Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl
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She had attended skillfully and tenderly to Cluny’s bruises and nervous excitement, but he was frightened and depressed by her mood, and he begged Christine to stay wi’ him an hour or twa. And Christine had been willing. Judith was always kind to her, and the handsome lad with his boyish adoration was at least a settled feature of her life. This night she let him tell her all his plans for their happy future, and did not feel any pressure of duty to deny his hopes. He had just come out of the very jaws of Death. What could she do, but let him dream his dream and have his say?
However, in all troubles, either personal or public, it is a great thing to be still, and to whisper to the soul – “This, too, will pass!” It is behind us today, tomorrow it will be still farther away. In a week we shall not talk of it, in a month it will have passed from Life, and belong only to Memory. There is scarcely any sorrow that may not be greatly helped and soothed by this reflection. For God does not willingly afflict the children of men, and it is He Himself, that has appointed Time to be the consoler of Sorrow.
By the end of October, the village was in its normal mood and condition. All the expenses of the fishing season had been paid, and the profits satisfactorily ascertained and divided. Great quantities of cord had been procured, and the women and the older men were busily making nets for the next season, while the younger men were ready for the winter’s line-fishing. There was an air of content and even of happiness over the small community. It was realized that, in spite of the storm, the season had been good, and the Domine had reminded them on the last Sabbath, that they had not yet rendered thanks to God, nor even visibly told each other how good God had been to them.
For it was the custom of Culraine to keep a day of thanks and rejoicing when the herring had been secured, and to send word to all the near-by fishers to come and rejoice with them. They began now to prepare for this festival, and in this preparation were greatly assisted by gifts from Ballister House. Neil had gone back to the Maraschal, but Angus was still at Ballister. He had been royally generous to the village in its distress, had supplied the Domine with necessary drugs and materials, and had seen to it that the injured had those little luxuries of food which tempt the convalescent. He was still more eager to help the fishers in their thanksgiving, Margot Ruleson being the authorized distributor of all his gifts, as she was also the director of all concerning the affair.
This foy, or fair, was to be kept on the thirty-first of October, embracing particularly the Hallowe’en night so dear to the peasantry of Scotland. The Domine had selected this date, possibly because he wished to prevent its usual superstitious observance. But though some old men and women doubtless lighted their Hallowe’en fires, and baked their Hallowe’en cake, with the usual magical ceremonies, the large majority were far too busy preparing for an actual and present pleasure, to trouble themselves about prophesying spells and charms.
The day was opened by a short address to the people assembled in the old kirk.About thirty minutes covered the simple ceremony. First the Domine stood up, and the people stood up with him, and all together they recited aloud the jubilant thirty-fourth psalm. Then the Domine said,
“Sit down, friends, and take heed to what I say. I have no sermon for you today. I have no sins to charge you with, and to beg you to forsake. I have just one message. It is three words long. ‘God is Love!’ Whatever you hear, whatever you do, no matter what happens to you, remember that God is Love! You are heritage-born to the sea, but the way of the Lord is through the Great Waters. God must see you in your struggles, and God must love the patient, brave, sailormen. Christ showed you special favors. He might have chosen carpenters, but he chose fishermen. And for seeing God’s wonders on the deep sea, you may be the sons and heirs of the prophet Jonas. Also,
Well, then, as often as you come unto a sermon, consider how God by his preachers trawleth for your souls. Friends, in all times of your joy and your sorrow, you have the key to God’s council chamber, and to God’s mercy chamber. It is just ‘Our Father,’ and the few blessed words that follow it. There is little need for long talk. This is the day you have set for thanksgiving. Rejoice therein! God is as well pleased with your happiness, as he was and is with your good, brave work. The hard winter days wear on. Make this day a memory to brighten them. Amen.”
