Northern Lights – Episode 41

“It is a chentleman.”

“How do ye ken?”

“It wears a tall hat.”

“Heaven save us! It’s no’ a bailiff, is it?”

“I think not. It is chust an old man in a big hat.”

Lilias puzzled over the information for a minute.

“Bring it in, but keep the dog close by,” she ordered.

The visitor entered the living-room.

“Lassie, tell Mistress Spink that Mungo McDougal o’ the Fishery Store has arrived tae pay his respects.”

Fionah relayed the message, which was greeted with incredulity.

“Him? You are jokin’!”

The messenger returned to the kitchen.

“Mistress Spink says to come through and state your business, but I am to stay handy in the lobby with the dog.”

Lilias received the visitor propped up on pillows, wearing a lace-trimmed nightcap and her finest shawl. She noted that he seemed ill at ease, tall hat resting in the crook of one arm.

“To what do I owe this honour, Mr McDougal?”

“I was perturbed to learn you were laid low wi’ quinsy, Mistress Spink, but gratified tae hear you were recovering.”

He cleared his throat.

“It crossed my mind ye might benefit from a trip on the Boatie once back on your feet. The power o’ sea air to cleanse throat and lungs of evil humours is well testified.”

Lilias raised her brows.

“You think me fit tae wield an oar after a brush wi’ death?”

He hastened to reassure her.

“You’ll no’ be expected to exert yoursel’, Mistress Spink. The Boatie’s a two-man craft easy rowed by one.”

She gave him a narrow glance.

“Indeed. But what will Arbroath make o’ us two out together in a boat?”

“Who cares what Arbroath thinks?” He flushed.

“I do, Mr McDougal!”

Then Lilias relented.

“A trip on the Boatie is tempting. I’ll consider the suggestion when my strength returns. Now I must ask ye tae leave and let me rest.

“The lassie will see ye out, but mind the dog doesna bite ye. It doesna welcome strangers!” she called serenely as he bowed himself out of the room.

*  *  *  *

Amy Cargill had reached womanhood earlier than her two older sisters and found the transition irksome and perplexing.

She developed a shapely bosom and Cathy Mary was kept busy adapting blouses and dresses with darts and smocking to enhance her young sister’s blossoming attributes. Young lads began taking an interest.

Amy struggled with mood swings ranging from childish giggles with friends at work over boys, to tears shed in the dark for one special young man who fought, far away, in a dreadful, dangerous war at sea.

They had shared only a moment as their eyes met, but it had woken an instant response that transported Amy from child to adult. She knew that he had felt the shock, too. She wanted to be a grown woman for him if he came back.

Dear God, not “if”. Let it be “when”!

If she were not working in the sailmaker’s yard when William Walker returned, he might go away thinking she did not care for him.

Was this torment she endured really love? In childhood she had believed love to be a happy experience, but as a young adult she found it a cruel and diverse emotion.

For instance, she loved Fionah Creagh’s dog but it made no secret of its dislike and fear.

Amy had accepted Fionah’s presence in the family circle. Fionah helped Maggie care for their grandmother, which freed Amy and Cathy Mary to do work they enjoyed.

Grandma had taken kindly to the homeless Highland lass. Amy often heard the two whisper and laugh together and that made Amy happy, although Maggie tightened her lips and clattered pots in the scullery at the sound.

Amy sensed discord between Maggie and their grandmother. She thought it stemmed from events that had taken place during that bitter winter when Mama died. Amy had been only a little girl, shivering in bed with quilt and blankets pulled over her head.

Her childish memories were dim, but she could well imagine how deeply affected Maggie would have been. Girls on the brink of womanhood could be scarred for life as tender emotions matured.

This Amy knew, because of a dog.

She loved dogs, though the family had never owned one. It was more usual for sailors to have cats aboard ship or in the home. It was love at first sight when Amy saw Fionah Creagh’s grey-haired dog, Bodach.

However, Amy did not forget her father’s advice. Dogs were not toys to play with. They had sharp teeth and should be trained to obey and respect a master or mistress.

Amy tried hard to earn this dog’s respect, changing his inappropriate name to Smokie, the warm colour of Grandma’s fishy delicacy.

“Come, Smokie! Sit, Smokie!” she commanded masterfully while the dog’s ears flattened and it slunk uneasily behind the Highland lass with its tail between its legs.

She tried cajoling.

“Smokie, please come here! Smokie, please wait, please sit!”

Lack of success left Amy stamping her feet and tearing her hair in a fury of frustration as the dog cowered, cringing miserably on its belly, acting as if it had been soundly beaten.

Fionah stood watching, wringing her hands and repeating the same thing over and over distractedly.

“Poor Bodach, poor Bodach. He only understands Gaelic.”

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!