About the book
She found him both dismaying and utterly attractive, in an enticing yet forbidden way...
Trapped in an engagement she never wanted, Amelia Barton, daughter of the Earl of Workington, feels her life is finally over. Until the day true love comes knocking on her door in the face of a dashing Highlander.
Orphaned by his mother since birth, Feargan Galbreth, Laird of Loch Beira, travels to France to stop the Jacobite cause. When called upon by the Royal Court, the most beautiful lass he has ever seen enters his life like a bolt of lightning.
When Amelia gets kidnapped, Feargan is accused of the crime. Determined to prove his innocence, he will stop at nothing to find her.
Amidst this desperate hunt, love and lust are not the only things that come to light. Feargan has been living a lie and the truth about his parentage lies in an old handkerchief that everybody thought lost.
That day the snow lay thick upon the road to Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the carriage was stuck fast in the mud churned up by its own wheels. The horses were cold, stomping their feet, their long plumes of breath rising into the icy air like a mist on water, as the driver patted their manes.
“Zi horses are cold, monsieur,” he said, casting a nervous glance at his patron, who was pacing up and down beside the carriage.
“Ye assured me that this carriage would make the road from Paris, even in the snow. It will be nightfall soon and I daenae wish to be stranded out here at the mercy of thieves and robbers. Is there nae way to move it?” the man replied.
The driver muttered something inaudible in French and retreated around to the rear of the stranded carriage. Feebly, he pushed at the wheels, which were already beginning to freeze in the mud, twilight descending around them.
“I cannae have further delays. Is there nae way ye can move it tonight?” the man said, his voice rising in exasperation at the man, whose promises in Paris had come to nothing.
“There iz an inn nearby, monsieur, just along zi track. They would give you a bed for zi night and tomorrow we may dig zi carriage out,” the driver replied, shaking his head, as he pushed hopelessly once more at the wheels.
“Aye, so be it then. It daenae seem like we shall have any luck tonight. If ye need help in the morning, then come and find me at the inn,” the man said, as he clambered into the carriage to retrieve his bags.
“I am sorry monsieur, I cannot help zi weather. I, too, am stranded ‘ere for zi night, my wife shall worry, and my children go hungry,” the driver said, looking mournfully at the man, who now threw a thick cloak about himself and turned along the road.
“Make ye bed at the inn, too, and tell the innkeeper to charge it to me. As for yer wife, she shall have to sleep in a cold bed tonight, just as ye and I will,” the man replied, and without looking again at the driver he strode purposefully down the track, as a fresh flurry of snow began to fall.
The road to Saint-Germain-en-Laye was rough and ready at the best of times. Unlike the court of Versailles, the exiled Stuarts had not the luxury of fine, carriage-worthy boulevards, to connect them with the French capital. The court of the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, was somewhat hidden away, lying at the end of a long road, west of Paris.
They were sojourners in a foreign land, awaiting that glorious day when the line would be restored, and a Stuart monarch would once again sit upon the thrones of England and Scotland. At the Château de Saint Germain-en-Laye, they bided their time, playing host to countless visitors and well-wishers who made the bumpy journey from Paris to pay homage to the man they believed was rightly King across the channel.
It was for just such a reason that Feargan Galbreth, Laird of Loch Beira, in the far north amongst the Scottish hills, had come to Paris two weeks ago. The journey south had been long and treacherous, and he had already been away from home for several months. He was tired, and now that the château was almost in sight, his frustration at this latest setback was clear. He stomped along the darkening track, his bags slung over his shoulder, cursing the weather on that treacherous night.
The snow was falling thickly now, and as he approached the lighted inn he shook off his cloak and stamped his boots. The lights were a welcome reprieve from the darkness of the track.
“Another foreign bed,” Feargan muttered to himself, as he pushed open the door and was met by a rabble of rousing voices and the sounds of singing and merrymaking.
Inside, the inn was brightly lit by oil lamps, a large fire burning merrily in the grate, and all manner of people sat around in varying states of array. Several eyed the newcomer with suspicion, but quickly returned to their drinks as Feargan cast a contemptuous look around him.
He was a man of noble blood, who had little time for sensuous pleasures, nor the inclination to associate with those who frequented places such as this. The proprietor of the inn spoke rapidly to him in French, a language which, thanks to his dear departed mother, he knew well.
“You wish for some food, monsieur? A bed for zi night, or just a drink to warm you on zis cold night?” he said, laying his hands on the bar and smiling a toothless grin at Feargan.
“Aye, a bed, and some food if ye have it, and a drink, too,” Feargan replied, glancing around the room again.
