DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of these characters except Jack Elliot. They belong to L. M. M.

Thank you for your reviews. Please R & R.

13. Of Nature and Love I Speak

One evening, Jem walked into the study where all the other boys were seated and addressed Jerry with a grin.

"Well, Jerry. You're little sister has certainly grown up. I saw her sitting in the park with a man today, the two of them in such earnest conversation that they did not notice anybody around them." Looking around at his brother, he said, "Poor Walter, it looks like you have a rival."

Everybody's eyes had flicked towards Walter. He was gazing at Jem in a rather stunned manner. The heavy book he had been reading had slipped out of his fingers and had fallen to the ground wit a thump. Slowly, he bent down, picked it up and attempted a weak smile. "Just because she was sitting with another man does not make him my rival as you call it Jem. Did you never speak to any other girl except Faith since the two of you got engaged?"

"Who was he?" Jerry asked.

"How am I to know?" Jem replied. "I didn't go up to him and interrogate him."

"Why didn't you?"

"Why should I? They looked very happy, whatever it was they were discussing. I did not want to play gooseberry."

"Jem, do you realize that this is my little sister we are talking about?"

"A little sister who is virtually engaged to one of your best friends! Oh! Jerry, stop putting on the protective older brother act. I am sure Una can make friends and look after herself without your help." Walter walked out.

Walter did not ask Una about the man, but it did not prevent him from enduring a torturous night that day. In vain did he tell himself that they were just talking, but all he thought of were Jem's words, "such earnest conversation that they did not notice anybody around" and "it looks like you have a rival." Walter shook his head. What nonsense! Un had a perfect right to talk to her friends without him losing his mind over it.

But he was secretly pleased when Jerry asked Una about it the next day she came to visit. Casually, he slipped it into a conversation and Jem added to it.

"Yes, you two were leaning together like you were in some very confidential conversation."

Una first studied them incredulously. Her eyes darted towards Walter who was watching her earnestly, entreatingly and rather miserably and she burst into an unholy shriek of laughter.

"That was just Felix, Jem. Felix Moore from R.A.M.A. We were just discussing music. I ran into him and he treated me to a high tea in a cafeteria and then we started talking. What did you'll think?"

Walter admitted to her later that Jem had rather scared him and Una turned on him with a frown. "Don't you trust me? Walter, I have never loved anybody but you!"

"I know, Una, Heart of Mine," he breathed into her hair, embracing her. "But you are so controlled that at times I wonder how much I matter. I'm sorry I doubted you."

Una leaned back to look him in the eye. A smile played on her lips. "Una, Heart of Mine?"

"I just came up with that. It fits and it's apt, my queen. Don't you agree?" He smiled. "That's my special name for you henceforth."

"I don't know if it is apt. After all, it is your heart. I can hardly know about that. But I like it," and raising herself on her toes, she gave him a little kiss.

Inverness was one of the most beautiful villages they had ever seen. It had a beautiful harbour with a lighthouse. It was like the Four Winds Harbour, but rather more beautiful. The water here was an enchanting and alluring green and there was a little cove called Mariana's Cove just below Rose's house. Apparently, a girl called Mariana had lived in that hose long years ago, a beautiful young girl whose life was quite as tragic as the Shakespearean heroine she had been named after.

Mariana's Cove was surrounded by white rocks which seemed almost to drop into the vast stretch of emerald and turquoise. The gold sand was always warm it seemed and Una grew to love it there, digging her toes into the soft sand as the waves came in and washed her feet clean again.

Inverness had great wealth of fields and forests and an abundance of flowers. Wild flowers bloomed in every corner, one found them if one overturned a rock and astonishingly, even in the shadiest of glades and nooks. Streams gurgled through sunlit valleys in which squirrels played. Brooks flowed through gardens and birds sanf from every tree. Una went to sleep every night to the song of a nightingale that cast forth it's melody from a cherry tree outside her window. She could never see it, because of the tree's veil of white and pink, and after the first day she stopped looking for it, preferring to gaze at the lovely bridal beauty of the tree.

