Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
She knew well that there must be trouble. Her mother’s burial money, put away twenty-nine years previously, had proved quite insufficient for modern ideals and modern prices. She was nearly out of money and there would be debts to meet, and every debt would be to her like a wolf baying round the house. That was one trouble. Cluny was another. She knew he would now urge an immediate marriage, and that his plea would have an appearance of extreme justice. She also knew that he would be supported by Norman, whose wife had long set her heart on occupying the Ruleson cottage. That was a second trouble. The third was Neil. He had been immediately notified of his mother’s death, and he had taken no notice of the event. The other boys not present, were all at sea, but where was Neil?
These things she would not yet permit her mind to consider. – In fact, the tossed-up, uncleanly house, dulled her faculties. She could not think clearly, until all was spotless and orderly. Then she could meet trouble clear-headed and free-handed. However, on the third evening after her mother’s burial, every corner of the house satisfied her. Even her dusters and cleaning-cloths had been washed and gone to their special corner of the kitchen drawer; and she had felt, that afternoon, that she could comfortably arrange her paper and pencils on the table of her own room.
She was eager to write. Her heart and brain burned with the thoughts and feelings she longed to express. “Tomorrow,” she said to herself – “Tomorrow, I shall go on with my book.” Three months previously she had begun a story to be called “A Daughter of the Sea,” but lately she had been obliged to lay it aside. She found “the bits o’ poetry,” were all she could manage in the short intervals of time that were her own.
My readers may reflect here, on the truth that there is no special education for a writer. The man or woman who has anything to say to the world, brings the ability to declare it with him. Then all the accidents and events of life stimulate the power which dwells in the heart and brain, and the happy gift speaks for itself. Christine had been making up poetry ever since she could remember, and while yet a child had been the favorite story-teller in all the social gatherings at Culraine. And it is not unlikely that a good story-teller may turn out to be a good story-writer.
About one-third of her first novel, “A Daughter of the Sea,” was completed, and now, with a happy resolution, she sat down to finish it. She did not have the material to seek, she had only to recollect and write down. The day passed with incredible swiftness, and early in the evening Norman opened the door, and saw her sitting by the fire. Her hands were clasped above her head, and there was the shadow of a smile on her still face.
“O Norman!” she cried, “how glad I am to see you! Nobody has been here since – ”
“I know, dear. Folks hae thought it was the kinder thing to stop away, and let you get the house in order.”
“Maybe it was.Come in, and see it, now that everything is in its place.”
So Norman went through all the large, pleasant rooms with her, and he could not help a sigh, as he contrasted them with his own untidy and not over-cleanly house. Then they returned to the ordinary living-room, and when they were seated, Norman lit his pipe, and they talked lovingly of the mother who had gone away, and left her earthly home full of sweet memories. They spoke in soft, tender voices. Christine wept a little, and smiled a little, as she told of her mother’s last days, and Norman’s mouth twitched, and his big brown eyes were heavy with unshed tears.
After this delay, Norman put away his pipe, and bending forward with his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands, he said, “Christine, I hae brought you a message. I hated to bring it, but thought it would come more kindly from my lips, than in any ither way.”
“Weel, Norman, what is it? Who sent you wi’ it?”
“My wife sent me. She says she will be obligated to you, if you’ll move out o’ the Ruleson cottage, as soon as possible. She is wanting to get moved and settled ere the spring fishing begins. These words are hers, not mine, Christine. I think however it is right you should know exactly what you hae to meet. What answer do you send her?”
“You may tell her, Norman, that I will ne’er move out o’ the Ruleson cottage. It is mine as long as I live, and I intend to hold, and to live in it.”
“Jessy has persuaded hersel’ and a good many o’ the women in the village, that you ought to marry Cluny as soon as he comes back to Glasgow, and go and live in that city, so as to make a kind o’ a home there, for the lad. There was a crowd o’ them talking that way, when I came up frae the boat this afternoon, and old Judith was just scattering them wi’ her fearsome words.”
