Northern Lights – Episode 06


The fisherman was horrified. To be greeted by a woman in widow’s weeds, a dead man’s name upon her lips, was a superstitious sailor’s worst nightmare. With trembling hands he filled the creel to the brim with haddock and waved away the shilling offered.

“Keep your siller for the captain’s bairns.”

He prayed that He who calmed the storm and walked upon the water was observing the charitable gesture with forgiveness and favour.

Lilias smiled her gratitude then eyed the Boatie, bobbing gently at the moorings.

“How’s the lobster fishing in these parts?”

The fisherman followed her glance.

“If that’s your boat wi’ lobster creels i’ the stern, missus, I’d advise ye to forget it. Auld Mungo McDougal commands lobster trade hereabouts and will brook nae opposition.”

“Especially frae a woman?”

“Aye, weel . . .” He looked away. “By the by, it’s said the Cargill hoose is to be commandeered by the town council.”

Lilias was startled.

“Why would they do such a thing?”

“It’s the lighthouse they plan tae raise upon the rock. The stone will be brought into Arbroath to a builder’s yard at Ladyloan. Lodgings are needed for a’ the stoneworkers. The Cargill hoose is close by and is one o’ those being considered. The bairns would be compensated.”

“But left with no roof over their heids!”

The fisherman nodded.

“I dinna approve o’ building the beacon in stone. Asking for trouble. Stone is an enemy of the sea and fierce storms will do their best tae ding it doon,” he predicted.

Lilias carried the full creel to the Boatie and clambered aboard to gut the fish. While she worked she pondered the fisherman’s words.

Her own future seemed bleak. Maggie would soon master the fire when shown how and then Lilias would be shown the door.

She sighed. The grandchildren didn’t need her but, oh, she needed them! Her lonely heart felt close to breaking.

The haddock prepared and cleansed in seawater, Lilias carried the creel back to the house. She sprinkled the fish with salt and left them in the larder while attending to what must be done out in the yard.

As the day wore on Lilias dug, hammered, chopped up beech logs stacked by the coal shed, then washed salt off the fish under the pump in the yard and dried them before making final preparations for cooking.

*  *  *  *

The table was set, lamps lit and fire blazing in the grate when the Cargill family returned from work. But there was no sign of their grandmother.

“Where is she?” Cathy Mary whispered.

The back door opened and Lilias came through bearing a large platter covered with a cloth.

“I thought I heard ye. There’s water in the basin tae wash your hands.”

“Did ye soak the cod?” Maggie demanded.

Her grandmother huffed.

“Save thae dry tasteless things for winter when fresh fare is scarce. I’ve an Auchmithie treat for ye.”

She removed the cloth with a flourish to reveal a platter piled high with fresh-cooked haddock.

A wonderful aroma rose from the dish, yet no pots or pans had been used.

“H-how –?” Maggie faltered.

Lilias shrugged.

“It’s an Auchmithie secret. A pit in the ground, a hot fire o’ beech and oak chippings and haddock tied in pairs and hung on bars tae cook in the wood smoke. Dinna let on, mind!” she warned. “If this gets oot it’ll be lost tae Auchmithie for ever.”

After supper, the lassies carried the empty plates to the scullery. Alec had exciting news to impart.

“The lighthouse came a step closer today.”

“Aye?”

He nodded eagerly.

“James Craw, the carter, brought a horse to be shod. I’ve never seen a bigger, stronger horse. James Craw said it’s called Bassey and is chosen specially for hauling a Woolwich Sling cart, used by the Army for moving heavy artillery.

“Mr Cuthbert’s tae make alterations to the harness and cart, then it’ll be used next year to transport blocks o’ stone back and forth between the harbour and workyard.”

So the influx of workmen to the town was imminent? Lilias had no wish to alarm her grandson on the strength of a rumour, but he was the man of this house and must be told.

“There’s talk at the harbour the toon council will commandeer property near the Ladyloan.”

“Why?”

“Extra lodgings for armies o’ engineers and stoneworkers.”

Her grandson’s expression darkened.

“I’ll fight if they lay hands on ours!”

“Well, dinnae let on tae the lassies yet. It’s best no’ tae worry them.”

Later, while Lilias tended the fire, Amy sidled up.

“I like the smoky fish, Grandmother,” she whispered.

Grandmother! Lilias’s heart filled with joy.

“Do ye, hinnie? I’m glad.”

lucycrichton

Fiction Team’s Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!