Colleen McCullough The Touch

ISBN 13: 9780099280996

The Touch

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9780099280996: The Touch

'Fast-moving and immensely readable ...a page turner from start to finish' Maeve BinchyAlexander Kinross is remembered in his native Scotland only as a shiftless boilermaker's apprentice. But when he writes from Australia to summon his bride, his relatives realize he is now a man to be reckoned with. Arriving in Sydney after a difficult voyage, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Drummond meets her husband-to-be and discovers that he frightens and repels her. And, isolated in Alexander's great house, Elizabeth finds that marriage does not prompt her husband to enlighten her about his past life - nor his present one, in which his mistress, the sensuous, tough, outspoken Ruby Costevan, still plays a part -

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About the Author:

Colleen McCullough was born in Australia. A neurophysiologist, she established the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, then worked as a researcher and teacher at Yale Medical School for ten years. Her writing career began with the publication of Tim, followed by The Thorn Birds, a record-breaking international bestseller. The author of over ten other novels, including the acclaimed 'Masters of Rome' series, Dr McCullough also wrote lyrics for musical theatre. Until her death in 2015 she lived on Norfolk Island in the Pacific with her husband.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: A Change of Fortune

"Your cousin Alexander has written for a wife," said James Drummond, looking up from a sheet of paper.

The summons to see her father in the front parlor had fallen on Elizabeth like a blow; such formality meant a lecture for transgression, followed by a punishment appropriate for the offense. Well, she knew what she had done -- over-salted this morning's porridge -- and knew too what her punishment was bound to be -- to eat unsalted porridge for the rest of the year. Father was careful with his money, he'd not spend it on a grain more salt than he had to.

So, hands behind her back, Elizabeth stood in front of the shabby wing chair, her mouth dropped open at this amazing news.

"He asks for Jean, which is daft -- does he think time stands still?" James brandished the letter indignantly, then transferred his gaze from it to this youngest child, light from the window pouring over her while he sat concealed by shadows. "You're made like any other female, so it will have to be you."

"Me?"

"Are you deaf, girl? Aye, you. Who else is there?"

"But Father! If he asks for Jean, he'll not want me."

"Any respectable, decently brought-up young woman will do, judging by the state of affairs in the place he writes from."

"Where does he write from?" she asked, knowing that she wouldn't be allowed to read the letter.

"New South Wales." James grunted, a satisfied sound. "It seems your cousin Alexander has done well for himself -- made a wee fortune on the goldfields." His brow wrinkled. "Or," he temporized, "at least has made enough to afford a wife."

Her first shock was dissipating, to be replaced by dismay. "Wouldn't it be simpler for him to find a wife there, Father?"

"In New South Wales? It's naught but harlots, ex-convicts and English snobs when it comes to women, he says. Nay, he saw Jeannie when he was last home, and took a strong fancy to her. Asked for her hand then. I refused -- well, why would I have taken a shiftless boilermaker's apprentice living in the Glasgow stews for Jeannie, and her barely sixteen? Your age, girl. That's why I'm sure you'll do for him -- he likes them young. What he's after is a Scots wife whose virtue is above reproach, whose blood he shares and can trust. That's what he says, at any rate." James Drummond rose to his feet, brushed past his daughter and marched into the kitchen. "Make me some tea."

Out came the whisky bottle while Elizabeth threw tea leaves into the warmed pot and poured boiling water on top of them. Father was a presbyter -- an elder of the kirk -- so was not a drinker, let alone a drunkard. If he poured a dollop of whisky into his teacup, it was only upon the receipt of splendid news, like the birth of a grandson. Yet why was this such splendid news? What would he do, with no daughter to look after him?

What was really in that letter? Perhaps, thought Elizabeth, accelerating the steeping of the tea by stirring it with a spoon, the whisky would provide some answers. Father when slightly befuddled was actually talkative. He might betray its secrets.

"Does my cousin Alexander have anything else to say?" she ventured as soon as the first cup was down and the second poured.

"Not very much. He's no fonder of words than any other of the Drummond ilk." Came a snort. "Drummond, indeed! It's not his name anymore, if you can believe that. He changed it to Kinross when he was in America. So you won't be Mrs. Alexander Drummond, you'll be Mrs. Alexander Kinross."

It did not occur to Elizabeth that she might dispute this arbitrary decision about her destiny, either at that moment or much later, when enough time had passed to see the thing clearly. The very thought of disobeying Father in such an important matter was more terrifying than anything she could imagine except a scolding from the Reverend Dr. Murray. Not that Elizabeth Drummond lacked courage or spirit; more that, as the motherless youngest, she had spent all her little life being tyrannized by two terrible old men, her father and his minister of religion.

