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Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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I did. When he went to Edinburgh this morning, I
said to mother, what a piece of good fortune it was,
and then I resolved to open my heart to you to-day.
You must know how anxious Blair is to have things
settled with you?"

" Yes, I have known that some time. I will promise
you, Bertha, he shall have things settled with me as
soon as he returns."

" You will accept him ? " And Bertha lifted her
kerchief to her face, and began to weep with a child
ish helplessness that went to Scotia's heart.

" I will refuse him, then there and forever. I
will send him to you for love and sympathy. Blair
has a miraculous sense of his own interests. He is
quite as capable as you are of taking the next best.
Besides, he may really like you better. I think father
has made quite a point of his marrying me. When



7 s A SISTER TO ESAU.

he finds out I do not want him, I dare say he will find
out that he never wanted me."

" Scotia ! Scotia ! I can never thank you enough.
To think you will really give up Blair to me ! It
seems impossible ! Say so once more, that I may
believe it."

" I will certainly refuse Blair Rodney when he asks
me to marry him."

" You must think me selfish, dear Scotia, I am sure
you must. But I am such a timid little thing, and the
thought of having to give up Blair, and having to go
to India, made me miserable."

" Be happy, then. You can marry Blair, if Blair is
willing ; and stay at Rodney Law."

After this absolute surrender, the feeling in the
room changed. There was a restraint in it, which
Bertha wished to escape from the painful restraint
of simulated gratitude. As for Scotia, no sooner was
her sacrifice completed than she was assailed with
doubts from every side. Her conscience did not give
her any approval ; her heart was wounded, and she
could not listen to Bertha's iterations, because she
was blindly feeling about for its hurt.

In a little while Bertha was sure that Scotia looked
pale and weary, and ought to sleep. She put down
the lights, and shook up the pillows, and smoothed
the spread, and tip-toed about the room with an affec
tation of loving solicitude that was irritating. But she
finally tip-toed herself out of the room, and silently
closed the door behind her. For a few steps she pre
served the same manner, then her face glowed with a
sudden delight ; she ran swiftly along the corridor,
and locked herself in her own room.



A MESS OF POTTAGE. 79

" I have managed it ! " she cried softly. " I have
managed it ! I have got all I wanted ! Clever little
Bertha ! " And she gently patted her pink cheeks, as
she looked at herself in the mirror with a great ap
probation.



VI.

EITHER WILL DO.

" Some kinds of baseness are nobly undergone."
" Some sins do bear their privilege on earth."

" The week impress of Love is as a figure
Trenched in ice ; which, with an hour's heat
Dissolves to water, and doth lose its form."

" There is no virtue like necessity."

Shakespeare.

'~PHERE is an instinctive sagacity which anticipates
-* events by a warm impression of them, and this
instinctive sagacity Scotia possessed in a large degree.
For several days after her surrender, life went on as if
she had made no such surrender. But on the Satur
day evening following, she had a presentiment that the
time had come for her to finish the act of renuncia
tion she had undertaken.

It had been a sultry day, and the gloaming was op
pressive. The house had already its Sabbath atmos
phere. The Colonel sat silent and thoughtful by the
open window. Wherever his soul wandered, it was far
from Rodney Law. Mrs. Rodney was watching the
maids fill the vases with fresh flowers, and lay out
clean linen, and make the other preparations neces
sary for a peaceful Sabbath. Bertha was in her room
considering the toilet she would wear to church. The

80



EITHER WILL DO. 81

house was in perfect order ; sweet, clean, and a little
mournful.

Scotia, with her bonnet in her hand, went slowly
through the garden, and when she reached its con
fines passed into the park. The living gallery of
great trees invited her. She went thoughtfully into
it. " In such green halls the first kings reigned," she
said softly ; " they slept in their shade, and enter
tained angels." Then a shadow, almost painful in its
annoyance, darkened her face. She saw, afar off, not
any angel, but the very material figure of Blair Rodney.

He was aware of her presence at the same moment,
and struck his horse smartly to hurry its loitering
steps. Scotia waited at the mossy root of a birch
tree, and when Blair joined her he alighted and
threw his bridle over his arm. It was evidently his in
tention to walk home with her. The words he was
going to say she saw in his eyes and on his lips ; and
her first impulse was to prevent them by any other
words that she could remember. She was very ner
vous, and Blair's pronounced individuality was for a
few minutes an oppression.

