Actions

Work Header

The Sheriff of Maryburgh

Work Text:

Mr Fenwick stood at the court-house window, surveying the town of Maryburgh with a jaundiced eye. A huddle of low granite buildings clustered by the waterside, their roofs a patchwork of dark slate, thatch and tar-covered canvas. Beyond them towered the walls of Fort William. On the far side of the loch, the mountains rose straight up from the water, wild and bare, starkly different from the rolling green hills of Mr Fenwick's Selkirkshire childhood.

Maryburgh scarcely deserved the name 'town', in truth, but Mr Fenwick's mind baulked at the idea that he was now sheriff-substitute in one of the country's most remote districts, and living in what was little better than a village. It was very different from the Edinburgh posting he had been hoping for—had indeed almost been led to expect.

Besides the military fort, none of the buildings in sight was more than five or ten years old. The court-house itself was so new that the panes of glass in the window had not yet had time to yellow with age, and the floorboards were smooth new Galloway oak. The previous settlement at Maryburgh had been razed by order of the fort's governor in '46, to deny the rebels cover during their siege. The military fort itself had sustained serious damage, but that was almost fifteen years ago now, and no trace remained of the destruction inflicted at that time.

Mr Fenwick turned away from the window with a sigh. He sat down at his desk, casting an eye over the papers left by his predecessor. When he had arrived in Maryburgh to take up his post the previous day, the sheriff-clerk had brought him two enormous boxes of accounts, commissary records, summonses issued and ongoing court proceedings, and so far he had scarcely made any headway in reading them.

Before he did so, however, he should introduce himself to all the local notables: the minister at the Kirk, the local lairds, the town notary, the head of the garrison. In fact, most likely he should start with the latter. Maryburgh was first and foremost a garrison town, and the head of the garrison was arguably the most influential man in the district.

Mr Fenwick's problem, however, was that it was not clear to him who should wait on whom. Should he go to the fort or invite the colonel here? He had no desire to start things off on the wrong footing between civil and military authorities.

As a compromise, he sent a vaguely worded note suggesting that they should "meet whenever is convenient to you", and received a crisply worded reply indicating that Colonel Windham would wait on him that afternoon. Fenwick frowned, wishing now that he himself had been more decisive.

Colonel Windham turned out to be an Englishman in his late forties, expression cool and unreadable as he greeted Fenwick and accepted the proffered chair. Mr Fenwick took the seat opposite him, trying to take the measure of the man with whom he would no doubt have to work closely over the coming years.

He had already led his clerk to tell him as much as possible about the town's principal figures. He knew that Colonel Windham had been stationed at Fort William for over ten years now, and commander of the garrison for five of them. He had been a brilliant young officer, by all accounts, distinguishing himself at Fontenoy, serving as staff officer to several generals during the Jacobite uprising here in Scotland, and then leaving for Flanders again with Lord Albemarle in '47, after the rebellion had been stamped out. How had a man with such a promising career ahead of him dropped into obscurity in this remote corner of the Highlands, where most likely the only military action he had seen in the last ten years was an occasional brush with smugglers? And more to the point, would Fenwick himself still be here in Maryburgh in ten years' time, his own career ground to a halt?

"A number of modifications have been made to the fort's defences in recent years," Windham said in response to Fenwick's enquiry. "The ramparts have been strengthened, and a moat added on the landward side—you know, I'm sure, that the rebels laid siege to the fort in '46."

"And nowadays?" Fenwick knew perfectly well that this had been one of the Jacobite heartlands at the time of the rebellion. The former estates of men like Cameron of Lochiel and MacDonald of Keppoch were only a few hours' ride away. "Do you see much trouble from that quarter?"

"Not in recent years. Some offences against the Disarming Act, the Highland Dress Act, and the like."

"Those are serious offences."

Windham nodded. "Indeed." He gave Fenwick a long, cool glance. "The repression of the rebellion left wounds that have never healed, Mr Fenwick." His tone was neutral. "My policy, like your predecessor's, has always been not to turn the knife in the wound."

Fenwick stiffened. "If you mean turning a blind eye—" Yesterday the sheriff-clerk had hinted at rumours of sympathy with the Jacobite cause in Colonel Windham's past, though surely that could not be true, or he would not have risen to the position he now occupied. In Fenwick's experience, the legal profession was riddled with Jacobites, but surely the Army was different.