"Kinross is the name of our town and county, not the name of a clan," she said.

"I daresay he had his reasons for changing," said James with unusual tolerance, sipping at his second tipple.

"Some sort of crime, Father?"

"I doubt that, or he'd not be so open now. Alexander was always headstrong, always too big for his boots. Your uncle Duncan tried, but couldn't manage him." James heaved a huge, happy sigh. "Alastair and Mary can move in with me. They'll come into a tidy sum when I'm six feet under."

"A tidy sum?"

"Aye. Your husband-to-be has sent a bank draft to cover the cost of sending you out to New South Wales. A thousand pounds."

She gaped. "A thousand pounds?"

"You heard me. But don't get your head turned around, girl. You can have twenty pounds to fill your glory box and five for your wedding finery. He says you're to be sent first-class and with a maid -- well, I'll not countenance such extravagance! Och, awful! First thing tomorrow I'll write to the Edinburgh and Glasgow newspapers to post an advertisement." Down came his spiky sandy lashes, a sign of deep thought. "What I want is a respectable married couple belonging to the kirk who are planning to emigrate to New South Wales. If they're willing to take you along, I'll pay them fifty pounds." His lids lifted to reveal his bright blue eyes. "They'll grab at it. And I'll put nine hundred and twenty-five pounds in my purse. A tidy sum."

"But will Alastair and Mary be willing to move in, Father?"

"If they're not, I'll leave my tidy sum to Robbie and Bella or Angus and Ophelia," said James Drummond smugly.

Having served him two thick bacon sandwiches for his Sunday supper, Elizabeth threw her plaid around her shoulders and escaped on the pretext that she'd better see if the cow had come home.


The house wherein James Drummond had brought up his large family lay on the outskirts of Kinross, a village dignified with the status of market-town because it was the capital of Kinross County. At twelve by ten miles, Kinross was the second-smallest county in Scotland, but made up for its lack of size by some slight degree of prosperity.

The woollen mill, the two flour mills and the brewery were belching black smoke, for no mill owner let his boilers go out just because it was a Sunday; cheaper than stoking from scratch on Mondays. There was sufficient coal in the southern part of the county to permit of these modest local industries, and thanks to them James Drummond had not suffered the fate of so many Scotsmen, forced to leave their native land in order to find work and live, or else subsist in the squalor of a reeking city slum. Like his elder brother, Duncan, who was Alexander's father, James had worked his fifty-five years at the woollen mill, turning out lengths of checkered cloth for the Sassenachs after the Queen had brought tartan into fashion.

The strong Scottish winds blew the stack-smoke away like charcoal under an artist's thumb and opened the pale blue vault to near-infinity. In the distance were the Ochils and the Lomonds, purple with autumn heather, high wild mountains where crofter's cottages swung decayed doors on nothing, where soon the absentee landlords would come to shoot deer, fish the lochs. Of scant concern to Kinross County, in itself a fertile plain replete with cattle, horses, sheep. The cattle were destined to become the finest London roast beef, the horses were brood mares for saddle and carriage horses, the sheep produced wool for the tartan mill and mutton for local tables. There were crops too, for the mossy soil had been extensively drained fifty years ago.

In front of Kinross town was Loch Leven, a broad, ruffled mere of that steely blue peculiar to the Scottish lochs, fed by translucent amber peat streams. Elizabeth stood on the shore only yards from the house (she knew better than to disappear from sight of it) and looked across the loch to the verdant flatlands that lay between it and the Firth of Forth. Sometimes, if the wind blew from the east, she could smell the cold, fishy depths of the North Sea, but today the wind blew off the mountains, redolent with the tang of moldering leaves. On Lochleven Isle a castle reared, the one in which Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned for almost a year. What must it have been like, to be both sovereign and captive? A woman trying to rule a land of fierce, outspoken men? But she had tried to bring back the Roman faith, and Elizabeth Drummond was too carefully reared a Presbyterian to think well of her for that.


I am going to a place called New South Wales to marry a man I have never met, she thought. A man who asked for my sister, not for me. I am caught in a web of my father's making. What if, when I arrive, this Alexander Kinross doesn't like me? Surely, if he is an honorable man, he will send me home again! And he must be honorable, else he would not have sent for a Drummond bride. But I have read that these rude colonies so far from home do indeed suffer a scarcity of suitable wives, so I suppose he will marry me. Dear God in Heaven, make him like me! Make me like him!


