Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

Jan Vedder's wife online

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Mrs. Robert Shuey




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Cofyrizh*. 1885,

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XIII. LITTLE JAN S TRIUMPH .... c .... 275







Eastward, afar, the coasts of men were seen
Dim, shadowy, and spectral ; like a still
Broad land of spirits lay the vacant sea
Beneath the silent heavens here and there,
Perchance, a vessel skimmed the watery waste,
Like a white-winged sea-bird, but it moved
Too pale and small beneath the vail of space.
There, too, went forth the sun
Like a white angel, going down to visit
The silent, ice-washed cloisters of the Pole. "


MORE than fifty years ago this thing hap
pened : Jan Vedder was betrothed to
Margaret Fae. It was at the beginning of the
Shetland summer, that short interval of inex
pressible beauty, when the amber sunshine lin
gers low in the violet skies from week to week ;
and the throstle and the lark sing at midnight.


atnd thfe : Wh*6ie "Isand hak an air of enchantment,

*%. * * t

mystic, w oriclerful; and far 1 off.

In the town of Lerwick all was still, though
it was but nine o clock ; for the men were
at the ling-fishing, and the narrow flagged
street and small quays were quite deserted.
Only at the public fountain there was a little
crowd of women and girls, and they sat around
its broad margin, with their water pitchers and
their knitting, laughing and chatting in the
dreamlike light.

" Well, and so Margaret Fae marries at last ;
she, too, marries, like the rest of the world."

" Yes, and why not ? "

" As every one knows, it is easier to begin
that coil than to end it ; and no one has ever
thought that Margaret would marry Jan he
that is so often at the dance, and so seldom at
the kirk."

. " Yes, and it is said that he is not much of
a man. Magnus Yool can wag him here ; and
Nicol Sinclair send him there, and if
Suneva Torr but cast her nixie-eyes on him,
he leaves all to walk by her side. It is little
\ mind of his own he hath ; besides that, he is
hard to deal with, and obstinate."


" That is what we all think, Gisla ; thou alone
hast uttered it. But we will say no more of
Jan, for oft ill comes of women s talk."

The speakers were middle-aged women who
had husbands and sons in the fishing fleet, and
they cast an anxious glance toward it, as they
lifted their water pitchers to their heads, and
walked slowly home together, knitting as they
went. Lerwick had then only one street of
importance, but it was of considerable length,
extending in the form of an amphitheater
along the shore, and having numberless little
lanes or closes, intersected by stairs, running
backward to an eminence above the town. The
houses were generally large and comfortable,
but they were built without the least regard to
order. Some faced the sea, and some the land,
and the gable ends projected on every side,
and at every conceivable angle. Many of their
foundations were drilled out of the rock
upon the shore, and the smooth waters of the
bay were six feet deep at the open doors or

The utmost quiet reigned there. Shetland
possessed no carts or carriages, and only the
clattering of a shelty s gallop, or the song of a


drunken sailor disturbed the echoes. The
whole place had a singular, old-world look, and
the names over the doors carried one back to
Norseland and the Vikings. For in these
houses their children dwelt, still as amphibious
as their forefathers, spending most of their
lives upon the sea, rarely sleeping under a roof,
or warming themselves at a cottage fire ; a rug
ged, pious, silent race, yet subject, as all Norse
men are, to fits of passionate and uncontrolla
ble emotion.

Prominently among the Thorkels and Hal-
cros, the Yools and Traills, stood out the name
of Peter Fae. Peter had the largest store in
Lerwick, he had the largest fish-curing shed, he
was the largest boat owner. His house of
white stone outside the town was two stories
high, and handsomely furnished ; and it was
said that he would be able to leave his daugh
ter Margaret ; 10,000; a very large fortune for
a Shetland girl. Peter was a Norseman of pro
nounced type, and had the massive face and
loose-limbed strength of his race, its faculty
for money-getting, and its deep religious sen
timent. Perhaps it would be truer to say, its
deep Protestant sentiment, for Norsemen have


always been Protestants ; they hated the Rom
ish church as soon as they heard of it.

