Wet sand crunched under Helen’s feet as she walked over the shining cobbles and patches of sand left behind by the tide. From sea level, the grassy cliffs above her seemed huge. Not a place to get trapped by an incoming tide.
Helen savoured the constant surge and noise of the waves and the calls of the seabirds everywhere. She had never felt so much at home, so relaxed, in years. She peered into a pool left among the rocks, watching a crab scuttle sideways to hide itself in the seaweed. It brought back memories of her holidays as a child, of booking a house for a month and running wild with her two brothers along a shore which was usually deserted like this.
Thanks to the war, she had no brothers now and her own mother and father, like many parents up and down the country, were struggling to come to terms with their loss and rebuild what was left of their lives.
She blinked, but tears still filled her eyes. That war had a lot to answer for.
As her eyes cleared, she saw a solitary figure, sitting on a rock, an artist’s notebook open in front of him, sketching.
She walked quietly up behind.
“Am I following you, or are you following me?” she demanded.
Andrew looked round, smiling.
“I heard you,” he said. “The sand crunching under your feet.”
“Fibber! I was as quiet as a little mouse. Where are your paints?”
“Back in my digs. I came down for a walk along the shore and brought my notebook and pencils. It’s much more sheltered down here.”
Helen glanced over his shoulder. Competent, but not outstanding, she thought.
“It’s all right.” He smiled. “Say what you think . . . I’m only learning.”
She sat on a rock across from him.
“It’s better than I could do,” she said. “So why should I criticise? How long have you been painting?”
The pencil paused.
“About a couple of years. When the war finished, I went to visit an old friend from the trenches.” He glanced up. “He was invalided out with shell-shock . . . the last person you would expect to react like that, because he was as brave as a lion. But even lions crumbled when they’d been weeks and months under German shelling.”
“I know,” Helen said quietly. “We were surgical, so we didn’t treat them, but we tried to help the shaking men brought in by their friends. It was as if they had retreated into a world of their own, where nobody could reach them.”
“That’s what happened to Bob.” He grimaced. “He was lucky. A few years earlier, the generals would have had him shot as a coward. When he was anything but.” He pulled himself together with obvious effort. “Anyway, the hospital in Edinburgh had got him started trying to draw and paint. I spent a couple of weeks there, working with him, encouraging. When I left, I found that I missed the drawing. So I started again on my own, then tried to teach myself to paint. I found watercolours were too wishy-washy for what I wanted to do, so I turned to oils.”
He closed the notebook, stuffing the pencils into his jacket pocket.
“Better get back,” he said. “Where are you heading?”
“Along the shore. I wanted to find one of the coves that were used by the old smugglers.”
He gave that wonderful smile again. He really was a good-looking man, she thought.
“You’re standing in one,” he replied. “However, the really famous one lies round that headland there. Take care you don’t get cut off by the tide it floods right into the base of the cliffs.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Does it have any caves old passageways?”
He rose. For the first time, his eyes were less than direct.
“If it does,” he said, “then I’ve never found them. But do take care. The tide is coming in . . . I would leave that kind of exploration for another day.”
Helen stood, indecisive. She wanted to find a real smuggler’s cove, get the feel of how it would look, maybe even discover an ancient passageway she could link to her old fisherman’s stories. She was reluctant to call it a day.
“Warning heard, and will be heeded,” she said. “But I think I’ll walk up to the point, and take a look round to see what’s on the other side.”
“More rocks and sand and seaweed, in another curved bay. But do take care make sure you are heading home in . . .” He pulled out a pocket watch. “Turn back in no more than an hour. That should give you time to walk safely back to the town.”
“Thanks,” Helen said. She began to walk towards the distant point, then turned to find Andrew staring after her, frowning. When he caught her eye, he waved, and set off in the opposite direction.
A larger wave than the others came curling up the stones and sand towards her. The tide was definitely coming in, which meant that his warning was sound.
She was an independent woman, though, so she would do what she had set out to do, which was to take a quick look at the cove beyond this bay, then head back to her digs.
Enjoying the feel of the wind in her face, she headed for the point.