Christine: A Fife Fisher Girlñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“O Mither!” she cried, then seeing the Domine, she made a little curtsey, and spoke to him first. “I was noticing you, Sir, among the men on the pier. I thought you were going with them this night.”
“They have hard work this night, Christine, and my heart tells me they will be wanting to say little words they would not like me to hear.”
“You could hae corrected them, Sir.”
“I am not caring to correct them, tonight. Words often help work, and tired fishers, casting their heavy nets overboard, don’t do that work without a few words that help them. The words are not sinful, but they might not say them if I was present.”
“I know, Sir,” answered Margot. “I hae a few o’ such words always handy. When I’m hurried and flurried, I canna help them gettin’ outside my lips – but there’s nae ill in them – they just keep me going. I wad gie up, wanting them.”
“When soldiers, Margot, are sent on a forlorn hope of capturing a strong fort, they go up to it cheering. When our men launch the big life-boat, how do they do it, Christine?”
“To be sure, and when weary men cast the big, heavy nets, they find words to help them. I know a lad who always gets his nets overboard with shouting the name of the girl he loves. He has a name for her that nobody but himself can know, or he just shouts ‘Dearie,’ and with one great heave, the nets are overboard.” And as he said these words he glanced at Christine, and her heart throbbed, and her eyes beamed, for she knew that the lad was Cluny.
“I was seeing our life-boat, as I came home,” she said, “and I was feeling as if the boat could feel, and if she hadna been sae big, I would hae put my arms round about her. I hope that wasna any kind o’ idolatry, Sir?”
“No, no, Christine. It is a feeling of our humanity, that is wide as the world. Whatever appears to struggle and suffer, appears to have life. See how a boat bares her breast to the storm, and in spite of winds and waves, wins her way home, not losing a life that has been committed to her. And nothing on earth can look more broken-hearted than a stranded boat, that has lost all her men. Once I spent a few weeks among the Hovellers – that is, among the sailors who man the life-boats stationed along Godwin Sands; and they used to call their boats ‘darlings’ and ‘beauties’ and praise them for behaving well.”
“Why did they call the men Hovellers?” asked Margot. “That word seems to pull down a sailor. I don’t like it. No, I don’t.”
“I have been told, Margot, that it is from the Danish word, overlever, which means a deliverer.”
“I kent it wasna a decent Scotch word,” she answered, a little triumphantly; “no, nor even from the English. Hoveller! You couldna find an uglier word for a life-saver, and if folk canna be satisfied wi’ their ain natural tongue, and must hae a foreign name, they might choose a bonnie one. Hoveller! Hoveller indeed! It’s downright wicked, to ca’ a sailor a hoveller.”
The Domine smiled, and continued – “Every man and woman and child has loved something inanimate.
Your mother, Christine, loves her wedding ring, your father loves his boat, you love your Bible, I love the silver cup that holds the sacramental wine we drink ‘in remembrance of Him’;” and he closed his eyes a moment, and was silent. Then he gave his cup to Christine. “No more,” he said, “it was a good drink. Thanks be! Now our talk must come to an end. I leave blessing with you.”
They stood and watched him walk into the dusk in silence, and then Margot said, “Where’s Neil?”
“Feyther asked him to go wi’ them for this night, and Neil didna like to refuse. Feyther has been vera kind to him, anent his books an’ the like. He went to pleasure Feyther. It was as little as he could do.”
“And he’ll come hame sea-sick, and his clothes will be wet and uncomfortable as himsel’.”
“Weel, that’s his way, Mither. I wish the night was o’er.”
“Tak’ patience. By God’s leave the day will come.”
If Love comes, it comes; but no reasoning can put it there.
Love gives a new meaning to Life.
Her young heart blows
Leaf by leaf, coming out like a rose.
The next morning the women of the village were early at the pier to watch the boats come in. They were already in the offing, their gunwales deep in the water, and rising heavily on the ascending waves; so they knew that there had been good fishing. Margot was prominent among them, but Christine had gone to the town to take orders from the fish dealers; for Margot Ruleson’s kippered herring were famous, and eagerly sought for, as far as Edinburgh, and even Glasgow.
It was a business Christine liked, and in spite of her youth, she did it well, having all her mother’s bargaining ability, and a readiness in computing values, that had been sharpened by her knowledge of figures and profits. This morning she was unusually fortunate in all her transactions, and brought home such large orders that they staggered Margot.
“I’ll ne’er be able to handle sae many fish,” she said, with a happy purposeful face, “but there’s naething beats a trial, and I be to do my best.”
“And I’ll help you, Mither. It must ne’er be said that we twa turned good siller awa’.”
“I’m feared you canna do that today, Christine. Neil hasna been to speak wi’, since he heard ye had gone to the toun; he wouldna’ even hear me when I ca’ed breakfast.”
