Northern Lights – Episode 20

The bailiff considered the suggestion. Councillors always grumbled about rising costs and, though the lighthouse venture showed the Royal Burgh in a philanthropic light, it was proving expensive.

Even a small saving of cash would meet with council approval and a pat on the back.

He warmed to the scheme.

“I dinna see any objection to that, though we’d need to have a look at this auld bothy first,” he warned cannily.

Lilias sensed victory and smiled.

“Bide a wee moment till I fetch your capes, and I’ll show ye the fine buildings out the back.”

Later, the grandchildren reacted enthusiastically when Lilias explained the plan to convert the old bothy. She had already gained Maggie’s support as they sat together round the fire after the bailiffs had gone.

When Alec returned from work his relief that the house was saved was immense and spirits were high around the supper table.

“There’s spars in the bothy and wood in the barn to make bunks for the lads, and I’m sure Jock frae the shipbuilder’s would lend me a hand, since I’ve done him many a good turn sharpening chisels and suchlike,” Alec planned cheerfully.

“We could make mattresses frae Papa’s old sails; there’s plenty o’ them,” Amy added.

“What would ye stuff them with, tae mak’ them comfy, though?” Cathy Mary asked.

“If we were to cut up the old torn fishing nets, that would serve,” Maggie suggested.

Lilias couldn’t help chuckling.

“Maggie, those nets will give our mattresses a fine fishy niff o’ the sea!”

Her grandchildren found the remark funny and to Lilias’s heartfelt joy, the rafters of a room that had known much grief and sadness rang with the sound of laughter.

*  *  *  *

Next day, after the bairns had left for work, Lilias went into the bothy to assess the cost of the task ahead. Her spirits sank as she surveyed cobwebs, grey stone walls and uneven floors in a space filled with the sad remnants of the captain’s sea-going.

The bare bones of a lodging-house might be put in place with hard graft but that was only a start.

Working men deserved warm blankets, pillows, clean linen, curtains on the grimy windows, lockers for clean claes and a rug or two on the cold stone floor. All these items cost money the family didn’t have.

Lilias closed the door upon the depressing scene, shrugged a shawl around her shoulders against the chill of a March wind and went walking to clear her head. She was sure the lodging house could be the making of the Cargills.

She had few illusions about the hard work and cost required to bring the place up to a decent standard but if it succeeded her grandchildren would be saved from penury.

Stoutly, Lilias vowed she would work her fingers to the bone, make any sacrifice needed, to gain that elusive success, God willing.

She headed instinctively for the harbour and stood with the wind in her face, familiar sounds and scents all around that brought her dear lost husband close – clatter and clutter on the quays, men shouting, birds crying, rigging from a hundred masts thrumming in the wind, the gentle lapping of sturdy cobles bobbing and chafing at the moorings.

Lilias stood listening and looking till cold sunshine blinded her eyes with tears.

Money had to be found from somewhere. She had to sell the Boatie.

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!