Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





But he said nothing to Margot which could dim her satisfaction. Mrs. Todd did that quite sufficiently. She spoke with contempt o the fool-like way Aberdeen folk went on, every time a lad happened to get a degree, or a bit o school honor; and the thing happening a the time, as it were. She made Margot feel by her short, cool remarks, that Neils triumph might, after all, be an ordinary affair, and for a little season took all the glory out of Neils achievement, though in doing so, she was careful of the reputation of her native city, and candidly admitted that in spite of a their well-kent scholarship, Aberdeeners were kindly folk, aye ready to gie a shout o encouragement to a new beginner.

Margot, however, quickly readjusted the dampened and discouraged feeling Mrs. Todds opinions induced. Shes just jealous, because Neil is a Fife lad. Thats a there is to her say-so! I hae heard often that Aberdeeners were a jealous folk. Im saying naething against their kindliness. They hae treated Neil weel, and nae doubt they understood weel enou what they were doing.

Neil spent most of the day with his parents, but about six in the evening he came to them in full evening dress, and said he was going to the Raths hotel. They have a dinner in my honor, he continued, and the Provosts son, and several important people will be there; and I am to be introduced to the Hepburn of Hepburn Braes, a great nobleman in these parts. There will be ladies, too, of course, and I, am expecting a profitable and pleasant evening. And though Margot was quite elated over her sons great friends, Ruleson would have been far prouder had he known Neil was going to take the chair at a session of elders connected with some kirk of which Neil was the Domine.

The next morning they returned to Culraine with hearts full of memories for which they could thank God, and they found their son Allan sitting at their fireside. As soon as Allan saw them enter, he rose and went to them, and took their hands in his hands, and said in a voice trembling with emotion, Father! Mother! Your kindness to my little lad has made you father and mother twice over to me. Then what a happy hour followed! For as they were sitting down to their evening meal, the Domine entered. He had heard of Allans visit and had become anxious about the child, lest he might be taken from them. And it was during these troubled hours he bethought him of the necessity for a legal adoption of little Jamie by his grandfather and himself, a plan taken into consideration that very night, and within the next three months made binding as book and bond could fix it.

The Domine was a welcome addition to the family party. He slipped with a smile into Christines place, and she rose and served them with grace and sweetness. And as she went softly around the table, replenishing emptied plates, and refilling teacups, saying nothing, but seeing to everyones comfort, her beauty took on an extraordinary charm.

Woman, or rather ministering angel, she seemed, and it was strange that all present took her beautiful service, as things of spiritual beauty are usually taken, without much notice. Yet she was that night the golden band around the table, that kept the sweet influences of the meal peaceful and unbroken from the beginning to the end of it. A few happy hours followed, and then the Domine took Allan back to the manse with him. They are a tired here, he said, but you and I, Allan, can talk the night awa.

This they did, but there were only two or three sentences in their long conversation which concern this story. They referred to the happy family life of the Rulesons. I never go to your fathers house, Allan, said the Domine, without regretting that I did not marry. I have come to the conclusion that marriage is Natures way of coaxing the best out of us. A man puts his back into the uplift for wife and children, for to make them happy is better than riches or fame.

Still you might have made a mistake, Sir.

Earth would be heaven, Allan, if we never made mistakes. But in spite of mistakes, men live contented with the world, and happy with each other.

CHAPTER VIII
AN UNEXPECTED MARRIAGE


The tale that I relate
This lesson seems to carry
Choose not alone a proper mate,
But proper time to marry.

The little enthusiasm incident to Neils success did not last long, for


Joys the shyest bird,
Mortal ever heard,
Listen rapt and silent when he sings;
Do not seek to see,
Less the vision be
But a flutter of departing wings.

And if it is not tightly clasped, and well guarded, it soon fades away, especially if doubt or question come near it. The heart, which is never weary of recalling its sorrows, seems to have no echo for its finer joys. This, however, may be our own fault. Let us remember for a moment or two how ruthlessly we transfer yesterday into today, and last week into this week. We have either no time or no inclination to entertain joys that have passed. They are all too quickly retired from our working consciousness, to some dim, little-visited nook in our memory. And taken broadly, this is well. Life is generally precious, according to the strength and rapidity of its flow, and change is the splendid surge of a life of this kind. A perfect life is then one full of changes. It is also a safe life, for it is because men have no changes, that they fear not God.

