Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl


The hollow oak our palace is
Our heritage the sea.

Howeer it be it seems to me
Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets
And simple faith than Norman blood.

Friends, who have wandered with me through England, and Scotland, and old New York, come now to Fife, and I will tell you the story of Christina Ruleson, who lived in the little fishing village of Culraine, seventy years ago. You will not find Culraine on the map, though it is one of that chain of wonderful little towns and villages which crown, as with a diadem, the forefront and the sea-front of the ancient kingdom of Fife. Most of these towns have some song or story, with which they glorify themselves, but Culraine hidden in the clefts of her sea-girt rocks was in the world, but not of the world. Her people lived between the sea and the sky, between their hard lives on the sea, and their glorious hopes of a land where there would be no more sea.

Seventy years ago every man in Culraine was a fisherman, a mighty, modest, blue-eyed Goliath, with a serious, inscrutable face; naturally a silent man, and instinctively a very courteous one. He was exactly like his great-grandfathers, he had the same fishing ground, the same phenomena of tides and winds, the same boat of rude construction, and the same implements for its management. His modes of thought were just as stationary. It took the majesty of the Free Kirk Movement, and its host of self-sacrificing clergy, to rouse again that passion of religious faith, which made him the most thorough and determined of the followers of John Knox.

The women of these fishermen were in many respects totally unlike the men. They had a character of their own, and they occupied a far more prominent position in the village than the men did. They were the agents through whom all sales were effected, and all the money passed through their hands. They were talkative, assertive, bustling, and a marked contrast to their gravely silent husbands.

The Fife fisherman dresses very much like a sailor though he never looks like one but the Fife fisher-wife had then a distinctly foreign look. She delighted in the widest stripes, and the brightest colors. Flaunting calicoes and many-colored kerchiefs were her steady fashion. Her petticoats were very short, her feet trigly shod, and while unmarried she wore a most picturesque headdress of white muslin or linen, set a little backward over her always luxuriant hair. Even in her girlhood she was the epitome of power and self-reliance, and the husband who could prevent her in womanhood from making the bargains and handling the money, must have been an extraordinarily clever man.

I find that in representing a certain class of humanity, I have accurately described, mentally and physically, the father and mother of my heroine; and it is only necessary to say further that James Ruleson was a sternly devout man.

He trusted God heartily at all hazards, and submitted himself and all he loved to the Will of God, with that complete self-abnegation which is perhaps one of the best fruits of a passionate Calvinism.

For a fisherman he was doubtless well-provided, but no one but his wife, Margot Ruleson, knew the exact sum of money lying to his credit in the Bank of Scotland; and Margot kept such knowledge strictly private. Ruleson owned his boat, and his cottage, and both were a little better and larger than the ordinary boat and cottage; while Margot was a woman who could turn a penny ten times over better than any other woman in the cottages of Culraine. Ruleson also had been blessed with six sons and one daughter, and with the exception of the youngest, all the lads had served their time in their fathers boat, and even the one daughter was not excused a single duty that a fisher-girl ought to do.

Culraine was not a pretty village, though its cottages were all alike whitewashed outside, and roofed with heather. They had but two rooms generally a but and a ben, with no passage between. The majority were among the sand hills, but many were built on the lofty, sea-lashed rocks. James Rulesons stood on a wide shelf, too high up for the highest waves, though they often washed away the wall of the garden, where it touched the sandy shore.

The house stood by itself. It had its own sea, and its own sky, and its own garden, the latter sloping in narrow, giddy paths to the very beach. Sure feet were needed among its vegetables, and its thickets of gooseberry and currant bushes, and its straying tangles of blackberry vines. Round the whole plot there was a low stone wall, covered with wall-flowers, wild thyme, rosemary, and house-leek.

A few beds around the house held roses and lilies, and other floral treasures, but these were so exclusively Margots property, and Margots adoration, that I do not think she would like me even to write about them. Sometimes she put a rosebud in the buttonhole of her husbands Sunday coat, and sometimes Christina had a similar favor, but Margot was intimate with her flowers. She knew every one by a special name, and she counted them every morning. It really hurt her to cut short their beautiful lives, and her eldest son Norman, after long experience said: If Mither cuts a flower, shell ill to live wi. I wouldna tine her good temper for a bit rosebud. Its a poor bargain.

