Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Ah!” exclaimed the Colonel, “a ship instead of a clock! Is that right, Sir?”
“Quite. I put it there. It was made by a sailor lad born in Culraine, who came here to die. Long, painful, hopeless days were soothed by the fashioning of that miniature ship. All the village watched its progress, all felt an interest in the dying lad. He finished it on the eve of his death. Young and old came to bid him good-by, and to see his white, trembling hands dress the topmost spar, and fly the blue Peter. ‘I am just about to sail,’ he said, ‘sae I’ll up wi’ the blue Peter. That means I’m ready to go. Let her carry it till I’m safely hame.’ I put a new Peter on the top-mast last year,” said the Domine, and his eyes filled with tears, as he looked steadfastly at the emblem.
“We seem to expect a clock in the front of the gallery, Sir. Can a ship take its place?”
“Nothing, nothing, could be more appropriate. The favorite image of the church in all ages has been a ship, or a boat. The first preaching was connected with a ship, for while Noah builded the ark, he preached repentance. The holiest object of the Jewish tabernacle was the ark, made like a boat. All Christ’s known life is associated with boats. The favorite image of the early persecuted church was a boat beaten by the winds and waves, and our own churches preserve everywhere this world-wide idea, by calling the body of the church the nave, from navis, a ship.”
“That is very interesting information, Sir,” said Angus.
“You are going to Venice, Ballister; you will find many of the oldest churches in Venice built in the shape of a ship; and near Lisbon there is a chapel of marble, with pillars like masts, and its sails and cordage carved on the walls. Is not this life a voyage to the eternal shores, and what could typify our safety better than a ship with Christ for the captain of our salvation? You see, I will still be preaching. I make no excuse.”
“None is necessary. We are glad to listen.”
“Come now, Christine, and I will give you medicine for your mother. Gentlemen, in a few minutes I will return here.”
When they were alone the Domine said: “Christine, you did wisely, and your speech was correct and beautiful, but I would advise you to keep your English for special occasions.”
“Sir, not even my father and mother know I can drop the Scotch. When the time comes to tell them, I – ”
“Yes, yes. And the villagers? It might be an offense.”
“You are right, Sir.”
“You speak as if you had learned to speak at the Maraschal.”
“Yes, sir. I learned it from Neil. We always talked it together, for Neil hated the dialect, and I made a bargain wi’ him. I promised to talk as he taught me, if he would keep the circumstance from everyone. He said he would, and he has stood by his promise. Sae have I, but I hae been talking English nearly five years now.”
“You wonderful woman! Then this morning you gave yourself away.”
“I wanted to do it – I couldna resist the want.And it was only to you, and the twa Ballisters. Nane o’ you three will go blabbing. Anyway, when Neil leaves the Maraschal, he will care little how I talk. He’ll hae finer folk than Christine, to crack and claver wi’.”
“He will not find finer folk easily. Now run home as quickly as you can, and prepare your father and mother for the Ballister visit. I will come with him, and ask your mother to have a cup of tea by the fire for us.”
“Will Angus be wi’ ye, Sir?”
“No, he will not.”
“Because I am going to send him to the factor’s, and also to Lawyer Semple’s. You need not be looking for him. Try and leave well alone. It is hard to make well better, and it is very easy to make it worse. If you hurry a little, I think you may be home by twelve o’clock.”
So Christine hurried a little, and reached home by the noon hour. Her dinner was ready, and her father very unexpectedly was sitting by the fireside.
“Feyther,” she said, “I hope you arena sick,” and then she smiled at the inquiry, for his broad, rosy face was the very picture of robust health.
“Sick! Na, na, lassie! I’m weel enou’, but Norman was feeling badly. His arm hurts him sairly, and I was noticing that the fish had gane to deep waters. We’ll hae a storm before long.”
Then Christine served the dinner waiting for her, and while they were eating, she told the great news of a school for Culraine. Ruleson was quickly enthusiastic. Margot, out of pure contradiction, deplored the innovation.
