#Unearthed: Learning To Skate

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed is a duo of stories both entitled "Learning To Skate". The first was penned in 1866 by detective novelist Metta Victoria Fuller under the pen name 'Mrs. Mark Peabody' for "Beadle's Monthly: A Magazine Of To-Day". The second is a wonderful unattributed piece that appeared in the "Wyoming Press" on March 22, 1902. Grab yourself a nice cup of tea and get ready to skate back in time.


Tintype of skaters in Central Park. Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

"Do you skate?"

"H-m! Not much. Do you?"
"Oh yes, I'm passionately fond of it! I'm sorry you don't skate!"

"Perhaps I could learn. I could like anything that you liked - but there's our turn - now!" and away the couple went, after a momentary pause, in the German.

The speakers were Miss Oylwell, of Fifth Avenue, and Bob Frothingham, favourite in society, of no particular place. Scene: Mrs. Smythe's mansion, on the avenue above mentioned, four o'clock in
the afternoon, gaslight, long, crowded room, music, thirty couple swaying and whirling about in the German.

As soon as they came to another pause, Miss Oylwell, flirting her fan, and looking very warm, continued, enthusiastically

"You must learn, Mr. Frothingham. Why, I never dreamed that man who dances as you dance, didn't know how to skate."

"It wasn't so fashionable when I was in my youth," her partner was about to confess, but he checked himself. He passed for a good-looking man of from thirty-three to thirty-five, and if he were any older he succeeded in keeping it secret. He was quite the best dancer in the room in fact, he had been chosen by Mrs. Smythe to lead the German, and she had kindly given him the richest girl on the list for his partner. Here was a chance it would be madness to neglect. From two to three hours with the richest girl in the room, young and pretty besides, and the prospect of leading her down to the five o'clock hot supper Mr. Frothingham had considered himself in clover until that unlucky reference to skating.

"Have you heard that old Doubleday has left his wife?" he asked, quite forgetting the unsuitable nature of the subject, in his anxiety to change the drift of Miss Oylwell's thoughts. She opened her blue eyes widely, but answered him quite unembarrassed.

"La, yes, a week ago. I'm going to Central Park tomorrow. Didn't you think, when you came in, that the skating would be good by that time? It was so splendidly cold."

"It was cold," asserted her partner.

"Oh, freezing! The ice will be beautiful tomorrow. I know it will. It's so funny you don't skate. That's the reason I've never met you at our Pond, I suppose. I and Carrie have season-tickets to the Pond. But, we're going to the Park tomorrow, for a little extra fun. I do wish you were going, Mr. Frothingham. Do go. You can learn in a little while. You dance so beautifully, I'm sure you'll skate to perfection. Do you know, I believe I could skate out this whole German on the ice, without a
single false step. Will Herring says never look so well as when I'm on the ice. You ought to see me in my skating costume."

"I should like to, very much though I'm sure it would be utterly impossible for you to look better than you do this minute. In my eyes, a woman always looks prettiest in ball costume and yours, Miss Oylwell, is exquisite."

"Thank you, Mr. Frothingham. I expect it is pretty - it cost enough."

"The cost would be nothing, if there was not handsome girl to wear it." The gentleman got out this tremendous falsehood with the ease of long practice. It might have been worn by an angel, yet had it not been cut in the latest mode and been of the richest material, it would not have awakened his sense of beauty. Miss Oylwell, for her part, having only sported expensive things for year or two, also still estimated them very much, as she had naively confessed, at their cost.

"La, you needn't think to flatter me - I'm used to it, and it don't have the least effect," she cried, merrily. "Will Herring said he should be at the Park at two o'clock tomorrow. I'd like awfully
to make him jealous. I do wish you'd call, and go with me, Mr. Frothingham. We'll go in the carriage, and then send it back."

This was an invitation not to be neglected. To be actually asked to the Oylwell House, to be promised drive in their carriage, and the privilege of escorting and taking care of Miss Oylwell, at Central Park, where many would see his good-fortune, lifted him up to the seventh heaven of hope. But he kept
sinking, as fast as he rose. 'Who was this Will whom she had twice mentioned, and whom she wanted to make jealous? and, oh, gracious if she should insist upon his trying to skate. However, before the German and the supper were over, he was in for it. He had promised Miss Oylwell that he would go with her to the Lake and that he would bring a pair of skates. 

What was left of that night, after Mrs. Smythe's German was over, was spent by Mr. Frothingham in state of agitation which precluded any thing like real repose. He had struggled for twenty years to make his fortune by marrying one to his hand, and had never been nearer to it than now. Miss Oylwell evidently favoured him. She had blushed at some of his compliments, which was high testimony in favour of the effect they had produced, for she, although but eighteen, was quite inured to flattery. She had actually urged him to escort her to the Park. 

