Copyright
Amelia E. Barr.

An Orkney Maid online

. (page 4 of 15)
Online LibraryAmelia E. BarrAn Orkney Maid → online text (page 4 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and heard the pleasant tinkle of china and glass and silver as Thora
placed them before the large chair he was to occupy, he sat down
happily to eat and drink, while Thora served him, and Conall smoked
and watched them with a now-and-then smile or word or two, while Rahal
and Barbara talked, and Ian played charmingly - with soft pedal
down - quotations from Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony" and "Hark, 'Tis
the Linnet!" from the oratorio, "Joshua."

It was a delightful interlude in which every one was happy in their
own way, and so healed by it of all the day's disappointments and
weariness. But the wise never prolong such perfect moments. Even while
yielding their first satisfactions, they permit them to depart. It is
a great deal to _have been happy_. Every such memory sweetens after
life.

The Bishop did not linger over his meal, and while servants were
clearing away cups and plates, he said, "Come, all of you, outside,
for a few minutes. Come and look at the Moon of Moons! The Easter
Moon! She has begun to fill her horns; and she is throwing over the
mystery and majesty of earth and sea a soft silvery veil as she
watches for the dawn. The Easter dawn! that in a few hours will come
streaming up, full of light and warmth for all."

But there was not much warmth in an Orcadean April evening and the
party soon returned to the cheerful, comfortable hearth blaze. "It is
not so beautiful as the moonlight," said Rahal, "but it is very
good."

"True," said the Bishop, "and we must not belittle the good we have,
because we look for something better. Let us be thankful for our feet,
though they are not wings."

Then one of those sudden, inexplicable "arrests" which seem to seal
up speech fell over every one, and for a minute or more no one could
speak. Rahal broke the spell. "Some angel has passed through the room.
Please God he left a blessing! Or perhaps the moonlight has thrown a
spell over us. What were you thinking of, Bishop?"

"I will tell you. I was thinking of the first Good Friday in Old
Jerusalem. I was thinking of the sun hiding his face at noonday.
Thora, have you an almanac?"

Thora took one from a nail on which it was hanging and gave it to
him.

"I was thinking that the sun, which hid his face at noonday, must at
that time have been in Aries, the Ram. Find me the signs of the
Zodiac." Thora did so. "Now look well at Aries the Ram. What month of
our year is signed thus?"

"The month of March, sir."

"Why?"

"I do not know. Tell me, sir."

"I believe that in a long forgotten age, some priest or good man
received a promise or prophecy revealing the Great Sacrifice that
would be offered up for man's salvation once and for all time. And I
think they knew that this plenary sacrament would occur in the vernal
season, in the month of March, whose sign or symbol was Aries, the
Ram."

"But why under that sign, sir?"

"The ram, to the ancient world, was the sacrificial animal. We have
only to open our Bibles and be amazed at the prominence given to the
ram and his congeners. From the time of Abraham until the time of
Christ the ram is constantly present in sacrificial and religious
ceremonies. Do you remember, Thora, any incident depending upon a
ram?"

"When Isaac was to be sacrificed, a ram caught in a thicket was
accepted by God in Isaac's place, as a burnt offering."

"More than once Abraham offered a ram in sacrifice. In Exodus, Chapter
Twenty-ninth, special directions are given for the offering of a ram
as a burnt offering to the Lord. In Leviticus, the Eighth Chapter, a
bullock is sacrificed for a sin offering but a ram for a burnt
offering. In Numbers we are told of _the ram of atonement_ which a man
is to offer, when he has done his neighbour an injury. In Ezra, the
Tenth, the ram is offered for a trespass because of an unlawful
marriage. On the accession of Solomon to the throne one thousand rams
with bullocks and lambs were 'offered up with great gladness.' In the
Old Testament there are few books in which the sacrificial ram is not
mentioned. Even the horn of the ram was constantly in evidence, for it
called together all religious and solemn services.

"A little circumstance," continued the Bishop, "that pleases me to
remember occurred in Glasgow five weeks ago. I saw a crowd entering a
large church, and I asked a workingman, who was eating his lunch
outside the building, the name of the church; and he answered, - 'It's
just the auld Ram's Horn Kirk. They are putting a new minister in the
pulpit today and they seem weel pleased wi' their choice.'

