Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





I dinna see how I can favor you, Colonel, but if I can do sae, Ill be gey glad to do it.

I want you to allow me to be present at your marriage ceremony. I shall never forget the supper I ate with your father and mother. I respected them both with all my heart, and I am one of the most enthusiastic admirers of your writing, and you must know and feel that I am your sincere friend.

I do know it, Sir. I thank you for your kind words anent my dear feyther and mither; and I shall be a very proud and happy girl, if you will stand a few minutes by the side o Cluny and Christine. It will be for our honor and pleasure!

Captain Macpherson asked me to call and see him, and I will then find out your arrangements, and very proudly drop into them. Then he walked to the foot of the hill with her, and could not help noticing the school, from which at least eighty boys and girls were issuing with a shout and a leap for the playground. On this sight he looked pleasantly for a few moments, and then smiling at Christine said:

Our enterprise! It appears to be attractive.

Not knowing just what reply to make, she smiled, and nodded, and gave him her hand. Good-by, Christine! May I call you Christine? In a day or two it will not be permissible. May I say it until then?

Christine is my name. Call me Christine always.

Captain Macpherson would have something to say to that.

What for? He has naething to do with my name.

The first thing he does, after you are his wife, is to change it.

He can only change the family name. Every one o us in the family has that name. It is common to all, far and near. Cluny can change that, and I hae no objections; but he wouldna daur to touch a letter of my christened name. That is my ain, as much as my hands and my eyes are my ain ay, and a gey bit mair sae for a man may claim the wark o your hands, and the glint o your een, but he canna mak use o your name. It is oer near forgery and punishment. Sae I am Christine to yoursel neither for wark, nor for use, but just for pure honest friendship Christine, as lang as we baith wish it sae.

Thank you, Christine. I am proud of the favor!

Now I am beggared for words, when I come to try any description of Clunys wonderful joy in the final fruition of his long-delayed hopes. When he landed, he was at first volubly happy. He told everyone he was going to be married. He expected everyone to rejoice with him. All his thoughts, words, and actions were tinctured with Christine. Men looked at him, and listened to him, with pity or envy, and one of the greatest of Glasgows mercantile magnates cried out enviously Oh, man! Man! I would gie all I possess to be as divinely mad as you are just for one twenty-four hours!

But joy at its very deepest and holiest turns strangely silent. The words it needs have not yet been invented, and when Cluny was free of all duty, and could come to the very presence of his Beloved, he could say nothing but her name, Christine! Christine! almost in a whisper and then a pause, a pause whose silence was sweeter far than any words could have been.

Speech came later, in passionate terms of long and faithful love, in wonder at her beauty, ten-fold finer than ever, in admiration of her lovely dress, her softer speech, her gentler manner. She was a Christine mentalized by her reading and writing, and spiritualized by her contact with the sick and suffering little children of the past months. Also, love purifies the heart it burns in.

Everything was ready for the marriage, and it was solemnized on Saturday morning in the Ruleson home. The large living room was a bower of fresh green things, and made gay and sweet with the first spring flowers. The marriage table was laid there also, but the Domine stood on the hearthstone, and on the very altar of the home in which Christine had grown to such a lovely and perfect womanhood, she became the wife of Captain Cluny Macpherson.

That day when Cluny came in to the bridal, he wore for the very first time his uniform as captain of the new steamer just finishing for him. For he had asked one great favor for himself, which was readily granted, namely, that his commission as captain be dated on his wedding day. So then he received his wife and his ship at the same time. The room was crowded with men and women who had known him from boyhood, and when he appeared, it was hard work to refrain from greeting him with a shout of Welcome, Captain! But it was the light of joy and admiration in Christines face, which repaid him for the long years of working and waiting for this gloriously compensating hour.

The Colonel said he had the honor of assisting at the wedding of the handsomest couple in Scotland. And it was not altogether an exaggeration. Christine in her white satin gown, with white rose buds in her golden hair, and on her breast tender, intelligent, intensely womanly was the very mate in difference for Cluny, whose sea-beaten beauty, and splendid manhood were so fittingly emphasized by the gold bands and lace and buttons, which Jamie had once called his trimmings. He wore them now with becoming dignity, for he knew their value, because he had paid their price.

