SE­RIAL North­ern Lights

Two young men war­ring over Mag­gie Cargill. Who would have thought it?

The People's Friend - - News - by Betty Mcinnes

OVER the years Lil­ias had sto­ically weath­ered mis­car­riages, colds, up­set stom­achs and var­i­ous aches and pains. Thus, when thun­dery rain fell on Ar­broath one warm day, she dashed out to the green to help Mag­gie res­cue the weekly wash, un­der­taken for their lodgers at tup­pence a head.

Both got soaked to the skin, but while Mag­gie set about air­ing the men’s gar­ments on a clotheshorse by the stove, Lil­ias sat down. Her teeth chat­tered and her fin­gers turned white and numb. Mag­gie grew con­cerned. “Away and change those wet clothes afore ye catch your death!”

Lil­ias obe­di­ently shuf­fled off to the bed­room, leav­ing Mag­gie star­ing af­ter her.

Af­ter a time, Mag­gie tapped on the door.

“Grand­mother, come and warm yoursel’ by the fire.”

No an­swer. Alarmed, Mag­gie went in.

Her grand­mother’s wet clothes lay on the floor. Lil­ias had donned night­dress and night­cap and wrapped her­self in a shawl be­fore col­laps­ing on the bed. She lay hud­dled on top of the bed­spread, shiv­er­ing vi­o­lently.

“Ah, Mag­gie, it’s cold!” It was little more than a whis­per but it struck Mag­gie with the force of night­mare. For one mo­ment she was twelve years old, watch­ing her mother dy­ing on this same bed.

She helped Lil­ias snug­gle un­der the blan­kets. “There, is that bet­ter?” Lil­ias nod­ded. Mag­gie placed a hand upon her brow. It felt hot. “Does your heid ache?” “No, but my throat’s sore since yestere’en, Mag­gie,” Lil­ias croaked. “I thought it would heal, but it’s worse.”

Ter­ror swamped Mag­gie. Sore throat could be a sign of dis­eases rang­ing from the com­mon cold to cholera, ty­phoid or a fa­tal in­flam­ma­tion of the lungs! She sum­moned a smile. “Pa gave us honey in hot wa­ter when we were poorly. Maybe that’ll help.”

“A spoon­ful o’ honey never killed ony­one,” Lil­ias agreed huskily.

Amy and Cathy Mary had no ap­petite for sup­per when they learned their feisty grand­mother was ill.

In ad­di­tion, the tide was at a low ebb and their thoughts turned to Alec out on the hos­tile rock. He would be hard at work for the next two hours be­fore a ris­ing tide re­gained pos­ses­sion.

Amy, now thir­teen, toyed list­lessly with her tasty stew.

“Papa warned us not to turn our back to the sea lest an un­ex­pected wave rose and swept us away. But if Alec is work­ing on an is­land he must turn his back on it all the time, mustn’t he?”

Mag­gie tried to show con­fi­dence she didn’t feel.

“Noah tells me work­ing on the rock’s as safe as work­ing ashore, if ye keep your wits about ye.”

“You fancy him, don’t ye?” Amy’s gaze was sharp. “I do not!”

“Well, he fan­cies you.” “Stop haver­ing!”

Yet Mag­gie had to ad­mit Noah’s pres­ence was wel­come with Lil­ias laid low.

“Can I help at all, Miss Cargill?” he asked when the lodgers were alerted to the cri­sis in the house.

“My grand­mother’s fever­ish and her throat’s badly swollen,” she said. The young man frowned. “Sounds like quinsy.” “Is that se­ri­ous?”

“It can be. First ye must be rid o’ harm­ful poi­sons gath­er­ing in the throat.” Mag­gie wrung her hands. “How do I do that?” “Dinna fash, Miss Cargill. My ma had quinsy two years syne. Pa made poul­tices with goose grease spread on socks round her neck and gave her drinks o’ trea­cle in hot wa­ter.” He put an arm around her shoul­ders. “Flagons o’ cider eased Ma’s pain and chicken gruel and mar­row­bone broth soon had her up on her feet again.” Noah with­drew the arm. “Mind you, we are farm­ing folk wi’ ac­cess tae coun­try­side reme­dies. I dinna ken how fisher folk liv­ing by the sea will fare.”

