Euan stared out of the window of his croft at the frothing sea. It was stormy for April, the water a mesmerising shade of blue-green topped with white-crested waves. The tide was out. On the white stretch of sand, the gulls scavenged for mussels and clams.
On the desk in front of him, a reply to Donald’s latest letter lay half-finished. His friend was making light of it, but Euan could tell things were not going well for Donald and his family in Canada. The farm was too big, the winters too long, the country much more vast and strange than they had expected. Morag wanted to come home, but Euan knew Donald well enough. A proud man, who had made a bold choice, he would make his new life work or die in the trying.
Euan pushed the letter aside. He had not the heart to break the tragic news of Angus Lennox’s death to Donald. He could barely think of it himself without a lump rising in his throat, without bile in his gut choking him. The three of them were of an age, he and Donald and Angus. They had grown up together, learned to fish together and to croft, too, each destined to take on their fathers’ farms, as indeed they had. Until Donald left for a better life. Until Angus drowned, lost from his boat in a night-time storm, when he should have known better than to be out in such treacherous conditions.
“He did know better!” Euan cursed aloud. Angus had taken the risk because Factor Morrision had put his rent up by half, and Factor Morrison had put his rent up because he suspected that Angus was one of the saboteurs who were destroying the new deer fencing. He’d been right. He’d been right to suspect Euan and at least four of the other crofters, who’d also had notice of a rent increase.
Guilt and anger made Euan curse again. The Laird of Heronsay had arrived on the island yesterday. He had refused Euan an interview, but tomorrow, Euan and his small but determined band of supporters were going to insist on meeting him, breaking into the castle by force if necessary.
“You will not have died in vain, Angus. I swear.”
With a heavy sigh, Euan pulled close the window shutter and picked up the jacket of his Sunday suit. His heart heavy, his mood dark and sombre, he made his way out, buffeted by the wind as he strode along the cliff top to join the assembled funeral party. It included Angus’s grieving widow and three young bairns.
* * * *
Glancing at her reflection in the mirror atop the table in her room, Fiona made a face. If only she and Constance Cunningham were on better terms, perhaps she might have borrowed a gown. The very notion made her smile. Even had they been similar in shape and size, which they most definitely were not, Mrs Cunningham was more likely to lend her services at the Govan free clinic than lend her son’s nurse companion a gown.
“So this will have to do,” Fiona said to her reflection, which wore a plain black skirt, a white blouse and short jacket. “Hardly the most elegant of attire for my cousin’s wedding, but no-one will have eyes for anyone but the bride.”
Though she did have her mother’s locket. The tiny gold necklace in the shape of a heart, which had been her father’s gift to his wife on her wedding day, was now Fiona’s most treasured possession.