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Peter Knight's stories: 



Peter G. Knight 1998

1. Pebblehaven

This story is set in the little sea-side village of Pebblehaven.

The village does not feature prominently on any map except that which stands with its paint bleached and cracked outside Mr. Pugh’s Post Office shop. Anyone who find themselves accidentally in Pebblehaven will quiz their gazetteers in vain, and turn eventually to Mr. Pugh’s map for confirmation that the road that brought them into the village goes no farther than the stack of lobster pots at end of the quay. If they choose not to stay, then they will have to go back the way they came. Many years ago Mr. Pugh himself faced that very decision, and it is his habit now to discuss the pros and cons of the issue with anyone who pauses to study his map.

Pebblehaven is one of those places that have gradually separated themselves from the rest of the world, and seem now to exist in a time and state entirely of their own. When I was a very small child Cornwall seemed to be full of such villages, so deliciously local as to seem almost foreign even to a visitor from the nearest town. Most of the Cornish examples have long since been overcome, and places like pebblehaven are now to be found only in the less fashionable corners of the country. 

Including absolutely everybody, Pebblehaven has a population of either two hundred and fourteen or two hundred and twenty-two. It is two hundred and twenty-two if you include Old Angus Jardine and his extended family, two hundred and fourteen if you do not. As the Jardine farm lies somewhat outside the formal limit of the village, the regional council do not. As Old Angus has been secretary of the village council for 40 years, and his father was secretary before that, Jardine and the rest of Pebblehaven do. The figure painted on Mr. Pugh’s map is two hundred and twenty-two, and Mr. Pugh’s map is widely regarded as the final arbiter of all things logistical in Pebblehaven. As the regional council is largely ignorant of the existence of either the village council or Mr. Pugh’s map, and as the village council does not care to acknowledge any more than it must the existence of the regional council, the matter remains peacefully unresolved. Nevertheless, the fact that Pebblehaven’s most recent arrival and its two latest bereavements were all within the Jardine household has troubled Mr. Pugh’s paintbrush much more than it has troubled the Pebblehaven file in the district office.

The village nestles at the head of a rocky cove, protected from the open sea by the curved arms of two harbour quays. The outer quay was built by an optimistic patriarch in the eighteenth century who wildly overestimated the need for harbourage in such a small village. The minister contrives to hold a number of services at the end of the outer quay each year, and it was rumoured at one time that the young Jardines had flung their mother’s body into the sea from there, but it stands largely unused. The inner quay, built by a former Angus Jardine in 1864, more realistically accommodates the Pebblehaven fleet. The Pebblehaven lifeboat is of the old design, in its own House with a ramp down to the sea directly outside the harbour wall. The Pebblehaven Lifeboat Secretary, Mr. Dalrymple, declined the offer of a more modern boat when it became clear that a newer, faster boat would have to be moored in the harbour, not held in the boathouse. "We can’t have that," Old Angus had told him. "Where would the fishboat go?" So the little fishboat still bobs picturesquely in the inner harbour, the outer harbour stands empty, and the old lifeboat resides proudly, privately, in its house. The last time it went out was in search of Mrs. Jardine. 

The front street of Pebblehaven faces right out onto the harbour. Low, stone-built cottages with white-washed walls and small windows front directly onto the narrow pavement, with a view of the road, the harbour hand railings, the mast of the fishboat and the Lifeboat House beyond. At one end of the street Mr. Pugh’s Post Office Shop, the Pebble Bay Fancy Goods and Confection Co., and The East End Guest House (vacancies) huddle together behind Mr. Pugh’s map, separated from each other by narrow alleyways. The alley between Mr. Pugh’s and the Fancy Goods leads to Sandra Dee’s hair salon. The alley between Mr. Pugh’s and the Guest House leads nowhere. 

The main street of the village runs perpendicular to the front street, straight up the hill away from the cove. Dedham’s Bakery and Tea Room, the Furled Sail Public House, and a number of other small establishments squat at the foot of the road looking rather as if they wish that they too could reside on the airy sea-brushed promenade. For a hundred or so yards beyond Dedham’s a web of intersecting streets so disturbs the line of the main street that it disintegrates almost to a mazy jumble of buildings. The small village park where Gilligan ties his goat stands in the middle of the road to create a sort of village square at the focus of the maze. On a side-shoot from the square stands Gilligan’s Garage (motor and marine) with its three petrol pumps and a prominent sign that reads "Don’t serve yourself". "Serve yourself?" says Gilligan "Now why would you want to do that?". Gilligan is also the Lifeboat Mechanic. When Mrs. Jardine was lost, no one could buy petrol for three days. At the head of main street, at the top of the hill beside the Pebblehaven sign, stands the Police Office (weekdays 9-11).

