Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

Jan Vedder's wife online

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relied on him. Besides the inconvenience to
the business, the loss of faith was bitter. But
he said no more at that time. When Margaret
was in her home, Snorro would be easier to man
age. More as a conciliatory measure with him,
than as kindness to his offending daughter, he
said, " First of all, however, take a load of tea,
and sugar and flour, and such things as will be
needed ; thou knowest them. Take what thou
wishes, and all thou wishes ; then, thou canst
not say evil of me."

" When did I say evil of thee, only to thy
face? Michael Snorro hath but one tongue.
It knows not how to slander or to lie. Pay me
my wages, and I will go, and speak to thee no

" Do what I said and come back to me in
three days ; then we will settle this trouble
between us; saying which, Peter went into
his counting house, and Snorro went to work
with all his will and strength to get Margaret s
house ready for her.


But though he hired three men to help him,
it was the evening of the second day before she
could remove to it. It was a different home
coming from her previous one in that dwelling.
Then all had been in exquisitely spotless order,
and Jan had turned and kissed her at the open
door. This night every thing was in confusion.
Snorro had carried all her belongings into the
house, but they were unpacked and unarranged.
Still he had done a great deal. A large fire
was burning, the kettle boiling on the hearth,
and on the little round table before it he had
put bread and milk and such things as would
be necessary for a first meal. Then, with an
innate delicacy he had gone away, fully under
standing that at the first Margaret would wish
to be quite alone.

She stood a minute and looked around.
Then she opened the box in which her china
and silver were packed. In half an hour the
tea-table was spread. She even made a kind of
festival of the occasion by giving little Jan the
preserved fruit he loved with his bread. It
seemed to her as if food had never tasted so
good before. She was again at her own table ;
at her own fireside ! Her own roof covered


her ! There was no one to c^loom at her or


make her feel uncomfortable. Work, poverty,
all things, now seemed possible and bearable.

When Jan had chattered himself weary she
laid him in his cot, and sat hour after hour in
the dim light of the glowing peats, thinking,
planning, praying, whispering Jan s name to her
heart, feeling almost as if she were in his pres
ence. When at length she rose and turned the
key in her own house again, she was as proud
and as happy as a queen who has just come
into her kingdom, and who lifts for the first
time the scepter of her authority.




" Now the great heart
Leaps to new action and appointed toil
With steady hope, sure faith, and sober joy."

DURING the next two years, Margaret s
life appeared to be monotonously without
incident. In reality it deepened and broadened
in a manner but slightly indicated by the still
ness of its surface. Early in the morning
following her re-occupation of her own house,
she had two visitors, Dr. Balloch and her old
servant, Elga.

" Elga s husband is with the Greenland fleet,"
said the minister ; " she is poor and lonely, and
wants to come back and serve thee."
" But I can not afford a servant."
" Thou can well afford it, take my word for
that ; besides, thou art not used to hard work,
nor fit for it. Also, I have something better
for thee to do. When thy house is in order,


come to the manse and see me, then we will
talk of it."

So Elga quietly resumed her old duties, and
ere two weeks were gone the house was almost
in its first condition. White paint and soap
and water, bees -wax and turpentine, needle
and thread, did wonders. On the evening of
the eleventh day, Margaret and Elga went
from attic to cellar with complete satisfaction.
Every thing was spotless, every thing was in
its old place. Jan s big cushioned chair again
stood on the hearth, and little Jan took posses
sion of it. Many a night, wearied with play,
he cuddled himself up among its cushions, and
had there his first sleep. It is easy to imagine
what Margaret s thoughts were with such a
picture before her - tender, regretful, loving
thoughts most surely, for the fine shawl or
stocking she was knitting at the time was
generally wet with her tears.

The day after all was in its place and settled,
she went to see Dr. Balloch. It was in the
early morning when every thing was sweet,
and cool and fresh. The blue-bells and daisies
were at her feet, the sea dimpling and spark-
ling in the sunshine, the herring-fleet gathering


in the bay. Already the quays and streets
were full of strangers, and many a merry
young fisherman with a pile of nets flung over
his shoulders passed her, singing and whistling
in the fullness of his life and hope. All of
them, in some way or other, reminded her of
Jan. One carried his nets in the same grace
ful, nonchalant way ; another wore his cap at
the same angle ; a third was leaning against his
oars, just as she had seen Jan lean a hundred

The minister sat at his open door, looking
seaward. His serene face was full of the peace
and light of holy contemplation. His right
hand was lovingly laid on the open Bible,
which occupied the small table by his side.

