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Open Features: Distressed Damsel

…He watched a raptor circling high overhead. After hovering the bird swooped in pursuit of prey. Rob took out his binoculars but failed to discover the site of carnage. In a desultory manner he continued a sweep of the upper part of the river. A snatch of colour on a ledge half way up the higher waterfall caught his eye. His skin crawled. With trembling hands he refocused and trained the binoculars on an area where the uniform lichen gave way to a tangerine coloured ‘T’ shirt. ..

Rob is out walking on the Isle of Arran when he spots a damsel in distress.

Jean Cowgill tells a story with a surprise in its tail.

Two weeks’ liberation from Motorola’s IT department had the usual effect. Rob, relaxed and cosseted by a substantial breakfast provided by his landlady, made his way up Glen Rosa towards Ashdale Falls. He hoped to complete the horse-shoe of Goat Fell, Abhail and Nuis.

The Isle of Arran worked its charm. An early morning mist had dispersed. Rob picked his way carefully up the shale bank and began a steep climb over the lower fall. Leaf mould from the ash trees deadened his step. At the top he paused, removed his rucksack, and sat down for his first ‘tiffin’ of the day made up of coffee and an energy bar. Perfect. He could hear the distant, almost muted, sound of birdsong and the nearer noise of water as it cascaded over a lip of dolerite. Work and his domestic problems seemed a million miles away.

He watched a raptor circling high overhead. After hovering the bird swooped in pursuit of prey. Rob took out his binoculars but failed to discover the site of carnage. In a desultory manner he continued a sweep of the upper part of the river. A snatch of colour on a ledge half way up the higher waterfall caught his eye. His skin crawled. With trembling hands he refocused and trained the binoculars on an area where the uniform lichen gave way to a tangerine coloured ‘T’ shirt.

Outstretched hands clung to rocky outcrop. Tension in the back was clearly visible even from this distance. Should he shout? Perhaps a sudden sound would fetch the lad off the ledge. Rob’s mobile phone remained resolutely silent. Blast Motorola. Rob cursed.

His rucksack was hastily repacked. He rushed up the path stumbling over tree roots and sending a cascade of stones hurtling behind him. More haste less speed he told himself. Eventually he reached the top of the waterfall. From above the boy’s curly mop glistened with spray. Rob called out ‘hang on son, I think I can reach you.’

The elfin head turned to look up. Wrong again, he thought, can’t even recognise a girl these days.

‘Stay put and I’ll climb down’.

Rob secured a rope around the base of a juniper and began the descent. With trembling legs he slipped and slithered on the wet rock. Rob tried not to think about the pool nearly one hundred feet below. Finding the comfort of the wider ledge he paused and edged his way towards the figure.

‘Hi, I’m Rob. What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Emma. Can’t hold on much longer,’ was the mumbled reply. Rob attached the safety rope and guided the youngster step by step as they climbed back to the top of the waterfall. It seemed to take an eternity.

At the top Rob’s concern turned to anger,‘What the devil do you think you were doing?’

Emma glared. ‘I only wanted to climb. That’s why I agreed to live in this bloody place.’

Not much gratitude there thought Rob. ‘You’ll have to get out of your wet clothes.’

‘Perve’ was the reply.

After negotiations that involved Rob fishing out a spare sweater and over-trousers and promising faithfully to turn his back Emma stripped off her wet clothes and donned the grossly oversized garments.

‘If you laugh at me you’re dead meat’ she promised. Rob turned and stifled a smile.

‘You need a drink and some chocolate’. he said.

Emma grumbled that the coffee had no sugar but drank greedily nevertheless. The chocolate bar disappeared in seconds. A smile lit up her face and she made a half hearted attempt at apology for her rudeness.

Rob explained about the dead phone. His planned walk now abandoned, the pair retraced their steps down the path. During the next hour Rob learnt Emma had moved to Arran from Bolton five years before. Her dad was a keen walker. Emma’s mother had ‘beggared off’ eighteen months ago lured by the bright lights of Kilmarnock. Her brother was serving in Afghanistan.

‘He gets all the excitement,’ she had complained ‘dad bought him proper climbing boots’.

Rob gazed sympathetically at what seemed to be her school trainers which were now in a state of collapse. Her school was on the mainland. Dad had demanded she take time off to help in the pub this month.

‘Today he promised, he absolutely promised was my day off. But last night Annie phoned in to say she’d slipped and broken her wrist. I’m sick to death of that bloody kitchen.’

Emma’s pace slowed. Rob thought she may have been suffering from delayed shock and lent her his arm. After a steady descent suddenly there was the main valley and the outskirts of Strathwhillan.

A police sergeant stood in the middle of the track arms akimbo. His face was as stone. Rob had no time to explain the situation before the officer moved towards them detaching a pair of handcuffs from his belt as he walked.

‘You don’t understand,’ said Rob ‘she was stuck on a ledge on top of Ashgill…I’ve done nothing wrong.’

The sergeant slowly shook his head. He reached beyond Rob to slip handcuffs on the girl.

‘You’ve gone too far this time Emma. Your father has been airlifted to Glasgow…touch and go I’m afraid. Emma Sykes I am arresting you…’

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