:- : '
PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
'HE REPEATED ALL THE BLESSED \VOKDS.'
AMELIA E. BARR
THE CENTURY CO.
Copyright, 1896, 1897, by
THE CENTURY Co.
THE DEVINNE PRESS.
BOOK FIRST-LIOT BORSON
I. THE WEAVING OF DOOM . , ' .'.-.' ,. ... 3
II. JEALOUSY CRUEL AS THE GRAVE ... 23
III. A SENTENCE FOR LIFE . . . -.. . . 44
IV. THE DOOR WIDE OPEN . . . . 62
BOOK SECOND-DAVID BORSON
V. A NEW LIFE 85
VI. KINDRED THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. . . 107
VII. So FAR AND No FARTHER 127
VTH. THE JUSTIFICATION OF DEATH .... 144
IX. A SACRIFICE ACCEPTED ...... 169
X. IN THE FOURTH WATCH 192
XI. THE LOWEST HELL 210
XII. "AT LAST IT is PEACE" 220
"HE EEPEATED ALL THE BLESSED WORDS" .
A LERWICK MAN 33
"THE WATERS OF THE GREAT DEEP" .... 55
"'I WANT TO FIND MY FATHER'S PEOPLE'" . .91
NANNA AND VALA 103
"BUT SHE HELD HER PEACE" 133
AT THE KIRK 137
ON THE WAY TO NANNA'S COTTAGE 223
"WENT IN AND OUT AMONG HIS MATES" . . . 237
PBISONEBS OF CONSCIENCE
I. THE WEAVING OF DOOM 3
n. JEALOUSY CRUEL AS THE GRAVE .... 23
HI. A SENTENCE FOR LIFE 44
IV. THE DOOR WIDE OPEN . .... 62
PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
THE WEAVING OF DOOM
|N the early part of this century there lived
at Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, a
man called Liot Borson. He was no
ignoble man; through sea-fishers and
sea-fighters he counted his forefathers
in an unbroken line back to the great Norwegian Bor,
while his own life was full of perilous labor and he
was off to sea every day that a boat could swim. Liot
was the outcome of the most vivid and masterful form
of paganism and the most vital and uncompromising
form of Christianity. For nearly eight hundred years
the Borsons had been christened, but who can deli ver
a man from his ancestors ? Bor still spoke to his son
through the stirring stories of the sagas, and Liot
knew the lives of Thord and Odd, of Gisli and the
banded men, and the tremendous drama of Nial and
his sons, just as well as he knew the histories of the
prophets and heroes of his Old Testament. It is true
4 PRISONEES OF CONSCIENCE
that lie held the former with a kind of reservation, and
that he gave to the latter a devout and passionate faith,
but this faith was not always potential. There were
hours in Liot's lif e when he was still a pagan, when he
approved the swift, personal vengeance which Odin
enjoined and Christ forbade hours in which he felt
himself to be the son of the man who had carried his
gods and his home to uninhabited Iceland rather than
take cross-marking for the meek and lowly Jesus.
In his youth before his great sorrow came to him
he had but little trouble from this subcharacter.
Of all the men in Lerwick, he knew best the king
stories and the tellings-up of the ancients ; and when
the boats with bare spars rocked idly on the summer
seas waiting for the shoal, or the men and women were
gathered together to pass the long winter nights, Liot
was eagerly sought after. Then, as the women knit
and the men sat with their hands clasped upon their
heads, Liot stood in their midst and told of the way
farings and doings of the Borsons, who had been in
the Varangian Guard, and sometimes of the sad doom
of his fore-elder Gisli, who had been cursed even be
fore he was born.
He did not often speak of Gisli ; for the man ruled
him across the gulf of centuries, and he was always
unhappy when he gave way to the temptation to do
so ; for he could not get rid of the sense of kinship
with him, nor of the memory of that withering spae-
dom with which the first Gisli had been cursed by the
wronged thrall who slew him" This is but the begin
ning of the ill luck which I mil bring on thy kith and kin
THE WEAVING OF DOOM 5
Never had he felt the brooding gloom of this
wretched heirship so vividly as on the night when he
first met Karen Sabiston. Karen lived with her aunt
Matilda Sabiston, the richest woman in Lerwick and
the chief pillar of the kirk and its societies. On that
night the best knitters in Lerwick were gathered at
her house, knitting the fine, lace-like shawls which
were to be sold at the next foy for some good cause
which the minister should approve. They were weary
of their own talk, and longing for Liot to come and
tell them a story. And some of the young girls whis
pered to Karen, " When Liot Borson opens the door,
then you will see the handsomest man in the islands."
