Fin led the way across the lawn to the pair. They for their part went out of their way to walk to the end of the gravel to meet us, a total of five yards distance. When we reached them I maneuvered myself to be partially hidden behind Fin. I wasn’t shy, but I wanted to assess their personalities before they took much notice of me.
The man smiled beneath his clean-cut mustache and held out his hand to Fin. “Laird Dubhan, a pleasure to see you again,” Mr. Ferguson greeted him.
Fin took his hand and gave it a firm shake. “A pleasure, as always, Mr. Ferguson,” Fin returned.
“Good morning, Fin,” the girl spoke up. She had a sweet smile on her lips and a less-than-sweet look in her eyes as she admired Fin for more than just his brains and manners.
“Good morning, Miss Ferguson, how are you getting on abouts?” Fin asked her.
The daughter laughed. It was like beautiful wind chimes blowing in a soft breeze. I hated it. “Have you forgotten you’re to call me Ophelia?” she scolded him.
“My apologies, Ophelia. You can’t expect an old dog like me to change my ways,” Fin replied.
Mr. Ferguson let out a bellow of a laugh and patted Fin on the back of his shoulder. “Old dog, my foot! You just wait until you’re my age with children running you ragged with their demands.”
“Requests, Daddy,” Ophelia argued.
“Excuse me, my princess, requests,” he corrected himself.
Ophelia looked past Fin at me standing as quiet as a church mouse behind him. Her eyebrows crashed down and her eyes flickered to Fin. “Who do you have with you?” she wondered.
“Let me introduce you,” Fin offered. He gently pushed me forward to stand by his side. “This is Miss Elizabeth Conroy. She’s staying with me in the cottage for a few days. Miss Conroy, this is Mr. Steven Ferguson and Ophelia,” he introduced us.
I smiled and bowed my head. “Good morning,” I greeted them.
“I dare say a friend of Fin’s is a friend of ours,” Mr. Ferguson welcomed me. His eyes flitted over my plain clothes and plain figure. Judging by the barely concealed turn of the lip he didn’t like what he saw.
Ophelia also assessed me with her eyes while her nose slowly tilted upward. “A pleasure to meet you,” she returned.
“Now that we’ve got all the pleasantries out of the way I must insist you both stay for lunch,” Mr. Ferguson invited us.
“We wouldn’t think of being a burden on your household,” Fin argued.
“But you can’t leave yet. Mother would very much like to see you again,” Ophelia insisted.
Fin smiled and bowed his head in acquiescence. “How can I refuse a lady?” he returned.
Ophelia laughed and grabbed his hand. She half-dragged him toward the doors with Mr. Ferguson close behind and I was left to bring up the rear. We stepped inside the old castle open-rafter entrance hall and were presented with a clean room with a wide staircase in front of us and a large room to the left. The room was a sitting room with a great hearth on the far left wall. A warm fire crackled in its depths and a few couches and chairs were gathered around its flames. A woman sat on the couch and she turned around to see us enter. She was much like Ophelia, but her eyes were a touch softer, often meek. Her face lit up and she jumped to her feet and hurried over to us. She tossed aside a thick blanket and revealed a sweater and pants.
“Fin! My goodness, Steve thought that was you coming our way and what a pleasant surprise it is for us!” she greeted us. She took his hands, one of which she had trouble retrieving from her daughter, and planted soft kisses on the sides of his cheeks.
“A pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Ferguson,” Fin greeted her.
She glanced past him at me standing in the hall looking about as at home as a squirrel in a condo. “And who do we have here?”
“A new friend. We met on the Glasgow train,” Fin explained. He gestured from me to the lady of the house. “Miss Elizabeth Conroy, this is Mrs. Mary Ferguson.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Conroy,” Mrs. Ferguson returned.
“Good morning,” I replied.
Ophelia spoke up, evidently not used to being without the center of attention for so long. “Fin has agreed to come to lunch, Mother.”
Mrs. Ferguson clapped her hands together and smiled. “Splendid! Splendid! It will be such a wonderful change to have someone new at the table. This place can be so lonely. I don’t know what we would do without the boat,” she commented.
Mr. Ferguson chuckled. “You should see the boat we rented this year, Dubhan. It’s a beauty, and cuts through the waves like a knife.”
“Even the gales?” Fin wondered.
The gentleman’s proud smile faltered a little. “Well, not quite through the toughest gales, but she’ll do for most of the weather,” he admitted.
“Enough talking of boats and meals!” Ophelia protested. She wrapped her arms around one of Fin’s and pulled him toward the doors. “Now that you’ve seen Mother and since lunch isn’t ready yet what do you say to a walk? I long for the fresh air of the beaches.”
“That sounds like a splendid idea. What do you say, Elizabeth?” he wondered, turning to me. Ophelia looked as pleased to involve me as a she would be to swallow a bucket of fish heads.
My feet ached and my shoes were dirty, but it was either the walk or staying in the castle with the parents. I would risk the daughter and the walk. “I would like to see the beach,” I agreed.
“Splendid. Let’s be off then,” Fin returned.
“Oh, very well,” Ophelia half-heartedly agreed.