“Neil be to wait at this time. It willna hurt him. If Neil happens to hae a wish, he instantly feels it to be a necessity, and then he thinks the hale house should stop till his wish is gi’en him. I’m going to the herring shed wi’ yoursel’.”
“Then there will be trouble, and no one so sorry for it as Christine! I’m telling you!”
At this moment Neil opened the door, and looked at the two women. “Mother,” he said in a tone of injury and suffering, “can I have any breakfast this morning?”
“Pray, wha’s hindering you? Your feyther had his, an hour syne. Your porridge is yet boiling in the pot, the kettle is simmering on the hob, and the cheena still standing on the table. Why didna you lift your ain porridge, and mak’ yoursel’ a cup o’ tea? Christine and mysel’ had our breakfasts before it chappit six o’clock. You cam’ hame wi’ your feyther, you should hae ta’en your breakfast with him.”
“I was wet through, and covered with herring scales. I was in no condition to take a meal, or to sit with my books and Christine all morning, writing.”
“I canna spare Christine this morning, Neil. That’s a fact.” His provoking neatness and deliberation were irritating to Margot’s sense of work and hurry, and she added, “Get your breakfast as quick as you can. I’m wanting the dishes out o’ the way.”
“I suppose I can get a mouthful for myself.”
“Get a’ you want,” answered Margot; but Christine served him with his plate of porridge and basin of new milk, and as he ate it, she toasted a scone, and made him a cup of tea.
“Mother is cross this morning, Christine. It is annoying to me.”
“It needna. There’s a big take o’ fish in, and every man and woman, and every lad and lass, are in the herring sheds. Mither just run awa’ from them, to see what orders for kippers I had brought – and I hae brought nine hundred mair than usual. I must rin awa’ and help her now.”
“No, Christine! I want you most particularly, this morning.”
“I’ll be wi’ you by three in the afternoon.”
“Stay with me now. I’ll be ready for you in half an hour.”
“I can hae fifty fish ready for Mither in half an hour, and I be to go to her at once. I’ll be back, laddie, by three o’clock.”
“I’m just distracted with the delay,” but he stopped speaking, for he saw that he was alone. So he took time thoroughly to enjoy his scone and tea, and then, not being quite insensible to Christine’s kindness, he washed the dishes and put them away.
He had just finished this little duty, when there was a knock at the outside door. He hesitated about opening it. He knew no villager would knock at his father’s door, so it must be a stranger, and as he was not looking as professional and proper as he always desired to appear, he was going softly away, when the door was opened, and a bare-footed lad came forward, and gave him a letter.
He opened it, and looked at the signature – “Angus Ballister.” A sudden flush of pleasure made him appear almost handsome, and when he had read the epistle he was still more delighted, for it ran thus:
I am going to spend the rest of vacation at Ballister Mansion, and I want you with me. I require your help in a particular business investigation. I will pay you for your time and knowledge, and your company will be a great pleasure to me. This afternoon I will call and see you, and if you are busy with the nets, I shall enjoy helping you.
Neil was really much pleased with the message, and glad to hear of an opportunity to make money, for though the young man was selfish, he was not idle; and he instantly perceived that much lucrative business could follow this early initiation into the Ballister affairs. He quickly finished his arrangement of the dishes and the kitchen, and then, putting on an old academic suit, made his room as scholarly and characteristic as possible. And it is amazing what an air books and papers give to the most commonplace abode. Even the old inkhorn and quill pens seemed to say to all who entered – “Tread with respect. This is classic ground.”
His predominating thought during this interval was, however, not of himself, but of Christine. She had promised to come to him at three o’clock. How would she come? He was anxious about her first appearance. If he could in any way have reached her, he would have sent his positive command to wear her best kirk clothes, but at this great season neither chick nor child was to be seen or heard tell of, and he concluded finally to leave what he could not change or direct to those household influences which usually manage things fairly well.
As the day went on, and Ballister did not arrive, he grew irritably nervous. He could not study, and he found himself scolding both Ballister and Christine for their delay. “Christine was so ta’en up wi’ the feesh, naething else was of any import to her. Here was a Scottish gentleman coming, who might be the makin’ o’ him, and a barrel o’ herrin’ stood in his way.” He had actually fretted himself into his Scotch form of speech, a thing no Gael ever entirely forgets when really worried to the proper point.
When he had said his heart’s say of Christine, he turned his impatience on Ballister – his behavior was that o’ the ordinary rich young man, who has naething but himsel’ to think o’. He, Neil Ruleson, had lost a hale morning’s wark, waiting on his lairdship. Weel, he’d have to pay for it, in the long run. Neil Ruleson had no waste hours in his life. Nae doubt Ballister had heard o’ a fast horse, or a fast —
Then Ballister knocked at the door, and Neil stepped into his scholarly manner and speech, and answered Ballister’s hearty greeting in the best English style.