One afternoon, early in the June of 1849, Christine Ruleson walked slowly up the narrow, flowery path of this mountain garden. She was heard before she was seen, for she was singing an east coast ballad, telling all the world around her, that she

Cast her line in Largo bay,
And fishes she caught nine;
Three to boil, and three to fry,
And three to bait the line.

So much she sang, and then she turned to the sea. The boat of a solitary fisherman, and a lustrously white bird, were lying quietly on the bay, close together, and a large ship with all her sails set was dropping lazily along to the south. For a few moments she watched them, and then continued her song.

When she came to the top of the cliff, she turned and gazed again at the sea. The sunshine then fell all over her, and her dress came into notice. It was simple enough, yet very effective a white fluted cap, lying well back on her bright, rippling hair, long gold rings in her ears, and a vivid scarlet kerchief over her shoulders. Her skirt was of wide blue and gray stripes, but it was hardly noticeable, for whoever looked in Christines face cared little about her dress. He could never tell what she wore.

As she stood in the sunshine, a young man ran out of the house to meet her a passing handsome youth, with his heart in his eager face and outstretched hands.

Christine! Christine! he cried. Where at a have you keepit yourself? I hae been watching and waiting for you, these three hours past.

Cluny! You are crushing the bonnie flowers i my hands, and Im no thanking you for that.

And my puir heart! It is atween your twa hands, and its crushing it you are, day after day. Christine, it is most broke wi the cruel grip o longing and loving and not a word o hope or love to help it haud together.

You should learn seasonable times, Cluny. Its few lasses that can be bothered wi lovers that come sae early. Women folk hae their hands full o wark o some kind, then.

Ay, full o flowers. They canna even find time to gie the grip o their hand to the lad that loves them, maist to the death throe.

Im not wanting any lad to love me to the death throe, and Im not believing them, when they talk such-like nonsense. No indeed! The lad I love must be full o life and forthput. He must be able to guide his boat, and throw and draw his nets single-handed if needs be.

I love you so! I love you so! I can do nothing else, Christine!

Havers! Love sweetens life, but its a long way from being life itsel. Many a man, and many a woman, loses their love, but they dinna fling their life awa because o that misfortune unless they have no kindred to love, and no God to fear.

You cant tell how it is, Christine. You never were i love, Im thinking.

Im thankfu to say I never was; and from all I see, and hear, I am led to believe that being in love isna a superior state o life. Im just hoping that what you ca love isna of a catching quality.

I wish it was! Maybe then, you might catch love from me. Oh Christine, give me a hope, dear lass. I canna face life without it. Deed I can not.

I might do such a thing. Whiles women-folk are left to themsels, and then it goes ill wi them; and she sighed and shook her head, as if she feared such a possibility was within her own fate.

What is it you mean? Im seeking one word o kindness from you, Christine.

Then she looked at him, and she did not require speech. Cluny dared to draw closer to her to put his arm round her waist to whisper such alluring words of love and promise, that she smiled and gave him a flower, and finally thought she might perhaps sometime learn the lesson he would teach her, for, This warld is fu o maybes, Cluny, she said, and whats the good o being young, if we dinna expect miracles?

Im looking for no miracle, Christine. Im asking for what a man may win by a womans favor. I hae loved you, Christine, since I was a bit laddie o seven years auld. Ill love you till men carry me to the kirk yard. Id die for your love. Id live, and suffer a things for it. Lassie! Dear, dear lassie, dinna fling love like mine awa. Theres every gude in it.

She felt his heart throbbing in his words, but ere she could answer them, her brother Neil called her three times, in a voice that admitted of no delay. Good-by, Cluny! she said hurriedly. You ken Neil isna to be put off. Then she was gone, and Cluny, full of bewildered loving and anxious feelings, rushed at headlong speed down the steep and narrow garden path, to his grandmothers cottage on the sands.

Neil stood by a little pine table covered with books and papers. He was nearly twenty-one years old, and compared with his family was small in stature, lightly built, and dark in complexion. His hair was black, his eyes somberly gray, and full of calculation. His nose, lean and sharp, indicated selfish adherence to the realities of life, and the narrow nostrils positively accused him of timidity and caution. His mouth was firm and discreet. Taken as a whole, his face was handsome, though lean and thoughtful; but his manner was less pleasant. It was that of a serious snob, who thinks there is a destiny before him. He had been petted and spoiled all his life long, and his speech and conduct were full of the unpleasant survivals of this treatment. It spoiled him, and grated on Christines temperament, like grit in a fine salad.