Ah, if it had only been summertime, what a happy man he would have been. Then, with soft airs, and soft perfumes, and soft music, he might press her soft hand softly, and be as soft upon her as he chose. All things would have smiled upon him. But in winter - ugh, he shivered under the bed-clothes, as he thought of it. The wind was so rough, and his nose always got purple, and he was afraid that the ice would bring on his rheumatism. He should have to rise by eleven o'clock to make his toilet and, be he ever so careful about it, he was afraid of the consequences of bad night's rest, of broad sunlight and glaring snow. He should look at least ten years older than he did the previous evening, where the shaded gaslights of Mrs. Smythe's rooms told no tales of vinegar-rouge and hair-dye, of incipient wrinkles and artistic enamelling.

It would not do to lie awake thinking of it, for the less he slept the older he should look so he fairly forced himself into slumber from which he was awakened about ten A.M. by dreaming that he was dancing the German with Miss Oylwell on a glass floor, made of ice, and that he slipped, fell and broke his false nose, and that Miss Oylwell laughed outrageously. Now, his nose was not false, although some other of his features were, and he sprung up in bed, rubbing it, and glad that it was only dream. 

He got up and drew aside the window-curtain. Everything was glittering and sparkling. It was cold, steady, crackling cold. His wild hope that there might be a thaw congealed at once. Two or three times, while dressing, he felt tempted to break the engagement, and thus lose the chance to make more important one. But he had not laboured twenty years to give up now. He would go, he would make himself agreeable if necessary, he would skate. Bracing himself with three cups of strong coffee and a dozen fried oysters, he sallied out, well-made-up and elegant looking gentleman, gloved, cloaked
and furred in the latest style. His first duty was to buy pair of skates. A shop stood ready, not far from the restaurant where he had breakfasted. The willing clerk showed him a dozen different
styles; avowing his ignorance of such things and that he wanted "the best," he paid, with an inward groan, for the pair of patent, self-adjusting, self-regulating, self-balancing, lightning skates which
were selected for him, slung them over his arm with an air of one familiar with the slippery affairs, and picked his way to the house of the rich - the immeasurably, uncountably rich - heiress.

The carriage was already at the door, and in the reception-room, Mr. Frothingham was introduced to Carrie, the younger sister who had not yet "come out," and Mr. Herring, no doubt the Will of whom he had heard. They were all ready, and eager to start.

"You've kept us waiting ten minutes," cried Miss Oylwell.

"Really, have now? That's unpardonable; but that awkward clerk was so long fitting my skates."

"A new pair?" asked Mr. Herring, politely. 

"He doesn't skate but I'm going to learn him how," said Miss Oylwell. "Let's be off, or the ice will be too crowded."

They took their seats in the carriage; the horses dashed off, glad to be moving, in such weather; it seemed to Frothingham that they were not over three minutes going the three miles to the Lake.
His companions were full of frolic. The girls were bewitching, in their scarlet petticoats and Polish boots, their coquettish skating caps and ermine furs; the cold air only made their cheeks red and their
eyes bright, and their white foreheads whiter, while poor Frothingham's eyes were full of water, and his handkerchief in constant use. He did his best, however, to be agreeable, concealing the anguish at his heart, under demeanour of youthful gaiety, all the time conscious that he was watched with jealous eyes by the handsome and healthy young fellow opposite, who, finding that he was not to sit by Miss Oylwell, made himself as comfortable as possible by the side of laughing Miss Carrie.

"Here we are! Oh, look, look what crowds! Won't we have a jolly time?" and Miss Oylwell clapped her hands.

"I wish it were another German, instead of this," sighed her companion, in her ear, pressing her hand, as he assisted her out of the carriage.

"I  don't; sir don't you see, we can dance all the year round but skating comes but once a year! You'll like it as well as I, when you get used to it."

"Perhaps I will," and he escorted her toward the ladies' dressing-room but she wasn't a bit cold, and wanted her skates on immediately.

One thing he could do gracefully, and that was to kneel to fasten on her skates but he had to be instructed in the mysteries of strapping. They were on, all right, and the other couple stood waiting
for them.

"Now put on yours, Mr. Frothingham."

"Oh, not just yet. I'll watch you awhile first."

