Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl
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Willie Tamsen and Jamie Rulesonís classes were treated in a similar way, and were equally successful in their recitations and equally delighted with their gifts. Now, the real joy in giving gifts is found in giving them to children, for the child heart beats long after we think it has outgrown itself. The perfect charm of this gathering lay in the fact that men and women became for a few hours little children again. It was really a wonderful thing to see the half-grown girls, the married women, and even old Judith Macpherson, crowding round Polly to admire the waxen beauty and the long fair curls of her prize doll.
After the school exercises the adults slowly scattered, sauntering home with their wives, and carrying their babies as proudly as Polly carried her new treasure. Truly both men and women receive the kingdom of God and Love, when they become as little children. The children remained for two hours longer in the school room. For the entertainment of their parents the youngest ones had danced some of those new dances just at that period introduced into Scotland, called polkas and mazurkas, and now, to please themselves, they began a series of those mythic games which children played in the worldís infancy, and which, thank God, have not yet perished from off the face of the earth. ďHow many miles to Babylon?Ē ďHide and seek,Ē ďIn and out,Ē ďBlind manís buff,Ē and so forth, and in this part of the entertainment, everything and everyone depended upon Christine. Mothers, going home, called to her, ďChristine, look after my bairn,Ē and then went contentedly away.
They might contentedly do so, for whoever saw Christine Ruleson that afternoon, in the midst of those forty or fifty children, saw something as near to a vision of angels, as they were likely to see on this earth. She stood among them like some divine mother. A little one three years old was on her right arm. It pulled her earrings, and rumpled her hair, and crushed her lace collar, and she only kissed and held it closer. A little lad with a crooked spine, and the seraphic face which generally distinguishes such sufferers, held her tightly by her right hand. Others clung to her dress, and called her name in every key of love and trust. She directed their games, and settled their disputes, and if anything went wrong, put it right with a kiss.
The Domine watched her for ten or fifteen minutes, then he went slowly up the hill. ďWhere at aí is Christine, Domine?Ē asked Margot. ďIím wanting her sairly.Ē
ďChristine is too busy to meddle with, Margot. Sheís doing Godís best work Ė ministering to little children. As I saw her half-an-hour ago, she was little lower than the angels. Iím doubting if an angel could be lovelier, or fuller of life and love, and every sweet influence.Ē
ďChristine is a handsome lass, nae doubt oí that, but our women are all oí them heritage handsome. Iím doubting if Eve, being a Jewess, could be worth evening wií us.Ē
ďEve was not a Jewess.She was Godís eldest daughter, Margot.Ē
ďThen Godís eldest daughter hasna a very gude character. She has been badly spoken of, ever since the warld began. And I do hope my Christine will behave herselí better than Eve did Ė if allís true that is said anent her.Ē
ďChristine is a good girl, Margot. If little children love a woman, and she loves them, the love of God is there. Margot! Margot! God comes to us in many ways, but the sweetest and tenderest of all of them, is when he sends Jesus Christ by the way of the cradle.Ē
Allís well that ends well. If this be true, the first session of Culraine school was a great success. It had brought an entirely new, and very happy estimate of a fatherís and a motherís duty to their children. It had even made them emulous of each other, in their care and attention to the highest wants of childhood.
The whole village was yet talking of the examination when the herring came. Then every woman went gladly to her appointed post and work, and every man Ė rested and eager for labor Ė hailed the news with a shout of welcome. Peter Brodieís big Sam brought it very early one lovely summer morning, and having anchored his boat, ran through the sleeping village shouting Ė ďCaller Herriní! In Culraine Bay!Ē
The call was an enchantment. It rang like a trumpet through the sleeping village, and windows were thrown up, and doors flung open, and half-dressed men were demanding in stentorian voices, ďWhere are the fish, Sam?Ē
ďOutside Culraine Bay,Ē he answered, still keeping up his exultant cry of ďCaller Herriní!Ē and in less than half an hour men were at work preparing for the amazing physical strain before them. Much was to do if they were to cast their nets that evening, and the streets were soon busy with men and lads carrying nets and other necessities to the boats. It was up with the flag on every boat in commission, for the fishing, and this dayís last preparations excited the place as if it were some great national holiday. The women were equally full of joyful business. They had to cook the breakfast, but immediately after it were all in the packing and curing sheds. You would have been sure they were keeping holiday. Pleasant greetings, snatches of song, encouraging cries to the men struggling down to the boats with the leaded nets, shouts of hurry to the bewildered children, little flytings at their delays, O twenty different motives for clamor and haste were rife, and not unpleasant, because through all there was that tone of equal interest and good fellowship that can never be mistaken.
