Amelia Barr.

Christine: A Fife Fisher Girl

Sad it is to be weak,
And sadder to be wrong,
But if the strong Gods statutes break,
Tis saddest to be strong.

The child became rapidly an integral part of the household. No one thought of him as a transient guest, no one wanted him in that light, and he unconsciously made many changes. Margot often spoke to Christine of them: Were you noticing your feyther this afternoon, Christine? she asked one day, when little James had been two weeks with them. Were you noticing him?

How, Mither, or whatna for?

Weel, as soon as he was inside the house, the laddie had his hand, and when he sat down he was on his knee, and showing him the book, and saying his letters to him without missing ane o them, and granddad listening, and praising him, and telling him it was wonderfu, an the like o that.

Weel, then, it is wonderfu! He learns as if he was supping new milk. Hell be ready for the school when the school is ready for him. And hes nae trouble in ony way. The house would be gey dull wanting him.

Thats truth itsel. I like to hear his soft footsteps, and I would miss his crooning voice going oer his lessons. You mustna gie him too lang, or too many lessons. I hae heard learning tasks were bad for sickly weans.

Perhaps that was the cause o his mither neglecting him anent his books, and such things?

Not it! His mither is a lazy, unfeeling hizzy! Id like to hae the sorting o her fine!

Maybe he was too sick to be bothered wi books and lessons.

Maybe he wad niver hae been sick at a, if he had been gien a few books and lessons. Griselda Ruleson had better keep out o my presence. If she ventures into it, the words arena to seek, that Ill gie her.

One cold afternoon Christine was hearing the boys lessons when Cluny Macpherson called. He looked annoyed at the childs presence and said, I saw your mither in the village, sae I thought I wad hae a chance to speak a few words to you, wi nane by, but oursels.

You needna mind wee James.

Send him awa. I want you, and nane but you.

James was sent away, and then Christine said, You hae got your will, Cluny. Now what hae you to say to me, that the little one couldna listen to?

I want to know, Christine, when you will marry me. I hae been waiting months for that word, and I can wait nae langer. Im goin awa tomorrow.

Your waiting isna over, Cluny. Indeed no! Im not thinking o marriage, nor o anything like it. I canna think o it. Mither isna fit for any hard wark, even the making o a bed is mair than she ought to do. Im not thinking o marriage. Not I!

It is time you were. Maist o our girls marry when they are nineteen years auld.

Im not nineteen yet. I dont want to marry. I hae my wark and my duty right here, i this house wark that God has set me, and Ill not desert it for wark I set mysel, to please mysel.

Thats the way wi women.

They bring up God and their duty to screen their neglect o duty. Hae ye nae duty towards me?

Not that I know of.

Will you let a lad gie ye his life-lang love, and feel nae duty anent it?

I dinna ask you for your love. I hae told you, mair than once, that I dinna want any mans love.

Tuts! That is out o all nature and custom. Ye be to marry some man.

I havna seen the man yet.

Im thinking it will be Angus Ballister. Ill mak him black and blue from head to foot, if he comes near Culraine again.

You talk foolishness. The Ballisters own twenty houses or mair, in Culraine.

Houses! Twa rooms, a but and a ben, and a heather roof. What are they bothering us the now for? They hae let Culraine well alane for years it is only sin you and your beauty cam to the forefront, that they hae remembered us. The factor, to gather their rents, was a we saw o them, till your brither brought that dandified lad here, and then the auld man had to come on the report o your beauty, nae doubt.

There was a fishing net which required mending, hanging against the wall, and Christine, standing in front of it, went on weaving the broken meshes together. She did not answer the jealous, impetuous young man, and all at once he became conscious of her silence.

Why dont you speak to me, Christine? Oh lassie, canna you pity a lad sae miserable as I am, and a for the love I hae for you. Im sorry! Im sorry! Im broken-hearted, if I hae angered you! My dear! My dear love! Will ye na speak ane word to me?

Then she turned to him a face full of pity and anger, yet strangely beautiful. Cluny, she said, Ill talk to you, if youll speak o yoursel and let be a ither folk.

How can I? Im sick wi the fear that you love, that you intend to marry Ballister. Tell me straight, and be done wi it, if that is what you intend to do.

You havna any right to ask me such a question. I never gave you any right to do sae.

You hae let me love ye wi a my heart and soul for fifteen years. Is that naething?

Ithers hae loved me, as weel as you.

They hev not. Nane on this earth loes you as I loe you. Nane!

