Amelia E. Barr.

An Orkney Maid online

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"Yes, the Rev. Dr. Macrae, of St. Mark's."

"That is what I heard. He is a good man, but a very hard one."

"If he is hard, he is not good."

"Thou must not say that, little Miss; it may be the Episcopalian
belief, but we Calvinists have a stronger faith - a faith fit for men
and soldiers of the Lord."

"There! Mrs. Beaton, you are naming soldiers. That is against our
agreement to drop war talk. About Macrae I know nothing. He is not
aware that anyone but Thora Ragnor lives; and I was not in the least
attracted by him - his black hair and black eyes repelled me - I dislike
such men."

"Will they live in Edinburgh?"

"I believe they will live in Kirkwall. Mrs. Ragnor owns a pretty
house, which she will give them. She is going to put it in order and
furnish it from the roof to the foundation. Thora is busy about her
napery - the finest of Irish linen and damask. Now then, I must hurry
home. My grandfather will be waiting his tea."

Max rose with her. He looked at his little brother and said: "Aunt, he
will sleep now for a few hours, will you watch him till I return?"

"Will I not? You know he is as safe with me as yourself, Max."

So with an acknowledging smile of content, he took Sunna's hand and
led her slowly down the stairway. There was a box running all across
the sill of the long window, lighting the stairs, and it was full and
running over with the delicious muck plant. Sunna laid her face upon
its leaves for a moment, and the whole place was thrilled with its
heavenly perfume. Then she smiled at Max and his heart trembled with
joy; yet he said a little abruptly - "Let us make haste. The night
grows cloudy."

Their way took them through the village, and Sunna knew that she
would, in all likelihood, be the first woman ever seen in Maximus
Grant's company. The circumstance was pleasant to her, and she carried
herself with an air and manner that she readily caught and copied from
him. She knew that there was a face at every window, but she did not
turn her head one way or the other. Max was talking to her about the
Sagas and she had a personal interest in the Sagas, and any ambition
she had to be socially popular was as yet quite undeveloped.

At the point where the Vedder and Ragnor roads crossed each other, two
men were standing, talking. They were Ragnor and Vedder, and Ragnor
was at once aware of the identity of the couple approaching; but
Vedder appeared so unaware, that Ragnor remarked: "I see Sunna,
Vedder, coming up the road, and with her is Colonel Max Grant."

"But why 'Colonel,' Ragnor?"

"When General Grant died his son was a colonel in the Life Guards. He
left the army to care for his brother. I heard that the Queen praised
him for doing so."

Then the couple were so close, that it was impossible to affect
ignorance of their presence any longer; and the old men turned and
saluted the young couple. "I thank thee, Colonel," said Vedder, as he
"changed hats" with the Colonel, "but now I can relieve thee of the
charge thou hast taken. I am going home and Sunna will go with me; but
if thou could call on an old man about some business, there is a
matter I would like to arrange with thee."

"I could go home with you now, Vedder, if that would be suitable."

"Nay, it would be too much for me tonight. It is concerning that waste
land on the Stromness road, near the little bridge. I would like to
build a factory there."

"That would be to my pleasure and advantage. I will call on you and
talk over the matter, at any time you desire."

"Well and good! Say tomorrow at two o'clock."

"Three o'clock would be better for me."

"So, let it be." Then he took Sunna's hand and she understood that her
walk with Grant was over. She thanked Max for his courtesy, sent a
message to Eric, and then said her good night with a look into his
eyes which dirled in his heart for hours afterwards. Some compliments
passed between the men and then she found herself walking home with
her grandfather.

"Thou ought not to have seen me, Grandfather," she said a little
crossly, "I was having such a lovely walk."

"I did not want to see thee, and have I not arranged for thee
something a great deal better on tomorrow's afternoon?"

"One never knows - - "

"Listen; he is to come at three o'clock, it will be thy fault if he
leaves at four. Thou can make tea for him - thou can walk in the
greenhouse and the garden with him, thou can sing for him - no,
let him sing for thee - thou can ask him to help thee with 'The
Banded Men' - and if he goes away before eight o'clock I will say
to thee - 'take the first man that asks thee for thou hast no
woman-witchery with which to pick and choose!' Grant is a fine man.
If thou can win him, thou wins something worth while. He has always
held himself apart. His father was much like him. All of them
soldiers and proud as men are made, these confounded, democratic

"And what of Boris?" asked Sunna.

