Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





I want you to give it to me. In a year I should like to read it again, and see how you have improved.

Take your will wi it, Sir.

To write poetry teaches you how to write prose teaches you the words of the English language, their variety and value. A good prose writer can write poetry, for he is acquainted wi words, and can always find the word he wants; but a good poet is not often a good prose writer.

How is that, Sir?

Because he is satisfied with his own vehicle of expression. He thinks it is the best. I am glad you have begun by writing poetry but do not stop there. As he was speaking he folded up the bit of paper in his hand, and put it into his pocketbook. Then he went to speak to Margot.

Margot, he said, what do you think? Christine has been writing a poem, and it is better than might be.

Christine has been making up poetry ever since she was a bit bairn. She reads a great deal o poetry to me out o the books you sent her. Oh, Domine, they hae been a wonderfu pleasuring to us baith! Though I never thought I wad live to find my only pleasure in novels and bits o poetry. Three or four years ago I wad hae laughed anyone to scorn who said such a thing could happen to Margot Ruleson. Deed wad I!

God often brings the impossible to pass, and even nourishes us on it. What has Christine been reading to you?

She has read to me the doings o David Copperfield, and about that puir lad, Oliver Twist. I was greatly taen up wi the lads. I maist forgot mysel, listening to their troubles and adventures.

Very good, Margot. What is she reading to you now?

A book by a Mr. Thackeray. His picture is in the book. Its what they ca a frontispiece. He has a big head, and he isna handsome, but he looks like he could mak up a good story.

Is the book called Vanity Fair?

Thats the very name. I dinna see yet the meaning o it.

Do you like it?

Weel, I like the folks best that I shouldna like. Theres an auld woman in it, that I wad gie a cup o tea and an hours crack to, any day, and be glad o the pleasure o it; and theres the girl, called Becky, that isna at a a kirklike girl, but I canna help liking her weel. I think I wad hae been her marrow, if I had been born and brought up as she was. Im sure it must be gey hard for men to mak up the likeness o a real good woman they mak them too good, you feel as if they should be in heaven, and mostly I find they send them there by early death, or some other disease, or mischance.

So you like Becky?

I do. Theres circumstances, Sir! They alter cases. They do that! If a woman has the fight wi the warld on her hands, shell be requiring a little o the deil in her, just to keep the deil out o her. I hope the man Thackeray has had sense enou to mak Becky come a right at the lang end.

I believe she becomes very respectable, and joins the Church of England.

That would be the right thing for her.

I hae heard that it is a vera broad church, and that its deacons

Wardens, Margot.

Wardens be it. I hae heard that they dinna dog its members round Sunday and work days, as our deacons do. Your ain deacons are vera officious, sir.

Elder James Ruleson, while he lived, saw that every kirk officer did his duty.

Thank you, Domine! It is good to hear his name. Everyone seems to have forgotten him everyone.

He is not forgotten, Margot. His name is on nearly every page o the kirk books, and the school will keep his memory green. I am going to propose a Ruleson Day, and on it give all the children a holiday. Weel, Margot, here comes Christine, and I believe she has Becky in hand. Then he turned to Christine and said, You have taken steps on a fair road, go straight forward. And she smiled, and her smile was like sunshine, and the Domine felt the better for it. He lifted his head higher, and took longer steps, and walked home with a new and pleasant hope in his heart.

CHAPTER X
ROBERTA INTERFERES

Small service is true service while it lasts.

He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.

Nearly two years had passed since James Rulesons death, and Christine was facing an embarrassing condition. She was nearly without money. During the severe illness which followed her husbands death, Margot had entrusted all she had to Christine, except the sum she had retained for her own burial; and Christine knew this was a provision all Culraine women regarded as a sacred duty. To break into this sum would be a serious, perhaps a dangerous, trial to Margot. However, there was the ninety pounds that Neil had borrowed from her, and never repaid. Now she must apply for it, must indeed urge its immediate return, and she wrote her brother the following letter:

