Sisters of Castle Leod: A Novel
Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard
**Finalist in the 2022 American Writing Awards**
Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era.
Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father’s vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell’s daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate.
Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.
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Enjoy an Excerpt from Sisters of Castle Leod:
My official introduction to society could not help but create fertile ground for gossip. Suddenly, everyone had access to an agglomeration of useless information about me. And what they didn’t know, they were not at all reluctant to invent. Within a few months, newspapers reported that I had turned down more marriage proposals than any lady in England.
Such accounts, though highly exaggerated, had the effect of encouraging even greater legions of eager suitors to test their tenacity, each more confident of his irresistible charm than the last. I found most of them tedious and, as time went on, the search for a husband felt more and more like an imposition. My life became a succession of tea parties, polo matches, and races at Royal Ascot, lavish dinners, theater events, and grand balls, followed by suppers that started at midnight. I tried to act as if there could be no more appealing way to spend my time than in the company of those who enjoyed wasting theirs. I doubt I was convincing.
The routine was always the same. Before each fruitless encounter arranged through my chaperone Aunt Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland, I was primed with propaganda by well-meaning friends of the family. “Surely you’ll find the baron to be a most charming companion. And he has his own money.” “Between us, the earl is rumored to be a man of extraordinary physical attributes.” “My dear Sibell, it’s inconceivable you should settle for anything less than a duke!” How could I explain I was not like other young debutantes set on achieving the most boast-worthy match? I was too much of a romantic or, if not that, at least I hoped for someone who might share my distaste for languishing in the drawing rooms of London. How I ached for the wild moors and mountains of home!
In June of 1898, near the end of my second spring season—the first having been a dismal failure—I was seated at a dinner party next to Sir Thomas Bethel, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, scholarly writer of some renown, and probably three times my age. Our hostess, the Duchess of Connaught, had selected the young Earl of Ronaldshay, only two years older than I, as my escort to the table. I’m sure she thought him perfect for me and perhaps he might have been. But with the earl on my right and Sir Thomas on my left, it appeared the choice was mine.
I turned to Sir Thomas, eager to impress. Seldom did I have the opportunity to display the knowledge, however impractical, gained over many hundreds of hours spent in Papa’s library. “Tell me, in this age of materialism are your students still interested in reading Plato and Socrates? Or do their tastes run more to Epicurus?”
Beneath Sir Thomas’s bushy mustache, I detected a slight smile. “Most of them, I’m afraid, are only interested in receiving a pass mark. There are some, of course, who enjoy the art of dialectic.”
“But do you find them open to views other than the ones currently in vogue? It seems science is all anyone thinks about these days. Yet, as far as I know, no one has succeeded in describing the properties of the soul.”
He lifted his wine glass to his nose, indulging in a deep sniff. “You sound to me like a woman of religious conviction, Lady Cromartie.”
I hesitated, unsure how to respond. My upbringing was in the Anglican Church but, lately, I’d begun thinking of myself as Christian in name only. What good is a religion that leaves so many important questions unanswered and too often dresses faith in a cloak of intolerance?
“I respect all the great religions,” I replied evasively.
“You adhere to no particular doctrine?”
Such a direct question deserved, I supposed, a direct answer. “Truth cannot be taught. It must be felt.”
“I see, then, why you would have a contempt for science.”
“Not contempt.” I was in over my head but could see no option other than honesty. “However, the rational mind cannot explain everything.”
“And, thus, there is no need to prove anything?”
“I’m not sure whether certain things can ever be proven—not to everyone’s satisfaction.”
He leaned in closer. “By certain things do you mean communication with the dead?”
A former touring musician/songwriter and public relations professional, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, “a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller” (Readers’ Favorite, 5 stars), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a “resonant novel … about the birth and demise of ragtime … luxuriously crafted” (Publishers Weekly). Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, National Indie Excellence Awards, and Arizona Literary Contest; they have received 5-star ratings from Readers’ Favorite, Book Readers Appreciation Group, and historical fiction Discovered Diamonds. Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.
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