Read CHAPTER IV - SUNNA AND HER GRANDFATHER of An Orkney Maid , free online book, by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, on ReadCentral.com.

  Love is rich in his own right,
    He is heir of all the spheres,
  In his service day and night,
    Swing the tides and roll the years. 
  What has he to ask of fate? 
    Crown him; glad or desolate.

Time puts out all other flames,
But the glory of his eyes;
His are all the sacred names,
His are all the mysteries. 
Crown him!  In his darkest day
He has Heaven to give away! 
-CARL SPENCER.

Arms are fair,
When the intent for bearing them is just.

In the meantime Sunna was spending the evening with her grandfather.  The old gentleman was reading, but she did not ask him to read aloud, she knew by the look and size of the book that it would not be interesting; and she was well pleased when one of her maids desired to speak with her.

“Well then, Vera, what is thy wish?”

“My sister was here and she was bringing me some strange news.  About Mistress Brodie she was talking.”

“Yes, I heard she had come home.  Did she bring Thora Ragnor a new Easter gown?”

“Of a gown I heard nothing.  It was a young man she brought!  O so beautiful is he!  And like an angel he sings!  The Bishop was very friendly with him, and the Ragnors, also; but they, indeed! they are friendly with all kinds of people.”

“This beautiful young man, is he staying with the Ragnors?”

“With Mistress Brodie he is staying, and with her he went to dinner at the Ragnors’.  And the Bishop was there and the young man was singing, and a great deal was made of his singing, also they were speaking of his father who is a famous preacher in some Edinburgh kirk, and -”

“These things may be so, but how came thy sister to know them?”

“This morning my sister took work with Mistress Ragnor and she was waiting on them as they eat; and in and out of the room until nine o’clock.  Then, as she went to her own home, she called on me and we talked of the matter, and it seemed to my thought that more might come of it.”

“Yes, no doubt.  I shall see that more does come of it.  I am well pleased with thee for telling me.”

Then she went back to her grandfather and resumed her knitting.  Anon, she began to sing.  Her face was flushed and her nixie eyes were dancing to the mischief she contemplated.  In a few minutes the old gentleman lifted his head, and looked at her.  “Sunna,” he said, “thy song and thy singing are charming, but they fit not the book I am reading.”

“Then I will stop singing and thou must talk to me.  There has come news, and I want thy opinion on it.  The Ragnors had a dinner party today, and we were not asked.”

“A great lie is that!  Conall Ragnor would not give Queen Victoria a party in Lent.  Who told thee such foolishness?”

Then Sunna retailed the information given her and asked, “What hast thou done to Conall Ragnor?  Always before he bid thee to dinner when the Bishop was at his house?  Or perhaps the offence is with Rahal Ragnor?  Not long ago thou spent an afternoon with her and black and dangerous as a thunder storm thou came home.”

“This day the dinner was an accidental gathering.  Rahal knows well that I have no will to dine with Mistress Brodie.  Dost thou want her here, as thy stepmother?”

“If Mistress Brodie is not tired of an easy life, she will turn her feet away from this house.  If Sunna cannot please thee, thou art in danger of worse happening.  Yes, many are guessing who it is thou wilt marry.”

“And which way runs the guessing?”

“Not all one way.  For thee, that is not a respectable thing.  Thou should not be named with so many old women.”

“I am of thy opinion.  An old woman is little to my mind.  If I trust marriage again, I will choose a young girl for my wife-such an one as Treddie Fae, or Thora Ragnor.”

“Thora Ragnor!  Dreaming thou art!  I am sure Barbara Brodie has brought this young man here for Thora’s approval.  Can thou stand against a young man?”

“Yes.  Adam Vedder and fifty thousand pounds can hand any young man his hat and gloves.  Thy father’s father is not for thee to make a jest about.  So here our talk shall come to an end on this subject.  Go to thy bed!  Sleep, and the Good Being bless thee!”

Sunna was not yet inclined to sleep.  She sat down before her mirror, uncoiled her plentiful hair, and carefully brushed and braided it for the night, as she considered the news that had come to her.