The walk to the toun, she said, was gude for the childer. If they were too tired to learn after it, it showed that learning was beyond their capabilities, and that they would be better making themsel’s usefu’ at hame. And what were women with large families to do without their big lads to bring water to wash wi’, and their half-grown lasses to tak’ care o’ the babies, and help wi’ the cooking and cleaning?
“But, Margot,” said Ruleson, “think o’ the outcome for the childer – Think o’ – ”
“Ye dinna require to tell me the outcome. As soon as the childer get what they ca’ an education, they hurry awa’ to some big city, or foreign country, and that’s the end o’ them. Settle a school here, and I’ll tell you the plain result – in a few years we’ll hae neither lads nor boats, and the lasses now growing up will hae to go to Largo, or to some unkent place for husbands. Gie our lads books, and you’ll ne’er get them into the boats. That’s a fact! I’m tellin’ you!”
Between Margot and Christine the argument continued all afternoon, but Ruleson went to the foot of the hill, and looked at the land proposed for the site of the future school. He was glad that it was his land, and he was so much of a natural poet that he could see the white building, and the boys and girls trooping in and out of its wide doors. And the vision of the children playing together there was so clear to his imagination, that he carefully stepped off the acres he supposed would give them sufficient room for their games; and then shutting his eyes that he might see better, he decided that it was too small, and so stepped off another acre.
“I’ll ne’er scrimp the childer, God bless them!” he thought, “for it will be a happy day to James Ruleson, when he sees them runnin’ to these acres wi’ books and balls in their hands.”
Then he went home, and Margot said something about his Sunday claes, but James did not heed her. He put on a clean shirt, and a suit of blue flannel. His shirt was open at the throat, his feet were in boots that reached nearly to his knees. But he had a grandly satisfied look, and the beautiful courtesy of men who as a rule think only good of their neighbors, and do only good to them.
Margot, like Christine, was in her fisher-costume, with little accentuations in Christine’s case; but Margot was the very mate for the splendid man she called “her man.” Scotch, from head to feet, douce and domestic, yet cleverer than James, though obedient to him – a good woman, fit for the work of this world, and not forgetful concerning a better one.
Keeping in mind the Domine’s directions about a cup of tea, Christine laid the table with their best linen and china, and though no difference was made in the food provided, Christine saw that it was well cooked. After all, it was quite an event for James Ruleson, and in the outcome of it he expected to realize one of the greatest pleasures that could come to him.
About five o’clock the Domine and Ballister arrived. They entered a room full of the feeling of home. It was clean, and white as a snow drift, and there was a bright fire blazing on the hearth. The covered table with its knives and forks and spoons, and its gilt rimmed teacups, was in itself a symbol of hospitality. The Domine looked at it, and then said, “Margot, you are baking sea trout. I told you never to do that again, when I was coming, unless you intended asking me to help in the eating of it.”
“Today, they were cooked special for you, Sir, and I hope you will hae the good will to pleasure me in the eating o’ them.”
“Certainly, Margot, certainly! I could not resist your invitation.”
Hearing these words, Ruleson rose, and said, “Colonel, if you will join the Domine at the meal God has gi’en us, James Ruleson will gladly break bread with you.”
After these preliminaries, Christine served the meal, and then waited on her parents and their guests. They ate the fish with great enjoyment. It was to the Colonel a gastronomical discovery. No anchovy, no sauces of any kind, just the delicate fish, baked with a few slices of Ayrshire ham, and served with potatoes boiled in their jackets so skillfully that the jackets dropped from them when touched. It was a dish pure and simple, and captivated every palate. Nothing more was needed that Christine’s quiet service and the animated conversation did not supply. As to Margot, she was kept busy filling small cups with that superexcellent tea we get in Scotland, and find it next to impossible to get anywhere else.
After the fish was fully eaten, Christine – almost without notice – cleared the table, and brought on a rice pudding, and a large pitcher of cream. The men ate the whole of it. Perhaps they did so unconsciously, for they were talking about the school in an enthusiastic manner, while it was disappearing. Then James Ruleson lit his pipe, and the Colonel his cigar, and they sat down at the fireside. The Domine, with a smile of perfect happiness, sat between them, and every remnant of dinner silently disappeared.