" Come in, Margaret," he said pleasantly.
" Come in ; is all well with thee now?

" Every thing is well. The house is in order
and Snorro hath promised to plant some berry
bushes in my garden ; he will plant them
to-day with the flower seeds thou gave me.
The snowdrops are in bloom already, and the
pansies show their buds among the leaves."

" Dost thou know that Snorro hath left thy


" He told me that he had taken John Hay s
cottage, the little stone one on the hill above
my house, and that in three days he would go
to the fishing with Matthew Vale/*

"Now, then, what wilt thou do with thy
time? Let me tell thee, time is a very precious
gift of God ; so precious that he only gives it
to us moment by moment. He would not
have thee waste it."

Margaret took from her pocket a piece of
knitting. It was a shawl twelve yards round,
yet of such exquisite texture that she drew it
easily through a wedding ring. Beautiful it
was as the most beautiful lace, and the folds of
fine wool fell infinitely softer than any fold of
fine flax could do. It was a marvelous piece
of handiwork, and Dr. Balloch praised it

" I am going to send it to the Countess of
Zetland," she said. " I have no doubt she will
send me as many orders as I can fill. Each
shawl is worth 7, and I can also do much
coarser work, which I shall sell at the Foy."

" Would thou not rather work for me than
for the Countess?

Thou knowest I would, ten thousand times
rather. But how can I work for thee?"


" What is there, Margaret, on the long table
under the window ? "

" There is a large pile of newspapers and
magazines and books."

" That is so. None of these have I been
able to read, because my sight has failed me
very much lately. Yet I long to know every
word that is in them. Wilt thou be eyes to an
old man who wishes thee only well, Margaret ?
Come every day, when the weather and thy
health permits, and read to me for two hours,
write my letters for me, and do me a message
now and then, and I will cheerfully pay thee
$o a year."

" I would gladly do all this without money,
and think the duty most honorable."

" Nay, but I will pay thee, for that will be
better for thee and for me."

Now all good work is good for far more than
appears upon its surface. The duties under
taken by Margaret grew insensibly and steadily
in beneficence and importance. In the first
place, the effect upon her own character was
very great. It was really two hours daily
study of the finest kind. It was impossible
that the books put into her hand could be read


and discussed with a man like Dr. Balloch.
without mental enlargement. Equally great
and good was the moral effect of the com
panionship. Her pen became the pen of a
ready writer, for the old clergyman kept up a
constant correspondence with his college com
panions, and with various learned societies.

About three months after this alliance began,
the doctor said one day, " Thou shalt not read
to me this morning, for I want thee to carry
some wine and jelly to old Neill Brock, and
when thou art there, read to him. Here is a
list of the Psalms and the Epistles that will be
the best for him." And Margaret came back
from her errand with a solemnly happy light
upon her face. " It was a blessed hour," she
said, " surely he is very near the kingdom."

This service once begun grew by a very nat
ural course of events. Margaret delighted in
it. The sick loved her calm, gentle ways. She
was patient and silent, and yet sympathetic.
She had that womanly taste which naturally
sets itself to make dainty dishes for those who
can not eat coarse food. In a few months the
sick all through the parish felt the soothing
touch of her soft, cool hands, and became


familiar with the tones of her low, even voice,
as she read aloud the portions which Dr. Bal-
loch usually selected for every case.

And as there is no service so gratefully
remembered as that given in sickness, Margaret
Vedder gradually acquired a very sincere popu
larity. It rather amazed Peter to hear such
remarks as the following : " Luke Thorkel is
better, thanks to Margaret Vedder." "John
Johnson can go to the fishing with an easy mind
now, Margaret Vedder is caring for his sick
wife." " The Widow Hay died last night.
She would have died ere this, but for Margaret
Vedder s care."

