Amelia E. Barr.

An Orkney Maid online

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"Thou wilt not be reasonable. I am not joking. Would thou marry Boris
to please me?"

"Boris has offended me. He must come to me, and say, 'I am sorry.' He
must take what punishment I choose for his rudeness to me. Then, I may
forgive him."

"And marry him?"

"Only my angel knows, if it is so written. Men do not like to do as
their women say they must do. Is there any man in the Orcades who
dares to say 'No,' to his wife's 'Yes?'"

"What of Sandy Stark?"

"Sandy is a Scot! I do not use a Scotch measure for a Norseman. Thou
art not a perfect Norseman, but yet, even in Edinburgh, there is no
Scot that could be thy measure. I should have to say - 'thou art five
inches taller than the Scot at thy side, and forty pounds heavier, and
nearly twice as strong.' That would not be correct to an ounce, but it
is as near as it is possible to come between Norse and Scot."

"Thou art romancing!"

"As for the Norse women - - "

"About Norse women there is no need for thee to teach thy grandfather.
I know what Norse women are like. If I did not know, I should have
married again."

"Well then, Barbara Brodie is a good specimen of a capable Norse woman
and I have noticed one thing about them, that I feel ought to be
better understood."

"Chut! What hast thou understood? Talk about it, and let thy wisdom be

"Well then, it is this thing - Norse women always outlive their
husbands. Thou may count by tens and hundreds the widows in this town.
The 'maidens of blushing fifteen' have no opportunities; the widow of
fifty asks a young man into her beautiful home and makes him
acquainted with the burden of her rents and dividends and her share
in half a dozen trading boats, and he takes to the golden lure and
marries himself like the rest of the world. Thou would have been
re-married long ago but for my protection. I have had a very
disagreeable day and - - "

"Then go to thy bed and put an end to it."

"My new dress is crushed and some way or other I have got a spot on
the front breadth. Is it that Darwin book thou art looking for?"


"Would thou like to read a chapter to me?"

"No, I would not."

"Grandfather, I can understand it. I like clever men. Can thou
introduce me to him - to Darwin?"

"He would not care to see thee. Clever men do not want clever wives;
so if thou art thinking of a clever husband keep thy 'blue stockings'
well under thy petticoats."

"And grandfather, do thou keep out of the way of the widows of Orkney
or thou wilt find thyself inside of a marriage ring."

"Not while thou remains unmarried. Few women would care to look after
thy welfare. I am used to it, long before thou had been short-coated,
I had to walk thee to sleep in my arms."

"Yes," laughed Sunna, "I remember that. I felt myself safest with

"Thou remembers nothing of the kind. At six months old, thou could
neither compare nor remember."

"But thou art mistaken. I was born with perfect senses. Ere I was
twenty-four hours old, I had selected thee as the most suitable person
to walk me to sleep. I think that was a proof of my perfect
intelligence. One thing more, and then I will let thee read. I am
going to marry Boris Ragnor, and then the widow Brodie would - take
charge of thee." She shut the door to these words and Adam heard her
laughing all the way to her own room. Then he rubbed his hand slowly
over and over his mouth and said to himself - "She shall have her
say-so; Boris is the only man on the Islands who can manage her."

After the departure of the Vedders, Rahal and her sister Brodie went
upstairs, taking Thora with them. She went cheerfully though a little
reluctantly. She liked to hear Ian talk. She had thought of asking him
to sing; but she was satisfied with the one straight, long look which
flashed between them, as Ian bid her "good night"; for -

He looked at her as a lover can;
She looked at him as one who awakes,
The past was a sleep and her life began.

Then she went to her room, and thought of Ian until she fell asleep
and dreamed of him.

For nearly two hours Ian remained with Conall Ragnor. The Railway
Mania was then at its height in England, and the older man was
delighted with Ian's daring stories of its mad excitement. Ian had
seen and talked with Hudson, the draper's clerk, who had just
purchased a fine ducal residence and estate from the results of his
reckless speculations. Ian knew all the Scotch lines, he had even full
faith in the _Caledonian_ when it was first proposed and could hardly
win any attention. "Every one said a railway between England and
Scotland would not pay, Mr. Ragnor," said Ian.

"I would have said very different," replied Conall. "It would be
certain to pay. Why not?"

