Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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meant to be so temperate, and to part with both Peter and Ragon on the
best terms possible. How weak are all our resolutions! John turned
away from Peter's store conscious that he had given full sway to all
the irritation and disappointment of his feelings, and that he had
spoken as violently as either Peter, Ragon, or even the half-brutal
Sandy Beg. Indeed, Sandy had said very little; but the malignant look
with which he regarded Peter, John could never forget.

This was not his only annoyance. Paul Calder's boats were fully
manned, and the others had already left for Brassey's Sound. The
Sabays were not rich; a few weeks of idleness would make the long
Orkney winter a dreary prospect. Christine and his mother sat from
morning to night braiding straw into the once famous Orkney Tuscans,
and he went to the peat-moss to cut a good stock of winter fuel; but
his earnings in money were small and precarious, and he was so anxious
that Christine's constant cheerfulness hurt him.

Sandy Beg had indeed said something of an offer he could make "if
shentlemans wanted goot wages wi' ta chance of a lucky bit for
themsel's; foive kuineas ta month an' ta affsets. Oigh! oigh!" But
John had met the offer with such scorn and anger that Sandy had
thought it worth while to bestow one of his most wicked looks upon
him. The fact was, Sandy felt half grateful to John for his apparent
partisanship, and John indignantly resented any disposition to put him
in the same boat with a man so generally suspected and disliked.

"It might be a come-down," he said, "for a gude sailor an' fisher to
coil peats and do days' darg, but it was honest labor; an', please
God, he'd never do that i' the week that wad hinder him fra going to
the kirk on Sabbath."

"Oigh! she'll jist please hersel'; she'll pe owing ta Beg naething by
ta next new moon." And with a mocking laugh Sandy loitered away
towards the seashore.


Just after this interview a little lad put a note in John's hand from
Margaret Fae. It only asked him to be on Brogar Bridge at eight
o'clock that night. Now Brogar Bridge was not a spot that any Orcadian
cared to visit at such an hour. In the pagan temple whose remains
stood there it was said pale ghosts of white-robed priests still
offered up shadowy human sacrifices, and though John's faith was firm
and sure, superstitions are beyond reasoning with, and he recalled the
eerie, weird aspect of the grim stones with an unavoidable
apprehension. What could Margaret want with him in such a place and at
an hour so near that at which Peter usually went home from his shop?
He had never seen Margaret's writing, and he half suspected Sandy Beg
had more to do with the appointment than she had; but he was too
anxious to justify himself in Margaret's eyes to let any fears or
doubts prevent him from keeping the tryst.

He had scarcely reached the Stones of Stennis when he saw her leaning
against one of them. The strange western light was over her thoughtful
face. She seemed to have become a part of the still and solemn
landscape. John had always loved her with a species of reverence;
to-night he felt almost afraid of her beauty and the power she had
over him. She was a true Scandinavian, with the tall, slender, and
rather haughty form which marks Orcadian and Zetland women. Her hair
was perhaps a little too fair and cold, and yet it made a noble
setting to the large, finely-featured, tranquil face.

She put out her hand as John approached, and said, "Was it well that
thou shouldst quarrel with my father? I thought that thou didst love

Then John poured out his whole heart - his love for her, his mother's
demand of him, his quarrel with Ragon and Peter and Sandy Beg. "It has
been an ill time, Margaret," he said, "and thou hast been long in
comforting me."

Well, Margaret had plenty of reasons for her delay and plenty of
comfort for her lover. Naturally slow of pulse and speech, she had
been long coming to a conclusion; but, having satisfied herself of its
justice, she was likely to be immovable in it. She gave John her hand
frankly and lovingly, and promised, in poverty or wealth, in weal or
woe, to stand truly by his side. It was not a very hopeful
troth-plighting, but they were both sure of the foundations of their
love, and both regarded the promise as solemnly binding.

Then Margaret told John that she had heard that evening that the
captain of the Wick steamer wanted a mate, and the rough Pentland
Frith being well known to John, she hoped, if he made immediate
application, he would be accepted. If he was, John declared his
intention of at once seeing Peter and asking his consent to their
engagement. In the meantime the Bridge of Brogar was to be their
tryst, when tryst was possible. Peter's summer dwelling lay not far
from it, and it was Margaret's habit to watch for his boat and walk up
from the beach to the house with him. She would always walk over first
to Brogar, and if John could meet her there that would be well; if
not, she would understand that it was out of the way of duty, and be

John fortunately secured the mate's place. Before he could tell
Margaret this she heard her father speak well of him to the captain.
"There is nae better sailor, nor better lad, for that matter," said
Peter. "I like none that he wad hang roun' my bonnie Marg'et; but
then, a cat may look at a king without it being high treason, I wot."

