Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl
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Forget her! Those two words kept Christine uncertain and unhappy. She could not bear to think of Clunyís 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 Ė ďIs Angus Ballister the reason?Ē 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 Ballisterís and Christine Rulesonís become one?
She asked her mother this question one day, and Margot stopped beating her oat cakes and answered, ďWeel, thereís aí kinds oí men, Christine, and Iíll no say it is a thing impossible; but I hae come to the conclusion that in the case oí Angus and yourselí you wouldna compluter if you lived together aí the rest oí this life.Ē
ďBecause you are Ė the baity oí you Ė so weel satisfied wií your present makí up. Thatís aí. And it is aí that is needfuí to keep you baith from going forwarder. Thereís a lump aí rank cowardice in it, too.Ē
ďMother, do you think I am a coward?Ē
ďAll women are frightened by what is said oí them, or even likely to be said oí 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 oí them, Godís sake! what a sinner she is!Ē
ďI donít see what you are meaning, Mither.Ē
ďItís plain enouí. Men are not set down below notice, if they break the twa first aí 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 takí care oí their ain folk. The sixth, seventh and eighth belong to the criminal class, and yeíll allow its maistly made up oí bad men. Concerning the ninth command, men are warse than women, but men call their ill-natured talk politics, or hetírodoxy, or some ither grand name; and Iíll allow that as soon as they begin to covet their neighborís house and wife and horses and cattle, they set to wark, and makí money and build a bigger house than he hes, and get a bonnier wife, and finer-blooded horses and cattle Ė and Iím not saying whether they do well or ill Ė there is sae much depending on the outcome oí prosperity oí that kind. But takí men as a whole, they leave the Ten Commands on the shoulders oí their wives.Ē
ďAnd do the women obey them, Mither?Ē
ďMiddling well. They do love God, and they do go to kirk. They donít swear, and as a general thing they honor their fathers and mothers. They donít, as a rule, murder or steal or takí some ither womanís husband awaí from her.Iím no clear about women and the ninth and tenth command. They are apt to long for whatever is good and beautiful Ė and I donít blame them.Ē
ďI wish I was better educated, Mother. I would be able to decide between Angus and Cluny.Ē
ďNot you. The key of your life is in your heart, not in your brain.Ē
ďIt is a pity.Ē
ďThat 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 oí your inquiry, Iíll warrant a bit oí good sense is best oí all advisers.Ē
ďWhat is gude sense? How can a girl get it?Ē
ďGude sense is the outcome oí all our senses. As regards Ballister, caí to your decision a bit oí wholesome pride. Ye ken what I mean.Ē
ďWeel, weel, Angus is far awaí, and Cluny is only waiting the word I canna say, and what will I do when I hae nae lover at aí, at aí?Ē
ďWhen you havenít what you love, you must love what you hae. And I fear there is a heart fuí oí cares ready for us to sort. Geordie Sinclair was telling your father that Neil is flinging a big net ií Aberdeen Ė dining wií rich folk oí all kinds, and rinning as close friend wií a lad caíed Rath. He was saying, also, that Rath has lying siller, plenty, oí it, and that he is studying law in the same classes as Neil, at the Maraschal.Ē
ďI dinna see why we should fret ourselís anent Neil dining wií rich folk. He was aye talkiní oí 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. Iíll warrant it will be takiní for him even while he sleeps. Worry is just wasted on Neil.Ē
ďIím thinking that way myselí, but feyther is feared he will be spending money he shouldna spend.Ē
ďHe is lawyer enouí to ken the outcome oí that way. Neil will be on the safe side Ė every day, and always! Thereís nae need to fash ourselís anent Neil!Ē
ďWeel then, your feyther is sairly heart-hurt anent Allanís youngest laddie. Last New Year when he went to Glasgow to see Allan, he thought things were far wrang, and he has worried himselí 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, neíer sick herselí, and without feeling for a bairn that is never well, and often vera sick. Feyther said his heart was sair for the little fellow, lyiní wakefuí lang nights wií pain and fear, and naebody in the house cariní. Yesterday feyther hed a letter frae your brither Allan, and he was fuí oí grief, and begging feyther to go and see the bairn, and if possible takí him to Culraine, and try if we could do anything to help him to health and happiness.Ē
ďWill she let feyther hae him?Ē
ďSheís as uncertain as the wind, but the lad is named James after his grandfeyther, and heíll ask for him, on that plea.Ē
ďO Mither, get feyther to go at once! Iíll takí aí the trouble oí the child! Only to think oí it! Only to think oí it! A mither no cariní for her suffering child!Ē
ďShe doesna ken what suffering is, herselí. She neíer takís cold and she doesna see why ither folks should. She is never fearsome, or nervous, she never feels the dark to be full oí what terrifies her vera soul, and she canna understand her bairnís 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 killiní little James, and you couldna makí her see it.Ē
ďFeyther ought not to lose an hour.Ē
ďHeíll hae to be vera cautious ií the matter. Allanís wife isna easily managed. Proud and strong in her health and youth, she is fairly scounfuí oí the weak and sick, but I think your feyther can manage her. Iíll get him awaí tomorrow, if so be itís possible.Ē
Then there was such pressure of the two women brought to bear upon the grandfatherís 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.
