Amelia E. Barr.

An Orkney Maid online

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Every heart was uplifted, and the atmosphere of the room was sensitive
with that exalted feeling which finds no relief in speech. Humanity
soon reacts against such tension. There was a slight movement, every
one breathed heavily, like people awakening from sleep, and the Bishop
said in a slow, soft voice:

"I was thinking of Boris. After all, the dear lad may return to us.
Surgeons are very clever now, they can almost work miracles."

"Boris will not return," said Rahal.

"How can you know that, Rahal?"

"He told me so."

"Have you seen him?"



"On the afternoon of the eleventh of this month."


"Well, Bishop, I was making the cap I am wearing and I was selecting
from some white roses on my lap the ones I thought best. Suddenly
Boris stood at my side."

"You saw him?"

"Yes, Bishop. I saw him plainly, though I do not remember lifting my

"How did he look?"

"Like one who had just won a victory. He was much taller and grander
in appearance. Oh, he looked like one who had realized God's promise
that we should be satisfied. A kind of radiance was around him and the
air of a conquering soldier. And he was my boy still! He called me
'Mother,' he sent such a wonderful message to his father." And at the
last word, Ragnor uttered just such a sharp, short gasp as might have
come from the rift of a broken heart.

"Did you ask him any question, Rahal?"

"I could not speak, but my soul longed to know what he was doing and
the longing was immediately answered. 'I am doing the will of the Lord
of Hosts,' he said. 'I was needed here.' Then I felt his kiss on my
cheek, and I lifted my head and looked at the clock. It had struck
three just as I was conscious of the presence of Boris. It was only
two minutes past three, but I seemed to have lived hours in that two

"Do you think, Bishop, that God loves a soldier? He may employ them
and yet not love them?"

Then the Bishop straightened himself and lifted his head, and his face
glowed and his eyes shone as he answered, "I will give you one
example, it could be multiplied indefinitely. Paul of Tarsus, a pale,
beardless young man, dressed as a Roman soldier, is bringing prisoners
to Damascus. Christ meets him on the road and Paul knows instantly
that he has met the Captain of his soul. Hence forward, he is beloved
and honoured and employed for Christ, and at the end of life he is
joyful because he has fought a good fight and knows that his reward is
waiting for him.

"God has given us the names of many soldiers beloved of Him - Abraham,
Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, etc. What care he took of them! What a
friend in all extremities he was to them! All men who fight for their
Faith, Home and Country, for Freedom, Justice and Liberty, are God's
armed servants. They do His will on the battlefield, as priests do it
at the altar. So then,

"In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb driven cattle,
Be a hero in the strife!"

"We were speaking of the bards going to the battlefield with the
soldiers, and as I was quoting that verse of Longfellow's a few lines
from the old bard we call Ossian came into my mind."

"Tell us, then," said Thora, "wilt thou not say the words to us, our
dear Bishop?"

"I will do that gladly:

"Father of Heroes, high dweller of eddying winds,
Where the dark, red thunder marks the troubled cloud,
Open Thou thy stormy hall!
Let the bards of old be near.
Father of heroes! the people bend before thee.
Thou turnest the battle in the field of the brave,
Thy terrors pour the blasts of death,
Thy tempests are before thy face,
But thy dwelling is calm above the clouds,
The fields of thy rest are pleasant."

"When I was a young man," he continued, "I used to read Ossian a good
deal. I liked its vast, shadowy images, its visionary incompleteness,
just because we have not yet invented the precise words to describe
the indescribable."

So they talked, until the frugal Orcadian supper of oatmeal and milk,
and bread and cheese, appeared. Then the night closed and sealed what
the day had done, and there was no more speculation about Ian's
future. The idea of a military life as a school for the youth had
sprung up strong and rapidly, and he was now waiting, almost
impatiently, for it to be translated into action.

A few restful, pleasant days followed. Ragnor was preparing to leave
his business for a week, the Bishop was settling some parish
difficulties, and Ian and Thora were permitted to spend their time as
they desired. They paid one farewell visit to their future home and
found an old woman who had nursed Thora in charge of the place.

"Thou wilt find everything just so, when you two come home together,
my baby," she said. "Not a pin will be out of its place, not a speck
of dust on anything. Eva will always be ready, and please God you may
call her far sooner than you think for."