" I have seen fine men in Yell and Unst," answered
Karen ; " I think I shall see no handsomer ones in Ler
wick. Is he fair or dark ? "
" He is a straight-faced, bright-faced man, tall and
strong, who can tell a story so that you will be carried
off your feet and away wherever he chooses to take you."
" I have done always as Karen Sabiston was minded
to do ; and now I will not be moved this way or that
way as some one else minds."
"As to that we shall see." And as Thora Grlumm
spoke Liot came into the room.
" The wind is blowing dead on shore, and the sea is
like a man gone out of his wits," he said.
And Matilda answered, "Well, then, Liot, come to
the fire." And as they went toward the fire she stopped
before a lovely girl and said, " Look, now, this is my
niece Karen ; she has just come from Yell, and she can
tell a story also ; so it will be, which can better the
6 PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
Then Liot looked at Karen, and the girl looked up
at him ; in that instant their souls remembered each
other. They put their hands together like old lovers,
and if Liot had drawn her to his heart and kissed her
Karen would not have been much astonished. This
sweet reciprocity was, however, so personal that on
lookers did not see it, and so swift that Liot appeared
to answer promptly enough :
" It would be a good thing for us all if we should
hear a new story. As for me, the game is up. I can
think of nothing to-night but my poor kinsman Gisli,
and he was not a lucky man, nor is it lucky to speak
"Is it Gisli you are talking about?" asked Wolf
Skegg. " Let us bring the man among us ; I like him
best of all."
" He had much sorrow," said Andrew Grimm.
" He had a good wife," answered Gust Havard ; " and
not many men are so lucky."
" 'T was his fate," stammered a very old man, crouch
ing over the fire, " and in everything fate rules."
" Well, then, Snorro, fate is justice," said Matilda ;
"and as well begin, Liot, for it will be the tale of
Gisli and no other I see that."
Then Liot stood up, and Karen, busy with her knit
ting, watched him. She saw that he had brown hair
and gray eyes and the fearless carriage of one who is
at home on the North Sea. His voice at first was
frank and full of brave inflections, as he told of the
noble, faithful, helpful Gisli, pursued by evil fortune
even in his dreams. Gradually its tones became sad
as the complaining of the sea, and a brooding melan-
THE WEAVING OF DOOM 7
choly touched every heart as Gisli, doing all he might
do to ward off misfortune, found it of no avail. "For
what must be must be ; there is no help for it," sighed
Liot. " So, then, love of wife and friends, and all that
good- will dared, could not help Gisli, for the man was
doomed even before his birth."
Then he paused, and there was a dead silence and
an unmistakable sense of expectation ; and Liot's face
changed, and he looked as Gisli might have looked
when he knew that he had come to his last fight for
life. Also for a moment his eyes rested on old Snorro,
who was no longer crouching over the hearth, but
straight up and full of fire and interest ; and Snorro
answered the look with a nod, that meant something
which all approved and understood ; after which Liot
continued in a voice full of a somber passion :
" It was the very last night of the summer, and nei
ther Gisli nor his true wife, Auda, could sleep. Gisli
had bad dreams full of fate if he shut his eyes, and
he knew that his life-days were nearly over. So they
left their house and went to a hiding-place among the
crags, and no sooner were they there than they heard
the voice of their enemy Eyjolf, and there were four
teen men with him. ' Come on like men/ shouted Gisli,
' for I am not going to fare farther away.' "
Then old Snorro raised himself and answered Liot
in the very words of Eyjolf :
" ' Lay down the good arms thou bearest, and give
up also Auda, thy wife.' "
" ' Come and take them like a man, for neither the
arms I bear nor the wife I love are fit for any one
else ! ' " cried Liot, in reply. And this challenge and
8 PRISONEES OF CONSCIENCE
valiant answer, though fully expected, charged the
crowded room with enthusiasm. The women let their
knitting fall and sat with parted lips and shining
eyes, and the men looked at Liot as men look whose
hands are on their weapons.
