Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl





Forget her! Those two words kept Christine uncertain and unhappy. She could not bear to think of Clunys forgetting her. Cluny had been part of all her nineteen years of life. Why must men be so one or the other? she asked fretfully. Why force her to an uncertain decision? Why was she so uncertain? Then she boldly faced the question and asked herself Is Angus Ballister the reason? Perhaps so, though she was equally uncertain about Angus. She feared the almost insurmountable difficulties between them. Caste, family, social usage and tradition, physical deficiencies in education and in all the incidentals of polite life, not to speak of what many would consider the greatest of all shortcomings, her poverty. How could two lives so dissimilar as Angus Ballisters and Christine Rulesons become one?

She asked her mother this question one day, and Margot stopped beating her oat cakes and answered, Weel, theres a kinds o men, Christine, and Ill no say it is a thing impossible; but I hae come to the conclusion that in the case o Angus and yoursel you wouldna compluter if you lived together a the rest o this life.

Why, Mither?

Because you are the baity o you so weel satisfied wi your present mak up. Thats a. And it is a that is needfu to keep you baith from going forwarder. Theres a lump a rank cowardice in it, too.

Mother, do you think I am a coward?

All women are frightened by what is said o them, or even likely to be said o them. And nae wonder. Women are far harder judged than men are. You would think the Ten Commands were not made for men. Yet if a woman breaks one o them, Gods sake! what a sinner she is!

I dont see what you are meaning, Mither.

Its plain enou. Men are not set down below notice, if they break the twa first a their lives lang, if so be they pay their deficit to God in gold to the kirk. How many men do you know, Christine, who never break the third command? How many men honor the fourth? As to the fifth, Scots are maistly ready to tak care o their ain folk. The sixth, seventh and eighth belong to the criminal class, and yell allow its maistly made up o bad men. Concerning the ninth command, men are warse than women, but men call their ill-natured talk politics, or hetrodoxy, or some ither grand name; and Ill allow that as soon as they begin to covet their neighbors house and wife and horses and cattle, they set to wark, and mak money and build a bigger house than he hes, and get a bonnier wife, and finer-blooded horses and cattle and Im not saying whether they do well or ill there is sae much depending on the outcome o prosperity o that kind. But tak men as a whole, they leave the Ten Commands on the shoulders o their wives.

And do the women obey them, Mither?

Middling well. They do love God, and they do go to kirk. They dont swear, and as a general thing they honor their fathers and mothers. They dont, as a rule, murder or steal or tak some ither womans husband awa from her.

Im no clear about women and the ninth and tenth command. They are apt to long for whatever is good and beautiful and I dont blame them.

I wish I was better educated, Mother. I would be able to decide between Angus and Cluny.

Not you. The key of your life is in your heart, not in your brain.

It is a pity.

That is, as may be. In the long run, your feelings will decide, and they are likely to be mair sensible than your reasons. And where love is the because o your inquiry, Ill warrant a bit o good sense is best o all advisers.

What is gude sense? How can a girl get it?

Gude sense is the outcome o all our senses. As regards Ballister, ca to your decision a bit o wholesome pride. Ye ken what I mean.

Weel, weel, Angus is far awa, and Cluny is only waiting the word I canna say, and what will I do when I hae nae lover at a, at a?

When you havent what you love, you must love what you hae. And I fear there is a heart fu o cares ready for us to sort. Geordie Sinclair was telling your father that Neil is flinging a big net i Aberdeen dining wi rich folk o all kinds, and rinning as close friend wi a lad caed Rath. He was saying, also, that Rath has lying siller, plenty, o it, and that he is studying law in the same classes as Neil, at the Maraschal.

I dinna see why we should fret oursels anent Neil dining wi rich folk. He was aye talkin o his intention to do the same. The mair rich friends he has, the better; it isna puir folk that go to law. Neil is casting his net vera prudently, nae doubt. Ill warrant it will be takin for him even while he sleeps. Worry is just wasted on Neil.

Im thinking that way mysel, but feyther is feared he will be spending money he shouldna spend.

He is lawyer enou to ken the outcome o that way. Neil will be on the safe side every day, and always! Theres nae need to fash oursels anent Neil!

