Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





The womans invincible sense of whatever was ridiculous or inconsistent, with a person or event, was instantly roused by the appearance of John Knox. She laughed with girlish merriment. To think of John Knox interfering in my matrimonial difficulties! she cried, it is too funny! The old scold! How grim and gruff he looks! If he could speak, how he would rave about the outrageous authority of women. It is refreshing to know that he had a wife that snubbed him, and didnt believe in him, and did not honor and obey him, and

She had unfolded the letter as she was speaking, and now her eyes were so busy, that her tongue got no message to deliver, and this was what she read:

My dear sister Christine,

I am still here, waiting for the information I asked you to get me, namely the address of my dear wife. I am unhappy, I may say I am miserable; and I can never settle anywhere, till I see her. If she then refuses to hear and believe me, life will be over to me. But she will believe me, for I will tell her the truth, and she will see that though I was foolish, I was not criminal. The law separating these two conditions is far from being clear enough. I want to know where my wife is! She will believe me! She will trust me! You do. Mother did. Roberta has been very near and dear to me. She has been forced to abandon me. It is the injustice of my treatment that is killing me. If I could only clear myself in her sight, I could lift life again, and make the best of it. I am not half content in this place. I cannot believe the people here are representative Americans, and I dislike small towns. Traders and dwellers in small towns are generally covetous they have a sinister arithmetic they have no clear notions of right and wrong, and I think they are capable of every kind of malice known to man. I want to go to a big city, where big motives move men, and if you do not send me Robertas hiding place, I will put out for California, if I foot it every step of the way. I am stunned, but not broken.

Your loving brother,
Neil.

When she had finished this letter, she was crying. Give it to me! she sobbed, it is all about me, Christine. Give it to me! Poor Neil! He has been badly used! Oh Christine, what must I do?

You ought to go to his side, and help him to mak a better life. What prevents ye?

Oh the shame of it! The atmosphere of the prison!

You promised God to tak him for better or worse, richer or poorer. You are breaking your promise every day, and every hour, that you stay away from him.

You must not blame me ignorantly, Christine. My brother and I were left alone in the world, when he was ten years old, and I was eight. He at once assumed a tender and careful charge of my lonely life. I cannot tell you how good and thoughtful he was. When I left school he traveled all over Europe with me, and he guarded my financial interests as carefully as if they were his own.

And I gave him a great affection, and a very sincere obedience to all his wishes and advice. At first he seemed to favor my liking for Neil, but he soon grew furiously jealous, and then all was very unpleasant. Neil complained to me. He said he did not want me to take my brothers opinion without saying a few words in his own behalf, and so I soon began to take Neils side. Then day by day things grew worse and worse, and partly because I liked Neil, and partly because I was angry at Reginald, and weary of his exacting authority, I became Neils wife.

That was an engagement for a the days of your life. You hae broken it.

The law excused and encouraged me to do so.

Were you happy in that course?

About as unhappy as I could be. I was sure Neil had been hardly dealt with, that advantage had been taken of his terror and grief, when he found himself in prison. I am sure the lawyer he employed was really seeking Reginalds favor, and practically gave Neils case away, but I was angry at Neils want of spirit and pluck, in his own defense. Reginald told me that he cried in the dock, and I shed a few passionate tears over his want of courage and manliness.

Poor Neil! If you had stood by him, he would have stood by himself. Remember, Roberta, that he was only just out of his college classes, and had had neither time nor opportunity to make friends; that his mither was dying, and that we had no money to defend him; that his wife had deserted him, and that he is naturally a man of little courage, and you will judge him very leniently.

Reginald told me he was saving money in order to run away from me, and

If he was saving money to run awa with, he intended to take you with him. If he was going awa alone, a few pounds would hae been all he needed. And it seems to me you were the runaway from love and duty. But it is little matter now, who was most to blame. Life is all repenting and beginning again, and that is everything that can be done in this case.

I will start for New York tomorrow. Can you get Doctor Trenabie here for me?

Do you know him?

He is a distant relative both of the Raths and the Ballisters.

He never said a word about his relationship, to me.

It would have been most unlike him had he done so, but I can tell you, he wrote me before my marriage, and advised me to be very cautious with Mr. Neil Ruleson.

