The Unexpected Christmas Hostess

Heather stood outside upon the cold slushy ground. The tower castle looked more foreboding than friendly. She supposed that was the point. Heather wondered how the royals of the seventeenth century would feel about a “commoner” renting their property in the twenty-first century. The gray bare trees and darkening overcast sky only added to the somber setting. Heather liked it. The setting fit her mood. This was her first Christmas without her boyfriend.

Charles had been by her side through the death of her parents. He promised to always be with her, and the two had talked marriage. Then came his promotion. A new job, a new city, and within six months a new woman. Charles “discovered” he was not one for long distant relationships. Heather had gone to the trouble to travel from Oklahoma City to Phoenix, twice. Charles never returned the favor, that should have been her first clue.

This would be her first Christmas alone. Heather decided to go to the one place she and Charles had dreamed of visiting together one day. Let him have Carol, Chrissy, or whatever her name was. She would use her new freedom to see the world, and it would start here. The large wooden door groaned against the hinges when it opened. Warm air wafted out and greeted Heather’s face. The smell of a welcoming fire met her nostrils.

Inside she found a beautiful antique red velvet couch and four over-stuffed white chairs in a U-Shape in front of a large stone fireplace. A redheaded woman in a long purple and red dress stooped down stoking the fire.

Heather introduced herself. “Hi there, I’m Heather. I didn’t know anyone was going to be here.”

The woman turned to face Heather. Her face seemed to glow. She was certain this person was the most beautiful woman she had ever met. “Excuse my manners.” The woman stood and extended her long graceful hand. “I’m Margaret. This is my castle. I just wanted to make sure everything was perfect when you arrived.”

“Oh, thank you. It has been a long trip, and I do love the warm fire.”

“Where do you come from lass?”

“I’m from America, Oklahoma.”

“Of course, the colonies. Good for you kicking out the ole Brits. We can never seem to be rid of ‘em here. Won’t you sit down?”

Heather chose a chair nearest the fire and Margaret sat across from her. I think it’s cute the way her dress matches the period. “Are you here to show me around as well?”

“No, lass. Where is the fun in knowin’ about a castle? Half the adventure is discoverin’ things for yourself.  I will give you one word of warnin’. Stay downstairs at night. It’s a might cold upstairs, and there’s rumors of ghosts.”

Heather felt a chill go down her spine. Ghosts!? That wasn’t in the property details. “Ghosts? Are they mean?”

Margaret laughed. “No. I’d not let anyone stay here if they could be harmed. Just give ‘em their space. Come now, I bet you’re hungry. Let me show you the dining room.”

“Thank you, I’m famished.” Heather and Margaret made their way into the next room. A large table that would easily seat twelve people sat half empty. The other half of the table contained all sorts of food. Turkey, goose, duck, mashed potatoes, green beans, and other assorted vegetables sat steaming in their bowls. Two place settings were waiting for both women to gorge themselves.

“You don’t fool around when it comes to your meals. I’m not sure I can eat half of what you have made.”

Margaret pulled the chair out for Heather. “Don’t worry, lass. Eat what you can. There are some families living nearby I can take the leftovers to.”

The women ate, laughed, and talked. Heather told Margaret about Charles. Margaret told Heather she needed to attract the right kind of men, but later admitted she had her share of bad relationships. Heather felt like they were lifelong friends. After the meal both ladies retired to the living room again, and Margaret brought out a delightful bottle of Scotch.

Margaret sat back with a gleam in her eye. “I know it’s dark now, but would you like to walk around the grounds a bit?”

“I would love to, but isn’t it a bit cold and damp for that?”

Margaret doubled over laughing. “Oh, lass. This is Scotland. The is perfect weather.”

Heather rose with Margaret and they got their coats. Heather led the way out the front door. A frigid blast of air hit her face. She buried herself as best she could inside the ski jacket’s raised collar. Heather turned to complain to Margaret, but she wasn’t there. She turned back around, and there stood Margaret. Her long dark cape flowed in the cold breeze, and her face glowed with her smile.

“I’m sorry, lass. Did I startle you?”