“And don’t forget to show Dubhan the boat. It isn’t a sight to be missed,” Mr. Ferguson spoke up.
Ophelia kept herself attached to Fin as closely as any Siamese twins and led us outside. We turned left down the gravel path to the beach and walked a quarter of a mile down a winding, gentle slope until we reached the end of the gravel. The rocks of the island replaced the man-made path and the slope dipped at a steep angle down to a wide swath of beach about twenty yards below us. Steps had been carved from the rock several centuries ago and weather and time had worn them to smooth curves. The stairs twisted and turned, and finally ended at the beach. A large white boat complete with a cabin sat anchored off the land. The beach cove was about thirty yards wide and nearly as deep until it reached the sea. On either side the sand abruptly changed to piles of rocks wet from the tides and the splashing of the waves.
Ophelia tightened her grip on Fin’s arm and pressed herself against his side. “Do you remember all the fishing we would do here?” she mused.
“Yes, though the loch is much better for it,” Fin replied.
She laughed. “But the loch hasn’t so much privacy. Father or Josh would always interrupt us,” she reminded him.
“Where is your brother?” Fin wondered.
She shrugged and waved one hand back toward the castle. “Moping inside. He dislikes the island. Says there’s nothing to do,” she told him.
“Are there no dances on the mainland?” Fin asked her.
She laughed and hugged herself to his side. “Only the old-fashioned ones, and Father doesn’t approve of those. Says they’re a waste of time and energy.”
“Old-fashioned ones?” I repeated.
Ophelia turned to me with a hint of a sneer on her pretty face. “You know, the ones in barns and the like. Besides, we haven’t been invited to any, but none of us are weeping over the loss.” I could understand why no invitations were forthcoming.
“Pity, but what do you say to a walk on the beach?” Fin suggested.
“Just what I had planned!” Ophelia agreed.
Ophelia dragged Fin along and I followed behind them down the steps to the clean sands of the beach. I wore my vacation tennis shoes and they crunched the grains like a Rice Crispies cereal. Small, green-shelled crabs scurried from the rocks and a few unusual-looking seagulls flew overhead. They had black wingtips, and some of the smaller ones were brown. I turned to Fin and Ophelia, and pointed at the birds. “What are those?” I asked them.
Fin tilted back his head and smiled. “They’re the solan goose, or gannet, as they’re now called. They make their homes in the cliffs and beaches on the islands,” he explained.
Ophelia wrinkled her nose. “Noisy old birds. They sometimes swoop down and try to bite my ears,” she complained.
Fin chuckled. “They only make sounds when they’re close to their nests. A sort of welcome home call, but what about some crab hunting? I see there’s several crabs on the rocks,” he suggested, gesturing to the green ones I’d seen.
Ophelia smiled. “I say we should fetch Josh. He’s much better at hunting crabs.”
“But Josh isn’t here, and the crabs are,” Fin countered. He turned to me and I could see a twinkle in his eyes. “What say you, Elizabeth? Do you need someone to fetch your crabs?”
I opened my mouth to reply in the affirmative, but paused when I noticed a triumphant look on Ophelia’s face. She wanted me to agree with her and show I was no better at fetching my meals. I snapped my mouth shut, whipped my head to the rocks crawling with the green crabs and rolled up my sleeves. “How do we catch them?” I asked Fin.
Fin grinned and slipped from Ophelia’s grasp to walk to the rocks. I followed while Ophelia shuffled along behind me like an old woman. “It’s a difficult task if you don’t have a trap, but I’m sure Mr. Breathnachs will have set some out for the crabs and won’t mind our taking them so long as they’re returned. Our task is to find them,” he told me.
Ophelia turned her nose up and sniffed the air. “I would much rather have the salmon my father caught. Wouldn’t that be good enough?”
“Suit yourself, though you’re missing out on a fine hunt,” Fin replied. He hopped onto a pile of rocks to our left and turned to offer me his hand. “Come. We’ll find these traps together,” he invited me. This sounded like an adventure I could sink my teeth into and took his hand. He pulled me onto the rocks and I looked out onto a scene of scattered boulders and stones that stretched for a few dozen yards until it reached a jetty of land where it stopped.
“What exactly are we looking for?” I asked him. A noise behind me caused me to turn and I saw Ophelia struggling up the rocks.
She straightened and scowled at me, but turned a sweet face to Fin. “I suppose I could try crabbing once,” she agreed.
“Good, for we’ll need all the eyes we can get to find the traps. They’re square boxes made from chicken wire. They could be hidden between the rocks in small holes, or be at the edge of the water weighed down by anchors,” Fin told us.
I squinted my eyes and thought I spotted something box-like a few yards off. There was a rock nearby that looked safe, so I hopped onto the top. Big mistake. There was a nearly-invisible coating of slick moss on the top and before I knew it my feet slipped out from under me and I fell into the piles of rocks. I caught myself with my hands and they bore the brunt of the sharp, pointy burden. The back of my legs banged into the rock to which I’d jumped, and my arms were cut by a few of the sharper rocks as I saved myself from a nasty knock to the head.
I was alive, but too scared and banged up to move.