Short story II

The manager arrived in the village along the dirt track. His arrival was viewed with suspicion and trepidation by the people, who briefly stopped to watch his progress. In turn, the manager scanned his surroundings with barely veiled contempt. The sea breeze blew some of the smoke from the thatched houses past his face. Pushing the hat down on his head, the manager alighted from his carriage and started to call at each of the dozen houses. Although the man of the house was away from a few, that proved no impediment to the delivery of his message. As his wagon trundled back down the dirt track, the villagers gathered by their jetty. News had travelled quickly, even to those who had been out fishing in the sealoch and beyond. Ashen-faced, with many in tears, others shouting in anger, the people of the hamlet discussed the fate that had just been handed down to them. Eviction.

The small fishing boat tacked across the sealoch, trying to make the best of the breezy conditions. The downdrafts off the surrounding hills posed no challenge to the experienced sailor, who, although only a young man, knew these waters like the back of his hand. With a good catch on board, it was time to return home. As he approached the pier of his village, a cloud of dust along the road east indicated the departure of a carriage. An unusual occurrence, certainly at that speed. Our fisherman presently ran his craft ashore, and took his catch out. After pulling the boat above the tideline, he took out his catch and walked into the village - and into a scene of tumult and uproar. "We have to leave the village", was the first hammerblow. "At the start of next month!", was the second. And that was only a week away.

A blustery wind ruffled the heather on the hills above the village. The young woman, herding the black cattle, gathered them from their pasture, a little way beyond. It was time for their milking. Once that was done, she would return down the valley and head for home. And for the arms of her lover. Two fishing boats could be discerned in the sealoch below, and they were headed for shore. Was Calum's one of them? It was difficult to make out at this distance. Having collected the milk in several pails, the young woman and her friends carefully headed downhill. Upon entering the village, they were greeted with news that caused indescribable distress. They were to lose their homes by the next week.

Darkness fell over the village. The seafog wreathed the hovels in a mist of despondency and despair. In a week's time, not much would be left of them, and the little valley would be deserted. The young woman sat with her mother and father, a sheet of paper in her trembling hands. It outlined the terms of the family's departure from the village. "You have proved, by falling into arrears, that you are unable to take care of the land so generously afforded to you by his lordship. As a result, he is now left with no alternative but to remove you from his property. To this effect, transportation will be provided to...". She put down the piece of paper, resisting the temptation to fling it into the fire. Walking outside, she took a deep breath of fresh air whilst watching the moon rise over the sealoch. A hand softly gripped her shoulder from behind. She whipped round, but her alarm vanished when she saw the features of her beloved Calum outlined in the moonlight.

Strangely enough, Calum was smiling, and she swallowed the litany of complaints about the imminent eviction. "Aren't they nice", he began, "offering us land from amongst the folks ten miles away up the coast. It won't be Calum depriving them of any more of their poor soil." The seamist had drawn away, and their faces were lit up in the moonlight. Her face was lit up by more than the moonlight. An unspoken understanding between them appeared to be crystallising into a promise. "I'm not going to eek a living off a postage stamp", he continued. The swell from the Atlantic, beyond the sealoch, prompted waves to break on the shore in the distance. "My folks are all for the move up", she replied. "They are preparing, and will make the flit on Tuesday". Calum shrugged. "Yours are good people", he reassured her. "But there is no future on this coast. Not here, not 10 miles away." Apprehension clouded her eyes. Talk from other villages in the district had been of summary evictions, with people not just leaving for somewhere else nearby, but overseas. Calum moved closer and took her hands into his, looking straight into her eyes. "A ship is coming on Monday, and will anchor in the loch for the people in the next valley", he whispered. "I'm going to be on it. Come with me".

A wisp of high cloud drew in from the west, gradually obscuring the bright light of the moon. It continued to cast a faint light on the couple by the shore, who were too engrossed in each other to notice the imperceptible changes. When they finally turned to return to their respective homes, the moon was all but obscured.

On the last evening before the village was to be cleared of its permanent residents, a sailing ship entered the bay and dropped anchor. It framed the sunset in a stunning backdrop of gold, orange and red - but the beauty of it was seen through a shroud of tears from the villagers on both sides of the bay. Their next sunset would be seen from a different place. As darkness fell, two hearts started beating faster.

It was late at night when Calum bade farewell to his folk, having explained to them what he was going to do. He would not relocate to another desolate part of the coast. After a difficult and emotional time, he walked outside and waved good-bye to his family, outlined against the light of the fire in the doorway of their home. A home which would not be their home anymore very soon. By the light of the moon, he slowly made his way to the shore. Calum's beloved was not yet there. It would be more difficult for her to slip away from her home, as her parents had actually forbidden her from joining the ship. And, knowing that, she was also forbidden from seeing Calum. So, just before dawn, they would meet at the next village, also due for clearance but by emigrant ship. A last boat from that village would go out to the ship at daybreak, after which it was to depart these shores.

All aglow in the glow of the decrescent moon, the young woman watched her beloved sail north across the bay. A wisp of seamist appeared from the glen ahead of her and shrouded his boat from view. The mist also rolled down the slope that lay across her path. Pressing ahead, she entered the area of fog, and ... lost all sense of direction. The path was fairly distinct, and easy to follow in daytime, but it cut through an area of country that was dissected by animal trails, varying from rabbits to sheep, running every which way.

The fog blanketed the hillside, and the young woman had no option but to stop, as she had no idea where she was, or whether she was going in the right direction. Waiting for daylight was not an option, as the ship would be gone at dawn. But when daylight started to filter through the mist, it was as dense as ever. She did make headway downhill, and presently emerged from under the cloud. Moorland stretched in all directions. The sun rose directly ahead of her, in the east, briefly peeping from under the cloud, before it was obscured. Turning round, the young woman espied the sealoch, some distance away west. She dropped the bag with her possessions, and clasped her hand in front of her mouth. She dropped to her knees and stretched her hands out to the west. Her wail of despair was carried away by the uncaring wind.

The sealoch was empty. The ship had departed. With her beloved Calum on board.

She stumbed blindly along the contour of the moorland, crossing trail after trail, with the sealoch some distance to her right. The young woman, wreathed in a fog of despair, was making for home - but a home that, later that day, would no longer exist. The fog on the hill slowly lifted and as her composure returned, she recognised the familiar trail that led down from the now deserted sheilings. Approaching the village, she found the people busy loading their belongings onto carts and the like. As she passed through the belt of rowan trees that sheltered the hamlet, she did not notice the shadow loosening itself from the wall of the first house. A hand took hold of her shoulder. With a yelp, she whipped round. "You didn't think I'd just leave you here, would you?" Calum said, with an impish smile on his face. "But the ship was gone!" came the reply. "Aye, and I did not get on when you weren't there." The smile disappeared from his face. "I couldn't leave you behind. I couldn't".

The mist lifted off the tops of the surrounding hills, and the sun shone down on the township. Its people took one final look back as they filed through the rowan trees and headed up the moorland trail for a new existence on even less land.

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