There were some blue bells at the foot of the tree,
hidden among the grass, and Scotia stooped to gather
them. She was hardly conscious she was doing so ;
the act was an involuntary one, the outcome of her
suddenly disturbed condition. But when she rose with
her hands full of the pale blue flowers, Blair thought
she was exquisitely lovely, and for once he became
poetical. " These beautiful blossoms," he said " are
like woman. As they dwell under the protecting care
of the tree, so woman should shelter her weakness in
the protecting love of man. I love flowers, and I
love "



82 A SISTER TO ESAU.

" I love trees, " interrupted Scotia. " They are
far more noble than flowers. Flowers carry all their
splendor on the outside. Trees have an intrinsic
grandeur. They do not lean upon us, they are not
dependent upon us in any way."

" Some trees are very delicate and require much
care."

" Exotics ! I am not thinking of such. Have you
noticed the north side of Rodney Hill, with its mantle
of pines ? If ever I feel weak, I walk among them.
What a long warfare they have waged with the forces
of nature ! not singly, but in serried phalanxes, requir
ing little nourishment, making little display, living by
union. There is nothing in nature that has such
power over a noble imagination as a plantation of
pines."

" Perhaps I have no noble imagination. I confess
that the pine woods, as well as those dismal yews in
the kirk -yard, inspire me with dislike and fear. They
are very ugly, too."

" No ; they are not ugly, Blair. No tree is ugly,
except the pollard willow. I like yews ; they have a
solemn atmosphere, and if you go among them, you
grow insensibly solemn. How huge they are ! How
battered ! How venerable ! And it is incontestable
that they become more and more striking as they
grow to extreme old age. They are the only trees
which do so. But you are not listening to me."

" No, Cousin Scotia, I was looking at you ; admiring
you ; loving you ; wondering if you could ever love
me ! "

" I love you, cousin, just as well as there is need to."

" Enough to be my wife, Scotia ? Dearest Scotia !"

" Wives and cousins are different things, Blair."



EITHER WILL DO. 83

" Make them the same in our case. Scotia, I want
you to love me ; to marry me "

" But I do not love you, Blair ; and I never could
love you as a wife should love her husband. So, then,
I could never marry you."

" Scotia, do you realize what you are saying ? "

He spoke with astonishment, with a shade of anger,
as one might answer an unreasonable child.

"Yes, Blair. I have thought over the words you
have now said very often. I knew, of course, that
you would say them ; and I am not talking as a
foolish woman might talk just to be coaxed out of a
false position. I mean what I have said."

" Do you think that I have asked you to be my wife
because Colonel Rodney wishes me to do so ? I love
you dearly, Scotia."

" You think you love me, Blair ; but I know you
better than you know yourself. You really love Bertha,
and she loves you with all her heart. I appreciate the
kindness and justice which led you to offer your hand
first to me, because I am the older, and, therefore, the
natural heiress of Rodney. But let me assure you, I
shall be better pleased to see Bertha and you its
mistress and master. Bertha loves you. I do not
love you. Bertha would marry you if you had not a
shilling. I would not marry you for all Scotland ! I
would not do you such an injustice ! "

" Bertha is a dear little darling, but "

" Then tell her so, and both of you be happy ever
afterward."

He was contemplating the act, even while Scotia
spoke. In some respects he would have greatly pre
ferred Scotia, but in reality neither of the sisters
filled the highest ideal of Blair Rodney. A woman



&4 A SISTER TO ESAU.

like the Hon. Mrs. Bothwell, who was the glass of
fashion and the leader of her own particular set, was
the woman after his heart. Between Scotia and
Bertha he had come to regard the choice as about
even. Scotia was the lovelier woman, but Bertha
would make the more obedient and comfortable wife.
Scotia was the Colonel's desire, and for that very
reason he felt that it would be a pleasant assertion of
his independence to choose Bertha. In fact, he had
begun to regard Rodney as his own by right of suc
cession, and to feel it hard that his right was
weighted by a wife of any kind.

He thought he had successfully hid all such feel
ings, but Scotia divined them in their naked ugliness,
even as he walked in silent disappointment at her side.
For some, minutes neither spoke. Blair was mentally
regarding the last card he could play for the inherit
ance of Rodney. Scotia's indifference had startled
him. He was questioning with some anxiety whether
he could trust Bertha or not.

" I love you for yourself alone, Cousin Scotia," he
said gloomily, " and I am distracted and miserable at
your refusal."

