Shadowy Highland Romance – Emilia Ferguson

“The silence of this place will drive me mad.” “Madame?” Margot – Genevieve’s companion – inquired mildly, looking up from where she sewed a petticoat. “Nothing, Margot,” Genevieve demurred. “It’s just the weather. It’s affecting my mood.” She looked up at the long window, feeling restless. “It hasn’t stopped raining for three days,” Margot agreed, not looking up. “Indeed,” Genevieve agreed sadly. She set her own sewing – a hoop of delicate embroidery – aside and stood, heading to the window. It isn’t just the weather. It’s the tension in this house. Usually tranquil and comfortable, Chateau Malpons, her home, was now taut and stifling. Genevieve didn’t know what the discomfort was – all she knew was that her father, usually calm, was not himself. He had been restless and quiet for a week now. It’s something to do with his visit to the capital, she decided.

She leaned against the windowsill, taking care not to crease the pink brocade of her skirt as she did so, and looked down to the grounds below. At two and twenty years old, Genevieve knew she was expected to wed soon. The life at the chateau was quiet, and she had few opportunities for meeting matches of which her father, the count of Malpons, would approve. She felt a little bad for having failed him in this way, and hoped his worry wasn’t all for her. Papa spends too much time concerned for my future. I wish he would talk to me. The friendship between Genevieve and her father was strong, and the silence which had kept him aloof the last three months distressed her. Anything – even a reprimand – would seem better than keeping secrets from her. “I must know what it is,” she murmured. “Madame?” Genevieve turned to face her companion – she’d all but forgotten she was there already.

She shook her head, making rich dark curls bounce on her shoulders in disarray. “Sorry, Margot. I was distracted. I will walk, I think. I am in a dark mood today.” “Don’t stay out long, milady,” Margot replied. “It’s still getting dark before six of the clock.” “I know,” Genevieve whispered, not wanting to feel impatient. She walked across the parquet and headed out into the hallway, taking her coat with her. She had to go outside, escape this tension, before it drove her mad.

In the hallway, she was surprised to find Mathieu, their steward. He bowed. “Milady. Your father has just concluded his business. He wished to see you.” “Oh?” Genevieve’s heart thumped and she felt her stomach tighten with sudden apprehension. What was it her father wished to tell her? It is about my marriage. It’s something bad about our household’s accounts. It’s news from Uncle Thibault in Paris – he’s ill. She felt her heart thump hard even as she nodded to the man, maintaining a calm face.

“Is he in the parlor?” “He is, miss,” Mathieu replied. “I’ll see him now, then.” Genevieve felt her feet rush past, carrying her off before she’d so much as heard his “Very good, miss,” behind her. She neared the parlor, slowing her step. Her father didn’t like fuss. Not that he was domineering – not in any way – rather, he was simply so easygoing that any sort of drama perplexed him. It was a trait they usually shared. Except I have a passion Papa seems to lack. Genevieve’s mother, Lady Claudine, had shared her passionate side: everyone told her so, and the image of Claudine, rosebud lips curved in a playful grin, a cloud of red hair loose round her shoulders, suggested everyone was right. Genevieve wished now that she could have known her more.

She had passed away eighteen years ago. There was no wishing that would change the fact that she and Papa must now forge their way alone. She paused at the door of the parlor, just as her father called out to her. “My daughter? You seem in a hurry.” “No, Papa,” Genevieve demurred softly. “I was looking for you – Mathieu said you sent for me?” “I wished to discuss something with you, yes,” her father nodded. A tall man with fineboned features, Genevieve could see something of him in her oval face. However, she could also see her mother’s generous, full-lipped smile, so different to his austere features. “Yes, Papa?” she asked, walking into the silence. Crystal vases and precious porcelain stood on the mantel, neither as fragile as the mansion’s quiet.

Genevieve had the sense that her father was so taut with nerves that if she so much sneezed he might shatter. She felt her heart thump. What was this about? She knew he’d been receiving visitors from Paris, and that he’d gone there once or twice of late, but she’d told herself it was some matter of her uncle’s and deliberately put it from her mind. Now she wasn’t sure. Her father was still silent, as if readying himself. Then, he coughed and began. “Daughter, I…I have a request to make,” he began softly. “Of you. It pains me to have to do this.” “No, Papa!” she protested gently, softly touching his shoulder.

