Christie Johnstone by Charles Reade
RICHARD, LORD VISCOUNT IPSDEN, having dotted the seashore with sentinels, to tell him of Lady Barbara's approach, awaited his guest in the "Peacock"; but, as Gatty was a little behind time, he placed Saunders sentinel over the "Peacock," and strolled eastward; as he came out of the "Peacock," Mrs. Gatty came down the little hill in front, and also proceeded eastward; meantime Lady Barbara and her escort were not far from the New Town of Newhaven, on their way from Leith.
Mrs. Gatty came down, merely with a vague fear. She had no reason to suppose her son's alliance with Christie either would or could be renewed, but she was a careful player and would not give a chance away; she found he was gone out unusually early, so she came straight to the only place she dreaded; it was her son's last day in Scotland. She had packed his clothes, and he had inspired her with confidence by arranging pictures, etc., himself; she had no idea he was packing for his departure from this life, not Edinburgh only.
She came then to Newhaven with no serious misgivings, for, even if her son had again vacillated, she saw that, with Christie's pride and her own firmness, the game must be hers in the end; but, as I said before, she was one who played her cards closely, and such seldom lose.
But my story is with the two young fishwives, who, on their return from Leith, found themselves at the foot of the New Town, Newhaven, some minutes before any of the other persons who, it is to be observed, were approaching it from different points; they came slowly in, Christie in particular, with a listlessness she had never, known till this last week; for some days her strength had failed her — it was Jean that carried the creel now — before, Christie, in the pride of her strength, would always do more than her share of their joint labor. Then she could hardly be forced to eat, and what she did eat was quite tasteless to her, and sleep left her, and in its stead came uneasy slumbers, from which she awoke quivering from head to foot.
Oh! perilous venture of those who love one object with the whole heart.
This great but tender heart was breaking day by day.
Well, Christie and Jean, strolling slowly into the New Town of Newhaven, found an assemblage of the natives all looking seaward; the fishermen, except Sandy Liston, were away at the herring fishery, but all the boys and women of the New Town were collected; the girls felt a momentary curiosity; it proved, however, to be only an individual swimming in toward shore from a greater distance than usual.
A little matter excites curiosity in such places.
The man's head looked like a spot of ink.
Sandy Liston was minding his own business, lazily mending a skait-net, which he had attached to a crazy old herring-boat hauled up to rot.
Christie sat down, pale and languid, by him, on a creepie that a lass who had been baiting a line with mussels had just vacated; suddenly she seized Jean's arm with a convulsive motion; Jean looked up — it was the London steamboat running out from Leith to Granton Pier to take up her passengers for London. Charles Gatty was going by that boat; the look of mute despair the poor girl gave went to Jean's heart; she ran hastily from the group, and cried out of sight for poor Christie.
A fishwife, looking through a telescope at the swimmer, remarked: "He's coming in fast; he's a gallant swimmer, yon —
"Can he dee't?" inquired Christie of Sandy Liston.
"Fine thaat," was the reply; "he does it aye o' Sundays when ye are at the kirk."
"It's no oot o' the kirk window ye'll hae seen him, Sandy, my mon," said a young fishwife.
"Rin for my glass ony way, Flucker," said Christie, forcing herself to take some little interest.
Flucker brought it to her, she put her hand on his shoulder, got slowly up, and stood on the creepie and adjusted the focus of her glass; after a short view, she said to Flucker:
"Rin and see the nook." She then leveled her glass again at the swimmer.
Flucker informed her the nook said "half eleven" — Scotch for "half past ten."
Christie whipped out a well-thumbed almanac.
"Yon nook's aye ahint," said she. She swept the sea once more with her glass, then brought it together with a click, and jumped off the stool. Her quick intelligence viewed the matter differently from all the others.
"Noow," cried she, smartly, "wha'll lend me his yawl?"
"Hets! dinna be sae interferin', lassie," said a fishwife.
"Hae nane o' ye ony spunk?" said Christie, taking no notice of the woman. "Speak, laddies!"
"M' uncle's yawl is at the pier-head; ye'll get her, my woman," said a boy.
"A schell'n for wha's first on board," said Christie, holding up the coin.
"Come awa', Flucker, we'll hae her schell'n;" and these two worthies instantly effected a false start.
"It's no under your jackets," said Christie, as she dashed after them like the wind.