Now the people of this little fishing village had lives lined with change. Sudden deaths were inevitable, when life was lived on an element so full of change and peril as the great North Sea. Accidents were of daily occurrence. Loss of boats and nets reduced families to unlooked-for poverty. Sons were constantly going away to strange seas and strange countries, and others, who had been to the Arctic Ocean, or the ports of Australia, coming back home. The miracle of the sons being dead and being alive again, was not infrequently repeated. Indeed all the tragedies and joys of life found their way to this small hamlet, hidden among the rocks and sand dunes that guard the seas of Fife.

Margots triumph was very temporary. It was not of the ordinary kind. It had in it no flavor of the sea, and the lad who had won his honors had never identified himself with the fishers of Culraine. He did not intend to live among them, and they had a salutary fear of the law, and no love for it. As a general thing neither the men nor women of Culraine cared whether Neil Ruleson won his degree or not. Such pleasure as they felt in his success was entirely for his fathers sake.

And Margot was content that it should be so. She was not heart-pleased with Neil, and not inclined to discuss his plans with her neighbors. She noticed also that Neils father had nothing to say about his sons success, and that if the subject was introduced, it was coldly met and quickly banished.

It hurt Christine. Her life had been so intermingled with Neils hopes and plans, she could not let them drop unnoticed from her consciousness. Why do you say naething anent Neil, Mither? she asked one wet morning, when the boats were in harbor, and Ruleson had gone down to the new schoolhouse.

Weel, Christine, I hae said a there is to say.

Were you really disappointed, Mither?

In a way.

But Neil succeeded.

In a way.

What way, Mither?

His ain way. He has been vera successful i that way, sin the day he was born. A wee, shrunken, puny infant he was, but he hes been a bit too much for us all and theres seven big men in our family, forbye mysel and Christine. Whiles I had a glimmering o the real lad, but maistly I did the lads way like the rest o us.

You said he was kind to you and Feyther.

He hed to be. Its a law, like the laws o the Medes and Persians, in Aberdeen, that lads takin honors should pay great attention to their feythers and mithers. Some were auld and poor far poorer than fisher-folk ever are they had worked, and starved, and prayed for their lads, and they were going about Aberdeen streets, linked on their lads arms, and all o them like to cry wi joy. Neil had to do like the lave, but I let his feyther gae his lane wi him. I wasna carin to mak a show o mysel.

Then you shouldna blame Neil, Mither.

Should I not? I do, though.

What did he do wrang?

He did little right, and that little he had nae pleasure in. I know! He should hae spent the evening wi his feyther and mysel, and told us what plans he had made for the future, but he went to the Raths and left us alane. He had promised all along to come hame wi us, and spend a few weeks wi the boats your feyther is short-handed since Cluny Macpherson went awa and theres little doing in the law business during July and August, but he said he had an invite to the Raths house on the Isle of Arran, and with them he has gane.

Im sorry, sorry, Mither.

Sae am I, Christine, but when things hae come to Im sorry, theres nae gude left i them.

Do you think he is engaged to Roberta Rath?

I canna say. I dont think he kens himsel.

Did you see her?

He pointed her out to me. She was getting into a carriage, and

Weel?

O, she was a little body; I saw naething o her but a blue silk dress, and a white lace bonnet. It would be ordinary, nae doubt. She waved a white-gloved hand to Neil, and the lads face was like an illumination. She seemed vera sma and thin just a handfu o her. Naething like yoursel and our ain full-statured, weel-finished women.

I feel as if I had lost Neil.

You may do sae, for a man can be lost by a woman, quite as completely as by the North Sea.

Then Ruleson entered the cottage. He was wet through, but his face was red with health, and radiant with excitement. He had been in the new schoolhouse, and seen three large boxes unpacked. Margot! Christine! he cried joyfully, youll be to come down the hill the baith o you and see the wonderfu things that hae come for ordering and plenishing o our school. Theres a round ball as big as that table, set in a frame and it turns round, and round, and shows a the countries and seas i the wide warld. The Maister said it was called a globe. Theres maps o Scotland, and England and a other nations to hang on the walls, and they are painted bonnily; and theres nae end o copy books and slates, and bundles o pencils, and big bottles o ink, and, Margot, I neer saw sae many school books i a my born days. Naething has been forgotten. The maister said sae, and the Domine said sae.

Was the Domine there?

Ay, was he. He and the maister unpacked the boxes. Forbye, there is three prizes for the three best scholars the bairns will go wild oer them.