“You know you can ask anything of me.” “I don’t want to,” her father said concernedly. “But this is of importance to our country, not just to me. So – can I ask you – will you go to Scotland?” Genevieve stared at him. Scotland. The home of her mother’s ancestors. A wild country by all accounts, bristling with fierce, barbaric sorts and tense with unrest, especially now. “Papa?” she whispered, disbelieving. He was turning away from her, leaning on the windowsill. His fingers were whiteknuckled where they rested on the marble.

“I do not wish to ask this of you, my daughter. Please believe that I have no other choice,” he whispered. “Papa, I believe you,” Genevieve said. Her heart had started to thump with a feeling that was not remotely apprehension: It was wonder. “But… Scotland?” she repeated, still awestruck by the fact. “I know. I’d as soon send you to the end of the Earth as into such growing unrest,” her father whispered. When he turned to face her, his big gray eyes were stark with sorrow. “But I am needed here, and there is no one else I trust. Would you?” Genevieve swallowed down the rising excitement.

Scotland! Wild land of her distant ancestors! Mysterious and unquiet, it called to her soul, reaching out to the restlessness inside her. “Yes, Papa,” she agreed. “I will.” A WILD LAND “Now, daughter,” the count said gently. “You won’t stray away from Du Prise, will you?” “I won’t, Papa,” Genevieve protested mildly. “I assure you. I won’t leave the carriage or so much as go down to dinner on my own. Promise.” “Good,” her father said, a small smile moving across the tense planes of his face. His gray eyes sadly looked over her features, as if not wanting to lose a single glimpse.

Genevieve swallowed hard. “I’ll come back safely, Papa.” He didn’t reply, just clutched her fiercely to his chest in an embrace that used every ounce of his fragile strength. Never of the best health, the count surprised her with the strength of his grip. “Be careful of those people,” he said raggedly. “Not your cousins – I trust them well enough. But the rest of them – they are a tumultuous nation. Treacherous, some say.” “I will be careful,” Genevieve promised humbly. In her heart she felt a little impatient – just a little – with his fussing.

Always protective of her, Genevieve knew her father could take his intense need to keep her safe a little far. Entrusting her to observe in Scotland – to take notes of the state of Hanoverian forces there – had cost him most severely. “Good,” he said again, and rested a hand on her shoulder, gripping it. “I trust you.” Genevieve felt the tears that she’d held at bay finally spill over with that whispered reassurance. She held him tight against her and felt his lips press dryly to her brow. “Now, off you go,” he whispered, hollow. He turned away and went to the fireplace, seeking, she knew, to control himself. When he turned back, the tears she knew had glimmered there had disappeared, and his jaw was tight. “Goodbye, Papa,” she whispered, hearing her own voice wobble and doing nothing to hide it.

Her tears flowed down her cheeks, leaving wet, cold paths along her neck and into the demure collar of her gown. “Goodbye,” he whispered. Then she was turning away and following Du Prise, the footman and her escort, down to the stables. “I’ll take that, milady?” he asked, indicating the small traveling bag she held. It contained only her sewing and threads: all else was settled into the big wooden trunk that was already loaded up. “Thank you,” she said, letting him place it carefully in the coach, before standing back and reaching for her hand. “Allow me.” She nodded and stepped up into the coach, sitting down opposite Madame Ferriers, her old governess. She would on one hand have preferred Margot to travel with, but she was deemed too young and Genevieve wouldn’t be entirely sorry to not have her bright conversation. Her nerves were too frayed for noise at this moment.

Madame’s tight-lipped silence was much easier to bear. She watched the chateau disappear until it was engulfed in the surrounding tree-line, and then reached for her sewing. A welcome distraction. Madame muttered about the barbarism of Scotland and how she hoped Genevieve would have enough warm clothes to last her for a while, but after that subsided into a stolid silence that preceded sleep. Genevieve, left to her own thoughts, stared out of the window, watching the forest slide past in trunks of trees and blurs of yellow and green. I wonder what to expect. Scotland was a name on a page to her, an exotic place where, she knew, two major groups of people lived – Highlanders and Lowlanders. The culture of the Lowlanders was in some way – like their language – akin to that of England. The Highlands were mysterious and alien, unlike anything she knew. That, more or less, was where she was going.

I don’t know what to expect. Her father had told her little, having only been there once himself, on a diplomacy mission. Now he was sending her in his stead, to spy for him, because he was needed in the capital. Sewing her embroidery gave Genevieve freedom to let her mind roam. In it, she built images of a harsh land. She knew there was an uprising planned there, to restore the Stuart king to the throne. After all, it was for that her father worked and planned, organizing the French allies to Scotland, and helping to plan the trip of Prince Charles, the heir, to that land. It was clear that the countryside must teem with unrest: she knew most of those in power were allied to the English King, and imagined people chafed under that rule. She expected to see conflict and rebellion in many places: but what did it look like there? Trees tall and impenetrable, she imagined – Madame had taught her that, though Scotland traded for wood and grain – and sold whiskey and linen – there were lush forests in the northern part. Her cousins – distant relatives, not first cousins – were living in the North.

