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Anna Dean

Author of the Dido Kent mysteries

A Tale of Midwinter

           Melting snow slid from the branches overhead and dripped off the brim of her hat. The sullen clouds had parted now and the sun shone out, slanting low through the trees, throwing long shadows from every tussock of dead grass and tiny clod of turned earth.

           She began to rise. 'We must search the bedchamber,' she said.

           But as she stood up, Mr Carew – determined, it seemed, to win a smile from her too serious face – took her hand and said with all the ceremony of a host introducing his guests: 'Miss Kent, before we return to the house, I would like you to meet the Lady Olwen – a very old neighbour of mine.'

           Greatly puzzled, Dido followed the direction of his flourished hand and saw, carved in the rock behind the stone on which she had been sitting, a face. The carving was worn and clogged with moss, but vivid just now in the reddish rays of the sinking sun. It was a round fierce face, as old perhaps as the days of the druids.

           'Lady Olwen?' she said. 'The lady from whom the monks took this land?

           'Aye, that's the one! They say that's her. Been there for centuries.' He was smiling at her surprise. 'A right fearsome old spinster she looks, don't she? And fine brave fellows those monks must have been to take anything from her.'

           Dido looked at the carving as the sun sank. There was something wild and pagan about that face amid the moss and the trailing stalks of dead brown bracken; but she rather liked the Lady Olwen's staring eyes and wide, screaming mouth. There was power about her: more power than any 'old spinster' of Dido's acquaintance possessed.

           'I believe you are wrong, Mr Carew,' she said, beginning the descent without troubling to take the arm he held out to her. 'It was not a woman that the monks stole this land from at all. It was a goddess.'


           I have become quite attached to the Lady Olwen; I wish you could see her fierce stony stare, Eliza. It is quite extraordinary!

           But, to return to the business of the treasure: there is, I am sure, some document in this room – something which revealed to Mr Carew's father the secret of Monkswood.


           Dido had come to her bedchamber to change her gown in preparation for the dinner hour, but her head was so full of the events of the day that she could not resist relating everything to her sister.


           And I believe that secret has to do with Bridge Farm. I recall Mr Carew saying that his father had summoned Dorothy to the chamber a short time before he died, and Dorothy is, of course, Mr Boyd's aunt (perhaps I have not yet mentioned that to you, but she is). And…


           She drew the hairpin from her pocket and turned it over thoughtfully…


           I am quite convinced that Dorothy has herself been pursuing the treasure of Monkswood – and perhaps she has discovered it…

           But, Eliza, a mere tenancy document could not have revealed anything to old Mr Carew… What else had he found? And where is it now?

           You may be sure that I have made a very thorough search of this apartment. I have with great difficulty opened the massy chest, which I was quite certain must have some fine secret hidden in it. For what other purpose were massy oak chests ever constructed? But the tiresome thing contains nothing but blankets and has not even the slightest sign of a false bottom or a cunningly concealed spring that might reveal a secret compartment. Which I really think is too bad! When a house is so determinedly like something out of a novel as Monkswood is, its chests ought at least to have hidden compartments about them, even if there are no torture chambers or passages concealed behind the tapestries…


           Dido stopped writing very suddenly and turned all her attention upon the tapestries which were stirring in the icy draughts that blew from the windows, making the huge old figures of monks and warriors move and live in the gloom beyond the firelight . After a moment she got to her feet and went to lay a hand upon a place – just beside the man defending himself from snakes. In that place the tapestry seemed to move rather more than it did anywhere else in the room.

           A look of understanding spread across her bright young face. She was thinking of a hairpin, and the words of an ancient chronicle – and a moment of stillness in the embrace of a pair of strong arms…



'Upon my word! I don't see why you should bring us all here, Miss Kent,' said Mr Carew as he sat himself down on the massy chest. 'Don't see why you couldn't tell us what you fancy you've found out in the drawing room.'

'Oh, because it was in here in this chamber that your father loved so well that the final clue to the mystery was hidden,' Dido explained eagerly. She stood before the broad casement window. The smoke curled slow and sullen from the bedchamber grate; the tapestries continued to billow restlessly. The draughts sliced at Dido's back as the wind rose higher; snow drove against the leaded panes and mounded itself on the stone mullions. It was late, but she was determined to settle the mystery tonight.

'I am sure there can be no occasion for me to stay,' said Dorothy looking uneasily towards Miss Carew. 'Tis a family matter and tis not my place…'

'No, no. Sit down Dorothy,' said Kate. 'Miss Kent has asked you to be here. And I can see by her face that she is quite determined to have her own way. She will not tell us anything unless we follow her orders.'

Dorothy reluctantly sat herself down on the very edge of the hardest chair in the room.

'Now then, tell us plain,' urged Robert Carew. 'Have you found the treasure?'

'I do not exactly have it in my possession,' said Dido. 'But I can tell you where it is.'

'By God!' He rubbed his hands together. 'Where is it?'

'It is at Bridge Farm.'

There was a little gasp from the housekeeper; she half rose from her chair's edge; then, recollecting herself, she resumed her seat with downcast eyes.

'And my father had discovered this?' said Kate. 'He had found something in his old documents?'

'No, not quite. You see we have been making a grievous mistake. We have all believed that he had found the truth about the Monkswood Treasure before he rang the bell that summoned Dorothy that evening. And you have allowed us to believe that, have you not?' She turned an accusing eye on the housekeeper. 'But it was not so, was it? When you came he was as healthy as he had ever been. He had not yet received the shock which killed him. He did not call you because he had been taken ill. He called you here for quite a different reason, did he not?'

Dorothy continued to stare upon the broad old boards of the chamber floor, while all the young people stared at her bowed head.

'Damn it, Miss Kent,' said Carew, 'what do you mean? Why did he ring the bell for Dorothy?'

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