Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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him I will not, dare not, see him !

" It is thou that art unkind. He has been


shipwrecked, Margaret Vedder ; bruised and
cut, and nearly tossed to death by the waves.
He is broken-hearted about thee. He loves
thee, oh, as no woman ever deserved to be
loved. He is thy husband. Thou wilt see
him, oh yes, thou wilt see him !

" I will not see him, Snorro. My father hath
forbid me. If I see Jan, he will turn me and
the child from the house."

" Let him. Go to thy husband and thy own

" My husband hath no home for me."

" For thou pulled it to pieces."

" Go away, Snorro, lest worse words come.

I will not sacrifice that little innocent babe for


" It is Jan s son thou art ruining Jan "
" Now, wilt thou go, Michael Snorro, and
tell Jan that I say what my father says : when
he is worthy of me I will come to him."

" I will go, but I will tell thee first, that Jan
will be worthy of thee long before thou art
worthy of him." Then, ere Margaret could
prevent him, he walked to the cradle, lifted the
child, and kissed it again and again, saying
between each kiss, " That is for thy father,
little one.


The child was crying when he laid it down,
and Margaret again angrily ordered him to
leave the house. Before she had soothed it ta
peace, Snorro was nearly out of sight. Then
Thora, who had heard the dispute, rose from
her bed and came the room. She looked
ill and sad, and asked faintly, " What is this-
message sent to Jan Vedder? He will not
believe it. Look for him here very soon, and
be sure what thou doest is right."

" My father told me what to do. *

" Yet ask thy heart and thy conscience also.
It is so easy for a woman to go wrong, Mar
garet ; it is almost impossible for her to put
wrong right. Many a tear shall she wash, it
out with."

" I have done no wrong to Jan. Dost thou.
think so ? "

" When one gets near the grave, Margaret,
there is a little light from beyond, and many
things are seen not seen before. Oh, be sure
thou art right about Jan ! No one can judge
for thee. Fear not to do what thy heart says,
for at the end right will come right, and wrong
will come wrong."

There was a solemn stillness after this con-


versation. Thora sat bent over beside the fire
musing. Margaret, wearied with the feelings
which her interview with Snorro had called
forth, rested upon the sofa ; she was suffering,
and the silence and melancholy of her mother
seemed almost a wrong to her. It was almost
as if she had taken Jan s part.

A knock at the door startled both women.
Thora rose and opened it. It was Jan.
" Mother," he said, " I want to see my wife
and child."

" Margaret, speak for thyself."

" I dare not see Jan. Tell him so."

Thora repeated the message.

" Ask Margaret if that is her last word to
me ? "

Mechanically Thora asked the question, and
after an agonizing pause Margaret gasped out,
" Yes, yes until "

" Ask her to stand a moment at the window
with the child. I long to see them." Then he
turned to go to the window, and Thora shut
the door. But it was little use repeating Jan s
request, Margaret had fainted, and lay like one
dead, and Thora forgot every thing till life
returned to her daughter. Then as the apparent


unkindness was irrevocable and unexplainable^
she said nothing of it. Why should she add
to the sorrow Margaret was suffering?

And as for Jan, the universal opinion was
that he ought to suffer. He had forfeited his
wife, and his home, and his good name, and he
had lost his boat. When a man has calamity
upon calamity the world generally concludes
that he must be a very wicked man to deserve
them. Perhaps the world is right ; but it is
also just possible that the world, even with its
six thousand years of gathered wisdom, may
be wrong.



" Thoughts hardly to be packed

Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped,

All I could never be,

All men ignored in me,
This I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped/

IT must be remembered, however, that Mar
garet was bound by ties whose strength
this generation can hardly conceive. The
authority of a father over a child in England
and Scotland is still a very decided one.
Fifty years ago in Shetland it was almost abso
lute. Margaret believed the fifth command
ment to be as binding upon her as the first-
From her childhood it had been pointed out
to her as leading all the six defining our duty
to our fellow-creatures. Therefore if she
thought her father s orders regarding Jan
unkind, the possibility of disobeying them
never presented itself.