There was a crowded breakfast table after the ceremony. The Domine blessed the meal, and the Colonel made a flattering speech to the people of Culraine his people he called them; promising them better water, and better sanitary arrangements, and another teacher who would look especially after the boys athletic games and exercises. During this speech the Captain and his bride slipped away to the train, in the Colonels carriage, and when it returned for the Colonel, the wedding guests were scattering, and the long-looked-for event was over.

Over to the public, but to the newly-wed couple it was just beginning. To them, the long, silent strings of hitherto meaningless life, were thrilling with strange and overwhelming melodies. Marriage had instantly given a new meaning to both lives. For the key to life is in the heart, not in the brain; and marriage is the mystical blending of two souls, when self is lost, and found again in the being of another. It was with them,


That ever working miracle of God,
The green and vital mystery of love,
Still budding in the garden of the heart.

The wedding festivities over, all excitement about it quickly subsided. Christine would be sure to come back again, Cluny would return at stated periods, and always bring with him the air and flavor of lands strange and far off. Their farewells would always be short ones. Their presence would always be a benefaction. There was nothing to discuss, or wonder over, and the preparations for the herring season were far behind-hand. They could talk about the wedding later, at present the nets and the boats were the great anxiety in every house in the village. So Christine and Cluny with little observation,


Sailed happily into the future,
Wherever their wishes inclined them;
Love and Good Fortune as shipmates,
And Troubles always a mile behind them.11
A fishermans toast or blessing.


[]


CHAPTER XIV
AFTER MANY YEARS

Her life intensive rather than extensive; striking root downward, deep in the heart, not wide in the world.

A memory of dew and light, threaded with tears.

Not long before the breaking out of the present European war, I was in London, and needed a typist, so I went to a proper Intelligence Office on the Strand, and left a request directing them to send any likely applicant to my hotel for a conversation. On the next afternoon I heard a womans voice in an altercation with the bellboy. I opened the door, and the boy said he could not quite make out the lady; he was very sorry indeed, but the lady would not explain; and so forth.

The lady looked at the premature little man with contempt, and said a few passionate words of such unmistakable Scotch, that I felt the bellboy to be well within the pale of excusable ignorance.

Are you from the Intelligence Office? I asked.

Yes, Madam. At the request of Scott and Lubbock I came to see you about copying a novel.

Come in then, and as soon as the door was closed, I offered my hand, and said only one word Fife?

Ay, she answered proudly, Fife! I can speak good English, but the stupid lad made me angry, and then I hae to tak to the Scotch. I dont hae the English words to quarrel wi, and indeed if you want a few words of that kind, the Scotch words hae a tang in them that stings like a nettle, even if folk cannot quite make out the lady or gentleman that uses them.

I could not help laughing. What words did you use? I asked.

Naething oot o the way, I just told him, in a ceevil manner, that he was a feckless, fashious gowk, or something or ither o an idiotic make. He was just telling me he didnt speak French, when you opened the door, and then she laughed in a very infectious manner. But this is not business, Madam, she said, and I will be glad to hear what you require.

Our business was soon pleasantly arranged, and just then, very opportunely, my five oclock tea came in, and I asked Miss Sarah Lochrigg to stay, and drink a cup with me, and tell me all about the Scotland of her day. It is fifty years since I left Scotland, I said, there will be many changes since then.

She took off her hat and gloves and sat down. I come from a fishing village on the coast of Fife. They dont change easily, or quickly, in a fishing village.

What village? Was it Largo?

No. Culraine, a bit north of Largo.

Never!

Ay, Culraine. Do you know the place?

I used to know people who lived there. Doctor Magnus Trenabie, for instance. Is he living yet?

No, he went the way of the righteous, twenty years ago. I remember him very well. He preached until the last day of his life, but he was so weak, and his eyesight so bad, that one of the elders helped him up the pulpit stairs, and another went up at the close of the service, and helped him down, and saw him safely home.

One Sabbath morning, though he made no complaint, he found it difficult to pronounce the benediction, but with a great effort he raised his hands and face heavenward, and said every word plainly. Then he turned his face to the elder, and said, Help me home, Ruleson, and both Ruleson and Tamsen took him there. He died sometime in the afternoon, while the whole kirk was praying for him, died so quietly, it was hard to tell the very time o his flitting. He was here one minute, the next he was gone. In every cottage there was the feeling of death. He was really a rich man, and left a deal of money to the Ruleson school in Culraine village.

Then Norman Ruleson is yet alive?

Ay, but his wearisome wife fretted herself into a-grave a good many years ago.

