Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





CHAPTER IX
A HAPPY BIT OF WRITING


The dead sailor,
Has peace that none may gain who live;
And rest about him, that no love can give,
And over him, while life and death shall be,
The light and sound, and darkness of the sea!

The winter following Neils marriage was a pleasant one to the village of Culraine. The weather was favorable, the line fishing more than usually prosperous, and the school remarkably successful. Ruleson took the greatest delight in its progress, and nothing gave him greater pleasure than a walk in its vicinity, when he could see the children coming and going, with their books and balls in their hands. They all knew him, but however large the group in the playground, he could pick little Jamie out of it in a moment. And oh, how good it was to see the old man defying his failure with Neil, and building still grander hopes on this lad of ten years old! Truly, from the good heart Hope springs eternal. It forgets that it is mortal, because it takes hold on immortality.

Christine heard constantly from Cluny, but it was nearly a year since she had seen him, for the crew of a passenger steamer trading to foreign ports, do not obtain leave easily, especially in their first year. And Cluny had never been in Glasgow port long enough to make a journey to Culraine and back possible. Christine did not fret herself because of his absence. She was not as one of the foolish ones, who regard a lover and love-making as the great essential of life. She had proved in her own case, that Duty was far above, and beyond Love. She had known cases where Honor had been put before Love. She had seen Angus Ballister put mere social caste before Love. It was a fact known to all the world, that gold laughed at Love, and bought and sold Love, as if he were merchandise in the market place.

She loved Cluny, but her love was subject to her duty, which at present was evidently in her own home. Her father was strong and full of the joy of living, but his work was on the winter seas, and he needed the comfort of a well-ordered house and properly-cooked food after his hard days fishing. Her mother was sick and failing, and it appeared to Christines anxious heart that she was losing, instead of gaining, ground. Margot denied this position, but Christine noticed that one little household duty after another was allowed to drift quietly into her hands. Then also there was Jamie, whom she tenderly loved, and who was wholly dependent on her care and help. His food his clothes his lessons! What could Jamie do without her?

One morning in February, she had a letter from Cluny, which set at naught all these claims. He had two hundred pounds in the Bank of Scotland, and he wanted to get married. He was studying navigation, and he would be third officer in another year. He was fairly wasting his life without Christine. He was growing old with the disappointment he was getting constantly.

He was next door to dying, with one put-off after another. If he came up on the fifteenth, would she walk over to the Domines with him? He felt as if the Domine might bury him, if he didna marry him. He declared he had been sick with the love and pain of wanting her, ever since he could remember himself, and yet, Christine, he wrote, you are mine. Mine from your birth hour. Mine whether you love me, or dont love me. Mine if you marry someone else. Mine even if you die, for then I would soon follow, and find you out, wherever you were.

What was a girl of cool, reasonable nature, to do with a lover of this impetuous, vehement temper?

She told her mother that Cluny was coming, and she noticed that the news instantly changed the atmosphere of the room. Margot had been sewing and chatting cheerfully in her chair by the fireside. She dropped her work, and became thoughtful and silent. Christine knew why, and she said to herself, Mither is fearing I am going to marry Cluny, and leave her alane! As if I would! The man never lived, who could make me do the like o that. She waited ten minutes to give Margot time to recover herself, but as she did not do so, she asked, Mither, are you doubting Christine?

No, dearie! I couldna do that.

What then?

Im doubting mysel. Doubting my power to look to your feythers comfort, and the like o that, and maybe fearing a strange woman in the house.

Why a strange woman?

Theres things I canna do now things I havna the strength for, and

You think that Christine would leave you?

Weel, there is the peradventure.

Mither, put your arm round me. To the end of your life, Christine will put hers round you. Naebody can part us twa. Naebody!

I thought Cluny was coming and that

I would leave you. Leave you now! Leave you, and leave feyther without anyone to cook his meals, and leave wee Jamie, who looks to me as if I was his Mither. Na, na! You mustna judge Christine in that way. What for would I leave you? Because a lad loves me out of a sense and reason. Even if I was his wife, love and duty would count your claim first. God said a man should leave feyther and mither, and cleave to his wife; but He didna tell a woman to leave her feyther and mither, and cleave to her husband.

He would mean it, Christine.

Then He would hae said it. He leaves nae room to question.

There might be what is called inferences.

Na, na, Mither! It is thus and so, and do, and do not, wi God. Theres nae inferences in any o His commands. When folks break them, they ken well they are breaking them. But what will we be talking o this matter for? You yoursel are beyond the obligation.