“I am glad to see you, Neil. I only came to Ballister two days ago, and I have been thinking of you all the time.” With these words the youth threw his Glengary on the table, into the very center and front of Neil’s important papers. Then he lifted his chair, and placed it before the open door, saying emphatically as he did so —
Lands may be fair ayont the sea,
But Scotland’s hills and lochs for me!
O Neil! Love of your ain country is a wonderful thing. It makes a man of you.”
“Without it you would not be a man.”
Ballister did not answer at once, but stood a moment with his hand on the back of the deal, rush-bottomed chair, and his gaze fixed on the sea and the crowd of fishing boats waiting in the harbor.
Without being strictly handsome, Ballister was very attractive. He had the tall, Gaelic stature, and its reddish brown hair, also brown eyes, boyish and yet earnest. His face was bright and well formed, his conversation animated, his personality, in full effect, striking in its young alertness.
“Listen to me, Neil,” he said, as he sat down. “I came to my majority last March, when my uncle and I were in Venice.”
“Your uncle on your mother’s side?”
“No, on the sword side, Uncle Ballister. He told me I was now my own master, and that he would render into my hands the Brewster and Ballister estates. I am sure that he has done well by them, but he made me promise I would carefully go over all the papers relating to his trusteeship, and especially those concerning the item of interests. It seems that my father had a good deal of money out on interest – I know nothing about interest. Do you, Neil?”
“I know everything that is to be known. In my profession it is a question of importance.”
“Just so. Now, I want to put all these papers, rents, leases, improvements, interest accounts, and so forth, in your hands, Neil. Come with me to Ballister, and give the mornings to my affairs. Find out what is the usual claim for such service, and I will gladly pay it.”
“I know the amount professionally charged, but – ”
“I will pay the professional amount. If we give the mornings to this work, in the afternoons we will ride, and sail, fish or swim, or pay visits – in the evenings there will be dinner, billiards, and conversation. Are you willing?”
“I am delighted at the prospect. Let the arrangement stand, just so.”
“You will be ready tomorrow?”
“The day after tomorrow.”
“Good. I will – ”
Then there was a tap at the door, and before Neil could answer it, Christine did so. As she entered, Ballister stood up and looked at her, and his eyes grew round with delighted amazement. She was in full fisher costume – fluted cap on the back of her curly head, scarlet kerchief on her neck, long gold rings in her ears, gold beads round her throat, and a petticoat in broad blue and yellow stripes.
“Christine,” said Neil, who, suddenly relieved of his great anxiety, was unusually good-tempered. “Christine, this is my friend, Mr. Angus Ballister. You must have heard me speak of him?”
“That’s a fact. The man was your constant talk” – then turning to Ballister – “I am weel pleased to see you, Sir;” and she made him a little curtsey so full of independence that Ballister knew well she was making it to herself – “and I’m wondering at you twa lads,” she said, “sitting here in the house, when you might be sitting i’ the garden, or on the rocks, and hae the scent o’ the sea, or the flowers about ye.”
“Miss Ruleson is right,” said Ballister, in his most enthusiastic mood. “Let us go into the garden. Have you really a garden among these rocks? How wonderful!”
How it came that Ballister and Christine took the lead, and that Neil was in a manner left out, Neil could not tell; but it struck him as very remarkable. He saw Christine and his friend walking together, and he was walking behind them. Christine, also, was perfectly unembarrassed, and apparently as much at home with Ballister as if he had been some fisher-lad from the village.
Yet there was nothing strange in her easy manner and affable intimacy. It was absolutely natural. She had never realized the conditions of riches and poverty, as entailing a difference in courtesy or good comradeship; for in the village of Culraine, there was no question of an equality founded on money. A man or woman was rated by moral, and perhaps a little by physical qualities – piety, honesty, courage, industry, and strength, and knowledge of the sea and of the fisherman’s craft. Christine would have treated the great Duke of Fife, or Her Majesty, Victoria, with exactly the same pleasant familiarity.
She showed Ballister her mother’s flower garden, that was something beyond the usual, and she was delighted at Ballister’s honest admiration and praise of the lovely, rose-sweet plot. Both seemed to have forgotten Neil’s presence, and Neil was silent, blundering about in his mind, looking for some subject which would give him predominance.
Happily strolling in and out the narrow walks, and eating ripe gooseberries from the bushes, they came to a little half-circle of laburnum trees, drooping with the profusion of their golden blossoms. There was a wooden bench under them, and as Christine sat down a few petals fell into her lap.
“See!” she cried, “the trees are glad o’ our company,” and she laid the petals in her palm, and added – “now we hae shaken hands.”
