Northern Lights – Episode 42

By mid September the mood in the Cargill household was optimistic. Lilias’s health improved and she spent time out of bed in the afternoon, sitting by the stove and keeping an eye on the boiling pots and kettles.

The weather had turned unseasonably chilly. Seas beyond the harbour wall tossed and churned restlessly with the threat of a storm brewing.

Even so, Maggie sang while she worked. Alec had signed on as apprentice to Mr Dove the blacksmith on the Rock for one month, and that month was almost over. The press gang had come prowling around Arbroath and had gone off disappointed, praise God!

Maggie was planning a memorable homecoming feast for her brother within the next few days. Food supplies were difficult with a French blockade in place but she wheedled a haunch of smoked ham from Samuel Cameron.

These days he was Mr Cameron, obliging shopkeeper, and she was Miss Cargill, valued customer, and that comfortable state of affairs suited Maggie fine.

If she caught herself smiling complacently while humming a love song popular with Arbroath lasses at the moment, she assumed that was just heightened self-esteem boosted by the rivalry between a well-off grocer and a handsome young stonecutter.

Both were kept firmly at arm’s length.

Alec’s sisters waited expectantly for his return, due any day now. Cathy Mary sometimes worked late at the nunnery on a sideline of decorative aprons favoured by ladies dabbling in genteel gardening and this evening Amy arrived home alone.

The wind was blustery and she shook the first heavy droplets of rain from her shawl as she closed the outer door.

There was nobody in the living-room, only gentle snores emanating from her grandma’s bedroom and sounds of activity outside as Maggie and Fionah readied the lodgings for the men’s return.

The room was unoccupied except for the dog.

It had taken a fancy to a rag rug Cathy Mary had made from scraps of wool and material sewn on to an old sack.

The rug was placed in front of Lilias’s chair by the fireside to keep her feet warm and the dog also relished the comfort. It lay relaxed and snoozing, but woke and raised its head when Amy entered.

They studied one another warily. Amy and the dog had never been alone together and it was a nervous moment.

She held out a hand.

“Come here, Smokie.”

Cornered, the dog gave a low, distressed whimper, cowering and pressing its body deep into the comforting rug.

Amy looked at the dog in hopeless despair. Its rejection hurt more cruelly than bites from sharp teeth. People talked about hearts breaking and Amy had always considered that saying foolish. If your heart broke you died, and that was that.

But tonight something inside her chest did break, welling up in a tearful flood of misery. She sank to her knees on the floor and buried her face in her hands.

“Bodach, Bodach, why won’t you like me? Ah, Bodach, Bodach, I love you so!”

She sobbed, painful, wrenching sobs muffled in her hands lest the others heard and came running.

Tears dripped from her eyes and ran over her hands and cheeks, wet and strangely soft and warm.

Amy cautiously parted her fingers and found herself looking into a pair of concerned brown eyes. A warm pink tongue was making short work of her salty tears.

“Bodach? Bodach, is it you?” she ventured in disbelief and was rewarded by the thud of a tail wagging a friendly beat upon the floor.

She stretched out her arms and hugged the dog’s warm grey body rapturously.

“Bodach, Bodach, Bodach!” she repeated, over and over.

The delighted dog responded with a warm tongue on her cheek.

Humbled and repentant, Amy accepted that this beloved dog only answered to 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!