Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

A Daughter of Fife online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrA Daughter of Fife → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Nathan Harris, Juliet Sutherland, Charles
Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team























"Thou old gray sea,
Thou broad briny water,
With thy ripple and thy plash,
And thy waves as they lash
The old gray rocks on the shore.
With thy tempests as they roar,
And thy crested billows hoar,
And thy tide evermore
Fresh and free."

- Dr. Blackie.

On the shore of a little land-locked haven, into which the gulls and
terns bring tidings of the sea, stands the fishing hamlet of Pittenloch.
It is in the "East Neuk o' Fife," that bit of old Scotland "fronted with a
girdle of little towns," of which Pittenloch is one of the smallest
and the most characteristic. Some of the cottages stand upon the sands,
others are grouped in a steep glen, and a few surmount the lofty
sea-washed rocks.

To their inhabitants the sea is every thing. Their hopes and fears, their
gains and losses, their joys and sorrows, are linked with it; and the
largeness of the ocean has moulded their feelings and their characters.
They are in a measure partakers of its immensity and its mystery. The
commonest of their men have wrestled with the powers of the air, and the
might of wind, and wave, and icy cold. The weakest of their women have
felt the hallowing touch of sudden calamity, and of long, lonely,
life-and-death, watches. They are intensely religious, they hold
tenaciously to the modes of thought and speech, to the manner of living
and dressing, and to all the household traditions which they have
cherished for centuries.

Two voices only have had the power to move them from the even spirit of
their life - the voice of Knox, and the voice of Chalmers. It was among the
fishers of Fife that Knox began his crusade against popery; and from their
very midst, in later days, sprang the champion of the Free Kirk. Otherwise
rebellions and revolutions troubled them little. Whether Scotland's king
sat in Edinburgh or London - whether Prince Charles or George of Hanover
reigned, was to them of small importance. They lived apart from the battle
of life, and only the things relating to their eternal salvation, or their
daily bread, moved them.

Forty-two years ago there was no landward road to Pittenloch, unless you
followed the goats down the steep rocks. There was not a horse or cart in
the place; probably there was not a man in it who had ever seen a
haymaking. If you went to Pittenloch, you went by the sea; if you left it,
there was the same grand highway. And the great, bearded, sinewy men,
bending to the oars, and sending the boat spinning through clouds of
spindrift, made it, after all, a right royal road.

Forty-two years ago, one wild March afternoon, a young woman was standing
on the beach of Pittenloch. There was an ominous wail in the sea, telling
of the fierce tide yet to come; and all around her whirling wraiths of
vapor sweeping across the level sands. From a little distance, she
appeared like a woman standing amid gray clouds - a sombre, solid, figure;
whose attitude was one of grave thoughtfulness. Approaching nearer, it was
evident that her gaze was fixed upon a fishing boat which had been drawn
high upon the shingle; and from which a party of heavy-footed fishermen
were slowly retreating.

She was a beautiful woman; tall, supple, erect; with a positive splendor
of health and color. Her dress was that of the Fife fisher-girl; a
blue flannel jacket, a very short white and yellow petticoat, and a
white cap drawn over her hair, and tied down with a lilac kerchief
knotted under the chin. This kerchief outlined the superb oval of her
face; and made more remarkable the large gray eyes, the red curved
mouth, and the wide white brow. She was barefooted, and she tapped
one foot restlessly upon the wet sands, to relieve, by physical motion,
her mental tension and sorrow.

It was Maggie Promoter, and the boat which had just been so solemnly
"beached" had been her father's. It was a good boat, strong in every
timber, an old world Buckie skiff, notorious for fending in foundering
seas; but it had failed Promoter in the last storm, and three days after
he and his sons had gone to the bottom had been found floating in Largo

If it had been a conscious criminal, a boat which had wilfully and
carelessly sacrificed life, it could hardly have been touched with more
dislike; and in accordance with the ancient law of the Buchan and Fife
fishers, it was "_put from the sea_." Never again might it toss on
the salt free waves, and be trusted with fishermen's lives. Silently it
was drawn high up on the desolate shingle, and left to its long and
shameful decay.

