The next morning dawned fine and Lilias dressed with unusual care. She did not look upon the excursion arranged for that morning as an assignation, more like a wearing down of resistance after many months of nagging.
She made her way down to the harbour, through streets that had echoed over the years to the beat of Bassey’s massive hooves and the rumble of the sling cart.
In Lilias’s opinion, everyone involved in building the lighthouse that now flashed a warning across dangerous seas was a hero, but James Craw’s horse stood in a heroic class of its own.
Every stone of the finished building had been transported by this one magnificent Clydesdale.
She was pleased the noble beast’s contribution was acknowledged publicly when the last stone was loaded aboard ship at Leith harbour.
James Craw and Bassey, the latter bedecked with ribbons and bows, were received by the Master of Trinity House in Leith with due ceremony and appreciation, surrounded by cheering crowds.
Bassey was then retired to the grassy island of Inchkeith, to graze peacefully in the tender care of the lightkeepers.
Lilias arrived in the harbour and there was the Boatie, moored at the foot of the steps.
Mungo McDougal, proprietor of the Fishery Store, stood waiting on the quay.
“Time an’ tide wait for nae man – or woman,” he grunted.
He assisted Lilias down the steps, taking her hand to help her into the boat and seating her on the thwart as if she were a lady.
Mungo McDougal handled the oars expertly and she settled back to enjoy a nostalgic trip.
“Where are we headed?” she asked as they emerged from the harbour mouth and the broad reaches of seascape glinted before them.
Mungo pulled on the oars, fighting the strong current.
“Tae show ye where the best lobster’s tae be found.”
“The town will talk!”
“Let it,” he growled tersely.
She sat savouring the sea breeze. The Boatie rose and dipped to the waves’ lift.
This was how it all began, she thought, recalling how sad it had felt to turn her back upon Auchmithie, though she was a tough old woman in those days. Tragedy and loss had set iron and cold stone in her breast.
Looking out to sea on this clear morning, she could see the new lighthouse, a swirl of frothing white around the base, and she conceded that she had changed during the years of its construction.
The tide was much stronger out here and the old man pulled harder on the oars, breathing fast.
Lilias reached for the spare oars stowed beneath the thwarts and fitted them in the rowlocks. The skin on her palms had grown soft as she started to row, but that would soon harden after a few trips out.
“Whit are ye doing, woman?” the old rascal cried irritably. “You’re aye boasting the Boatie rows easy wi’ just the one set o’ oars.”
“So it does, but I never told ye how fast it will speed wi’ two!”