Saving the Scot – Jennifer Trethewey

Louisa Robertson didn’t think anything was more thrilling than wearing men’s trousers, with the possible exception of wearing men’s trousers on stage. One had the sensation of being altogether naked. It was the most freeing thing she’d ever done. It was also the wickedest thing she’d ever done. Wicked and dangerous. If her tyrannical father, General Robertson, discovered what she’d been doing while he was away, he would put a swift end to her assignation with the stage, for that was what she believed her relationship with the theater to be —a love affair. And this evening she would consummate that love affair by playing the role of Viola —a young girl who disguises herself as a boy—in her favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. Louisa stepped into the wings and inched closer to the stage. From there she could peer out and spy on the audience. As the stage manager, Ronald, had said, the house was full this evening. “Stand by for your entrance, lass,” Ronald whispered. Louisa nodded and made a last-minute adjustment to her trousers. They had a habit of riding up her bottom. “Ye ken your lines?” he asked. “Oh, aye.

” A tremor of nerves fluttered up from her belly. She shook out her hands and slowed her breathing. For weeks, she’d lingered around the theater, performing odd jobs whenever she could, and her persistence had paid off. Two nights ago, without notice, the actress playing Viola had left the tiny Edinburgh theater for a better part in London, causing the biggest stramash Louisa had ever seen —costumers swooned, stagehands wept, and managers vomited. Louisa went straight to the director and told him she knew all Viola’s lines and as she and the actress were of a size, she could fit into her costumes, as well. Out of desperation, he had agreed to let her stand in for the actress until they found another. “If you lose your place,” the stage manager said, “Sam’s in the pit wi’ the book.” “I ken it,” she whispered back. He was beginning to make her nervous. Her previous scenes had gone well this evening.

The audience was laughing uproariously at the actor playing Malvolio who was, as the other actors knew, in love with his own performance. His tendency to languish in laughter only added to her nerves. Would he never finish? At last, Malvolio exited, nearly knocking her over on his way through the wings, uttering a terse, “Have a care, lass.” Ronald poked her in the side. “Right, then. Here comes your cue.” From on stage, the actress playing Olivia announced, “Give me my veil: come, throw it o’er my face. We’ll once more hear Orsino’s embassy.” Louisa strode into the scene imitating the swagger her brothers would use and spoke in a tenor voice. “The honorable lady of the house, which is she?” “Speak to me: I shall answer for her.

Your will?” Olivia craned her head to the side, as if trying to see something behind Louisa, which was odd. Olivia had never done that before. Nevertheless, Louisa declared Viola’s lines in her young man’s voice. “Most radiant, exquisite and unmatchable beauty, I pray you”—Louisa hesitated for a moment. Behind her, there was some disturbance in the audience and she was tempted for a half second to look out and see what it was, but she picked up her line and went on—“tell me if this be the lady of the house, for I never saw her: I would loath to cast away my speech, for besides that it is excellently well penned…” There was definitely something amiss. A few men shouted for someone to sit down, and a lady expressed her indignation. Olivia and her attendants shuffled away from Louisa as far upstage as the scenery would allow. Louisa turned gradually toward the audience on her line. “I…have…taken…great…pains…” A large red-faced uniformed officer of the Royal Highland Regiment stormed up onto the stage. Louisa stiffened.

“Hallo, Da,” she said in her little-girl voice. “What are you doing here?” General Sir Thomas Robertson wrapped an iron arm around Louisa’s waist, hoisted her onto his shoulder like a sack of grain, and marched out of the theater to riotous laughter and applause. Humiliating. What was her father doing in Edinburgh? He was supposed to be in Ireland. And how had he known where to find her? By all God’s glory, if her doaty maid, Mairi, had been the one to tell, she would sit on that girl. Bonnets. The costume mistress would be in a right state if she failed to return her trousers. Outside the theater, the general tossed her into a waiting carriage. She scooted into the corner and made herself as small as possible. A mass of kilted muscle and fury launched himself inside, slammed the door, and banged on the roof for the driver to go.

She remained perfectly still on the bumpy, jangling carriage ride. Any minor movement might further incur his wrath. They didn’t refer to her father as the Tartan Terror for nothing. The general did not say a word all the way from Grass Market to their town house on George Street. He wouldn’t even look at her. The silence was worse than shouting. She could bear the shouting. What she couldn’t bear was the look on his face. She had shamed him. She hadn’t meant to.