Maggie had watched the ceremony from a little distance; but when the
fishers had disappeared in the gathering mist, she slowly approached the
boat. There it lay, upside down, black and lonely, far beyond the highest
mark of any pitying tide. She fancied that the insensate timber had a look
of shame and suffering, and she spoke to it, as if it had a soul to
comprehend her: -

"Lizzie! Lizzie! What cam' o'er you no to bide right side up? Four gude
men to your keeping, Lizzie, and you lost them a'. Think shame o' yersel',
think shame o' yersel', for the sorrow you hae brought! You'll be a heart
grief to me as long as you lie there; for I named you mysel', little
thinking o' what would come o' it."

For a few minutes she stood looking at the condemned and unfortunate boat
in silence; then she turned and began to walk rapidly toward the nearest
cluster of cottages. The sea fog was rolling in thick, with the tide, and
the air was cold and keen. A voice called her through it, and she answered
the long-drawn "Maggie" with three cheerful words, "I'm coming, Davie."
Very soon Davie loomed through the fog, and throwing a plaid about her,
said, "What for did you go near the boat, Maggie? When you ken where ill
luck is, you should keep far from it."

"A better looking or a bonnier boat I ne'er saw, Davie."

"It's wi' boats, as it is wi' men and women; some for destruction,
some for salvation. The Powers above hae the ordering o' it, and it's
a' right, Maggie."

"That's what folks say. I'm dooting it mysel'. It's our ain fault some
way. Noo there would be a false plumb in yonder boat, though we didna ken

"Weel, weel, she failed in what was expected o' her, and she's got her
deserts. We must tak' care o' our ain job. But I hae news for you, and if
you'll mak' a cup o' tea, and toast a Finnin haddie, we'll talk it o'er."

The Promoter cottage was in a bend of the hills, but so near the sea that
the full tide broke almost at its door, and then drew the tinkling pebbles
down the beach after it. It was a low stone dwelling, white-washed, and
heather-roofed, and containing only three rooms. David and Maggie entered
the principal one together. Its deal furniture was spotless, its floor
cleanly sanded, and a bright turf fire was burning on the brick hearth.
Some oars and creels were hung against the wall, and on a pile of nets in
the warmest corner, a little laddie belonging to a neighbor's household
was fast asleep.

Maggie quickly threw on more turf, and drew the crane above the fire, and
hung the kettle upon it. Then with a light and active step she set about
toasting the oat cake and the haddie, and making the tea, and setting the
little round table. But her heart was heavy enough. Scarcely a week before
her father and three eldest brothers had gone out to the fishing, and
perished in a sudden storm; and the house place, so lately busy and noisy
with the stir of nearly half-a-dozen menfolk, was now strangely still and

Maggie was a year older than her brother David, but she never thought of
assuming any authority over him. In the first place, he had the privilege
of sex; in the next, David Promoter was generally allowed to be
"extr'onar' wise-like and unwardly in a' his ways." In fact there had been
an intention of breaking through the family traditions and sending him to
the University of Aberdeen. Latterly old Promoter had smoked his pipe very
often to the ambitious hope of a minister in his family. David's brothers
and sister had also learned to look upon the lad as destined by Providence
to bring holy honors upon the household. No thought of jealousy had marred
their intended self-denial in their younger brother's behalf. Their stern
Calvinism taught them that Jacob's and Jesse's families were not likely to
be the only ones in which the younger sons should be chosen for vessels of
honor; and Will Promoter, the eldest of the brothers, spoke for all, when
he said, "Send Davie to Aberdeen, fayther; gladly we will a' of us help
wi' the fees; and may be we shall live to see a great minister come oot o'
the fishing boats."

But though the intended sacrifice had been a sincerely pure and unselfish
one, it had nevertheless been refused. Why it had been refused, was the
question filling David's heart with doubt and despair, as he sat with his
head in his hands, gazing into the fire that March afternoon. Maggie was
watching him, though he did not perceive it, and by an almost unconscious
mental act was comparing him with his dead brothers. They had been simply
strong fair fishers, with that open air look men get who continually set
their faces to the winds and waves. David was different altogether. He was
exceedingly tall, and until years filled in his huge framework of bone and
muscle, would very likely be called "gawky." But he had the face of a
mediaeval ecclesiastic; spare, and sallow, and pointed at the chin. His
hair, black and exceeding fine, hung naturally in long, straggling masses;
his mouth was straight and perhaps a little cruel; his black, deep set
eyes had the glow in them of a passionate and mystical soul. Such a man,
if he had not been reared in the straitest sect of Calvinism, would have
adopted it - for it was his soul's native air.