Miss Carrie darted off by herself, with school-girl freedom, while Mr. Herring and the heiress glided off gracefully, looking so handsome, happy and well-mated, that the forlorn, forsaken one, sitting there by himself, would have ground his false teeth with jealousy, had he not been afraid of injuring the enamel. Every once in while they skated up to him, pausing to urge him to try his luck on the ice; and every time the young man appeared more easy, happy and self-assured, and the girl more radiantly beautiful. The exercise sent the warm blood to their lips and cheeks, and merriment bubbled up in their hearts. "If this goes on much longer, I'm lost," murmured Frothingham, when they sailed away for the fourth time. "Here, boy, put on these doosed things for me." When they again came gliding into port, convoying Carrie also, he had braced himself to the undertaking.

"I guess I'll try it this time," he murmured, as the heiress, all glowing and sparkling, sped up to him. 

"Wait a minute, till Mr. Herring gets out of the way," for something told him who was his most dangerous rival, and he did not like the cool, laughing light in the young man's eyes.

"Oh, I'll get out of your way. Come, Carrie," and away they flew.

"Don't you think you'd better take a chair. They're so much more comfortable for ladies," asked her partner, trying to prolong the dreadful moment when he was to balance himself on those treacherous instruments of torture strapped firmly upon his slender feet.

"You can, if you prefer one," with a little, sarcastic laugh. "I thought chairs were for invalids and old folks." Horrible! Did she suspect he must make an effort? She was growing impatient to be away again; he could see that, plainly.

"What spirits you have, Miss Oylwell, and how charming you look. Perfectly charming, upon my word. Your cheeks are like roses. You don't seem a bit cold," he rattled on, to draw her attention from his efforts to stand on the smooth, glistening surface, which mocked his distress.

"Cold? I guess not. That last race put me all in glow. You do first-rate. Indeed, you do. Now, then, strike out."

"What do you mean by 'strike out?'"

"This way," and she showed him.

Despair will sometimes do what nothing less could accomplish. In sheer desperation, Frothingham struck out," and to his own agreeable astonishment, he did not bring up on his back.

"You do better than expected. Isn't it nice once you get used to it, and you'll like it better than the German. Now, take my hand, and we'll go slowly along together. That's it. All you want, Mr. Frothingham, is confidence."

"It's the first time I've ever been lacking in that," thought he, his spirits rising with this little success, and his teeth ceasing to chatter.

"Who could help learning with such a teacher," he whispered, as soon as he could command his voice, holding very tightly to the little hand nestled in his.

"Ah, Miss Oylwell, if could only hope could only dare to aspire to the thought that you might be my teacher through life to teach me all those sweet - ah-h!" and he clung tighter, and very nearly slipped up, having come into slight contact with a passing demoiselle. 

"What on earth is there that you don't know already? I'm sure I shouldn't presume to teach you - any thing but skating," replied the heiress, looking at him with the most innocent expression.

"You know what I mean, dear, dearest Miss Oylwell. You can teach me to love to adore to kneel at your feet in worship" and just then, forgetting his new art in his old one, his heels flew from under him, and he came down on his knees in good earnest. Several of the people about them laughed, and as the pretty girl who was helping him up did the same, he was fain to join in, though he felt dreadfully jarred. "Thank fortune, I didn't fall on the back of my head my wig might have come off," was his secret rejoicing.

" I didn't expect you to kneel in this crowd," said the heiress, with a soft, saucy, piquant look, which might have been encouraging, or might have been prompted merely by girlish fun. He chose to consider it encouraging, and the pain went out of his knees, and he began to feel less cold, and to believe that he could learn to skate for the sake of an interest in the oil region, and place of shelter in the avenue. 

"Let us find quiet place and sit down little while," he said. I've something very particular to say, and I'm afraid-"

"Of tripping up? I couldn't possibly sit, now; when I am so warm should take cold. Mamma has ordered me not to," and looking about her, "see that's Will! Doesn't he skate magnificently? Come, try again." 

Her suitor tried again and ever as he slid slowly along, clinging timidly to the heiress' hand, Will Herring shot past them like an arrow, returned, circled about, cut the most intricate patterns in the ice before their faces, skimmed away like swallow, back again, around, off, near, far, amid admiring cheers, followed by her eyes, until her companion grew desperate, and resolved to draw her away from that dangerous rivalry, let what would come. With wild ambition to achieve, he struck out bravely, and the heiress glided by his side, her eyes, how ever, still fixed upon the champion skater's retreating form. 

