Christie Johnstone by Charles Reade
CHRISTIE'S situation requires to be explained.
On leaving Gatty and his mother, she went to her own house. Flucker — who after looking upon her for years as an inconvenient appendage, except at dinnertime, had fallen in love with her in a manner that was half pathetic, half laughable, all things considered — saw by her face she had received a blow, and raising himself in the bed, inquired anxiously, "What ailed her?"
At these kind words, Christie Johnstone laid her cheek upon the pillow beside Flucker's and said:
"Oh, my laamb, be kind to your puir sister fra' this hoor, for she has naething i' the warld noo but yoursel'."
Flucker began to sob at this.
Christie could not cry; her heart was like a lump of lead in her bosom; but she put her arm round his neck, and at the sight of his sympathy she panted heavily, but could not shed a tear — she was sore stricken.
Presently Jean came in, and, as the poor girl's head ached as well as her heart, they forced her to go and sit in the air. She took her creepie and sat, and looked on the sea; but, whether she looked seaward or landward, all seemed unreal; not things, but hard pictures of things, some moving, some still. Life seemed ended — she had lost her love.
An hour she sat in this miserable trance; she was diverted into a better, because a somewhat less dangerous form of grief, by one of those trifling circumstances that often penetrate to the human heart when inaccessible to greater things.
Willy the fiddler and his brother came through the town, playing as they went, according to custom; their music floated past Christie's ears like some drowsy chime, until, all of a sudden, they struck up the old English air, "Speed the Plow."
Now it was to this tune Charles Gatty had danced with her their first dance the night they made acquaintance.
Christie listened, lifted up her hands, and crying:
"Oh, what will I do? what will I do?" burst into a passion of grief.
She put her apron over her head, and rocked herself, and sobbed bitterly.
She was in this situation when Lord Ipsden, who was prowling about, examining the proportions of the boats, discovered her.
"Some one in distress — that was all in his way."
"Madam!" said he.
She lifted up her head.
"It is Christie Johnstone. I'm so glad; that is, I'm sorry you are crying, but I'm glad I shall have the pleasure of relieving you;" and his lordship began to feel for a check-book.
"And div ye really think siller's a cure for every grief!" said Christie, bitterly.
"I don't know," said his lordship; "it has cured them all as yet."
"It will na cure me, then!" and she covered her head with her apron again.
"I am very sorry," said he; "tell me" (whispering), "what is it? poor little Christie!"
"Dinna speak to me; I think shame; ask Jean. Oh, Richard, I'll no be lang in this warld!!!"
"Ah!" said he, "I know too well what it is now; I know, by sad experience. But, Christie, money will cure it in your case, and it shall, too; only, instead of five pounds, we must put a thousand pounds or two to your banker's account, and then they will all see your beauty, and run after you."
"How daur ye even to me that I'm seekin a lad?" cried she, rising from her stool; "I would na care suppose there was na a lad in Britain." And off she flounced.
"Offended her by my gross want of tact," thought the viscount.
She crept back, and two velvet lips touched his hand. That was because she had spoken harshly to a friend.
"Oh, Richard," said she, despairingly, "I'll no be lang in this warld."
He was touched; and it was then he took her head and kissed her brow, and said: "This will never do. My child, go home and have a nice cry, and I will speak to Jean; and, rely upon me, I will not leave the neighborhood till I have arranged it all to your satisfaction."
And so she went — a little, a very little, comforted by his tone and words.
Now this was all very pretty; but then seen at a distance of fifty yards it looked very ugly; and Gatty, who had never before known jealousy, the strongest and worst of human passions, was ripe for anything.
He met Lord Ipsden, and said at once, in his wise, temperate way:
"Sir, you are a villain!"
Gatty. "You are a villain!"
Ipsden. "How do you make that out?"
Gatty. "But, of course, you are not a coward, too."
Ipsden (ironically). "You surprise me with your moderation, sir."
Gatty. "Then you will waive your rank — you are a lord, I believe-and give me satisfaction."