These outside duties made her home duties
sufficient to fill all her time. She had no hours
to spare for foolish repining, or morbid sorrow.
Little Jan must be taught his letters, and his
clothes must be made. Her garden, poultry
and knitting kept her hands ever busy, and
though her work was much of it of that silent
kind which leads to brooding thought, she had
now much of interest to fill her mind. Yet
still, and always, there was the haunting, under
lying memory of Jan s disappearance or death,
keeping her life hushed and silent. To no one


did she speak of it, and it seemed strange to
her that Dr. Balloch visibly discouraged any
allusion to it. Sometimes she felt as if she
must speak to Snorro about it, but Snorro kept
ever a little aloof from her. She was not very
sure as to his friendship.

She thought this a little hard, for she had
given him every opportunity to understand that
her own animosity was dead. She permitted
little Jan to spend nearly all his time with him,
when he was not engaged in fishing, or busy on
the quays. And Snorro now spent much of
his time at home. His earnings during the
fishing season more than sufficed for his
wants. Every fine day in winter he was apt
to call for little Jan, and Margaret rarely refused
him the child s company.

And little Jan dearly loved Snorro. Snorro
put him in the water, and taught him how to
swim like a seal. Snorro made him a spear and
taught him how to throw it. He made him a
boat and taught him how to sail it. He got
him a pony and taught him how to ride it.
Once they found a baby seal whose mother had
been shot, and the child kept it at Snorro s
house. There also he had a dozen pet rabbits,


and three Skye terriers, and a wild swan with a
broken wing, and many other treasures, which
would not have been so patiently tolerated in
the cleanliness and order of his own home.

So the time went pleasantly and profitably
by for two years. Again the spring joy was
over the land, and the town busy with the
hope of the fishing season. Snorro s plans
were all made, and yet he felt singularly rest
less and unsettled. As he sat one evening
wondering at this feeling, he said to himself :
" It is the dreams I have had lately, or it is
because I think of Jan so much. Why does
he not write? Oh, how I long to see him!
Well, the day will come, by God s leave."

Just as this thought crossed his mind, Dr.
Balloch stepped across his threshold. Snorro
rose up with a face of almost painful anxiety.
He always associated a visit from the doctor
with news from Jan. He could scarcely articu
late the inquiry, " Hast thou any news?"

" Great news for thee, Snorro. Jan is com
ing home from Africa. He is broken down
with the fever. He wants thee. Thou must
go to him at once, for he hath done grand
work, and proved himself a hero, worthy even
of thy tme, great love/


" I am ready I have been waiting for him
to call me. I will go this hour."

" Be patient. Every thing must be done
wisely and in order. The first thing is supper,
I came away without mine, so now I will eat
with thee. Get the tea ready ; then I will tell
thee all I know."

As Snorro moved about, the doctor looked
at his home. Every piece of furniture in it
vyas of Snorro s own manufacture. His bed
was a sailor s bunk against the wall, made soft
with sheep-fleeces and covered with seal-skins.
A chair of woven rushes for little Jan, a couple
of stools and a table made from old packing
boxes, and a big hearth-rug of sheep-skins, that
was all. But over the fireplace hung the
pictured Christ, and some rude shelves were
filled with the books Jan had brought him.
On the walls, also, were harpoons and seal
spears, a fowling-piece, queer ribbons and
branches of sea weeds, curiosities given him by
sailors from all countries, stuffed birds and fish
skeletons, and a score of other things, which
enabled the doctor to understand what a house
of enchantment it must be to a boy like little


In a few minutes the table was set, and
Snorro had poured out the minister s tea, and
put before him a piece of bread and a slice of
broiled mutton. As for himself he could not
eat, he only looked at the doctor with eyes of
pathetic anxiety.

" Snorro, dost thou understand that to go to
Jan now is to leave, forever perhaps, thy native
land ? "

" Wherever Jan is, that land is best of all."

" He will be i^ ^ortsmouth ere thou arrive
there. First, thou must sail to Wick ; there,
thou wilt get a boat to Leith, and at Leith take
one for London. What wilt thou do in

" Well, then, I have a tongue in my head ; I
will ask my way to Portsmouth. When I am
there it will be easy to find Jan s ship, and then
Jan. What help can thou give me in the

" That I will look to. Jan hath sent thee

Snorro s face brightened like sunrise. " I
am glad that he thought of me ; but I will not
touch the money. I have already more than
20. Thou shalt keep the ;ioo for little



" Snorro, he hath also sent the 600 he took
from his wife, that and the interest."