"Because there would be _no returns_," laughed Ian, and then Conall
laughed also, and wished that Boris had been there to learn whatever
Ian might teach him.

"Hast thou speculated in railway stock yet," he asked.

"No, sir. I have not had the money to do so."

"How would thou buy if thou had?"

"I would buy when no one else was buying, and when everyone else was
buying, I would keep cool, and sell. A very old and clever speculator
gave me that advice as a steady rule, saying it was 'his only

This was the tenor of the men's conversation until near midnight, and
then Ragnor went with Ian to the door of his room and bid him a frank
and friendly good night. And as he stood a moment handfast with the
youth, his conscience troubled him a little and he said: "Ian, Ian,
thou art a wise lad about this world's business, but thou must not be
forgetting that there is another world after this."

"I do not forget that, sir."

"Bishop Hedley is a greater and wiser man than all the railway nabobs
thou hast spoken of."

"I think so, sir! I do indeed!" and the mutual smile and nod that
followed required no further "good night."

It was a lovely, silent night. The very houses looked as if they were
asleep; and there was not a sound either in the town on the brown pier
or the moonlit sea. It was a night full of the tranquillity of God.
Men and women looked into its peace, and carried its charm into their
dreams. For most fine spirits that dwell by the sea have an elemental
sympathy with strange oracles and dreams and old Night. In the
morning, Conall Ragnor was the first to awaken. He went at once to
fling open his window. Then he cried out in amazement and wonder, and
awakened his wife: -

"Rahal! Rahal!" he shouted. "Come here! Come quick! Look at the town!
It is hung with flags. The ships in the harbour - flying are their
flags also! And there is a ship just entering the harbour and her
colours are flying! And there are the guns! They are saluting her from
the garrison! It must be a man-of-war! I wonder if the Queen is coming
to see us at last! If thou art ready, call Thora and Barbara.
Something is up! Thou may hear the town now, all tip-on-top with

"Why did not thou call us sooner, Coll?"

"I slept late and long."

"But thou must have heard the town noises?"

"A confused noise passed through my ears, a noise full of hurry like a
morning dream, that was all. Now, I am going for my swim and I will
bring the news home with me."

But long before it was within expectation of Ragnor's return, the
three women standing at the open door saw Ian coming rapidly to the
house from the town. His walk was swift and full of excitement. His
head was thrown upward, and he kept striking himself on the right
side, just over the place where his ancestors had worn their dirks or
broadswords. As soon as he saw the three women he flung his Glengarry
skyward and shouted a ringing "Hurrah!"

As he approached them, all were struck with his remarkable beauty, his
manly figure, his swift graceful movements and his handsome face
suffused with the brightness of fiery youth. Through their long black
lashes his eyes were shining and glowing and full of spirit, and
indeed his whole personality was instinct with verve and fire. Anyone
watching his approach would have said - "Here comes a youth made to
lead a rattling charge of cavalry."

"Whatever is the matter with you, Ian?" cried Mistress Brodie. "You
are surely gone daft."

"No indeed!" he answered. "I seem at this very hour to have just found
myself and my senses."

"What is all the fuss about, Ian?" asked Rahal.

"England has gone to war at the long last with the cruel, crafty black
Bear of the North."

"Well then, it is full time she did so, there are none will say

"And," continued Ian, "there is a ship now in harbour carrying
enlisting officers - you may see her; she is to call at the Orkney and
Shetland Islands for recruits for the navy, and Great Scot! she will
get them! All she wants! She could take every man out of Kirkwall!"

"The Mayor and Captain Ragnor will not permit her to do so. She will
have to leave men to manage the fishing," said Rahal.

"I thought the women could do that," said Ian.

"You do not know what you are talking about. It takes two or three men
to lift a net full of fish out of the water, and they are about done
up if they manage it. Come in and get your breakfast. If your news be
true, there is no saying when Ragnor will get home. He will have some
reasoning with his men to do, he cannot spare many of them."

"I have a good idea," said Mistress Brodie. "I will give a dance on
Friday night for the enlisting officers, and we will invite all the
presentable young men, and all the prettiest girls, to meet them."

"But you will be too late on Friday. The cutter and her crew will
leave Thursday morning early," said Ian.

"Then say Wednesday night."

