Fair Is the Rose

By: Liz Curtis Higgs
The rose saith in the dewy morn,

I am most fair;

Yet all my loveliness is born

Upon a thorn.





CHRISTINA ROSSETTI





One



Never wedding, ever wooing,

Still a lovelorn heart pursuing,

Read you not the wrong you’re doing

In my cheek’s pale hue?

THOMAS CAMPBELL

Newabbey Parish Manse

October 1789



Rose McBride pressed her back against the paneled wall, her gaze fixed on the man kneeling by her sister’s bedside. She could not see Jamie McKie’s face at that late hour. Only his sleek brown hair, tied at the nape of his neck, and his favorite blue waistcoat, crumpled from a long day of waiting for his son to be born. Moments after the child had made his entrance into the world, Jamie had appeared in the birthing room and sent her heart spinning.

He’d not come to see her, but Rose would see her fill of him. Aye, she would.

A peat fire burned low in the grate, barely warming the chilly room. The minister’s spence served as a parlor during the day and as a bedroom and study in the evening. ’Twas the last place her sister had expected to give birth; when her labor had started in the middle of services, Leana had had little choice. Though Rose’s knees ached from crouching in the same position for several minutes, she dared not move and risk discovery. Her beloved Jamie had yet to spy her hiding behind the high-backed chair in the darkest corner. She intended to keep it that way.

Now he was leaning toward her sister, Leana. Touching her hand, then caressing his son’s wee head. The catch in his voice said more than his words. “Leana, will you forgive me?”

Nae! Rose bit down on her lower lip, fighting tears. ’Tis Leana’s fault, not yours, Jamie.

She could not hear the whispered words that followed, but her eyes told her more than she wanted to know. Leana brushed aside her damp blond hair and put the babe to her breast while Jamie stood gazing down at her, his growing fondness for Leana palpable even from a distance. Rose averted her gaze, though the tender image lingered. Why, oh, why hadn’t she left the room with the others?

All at once they both laughed, and Leana’s voice carried across the room. “One has found a way to come between us.”

Rose swallowed hard. Did Leana mean the babe … or her?

“Nothing will come between us again,” Jamie said firmly.

He means me. Rose clutched the back of the chair, feeling faint. Why would he say such a thing? You love me, Jamie. You ken you do.

Jamie entreated her sister with words no woman could resist. “Will you give me a chance to prove myself to you?”

Prove yourself? Oh, Jamie. Rose sank to the floor on her knees, not caring if they heard her, not caring if she drew another breath. Jamie, the handsome cousin who had kissed her that very morning, was prepared to put her aside like a dish of half-eaten pudding.

“We shall begin again,” she heard her sister say. “Now then, tell me about your dream.”

“So I will.” A chair scraped against the wooden floor.

Much as Rose tried to resist, Jamie’s voice, low and familiar, drew her like smoke to a flue. He spun a far-fetched story about the night he left his home in Glentrool and slept on a stony cairn among the crushed berries of a leafy Jacob’s ladder plant. Then he dreamed of a mountain, he said, taller than any in Galloway and bright as a full moon in a midnight sky. Winged creatures moved up and down the mountainsides like stairsteps, and a voice roared like the sea.

“What did this … this voice tell you?” Leana asked.

When Jamie did not respond, Rose shifted to see him better, her curiosity aroused. In a twelvemonth, Jamie had not mentioned such a dream to her.

“Leana, it was a voice like no other. Wondrous. And frichtsome. The words clapped like thunder: ‘Behold, I am with you wherever you go. I will never leave you.’ ”

Leana gasped. “But, Jamie—”

“Aye, lass. The same words you whispered to me on our wedding night.”

Nae! Rose pressed her hands to her ears at the very moment a sharp knock sounded at the door. Startled, she fell forward with a soft cry, her hiding place forgotten.

Leana’s voice floated across the room. “Who’s there, behind the chair?”

Rose drew back, her heart pounding beneath her stays. But it was too late. Taking a long, slow breath, she stood to her feet and did her best to look penitent.

The peat fire lit Jamie’s astonished face. “Rose?”

Shame burned her cheeks. Before she could find words to explain herself, the door creaked open, and the coppery head of their housekeeper, Neda Hastings, appeared.

“Leana, I’ve come tae see ye get some rest …” Neda’s words faded as she caught sight of Rose. “There ye are, lass! I thocht ye’d wandered off tae the kitchen.”

“Nae.” She could not look at Jamie. “I … I wanted to see … the baby.”

“Come, dearie,” Leana murmured, stretching out her hand. “You had only to ask.”

Gathering her skirts and her courage about her, Rose crossed the wooden floor to Leana’s bedside, barely noticing the others as her gaze fell on the tiny bundle in Leana’s arms. “Isn’t he a dear thing?” While Leana held back the linen blanket, Rose smoothed her hand across Ian’s downy hair, as rich a brown as Jamie’s own. “ ’Tis so soft,” she whispered. Had she ever touched anything more precious? His little head fit perfectly within the cup of her hand.

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