Christie Johnstone by Charles Reade
TWO of our personages left Inch Coombe less happy than when they came to it.
Lord Ipsden encountered Lady Barbara with Mr. —— , who had joined her upon the island.
He found them discoursing, as usual, about the shams of the present day, and the sincerity of Cromwell and Mahomet, and he found himself de trop.
They made him, for the first time, regret the loss of those earnest times when, "to avoid the inconvenience of both addressing the same lady," you could cut a rival's throat at once, and be smiled on by the fair and society.
That a book-maker should blaspheme high civilization, by which alone he exists, and one of whose diseases and flying pains he is, neither surprised nor moved him; but that any human being's actions should be affected by such tempestuous twaddle was ridiculous.
And that the witty Lady Barbara should be caught by this chaff was intolerable; he began to feel bitter.
He had the blessings of the poor, the good opinion of the world; every living creature was prepossessed in his favor but one, and that one despised him; it was a diabolical prejudice; it was the spiteful caprice of his fate.
His heart, for a moment, was in danger of deteriorating. He was miserable; the Devil suggested to him, "make others miserable too;" and he listened to the advice.
There was a fine breeze, but instead of sailing on a wind, as he might have done, he made a series of tacks, and all were ill.
The earnest man first; and Flucker announced the skipper's insanity to the whole town of Newhaven, for, of course, these tacks were all marine solecisms.
The other discontented Picnician was Christie Johnstone. Gatty never came; and this, coupled with five or six days' previous neglect, could no longer pass unnoticed.
Her gayety failed her before the afternoon was ended; and the last two hours were spent by her alone, watching the water on all sides for him.
At last, long after the departure of his lordship's yacht, the Newhaven boat sailed from Inch Coombe with the wedding party. There was now a strong breeze, and the water every now and then came on board. So the men set the foresail with two reefs, and drew the mainsail over the women; and there, as they huddled together in the dark, Jean Carnie discovered that our gay story-teller's eyes were wet with tears.
Jean said nothing; she embraced her; and made them flow faster.
But, when they came alongside the pier, Jean, who was the first to get her head from under the sail, whipped it back again and said to Christie:
"Here he is, Christie; dinna speak till him."
And sure enough there was, in the twilight, with a pale face and an uneasy look — Mr. Charles Gatty!
He peered timidly into the boat, and, when he saw Christie, an "Ah!" that seemed to mean twenty different things at once, burst from his bosom. He held out his arm to assist her.
She cast on him one glance of mute reproach, and, placing her foot on the boat's gunwale, sprang like an antelope upon the pier, without accepting his assistance.
Before going further, we must go back for this boy, and conduct him from where we left him up to the present point.
The moment he found himself alone with Jean Carnie, in his own house, he began to tell her what trouble he was in; how his mother had convinced him of his imprudence in falling in love with Christie Johnstone; and how she insisted on a connection being broken off which had given him his first glimpse of heaven upon earth, and was contrary to common sense.
Jean heard him out, and then, with the air of a lunatic-asylum keeper to a rhodomontading patient, told him "he was one fool, and his mother was another." First she took him up on the score of prudence.
"You," said she, "are a beggarly painter, without a rap; Christie has houses, boats, nets, and money; you are in debt; she lays by money every week. It is not prudent on her part to take up with you — the better your bargain, my lad."
Under the head of common sense, which she maintained was all on the same side of the question, she calmly inquired:
"How could an old woman of sixty be competent to judge how far human happiness depends on love, when she has no experience of that passion, and the reminiscences of her youth have become dim and dark? You might as well set a judge in court, that has forgotten the law — common sense," said she, "the old wife is sixty, and you are twenty — what can she do for you the forty years you may reckon to outlive her? Who is to keep you through those weary years but the wife of your own choice, not your mother's? You English does na read the Bible, or ye'd ken that a lad is to 'leave his father and mother, and cleave until his wife,'" added she; then with great contempt she repeated, "common sense, indeed! ye're fou wi' your common sense; ye hae the name o' 't pat eneuch — but there's na muckle o' that mairchandise in your harns."
