Northern Lights – Episode 22

Workmen had already begun construction on the site of the lighthouse workyard off the Ladyloan. Householders nearby grumbled at the hammering, sawing and carts rumbling to and fro, but mainly local tradesmen were employed, a welcome boost for many Arbroath families.

The influx of skilled workers from Aberdeen and the surrounding districts had not yet materialised.

Meanwhile, the Cargill family set to work clearing the bothy. Lilias banked McDougal’s money and the document covering the Boatie’s hire was locked securely in the Captain’s deed box under the bed.

Today she stood in the bothy contemplating the task ahead. The spare sails had gone to the sailmaker to be converted into mattresses and pillows.

These would be stuffed with goose feathers paid for by the sale of the rest of Walter Cargill’s seafaring paraphernalia.

Lilias planned to accommodate ten Aberdeen stonemasons in the lodging-house. Everyone knew masons belonged to a superior guild, but that meant high standards were expected. The bothy’s barren interior made her spirits sink, with its rough stone walls, uneven flagstones and rafters draped with cobwebs.

“No’ very homely, is it?” Mungo McDougal stood behind her.

“How did you get in?”

“At the back of your land, through an auld gate that’s hanging off the hinges.”

Lilias hadn’t ventured through the mass of nettles and undergrowth, though she planned a thriving vegetable garden one day.

“You’ve no business poking your nose in. That’s trespassing,” she snapped.

He shrugged.

“I’m curious to see how my cash is spent.”

“There’s been no call to touch a penny,” Lilias said truthfully, thinking of her dwindling savings.

He looked around.

“Easy seen nothing’s been done. At least it’s no’ rotten wi’ damp. Lath and plaster on walls and ceiling may suffice, finished wi’ two coats o’ lime wash,” he murmured.

“New skirting boards; windows and door; new stove on raised tiled hearth; floor levelled; damp-proofed wi’ tar; new flagstones laid; rugs by beds; oil lamps; curtains; sheets; blankets; pillows; clothes lockers; chamber pots –”

“Haud on a minute!” Lilias screeched.

He smiled.

“The barn next door will serve for meals, wi’ table and benches for recreation. All very reasonably priced in my store.

“I saw a stone pigsty round the back, perfect for conversion into the men’s lavvie, with septic tank draining intae the Brothock burn and oot tae sea, carrying –”

“Enough!” Lilias blushed.

Mungo McDougal paused for a final word.

“I could arrange for my men tae do the building work required in here at modest rates. You could visit the warehouse to select furnishings at bargain prices.”

Lilias understood. At this rate the wretch would have his five pounds won back before she could blink! She tightened her lips.

“Ken what you are, Mr McDougal?”

“I’d be interested tae learn, Mistress Spink.”

“You’re a cunning auld devil!”

She slammed the door in his face.

*  *  *  *

Lilias made fish pie for supper, a family favourite.

After supper a relaxed mood prevailed in the cosy living-room.

Amy, the joker, had a glint of mischief in her eye.

“A lassie tied a granny in a sheet at the harbour today, Grandma.”

Lilias grinned.

“You’ll not catch me wi’ that old chestnut, dearie.”

The older siblings smiled and Lilias judged the time ripe to share her news.

“I had a visitor in the bothy this morning.”

“Not thon bailiff?” Maggie cried in alarm.

“No, thank heaven. Mr McDougal from the ship’s chandler’s. He came poking his nose into the bothy seeking trade.”

The news was not greeted with the indignation she had anticipated. Alec looked up with interest.

“What did he suggest?”

“Och, he offered men to plaster walls and ceiling, and suggested we furnish the bothy from floor tae ceiling wi’ goods from his store. What cheek!”

“Papa bought gear from the fishery warehouse. It was aye a bargain price,” Maggie said.

Alec nodded.

“Mr McDougal wrote off the debt Papa owed him when the ship foundered. He was the only creditor who didn’t come hammering on the door demanding instant settlement. He was kind.”

Lilias studied four downcast young faces.

“So you all approve?”

Maggie nodded.

“We do. But we won’t take advantage o’ Mr McDougal’s goodwill to run up debts we can’t repay.”

“Weel, it happens we have more than enough tae cover the cost.”

Lilias gave an account of the agreement she had reached with Mungo McDougal.

“You traded your boat to fund the lodgings?” Alec declared incredulously, stunned at their grandmother’s sacrifice.

“It made sense. The Boatie will earn its keep on hire instead o’ bobbing idly in the harbour.”

“You can’t row home to Auchmithie with no boat.”

“I was thinking maybe home could be in Arbroath, if you’ll put up wi’ me?”

“Course we will, Grandma,” Amy assured her. “We like fish pie.”

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!