Amelia E. Barr.

An Orkney Maid online

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sorry I had to put it on - it was not very kind or thoughtful of Mrs.
Beaton to ask me - I don't believe mother liked her doing so - mother
has a superstition or fret about everything. Well, then, it is no way
spoiled - - " and she lifted it and the white silk petticoat belonging
to the dress and carefully put them in the place Rahal had selected as
the safest for their keeping. It was a large closet in the spare room
and she went there with them. As she returned to her own room she
heard her mother welcoming a favourite visitor and it pleased her.
"Now I need not hurry," she thought. "Mistress Vorn will stay an hour
at least, and I can take my own time."

"Taking her own time" evidently meant to Thora the reading of Ian's
letter over again. And also a little musing on what Ian had said.
There was, however, no hurry about Jean Hay's letter and it was so
pleasant to drift among the happy thoughts that crowded into her
consideration. So for half an hour Jean's letter lay at her side
untouched - Jean was so far outside her dreams and hopes that
afternoon - but at length she lifted it and these were the words she


I was hearing since last spring that thou wert going to be married
on the son of the Rev. Dr. Macrae - on the young man called John
Calvin Macrae. Very often I was hearing this, and always I was
answering, "There will be no word of truth in that story. Miss
Ragnor will not be noticing such a young man as that. No,

Here Thora threw down the letter and sat looking at it upon the floor
as if she would any moment tear it to pieces. But she did not, she
finally lifted it and forced herself to continue reading:

I was hating to tell thee some things I knew, and I was often
writing and then tearing up my letter, for it made me sick to be
thy true friend in such a cruel way. But often I have heard the
wise tell "when the knife is needed, the salve pot will be of no
use." Now then, this day, I tell myself with a sad heart, "Jean,
thou must take the knife. The full time has come."

"Why won't the woman tell what she has got to tell," said Thora in a
voice of impatient anguish, and in a few minutes she whispered, "I am
cold." Then she threw a knitted cape over her shoulders and lifted the
letter again, oh, so reluctantly, and read:

The young man will have told your father, that he is McLeod's
agent and a sort of steward of his large properties. This does
not sound like anything wrong, but often I have been told
different. Old McLeod left to his son many houses. Three of them
are not good houses, they are really fashionable gambling houses.
Macrae has the management of them as well as of many others in
various parts of the city. Of these others I have heard no wrong.
I suppose they may be quite respectable.

This story has more to it. Whenever there is a great horse race
there Macrae will be, and I saw myself in the daily newspapers
that his name was among the winners on the horse Sergius. It was
only a small sum he won, but sin is not counted in pounds and
shillings. No, indeed! So there is no wonder his good father is
feeling the shame of it.

Moreover, though he calls himself Ian, that is not his name. His
name is John Calvin and his denial of his baptismal name, given to
him at the Sabbath service, in the house of God, at the very altar
of the same, is thought by some to be a denial of God's grace and
mercy. And he has been reasoned with on this matter by the ruling
elder in his father's kirk, but no reason would he listen to, and
saying many things about Calvin I do not care to write.

Many stories go about young men and young women, and there is this
and that said about Macrae. I have myself met him on Prince's
Street in the afternoon very often, parading there with various
gayly dressed women. I do not blame him much for that. The
Edinburgh girls are very forward, not like the Norse girls, who
are modest and retiring in their ways. I am forced to say that
Macrae is a very gay young man, and of course you know all that
means without more words about it. He dresses in the highest
fashion, goes constantly to theatres with some lady or other, and
I do not wonder that people ask, "Where does he get the money?
Does he gamble for it?" For he does not go to any kirk on the
Sabbath unless he is paid to go there and sing, which he does very
well, people say. In his own rooms he is often heard playing the
piano and singing music that is not sacred or fit for the holy
day. And his father is the most religious man in Edinburgh. It is
just awful! I fear you will never forgive me, Miss Thora, but I
have still more and worse to tell you, because it is, as I may
say, personally heard and not this or that body's clash-ma-claver.
Nor did I seek the same, it came to me through my daily work and
in a way special and unlooked-for, so that after hearing it, my
conscience would no longer be satisfied and I was forced, as it
were, to the writing of this letter to you.