"Now I am going to leave this subject with you. I have only indicated
it. Those who wish to do so, can finish the list, for the half has not
been told, and indeed I have left the most significant ceremony until
the last. It is that wonderful service in the Sixteenth Chapter of
Leviticus, where the priest, after making a sin offering of young
bullocks and a burnt offering of a ram, casts lots upon two goats for
a sin offering, and the goat upon which the lot falls is 'presented
alive before the Lord to make an atonement; and to let him go for a
scapegoat into the wilderness.'"

Then he took from his pocket a little book and said, "Listen to the
end of this service, 'And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head
of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the
Children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins,
putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away, by
the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.

"'And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land
not inhabited; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.'

"My friends, this night let all read the Fifty-third of Isaiah, and
they will understand how fitting it was that Christ should be 'offered
up' in Aries the Ram, the sacrificial month representing the shadows
and types of which He was the glorious arch-type."

Then there was silence, too deeply charged with feeling, for words.
The Bishop himself felt that he could speak on no lesser subject, and
his small audience were lost in wonder at the vast panorama of
centuries, day by day, century after century, through all of which God
had remembered that He had promised He would provide the Great and
Final Sacrifice for mankind's justification. Then Aries the Ram would
no longer be a promise. It would be a voucher forever that the Promise
had been redeemed, and a memorial that His Truth and His mercy
endureth forever!

At the door the Bishop said to Ragnor, "In a few hours, Friend Conall,
it will be Easter Morning. Then we can tell each other '_Christ has
risen_!'" And Conall's eyes were full of tears, he could not find his
voice, he looked upward and bowed his head.




CHAPTER IV

SUNNA AND HER GRANDFATHER

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 are all the mysteries.
Crown him! In his darkest day
He has Heaven to give away!
- CARL SPENCER.

Arms are fair,
When the intent for bearing them is just.


In the meantime Sunna was spending the evening with her grandfather.
The old gentleman was reading, but she did not ask him to read aloud,
she knew by the look and size of the book that it would not be
interesting; and she was well pleased when one of her maids desired
to speak with her.

"Well then, Vera, what is thy wish?"

"My sister was here and she was bringing me some strange news. About
Mistress Brodie she was talking."

"Yes, I heard she had come home. Did she bring Thora Ragnor a new
Easter gown?"

"Of a gown I heard nothing. It was a young man she brought! O so
beautiful is he! And like an angel he sings! The Bishop was very
friendly with him, and the Ragnors, also; but they, indeed! they are
friendly with all kinds of people."

"This beautiful young man, is he staying with the Ragnors?"

"With Mistress Brodie he is staying, and with her he went to dinner at
the Ragnors'. And the Bishop was there and the young man was singing,
and a great deal was made of his singing, also they were speaking of
his father who is a famous preacher in some Edinburgh kirk, and - - "

"These things may be so, but how came thy sister to know them?"

"This morning my sister took work with Mistress Ragnor and she was
waiting on them as they eat; and in and out of the room until nine
o'clock. Then, as she went to her own home, she called on me and we
talked of the matter, and it seemed to my thought that more might come
of it."

"Yes, no doubt. I shall see that more does come of it. I am well
pleased with thee for telling me."

Then she went back to her grandfather and resumed her knitting. Anon,
she began to sing. Her face was flushed and her nixie eyes were
dancing to the mischief she contemplated. In a few minutes the old
gentleman lifted his head, and looked at her. "Sunna," he said, "thy
song and thy singing are charming, but they fit not the book I am
reading."

"Then I will stop singing and thou must talk to me. There has come
news, and I want thy opinion on it. The Ragnors had a dinner party
today, and we were not asked."

"A great lie is that! Conall Ragnor would not give Queen Victoria a
party in Lent. Who told thee such foolishness?"

Then Sunna retailed the information given her and asked, "What hast
thou done to Conall Ragnor? Always before he bid thee to dinner when
the Bishop was at his house? Or perhaps the offence is with Rahal
Ragnor? Not long ago thou spent an afternoon with her and black and
dangerous as a thunder storm thou came home."

"This day the dinner was an accidental gathering. Rahal knows well
that I have no will to dine with Mistress Brodie. Dost thou want her
here, as thy stepmother?"

"If Mistress Brodie is not tired of an easy life, she will turn her
feet away from this house. If Sunna cannot please thee, thou art in
danger of worse happening. Yes, many are guessing who it is thou wilt
marry."

