Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven and Monarch of the Glenn are not mine -mores the pity, never were, never will be.
Author's Note: For the uninitiated The Monarch of the Glenn is a fairly light programme on BBC 1 in the UK about a rundown Scottish estate and its young laird, Archie. This story was written before the episode transmitted on BBC 1 on Jan 13th 2002. Thanks to Phyllis for proof reading it for me
Feedback most appreciated.
It was a sunny warm day in the Highlands, a rare enough thing. The great house of Glenneaval sat basking in the warmth, nestling in it's own wooded valley. The ancestral home of the Rosses had never looked better. Which seemed all wrong. It did not seem right to waste one of the few really glorious days of the year on such a sad occasion.
Up on the hill overlooking the great house sat the watcher. He was a big man, his thick dark hair ruffled by the gentle breeze. Taking advantage of the fine weather he was wearing a polo shirt, heavy boots and a kilt. The tartan was not his own. As far as he knew he had no right to any tartan other than this one, the famed navy and green of the Black Watch, his old regiment. Twenty years he had given the army. Twenty years of walking down the mean streets of Belfast, twenty years policing other people's messes, twenty lonely years if he was honest.
He picked up his binoculars as he watched the horse drawn hearse pull up. Then he heard the sound that never ceased to make him feel proud, the sound of the pipes. As he watched the piper emerged from the house, the scarlet tartan of his kilt swinging as he marched. The watcher focused on the familiar figure, the blond hair, eyes he knew to be green looking straight ahead.
"Damn Chris you always were the best pipe major in the army," he commented.
Behind the piper came the coffin, carried by six members of the old mans former regiment, the same regiment he had served in, the same regiment Chris had served in.
Behind the coffin came another man in a kilt. He was much younger, his hair on the long side, he was leading two black Labradors. These dogs were sleek, fit, fast. These were working gun dogs, not soft fat hearthside pets.
Behind the man and the dogs came the widow. She had to be the widow because she was in black. Despite the black she was striking for a woman her age, her blond hair under the thin black veil stood out clearly. Beside her walked another man. He wore a dark suit, and it looked expensive.
Behind them came two more men. Both men were very big, but who they were he had no idea. And finally two women. One very small and slight the other older, wiry. The housekeeper or cook he speculated.
As the watcher put down his glasses he sat back to listen to the lament as the hearse and its procession pulled away to walk the half mile to the small church at the end of the private drive. As the sound faded he lay back on the heather strewn hillside to listen to its faint notes mixing with the sounds of the Highlands. It can't have been more than a few minutes before his peace was disturbed by the arrival of a car, noisily pulling up on the gravel. Sitting up, he watched someone disembarking from a taxi in front of the now deserted house.
The taxi pulled away and the figure left his suitcase and went to ring the bell.
"Ain't no good ringing boy. There's no one home," the watcher said to himself.
As he watched, the figure, which did indeed appear to be a young man, tried the bell several times, then circled the house once before sitting down on the step somewhat dejectedly.
"Ah hell!" he got up and began to walk down the hill. Finally he jumped down the last bank and strode along the drive to the house.
The dejected figure in front of the house was a boy of about 15 or 16 he reckoned, and judging by his clothes he was American or Canadian. His jet-black hair hung in his eyes and he pushed it back rather ineffectually as the tall stranger approached.
"There's no one here lad, they're all at the funeral," the stranger announced, pointing toward the distant church.
"Oh yes I see right," the boy stated. "I'll just wait then." He looked up squinting into the sun. "You work here?"
The man shrugged. "Maybe."
"Maybe? What does that mean?" he asked, his accent indicating east cost America as his place of origin.
"I was meant to be here for an interview, was told it was a formality, but when I got here I saw the wreath." He pointed to the black laurels on the door.
"Oh yes, I didn't make the connection," the youth admitted. Then he looked more critically at the other man. "You always dress like that for a job interview?"
The other man laughed, and when he did, his whole face changed. It became positively animated. "No kid, I got a shirt and tie in the car, shinny shoes too. What about you, why are you here?"
The boy took a letter out of his pocket and handed it up. It was addressed to 'Mr. J Dunne'. He read it quickly. There was a lot of legal mumbo jumbo but what it said was that Mr Dunne was the only heir to his uncle's property, and that his uncle wished to meet him.
"I'm too late arent I?" he said gazing once more across to the small chapel.
"Aye, you are, sorry. Looks like you might be in line for all this." He swept his hand around to emphasise the size of the estate.
"Don't want it."
"So why are you here then?"
A deep sorrow over came the boy's features. "They sent me a ticket, first class too. I've never been further than DC before. It came just when I needed to get away."
"Where are you from?"
"New York, you ever been there?"
