Mark your diary, because every Monday and Thursday, I will post two chapters of my exciting historical paranormal romance novel, Return to Rhonan (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, the reader will find much to enjoy on this mysterious well researched journey.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here and at the end of each post.
Return to Rhonan: Chapters 7 & 8
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Sitting in a scented bath of lavender and rosemary, Muriall leaned forward for the maid to soap her back. ‘Huh, it is a formal evening, so I am forced to dress accordingly. Lord Duncan is firmly on the side of the tenants. On some of the estates, thousands are to be evicted from their homes that have been in their families for over five hundred years. Let us hope they can talk the Duke round.’
‘Begging your pardon, my Lady, but my family….’ Her words faded away in a soft sob.
Muriall turned to her. ‘What is it, Becky?’’
The maid lifted eyes filled with tears, ‘My family on the McGaven estate, are to be cast out onto the roads. I know not what to do, my Lady – my heart is breaking when I think of the bairns. How can it be? How can they drive them into the sleet and rain, without food or water?’
‘We will fight them, Becky, fear not, that is why the committee meets this night. Sadly, only the Duke is openly prepared to fight the cause. As for the others, tis another excuse for a banquet and liquor. But fear, not the Duke is powerful, far more so than those other two dilettantes ’
She stood as the abigail covered her in warm toweling, before helping her out of the tub. Drying herself, she watched the maid layout the undergarments, a soft linen chemise, followed by the shift, and a petticoat. Sighing, she said, ‘Today’s fashion does allow us to be free of corsets, but men still call for breasts to be served upon a plate. All they need is a knife and fork. Cattle, that’s what we are, cattle.’
The maid could not resist a shaky smile as she passed Muriall the chemise followed by the shift.
‘And I shall have to endure that rakehell Maximillian, lecherous swine. I shall wear my whip to the table, and if he so much as….’ The maid slipped the offending petticoat over Muriall’s head, who then turned for Becky to do up the laces. ‘Why in heaven’s name should I wear all this useless apparel? A linen shirt and leather breeches would do me well enough. Just think of the thousands now starving, many roaming the roads. Just one of these garments would feed a family for a week. I feel so ashamed – so ashamed.’
‘My Lady, you do everything you can to help the tenants.’
‘Not enough by far. Let us hope Duncan is successful in persuading them to take action. I wish I could attend, but as usual, I was forbidden to step foot into the room, not on my Lord Duncan’s say so, but the Duke’s. I sicken at the way men subdue the female sex. We are just as intelligent as men. We do not have their knowledge, but that is because they deny us proper tutelage. In contrast, they receive education in mathematics, science, history, biology – oh so many areas of knowledge. We have to be little social creatures, who can paint, play the pianoforte, sing and speak French – oh yes and embroider.
‘Do you know the other day Aunt Flavia caught me reading a book on science? She went into paroxysms, saying that I would injure my head if I were to read such intellectual tomes, that the female brain is too fragile, that I should take a fever. Can you imagine it? Oh, God, it is so ridiculous. It is she who hurts my head, not the damn book. I am strictly forbidden to cast any opinions on the evictions of the tenant farmers. However, I am going to fight alongside Lord Duncan; together, we may make an indent in this disgusting business. Tis treacherous times Becky – treacherous times.’
Muriall took hold of the young woman’s hands, ‘I shall see that your family are taken care of Becky. I wish I could help everybody, but I realize I must contain my zeal to the few. But we can save some of them’.
‘Thank you, my Lady, at least I shall sleep tonight now knowing you will protect them.’
‘I hope that with the help of the Earl and some of his associates, we will be able to do more. Tonight will be a testing point.’ Picking up a triangular piece of steel, she said, ‘And as for this contrivance, it is medieval torture. How women wear it between their breasts, I don’t know.’
‘It does uplift and separates the bosoms milady.’
‘Never – never. I’m sure if I fell, it would cut them off. I will never wear it – never – I don’t care what Aunt Flavia says.’‘
‘Och, my Lady, it couldna do that. Now for your dress.’
Smoothing down the white muslin embroidered with white silk roses, Muriall frowned, ‘Why does it all have to be white or pink? It is so insipid. Give me crimson anytime.’
‘But that color is for the older women milady, not for a wean like yerself.’
‘Wean? I’m nineteen, not nine Becky.’
Smiling together now, Muriall posed in front of the long mirror stand; the white dress did become her pale porcelain skin. The sheer lace sleeves showed off the sloping shoulders. The design of the dress with the material caught up underneath the bosom accentuated the plump swell of her full breasts.
Muriall loved the way Becky brushed her hair, with long firm strokes until it shone like burnished copper. ‘What do you think about the center parting – tis the new fashion.’ ‘
‘With your curls ma’am, ye do not need curling tongs. It would be such a shame to singe these locks.’
‘Well, I don’t like the center parting. I shall wear it so that the curls fall naturally.’
As Becky lifted the jar of face cream, Muriall grimaced. ‘I refuse to put that disgusting stuff on my skin, white lead, and beeswax? I would look like a painted doll, especially with the kohl and beetroot stains on my cheeks.’