The man was beyond himself in uttering these words. It was a Cluny transfigured by a great love. The loftier Inner Man spoke for his mortal brother, and Christine looked at him and was astonished. He appeared to be taller, he was wonderfully handsome, his attitude of entreaty in some way ennobled him, and his voice had a strange tone of winning command in it, as he stretched out his arms and said:

Come to me, Christine. I love you so! I love you so! You cannot say me nay this afternoon. It is perhaps the last time. My dearie, I am going away tomorrow it might be forever.

Cluny! Cluny! You distress me! What do you wish me to say, or do?

Tell me the truth about Ballister. Are you going to marry him?

I am not.

Perhaps not this year but next year?

I am never going to marry him in any year.

Will you marry Cluny Macpherson?

It is not unlikely.

When? Be merciful, dearie.

There are several things in the way o my marrying anyone just yet.

Ay, theres that new bairn i the house. Whatna for is he here?

He is my brither Allans son. He is sick, we are going to mak him weel.

Ay, and youll wear a your love on the little brat, and send a man that loes you to death awa hungry.

Cluny, I love no man better than I love you. Will not that satisfy you?

Na. Its a mouthfu, thats a. And it leaves me hungrier than ever; and he smiled and clasped her hands so fondly, that she sat down beside him, and let him draw her close to his heart.

Dearest woman on earth, he whispered, when will you be my ain? My very ain! My wife!

When the right time comes, laddie. I love none better than you. Im not likely to love anyone better. When the right time comes

What do you ca the right time?

When I can marry without neglecting any duty that God has left in my hands to perform, or look after. I canna say mair. There are many things to consider. Mither could not be left yet, and I am not going to leave her for any man and I hae promised to tak a the care and charge o Allans little lad, but its Mither I am thinking mainly on.

How soon will she be well?

In Gods good time.

Christine, surely I hae trysted you this very hour. Give me ane, just ane kiss, dearie. Ill get through years, if need be, wi a kiss and a promise, and work will be easy to do, and siller be easy to save, if Christine be at the end o them.

Then he kissed her, and Christine did not deny him, but when he took from his vest pocket a pretty gold ring holding an emerald stone, she shook her head.

Its your birthstone, dearie, he said, and it will guard you, and bring you luck, and, mind you o me beside. Tak it, frae Cluny, do!

Na, na, Cluny! I hae often heard my mither say, I hae plenty now, but the first thing I owned was my wedding ring.

I thought it would mind you o Cluny, and the promise ye hae just made him.

If I mak a promise, Cluny, Ill be requiring no reminder o the same.

Will you gie me a lock o your bonnie brown hair, to wear next my heart?

Ill hae no charms made out o my hair. Tak my word, just as I gave it. As far as I know, Ill stand by my word, when the right time comes.

If you would just say a word anent the time. I mean as to the probabilities.

I wont. I cant, Cluny. I havna the ordering o events. Youll be back and forth doubtless. Where are you going?

To the Mediterranean service, on ane o the Henderson boats. Ill be making siller on thae boats.

Dinna mak it for me. It is you, your ain sel Ill marry, and I wouldna mind if we started wi the wedding ring, as Mither did. Folks may happen live on love, but they canna live without it.

I would hae chosen you, Christine, from out o a warld fu o women, but I like to think o you as mine by predestination, as well as choice.

I didna think your Calvinism went that far, Cluny. Theyll be haeing a kirk session on your views, if you publicly say the like. Ye be to ta care o the elders, laddie.

They could talk now cheerfully and hopefully, and Cluny went away from Christine that night like a new man, for

There is no pleasure like the pain
Of being loved, and loving.

Then every day seemed to be happier than the last. The child was sunshine in the house, whatever the weather might be. His thin, soft voice, his light step, above all, his shy little laugh, went to their hearts like music. He had only learned to laugh since he came to Culraine. Margot remembered the first time she had heard him laugh. She said he had been almost afraid, and that he had looked inquiringly into her face, as if he had done something he should not have done.

So the weeks and the months wore away, and the winter came, but the weather was sunny and not very cold, and in early December Ruleson wrapped his grandson up in one of his own pilot coats, and took him to the boat, and carried him to the fishing ground, and showed him how to cast and draw the line. And Jamie took naturally to the sea, and loved it, and won Rulesons heart over again, whenever he begged to go with him.

