Northern Lights – Episode 02

There was silence. The wind found a crack in the outer door and whistled in a sudden icy draught. A shutter moved and creaked. The wind was rising as the tide turned.

Lilias saw the dying flame in the grate. Maggie leaped to defend herself.

“My father stoked the fire so it never failed. But when I’m at work the grate grows cold and the fire takes time to catch.”

Lilias studied the handsome range. It was made in black-leaded iron with ovens set into the chimney breast and space above to simmer pots and boil a kettle.

The lass had overstuffed the grate with spunk-wood and tinder, topped with enough coal to burn a beacon for a week. Wisps of smoke and flickers of smothered flame struggled for life beneath the weight.

Lilias gripped the poker lying on the hearth and thrust it through the bars, stabbing deep into the fire’s heart. With a roar, the liberated flames ignited the spunk-wood. Soon blue licks of gassy flame appeared upon the surface of the coals.

She straightened and faced her granddaughter.

“We a’ need space and air tae breathe, lass. A living flame’s no different.”

Maggie shrugged.

“Who brought ye here and how will ye return?”

“I cam’ by sea and rowed mysel’. The Boatie’s moored wi’ other cobles in the harbour.”

It was growing dark. Maggie made a cold, calculated decision.

“We must put ye up one night. You can have my father’s room.”

The room had remained untouched since the day her father closed the door, never to return. His clothes hung in the press, his linen lay folded in the kist and a painting of his beloved wife Catherine stood on the bedside table beside his Bible.

The essence of her father’s being was within his room. This old woman, who had accused him of causing his beloved wife’s death, would be forced to spend uneasy hours of penance in there. And so justice would be done.

Lilias considered.

“I thank ye, but I have a proposition tae put to ye.”

“A proposition?”

“Aye. What if I bide seven days to help ye stoke the fire night and day, and then you decide whether to accept my care or no’?”

Her grandmother gave a fleeting smile so beguiling Maggie wondered if she’d imagined it. Already she felt the fire’s warmth. There would be plenty heat to fry herring tonight and cook brose tomorrow morning.

It was a tempting offer.

Maggie lifted her chin.

“The decision doesna rest wi’ me. I’m no’ the only member of this family.”

Lilias nodded.

“Well, show me the room. I’ll rest till ye put it to the vote wi’ the others when they come.”

Maggie led the way, watching with a mix of malice and sorrow her father’s door close upon her grandmother.

*  *  *  *

Lilias laid her bags and bundles on the rug, which could do with a sweep, she noted. The room had a neglected air and she guessed Walter Cargill’s bairns hadn’t set foot inside since the day he died.

Rubbing her arms, aching after long, hard rowing, Lilias went to the bedside. She found a portrait of her dead daughter she had not known existed.

She picked the portrait up with shaking hands. The artist had captured something of her bonnie Catherine’s bright, independent spirit.

Lilias recalled with anguish how bitterly parents and daughter had clashed over this marriage.

They had expected her to wed an Auchmithie man who would help the father with the fishing and live close by to care for them in old age. But their daughter was in love with an Arbroath fisherman and would take no other.

What folly, to part in anger with cruel words spoken on either side. Even in later years, when mother and daughter attempted to repair the damage, the relationship remained like a badly patched blanket.

Curling up on the bed, Lilias clutched the image of her lost daughter to her breast, closed her eyes and let her heart break.

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!