Windham's gaze rested on Fenwick, cold and angry. "I do not mean that, and I will thank you not to suggest it again. I mean extending the same courtesy to the local lairds that you would to any gentleman. Abstaining from harassing Episcopalian ministers, who are not, you will recall, outlawed—only their services are proscribed. Allowing the local people to present their cases in the circuit court in their native language. Indeed, your predecessor employed an Erse-speaking clerk for that purpose. I wonder if you intend to do the same, Mr Fenwick?"

Fenwick was obliged to admit that he had not yet thought about it.

"Perhaps you could bear it in mind," Windham said dryly. He returned to his report of the situation in the area. "Besides that, our chief preoccupation is smuggling. Tobacco and brandy come into remote sea-lochs in small boats by night, and are carried over the mountains into the heart of the country. My men are constantly patrolling the mountains and the shorelines. Perhaps you may wish to accompany one of my patrols, to get a feeling for the lay of the land. I presume you are mounted?"

Fenwick quaked inwardly. He was no horseman. But he did not want to say that to this cool and competent soldier. He was a little in awe of him, though there was no reason why he should have been. He nodded, resolving to beg or borrow a horse somewhere.

"Would next Thursday be convenient to you?" Windham asked.

"Thank you, yes."

Over the next few days, Mr Fenwick met two major local landowners, the minister, the notary, and the schoolmaster. He read all his predecessor's papers, and quizzed his secretary about any gaps in the paperwork.

The following Thursday he accompanied Colonel Windham on the promised tour, along with two lieutenants and a company of men. Rain soaked into Mr Fenwick's coat as they left Maryburgh, a heavy drizzle that looked set to last the entire day. It was late October, but cold enough that it might well already have been the depths of January. Fenwick could not help shivering and retreating into his cloak when a sudden gust of wind blasted rain into their faces as they set off along the shore of Loch Linnhe. He muttered a curse under his breath.

Windham shot him an amused glance. "You are new to the Highlands, I believe? It's quite different in summer, I assure you. Indeed, it can be almost pleasant."

Fenwick noticed, almost with shock, that Windham was smiling to himself. So the man was human after all!

On their right as they rode south, the waters of the loch were grey and choppy, a sharp breeze coming in from the open sea. On the left rose the high ground from which the rebels had bombarded the fort in '46.

"Were you here during the rebellion, Colonel?" Fenwick asked, suddenly curious.

"I was in the area, yes, though I was not stationed in Fort William."

Mr Fenwick had been a boy at his schoolbooks in Galashiels at the time. He well remembered the fear and excitement in the town when the news arrived that the Young Pretender's army had triumphed at Gladsmuir, had taken Edinburgh with ease, was planning to march south towards England. In the event, the main body of the army had gone via Peebles and the Ettrick Forest, and the people of Galashiels were scarcely discommoded.

After Mr Fenwick and the soldiers had been ferried across the loch at Corran, Windham called a halt to spread out a map and show Fenwick their current location and the path they would take through the mountains to Loch Sunart. He pointed out various spots where the smugglers were suspected to land, coming in on small boats from the French privateers that stood offshore.

"Lieutenant Crozier will turn south to relieve the men stationed at Castle Duart," Windham explained, tracing a line on the map with his finger, "while you and I remain with Lieutenant Elliott, who is to patrol the shores around Arisaig and Morar. We will spend the night at Castle Tioram, part from Elliott at the head of Loch Ailort, here, and return via Glenfinnan."

Fenwick vaguely remembered the name from the reports he had read the previous week. "That's on Loch Shiel, I believe?" he said, wishing to appear knowledgeable. "Isn't that one of the smugglers' favourite landing points?"

Windham shot him a curious look. "It's not a sea-loch," he said mildly.

Fenwick blushed. He should learn to know the area like the back of his hand, but every time he looked at the map and remembered what a wild and remote region he now inhabited, his heart sank.

"I expected to be working in Edinburgh," he muttered.

He shot a sideways glance at Windham, expecting to see scorn in the man's eyes, but instead to his surprise he found understanding.

Windham returned his attention to the map. "A second patrol is currently stationed on the shores of Loch Hourn, to the north, in the company of three excisemen..."

* * *

Mr Fenwick returned from his two-day patrol cold and wet, but also with an appreciation for the great difficulty in stopping smugglers slipping through the patrols of soldiers and excisemen. He knew the Pretender's son had landed in this area in '45 and left from here after his failed rebellion, and no wonder, for it was impossible to guard the entire coastline.

