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The Visitor

Published in New Australian Stories, 2009

The boat appeared out of the fog and made its slow chugging way around Smitten Rock toward the harbour mouth. By the time its green streaked hull was grinding against the jetty, we were all there waiting to see what it had brought for us.

 It’s rare to get a boat so late in the season, and even as we stood there in our skins the snow began to fall and the skipper made an obvious show of hurrying everyone along. The Tacksman stepped forward first to receive his cargo, bigger than everyone else’s, and heavy too, going by the expression of the boatman who lifted it out to him. I let the Missus go up the narrow jetty ahead of me, after the Tacksman had stalked past me with a face like a plate of curds. She took her time rabbiting on at the boatmen, dropping her shawl half in the water, ringing it out and eventually tottering back up the wooden planks carrying a half-pint of whiskey and a jar of pickled corknuts, all that she ever orders from the mainland. She walked past me without a word, already stuffing a handful of the slippery things into her toothless mouth, humming and giggling to herself in the manner of the mostly daft.

At last it was my turn and I hurried up to collect my own order. By now the snow was sticking to the wet rails of the boat and furring the fleece caps and hairy faces of the boatmen, and my own half-beard was icing up. With the canvas sack tucked under my arm I saluted the skipper and made to leave, but stopped when I saw a woman emerging from the forecabin. When I say woman, it was only a guess, for she was that rugged up in coats and shawls as to be almost spherical, and a long fleece scarf was wound all the way about her face and neck, with a brimmed fleece hood covering her hair and forehead. But something about her gingerly walk over the slippery deck and her cautious negotiation of the gangplank put me in mind of the Missus. The skipper wordlessly handed her two enormous canvas sacks as she stood there on the jetty gathering snow, dumped a plastic crate at her feet, and raised an eyebrow at me. He kicked the gangplank into the boat and sprang over the side onto the foredeck, shouting orders as he went, his bare hands red as beerberries with the cold but apparently still able to coil a rope. The boat hummed off into the fog leaving the woman watching its wake lapping against the rocks of the shore.

She had the stooped shoulders of someone lost on a hillside, so I walked up to her and lifted my hat. I wanted to explain the skipper’s surliness, for he hailed from Col, one isle over, and was kin to me.

‘Ah … ma’am?’ I said, praying that she was in fact a she. ‘Broker Purvis is my name, and I trust you had a comfortable passage. Skipper Brae is a good man but churlish as a nesting crawpie when the weather turns. Need you a lodging place for your visit to Nethy Bothy?’

She peered at me through all her layers and I was startled to see that her eyes were as black and keen as a fulmar’s. She pulled her face scarf down a little and said in a loud, mainlander voice, ‘I am not here for a visit, Mister Purvis, I am here to stay. But yes, I will need a place to reside until I can locate and furnish my own abode. What is your charge for a night’s bed and board?’

I was taken aback. For a start, we may be short of many things on Nethy Bothy (not the least of which is companionship) but none of us would dream of taking money from a visitor for hospitality. But more than that, in my lifetime the traffic between Nethy Bothy and the mainland had been almost exclusively in one direction. I had seen a stream of visitors make their way here every summer for as long as I could remember, but they were always gone with the last boat of August. Nobody came to stay at Nethy Bothy.

This was intriguing news and I was well pleased to be the first to receive it, for it was rare for me to have the upper hand over either of the other permanent residents of the island. I assured the lady that there would be no charge for a cot and victuals and threw her canvas sacks over my shoulder with my own and bent to lift the crate. The woman took the lead up the jetty, but had to stop and let me pass her by at its end, not knowing the way to my house. Staggering under her possessions, I took us the quickest way, along the western beach, frozen hard as rock at mid-tide, and then around the Crawpie Bluff to my own inlet. The woman struggled to keep up with me, huffing and puffing even as I was, and indeed she was carrying almost as much weight as I in her clothing alone, and the rocks were slippery with ice. By the time we reached the stone flags of my yard, I guessed she was pleasantly warm and in need of a quiet sit down. I waved her through the door and followed her in, glad enough to rid myself of her luggage at last, and set about stoking up the fire and stirring the brew in the beerberry pot, before removing my outer skins and my fleece hat and gloves.