Margot had insisted on a visit to her special shed, to see whether all was in readiness for her special labor, but Christine had entreated her to wait for her return from the town, where she was going for orders. She had left her mother with the clear understanding that she would not risk the walk and the chatter and the clatter until the following day. But as soon as she was alone, Margot changed her intentions. ďI must make the effort,Ē she said to herself. ďIím feared of the pain, thatís all about it.Ē So she made the effort, and found out that there was something more than fear to be reckoned with.
Christine brought home astonishing orders, and Margotís face flushed with pride and energy. ďIíll not let that order slip through my fingers,Ē she cried, ďIím going to the kippering, and what I canna do, Christine can manage, following my say-so.Ē
This change in Margotís work was the only shadow on that yearís herring-tide. It was a change, however, that all felt would not be removed. Margot said, with a little laugh, that she was teaching her lassie how to make a living, or how to help some gudeman to do it. ďAnd I have a fine scholar,Ē she soon began to add. ďChristine can now kipper a herring as weel as her mother, and why not? She has seen the kippering done, ever since she wore ankle tights.Ē
ďAnd you will be glad of a bit rest to yourself, Margot, no doubt,Ē was the general answer.
ďAy, I have turned the corner of womanhood, and Iím wearing away down the hillside of life. I hae been in a dowie and desponding condition for a year or mair.Ē
ďChristine is clever with business, and folks do say she has a full sense of the value of money.Ē
ďTo be sure, Nancy. Thereís no harm in the like of that. Her feyther came from Aberdeen folk, and itís weel recognized that Aberdeen folk look at both sides of a penny.Ē
ďChristine is a clever lass, and good likewise, we were all saying that, a while ago.Ē
ďWeel, some folk, out of bad taste, or a natural want of good sense, may think different; but there Ė thatís enough on the subject of Christine. Her feyther is gey touchy anent Christine, and it will be as weel to let that subject alone.Ē
So, day after day, Margot sat in a chair at her daughterís side, and Christine filled the big orders as her mother instructed her. And they were well filled, in good time, and the outcome was beyond all expectation. Yet Christine looked sadly at the money, and Margot turned her head away, to hide the unbidden tears in her eyes, as she said:
ďItís all yours, lassie. Iíll not touch a farthing of it. You have fairly won it. It will happen help Neilís deficiencies. Oh, my dear lassie! Mither has done her last kippering! I feel it.Ē
ďThen Iíll kipper for you, Mither, as long as we both live. The hill is now oíer much for you Ė and the noisy women, and skirling bairns! Christine will go to Motherís shed, and Mother will bide at hame, and red up the house, and have a cup of tea ready for hungry folk, as they come weary hame.Ē
And Margot let it go at that, but she was as she said, ďdowie and despondent.Ē Ruleson begged her to go with him to Edinburgh, and get the advice of a good physician, but Margot would not listen to any entreaty.
ďIíll no do any such thing,Ē she answered. ďNot likely! The Domine can gie the pain a setback, and if God wants me here, Heíll keep me here, sick or well, and if He doesna want me here, Iím willing to go where He does want me.Ē From this position Margot was not movable, and now that the herring fishing was over, there did not appear to be any reason for making her restless and unhappy. So she naturally drifted into that household position, where everyone took care not to tire, and not to vex, grandmother.
One morning in the early days of October, Christine was sitting sewing, and Margot was making shortcake. They had been talking of Neil and wondering where he was.
ďIím thinking it is whole oí a month, since we heard from the lad,Ē said Margot.
ďI dare say itís mair, Mother; and that letter was from some strange French seaside place, and he was thinking that they wouldna stay there very long. He has mebbe gane further awaí than France.Ē
ďI wouldnít wonder Ė setting a young man traveling is like setting a ball rolling down a hill. Baith oí them are hard to turn back.Ē
Margot had scarcely finished speaking, when Sam Brodie opened the door. He had been to the town post office and seen, in the list of uncalled-for letters, a letter addressed to Christine, so he had brought it along. It proved to be from Neil, and had been posted in Rome. Christine was familiar with that postmark, and it still had power at least to raise her curiosity. Neilís handwriting, however, spoke for itself, and before she broke the seal, she said, ďWhy, Mither! It is from Neil.Ē
ďI thought that, as soon as Sam came in. I was dreaming of a letter from Neil, last night. I dinna dream for naething. Make haste with the news Ė good or bad Ė read it all. I want to hear the warst of it.Ē Then Christine read aloud the following letter:
There was a few momentsí dead silence, and Christine did not lift her eyes from the paper in her hand, until a passionate exclamation from Margot demanded her notice.
