From his viewpoint overlooking his croft, Cam MacNabb watched Aileen, her lithe figure stripped to her shift, tramping the clothes in the washtub, the sun dancing in the coppery halo of her hair. Sprays of diamonds sprinkled the grass.
“Nae doubt, she’s an angel from heaven.”
Aileen waved, and he climbed down the hillside to her.
“Hungry?” she asked, the scent of heather mingled with her sweat intoxicating him.
“Only for ye,” he murmured, and she playfully pushed him away.
“I’ll get ye an oatcake.”
There was one dark cloud in Cam’s sky: his mother’s disapproval of Aileen. Build upon an ancient feud, the beginning of which no one could remember, but fueled by much whisky and little common sense, the result was the same: Mrs. MacNabb loathed the entire MacDougal clan. Including his sweet Aileen.
“I’ve been thinking of your mither, Cam.”
“Aye.” Crumbs dribbled from Cam’s mouth.
“I want her to ken how happy ye are.”
“It’s nae fair. She holds your family against ye.” Cam trailed his fingers across her cheek. “I want her to love ye.”
“‘Tis enough ye love me. I want to invite her to supper, and she’ll ken I’m a good wife to ye. Do ye think she’ll come?”
“I dinna ken, but I’ll butcher a sheep, how’s that?”
“I’ll make a haggis, then.”
Cam sent the invitation to his mother by way of Old Ellen from the next croft.
“Nae answer from her,” clucked Ellen sympathetically, tucking her hands beneath her apron.
Aileen was undaunted. The night before the appointed day, she soaked the sheep stomach in salt water, and in the morning, she boiled the liver, heart, and lungs, a basin beneath the windpipe to catch the drippings. She toasted oatmeal until it was golden and peeled a mountain of potatoes and turnips. Carefully, she stuffed the stomach with the chopped organs and oatmeal, sewed the parcel snugly, and lowered the tidy ball into a cauldron of boiling water over the fire.
“Oh, Cam, I’m afraid she willna come.”
“Nae matter, love, we’ll eat like lairds for a week if she dinna.” Cam kissed her, tasting suet and onions. “Dinna forget, I love you.”
Mrs. MacNabb arrived with the afternoon rain, trailing the scent of wet bracken into the stone cottage. She didn’t hide her curiosity, mouth pursed as her eyes browsed the room, taking in the sacking curtains, the sagging bed, the mismatched crockery on the scrubbed table.
“Welcome,” Aileen whispered. Cam gave her a chair that didn’t wobble.
“Aileen’s made haggis, Ma.”
Mrs. MacNabb’s jaw was stiff, her mouth thin. “Tis nae wee thing to make haggis. Took me verra many years to learn.”
Aileen trembled and her face paled.
“Aileen’s got a touch, Ma.”
There was no response but a deepening furrow on his mother’s wrinkled brow.
“Tell me, Ma, how’s Gillis?”
Aileen breathed easier while Cam and Mrs. MacNabb shared news of family and neighbours. She never took her eyes from Cam, though, calming herself, loving him.
Suddenly, there was a shrieking whistle, abruptly stifled, like a hand smothering a scream.
“Och . . .?”
Cam moved to the hearth swiftly, swung the pot away from the flames and hefted the heavy lid.
“I canna bear to look,” Aileen choked.
“Ye dinna pierce it wi’ a knitting needle, did ye?” Mrs. MacNabb railed. “Nae, ye dinna think o’ a rupture. It’s a murdert haggis.”
“We’re eating it.” Cam smiled as he put the haggis on a chipped platter, while Aileen, sobbing miserably, mashed the potatoes and turnips.
“At least ye can make decent taties and neeps,” Mrs. MacNabb growled as Aileen placed the heaping bowls on the table. Then, with a flourish and a wink, Cam set the haggis before his mother.
“God in Heaven,” she exclaimed reverently, awe spreading over her face.
For the haggis had not ruptured raggedly, disgorging its contents in a hideous mess; no, instead, the gentle swell had split evenly and perfectly . . . into the cross of St. Andrew. Fragrant, steamy wisps wreathed the platter.
“Is nae our Aileen a clever one?” grinned Cam.
“Aye. Cam, she is. Ye may gie the blessing now, but ‘tis clear this haggis has already been touched by the Holy Ghost and the Lord’s sweet servant.”
Aileen blushed, unsure, but filled with joy that somehow her blunder had granted her favour.
Mrs. MacNabb tasted the haggis, and as bliss softened her worn face, she smiled and tenderly caressed Aileen’s cheek.
“Ye’ll do, lass, e’en if ye be a MacDougall.”
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