Glasses were raised, and all eyes were on the young couple, Dr Andrew Shelley and his wife Cassie, who looked with smiles at the circle of their friends and colleagues.
Dr Keith Bell proposed the toast.
“Here’s to Andrew and Cassie, to wish them well in their new and exciting venture. So speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing, over the sea to – where is it again?”
“Skerrabost,” Andrew and Cassie answered together.
“Skerrabost. Of course. A speck in the ocean somewhere off the wild west coast of Scotland. Well, the welfare of the good folk of Skerrabost could not be in better hands. Ladies and gentlemen, Andrew and Cassie.”
“Andrew and Cassie!” Glasses clinked, wine was sipped. Andrew looked at Cassie, at her dark eyes and sweet face. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. Andrew broke the little silence that followed the sip of wine. He raised his glass.
“Cassie and I want to thank you all for your friendship, your humour, your support when . . .” His voice faltered a little. Cassie squeezed his hand and he continued.
“Most of all for your kindness. We’ll miss you tremendously, won’t we, darling?”
“Oh, yes.” Cassie clinked her glass with Andrew’s. “To our friends.”
She and Andrew drank.
It was only a small general practice on the outskirts of London, but Andrew had been happy there. Cassie worked part-time as a fitness instructor in a nearby gym and their little girl, Jess, was at the local primary school. It had all been normality and contentment. Now it was going to be uncertainty and change.
Keith Bell spoke to Andrew.
“Is everything sorted?”
“I think we’re more or less done. The house is sold, the furniture, too, although obviously we want some stuff we’ve shipped on, including personal belongings. We’ll just have a coat and a sandwich on the journey! We travel without baggage.”
If the thought occurred that some baggage you couldn’t leave behind, because you carried it always, he quashed it.
“And there’s a school for Jess?”
“We’re not going to some outpost of the British Empire, Keith! Skerrabost is small, but there’s a school, telephones and television. They even have a distillery. What the island doesn’t have is a doctor. But they’ll soon have me.”
Cassie joined them.
“It’s been a lovely farewell, Keith, thank you.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Just think, in two days’ time we’ll be on that bonnie boat.” She smiled at him but there were tears in her eyes.
* * * *
Daddy, Mummy, look! Dolphins!” Jess was jumping up and down in excitement, pointing with one gloved hand at the white-flecked grey sea.
“Actually, Jess, I think they’re porpoise. Or should that be porpoises?” Andrew looked at Cassie.
The three of them stood on the starboard side of the ferry, the Island Princess, looking for the first sight of Skerrabost. Above them gulls wheeled, dived and banked, their shrill cries filling the sky.
The porpoise raced by the bows, the dull sunlight gleaming on their silvery, graceful bodies as they leaped through the air and sliced through the water.
A few moments later Cassie cried out and pointed. Andrew lifted Jess in his arms. There, low on the horizon, was a grey outline, darker than the sea. Their first sight of the island of Skerrabost.
The ferry nosed towards a harbour and a stone quay. There was a cluster of buildings, warehouses, then houses on either side of a road climbing from the harbour of the town of Stanecroft.
With a great churning of water the Island Princess came in, stern first, to the end of the quay and her engines stopped. They drove off the ferry and followed the road.
They were nearing the crest when Cassie shouted.
“There it is!”