Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

A Knight of the Nets online

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_Grey sky, brown waters: as a bird that flies
My heart flits forth to these;
Back to the winter rose of Northern skies,
Back to the Northern seas_.



It would be easy to walk many a time through "Fife and all the lands
about it" and never once find the little fishing village of
Pittendurie. Indeed, it would be a singular thing if it was found,
unless some special business or direction led to it. For clearly it was
never intended that human beings should build homes where these
cottages cling together, between sea and sky, - a few here, and a few
there, hidden away in every bend of the rocks where a little ground
could be levelled, so that the tides in stormy weather break with
threat and fury on the very doorstones of the lowest cottages. Yet as
the lofty semicircle of hills bend inward, the sea follows; and there
is a fair harbour, where the fishing boats ride together while their
sails dry in the afternoon sun. Then the hamlet is very still; for the
men are sleeping off the weariness of their night work, while the
children play quietly among the tangle, and the women mend the nets or
bait the lines for the next fishing. A lonely little spot, shut in by
sea and land, and yet life is there in all its passionate variety - love
and hate, jealousy and avarice, youth, with its ideal sorrows and
infinite expectations, age, with its memories and regrets, and "sure
and certain hope."

The cottages also have their individualities. Although they are much of
the same size and pattern, an observing eye would have picked out the
Binnie cottage as distinctive and prepossessing. Its outside walls were
as white as lime could make them; its small windows brightened with
geraniums and a white muslin curtain; and the litter of ropes and nets
and drying fish which encumbered the majority of thatches, was
pleasantly absent. Standing on a little level, thirty feet above the
shingle, it faced the open sea, and was constantly filled with the
confused tones of its sighing surges, and penetrated by its pulsating,
tremendous vitality.

It had been the home of many generations of Binnies, and the very old,
and the very young, had usually shared its comforts together; but at
the time of my story, there remained of the family only the widow of
the last proprietor, her son Andrew, and her daughter Christina.
Christina was twenty years old, and still unmarried, - a strange thing
in Pittendurie, where early marriages are the rule. Some said she was
vain of her beauty and could find no lad whom she thought good enough;
others thought she was a selfish, cold-hearted girl, feared for the
cares and the labours of a fisherman's wife.

On this July afternoon, the girl had been some hours mending the pile
of nets at her feet; but at length they were in perfect order, and she
threw her arms upward and outward to relieve their weariness, and then
went to the open door. The tide was coming in, but the children were
still paddling in the salt pools and on the cold bladder rack, and she
stepped forward to the edge of the cliff, and threw them some wild
geranium and ragwort. Then she stood motionless in the bright sunlight,
looking down the shingle towards the pier and the little tavern, from
which came, in drowsy tones, the rough monotonous songs which seamen
delight to sing - songs, full of the complaining of the sea, interpreted
by the hoarse, melancholy voices of sea faring men.

Standing thus in the clear light, her great beauty was not to be
denied. She was tall and not too slender; and at this moment, the set
of her head was like that of a thoroughbred horse, when it pricks its
ears to listen. She had soft brown eyes, with long lashes and heavy
eyebrows - eyes, reflecting the lances of light that darted in and out
of the shifting clouds - an open air complexion, dazzling, even teeth,
an abundance of dark, rippling hair, and a flush of ardent life opening
her wide nostrils, and stirring gently the exquisite mould of her
throat and bust. The moral impression she gave was that of a pure,
strong, compassionate woman; cool-headed, but not cold; capable of
vigorous joys and griefs.

After a few minutes' investigation, she went back to the cottage, and
stood in the open doorway, with her head leaning against the lintel.
Her mother had begun to prepare the evening meal; fresh fish were
frying on the fire, and the oat cakes toasting before it. Yet, as she
moved rapidly about, she was watching her daughter and very soon she
gave words to the thoughts troubling and perplexing her motherly

"Christina," she said, "you'll not require to be looking for Andrew.
The lad is ben the house; he has been asleep ever since he eat his

"I know that, Mother."

"Well then, if it is Jamie Logan, let me tell you it is a poor
business. I have a fear and an inward down-sinking anent that young

"Perfect nonsense, Mother! There is nothing to fear you about Jamie."