A week afterwards Peter thought differently. When John told him
honestly how matters stood between him and Margaret he was more angry
than when Sandy Beg swore away his whole Dutch cargo. He would listen
to neither love nor reason, and positively forbid him to hold any
further intercourse with his daughter. John had expected this, and was
not greatly discouraged. He had Margaret's promise. Youth is hopeful,
and they could wait; for it never entered their minds absolutely to
disobey the old man.

In the meantime there was a kind of peacemaking between Ragon and
John. The good Dominie Sinclair had met them both one day on the
beach, and insisted on their forgiving and shaking hands. Neither of
them were sorry to do so. Men who have shared the dangers of the
deep-sea fishing and the stormy Northern Ocean together cannot look
upon each other as mere parts of a bargain. There was, too, a wild
valor and a wonderful power in emergencies belonging to Ragon that had
always dazzled John's more cautious nature. In some respects, he
thought Ragon Torr the greatest sailor that left Stromness harbor, and
Ragon was willing enough to admit that John "was a fine fellow," and
to give his hand at the dominie's direction.

Alas! the good man's peacemaking was of short duration. As soon as
Peter told the young Norse sailor of John's offer for Margaret's hand,
Ragon's passive good-will turned to active dislike and bitter
jealousy. For, though he had taken little trouble to please Margaret,
he had come to look upon her as his future wife. He knew that Peter
wished it so, and he now imagined that it was also the only thing on
earth he cared for.

Thus, though John was getting good wages, he was not happy. It was
rarely he got a word with Margaret, and Peter and Ragon were only too
ready to speak. It became daily more and more difficult to avoid an
open quarrel with them, and, indeed, on several occasions sharp, cruel
words, that hurt like wounds, had passed between them on the public
streets and quays.

Thus Stromness, that used to be so pleasant to him, was changing fast.
He knew not how it was that people so readily believed him in the
wrong. In Wick, too, he had been troubled with Sandy Beg, and a kind
of nameless dread possessed him about the man; he could not get rid of
it, even after he had heard that Sandy had sailed in a whaling ship
for the Arctic seas.

Thus things went on until the end of July. John was engaged now until
the steamer stopped running in September, and the little sum of ready
money necessary for the winter's comfort was assured. Christine sat
singing and knitting, or singing and braiding straw, and Dame Alison
went up and down her cottage with a glad heart. They knew little of
John's anxieties. Christine had listened sympathizingly to his trouble
about Margaret, and said, "Thou wait an' trust; John dear, an' at the
end a' things will be well." Even Ragon's ill-will and Peter's ill
words had not greatly frightened them - "The wrath o' man shall praise
Him," read old Alison, with just a touch of spiritual satisfaction,
"an' the rest o' the wrath he will restrain."


It was a Saturday night in the beginning of August, and John was at
home until the following Monday. He dressed himself and went out
towards Brogar, and Christine watched him far over the western moor,
and blessed him as he went. He had not seen Margaret for many days,
but he had a feeling to-night that she would be able to keep her
tryst. And there, standing amid the rushes on the lakeside, he found
her. They had so much to say to each other that Margaret forgot her
father's return, and delayed so long that she thought it best to go
straight home, instead of walking down the beach to meet him.

He generally left Stromness about half-past eight, and his supper was
laid for nine o'clock. But this night nine passed, and he did not
come; and though the delay could be accounted for in various ways, she
had a dim but anxious forecasting of calamity in her heart. The
atmosphere of the little parlor grew sorrowful and heavy, the lamp did
not seem to light it, her father's chair had a deserted, lonely
aspect, the house was strangely silent; in fifteen minutes she had
forgotten how happy she had been, and wandered to and from the door
like some soul in an uneasy dream.

