Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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All this might be true, but yet it humiliated


Margaret. Besides, she imagined that every
wife in Lerwick was saying, u Not much hold
has Margaret Vedder on her husband. He is
off to sea again, and that with the first boat
that sails." Yet if success could have reconciled
her, Jan s was wonderful. Not unfrequently
" The Fair Margaret " took twenty score ling at
a haul, and every one was talking of her good

During these days Jan and Snorro drew very
close to each other. When the baits were set
most of the men went to sleep for three hours ;
but Snorro always watched, and very often
Jan sat with him. And oh, the grand solemnity
and serenity of these summer nights, when
through belts of calm the boats drifted and the
islands in a charmed circle filled the pale purple
horizon before them. Most fair then was the
treeless land, and very far off seemed the sin
and sorrow K of life. The men lay upon the
deck, with a pile of nets or their folded arms
for a pillow, and surely under such a sky, like
Jacob of old, they dreamed of angels.

Snorro and Jan, sitting in the soft, mystical
light, talked together, dropping their voices
involuntarily, and speaking slowly, with thought-


ful pauses between the sentences. When
were not talking, Snorro read, and the book
was ever the same, the book of the Four Gos
pels. Jan often watched him when he thought
Jan asleep. In that enchanted midnight glow,
which was often a blending of four lights -
moonlight and twilight, the aurora and the
dawning the gigantic figure and white face,
bending over the little book, had a weird and
almost supernatural interest. Then this man,
poor, ugly, and despised, had an incomparable
nobility, and he fascinated Jan.

One night he said to him, " Art thou never
weary of reading that same book, Snorro ?

" Am I then ever weary of thee, my Jan ?
And these are the words of One who was the
first who loved me. Accordingly, how well I
know his voice." Then, in a fervor of adoring
affection, he talked to Jan of his dear Lord
Christ, " who had stretched out his arms upon
the cross that he might embrace the world."
And as he talked the men, one by one, raised
themselves on their elbows and listened ; and
the theme transfigured Snorro, and he stood
erect with uplifted face, and looked, in spite of
his fisher s suit, so royal that Jan felt humbled


in his presence. And when he had tpld, in his
own simple, grand way, the story of hi/*; who
had often toiled at midnight with the fibbers
on the Galilean sea, as they toiled upon tin*
Shetland waters, there was a great silence,
until Jan said, in a voice that seemed almost
strange to them : " Well, then, mates, now we
will look to the lines."

All summer, and until the middle of October,
Jan continued at sea ; and all summer, whether
fishing for ling, cod, or herring, " The Fail Mar
garet " had exceptionally good fortune. There
were many other fishers who woke, and watched,
and toiled in their fishing, who did not have
half her " takes." " It is all Jan s luck," said
Glumm, "forit is well known that he flings
his nets and goes to sleep while they fill."

" Well, then, it is the net of the sleeping
fisherman takes : that is the wise saying of
old times " -and though Snorro did not think
of it, the Shetland proverb was but the Norse
form of the Hebrew faith : " He giveth his
beloved in their sleep."

Still, in spite of his success, Jan was not
happy. A married man s happiness is in the
hands of his wife, and Margaret felt too injured


to be generous. She was not happy, and she
thought it only just that Jan should be made
to feel it. He had disappointed all her hopes
and aspirations ; she was not magnanimous
enough to rejoice in the success of his labors
and aims. Besides, his situation as the hired
skipper of a boat was contemptible in her eyes:
her servant was engaged to a man in the same
position. Another aggravating circumstance
was that her old schoolmate, the minister s
niece (a girl who had not a penny piece to her
fortune) was going to marry a rich merchant
from Kirkwall. How she would exult over
" Margeret Vedder who had married a common
fisherman." The exultation was entirely imagi
nary, but perhaps it hurt as much as if it had
been actually made.

Success, too, had made Jan more independent :
or perhaps he had grown indifferent to Mar
garet s anger, since he found it impossible to
please her. At any rate, he asked his friends
to his house without fear or apology. They left
their footmarks on her floors, and their finger
marks upon her walls and cushions, and Jan only
laughed and said, " There was, as every one
knew, plenty of water in Shetland to make


them clean again." Numberless other little
things grieved and offended her, so little that,
taken separately, they might have raised a
smile, but in the aggregate they attained the
magnitude of real wrongs.

