The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford: A Paranormal Regency Romance: Part I

A Word from the Author:

I had a much shorter version of this story at www.themysteriousdomain.com, but I was never happy with the ending. I was trying to keep the story under 5,000 words — so it would be a genuine short story — but in the end I not only had to put more detail into it to make it better. I had to add another 5,000 words to have an ending that worked. Characters will do that to you sometimes. They know better than the author how its supposed to go.

So I deleted the story from My Mysterious Domain, rewrote it, and am offering it here in parts.

The story was inspired by this photograph of Crawford Priory, an extravagant Scottish ruin, by the excellent Simon Marsden. ( See more of is amazing photography and beyond at :  www.simonmarsden.co.uk ) It was on a calender that included the story of Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford, who in her life never married, and was known to be a great lover of animals who were her friends and constant companions.

I don’t know how Lady Crawford would feel about my fictitious portrayal of her, but I think she might understand how this brooding image and her alleged haunting of the place with her animals might lead the imagination down some strange passages.

This is told in five installments. I also plan to podcast it. I hope you like this rather old style spooky story.

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford

A Paranormal Regency Romance

Part I

by Aline deWinter

Fife, Scotland

1815

It was to be Lady Mary’s first appearance for many months.

<
After the death of her father, she had retired into the gloom of her high Gothic mansion as if Society had ceased to exist. She did not call upon anyone, and no one called upon her for, though young and extremely charming, she was known not to need people and had a way of gently, but effectively, putting them off. Then, out of the blue, she sent out lilac-scented invitations for a Ball to be held at her home on May Eve. It was to be a Masquerade, set to begin in the long twilight, and continue with feasting and dancing until dawn. Lady Mary invited everyone who had known her father when he was alive, and all those who had shown an interest in her. She hinted that whoever wore the most convincing animal masque would win a secret prize! It was hoped, and surmised, that the prize was to be Lady Mary’s hand in marriage, for, now on her own and lonely, she must surely have decided that it was time to choose a husband and settle down.

<
On the evening of the Ball, the twilight was exceedingly long and luminous, a glow, like reflected firelight, throwing the low hills into dark relief at the horizon.  As the guests leapt from their coaches, they were welcomed by bright torches along the walkway and up the stairs to the open doors of the house. The ground floor windows blazed with light, while overhead, a sombre crown of pinnacles and turrets rose against the sky like the peaks of a dark forest. A flock of rooks circled around them cawing on their way to the woods.

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Posing about in their finest, most extravagant costumes, several hopeful Suitors cut a swathe in the candle lit drawing room. Their animal heads had them looking, rather disturbingly,  like devils in fancy dress. The other ladies and gentlemen, friends of Lady Mary’s late father,  held small half-masks, attached to sticks, in their hands, ready to hold them up at the first sight of their mysterious Hostess.

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The great clock in the hall chimed the hour. Impatient for a sight of Lady Mary newly emerging from her dark cocoon of grief,  the guests gathered in a knot at the bottom of the stairs with bated breath. Their anticipation was increased when a tribe of be-ribboned Burmese cats suddenly flowed down the stairs carrying flowers in their mouths. They were followed, from above, by a whizzing flock of multi-colored budgies that perched in the chandeliers, and at the tops of the potted orange trees, or clung upside down to the vines that were trellised along the tops of the walls. When opening their beaks to sing, they dropped round, red berries onto the heads of the Suitors. The crowd laughed uneasily.

<
“Oh, ho, ho,” chuckled Rusty MacClaren, blinking as he picked a squashed berry out of his lion’s eye. “We’re in for a fine time already…” He flicked his fingers anxiously through his mane in case some berries got stuck in it too.

<

“I’ll say,” said Oliver Brodie, swinging his stag’s head  around to look through the tall windows off to the side, his attention drawn by a commotion outside in the yard. “That’s strange. It appears Lady Mary has just returned from a ride.”

<
“It can’t be her,” said Rusty. “She’s supposed to be upstairs getting herself ready. You know how long it takes a woman to dress for a Ball.”

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“Well, that big black charger of hers is still prancing about like he’s trying to follow her into the house. I just heard her running in at the back door,” said Oliver as a distant door slammed.

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“Guess we’ll see, won’t we, lads,” said Dark Robbie, the wolf, shaking some berries out of the cuffs of his Restoration sleeves. “She’s a wild one.”

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“What do you mean by that?” Mr. Symmonds’s old, soft voice floated across the room.

<
Suddenly, the room darkened as if a cloud passed over it.  The very air was charged with the mystery. The guests shuffled about, restless, and the house grew quiet as a gathering storm, waiting for thunder to roll. The guests went very still, looking at each other quizzically, and then, on meeting each others eyes, looking away again, and then around at the ceiling at the bright budgies perched above, their empty beaks sunken into their puff-feathered, pastel breasts, and at the floor where the cats lolled about, getting snagged in their ribbon streamers, and preening, oblivious to the danger of shifting human feet, as if the guests were no more than trees in the wood.

<
Finally, the of barking of dogs, and the howling of Irish wolfhounds echoed from the top of the house, announcing that Lady Mary must be leaving her lofty bedchamber.  The guests milled around so that the row of Suitors stood at the fore, while the ladies and remaining gents chose the best vantage points for a view of the stairs, and held up their masks. They glanced around at each other grimly through their eyeholes. A red fox sauntered down the stairs, brushing against the Suitors and eyeing them suspiciously before it leapt, with flash of its white-tipped tail, through the open French casement, and out into the garden.