Gatty was astonished. What! was there really common sense on the side of bliss? and when Jean told him to join her party at Inch Coombe, or never look her in the face again, scales seemed to fall from his eyes; and, with a heart that turned in a moment from lead to a feather, he vowed he would be at Inch Coombe.
He then begged Jean on no account to tell Christie the struggle he had been subjected to, since his scruples were now entirely conquered.
Jean acquiesced at once, and said: "Indeed, she would be very sorry to give the lass that muckle pain."
She hinted, moreover, that her neebor's spirit was so high, she was quite capable of breaking with him at once upon such an intimation; and she, Jean, was "nae mischief-maker."
In the energy of his gratitude, he kissed this dark-browed beauty, professing to see in her a sister.
And she made no resistance to this way of showing gratitude, but muttered between her teeth, "He's just a bairn!"
And so she went about her business.
On her retreat, his mother returned to him, and, with a sad air, hoped nothing that that rude girl had said had weakened his filial duty.
"No, mother," said he.
She then, without explaining how she came acquainted with Jean's arguments, proceeded to demolish them one by one.
"If your mother is old and experienced," said she, "benefit by her age and experience. She has not forgotten love, nor the ills it leads to, when not fortified by prudence. Scripture says a man shall cleave to his wife when he has left his parents; but in making that, the most important step of life, where do you read that he is to break the fifth commandment? But I do you wrong, Charles, you never could have listened to that vulgar girl when she told you your mother was not your best friend."
"N — no, mother, of course not."
"Then you will not go to that place to break my heart, and undo all you have done this week."
"I should like to go, mother."
"You will break my heart if you do."
"Christie will feel herself slighted, and she has not deserved this treatment from me."
"The other will explain to her, and if she is as good a girl as you say — "
"She is an angel!"
"How can a fishwife be an angel? Well, then, she will not set a son to disobey his mother."
"I don't think she would! but is all the goodness to be on her side?"
"No, Charles, you do your part; deny yourself, be an obedient child, and your mother's blessing and the blessing of Heaven will rest upon you."
In short, he was not to go to Inch Coombe.
He stayed at home, his mother set him to work; he made a poor hand of it, he was so wretched. She at last took compassion on him, and in the evening, when it was now too late for a sail to Inch Coombe, she herself recommended a walk to him.
The poor boy's feet took him toward Newhaven, not that he meant to go to his love, but he could not forbear from looking at the place which held her.
He was about to return, when a spacious blue jacket hailed him. Somewhere inside this jacket was Master Flucker, who had returned in the yacht, leaving his sister on the island.
Gatty instantly poured out a flood of questions.
The baddish boy reciprocated fluency. He informed him "that his sister had been the star of a goodly company, and that, her own lad having stayed away, she had condescended to make a conquest of the skipper himself.
"He had come in quite at the tag-end of one of her stories, but it had been sufficient to do his business — he had danced with her, had even whistled while she sung. (Hech, it was bonny!)
"And when the cutter sailed, he, Flucker, had seen her perched on a rock, like a mermaid, watching their progress, which had been slow, because the skipper, infatuated with so sudden a passion, had made a series of ungrammatical tacks."
"For his part he was glad," said the gracious Flucker; "the lass was a prideful hussy, that had given some twenty lads a sore heart and him many a sore back; and he hoped his skipper, with whom he naturally identified himself rather than with his sister, would avenge the male sex upon her."
In short, he went upon this tack till he drove poor Gatty nearly mad.
Here was a new feeling superadded; at first he felt injured, but on reflection what cause of complaint had he?
He had neglected her; he might have been her partner — he had left her to find one where she could.
Fool, to suppose that so beautiful a creature would ever be neglected — except by him!
It was more than he could bear.
He determined to see her, to ask her forgiveness, to tell her everything, to beg her to decide, and, for his part, he would abide by her decision.
Christie Johnstone, as we have already related, declined his arm, sprang like a deer upon the pier, and walked toward her home, a quarter of a mile distant.
Gatty followed her, disconsolately, hardly knowing what to do.
