Amelia E. Barr.

An Orkney Maid online

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"But, Ian, there must have been some reason for your father's
remarkable conviction?"

"That is most likely. If so, he never explained the fact to me or even
to my mother. She told me once that he did not suspect that I had
missed God's election until I was between five and six years old. I
suppose that about that age I began to strengthen his cruel fear by my
antipathy to the kirk services and my real and unfortunate inability
to learn the Shorter Catechism. This was a natural short-coming. I
could neither spell or pronounce the words I was told to learn and to
memorise them was an impossible thing."

"Could not your mother help you?"

"She tried. She wept over me as she tried, and I made an almost
superhuman effort to comprehend and remember. I could not. I was
flogged, I was denied food and even water. I was put in dark rooms. I
was forbid all play and recreation. I went through this martyrdom year
after year and I finally became stubborn and would try no longer. In
the years that followed, until I was sixteen, my daily sufferings were
great, but I remember them mainly for my mother's sake, who suffered
with me in all I suffered. Nor am I without pity for my father. He
honestly believed that in punishing me he was doing all he could to
save me from everlasting punishment. Yes, sir! Do not shake your head!
I have heard him praying, pleading with God, for some token of my
election to His mercy. You see it was John Calvin."

"John Calvin!" ejaculated Ragnor, "how is that?"

"It was his awful tenets I had to learn; and when I was young I could
not learn them, and when I grew older I would not learn them. My
father had called me John Calvin and I detested the name. On my
eighteenth birthday I asked him to have it changed. He was very angry
at my request. I begged him passionately to do so. I said it ruined my
life, that I could do nothing under that name. 'Give me your own name,
Father,' I entreated, 'and I will try and be a good man!'

"He said something to me, I never knew exactly what, but the last word
was more than I could bear and my reply was an oath. Then he lifted
the whip at his side and struck me."

Rahal and Thora were sobbing. Ragnor looked in the youth's face with
shining eyes and asked, almost in a whisper, "What did thou do?"

"I had been struck often enough before to have made me indifferent,
but at this moment some new strength and feeling sprang up in my
heart. I seized his arms and the whip fell to the floor. I lifted it
and said, 'Sir, if you ever again use a whip in place of decent words
to me, I will see you no more until we meet for the judgment of God.
Then I will pity you for the life-long mistake you have made.' My
father looked at me with eyes I shall never forget, no, not in all
eternity! He burst into agonizing prayer and weeping and I went and
told mother to go to him. I left the house there and then. I had not
a halfpenny, and I was hungry and cold and sick with an intolerable
sense of wrong."

"Father!" said Thora, in a voice broken with weeping. "Is not this
enough?" And Ragnor leaned forward and took Thora's hand but he did
not speak. Neither did he answer Rahal's look of entreaty. On the
contrary he asked:

"Then, Ian? Then, what did thou do?"

"I felt so ill I went to see Dr. Finlay, our family physician. He knew
the family trouble, because he had often attended mother when she was
ill in consequence of it. I did not need to make a complaint. He saw
my condition and took me to his wife and told her to feed and comfort
me. I remained in her care four days, and then he offered to take me
into his office and set me to reading medical text books, while I did
the office work."

"What was this work?"

"I was taught how to prepare ordinary medicines, to see callers when
the doctor was out, and make notes of, and on, their cases. I helped
the doctor in operations, I took the prescriptions to patients and
explained their use, etc. In three years I became very useful and
helpful and I was quite happy. Then Dr. Finlay was appointed to some
exceptionally fine post in India, private physician to some great
Rajah, and the Finlay family hastily prepared for their journey to
Delhi. I longed to go with them but I had not the money requisite.
With Dr. Finlay I had had a home but only money enough to clothe me
decently. I had not a pound left and mother could not help me, and
Uncle Ian was in the Madeira Isles with his sick wife. So the Finlays
went without me; and I can feel yet the sense of loneliness and
poverty that assailed me, when I shut their door behind me and walked
into the cold street and knew not what to do or where to go."

"How old were you then, Ian?" asked Ragnor.

