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things I did not want to say, he stirred my soul round and round until
it boiled over, and then the words would come. Really, Rahal, I did
not know the words were in my mind, till his aggravating questions
made me say them."

"What words? Art thou troubled about them?"

"A little. He was talking of faith and doubt, especially as it
referred to the Bible, and I listened until I could bear it no longer.
He was asking what proof there was for this, and that, and the other,
and as I said, he got me stirred up beyond myself and I told him I
cared nothing about proofs. I said proofs were for sceptics and not
for good men who _knew_ in whom they had believed."

"Well then, Coll, that was enough, was it not?"

"Not for Macrae. He said immediately, 'Suppose there was no divine
authority for the scheme of morals and divinity laid down in this
Book,' and he laid his hand reverently on the Bible, 'where should we
be?' And I told him, we should be just where we were, because God's
commands were written on every conscience and that these commands
would stand firm even if creeds became dust, and Matthew, Mark, Luke,
John and Paul, all failed and passed away. 'Power of God!' I cried, as
I struck the table with my fist, 'it takes God's tireless, patient,
eternal love to put up with puny men, always doubting Him. I believe
in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth!' I said,
'and I want no proofs about Him in whom I believe.' By this time,
Rahal, he had me on fire. I was ready to deny anything he asserted,
especially about hell, for thou knows, Rahal, that there are hells in
this world and no worse needed. So when he asked if I believed in the
Calvinistic idea of hell, I answered, 'I deny it! My soul denies
it - utterly!' I reminded him that God spoke to Dives in hell and
called him son and that Dives, even there, clung to the fatherhood of
God. And I told him this world was a hell to those who deserved hell,
and a place of much trial to most men and women, and I thought it was
poor comfort to preach to such, that the next world was worse. There
now! I have told you enough. He asked me to lunch with him, and I did;
and I told him as we ate, what a fine fellow Ian was, and he listened
and was silent."

"Then you saw Ian's mother and sister?" asked Thora.

"No, I did not. They had gone for the winter to the Bridge of Allan.
Mrs. Macrae is sick, her husband seemed unhappy about her."

Rahal hoped now that her home would settle itself into its usual calm,
methodical order. She strove to give to every hour its long accustomed
duty, and to infuse an atmosphere of rest and of "use and wont" into
every day's affairs. It was impossible. The master of the house had
suffered a world change. He had tasted of strange pleasures and
enthusiasms, and was secretly planning a life totally at variance with
his long accustomed routine and responsibilities. He did not speak of
the things in his heart but nevertheless they escaped him.

Very soon he began to have much more regular communication with his
sons in Shetland, and finally he told Rahal that he intended taking
his son Robert into partnership. Such changes grew slowly in Ragnor's
mind, and much more slowly in practice, but Rahal knew that they were
steadily working to some ultimate, and already definite and determined
end in her husband's will.

The absent also exerted a far greater power upon the home than any
one believed. Ian's letters came with persistent regularity, and the
influence of one was hardly spent, when another arrived of quite a
different character. Ian was rapidly realizing his hopes. He had been
gladly taken into a surgical corps, under the charge of a Doctor
Frazer, and his life was a continual drama of stirring events.
Generally he wrote between actions, and then he described the gallant
young men resting on the slopes of the beleaguered hill, with their
weapons at their finger tips, but always cheerful. Sometimes he spoke
of them under terrible fire in their life-or-death push forward,
followed by the surgeons and stretcher-bearers. Sometimes, he had been
to the trenches to dress a wound that would not stop bleeding, but
always he wondered at seeing the resolute grit and calmness of these
young men, who had been the dandies in London drawing-rooms a year ago
and who were now smoking placidly in the trenches at Redan.

"What is it?" he asked an old surgeon, on whom he was waiting. "Is it
recklessness?"

"No, sir!" was the answer. "It is straight courage. Courage in the
blood. Courage nourished on their mother's milk. Courage educated into
them at Eton or Rugby, in many a fight and scuffle. Courage that
lived with them night and day at Oxford or Cambridge, and that made
them choose danger and death rather than be known for one moment as a
cad or a coward. It was dancing last year. It is fighting in a proper
quarrel this year. Different duties, that is all."