Go up the hill to the Police Office, turn left through the trees, and you find yourself on Lighthouse Road. A straggling mixture of houses of various ages, that were evidently not intended for the poor fisherfolk, rake comfortably around the hillside overlooking the inner harbour. At number one live the elegant Dr. and Mrs. DeVere and their daughter Sophie. Dr. DeVere runs a small surgery at the house, and a veterinary office close to Dedham’s Bakery in the village. By arrangement he will sometimes engage in dental work, either medical or veterinary. For reasons which have never been clear, the good doctor will never make house calls outside the village. The beautiful young Mrs. DeVere teaches pianoforte. Their daughter will be ten years old when she returns from boarding school for the summer. 

At the end of Lighthouse Road, unsurprisingly, is the Lighthouse. Beside the Lighthouse is the Lighthouse keepers cottage. The Lighthouse people send a new man every few months, and usually they don’t much mix with the villagers. Old Angus holds the cottage to be haunted, and will not set foot in Lighthouse Road. When the foghorn is blowing, none of the Jardines will for any reason set foot outside their own front door. DeVere holds Jardine to blame for the death by pneumonia of Jardine’s father. Jardine blames and curses the fog. The Lighthouse people are also responsible for the coastguard, and for setting off the maroons to alert the lifeboat crew to duty.

The cliffs on either side of Pebblehaven Cove are rocky and wild. In places the drop to the sea is more than a hundred feet. In winter, the cliffs are lashed by storms from the open sea. Many a ship has come to grief nearby, and many a ship’s captain has had call to thank the lifeboatmen of Pebblehaven. 

For their different reasons there are many in Pebblehaven who sleep lightly when the weather is bad. 

2. Mr. Pugh's Outlook

Horace Pugh lives with Mrs. Pugh above his Post Office Shop at the harbour end of Front Street. He is sixty four years old, strongly built, with a mat of yellow-white hair and a droopy yellow-white moustache. The buttons of his cardigan reach uneasily across his stomach, and his trousers hang in long brown crumples down to his slippered feet. His parched pink lower lip juts proudly, and the jaunty set of his battered cap matches well the pale blue twinkle in his rheumy eyes.

The Pugh’s flat is reached by stone steps that climb across the front wall of the shop. Each morning Mr. Pugh proceeds down one step at a time, attending to the pots and tubs of flowers and shrubs that decorate the house. In summer he waters and weeds; in winter he pokes and fusses and watches for the first signs of spring. Mrs. Pugh emerges only once a week, to sweep the steps and brush the window ledges. Once a year the house sees a fresh coat of whitewash.

Mr. Pugh’s passion is his map. Few things change in Pebblehaven, but Pugh’s map sees and records all that does. With his window looking out on the harbour, and his position as The Post, Pugh is well placed to keep abreast of village affairs. The map is a quite remarkable thing. The street-plan itself is faded and peeling, barely touched since Pugh first painted it more than thirty years ago, but each building is clearly marked and named. Commercial premises are annotated with details of their function and hours of business; private dwellings with a list of occupants. On many of the buildings, blocks of text of evidently differing antiquity testify to changes in function or occupancy over time. The Jardine Farm, right at the top of the map, has the freshest paint of all. All around the edge of the map, in the style of a complex decorative border, panels of various sizes contain all manner of lists and pictures. Not all of the lists are given titles, and not all of the pictures are easy to discern, but an abundance of fresh paintwork vouches for their currency.

On the day that Mrs Jardine disappeared, Pugh had spent more than half an hour showing his map to a visitor. It was a rare pleasure not only to see a strange face so late in the year but to find someone willing to pass so much of the time of day in conversation over the map. It was not a warm day, but the air was still, and the thin autumn sunlight reflecting off the harbour and the whitewashed walls of the shops made it pleasant enough for standing out. Pugh headed down the steps with a mug of tea. 

"Are you looking for someone particular?" said Mr. Pugh

"Now then," said the stranger "you must, according to this map, be Mr. Pugh."

"Indeed I am, indeed I am," chortled Pugh, "and here we are, right here."

Pugh stubbed a finger at the map. A once-scarlet arrowed box pointed to the spot, declaring "YOU ARE HERE."

"Evidently. But it seems the Post Office will not open for another hour. I am early."

"Ten till four," Pugh stubbed the map again. "Ten till four it says, heh heh! Unless I’m in there sooner. What do you need?"

"I have a parcel to post."

"A parcel, goodness! Well never mind. You’d better bring it in."

Pugh unlocked the Post Office door while the stranger retrieved his parcel from the boot of his car. The parcel was lightweight, but big enough to be awkward, and neatly packaged in brown paper. Pugh peered at the address: MRS SARAH JARDINE, HILLTOP FARM. PEBBLEHAVEN.

"Well this is for Mrs. Jardine. She lives no more than a mile from here. You can drop it off yourself. You’ll pass as you leave."

"No, I’d like to post it, please."

"I tell you what, Mrs. J. will be coming in the shop herself, she can pick it up."

"No, it has to be delivered, really."

"Well I can take it up myself if you like. If you post it, it will go all the way into town and out again and take three days. I can take it up this morning."

The stranger seemed unsure.

"Don’t worry," said Pugh, "I’ll give you a receipt. I know what you boys are like! This is the Post Office after all, isn’t it? I’ll even charge you and put a stamp on it if you want, heh? heh heh!"

Leaving the parcel on the counter, Pugh and the stranger stepped back into the morning sunshine. A gull was calling from the lifeboat-house flagstaff. The Hathwell sisters were walking their funny little dogs along the sea front.

"Good morning Mr. Pugh." 

"Good morning, Ladies." 

Pugh touched the brim of his cap. Gilligan was cycling along the quay to the lifeboat house. The rattle of his bicycle drifted through the still air across the harbour , settling on Front Street like snow. The stranger studied Pugh’s map once more. The sound of Gilligan unlocking the door to the lifeboat house was clean and clear. 

"I think I’ll try Mrs. Dedham’s morning cake and coffee," said the stranger. He tip-toed to see the top of the map. "So there is Hilltop Farm. Hmmm. Ah! And here it is again, I think." He leaned forward to a small panel in the bottom border of the map. A painting of farm buildings and countryside was overlain by several columns of figures and a symbol that looked like a torch.

"Oh yes," said Pugh, "Hilltop’s a busy old place. I’m sure they’ll be pleased to be getting a parcel."

When the stranger walked around the corner to find Dedham’s, he left his car on the road opposite the Post Office. From the room upstairs, Mrs. Pugh thought how its colour complemented the colour of the fishboat that was returning to its mooring behind it. The gull that had been crying from the lifeboat house relocated himself to the fishboat’s cabin roof; more in hope than in expectation. The fishboat didn’t always come back to port with fish. 

Pugh went back inside for another look at the parcel. He picked it up, gave it a quick shake, and decided that it was something for the baby. he gave the parcel a reassuring pat, and went back up for his breakfast.

"What’s the boat turned up this morning, Mrs. Pugh?"

"I can’t quite see. That fellow’s car is in the way."

3. Billy and Gregory Dedham

Billy Dedham is the little boy who said he saw the Jardine children throwing their mother’s body into the sea from the end of the old harbour quay. Gregory Dedham is his older brother. They live in one of the cottages in Slide Lane, close to Gilligan’s Garage, and their mother runs the tea room. Their father is the baker, although he doesn’t actually bake. He sends Gregory to fetch the bread from the big cash and carry in the town, and Mrs. Dedham does the selling. Dedham spends his time with Gilligan and the fishboat man. 

Billy and Gregory are as different as brothers can be.

Billy is a plump, pink, ginger, freckly child with doleful protruding eyes. His quiet manner hints at inner depths that closer acquaintance with the boy reveals to be more or less entirely absent. He skulks around the village like a slow sparrow. At any time, wherever in the village you are, turn behind you and you may see Billy picking at a wall or tossing pebbles at a cat. In the summer he sits for hours with Gilligan’s goat in the town park. The Goat seems to be his only friend.

Gregory is eight years older than his brother. He is quite the young man, and keeps himself clean and tidy. He works hard at the Bakery and Tea Room, and is well liked in the village. Even his father holds a grudging respect for his surprisingly able son. Mrs. Dedham beams with pride throughout the day as her son looks after her and her shop. Though none would admit it freely, several of the young ladies of the village maintain their custom at the tea room in large measure to enjoy the service of Gregory Dedham. Gregory takes their attentions politely and in good heart. Mrs. DeVere herself is a regular customer at the bakery, but it is Gregory, not Mrs DeVere, who thrills when they meet. When there are deliveries to be made at the DeVere house, Gregory smoothes his hair and practises his most polite "Good morning".

On the day of Mrs. Jardin’s disappearance, Dedham’s was busy unusually early in the morning. By the time Gregory returned from making the early deliveries, Mrs. DeVere was already at one of the window tables, sipping coffee and peeping out over the low lace curtain into the quiet street. She usually came in about eleven o’clock.

"Your lady friend is here!" Mrs. Dedham whispered mischievously in her son’s ear as he replaced an undelivered loaf behind the counter. "Take this plate to the table."

Gregory blushed. He knew that his appreciation of Mrs. DeVere was no secret to his family, but lived in dread that anyone should ever discover the true depth of his infatuation. 

"Oh Mother, hush or you will believe your own tall tale," he whispered back. "Mrs. DeVere is twenty eight years old, and married, and I am going out with Katie Gilligan."

Mrs. Dedham raised an eyebrow at the very real prospect that another man in her life should throw in his cap with a Gilligan. If she included that wretched goat, a Gilligan had befriended all three of her men. The daughter Katie, however, was a somewhat more appealing prospect than any of the rest of her family. Gregory, to be sure, was not unaware of her charms. Having been friendly with Katie for over a year, however, he was beginning to feel that he should perhaps be more intimately associated with them than was in fact the case. He had it in mind to discuss the matter with Mr. Pugh, when the moment seemed appropriate.

As Gregory moved towards Mrs. DeVere’s table with her plate of toast, the arrival of a new customer cut short his preparation of a polite greeting. He put the plate down with a courteous little dip of the head, but went unrewarded as Mrs. DeVere continued to gaze from the window. The new customer was a stranger to Gregory; a smartly dressed man of about thirty. He sat at another window table not far from Mrs. DeVere and studied the short menu for a moment before ordering a cup of coffee.

"Would you prefer a pot?" suggested Gregory.

"No. Just a cup please."

"Anything to eat?"

The stranger pursed his lips and looked back at the menu. Mrs. DeVere turned her eyes back from the window towards Gregory. She seemed at first to be addressing the stranger, but she looked right at Gregory with the sort of tiny coy smile that Gregory had only seen before in films. The boy was transfixed. Mrs. DeVere said: 

"The toast is very good. Thank you Gregory."

The stranger looked up at Mrs. DeVere and at the open-mouthed youth.

"Then I will have the toast. Thankyou."

"What?" said Gregory, blinking back to reality.

"The toast, I think, please."

As Gregory prepared the order behind the counter, both he and the stranger were gazing at Mrs. DeVere. She had turned back to the window, her chin resting on the back of her hand. As the light struck her face, Gregory thought she looked like an angel from heaven. If he had put the idea to the stranger, he would certainly have agreed. When Mrs. DeVere left the shop, both young men peered surreptitiously over the curtain to see her walk around the corner onto Front Street.

That night, as every night, Gregory lay in bed thinking of the beautiful Mrs. DeVere. He thought of her face as it caught the early morning sunlight, of her gentle cultured voice, and of that tiny smile. Oh! That smile. How could she smile like that at him, and him going out with Katie Gilligan. How dare she!

When Mrs. DeVere left the tea shop and turned onto Front Street she bumped right into little Billy Dedham running as fast as his fat little legs would carry him. 

"Oh! Goodness me, Billy."

Billy stared up at her, breathless confusion in his sobbing face.

"The fishboat’s going!" he shouted. "The fishboat, the fishboat!"

Mrs. DeVere looked and saw that the fishboat was indeed chugging out of the harbour. The stomp ch ch stomp ch ch stomp of its engine echoed back from the Lifeboat house opposite. She smiled, reassuringly.

"That’s all right...."

But Billy was gone, shooting up the road for home.

As Billy tore past the Bakery Gregory was still peering out after Mrs DeVere. He watched Billy with a frown, and shook his head. As Mrs DeVere looked back at Billy, she saw Gregory and the other young man, the stranger, at the window. She turned quickly and went on her way.

4. Katie Gilligan

If a thing of beauty is a joy forever, then Katie Gilligan is the joy of Pebblehaven. Sweetness and light spill out from the girl like a babbling brook. Her flaxen hair blows in the Pebblehaven breeze, and her rosy cheeks are kissed by the Pebblehaven sunshine. Her deep blue eyes give never an unkind glance, and no harsh word has ever passed her lips. Any boy with even half his wits could not help but be in love with Katie Gilligan, and so says Mr. Pugh. 

When Katie passed sixteen, Mr. Pugh painted on his map a panel just for her, but he will not tell anyone which panel it is. He says that sooner or later she will work it out for herself, and that then she must marry the very next man she sees. Katie always smiles and says that if she works it out while looking at the map, then Mr. Pugh himself will surely be the next man she sees, and what on earth would Mrs. Pugh say then. The conversation brightens Pugh’s day no less each time they have it.

"But how can I know if I love her, Mr. Pugh?" asked Gregory Dedham. 

"Well I suppose you’ll have to ask her" answered Pugh.

"Ask her? Ask her if I love her?"

"Well of course. If that’s what you want to know. She’s a very bright young lady that Katie Gilligan. I expect she will know."

"Hmm. I’ll give it some thought."

"A good idea. I’ll see you later, Gregory."

Katie works with Dr. DeVere in his veterinary office each weekday morning, and with Sandra Dee in the hair salon on Monday and Thursday afternoons. She usually starts work in the veterinary office at nine o’clock, but on the day of Mrs. Jardine’s disappearance she started early. A minor feline emergency called the good Doctor from his breakfast table, and he stopped off at Gilligan’s to pick up his nurse on his way down the hill. Unusually, DeVere seemed to be in an irritable mood. The early disturbance had evidently upset some delicate domestic arrangement in the DeVere house, but DeVere the vet was more likely to disturb his routine on behalf of a sick animal than DeVere the doctor was likely to offer surgery outside published hours.

