Northern Lights – Episode 12

Strange, she thought, studying her brother more closely. Alec seemed to have grown in confidence and stature all in the space of a few hours. He’d left the house that morning as her younger brother and returned this evening with the assurance of a grown man.

He glanced around the room.

“Where’s Grandmother?”

“Resting in her room.”

He nodded sympathetically.

“That’s to be expected, after today.”

Maggie turned away to tend the pot simmering on the range.

“Aye. She says she must rise early tomorrow morning to catch the tide for Auchmithie.”

“What?” he cried, startled. “She’s leaving us?”

“That’s what we agreed at the start, Alec. She’s taught me the knack wi’ the fire and there’s no need for her to bide longer.”

He frowned.

“I suppose if that’s what she wants –”

“Aye, it is. I offered her a farewell feast but she refused and went off to bed.”

Amy’s lips trembled.

“Didn’t she want to say goodbye?”

Maggie ruffled her sister’s curls fondly.

“Goodbyes are hard to say, dearie. Sometimes it’s easier tae slip away without fuss.”

She bustled away to begin preparations to serve a splendid celebratory supper. They had much to be thankful for, Maggie thought happily. Alec was saved from the press gang and she had learned the knack wi’ the fire.

Alas, the meal was more mournful wake than joyful celebration. Maggie had intended to end with a surprise brew of tea in their mother’s treasured tea set, but the atmosphere round the table was so gloomy she did not have the heart.

Alec hardly uttered a word while they ate, but once the empty plates were gathered he turned to Cathy Mary and Amy.

“I’d be obliged if you two would wash the dishes tonight. Maggie and I must talk.”

The two young lasses took one look at their brother’s grimly furrowed brow and disappeared hastily into the scullery.

Maggie faced him defiantly.

“What’s this about?”

“Grandmother’s sudden departure. There’s more to it than meets the eye, Maggie.”

“Aye, there is, brother,” she replied with spirit. “Our grandmother plans to take a len’ o’ our goodwill if she bides here. I came home after work, freezing cold, to find the old woman seated warm and comfortable, snoozing by the fire.”

Alec could imagine the scene.

“So you lost your rag and sent her packing.”

She reddened.

“Not in so many words. She could tell she wasn’t wanted and agreed to go.”

He took a furious step towards her.

“Not wanted? Dear Lord, did she not tell ye what she did for us this day?”

“No need. She took her lazy ease by the fire while we worked our fingers to the bone,” his sister retorted.

Alec ran his hand distractedly across his brow.

“Maggie, Maggie, what have ye done? It was Grandmother who saved me from the press gang! She confronted them but when they flung her aside she used her wits and ran to alert the blacksmith.

“He told me she ran till her poor old heart was near to failing. I probably owe her my life, and this is the gratitude she gets?”

He groaned, shaking his head.

“Lazy ease? Maggie, that brave old soul was utterly spent after what she had done for me.”

“I didna ken! She never said!” Maggie wailed.

He sighed.

“Of course she wouldna say. She’s proud, like us.”

He studied his sister curiously for a moment.

“Maggie, why are you so set against our grandmother, more than any o’ us? I’ve often wondered.”

“I was in the room with Papa after our mother’s funeral when Grandmother came storming in,” Maggie answered tersely. “You and the others were in bed, too young to remember how awful it was.”

She hated being forced to remember. The memory of that dreadful time was buried at the back of her mind.

“I wasn’t asleep, you know,” Alec said. “I heard them shouting and pulled the quilt over my head.”

His sister shivered.

“I remember every word.”

“I only remember feeling cold and frightened.”

She gave him a quick, nervous glance.

“It was midwinter, Alec; bitter cold.”

The look he gave her was warm with sympathy.

“It’s all in the past now, Maggie, best forgot.”

She nodded but would not meet his eyes.

Alec did not suspect the terrible secret she had shared with her father. Now Papa had gone, nobody knew except Maggie, and even she had managed to forget – till Grandmother Spink returned unexpectedly five years later, to remind her.

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor 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 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!