But, happy or miserable, time goes on, and
about the middle of October even the herring
fishing is over. Peter was beginning to count
up his expenses and his gains. Jan and Snorro
were saying to one another, " In two days we
must go back to the store." That is, they
were trying to say it, but the air was so full of
shrieks that no human voice could be heard.
For all around the boat the sea was boiling
with herring fry, and over them hung tens of
thousands of gulls and terns. Marmots and
guillemots were packed in great black masses
on the white foam, and only a mad human mob
of screaming women and children could have
made a noise comparable. Even that would
have wanted the piercing metallic ring of the
wild birds shriek.

Suddenly Snorro leaped to his feet. "I see a
storm, Jan. Lower and lash down the mast.
We shall have bare time."

Jan saw that the birds had risen and were


making for the rocks. In a few minutes down
came the wind from the north-east, and a streak
of white rain flying across the black sea was on
top of " The Fair Margaret " before the mast was
well secured. As for the nets, Snorro was cut-
ing them loose, and in a few moments the
boat was tearing down before the wind. It
was a wild squall ; some of the fishing fleet
went to the bottom with all their crews. " The
Fair Margaret," at much risk of loss, saved
Glumm s crew, and then had all she could man
age to raise her mizzen, and with small canvas
edge away to windward for the entrance of
Lerwick bay.

Jan was greatly distressed. " Hard to bear
is this thing, Snorro," he said; "at the last to
have such bad fortune."

" It is a better ending than might have been.
Think only of that, Jan."

" But Peter will count his lost nets ; there is
nothing else he will think of."

" Between nets and men s lives, there is only
one choice."

Peter said that also, but he was nevertheless
very angry. The loss took possession of his
mind, and excluded all memory of his gains.


" It was just like Jan and Snorro," he muttered,
" to be troubling themselves with other boats.
In a sudden storm, a boat s crew should mind
only its own safety." These thoughts were in
his heart, though he did not dare to form them
into any clear shape. But just as a drop or
two of ink will diffuse itself through a glass of
pure water and defile the whole, so they pois
oned every feeling of kindness which he had to

"What did I tell thee?" he said to Thora,
bitterly. " Jan does nothing well but he spoils
it. Here, at the end of the season, for a little
gust of wind, he loses both nets and tackle."

" He did well when he saved life, Peter."

" Every man should mind his own affairs.
Glumm would have done that thing first."

" Then Glumm would have been little of a
man. And thou, Peter Fae, would have been
the first to tell Glumm so. Thou art saying
evil, and dost not mean it."

" Speak no more. It is little a woman under
stands. Her words are always like a contrary

Peter was very sulky for some days, and when
at last he was ready to settle with Jan, there


was a decided quarrel. Jan believed himself to
be unfairly dealt with, and bitter words were
spoken on both sides. In reality, Peter knew
that he had been hard with his son, harder by
far than he had ever intended to be; but in his
heart there had sprung up one of those sudden
and unreasonable dislikes which we have al)
experienced, and for which no explanation is
possible. It was not altogether the loss of the
nets he did not know what it was but the
man he liked, and praised, and was proud of
one week, he could hardly endure to see or
speak to the next.

"That ends all between thee and me," said
Peter, pushing a little pile of gold toward Jan.
It was a third less than Jan expected. He gave
it to Margaret, and bade her " use it carefully,
as he might be able to make little more until
the next fishing season."

il But thou wilt work in the store this win

" That I will not. I will work for no man
who cheats me of a third of my hire/"

" It is of my fathe^ thou art speaking, Jan
Vedder ; remember that. And Peter Fae s
daughter is thy wife, though little thou
est her.


" It is like enough that I am unworthy of
thee ; but if I had chosen a wife less excellent
than thou it had perhaps been better for me."

" And for me also."

That was the beginning of a sad end ; for
Jan, though right enough at first, soon put him
self in the wrong, as a man who is idle, and has
a grievance, is almost sure to do. He continu
ally talked about it. On the contrary, Peter
held his tongue, and in any quarrel the man who
can be silent in the end has the popular sympa
thy. Then, in some way or other, Peter Fae
touched nearly every body in Lerwick. He
;ave them work, or he bought their produce.
They owed him money, or they expected a
avor from him. However much they sympa-
hized with Jan, they could not afford to quar
rel with Peter.

