Amelia E. Barr.

An Orkney Maid online

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Peterson, and Jorunna Flett. No one can keep them away from a house in
trouble. Thora must marry. I see no endurable way to prevent it."

Then being dressed she went to Thora's room, and gently opened the
door. Thora was standing at her mirror and she turned to her mother
with a smiling face. Rahal was astonished and she said almost with a
tone of disapproval, "I am glad to see thee able to smile. I expected
to find thee weeping, and ill with weeping."

"For a long time, for many hours, I was broken-hearted but there came
to me, Mother, a strange consolation." Then she told her mother about
the prayer she heard her soul say for her. "Not one word did I speak,
Mother. But someone prayed for me. I heard them. And I was made strong
and satisfied, and fell into a sweet sleep, though I had yet not
solved the problem I had proposed to solve before I slept."

"What was that problem?"

"First, whether I should marry John just as he was, and trust the
consequences to my influence over him; or whether I should refuse him
altogether and forever; or whether I should wait and see what he can
do with my father and the good Bishop, to help and strengthen him."
And as Thora talked, Rahal's face grew light and sweet as she
listened, and she answered - "Yes, my dear one, that is the wonderful
way! Some soul that loved thee long, long ago, knew that thou wert in
great trouble. Some woman's soul, perhaps, that had lived and died for
love. The kinship of our souls far exceeds that of our bodies, and
their help is swift and sure. Be patient with Ian. That is what I

"But why that prayer? I never heard it before."

"How little thou knowest of what thou hast heard before! Two hundred
years ago, all sorrowful, unhappy women went to Mary with their

"They should not have done so. They could have gone to Christ."

"They thought Mary had suffered just what they were suffering, and
they thought that Christ had never known any of the griefs that break
a woman's heart. Mary knew them, had felt them, had wept and prayed
over them. When my little lad Eric died, I thought of Mary. My family
have only been one hundred years Protestants. All of them must have
loved thee well enough to come and pray for thee. Thou had a great
honour, as well as a great comfort."

"At any rate I did no wrong! I am glad, Mother."

"Wrong! Thou wilt see the Bishop today. Ask him. He will tell thee
that the English Church and the English women gave up very reluctantly
their homage to Mary. Are not their grand churches called after Peter
and Paul and other male saints? Dost thou think that Christ loved
Peter and Paul more than his mother? I know better. Please God thou
wilt know better some day."

"Churches are often called after Mary, as well as the saints."

"Not in Scotland."

"There is one in Glasgow. Vedder told me he used to hear Bishop Hedley
preach there."

"It is an Episcopal Church. Ask him about thy dream. No, I mean thy
soul's experience."

"Thou said _dream_, Mother. It was not a dream. I saw no one. I only
heard a voice. It is what we see in dreams that is important."

"Now wilt thou come to thy breakfast?"

"Is _he_ downstairs yet?"

"I will go and call him."

Rahal, however, came to the table alone. She said, "Ian asked that he
might lie still and sleep an hour or two. He has not slept all night
long, I think," she added. "His voice sounded full of trouble."

So the two women ate their breakfast alone for Ragnor did not return
in time to join them. And Rahal's hopefulness left her, and she was
silent and her face had a grey, fearful expression that Thora could
not help noticing. "You look ill, Mother!" she said, "and you were
looking so well when we came downstairs. What is it?"

"I know not. I feel as if I was going into a black cloud. I wish that
thy father would come home. He is in trouble. I wonder then what is
the matter!"

In about an hour they saw Ragnor and the Bishop coming towards the
house together.

"They are in trouble, Thora, both of them are in trouble."

"About Thora they need not to be in trouble. She will do what they
advise her to do."

"It is not thee."

"What then?"

"I will not name my fear, lest I call it to me."

