Christmas Story: part twelve
Twelve Drummers drumming.
If you think I'm afraid of you…' Lord Chadderton began in a harsh tone, but even as he spoke he saw that the militia had arrived.
Faced with inevitable capture, the Panther took to his heels, the militia following close behind.
'Well, that looks as if that is the end of him,' Penstable said with a giggle as shots were fired in the distance. 'Damn my eyes but it is cold out here, dear fellow. I think we should go back to the house and discover how poor Miss Kingston is doing…'
Charlotte recovered from her faint soon after reaching the house. She blushed with embarrassment when she realised that Ryder had carried her all the way back to the house and up the stairs to her room.
'Please, you must think me so stupid…'
'Not at all,' Ryder replied, understanding her embarrassment. 'I shall leave you now for I am sure you will wish to rest before the ball this evening. And there are things I must do…'
Charlotte made no reply for she could not think that Ryder would want anything more to do with her or her family after all the trouble Jack had caused, bringing the militia and causing the Panther to shoot poor Luke and threaten everyone else. Jack was innocent -–but who would believe it? Everyone would wonder if there was not some truth in the accusations made against him. Charlotte believed implicitly in her brother's innocence – but she knew that others might not be so trusting, and that could mean she would find herself less welcome in some of the best houses. Sighing, she turned away to change out of her wet clothes, because it would soon be time to dress for the ball. Ryder had been so gallant and kind to carry her home, but there was no denying that he had been in a hurry to leave – and who could blame him?
Some hours later, Charlotte was dressing for the evening. She had seen the doctor after he visited her brother, and he had told her that he felt there was nothing to worry about. However, she wanted to visit Jack before going down to the ball.
She knocked at Jack's door and was invited to enter, feeling surprised as she saw that he was fully dressed in evening clothes.
'Jack, the doctor told you to rest!'
'I am perfectly well, Charlotte. Please do not worry. Ryder lent me some things and I am determined to join you downstairs.' Jack grinned at her. 'You've made a conquest there, Lottie.'
Charlotte laughed huskily. 'Oh, Jack, you really shouldn't!' He was the only one who called her Lottie and it was so good to have him home. He hadn't fully explained what he had been up to yet, but that could wait for another time. 'I know he quite likes me but…well, I'm not a great heiress or anything so I daresay that is all it is.'
'I doubt if Ryder cares a fig for your fortune,' Jack said. 'If I know anything, the man is besotted.' He raised his brows at her. 'What answer will you give if he asks?'
'I am not sure,' Charlotte said a flush in her cheeks. 'We had better go down, Jack.'
She took his arm until they came to the top of the stairs, and then went down just ahead of him. As they entered the ballroom, she saw that everyone was gathered at the long French windows, which looked out on the front lawn. Charlotte could hear something and, looking out, she saw that some sort of military parade was taking place. First came the eleven pipers and following them came twelve drummers, banging their drums. They marched up and down on the lawn for a few minutes and then came to a halt in front of the ballroom when they all took off their hats and threw them into the air, shouting something.
It was a few minutes before Charlotte realised that they were calling for her brother.
'They seem to want you, Jack.'
Jack hesitated and then went to the windows. The drummers beat a drum roll and then a hush fell as a man stepped out from behind them. Charlotte stared as she saw that it was Ryder.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' he announced. 'I have received news that Lord Waverley has been arrested and charged with the crimes of murder, spying and smuggling.' A cheer went up but Ryder held up his hand for silence. 'Jack Kingston receives most of the credit for the downfall of this traitor and I have been told that he is to be honoured by the Regent, who will join us here tomorrow.'
Cries of 'Well done!' and 'Hurrah for Jack!' were heard on all sides as the drummers marched off across the lawn.
Charlotte moved away from the window. She stood alone for a few minutes as Jack was surrounded by people wanting to congratulate him.
'Why so pensive, Charlotte?'
She jumped as she heard the voice close behind her, turning to look at Ryder, a faint flush in her cheeks.
'Will you not call me Ryder, Lottie?'
Charlotte's heart jerked as she saw the expression in his eyes. 'Thank you for what you did for Jack just now. How on earth did you arrange that so swiftly?'
'Prinny was expected here tomorrow,' Ryder said with a shrug. 'But once he knows of Jack's good work he will certainly wish to reward him with some honour.'
'You mean you will ask him to do so, don't you?'
'Well, I may prompt him a little.'
Charlotte's eyes opened wide. 'Why would you do that, Ryder?'
'Surely you know how much you mean to me?' he said huskily.
Charlotte's pulses raced as she looked deep into his eyes. Suddenly, she knew exactly where her heart lay and she smiled at him.
'I…was not sure…'
'I adore you,' Ryder said. 'This is neither the time nor the place to show you how I feel. Tomorrow I shall ask you to be my wife, but for now…will you dance, Lottie?'
Her love was in her eyes as she took his hand. 'The answer to both questions is yes, my dearest Ryder…'
Ryder grinned at her and swept her into the throng of dancers. 'I think you have just given me the best Christmas present that anyone ever gave me, my darling, darling Lottie…'
On the last day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a leaping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a milking
Seven swans a swimming
Six geese a laying
Five gold rings
Four calling birds
Three French hens
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree!