Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





One morning in September she had a strange feeling of inability to work. The fog dulled her mind. Nothing was firm and certain in her ideas. She found herself dreaming of incoherent and mysterious things, a woof of thought, as airy as the fog itself. Ill put the paper and pencil awa, she said, and Ill build up the fire, and make some good bread, then if I am no mair awake Ill red up the house. Theres dust on everything and little wonder if theres dust on my mind, too. Then someone tried to open the door and she called out, Wait a wee! Ill slip the bolt in a minute. When she had done so, she opened the door and Neil, in a low broken voice said, Christine! Let me in! Why am I bolted out? and he whimpered out the words, like a hurt child, as he passed her.

She looked at him in amazement. She could hardly believe her own senses. This was not her brother a wan, trembling man, with the clothing of a laborer, and his hair clipped close to his head.

Bolt the door again, he said, in his old authoritative way, and give me something to eat. I am sick with hunger, and cold, and misery of all kinds.

Ill do all that, Neil, but where hae you been this lang time, and what makes you sae poor, and sae broken down?

Get me something to eat, and I will tell you.

So she left him crouching over the fire, with his elbows on his knees, and his face hidden in his hands. And she asked him no more questions, but when he had had a good meal, he said, You asked where I had been, Christine? I hae been in prison in the House of Correction. I was put there by that villain Rath, who accused me of obtaining money under false pretenses.

I feared something of the kind. A man came here a short time before mother died

Mother dead!

Ay, going on eight months now.

And he cried out like some hurt animal, and Christine hasted to say, She left her love and her blessing. At the very last, she spoke o you, Neil.

The man you were speaking of, what did he say?

He asked me for the particulars o my loan to you. He pitied me, and said you had a way o getting money on vera questionable pretenses.

Well, what then?

I said you made no pretenses to me, that you didna even ask me to lend you money, that I offered it to you, and refused a bond, or acknowledgment, and only bid you pay me when money was easy wi you. And I took the liberty o calling him a sneaking scoundrel, and something else Ill not say oer again. Then I wrote, and told you the entire circumstance, and you never answered my letter.

I never received it. Rath wanted to leave Scotland, and the case was fairly rushed through. I was stunned. I think I lost my senses. I did get a lawyer, but I am sure Rath bought him. Anyway, I lost the case, and before I realized the situation, I found myself in prison for six months. I was made to work look at my hands I had dreadful food, dreadful companions.

I was ill all the time. And when at last I was set free, someone had claimed my fine clothing, and left me these shameful rags.

Oh Neil! dear Neil! Had you no money?

My lawyer charged me shamefully literally robbed me and I spent a great deal while in prison in getting proper food, and any comfort I could, at any price. After I got free, I was very ill in the hospital, and more went, and I have only enough left to pay my passage to America. I walked most of the way here. Im a broken, dying man.

You are naething o the kind. All men mak mistakes, a good many hae a stumble on the vera threshold o life, and they leap to their feet again, and go prosperously ever afterward. You hae made a mistake, you must master it, you hae had a sair stumble, and you are going to leap to your feet, and run the rest o your life-race to a clean, clear victory. The first thing is your claes. I am going at once to the Domine. You are about his size. I will get a suit, and some clean linen from him.

Oh Christine, he may tell

The Domine betray you! What are you saying?

I cant trust anyone but you.

But you must.

Finlay knows my size and measure, exactly.

Vera well, then go to Finlay.

How can I go through the town, or even the village, in this dress? You will hae to go for me.

I will go to the Domine. It is impossible for me to go and buy a mans full suit at Finlays. He is a great talker. He wad want to ken why and wherefore I was buying a mans suit you ought to think o this, Neil. Ill ask Norman to go.

Norman will hae to tell that silly fool he married.

Then I had better go to the Domine. He willna cheep o the matter to anyone. Keep the doors bolted while I am awa, and go to your own old room. It is a ready for you.

Only half satisfied with these arrangements, he went fretfully to bed, and Christine went as quickly as she could to the manse. The Domine listened to her story with an air of annoyance. I know Neils story, he said, and he has told it as far as his telling goes, as truthfully as I expected. I am not so sure about his need of money, the clothing is different. I will send over what is necessary, and call in the afternoon and see him.