All at once she heard the far-away shouting of angry and alarmed
voices, and to her sensitive ears her lover's and her father's names
were mingled. It was her nature to act slowly; for a few moments she
could not decide what was to be done. The first thought was the
servants. There were only two, Hacon Flett and Gerda Vedder. Gerda had
gone to bed, Hacon was not on the place. As she gathered her energies
together she began to walk rapidly over the springy heath towards the
white sands of the beach. Her father, if he was coming, would come
that way. She was angry with herself for the _if_. Of course he was
coming. What was there to prevent it? She told herself, Nothing, and
the next moment looked up and saw two men coming towards her, and in
their arms a figure which she knew instinctively was her father's.

She slowly retraced her steps, set open the gate and the door, and
waited for the grief that was coming to her. But however slow her
reasoning faculties, her soul knew in a moment what it needed. It was
but a little prayer said with trembling lips and fainting heart; but
no prayer loses its way. Straight to the heart of Christ it went. And
the answer was there and the strength waiting when Ragon and Hacon
brought in the bleeding, dying old man, and laid him down upon his
parlor floor.

Ragon said but one word, "Stabbed!" and then, turning to Hacon, bid
him ride for life and death into Stromness for a doctor. Most sailors
of these islands know a little rude surgery, and Ragon stayed beside
his friend, doing what he could to relieve the worst symptoms.
Margaret, white and still, went hither and thither, bringing whatever
Ragon wanted, and fearing, she knew not why, to ask any questions.

With the doctor came the dominie and two of the town bailies. There
was little need of the doctor; Peter Fae's life was ebbing rapidly
away with every moment of time. There was but little time now for
whatever had yet to be done. The dominie stooped first to his ear, and
in a few solemn words bid him lay himself at the foot of the cross.
"Thou'lt never perish there, Peter," he said; and the dying man seemed
to catch something of the comfort of such an assurance.

Then Bailie Inkster said, "Peter Fae, before God an' his
minister - before twa o' the town bailies an' thy ain daughter
Margaret, an' thy friend Ragon Torr, an' thy servants Hacon Flett an'
Gerda Vedder, thou art now to say what man stabbed thee."

Peter made one desperate effort, a wild, passionate gleam shot from
the suddenly-opened eyes, and he cried out in a voice terrible in its
despairing anger, "_John Sabay! John Sabay - stabb-ed - me!
Indeed - he - did_!"

"Oh, forgive him, man! forgive him! Dinna think o' that now, Peter!
Cling to the cross - cling to the cross, man! Nane ever perished that
only won to the foot o' it." Then the pleading words were whispered
down into fast-sealing ears, and the doctor quietly led away a poor
heart-stricken girl, who was too shocked to weep and too humbled and
wretched to tell her sorrow to any one but God.


The bailies, after hearing the deposition, immediately repaired to
John Sabay's cottage. It was Saturday night, and no warrant could now
be got, but the murderer must be secured. No two men bent on such an
errand ever found it more difficult to execute. The little family had
sat later than usual. John had always news they were eager to hear - of
tourists and strangers he had seen in Wick, or of the people the
steamer had brought to Kirkwall.

He was particularly cheerful this evening; his interview with Margaret
had been hopeful and pleasant, and Christine had given the houseplace
and the humble supper-table quite a festival look. They had sat so
long over the meal that when the bailies entered John was only then
reading the regular portion for the evening exercise. All were a
little amazed at the visit, but no one thought for a moment of
interrupting the Scripture; and the two men sat down and listened
attentively while John finished the chapter.

Bailie Tulloch then rose and went towards the dame. He was a far-off
cousin of the Sabays, and, though not on the best of terms with them,
his relationship was considered to impose the duty particularly on

"Gude-e'en, if thou comes on a gude errand," said old Dame Alison,
suspiciously; "but that's no thy custom, bailie."

"I came, dame, to ask John anent Peter Fae."

The dame laughed pleasantly. "If thou had asked him anent Margaret
Fae, he could tell thee more about it."

"This is nae laughing matter, dame. Peter Fae has been murdered - yes,
murdered! An' he said, ere he died, that John Sabay did the deed."

"Then Peter Fae died wi' a lie on his lips - tell them that, John," and
the old woman's face was almost majestic in its defiance and anger.

"I hae not seen Peter Fae for a week," said John. "God knows that,
bailie. I wad be the vera last man to hurt a hair o' his gray head;
why he is Margaret's father!"

"Still, John, though we hae nae warrant to hold thee, we are beholden
to do sae; an' thou maun come wi' us," said Bailie Inkster.

