Loving Scotland – Chapter 6

I followed Fin down the path to the wooden front door where he knocked. There were soft footsteps on the other side and in a moment the door opened. A woman of about fifty stood on the other side. She had keen eyes that lacked the cunning of a knave, but held a bottomless possibility of kindness. Her clothes were simple but clean, and she wore an apron over them that was covered in flour. At the corners of her mouth was an ever-present smile waiting to be freed, and her gray-speckled brown hair was pulled back in a tight bun.

“A fine morning to you, Mrs. Breathnach,” Fin greeted her.

Her eyes widened. She flung open the door with a bright smile on her face. “Finlay MacLennan! The captain told my husband you were here, but I couldn’t believe you wouldn’t be a-visiting without writing before ya come,” she commented.

“I didn’t? I must have forgotten,” he replied in a fake shocked voice.

She playfully scowled at him and wagged a threatening finger at him. “You’re a mischievous one, and ya always have been, Finlay MacLennan. Why, do you remember-”

“Mrs. Breathnach, I bring a guest,” Fin interrupted her as he gestured to me.

Mrs. Breathnach turned and her eyes opened wide in surprise. “My goodness, but it’s a woman friend, and a very pretty one, at that!” she exclaimed. She snatched my hands up and gave them a friendly squeeze to compliment her smile. “I heartily welcome ya to Eilean Dubhan, miss, and hope to see much of ya in the future.”

“I’m only staying here for a week,” I replied.

“Just a week? What a pity! Ah’m sure my laird will bring ya back soon enough,” she consoled me.

“Bring me back?” I repeated.

“Aye. It’s fine time my laird settles down with a woman, and such as you are would fit the Great House quite nicely,” she complimented.

My cheeks blushed crimson. She thought I was his fiancee! “I-I’m not who you think I am. We’re only just friends,” I protested.

“We met only yesterday, Mrs. Breathnach,” Fin explained.

Mrs. Breathnach didn’t lose a beat in her premature congratulations. “Does love need a time when it can blossom from the heart?” she argued.

“Maybe if it hasn’t been watered,” I pointed out.

She laughed and pressed my hands. “Some wit about you, there is, but now come along inside and rest yourselves. Ah want to hear about your time in London, Fin,” she added.

We stepped inside to find the cottage much like our own, but with a more homely feel. There was warm bread cooking in the stove and dried herbs hung from the ceiling in the kitchen. The couch was covered in hand-woven quilts and a warm fire crackled in the hearth.

Mrs. Breathnach gestured to the couch and a few wooden rocking chairs close by the fire. “Make yourselves at home. My husband should be-” At that moment the door opened behind us and a man of fifty stepped inside.

He was solidly built with a fine dark mustache and short hair slicked back. His attire was simple with a speck here and there of dirt and clinging weeds. He had a friendly twinkle in his eyes and a confident gait to his walk.

His eyes swept over us and he smiled at Fin. “A good morning to you, my laird. The Captain warned us to be expecting you.” The men shook hands warmly and Mr. Breathnach invited us to the couch where we sat down. He took one of the rocking chairs.

“Not hunting with him today?” Fin asked the fellow.

“Not yet. Ah promised Anna Ah would chop some wood for the stove,” he explained.

“And fetch it inside,” his wife playfully reminded him.

He chuckled. “And fetch it inside,” he agreed as he stood.

“Were you needing some help?” Fin offered.

“If ya won’t be minding, my laird, but Ah don’t want to be keeping you and yer lady friend waiting,” Mr. Breathnach hesitated.

“Nonsense. We’ll be quick about it,” Fin assured him.

I jumped up to help, but Anna called from the kitchen. “If your lady friend isn’t minding, Ah could use another hand in the kitchen,” she called to us.

“I-I don’t know if I’d be very useful,” I stuttered.

“Nonsense. Mrs. Breathnach is as good a teacher as any, and we’ll soon be back,” Fin assured me. Mr. Breathnach and he stepped outside, and I stepped into the small kitchen.

“Do ya know anything about kneading bread?” Anna asked me.

“Um, only that it needs to be done,” I replied. My city life meant I’d only seen it done in pizzerias and bakeries.

“Then Ah will show ya how it’s done,” Anna tisked and showed me how to knead. While I needed Anna cut, chopped, sliced, and diced vegetables better than any infomercial chef. She also talked. “How did ya come to meet the laird?” she wondered.

“We met on the train yesterday to Glasgow. I was supposed to meet somebody there, but they never showed up so I went with him,” I told her.

