Northern Lights – Episode 16

“News spreads fast here in Arbroath. A’body has heard ye used your wits and ran for the smith to save your grandson frae the press gang. It was bravely done.”

There were friendly nods and murmurs of approval from the other customers, but Lilias noted the lady grocer did not join in. The young man assumed a businesslike tone.

“What can we do for ye, ma’am?”

Lilias pushed Maggie’s list across the counter at him.

Samuel Cameron studied the modest list. He removed a pencil lodged behind an ear, made a tally of the entries and totalled it before sliding it back to Lilias apologetically.

“Miss Cargill does not care to be indebted to anyone. It’s admirable, but –”

He gave a sigh.

Lilias nodded thoughtfully. Her keen ear detected a derisive snort from behind the cheese counter.

Studying the list, she was pleasantly surprised by the cost. She counted out the sum demanded and the young grocer whisked the coins off the counter. In no time the goods stood before her, neatly packaged and ready for transport.

He leaned across.

“There’s a bag o’ broken biscuits for the bairns included free of charge, Mistress Spink.”

She met his eye.

“Though kindly meant, sir, tak’ care a certain proud lass doesna confuse warm gestures wi’ cold charity,” she warned.

Samuel looked startled by the old woman’s shrewd perception of affairs.

“I’ll mind it in future, Mistress Spink,” he said.

Lilias nodded.

“Thank ye. I’ll load the barrow and be on my way.”

“No, no! The laddie will load the goods for ye and deliver them to your door later. No extra charge.”

There was a clatter as Beatrice Cameron dropped the cheese cutter.

“Is that no’ a bittie out o’ the usual, sir?” Lilias asked.

“It is indeed!” Beatrice muttered.

Samuel treated his sister to a baleful look and turned to Lilias, smiling.

“The wind’s freshening to gale force, Mistress Spink, and it’s a heavy load for ye to hurl home.”

Once outside, Lilias was glad she’d been spared the task of wheeling the barrow into the icy teeth of a strong easterly wind with the hint of snow on its lip.

She paused to pull the shawl over her head and as she did so noticed a slight movement at the window in living quarters above the shop.

A corner of the screen lifted, a shadowy face looked down, then the screen dropped back in place and the apparition vanished.

It was eerie and unsettling and Lilias lost no time scurrying for the safety of home.

The grocer laddie arrived at her door a little later and helped to unload the barrow. She rewarded him generously with twopence for his trouble and surveyed the goods.

With this infusion of fresh ingredients she could reproduce the cheesy fish pie that had been her dear husband’s favourite.

She set to work in good spirits to flake the cod . . .

*  *  *  *

The children came home from work rosy-cheeked, storming through the door on a gust of icy air.

“It’s snowing, Grandma!” Amy announced happily. “It’ll be a white Christmas.”

“Aye, but Maggie can’t scrub snowy steps, nor wash frosted windows.”

Maggie shook snowflakes off her shawl.

“There’s good money tae be made clearing snow frae driveways and pavements wi’ Papa’s clever snow plough.”

“Maybe so, but there’s still icy steps and paths and folk falling and breaking bones.”

“Then I’ll fill buckets wi’ a mix o’ sand, ashes and sea salt and load the sled Papa made for us when we were bairns. Householders and shopkeepers pay as much as tuppence a shovelful when the going’s treacherous,” this astute young businesswoman said blithely.

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!