There was a considerable number of visitors from fishing villages as far south as Largo, going from house to house, talking over old seasons with old comrades, and there were the sound of violins everywhere, and the laughter of children, in their Sunday clothes, playing in the streets. Even sorrowful Faith Balcarry was in a new dress, and was at least helping others to be happy. Indeed, it was Faith who suddenly burst into the Hall when the decorations were nearly finished, and cried, “Surely you’ll show the flags o’ the lads’ boaties! They’ll feel hurt if you slight their bits o’ canvas! It is most like slighting themsel’s.” She had her arms full of these bits of canvas, and the men decorating the Fishers’ Hall seized them triumphantly, and told Faith they were just what they wanted; and so made Faith for once in her sad life a person helpful and of importance. Then in twenty minutes the red and blue and white ensigns were beautifully disposed among the green of larch and laurel, and the glory of marigolds and St. Michael’s daisies, and of holly oaks of every brilliant color.
When the sun was setting Angus looked in. Everyone but Christine and Faith had finished his work and gone away. Faith was brushing up the scattered leaves from the floor, Christine was standing on the top step of the ladder, setting her father’s flag in a halo of marigolds. He watched her without speaking until she turned, then the swift glory of her smile, and the joy of her surprise was a revelation. He had not dreamed before that she was so beautiful. He said he was hungry, and he hoped Christine would not send him all the way to Ballister for something to eat. Then what could Christine do but ask him to dinner? And she had already asked Faith. So he walked between Christine and Faith up to Ruleson’s cottage. And the walk through the village was so exhilarating, he must have forgotten he was hungry, even if he was really so. There was music everywhere, there were groups of beautiful women, already dressed in their gayest gowns and finest ornaments, there were equal groups of handsome young fishermen, in their finest tweed suits, with flowing neckties of every resplendent color – there was such a sense of pleasure and content in the air, that everyone felt as if he were breathing happiness.
And Margot’s welcome was in itself a tonic, if anybody had needed one. Her table was already set, she was “only waiting for folks to find out they wanted their dinner – the dinner itsel’ was waitin’ and nane the better o’ it.”
Ruleson came in as she was speaking, and he welcomed the Master of Ballister with true Scotch hospitality. They fell into an easy conversation on politics, and Margot told Christine and Faith to mak’ themsel’s fit for company, and to be quick anent the business, or she wadna keep three folk waiting on a couple o’ lasses.
In half an hour both girls came down, dressed in white. Christine had loaned Faith a white frock, and a string of blue beads, and a broad blue sash. She had arranged her hair prettily, and made the girl feel that her appearance was of consequence. And light came into Faith’s eyes, and color to her cheeks, and for once she was happy, whether she knew it or not.
Christine had intended to wear a new pink silk frock, with all its pretty accessories, but a beautiful natural politeness forbade it. Faith was so abnormally sensitive, she knew she would spoil the girl’s evening if she outdressed her. So she also put on a white muslin gown, made in the modest fashion of the early Victorian era. Some lace and white satin ribbons softened it, and she had in her ears her long gold rings, and round her throat her gold beads, and amidst her beautiful hair large amber combs, that looked as if they had imprisoned the sunshine.
Margot was a good cook, and the dinner was an excellent one, prolonged – as Margot thought – beyond all reasonable length, by a discussion, between Ruleson and Angus, of the conservative policy. Ruleson smoked his pipe after dinner, and kept up the threep, and the girls put out of sight the used china, and the meat and pastries left, and Margot put on her usual Sabbath attire – a light-gray silk dress, a large white collar, and a borderless cap of lace over her dark hair. The indispensable bit of color was, in her case, supplied by a vivid scarlet shawl of Chinese cr?pe, one of those heavily embroidered shawls of dazzling color, which seem in these latter days to have disappeared.
It was getting near to seven o’clock, when they entered the hall and found it already full and happy. They had not thought it necessary to wait in whispering silence, until the music came and opened the entertainment. They possessed among themselves many good story tellers, and they were heartily laughing in chorus at some comic incident which a fisherman was relating, when the Ruleson party arrived.
