“What on earth are you doing, John?” Euan McLean demanded of the crofter, a big, brawny man with wiry grey hair.
“Factor Morrison is offering a rate that’s more than fair, Euan,” John muttered, clutching the heavy wooden mallet defensively to his chest. “If I don’t accept the work, someone else will.”
“But you’re fencing in the best bit of common grazing on the island.”
John Cowan shrugged and looked away, embarrassed.
“The new laird wants to have deer brought over for his friends to hunt, and doesn’t want them escaping.”
“Import deer to the island!” Euan exclaimed. “If he does, he may as well shoot us while he’s at it, for our cattle will starve for lack of grazing.”
“Och, you exaggerate. There’s plenty land to go around, for goodness’ sake.”
Euan realised his fists were clenched. It wasn’t John’s fault, he reminded himself. The man was just trying to make a bit of extra cash for his family.
“Can’t you see,” he said through gritted teeth, “there’s less and less common grazing left since the laird placed the moor out of bounds.”
“Factor Morrison says . . .”
“Factor Morrison says more than his prayers,” Euan exploded. “If things carry on like this, we’ll lose our way of life entirely. We have to put a stop to it!”
“Calm down, Euan.” John Cowan shuffled his mallet from one hand to another, looking about him nervously to where the small group of other workmen men who had come over from the mainland were gathered. “We don’t want to get a reputation as troublemakers. Anyhow, it’s in the laird’s interests to do his best for this island. He wouldn’t want his tenants to starve, else there would be no-one to pay his rents, now would there?” he said with an unconvincing attempt at a smile.
“I suppose that’s what Factor Morrison told you?”
“Well, he did and all.”
Euan sighed heavily and ran his fingers through his wind-blown hair. He couldn’t blame John Cowan for failing to see things as he did. Factor Finlay Morrison could indeed be very plausible. Fiona would have seen right through him, though, for there wasn’t a better judge of character than Fiona. But Fiona was hundreds of miles away in Glasgow, and not likely to be coming back to Heronsay any time soon, by all accounts.
There were times Euan felt as if he was the only person on Heronsay who could see what was happening, and other times when he doubted his own clarity of sight. What if he was exaggerating, or simply too set in his ways? This was the dawn of the twentieth century, after all. Change wasn’t always a bad thing. But deep in his heart he knew that the only person who would benefit from the changes the factor was implementing was the new laird.
“We have to find a way of putting an end to this,” he said, more to himself than to John Cowan. “Morrison has no real sway. He’s only acting under orders, like yourself. What we need is to find a way to get access to the real power.”
“Talk to the laird, you mean?” John Cowan shook his head. “Good luck to you with that one, I don’t think anyone but Morrison’s even met the gentleman.”
But Euan smiled slowly.
“Where there’s a will, John, where there’s a will.” It was what his mother had always said. He’d lost confidence in that one when he’d been unable to persuade Fiona to stay on Heronsay, but maybe, just maybe, he’d not displayed enough determination.
Fighting for his livelihood and the way of life the islanders had lived for hundreds of years, he had more than enough will. He’d beard the lion in his den the very next time the laird deigned to come to Heronsay. And in the meantime, he’d make sure this fencing John Cowan was putting up came right back down again at the first opportunity. Not that he’d tell Cowan, Euan decided sadly.
Dreadful though the thought was, there was going to be a split in the community of Heronsay between those for saving the island and those for saving themselves. And Cowan, as far as Euan was concerned, was on the wrong side for the moment. John would see the light soon enough. The others would come round, Euan was sure, for they had the same interests at heart, the same deep-rooted love of their homeland. And then they’d stand shoulder to shoulder against the laird.
Bidding the crofter a brusque “Good morning”, Euan strode off towards the moor. He needed time to think. And to plan his campaign.