Northern Lights – Episode 48


Alec was home. He stood outside the house on paving that felt unsteady after weeks at sea. Work on the Bell Rock was over for the season. The men had marked the occasion with three hearty cheers and the obligatory tot of rum.

Alec went inside to the waiting women – Maggie to the fore with a reproachful smile, his grandmother sitting quietly by the stove, and his younger sisters, grown into bonnie adults in the space of a few months. A dog barked and was shushed.

“The prodigal’s feast is prepared, Alec.” Maggie laughed. “I hope you’re hungry!”

Lilias watched,uneasy. This unsmiling, hard-muscled man was not the scared youngster who had left home weeks ago in fear of impressment. She noted Alec’s unfriendly glance rest briefly upon Fionah.

“We have a new helping hand in our house, Alec. Fionah was homeless and has come tae bide wi’ us.”

Alec gave a curt nod and Fionah bobbed a nervous curtsey. Bodach hunkered down, wary of this cold individual who made his mistress’s body tremble.

Maggie broke the silence.

“Your room’s ready, Alec; bedding’s fresh and aired.”

“I’ll no’ be staying,” he told her brusquely. “A berth’s booked for me in the workyard barracks.”

*  *  *  *

Alec’s rejection made Maggie miserable all winter. It was as if she had lost both father and a brother upon that hateful rock.

When he commenced work on the lighthouse the following spring Maggie suffered torments of anxiety.

The beacon-house was fitted with living quarters for the workforce and her brother chose to live there. He was rarely seen ashore.

The face of the rocky shoal was transformed over the next two years. Railway tracks carried tubs loaded with stones across its surface. Masons worked day and night at the lighthouse site laying courses of marked stone.

Alec worked with James Dove at the forge on an upper floor of the beacon-house, safe from danger but often cold, and wet with spray. The lighthouse walls already rose above a high tide’s reach.

The main social event in Arbroath town was the wedding of Beatrice Cameron, spinster, to Jeremiah Cuthbert, blacksmith. It was planned as a quiet affair, but the kirk was crammed.

Marion Cameron, in purple velvet, nearly stole the show, but the elderly recluse faded into insignificance as a radiant Beatrice, in a silvery gown sewn by the Nunnery girls, walked down the aisle on Samuel’s arm to marry the man who had waited for her so long and faithfully.

Lilias squeezed into the pew beside Marion.

“So you’re off tae the smiddy seat!”

“Aye, the lawyer fixed it. The will said the grocery store would be sold if I left, but there’s nothing about leaving the flat above. Legally I’m free tae go.

“Samuel and I are shareholders o’ the store, so technically I’ll never leave it. I hope my dear hubby would approve!”

Lilias patted her hand.

“Aye, he would, if he were here today tae see his bonnie daughter wed.”

*  *  *  *

The lighthouse rose high above the sea as the seasons passed. No light shone from it yet, but just its presence served as warning to shipping. The night was lit by lanterns of men working high above the waves.

Robert Stevenson was determined to choose the best stone to finish the upper structure of his masterpiece. He found the ideal material across the Forth at Craigleith quarry.

So-called “liver” stone had proved durable and was of fine appearance, much used in the capital’s towering tenements and the city’s grandest houses.

But, oh, how hazardous was a mason’s life! Women worried for their men working out at sea on the lighthouse. Even masons and stonecutters ashore in the yard were in danger.

Slippage of a large stone could amputate a finger, crush a hand, snap a leg or break a man’s back so that he could never work again.

Towards the end of the lighthouse project, a day dawned that Maggie would never forget. Alec was working on the upper areas of the lighthouse now. Near completion, it stood over 100 feet above sea level.

Maggie set off for church but found a crowd gathered by the kirk door, many women in tears.

“What’s happened?”

“A death out upon the rock, lass,” a man said. “A young smith fell from a ladder and was lost in the sea.”

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!