Authors: Catherine Coulter
Tysen ignored her and carried Mary Rose into the main drawing room, a nice room that, despite its size, felt welcoming and cozy. But like the dining room, it was too dark. He would ask Sinjun for advice on wallpaper. Perhaps a pale cream and green stripe. No, that wouldn't work because the wooden walls were covered with countless paintings of long-dead Barthwicks and a series of beautifully worked tapestries showing Mary, Queen of Scots, from a child married to a French prince to the woman leaning down about to have her head severed from her body.
Perhaps he would ask Mary Rose. He laid her on one of the long, soft, gold brocade sofas and stood back. Mrs. MacFardle moved in. “Well, now,” she said, “at least ye got yer boot off.” She leaned over Mary Rose, clasped the ankle between her two big hands, and pulled.
Mary Rose yelled and lurched off the sofa.
Tysen was appalled at what the housekeeper had done. He said as he elbowed Mrs. MacFardle out of the way, “I have a way with sprains. If you will fetch some ice, ma'am, we will wrap it in towels around her foot. Ah, is there ice to be had in August?”
“Perhaps a bit,” Mrs. MacFardle said and got to her feet, panting a bit. “Ye come to the kitchen with me, my girl, and I'll tie a wee bit of ice around yer ankle. Then ye can be off, back to Vallance Manor. Och, look here, it's the little miss, is it?”
“Yes, ma'am,” Meggie said, walking into the drawing room. “Papa, what's wrong? Who is this lady with her foot without its shoe? Oh, I see, she's hurt. Goodness, your poor ankle. I know exactly what to do. Don't worry, I won't hurt you. Leo is always scraping himself and straining this and that. Bring the ice, Mrs. MacFardle, immediately.”
Mrs. MacFardle harrumphed, gave Mary Rose a long look, and took herself off.
Tysen stood back and watched his daughter sit down beside Mary Rose. With the lightest touch imaginable, she lifted Mary Rose's foot onto her lap. “This is very impressive,” Meggie said, leaning down to eye the swelling. “Leo would be envious. Oh, Leo is my brother. Your name is Mary Rose? That is quite lovely. I'm Meggie. Margaret, really, but that sounds like a saint, which Papa says I will never be even if I begin a strict regimen of good deeds at this very moment, which, I must tell you, isn't at all likely to happen.”
“Meggie, we don't have saints in the Church of England, so it is irrelevant.”
“Yes, Papa, I know. I was speaking metaphorically.”
Mary Rose stared over at Meggie. “How ever do you know that word?”
“Papa uses many metaphors in his sermons. Some
people in the congregation come up to me after services and ask me what they mean. Now, isn't that better? Your poor ankle, all swelled, and the colors are already coming. A very bright purple, I think.”
Sermons? Mary Rose didn't understand any of this. Maybe she was hearing strange words because her ankle hurt so badly.
Tysen didn't know how Meggie had done it, but Mary Rose was sitting back against several pillows, her foot on Meggie's lap, her stocking magically off and folded neatly beside Meggie. Tysen stared at that small white foot, then cleared his throat. “I shouldn't be here. I will see both of you later.”
“Papa, wait a moment. I believe Mary Rose should have a small glass of brandy. When I wrap her ankle, it will hurt.”
Tysen walked to the large dark mahogany sideboard and poured a bit of brandy into a snifter that he wiped clean on his sleeve.
He held out the glass to Mary Rose. She hesitated, drawing back a bit. “The last time I drank brandy I was fourteen and wanted to be wicked with my cousin, Donnatella. She was only ten, and yet she was the one who decided we would drink the brandy. I was so sick I wanted to die.”
“Just a few sips,” Tysen said. “I once tried brandy when I was a boy. My brothers, Douglas and Ryder, dared me to drink it, as I recall. Then they laughed themselves silly when I vomited on my mother's rosebushes.”
“Papa, truly, you did that? Uncle Douglas and Uncle Ryder were that wicked?”
“We were boys, Meggie. It wasn't edifying. You do not have to try it yourself. If Max and Leo try to taunt you into doing it, don't. Please believe me, it is awful stuff.”
