William held his sister at arms length. "With such a silly hat, how can I hug my dear sister? Take the blooming thing off, will ye and let me look at ye now!"
William, however, was assessing him as well while Wini made a pretty curtsey. Sir Edward shouldered his way forward and also reached for her hand.
"Lady Winifred, it's good to see you again. It has been awhile," the gentleman said.
At the use of her given name instead of the preferred shortened version, the girl glared at him. "You know good and well that I go by Wini, Edward."
Mary was surprised at the informal greeting and even more surprised at the glare on her brother's face as Sir Edward bowed to the young woman.
"May I present to you my brother, Lord Leighton Callander of Glamdemoor, currently a student here in this fine city," William said after grabbing his brother in a bear hug then slapping his back.
The young man took Mary's hand with a natural elegance of good breeding, lightly touching her fingers and giving a gracious bow. He too wore a kilt of his clan's plaid. "It is our great pleasure to welcome you to Scotland as well as into this family. Though I have no idea how the Marquis managed to win your heart, we are glad he did."
The ladies found their room they would share this last night before the wedding. After her maid hung up her wedding dress to prevent wrinkles, Wini carefully touched it. "This lace is lovely, Mary. It is alright, isn't it that I call you Mary, unless of course we are among stuffy company."
Mary laughed, "Of course Wini. We will be sisters after tomorrow."
When they came down to eat with the rest of their party, William saw that it was as if Wini found the fourth leaf to her clover, so enamored was she by his choice in a wife. He said a silent pray of thanks to God. The young girl would need a lady's influence especially at this pivotal point in her life blooming into womanhood.
Mary looked over at William as they shared a smile together seeing the sheep eyes her brother was making at the young lady. He was smitten. He and Sir Edward were in a contest to gain her attention. Wini was coy with them both obviously loving the attention.
Henry was saying, "It hasn't been a hundred years since the Jacobite rebellion when the crown forbade the Scotsmen to bear arms or wear their tartans. Now, since the war against Napoleon, the whole feeling of England has turned after so many Scotts proudly fought for their country."
William said, "Yes, it was the only income for some of the poor crofters by having their young men join and send home their pay to keep their families afloat. Now they are fallen on hard times again as many of the large estates are changing from cattle to sheep and are turning out their tenant farmers. At the last Highland Council in Inverness, we were told as clan leaders we should be the ones to designate which of the young people should immigrate, where to, and in what order. That is a huge responsibility to send our own people away after years of being crofters dependent upon us. It is a grievous task indeed."
Mary had no idea the heavy responsibility her soon-to be husband bore. She respected him all the more for it.
"At least the woolen industry is flourishing, though the people must leave their homes and go to the cities to find work," Henry said. "You mentioned something about maintaining a hunting reserve perhaps as a way to make funds."
His brother Leighton spoke up, "It has been throw about as an idea here in Edinburgh. Some of the estates have turned their acreages into deer parks."
William added, "I hesitate to do that as it takes away from the tillable fields for our farmers. Yet we are fortunate to have the only Scots pine forests that is only found here in the Highlands some of which flourishes on my land. It at least is not farmable and is a natural habitat for the hinds."
"But I say, this is bad form, is it not to be speaking of business, when we have our ladies here who bring more smiles than frowns to our table," William said. "Indeed, I am the happiest man alive to be marrying my beautiful rose, Lady Mary on the morrow."
But it was the obvious infatuation of her brother with his sister that added even more twinkle to his eyes. William winked at Mary and took her hand. It was not too formal at this merry table to keep him from this public sign of affection. She blushed but did not pull her hand away.
"Bah, enough about Glamdemoor. I want to hear more about your estate, Montrose isn't it?"
Edward and Leighton had excused themselves to wander over to visit with an acquaintance and William and Mary had fallen into their own conversation with their heads close together. Henry grinned knowing he had her undivided attention.
"Wini, though my mother is not here with us," and she paused feeling just a small pang of guilt which she quickly disguarded, "I want to share with you something that she told me once that helped to give me a proper perspective in the search for a husband."
"It is quite romantic, isn't it, the way you and my brother met and fell in love. I'm still waiting for my prince to come," she sighed.
"Yes, we met in the most unusual, but God-ordained way, I will admit. And yes, I was captured that very first time he opened his eyes and looked at me, though covered in blood and barely conscience. But before that, I had met many, many men who could not compare to your brother. Though I dare say many men will seek your attention, you must always guard your heart. There is nothing better than a good marriage, and nothing worse than a bad one. All you have to do is look around. From what your brother has told me, your parents had a happy one. That, of course, is what he desires for you."