"Haw! haw! haw!" laughed Sandy.
"What's her business picking up a mon against his will?" said a woman.
"She's an awfu' lassie," whined another. The examination of the swimmer was then continued, and the crowd increased; some would have it he was rapidly approaching, others that he made little or no way.
"Wha est?" said another.
"It's a lummy," said a girl.
"Na! it's no a lummy," said another.
Christie's boat was now seen standing out from the pier. Sandy Liston, casting a contemptuous look on all the rest, lifted himself lazily into the herring-boat and looked seaward. His manner changed in a moment.
"The Deevil!" cried he; "the tide's turned! You wi' your glass, could you no see yon man's drifting oot to sea?"
"Hech!" cried the women, "he'll be drooned — he'll be drooned!"
"Yes; he'll be drooned!" cried Sandy, "if yon lassie does na come alongside him deevelich quick — he's sair spent, I doot."
Two spectators were now added to the scene, Mrs. Gatty and Lord Ipsden. Mrs. Gatty inquired what was the matter.
"It's a mon drooning," was the reply.
The poor fellow, whom Sandy, by aid of his glass, now discovered to be in a wornout condition, was about half a mile east of Newhaven pier-head, and unfortunately the wind was nearly due east. Christie was standing north-northeast, her boat-hook jammed against the sail, which stood as flat as a knife.
The natives of the Old Town were now seen pouring down to the pier and the beach, and strangers were collecting like bees.
"After wit is everybody's wit!!!" — Old Proverb.
The affair was in the Johnstone's hands.
"That boat is not going to the poor man," said Mrs. Gatty, "it is turning its back upon him."
"She canna lie in the wind's eye, for as clever as she is," answered a fishwife.
"I ken wha it is," suddenly squeaked a little fishwife; "it's Christie Johnstone's lad; it's yon daft painter fr' England. Hech!" cried she, suddenly, observing Mrs. Gatty, "it's your son, woman."
The unfortunate woman gave a fearful scream, and, flying like a tiger on Liston, commanded him "to go straight out to sea and save her son."
Jean Carnie seized her arm. "Div ye see yon boat?" cried she; "and div ye mind Christie, the lass wha's hairt ye hae broken? aweel, woman — it's just a race between deeth and Cirsty Johnstone for your son.
The poor old woman swooned dead away; they carried her into Christie Johnstone's house and laid her down, then hurried back — the greater terror absorbed the less.
Lady Barbara Sinclair was there from Leith; and, seeing Lord Ipsden standing in the boat with a fisherman, she asked him to tell her what it was; neither he nor any one answered her.
"Why doesn't she come about, Liston ?" cried Lord Ipsden, stamping with anxiety and impatience.
"She'll no be lang," said Sandy; "but they'll mak a mess o' 't wi' ne'er a man i' the boat."
"Ye're sure o' thaat?" put in a woman.
"Ay, about she comes," said Liston, as the sail came down on the first tack. He was mistaken; they dipped the lug as cleverly as any man in the town could.
"Hech! look at her hauling on the rope like a mon," cried a woman. The sail flew up on the other tack.
"She's an awfu' lassie,". whined another.
"He's awa," groaned Liston, "he's doon!"
"No! he's up again," cried Lord Ipsden; "but I fear he can't live till the boat comes to him."
The fisherman and the viscount held on by each other.
"He does na see her, or maybe he'd tak hairt."
"I'd give ten thousand pounds if only he could see her. My God, the man will be drowned under our eyes. If he but saw her!!!"
The words had hardly left Lord Ipsden's lips, when the sound of a woman's voice came like an AEolian note across the water.
"Hurraih!" roared Liston, and every creature joined the cheer.
"She'll no let him dee. Ah! she's in the bows, hailing him an' waving the lad's bonnet ower her head to gie him coorage. Gude bless ye, lass; Gude bless ye!"
