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AN ORKNEY MAID
By AMELIA E. BARR
An Orkney Maid
Profit and Loss
Three Score and Ten
The Measure of a Man
The Winning of Lucia
Playing with Fire
All the Days of My Life
D. APPLETON & COMPANY
[Illustration: "Ian was utterly charmed with the picture she made - - "
AN ORKNEY MAID
AMELIA E. BARR
AUTHOR OF "CHRISTINE," "JOAN," "PROFIT AND LOSS," ETC.
_"The pleasant habit of existence, the sweet fable of life."_
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
MY DEAR FRIEND
DR. MARTIN BARR
I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK.
AMELIA E. BARR.
"_Honor and truth formed your will,
Your heart, fidelity._"
_"You can glad your child, or grieve it,
You can help it, or deceive it,
When all is done,
Beneath God's sun,
You can only love, and leave it."_
I. The House of Ragnor 7
II. Adam Vedder's Trouble 30
III. Aries the Ram 47
IV. Sunna and Her Grandfather 72
V. Sunna and Thora 98
VI. The Old, Old Trouble 129
VII. The Call of War 164
VIII. Thora's Problem 193
IX. The Bread of Bitterness 230
X. The One Remains, the Many Change and Pass 271
XI. Sequences 304
Yesterday morning this thing happened to me: I was reading the _New
York Times_ and my eyes suddenly fell upon one word, and that word
rang a little bell in my memory, "Kirkwall!" The next moment I had
closed my eyes in order to see backward more clearly, and slowly, but
surely, the old, old town - standing boldly upon the very beach of the
stormy North Sea - became clear in my mental vision. There was a whole
fleet of fishing boats, and a few smart smuggling craft rocking gently
in its wonderful harbour - a harbour so deep and safe, and so capacious
that it appeared capable of sheltering the navies of the world.
I was then eighteen years old, I am now over eighty-six; and the
straits of Time have widened and widened with every year, so that many
things appear to have been carried away into forgetfulness by the
stress and flow of full waters. But not so! They are only lying in
out-of-the-way corners of consciousness, and can easily be recalled by
some word that has the potency of a spell over them.
"Kirkwall!" I said softly, and then I began to read what the _Times_
had to say about Kirkwall. The great point appeared to be that as a
rendezvous for ships it had been placed fifty miles within the "made
in Germany" danger zone, and was therefore useless to the British
men-of-war. And I laughed inwardly a little, and began to consider if
Kirkwall had ever been long outside of some danger zone or other.
All its myths and traditions are of the fighting Picts and Scots, and
when history began to notice the existence of the Orkneys it was to
chronicle the struggle between Harold, King of Norway, and his
rebellious subjects who had fled to the Orkneys to escape his
tyrannical control. And of the danger zones of every kind which
followed - of storm and battle and bloody death - does not the Saga of
Eglis give us a full account?
This fight for popular freedom was a failure. King Harold conquered
his rebellious subjects, and incidentally took possession of the
islands and the people who had sheltered them. Then their rulers
became Norwegian jarls - or earls - and there is no question about
the danger zones into which the Norwegian vikings carried the
Orcadeans - quite in accord with their own desire and liking, no doubt.
And the stirring story of these years - full of delightful dangers
to the men who adventured them - may all be read today in the
blood-stirring, blood-curdling Norwegian Sagas.
In the middle of the fifteenth century, James the Third, King of
Scotland, married Margaret of Denmark, and the Orcades were given to
Scotland as a security for her dowry. The dowry was never paid, and
after a lapse of a century and a half Denmark resigned all her
Orcadean rights to Scotland. The later union of England and Scotland
finally settled their destiny.
But until the last century England cared very little about the
Orcades. Indeed Colonel Balfour, writing of these islands in A. D.
