A rare, exquisite novel of courage and passion, betrayal and love.
Dashing English diplomat Charles Kittridge relished the abundant pleasures of the world...and in his far-flung wanderings, he left behind three remarkable daughters:
Ailsa Rose, a beauty of the Scottish highlands, endowed with her father's lust for adventure. She betrays her heart to follow the one man who promises her the world.
Li-an hates the devil-father who made her a blue-eyed outcast in her Chinese homeland. But with her brilliant, reckless lover, she almost forgets her shame...until he is wrenched from her arms.
Genevra, the gentle English daughter, lives amidst the splendor and squalor of India. Though unexpected passion promises her a joyous love, she must fight to escape the terrors and scandals of the past.
Each of them has grown to womanhood haunted by a legacy of betrayal, longing and dreams. Now their father has but one final desire...to bring together the daughters he has never known....
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Ailsa Rose did not remember exactly when it had happened -- the slow awakening of her body, her mind, which before had been slumbering. Perhaps soon after she had turned sixteen, nearly a year ago, though she was not certain of that. She only knew that one day she had ceased to follow her mother through the glen and begun to seek out her own hills and hollows -- private places where she let the cool darkness enfold her, where she sat among the curled fronds of bracken and played her flute in celebration of streams and mountains and in wonder at the strange new feelings that had begun to grow inside her. Only one person knew of these secret places and shared them with her. Ian Fraser, her childhood friend.
Today she had finished her chores long since, then left the croft, basket in hand, to gather the lichens, bog myrtle, birch bark, and whinberry her mother used in her dyes. She had set the full creel nearby. Ailsa was free now to do as she wished.
With her knees pressed into the damp bank of the one wide stretch of calm in the boisterous river Affric, she leaned forward to stare at her face in the water. Her freshly washed chestnut hair, touched with glimmers of red, hung limp and tangled across her cheeks and forehead. She pushed the tangles aside, pleased by the image of her face, though she knew her mother Mairi, with her red Highland hair and violet eyes, was much prettier. Ailsa did not mind. Her own softly rounded cheeks and straight nose were pleasant enough. She stared at the reflection of her eyes, surprised, as always, by the striated combination of blue and violet that turned to gray with the movement of the sunlight.
She was proud of her eyes and her aristocratic nose, because she knew they had come from her father, the Englishman Charles Kittridge. She had never met him, but Mairi had shown her a miniature he had painted of himself when he was young. The first time Ailsa had seen her face reflected in a pail of clear water, she had recognized the marks of her father, who had left the Highlands before she was born. She was glad of these reminders that he had once been here, for they were all she had to cling to of the man she knew only as a shadow, remembered through her mother's eyes. The familiar ache of loss began within her, but she refused to let it disturb her peace today.
Warmed by an unexpected rush of sunlight, Ailsa thought how pleasant it would be to join her image in the water. Glancing around to make certain she was alone, she tossed her plaid on the ground and untied the strings of her gown. She discarded her chemise and drawers as well; she wanted to feel the water everywhere. The wind dipped through the treetops, rattled the leaves as she stood naked on the bank. Ailsa nodded as if the breeze had spoken a word of approval.
She stepped in, shivering. It was late in April, and the pond had not yet lost its winter chill, but she did not mind. The cold invigorated her as she moved toward the far end, where a waterfall cascaded over tumbled rocks from the stream bed above. Ailsa stretched out her arms and floated on the surface, closed her eyes as the water lapped around her, caressing her bare skin.
She ducked beneath the waterfall so the liquid brightness rushed over her face and down her shoulders. She paused, head tilted, as a lark began to sing, then another and another. Their song seemed to spring from the rushing water, to meld with it in a harmony so beautiful that she stood still to listen. Then the wind returned, undulating through the dimness, making the leaves shiver in a rhythm of wavering shadow and sunlight. Birds, wind, and water seemed to have been created for the wonder of this moment, this burst of harmony so perfect it could never be equaled by man.
But Ailsa had to try. She moved with agility toward the bank, shuddered at the cold as she stepped onto the bracken and picked up her plaid to wrap around herself. She had no time for more. In an instant the song would be gone. She searched the wide pockets of her gown, found her flute, and began to play, to echo the ripple of water on stones, the rustle of leaves, and the lovely song of the larks overhead. It came naturally to her, this making of everyday sounds into music.
She could not remember a time when she had not loved the music of nature and wanted to re-create it. Ian had recognized her desire and carved her this flute of rosewood long ago. She took it with her everywhere. Not a day went by when she didn't stop, the flute to her lips, to make up a little song.
She closed her eyes, but the image of the copse did not leave her; instead it grew brighter. She was not aware that her body trembled in the insufficient plaid, nor that her skin was thoroughly chilled from the cold. These things did not matter. Then she heard a rich, deep voice.
"A lark sang, aye so clear and true
That the wind picked up its lovely song,
And touched the water, woven through
With streams of sunlight, frail yet strong."