Once from a place called Duncliffe, which had housed her mother’s distant ancestress, her cousins had since married and settled and could now be found far from their own hometown. I wonder what they’re like? Genevieve had never written to her cousins – ships that might take letters didn’t sail often – and only knew their names, and those of their husbands. Arabella and Francine were her cousins, Richard and Henry their partners. Genevieve imagined Arabella as stern and distant, Francine as quiet and timid. She had no reason for that, save that Madame Ferriers said Scottish ways were not enlightened as those of their home: Her cousins might behave as if they’d been raised in an earlier century. I shouldn’t let her cloud my judgment. She wasn’t going to be drawn into any false impression, but meet them when she met them. Which could take two weeks. The journey to Scotland itself could take two weeks. A week to the coast – in bad weather – and then a week, perhaps, in crossing.

The seas were known to be rough, and her father had already stipulated the captain was to take no risks. I think Papa would wrap me in sheepskin like we did with my dance-slippers, keeping them safe from any harm. She shook her head, wincing as the coach jolted and her needle stabbed her thumb. She sucked it, looking out the window at the countryside as it flashed past. Despite the anxiety – her own and that of her father – she was excited. The journey took two weeks. Genevieve surprised herself by not being sick on the ship. Madame Ferriers had spent so long painting a vivid picture of the horrors of sea-sickness that she’d fully expected agony. As it was, she found herself adapting quickly to the rocking motion, the sound of the wind and the cry of the gulls. After three days, the land hove into sight.

Genevieve stared. Dark green against the pale gray sky, the land seemed to breathe mist over the shoreline, swathing it in subtle, shifting magic. She felt her stomach clench with excitement. “Scotland, milady,” the captain said softly. “We make anchor by noon.” The port was a thrum of activity. Genevieve, expecting something like the scale of Calais, was surprised to discover it smaller, more cramped. All the same, it seemed just as industrious – with fishing boats, galleys and sailing ships crowding into it. “Lower the gangplank!” the captain called out to the crew. “Trim the sails.

And start unloading!” While he took charge, Genevieve wandered dreamily to the railing, drinking in her first sights of her mother’s original land. This was going to be her home for three whole months. “Milady?” Madame Ferriers whispered, subdued. “You think we should get off?” She was looking down the gang-plank with a mix of apprehension and dismay that would have been funny had it not been so serious a situation. Genevieve nodded decisively, her own fears evaporating in a haze of joy. “Yes,” she said. “Let’s go down.” At the quay, her trunk and other belongings were loaded onto a coach. Her cousins had sent it for her – the driver informed them it had waited at the Seaside Inn for three days. “They’ll be right glad tae see ye, milady,” he informed her in Lowland Scots.

Genevieve nodded, relieved her vast education had comprised mainly languages, including English and a little Gaelic. “Thank you,” she said softly in English. “You’re very kind.” The driver looked at her with raised brows, as if he’d never heard someone speak, but helped her up into the coach carefully and slammed the door. They were off. A week later, they arrived at her cousin’s home. It was evening when the coach drew up, the sun long set on the horizon. “Whoa!” the driver called, bringing them to an abrupt halt. Genevieve stared out of the coach, alert and awake. A tall building was ahead, its windows lit brightly.

A torch burned in a bracket on the wall, sending fitful orange light up and outwards, illuminating a tall, narrow doorway. The door opened as Genevieve jumped down from the coach. “Cousin!” a woman said, arms outstretched to enfold Genevieve in a sweet-scented, caring embrace. “Welcome to Scotland!” Genevieve hugged her in return, amazed by the degree of response her heart made. She had never met her cousins, but already part of her seemed to feel the kinship. She felt hands gently take her shoulders and hold her at arm’s length. She found herself looking into a full-lipped, gentle face that looked quite strongly like her mother’s, except for the tranquil gaze. “I’m your cousin Arabella,” the woman said gently. “We’re so pleased to meet you.” “And I you,” Genevieve said, kissing the woman’s cheek even as another stepped forward, taking her hands.