What are they?

I canna tell you. The Domine forbade me.

Youll hae to tell me, gudeman. Ill hae nae secrets between us twa, and Im mair than astonished at the Domine, throwing a married man into such a temptation.

Ill go wi you how, Feyther. I want to see the wonderfuls.

They are locked by for today. We are going to fix the school room Monday, and hae a kind o examination Tuesday. I hope to goodness the herrin will keep to the norard for a few days.

Listen to your feyther, Christine! Wishing the herrin awa for a lot o school bairns.

Weel, Margot, woman, its maist unlikely the feesh will be here for a week or mair, but they hae a will and a way o their ain, and aince or twice, or mebbe mair than that, I hae seen them in these pairts in June.

I think the Domine might hae notified Christine. She ought, by rights, to hae been at that unpacking.

Weel, Margot, it cam my way. I dinna think my lassie grudges me the pleasure.

And Christine looked at him with a smile that deified her lovely face, and made Rulesons heart thrill with pleasure.

I wad rayther you had the pleasure than mysel, Feyther. You ken that, she said, and Ruleson laid his hand on her head, and answered: I ken it weel! God bless thee!

That evening, while Christine and little Jamie were busy over Jamies lessons, Margot said to her husband, Gudeman, Id like to ken what prizes hae been bought. The Domine didna include me in his prohibition, or else he has less sense than I gie him credit for.

He said I had better tell naebody.

Ay, but you had best tell me. What classes are you givin prizes to? Its a vera unusual thing to gie prizes. I think little o paying bairns to learn their lessons. But theyre no likely to be worth the looking at

Deed are they vera gude indeed, for the wee bairns for whom they were bought. There are three o them. The first is for the infant lass, nane o them over six years auld.

Weel, what is it?

The Domine

Says many a thing you ta nae heed to. Just sae. You needna heed him on this point. Are not we twa one and the same? Speak out, man.

The Domine

Whas minding the Domine here? Are you mair feared for him, than for your wife?

Then Ruleson, with his great hearty laugh, pulled a chair to his side, and said, Sit down, Margot. Im mair afraid of you, than I am of any man living. Im tremling wi fear o you, right now, and Im just going to disobey the Domine, for your sake. What will ye gie me, if I break a promise for your sake?

Ill keep my promise to you, and say naething anent your transgression. What kind o a prize could they gie to them babies i the infant class nane o them five years auld? Did you see it?

Ay, I unpacked it.

Was it a rattle, set wi wee bells?

Naething o the kind. It was a big doll, bonnily dressed, and a little trunk fu o mair claes, and a full set o doll cheena, and a doll bed and night claes; wonderfu, complete. My goodness! Whoever gets it will be the proud wee lassie.

Little Polly Craig will be getting it, o course. Who chose the presents?

Im thinking it was the Domine and the schoolmasters wife.

Then they would be knowing wha they were buying for?

That goes without the saying. I didna hear onyone say the doll was for Polly Craig.

Nor I, but Pollys mother hasna been to hold, nor to bind, anent the infants progress. The hale village is weary o the story o Pollys remarkable intimacy wi her alphabet and spelling. The bairn may be a her mither says, but Im thinking shes getting her abilities too aerly to be reliable. Weel, then, who gets the next prize?

Willie Tamsen.

I dinna ken the Tamsens.

Theyre nice folk, from the south o Fife. Willie is seven years auld, or thereby. Hes clever, the schoolmaster says, in figures and geography, and weel-behaved, and quiet-like. The Domine says hes first in his catechism class, and vera attentive to a that concerns his lessons a good little lad, wi an astonishing power o ken in him.

Weel, what will you gie sae remarkable a bairn?

A gold guinea.

A gold guinea! I neer heard o such wild extravagance. Its fair sinfu. Whateer will a lad o seven years auld do wi a guinea? Buy sweeties wi it. I dinna think the Domine can sanction a bit o nonsense like that.

Im maist sure the Domine gave the guinea out o his ain pocket. The Tamsens are vera poor, and the laddie is the warst-dressed lad i the village, and he is to go and get a nice suit o claes for himsel wi it. The Domine knew what he was doing. The laddie will be twice as bright, when he gets claes for his little arms and legs.

Weel, I hae naething against Willie Tamsen. He never meddled wi my flowers, or stole my berries. I hope hell get the claes. And there was to be three prizes?