Then Christmas and New Year were approaching, and there were many other pleasures and interests. Faiths marriage was drawing near, and she was frequently at Rulesons, for the girl relied on Christines help and advice in all matters concerning the new life to which she was going. This year also, Christmas was made memorable by a box full of gifts which came all the way from Rome, with the compliments and good will of the Ballisters and which contained many remembrances for the villagers. For Ruleson himself there was a fine barometer, to Margot a brooch and earrings of white cameo, and to Christine some lovely lace, and a set of scarlet coral combs, beads, and earrings. To Christines care there was also intrusted a box full of Roman ribbons, scarves, and neckties, their wonderful hues making them specially welcome gifts to people so fond of brilliant colors.

From these gay treasures a scarf and sash were selected for the bride, and the rest were sent on Christmas Eve to the young girls of the village. Many other pretty trifles were among the gifts fans and sets of Roman pearls, and laces for the neck and head, and pretty veils, and fancy handkerchiefs, and in a long letter Angus directed Christine to do her will with all he sent. He only wished to repay to the village the happy hours he had spent in it the past summer.

This letter was not lover-like, but it was friendly, and sad. He said so much might have been, and yet nothing he longed for had happened. He recalled tender little episodes, and declared they were the only memories he valued. The whole tone of the letter was the tone of a disappointed and hopeless man, to whom life had lost all its salt and savor. Christine read it carefully. She was determined not to deceive herself, and in a wakeful watch of the night, she went over it, and understood.

There isna ony truth in it, she said to herself, and I needna gie a thought to the lads fine words. He is writing anent a made-up sorrow. Ill warrant he is the gayest o the gay, and that the memory o Christine is a little bit o weariness to him. Weel, he has gien what he could buy thats his way, and he will mak in his way a deal o pleasure among the young lasses. And the next day the bits of brilliant silk were sorted and assigned, and then sent to the parties chosen, with the Ballister compliments. The affair made quite a stir in the cottages, and Angus would have been quite satisfied, if he could have heard the many complimentary things that the prettiest girls in Culraine said of him.

Two days before Christmas Day, Neil made his family a short visit. He was looking very well, was handsomely dressed, and had all the appearance and air of a man thoroughly satisfied with himself and his prospects. He only stayed a short afternoon, for his friend Reginald was waiting for him at the hotel, and he made a great deal of his friend Reginald.

You should hae brought him along wi you, said Margot, and Neil looked at Christine and answered I lost one friend, with bringing him here, and I am not a man who requires two lessons on any subject.

Your friend had naething but kindness here, Neil, answered Christine, and he isna o your opinion. And then she told him of the Christmas presents sent from Rome.

Exactly so! That is what I complain of. All these gifts to you and the villagers, were really taken from me. I have not been remembered. Last Christmas I was first of all. A woman between two men always makes loss and trouble. I ought to have known that.

Weel, Neil, said Margot, theres other kindnesses you can think oer.

I have not had a single New Years gift this year yet. I suppose Reginald will not forget me. I have my little offering to him ready; and he took a small box from his pocket, and showed them a rather pretty pair of sleeve buttons. Yes, they are pretty, he commented, rather more than I could afford, but Reginald will return the compliment. I dare say it will be the only one I shall receive.

You ought not to forget, Neil, said Margot, in a not very amiable tone, you ought to remember, that you had your New Years gifts at Midsummer.

Oh, I never forget that! I could not, if I would, he answered with an air of injury, and Christine to avert open disagreement, asked, Where will you stay in Glasgow, Neil?

I shall stay with Reginald, at his sisters house. She lives in highly respectable style, at number twelve, Monteith Row. The row is a fine row o stone houses, facing the famous Glasgow Green, and the Clyde river. She is a great beauty, and I expect to be the honored guest of the occasion.

Will you hae time to hunt up your brithers in Glasgow? Some o them will nae doubt be in port, and you might call at Allans house, and tell them that little Jamie is doing fine.

I do not expect I shall have a moment to spare. If I have, I will make inquiries. I think, however, Miss Rath is going to make rather a gay time in my honor, and I shall feel obligated to observe all its occasions.

How old is Miss Rath? asked Christine.

I have never asked her age. I suppose she is over twenty, as she controls her own property.

Happen you may lose your heart to her.

O! I am not a man to lose anything so important.

Weel, weel, youre nae wiser than the lave o men, Neil.

I think I am, Christine. At least, I have that reputation.

Will you hae a cup o tea, Neil?

It was Christine who asked him, and he answered, No. I had just finished a good lunch, when I came here, and Reginald said he should wait dinner for me. He orders very liberally, I must say, and he took out a new gold watch, and looked at the time.