The Sabbath, the last Sabbath of the old year, was to be their last
day together, and the Bishop desired Ian to make it memorable with
song. Ian was delighted to do so and together they chose for his two
solos, "O for the Wings of a Dove," and the heavenly octaves of "He
Hath Ascended Up on High and Led Captivity Captive." The old
cathedral's great spaces were crowded, the Bishop was grandly in the
spirit, and he easily led his people to that solemn line where life
verges on death and death touches Immortality. It was Christ the
beginning, and the end; Christ the victim on the cross, and Christ the
God of the Ascension! And he sent every one home with the promise of
Immortality in their souls and the light of it on their faces. His
theme had touched largely on the Christ of the Resurrection, and the
mystery and beauty of this Christ was made familiar to them in a way
they had not before considered.

Ragnor was afraid it had perhaps been brought too close to their own
conception of a soul, who was seen on earth after the death of the
body. "You told the events of Christ's forty days on earth after His
crucifixion so simply, Bishop," he said, "and yet with much of the air
that our people tell a ghost story."

"Well then, dear Conall, I was telling them the most sacred ghost
story of the world, and yet it is the most literal reality in history.
If it were only a dream, it would be the most dynamic event in human

"You see, Bishop, there is so much in your way of preaching. It has
that kind of good comradeship which I think was so remarkable in
Christ. His style was not the ten commandments' style - thou shalt and
thou shalt not - but that reasoning, brotherly way of 'What man is
there among you that would not do the kind and right thing?' You used
it this very morning when you cried out, 'If our dear England needed
your help to save her Liberty and Life, what man is there among you
that would not rise up like lions to save her?' And the men could
hardly sit still. It was so real, so brotherly, so unlike preaching."

"Conall, nothing is so wonderful and beautiful in Christ's life as its
almost incredible approachableness."

This sermon had been preached on the Sabbath morning and it
spiritualized the whole day. Ian's singing also had proved a wonderful
service, for when the young men of that day became old men, they could
be heard leading their crews in the melodious, longing strains of 'O
for the Wings of a Dove,' as they sat casting their lines into the
restless water.

In the evening a cold, northwesterly wind sprang up and Thora and Ian
retreated to the parlour, where a good fire had been built; but the
Bishop and Ragnor and Rahal drew closer round the hearth in the living
room and talked, and were silent, as their hearts moved them. Rahal
had little to say. She was thinking of Ian and of the new life he was
going to, and of the long, lonely days that might be the fate of
Thora. "The woeful laddie!" she whispered, "he has had but small
chances of any kind. What can a lad do for himself and no mother able
to help him!"

The Bishop heard or divined her last words and he said, "Be content,
Rahal. Not one, but many lives we hold, and our hail to every new work
we begin is our farewell to the old work. Ian is going to give a
Future to his Past."

"I fear, Bishop - - "

"Fear is from the earthward side, Rahal. Above the clouds of Fear,
there is the certain knowledge of Heaven. Fear is nothing, Faith is



You Scotsmen are a pertinacious brood;
Fitly you wear the thistle in your cap,
As in your grim theology.
O we're not all so fierce! God knows you'll find,
Well-combed and smooth-licked gentlemen enough,
Who will rejoice with you
To sneer at Calvin's close-wedged creed.

Sow not in Sorrow,
Fling your seed abroad, and know
God sends tomorrow,
The rain to make it grow.

There are epochs in every life that cut it sharply asunder, its
continuity is broken and things can never be the same again. This was
the dominant feeling that came to Thora Ragnor, as she sat with her
mother one afternoon in early January. It was a day of Orkney's most
uncomfortable and depressing kind, the whole island being swept by
drifting clouds of vapour, which not only filled the atmosphere but
also the houses, so that everything was to the touch damp and
uncomfortable. Nothing could escape its miserable contact, even
sitting on the hearthstone its power was felt; and until a good
northwester came to dissipate the damp moisture, nobody expected much
from any one's temper.

