Authors: Bess McBride
A knock on the door brought the little maid, Grace, with a tray of food. Beth took the tray from her, and Grace curtsied and left the room.
“Here’s some soup and oatcakes. Have you had them before?” Beth asked with a smile as she handed me the bowl of soup. She sat on the edge of a high-backed, velvet-cushioned chair next to my bed.
I shook my head, taking the bowl from her. It smelled delicious and tasted just as wonderful, hot and filling.
“Oatcakes are a staple here in Scotland,” she said. “I’ve gotten used to them.”
I took one and bit into it. Crisp, with a mild salty taste, it reminded me of a large cracker. Lulled by the warmth of the soup and the fire, I could almost imagine that I was in a bed-and-breakfast, and I munched on the cake with appreciation.
“I know things are hard for you right now, Maggie. I know you’re confused and frightened. Believe me, I know! But time travel is possible. I’m living proof. Tomorrow morning we can talk about what you want to do—whether you want to stay for a bit or go home.” Beth hesitated for a moment before continuing. “That is...if you can go home. I’m not sure it’s a certainty, not like some sort of gateway or something.”
I swallowed the food in my mouth.
“There’s no way I could have imagined this tasty soup, so I’m pretty sure I’m not dreaming,” I said with an attempt at a wry smile. “I believe you. There’s no other explanation, not unless you want to fess up and tell me I’m smack dab in the middle of some sort of historic Scottish festival?”
Beth chuckled but shook her head.
“And if you tell me there’s a way back, then I think I can deal with this...phenomenon.” I took another bite of the delicious oatcake.
Beth’s smile drooped. “Like I said,
was able to go back...once. I never tried again, because my life is here. I don’t want to get stuck back in the twenty-first century.”
I studied her, wondering about “getting stuck” in the twenty-first century.
“What happened when you traveled through time?” I asked.
Beth told me her story—that she’d been on a bus tour, had gone down to the river, splashed water on her face, and awakened in a very different world. Colin had come along and taken her back to Gleannhaven Castle.
“It was pretty hairy around here last year. Things aren’t quite settled down, but they’re better than they were.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, you know the Highlanders were defeated in 1746, right? At the Battle of Culloden?”
I nodded. Julie and I had toured the battleground.
“After the battle, the English searched for those Highlanders who survived, who hid out until they could get out of Scotland. Soldiers from Fort Williams spent a lot of time looking around here.” Beth smiled. “Not without good cause, but that’s another story. As a matter of fact, one of the soldiers, Captain Stephen Jones, married Colin’s cousin, Elinor. They live in Edinburgh now.
“The English still patrol the Highlands just to make sure there are no more rebellions—which, of course, you and I know there won’t be—but things are calmer now than they were. Thank goodness. You’re fortunate you didn’t travel back to a time just before or during Culloden. I’m fortunate that I didn’t. It must have been awful!”
“Was your husband at the battle?” I asked.
Beth shook her head.
“No, he was in England, in school, at the time. His father fought with the English against the Jacobite cause, so that’s how they kept their home, but the family is none too popular with the Jacobites.” Beth shook her head with a grimace.
“What about James?” I asked. “Did he fight at Culloden?”
Beth quirked an eyebrow and nodded. “He did, but it’s not something he readily talks about. Colin probably knows his story. Or maybe James will tell you himself.”
I couldn’t banish the image of James marching across Culloden Moor with a broadsword, his dying clansmen falling around him.
“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t tell
if he won’t talk about it,” I said.
Beth’s lips lifted in a half smile.
I set the half-eaten bowl of soup down on the tray.
“No,” I said firmly.
Beth gave me an innocent look.
“I know what you’re thinking, Beth. I didn’t travel through time to find the love of my life. That sort of thing wouldn’t happen to me.”
“It happened to me,” she said with a grin.
Perhaps it was time I disclosed.
“No, I’ve had the love of my life already. He died.”
Beth covered my hand with her own.
“Oh, Maggie! I’m so sorry!”
She waited expectantly. I bit my lip. I didn’t want to talk about it. I never talked about it. It hurt too deeply.
And then I opened my mouth.
“His name was Sam. He died of cancer about six months ago. We were engaged. In fact, he died two days before our wedding. I nursed him the entire time he was ill. We knew he was dying, the doctors had said so, but we still wanted to marry. We just ran out of time.”
Beth tsked but said nothing. Thankfully. I was fighting back tears. At some point in my life, the tears would end. But apparently not yet.
“We’d been together since high school and both worked in software development at the same computer company. We’ve been together forever.” I gritted my teeth and took a quick swipe at my eyes, hoping Beth wouldn’t see.
“So you see, I didn’t come here for James. Does not apply to me,” I said with a bitter twist to my lips. “I’m still in love with Sam. I always will be. And I need to go home to be where he was, where he is.”
I couldn’t explain my immediate attraction to James, and I didn’t want to. It felt disloyal to Sam, and the allure made me feel guilty.
“Get some sleep. We’ll talk about it in the morning. Everything is better when the sun comes up.”
I nodded tiredly as she rose from the chair.
“Let me go get you something to sleep in,” she said. She left the room, and I turned to stare at the fire, trying to dispel memories of Sam.
Beth returned in a jiff and draped a white linen gown over the end of the bed. She picked up the tray.
“I think that will fit you fine. Good night, Maggie.”
“Good night, Beth.”
The door closed behind her, and I climbed out of bed and shed my jeans, long-sleeved blouse and undergarments to slip into the soft linen shift. I climbed back into the four-poster bed and buried myself under the thick covers, wondering what strange twist of fate had thrown me into the eighteenth century.