He had never made a shilling in his life, he was the gentleman of the family, elected by the family to that position. In his boyhood he had been delicate, and quite unfit for the rough labor of the boats, but as he had developed an extraordinary love for books and learning, the minister had advised his dedication to the service of either the Law or the Gospel. To this proposal the whole household cheerfully, even proudly, agreed. To have an educated man among the Rulesons pleased everyone. They spoke together of the great Scotch chancellors, and the great Scotch clergy, and looked upon Neil Ruleson, by special choice and election, as destined in the future to stand high among Scotlands clergy or Scotlands lawyers.

For this end, during eleven years, all had given their share without stint or holdback. That Neil had finally chosen to become a Lord of the Law, and to sit on the Bench, rather than stand in the Pulpit, was a great disappointment to his father, who had stubbornly hoped his son would get the call no man can innocently refuse to answer. His mother and brothers were satisfied. Norman Ruleson had once seen the Lords ride in civic pomp and splendid attire to Edinburgh Parliament House, and he was never weary of describing the majesty of the judges in their wigs and gowns, and the ceremonials that attended every step of the administration of justice.

And the big salary coming to the judges! Normany always added the salary, and the visible honors arena to be lightlied, or made little o. Compared wi a ministers stipend, a judges salary is stin-pen-dous! And they go wi the best i the land, and it isna anything o a wonder, when a judge is made a lord. There was Lord Chancellor Campbell, born in Fife itsel, in the vera county town o Cupar. I have seen the house next the Bell Inn where he was born, and his feyther was the minister o Cupar. About the year 18

You needna fash either us, or yoursel, Norman, wi names and dates; it will be time in plenty, when you can add our lad to the list.

Margot at this hour was inclined to side with her husband. Margot believed in realities. She saw continually the honorable condition of the Scotch clergy; Normans story about the royal state and power of the judges was like something read out of a book. However, now that Neil was in his last year of study, and looking forward to the certificate which would place him among men in such a desirable condition, she would not darken his hopes, nor damp his ardor.

Neils classes in the Maraschal college at Aberdeen were just closed, but he was very busy preparing papers for their opening in September. This was to be his final term, and he expected to deliver a valedictory speech. The table in the best room, which he was permitted to occupy as a study, was covered with notes, which he wished copied with books from which he was anxious to recite with work of many kinds, which was waiting for Christines clear brain and fine penmanship.

It had been waiting an hour and Neil was distinctly angry.

Mother! Where at all is Christine? he asked.

She went to your brither Normans cottage. His little lad isna as weel as he should be.

And my wark has to wait on a sick bairn. Im not liking it. And I have no doubt she is wasting my time with Cluny McPherson no doubt at all.

Weel! That circumstance isna likely to be far out o the way.

It is very far out of my way. I can tell you that, Mother.

Weel, lad, theres no way always straight. Its right and left, and up and down, wi every way o life.

That is so, Mother, but my work is waiting, and it puts me out of the right way, entirely!

Tut! tut! What are you complaining aboot? The lassie has been at your beck and call the best pairt o her life. And its vera seldom she can please you. If she gave you the whites o her een, you would still hae a grumble. Its Saturday afternoon. Whats your will sae late i the weeks wark?

Ought I not to be at my studies, late and early?

That stands to reason.

Well then, I want Christines help, and I am going to call her.

You hae had her help ever sin you learned your A B Cs. Shes twa years younger than you are, but shes twa years ahead o you in the ordinary essentials. Do you think I didna tak notice that when she was hearing your tasks, she learned them the while you were stumbling all the way through them. Dod! The lassie knew things if she only looked in the face o them twice oer, and it took you mair than an hour to get up to her what you ca history, and ge-o-graph-y she learned as if they were just a bairns bit rhyming, and she was as quick wi the slate and figures as you were slow. Are you forgetting things like these?

It is not kind in you to be reminding me of them, Mother. It is not like you.

One o my duties to a my men-folk, is to keep them in mind o the little bits o kindness they are apt to forget. Your feyther isna to mind, he neer misses the least o them. Your brother Norman is like him, the rest o you arena to lippen to at a times.

I think I have helped Christine as much as she has helped me. She knows that, she has often said so.

