Authors: Bess McBride
“Done!” I said. Beth turned around.
“You can change behind that screen if you want,” Beth said briskly. I turned to see a lovely oak-framed screen near a dressing table of the same wood. Silk embroidered in a flowered pattern with emerald-green and red thread constituted the main portion of the screen.
“Oh! Thank you,” I said. I moved to stand behind it. “Can you hand me whatever you think I need to wear?” I shed the nightgown, thankful the fire was at my back in the chilly room. For now, I kept my panties on. They would have to last me through another day.
Instantly, a silk chemise appeared around the corner, and I grabbed it and slipped it over my head. I looked up to see some sort of garter belt and white silk stockings dangling at the end of Beth’s hand.
“No pantyhose?” I chuckled as I lowered myself to the floor and wrestled with the stockings. “Not that I’ve worn them in years.”
“No chance,” Beth said. “What are you doing back there? Are you sitting on the floor?”
“Well, it was either that or hop around on one foot trying to get these things on.”
Beth laughed. “Oh, come on out. You’ve got enough clothes on now, don’t you?”
I cinched the second stocking as she spoke and came out from behind the screen.
“So much silk,” I murmured, running a hand down the length of the chemise.
“It seems that I’m allergic to wool, so most of my clothes are made of silk, linen, muslin or velvet. Colin ordered a bunch of gowns for me from Edinburgh and France.”
Beth handed me a large garment that looked like a hoop. I eyed the fearsome thing.
“No way,” I said.
“Yes way,” Beth said with a grin. “It’s a pannier. It’s not painful, but it goes under the petticoat and skirt. Here, like this.” She had me step inside the frame, and she wrapped it around my waist, tying it in the back.
is a pannier,” I murmured. “I wondered what one was.”
Beth then handed me a white linen petticoat that went over my head to settle above the pannier.
“And here is the skirt.” Like the petticoat, the cobalt-blue silk skirt slipped over my head and floated above the petticoat.
“This is beautiful,” I breathed.
“It is, isn’t it?” Beth said, obviously pleased. “We’re almost done. Here’s the bodice. It’s sort of a combination bodice and corset. I hate corsets, so I’ve had these made especially for me. I hope you’ll be comfortable.”
She handed me a blue-gray silk jacket embroidered with silver thread. I slipped it over my shoulders, and she pulled it tightly across my chest to lace the front.
I sucked in my breath and held it.
“Too tight?” she asked with an expression of sympathy.
I looked down as she stood back to survey her handiwork.
“No, actually. I didn’t even know I could have a waist.”
Beth nodded. “These clothes will do that to you.” She pulled a length of ribbon out of a pocket in her skirt and moved to stand behind me. “Here! Let me pull your hair up.”
I waited patiently while she arranged my hair somewhere up on the crown of my head. She gave it a final pat, then spoke.
“Shoes. I think we might be the same size, as it happens.”
I looked down at her dainty feet now encased in some sort of black shoe partially hidden by her voluminous skirts.
“Oh, I doubt that,” I said.
“No, I’m sure they’ll fit. Here, sit down. You won’t be able to find them under the width of the pannier. I’ll put them on for you.” I perched on the edge of the bed, and Beth bent to slip the shoes onto my feet. She was right. They did fit.
“Good! I’m starved,” Beth said. “How about breakfast?”
I nodded. “Sounds good. Then I think I really need to get back down to the river...you know...to go home.”
I stood upright and floated away from the bed. There was no other way to describe moving under the wide hoops.
A tap on the door caught our attention, and Beth called out.
There was a hesitation at the door, and Beth cocked her head and repeated the words.
The door opened slowly, and James stood in the doorway, a sheepish expression on his face. The reason for his expression soon became clear.
“James!” Beth said in a scolding voice. “What are you doing here?”
He hung his head, his cheeks bright with color. His dog, Robbie, panted at his side, smiling widely.
“I...that is...I didna ken ye were within, Beth. I sought only to escort Mistress Scott to breakfast...with the thought that she might get lost in the castle.”
Beth threw me a quick look, and my cheeks flamed as I looked down at my skirts, smoothing them nervously. James’ opinion of my appearance mattered to me a great deal, though I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t want his opinion to matter so much.
“Well, that was nice of you, James,” Beth said in a more conciliatory note. “I came to help her get dressed. What do you think?”
I swallowed hard as Beth put James on the spot, and I glanced up to meet his eyes.
In their blue depths, I recognized admiration, and my knees weakened.
“Ye look fair bonnie, Mistress Scott,” he said. “The color of yer dress matches yer eyes.”
I caught my breath and held it for a heart-pounding moment.
“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” Beth said in a practical note. I felt my arm grabbed, and she pulled me through the door. “Come on. Let’s go eat.”
James, wearing the same clothes that he’d worn the day before, albeit looking no worse for wear, stood back and let us pass, then followed us down the hall and the stairs. I felt the skin burning on the back of my neck.
Beth led us down a hall and into a large room that resembled great rooms I’d seen in several castles that Julie and I had toured. A large stone fireplace centered one wall, and Colin awaited us at the head of a massive oak table with seating for at least forty people, if not more. Portraits and landscapes decorated the walls, lightening the somber effect of the gray stone.
Robbie joined Colin’s dog underneath the table. Clearly, they were used to searching for scraps on the floor.
“Good morning, Mistress Scott. Ye look verra well today. How did ye sleep?” Colin asked with a courtly bow. Beth led me to a chair held for me by George, the butler.