Wini stopped brushing her long locks and starred off lost in thought. Then she turned and asked, "How did you know he was the one for you, Mary?"
Mary paused thinking. "First of all, it was his character, and his strong faith in God that he was not afraid to express. Then it was his bravery. Though badly injured, he fought to stay alive. I knew then that God's hand was upon him because there was no other reason anyone could have survived what he went through. The way he immediately jumped in to serve me when I lost my driver impressed me as well. And then," and Mary blushed giggling, "he was so very handsome, I could hardly breathe."
"Oh, posh, you are smitten," but Wini beamed so pleased her brother had found the love of his life in this sweet Mary. "But not much of what you just said would apply to me to become sure of the love of a man. I doubt I will have the opportunity to nurse a man back to health or find in a carriage driver an appropriate mate," she teased.
"That is why I began to tell you what my mother had to say about it. She used the story of the ten virgins in the Bible to relate the truth to courtship. You see, they all were told to be ready. Their bridegroom or prince would come. But only half of them obeyed the instructions and sadly the door was barred to them from entering the wedding feast. The saddest words in the universe are "Truly, I don't know you."
Wini nodded though chewing on her fingernails, but obviously taking it all in.
"Then my mother related it also to the verse in Proverbs 5:15, instructions for a young man." Mary quoted from memory, "'Drink waters out of your thine own cistern and running water out of thine own well.' Then the writer asks if these waters should be "dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.' I'm sure that's your hearts' desire, to have a husband who looks at only you and none other."
"Oh, yes, of course. I see what you are saying. If we pour out what should be in our lamps or share it with others, it is useless to us if wasted. If it has been poured out on the street others will only have walked upon it, even trampling upon our very hearts, we have foolishly given away. Once poured out like water on the street, it is impossible to get it back, at least as the pure water it once was. Your mother was very wise," Wini said.
Mary was glad to see how quickly Wini caught on to the godly teaching. But she wanted to give further warning, "Though my mother had taught me these things, she became so enamored by the artificial culture of London, that she overlooked character and even moral flaws in prospective husbands whom I found abhorrent. She had sadly chosen a man for me who was a rake, though she refused to believe it, because he presented himself as an attractive gentleman in society. In fact, men like my brother and your brother are rare indeed. Most men, especially in the city, give themselves over to more base instincts. With the low morals from the Prince Regent on down, the society there is repugnant with rampant immorality and vice. People wink and look away at fornication and adultery. I'm sorry to be so plain spoken with an innocent maiden, but you are at the age where I'm sure you've seen some of what I'm talking about."
Wini was wide eyed and said blushing, "I have heard the gossip. It is rather astounding, isn't it. I'm just glad we've had the awakenings in the Church of Scotland that has turned hearts back to God especially here in the Highlands. However, there are plenty of village girls who have borne children out of wedlock or have come to be married after finding out they are with child. It is all too common."
"The good news is, even if their lamps are empty, if they heed the warning, their lamps can still be filled before it is too late," Mary continued. "'Though their sin be scarlet, they shall be white as snow.' But how much better to come to the marriage bed undefiled, without spot or wrinkle, as the apostle says of the Bride of Christ.
Wini responded, "Oh, how glad I am that William found you. I must tell you that he was sought after by many eager young women and their mothers. After all, he is the Marquis of Glamdemoor. He brushed them all off as if they were annoying gnats," she giggled.
Mary laughed with her. "I'm so glad he did, but I will have to fight to not be jealous of those who had tried to catch his eye even though I know I have won his heart."
"You most certainly have. Now, I must tell you a tale of Scottish lore. In the third century there was a maiden named Malvina who was betrothed to a Celtic warrior named Oscar. Before they could be married, he died valiantly in battle Yet, as his last thoughts were of his beloved, he dispatched a messenger to bring her a spray of purple heather. It was a token of his undying love. But when Malvina's tears fell on to the flowers in her hand, they immediately turned white. The white heather is indeed rare and is said to grow only where blood has been shed. Warriors would even wear it pinned in their bonnets or tied onto their swords for good luck. William said even some of the Scottish regiments wore it in their bonnets in France." The girl's mouth quirked in a smile as she went on, "It is even said that it grows over the wee graves of the Faeries."