" But how ? How could he do that already ?

" He has won it from the men who coin life
into gold ; it is mostly prize money."

" Good luck to Jan s hands ! That is much
to my mind."

" I will tell thee one instance, and that will
make thee understand it better. Thou must
know that it is not a very easy matter to block
ade over three thousand miles of African coast,
especially as the slave ships are very swift, and
buoyant. Indeed the Spanish and Portuguese
make theirs of very small timbers and beams
which they screw together. When chased the
screws are loosened, and this process gives the
vessel amazing play. Their sails are low, and
bent broad. Jan tells me that the fore-yard of
a brig of one hundred and forty tons, taken by
4 The Retribution was seventy-six feet long,
and her ropes so beautifully racked aloft,
that after a cannonade of sixty shot, in
which upward of fifty took effect, not one sail
was lowered. Now thou must perceive that a
chase in the open sea would mostly be in favor
of vessels built so carefully for escape."


" Why, then, do not the Government build
the same kind of vessels?"

" That is another matter. I will go into no
guesses about it. But they do not build them,
and therefore captures are mostly made by the
boats which are sent up the rivers to lie in wait
for the slavers putting out to sea. Sometimes
these boats are away for days, sometimes even
for weeks ; and an African river is a dreadful
place for British sailors, Snorro : the night ail
is loaded with fever, the days are terrible with
a scorching sun."

" I can believe that ; but what of Jan ? "

" One morning Jan, with a four-oared gig,
chased a slave brig. They had been at the river
mouth all night watching for her. Thou knows,
Snorro, what a fine shot our Jan is. When she
came in sight he picked off five of her crew, and
compelled her to run on shore to avoid being
boarded. Then her crew abandoned her, in
order to save their own lives, and The Retribu
tion hove her off. She proved to be a vessel ot
two hundred tons, and she carried one thousand
slaves. She was taken as a prize into Sierra
Leone, and sold, and then Jan got his share of


" But why did not the slavers fight ? "

" Bad men are not always brave men ; and
sometimes they fly when no man pursues them.
Portuguese slavers are proverbial cowards, yet
sometimes Jan did have a hard fight with the

" I am right glad of that/

" About a year ago, he heard of a brigantine
of great size and speed lying in the old Calabar
river with a cargo of slaves destined for Cuba.
She carried five eighteen-pounder guns, and a
crew of eighty men ; and her captain had vowed
vengeance upon The Retribution and upon
Jan, for the slavers he had already taken. Jan
went down to the old Calabar, but he could not
enter it, so he kept out of sight, waiting for the
slaver to put to sea.

"At length she was seen coming down the
river under all sail. Then The Retribution*
lowered her canvas in order to keep out of sight
as long as possible. When she hoisted it again,
the slaver in spite of her boasts endeavored to
escape, and then Jan, setting all the canvas his
schooner could carry, stood after her in chase.
The slaver was the faster of the two, and Jan
feared he would lose her ; but fortunately a cairn


came on and both vessels got out their sweeps.
Jan s vessel, being the smaller, had now the
advantage, and his men sent her flying through
the water.

c All night they kept up the chase, and the
next morning Jan got within range."

" Oh," cried Snorro, " if I had only been
there ! Why did no one tell me there was such
work for strong men to do ? "

"Now I will tell thee a grand thing that our
Jan did. Though the slaver was cutting his
rigging to pieces with her shot. Jan would not
fire till he was close enough to aim only at her
decks. Why, Snorro ? Because below her
decks there was packed in helpless misery five
hundred black men, besides many women and
little children."

" That was like Jan. He has a good

" But when he was close enough, he loaded his
guns with grape, and ordered two men to be
ready to lash the slaver to The Retribution/
the moment they touched. Under cover of the
smoke, Jan and ten men boarded the slaver, but
unfortunately, the force of the collision drove
The Retribution off, and Jan and his little


party found themselves opposed to the eighty
villains who formed the slaver s crew.

