"Look - there he is, between the trees," Peter whispered. "What a beast!"
Lying flat on her stomach beside him, her auburn shoulder-length hair brushing the purple heather, Natalie raised her hand to shield her emerald green eyes from the sun. She strained to catch a glimpse of this illusive creature. They had spent the whole morning searching for him, but now her sudden movement sent the gigantic stag bounding back into the dense covering of the trees further down the glen. Peter jumped to his feet, furiously beating the ground with his hiker's stick.
"Thanks a lot," he growled between gritted teeth, his blue eyes glaring coldly at Natalie. He ran his fingers through his blond hair, his face displaying disbelief and contempt for the pretty young woman at his side.
"Sorry," she mumbled helplessly, "I didn't realise they were so ... so timid." She turned on to her back wondering why it was such a big deal, and she was surprised to see Peter already on his feet and packing away his camera and tripod.
"Might as well go back to the hotel," he muttered angrily over his shoulder as he strode off across the rocks, leaving Natalie to scramble up on her own and run after him. A lot shorter than Peter, it took her several seconds to reach his side and, stumbling along trying not to lose her footing, she was glad that her hair hung over her face and hid the tears as he set a gruelling pace down the mountainside.
Back at the hotel Peter headed straight for the bar.
"I think I'll just go and have a hot bath," Natalie ventured nervously, still unsure of her fiancé's mood. Getting no response from his stony expression, she hastily retreated to her room to warm herself up after the icy silence of the morning.
An hour later, her confidence boosted by the relaxation of a long, hot soak and time to reflect, Natalie ventured back down the stairs. She ordered herself a drink and looked around the lounge.
"Excuse me," she attracted the landlord's attention, "but have you seen the young man I was with earlier?"
"He just left with my daughter," the man replied looking slightly embarrassed. "You'll just catch them in the lane if you hurry. They've gone in search of 'Big Mac' - the stag up on the mountain," he added, seeing Natalie's confused expression.
She took her drink and sat down resignedly by the window. Sure enough, there was Peter in the lane outside. He looked taller and more debonair than ever in his country brogues. Striding along beside him was an equally tall young woman, her long raven hair blowing in the breeze beneath her tweed cap.
Natalie sighed, took stock of the situation and then ran back upstairs. Moments later she reappeared dressed in a long, elegant, grey coat and black leather boots, her camera slung around her neck. Her face was slightly flushed, like that of a guilty schoolgirl playing truant. But why should she spend the afternoon moping? She'd go down to the village and pick up a few souvenirs; she might as well make the best of what was left of the day. She set off down the hill, breathing in the clear Scottish air. For the first time in her life she noticed the mixture of colours and country sounds around her. Her auburn hair bobbed around her shoulders and her green eyes twinkled with the unexpected freshness that coursed through her veins.
Almost dancing round a sharp bend in the road, she came to an abrupt halt. There before her, quietly grazing on the edge of the slope, was a stag. Natalie knew by its size, and from Peter's description, that this was 'Big Mac', the very creature they had spent several hours stalking that morning. Natalie froze to the spot, not wanting to frighten him away again.
For several seconds Natalie watched him, over-awed by the magnificence of his antlers and the latent power of his muscles that now rippled gently beneath his soft, velvet coat as he inched his way across the grass verge, grazing on the lush green grass.
Natalie knew what she had to do. Very, very slowly she raised her camera up to eye level. "Please be quiet," she silently pleaded with the shutter as she took a shot of her prize. The stag did not stir.
"At last I'm doing something right," Natalie thought, her heart beating wildly with excitement. Deciding to 'go for broke', she activated the zoom lens. The stag flinched at the unexpected sound and his head shot upward, his huge crown of antlers heralding him king and protector of the herd. He turned slowly and fixed his big brown eyes momentarily on the figure standing behind him.
"Got you!" Triumphantly Natalie squeezed the button again, the stag beautifully centred in her view-finder. Startled, he leapt off up the hillside, but Natalie kept on taking shot after shot, until finally he disappeared into the distance and the film came to an end.
Half running, half leaping herself, Natalie completed her journey down to the village and made straight for the sign that announced a 24-hour film developing service.
That evening, back in the hotel, dinner was somewhat strained.
