Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl
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Roberta left for her Glasgow home, early on the following morning, and arrived at Monteith Row a little wearied, but quite satisfied with the journey she had taken. What the result to herself would be, she could hardly imagine. But its uncertainty kept her restless. She had resolved to clean and prepare the house for winter, during her husband’s absence, but she could not do it. A woman needs a stiff purpose in her heart, when she pulls her home to pieces. If anything is going to happen, it usually chooses such a time of discomfort and disorder.
She found it far more pleasant to select crochet hooks and cotton for Margot and herself. She sent the Domine a book that she knew would be acceptable, and to Jamie she sent a Rugby School pocket-knife, containing not only the knives, but the other little tools a boy finds so necessary. To Christine she sent a large, handsome portfolio, and such things as a person addicted to writing poetry requires. She could settle to nothing, for indeed she felt her position to be precarious. She knew that she could not live a day with Neil, unless he was able to account satisfactorily for his theft – she called it theft to herself – of the first ninety pounds.
Neil had promised to be home in a week, but it was two weeks ere he returned. He said business had detained him, and what can a woman say to “business”? It appears to cover, and even cancel, all other obligations. If there had been any tendency in Roberta’s heart to excuse, or even to forgive her husband, he killed the feeling by his continual excuses for delay. The lawyer who had accompanied him was home. What was Neil doing in London, when the principal in the case had returned?
At last she received particular instructions as to the train by which he would arrive. She took no notice of them, though it had been her custom to meet him. He was a little cross at this neglect, and more so, when the sound of his peremptory ring at the door brought only a servant to open it. He did not ask after her, and she did not appear, so he gave his valise to the servant, with orders to take it into the dining room. “I suppose your mistress is there?” he asked. He was told she was there, and he added, “Inform her that I am in my room preparing for dinner, and order the cook to serve it at once.”
Roberta saw the valise brought in, and she made no inquiries concerning it. She saw the dinner brought on, and she seated herself in her place at the table, and drew the chair holding the valise almost to her side. Then she waited.
Neil entered the room immediately. She did not turn her face to the door when it opened. She said as if speaking to a servant, “Place the soup at the head of the table. Mr. Ruleson is home.”
When he took the head of the table, and so faced her, and could no longer be ignored, she said, “Is it really you, Neil? By what train did you arrive?”
“I told you, in my last letter, at what time I should arrive in Glasgow.You did not meet me, as I expected. I had to take a cab home.”
“The stable man said one of the horses was acting as if it did not feel well. He thought it had better not be driven.”
“He thought it would be more comfortable to stay at home this wet night. I had a very cold, disagreeable drive. I dare say I have taken a severe cold from it.”
“The soup waits, if you will serve it.”
He did so, remarking the while, “I sent you word I would be home by this train. Did you receive my letter?”
“O you know, you have been coming by so many trains the past week, I thought it best not to take the sick horse out on such an uncertainty as your promise.”
“I was, as I told you, detained by business.”
“I hope you made it pay you.”
“A few hundreds.”
“Ah! Then you would not mind the expense of a cab.”
“Do I ever mind necessary trifles?”
“I have never considered the matter,” and the little laugh of indifference which closed the sentence, made him look at her attentively.
She was in full evening costume, and it struck him that tonight she looked almost handsome.
“Did you intend to go out this evening? Has my coming home prevented some social pleasure?”
“I had told Reginald to meet me in my box at Glover’s Theater. Reginald is a social pleasure no woman would willingly miss.”
“I do not approve of Reginald Rath, and I would rather you did not invite him to our box. His presence there, you know, would assuredly preclude mine.”
“I cannot interfere with dear Reggie’s rights. The box is as much his, as mine. Father bought it in perpetuity, when the theater was built. The Merrys, and Taits, and others did the same – and Father left it to Reggie and myself, equally.”
“It would be very unpleasant to you, if Reginald married a woman you did not like – and you really approve of so few women – it is remarkable how few – ”
“Yet I have found a woman since you went away, that is perfect – as good and clever as she is beautiful.”
“Where did you find her?”
“It is my little romance. I will tell you about her after dinner.”
“I am not impatient.”
This kind of half-querulous conversation continued during the service of dinner, but when the cloth had been drawn, and the wine and the nuts promised the absence of servants uncalled for, Roberta’s attitude changed. She took a letter from her bag, and pushed it towards Neil.