The flickering flames of the fire mesmerized me, and I watched it, trying to ease the pain in my throat as my thoughts turned to Sam again. I missed him terribly. How I wished he were here with me now. He might have enjoyed the adventure. I had gone to visit him at the cemetery the day before I left for Scotland, but I’d only chatted with him. I hadn’t said good-bye. I could not be this far from him, not in both distance and time. I had to return. I just had to.
A tap on the door awakened me, and I bolted upright in bed, confused by my surroundings.
“Come in,” I called out, throwing a wide-eyed look at the olive-green velvet coverings hanging from the four-poster bed. I pulled the thick gray blanket up to my neck.
Beth slipped in the door, carrying some things in her arms, which she laid across the foot of the bed.
“Good morning,” she said, moving to pull aside the matching velvet curtains at the windows. “I’ve brought you some things to try on.” She moved over to the fireplace and bent to toss some logs onto it, stoking it into a fire.
I rubbed my eyes, which felt swollen.
“Things?” I scanned the pile of material at the end of the bed. “You mean clothes?”
Beth returned to the bed to sort through the clothing.
“Yes, you can’t run around in your jeans. I couldn’t, and you can’t. The servants think I’m eccentric, but even
can’t get away with wearing jeans.”
Indeed, this morning she wore a lavender embroidered woven bodice over a charcoal-gray hooped skirt. A cap of dainty lace adorned her head, giving her an adorable look, as her auburn curls peeped out.
She caught my eye and raised a hand to the cap, a sheepish smile on her face.
“When in Rome,” she murmured.
“But if I’m leaving this morning, I should probably just go ahead and wear my jeans,” I protested. Not that Beth wasn’t just beautiful in the historical costume that suited her perfectly. Somehow, I didn’t think the clothing would look as good on me. My figure was a bit fuller than Beth’s. I had no waist to speak of, and I barely hovered above the floor at five feet nothing.
“It will cause a lot less drama and gossip if you travel back in a gown than if you trot around the house now in your jeans.”
I sighed, but probably only for form’s sake. I was actually intrigued by Beth’s historical clothing.
“I’m going to look ridiculous in a dress like yours,” I said. “I don’t have your figure. I’m sure James will laugh.”
Beth, still sorting through the garments at the end of the bed, paused and looked up.
“James? Why would he laugh? This is the only sort of clothing he understands. Didn’t you see him trying to avoid looking at your legs last night?”
I thought back.
“No, I didn’t notice,” I said with a shake of my head. “I did see your husband and George blink a couple of times.”
“Well, George is old-fashioned. He saw me show up in jeans, but Mrs. Agnew got me out of those pretty quickly. I think he’s over the shock now though. And I’m sure Colin knew exactly where you’d come from when he saw you.”
My cheeks flamed. Had I embarrassed James?
“I didn’t realize James had avoided looking at me.”
“Oh, no. He looked at you, all right, quite intently—your gorgeous brunette hair, your brown eyes, that flawless skin. But not your legs. It’s hard for them. They’re just not used to seeing a woman’s lower limbs.”
I blushed at her compliment, and nodded understanding.
“Anyway, you won’t see James again after today, right?” Beth dropped her eyes to the pile of clothing again and pulled out a few things in white.
My throat tightened unexpectedly.
“No, that’s right. He’s been kind, that’s all.”
“Yes, he’s a kind man, very gentle. Loves his bagpipe.”
I climbed out of bed.
“I love the sound of bagpipe music,” I said reverently. “Love it.”
“Well then, you met the right man.” Beth handed me what I recognized as a shift, a chemise. “Here, put this on,” she said. “You can wear your panties if you want. I did for a while, until mine wore out. Now, it’s drawers for me.” She grinned.
I hesitated. “Ummmm...where is the bathroom?”
“Uh-oh,” Beth said, her smile turning rueful. “You’re not going to like this. There’s a chamber pot under the bed. I’ll step out while you use it.”
I opened my mouth to protest as she moved to the door.
“Believe me—I know what you’re going to say,” Beth said over her shoulder, “but if you need to use the bathroom, that’s what’s available. I struggled with it myself. Still can’t get used to it. Mary should be here any minute with some hot water so you can wash up.”
I didn’t know who Mary was, but I stared at the now closed door before bending down to look under the bed. Yes indeed, there was a white porcelain pot. How on earth I was going to manage to squat and hover over it, I could not imagine.
Somehow I managed, and with the deed done, I jumped up and away from the pot and pushed the thing back under the bed. In desperate need of a good handwashing, I pulled open the door.
Beth waited on the other side, another young girl at her side, holding a porcelain jug of steaming water.
“You survived,” Beth said. As the maid entered and turned her back to us, Beth put a finger to her lips, directed at me. “Mary has brought you some hot water to wash with.”
Mary, a tall, lanky girl of about sixteen with dark hair peeping out from under her mobcap, moved toward an oak bureau and poured some of the hot water into a wide bowl before setting it down. She curtsied and left.
“Go ahead and wash up,” Beth said. “You’ll feel better. There’s lavender soap, which smells pretty wonderful, and some nice linen towels. I’m sure you would love to have a shower, but that won’t be possible. Mary has to haul hot water up from the kitchen for bathing and haul the cold water away again. It’s a big chore. Besides, you can probably have a shower when you get home, if things go okay.”
Beth moved over to the window and turned her back to me discreetly.
I smiled faintly. “That’s okay,” I said. I washed my hands and rinsed my face. Beth was right. The soap, while a bit grainy in texture, smelled wonderful. I dried my face and hands and turned back.