1861, says: "Orkney is a part of a British County, but probably
there is no part of Europe which so few Englishmen visit." Colonel
Balfour, of Balfour and Trenabie, possessed a noble estate on the
little isle of Shapinsay. He enthused the Orcadeans with the modern
spirit of improvement and progress; he introduced a proper system
of agriculture, built mills of all kinds, got laws passed for
reclaiming waste lands, and was in every respect a wise, generous,
faithful father of his country. To Americans Shapinsay has a
peculiar interest. In a little cottage there, called _Quholme_, the
father and mother of Washington Irving lived, and their son
Washington was born on board an American ship on its passage from
Kirkwall to New York.
However, it is only since A. D. 1830, one year before I was born, that
the old Norse life has been changed in Orkney. Up to that date
agriculture could hardly be said to exist. The sheep and cattle of all
towns, or communities, grazed together; but this plan, though it saved
the labour of herding, was at the cost of abandoning the lambs to the
eagles who circled over the flocks and selected their victims at will.
In the late autumn all stock was brought to the "infield," which was
then crowded with horses, cattle and sheep. In A. D. 1830, the
Norwegian system of weights was changed to the standard weights and
measures, and money, instead of barter, began to be used generally.
Then a great Scotch emigration set in, and brought careful methods of
farming with it; and the Orcadean could not but notice results. The
Scotch trader came also, and the slipshod Norse way of barter and
bargaining had no chance with the Scotch steady prices and ready
money. But even through all these domestic and civic changes Orkney
was constantly in zones of danger. In the first half of the nineteenth
century England was at war with France and Spain and Russia, and the
Orcadeans have a fine inherited taste for a sea fight. The Vikings did
not rule them through centuries for nothing: the Orcadean and his
brother, the Shetlander, salt the British Navy, and they rather enjoy
A single generation, with the help of steam communications, changed
Orkney entirely and in the course of the second generation the
Orcadean became eager for improvements of all kinds, and ready to
forward them generously with the careful hoardings of perhaps many
generations. And as it is in this transient period of the last century
that my hero and heroine lived, I have thought it well to say
something of antecedents that Americans may well be excused for
knowing nothing about. Also -
... the past will always win
A glory from its being far;
And orb into the perfect star,
We saw not, when we walked therein.
However, Orkney was far from being out of danger zones in the
nineteenth century. In its first quarter French and Dutch privateers
made frequent raids on the islands; and the second quarter gave her
men their chance of danger in the Crimea. They were not strangers in
the Russian Chersoneus; their fathers had been in southern seas
centuries before them. During the last fifty years they have made
danger zones of their own free will, quarreling with coast guards,
tampering with smugglers, wandering off with would-be discoverers of
the North Pole, or with any other doubtful and dangerous enterprise.
And these reflections made me quite comfortable about the
"made-in-Germany" danger zone. I think the Orcadeans will rather enjoy
it; and I am quite sure if any Germans take to trafficking, or buying
or selling, in Kirkwall, they will get the worst of it. In this
direction it is rather pleasant to remember that even Scotchmen,
disputing about money, will find the Orcadeans "too far north for
THE HOUSE OF RAGNOR
Kind were the voices I used to hear
Round such a fireside,
Speaking the mother tongue old and dear;
Making the heart beat,
With endless tales of wonder and fear,
Or plaintive singing.
Great were the marvellous stories told
Of Ossian heroes,
Giants, and witches and young men bold
Winning Kings' daughters, and guarded gold
Only with valor.
The House of Ragnor was a large and very picturesque edifice. It was
built of red and white sandstone which Time had covered with a
heathery lichen, softening the whole into a shade of greenish grey.
Many minds and many hands had fashioned it, for above its central door
was the date, 1688, which would presuppose that it had been built
from revenues coming as a reward for opposition to the Stuarts. It had
been altered and enlarged by nearly every occupant, was many-roomed,
and surrounded by a large garden, full of such small fruits as could
ripen in the short summers, and of such flowers and shrubs as could
live through the long winters. In sheltered situations, there were
even hardy roses, and a royal plenty of England's spring flowers
sweetened many months of the year. A homely garden, where berries and
roses grew together and privet hedges sheltered peas and lettuce, and
tulips and wall-flowers did not disdain the proximity of household
Doubtless the Ragnors had been jarls in old Norwegian times, but in
1853 such memories had been forgotten, and Conall Ragnor was quite
content with his reputation of being the largest trader in Orkney, and
a very wealthy man. Physically he was of towering stature. His hair
was light brown, and rather curly; his eyes large and bright blue, his
face broad and rosy. He had great bodily and mental vigor, he was
blunt in speech, careless about his dress, and simple in all his ways.
