We bought two tickets, hopped aboard the train going to Oban and settled into a compartment.
“How far is Oban?” I asked him.
“Three hours, give or take,” he replied.
I glanced at my watch. It was noon. “So be at Oban by three and at the island by when?” I wondered.
“The trip across the water is a half hour, and there’s a mile walk to a house we can stay at,” he informed me. “I must warn you it is a little old and because of that very small.”
I snorted. “Mr. Jackson’s dragged me to the ends of the earth on these business trips. Some of the five-star hotels had rooms the size of janitor’s closets,” I told him.
He chuckled. “Well, it’s not that small, but I dare say it can be a rather dreary little place when the weather traps you inside with little prospect of company.” I wish he hadn’t reminded me that his was the only face I’d know on the island.
“You said there were other people on the island. Who are they?” I asked him.
Fin leaned back in his seat and smiled as he reminisced about the people. “There is the caretaker of the Great House and his wife, and of course the Great House has been let to a family.”
“Is the Great House near your property? I mean, can we go look at it?” I wondered.
“I would be disappointed if you didn’t want to see it. It’s a fine example of the isle castles and the inside has been greatly improved since last I was there, or so I’ve been told by the caretaker,” he explained.
A castle. Images of battlements, haunted halls, and mildew came to mind.
“So it’s a castle? Haunted and all?” I guessed.
He smiled and shook his head. “Not that I’ve heard, and I’ve known the castle since I was a boy.” I was almost disappointed. There went possibly my only chance to hobnob with a lord or lady, even if they were a few centuries old and about twenty fashion cycles out-of-date.
“Is there anything that makes Ellen-”
“Eilean Dubhan,” he corrected me.
“-that makes this island different from the others?” I rephrased.
“There are no two islands alike in the Hebrides, and each has its own special character,” he told me.
“So does this island have a good or bad character?” I persisted.
“That would depend on the person visiting it. I have heard the island described as both adorable and primitive,” he explained.
I snorted. “So I can expect to be mauled to death by plushy teddy bears?” I joked.
Fin chuckled. “Not quite like that, but you will see for yourself in a few hours.”
I snuggled down into the padding of the seat and closed my eyes. It’d been a hell of a day that started at the crack of my boss’ voice and wouldn’t end until we reached the small house on the island. “Well, tell me when we reach Oban,” I requested.
“As you wish,” Fin promised.
The bumpy ride meant that by the time a hand shook my shoulder my bones were rattled to the marrow. My eyes fluttered open and I stared into the face of a shadowed angel. The Angel of Death had come for me at last.
I yelped and pressed against the seat. “I’m too young to die!” I protested.
The figure stepped back to reveal the smiling Fin. Behind him and on the ceiling were lights that caused the shadows over his form, and the compartment was darker than I remembered. I sat up, cracked a few bones in my neck, and glanced at my watch. Three o’clock and already that dark.
“Did we change timezones?” I wondered.
“No, but the weather has taken a turn for the worse. We may have an unpleasant trip across the water,” he warned me.
“That’s fine. I could use a shower,” I replied. That’s when I noticed the downpour against the windows as we pulled into the station. “Or maybe not,” I added.
“We’ll see what we can get to take us across. We may be unable to find a captain willing to ferry us,” Fin commented.
“We can always stay at a hotel until morning,” I pointed out.
“Very true, but we shall see,” he replied.
Fin led me out of the compartment and onto the platform. Oban was less traveled than the main station of Glasgow, and I was grateful for the less noise and fewer people. Unfortunately, the platform was uncovered and in a moment I resembled a soaked cat with all the glee that went with that comparison. I followed Fin around a crowd of triangle-roofed buildings and to the walled shoreline. Small boats anchored there, and to our left a half block down was a large ferry boat.
I pointed at the luxurious ferry boat. It looked like the Titanic, minus the risk of making the acquaintance of an iceberg among the Hebrides. “Are we going on that?” I asked him over the pelting rain.
He shook his head. “No. The ferry service doesn’t travel to Eilean Dubhan,” he informed me.