Weel then, your feyther is sairly heart-hurt anent Allans youngest laddie. Last New Year when he went to Glasgow to see Allan, he thought things were far wrang, and he has worried himsel on the matter ever since. It is a dreadful thing to say, but the bairn is vera delicate, and his mother isna kind to him. She is a big strong woman, neer sick hersel, and without feeling for a bairn that is never well, and often vera sick. Feyther said his heart was sair for the little fellow, lyin wakefu lang nights wi pain and fear, and naebody in the house carin. Yesterday feyther hed a letter frae your brither Allan, and he was fu o grief, and begging feyther to go and see the bairn, and if possible tak him to Culraine, and try if we could do anything to help him to health and happiness.

Will she let feyther hae him?

Shes as uncertain as the wind, but the lad is named James after his grandfeyther, and hell ask for him, on that plea.

O Mither, get feyther to go at once! Ill tak a the trouble o the child! Only to think o it! Only to think o it! A mither no carin for her suffering child!

She doesna ken what suffering is, hersel. She neer taks cold and she doesna see why ither folks should. She is never fearsome, or nervous, she never feels the dark to be full o what terrifies her vera soul, and she canna understand her bairns terror. She treats him vera much as she treats his brithers, but they are big, rugged lads, that naething hurts or frights. All right for them, but she is slowly killin little James, and you couldna mak her see it.

Feyther ought not to lose an hour.

Hell hae to be vera cautious i the matter. Allans wife isna easily managed. Proud and strong in her health and youth, she is fairly scounfu o the weak and sick, but I think your feyther can manage her. Ill get him awa tomorrow, if so be its possible.

Then there was such pressure of the two women brought to bear upon the grandfathers heart, that he was eager for the morning to come, and before it was yet light he was away to the town, to catch the earliest train to Edinburgh, from which place he could get quick transit to Glasgow.

Now, Mither, we hae done a we can, at the present, for Allans little lad, said Christine. Do you think feyther will write to us?

Im sure he will not. He wad rayther do a hard days work than write a letter. What are you going to do wi your day, dearie?

I am going to write to Neil.

Do. You might remind him that his feyther and mither are yet living in Culraine.

That news isna worth while. If he wants to write, hell write. If he doesna want to write, we arena begging letters. Im thinking mair o little James than I am o Neil. You dinna like his mither, Im thinking?

Youre thinking right. Allan picked her up in some unkent place, and when a man lives between sailing and docking, he hasna time to ken what hes doing. Forbye, Christine, new relations dinna get into their place easy. They mind me o that new dress my sister sent me frae Liverpool. It wanted a lot o taking-in, and o letting-out. Its just that way wi new relations. Allans wife required plentiful taking-in, and the mair letting-out there was, the mair unfittable she became. Then Margot rubbed the end of her nose with an air of scorn, and said decidedly, She wasna a comprehensible woman. I couldna be fashed wi her. It isna the bringing o bairns to the birth, that hurts the heart and spoils the life o a mither, its the way lads and lasses marry themsels that maks her wish she had neither lad nor lass to her name.

Mither, that isna like you.

Allan was just twenty-three when he married the woman, without word or wittens to any o us. It was a bad days wark, and he hes never been able to mend it. For theres nae takin-in or lettin-out wi his wife. She is sure she is parfect, and what will you do, what can you do, wi a parfect woman? I hope and pray that Ill never fall into that state; parfection isna suitable for this warld.

It ought to be a grand virtue, Mither.

Its the warst o all the vices. We hae three or four specimens o it in the village o Culraine, and they are the maist unenlightened people we hae to tak care o. But when parfection is born o ignorance, it is unconquerable. The Domine said sae, and that only God could manage a parfect man or woman.

When little James comes, wouldnt it be well to hae the Domine look him over? He can tell us whats the matter wi the laddie, and what we ought to do for him.

That is a sensible observe, Christine. There will be nae harm in doing what it calls for.

Now Ill awa, and write to Neil. Hae ye ony special message for him, Mither?

You might say I would like to ken something anent thae Raths. They arena Fifemen, nor Shetlanders, Highland Scots, nor Lowland Scots; and Im thinking they may be Irish, and if sae, Im hopin they hae the true faith.

Mither dear, I wouldna fash wi the Raths. They are simply naething to us, and if we set Neil on praising and proving, hell write pages anent them.

Sae he will. You might name the ninety pound hes owing you.

It wouldna be advisable. Neil will pay when its fully convenient to himsel. Im not expecting a farthing until it is sae.

I can think o nae ither thing. It seems vera superfluous to tell Neil to be good, and to do good. He has the gift o admiring himsel. Tell him he can be thankful, for it isna every man that has the same capability.

Ill read you my letter, Mither, when I hae written it.