Louisa only wanted the same freedoms her older brothers enjoyed but that she was most unfairly denied. A sickly feeling gnawed at her bowels. The last time she’d provoked the general with “behavior unbecoming a lady” he had leveled a disturbing threat. Would he remember that warning? Worse, would he follow through? Once inside the house, he rumbled an ominous, “Go upstairs and change into decent attire. I will speak to you in the parlor.” Her young maid waited at the top of the stairs wide-eyed. “I’m sorry, I am. Truly.” She wrung her hands in her apron. “The general come home in a rage.

You ken he can be a right fright when he’s got his blood up. Your brother tellt him aboot the acting and…” Mairi deflated. “I tellt him the rest.” Mairi’s eyes were puffy. She’d obviously been weeping. At the sight of her overwrought maid, Louisa’s anger melted into despair. She hadn’t been any less afraid of the tyrant. How could she fault Mairi? “It’s all right. I’m no’ angry. Could you help me change?” A half hour later, Louisa entered the parlor wearing a subdued gown of gray muslin and with her hair wound into a missish braid.

The general stood by the fire with a whisky in hand. His coloring had returned to normal. “You wanted to speak to me, Da.” He turned and stared at her as if he’d never seen her before. It had been months since he was home last, for Hogmanay. It was mid-March now. He looked as dashing as ever in his uniform and despite her apprehension, she was glad to have him home even for a little while. Unable to stomach her father’s disapproval, she let her gaze drop to the delicate painted china figurine of a French courtesan. It had been her mother’s. She reached for the figurine, but flinched when her father shouted at her.

“Disgraceful,” he bellowed. “If one of my men had done anything half so reprehensible they’d be pilloried for a week.” He tossed the rest of his whisky down, set the glass on the mantel, and began to pace in front of the fire, head lowered, hands behind his back. He paused. “I blame myself. I thought after your mam passed, your granny would take you in hand. Instead, she let you run wild like some savage. Do you ken what they call you when my back is turned? The General’s Daughter from Hell.” Father looked up at heaven as if appealing for some divine power to intervene. “Daughter from Hell.

That makes Tartan Terror sound like a crabbit spaniel.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “What in damnation were you doing on that stage?” Had he watched her? Hope gave her heart a squeeze and she gasped. “Oh, Da. Did you see me? Did you like it?” He went red in the face again and shouted, “Do you suppose I like seeing my daughter on stage in trousers!” Is it me being on the stage that dismays him or the trousers? “Da, please sit down. You’re making yourself sick.” “I’ll tell you what makes me sick. What makes me sick is your willful disobedience. Your undisciplined character. Your intractable temper.

And since you cannae control yourself, it is left to me to save you from what will surely be your ruination.” Her heart lurched. “No, Da. I’m sorry.” “You mind what I told you the last time.” “Please, Da. Please dinnae do it.” Tears sprouted from the corners of her eyes. “I will not be moved.” “I promise, I’ll never—” “Aye.

That’s what you promised last time you disappointed me, and the time before that, and the time before that. You broke your promise every time.” She needed air. She was suffocating and the room had started to spin. “I willnae…you cannae. You cannae make me.” “Yes, I can. You, Louisa Robertson, Daughter from Hell, will be married by the end of summer.” Chapter One MAY 1822, LEİTH DOCKS, EDİNBURGH Ian Sinclair untied the knot in his neckcloth and began retying it again. It had to be perfect.

Everything had to be perfect today. He called to his quartermaster. “Mr. Peter!” Peter appeared at his cabin door instantly. He must have been hovering again. “Aye, Captain.” “Are the passengers ashore?” “Aye, Captain.” “The cargo?” he asked, his chin lifted while he worked at the cloth. “Unloading as we speak, sir.” “Supplies?” He still couldn’t get the bloody knot right.

“Cook’s gone ashore with the list.” “And the topsail—” “Topsail’s being mended, masts are oiled, and the guns are cleaned.” “And the—” “Everything’s done, Captain.” “To hell with this blasted thing.” It was hopeless. He tore at his neckcloth again. “Bloody, buggering bastard.” “Want some help with that, Captain?” Ian dropped his hands and barked, “Peter, you’re not my damned valet.” Peter smiled at his outburst. “Aye, but I tie a handsome neckcloth.