"And which way runs the guessing?"

"Not all one way. For thee, that is not a respectable thing. Thou
should not be named with so many old women."

"I am of thy opinion. An old woman is little to my mind. If I trust
marriage again, I will choose a young girl for my wife - such an one as
Treddie Fae, or Thora Ragnor."

"Thora Ragnor! Dreaming thou art! I am sure Barbara Brodie has brought
this young man here for Thora's approval. Can thou stand against a
young man?"

"Yes. Adam Vedder and fifty thousand pounds can hand any young man his
hat and gloves. Thy father's father is not for thee to make a jest
about. So here our talk shall come to an end on this subject. Go to
thy bed! Sleep, and the Good Being bless thee!"

Sunna was not yet inclined to sleep. She sat down before her mirror,
uncoiled her plentiful hair, and carefully brushed and braided it for
the night, as she considered the news that had come to her.

"This beautiful young man, this singing man, is one of Barbara
Brodie's 'finds.' Not much do I think of any of them! That handsome
scholar she brought here turned out an unbearable encumbrance. I
believe she paid him to go back to Edinburgh. That Aberdeen man, who
wanted to invest money in Kirkwall had to borrow two pounds from
grandfather to take him back to where he came from. That witty,
good-looking Irishman left a big bill at the Castle Hotel for some one
to pay; and the woman who wanted to begin a dressmaking business, on
the good will of people like Barbara Brodie, knew nothing about
dressmaking. This beautiful young man, I'll warrant, is a fish out of
the same net. As for the Bishop being taken with his beauty, that is
nothing! The poorer a man is, the better Bishop Hedley will like him.
So it goes! I wish I knew where Boris Ragnor is - I wish - -

"Pshaw! I wonder what kind of a dress Mistress Barbara Brodie brought
Thora. Not much taste in either men or clothes has she! Too large
will the pattern be, or too strong the colours, and too heavy, or
too light, will be the material. I know! And it will not fit her.
Too big, or too little it is sure to be! With my own dress I am
satisfied. And if grandfather asks no questions about it, I shall
count it a lucky dress and save it till Boris comes home. I am
going to forgive him when he comes home - perhaps - - Now I will put
the hopes and worries of this world under my pillow and be off to
the Land of Dreams - - Tomorrow is Sunday, Easter Sunday - I shall
sing the solo in my new dress - that is good, I like a religious
feeling in a new dress - I think I am rather a religious girl."

Alas for the hopes of all who wanted to dress for Easter. It was an
uncompromising, wet day. It was oil skin and rubber for the men; it
was cloaks and pattens and umbrellas for the women. Yet, aside from
the rain, it was a day full of good things. The cathedral was crowded,
there was full cathedral service, and the Bishop preached a
transfiguring sermon. The music was good, the home choir did well, and
Sunna's solo was effectively sung; but after she had heard Ian
Macrae's "Gloria," she was sorry she had sung at all.

"Grandfather!" she commented, "No private person has a right to sing
as that man sings! After him, non-professionals make a show of
themselves."

"Thou sang well - better than usual, I thought."

"I was told he was such a handsome young man! And he has black hair
and black eyes! Even his skin is dark. He looks like a Celt. I don't
like Celts. None of our people like them. When they come to the
fishing they are not respected."

"Thou art much mistaken. Our men like them."

"Boris Ragnor says they are poor traders."

"Well then, it is to fish they come."

"What they come for is no care of mine. Boris is ten times more of a
man than the best of them. No notice shall I take of this Celt."

"Through thy scorn he may live, and even enjoy his life. The English
officers do that."

"This chicken is better than might be. Wilt thou have a little more of
it?"

"Enough is plenty. I have had enough. At Conall Ragnor's there is
always good eating and I am going there for my supper. Wilt thou go
with me? Then with Thora thou can talk. This beautiful young man is
likely at Ragnor's. It was too stormy for Mistress Brodie to go to her
own house at the noonday. Dost thou see then, how it will be?"

"I will go with thee, I want to see Thora's new dress. I need not
notice the young man."

"His name? Already I have forgotten it."

"Odd was calling him 'Macrae.'"

"Macrae! That is Highland Scotch. The Macraes are a good family. There
is a famous minister in Edinburgh of that name. The Calvinists all
swear by him."

