SHE knew she should leave it for a day or two before visiting the Ferryboat, but Roberta couldn’t resist going up on Saturday, the day after the new owners moved in.
To make it look as if she wasn’t just being curious a polite word for nosy, she’d always thought she picked up a jar of the rowan jelly she made every year. She could take this jar as a present and ask this wonderful new chef if he’d be interested in buying some. Actually, that would be a good idea, come to think of it. Even after giving lots away she still had more than she could use.
She added another jar to her bag. As she rang the bell in the Ferryboat’s reception area she thought how much nicer the front entrance had looked with her tubs of fuchsias on either side of the door.
A woman came through from the back, a bit younger than herself, pleasant looking.
“Good morning.” Roberta held out her hand. “I’m Roberta Roberts. I know. What were my parents thinking? It’s a long story. Another time. I live down the road, the cottage with the green gate.”
The woman shook her hand, her expression still friendly but her eyes rather dazed.
“Judy Jeffrey, good to meet you.”
“I came to say hello, welcome, and I brought you some rowan jelly.”
Roberta took the jars out of her bag and laid them on a side table, wishing now she’d taken time to pretty them up a bit, a cloth cover maybe, fancy writing on the label.
Oh, well, too late now.
“How nice of you,” Judy said. “Come in and meet the rest of the family. Well, Tom and Holly are in the annexe our own furniture is arriving today and it will have to go in there but Corin, our son-in-law, is here.”
“We’re all expecting great things from the son-in-law,” Roberta said. “Put Lorn on the map, will he?”
As they walked through to the kitchen she covertly looked around so that she could report any changes to Iris. But of course the new owners hadn’t had a chance to make any yet. The only thing of note was a strong smoky smell.
“Did you try to light a fire in the sitting-room last night?” she asked.
Judy looked at her as if she were Miss Marple.
“Don’t, not when the wind is in the east. It goes right down the chimney,” Roberta advised.
In the kitchen she looked with interest at Corin who, sleeves rolled up, was cleaning out the fridge.
“It will be good to have someone who can cook around here. Poor old Charlie did his best, mind, but you don’t get Michelin stars for fish and chips. Now, I can see you’re up to your eyes. Need a hand?”
Judy looked taken aback.
“Not me.” Roberta guffawed. “No, I was thinking of Iris. Worked here on and off since she was a kid.”
“We heard about Iris,” Judy said. “Holly and Corin met her. But there are four of us sorting things out before the decorators come in. I think we’ll manage.”
Well, she’d tried.
“I’ll leave you to it, then.” Roberta declined Judy’s offer of coffee, sensing it was polite rather than heart-felt. In the hall she noticed the rowan jelly on the table. Rats. She’d forgotten to mention it to the chef.
“Can you recommend somewhere nearby where we could buy some planters?” Judy asked as she showed Roberta out. “When we came to view there were fuchsias in lovely half barrels here by the door. I’ve no idea what happened to them.”
“Hmm.” If Judy was able to peer into Roberta’s little greenhouse she would see those very items. “There’s a garden centre near Oban. Grant’s Gardening World. They’re in the phone book.”
“Thank you, and thanks for coming, Roberta,” Judy said. “Next time I hope you’ll stay for longer.”
She did sound as if she meant it.
* * * *
Yesterday’s stormy sky was diluted to watery blue today, and the waves on Loch Lorn, although white-edged, were not preventing the ferry from running. Roberta shaded her eyes and squinted. She could just make out Donnie on the deck. Too far away for him to see her if she waved.
At Brook Cottage Angus and Iris were picking up leaves from the pocket-handkerchief front lawn.
“Ooh, I want those,” Roberta said as Angus lifted up a foot to show off his new red wellies.
“Come in,” Iris said. “Lizzie and I were just going to have coffee.”
Lizzie and Iris didn’t look like sisters. Iris was well, quite like an iris. Rather delicate, fair. Lizzie was dark-haired, larger. She looked rather fierce until she smiled, which she did now.
“You look as if you’re bearing news, Robbie.”
Roberta threw herself into the armchair nearest the fire.
“Not much,” she said. “Paid a neighbourly visit to the Ferryboat. They seem nice enough people. But no go, Iris. You’d have thought that old goat Charlie would have said you were part of the package.”
“Oh, I wish you . . . but thanks for trying,” Iris said. “They’ve no legal obligation to keep me on. Something will turn up.” She glanced at Roberta and then at Angus. Roberta took the hint and changed the subject.
After leaving Brook Cottage, Roberta went back to her own house where she made up sandwiches, put them in a paper bag and took them down to the ferry along with a flask of coffee.
Donnie was jumping ashore to tie up the boat.
“Lunch,” Roberta said.
“Cheers.” Donnie stuffed the bag and the flask into his oilskin pockets. “How are things?”
“Met the new folk at the Boat. They . . .”
“I have, too,” Donnie said. “Well, I’ve met Tom. He was out for a walk first thing. Seems a good bloke. He told me we’ve actually spoken before they took the ferry last September.” He tied the final knot. “They’re going to try to keep the bar open because of the bridge workers, but otherwise they’ll be closed until the end of March.”
“You did find out a lot,” Roberta said, annoyed that she had no information to pass on.
“Must go,” Donnie said, as cars started to leave the ferry. He tipped his sou’wester back and leaned forward to smack a kiss on her cheek.
“Thanks for the sandwiches.” He looked towards the Ferryboat and grinned. “I’ve no doubt, Ro, you’ll find out everything there is to know before long.”