"May Boris rest wherever he is! Thou could not compare Boris with
Maximus Grant."

"That is the truth. In many ways they are not comparable. Boris is a
rough, passionate man. Grant is a gentleman. Always I thought there
was something common in me; that must be the reason why I prefer

"To vex me, thou art saying such untruthful words. I know thy
contradictions! Go now and inquire after my tea. I am in want of it."

During tea, nothing further was said of Maximus Grant; but Sunna was
in a very merry mood, and Adam watched her, and listened to her in a
philosophical way; - that is, he tried to make out amid all her
persiflage and bantering talk what was her ruling motive and intent - a
thing no one could have been sure of, unless they had heard her
talking to herself - that mysterious confidence in which we all
indulge, and in which we all tell ourselves the truth. Sunna was
undressing her hair and folding away her clothing as she visited this
confessional, but her revelations were certainly honest, even if
fragmentary, and full of doubt and uncertainty.

"Grant, indeed!" she exclaimed, "I am not ready for Grant - I believe I
am afraid of the man - he would make me over - make me like himself - in
a month he would do it - I like Boris best! I should quarrel with
Boris, of course, and we should say words neither polite nor kind to
each other; but then Boris would do as that blessed child said, 'Look
at me'; and I should look at him, and the making-up would begin.
Heigh-ho! I wish it could begin tonight!" She was silent then for a
few minutes, and in a sadder voice added - "with Max I should become an
angel - and I should have a life without a ripple - I would hate it,
just as I hate the sea when it lies like a mirror under the
sunshine - then I always want to scream out for a great north wind and
the sea in a passion, shattering everything in its way. If I got into
that mood with Max, we should have a most unpleasant time - - " and she
laughed and tossed her pillows about, and then having found a
comfortable niche in one of them, she tucked her handsome head into it
and in a few moments the sleep of youth and perfect health lulled her
into a secret garden in the Land of Dreams.

The next day Sunna appeared to be quite oblivious regarding Grant's
visit and Vedder was too well acquainted with his granddaughter to
speak of it. He only noticed that she was dressed with a peculiar
simplicity and neatness. At three o'clock Grant was promptly at the
Vedder House, and at half-past four the land in question had been
visited and subsequently bought and sold. Then the cup of tea came in,
and the walk in the garden followed, and at six there was an ample
meal, and during the singing that followed it, Vedder fell fast
asleep, as was his custom, and when he awoke Grant was just going and
the clock was striking ten. Vedder looked at Sunna and there was no
need for him to speak.

"It was 'The Banded Men,'" said Sunna with a straight look at her

"Well, then, I know a woman who is a match for any number of 'banded

"And in all likelihood that woman will be a Vedder. Good night,



I came not to send peace but a sword.
- _Matt. x, 34._

For when I note how noble Nature's form
Under the war's red pain, I deem it true
That He who made the earthquake and the storm,
Perchance made battles too.

The summer passed rapidly away for it was full of new interests.
Thora's wedding was to take place about Christmas or New Year, and
there were no ready-made garments in those days; so all of her girl
friends were eager to help her needle. Sunna spent half the day with
her and all their small frets and jealousies were forgotten. Early in
the morning the work was lifted, and all day long it went happily on,
to their light-hearted hopes and dreams. Then in June and September
Ian came to Kirkwall to settle his account with McLeod, and at the
same time, he remained a week as the Ragnors' guest. There was also
Sunna's intended visit to Edinburgh to talk about, and there was
never a day in which the war and its preparations did not make itself

One of the pleasantest episodes of this period occurred early and
related to Sunna. One morning she received a small box from London,
and she was so amazed at the circumstance, that she kept examining the
address and wondering "who could have sent it," instead of opening the
box. However, when this necessity had been observed, it revealed to
her a square leather case, almost like those used for jewelry, and her
heart leaped high with expectation. It was something, however, that
pleased her much more than jewelry; it was a likeness of Boris, a
daguerreotype - the first that had ever reached Kirkwall. A narrow
scrap of paper was within the clasp, on which Boris had written, "I am
all thine! Forget me not!"