ďNow, Mither, we hae done aí we can, at the present, for Allanís little lad,Ē said Christine. ďDo you think feyther will write to us?Ē
ďIím sure he will not. He wad rayther do a hard dayís work than write a letter. What are you going to do wií your day, dearie?Ē
ďI am going to write to Neil.Ē
ďDo. You might remind him that his feyther and mither are yet living in Culraine.Ē
ďThat news isna worth while. If he wants to write, heíll write. If he doesna want to write, we arena begging letters. Iím thinking mair oí little James than I am oí Neil. You dinna like his mither, Iím thinking?Ē
ďYouíre 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 heís doing. Forbye, Christine, new relations dinna get into their place easy. They mind me oí that new dress my sister sent me frae Liverpool. It wanted a lot oí taking-in, and oí letting-out. Itís just that way wií new relations. Allanís wife required plentiful taking-in, and the mair letting-out there was, the mair unfittable she became.Ē Then Margot rubbed the end of her nose with an air of scorn, and said decidedly, ďShe wasna a comprehensible woman. I couldna be fashed wií her. It isna the bringing oí bairns to the birth, that hurts the heart and spoils the life oí a mither, itís the way lads and lasses marry themselís that makís her wish she had neither lad nor lass to her name.Ē
ďMither, that isna like you.Ē
ďAllan was just twenty-three when he married the woman, without word or wittens to any oí us. It was a bad dayís wark, and he hes never been able to mend it. For thereís nae takiní-in or lettiní-out wií his wife. She is sure she is parfect, and what will you do, what can you do, wií a parfect woman? I hope and pray that Iíll never fall into that state; parfection isna suitable for this warld.Ē
ďIt ought to be a grand virtue, Mither.Ē
ďItís the warst oí all the vices. We hae three or four specimens oí it in the village oí Culraine, and they are the maist unenlightened people we hae to takí care oí. But when parfection is born oí ignorance, it is unconquerable. The Domine said sae, and that only God could manage a parfect man or woman.Ē
ďWhen little James comes, wouldnít it be well to hae the Domine look him over? He can tell us whatís the matter wií the laddie, and what we ought to do for him.Ē
ďThat is a sensible observe, Christine. There will be nae harm in doing what it calls for.Ē
ďNow Iíll awaí, and write to Neil. Hae ye ony special message for him, Mither?Ē
ďYou might say I would like to ken something anent thae Raths. They arena Fifemen, nor Shetlanders, Highland Scots, nor Lowland Scots; and Iím thinking they may be Irish, and if sae, Iím hopiní they hae the true faith.Ē
ďMither dear, I wouldna fash wií the Raths. They are simply naething to us, and if we set Neil on Ďpraising and proving,í heíll write pages anent them.Ē
ďSae he will. You might name the ninety pound heís owing you.Ē
ďIt wouldna be advisable. Neil will pay when itís fully convenient to himselí. Iím not expecting a farthing until it is sae.Ē
ďI can think oí nae ither thing. It seems vera superfluous to tell Neil to be good, and to do good. He has the gift oí admiring himselí. Tell him he can be thankful, for it isna every man that has the same capability.Ē
ďIíll read you my letter, Mither, when I hae written it.Ē
ďYouíd better not. Youíll say lots I wouldna say, and naething I would say, and the amends and contradictions would require another letter oí explanations. Iím going to look through my ain ladsí outgrown breeks and jackets. Iíll warrant wee James will come to us next door to naked.Ē
ďI didna know that you had saved the ladsí auld claes.Ē
ďDid you think I wad throw them awaí? All our lads grew quick, they neíer wore out a suit, and I put their wee breeks and coaties awaí. I thought they might come in for their ain bairns, and lo and behold! Allanís little lad is, like as not, to come into his feytherís Sunday raiment.Ē
ďDid you save their shirts and such like?Ē
ďWhy wouldnít 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 awaí knitting for lads wha wouldna use their feet ony way but skin-bare.Ē