"What good ever came through folk saved from the sea? Tell me that,
Christina! They bring sorrow back with them. That is a fact none will

"What could Andrew do but save the lad?"

"Why was the lad running before such a sea? He should have got into
harbour; there was time enough. And if it was Andrew's duty to save
him, it is not your duty to be loving him. You may take that much sense
from me, anyway."

"_Whist, Mother_! He has not said a word of love to me."

"He perfectly changes colours every time he sees you, and why so, if it
be not for love of you? I am not liking the look of the thing,
Christina, and your brother is not liking it; and if you don't take
care of yourself, you'll be in a burning fever of first love, and
beyond all reasoning. Even now, you are making yourself a speculation
to the whole village."

"Jamie is a straight-forward lad. I'm thinking he would lay his life
down for me."

"I thought he had not said a word of love to you."

"A girl knows some things that are not told her."

"Very fine; but it will not be the fashion now to lie down and die for
Annie Laurie, or any other lass. A young man who wants a wife must
bustle around and get siller to keep her with. Getting married, these
days is not a thing to make a song about. You are but a young thing
yet, Christina, and you have much to learn."

"Would you not like to be young again, Mother?"

"No, I would not! I would not risk it. Besides, it would be going back;
and I want to go forward and upward. But you need not try to turn the
talk from Jamie Logan that way. I'll say again what I said before, you
will be in a fever of first love, and not to be reasoned with, if you
don't take care of yourself."

The girl flushed hotly, came into the house, and began to re-arrange
the teacups with a nervous haste; for she heard Jamie's steps on the
rocky road, and his voice, clear as a blackbird's, whistling gayly "In
the Bay of Biscay O!"

"The teacups are all right, Christina. I am talking anent Jamie Logan.
The lad is just a temptation to you; and you will require to ask for
strength to be kept out of temptation; for the Lord knows, the best of
us don't expect strength to resist it."

Christina turned her face to her mother, and then left her answer to
Jamie Logan. For he came in at the moment with a little tartan shawl in
his hand, which he gallantly threw across the shoulders of Mistress

"I have just bought it from a peddler loon," he said. "It is bonnie and
soft, and it sets you well, and I hope you will pleasure me by wearing

His face was so bright, his manner so charming, that it was impossible
for Janet Binnie to resist him. "You are a fleeching, flattering
laddie," she answered; but she stroked and fingered the gay kerchief,
while Christina made her observe how bright were the colours of it, and
how neatly the soft folds fell around her. Then the door of the inner
room opened, and Andrew came sleepily out.

"The fish is burning," he said, "and the oat cakes too; for I am
smelling them ben the house;" and Janet ran to her fireside, and
hastily turned her herring and cakes.

"I'm feared you won't think much of your meat to-night," she said
regretfully; "the tea is fairly ruined."

"Never mind the meat, Mother," said Andrew. "We don't live to eat."

"Never mind the meat, indeed! What perfect nonsense! There is something
wrong with folk that don't mind their meat."

"Well then, you shouldn't be so vain of yourself, Mother. You were
preening like a young girl when I first got sight of you - and the meat
taking care of itself."

"Me, vain! No! No! Nobody that knows Janet Binnie can ever say she is
vain. I wot well that I am a frail, miserable creature, with little
need of being vain, either for myself or my children. You are a great
hand at arguing, Andrew, but you are always in the wrong. But draw to
the table and eat. I'll warrant the fish will prove better than it is

They sat down with a pleasant content that soon broadened into mirth
and laughter, as Jamie Logan began to tell and to show how the peddler
lad had fleeched and flethered the fisher wives out of their bawbees;
adding at the last "that he could not come within sight of their fine
words, they were that civil to him."

"Senselessly civil, no doubt of it," answered Janet. "A peddler aye
gives the whole village a fit of the liberalities. The like of Jean
Robertson spending a crown on him! Foolish woman, the words are not to
seek that she'll get from me in the morning."