Dear Neil,

We are in a sair strait. I am nearly without money, and Mither has none left but her burial siller, and you know it will nearly kill her to break into that. I would not ask you to pay me the ninety pounds you owe me, if there was any other way I could do. I would go out and sell fish, before I would trouble you. But surely it will not be hurting you any way now, to pay ninety pounds. Jim Carnagie was telling me that you were doing a well-paying business. Dear Neil, it is for your mither! She pleaded for you to have your own will and wish all your life long. I need not remind you of all her thoughtfulness for your comfort, while you were at the Maraschal. She is dying, a cruel, hard, long death. I cannot, no, I cannot, trouble her last days anent the siller she needs for food to keep her in life, and for medicines to soothe her great pain. Neil, I have always loved and helped you. I was glad when Miss Rath took to you kindly, for I knew you had to have some woman to look after your special ways and likings. Tell her the truth, and I am sure she will not oppose your paying such a just debt. Neil, answer me at once. Do not think about it, and delay and delay. You know, dear Neil, it is getting on the fourth year, since I loaned you it, and you promised to pay me out of the first money you earned. I think, dear, you will now pay me as lovingly as I let you have it when you needed it so badly.

Mither does not know I am writing you, or even that we need money, so haste to make me more easy, for I am full of trouble and anxiety.

Your loving sister,
Christine.

This letter had a singular fate. It was left at Neils house five minutes after Neil had left his house for a journey to London, on some important business for the Western Bank. It was consequently given to Mrs. Ruleson. She looked at it curiously. It was a womans writing, and the writing was familiar to her. The half-obliterated post office stamp assured her. It was from Neils home, and there was the word Haste on the address, so there was probably trouble there. With some hesitation she opened and read it, read slowly and carefully, every word of it, and when she had done so, flung it from her in passionate contempt.

The lying, thieving, contemptible creature, she said, in a low, intense voice. I gave him ninety pounds, when his father died. He told me then some weird story about this money. And I believed him. I, Roberta Rath, believed him! I am ashamed of myself! Reginald told me long syne that he knew the little villain was making a private hoard for himself, and that the most o his earnings went to it. I will look into that business next. Reggie told me I would come to it. I cannot think of it now, my first care must be this poor, anxious girl, and her dying mother. I believe I will go to Culraine and see them! He has always found out a reason for me not going. I will just show him I am capable of taking my own way.

She reflected on this decision for a few moments, and then began to carry it out with a smiling hurry. She made arrangements with her cook for the carrying on of the household for her calculated absence of three days. Then she dressed herself with becoming fashion and fitness, and in less than an hour, had visited the Bank of Scotland, and reached the railway station. Of course she went first to Edinburgh, and she lingered a little there, in the fur shops. She selected a pretty neck piece and muff of Russian sable, and missed a train, and so it was dark, and too late when she reached the town to go to the village of Culraine.

It is always my way, she murmured, as she sat over her lonely cup of tea in her hotel parlor. I am so long in choosing what I want, that I lose my luck. I wonder now if I have really got the best and the bonniest. Poor father, he was aye looking for a woman to be a mother to me, and never found one good enough. I was well in my twenties before I could decide on a husband; and I am pretty sure I waited too long. Three women bought furs while I was swithering about mine. It is just possible to be too careful. Liking may be better than consideration. Johnny Lockhart told me if I would trust my heart, instead of my brain, I would make better decisions. It might be so. Who can tell?

In the morning, when she had finished her breakfast, she went to the window of her room and looked into the street. Several Culraine fishing-women were calling their fresh haddock and flounders, and she looked at them critically.

They are young and handsome, she thought, but their dress is neither fashionable, nor becoming. I should think it was a trial for a pretty girl to wear it too short petticoats stripes too yellow and wide too much color every way earrings quite out of fashion caps picturesque, but very trying, and a sailor hat would be less trouble and more attractive. Well, as the fisherwomen are crying fresh haddock, I should think I may call on Christine, and not break any social law of the place.

Christine was not now a very early riser. If Margot had a restless, bad night, both of them often fell asleep at the dawning, and it had occasionally been as late as eight oclock when their breakfast was over. Roberta Raths visit happened to fall on one of these belated mornings. It was nearly nine oclock, but Margot had just had her breakfast, and was washed and dressed, and sitting in a big chair by the fireside of her room.

Christine was standing by a table in the living room. There was a large pan of hot water before her, and she was going to wash the breakfast dishes. Then there was a soft, quick knock at the door, and she called a little peremptorily, Come in. She thought it was some girl from the school, who wanted to borrow a necklace or some bit of finery for an expected dance. And it is not always that the most obliging of women are delighted to lend their ornaments.

