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, Bella Wormsley.

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

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

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

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Winter Wonder – a Story for the Dark Days

If Lennox was going out into the city after his mama, she would accompany him.

Mary watched Lennox scramble to his feet without trying to assist him. She thought that if he could do so on his own and then stand, he would be able to negotiate the paths and alleys between here and his quarry in the Old Town. He pulled himself upright and took a few shaky steps.

“I cannot think your presence will be beneficial, my love,” Lennox said fixing his beloved gaze on her. “As you see, I am a little shaky and will need to devote much energy to my own safety without I have to have a special care for you.”

“I will accompany you, sir,” Mary said with greater force than she was accustomed to use even when in good health. This, she thought was no moment to simper and plead or whinge either. “I know now where I saw mama-in-law head off the main street into the Grassmarket. Even in the dark, my sense of smell will take me there.”

She watched Lennox raise his brows at this unwonted display of assertiveness, but his answer surprised her.

“Sense of smell, my love? Surely my mama’s rose brier will not override the pot pourri of the Old town?”

“Be sensible, Lennox. I was walking near a tannery and an hostelry. As the man’s arm came around me, I smelled your mama’s soap. The door beside me was labelled Rintoul,” Mary said , and quickly realised she’d give away her advantage.

“He is the man,” Lennox growled as he took his pistols from Malcolm. “Very well, we waste time arguing. Red Will, can Duff be left?”

The stable-man muttered something in his mix of Gaelic and Scots that Mary found incomprehensible, but Lennox was satisfied and with that they set out into the dark toun.

Donal was standing guard on the threshold, but at a nod from Red Will, he pulled the great door of the house closed behind them and fell in with the party. Mary struggled to keep up. The men were intent on their quarry and paid her little heed. Once in a while, Donal paused to allow her to catch up, but then set off again behind the others. She was grateful for the flare he carried as it was often the only thing showing her where the others were.

Soon enough the Grassmarket sank below them beneath the great castle on its rock. Mary breathed deeply and moved forward  beside her lord. He would need to know she was there when they found his mama. His mama – who appeared to have stolen Mary’s jewels to pay her money-lender. Was it not bad enough for families whose men gambled away fortunes? What was it going to be like for them when it became known, as it surely would, that Lady Grizel had done such a thing?

Rintoul’s door came into view and the rank smells of leather and stables, fires and rubbish hit them hard. Mary reached out and grabbed Lennox’s sleeve. She was little prepared for this sortie. Weak from lack of food and illness, she knew the coming confrontation with the woman she had called mother would drain her reserves.

“There’s movement ower yonder,” Donal hissed. Red Will scrambled ahead and within seconds, they heard a low  moan of pain.

“Guid man,” Lennox said, “He’s got one of them.”

Guid, indeed, Mary thought, but which one of them?

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

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

and she slid to the floor.

When Mary roused , Lennox had propelled himself onto his knees and was crawling towards her. The servants were racing back from wherever they’d hidden, and she heard Lennox’s shout and Agnes’s strident, almost accusatory tones, chiding the master.

“Agnes, where are ye, woman?”

“Here, sir. Did my lady tak fricht ower the mention o the Grassmarket?

“Of course she did. Can you lift her if Malcolm helps?” Lennox asked. Mary heard the frustration in his voice. No doubt he wanted to be able to lift her himself, but he was weak from the blood he’d lost. She stirred and let out a tiny moan to alert them to the fact she was awake.

“Lady Calder,” Agnes said. “Let me help, ma’am. Here Malcolm slide your arm below my lady’s shoulders.” Working together they managed to raise Mary onto the chair she’d left so precipitously. She watched through lowered lids as Malcolm turned to the Master and helped him onto another chair.

“We make a fine sight, do we not?” Mary asked her lord, although she thought he might be in no mood for levity. “Why does the Grassmarket upset me, Lennox, when the shadow in my memory lurks in woods?”

“We think they took you there,” he said abruptly. “To the stand of trees along by the Boroughloch. It is to my shame that I did not put the incident into its proper perspective. Wilson and Mama are connected by their love of the table.”

Mary wiped her brow with the cloth Agnes handed her. Her dress began to feel tight once more and she breathed slowly.

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

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

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

Mary stared hard at her husband. The words rattled around her brain and made a mystery even more muddling.

“How can you be sure, Lennox? How can you know?” she asked, finally.

“I have been unhappy for the last few days, maybe as much as a week, about the amount of laudanum, Mama persuaded Wilson to offer you and I have been substituting a lesser preparation and then a cordial with no sleeping draught at all,” Lennox said. Mary heard the words with little understanding.

“What business has Lady Grizel telling such a distinguished physician how to minister to his patients?” she said at last. The idea forming in her mind lowered her spirits and scared her equally.

“What business indeed? However, it seems my mama and Doctor Wilson are both known to one Hazeldean, a moneylender. This individual keeps his premises in the Grassmarket.”  Lennox paused and Mary realised the servants had all melted away.

She lifted a shaky hand and brushed back her hair. Its thick mass felt matted and uncomfortable. Why did the Grassmarket cause icy shivers? Surely her earlier memory was of a shadow in woods?. Nausea rose in her throat and she sank onto a chair.