I neer had it, I may say, for my feyther was drowned ere I was born, and my mither died ere I was five years old. Its different wi you, dearie.

It is, but Christine kens all o her duty, and it will be her pleasure to fulfill it. And she clasped her mothers hands in hers, and kissed her. And Margots old pawky smile flitted oer her face, and she said, We must ask the Domine anent this question then a little sarcastically or Neil will gie us the Common Law o Scotland concerning it.

So the trouble ended with a smile and the shout of Jamie as he flung open the house door, in a storm of hurry and pleasure. Auntie! Grandmither! he cried. We are going to have a tug-of-war between the English and the Scotch, on the playground, at half-past twelve. Im on the Scotch side. Gie me my dinner, Auntie, and Ill be awa to help floor Geordie Kent, and the rest of his upsetting crowd. Geordies mither is English, and hes always boasting about the circumstance.

Are you going to tak the brag out o him, Jamie?

I am going to help do so, with all my might, but theres some Border lads among the English set, and they are a hefty lot, and hard to beat.

Thats right, Jamie! Fife lads shout when the boat wins the harbor, not till then. All the same, laddie, bring me word o your victory.

When dinner was over Christine dressed herself for her visitor, and the light of love and expectation gave to her face an unusual beauty. She wore her fisher costume, for she thought Cluny would like it best, but it was fresh and bright and quite coquettish, with its pretty fluted cap, its gold earrings, its sky-blue bodice and skirt of blue and yellow stripes, and the little kerchief of vivid scarlet round her shoulders. Its final bit of vanity was a small white muslin apron, with little pockets finished off with bows of scarlet ribbon. If she had dressed herself for a fashionable masquerade ball she would have been its most picturesque belle and beauty.

It was seven oclock when Cluny arrived. Ruleson had gone to a meeting of the School Trustees, a business, in his opinion, of the very greatest importance; and Margots womanly, motherly sense told her that Cluny would rather have her absence than her company. So she had pleaded weariness, and gone to her room soon after tea was over, and Cluny had the fair opportunity, he so often declared he never obtained; for Margot had said to Jamie, Youll come and sit wi me, laddie, and gie me the full story o your bloody defeat, and well mak a consultation anent the best way o mending it.

This is glorious! cried Cluny, as he stood alone with Christine in the firelit room. I have you all to mysel! Oh, you woman of all the world, what have you to say to me this night?

What do you want me to say, Cluny?

Tell me that youll go before the Domine with me, in the morning.

Now, Cluny, if you are going to begin that trouble again, I will not stay with you.

Trouble, trouble? What trouble? Is it a trouble to be my wife?

I have told you before, I could not marry you till the right time came.

It is the right time now! It has to be! Ill wait no longer!

You will wait forever, if you talk that way to me.

Ill take my ain life, Christine, rayther than hae it crumbled awa between your cruel fingers and lips! aye writing, and saying, at the proper time! God help me! When is the proper time?

When my mither is better, and able to care for hersel, and look after feyther and the house.

Is she any better than she was?

Na, Im feared she is worse.

She is maybe dying.

I am feared she is.

Then if I wait till she dies

Be quiet, Cluny! How dare you calculate anything for my life, on my mithers death? Do you think I would walk from her grave to the altar to marry you? I would hae to lose every gude sense, and every good feeling I have, ere I could be sae wicked.

Do you mean that after your mithers death, you will still keep me waiting?

You know right well, Cluny, what our folk would say, if I didna observe the set time of mourning.

Great Scot! Thats a full year!

Ay. If a bairn dies in our village, its folk wear blacks for a year. Would I grudge a years respect for my mithers memory? Forbye there would be my poor heart-broken feyther, and a his needs and griefs.

And the bairn, too, I suppose?

Ay, youre right. The bairn is in our keeping, till he is fourteen. Then he goes to Domine Trenaby.

I hope the next storm will mak an end o me! Im a broke man, in every worth-while. I hae money to mak a home, but I canna hae a home without a wife, and the wife promised me puts one mountain after another in the way, that no man can win over and he passionately clasped and unclasped his hands, while tears, unrecognized, flowed freely, and somewhat relieved the heart tension that for a few moments made him speechless.

It seems natural for a woman to weep, but it sends a thrill of pity and fear through a womans heart to see a man break down in unconscious and ungovernable weeping. Christine was shocked and strangely pitiful. She soothed, and kissed, and comforted him, with a gracious abandon she had never before shown. She could not alter circumstances, but she strengthened him for the bearing of them. She actually made him confess that she would lose something in his estimation, if she was capable of leaving her mother under present conditions. In his embrace she wept with him, and both of them learned that night the full sweetness of a love that is watered with mutual tears.