"That might do. I could tell the men freshly enlisted to wear a white
ribbon in their coats - - "

"No, no, no!" cried Rahal. "What are you saying, Ian? A white favour
is a Stuart favour. You would set the men fighting in the very dance
room. There is no excuse in the Orkneys for a Stuart memory."

"I was not thinking of the Stuarts. Have they not done bothering

"In the Scotch heart the Stuart lives forever," said Rahal, with a

But the dance was decided on and some preparations made for it as soon
as breakfast was over. Ian was enthusiastic on the matter and Thora
caught his enthusiasm very readily, and before night, all Kirkwall was
preparing to feast and rejoice because England was going to make the
great Northern Bear - "the Bear that walks like a man" - stay in the
North where he belonged.



Love, the old, old troubler of the world.

Love has reasons, of which reason knows nothing.

Alas, how easily things go wrong!
A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain
And life is never the same again.

No sooner was Mrs. Brodie's intention known, than all her friends were
eager to help her. There was truly but little time between Monday
morning and Wednesday night; but many hands make light work, and old
and young offered their services in arranging for what it pleased all
to consider as a kind of national thanksgiving.

The unanimity of this kindness gave Rahal a slight attack of a certain
form of jealousy, to which she had been subject for many years, and
she asked her husband, as she had done often before, "Why is it, Coll,
that every woman in the town is eager to help and encourage Barbara
if she only speaks of having a dance or dinner; but if I, thy wife, am
the giver of pleasure, I am left to do all without help or any show of
interest. It troubles me, Coll."

And Coll answered as he always did answer - "It is thy superiority,
Rahal. Is there any woman we know, who would presume to give thee
advice or counsel? And it is well understood by all of them that thou
cannot thole an obligation. Thou, and thy daughter, and thy servants
are sufficient for all thy social plans; and why should thou be
bothered with a lot of old and young women? Thy sister Brodie loves a
crowd about her, and she says 'thank thee' to all and sundry, as
easily as she takes a drink of water. It chokes thee to say 'thanks'
to any one."

So Rahal was satisfied, and went with the rest to help Mistress Brodie
prepare for her dance. There were women in the kitchen making pies and
custards and jellies, and women in her parlours cleaning and
decorating them, and women in the great hall taking up carpets because
it was a favourite place for reels, and women washing China and
trimming lamps. Thora was doing the shopping, Ian was carrying the
invitations; and every one who had been favoured with one had not
only said "Yes," but had also asked if there was anything they could
loan, or do, to help the impromptu festival. Thus, Mrs. Harold Baikie
sent her best service of China, and the Faes sent several extra large
lamps, and the bride of Luke Serge loaned her whole supply of
glassware, and Rahal took over her stock of table silver; and Mistress
Brodie received every loan - useful or not - with the utmost delight and

On Wednesday afternoon, however, she was faced by a condition she did
not know how to manage. Ian came to her in a hurry, saying, "My
friend, McLeod, is longing for an invitation from you, and he has
asked me to request one. Surely you will send him the favour! Yes, I
know you will."

"You are knowing too much, Ian. What can I do? You know well, laddie,
he is not popular with the best set here."

"I would not mind the 'best set' if I were you. What makes them 'the
best'? Just their own opinion of themselves. McLeod is of gentle
birth, he is handsome and good-hearted, you will like him as soon as
you speak to him. There is another 'best set' beside the one Adam
Vedder leads; I would like some one to take down that old man's
conceit of himself - there is nothing wrong with McLeod! Yes, he is
Highland Scotch - - "

"There! that is enough, Ian! Go your ways and bid the young man. Ask
him in your own name."

"No, Mistress, I will not do that. The invitation carries neither
honour nor good will without your name."

"Well then, my name be it. My name has been so much used lately, I
think I will change it."

"Take my name then. I will be proud indeed if you will."

"You are aye daffing, Ian; I am o'er busy for nonsense the now. Give
the Mac a hint that tartans are not necessary."

"But I cannot do that. I am going to wear the Macrae tartan."

"You can let that intent go by."

"No, I can not! A certain 'yes' may depend on my wearing the Macrae

"Well, checked cloth is bonnier than black broadcloth to some people.
I don't think Thora Ragnor is among that silly crowd. There is not a
more quarrelsome dress than a tartan kilt - and I'm thinking the
Brodies were ill friends with the Macraes in the old days."