” He stepped forward and, in no time, took control of the situation. Ian endured Peter’s attention while he listened to the familiar sounds of the crew, their conversation relaxed now that they had made Leith Docks. Peter finished and stepped back to inspect his work. “There now. You look smart.” He admired the knot in his glass and somehow it irritated him that Peter had done it so effortlessly. “Thanks.” Peter held out his best wool coat, tailored to a nicety, brushed clean, and buttons polished. “Sure you don’t want to wear your uniform?” “Too presumptuous,” Ian said, slipping the coat over his gray waistcoat and starched white shirt. “I havenae been offered the commission, as yet.

” “What else could General Robertson want to speak to you about?” What else, indeed. Ian wanted that commission, more than he liked to admit. He needed to be back in the army—needed the order, the discipline. He was a soldier and soldiering was what he did best. “Did you send word ahead?” Ian asked. “Aye, Captain. They’ll be expecting you.” Peter smiled that knowing smile of his. “I’m not nervous,” he growled. Peter shrugged.

“Didnae say you were.” He closed his eyes and breathed in, taking that moment to gather himself, master his nerves. Nothing rattled Ian Michael Sinclair, former Captain of the 42nd Royal Highlanders of Foot and second son of Laird John Sinclair. “Ask Murphy to find me a hack. I need to be at Edinburgh Castle by the noon hour.” “Aye, sir.” Peter dashed off. Ian took another look in the glass. Outwardly, he looked ready, but was he mentally prepared for this meeting? He’d been summoned by his former superior officer, Lieutenant Robertson, now General Sir Thomas Robertson, having earned the rank and the knighthood for his valor at Waterloo. Robertson was known informally to some as the Tartan Terror.

He had acquired the name in Flanders for his ferocity. It was used by his men out of respect and admiration. Ian owed the general more than his respect. The man had saved his life at Quatre Bras seven years ago. Robertson had carried him off the field to a dressing station, alive and in one piece, but for the gaping saber gash on his thigh. For that, Ian owed him his service and whatever else the general asked of him. “Right then,” he said to his reflection. “To Castle Rock.” An hour later, Ian and Peter strode across the esplanade to Edinburgh Castle and were waved through the gatehouse. A guardsman met them at the portcullis and escorted them to the Governor’s House where they were hustled inside and asked to wait in a dimly lit hall until they were called.

“I hear they’ll let you see the Honors of Scotland for a shilling,” Peter whispered. “The crown and scepter, ye mean?” “Aye, and the sword. I’d like to see the sword.” Peter glanced around as though he might spot the object nearby. “Maybe. We’ll see.” Raised voices somewhere in the building distracted Ian. The argument spilled into the corridor and a group of six men trying to outshout each other trailed behind a harried-looking General Robertson clad in red uniform jacket and tartan trews. At the door to his office, the general rounded on his assailants bellowing, “Enough. No more of this until tomorrow.

” He turned to Ian and ordered a curt, “Sinclair. Inside.” Ian followed the general into his office leaving Peter in the hallway, defenseless. Hopefully, the general’s assailants weren’t after blood. The general looked a few pounds heavier and many years older than the mere seven years that had passed since their last acquaintance. He collapsed into his chair, put his elbows on the desk and his head in his hands. Ian waited patiently at attention because he didn’t know how else to stand before the man. At last, the general sighed and raised his head, his eyes red with fatigue. “It’s a bloody nightmare, Sinclair.” “Is it war, then, sir?” “Worse.

His Majesty King George IV is visiting Edinburgh, the first time a monarch has set foot on Scottish soil in nearly two hundred years, and all of Scotland has gone mad.” He added bitterly, “The King claims blood ties to Stuart and suddenly everyone’s a Jacobite.” He pointed to the door. “Those sharks you saw out there, MacDonell and Glengarry? They’re threatening a clan war over who takes precedence in the plaided pageantry nonsense.” The general raked a hand through his snow-white hair. “On top of that, the King has ordered his Highland regalia from his tailors, therefore, all peers of Scotland attending the King’s Grand Ball must appear in traditional Highland costume.” He laughed to himself and his voice pitched higher. “The only thing comical about the debacle is watching the lowlanders desperately search for their Highland ancestry and a suitable tartan.” “Is there something I can do to help, sir?” Something like a commission, perhaps? A regiment to lead? A garrison to command? The general regarded him for an uncomfortably long time, then pointed. “Have a seat, Sinclair.