When Roberta answered her curt invitation, she was amazed. She did not know her, she had never seen Roberta, nor even a likeness of her, for there were no photographs then, and the daguerreotype was expensive and not yet in common request. She looked with wide-open eyes at the lady, and the lady smiled. And her smile was entrancing, for she seemed to smile from head to feet. Then she advanced and held out her hand.

I am Roberta, she said. And Christine laid down her cup and towel, and answered with eager pleasure, You are vera welcome, Roberta. I am Christine.

Of course! I know that. You are exactly the Christine I have dreamed about, and she lifted up her small face, and Christine kissed her, before she was aware. It was the most extraordinary thing, and Christine blushed and burned, but yet was strangely pleased and satisfied.

Can I stay with you till four this afternoon, Christine? I want to very much.

You will be mair than welcome. Mither will be beside hersel wi the visit. Is Neil wi you?

No. I have come of my own wish and will. Neil is in London. Let me speak to the man who drove me here, and then I will tell you how it is.

She left the house for a few minutes, and came back with a beaming face, and a parcel in her hand. Suppose, Christine, she said, you show me where I can take off my bonnet and cloak and furs. So Christine went with her to the best bedroom, and she cried out at the beauty of its view, and looked round at the books and papers, and the snow-white bed, and was wonder struck at the great tropic sea shell, hanging before the south window; for its wide rose-pink cavity was holding a fine plant of musk-flower, and its hanging sprays of bloom, and heavenly scent, enthralled her.

What a charming room! she cried. One could dream of heaven in it.

Do you dream, Roberta?

Every night.

Do you like to dream?

I would not like to go to bed, and not dream.

I am glad you feel that way. Some people cannot dream.

Poor things! Neil could not understand me about dreaming. Nor could I explain it to him.

Lawyers dont dream. I have heard that. I suppose the folk in the other warld canna fash themselves wi the quarreling o this warld.

Roberta was untying the parcel containing the furs, as Christine spoke, and her answer was to put the long boa of sable around Christines neck and place the muff in her right hand. Now, good fur suits everyone man or woman and Christine was regally transformed by it.

Eh, Roberta! she cried. What bonnie furs! I never saw the like o them! Never!

But now they are yours!

You dinna you canna mean, that you gie them to me, Roberta?

I surely do mean just that. I give them to you with all my heart and you look like a Norse princess in them. Come, give me a kiss for the boa, and a kiss for the muff, and we will call the gift square.

Then Roberta kissed Christine and they laughed a sweet, gay little laugh together. And Christine said, I hae always wanted a sister. Now I hae gotten one weel to my liking! And O, the bonnie furs! The bonnie furs! They suit me fine, Roberta! They suit me fine! and she smiled at herself in the little mirror, and was happy, beyond expression.

You are as happy as if you had found a fortune, Christine!

I hae found mair than a fortune, Roberta! I hae found a sister! I wasna looking for such good luck to come to me!

That is the way good luck comes always as a surprise. We watch for it on the main road, and it just slips round a corner. Then Roberta took Christine by the hand, and they went to the living-room, and Christine began to wash her teacups, and as she laid them dripping on the tray, Roberta took the towel and wiped them dry.

You shouldna do that, Roberta.

Why not, Christine?

It isna wark for you.

While Father lived, I always washed the china beside him. Then he read the newspaper, and we had happy talks. We were plain-living folk, until Father died. Then Reggie and I set up for quality. We had the money, and Reggie had quality friends, and I thought it would be fine.

Do you think it is fine?

It is no better than it is spoken of. Christine, can you guess what brought me here?

Did you get a letter I wrote Neil?

Yes.

Then I know why you came.

Neil had just left for London. You asked for no delay. So I brought the money, Christine, and I had the Bank calculate the proper amount of interest for four years, at five per cent.

There was no interest asked. There is none due. I didna lend a the money I had on interest, but on love.

Then here is the money, Christine, and I must thank you for Neil, for the long credit you have given him.

I havena been needing the siller until now, but now it is a real salvation.

Christine put the money in her breast, and then together they put the cleansed china in its proper place. Just as they finished this duty, a little handbell tinkled, and Christine said,

That is Mithers call. Let us go to her.

