Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





Then a passionate voice asked what he wanted.

I want to get in. This is my house.

It is not your house. It never was your house.

What number is this?

Twenty-three, Western Crescent. What Tomfool asks?

This is my house. Open the door, or I will call the police. He did call the policeman on the beat, and the man said, A new family moved in yesterday, Sir, and I was taken from Hillside Crescent, only two days ago. I am on the night watch. I havena seen any o them yet, but there seems to be a big lot o them.

Do you know where the family went, who lived in twenty-three previous to this new tenant?

I heard they went abroad left in a great hurry, as it were.

Then Neil went back to the house, and rang the door bell with polite consideration. The new-comers will certainly know more than the policeman, he thought, and I can get no letter till Monday morning. It will be very annoying to be in this doubt until then.

He had plenty of time for these reflections, for the bell was not noticed, and he rang again with a little more impetuosity. This time it was answered by a huge Highlander, with a dog by a leash, and a dogwhip in his hand; and Neil trembled with fear. He knew the man. He had once been his lawyer, and lost his case, and the man had accused him of selling his case. There was no proof of the wrong, none at all, and it was not believed by anyone except Reginald Rath, and even Roberta allowed he was too prejudiced to be fair. These circumstances passed like a flash through Neils heart, as Bruce Kinlock glared at him.

How dare you show your face at my door? he asked. Be off, you whippersnapper, or Ill set the dog on you.

I have always believed, until the present moment, that this was my house. Can you tell me where my family has removed to?

You never had any right in this house but the right of sufferance. Honest Reginald Rath has taken your wife away hes done right. Ye know well you are not fit company for the lady Roberta. As for your family, they have the pity of everyone. What kind of a brute is it that has not a shilling for a dying mother, though hes owing his family ninety pounds, and far more love than he deserves. Go, or it will be worse for you! You sneaking neer-do-well.

Kinlock had spoken with inconceivable passion, and the very sight of the red-headed, gigantic Highlander, sputtering out words that cannot be written, and of the growling brute, that only required a relaxed hand to fly at his throat, made him faint with terror.

I am sure, Mr. Kinlock

How daur you mister me? I am Kinlock, of Kinlock! You had better take yourself off. Im at the end of my patience, and I cannot hold this kind of a brute much longer. And if he grabs any kind of a human being, he never lets go while theres life in him. I cant say how he would treat you one dog does not eat another dog, as a rule. Then he clashed-to the door, and Neil was grateful.

He did not ask again for it to be opened.

He went to his office. Perhaps there was a letter for him there. It was locked, and the man who kept the keys lived over the river. Thoroughly weary and distressed, and full of anxious forebodings, he went to a hotel, and ordered supper in his own room. He did not feel as if he could look anyone in the face, with this dreadful uncertainty hanging over his life. What was the matter?

Thinking over things he came to no conclusion. It could not be his few words with Roberta on the night of his return from London. A few words of contradiction with Roberta were almost a daily occurrence, and she had always accepted such offers of conciliation as he made. And he was so morally obtuse that his treatment of his mother and sister, as influencing his wife, never entered his mind. What had Roberta to do with his mother and Christine? Suppose he had treated them cruelly, what right, or reason, had she to complain of that? Everything was personal to Neil, even moralities; he was too small to comprehend the great natural feelings which make all men kin. He thought Kinlocks reference to his dying mother a piece of far-fetched impertinence, but he understood very well the justice of Kinlocks personal hatred, and he laughed scornfully as he reflected on the Highlanders longing to strike him with the whip, and then set the dog to finish his quarrel.

The Law! The gude Common Law o Scotland has the like o sic villains as Kinlock by the throat! he said triumphantly. He wad hae set the brute at my throat, if he hadna kent it wad put a rope round his ain red neck. I hae got to my Scotch, he remarked, and that isna a good sign. Ill be getting a headache next thing. Ill awa to bed, and to sleep. Monday will be a new day. Ill mebbe get some light then, on this iniquitous, unprecedented circumstance.

CHAPTER XI
CHRISTINE MISTRESS OF RULESON COTTAGE

Now, therefore, keep thy sorrow to thyself and bear with a good courage that which hath befallen thee. Esdras ii, ch. 10, v. 15.

Be not afraid, neither doubt, for God is your guide. Esdras i, ch. 16, v. 75.

