Euan McLean halted reluctantly in front of the abandoned little croft which sat at the far end of the exposed headland. The breeze tugged at his clothes and ruffled his hair. A good drying day, Fiona would have called it.
It seemed a desolate spot now, neglected and silent. Euan pulled the collar of his jacket up. A monument to shattered dreams, he thought ruefully. A future never to be fulfilled. Time and again, he’d wondered what would have happened if Fiona had stayed on.
Another two weeks, a month, the winter.
But she hadn’t, and he’d had to rush things, and he’d made such a mess of it. If only things had been different! Not for the first time, he cursed Factor Morrison under his breath, though he knew, deep down, it wasn’t his fault. Not entirely.
Fiona did not love him. It was as simple as that. Euan closed his eyes and sighed.
He shouldn’t have come out this way. He should have gone the long way round to the harbour, as he’d been doing ever since ever since that day his heart was broken. Wearily he trudged on.
“Been up at the croft again, Euan?” a voice asked.
“Oh, hello, Mrs Cowan.” Euan smiled.
The woman returned his smile sympathetically.
“Wishing won’t bring her back, lad. It’s a right pity, though. The whole village thought you were made for each other.”
“So did I, before Factor Morrison’s cruel intervention,” Euan said stiffly.
“Aye, I heard you called a meeting of the men,” Mrs Cowan said, her voice changing. “You should know that my John won’t be attending.”
Euan turned back in surprise at the sudden harshness in the woman’s voice.
“Whyever not? If we are to fight Morrison, we must speak as one voice.”
“Nobody wants trouble, Euan. This island has always been a peaceful place.”
“For how much longer? What happens when the common grazing is fenced in? What happens when the new laird puts the rents up, and takes away our rights to use his land? Our way of life is at risk, surely John must see that?”
“Best not to rock the boat,” Mrs Cowan said stubbornly. “It can only end in tears.”
Euan shook his head.
“If we all thought like that, we might as well give up and move to the mainland now. Have you not heard what happened to the people on Rachmanal? More than half the crofts left to ruin . . .”
“Stories!” Mrs Cowan said dismissively, no trace of her smile left in the thin, pursed mouth. “You’d better leave my John be, Euan. He wants nothing to do with your radical ideas, you hear me?”
“I’ll hear it from John, if you don’t mind,” Euan said. Nodding curtly, he made his way swiftly along the cliff edge and down the steep incline to the
harbour. It hadn’t occurred to him for a minute that any of the Heronsay men would be other than completely behind his call for action. What if John Cowan was not the only doubter amongst them?
Narrowing his eyes against the low sun which glinted over the teal-green sea, Euan leaped into his small fishing boat and began to make ready to sail. The tide was on the turn. The water slapped against the harbour wall. Outside its protective arm, the sea was topped with playful white waves. Winter was coming, and if Factor Morrison and the new laird had anything to do with it, it would be a harsh one. As if, Euan thought, heaving the sail up, life on Heronsay were not harsh enough already.