Youd better not. Youll say lots I wouldna say, and naething I would say, and the amends and contradictions would require another letter o explanations. Im going to look through my ain lads outgrown breeks and jackets. Ill warrant wee James will come to us next door to naked.

I didna know that you had saved the lads auld claes.

Did you think I wad throw them awa? All our lads grew quick, they neer wore out a suit, and I put their wee breeks and coaties awa. I thought they might come in for their ain bairns, and lo and behold! Allans little lad is, like as not, to come into his feythers Sunday raiment.

Did you save their shirts and such like?

Why wouldnt I? But vera few linen things are left. They were too easy to wear and tear, to be long-lived, but I fancy I can find a sleeping gown for the bairn, and maybe a shirt or twa. But stockings are beyond mention. They got them into unmendable holes, and left them in the boats, or the fish sheds, and I fairly wore my knitting needles awa knitting for lads wha wouldna use their feet ony way but skin-bare.

So the grandmother went to find what clothes she could for a little lad of eight years old, and Christine sat down to answer Neils last letter. To herself she called it an overflowing screed. Indeed it was full of the great Reginald Rath, his fine family, his comfortable wealth, his sister, Roberta, and her highly respectable house in the Monteith Row oerby the Green of Glasgow City. Christine told him in reply that she was glad he had found a friend so conformable to all his wishes. She asked him if he had heard lately from Angus Ballister, and casually mentioned that the Domine had received ten days ago a letter from the Colonel about the school building, and that Angus had sent her some bonnie pictures of the city of Rome. She also informed him that his nephew was coming to Culraine, and that she herself was going to take the charge of him, and so might not have time to write as often as she had done.

In the afternoon Faith came from the village to help with the nets a-mending, and she brought the village gossip with her, and among the news of all kinds, the date of her own marriage. She was going to wed the Largo man on Christmas Day, and she had forgotten her loneliness and melancholy, and laughed and joked pleasantly, as she went over her plans with Christine. Margot watched her, and listened to her with great interest, and when at sunset the lassie went down the hill, she said to Christine: Wonders never cease. Faith Balcarry was moping melancholy, she is now as merry as a cricket. She was sick and going to die, shes now well and going to marry. She had nane to love her, and nane she loved. Her whole talk now is o the Largo man, and the wonderfu love he has for her, and the untelling love she has for him. Weel! Weel! I hae learned ane thing this afternoon.

What hae you learned, Mither?

I hae learned, that when a lass is dying wi a sair affliction, that there is parfect salvation in a lad.

It was the evening of the third day ere James Ruleson returned home. He had met no difficulties with Mrs. Allan Ruleson that were not easily removed by the gift of a sovereign. And he found the little lad quietly but anxiously waiting for him. My feyther whispered to me that you would come, he said softly, as he snuggled into James capacious breast. I was watching for you, I thought I could hear your footsteps, after twelve oclock today they were coming nearer, and nearer when you chappit at the door, I knew it was you Grandfeyther! And James held the child tighter and closer in his arms, and softly stroked the white, thin face that was pressed against his heart.

Im going to tak you hame to your grandmither, and your aunt Christine, James whispered to the boy. You are going to get well and strong, and big, and learn how to read and write and play, yoursel, like ither bairns.

How soon? How soon?

Tomorrow.

I thought God didna know about me. Such long, long days and nights.

You puir little lad! God knew all the time. It is oer by now.

Will it come again?

Never! Never again!

The next day they left Glasgow about the noon hour. The child had no clothing but an old suit of his elder brother, and it was cold winter weather. But James made no remark, until he had the boy in the train for Edinburgh. Then he comforted him with all the kind words he could say, and after a good supper, they both went early to bed in a small Edinburgh hostelry.

In the morning, soon after nine oclock, James took his grandson to a ready-made tailors shop, and there he clothed him from head to feet in a blue cloth suit. From the little white shirt to the little blue cloth cap on his long fair hair, everything was fit and good, and the child looked as if he had been touched by a miracle. He was now a beautiful boy, spiritually frail and fair, almost angelic. Ruleson looked at him, then he looked at the pile of ragged clothes that had fallen from his little shrunken form, and he kicked them with his big feet to the other end of the shop. A thick, warm overcoat, and new shoes and stockings, were added to the outfit, and then they were ready for their home train.