Sunna usually made a pretense of despising anything sentimental but
this example filled her heart with joy and satisfaction. And after it,
she took far greater pleasure in all the circumstances relating to
Thora's marriage; for she had gained a personal interest in them. Even
the details of the ceremony were now discussed and arranged in accord
with Sunna's taste and suggestions.

"The altar and nave must be decorated with flags and evergreens and
all the late flowers we can secure," she said.

"There will not be many flowers, I fear," answered Mistress Ragnor.

"The Grants have a large greenhouse. I shall ask them to save all they
possibly can. Maximus Grant delights in doing a kindness."

"Then thou must ask him, Sunna. He is thy friend - perhaps thy lover.
So the talk goes."

"Let them talk! My lover is far away. God save him!"

"Where then?"

"Where all good and fit men are gone - to the trenches. For my lover is
much of a man, strong and brave-hearted. He adores his country, his
home, and his kindred. He counts honour far above money; and liberty,
more than life. My lover will earn the right to marry the girl he
loves, and become the father of free men and women!" And Rahal
answered proudly and tenderly:

"Thou art surely meaning my son Boris."

"Indeed, thou art near to the truth."

Then Rahal put her arm round Sunna and kissed her. "Thou hast made me
happy," she said, and Sunna made her still more happy, when she took
out of the little bag fastened to her belt the daguerreotype and
showed her the strong, handsome face of her soldier-sailor boy.

During all this summer Sunna was busy and regular. She was at the
Ragnors' every day until the noon hour. Then she ate dinner with her
grandfather, who was as eager to discuss the news and gossip Sunna had
heard, as any old woman in Kirkwall. He said: "Pooh! Pooh!" and
"Nonsense!" but he listened to it, and it often served his purpose
better than words of weight and wisdom.

In the afternoons Mistress Brodie was to visit, and the winter in
Edinburgh to talk over. Coming home in time to take tea with her
grandfather, she devoted the first hour after the meal to practising
her best songs, and these lullabyed the old man to a sleep which often
lasted until "The Banded Men" were attended to. It might then be ten
o'clock and she was ready to sleep.

All through these long summer days, Thora was the natural source of
interest and the inciting element of all the work and chatter that
turned the Ragnor house upside down and inside out; but Thora was
naturally shy and quiet, and Sunna naturally expressive and
presuming; and it was difficult for their companions to keep Thora and
Sunna in their proper places. Every one found it difficult. Only when
Ian was present, did Sunna take her proper secondary place and Ian,
though the most faithful and attentive of lovers by mail, had only
been able to pay Thora one personal visit. This visit had occurred at
the end of June and he was expected again at the end of September. The
year was now approaching that time and the Ragnor household was in a
state of happy expectation.

It was an unusual condition and Sunna said irritably: "They go on
about this stranger as if he were the son of Jupiter - and poor Boris!
They never mention him, though there has been a big battle and Boris
may have been in it. If Boris were killed, it is easy to see that this
Ian Macrae would step into his place!"

"Nothing of that kind could happen! In thy own heart keep such foolish
thoughts," replied Vedder.

So the last days of September were restless and not very happy, for
there was a great storm prevailing, and the winds roared and the rain
fell in torrents and the sea looked as if it had gone mad. Before the
storm there was a report of a big battle, but no details of it had
reached them. For the Pentland Firth had been in its worst equinoctial
temper and the proviso added to all Orkney sailing notices, "weather
permitting," had been in full force for nearly a week.

But at length the storm was over and everyone was on the lookout for
the delayed shipping. Thora was pale with intense excitement but all
things were in beautiful readiness for the expected guest. And Ian did
not disappoint the happy hopes which called him. He was on the first
ship that arrived and it was Conall Ragnor's hand he clasped as his
feet touched the dry land.

Such a home-coming as awaited him - the cheerful room, the bountifully
spread table, the warm welcome, the beauty and love, mingling with
that sense of peace and rest and warm affection which completely
satisfies the heart. Would such a blissful hour ever come again to him
in this life?

His pockets were full of newspapers, and they were all shouting over
the glorious opening of the war. The battle of Alma had been fought
and won; and the troops were ready and waiting for Inkerman. England's
usual calm placidity had vanished in exultant rejoicing. "An English
gentleman told me," said Ian, "that you could not escape the chimes of
joyful bells in any part of the ringing island.'"