“It is your letter,” she said, “it came ten days ago.”
“Why did you open it?”
“The word ‘haste’ was on it, and I thought it might be an announcement of your mother’s death, or serious sickness – not that I thought you would care – ”
“Of course, I care.”
“Then you had better read the letter.”
She watched his face gathering gloom and anger as he did so, and when he threw it from him with some unintelligible words, she lifted and put it again in her bag.
“That is my letter, Roberta, give it to me.”
“You have just flung it away from you. I am going to keep it – it may be useful.”
“What do you mean?”
“Neil, you must now answer me one or two questions. On your answers our living together depends.”
He laughed softly, and said, “Nothing so serious as that, surely, Roberta!”
“Just that. When you went to your father’s funeral, you told me that you owed your sister ninety pounds. You said it was her life’s savings from both labor and gifts, and that she had loaned it to you, in order to make possible your final year at the Maraschal. You said further, that your father was not a saving man, and you feared they would be pinched for money to bury him. And I loaned you ninety pounds, being glad to see such a touch of natural affection in you. This letter from Christine says plainly that you never paid her the ninety pounds you borrowed from me. Is Christine telling the truth?”
“Yet, on your return, you gave me a rather tedious account of your mother’s and Christine’s thankfulness for the money. It created in me a wrong impression of your mother and sister. I asked myself why they should be so crawlingly thankful to you for paying a just debt, and I thought meanly of them. Why did you not pay them the ninety pounds you borrowed from them? And why did you invent that servile bit of thankfulness?”
“I will tell you, Roberta. When I got home I found the whole village on my father’s place. The funeral arrangements were, for a man in my father’s position, exceedingly extravagant, and I was astonished at my mother’s recklessness, and want of oversight. Christine was overcome with grief, and everything appeared to be left to men and women who were spending other people’s money. I thought under the circumstances it was better not to pay Christine at that time, and I think I was right.”
“So far, perhaps, you were prudent, but prudence is naturally mean and as often wrong as right. And why did you lie to me, so meanly and so tediously?”
“You have to lie to women, if you alter in the least anything you have told them. You cannot explain to a woman, unless you want to stand all day doing it. There are times when a lie is simply an explanation, a better one than the truth would be. The great Shakespeare held that such lies were more for number, than account.”
“I do not take my opinion of lies from William Shakespeare. A lie is a lie. There was no need for a lie in this case. The lie you made up about it was for account, not for number – be sure of that. You admit that you did not give Christine the ninety pounds you borrowed from me, in order to pay your debt to her. What did you do with the money?”
“Have you any right to ask me that question? If I borrowed ninety pounds from the bank, would they ask me what I did with it?”
“I neither know nor care what the bank would do. I am seeking information for Roberta Ruleson, and I shall take my own way to obtain it.”
“What is it you want to know?”
“What you did with that ninety pounds?”
“I banked it.”
“In what bank? There is no record of it in the Bank of Scotland, where I have always supposed, until lately, our funds were kept.”
“I did not put it in the Bank of Scotland. Every business man has an official banking account, and also a private banking account. I put that ninety pounds to my private bank account.”
“In what bank?”
“I do not give that information to anyone.”
“It must be pretty well known, since it has come as a matter of gossip to me.”
“You had better say ‘advice’ in place of gossip. What advice did you get?”
“I was told to look after my own money, that you were putting what little you made into the North British Security.”
“I suppose your clever brother told you that. If Reginald Rath does not leave my affairs alone, I shall make him.”
“You will have a bad time doing it. Your check books, no doubt, are in this valise. You will now write me a check on the North British for one hundred and eighty pounds. It is only fair that the North British should pay out, as well as take in.”
“Why should I give you a check for a hundred and eighty pounds?”
“I gave you ninety pounds when you went to your father’s funeral, I took ninety pounds to Culraine ten days ago, in answer to the letter Christine wrote.”
“You went to Culraine? You, yourself?”
“I went, and I had there one of the happiest days of my life. I got right into your mother’s heart, and taught her how to crochet. I saw and talked with your splendid sister. She is the most beautiful, intelligent girl, I ever met.”
“Such nonsense! She knows nothing but what I taught her!”
“She knows many things you know nothing about. I think she will become a famous woman.”
“When Mother dies, she will marry Cluny Macpherson, who is a Fife fisher, and settle down among her class.”