Then she rose and went to the door and Thora followed her, and by this
time, Ragnor and the Bishop were at the garden gate. Very soon the
Bishop was holding their hands, and Rahal found when he released her
hand that he had left a letter in it. Yet for a moment she hardly
noticed the fact, so shocked was she at the expression of her
husband's face. He looked so much older, his eyes were two wells of
sorrow, his distress had passed beyond words, and when she asked,
"What is thy trouble, Coll?" he looked at her pitifully and pointed to
the letter. Then she took Thora's hand and they went to her room

Sitting on the side of her bed, she broke the seal and looked at the
superscription. "It is from Adam Vedder," she said, as she began to
read it. No other word escaped her lips until she came to the end of
the long epistle. Then she laid it down on the bed beside her and
shivered out the words, "Boris is dying. Perhaps dead. Oh, Boris! My
son Boris! Read for thyself."

So Thora read the letter. It contained a vivid description of the
taking of a certain small battery, which was pouring death and
destruction on the little British company, who had gone as a forlorn
hope to silence its fire. They were picked volunteers and they were
led by Boris Ragnor. He had made a breach in its defences and carried
his men over the cannon to victory. At the last moment he was shot in
the throat and received a deadly wound in the side, as he tore from
the hands of the Ensign the flag of his regiment, wrote Vedder.

I saw the fight between the men. I was carrying water to the
wounded on the hillside. I, and several others, rushed to the side
of Boris. He held the flag so tightly that no hand could remove
it, and we carried it with him to the hospital. For two days he
remained there, then he was carefully removed to my house, not
very far away, and now he has not only one of Miss Nightingale's
nurses always with him but also myself. As for Sunna, she hardly
ever leaves him. He talks constantly of thee and his father and
sister. He sends all his undying love, and if indeed these wounds
mean his death, he is dying gloriously and happily, trusting God
implicitly, and loving even his enemies - a thing Adam Vedder
cannot understand. He found out before he was twenty years old
that loving his enemies was beyond his power and that nothing
could make him forgive them. Our dear Boris! Oh, Rahal! Rahal!
Poor stricken mother! God comfort thee, and tell thyself every
minute "My boy has won a glorious death and he is going the way of
all flesh, honoured and loved by all who ever knew him."

Thy true friend,

[Illustration: He made a breach in its defences and carried his men over
cannon to victory.]

This letter upset all other considerations, and when Ian came
downstairs at the dinner hour, he found no one interested enough in
his case to take it up with the proper sense of its importance. Ragnor
was steeped in silent grief. Rahal had shut up her sorrow behind dry
eyes and a closed mouth. The Bishop had taken the seat next to Thora.
He felt as if no one had missed or even thought of him. And such
conversation as there was related entirely to the war. Thora smiled at
him across the table, but he was not pleased at Thora being able to
smile; and he only returned the courtesy with a doleful shake of the

After dinner Ian said something about going to see McLeod, and then
the Bishop interfered - "No, Ian," he replied, "I want you to walk as
far as the cathedral with me. Will you do that?"

"With pleasure, sir."

"Then let us be going, while there is yet a little sunshine."

The cathedral doors stood open, but there was no one present except a
very old woman, who at their approach rose from her knees and
painfully walked away. The Bishop altered his course, so as to greet
her - "Good afternoon, Sister Odd! Art thou suffering yet?"

"Only the pain that comes with many years, sir. God makes it easy for
me. Wilt thou bless me?"

"Thou hast God's blessing. Who can add to it? God be with thee to the
very end!"

"Enough is that. Thy hand a moment, sir."

For a moment they, stood silently hand clasped, then parted, and the
Bishop walked straight to the vestry and taking a key from his pocket,
opened the door. There was a fire laid ready for the match and he
stooped and lit it, and Ian placed his chair near by.

"That is good!" he said. "Bring your own chair near to me, Ian, I have
something to say to you."

"I am glad of that, Bishop. No one seemed to care for my sorrow. I was
made to feel this day the difference between a son and a son-in-law."

"There is a difference, a natural one, but you have been treated as a
son always. Ragnor has told me all about those charges. You may speak
freely to me. It is better that you should do so."

"I explained the charges to the whole family. Do they not believe

"The explanation was only partial and one-sided. I think the charge of
gambling may be put aside, with your promise to abstain from the
appearance of evil for the future. I understand your position about
the Sabbath. You should have gone on singing in some church. Supposing
you got no spiritual help from it, you were at least lifting the souls
of others on the wings of holy song, and you need not have mocked at
the devout feelings of others by music unfit for the day."

"It was a bit of boyish folly."