“This beautiful young man, this singing man, is one of Barbara Brodie’s ‘finds.’  Not much do I think of any of them!  That handsome scholar she brought here turned out an unbearable encumbrance.  I believe she paid him to go back to Edinburgh.  That Aberdeen man, who wanted to invest money in Kirkwall had to borrow two pounds from grandfather to take him back to where he came from.  That witty, good-looking Irishman left a big bill at the Castle Hotel for some one to pay; and the woman who wanted to begin a dressmaking business, on the good will of people like Barbara Brodie, knew nothing about dressmaking.  This beautiful young man, I’ll warrant, is a fish out of the same net.  As for the Bishop being taken with his beauty, that is nothing!  The poorer a man is, the better Bishop Hedley will like him.  So it goes!  I wish I knew where Boris Ragnor is-I wish -

“Pshaw!  I wonder what kind of a dress Mistress Barbara Brodie brought Thora.  Not much taste in either men or clothes has she!  Too large will the pattern be, or too strong the colours, and too heavy, or too light, will be the material.  I know!  And it will not fit her.  Too big, or too little it is sure to be!  With my own dress I am satisfied.  And if grandfather asks no questions about it, I shall count it a lucky dress and save it till Boris comes home.  I am going to forgive him when he comes home-perhaps -Now I will put the hopes and worries of this world under my pillow and be off to the Land of Dreams -Tomorrow is Sunday, Easter Sunday-I shall sing the solo in my new dress-that is good, I like a religious feeling in a new dress-I think I am rather a religious girl.”

Alas for the hopes of all who wanted to dress for Easter.  It was an uncompromising, wet day.  It was oil skin and rubber for the men; it was cloaks and pattens and umbrellas for the women.  Yet, aside from the rain, it was a day full of good things.  The cathedral was crowded, there was full cathedral service, and the Bishop preached a transfiguring sermon.  The music was good, the home choir did well, and Sunna’s solo was effectively sung; but after she had heard Ian Macrae’s “Gloria,” she was sorry she had sung at all.

“Grandfather!” she commented, “No private person has a right to sing as that man sings!  After him, non-professionals make a show of themselves.”

“Thou sang well-better than usual, I thought.”

“I was told he was such a handsome young man!  And he has black hair and black eyes!  Even his skin is dark.  He looks like a Celt.  I don’t like Celts.  None of our people like them.  When they come to the fishing they are not respected.”

“Thou art much mistaken.  Our men like them.”

“Boris Ragnor says they are poor traders.”

“Well then, it is to fish they come.”

“What they come for is no care of mine.  Boris is ten times more of a man than the best of them.  No notice shall I take of this Celt.”

“Through thy scorn he may live, and even enjoy his life.  The English officers do that.”

“This chicken is better than might be.  Wilt thou have a little more of it?”

“Enough is plenty.  I have had enough.  At Conall Ragnor’s there is always good eating and I am going there for my supper.  Wilt thou go with me?  Then with Thora thou can talk.  This beautiful young man is likely at Ragnor’s.  It was too stormy for Mistress Brodie to go to her own house at the noonday.  Dost thou see then, how it will be?”

“I will go with thee, I want to see Thora’s new dress.  I need not notice the young man.”

“His name?  Already I have forgotten it.”

“Odd was calling him ‘Macrae.’”

“Macrae!  That is Highland Scotch.  The Macraes are a good family.  There is a famous minister in Edinburgh of that name.  The Calvinists all swear by him.”

“This man sang in a full cathedral service.  Dost thou believe a Calvinist would do that?  He would be sure it was a disguised mass, and nothing better.”

Adam laughed as he said, “Well, then, go with me this night to Ragnor’s and between us we will find something out.  A mystery is not pleasant to thee.”

“There is something wrong in a mystery, that is what I feel.”

“Thou can ask Thora all about him.”

“I shall not ask her.  She will tell me.”

Adam laughed again.  “That is the best way,” he said.  “It was thy father’s way.  Well then, five minutes ago, the wind changed.  By four o’clock it will be fair.”

“Then I will be ready to go with thee.  If I am left alone, I am sad; and that is not good for my health.”

“But thou must behave well, even to the Celt.”

“Unless it is worth my while, I do not quarrel with any one.”

“Was it worth thy while to quarrel with Boris Ragnor?”

“Yes-or I had not quarrelled with him.”

“Here comes the sunshine!  Gleam upon gloom!  Cheery and good it is!”