” “Thank you, sir.” “I hear you’ve been captaining your own ship these last years.” The general’s mood had shifted and Ian eased himself back into the chair. “Aye, sir. The Gael Forss. It’s fine work, the shipping trade, but as you know, I prefer the life of a soldier.” “A passenger vessel?” “We can accommodate a few passengers, but mostly we ship goods up and down the coast and to and from the Continent.” Ian relaxed into a comfortable conversation with the general, confident the meeting was going well. “And America?” “The Gael Forss will sail for Boston next month, sir.” “I…have a favor to ask of you.

” The general looked unsure of himself, something Ian had never witnessed in the Tartan Terror. “Of course, sir.” “It’s a personal favor, really.” Personal? Alarms went off in Ian’s head. Had an ill wind shifted the meeting off course? “Anything, sir.” “Good. I knew I could count on you.” Shite. He’d just agreed to do whatever the hell the general had on his mind. He hoped it had nothing to do with treason or murder.

“I need you to escort my daughter to Connecticut to meet her fiancé.” Disappointment rose up the back of Ian’s throat and he swallowed hard. “You want me to take your daughter to Connecticut aboard the Gael Forss, sir?” “Aye.” Bloody frigging hell. A goddamned child minder. That’s the commission the general had in store for him. His daughter’s chaperone. Sweat beaded on his forehead and the knot in his neckcloth Peter had tied so perfectly was beginning to choke him. “I see.” “Now, I know you were hoping for a commission.

Do this favor for me, deliver my daughter into the hands of her fiancé, and there will be a choice assignment waiting for you when you return.” The general rose and held out his hand. Apparently, everything was settled and the meeting was over. Dazed, he stood and shook hands. “Thank you for this opportunity, sir,” he said, as a matter of form. “I’m afraid I won’t be present to see my daughter off. I’m leaving today for Belfast. Her brother Connor will take care of the arrangements. She’ll have a companion, of course. I trust that’s no problem.

” “Not at all, sir.” “Good,” the general said. “Again, my thanks. I have complete confidence in you. Good day, Sinclair.” Ian saluted, turned on his heel, and exited the office. Peter waited in the hallway looking expectantly at him. “Did you get the commission?” He blinked. “Aye, but first I must complete the Thirteenth Labor of Hercules.” “Sir?” “Never mind.

I need a drink.” … Louisa sat on the edge of her bed and read the note her father had left before his hasty departure for Belfast. It couldn’t be true. Surely there was a way to stop this madness before it was too late. She sighed a stage-worthy, “Ah, me. What am I to do?” Mairi removed Louisa’s shoes and tsked with disapproval. “The bow on your left slipper has come loose.” Louisa sighed again. “It’s tragedy, pure tragedy.” “Och, it’s no’ so bad.

I’ll give it a stitch and it’ll be good as new.” “Not my shoe. This.” She thrust the offending note at Mairi. “What? The letter from the general?” “He’s gone and done it. He’s sending me to America to marry. The contracts are signed and passage has been arranged.” Mairi’s eyes flew open wide. “America,” she gasped. “You’re goin’ to America?” “We both are.

I wouldnae leave you behind,” Louisa assured her. “Me?” Mairi put a hand to her chest. “A’ course you’re going wi’ me. I cannae go alone, can I?” “Oh, oh, miss. Is it really true? We’re going to America?” Mairi fanned herself, her face a portrait of rapture. Louisa had never seen such a reaction from her normally levelheaded maid. Excitement seemed to be building inside her at an alarming rate and Louisa worried the girl might swoon. “Bonnets, Mairi. This isnae good news. It’s a disaster.

He’s making me marry some…” Louisa struggled to get the word out. “Man.” She stood and paced the room, angry with the general, irritated with her maid, and furious that events had brought her to this precipice. “Who?” Mairi asked, startling Louisa out of her vigorous pacing. “What?” “Who is it you’re to marry?” Louisa referred to the letter again. “A Mr. Edward Kirby. Oh, God.” She flung herself backward onto her bed, lifted the letter in the air, and waved it like a flag of surrender. Mairi took the letter then and read.