“You’re a bold one to be setting off with a man ya just met,” she complimented. At least, I think it was a compliment. Now that I thought about it again it didn’t seem like such a smart move. “And what were ya doing going to Glasgow, if ya don’t mind my asking?”

“I’m on vacation. My boss thought it’d be good for me,” I replied.

This women had a way of disarming all my usual paranoid-induced mental traps. Maybe it was the smile, or her quaint, honest way of speaking. Thank goodness this woman didn’t go into marketing. She would have ruled the world. Though maybe that explained how I ended up on the island. Fin must have taken lessons from her, and he was a star pupil.

“And how are ya enjoying yerself?” she asked me.

“I haven’t seen too much of the island yet,” I answered.

“And my laird? Have ya seen enough of him?” she wondered.

There went those red alarms on my cheeks. I thought about dabbing them with flour, but decided against it. I might have had loaves of breading rising on my warm cheeks. “He’s nice,” I admitted.

“And handsome,” she added. “He was a fine-looking young man, and will make a fine husband to a woman.” She paused in her mutilation of the vegetables and scrutinized my face. “Are you married, miss?”

“Only to my job,” I told her.

She blinked and tilted her head to one side. “And is that a faithful husband?” she wondered.

I snorted. “It’s very demanding,” I replied.

“And does it honor ya in sickness and health?” she persisted.

I cringed. “Well, not so much in the sickness part,” I admitted. My sick-leave was great, but being sick at work was about as much fun as listening to a CD filled with the musical raptures of nails on chalkboard.

“Then a fine husband that makes. Ah imagine he don’t even give you presents on your birthday,” she mused.

By the time the men came back with their arms full of firewood my arms were about to fall off. I’d kneaded the life out of a single loaf, but still Anna took it from me and finished the job before she put it in a pan and into the oven. The men stacked the firewood near the stove and tromped over to the couch where Fin lit his ever-present pipe.

“A good storm we had last night,” he commented.

“Aye. We had a gale of a wind from a southwesterly a few weeks ago that dropped some dead trees Ah been eyeing for some time,” Mr. Breathnach told him.

“Then the wind did the work for you,” Fin joked.

Breathnach chuckled. “Aye, it did.”

I followed Anna into the sitting room and she stood behind her husband while I awkwardly stood near the couch. “Aren’t ya forgetting about the General? He’ll be expecting ya on Fox Brae,” she reminded him.

“That’s fine,” Fin spoke up as he rose from the couch. “We should be going. We haven’t had our breakfast yet.”

“What? No breakfast, and no lunch packed?” Mrs. Breathnach gasped.

“I’m afraid the Lower House is quite ill stocked,” he informed her.

She whipped her head to her husband. “Husband, mind you fetch some of our best grouse for the laird and his lady friend, and Ah’ll be getting some vegetables from the garden,” she added.

Fin smiled. “What would we be doing without you, Mrs. Breathnach?” he chuckled.

“You’d be half-starving yourselves, but Ah feel Ah am to blame. Ah should ‘ave made sure the pantry was full before ya came. If ya had given me warning Ah would have done as much for ya,” Mrs. Breathnach scolded him.

Fin chuckled. “You have me there, Mrs. Breathnach. I’m a terrible guest.”

“Guest! On yer own island? Don’t be saying as much, my laird. The only guests be the people at the Great House,” Anna argued.

“Aye, and if ya don’t mind my saying, the family pretends themselves to be the lairds and ladies of the island,” Mr. Breathnach spoke up.

“Do they? I’m sure they don’t mean that,” Fin commented.

“Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t, but you’ll see them soon enough. Aye, you’ll see them. The husband takes walks from one end of the island ta the other,” Mr. Breathnach told us.

Fin smiled and shook his head. “What a pity,” he replied.

“Pity? It seems like a great island to walk across,” I wondered.

“Yes, but there are better things to do on Eilean Dubhan,” Fin argued.

“And much better things to do right now than be talking the hours away while your lady friend is starving,” Anna reminded us. She gently pushed her husband to his feet and toward the door. “Now you be getting the grouse from the shack and Ah’ll be getting the vegetables.”

“Yes, ma dear,” he agreed with a smile, and he was out the door fetching our food. Mrs. Breathnach followed him, and in a few minutes the pair returned with apron and arms full of vegetables and a pair of dead grouse slung over Mr. Breathnach’s shoulder. “These ought to do for ya.”