Christie knew it was no use hailing him against the wind, but the moment she got the wind she darted into the bows, and pitched in its highest key her full and brilliant voice; after a moment of suspense she received proof that she must be heard by him, for on the pier now hung men and women, clustered like bees, breathless with anxiety, and the moment after she hailed the drowning man, she saw and heard a wild yell of applause burst from the pier, and the pier was more distant than the man. She snatched Flucker's cap, planted her foot on the gunwale, held on by a rope, hailed the poor fellow again, and waved the cap round and round her head, to give him courage; and in a moment, at the sight of this, thousands of voices thundered back their cheers to her across the water. Blow, wind — spring, boat — and you, Christie, still ring life toward those despairing ears and wave hope to those sinking eyes; cheer the boat on, you thousands that look upon this action; hurrah! from the pier; hurrah! from the town; hurrah! from the shore; hurrah! now, from the very ships in the roads, whose crews are swarming on the yards to look; five minutes ago they laughed at you; three thousand eyes and hearts hang upon you now; ay, these are the moments we live for!
And now dead silence. The boat is within fifty yards, they are all three consulting together round the mast; an error now is death; his forehead only seems above water.
"If they miss him on that tack?" said Lord Ipsden, significantly, to Liston.
"He'll never see London Brigg again," was the whispered reply.
They carried on till all on shore thought they would run over him, or past him; but no, at ten yards distant they were all at the sail, and had it down like lightning; and then Flucker sprang to the bows, the other boy to the helm.
Unfortunately, there were but two Johnstones in the boat; and this boy, in his hurry, actually put the helm to port, instead of to starboard. Christie, who stood amidships, saw the error; she sprang aft, flung the boy from the helm and jammed it hard-a-starboard with her foot. The boat answered the helm, but too late for Flucker; the man was four yards from him as the boat drifted by.
"He's a deed mon!" cried Liston, on shore.
The boat's length gave one more little chance; the after-part must drift nearer him — thanks to Christie. Flucker flew aft; flung himself on his back, and seized his sister's petticoats.
"Fling yourself ower the gunwale," screamed he. "Ye'll no hurt; I'se haud ye."
She flung herself boldly over the gunwale; the man was sinking, her nails touched his hair, her fingers entangled themselves in it, she gave him a powerful wrench and brought him alongside; the boys pinned him like wild-cats.
Christie darted away forward to the mast, passed a rope round it, threw it the boys, in a moment it was under his shoulders. Christie hauled on it from the fore thwart, the boys lifted him, and they tumbled him, gasping and gurgling like a dying salmon, into the bottom of the boat, and flung net and jackets and sail over him to keep the life in him.
Ah! draw your breath all hands at sea and ashore, and don't try it again, young gentleman, for there was nothing to spare; when you were missed at the bow two stout hearts quivered for you; Lord Ipsden hid his face in his two hands, Sandy Liston gave a groan, and, when you were grabbed astern, jumped out of his boat and cried:
"A gill o' whisky for ony favor, for it's turned me as seeck as a doeg." He added: "He may bless yon lassie's fowr banes, for she's ta'en him oot o' Death's maw, as sure as Gude's in heaven!"
Lady Barbara, who had all her life been longing to see perilous adventures, prayed and trembled and cried most piteously; and Lord Ipsden's back was to her, and he paid no attention to her voice; but when the battle was won, and Lord Ipsden turned and saw her, she clung to his arm and dried her tears; and then the Old Town cheered the boat, and the New Town cheered the boat, and the towns cheered each other; and the Johnstones, lad and lass, set their sail, and swept back in triumph to the pier; so then Lady Barbara's blood mounted and tingled in her veins like fire. "Oh, how noble!" cried she.
"Yes, dearest," said Ipsden. "You have seen something great done at last; and by a woman, too!"
"Yes," said Barbara, "how beautiful! oh! how beautiful it all is; only the next one I see I should like the danger to be over first, that is all."
The boys and Christie, the moment they had saved Gatty, up sail again for Newhaven; they landed in about three minutes at the pier.
TIME. From Newhaven town to pier on foot: 1 m. 30 sec. First tack: 5 m. 30 sec. Second tack, and getting him on board: 4 m. 0 sec. Back to the pier, going free: 3 m. 30 sec.
Total: 14 m. 30 sec.
They came in to the pier, Christie sitting quietly on the thwart after her work, the boy steering, and Flucker standing against the mast, hands in his pockets; the deportment this young gentleman thought fit to assume on this occasion was "complete apathy"; he came into port with the air of one bringing home the ordinary results of his day's fishing; this was, I suppose, to impress the spectators with the notion that saving lives was an every-day affair with La Famille Johnstone; as for Gatty, he came to himself under his heap of nets and jackets and spoke once between Death's jaw and the pier.
