Elliot settled himself into the tree he’d selected, and waited. He’d exchanged his working kilt and tough boots for the dark silk clothes he’d sometimes worn in India, and soft leather shoes, best for climbing.
The tree was wide, and the three-branch cradle he’d found supported him comfortably. He’d chosen with care.
On his lap, he held his Winchester Model 1876 lever-action rifle he’d purchased when he’d first left the army. He’d ordered a smaller bore, a.40-60, that they’d begun making in later years—though it was still called the 1876. Elliot had confined his shooting, once he’d left the army, to food game and target shooting, rather than big game—tigers and elephants were too beautiful in the wild, and what had they ever done to him?—and so saw no need for a larger caliber gun. Englishmen in India enjoyed shooting glass balls or plates out of the sky. Elliot, as a sharpshooter in a kilt, had been a favorite entertainment.
The rifle carried five rounds in the chamber, the lever action meaning he could pump the trigger mechanism after each shot to eject the cartridge and slide the next bullet into the chamber. He could fire all five rounds very quickly.
Stacy, of course, knew about this rifle and had a similar one of his own. What Stacy did not know about was the telescopic device Elliot had ordered before he’d gone back to India the second time. Snipers in the American Civil War had used such devices to bring their game into view—enemy officers rather than deer or bear.
Elliot had fitted the scope to the rifle before he’d left the house. McGregor had been fascinated with it, making Elliot promise to bring it with him the next time they went to McPherson’s. McPherson would be green with envy, McGregor said, with glee.
Elliot lifted the rifle and sighted through the scope, the bright moonlight bringing the hanging bag of foodstuffs into sharp focus.
It still hung where Hamish had left it, full and untouched. Squirrels and birds would get it if he left it through tomorrow, but tonight, in the dead of night, Stacy might just come out for it.
Wind sighed in the trees, and scraps of clouds drifted overhead. The weather here, so close to the sea, was ever changing. A few miles north of McGregor’s estate, the land curved and headed for the utmost north of Scotland and the stretch of water to the Orkneys.
Juliana would like a summer journey to the Orkneys, to watch from the boat as they slid past the Old Man of Hoy, standing sentinel over the islands. Elliot imagined her on the boat’s deck, the wind in her fiery hair, her eyes filled with wonder as she stared at the tall pile of rock.
There were so many wonders in the world. Elliot wanted to show them all to Juliana.
His perch was cold, but he welcomed the wind. It erased the stifling heat of India from his brain, not that the Punjab couldn’t turn bone cold in the winter.
Archibald Stacy. When the man had arrived in the Punjab with his young Scottish wife, looking to make his fortune, he and Elliot had resumed the friendship they’d begun in the army. When Mrs. Stacy soon died of typhoid fever, Elliot had nursed Stacy through his grief.
Then they’d met Jaya, the kin to princes of one of the native states. Elliot had not fallen in love with her as Stacy had, but Elliot had been young, lonely, and virile, and at the time, he thought he’d never make enough money to see Scotland and Juliana again.
Then when Jaya had played her game to make Stacy believe she preferred Elliot to him, Stacy had gone mad with rage. Elliot had been surprised. Stacy had always spoken of Jaya with indifference, having deeply loved his wife. Stacy had given no indication he’d been in a hurry to replace the first Mrs. Stacy, and so Elliot hadn’t realized the man’s true feelings.
They’d quarreled, and Elliot had relinquished Jaya back to Stacy, who’d promised to marry her. Elliot had thought the matter resolved.
Not long after that, Elliot and Stacy had been tramping together in the hills far to the north, never knowing that a tribal skirmish in the remote passes to the Afghan lands had begun. That was where Elliot had realized that Stacy still held a grudge, and held it with a vengeance.
The Highland moon sank behind the mountains, swallowed by the light that began so early in northern summers.
Strange that the sun stayed up so long in these latitudes but the air remained cool, while in the tropics, the sun sank quickly but the heat lasted far into the night.
As long as the darkness remained, Stacy never emerged, and the bag of food still hung untouched.
He doesn’t like my Judas goat. Elliot allowed himself an inward smile. My Judas ham.
As the sun climbed out of the sea, Elliot lifted his rifle, aimed, and fired one shot. The rope holding the bag split and the bag fell with a thump to the path.
Elliot skimmed out of the tree, fetched the bag, and walked the few miles to McPherson’s to give the contents to McPherson’s grateful dogs.
Juliana stepped out to the kitchen garden with her basket, determined to fill it with the runner beans she’d spied yesterday. She looked up after picking the first handful to see her husband, clad in a short indigo jacket and dark pants that clung to his legs, walking up from the westward hills.
He was bareheaded, carried his rifle over his shoulder, and was followed by a long-haired red setter.
Juliana watched Elliot come, her feelings a mixture of anger and relief. The shot that had awakened her at dawn had terrified her. Mahindar and Hamish had gone to investigate and returned saying they’d found nothing. No Elliot, no intruder, no bag of food, nothing.
Juliana had not been able to sleep again, fearing bloodshed and Elliot gone forever. Now she was sandy-eyed and a bit annoyed that Elliot should stroll casually through the garden gate as though nothing was wrong.