Authors: Catherine Coulter
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Scottish Bride
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First edition (electronic): July 2001
who's a cracker.
August 15, 1815
YSEN SHERBROOKE GAZED
out the wide windows onto the east lawn of Northcliffe, his brow furrowed thoughtfully. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “I did know that I was in line for the title, Douglas, but I was so far down on the list of rightful heirs that I never imagined it could actually happen. Indeed, I haven't even thought of it for a good decade. The last grandson, Ian, he's really dead?”
“Yes, just six months before the old man died. It seems he fell off a cliff into the North Sea. The solicitor seems to think Ian's death is what shoved Old Tyronne into the grave. Of course, he was eighty-seven, so he probably didn't need much of a push. That means that you, Tysen, are now Baron Barthwick. It's an old barony, dating back to the early fifteenth century, when men of importance were barons. Earls were later additions, upstarts for a very long time.”
“I remember Kildrummy Castle, of course,” Tysen said.
“It's right on the coast, below Stonehaven, overlooking the North Sea. It's a beautiful place, Douglas, not immensely tall with no windows like the old medieval Scottish castles, but newer, built in the late seventeenth century, I believe. I remember being told that the original castle was destroyed in one of their interminable clan fights. The new one, it's got gables and chimney stacksâa good dozen of themâand four round angle-turrets. The lower floor of the castle is closed off by the building itself and attached to a curtain wall that encloses a very large inner courtyard.” Tysen paused a moment, seeing everything from a younger perspective, and his eyes glistened a bit as he said, “Ah, but the countryside, Douglas, it is untamed and wild, as if God gazed down upon it, decided against our modern buildings and roads, and left it untouched. There are more crags than you can begin to count, and deep-rutted paths, just one narrow, winding road, really, that leads to the castle. There's a steep, rocky hill that goes down to a beach, and wildflowers, Douglas, wildflowers everywhere.”
This was quite a poetic outpouring from his staid, very serious and literal brother. Douglas was pleased that Tysen not only remembered Barthwick so well but also appeared to admire it immensely. He said, “I remember your going there with Father when you wereâwhat? About ten years old?”
“That's right. It was one of the best times of my life.”
Douglas wasn't at all surprised. It was unusual that any of them had ever had their father completely to themselves. Whenever Douglas had his father's full attention, he'd felt blessed by the Almighty. He still missed the former earl, an honorable man who had loved his children and managed to tolerate his difficult wife with a wry smile and a shrug of his shoulders. Douglas sighed. So much change. “Since you are now the holder of an ancient
medieval barony, I suppose I shall have to let you sit above the salt.”
Tysen didn't laugh, but perhaps he did smile, just a bit. He hadn't laughed much since he'd decided to become a man of God when he was seventeen. Douglas remembered their brother Ryder telling Tysen that of all the men placed on this benighted earth, it was a vicar who should have the greatest sense of humor, since God obviously did. Just look at all the absurdities that surrounded us. Hadn't Tysen ever observed the mating ritual of peacocks, for example? And just look at their buffoon of a prince regent, who was so fat he had to be hoisted in and out of his bathtub? Ah, but Tysen was serious, his sermons high-minded, stark in their message that God was a stern taskmaster and not apt to easily overlook a man's lapses. Tysen was now thirty-one years old. He certainly had the look of the Sherbrookesâtall, well built, brown hair streaked with blond, and Sherbrooke eyes the color of a summer sky. Douglas was the changeling, with his jet-black hair and dark eyes.
But Tysen didn't have his siblings' love of life, their seemingly inborn boundless joy, their belief that the world was a very fine place indeed.
“Sitting above the saltâI haven't heard that phrase in a very long time,” Tysen said. “I suppose I must travel to Scotland and see what's what.” He sighed. “There is always so much that demands my time here, but Great Uncle Tyronne deserves an heir who will at least see that the estate is run properlyânot that I have much experience in that area.”
“You know I will assist you, Tysen. You need but ask. Would you like me to accompany you to Barthwick?”
Tysen shook his head. “No, Douglas, but I thank you. It is something that is my responsibility. I have an
efficient curate who can assume my duties for a while. You remember Samuel Pritchert, don't you?”
Oh, yes, no way to forget that dour prig. Douglas merely nodded.
“No, I will go by myself. All the heirs dead. Douglas, I remember all the cousins. So many boys. All of them are really dead?”
“Yes, a great shame. Disease, accidents, duels, a case of too much revelry. As I said, the last heir, Ian Barthwick, evidently fell off a cliff into the North Sea. The solicitor wasn't specific about exactly how it happened.”
“There must have been six boys to inherit, all of them before me. And that's why, as I remember, Great Uncle Tyronne set me up as an heir. It amused him to see it done legallyâto place an English boy in line for an ancient Scottish barony. Naturally he never expected that it would come about.”
“And now it's yours, Tysen. His jest came back to hit him in the face. The castle, the rich grazing lands, more sheep than you can count even when you're trying to fall asleepâall of it belongs to an Englishman. And many of the crofters and tenants are fishermen, so that means that even during bad times, no one starves. It isn't a wealthy holding, but it is substantial. I understand that Great Uncle Tyronne didn't believe in clearances. None of that has ever been done on Barthwick land.”
“Good for him,” Tysen said. “It's a pernicious practice, Douglas, dragging people off land that they've farmed or raised sheep on for hundreds of years.” He paused a moment, then said, “I suppose that my son Max is now the heir to the Barony of Barthwick. I do wonder what he will have to say to that.”
He would probably quote some Latin, Douglas thought. His brother's elder boy was very intelligent, quiet, a scholar, perhaps even more serious than his father had
been at his age. He had been named after their grandfather, the only scholar in the entire line of Sherbrookes, so far as Douglas knew.