“I could make fish liver poul­tices and get cider from the tav­ern, if only Grand­mother will drink it,” Mag­gie mused.

“If not, the men’ll see it’s no’ wasted!” Noah said.

****

That night Mag­gie ap­plied cold com­presses to Lil­ias’s fevered brow while she tossed and turned rest­lessly, some­times wail­ing piteously, mourning her hus­band and daugh­ter, the and her life in Auchmithie. The long night wore on. Mag­gie wak­ened with a start from an ex­hausted doze at dawn. Lil­ias lay pale and silent. “Grand­mother?”

Lil­ias opened her eyes. She was lu­cid, though piti­fully weak af­ter win­ning the bat­tle with fever.

“Bless ye for the good ye did for me this night.”

Re­lief made Mag­gie’s re­sponse brusque.

“Dinna bless me, it’s yoursel’ that’s done it.” Lil­ias winced. “There’s little love lost be­tween us, lassie. I wish I knew why.”

Mag­gie hes­i­tated.

“I can­not tell ye. I promised my fa­ther. Now, close your een and rest.”

Lil­ias’s heavy eye­lids drooped, and she slept.

Mag­gie made break­fast for her re­lieved sis­ters and saw them off to work. Si­lence set­tled on the house.

At noon there was a gen­tle tap on the outer door.

The vis­i­tor was Noah car­ry­ing a bun­dle.

“I begged bones and a leg o’ mut­ton frae the cooks in the yard, Miss Cargill. There’s skinned rab­bits, too, tae feed the fam­ily.” “Oh, Noah, how kind!” Mag­gie re­sisted an urge to hug him. Her vis­i­tor was al­ready at­tract­ing at­ten­tion from passers by.

“Bring the meat inside, please; the larder’s cool.”

She left the door ajar, mind­ful of her rep­u­ta­tion. No doubt every gos­sip in Ar­broath would know that Lil­ias, her chap­er­one, was out of ac­tion.

****

Sa­muel Cameron was out­side the shop sweep­ing the pave­ment free of mud from yes­ter­day’s del­uge when the two younger Cargill lassies ap­peared.

He was given a tear­ful ac­count of Lil­ias’s sore throat and Mag­gie’s ef­forts to fight the fever.

The shop was not yet open for busi­ness so Sa­muel mounted the stairs to the liv­ing quar­ters to give Beatrice and his mother the news.

“Tell the grand­daugh­ter the best treat­ment for pu­trid throat is ginger in hot wa­ter,” his mother ad­vised.

“You can’t get spices wi’ the French block­ade on, Mama,” Beatrice said. Sa­muel frowned. “There’s stem ginger pre­served in syrup in two or three jars on a shelf in the back shop.”

“See Mis­tress Spink has all she needs, free o’ charge,” Mar­ion or­dered.

Her son and daugh­ter stared at such gen­eros­ity. She scowled. “Dinna stand gaw­ping. There’s nae time to waste wi’ a pu­trid throat.”

“Mama,” Beatrice ven­tured, “ye never usu­ally con­cern yoursel’ wi’ cus­tomers. Why this one?”

“Lil­ias Spink’s my friend,” her mother an­swered.

****

Mag­gie lost no time stor­ing Noah’s gift away in the north-fac­ing larder whose stone shelves were icy to the touch even in the depths of sum­mer. She un­packed a gen­er­ous bun­dle of meaty mar­row bones, a haunch of mut­ton and sev­eral skinned rab­bits.

“Bless you, Noah. My grand­mother will be rul­ing the roost in no time wi’ good food to sus­tain her.”

They stood in the big room, sun­shine slant­ing through a half-open door. It was the first time they had been alone to­gether. Mag­gie felt a strange sen­sa­tion pos­sess her.

Noah took her hand boldly and kissed it.

“Bon­nie Miss Cargill, for­give the lib­erty,” he mur­mured.

The outer door opened wide, catch­ing the pair in a full glare of sun­light.