“Perfectly. We only plan to stay a week or so,” Fin agreed as he took the grouse.

Mrs. Breathnach deposited the vegetables into a hand-woven basket and handed the bunch to me. I could see potatoes and carrots, and any manner of root with a few cucumbers and other hardy above-ground vegetables.

“Mind you wash them well before eating, and don’t be afraid of eating the skins of the potatoes. They’re nice and healthy for you,” she advised me. Healthy for you. The words that scared all little kids out of eating their veggies.

“We’re much obliged for your hospitality,” Fin thanked them.

“We’re the ones that should be thanking you, my laird,” Anna objected.

“Aye, now will you be needing any help with those things?” Mr. Breathnach wondered.

“No, I think we’ll make it just fine. It’s a nice brae walk down from here,” Fin replied as we stepped out into the yard.

“What does ‘brae’ mean?” I asked them.

“In the Gaelic it means hill or hillside. There’s many of both on the island,” Fin explained.

Anna gently pushed us down the path back to our cottage. “Now off with ya before the lady starts swooning for all the wrong reasons,” she insisted.

“And mind you come see us again, my laird. The General will be wanting more company with his shooting,” Mr. Breathnach called from the door.

“I will,” Fin promised, and off we went back to our little home.

Loving Scotland – Chapter 5

“Aye. Didn’t Fin tell you Eilean Dubhan is his island?” the general wondered.

I whipped my head to Fin, who smiled back. “He said he owned some property on it,” I growled.

The general let out a guffaw. “Well, he spoke the truth, but only half of it. He’s the laird of Eilean Dubhan.”

“I think that’s enough, General. The young lady isn’t interested in such things,” Fin spoke up.

“Piffle, I say! Don’t brush off your heritage as though it was something to be ashamed of. Own it, man!” the general scolded him.

“And own it I do, my dear general, but weren’t you planning a hunt?” Fin reminded him.

The general checked his watch. “Yes, and it is getting late. I’ll go around to Breathnach and see if his wife can spare him for a few hours.” He turned to me, smiled and shook my hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth.”

“And a pleasure to meet you, General,” I returned. The general marched out of the cottage, and I turned to Fin. He was seated on the arm of the couch and had pulled a pipe from some unknown hiding spot. “Laird of the Dark Island?” I repeated.

“A mere formality on the General’s part,” he replied.

“You told me you owned a little bit of land on the island,” I pointed out.

“No, I told you I owned land on the island. It just happens to be all the land,” he countered.

I folded my arms and scowled at him. “And what else haven’t you told me?”

“About what?” he wondered.

“About anything. About everything,” I returned.

He smiled and plucked his pipe from his mouth. “You must give me something more than that,” he pleaded.

“Well, if you’re laird of the island then why don’t you live here?” I asked him.

“For the rent. I rent the Great House for a few years and find I can afford to live here for ten on what I’m paid,” he explained.

“So you rent it out for a few years and then stay here for a few years? That sounds a little unsettling,” I commented.

“Perhaps, though I don’t mind my job in London. What of yourself? Do you enjoy your work?” he wondered.

I shrugged. “It’s a job,” I replied. Which was like saying a swimming pool was wet without mentioning that you could drown in it.

“I suppose it is, but do you like it?” he persisted.

“What other choice do I have?” I countered.

“Surely you have choices. A pretty young woman such are yourself must want to settle down some time,” he mused.

I snorted. Me settling down was as likely as twinkies sprouting wings and flying, though that would be one bird I’d be willing to hunt. “I don’t think I’m the right material for a man. I’m just a little, well-” I glanced down at myself. My brown hair was clean but fine, and my belly was a little too chubby. “A little busy with my job,” I half-lied. Jackson kept me working to my bones, but I had weekends off when I wasn’t jet-setting around the world and being forced into vacations. “But we’re not supposed to be talking about me, we’re supposed to be talking about your island,” I reminded him.

“A woman eager to not speak of herself is a rare one, but I can see I’m prying into a business that isn’t my own. What do you say to a tour of the island?” he offered.

I smiled and swept my arms toward the door. “After you, my laird,” I teased.

He chuckled. “If you please, my lady,” he commented. He didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t give him one before he gathered up some clothes from his bag. “If you don’t mind, I must dress for the hike,” he pointed out. He climbed into the loft and descended in much the same outfit as yesterday, but a might wrinkled. There were so many waves I thought a storm was happening beneath his shirt. “You must excuse my appearance. I generally keep to myself when I am here,” he told me.