"It was something far more than that. I had a letter from Jean Hay
more than two months ago and I investigated every charge she made
against you."

"Well, Bishop?"

"I find that, examined separately, they do not indicate any settled
sinfulness; but taken together they indicate a variable temper, a
perfectly untrained nature, and a weak, unresisting will. Now, Ian, a
weak, good man is a dangerous type of a bad man. They readily become
the tools of wicked men of powerful intellect and determined
character. I have met with many such cases. Your change of name - - "

"Oh, sir, I could not endure Calvin tacked on to me! If you knew what
I have suffered!"

"I know it all. Why did you not tell the Ragnors on your first
acquaintance with them?"

"Mrs. Ragnor liked Ian because it is the Highland form for John, and
Thora loved the name and I did not like, while they knew so little of
me, to tell them I had only assumed it. I watched for a good
opportunity to speak concerning it and none came. Then I thought I
would consult you at this time, before the wedding day."

"I could not have married you under the name of Ian. Discard it at
once. Take it as a pet name between Thora and yourself, if you choose.
No doubt you thought Ian was prettier and more romantic and suitable
for your really handsome person."

"Oh, Bishop, do not humiliate me! I - - "

"I have no doubt I am correct. I have known young men wreck their
lives for some equally foolish idea."

"I will cast it off today. I will tell Thora the truth tonight. Before
we are married, I will advertise it in next week's _News_."

"Before you are married, I trust you will have made the name of John
Macrae so famous that you will need no such advertising."

"What do you mean, Bishop?"

"I want you to go to the trenches at Redan or to fight your way into
Sebastopol. You have been left too much to your own direction and your
own way. Obedience is the first round of the ladder of Success. You
must learn it. You can only be a subordinate till you manage this
lesson. Your ideas of life are crude and provincial. You need to see
men making their way upward, in some other places than in shops and
offices. Above all, you must learn to conquer yourself and your
indiscreet will. You are not a man, until you are master in your own
house and fear no mutiny against your Will to act nobly. You have had
no opportunities for such education. Now take one year to begin it."

"You mean that I must put off my marriage for a year."

"Exactly. Under present circumstances - - "

"Oh, sir, that is not thinkable! It would be too mortifying! I could
not go back to Edinburgh. I could not put off my marriage!"

"You will be obliged to do so. Do you imagine the Ragnors will hold
wedding festivities, while their eldest son is dying, or his broken
body on its way home for burial?"

"I thought the ceremony would be entirely religious and the
festivities could be abandoned."

"Is that what you wish?"

"Yes, Bishop."

"Then you will not get it. A year's strict mourning is due the dead,
and the Ragnors will give every hour of it. Boris is their eldest

"They should remember also their living daughter Thora will suffer as
well as myself."

"You are not putting yourself in a good light, John Macrae. Thora
loves her brother with a great affection. Do you think she can comfort
her grief for his loss, by giving you any loving honour that belongs
to him? You do not know Thora Ragnor. She has her mother's just,
strong character below all her gentle ways, and what her father and
mother say she will endorse, without question or reluctance. Now I
know that Ragnor had resolved on a year's separation and discipline,
before he heard of his son's dangerous condition."

"Boris was not dead when that Vedder letter was written. He may not be
dead now. He may not be going to die."

"It is only his wonderful physical strength that has kept him alive so
long. Vedder said to me, they looked for his death at any hour. He
cannot recover. His wound is a fatal one. It is beyond hope. Vedder
wrote while he was yet alive, so that he might perhaps break the blow
to his family."

"What then do you advise me to do?"

"Ragnor intends to go back with you and myself to Edinburgh. He will
see your father and offer to buy you a commission as ensign in a good
infantry regiment. We will ask your father if he will join in the

"My father will not join in anything to help me. How much will an
ensign's commission cost?"

"I think four or five hundred pounds. Ragnor would pay half, if your
father would pay half."

Then Ian rose to his feet, and his eyes blazed with a fire no one had
ever seen there before. "Bishop," he said, "I thank you for all you
propose, but if I go to the trenches at Redan or the camp at
Sebastopol, I will go on John Macrae's authority and personality. I
have one hundred pounds, that is sufficient. I can learn all the great
things you expect me to learn there better among the rankers than the
officers. I have known the officers at Edinburgh Castle. They were not
fit candidates for a bishopric."