During the hour following the Domine drafted the principal items to be discussed and provided for, and it was further resolved to call a village meeting in the Fishers’ Hall, for the next evening. Then the Colonel’s carriage was waiting, and he rose, but really with some reluctance. He cast his eyes over the comfortable room, and looked with admiration on the good man who called it home, on the bright, cheery woman, whose love made it worth the name, and on the girl who filled it with her beauty; and he said to Margot, “Mrs. Ruleson, I have eaten today the very best of dinners. I enjoyed every mouthful of it.”
“Indeed, the dinner was good, Colonel; and we were proud and glad o’ your company.”
“And you will meet us in the Hall tomorrow night, and bring all the women you can with you?”
“I’ll do my best, Sir, but our women are a dour lot. They lay out their ain way, and then mak’ the taking o’ it a point o’ duty.”
And all the way to Ballister House the Colonel wondered about his dinner – no flowers on the table, no napkins, no finger bowls, no courses, no condiments or pickles, no wine, not even a thimbleful of whiskey, nothing but excellently cooked fresh fish and potatoes, a good cup of tea with it, and then a rice pudding and plenty of cream. “Wonderful!” he ejaculated. “Upon my word, things are more evenly balanced than we think. I know noblemen and millionaires that are far from being as happy, or as well fed, as Ruleson’s family.”
The next morning the bellman went through the village calling men and women together at half-past seven, in the Fishers’ Hall; and there was great excitement about the matter. Even the boys and girls here took a noisy part in the discussion, for and against, the argument in this class being overwhelmingly in favor of the school.
Among the adults, opinion was also divided. There were lazy mothers who could not do without their girls’ help, and greedy fathers who expected their little lads to make, or at least save them a few shillings a week; and Christine feared the gift would be ungraciously taken. Ruleson had a long talk with big Peter Brodie, and Peter told him not to fash himsel’ anent a lot o’ ignorant women and men folk. If they were such fools, as not to ken a blessing when it was put into their vera hands, they ought to be made to understand the fact; and with a peculiar smile he intimated that he would take great satisfaction in gieing them as many lessons as they required.
The meeting was, however, crowded, and when the Colonel and the Domine stepped on the platform, the audience were just in the mood to give them a rousing cheer. It opened the Domine’s mouth, and he said:
“Friends, I have great and good news for you. Colonel Ballister is going to build us a school of our own. We shall want some of you as Trustees, and others will have to form an executive board. We are going to have a women’s board as well. The men’s board will look after the management of the school. The women’s board will look after the bairns, and see that they get fair play in every respect. A women’s board will be a new thing, but Culraine is not afraid of new ways, if they be better ways.” Then he went into particulars, which we need not do, and concluded by telling them that James Ruleson had given land both for the school and the playground, and that it was hoped James’ approval would stand for many, and much. “We will now take the vote of both men and women for, or against, the school.”
Then a man in the center of the crowded hall stood up. It was Peter Brodie.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “a vote is outside necessity. We dinna vote as to whether we want sunshine, or fish, or bread. We are sure o’ the matter. The school is mental bread and meat and sunshine to our lads and lasses. We thank God for it. There would be a deal o’ trouble i’ getting and counting names, and the like o’ that. Let us vote, gentlemen, as our forefathers voted for the Solemn League and Covenant, by just lifting their right hands above their heads. The Domine could gie us the word, and if after it there is man or woman with baith hands down, Peter Brodie will be asking the reason why.”
This speech was received with acclamation, and when the tumult had subsided, the Domine called for the silent vote of approval, that had ratified their immortal compact with their kirk. He described in picturesque words that wonderful scene in the Greyfriars’ kirkyard, when sixty thousand right hands rose as promptly as one hand for the True Religion, and he told them that after the kirk, their first duty was the school. Then he stood still a moment, and there was a profound silence. After it came the word:
Men and women rose as by one impulse.
“Those who are in favor of a school in Culraine, and grateful to God and man for it, let them lift up their right hands above their heads.”
Every right hand was lifted. There was not a protesting hand, and Peter Brodie observed that if there had been one, it ought to be cut off, and cast into the fire, with a’ the lave o’ useless members.