"This man sang in a full cathedral service. Dost thou believe a
Calvinist would do that? He would be sure it was a disguised mass, and
nothing better."

Adam laughed as he said, "Well, then, go with me this night to
Ragnor's and between us we will find something out. A mystery is not
pleasant to thee."

"There is something wrong in a mystery, that is what I feel."

"Thou can ask Thora all about him."

"I shall not ask her. She will tell me."

Adam laughed again. "That is the best way," he said. "It was thy
father's way. Well then, five minutes ago, the wind changed. By four
o'clock it will be fair."

"Then I will be ready to go with thee. If I am left alone, I am sad;
and that is not good for my health."

"But thou must behave well, even to the Celt."

"Unless it is worth my while, I do not quarrel with any one."

"Was it worth thy while to quarrel with Boris Ragnor?"

"Yes - or I had not quarrelled with him."

"Here comes the sunshine! Gleam upon gloom! Cheery and good it is!"

"They say an Easter dress should be christened with a few drops of
rain. That is not my opinion. I like the Easter sunshine on it. Now I
shall leave thee and go and rest and dress myself. Very good is thy
talk and thy company to me, but to thee, I am foolishness. As I shut
the door, the big book thou art reading, thou wilt say to it: 'Now,
friend of my soul, some sensible talk we will have together, for that
foolish girl has gone to her foolishness at her looking glass.'"

"Run away! I am in a hurry for my big book."

Sunna shut the door with a kiss - and as she took the stairs with
hurrying steps, the sunshine came dancing through the long window, and
her feet trod on it and it fell all over her.

At four o'clock she was ready for her evening's inquest and she found
her grandfather waiting for her. He had put on a light vest and a
white tie, and he had that clean, healthy, good-tempered look that
pleases all women. He smiled and bowed to Sunna and she deserved the
compliment; for she was beautiful and had dressed her beauty most
becomingly. Her gown was of Saxony cloth, the exact colour of her
hair, with a collar, stomacher and high cuffs of pale green velvet.
The collar was tied with cord and small tassels of gold braid; the
stomacher laced with gold braid over small gilt buttons, and the high
cuffs were trimmed to match. Very handsome gilt combs held up her
rippled hair, and a large red-riding-hood cloak covered her from the
crowning bow of her hair to the little French pattens that protected
her black satin slippers. She expected to make a conquest, and her
thoughts were usually the factors of success.

A little disappointment awaited her. She was usually shown into the
right-hand parlour at once, and she relied on the bit of colour
afforded by her scarlet cloak to give life to the modest shades of her
spring colours of pale fawn and tender green. But servants were
setting the dinner table in the right-hand parlour; and Conall and
Rahal and Aunt Barbara had taken themselves to Conall's little
business room where there was a bright fire burning. There, in his big
chair, Conall was next door to sleeping; and Barbara and Rahal were
talking in a sleepy, mysterious way about something that did not
appear to interest them.

At the sound of Adam Vedder's voice, Conall became wide awake; and
Barbara's face lighted up with a fresh interest. If there was nothing
else, there was a chronic quarrel between them, which Barbara was
ready to lift at a moment's notice. But Sunna was not dissatisfied.
Conall's quick look of admiration, and Rahal's and Barbara's glances
of surprise, were excellent in their way. She knew she had given them
a subject of interest sufficient to make even the hour before dinner
appear short.

"Where is Thora?" she asked, as she turned every way, apparently to
look for Thora, but really to allow her admirers to convince
themselves that her dress was trimmed as handsomely at the back as the
front - that if the stomacher was perfect in front, the sash of green
velvet at the back was quite as stylish and elaborate.

"Where _is_ Thora?" she asked again.

"In the drawing room thou wilt find Thora with Ian Macrae," said
Rahal. "Go to them. They will be glad of thy company."

"Doubtful is their gladness. Two are company, three are a crowd. Yet
so it is! I must run into danger, like the rest of women."

"Is that thy Easter gown, Sunna?" asked Mistress Brodie.

"It is. Dost thou like it?"

"Who would not like it? The rumour goes abroad that thy grandfather
sent to Inverness for it. Others say it came to thee from Edinburgh."

"Wrong are both stories. I am happy to say that Sunna Vedder gave
herself a dress so pretty and so suitable."

