Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





I meant nothing to wrong you, Christine. All girls dress to please the men.

Men think sae. They are vera mich mistaen. Girls dress to outdress each ither. If you hae any writing to do, I want to gie you an hours wark. Ill hae to leave the rest until morning.

Then Neil told her the whole of the proposal Angus had made him. He pointed out its benefits, both for the present and the future, and Christine listened thoughtfully to all he said. She saw even further than Neil did, the benefits, and she was the first to name the subject nearest to Neils anxieties.

You see, Neil, she said, if you go to Ballister, you be to hae the proper dress for every occasion. The best suit ye hae now will be nane too good for you to wark, and to play in. You must hae a new suit for ordinary wear, forbye a full dress suit. Ill tell you what to do David Finlay, wha dresses a the men gentry round about here, is an old, old friend o Feythers. They herded together, and went to school and kirk togither, and Feyther and him have helped each ither across hard places, a their life long.

I dont want any favors from David Finlay.

Hae a little patience, lad. Im not asking you to tak favors from anyone. I, mysel, will find the money for you; but I canna tell you how men ought to dress, nor what they require in thae little odds and ends, which are so important.

Odds and ends! What do you mean?

Neckties, gloves, handkerchiefs, hats, and a proper pocket book for your money. I saw Ballister take his from his pocket, to put the laburnum leaves in, and I had a glint o the bank bills in it, and I ken weel it is more genteel-like than a purse. I call things like these odds and ends.

Such things cost a deal of money, Christine.

I was coming to that, Neil. I hae nearly ninety-six pounds in the bank. It hes been gathering there, ever since my grandfeyther put five pounds in for me at my baptisement as a nest egg, ye ken and all I hae earned, and all that Feyther or Mither hae gien me, has helped it gather; and on my last birthday, when Feyther gave me a pound, and Mither ten shillings, I had ninety-six pounds. Now, Neil, dear lad, you can hae the use o it all, if so be you need it. Just let Dave Finlay tell you what to get, and get it, and pay him for it you can pay me back, when money comes easy to you.

Thank you, Christine! You have always been my good angel. I will pay you out o my first earnings. Ill give you good interest, and a regular I. O. U. which will be

What are you saying, Neil? Interest! Interest! Interest on love? And do you dare to talk to me anent your I. O. U. If I canna trust your love, and your honor, Ill hae neither interest nor paper from you. Tak my offer wi just the word between us, you are vera welcome to the use o the money. Theres nae sign o my marrying yet, and Ill not be likely to want it until my plenishing and napery is to buy.

Youll go to Finlay, I hope?

I certainly will. He shall give me just what is right.

Now then, my time is up. I will be ready to do your copying at five oclock in the morning. Then, after breakfast, you can go to the town, but you wont win into the Bank before ten, and maist likely Finlay will be just as late. Leave out the best linen you hae, and Ill attend to it, wi my ain hands.

Oh, Christine, how sweet and good you are! Im afraid I am not worthy o your love!

Vera likely you are not. Few brothers love their sisters as they ought to. It willna be lang before youll do like the lave o them, and put some strange lass before me.

Theres nae lass living that can ever be to me what you hae been, and are. You hae been mother and sister baith, to me.

Dear lad, I love thee with a my heart. All that is mine, is thine, for thy use and help, and between thee and me the word and the bond are the same thing.

Christine was much pleased because Neil unconsciously had fallen into his Scotch dialect. She knew then that his words were spontaneous, not of consideration, but of feeling from his very heart.

In a week the change contemplated had been fully accomplished. Neil had become accustomed to the luxury of his new home, and was making notable progress in the work which had brought him there.

Twice during the week Margot had been made royally happy by large baskets of wonderful flowers and fruit, from the Ballister gardens. They were brought by the Ballister gardener, and came with Neils love and name, but Margot had some secret thoughts of her own. She suspected they were the result of a deeper and sweeter reason than a mere admiration for her wonderful little garden among the rocks; but she kept such thoughts silent in her heart. One thing she knew well, that if Christine were twitted on the subject, she would hate Angus Ballister, and utterly refuse to see him. So she referred to the gifts as entirely from Neil, and affected a little anxiety about their influence on Ballister.

I hope that young man isna thinking, she said, that his baskets o flowers and fruit is pay enough for Neils service.

Mither, he promised to pay Neil.