Then Jamie took a letter from his pocket, and showed it to Andrew
Binnie. "Robert Toddy brought it this morning," he said, "and, as you
may see, it is from the firm of Henderson Brothers, Glasgow; and they
say there will be a berth for me very soon now in one of their ships.
And their boats are good, and their captains good, and there is chances
for a fine sailor on that line. I may be a captain myself one of these
days!" and he laughed so gayly, and looked so bravely into the face of
such a bold idea, that he persuaded every one else to expect it for
him. Janet pulled her new shawl a little closer and smiled, and her
thought was: "After all, Christina may wait longer, and fare worse; for
she is turned twenty." Yet she showed a little reserve as she asked: -

"Are you then Glasgow-born, Jamie?"

"Me! Glasgow-born! What are you thinking of? I am from the auld East
Neuk; and I am glad and proud of being a Fifer. All my common sense
comes from Fife. There is none loves the 'Kingdom' more than I, Jamie
Logan. We are all Fife together. I thought you knew it."

At these words there was a momentary shadow across the door, and a
little lassie slipped in; and when she did so, all put down their cups
to welcome her. Andrew reddened to the roots of his hair, his eyes
filled with light, a tender smile softened his firm mouth, and he put
out his hand and drew the girl to the chair which Christina had pushed
close to his own.

"You are welcome, and more than welcome, Sophy," said the Mistress; but
for all that, she gave Sophy a glance in which there was much
speculation not unmixed, with fear and disapproval. For it was easy to
see that Andrew Binnie loved her, and that she was not at all like him,
nor yet like any of the fisher-girls of Pittendurie. Sophy, however,
was not responsible for this difference; for early orphanage had placed
her in the care of an aunt who carried on a dress and bonnet making
business in Largo, and she had turned the little fisher-maid into a
girl after her own heart and wishes.

Sophy, indeed, came frequently to visit her people in Pittendurie; but
she had gradually grown less and less like them, and there was no
wonder Mistress Binnie asked herself fearfully, "what kind of a wife at
all Sophy would make for a Fife fisherman?" She was so small and genty,
she had such a lovely face, such fair rippling hair, and her gown was
of blue muslin made in the fashion of the day, and finished with a lace
collar round her throat, and a ribbon belt round her slender waist.

"A bonnie lass for a carriage and pair," thought Janet Binnie; "but
whatever will she do with the creel and the nets? not to speak of the
bairns and the housework?"

Andrew was too much in love to consider these questions. When he was
six years old, he had carried Sophy in his arms all day long; when he
was twelve, they had paddled on the sands, and fished, and played, and
learned their lessons together. She had promised then to be his wife as
soon as he had a house and a boat of his own; and never for one moment
since had Andrew doubted the validity and certainty of this promise. To
Andrew, and to Andrew's family, and to the whole village of
Pittendurie, the marriage of Andrew Binnie and Sophy Traill was a fact
beyond disputing. Some said "it was the right thing," and more said "it
was the foolish thing," and among the latter was Andrew's mother;
though as yet she had said it very cautiously to Andrew, whom she
regarded as "clean daft and senselessly touchy about the girl."

But she sent the young people out of the house while she redd up the
disorder made by the evening meal; though, as she wiped her teacups,
she went frequently to the little window, and looked at the four
sitting together on the bit of turf which carpeted the top of the cliff
before the cottage. Andrew, as a privileged lover, held Sophy's hand;
Christina sat next her brother, and facing Jamie Logan, so it was easy
to see how her face kindled, and her manner softened to the charm of
his merry conversation, his snatches of breezy sea-song, and his clever
bits of mimicry. And as Janet walked to and fro, setting her cups and
plates in the rack, and putting in place the tables and chairs she did
what we might all do more frequently and be the wiser for it - she
talked to herself, to the real woman within her, and thus got to the
bottom of things.

In less than an hour there began to be a movement about the pier, and
then Andrew and Jamie went away to their night's work; and the girls
sat still and watched the men across the level sands, and the boats
hurrying out to the fishing grounds. Then they went back to the
cottage, and found that Mistress Binnie had taken her knitting and gone
to chat with a crony who lived higher up the cliff.