Ill warrant! It was womanlike! She said it to mak ye feel comfortable, when you oerworked her. Did ye ever say the like to her?

I am going to call her. She is better with me than with Cluny Macpherson that I am sure of.

You and her for it. Settle the matter as it suits ye, but I can tell ye, I hae been parfectly annoyed, on several occasions, wi your clear selfishness and that is the vera outcome o all my thoughts on this subject.

Then Neil went to the door, and called Christine thrice, and the power of long habit was ill to restrain, so she left her lover hurriedly and went to him.

I have been watching and waiting waiting for you, Christine, the last three hours.

Tak tent o what you say, Neil. It isna twa hours yet, since we had dinner.

You should have told me that you were intending to fritter and fool your afternoon away.

My mither bid me go and speir after Normans little laddie. He had a sair cold and fever, and

Sit down. Are your hands clean? I want you to copy a very important paper.

What aboot?

Differences in the English and Scotch Law.

I dont want to hae anything to do wi the Law. I canna understand it, and Im no wanting to understand it.

It is not necessary that you should understand it, but you know what a peculiar writing comes from my pen. I can manage Latin or Greek, but I cannot write plainly the usual English. Now, you write a clear, firm hand, and I want you to copy my important papers. I believe I have lost honors at college, just through my singular writing.

I wouldnt wonder. It is mair like the marks the robins wee feet make on the snow, than the writing o human hands. I wonder, too, if the robin kens his ain footmarks, and if they mean anything to him. Maybe they say, Its vera cold this morning and the ground is covered wi snow and Im vera hungry hae ye anything for me this morning? The sma footmarks o the wee birds might mean all o this, and mair too, Neil.

What nonsense you are talking! Run away and wash your hands. They are stained and soiled with something.

Wi the wild thyme, and the rosemary, and the wall-flowers.

And the rough, tarry hand of Cluny Macpherson. Be quick! I am in a hurry.

It is Saturday afternoon, Neil. Feyther and Eneas will be up from the boats anon. I dinna care to write for you, the now. Mither said I was to please mysel what I did, and Im in the mind to go and see Faith Balcarry, and hae a long crack wi her.

Neil looked at her in astonishment. There was a stubborn set to her lovely mouth, he had never seen there before. It was a feminine variety of an expression he understood well when he saw it on his fathers lips. Immediately he changed his tactics.

Your eyes look luck on anything you write, Christine, and you know how important these last papers are to me and to all of us.

Wouldna Monday suit them, just as weel?

No. There will be others for Monday. I am trusting to you, Christine. You always have helped me. You are my Fail-Me-Never!

She blushed and smiled with the pleasure this acknowledgment gave her, but she did not relinquish her position. I am vera sorry, Neil, she answered, but I dinna see how I can break my promise to Faith Balcarry. You ken weel what a friendless creature she is in this world. How could I disappoint a lass whose cup is running oer wi sorrow?

I will make a bargain with you, Christine. I will wait until Monday, if you will promise me to keep Cluny Macpherson in his place. He has no business making love to you, and I will make trouble for him if he does so.

What ails you at Cluny? He is in feythers boat, and like to stay there. Feyther trusts him, and Eneas never has a word out o the way with him, and you ken that Eneas is often gey ill to wark wi, and vera demanding.

Cluny Macpherson is all right in the boat, but he is much out of his place holding your two hands, and making love to you. I saw him doing it, not ten minutes ago.

Cluny has made love to me a his life lang. There is nae harm in his love.

There is no good in it. Just as soon as I am one of Her Majestys Councilors at Law, I shall take an office in the town, and rent a small floor, and then I shall require you to keep house for me.

You are running before you can creep, Neil. How are you going to pay rents, and buy furnishings? Forbye, I couldna leave Mither her lane. She hasna been hersel this year past, and whiles she has sair attacks that gie us all a fearsome day or twa.

Mither has had those attacks for years.

All the more reason for us to be feared o them. Neil, I canna even think o my life, wanting Mither.

But you love me! I am bound to bring all kinds o good luck to our family.

Mither is good luck hersel. There would be nae luck about the house, if Mither went awa.

Well then, you will give Cluny up?

I canna say that I will do anything o that kind. Every lass wants a lover, and I have nane but Cluny.

I have a grand one in view for you.

Wha may the lad be?

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