In all her twenty-five years she had never felt more alone, more apprehensive, or more excited. Clinging to the guardrail as the SS Claymore steamed her way towards her berth on the crowded docks, Fiona Matheson’s mind was a jumble of emotions.
She was a slight figure in her home-spun clothes, the traditional plaid she wore largely obscuring her waif-like prettiness. The large eyes, which looked out at the world from a gamine face framed by a tumble of black hair, reflected her sense of wonder at the scene which confronted her. The generous mouth, which was habitually curved into a sunny smile, was pursed anxiously. Was she really here in Glasgow, so far from home?
As she scanned the faces on the quayside, overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of the grimy city, her heart began to beat so fast that she could scarcely breathe. Had she made the biggest mistake of her life?
A thick pall of smog hung like a wet blanket where the sky should be. Smoke belched from the funnels of the steamers and billowed out in a huge cloud from the train which clanked terrifyingly over the railway bridge. It was a million miles from the rural tranquillity of her island home of Heronsay.
She couldn’t hear herself think for the cacophony of noise. The deep bass note of the ship’s horn, the steady chugging as the waters of the River Clyde churned in their wake, the barked instructions of the crew all mingled with the excited cries of her fellow passengers as the steamer began its precarious manoeuvre into its tight berth.
Fiona scanned the crowded quayside again. Five years it had been since she last saw her cousin Ella. Ella’s annual holiday on the Isle of Heronsay to visit her aunt, Fiona’s mother, had ensured the girls became firm childhood friends, but the death of Fiona’s mother, followed by Ella’s unexpected decision to try for one of the exclusive women’s places at Glasgow University, had prevented any recent contact other than the odd letter. Would she even recognise her?
As Fiona was caught up in the sudden surge towards the gangway, her eyes darted from one face to the next in search of Ella.
Don’t be so daft, she told herself, she’ll be here. After all, it was her idea that you came here to start a new life in Glasgow. Far from the Isle of Heronsay. And far from Euan McLean.
“Fiona! Over here!”
Craning her neck, Fiona saw Ella’s tall, slim figure weaving its way towards her, a huge smile lighting up the long, intelligent face and the wide-spaced grey eyes.
“My goodness, I’m fair glad to see you!” Fiona exclaimed, throwing her arms around her cousin.
“I can’t quite believe you’re here.” Ella returned the embrace, the pair of them laughing and crying at the same time.
“It’s so good to see you, and you’ve not changed a bit,” Ella said, though the truth was she was shocked by Fiona’s pallor and the strained look around her eyes. The traumas of the last few months had taken more of a toll than her cousin had let on in her letter. “Come on, let’s get away from this pandemonium,” she said, taking Fiona’s arm. “It will be a while before they unload your trunk. We can get a cup of tea, and it will give us a chance to catch up.”