Read CHAPTER XIII - LITTLE JAN’S TRIUMPH. of Jan Vedder's Wife , free online book, by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, on

  “I deemed thy garments, O my hope, were gray,
      So far I viewed thee.  Now the space between
      Is passed at length; and garmented in green
  Even as in days of yore thou stand’st to-day. 
  Ah God! and but for lingering dull dismay,
      On all that road our footsteps erst had been
      Even thus commingled, and our shadows seen
  Blent on the hedgerows and the water way.”

Margaret intended leaving Saturday, but on Thursday night something happened, the most unlooked-for thing that could have happened to her-she received Jan’s letter.  As she was standing beside her packed trunk, she heard Elga call: 

“Here has come Sandy Bane with a letter, Mistress Vedder, and he will give it to none but thee.”

It is not always that we have presentiments.  That strange intelligence, that wraith of coming events, does not speak, except a prescient soul listens.  Margaret attached no importance to the call.  Dr. Balloch often sent letters, she supposed Sandy was waiting for a penny fee.  With her usual neatness, she put away some trifles, locked her drawers, and then washed her hands and face.  Sandy was in no hurry either; Elga had given him a cup of tea, and a toasted barley-cake, and he was telling her bits of gossip about the boats and fishers.

While they were talking, Margaret entered; she gave Sandy a penny, and then with that vague curiosity which is stirred by the sight of almost any letter, she stretched out her hand for the one he had brought.  The moment she saw it, she understood that something wonderful had come to her.  Quick as thought she took in the significance of the official blue paper and the scarlet seal.  In those days, officers in the Admiralty used imposing stationery, and Jan had felt a certain pride in giving his few earnest words the sanction of his honor and office.  Certainly it had a great effect upon Margaret, although only those very familiar with her, could have detected the storm of anxiety and love concealed beneath her calm face and her few common words.

But oh, when she stood alone with Jan’s loving letter in her hand, then all barriers were swept away.  The abandon of her slow, strong nature, had in it an intensity impossible to quicker and shallower affection.  There was an hour in which she forgot her mortality, when her soul leaned and hearkened after Jan’s soul, till it seemed not only possible, but positive, that he had heard her passionate cry of love and sorrow, and answered it.  In that moment of intense silence which succeeds intense feeling, she was sure Jan called her. “Margaret!” She heard the spiritual voice, soft, clear, sweeter than the sweetest music, and many a soul that in extremities has touched the heavenly horizon will understand that she was not mistaken.

In an hour Tulloch sent for her trunk.

“There is no trunk to be sent now; tell Tulloch that Margaret Vedder will tell him the why and the wherefore to-morrow.”  Elga was amazed, and somewhat disappointed, but Margaret’s face astonished and subdued her, and she did not dare to ask, “What then is the matter?”

Margaret slept little that night.  To the first overwhelming personality of joy and sorrow, there succeeded many other trains of thought.  It was evident that Dr. Balloch, perhaps Snorro also, had known always of Jan’s life and doings.  She thought she had been deceived by both, and not kindly used.  She wondered how they could see her suffer, year after year, the slow torture of uncertainty, and unsatisfied love and repentance.  She quite forgot how jealously she had guarded her own feelings, how silent about her husband she had been, how resentful of all allusion to him.

Throughout the night Elga heard her moving about the house.  She was restoring every thing to its place again.  The relief she felt in this duty first revealed to her the real fear of her soul at the strange world into which she had resolved to go and seek her husband.  She had the joy of a child who had been sent a message on some dark and terror-haunted way, and had then been excused from the task.  Even as a girl the great outside world had rather terrified than allured her.  In her Edinburgh school she had been homesick for the lonely, beautiful islands, and nothing she had heard or read since had made her wish to leave them.  She regarded Jan’s letter, coming just at that time, as a special kindness of Providence.

“Yes, and I am sure that is true,” said Tulloch to her next morning.  “Every one has something to boast of now and then.  Thou canst say, ’God has kept me out of the danger, though doubtless He could have taken me through it very safely.’  And it will be much to Jan’s mind, when he hears that it was thy will to go and seek him.”