"I was twenty years old within a few days, and I had one pound,
sixteen shillings in my pocket. Five pounds from an Episcopal church
would be due in two weeks for my solo and part singing in their
services; but they were never very prompt in their payment and that
was nothing to rely on in my present need. I took to answering
advertisements, and did some of the weariest tramping looking for work
that poor humanity can do. When I met Kenneth McLeod, I had broken my
last shilling. I was like a hungry, lost child, and the thought of my
mother came to me and I felt as if my heart would break.

"The next moment I saw Kenneth McLeod coming up Prince's Street. It
was nearly four years since we had seen each other, but he knew me at
once and called me in his old kind way. Then he looked keenly at me,
and asked: 'What is the matter, Ian? The old trouble?'

"I was so heartless and hungry I could hardly keep back tears as I
answered: 'It is that and everything else! Ken, help me, if you can.'
'Come with me!' he answered, and I went with him into the Queen's
Hotel and he ordered dinner, and while we were eating I told him my
situation. Then he said, 'I can help you, Ian, if you will help me.
You know that all my happiness is on the sea and father kept me on one
or another of his trading boats as much as possible from my boyhood,
so that I am now a clever enough navigator. Two years ago my father
died and I am in a lot of trouble about managing the property he left
me. Now, if you will take the oversight of my Edinburgh property, I
can take my favourite boat and look after the coast trade of the
Northern Islands.'

"What could I say? I was dumb with surprise and gratitude. I never
thought there was anything wrong in our contract. I believed the work
had come in answer to my prayer for help and I thanked God and Kenneth
McLeod for it."

Here Mrs. Ragnor rose, saying, "Coll, my dear one, Thora and I will
now leave thee. I am sure Ian has done as well as he could do and we
hope thou wilt judge him kindly." Then the women went upstairs and
Ragnor remained silent until Ian said:

"I am very anxious, sir."

Then Ragnor stood up and slowly answered, "Ian, now is the time to
take council of my pillow. What I have to say I will say later. This
is not a thing to be settled by a yes or no. I must think over what
thou hast told me. I must have some words with my wife and daughter.
Sleep one night at least over thy trouble, there are many things to
consider; especially this question of the young lady who is made
the last count of Jean Hay's letter. What hast thou to say about her?
She seems to have had some strong claim upon thy - shall we say

"You might say much more than friendship, sir, and yet wrong neither
man nor woman by it. Why, the young lady was Agnes Henderson, the
sister of Willie Henderson, who is my soul's brother and my second
self. Thora must have heard all about Agnes!"

"Is she Deacon Scot Henderson's daughter?"

"Of course she is! Who else would I have left two engagements to
serve? But Agnes is dear to me, perhaps dearer than my own sister.
Since she was nine years old, we have studied and played together.
Willie and Agnes were the only loves and only friends of my desolate
boyhood. You have doubtless heard how unhappy the deacon's second
marriage has been. Both Willie and Agnes refused the stepmother he
gave them, and last year Willie went to New York, where he is doing
very well. But Agnes has been more and more wretched, and a recent
proposal of marriage between herself and the stepmother's nephew has
made her life intolerable. Two weeks ago I had a letter from Willie,
telling me he had just written her, advising an immediate 'give-up' of
the whole situation. He told her to take the first good steamer and
come to him. He also urged her to send for me and take my help and
advice about the voyage. Two weeks ago last Friday she did so and I
went at once to the West End Hotel to see her. She had disguised
herself so cleverly that it was difficult to recognise her. I went
with her to her sitting room and there I found the woman who had
waited on her all her life long. I knew her well for she had often
scolded me for leading Agnes into danger.

"I ate lunch with Agnes and during it I told her to transfer all her
money not required for travelling expenses to the Bank of New York;
and I promised to go at once and secure a passage for herself and
maid - for seeing that the _Atlantic_ would leave her dock for New York
about the noon hour of the next day, haste was necessary. I did not
wish to go to Liverpool because of my two engagements, but Agnes was
so insistent on my presence I could not refuse her. Well, perhaps I
was wrong to yield to her entreaties."

"No, hardly," said Ragnor. "Going on board a big steamer at Liverpool
must be a muddling business - not fit for two simple women like Agnes
Henderson and her maid."