"Wrang has nae warrant at ony time, an' ye will no touch my lad," said
Alison, rising and standing before her son.

"Come, dame, keep a still tongue."

"My tongue's no under thy belt, Tulloch; but it's weel kenned that
since thou wranged us thou ne'er liked us."

"Mother, mother, dinna fash theesel'. It's naught at a' but a mistake;
an' I'll gae wi' Bailie Inkster, if he's feared to tak my word."

"I could tak thy word fain enough, John - "

"But the thing isna possible, Inkster. Besides, if he were missing
Monday morn, I, being i' some sort a relation, wad be under suspicion
o' helping him awa."

"Naebody wad e'er suspect thee o' a helping or mercifu' deed, Tulloch.
Indeed na!"

"Tak care, dame; thou art admitting it wad be a mercifu' deed. I heard
Peter Fae say that John Sabay stabbed him, an' Ragon Torr and Hacon
Flett saw John, as I understan' the matter."

"Mother," said John, "do thou talk to nane but God. Thou wilt hae to
lead the prayer theesel' to-night; dinna forget me. I'm as innocent o'
this matter as Christine is; mak up thy mind on that."

"God go wi' thee, John. A' the men i' Orkney can do nae mair than they
may against thee."

"It's an unco grief an' shame to me," said Tulloch, "but the Sabays
hae aye been a thorn i' the flesh to me, an' John's the last o' them,
the last o' them!"

"Thou art makin' thy count without Providence, Tulloch. There's mair
Sabays than Tullochs; for there's Ane for them that counts far beyont
an' above a' that can be against them. Now, thou step aff my honest
hearthstane - there is mair room for thee without than within."

Then John held his mother's and sister's hands a moment, and there was
such _virtue_ in the clasp, and such light and trust in their faces,
that it was impossible for him not to catch hope from them. Suddenly
Bailie Tulloch noticed that John was in his Sabbath-day clothes. In
itself this was not remarkable on a Saturday night. Most of the people
kept this evening as a kind of preparation for the Holy Day, and the
best clothing and the festival meal were very general. But just then
it struck the bailies as worth inquiring about.

"Where are thy warking-claes, John - the uniform, I mean, o' that
steamship company thou sails for - and why hast na them on thee?"

"I had a visit to mak, an' I put on my best to mak it in. The ithers
are i' my room."

"Get them, Christine."

Christine returned in a few minutes pale-faced and empty-handed. "They
are not there, John, nor yet i' thy kist."

"I thought sae."

"Then God help me, sister! I know not where they are."

Even Bailie Inkster looked doubtful and troubled at this circumstance.
Silence, cold and suspicious, fell upon them, and poor John went away
half-bereft of all the comfort his mother's trust and Christine's look
had given him.

The next day being Sabbath, no one felt at liberty to discuss the
subject; but as the little groups passed one another on their way to
church their solemn looks and their doleful shakes of the head
testified to its presence in their thoughts. The dominie indeed,
knowing how nearly impossible it would be for them not to think their
own thoughts this Lord's day, deemed it best to guide those thoughts
to charity. He begged every one to be kind to all in deep affliction,
and to think no evil until it was positively known who the guilty
person was.

Indeed, in spite of the almost overwhelming evidence against John
Sabay, there was a strong disposition to believe him innocent. "If ye
believe a' ye hear, ye may eat a' ye see," said Geordie Sweyn. "Maybe
John Sabay killed old Peter Fae, but every maybe has a may-not-be."
And to this remark there were more nods of approval than shakes of

But affairs, even with this gleam of light, were dark enough to the
sorrowful family. John's wages had stopped, and the winter fuel was
not yet all cut. A lawyer had to be procured, and they must mortgage
their little cottage to do it; and although ten days had passed,
Margaret Fae had not shown, either by word or deed, what was her
opinion regarding John's guilt or innocence.

But Margaret, as before said, was naturally slow in all her movements,
so slow that even Scotch caution had begun to call her cruel or
careless. But this was a great injustice. She had weighed carefully in
her own mind everything against John, and put beside it his own letter
to her and her intimate knowledge of his character, and then solemnly
sat down in God's presence to take such counsel as he should put into
her heart. After many prayerful, waiting days she reached a conclusion
which was satisfactory to herself; and she then put away from her
every doubt of John's innocence, and resolved on the course to be

In the first place she would need money to clear the guiltless and to
seek the guilty, and she resolved to continue her father's business.
She had assisted him so long with his accounts that his methods were
quite familiar to her; all she needed was some one to handle the rough
goods, and stand between her and the rude sailors with whom the
business was mainly conducted.