With these smiling words she left the room and the elder women
shrugged their shoulders and looked expressively at each other. "What
can a sensible man like Boris Ragnor see in such a harum-scarum girl!"
was Rahal Ragnor's question, and Barbara Brodie thought it was all
Adam Vedder's fault. "He ought to have married some sensible woman who
would have brought up the girl as girls ought to be brought up," she
answered; adding, "We may as well remember that the management of
women, at any age, is a business clean beyond Adam Vedder's
capabilities."

"Adam is a clever man, Barbie."

"Book clever! What is the use of book wisdom when you have a live
girl, full of her own way, to deal with?"

"Conall chose the husbands for his daughters. They were quite suitable
to the girls and they have been very happy with them."

"Thora will choose for herself."

"Perhaps, that may be so. Thora has been spoiled. Her marriage need
not yet be thought of. In two or three years, we will consider it. The
little one has not yet any dreams of that kind."

"Such dreams come in a moment - when you are not thinking of them."

In fact, at that very moment Thora was learning the mystery of
"falling in love"; and there is hardly a more vital thing in life than
this act. For it is something taking place in the subconscious self;
it is a revolution, and a growth. It happened that after dinner,
Conall wished to hear Ian sing again that loveliest of all metrical
Collects, "Lord of All Power and Might," and Thora went with Ian to do
her part as accompanist on the piano. As they sang Conall appeared to
fall asleep, and no more music was asked for.

Then Ian lifted a book full of illustrations of the English lake
district, and they sat down on the sofa to examine it. Ian had once
been at Keswick and Ambleside, and he began to tell her about Lake
Windemere and these lovely villages. He was holding Thora's hand and
glancing constantly into her face, and before he recognised what he
was saying, Ambleside and Windemere were quite forgotten, and he was
telling Thora that he loved her with an everlasting love. He vowed
that he had loved her in his past lives, and would love her, and only
her, forever. And he looked so handsome and spoke in words of the
sweetest tenderness, and indeed was amazed at his own passionate
eloquence, but knew in his soul that every word he said was true.

And Thora, the innocent little one, was equally sure of his truth. She
blushed and listened, while he drew her closer to his side calling her
"his own, his very own!" and begging her to promise that she would
"marry him, and no other man, in the whole earth."

And Thora promised him what he wished and for one-half hour they were
in Paradise.

Now, how could this love affair have come to perfection so rapidly?
Because it was the natural and the proper way. True love dates its
birth from the first glance. It is the coming together of two souls,
and in their first contact love flashes forth like flame. And then
their influence over each other is like that gravitation which one
star exerts over another star.

But much that passes for love is not love. It is only a prepossession,
pleasant and profitable, promising many every-day advantages. True
love is a deep and elemental thing, a secret incredible glory, in a
way, it is even a spiritual triumph. And we should have another name
for love like this. For it is the long, long love, that has followed
us through ages, the healing love, the Comforter! In the soul of a
young, innocent girl like Thora, it is a kind of piety, and ought to
be taken with a wondering thankfulness.

An emotion so spiritual and profound was beyond Sunna's understanding.
She divined that there had been some sort of love-making, but she was
unfamiliar with its present indications. Her opinion, however, was
that Ian had offered himself to Thora, and been rejected; in no other
way could she account for the far-offness of both parties. Thora
indeed was inexplicable. She not only refused to show Sunna her Easter
dress, she would not enter into any description of it.

"That is a very remarkable thing," she said to her grandfather, as
they walked home together. "I think the young man made love to Thora
and even asked her to marry him, and Thora was frightened and said
'No!' and she is likely sorry now that she did not say 'Yes.'"

"To say 'No!' would not have frightened thee, I suppose?"

"That is one of the disagreeable things women have to get used to."

"How often must a woman say 'No!' in order to get used to it?"

"That depends on several small things; for instance I am very
sympathetic. I have a tender heart! Yes, and so I suffer."

"I am glad to know of thy sympathy. If I asked thee to marry a young
man whom I wished thee to marry, would thou do it - just to please
me?"

"It would depend - on my mood that day."

"Say, it was thy sympathetic mood?"

"That would be unfavourable. Of the others I should think, and I
should feel that I was cruel; if I took all hope from them."


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryAmelia E. BarrAn Orkney Maid → online text (page 4 of 15)