His Protestantism was of the most decided character, but he was not a
Presbyterian. Presbyterianism was a new thing on the face of the
earth; he had been "authoritatively told, the Apostles were
"My soul has received no orders to go to thy Presbyterian Church," he
said to the young Calvinist minister who asked him to do so. "When the
order comes, then that may happen which has never happened before."
Yet in spite of his pronounced nationality, and his Episcopal faith,
he married Rahal Gordon from the braes of Moray; a Highland Scotch
woman and a strict Calvinist. What compact had been made between them
no one knew, but it had been sufficient to prevent all religious
disputes during a period of twenty-six years. If Rahal Ragnor had any
respectable excuse, she did not go to the ritual service in the
Cathedral. If she had no such excuse, she went there with her husband
and family. Then doubtless her prayer was the prayer of Naaman, that
when "she bowed herself in the House of Rimmon, the Lord would pardon
her for it."
No one could deny her beauty, though it was of the Highland Scotch
type, and therefore a great contrast to the Orcadean blonde. She was
slender and dark, with plentiful, glossy, black hair, and soft brown
eyes. Her face was oval and richly coloured. Her temperament was frank
and domestic; yet she had a romantic side, and a full appreciation of
what she called "a proper man."
They had had many children, but four were dead, and three daughters
were married and living in Edinburgh and Lerwick, and two sons had
emigrated to Canada; while the youngest of all, a boy of fifteen, was
a midshipman on Her Majesty's man-of-war, _Vixen_, so that only one
boy and one girl were with their parents. These were Boris, the eldest
son, who was sailing his own ship on business ventures to French and
Dutch ports, and Thora, the only unmarried daughter. And in 1853 these
five persons lived happily enough together in the Ragnor House,
One day in the spring of 1853 Conall Ragnor was at the rear door of
his warehouse. The sea was lippering against its foundation, and he
stood with his hand on his left hip, as with a raised head and keen
eyes, he searched the far horizon.
In a few minutes he turned with a look of satisfaction. "Well and
good!" he thought. "Now I will go home. I have the news I was watching
for." Anon he looked at his watch and reflecting a moment assured
himself that Boris and the _Sea Gull_ would be safely at anchor by
So with an air of satisfaction he walked through the warehouse,
looking critically at the men cleaning and packing feathers, or dried
fish, or fresh eggs. There was no sign of slacking in this department,
and he turned into the shop where men were weighing groceries and
measuring cloth. All seemed well, and after a short delay in his own
particular office he went comfortably home.
Meanwhile his daughter Thora was talking of him, and wondering what
news he would bring them, and Mistress Ragnor, in a very smart cap and
a gown of dark violet silk, was knitting by the large window in the
living room - a very comfortable room carpeted with a good Kilmarnock
"three-ply" and curtained with red moreen. There were a few sea
pictures on the walls, and there was a good fire of drift-wood and
peat upon the snow-white hearth.
Thora had just entered the room with a clean table-cloth in her hands.
Her mother gave her a quick glance of admiration and then said:
"I thought thou wert looking for Boris home tonight."
"Well, then, Mother, that is so. He said we must give him a little
dance tonight, and I have asked the girls he likes best to come here.
I thought this was known to thee. To call my words back now, will give
"No need is there to call any word back. Because of thy dress I feared
there had been some word of delay. If likelihood rule, Maren and Helga
Torrie will wear the best they have."
"That is most certain, but I am not minded to outdress the Torrie
girls. Very hard it is for them to get a pretty frock, and it will
make them happy to see themselves smarter than Thora Ragnor."
"Thou should think of thyself."
"Well, I am generally uppermost in my own mind. Also, in Edinburgh I
was told that the hostess must not outdress her guests."