At last, observing that she drew near enough to the wall to allow room for another on the causeway, he had just nous enough to creep alongside and pull her sleeve somewhat timidly.
"Christie, I want to speak to you:"
"What can ye hae to say till me?"
"Christie, I am very unhappy; and I want to tell you why, but I have hardly the strength or the courage."
"Ye shall come ben my hoose if ye are unhappy, and we'll hear your story; come away.
He had never been admitted into her house before.
They found it clean as a snowdrift.
They found a bright fire, and Flucker frying innumerable steaks.
The baddish boy had obtained them in his sister's name and at her expense, at the flesher's, and claimed credit for his affection.
Potatoes he had boiled in their jackets, and so skillfully, that those jackets hung by a thread.
Christie laid an unbleached table-cloth, that somehow looked sweeter than a white one, as brown bread is sweeter than white.
But lo! Gatty could not eat; so then Christie would not, because he refused her cheer.
The baddish boy chuckled, and addressed himself to the nice brown steaks with their rich gravy.
On such occasions a solo on the knife and fork seemed better than a trio to the gracious Flucker.
Christie moved about the room, doing little household matters; Gatty's eye followed her.
Her beauty lost nothing in this small apartment; she was here, like a brilliant in some quaint, rough setting, which all earth's jewelers should despise, and all its poets admire, and it should show off the stone and not itself.
Her beauty filled the room, and almost made the spectators ill.
Gatty asked himself whether he could really have been such a fool as to think of giving up so peerless a creature.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him, a bright one, and not inconsistent with a true artist's character — he would decline to act in so doubtful a case. He would float passively down the tide of events — he would neither desert her, nor disobey his mother; he would take everything as it came, and to begin, as he was there, he would for the present say nothing but what he felt, and what he felt was that he loved her.
He told her so accordingly.
She replied, concealing her satisfaction, "that, if he liked her, he would not have refused to eat when she asked him."
But our hero's appetite had returned with his change of purpose, and he instantly volunteered to give the required proof of affection.
Accordingly two pound of steaks fell before him. Poor boy, he had hardly eaten a genuine meal for a week past.
Christie sat opposite him, and every time he looked off his plate he saw her rich blue eyes dwelling on him.
Everything contributed to warm his heart, he yielded to the spell, he became contented, happy, gay.
Flucker ginger-cordialed him, his sister bewitched him.
She related the day's events in a merry mood.
Mr. Gatty burst forth into singing.
He sung two light and somber trifles, such as in the present day are deemed generally encouraging to spirits, and particularly in accordance with the sentiment of supper — they were about Death and Ivy Green.
The dog's voice was not very powerful, but sweet and round as honey dropping from the comb.
His two hearers were entranced, for the creature sang with an inspiration good singers dare not indulge.
He concluded by informing Christie that the ivy was symbolical of her, and the oak prefigured Charles Gatty, Esq.
He might have inverted the simile with more truth.
In short, he never said a word to Christie about parting with her, but several about being buried in the same grave with her, sixty years hence, for which the spot he selected was Westminster Abbey.
And away he went, leaving golden opinions behind him.
The next day Christie was so affected with his conduct, coming as it did after an apparent coolness, that she conquered her bashfulness and called on the "vile count," and with some blushes and hesitation inquired, "Whether a painter lad was a fit subject of charity."
"Why not?" said his lordship.
She told him Gatty's case, and he instantly promised to see that artist's pictures, particularly an "awfu' bonny ane;" the hero of which she described as an English minister blessing the bairns with one hand, and giving orders to kill the puir Scoetch with the other.
"C'est e'gal," said Christie in Scotch, "it's awfu' bonny."
Gatty reached home late; his mother had retired to rest.
But the next morning she drew from him what had happened, and then ensued another of those dialogues which I am ashamed again to give the reader.
Suffice it to say, that she once more prevailed, though with far greater difficulty; time was to be given him to unsew a connection which he could not cut asunder, and he, with tearful eyes and a heavy heart, agreed to take some step the very first opportunity.
This concession was hardly out of his mouth, ere his mother made him kneel down and bestowed her blessing upon him.