Ailsa looked up in delight as Ian parted the leaves of the hawthorn tree where he'd been sitting. Without a word, she began the tune again so she would not forget it. Then she and Ian repeated the words together, their voices caught on the back of the wind.
Ian tumbled to the ground, rolled once, then jumped to his feet. Ailsa smiled at the dark hair that framed his face and curled down his neck to his shoulders. Her eyes met his, startlingly green in his tanned, dusky face.
Ian winked and gazed at her body, ill-concealed by her long, red plaid. It clung to her damply, flung carelessly over one shoulder so the other was bare and one breast only just covered by the wet wool. Crouched as she was on the marshy bank, her legs were bare from the knee down, as were her graceful arms. Her wet hair fell down her back to her waist. Even disordered as it was, he thought it beautiful when, as now, the scattered sunlight touched the clinging drops that glittered among the tangles.
Shivering, Ailsa noticed he was staring at her body as he had not done before, much as she had been looking at his of late -- with more than just childish curiosity.
"Come," he murmured, scrutinizing the leaves overhead with pretended interest, "put your flute aside for a bit. There's somethin' I want to show ye." His hands shook when he shifted the black, yellow, and red Fraser plaid on his shoulder; suddenly he could not contain his impatience.
Ailsa's heart began to beat in expectation. Daily, Ian wandered the hills and valleys of Glen Affric, chasing his father's sheep and cattle, sometimes just exploring the deeply carved caves and mountains all around. As he went, he kept his eyes open for anything new or mysterious; his discoveries were varied and wonderful.
When she started to rise eagerly, Ian stopped her with a wave of his hand.
"Don't ye think ye'll get a bit cold, dressed that way?"
Ailsa blushed, clutching her damp plaid to her chest. She picked up her gown and underthings and motioned him away, uneasy, all at once, with her exposed limbs and clinging wool garment. "Be gone with ye, Ian Fraser, while I make myself decent."
Swiftly, he faded into the trees. When she was dressed once more in her linsey-woolsey gown, she moved downstream, past the broad pond, to leap barefoot over the burn, trailing her wet plaid behind her.
"Ye didn't have to dress up for me, lass," Ian said, grinning when he caught sight of her. His collie, Torran, named in the Gaelic for the sound of his growl, which was like the low rumble of distant thunder, pranced at his side, eager to be gone.
"'Twasn't for ye," she responded playfully. "I did it for the spirits of the hills so they would welcome us." She picked up a twig, and as they walked she ran it through her hair until the last of the tangles were gone.
The wind whistled above them, urging them on. They hurried their steps until they were running through the bracken. The dog raced in front of them, barked at groups of sheep and cattle they passed now and then, and stopped to look back reproachfully when his master fell too far behind.
They paused when the magnificent hills and crags rose before them. Ian motioned to the dog. "Home, Torran," he said firmly. With a last regretful wag of his tail, the animal turned away. Taking Ailsa's hand, Ian guided her up the granite incline, much scarred from ancient water and ice. When the incline became steeper, he began to climb, hand over hand, while Ailsa followed, placing her feet carefully in the spots where he'd stepped in his loose leather sandals.
"We've no' yet been to this side," she said.
"But 'twas waitin' for us all the time," Ian said mysteriously. "Just waitin' for today."
"Tell me what ye found!" she demanded.
"Ye'll see soon enough." He hoisted himself over a fallen boulder, then reached back to help her after him.
Ailsa stopped to stare in wonder at a narrow dell she had never seen before. It was circled on all sides by jagged rocks as well as carefully placed standing stones that made the wind echo in eerie imitation of a lost human voice. This must have been a Druid temple once, though now it contained only three cairns -- graves covered with tiny stones piled one upon the other -- nearly hidden in the shadow of the rocks. The cairns were huge, as if they had been built upon year after year in careful reverence for the dead. The wind was caught here, circling madly among the ring of stones, screaming at its own impotence.
She knew instinctively that some tragedy had occurred in this place, felt an inexplicable need to drop her own stones onto the cairns, to show her respect for those who had been long dead. Then the wind howled, circled once above the dell, and disappeared into the wide, cloud-woven sky. With a sigh of relief, Ailsa turned to find Ian beside her.
"'Tis just the beginnin'," he said. "Come."
He grasped her hand more tightly as they traversed the ledge, then, abruptly, he ducked beneath an overhang of rock and drew her down into a cavern. At first it was dark -- too dark to see the rough walls, but slowly Ian and Ailsa moved toward a distant light and she saw that the top of the cave had crashed in.
Ian glanced up, eyes narrowed against the sunlight. "It can't have been over long this way," he whispered, "or what I found would have been destroyed by the light and air.
He pointed to a carved chest against the farthest wall of the cavern, nearly concealed by an overhang of rock. "What is't?" she gasped, startled by the overloud sound of her voice.