"Edinburgh and Kirkwall are not in the same latitude. Keep mind of
that. Step forward and let me look at thee."
So Thora stood up before her mother, and the light from the window
fell all over her, and she was beautiful from head to feet. Tall and
slender, with a great quantity of soft brown hair very loosely
arranged on the crown of her head; a forehead broad and white;
eyebrows, plentiful and well arched; starlike blue eyes, with a large,
earnest gaze and an oval face tinted like a rose. Oh! why try to
describe a girl so lovely? It is like pulling a rose to pieces. It is
easier to say that she was fleshly perfect and that, being yet in her
eighteenth year, she had all the bloom of opening flowers, and all
their softness and sweetness.
Apparently she owed little to her dress, and yet it would have
been difficult to choose anything more befitting her, for though it
was only of wine-coloured cashmere, it was made with a plain
picturesqueness that rendered it most effective. The short sleeves
then worn gave to her white arms the dark background that made them
a fascination; the high waist, cut open in front to a point, was
filled in with white satin, over which it was laced together with a
thin silk cord of the same colour as the dress. A small lace collar
completed the toilet, and for the occasion, it was perfect;
anything added to it would have made it imperfect.
This was the girl who, standing before her mother, asked for her
approval. And Rahal Ragnor's eyes were filled with her beauty, and she
could only say:
"Dear thing! There is no need to change! Just as thou art pleases
Then with a face full of love Thora stooped and kissed her mother and
anon began to set the table for the expected guests. With sandalled
feet and smiling face, she walked about the room with the composure of
a goddess. There was no hesitation concerning what she had to do; all
had been arranged and settled in her mind previously, though now and
then, the discussion of a point appeared to be pleasant and
satisfying. Thus she thoughtfully said:
"Mother, there will be thyself and father and Boris, that is three,
and Sunna Vedder, and Helga and Maren Torrie, that makes six, and Gath
Peterson, and Wolf Baikie and his sisters Sheila and Maren make ten,
and myself, eleven - that is all and it is enough."
"Why not make it twelve?"
"There is luck in odd numbers. I am the eleventh. I like it."
"Thou might have made it ten. There is one girl on thy list it would
be better without."
"Art thou thinking of Sunna Vedder, Mother?"
"Yes, I am thinking of Sunna Vedder."
"Well and good. But if Sunna is not here, Boris would feel as if
there was no one present. It is Sunna he wants to see. It is Sunna he
wants to please. He says he is so sorry for her."
"Because she has to live with old Vedder who is nothing but a
"Vedder is a very clever man. The Bishop was saying that."
"Yes, in a way he was saying it, but - - "
"The Bishop was not liking the books he was studying. He said they did
men and women no good. Thy father was telling me many things. Yes, so
it is! The Vedders are counted queer - they are different from thee and
me, and - the Bishop."
"And the Dominie?"
"That may well be. Thy father has a will for Boris to marry Andrina
"Boris will never marry Andrina. It would be great bad luck if he did.
Many speak ill of her. She has a temper to please the devil. I was
hearing she would marry Scot Keppoch. That would do; for then they
would not spoil two houses."
"Tell thy father thy thought, and he will give thee thy answer; - but
why talk of the Future and the Maybe? The Now is the hour of the wise,
so I will go upstairs and lay out some proper clothing and do thou
get thy father to dress himself, as Conall Ragnor ought to do."
"That may not be easy to manage."
"Few things are beyond thy say-so." Then she lifted her work-bag and
left the room.
During this conversation Conall Ragnor had been slowly making his way
home, after leaving his warehouse when the work of the day was done.
Generally he liked his walk through the town to his homestead, which
was just outside the town limits. It was often pleasant and
flattering. The women came to their doors to watch him, or to speak to
him, and their admiration and friendliness was welcome. For many years
he had been used to it, but he had not in the least outgrown the
thrill of satisfaction it gave him. And often he wondered if his wife
noticed the good opinion that the ladies of Kirkwall had for her
"Of course she does," he commented, "but a great wonder it would be if
my Rahal should speak of it. In that hour she would be out of the
commodity of pride, or she would have forgotten herself entirely."
