Marietta went to bed early that night. A strong wind was howling up from the sea, a herald of winter in this, the last week of October. Roy followed her upstairs as though this was something he’d done every night of his life and Marietta found it strangely comforting when he jumped up on the foot of her bed and laid his head across her ankles.
“Don’t get too comfortable”, she warned him. “I have to find your real owner tomorrow.” The two of them fell sound asleep almost immediately while the wind rattled the windowpanes and whistled round the cottage eaves.
But next morning, Marietta woke to a low sky, the color of steel. She could hear the rain pounding the roof above her and one look outside the window told her she’d not be venturing into town today. The fir trees were bending double on the hillside and an angry sea was throwing waves high up on the rocks.
Looking down at the foot of her bed she could see Roy, the big black dog, still sound asleep on his side. He took up half the bed.
The two of them, woman and dog, enjoyed scrambled eggs for breakfast. Marietta smiled down at the dog as he lapped his up from the bowl bearing his name. “Well, I guess you used to live here, didn’t you? That’s the only thing I can figure. Don’t know why I didn’t notice your things in the pantry before you got here, but I must have just missed them.” But even as she said this, Marietta knew the food and the dog bowls had not been there before Roy arrived. She’d chosen not to think too hard about this.
A knock on the back door startled them both. Marietta looked out to see a young woman standing on the porch in the rain. She opened the door.
“Goodness, what a morning!”, the young woman said, laughing. “Don’t suppose you have the kettle on. I could use a cup of tea.”
She was bundled up against the wind in a cape the color of cherries. A hood was pulled up over her head and she peered out at Marietta beneath a cascade of auburn hair. Her eyes were bright green and like Marietta’s previous unexpected visitors, she wore an open and engaging smile. There seemed to be nothing for it but to invite her in.
“Yes, yes, do come in out of the weather”, said Marietta. “We were just finishing breakfast, but you’re more than welcome to join us if you like.”
“ I see Roy’s decided to stay this time, “ said the young woman with a laugh. “It’s been a long time since he’s done that. Usually he doesn’t approve of people in his house. That speaks really well of you.”
“Oh, do you know the dog?”, Marietta asked. “I figured he’d lived here before. He seemed so at home.”
“Well sure, I know him. Everyone one of us knows Roy. He might have even lived here before, I can’t exactly remember. He was before my time, you see. Seems like he’s always been around though, at least to me.”
This seemed as strange an answer as the youngster Robbie’s had been. Marietta decided to ask a few more questions. “I’m Marietta Cline. I don’t think I know you?”
“I’m Kendra Pierce, and no, we wouldn’t have met. I’m fairly new, just a few months now. Still getting used to the place. But I love it, wasn’t what I expected at all. Certainly not what I was led to believe. We’re all tickled you’ve moved in here, by the way. Most people wouldn’t, you know.”
“Why wouldn’t they?” Marietta remembered now how long the cottage had been on the market and felt a odd shiver of apprehension run like a trickle of ice down the back of her neck.
“Well, the house might put some people off. People who like privacy, I suspect. People who don’t like visitors, you know. Seems you do. Robbie said you were really nice.”
“Oh, you know Robbie, do you? Are you two related.”
Kendra Pierce laughed, her green eyes dancing. “Lord no. Robbie’s at least fifty years older than me.” She opened her coat and pulled out a package, neatly wrapped up in parchment paper. “Almost forgot this! I brought you a cake. Thought you seemed the sort of woman who’d appreciate chocolate. And I make the best chocolate cake around, even if I do say so myself.”
Marietta stared. “We must be talking about a different person. The Robbie I’m referring to couldn’t be any more than eight or nine years old. Light hair, a few freckles.”
“Yes, yes, I know him. Really friendly little chap. He showed me around when I first arrived. Knows everybody, does Robbie. Look, I hate to run off, but I’m due over at the Simenson’s later for choir practice. I’ll stop by another day, shall I? Robbie was right. You’re a nice lady. I think you’ll enjoy being here.”
Before Marietta could formulate her next question, and she had quite a few, Kendra Pierce had pulled her crimson cape back round her shoulders, pulled up her hood and left in the blowing rain. Marietta watched her go, taking the same path down to the stormy sea that the youngster Robbie had done.
After Kendra’s visit, the knocks on Marietta’s back door became more and more frequent. A tiny girl, no more than three, brought her a bunch of violets and, when asked where they came from, for violets in October could only be purchased, not picked, the child merely laughed and skipped away. A gentleman in a clerical collar arrived one evening with a stack of Agatha Christie’s in his arms. “You’ll enjoy these on the cold nights.” It wasn’t until after he’d left that Marietta noticed each one was a pristine first edition. There was a plump little elderly woman named Julie who brought her some cashmere knitting wool the color of limes. “You do knit, don’t you? Yes, I thought so.” Her husband, Charles, arrived at the end of the visit, bearing more firewood to replenish the dwindling pile by the door. “Yes’m, it was me that chopped that first lot for you. You’ll be needin’ more this winter. You can count of me. I’ll make sure you’ve got it.”
Looking at the frail old man, Marietta said, “Well, I’m sure you’ll both be needing some as well. Don’t overdo it on my account.”
To her amazement, the old couple fell about laughing. “Ah, Mrs. Cline, we don’t need firewood. What on earth would we do with that?” Clasping hands, they set off down the hill with Marietta staring at them from her front porch in confusion.
Final Chapter Tomorrow Night at Midnight