The wind was rising; it plucked restlessly at the storm-weathered stone walls and breathed in the chimney. It stroked the sea’s glittering moonlit surface to little peaks and rustled drily amongst the stiff broken bracken on the cliff. The row of coastguard cottages turned blank eyes to the long rollers that creamed over the sand, sinking away to a delicate salty froth at the tide’s reach. A cloud slid across the moon’s round bright face. On the steep, slippery, gorse-plucking cliff path, a yellow light flickered and danced and disappeared.
Drifting between uneasy sleep and wakefulness, Cordelia startled wide awake, eyes straining in the darkness. As she slipped out of bed and crossed to the window the moon rose free of the cloud, laying silver and black patterns across the floor. Out at sea, the brilliance of its shining path, fractured with light like splintered glass, cast the water on each side of it into an oily blackness. Once she would have pulled on some clothes and climbed down the steep granite staircase to the tiny cove below the cottage; now, common sense prevailed: she had a long journey to make in the morning. Yet she lingered, bewitched as she always was by the unearthly magic; watching the black swirl of the tide round the shining rocks.
Was that a figure on the path below or clouds crossing on the moon? Alert, she stared downwards into the shifting, shadowy darkness where shapes thickened and dislimned as vaporous mist drifted and clung along the cliff edge. Behind her the bedroom door swung silently open and a large pale shape loomed. Sensing a presence, glancing backwards, she muffled a tiny scream.
‘McGregor, you wretch. I wish you wouldn’t do that.’
The tall, gaunt deerhound padded gently to her side and she laid her hand on his rough head. They stared together into the night. To the west, beyond Stoke Point, the squat, bright-lit ferry from Plymouth edged into sight, chugging its way to Roscoff. No other light showed.
‘You would have barked, wouldn’t you? If anyone were out there, you would have barked. Well, you can stay here now. No more wandering round the house in the dark. On your bed. Go on.’
The great hound obeyed; collapsing quietly onto a blanket of tartan fleece, his eyes watchful, glinting. Cordelia climbed back into bed and pulled the quilt up high, smiling a secret smile; thinking about the morning. Even after thirty years as a journalist she was still excited by the prospect of journeys and new assignments, and this one promised to be fun: a drive into Gloucestershire to find an ancient soke and to interview its almost equally ancient owner – and a meeting on a narrowboat with her lover.