Dinna be cross wi the lad, Sir. He is sair broken down, and suddenly Christine covered her face and began to cry with almost a childs complete surrender to circumstances. The Domine soothed her as he would have soothed a child, and she said, Forgie me, Sir, I had to give way. It is a by now. Im not a crying woman, you know that, Sir.

I do, and I am the more angry at those who compel you to seek the relief of tears. But Ill be as patient as I can with Neil, for your sake, and for his fathers and mothers sake.

So Christine returned and Neil was difficult to awaken, but he heard her finally, and opened the door, in a half-asleep condition. So the Domine refused you? he said I thought he would.

He did not refuse me. He will send, or bring, what you need, later.

You should hae brought them with you, Christine. I dislike to be seen in these disreputable rags. You should hae thought o that.

I should, but I didna.

Then she cooked dinner, and he sat beside her, and told, and retold the wrongs and sufferings he had innocently endured. It was all Reginald Rath he blamed, and he would not admit that his behavior had been in any way provocative of it. He was furious because I married his sister, and naturally took the management of her money into my own hands.

Where are the Raths now?

I do not know. Somewhere in California, I suspect.

Why?

My wife has a good deal of real estate there. It was of little value when deeded to her. Its worth has increased enormously. Rath hated the idea of it belonging to me.

Neil, how does Roberta feel toward you?

She was angry as he was at first but she loved me.

Why do you not go to her?

I do not know where she is.

Why not go to California?

I have not money enough. Whatever set you to writing books, Christine?

How do you know I have been writing books?

I saw a review of a book by Christine Ruleson. It praised the bit novel a good deal Did you get much for it?

They paid me vera weel.

How much?

She hesitated a moment, and then said, Three hundred and fifty pounds.

That is a deal of money for a book I mean a storybook, like a novel. I did not know writing novels paid so well, or I would have chosen it, in place of the law.

The Domine thinks writing as a profession must choose you, that you cannot choose it.

The Domine does not know everything. Have the men who bought it paid you yet?

The publishers? Yes, they paid upon acceptance.

How did you learn to write?

I never learned. I just wanted to write, and I wrote something in me wrote. My writing is neither here nor there. Go to your old room, and lie down and sleep. The Domine may think it best for you to go somewhere at once.

So Neil went to his room but he could not sleep, and about four oclock the Domine called for him. They met very coldly. The Domine had long ago lost all interest in him as a scholar, and he resented the way in which Neil had quietly shuffled off his family, as soon as he supposed he had socially outgrown them. The young man was terribly humiliated by the necessity of appearing in his dirty, beggarly raiment, and the Domine looked at him with a pitying dislike. The physical uncleanliness of Neil was repellent to the spotless purity which was a strong note in the ministers personality. However, he thought of the father and mother of Neil, and the look of aching entreaty in poor Christines face quite conquered his revulsion, and he said, not unkindly, I am sorry to see you in such a sad case, Neil. You will find all you need in that parcel; go and dress yourself, and then I shall be waiting for you. He then turned quickly to Christine, and Neil found himself unable to offer any excuse for his appearance.

Poor Neil! sighed Christine.

Yes, indeed, poor Neil, answered the Domine. What can man do for a fellow creature, who is incapable of being true, and hardly capable of being false?

I advised him to go to his wife. He says she loved him once, but turned against him at her brothers request.

She did, and a wife who cries out has everyones sympathy.

She will forgive him if she loved him.

She may, I have known women to go on loving and trusting a man found out in fraud only a woman could do that.

A man

No!

Oh, Domine, for fathers sake you loved father for his sake, be kind to poor, dispairing Neil.

Yes, child, despairing that is, because he knows he is wrong, and is not sorry for his fault. A good man in the presence of any misfortune stands up, feels exalted, and stretches out his arms to the Great Friendship he never drifts like a dismasted ship.

Here Neil entered the room again, looking very respectable in the new tweed suit which the Domine had brought him. Does it fit you, Neil? he asked.

As if made for me, Sir. I thank you for it.

It was altered for you. Finlay knew your measure to a quarter of an inch, he said. I told him you were not fit to come.

Was that prudent, Sir?

Yes, for we are going away at once.

I would like to rest with Christine for a few days.

How can you think of such a thing? Do you want to ruin your sister as well as yourself? Do you not know that Rath is going to sue you as soon as your first sentence is served, for shortage in his money account? He will keep up this prosecution, if you stay in this country.

What can I do? What can I do?

You must go to the United States, or Argentine, or India, or

I have no money to spend in travel.