“Thou wert ever kind to Jan.”

“Jan had a good heart.  I thought that always.”

“And thou thought right; how glad thou will be to see him!  Yes, I know thou wilt.”

“I shall see Jan no more, Margaret, for I am going away soon, and I shall never come back.”

“Art thou sick, then?”

“So I think; very.  And I have seen one who knows, and when I told him the truth, he said to me, ’Set thy house in order, Tulloch, for it is likely this sickness will be thy last.’  So come in and out as often as thou can, Margaret, and thou tell the minister the road I am traveling, for I shall look to him and thee to keep me company on it as far as we may tread it together.”

It did not enter Margaret’s mind to say little commonplaces of negation.  Her large, clear eyes, solemn and tender, admitted the fact at once, and she answered the lonely man’s petition by laying her hand upon his, and saying, “At this time thou lean on me like a daughter.  I will serve thee until the last hour.”

“When thou hast heard all concerning Jan from the minister, come and tell me too; for it will be a great pleasure to me to know how Jan Vedder turned his trouble into good fortune.”

Probably Dr. Balloch had received a letter from Jan also, for he looked singularly and inquisitively at Margaret as she entered his room.  She went directly to his side, and laid Jan’s letter before him.  He read it slowly through, then raised his face and said, “Well, Margaret?”

“It is not so well.  Thou knew all this time that Jan was alive.”

“Yes, I knew it.  It is likely to be so, for I-I mean, I was sent to save his life.”

“Wilt thou tell me how?”

“Yes, I will tell thee now.  Little thou thought in those days of Jan Vedder, but I will show thee how God loved him!  One of his holy messengers, one of his consecrated servants, one of this world’s nobles, were set to work together for Jan’s salvation.”  Then he told her all that had happened, and he read her Jan’s letters, and as he spoke of his great heart, and his kind heart, the old man’s eyes kindled, and he began to walk about the room in his enthusiasm.

Such a tale Margaret had never heard before.  Tears of pity and tears of pride washed clean and clear-seeing the eyes that had too often wept only for herself.  “Oh, Margaret!  Margaret!” he said, “learn this-when it is God’s pleasure to save a man, the devil can not hinder, nor a cruel wife, nor false friends, nor total shipwreck, nor the murderer’s knife-all things must work together for it.”

“If God gives Jan back to me, I will love and honor him with all my heart and soul.  I promise thee I will that.”

“See thou do.  It will be thy privilege and thy duty.”

“Oh, why did thou not tell me all this before?  It would have been good for me.”

“No, it would have been bad for thee.  Thou has not suffered one hour longer than was necessary.  Week by week, month by month, year by year, thy heart has been growing more humble and tender, more just and unselfish; but it was not until Snorro brought thee those poor despised love-gifts of Jan’s that thou wast humble and tender, and just, and unselfish enough to leave all and go and seek thy lost husband.  But I am sure it was this way-the very hour this gracious thought came into thy heart thy captivity was turned.  Now, then, from thy own experience thou can understand why God hides even a happy future from us.  If we knew surely that fame or prosperity or happiness was coming, how haughty, how selfish, how impatient we should be.”

“I would like thee to go and tell my father all.”

“I will tell thee what thou must do-go home and tell the great news thyself.”

“I can not go into Suneva’s house.  Thou should not ask that of me.”

“In the day of thy good fortune, be generous.  Suneva Fae has a kind heart, and I blame thee much that there was trouble.  Because God has forgiven thee, go without a grudging thought, and say-’Suneva, I was wrong, and I am sorry for the wrong; and I have good news, and want my father and thee to share it.’”

“No; I can not do that.”

“There is no ‘can’ in it.  It is my will, Margaret, that thou go.  Go at once, and take thy son with thee.  The kind deed delayed is worth very little.  To-day that is thy work, and we will not read or write.  As for me, I will loose my boat, and I will sail about the bay, and round by the Troll Rock, and I will think of these things only.”