I dare say Macrae may have spoken to you anent his friendship with
Agnes and Willie Henderson, indeed Willie Henderson and John
Macrae have been finger and thumb ever since they played together.
Now Willie's father is an elder in Dr. Macrae's kirk and if all
you hear anent him be true - which I cannot vouch for - he is a man
well regarded both in kirk and market place - that is, he was so
regarded until he married again about two years ago. For who,
think you, should he marry but a proud upsetting Englishwoman, who
was bound to be master and mistress both o'er the hale household?

Then Miss Henderson showed fight and her brother Willie stood by
her. And Miss Henderson is a spunky girl and thought bonnie by
some people, and has a tongue so well furnished with words to
defend what she thinks her rights, that it leaves nobody uncertain
as to what thae rights may be. Weel, there has been nothing but
quarreling in the elder's house ever since the unlucky wedding;
and in the first year of the trial Willie Henderson borrowed
money - I suppose of John Macrae - and took himself off to America,
and some said the elder was glad of it and others said he was sair
down-hearted and disappointed.

After that, Miss Agnes was never friends with her stepmother. It
seems the woman wanted her to marry a nephew of her ain kith and
kin, and in this matter her father was of the same mind. The old
man doubtless wanted a sough of peace in his own home. That was
how things stood a couple of weeks syne, but yestreen I heard what
may make the change wanted. This is how it happened.

Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Baird came to Madame David's to have a
black velvet gown fitted. Madame called on Jean Hay to attend her
in the fitting and to hang the long skirt properly - for it is a
difficult job to hang a velvet skirt, and Jean Hay is thought to
be very expert anent the set and swing of silk velvet, which has a
certain contrariness of its own. Let that pass. I was kneeling on
the floor, setting the train, when Mrs. Baird said: "I suppose you
have heard, Madame, the last escapade of that wild son of the
great Dr. Macrae?" Then I was all ears, the more so when I heard
Madam say: "I heard a whisper of something, but I was not heeding
it. Folks never seem to weary of finding fault with the handsome

"Well, Madame," said Mrs. Baird, "I happen to know about this
story. Seeing with your own eyes is believing, surely!"

"What did you see?" Madame asked.

"I saw enough to satisfy me. You know my house is opposite to the
West End Hotel, and last Friday I saw Macrae go there and he was
dressed up to the nines. He went in and I felt sure he had gone to
call on some lady staying there. So I watched, and better watched,
for he did not come out for two hours, and I concluded they had
lunched together! For when Macrae came out of the hotel, he spoke
to a cabman, and then waited until a young lady and her maid
appeared. He put the young lady into the cab, had a few minutes'
earnest conversation with her, then the maid joined her mistress
and they two drove away."

"Well, now, Mrs. Baird," said Madame, "there was nothing in that
but just a courteous luncheon together."

"Wait, Madame! I felt there was more, so I took a book and sat
down by my window. And just on the edge of the dark I saw the two
women return, and a little later a waiter put lights in an upper
parlour and he spread a table for dinner there and Macrae and the
young lady ate it together. Afterwards they went away in a cab
together." Then Madame asked if the maid was with them, and Mrs.
Baird said she thought she was but had not paid particular

Madame said something to me about the length of the train and then
Mrs. Baird seemed annoyed at her inattention, and she added:
"Macrae was advertised to sing in the City Hall the next night at
a mass meeting of citizens about abrogating slavery in the United
States, and he was not there - broke his engagement! What do you
think of that? The next night, Sabbath, he did the same to Dr.
Fraser's kirk, where he had promised to sing a pro-Christmas
canticle. And this morning I heard that he is going to the Orkneys
to marry a rich and beautiful girl who lives there. Now what do
you think of your handsome Macrae? I can tell you he is on every
one's tongue." And Madame said, "I have no doubt of it and I'll
warrant nobody knows what they are talking about."

After this the fitting on was not pleasant and I finished my part
of it as quickly as possible. Indeed, Miss Thora, I was miserable
about you and so pressed in spirit to tell you these things that I
could hardly finish my day's work. For my conscience kept urging
me to do my duty to you, for it is many favours you have done me
in the past. Kindly pardon me now, and believe me,

Your humble but sincere friend,

This letter Thora read to the last word but she was nearly blind when
she reached it. All her senses rang inward. "I am dying!" she thought,
and she tried to reach the bed but only succeeded in stumbling against
a small table full of books, knocking it down and falling with it.