It was a cold winter day at the end of January, and a streak of white rain was flying across the black sea. Christine stood at the window, gazing at her brothers old boat edging away to windward, under very small canvas. There was a wild carry overhead, out of the northeast, and she was hoping that Norman had noticed the tokens of the sky. Margot saw her look of anxiety, and said: You needna worry yoursel, Christine. Normans boat is an auld-warld Buckie skiff. Theyre the auldest model on a our coasts, and they can fend in a sea that would founder a whole fishing fleet.

I noticed Norman had lowered his mainsail and hoisted the mizzen in its place, and that he was edging away to windward.

Ay, Norman kens what he must do, and he does it. Thats his way. Ye needna fash anent Norman, hell tak his old Buckie skiff into a gale that yachts wi their lockers fu o prizes wouldna daur to venture.

But, Mither dear, theres a wind from the north blowing in savage gusts, and the black seas tumble wild and high, and send clouds of spindrift to smother the auld boat.

Weel, weel! Shell give to the squalls, and its vera near the turn o the tide, then the wind will gae down, as the sea rises. The bit storm will tak itsel off in a heavy mist and a thick smur, nae doubt o it.

And Norman will know all this.

Ay, will he! Norman is a wonderfu man, for a perteening to his duty.

Then the door opened, and one of the Brodie boys gave Christine two letters. I thought ye wad be glad o them this gloomy day, he said to Christine.

Thank you, Alick! You went a bit out o your road to pleasure us.

Thats naething. Gude morning! I am in a wee hurry, theres a big game in the playground this afternoon. With these words the boy was gone, and Christine stood with the letters in her hand. One was from Cluny, and she put it in her breast, the other was from Roberta, and she read it aloud to her mother. It was dated New Orleans, and the first pages of the letter consisted entirely of a description of the place and her perfect delight in its climate and social life.

Margot listened impatiently. Im no carin for that information, Christine, she said. Why is Roberta in New Orleans? What is she doing in a foreign land, and nae word o Neil in the circumstance.

I am just coming to that, Mither. Then Christine read carefully Robertas long accusation of her husbands methods. Margot listened silently, and when Christine ceased reading, did not express any opinion.

What do ye think, Mither?

Ill hae to hear Neils side, before I can judge. When she was here, she said naething against Neil.

She did not name him at all. I noticed that.

Put her letter awa till we get Neils story. Ill neer blame my lad before I hae heard his side o the wrang. Im disappointed in Roberta. Wives shouldna speak ill o their husbands. It isna lawfu, and its vera unwise.

The faults she names are quite in the line o Neils faults.

Then its a gude thing he was keepit out o the ministry. The Maraschal was gude enough. Im thinking all the lads faults are quite in the line o the law. Put the letter awa. Im not going to tak it into my consideration, till Neil has had his say-so. Let us hae a good day wi a book, Christine.

So we will, Mither. Ill red up the house, and read my letter, and be wi you.

Some wee, short love stories and poems, and the like. That verse you read me a week syne, anent the Lord being our shepherd, is singing in my heart and brain, even the now. It was like as if the Lord had but one sheep, and I mysel was that one. Gie me my crochet wark, and I will listen to it, until you are through wi your little jobs.

The day grew more and more stormy, but these two women made their own sunshine, for Margot was now easy and pleasant to live with. Nothing was more remarkable than the change that had taken place in her. Once the most masterful, passionate, plain-spoken woman in the village, she had become, in the school of affliction and loss, as a little child, and the relations between herself and Christine had been in many cases almost reversed. She now accepted the sweet authority of Christine with pleasure, and while she held tenaciously to her own likings and opinions, she no longer bluffed away the opinions of others with that verbal contempt few were able to reply to. Her whole nature had sweetened, and risen into a mental and spiritual region too high for angry or scornful personalities.

Her physical failure and decay had been very slow, and at first exceedingly painful, but as her strength left her, and her power to resist and struggle was taken away with it, she had traveled through the Valley of the Shadow of Death almost cheerfully, for the Lord was with her, and her own dear daughter was the rod that protected, and the staff that comforted her.

They had a day of wonderful peace and pleasure, and after they had had their tea, and Margot had been prepared for the night, Christine had a long sweet session with her regarding her own affairs. She told her mother that Cluny was coming to see her anent their marriage. He really thinks, Mither, he can be a great help and comfort to us baith, she said, and it is but three or four days in a month he could be awa from the ship.

Do you want him here, dearie?