“Norman, I shall not marry until a year is full o’er from Mither’s death. Mither had the same fear in her heart, and I promised her on the Sacred Word, which was lying between us at the time, that I wouldna curtail her full year o’ remembrance, no, not one minute! That is a promise made to the dead. I would not break it, for a’ the living men in Scotland.”
“They were talking of Cluny’s rights, and – ”
“Cluny hes no rights but those my love gives him. I will not marry for a year, at least. I will not live in Glasgow. I will bide in my ain hame. It suits me fine. I can do a’ the writing I want to do in its white, still rooms. I can see wee Jamie here every day. I am out o’ clash and claver o’ the village folk. I can watch the sea and the ships, and feel the winds, and the sunshine, and do my wark, and eat my morsel in parfect peace. Na, na, the auld hame suits me fine! Tell your wife Christine Ruleson will live and die in it.”
Norman did not move or speak, and Christine asked anxiously, “Do you wish me to leave Culraine, and go to Glasgow, Norman?”
“No, I do not! Your wish is mine, and if Mither were here today, I know she would scorn any proposal that brought Jessy here. She never liked Jessy.”
“Her liking or disliking did not influence her will about the house. She loved every stone in this cottage, and above all she loved her garden, and her flowers. Tell me, Norman, if Jessy came here, how long would the house be in decent order? And where would Mither’s bonnie flower-garden be, by the end o’ the spring weather? For Mither’s sake I’ll tak’ care o’ the things she loved. They werna many, and they werna worth much, but they were all she had, for her hard working life, and her sair suffering. And she relied on you, Norman. She said in her last hours, ‘If things are contrary, Christine, and you can’t manage them, ca’ on Norman, and nane else. Norman will stand by his sister, if a’ the warld was against her.’”
“Ay, will he! Blood is thicker than water. We had the same Feyther and Mither. Nane better ever lived,” and he stretched out his hand, and Christine clasped it, and then he kissed her, and went away.
Jessy was waiting for him. “Ye hae been a mortal lang time, Norman,” she said. “I hae been that narvous and unsettled i’ my mind, I couldna even get a bite ready for ye.”
“Weel ye be to settle yoursel’ now, Jessy; for my sister has her mind fixed on the way she has set hersel’, and naebody will be able to move her. Naebody!”
“Is she getting her wedding things ready?”
“She is going to wear blacks for the full year.”
“There’s nae occasion for her to cast them. She can put on a white gown for the ceremony. I suppose they will hae the Domine come to the house and marry them.”
“You are going ayont a’ probabilities, Jessy. Christine willna marry for a full year. I am not sure she will ever marry.”
“She be to marry! Of course she’ll marry! She canna mak’ a leeving oot a’ a few bits o’ poetry! She be to marry! All women hae to marry. Where is she going to bide?”
“Just where she is.”
“I’ll not hear tell o’ that. The house is yours. After the widow’s death, the home comes to the auldest son. That’s the law o’ Scotland, and I’m vera sure it’s the law o’ England likewise. It’s the right law. When folks break it, the break is for sorrow. There was Robert Toddie, who left his house and land to his daughter Jean, and she married her lad, and took him to live there – never heeding her brother’s right – and baith her bairn and hersel’ died within a twelvemonth, and sae Robert cam’ to his ain, and he’s living in the Toddie house this day. Why dinna ye speak to me?”
“I hae heard ye tell the Toddie story till it’s worn awa’.”
“How was the house looking?”
“Clean and bright as a new-made pin.”
“That’s right! I’ll just tak’ the bairns and go up there! One room is a’ she’s needing, and I canna spare her that vera lang.”
“You’ll not daur to tak’ a step up there. Ye hae no mair right there, than you hae in the schoolmaster’s house.”
“I hae every right there. I hae got the best o’ advice on the subject. I’m thinkin’ the law stands aboon your opinion.”