‘Och, I agree with ye. Nevertheless, maybe just a light dusting of powder would give your skin a velvety texture milady?
‘Now Becky to serious matters. The cart will be ready after the meeting tonight so that you will accompany us. First, we visit our tenants, the Duke has raised the rents once again, and the poor people starve. Then we must scour the roads for the tenants evicted on the Baron Fodenberry’s estate last night. And you must look for your family. I hear more are to be forced out but pray God; it is not tonight. Hopefully, we can delay or even stop the evictions on our estate. So it is at ten o’clock at the Orangery.’
The maid closed the door gently behind her, bustling away down the stone corridor passing Lord Maximillian just returning from the stables. A slight smile flickered across his handsome face. So, she would be alone. Perfect.
Not even bothering to knock, he turned the brass handle pushing the door open. Closing it firmly behind him, he turned the key. His eyes dwelt on the waist-length hair incandescent in the candlelight. Muriall turned around sharply, her hairbrush in her hand.
‘What? How dare you enter a lady’s chamber without permission. Get out now.’
Smirking, he put a finger to his lips as if to hush her. As she went to rise, he caught a handful of her hair raising it to his nose, sniffed ‘Ah lavender and rosemary. Tis as beautiful as you milady.’
Smacking his hand sharply with the hairbrush, she stood wincing as he pulled more sharply on her hair. ‘I am so enamored after seeing your dalliance with my wimp of a brother yesterday.’
Between clenched teeth, she hissed, ‘Get out now before I hurt you.’
‘Not before I have tasted your sweetness.’ He laughed softly, ‘I feel sure you can share your favors. It would not do for me to report your amorous cavorting to the Earl now – would it?’ Letting go of her hair, he cupped her face with both hands, pulling her to him. Seething, she brought the brush up, whipping him sharply across the head.
Surprised, he stepped back, ruefully rubbing his injured skin through the thick blonde waves. ‘Now you are certainly are a wild cat – time to be tamed methinks.’
Snarling, she advanced, raising the brush high.
Holding up his hand in defense, he said, ‘Tis obvious you are not in the mood – but there will be other times. For now, I will keep my silence—‘
‘You pig – odious rake.’ As she lunged for him, he slipped through the door, shutting it softly. Panting, she stood listening to his retreating footsteps. Shuddering, she walked back to the bed. Opening the bedside drawer, she took out a dagger, uncovering it from its leather case. In the future, it would be to hand. No way would she tell Duncan. It would end in a duel, and she did not intend losing him to that vile viper.
RHONAN MANOR 1810
North West Scotland.
Duncan grimaced, as he paced the empty dining room. It was a heart-rending business – starving tenants were driven from their homes. His father must see reason. The poor devils suffered enough already living half-starved in squalid one-roomed huts. At the same time, at the Manor, the Rhonans ate their way through an evening meal of several courses lasting hours.
His fingers scraped at hair as black as his mood, his scarlet vest blending with the burgundy silk decorating the walls. He glanced up at deceased ancestors in military uniform and waist pinching crinolines gazing down with haughty expressions from ornate frames. The Earl squandered money on yet more renovations to the Manor, fine dining, balls, carriages, horses, gambling, while only a mile away, children’s bodies shrunk in starvation.
He glanced at the table laid ready for the Clearance Committee Meeting, scowling at the sheets of parchment, quills, and crystal inkstand. It was action they needed, not correspondence. An empty belly paid no heed to time.
Hearing voices and laughter, he straightened his spine, ready for the fray. After a sumptuous meal, the committee members would look forward to a hearty buffet, wine, and spirits, huffing on cigars while discussing ways of depriving the famished tenants of their farms. Duncan clenched his teeth by God; he would use every means possible to fight for the rights of the people. He had to curb his temper, or else all would be lost.
As the Committee members assembled in the room, the butler formally announced Duncan’s younger brother Lord Maximillian, who minced in, pulling languid fingers through pomaded dark blonde hair. Duncan’s jaw tightened; the selfish bastard didn’t know the meaning of the word compassion. All he cared about were horses, cards, and his sordid Hell Fire Club.
The Duke of Rhonan followed him, his skin as sallow as his spirit. Contempt filled his voice as he said, ‘Let’s get this bloody business over with. I’ve had enough of these filthy peasants and their whining. Greedy buggers.’
With a scraping of chairs across the Aubusson carpet, the gentlemen seated themselves. Algernon Perkins, the lawyer, and Factor for the Earl, diligently sorted out papers from his briefcase. Smirking at the quills on the inkstand, he brought out a velvet case from his waistcoat pocket, proudly uncovering a pen with a steel nib on a decorative ceramic holder. Proud of the new invention, he held it up for the members to see. That alone would feed four people for a month.
Duncan felt a rush of shame as he looked at the decanters of fine spirits. They gathered to vote on taking the starving tenants’ very livelihood while drinking out of sterling silver and antique cut glass.
