Northern Lights – Episode 40

Maggie steeled herself for the visit to the grocer as Lilias slowly recovered. She chose a suitable dress and pinned her hair up in a more mature style enhanced by a linen cap.

Her shoes were hand-me-downs from a wealthy patron in her step-scrubbing days. The black leather, buttoned ankle boots made a clicking sound on the pavement.

As she approached the shop Maggie had a sensation that she was being watched. Could it be Beatrice Cameron? The woman had never liked her.

However, as she entered the shop Beatrice called out a friendly greeting.

“Good day, Miss Cargill.”

Samuel Cameron waited behind the counter. Maggie faced him, the fracas over Noah fresh in her mind. But his manner was impeccable.

“I trust your grandmother found the ginger of benefit, Miss Cargill?”

“She did, and was grateful, Mr Cameron.”

“You have a list for me, Miss Cargill?”

Maggie watched as he scanned it. She had not considered him handsome but now she conceded his features were attractive.

He caught her staring and she looked away.

“The lighter items may go in your basket, Miss Cargill, but the laddie will bring the heavier goods on the barrow later.”

“I shall be obliged if you will tell me the reckoning, with delivery charge added, Mr Cameron.”

“Delivery is free to business premises, Miss Cargill.”

She eyed him with suspicion.

“I wasna aware boarding a few lodgers qualified as business premises.”

“Of course it does, Miss Cargill. Have you not heard our enemy Napoleon believes we are a nation of shopkeepers?”

Maggie was struggling to think of a suitable response when a hush fell over the busy shop. Its customers stared towards the back shop where a shadowy figure stood in dim light.

“Marion Cameron!” an awed customer said. “She hasn’t set foot in the shop since her man died. Whit’s brought her oot today?”

The old woman leaned on a stick and stared in Maggie’s direction. A shiver ran down her back. Then Marion turned and hobbled away and normal business resumed in the store.

*  *  *  *

Fionah took instantly to the joy of knitting. Her one regret was that the spinning wheel had burned to a cinder when the croft burned. Spinning wool for the family would have repaid some of the debt she owed.

She had no family apart from her grandfather. Dearly as she had loved the old man, Bodach’s arrival as a playful grey-haired puppy had brought a dimension of fun and laughter that was lacking in her life.

He grew into a big strong dog, adoring his gentle master and the lonely orphan. Seeing Bodach grow as pitifully thin and starving as Fionah herself had brought her near to despair, until a miracle had changed their luck.

Fionah already revered Lilias. She had no grandmother, but if she had been so blessed, this was the grandmother she would choose.

As for the sisters, she wondered if they realised how fortunate they were. How she would have valued and loved a sister!

She admired Maggie, the eldest, although she was in awe of the young woman who held the household reins in capable hands.

Amy, the youngest, was closest in age and Fionah wished Amy would be more friendly. Perhaps it was not possible when someone wore one’s old clothes.

To complicate matters, Bodach did not like Amy. He slunk behind Fionah, tail between legs and ears down, when Amy made overtures. That made Amy angry, flinging impatient words at him.

Poor dog. He only understood Gaelic and didn’t know how he had sinned.

However, the middle sister, beautiful Cathy Mary, had shown Fionah nothing but kindness. She was even making a dress for Fionah that would be her very own. The dress was cut from an old blue curtain that sunlight had faded to grey and would be worn to accompany the sisters to church, so that the servant lass would not become a heathen. Fionah could hardly wait.

Now, she could tell that the old lady was growing weary. She bundled up the knitting and stood up.

“You must rest. I will make a hot drink for you with the good ginger.”

Lilias made no protest and Fionah went through to rouse the fire and heat the kettle. She hardly had time to rake the ashes clear before there was a tap at the door and Bodach barked a sharp warning, which meant the caller was male.

Fionah lifted the sneck, peering out through a narrow gap in the canny Highland way her grandfather had taught her.

Lilias called out.

“Who is it, lass?”

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!