“An un­for­giv­able lib­erty!” Sa­muel Cameron cried. “Who the devil are you?” “I’m come tae pro­tect Mag­gie from scoundrels like you.”

“Mag­gie, is it?” Noah said. “You deny Miss Cargill the re­spect she de­serves.”

The re­mark in­fu­ri­ated Sa­muel.

“I’ve known Mag­gie since she was a bairn.”

“Bid­ing your time till she grew, were ye?”

The taunt was the last straw. Sa­muel bounded for­ward.

“Stand aside, Mag­gie. I’ll put the up­start out!” Noah stood his ground. “I’ll leave when I please!” Mag­gie stood be­tween the two war­ring men. It re­minded her of tales of knights joust­ing for love of a lady. Fancy plain wee Mag­gie Cargill fought over by two lads, she mar­velled.

The pair were pos­tur­ing around, fists raised. It was al­most laugh­able. “Stop your non­sense!” The pro­tag­o­nists low­ered their fists and stared. Mag­gie pointed a fin­ger. “Noah, I give you leave tae go. And thanks for the gift o’ meat.”

Noah mum­bled a sheep­ish good­bye and left. She turned to Sa­muel. “In fu­ture, you will ad­dress me as Miss Cargill, as is mair fit­ting to my sta­tus as house­holder and your cus­tomer, Mr Cameron. Now, what busi­ness brought ye here?”

Sa­muel reached into his jacket for a jar.

“It’s stem ginger, er, Miss Cargill. My mother says an in­fu­sion o’ ginger in hot wa­ter will ease Mis­tress Spink’s pu­trid throat.” Mag­gie smiled warmly. “Thank your mother kindly for her con­cern. I’m sure my grand­mother will want to visit Mis­tress Cameron to de­liver her grat­i­tude in per­son when she is re­cov­ered.”

She crossed to the door and held it open.

“Now I must at­tend to my du­ties. Good­bye.”

Mag­gie watched Sa­muel Cameron stride along the street to­wards the shop.

Noah had al­ready de­parted in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to­wards the work yard.

In the dis­tance the steady clip clop of mighty Bassey’s hooves told of yet another delivery of

Aberdeen gran­ite from the har­bour to the work­yard.

All was as it should be, Mag­gie thought, sat­is­fied.

****

“What was the stir ben the hoose?” Lil­ias de­manded when Mag­gie ap­peared with the ginger drink, pre­pared as in­structed.

“Och, Noah was at­tempt­ing tae win my favour when Mr Cameron ar­rived and took ex­cep­tion to the lib­erty. I showed them the door afore it ended wi’ fists fly­ing.”

“I thought that young man could do wi’ a bucket o’ cold wa­ter thrown over him.” Lil­ias nod­ded.

Mag­gie gave a trill of laugh­ter.

“I’ll mind that course o’ ac­tion next time, Grandma!”

“Grandma” sounded more fond, Lil­ias thought. A wee crack in the ice, a hint of a thaw?

Mag­gie set­tled her grand­mother to rest. It was too soon to judge, but she fan­cied the ginger had helped. Feel­ing more op­ti­mistic, she turned her at­ten­tion to the daily rou­tine of sweep­ing and dust­ing the lodgers’ liv­ing quar­ters.

In the gar­den she vig­or­ously wielded a car­pet beater on dusty rugs hung on the wash­ing line. Then she heard move­ment in the house and, fear­ing her grand­mother had fallen out of bed, rushed into the kitchen.

The larder door was open, dis­play­ing a thief inside caught in the act.

Mag­gie cut off the es­cape route.

The mis­cre­ant was a lass Mag­gie judged to be a little older than Amy, though so skinny and un­kempt it was hard to tell the age.

She recog­nised the type. Many of the sort passed through Ar­broath over the years as High­land land­lords cleared poor ten­ants off their land to make way for the more prof­itable sheep.

Pa­thetic fam­ily groups, home­less, trekked through the coun­try­side, head­ing for the cities hop­ing to find me­nial work.

Many had gone on to the larger ports, to be shipped far from the land they loved that treated them so ill.

