Northern Lights – Episode 25

One warm August morning Alec sweated as he pumped the forge bellows to rouse the smith’s fire to white heat.

Bassey, the massive horse whose job it was to haul the sling cart carrying stones, stood awaiting shoeing.

“Special strong shoes fit tae haul Aberdeen granite and Dundee sandstone, my braw lad.” The smith laughed, trapping the great weight of a feathery fetlock between his knees in preparation for the important task.

This horse alone must carry tons of stone to and fro between harbour and workyard as work progressed out upon the submerged rock.

It was doubtful if the lighthouse could ever be built without the mighty animal’s aid.

The air grew thick with smoke. A familiar hot stench of singed hair and horn wafted over them. Big Bassey chomped placidly on a titbit his proud master, James Craw, slipped him on the quiet.

Alec watched, smiling. He loved horses and especially this gentle giant. Life was good and promised to be better for months to come, working in the yard.

He paused to wipe his brow as a workman hurried into the forge, cupped a hand round his mouth and whispered in Jeremiah Cuthbert’s ear.

The blacksmith straightened and stared at Alec.

“Bad news, laddie! Press gangs have been seen in Dundee. The war’s at a critical stage, the Navy desperate for new recruits. The gangs may not venture intae Arbroath this time, but if they do and find ye ashore, they’ll tak’ ye for sure!”

The heat was fierce near the forge but Alec suddenly felt chilled to the bone.

“I ken the danger, Mr Cuthbert. The only safe place for me is at sea, working on the Bell Rock.”

*  *  *  *

That morning Lilias stood critically surveying the transformed bothy. She was forced to admit Mr McDougal’s workforce had made a grand job of the lodgings.

Smooth walls and ceiling shone white. Warm red rugs covered new flagstones on the floor beside ten beds, every berth provided with individual clothes locker, candlestick, supply of candles and a chamberpot.

Three large, brass oil lanterns hung from the ceiling to illuminate the dwelling at night. Today the windows sparkled with summer sunlight streaming into the room.

An efficient new stove and stovepipe occupied the raised tiled hearth. Fire-irons, log basket and coal scuttle lay handy for chilly evenings. Lilias and the girls had chosen curtains, bedding and quilts from the old rascal’s warehouse.

Looking around at the result, she felt a glow of pride warming her old heartstrings.

Though stonemasons could not be guaranteed, she had been assured the men would definitely be Aberdonian stonecutters, due to arrive as soon as preliminary work began out on the rock.

After a glance round the recreational barn and converted toilet, Lilias returned to the house, satisfied that no detail for the men’s comfort had been overlooked.

They would come and go through the mended back gate past a large open area cleared of nettles and shrubbery.

The land either side of a gravel path leading to the lodgings was ploughed and planted with potatoes, a useful autumn crop proven to revive fallow ground.

It had taken nearly every penny of the old man’s hire of the Boatie to complete the transformation, but Lilias conceded it was money well spent.

The workload for her and her helpers seemed light. Lodgers could expect bed and breakfast at the lodgings, followed later in the day by a hearty main meal served by cooks in the workyard barracks.

The lighthouse was deemed of such importance to Naval shipping that rations for its builders were generous despite wartime shortages for ordinary folk.

Workers could expect large quantities of beef, ship’s biscuits, butter and vegetables, not to mention daily quarts of beer and tots of rum whenever occasion demanded.

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!