“I saw his picture, one of those new daguerreotypes. Such a splendid-looking fellow! He was a Fife fisher, he is now Second Officer on a Henderson boat, and wears their uniform. But it is Christine I am telling you about. There is a new Blackwood on the table at your right hand. Turn to the eleventh page, and see what you find.”
He did so, and he found “The Fisherman’s Prayer.” With a scornful face he read it, and then asked, “Do you believe that Christine Ruleson wrote that poem? I have no doubt it is the Domine’s work.”
“Not it. I saw the Domine. He and that lovable lad he has adopted – ”
“Dined at the hotel with me. I never before met such a perfect man. I did not know such men lived. The Domine was as happy as a child over Christine’s success. She got five pounds for that poem.”
“I do not believe it.”
“I read the letter in which it came. They praised the poem, and asked for more contributions.”
“If she is making money, why give her ninety pounds? It was absurd – ”
“It was just and right. You say you have made a few hundreds on this London case, you will now write me a check for the two loans of ninety pounds each.”
“I did not borrow the last ninety pounds. You took it to Culraine of your own will and desire. I do not owe the last ninety pounds. I refuse to pay it.”
“I will give you until tomorrow morning to change your mind. When Christine wrote you the letter, now in your hand, she had not a sixpence in the world – her luck came with the money I took her. I do not think she will ever require anyone’s help again. Oh, how could you grudge even your last penny to a sister like Christine?”
“She owes everything to me. I opened up her mind. I taught her to speak good English. I – ”
“‘I borrowed all her life’s savings, kept the money through the death of her father, the severe illness of her mother, and the total absence of anyone in her home to make money or in any way help her to bear the burden and fatigue of her great strait.’ You can tell me in the morning what you propose to do.”
Then she rose, and left the room, and Neil made no offer to detain her. In fact he muttered to himself, “She is a little premature, but it may be as well.”
In the morning he rose while it was yet dark, and leaving word with a servant that he was going to Dalkeith and might be away four days, or longer, he left in the gloom of fog and rain, and early twilight, the home he was never to enter again. He had grown accustomed to every luxury and refinement in its well-ordered plenty, and he had not the slightest intention of resigning its comfortable conditions, but he had no conception of the kind of woman with whom he had now to deal. The wives of Culraine, while dominant in business, gave to their men, in the household, almost an unquestioned authority; and Neil had no experience which could lead him to expect Roberta would, in any essential thing, dare to disobey him. He even flattered himself that in leaving her alone he had left her to anxiety and unhappiness, and of course, repentance.
“I will just give her a little lesson,” he said to himself, complacently. “She gave me until this morning. I will give her four or five days of solitary reflection, and no letters. No letters, Neil Ruleson! I think that treatment will teach her other people have rights, as well as herself.”
Roberta did not appear to be disquieted by his absence. She sent a messenger for her brother, and ate a leisurely, pleasant meal, with the Glasgow Herald for a companion; and before she had quite finished it, Reginald appeared.
“Your early message alarmed me, Roberta,” he said. “I hope all is well with you, dear?”
“Indeed, Reggie, I don’t know whether it is well, or ill. Sit down and I will tell you exactly how my life stands.” Then she related circumstantially all that had occurred – Neil’s first request for ninety pounds at his father’s death – his appropriation of that sum, and his refusal to say what had been done with it – Christine’s letter of recent date which she now handed to her brother. Reginald read it with emotion, and said as he handed it back to his sister: “It is a sweet, pitiful, noble letter. Of course he answered it properly.”
Then Roberta told him all the circumstances of her visit to Culraine, and when she had finished her narration, her brother’s eyes were full of tears.
“Now, Reginald,” she asked, “did I do wrong in going myself with the money?”
“Up to the receipt of Christine’s letter, you supposed it had been paid?”
“Certainly I did, and I thought Neil’s family rude and unmannerly for never making any allusion to its payment.”
“So you paid it again, resolving to fight the affair out with Neil, when he came home. You really accepted the debt, and made it your own, and be sure that Neil will find out a way to make you responsible for its payment in law. In point of truth and honor, and every holy affection, it was Neil’s obligation, and every good man and woman would cry shame on his shirking it. Roberta, you have made the supreme mistake! You have allied yourself with a mean, dishonorable caitiff – a creature in whose character baseness and wickedness meet; and who has no natural affections. As I have told you before, and often, Neil Ruleson has one idea – money. All the comforts and refinements of this home would be instantly abandoned, if he had them to pay for. He has a miserly nature, and only his love of himself prevents him from living on a crust, or a few potato parings.”