“Not even the law and the fifteen lords o’ Edinburgh could gie you the right to put your foot on that place, in the way of the right. Christine is mistress o’ Ruleson’s, mistress and owner. That, and naething less!”
Norman was very unhappy. He could not get the idea of his right to Ruleson cottage out of his wife’s mind, and he had understood from the laying of its first stone that the building was to be for a home for Margot and Christine as long as either of them lived. He had some sentimental feelings also about the place, for Norman was a dumb poet, and both in his brain and heart the elements of humanity were finely mixed. But he was reticent and self-denying, and the work of his hands being needed by the rapidly increasing family, he had put forth no personal claims. Longing for knowledge and the wisdom of the schools, he had gone silently and cheerfully to the boats and lifted the oars at his father’s side.
But the house he had helped to build was dear to him. The image of his grave, kind father still sat in the big chair by the fireside, and his mother’s quick step, and cheerful voice, and busy household ways, were yet the spirit of the building. He loved its order and cleanliness, and its atmosphere of home and hospitality. Sitting by his fireside that night, he constantly contrasted it with his own disorderly, noisy dwelling, with his slip-shod wife, and her uncertain and generally belated meals. And his purpose was immovable.
During this silent session with himself, his wife never ceased talking. Norman was oblivious both to her entreaties and her threats. But as he rose and laid down his pipe, she laid her hand on his arm, and said, “Gudeman, ye hae heard what I hae said, and – ”
“I hae heard naething since I told you that Christine was owner and mistress o’ Ruleson cottage. Let be, Jessy, I’m weary and ready for sleep.”
“You’ll hear this word, and then ye may sleep awa’ what little sense you hae left. I’ll go the morn into the town, and see Lawyer Forbes, and you’ll mebbe believe him when he serves Christine wi’ a notice to quit, and tak’ her belongings – poems and a’ – wi’ her.”
“If such a thing could happen, I should at once hae it deeded back to her, as a gift. Listen, woman, to my last word on this matter – if you could by any means get possession o’ the house, ye would hae it from foundation to roof-bigging, all to yoursel’! Neither I, nor any o’ my children, would cross its doorstane. That’s a fact, as sure as death!”
“You couldna tak’ my childer from me!”
“I could, and I would. Tak’ your will, you foolish woman! I shall bide by every word I hae said.”
“But Norman – ”
“Let go! You hae never yet seen me in a blaze! Dinna try it tonight! If I lift my hand it will be your ain fault. Get out o’ my sight, and hearing! Quick, woman! Quick! I’m no’ able to stand you langer – O God! O God, help me!”
Jessy, cowed and shocked at this unexpected passion of a patient man, disappeared; but the next moment she was heard in the children’s room, crying and scolding, and the sharp slapping of her hand followed. Norman jumped to his feet, his heart throbbed and burned, he clenched his hands, and took a step forward. The next moment he had sat down, his eyes were closed, his hands were clasped, he had hid himself in that secret sanctuary which his hard life and early disappointments had revealed to him, when he was only a lad of seventeen. Jessy’s railing, the children’s crying, his own angry voice, he heard them not! He was hiding in His pavilion, in the secret of His tabernacle. He had cast his burden upon the Lord. He was in perfect peace.
Christine spent a restless, unhappy night. Norman had put before her a future that frightened her. She had seen the misery made by little wicked innuendoes half a dozen words long. Truly words could not kill her, but they could make life bitter and friendless, and there were women in the village she could neither conciliate, nor cope with, for the weapons they used were not in her armory. “Mither had a sharp tongue,” she said softly, “but even she couldna cope wi’ a lying tongue. Weel, there’s words anent it, in the Good Book, and I’ll seek them out, and they’ll be helping me.”