It took the woman some minutes to divest herself of her garments and hang them around the room, by which time my cabin was looking like the fleece-hut in springtime. I peeped at her from time to time as she unwrapped herself and was surprised to note that she was quite young, perhaps in her late fifties, and slender as a strip of knotted wrack. Her hair was straight, as black as her eyes, with a dusting of grey at her parting. She wore the finely spun loom-cloth of mainlanders and heeled boots of hide. That would explain her perilous passage around the headland, I thought, watching her stamp the last clods of snow from their soles onto my best seal-hide rug.

She came to stand in front of the fire, blocking its heat from the rest of the room entirely, and then regarded me with her arms folded into her armpits. ‘So,’ she said briskly, ‘you are the famed Broker Bree Purvis of BreelyBay, Nethy Bothy.’

Her gaze was so intense that I moved over to the table in the corner shadows and commenced slicing bracken bread for the toasting iron.

‘I am indeed, ma’am. Fancy your knowing that. But I do not know your name, or where it is you hail from.’ I hoped to turn the tables quickly, for I was beginning to suspect that she was an Ologist.

‘My name is Iris Ben,’ she said. ‘And I am an anthropologist.’ I winced. ‘Is that bracken bread you’re slicing? Good Lord, I had no idea it was still eaten anywhere!’ Her tone was reverent.

I was prevented from replying by a sharp knock on the door. I winced again. So soon. The Tacksman eased his imposing frame through the doorway, rubbing his hands and kicking the snowy heels of his leather boots onto my best seal-hide rug. He had no coat, so obviously had seen us from his house and come flying down the hillside as he was.

‘Broker!’ he said crossly. ‘What is this? A lady comes to the island, and you drag her to the confines of your stuffy hovel? I’d have thought you would at least have accompanied her to the Estate in proper ceremony.’

The visitor stepped forward and offered her hands to the Tacksman, who took them eagerly in his own. ‘Please, I am indebted to Mister Purvis for his hospitality and well satisfied with his care.’ She still had half an eye on the bread.

‘Trust me, my dear, you won’t be for long,’ he replied, leading her back to the fire and helping her into my only armchair. ‘Broker is a drunkard and a liar, and I would fear for your honour over and above your comfort if you chose to remain here.’ He turned to where I was still standing in the shadows with the breadknife in my hand. ‘Come, Broker! No proper introductions? The lady will think our island manners quite provincial!’

I said, ‘Sir William Duirinish de Havensock, of Rothhill Estate, Nethy Bothy; Iris Ben,’ and reached for another loaf of bread, even as the door opened again.

The Missus ducked in quickly and shut the door, absently brushing the snow off her shoes onto my best seal-hide rug. She draped her wet scarf over the doorhandle, came over to the table, took a slice of bread without looking at me, and jammed it into her mouth, her eyes fixed greedily upon the face of the visitor. I sighed. This was going all wrong.

The visitor looked completely at ease as the Tacksman made the new introduction and began to discuss the weather. I added more water and salt to yesterday’s seal soup, for it was obviously going to have to stretch to four. I quietly crumbled in a handful of dried bladderwrack, for I knew the Tacksman objected to eating anything from the sea and would swallow it down with difficulty that would be satisfying to watch.

When the conversation about the weather had dried up, the Missus shuffled forwards and clutched Iris’s sleeve. ‘Are you a lady of science?’ she asked. The previous summer she had led a couple of bespectacled birdwatchers around the island, taking them to the best sites for viewing kittiwakes and giant herringwings. In return they had paid her in whiskey, which she’d refused to share with me.

‘Iris is an anthropologist,’ I said loudly from the stove.

‘Ah!’ said the Tacksman, alarmed. He had as little idea as the rest of us what that word meant. ‘The study of … which kind of animal is it again?’

‘People,’ said my guest, smiling brightly around the room.

The Missus stiffened and drew back. She scurried over to help me set bowls on the table and drag the benches out from under it.

‘Ah!’ said the Tacksman again, looking foolishly at the ceiling. A brief silence settled around the room. ‘It will come as a disappointment to you then, my dear, to learn that the only inhabitants of Nethy Bothy are standing in this very room.’

The Missus and I took our seats. The visitor came to sit beside me, leaving the Tacksman to take the place beside the Missus, always precarious.

‘I am well-versed in the demographics of the island, of course,’ said the anthropologist in her strong, round voice. ‘Indeed, it is the quality of the ethnological material on Nethy Bothy that makes its quantity irrelevant. Nowhere on the mainland do representatives of three such chronologically and historically discordant groups exist in such close proximity, and in such isolation.’