Vedder had just entered the room and he stood still to listen to these
words. Then he said: "Men differ. For the first victory let all the
bells of England ring if they want to. We Norsemen like to keep our
bell-ringing until the fight is over and they can chime _Peace_. And
how do you suppose, Ian Macrae, that the English and French will like
to fight together?"

"Well enough, sir, no doubt. Why not?"

"Of Waterloo I was thinking. Have the French forgotten it? Ian, it is
the very first time in all the history we have, that Frenchmen ever
fought with Englishmen in a common cause. Natural enemies they have
been for centuries, fighting each other with a very good will whenever
they got a chance. Have they suddenly become friends? Have they forgot
Waterloo?" and he shook his wise old head doubtfully.

"Who can tell, sir, but when the English conquer any nation, they feel
kindly to them and usually give them many favours?"

"Well, then, every one knows that the same is both her pleasure and
her folly; and dearly she pays for it."

"Ian," said Mistress Ragnor, "are the English ships now in the Black
Sea? And if so, do you think Boris is with them?"

"About Boris, I do not know. He told me he was carrying 'material of
war.' The gentleman of whom I spoke went down to Spithead to see them
off. Her Majesty, in the royal yacht, _Fairy_, suddenly appeared. Then
the flagship hauled home every rope by the silent 'all-at-once' action
of one hundred men. Immediately the rigging of the ships was black
with sailors, but there was not a sound heard except an occasional
command - sharp, short and imperative - or the shrill order of the
boatswain's whistle. The next moment, the Queen's yacht shot past the
fleet and literally led it out to sea. Near the Nab, the royal yacht
hove to and the whole fleet sailed past her, carried swiftly out by a
fine westerly breeze. Her Majesty waved her handkerchief as they
passed and it is said she wept. If she had not wept she would have
been less than a woman and a queen."

While Vedder and Ragnor were discussing this incident, and comparing
it with Cleopatra at the head of her fleet and Boadicea at the head
of her British army and Queen Elizabeth at Tewksbury reviewing her
army, Mrs. Ragnor and Thora left the room. Ian quickly followed. There
was a bright fire in the parlour, and the piano was open. Ian
naturally drifted there and then Thora's voice was wanted in the song.
When it was finished, Mrs. Ragnor had been called out and they were
alone. And though Mrs. Ragnor came back at intervals, they were
practically alone during the rest of the evening.

What do lovers talk about when they are alone? Ah! their conversation
is not to be written down. How unwritable it is! How wise it is! How
foolish when written down! How supremely satisfying to the lovers
themselves! Surely it is only the "baby-talk" of the wisdom not yet
comprehensible to human hearts! We often say of certain events; "I
have no words to describe what I felt" - and who will find out or
invent the heavenly syllables that can adequately describe the divine
passion of two souls, that suddenly find their real mate - find the
soul that halves their soul, created for them, created with them,
often lost or missed through diverse reincarnations; but sooner or
later found again and known as soon as found to both. No wooing is
necessary in such a case - they meet, they look, they love, and
naturally and immediately take up their old, but unforgotten love
patois. They do not need to learn its sweet, broken syllables, its
hand clasps and sighs, its glances and kisses; they are more natural
to them than was the grammared language they learned through years of
painful study.

Ian and Thora hardly knew how the week went. Every one respected their
position and left them very much to their own inclinations. It led
them to long, solitary walks, and to the little green skiff on the
moonlit bay, and to short visits to Sunna, in order, mainly, that they
might afterwards tell each other how far sweeter and happier they were

They never tired of each other, and every day they recounted the
number of days that had to pass ere Ian could call himself free from
the McLeod contract. They were to marry immediately and Ian would go
into Ragnor's business as bookkeeper. Their future home was growing
more beautiful every day. It was going to be the prettiest little home
on the island. There was a good garden attached to it and a small
greenhouse to save the potted plants in the winter. Ragnor had
ordered its furniture from a famous maker in Aberdeen, and Rahal was
attending with love and skill to all those incidentals of modern
housekeeping, usually included in such words as silver, china, napery,
ornaments, and kitchen-utensils. They were much interested in it and
went every fine day to observe its progress. Yet their interest in the
house was far inferior to their interest in each other, and Sunna may
well be excused for saying to her grandfather:

"They are the most conceited couple in the world! In fact, the world
belongs to them and all the men and women in it - the sun and the moon
are made new for them, and they have the only bit of wisdom going. I
hope I may be able to say 'yes' to all they claim until Saturday

"These are the ways of love, Sunna."

