Northern Lights – Episode 01


Lilias Spink lived in stirring times. Napoleonic war raged in Europe and in London it was rumoured King George had fits of madness.

Not that these far-off events intruded much upon Lilias’s Scottish fishing community. Auchmithie in 1806 was a cluster of fisher cottages clinging to steep cliff sides cupping the bay.

Situated on the east coast of Scotland not far from its larger, more prestigious neighbour, Arbroath, the hardy community was reputed to have been originally settled by Viking invaders.

Lilias was a widow, tall and spare, grey hair restrained with a twist of twine tied so tightly at the nape of the neck it was perhaps no wonder she rarely smiled. But when that rare sunny gift was bestowed, the recipient was left warmed and disarmed.

She exuded an air of capable strength when she rowed her small fishing coble, known as the Boatie, to check the lobster pots that formed her livelihood.

In late October a terrible storm hit the east coast of Scotland. An Arbroath fishing boat was dashed to splinters on the infamous Inchcape Rock with the loss of all hands, including the ship’s captain, Walter Cargill, Lilias’s son-in-law.

Weeks later, Lilias announced she was leaving for Arbroath to care for her orphaned grandchildren.

The Auchmithie villagers watched on the shore as Lilias put a few bundles in the Boatie and fitted oars in the row-locks.

“You’re awa’ then, Lilias?” someone called.

“Aye.”

“God go wi’ ye!”

She nodded briefly and pulled away strongly from the shore, heading for Arbroath. If there were tears in the pale blue eyes, that might be due to sea spray as the Boatie rounded the bluff of the cliff into the wind.

*  *  *  *

In Arbroath, close by the harbour, Maggie Cargill wrestled with a dour fire smouldering in a cold grate.

Her father had kept the fire burning night and day, but Maggie didn’t have the knack. The feeble flame threatened to expire and she sat back on her heels and glared at the beast.

“Damn ye!”

She heard the sneck on the outer door lift. That would be her brother and sisters home from work, with no hope of a cooked meal for hours. Maggie could have wept.

“Dinna expect tae be fed, because I’ve nothing for ye!” she snapped.

She glanced round to see, not her hungry siblings, but an unexpected visitor.

“Grandmother!”

“Aye.” Lilias dumped her bundles on the floor. “And you’ll be Maggie, though you’ve grown since we met, five year syne, at your mither’s funeral.”

Was it five years, Maggie thought, since Mama had succumbed to inflammation of the lungs? Since a blazing row took place in this very room, when Grandmother Spink accused Papa of neglecting Mama’s chill and causing her death?

And was it five years since Papa, grief-stricken, had ordered this woman from their house for ever?

Maggie rose.

“How old are ye?” Lilias said.

“I’ll be eighteen in December, God willing.”

“I mourned the death o’ your faither and his shipmates, God rest their souls,” Lilias said gruffly.

Maggie said nothing. The unjust accusations flung at her broken-hearted father were etched in her memory.

“You never came when Papa was alive. Why now?” she demanded coldly.

Lilias understood the girl’s grief, the urge to strike out in an effort to ease one’s own suffering. Lilias had endured the same once, and had survived to reach passive acceptance in old age.

“It was time.”

Maggie curled her lip.

“Time to cleanse a guilty conscience?”

“No, Maggie. Time to care for my grandchildren.”

Maggie’s eyes blazed.

“We dinna need your care. We’re doing fine.”

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!