With the war rag­ing and Napoleon’s in­va­sion of Bri­tain a real threat, the num­ber of High­landers pass­ing through had dwin­dled. This girl must be a strag­gler.

The girl hugged her stolen prize to her chest.

“Put that down, you thiev­ing ras­cal!” Mag­gie or­dered.

“Miss, it iss only one bone, and you have many,” the girl pleaded in the pre­cise man­ner of the na­tive Gaelic speaker.

“No mat­ter if it is only a bone, steal­ing is sin.” The lass raised her chin. “I would not steal for my­self. It iss for Bo­dach, who iss starv­ing.” “Bo­dach?”

“It means ‘old man’ in Gaelic.”

Steal­ing to feed a starv­ing old man cast a dif­fer­ent light on the crime. Mag­gie was about to stand aside and let the girl go when her grand­mother called out.

“Who’s that oot there, Mag­gie?”

“A High­land lassie, crept in to steal food for a starv­ing old man. I’m putting her oot this minute.”

“Haud on!” Lil­ias croaked. “I’ll not turn starv­ing folk away un­fed. There but for the grace o’ God go we, Mag­gie. Sit the lass and old man down and feed them afore they go on their way.”

Mag­gie did a swift men­tal tally of the larder con­tents. Apart from Noah’s con­tri­bu­tions, there was bread, cheese and broth in­tended for sup­per.

She sighed and mo­tioned to the lass.

“Bring the old man in.” Still clutch­ing the bone, the lass stood in the kitchen, tears of grat­i­tude drip­ping down her thin cheeks.

She pursed her lips and whis­tled. The outer door burst open and a large dog bounded in.

“Bo­dach!” the girl com­manded sternly.

The dog sat, drool­ing, its starv­ing eyes fixed upon the bone.

Mag­gie’s jaw dropped. “You mean that dog is the old man?”

“It iss be­cause from a pup he has been grey­haired,” the girl ex­plained.

The dog gave a low, im­pa­tient moan. “Bo­dach, sguir dheth!”

The dog be­came obe­di­ently silent and she glanced at Mag­gie apolo­get­i­cally.

“He knows only Gaelic. Please may he have the bone?”

Lost for words, Mag­gie waved a hand.

The bone was laid on the flag­stones and a short com­mand is­sued. The dog pounced and be­gan gnaw­ing fran­ti­cally.

The High­land lass watched, knuck­ling away emo­tional tears.

“Cù Annabarach Ta­paidh,

Bo­dach!”

She turned to Mag­gie. “Bless you for the bone. I am telling him it iss be­cause he iss a good dog.”

A voice called from the bed­room.

“Mag­gie, whit’s go­ing on? Has the old man come in?”

“Aye, Grandma, and it’s no’ an old man at all, it’s a grey-haired dog.”

There was an out­raged screech from the bed­room.

“Whit? Bring that lassie through here to me.”

Mag­gie took the re­luc­tant girl’s arm and marched her through. The faith­ful hound picked up its prize and fol­lowed, con­tin­u­ing his slob­bery de­struc­tion of the bone on the bed­room floor.

Lil­ias eased her­self up­right on the pil­lows, study­ing the girl.

“So ye are a thief and a liar?”

The girl met Lil­ias’s glare. “It was wrong to steal the bone, but I did not lie. It was a mis­un­der­stand­ing.”

“Ye claimed the dog was an old man!”

“No!” the lass protested. “The dog iss grey haired so my grand­fa­ther named him Bo­dach which means old man in Gaelic.”

Lil­ias was los­ing pa­tience. She waved the girl away.

“Bring your grand­fa­ther into the hoose and my grand­daugh­ter will see you are fed afore ye jour­ney on.”

The lass’s ex­pres­sion grew tragic.

“My grand­fa­ther died in Mon­trose last week. There iss only his dog and me.” Lil­ias was shocked. “Lord save us, lassie, where’s your ma and pa?”

“They died of fever when I was little. Ever since, I have lived with my good grand­fa­ther on the croft. The laird val­ued my grand­fa­ther’s car­pen­try skills and he was per­mit­ted to stay when other ten­ants were turned off the land.