Over the following weeks, Mr Fenwick felt he was at last beginning to settle into his new posting. He presided over his first Commissary Court and his first Small Debts Court. He dined with the local notary and his wife twice, and once with the minister of Maryburgh's kirk. A month or so after his arrival, he was invited to the home of Robert Stewart of Achnagapall, one of the largest local landowners, on the occasion of his daughter's betrothal. Stewart lived south of Loch Eil, an hour's ride from Fort William, and Fenwick arrived to find the house's reception rooms overflowing with half the inhabitants of the district.

The young people were dancing to the tune of two fiddles in the largest room, where all the furniture had been set aside. Mr Fenwick would quite like to have danced as well. After all, only two years earlier he had been a student in Edinburgh, and had often passed an evening drinking and dancing with his fellows. But he was very conscious of his dignity, and of how much younger he was than all the other local worthies. He stood to one side of the dancefloor and found himself in conversation with Mr Murdoch, the local schoolmaster, sent out here by the SSPCK. In Edinburgh a lowly schoolteacher would never for a moment have been in the same social circle as an advocate, but in Fort William things were rather different. Moreover, a certain complicity had sprung up between them when they discovered they were both from the Borders, Murdoch being a native of the town of Peebles.

Mr Murdoch kept up a running commentary in Fenwick's ear. "Over by the door, that's the eldest son of John Cameron of Fassefern, brother of the infamous Lochiel. He's speaking with Mr Brodie, minister at Ballachulish. He's been out here thirty years, I believe. And near them is Colonel Windham—you know him, of course—and the lady with him is the wife of Cameron of Ardroy, another connection of Lochiel's."

The lady was smiling up at Windham, who had his head bent to speak to her. As Fenwick watched, they both laughed softly at something Mrs Cameron had said. They were not touching, but something about them struck Fenwick as oddly intimate, perhaps because Windham looked more relaxed than Fenwick had ever seen him before.

Mr Fenwick blinked, struck by a sudden suspicion. Was this lady with the laughing dark eyes the reason Windham had so inexplicably stayed out here in the Highlands? Surely not. Under the nose of a local laird!

"Is Mr Cameron here also?" he asked the schoolmaster.

"No. One rarely sees him in Fort William. He was out in '45, you know. Injured at Culloden. And next to them is one of the Macleans," Murdoch went on. "He has sent me five pupils for my school this year from among his tenants..."

They went into dinner soon after that, and Fenwick forgot about Colonel Windham and Mrs Cameron as he was drawn into a conversation about the merits of the old hereditary sheriffs system as compared to having the duties performed by an advocate such as Mr Fenwick himself.

He enjoyed the evening, after a fashion, and he particularly enjoyed the meal, the finest he had eaten since he had come to the Highlands—although he sincerely hoped the brandy had not been smuggled.

* * *

The snow came in early December, and with it a letter from the sheriff in Inverness, expressing his hope that Mr Fenwick was doing his utmost against the scourge of smuggling in his district, and would shortly be taking decisive action. Thirty barrels of the finest French brandy had been seized in Perth the previous week, and all of it had come into the country via Lochaber—right through the heart of Mr Fenwick's district.

He read the letter over several times, feeling uneasy. It seemed to him unfair that he should be held accountable for the smuggling problem, when he had little to do with catching the scoundrels, and was responsible only for sentencing them. He sent a letter begging Colonel Windham to do him the honour of allowing Mr Fenwick to wait on him that afternoon.

When he arrived at the fort, Windham had already unrolled a map on his desk.

"Last year they often came in somewhere here, between Mull and Arisaig." He indicated the stretch of coastline on the map. "We intercepted several landings there last summer. Since then they have changed their tactics, of course. I believe they are landing somewhere by Loch Nevis or Loch Hourn. The lochside is so steep thereabouts that there are only a limited number of landing places, but we have not yet managed to determine the exact locations. Then, I believe, they pass over the mountains, perhaps by Loch Quoich or further south, and so to Invergarry or Invermoriston. They must keep to routes their pack horses can take, so that at least eliminates the steepest and wildest mountain trails, but there are nevertheless many possible routes. Troops from Fort Augustus have been stationed on Loch Quoich and the woods in Glengarry since September, but with no success as yet. It is likely that someone is helping and housing them. Who, we do not know."

Fenwick frowned. "This is the land of Cameron of Ardroy, is it not?" he asked, pointing to one of the routes Windham had indicated. In the last few months, he had learnt a great deal more about the local terrain and its inhabitants than he had known initially. "He has seen the inside of a government jail more than once, I know."

