Anna Dean

Author of the Dido Kent mysteries

chawton 030d

A Tale of Midwinter

           '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?'

           'Well, you remember that it was the tenancy agreement for Bridge farm he had been consulting.'

           'Yes.'

           'And you yourself have told me that Charles Boyd is in arrears with his rent.'

           'By God I have!' he struck his knee as if understanding was dawning, but then a disappointing stupidity settled on his fine features. 'But I'm damned if I can see why…'

           'Dorothy, your master summoned you here to tell you that he planned to close on your nephew – Charles Boyd was to lose Bridge Farm, was he not?'

           Still Dorothy made no answer.

           'And you could not allow that to happen could you? Your family have held that land for centuries, I am sure you are very much attached…'

           'I never meant to harm him!' Dorothy suddenly flung back her head in terror. 'I only meant…'

           'To make a bargain with him? That was your intention was it not?'

           'Aye. And it was a fair bargain. I weren't to know the old gentleman would be took ill with the shock.'

           'Upon my word, Dorothy! What was this bargain you made with my father?'

           But the housekeeper only looked at Dido, waiting for her to speak.

           'You undertook to reveal the Secret of Monkswood in return for a promise that your family might remain at Bridge Farm. That was it, was it not?'

           There was a small nod, nothing more.

           'You had been making your own investigations, and so when this threat burst upon you, you undertook to show old Mr Carew the clue to it all which was hidden here in this chamber.'

           'There was another document!' cried Carew.

           'There was indeed.' Dido stepped forward and laid her hand on the tapestry. 'It is hidden here.'

           'Damn me!'

           'Do you mean,' said Kate, 'that it is hidden behind the tapestry?'

           'No. The clue is hidden in the tapestry. Here.' She laid her hand on the snake-tormented fellow and found that she rather enjoyed her friends' looks of puzzlement. But Robert Carew was being remarkably dull-witted. Those fine bright eyes ought to penetrate more deeply. There was no sound but for the wind fumbling at the casements. Dorothy raised her head – and Dido began to speak more quickly for she found that she did not wish to have the right of explanation stolen from her.

           'This,' she said, pointing at the tapestry, 'which I had supposed to be the moon, is in fact no such thing…'

           'Oh!' cried Kate jumping up and examining the pale disc more closely. 'It is the carving on the stone! It is the face of Lady Olwen!'

           'That is the clue!' shouted her brother. 'The treasure is hid by the stone and they have dug it up!'

           'Dorothy and her nephew have certainly taken advantage of your absence in Bath to make a search. You have dug on the hillside, have you not?'

           'Oh yes.' Dorothy gave her gauntest smile. 'And you may have everything we have dug up, Master Robert.'

           'You see,' Dido continued quickly (for it really would be too bad if the tiresome woman pre-empted her tale now), 'the tapestry not only reveals the place of Monkswood's secret, it explains it's nature too.' She turned to Kate. 'Miss Carew, what was the name of your ancestor?'

           'Sir Dunstan.'

           'But in the chronicles he is also given another name. He is 'Sir Dunstan that was called…'

           'Crookshanks.'

           'Yes, quite so. In fact Sir Dunstan was a cripple. And here he is,' she said, laying her hand once more on the wall-hanging. 'What appears to be a pall-mall mallet in his hand is, in fact, a crutch.'

           'Why is the poor fellow surrounded by snakes?' demanded Carew. But his sister put a knuckle to her lip and appeared to be thinking very hard.

           'They are not snakes,' said Dido. 'Tapestry is an uncertain way of picturing forth the world is it not? It is little wonder that today we prefer the effect of paint on canvas. But as I stood beside the carving of Lady Olwen this afternoon and was –' she sedulously avoided Mr Carew's eye, '– and was for a moment very still, I caught a sound which explains the true nature of this picture. In that moment I heard an unseen stream flowing close by.'

           'Oh! They are not snakes,' cried Kate, 'it is a depiction of…'

           'Water,' said Dido firmly. 'Running water. The treasure which Sir Dunstan had found here was an ancient holy well – a well of healing water. The gentleman waves his crutch, not to fend off snakes, but to prove that he is healed.'

 

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