"I don't remember thinking of that but I could hear my friend Willie
telling me, 'See her safe on board, Ian. Don't leave her till she is
in the captain's care. Do this for me, Ian!' And I did it for both
Agnes' and Willie's sake but mainly for Willie's, for I love him. He
is my right-hand friend, always. Perhaps I did wrong."

"It is a pity there was any mystification about it. Was it necessary
for Agnes Henderson to disguise herself?"

"Perhaps not, but it prevented trouble and disappointment. Her father
supposed her to be at her uncle's home. On Saturday afternoon he went
to see her and found she had not been there at all. He returned to
Edinburgh and could get no trace of her, nor was she located until I
returned and informed him that she was on the _Atlantic_."

There was a few moments of silence and then Ian said, "Have I done
anything unpardonable? Surely you will not let that jealous, envious
letter stand between Thora and myself?"

Then Ragnor answered, "Tonight I will say neither this nor that on the
matter. I will sleep over the subject and take counsel of One wiser
than myself. Thou had better do likewise. Many things are to

And Ian went away without a word. There was anger in his heart, and as
he sat gloomily in his dimly lit room and felt the damp chill of the
midnight, he told himself that he had been hardly judged. "I have done
nothing wrong," he whispered passionately. "Old McLeod collected his
own rents and looked after his own property and no one thought he did
wrong. He was an elder in one of the largest Edinburgh kirks and the
favourite chairman in missionary meetings, but because I did not go to
kirk, what was business in him was sin in me.

"As to the gambling houses, I had nothing to do with them but to
collect lawful money, due the McLeod estate; and as far as I can see,
men who gamble for money are quite respectable if they get what they
gamble for. There was that old reprobate Lord Sinclair. He redeemed
the Sinclair estates by gambling and he married the beautiful daughter
of the noble Seaforths. Nobody blamed him. Pshaw! It is all a matter
of money - or it is my ill luck." And to such irritating reflections he
finally fell asleep.



Sorrow develops the mind. It seems as if a soul was given us to suffer
with -

Dust to dust, but the pure spirit shall flow
Back to the burning fountain whence it came
A portion of the Eternal which must glow
Through time and change unalterably the same.

Our endless need is met by God's endless help.

At her room door Thora bid her mother good night. Rahal desired to
talk with her, but the girl shook her head and said wearily, "I want
to think, Mother. I have no heart to speak yet." And Rahal turned
sadly away. She knew that hour, that her child had come to a door for
which she had no key and she left her alone with the situation she had
to face. Nor did Thora just then realize that within the past hour her
girlhood had vanished, and that she had suddenly become a woman with a
woman's fate upon her and a woman's heart-rending problem to solve.

How it came she did not enquire, yet she did recognise some change in
herself. Hitherto, all her troubles had been borne by her father or
mother. This trouble was her very own. No one could carry it for her
but without any hesitation she accepted it. "I must find out the very
root of this matter," she said to herself, "and I will not go to bed
until I do. Nor is it half-asleep I will be over the question. I will
sit up and be wide awake."

So she put more peat and coal on her fire and lit a fresh candle;
removed her day clothing and wrapped herself in a large down cloak.
And the night was not cold for there was a southerly wind, and the
gulf stream embraces the Orkneys, giving them an abnormally warm
climate for their far-north latitude. And she had a passing wonder at
herself for these precautions. A year ago, a week ago, she would have
thrown herself upon her bed in passionate weeping or clung to her
mother and talked her sorrow away in her loving sympathy and advice.

But at this supreme hour of her life, she wanted to be alone. She
did not wish to talk about Ian with any one. She was wide awake,
quite sensible of the pain and grief at her heart, yet tearless
and calm. Never before had she felt that dignity of soul, which
looks straight into the face of its sorrow and feels itself equal
to the bearing of it. She had as yet no idea that during that
evening she had passed through that wonderful heart-experience,
which suddenly ripens girlhood into womanhood. Indeed, they will
be thoughtless girls - whatever their age - who can read this
sentence and not pause and recall that marvellous transition in their
own lives. To some it comes with a great joy, to others with a great
sorrow but it is always a fateful event, and girls should be ready
to meet and salute it.

As soon as Thora had made herself and her room comfortable, she sat
down and closed her eyes. All her life she had noticed that her mother
shut her eyes when she wanted to think. Now she did the same, and then
softly called Ian Macrae to the judgment of her heart and her inner
senses, but she did it as naturally as women equally ignorant have
done it in all ages, taking or refusing their advice or verdict as
directed by their dominant desire, or their reason or unreason.