“Oh, no. I just didn’t hear you come out. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

“That’s what you modern girls need to learn. Grace and quiet lend to our mystique as ladies. It always intrigues an intellectual gentleman.”

“What do you mean modern? You can’t be five years older than I am.”

Margaret smiled and turned. Her cape and dress seemed to glide across the ground. Heather followed her to a tall hedgerow next to a walking path. It blocked the breeze and the air no longer bit at Margaret’s face. The two women sat on the first bench they came to.

Margaret took both of Heather’s hands into her icy fingers. “Now, lass, nobody needs to be alone during the Christmas season. Do you see the lights down the hill there?”

“You mean where the town is.”

“Exactly, dear. Tomorrow you go down there to the pub. Don’t worry, there’s only one pub. Ask for James, he owns the place. You tell him Margaret sent you down to find some Christmas cheer. He will make sure you have a proper holiday.”

“I really prefer being alone.”

“That’s what we all say when we lose somebody we love, but then when we’re alone we regret it. Consider my suggestion a favor to a new friend. You are staying in my castle after all.”

Heather nodded, and the two women walked back up to the front door. Margaret stopped just short of the door. “I think you have what you need. I have other things to attend to now. Remember, the pub.”

“I will, and thank you. Are you going to come by before I leave?”

“I hope not. I have too many things to do.”

Heather turned and opened the front door. She turned back to say one last goodbye, but Margaret had already gone. Heather smiled. Grace and mystery.

The next morning Heather woke and made herself some tea. The pale winter sky brought a weak light through the windows. She decided it was time to do a little exploring. Venturing up the stairs Heather found Lairds and Ladies paintings lining the wall. Heather stopped and stared at the first couple. The woman looked just like Margaret. Beneath the image was the plaque “Lady Margaret 1605-1660”. Amazing, she looks just like her ancestor. A bit more snooping found a few modern bedrooms upstairs for larger groups. I wonder if the ghosts ever wake them up.

By afternoon Heather was ready to explore beyond the castle walls. She remembered her promise to Margaret and drove her rental car into the small village. She stopped on the “Broken Leg” pub. She giggled at the name, and then went inside. There were white-hot coals inside the massive stone fireplace. The ceilings were low enough she could touch them with her hand. Only a few patrons were scattered about the tables and booths. All of them greeted her as she walked to the bar.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for the owner. I believe his name his James?”

“I’m James. You sound like an American. Who sent you lookin’ for me?”

“The owner of the castle on the hill, Margaret.”

James’ face went pale. Two men sitting at a table within earshot started to mumble to one another.

“Are you sure her name was Margaret?”

“Yes. I’m here alone for Christmas and she told me I should tell you she sent me. Oh, and you would show me proper Christmas cheer. I’m not sure what that means.”

James laughed, pulled a glass from under the bar and filled it with beer. He placed it in front of Heather without asking her.

“It’s good to see the Lady of the Castle still at work. Although I do wish she would take her rest.”

“She looked very rested last night when I saw her.”

“You may want to sit down, miss.”

There was something in the tone of his voice that made Heather sit down on the barstool.

“You see, Margaret is a very old soul.”

“She did seem very wise for somebody so young.” Everyone in earshot of Heather laughed.

“Excuse us miss, you see, Margaret died in 1660. She is anything but young. Although to you she probably appeared young. Legend has it that she was a very kind Lady. She took care of the people of this village while she was alive. After her death she would appear in the castle, and sometimes in town, to people who were having some sort of problem. She would comfort them, give them advice, and then disappear. I guess she plans to continue her work until Jesus Himself returns.”

Heather reached over and swallowed half a pint of beer before she stopped for a breath.

James reached over and took her hand in a brotherly grip. “I don’t know what you told Margaret, but if the Lady wants you to have Christmas cheer, then a cheer it will be. Leave everything to me.”

Heather took a deep breath and looked around. “I’m still not sure I understand everything. This celebration, will it be at the castle?”

“On no ma’am. It will be in town. Any friend of Lady Margaret is royalty to us.” Heather finished her beer and told James everything that had happened. He listened and got very excited when Heather described Margaret. After they had finished talking she decided she would return to the castle. Just in case Margaret wanted to visit again.

The Daily Post: Gorge

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