Winter Wonder – a Story for the Dark Days

“My ruby and garnet set is missing,” she said bleakly.

“I know, my love. Agnes made an inventory and your wedding diamonds have gone, too.”

“What does this mean, Lennox?” Mary asked although an impression was forming in her mind. An impression of a woman’s voice, cracked with tension, with temper and, she thought deeply, with pain formed into wraiths of misty memory. Lady Grizel had not only been at her side through her weeks of illness, but she’d been there in the beginning.

“I remember a smell. I was desperate to tell you this afternoon and then when…” she tailed off and waved a hand around the vestibule. The pale blue walls and the gleaming mahogany furniture seemed to mock the injured: Lennox whose face was now scarred for life, Duff who panted and squirmed and herself, weak from days of unnecessary medicines and lack of food. Red Will came diffidently through the main door with Alfie urging him on. The man in his rough stable clothes lowered his glance and studied the tiles.

“See to Duff, Red Will,” Lennox said.

“It was Lady Grizel’s smell I remembered,” Mary said. and she heard the growing confidence in her voice. “She favours that soap scented with brier rose.”

“Malcolm,” Lennox said, “Fetch my duelling pistols.”

“Lennox?” Mary rose then. If Lennox was going out into the old city after his mama, she would accompany him.

BELLA’S BETROTHAL an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery.

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

“He’s hurt. Agnes, tell me. How badly?” Mary pleaded, but the maid was obdurate. She  set her bulk between Mary and the stairs, and it was only when Alfie barrelled through the front door into the downstairs hall that she was distracted by the commotion.

Mary took instant advantage and slid onto the staircase. She needed to hold the curving rail because, despite the huge bowl of porridge, she was weak from lack of food. it must be a long time since I ate well, she thought. One by one the stairs led her down into the hall where her eldest, Alfie, stood against Malcolm’s rigid figure in shock.

Mary crossed to him and laid a trembling hand on his head before turning to Lennox and Lady Grizel. When her mama-in-law stood up, she turned to Mary with huge accusing eyes.

“I asked you to stay upstairs, Mary,” she said in urgent tones. “This is not a sight for one so recently recovered from serious illness.”

Mary nodded in the automatic way she knew she used when dealing with her mama-in-law and side-stepped around her.

Lennox lay stretched on the turkey rug. His head was to one side and a huge gash ran down his cheek. Duff limped into the hall and Alfie roused. Mary watched him bounding to the dog and throwing his arms around its neck.

“Mama, he’s hurt. Duff is hurt.” Alfie shook his head in an effort to stay the tears she saw were threatening. Then his eyes widened and he let out a squeal, “Papa!

It caused everyone in the hall to turn as one towards Lennox.

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

…and the story continues

Lennox set Mary down on the tiles in their vestibule, but she knew his attention was all on the deerhound which hadn’t followed them back as ordered.

“He’s caught a scent,” she said, but it sounded fearful and didn’t sit well with her wish to instil a little light into their dark days. “Probably a rat has stayed out too long after the sun rose.”

“It’ll be a rat, I’m sure,” Lennox said. His teeth ground and gave his face a fearsome expression that made even Mary quail. “Please, my love, go into the parlour and eat. I will return as soon as may be.”

“But, Lennox…” she began before realising she was talking to an empty hall. She stretched a hand out to correct her balance and then moved slowly into the breakfast parlour.

 

Mary heard noon strike on the hall clock and fidgeted with the book lying open on her lap. She’d remembered something else and was anxious to share it with him. The dank smell of the morning that had so unsettled her, made sense when she saw the shadow moving in the trees. There had been a shadow before. Only, it hadn’t remained a shadow, she thought.

She stood and crossed her drawing room to gaze out over the north of the city. The Forth lay sparkling in winter sunshine. The thriving city went about its daily business. Carts and carriages, beggars and Dukes thronged the streets.

One o’clock, two struck. But, Lennox and Duff did not return. It was looming dark at around three when she heard the confusion downstairs. Rousing from a doze in her chair, Mary crossed the room and when Agnes came pelting in from the landing, stopped.

“Agnes, your frighten me,” she said.

“It’s the maister. ma’am,” Agnes wheezed out the words. “Lady Grizel says ye mon wait here.”

Winter Wonder – A Story for the Darker Days Scottish Regency

Mary laid her hand on the cloth beside her plate and waited while the dizziness in her head settled. She thought there might have been a great deal of dizziness over the last days while autumn melted into this December gloom. Still dark at ten of the clock.

“I am a little dizzy, ma’am,” she said and was more troubled by the countess’s silence than she would have been by one of her sharp set-downs. Mary lifted the hand and smoothed her curling hair off her cheeks. Agnes had tutted and fussed, but eventually allowed it would do for a domestic day.

“I think I feel the weight of Lennox’s Deerhound against my side when I waken. Why should that be?”

For a few moments she thought Lady Grizel would continue silent, but she relented at last.

“Because you may be remembering his weight against your side. He kept guard over you after…”

“After what? Do not stop there, please. I think I am walking into a dream this morning. You and Agnes, and even Malcolm are so strange. What has happened and where are the children? I do not hear any rumpus from the top floor.”

“Mama did not mean to scare you, my love,” Lennox said from behind her. “But the physicians want you to remember by yourself.”

“Lennox. remember what?”

“We need to find out, my dear. In the meantime, will you not eat some porridge. You are sorely starved, I think.”