It’s a very cold Autumn day out here in Lithgow; there’s an icy wind blowing up from the southwest and with a few traces of my cold still lingering, there was no way I could head outside for long periods of time. Instead, I’ve been inside working, drinking cups of tea and reading Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting in between.
I always seem to reach for this book just before Easter. Mary Stewart wrote a few books that mention Easter, particularly This Rough Magic and The Moonspinners, but I tend to associate these two with the beach because of their coastal settings and reach for them in the middle of summer… or on a freezing cold day in winter (so they could have been a good choice for today after all, but I’ll save them for the longer stretches of cold weather).
Nine Coaches Waiting is also set around Easter, with a ball with plenty of floral decorations to celebrate, and the Chateau Valmy is described as being en fete (Chapter 10). I love the descriptions of flowers in this book – there is some mention of the Chateau Valmy’s gardens, but it’s the gorgeous spring flowers that I always remember when thinking of this book.
When Linda first comes to Valmy, she is driven through Thonon and sees the spring flowers – tubs of tulips, freesias and ranunculus, boxes of polyanthus, daffodils, pansies and irises. She makes some exclamation of pleasure and her new employer tells her “Wait till you see Valmy in April.” (Chapter 2).
It’s apparently worth waiting for, as there are descriptions of flowers here and there throughout the rest of the book, such as narcissus and jonquils in stone tubs on the terrace of Chateau Valmy, and a shower of cherry blossom from over the presbytery wall in the village of Soubirous (Chapter 5).
The white violets Linda wears to the ball are described as “milk-white blooms, moth-white, delicate in dark green leaves. There was the faintest veining of cream on throat and wing” (Chapter 10). I’ve always loved violets: they’re so small and delicate, and they have such a lovely, if faint, scent. This description inspired me so much that I wanted violets for my wedding bouquet (this wasn’t to be, due to the time of year, but I loved my orchids just as much).
Then there are the decorations for the ball itself – tubs of bluebells, narcissus and tulips are brought into the chateau, along with camellias, lilies and a willow-grove that’s placed around a shallow basin of water, with cyclamens at the edge (Chapter 10). On the night of the ball, Linda sits among the massed azaleas near another tank of water… and nearly drops her handbag into it when startled by Monsieur Florimond (Chapter 11).
The rest of book is just as magical, with a few hints of a Cinderella fairy tale. It’s well into Autumn here, so I’ll enjoy this glimpse into Spring in France, get some ideas for planting bulbs in my garden… and make another cup of tea.