Scotia listened with eyes disdainfully cast upon the
ground ; and though he went on saying fond words,
and swearing to them, she heeded them no more than
the rocks at the seaside heed the protesting waves.
Her attitude finally angered him, and he said with
some temper :

" Perhaps some day, Scotia, you will regret that
you quarreled with your fate."

"As for that, Blair, fate was not mine, nor am I
fate's."

" Your father will be bitterly disappointed. Your



EITHER WILL DO. 85

friends pardon me will say you have been a fool ;
I speak, not as regards myself, but as regards Rodney."

" My father's disappointment will pass away ; and
if I am a fool, let me congratulate myself that I am
one through choice, and not for want of sense.
Blair, it would indeed be foolish for us to quarrel.
We are not going to marry ; and I think it only fair
you should keep your bad temper for your wife. That
is the usual way."

They had come into the garden by this time, and
the scent of the honeysuckle was above every other
scent. It had a silencing effect. Both inhaled it
with passive delight. And as they drew near to the
standard on which it climbed, a figure came from be
hind it a figure in a pretty pink muslin gown, with
some of the fragrant blossoms in her bosom. It was
Bertha ; and she uttered a little cry of pleasure and
came toward them.

"Be kind, Blair," Scotia said hurriedly, " and do
not say you thought it right to ask me first. It would
be very humiliating to me."

And never, in all his life afterward, did it strike
Blair that Scotia had really made a very noble request.
For it was impossible for him to conceive of a soul so
great, that it could not only surrender its highest
earthly interests, but also invest the surrender with an
air of selfishness, in order to relieve others of the re
straint of gratitudfe. He looked with an assumed re
proach into Scotia's face, and then called to Bertha in
his loud, cheery, dominant voice. And Bertha looked
so pretty, and was so happy and affectionate, that
Blair felt a sudden access of liking for her. She re
stored him to himself ; to his own high opinion of
Blair Rodney.



86 A SISTER TO ESAU.

A gardener took away Blair's horse, and very
quickly Scotia left Blair and Bertha together. She
hardly knew what excuse she made ; certainly neither
Blair nor Bertha paid the slightest attention to her
apology. For a moment they watched her tall figure
passing through the gray light ; then she disappeared
among the rose bushes, and the sense of their solitude
was a relief. Blair was holding Bertha's hands. Her
pretty round face was dropped. Her small figure had
a natural lean toward him. It was the easiest thing
in life to draw it close in his embrace ; to lift the
blushing happy face, and kiss his welcome from her
unreluctant lips.

The rest was still easier, and still more pleasant.
Bertha confessed all that Blair wished her to say ; and
Blair was impelled by the very fact of his unfortunate
declaration to Scotia to make the strongest possible
protestations of his devotion.

In such delightful discourse time passed very
rapidly. They forgot everything but their own hap
piness and their own interests ; and the Evening
Exercise was quite over when they entered the house
together. The Colonel had been unusually sorrowful
while conducting it. Scotia's heart ached to the
mournful question which he asked with such a restless
pathos, as he stood up before his household, with his
long, thin hand laid reverently on the open Bible :

" Why art thou cast down, Oh my soul, and why art
thou disquieted within me ? "

The fact that he had passed by the regular portion,
and chosen this psalm, was to Scotia a positive proof
that her father was apprehensive and disturbed. She
wondered if his soul was prescient of its approaching
disappointment. She had a miserable fear as to the



EITHER WILL DO. 87

wisdom and kindness of her own act. Her renuncia
tion assumed a selfish aspect. She wished, as she
listened to the mournful tones of the man praying,
that she had taken consideration and advice ; that she
had not allowed Bertha's selfish plaints and her
own inclinations to force so final a decision from
her.

As the servants left the parlor she heard the lovers
entering the hall. The Colonel and Mrs. Rodney
heard them at the same moment. Mrs. Rodney, in a
voice of genuine surprise said, " That is certainly
Blair." She heard Bertha speaking also, and, in some
mysterious way, she understood the position of the
two. The knowledge made her suddenly nervous ;
she felt unable to face the event she had wished and
planned for, and with an inaudible excuse left the
room.

Scotia was by her father's side. She had no time to
escape ; she was compelled to watch the entrance of
the couple, who came in so demonstratively happy.
Blair, out of respect for the nearness of the Sabbath,
laughing in as low a tone as was possible to him.
Bertha clinging to his arm, and softly echoing all his
expressions of satisfaction.

Scotia glanced at the Colonel. His face was gray
and angry. He sat rigidly upright, like a man ex
pecting a blow, and ready to receive it without winc
ing.