After the cat was seen to, and no other casualties seemed to be forthcoming, DeVere let Katie go early to make up for their early start. She went directly to the bakery to sit with Gregory Dedham while he did his morning shift behind the counter. The shop was quieter than usual. Mrs. Dedham said that there had been an early rush, and then it had all settled down. Since it was so quiet she said she would leave the love-birds together and go home to sort herself out. 

Katie thought that Gregory seemed unwell.

"Oh, it’s nothing. I must just be tired after the busy morning. We’ve had everybody in today, including some I’ve never seen before."

"It’s early in the year for visitors" said Katie.

"This one seemed very smart; I think he may have been in business" said Gregory. "He reminded me a bit of your Dr. DeVere. A younger version."

"He isn’t my Dr. DeVere. And he wasn’t very smart today. I think he was called out before he was ready. Did you see his wife?"

"Er... I don’t think so. Oh, perhaps earlier. I don’t... why?"

"Well, Dr. DeVere said that she would have to come into the village for breakfast because he hadn’t made any and she probably wouldn’t do it herself." Katie giggled her tinkling little giggle and put her hand to her mouth as though she had broken some terrible confidence. Then her eyes widenened: "But he saved that poor cat’s life." 

Katie moved off the topic of Mrs. DeVere, and Gregory felt a surge of relief. He wondered why he felt so guilty about the way he thought of Mrs. DeVere. There was nothing to it after all. It was just a crush, and he knew that everybody had them. But what would Katie say if she knew? What might she do? It didn’t bear thinking about. He really would have to do something about it. 

At one o’clock Katie took a pie to her father in the lifeboathouse. He spent each morning there, paid by the Lifeboat People to look after the boat so that it could go out at any time at a moment’s notice. He was the only one of the lifeboat crew to receive any sort of salary, so he took his morning duty very seriously. Well, seriously for Gilligan, anyway. He managed to tear himself away from sitting around the fishboat or the harbour shelter with Dedham and the fishboat man for long enough to see to the essentials. He was a bright and bristley man, and did not by nature take well to routine. Having the garage and the lifeboat and a little bit of land and stock gave almost ample scope for his interest to wander through the day, but he was always open to any new scheme or adventure. With Dedham and the fishboat man he schemed and plotted away countless imaginary fortunes through the long winter evenings in the Furled Sail.

When Katie arrived at the lifeboat house, Dedham and the fishboat man were nowhere to be seen. Indeed the fisboat itself was not in the harbour. Gilligan was deep in the bowells of the lifeboat, working by torchlight in some dark recess of the engine. He emerged sweaty and flushed and smeared in oil. He wiped an oily rag across his face and flashed his usual wild grin at Katie. He loved her with all his heart. She tossed the wrapped pie up onto the deck and clambered up the ladder after it.

"You are working very hard" said Katie, puzzled. "Is something wrong with the boat?"

"No, but I didn’t make an early start. And your Gregory’s old man can talk the ears off a sow. I’m just doing a bit of a check; there’s weather due and you never know."

"He’s not my Gregory, and Mr. Dedham only talks to keep up with you, I’m sure. Now eat your pie while it’s hot."

Gilligan tucked in, and Katie told him about her day. 

"So DeVere had a bust up did he. Well fancy that. But if a man makes his own breakfast, what else can he expect. Whatever next." He cast a sidelong glance at his daughter to see if he was stringing her along, and when he saw the concern on her pretty face he burst into a guffaw that shot half-chewed pie across to the boat house door.

"Oh! You are a terrible man, just as Mother says" she laughed.

"Aye, her and plenty others I’ll be bound. Plenty Others."

"Well not me." She planted a kiss on his oily cheek. "Yuk, oil!" and smacked his chest with her little clenched fist. 

"Off with you now girl." He twirled her round and walloped her rump. "I’ve plenty work to do and the garage not even opened yet. Tell your mother watch out for anyone wants petrol, and I’ll be along shortly. And see to that damned goat."

5. Delivery to Hilltop Farm

When Mr. Pugh came back down from having his breakfast with Mrs. Pugh, the stranger’s car was still parked opposite the Post Office. Pugh strolled out across the road and leaned on the railings overlooking the inner harbour. The fishboat was moored up to the quay by the lifeboat house, its engine chuffing, and rhythmic spurts of water and smoke belching from the pump. The fishboat man was on deck, rewinding a coil. He shouted something up to the lifeboat house, but the words were masked by the sound of the fishboat’s engine. Pugh took his pipe from the pocket of his cardigan, and tapped it clean on the railings. As he made up a fresh smoke, he watched the activity over the harbour at the lifeboat house. 

Gilligan emerged with a bundle, and tossed it down to the fishboat man. He returned the the boathouse and was passed another bundle by someone just inside the door. He tossed the second bundle into the boat, exchanged words with the fishboat man, and returned indoors. The sound of the lifeboat house door closing struggled across the water like a hidden message in between the fishboat engine’s chuffs. Pugh tossed his spent match over the railings into the water, and walked back to the Post Office.