How much have you?

Thirty pounds and a little over.

H-m-m! I will lend you twenty pounds, if you will repay it.

Certainly, I will repay it. I will go to New York. I shall have a little left, when I get there, I suppose. I shall have to travel decently.

You can get a comfortable passage for twelve pounds. With the balance you can make a spoon, or spoil a horn. Many a good man has built a fine fortune on less than forty pounds.

I can spare fifty pounds, Sir. I will gladly give it.

You cannot spare it. You need every shilling of it, and as I have said fifty pounds will make a man, or waste a man. Any Scotchman with youth, education, and fifty pounds, feels sure of his share of the world, or he is not worth his porridge.

You forget, Sir, that I have the bonds of a false charge to fight.

The charge was not false. Do what is right, in the future, and I promise you that it shall never more come up against you. But if you go on buying money with life and honor, you will have a second charge to meet. I know whereof I speak. I have had several interviews with Mr. Rath. He is my half-sisters nephew. He will do anything reasonable I ask of him.

My God! And you let me go to prison, and blasted my good name, and made a beggar and a wreck of me. I wont have your help, and he turned to Christine, and cried out passionately, Christine! Christine! Save me from a friend like this! Help me yoursel, dear lassie! Help Neil yoursel! For Mithers sake help Neil yoursel.

She went quickly to his side. She put her arms round him her white, strong, motherly arms. She kissed his face, and wept with him, and she said with a loving passion, all those soft, cruddling, little sentences with which a mother soothes a hurt child. Ill gie you a the siller you want, dearie. Ill gie it to you as a free gift. Ill stand by ye through thick and thin. Guilty or not guilty, ye are my ain dear brither! I dont believe youre guilty! You are feythers son, ye couldna be guilty. Its a spite, and envy, and ill will. Mither bid me be kind to you, and I will be kind, though all the warlds against me!

The Domine watched this scene with eyes full of tears, and a tender fatherly look. He finally put his elbow on the table, and rested his face in his hand, and no doubt he was praying for counsel. For he presently stood up, and said in a kind, familiar voice, Neil, we must hurry, we have a little journey before us, if you get the next Atlantic steamer. We will talk this matter fairly out, when we are alone. It is cruel to force it on your sister. She knows, and you know also, that you may safely put your trust in me.

Then Christine left the room, and when she returned the two men were ready to leave the house. Where are you taking Neil, Domine? she asked, in that lowered voice Fear always uses. Where are you taking my brother?

Only to Moville, Christine. There may be spies watching the outgoing steamers especially the American Liners so he had better go to Moville, and take his passage from there.

She did not answer. She bent her tearful, loving face to Neils, and kissed him again, and again, and whispered hurriedly Write to me often, and soon, and when her hand unclasped from his, she left with him the money she had promised. The Domine pretended not to see the loving transaction, and the next moment the two men were wrapped up in the thick darkness, which seemed to swallow up even the sound of their footsteps.

That night Christine mingled her lonely cup of tea with tears, but they were tears that had healing in them. Those to whom love has caused no suffering, have never loved. All who have loved, have wept. Christine had given away her heart, it had been bruised and wounded but ought she to love her brother less, because he had proved himself unworthy? If anything could bring him back to her trust, would it not be the prayers and tears born from her desolation? To regret, and to desire, between these two emotions the horizons recede; they are two spiritual levers, by which the soul can work miracles of grace.

So the days went on in alternating sunshine and storm. The Domine or Jamie came every day to see if all was well with her. Sometimes Norman stopped long enough on an evening visit, to talk about Neil and to wonder over his past and future. For though he had reached New York safely, they knew little of his life. He said he had found a clerkship in the general store of a merchant in a small town on the Hudson River, about sixty miles from New York; but he intimated it was only a resting place, till he felt ready to go to California. His great anxiety was to obtain the knowledge of his wifes hiding-place, for he was sure her brother was determined to keep them apart. And this conviction was gradually making a reconciliation with her the chief aim and desire of his unhappy life. He was sure the Domine knew where she was, and his letters to Christine urged on her constantly a determined effort to induce him to reveal her residence. Christine had made three efforts to win the Domines confidence, and had then abandoned the attempt as utterly useless.

