. Lunch was over, and Marjory and Mr. Pattin were again skating together. "You enjoyed the hockey, Miss Templeton?" "Oh yes, immensely; but we didn't play for very long." A pause - then, "Are you not on the edge again, Mr. Pattin, because I'm afraid we are not going along very comfortably. Monsieur Chicon never tries the outside edge when he is skating with me; we sail along beautifully." "Oh, do you?" regretfully - then, as an after thought, "of course Monsieur Chicon keeps to the inside edge because he can't do anything else."
Another pause. " Have I shown you the Grapevine, Miss Templeton?" "I think not." "May I do so now?" "Yes." Then Mr. Pattin's feet twinkled and twisted and twirled with smooth rapidity. "Ah, there"s a fine piece of ice over there," he cried. "Will you come, Miss Templeton?" and he moved away. Marjory watched him vaguely at a distance. And Mr. Pattin was absorbed in the 'Grapevine' then he passed from that figure to other intricacies on the outside edge. He was in the seventh heaven of bliss; he circled round, he whirled backwards, he described small half circles, he completed large whole circles, oh it was fascinating - to him, and the time passed rapidly. "Miss Templeton, do you know this fig- oh!" Mr. Pattin had turned round, and there was no Miss Templeton. She had vanished. He looked across the ice, then down at his skates, thoughtfully. "Hmm, strange! Perhaps she's gone to play hockey. Astonishing how fond of the game she is." And Mr. Pattin looked longingly at some figures in the far distance. "I may have an opportunity of speaking to her on our way back," he soliloquised - of speaking to Marjory. "Marjory, what a pretty name it is!" and he sighed. Hours had passed like minutes; Mr. Pattin had wandered farther and farther away from the votaries of hockey; he had found black ice to perfection, the "Grapevine" had flourished, and he was well pleased with himself.
"How very soon it becomes dark!" said Mr. Pattin regretfully. "By Jove! no wonder. It's past seven; the others must have left an hour ago," and he tore across the ice, then stopped suddenly. "I'm certain I never saw this tree before. I must be going in the wrong direction." And he wheeled round and retraced his steps. Darker and darker grew the night, heavy black clouds hid the moon, and Mr. Pattin's lonely figure flitted across the silent marshes. In the darkness there were no landmarks to guide him, solitary trees, fences, sluices, all appeared alike - dark masses without shape or individuality.
Mr. Pattin stood still and looked around him. There was absolutely nothing to show the way, nothing but the blackness of the night and an endless tract of ice. At last, after a long spell of skating, he reached a bank and a road that had the appearance of leading to some point, yet he dared not try the road, for it was probable that it might take him from instead of to Bruges.
So he started off in an opposite direction. A dark wood in the middle of the marshes loomed in front of him; he began to skirt round it; the distance seemed interminable, would the other side never be reached? A feeling of weariness came over Mr. Pattin; still the wood rose up before him, and still he skated mechanically round it.
Presently he stopped, and then discovered that he had come back to the spot whence he had started. "What on earth am I to do?" he exclaimed in a despairing voice. "I shall have to wander about all night in the cold, until daylight helps me." Then he turned his back upon the wood and chose a new way; on - on - past sluices, cutting a way through withered sedges, or sometimes passing over dykes that cracked alarmingly.
"Lost! Lost!" his skates seemed to repeat, in monotonous rhythm. "Lost," cried Mr. Pattin out loud; "yes, lost, and the ice is cracking in every direction, the wind's veered" Crash! The water gurgled, and Mr. Pattin gasped as he went down knee deep into the freezing water; in a second he was out again, standing shivering by the side of the dark hole that he had made. "Oh heavens, how cold!" His knees shook together and his teeth chattered. "I'm getting colder and colder; I'll stay here and die."
Then: "What's this? a stick - a hockey stick; oh blessed hockey! I must be near the lunching place," and he skated towards a bank. "Yes, there's the mark of the fire." It was a long trudge back to Bruges. Mr. Pattin was never quite sure how he got there; his limbs were stiff, and his head ached; truly this was a wretched ending to a day that had begun so brightly.
Lucas was smoking comfortably by the fire. An unobservant fellow was Lucas; he had never noticed his friend's attentions to Miss Marjory Templeton, or even his present plight. "Had a satisfactory skate, Pattin? Oh, by the by, just heard some news, the very latest - little Marjory Templeton's engaged to Monsieur Chicon."
"What!" "Monsieur Chicon proposed to her coming back from the marshes, and she accepted him." "Him! - that grinning little Frenchman, who - who - hasn't even sufficient brains to learn the outside edge!" Then the storm burst, and Mr. Pattin's skates were dashed to the ground. Yet he deserved to lose Marjory; for it was quite evident that he had been far more in love with his outside edge than with her.
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