Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





Willie Tamsen and Jamie Rulesons 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 worlds infancy, and which, thank God, have not yet perished from off the face of the earth. How many miles to Babylon? Hide and seek, In and out, Blind mans buff, and so forth, and in this part of the entertainment, everything and everyone depended upon Christine. Mothers, going home, called to her, Christine, look after my bairn, 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. Where at a is Christine, Domine? asked Margot. Im wanting her sairly.

Christine is too busy to meddle with, Margot. Shes doing Gods best work ministering to little children. As I saw her half-an-hour ago, she was little lower than the angels. Im doubting if an angel could be lovelier, or fuller of life and love, and every sweet influence.

Christine is a handsome lass, nae doubt o that, but our women are all o them heritage handsome. Im doubting if Eve, being a Jewess, could be worth evening wi us.

Eve was not a Jewess.

She was Gods eldest daughter, Margot.

Then Gods 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 hersel better than Eve did if alls true that is said anent her.

Christine 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.

Alls 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 fathers and a mothers 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 rested and eager for labor hailed the news with a shout of welcome. Peter Brodies big Sam brought it very early one lovely summer morning, and having anchored his boat, ran through the sleeping village shouting Caller Herrin! In Culraine Bay!

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, Where are the fish, Sam?

Outside Culraine Bay, he answered, still keeping up his exultant cry of Caller Herrin! 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 days 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. I must make the effort, she said to herself. Im feared of the pain, thats all about it. 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 Margots face flushed with pride and energy. Ill not let that order slip through my fingers, she cried, Im going to the kippering, and what I canna do, Christine can manage, following my say-so.

This change in Margots work was the only shadow on that years 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. And I have a fine scholar, she soon began to add. Christine 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.

And you will be glad of a bit rest to yourself, Margot, no doubt, was the general answer.

Ay, I have turned the corner of womanhood, and Im wearing away down the hillside of life. I hae been in a dowie and desponding condition for a year or mair.

Christine is clever with business, and folks do say she has a full sense of the value of money.

To be sure, Nancy. Theres no harm in the like of that. Her feyther came from Aberdeen folk, and its weel recognized that Aberdeen folk look at both sides of a penny.

Christine is a clever lass, and good likewise, we were all saying that, a while ago.

Weel, some folk, out of bad taste, or a natural want of good sense, may think different; but there thats enough on the subject of Christine. Her feyther is gey touchy anent Christine, and it will be as weel to let that subject alone.

So, day after day, Margot sat in a chair at her daughters 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:

Its all yours, lassie. Ill not touch a farthing of it. You have fairly won it. It will happen help Neils deficiencies. Oh, my dear lassie! Mither has done her last kippering! I feel it.

Then Ill kipper for you, Mither, as long as we both live. The hill is now oer much for you and the noisy women, and skirling bairns! Christine will go to Mothers 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.

And Margot let it go at that, but she was as she said, dowie and despondent. 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.

Ill no do any such thing, she answered. Not likely! The Domine can gie the pain a setback, and if God wants me here, Hell keep me here, sick or well, and if He doesna want me here, Im willing to go where He does want me. 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.

Im thinking it is whole o a month, since we heard from the lad, said Margot.

I dare say its 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 awa than France.

I wouldnt wonder setting a young man traveling is like setting a ball rolling down a hill. Baith o them are hard to turn back.

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. Neils handwriting, however, spoke for itself, and before she broke the seal, she said, Why, Mither! It is from Neil.

I 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 good or bad read it all. I want to hear the warst of it. Then Christine read aloud the following letter:

Dear Christine,

I want you to tell Mother that I married Miss Rath in Paris on the fifth of September ult. We were afraid that Reginald was going to interfere, so we settled the matter to prevent quarreling which, you know, is against my nature. Reginalds opposition was quite unlooked for and, I must say, very ill-natured and discouraging. If there is anything in a mans life he should have full liberty and sympathy in, it is his marriage. I dare say Mother will have some complaint or other to make. You must talk to her, until she sees things reasonably. We were married in the Protestant Episcopal Church in Paris, very quietly only the necessary witnesses and came on here at once. I disapproved so highly of Reginalds behavior at this important period of my life, and of some insulting things he said to me, that I have resolved not to have any more relations with him. After all I have done for him, it is most disheartening. My wife feels her brothers conduct very much, but she has perfect trust in me. Of course, if I had been married in Scotland, I would have had my friends presence, but I am quite sure that my best interests demanded an immediate marriage. We shall be home in a month, and then I propose to open a law office in Glasgow in my own name. I shall do better without impedimenta like Reginald Rath. I trust to you to make all comfortable at home. I shall desire to bring my wife to see my mother. I am proud of Roberta. She is stylish, and has a good deal more money than I expected. I shall not require Reginalds money or patronage, they would now be offensive to my sense of honor and freedom. Give my love to my father and mother, and remember I am

Always your loving brother,
Neil.

There was a few moments dead silence, and Christine did not lift her eyes from the paper in her hand, until a passionate exclamation from Margot demanded her notice.

Oh, Mither, Mither! she cried, dinna mak yoursel sick; its Neil, our Neil, that you are calling a scoundrel.

And Ill call a scoundrel by no ither name. Its gude enough for him.

We 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?

Im not railing at him for marrying the lass, shes doubtless better than he deserves. Its the way that hes done the business the mean, blackguardly way hes done the business, that shames and angers me. Dod! I would strike him on the face, if he was near my hand. Im shamed o him! Hes a black disgrace to his father and mother, and to all the kind he came from.