And the other Ruleson boys? Are they all alive yet?

I cannot tell. They were all great wanderers. Do you remember old Judith Macpherson?

To be sure I do.

Well, her grandson married the only girl Ruleson, and they have ruled Culraine ever since I can remember. The Captain was very masterful, and after he was retired, that was after he was sixty, I think, he lived at Culraine, and Culraine lived as much to his order as if they were the crew of his ship.

Where did they live?

In the old house, but they built large rooms round about it, and put on another story above all the rooms. They made no change in the old part of the house, except to lift the roof, and insert modern widows. The new rooms were finely papered and painted and furnished, the old living room is still whitewashed, and its uncarpeted floor is regularly scrubbed and sanded. The big hearthstone has no rug to it, and the rack against the wall is yet full of the old china that Mrs. Macphersons mother used. All the Macpherson boys and girls were married in that room, just in front of the hearthstone, or on it. I do not remember which. The Captains wife insisted on that part of the ceremony.

Did you know the Captains wife?

In a general way, only. She is very well known. She writes books novels, and poems, and things like that. Some people admire them very much, most of our folks thought them just so-so. I cant say I ever read any of them. My mother believed all books but the Bible doubtful. Domine Trenabie read them, and if you wanted Captain Macphersons good will, you had to read them at least, I have heard that said.

Is she writing books yet?

Ay, she had one on the market last year. She did not write much while her children were growing up how could she?

How many children has she?

I think eleven. I believe one died.

What are you telling me?

The truth, all the truth, nothing but the truth. She has seven sons, and five girls. The youngest girl died, I heard.

She is older than I am. Does she look older?

No. She looks younger. Her hair is thinner, as I can remember it, but pretty and bright, and always well dressed. I have seen her in her fishers cap in the morning. In the afternoon she wears a rose and a ruffle of white lace, which she calls a cap. Her gowns are long and handsome, and she has beautiful laces, but I never saw any jewelry on her. Colonel Ballister gave her a necklace of small, but exceedingly fine India pearls, but nobody ever saw it on her neck. Perhaps she did not like to put them on. People said he bought them for the girl he hoped to marry when he returned home. She married someone else.

Yes, I know. She made a great mistake.

Weel, young Angus Ballister made a mistake, too. His wife wouldnt live anywhere but in Paris, until the estate was like a moth-eaten garment. They had to come home, and she fretted then for California, but there wasnt money for anywhere but just Ballister. Mebbe there was some double work about the affair, for I neer heard tell of any scrimping in Ballister Mansion, and when he came to Culraine he was free as ever with his siller and his promises and he kept his promises, though some of them were the vera height of foolishness. He was thick as thack with the Macphersons, and the Captain and himsel spent long days in Macphersons boat, laying out, and pretending to fish.

Why pretending?

They never caught anything, if it wasnt a haddock or a flounder, when the water was crowded with them, and when, as little Bruce Brodie said, the feesh were jumping into the boat, out o each others way.

Did you ever hear anything of Neil Ruleson, who was a lawyer and went to America?

Never until I was a full-grown lassie. Then they came to pay a visit to Mrs. Macpherson. They are very rich. They have money, and houses, and land beyond all likelihood, and just one sickly son to heir it all.

Neil Rulesons wife was the sister of a Mr. Reginald Rath. Do you remember anything of the Raths?

Very little. Rath and Ballister married sisters. Raths wife died in Rome, of fever. They had no children, and Rath went to Africa with General Gordon. I do not think he ever came back, for I heard my brother reading in the Glasgow Herald, that the two claimants to the Rath estate were likely to come to an agreement.

We were silent for a few moments, and then I said, There is one more person I would like to hear of. He was only a lad, when I knew him, but a very promising one, a grandson of old James Ruleson, and called after him, though adopted by the Domine.

I know who you mean, though he is now called Trenabie. There was something in the way of the law, that made it right and best for him to take his adopted fathers name, if he was to heir his property without trouble. The Rulesons thought it fair, and made no opposition, and the lad loved the Domine, and liked to be called after him. So he was ordained under the name of Trenabie, and is known all over England and Scotland as Doctor James Trenabie.

Why James? The Domines name was Magnus.

He would not have his Christian name changed. He said he would rather lose ten fortunes, than touch a letter of his name. James had been solemnly given him in the kirk, and so written down in the Kirk Book, and he hoped in Gods Book also, and he believed it would be against his calling and salvation to alter it. Folks thought it was very grand in him, but his Aunt Christine was no doubt at the bottom o his stubbornness. For that matter he minds her yet, as obedient as if he was her bairn.