“You are travelling to zi château, monsieur?” the proprietor said, as he ladled a sludgy brown stew into a bowl from a steaming pan set above the fire.
“Me business is me own,” Feargan replied, looking with some disgust at the meal now set before him.
“We have a lot of travelers along zi road, monsieur. Even zi young Prince himself has graced zis humble abode,” the proprietor said proudly, and he poured a glass of wine for Feargan, looking at him with interest as he ate.
Feargan made no reply, and after taking a few spoonsful from the foul-looking concoction, he pushed it aside.
“Zis is just a humble inn, monsieur, I am sorry if we cannot satisfy your tastes.”
“Just bring me somethin’ drinkable and leave me alone,” Feargan replied, pushing the glass and dish across the bar.
The proprietor went off, tutting to himself, emptying the half-eaten bowl of stew back into the pan from whence it came and wiping his hands across his greasy apron, an act which caused Feargan to look away in disgust. He was about to forgo another drink, and demand his bed, when a voice at his side caused him to turn.
“Ye are a traveler in these parts like meself, aren’t ye, lad?” the man said, setting down a glass of wine at Feargan’s side.
“And who might ye be?” Feargan said, eyeing the man with suspicion.
His accent betrayed his heritage and his face had all the hallmarks of one who has been raised amidst the hills and glens of Scotland, weather-beaten and furrowed. He was old, and slightly hunched over, but his eyes were keen, as though behind them lay a mind which was sharp and active. He smiled again at Feargan and extended a gnarled hand.
“Hamish McBride, a tutor at the royal court. I am returning from Paris, where I have just heard Voltaire speak. The snow has caused me to take refuge here, but in the morning I shall go to Saint Germain-en-Laye. Is that yer destination, too?” he said, fixing his eyes on Feargan.
“Feargan Galbreth, I go to speak with our Regent at the château,” he replied, shaking the man’s hand and relaxing a little in the company of one who claimed to be a friend.
The young Laird had learned to distrust men over the years, and ever since his father’s death he had found his own counsel to be of advantage to that of others. His mother had died when he was young and he had few remaining memories of her.
The absence of a mother had left a void in him, such that the fairer sex remained something of a mystery. As a child he had been a loner, and despised the woman his father married just a year after his own mother’s death. He had grown up forced to call her Mama, an act he resented to this day.
The life which Feargan had led was a lonely one and despite his inheritance, he had few men to call his friends. That is, except for his Godfather, Alexander Galbreth, with whom he had trusted his Scottish estates whilst he made the journey to France, and who this old man resembled remarkably.
“The Regent? He has little time for anyone now,” the old man said, taking a seat at the bar, and signaling to the proprietor for more drinks. “What is it ye wish to speak with him about?”
“That is a matter between the two of us,” Feargan replied, as the proprietor presented them with a bottle of wine that appeared to have better pedigree to it than the muck he had served before.
“I am nae interested in yer business, lad, but I ken the Regent and I ken the court, too. I have been tutoring there these many years past. I was the Regent’s tutor in philosophy when he was but a wee lad,” Hamish said, looking with interest at Feargan who sighed, realizing he was going to get no peace that night until he explained his business and took the man into his confidence.
“What dae ye ken of the Regent’s plans for a rising in England and Scotland to the Stuart cause?” Feargan asked, laying out his cards.
The old tutor looked surprised for a moment, as though he, too, were weighing up the consequences of betraying what he had heard whispered in the corridors of the Château de Saint Germain-en-Laye.
“Now I must ask ye if ye are a spy,” Hamish replied, smiling nervously at Feargan, who laughed.
“Dae ye ken who ye are addressing, old man?” he said, shaking his head. “I am Laird of Loch Beira and as loyal to the Stuart cause as any man on either side of the border. A spy, indeed, what nonsense. And if I were, would I tell ye so blatantly?”
The man’s face changed, and he visibly relaxed at Feargan’s words, smiling and laughing to himself, as he agreed that no, the Laird would not tell him if he were a Hanoverian spy.
“I can only apologize for my suspicions, Galbreth, but there are many who would wish to ken the Regent’s secrets, and many who would wish to see him dead,” Hamish said.
“And I am not one of them. What dae ye ken of the Regent’s plans?” Feargan repeated.
“Not a lot, only that the château is filled with exiled Stuarts, eager to return to their homeland, and many visitors loyal to the cause who bring news of Hanoverian insult from across the channel. Ye must be well connected, and I need not tell ye of such things, ye will nay doubt ken many of those who reside there from time to time.”