His mother saw it at once, and glanced at Christine, who instantly followed an exclamation of wonder, by asking, Whoever gave ye the bonnie timepiece, Neil?

I gave it to myself, Christine. I have been coaching Reginald, and two or three other students, and its rather a paying business. I shall do a great deal in that way after the New Year. Well, I think I must be going.

Your feyther will be hame within an hour. Hell hae our wonderfu bairn wi him. You will surely stay and see them.

You mean Allans son?

Ay, answered Christine, hes a beauty, and he is sae clever, well be needing a school, and the set o teachers in it, to keep the lad within the proper scope o knowledge. Hes a maist remarkable boy!

I used to fill that position, said Neil.

Not you, said Margot. You were a puir weakling, every way. It took everyones love and labor to bring you through. Im not sure now, if you were worth it. It was scrimp and toil through long years for a the Rulesons.

I am not ungrateful, Mother, and I shall no doubt win a high degree.

We hae nae doubt you will, Neil. Dinna go as soon as you come. Feyther will be here anon.

I cannot keep Reginald waiting. I will try and see father as I return.

So he went, and mother and sister looked at each other, and were silent. Margot opened and shut a drawer in the dresser, pushed the chair in which Neil had sat violently into its place, and then lifted a broom and flung it down with a force that is best explained by the word temper. She felt unable to speak, and finally burst into passionate weeping, mingled with angry words.

Oh, Mither! Mither! dinna tak on that way. Its nae new thing. Its just what we expectit. You hae looked it in the face many a time. Oh, Im sae glad his feyther wasna here!

His feyther ought to hae been here.

Na! na! We dinna want feyther to think a his love and labor was thrown awa. It wad fairly break his heart. We must just keep the mistake to oursels. We can forgie, and still loe the puir lad, but feyther wad go to extremes, both wi Neil and himsel. We can thole his selfishness. We aye knew it was there. We hae held our tongues sae far. We must gae on being silent. I wouldna hae feyther know for onything. Let him hae his dream, Mither!

My heart feels like to break, lassie.

Mine too, Mither. But we needna gie feyther a heart-break. Well just keep the visit quiet.

Your way be it, Christine.

Women do such things!

At this moment Rulesons voice was heard. He was coming up the hill with Jamies hand in his own. Theyll be inside in a minute, Mither a smile frae you is worth gold now, and she stooped and kissed her mother. This unusual token of love and care went to Margots heart with a bound.

You dear lassie, she said. Ill do as you say, and that moment she was called upon to make good her words. Ruleson was at the hearthstone, and Jamie was at her knees, telling her what a splendid time they had had, and how many big fish they had caught.

Did you bring ane o the haddocks hame with you, James? she asked, and Ruleson answered, I found Tamsens boy at the pier, waiting to buy all my catch, and I thought ye wad hae something better for us.

Theres naething better than a fresh haddock. You canna cook them wrang, if you try; but Ill find something good for good fishermen like you and Jamie. And she spread the table with good things, and Ruleson said softly, as if to himself Thou satisfieth my mouth with good things, my cup runneth over. And Christine and her mother had come very close to each other and Margot had forgotten her heart-break in Christines kiss, and almost forgotten Neils visit. At any rate she was quite happy to hide it from her husband. Hes like a men, she reflected, he doesna spit oot his anger like I do, and be rid o it. He buries it in his heart, and he buries it alive, and it doesna gie him a moments peace. Christine is right, and Im glad I held my tongue, even frae good words.

When all the Ballister Christmas presents had been distributed the New Years festival was at hand, and the village was all agog about Faiths marriage. The arrangements had been slightly changed, and after all she was to be married from Rulesons house. Early in the morning she came up there with her simple bride garments in a leather trap, which she carried in her hand. She wanted Christine to dress her. She said, Christine had brought her all her good fortune, and she be to send her away, and then good would go with her.

So Christine dressed the timid little woman, and really made her look lovely, and at ten oclock her Largo lover, called Willie Anderson, came there also. He had a couple of friends with him, and Ruleson himself took the place of Faiths father, and gave her his arm, as they all walked together, very doucely and religiously, to the Domines house.

The Domine had been advised of the visit, and the large Bible lay open on the table. Standing before it the young couple received the Domines charge, and then in the presence of their witnesses, pledged themselves to life-long love and devotion. The Domine entered the contract in his Kirk Book, and the witnesses signed it. Then the simple ceremony was over. The Domine blessed the bride, and she turned with a blushing, happy face to her husband.

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