It would be a great pleasure to me, Mither. I spend many anxious hours about Cluny, when the weather is bad. And Margot remembered how rarely she spoke of this anxiety, or indeed of Cluny at all. For the first time she seemed to realize the girls unselfish love, and she looked at Christine with eyes full of tears, and said:

Write and tell Cluny to come hame. He is welcome, and Ill gie ye baith my blessing! And Christine kissed and twice kissed her mother, and in that hour there was a great peace in the cottage.

This concession regarding Cluny was the breaking down of Margots last individual bulwark. Not by assault, or even by prudence, was it taken. A long service of love and patience made the first breach, and then Christines sweet, uncomplaining reticence about her lover and her own hopes threw wide the gates, and the enemy was told to come hame and welcome. It was a great moral triumph, it brought a great satisfaction, and after her surrender, Margot fell into a deep, restful sleep, and Christine wrote a joyful letter to Cluny, and began to calculate the number of days that must wear away before Cluny would receive the happy news.

A few days after this event Christine began to read to her mother Lady Audleys Secret, and she was much astonished to find her sleepy and indifferent. She continued in this mood for some days, and when she finally threw off this drowsy attitude, Christine noticed a very marked change. What had taken place during that somnolent pause in life? Had the silver cord been loosed, or the golden bowl broken, or the pitcher broken at the fountain? Something had happened beyond human ken, and though Margot made no complaint, and related no unusual experience, Christine knew that her spirit was ready to return unto God who gave it. And she said to herself:


As I work, my heart must watch,
For the door is on the latch,
In her room;
And it may be in the morning,
He will come.

In the afternoon little Jamie came in, and Christine told him to go very quietly to his grandmother, and speak to her. She smiled when he did so, and slowly opened her eyes. Good-by, Jamie, she said. Be a good boy, be a good man, till I see ye again.

I will, Grandmother. I will! I promise you.

What do you think o her, Jamie? asked Christine.

I think she is dying, Auntie.

Go hame as quick as you can, and tell your feyther to come, and not to lose a minute. Tell him he must bring the Cup wi him, or Im feared hell be too late.

The Domines voice roused Margot a little. She put out her trembling hand, and the likeness of a smile was on her face. Is He come? she asked.

Only a few more shadows, Margot, and He will come. I have brought the Cup with me, Margot. Will you drink the Wine of Remembrance now?

Ay, will I gladly!

The Domine and Christine ate and drank the sacred meal with her, and after it she seemed clearer and better, and the Domine said to her, Margot, you will see my dear old friend, James Ruleson, very soon now. Will you tell him I send him my love? Will you tell him little Jamie is my son now, and that he is going to make the name of James Ruleson stand high in the favor of God and man?

Ill tell him a anent Jamie and anent Christine, too.

The dead wait and long for news of the living they love. Someway, sooner or later, good news will find them out, and make even heaven happier. Farewell, Margot!

Later in the evening there came that decided lightening which so often precedes death. Margot asked for Norman, and while he knelt beside her, she gave him some instructions about her burial, and charged him to stand by his sister Christine. Shell be her lane, she said, til my year is gane by, and the warld hates a lone woman who fends for hersel. Stay wi Christine tonight. Tell Christine to come to me.

When Christine was at her side, she asked, Do you remember the verses in the wee, green book?

Called Coming?

Ay and she added very slowly the first few words she wished to hear It may be when the midnight


Is heavy upon the land,
And the black waves lying dumbly
Along the sand,
When the moonless night draws close,
And the lights are out in the house,
When the fires burn low and red,
And the watch is ticking loudly,
Beside the bed.
Though you sleep tired out, on your couch
Still your heart must wake and watch,
In the dark room.
For it may be that at midnight,
I will come.

And then Norman said solemnly, In such an hour as you think not, He will come.

About ten oclock Christine caught an anxious look in her eyes, and she asked, What is it, Mither, dear Mither?

Neil! she answered. Did ye send for the lad?

Three days ago.

When he does come, gie him the words I send him. You ken what they are.

I will say and do all you told me.

But dinna be cross wi the laddie. Gie him a fair hearing.

If he is sorry for a he has done

He willna be sorry. Ye must een forgie him, sorry or not Ye ken what the Domine said to me when I spoke o forgiving Neil when he was sorry?

The Domine said you were to remember, that while we were yet sinners God loved us, and Christ died for us.

Ay, while we were yet sinners! that leaves room for Neil and everybody else, Christine Christine I am weary, bairns I will go to sleep now gude night!