Ay, one for the lads and lasses from eight to eleven years old, that takes in a large pairt o the school. The bigger lads and lasses will come in the autumn, when the herrin hae been, and gane.

Im not asking anything anent that class. I dinna envy the schoolmaster and mistress that will hae them to manage. Theyll hae their hands fu, or my name isna Margot Ruleson. Wha will get the third prize?

Our Jamie. And he has weel won it. Jamie isna a lad o the common order. The Domine says hell mak the warld sit up and listen to him, when he comes to full stature.

The Domine is as silly anent the bairn, as you are. After my ain lad, Neil, Im expecting naething oot o the Nazareth o Culraine. We were a going to shout oer Neil Ruleson weel, we hae had our cry, and dried our eyes, and hae gane on our way again.

Neil has done weel considering.

Gudeman, we hae better drop that consideration. I was talking o our Jamie. What are they going to gie our second wonder o a bairn?

The maist beautiful book you ever saw a big copy of Robinson Crusoe fu o pictures, and bound in blue wi gold lettering. The bairn will hae wonder after wonder wi it.

Did you buy the book?

Not I. What maks you ask that information?

Naething. Jamie should hae had something he could hae halfed wi Christine. She has spent the best o her hours teaching the bairn. Few or nane o the lads and lasses would hae the help o any hame lessons. It was really Christine put Neil Ruleson among her Majestys lawyers.

Weel, then, shell do her pairt in putting James Ruleson among the ministers o the everlasting God. That will be a great honor, and pay her handsome for a her love and labor.

Gudeman, ministers arena honored as they were when we were young. If preaching were to go oot o fashion, we

What are you saying, Margot Ruleson? The preachers license is to the end o the warld. The Word o the Lord must be gien to men, as long as men people the earth.

Vera weel! The Word o the Lord is in everybodys hands the now; and everyone is being taught to read it. Maist folk can read it as weel as the minister.

The Word must be made flesh! Nae book can tak the place o the face-to-face argument. Preaching will last as long as men live.

Weel, weel, Im not going to get you to arguing. You arena in the clubroom, and Im too tired to go into speculations wi you. Im obliged to you, gudeman, for the information you hae imparted. I wad, however, advise the Domine to gie his next secret into the keeping o some woman, say mysel. Women arena sae amiable as men, and whiles they can keep a secret, which is a thing impossible to men-folk.

If they are married, Ill admit there are difficulties.

Gude night, and gude dreams to you, James Ruleson.

Ye ken weel, Margot, that I never dream.

Sae you lose the half o your life, James. Im sorry for you. I shall dream o the three happy bairns, and their prizes. Say, you might hae picked out another lassie; twa lads to one lass is oerganging whats fair. Im awa to sleep you needna answer.

It was trying to the village that Sabbath had to come and go, before the school examination. But everything waited for arrives in its time. And this was a Monday worth waiting for. It was a perfect June day, and the sea, and the sun, and the wind held rejoicing with the green earth and the mortals on it. If there was envy, or jealousy, or bad temper among the villagers, they forgot it, or put it aside for future consideration. Everyone was in his best clothes, the boys and girls being mostly in white, and the little place looked as if there were a great wedding on hand. Christine had made an attempt to decorate the room a little. The boys cut larch boughs and trailing branches, the men loaned the flags of the boats, the women gave the few flowers from their window pots, and strips of garden, and Margot, a little sadly, cut her roses, and gave permission to Christine to add to them a few laburnum branches, now drooping with their golden blossoms.

The room looked well. The flowers and the flags did not hide the globe and the maps. And the blackboard kept its look of authority, though a branch of laburnum bent over it. The schoolmaster was playing a merry Fantasia as the company gathered, but at a given signal from Christine he suddenly changed it to the childrens marching song, and the rapid, orderly manner in which it led each class to its place was a wonderful sight to the men and women who had never seen children trained to obedience by music.

The Domine opened the examination by reading, in the intense silence that followed the cessation of the music, three verses from the eighteenth chapter of St. Luke:

And they brought unto him infants that he would touch them, but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God.

Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein.

Then the schoolmistress touched a hand bell and a crowd of little children, none over five years old, gathered round her. Contrary to the usual practice of children, their behavior and recitals were better than usual, and laughter and hand-clapping followed all their simple efforts. Polly Craig was their evident leader, and when she had told a charming story about a little girl who would do what she ought not to do, the records of the class were read by the Domine, and the prize awarded to Polly.





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