" I am glad to see you again, Colonel," cried Blair,
advancing. His manner was self-congratulatory and
confident. It offended the Colonel in all his fine in
stincts. He simply bowed in response.

" Bertha and I have just come to a very happy un
derstanding ; and we thought "



88 A SISTER TO ESAU.

" Mr. Rodney Blair you forget that this is the
preparation for the Sabbath. Your affairs, whatever
they may be, must wait until Monday morning. Ber
tha, you missed the Exercise. Was your own way,
child, so far from the way of duty, that you could not
make them one ? "

" Father, I "

" Make your excuse to Him whose service you ne
glected. I hope you have a good one one you will
dare to offer. Scotia, give me my stick. I will go
upstairs. Good-night, children ! Remember the Sab
bath, to keep it holy. Your own thoughts, hopes, and
desires have no right in it."

He spoke with a slow decision that Scotia felt was a
labor. She followed him into the hall, but he dis
missed her there with most unusual severity. " Go
back to your brother and sister," he said, " I will
talk to you after the Sabbath." He purposely called
Blair her "brother " ; he wished her to understand his
sorrow and his suffering. But that was in a measure
impossible. She could form no conception of his dis
appointment. She did not dream that his last earthly
hope had been shattered. She could not see his utter
collapse of spirit when he reached his room ; the piti
ful wringing of his aged hands ; the few last tears
forced from his dim eyes by the failure of his one
desire. " Oh, the long, long sorrow of life ! " he
sighed.

But whether we notice it or not, even the uncon
scious efforts of nature are toward consolation. Our
very hearts throb upward ; our bosoms heave toward
heaven. Without analyzing the sources of comfort,
the patiently receptive find them. When Mrs. Rod
ney joined her husband, he had got the mastery



EITHER WILL DO. 89

of himself, though he looked exceedingly ill and
weary.

" I suppose, Kinross, you understand about Blair
and Bertha ? "

" Yes. We will not talk of it to-night."

"You look ill, my dear?"

" I have had a blow. It laid me on my face for
half an hour."

" But you are better ; you have risen again ? "

" The Lord of wings gives power to soar when men
cannot rise or stand."

" Man proposes, and God disposes, Kinross, my
dear."

" The rede still rings, that all is vanity and vex
ation of spirit. Why should we escape ? The Sab
bath may give us strength to meet what we did not
wish, and to give up what we did wish."

In fact, Blair and Bertha were the only happy
people in Rodney House that night. Mrs. Rodney
suffered from the same uncertainty as Scotia. She was
not sure in her own mind that she had done altogether
right. She could not make herself believe that a good
end justified all means to reach it.

Certainly the tone of the house was not flattering to
the lovers, but Bertha and Blair were ignorant of the
lack of sympathy. Blair felt himself already master of
Rodney, and Bertha went very quickly to her sister's
room. In spite of her father's regard for the Sabbath,
she did not feel that it bound her for at least another
hour. And she had things to say to Scotia which she
could not wait to say until Monday morning.

Scotia was compelled to hear them. If she refused,
Bertha would attribute the refusal either to jealousy,
disappointment, or want of sisterly love ; to any



90 A SISTER TO ESAU.

reason rather than to the right one. For Bertha had
one of those commonplace natures which remorse
lessly lop off whatever outgrows its own level.

" Dear Scotia," she said effusively, " are you not
glad for my happiness ? I never was so surprised.
And only think, how foolish I was to doubt dear Blair.
He says he has loved me from the first moment of our
acquaintance. You remember, he met me first ? "

" If you are happy, I am very glad in your happi
ness, Bertha."

" I was such an ignorant little thing. Blair reminded
me to-night of times without number when he has
tried to make me understand how precious I was to
him. But I was too timid to hope for such joy as
Blair's love. He says Father wanted him to marry
you."

" Blair ought not to say such things. I told you
I did not love Blair. He never could have suited me
Never ! Never ! "

" Well, that is not dear Blair's fault. He loves you
as a sister, Scotia."

" He is very kind. I will try and love him as a
brother."

" Of course, as you are the eldest, it would have
been better for Blair to have married you. Father
wanted it so ; but Blair says he would rather lose
Rodney than lose his little Bertha. I suppose he may
have to lose Rodney. He said he could see that
Father was very cross. Blair is particularly shrewd
and penetrating."