I admit I was a little sullen after that. My hopes of a comfortable bed on a gently rocking boat were dashed to pieces and replaced by a small dingy with only a canvas cover for protection. The dingy-like boat was anchored near the sea wall with an old gentleman stooped in its belly. That was the boat Fin approached, and its captain was an old man slightly younger than Methuselah.
Fin knelt at the edge of the wall that dropped into the bay six feet below us and smiled at the man. Even in this torrential downpour with a half hour’s boat ride ahead of us he was still in good spirits. “Ahoy there, Captain McAllister!” he called to the man.
A thin wisp of hair whipped out from beneath his heavy, soaked hat and he wore a raincoat that resembled a never-ending stream as the water poured off him. At the calling of his name the man looked up from his rope tying, an occupational must when there’s nothing else to do, and he squinted at Fin. His eyes lit up and a smile complimented his gnarled features.
“Why, if it isn’t Fin! What brings you here, my lad?” the captain wondered.
“You’re fine vessel and a promise of smelling the sweet grass on Eilean Dubhan. What chance have we got to get across?” Fin asked him.
The captain furrowed his brow so much that his bushy eyebrows seemed to cover his entire face. “It’ll be a mighty bad trip, but Ah reckon Ah can make it,” he replied
“Good. You’ll have two aboard for this trip,” Fin told him. He tossed my bags into the boat and stepped in himself. Fin turned and opened his arms to me. “Come, my lady. Your boat awaits,” he teased.
I snorted. Calling this small dingy a boat was like calling a bucket a swimming pool, but seeing as it was the only way to the island I let him help me on. Fin and I were stowed beneath the bow where stood the canopy to shield us from the downpour. Captain McAllister sat by the rudder in the pouring rain and pushed us off with a foot. We puttered out and the land quickly receded behind us. There was only the sheet of water endlessly pattering the canopy above my head and the gnarled figure at the helm. He looked so miserable that I tried to take off my coat to offer him as more protection, but Fin set his hand on my arm.
Fin’s voice was high enough to be heard over the rain, but low enough the captain wouldn’t hear the words. “He’ll be all right. He does this most every day,” he reminded me.
I frowned, but stopped my attempt to help. We puttered along with the waves lapping at the sides of the boat and the rain attempting to drown the whole world. My bones felt wet and I wondered if mold could be scrubbed out of the soul. Just when it felt like a second forever had passed the captain straightened and a toothy smile lit up his face.
“There she is,” he called to us.
Fin stood, and I joined him so we both looked over the top of the canopy. Ahead of us, through the mist of the rain, was a rocky, steep bank. A small dock stuck out into the water that led to a short flight of stairs. A rough shack stood at the top of the stairs where the rocks met tall, golden grass.
A strong wave hit the boat and it rocked back and forth. I lost my handhold on the top of the slick canvas and fell to my right toward the edge of the boat. The rough seas invited me into its dark depths with opening arms and I might have been lost but for Fin grabbing my arm at the last moment. He pulled me against him and I clung onto him as though he was the last solid piece of ground on earth.
He tucked us both inside the canvas and the walls that blocked the view of the sea comforted me. “Steady there, my lady. We wouldn’t want to lose you before we arrived at the island,” he gently teased.
I pulled myself away and turned away from him. Damn my inability to swim! I wouldn’t have been half as afraid if I knew I was able to cut through those waves with a few good strokes. “T-thank you, but I’m fine,” I assured him.
“We’ll be anchored soon,” he comforted me. The captain guided us to the dock and tied the boat securely to one of the mooring posts. Fin helped me out with my bags and turned to the captain. “Will you be putting up for the night in the shack?” he asked the old sea dog.
“No, Ah won’t. The storm’s letting up and it’ll be a fine night in a few minutes. Peace be to both of ya.” He tipped his droopy hat at us, untied the boat and puttered off into the darkness.
Fin turned to me shivering there in the cold with my bags at my feet. My hair fell about my face like seaweed and my clothes were soaked through. I was treading water in my shoes and my eyeballs registered full for my body water content.
Fin smiled and took all my bags in his hand as if they weighed nothing. “Only a mile to the house and we’ll be out of this dreadful weather,” he assured me.
I nodded. I didn’t have any other choice. It was either hike or drown in my clothes.