Northern Lights – Episode 43

Lilias was bored with being confined indoors, and was grumpy in consequence. She insisted she was fit enough to attend kirk for the first time on the Sabbath, though it was blowing a gale, and it took a battle royal to make her change her mind.

Maggie’s patience had worn thin by the time she and the girls departed in a rush.

They left their grandmother sulking by the stove, the dog on the rug at her feet and a bible ostentatiously open on her knees.

Fionah would have stayed but Lilias would have none of it.

“Off you go and take heed o’ the sermon, lassie. That preacher’ll put the fear o’ death in ye.”

As a result the four girls arrived late, causing a stir in the crowded pews and earning a fierce glare from the minister already settled in the pulpit.

After prayers, the congregation braced itself for the sermon. Expectations were high and they were not disappointed.

“Vanity!” the preacher thundered. “An evil sin established by the devil himsel’, tae sell his wares!”

The Cargill sisters stiffened, forming a united front to face the minister’s accustomed blast. Fionah was more perturbed. She wore with pride the dress Cathy Mary made for her.

It was modest and simple in design, made out of old, faded curtains, but the high neckline was trimmed with a scrap of rose pink ribbon, a remnant from a floral gardening apron.

Fionah took great pleasure in that one luxurious detail, but now learned it was the first step on the slippery path to Hell.

She listened, open-mouthed, to a fearsome harangue and came out of the church with threats of ill repute and damnation ringing in her ears, the inevitable consequence of sinful female vanity.

To make matters worse, some of the stonecutters from the lodging-house were present in the congregation, including the handsome young man called Noah.

He and Fionah were pressed together face to face in the crush outside the kirk and the young flirt took his chance to give the young lass an appreciative wink and a quick squeeze of her slender waist.

Fionah’s fears of sinful retribution were confirmed, and she took refuge in confused distress behind Maggie till Amy and Cathy Mary came to the rescue and whisked her off home.

Maggie faced the young man with outraged fury as the crowd of worshippers dispersed.

“I’ll thank ye to stop making unwelcome advances tae the maid.”

“There’s no harm intended to the lassie, Miss Cargill. There was pink ribbon on her gown and ’tis said pink makes the lads wink.” Noah’s attempt at a joke fell upon stony ground.

“I’ll have none o’ that in the house! Any more of it and you’ll be out the door!” Maggie warned.

He studied her warily. He had experienced the wrath of jealous females before and Maggie Cargill was displaying symptoms. This was encouraging. He hastened to make amends.

“I’m shamed and sorry, Miss Cargill. The innocent lass has nothing tae fear from me. I freely admit my conduct was out o’ order, just a weak moment prompted by the preacher’s rant.

“It would break my heart to be banned frae the lodgings. I listen to you sing as you work, blithe as the lark, and believe there’s festivity in the air. Is it a birthday, perhaps?”

He ventured a smile and Maggie relented. His remorse seemed genuine and she could sympathise with the release of high spirits when younger male members of the congregation crowded into the kirkyard after the preacher’s lengthy moralising tirades.

“Not a birthday,” she volunteered. “My brother Alec’s month of duty on the rock is over and we plan to have a feast to celebrate his homecoming any day now.”

They had started to walk back towards the house but Noah stopped short.

“But Miss Cargill, all men working out on the rock have voted to remain till the beacon-house is ready as a safety refuge. They won’t be home till October’s end. Hadn’t you heard?”

“No, not a word!”

The news struck Maggie like cold seawater. A chilling blast of the rising gale struck her, whipping the colour from her cheeks.

She had confidently expected a letter from Alec announcing the date of his return and had wondered why it had not come.

Looking towards the harbour, she saw the fishing fleet come crowding in to shelter, heard the grind of metal upon metal and clank of chain, the creak of straining bulwarks as the restricted harbour waters heaved.

Invading rollers crashed against the outer walls, spewing white froth and spray over the tops, drenching men struggling below to secure their gear.

Maggie hardly dared lift her gaze to the seas beyond, where the gale lashed mighty white-crested waves advancing towards the shore. The awesome sight filled her with the darkest fear for her brother’s life.

That terror remained with her even as Noah helped her close the storm shutters over the windows and bolt the storm door.

Most of the populace had taken shelter from one of the worst storms to strike the coast that year. The streets were deserted.

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!