“They say an Easter dress should be christened with a few drops of rain.  That is not my opinion.  I like the Easter sunshine on it.  Now I shall leave thee and go and rest and dress myself.  Very good is thy talk and thy company to me, but to thee, I am foolishness.  As I shut the door, the big book thou art reading, thou wilt say to it:  ’Now, friend of my soul, some sensible talk we will have together, for that foolish girl has gone to her foolishness at her looking glass.’”

“Run away!  I am in a hurry for my big book.”

Sunna shut the door with a kiss-and as she took the stairs with hurrying steps, the sunshine came dancing through the long window, and her feet trod on it and it fell all over her.

At four o’clock she was ready for her evening’s inquest and she found her grandfather waiting for her.  He had put on a light vest and a white tie, and he had that clean, healthy, good-tempered look that pleases all women.  He smiled and bowed to Sunna and she deserved the compliment; for she was beautiful and had dressed her beauty most becomingly.  Her gown was of Saxony cloth, the exact colour of her hair, with a collar, stomacher and high cuffs of pale green velvet.  The collar was tied with cord and small tassels of gold braid; the stomacher laced with gold braid over small gilt buttons, and the high cuffs were trimmed to match.  Very handsome gilt combs held up her rippled hair, and a large red-riding-hood cloak covered her from the crowning bow of her hair to the little French pattens that protected her black satin slippers.  She expected to make a conquest, and her thoughts were usually the factors of success.

A little disappointment awaited her.  She was usually shown into the right-hand parlour at once, and she relied on the bit of colour afforded by her scarlet cloak to give life to the modest shades of her spring colours of pale fawn and tender green.  But servants were setting the dinner table in the right-hand parlour; and Conall and Rahal and Aunt Barbara had taken themselves to Conall’s little business room where there was a bright fire burning.  There, in his big chair, Conall was next door to sleeping; and Barbara and Rahal were talking in a sleepy, mysterious way about something that did not appear to interest them.

At the sound of Adam Vedder’s voice, Conall became wide awake; and Barbara’s face lighted up with a fresh interest.  If there was nothing else, there was a chronic quarrel between them, which Barbara was ready to lift at a moment’s notice.  But Sunna was not dissatisfied.  Conall’s quick look of admiration, and Rahal’s and Barbara’s glances of surprise, were excellent in their way.  She knew she had given them a subject of interest sufficient to make even the hour before dinner appear short.

“Where is Thora?” she asked, as she turned every way, apparently to look for Thora, but really to allow her admirers to convince themselves that her dress was trimmed as handsomely at the back as the front-that if the stomacher was perfect in front, the sash of green velvet at the back was quite as stylish and elaborate.

“Where is Thora?” she asked again.

“In the drawing room thou wilt find Thora with Ian Macrae,” said Rahal.  “Go to them.  They will be glad of thy company.”

“Doubtful is their gladness.  Two are company, three are a crowd.  Yet so it is!  I must run into danger, like the rest of women.”

“Is that thy Easter gown, Sunna?” asked Mistress Brodie.

“It is.  Dost thou like it?”

“Who would not like it?  The rumour goes abroad that thy grandfather sent to Inverness for it.  Others say it came to thee from Edinburgh.”

“Wrong are both stories.  I am happy to say that Sunna Vedder gave herself a dress so pretty and so suitable.”

With these smiling words she left the room and the elder women shrugged their shoulders and looked expressively at each other.  “What can a sensible man like Boris Ragnor see in such a harum-scarum girl!” was Rahal Ragnor’s question, and Barbara Brodie thought it was all Adam Vedder’s fault.  “He ought to have married some sensible woman who would have brought up the girl as girls ought to be brought up,” she answered; adding, “We may as well remember that the management of women, at any age, is a business clean beyond Adam Vedder’s capabilities.”

“Adam is a clever man, Barbie.”

“Book clever!  What is the use of book wisdom when you have a live girl, full of her own way, to deal with?”

“Conall chose the husbands for his daughters.  They were quite suitable to the girls and they have been very happy with them.”

“Thora will choose for herself.”

“Perhaps, that may be so.  Thora has been spoiled.  Her marriage need not yet be thought of.  In two or three years, we will consider it.  The little one has not yet any dreams of that kind.”