The good man looked sadly at the angry youth and answered, "Go and
talk the matter over with Thora."

"I will. Surely she will be less cruel."

"What do you wish, considering present circumstances?"

"I want the marriage carried out, devoid of all but its religious
ceremony. I want to spend one month in the home prepared for us, and
then I will submit to the punishment and schooling proposed."

"No, you will not. Do not throw away this opportunity to retrieve your
so far neglected, misguided life. There is a great man in you, if you
will give him space and opportunity to develop, John. This is the wide
open door of Opportunity; go through, and go up to where it will lead
you. At any rate do whatever Thora advises. I can trust you as far as
Thora can." Then he held out his hand, and Ian, too deeply moved to
speak, took it and left the cathedral without a word.

He found Thora alone in the parlour. She had evidently been weeping
but that fact did not much soothe his sense of wrong and injustice. He
felt that he had been put aside in some measure. He was not sure that
even now Thora had been weeping for his loss. He told himself, she was
just as likely to have been mourning for Boris. He felt that he was
unjustly angry but, oh, he was so hopeless! Every one was ready to
give him advice, no one had said to him those little words of loving
sympathy for which his heart was hungry. He had felt it to be his duty
to try and console Thora, and Thora had wept in his arms and he had
kissed her tears away. She was now weary with weeping and suffering
with headache. She knew also that talking against any decision of her
father's was useless. When he had said the word, the man or woman that
could move him did not live. Acceptance of the will of others was a
duty she had learned to observe all her life, it was just the duty
that Ian had thought it right to resist. So amid all his love and
disappointment, there was a cruel sense of being of secondary
interest and importance, just at the very time he had expected to be
first in everyone's love and consideration.

Finally he said, "Dear Thora, I can feel no longer. My heart has
become hopeless. I suffer too much. I will go to my room and try and
submit to this last cruel wrong."

Then Thora was offended. "There is no one to blame for this last cruel
wrong but thyself," she answered. "The death of Boris was a nearer
thing to my father and mother than my marriage. Thy marriage can take
place at some other time, but for my dear brother there is no future
in this life."

"Are you even sure of his death?"

"My mother has seen him."

"That is nonsense."

"To you, I dare say it is. Mother sees more than any one else can see.
She has spiritual vision. We are not yet able for it, nor worthy of

"Then why did she not see our wedding catastrophe? She might have
averted it by changing the date."

"Ask her;" and as Thora said these words and wearily closed her eyes,
Rahal entered the room. She went straight to Ian, put her arms round
him and kissed him tenderly. Then Ian could bear no more. He sobbed
like a boy of seven years old and she wept with him.

"Thou poor unloved laddie!" she said. "If thou had gone wrong, it
would have been little wonder and little blame to thyself. I think
thou did all that could be done, with neither love nor wisdom to help
thee. Rahal does not blame thee. Rahal pities and loves thee. Thou
hast been cowed and frightened and punished for nothing, all the days
of thy sad life. Poor lad! Poor, disappointed laddie! With all my
heart and soul I pity thee!"

For a few moments there was not a word spoken and the sound of Ian's
bitter weeping filled the room. Ian had been flogged many a time when
but a youth, and had then disdained to utter a cry, but no child in
its first great sorrow, ever wept so heart-brokenly as Ian now wept in
Rahal's arms. And a man weeping is a fearsome, pitiful sound. It goes
to a woman's heart like a sword, and Thora rose and went to her lover
and drew him to the sofa and sat down at his side and, with promises
wet with tears, tried to comfort him. A strange silence that the
weeping did not disturb was in the house and room, and in the kitchen
the servants paused in their work and looked at each other with faces
full of pity.

"The Wise One has put trouble on their heads," said a woman who was
dressing a goose to roast for dinner and her helper answered, "And
there is no use striving against it. What must be, is sure to happen.
That is Right."

"All that we have done, is no good. Fate rules in this thing. I see

"The trouble came on them unawares. And if Death is at the beginning,
no course that can be taken is any good."