Jan s troubles were pointed out to her as the
obvious results of Jan s sins. How could he
expect a blessing on a boat bought as he had
bought The Solan? And what was the use of
helping a man who was always so unfortunate ?
If Peter did not regard misfortune as a sin, he
drew away from it as if it were something even
worse. Sometimes God blesses a man through
poverty, sometimes through riches, but until
the rod blossoms even good Christians call it a
chastening rod. Margaret had a dread of
making her child share Jan s evil destiny :
perhaps she was afraid of it for herself. Self
is such an omnipresent god, that it is easy to
worship him in the dark, and to obey,
him almost unconsciously. When Margaret
recovered from her faint, she was inclined to
think she deserved praise for what she called
her self-denial. She knew also that her father
would be satisfied with her conduct, and Peter s
satisfaction took tangible forms. He had
given her ;ioo when she broke up her home
and left Jan ; she certainly looked for some
money equivalent for her present obedience.
And yet she was quite positive this latter con
sideration had in no way at all influenced her


decision ; she was sure of that ; only, there could
be no harm in reflecting that a duty done
would have its reward.

As for Jan, he let people say whatever they
chose to say about him. To Tulloch and to
Michael Snorro he described the tempest, and
the desperation with which he had fought for
his boat and his life ; but defended himself to
no one else. Day after day he passed in the
retreat which Snorro had made him, and lying
there he could plainly hear the men in
Peter s store talk about him. Often he met
the same men in Torr s at night, and he laughed
bitterly to himself at their double tongues.
There are few natures that would have been
improved by such a discipline ; to a man who
had lost all faith in himself, it was a moral

Down, down, down, with the rapidity with
which fine men go to ruin, went Jan. Every little
thing seemed to help him to the bottom ; yes,
even such a trifle as his shabby clothes. But
shabby clothes were not a trifle to Jan. There are
men as well as women who put on respectability
with respectable raiment ; Jan was of that class.
He was meanly dressed and he felt mean, and he


had no money to buy a new suit. All Snorro s
small savings he had used long before for one
purpose or another, and his wages were barely
sufficient to buy food, and to pay Jan s bill at
Torr s ; for, alas ! Jan would go to Torr s.
Snorro was in a sore strait about it, but if
Torr s bill were not paid, then Jan would go to
Inkster s, a resort of the lowest and most sus
picious characters. Between the two evils he
chose the lesser.

And Jan said in the freedom of Torr s many
things which he ought not to have said : many
hard and foolish things, which were repeated
and lost nothing by the process. Some of
them referred to his wife s cruelty, and to
Peter Fae s interference in his domestic con
cerns. That he should talk of Margaret at all
in such a place was a great wrong. Peter took
care that she knew it in its full enormity ; and
it is needless to say, she felt keenly the insult
of being made the subject of discussion among
the sailor husbands who gathered in Ragon
Torr s kitchen. Put a loving, emotional man
like Jan Vedder in such domestic circumstan
ces, add to them almost hopeless poverty and
social disgrace, and any one could predict with
apparent certainty his final^ruin.


Of course Jan, in spite of his bravado of in
difference, suffered very much. He had fits of
remorse which frightened Snorro. Under
their influence he often wandered off for two
or three days, and Snorro endured during them
all the agonies of a woman who has lost her

One night, after a long tramp in the wind
and snow, he found himself near Peter Fae s
house, and a great longing came over him to
see his wife and child. He knew that Peter
was likely to be at home and that all the doors
were shut. There was a bright light in the
sitting-room, and the curtains were undrawn.
He climbed the inclosure and stood beside the
window. He could see the whole room plainly.
Peter was asleep in his chair on the hearth.
Thora sitting opposite him, was, in her slow
quiet way, crimping with her fingers the lawn
ruffles on the newly ironed clothes. Margaret,
with his son in her arms, walked about the
room, softly singing the child to sleep. He
knew the words of the lullaby an old Finnish
song that he had heard many a mother sing.
He could follow every word of it in Margaret s
soft, clear voice ; and, oh, how nobly fair,


calmly good and far apart from him she
seemed !

" Sleep on, sleep on, sweet bird of the meadow !

Take thy rest, little Redbreast.
Sleep stands at the door and says,

The son of sleep stands at the door and says,
Is there not a little child here ?

Lying asleep in the cradle ?
A little child wrapped up in swaddling clothes,

A child reposing under a coverlet of wool ? "

Jan watched the scene until he could endure
the heart-torture no longer. Had he not been
so shabby, so ragged, so weather-stained, he
would have forced his way to his wife s pres
ence. But on such apparently insignificant
trifles hang generally the great events of life.
He could not bear the thought of this fair,,
calm, spotless woman seeing him in such a
plight. He went back to Snorro, and was very
cross and unreasonable with him, as he had
been many times before. But Snorro was one
of those rare, noble souls, who can do great and
hopeless things, and continue to love what they
have seen fall.

He not only pitied and excused Jan, he


would not suffer any one to wrong, or insult
him. All Torr s regular visitors feared the big
man with the white, stern face, who so often
called for Jan Vedder, and who generally took
his friend away with him. Any thing that is
genuine commands respect, and Snorro s love
for Jan was so true, so tender, and unselfish,
that the rudest soul recognized his purity.
Even in Peter s store, and among the better
class who frequented it, his honest affection
was not without its result.

Jan usually avoided the neighborhood when
Peter was there, but one afternoon, being half
intoxicated, he went rolling past, singing
snatches of " The Foula Reel." He was rag
ged and reckless, but through every disadvan
tage, still strikingly handsome. Michael Snorro
lifted himself from the barrel which he was
packing, and stood watching Jan with a face
full of an inexpressible sorrow. Some one
made a remark, which he did not hear, but he
heard the low scornful laugh which followed it,
and he saw Peter Fae, with a smile of con
tempt, walk to the door, and glance up the
street after Jan.

" One thing I know," said Snorro, looking


angrily at the group, " all of you have laughed
in a very great company, for when a good man
takes the road to hell, there also laughs the
devil and all his angels. Yes, indeed."

It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen among
them. Peter turned to his books, and one by one
the men left the store, and Jan Vedder s name
was not spoken again before Snorro by any one.

During the fishing season Jan went now and
then to sea, but he had no regular engagement.
Some said he was too unreliable ; others, more
honest, acknowledged they were superstitious
about him. " Sooner or later ill luck comes
with him," said Neil Scarpa. " I would as lief
tread on the tongs, or meet a cat when going
fishing as have Jan Vedder in my boat," said
John Halcro. This feeling against him was
worse than shipwreck. It drove Jan to despair.
After a night of hard drinking, the idea of sui
cide began to present itself, with a frightful
persistence. What was there for him but a
life of dislike and contempt, or a swift unre-
gretted death."

For it must be considered that in those days
the ends of the earth had not been brought
together. Emigration is an idea that hardly


enters a Shetlander s mind at the present time;
then it was a thing unknown. There were no
.societies for information, or for assistance.
Every man relied upon his own resources, and
Jan had none. He was in reality, a soul made
for great adventures, condemned to fight life
in the very narrowest lists.

When the warm weather came, he watched
for Margaret, and made many attempts to see
her. But she had all the persistence of narrow
minds, -^he had satisfied herself that her duty
to her ather and to her son was before all
other duties, and no cruelty is so cruel as that
which attacks its victims from behind the ram
parts of Duty and Conscience.

Thora frequently saw Jan, and he pleaded
his cause eloquently to her. She was very
sorry for him, and at times also very angry
with him. She could not understand how
Margaret s treatment should have taken all the
heart and purpose out of his life. She would
not let him say so ; it was like casting the
blame of all his idleness and dissipation upon
her daughter. She would make no effort
towards a reconciliation ; while Margaret
held him in such small estimation, she was


sure that there could be no permanence in one,
even if it could be effected.

Yet once or twice she spoke to Margaret in
Jan s favor. If Margaret had desired to dis
obey her father, and see her husband, Thora s
sympathies would have been with her ; but no
mother likes to put herself in a position which
will give her child an opportunity of answering
her with a look of reproachful astonishment.
Something very like this had met her sugges
tion that " Jan must love his child, and long to
see him. *

Margaret was almost angry at such a sup
position. " Jan love his child ! It was impos
sible ! No man who did so, would behave as
Jan had done, and was still doing. Toencour*
age Jan in any way was to disobey her father,
and throw herself and her child upon Jan s
mercies. She knew what they were. Even if
she could see it to be her duty to sacrifice her
self, on no account would she sacrifice the babe
who had only her to think and care for him.
She would do nothing in any way to prejudice
its future." This was the tenor of her constant
conversation. It was stated anew every morn
ing, it was reiterated every hour of the day ;


and with every day s reiteration, she became
more certain of her own wisdom and justice.

