Mr. Christopher Pringle turned away from the stairs. Although he was staying in the castle—it was the only “inn” for miles—he was far from ready to retire. Night was when the heavens came alive.
His jaw tightened. If his prized telescope hadn’t been damaged on the trip north, he’d stay out until dawn admiring the sky.
Especially on a night as clear as this one.
With determination, he strode to the castle exit to see how many stars he could spy with his bare eyes. A movement not far ahead caught his interest.
Just across the garden stood a cluster of about a dozen individuals, all with their heads tilted skyward and their fingers pointing above them.
He stepped closer in surprise. This far from London, he was usually the only gentleman astronomer about. This motley group appeared comprised of adults and children, male and female alike.
He turned to one of the door attendants. “Have you any idea what those people are doing?”
“Sky-walk,” the footman replied without hesitation. “First Saturday of every month, castle guests tour the grounds, peering up at the stars.”
Christopher’s pulse skipped in pleasure. He could not think of anything more noble than instilling young people with respect for and knowledge of the stars. It was a calling he took quite seriously.
Indeed, if travel was his passion, astronomy was his obsession. His pulse hummed. That he should discover twin souls in a sparsely populated Christmas village, of all places… He hurried forward without waiting to summon his greatcoat. He could not let an opportunity to befriend fellow aficionados pass him by.
As he neared the circle, it became quickly apparent that the leader of the sky-walk was not a fellow gentleman astronomer, as Christopher had presumed, but a beautiful young woman. A lady astronomer. His heart thumped. He had never met a female scholar of the stars.
This one had thick black curls, a truly sensuous mouth, and a sensible fur-lined pelisse to protect her from the weather. Christopher was still too far away to discern the words of her current lecture. He gave up all pretense of nonchalance and began to lope across the garden to catch up with the group and meet their delightful leader in person.
The conservative science-minded men of his acquaintance had long pooh-poohed the idea of a woman learning the intricacies of the stars, but obviously they had never met—
“That’s right, Annie,” the lady astronomer was saying to a child. “We do call the brightest star in the sky ‘Brummell’ because it’s as shiny as a dandy’s spangled waistcoat.”
Christopher nearly had an apoplexy on the spot. He drew up short in shock.
To his horror, the other adults in the group clapped and nodded their agreement, as if this heretical redefinition of Polaris had come as a commandment from the Crown.
“And that one?” asked the lady astronomer.
Christopher shook his head approached with caution. Surely, he had misheard her.
“Yes, that is absolutely the front wheel of a landaulet. And this one?”
He was wrong.
She was a madwoman.