For a few minutes Margaret stood watching him drift with the tide, his boat rocking gently, and the fresh wind blowing his long white hair, and carrying far out to sea the solemnly joyful notes to which he was singing his morning psalm.

  “Bless, O my soul, the Lord thy God
        and not forgetful be
  Of all his gracious benefits
        he hath bestowed on thee.

  Such pity as a father hath
        unto his children dear,
  Like pity shows the Lord to such
        as worship him in fear.”

“Thou art a good man,” said Margaret to herself, as she waved her hand in farewell, and turned slowly homeward.  Most women would have been impatient to tell the great news that had come to them, but Margaret could always wait.  Besides, she had been ordered to go to Suneva with it, and the task was not a pleasant one to her.  She had never been in her father’s house, since she left it with her son in her arms; and it was not an easy thing for a woman so proud to go and say to the woman who had supplanted her-“I have done wrong, and I am sorry for it.”

Yet it did not enter her mind to disobey the instructions given her; she only wanted time to consider how to perform them in the quietest, and least painful manner.  She took the road by the sea shore, and sat down on a huge barricade of rocks.  Generally such lonely communion with sea and sky strengthened and calmed her; but this morning she could not bring her mind into accord with it.  Accidentally she dislodged a piece of rock, and it fell among the millions of birds sitting on the shelving precipices below her.  They flickered with piercing cries in circles above her head, and then dropped like a shower into the ocean, with a noise like the hurrahing of an army.  Impatient and annoyed, she turned away from the shore, across the undulating heathy plateau.  She longed to reach her own room; perhaps in its seclusion she would find the composure she needed.

As she approached her house, she saw a crowd of boys and little Jan walking proudly in front of them.  One was playing “Miss Flora McDonald’s reel” on a violin, and the gay strains were accompanied by finger snappings, whistling, and occasional shouts.  “There is no quiet to be found anywhere, this morning,” thought Margaret, but her curiosity was aroused, and she went toward the children.  They saw her coming, and with an accession of clamor hastened to meet her.  Little Jan carried a faded, battered wreath of unrecognizable materials, and he walked as proudly as Pompey may have walked in a Roman triumph.  When Margaret saw it, she knew well what had happened, and she opened her arms, and held the boy to her heart, and kissed him over and over, and cried out, “Oh, my brave little Jan, brave little Jan!  How did it happen then?  Thou tell me quick.”

“Hal Ragner shall tell thee, my mother;” and Hal eagerly stepped forward: 

“It was last night, Mistress Vedder, we were all watching for the ‘Arctic Bounty;’ but she did not come, and this morning as we were playing, the word was passed that she had reached Peter Fae’s pier.  Then we all ran, but thou knowest that thy Jan runs like a red deer, and so he got far ahead, and leaped on board, and was climbing the mast first of all.  Then Bor Skade, he tried to climb over him, and Nichol Sinclair, he tried to hold him back, but the sailors shouted, ‘Bravo, little Jan Vedder!’ and the skipper he shouted ‘Bravo!’ and thy father, he shouted higher than all the rest.  And when Jan had cut loose the prize, he was like to greet for joy, and he clapped his hands, and kissed Jan, and he gave him five gold sovereigns,-see, then, if he did not!” And little Jan proudly put his hand in his pocket, and held them out in his small soiled palm.

The feat which little Jan had accomplished is one which means all to the Shetland boy that his first buffalo means to the Indian youth.  When a whaler is in Arctic seas, the sailors on the first of May make a garland of such bits of ribbons, love tokens, and keep-sakes, as have each a private history, and this they tie to the top of the main-mast.  There it swings, blow high or low, in sleet and hail, until the ship reaches her home-port.  Then it is the supreme emulation of every lad, and especially of every sailor’s son, to be first on board and first up the mast to cut it down, and the boy who does it, is the hero of the day, and has won his footing on every Shetland boat.

What wonder, then, that Margaret was proud and happy?  What wonder that in her glow of delight the thing she had been seeking was made clear to her?  How could she go better to Suneva than with this crowd of happy boys?  If the minister thought she ought to share one of her blessings with Suneva, she would double her obedience, and ask her to share the mother’s as well as the wife’s joy.