Meggie said thoughtfully, “Perhaps I shall taunt them into doing it.”
And in that way, watching the father and the daughter, Mary Rose drank enough brandy to warm her belly and ease her mind so when at last Meggie wrapped towels filled with small chunks of ice around her ankle, she turned white, but she didn't cry out.
“You have magic hands,” Mary Rose said to her. “I feel much better already.”
Meggie looked up to see Mrs. MacFardle standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her bosom. “I shall ask Oglivie to drive you back to Vallance Manor, Mary Rose.”
“That would be fine, Mrs. MacFardle,” Mary Rose said. “I don't believe I could walk there in a week.”
“First you will stay for luncheon,” Tysen said, walking around Mrs. MacFardle. “Then we will see.”
“You will have to carry Mary Rose to the dining room.”
“Oh, yes, certainly. You're right.”
“Oh, no, surely I can walk,” Mary Rose said, seeing him hesitate. He didn't want to get near her. She tried to stand up.
Tysen shook his head, frowned, and leaned down to pick her up. Then he found that he was no longer frowning. Actually, he was smiling down at her.
He heard Mrs. MacFardle harrumph behind him. He wanted to tell her that he was being as careful as he could, but then he remembered how she had grabbed Mary Rose's foot and pulled on it. He didn't understand.
“Did I hurt you?”
“No, not at all.”
Meggie followed behind her father to the dining room, where Mrs. MacFardle had laid out their luncheon. She
was standing behind the laird's chair, her arms crossed over her bosom, a pose she seemed to favor. She looked disapproving. Nothing new there. Maybe this time she was concerned about Mary Rose. Meggie wanted to assure her that her papa was a saintly man, that he wouldn't dream of going beyond the line with any lady, particularly one who was hurt.
Tysen carefully eased Mary Rose down on a chair that Meggie held out, then slowly pushed it close to the table.
After he seated himself, he said grace. Meggie said matter-of-factly to Mary Rose, “Papa's a vicar, you know. He is more properly known as Reverend Sherbrooke. He is an orator of renown, recognized far and wide for his scholarship. My brother Max, though, he reads Latin better than Papa.”
A vicar? Ah, a vicar gave sermons.
Mary Rose looked at the beautiful man who sat at the head of the long dining table. She'd only met two vicars in her entire life, both of them ancient relics, one of them smelling of nutmeg and the other of cedar. This man smelled of fresh air and warmth.
“My daughter exaggerates,” Tysen said calmly. Then he smiled at her. “Ah, Meggie,” he added, “you forgot to mention the richness of my metaphors, so rich, evidently, that many of my congregation don't understand what I said. I shall have to think about that.”
Meggie giggled. “Papa is known widely for his metaphors as well. It's only a few people who will admit to not understanding your oratory, Papa.”
Tysen said to Mary Rose as he handed her a bowl, “Would you care for some soup? I have no notion of what it could be, but it smells quite good.”
“Cock-a-leekie soup,” Mary Rose said, still staring at him, and she breathed in deeply. “You are truly a vicar?”
He nodded and watched as Mrs. MacFardle ladled some cock-a-leekie soup into her bowl. “It is made with chicken and leeks and a lot of pepper. You may sneeze, but then you will smile with pleasure.”
She had practically accused him of being profligate, like Erickson MacPhail. “I am so very sorry,” she said aloud as she watched Mrs. MacFardle ladle the soup into his bowl then Meggie's.
“Why ever for?” Meggie asked Mary Rose as she took a small taste of her soup.
“I was somewhat rude to your father,” Mary Rose said. “I thought he might be another bad man.”
“Papa?” Meggie looked down the table at her father and smiled. “How could you ever believe Papa to be a bad man? Goodness, the problem is that Papa is too good, much too straight and proper, andâ”
“Meggie,” Tysen said, pointing his spoon at her, “that is quite enough. Try the dish Mrs. MacFardle is holding out to you.”
Mary Rose grinned. “Those are very Englishâpotatoes boiled until they are mush, with butter running through them.”