I could have wagered that she was the only one in the room who knew what she was on about, but the rest of us were well used to speaking our pieces unheard or misunderstood, so we set to the soup and bread in silence and said nothing, the Tacksman realising at last that he was out of his league, intellectually at least.

‘I have located a place to stay permanently of course,’ said the woman, droppingthe bombshell I’d hoped to deliver myself, but with the anticipated reaction nonetheless.

‘To stay?’ said the Tacksman incredulously, dropping his spoon loudly into his bowl.

Beside him the Missus was choking on a piece of bracken bread, clutching her throat and glaring at the stranger with venom. The Tacksman absent-mindedly reached over and thumped her on the back several times, frowning at our guest with his bushy eyebrows drawn.

The woman appeared to be unaware of the stir she had caused. ‘I will be conducting research both here and on the mainland for the duration of my postdoctoral thesis,’ she said, blowing her big scholarly words around the room. ‘So I have arranged to rent one of the old crofter’s cottages in’ — here she paused and rummaged in her trouser pocket a while before withdrawing a slip of paper —‘in RhynieBay. It is all arranged with Lord Doonan de Havensock. My furniture will arrive tomorrow on the barge.’

Oh, this was like sweet music to my ears.

Lord Doonan arranged it?’ spluttered the Tacksman.

‘They’ll not get the barge through in this weather,’ said the Missus waspishly.

The woman was serene. ‘No matter. Mister Purvis has kindly agreed to lodge me until I can be set up in the cottage.’

All around the rim of his bowl the Tacksman had arranged the pieces of bladderwrack that he’d fished out of his soup. A crumb of bracken bread clung to his newly shaven chin. One could almost hear his brain ticking over loudly as he weighed his options. I waited to see what he’d arrive at, while the Missus stared grumpily out the darkening window and the visitor slurped away at her soup.

‘Madam,’ said the Tacksman, drawing himself up and addressing her with a warm smile. He had obviously decided on charm. ‘You may be unaware that I am Lord Doonan’s representative on the island. Indeed, we are related by blood.’

‘Really? How so?’ enquired the woman.

‘I am Lord Doonan’s cousin.’

‘Fourth,’ said the Missus.

‘And as such,’ the Tacksman went on, ‘I feel that I am the person on the island capable of making you feel most at home while your own lodgings are arranged. I have a fully furnished guest quarters, and, you will be interested in this my dear, the only tree on the island.’

‘Dead,’ said the Missus to herself.

‘It’s dormant,’ said the Tacksman, losing some of his polish. ‘And might I add, Ms Ben, that you will fare better in the way of sustenance at my home than you could ever hope to here. I farm the only cows and sheep on Nethy Bothy.’

This was not strictly true. I farm them, he eats them. But I let it pass.

‘Oh no,’ replied the woman. ‘I am more than happy here. You see, Sir William, I am hoping to experience an authentic Nethy Bothy existence during my time here. I can dine on lamb and beef any time on the mainland, but to taste bracken bread and seal soup on my first day! That is precisely the kind of thing I came here to do.’

Tomorrow, I was deciding to myself, I would check the lobster pots in the corner of the bay, and scrape a few oysters off the rocks at low tide. I would whip up a chowder with some potatoes and a leek. I too was confident that the barge would not arrive in the morning.

The woman rose from the table and asked to use the facilities, seeming not at all perturbed when I indicated the dim shadow of the outhouse through the snow-flung windows. She took up one of her coats and let herself out, admitting a cold blast of air and a flurry of snowflakes. When she had gone the Tacksman stood so abruptly he upended the bench and sent the Missus sprawling onto the flags. I went to help her up but she shook me off and moved to stand by the fire.

‘Viking spawn!’ hissed the Tacksman, rounding on me. His face was greyer than usual, and his shoulders were twice the width of mine, even as we both entered our eighth decade. ‘Have you forgotten yourself, you slippery idiot? If that woman is to over-winter on Nethy Bothy, then by rights she should lodge at the Estate!’ He stalked over to the window and peered out at the outhouse. ‘One wonders how much Lord Doonan has told her about Nethy Bothy …’

The Missus had begun to cry noisily, her mouth drawn wide, dribble sliding down the creases of her chin. ‘Make her go away!’ she wailed, so loudly that the Tacksman stepped over and clamped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes bulged in rage but she could not shake him off. He half-dragged, half-led her to the door and collected her shawl, wrapping it about her head like a turban before forcing her out into the snowy evening. He growled at me over his shoulder as he left, ‘The winter solstice is six weeks away, Broker, and it is my turn!’

