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Jan spent two evenings at Ragon Torr s, but
on the third morning his conscience smote him
a little. He looked at Margaret, and wished
she would ask, " Wilt thou come home early
to-night ? He would gladly have answered
her, " I will come at whatever hour thou
desirest." But, unfortunately, Margaret was at
that moment counting her eggs, and there were
at least two missing. She was a woman who
delighted in small economies ; she felt that she
was either being wronged by her servant, or
that her fowls were laying in strange nests.
At that moment it was a subject of great
importance to her ; and she never noticed the
eager, longing look in Jan s eyes.

When he said at last, " Good-by to thee, Mar



A LITTLE CLOUD IN THE SKY. 23

garet ; " she looked up from her basket of eggs
half reproachfully at him. She felt that Jan
might have taken more interest in her loss. She
had not yet divined that these small savings of
hers were a source of anger and heart-burning to
him. He knew well that the price of her end
less knitting, her gathered eggs, wool, and
swans down, all went to her private account in
Lerwick Bank. For she had been saving
money since she was a child six years old, and
neither father, mother, nor husband knew how
much she had saved. That \vas a thing Mar
garet kept absolutely to herself and the little
brown book which was in her locked drawer.
There had been times when Jan could have
opened it had he desired ; but he had been too
hurt and too proud to do so. If his wife could
not voluntarily trust him, he would not solicit
her confidence. And it had never struck Mar
garet that the little book was a hidden rock,
on which every thing might yet be wrecked. It
was there, though the tide of daily life flowed
over it, and though it was never spoken of.

All that day Jan was sulk) 7 and obstinate,
and Peter came near quarreling with him more
than once. But Peter thought he knew what



24 JAN VEDDER S WIFE.

was the matter, and he smiled grimly to him
self as he remembered Margaret s power of
resistance. Perhaps a fellow-feeling made him
unusually patient, for he remembered that
Thora had not been brought to a state of
perfect obedience until she had given him
many a day of active discomfort. He watched
Jan curiously and not without sympathy, for
the training of wives is a subject of interest
even to those who feel themselves to have been
quite successful.

During the first hours of the day Jan was
uncertain what to do. A trifle would have
turned him either way, and in the afternoon
the trifle came. A boat arrived from Kirkwall,
and two of her crew were far-off cousins. The
men were in almost as bad condition as Chris
tian Groat. He would not risk soiling Marga
ret s chair-cushions again, so he invited them
to meet him at Ragon Torr s. As it happened
Margaret had an unhappy day ; many little
things went wrong with her. She longed for
sympathy, and began to wish that Jan would
come home ; indeed she was half inclined to
go to the store, and ask him if he could
not.



A LITTLE CLOUD IN THE SKY. 25

She opened the door and looked out. It
fcvas still snowing a little, as it had been for a
month. But snow does not lie in Shetland,
and the winters, though dreary and moist, are
hot too cold for the daisy to bloom every where
at Christmas, and for the rye grass to have
eight or ten inches of green blade. There was
a young moon, too, and the Aurora, in a phal
anx of rosy spears, was charging upward to
the zenith. It was not at all an unpleasant
night, and, with her cloak and hood of blue
flannel, a walk to the store would be easy and
invigorating.

As she stood undecided and unhappy, she
saw a man approaching the house. She could
not fail to recognize the large, shambling
figure. It was Michael Snorro. A blow from
his mighty hand could hardly have stunned her
more. She shut the door, and sat down sick
at heart. For it was evident that Snorro was
not ill, and that Jan had deceived her. Snorro,
too, seemed to hesitate and waver in his inten*
tions. He walked past the house several times,
and then he went to the kitchen door.

In a few minutes Elga Skade, Margaret s
servant, said to her, " Here has come Michael



26 JAN VEDDER S WIFE.

Snorro, and he would speak with thy hus
band." Margaret rose, and went to him. He
stood before the glowing peats, on the kitchen
hearth, seeming, in the dim light, to tower to
the very roof. Margaret looked up with a feeling
akin to terror at the large white face in the
gloom above her, and asked faintly, "What
is t thou wants, Snorro ?

" I would speak with Jan."

" He is not come yet to his home. At what
hour did he leave the store ?

At once Snorro s suspicions were aroused.
He stood silent a minute, then he said, " He
may have gone round by thy father s. I will
wait."

The man frightened her. She divined that
he distrusted and disapproved of her; and she
could ask nothing more. She left him with
Elga, but in half an hour she became too rest
less to bear the suspense, and returned to the
kitchen. Snorro gave her no opportunity to
question him. He said at once, " It is few
houses in Shetland a man can enter, and no one
say to him, Wilt thou eat or drink?