“Welcome, Genevieve.” Next, she met the men. Richard – tall, auburn-haired and handsome – was English. That was a relief for Genevieve, who had feared she and her cousins would have no common tongue. As it was, they spoke French and English both. “Welcome.” Genevieve stood where she was, suddenly aware of how tired she was. “Come,” Arabella said gently, seeming to guess at how exhausted she was. “You must be weary. We’ve had a chamber made up, and dinner’s in the parlor whenever you want it.

” “Th…Thank you,” Genevieve murmured. “You’re very kind.” Arabella took her hand and led her toward the door. As she did so, Genevieve noticed another two men, standing a little back from the family group. Arabella paused, looking up at them both. “These are our guests, cousin,” she explained quickly. “Ascott Brooke and Adair Hume.” “Enchanted, miss,” Ascott Brooke exclaimed, bowing low over her hand. He had the manners of a courtier, and Genevieve guessed he was from some nearby noble house. The man who stood just behind him met her gaze.

“Miss,” he said softly. He took her hand and Genevieve felt something stir inside her as his dark gaze met hers. Then he bowed, and the contact was broken. She shook herself, stirring her attention. She was tired, she told herself firmly. That was why she was being fanciful. All the same, she had never felt a sudden thrill of – of something indefinable – like she had in the moment when his eyes touched hers. Wearily, but still alert, she followed Arabella and Francine into the house. Dinner was in the small parlor. Genevieve – washed and dressed in an elegant simple gown – felt suddenly ravenous.

The meals during the journey had not been exactly appetizing, and she had eaten less than she might have liked. Safe and sound at her cousin’s home, she could finally feel the hunger that must have been lurking all those days. It took the edge off her exhaustion and she walked out past Madame Ferriers – who had helped her dress – and into the hallway. “Dinner’s in the parlor, milady,” a footman said, in Lowland Scots. Genevieve nodded. “Thank you.” He led her up the stairs and Genevieve, hearing the murmur and lilt of voices, felt some apprehension return. She looked down at her hands, resting in front of the cream brocade of her hooped skirt, and hoped that she looked halfway decent. It would be a shame to make a bad impression tonight. As she thought it, unbidden, that face flashed into her mind.

Adair…Hume? She shook her head impatiently. He might not even be at dinner. And anyway, why did he matter to her? He wasn’t her cousin, after all! Just a guest. Feeling a little impatient with her fanciful mind, she walked up to the door the footman indicated and paused at the threshold, hesitating. Inside, a long table was laid out with silverware, and a fire crackled in a grate below a white mantelpiece. The room was lit to cheery warmth with tapers, and long windows – drapes shadowing them – looked out to the garden on her right. As she paused there, the clatter and click of cutlery stopped. She felt eyes on her. A particular gaze – dark and brooding – roamed her face. She swallowed hard.

Mr. Hume, you are impertinent. A sort of defiance thrummed down her veins – a pleasurable feeling that made her hold his dark gaze, just to challenge him. He looked at his plate and, wearied though she was, a prickle of triumph ran through her. “Ah, cousin!” Arabella said, pushing back her chair and coming to join Genevieve. The three gentlemen all stood. “Welcome. Here. I’ve had a place laid by me.” Genevieve allowed herself to be settled beside her cousin, which left her – awkwardly – opposite Hume.

She looked at her plate, embarrassed. “Milady,” he murmured. Genevieve nodded in his direction, and let her cousin take care of the awkward silence, asking her questions about her trip. “It was very pleasant,” she said, nodding as a serving-man filled her goblet. “We made good time.” “The seas were not too rough, I reckon?” Richard asked. “At this time of the year, they can be irregular.” “We were fortunate in the weather,” Genevieve said automatically. She breathed in the wonderful scent of shellfish, stewed, as the serving-man returned, this time with a salver of stew, which he proceeded to ladle onto their plates. “We eat simply here,” Richard said.

“Oysters from the river, stewed in wine.” Genevieve was too hungry to heed anything at that point. She reached across the table for the basket of steaming bread that was there, and her eyes caught those of Hume, who watched her with some intensity. She took a roll of bread, sopping it in the rich gravy, and looked down at the plate, disconcerted. What possessed this fellow to stare at her like this? “You are enjoying your time here?” she asked him, swallowing. There! She might as well set the example of good manners, since he seemed ignorant of the meaning. “Yes,” he said. He reached for his own glass, wetting his lips with it. Genevieve waited for him to elaborate, but it seemed that was the total of his conversational efforts. She groped around for another topic.

Anything to break the awkward silence. “You have had fine weather, for the season?” “Yes.”

.

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