“Such dreams come in a moment-when you are not thinking of them.”

In fact, at that very moment Thora was learning the mystery of “falling in love”; and there is hardly a more vital thing in life than this act.  For it is something taking place in the subconscious self; it is a revolution, and a growth.  It happened that after dinner, Conall wished to hear Ian sing again that loveliest of all metrical Collects, “Lord of All Power and Might,” and Thora went with Ian to do her part as accompanist on the piano.  As they sang Conall appeared to fall asleep, and no more music was asked for.

Then Ian lifted a book full of illustrations of the English lake district, and they sat down on the sofa to examine it.  Ian had once been at Keswick and Ambleside, and he began to tell her about Lake Windemere and these lovely villages.  He was holding Thora’s hand and glancing constantly into her face, and before he recognised what he was saying, Ambleside and Windemere were quite forgotten, and he was telling Thora that he loved her with an everlasting love.  He vowed that he had loved her in his past lives, and would love her, and only her, forever.  And he looked so handsome and spoke in words of the sweetest tenderness, and indeed was amazed at his own passionate eloquence, but knew in his soul that every word he said was true.

And Thora, the innocent little one, was equally sure of his truth.  She blushed and listened, while he drew her closer to his side calling her “his own, his very own!” and begging her to promise that she would “marry him, and no other man, in the whole earth.”

And Thora promised him what he wished and for one-half hour they were in Paradise.

Now, how could this love affair have come to perfection so rapidly?  Because it was the natural and the proper way.  True love dates its birth from the first glance.  It is the coming together of two souls, and in their first contact love flashes forth like flame.  And then their influence over each other is like that gravitation which one star exerts over another star.

But much that passes for love is not love.  It is only a prepossession, pleasant and profitable, promising many every-day advantages.  True love is a deep and elemental thing, a secret incredible glory, in a way, it is even a spiritual triumph.  And we should have another name for love like this.  For it is the long, long love, that has followed us through ages, the healing love, the Comforter!  In the soul of a young, innocent girl like Thora, it is a kind of piety, and ought to be taken with a wondering thankfulness.

An emotion so spiritual and profound was beyond Sunna’s understanding.  She divined that there had been some sort of love-making, but she was unfamiliar with its present indications.  Her opinion, however, was that Ian had offered himself to Thora, and been rejected; in no other way could she account for the far-offness of both parties.  Thora indeed was inexplicable.  She not only refused to show Sunna her Easter dress, she would not enter into any description of it.

“That is a very remarkable thing,” she said to her grandfather, as they walked home together.  “I think the young man made love to Thora and even asked her to marry him, and Thora was frightened and said ‘No!’ and she is likely sorry now that she did not say ‘Yes.’”

“To say ‘No!’ would not have frightened thee, I suppose?”

“That is one of the disagreeable things women have to get used to.”

“How often must a woman say ‘No!’ in order to get used to it?”

“That depends on several small things; for instance I am very sympathetic.  I have a tender heart!  Yes, and so I suffer.”

“I am glad to know of thy sympathy.  If I asked thee to marry a young man whom I wished thee to marry, would thou do it-just to please me?”

“It would depend-on my mood that day.”

“Say, it was thy sympathetic mood?”

“That would be unfavourable.  Of the others I should think, and I should feel that I was cruel; if I took all hope from them.”

“Thou wilt not be reasonable.  I am not joking.  Would thou marry Boris to please me?”

“Boris has offended me.  He must come to me, and say, ‘I am sorry.’  He must take what punishment I choose for his rudeness to me.  Then, I may forgive him.”

“And marry him?”

“Only my angel knows, if it is so written.  Men do not like to do as their women say they must do.  Is there any man in the Orcades who dares to say ‘No,’ to his wife’s ‘Yes?’”

“What of Sandy Stark?”

“Sandy is a Scot!  I do not use a Scotch measure for a Norseman.  Thou art not a perfect Norseman, but yet, even in Edinburgh, there is no Scot that could be thy measure.  I should have to say-’thou art five inches taller than the Scot at thy side, and forty pounds heavier, and nearly twice as strong.’  That would not be correct to an ounce, but it is as near as it is possible to come between Norse and Scot.”