To be sure. But I didna hear o any fixed sum. Some rich people hae a way o giving sma favors, and forgetting standing siller.

He seemed a nice young man, Mither, and he did admire your garden. I am sure he has told Neil to send the flowers because you loved flowers. When folk love anything, they like others who love as they do. Mebbe they who love flowers hae the same kind and order o souls. You ken if a man loves dogs, he is friendly at once wi a stranger who loves dogs; and theres the Domine, who is just silly anent auld coins copper, siller or gold he cares not, if theyre only auld enough. Nannie Grant, wha keeps his house, told Katie Tweedie that he took a beggar man into his parlor, and ate his dinner with him, just because he had a siller bit o Julius C?sar in his pouch, and wouldna part wi it, even when he was wanting bread.

Weel then, the Domine doubtless wanted the penny.

Vera likely, but he wouldna tak it frae the puir soul, wha thought sae much o it; and Nannie was saying that he went away wi a guid many Victoria pennies i his pouch.

The Domine is a queer man.

Ay, but a vera guid man.

If he had a wife, he would be a right.

And just as likely a wrang. Wha can tell?

Weel, thats an open question. What about your ain marriage?

Ill marry when I find a man who loves the things I love.

Weel, the change for Neil, and for the a of us has been in a way a gude thing. Ill say that.

Margot was right. Even if we take change in its widest sense, it is a great and healthy manifestation, and it is only through changes that the best lives are made perfect. For every phase of life requires its own environment, in order to fulfill perfectly its intention and if it does not get it, then the intent, or the issue, loses much of its efficiency. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God, is a truth relative to the greatest nations, as well as to the humblest individual.

Neil was benefited in every way by the social uplift of a residence in a gentlemans home, and the active, curious temperament of Angus stimulated him. Angus was interested in every new thing, in every new idea, in every new book. The world was so large, and so busy, and he wanted to know all about its goings on. So when Neils business was over for the day, Angus was eagerly waiting to tell him of something new or strange which he had just read, or heard tell of, and though Neil did not realize the fact, he was actually receiving, in these lively discussions with his friend, the very best training for his future forensic and oratorical efforts.

Indeed he was greatly pleased with himself. He had not dreamed of being the possessor of so much skill in managing an opposite opinion; nor yet of the ready wit, which appeared to flow naturally with his national dialect. But all this clever discussion and disputing was excellent practice, and Neil knew well that his visit to Ballister had been a change full of benefits to him.

One of the results of Neils investigations was the discovery that Dr. Magnus Trenabie had been presented to the church of Culraine by the father of Angus, and that his salary had never been more than fifty pounds a year, with the likelihood that it had often been much less. Angus was angry and annoyed.

I give my gamekeeper a larger salary, he said. It is a shame! The doctors salary must be doubled at once. If there are any technicalities about it, look to them as quickly as possible. Did my father worship in that old church?

He did, and I have heard my father tell very frequently, how the old man stood by the church when the great Free Kirk secession happened. He says that at that burning time everyone left Dr. Trenabies church but Ballister and ten o his tenants, and that the doctor took no notice of their desertion, but just preached to your father and the ten faithful. He was never heard to blame the lost flock, and he never went into the wilderness after them. Your father would not hear of his doing so.

Magnus, he would say, tak time, and bide a wee. The puir wanderers will get hungry and weary in their Free Kirk conventicles, and as the night comes on, theyll come hame. Nae fear o them!

Did they come home?

Every one of them but three stubborn old men. They died out of its communion, and the old Master pitied them, and told their friends he was feared that it would go a bit hard wi them. He said, they had leaped the fence, and he shook his head, and looked down and doubtful anent the outcome, since naebody could tell what ill weeds were in a strange pasture.

After this discovery Angus went to the old church, where his father had worshiped, and there he saw Christine, and there he fell freshly in love with her every Sabbath day. It did not appear likely that love had much opportunity, in those few minutes in the kirk yard after the service, when Neil and Angus waited for Margot and Christine, to exchange the ordinary greetings and inquiries. James Ruleson, being leading elder, always remained a few minutes after the congregation had left, in order to count the collection and give it to the Domine, and in those few minutes Love found his opportunity.