If the Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-American
wishes to see whence came the distinguishing
traits of his race, let him spend a few weeks
among the Shetland Norsemen, for they have
pre-eminently those qualities we are accus
tomed to pride ourselves upon possessing the
open air freshness of look, the flesh and blood
warmth of grip, the love of the sea, the reso
lute earnestness of being and doing, the large,
clear sincerity of men accustomed to look
stern realities in the face.

Peter s wife, Thora, was also of pure Norse
lineage, and in many an unrecognized way
her ancestors influenced her daily life. She
had borne four sons, but, in the expressive
form of Shetland speech, " the sea had got
them ;" and her daughter Margaret was the
sole inheritor of their gathered gold. Thora
was a proud, silent woman, whose strongest "
affections were with her children in their lonely *
sea graves. ID her heart, deeper down than
her faith could reach, lay a conviction that the
Faes and Thorkels who had sailed those seas
for centuries had " called her boys to them.


And she was always nursing an accusation
against herself for a rite which she had ob
served for their welfare, but which she was now
sure had been punished by their death. For
often, when they had been tossing on the black
North Sea, she had gone to the top of the hill,
and looking seaward she had raised from the
past the brown-sailed ships, and the big yel
low-haired men tugging at their oars ; and in
her heart there had been a supplication to their
memory, which Peter, had he known it, would
have denounced, with the sternest wrath, as
neither more nor less than a service to Satan.

But what do we know of the heart nearest to
our own? What do we know of our own
heart ? Some ancestor who sailed with Offa,
or who fought with the Ironsides, or protested
with the Covenanters, or legislated with the
Puritans, may, at this very hour, be influencing
us, in a way of which we never speak, and in
which no other soul intermeddles.

Thora had one comfort. Her daughter was
of a spirit akin to her own. Peter had sent
her to Edinburgh, hoping that she would bring
back to his northern home some of those low-
]an4 refinements of which he had a shadowy


and perhaps exaggerated idea. But Margaret
Fae s character was not of that semi-fluid
nature which can easily be run into new
molds. She had looked with distrust and
dislike upon a life which seemed to her artifi
cial and extravagant, and had come back to
Shetland with every Norse element in her
character strengthened and confirmed.

What then made her betroth herself to Jan
Vedder? A weak, wasteful man, who had
little but his good-natured, pleasant ways and
his great beauty to recommend him. And yet
the wise and careful Margaret Fae loved him ;
loved him spontaneously, as the brook loves to
run, and the bird loves to sing.

" But bear in mind, husband," said Thora, on
the night of the betrothal, " that this thing is
of thy own doing. Thou hired Jan Vedder,
when thou couldst well have hired a better
man. Thou brought him to thy house. Well,
then, was there any wonder that ill-luck should
follow the foolish deed ? "

"Wife, the lad is a pleasant lad. If he had
money to even Margaret s tocher, and if he
were more punctual at the ordinances, there
would be no fault to him."


" So I think, too. But when a man has not
religion, and has beside empty pockets, then
he is poor for both worlds. It seems, then,
that our Margaret must marry with a poor
man. And let me tell thee, it was a little thing
moved thee, for because Jan had a handsome
face, and a bright smile, thou liked him/*

" Many a sore heart folks get who set liking
before judgment. But if there is good in the
lad, then to get married will bring it out."

" That is as it may be. Often I have seen it
bring out ill. Can any one tell if a man be
good or ill, unless they dwell under the same
roof with him ? Abroad, who is so pleasant as
Ragon Torr? But at home, every body there
has to look to his wishes."

At this point in the conversation, Margaret
entered. She was a tall, straight girl, with a
finely-featured, tranquil face, admirably framed
in heavy coils of hair that were yellow as dawn.
Her complexion was exquisite, and her eyes
blue, and cool, and calm. She was still and
passionless in manner, but far from being cold
at heart ; nevertheless, her soul, with the
purity of crystal, had something also of its
sharp angles ; something which might perhaps


become hard and cutting. She carried herself
loftily, and walked with an air of decision.
Peter looked at her steadily and said :

" Now, thou hast done ill, Margaret. When
a young girl marries, she must face life for her
self ; and many are the shoulders that ask for
burdens they can not bear."