“The Grassmarket?” she questioned. “I sometimes go to visit my school friend in the Lawnmarket. Mistress Bailey, she is now.”

“Indeed, you do, my love,” Lennox was watching her closely. “And do you remember your last visit there?”

Mary sought his loving glance and tried to hold it, but the world went black once more and she slid to the floor.

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

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

Laudanum is a dangerous preparation to give too often.

Mary turned Lennox’s words over in her head as they waited for Agnes and Malcolm to complete their search of the house. Where had Lady Grizel gone and why so abruptly when Lennox’s wounds had not yet been seen to be without threat?

“Nothing, Malcolm?” Lennox asked the elderly retainer when he came paiching up the basement stairs. “We must hope Agnes has more luck.” Mary heard the strain in her husband’s voice and it only heightened her feeling of being on the edge of a discovery. What had Lennox found when he and Duff went chasing back out into the gloomy streets?

She looked through the side panel beside the huge front door and could make out the torches burning in their sconces by the edge of the platt, but nothing beyond. They might live in the most modern of buildings, but there was still more than enough untamed wilderness around.

“Sorry, my lord, I canna find Lady Grizel. Her fur-lined cloak is gone frae the bedroom and ane o’ the heavy pairs o bits.” Agnes rushed the words out as if they hurt her to say. She would have sunk onto a chair, Mary was sure, if her situation did not forbid it. Mary took the woman by her arm and led her to one of the hall chairs.

“Sit down, Agnes, you look ready to drop and we will have need of everyone if we launch a search.”

“Oh no, my lady…”

“Please, Agnes, just do as I suggest,” Mary said kindly. Didn’t she know all too well what it felt like to be shocked beyond bearing?

“Searches will not be necessary,” Lennox said grimly. “I know where Mama will have gone.”

 

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

Winter Wonder – a Story for the Darker Days

She’s like a midge in the summer gloaming, Mary thought, as her mama-in-law fidgeted around her. But she knew that this time she had to ignore her veiled threats and dark predictions. They had too much of a habit of coming true.

The realisation stilled her as she knelt above her struggling lord. It tore at the mists of memory hanging in her mind and through the rents she began to grasp meaning from those glimpses she’d been having throughout the day. Lady Grizel was at the core of this debacle somewhere. The fleeing shadow Mary remembered from seeing another in the gardens was connected with her.

“Malcolm,” Lady Grizel said peremptorily, “Send for Doctor Wilson. Her ladyship is in need of some of his medicine.”

That brought Mary to her senses and she exchanged glances with Lennox. She saw flashes of fire spark in his glorious eyes and knew he had come onto her side.

“No, Mama, Doctor Wilson is not required to attend Mary. It would be a good idea if Mrs Daiches came up from her kitchen with hot water and cleaned my cuts.”

“Lennox, how dare you offer an opinion on the health of the household’s women,” Lady Grizel said, not prepared to give up without a fight.

“Because I am sure my wife is not in need of more sedation. Laudanum is, to my thinking a dangerous preparation to give too often,” Lennox replied, and Mary recognised the tone of authority he used when he would not be thwarted. She rose from her kneeling position and turned towards Alfie.

“Alfie, my little love, why don’t you take Donal and go out to the mews to find Red Will. Tell him Duff needs his help and he’s to come to the house, please.” Mary smiled at her eldest. She needed to know who had defied his papa’s orders and driven him in from the country. In the meantime, it would still the panic over Lennox and Duff she knew he must be feeling, if he had a job to undertake.

She helped Malcolm ease Lennox off the tiles and into a chair with strong wooden arms. Mrs Daiches and one of the maids arrived with jugs of hot water and clean cloths. It was busy and only once they were sure Lennox had no grit or tiny shards of glass in his face, did she turn back to Lady Grizel.

Mary gazed at an empty hall.

Winter wonder – Christine Campbell continues

Novelist Christine Campbell has taken up the creative baton and continues Lady Mary’s story, below:

Lennox raised his hand to his head and groaned.
Mary ran to him and knelt where he lay. “Oh, my love. My love.” She took his hand in hers. “Who did this terrible thing to you?”
“Duff?”  Lennox tried to sit up.
“He’s here.” Mary indicated where the dog lay panting beside Alfie. “He’s hurt too, but he is here. I ask again, who did this dreadful deed?” Her hand hovered above his face, longing to stroke that dear cheek where blood flowed from the ugly gash, but afraid she might cause further pain.
Lady Grizel stepped forward. “I ask you again, Mary, will you please go to your room. I shall deal with this.”
Mary straightened her back, though she still knelt beside Lennox. “No, Ma’am, I will not.”
“Please, Mary.” Lennox clasped her hands and held them to him. “Please do as my mother says. It is better you hear no part of this.” He raised himself on one elbow, preparing to get up from the floor.
“But, why? Why do you protect me like this? Something dreadful is happening and I need to know what it is.”
“But you are ill, my love.”
“No! No, I am well. You tell me I have been ill, but see …” She held out her hand, willing it to be steady, not to allow the dreadful shaking that she felt in her body to show in her outstretched hand. “See, I am stronger now. I am well.”
Great infusion of family tension there, from Christine Campbell. Thank you, Christine.
The latest release in Christine’s growing list of reluctant detective titles, is
She also blogs and you can find her entertaining words at Writewhereyouare

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.”