“One thing I wish, boys,” she said happily, “let us go straight to Peter Fae’s house, for Hal Ragner must tell Suneva Fae the good news also.”  So, with a shout, the little company turned, and very soon Suneva, who was busy salting some fish in the cellar of her house, heard her name called by more than fifty shrill voices, in fifty different keys.

She hurried up stairs, saying to herself, “It will be good news, or great news that has come to pass, no doubt; for when ill-luck has the day, he does not call any one like that; he comes sneaking in.”  Her rosy face was full of smiles when she opened the door, but when she saw Margaret and Jan standing first of all, she was for the moment too amazed to speak.

Margaret pointed to the wreath:  “Our Jan took it from the top-mast of the ‘Arctic Bounty;’” she said.  “The boys brought him home to me, and I have brought him to thee, Suneva.  I thought thou would like it.”

“Our Jan!” In those two words Margaret canceled every thing remembered against her.  Suneva’s eyes filled, and she stretched out both her hands to her step-daughter.

“Come in, Margaret!  Come in, my brave, darling Jan!  Come in, boys, every one of you!  There is cake, and wheat bread, and preserved fruit enough for you all; and I shall find a shilling for every boy here, who has kept Jan’s triumph with him.”  And when Suneva had feasted the children she brought a leather pouch, and counting out L2 14s., sent them away, fiddling and singing, and shouting with delight.

But Margaret stayed; and the two women talked their bitterness over to its very root.  For Suneva said:  “We will leave nothing unexplained, and nothing that is doubtful.  Tell me the worst thou hast thought, and the worst thou hast heard, and what I can not excuse, that I will say, ‘I am sorry for,’ and thou wilt forgive it, I know thou wilt.”  And after this admission, it was easy for Margaret also to say, “I am sorry;” and when that part of the matter had been settled, she added, “Now then, Suneva, I have great good news to tell thee.”

But with the words Peter and the minister entered the house, and Margaret went to Dr. Balloch and said, “I have done all thou bid me; now then, thou tell my father and Suneva whatever thou told me.  That is what thou art come for, I know it is.”

“Yes, it is so.  I was in the store when thy little Jan and his companions came there with the gold given them, and when the sovereigns had been changed and every boy had got his shilling, I said to thy father, ’Come home with me, for Margaret is at thy house, and great joy has come to it to-day.’”

Then he told again the whole story, and read aloud Jan’s letters; and Peter and Suneva were so amazed and interested, that they begged the minister to stay all day, and talk of the subject with them.  And the good man cheerfully consented, for it delighted him to see Margaret and Suneva busy together, making the dinner and the tea, and sharing pleasantly the household cares that women like to exercise for those they love or respect.  He looked at them, and then he looked at Peter, and the two men understood each other, without a word.

By and by, little Jan, hungry and weary with excitement, came seeking his mother, and his presence added the last element of joy to the reunited family.  The child’s eager curiosity kept up until late the interest in the great subject made known that day to Peter and Suneva.  For to Norsemen, slavery is the greatest of all earthly ills, and Peter’s eyes flashed with indignation, and he spoke of Snorro not only with respect, but with something also like a noble envy of his privileges.

“If I had twenty years less, I would man a ship of mine own, and go to the African coast as a privateer, I would that.  What a joy I should give my two hands in freeing the captives, and hanging those slavers in a slack rope at the yard-arm.”

“Nay, Peter, thou would not be brutal.”

“Yes, I would be a brute with brutes; that is so, my minister.  Even St. James thinks as I do-’He shall have judgment without mercy that showeth no mercy.’  That is a good way, I think.  I am glad Snorro hath gone to look after them.  I would be right glad if he had Thor’s hammer in his big hands.”

“He hath a Lancaster gun, Peter.”

“But that is not like seeing the knife redden in the hand.  Oh, no!”

“Peter, we are Christians, and not heathens.”