“Oh, Reginald, you go too far.”
“I do not. When a man can grudge his good, loving mother on her death-bed anything, or all that he has, he is no longer fit for human companionship. He should go to a cave, or a garret, and live alone. What are you going to do? My dear, dear sister, what are you going to do?”
“What you advise, Reginald. For this reason I sent for you.”
“Then listen. I knew a crisis of some kind must soon come between you and that – creature, and this is what I say – you must leave him. Every day you stay with him insults your humanity, and your womanhood. He says he will be four or five days away, we will have plenty of time for my plan. Before noon I will have here wagons and men in sufficient number to empty this house into Menzie’s granite storage in two days. Send the silver to the bank. I will put it in a cab, and take it myself. Pack things you value highly in one trunk, which can be specially insured. Our pictures we will place in the Ludin Picture Gallery. We can clear the house in three days, and on the morning of the fourth day, young Bruce Kinlock will move into it. If Neil can face Kinlock, it will be the worse for him, for Kinlock’s temper blazes if he but hear Neil’s name, and his hand goes to his side, for the dirk with which his fathers always answered an enemy.”
“Then, Reginald, when I have turned myself out of house and home, what follows?”
“We will take a passage to New Orleans.”
“New Orleans! Why there? Such an out-of-the-way place.”
“Exactly. That creature will argue thus – they have gone to some place on the Continent – very likely France. And he will probably try to make you a deal of trouble. I have never named New Orleans to anyone. Even our friends will never suspect our destination, for we shall go first to France, and take a steamer from some French port, for New Orleans. When we arrive there, we have a new world before us, and can please ourselves where we go, and where we stay. Now, Roberta, decide at once. We have time, but none too much, and I will work night and day to get you out of the power of such a husband.”
“He may repent.”
“We will give him time and reason to do so. He has been too comfortable. You have given him constant temptation to wrong you. He will not repent until he feels the pinch of poverty and the want of a home. Then he may seek you in earnest, and I suppose you will forgive him.”
“What else could I do? Would not God forgive him?”
“That is a subject for later consideration. If you will take my advice you must do it with all your heart, and be as busy as I will be. We want no altercation with him just yet.”
“I give you my word, Reggie, that for two years I will do as you advise. Then we will reconsider the question.”
Then Reginald clasped her hand, and drew her to his side. “It is for your salvation, dear, every way, and loneliness and deprivation may be for his good. We will hope so.”
“You once liked him, Reggie.”
“Yes, I did. He betrayed me in every way he could. He purposely quarreled with me. He wanted a free hand to follow out his own business ideas – which were not mine. But this is now idle talk. Neil will never be saved by people helping him. He must be left to help himself.”
“That is hope enough to work on. Tell me now, exactly what to do.”
Reginald’s plans had long been perfected, and by the noon of the third day the beautiful home was nothing but bare walls and bare floors. That same night, Reginald Rath and his sister left Glasgow by the midnight train, and the following morning, Bruce Kinlock, with his wife and five children, moved into the dismantled house, and in two days it was in a fairly habitable condition. There was, of course, confusion and a multitude of bustling servants and helpers, and a pretty, frail-looking little lady, sitting helplessly in a large chair, and Bruce ordering round, and five children in every place they ought not be, but there was universal good temper, and pleasurable excitement, and a brilliantly lighted house, when on the following Saturday night, Neil drove up to his residence.
He thought, at first, that Mrs. Ruleson had a dinner party, then he remembered Roberta’s reverence for the Sabbath, and knew she would not permit any dancing and feasting so near its daybreaking. The Sabbath observance was also his own strong religious tenet, he was an ardent supporter of Doctor Agnew and his extremist views, and therefore this illumination in the Ruleson mansion, so near to the Sabbath-day, offended him.
“Roberta knows that I am particular about my good name, and that I am jealously careful of the honor of the Sabbath, and yet – yet! Look at my house! It is lit up as if for a carnival of witches!” Then he hurried the cab man, and his keys being in his hand, he applied the latch-key to the lock. It would not move it, and the noise in the house amazed him. He rang the bell violently, and no one answered it. He raged, and rang it again. There was plenty of movement in the house, and he could plainly hear a man’s voice, and a guffaw of laughter. He kept the bell ringing, and kicked the door with his foot.
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