Ipsden. "My rank, sir, such as it is, engages me to give a proper answer to proposals of this sort; I am at your orders."
Gatty. "A man of your character must often have been called to an account by your victims, so — so — " (hesitating) "perhaps you will tell me the proper course."
Ipsden. "I shall send a note to the castle, and the colonel will send me down somebody with a mustache; I shall pretend to remember mustache, mustache will pretend he remembers me; he will then communicate with your friend, and they will arrange it all for us."
Gatty. "And, perhaps, through your licentiousness, one or both of us will be killed."
Ipsden. "Yes! but we need not trouble our heads about that — the seconds undertake everything."
Gatty. "I have no pistols."
Ipsden. "If you will do me the honor to use one of mine, it shall be at your service."
Gatty. "Thank you."
Ipsden. "To-morrow morning?"
Gatty. "No. I have four days' painting to do on my picture, I can't die till it is finished; Friday morning."
Ipsden. "(He is mad.) I wish to ask you a question, you will excuse my curiosity. Have you any idea what we are agreeing to differ about?"
Gatty. "The question does you little credit, my lord; that is to add insult to wrong."
He went off hurriedly, leaving Lord Ipsden mystified.
He thought Christie Johnstone was somehow connected with it; but, conscious of no wrong, he felt little disposed to put up with any insult, especially from this boy, to whom he had been kind, he thought.
His lordship was, besides, one of those good, simple-minded creatures, educated abroad, who, when invited to fight, simply bow, and load two pistols, and get themselves called at six; instead of taking down tomes of casuistry and puzzling their poor brains to find out whether they are gamecocks or capons, and why.
As for Gatty, he hurried home in a fever of passion, begged his mother's pardon, and reproached himself for ever having disobeyed her on account of such a perfidious creature as Christie Johnstone.
He then told her what he had seen, as distance and imagination had presented it to him; to his surprise the old lady cut him short.
"Charles," said she, "there is no need to take the girl's character away; she has but one fault — she is not in the same class of life as you, and such marriages always lead to misery; but in other respects she is a worthy young woman — don't speak against her character, or you will make my flesh creep; you don't know what her character is to a woman, high or low."
By this moderation, perhaps she held him still faster.
Friday morning arrived. Gatty had, by hard work, finished his picture, collected his sketches from nature, which were numerous, left by memorandum everything to his mother, and was, or rather felt, as ready to die as live.
He had hardly spoken a word or eaten a meal these four days; his mother was in anxiety about him. He rose early, and went down to Leith; an hour later, his mother, finding him gone out, rose and went to seek him at Newhaven.
Meantime Flucker had entirely recovered, but his sister's color had left her cheeks. The boy swore vengeance against the cause of her distress.
On Friday morning, then, there paced on Leith Sands two figures.
One was Lord Ipsden.
The other seemed a military gentleman, who having swallowed the mess-room poker, and found it insufficient, had added the ramrods of his company.
The more his lordship reflected on Gatty, the less inclined he had felt to invite a satirical young dog from barracks to criticise such a rencontre; he had therefore ordered Saunders to get up as a field-marshal, or some such trifle, and what Saunders would have called incomparable verticality was the result.
The painter was also in sight.
While he was coming up, Lord Ipsden was lecturing Marshal Saunders on a point on which that worthy had always thought himself very superior to his master — "Gentlemanly deportment."
"Now, Saunders, mind and behave like a gentleman, or we shall be found out."
"I trust, my lord, my conduct — "
"What I mean is, you must not be so overpoweringly gentleman-like as you are apt to be; no gentleman is so gentleman as all that; it could not be borne, c'est suffoquant; and a white handkerchief is unsoldier-like, and nobody ties a white handkerchief so well as that; of all the vices, perfection is the most intolerable." His lordship then touched with his cane the generalissimo's tie, whose countenance straightway fell, as though he had lost three successive battles.
Gatty came up.
"Where is your second, sir?" said the mare'chal.