"I don't know yet," Ian admitted. "I wanted to open it with ye."
Touched that he had waited, Ailsa knelt beside the chest to lay her hands on the seasoned wood.
"We'll need light. I brought a torch." Ian ducked around a bend in the wall, then reappeared with a pine torch in his hand. He held it high so they could see, carved on the lid. "Chisholm, 1746."
"I'll wager the people who left this here were part of the '45," he murmured. He referred to the rebellion over a hundred years earlier when the Scottish clans had followed bonny Prince Charlie into battle. The Jacobite rebels had tried to take the throne of England from the Hanoverians and restore it to King James, Prince Charlie's father, the last of the royal Stewarts.
Ian held the torch steady and lifted one side of the lid while Ailsa lifted the other. They bent together to touch the bolt of Chisholm tartan that covered the contents. The plaid with stripes of white, blue, and green on a greenish-yellow background was easily recognizable. As small children they had memorized the Highland tartans along with their morning and evening prayers.
Ailsa lifted the plaid to admire the fine wool. It was whole and unharmed by either moths or dampness. The Chisholms had chosen their hiding place well. Beneath the plaid lay a miniature of the prince himself, the paint rubbed thin by the imprint of many reverent fingers. Beside it was a claymore, the heavy Highland sword banned by the English after the rebellion had failed. Ian touched the weapon respectfully, noticing the chips along the sides, the traces of dried blood. This blade had seen much service before it was hidden away.
Ailsa touched the cold metal and her anger at the English rose anew. It was not the last time they had come here to drive the Scottish inhabitants from their homes. Her mother had lost her family in the final Highland Clearances when greedy landlords had enlisted the aid of the English in removing the tenants from the hills to make way for more profitable sheep. Mairi had hidden herself and managed to stay with a few others, in the area.
The image of her father came to Ailsa unbidden. He, too, was English -- a stranger, a foreigner. But she had never thought of him that way. Somehow she had kept him separate in her mind from the history of his countrymen. It was necessary to her that he remain unstained by the sins of others.
When Ian removed the sword, Ailsa saw a fragile lace and satin wedding gown. Gently, she moved it aside to reveal an ancient hand harp. "A clarsach!" she cried in wonder. She had heard of the beautiful sounds such an instrument could make, but never had she seen one. She drew in her breath as Ian held it out to her. The wood was damaged on one side, it had cracked from age and usage no doubt. Still she was enchanted with the carved instrument that had been the only possession of the ancient Gaelic bards who had written and recorded the history of the Highlands in their songs.
As she ran her hand over the nine strings, they broke with a discordant twang. They had been too long hidden away, too long unused, too old to stand the pressure. Ailsa's eyes filled with tears. She believed, as had her Celtic ancestors that the sin of all sins was to destroy beauty.
"Never mind," Ian said comfortingly, laying his hand on hers. The warmth of his touch diminished her sadness and she looked away from the harp. Next to the place where it had lain in the chest was an old diary. She had just opened the cover when Ian cried out, "Look!"
He held in his palm a circular brooch, carved silver with the Chisholm crest -- the fern -- worked into the intricate design. Around the graceful leaves were several emeralds.
Even in the poor light, they glittered. Ailsa sighed and reached out to touch it. "'Tis the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," she whispered. "How could they leave it behind?"
"Some things are too precious to take to a strange land. Maybe they felt they left part of themselves here with these treasures."
At last, while Ian leaned over her shoulder, she began to flip through the diary. The name on the flyleaf was Janet Chisholm and the pages told a common story in those years of turmoil, 1745 and 1746. This woman's husband had been at the prince's side at the Battle of Culloden Moor and had been injured by an English bayonet that had cost him the use of his arm. When he returned at last, it was to tell Janet that the British army, under the command of William, Duke of Cumberland, was not far behind. Already, by his brutal actions against the vanquished Highlanders, Cumberland had earned himself the nickname the Butcher. The Chisholms had hidden in the cave and listened as the English marchedFrom Publishers Weekly:
Set in the 1800s when the British empire stretched round the globe, this is the flowery, romantic tale of three sisters conceived by a peripatetic father. As a young man, English diplomat Charles Kittridge married a spirited girl from the Scottish Highlands, who, rather than leave the glens, remained there to bring up their fiery daughter Ailsa. Charles found solace with a strong-willed Chinese woman, and then in India with an unstable Englishwoman. His children by the three women were marked as outcasts: Ailsa, for later marrying a Sassenach like her father; Li-an by blue eyes in a land that despised Westerners; and Genevra, branded a bastard by proper English colonists. Bound by loss, anger and the gift of second sight, the three convene at their dying father's request. Scotland, China, and India are colorfully sketched, but Davis tells a remarkably similar story in all three settings. Dull predictability is the result. 100,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Pocket, 1990. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P11067167269X
Book Description Pocket, 1990. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Brand New!. Bookseller Inventory # VIB067167269X