Northern Lights – Episode 35


“What was the stir ben the hoose?” Lilias demanded when Maggie appeared with the ginger drink, prepared as instructed.

“Och, Noah was attempting tae win my favour when Mr Cameron arrived and took exception to the liberty. I showed them the door afore it ended wi’ fists flying.”

“I thought that young man could do wi’ a bucket o’ cold water thrown over him.” Lilias nodded.

Maggie gave a trill of laughter.

“I’ll mind that course o’ action next time, Grandma!”

“Grandma” sounded more fond, Lilias thought. A wee crack in the ice, a hint of a thaw?

Maggie settled her grandmother to rest. It was too soon to judge, but she fancied the ginger had helped. Feeling more optimistic, she turned her attention to the daily routine of sweeping and dusting the lodgers’ living quarters.

In the garden she vigorously wielded a carpet beater on dusty rugs hung on the washing line. Then she heard movement in the house and, fearing her grandmother had fallen out of bed, rushed into the kitchen.

The larder door was open, displaying a thief inside caught in the act.

Maggie cut off the escape route.

The miscreant was a lass Maggie judged to be a little older than Amy, though so skinny and unkempt it was hard to tell the age.

She recognised the type. Many of the sort passed through Arbroath over the years as Highland landlords cleared poor tenants off their land to make way for the more profitable sheep.

Pathetic family groups, homeless, trekked through the countryside, heading for the cities hoping to find menial work.

Many had gone on to the larger ports, to be shipped far from the land they loved that treated them so ill.

With the war raging and Napoleon’s invasion of Britain a real threat, the number of Highlanders passing through had dwindled. This girl must be a straggler.

The girl hugged her stolen prize to her chest.

“Put that down, you thieving rascal!” Maggie ordered.

“Miss, it iss only one bone, and you have many,” the girl pleaded in the precise manner of the native Gaelic speaker.

“No matter if it is only a bone, stealing is sin.”

The lass raised her chin.

“I would not steal for myself. It iss for Bodach, who iss starving.”

“Bodach?”

“It means ‘old man’ in Gaelic.”

Stealing to feed a starving old man cast a different light on the crime. Maggie was about to stand aside and let the girl go when her grandmother called out.

“Who’s that oot there, Maggie?”

“A Highland lassie, crept in to steal food for a starving old man. I’m putting her oot this minute.”

“Haud on!” Lilias croaked. “I’ll not turn starving folk away unfed. There but for the grace o’ God go we, Maggie. Sit the lass and old man down and feed them afore they go on their way.”

Maggie did a swift mental tally of the larder contents. Apart from Noah’s contributions, there was bread, cheese and broth intended for supper.

She sighed and motioned to the lass.

“Bring the old man in.”

Still clutching the bone, the lass stood in the kitchen, tears of gratitude dripping down her thin cheeks.

She pursed her lips and whistled. The outer door burst open and a large dog bounded in.

“Suidh sios, Bodach!” the girl commanded sternly.

The dog sat, drooling, its starving eyes fixed upon the bone.

Maggie’s jaw dropped.

“You mean that dog is the old man?”

“It iss because from a pup he has been grey-haired,” the girl explained.

The dog gave a low, impatient moan.

“Bodach, sguir dheth!”

The dog became obediently silent and she glanced at Maggie apologetically.

“He knows only Gaelic. Please may he have the bone?”

Lost for words, Maggie waved a hand.

The bone was laid on the flagstones and a short command issued. The dog pounced and began gnawing frantically.

The Highland lass watched, knuckling away emotional tears.

“Cù Annabarach Tapaidh, Bodach!”

She turned to Maggie.

“Bless you for the bone. I am telling him it iss because he iss a good dog.”

A voice called from the bedroom.

“Maggie, whit’s going on? Has the old man come in?”

“Aye, Grandma, and it’s no’ an old man at all, it’s a grey-haired dog.”

There was an outraged screech from the bedroom.

“Whit? Bring that lassie through here to me.”

Maggie took the reluctant girl’s arm and marched her through. The faithful hound picked up its prize and followed, continuing his slobbery destruction of the bone on the bedroom floor.

Lilias eased herself upright on the pillows, studying the girl.

“So ye are a thief and a liar?”

The girl met Lilias’s glare.

“It was wrong to steal the bone, but I did not lie. It was a misunderstanding.”

“Ye claimed the dog was an old man!”

“No!” the lass protested. “The dog iss grey haired so my grandfather named him Bodach which means old man in Gaelic.”

Lilias was losing patience. She waved the girl away.

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!