" So," continued Liot, " the men made for the crags ;
but Gisli fought like a hero, and in that bout four men
were slain. And when they were least aware Gisli
leaped on a crag, that stands alone there and is called
Oneman's Crag, and there he turned at bay and called
out to Eyjolf, ' I wish to make those three hundred in
silver, which thou hast taken as the price of my head,
as dear bought as I can; and before we part thou
wouldst give other three hundred in silver that we had
never met ; for thou wilt only take disgrace for loss
of life.' Then their onslaught was harder and hotter,
and they gave Gisli many spear-thrusts ; but he fought
on wondrously, and there was not one of them with
out a wound who came nigh him. At last, full of
great hurts, Gisli bade them wait awhile and they
should have the end they wanted ; for he would have
time to sing this last song to his faithful Auda :
'Wife, so fair, so never-failing,
So truly loved, so sorely cross'd,
Thou wilt often miss me, wailing ;
Thou wilt weep thy hero lost.
But my heart is stout as ever ;
Swords may bite, I feel no smart ;
Father ! better heirloom never
Owned thy son than fearless heart.'
And with these words he rushed down from the crag
and clove Thord who was Eyjolf s kinsman to the
THE WEAVING OP DOOM 9
very belt. There Gisli lost his life with many great
and sore wounds. He never turned his heel, and
none of them saw that his strokes were lighter, the
last than the first. They buried him by the sea, and
at his grave the sixth man breathed his last ; and on
the same night the seventh man breathed his last;
and an eighth lay bedridden for twelve months and
died. And though the rest were healed, they got noth
ing but shame for their pains. Thus Gisli came to his
grave ; and it has always been said, by one and all,
that there never was a more famous defense made by
one man in any time, of which the truth is known ; but
he was not lucky in anything."
" I will doubt that," said Gust Havard. " He had
Auda to wife, and never was there a woman more
beautiful and loving and faithful. He had love-luck,
if he had no other luck. God give us all such wives
as Auda ! "
"Well, then," answered Matilda, "a man's fate is
his wife, and she is of his own choosing ; and, what is
more, a good husband makes a good wife." Then,
suddenly stopping, she listened a moment and added :
" The minister is come, and we shall hear from him
still better words. But sit down, Liot; you have
passed the hour well, as you always do."
The minister came in with a smile, and he was
placed in the best chair and made many times wel
come. It was evident in a moment that he had brought
a different spirit with him ; the old world vanished
away, and the men and women that a few minutes
before had been so close to it suffered a transforma
tion. As the minister entered the room they became
10 PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
in a moment members of the straitest Christian kirk
quiet, hard-working fishers, and douce, home-keep
ing women. He said the night was bad and black, and
spoke of the boats and the fishers in them. And the
men talked solemnly about the " takes " and the kirk
meetings, while some of the women knitted and listened,
and others helped Matilda and Karen to set the table
with goose and fish, and barley and oaten cakes, and the
hot, sweet tea which is the Shetlander's favorite drink.
Many meals in a lifetime people eat, and few are
remembered ; but when they are " eventful," how sweet
or bitter is that bread-breaking ! This night Liot's
cake and fish and cup of tea were as angels' food.
Karen broke her cake with him, and she sweetened
his cup, and smiled at him and talked to him as he
ate and drank with her. And when at last they stood
up for the song and thanksgiving he held her hand in
his, and their voices blended in the noble sea psalm,
so dear to every seafarer's heart :
" The floods, O Lord, have lifted up,
They lifted up their voice !
The floods have lifted up their waves
And made a mighty noise.
" But yet the Lord, that is on high,
Is more of might by far
Than noise of many waters is,
Or great sea-billows are."
Soft and loud the singing swelled, and the short
thanksgiving followed it. To bend his head and hold
Karen's hand while the blessing fell on his ears was
heaven on earth to Liot ; such happiness he had never
THE WEAVING OF DOOM 11
known before never even dreamed of. He walked
home through the buffeting wind and the drenching
rain, and felt neither; for he was saying over and
over to himself, " I have found my wife ! I have found
my wife ! "
Karen had the same prepossession. As she unbound
her long, fair hair she thought of Liot. Slowly unplait-
ing strand from strand, she murmured to her heart as
she did so :
" Such a man as Liot Borson I have never met be
fore. It was easy to see that he loved me as soon as
he looked at me ; well, then, Liot Borson shall be my
husband Liot, and only Liot, will I marry."
It was at the beginning of winter that this took
place, and it was a kind of new birth to Liot. Hith
erto he had been a silent man about his work ; he now
began to talk and to sing, and even to whistle ; and,
as every one knows, whistling is the most cheerful
sound that comes from human lips. People wondered
a little and said, "It is Karen Sabiston, and it is a
good thing." Also, the doubts and fears that usually
trouble the beginnings of love were absent in this
case. Wherever Liot and Karen had learned each
other, the lesson had been perfected. At their third
meeting he asked her to be his wife, and she answered
with simple honesty, " That is my desire."
