“Don’t look down,” Andrew said quietly. “Here. Reach up, take my hand.”
She looked up and drew strength from him. Steady eyes, strong face. He hung on to a rock spur and leaned down, holding out his hand for her. Helen reached up, and their fingers brushed.
“Can’t stretch higher,” she panted.
He adjusted his position, leaning even further down.
“Try again,” he urged.
This time, their fingers touched, closed and clutched. She had met all kinds in the war, and this was the sort of leader who was at his steadiest when the going was at its very worst. Men had followed officers like him, willingly, to their deaths.
“Sorry,” she panted. “Foot slipped. These boots and this long skirt were never meant for climbing steep grass paths.”
“You’re doing fine,” he reassured her. “We’re almost round that rocky outcrop. Once we clear this, there’s only a slow scramble up the final grassy slope to the top.”
“If I slip, I could pull us both down.”
He smiled again.
“Relax. You won’t pull me down . . . I’m like a limpet, made to stick fast, despite the worst waves a winter storm can throw at it.”
She found a smile.
“That’s all very well, but limpets were designed for rocks, so they might be a tad out of their territory on long grass . . . oh!”
“Don’t look down,” he warned again, but quietly. “Take a breather. You’ll live to brag about this to your grandchildren.”
Helen tried to block out the image of the sheer drop down to the shingle.
“To have grandchildren,” she panted, “I have to survive.”
“Nobody dies on my climbs,” he told her.
“Are you a climber, then, a mountaineer?”
“I’ve done my share,” he said.
“North face of the Eiger?” She tried to jest.
“Yes,” he replied. “Until it got too tough. We had to strike sideways and escape up the western edge of the ridge.”
“You’re joking?” she said weakly. “You’ve climbed the Eiger?”
“Hauled up on the end of a rope like a sack of coal by my best friend . . . he did the work, while I enjoyed the views.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
“About the Eiger?”
“About enjoying the views.”
“Don’t look down,” he said urgently. “The views are optional.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Ready to start again?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she said bravely.
Although aching in every bone and muscle from her climb that afternoon, Helen was like a terrier who had sunk her teeth into a stick.
“Are you sure you’ll be safe out there?” Beth, her landlady, asked worriedly.
“Compared to this afternoon, anything else is safe,” Helen replied.
“But it’s so dark.”
“That’s why I bought this torch. Anyway, it won’t be totally pitch black, because there’s a new moon shining.”
“A smuggler’s moon,” Beth said. “Enough to see by . . .”
“But not enough to be seen,” Helen finished.
“Do you absolutely have to do this?” Beth demanded.
“Yes, I’m a reporter. Your two businessmen will be gone by morning with heavier suitcases than they brought. They must be connected with whatever’s going on out there and, if they’ve arrived today, then it must be happening tonight.”
Beth looked unhappy.
“Why not call the police?”
“Because we have nothing to go on but guesses and suspicion. I’ll be fine.”
“Not if they catch you . . . and not if you stray too close to the edge of that cliff.”
“After today, I’ll never go near a cliff edge again.”
She set off, walking briskly along the gaslit streets, then found the path across the fields to Killiedraught Bay.
She followed the track out to the cliff tops of the bay, then paused to judge where the cave lay on the beach below. There: that was where Andrew had hauled her up, so the cave must be somewhere to the right.
In the dark, Helen found some gorse bushes at the side of the path. Having chosen her observation post, there was nothing left for her to do but wait. Far below, she could hear the waves breaking on the shingle beach. Again, the image of the dizzying drop beneath her feet came into mind. Helen shuddered.
Minutes passed slowly into hours. Her thoughts kept returning to Andrew. No painter, this. A man of action, a born leader, completely at home in a physical world, where danger and even death lurked, ready to pounce. Someone she really liked and whose qualities she respected. And she knew he liked her, too.
But was he one of the smugglers? Like many others, had he developed a taste for danger in the war, and was turning to crime to find the same stimulus in the years of peace? The whole nation was restless, as those who had survived struggled to settle back into the life they had led before. Had Andrew become someone she should fear?
She almost missed the sharp light which suddenly showed, out to sea. The light came again, three times quickly, then total darkness. A pause, then two flashes more.
Helen jumped instinctively to her feet.
A large hand came round from behind, to clamp across her mouth.