Then there was one long, loud, unanimous cry for Christine Ruleson, for Christine was pre?minent as a vive-voce story teller, a rare art even among the nations of Europe. She nodded and smiled, and without any affectation of reluctance, but with a sweet readiness to give pleasure, went at once to the platform, and as easily, and as naturally as if she were telling it at her home fireside, she raised her hand for attention, and said:
“The Wreck of the Grosvenor
Christine had noticed the Domine rise, and she pointedly addressed this question to him, and he understood her wish, and lifting up his hands and his voice, he cried out triumphantly:
“They shall be raised up with the words – ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto Me!’ These good men,” he continued, “were men of the sea, Mariners of England,
The Domine might have continued, but there was a sudden thrill of enchanting violins, the door was flung open, and the magical notes of a foursome reel filled the room, and set the feet of all tapping the floor, and made all faces radiant with anticipation. The good man then realized that it was not his hour, and he sat down, and watched the proceedings for a few minutes. Then he saw James Ruleson take his wife’s hand, and watched their first steps in the joyous reel, and he was satisfied. If the dancing was under Ruleson’s control, he knew all would be done decently and in order, and he went away so quietly that his absence was not noticed for some time.
Now, if the dancing that followed was like some of our dancing of today, I should pass it with slight notice, or it might be, with earnest disapproval, but it was not. It was real dancing. It was not waltzing, nor tangoing, and it was as far as possible from the undressed posturing called classical dancing. Everyone was modestly clothed, and had his shoes and stockings on. And naturally, and as a matter of course, they obeyed the principle of real dancing, which is articulation; that is, the foot strikes the ground with every accented note of the music. This is how Goldsmith in “The Vicar of Wakefield” shows us Olivia dancing – “her foot being as pat to the music, as its echo.”
All good dancing is beautiful, and it never requires immodesty, is indeed spoiled by any movement in this direction. However, as my fisher company danced modestly and gracefully, rendering naturally the artistic demands of the music, there is no necessity to pursue the subject. As the night wore on, the dancing became more enthusiastic, and graceful gestures were flung in, and little inspiring cries flung out, and often when the fiddles stopped, the happy feet went on for several bars without the aid of music.
Thus alternately telling stories, singing, and dancing, they passed the happy hours, mingling something of heart, and brain, and body, in all they did; and the midnight found them unwearied and good-tempered. Angus had behaved beautifully. Having made himself “Hail! Well met!” with the company, he forgot for the time that he was Master of Ballister, and entered into the happy spirit of the occasion with all the natural gayety of youth.
As he had dined with Faith Balcarry, he danced with her several times; and no one could tell the pride and pleasure in the girl’s heart. Then Christine introduced to her a young fisherman from Largo town, and he liked Faith’s slender form, and childlike face, and fell truly in love with the lonely girl, and after this night no one ever heard Faith complain that she had no one to love, and that no one loved her. This incident alone made Christine very happy, for her heart said to her that it was well worth while.
Cluny was the only dissatisfied person present, but then nothing would have satisfied Cluny but Christine’s undivided attention. She told him he was “unreasonable and selfish,” and he went home with his grandmother, in a pet, and did not return.
“He’s weel enough awa’,” said Christine to Faith. “If he couldna leave his bad temper at hame, he hadna ony right to bring it here.”
Of course it was not possible for Christine to avoid all dancing with Angus, but he was reasonable and obedient, and danced cheerfully with all the partners she selected, and in return she promised to walk home in his company. He told her it was “a miraculous favor,” and indeed he thought so. For never had she looked so bewilderingly lovely. Her beauty appeared to fill the room, and the calm, confident authority with which she ordered and decided events, touched him with admiring astonishment. What she would become, when he gave her the opportunity, he could not imagine.
At nine o’clock there was a sideboard supper from a long table at one side of the hall, loaded with cold meats, pastry, and cake. Every young man took what his partner desired, and carried it to her. Then when the women were served, the men helped themselves, and stood eating and talking with the merry, chattering groups for a pleasant half-hour, which gave to the last dances and songs even more than their early enthusiasm. Angus waited on Christine and Faith, and Faith’s admirer had quite a flush of vanity, in supposing himself to have cut the Master of Ballister out. He flattered himself thus, and Faith let him think so, and Christine shook her head, and called him “plucky and gay,” epithets young men never object to, especially if they know they are neither the one nor the other.