He received it coldly and dully, and expressed a languid hope it might prove a charm to save him from despair; and sad, bitter, and dejected, forced himself to sit down and work on the picture that was to meet his unrelenting creditor's demand.
He was working on his picture, and his mother, with her needle, at the table, when a knock was heard, and gay as a lark, and fresh as the dew on the shamrock, Christie Johnstone stood in person in the apartment.
She was evidently the bearer of good tidings; but, before she could express them, Mrs. Gatty beckoned her son aside, and announcing, "she should be within hearing," bade him take the occasion that so happily presented itself, and make the first step.
At another time, Christie, who had learned from Jean the arrival of Mrs. Gatty, would have been struck with the old lady's silence; but she came to tell the depressed painter that the charitable viscount was about to visit him and his picture; and she was so full of the good fortune likely to ensue, that she was neglectful of minor considerations.
It so happened, however, that certain interruptions prevented her from ever delivering herself of the news in question.
First, Gatty himself came to her, and, casting uneasy glances at the door by which his mother had just gone out, said:
"I want to paint your likeness."
This was for a souvenir, poor fellow!
"Hech! I wad like fine to be painted."
"It must be exactly the same size as yourself, and so like you, that, should we be parted, I may seem not to be quite alone in the world."
Here he was obliged to turn his head away.
"But we'll no pairt," replied Christie, cheerfully. "Suppose ye're puir, I'm rich, and it's a' one; dinna be so cast down for auchty pund."
At this, a slipshod servant entered, and said: "There's a fisher lad, inquiring for Christie Johnstone."
"It will be Flucker," said Christie; "show him ben. What's wrang the noo I wonder!"
The baddish boy entered, took up a position and remained apparently passive, hands in pockets.
Christie. "Aweel, what est?"
Christie. "What's your will, my manny?"
Flucker. "Custy, I was at Inch Keith the day."
Christie. "And hae ye really come to Edinbro' to tell me thaat?"
Flucker (dryly). "Oh! ye ken the lasses are a hantle wiser than we are — will ye hear me? South Inch Keith, I played a bowl i' the water, just for divairsion — and I catched twarree fish!"
Christie. "Floonders, I bet."
Flucker. "Does floonders swim high? I'll let you see his gills, and if ye are a reicht fishwife ye'll smell bluid."
Here he opened his jacket, and showed a bright little fish.
In a moment all Christie's nonchalance gave way to a fiery animation. She darted to Flucker's side.
"Ye hae na been sae daft as tell?" asked she.
Flucker shook his head contemptuously.
"Ony birds at the island, Flucker?"
"Sea-maws, plenty, and a bird I dinna ken; he moonted sae high, then doon like thunder intil the sea, and gart the water flee as high as Haman, and porpoises as big as my boat."
"Porr-poises, fulish laddy — ye hae seen the herrin whale at his wark, and the solant guse ye hae seen her at wark; and beneath the sea, Flucker, every coedflsh and doegfish, and fish that has teeth, is after them; and half Scotland wad be at Inch Keith Island if they kenned what ye hae tell't me — dinna speak to me."
During this, Gatty, who did not comprehend this sudden excitement, or thought it childish, had tried in vain to win her attention.
At last he said, a little peevishly, "Will you not attend to me, and tell me at least when you will sit to me?"
Set!" cried she. "When there's nae wark to be done stanning."
And with this she was gone.
At the foot of the stairs, she said to her brother:
"Puir lad! I'll sune draw auchty punds fra' the sea for him, with my feyther's nets."
As she disappeared, Mrs. Gatty appeared. "And this is the woman whose mind was not in her dirty business," cried she. "Does not that open your eyes, Charles?"
"Ah! Charles," added she, tenderly, "there's no friend like a mother."
And off she carried the prize — his vanity had been mortified.
And so that happened to Christie Johnstone which has befallen many a woman — the greatness of her love made that love appear small to her lover.
"Ah! mother," cried he, "I must live for you and my art; I am not so dear to her as I thought."
And so, with a sad heart, he turned away from her; while she, with a light heart, darted away to think and act for him.