Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





My friend at the Maraschal. He is the young Master of Brewster and Ballister, and as fine a young fellow as walks in shoe leather. The old Ballister mansion you must have seen every Sabbath, as you went to the kirk.

Ay, I hae seen the roof and turrets o it, among the thick woods; but naebody has lived there, since I was born.

You are right, but Ballister is going to open the place, and spend gold in its plenishing and furnishing. It is a grand estate, and the young master is worthy of it. I am his friend, and I mean to bring you two together. You are bonnie, and he is rich; it would be a proper match. I owe you something, Christine, and Ill pay my debt with a husband worthy of you.

And how would I be worthy o him? I hae neither learning nor siller. You are talking foolishness, Neil.

You are not without learning. In my company you must have picked up much information. You could not hear my lessons and copy my exercises without acquiring a knowledge of many things.

Ay, a smattering o this and that. You wouldna call that an education, would you?

It is a better one than most girls get, that is, in the verities and the essentials. The overcome is only in the ornamentals, or accomplishments piano-playing, singing, dancing, and maybe what you call a smattering of the French tongue. There is a piano in Ballister, and you would pick out a Scotch song in no time, for you sing like a mavis. As for dancing, you foot it like a fairy, and a mouthful of French words would be at your own desire or pleasure.

I hae that mouthfu already. Did you think I wrote book after book full o your French exercises, and heard you recite Ollendorf twice through, and learned naething while I was doing it? Neil, I am awa to Faith, I canna possibly break my word to a lass in trouble.

A moment, Christina

I havna half a moment. Ill do your writing Monday, Neil.

Christine! Christine!

She was beyond his call, and before he got over his amazement, she was out of sight. Then his first impulse was to go to his mother, but he remembered that she had not been sympathetic when he had before spoken of Christine and Cluny Macpherson.

I will be wise, and take my own counsel, he thought, and he had no fear of wanting his own sympathy; yet when he reviewed his conversation with Christine, he was annoyed at its freedom.

I ought not to have told her about Ballister, he thought, she will be watching for him at the kirk, and looking at the towers o Ballister House as if they were her own. And whatever made me say I thought of her as my housekeeper? She would be the most imprudent person. I would have the whole fishing-village at my house door, and very likely at my fireside; and that would be a constant set-down for me.

This train of thought was capable of much discreet consideration, and he pursued it until he heard the stir of presence and conversation in the large living room.

Then he knew that his father and brother were at home, to keep the preparation for the Sabbath. So he made himself look as lawyer-like as possible, and joined the family. Everyone, and everything, had a semi-Sabbath look. Ruleson was in a blue flannel suit, so was Eneas, and Margot had put on a clean cap, and thrown over her shoulders a small tartan shawl. The hearth had been rid up, and the table was covered with a clean white cloth. In the oven the meat and pudding were cooking, and there was a not unpleasant sancta-serious air about the people, and the room. You might have fancied that even the fishing nets hanging against the wall knew it was Saturday night, and no fishing on hand.

Christine was not there. And as it was only on Saturday and Sunday nights that James Ruleson could be the priest of his family, these occasions were precious to him, and he was troubled if any of his family were absent. Half an hour before Christine returned home, he was worrying lest she forget the household rite, and when she came in he asked her, for the future, to bide at home on Saturday and Sabbath nights, saying he didna feel all right, unless she was present.

I was doing your will, Feyther, anent Faith Balcarry.

Then you were doing right. How is the puir lassie?

Theres little to be done for her. She hasna a hope left, and when I spoke to her anent heaven, she said she knew nobody there, and the thought o the loneliness she would feel frightened her.

You see, James, said Margot, puir Faith never saw her father or mother, and if all accounts be true, no great loss, and I dinna believe the lassie ever knew anyone in this warld she would want to see in heaven. Nae wonder she is sae sad and lonely.

There is the great multitude of saints there.

Gudeman, it is our ain folk we will be seeking, and speiring after, in heaven. Without them, we shall be as lonely as puir Faith, who knows no one either in this world, or the next, that shes caring to see. I wouldnt wonder, James, if heaven might not feel lonely to those who win there, but find no one they know to welcome them.

We are told we shall be satisfied, Margot.

Im sure I hope sae! Come now, and we will hae a gude dinner and eat it cheerfully.