I couldn’t help blushing like a teenager at the approving smile on Colin’s face. Apparently, these Scottish men liked their women in dresses.
“Please call me Maggie,” I said. “I slept very well, thank you, Laird Anderson.”
Beth, her husband and James seated themselves, Beth to my left at her husband’s right hand. That left me trying to avoid staring at James across the table.
“Thank you, Maggie. And ye must call me Colin.”
Grace and Mary started bringing in trays of food, supervised by George. My eyes rounded at the amount of food, and I threw a look in Beth’s direction.
She laughed. “I know. I know! Too much food. Our cook, Mrs. Renwick, believes in big meals. I just have some toast and tea myself.”
“That’s about all I can handle,” I said. George ensured that I had access to the toast rack, and poured hot water into my teacup from a lovely porcelain pitcher.
“Thank you, George. We will serve ourselves,” Beth said. “Please shut the door behind you.” The elderly butler blinked but said nothing as he left the room in the wake of the girls.
“Please tell me that ye have reconsidered this foolhardy attempt to travel through time again.”
Colin, Beth and I all turned to stare at James at once, they as surprised as I at his forthright words. James stared at me intently.
“I-I have to go back,” I mumbled. “I’m sure I’ll be all right. Thank you for worrying about me.”
I hoped Beth would help me out and reassure him, but she remained silent, watching the interaction between us.
“I canna say that I understand how ye came to travel here to Scotland, but as Beth said, ye may have come for a purpose. To try to leave so soon willna give ye time to discover that purpose.”
His cheeks turned a ruddy red, but he kept his eyes on me.
I tried to answer, but could do nothing but stutter under his gaze.
Beth finally stepped in.
“James, she wants to go home. Her heart is there.” Beth threw me a quick glance. “I’m sorry, Maggie. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything?”
I shook my head quickly, meaning nothing. I couldn’t really even think straight with James watching me as he did.
“Och!” he said. “I didna ken ye had someone there. A husband? A suitor?”
My hand, holding my teacup, shook. Why was this conversation so acute? So personal?
“No, no husband,” I said. “I was going to be married.” I could say no more. I gulped my tea.
James turned to Beth with a quirked eyebrow. Colin ate and watched the conversation with interest.
“Maggie told me that she was engaged to be married but that her fiancé died. She wants to be home, to be near him.”
The poignancy of those words struck me. Sam was dead. I couldn’t be near him, no matter where I was.
James’ eyes swung back toward me. He nodded.
“My condolences, lass,” he said softly. He dropped the subject and applied himself to his meal. Beth followed suit, and the table fell silent.
I set my cup down and dropped my eyes to the blue silk of my skirt. I ran my fingers along its softness, confused about a sudden reluctance to leave. So what if some handsome Highlander from the past thought I should find out why I’d traveled through time? It certainly wasn’t to meet him. I’d had my one true love. I couldn’t possibly love another man as much as I’d loved Sam.
I sighed heavily and looked up. James watched me, an expression of sympathy on his face. Sympathy and something else. Regret?
At length, Beth spoke again.
“I think Maggie wants to go as soon as possible,” she said to the room in general. “So, when we finish breakfast?” she asked, directing her question to me.
I nodded wordlessly and avoided James’ eyes.
“We shall all accompany ye, Maggie,” Colin said.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’m sure I’ll be fine. I just need a few tips from Beth on how to get back, and that will be that.”
“Nonsense,” James said forcefully. “Ye canna travel alone. It is on my way home.”
going,” Beth said.
I was outnumbered. It seemed I would have a rather large audience for my upcoming magic trick.
“Thank you,” I said as graciously as I could.
“Do ye wish to ride or walk?” James asked.
As much as I wanted to run from him, from my unwanted feelings for him, I surprised myself.
“Ride,” I said, remembering the feeling of resting against his chest. My cheeks burned, and I looked down at my skirt.
“I will have the boy saddle the horses,” Colin said. He rose from the table and disappeared, his sheepdog in his wake. Beth stood up and said she was going upstairs to get me a cloak, stating that I probably wasn’t used to the cold mornings here in the Highlands, even if it was late spring.
I was left in the dining room with James, and I bent to pet Robbie’s head.
“Are Robbie and the other dog related?” I asked, trying to avoid any suggestion of an intimate discussion.
“Aye,” James said, rising from the table and walking over to the window to look outside. “Laddie is Robbie’s littermate, a gift from the shepherd who cares for Colin’s sheep.”
I felt the need to say something to James, but lost the moment when Colin returned, sporting a gray tam over his dark shoulder-length curls. Like James, his voluminous kilt was draped over his jacket and secured with a large brooch near his shoulder.
“Ye dinna want to leave this,” he said, handing James the canvas bag holding his bagpipe.
“Thank ye,” James said, slinging the bag over his back. I regretted that I would never hear him play again. A hard knot formed in my throat, and I recognized the onset of tears. I choked it down and bent to pet Robbie’s silky head again.
Beth returned with a dark cloak for me and a bag of something she set on the floor. To my surprise—and hers—James took the cloak from her and folded it around my shoulders, tying it under my neck. Longing to look up into his eyes, yet unable to face the intimacy, I kept my head down. I knew I had to return home as fast as possible. I couldn’t possibly survive the eighteenth century if everyone was as earnest and intense as James.
“There,” James said softly, his
’s rolling endlessly. “Ye willna take cold.” He stepped back, and I raised my head. I blinked at the directness of his gaze, as if he could see through to my soul. I struggled for air and turned my head toward Beth.