The herring-fishery with all its preparatory and after duties and settlements was now quite past, and the school was in full swing again, and the quiet days of St. Martins summer were over the land. All the magnificent flowers of early autumn were dead, but the little purple daisy of St. Michael filled the hedges, and the crannies of the moor. In the garden, among the stones of its wall, the mint and the thyme and the wall flowers still swung in sunny hours, faint ethereal perfume; but it was like the prayers of the dying, broken and intermittent, the last offering of the passing autumn. There were gray and ghostly vapors in the early morning, and the ships went through them like spirits. The rains sobbed at the windows, and the wind was weary of the rain. Sometimes the wind got the best of both fog and rain, then it filled the sails of the ships, and with swelling canvas they strutted out with the gale.

In the mornings, if the sea was willing, she saw the fishermen hastening to the boats, with their oilskins over their arms, and water bottle swinging at their sides. And it was the sea after all, that was her true companion. The everlasting hills were not far away, but they were young compared with the old, old, gray sea. Its murmur, its loud beat of noisy waves, its still, small voice of mighty tides, circling majestically around the world, all spoke to her. Her blood ran with its tide, she wrote best when they were inflowing. When it was high water with the sea, it was high water with Christines highest nature, spiritual and mental. Their sympathy was perfect, and if taken away from the sea, she would have been as miserable as a stormy petrel in a cage. So then, with the sea spread out before her, and her paper and pencils in hand, she hardly missed human companionship.

Still there were days when she wanted to talk, when singing did not satisfy her, and one morning when she had watched a boat come ashore, broadside on the rocks, she felt this need almost like a pain in her heart. No lives had been lost, and she had watched her brother Norman playing a godlike act of salvation with the life-boat, yet she had what she called a sair heartache!

It isna for the men, she said softly, they are a safe, through Gods mercy, and Normans pluck and courage. I think it is for the poor, poor boat, beaten and lashed to pieces, on thae black, cruel rocks! Poor Boatie! left alane in her misery and death! And she did her best! Nae doubt o that! She did her best, and she had to die!

Just then there was a knock at the door, and though she had a moments wonder at anyones coming up the hill, so early in such rough weather, she cried out, Come in. Lift the hasp, and come in. Then she turned round to see who would enter. It was Roberta Ruleson.

CHAPTER XIII
THE RIGHT MATE AND THE RIGHT TIME

For the destiny whereof they were worthy drew them unto this end. Wisdom of Solomon, xix, 4.

Mercifully ordain that we may become aged together. Tobit, viii, 7.

The Bride of Love and Happiness!

Roberta Ruleson was the last person in the world Christine expected to see. She came in smiling, and with outstretched hand said, Dear Christine, tell me that you are glad to see me.

Theres nane living, Roberta, saving your ain husband, I would be gladder to see.

I have sent the carriage away, can I stop with you this night?

You can stay as long as you want to stay. I will be gey glad o your company.

I have long looked for an opportunity to come to you. At last I pretended to be very sick with rheumatism, and had a famous physician to see me. Of course I had looked up the symptoms I had to complain of, and I succeeded in deceiving him. He was puzzled about my freedom from fever, but I told him it came bad enough every third day, and he said he would see me on the third day. My brother and his saucy wife left for Edinburgh yesterday, and they think I am safe in bed. I am safe here. I left Glasgow an hour after they did.

Will you hae a cup of tea and a mouthful o bread and broiled ham?

I am hungry and cold, and shall be very glad of it.

Then go and tak off your bonnet and cloak, and come to the fireside. Ill hae the food ready for you, in ten minutes.

Christine wanted a few minutes to consider. Was it right for her to tell Roberta all she knew, or must she follow the Domines plan and be non-committal. She had not satisfied herself on this subject when Roberta returned to her, and she then hastily decided to do right and tell the truth whatever turned up. The tea and ham and bread were ready and Roberta sat down to them with the pleasant eagerness of a hungry child. She was, however, much changed. Her face showed plainly the wear and tear of a troubled, anxious mind, and as soon as she had taken a long drink of tea, she asked abruptly, Christine, where is Neil?

Then all Christines hesitation vanished, and she answered frankly, Neil is in a little town on the Hudson River, about a two hours journey from New York.

What is he doing?

He is bookkeeper in a shop there.

What is the name of the town? Tell me truly, Christine.

I will let you read his last letter. It came two days ago.

Thank you! It would be a great comfort to me.

There was a John Knox teapot on the chimney-piece, and Christine lifted it down, removed the lid, and took Neils letter out, and handed it to Roberta.





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