One night, after another useless effort to see
his wife, Jan went to Torr s, and found Hoi
Skager there. Jan was in a reckless mood, and
the thought of a quarrel was pleasant to him.
Skager was inclined to humor him. They had
many old grievances to go over, and neither of
them picked their words. At length Jan
struck Skager across the mouth, and Skager
instantly drew his knife.

In a moment Torr and others had separated
the men. Skager was persuaded to leave the
house, and Jan, partly by force and partly by
entreaty, detained. Skager was to sail at mid
night, and Torr was determined that Jan should
not leave the house until that hour was passed.
Long before it, he appeared to have forgotten
the quarrel, to be indeed too intoxicated to
remember any thing. Torr was satisfied, but
his daughter Suneva was not.

About ten o clock, Snorro, sitting in the back
door of the store, saw Suneva coming swiftly
towards him. Ere he could speak she said,
" Skager and Jan have quarreled and knives
have been drawn. If thou knowest where


Skager is at anchor, run there, for I tell thee,
there was more of murder than liquor in Jan s
eyes this night. My father thought to detain
him, but he hath slipped away, and thou ma/
be sure he has gone to find Skager. *

Snorro only said, " Thou art a good woman,
Suneva." He thought he knew Skager s har
bor; but when he got there, neither boat nor
man was to be seen. Skager s other ground
was two miles in an opposite direction under
the Troll Rock, and not far from Peter Fae s
house. Snorro hastened there at his utmost
speed. He was in time to see Skager s boat,
half a mile out at sea, sailing southward.
Snorro s mental processes were slow. He stood
still to consider, and as he mused, the solemn
stillness of the lonely place was broken by a
low cry of pain. It was Jan s voice. Among
a thousand voices Snorro would have known it.
In a few moments he had found Jan, prone
upon the cliff edge bleeding from a wound in
his side.

He was still sensible and he smiled at Snorro,
saying slowly, " Thou must not be sorry. It is
best so."

Most fishermen know something of the treat-


ment of a knife wound ; Snorro staunched the
blood-flow, as well as he was able, and then
with gigantic strides went to Peter Fae s.
Margaret sat spinning beside her baby s cradle,
Peter had gone to bed, Thora dozed at the fire-

The impatience of his knock and voice
alarmed the women, but when Margaret heard
it was Snorro s voice, she quickly unfastened
the door.

" Is the store burning ? she asked angrily,
" that thou comest in such hot haste?"

" Thy husband has been murdered. Take
thou water and brandy, and go as quick as thou
canst run to the Troll s Rock. He lies there.
I am going for the doctor."

" Why did thou come here, Michael Snorro ?
Ever art thou a messenger of ill. I will not


" Go thou at once, or I will give thee a name

thou wilt shudder to hear. I will give it to thee
at kirk, or market, or wherever I meet thee."

Snorro fled to the town, almost in uttering
the words, and Thora, who had at once risen to
get the water and the brandy, put them into her
daughter s hands. " There is no time now for


talking. I will tell thy father and send him
after thee. Shall we have blood on our souls ?
All of us?"

" Oh, what shall I do ? What shall I do ? "
" Art thou a woman? I tell thee, haste."
" I dare not oh, my child ! I will wake

" I command thee to go this moment."

Then, almost in a passion, Margaret went.

The office of mercy had been forced upon her.

She had not been permitted to consider her

own or her child s interest. No one had thought

of her feelings in the matter. When she

reached Jan s side she was still indignant at the

peremptory way in which she had been treated.

He felt her there, rather than saw her " Mar-

garet ! " he said feebly, " Margaret /At last ! "

" Yes, " she answered in bitter anger, " at

last. Hast thou called me to see thy shameful

end ? A name full of disgrace thou leaves to

me and to thy son."

" Forgive me I am sorry. Forgive !
" I will not forgive thee. No woman injured
as I have been, can forgive."