Every now and then Sunna dropped them letters about which there was
much pleasant speculating, for as the summer came forward, she began
to accept the disappointments made by the death of Boris, and to
consider what possibilities of life were still within her power. She
said in May that "she was sick and weary of everything about
Sebastopol, and that she wanted to go back to Scotland, far more
frantically than she ever wanted to leave it." In June, she said, she
had got her grandfather to listen to reason, but had been forced to
cry for what she wanted, a humiliation beyond all apologies.

Her next letter was written in Edinburgh, where she declared she
intended to stay for some time. Maximus Grant was in Edinburgh with
his little brother, who was under the care and treatment of an eminent
surgeon living there. "The poor little laddie is dying," she said,
"but I am able to help him over many bad hours, and Max is not
half-bad, that is, he might be worse if left to himself. Heigh-ho!
What varieties of men, and varieties of their trials, poor women have
to put up with!"

As the year advanced Sunna's letters grew bright and more and more
like her, and she described with admirable imitative piquancy the
literary atmosphere and conversation which is Edinburgh's native air.
In the month of November, little Eric went away suddenly, in a
paroxysm of military enthusiasm, dying literally the death of a
soldier "with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the
trumpets," in his soul's hearing.

"We adored him," wrote Sunna, in her most fervent religious mood,
which was just as sincere as any other mood. "He was such a loving,
clever little soul, and he lay so long within the hollow of Death's
sickle. There he heard and saw wonderful things, that I would not dare
to speak of. Max has wept very sincerely. It is my lot apparently, to
administer drops of comfort to him. In this world, I find that women
can neither hide nor run away from men and their troubles, the moment
anything goes wrong with them, they fly to some woman and throw their
calamity on her."

"It is easy to see which way Sunna is drifting," said Rahal, after
this letter had been read. "She will marry Maximus Grant, of course."

"Mother, her grandfather wishes that marriage. It is very suitable.
His silent, masterful way will cure Sunna's faults."

"It will do nothing of the kind. What the cradle rocks, the spade
buries. If Sunna lives to be one hundred years old - a thing not
unlikely - she will be Sunna. Just Sunna."

During all this summer, Ragnor was deeply engrossed in his business,
and the Vedders remained in Edinburgh, as did also Mistress Brodie,
though she had had all the best rooms in her Kirkwall house
redecorated. "It is her hesitation about grandfather. She will, and
she won't," wrote Sunna, "and she keeps grandfather hanging by a
hair." Then she made a few scornful remarks about "the hesitating
_liaisons_ of old women" and concluded that it all depended upon the
marriage ceremony.

Grandfather [she wrote] wants to sneak into some out of the way
little church, and get the business over as quickly and quietly as
possible; and Mistress Brodie has dreams of a peach-bloom satin
gown, and a white lace bonnet. She thought "that was enough for a
second affair"; and when I gently hoped that it was at least an
affair of the heart, she said with a distinct snap, "Don't be
impertinent, Miss!" However, all this is but the overture to the
great matrimonial drama, and it is rather interesting.

I saw by a late London paper that Thora's lover has gone and got
himself decorated, or crossed, for doing some dare-devil sort of
thing about wounded men. I wonder how Thora will like to walk on
Pall Mall with a man who wears a star or a medal on his breast.
Such things make women feel small. For, of course, we could win
stars and medals if we had the chance. Max considers Ian "highly
praise-worthy." Max lately has a way of talking in two or three
syllables. I am trying to remember where I left my last spelling
book; I fear I shall have to get up my orthography.

The whole of this year A. D. 1855 was one of commonplaces stirred by
tragic events. It is this conjunction that makes the most prosaic of
lives always a story. It only taught Thora and Rahal to make the most
of such pleasures as were within their reach. In the evening Ragnor
was always ready to share what they had to offer, but in the daytime
he was getting his business into such perfect condition that he could
leave it safely in charge of his son Robert for a year, or more, if
that was his wish.

On the second of March, the Czar Nicholas died, and there was good
hope in that removal. In June, General Raglan died of cholera, and on
the following fifth of September, the Russians, finding they could no
longer defend Sebastopol, blew up its defences and also its two
immense magazines of munitions. This explosion was terrific, the very
earth appeared to reel. The town they deliberately set on fire. Then
on Sunday morning, September the ninth, the English and French took
possession of the great fortress, though it was not until the last day
of February, A. D. 1856, that the treaty of peace was signed.