“But when the old laird died his son wanted all ten­ants re­moved from graz­ing land. The fac­tor came and burned our house down.”

“Ah, the wicked­ness!” Lil­ias mur­mured, dis­traught.

“My grand­fa­ther had a cousin in Mon­trose he had not seen for years. He re­mem­bered she was a kind woman, sure to take us in. But jour­ney­ing over the moun­tain tracks was long and hard and he was old and frail.

“When we reached Mon­trose, neigh­bours told us his cousin left town a while ago to join her fam­ily across the sea.

“It – it was plain my grand­fa­ther was dy­ing, but kind mem­bers of our clan cared for him to the end and gave him de­cent burial.

“They told me there would be work for me in Ar­broath, so I came here with his dog. But there iss no work! Ev­ery­where I go I am turned away, some­times with cruel words and a slap.”

Lil­ias sighed. “That’s the way wi’ the poor and pen­ni­less – move on fast lest ye be­come a bur­den tae the town. The world’s a heart­less dwelling for the poverty stricken.”

She lay quiet a minute, one hand pick­ing rest­lessly at the quilt, a mea­sure of her in­de­ci­sion.

“What’s your name and age?”

“I am Fionah Creagh. From one year old I lived thir­teen years with my grand­fa­ther, Iain Creagh. The name means a rocky

place in Gaelic, and he – he was the rock on which our fam­ily was founded.”

She bit hard on a quiv­er­ing lip to check her tears.

Lil­ias looked to­wards Mag­gie.

“While I’m ly­ing use­less ye need help wi’ the house. Ye canna turn tae your sis­ters for aid and the High­land lass is seek­ing work. Would ye con­sider tak­ing her on?”

Star­tled, Mag­gie con­sid­ered the sug­ges­tion. She could see the sense in it. She did need help with work in the lodg­ings and the weekly wash­ing that took hours of toil.

She eyed the girl du­bi­ously. She did not seem an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion in her present state, though wiry enough. Still, one could not deny her re­silience.

Mag­gie made up her mind.

“If she’s will­ing to work, I’ll give her a trial.”

The girl lifted her chin. “I am will­ing in­deed, but only if the dog may stay.”

Lil­ias and Mag­gie eyed the grey-haired mon­grel war­ily. The dog was mak­ing short work of de­mol­ish­ing the meaty bone with im­pres­sively strong white teeth. Another hun­gry mouth to feed.

Mind you, it might be a wise move to have a dog in this house­hold of women sur­rounded by men, Lil­ias thought.

“The dog stays, if it’ll guard the door.”

The lass’s face lit up. “Bo­dach will guard with bark and bite if I com­mand. He iss a very clever dog.”

“Then we’re agreed.” Lil­ias yawned and, de­ci­sion made, wearily closed her eyes.

****

Amy Cargill was walk­ing on air as she re­turned home that evening. Mid­ship­man des­ig­nate Wil­liam Walker had taken pos­ses­sion of the fin­ished ditty bag at noon.

His gen­uine de­light in the ex­cep­tional ar­ti­cle and warm smile of grat­i­tude he be­stowed upon Amy would live in her mem­ory for ever. Bandaged fin­gers and

aching hands dur­ing the dif­fi­cult sewing was small price to pay.

Only Amy knew of a se­cret prayer ex­pertly sewn and hid­den away, tucked un­der the leather lin­ing of the ditty bag base. God bless you and keep you safe from harm.

She kept her gaze low­ered as the young man en­thused over the work­man­ship. She dare not let him glimpse how much she feared for his safety as he pre­pared to go to war, and how griev­ously she would mourn should he never re­turn.

Wil­liam Walker saw a bowed head sur­mounted by the linen close cap all lasses wore. Soft curl­ing ten­drils of fair hair es­caped, fram­ing flaw­less rose-pink cheeks.

He re­called he’d been some­what high-handed dur­ing their first en­counter and wanted to make amends.

“They say bat­tles are won by the pow­der-mon­keys who keep the cannons fir­ing. If I am called to join their ranks I shall be proud.”

Amy glanced up sharply. “No, sir! Re­sist the call. The dan­ger is too great.”