Only Michael Snorro was absolutely and
pure!y true to him ; but oh, what truth there
was in Michael ! Jan s wrongs were his
wrongs ; Jan s anger was but the reflection of
his own.

He watched over him, he sympathized with
him, he loved him entirely, with a love " won
derful, passing the love of voman



For we two, face to face,
God knows are further parted
Than were a whole world s space
Between . "

" Lost utterly from home and me,
Lonely, regretful and remote."

JAN now began to hang all day about Ragon
Torr s, and to make friends with men as pur
poseless as himself. He drank more and more,
and was the leader in all the dances and merry
makings with which Shetlanders beguile their
long winter. He was very soon deep in Torr s
debt, and this circumstance carried him the
next step forward on an evil road.

One night Torr introduced him to Hoi Ska-
ger, a Dutch skipper, whose real cargo was a
contraband one of tea, brandy, tobacco and
French goods. Jan was in the very mood to


join him, and Skagei was glad enough of Jan.
Very soon he began to be away from home for
three and four weeks at a time. Peter and
Margaret knew well the objects of these
absences, but they would have made themselves
very unpopular if they had spoken of them.
Smuggling was a thing every one had a hand
in ; rich and poor alike had their venture, and
a wise ignorance, and deaf and dumb ignoring of
the fact, was a social tenet universally observed.
If Jan came home and brought his wife a piece
of rich silk or lace, or a gold trinket, she took
it without any unpleasant curiosity. If Peter
were offered a cask of French brandy at a
nominal price, he never asked any embarrassing
questions. Consciences tender enough toward
the claims of God, evaded without a scruple the
rendering of Caesar s dues.

So when Jan disappeared for a few weeks,
and then returned with money in his pocket,
and presents for his friends, he was welcomed
without question. And he liked the life ; liked
it so well that when the next fishing season
came round he refused every offer made him.
He gained more with Hoi Skager, and the ex
citement of eluding the coast guard or of giv-


ing them a good chase, suited Jan exactly. The
spirit of his forefathers ruled him absolutely,
and he would have fought for his cargo or gone
down with the ship.

Snorro was very proud of him. The morality
of Jan s employment he never questioned, and
Jan s happy face and fine clothing gave him
the greatest pleasure. He was glad that he
had escaped Peter s control ; and when Jan,
now and then, went to the store after it was
shut, and sat an hour with him, no man in Shet
land was as proud and happy as Michael
Snorro. Very often Jan brought him a book,
and on one occasion it was the wondrous old
" Pilgrim s Progress," full of wood-cuts. That
book was a lifelong joy to Snorro, and he
gave to Jan all the thanks and the credit of it.
" Jan brought him every thing pleasant he had.
He was so handsome, and so clever, and so
good, and yet he loved him the poor, ignorant
Snorro ! So Snorro reasoned, and accord
ingly he loved his friend with all his soul.

At Jan s house many changes were taking
place. In the main, Margaret had her house
very much to herself. No one soiled its ex
quisite cleanliness. The expense of "keeping


ft was small. She was saving money on every
hand. When Jan came home with a rich pres
ent in his hand, it was easy to love so hand
some and generous a man, and if Jan permitted
her to love him in her own way, she was very
glad to do so. The tie between man and wife
is one hard to break. What tugs it will
bear for years, we have all seen and won
dered at ; and during this interval if there were
days when they were wretched, there were many
others when they were very happy together.
The conditions rested mainly with Margaret.
When she could forget all her small ambi
tions and disappointments, and give to her
husband the smile and kiss he still valued
above every thing, then Jan was proud and
happy and anxious to please her. But Mar
garet was moody as the skies above her, and
sometimes Jan s sunniest tempers were in
themselves an offense. It is ill indeed with
the man who is bound to misery by the cords
of a woman s peevish and unreasonable

For a year and a half Jan remained with Hoi
Skager, but during this time his whole nature
deteriorated. Among the Shetland fishermen


mutual forbearance and mutual reliance was
the rule. In position the men were nearly
equal, and there was no opportunity for an
overbearing spirit to exercise itself. But it was
very different with Skager s men. They were
of various nationalities, and of reckless and
unruly tempers. The strictest discipline was
necessary, and Jan easily learned to be tyrannical
and unjust, to use passionate and profane lan
guage, to drink deep, and to forget the Sabbath,
a day which had been so sacred to him.