"The Brodies are not Highlanders."

"You are a shamefully ignorant man, Ian Macrae. The Brodies came from
Moray, and are the only true lineal descendants of Malcolm Thane of
Brodie in the reign of Alexander the Third, lawful King of Scotland.
What do you think of the Brodies now?"

"The Macrae doffs his bonnet to them; but - - "

"If you say another word, the McLeod will be out of it - sure and

So Ian laughingly left the room, and Mistress Brodie walked to the
window and watched him speeding towards the town. "He is a wonderful
lad!" she said to herself. "And I wish he was my lad! Oh why were all
my bairns lasses? They just married common bodies and left me! Oh for
a lad like Ian Macrae!" Then with a great sigh, she added: "It is all
right. I would doubtless have spoiled and mismanaged him!"

It is not to be supposed that Sunna Vedder kept away from all this
social stir and preparation. She was first and foremost in everything
during Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday she reserved herself
altogether for the evening. No one saw her until the noon hour; then
she came to the dinner table, for she had an entirely fresh request to
make, one which she was sure would require all her personal influence
to compass.

She prefaced it with the intelligence that Boris had arrived during
the night, and that Elga had met him in the street - "looking more
handsome than any man ought to look, except upon his wedding day."

"And on that day," said Adam, gloomily, "a man has generally good
cause to look ugly."

"But if he was going to marry me, Grandfather, how then?"

"He would doubtless look handsome. Men usually do when they are on the
road of destruction."

"Grandfather! I have made up my mind to marry Boris, and lead him the
way I want him to go. That will always be the way thou chooseth."

"How comes that?"

"I loved thee first of all. I shall always love thee first. Boris
played me false, I must pay him back. I must make him suffer. Those
Ragnors - all of them - put on such airs! They make me sick."

"What art thou after? What favour art thou seeking?"

"Thou knows how the girls will try to outdress each other at this
Brodie affair - - "

"It is too late for a new dress - what is it thou wants now?"

"I want thee to go to the bank and get me my mother's necklace to wear
just this one night."

"I will not. I gave thy dead mother a promise."

"Break it, for a few hours. My Easter dress is not a dancing dress. I
have no dancing dress but the pretty white silk thou gave me last
Christmas - and I have no ornaments at all - none whatever, fit to wear
with it."

"There are always flowers - - "

"Flowers! There is not a flower in Kirkwall. Easter and old Mistress
Brodie have used up every daisy - besides, white silk ought to have

Adam shook his head positively.

"My mother wishes me to have what I want. Thou ought not to keep it
from me."

"She told me to give thee her necklace on thy twenty-first birthday - not

"That is so silly! What better is my twenty-first birthday than any
other day? Grandfather, I cannot love thee more, because my love for
thee is already a perfect love; but I will be such a good girl if thou
wilt give me what I want, O so much I want it! I will be so obedient!
I will do everything thou desires! I will even marry Boris Ragnor."
And this urgent request was punctuated with kisses and little fondling
strokes of her hand, and Adam finally asked -

"How shall I answer thy mother when she accuses me of breaking my
promise to her?"

"I will answer for thee. O dear! It is growing late! If thou dost not
hurry, the bank will be closed, and then I shall be sick with
disappointment, and it will be thy fault."

Then Adam rose and left the house and Sunna, having seen that he took
the proper turn in the road, called for a cup of tea and having
refreshed herself with it, went upstairs to lay out and prepare
everything for her toilet. And as she went about this business she
continually justified herself: -

"It is only natural I should have my necklace," she thought. "Norse
women have always adored gold and silver and gems, and in the old days
their husbands sailed long journeys and fought battles for what their
women wanted. My great Aunt Christabelle often told me that many of
the old Shetland and Orkney families had gold ornaments and uncut
gems, hundreds of years old, hid away. I would not wonder if
Grandfather has some! I dare say the bank's safe is full of them! I do
not care for them but I do want my mother's wedding necklace - and I am
going to have it. Right and proper it is, I should have it now. Mother
would say so if she were here. Girls are women earlier than they were
in her day. Twenty-one, indeed! I expect to be married long before I
am twenty-one."