"What is the Master's will? For in the end, that will orders all

"The mistress said the marriage would be put off for a year. The young
man goes to the war."

"No wonder then he cries out. It is surely a great disappointment."

"Tom Snackoll had the same ill luck. He made no crying about it. He
hoisted sail at midnight and stole his wife Vestein out of her window,
and when her father caught them, they were man and wife. And Snackoll
went out to speak to his father-in-law and he said to him, 'My wife
can not see thee today, for she is weary and I think it best for her
to be still and quiet'; and home the father went and no good of his
journey. Snackoll got praise for his daring."

"Well then," said a young man who had just entered, "it is well known
that Vestein and her father and mother were all fully willing. The
girl could as easily have gone out of the door as the window. Snackoll
is a boaster. He is as great in his talk as a fox in his tail."

Thus the household of Ragnor talked in the kitchen, and in the parlour
Rahal comforted the lovers, and cheered and encouraged Ian so greatly
that she was finally able to say to them:

"The wedding day was not lucky. Let it pass. There is another, only a
year away, that will bring lasting joy. Now we have wept over our
mischance, we will bury it and look to the future. We will go and wash
away sorrow and put on fresh clothes, and look forward to the far
better marriage a year hence."

And her voice and manner were so persuasive, that they willingly
obeyed her advice and, as they passed her, she kissed them both and
told Ian to put his head in cold water and get rid of its aching
fever, for she said, "The Bishop will want thee to sing some of thy
Collects and Hymns and thou wilt like to please him. He is thy good

"I do not think so."

"He is. Thou may take that, on my word."

The evening brought a braver spirit. They talked of Boris and of his
open-hearted, open-air life, and the Bishop read aloud several letters
from young men then at the front. They were full of enthusiasm. They
might have been read to an accompaniment of fife and drums. Ian was
visibly affected and made no further demur about joining them. One of
them spoke of Boris "leading his volunteers up the hill like a lion";
and another letter described his tenderness to the wounded and
convalescents, saying "he spent his money freely, to procure them
little comforts they could not get for themselves."

They talked plainly and from their hearts, hesitating not to call his
name, and so they brought comfort to their heavy sorrow. For it is a
selfish thing to shut up a sorrow in the heart, far better to look at
it full in the face, speak of it, discuss its why and wherefore and
break up that false sanctity which is very often inspired by purely
selfish sentiments. And when this point was reached, the Bishop took
from his pocket a small copy of the Apocrypha and said, "Now I will
tell you what the wisest of men said of such an early death as that
of our dear Boris:

"'He pleased God, and he was beloved of him, so that living among
sinners, he was translated.

"'Yea speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should
alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul.

"'He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time.

"'For his soul pleased the Lord, therefore hasted he to take him
away from among the wicked.'"

And these words fell like heavenly dew on every heart. There was no
comfort and honour greater than this to offer even a mother's heart. A
happy sigh greeted the blessed verses, and there was no occasion to
speak. There was no word that could be added to it.

Then Ian had a happy thought for before a spell-breaking word could be
said, he stepped softly to the piano and the next moment the room was
ringing with some noble lines from the "Men of Harlech" set to notes
equally stirring:

"Men of Harlech, young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story,
Strike for home, for life, for glory,
Freedom, God and Right!

"Onward! 'Tis our country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us,
Honour's self now proudly leads us,
Freedom! God and Right!
Loose the folds asunder!
Flag we conquer under!
Death is glory now."

The words were splendidly sung and the room was filled with patriotic
fervour. Then the Bishop gave Ragnor and Thora a comforting look, as
he asked, "Who wrote that song, Ian?"

"Ah, sir, it was never written! It sprang from the heart of some old
Druid priest as he was urging on the Welsh to drive the Romans from
their country. It is two verses from 'The Song of the Men of

"In olden times, Ian, the bards went to the battlefield with the
soldiers. We ought to send our singers to the trenches. Ian, go and
sing to the men of England and of France 'The Song of the Men of
Harlech.' Your song will be stronger than your sword."

"I will sing it to my sword, sir. It will make it sharper." Then Rahal
said, "You are a brave boy, Ian," and Thora lifted her lovely face and
kissed him.

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