When she’d finished, she looked at Louisa quizzically. “Whatever is there to fash aboot? This Mr. Kirby sounds like a good sort of fellow. He’s a young man, got his own business—a foundry—and he’s doing fine by it. He’s even got a big house and servants, forby.” “I dinnae care if he’s the Prince of Egypt, I willnae marry. Ever.” “Ye want to be a spinster all yer life?” The mere sound of the word sparked Louisa’s fury. She sat up and pointed an accusing finger. “Dinnae ever use that word in front of me, Mairi.

You ken I hate it. It’s a nasty, dirty word people use to shame women for not finding a husband, as if that’s the only way for a woman to live, to attach herself to a man like his favorite hound, dependent upon him for food and shelter, left begging at his feet for an occasional pat on the head, and then forgotten in some corner of the house. Well, that’s no life for me. Ever. I’ll not be someone’s hound and I’ll not be called a spinster. I’ll be my own woman. I’ll run away if I have to.” “Go an’ boil yer heid, ye dafty. Ye cannae run away. What would you do?” “I could do lots of things.

I could teach or run a shop or be a lady’s companion. I could even be an actress,” Louisa said with some reservation. She hadn’t really had an opportunity to prove herself a competent actress, but she thought she could, given the chance. “I thought to run away to London and try to be an actress there. The problem is, no matter what I do, Da would just send one of my brothers to drag me home again.” “You ken very well the stage is no place for a proper young lady such as yerself. That’s what got you into this mess, is it not?” Louisa reached for Mairi’s hand and pulled her down to sit next to her on the bed. The girl was her maid, yes, but she was also Louisa’s only confidante and, as they were equal in age, both being twenty-two, the one person who understood her completely. She let her head rest on her friend’s shoulder. “Oh, Mairi.

I wish you had been there. It was the most glorious feeling to be standin’ on that stage in front of hundreds of people, everyone watching you, listening to you, loving you. If only Da had watched me just a wee while, he might have loved me.” She corrected herself. “I mean, he might have liked my performance.” “Och, he’s worried for ye, is all. Things will be fine. You’ll see. No doubt Mr. Kirby is a worthy fellow.

” Mairi rose and collected the slippers for mending. “Lord knows, I’d give my eye teeth to trade places with you.” She chuckled and said more or less to herself, “Aye, that’d be heaven, it would.” The ghost of an idea tickled at the back of Louisa’s brain. “What did you say?” “Pah,” Mairi flapped a hand. “I was talking havers.” “No. You said you’d trade places wi’ me.” Perhaps she had read too many Shakespeare plays but… “Were you serious?” Mairi straightened, her brow buckled. “Wed a rich man like that and never have to work again? Have servants wait on me for a change? A’ course I’d want to be you.

” She shook her head and continued toward the door, still laughing to herself. “Who wouldnae want to be you?” In the next moment, a fully formed plan popped into Louisa’s head and unfurled like a rug. She jumped to her feet and called, “Wait.” Mairi paused at the door. “Yes, miss?” “Come here.” Breathless with excitement, Louisa pulled out the chair to her dressing table. “Sit.” When Mairi didn’t move, she ordered, “Sit down.” The maid sidled toward the chair and lowered herself. “What’s got into you? I dinnae like the look on your face.

” “Hold your wheesht and close your eyes.” She whipped off Mairi’s mobcap and the maid’s mess of auburn ringlets spilled over her shoulders. Louisa scooped them up and pinned them on top of her head, allowing a few ringlets to feather the sides of her face. Next, she clipped a pair of glittering earbobs into place, and pinched her cheeks into rosy peaches. “Ouch.” “Keep your eyes closed.” At the last, she buttoned a white lawn chemisette with a high ruffled collar around the girl’s neck. “There,” she said. “Take a keek.” Mairi stared into the mirror spellbound.

Even Louisa had to admit, the transformation was astounding. Given the right adornment, Mairi was undeniably beautiful. The corners of her maid’s mouth curved up. “Oh, miss.” Then her eyes flicked from her reflection up to Louisa and her smile disappeared. “Oh, miss.” The timbre of her voice had changed from awed to appalled. “Oh, no.” She shook her head. “Oh, no-no-no-no-no.

” Louisa arched a brow. “Oh, yes-yes-yes-yes-yes.”

.

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