Suddenly there was cry of warning. Too late. The couple were quite beyond a stake marked "dangerous," the ice was cracking beneath their feet, the water was rising over it a step or two away. Light and skillful as Miss Oylwell was, she could, even then, have turned away, and escaped the consequences of her carelessness, but poor Frothingham could not turn himself a hair's breadth,- and clung tenaciously to her hand, dragging her down with him. There was a shriek - surely, not her voice - splash, crash, splash, and both were floundering in the water. Men dashed aimlessly about, and women screamed. "Stop yer yellin'!" roared an ungallant policeman, to the excited crowd, and keep back," as he run up with plank, "t'ain't deep enough to drown'd 'em, but it's too cold to feel good." His advice was obeyed by the most, but one young man who had been rods away the previous minute, could not be held back, and sprung into the water as naturally as Newfoundland.

"Get her on the plank," shouted the policeman, and while he stayed one end of the board on firm ice, the young man assisted the young lady to foothold then a dozen hands reached out and pulled her to aqua firma, and her rescuer gave his assistance to her companion, still floundering and splashing
amid the ruins of the splintered ice.

For moment all was fuss and confusion, then Will Herring, dripping and steaming, was clasping Miss Oylwell's wet glove and looking very much as if he wanted to kiss her.

"Oh, Will, it was so good of you to get me out."

"But you mustn't stand here, not a moment. Is the carriage waiting? Yes, I see it, just coming up. Will any one lend the young lady a dry shawl or two? We will drive home as fast as the horses will take us. You'll both take your death of cold. Come, Frothingham."

But no Frothingham answered.

"Where is he? Where can he be Didn't he get out ?" anxiously cried Miss Oylwell, while little Carrie cried, and Herring, shivering, looked about for his rival.

There was no Frothingham to be seen. Yes, no Mr. Frothingham, but another person who certainly looked as if he had been in the water, though how he, too, came wet and shivering, no one
could say. But two persons went into the water, and he was not one of them. This was quite an elderly man. His head was bald, and looked pitiful, with out any hat, that article being still afloat in the air hole. There was something else beside the hat it may have been a wig. Looking twice and thrice, and seeing no one else but this half-drowned individual, light broke gradually upon Will Herring, though it was all dark yet to Miss Oylwell.

"Good heavens Frothingham, is this you?" he burst forth. Miss Oylwell looked, and gave a little

"If it's you, pray, come along. The lady will freeze to death." The fortune hunter gave one glance at the heiress' face, and saw that the game was all up for him.

"I  can't nor won't go, till I find my teeth," he muttered, speaking as plainly as chattering toothless jaws would allow him. They cost over a hundred dollars before gold went up, and they'd be
twice that now. "Won't some fellow dive, and find my teeth? I'll give five dollars to anybody that'll get my teeth."

"That wouldn't pay for gettin' wet," sung out a rough chap.

"Well, ten, then," he moaned, in desperation.

"Offer a reward, and come away. You'll take your death-cold," remonstrated Will. The ladies can't wait."

"I don't want them to; I'll get a private vehicle, and go to my hotel."

"Goodbye, then," cried out Will, and we are afraid there was triumph in his voice.

It was no time to stand upon ceremony, and Miss Oylwell hurried home to dress. The next day she was on the ice again with Will Herring, not a bit daunted by yesterday's misfortune but alas, Mr. Frothingham was no more seen by her side. Neither was he met again, for some weeks, at a German or soiree. 

Upon sending to inquire after his health, Miss Oylwell learned that he was confined to his room by influenza, and received in return the following characteristic billet-doux.

"Miss Oylwell,

As it was entirely owing to your solicitations that I attempted to learn to skate, I must hold you directly responsible for the effects of the accident which followed. I send you the bill."

Miss Olywewll was an honest young woman, and seeing the justice of this demand, she immediately settled the bill.

The rumour of her engagement to Will Herring was quite prevalent before Mr. Frothingham got out again. That gentleman is still unequaled in the German, and it takes great deal to make him
blush. But he has been known to do it when some unconscious fair one has chanced to ask him, if he is fond of skating?


It was Thursday evening and Mr. Doddleby was calling on Miss Harmer. That had been Mr. Doddleby's invariable custom for at least four months and Miss Harmer had begun to look upon Mr. Doddleby in the light of a serious proposition. Mr. Doddleby was no longer in youth's springtime, and, therefore, Miss Harmer, who certainly could be counted in that class, had made careful inquiries about his bank account, ascertaining that his rating was AA1 and had resigned herself to a pleasant fate, says the Chicago Chronicle. On this particular Thursday evening Mr. Doddleby had made a remark about the monotony of the winter season when there were no forms of diversion open to loving hearts and willing minds except the theater, and this he voted decidedly dull.

"Oh, Mr. Doddleby," gurgled Miss Harmer, "don't you enjoy skating? I just love to skate." Mr. Doddleby gasped a little, swallowed hard and managed to say that skating was one of the accomplishments of boyhood he had failed to acquire, inasmuch as he had spent his early years in a region where there was no body of water larger than a cistern.
"Oh, but you could learn so easily," insisted Miss Harmer. "Why, I think I could show you how myself."