"That is true," Windham said. "But he is not guilty in this instance. I will vouch for that."

"But he was out in '45. One of the Pretender's aides-de-camp! Are you trying to tell me he has turned his coat?"

Windham said coldly, "Nothing of the sort. Ardroy will be a Jacobite till the day he dies."

"Then why are you so sure—"

"I believe we were speaking of smuggling, and not armed rebellion." Windham's tone was sardonic.

Fenwick frowned. "Smugglers and Jacobites go hand in hand. You know that."

"It is often the case, yes. But Ardroy and I are acquaintances of long standing, and I'll vouch for him, as I say. He is no friend to smugglers."

Fenwick stared at him, and Windham looked calmly back, one brow raised in that satirical look Fenwick found so disconcerting.

"Very well," he said finally. "But what are we to do about the smugglers, colonel? I must be able to write to the sheriff in Inverness and assure him of what measures are being taken."

"You may accompany me on patrol tomorrow, if you wish, in order to see for yourself what is being done. Or one of my lieutenants will prepare a written report for you. As you prefer."

"I'll come with you," Mr Fenwick said instantly, though he did not relish the idea of travelling through the mountains in the snow.

"Very well. I advise you to dress warmly."

They set off at dawn, accompanied by Windham's orderly, and rode for several hours along the River Lochy, then skirted Loch Lochy—after three months in the area, Mr Fenwick had a better idea of the geography and place names. When they reached the soldiers' encampment at Achnacarry, only two men were on guard there, the others all out on patrol. They saluted and made their report to Colonel Windham.

Windham gave them some orders, then turned to Fenwick. "We will ride up Glen Chi-aig and meet the patrol in the mountain pass below Meltaggart."

They had been riding only twenty minutes or so when they met an ensign, coming down the path on horseback.

"Colonel Windham, sir," he said, saluting. "Nothing to report from this morning, sir. But there's been shooting in the hills, at Ardroy, just now. I heard it from a distance."

Windham stilled. "What do you mean, shooting at Ardroy?"

"I don't know, sir. I didn't like to investigate alone. I came to fetch Lieutenant Crozier and his men."

"Crozier and his men have gone over the Meltaggart pass. Do you go there and bring them to Ardroy. I shall go there directly."

"Yes, sir."

"Hunting, perhaps?" Fenwick suggested as the ensign rode away. "I know some of the locals illegally keep arms for hunting."

Windham shook his head. "There are no unlicensed arms at Ardroy."

He urged his horse to a trot. Soon they left the glen and took a steep track leading up into the mountains. Windham seemed to know the way well. The path was steep, and at one point near the top of the pass they had to dismount and lead their horses through the snow. Once over the pass, the going became no easier, but finally the path they were descending became less steep, and Fenwick got his first view of the house at Ardroy, nestled in a snow-covered glen among the mountains, a frozen lake not far off.

They rode down to the house. As Windham dismounted, a woman appeared at the door of the house, clad in a heavy woollen shawl against the cold. Fenwick recognised Mrs Cameron. She flew to Colonel Windham. "Keith! Thank goodness."

"What has happened?"

"Ewen has gone to help a train of smugglers. They got into difficulties in the snow up near Lairg na Beithe. Two of them came to the house...They were armed! They wanted to persuade him to go with them to rescue their fellows. As though that were necessary!" she added scornfully. "Ewen would rescue his own worst enemy from the snow. He has gone with them, and Angus Og too. I have sent Donald to fetch Neil and Lachlan, but there's no sign of them yet."

"We heard there was shooting," Windham said urgently. "Was anyone injured?"

"No, no one. But oh Keith, I am afraid they will force Ewen to go with them all the way to Inverness."

Mrs Cameron and Colonel Windham stood close together, her hands clasped in his, as they spoke in low voices. Fenwick would have thought all his suspicions were confirmed, except that clearly their only thoughts were of Mr Ewen Cameron.

Like Windham's orderly, Fenwick had remained mounted, uncertain of the situation. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a group of children had appeared at the door: a stout young fellow nine or ten years old, another boy not yet breeched, and a girl only just old enough to be walking.

At that moment a man a few years older than Fenwick arrived on foot, breathless, having run down from the hills behind the house. Perhaps the Angus Og Mrs Cameron had spoken of earlier? He gasped out something in Erse, and Windham replied in that tongue.