“Ye shall meet the Marquess of Torbay, betrothed to Lady Amelia Barton, the daughter of the Earl of Workington. I tutor her in Latin and philosophy, she is a most able student; and the Duke of Rothsay; alongside Lady Peal of Northumberland,” the man replied, warming to his subject.
“I have no interest in acquainting myself to others,” Feargan said, cutting the man short mid-speech. “My purpose is to speak with the Regent on the matter in hand. I am not interested in English aristocrats and ladies.”
His quest lay with the Regent and once more he questioned the elderly tutor as to Charles Edward Stuart’s plans for England and Scotland.
“The Regent has every intention of regaining the throne, there is nay question of that, but why are ye so interested in such matters? Surely ye should have remained in Scotland to see to yer estates,” Hamish said, pouring another drink for Feargan. “Or does the Laird of Loch Beira have a lackey to see to his crofters?”
“Never mind me own affairs. I have come to tell the Regent that such actions are foolish and that any uprising will surely fail. The Hanoverians have the land in an iron grip and if the Regent makes a move then they will only increase their oppression of the people still loyal to the Stuart cause,” Feargan replied.
It had long been his fear that any uprising would cause far more harm than good. There was simply not the popular support needed for the Regent to take control. He could rely upon a few loyal Highland families and the peasantry who still clung to the old religion, but the Hanoverian army were well equipped and prepared to deal with any insurrection.
Feargan had no desire to see his people further oppressed, or to endure the wrath of the sitting monarch, who he knew could make life very difficult, indeed. The Laird of Loch Beira had come to France to reason with the Regent. He wanted to remind him that the romantic fantasies of a French court in exile were very different to that of real life in Scotland. There, simple folk eked out a living on the heather, and the desire for more bloodshed was dwindling rapidly, despite the blood-lust of some of the Highland chieftains.
Hamish McBride shook his head and stared ponderously into his drink.
“Ye will not change the Regent’s mind so easily. His life, and that of his dear departed faither, has been dedicated to the cause of winning back the throne from those Hanoverian impostors. The Highland clans will come to his aid, ye shall see.”
“Aye, but the people are weary. When were ye last in Scotland, my friend?” Feargan said, slamming down his glass upon the bar, and causing others to look over at them in bemusement.
“It is twenty years since last I set foot upon those bonnie shores and now I pray each day for the standard of our good Regent to fly above the castle at Edinburgh,” Hamish said, his wistful tone causing Feargan to shake his head.
“Ye are delusional, just like the Regent, it seems. I will speak with him, I will get down on my knees if I have to, but I am telling ye and him that an invasion, an uprising, an insurrection, call it what ye will, will nae work. Ye are a philosopher, are ye nae?” Feargan said.
“And what will? We are long past words, and sometimes it is the sword that must speak what the heart desires,” the old man replied, downing the last of his drink.
At that moment, the door to the inn opened and the carriage driver appeared, his cloak thick set with snow, which he proceeded to shake onto the floor, much to the proprietor’s annoyance. A string of expletives was exchanged between the two men, and the driver informed Feargan that he had managed to dig the wheels of the carriage out of the ruts and right it, ready for the morning.
“We shall be at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye by lunchtime, monsieur,” he said. “I have done my best.”
“Aye, well, the weather is not yer fault, as ye say. Ye shall have yer fee, but we shall take along this man, too, at nay extra charge, dae ye hear me?” Feargan said, as he dismissed the man.
“Of course, monsieur,” the carriage driver said, seemingly relieved to simply be out of the snow for the night.
“A carriage ride to the château? How kind of ye,” Hamish McBride said, as the carriage driver was served the now congealing stew from the pot above the fire.
“Aye, I need ye to introduce me to the Regent, with whom ye say ye ken so well,” Feargan said, smiling at the man who shook his head once again.
“Ye shall have nay luck in persuading him to yer mad ideas. Fancy coming all the way from Scotland to tell the Regent he is a fool to return to the land which is rightfully his. I have never heard of such a thing,” the old man said, rising from his place at the bar.
“That is because ye have lived yer whole life amongst those who believe it to be an easy task for the rightful king to return to his inheritance. Believe me, now is not the right time. As much as I long to see a Stuart upon the throne, I will tell the Regent a hundred times that he should not invade and cause more loss of life,” Feargan said.
But the old tutor just shook his head and wished the Laird of Loch Beira a goodnight. Feargan sat for a little longer, nursing a drink, as around him the revelry began to die down and the fire burned low.