Mither, dear Roberta is here. She has come to see you. And the young woman stood looking into the old womans face, and in a moment something inarticulate passed between them. They smiled at each other, and Roberta stooped and kissed the white, worn face. There needed no further explanation. In a few minutes the three women were conversing in the most intimate and cheerful manner. To her mother, Christine appeared to be rather silent. Margot wished she would be more effusive, and she exerted herself to make up for Christines deficiency in this respect. But the release from great anxiety often leaves the most thankful heart apparently quiet, and apparently indifferent. Many who have prayed fervently for help, when the help comes have no words on their tongues to speak their gratitude. Flesh and spirit are exhausted, before the Deliverer they are speechless. Then He who knoweth our infirmities speaks for us.

To make what dinner she could, and put the house in order was then Christines duty, and she went about it, leaving Roberta with Margot. They soon became quite at ease with each other, and Christine could hear them laughing at their own conversation. After awhile they were very quiet, and Christine wondered if her mother had again become sleepy. On the contrary, she found Margot more alive and more interested than she had seen her since her husbands death.

There was a crochet needle between them, and they were both absorbed in what it was doing. Crochet was then a new thing on the earth, as far as England and Scotland was concerned; and at this date it was the reigning womanly fad. Margot had seen and dreamed over such patterns of it as had got into magazines and newspapers, but had never seen the work itself. Now Roberta was teaching her its easy stitches, and Margot, with all a childs enthusiasm, was learning.

Look, Christine, she cried. Look, Christine, at the bonnie wark I am learning! It is the crochet wark. We hae read about it, ye ken, but see for yoursel. Look, lassie, and she proudly held out a strip of the first simple edging.

The three women then sat down together, and there was wonder and delight among them. A bit of fine, delicate crochet now gets little notice, but then it was a new sensation, and women thought they lacked an important source of pleasure, if they went anywhere without the little silk bag holding their crochet materials. Roberta had crocheted in the train, as long as it was light, and she fully intended to crochet all day, as she sat talking to her new relations.

Margot could knit blindfolded, she learned by some native and natural instinct. In two days she would have been able to teach Roberta.

There was a simple dinner of baked fish, and a cup of tea, and Christine beat an egg in a cup and was going to carry it to Margot, when Roberta stayed her. Does she like it in that sloppy way? she asked.

Weel, it is for her good. She has to like it.

We can make it far nicer. See here, and Roberta beat the egg in the cupful of milk, added a little sugar, and placed it in the oven. In a few minutes it was a solid, excellent custard, and Margot enjoyed it very much. I neer liked raw food, she said, and raw egg isna any more eatable than raw fish, or raw meat.

In the afternoon the Domine and Jamie came in, and Roberta won his heart readily with her gay good nature and thoughtful kindness to the sick woman. He had put a letter into Christines hand, as he came in and said to her, Go your ways ben, and read it, but say naething to your mither anent its contents. Later Ill give you good reasons for this.

So Christine went away, and opened her letter, and there fell from it a five-pound note. And the letter was from a great magazine, and it said the money was for the Fishermans Prayer and he would be very glad if she would write him more about fishers. There were also a few pleasant words of praise, but Christines eyes were full of happy tears, she could not read them. What she did was to lay the letter and the money on her bed, and kneel down beside it, and let her silence and her tears thank the God who had helped her. I was brought low and He helped me, she whispered, as she bathed her eyes and then went back to the company.

Such a happy afternoon followed! The Domine was in a delightful mood, Jamie recited for the first time How Horatio Kept the Bridge, and Margot was as busy as her weak, old fingers would let her be. With the Domines approval, Christine showed her letter to Roberta, and they, too, held a little triumph over the good, clever girl, for it was not vanity that induced her confidence, it was that desire for human sympathy, which even Divinity feels, or He would not ask it, and Himself prompt its offering.

Soon after five oclock they had a cup of tea together, and Robertas cab was waiting, and the fortunate day was over. Roberta was sorry to go away. She said she had had one of the happiest days of her life. She left her own little silk crochet bag with Margot, and gave her gladly her pretty silver hook with its ivory handle, and the cotton she had with her. She said she would send hooks of different sizes, and the threads necessary for them, and also what easy patterns she could find.

She went away amid smiles and blessings, and the Domine and Jamie went with her. They would see her safely to her hotel, they said, but she would not part with them so early. She entreated them to dine and spend the evening with her. And so they did. And their talk was of Christine, of her love and patience, and her night-and-day care. Even her orderly house and personal neatness were duly praised.





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