"My second?" said Gatty. "Ah! I forgot to wake him — does it matter?"
"It is merely a custom," said Lord Ipsden, with a very slightly satirical manner. "Savanadero," said he, "do us the honor to measure the ground, and be everybody's second."
Savanadero measured the ground, and handed a pistol to each combatant, and struck an imposing attitude apart.
"Are you ready, gentlemen?" said this Jack-o'-both-sides.
"Yes!" said both.
Just as the signal was about to be given, an interruption occurred. "I beg your pardon, sir," said Lord Ipsden to his antagonist; "I am going to take a liberty — a great liberty with you, but I think you will find your pistol is only at half cock."
"Thank you, my lord; what am I to do with the thing?"
"Draw back the cock so, and be ready to fire?"
He had touched the trigger as well as the cock, so off went the barker; and after a considerable pause the field-marshal sprang yelling into the air.
"Hallo!" cried Mr. Gatty.
"Ah! oh! I'm a dead man," whined the general.
"Nonsense!" said Ipsden, after a moment of anxiety. "Give yourself no concern, sir," said he, soothingly, to his antagonist — "a mere accident. Mare'chal, reload Mr. Gatty's pistol."
"Excuse me, my lord — "
"Load his pistol directly," said his lordship, sternly; "and behave like a gentleman."
"My lord! my lord! but where shall I stand to be safe?"
The commander of division advanced reluctantly for Gatty's pistol.
"No, my lord!" said Gatty, "it is plain I am not a fit antagonist; I shall but expose myself — and my mother has separated us; I have lost her — if you do not win her some worse man may; but, oh! if you are a man, use her tenderly."
"Christie Johnstone! Oh, sir, do not make her regret me too much! She was my treasure, my consolation — she was to be my wife, she would have cheered the road of life — it is a desert now. I loved her — I — I — "
Here the poor fellow choked.
Lord Ipsden turned round, and threw his pistol to Saunders, saying, "Catch that, Saunders."
Saunders, on the contrary, by a single motion changed his person from a vertical straight line to a horizontal line exactly parallel with the earth's surface, and the weapon sang innoxious over him.
His lordship then, with a noble defiance of etiquette, walked up to his antagonist and gave him his hand, with a motion no one could resist; for he felt for the poor fellow.
"It is all a mistake," said he. "There is no sentiment between La Johnstone and me but mutual esteem. I will explain the whole thing. I admire her for her virtue, her wit, her innocence, her goodness and all that sort of thing; and she, what she sees in me, I am sure I don't know," added he, slightly shrugging his aristocratic shoulders. "Do me the honor to breakfast with me at Newhaven."
"I have ordered twelve sorts of fish at the 'Peacock,' my lord," said Saunders.
"Divine! (I hate fish) I told Saunders all would be hungry and none shot; by the by, you are winged, I think you said, Saunders?"
"No, my lord! but look at my trousers."
The bullet had cut his pantaloons.
"I see — only barked; so go and see about our breakfast."
"Yes, my lord" (faintly).
"And draw on me for fifty pounds' worth of — new trousers."
Yes, my lord" (sonorously).
The duelists separated, Gatty taking the short cut to Newhaven; he proposed to take his favorite swim there, to refresh himself before breakfast; and he went from his lordship a little cheered by remarks which fell from him, and which, though vague, sounded friendly — poor fellow, except when he had a brush in hand he was a dreamer.
This viscount, who did not seem to trouble his head about class dignity, was to convert his mother from her aristocratic tendencies or something.
Que sais-je? what will not a dreamer hope?
Lord Ipsden strolled along the sands, and judge his surprise, when, attended by two footmen, he met at that time in the morning Lady Barbara Sinclair
Lord Ipsden had been so disheartened and piqued by this lady's conduct that for a whole week he had not been near her. This line of behavior sometimes answers.
She met him with a grand display of cordiality.
She inquired, "Whether he had heard of a most gallant action, that, coupled with another circumstance" (here she smiled), "had in part reconciled her to the age we live in?"