“When you leave, Tysen, bring the children here, and Alex and I will look after them. Your Meggie can whip not only her brothers into shape but her cousins as well. Heathens, the both of them.”
Tysen did smile then, a slow, calm smile. “She is amazing, isn't she, Douglas?”
“Just like Sinjun at her age. Meggie will rule your household, Tysen, if you're not careful.”
Tysen looked appalled. “No, really, not at all like Sinjun, Douglas. Perhaps she looks like Sinjun, but a hoyden like Sinjun? Oh, no. I remember Sinjun could drive you to Bedlam with her antics. Oh, no, Meggie is much more restrained, much more a little lady than Sinjun ever was.”
Douglas said, “Do you remember how Father threw up his hands when Sinjun kicked Tommy Maitland in his backside and he went flying off a cliff? Thank God he didn't break his neck.”
Tysen said, “And that time she sewed all your trouser legs together? I can still hear you yelling, Douglas. No, Meggie isn't like Sinjun was. She's very obedient. I've never had a day's worry with her.” Suddenly a slight furrow appeared between his brows. “Well, perhaps she does have our two servants at her beck and call. Perhaps also the boys do obey her quickly, usually without fuss. Then there's Cook, who actually bakes dishes just for Meggie. But it is her sweetness, her patience, that gains her the love and obedience of all those at the vicarage, even her brothers.”
It was difficult to restrain himself, but Douglas didn't roll his eyes. Was his brother completely blind? Evidently so. Meggie was careful around her father, the chit was
that smart. He said, “I remember I boxed Sinjun's ears so many times I lost count.”
Tysen said, “I did that once. As I remember, I was thirteen and she was nine and she had tied the tail of my favorite kite around Corkscrew's neckâyou remember Corkscrew, don't you, Douglas? What a dog! He was the very best. In any case, then Sinjun throws a stick and off goes Corkscrew, and believe it or not, that kite lifted off the ground, before it got tangled up in one of Mother's rosebushes and got ruined. I smacked her before she managed to run and hide from me.” Then, very suddenly, Tysen managed a very big smile. “I hadn't realizedâI will see Sinjun and Colin. It's been too long.” He rose and stretched. “Well, I suppose there is no time like the present. Samuel Pritchert will take good care of all our people. Thank you for taking the children, Douglas. I believe I will leave on Wednesday. I daresay I can write a good dozen sermons in my head, it will take so long to get there.”
Meggie quickly ran down the long hallway when she heard her father moving toward the door of Uncle Douglas's estate room. She ran right into her aunt Alex. “ Goodness, Meggie, are you all right?” Alex grasped her niece's arms and eyed her closely. “You were listening, weren't you? Oh dear, I did too at your age. Your aunt Sinjun still does. What is going on, Meggie?”
“Father is going to Scotland on Wednesday. He's leaving the boys here.”
Alex raised a brow. “Oh, yes, the new title. It's right that he should go. And what about you?”
“Oh,” Meggie said, giving her aunt a very wicked smile. “I'm going with him. He needs me, you know.”
“You think he will take you?”
“Oh, yes,” Meggie said. “Is there anything I can do for you, Aunt Alex?”
Alex Sherbrooke just stared down at her niece and lightly touched her fingertips to her lovely hair. Tysen didn't have a chance, she thought. She sent Meggie up to the schoolroom to have luncheon with her brothers and cousins. They were evidently holding special races, using the tables and desks for obstacles, their tutor, Mr. Murphy, had told her as he'd mopped the sweat off his brow. Alex knew that Meggie could bring them back to order. She was still smiling when Tysen and Douglas came out of the library.
“Hollis just told me that luncheon is served,” she said.
“Indeed, my lord,” Hollis said, giving Tysen a rare smile. “The title and dignities will suit you well.”
“Thank you, Hollis.”
Alex said, “Is the new and very worthy Baron Barthwick ready for some of Cook's thin-sliced ham?”
“How very odd that sounds,” Tysen said thoughtfully, then he added in a very serious voice, “And be sure that I am seated above the salt cellars, Alex. I am now that important.”
She laughed, as did Douglas, but Tysen didn't. He merely acknowledged with a slight smile that he'd said something that could be construed as moderately witty, then asked about his nephews' health.
“Their health is splendid,” Douglas said. “It's their damned good looks that are driving me to the brink of madness. Both James and Jason will slay the women, Tysen. By God, they are only ten years oldâthe same age as little Meggieâand already all the local girls are showing up on our doorstep at all hours, presenting colorful bouquets of flowers wrapped up in pink ribbons for Alex, presenting me with homemade slippers, even plates of tarts that they claim they baked with their own small handsâanything to bring themselves to the twins' attention. Most of the time, they have no idea which twin is
which, so you can imagine how many pranks the boys play on them.” Douglas shook his head, then added, “Thank God, so far the boys take it in stride, but it's nonetheless nauseating and portends bad things for the future.”
Tysen said as he seated himself at the small dining table, “I suppose they do greatly resemble your sister, Alex.” He added matter-of-factly, “It's true that she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Isn't it strange that the twins should look so much like her and not like you or Douglas?”
“Tony, damn his eyes, just laughs and laughs whenever that is pointed out,” Douglas said and handed Tysen a plate of Cook's famous thin-sliced ham, sprinkled with her renowned Secret Recipe that always had badly crushed basil leaves in it. “At least Tony and Melissande's children look like we could be their parents, so that's something. Now, Tysen, let me tell you the rest of what Great Uncle Tyronne's solicitor wrote.”