The Duke hunched over the table, his dress as always exquisite, with a blue silken tailcoat and yellow silk vest, the cream silk cravat high on his throat, decorated with a diamond stickpin, the size of a hazelnut. Fixing a pince-nez on his thin aquiline nose, he said, ‘Come come, Perkins, let us not mince words, we must clear the land and evict the tenants – nothing less.
The Reverend Michael O’Sullivan interrupted, ‘I have tried telling them it is the grace of God that they give up their land. They must needs suffer and bow to His Will; the Earl’s word is the law under man and God.’
Duncan growled, ‘God’s law – you speak blasphemy priest. How much will you receive from their misery? Will you preach it is God’s law as you drive them onto the roads with nothing? Hey?
The Duke’s eyes glittered, ‘Don’t be so dramatic. We are creating industry – are we not? Bringing in Cheviot sheep is our only way to produce a profit. We need more money for our houses, our carriages, our gold and silver plate. We have the given right to quality living – our society must not be impoverished.’
‘We? You mean you and your fat friends – what about the starving men and women and children shivering without fuel, children crying out in hunger? What right do they have now? They owned their crofts for hundreds of years,’
Duncan narrowed his eyes, looking at each member who avoided his gaze, either looking down into full wine glasses or puffing on the Cuban cigars. His voice filed steel. ‘Dramatic? Have you seen inside a tenant’s hut? For God’s sake, we destroyed these proud Highlanders, these warrior Chiefs. We took away their clan system and broke the power of the Chieftains, and still, you are not satisfied.
He looked at the diamond pin in the Duke’s cravat. ‘Your pin alone is worth thousands. How can you even think of casting out whole families onto the roads with nothing? Don’t forget we have another death threat – the second in as many days.
‘Then I shall call on the police and military. Shoot the bastards.’
‘Ah, so now you’re not only starving them but shooting them as well. Where’s your soul?’
Perkins fingered his delicate ceramic pen resting in the solid silver inkstand and sniffed. ‘Come – come. We must think of ways of improving our standard of living – the wool economy will bring in ample profits from the estate – we have to go with change.’
‘How can you even utter those words? They are starving, and you talk about profits. I think, up until now, we fared very well, castles, manor houses, fine balls, carriages, and our blasted silver plate and gold plate on the table. Even starving, they would share their last crumb with you, you miserable swine.’
Father O’Sullivan interrupted, ‘God is showing us the way; it is his Divine Will. Our farmers’ souls will prosper as they prayerfully give up the land to their Lord and Master the Earl. And of course, they can emigrate.’
‘Divine Will? God does not interfere in the affairs of man.’ Duncan thundered, ‘He gave us free will and what we’ve done with it? Murdered our tenants – leaving them to die while you fill your bellies and drink fine wines? Mothers and bairns starve.’
The priest pursed his lips, plucking at his notes, ‘My Lord, there’s no need to get personal. The tenants must submit to God’s Divine Plan – otherwise, they will bring His Wrath down on their heads.‘
‘Don’t rant about the wrath of God.’ Duncan slammed his fist on the table. ‘Don’t spout the Old Testament. Tis man’s selfishness, man’s greed that we discuss this night. Stop squawking and speak up for humanity’.
Duncan raised his hand, his tones smooth and clear, ‘We can do both, we can share the land. It is just a matter of lower profits. However, in the end, all will prosper. Not only can we have a wool industry, but we can also benefit the tenants by turning them into sheep farmers. We can all live very comfortably, indeed.’
Turning to the Viscount, he said, ‘What say you Mendane?’
The Viscount slumped back in his chair, slurped on some wine. ‘Load of bollocks your Grace, bollocks – your father, the Duke has my ear and my vote. Blasted tenants – nothing but misery – misery I say.’ Stretching for the decanter, he poured more wine.
Duncan bit his lip; he wanted to punch the drunkard. ‘Misery? These poor wretches are the people that put food in your belly, wine down your gullet, and bloody silk on your back. Why only the other month I hear you took a shilling off each of your tenants to pay for a Grecian sculpture for your balustrade. Those that couldn’t pay wait in fear of eviction.’
In answer, the Viscount raised a languid hand, the lace crisp on his wrist. ‘Whatever Rhonan – whatever.’
Turning to the Marquis, Duncan’s lips thinned, the drunken sop lay, sprawled over his chair, his mouth open, snoring.
Smirking, the Duke leaned forward. ‘It seems we outnumber you. Turning to his son, he said, ‘I am sure you will appreciate that I must follow the needs of the day. It is not within my power to shelter those who cannot contribute to the wool industry. Still, I can at least ensure they have work in the kelping industry. To this end, as I discussed with my son here, I will provide kilns and all tools and utensils necessary to turn the seaweed into kelp. It is indeed in our interest to develop kelping, especially as we have the advantage of lower taxes. To that end, my tenants will repair to the coast to build their huts and to enjoy industrious work.’
‘You will regret your evil deeds.’ Duncan grimaced at his father. There had to be something he could do to save the tenants.
No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
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