Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 156

The cart bumped and swayed over the rocky ground. From the village the faint sound of a crowd and howling dogs rose up on the breeze. Dame Sanderson was fighting for her life to please the man who fed her.

"I have a grandmother, too," Hannah said gently. "And she doesn't know what happened to me, or where I am, or even if I'm alive."

Jennet looked straight ahead. "The laird wants yer faither tae stay."

Hannah said nothing. The question was not what the laird wanted--that was clear--but whether Jennet was enough of a friend to put Carryck's wants and wishes aside. For five minutes or more she said nothing, and then Jennet straightened her shoulders resolutely.

"Come on, then." She gathered her skirts together to hop off the wagon.

"Where are we going?" Hannah asked.

"Hame by way o' the kitchen window," Jennet said irritably. "Ye'll see soon enough for yersel'."

They cut up over the brae on a faint path that snaked around and between high stands of gorse covered with tiny yellow flowers. There was a clean, sweet smell about the hillside in the sun and Hannah was so happy to be walking again--walking uphill-- that she did not mind the hot prickle of the nettle when it brushed against her bare skin.

A startled grouse rose up out of the heather and Jennet stopped to watch it go, shielding her eyes against the sun. Then she pointed. "Ye see yon rowan tree?"

Hannah did, and said so.

"There's a path there that gaes doon tae the north side o' Aidan Rig. It's aye steep and rocky, and I wadna chance it in the wet."

They walked on in silence, Hannah working hard to remark the way: a boulder in the shape of a man's face with moss pushing up through cracks in his cheeks, a stand of three thistles taller than herself, and just beyond a grouping of young white pines.

In the meager shade of one of the trees Jennet set herself on a large rock and wiped her face on her sleeve. They were close enough to the falls to hear the rushing of water.

Hannah climbed up a boulder to get her bearings. Just over this rise must be the wood that ran down to Carryckcastle.

"No' that road," said Jennet, reading her thoughts.

They walked through the wood for a good ways, Hannah memorizing the trees as she went and marking the position of the sun. All the time the sound of the waterfalls was getting louder, and then the forest opened up.

They stood on the shoulder of the mountain, with the whole valley spread out before them. A hawk circled on the uplifting wind, a sign too obvious to be overlooked. The skin on Hannah's back rose in a shimmer of renewed hope, as sweet and cool as the mist of the waterfall rising up around them.

Jennet put her mouth to Hannah's ear to be heard over the waterfalls. "There's nae time tae show ye the way doon tae the vale but ye see there--" She pointed. "The path. Ye need a guid hour, in the daylight."

They followed a spring up from the rock face and back into the forest to where it disappeared into the ground. Jennet turned to look at her, and Hannah saw many things on her face: sadness and resignation, and through that still a sense of excitement.

"Have ye heard tell aboot the Rising of '15, and the troubles that came after for the Jacobites?"

"A little," Hannah said, trying to remember the stories her Granny Cora had told. "Did the Duke of Argyll defeat the Stewarts?"

Jennet bristled. "Campbell defeat the Jacobites? Och, and wha's been tellin' ye such falsehoods? Oor troops walloped the usurper's men soundly at Dunblane!" Then her face fell. "But it was aa for naucht. Bobbin' John lost his nerve, ye see, and he fled tae France and betrayed muny guid men tae the Crown. And in the years that followed those wha were loyal tae the Auld Pretender paid dearly, for the Hanoverians werena wont tae be forgivin'. And that's why the third earl built Forbes Tower."

She gave Hannah a very close look. "Have ye took note o' how thick the walls are inside the kitchen?"

Hannah had not, really, and she admitted this.

"Six feet thick, can ye imagine? Ye see, in those days the earl needed a safe place. A hidey-hole and a way oot o' the castle, should the usurper's men ever take it intae their heids tae come askin' questions. And sae he built a stair intae the kitchen wall that goes doon tae the tunnels."

And without further explanation Jennet pushed aside the bushes to reveal a dark opening.

They walked with hands stretched out, trailing fingers along the walls as they went through the dark. There was the rustle of dry leaves underfoot and the scent of trodden pine needles and mouse droppings. They walked for a good while, and Jennet stopped. Hannah could not see her, but she could feel her warmth, and when she spoke her breath touched Hannah's face.

"Here's the door," she said. "We're under the castle."

The door swung open with a creak. On the other side there was a narrow hall with a low ceiling, lit by a single hanging lantern. To the left was a small stone stair. MacQuiddy's voice drifted down to them.

"Arguin' wi' Cook," said Jennet with a sigh. "We'll wait until he's awa'."

"Where does this corridor go?" Hannah asked, peering into the shadows.

"Doon tae Campbell Tower."

"The pit?" Hannah stepped in that direction.

"The hidey-hole under the pit." Jennet sat herself on the stone step and started rummaging in her apron for food, coming up with an apple which she broke in half.

"There's naebodie there the noo," she said, biting into her half and offering Hannah the other.

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