Death had now become a matter of consent to Margot. She surrendered herself to her Maker, and bade her children goodnight!


Her life had many a hope and aim,
Duties enough and little cares,
And now was quiet and now astir,

until Gods hand beckoned her into His school of affliction. Now in the House not made with Hands she understands the meaning of it all.

The next week was a particularly hard one to Christine. In the long seclusion of her mothers illness, and in the fascination which study now had for her, the primitive burial rites of Culraine were an almost unbearable trial. Every woman who had ever known Margot came to bid her a last earthly farewell. Some cried, some volubly praised her, some were sadly silent, but all were alike startled by the mighty change that affliction and death had made in the once powerful, handsome, tremendously vitalized woman, who had ruled them all by the sheer force of her powerful will and her wonderful vitality. Pale and cold, her raven hair white as snow, her large strong hands, shrunk to skin and bone, clasped on her breast, and at rest forever they could hardly believe that this image of absolute helplessness was all that was left of Margot Ruleson.

For three days the house was always full, and Christine was troubled and questioned on every hand. But for three days long a little brown bird sat on a holly tree by her window, and sang something that comforted her. And the sweet, strong song was for her alone. Nobody else noticed it. She wondered if they even saw the little messenger. On the afternoon of the third day, the Domine, standing at the head of the coffin, spoke to the men and women who filled the house. His eyes were dim with tears, but his voice had the strong, resonant ring of a Faith that knew it was well with the dead that die in the Lord. It was mainly to the living he spoke, asking them solemnly, What does the Lord require of you? Only this service that you do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Then Margots sons, Norman and Eneas, lifted the light coffin. The Domine walked in front of it, and all the men present followed them to the open grave, in the old kirk yard. In Scotland women do not go to the grave. Christine locked herself in her room, and the women mourners gradually returned to their homes.

That night she was quite alone, and she could give free outlet to her love, and grief, and hope. She felt her mother in every room. She could not believe she had gone far away. At times, walking about the desolate house, she called her mother with passionate weeping again, in the soft low voice that she had used when soothing her pain and weariness. At length even her superb vitality gave way, and she fell upon her bed in a comforting, restorative sleep.

Morning found her ready and able to face the new life. She rose with the dawn, ate her breakfast, and then lifted the hardest duty before her. This was to brush and carefully fold away Margots last simple clothing. Margot herself had cared for her one silk dress, her bits of lace, and the beads and rings and combs of the days of her health and vanity. Christine had seen her face wet with tears as she locked them in the trunk, and had kissed those tears away with promises of renewed life. But there was no one with her to kiss away the tears she shed over the simple gowns of Margots last hard days. As she was doing this loving duty, she thought of the angels folding up neatly the simple linen garments in which Christ had been buried. With such thoughts in her heart, oh how lovingly she stroked the plain cotton gowns, and the one black merino skirt, that had made up Margots last wardrobe. Her tears dropped over them, and she turned the key with a little cry so heart-broken that no doubt her angel wept with her.

Oh Mither, Mither! she cried, how little had ye for a the days o your hard, sorrowfu, painfu, fifty-five years for a your loveless girlhood for a your wifely watchings and fearings for feyther on the stormy seas for a your mitherhoods pains and cares for the lang, cruel years you were walking i the Valley o the Shadow o Death for a the years o your hard, daily wark, loving and tending your six sons and mysel, feeding, dressing, and makin us learn our catechism and our Bible verses curing fish, and selling fish, makin nets, and mending nets, cooking and knitting and sewing. Surely the good Master saw it all, and will gie you His well done, and the wage ye hae earned.

The bits of crochet work that her mothers trembling fingers had made her last work one little table mat unfinished had a strange sacredness, and a far more touching claim. She took these to her own room. They hold Mithers last thoughts. They seem a part o her. Ill never lose sight o them while I draw breath o life. Never! And she kissed and folded them up, with the dried rose leaves from Margots garden.

Then she stayed her tears, and looked round the disordered house. Everything was out of its proper place. That circumstance alone made her miserable, for Christine was what her neighbors called a pernickity housekeeper. She must have a place for everything, and everything in its place. Until she had her home in this precise condition, she resolved to take no other trouble into consideration. And simple and even derogatory as it appears to be, nothing is more certainly efficacious in soothing grief, than hard physical labor. It took her two days to put the cottage in its usual spotless condition, and during those two days, she gave herself no moment in which to think of any trouble before her.





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