"Then I shall not walk in them."

"Thou wilt walk in the way appointed thee."

"Pure Calvinism is that, Grandfather."

"So be it. I am a Calvinist about birth, death and marriage. They are
the events in life about which God interferes. His will and design is
generally evident."

"And quite as evident, Grandfather, is the fact that a great many
people interfere with His will and design."

"Yes, Sunna, because our will is free. Yet if our will crosses God's
will, crucifixion of some kind is sure to follow."

"Well, then, today is Friday. The week has got itself over nearly; and
tomorrow will be partly free, for Ian goes to Edinburgh at ten
o'clock. Very proper is that! Such an admirable young man ought only
to live in a capitol city."

"If these are thy opinions, keep them to thyself. Very popular is the
young man."

"Grandfather, dost thou think that I am walking in ankle-tights yet? I
can talk as the crowd talks, and I can talk to a sensible man like
thee. Tomorrow brings release. I am glad, for Thora has forgotten me.
I feel that very much."

"Thou art jealous."

Vedder's assertion was near the truth, for undeniably Ian and Thora
had been careless of any one but themselves. Yet their love was so
vital and primitive, so unaffected and sincere, that it touched the
sympathies of all. In this cold, far-northern island, it had all the
glow and warmth of some rose-crowned garden of a tropical paradise.
But such special days are like days set apart; they do not fit into
ordinary life and cannot be continued long under any circumstances. So
the last day came and Thora said:

"Mother, dear, it is a day in a thousand for beauty, and we are going
to get Aunt Brodie's carriage to ride over to Stromness and see the
queer, old town, and the Stones of Stenness."

"Go not near them. If you go into the cathedral you go expecting some
good to come to you; for angels may be resting in its holy aisles,
ready and glad to bless you. What will you ask of the ghosts among the
Stones of Stenness? Is there any favour you would take from the Baal
and Moloch worshipped with fire and blood among them?"

"Why, Mother," said Thora, "I have known many girls who went with
their lovers to Stenness purposely to join their hands through the
hole in Woden's Stone and thus take oath to love each other forever."

"Thou and Ian will take that oath in the holy church of St. Magnus."

"That is what we wish, Mother," said Ian. "We wish nothing less than

"Well, then, go and see the queer, old, old town, and go to the
Mason's Arms, and you will get there a good dinner. After it ride
slowly back. Father will be home before six and must have his meal at

"That is the thing we shall do, Mother. Ian thought it would be so
romantic to take a lunch with us and eat it among the Stones of
Stenness. But the Mason's Arms will be better. The Masons are good
men, Mother?"

"In all their generations, good men. Thy father is a Mason in high

"Yes, that is so! Then the Mason's Arms may be lucky to us?"

"We make things lucky or unlucky by our willing and doing; but even
so, it is not lucky to defy or deny what the dead have once held to be
good or bad."

"Well, then, why, Mother?"

"Not now, will we talk of whys and wherefores. It is easier to believe
than to think. Take, in this last day of Love's seven days, the full
joy of your lives and ask not why of anyone."

So the lovers went off gaily to see the land-locked bay and the
strange old town of Stromness; and the house was silent and lonely
without them and Rahal wished that her husband would come home and
talk with her, for her soul was under a cloud of presentiments and
she said to herself after a morning of fretful, inefficient work: "Oh,
how much easier it is to love God than it is to trust Him. Are not my
dear ones in His care? Yet about them I am constantly worrying; though
perfectly well I know that in any deluge that may come, God will find
an ark for those who love and trust Him. Boris knows - Boris knows - I
have told him."

About three o'clock she went to the window and looked towards the
town. Much to her astonishment she saw her husband coming home at a
speed far beyond his ordinary walk. He appeared also to be disturbed,
even angry, and she watched him anxiously until he reached the house.
Then she was at the open door and his face frightened her.

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