Mistress Ragnor and her visitor heard the fall and they were suddenly
silent. Immediately, however, they went to the foot of the stairway
and called, "Thora." There was no answer, and the mother's heart sank
like lead, as she hastened to her daughter's room and threw open the
door. Then she saw her stricken child, lying as if dead upon the
floor. Cries and calls and hurrying feet followed, and the unconscious
girl was quickly freed from all physical restraints and laid at the
open window. But all the ordinary household methods of restoring
consciousness were tried without avail and the case began to assume a
dangerous aspect.

At this moment Ragnor arrived. He knelt at his child's side and drew
her closer and closer, whispering her name with the name of the Divine
One; and surely it was in response to his heart-breaking entreaties
the passing soul listened and returned. "Father," was the first
whisper she uttered; and with a glowing, grateful heart, the father
lifted her in his arms and laid her on her bed.

Then Rahal gave him the two letters and sent him away. Thora was still
"far off," or she would have remembered her letters but it was near
the noon of the next day when she asked her mother where they were.

"Thy father has them."

"I am sorry, so sorry!"

That was all she said but the subject appeared to distress her for she
closed her eyes, and Rahal kissed away the tears that slowly found
their way down the white, stricken face. However, from this hour she
rallied and towards night fell into a deep sleep which lasted for
fourteen hours; and it was during this anxious period of waiting that
Ragnor talked to his wife about the letters which were, presumably,
the cause of the trouble.

"Those letters I gave thee, Coll, did thou read both of them?"

"Both of them I read. Ian's was the happy letter of an expectant
bridegroom. Only joy and hope was in it. It was the other one that was
a death blow. Yes, indeed, it was a bad, cruel letter!"

"And the name? Who wrote it?"

"Jean Hay."

"Jean Hay! What could Jean have to do with Thora's affairs?"

"Well, then, her conscience made her interfere. She had heard some
evil reports about Ian's life and she thought it her duty, after yours
and Thora's kindness to her, to report these stories."

"A miserable return for our kindness! This is what I notice - when
people want to say cruel things, they always blame their conscience or
their duty for making them do it."

"Here is Jean's letter. Thou, thyself, must read it."

Rahal read it with constantly increasing anger and finally threw it on
the table with passionate scorn. "Not one word of this stuff do I
believe, Coll! Envy and jealousy sent that news, not gratitude and
good will! No, indeed! But I will tell thee, Coll, one thing I have
always found sure, it is this; that often, much evil comes to the good
from taking people out of their poverty and misfortunes. They are
paying a debt they owe from the past and if we assume that debt we
have it to pay in some wise. That is the wisdom of the old, the wisdom
learned by sad experience. I wish, then, that I had let the girl pay
her own debt and carry her own burden. She is envious of Thora. Yet
was Thora very good to her. Do I believe in her gratitude? Not I! Had
she done this cruel thing out of a kind heart, she would have sent
this letter to me and left the telling or the not telling to my love
and best judgment. I will not believe anything against Ian Macrae!
Nothing at all!"

"Much truth is in thy words, Rahal, and it is not on Jean Hay's letter
I will do anything. I will take only Ian's 'yes,' or 'no' on any

"You may do that safely, Coll, I know it."

"And I will go back to Edinburgh with him and see his father. Perhaps
we have all taken the youth too far on his handsome person and his
sweet amiability."

"Thou wrote to his father when Thora was engaged to him, with thy

"Well, then, I did."

"What said his father?"

"Too little! He was cursed short about all I named. I told him Thora
was good and fair and well educated; and that she would have her full
share in my estate. I told him all that I intended to do for them
about their home and the place which I intended for Ian in my
business, and referred him to Bishop Hedley as to my religious,
financial, social and domestic standing."

"Why did thou name Bishop Hedley to him? They are as far apart as
Leviticus and St. John. And what did he say to thee in reply?"

