The child, waking suddenly and finding herself alone, sat up anxiously amongst the makeshift bed of The two figures, leaning together beneath the bare boughs of an ancient beech, were barely distinguishable in the fading, wintry light. They stood quite still, a smudge of darker grey against the high granite wall that separated the sheltered garden from the sloping meadow. As he stared across the frosty grass he heard the arched, wrought-iron gate open with a clang and saw a girl pass through, closing the gate carefully behind her. He straightened, recognizing her from the brief glimpse he’d had earlier when he’d called at the house. A soft plaid was wrapped about her shoulders and she wore green gumboots beneath the long, knubbly-textured skirt.
The donkeys plodded to meet her with their familiar head-dipping gait and she spoke quietly to them, holding out her hands, bending down so it seemed as if she might be kissing their suede-soft muzzles. He hesitated – longing to call out to her, to make a connection with her – but his courage failed him. Instead, he pictured her as he’d first seen her as she’d come in through a door half hidden in the shadows at the back of the hall: a straight, uncompromising glance from beneath dark, level brows, her arms crossed over something that she held to her breast – a book? or a box? – and an air of wariness. She’d paused, watching, listening, and then had vanished through another door, leaving him with the older woman who’d smiled with such sweetness and sympathy.
‘I am sorry. It would be quite impossible for you to see Mrs Trevannion today. She’s got this wretched chest infection on top of everything else. If only we’d known that you were coming.’
‘I wrote Mrs Trevannion,’ he’d answered quickly, unable to hide his disappointment. ‘I sent a copy of a photograph with the letter. I think – I’m really hoping – that she knew my grandmother’s sister way back during the war. She emigrated to the States in ’forty-six, my grandmother, and then they just lost touch. We were so excited when my mother found the wedding photograph, all four of them together, the names on the back of it clear as clear. Hubert and Honor Trevannion...’
‘I’m afraid she’s been too ill to answer any correspondence. A broken ankle, you see, and now this infection.’ She’d frowned a little, crushing his enthusiasm kindly but firmly. ‘Perhaps in a week or two . . .’
‘I’m only here for the week,’ he’d told her, dismayed, ‘staying over at Port Isaac. I’m working in London for a spell and taking the opportunity to follow any leads I’ve managed to find while I’m over here. But I’ve been interested in this for a long time now and the photograph was a real find . . .’
Once again, at the mention of the photograph, he’d sensed a faint withdrawal.
‘I don’t see how we can help you at the moment.’