After dinner there was a pleasant evening during which fishers and fishers wives came in, and chatted of the sea, and the boats, and the herring fishing just at hand; but at ten oclock the big Bible, bound round with brass, covered with green baize, and undivested of the Books of the Apocrypha, was laid before the master. As he was trying to find the place he wanted, Margot stepped behind him, and looked over his shoulder:

Gudeman, she said softly, you needna be harmering through thae chapters o proper names, in the Book o Chronicles. The trouble is overganging the profit. Read us one o King Davids psalms or canticles, then well go to our sleep wi a song in our hearts.

Your will be it, Margot. Hae you any choice?

I was reading the seventy-first this afternoon, and I could gladly hear it oer again.

And O how blessed is that sleep into which we fall, hearing through the darkness and silence, the happy soul recalling itself In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust Thou art my hope, O Lord God my trust from my youth I will hope continually and praise Thee more and more my soul which Thou hast redeemed! Which Thou hast redeemed! With that wonderful thought falling off into deep, sweet sleep it might be into that mysteriously conscious sleep, informed by prophesying dreams, which is the walking of God through sleep.

CHAPTER II
CHRISTINE AND THE DOMINE


I remember the black wharves and the boats,
And the sea tides tossing free;
And the fishermen with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.

The Domine is a good man. If you only meet him on the street, and he speaks to you, you go for the rest of the day with your head up.

One day leads to another, and even in the little, hidden-away village of Culraine, no two days were exactly alike. Everyone was indeed preparing for the great fishing season, and looking anxiously for its arrival, but if all were looking for the same event, it had for its outcome in every heart a different end, or desire. Thus, James Ruleson hoped its earnings would complete the sum required to build a cottage for his daughters marriage portion, and Margot wanted the money, though not for the same object. Norman had a big doctors bill to pay, and Eneas thought of a two weeks holiday, and a trip to Edinburgh and Glasgow; while Neil was anxious about an increase in his allowance. He had his plea all ready he wanted a new students gown of scarlet flannel, and some law books, which, he said, everyone knew were double the price of any other books. It was his last session, and he did hope that he would be let finish it creditably.

He talked to Christine constantly on the subject, and she promised to stand up for the increase. Though you ken, Neil, she added, that you hae had full thirty pounds a session, and that is a lot for feyther to tak out o the sea; forbye Mither was aye sending you a box full o eggs and bacon, and fish and oatmeal, neer forgetting the cake that men-folk all seem sae extra fond o. And you yoursel were often speaking o the lads who paid their fees and found their living out o thirty pounds a session. Isnt that sae?

I do not deny the fact, but let me tell you how they manage it. They have a breakfast of porridge and milk, and then they are away for four hours Greek and Latin. Then they have two pennyworths of haddock and a few potatoes for dinner, and back to the college again, for more dead languages, and mathematics. They come back to their bit room in some poor, cold house, and if they can manage it, have a cup of tea and some oat cake, and they spend their evenings learning their lessons for the next day, by the light of a tallow candle.

They are brave, good lads, and I dinna wonder they win all, an mair, than what they worked for. The lads o Maraschal College are fine scholars, and the vera pith o men. The hard wark and the frugality are good for them, and, Neil, we are expecting you to be head and front among them.

Then I must have the books to help me there.

That stands to reason; and if youll gie me your auld gown, Ill buy some flannel, and mak you a new one, just like it.

The college has its own tailor, Christine. I believe the gowns are difficult to make. And what is more, I shall be obligated to have a new kirk suit. You see I go out with Ballister a good deal very best families and all that and I must have the clothes conforming to the company. Ballister might nae doubt would lend me the money but

What are you talking anent? Borrowing is sorrowing, aye and shaming, likewise. Im fairly astonished at you naming such a thing! If you are put to a shift like that, Christine can let you hae the price o a suit o clothing.

O Christine, if you would do that, it would be a great favor, and a great help to me. Ill pay you back, out of the first money I make. The price o the books I shall have to coax from Mother.

Youll hae no obligation to trouble Mother. Ask your feyther for the books you want. He would be the vera last to grudge them to you. Speak to him straight, and bold, and youll get the siller wi a smile and a good word.

If you would ask him for me.

I will not!

Yes, you will, Christine. I have reasons for not doing so.

You hae just one reason simple cowardice. O Man! If you are a coward anent asking a new suit o clothes for yoursel, what kind o a lawyer will you mak for ither folk?

You know how Father is about giving money.

Ay, Feyther earns his money wi his life in his hands. He wants to be sure the thing sought is good and necessary. Feythers right. Now my money was maistly gien me, I can mair easily risk it.