“Aye,” said Mrs. MacFardle, “a lot of butter. My granny said that Englishmen thrived on plain, solid food. We want ye to thrive, my lord. Too many young Barthwick men dead. Don't want ye to be amongst them, because if ye do croak it, then what will become of us here in the castle?”
“Thank you, Mrs. MacFardle. I should just as soon not join them either. The luncheon is delicious.”
Mrs. MacFardle turned to Mary Rose. Where there was only disapproval aimed toward Tysen, toward Mary Rose there was downright dislike. “Ye've eaten quite enough, my girl. Oglivie will drive ye back to Vallance Manor.”
Tysen was appalled at his housekeeper's rudeness. He opened his mouth, only to be forestalled by Mary Rose, who said calmly, “I am ready to leave, Mrs. MacFardle.”
YSEN WAS SITTING
in a large cushioned chair behind the battered oak desk in the musty, dark library that was filled with so many books he was struck dumb with pleasure at the sight of all of them. Then he'd discovered that most of them had yet to have their pages cut. The Barthwicks weren't, evidently, much for reading. Ah, but now they were his books. He'd rubbed his hands together as he took down Homer's
, a dark-red book so old the leather was cracked and peeling. He would have to have someone go through the books very carefully and oil them. He couldn't wait to see the look on Max's face when he walked into this room. Max would want to be the one to restore this magnificent, gloomy library. He could also see his son carefully cutting each of the pages, smoothing them down, pausing to read every few pages, unable to stop himself. Tysen rose slowly when he saw his daughter peering around the door.
“What is it, Meggie?” he asked, smiling at her, wondering why she was just lingering there and not dancing through the room right up to his desk.
“You're smiling, Papa. It's very nice. I don't mean to bother you, but I want to know why Mrs. MacFardle was so mean to Mary Rose.”
“That is an excellent question. I don't know. She just shook her head and pursed her lips when I upbraided her. At least we saw Mary Rose off in the dogcart with her foot resting on three pillows. Oglivie told me he took her right to the front steps of Vallance Manor.”
“She has a lot of curly red hair, just like Aunt Alex.”
“Yes, she does.” Her hair had smelled of roses, he thought, and unconsciously drew another deep breath, but this time there was only the musty odor of a room left closed up for far too long. Tysen shook his head. “These wretched accounts. I will need help with them. I know Mr. MacCray told me about an estate manager, but I don't remember his name. Where is the man?”
“His name is Miles MacNeily. His mother died and he had to go to Inverness to see to things. He will be back in three or four days.”
“Meggie, how do you know this?”
“I was out in the stables, making certain that Big Fellow was being taken care of properly, and I overheard MacNee and Ardle speaking of it. You know that servants know everything, Papa. When I offered them both some almond sweetmeats that Aunt Sinjun gave me, they told me how the old laird wanted to burn down Kildrummy Castle after Ian died, but none of the servants would let him do it. Pouder, they told me, flung himself on top of the old laird and pinned him down on the floor until the other servants dashed in to help him.”
“Pouder? It is hard to imagine that. I can't see Pouder even able to flatten a fly. Of course, Old Tyronne was eighty-seven, but Pouder can't be more than a decade younger.”
“I shall ask Pouder about it,” Meggie said, grinning. “It must have been quite a sight.”
Tysen said, “Old Tyronne's melancholy is
understandable. Every one of his heirs was dead. Still, it is a pity that he died so embittered.”
“Oh, no, he wasn't sad about that, Papa, at least according to MacNee and Ardle. They said he was angry at Miss Donnatella Vallance because she wouldn't marry him. Ranted that he could get another boy child off her and it was all her fault for being so selfish. Not his fault, never his. He'd done his best, but now he claimed he didn't care, and that was why he wanted to burn Kildrummy Castle. He wanted to burn it to the ground, make it hot enough so the devil would accept it in hell.”
“Donnatella is Mary Rose's cousin, I believe.”
“Evidently she is also a handful, at least according to MacNee, who is quite a handsome man, and I think perhaps he would like to flirt with her himself.”
“Meggie, you will not delve into those particular matters, all right?”
“I was just listening, Papa.”
