The holidays crept up on everyone rather quickly, especially Abigail. She certainly was never looking forward to the holidays, especially since she and Hester had been invited to the Williams's home for a party. Abigail, dressed head to toe in black, rode in a carriage with her glowing young daughter to their home with a gloomy attitude. Abigail hated to attend the Williams's parties, but obviously, her widowhood wasn't an excuse to not attend as it usually was. When they arrived, Hester was immediately helped down by Thomas Williams, who then helped down her mother.
"Good evening, Miss Hester… Mrs. Wilmont," Thomas said to them.
"Good evening, Thomas," said Hester, smiling beautifully at him.
"Hmm… Good evening, Mr. Williams," said Abigail in a dull tone, not even looking at him. Caroline Williams approached them from the steps of the house with her arms outstretched, pulling Hester into a hug.
"Why, good evening, my dear Hester! Why, you're looking even more beautiful than ever!" she exclaimed, and Hester laughed.
"Why, thank you, Mrs. Williams!" she said.
"Thomas, do take Miss Hester inside. It's quite cold out! And don't forget to take her shawl! Why, what a beautiful shawl that is, Hester, darling," Caroline told her as Thomas led Hester inside on his arm. She glanced at Abigail, who was glaring at her, and lost her smile. "Good evening, Mrs. Wilmont…"
"Good evening, Mrs. Williams. What a fine party this appears to be. Let us hope that your husband doesn't get as drunk as he did the last time," Abigail said snobbishly, and the women glared at each other.
"What a cold, catty woman you are, Mrs. Wilmont! Why I invited you tonight, I'll never know. You're shaming us all, being a widow appearing at a public gathering," Caroline snapped at her.
"If you were so ashamed of me, then you shouldn't have invited me," said Abigail with cold, piercing blue eyes. "Now, if you'll excuse me… I am a guest at your party and you ought to treat me like it."
"If I catch you doing anything shameful to your poor, unfortunate daughter…" Caroline started, but Abigail cut her off.
"Why would I put such an innocent child to shame? I might be cold, but I'm not as cold a woman as you seem to think I am… Good evening, again, Mrs. Williams," said Abigail, and she proceeded to walk into the house.
"Oh, how I detest that woman!" Caroline muttered to herself, following her inside.
Thomas had taken Hester's silk-like red shawl with the golden fringes and handed it to a maid, who took it to a room where the rest of the shawls and coats were. He offered her his arm once again and led her into the ballroom. Inside the rather large and spacious ballroom, there was a large Christmas tree decorated with garland and baubles and candles all over, and on the top sat a beautiful glowing angel holding a small lit candlestick. There was a table with a red cloth and foods of all different types, and that was where Thomas and Hester were headed. The middle of the room consisted of a large dance floor, where many couples were waltzing, and surrounding it were tables for the guests and on one corner, the orchestra. Thomas led Hester to a group of friends of his, where, after introducing her, indulged himself into conversation with them. Hester, amazed at the beauty of the ballroom, didn't mind much as she gazed at the vast beauty before her.
Hester's dark wavy hair was tied in a half up, half down style with a red bow where the tight bun in her hair sat. By each of her eyes, a single strand of curls fell to her nose. Hanging from her ears were delicate golden earrings with rubies as the decorative gems, and around her neck was a silver cross on a golden chain. Her dress consisted of a red satin sleeveless top and large skirts that gingerly sat on her hoopskirt. At the very top of the red dress was a golden trim, and over that dress was a green velvet wrapper with matching golden trim on the sleeves and golden trim on the edge of them. The wrapper, which came down to where her arm and shoulder met, was buttoned only in the center and revealed much of the satin red dress with the golden decoration running across it.
Upon her velvet shoulder, Hester felt a hand, and she turned and met the chocolaty brown eyes of a young man in a fine suit whom she'd never met before. This man was the most handsome man she had ever seen – more handsome than Thomas Williams – and had slightly messy light brown hair that brought out those bright brown eyes.
"Er… I apologize, Miss… I was overcome by your charm and I could not resist," said the young man.