" I forgot, Snorro. I am troubled about Jan.
What wilt thou have ? "



A LITTLE CLOUD IN THE SKY. 27

" What thou hast ready, and Elga will get it
for me."

A few minutes later he sat down to eat with
a calm deliberation which Margaret could not
endure. She put on her cloak and hood, and
calling Elga, said, " If he asks for me, say that
I spoke of my father s house."

Then she slipped out of the front door, and
went with fleet steps into the town. The
street, which was so narrow that it was possible
to shake hands across it, was dark and empty.
The shops were all shut, and the living rooms
looked mostly into the closes, or out to the
sea. Only here and there a lighted square of
glass made her shrink into the shadow of the
gables. But she made her way without hin
drance to a house near the main quay. It was
well lighted, and there was the sound and stir
of music and singing, of noisy conversation and
laughter within it.

Indeed, it was Ragon Torr s inn. The front
windows were uncurtained, and she saw, as she
hurriedly passed them, that the main room was
full of company ; but she did not pause until
within the close at the side of the house, when,
standing in the shadow of the outbuilt chimney.



28 JAN VEDDER S WIF*.

she peered cautiously through the few small
squares on that side. It was as she suspected.
Jan sat in the very center of the company, his
handsome face all aglow with smiles, his hands
busily tuning the violin he held. Torr and half

a dozen sailors bent toward him with admiring

&

looks, and Ragon s wife Barbara, going to and
fro in her household duties, stopped to say
something to him, at which every body laughed,
but Jan s face darkened.

Margaret did not hear her name, but she felt
sure the remark had been about herself, and her
heart burned with anger. She was turning
away, when there was a cry of pleasure, and
Suneva Torr entered. Margaret had always
disliked Suneva ; she felt now that she hated
and feared her. Her luring eyes were dancing
with pleasure, her yellow hair fell in long, loose
waves around her, and she went to Jan s side,
put her hand on his shoulder, and said some
thing to him.

Jan looked back, and up to her, and nodded
brightly to her request. Then out sprang the
tingling notes from the strings, and clear, and
shrill, and musical, Suneva s voice picked them
up with a charming distinctness:



A LITTLE CLOUD IN THE SKY. 29

" Well, then, since we are welcome to Yool,
Up with it, Lightfoot, link it awa , boys ;

Send for a fiddler, play up the Foula reel,
And we ll skip it as light as a maw, boys."
Then she glanced at the men, and her father

and mother, and far in the still night rang out

the stirring chorus :

" The Shaalds of Foula will pay for it a !

Up with it, Lightfoot, and link it awa ."

Then the merry riot ceased, and Suneva s
voice again took up the song

" Now for a light and a pot of good beer,

Up with it, Lightfoot, and link it awa , boys !

We ll drink a good fishing against the New Year,
And the Shaalds of Foula will pay for it a , boys.

CHORUS:

" The Shaalds of Foula will pay for it a ;

Up with it, Lightfoot, and link it awa .

Margaret could bear it no longer, and, white
and stern, she turned away from the window.
Then she saw Michael Snorro standing beside
her. Even in the darkness she knew that his
eyes were scintillating w th anger. He took
her by the arm and led her to the end of the
close. Then he said



30 JAN VEDDER S WIFE.

" Much of a woman art thou ! If I was Jan
Vedder, never again would I see thy face ! No,
never !

" Jan lied to me ! To me, his wife ! Did thou
think he was at my father s? He is in Ragon
Torr s."

"Thou lied to me also; and if Jan is in
Ragou Torr s, let me tell thee, that thou sent
him there."

" I lied not to thee. I lie to no one."

" Yea, but thou told Elga to lie for thee. A
jealous wife knows not what she doe r Did
thou go to thy father s house ?

" Speak thou no more to me, Michael Snorro."
Then she sped up the street, holding her breast
tightly with both hands, as if to hold back the
sobs that were choking her, until she reached
her own room, and locked fast her door. She
sobbed for hours with all the passionate aban
don which is the readiest relief of great sorrows
that come in youth. In age we know better ;
we bow the head and submit.