“I am sorry if the words grieve thee.  Often I have wondered why David wrote some of the hard words he did write.  I wonder no more.  He wrote them against the men who sell human life for gold.  If I was Jan Vedder, I would read those words every morning to my men.  The knife that is sharpened on the word of God, cuts deep-that is so.”

“Jan hath done his part well, Peter, and I wish that he could see us this night.  It hath been a day of blessing to this house, and I am right happy to have been counted in it.”

Then he went away, but that night Margaret and her son once more slept in their old room under Peter Fae’s roof.  It affected her to see that nothing had been changed.  A pair of slippers she had forgotten still stood by the hearthstone.  Her mother’s Bible had been placed upon her dressing table.  The geranium she had planted, was still in the window; it had been watered and cared for, and had grown to be a large and luxuriant plant.  She thought of the last day she had occupied that room, and of the many bitter hours she had spent in it, and she contrasted them with the joy and the hope of her return.

But when we say to ourselves, “I will be grateful,” it is very seldom the heart consents to our determination; and Margaret, exhausted with emotion, was almost shocked to find that she could not realize, with any degree of warmth, the mercy and blessing that had come to her.  She was the more dissatisfied, because as soon as she was alone she remembered the message Tulloch had given her.  It had remained all day undelivered, and quite forgotten.  “How selfish I am,” she said wearily, but ere she could feel sensibly any regret for her fault she had fallen asleep.

In the morning it was her first thought, and as soon after breakfast as possible she went to Dr. Balloch’s.  He seemed shocked at the news, and very much affected.  “We have been true friends for fifty years, Margaret,” he said; “I never thought of his being ill, of his dying-dying.”

“He does not appear to fear death, sir.”

“No, he will meet it as a good man should.  He knows well that death is only the veil which we who live call life.  We sleep, and it is lifted.”

“Wilt thou see him to-day?”

“Yes, this morning.  Thirty-eight years ago this month his wife died.  It was a great grief to him.  She was but a girl, and her bride-year was not quite worn out.”

“I have never heard of her.”

“Well, then, that is like to be.  This is the first time I have spoken of Nanna Tulloch since she went away from us.  It is long to remember, yet she was very lovely, and very much beloved.  But thou knowest Shetlanders speak not of the dead, nor do they count any thing from a day of sorrow.  However, thy words have brought many things to my heart.  This day I will spend with my friend.”

The reconciliation which had taken place was a good thing for Margaret.  She was inclined to be despondent; Suneva always faced the future with a smile.  It was better also that Margaret should talk of Jan, than brood over the subject in her own heart; and nothing interested Suneva like a love-quarrel.  If it were between husband and wife, then it was of double importance to her.  She was always trying to put sixes and sevens at one.  She persuaded Margaret to write without delay to Jan, and to request the Admiralty Office to forward the letter.  If it had been her letter she would have written “Haste” and “Important” all over it.  She never tired of calculating the possibilities of Jan receiving it by a certain date, and she soon fixed upon another date, when, allowing for all possible detentions, Jan’s next letter might be expected.

But perhaps, most of all, the reconciliation was good for Peter.  Nothing keeps a man so young as the companionship of his children and grandchildren.  Peter was fond and proud of his daughter, but he delighted in little Jan.  The boy, so physically like his father, had many of Peter’s tastes and peculiarities.  He loved money, and Peter respected him for loving it.  There were two men whom Peter particularly disliked; little Jan disliked them also with all his childish soul, and when he said things about them that Peter did not care to say, the boy’s candor charmed and satisfied him, although he pretended to reprove it.

Jan, too, had a very high temper, and resented, quick as a flash, any wound to his childish self-esteem.  Peter was fond of noticing its relationship to his own.  One day he said to the boy:  “Do that again and I will send thee out of the store.”

“If thou sends me out just once, I will never come in thy store again; no, I will not; never, as long as I live,” was the instant retort.  Peter repeated it to Suneva with infinite pride and approval.  “No one will put our little Jan out for nothing,” he said.

“Well, then, he is just like thee!” said the politic Suneva; and Peter’s face showed that he considered the resemblance as very complimentary.