"We are alone, Sophy" said Christina; "but women folk are often that."
She spoke a little sadly, the sweet melancholy of conscious, but
unacknowledged love being heavy in her heart, and she would not have
been sorry, had she been quite alone with her vaguely happy dreams.
Neither of the girls was inclined to talk, but Christina wondered at
Sophy's silence, for she had been unusually merry while the young men
were present.

Now she sat quiet on the door step, clasping her left knee with little
white hands that had no sign of labour on them but the mark of the
needle on the left forefinger. At her side, Christina stood, her tall
straight figure fittingly clad in a striped blue and white linsey
petticoat, and a little josey of lilac print, cut low enough to show
the white, firm throat above it. Her fine face radiated thought and
feeling; she was on the verge of that experience which glorifies the
simplest life. The exquisite glooming, the tender sky, the full heaving
sea, were all in sweetest sympathy; they were sufficient; and Sophy's
thin, fretful voice broke the charm and almost offended her.

"It is a weary life, Christina. How do you thole it?"

"You are just talking, Sophy. You were happy enough half an hour

"I wasn't happy at all."

"You let on like you were. I should think you would be as fear'd to act
a lie, as to tell one."

"I'll be going away from Pittendurie in the morning."

"What for?"

"I have my reasons."

"No doubt you have a 'because' of your own. But what will Andrew say?
He is not expecting you to leave to-morrow."

"I don't care what Andrew says."

"Sophy Traill!"

"I don't. Andrew Binnie is not the whole of life to me."

"Whatever is the matter with you?"


Then there was a pause, and Christina's thoughts flew seaward. In a few
minutes, however, Sophy began talking again. "Do you go often into
Largo, Christina?" she asked.

"Whiles, I take myself that far. You may count me up for the last year;
for I sought you every time."

"Ay! Do you mind on the road a real grand house, fine and old, with a
beautiful garden and peacocks in it - trailing their long feathers over
the grass and gravel?"

"You will be meaning Braelands? Folks could not miss the place, even if
they tried to."

"Well then, did you ever notice a young man around? He is always
dressed for the saddle, or else he is in the saddle, and so most sure
to have a whip in his hand."

"What are you talking about? What is the young man to you?"

"He is brawly handsome. They call him Archie Braelands."

"I have heard tell of him. And by what is said, I should not think he
was an improving friend for any good girl to have."

"This, or that, he likes me. He likes me beyond everything."

"Do you know what you are saying, Sophy Traill?"

"I do, fine."

"Are you liking him?"

"It would not be hard to do."

"Has he ever spoke to you?"

"Well, he is not as shy as a fisher-lad. I find him in my way when I'm
not thinking. And see here, Christina; I got a letter from him this
afternoon. A real love letter! Such lovely words! They are like poetry;
they are as sweet as singing."

"Did you tell Andrew this?"

"Why would I do that?"

"You are a false little cutty, then. I would tell Andrew myself, but I
am loath to hurt his true heart. Now you are to let Archie Braelands
alone, or I will know the reason why."

"Preserve us all! What a blazing passion for nothing at all! Can't a
lassie chat with a lad for a half hour without calling a court of
sessions about it?" and she rose and shook out her dress, saying with
an air of offence: -

"You may tell Andrew, if you like to. It would be a very poor thing if
a girl is to be miscalled every time a man told her she was pretty."

"I'm not saying any woman can help men making fools of themselves; but
you should have told Braelands that you were all the same as married,
being promised so long to Andrew Binnie. And you ought to have told
Andrew about the letter."

"Everybody can't live in Pittendurie, Christina. And if you live with a
town full of folk, you cannot go up and down, saying to every man you
meet, 'please, sir, I have a lad of my own, and you are not to cast a
look at me, for Andrew Binnie would not like it."

"Hold your tongue, Sophy, or else know what you are yattering about. I
would think shame to talk so scornful of the man I was going to marry."

"You can let it go for a passing remark. And if I have said anything to
vex you, we are old friends, Christina, and it is not a lad that will
part us. Sophy requires a deal of forgiving."

"She does," said Christina with a smile; "so I just forgive her as I go
along, for she is still doing something out of the way. But you must
not treat Andrew ill. I could not love you, Sophy, if you did the like
of that. And you must always tell me everything about yourself, and
then nothing will go far wrong."