ďOh, Mither, Mither!Ē she cried, ďdinna makí yourselí sick; itís Neil, our Neil, that you are calling a scoundrel.Ē
ďAnd Iíll call a scoundrel by no ither name. Itís gude enough for him.Ē
ďWe were talking one hour ago about him marrying Miss Rath, and you took to the idea then. Now that he has done so, what for are you railing at him?Ē
ďIím not railing at him for marrying the lass, sheís doubtless better than he deserves. Itís the way that heís done the business Ė the mean, blackguardly way heís done the business, that shames and angers me. Dod! I would strike him on the face, if he was near my hand. Iím shamed oí him! Heís a black disgrace to his father and mother, and to all the kind he came from.Ē
ďGenerally speaking, Mother, folks would say that Neil had done weel to himselí and praise him for it.Ē
ďWho are you alluding to? Dinna call the name ĎNeilí in my hearing. Scoundrel is gude enough to specify a scoundrel. I hae counts against him, and he must clear himself, before Iíll pass his christened name oíer my lips.Ē
ďWhat are your counts against him? Maybe I can speak a word to explain them.Ē
ďNot you! First, he has, beyond aí doubt, deceived the lassís brother. He should hae spoken to him first of all, and the young man wouldna hae said insulting words if there wasna cause for the same.Ē
ďThe lady was of full age, and sae had the right to please herself, Mither.Ē
ďShe had not. She was as bad as Neil, or she would have sought her brotherís consent.Ē
ďPerhaps Neil wouldna let her tell her brither.Ē
ďThatís like enough. He has got the girl, and that means he has got full control oí her money. Then he breaks his promise to go into partnership in business with the brother, and will open a law office in his ain name! Heíll open it, ye ken, wií the Rath siller, in his ain name! Having got plenty oí the Rath siller to set himselí up, he drops the man whom he used to fleech and flatter enouí to sicken a honest man. And he trusts to you to makí all comfortable here Ė but no word or whisper anent the ninety pounds heís owing you. He has gotten mair money than he expectit wií his stolen wife, and yet he hasna a thought for the sister wha emptied the small savings oí her lifetime into his unthankfuí hands. Waeís me, but Iím the sorrowfuí mither this day.Ē
ďFor aí that, Mither, dinna makí yourselí sick. Luck oí some kind threw the Rath siller in Neilís way.Ē
ďAy, and the scoundrel has taíen all he could get oí it.Ē
ďThatís the way oí the warld, Mother.Ē
ďIt isnít the way oí honest, honorable men. He ought to hae spoken to the young man plainly, and he ought not to hae quarreled wií him anent their business proposal. I understand that the Rath lad was na very knowing in the law nor indeed notable for managing his ain affairs, in any way.Ē
ďWeel, Mither, it comes to this Ė Neil had made up his mind to takí his living out oí the Rath purse, and he finally decided that he would rayther takí it from the lady, than the gentleman.Ē
Margot laughed at this remark. ďYouíll not be far wrang in that observe, Christine,Ē she said, ďbut the lad may be far out oí his reckoning, and Iím not cariní if it be so. Nae doubt he thought the lassie wad be easier controlled than her brither, who, I was led to believe, had a vera uncertain temper. Roberta may pay aí our wrangs yet. Little women are gey often parfect Tartars.Ē
ďMither! Mither! You wouldnít wish your ain lad to marry a Tartar oí a wife, and sae be miserable.Ē
ďWouldnít I? A stranger winning their way wií the Rathsí siller, wouldna hae troubled me, it would hae been out oí my concern. Christine, there are two things no good woman likes to do. One is to bring a fool into the warld, and the other is to bring one oí them clever fellows, who live on other peopleís money, instead oí working their way up, step by step. Iím shamed oí my motherhood this day!Ē
ďNa, na, Mither! Think of Norman, and Allan, and the lave oí the lads!Ē
ďAnd forbye, I think shame oí any son oí mine being married in a foreign country, in France itselí, the French being our natural enemies.Ē
ďNot just now, Mither, not just now.Ē
ďOur natural enemies! and a kind oí people, that dinna even speak like Christians. Ye ken I hae heard their language in this vera room, Christine, and sorry I am to hae permitted the like.Ē
ďThereís nae harm in it, Mither.Ē
ďIt led him astray. If Rulesonís lad hadna kent the French tongue, he would hae persuaded thae Raths that America was the only place to see the warld in.Ē
ďWell, Mither, he went to the English church in France Ė the Protestant Episcopal Church!Ē
ďAnother great wrang to our family. The Rulesons are of the best Covenanting stock. What would John Knox say to a Ruleson being married in an Episcopal Church, at the very horns oí the altar, as it were? An unchristened Turk could do naething more unfitting.Ē
ďMither, I hear feyther and Jamie coming up the hill. Let us hae peace this night. We will takí counsel oí our pillows, and in the morning weíll see things in a different way, perhaps.Ē
And the scorn Margot threw into the seven letters of that one word, ďperhaps,Ē would have been an impossibility to any woman less ignorant, or less prejudiced in favor of her own creed and traditions. For it is in Ignorance that Faith finds its most invincible stronghold.