She had gone to Dr. Murray's school for two years, long enough to learn to read and write, and she was well, if narrowly, read; writing was more difficult, since James refused to spend money on paper for silly girls to despoil. But provided she kept the house spotlessly clean, cooked her father's meals to his liking, didn't spend any money, or hobnob with other, equally silly girls, Elizabeth was free to read whatever books she could find. She had two sources: the texts in the library of Dr. Murray's manse and the drearily respectable novels that circulated among the feminine members of his massive congregation. No surprise, then, that she was more informed about theology than geology, and circumstance than romance.

That marriage would be her lot had never occurred to her, though she was just beginning to be old enough to wonder about its pleasures and perils, to look at her older siblings' unions with fascinated interest. Alastair and Mary, so different, always arguing, yet, she sensed, enjoying some deeper communion; Robert and Bella, perfectly matched in parsimony; Angus and his twittery Ophelia, who seemed determined to destroy each other; Catherine and her Robert, who lived in Kirkaldy because he was a fisherman; Mary and her James, Anne and her Angus, Margaret and William....And Jean, the oldest daughter, the family beauty, who at eighteen had married a Montgomery -- an enviable catch for a girl of good enough blood but absolutely no dowry. Her husband had removed her to a mansion in Princes Street, Edinburgh, and that was the last time the Drummonds in Kinross ever saw Jean.

"Ashamed of us," said James with contempt.

"Very canny," said Alastair, who had loved her and was loyal.

"Very selfish," said Mary, sneering.

Very lonely, thought Elizabeth, who remembered Jean only vaguely. But if Jean's loneliness became too much to bear, her family was a mere fifty miles away. Whereas I will never be able to come home, and home is all I know.

It had been decided after Margaret married that Elizabeth, the last of James's brood who lived, was to remain a spinster at least until her father died, which family superstition believed would not be for many years to come; he was as tough as old boots and as hard as the rock of Ben Lomond. Now all of it had changed, thanks to Alexander Kinross and a thousand pounds. Alastair, James's pride and joy after the death of his namesake, would override Mary and move her and his seven children into his father's house. It would go to him anyway in the fullness of time, for he had cemented his place in James's affections by succeeding his father as loom master at the mill. But Mary -- poor Mary, how she would suffer! Father deemed her a shocking spendthrift, between buying her children shoes to wear on Sundays and putting jam on the table for breakfast as well as for supper. Once she moved in with James, her children would wear boots and jam would appear only for Sunday supper.

The wind began to bluster; Elizabeth shivered, more from fear than the sudden chill. What had Father said of Alexander Kinross? "A shiftless boilermaker's apprentice living in the Glasgow stews." What did he mean by shiftless? That Alexander Kinross stuck to nothing? If he was shiftless, would he even be there to meet her at journey's end?

"Elizabeth, come inside!" James was shouting.

Obedient, Elizabeth ran.


As the days flew by they conspired to give Elizabeth little time for reflection; try as she did to stay awake in her bed and think about her fate, the moment she lay down, sleep claimed her. Every day saw quarrels between James and Mary; Alastair, away to the mill at dawn and not returning until after dark, was fortunate. All of Mary's own furniture had to be moved to her new residence, and took precedence over James's chipped, battered pieces. If Elizabeth wasn't running up and down the stairs with armloads of linens or clothing (including shoes) or on one end of the piano, the bureau, the chiffer-robe, she was outside with one of Mary's rugs spread over the clothesline, beating it within an inch of its life. Mary was a cousin on the Murray side, and had come to her marriage with a certain amount of property, a small allowance from her farmer father, and more independence of mind than Elizabeth had credited any woman could possess. None of which had impinged on her in the way it did after Mary came to live with Father. Who didn't always win the battles, she was amazed to discover. The jam stayed on the breakfast table every morning and was there again every night. The children's shoes went on their feet before service at Dr. Murray's kirk on Sundays. And Mary flirted her shapely ankles in a pair of exquisite blue kid slippers with heels high enough to turn her walk into a mince. James spent much of his time in towering rages and soon had his grandchildren in healthy fear of his stick, but Alastair, he was learning, had become putty in Mary's hands.

Elizabeth's only chance to avoid this domestic turmoil were visits to Miss MacTavish's establishment in Kinross's main square. It was a small house whose front parlor, opening straight on to the pavement, bore a big glass window in which stood a sexless dummy clad in a very full-skirted pink taffeta dress -- it would never do to offend the kirk by showing a dummy with breasts.

Everyone who didn't make her own clothing went to see Miss MacTavish, an attenuated spinster lady in her late forties, who, upon inheriting a hundred pounds, had given up employment as a s...

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