" Yes, indeed ! And it is all little to my mind,"
added the mother. " I had spoken to thee for
thy cousin Magnus Hay ; and then here comes
this Jan Vedder !

"Yes, he comes!" and Margaret stood
listening, the pink color on her cheeks spread
ing to the tips of her ears, and down her white
throat. " Yes, he comes ! " and with the words,
Jan stood in the open door. A bright, hand
some fellow he was ! There was no one in all
the Islands that was half so beautiful.

" Peter, " he cried joyfully, " here has hap
pened great news ! The Sure-Giver is in the
harbor with all her cargo safe. She came
in with the tide. All her planks and nails are

" That is great news, surely, Jan. But it is
ill luck to talk of good luck. Supper is ready;
sit down with us/


But Thora spoke no word, and Jan looked at
Margaret with the question in his eyes.

" It means this, and no more, Jan. I have
told my father and mother that thou would
make me thy wife."

"That is what I desire, most of all things."

" Then there is little need of long talk. I
betroth myself to thee here for life or death, Jan
Vedder; and my father and my mother they
are the witnesses ; and as she spoke, she went
to Jan, and put her hands in his, and Jan drew
her proudly to his breast and kissed her.

Thora left the room without a glance at the
lovers. Peter stood up, and said angrily :
" Enough, and more than enough has been said
this night. No, Jan ; I will not put my palm
against thine till we have spoken together.
There is more to a marriage than a girl s Yes ,
and a wedding ring."

That was the manner of Jan s betrothal ; and
as he walked rapidly back into the town, there
came a feeling into his heart of not being quite
pleased with it. In spite of Margaret s affec
tion and straightforward decision, he felt

" It is wha^aman gets who wooes a rich wife/


tie muttered ; " but I will go and tell Michael
Snorro about it. And he smiled at the prospect,
and hurried onward to Peter s store.

For Michael Snorro lived there. The open
ing to the street was closed ; but the one
facing the sea was wide open ; and just within
it, among the bags of feathers and swans down,
the piles of seal skins, the barrels of whale oil,
and of sea-birds eggs, and the casks of smoked
geese, Michael was sitting. The sea washed
the warehouse walls, and gurgled under the
little pier, that extended from the door, but it
was the only sound there was. Michael, with
his head in his hands, sat gazing into the
offing where many ships lay at anchor. At the
sound of Jan s voice his soul sprang into his
face for a moment, and he rose, trembling with
pleasure, to meet him.

In all his desolate life, no one had loved
Michael Snorro. A suspicion that " he was
not all there," and therefore " one of God s
bairns," had insured him, during his long orphan-
age, the food> and clothes, and shelter, neces
sary for life ; but no one had given him love.
And Michael humbly acknowledged that he
could not expect it, for nature had been cruelly


unkind to him. He was, indeed, of almost gigan*
tic size, but awkward and ill-proportioned.
His face, large and flat, had the whiteness of
clay, except at those rare intervals when his
soul shone through it ; and no mortal, but Jan
Vedder, had ever seen that illumination.

It would be as hard to tell why Michael
loved Jan as to say why Jonathan s soul clave
to David as soon as he saw him. Perhaps it
was an unreasonable affection, but it was one
passing the love of woman, and, after all, can
we guess how the two men may have been
spiritually related ? There was some tie of
which flesh and blood knew not between them.

" Michael, I am going to be married."

" Well, Jan- and what then ? "

" It will be with me as others ; I shall have
children, and g?;ow rich, and old, and die."

"Who is it, Jan?"

" Margaret Fae."

" I thought that. Well, thou art sunshine,
Jan, and she is like a pool of clear water. If
the sun shines not, then the water will freeze,
and grow cold and hard."

"Thou dost not like women, Michael."

" Nay, but I trust them not. Where the


devil can not go, he sends a woman. Well,
then, he will find no such messenger for me.
He must come himself. That is well ; the fight
will be easier."

" When I am married I shall sail my own
boat, and thou shalt be always with me, Michael.
We will feel the fresh wind blowing in the can
vas, and the salt spindrift in our faces, and the
boat going as if she were a solan flying for the

"Is that thy thought, then? Let me tell
thee that thou art counting thy fish while they
are swimming. Until Peter Fae s hands are
full of earth, he will not part with one gold
piece. Make up thy mind to that

" Margaret will have her tocher."