That he should go to the university and become a minister seemed to David
as proper as that an apple tree should bear an apple. As soon as it was
suggested, he felt himself in the moderator's chair of the general
assembly. "Why had such generous and holy hopes been destroyed?" Maggie
knew the drift of his thoughts, and she hastened her preparations for tea;
for though it is a humiliating thing to admit, the most sacred of our
griefs are not independent of mere physical comforts. David's and Maggie's
sorrow was a deep and poignant one, but the refreshing tea and cake and
fish were at least the vehicle of consolation. As they ate they talked to
one another, and David's brooding despair was for the hour dissipated.

During the days of alternating hope and disappointment following the storm
in which the Promoters perished, they had not permitted themselves to
think, much less to speak of a future which did not include those who
might yet return. But hope was over. When Promoter's mates beached his
boat, both David and Maggie understood the rite to be a funeral one. It
was not customary for women to go to funerals, but Maggie, standing afar
off, amid the gray thick fog, had watched the men drag the unfortunate
craft "where a boat ought never to be;" and when they had gone away, had
stood by the lonely degraded thing, and felt as sad and hopeless, as if it
had been the stone at a grave's mouth.

All the past was past; they had to begin a life set to new methods and
motives: "and the sooner the better," thought Maggie, "if fayther were
here, he wad say that."



"Is the tea gude? And the fish, and the cake?"

"Ay, they're gude. I didna think I was sae hungry. I'm maist 'shamed to
enjoy them sae hearty."

"Life's wark wants life's food; and we canna sit wi' idle hands anither
seven days. You were saying you had news, what will it be?"

"Ay, I had forgotten. Willie Johnson's Willie has brought back wi'
him a young man. He wants a quiet room to himsel', and there's naebody in
Pittenloch can gie him ane, if it be na us, or the Widow Thompson. He's
offered a crown a week for ane."

"You should hae said instanter we'd be thankfu'. My certie! A crown a
week, that's a fair godsend, Davie."

"The widow has the first right to the godsend; if she canna tak' it,
she'll send it our way, Maggie."

"Davie, there is £50 in Largo Bank."

"I ken that."

"You'll tak' it. It will gie you a' the start you need at Aberdeen.
Fayther said £30 a year wad do, wi' a carefu' hand to guide it. You'll be
Helping yoursel' wi' a bit teaching afore it is a' gane."

"I'll no touch it. What are you talking aboot? Oor fayther saved it for
his auld age and his burying."

"And he'll ne'er be auld now, Davie! and God has found him a grave that
only He kens o'! I can spin, and weave, and sew, and the lasses roun'
aboot have keepit my needle aye busy. Why not? I served my time in Largo,
and I can cut a skirt or josey, and mak' a kirk gown, better than any one

"You'll be wanting to marry ere lang, Maggie. Angus Raith thinks much o'
you; and £50 wad buy his share in Cupar's boat. I sall hae the cottage,
and the £50 is to be for your wedding and plenishing."

"This is na a time to talk o' wedding, Davie; and there is na any promise
made to Angus Raith! Go into Kinkell the morn and speak wi' the minister;
he is a wise man, and we will baith o' us do the thing he says."

After this, the conversation drifted hither and thither, until the meal
Was finished. Then while Maggie tidied up the room, David opened the door
And stood thoughtfully within its shadow. "There's a voice in the sea
to-night," he said mournfully, "and when the tide turns back, the wind
will have its way."

"Can you see aught?"

"Naething. There's a heavy mist and a thick smur - but I hear steps on the
shingle. I'm thinking it will be Johnson wi' the stranger I spoke o'."

"Ay, weel, I hae gotten my feet dressed," and she looked down with
approval at her ribbed gray stockings, and low shoes, the brass clasps of
which she had just latched.

David did not answer her, for he was bidding his visitors welcome. Then
Maggie turned round with the freshly lit "cruisie" in her hand, and her
eyes were caught by two other eyes, and held as if by a spell. She was
conscious, as she stood blushing, that the stranger had been astonished at
her appearance, but she certainly did not dream that it was her great
beauty which had for one moment made him incapable of controlling his
sense of it. It was only one moment, in the next he turned to David, and
offered to pay him two shillings a day for the use of his vacant room, and
a share of his simple fare.

