Diana had never been so cold before, despite the number of warm items at her disposal. Somehow, icy draughts managed to whistle through the tiniest of gaps, and Mrs. Whittaker and Miss Prosser had commandeered the hot bricks. Shivering, Mrs. Whittaker reminisced about how the winter of 1803 had been one of the coldest ever recorded in England, and described the several occasions the Thames had frozen over so that Frost Fairs were held on its solid surface.
“For I hope,” she said plaintively, as she pulled her fur-lined cloak closer, “that we will not endure such freezing temperatures ever again.”
Mr. Whittaker gave his fretful parent an indulgent smile. “Mama, that was ten years ago, and we’re only going as far as Hertfordshire, not the North Pole. Besides, I believe the actual coldest winter in living memory was in 1684, when the Thames and the sea two miles out from land froze over.”
“Mind what your uncle said,” she replied. “I also remember that in 1803, a great many young ladies died of ‘the muslin disease.’”
“The muslin disease?” asked Diana. “What is it?”
Mrs. Whittaker put on a stern expression. “Some young ladies, who should have known better, did not take care to dress warmly enough. It was one of the coldest winters imaginable. Many people caught the French influenza and died. It was thought that young women caught it because they wore such light clothing when they should have been wrapped up nice and warm.”
Miss Prosser made a disapproving noise as she nodded in agreement and drew her shawl tighter around her thin shoulders.
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