The platform at Buchanan Street Station was crowded with passengers, their friends and family come to see them off, and porters, their trolleys towering with luggage. Steam rose in huge clouds from the trains of the Caledonian Railway which arrived and departed at regular intervals. Carriage doors clanged shut, whistles blew, engines roared.
Fiona huddled closer to Matthew, keeping one eye out for Ella, who had not yet arrived.
“Francis looked so much worse than I expected,” she said to him. “Is there really no hope?”
Matthew looked grave.
“I wish there was, but I’ve told them to prepare for the worst.”
It was what she had expected, the knowledge which had made her cry herself to sleep these last few nights since she had visited Francis and Emily, but she had until now held out a tiny thread of hope.
“How long, do you think?”
Matthew shook his head.
“Impossible to say, but some time in the next few months, I believe.” He brushed her hair away from her face and smiled at her reassuringly. “Try not to let it spoil your holiday. You’ve been working so hard, you need the break, and you don’t want all your friends on Heronsay to think that Glasgow doesn’t suit you now, do you?”
Fiona clutched at his hand, feeling suddenly apprehensive of her decision to return home. Her future lay here with Matthew, so what was she doing, revisiting the past? She wasn’t going for a holiday – she was going back to Heronsay to lay her doubts to rest. If only she hadn’t met Eilidh. If only Eilidh had not mentioned Euan when she had seen her the other day, she would not have had any doubts to deal with. Except they must have been there all the time.
“I wish you could come with me,” she said.
Matthew pulled her into his arms.
“I’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.”
His lips were warm on hers, his kiss tender. Fiona wrapped her arms around his neck, blotting out the noise and the people and the trains, and kissed him back with a hint of desperation. She had never lied to him, but she had never been completely honest with him, either. She, who had lectured Ella, had been just as guilty of withholding the truth out of fear.
“Matthew, I need to tell you something. The reason I’m going to Heronsay, it’s not
just . . .”
“Fiona! Goodness, I thought I’d never make it.” Ella, holding a large basket in one hand and an even larger suitcase in the other, arrived breathlessly. “Is this our train? We should get on board, we leave in three minutes. Hello, Matthew, and goodbye. Come on, Fi.”
“Matthew . . .” Fiona began.
“Tell me when you get back,” he said. “It will keep. Have a great time. Now get on the train before it leaves without you.”
* * * *
Fiona and Ella stood on the deck of the ferry as it pulled into the harbour at Heronsay. Above them, seagulls wheeled and screamed and clouds scudded past in the pale November sky. The wind was skittish, whipping their long skirts around their legs, tugging at the strings of their bonnets, making their eyes smart and colouring their cheeks.
“I’d forgotten how clear the air is here,” Ella said, lifting her face to the breeze.
Fiona nodded distractedly, her eyes fixed on the cliff which rose steeply above the beach with its distinctive white sands. There was the row of crofts, white-washed and thatch-roofed. She could just make out her old home. The door had been painted a shade of blue. And below, along the protective arm of the harbour, lay Euan’s boatyard. The fishing boats were all out, for the tide was high.
In the distance, off to the right, lay Heronsay Castle, home to the new laird and his family, where Euan’s new love, Louisa, was staying. Myriad emotions swirled around in her head. Sadness, regret, anticipation. She had come to say goodbye, but as the gangplank was pulled into place and she set her feet on the island, what she felt overwhelmingly was that she had come home.