His helplessness did not touch her. Her own
wrongs and the wrongs of her child filled her


heart. She was determined that at this hour
he should at least understand their full enor
mity, and she spoke with all the rapid bitter
ness of a slow, cold nature, wrought up to an
unnatural passion. In justifying herself she
forgot quite that she had been sent to succor
him until help arrived. She was turning away
when Jan, in a voice full of misery, uttered one
word :


Something womanly in her responded to the
pitiful, helpless cry. She went back, and kneel
ing by his side, put the bottle to his mouth.
The touch of his head upon her arm stirred her
strangely ; ere she let it slip from her hold, he
had fainted.

" Oh Jan ! Jan ! Jan ! My husband ! My
husband ! Oh Jan, dear, forgive me ! Jan, I am
here ! It is thy Margaret ! I still love thee !
Yes, indeed, I love thee !

But it was too late. There was no response.
She looked in horror and terror at the white
face at her feet. Then she fled back to the
house for help. Whether her father liked it or
not, Jan must now be brought there. In that
last moment she had forgiven him every thing.


All the love of her betrothal had come like a
great wave over her heart. "Poor Jan ! Poor
Jan I " she sobbed, as she fled like a deer across
the moor.

Peter had been roused and had reluctantly
dressed himself. In such an hour of extremity
he would have to give the wounded man shel
ter if he were brought there. But he tarried as
long as possible, hoping that Snorro would
remove Jan and take him into the town. To
be roused from sleep to confront such a problem
of duty was a very unpleasant affair, and Peter
was sulkily tying his shoe-strings when Mar
garet, breathless and sobbing, returned for

Her impetuosity and her emotion quite mas
tered him. She compelled him to go with her
to Jan. But when they reached the Trol
Rock Jan had disappeared. There was noth
ing there but the blue sailor s cap which he had
worn. No human being was in sight. Any
party of relief brought by Snorro could be seen
for a mile. Margaret picked up the cap, and
gazed at it in a maze of anguish. Only one
thing could have happened. During her
absence consciousness had returned to Jan,


and he, poor soul, remembering her cruel words,
and seeing that she had left him there alone to
die, had purposely edged himself over the cliff.
The sea was twenty feet deep below it. She
put her hands before her eyes, and shrieked
until the welkin rang with her shrill, piercing
cries. Peter could do nothing with her, she
would not listen to him, and finally she became
so frantically hysterical that he was alarmed
for her life and reason, and had little oppor
tunity that night to make any inquiries about
his troublesome son-in-law.

Now, when God will help a man, he hath his
own messenger. That night, Doctor Balloch sat
in the open door of his house. This door was
at the end of a little jetty to which his skiff was
tied ; and the whole expanse of the beautiful
bay was before him. It was covered with
boats, idly drifting about under the exquisite
sky. Light ripples of laughter, and sweet
echoes of song upon the waters, drifted toward
him. He had read his evening portion, and he
sat watching the flickering lights of the chang
ing aurora. The portion had been the Nine
teenth Psalm, and he was wishing that the
Sweet Singer of Israel, who thought the Judean


heavens " declared the glory of God," could
have seen the Shetland skies.

Suddenly, and peremptorily, a voice encom
passed him a soft, penetrating voice, that came
like the wind, he knew not how or whence,
" Take thy boat and go to the Troll Rock/
He rose at once and went to the end of the
jetty. The sea, darkly blue, was smooth as
glass, the air clear, the majestic headlands
imparting to the scene a solemn cathedral
grandeur. He strove to shake off the strange
impression, but it grew stronger and more im.
perative, and he said softly, as if answering
some one, " I will go."

He returned to the house and called his
servant Hamish. Hamish and he lived alone,
and had done so for more than thirty years 4
and they thoroughly trusted each other.

" Untie the boat, Hamish. We are going for
a row. We will go as far as Troll Rock."

This rock projected over the sea, which
flowed into a large cave under it ; a cave which
had long been a favorite hiding place for smug
gled cargoes. But when the minister reached
it, all was silence. Hamish looked at his mas
ter curiously. What could he mean by resting


on his oars and watching so desolate and dan
gerous a place ? Very soon both were aware of
a human voice ; the confused, passionate echoes
of Margaret s above them ; and these had not
long ceased when Jan Vedder fell from the
rock into the water.

"This man is to be saved, Hamish ; it is what
we have come for," Hamish quietly slipped

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrJan Vedder's wife → online text (page 6 of 15)