This day he had received many good-natured greetings - Jenny Torrie had
told him that the _Sea Gull_ was just coming into harbour, and so
heavy with cargo that the sea was worrying at her gunwale; then Mary
Inkster - from the other side of the street - added, "Both hands - seen
and unseen - are full, Captain, I'll warrant that!"
"Don't thee warrant beyond thy knowledge, Mary," answered Ragnor, with
a laugh. "The _Sea Gull_ may have hands; she has no tongue."
"All that touches the _Sea Gull_ is a thing by itself," cried pretty
Astar Graff, whose husband was one of the _Sea Gull's_ crew.
"So, then, Astar, she takes her own at point and edge. That is her
way, and her right," replied Ragnor.
Thus up the narrow street, from one side or the other, Conall Ragnor
was greeted. Good wishes and good advice, with now and then a careful
innuendo, were freely given and cheerfully taken; and certainly the
recipient of so much friendly notice was well pleased with its freedom
and good will. He came into his own house with the smiling amiability
of a man who has had all the wrinkles of the day's business smoothed
and soothed out of him.
Looking round the room, he was rather glad his wife was not there. She
was generally cool about such attentions, and secretly offended by
their familiarity. For she was not only a reader and a thinker, she
was also a great observer, and she had seen and considered the slow
but sure coming of that spirit of progress, which would break up their
isolation and, with it, the social privileges of her class. However,
she kept all her fears on this subject in her heart. Not even to Thora
would she talk of them lest she might be an inciter of thoughts that
would raise up a class who would degrade her own: "Few people can be
trusted with a dangerous thought, and who can tell where spoken words
go to." And this idea, she knit, or stitched, into every garment her
So, then, it was quite in keeping with her character to pass by
Conall's little social enthusiasms with a chilling indifference, and
if any wonder or complaint was made of this attitude, to reply:
"When men and women of thine own worth and station bow down to thee,
Conall, then thou will find Rahal Ragnor among them; but I do not
mingle my words with those of the men and women who sort goose
feathers, and pack eggs and gut fish for the salting. Thy wife,
Conall, looks up, and not down."
Well, then, as Rahal knew that the safe return of Boris with the _Sea
Gull_ would possibly be an occasion for these friendly familiarities,
she wisely took herself out of the way of hearing anything about it.
And it is a great achievement when we learn the limit of our power to
please. Conall Ragnor had not quite mastered the lesson in twenty-six
years. Very often, yet, he had a half-alive hope that these small
triumphs of his daily life might at length awaken in his wife's breast
a sympathetic pleasure. Today it was allied with the return of Boris
and his ship, and he thought this event might atone for whatever was
And yet, after all, when he saw no one but Thora present, he had a
sense of relief. He told her all that had been said and done, and
added such incidents of Boris and the ship as he thought would please
her. She laughed and chatted with him, and listened with unabated
pleasure to the very end, indeed, until he said: "Now, then, I must
stop talking. I dare say there are many things to look after, for
Boris told me he would be home for dinner at six o'clock. Till that
hour I will take a little nap on the sofa."
"But first, my Father, thou wilt go and dress. Everything is ready for
thee, and mother is dressed, and as for Thora, is she not pretty
"Thou art the fairest of all women here, if I know anything about
beauty. Wolf Baikie will be asking the first dance with thee."
"That dance is thine. Mother has given thee to me for that dance."
"To me? That is very agreeable. I am proud to be thy father."
"Then go and dress thyself. I am particular about my partners."
"Dress! What is wrong with my dress?"
"Everything! Not an article in it is worthy of thee and the
"I tell thee, all is as it should be. I am not minded to change it in
"Yes; to please Thora, thou wilt make some changes. Do, my Father. I
love thee so! I am so proud of thy figure, and thou can show even Wolf
Baikie how he ought to dance."
"Well, then, just for thee - I will wash and put on fresh linen."
"And comb thy beautiful hair. If thou but wet it, then it curls so