“You are con­cerned for me?”

“Yes, I am.”

Their eyes met and he was star­tled by the jolt it gave him.

“I do not know your name.”

“It is Amy.”

Her work­ing com­pan­ions were whis­per­ing and gig­gling and he felt his cheeks red­den.

“The ditty bag is beau­ti­fully made. I thank you, Amy.”

He gave a for­mal little bow and made a hasty exit.

Amy walked home in a dream, re­liv­ing every mo­ment of the en­counter.

It was a harsh re­turn to re­al­ity to find a stranger in­stalled in the house. Fionah Creagh had sur­vived Mag­gie’s rig­or­ous bathing and hair wash­ing in a tin bath in front of the fire.

The High­land lass’s cloth­ing was dis­carded and she had been dressed in cast-offs Amy recog­nised as her own re­jects.

The old dress fit­ted the girl’s slen­der form per­fectly and suited her well.

Amy could not help a twinge of jeal­ousy, but grit­ted her teeth and de­cided to put up with the skivvy . . . be­cause the in­truder had a dog.

For years Amy had begged her fa­ther to let her have a dog, but his re­sponse had never var­ied.

“Not when I’m away at sea for days on end, lass. A dog needs a master to con­trol and train its be­hav­iour. Dogs have sharp teeth and are not toys for a little lass to play wi’.”

Yet this skinny girl had a dog.

“What is its name?” Amy de­manded.

She wrin­kled her nose when given name and trans­la­tion.

“He’s not an old man! I will call him Smokie, be­cause he is grey like Grandma’s smoked fish.”

She held out a hand im­pe­ri­ously.

“Come here, Smokie!” The dog stared, low­ered its head sus­pi­ciously and growled deep in its chest.

“I am sorry. He only un­der­stands Gaelic,” the girl ex­plained.

“Stupid dog!” Amy tossed her head and stumped off to her room.

Cathy Mary had watched the small drama un­fold. She felt sorry for her young sis­ter, even if it taught her a salu­tary les­son in pet own­er­ship. The dog’s al­le­giance was to the High­land lass and Amy must earn its trust.

Cathy Mary turned her at­ten­tion to Fionah Creagh. The girl would not be judged bon­nie by pop­u­lar stan­dards of the day, but Cathy Mary’s trained eye noted how well she wore the hand-me-down dress, with a flair that made it her own.

Cathy Mary’s clever fin­gers itched to de­sign a gown that would en­hance this grace­ful girl’s full po­ten­tial.

It had been a mo­men­tous day al­ready. A ti­tled lady had ar­rived in the Nun­nery that morn­ing de­mand­ing a plaid skirt of su­pe­rior style, suitable for gen­tle gar­den­ing in the es­tate’s rose gar­den.

Cathy Mary was se­lected to per­form the com­mis­sion and took the fine lady’s mea­sure­ments with trem­bling hands and bated breath.

Af­ter­wards, Mis­tress Gray called her into the of­fice.

“My cousin Ethel writes of a New Town of noble ter­races be­ing built in Ed­in­burgh, Cathy Mary.

“Over­crowd­ing in the old town prop­er­ties around Cas­tle Hill makes life un­bear­able for the up­per classes and Ethel, too, plans to move her dress­mak­ing busi­ness to premises in the New Town.

“It will be a golden op­por­tu­nity, she writes. As­sem­blies and fash­ion­able func­tions will cre­ate huge de­mand for new gowns and she would value my help when the time comes.” She paused a mo­ment. “The war goes badly, with the loss of ships at times, Cathy Mary, and if the Navy ter­mi­nates our con­tract the Nun­nery will close. Then I will join my cousin’s es­tab­lish­ment in Ed­in­burgh and we will need to em­ploy staff. Would you be will­ing to come to the city and work with us?”

A stunned si­lence greeted the proposal. Mis­tress Gray smiled. “Keep the of­fer in mind. If the op­por­tu­nity comes and you can bear to leave Ar­broath, then you can de­cide.”

Pon­der­ing the amaz­ing of­fer in bed that night, Cathy Mary saw that the final de­ci­sion might well rest with Fionah Creagh.