"Oh! Oh, no, no… Don't… Don't worry about that…" Hester told him, glancing at Thomas. Thomas was still induced in his conversation, not having noticed the young man that had stolen Hester's attention. She turned back to him to find her hands being held in the young mysterious man's.
"Care to join me in a waltz, Miss?" the man asked her, his eyes never leaving hers. Hester, speechless, smiled and nodded, and the young man led her onto the ballroom floor, where they melted into the number of couples waltzing to the fine tune. "If you don't mind me asking, I'd like to know your name."
"My name is Hester… Hester Wilmont," Hester told him.
"Hester… What a beautiful name," said the man. "I take it that you're from around here?" Hester nodded.
"Indeed. My mother and I live about a mile down the road," Hester told him. "I haven't seen you around here before, Mr…"
"Brandon. Charles Brandon," said the man. "And I am not. I'm originally from Southampton, but I have found myself in such fine company here in Manchester. The Williams family also throws wonderful parties…" Hester smiled at him.
"Indeed they do. They've known my father for so many years, the Williams family," Hester told him.
"And your father… is he Mr. Ezekiel Wilmont?" asked Charles, and Hester nodded, looking down at their feet. "How is he, then? When I was a boy, he and my father were close partners in business."
"He's dead now," Hester told him, not looking up at him. "He's been dead for twelve years now."
"Oh, why, Miss Wilmont, I'm terribly sorry to hear," said Charles, and Hester glanced up at him.
"Oh, no! He wouldn't want you to be sorry," she told him.
"I see… He was a great man, and will always be remembered because of that," Charles told her. They stopped dancing as the song ended, and Charles took Hester's hands in his. "I must say, it is getting quite warm in here. Would you like to step out with me for a bit of fresh air?"
"Oh, that would be wonderful, Mr. Brandon," Hester told him, and she took his offered arm and left the ballroom with him. Charles had gone into the room with all of the coats and shawls to retrieve his coat and Hester's shawl, but he came out with the wrong one. Hester giggled and described her shawl to him, and he went back in and emerged with the right shawl.
Thomas, meanwhile, was searching frantically for Hester, not knowing where she could have gone. However, all of his thoughts vanished when he met a beautiful girl in a golden satin dress with ginger hair. Her name, ironically, was Ginger Smith, and told Thomas that her name was given to her because of her hair. Thomas asked her for the next waltz, which she gladly accepted, and all thoughts of Hester were forgotten.
Outside, the snow was falling gently. Each crystal floated to the earth's surface with kindness and beauty, and a few of them caught in Hester's dark hair. The scene was white all around them. Below their feet, the gentle sound of the white snow crunching beneath their feet could be heard, but other than that, not a single sound was heard. The garden, normally a deep emerald color, was now white everywhere they looked. The cherry and scarlet rosebuds were hidden beneath the icy frost.
"Oh, it is quite chilly out here, isn't it?" Hester said aloud, not meaning to at all.
"Only a bit, Miss Wilmont," Charles replied as they strode through the garden. "If you're too cold, would you like me to bring you inside?"
"Oh, no! No, Mr. Brandon, I am quite all right," Hester told him. "I think that I am getting quite used to it by now."
"That's good," said Charles, not looking at her. He turned to her, taking her hands in his. "Excuse my forwardness, Miss Wilmont, but I don't think I've ever met a girl as pretty as yourself."
"Oh, why, Mr. Brandon…" Hester said nervously, unsure of what to say. "I, er… I've got to go. I apologize… I'm not feeling well." Hester turned from him and rushed off.
"Might I call on you tomorrow, then?" Charles called after her, and Hester stopped about twenty feet or so from him and turned.
"Yes…" she said, and then she turned and rushed off. Later that night, Hester couldn't help but feel like quite a fool for running off like that. As she stood on the moonlit windowsill in nothing but her nightgown, all she could think about was how stupid she was that evening. She sighed, glancing up at the moon and smiling. It felt almost as if she were smiling up at her father again like she did when she was a little girl. 'Whenever we're apart, just look up at the moon and smile. No matter where in the world I am, I will always see the same moon as you,' her father used to say. With one final glance, Hester turned and went back inside to finally turn in.