At twelve o’clock Ruleson spoke to the musicians, and the violins dropped from the merry reel of “Clydeside Lasses” into the haunting melody of “Caller Herrin’,” and old and young stood up to sing it. Margot started the “cry” in her clear, clarion-like voice; but young and old joined in the imperishable song, in which the “cry” is vocalized:
Who’ll buy cal-ler her-rin’? They’re twa a pen-ny twa a pen-ny,
Who’ll buy cal-ler her-rin’? They’re new come fra Loch fine. Come friends sup-port the fish-er’s trade. Wha still in yer’ll earns his bread. While
’round our coast aft tem-pest tost. He drags for cal-ler her-rin’. They’re bon-nie fish, and dain-ty fa-ring. Buy my cal-ler her-rin’. They’re new come frae Loch-flae. Who’ll buy my cal-ler her-rin’. There’s nought wi’ them will stand com-par-ing. E’en they hae like dia-monds. Their sides like sil-ver shine. Cal-ler her-rin’, Cal-ler her-rin’
At one o’clock the Fishers’ Hall was dark and still, and the echo of a tender little laugh or song from some couple, who had taken the longest way round for the nearest way home, was all that remained of the mirth and melody of the evening. Angus and Christine sauntered slowly through the village. The young man was then passionately importunate in the protestations of his love. He wooed Christine with all the honeyed words that men have used to the Beloved Woman, since the creation. And Christine listened and was happy.
At length, however, he was obliged to tell her news he had delayed as long as it was possible.
“Christine,” he said. “Dear Christine, I am going with my Uncle Ballister to the United States. We intend to see both the northern and southern states, and in California shall doubtless find the ways and means to cross over to China and Japan, and at Hongkong get passage for India, and then – ”
“And then whar next?”
“Through Europe to England. I dare say the journey will take us a whole year.”
“Mair likely twa or even three years. Whatna for are you going?”
“Because my uncle is going, and he is set on having me with him.”
“I wouldn’t wonder. Maybe he is going just for your sake. Weel I hope you’ll hae a brawly fine time, and come hame the better for it.”
“I cannot tell how I am to do without seeing you, for a whole year.”
“Folk get used to doing without, vera easy, if the want isn’t siller. Love isna a necessity.”
“O, but it is! Dear Christine, it is the great necessity.”
“Weel, I’m not believing it.”
Then they were at the foot of the hill on which Ruleson’s house stood, and Christine said, “Your carriage is waiting for you, Angus, and you be to bid me good night, here. I would rather rin up the hill by mysel’, and nae doubt the puir horses are weary standin’ sae lang. Sae good night, and good-by, laddie!”
“I shall not leave you, Christine, until I have seen you safely home.”
“I am at hame here. This is Ruleson’s hill, and feyther and mither are waiting up for me.”
A few imperative words from Angus put a stop to the dispute, and he climbed the hill with her. He went as slowly as possible, and told her at every step how beautiful she was, and how entirely he loved her. But Christine was not responsive, and in spite of his eloquent tenderness, they felt the chill of their first disagreement. When they came in sight of the house, they saw that it was dimly lit, and Christine stood still, and once more bade him good-by.
Angus clasped both her hands in his. “My love! My love!” he said. “If I spoke cross, forgive me.”
“I hae naething to forgive. I owe you for mair pleasure and happiness, than I can ever return.”
“Give me one kiss of love and forgiveness, Christine. Then I will know you love Angus” – and he tried gently to draw her closer to him. “Just one kiss, darling.”
“Na! Na,” she answered. “That canna be. I’m a fisher-lass, and we hae a law we dinna break – we keep our lips virgin pure, for the lad we mean to marry.”
“You are very hard and cruel. You send me away almost broken-hearted. May I write to you?”
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