Northern Lights – Episode 33

Over the years Lilias had stoically weathered miscarriages, colds, upset stomachs and various aches and pains. Thus, when thundery rain fell on Arbroath one warm day, she dashed out to the green to help Maggie rescue the weekly wash, undertaken for their lodgers at tuppence a head.

Both got soaked to the skin, but while Maggie set about airing the men’s garments on a clothes-horse by the stove, Lilias sat down. Her teeth chattered and her fingers turned white and numb.

Maggie grew concerned.

“Away and change those wet clothes afore ye catch your death!”

Lilias obediently shuffled off to the bedroom, leaving Maggie staring after her.

After a time, Maggie tapped on the door.

“Grandmother, come and warm yoursel’ by the fire.”

No answer. Alarmed, Maggie went in.

Her grandmother’s wet clothes lay on the floor. Lilias had donned nightdress and nightcap and wrapped herself in a shawl before collapsing on the bed. She lay huddled on top of the bedspread, shivering violently.

“Ah, Maggie, it’s cold!”

It was little more than a whisper but it struck Maggie with the force of nightmare. For one moment she was twelve years old, watching her mother dying on this same bed.

She helped Lilias snuggle under the blankets.

“There, is that better?”

Lilias nodded. Maggie placed a hand upon her brow. It felt hot.

“Does your heid ache?”

“No, but my throat’s sore since yestere’en, Maggie,” Lilias croaked. “I thought it would heal, but it’s worse.”

Terror swamped Maggie. Sore throat could be a sign of diseases ranging from the common cold to cholera, typhoid or a fatal inflammation of the lungs!

She summoned a smile.

“Pa gave us honey in hot water when we were poorly. Maybe that’ll help.”

“A spoonful o’ honey never killed onyone,” Lilias agreed huskily.

Amy and Cathy Mary had no appetite for supper when they learned their feisty grandmother was ill.

In addition, the tide was at a low ebb and their thoughts turned to Alec out on the hostile rock. He would be hard at work for the next two hours before a rising tide regained possession.

Amy, now thirteen, toyed listlessly with her tasty stew.

“Papa warned us not to turn our back to the sea lest an unexpected wave rose and swept us away. But if Alec is working on an island he must turn his back on it all the time, mustn’t he?”

Maggie tried to show confidence she didn’t feel.

“Noah tells me working on the rock’s as safe as working ashore, if ye keep your wits about ye.”

“You fancy him, don’t ye?” Amy’s gaze was sharp.

“I do not!”

“Well, he fancies you.”

“Stop havering!”

Yet Maggie had to admit Noah’s presence was welcome with Lilias laid low.

“Can I help at all, Miss Cargill?” he asked when the lodgers were alerted to the crisis in the house.

“My grandmother’s feverish and her throat’s badly swollen,” she said.

The young man frowned.

“Sounds like quinsy.”

“Is that serious?”

“It can be. First ye must be rid o’ harmful poisons gathering in the throat.”

Maggie wrung her hands.

“How do I do that?”

“Dinna fash, Miss Cargill. My ma had quinsy two years syne. Pa made poultices with goose grease spread on socks round her neck and gave her drinks o’ treacle in hot water.” He put an arm around her shoulders. “Flagons o’ cider eased Ma’s pain and chicken gruel and marrow-bone broth soon had her up on her feet again.”

Noah withdrew the arm.

“Mind you, we are farming folk wi’ access tae countryside remedies. I dinna ken how fisher folk living by the sea will fare.”

“I could make fish liver poultices and get cider from the tavern, if only Grandmother will drink it,” Maggie mused.

“If not, the men’ll see it’s no’ wasted!” Noah said.

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!