The last time Pugh had driven up to Hilltop was when Mrs. Jardine had her last baby. Old Angus had phoned down for Mrs. Pugh when Mrs. Jardine’s time came, just as he had done for their previous new arrivals. Over the years, these periodic visits to the farm were more or less Mrs. Pugh’s only excursions outside the village. Pugh himself, on the other hand, was out and about in his ageing van whenever an opportunity presented itself. The stranger’s parcel was all the excuse he needed for a morning outing. 

Pugh’s progress up the hill out of the village was always something of an event to draw onlookers to their windows. With little understanding of his vehicle, and still less of its need for occasional servicing, Pugh passed by in a cacophony of pops and wheezes that brought a grimace to Gilligan’s face. 

"If there’s justice he’ll come back as a bloomin’ crankshaft" the mechanic would mutter, "and I’ll not sell him a penny tub o’ grease."

Seeing Gilligan, but unable to hear him through the racket of the van, Pugh would wave cheerily "And a very good morning to you Mr Gilligan."

If Katie was there she would wave vigourously in return, as if the energy of her arm would better penetrate the wall of noise. Young Billy Dedham pressed his pink little hands over the goat’s ears and buried his own face in the goat’s shaggy neck. As the noise of the passing van reached a crescendo Billy screamed as loud as he could for as long as he could. By the time he stopped screaming the van was on its way up past the police station. The goat seemed not to notice the noise, and took the opportunity to nibble Billy’s hair while the boy was busy screaming.

Even before Pugh turned off the road, Jardine heared his approach, and sent a boy running to open the gate so that Pugh could drive straight into the courtyard. Pugh was less troubled than other visitors by the howling of the Jardine hounds, as he heared little of them until he turned off the engine, and by that time Jardine himself was on hand to quiet the rabble. As Pugh took of his glasses, wiped the steam from them, and replaced them on his nose, the three dogs were settling themselves at the feet of their master as he leaned forward on his stick, peering in through the van’s filthy windscreen to see if it was indeed his old friend Pugh come to visit.

According to his friends, Jardine was a grizzly old codger with a fearsome temper. According to some less sympathetic observers, he was little short of evil. Indisputably, he was a figure of some prominence in Pebblehaven, and had been so for as long as anyone could remember. According to Pugh, Jardine had been old when Pugh and his wife first came to Pebblehaven nearly forty years ago. Since that time, with the assistance of a series of different wives, Jardine had added to the population on what seemed to be almost an annual basis. He maintained to Pugh that fathering children was the secret of long life.

The present Mrs. Jardine was not from Pebblehaven. Mrs. Dedham reckoned there was gypsy blood about her. "And what’s an old cork like him doing marrying a slip of a girl like that?" Jardine had evidently been married to her for six months before anybody in the village knew about it. Pugh may have known, of course, but he did not update his map until Jardine made the knowledge public. 

According to the map as it stood on the day Pugh delivered the stranger’s parcel to Hilltop Farm, the Jardine family in residence presently comprised Old Angus; his wife Mrs Jardine; Angus (Quiet Angus) aged 30 and Walter (Big Walter) aged 15, who were among the progeny of former Mrs. Jardines; and four children by the present Mrs Jardine, namely Young Angus aged 10, Walter (Little Walter) aged 8, Wendy (aged 5), and Little Wendy (aged 6 months). In addition to the family, the household included a half-witted housekeeper and three labourers who lived in a cottage behind the farmhouse but took all their meals with the family. 

There were to Pugh’s certain knowledge at least six other Jardine children who had grown up and left the farm.. Quiet Angus was unlikely ever to leave, as his wits were not entirely with him. Big Walter, who’s name belied his slight, feminine build, effectively took the role of oldest son, and heir apparent to whatever the Jardine inheritance might involve.

"Hello, Pugh!"

"Hello, Angus. You’re looking chipper."

"Never been more chipper in my life. You? You look...." Angus peered closer: "You look pooped. What’s the matter with you?"

"Me? Oh no, I’m just fine. The van steams up my glasses so I can’t see, then I lean out of the window and the wind wears me out. Give me a cup of tea and I’ll be right as rain."

"Angus! Fetch us some tea to the parlour, and tell your mother that Mr. Pugh is here. Hmm, rain on the way you say? Not a bad thing. Angus! Did you hear me?"

Quiet Angus emerged from a door at the other side of the courtyard, gave a sort of half wave, and disappeared inside again. 

"Angus!" shouted Old Jardine " I mean now, do it now."

The halfwit emerged again and ran across the courtyard with a curious stooping stride. He did not look up as he passed Pugh, but glanced up at his father and gave a crooked grin.

"Bloody halfwit." Jardine scowled. "He should never have been born. Come on, Pugh." 

He brushed the dogs away from his feet with his stick, and led Pugh into the House. Pugh carried the parcel inside with him and set it down on the wooden table in the centre of the kitchen before following Jardine through to the dark little parlour.