I will send for him, said Christine, a little coldly, and then she drew the conversation towards the Raths and Ballisters. Were they closely connected with Doctor Trenabie? she asked.

In a distant way, said Roberta, but they are firm friends, for many generations.

The Domine does not talk much about himsel.

No. He never did. He vowed himself early in life to chastity and poverty, for Christs sake, and he has faithfully kept his vow. Old Ballister gave him the kirk of Culraine at fifty pounds a year, and when the death of his father made him a comparatively rich man, he continued his humble life, and put out all the balance of his money in loans to poor men in a strait, or in permanent gifts, when such are necessary. Reginald used to consider him a saint, and many times he said that if I was married to a good man, he would try and live such a life as Magnus Trenabie.

Once I knew Colonel and Angus Ballister.

I heard Angus lately boasting about his acquaintance with you that is since your book has set the whole newspaper world to praising you.

He is married. I saw him with his bride.

A proud, saucy, beautiful Canadian, educated in a tip-top New York boarding school, in all the pronounced fads of the day. Now, I have seen New York girls of this progressive kind, and the polish being natural to them, they were not only dashing and impertinent, they were fascinating in all their dictatory moods. But this kind of polish is intolerable when laid over a hard, calculating, really puritanical Scotch nature. Such a girl has to kill some of her very best qualities, in order to take it on at all.

She would be gey hard to live wi. I wouldnt stay wi her not a day.

Yet, I can tell you, both English and Scotch men are enslaved easily by this new kind of girl. She is only the girl of the period and the place, but they imagine her to be the very latest improvement in womanly styles. Now, I will astonish you. Reginald married the sister of Angus Ballisters wife. She is equally beautiful, equally impertinent and selfish, and she holds Reginald in a leash. She makes fun of my dowdy dress and ways, and of my antiquated moralities, even to my brother, in my very presence, and Reggie looks at me critically, and then at Sabrina that is the creatures name and says Roberta, you ought to get Brina to show you how to dress, and how to behave. You should just see Brina tread our old fogyish social laws under her feet. She makes a sensation in every room she enters. And I answer pointedly I have no doubt of it. She understands my laugh, though Reggie is far from it. Of course she hates me, and she has quite changed Reggie. I have no longer any brother. I want to go and see if my husband cares for me.

Of course he cares for you, more than for any ither thing. Go to him. Mak a man every way of him. Teach him to trust you, and you may trust him. Now go and sleep until the Domine comes, and he will tak care of your further movements.

When the Domine came, he treated Roberta very like a daughter, but he would not hear her tale of woe over again. He said, There are faults on both sides. You cannot strike fire, without both flint and steel.

I have been so lonely and miserable, Doctor, since I saw you last. Reggie has quite deserted me for her.

Well, then, Roberta, walk your lonely room with God, and humbly dare to tell Him all your heart.

I never had any suspicion of Neil, until

Roberta, women trust on all points, or are on all points suspicious.

I trusted Neil, for as you know, he was under great obligations

Obligations! Obligations! That is a terrible word. Love should not know it.

If I had never met Neil

You only meet the people in this life, whom you were meant to meet. Our destiny is human, it must come to us by human hearts and hands. Marriage brings out the best and the worst a man or woman has. Let your marriage, Roberta, teach you the height and the depth of a womans love. There are faults only a woman can forgive, and go on trusting and loving. Try and reach that height and depth of love. Then you can go boldly to God and say, Forgive me my trespasses, as I have forgiven those who trespassed against me. What do you want me to do for you?

I want you, dear Doctor, to go and take the very earliest passage to New York that you can get. Any steamer and any line will do. Also I want you to go to the bank of Scotland, and tell them to transmit all my cash in their keeping to the bank of New York. Also, there is a trunk at Madame Bonelles I want placed on the steamer, as soon as my passage is taken. It has a carefully chosen wardrobe in it. Brina thought it was full of dresses to be altered, according to American styles and this explanation of the dress episode she gave to Christine with a smile so comically illuminating, that the Doctors smile perforce caught a gleam from it.

But he was in an authoritative mood, and he said, What is your intention, Mrs. Ruleson? This is a singular order for you to give.

Doctor, I am going to my husband. Christine has told me where he is. He loves me yet, and I want to go, and help, and comfort him.

