Christie Johnstone by Charles Reade
JESS RUTHERFORD, widow of Alexander Johnstone — for Newhaven wives, like great artists, change their conditions without changing their names — was known in the town only as a dour wife, a sour old carline. Whose fault?
Do wooden faces and iron tongues tempt sorrow to put out its snails' horns?
She hardly spoke to any one, or any one to her, but four days after the visit we have described people began to bend looks of sympathy on her, to step out of their way to give her a kindly good-morrow; after a bit, fish and meal used to be placed on her table by one neighbor or another, when she was out, and so on. She was at first behindhand in responding to all this, but by degrees she thawed to those who were thawing to her. Next, Saunders called on her, and showed her a settlement, made for her benefit, on certain lands in Lanarkshire. She was at ease for life.
The Almighty had seen her all these years.
But how came her neighbors to melt?
Because a nobleman had visited her.
Not exactly, dear novel-reader.
This was it.
That same night, by a bright fire lighting up snowy walls, burnished copper, gleaming candlesticks, and a dinner-table floor, sat the mistress of the house, Christie Johnstone, and her brother, Flucker.
She with a book, he with his reflections opposite her.
"Lassie, hae ye ony siller past ye?"
"Ay, lad; an' I mean to keep it!" The baddish boy had registered a vow to the contrary, and proceeded to bleed his flint (for to do Christie justice the process was not very dissimilar). Flucker had a versatile genius for making money; he had made it in forty different ways, by land and sea, tenpence at a time.
"I hae gotten the life o' Jess Rutherford till ye," said he.
"I'm seeking half a crown for 't," said he.
Now, he knew he should never get half a crown, but he also knew that if he asked a shilling, he should be beaten down to fourpence.
So half a crown was his first bode.
The enemy, with anger at her heart, called up a humorous smile, and saying, "An' ye'll get saxpence," went about some household matter; in reality, to let her proposal rankle in Flucker.
Flucker lighted his pipe slowly, as one who would not do a sister the injustice to notice so trivial a proposition.
He waited fresh overtures.
They did not come.
Christie resumed her book.
Then the baddish boy fixed his eye on the fire, and said softly and thoughtfully to the fire, "Hech, what a heap o' troubles yon woman has come through."
This stroke of art was not lost. Christie looked up from her book; pretended he had spoken to her, gave a fictitious yawn, and renewed the negotiation with the air of one disposed to kill time.
She was dying for the story.
Commerce was twice broken off and renewed by each power in turn.
At last the bargain was struck at fourteen-pence.
Then Flucker came out, the honest merchant.
He had listened intently, with mercantile views.
He had the widow's sorrows all off pat.
He was not a bit affected himself, but by pure memory he remembered where she had been most agitated or overcome.
He gave it Christie, word for word, and even threw in what dramatists call "the business," thus:
"Here ye suld greet — "
"Here ye'll play your hand like a geraffe."
"Geraffe? That's a beast, I'm thinking."
"Na; it's the thing on the hill that makes signals."
"Telegraph, ye fulish goloshen!"
"Oo ay, telegraph! Geraffe 's sunest said for a'."
Thus Jess Rutherford's life came into Christie Johnstone's hands.
She told it to a knot of natives next day; it lost nothing, for she was a woman of feeling, and by intuition an artist of the tongue. She was the best raconteur in a place where there are a hundred, male and female, who attempt that art.
The next day she told it again, and then inferior narrators got hold of it, and it soon circulated through the town.
And this was the cause of the sudden sympathy with Jess Rutherford.
As our prigs would say:
"Art had adopted her cause and adorned her tale."