The Toy Boat

The boy held the precious parcel tight to his chest as he picked his way along the rocky hillside sheep-track. He was careful to keep himself close to the contour of the slope for not only had he been told to never go near the place but his parents supposed him to be in school, and the schoolmaster supposed him to be helping his parents at the peats.

It was certainly exactly the sort of early summers day that he might well have been summoned to assist with the annual cutting of the precious fuel, but his mother was round with child and his father away at the fishing so the peats would be late this year. The boy was enjoying being on his own, for solitude was seldom to be had and his imagination needed space in which to thrive. He was nearing the top of the hill and checked behind before crossing the threshold and dropping swiftly to his waiting goal.

In front was the dark blue surface of the lochan, the wave-ripples of black that the breeze was powering across pleased the boy as he launched the toy boat with its single sail of shirt-cloth into the freshwater several hundred feet above the salt-laden Minch that lay below. The lochan was one of many in this part of the Bays, but it was unique for having a thin peninsular of rock that thrust a third of the way along the centre of its surface. This curving finger of grass-and-heather flecked gneiss was a model replica of the distant island that the boy glimpsed far away in the morning sea-haze, and in his imagination his toy boat became a scale-model of his father’s fishing vessel in the confines of the lochan’s landscape. It was this that had drawn the boy to make the perilous journey to this forbidden place and risk the wrath of his parents, or of his teacher or, worse still, of both!

As he watched, the wind changed direction and the small boat was propelled into a jagged headland jutting out from the finger-peninsular. The boy saw the thin planks of wood that his father had carefully assembled for him during the long, dark winter evenings, splinter and shower the shore before the boat succumbed to the in-rushing water and sank into the angry waters of the lochan. The boy ran to the peninsular and along its snaking surface to the place where his boat had foundered, but the lochan was many fathoms deep and the vessel lost forever.

Across the sea, and out of sight of the boy, a larger boat was driven onto the rocks of the distant island and five men, including his father, perished when it sank into the sea…

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