“What nonsense you are talking, Christine,” said Neil.
“Weel then, Professor, gie us a bit o’ gude sense. Folks must talk in some fashion.”
And Neil could think of nothing but a skit against women, and in apologetic mood and manner answered:
“I believe it is allowable, to talk foolishness, in reply to women’s foolishness.”
“O Neil, that is cheap! Women hae as much gude sense as men hae, and whiles they better them” – and then she sang, freely and clearly as a bird, two lines of Robert Burns’ opinion —
“He tried His prentice hand on man,
And then He made the lasses O!”
She still held the golden blossoms in her hand, and Ballister said:
“Give them to me. Do!”
“You are vera welcome to them, Sir. I dinna wonder you fancy them. Laburnum trees are money-bringers, but they arena lucky for lovers. If I hed a sweetheart, I wouldna sit under a laburnum tree wi’ him, but Feyther is sure o’ his sweetheart, and he likes to come here, and smoke his pipe. And Mither and I like the place for our bit secret cracks. We dinna heed if the trees do hear us. They may tell the birds, and the birds may tell ither birds, but what o’ that? There’s few mortals wise enough to understand birds. Now, Neil, come awa wi’ your gude sense, I’ll trouble you nae langer wi’ my foolishness. And good day to you, Sir!” she said. “I’m real glad you are my brother’s friend. I dinna think he will go out o’ the way far, if you are wi’ him.”
Ballister entreated her to remain, but with a smile she vanished among the thick shrubbery. Ballister was disappointed, and somehow Neil was not equal to the occasion. It was hard to find a subject Ballister felt any interest in, and after a short interval he bade Neil good-bye and said he would see him on the following day.
“No, on the day after tomorrow,” corrected Neil. “That was the time fixed, Angus. Tomorrow I will finish up my work for the university, and I will be at your service, very happily and gratefully, on Friday morning.” Then Neil led him down the garden path to the sandy shore, so he did not return to the cottage, but went away hungry for another sight of Christine.
Neil was pleased, and displeased. He felt that it would have been better for him if Christine had not interfered, but there was the delayed writing to be finished, and he hurried up the steep pathway to the cottage. Some straying vines caught his careless footsteps, and threw him down, and though he was not hurt, the circumstance annoyed him. As soon as he entered the cottage, he was met by Christine, and her first remark added to his discomfort:
“Whate’er hae you been doing to yoursel’, Neil Ruleson? Your coat is torn, and your face scratched. Surely you werna fighting wi’ your friend.”
“You know better, Christine. I was thrown by those nasty blackberry vines. I intend to cut them all down. They catch everyone that passes them, and they are in everyone’s way. They ought to be cleared out, and I will attend to them tomorrow morning, if I have to get up at four o’clock to do it.”
“You willna touch the vines. Feyther likes their fruit, and Mither is planning to preserve part o’ it. And I, mysel’, am vera fond o’ vines. The wee wrens, and the robin redbreasts, look to the vines for food and shelter, and you’ll not dare to hurt their feelings, for
“The Robin, wi’ the red breast,
The Robin, and the wren,
If you do them any wrong,
You’ll never thrive again.”
“Stop, Christine, I have a great deal to think of, and to ask your help in.”
“Weel, Neil, I was ready for you at three o’clock, and then you werna ready for me.”
“Tell me why you dressed yourself up so much? Did you know Ballister was coming?”
“Not I! Did you think I dressed mysel’ up for Angus Ballister?”
“I was wondering. It is very seldom you wear your gold necklace, and other things, for just home folk.”
“Weel, I wasn’t wearing them for just hame folk. Jennie Tweedie is to be married tonight, and Mither had promised her I should come and help them lay the table for the supper, and the like o’ that. Sae I was dressed for Jennie Tweedie’s bridal. I wasna thinking of either you, or your fine friend.”
“I thought perhaps you had heard he was coming. Your fisher dress is very suitable to you. No doubt you look handsome in it. You likely thought its novelty would – would – make him fall in love with you.”
“I thought naething o’ that sort. Novelty! Where would the novelty be? The lad is Fife. If he was sae unnoticing as never to get acquaint wi’ a Culraine fisher-wife, he lived maist o’ his boyhood in Edinburgh. Weel, he couldna escape seeing the Newhaven fisherwomen there, nor escape hearing their wonderful cry o’ ‘Caller herrin’!’ And if he had ony feeling in his heart, if he once heard that cry, sae sweet, sae heartachy, and sae winning, he couldna help looking for the woman who was crying it; and then he couldna help seeing a fisher-wife, or lassie. I warn you not to think o’ me, Christine Ruleson, planning and dressing mysel’ for any man. You could spane my love awa’ wi’ a very few o’ such remarks.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî