Northern Lights – Episode 23


Next morning, after the bairns left for work, Lilias heard sounds of activity in the backyard. She hurried out, prepared to argue with Mungo McDougal, but to her astonishment found the blacksmith working on the remnants of the back gate.

She was annoyed Alec had alerted the smith to the family’s shortcomings.

“I’m grateful for your help, Mr Cuthbert, but Alec had no right to ask it.”

He mopped his brow.

“Alec never said a word, Mistress Spink. Mungo McDougal strolled into the smiddy yestere’en and remarked that your gate was hanging off the hinges.

“He suggested I could repay the debt owed to a certain lady for saving my apprentice frae the press gang by mending the gate.”

“The cunning auld fox!” Lilias spluttered.

The smith grinned.

“I’ll grant ye that, but the heart is sound.”

Gratefully, she left him to finish the work.

*  *  *  *

Pondering Jeremiah Cuthbert’s words, Lilias decided to accept Mungo McDougal’s offer to make the bothy habitable.

A legion of carpenters and plasterers moved into the old farm buildings. Hammering, sawing and men’s voices grated on her nerves, but Scottish hospitality insisted working men be provided with bread and cheese for a noon break.

As her supply of cheese dwindled she was forced to visit the grocery store.

Her heart sank as she entered the shop to find the young grocer nowhere to be seen and his sister presiding behind the counter.

“Good morrow to ye, Mistress Spink, what can we do for you the day?” Beatrice Cameron said. A chill in the eye belied the warmth of her greeting.

Lilias explained her workmen needed hearty mature cheese at a keen price. Beatrice cut and weighed a large slab and laid it on the counter for Lilias’s approval.

“I trust the men fare better than the blacksmith, Mistress Spink. I hear he was not paid a penny for mending your gate.”

Lilias stiffened.

“Tell your gossip that was an obligement and Mr Cuthbert made no demand for payment.”

Beatrice snorted.

“No doubt the good man felt blame for your grandson’s tussle wi’ the press gang and you preyed upon his conscience tae do it for free.”

“I’ll not waste breath denying lies,” Lilias snapped. “Wrap the cheese, tell me the reckoning and I’ll be off.”

Beatrice drew herself up.

“I’ll not be accused o’ lying. I expect an apology.”

“You’ll no’ get one!”

Thud-thud-thud!

A rapping on the ceiling above their heads brought the row to an abrupt end.

They stared up. It came again, more insistently.

Thud-thud-thud!

Beatrice reddened.

“My mother’s an invalid. She chaps the floor with her stick when requiring attention.”

“I’ll not hinder ye, in that case,” Lilias said sympathetically.

“Thank you. My brother will attend to your order.” The flustered woman disappeared.

Well, well! So the pale image seen at an upper window one wintry evening was not a figment of the imagination. Lilias wondered what ailed the woman cloistered upstairs.

She pitied the son and daughter trapped within that sad edifice by the thudding summons of a mother’s stick.

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!