That is right. It is converting love into action. If this is not done, love is indolent and unbelieving. It is not enough for Neil to love you, your love must flow out to him in return, or your married life will be barren as sand.

I shall forgive him everything. He is longing to explain all to me.

Forgive him before he explains. Have no explanations, they turn to arguments, and an argument is a more hopeless barrier than a vigorous quarrel, or an indignant contradiction. You do not want to judge whether he is right or wrong. The more you judge, the less you love. Take him just as he is, and begin your lives over again. Will you do this?

I will try.

Roberta, you have a great work before you the saving of a man the lifting of him up from despair and ruin to confidence and hope, and success. He is well worth your effort. Neil has fine traits, he comes of a religiously royal ancestry, and true nobility is virtue of race. You can save this man. Some women could not, others would not, you can do it.

I will do it, Sir, God helping me.

Now I will go to Glasgow, and do all you require. You must take some money with you, the bank

I have a thousand pounds in my purse.

You extravagant woman!

Money is necessary, in saving souls, Sir.

I believe you. Where shall I meet you in Glasgow?

At the Victoria Hotel dinner at six.

To these words the Doctor disappeared, and Roberta began to amplify and explain and justify her position and her intentions. She talked to Christine, while Christine cooked their meals and did all the necessary housework. She begged her to lock the doors against all intruders, and then making herself comfortable in the large cushioned chair by the fireside, she took off her tight shoes, and divested her hair of all its pads, and combs, and rats, and with a sigh of relief said, Now we can talk comfortably. They talked all day long, and they talked of Neil. A little later, she was eager to tell Christine all about her brothers unaccountable marriage. I was really ashamed of the affair, Christine, she said. No consideration for others, scarcely time to make the wedding-dress, and I think she asked everyone she saw to come to her marriage. She talked the slang of every country she had visited, and the men all thought it so funny when she kicked up her dress with her heel, and treated them to a bit of London or New York slang. The perfectly silly and easy way in which men are caught, and tied fast, always amazes me, Christine. It is just like walking up to a horses head, with a dish full of corn in one hand and a bridle in the other. This little Sabrina Wales walked up to Reginald Rath with a bit of London slang on her lips, and a wedding ring hid in the palm of her hand, and the poor man is her slave for life.

Not necessarily a slave for life, Roberta.

Necessarily. No remission. No redemption. The contract reads until death us part.

They discussed Sabrina from head to feet her hair, her eyes, her complexion, her carriage, her way of dressing, her gowns all short in front and long behind can you guess what for, Christine?

Perhaps she has pretty feet.

She has very small ones. I do not know whether they are pretty or not. But the effect is striking, if you watch her from the front you cant help thinking of a turkey gobbler.

The hours went happily enough, Christine enjoyed them. After her paper heroine, this all-alive, scornful, loving and hating, talking and laughing woman was a great pleasure. Christine baked delicious scones, and scalloped some fine oysters in bread crumbs and chopped parsley, and made one or two pots of Pekoe and Young Hyson tea, and they nibbled and sipped, and talked over the whole sacred druidical family of the Raths, even to Aunt Agatha, who was worth half a million pounds which I threw away for a good joke, said Roberta.

Look at the clock, it is near midnight! We must go to bed.

Well, then, I have had the loveliest day. I shall never forget it, and I will tell Neil all about it before long. Dear Christine, I am glad you are my sister, it lets me take nice little liberties with you; and you know, I love you, but that is inevitable. No one can help it.

When Roberta went, she seemed to take the sunshine with her. The summer of All Saints, and the melancholy of its long fine weather was over, and there was the touch of winter in the frosty nights and mornings, but for five weeks Christine heeded nothing but her new novel. For the time being, it fully absorbed her; and for the next few weeks she made great progress. Then one morning Norman came to see her. Christine, he said. I am in great trouble. Jessy is vera ill with scarlet fever, and I am anxious about the children.

Bring them all here, Norman.

Theyll mebbe hinder you i your writing.

But what is my writing worth, when the children are in danger? Go and bring them here at once. Get Judith to come with them. With her help I can manage. I will come in the afternoon, and sit with Jessy awhile.

No, you willna be permitted. The doctors say there are oer many cases. They hae ordered the school closed, and they are marking every house in which there is sickness.