So the grandmother went to find what clothes she could for a little lad of eight years old, and Christine sat down to answer Neilís last letter. To herself she called it an ďoverflowing screed.Ē 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 oíerby 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: ďWonders never cease. Faith Balcarry was moping melancholy, she is now as merry as a cricket. She was sick and going to die, sheís now well and going to marry. She had nane to love her, and nane she loved. Her whole talk now is oí the Largo man, and the wonderfuí love he has for her, and the untelling love she has for him. Weel! Weel! I hae learned ane thing this afternoon.Ē
ďWhat hae you learned, Mither?Ē
ďI hae learned, that when a lass is dying wií a sair affliction, that there is parfect salvation in a lad.Ē
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. ďMy feyther whispered to me that you would come,Ē he said softly, as he snuggled into Jamesí capacious breast. ďI was watching for you, I thought I could hear your footsteps, after twelve oíclock today they were coming nearer, and nearer Ė when you chappit at the door, I knew it was you Ė Grandfeyther!Ē And James held the child tighter and closer in his arms, and softly stroked the white, thin face that was pressed against his heart.
ďIím going to takí you hame to your grandmither, and your aunt Christine,Ē James whispered to the boy. ďYou are going to get well and strong, and big, and learn how to read and write and play, yourselí, like ither bairns.Ē
ďHow soon? How soon?Ē
ďI thought God didna know about me. Such long, long days and nights.Ē
ďYou puir little lad! God knew all the time. It is oíer by now.Ē
ďWill it come again?Ē
ďNever! Never again!Ē
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 oíclock, James took his grandson to a ready-made tailorís 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 Prinaís 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 grandfatherís 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 oíclock 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, ďBonnie wee laddie, do ye ken that I am your grandmither?Ē
ďAy, grandmither,Ē he answered, ďI ken. And I hae a grandfeyther too. I am vera happy. Dinna send me awaí, for ony sake.Ē
Then the women set him in a big chair, and admired and loved him from head to feet Ė his fair hair, his wonderful eyes, his little hands so white and thin Ė his wee feet in their neat, well-fitting shoes Ė his dress so good and so becoming Ė 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 Rulesonís right hand.
They had scarcely begun the meal, when there was a knock at the door, and to Margotís cheerful ďCome in, friend,Ē Dr. Trenabie entered.
ďBlessing on this house!Ē 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 manís eyes were misty with tears, and his voice had a new tone in it as he said, ďRuleson, 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 fishermanís cottage.Ē
There was a few momentsí silence, and then Margot said, ďTake your sitting, Sir, and a cup oí tea will do you mair gude than doing without it.Ē
ďIíll sit down gladly.Ē Then they talked of the childís 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. ďThen Christine,Ē he said, ďmust 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.Ē
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 grandfatherís part to make excuses for the mother of the neglected boy. ďYou see, Domine,Ē he said, ďshe has never been sick, and her ither children are as rugged as herselí. She couldna understand James. She didna ken what to do wií him, or for him.Ē
ďI 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! ĎLook at me!í he would say proudly, ĎI get up early, I work all day, I know nothing about headaches, or neuralgia, or nervesí Ė In the world he passed for a genial, hearty man.Ē
ďWe hae plenty oí such unfeeling fellows,Ē said Ruleson. ďI dinna fret, when they hae a hard spell oí rheumatism. Not I!Ē
ďIt 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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