Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

And today sees the Scottish Regency short story – Winter Wonder – draw to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed following Lady Mary Calder’s return to her senses after the dastardly attempt on her life and might read the story of another lady in distress, Melissa Pateley

Courting the Countess is an entertaining romance with humour and a touch of thematic mystery that turns the fairytale on its head. She’s scarred: he’s handsome beyond most girls dreams.

Winter Wonder concludes:

“You shall hear from me, Rintoul,” Lennox said in a low and deadly voice. He leant into the doorway and dragged his mama out without any ceremony. Mary had to move quickly to catch the hessian bag in which Lady Grizel hoped their jewels were secreted as it dropped from the older woman’s hands.

“Lennox!” Lady Grizel squealed, but her distress did not impress her son.

“Silence, Mama, I think you have caused enough damage to the family and one must now wonder how much disgrace this story will bring down on its name.”

Rarely had Mary heard her lord so angry and she could almost feel a twinge of pity for her mama-in-law, but then that lump on the back of her head throbbed and she knew Lennox was in the right.

Rintoul sent a man claiming to act as his Friend. This scruffy individual was not versed in the language or practice of duelling and it became abundantly clear to them all that Rintoul had no intention of meeting Lord Calder, but had probably left town. Lennox sent Red Will out after the second and he soon came back with the information that Rintoul had boarded a coach for Glasgow.

The night passed in gloom and misery. Lady Grizel did everything possible to deny the accusations Lennox presented to her. He dragged the wretched doctor, Wilson, from his house in George Square, and questioned him hard about the events leading up to Mary’s assault and his unethical treatment of her thereafter.

It was a sorry tale of loss, gambling, bigger losses, money-borrowed, money owed and theft from families and friends. Lady Grizel fainted away when their man of business brought a jeweller to the house. McCallum confirmed Lennox’s suspicions – the jewels were fake.

“I see you come round, Mama. Did you truly believe the money lender would simply hand back your sureties?” Lennox spoke wearily and Mary knew the heat had gone from his anger when he learned Rintoul had fled any gentlemanly resolution. She was a little glad her husband would not be fighting illegal duels in his tired and weakened state.

“It was in his interests,” Lady Grizel said at last. Beside her, Wilson fussed and brought salts to aid her breathing. “I told him you would most likely call him out and he is a cowardly individual.”

“Indeed,” Lennox agreed. He allowed the maids to come in then and take Lady Grizel to her chamber. Mary knew he was plotting, but waited until the outsiders had left, too.

“Lennox, you are too calm. It cannot be simply because Duff is recovering and Rintoul has gone. I believe you’ve arranged something.” Mary challenged him and watched with satisfaction as a flush covered his face.

“I cannot escape your intelligence, my love. Donal and Red Will are galloping hard to reach the first stop on the Glasgow road.”

Mary lifted her brows in puzzlement and then smiled as realisation seeped into her exhausted brain.

“You gave Red will the bag after the jeweller examined the paste copies. Are the men going to…”

“Plunder Rintoul’s baggage?” Lennox interrupte. “With a fair wind and some luck, they will find the originals in his baggage strapped outside the coach. If not, at the next stop, they may distract him and swap bags in the tap room.”

“Gambling debts are often considered inescapable, are they not?” Mary asked tentatively.

“My mama stole those jewels, my love. If we go to the law, she would go to the gallows. I cannot countenance that.”

Mary gasped. He was right, of course.

“But, equally, I cannot countenance that man living on the profits of your jewellery gained from my mama in her miserable pursuit of distraction. If we succeed, I do not foresee Rintoul making any kind of fuss.”

It was into the afternoon before the horses came wearily to a halt in the street outside. Lennox’s wild whoop brought Mary fully awake from her doze in the drawing room. She smiled contentedly and stroked back Alfie’s curls.

The End



Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

“It is not a bite mark,” Lennox said forcefully, “Although Mama was convinced at first and would send the children off into the country. Three weeks on and they are still there. Alfie is chafing to come home and… ”

Mary realised he was watching her so closely he’d followed her horrified glance. Thank goodness her mama-in-law had acted so quickly. What if it was a bite mark and she was a danger to her children? How could Lennox not understand the need for speed?

“There has been no report of any foaming dog, my love, be calm. No, towards the back of your thumb the impression changes shape. I think it is from a chain.” He leaned over her and traced the healing ridges of skin with a gentle finger. Shivers of recognition made her tremble. She glanced into his handsome face through her lashes. Her husband…and lover.

“Why?” she asked in a quiet voice, “Why would I have the marks of a chain around my hand?”

Lennox shook his head and the lock of hair that lay above his left eye fell across his cheek in an achingly familiar way. “I have said more than I should.”

Mary watched him and felt his relief when Malcolm, wrapped around in a thick plaid, crossed the gravel path carrying a tray. He came up to them and stopped.

“Lady Grizel insisted Lady Calder must eat, my lord.”

“Sensible woman, my mama,” Lennox agreed, “But perhaps I should carry Lady Calder back to the house before she attempts to eat porridge. The snow will be with us sooner than we think.”

Mary tore her startled gaze away from Malcom with his tray, to her husband. The sky had cleared while they sat talking and was now mostly blue with clouds high up. It would not snow soon. Then she caught the low growl in Duff’s throat. The huge dog was never far from Lennox’s side and had followed them from the house, no doubt.

Turning her head in his direction, she saw a shadow move through the trees.

“Down, boy,” Lennox ordered before scooping her off the bench and striding towards the house.