So, at the last, she made him strong and confident in hopes for the future, because God is love, and the circumstances that separated them were of His ordering. And Christine would think no ill of God, she was sure that life and death, and all things God ordained, were divinely good; and her influence overarched and enveloped Cluny, and perhaps for the first time, the real meaning of life and its difficulties pealed through his heart and brain.

Then as they were talking, Ruleson returned, and Ruleson, liking Cluny well, was rejoiced to see him, and they talked together with the greatest interest, while Christine placed upon the table the simple luxuries she had prepared for this anticipated meal. It was indeed a wonderfully happy meal, prolonged by interesting conversation till nearly midnight, for Ruleson wanted to hear all Cluny could tell about the Mediterranean, and Cluny was pleased to listen to Rulesons enthusiastic description of the good work the school was doing.

When Cluny at length rose to depart, Ruleson asked the date of his ships next visit to Glasgow, and then promised to meet him there, and to bring Christine with him for a two or three days pleasuring. Cluny was delighted, for though Christine only shook her head and smiled, he believed that in some way or other the visit could be managed. And Margot was enthusiastic about it. She said Christine must ask Faith to come and stay with her, and Norman would come to her through the night in case of trouble, and the Domine would call and see her, and wee Jamie was comfort and help baith. Forbye, she added, Im wanting to hear a about Neil and his wife, and their way o living, Christine, and if youll just make them an hours passing call, you can gie me a vera clear idea o the same.

So the hastily projected trip became an anticipatory pleasure for which there was constant preparation going on. It was a wonderful prospect to Christine, who had never been five miles from her home, and Margot entered heartily into the scheme for making it a notable affair. She said the time was a lucky ordering, for it was near enough Easter to warrant a new spring suit, and she gave Christine a five-pound note, and sent her into the town to buy one. Youll get your ain choice, lassie, she said, but Im thinking, if it should be o a light pearly-gray, it would suit you weel, and get your gloves and parasol o the same shade, as near as may be, but buy your bonnet in Glasgow town, for you will hae the height o the fashion there, and scores o shops to choose from.

So for nearly a month this pleasant expectation kept the Ruleson cottage busy and happy. Christines pearly-gray cashmere dress came home, and was greatly admired, even by the Domine, who also took a great interest in the proposed visit to Glasgow. He advised her to send Neil word, as soon as she arrived there:

And do as you have always done, Christine, strive for peace and family unity. There have been wrongs, no doubt, but you Rulesons have all nursed one mothers breast, and learned your prayers at one mothers knees, so if there is any little trouble between Neil and yourself, Christine, forgive it.

I love Neil, I hae loved him all my life, Sir. I intend to go on loving him. Ninety pounds could not part us. No, nor ninety hundred pounds. Theres no moneys-worth, can count loves-worth.

How does a young girl feel on the eve of her first pleasure journey, when she has pretty new clothing to wear, and money enough to spend, and is going in the care of an indulgent father to have fresh and unknown entertainments, with a lover who adores her, and whom she admires and truly loves? Is she not happy and joyous, and full of eager anticipation? And it was the last day of waiting. The valise which held her new dress and her fathers best suit, was packed, Faith had readily taken hold of the house duties, and Margot had been, and was, unusually well and active. Ruleson had gone fishing to pass the time, he said, and all was ready for the early start they proposed to make in the morning.

Ruleson generally came home in time for his six oclock meal, but Christine, standing at the open door about four oclock, saw him making for the harbor. Fathers just like a bairn, she thought. Im gey uplifted mysel, but Im plum steady, to what he is. Then Margot joined her. Is that your feyther coming, Christine?

Ay, its feyther, sure enou!

What for is he coming at this time o day?

Hes just in a wave o excitement, he isna heeding what the clock says.

What time is it?

Not quite four.

Weel, you hed better put on the kettle; hes used to eating as soon as he comes hame, and if his head is wrang anent the time, his stomach is doubtless wrang anent its eating.