Mrs Cameron joined the conversation, which was now entirely in Erse. Fenwick looked on, as bewildered as the Lowland orderly waiting patiently beside him. Then Mrs Cameron and the new arrival disappeared into an outbuilding.

Colonel Windham turned to Fenwick. "One of the smugglers' pack horses has gone off the edge of a cliff. They tried to go after it, and are stuck too. And frozen half to death, no doubt. Angus MacMartin has come back for ropes and equipment." Windham stopped to intercept the two youngest children, who had come running out of the house. He picked up the little girl. "You must stay in the house, Jeannie. You're not dressed for the snow, are you?" He handed her over to the older boy, with strict instructions to take the younger children into the house and keep them there. The lad seemed to be called Keithie—Colonel Windham's name, Fenwick realised with a jolt of surprise.

By now two other men had appeared, fetched by a lad of eleven or twelve. Presumably they were tenants of the laird, both of them bundled up against the cold in rough woollen coats. They eyed Fenwick warily, but seemed to be acquainted with Colonel Windham, who spoke to them briefly in Erse.

Mrs Cameron had returned carrying ropes, blankets and other supplies, and now took charge of organising their distribution among the men.

Meanwhile, Windham sent his orderly for the rest of the patrol. "Meet us at Lairg na Beithe. I trust you can find it?"

"Yes, sir."

"We should have intercepted the smugglers by then. Though I doubt they will be pleased to be rescued by redcoats. I suppose they wanted to avoid our patrols, and tried to go up over the pass, the fools," Windham said grimly. He turned to Fenwick. "Perhaps you should stay here, Mr Fenwick."

Mr Fenwick had been contemplating with mounting apprehension the thought of having to venture even further up into the mountains, but now he stiffened, affronted. "I think not. It is my duty to see these men arrested."

Windham gave him that glance Fenwick had always hated, a glint in his eyes that seemed full of sardonic amusement, but he only said, "Very well. But we shall have to go on foot, you realise."

"Of course," Fenwick said in what he hoped was an insouciant tone, his heart sinking.

For Mr Fenwick, the following hour was a cold and miserable blur. He kept his head hunched down, his hat pulled low over his eyes, though the icy wind still whipped his face. His world had shrunk to the boots of the man in front of him, in whose footprints he trod as they trudged through the snow.

Finally, he heard Windham's voice up ahead calling a halt.

They had reached a small plateau in the mountain path. In the snow stood a string of pack horses, laden with barrels of, presumably, the finest French brandy and cognac. Only two men were in sight. One sat shivering on a rock. The other came hurrying up to the new arrivals, gesturing frantically, then stopped short at the sight of Windham's uniform and drawn pistol.

Windham said something in Erse to the other men, who stepped forward to disarm the smugglers.

"Where is Ardroy?" Windham demanded.

The smuggler pointed to one side. "He went over the edge to try and help them up." He was indicating a rocky outcrop, where the ground seemed suddenly to end, vanishing into the murky grey. It was snowing again now, and Fenwick could not see more than six yards in front of him.

Windham lay full length on the rocky outcrop to look over the edge. Cautiously, Fenwick did likewise, wincing as the wet snow-covered rock soaked the front of his coat and breeches.

The ground fell away steeply before them, almost sheer enough to be called a cliff. A few hundred yards below, three figures balanced precariously on a narrow ledge that broke the side of the rockface. Fenwick could not see any way up or down from their position.

Windham's face tightened. He got to his feet and turned, calling for the ropes.

It was snowing heavily now, and in the diffuse grey light Fenwick could make out little of what was happening as the others hurried to and fro, setting up a system of belays and anchors under Windham's supervision. Fenwick found himself holding tight to the end of a rope, with instructions not to let go under any circumstances.

The first smuggler was hauled up, shivering violently, his face white and pinched with cold. The next man was in a similarly miserable condition. Cameron came up last, and Fenwick got his first sight of the infamous Laird of Ardroy. The man was built on herculean proportions, a brown woollen cloak pinned around him in a manner suspiciously reminiscent of a Highlander's philamore. As he untied the rope harness about his torso, Windham gripped his shoulder, saying something in a low voice. Cameron flashed the colonel a brief, weary smile, before turning to greet his tenants.

By this time, to Mr Fenwick's relief, the soldiers from Colonel Windham's company had arrived, and the smugglers could be taken into custody. Fenwick sank onto a conveniently placed rock, not caring any more about the snow soaking into his breeches. His hands were so numb he could no longer feel them.