The interview lasted but a very short time. Maggie said, she could have
the room ready for him by noon of the following day, and as soon as the
matter was settled, he went.

He had not sat down, and so every one else had remained standing; but at
the open door he caught Maggie's eyes once more, and with a slight
movement of adieu to her, he disappeared. She trembled, and turned hot and
cold, and felt as if she must cry. It was with difficulty she hid her
emotion from her brother, who looked queerly at her as he said, "I ne'er
saw any man look like that man."

"He had a bonnie braidcloth cloak on."

"Sae handsome and sae stately; and if kings hae any grander way, there's
nae wonder folks bow down to them. I aye thocht that Dr. Balmuto had the
maist compelling look wi' him; but I think yonder man wouldna fear him,
e'en though the doctor had on his Geneva bands and his silk gown."

"What's his name, Davie?"

"I dinna ken. I never thocht to ask him."

Then a singular sadness, one quite distinct from the shadow of their known
sorrow, settled upon both brother and sister. Was it a sorrow of
apprehension? one of those divinations which we call presentiments.
Neither David nor Maggie questioned it; they were not given to analyzing
Their feelings, indeed they were totally unacquainted with this most
useless of mental processes.

But nevertheless, the stranger had left an influence, and for half an hour
they sat silently musing. Maggie was the first to break its spell. In a
low voice, as she bent lower to the dying fire, she began to talk of the
dead for whom "God had found graves;" and to recall little incidents of
their hard unselfish lives, which particularly touched David's and her own

"If they were here to-night, Davie - oot on the dark sea - tossed up and
down - pulling in the nets or lines wi' freezing hands - hungry, anxious,
fearfu' o' death - wad we wish it?"

"Na, na, na, Maggie! Where they are noo, the light doesna fade, and the
heart doesna fail, and the full cup never breaks. Come, let us ask o' the
Book thegither. I dinna doot, but we sall get just the word we are

Maggie rose and took it from its place on the broad shelf by the
window, and laid it down upon the table. David lifted the light and stood
beside her. Then with a reverent upward glance, he opened the well-used
leaves: -

"Maggie, what need we mair? Listen to the word o' the Lord;" and with a
voice tender and triumphant he read aloud -

"_Then are they glad because they be quiet: so He bringeth them unto
their desired haven_."



"She was a form of life and light,
That seen, became a part of sight,
And rose where'er I turned mine eye,
The Morning Star of Memory."

"Thou art more than all the shrines that hold thee."

The next morning was a very stormy one; there was an iron-gray sky above a
black tumbling sea; and the rain, driven by a mad wind, smote the face
like a blow from a passionate hand. The boats were all at anchor, with no
prospect of a fishing that day; and the fishermen, gathered in little
groups, were muttering over the bad weather. But their talk was not
bitter, like the complaints which landsmen make over leveled crops.
Regarding every thing that happened as the result of righteous decree, why
should they rail at disappointment or misfortune? Some went slowly to a
shed where boats were being built; others sat down within the doors of
their cottages and began to knit their nets, or to mend such as were out
of order.

David could take a landward route to Kinkell, among the shore rocks; for
though the path was often a mere footing, it was well known to him; and as
for the stormy weather, it seemed only a part of the darker and fiercer
tempest in his own soul. He left Maggie early. She watched him climbing
with bent head the misty heights, until a projecting rock hid him from
view; then she went back to her household duties.

The first one was to prepare the room she had rented for its strange guest
and it gave her many a pang to fold away the "kirk clothes" of her father
and brothers and lock them from sight in the big "kist" that was the
family wardrobe. For clothing has a woeful individuality, when we put it
away forever; and the shoes of the dead men had a personality that almost
terrified her. How pitiful, how forsaken, how almost sentient they looked!
Blind with tears, she hid them from sight, and then turned, as the
Bereaved must ever turn, back to the toil and need of daily life.