“If the birds don’t mind then I won’t,” I promised him.

Fin grinned and bowed his head. “Much obliged, now let’s be off.” He led me out the door and I shut the door behind myself.

I noticed there wasn’t any lock. “Is our stuff safe?” I asked him.

“As safe as can be,” he replied. He stepped up to a wild rosebush that sat in front of the cottage. It climbed an old wooden trellis against the wall clear to the thatched roof. In the light of the sun they showed off their pale pink and white blooms, and had the smell of lemon juice mixed with honey.

“What kind of rosebushes are those?” I wondered.

“The dog rose. It grows wild throughout the Hebrides, but none so sweet as these roses my mother planted,” he told me. His brushed his fingers gently against one of the flowers. “She planted them before I was born, and swore they would bring me a gift when I grew older.”

“And have they?” I wondered.

He smiled. It was one of those smiles that told me he knew more than what he was letting on. “Not yet, but I’m a patient man.”

“But I’m not a patient woman. What else do you have for me to see?” I asked him.

“The island is at your pleasure, miss, but if I might make a suggestion-”

“Can I trust this suggestion?” I teased.

He chuckled. “You may. I suggest we see the others on the island. Mrs. Breathnach would be disappointed if we didn’t pay her a visit.”

“The General mentioned a Mr. Breathnach. Are they married?” I inquired.

“Aye, for these many years. They are the caretakers I mentioned, the ones who manage the Great House and this one, the Lesser House,” he replied.

I put on my best imperial face and waved my hand at Fin. “All right, show me to them, my laird,” I commanded.

He smiled and bowed at the waist. “It would be my pleasure, my lady,” he returned.

Fin led the way northward from the cottage along a grass-strewn path much like the one from the beach direction. We traveled for a few dozen yards before the landscape was slowly transformed into piles of moss-covered rocks and patches of spruce trees here and there. The path sloped upward and I found myself catching hold of large stones to pull myself up. Fin acted like a mountain goat springing over stones and practically galloping over the patches of dirt. By the time the path leveled out I was huffing and puffing like the last dinosaur, and he was as straight and erect as a Greek god, or a Gaelic one, in this case. It wasn’t that I was out of shape-all right, so it was. I was seriously out of shape. Climbing stairs in an office building wasn’t nearly as trying as walking the unsteady ground of a gently-sloped hill path.

Ahead of us was a field of heather and rocks. Grass grew between the rocks and swayed in the wind. I couldn’t see any sign of a house, Great or not, but I did see some strange rock formations. They were square with an opening as though for a doorway.

I nodded at the rocks. “What are. . .those?” I choked out.

“All that remains of the island’s people. They built homes of stone and grass. Mrs. Breathnach is one of their descendants,” he told me.

“And are we. . .close to their home?” I choked out.

“Nearly there, but we can pause for a rest here,” he offered.

I took the offer and ran with it. Well, I would have ran with it if I’d had the energy. Such as it was, I plopped down on the nearest boulder and faced the way we’d come. My eyes fell on a wondrous view of the cottage with its crown of thorns on the walls and the beach beyond it. The skies were a bright blew and a gentle wind flew past my face with the scent of the sea in its bosom. The grass bent and waved in the breeze, and far off a wild bird called to its mate. A sense of peace filled me from my toes to the top of my wind-blown head. I took a deep breath and relaxed as I’d never done in my whole life.

“Peaceful, isn’t it?” Fin spoke up. I’d forgotten he was there.

“Yes. How can you ever leave this place?” I wondered.

“I admit it isn’t easy, but peace without companionship does become rather dull,” he commented.

I snorted. “Show a girl this place and she’s bound to say yes to any proposal,” I returned.

He abruptly turned away. “If you’re ready we can go on,” he invited.

Fin guided us onward across the field of wild grains and flowers. The hill dipped into a pretty little glen that occupied a couple of square acres. The hills gently sloped downward to a small cottage that sat in the center of the valley. A small garden was laid out beside the house and there were several fruit trees beside that. Chickens pecked at the front yard and a goose waddled among them. A stream of smoke escaped the chimney and invited us for a visit.

Loving Scotland – Chapter 4

Fin led the way up the stairs, past the shack and along the white sand that lay at the feet of the tall, golden grass. The blades beat against me in rhythm with the wind as I trudged behind my guide. We meandered atop the sand dunes and tall grass for forty yards until we came to hard earth. Weeds, wild flowers, and small bushes held this domain, and our path guided us past these primitive plants lives and up a hill to a dark shadow in the distance.