If the home­less girl stayed on to help care for their age­ing grand­mother, it would re­lease Cathy Mary from an obli­ga­tion of duty.

Leav­ing home and loved ones in Ar­broath would be heart­break­ing, but the thought of work­ing in Ed­in­burgh made her clutch the bed­clothes closer to her chin, shiv­er­ing with ex­cite­ment.

****

Early Septem­ber found Alec Cargill work­ing on the Bell Rock. He was a dif­fer­ent lad from the timid

young­ster who’d re­fused a tot of rum in mid Au­gust for fear of his grand­mother’s dis­ap­proval. Alec had grown tall and hard­mus­cled, a val­ued mem­ber of a work­ing team.

Six days out from Ar­broath, the black­smith’s forge was built close by the site se­lected for the wooden bea­con-house that would house builders of the stone light­house.

Alec’s job was tend­ing James Dove the black­smith’s fire, pump­ing bel­lows for white-hot metal beaten into shape on the anvil. Not a pleasant task, with wa­ter swirling around his boots and wind blow­ing scorch­ing sparks on to his face and bare arms.

Yet, de­spite the lim­ited few hours avail­able be­tween tides, 12 bore holes were drilled for the hold-fasts fix­ing the first mas­sive wooden beams.

Then a new moon formed a sil­ver cres­cent in the night sky, herald­ing the on­set of neap tides. As the first quar­ter of the moon pro­gressed, the neap tides rose and sta­bilised so that the Bell Rock re­mained con­stantly awash and land­ing was im­pos­si­ble.

For five weari­some, sea­sick days Robert Steven­son’s work­force, Alec in­cluded, suf­fered aboard the Float­ing Light as it heaved, rolled and yawed at an­chor, one mile dis­tant from the rock.

Small won­der sailors called this phe­nom­e­non the dead o’ the neap, Alec thought.

But on this sec­ond day of Septem­ber tides had re­turned to nor­mal. The rocky, in­dented face of the shoal swarmed with work­men ea­ger to make up for lost time.

The Smeaton sailed in ear­lier that morn­ing from Ar­broath, bring­ing ex­tra tim­bers for the bea­con­house and a large team of car­pen­ters and join­ers in­tent upon its con­struc­tion.

Alec and his work­mates rowed a mile across from their quar­ters on the Float­ing Light in two boats, as usual. A mist upon the calm sea promised a fine day and Alec wished the noisy, whistling strangers had not ar­rived to dis­turb the peace. His ears rang with the alien sound of ham­mers on wood.

It would be wrong to say he had grown to love the rock, but it held its own strange ap­peal for the lad. He had gath­ered dulse from its pools, a seaweed that was a sure cure for sea­sick­ness.

He had mar­velled at sea anemones and starfish caught in its crevices, picked up small pretty stones pol­ished like jew­els as presents for his sis­ters.

Best not think of home. That brought an ache to the breast.

To­day Alec gath­ered seaweed and took it back to the forge. Dulse wound around a hot poker made a tasty treat. He was busy rous­ing the fire when he re­alised the black­smith’s at­ten­tion was else­where.

James Dove was star­ing fixedly through the mist. Alec paused.

“What do ye see?” “The Smeaton drift­ing where she shouldna, nearly three mile to lee­ward,” the smith an­swered grimly.

“You mean she’s dragged her an­chor?”

“Or they were care­less wi’ the moor­ing.” He nod­ded.

Alec laid down the poker. The first small wave of the ris­ing tide washed around the forge. He stared around at work­men busy and un­aware, ab­sorbed in their tasks. His mouth grew dry and he swal­lowed.

“The Smeaton brought six­teen men from Ar­broath and six­teen of us rowed over from the Float­ing Light, Mr Dove. That means thirty-two men ashore, the tide ris­ing fast and the

miles away.” “Aye,” the black­smith said qui­etly. “Thirty-two men with two small boats that can carry only eight men apiece. Some will be saved, but I fear many will drown in a panic.”

The seaweed had burned to a black­ened crisp. Acrid smoke filled Alec’s nos­trils as a white-crested wave washed over the top of his boots.

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