"It is a sad, but lovely legend," Mary agreed smiling. "I think I would like to see such a Faeries grave."
Wini laughed. "Well, I have brought you a sprig of white heather for your wedding tomorrow." She pointed to the small bouquet on a table that Mary had not noticed before. "After all, no good Scottish man, woman, or child would pass by the white flower without picking a spray. It took me a good long walk on the moor before I found you one."
"So that's where the lovely scent was coming from! Oh, thank you, Wini. I shall love to carry it when I walk up the aisle tomorrow!"
"As you see, the thistle is not the only bloom used as a symbol of Scotland. The heather is used from everything to wonderfully smelling mattresses some claim are softer than a feather bed, to brooms and even rope. It is also used in buildings and thatch for roofs. But best of all, bees collect the pollen and make the best honey. Tea is also made and used for medicinal purposes from coughs, digestive issues to nerves. In fact, I make my own soap with heather in it to make it smell good." Wini winked at her. "Perhaps you could order a cup in the morning before the ceremony if you find yourself a bundle of nerves needing to be calmed."
The ceremony was lovely in a quaint old chapel with light pouring in the stained glass windows. Those there were privileged to be the ones who saw the joining of two lives in a holy moment before God. Indeed it was the intertwining of the thistle and the rose.
The newlyweds bade them farewell after a wedding feast and the rest of the party headed for Glamdemoor. The carriage was a bit crowded with Sir Henry, Sir Edward, her brother Leighton and herself in the small confines of their carriage. After the men talked themselves out, Leighton and Sir Edward's heads rolled back in sleep. They had been out on the town until the wee hours of the morning. Henry however, kept his eyes on her. She found she did not mind at all in the least.
His hair was a beautiful golden color. For an Englishman with a title, he was no dandy for his face was tanned from being outside. It must be true that he loved to ride. She could hardly wait to show him her home.
As they drew close, she pointed out the window. As far as the eye could see, the rolling hills were covered in purple heather. "Late August and early September are the best times to see it in bloom. I'm glad you are getting to see it on your first trip here." However, she thought to herself that if ere she lived away from this heather on the Highlands she loved, she would at least take enough to stuff her mattress with to keep the aroma always with her. "Can you smell it?"
"It is exceedingly beautiful, my Lady. I have never seen such loveliness." He wasn't even looking outside any more.
"You can see why we love it here," she continued.
"Indeed, however, I think you would also find Montrose almost as pretty with green fields filled with sheep until the view ends in the sparkling blue of the ocean."
"Oh!" Wini exclaimed, then she lowered her voice so as to keep from waking the others. "I had not realized that your estate bordered the ocean. How wonderful! You must get a lovely sea breeze
then and not near as much snow as we do up here. I would think that would be a vast improvement."
"Like I said, I would hope that you would like Montrose. Though scenic in a different way, you might find it equally charming. I would even venture to say that you might find yourself quite at home there."
Wini blushed hearing the import of what he was saying. "Do you really think so, sir?" she whispered. "I am so different than your sweet sister."
He grinned. "Did I ever tell you how I like nothing better than a challenge when I bring a new horse home, that I might find a spirited one to be the best choice?"
Wini pretended to be insulted at the hint that he was comparing her once again to horses. She crossed her arms and said almost with a pout, "Though I am a splendid rider, Sir Henry, my spiritedness once inside can be hard to tame, especially my tongue. At times I believe my brothers do despair of me."
"You'll do," Leighton spoke with a smirk though he never opened his eyes. "But you are, dear Wini, at times as wild as the heather. Yet I would have to agree with this gentleman, quite as lovely."
Wini threw her reticular at him in a huff. "You are impossible. You should have told us you were listening."
When she threw it at him, he opened his eyes and put up his hands as if to fend off any other attack. "There, I am fully awake now and able to defend myself. Are you satisfied?"
Henry seemed to enjoy the repartee of brother and sister, especially since the brother had caught on to his meaning and did not rebuff him. He was beginning to think William was right when he had told him that perhaps it was time to find himself a wife. Sitting so close to the young woman who was making his heart beat like a herd of wild horses whenever her shoulder brushed his, he was beginning to agree. Yes, the more he thought about it, the better it sounded.
"There it is! My home," Wini exclaimed pointing out the window."
Not for long, Sir Henry thought, not if I can help it.
the sequel to