Catan was still feeling groggy from her afternoon nap.

Catan was still feeling groggy from her afternoon nap, but her spirit of fun never slept. She immediately saw that Lena was signaling her to keep quiet, and without breaking her stride she continued down the hall towards Benedict, who was playing with his doll in apparent obliviousness to his Mama’s presence outside the door.

But Cat was so startled by what was hiding behind the tall chest that she forgot her silence and even forgot her fun.

“Paul!” she cried. “Are you listening at your father’s door?”

Paul lifted his head and gave her a sour look. “No, I am not. My father is not even at home.”

Paul lifted his head and gave her a sour look.

“Ach!” Cat looked to Lena for an explanation, but Lena was sheepishly hiding her mouth behind her hand. “What’s the game?” she asked the two of them.

Lena giggled until Paul held up his hand for silence.

As the seconds passed, Cat’s shame over her false accusation was replaced by annoyance. At last Paul’s arm dropped, and he fell back against the door as if defeated.

He fell back against the door as if defeated.

“Well and what are you doing?” Cat cried. “It looks like listening and sneaking to me!”

“We weren’t sneaking,” he muttered.

“Ach! But you were listening!”

“And who was it who looked through Eithne’s affairs when she was out?” he accused, somewhat irrelevantly Cat thought.

“I was only trying to find out who was the scoundrel who stole her away and left her!” Cat gasped. “As the big sister of her! Were you listening to my sister, Paul?”

“I was rather listening to mine. As her big brother. And they were downstairs in the dining hall where she ought to know I can hear her.”

'And they were downstairs in the dining hall.'

“They who?” Cat asked.

Lena giggled again, entirely irrelevantly it seemed. However, she paled as soon as Cat’s stare was turned on her, and she blurted, “Eithne, too. But we did not mean harm!”

“What do they have to say to one another?” Cat asked. “They scarcely even speak the same language!”

'What do they have to say to one another?'

“That’s precisely what,” Paul snapped. “Eithne was teaching Rua Gaelic, and Rua was teaching her English.”

“Never!” Catan was so bewildered she could only smile.

Relieved by Cat’s change of expression, Lena gushed, “It was so funny! I wish you could hear them giggle, Cat!”

'It was so funny!'

“Eithne giggling?” Cat gasped.

“And Lasrua!”


Lena nodded excitedly, and Cat squeezed her arm in delight.

Cat squeezed her arm in delight.

Eithne’s wraithlike presence had been wringing Catan’s heart – little Eithne who had always been so sweet and shyly smiling until that mysterious man had come into her life and promptly spoiled it.

“It’s no wonder they were giggling,” Paul grumbled, “since their entire lesson seemed to consist of parts of the body and ways to stroke or cuddle or kiss them, by means of demonstrations.”

Now Cat laughed aloud. Lena joined her, and Benedict too, for Benedict gladly laughed at the slightest provocation. Only Paul remained stubbornly sullen.

Only Paul remained stubbornly sullen.

“Ach, Paul!” Cat nudged her husband with her foot. “They’re simply being sixteen-​​year-​​old girls again, after being unhappy old ladies for too long. And you’re sore at them!”

“I do not want my sister to know the names of such things in Gaelic.”

Lena snorted and tried to hide her laughter in her elbow.

“Such things!” Cat scoffed. “A little innocent girlish fun it was!”

“Innocent!” He leapt to his feet. “I do not believe it was quite innocent, Cat,” he said sternly. “When you are learning a new language, is that where you begin?”

He scowled so stubbornly.

He scowled so stubbornly, so convinced he was right, that Cat and Lena could only shriek with laughter, and Benedict giggled until he could be heard flopping over onto his back.

“You’re asking the wrong lady!” Cat crowed. “How we did tease poor Wyn when we first were learning English! Innocent as babes,” she confided to Lena, “asking him, ‘Wyn, what does it mean, to suck?’”