" Then he must understand that he will not lose
Rodney. He ought to feel sure that my Father's word
stands under all circumstances. Why should he and
you pretend to think differently."



EITHER WILL DO. 91

" You might say a few words in our favor, Scotia.
You know, Father always listens to you."

" When I gave up Blair and Rodney to you, Bertha,
I gave up both without reservation. Do me justice,
and believe that."

"Do not be cross, Scotia. I think it was kind of
you to give up Rodney. I really feel that, and so
does Blair. We are going to ask Father to divide it."

" I pray you do nothing of the kind. Can you not
see that Father accepts Blair only because through
him the estate can be kept intact in the Rodney
name."

" Blair says that he is the next heir, and that his
choice of me is therefore entirely free."

" Blair lies ! excuse me, Bertha. You know, and
Blair knows, that Father can leave Rodney exactly as
he wishes."

" Except for the moral obligation. No Rodney has
ever thought the moral obligation less binding than a
legal one."

" Did you come here to discuss money matters, and
it is so near the Sabbath, Bertha ? "

" And though you did, in imagination, give Blair
up to me : in reality, dear Scotia, Blair has always
been mine. He says so. It was only my foolish,
timid heart that could not believe in its own happiness.
Blair says, ' I do not know how charming, how very
charming I am.' I wish I could feel as you do, about
my own worth. Now, I shall have the pleasure of re
fusing Sir Thomas Carr, with his Indian Secretary
ship ! "

" Sir Thomas is a fine fellow. Any woman might
be proud of his homage."

" I make you welcome to it. Now, as you made



92 A SISTER TO ESAU.

me welcome to Blair, we are quits. When I told Blair
that Sir Thomas Carr's offer was still pending, and
that I was to answer him next Tuesday, you cannot
think what a state Blair was in ! He wanted me to
write a refusal to-night. He said he could not sleep
unless I did. He went for paper, and pen, and ink,
and just gave me no rest till the note was written."

" And you wrote it ? To-night ? "

" I did, to please Blair. Blair said it was a very
lady-like letter."

" You let Blair read Sir Thomas Carr's letter ?
Bertha ? "

" Blair would have been jealous if I had not let
him read it. Poor Sir Thomas ! He will be broken
hearted."

" I do not think he is to be pitied. You are not
the wife for' him. He will find that out when he
meets the right person."

" I am going to sleep now. Dear me ! it is striking
twelve. It is the Sabbath. Good-night, dear Sco
tia ? " and she went away with the solemn little air
she usually wore on the Sabbath day. But ere she
reached the door, she turned and said in a deliberate,
speculative manner : " I wonder what the minister will
say ? Angus Bruce is very fond of me, lately."

" Angus Bruce ? "

" Indeed, yes ! A woman knows when a man is in
love with her ; and I know Angus Bruce has thought
a great deal about me. It was presumptuous, of
course, but I dare say the poor fellow could not help it."

" Why presumptuous ? "

" A man with 200 a year ? "

" He is a clergyman. His office makes him the
social equal of any lady in Scotland."



EITHER WILL DO. 93

" That is only tradition. Scotia, have you forgotten
that we are breaking the Sabbath, talking of our own
affairs ? "

" Is talking of them worse than thinking of them ? "

" If you begin to ask questions, I am going. Ques
tions are so disagreeable. Good-night again ! I hope
it will be fine to-morrow. I should like to wear white
on my betrothal Sabbath."

Then the door finally closed, and Scotia went to it
and softly drew the bolt. At last she was alone, and
she turned to her heart almost angrily, and began to
talk with it. " I see this," she said, " that they who
try to do a kind, unselfish action, sow the sea with
sand, and must reap their crop of foam, and harvest
it. What have I received ? what shall I receive for
my absolute relinquishment of Rodney ? For my
delicate refusal of Blair's love ? Blair has already
forgotten, if he ever understood it. Bertha is bent
on letting me feel that my sisterly kindness was un
necessary. She is humiliated by its remembrance.
She will never think of it as a proof of my affection,
and be glad in it, as such. I have grieved Father
almost to death. And what is my recompense ?"

Then a voice, low, but penetrating every corner of
her consciousness, asked, "What were your motives ?"

She took up the question with the impatience of an
angry woman. " I suppose my motives were not
purely angelic. But if I pulled a rose up by the
roots, I should find its roots in the dirt. It is not
necessary to pursue a motive to its roots, any more
than it is necessary to look for the root of a rose.


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrA sister to Esau → online text (page 6 of 23)