“Thou art romancing!”

“As for the Norse women -”

“About Norse women there is no need for thee to teach thy grandfather.  I know what Norse women are like.  If I did not know, I should have married again.”

“Well then, Barbara Brodie is a good specimen of a capable Norse woman and I have noticed one thing about them, that I feel ought to be better understood.”

“Chut!  What hast thou understood?  Talk about it, and let thy wisdom be known.”

“Well then, it is this thing-Norse women always outlive their husbands.  Thou may count by tens and hundreds the widows in this town.  The ‘maidens of blushing fifteen’ have no opportunities; the widow of fifty asks a young man into her beautiful home and makes him acquainted with the burden of her rents and dividends and her share in half a dozen trading boats, and he takes to the golden lure and marries himself like the rest of the world.  Thou would have been re-married long ago but for my protection.  I have had a very disagreeable day and -”

“Then go to thy bed and put an end to it.”

“My new dress is crushed and some way or other I have got a spot on the front breadth.  Is it that Darwin book thou art looking for?”

“Yes.”

“Would thou like to read a chapter to me?”

“No, I would not.”

“Grandfather, I can understand it.  I like clever men.  Can thou introduce me to him-to Darwin?”

“He would not care to see thee.  Clever men do not want clever wives; so if thou art thinking of a clever husband keep thy ‘blue stockings’ well under thy petticoats.”

“And grandfather, do thou keep out of the way of the widows of Orkney or thou wilt find thyself inside of a marriage ring.”

“Not while thou remains unmarried.  Few women would care to look after thy welfare.  I am used to it, long before thou had been short-coated, I had to walk thee to sleep in my arms.”

“Yes,” laughed Sunna, “I remember that.  I felt myself safest with thee.”

“Thou remembers nothing of the kind.  At six months old, thou could neither compare nor remember.”

“But thou art mistaken.  I was born with perfect senses.  Ere I was twenty-four hours old, I had selected thee as the most suitable person to walk me to sleep.  I think that was a proof of my perfect intelligence.  One thing more, and then I will let thee read.  I am going to marry Boris Ragnor, and then the widow Brodie would-take charge of thee.”  She shut the door to these words and Adam heard her laughing all the way to her own room.  Then he rubbed his hand slowly over and over his mouth and said to himself-“She shall have her say-so; Boris is the only man on the Islands who can manage her.”

After the departure of the Vedders, Rahal and her sister Brodie went upstairs, taking Thora with them.  She went cheerfully though a little reluctantly.  She liked to hear Ian talk.  She had thought of asking him to sing; but she was satisfied with the one straight, long look which flashed between them, as Ian bid her “good night”; for-

  He looked at her as a lover can;
  She looked at him as one who awakes,
  The past was a sleep and her life began.

Then she went to her room, and thought of Ian until she fell asleep and dreamed of him.

For nearly two hours Ian remained with Conall Ragnor.  The Railway Mania was then at its height in England, and the older man was delighted with Ian’s daring stories of its mad excitement.  Ian had seen and talked with Hudson, the draper’s clerk, who had just purchased a fine ducal residence and estate from the results of his reckless speculations.  Ian knew all the Scotch lines, he had even full faith in the Caledonian when it was first proposed and could hardly win any attention.  “Every one said a railway between England and Scotland would not pay, Mr. Ragnor,” said Ian.

“I would have said very different,” replied Conall.  “It would be certain to pay.  Why not?”

“Because there would be no returns,” laughed Ian, and then Conall laughed also, and wished that Boris had been there to learn whatever Ian might teach him.

“Hast thou speculated in railway stock yet,” he asked.

“No, sir.  I have not had the money to do so.”

“How would thou buy if thou had?”

“I would buy when no one else was buying, and when everyone else was buying, I would keep cool, and sell.  A very old and clever speculator gave me that advice as a steady rule, saying it was ’his only guide.’”

This was the tenor of the men’s conversation until near midnight, and then Ragnor went with Ian to the door of his room and bid him a frank and friendly good night.  And as he stood a moment handfast with the youth, his conscience troubled him a little and he said:  “Ian, Ian, thou art a wise lad about this world’s business, but thou must not be forgetting that there is another world after this.”

“I do not forget that, sir.”