He was determined to put his case to the Regent and avoid the possibility of any uprising. There was much at stake, and as he bedded down for the night, in a poky bedroom atop a rickety flight of steps, Feargan knew that the next few days were crucial if the Stuart cause were to be saved.
The following morning dawned brightly, and Feargan was awoken by sunlight streaming through the window, and the sounds of the proprietor in the yard below. He was shouting to the stable boy and Feargan rolled over on the uncomfortable bed, pulling the blanket over him, a draught having blown across him from the broken window throughout the night.
“Miserable place,” he said to himself, struggling out of bed and splashing icy water upon his face from a jug on the washstand.
He rubbed his eyes and gazed at his reflection in the cracked mirror which hung upon the wall. He was a handsome man, his black hair and blue eyes set amidst an attractive face, though the travels from Scotland had taken their toll. He hoped that he would at least receive the hospitality of the court in exile, if not its ears.
Feargan was under no illusion that the Regent would listen to his pleas—old Hamish McBride had been right about that. It was clear from the secret correspondences he had received, and from the whisperings amongst his Catholic neighbors, that an uprising, led by Charles Edward Stuart, was inevitable. It would be the cause of much bloodshed and distress, not least for men like Feargan, who would bear the brunt of their Hanoverian impostor’s wrath.
As he finished dressing Feargan looked at the stark, little crucifix which hung above the bed, and closing his eyes he knelt in prayer, asking the Lord for deliverance and safety, not only for himself but for the whole Stuart cause. As he made the sign of the cross, a knock came at the door and the voice of the carriage driver broke the silence of his prayer.
“Monsieur, zi carriage is waiting for you, and zi innkeeper has prepared a breakfast, though you may wish to depart immediately.”
“I daenae wish to spend a moment longer in this foul place. Get the carriage ready, and see to it that Mr. McBride is ready to join us,” Feargan called back, wrapping his cloak around himself and leaving his unpleasant quarters behind.
Downstairs he paid the proprietor for his troubles and had just finished settling up, when Hamish McBride appeared in the bar, dragging a heavy trunk behind him.
“I am grateful to ye for yer kind offer of transportation. How I would have managed with this trunk I daenae ken,” Hamish said, handing the innkeeper his payment and dragging the trunk out behind Feargan.
“How did ye get it from Paris to here without a carriage?” Feargan asked, as the carriage driver loaded their cases into the back of the now salvaged vehicle.
“A kind man from Bordeaux gave me a lift, but he would not go further than the inn for his road lay to the south. Clearly, the good Lord intended for us to meet,” Hamish said, settling himself into the carriage as Feargan climbed in next to him.
“If ye secure me an audience with the Regent, then I shall believe that,” he replied, as the driver urged on the horses and the carriage trundled along the road once again.
The cold morning had caused the snow to freeze, and now the carriage moved far easier along the road, though its motion was most uncomfortable for the occupants and the driver, who had to rein in the horses on several occasions as the carriage slid its way towards Saint Germain-en-Laye. Hamish McBride attempted to engage Feargan in conversation on several occasions, but the young Laird was more interested in his own musings and stared resolutely from the window at the winter landscape beyond.
“We should have taken a sledge, just like the old Norsemen used to back home in the Highlands during winter,” Hamish said, as the carriage slid to the side for a fourth time, causing the driver to curse.
Feargan made no reply, his thoughts turned to the Regent and the words he would say if ever he got the chance to speak with him. He had been preparing for this moment for the past six months and was determined that the young Prince would hear him out.
As they rounded a bend in the road the carriage slid once again, sending Feargan hurtling across the seat and colliding with Hamish who was knocked to the floor.
“I should have walked. Even dragging the trunk, it would have been more comfortable,” the old man said, laughing, as he pulled himself back up onto the seat.
“Is it far now, driver?” Feargan called, pulling down the window of the carriage and leaning out.
“You will see zi château in just a moment, monsieur, it is a fine sight indeed to behold.”
In a few moments the carriage slid once more around a corner and just as the driver had said, the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye came into view, obscured a little by a line of bare trees, their branches thick with snow and through which the outline of that stunning building could be seen.
“It is quite a magnificent place to call home,” Hamish said, leaning over to look out of the window next to Feargan.
The château was of a quite unique design, and unlike many fine English houses it was built, not symmetrically, but with two quite distinct wings, one of which ran at an angle back towards the gardens, whilst the other jutted out in front. The façade of the house was white, its windows large, and it extended to four or five floors, depending upon which part was viewed. The gardens, though bare and snow covered, stretched out to woodland in the distance, and the entire effect was one of considerable grandeur. A fitting home for a court in exile, though one reached by the roughest of roads.
“There is nothing like this in Scotland for the Regent and his retinue,” Feargan said, shaking his head, as he pictured his own rather more humble abode.
The Lairds of Loch Beira were by no means the wealthiest of Scotland’s nobility, though Feargan possessed a modest enough fortune. His own home, on the banks of the Loch, was a far cry from the splendors of a French château, though it had served the family well over the years. A fortified farmhouse, to which had been added extra rooms over the years, giving the effect of a house which told the story of the family who had inhabited it for many generations.
As the carriage approached the château, Feargan looked up at the imposing building above him, wondering if the Regent was there at this moment. Feargan’s letters had fallen on deaf ears and it was for that reason that he had decided to make the journey to France himself, in order to present his case and plead with the Regent to change his mind. Now that he was here, amidst the grandeur and splendor of the court in exile, he wondered how he would be received.
“Allow me to make yer introductions, lad, and ye say ye wish to have nothin’ to dae with the nobility?” Hamish said, as the carriage pulled up outside the château and several footmen came rushing forward.
“Unless it fulfils my purposes to speak with the Regent, then nay,” Feargan replied, gathering up his bags and following Hamish out of the carriage and onto the forecourt.
The château appeared even more daunting at close quarters, and Feargan looked up at the imposing façade, shaking his head as he thought once again of the peaceful loch at Beira and the simplicity of life at home.
Several other carriages had driven up, as though this place were a meeting point for every exiled Englishman and disenchanted Scot this side of the channel, which of course it was. The exiled Regent was a rallying point for all those who despised the Hanoverians who ruled at home. King Louis XV was only too glad to assist his cousin in his cause against the Protestant pretenders of England.
The château was a place of meeting, a seat of government in exile, and home to a retinue of nobility whose lavish entertainments were the stuff of Parisian legend.
“The Laird of Loch Beira will require lodgings for his stay with us,” Hamish McBride told the footman, who had looked surprised at the arrival of Feargan alongside the old tutor. “Is the Regent here?”
“Yes, sir, the Regent is in his apartments, but he has given strict instructions not to be disturbed at this time,” the footman replied, as Hamish’s trunk was unloaded, and Feargan’s bags taken inside.
“We shall see,” Hamish replied. “Come now, let us get in, out of the cold. This way,” and he led Feargan inside, the opulence of the château amazing the young Laird, after the hardships of the road he had endured since leaving Scotland behind.
The grand entrance hall was styled in a classical manner, with ornate columns rising on either side and large portraits depicting the kings of France, hanging imposingly in-between. The floor was of inlaid marble of black and white, and the space was busy with courtiers flitting back and forth, servants going about their business, and grand ladies in their finery whispering to one another as they passed the time of day.
Feargan looked in awe around him. He had heard of the beauty of Versailles, and seen for himself the opulence of Paris, and now that he had arrived at the home of the Stuarts his wonder only increased.
“It is, as ye say, quite magnificent,” Feargan said, turning to Hamish in wonderment.
“The first château was built here in 1164 by Louis VI and it has been added to ever since. Ye wouldnae ken it was the same building from the old books about the place. Each monarch has imposed his own style. They used it as a hunting lodge from Versailles, and then it was gifted to the Stuarts in 1688,” Hamish said, as Feargan continued to admire the ornate gilding and painted ceiling above, which was covered in golden fleur-de-lis against a dark blue backdrop so as to give the appearance of the evening sky.
“It is some hunting lodge,” Feargan replied, thinking back to the bothies which he and his father would sleep in when they used to hunt the stag back on the heather around Loch Beira.
“Your rooms are prepared, sir,” the footman told Feargan, “if you would like to follow me this way.”
“Aye, wait one moment,” Feargan replied, turning to Hamish, “ye have not forgotten yer promise now, have ye?” he said.
“If the Regent daenae wish to be disturbed then yer chances of an audience are slim, but I shall try my best for ye, lad, once my duties are attended to,” Hamish replied, as the two prepared to take leave of one another.
“Yer duties? Are ye not a man of leisure? It seems this house is entirely given over to such things,” Feargan replied, watching as several of the male courtiers exchanged greetings with two women in long flowing gowns, who fanned themselves and blushed at the advances.
“I am called upon from time to time, even now in my old age, as the ladies of this house still enjoy hearing of the finer points of philosophy and will be keen to ken what I have heard from Monsieur Voltaire in Paris. There is a dance tonight, I trust ye shall join the fun?” Hamish said.