The meeting was then practically over, but many remained. The room was warm and lighted, and it seemed unreasonable not to have a song and story, and dance out of it. Christine was entreated to remain, but she said her mither wasna feeling well, and she be to gae hame wi’ her. In truth she was much depressed because Angus had not come with his uncle. She did not like to ask why, and her heart was full of unhappy surmises. But she put the trouble aside while with her mother, and gave herself willingly to the discussion of Peter Brodie’s ill-bred and forwardsome behavior.
“I perfectly thought shame of his interference,” said Margot. “Mercifully he spoke some kind o’ Scotch, for I hae heard him – special when he was angry – rave in his native Gaelic, and then he got his ain way, for nae decent man or woman could answer his unpronounceable words. They were just a vain babblement.”
“Jean Pollok was a’ for the school tonight; this morning she was raving against it.”
“That was to be looked for. There is as much two-facedness in some women, as there’s meat in an egg.”
“But for all disputing, Mither, everyone seemed to think the school would be a good thing.”
“It is this, and that, and what not, and how it will end nobody knows. Some folks are ill to please, even when they get their ain way.”
“You could hardly make Mary Leslie keep her sitting. She wanted to stand up, and ask the Domine how she was to cook and wash and clean and sew and nurse her baby, without the help o’ her girls, Jess and Flora. She said there was eleven in her family, and she wanted to know how it was to be managed. It was hard to keep her still.”
“It was vera barefaced o’ her. But she put up her hand wi’ the rest.”
“Ay, Mither. She was feared for Peter Brodie quarreling with her man. That’s Peter’s way o’ managing women; he mak’s their husbands responsible for a’ they say, and do; he says, ‘the husbands ought to hae brought up their wives better.’ He has done it, you know, Mither, several times.”
Margot laughed. “Ay,” she said, “for Tamson’s wife. Naebody blamed him. Anne Tamson has a parfectly unruly tongue, and her husband, Watty, got the licking for what she said anent Frazer and his wife. I wouldna fear the man mysel’, and the maist o’ our women could gie him as much – and mair – than he sends.”
So they talked until the cottage was reached, and the day was over. Christine went gladly to her room. A crusie was burning on the table, and she removed her gown and uncoiled her long, brown hair. Then all was still, and she let herself think, and her decision was, “if Angus had wanted to come, he would have done so.
“It isna my place,” she continued, “to tak’ care on the subject. I’ll no mak’ mysel’ and ithers miserable anent him, forbye Angus Ballister is clear outside me, and my life.”
Then she rose and took a large copy book from a drawer, and sitting down at the table, took pen and ink and wrote:
Then she put the book away, turned out the light and lay down. But the old mysterious, hungering sound of the sea had an angry sough in it; and she went to sleep fearing it, and thinking of it as a deep starless darkness, hanging over the dreamlike figures of dead sailors and fishers. At midnight she awoke, the storm her father had predicted was roaring over the great waters. She went to her little window and looked out – darkness, wildness, desolation – and she hasted and put plenty of peats on the fire, and carried her mother an extra quilt.
“I hae made up the fire, Mither dear,” she said, “and if ye want to get up, you’ll be warm, and I’ll come and sit by you.”
“Will I waken your feyther?”
“Whatna for? There’s naething to fear. Norman and Eneas are doubtless at hame. Most o’ our men are. Few would start after the dance. They would see the storm coming.”
“Will it be a bad storm?”
“I think it will. But the sea is His, and He made it. If there is a storm He is guiding it. Ye ken how often we sing ‘He plants His footsteps on the sea, and rides upon the storm.’” And so, sweet-eyed and fearless, she went away, but left peace and blessing behind her.
In the living room, she laid more peats on the fire. Then she went to her own room. Some words had been singing in her heart as she moved about, and she took the big copy book out of the drawer, and stooping to the crusie burning on the table, she wrote them down:
She read the words over with a smile. “They might be worse,” she thought, “but Christine! You hae been writing poetry. You’ll hae to stop that nonsense! Weel, it wasna my fault. It came o’ itsel’, and I dinna feel as if I had done anything much out o’ the way – and I was maist asleep, if that is ony kind o’ an excuse. I – ”