Mr. Doddleby gallantly declared that if any inducement on earth could move him to don a pair of skates and make a public exhibition of himself it was the one that Miss Harmer had just offered, and the end of it was that Mr. Doddleby, fond, trusting old man, promised to lead his inamorita to the ice in Lincoln Park on the next evening and there take his first lesson in skating.

It was not without many doubts and misgivings that Mr. Doddleby sallied forth the next evening with Miss Harmer hanging on his arm and regaling him with many tales of her fancy skating done in days of yore - not so very yore, of course, for no young woman will talk of anything further back than three years unless it is connected with the infant class in the Sunday school. At the park Mr. Doddleby sought out the man who rent skates to all comers and timorously asked for a couple of pair. They were slammed down on the counter before him, he paid his deposit and looked helplessly at the shining skates.

"How do I put these things on?" he asked Miss Harmer. "There seems to be as much machinery about them as though they were submarine torpedoes."

"Oh, that's easy," said Miss Harmer. "Just adjust the clamps, set the screws, throw the lever, and there you are."

Mr. Doddleby began on her pair, and after considerable ground and lofty tumbling got them adjusted. Then he slowly went at his own, and it was apparent that his own heart failed him whenever he looked over the smooth sheet of ice on which thousands of young people were enjoying themselves.

"I don't know how this is going to go," he said nervously, as he essayed to stand up.

"Oh, it will go all right." said Miss Harmer reassuringly, and at that moment it did. Mr. Doddleby's feet went with it and he clutched the young woman desperately and saved himself.

"Come out on the ice," said Miss Harmer.
"Keep hold of my arm and you will be all right. Now, then, just strike off like this."

She dropped Mr. Doddleby's arm and struck off. Before she had gone ten fet Mr. Doddleby became aware that his feet were slowly but surely parting company. One of them seemed bent upon joining the gay throng and the other evinced a desire to slide along the shore. Mr. Doddleby felt certain that this sort of thing would not last very long. He did not know just how it would wind up, but that there was a finish ahead of him seemed certain. He looked down nervously at his moving feet and noticed that one of them was winning the race. It was six inches farther from where it should have been than the other one was. He made a desperate effort to haul it in and the move was fatal. The off foot, which he was not paying any attention to, continued its trip along the shore, greatly accelerated as to speed, and he went with it.

Just as he was scrambling up the bank and shaking the cold, wet snow out of his hand Miss Harmer came up with a rush, executed a wide sweep on both skates and stopped before him, flushed and panting.

"Come on!" she said gayly, "It's glorious."

"Yes, it must be," said Mr. Doddleby weakly, as he brushed the snow from his overcoat.

Miss Harmer struck off and Mr. Doddleby did the best he could. As the young woman is strong and husky, she carried him forty feet across the ice before he managed to get his feet wrapped around each other, and when he was on the way down he heroically grasped two or three skaters near by and brought them with him. Luckily the ice was firm and the shock did no material damage - to the ice. The indignant skaters who had joined Mr. Doddleby scrambled to their feet, handed him a few opinions of their own and skated on. Miss Harmer was sweetly waiting when he arose.

"Don't you think you could try it alone now?" she asked. Mr. Doddleby had decided to indignantly retire from the ice and bid Miss Harmer a cutting good-night, but when she looked at him that way he weakened.

"I don't know but I could," he faltered. Miss Harmer encouraged him with a bright smile.

"I'll wait here for you," she said, and Mr. Doddleby struck out for himself. The first four or five strokes were not so bad, but when he let himself go across the ice he discovered to his alarm that he was like a runaway automobile. He could neither stop himself nor steer. Dead ahead of him a fancy skater was cutting doves and bleeding hearts on the ice before an admiring circle of spectators and Mr. Doddleby discovered that he was going to become one of the party. He plunged into the ring of onlookers like a wild engine and crashed head-on against the fancy skater. That gentleman was just putting the finishing touches on a Hummingbird, and what he said to Mr. Doddleby need not be set down here. Two kind strangers picked up the dilapidated Mr. Doddleby and started him toward the spot whence he had come, but again his feet proved treacherous, and Mr. Doddleby went careening into the arms of Miss Harmer. They both sat down and when they had rested a little while they slowly arose.

"Perhaps we had better not skate any more," said Miss Harmer, with some difficulty.

"Perhaps?" echoed Mr. Doddleby. "Huh!" The grunt was so very excessive that Miss Harmer, thinking of the bank account and the AA1 rating, led the way in silence to the shore.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.