In his own home the change was equally
apparent. Margaret began to tremble before
the passions she evoked; and Jan to mock at
the niceties that had hitherto snubbed and
irritated him. Once he had been so easy to
please ; now all her small conciliations some
times failed. The day had gone by for them.
The more she humbled herself, the less Jan

seemed to care for her complaisance. To be

\ *

kind too late, to be kind when the time for
kindness is passed by, that is often the greatest
injury of all.

At the end of eighteen months Jan and
Skager quarreled. Skager had become intimate
with Peter Fae, and Peter was doubtless to


blame. At any rate, Jan was sure he was, and
he spent his days in morose complaining, and
futile threats of vengeance futile, because the
poor man s wrath always falls upon himself.
When Peter heard them he could afford to say
contemptuously " It is well known that Jan
Vedder has a long tongue and short hands ;
or, " Between saying and doing the thing is a
great way."

In a few weeks even Ragon Torr got weary
of Jan s ill-temper and heroics. Besides, IH-
was in his debt, and there seemed no prospect
of speedy work for him. Upon the whole, it
was a miserable winter for the Vedders. Jan
made very little. Sometimes he killed a seal,
or brought in a bag of birds, but his earnings
were precarious, and Margaret took care that
his table should be in accordance. She had
money, of course, but it was her own money,
and a thing with which Jan had no right. She
ate her meager fare of salt fish and barley bread
with a face of perfect resignation ; she gave up
her servant and made no complaints, and she
did think it a most shameful injustice that,
after all, Jan should be cross with her. It did
not strike her, that a good meal, even thougl


she had procured it from her own private hoard,
might have been a better thing than the most
saintly patience. There is much said about
the wickedness of doing evil that good may
come. Alas ! there is such a thing as doing
good that evil may come.

One afternoon in early spring Jan saw a flock
of wild swans soaring majestically on their
strong wings toward a lake which was a favorite
resting place with them. He took his gun and
followed after. They were gathered in the
very middle of the lake ; his dog could not
swim so far, neither could his shot reach them.
It seemed as if every promise mocked him.
Sulky and disappointed, he was returning home
when he met the Udaller Tulloch. He was
jogging along on his little rough pony, nis
feet raking the ground, and his prehistoric hat
tied firmly on the back of his head.

But in spite of his primitive appearance he
was a man of wealth and influence, the banker
of the island, liked and trusted of all men ex
cept Peter Fae. With Peter he had come often
in conflict ; he had superseded him in a civil
office, he had spoken slightingly of some of
Peter s speculations, and, above all offenses, in


a recent kirk election he had been chosen
Deacon instead of Peter. They were the two
rich men of Lerwick, and they were jealous and
distrustful of each other.

" Jan Vedder, " said Tulloch, cheerily, " I
would speak with thee ; come to my house
within an hour."

It was not so fine a house as Peter s, but Jan
liked its atmosphere. Small glass barrels of
brandy stood orf the sideboard ; there was a
case of Hollands in the chimney corner ; fine
tobacco, bloaters, and sturgeons roes were in
comfortable proximity. A bright fire of peats
glowed on the ample hearth, and the Udaller
sat eating and drinking before it. He made
Jan join him, and without delay entered upon
his business.

" I want to sell * The Solan, Jan. She is worth
a thousand pounds for a coaster; or, if thou
wishes, thou could spoil Skager s trips with her.
She is half as broad as she is long, with high
bilge, and a sharp bottom ; the very boat for
these seas wilt thou buy her?"

" If I had the money, nothing would be so
much to my liking."

" Well, then, thy wife brought me 50 yes-


terday ; that makes thy account a little over
.600. I will give thee a clear bill of sale and
trust thee for the balance. Tis a great pity to
see a good lad like thee going to waste. It is

" If I was in thy debt, then thou would own
a part of me. I like well to be my own mas

" A skipper at sea doth what he will ; and
every one knows that Jan Vedder is not one
that serves. Remember, thou wilt be skipper
of thy own boat !

Jan s eyes flashed joyfully, but he said, " My
wife may not like I should use the money for
this purpose."