He asked for further particulars.
She then informed him "that a ship had been ashore on the rocks, that no fisherman dared venture out, that a young gentleman had given them his whole fortune, and so bribed them to accompany him; that he had saved the ship and the men's lives, paid away his fortune, and lighted an odious cigar and gone home, never minding, amid the blessings and acclamations of a maritime population."
A beautiful story she told him; so beautiful, in fact, that until she had discoursed ten minutes he hardly recognized his own feat; but when he did he blushed inside as well as out with pleasure. Oh! music of music — praise from eloquent lips, and those lips the lips we love.
The next moment he felt ashamed; ashamed that Lady Barbara should praise him beyond his merits, as he conceived.
He made a faint hypocritical endeavor to moderate her eulogium; this gave matters an unexpected turn, Lady Barbara's eyes flashed defiance.
"I say it was a noble action, that one nursed in effeminacy (as you all are) should teach the hardy seamen to mock at peril — noble fellow!"
"He did a man's duty, Barbara."
"Ipsden, take care, you will make me hate you, if you detract from a deed you cannot emulate. This gentleman risked his own life to save others — he is a hero! I should know him by his face the moment I saw him. Oh, that I were such a man, or knew where to find such a creature!"
The water came into Lord Ipsden's eyes; he did not know what to say or do; he turned away his head. Lady Barbara was surprised; her conscience smote her.
"Oh, dear," said she, "there now, I have given you pain — forgive me; we can't all be heroes; dear Ipsden, don't think I despise you now as I used. Oh, no! I have heard of your goodness to the poor, and I have more experience now. There is nobody I esteem more than you, Richard, so you need not look so."
"Thank you, dearest Barbara."
"Yes, and if you were to be such a goose as to write me another letter proposing absurdities to me — "
"Would the answer be different?"
"Oh, Barbara, would you accept?"
"Why, of course not; but I would refuse civilly!"
"There, don't sigh; I hate a sighing man. I'll tell you something that I know will make you laugh." She then smiled saucily in his face, and said, "Do you remember Mr. — — ?"
L'effronte'e! this was the earnest man. But Ipsden was a match for her this time. "I think I do," said he; "a gentleman who wants to make John Bull little again into John Calf; but it won't do."
Her ladyship laughed. "Why did you not tell us that on Inch Coombe?"
"Because I had not read The Catspaw then."
"The Catspaw? Ah! I thought it could not be you. Whose is it?"
"Then Mr. Jerrold is cleverer than you."
"It is possible."
"It is certain! Well, Mr. Jerrold and Lord Ipsden, you will both be glad to hear that it was, in point of fact, a bull that confuted the advocate of the Middle Ages; we were walking; he was telling me manhood was extinct except in a few earnest men who lived upon the past, its associations, its truth; when a horrid bull gave — oh — such a bellow! and came trotting up. I screamed and ran — I remember nothing but arriving at the stile, and lo, on the other side, offering me his arm with empressment across the wooden barrier was — "
"Well! don't you see?"
"No — oh — yes, I see! — fancy — ah! Shall I tell you how he came to get first over? He ran more earnestly than you."
'It is not Mr. Jerrold this time, I presume," said her satirical ladyship.
"No! you cannot always have him. I venture to predict your ladyship on your return home gave this mediaeval personage his conge'."
"I gave it him at the stile! Let us be serious, if you please; I have a confidence to make you, Ipsden. Frankly, I owe you some apology for my conduct of late; I meant to be reserved — I have been rude — but you shall judge me. A year ago you made me some proposals; I rejected them because, though I like you — "
"You like me?"
"I detest your character. Since then, my West India estate has been turned into specie; that specie, the bulk of my fortune, placed on board a vessel; that vessel lost, at least we think so — she has not been heard of."
"My dear cousin."
"Do you comprehend that now I am cooler than ever to all young gentlemen who have large incomes, and" (holding out her hand like an angel) "I must trouble you to forgive me."