While Neil talked with his mother of their family affairs, Angus talked with Christine. His eyes rained Loves influence, his voice was like a caress, the touch of his hand seemed to Christine to draw her in some invisible way closer to him. She never remembered the words he said, she only knew their inarticulate meaning was love, always love. When it was time for Ruleson to appear, Margot turned to Angus and thanked him for some special gift or kindness that had come to the cottage that week, and Angus always laughed, and pointing to Neil, said:

Neil is the culprit, Mrs. Ruleson. It is Neils doing, I assure you. And of course this statement might be, in several ways, the truth. At any rate, the old proverb which advises us never to look a gift horse in the mouth, is a good one. For the motive of the gift is more than the gift itself.

These gifts were all simple enough, but they were such as delighted Margots childlike heart an armful of dahlias or carnations a basket of nectarines or apricots two or three dozen fresh eggs a pot of butter a pair of guinea fowls, then rare in poultry yards, or a brood of young turkeys to feed and fatten for the New Years festival. About these fowls, Neil wrote her elaborate directions. And Margot was more delighted with these simple gifts than many have been with a great estate. And Christine knew, and Angus knew that she knew, and it was a subtle tie between them, made of meeting glances and clasping hands.

CHAPTER IV
THE FISHERMANS FAIR


The winds go up and down upon the sea,
And some they lightly clasp, entreating kindly,
And waft them to the port where they would be:
And other ships they buffet long and blindly.
The cloud comes down on the great sinking deep,
And on the shore, the watchers stand and weep.

So the busy fishing season passed away, and was a very fortunate one, until it was nearly over. Then there were several days of foggy, dismal weather, and one night when the nets were down a sudden violent storm drove from the north, and the boats, being at that time mostly open boats, shipped water at every sea. The greatest hurry and confusion followed, and they were finally compelled to cut the nets adrift, glad indeed to lose all, if they could only make the first shelter. And mothers and wives, standing helpless at the little windows of their cottages, watched the storm, while the men they loved were fighting the furious tempest in the black night.

God help my men! prayed Margot. She was weeping like a child, but yet in her anguish full of faith in Gods mercy, and looking trustfully to Him to send her men home again. Ill neer fret for the nets, she said, theyll hav to go, nae doubt o that. Let them go! But oh, Feyther i heaven, send hame my men folk!

Ah! Women who spend such nights may well call caller herrin the lives o men!

In the misty daylight, the men and the boats came into harbor, but the nets in every boat each net about eight hundred and fifty yards long were totally lost. However, the herring season was practically over. Indeed, the men were at the point of exhaustion, for the total take had been very large, and there is scarcely any human labor more severe on the physical endurance, than the fishing for caller herrin.

It was just at this time that Neil Ruleson had to leave Culraine for Aberdeen. He was to finish his course at the Maraschal College this year, and never before had he gone there so well provided, and never before had he felt so poor. For though he had received the unlooked-for sum of two hundred pounds for his services, he felt it to be unequal to his ambitious requirements, six weeks at Ballister House having taught him to regard many little comforts as absolute necessities.

I am very nearly a lawyer now, he reflected, a professional man, and I must try and look like it, and live like it. The bare room and unfashionable clothing of the past must be changed to more respectable quarters, and more appropriate garments. Of course he knew that Christine would not permit him to injure his future fine prospects, but he had promised to repay the ninety pounds he had borrowed from her out of his first earnings, and he felt that the money was now due, and that he ought to pay it. But if he did so, he must simplify all his plans, and he had taken so much pleasure and pains in arranging the surroundings of his last session, that he was exceedingly loth to surrender even the least important of them.

While he was packing his trunk, and deliberating on this subject, the great storm came, and his father barely saved the boat and the lives of the men in her. The nets were gone, and his mother asked him plainly if he could not help his father to replace them.

I will do so gladly, Mother, he answered, when I have paid my college fees, and the like, I will see what I can spare there is Christines money! he continued, in a troubled, thoughtful manner and Margot answered,

Ay, to be sure. If Christine hadna loaned you her money, it would hae been at her feythers will and want, this moment, but if you are going to keep your word, and pay Christine out o your first earnings, theres nae need to talk wi you. Christine will help your feyther and proud and glad to do the same.

You see, Mother, it is nearly the end of things with me at Aberdeen, and it would be hard if my future was scrimped at its beginning. That is what Ballister thinks. Neil, he said to me, you will have to speak before the public lawyers and people of full standing and you must have the dress that is proper and fitting.

Weel, your feyther will hae to get new nets if he is to mak bread for the lave o us.

The herring season is over now, and there is no immediate expense regarding it.