Feargan was not one for such frivolities. His home in Scotland was a peaceful one and there was rarely cause for revelry. But he knew that if he were to secure his audience with the Regent he must enter into the spirit of the court and nodding his head he accepted the invitation.
“I shall look forward to it. Good day to ye,” he said, and the two parted ways, Feargan following the footman up the wide and richly carpeted staircase.
The corridors of the château seemed to stretch endlessly in either direction. Miles of plush red carpets passed door after door, the way marked by exquisite pieces of art and tapestries hanging from the walls. It was like nothing Feargan had ever seen, further proof, if any were needed, that the Stuart’s desire to return to their inheritance was ill-founded. Why ever would they wish to give up such grandeur for the draughty halls of Scottish castles and the loneliness of the moorland heather?
“If you require anything further, sir, please inform the steward. The court dines at seven o’clock and the dancing will begin at eight o’clock,” the footman said, setting Feargan’s bags in his room and effecting a low bow as he left the room, his liveried waistcoat and powdered wig a striking contrast to Feargan’s simple yet handsome appearance.
The room was lavishly furnished—a large bed comfortably made with satin sheets and richly embroidered pillows, a desk, wardrobe and other furniture of the finest mahogany, and gilt-edged chairs cushioned in exquisite fabrics. A far cry from the simply furnished chambers of home.
Feargan sighed and warming his hands by the fire, which burned merrily in the grate, he then made his way over to the large window which looked out on the gardens below. Several men and women were taking the air, some gesticulating wildly, perhaps discussing the latest news from home or the latest Parisian scandal.
It was a seemingly perfect world, cocooned away in exile from a reality which belonged to a new age. This was the past—a Stuart enclave, protected by the power of France. The Regent had no idea what his true Kingdom was like and Feargan was determined to make him realize that.
Down below he watched, as the great and the good, loyal to the Regent, took their afternoon walks on that cold winter’s day amidst the grandeur of the French countryside. Momentarily, Hamish McBride emerged into the gardens, accompanied by two ladies, the same two Feargan had observed in the entrance hall a short while ago.
It appeared that he was articulating something to them, no doubt the words of Voltaire, and each appeared enraptured by his words. But it was not the thought of Voltaire which caught Feargan’s eye, but rather the beauty of each lady. The first was blonde, her long flowing hair almost reaching to her petite waist, a gown of blue about her person and a most elegant shawl about her shoulders.
The second was almost her double, but her hair a little shorter and her gown red, matched by a shawl and bonnet in white. They appeared to hang on every word uttered by the old tutor and Feargan watched with interest as they made their circuit of the gardens below.
As the little group passed below his window the longer-haired of the two ladies chanced to glance up and for a moment her eyes caught those of Feargan. The hint of a blush crossed her face and she returned her attentions to the tutor. Feargan could not help but smile at her reaction to his gaze and humming gently to himself he stepped back into the room. He hoped very much that the young lady and her companion would be present at the dance that evening, an occasion which would surely be one to remember.
As darkness fell, the lamps of the château were lit and the evening grandeur of the place came alive. Feargan dressed himself in his best trews, which the footman had pressed for him, and having washed himself and combed his hair, he looked every bit the Scottish nobleman, ready to present himself to the Regent.
He had no wish to dine with the courtiers. Their vacuous conversations and inbred jokes held no interest for him, and he waited until eight o’clock, losing himself a little in the corridors of the château as he made his way to the ballroom.
The gilded and mirrored hall into which he eventually came was like nothing he had ever seen before. Its opulence was almost obscene, and he found himself gawping at the extravagance of the scene before him. Ladies in the finest Parisian gowns were gathering with men, equally finely dressed in the latest styles. In the background, the orchestra played gently as drinks were served and conversations were held discreetly behind fans.
There was clearly no winter in the halls which once had belonged to the sun king and Feargan looked around him in amazement as the evening began.
“Ah, lad, ye made it here. It is nice to see some tartan amidst all this silk,” Hamish McBride said, sidling up to Feargan, himself dressed in the trews of his clan.
“I am just admiring the hall. One would never find such grandeur in Scotland, nor in England, for that matter,” Feargan replied, as a footman presented him with a drink.
“Aye, ye wouldnae find French styles amidst such Protestant barbarians,” Hamish replied, shaking his head.
“Ye are nay friend to the House of Hanover then?” Feargan replied, as the music struck up and couples took to the floor.
“I am nay friend to them. Come now, meet some of the folk here, the ones I mentioned to ye yesterday in the inn,” Hamish replied, pointing towards a small gathering of ladies, two of whom Feargan recognized as Hamish’s companions in the garden.