He kissed her lovely hand.
"I esteem you more and more," said he. "You ought, for it has been a hard struggle to me not to adore you, because you are so improved, mon cousin."
"Is it possible? In what respect?"
"You are browner and charitabler; and I should have been very kind to you — mawkishly kind, I fear, my sweet cousin, if this wretched money had not gone down in the Tisbe."
"Hallo!" cried the viscount.
"Ah!" squeaked Lady Barbara, unused to such interjections.
"Gone down in what?" said Ipsden, in a loud voice.
"Don't bellow in people's ears. The Tisbe, stupid," cried she, screaming at the top of her voice.
"Ri tum, ti turn, ti tum, tum, tum, tiddy, iddy," went Lord Ipsden — he whistled a polka.
Lady Barbara (inspecting him gravely). "I have heard it at a distance, but I never saw how it was done before. It is very, very pretty!!!!"
Ipsden. "Polkez-vous, madame?"
Lady Barb. "Si, je polke, Monsieur le Vicomte."
They polked for a second or two.
"Well, I dare say I am wrong," cried Lady Barbara, "but I like you better now you are a downright — ahem! — than when you were only an insipid non-intellectual — you are greatly improved."
Ips. "In what respects?'
Lady Barb. "Did I not tell you? browner and more impudent; but tell me," said she, resuming her sly, satirical tone, "how is it that you, who used to be the pink of courtesy, dance and sing over the wreck of my fortunes?"
"Because they are not wrecked."
"I thought I told you my specie is gone down in the Tisbe."
Ipsden. "But the Tisbe has not gone down."
Lady Barb. "I tell you it is."
Ipsden. "I assure you it is not."
Lady Barb. "It is not?"
Ipsden. "Barbara! I am too happy, I begin to nourish such sweet hopes once more. Oh, I could fall on my knees and bless you for something you said just now."
Lady Barbara blushed to the temples.
"Then why don't you?" said she. "All you want is a little enthusiasm." Then recovering herself, she said:
"You kneel on wet sand, with black trousers on; that will never be!!!"
These two were so occupied that they did not observe the approach of a stranger until he broke in upon their dialogue.
An Ancient Mariner had been for some minutes standing off and on, reconnoitering Lord Ipsden; he now bore down, and with great rough, roaring cordiality, that made Lady Barbara start, cried out:
"Give me your hand, sir — give me your hand, if you were twice a lord.
"I couldn't speak to you till the brig was safe in port, and you slipped away, but I've brought you up at last; and — give me your hand again, sir. I say, isn't it a pity you are a lord instead of a sailor?"
Ipsden. "But I am a sailor."
Ancient Mariner. "That ye are, and as smart a one as ever tied a true-lover's knot in the top; but tell the truth — you were never nearer losing the number of your mess than that day in the old Tisbe."
Lady Barb. "The old Tisbe! Oh!"
Ipsden. "Do you remember that nice little lurch she gave to leeward as we brought her round?"
Lady Barb. "Oh, Richard!"
Ancient Mariner. "And that reel the old wench gave under our feet, north the pier-head. I wouldn't have given a washing-tub for her at that moment."
Ipsden. "Past danger becomes pleasure, sir. Olim et hoec meminisse — I beg your pardon, sir."
Ancient Mariner (taking off his hat with feeling). "God bless ye, sir, and send ye many happy days, and well spent, with the pretty lady I see alongside; asking your pardon, miss, for parting pleasanter company — so I'll sheer off."
And away went the skipper of the Tisbe, rolling fearfully. In the heat of this reminiscence, the skipper of the yacht (they are all alike, blue water once fairly tasted) had lost sight of Lady Barbara; he now looked round. Imagine his surprise!
Her ladyship was in tears.
"Dear Barbara," said Lord Ipsden, "do not distress yourself on my account."
"It is not your fe-feelings I care about; at least, I h-h-hope not; but I have been so unjust, and I prided myself so on my j-ju-justice."