After all, the central trouble of her heart was neither her house, nor her neighbors, nor even her lover. Someway or other, they could and would be managed. But how was she to refill her empty purse? There was only one half-crown in it, and she had already found out the cruel uncertainty of literary work. It depended on too many people. Her novel was three-fourths done, but she reasoned that if men were so long on finding out whether they liked half a dozen verses, it would be all of a year, ere they got her novel well-examined. After realizing this condition, she said firmly, and with no evidence of unusual trial, “I can tak’ to the fish, in the meantime. I havna outgrown my fisher dress, nor forgot my fisher-calls, and Culraine folk will help me sell, if I look to the boats for my bread. They dinna understand the writing business – nae wonder! There’s few do! The Domine was saying it belongs to the mysteries o’ this life. Weel, I’ll get my pleasure out o’ it, and the fish are ay sure to come, and sure to be caught, and if I set mysel’ to the business, I can beat the auldest and youngest o’ the fisherwomen in the selling o’ them.”
When she came to this decision, the clock struck twelve, and she looked up at its face for a moment, and shook her head. “I canna sleep yet,” she said, “and you needna be calling me. There’s Cluny and Neil to think o’, and dear me, wha’ can Neil be hiding himsel’? He canna hae heard o’ Mither’s death, he would hae come here, and if he couldna come, he would hae written. There has been nae word, either, from that lass he married. She wrote seven lang pages o’ faults and accusations again her lawful husband, and then let the matter drop, as if it was of no further consequence. I didn’t answer her letter, and I am glad I didn’t. And I canna write now, for I know no more anent her whereabouts, than I do anent Neil’s. I wouldn’t wonder if they are together in some heathen country, where men fight duels, and kill each other for an ugly word. In a case like that, it would be fair murder for poor Neil. I wish I knew where the misguided lad is! Norman and Neil had no marriage luck, and wha kens what my luck may be, in the way o’ a husband!”
This intensely personal reflection claimed her whole attention. It was long since she had seen Cluny. Shortly before her mother’s death, he had gone as supercargo on a large merchant steamer, bound for New Zealand. It was a most important post, and he had been promised, if successful, the first captaincy in the fleet of passenger steamers carrying between England and the United States, that was vacant. Before leaving on this long trip to New Zealand, he had only managed to see Christine for three hours. He had reached Culraine at eight o’clock. He had run like a deer the mile and quarter which lay between the railway station and the Ruleson cottage, reaching his goal just as Christine finished reading a goodnight psalm to her mother. She had heard his steps afar off, it had seemed as if the comforting words were read to them – then she was at the open door, and they met in each other’s arms.
Three hours of pure, perfect happiness had followed. Cluny went first to Margot’s side. He knew it was the last time he could ever stand there. In this world they would see each other no more, and he was sorrowfully shocked and touched by the change in the handsome woman, once so vibrant and full of life. Sometimes they had not been very good friends, but this white, frail image, stretching out hands full of pleasure and goodwill to him – this gentle mother of the beloved Christine, won in a moment all his best sympathies. He promised her everything she asked, and then she sent him away with her blessing.
So it had been three hours of marvelous happiness. They had been content to forget all things but the joy of each other’s presence. To the last possible minute he had remained with her, and their hopeful farewell had not been dimmed by a single tear. Since that night, she had sent no anxious worrying thoughts after him. From every port at which his ship touched, he had written her long, loving letters, and now she was beginning to expect his return. Any day she might have a letter from him, dated Liverpool or Glasgow.
“Lat them talk,” she said with a little defiant laugh. “Lat their tongues tak’ their ain ill-way, I’m not feared. There’s Norman at my side, and the Domine not far off, and God aboon us all. I’ll speak to Norman anent the fishing, and if needs be, I can kipper the herring as weel as Mither did.” Then in a moment a wonderful change came over her, the angry scorn of her attitude, and the proud smile on her handsome face vanished. She clasped her hands, and with the light of unconquerable love on her face, she said with tender eagerness – “What does she do now? Oh dear God, what is Mither doing now? I canna tell. I canna tell, but it is Thy will, I’m sure o’ that.” Then the loving tears that followed this attitude washed away all traces of her scorn and anger, and she lay down with prayer on her lips, and fell sweetly asleep.