The Duchess (Montgomery/Taggert 16) - Page 38

“No one sent me. I’ve come on my own.” She took a breath. “I’ve come to tell you that when I am the duchess you may stay here all your life and you may try your best to steal my cattle. In return I shall steal all of your whisky, even what you have in stock. I’m sure it will age better in my cellars than wherever you have it hidden.”

Trevelyan looked at Claire in disbelief. He had expected her to tell the old man she thought all the stealing was a dreadful thing and why couldn’t they all live in peace?

Angus’s old face also registered disbelief for a moment, then he made a rumbling sound that was probably meant to be laughter and took Claire’s hand in his. For a moment Trevelyan thought he was going to kiss it. “Would you like somethin’ to eat, girl?”

At that Trevelyan nearly choked on his whisky. The MacTarvits were known for their stingy ways. In a land that was infamous for its parsimonious ways, the MacTarvits were legendary. There was one story that told how a woman had seen a MacTarvit pour milk the cat had not finished into his tea. Once the MacTarvits had been crossing a toll bridge and had peacefully paid the toll of a shilling, but a penny had dropped between the cracks of the bridge and been lost. The toll master said the MacTarvits owed him a penny. Rather than pay the penny Angus and his sons had blockaded the bridge for two days, allowing no one to pass. Trevelyan’s father had at last come, given Angus his penny, and the bridge had reopened.

Now he was offering food to this rich American.

“You may not like it,” Angus said. “It is humble food.”

“She eats anything at any time,” Trevelyan said, then leaned back against the wall and watched as the old man prepared a meal for his guest. Trevelyan was very curious as to what he’d serve. A dish of water, perhaps?

MacTarvit went to his fireplace where a meager, smoky fire burned, reached up into the chimney, and withdrew a piece of cheese. The outside was black with smoke but when Angus cut into it, it was white. He shaved off a few slices, then put them into a skillet near the fire to melt. As they were melting he went outside and returned with three pieces of meat—from the stolen cows no doubt. “I guess you’ll be wantin’ somethin’ too,” he said to Trevelyan, and there was no doubt that he begrudged Trevelyan the food.

“I’d be delighted,” Trevelyan said. He watched as Angus heated another skillet and began to broil the three steaks. When the cheese was melted, he poured in a little thick, rich cream, and swirled it all together. When it was bubbling, he quickly added a generous splash of whisky, the steam rising from the mixture.

From the top of the hearth he took a chipped and cracked plate. It was dirty, but he rubbed it with the grimy elbow of his old, greasy tweed jacket, put a steak on it, and covered the meat with the cheese-and-whisky sauce. He took a knife and fork from a jar on top of the mantel, rubbed them on his sleeve, and handed them to Claire.

Trevelyan watched her, wondering what this multimillionairess would do, but she just smiled at Angus as though he were the Prince of Wales and cut into her steak. “Heaven,” she pronounced it. “This is delicious.”

Angus smiled in a doddering way that made him look even sillier than he normally did and took another plate from the mantel. He didn’t bother to wipe it off but slapped his steak on it, covered it with sauce, and sat on a stool across from Claire and began to eat.

Trevelyan saw that he was going to have to get his own food. He picked up a dirty plate from the mantel, and when he started to wipe it off Claire gave him a look that stopped him in his tracks. Obviously she thought it would be a breach of etiquette to clean his plate. With a grimace he bent to the two skillets. The piece of meat that Angus had left him was by far the smallest. Trevelyan scraped the skillet for the last of the sauce, then took a dirty knife and fork, went back to his stool, and began to eat. At his first bite, he looked at Angus with new respect. The food was indeed delicious.

“It wouldn’t be half as good if it hadn’t been stolen,” Claire said. “Now, my lord, do you sing, or play, or do you know any poetry?”

Trevelyan laughed at that. Ol’ Angus MacTarvit singing. It would sound like a bullfrog.

Angus didn’t so much as acknowledge Trevelyan’s presence. “I do a bit of Bobbie Burns.”

“My favorite,” Claire breathed.

For an hour Trevelyan watched and listened as MacTarvit quoted the romantic lines of Scotland’s beloved Robert Burns. Trevelyan had read the poems, of course, but only because he’d had to. They had never meant much to him, but now, hearing Angus quote them was altogether different. Within minutes he saw tears in Claire’s eyes.

“Are you sure you’re American, child?” Angus said.

“I’m as much a Scot as you are, Angus MacTarvit,” she said with an accent as heavy as Angus’s. “It’s just that my family has been visiting America for a bit—a few hundred years or so.”

The old man laughed with her. “Now, girl, what do you want to do?”

Trevelyan stood. “We need to get back. I have some work that needs to be done and—” He might as well not have been in the room for all the notice they took of him.

“I want to hear pipers,” Claire said. “I haven’t heard a pipe since I arrived in Scotland.”

Trevelyan rolled his eyes when he saw the two of them exchange looks that said this was the greatest tragedy that could ever have happened to a person.

“I’ll see to that,” the old man said and left the cottage.

“We have to go back. I have things I must do and—”

“Then go,” Claire said. “I’m sure Lord MacTarvit will take me back to the house. Or Harry will be back this evening and someone can tell him where I am and he can send a carriage for me.”

What she said made sense, and he knew there was no question of her safety. From the look on MacTarvit’s face he’d protect her with his life—not that there was much danger in the Scottish countryside. She might fall into a peat bog or, knowing Claire as he was beginning to, she might eat and drink herself into a stupor, but he didn’t really think she was in any danger.

“I’ll stay,” he said.

She smiled at him and slipped her arm through his. “It might do you good to get out of that tower of yours.” She stepped back and looked at him. “

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
Source: Copyright 2016 - 2023