"That my kindness was more than his son deserved, etc. In response to
our invitation to be present at the marriage ceremony, he said it was
quite impossible, the journey was too long and doubtful, especially in
the winter; that he was subject to sea-sickness and did not like to
leave his congregation over Sunday. Rahal, I felt the paper on which
his letter was written crinkling and crackling in my hand, it was that
stiff with ecclesiastic pomp and spiritual pride. I would not show
thee the letter, I put it in the fire."

"Poor Ian! I think then, that he has had many things to suffer."

"Rahal, this is what I will do. I will meet the packet on Saturday and
we will go first to my office and talk the Hay letter over together.
If I bring Ian home with me, then something is possible, but if I come
home alone, then Thora must understand that all is over - that the
young man is not to be thought of."

"That would kill her."

"So it might be. But better is death than a living misery. If Ian is
what Jean Hay says he is, could we think of our child living with him?
Impossible! Rahal, dear wife, whatever can be done I will do, and that
with wisdom and loving kindness. Thy part is harder, it must be with
our dear Thora."

"That is so. And if there has to be parting, it will be almost
impossible to spread the plaster as far as the sore."

"There is the Great Physician - - "

"I know."

"Tell her what I have said."

"I will do that; but just yet, she is not minding much what any one

However, on Saturday afternoon Thora left her bed and dressed herself
in the gown she had prepared for her bridegroom's arrival. The nervous
shock had been severe and she looked woefully like, and yet unlike,
herself. Her eyes were full of tears, she trembled, she could hardly
support herself. If one should take a fresh green leaf and pass over
it a hot iron, the change it made might represent the change in Thora.
Jean Hay's letter had been the hot iron passed over her. She had been
told of her father's decision, but she clung passionately to her faith
in Ian and her claim on her father's love and mercy.

"Father will do right," she said, "and if he does, Ian will come home
with him."

The position was a cruel one to Conall Ragnor and he went to meet the
packet with a heavy heart. Then Ian's joyful face and his impatience
to land made it more so, and Ragnor found it impossible to connect
wrong-doing with the open, handsome countenance of the youth. On the
contrary, he found himself without intention declaring:

"Well, then, I never found anything the least zig-zaggery about what
he said or did. His words and ways were all straight. That is the

Yet Ian's happy mood was instantly dashed by Ragnor's manner. He did
not take his offered hand and he said in a formal tone: "Ian, we will
go to my office before we go to the house. I must ask thee some

"Very well, sir. Thora, I hope, is all right?"

"No. She has been very ill."

"Then let me go to her, sir, at once."

"Later, I will see about that."

"Later is too late, let us go at once. If Thora is sick - - "

"Be patient. It is not well to talk of women on the street. No wise
man, who loves his womenkin, does that."

Then Ian was silent; and the walk through the busy streets was like a
walk in a bad dream. The place and circumstances felt unreal and he
was conscious of the sure presence of a force closing about him, even
to his finger tips. Vainly he tried to think. He felt the trouble
coming nearer and nearer, but what was it? What had he done? What had
he failed to do? What was he to be questioned about?

Young as he was his experiences had taught him to expect only injury
and wrong. The Ragnor home and its love and truth had been the miracle
that had for nine months turned his brackish water of life into wine.
Was it going to fail him, as everything else had done? He laughed
inwardly at the cruel thought and whispered to himself: "This, too,
can be borne, but oh, Thora, Thora!" and the two words shattered his
pride and made him ready to weep when he sat down in Ragnor's office
and saw the kind, pitiful face of the elder man looking at him. It
gave him the power he needed and he asked bluntly what questions he
was required to answer.

Ragnor gave him the unhappy letter and he read it with a look of anger
and astonishment. "Father," he said, "all this woman writes is true
and not true; and of all accusations, these are the worst to defend. I
must go back to my very earliest remembrances in order to fairly state
my case, and if you will permit me to do this, in the presence of
your wife and Thora, I will then accept whatever decision you make."

For at least three minutes Ragnor made no answer. He sat with closed
eyes and his face held in the clasp of his left hand. Ian was bending
forward, eagerly watching him. There was not a movement, not a sound;
it seemed as if both men hardly breathed. But when Ragnor moved, he
stood up. "Let us be going," he said, "they are anxious. They are
watching. You shall do as you say, Ian."