Tysen let that go. He said, “I remember Old Tyronne as quite amiable. Of course, that was at a time when he had more heirs than any man I've ever known of.” He wanted to know what else she'd learned, but he was her father, a vicar, and he didn't believe in gossip, really he didn't. And then his sweet daughter said, “Mary Rose and her mother live with Donnatella. Mary Rose's mother is mad, has been for nearly forever. Evidently Donnatella is very lively and terribly beautiful. She is spoiled, but she is so beautiful that no one minds too much when she throws a tantrum.”
Tysen stared, mesmerized. Meggie's sources of information never ceased to amaze him. She'd learned all this just by distributing almond sweetmeats?
“Donnatella is younger than Mary Rose,” he said slowly. “The old man was well into his eighties, and he actually expected a young girl to marry him?”
“That's right,” Meggie said, and sidled farther into the room, sniffing the air. “Ardle said that Lord Barthwick believed Donnatella had the finest pair of hips in all of Scotland and was sure that birthing more heirs would be no problem for her. He also said that Lord Barthwick had more self-confidence than a man with two brains. Papa, I think we should open those windows. It is dreadfully close in here.”
“You're right,” Tysen said, knowing he should say something to Meggie about speaking of a woman's hips and childbirth, but he just wasn't up to it. Instead, he walked to the bank of heavy velvet draperies and jerked them open. Dust billowed into the air, setting him to sneezing. It took him a while to get the latch to open on the large glass doors. Finally, with a creak and a groan, the doors flew open, and father and daughter stood side by side looking out into a small garden, no more than the size of the library. It was completely overgrownâwild rose bushes, yew bushes, ivy, daffodils, and bright-red rhododendron bushes were all tangled together, choking each other to gain the bit of available sunlight.
“I had thought the entire manor formed a large square, what with the enclosed inner courtyard,” Tysen said as he walked slowly out onto moss-covered stones outside the library. He turned and looked back. “Oh, I see. The library was simply cut in half to make this garden. Because it is facing the sea, it isn't obvious that it's here. A pity it has been let run wild. I wonder how many years since those glass doors have even been opened? Probably longer than you've been on this earth,” he added, smiling down at her.
As for Meggie, his smile meant that he was no longer upset with her. It was a vast relief. He had, she thought, smiled more since they'd arrived here at Kildrummy than he had during than the entire past month in England. She
said as she studied the tangled vines and branches, “There are many flowers buried under here, Papa. I'll be able to clean them up and then replant them around the castle. What do you think?”
“I think you are much like your aunt Alex. When she walks around the Northcliffe gardens, the bushes, plants, and flowers all come to attention. Douglas says the plants stand taller than his troops ever did when they were on parade.”
Meggie was already rubbing her hands together. “I will begin this afternoon. I will write to Aunt Alex and ask her advice. Oh, yes, Papa, MacNee also told me about Lord Barthwick's cousin, Mrs. Griffin. She sounds rather frightening. She and her husband live in Edinburgh, but they were here much of the time, toward the end. MacNee said she was a real tartar and an old besom. What does that mean?”
“She isn't amiable,” Tysen said and thought, Please, Lord, please keep the dear woman away.
“Well, MacNee said everyone prayed she wouldn't come back for at least ten years.”
Tysen immediately joined in the prayers. “Donald MacCray didn't say anything about her,” Tysen said. “I wonder why not?”
Meggie just shrugged, then said, “Oh, yes, Mrs. MacFardle wanted me to tell you that there is a message from Sir Lyon Vallance. He and his family will visit us here tomorrow afternoon at precisely three o'clock.”
Tysen was pleased. He planned to speak to the man about protecting his niece from the likes of Erickson MacPhail.
Tysen nodded in greeting to Sir Lyon Vallance, a tall man with reddened cheeks, probably from too much drink. He'd once been a handsome man, but now he was running
to fat. He was a bit beyond his middle years, but seemed bluff and good-natured. He pumped Tysen's hand up and down in a hearty grip. He was bald except for a very thin gray circle around his head. He beamed a long look around the drawing room and made a small sound of pleasure. Tysen nearly smiled at that. He didn't blame Sir Lyon. It was a cozy room, and he liked it despite its need to have new wallpaper and perhaps some new furniture and draperies as well. He would take care of that soon enough.