Ruleson came in with a newspaper in his hand. Jamie was with him, but as soon as he entered the cottage, he snuggled up to his grandmother, and told her softly, ďGrandfather has had some bad news. It came in a newspaper.Ē
Grandfather, however, said not a word concerning bad news, until he had had his tea, and smoked a pipe. Then Christine and Jamie went to Christineís room to read, and Ruleson, after tapping the bowl of his pipe on the hob until it was clean, turned to Margot, and said, ďGudewife, I hae news today oí Neilís marriage to Miss Rath.Ē
ďAy, Christine had a letter.Ē
ďWhat do you think oí the circumstance?Ē
ďIím wondering, when it was in a foreign country, and outside his ain kirk and creed, whether it was legal and lawful?Ē
ďNeil is lawyer enough to ken he was all right. It is not the law side oí the question I am thinking of. It is the hame side. Not a word to his ain folk, and not one oí us present at the ceremony!Ē
ďNeither were any of the ladyís family present. It was, Iím thinking, a marriage after Neil Rulesonís ain heart. Neil first, and last, and altogether.Ē
ďHowís that? The young man, her brother Ė Ē
ďNeil has quarreled wií him. Neil has got the lady and her money, and he is going to begin business in his ain name, exclusive! I consider Neil something oí a scoundrel, and a mean one, at that.Ē
ďI was talking to Finlay anent the matter, and he says Neil has done weel to himselí, and he thinks him a gey clever young man.Ē
ďAnd Iíd like to have Finlay keep his false tongue out oí my family affairs. I say Neil has done a dirty piece oí business with the Raths, and that will be seen, and heard tell oí.Ē
ďAs I was saying, Margot, it is the hame side oí the affair that gave me a shock. To think of aí we hae done, of aí his brithers hae done, and of the siller he got frae his sister! To think oí it! Only to think oí it! And not ane oí us bid to his wedding. It fairly staggers me!Ē
ďNae wonder, gudeman! Itís an unspeakable business! Iíll not talk oí it! The lad I nursed on my heart, and heís fairly broken it at last. Heís a sinful creature!Ē
ďWe are all oí us sinfuí creatures, Margot!Ē
ďWe are not. You are much mistaíen, James. Thereís plenty oí good men and women on every side oí us. Neither you, nor myselí, would do as Neil has done.Ē
ďPerhaps not Ė but we baith hae our ain way oí sinning, Margot, you ken that.Ē
ďSpeak for yourselí, gudeman!Ē
ďFinlay said Ė Ē
ďKay! Kay! Iíll no be fashed wií Finlayís foolishness. Iím awaí to my sleep. My lad, my dear lad, you are heart-weary. Iím sorry for you.Ē
ďWait a moment, Margot. Finlay says he has nae doubt Neil has married ten thousand pounds a year. Think oí that!Ē
ďIíll think of nae such foolishness. And if it was twenty thousand, the lad would need it all Ė we hae brought him up sae badly!Ē
Margot disappeared with the words, and the unhappy father as he covered the fire, and pottered about the house, said sorrowfully:
ďSheís right! Sheís always right. If her words are in the way oí reproach, itís my fault! James Rulesonís fault! I ought to hae stood out against the Maraschal. If we had made him a minister, he would hae been obligated to set an example to a kirkful oí men and women, and folks will sin against their ain house, when they will do their duty to a kirkful.Ē
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