The four youngsters had a joyful time, going for walks in the woods, berry-picking and picnicking. Rose and Una collected wildflowers and brought home massive bouquets every day to brighten up every corner of the old stone house – Iris Lodge. Una learned o dance and to climb trees. Every afternoon, while Rose did her music practice, Una would take a cushion and a book, climb up a tree and read. Jack also taught her to ride.

One day, one of the farm horses was grazing in the back pasture. Una crept up to it and hesitantly, began to pet it. "How would you like to ride Strwberry?" questioned Jack coming up from behind.

Una looked up at the big, dark-haired, brown-eyed man who she had met at the station only two days ago and had become friends with ever since, and said she would. Without much ado, he lifted her onto the horse, gave her some practical tips and encouraged Strawberry into a trot. Before long, she was galloping. Walter strolled up to his friend and studied Una with raised eyebrows. She smiled at him as Strawberry completed a round of the field and came up to them.

"You'll have to lean back a little, Una, but I have never seen anybody who enjoys bareback riding more. Most people, especially girls prefer saddles. But these are farm horses. They cannot take a saddle." He explained.

"I like riding bareback. I like riding. It's exhilarating," Una replied, holding Walter's hand and springing nimbly down.

It was two days later that Walter and Una were sitting in Rose's bower, her little plot of garden that she tended to herself when home, aflame with flowers, each one seeming determined to outdo the other. June lilies, asters, mayflowers, peonies and daffodils bloomed in a joyous riot of colour. Una watched a butterfly, an impossibly dazzling blue butterfly whose wings seemed to be jeweled by sapphires land on a white rose and drew and drew in her breath with wonder at the sheer beauty of the picture.

Walter lay back on the grass, his hands under his head and gazed at the dancing leaves, dark, pretty leaves that shook and danced to reveal a speck of the blue, blue sky, first here and then there. He could here the stream which flowed just outside Jack's garden fence as it tripped and stumbled over the white pebbles on its way down to the sea. That stream had such a beautiful, crystal clear, silvery laugh, it held all the innocence of a young child, that sound which he awoke and listened to on dark nights. It was he who broke the silence.

"Have you ever wondered what the brook is trying to tell us, Una? This one and the one in Rainbow Valley? It sounds so happy, so full of laughter, but it can't always be flowing by a happy household. It has witnessed sorrow, grief and heartbreak."

"I don't think the question of a household comes in," replied Una thoughtfully. "Every house has had its moments both of joy and of grief. In every house, women have wept and children have laughed. This house resounds in laughter at this moment but it cannot always be like that. It is the same for Ingleside. That house has witnessed some of the happiest scenes in the world, but it has also witnessed the torture and heartbreak of all it's inhabitants," her voice had been lowered and she softly drifted off at last.

Walter rolled over to his side and supported his head on his hand, trying to ask her something. But before he could, he was interrupted by Rose, who erupted out of the house in great excitement, waving a white sheet in her hand.

"We have all been invited to a party at the Murray's. Yes Una, you two as well. There is going to be dancing and a scrumptious supper afterwards. The Murray's always outdo themselves. I told you, Una, Elise Murray had taken a fancy to you. She almost hints that the party is in your honour."

"But she has only met Una once, for half-an-hour," Walter commented, much amused.

"Oh, Elise is ridiculous," Rose explained, airily. "She prides herself on being impulsive and always making up her mind on the very first instance. It's laughable but there it is. That's Elise Murray all over."

"A dance," Una gave a deep sigh and looked towards Walter for help. He, however did not have any sympathy for her. On the contrary, he looked thrilled. Well, it looked like she would have to go through with this dance. Walter saw the look of and absolute martyr on her face and grinned.

"It'll be alright, Una." He whispered, as the followed Rose into the house. "You'll enjoy it, you'll see. It's not like you have not been to a dance before."

"Will I be expected to dance?" she asked him.

"I think you will," Walter smiled, squeezing her fingers.