There is no risk in my promise to pay.

You havna any sure contract wi Good Fortune, Neil, and it will be good and bad wi you, as it is wi ither folk.

I do not approve of your remarks, Christine. When people are talking of the fundamentals and surely money is one of them they ought to avoid irritating words.

Youll mak an extraordinar lawyer, if you do that, but Im no sure that you will win your case, wanting them. I thought they were sort o necessitated; but crooked and straight is the law, and it is well known that what it calls truth today, may be far from truth tomorrow.

What ails you today, Christine? Has the law injured you in any way?

Ay, it played us a a trick. When you took up the books, and went to the big school i the toun to prepare for Aberdeen, we all o us thought it was Kings College you were bound for, and then when you were ready for Aberdeen, you turned your back on Kings College, and went to the Maraschal.

Kings College is for the theology students. The Maraschal is the law school.

I knew that. We a know it. The Maraschal spelt a big disappointment to feyther and mysel.

I have some work to finish, Christine, and I will be under an obligation if you will leave me now. You are in an upsetting temper, and I think you have fairly forgotten yourself.

Well Im awa, but mind you! When the fishing is on, I canna be at your bidding. Im telling you!

Just so.

Ill hae no time for you, and your writing. Ill be helping Mither wi the fish, from the dawn to the dark.

Would you do that?

Would I not?

She was at the open door of the room as she spoke, and Neil said with provoking indifference: If you are seeing Father, you might speak to him anent the books I am needing.

Ill not do it! What are you feared for? Youre parfectly unreasonable, parfectly ridic-lus! And she emphasized her assertions by her decided manner of closing the door.

On going into the yard, she found her father standing there, and he was looking gravely over the sea. Feyther! she said, and he drew her close to his side, and looked into her lovely face with a smile.

Are you watching for the fish, Feyther?

Ay, I am! They are long in coming this year.

Every year they are long in coming. Perhaps we are impatient.

Just sae. We are a ready for them watching for them Cluny went to Cupar Head to watch. He has a fine sea-sight. If they are within human ken, he will spot them, nae doubt. What hae you been doing a the day lang?

I hae been writing for Neil. He is uncommon anxious about this session, Feyther.

He ought to be.

He is requiring some expensive books, and he is feared to name them to you; he thinks you hae been sae liberal wi him already if I was you, Feyther, I would be asking him quietly when you were by your twa sels if he was requiring anything i the way o books.

He has had a big sum for that purpose already, Christine.

I know it, Feyther, but Im not needing to tell you that a man must hae the tools his wark is requiring, or he canna do it. If you set Neil to mak a table, youd hae to gie him the saw, and the hammer, and the full wherewithals, for the makin o a table; and when you are for putting him among the Edinbro Law Lords, youll hae to gie him the books that can teach him their secrets. Isnt that fair, Feyther?

Im not denying it.

Weel then, youll do the fatherly thing, and seeing the laddie is feared to ask you for the books, youll ask him, Are you wanting any books for the finishing up, Neil? You see it is just here, Feyther, he could borrow the books

Hang borrowing!

Just sae, you are quite right, Feyther. Neil says if he has to borrow, hell never get the book when he wants it, and that he would never get leave to keep it as long as he needed. Now Neil be to hae his ain books, Feyther, he will mak good use o them, and we must not fail him at the last hour.

Whas talking o failing him? Not his feyther, Im sure! Do I expect to catch herrings without the nets and accessories? And I ken that Ill not mak a lawyer o Neil, without the Maraschal and the books it calls for.

You are the wisest and lovingest o feythers. When you meet Neil, and you twa are by yoursels, put your hand on Neils shoulder, and ask Neil, Are you needing any books for your last lessons?

Ill do as you say, dear lass. It is right I should.

Nay, but he should ask you to do it. If it was mysel, I could ask you for anything I ought to have, but Neil is vera shy, and he kens weel how hard you wark for your money. He canna bear to speak o his necessities, sae Im speaking the word for him.

Thy word goes wi me always. Ill neer say nay to thy yea, and he clasped her hand, and looked with a splendid smile of affection into her beautiful face. An English father would have certainly kissed her, but Scotch fathers rarely give this token of affection. Christine did not expect it, unless it was her birthday, or New Years morning.