" For a moment it seemed as if they must be
overpowered, but a gallant little midshipman,
only fourteen years old, Snorro, think of that,
gave an instant order to get out the sweeps,
and almost immediately The Retribution/ was
alongside, and securely lashed to her enemy.
Then calling on the sailors to follow him the
brave little lad boarded her, and a desperate
hand to hand fight followed. After fifteen
Spaniards had been killed and near forty
wounded, the rest leaped below and cried for

" Snorro would have given them just ten min
utes to say a prayer, no more. It is a sin to be
merciful to the wicked, it is that ; and the kind
ness done to them is unblessed, and brings forth
sin and trouble. I have seen it."

" What thinkest thou ? When Jan flung open
the hatches under which the poor slaves were
fastened, sixty were dead, one hundred and
twenty dying. During the twenty-eight hours
chase and fight in that terrible climate they had
not been given a drop of water, and the air was
putrid and hot as an oven. Most of them had


to be carried out in the arms of Jan s sailors.
There were seven babies in this hell, and thirty-
three children between the ages of two years
and seven. Many more died before Jan could
reach Sierra Leone with them. This is the work
Jan has been doing, Snorro ; almost I wish I
was a young man again, and had been with

The doctor s eyes were full ; Snorro s head
was in his hands upon the table. When the
doctor ceased, he stood up quivering with
anger, and said, " If God would please Michael
Snorro, he would send him to chase and fight
such devils. He would give them the measure
they gave to others, little air and less water,
and a rope s end to finish them. That would
be good enough for them ; it would that."

" Well, then, thou wilt go to Jan ? "

" I must go to-morrow. How can I wait
longer? Is there a mail boat in the harbor?"

" It was Lord Lynne brought me the news
and the money. He will carry thee as far as
Wick. The tide serves at five o clock to-mor
row morning, can thou be ready?

" Ay, surely. Great joy hath come to me,
but I can be ready to meet it."


" Lean on me in this matter as much as thou
likest ; what is there I can do for thee ?

" Wilt thou care for what I have in my house,
especially the picture?

" I will do that."

" Then I have but to see Margaret Vedder
and little Jan. I will be on The Lapwing/ ere
she lift her anchor. God bless thee for all the
good words thou hast said to me 1

" Snorro ! "

" What then ? "

" When thou sees Jan, say what will make
peace between him and Margaret."

Snorro s brow clouded. " I like not to
meddle in the matter. What must be is sure
to happen, whether I speak or speak not."

" But mind this it will be thy duty to speak
well of Margaret Vedder. The whole town do
that now."

" She was ever a good woman some way..
There is not now a name too good for her. It
hath become the fashion to praise Jan Vedder s
wife, and also to pity her. If thou heard the
talk, thou would think that Jan was wholly to
blame. For all that, I do not think she is
worthy of Jan. Why does she not talk to her


son of his father ? Who ever saw her weep at
Jan s name ? I had liked her better if she had
wept more."

" It is little men know of women ; their
smiles and their tears alike are seldom what
they seem. I think Margaret loves her husband
and mourns his loss sincerely ; but she is not a
woman to go into the market-place to weep.
Do what is right and just to her, I counsel
thee to do that. Now I will say Farewell,
brave Snorro. We may not meet again, for I
am growing old."

" We shall anchor in the same harbor at last.
If thou go first, whatever sea I am on, speak
me on thy way, if thou can do so/

" Perhaps so. Who can tell ? Farewell,


Snorro watched him across the moor, and
then going to a locked box, he took out of it a
bundle in a spotted blue handkerchief. He
untied it, and for a moment looked over the
contents. They were a bracelet set with sap
phires, a ring to match it, a gold brooch, an
amber comb and necklace, a gold locket on a
chain of singular beauty, a few ribbons and lace


cellars, and a baby coral set with silver bells;
the latter had been in Jan s pocket when he
was shipwrecked, and it was bruised and
tarnished. The sight of it made Snorro s
eyes fill, and he hastily knotted the whole of
the trinkets together and went down to Mar
garet s home.

It was near nine o clock and Margaret was
tired and not very glad to see him coming, for
she feared his voice would awake little Jan who
was sleeping in his father s chair. Rather
wearily she said, " What is the matter, Snorro?
Is any one sick? Speak low, for little Jan is
asleep, and he has been very tiresome to-night."

" Nothing much is the matter, to thee. As
for me, I am going away in the morning to the
mainland. I may not be back very soon, and

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrJan Vedder's wife → online text (page 11 of 15)