11 It is a new thing for a man to ask his wife
if he can spend this or that, thus or so. And
to what good? Margaret Vedder would speak
to her father, and thou knows if Peter Fae love
thee or not."

These words roused the worst part of Jan s
nature. He remembered, in a moment, all the
envy and wonder he would cause by sailing out
of harbor skipper of his own boat. It was the
very temptation that was irresistible to him. He
entered into Tulloch s plan with all his heart,


and before he left him he was in a mood to
justify any action which would further his desire.
" Only give not thy thoughts speech, Jan/
said Tulloch at parting ; " and above all things,
trust not thy plans to a woman. When will
hou tell me yes or no ?

But Jan was not the man to hold counsel
with his own soul. He wanted human advice
and sympathy, and he felt sure of Snorro. He
went straight to him, but the store was still
open, and Peter Fae was standing in the door,
three of his neighbors with him. He looked at
Jan scornfully and asked "Well, how many
swans did thou get ? "

* I have been after a purchase, Peter Fae."
4< Good. How wilt thou pay for it, then ? "
" I will take my own to pay for it."
Peter laughed, and turning away, answered,
^ Why, then, do I speak to thee? Only God
understands fools."

This conversation irritated Jan far more
than many an actual wrong had done. " I have
indeed been a fool," he said to Snorro, "but
now I will look well to what concerns my own


Then he told Michael of Tulloch s offer, and
added, " At last, then, I have the sum of my
wife s savings, and I will show ner she has been
saving for a good end. What dost thou think,
S^orro ? "

%< I think the money is thine. All thine has
b^en hers, or she had not saved so much ; all
hers ought then to be thine. But it is well and
right to tell her of Tulloch s offer to thee. She
may like to give thee as a gift what else thou
must take without any pleasure."

Jan laughed ; it was an unpleasant laugh,
and did not at all brighten his face, but he
resolved to a certain extent on taking Snorro s
advice. It was quite midnight when he reached
his home, but Margaret was sitting by a few
red peats knitting. She was weeping, also, and
her tears annoyed him.

" Thou art ever crying like a cross child," he
said. " Now what art thou crying for?"

" For thy love, my husband. If thou would
care a little for me !

" That is also what I say. If thou would
care a little for me and for my well-doing ! Lis
ten, now ! I have heard where I can buy a
good boat for 600. Wilt thou ask thy father


for so much of thy tocher? To have this boat,
Margaret, would make me the happiest man in
Shetland. I know that thou can manage it if
thou wilt. Dear wife, do this thing for me. I
ask thee with all my heart. " And he bent
toward her, took the knitting away, and held
her hands in his own.

Margaret dropped her eyes, and Jan watched
her with a painful interest. Did she love him
or her 600 better? Her face paled and flushed.
She looked up quickly, and her lips parted.
Jan believed that she was going to say " 1
have 600, and I will gladly give it to thee/*
He was ready to fold her to his breast, to love
her, as he had loved her that day when he had
first called her "wife." Alas ! after a slight hes
itation, she dropped her pale face and answered
slowly " I will not ask my father. I might as
well ask the sea for fresh water."

Jan let her hands fall, and stood up. " I see
now that all talk with thee will come to little.
What thou wants, is that men should give thee
all, and thou give nothing. When thou sayest,
thy love, husband, thou means thy money,,
husband ; v and if there is no money, then there
is ever sighs and tears. Many things thou hast


yet to learn of a wife s duty, and very soon I
will give thee a lesson I had done well to teach
thee long since/

" I have borne much from thee, Jan, but at
the next wrong thou does me, I will go back to
my father. That is what I shall do/

" We will see to that."

" Yes, we will see ! And she rose proudly,
and with flashing eyes gathered up her knitting
and her wool and left the room.

The next morning Jan andTulloch concluded
their bargain. " The Solan " was put in thorough
order, and loaded with a coasting cargo. It
was supposed that Tulloch s nephew would sail
her, and Jan judged it wisest to show no inter
est in the matter. But an hour after all was
ready, he drew the ,600 out of Tulloch s bank,
paid it down for the boat, and sailed her out of
Lerwick harbor at the noon-tide. In ten min
utes afterward a score of men had called in
Peter Fae s store and told him.

He was both puzzled and annoyed. Why
had Tulloch interfered with Jan unless it was

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrJan Vedder's wife → online text (page 3 of 15)