It was near the middle of July, when the herring arrived. Then early one day, Ruleson, watching the sea, smote his hands triumphantly, and lifting his cap with a shout of welcome, cried

Theres our boat! Cluny is sailing her! Hes bringing the news! They hae found the fish! Come awa to the pier to meet them, Christine.

With hurrying steps they took the easier landward side of descent, but when they reached the pier there was already a crowd of men and women there, and the Sea Gull, James Rulesons boat, was making for it. She came in close-hauled to the wind, with a double reef in her sail. She came rushing across the bay, with the water splashing her gunwale. Christine kept her eyes upon the lad at the tiller, a handsome lad, tanned to the temples. His cheeks were flushed, and the wind was in his hair, and the sunlight in his eyes, and he was steering the big herring boat into the harbor.

The men were soon staggering down to the boats with the nets, coiling them up in apparently endless fashion, and as they were loaded they were very hard to get into the boats, and harder still to get out. Just as the sun began to set, the oars were dipped, and the boats swept out of the harbor into the bay, and there they set their red-barked sails, and stood out for the open sea.

Rulesons boat led the way, because it was Rulesons boat that had found the fish, and Christine stood at the pier-edge cheering her strong, brave father, and not forgetting a smile and a wave of her hand for the handsome Cluny at the tiller. To her these two represented the very topmost types of brave and honorable humanity. The herring they were seeking were easily found, for it was the Grand Shoal, and it altered the very look of the ocean, as it drove the water before it in a kind of flushing ripple. Once, as the boats approached them, the shoal sank for at least ten minutes, and then rose in a body again, reflecting in the splendid sunset marvelous colors and silvery sheen.

With a sweet happiness in her heart, Christine went slowly home. She did not go into the village, she walked along the shore, over the wet sands to the little gate, which opened upon their garden. On her way she passed the life-boat. It was in full readiness for launching at a moments notice, and she went close to it, and patted it on the bow, just as a farmers daughter would pat the neck of a favorite horse.

Ye hae saved the lives of men, she said. God bless ye, boatie! and she said it again, and then stooped and looked at a little brass plate screwed to the stern locker, on which were engraved these words:


Put your trust in God,
And do your best.

And as she climbed the garden, she thought of the lad who had left Culraine thirty years ago, and gone to Glasgow to learn ship building, and who had given this boat to his native village out of his first savings. And it has been a lucky boat, she said softly, every year it has saved lives, and then she remembered the well-known melody, and sang joyously


Weel may the keel row,
And better may she speed,
Weel may the keel row,
That wins the bairnies bread.


Weel may the keel row,
Amid the stormy strife,
Weel may the keel row
That saves the sailors life.


God bless the Life-Boat!
In the stormy strife,
Saving drowning men,
On the seas o Fife.


Weel may her keel row

Then with a merry, inward laugh she stopped, and said with pretended displeasure: Be quiet, Christine! Youre makin poetry again, and you shouldna do the like o that foolishness. Neil thinks it isna becoming for women to mak poetry he says men lose their good sense when they do it, and women! He hadna the words for their shortcomings in the matter. He could only glower and shake his head, and look up at the ceiling, which he remarked needed a coat o clean lime and water. Weel, I suppose Neil is right! Theres many a thing not becomin to women, and nae doubt makin poetry up is among them.

When she entered the cottage, she found the Domine, Dr. Magnus Trenabie, drinking a cup of tea at the fireside. He had been to the pier to see the boats sail, for all the men of his parish were near and dear to him. He was an extraordinary man a scholar who had taken many degrees and honors, and not exhausted his mental powers in getting them a calm, sabbatic mystic, usually so quiet that his simple presence had a sacramental efficacy a man who never reasoned, being full of faith; a man enlightened by his heart, not by his brain.

Being spiritually of celestial race, he was lodged in a suitable body. Its frame was Norse, its blood Celtic. He appeared to be a small man, when he stood among the gigantic fishermen who obeyed him like little children, but he was really of average height, graceful and slender. His head was remarkably long and deep, his light hair straight and fine. The expression of his face was usually calm and still, perhaps a little cold, but there was every now and then a look of flame. Spiritually, he had a great, tender soul quite happy to dwell in a little house. Men and women loved him, he was the angel on the hearth of every home in Culraine.

When Christine entered the cottage, the atmosphere of the sea was around and about her. The salt air was in her clothing, the fresh wind in her loosened hair, and she had a touch of its impetuosity in the hurry of her feet, the toss of her manner, the ring of her voice.





: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24