You are much mistaen, and ye ken it fine! The barrels in which the fish are packed are to pay for, and the women who packed them are not fully paid. The coopers who closed the barrels, and the Fishery Office, hae yet to send in their bills.

The Fishery Office! What have we to do with the Fishery Office? It is a government affair.

Mebbe sae. But the barrels canna be shipped until an officer frae the Fishery Office puts the crown brand on every barrel. Do you think the man does that for naething?

I never heard of such a thing.

Weel, it has to be done, whether Neil Ruleson has heard o the thing or not.

What for?

The crown isna branded on any barrel unless the fish in it are fine, fresh, and unbroken. But as soon as the barrels get the crown, they can be shipped to foreign ports, mostly to Stettin.

Why Stettin?

I dont know. Ask your feyther. You are just making a put-aff wi your questions. Answer me the one question I asked yoursel What can ye do to help your feyther? Answer me that.

Father will not use nets until the next herring season a whole year away in the winter, he always does line fishing. With your help, Christine can weave new nets before they are needed.

I see weel that you dinna intend to pay your debt to Christine, nor yet to help your feyther.

Father has not asked me for help. Everyone knows that father is well fore-handed.

O lad, the dear auld man barely saved the boat and the lives she carried! He has been roughly handled by winds and waves, and may hae to keep his bed awhile, and your brither Eneas is that hurt and bruised, he will neer go fishing again, while your brither Norman has a broken arm, an a wife that has gane into hystericals about the lost nets. Youd think it was her man she was screaming for. And Fae and Tamsen waited too lang, and went oer the boat wi their nets, an theres ithers that hae broken limbs, or joints out o place, or trouble o some sort.

Im very sorry, Mother. If I could do any good to the general ill, I would do it, but if I ruined all my future life I do not see that I could help anyone. I must be just, before I am generous.

To be sure. I hope youll try to be just, for I am vera certain youll neer be generous; and if you are just, youll pay your sister back her ninety pounds.

I will have a conversation with Christine, at once. Where is she?

The Domine sent for her early, she has been helping him wi the hurt folk, all day long. What hae you been doing?

I went down to the pier, to look after the boat. I knew father would be anxious about it. Then I had to go into the town. I was expecting an important letter, and the doctor was needing some medicines, and I brought them home with me. In one way, or another, the miserable day has gone. I hope Father is not much hurt.

Its hard to hurt your feyther. His head keeps steady, and a steady head keeps the body as it should be but hes strained, and kind o shocked. The Domine gied him a powder, and hes sleeping like a baby. Hell be a right in a day or twa.

I would like to sit by him tonight, and do all I can, Mother.

You may well do that, Neil; but first go and bring your sister hame. I wouldnt wonder if you might find her in Faes cottage. His puir, silly wife let the baby fa, when she heard that her man and his boat was lost; and I heard tell Christine had taen the bairn in charge. It would be just like her. Weel, its growing to candle lighting, and Ill put a crusie fu o oil in feythers room, and that will light you through the night.

Neil found his sister sitting with Judith Macpherson and her grandson, Cluny. Cluny was not seriously hurt, but no man comes out of a life-and-death fight with the sea, and feels physically the better for it. Such tragic encounters do finally lift the soul into the region of Fearlessness, or into the still higher condition of Trustfulness, but such an education like that of Godliness requires line upon line, precept upon precept.

James Ruleson had been perfectly calm, even when for a few minutes it seemed as if men, as well as nets, must go to death and destruction; but James had been meeting the God whose path is on the Great Waters, for more than forty years, and had seen there, not only His wonders, but His mercies, and he had learned to say with David, Though He slay me, yet will I put my trust in Him.

Judith Macpherson was of a different spirit. She was a passionate old woman, and the sea had taken her husband and five sons, and her only daughter. Accordingly she hated the sea. That some day it would be no more was her triumphant consolation. She delighted in preaching to it this sentence of annihilation. If Judith was seen standing on the cliffs, with her arms uplifted, and her white head thrown backward, the village knew she was reminding its proud waves of their doom of utter destruction. The passionate flaming language of her denunciations will not bear transcribing, but the oldest sailors said it was awesome and no to be listened to, or spoken o. That afternoon she had been seen on the sands, in one of her frenzies of hatred, and when Neil entered her cottage, she was still rocking herself to and fro, and muttering threats and curses.





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