After the occupation of Sebastopol, however, there was a cessation of
hostilities, and the hospitals rapidly began to empty and the
physicians and surgeons to return home. Dr. Frazer remained at his
post till near Christmas, and was then able to leave the few cases
remaining in the charge of competent nurses. Ian remained at his side
and they returned to England together. It was then within a few days
of Christmas, and Ian hastened northward without delay.

There was no hesitating welcome for him now; he was met by the truest
and warmest affection, he was cheerfully given the honour which he had
faithfully won. And the wedding day was no longer delayed, it was
joyfully hastened forward. Bishop Hedley, the Vedders and Maximus
Grant had already arrived and the little town was all agog and eager
for the delayed ceremony. Sunna had brought with her Thora's new
wedding dress and the day had been finally set for the first of
January.

"Thou will begin a fresh life with a fresh year," said Rahal to her
daughter. "A year on which, as yet, no tears have fallen; and which
has not known care or crossed purpose. On its first page thou will
write thy marriage joy and thy new hopes, and the light of a perfect
love will be over it."

In the meantime life was full of new delights to Thora. Wonderful
things were happening to her every day. The wedding dress was here.
Adam Vedder had brought her a pretty silver tea service, Aunt
Barbie - now Madame Vedder - had remembered her in many of those
womanwise ways, that delight the heart of youth. Even Dominie Macrae
had sent her a gold watch, and the little sister-in-law had chosen for
her gift some very pretty laces. Rich and poor alike brought her their
good-will offerings, and many old Norse awmries were ransacked in the
search for jewels or ornaments of the jade stone, which all held as
"luck beyond breaking."

The present which pleased Thora most of all was a new wedding-dress,
the gift of her mother. The rich ivory satin was perfect and peerless
in its exquisite fit and simplicity; jewels, nor yet lace, could have
added nothing to it. Sunna had brought it with her own toilet. In
fact, she was ready to make a special sensation with it on the first
of January, for her wedding garment as Thora's bridesmaid was nothing
less than a robe of gold and white shot silk, worn over a hoop. She
had been wearing a hoop all winter in Edinburgh, but she was quite
sure she would be the first "hooped lady" to appear in Kirkwall town.
Thora might wear the bride veil, with its wreath of myrtle and
rosemary, but she had a pleasant little laugh, as she mentally saw
herself in the balloon of white and gold shot silk, walking
majestically up the nave of St. Magnus. It was so long since hoops had
been worn. None of the present generation of Kirkwall women could ever
have seen a lady in a hoop, and behind the present generation there
was no likelihood of any hooped ladies in Kirkwall.

Thora had no hoop. Her orders had been positively against it and
unless Madame Vedder had slipped inside "the bell" she could not
imagine any rival. As she made this reflection, she smiled, and then
translated the smile into the thought, "If she has, she will look like
a haystack."

Now Ian's military suit in his department had been of white duff or
linen, plentifully adorned with gilt buttons and bands representing
some distinctive service. It was the secret desire of Ian to wear this
suit, and he rather felt that Thora or his mother-in-law should ask
him to do so. For he knew that its whiteness and gilt, and tiny knots
of ribbon, gave to the wearer that military air, which all men yearn a
little after. He wished to wear it on his wedding day but Thora had
not thought of it, neither had Sunna. However, on the 29th, Rahal,
that kind, wise woman, asked him as a special favour, to wear his
medical uniform. She said, "the townsfolk would be so disappointed
with black broadcloth and a pearl-grey waistcoat. They longed to see
him as he went onto the battlefield, to save or succour the wounded."

"But, Mother," he answered, "I went in the plainest linen suit to
bring in the wounded and dying."

"I know, dear one, but they do not know, and it is not worth while
destroying an innocent illusion, we have so few of them as we grow
old."

"Very well, Mother, it shall be as you wish."

"Of course Ian wished to wear it," said Sunna.

"Oh, Sunna, you must not judge all men from Max."

