Northern Lights – Episode 21


A breeze blew across the harbour, but it was not the March wind that chilled Lilias, only the reluctant decision she had made to sell the Boatie.

It was daft to wipe away a tear on the edge of the shawl. The sale of a wee boat should not have power to break a leathery old heart that had survived sorrow and endured years of gruelling hard work.

But the Boatie was more to Lilias than inanimate wood. It represented past, present and future means of making a living. That is, till she’d arrived in Arbroath. There was no lobster fishing available in the district and the Boatie bobbed idly at its moorings in the harbour.

Lilias recalled a name she’d heard when she first arrived in town. She accosted the first sailor she met.

“Where can I find a man called Mungo?”

“Is it Mungo McDougal o’ the Fishery Stores you’re after?”

“That sounds likely,” she assented.

“This time o’ day he’s usually in his office in yonder warehouse.”

The sailor jerked a thumb towards a black-tarred wooden building farther along the harbourside.

Lilias thanked him.

“Mind and treat him wi’ respect, missis,” the sailor warned.

“That depends upon the respect paid tae me, mister!”

She walked on to the prosperous-looking warehouse.

McDougal Fishery Trade Stores and Ship’s Chandler.

The warehouse shelves were stocked to the roof with everything sailors, fishermen and their families and crews might need.

Three or four shop assistants in overalls were working within, unpacking crates and stacking goods on shelves. One, a greybeard, came forward.

“May I help ye, missis?”

“I have urgent business tae discuss wi’ Mr McDougal.”

The assistant frowned.

“You’d best come into the office. Mr McDougal will see ye there.”

He led the way to a door marked Private. She followed him in, to find the room empty. The man removed his apron and took a black frock coat from the coatstand.

He seated himself behind the imposing oak desk.

“Now, mistress, what is this urgent business?”

“You are Mungo McDougal?” Lilias said indignant at the man’s play-acting.

“Aye.”

Mindful of the sailor’s warning to butter up the old trickster, Lilias drew a deep breath and began.

“I’m giving ye first chance o’ an exceptional rowing boat, sir.”

He sank his chin thoughtfully on his chest.

“I ken who you are noo. Mistress Lilias Spink, the late Walter Cargill’s gudemither, God rest him. You are lately come frae Auchmithie tae care for the Captain’s orphaned bairns.”

Lilias nodded.

“That’s your boat moored in the harbour wi’ lobster traps aboard, is it not?”

“Aye, a fine Orkney-built boat intended for two oarsmen,” she enthused. “For years I rowed the Boatie wi’ my husband, catching lobster. When he died I continued rowing mysel’. I’m proof that one person can row the Boatie as easy as two.”

He widened his eyes.

“And that one person a female, too! Some fishermen swear that having women aboard enrages the sea and brings bad luck.”

Lilias shrugged.

“King Neptune favours Auchmithie women.”

“What price are ye asking for your auld boat?”

“Five pounds seems fair.”

His outraged bellow made the rafters ring.

“Are ye oot o’ your wits?”

Lilias remained calm.

“Consider this. It’s a two-man boat. You save a boatman’s wage and gain more space aboard for a larger catch. Five pounds is fair considering wages saved and bigger profits made.”

“Very well, Mistress Spink, but by your ain admission it’s an old boat.”

Lilias shrugged.

“Feel free to examine it. Ye’ll find it well built and well cared for.”

He leaned back in the chair and studied her.

“Why sell and, mair to the point, why choose me?”

“I need money for a business venture. I’m told you control all the Arbroath lobster and crab fishing.”

Lilias waited.

“Happen I accept, can ye tell me how ye intend spending my hard-earned cash?” Mungo grumbled.

Lilias told him of the town council’s attempt to seize the Cargill house for workers for the lighthouse project. She outlined the plan to convert a bothy into workmen’s lodgings.

“It could give the Captain’s bairns an income for years to come, but to be successful we must provide warmth and comfort for lodgers. It winna be cheap! I maun sell the Boatie.”

She lapsed into silence.

“Here’s what I propose,” McDougal volunteered at last. “First, I’ll dander down to the harbour and check your Boatie. If it passes muster we can maybe come to an agreement.”

“What sort o’ agreement?”

“I’ll pay ye five pounds in advance to hire the boat for one year. If I’m satisfied at the end, wi’ profit made, I’ll return the craft to ye.”

“And if you’re not?”

“I keep the Boatie.” He sat back in the chair.

Lilias had to admit the plan had merit. The Boatie would remain her property, whilst earning its keep loaned to McDougal.

“The boat’s worthy o’ hire, Mr McDougal. It will bring ye a healthy profit,” she said primly.

He leaned forward.

“You agree to the deal?”

“First I want terms o’ agreement, set out in a legal document, witnessed and sealed.”

“I kent ye would!” He slapped the desk’s surface delightedly

lucycrichton

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 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!