When she had quite exhausted herself, she
began to long for some comforter, some one to
whom she could tell her trouble. But Margaret
had few acquaintances ; none, among the few, of



A LITTLE CLOUD IN THE SKY. 31

whom she could make a confidant. From her
father and mother, above all others, she would
keep this humiliation. God she had never
thought of as a friend. He was her Creator,
her Redeemer, also, if it were his good pleas
ure to save her from eternal death. He was
the Governor of the Universe ; but she knew
him not as a Father pitying his children, as a
God tender to a broken heart. Was it possible
that a woman s sharp cry of wounded love
could touch the Eternal ? She never dreamed
of such a thing. At length, weary with weep
ing and with her own restlessness, she sat down
before the red peats upon the hearth, for once,
in her sorrowful preoccupation, forgetting her
knitting.

In the meantime, Snorro had entered Torr ? s,
and asked for Jan. He would take no excuse,
and no promises, and his white, stern face, and
silent way of sitting apart, with his head in his
hands, was soon felt to be a very uncomfortable
influence. Jan rose moodily, and went away
with him ; too cross, until they reached the
store, to ask, " Why did thou come and spoil
my pleasure, Snorro?* 1

" Neil Bork sails for Vool at the midnight



32 f AN VEDDER S WIFE.

tide. Thou told me thou must send a letter by
him to fhy cousin Magnus."

"That is so. Since Peter will do nothing, I
must seek help of Magnus. Well, then, I will
write the letter."

When it was finished, Jan said, " Snorro, who
told thee I was at Torr s?

" Thou wert not at home. I went there, first/

" Then thou hast made trouble for me, be
sure of that. My wife thought that thou wast
ill."

" It is a bad wife a man must lie to. But, oh,
Jan ! Jan ! To think that for any woman thou
would tell the lie !

Then Jan, being in that garrulous mood which
often precedes intoxication, would have opened
his whole heart to Michael about his domestic
troubles ; but Michael would not listen to
him. " Shut thy mouth tight on that sub
ject," he said angrily. " I will hear neither
good nor bad of Margaret Vedder. Now, then,
I will walk home with thee, and then I will see
Neil Bork, and give him thy letter."

Margaret heard their steps at the gate. Her
face grew white and cold as ice, and her heart
hardened at the sound of Snorro s voice. She



A LITTLE CLOUD IN THE SKY. 33

had always despised him ; now, for his inter
ference with her, she hated him. She could not
tolerate Jan s attachment to a creature so rude
and simple. It was almost an insult to herself ;
and yet so truthfully did she judge his heart,
that she was quite certain Michael Snorro would
never tell Jan that she had watched him
through Ragon Torr s window. She blushed a
moment at the memory of so mean an action,
but instantly and angrily defended it to her own
heart.

Jan came in, with the foolish, good-natured
smile of alcoholic excitement. But when he
saw Margaret s white, hard face, he instantly
became sulky and silent. " Where hast thou
been, Jan?" she asked. "It is near the mid
night."

" I have been about my own business. I had
some words to send by Neil Bork to my cousin
Magnus. Neil sails by the midnight tide/

She laughed scornfully. " Thy cousin Mag
nus ! Pray, what shall he do for thee ? This is
some new cousin, surely !

" Well, then, since thy father keeps thy tocher
from me, I must borrow of my own kin."

" As for that, my father hath been better to



34 JAN VEDDER S WIFE.

thee than thou deservest. Why didst thou lie
lx> me concerning Snorro ? He has had no
fever. No, indeed !

Aman must ask his wife whether he can
speak truth to her, or not. Thou can not bear
it. Very well, then, I must lie to thee."

"Yet, be sure, I will tell the truth to thee,
Jan Vedder. Thou hast been at Ragon Torr s,
singing with i light woman, and drinking
with "

" With my own kin. I advise thee to say
nothing against them. As for Suneva, there is
no tongue in Lerwick but thine will speak evil
of her she is a good girl, and she hath a kind
heart. And now, then, who told thee I was at
Torr s?"

He asked the question repeatedly, and
instead of answering it, Margaret began to
justify herself. " Have I not been to thee a
good wife? Has not thy house been kept
well, and thy meals ever good and ready for
thee ? Has any thing, great or little, gone to
waste ? "

"Thou hast been too good. It had been
better if thou had been less perfect ; then I
could have spoken to thee of my great wish,



A LITTLE CLOUD IN THE SKY. 35

and thou would have said, as others say, Jan,
it would be a joy to see thee at the mainmast, or
casting the ling-lines, or running into harbor
before the storm, with every sail set, as though
thou had stolen ship and lading/ Thou would
not want me to charier with old women about
geese-feathers and bird-eggs. Speak no more*
I am heavy with sleep."