There was but one window in the room, a little one opening on hinges, and
glazed with small diamond-shaped bits of glass. The driving storm had
washed it clean, she hung a white curtain before it, and brought from the
living room a pot of scarlet geranium, and a great sea shell, from whose
mouth hung a luxuriant musk plant. Its cool fragrance filled the room, and
gave an almost dainty feeling to the spotlessness of the deal furniture
and the homespun linen. Before the turf fire there was a square of rag
carpet, and the bits of blue and scarlet in it were pretty contrasts to
the white wood of the chairs and table.

The stranger was to have come about noon, but it was the middle of the
afternoon when he arrived. The storm was then nearly over, and there was a
glint of watery sunshine athwart the cold; green, tossing sea. Maggie had
grown anxious at his delay, and then a little cross. At two o'clock she
gave a final peep into the room and said to herself, - "I'll just get on
wi' my wark, let him come, or let him bide awa'. I canna waste my time
waiting for folk that dinna ken the worth o' time."

So when her lodger stood at her door she was at her baking board, and
patting the cakes so hard, that she did not hear him, until he said, "Good
afternoon, Miss Promoter."

Then she turned sharply around, and answered, "Maggie Promoter, if it
please you, sir."

"Very well," he said gravely, "good afternoon, Maggie. Is your brother at

"No, sir; he's awa' to Kinkell. Your room is ready for you, sir." As she
spoke she was rubbing the meal from her hands, and he stood watching her
with delight. He had wondered if her beauty would bear the test of
daylight, or if it needed the broad shadows, and the dull glow of the
burning turf and the oil cruisie. But she stood directly in the band of
sunshine, and was only the more brilliantly fair for it. He was not in
love with her, he was sure of that, but he was interested by a life so
vivid, so full of splendid color, grace, and vitality.

With a little pride she opened the door of his room, and stirred up the
glowing peats, and put the big rush chair before them, - "And you can just
call me, sir, when you want aught," she said, "I'll go ben noo, and finish
my cake baking."

"Maggie, this room is exactly what I wanted; so clean and quiet! I'm much
obliged to you for allowing me to use it." "You pay siller, sir, and
there's nae call to say thank you!" With the words she closed the door,
and was gone. And somehow, the tone of reserve and the positive click of
the latch made him feel that there would be limits he could not pass.

In a couple of hours he heard the little stir of David's return, and the
preparation for tea. Maggie brought his table to the fireside and covered
it with a square of linen, and set upon it his cup and plate. He had a
book in his hand and he pretended to be absorbed in it; but he did not
lose a movement that she made.

"Your tea is a' ready, sir."

He lifted his eyes then, and again her clear candid gaze was caught by his
own. Both were this time distinctly conscious of the meeting, and both
were for the moment embarrassed.

"It looks good, Maggie, and I am hungry. Is your brother back?"

"David is hame, sir. It was a hard walk he had. He's tired, I'm thinking."

The last words were said more to herself than to her lodger. She was
somewhat troubled by Davie's face and manner. He had scarcely spoken to
her since his return, but had sat thinking with his head in his hands.
She longed to know what Dr. Balmuto had said to him, but she knew David
Would resent questioning, and likely punish her curiosity by restraining
confidence with her for a day or two. So she spoke only of the storm, and
of the things which had come into her life or knowledge during his

"Kirsty Wilson has got a sweetheart, David, and her no sixteen yet."

"Kirsty aye thocht a lad was parfect salvation. You shallna be mair than
civil to her. She has heard tell o' the man staying wi' us. It wad be that
brought her here nae doot."

"She was not here at a'. Maggie Johnson telled me. Maggie cam' to borrow a
cup o' sugar. She said Cupar's boat tried to win out o' harbor after the
storm. It could not manage though."

"It was wrang to try it. Folks shouldna tempt Providence."

"The cakes baked weel to-day."

"Ay, they are gude eating."

Then she could think of nothing more to say, and she washed the cups, and
watched the dark, sad man bending over the fire. A vulgar woman, a selfish
woman, would have interrupted that solemn session at her hearth. She would
have turned Inquisitor, and tortured him with questions. "What's the
matter?" "Is there anything wrong?" "Are you sick?" etc., etc. But when
Maggie saw that her brother was not inclined to talk to her, she left him
alone to follow out the drift of his own thoughts. He seemed unconscious

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrA Daughter of Fife → online text (page 1 of 15)