With almost supernatural clearness she recalled his beautiful, yet
troubled face, his hesitating manner, his restlessness in his chair,
his nervous trifling with his watch chain or his finger ring. She
recalled the fact that his voice had in it a strange tone and that his
eyes reflected a soul fearful and angry. It was an unfamiliar Ian she
called up, but oh! if it could ever become a familiar one.

The first subject that pressed her for consideration was the suspicion
of gambling. Certainly Ian had promptly denied the charge. He had even
said that he never was in the gambling parlours but once, when he went
into them very early with the porter, to assure himself that some new
carpets asked for were really wanted. "Then," he added, "I found out
that the demand was made by one of the club members, who had a friend
who was a carpet manufacturer and expected to supply what was
considered necessary."

It must be recalled here that Norsemen, though sharp and keen in
business matters, have no gambling fever in their blood. To get money
and give nothing for it! That goes too far beyond their idea of fair
business, and as for pleasure, they have never connected it with the
paper kings and queens. They find in the sea and their ships, in
adventure, in music and song, in dancing and story telling, all of
pleasure they require. A common name for a pack of cards is "the
devil's books," and in Orkney they have but few readers.

Thora had partially exonerated Ian from the charge of gambling
when she remembered Jean Hay's assertion that "wherever horses were
racing, there Ian was sure to be and that he had been named in the
newspapers as a winner on the horse Sergius." Ian had passed by
this circumstance, and her father had either intentionally or
unintentionally done the same. Once she had heard Vedder say that
"horse racing produced finer and faster horses"; and she remembered
well, that her father asked in reply, "If it was well to produce
finer and faster horses, at the cost of making horsier men?" And he
had further said that he did not know of any uglier type of man than a
"betting book in breeches." She thought a little on this subject
and then decided Ian ought to be talked to about it.

Her lover's neglect of the Sabbath was the next question, for Thora
was a true and loving daughter of the Church of England. Episcopacy
was the kernel of her faith. She believed all bishops were just like
Bishop Hedley and that the most perfect happiness was found in the
Episcopal Communion. And she said positively to her heart - "It is
through the church door we will reach the Home door, and I am sure Ian
will go with me to keep the Sabbath in the cathedral. Every one goes
to church in Kirkwall. He could not resist such a powerful public
example, and then he would begin to like to go of his own inclination.
I could trust him on this point, I feel sure."

When she took up the next doubt her brow clouded and a shadow of
annoyance blended itself with her anxious, questioning expression.
"His name!" she muttered. "His name! Why did he woo me under a false
name? Mother says my marriage to him under the name of Ian Macrae
would not be lawful. Of course he intended to marry me with his proper
name. He would have been sure to tell us all before the marriage
day - but I saw father was angry and troubled at the circumstance. He
ought to have told us long ago. Why didn't he do so? I should have
loved him under any name. I should have loved him better under John
than Ian. John is a strong, straight name. Great and good men in all
ages have made John honourable. It has no diminutive. It can't be made
less than John. Englishmen and lowland Scotch all say the four
sensible letters with a firm, strong voice; only the Celt turns John
into Ian. I will not call him Ian again. Not once will I do it."

Then she covered her eyes with her hand and a sharp, chagrined catch
of her breath broke the hush of the still room. And her voice, though
little stronger than a whisper, was full of painful wonder. "What will
people say? What shall we say? Oh, the shame! Oh, the mortification!
Who will now live in my pretty home? Who will eat my wedding cake?
What will become of my wedding dress? Oh, Thora! Thora! Love has led
thee a shameful, cruel road! What wilt thou do? What can thou do?"

Then a singular thing happened. A powerful thought from some forgotten
life came with irresistible strength into her mind, and though she did
not speak the words suggested, she prayed them - if prayer be that
hidden, never-dying imploration that goes with the soul from one
incarnation to another - for the words that sprang to her memory must
have been learned centuries before, "Oh, Mary! Mary! Mother of Jesus
Christ! Thou that drank the cup of all a woman's griefs and wrongs,
pray for me!"