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Dark Robbie took a gentle swipe at it with his riding crop, hitting his neighbor on the leg instead.

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“Imagine, a woman who keeps wild animals in the house! I’ll wager the whole top of the house is really a forest…where she sleeps naked under a canopy of trees…her hair tangled with leaves, and her little foxes licking her face…and doves settling on her shoulders and arms,” Dark Robbie said quietly as a flock of white birds flew over.

<
“Forget it Robbie. She’ll have none of you, you popinjay! Lady Mary has taste. She’ll choose me.”

<
“Yes, Oliver. That’s all she needs…a pile of debts and a sot for a father-in-law.”

<
“Now, lads, what’s the fuss…,” the soft voice of old Mr. Symmonds silted over their high words. “You know as well as anyone that this is a mere formality. Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford has never been known to accept anyone to her hand.”

<
“Yes,” retorted Rusty. “Even her dear father couldn’t marry her off to save his soul from the Devil.”

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“I’ll wager he did sell his soul to the Devil,” said Oliver somberly, pointing around at the room. “Where else did he get the money to buy this?”

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“I can’t wait to just see her. I heard she was running about the graveyard with her hair disheveled and her bodice undone like Ophelia in the mad scene…with her hounds circling around her like witches imps,” said Dark Robbie grinning sarcastically at the fluttering budgies. A diminutive orange fell down and hit him on the nose.

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“Please, gentlemen. The poor girl has been tragically bereft of her only living relative…”

<
“And got a fortune out of it too…”

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“Shhh! Here she comes.”

<
It was the three wolfhounds they saw first, their aquiline heads curving around the bannisters, their long legs getting tangled up with each other as they tried peering at those assembled below them on the Oriental carpet. Their leads were so long that they were at the middle of the stairs before Lady Mary appeared. Her light brown hair floated around her head like a frothy cloud made higher with a jeweled black plume. A dark blue-gray gown of rustling silk, embroidered with crystal beads, drifted in translucent layers about her figure like a storm. She smiled at her guests, lowering her dark eyelashes as if she had been caught having naughty thoughts. The creamy beauty of her skin was heightened by the flame of high color in her cheeks. She looked as if she were always blushing, but it wasn’t with modesty, rather with a noticeable undercurrent of seething passion.

<
“How can that woman stay alone?” Rusty growled.

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“What makes you so sure she’s alone?” whispered Dark Robbie.

<
“Hush lads. Don’t speak of the Lady like that. She’s an outdoor girl. Healthy,” Mr. Symmonds sighed, lifting his owl’s mask up for air. “Vital.”

<
She strode between the rows of Gallants smiling like a Grecian Queen and leading a goat wearing a may crown. They were followed by a Shetland collie who kept running around everyone and barking at them as if they were sheep, more cats, some hares walking on their hind legs, and three peacocks. There was a purple brocade settee in an alcove in front of a glassed-in aviary where Lady Mary sat, gesturing with a bright yellow feathered fan to her guests that they should also be seated on the various upholstered chairs. Beside her was an urn filled with the long stemmed gladiolas and lilies that the cats had carried in, the last being gingerly but elegantly positioned among the rest by a shining mahogany Burmese. As the guests sat down, they marveled at it.

<
Rusty MacClaren proposed a toast, and they all stood up again.

<
“To Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford…welcome back to the world,” he cried raising his third glass of whisky.

<
“Cheers!”

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Mr. Symmonds’s voice whispered above the laughter, “You look very lovely, Lady Mary. I hope we shall all see more of you now.”

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“Agreed!” cried several of the gentlemen, lifting their glasses high.

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Dark Robbie bowed and reached for her hand. She held it out to him. He nuzzled it with his wolf’s snout. “Lovely to have you back, my Lady.”

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Lady Mary’s grey eyes flashed. “Thank you, Robbie,” she whispered.

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Then, glancing over her assembled guests, she announced, “I want to thank you all for coming to my little soire in honor of Lord Crawford, my father, who passed beyond the veil just two and half years ago. I am sure he would be made very happy if he could see how many of you have come to pay your respects as well as to welcome me back into Society again. Father was a retiring character, but as you all know, his good works were many, his generous giving has mede a difference to many lives. Now, shall we all repair to the dining room? Cook has prepared a wonderful feast. It is my gift to you. Come my loves…” she said to her pets who were gathered around her skirts like orphaned children.
A deer suddenly bounded up to the tall windows and looked in, its ears pricked up, as if, being late, it feared missing out.

<
Oh, come now, Violet,” Lady Mary said opening the casement to allow the deer inside.  “You know I haven’t forgotten you. Everyone, follow me.”

<
She led her guests down a corridor, and through a series of magnificent though dusty rooms, towards the back of the house. They were accompanied by nine cats, two dogs, five hares, a goat, with a monkey in its back, a deer, three peacocks, and a colorful cacophony of budgies.

<

End of Part I

Photos by Simon Marsden : www.simonmarsden.co.uk

5 thoughts on “The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford: A Paranormal Regency Romance: Part I

  1. Pingback: Crawford Priory: riddle of a ruin | adcochrane

  2. I found this fascinating. My Father is 86 at the end of this month. He was born and brought up on Crawford Priory Estate. His Father was a forester on the estate. We have been writing down wee stories about his childhood. It’s amazing what he remembers about his childhood,including riding on the wee steam train to the Lime Works. His family went out for a walk each Sunday and if they met Lord Cochrane,they had to salute- his Father had to doff his cap. I was looking for pictures and articles for him to read.

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