"Yeah once or twice. It's okay. Couldn't live there though. You want to see your lands?"
"Might not be mine, but yeah I'd like that. By the way what's your name?"
The big man smiled. "It's Buck, Buck Wilmington."
"John, but I go by JD."
"JD I like it. It suits you, come on JD, follow me." With that he picked up the suitcase and led the boy up the hillside he had just come down.
Once they crested the hill JD saw a track below them. On it was parked an elderly but serviceable Range Rover. Buck opened it and placed the case inside.
"This way." He pointed down the track.
They walked in silence for about twenty minutes until Buck abruptly turned off the track and headed up the hillside. JD struggled to keep up with the long legged ex-solider. And then suddenly they were there, the trees fell away and a view opened up before them. A loch bounded on all sides by rolling, forested and heather pink hills, the water sparkling in the sun light.
JD just stood open mouthed.
"Still say you don't want it?" Buck asked him quietly.
"All this?" JD breathed.
"And more, much more."
The two of them eventually returned to Buck's former perch to watch the family return from the funeral.
"How long do we give them, before we ?" JD asked.
Buck shrugged. "When the pallbearers go home maybe?"
That turned out to be about an hour later. Once Buck had changed, they left their luggage in Buck's car and the two of them walked up to the door and rang the bell. Eventually the door was opened by the tall black man Buck had seen earlier.
"Hello," he looked at JD. "You must be Mr Dunne?" JD nodded. He looked up at Buck. "And Captain Wilmington?"
"Yes, but just plain Mister will do."
They were ushered into a huge library. The man told them he was sorry they would have to wait but he would bring them some refreshments. They waited about two hours, in which time they were given tea and sandwiches. Suddenly the door opened and Chris Larabee, former Pipe Major of the Black Watch and once a good friend and comrade of Buck Wilmington, came in.
"Buck you old dog, good to see you." Suddenly he pulled up short. "Hey! You lost the 'tash!"
Buck smiled self-consciously and stroked his naked upper lip. "Well yeah, new start and all, what do you think?"
His friend regarded him. "Good," he declared. "You look younger. Always wondered what you looked like under there. Look I'm sorry about all this. I guess you worked out the old man died. We buried him today."
"We know. I'm sorry, I know you were close."
"Thanks." Chris turned to JD. "You must be John Dunne?"
JD nodded nervously.
"JD this is Chris Larabee," Buck intruded. "We served together for lot of years. He's the estate manager." He looked up at his friend. "Right?"
"Yes, sorry mate but I have to take JD away now. I'd like to say the job is still yours, God knows we need you, but until the will is read "
Buck shook his head. "Don't sweat it, I understand. Mind if I explore for a bit?"
"No not at all."
JD followed Chris into the drawing room. There he found seven other people, sitting in a loose semicircle. Chris showed JD to a seat and then sat next to him.
"Okay Ezra, we're all here," he said.
The well-dressed man sitting at a desk opened an envelope sealed with red wax, and began to read.
"This is the last will and testimony of Angus Kenneth George Ross. I Angus Ross being of sound mind do hereby will and bequest all my worldly goods as listed below." He cleared his throat and looked up.
"To Casey Wells."
JD looked around to see everyone looking at the trim, slight young woman on the far side of the room.
"I bequest the sum of £1000 and the Wedgwood trinket box she so likes, for her loyal service over the last year. Few young people these days understand hard work and loyalty but Casey does.
"To Nettie Wells, I bequest Lower Glenn cottage, the Japanese lacquer sewing box, and the sum of £30,000. No one has been more loyal and when she decides she has had enough, no one deserves her retirement more."
JD assumed Nettie was the elderly woman next to Casey. As he watched, both women rose.
"Thank you Mr Standish, if you'll not be needing us any more I'll be off. Supper won't cook itself."
The others nodded to them as they left. Then Standish, who JD took to be a lawyer, continued.
"To Josiah, a man I know who has no interest in material things, I leave the sum of £10,000 to do with as he wishes, and the red morocco bound Canterbury Tales. I hope he will continue to be the estate's conscience, and protect our environment."
JD looked around and identified the huge man with greying hair and a salt and pepper goatee.
"To Nathan Jackson, who came to this house as my personal carer and became the best household manager I ever had, £10,000 and the walnut cased writing set."
JD decided this was the man who had opened the door to them.
"To Vin Tanner, the youngest and best gillie in the Highlands, £10,000, and the 1956 Powell."
This JD assumed was the young man with long hair. Standish continued.
"To Chris Larabee, the man who really runs Glenneaval, who turned this estate into a million pound business, £20,000, Teal House and the 1968 brace of Purdeys."
JD watched as Standish swallowed, drank some water and cleared his throat.