"Beautiful!" murmured he, and was silent. The meaning of this observation never transpired, and never will in this world. Six months afterward, being subjected to a searching interrogatory, he stated that he had alluded to the majesty and freedom of a certain pose Christie had adopted while hailing him from the boat; but, reader, if he had wanted you and me to believe it was this, he should not have been half a year finding it out — increduli odimus! They landed, and Christie sprang on shore; while she was wending her way through the crowd, impeded by greetings and acclamations, with every now and then a lass waving her kerchief or a lad his bonnet over the heroine's head, poor Mrs. Gatty was receiving the attention of the New Town; they brought her to, they told her the good news — she thanked God.
The whole story had spread like wildfire; they expostulated with her, they told her now was the time to show she had a heart, and bless the young people.
She rewarded them with a valuable precept.
"Mind your own business!" said she.
"Hech! y' are a dour wife!" cried Newhaven.
The dour wife bent her eyes on the ground.
The people were still collected at the foot of the street, but they were now in knots, when in dashed Flucker, arriving by a short cut, and crying: "She does na ken, she does na ken, she was ower moedest to look, I daur say, and ye'll no tell her, for he's a blackguard, an' he's just making a fule o' the puir lass, and if she kens what she has done for him, she'll be fonder o' him than a coow o' her cauf."
"Oh, Flucker! we maun tell her, it's her lad, her ain lad, she saved," expostulated a woman.
"Did ever my feyther do a good turn till ye?" cried Flucker. "Awel, then, ye'll no tell the lassie, she's weel as she is; he's gaun t' Enngland the day. I cannie gie ye a' a hidin'," said he, with an eye that flashed volumes of good intention on a hundred and fifty people; "but I am feytherless and motherless, an' I can fa' on my knees an' curse ye a' if ye do us sic an ill turn, an' then ye'll see whether ye'll thrive."
"We'll no tell, Flucker, ye need na curse us ony way."
His lordship, with all the sharp authority of a skipper, ordered Master Flucker to the pier, with a message to the yacht; Flucker qua yachtsman was a machine, and went as a matter of course. "I am determined to tell her," said Lord Ipsden to Lady Barbara.
"But," remonstrated Lady Barbara, "the poor boy says he will curse us if we do."
"He won't curse me."
"How do you know that?"
"Because the little blackguard's grog would be stopped on board the yacht if he did."
Flucker had not been gone many minutes before loud cheering was heard, and Christie Johnstone appeared convoyed by a large detachment of the Old Town; she had tried to slip away, but they would not let her. They convoyed her in triumph till they saw the New Town people, and then they turned and left her.
She came in among the groups, a changed woman — her pallor and her listlessness were gone — the old light was in her eye, and the bright color in her cheek, and she seemed hardly to touch the earth.
"I'm just droukit, lasses," cried she, gayly, wringing her sleeve. Every eye was upon her; did she know, or did she not know, what she had done?
Lord Ipsden stepped forward; the people tacitly accepted him as the vehicle of their curiosity.
"Who was it, Christie?"
"I dinna ken, for my pairt!"
Mrs. Gatty came out of the house.
"A handsome young fellow, I hope, Christie?" resumed Lord Ipsden.
"Ye maun ask Flucker," was the reply. "I could no tak muckle notice, ye ken," putting her hand before her eye, and half smiling.
"Well! I hear he is very good-looking; and I hear you think so, too."
She glided to him and looked in his face. He gave a meaning smile. The poor girl looked quite perplexed. Suddenly she gave a violent start.
"Christie! where is Christie?" had cried a well-known voice. He had learned on the pier who had saved him — he had slipped up among the boats to find her — he could not find his hat — he could not wait for it — his dripping hair showed where he had been — it was her love whom she had just saved out of Death's very jaws.
She gave a cry of love that went through every heart, high or low, young or old, that heard it. And she went to him, through the air it seemed; but, quick as she was, another was as quick; the mother had seen him first, and she was there. Christie saw nothing. With another cry, the very keynote of her great and loving heart, she flung her arms round — Mrs. Gatty, who was on the same errand as herself.
"Hearts are not steel, and steel is bent; Hearts are not flint, and flint is rent."