As they walked slowly down Prinas Street, they met a regiment of Highland soldiers, accompanied by a fine military band. The boy was enthralled, he could not speak his delight, but he looked into his grandfathers face with eyes painfully eloquent. It was evident that he had life to learn, not gradually, as the usual infant learns it; but that its good and evil would assail him through all his senses in their full force. And Ruleson understood, partially, how abnormally large and important very trivial events might appear to him.

Soon after four oclock they arrived at their destination, and found a train omnibus about to go their way. Ruleson lifted his grandson into it, and the vehicle set them down at the foot of his own hill; then he carried the boy up to the cottage in his arms. The door was closed, but there was the shining of fire and candlelight through the windows. Yet their arrival was unnoticed, until Ruleson entered and stood the little child in the middle of the room. With a cry of welcome Margot and Christine rose. Ruleson pointed to the child standing in their midst. The next moment Christine was removing his coat and cap, and when Margot turned to him, his beauty and the pathos of his thin, white face went straight to her heart. She took him in her arms and said, Bonnie wee laddie, do ye ken that I am your grandmither?

Ay, grandmither, he answered, I ken. And I hae a grandfeyther too. I am vera happy. Dinna send me awa, for ony sake.

Then the women set him in a big chair, and admired and loved him from head to feet his fair hair, his wonderful eyes, his little hands so white and thin his wee feet in their neat, well-fitting shoes his dress so good and so becoming this new bairn of theirs was altogether an unusual one in Culraine.

Ruleson quickly made himself comfortable in his usual house dress. Christine began to set the table for their evening meal, and Margot buttered the hot scones and infused the tea. This meal had a certain air of festivity about it, and the guest of honor was the little child sitting at Rulesons right hand.

They had scarcely begun the meal, when there was a knock at the door, and to Margots cheerful Come in, friend, Dr. Trenabie entered.

Blessing on this house! he said reverently, and then he walked straight to the child, and looked earnestly into his face. The boy looked steadily back at him, and as he did so he smiled, and held up his arms. Then the Domine stooped and kissed him, and the thin, weak arms clasped him round the neck.

It was a tender, silent moment. The mans eyes were misty with tears, and his voice had a new tone in it as he said, Ruleson, this little lad is mine, as well as yours. I have been spoken to. Through him we shall all be greatly blessed, and we shall yet see a grand preacher come out of the boats and the fishermans cottage.

There was a few moments silence, and then Margot said, Take your sitting, Sir, and a cup o tea will do you mair gude than doing without it.

Ill sit down gladly. Then they talked of the childs extreme weakness and nervousness, and the Domine said that with plenty of fresh milk, and fresh fish, and with all the fresh air he could breathe, and all the sleep he could shut his eyes for, the little one would soon be well. Then Christine, he said, must give him his first lessons. After they have been learned, it will be joy of Magnus Trenabie to see him safe through school and college. Give me so much interest in the boy, Ruleson, for he is called and chosen, and we have in our hands the making of a Man of God.

Later in the evening, when the school affairs had been discussed and the boy and Christine had disappeared, the Domine was told the few sad incidents which made up the whole life of little James Ruleson. There was a strong tendency on his grandfathers part to make excuses for the mother of the neglected boy. You see, Domine, he said, she has never been sick, and her ither children are as rugged as hersel. She couldna understand James. She didna ken what to do wi him, or for him.

I know, Ruleson, but physical pride is as real a sin as spiritual pride, and is the cause of much suffering and unhappiness. My own father was one of those bronze men, who thought weakness to be cowardice, and sickness to be mostly imagination. His children were all weak and sensitive, but he insisted on our roughing it. Fagging and hazing were good for us, he enjoyed them. Bodily strain and mental cram were healthy hardening processes. I had a little sister, she was weak and fearful, he insisted on her taking the cold water cure. Nerves were all nonsense! Look at me! he would say proudly, I get up early, I work all day, I know nothing about headaches, or neuralgia, or nerves In the world he passed for a genial, hearty man.

We hae plenty o such unfeeling fellows, said Ruleson. I dinna fret, when they hae a hard spell o rheumatism. Not I!

It is not mere flesh and blood, Ruleson, that moves the earth on its axis. It is men whose intelligent brows wear the constant plait of tension, whose manner reveals a debility beneath which we know that suffering lurks, and who have an unconscious plaintiveness about them. Such men have fits of languor, but let the occasion come and they command their intellect and their hands just as easily as a workman commands his tools. The mother of this boy of ours was a physical tyrant in her home, and she never suspected that she had under her control and keeping a spirit touched and prepared for the finest issues of life. Oh, Ruleson,





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