 

‘Nethy Bothy is an island of remnant populations,’ said the woman into her tape recorder some days later. I had moved myself out of the only other room in the house and installed her there with my bed and a folding table for her to work at, but during the day she preferred to take the armchair by the fire and think out loud with her notebook in her lap. ‘The Sgeir Bhua standing stone on the highest point of the island is evidence of the island’s first occupation, by prehistoric man, beginning some five thousand years ago. Paganism dominated the residents’ lives until the arrival of Christianity in 650 AD, then Viking raids from the ninth century onwards meant the islanders swung between devotion to Jesus and adulation of Thor for about four hundred years.’

I stood scaling the morning’s catch, lending half an ear to her talk, and nodding when she got something wrong. I’d started the day by moving the flock from Beggar’s Hill into the stone barn at the Estate and locating the herd down by RhynieBay, where the crofter’s cottage still stood cold and unfurnished. Today the sky was blue and clear, and the snow lay blindingly white all over the island. The visitor had been on Nethy Bothy eight days.

‘In 1563 the Faefel people of the neighbouring island of Gor massacred nine-tenths of the Bree tribe of Nethy Bothy, and threw their remains into the sea. The Brae people of ColIsland, also nearby, administered retribution by driving the Faefel people off the cliffs that stand beneath Sgeir Bhua. The remaining Bree people repopulated the island with the help of the Braes, and indeed, it seems from archaeological evidence that the Bree and Brae people had a long history of intermarriage prior to the 1563 massacres anyway and may have originated from the same druidic or Norse tribe. In the mid-1700s the entire population was forced into tenancy by the Havensock clan of the mainland and converted to Catholicism. In the next two centuries the stone chapel dedicated to St Nicholas was burned down and rebuilt three times. Rumours of pagan worship and satanic rituals persisted about the island until as late as the 1950s, when child protection services removed all the female children under the age of seventeen from the island, before retracting their accusations and permitting them to return to Nethy Bothy some years later. But only one of them chose to. Isn’t that right, Broker?’ she said, looking up with her bright glance.

‘Mmm.’

She went back to her notes, but I knew she was about to begin another round of questioning, for she had about her that twitchy excited look I’d come to recognise.

‘And Mrs Bothy lives quite alone you say.’

‘Aye.’

‘Over by Beggar’s Hill.’

I nodded, busy with de-boning.

‘Is Mrs Bothy in her right mind would you say, Broker?’

‘No ma’am.’

‘And yet she lives quite alone. You know, on the mainland she would almost certainly have been taken into care by now.’

‘Things don’t go the same here as over there, ma’am.’

‘Could neither you nor Sir William persuade her that she would undoubtedly be more comfortable in a nursing home in the town of Stanley? You can see Nethy Bothy from there on a fine day.’

Not many of them I was thinking. And it would take a stout knock on the head to persuade Hep Bothy to ever leave the island again. ‘I think not, ma’am,’ I said instead.

‘Mrs Bothy has been the only woman living on this island for thirty years? Ever since her mother died?’

I said nothing, letting silence be my answer. In any case she already had all the information on us in her own head. Most of it anyway.

Her head jerked back to the fire, but not before I’d read the frustration in her eyes. I imagined she’d gotten less out of me than she had out of the Tacksman or the Missus over the past week, and she’d have gotten lorded-up tommyrot from the first and drivel from the second. She stood abruptly and went to the door. ‘I think I shall wander down to the harbour, perhaps catch a glimpse of that elusive barge.’

She wrapped herself in all her layers, fattening before my eyes, and let herself out. She’d find that she’d have to take the hillside track, as the tide was in. We’d had a thaw with the heavy weather, so her shoes would be caked with mud and wet through when she returned. And there’d be no barge. I’d made sure of that. I pulled down the black pot from the hook on the ceiling. At least I could have a hot fish stew waiting to placate her.

 

The anthropologist had her papers spread over the table, several layers deep, and when she lifted a hand to wave it around in excitement the corners would escape and go rolling back up with a clatter. The topmost papers were my own family tree, apparently, traced back almost a thousand years. ‘Your mother was a Bree, and your father grew up on Nethy Bothy, but his father was a Purvis from the Isle of Col. An island ravaged and then settled by Norse invaders.’