"To my stepson, lawyer and accountant, Ezra Standish, a man who has more money than me anyway, £10,000 and my blue and gold fountain pen he admires so much. And to my wife, Maude..."
Everyone looked at the elegant blond woman.
"I leave £1,000,000, the house in France and the Tiffany diamond set, on condition that she leaves Glenneaval within one month and does not return for more than one month in every twelve."
JD watched fascinated as the lawyer, whom he took to be her son, looked down avoiding her eyes. She flushed, then glared at her son before she stood and strode out.
"Finally," Standish continued. "To my only blood heir, my sister's son John Dunne, the residual of the estate. I hope before this is read I will have met him. If that is not to be, I advise him to look to the men here assembled to be his guides and mentors."
Buck had wandered around the ground floor before his nose lead him to the kitchen.
"Hello," he said hopefully to the two women he found there.
The young one just smiled and said 'hi'. The old lady started, nearly dropping the large china palter she was drying.
"Sorry I didn't mean to startle you," he apologised. "I'm Buck Wilmington. I was meant to have a job interview today, so I'm kinda at a lose end," he explained.
Nettie remembered Larabee telling her about his old army friend. She recalled that when Chris left the army they were both sergeants, but his friend had gone on to become an officer.
"Yes," she said, regaining her composure. "You are to be the assistant estate manager. Chris sure does need the help."
"Well maybe," he admitted. "We have to see what the kid does when he gets all this, always assuming he does."
"Oh he will," Casey affirmed, "Ezra wouldn't have flown him over otherwise."
"Casey love, would you go and pick some raspberries for supper?" Nettie asked never taking her eyes of Buck.
As Buck watched, the girl made a face but picked up a stained basket and headed out. Then Nettie turned to him.
"Right boy we don't have long and I need information from you."
"Me? What are you on about?"
"I'm an old lady, that gives me privileges. I can be rude and direct. Please tell me, how old you are?"
Buck frowned, then shrugged. "37, why?"
"Tell me about your father."
Buck bristled. "What the hell is all this? I am not going to tell you about my father."
His anger told her all she needed to know.
"Come with me," she commanded heading out of the kitchen.
Buck didn't move, until she literally took his hand and dragged him to a narrow staircase. They rose three steep flights; Buck had to wonder at the elderly ladies stamina. At the top was a light airy attic flat with views out over the estate.
She turned to face him. "I've been here in this house for nearly forty years, no one has been here longer. All of them remember him like this." She opened a photo album to show a man of about sixty-five or so, with a round face, grey hair, and a full grey beard.
"Is that the old man?" Buck asked.
"Yes, that was taken about one and a half years ago before the cancer. But I remember him like this."
She selected a photo album from a row of carefully cataloged and dated books; the one she selected was from about thirty years ago. She flicked through it until she found what she was looking for. Turning the book she showed him a black and white photograph of a man in his mid to late thirties in the dress uniform of the Black Watch. She showed him a picture of himself!
Buck stared at it for a long time. His hand came up to his face, he paled and she was compelled to make him sit down.
"You won't tell me about your father because you don't know who he is, do you?" she asked softly. He shook his head. "There is no doubt in my mind, none. Now tell me about your mother, is she still alive?" Again he shook his head. "Tell me about her."
"We lived near the barracks," he said.
"The Black Watch?" she asked.
He nodded. "She was was a a what I mean is she "
"She was a working girl," Nettie supplied softly, placing a hand on his shoulders.
"She was a saint," he stated. Nettie smiled at his loyalty.
"I believe you, she raised you after all."
He suddenly stood. "I can't stay here."
"You have to. Think about it, that boy down stairs, from what I hear he's 18, his mum died last month, he has no father, and he just inherited a huge estate and a million pound business, in a foreign country."
"So? Chris will look after him."
"No, Chris will look after the estate. Thats his job. Someone needs to look out for him."
"Because he's your cousin, he's family, blood."
"I can't, they'll find out, they'll think I want something."
"No one will know, after me Josiah has been here the longest, and that is only 10 years. By then he already had a full beard and was grey. You do both have those amazing blue eyes, and he was tall, but not as tall as you. No one will know, I'll hide all the old pictures I promise. The boy. What is his name?"
"Yes, young JD needs you to watch out for him, please. You may not have the name but you are a Ross. Say you'll stay."
Buck walked to the window. When Chris had approached him just before he left the army it had seemed like a dream job. He still wanted to live here, in this glorious countryside. Blood, family, something he hadn't had in twenty years. He liked the kid, he couldn't deny it. He remembered how much it hurt when his mother had been killed by a drunk driver, how he had wanted someone, anyone to understand. Finally he turned to Nettie.
"If the job is still here I'll stay.