"How was the rest of your day?" Natalie eyed Peter cautiously as he pushed his food around his plate. He dropped his knife with a clatter, seemingly unaware of the raised eyebrows and disapproving glances aimed in his direction by the other diners. Slowly and deliberately he picked up his glass and drank his wine.
"Not very profitable," he replied icily. "According to Julia, you and I had a very rare opportunity this morning to get photographs of that infamously illusive animal; but thanks to you..." For the first time that evening Peter stared Natalie straight in the eye, not wanting to lose one ounce of the effect he anticipated his words would have on her; "Thanks to you, my dear, my career leapt into oblivion."
After an empty pause, during which Natalie did not respond, he slurred sarcastically, "So, how was the rest of your day - darling?"
Natalie looked down at the table, not because she was the least worried by his tone of voice, but because she did not want him to see any hint of the excitement or satisfaction in her own eyes.
"Oh, I just wandered into the village and sampled the local tea and cake," she replied casually, refusing to be intimidated.
Peter looked away, somewhat baffled by the unusual confidence of her voice, and Natalie savoured her moment of secret triumph. "Better to find out now what he's like than after I've got another ring on my finger," she reasoned with herself, feeling disappointed at her own apparent lack of character judgement in the past. However, she felt surprisingly calm and unemotional about the whole affair. She had, after all, come away expecting a romantic weekend and hoping for a long-awaited proposal. But as Peter headed off for yet another drink at the bar and she climbed the stairs alone, she already knew what her answer would now be if he did ask her to marry him.
The next morning passed very slowly. Peter had left at dawn in search of 'Big Mac', again with Julia, the landlord’s daughter, tagging along at his side and assuring him that today she was certain she would be able to track the animal down.
Natalie tried to occupy herself until midday, when she knew her photographs would be ready. Finally losing interest in the book she was reading, she could contain herself no longer and walked briskly down the hill to the village.
As the clock struck noon, she crossed the threshold into the chemist's shop. Eagerly awaiting her arrival was the red-haired assistant.
"There you are at last." His Scottish lilt drifted across to Natalie as he came around to the front of the counter and stood next to her. From the packet in his hand he drew an enlarged photograph and passed it to Natalie.
"It's ... it's beautiful," she gasped. There before her, captured in all his regal glory, was 'Big Mac', his soft, gentle eyes gazing at her once more. Her hands trembled as she took the pile of other photographs and watched a replay of the previous day's events, each frame developing the sequence as the stag gracefully turned and then leapt away into the distance.
Natalie looked up at the assistant, her eyes full of disbelief that these could have come from her camera. The admiration in his grey eyes caught her off-guard, and she hastily turned back to the photographs.
"I hope you don't mind," he said, sounding rather anxious, "but I developed a double set for you. It's not often anyone brings in photo's of this quality - and certainly not of him."
Natalie looked up at the assistant again and smiled. "Thank you. That was very thoughtful of you." She opened her purse and paid the bill.
"Are you staying in the village long?" he asked as she turned to leave.
"Actually, no." She headed for the door in an effort to cover her confusion. But then she stopped and turned, looking shyly into his eyes. "Actually, yes." Her sudden change of decision startled even Natalie, but she was not afraid any more, and she knew her days of hiding behind Peter were over.
"If you'd like a guide, I know most of the beauty spots around here." The young man looked at her, hope and uncertainty in his face. Natalie walked slowly back towards the counter. "Mind you," he added hastily, "from the look of those photo's, you don't need anyone to show you where to find the local land-marks."
"Oh yes I do," Natalie answered, accepting his invitation.
Later that afternoon, the young Scotsman, Iain, and Natalie took a steady stroll down by the loch. Natalie sank down on to the ground and admired the scene. Iain sat beside her, his red hair glinting in the sunlight, his grey eyes reflecting his gentleness and pleasure at having met such a lovely young woman. He handed Natalie his binoculars. Looking through them at the scenery all around, she caught sight of Peter's figure on the craggy rocks in the distance. Crouched beside him, hair still blowing in the breeze, was Julia. Motionless, together they were scanning the mountainside, camera and tripod fixed at the ready.
"What a strange weekend it's been," Natalie mused as she returned the binoculars to Iain and lay back on the carpet of purple heather. Had she made the right decision to say ‘no’ to Peter, yet to stay on to get to know Iain better?
From somewhere in the distance, the call of a stag echoed round the glen, as though affirming her unspoken thoughts.
Yes - she had made the right decision.
Back to Top