“Oh, Hamish, I was just telling Lady Susan about our talk on Voltaire. Isn’t it splendid to think that you actually heard him speak and conversed with him? I have thought of nothing else since you told me of it this afternoon,” she said, as Hamish and Feargan approached.
“Perhaps next time ye shall come, too, and ye may converse with him,” Hamish replied.
“I am not nearly clever enough to speak with such a man. I would not have any idea what to say to him,” she replied.
At close quarters the young lady was even prettier than Feargan had perceived her to be in the garden, earlier that day. Now, she wore a yellow gown, her long blonde hair reaching to her waist, around which was tied a red sash. But it was her deep blue eyes which so captivated Feargan, and the smile she gave him as she turned to be introduced.
“Lady Amelia Barton, may I introduce the Laird of Loch Beira, Feargan Galbreth,” Hamish said, standing back as Amelia curtsied to the Laird and extended her hand.
“A pleasure to meet ye, Lady Barton, ye look ever so beautiful this evening,” Feargan said, bowing his head as he took her hand and raised it to his lips.
A slight blush passed over Amelia’s face and she smiled at Feargan, their hands lingering together just a little longer than was necessary for a formal introduction.
“Amelia, who is this gentleman? You must introduce me,” a voice from the chattering group to their left said, and the other young lady Feargan had observed that afternoon appeared before them.
“Catherine, this is the Laird of Loch Beira. Galbreth of Beira, this is my sister, Lady Catherine Barton,” Amelia said, stepping to one side as Catherine curtsied and extended her hand for the Laird to make obeisance to.
“A pleasure, Lady Catherine,” Feargan said.
“These two are my most impressive students” Hamish said. “Lady Amelia was reading texts I had not seen until my days at Edinburgh when she was but a child.”
“Only thanks to your guidance,” Amelia replied.
“And Lady Catherine is master of four different languages, not to mention her talents on the pianoforte,” Hamish continued, as Feargan nodded his head in approval.
“Fine credentials, indeed,” Feargan replied.
“Oh, come now, let’s dance,” Catherine said. “Do say you’ll dance, Galbreth of Beira, I’d be ever so disappointed if you didn’t. Come now, the orchestra are playing such wonderful music and I want to twirl in my ball gown like a Parisian lady.”
Amelia laughed at her sister, and she took Catherine’s hand and placed it in Feargan’s, urging the couple to take to the floor.
Feargan had little aptitude for dance, at least of such a formal kind. He preferred the rigorous jigs of home to the formalities which such an occasion required. His were two left feet and Catherine was constantly tripping over them as he attempted to follow the elegant movements of those around him.
“You are no dancer, are you Galbreth of Beira, though you are far the handsomest man on the floor this evening,” Catherine said, as Feargan almost stood upon her foot for the tenth time during the dance.
“Such pursuits daenae come naturally to me, My Lady,” he replied, twirling her awkwardly around and knocking into another couple as he did so.
“Tell me about your estates in Scotland. Are they vast and brooding like the descriptions one reads of? The purple heather and the stags running across the moorland,” Catherine said, attempting to lead him.
Feargan laughed. What a different scene it would be if they were at home in his hall. There would be no gilded mirrors or fleur-de-lis, no elegant ladies in their finery, and gentlemen in powdered wigs. Back home such a party would involve the pipers and the local folk making merry on whisky, sharing tales long into the night as darkness fell.
“Some of what ye have read is accurate, aye, and if ye have never seen Scotland then I pity ye, My Lady,” Feargan replied.
“Our father is the Earl of Workington, and I have never been further north than Cumberland, a place long fought over by both our peoples, and still a battleground to this day,” she replied, as they stepped from the dance floor to draw breath. “Our father is in Paris now. He has business interests with the French, trading rum out of the port of Whitehaven.”
“And what brings ye here to Saint-Germain-en-Laye? Ye are nay rum trader yerself,” Feargan said, laughing as she blushed.
“My sister and I are here to improve ourselves. One cannot possibly be without awe in such a place, far better than a draughty manor in Cumberland. But what brings the Laird of Beira here? Would you not rather remain amongst the bonnie hills of Scotland?” she asked.
Feargan was silent for a moment, his attention distracted by Amelia, who sat to the side of the hall conversing with Hamish. She was truly beautiful. Though Catherine herself was not without her charm, she appeared far too flirtatious, as though any man who should present himself would receive the same attentive treatment.
Amelia, on the other hand, had a quiet and inquisitive demeanor to her, quite the opposite to her bold sister who once again asked the question.