And she was still and silent as the words passed through her
consciousness. She thought every one of them, they seemed at the
moment so real and satisfying. Then she began to wonder and ask
herself, "Where did those words come from? When did I hear them? Where
did I say them before? How do they come to be in my memory? From what
strange depth of Life did they come? Did I ever have a Roman Catholic
nurse? Did she whisper them to my soul, when I was sick and suffering?
I must ask mother - oh, how tired and sleepy I feel - I will go to
bed - I have done no good, come to no decision. I will sleep - I will
tell mother in the morning - I wish I had let her stop with me - mother
always knows - what is the best way - - " And thus the heart-breaking
session ended in that blessed hostel, The Inn of Dreamless Sleep.

There was, however, little sleep in the House of Ragnor that night,
and very early in the morning Ragnor, fully dressed, spoke to his
wife. "Art thou waking yet, Rahal?" he asked, and Rahal answered, "I
have slept little. I have been long awake."

"Well then, what dost thou think now of Ian Macrae, so-called?"

"I think little amiss of him - some youthful follies - nothing to make a
fuss about."

"Hast thou considered that the follies of youth may become the follies
of manhood, and of age? What then?"

"We are not told to worry about what may be."

"Ian has evidently been living and spending with people far above his
means and his class."

"The Lowland Scotch regard a minister as socially equal to any peer.
Are not the servants of God equal, and more than equal, to the
servants of the queen? No society is above either they or their
children. That I have seen always. And young men of fine appearance
and charming manners, like Ian, are welcome in every home, high or
low. Yes, indeed!"

"Yet girls, as a rule, should not marry handsome men with charming
manners, unless there is something better behind to rely on."

"If thou had not been a handsome man with a charming manner, Rahal
would not have married thee. What then?"

"I would have been a ruined man. I cared for nothing but thee."

"I believe that a girl of moral strength and good intelligence should
be trusted with the choice of her destiny. It is not always that
parents have a right to thrust a destiny they choose upon their
daughter. If a man is not as good and as rich as they think she ought
to marry they can point this out, and if they convince their child,
very well; and if they do not convince her, also very well. Perhaps
the girl's character requires just the treatment it will evolve from a
life of struggle."

"Thou art talking nonsense, Rahal. Thy liking for the young man has
got the better of thy good sense. I cannot trust thee in this

"Well then, Coll, the road to better counsel than mine, is well known
to thee."

"I think Bishop Hedley arrived about an hour ago. There were moving
lights on the pier, and as soon as the morning breaks I am going to
see him."

"Have thy own way. When a man's wife has not the wisdom wanted, it is
well that he go to his Bishop, for Bishops are full of good counsel,
even for the ruling of seven churches, so I have heard."

"It is not hearsay between thee and Bishop Hedley. Thou art well
acquainted with him."

"Well then, in the end thou wilt take thy own way."

"Dost thou want me to say 'yes' today, and rue it tomorrow? I have no
mind for any such foolishness."

"Coll, this is a time when deeds will be better than words."

"I see that. Well then, the day breaks, and I will go" - he lingered a
minute or two fumbling about his knitted gloves but Rahal was dressing
her hair and took no further notice. So he went away in an affected
hurry and both dissatisfied and uncertain. "What a woman she is!" he
sighed. "She has said only good words, but I feel as if I had broken
every commandment at once."

He went away full of trouble and anxiety, and Rahal watched him down
the garden path and along the first stretch of the road. She knew by
his hurried steps and the nervous play of his walking stick that he
was both angry and troubled and she was not very sorry.

"If it was his business standing and his good name, instead of Thora's
happiness and good repute that was the question, oh, how careful and
conciliatory he would be! How anxious to keep his affairs from public
discussion! It would be anything rather than that! I have the same
feeling about Thora's good name. The marriage ought to go on for
Thora's sake. I do not want the women of Kirkwall wondering who was
to blame. I do not want them coming to see me with solemn looks and
tearful voices. I could not endure their pitying of 'poor Miss Thora!'
They would not dare go to Coll with their sympathetic curiosity, but
there are such women as Astar Gager, and Lala Snackoll, and Thyra

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Online LibraryAmelia E. BarrAn Orkney Maid → online text (page 11 of 15)