"I am far from that folly. Your father has been watching the winds and
the clouds all day. So have I. Conall Ragnor is always picturesque,
even poetical. I feel safe if I follow him. He says it will be fine
tomorrow. I hope so!"

This hope was more than justified. It was a day of sunshine and little
wandering south winds, and the procession was a fact. Now Ragnor knew
that this marriage procession, as a national custom, was passing away,
but it had added its friendliness to his own and all his sons' and
daughters' weddings and he wanted Thora's marriage ceremonial to
include it. "When thou art an old woman, Thora," he said to her, "then
thou wilt be glad to have remembered it."

At length the New Year dawned and the day arrived. All was ready for
it. There was no hurry, no fret, no uncertainty. Thora rode to the
cathedral in the Vedder's closed carriage with her father and mother.
Ian was with Maximus and Sunna in the Galt landeau. Adam Vedder and
his bride rode together in their open Victoria and all were ready as
the clock struck ten. Then a little band of stringed instruments and
young men took their place as leaders of the procession, and when they
started joyfully "Room for the Bride!" the carriages took the places
assigned them and about two hundred men and women, who had gathered at
the Ragnor House, followed in procession, many joining in the
singing.

The cathedral was crowded when they reached it, and Dr. Hedley in
white robes came forward to meet the bride and, with smiles and loving
good will, to unite her forever to the choice of her soul.

It was almost a musical marriage. Melody began and followed and closed
the whole ceremonial. About twenty returned with the bridal party to
the Ragnor House to eat the bridal dinner, but the general townsfolk
were to have their feast and dance in the Town Hall about seven in the
evening. The Bishop stayed only to bless the meal, for the boat was
waiting that was to carry him to a Convocation of the Church then
sitting in Edinburgh. But he wore his sprig of rosemary on his vest,
and he stood at Ragnor's right hand and watched him mix the Bride
Cup, watched him mingle in one large silver bowl of pre-Christian age
the pale, delicious sherry and fine sugar and spices and stir the
whole with a strip of rosemary. Then every guest stood up and was
served with a cup, most of them having in their hand a strip of
rosemary to stir it with. And after the Bishop had blessed the bride
and blessed the bridegroom, he said, "I will quote for you a passage
from an old sermon and after it, you will stir your cup again with
rosemary and grow it still more plentifully in your gardens.

"The rosemary is for married men and man challengeth it, as belonging
properly to himself. It helpeth the brain, strengtheneth the memory,
and affects kindly the heart. Let this flower of man ensign your
wisdom, love and loyalty, and carry it, not only in your hands, but in
your heads and hearts." Then he lifted his glass and stirred the wine
with his strip of rosemary, and as he did so all followed his example,
while he repeated from an old romance the following lines:

... "Before we divide,
Let us dip our rosemaries
In one rich bowl of wine, to this brave girl
And to the gentleman."

With these words he departed, and the utmost and happiest interchange
of all kinds of good fellowship followed. Every man and woman was at
perfect ease and ready to give of the best they had. Even Adam Vedder
delighted all, and especially his happy-looking bride, by his clever
condensation of Sunna's favourite story of "The Banded Men." No
finished actor could have made it, in its own way, a finer model of
dramatic narrative, especially in its quaint reversal of the parts
usually played by father and son, into those of the prodigal father
and the money-loving, prudent son. Then a little whisper went round
the table and it sprang from Sunna, and people smiled and remembered
that Adam had won his wife from three younger men than himself and, as
if by a single, solid impulse, they stirred their wine cups once more
and called for a cheer for the old bridegroom, who had been faithful
for forty years to his first love and had then walked off with her,
from Provost, Lawyer and Minister; all of them twenty years younger
than himself.

Getting near to three o'clock, they began to sing and Rahal was
pleased to hear that sound of peace, for several guests were just from
the battlefield and quite as ready for a quarrel as a song. Also
during the little confusion of removing fruit and cake and glasses,
and the substitution of the cups and saucers and the strong, hot,
sweet tea that every Norseman loves, Ian and Thora slipped away
without notice. Max Grant's carriage put them in half-an-hour on the
threshold of their own home. They crossed it hand and hand and Ian
kissed the hand he held and Thora raised her face in answer; but words
have not yet been invented that can speak for such perfect happiness.