In less than an hour she began to watch the road for her grandfather's
return. Very soon she saw him coming and he had a small parcel in his
hand. Her heart gave a throb of satisfaction and she began to unplait
her manifold small braids: "I shall not require to go to bed," she
murmured. "Grandfather has my necklace. He will want to take it back
to the bank tomorrow - I shall see about that - I promised - yes, I know!
But there are ways - out of a promise."

She was, of course, delightfully grateful to receive the necklace, and
Vedder could not help noticing how beautiful her loosened hair
looked. Its length and thickness and waves of light colour gave to
her stately, blonde beauty a magical grace, and Vedder was one of
those men who admire the charms of his own family as something
naturally greater than the same charms in any other family. "The
Vedders carry their beauty with an air," he said, and he was right.
The Vedders during the course of a few centuries of social prominence
had acquired that air of superiority which impresses, and also
frequently offends.

Certainly, Sunna Vedder in white silk and a handsome necklace of
rubies and diamonds was an imposing picture; and Adam Vedder, in spite
of his sixty-two years, was an imposing escort. It would be difficult
to say why, for he was a small man in comparison with the towering
Norsemen by whom he was surrounded. Yet he dominated and directed any
company he chose to favour with his presence; and every man in
Kirkwall either feared or honoured him. Sunna had much of his natural
temperament, but she had not the driving power of his cultivated
intellect. She relied on her personal beauty and the many natural arts
with which Nature has made women a match for any antagonist. Had she
not heard her grandfather frequently say "a beautiful woman is the
best armed creature that God has made! She is as invincible as a

This night he had paid great attention to his own toilet. He was
fashionably attired, neat as a new pin, and if not amiable, at least
exceedingly polite. He had leaning on his arm what he considered the
most beautiful creature in Scotland, and he assumed the manners of her
guardian with punctilious courtesy.

There was a large company present when the Vedders reached Mrs.
Brodie's - military men, a couple of naval officers, gentlemen of
influence, and traders of wealth and enterprise; with a full
complement of women "divinely tall and fair." Sunna made the sensation
among them she expected to make. There was a sudden pause in
conversation and every eye filled itself with her beauty. For just a
moment, it seemed as if there was no other person present.

Then Mrs. Brodie and Colonel Belton came to meet them, and Sunna was
left in the latter's charge. "Will you now dance, Miss Vedder?" he

"Let us first walk about a little, Colonel. I want to find my friend,
Thora Ragnor."

"I have long desired an introduction to Miss Ragnor. Is she not

"Yes, but now only for one man. A stranger came here last week, and
she was captured at once."

"How remarkable! I thought that kind of irresponsible love had gone
quite out of favour and fashion."

"Not so! This youth came, saw, and conquered."

"Is it the youth I see with Ken McLeod?"

"The same. Look! There they are, together as usual."

"She is very sweet and attractive."

Sunna answered this remark by asking Thora to honour Colonel Belton
with her company for a short time, saying: "In the interval I will
take care of Ian Macrae." Then Thora stood up in her innocence and
loveliness and she was like some creature of more ethereal nature than
goes with flesh and blood. For the eye took her in as a whole, and at
first noticed neither her face nor her dress in particular. Her dress
was only of white tarlatan, a thin, gauze-like material long out of
fashion. It is doubtful if any woman yet remembers its airy, fairy
sway, and graceful folds. The filmy robe, however, was plentifully
trimmed with white satin ribbon, and the waist was entirely of satin
trimmed with tarlatan. The whole effect was girlish and simple, and
Thora needed no other ornament but the pink and white daisies at her

However, if Sunna expected Thora's manner and conversation to match
the simplicity of her dress, she was disappointed. In Love's school
women learn with marvellous rapidity, and Thora astonished her by
falling readily into a conversation of the most up-to-date social
character. She had caught the trick from Ian, a little playful fencing
round the most alluring of subjects, yet it brought out the simplicity
of her character, while it also revealed its purity and intelligence.

Dancing had commenced when Mrs. Ragnor entered the room on the arm of
her son Boris. Boris instantly looked around for Sunna and she was
dancing with McLeod. All the evening afterwards Boris danced, but
never once with Sunna, and Adam Vedder watched the young man with
scorn. He was the most desirable party in the room for any girl and he
quite neglected the handsome Sunna Vedder. That was not his only

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