"How is Mrs. Jardine, Angus?"

"Oh, she’s as good as new."

"I brought a package up for her. I left it in the kitchen. Baby clothes I expect."

"Baby clothes? What will she be wanting with baby clothes?"

"For little Wendy."

"She’s enough baby clothes already to open a shop, I don’t know what she wants with more."

"Well, I left them on the table anyway."

"Angus! Where’s that tea? And where’s your mother? There’s baby clothes here for her."

Quiet Angus came in and put a big stone jug of tea on the floor beside his father’s chair. He poured tea into mugs that he mustered from under the chair, and added milk from a little jug that stood in front of the fire. He grinned his crooked grin, and sloped off back out of the room, leaving the two older men together.

They sat in silence for some time, sipping the thick sticky tea, and watching the little fire that flickered in the parlour hearth. The two were accustomed to eachother’s company, and felt no need for conversation where none was needed. Presently Pugh checked his pocket watch.

"I’d better be on my way, or Mrs. Pugh will be wondering where I’m at!" He put his mug down beside the tea pot on the floor, and wondered absent mindedly if it would still be there when he called again. "Sorry I missed Mrs. Jardine."

"She’ll be out on the shore with Little Wendy I expect. She’d better be hurrying if there’s rain coming."

"I thought she always took the bus into the village with your housekeeper on a Wednesday."

Old Angus looked quizzical for a moment. "I think she went into the village yesterday." As he spoke, the sound of barking dogs broke through from the courtyard. "Ah ha! You can ask her yourself. Here she is."

With speed that defied his habitual use of a stick, Old Angus was out of the house and quieting the dogs as Mrs. Jardine came through the gate. "We missed you my love, where have you been? Pugh brought you some clothes for the baby."

"Why how kind. Thank you."

"Oh no, they’re not from me . I just delivered them as I was passing."

"Well, thank you anyway." She smiled at Pugh and gave her husband a peck on the cheek. "I was in the village. It’s Wednesday."

6. The Lifeboat Launch

On the afternoon of Mrs. Jardine’s disappearance, a cool fog drifted into Pebblehaven around tea time. Mr. and Mrs. Pugh watched the lifeboat house dissolve gradually into the enveloping murk as they enjoyed a pot of tea and some exquisitely sweet lemon cake. Gregory Dedham lit the window lights in the tea room just a little earlier than usual, and as he did so he saw one of the lighthouse people cycling quickly back up the hill from one of their rare excursions into the village. 

"We’ll be having the foghorn in a minute, mother."

"It feels like winter coming on." Mrs. Dedham moved over to the window and looked out onto the street to gauge the fog. "Where is Billy going with that goat?"

Gregory and his mother watched, puzzled, as little Billy skulked past on the other side of the road. He was heading down towards the harbour with Gilligan’s goat on a short piece of rope. Mrs. Dedham knocked on the window:

"Billy! Billy! Take that goat back and get home to your father. It’s nearly time for your tea and this is no weather to be wandering around the village."

Billy slowed his pace almost imperceptibly, but continued doggedly on his course, going out of sight around the corner onto Front Street.

"Gregory, go and fetch the boy back, goodness knows where he’s going in this fog."

Gregory untied his apron, and hung it on its hook behind the counter before going out onto the street to catch his brother. He ran down through the drizzling fog taking care not to slip on the damp cobbles, and reached out an arm to steady himself round the corner of the Furled Sail. Doing just the same in the opposite direction was Katy Gilligan, and the two collided with a not altogether unpleasant bump.

"Gregory! Where are you rushing to?"

"I’m chasing Billy. Did he just pass you? And where are you rushing to yourself?"

"I was fetching my dad back from the lifeboat house, but nobody seems to be there. I haven’t seen Billy, either. Has he done something wrong?"

"No. Mother wants him back at home rather than roaming around the village in the fog. And he’s got your goat, too."

"He might be sat under Mr. Pugh’s steps. I have seen him there with the goat before in bad weather. I’d better go and see if dad’s at the garage. Come around after tea?"

"OK. Thanks. I’ll check Pugh’s steps."

The fog was blowing onto Front Street thick with drizzle off the sea, and Gregory, still in his shirt sleeves from the bakery, was soaked through to his skin by the time he reached Mr. Pugh’s Post Office. Billy was nowhere to be seen. 

As Gregory tried to decide what to do, the air was suddenly split by a bang so loud that his ears rang. Before Gregory had gathered his wits there was a second bang. Mr. Pugh’s door burst open, and Pugh himself was silhouetted against the light from inside the house. "It’s the Lifeboat!" shouted Pugh. There was a third bang. "It’s the maroons to call the lifeboat. There must be someone in trouble."

Even before the echoes of the maroons had been soaked up into the fog, the great sliding door at the top of the lifeboat ramp was rolled open. Gregory watched with his mouth agape as a shadowy figure peered out from the life boat house and then ducked back inside. A moment later the prow of the boat itself nosed out onto the top of the ramp. 