Generally speaking, Mother, folks would say that Neil had done weel to himsel and praise him for it.

Who are you alluding to? Dinna call the name Neil in my hearing. Scoundrel is gude enough to specify a scoundrel. I hae counts against him, and he must clear himself, before Ill pass his christened name oer my lips.

What are your counts against him? Maybe I can speak a word to explain them.

Not you! First, he has, beyond a doubt, deceived the lasss 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.

The lady was of full age, and sae had the right to please herself, Mither.

She had not. She was as bad as Neil, or she would have sought her brothers consent.

Perhaps Neil wouldna let her tell her brither.

Thats like enough. He has got the girl, and that means he has got full control o 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! Hell open it, ye ken, wi the Rath siller, in his ain name! Having got plenty o the Rath siller to set himsel up, he drops the man whom he used to fleech and flatter enou to sicken a honest man. And he trusts to you to mak all comfortable here but no word or whisper anent the ninety pounds hes owing you. He has gotten mair money than he expectit wi his stolen wife, and yet he hasna a thought for the sister wha emptied the small savings o her lifetime into his unthankfu hands. Waes me, but Im the sorrowfu mither this day.

For a that, Mither, dinna mak yoursel sick. Luck o some kind threw the Rath siller in Neils way.

Ay, and the scoundrel has taen all he could get o it.

Thats the way o the warld, Mother.

It isnt the way o honest, honorable men. He ought to hae spoken to the young man plainly, and he ought not to hae quarreled wi 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.

Weel, Mither, it comes to this Neil had made up his mind to tak his living out o the Rath purse, and he finally decided that he would rayther tak it from the lady, than the gentleman.

Margot laughed at this remark. Youll not be far wrang in that observe, Christine, she said, but the lad may be far out o his reckoning, and Im not carin 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 a our wrangs yet. Little women are gey often parfect Tartars.

Mither! Mither! You wouldnt wish your ain lad to marry a Tartar o a wife, and sae be miserable.

Wouldnt I? A stranger winning their way wi the Raths siller, wouldna hae troubled me, it would hae been out o 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 o them clever fellows, who live on other peoples money, instead o working their way up, step by step. Im shamed o my motherhood this day!

Na, na, Mither! Think of Norman, and Allan, and the lave o the lads!

And forbye, I think shame o any son o mine being married in a foreign country, in France itsel, the French being our natural enemies.

Not just now, Mither, not just now.

Our natural enemies! and a kind o 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.

Theres nae harm in it, Mither.

It led him astray. If Rulesons lad hadna kent the French tongue, he would hae persuaded thae Raths that America was the only place to see the warld in.

Well, Mither, he went to the English church in France the Protestant Episcopal Church!

Another 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 o the altar, as it were? An unchristened Turk could do naething more unfitting.

Mither, I hear feyther and Jamie coming up the hill. Let us hae peace this night. We will tak counsel o our pillows, and in the morning well see things in a different way, perhaps.

Perhaps!

And the scorn Margot threw into the seven letters of that one word, perhaps, 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, Grandfather has had some bad news. It came in a newspaper.

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 Christines room to read, and Ruleson, after tapping the bowl of his pipe on the hob until it was clean, turned to Margot, and said, Gudewife, I hae news today o Neils marriage to Miss Rath.

Ay, Christine had a letter.

What do you think o the circumstance?

Im wondering, when it was in a foreign country, and outside his ain kirk and creed, whether it was legal and lawful?

Neil is lawyer enough to ken he was all right. It is not the law side o the question I am thinking of. It is the hame side. Not a word to his ain folk, and not one o us present at the ceremony!

Neither were any of the ladys family present. It was, Im thinking, a marriage after Neil Rulesons ain heart. Neil first, and last, and altogether.

Hows that? The young man, her brother

Neil has quarreled wi 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 o a scoundrel, and a mean one, at that.

I was talking to Finlay anent the matter, and he says Neil has done weel to himsel, and he thinks him a gey clever young man.

And Id like to have Finlay keep his false tongue out o my family affairs. I say Neil has done a dirty piece o business with the Raths, and that will be seen, and heard tell o.

As I was saying, Margot, it is the hame side o the affair that gave me a shock. To think of a we hae done, of a his brithers hae done, and of the siller he got frae his sister! To think o it! Only to think o it! And not ane o us bid to his wedding. It fairly staggers me!

Nae wonder, gudeman! Its an unspeakable business! Ill not talk o it! The lad I nursed on my heart, and hes fairly broken it at last. Hes a sinful creature!

We are all o us sinfu creatures, Margot!

We are not. You are much mistaen, James. Theres plenty o good men and women on every side o us. Neither you, nor mysel, would do as Neil has done.

Perhaps not but we baith hae our ain way o sinning, Margot, you ken that.

Speak for yoursel, gudeman!

Finlay said

Kay! Kay! Ill no be fashed wi Finlays foolishness. Im awa to my sleep. My lad, my dear lad, you are heart-weary. Im sorry for you.

Wait a moment, Margot. Finlay says he has nae doubt Neil has married ten thousand pounds a year. Think o that!

Ill think of nae such foolishness. And if it was twenty thousand, the lad would need it all we hae brought him up sae badly!

Margot disappeared with the words, and the unhappy father as he covered the fire, and pottered about the house, said sorrowfully:

Shes right! Shes always right. If her words are in the way o reproach, its my fault! James Rulesons 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 o men and women, and folks will sin against their ain house, when they will do their duty to a kirkful.





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