Northern Lights – Episode 32

Although their lodgers could expect a substantial daily meal cooked at the work yard, washed down with as much beer as was needed to replace sweat, Lilias felt bound to provide the hard-working men with breakfast and a light supper.

This proved popular and brought in useful extra pennies. As a result of the increase in regular orders, Mistress Spink was fast becoming one of the grocer’s best customers.

Lilias was surprised to find Beatrice Cameron waiting by the shop door when she arrived to place their next order. The woman looked agitated.

“My mother’s expressed a wish tae meet you, Mistress Spink. Would ye be kind enough?”

Surprised and curious, Lilias allowed herself to be led along the close beside the shop and ushered up an outside stair into the flat above.

The room they entered was stuffy and airless, much too warm for a pleasant summer day.

A woman sat in a chair by the window, carefully placed to give a good view of the street through heavy lace screens.

This visit was obviously an out of the ordinary occurrence, Lilias thought. Beatrice was hopping from one foot to the other, agitated as a flea.

“Here’s the lady to see ye, Mother. Do ye want me to bide?”

“No. Away back to the shop, there’s customers waiting. Mistress Spink can show hersel’ out and I’ll chap on the floor when I need ye.”

The two elderly women took stock of one another. The invalid pointed with her stick to the chair opposite.

“Sit yoursel’ down, Mistress Spink. I’m Marion. What shall I call you that’s friendly?”

“Mistress Spink will do fine for now.”

Marion Cameron gave her a long, calculating look.

“You’re a widow, aren’t ye?”

Lilias nodded.

“Aye. Like yoursel’.”

The invalid shook her head vehemently.

“Nah, nah! It’s no’ possible we share the same strength o’ feeling.

“There’s you, spry as you like, and me sat here broken-hearted these many years, still mourning my man.”

There was plenty Lilias could say concerning useless indulgence in self-pity but she did not want to offend the woman so early on in their acquaintance.

“It’s no’ only the passage o’ time that heals grief, it’s the hard work it takes getting on wi’ life all on your lonesome. You’re fortunate to have a son,” she remarked mildly.

A faint flush coloured Marion Cameron’s cheeks.

“Maybe so, Mistress Spink, and mair fortunate to have a dutiful daughter.

“Beatrice was betrothed tae Jeremiah Cuthbert, the blacksmith, when her father died, but she broke off the alliance tae care for her mother lying sick wi’ sorrow. My daughter knew where her duty lay.”

Lilias was tempted to storm out of the suffocating room and never return.

“And my daughter did not? That’s what ye imply, is it no’?”

“No’ exactly.” The other woman’s tone was more conciliatory. “You and your hubby took a scunner at the man she wanted tae marry and drove her away. I’ll grant ye that’s a wee bit different.”

Lilias simmered down, deflated.

“I confess I’ll regret that to the ending o’ my days. I didna find out till too late that Walter Cargill was a fine man.”

Marion Cameron sighed.

“So he was, God rest him. He would have been as good as a son tae you, given the chance.”

Lilias swallowed and blinked away a surreptitious tear.

“Aye, well, I may have lost a dear daughter and son-in-law, but at least I have the comfort o’ grandchildren.”

She glanced tentatively at the woman seated opposite.

“Forby all your fine talk o’ duty, I pity ye, Marion Cameron.

“All you have at the end o’ the day is a spinster embittered by lost love and twa lonely bachelors who long tae marry and can’t.

“Three unhappy young folk tethered by duty to an auld woman wha’ chaps on the floor for attention wi’ a stick.”

Lilias had said too much, but it had to be said. She rose and prepared to take her leave.

“Wait! Dinna go. I’m thinking that we do share similar strength o’ feeling, Mistress Spink.”

Lilias paused a minute, then smiled sadly.

“Aye, well, Marion, maybe when dealing wi’ daughters, mair’s the pity.”

She made her way towards the doorway, glad to leave the stifling room.

Marion Cameron stopped her.

“You ken the way in now. Would ye visit me again?”

“Aye, I will, thank ye kindly.” Lilias nodded, reaching for the door handle. “By the by, the name’s Lilias.”

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!