Who was this to be? Ragon Torr? She was sure Ragon would have been her
father's choice. He had taken all charge of the funeral, and had since
hung round the house, ready at any moment to do her service. But Ragon
would testify against John Sabay, and she had besides an unaccountable
antipathy to his having any nearer relation with her. "I'll ask
Geordie Sweyn," she said, after a long consultation with her own slow
but sure reasoning powers; "he'll keep the skippers an' farmers i' awe
o' him; an' he's just as honest as any ither man."

So Geordie was sent for and the proposal made and accepted. "Thou wilt
surely be true to me, Geordie?"

"As sure as death, Miss Margaret;" and when he gave her his great
brawny hand on it, she knew her affairs in that direction were safe.

Next morning the shop was opened as usual, and Geordie Sweyn stood in
Peter Fae's place. The arrangement had been finally made so rapidly
that it had taken all Stromness by surprise. But no one said anything
against it; many believed it to be wisely done, and those who did not,
hardly cared to express dissatisfaction with a man whose personal
prowess and ready hand were so well known.

The same day Christine received a very sisterly letter from Margaret,
begging her to come and talk matters over with her. There were such
obvious reasons why Margaret could not go to Christine, that the
latter readily complied with the request; and such was the influence
that this calm, cool, earnest girl had over the elder woman, that she
not only prevailed upon her to accept money to fee the lawyer in
John's defence, but also whatever was necessary for their comfort
during the approaching winter. Thus Christine and Margaret mutually
strengthened each other, and both cottage and prison were always the
better for every meeting.


But soon the summer passed away, and the storms and snows of winter
swept over the lonely island. There would be no court until December
to try John, and his imprisonment in Kirkwall jail grew every day more
dreary. But no storms kept Christine long away from him. Over almost
impassable roads and mosses she made her way on the little ponies of
the country, which had to perform a constant steeple-chase over the
bogs and chasms.

All things may be borne when they are sure; and every one who loved
John was glad when at last he could have a fair hearing. Nothing
however was in his favor. The bailies and the murdered man's servants,
even the dominie and his daughter could tell but one tale. "Peter Fae
had declared with his last breath that John Sabay had stabbed him."
The prosecution also brought forward strong evidence to show that very
bitter words had passed, a few days before the murder, between the
prisoner and the murdered man.

In the sifting of this evidence other points were brought out, still
more convincing. Hacon Flett said that he was walking to Stromness by
the beach to meet his sweetheart, when he heard the cry of murder, and
in the gloaming light saw John Sabay distinctly running across the
moor. When asked how he knew certainly that it was John, he said that
he knew him by his peculiar dress, its bright buttons, and the glimmer
of gold braid on his cap. He said also, in a very decided manner, that
John Sabay passed Ragon Torr so closely that he supposed they had

Then Ragon being put upon his oath, and asked solemnly to declare who
was the man that had thus passed him, tremblingly answered,

"_John Sabay!_"

John gave him such a look as might well haunt a guilty soul through
all eternity; and old Dame Alison, roused by a sense of intolerable
wrong, cried out,

"Know this, there's a day coming that will show the black heart; but
traitors' words ne'er yet hurt the honest cause."

"Peace, woman!" said an officer of the court, not unkindly.

"Weel, then, God speak for me! an' my thoughts are free; if I daurna
say, I may think."

In defence Margaret Fae swore that she had been with John on Brogar
Bridge until nearly time to meet her father, and that John then wore a
black broadcloth suit and a high hat; furthermore, that she believed
it utterly impossible for him to have gone home, changed his clothes,
and then reached the scene of the murder at the time Hacon Flett and
Ragon Torr swore to his appearance there.

But watches were very uncommon then; no one of the witnesses had any
very distinct idea of the time; some of them varied as much as an hour
in their estimate. It was also suggested by the prosecution that John
probably had the other suit secreted near the scene of the murder.
Certain it was that he had not been able either to produce it or to

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrScottish sketches → online text (page 13 of 15)