As for Sir Lyon's wife, Lady Margaret, she was a handsome woman, deep-bosomed, beautifully gowned, nearly as tall as her spouse, more than a glint of intelligence in her dark eyes. She was also quite a bit younger than her husband. Oddly, she was giving the room a rather proprietary look. As for their only child, Donnatella, Tysen realized that she was eyeing him more than was proper. Something of a cynicâa man of God couldn't escape a measure of cynicism, what with the indignity of human natureâhe imagined that the lovely girl was expecting him to sigh over her hand, perhaps hold that delicate hand overlong, perhaps give her a dazed look to show her he was sufficiently bowled over by her charm. Just like Melissande, Alex's sister, who was, in truth, much more beautiful than Donnatella Vallance. After what Meggie had told him about her, he doubted he'd be bowled over even if he found her utterly charming. He merely nodded to her as he had to her father and mother. He girded his mental loins, and when everyone had a cup of tea in hand, he said pleasantly, “I am pleased to meet my neighbors. I trust Mary Rose's ankle isn't paining her too badly today?”
Lady Margaret arched a sleek black brow. “Her what, my lord?”
“Mary Rose's ankle, my lady,” Tysen said, then took a sip of his tea.
“Oh, yes,” Donnatella said, sitting forward in her chair, offering him an excellent display of her cleavage that was, indeed, quite lovely, almost as lovely as Mrs. Drake-more's, a widow in his congregation who displayed herself to him each and every chance she got. Truth be told, he'd been treated to many displays of feminine ingenuity since Melinda Beatrice had died six years before. Donnatella continued, giving Tysen another smile that surely invited intimacies, “Don't you recall, Mama? Mary Rose said something about falling into one of the sheep killers. She sprained it.”
Lady Margaret obviously didn't recollect Mary Rose's accident. “She should take more care,” she said, then looked long at Tysen. “You will be delighted to come to Vallance Manor for dinner, my lord. Perhaps Friday evening? Just you and the family. We can become better acquainted.”
“I should be delighted,” Tysen said.
“I shall give you a tour of the area tomorrow morning, my lord,” Donnatella said. “I will come at nine o'clock.”
“I have ridden both south and west,” Tysen said. “I should be delighted to tour the north, perhaps to Stonehaven. I visited the town when I was here before as a boy.”
He handed around a platter of Mrs. MacFardle's clootie dumplings, his first sight of them but an hour before. He saw Meggie cramming one into her mouth.
“Barthwick has been too long without a mistress,” Lady Margaret said, her voice proprietary enough for a deaf man to hear. “Far too long.”
“From what I have been told,” Tysen said easily, “there has been no mistress here for more decades than I've been on this earth.”
Sir Lyon guffawed in his tea. “A bit of wit, m'dear. Charming, don't you think?”
“Wit is only charming when it doesn't impede or otherwise obstruct the conversational direction I am taking,” said Lady Margaret. “The furnishingsâthey are old and out-of-date. It is time a lady saw to things. A lady who has, perhaps, another, more experienced lady, to advise herâin short, her mother.”
Tysen was afraid of that. Evidently Lady Margaret, after only ten minutes in his company, was ready to offer her daughter as his future spouse. But why him? Certainly Barthwick was a nice holding, but surely Donnatella could have her pick of gentlemen in these parts.
He had no intention of embroiling himself with any young lady. He did not want or need a wife, his children did not want or need a stepmama. His flock would perhaps appreciate a vicar's wife who would have their interests at heart. But if truth be told, even his congregation had appeared more content after Melinda Beatrice was gone. No, not content exactly. After all, Melinda Beatrice had always had their interests at heart; indeed, she was always telling him who needed to be fixed and how. It was just that when their interests hadn't coincided exactly with hers, then she had ground them under. He shook his head. Such thoughts were disloyal, unworthy of him, certainly more than unworthy of a man of God. He forced himself back to the platter of clootie dumplings and selected one. His nostrils quivered, they smelled so good.