" That will be seen ; but if thou wants money,
Jan, there it is in my chest, and what greater
joy can I have than to see it in thy hand all
of it? It would be thy grace to me."

Then Jan rose up and laid his arm across
Michael s shoulder ; and Michael s lifted face
caught the glow of Jan s bending one, and the
men s souls spoke to each other, though their
lips never parted.

The next day proved Michael right. Peter


did not name Margaret s tocher. He said ha
would give Margaret a house with all needful
plenishing; and he promised also to pay all
the wedding expenses. But there was no word
of any sum of ready money ; and Jan was too
proud in his poverty to ask for his right. He
did, indeed, suggest that when he was a house
holder he should have more wages. But Peter
would not see the justice of any such addition.
" I give thee all thou art worth, and I will not
give thee a Scotch merk more," he answered
roughly. " When it comes to a question of
wage, Jan, the son and the stranger are the
same to me." And when Jan told his friend
what had been promised, Michael said only :
" Well, then, thou wilt have the woman also."

The twelfth of August is "the fisherman s
foy" in Shetland, and the great feast of
the Islands. It was agreed, therefore, that the
marriage should take place at that time. For
there would be at least two hundred fishing
vessels in Brassy Sound at that time, and with
most of the fishermen Peter either had had
business, or might have in the future.

" For three days we will keep the feast for
all who choose to come," he said ; and so, when


the procession formed for the church, nearly six
hundred men and women were waiting to follow
Jan and his bride. Then Jan led her to the
front of it, and there was a murmur of wonder
and delight. Her dress was of the richest white
satin, and her heavy golden ornaments the heir
looms of centuries gave a kind of barbaric
splendor to it. The bright sunlight fell all over
her, and added to the effect ; and Jan, with
a bridegroom s pardonable pride, thought she
looked more than mortal.

Going to the church, the procession preserved
the gravity of a religious rite ; but on the re
turn, some one touched lightly the strings of a
violin, and, in a moment, hundreds of voices
were chanting:

" It is often that I have said it : In the night
thou art my dream, and my waking thought in
the morning.

" I loved thee always ; not for three months,
not for a year, but I loved thee from the first, and
my love shall not wither, until death part us.

" Oh, my beloved ! My wife ! Dearer to
me than the light of the day! Closer to me
than my hands and feet ! Nothing but death
shall part thee and me, forever ?


The singing opened their hearts ; then came
the feast and the dance, that endless active
-Jance which is the kind of riot in which grave
races give vent to the suppressed excitement of
their lives. It did not please Margaret ; she was
soon weary of the noise and commotion, and
heartily glad when, on the eve of the third
day, she was called upon to give the parting
toast :

" Here s to the men who cast the net, and
the long line," she cried, lifting the silver cup
above her head. " And may He hold His hand
about them all, and open the mouth of the
gray fish !

"And here s to the bride," answered the
oldest fisher present, "and may God give her a
blessing in both hands !

Then they separated, and some went to their
homes in Lerwick and Scalloway, and others
sailed to Ireland and Scotland, and even Hol
land ; but Peter knew that however much the
feast had cost him, it was money put out at
good interest, and that he would be very
likely to find it again at the next fishing season.


c All the flowers of Love and Happiness blow double."

AS it happened that year the peerie, or
Indian summer, was of unusual length
and beauty. The fine weather lingered until
the end of October. These weeks were full of
joy to Margaret and to Jan, and in them Jan
showed himself in many a charming light. He
played well upon the violin, and as long as
love was his theme Margaret understood him.
He recited to her stirring stories from the
Sagas, and she thought only how handsome
he looked with his flashing eyes, and flushing
face. She never reflected, that the soul which
could put life into these old tales was very-
likely to be a soul akin to the restless adven
turous men of which they told. Her home
and her love were sufficient for her happiness.


and she expected that Jan would measure his
desires by the same rule.