The old woman felt Christie touch her. She turned from her son in a moment and wept upon her neck. Her lover took her hand and kissed it, and pressed it to his bosom, and tried to speak to her; but all he could do was to sob and choke — and kiss her hand again.
"My daughter!" sobbed the old woman.
At that word Christie clasped her quickly; and then Christie began to cry.
"I am not a stone," cried Mrs. Gatty.
"I gave him life; but you have saved him from death. Oh, Charles, never make her repent what she has done for you."
She was a woman, after all; and prudence and prejudice melted like snow before her heart.
There were not many dry eyes — least of all the heroic Lady Barbara's.
The three whom a moment had made one were becoming calmer, and taking one another's hands for life, when a diabolical sound arose — and what was it but Sandy Liston, who, after furious resistance, was blubbering with explosive but short-lived violence? Having done it, he was the first to draw everybody's attention to the phenomenon; and affecting to consider it a purely physical attack, like a coup de soleil, or so on, he proceeded instantly to Drysel's for his panacea.
Lady Barbara enjoined Lord Ipsden to watch these people, and not to lose a word they said; and, after she had insisted upon kissing Christie, she went off to her carriage. And she too was so happy, she cried three distinct times on her way to Edinburgh.
Lord Ipsden, having reminded Gatty of his engagement, begged him to add his mother and Christie to the party, and escorted Lady Barbara to her phaeton.
So then the people dispersed by degrees.
"That old lady's face seems familiar to me," said Lord Ipsden, as he stood on the little natural platform by the "Peacock." "Do you know who she is, Saunders?"
"It is Peggy, that was cook in your lordship's uncle's time, my lord. She married a green-grocer," added Saunders, with an injured air.
"Hech! hech!" cried Flucker, "Christie has ta'en up her head wi' a cook's son."
Mrs. Gatty was ushered into the "Peacock" with mock civility by Mr. Saunders. No recognition took place, each being ashamed of the other as an acquaintance.
The next arrival was a beautiful young lady in a black silk gown, a plain but duck-like plaid shawl, who proved to be Christie Johnstone, in her Sunday attire.
When they met, Mrs. Gatty gave a little scream of joy, and said: "Oh, my child; if I had seen you in that dress, I should never have said a word against you."
"Pars minima est ipsa puella sui!"
His lordship stepped up to her, took off his hat, and said: "Will Mrs. Gatty take from me a commission for two pictures, as big as herself, and as bonny?" added he, doing a little Scotch. He handed her a check; and, turning to Gatty, added, "At your convenience, sir, bien entendu."
"Hech! it's for five hundred pund, Chairles."
"Good gear gangs in little book,"* said Jean.
"Ay, does it," replied Flucker, assuming the compliment.
"My lord!" said the artist, "you treat Art like a prince; and she shall treat you like a queen. When the sun comes out again, I will work for you and fame. You shall have two things painted, every stroke loyally in the sunlight. In spite of gloomy winter and gloomier London, I will try if I can't hang nature and summer on your walls forever. As for me, you know I must go to Gerard Dow and Cuyp, and Pierre de Hoogh, when my little sand is run; but my handwriting shall warm your children's children's hearts, sir, when this hand is dust." His eye turned inward, he walked to and fro, and his companions died out of his sight — he was in the kingdom of art.
His lordship and Jean entered the "Peacock," followed by Flucker, who merely lingered at the door to moralize as follows:
"Hech! hech! isna thaat lamentable? Christie's mon's as daft as a drunk weaver."
But one stayed quietly behind, and assumed that moment the office of her life.
"Ay!" he burst out again, "the resources of our art are still unfathomed! Pictures are yet to be painted that shall refresh men's inner souls, and help their hearts against the artificial world; and charm the fiend away, like David's harp!! The world, after centuries of lies, will give nature and truth a trial. What a paradise art will be, when truths, instead of lies, shall be told on paper, on marble, on canvas, and on the boards!!!"
"Dinner's on the boarrd," murmured Christie, alluding to Lord Ipsden's breakfast; "and I hae the charge o' ye," pulling his sleeve hard enough to destroy the equilibrium of a flea.
"Then don't let us waste our time here. Oh, Christie!"
"What est, my laddy?"
"I'm so preciously hungry!!!!"
* Come away.
Off they ran, hand in hand, sparks of beauty, love and happiness flying all about them.