This epidemic prostrated the village until the middle of January, taking a death toll from the little community, of nearly eighty, mostly women and children. But this loss was connected with wonderful acts of kindness, and self-denial. The men left their boats and nursed each others children, the women who were well went from house to house, caring tenderly even for those they supposed themselves to be unfriends with. If the fever triumphed over its victims, love triumphed over the fever. In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, they had forgotten everything but that they were fellow-sufferers. Christines house had been a home for children without a home, and she had spent a great part of her time in preparing strengthening and appetizing food for those who needed it more than any other thing. No one, now, had a word wrong to say of Christine Ruleson. She had been a helping and comforting angel in their trouble, and if there had been a woman or child more suffering and destitute than all the rest, Christine had always taken her to her home. For in such times of sorrow, God reveals Himself to the heart, not to the reason. Oh, how far it is, from knowing God, to loving Him!

Well, then, Sorrow may endure for a night, but Joy cometh in the morning. And the mornings grew to be spring mornings, full of that sunshine that goes not only to the heart of man, but to the roots of every green thing. The silence of the receding hills was broken by streams glancing and dancing down the glens. The incalculable laughter of the sea was full of good promise, for those who had been sick, and for those who had perforce been long idle. The roar of angry billows was hushed, and it came up to the land, hard-edged with stiff, tinkling waves, and the convalescents rested on the shingles beside them, taking life with every breath, and enjoying that perfect rest that shingle knows how to give, because it takes the shape of the sleeper, whether he be young or old, or short or long.

The days were of soft, delicate radiance, the nights full of stars. The moon in all her stages was clear as silver, the dawns came streaming up from the throbbing breast of the ocean. The springtime songs were bubbling in the birds throats, they sang as if they never would grow old, and the honey bees were busy among the cherry blooms, delirious with delight.

Who speaks of sadness in such days?

Certainly Christine did not. All the troubles of the hard winter were past, and her heart was running over with a new joy. Cluny was coming home. Very soon, the long waiting would be over. This thought made her restlessly busy. Her home had to be renovated thoroughly. Altogether twenty-eight children had been sheltered for short or longer periods there, and they had all left their mark on its usually spotless walls and floors. Well, then, they must be cleaned and men quickly appeared with lime and white paint, and women with soap and scrubbing brushes. And Christine went through the rooms, and through the rooms, with them, directing and helping forward the beautifying work.

She had also to think of her wedding-dress, and her wedding-breakfast, but these cheerful, lengthening days gave her time for everything. When the house pleased even her particular idea of what it ought to be, she turned to the garden. The seeds of the annuals were sown, and the roses trimmed, and not a weed left in the sacred little spot.

Then day after day added to all this beauty and purity, and one happy morning Jamie brought the letter. Cluny was in Glasgow, and his letter was like the shout of a victor. He would be in Culraine on Thursday first train he could make they would be married Saturday morning. Christine could not put him off any longer. He had been waiting twenty-one years for he had loved her when he was only nine years old and he had fulfilled every obligation laid on him. And now! Now! Now! She was his wife, his very own! there was no one, and no circumstance, to dispute his claim! and so on, in sentences which stumbled over each other, because it was impossible for humanity to invent words for feelings transcending its comprehension.

Christine laughed softly and sweetly, kissed the incoherent letter, and put it in her breast. Then she walked through the house and garden, and found everything as it should be. Even the dress in which she would meet her lover, with its ribbons and ornaments, was laid out ready to put on the next morning. Judith was in the kitchen. The wedding dress, and the wedding cake, would be brought home on Friday morning.

However, a woman, on such an occasion, wants to make the perfect still more perfect. She wondered if it would not be well to go and give her last directions and orders that afternoon, and finally decided to do so.

She was just leaving the bakers, when Colonel Ballister entered. He met her with respectful effusiveness, and asked permission to walk home with her. And as they walked to the village together, the Colonel said, I spent four, long, delightful hours with Captain Macpherson last night. He is to be here tomorrow.

I didna ken you was acquaint wi him, Colonel.

Mr. Henderson introduced me to him, and then asked us both to dinner. We had a delightful three hours at Hendersons, then the captain and I walked round and round the square for an hour, and we liked each other so well, that I got permission from him, to ask a great favor from you.





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