"Even that. I am not given to lying unless it is worth my while. I'll
tell you aught there is to tell. And there is a kiss for Andrew, and
you may say to him that I would have told him I was going back to Largo
in the morning, only that I cannot bear to see him unhappy. That a
message to set him on the mast-head of pride and pleasure."

"I will give Andrew the kiss and the message, Sophy. And you take my
advice, and keep yourself clear of that young Braelands. I am
particular about my own good name, and I mean to be particular about

"I have had your advice already, Christina."

"Well, this is a forgetful world, so I just mention the fact again."

"All the same, you might remember, Christina, that there was once a
woman who got rich by minding her own business;" and with a laugh, the
girl tied her bonnet under her chin, and went swiftly down the cliff
towards the village.



This confidence greatly troubled Christina; and as Sophy crossed the
sands and vanished into the shadows beyond, a strange, sad presentiment
of calamity oppressed her heart. Being herself in the enthusiasm of a
first love, she could not conceive such treachery possible as Sophy's
word seemed to imply. The girl had always been petted, and yet
discontented with her situation; and had often made complaints which
had no real foundation, and which in brighter moods she was likely to
repudiate. And this night Andrew, instead of her Aunt Kilgour, was the
object of her dissatisfaction - that would be all. To-morrow she would
be complaining to Andrew of her aunt's hard treatment of her, and
Andrew would be whispering of future happiness in her ears.

Upon the whole, therefore, Christina thought it would be cruel and
foolish to tell her brother a word of what Sophy had said. Why should
she disturb his serene faith in the girl so dear to him, until there
was some more evident reason to do so? He was, as his mother said,
"very touchy" about Sophy, being well aware that the village did not
approve of the changes in her dress, and of those little reluctances
and reserves in her behaviour, which had sprung up inevitably amid the
refinements and wider acquaintances of town life.

"And so many things happen as the clock goes round," she thought.
"Braelands may say or do something that will put him out of favour. Or
he may take himself off to a foreign country - he is gey fond of France
and Germany too - and Goodness knows he will never be missed in
Fifeshire. Or _them behind_ may sort what flesh and blood cannot
manage; so I will keep a close mouth anent the matter. One may think
what one dare not say; for words, once spoken, cannot be wiped out with
a sponge - and more's the pity!"

Christina had also reached a crisis in her own life, - a crisis so
important, that it quite excused the apparent readiness with which she
dismissed Sophy's strange confidence. For the feeling between Jamie
Logan and herself had grown to expression, and she was well aware that
what had hitherto been in a large measure secret and private to
themselves, had this night become evident to others. And she was not
sure how Jamie would be received. Andrew had saved his life in a sudden
storm, and brought him to the Binnie cottage until he should be able to
return to his own place. But instead of going away, he had hired his
time for the herring season to a Pittendurie fisherman; and every spare
hour had found him at the Binnie cottage, wooing the handsome

The village was not unanimously in his favour. No one could say
anything against Jamie Logan; but he was a stranger, and that fact was
hard to get over. A man must serve a very strict and long probation to
be adopted into a Fife fishing community, and it was considered "very
upsetting" for an unkent man to be looking up to the like of Christina
Binnie, - a lass whose forbears had been in Pittendurie beyond the
memory or the tradition of its inhabitants.

Janet also was not quite satisfied; and Christina knew this. She
expected her daughter to marry a fisherman, but at least one who owned
his share in a good boat, and who had a house to take a wife to. This
strange lad was handsome and good-tempered; but, as she reflected, and
not unfrequently said, "good looks and a laugh and a song, are not
things to lippen to for housekeeping." So, on the whole, Christina had
just the same doubts and anxieties as might trouble a fine lady of
family and wealth, who had fallen in love with some handsome fellow
whom her relatives were uncertain about favouring.

A week after Sophy's visit, however, Jamie found the unconquerable hour
in which every true love comes to its blossoming. It was the Sabbath
night, and a great peace was over the village. The men sat at their

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrA Knight of the Nets → online text (page 1 of 16)