Windham was supervising the soldiers taking charge of the packhorses, while Cameron oversaw the distribution of food and blankets to the smugglers. He turned and caught sight of the sheriff-substitute watching him.

"Mr Fenwick, I believe?" Cameron said courteously.

Mr Fenwick struggled to his feet, not wanting to appear at a disadvantage before this strapping Highland laird. "Indeed. Mr Cameron." He sketched a bow.

Windham appeared at Cameron's shoulder. "Ewen, I am taking the smugglers to Fort William."

"Are you sure you don't want to take them back to the house at Ardroy? They need warming up."

Windham shook his head. "They have abused your hospitality enough already. They can warm up at the camp. I will send Monroe for the horses."

Cameron nodded. "I'll see you on Wednesday?"

They clasped hands, and then Cameron disappeared into the snow, followed by his men.

Fenwick was left with the sinking feeling that it was several hours' hike back to the camp at Achnacarry. Then his gaze fell on the smugglers, all bound and guarded by redcoats, and the long string of packhorses they had intercepted, and his heart lightened. That would be something fine to tell the sheriff in Inverness!

.. .. ..

Two weeks later, Mr Fenwick made the journey to Ardroy with his clerk, quite pleased that he managed to lead the way, and only got lost once. He had intended to arrive in the late afternoon, but because of their unintentional detour it was already early evening.

They were shown into the living room and found Mr Cameron reading aloud from one of Smollett's novels, with Colonel Windham installed comfortably beside him on the settee, holding a skein of wool for Mrs Cameron, who was knitting. The three of them rose to their feet to greet the new arrivals.

"Good evening, Mr Fenwick," Cameron said courteously. "And Mr Menzies, I believe?"

Mr Fenwick explained the purpose of the visit. He had come to take Mr Cameron's statement in relation to the smugglers' arrest.

"Of course," Cameron said. "Won't you sit down at the table, gentlemen?"

The sheriff-clerk produced paper, pen and ink, and began to write as Cameron spoke.

"I trust you found your way here without too much trouble, Mr Fenwick?" Windham said as Menzies' pen scratched away. He and Mrs Cameron had resumed their seats.

Fenwick shot him a suspicious look, suspecting the lightly disguised mocking he had sometimes thought he detected in the Colonel's gaze, but now Windham seemed perfectly sincere. "Yes, thank you."

"You didn't have to come all the way up here, Mr Fenwick," Cameron said, breaking off his dictation. "You could have sent for me—I would have come down to Maryburgh."

Mr Fenwick simply nodded in acknowledgement, not wanting to explain the curiosity that had impelled him to come here. It was a strange experience to be inside the home of a man who had fought at Culloden. It would have been unthinkable, ten years earlier—and certainly unthinkable that the head of the garrison at Fort William should have been here too. Yet here he was, comfortably ensconced by the fire, and to all appearances a regular visitor to the house.

Windham had claimed Cameron was still a Jacobite through and through. Fenwick wondered how that worked, and what would have happened if another rebellion had ever broken out, as had once seemed very possible. He himself, from a solidly Whig family in a solidly Whig town, could scarcely imagine it, but he knew that in other parts of the country, plenty of families, brothers and sisters, and even husbands and wives, had been split down the middle in '45.

Cameron signed the finished statement, and Menzies handed the document to Fenwick for him to read through.

"Very good, thank you, Mr Cameron."

"You'll sit down by the fire and take a drink before you go, gentlemen?" Mrs Cameron proposed. "It's a long, cold ride back to Fort William."

The cozy fireside was tempting, but Mr Fenwick felt oddly like an intruder in their comfortable family circle.

"No, I thank you."

It was a fine clear night, the full moon shining brightly overhead as he rode back down towards Loch Arkaig with Mr Menzies.

Mr Fenwick thought of the empty room awaiting him in Maryburgh. It seemed a cold and lonely thought, and he preferred to redirect his mind to his plans for tomorrow: holding a Small Debts Court in Ballachulish, dinner with the minister there, and of course putting together the dossier on the smugglers captured on Lairg na Beithe. So far this posting was going well—one might almost call it a success. Perhaps his career was not over before it had started, after all. Perhaps someday he might have the posting he had hoped for in Edinburgh.

And as the horses walked on down the glen, their hooves muffled by the snow on the ground, Mr Fenwick thought that someday too he would like a cozy fireside and friends by his side, such as he had seen at Ardroy this night.

END