But in a few weeks Jan began to weary a
little of a life all love-making. Many things,
laid aside for a time, renewed their influence
over him. He wished to let the romance and
exaggeration of his married position s ; nk into
that better tenderness which is the repose of
passion, and which springs from the depths of
a man s best nature. But Margaret was not
capable of renunciation, and Jan got to be
continually afraid of wounding her sensibili
ties by forgetting some outward token of
affection. He tried to talk to her of his proj
ects, of his desire to go to sea again, of his
weariness of the store. She could understand
none of these things. Why should he want to
leave her? Had he ceased to love her? Her
father was happy in the store. It offended her
to hear a word against it. Yet she thought
she loved Jan perfectly, and would have deeply
resented Michael Snorro s private verdict
against her that she was a selfish woman.

One morning, as the first snow was beginning
to fall, a big Dutch skipper in his loose tunic
and high cap, and wooden clogs, came stalking


into Peter s store, and said* " Well, here at
last comes The North Star/ Many of us
thought she would come no more."

Jan was packing eggs, but he signed to
Michael to take his place, and in a few minutes
he was among the crowd watching her arrival.
She came hurrying in, with all her sails set, as
if she were fleeing from the northern winter
behind her. Her stout sides were torn by
berg and floe, her decks covered with seal
skins and jawbones of whales, and amidships
there was a young polar bear growling in a
huge cask. Her crew, weather-beaten and
covered with snow and frost, had the strange
look of men from lands unknown and far off.
Jan had once sailed in her, and her first mate
was his friend. It was like meeting one from
the dead. Proudly and gladly he took him to
his home. He wanted him to see his beauti
ful wife. He was sure Margaret would be
delighted to welcome a man so brave, and so
dear to him.

On the contrary, it was a deep offense to her,
Christian Groat, in his sheepskin suit, oily and
storm-stained, unkempt and unshorn, seemed
strangely out of place in her spotless room,


That he had fought with the elements, and
with the monsters of the deep, made him no
hero in her eyes. She was not thrilled by his
adventures upon drifting floes, and among ice
mountains reeling together in perilous madness.
The story made Jan s blood boil, and brought
the glistening tears into his big blue eyes; but
Margaret s pulses beat no whit quicker. Chris
tian Groat was only a vulgar whaler to her, and
that Jan should bring him to her hearth and
table made her angiy.

Jan was hurt and humiliated. The visit from
which he had hoped so much, was a pain and a
failure. He walked back into the town with
his friend, and was scarcely able to speak.
Margaret also was silent and grieved. She
thought Jan had wronged her. She had to
make a clean cushion for the chair in which the
man had sat. She persisted for days in smelling
whale oil above the reek of the peat, above even
the salt keenness of the winter air. Her father
had never done such a thing ; she could not
understand Jan s thoughtlessness about her.

For two days she was silent, and Jan bore it
very well, for he, too, was hurt and angry. On
the third he spoke to his wife, and little by


little the coolness wore away. But an active
quarrel and some hard words had perhaps been
better, for then there might have followed
some gracious tears, and a loving reconciliation.
As it was, the evenings wore silently and gloom
ily away. Margaret sat, mechanically knitting,
her beautiful face wearing an expression of
injury and resignation that was intolerably
anr/oying to a man of Jan s temper. But though
she said nothing to her husband during these
unhappy hours, the devil talked very plainly in
her place.

" Why/ he asked Jan, " do you stay beside
a sulky woman, when there are all your old
companions at Ragon Torr s? There, also,
is the song and the tale, and the glass of good-
fellowship. And who would be so heartily
welcome as Jan Vedder ? ?

Jan knew all this well. But as he did not
care to make his wife unhappy, he determined
to deceive her. It was snowing, and likely to
snow ; Margaret would not come down to the
store in such weather. So he said to her,
" Michael Snorro hath a fever. He can not
work. That is a bad business, for it is only I
that can fill his place. The work will keep me


late, wait not for me." To himself he said:
" To leave her alone a few nights, that will be
a good thing ; when I stay next at my own
hearth, she may have something to say to me. J>

Margaret s nature was absolutely truthful.
She never doubted Jan s words. In that love
of self which was a miserable omnipresence with
her, she was angry with Snorro for being sick
and thus interfering in her domestic life, but
she fully believed her husband s statement.

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