Northern Lights – Episode 34


That night Maggie applied cold compresses to Lilias’s fevered brow while she tossed and turned restlessly, sometimes wailing piteously, mourning her husband and daughter, the Boatie and her life in Auchmithie.

The long night wore on.

Maggie wakened with a start from an exhausted doze at dawn. Lilias lay pale and silent.

“Grandmother?”

Lilias opened her eyes. She was lucid, though pitifully weak after winning the battle with fever.

“Bless ye for the good ye did for me this night.”

Relief made Maggie’s response brusque.

“Dinna bless me, it’s yoursel’ that’s done it.”

Lilias winced.

“There’s little love lost between us, lassie. I wish I knew why.”

Maggie hesitated.

“I cannot tell ye. I promised my father. Now, close your een and rest.”

Lilias’s heavy eyelids drooped, and she slept.

Maggie made breakfast for her relieved sisters and saw them off to work. Silence settled on the house.

At noon there was a gentle tap on the outer door.

The visitor was Noah carrying a bundle.

“I begged bones and a leg o’ mutton frae the cooks in the yard, Miss Cargill. There’s skinned rabbits, too, tae feed the family.”

“Oh, Noah, how kind!”

Maggie resisted an urge to hug him. Her visitor was already attracting attention from passers by.

“Bring the meat inside, please; the larder’s cool.”

She left the door ajar, mindful of her reputation. No doubt every gossip in Arbroath would know that Lilias, her chaperone, was out of action.

*  *  *  *

Samuel Cameron was outside the shop sweeping the pavement free of mud from yesterday’s deluge when the two younger Cargill lassies appeared.

He was given a tearful account of Lilias’s sore throat and Maggie’s efforts to fight the fever.

The shop was not yet open for business so Samuel mounted the stairs to the living quarters to give Beatrice and his mother the news.

“Tell the granddaughter the best treatment for putrid throat is ginger in hot water,” his mother advised.

“You can’t get spices wi’ the French blockade on, Mama,” Beatrice said.

Samuel frowned.

“There’s stem ginger preserved in syrup in two or three jars on a shelf in the back shop.”

“See Mistress Spink has all she needs, free o’ charge,” Marion ordered.

Her son and daughter stared at such generosity.

She scowled.

“Dinna stand gawping. There’s nae time to waste wi’ a putrid throat.”

“Mama,” Beatrice ventured, “ye never usually concern yoursel’ wi’ customers. Why this one?”

“Lilias Spink’s my friend,” her mother answered.

*  *  *  *

Maggie lost no time storing Noah’s gift away in the north-facing larder whose stone shelves were icy to the touch even in the depths of summer. She unpacked a generous bundle of meaty marrow bones, a haunch of mutton and several skinned rabbits.

“Bless you, Noah. My grandmother will be ruling the roost in no time wi’ good food to sustain her.”

They stood in the big room, sunshine slanting through a half-open door. It was the first time they had been alone together. Maggie felt a strange sensation possess her.

Noah took her hand boldly and kissed it.

“Bonnie Miss Cargill, forgive the liberty,” he murmured.

The outer door opened wide, catching the pair in a full glare of sunlight.

“An unforgivable liberty!” Samuel Cameron cried.

“Who the devil are you?”

“I’m come tae protect Maggie from scoundrels like you.”

“Maggie, is it?” Noah said. “You deny Miss Cargill the respect she deserves.”

The remark infuriated Samuel.

“I’ve known Maggie since she was a bairn.”

“Biding your time till she grew, were ye?”

The taunt was the last straw. Samuel bounded forward.

“Stand aside, Maggie. I’ll put the upstart out!”

Noah stood his ground.

“I’ll leave when I please!”

Maggie stood between the two warring men. It reminded her of tales of knights jousting for love of a lady. Fancy plain wee Maggie Cargill fought over by two lads, she marvelled.

The pair were posturing around, fists raised. It was almost laughable.

“Stop your nonsense!”

The protagonists lowered their fists and stared.

Maggie pointed a finger.

“Noah, I give you leave tae go. And thanks for the gift o’ meat.”

Noah mumbled a sheepish goodbye and left.

She turned to Samuel.

“In future, you will address me as Miss Cargill, as is mair fitting to my status as householder and your customer, Mr Cameron. Now, what business brought ye here?”

Samuel reached into his jacket for a jar.

“It’s stem ginger, er, Miss Cargill. My mother says an infusion o’ ginger in hot water will ease Mistress Spink’s putrid throat.”

Maggie smiled warmly.

“Thank your mother kindly for her concern. I’m sure my grandmother will want to visit Mistress Cameron to deliver her gratitude in person when she is recovered.”

She crossed to the door and held it open.

“Now I must attend to my duties. Goodbye.”

Maggie watched Samuel Cameron stride along the street towards the shop.

Noah had already departed in the opposite direction towards the work yard.

In the distance the steady clip clop of mighty Bassey’s hooves told of yet another delivery of Aberdeen granite from the harbour to the workyard.

All was as it should be, Maggie thought, satisfied.

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!