So the women went inside, and Christine put on the kettle, and Margot began to lay the cloth, and set the china on the table. It took Ruleson about half an hour to walk between his boat and his house, but suddenly Margot noticed that he was overdue, and yet not in sight. She called Christine, and they stood together at the land side door, and watched for him. A sudden silence fell between them, they stopped wondering about his delay, and kept their eyes on the road. The time seemed to stand still. Margot went into the house and sat down. Christines life seemed to be in her eyes. Every minute was like an hour. Feyther, Feyther! she said in an anxious whisper. Whatna for are you delaying? What at all is keeping you? Come, Feyther! And to this strong cry of the Inner Woman, he turned a corner, and was in full view.

Christine saw in a moment that something was wrong. He isna walking like himsel! He must hae got hurt some way or ither! and she ran like a deer to meet him.

Feyther! Feyther! Whatevers ailing you?

He stood still and looked at her, and she was shocked at his appearance.

Have you hurt yoursel, Feyther?

Something has hurt me. I hae taken a sair cold and shivering. I am ill, lassie. I maun hae a doctor as soon as maybe. I am in a hot and cauld misery. I can hardly draw a breath.

Margot met them at the door. Feyther is ill, Mither! Wheres Jamie? He will run and tell the Domine. Get feyther into his bed, and if I canna find Jamie, Ill away mysel for the Domine. Perhaps I had better go to the town for Doctor Fraser.

Feyther says no! He wants to see the Domine, particular.

Then Ill waste no time seeking Jamie. Ill go mysel to the manse, and Ill be back as quick as possible. Keep a brave heart, Mither. Theres only you, till I get back.

Happily she found the Domine more than halfway on his road to Rulesons. He said he had had a feeling an hour ago, that he was wanted there, and he was angry with himself for not obeying the word given him. Then he took Christines hand, and they went hurriedly and in silence to the sick man.

My friend! My dear friend! he said as he clasped Rulesons hot hand and listened to his labored breathing, I am going as fast as I can for Fraser. This is a trouble beyond my skill, and we want you well for the Easter school exercises. The bairns willna be happy missing you. So Ill go quick as I can for Fraser. Then turning to Margot, he said, Where is Faith Anderson? I thought she was with you.

She is, but she went to the village to see some o her auld friends. She said she would be back by nine oclock.

And Jamie? He could go wi me.

Faith took Jamie wi her.

Then he went away, and Margot and Christine stood helplessly beside the suffering man. It grew dark, and no one came, and Christine felt as if she was in some dreadful dream, and could not awaken herself. They expected Norman about seven, but something detained him, and it was after nine when Faith and Jamie were heard on the hill. They were laughing and talking noisily, and Christine ran to meet, and to silence them. The sick man was growing rapidly worse, and there was no sign of the Domine and the doctor. Indeed it was near midnight when they arrived, and by this time Ruleson was unconscious.

Those who know anything of pneumonia will understand the hard, cruel fight that a man in the perfect health and strength of James Ruleson made for his life. Every step of the disease was contested, and it was only when his wonderful resistance gave out, and his strength failed him, that the doctor and the Domine lost hope. At length, one sunny afternoon, the Domine drew up the window shade, and let the light fall on the still, white face for a minute. Christine was at his side, and he turned to her, and said, I am going back to the manse for the Blessed Cup of Remembrance. Get the table and bread ready, and tell your mother it is the last time! She must try and eat it with him.

Christine looked at him with her soul in her eyes. She understood all he meant and she merely bowed her head and turned to the dying man. He lay as still as a cradled child. The struggle was over. He had given it up. It was peace at last. Where was James Ruleson at that hour? The Domine had said, Do not disturb him. We know not what now is passing in his soul. Let him learn in peace whatever God wishes him to learn, in this pause between one life and another.

Margot was on her bed in another room. Christine knelt down at her side, and said gently, Mither, the great, wonderful hour has come. The Domine has gane for The Cup. With your ain dear hands you will spread the cloth, and cut the bread, for your last eating wi him. And, Mither, you wont cry out, and weep, as those do who have nae hope o meeting again. You will mak yoursel do as the daughters o God do, who call Him Feyther! Youll be strong in the Lord, Mither, and bid Feyther good-by, like those who are sure they will meet to part no more.

And Margot whispered, I was brought low, and He helped me.

A few hours later, in this simple cottage bedroom, the miracle of Loves last supper in the upper chamber at Jerusalem, was remembered. With her own hands Margot covered a little table at her husbands bedside with her finest and whitest linen. She cut the bread into the significant morsels, and when the Domine came, he placed them solemnly on the silver plate of the consecrated service, and poured wine into the holy vessel of The Communion. All was then ready, and they sat down to wait for that lightening which so often comes when the struggle is over and the end near.





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