This betrothal was, however, far from satisfactory
to Karen's aunt ; she could bring up nothing against
Liot, but she was ill pleased with Karen. " You have
some beauty," she said, " and you have one hundred
pounds of your own ; and it was to be expected that
you would look to better yourself a little."
12 PEISONEES OF CONSCIENCE
" Have I not done so ? Liot is the best of men."
"And the best of men are but men at best. It is
not of Liot I think, but of Liot's money ; he is but
poor, and you know little of him. Those before us
have said wisely, ' Ere you run in double harness, look
well to the other horse.' "
" My heart tells me that I have done right, aunt."
"Your heart cannot foretell, but you might have
sense enough to f orethink ; and it is sure that I little
dreamed of this when I brought you here from the
naked gloom of Yell."
" It is true your word brought me here, but I think
it was Liot who called me by you."
" It was not. When my tongue speaks for any Bor-
son, I wish that it may speak no more ! I like none
of them. Liot is good at need on a winter's night ; but
even so, all his stories are of dool and wrong-doing
and bloody vengeance. From his own words it is seen
that the Borsons have ever been well-hated men. Now,
I have forty years more of this life than you have, and
I tell you plainly I think little of your choice ; what
ever sorrow comes of it, mind this : I did n't give you
leave to make it."
" Nor did I ask your leave, aunt ; each heart knows
its own ; but you have a way to throw cold water upon
" There are hopes I wish at the bottom of the sea.
To be sure, when ill is fated some one must speak the
words that bring it about ; but I wish it had been any
other but myself who wrote, 'Come to Lerwick';
for I little thought I was writing, 'Come to Liot
Borson.' As every one knows, he is the son of un-
THE WEAVING OF DOOM 13
lucky folk; from father to son nothing goes well
" I will put my luck to his, and you will learn to
think better of Liot for my sake, aunt."
"Not while my life-days last ! That is a naked say,
and there 's no more to it."
Matilda's dislike, however, did not seriously inter
fere with Liot's and Karen's happiness. It was more
passive than active ; it was more virulent when he was
absent than when he was present ; and all winter she
suffered him to visit at her house. These visits had
various fortunes, but, good or bad, the season wore
away with them ; and as soon as April came Liot be
gan to build his house. Matilda scoffed at his hurry.
" Does he think," she cried, " that he can marry Karen
Sabiston when he lists to ? Till you are twenty-one
you are in my charge, and I will take care to prevent
such folly as long as I can."
"Well, then, aunt, I shall be of age and my own
mistress next Christmas, and on Uphellya night 1 I
will be married to Liot."
" After that we shall have nothing to say to each
" It will not be my fault."
"It will be my will. However, if you are in love
with ill luck and fated for Liot Borson, you must dree
your destiny ; and Liot does well to build his home,
for he shall not wive himself out of my walls."
" It will be more shame to you than to me, aunt, if
I am not married from your house ; also, people will
speak evil of you."
1 The last day of Christmas-tide.
14 PEISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
" That is to be expected ; but I will not be so ill to
myself as to make a feast for a man I hate. How
ever, there are eight months before Uphellya, and many
chances and changes may come in eight months."
The words were a prophecy. As Matilda uttered
them Thora Fay entered the room, all aglow with ex
citement. " There is a new ship in the harbor ! " she
cried. "She is called the Frigate Bird, and she has
silk and linen and gold ornaments for sale, besides
tea and coffee and the finest of spirits. As for the
captain, he is as handsome as can be, and my brother
thinks him a man of some account."
" You bring good news, Thora," said Matilda. " I
would gladly see the best of whatever is for sale, and
I wish your brother to let so much come to the man's
" I will look to that," answered Thora. " Every one
knows there is to be a wedding in your house very
soon." And with these words she nodded at Karen,
and went smiling away with her message.