I sat by the fire and knitted. For my help with the shearing in springtime and my shepherding of the flock throughout the year I earned five bags of raw wool. It took the whole next winter to wash it, card it, spin it and knit it. My guest had been astonished the first night I’d unwrapped my knitting things. Who had taught me how to knit? Had all the island’s men known how to knit? Did Sir William know how to knit? Could I do all those funny patterns that one saw on the mainland jumpers? To which I had replied: my father, yes, yes, and yes.

My father taught me to knit wool and knot fishing nets when I was five years old, sitting side by side on the sunbaked rocks of Breely Bay, with the seals honking off Smitten Rock and the kittiwakes wheeling above us over the stern sides of Sgeir Bhua. He wore a beanie of spun wool, dyed yellow with ragwort, and seal-hide trousers, and in summer his chest was bare, for he had the island constitution and bathed in the sea year-round. We Brees and Braes were fisherfolk long before the arrival of the long-horned black cows to the islands with the Viking invaders, and for many thousands of years the sea has been providing us with food and shelter and stories. My father told me about the great wheels turning all about us: the moon and the tides, the sun and the stars, the seasons and the winds. The cycles of the animals, nesting and mating and rearing their young and dying, and of the fish, swarming into the bays by the thousand and then dwindling away with the passing of their food. And our own cycles of birth and bleeding and joining and childbearing and death. Certain cycles that had ground to a halt sixty years ago. I did not tell any of this to the visitor.

‘Sir William’s ancestors, the Havensocks, were Roman Catholics of course. Took over the island, raised the rents and taxed the crofters into serfdom. No mystery there.’

I smiled into my beard, which she missed. ‘Now. Mrs Hep Bothy also has Bree ancestry and would no doubt appear on your family tree if it went wider.’ She rifled through the papers and dragged a new one to the surface. ‘But the Bothys have a longer association with the island than even the Brees do, and a letter written by one Dougal Bothy last century claims that his roots are traceable back to the island’s original inhabitants; which is a ridiculous claim of course. There’s not even a written history of the island until the seventeenth century. Unfortunately I packed most of my material about the Bothys in my other belongings. It’s very frustrating. Will it be long, do you imagine, before the barge gets through?’

‘Hard to say, ma’am. Dreich weather at this time of year, and few men willing to leave harbour under a cloudy sky.’

She stared grumpily out the window. ‘It’s not very cloudy.’

Cloudy enough, though, for Skipper Brae, my mother’s sister’s son, to stay away. Now that he’d seen my signal and knew to delay the barge.

 

‘You can grow six dozen potato plants a year, no barley, no wheat, and you can raise no livestock of your own.’

‘Yes ma’am.’

‘Stop calling me ma’am. My name is Iris. I don’t understand. This is a law of tenancy three hundred years old. Lord Doonan de Havensock doesn’t even recognise Sir William as his tenant.’

‘No, I expect he wouldn’t.’

‘But don’t you see? These are archaic laws and you needn’t abide by them anymore. There is no law in the country that could see you punished for owning your own cow, Broker!’

I mixed the bracken bread in the wooden bowl. It had been in my family for nine generations, and I took care to oil it with rendered seal fat after each use. My mother told me it had come from the last grove of trees to be felled in BreelyBay, the same trees that had provided the roof beams of this house.

The anthropologist came to stand by me at the table. ‘You’re not afraid of him, are you, Broker?’ she asked, looking me up and down.

I turned the dough onto the table and commenced kneading. ‘Fact is ma’am, I mean Iris, I don’t much favour the taste of cow. I’m well happy with fish and seal and such forth. It’s what I’m used to.’

She stalked back to her chair and took up her notebook. I’d had a look at it the night before while she slept, and it was full of unreadable jottings and those big words she loves, with many references to the three of us: BP, HB and WH. I couldn’t get a handle on her writing, but I could see there was a lot of it, so as frustrated as she grows with us, at least she’s finding plenty to say.

She looked up quickly to find me staring at her. ‘Broker,’ she said. ‘I don’t understand how it is that the barge can’t get through with all this fine weather we’ve been having.’

I busied myself with dividing the dough into four loaves. She’d been averaging a loaf a day. ‘It’s possible the harbour at Stanley is iced up,’ I lied. ‘Although it’s fairer, it’s much colder than it was when you arrived on the island.’