Rahal saw them first. Thora was lying back in her mother's chair with
closed eyes. She could not bear to look into the empty road watching
for one who might be gone forever. Then in a blessed moment, Rahal
whispered, "They are coming!"

"Both? Both, Mother?"


"Thank God!" And she would have cried out her thanks and bathed them
in joyful tears if she had been alone. But Ian must not see her
weeping. Now, especially, he must be met with smiles. And then, when
she felt herself in Ian's embrace, they were both weeping. But oh, how
great, how blessed, how sacramental are those joys that we baptise
with tears!

During the serving of dinner there was no conversation but such
as referred to the war and other public events. Many great ones
had transpired since they parted, and there was plenty to talk
about: the battles of Balaklava and Inkerman had been fought; the
never-to-be-forgotten splendour of Scarlett's Charge with the
Heavy Brigade, and the still more tragically splendid one of the
Light Brigade, had both passed into history.

More splendid and permanent than these had been the trumpet "call" of
Russell in the _Times_, asking the women of England who among them
were ready to go to Scutari Hospital and comfort and help the men
dying for England? "Now," he cried,

"The Son of God goes forth to war!
Who follows in His train?"

Florence Nightingale and her band of trained nurses, mainly from the
Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy, and St. John's Protestant House, was
the instant answer. In six days they were ready and without any
flourish of trumpets, at the dark, quiet midnight, they left England
for Scutari and in that hour the Red Cross Society was born.

"How long is it since they sailed?" asked Rahal.

"A month," answered Ian, "but the controversy about it is still raging
in the English papers."

"What has anyone to say against it?" asked Rahal. "The need was
desperate, the answer quick. What, then, do they say?"

"The prudery of the English middle class was shocked at the idea of
young women nursing in military hospitals. They considered it 'highly
improper.' Others were sure women would be more trouble than help.
Many expect their health to fail, and think they will be sent back to
English hospitals in a month."

"I thought," said Ragnor, "that the objections were chiefly

"You are right," replied Ian. "The Calvinists are afraid Miss
Nightingale's intention is to make the men Catholics in their dying
hour. Others feel sure Miss Nightingale is an Universalist, or an
Unitarian, or a Wesleyan Methodist. The fact is, Florence Nightingale
is a devout Episcopalian."

A pleasant little smile parted Ragnor's lips, and he said with an
Episcopalian suavity: "The Wesleyans and the Episcopalians, in
doctrine, are much alike. We regard them as brethren;" and just while
he spoke, Ragnor looked like some ecclesiastical prelate.

"There is little to wonder at in the churches disagreeing about Miss
Nightingale," said Rahal, "it is not to be expected that they would
believe in her, when they do not believe in each other." As she spoke
she stepped to the fireside and touched the bell rope, and a servant
entered and began to clear the table and put more wood on the fire,
and to turn out one of the lamps at Rahal's order. Ragnor had gone out
to have a quiet smoke in the fresh air while Rahal was sending off all
the servants to a dance at the Fisherman's Hall. Ian and Thora were
not interested in these things; they sat close together, talking
softly of their own affairs.

Without special request, they drew closer to the hearth and to each
other. Then Ragnor took out a letter and handed it to Ian. He was
sitting at Thora's side and her hand was in his hand. He let it fall
and took the letter offered him.

"I cannot explain this letter," he said, "unless I preface it with
some facts regarding my unhappy childhood and youth. I am, as you
know, the son of Dr. Macrae, but I have been a disinherited son ever
since I can remember. I suppose that in my earliest years I was loved
and kindly treated, but I have no remembrance of that time. I know
only that before I was five years old, my father had accepted the
solemn conviction that I was without election to God's grace.
Personally I was a beautiful child, but I was received and considered,
body and soul, as unredeemable. Father then regarded me as a Divine
decree which it was his duty to receive with a pious acquiescence. My
mother pitied and, in her way, loved me, and suffered much with me. I
have a little sister also, who would like to love me, but there is in
all her efforts just that touch of Phariseeism which destroys love."

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Online LibraryAmelia E. BarrAn Orkney Maid → online text (page 10 of 15)