"Oh! if you don't, I don't. I hate myself, so it is no wonder you h-hate me."
"I love you more than ever."
"Then you are a good soul! Of course you know I always l-esteemed you, Richard."
"No! I had an idea you despised me!"
"How silly you are! Can't you see? When I thought you were not perfection, which you are now, it vexed me to death; you never saw me affront any one but you?"
"No, I never did! What does that prove?"
"That depends upon the wit of him that reasons thereon." (Coming to herself.)
"I love you, Barbara! Will you honor me with your hand?"
"No! I am not so base, so selfish. You are worth a hundred of me, and here have I been treating you de haut en bas. Dear Richard, poor Richard. Oh! oh! oh!" (A perfect flood of tears.)
"Barbara! I regret nothing; this moment pays for all."
"Well, then, I will! since you keep pressing me. There, let me go; I must be alone; I must tell the sea how unjust I was, and how happy I am, and when you see me again you shall see the better side of your cousin Barbara."
She was peremptory. "She had her folly and his merits to think over," she said; but she promised to pass through Newhaven, and he should put her into her pony-phaeton, which would meet her there.
Lady Barbara was only a fool by the excess of her wit over her experience; and Lord Ipsden's love was not misplaced, for she had a great heart which she hid from little people. I forgive her!
The resolutions she formed in company with the sea, having dismissed Ipsden, and ordered her flunky into the horizon, will probably give our viscount just half a century of conjugal bliss.
As he was going she stopped him and said: "Your friend had browner hands than I have hitherto conceived possible. To tell the truth, I took them for the claws of a mahogany table when he grappled you — is that the term? C'est e'gal — I like him — "
She stopped him again. "Ipsden, in the midst of all this that poor man's ship is broken. I feel it is! You will buy him another, if you really love me — for I like him."
And so these lovers parted for a time; and Lord Ipsden with a bounding heart returned to Newhaven. He went to entertain his late vis-'a-vis at the "Peacock."
Meantime a shorter and less pleasant rencontre had taken place between Leith and that village.
Gatty felt he should meet his lost sweetheart; and sure enough, at a turn of the road Christie and Jean came suddenly upon him.
Jean nodded, but Christie took no notice of him; they passed him; he turned and followed them, and said, "Christie!"
"What is your will wi' me?" said she, coldly.
"I — I — How pale you are!"
"I am no very weel."
"She has been watching over muckle wi' Flucker," said Jean.
Christie thanked her with a look.
"I hope it is not — not — "
"Nae fears, lad," said she, briskly; "I dinna think that muckle o' ye."
"And I think of nothing but you," said he.
A deep flush crimsoned the young woman's brow, but she restrained herself, and said icily: "Thaat's very gude o' ye, I'm sure."
Gatty felt all the contempt her manners and words expressed. He bit his lips. The tear started to his eye. "You will forget me," said he. "I do not deserve to be remembered, but I shall never forget you. I leave for England. I leave Newhaven forever, where I have been so happy. I am going at three o'clock by the steamboat. Won't you bid me good-by?" He approached her timidly.
"Ay! that wull do," cried she; "Gude be wi' ye, lad; I wish ye nae ill." She gave a commanding gesture of dismissal; he turned away, and went sadly from her. She watched every motion when his back was turned.
"That is you, Christie," said Jean; "use the lads like dirt, an' they think a' the mair o' ye."
"Oh, Jean, my hairt's broken. I'm just deeing for him."
"Let me speak till him then," said Jean; "I'll sune bring him till his marrow-banes;" and she took a hasty step to follow him.
Christie held her fast. "I'd dee ere I'd give in till them. Oh, Jean! I'm a lassie clean flung awa; he has neither hairt nor spunk ava, yon lad!"
Jean began to make excuses for him. Christie inveighed against him. Jean spoke up for him with more earnestness.
Now observe, Jean despised the poor boy.
Christie adored him.
So Jean spoke for him, because women of every degree are often one solid mass of tact; and Christie abused him, because she wanted to hear him defended.