Thora was restless and unhappy. Her life appeared to have been
suddenly deprived of all joy and sunshine. She felt as if everything
was at an end, or might as well be, and her mother's placid, peaceful
face irritated her. How could she sit knitting mufflers for the
soldiers in the trenches, and not think of Boris and also of Ian, whom
they had all conspired to send to the same danger and perhaps death?
She could not understand her mother's serenity. It occurred to her
this afternoon, that she might have run away with Ian to Shetland and
there her sisters would have seen her married; and she did not do
this, she obeyed her parents, and what did she get for it? Loneliness
and misery and her lover sent far away from her. Oh, those moments
when Virtue has failed to reward us and we regret having served her!
To the young, they are sometimes very bitter.

And her mother's calmness! It not only astonished, it angered her. How
could she sit still and not talk of Boris and Ian? It was a necessary
relief to Thora, their names were at her lips all day long. But Thora
had yet to learn that it is the middle-aged and the old who have the
power of hoping through everything, because they have the knowledge
that the soul survives all its adventures. This is the great
inspiration, it is the good wine which God keeps to the last. The old,
the way-worn, the faint and weary, they know this as the young can
never know it.

However, we may say to bad weather, as to all other bad things, "this,
too, will pass," and in a couple of days the sky was blue, the sun
shining, and the atmosphere fresh and clear and full of life-giving
energy. Ships of all kinds were hastening into the harbour and the
mail boat, broad-bottomed and strongly built, was in sight. Then there
was a little real anxiety. There was sure to be letters, what news
would they bring? Some people say there is no romance in these days.
Very far wrong are they. These sealed bits of white paper hold very
often more wonderful romances than any in the Thousand Nights of story

Rahal's and Thora's anxiety was soon relieved. A messenger from the
warehouse came quickly to the house, with a letter from Ragnor to
Rahal and a letter from Ian to Thora. Ragnor's letter said they had
had a rough voyage southward, the storm being in their faces all the
way to Leith. There they left the boat and took a train for London,
from which place they went as quickly as possible to Spithead, fearing
to miss the ship sailing for the Crimea on the eleventh. Ragnor said
he had seen Ian safely away to Sebastopol and observed that he was
remarkably cheerful and satisfied. He spoke then of his own delight
with London and regretted that he had not made arrangements which
would permit him to stay a week or two longer there.

Thora's letter was a genuine love letter, for Ian was deeply in love
and everything he said was in the superlative mood. Lovers like such
letters. They are to them the sacred writings. It did not seem
ridiculous to Thora to be called "an angel of beauty and goodness, the
rose of womanhood, the lily on his heart, his star of hope, the
sunshine of his life," and many other extravagant impossibilities. She
would have been disappointed if Ian had been more matter-of-fact and

So there was now comparative happiness in the house of Ragnor, for
though the master's letters were never much more than plain statements
of doings or circumstances, they satisfied Rahal. It is not every man
that knows how to write to a woman, even if he loves her; but women
have a special divinity in reading love letters, and they know beyond
all doubting the worth of words as affected by those who use them.

Ragnor gave himself a whole week in London and before leaving that
city for Edinburgh he wrote a few lines home, saying he intended to
stay in London over the following Sabbath and hear Canon Liddon
preach. On Monday he would reach Edinburgh and on Tuesday have an
interview with Dr. Macrae and then take the first boat for home. They
could now wait easily, the silence had been broken, the weather was
good, they had "The History of Pendennis" and "David Copperfield" to
read, their little duties and little cares to attend to, and they were
not at all unhappy.

At length, the master was to be home _that_ day. If the wind was
favourable, he might arrive about two o'clock, but Rahal thought the
boat would hardly manage it before three with the wind in her teeth,
or it might be nearer four. The house was all ready for him, spick and
span from roof to cellar and a dinner of the good things he
particularly liked in careful preparation. And, after all, he came a
little earlier than was expected.

"Dear Conall," said Rahal, "I have been watching for thee, but I
thought it would be four o'clock, ere thou made Kirkwall."

"Not with Donald Farquar sailing the boat. The way he manages a boat
is beyond reason."

"How is that?"

"He talks to her, as if she was human. He scolds and coaxes her and
this morning he promised to paint and gild her figurehead, if she got
into Kirkwall before three. Then every sailor on board helped her and
the wind changed a point or two and that helped her, and now and then
Farquar pushed her on, with a good or bad word, and she saved herself
by just eleven minutes."

"And how well thou art looking! Never have I seen thee so handsome
before, never! What hast thou been doing to Conall Ragnor?"

"I will tell thee. When I had bid Ian good-bye, I resolved to take a
week's holiday in London and as I walked down the Strand, I noticed
that every one looked at me, not unkindly but curiously, and when I
looked at the men who looked at me, I saw we were different. I went
into a barber's first, and had my hair cut like Londoners wear it,
short and smart, and not thick and bushy, like mine was."

"Well then, thy hair was far too long but they have cut off all thy

"I like the wanting of them. They looked very womanish. I'm a deal
more purpose-like without them. Then I went to a first-class
tailor-man and he fit me out with the suit I'm wearing. He said it was
'the correct thing for land or water.' What dost thou think of it?"

"Nothing could be more becoming to thee."

"Nay then, I got a Sabbath Day suit that shames this one. And I bought
a church hat and a soft hat that beats all, and kid gloves, and a good
walking stick with a fancy knob."

"Thou art not needing a walking stick for twenty years yet."

"Well then, the English gentlemen always carries a walking stick. I
think they wouldn't know the way they were going without one. At last,
I went to the shoemakers, and he made me take off my 'Wellingtons.' He
said no one wore them now, and he shod me, as thou sees, very
comfortably. I like the change."

Then they heard Thora calling them, and Ragnor taking Rahal's hand
hastened to answer the call. She was standing at the foot of the
stairway, and her father kissed her and as he did so whispered - "All
is well, dear one. After dinner, I will tell thee." Then he took her
hand, and the three in one went together to the round table, set so
pleasantly near to the comfortable fireside. Standing there,
hand-clasped, the master said those few words of adoration and
gratitude that turned the white-spread board into a household altar.
Dinner was on the table and its delicious odours filled the room and
quickly set Ragnor talking.

"I will tell you now, what I saw in London," he said. "Ian is a story
good enough to keep until after dinner. I saw him sail away from
Spithead, and he went full of hope and pluck and sure of success. Then
I took the first train back to London. I got lodgings in a nice little
hotel in Norfolk Street, just off the Strand, and London was calling
me all night long."

"Thou could not see much, Father, in one week," said Thora.

"I saw the Queen and the Houses of Parliament, and I saw the Tower of
London and Westminster Abbey and the Crystal Palace. And I have heard
an oratorio, with a chorus of five hundred voices and Sims Reeves as
soloist. I have been to Drury Lane, and the Strand Theatres, to a big
picture gallery, and a hippodrome. My dear ones, the end of one
pleasure was just the beginning of another; in one week, I have lived
fifty years."

Any one can understand how a new flavour was added to the food they
were eating by such conversation. Not all the sauces in Christendom
could have made it so piquant and appetizing. Ragnor carved and ate
and talked, and Rahal and Thora listened and laughed and asked endless
questions, and when the mind enters into a meal, it not only prolongs,
it also sweetens and brightens it. I suppose there may be in every
life two or three festivals, that stand out from all others - small,
unlooked-for meetings, perhaps - where love, hope, wonder and happy
looking-forward, made the food taste as if it had been cooked in
Paradise. Where, at least for a few hours, a mortal might feel that
man had been made only a little lower than the angels.

Now, if any of my readers have such a memory, let them close the
book, shut their eyes and live it over again. It was probably a
foretaste of a future existence, where we shall have faculties capable
of fuller and higher pleasures; faculties that without doubt "will be
satisfied." For in all hearts that have suffered, there must abide the
conviction that the Future holds Compensation, not Punishment.

But without forecast or remembrance, the Ragnors that night enjoyed
their highly mentalised meal, and after it was over and the table set
backward, and the white hearth brushed free of ashes, they drew around
the fire, and Ragnor laid down his pipe, and said:

"I left London last Monday, and I was in Edinburgh until Wednesday
morning. On Tuesday I called on Dr. Macrae. I had a letter to give him
from Ian."

"Why should Ian have written to him?" asked Rahal, in a tone of

"Because Ian has a good heart, he wrote to his father. I read the
letter. It was all right."

"What then did he say to him?"