Then he got the Domines money?

The lions share. The village and school of Culraine got a good slice of it, and Kings College, Aberdeen, another slice, but Jamie Ruleson got the lions share. He married the daughter of the Greek Professor in Kings, and their first child was a laddie, who was called Magnus. Some are saying that his preaching isna quite orthodox, but rich and poor crowd any church he speaks in, and if you are going to Glasgow, you will hardly be let awa without hearing him.

How is that?

This one and that one will be asking you, Have you heard Doctor Trenabie preach? Youll never think o going awa without hearing the man?

A little later I heard him. Sarah Lochrigg had not said too much. I saw and heard a preacher by Grace of God no cold, logical word-sifter, but a prophet inspired by his own evangel. He was full of a divine passion for heavenly things, and his eager, faithful words were illuminated by mystic flashes, just as a dark night is sometimes made wonderful by flashes of electricity. The subject of his sermon was Our Immortality and his first proposition startled me.

Before asking if a man has a future life, let us ask, is he living now? The narrow gateway to the cities not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, is Conscience! If there is no Conscience, is there any soul? From this opening he reasoned of life, death and eternity, with that passionate stress of spirit which we owe entirely to Christianity. The building seemed on fire, and it was difficult even for the reticent Scot to restrain the vehement, impetuous cry of the jailer at old Philippi What shall I do to be saved?

Physically, his appearance was one well-fitting a Man of God. He looked worthy of the name. He was tall, and slenderly built, and when some divinely gracious promise fell from his lips, his face broke up as if there were music in it. He had the massive chin, firm mouth and large, thoughtful gray eyes of his grandfather Ruleson, and the classical air of a thoroughbred ecclesiastic that had distinguished Doctor Trenabie. Surely the two men who so loved him on earth hear the angels speak of him in heaven, and are satisfied.

It was a coincidence that on the following morning, I found, in a Scotch magazine, three verses by his Aunt Christine. In the present stressful time of war and death, they cannot be inappropriate, and at any rate, they must have been among the last dominant thoughts of my heroine. We may easily imagine her, sitting at the open door of the large room which gave her such a wide outlook over the sea, and such a neighborly presence of the village, watching the ghost-like ships in the moonlight, and setting the simple lines either to the everlasting beat of noisy waves, or the still small voice of mighty tides circling majestically around the world:

WHEN THE TIDE GOES OUT

Full white moon upon a waste of ocean,
High full tide upon the sandy shore,
In the fishers cot without a motion,
Waiteth he that never shall sail more.
Waiteth he, and one sad comrade sighing,
Speaking lowly, says, Without a doubt
He will rest soon. Some One calls the dying,
When the tide goes out.


Some One calls the tide, when in its flowing,
It hath touched the limits of its bound;
Some great Voice, and all the billows knowing
What omnipotence is in that sound,
Hasten back to ocean, none delaying
For mans profit, pleasuring or doubt,
Backward to their source, not one wave straying,
And the tide is out.


Some One calls the soul oer lifes dark ocean,
When its tide breaks high upon the land,
And it listens with such glad emotion,
As the called alone can understand.
Listens, hastens, to its source of being,
Leaves the sands of Time without a doubt;
While we sadly wait, as yet but seeing
That the tide is out.

This was my last message from Christine. For a few years she had sent me a paper or magazine containing a poem or story she thought I would like. Then Sarah Lochrigg sent me a Glasgow paper, with a sorrowful notice of her death in it, declaring that it could hardly be called death. She just stepped from this life, into the next. Sarah, in a later letter, added she had been busy in her house all morning and as cheerful and interested about the coming spring cleaning as if she was only twenty years old. About fifteen minutes before twelve she said, Now, I am tired. I will rest awhile, and she drew her fathers large chair before the open door. The sea and the boats were spread out before her and the village lay at her feet. She could see the men fishing and the women going about the streets.

The tide is well in, she said to her maid, it will be high tide at three minutes before noon. Call me in about half an hour.

So she was left alone and I do not doubt it was then she heard that unfathomable call, that voice from some distant world far off yet near, and that her soul instantly answered it. She did not leave this world worn out with pain and sickness. She went without hesitation, without fear, without seeking any human help.





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