Lena hid her face in Cat’s shoulder and laughed, but Paul had nowhere to hide his own, and Cat watched it turn as red as Ethelwyn’s had in those not-​​so-​​very-​​distant days.

She nudged Lena with her elbow but kept one eye on her true audience. “And Wyn would be trying to get out of it, saying he didn’t know how to explain, and so we would be telling him, ‘Then you may show us!’”

'Then you may show us!'

Lena tried to wipe the tears from her eyes even as her laughter brought up more.

“That seems to be the method in your family!” Paul howled. “What they couldn’t explain down there, they demonstrated!”

“Sucking?” Cat asked, trying to choke back her laughter.

“Kissing! I heard them!”

“Ach, Paul!”

“I think they were only practicing on their hands, Lord,” Lena said soothingly, “as we did when were girls.”

'I think they were only practicing on their hands, Lord.'

“So did we, too!” Cat brought the back of her hand up to her mouth and gave it a passionate and rather loud kiss. “All the girls do!”

“They sounded real to me,” Paul grumbled.

Cat laughed. “You only wish!”

“I – do–not!” he gasped.

“All the men do! Don’t they, Lena? Did I ever tell you what my cousin Egelric said to Flann and me?”

'Did I ever tell you what my cousin Egelric said to Flann and me?'

Lena cast an apologetic glance over her shoulder at Paul, but she leaned close to Cat and shook her head eagerly.

“I can only imagine,” Paul snarled. “That man!”

Cat ignored him and leaned her forehead against Lena’s.

“It was back when Father was trying to get Egelric for one of us girls, before he ever married Lili. And we told him he could have his pick of Flann or me, for we two were of age, and Cousin Egelric said, despairing, ‘You’re not asking me to choose which one of you is the fairest?’ And the sister of me did say, pert as a pie, ‘We would be interested to hear your opinion on the matter, but the important thing is, which one of us would you like to cuddle up with in your bed?’”

'Which one of us would you like to cuddle up with in your bed?'

Lena giggled, and Cat paused to peek up at Paul’s drawn face.

“And do you know what he did say?” she asked Lena.

“No!” she whispered.

“No!” Paul snapped.

“He did say, a-​​grinning with all the wolf’s-teeth of him, ‘What I would like would be the two of you cuddling up in my bed together, and I watching.’”

'What I would like would be the two of you cuddling up in my bed together, and I watching.'

“No!” Lena squealed and laughed until she was pink.

“That he did!”

“I believe it!” Paul cried. “That man!”

“Ach! You’re all the same!” Cat scoffed.

“I am not like – that! You only think all the men are, because all the men in your family are! Wicked!”

'All the men in your family are!'

“Fie!” Cat protested, but she laughed, for she did not take his outrage seriously. “It’s bold they are, and nothing more!”

“And I don’t want my sister involved with any of them! Even watching her,” he grimaced.

“With whom?” Cat gasped. “Cousin Egelric may be an old devil, but he loves his Lili. He doesn’t want your sister, Paul. Even if she does know how to say ‘suck’ in Gaelic,” she snickered and nudged Lena.

'Even if she does know how to say 'suck' in Gaelic.'

“Any of them!” Paul cried. “None of them!” He slipped past the ladies and went stomping down the stairs, with far less grace than he naturally possessed.

Cat still giggled, but she was mystified by her husband’s outrage. It now seemed more serious than mere discomfort with his little sister learning Gaelic by way of the universal language.

Egelric was true to Lili, and Aengus seemed unlikely to fall in love with Lasrua when his heart already ached for Lena. Malcolm was devoted to Iylaine. Domnall was rather young. There was not a Gael in the valley who seemed likely to be “involved” with Lasrua, beautiful though she was.

But she recalled one who recently had been in the valley.

Cat’s curiosity slept lightly, and now it was awakened. Her spirit of fun never slept at all.

Cat's curiosity slept lightly, and now it was awakened.