She’d been here three weeks, and was growing restless and argumentative with the delay on her belongings. I managed to stay out of the cottage for much of the day to give her some privacy, but the close quarters were beginning to unsettle her. She’d stopped raving about everything I put on the table about a week ago. And last night she’d been waiting in the shadows by the fire when I came in at midnight from lighting the beacon up on the hill.

‘Where have you been?’ she’d asked, and her eyes held a fear that the shadows did not mask.

‘I had to see to the flock,’ I said, turning away to remove my boots.

‘I understood that the sheep were now being housed in Sir William’s barn.’

My clothes reeked of smoke. It had taken me some time to get an answering glow from the Skipper’s kin over on the Isle of Col, and by then the peat fire had been fitful and sulky. The air had roared around the sides of Sgeir Bhua as it stood there slicing the north wind in two and blotting out a rectangle of stars.

‘Aye, they are. But it’s cold in the barn. I built a fire to last them until morning.’

She walked into my room and shut the door quickly without another word.

 

This morning she left, following the Tacksman up the hillside track, carrying one of her sacks herself, while he managed her other one and the box. His shoulders were thrown back, even under the weight, and his face had been condescending and triumphant as he shut my door in my face. It is of little concern to me. The solstice is two weeks away and she can’t leave the island now. At least she’s not able to hole up in a place of her own, barricading the door and whatnot and making unpleasantness for everyone when we come for her. It was only the Tacksman’s pride that had suffered with her choosing me to lodge with. The Havensocks spent a hundred years trying to wipe out our beliefs and the next hundred trying to infiltrate them. He wanted the honour of presenting the youngest woman on the island at the standing stone himself and heaven knows he has precious few privileges left. I recalled him as a youth, buck-teethed and rangy, eagerly watching the proceedings from the shadows beyond the fire, all but drooling down his shirtfront. He never understood the meaning behind the ceremony, but we could hardly exclude him. He is a cousin too, of sorts.

 

The Missus came to me this morning, her lips blue with cold, her hair dusted with snow. She took a pewter canister from out of the folds in her shawl and poured most of the stuff into her mouth before relenting and passing me the bottle. ‘Remember the time that woman came over and wanted to interview me, ten years afterwards, and we drove her from the island?’

I felt the warm liquid kindle a fire in my tummy.

‘And she had to swim out to the ferry and clamber over the side like a selkie. Oh, her face! I often see her face!’ She laughed hoarsely and snatched the bottle back.

‘Where is the lady visitor?’ I asked.

‘Don’t know. Up at the Estate, in her own lodgings, eating roast beef and roast mutton, no doubt. But cold. She’ll be colder over there than she would have been here.’

‘Next Wednesday is the twenty-first,’ I said, gazing out the window. It was a square of white in the stone walls; hissing white. It would be cold as death up the hill at night-time.

The Missus shrugged her narrow shoulders.

Living with the anthropologist for a month had put me in a mind for asking questions. ‘Why did you come back, Hep, when all the others stayed away?’

I knew the answer, and she knew I did.

Her face was full of scorn. ‘Those girls, every one of them, frightened and addled and shamed of their upbringing. Doctologists and psychologists and anthropologists, confusing them with their big words and their blasphemy and their talk of devils and sacrifices. I wasn’t confused. I knew my responsibilities. I wanted them.’

She had. Even when she was the youngest woman on the island, barely a woman even, fifteen years old, and responsible for the needs of some twenty men, she had stuck by them, year after year, until they died, one by one.

Her face broke into a thousand wrinkles as she smiled suddenly. You couldn’t see even a glimmer of the girl she’d been then, flaxen-haired and bosomy, lying at the base of Sgeir Bhua with the firelight on her face. ‘I’ll have an acolyte this year though!’

The idea must have grown on her, for she hadn’t greeted the news gladly all those weeks ago when the visitor had first made clear her intention to over-winter with us. I thought about our island, lying black and watchful in the starlight, surrounded by the eternal rush and drag of the sea. I thought about a time, long ago when I was a lad, when the crown of Nethy Bothy had glowed with the flaming torches of a hundred men and women, giving their thanks and promises to the island, replenishing their souls and spilling their essences back onto the Mother to ensure the fertility of the isle and her seas for another year.

I thought about what Iris Ben had said that first day, scooping up lumps of seal meat and gobbling up the lion’s share of bracken bread. I smiled too.

She would get her authentic Nethy Bothy experience.

 


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