“Bishop Hedley is a greater and wiser man than all the railway nabobs thou hast spoken of.”

“I think so, sir!  I do indeed!” and the mutual smile and nod that followed required no further “good night.”

It was a lovely, silent night.  The very houses looked as if they were asleep; and there was not a sound either in the town on the brown pier or the moonlit sea.  It was a night full of the tranquillity of God.  Men and women looked into its peace, and carried its charm into their dreams.  For most fine spirits that dwell by the sea have an elemental sympathy with strange oracles and dreams and old Night.  In the morning, Conall Ragnor was the first to awaken.  He went at once to fling open his window.  Then he cried out in amazement and wonder, and awakened his wife:-

“Rahal!  Rahal!” he shouted.  “Come here!  Come quick!  Look at the town!  It is hung with flags.  The ships in the harbour-flying are their flags also!  And there is a ship just entering the harbour and her colours are flying!  And there are the guns!  They are saluting her from the garrison!  It must be a man-of-war!  I wonder if the Queen is coming to see us at last!  If thou art ready, call Thora and Barbara.  Something is up!  Thou may hear the town now, all tip-on-top with excitement!”

“Why did not thou call us sooner, Coll?”

“I slept late and long.”

“But thou must have heard the town noises?”

“A confused noise passed through my ears, a noise full of hurry like a morning dream, that was all.  Now, I am going for my swim and I will bring the news home with me.”

But long before it was within expectation of Ragnor’s return, the three women standing at the open door saw Ian coming rapidly to the house from the town.  His walk was swift and full of excitement.  His head was thrown upward, and he kept striking himself on the right side, just over the place where his ancestors had worn their dirks or broadswords.  As soon as he saw the three women he flung his Glengarry skyward and shouted a ringing “Hurrah!”

As he approached them, all were struck with his remarkable beauty, his manly figure, his swift graceful movements and his handsome face suffused with the brightness of fiery youth.  Through their long black lashes his eyes were shining and glowing and full of spirit, and indeed his whole personality was instinct with verve and fire.  Anyone watching his approach would have said-“Here comes a youth made to lead a rattling charge of cavalry.”

“Whatever is the matter with you, Ian?” cried Mistress Brodie.  “You are surely gone daft.”

“No indeed!” he answered.  “I seem at this very hour to have just found myself and my senses.”

“What is all the fuss about, Ian?” asked Rahal.

“England has gone to war at the long last with the cruel, crafty black Bear of the North.”

“Well then, it is full time she did so, there are none will say different.”

“And,” continued Ian, “there is a ship now in harbour carrying enlisting officers-you may see her; she is to call at the Orkney and Shetland Islands for recruits for the navy, and Great Scot! she will get them!  All she wants!  She could take every man out of Kirkwall!”

“The Mayor and Captain Ragnor will not permit her to do so.  She will have to leave men to manage the fishing,” said Rahal.

“I thought the women could do that,” said Ian.

“You do not know what you are talking about.  It takes two or three men to lift a net full of fish out of the water, and they are about done up if they manage it.  Come in and get your breakfast.  If your news be true, there is no saying when Ragnor will get home.  He will have some reasoning with his men to do, he cannot spare many of them.”

“I have a good idea,” said Mistress Brodie.  “I will give a dance on Friday night for the enlisting officers, and we will invite all the presentable young men, and all the prettiest girls, to meet them.”

“But you will be too late on Friday.  The cutter and her crew will leave Thursday morning early,” said Ian.

“Then say Wednesday night.”

“That might do.  I could tell the men freshly enlisted to wear a white ribbon in their coats -”

“No, no, no!” cried Rahal.  “What are you saying, Ian?  A white favour is a Stuart favour.  You would set the men fighting in the very dance room.  There is no excuse in the Orkneys for a Stuart memory.”

“I was not thinking of the Stuarts.  Have they not done bothering yet?”

“In the Scotch heart the Stuart lives forever,” said Rahal, with a sigh.

But the dance was decided on and some preparations made for it as soon as breakfast was over.  Ian was enthusiastic on the matter and Thora caught his enthusiasm very readily, and before night, all Kirkwall was preparing to feast and rejoice because England was going to make the great Northern Bear-“the Bear that walks like a man”-stay in the North where he belonged.