Love is rich in his own right,
He is heir of all the spheres,
In his service day and night
Swing the tides and roll the years.
What has he to ask of fate?
Crown him, glad or desolate.

Time puts out all other flames
But the glory of his eyes;
His are all the sacred names,
His the solemn mysteries.
Crown him! In his darkest day
He has Heaven to give away!

Ian's business arrangements curtailed the length of any festivity in
relation to the marriage. He had already signed an agreement with Dr.
Frazer to return to him as soon as possible after the twelfth day and
remain as his assistant until he was fully authenticated a surgeon by
the proper schools. In the meantime he would enter the London School
of Medicine and Surgery and give to Dr. Frazer all the time not
demanded by its hours and exercises. For this attention Ian was to
receive from Dr. Frazer one hundred pounds a year. Furthermore, when
Ian had received the proper authority to call himself Dr. John Macrae,
he was to have the offer of a partnership with Dr. Frazer, on what
were considered very favourable terms.

So their little romance was at last happily over. Ian was an
infinitely finer and nobler man. He had dwelt amid great acts and
great suffering for a year and had not visited the House of Mourning
in vain. All that was light and trifling had fallen away from him. He
regarded his life and talents now as a great and solemn charge and was
resolved to make them of use to his fellows. And Thora was lovelier
than she had ever been. She had learned self-restraint and she had
hoped through evil days, till good days came; so then, she knew how to
look for good when all appeared wrong and by faith and will, bring
good out of evil.

After Thora and her husband left for London a great change took place
in the Ragnor home. Ragnor had been preparing for it ever since his
visit to London and, within a month, Robert Ragnor and his wife and
family came from Shetland and took possession. It gave Rahal a little
pain to see any woman in her place but that was nothing, she was going
to give her dear Coll the dream of his life. She was going to travel
with him, and see all the civilized countries in the world! She was
going to London first, and last, of all!




CHAPTER XI

SEQUENCES


Not long ago I found in a list of Orkney and Shetland literature
several volumes by a Conall Ragnor, two of them poetry. But that just
tended to certify a suspicion. Sixty years ago I had heard him repeat
some Gallic poems and had known instinctively, though only a girl of
eighteen, that the man was a poet.

It roused in me a curiosity I felt it would be pleasant to gratify,
and so a little while after I began this story, I wrote to a London
newspaper man and asked him to send me some of his Orkney exchanges. I
have a habit of trusting newspaper editors and I found this one as I
expected, willing and obliging. He sent me two Orkney papers and the
first thing I noticed was the prevalence of the old names. Among them
I saw Mrs. Max Grant, and I thought I would write to her and take my
chance of the lady turning out to be the old Sunna Vedder. It was
quite a possibility, as we were apparently about the same age when I
saw her. It was only for an hour or two in the evening we met, at the
Ragnor house, but girls see a deal in an hour or two and if I
remembered her, she had doubtless chronicled an opinion of me.

In about five weeks Mrs. Grant's letter in answer to mine arrived. She
began it by saying she remembered me, because I wore a hat, a sailor's
hat, and she said it was the first hat she ever saw on a woman's head.
She said also, that I told her women were beginning to wear them for
shopping and walking and driving, or out at sea, but never for church
or visiting. All of which I doubtless said, for it was my first hat.
And I do not remember women wearing hats at all until about this
time.

I suppose [she continued] thou wants to know first of all about
the Vedders. They were _the_ people then, and they have not grown
a bit smaller, nor do they think any less of themselves yet. My
grandfather married again and was not sorry for it. I don't know
whether his wife was sorry or not. I took Maximus Grant for a
husband for, after Boris Ragnor died, I did not care who I took,
provided he had plenty of good qualities and plenty of gold. We
lived together thirty years very respectably. I took my way and I
usually expected him to do the same. We had four sons, and they
have nine sons among them, and all of the nine are now fighting
the vipers they have been coddling for forty or fifty years. Some
are in the regular army, some in the navy, and some in the plucky,
fighting little navy, patrolling England and her brood of
coastwise islands. They are a tough, rough, hard lot, but I love
them all better than anything else in this world. There are a good
many Vedder houses in Orkney, and they are all full of little
squabbling, fighting, never clean, and never properly dressed


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