The window looks out on a view Eva still struggles to believe is real. Mirrored planes of rockpools, whorls of white water, and then sea, and sea, and sea. To the north lies Holy Island, and behind her, close enough to see the stacked-dice silhouette of the castle in fine weather, the mainland village of Bamburgh. But here, looking out the window of Finn’s childhood bedroom, it feels as though she is happily adrift in the middle of the ocean.
There is a flicker of nerves as she hangs the curtains she has spent the afternoon sewing. A replacement for the tattered sheets that had been in place since Finn was a child. Putting her mark on this room gives a sense of permanence to this arrangement. Another step towards making this sea-fringed life her own. It’s a life of callused hands and wet skirt hems, and arms turned muscular from hauling the firebasket into the sky. A life in which she has learnt to bake bread, to pull bones from fish, to drink water straight from the sky. A life far beyond the one she imagined she would live.
She ties the curtains back, allowing the view of the sea to flood into the room once more. Today the horizon is unbroken—the water stretching ever onwards the unseen mass of Denmark. And that empty ocean makes Eva release a breath she had not been aware she was holding.
The discomfort is buried deep, below the happiness that her life on Longstone has brought her. But it is there. That tug of fear that when she next looks out that window, she might see the ship of Henry Ward, returning to Longstone for retribution.
Eva hears the dull thud of Finn’s skiff knocking into the jetty. She grabs her shawl from the bed and hurries outside.
Finn smiles at her as he knots the mooring rope. The skiff is loaded high with bulging and fragrant sacks of peat. He steps from the boat and pulls her in for a kiss. She tastes the sea spray on his lips. Finn takes his greatcoat from the bench of the boat and slides it on over his rolled-up shirtsleeves. He nods towards the empty mooring post on the other side of the jetty. “I see our two felons have left again.”
Several weeks ago, Eva’s family had discovered Michael and Angus Mitchell hiding in the roof of Highfield House. Men on the run after their bloody clash with dragoons at a Jacobite protest in York. Terrified of them being caught, their sister Julia had sent them to hide away on Longstone, out of sight of the authorities.
“Just Michael,” Eva tells Finn. She nods towards the far end of the island. “Angus has gone out to lay the lobster pots.” She knows Michael Mitchell has been making regular visits to either the mainland or Holy Island—these days, the longboat is gone more often than it is here. For what purpose she does not know for certain, though she can guess well enough. She has little doubt Michael is still deeply entrenched in the Jacobite cause, despite the hangman’s noose already having been tied for him.
“Well. That’s a damn shame.” Finn’s brown eyes shine. He reaches for the sacks and slings them into the wheelbarrow beside the cottage. “I was hoping to have you to myself for once.”
Eva grins. “Sorry. You’ll just have to share me with Angus.”
Finn chuckles and begins to bump the barrow over the uneven ground towards the shed. “The fellow is starting to push his luck.”
“I hope these farmers know how good a deal they’re getting,” says Eva. She walks beside him with a hand held out to keep the teetering pile of sacks steady. “Paying you in peat for a day’s work in the fields.”
Finn puts down the barrow as he reaches the stone steps leading up to the shed. “Don’t you worry. Got a little coin in my pocket too. And this.” He reaches into the top of one of the sacks and produces a muddy bottle of dark red wine. “Thought you might want to drink something other than whisky that makes your eyes water.” He hands her the bottle and slings two of the sacks over his shoulders. Marches up the stairs into the coal shed. “Straight from Bamburgh market,” he says, emptying the sacks onto the peat heaps in the corner. He throws a glance over his shoulder at Eva. “You keep it to yourself now. I don’t plan on sharing with Angus. He and his brother have already drunk my whisky stores dry.”
Eva smiles. “I’m sure that’s not done you any harm.”
The Mitchells have been on Longstone for almost a month, and have not yet made any mention of leaving. She knows they are waiting for news of their elder brother, Hugh, before they head to London to hide away in the city. She doesn’t begrudge them that. But it has felt far too crowded in the cottage, with sleeping pallets rolled up in corners and empty crates crammed around the table to compensate for the lack of chairs. A single bedroom for them all to navigate as they take turns keeping the light.
Nonetheless, there is something thrilling about sneaking around the tiny island with Finn, trying to snatch a scrap of privacy. A kiss without witnesses, a moment alone in the overcrowded cottage. A mouthful of wine between piles of peat.
Eva appreciates the irony that it might feel so congested in a place of such dazzling remoteness. But her courtship with Finn has always been a slightly backwards thing. They had been keeping the light as near strangers, had spent the night on Longstone together before they had even known each other’s name.
This life they have right now, this life of sneaking around the island like children in the firelight, it feels precarious. Dreamlike. Feels as though it cannot last. Surley it will be mere hours before Henry Ward appears, or the redcoats storm the island looking for the Mitchells, or her brother Nathan appears and demands she stop living like a windblown heathen and behave like the lady she is. Or was.
Finn stands close to her. She smells earth on him, and sea. Feels her body come alive at his nearness. He pulls the peasant knife from his pocket and takes the wine bottle from Eva. Pulls the cork out with a forceful tug. “Do you still wish I take you to Lindisfarne tomorrow?” he asks. “To see your brother?”
Eva takes the bottle. She has returned to Highfield House just once since her hurried departure last month. Had had Finn take her across the water two days after she had left for Longstone. Enough time, she had hoped, for her brother’s anger to have settled somewhat. And for her former betrothed, Matthew Walton, to have skulked back to London without her.
Eva had planned a long, drawn-out apology to Nathan; for disappearing without explanation, for shunning the marriage he had cultivated for her, and for leaving Walton standing alone in the parlour of Highfield House.
Nathan had refused to see her.
Perhaps it was for the best. Because she does not regret leaving Matthew Walton, or choosing this life with Finn on Longstone. She does not regret it a scrap. But she does regret hurting her brother. She knows how much Nathan had been relying on her marriage to Walton. Aligning their family with the wealthy Waltons would have done much to restore the good standing of the Blake name, after the collapse of Nathan’s merchant business last year. But the pull of life on Longstone had been too strong to resist.
She has not made another attempt at reconciliation with Nathan since. But tomorrow—tomorrow she will make sure he at least speaks with her. It is too important not to.
She nods, trying to conjure up a resoluteness. “Yes. Tomorrow.”
Finn slides his broad palm over the back of her neck. “It will be all right. I’m sure of it.”
Eva smiles faintly. She knows he can give her no such reassurances—not really. But she appreciates his attempt. She brings the bottle to her lips and takes a long mouthful of wine, trying to drown out the roar of guilt at the back of her thoughts that refuses to be washed away.