“Galbreth of Beira, what brings you to Saint-Germain-en-Laye? Are you looking for something specific, or for someone, perhaps? They say that the halls of the court in exile are quite the place for both,” she said.
His attention once again turned to her and away from her sister, whose eye Feargan had caught once again, a smile exchanged between them.
“I come on business with the Regent. I wish to speak with him and have no intention of leaving before I do so,” Feargan replied.
“The Regent rarely speaks to visitors. He is not even here this evening yet to dance. So instead you will have to put up with my sister and I, and Philip, of course,” she replied, her expression changing as she uttered the name.
Feargan looked puzzled, though he vaguely remembered Hamish mentioning the man to whom Amelia was betrothed.
“Oh, look, there he is. Come, I shall introduce you. It will be nice to have some lively company—he can be such a dreadful bore,” Catherine said, taking Feargan by the hand and leading him over to Hamish and Amelia.
Student and tutor had been joined by a tall man, dressed in the Parisian style, though beneath his wig Feargan could see traces of black hair. The man cast a casual glance as Catherine and Feargan approached, though made no move to introduce himself, preferring to take Amelia’s hand as though in a defiant show of ownership.
“Ah, the dancers return. How were yer two left feet, lad?” Hamish said, laughing, “Ye will need to learn the ways of the court if ye are to spend any more time with us.”
“I daenae like dancing, at least not in this style,” Feargan replied, eyeing Philip who still refused to speak.
“Forgive me for nae making the formal introductions. Lord Torbay, may I introduce Feargan Galbreth, Laird of Loch Beira. Feargan, may I introduce Philip Yates, Marquess of Torbay and a close personal friend of the Regent,” Hamish said.
Philip looked disdainfully at Feargan who held out his hand, refused to take it, and instead cast his glance over Feargan’s shoulder.
“The floor is somewhat lacking this evening. I should say two left feet were the least of the problems,” Philip said.
“It is just a bit of fun, Philip,” Amelia said, shooting a glance at Feargan and suppressing a smile.
“Such frivolity. The thrones of England and Scotland will not be won by dancing, but by action. Yet here we sojourn, our lives growing shorter by the day,” Philip said, still not making eye contact with Feargan who considered him just about the rudest and most arrogant man he had ever met.
“You are enjoying yourself, aren’t you Galbreth of Beira?” Catherine said, turning to Feargan who blushed.
“Aye, the evening is jolly enough,” Feargan replied, unsure of what to say as now Philip deigned to meet his eye.
“The Laird of Loch Beira, that is quite a grand title, if one had any idea where it was. Tell me, do you have peasants on your land, or is it simply a wilderness of grazing sheep and peat bogs, like so much of that sorry country?” Philip said.
“It has its charms, and at least in the company of sheep one is not so readily insulted, sir,” Feargan replied, his estimations of Amelia’s choice of husband dwindling by the moment.
“Come now, Scotland is nae so bad, and Edinburgh is a fine city,” Hamish said.
“And for what reason does the Laird of Loch Beira have for coming amongst us here at Saint-Germain-en-Laye?” Philip asked, eyeing Feargan suspiciously, “Are you here to offer your support to the Jacobite cause?”
“I am here to speak with the Regent, it is urgent that I dae so, I must,” Feargan replied.
But his words were cut short by a fanfare of trumpets, signaling the arrival of Charles Edward Stuart himself.
“Now ye shall see the Regent, lad,” Hamish whispered, as the figure of the monarch in exile entered the room.
He was shorter than Feargan had imagined him to be, though Feargan had little idea of what he expected the man born to rule over England and Scotland to look like. The Regent walked with a confident air, feted by those before him, a look of self-assurance and confidence upon his face. He was not lavishly dressed, but his white wig and respectable clothes gave him the mark of authority as one who was destined to lead his people in a glorious rebellion.
It was such romanticism which Feargan had come to dispel and he looked eagerly at Hamish as the elderly tutor chuckled.
“He will not speak with ye this evening, lad, the evenings are for pleasure, nae for business,” he whispered.
The Regent had now taken his place at the front of the hall and signaled for the music to resume. Feargan watched as Philip crossed over towards him, whispering in his ear.
“He always does this,” Catherine said, shaking her head.
“Does what?” Feargan asked, as both Philip and the Regent cast a look in his direction.
“Makes trouble,” Catherine replied.
“Catherine,” Amelia said, remonstrating with her sister.
“It’s true. Come, Galbreth of Beira, you and I shall dance again, and I will show you just where to put your feet.” With that, she led Feargan onto the dance floor, as he cast a final glance towards Philip and the Regent, wondering just what it was they were speaking of.
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