"Well, Rahal, he told his father that he was leaving for the
front, and he wished to leave with his forgiveness and blessing, if he
would give it to him. He said that he was sure that in their
life-long dispute he must often have been in the wrong, and he
asked forgiveness for all such lapses of his duty. He told his father
that he had a clear plan of success before him, but said that in
all cases - fortunate or unfortunate - he would always remember the
name he bore and do nothing to bring it shame or dishonour. A very
good, brave letter, dear ones. I give Ian credit for it."

"Did thou advise him to write it?" asked Rahal.

"No, it sprang from his own heart."

"Thou should not have sanctioned it."

"Ian did right, Rahal. I did right to sanction it."

"Father, if Ian has a clear plan of success before him, what is it? He
ought to have told us."

"He thought it out while we were at sea, he asked me to explain the
matter to you. It is, indeed, a plan so simple and manifest, that I
wonder we did not propose it at the very first. You must recollect
that Ian was in the employ of Dr. Finlay of Edinburgh for three years
and a half, and that during that period he acquired both a large
amount of medical knowledge and also of medical experience. Now we all
know that Ian has a special gift for this science, especially for its
surgical side, and he is not going to the trenches or the cavalry, he
is going to offer himself to the Surgical and Medical Corps. He will
go to the battlefield, carry off the wounded, give them first help, or
see them to the hospital. In this way he will be doing constant good
to others and yet be forwarding the career which is to make his future
happy and honourable."

"Then Ian has decided to be a surgeon, Father?"

"Yes, and I can tell thee, Thora, he has not set himself a task beyond
his power. I think very highly of Ian, no one could help doing so; and
see here, Thora! I have a letter in my pocket for thee! He gave it to
me as I bid him good-bye at Spithead."

"I am so happy, Father! So happy!"

"Thou hast good reason to be happy. We shall all be proud of Ian in
good time."

"Did thou give Ian's letter to his father's hands, or did thou mail
it, Coll?"

"I gave it to him, personally."

"What was thy first impression of him?"

"He gave me first of all an ecclesiastical impression. I just
naturally looked for a gown or surplice. He wanted something without
one. He met me coldly but courteously, and taking Ian's letter from
me, placed it deliberately upon a pile of letters lying on his desk. I
said, 'It is from thy son, Doctor, perhaps thou had better read it at
once. It is a good letter, sir, read it.'

"He bowed, and asked if Ian was with me. I said, 'No, sir, he is
on his way to Scutari.' Then he was silent. After a few moments he
asked me if I had been in Edinburgh during the past Sabbath. 'You
should have been here,' he added, 'then you could have heard the
great Dr. Chalmers preach.' I told him that I had spent that
never-to-be-forgotten Sabbath under the blessed dome of St. Paul's in
London. I said something about the transcending beauty of the
wonderful music of the cathedral service, and spoke with delight of
the majestic nave, filled with mediæval rush-bottomed chairs for the
worshippers, and I told him how much more fitting they were in the
House of God than pews." And Ragnor uttered the last word with a
new-found emphasis. "He asked, quite scornfully, in what sense I
found them more fitting, and I answered rather warmly - 'Why, sir,
sitting together in chairs, we felt so much more at home. We were
like one great family in our Father's house.'"

"Are the chairs rented?" asked Rahal.

"Rented!" cried Ragnor scornfully. "No, indeed! There are no dear
chairs and no cheap chairs, all are equal and all are free. I never
felt so like worshipping in a church before. The religious spirit had
free way in our midst."

"What did Macrae say?"

"He said, he supposed the rush chairs were an 'Armenian innovation';
and I answered, 'The pews, sir, they are the innovation.'"

"Did thou have any argument with him? I have often heard Ian say he
plunged into religious argument with every one he met."

"Well, Rahal, I don't know how it happened, but I quickly found myself
in a good atmosphere of contradictions. I do not remember either what
I had been saying, but I heard him distinctly assert, that 'it was the
Armenians who had described the Calvinists, and they had not wasted
their opportunities.' Then I found myself telling him that Armenianism
had ruled the religious world ever since the birth of Christianity;
but that Calvinism was a thing of yesterday, a mere Geneva opinion.
Rahal, the man has a dogma for a soul, and yet through this hard
veil, I could see that he was full of a longing for love; but he has
not found out the way to love, his heart is ice-bound. He made me say

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Online LibraryAmelia E. BarrAn Orkney Maid → online text (page 13 of 15)