And he could sleep ! That was such an
aggravation of his offense. She turned some
times and looked at his handsome flushed face,
but otherwise she sat hour after hour silent
and almost motionless, her hands clasped upon
her knee, her heart anticipative of wrong, and
with a perverse industry considering sorrows
that had not as yet even called to her. Alas !
alas ! the unhappy can never persuade them
selves that " sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof/



CHAPTER III.



JAN S OPPORTUNITY



" Thou broad-billowed sea,

Never sundered from thee,
May I wander the welkin below ;

May the plash and the roar

Of the waves on the shore
Beat the. march to my feet as I go ;

Ever strong, ever free,

When the breath of the sea,
Like the fan of an angel, I know ;

Ever rising with power,

To the call of the hour,
Like the swell of the tides as they flow.

BLACKIE.



THE gravitation of character is naturally
toward its weakest point. Margaret s
weakest point was an intense, though uncon
scious, selfishness. Jan s restless craving for
change and excitement made him dissatisfied
with the daily routine of life, lazy, and often



JAN S OPPORTUNITY. 37

unreasonable. His very blessings became
offenses to him. His clean, well-ordered
house, made him fly to the noisy freedom of
Ragon Torr s kitchen. Margaret s never-ceas
ing industry, her calmness, neatness and delib
eration, exasperated him as a red cloth does a
bull.

Suneva Torr had married Paul Glumm. and
Jan often watched her as he sat drinking his
ale in Torr s kitchen. At home, it is true, she
tormented Glumm with her contrary, provok
ing moods; but then, again, she met him with
smiles and endearments that atoned for every
thing. Jan thought it would be a great relief
if Margaret were only angry sometimes. For
he wearied of her constant serenity, as people
weary of sunshine without cloud or shadow.

And Margaret suffered. No one could doubt
that who watched her face from day to day.
She made no complaint, not even to her
mother. Thora, however, perceived it all.
She had foreseen and foretold the trouble, but
she was too noble a woman to point out the
fulfillment of her prophecy. As she went
about her daily work, she considered, and not
unkindly, the best means for bringing Jan



38 JAN VEDDER S WIFE.

back to his wife and home, and his first pride
in them.

She believed that the sea only could do it.
After all, her heart was with the men who
loved it. She felt that Jan was as much out
of place counting eggs, as a red stag would be
if harnessed to a plow. She. at least, under
stood the rebellious, unhappy look on his
handsome face. When the ling fishing was
near at hand, she said to Peter : " There is one
thing that is thy duty, and that is to give Jan
the charge of a boat. He is for the sea, and
it is not well that so good a sailor should go
out of the family."

" I have no mind to do that. Jan will do
well one day, and he will do as ill as can be
the next. 1 will not trust a boat with him."

" It seems to me that where thou could trust
Margaret, thou might well trust nineteen feet
of keel, and fifty fathom of long lines."

Peter answered her not, and Thora kept
silence also. But at the end, when he had
smoked his pipe, and was lifting the Bible for
the evening exercise, he said : " Thou shalt
have thy way, wife ; Jan shall have a boat, but
thou wilt see evil will come of it. 1



JAN S OPPORTUNITY. 39

" Thou wert always good, Peter, and in this
thing I am thinking of more than fish. There
is sorrow in Margaret s house. A mother can
feel that."

" Now, then, meddle thou not in the matter.
Every man loves in his own way. Whatever
there is between Jan and Margaret is a thing
by itself. But I will speak about the boat in
the morning."

Peter kept his word, and kept it without
smallness or grudging. He still liked Jan. If
there were trouble between him and Margaret
he regarded it as the natural initiation to
married life. Norse women were all high-
spirited and wished to rule ; and he would have
despised Jan if he had suspected him of giving
way to Margaret s stubborn self-will. Though
she was his own daughter, he did not wish to
see her setting an example of wifely suprem
acy.

So he called Jan pleasantly and said, " I
have saved - for thee The Fair Margaret/
Wilt thou sail her this season, Jan ? She is
the best boat I have, as thou well knows.
Fourteen hundred hooks she is to carry, and
thou can hire six men to go with thee."



40 JAN VEDDER S WIFE.

It made Peter s eyes feel misty to see the
instantaneous change in Jan s face. He could
not speak his thanks, but he looked them ; and
Peter felt troubled, and said, almost querulously,
" There, that will do, son Jan ; go now, and
hire the men thou wants."

" First of all, I should like Snorro."

Peter hesitated, but he would not tithe his
kindness, and he frankly answered, " Well, then,
thou shalt have Snorro though it will go hard
with me, wanting him."

" But we will make it go well with thee on
the sea, father."

