Welcome to my 22nd Advent Calendar post on Mary Stewart. Today I am sharing a few paragraphs of ‘The Lost One’, Mary Stewart’s prequel to The Wind off the Small Isles. Perdita and her mother meet with danger when they get lost driving to the Lake District one evening.
A hand shot out, closed on my arm, and jerked me towards him. As my breath went in for the scream, something cold and sharp – an edge of metal – touched my throat. His voice said, with that quietness furring over the terrifying impact of violence: ‘I told you not to make a noise. Keep your trap shut or you’ll get it. Understand?’
Perdita manages to run away but can’t seem to escape her pursuer for long:
Above the road the ground reared sharply in a grassy bluff where rough rock showed through. It was too steep for me to scramble up, and I didn’t dare to run back up the open road to look for an easy place to scale the slope. I turned the other way, and plunged down the sharp descent towards the stream.
Below the slope was a stretch of turf, dangerous with old rabbit-holes, then a sharp, foot-deep drop to pebbles that scrunched and slid underfoot; then the chill shallows of the stream.
I splashed across with scarcely a pause. Once my foot slipped and I went over, but I dragged myself up and stumbled on, wet through.
And now here was the far bank, and the darkness. My soaked shoes squelched and slithered on grass. I ran on, making for the concealing fells…
His breathing was loud. He couldn’t have been more than twenty yards away.
While parts of the story are hugely suspenseful, there is humour too, in the relationship of Perdita and her mother. Perdita’s mother, in her sixties and wearing furs, has her own misadventure on a borrowed bicycle.
‘It’s got no brakes! She doesn’t know!’
‘She does now,’ I said grimly.
She did indeed. She came swooping down out of the night, knocking up a smart thirty miles an hour, shrieking as she came. The bicycle bell was going madly. She saw us and waved wildly, gave a ferocious wobble, and a cry that I thought was ‘Achtung!’ as she swept down towards the valley-bottom and the parked cars and the sheep. ‘Per — dita!’ she shrieked as she came within earshot. And then, ‘Sheep! Shee — ep!’ and then, finally and splendidly, ‘Fore!’ and she was among them.
And the sheep melted… She swept between the parked cars, did a quick in-and-out between the startled ewes, and vanished up the next gradient into the darkness.
If you want to read ‘The Lost One’, it appeared in ‘Woman’s Journal’ in June 1960 (56 years ago: this may help to explain why Perdita’s mother wears fur…). You can purchase a photocopy of this story by contacting the British Library – from what I remember, it is not cheap! And/or you can look out for the magazine on eBay, abebooks etc.
Has anyone else read ‘The Lost One’ already? If you have (or once you have), please do drop by and let me know what you thought of it!