The shadow was the promised house Fin had spoken about. It was a single story, thatched-roof cottage with a rough, mud-baked exterior. A few scraggly trees stood in the wild-grass yard and some bushes sat outside the door positioned on the right side of the building. There was a small paned windows on the left side of the door, and a cute stone walk led from our path to the door fifteen feet off.

The rain was abating as we reached the worn wooden door with its simple latch handle. Fin opened it and let me inside before he followed me into the dark, but dry, interior. He dropped my bags and his own on the ground beside the door and fumbled in his pocket for a moment. I heard the strike of a match and saw the faint flicker of light cupped in his hand.

Fin walked over to a small table to our left and lit an oil lamp that sat there. The lamp illuminated the small room and I had my first clear glimpse of the cottage. We stood in the main room, a long, rectangular area that stretched from the door to the left outer wall. There was a couch nearly as old as Captain McAllister, a rocking chair, and an old but clean, hand-woven rug. The far left wall was dominated by a large stone chimney with a hearth large enough to lay in if you were idiot enough to do such a thing.

To our right was a small kitchen with an even smaller dining table. Four chairs sat around it. There were no appliances, and the stove was fueled by wood. Beyond the kitchen, nestled in the far corner, was a ladder that led up to the small loft over our heads. At the far back wall opposite the front door was a rear door and a dresser and long bookshelf beside it. The shelf was filled with books, and their musty, sweet smell wafted across the room. It reminded me of my college years with its book reports and research assignments.

Fin stepped out into the living room and turned to me. The lamp lit up his features and showed me his smile expected some assessment of the place. “It’s not much, but it is dry. If you need the bathroom there’s a john behind the house,” he told me, gesturing toward the rear door.

“You mentioned a bedroom,” I reminded him.

He nodded to the ladder. “It’s the loft. There’s a small bed up there,” he revealed. I shivered and wondered if I was idiotic enough to lay down in the chimney hoping for heat. “Sit down on the couch and I’ll make a fire,” he told me, no doubt noticing the way my body quivered.

I plopped down on the couch and rubbed my wet, cold arms. Fin worked his magic on a small pile of dried wood beside the chimney, and in a moment he recreated Prometheus’ miracle by creating fire in the hearth. The flames licked at their food supply like a hungry dog and soon there was a comfortable blaze. I held my hands out to the heat and felt my skin glow. The fire also cast the room in a soft glow that chased away the shadows in all but the deepest corners.

Fin put the lamp on top of a small table that stood in front of the couch. “Didn’t you say this place had electricity?” I wondered.

“Aye, and it does, but there’s no sense using the petrol for a single night,” he pointed out. He leaned back on the floor and the firelight danced across his handsome features. I found myself mesmerized by the lively look in his eyes and the pensive expression on his face. He turned to me and I whipped my head away, but I’d been caught staring. “Where are my manners? I haven’t offered you a towel to dry yourself.” He strode over to the dresser and pulled out a pile of blankets that he offered to me.

“I’m fine,” I assured him.

“You’ll catch your death of cold if you stay in those clothes. You can change in the loft and dry yourself with one of these blankets,” he suggested.

The offer was too tempting, so I grabbed a blanket, took my clothes suitcase, and climbed the old ladder to the loft. The loft sat above the kitchen and dining area, and there was a short railing around the sides to keep someone from falling off. The firelight flickered on the thatched ceiling above me and danced across the dry straw. I changed into my night shirt and glanced over the side.

My eyes fell on Fin, half-naked and still stripping. I sat there dumbly for a moment admiring the thin but ample chest and the strong arms. Then I averted my eager eyes and lay flat against the loft floor until I was sure he was done. I peeked over the edge and was both disappointed and pleased to see he was in a pair of gray sweat pants and a white shirt. He glanced up and smiled when he noticed my lecherous gaze.

“How are you feeling now?” he asked me.

I blushed, but swallowed the lump in my throat. “Much better,” I replied. I climbed down the ladder and met him in the kitchen. He opened the cupboards and we were presented with Old Mother Hubbard’s fare of invisible food. My eyes flickered to Fin. “Please tell me you have emergency rations somewhere,” I mused.

He smiled and shook his head. “I’m afraid not. If nothing is found in these cupboards then hunger will be our companion for tonight,” he told me. We searched the cupboards and came up with a box of cereal, a packet of spaghetti seasoning, and some spices. The finds sat on the kitchen table before us. “It seems we must do with cereal tonight though there’s plenty of water out of the pump at the sink,” Fin commented, indicating a small hand pump beside the sink.