"Goodness me!" said Mr. Pugh. "That was quick work. Gilligan must have been in the boathouse already." 

Gregory Dedham was surprised not only because Katy Gilligan had just told him that there was nobody at the lifeboat house, but also because the boat would not come out onto the ramp until the whole crew was there: not only Gilligan, but also the fishboat man, Gregory’s father the baker, and at least two others. The boat would never go out without a crew of five. Usually the landlord of the Furled Sail, Mr. Trooper from the fruit shop who used to be in the Navy, or one of the Sampson twins who lived next door but one to the Dedhams would make up the rest of the crew. Whichever five got to the boathouse first after the maroons sounded made up the crew. As far as Gregory could remember, Gilligan, the Fishboat man, nor his own father Mr. Dedham had ever missed a launching.

After a momentary pause at the top of the ramp, the boat slipped down into the water. Seconds later, the engines fired up, and their sound masked the noise of the sliding door being rolled shut from inside the boathouse. The boat steered out to sea and was lost almost immediately in the fog. The sound of the engines receeding into the distance was all that was left of the launching. Gregory turned back to ask Mr Pugh who had been in the boathouse, but Pugh had gone back inside and closed his door on the evening. 

"Gregory!" Mrs. Dedham and Katy Gilligan were scurrying along Front Street under the enormous black umberella that Mr. Dedham’s father used to use for funerals. "Was your father on the boat?"

"I don’t know. I suppose he must have been. Katy, your father must have been there."

"I don’t know. The boathouse was all locked up when I called. I don’t know how they were all there so quickly."

"Well, anyway" said Mrs Dedham. "For those in peril." She pulled Gregory’s jacket out from under her arm and wrapped it around him, pulling him under the shelter of the umberella with Katy and herself. "Let’s get you all inside and then I’ll find out where that Billy has got to."

Just as she spoke his name, little Billy Dedham came tearing up Front Street from beyond the Furled Sail. He still clutched the rope that used to connect him to Gilligan’s goat, but the goat was now detatched, and trotted along a few yards behind the boy with its head tilted to one side as if it was intensely interested in the turn of events. Billy rushed at full tilt into his mother’s thigh and buried himself in the smell of her soft, damp overcoat. His three elders looked down expectantly, but the boy seemed to have nothing to announce.

"Poor dear." Said Mrs. Dedham. "He’s just scared of the maroons." 

Mrs. Dedham, her sons, and Katy Gilligan returned to the warmth and comfort of the bakery tea-room with much shaking of coats and flapping of the majestic umberella. Billy ran straight behind the counter and helped himself to a sherbert liquorice. Mrs. Dedham headed straight for the tea-pot. Gregory took Katy’s coat, and hung it close to the stove where it would dry more quickly.

"Will you stay for a while, Katy?" asked Mrs. Dedham. "Or will your mother want you at home?"

"I’d rather stay here for a while if that’s all right. She will know where I am if she wants me. "

Mrs Jardine busied herself with tea and with cleaning sherbert from Billy’s face and clothes. Gregory and Katy sat at a window table and looked out at the drizzle. Gilligan’s goat nibbled at the brickwork in the shelter of the bakery doorway.

"I wonder what the boat was called out to" said Katy.

"Probably something lost in the fog worried about how close they are to the cliffs. There is still a lot of summer traffic with yachts that don’t really know what they are doing. What I don’t understand is how the boat was launched so quickly when the boathouse was deserted just a few minutes earlier. I didn’t see anyone running to the boathouse. The whole crew must have been right there when the maroons went off."

"But it was all locked up when I went to look for my Dad."

"Did you shout for him?"

"No. The doors were locked so I assumed no one was there. Dad always has it open if he is working in there. 

They fell silent and looked back out at the rain. A figure hurried up the hill on the other side of the street. 

"It’s Mrs. DeVere," said Katy. "What on earth is she doing down here at this time?" 

Gregory did not answer, but his countenance became even more perplexed. Before he could begin to piece together the fragments of the bizarre idea that was developing in his head, his train of thought was interupted first by his mother, and then, surprisingly, by Mr. Pugh.

"Here’s a nice pot of tea," announced Mrs. Dedham; "and some toast to fill you up till I make you something proper. Goodness, Mr. Pugh, come in out of that weather. What are you doing out in all this?"

"I thought you would like to know about the boat." Mr Pugh seemed grave. "It’s Mrs. Jardine. She seems to be lost."

Mrs. Dedham was aghast. "Lost?"

"They say she might have fallen from the cliffs near the lighthouse."

Little Billy Dedham stepped out from behind the counter. His face was freshly wiped, and he made his announcement as calmly as a Sunday school reading.

"I saw them throw Mrs. Jardine into the sea. Quiet Angus Jardine and Big Walter Jardine. From the end of the outer quay. I saw them."