" As for that, it will be as God pleases. A
man s duty is all my claim on thee. Margaret
will be glad to see thee so happy." He
dropped his eyes as he spoke of Margaret.
He would not seem to watch Jan, although he
was conscious of doing so.

" A woman has many minds, father. Who

knows if a thing will make her happy or

}
angry ?

" That is a foolish saying, Jan. A wife must
find her pleasure in the thing that pleases her
husband. But now thou wilt have but little
time ; the boat is to be tried, and the hooks



JAN S OPPORTUNITY. 41

and lines are to go over, and the crew to hire.
I have left all to thee."

This pleased Jan most of all. Only a bird
building its first nest could have been as happy
as he was. When at night he opened the door
of his house, and went in with a gay smile, it
was like a resurrection. The pale rose-color on
Margaret s cheek grew vivid and deep when he
took her in his arms, and kissed her in the old
happy way. She smiled involuntarily, and
Jan thought, " How beautiful she is ! He
told her all Peter had said and done. He was
full of gratitude and enthusiasm. He did not
notice for a few moments that Margaret was
silent, and chillingly unresponsive. He was
amazed to find that the whole affair displeased
her.

" So, then, I have married a common fisher
man after all," she said bitterly ; " why, Suneva
Torr s husband has a bigger boat than thine."

It was an unfortunate remark, and touched
Jan on a very raw place. He could not refrain
from answering, " He hath had better luck
than I. Ragon Torr gave Glumm Suneva s
tocher, and he has bought his own boat with
it."



42 JAN VEDDER S WIFE.

"Why not? Everyone knows that Glumm
is a prudent man. He never gets on his feet
for nothing. r

Jan was inexpressibly pained and disap
pointed. For a moment a feeling of utter
despair came over him. The boat lay upon
his heart like a wreck. He drank his tea
gloomily, and the delicately-browned fish, the
young mutton, and the hot wheat cakes, all
tasted like ashes in his mouth. Perhaps, then T
Margaret s heart smote her, for she began to
talk, and to press upon Jan s acceptance the
viands which had somehow lost all their savor
to him. Her conversation was in like case.
She would not speak of the boat, since they
could not agree about it ; and no other subject
interested Jan. But, like all perfectly selfish
people, she imagined, as a matter of course,
that whatever interested her was the supreme
interest. In her calm, even voice, she spoke of
the spring house-cleaning, and the growth of
her pansies and tulip-bulbs, and did not know
that all the time Jan was thinking of his boat,
heaving on the tide-top, or coming into harbor
so heavy with fish that she would be in Shet
land phrase lippering with the water.



JAN S OPPORTUNITY. 43

But, after all, the week of preparation was a
very happy week to Jan and Snorro ; and on
the sixteenth of May they were the foremost
of the sixty boats that sailed out of Lerwick
for the ling ground. There was a great crowd
on the pier to see them off mothers, and wive<v
and sweethearts ; boys, sick and sad with long^
ing and envy; and old men, with the glamor
of their own past in their faces. Among them
was Suneva, in a bright blue dress, with blue
ribbons fluttering in her yellow hair. She stood
at the pier-head and as they passed poured a
cup of ale into the sea, to forespeak good luck
for the fleet. Jan would have dearly liked to
see his wife s handsome face watching him, as
he stood by the main-mast and lifted his cap
to Peter. Margaret was not there.

She really felt very much humiliated in Jan s
position. She had always held herself a little
apart from the Lerwick women. She had been
to Edinburgh, she had been educated far above
them, and she was quite aware that she would
have a very large fortune. Her hope had been
to see Jan take his place among the merchants
and bailies of Lerwick. She had dreams of the
fine mansion that they would build, and of the



44 fAN VEDDER S WIFE.

fine furniture which would come from Edin
burgh for it. Margaret was one of those women
to whom a house can become a kingdom, and
its careful ordering an affair of more importance
than the administration of a great nation.
When she chose Jan, and raised him from his
humble position, she had no idea that he would
drift back again to the fishing nets.

For the first time she carried her complaint
home. But Thora in this matter had not
much sympathy with her. " The sea is his
mother," she said; " he loved her before he loved
thee ; when she calls him, he will always go back
to her."

" No man in Shetland hath a better business
to his hand ; and how can he like to live in a
boat, he, that hath a home so quiet, and clean,
and comfortable ?

Thora sighed. " Thou wilt not understand
then, that what ti*e cradle rocks the spade buries.
The sea spoke to Jan before he lay on his
mother s breast. His father hath a grave in it.
Neither gold nor the love of woman will ever
keep them far apart ; make up thy mind to


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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrJan Vedder's wife → online text (page 2 of 15)