A few hours afterward Captain Bele Trenby of
the Frigate Bird stepped across Matilda Sabiston's
threshold. It was the first step toward his death-
place, though he knew it not ; he took it with a laugh
and a saucy compliment to the pretty servant who
opened the door for him, and with the air of one ac
customed to being welcome went into Matilda Sabis-
ton's presence. He delighted the proud, wilful old
woman as soon as she saw him ; his black eyes and
curling black hair, the dare-devil look on his face, and
the fearless dash of his manner reminded her of Paul
Sabiston, the husband of her youth. She opened her
THE WEAVING OF DOOM 15
heart and her purse to the bold free-trader ; she made
him eat and drink, and with a singular imprudence
told him of secret ways in and out of the voes, and
of hiding-places in the coast caverns that had been
known to her husband. And as she talked she grew
handsome; so much so that Karen let her knitting
fall to watch her aunt's face as she described Paul
Sabiston's swift cutter " a mass of snowy canvas,
stealing in and out of the harbor like a cloud."
The coming of this man was the beginning of sor
row. In a few days he understood the situation, and
he resolved to marry Karen Sabiston. Her fair, stately
beauty charmed him, and he had no doubt she would
inherit her aunt's wealth ; that she was cold and shy
only stimulated his love, and as for Liot, he held his
pretensions in contempt. All summer he sailed be
tween Holland and Shetland, and the Lerwick people
gave him good trade and good welcome. With Matilda
Sabiston he had his own way ; she did whatever he
wished her to do. Only at Karen her power stopped
short ; neither promises nor threats would induce the
girl to accept Bele as her lover; and Matilda, accus
tomed to drive her will through the teeth of every
one, was angry morning, noon, and night with her
As the months wore on Liot's position became more
and more painful and humiliating, and he had hard
work to keep his hands off Bele when they met on the
pier or in the narrow streets of the town. His smile,
his voice, his face, his showy dress and hectoring man
ner, all fed in Liot's heart that bitter "hatred which
springs from a sense of being personally held in con-
16 PRISONERS OP CONSCIENCE
tempt ; he felt, also, that even among his fellow-towns
men he was belittled and injured by this plausible,
handsome stranger. For Bele said very much what
it pleased him to say, covering his insolences with a
laugh and with a jovial, jocular air, that made resent
ment seem ridiculous. Bele was also a gift-giver, and
for every woman, old or young, he had a compliment
or a ribbon.
If Liot had been less human, if he had come from
a more mixed race, if his feelings had been educated
down and toned to the level of modern culture, he
could possibly have looked forward to Uphellya night,
and found in the joy and triumph that Karen would
then give him a sufficient set-off to all Bele's injuries and
impertinences. But he was not made thus ; his very
blood came to him through the hearts of vikings and
berserkers, and as long as one drop of this fierce stream
remained in his veins, moments were sure to come in
the which it would render all the tide of lif e insurgent.
It is true Liot was a Christian and a good man ; but
it must be noted, in order to do him full justice, that
the form of Christianity which was finally and passion
ately accepted by his race was that of ultra-Calvinism ;
it spoke to their inherited tendencies as no other creed
could have done. This uncompromising theology,
with its God of vengeance and inflexible justice, was
understood by men who considered a blood-feud of
centuries a duty never to be neglected ; and as for the
doctrine of a special election, with all its tremendous
possibilities of damnation, they were not disposed to
object to it. Indeed, they were such good haters that
Tophet and everlasting enmity were the bane and doom
THE WEAVING OF DOOM 17
they would have unhesitatingly chosen for their ene
mies. This giim theology Liot sucked in with his
mother's milk, and both by inheritance and by a strong
personal faith he was a child of God after the order of
Therefore he constantly brought his enemy to the
ultimate and immutable tribunal of his faith, and just
as constantly condemned him there. Nothing was
surer in Liot's mind than that Bele Trenby was the
child of the Evil One and an inheritor of the kingdom
of wrath ; for Bele did the works of his father every
day, and every hour of the day, and Liot told himself
that it was impossible there should be any fellowship
between them. To Bele he said nothing of this spir
itual superiority, and yet it was obvious in his constant
air of disapproval and dissent, in his lofty silence, his
way of not being conscious of Bele's presence or of
totally ignoring his remarks.
"Liot Borson mocks the very heart of me," said
Bele to Matilda one day, as he gloomily flung himself
into the big chair she pushed toward him.
"What said he, Bele?"
" Not a word with his tongue, or I had struck him
in the face ; but as I was telling about my last cargo
and the run for it, his eyes called me l Liar! liar!
liar!' like blow on blow. And when he turned and
walked off the pier some were quiet, and some followed
him ; and I could have slain every man's son of them,
one on the heels of the other."
" That is vain babble, Bele ; and I would leave Liot
alone. He has more shapes than one, and he is ill to