“And tomorrow?” I wondered.

“Tomorrow we can fetch food from the mainland, providing the boat arrives,” he told me.

I cringed. “Not comforting. . .” I murmured.

“Perhaps food will ease your mind,” he encouraged me.

We poured our two bowls of dry cereal, honey oats, and took our feast over to the warm, cheerful fire. As I munched on my dry oats I pondered the significance of milk and if there was any cow on the island from which I could swipe milk for tomorrow’s breakfast. By the time I finished with my dry feast I was mostly full and definitely tired. My nap earlier hadn’t completely conquered the lack of sleep that morning, and I stifled a yawn.

“We should get some rest. The mornings come early here,” Fin agreed with my yawn.

I clambered back up the ladder, but paused halfway there to watch Fin prepare his bed on the couch. “There isn’t anywhere for you to sleep?” I asked him.

He looked to me with a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Only the loft,” he told me.

I blushed. “I-I guess not,” I replied.

I scurried up the ladder and dove into the bed. The sheets were made from the softest sheep skin and the top quilt, showing a scene of a beach, was sewn by a careful, caring hand. The soft glow of the lamp below me was extinguished, but for a long time afterward the fire still crackled and cast its warm light on the walls and ceiling. My mind wouldn’t allow sleep to immediately come to me. Instead it forced me to ponder how I started out in a chic hotel room that morning and was now in the loft of an old cottage on an island in the Hebrides. I couldn’t explain it even to myself, but I was determined to at least enjoy myself. I was owed that much on this forced vacation.

After that determined inward speech I drifted off to a deep, calm sleep.

I was woken up by a painful blast of a bugle horn from just outside the cottage. The windows rattled and so did my brain as the bugle sounded again. I sat up with all the grace of an angry warthog and the beauty of Medusa, and peeked over the edge of the loft. Fin swung his legs over the side of the couch. There was a smile on his face as he shook his head. He stood and went over to open the door.

Another bugle blast erupted from the bugler and echoed through the single-room. An older gentleman of about sixty-five marched into the cottage with bugle in one hand and a gun in the other. He wore a dark green hunting outfit, the kind with the thick coat and slightly baggy pants, and had on the same kind of flat hat. He saluted to Fin, who saluted in return.

The old man spoke in a thick, proper English accent. “Good morning, old chum! I heard you were back and didn’t want to miss a minute’s daylight with you,” the old man told him.

“I’m flattered, General,” Fin replied. He nodded at the gun. “Hoping to get in some hunting before the cock crows?” he wondered. The hour was just after Too-Early and way before Give-Me-Five-More-Minutes.

“The grouse on the mainland have been wonderful, and I don’t know as the grouse here will be just as good, and unsullied by those tourists, too,” the general replied.

“Tourists?” Fin asked him.

“Oh, you know, the ones at the Great House. The men of the family haven’t a mind to shooting much, and the women are worse, or so I’ve been told. They hardly leave the house,” he explained. While they talked I listened and hurriedly dressed. My brush caught in my Medusa hair and I yelped. The noise was enough to catch the attention of the general. “Who’s there?” he called out.

“Easy there, general. It’s only my guest,” Fin told him.

I climbed down the ladder and smiled at the men. “Good morning,” I greeted them.

The general took off his hat and bowed to me. “Good morning. I hadn’t any idea Fin had a lady friend with him.” The general’s eyes flickered over to Fin with a teasing glint in them, who cleared his throat and gestured to me.

“General Henry Johnston, this is Miss Elizabeth Conroy. She’s staying a week with me on her vacation,” Fin introduced us.

General Johnston clasped his bugle to his waist, stepped forward, and gallantly took my hand to plant a soft kiss on my palm. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Conroy.”

“You can call me Elizabeth,” I replied.

“And you can call me General. Most everyone in these parts does,” he returned. He turned to Fin and plopped his hat back on his head. “What plans had you this fine day?” he wondered.

“I hadn’t really thought of it. We must find food at the mainland, certainly,” Fin told him.

“The Breathnachs are expecting to see you soon. The Misses has talked of nothing else but seeing you since they heard this morning from the Captain that you were come, and Mr. Breathnach, the good chap, has the island report for you,” the General informed him.

“Island report?” I repeated.

The general turned to me and nodded. “Yes. It’s the report Breathnach gives to Fin here every time he visits his island.”

I blinked. “His island?”