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Title: Prisoners of Conscience
Author: Barr, Amelia Edith Huddleston, 1831-1919
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Prisoners of Conscience" ***

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PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE



[Illustration: "HE REPEATED ALL THE BLESSED WORDS." (_See p.
230._)]



  PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE

  By
  Amelia E. Barr

  New York
  The Century Co.
  1897



  Copyright, 1896, 1897, by
  The Century Co.

  The De Vinne Press.



CONTENTS

BOOK FIRST--LIOT BORSON

                                           PAGE

     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

  VIII. 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



ILLUSTRATIONS

  "He Repeated all the Blessed Words"                 _Frontispiece_

  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

  Peat-gatherers                                               161

  Groat                                                        193

  On the Way to Nanna's Cottage                                223

  "Went in and out among his Mates"                            237



PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE



Book First


LIOT BORSON



BOOK FIRST

CONTENTS

                                        PAGE

    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



PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE



I

THE WEAVING OF DOOM


In 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 deliver 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 that he 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 life 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 wayfarings 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 before 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 spaedom with
which the first Gisli had been cursed by the wronged thrall who slew
him--"_This is but the beginning of the ill luck which I will bring
on thy kith and kin after thee._"

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 whispered 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 Lerwick. 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 Glumm 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 other."

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 onlookers 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 of him."

"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."

"'Twas his fate," stammered a very old man, crouching 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 knitting, 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 melancholy 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 neither 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 fourteen 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 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 without 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 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 nothing 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 welcome. 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 transformation. As the minister entered
the room they became in a moment members of the straitest Christian
kirk--quiet, hard-working fishers, and douce, home-keeping 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 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 unplaiting strand from strand, she
murmured to her heart as she did so:

"Such a man as Liot Borson I have never met before. 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. Hitherto 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."

"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
forethink; 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 Borson, 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; whatever sorrow comes of it, mind this: I
didn'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 every hope."

"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 unlucky folk; from father to
son nothing goes well with them."

"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 interfere 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 began 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 other."

"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."

"That is to be expected; but I will not be so ill to myself as to
make a feast for a man I hate. However, 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 excitement. "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 ears."

"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 accustomed to being welcome
went into Matilda Sabiston'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 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 sorrow. 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 between 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, accustomed to drive her will through the teeth of every
one, was angry morning, noon, and night with her disobedient niece.

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 manner,
all fed in Liot's heart that bitter hatred which springs from a
sense of being personally held in contempt; he felt, also, that
even among his fellow-townsmen 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 resentment 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 life 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 passionately 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 they would have
unhesitatingly chosen for their enemies. This grim 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 John
Calvin.

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 spiritual 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 '_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 anger in any of them."

Bele was not averse to be so counseled. In spite of his bravado
and risky ventures, he was no more a brave man than a dishonorable
or dishonest man ever is. He knew that if it came to fighting he
would be like a child in Liot's big hands, and he had already seen
Liot's scornful silence strip his boasting naked. So he contented
himself with the revenge of the coward--the shrug and the innuendo,
the straight up-and-down lie, when Liot was absent; the sulky nod
or bantering remark, according to his humor, when Liot was present.

However, as the weeks went on Liot became accustomed to the
struggle, and more able to take possession of such aids to mastery
of himself as were his own. First, there was Karen; her loyalty
never wavered. If Liot knew anything surely, it was that at
Christmas she would become his wife. She met him whenever she could,
she sent him constantly tokens of her love, and she begged him at
every opportunity for her sake to let Bele Trenby alone. Every
day, also, his cousin Paul Borson spoke to him and praised him
for his forbearance; and every Sabbath the minister asked, "How goes
it, Liot? Is His grace yet sufficient?" And at these questions
Liot's countenance would glow as he answered gladly, "So far He
has helped me."

From this catechism, and the clasp and look that gave it living
sympathy, Liot always turned homeward full of such strength that
he longed to meet his enemy on the road, just that he might show
him that "noble not caring," which was gall and wormwood to Bele's
touchy self-conceit. It was a great spiritual weakness, and one
which Liot was not likely to combat; for prayer was so vital a thing
to him that it became imbued with all his personal characteristics.
He made petition that God would keep him from hurting Bele Trenby,
and yet in his heart he was afraid that God would hear and grant his
prayer. The pagan in Liot was not dead; and the same fight between
the old man and the new man that made Paul's life a constant warfare
found a fresh battle-ground in Liot's soul.

He began his devotions in the spirit of Christ, but they ended
always in a passionate arraignment of Bele Trenby through the psalms
of David. These wondrously human measures got Liot's heart in their
grip; he wept them and prayed them and lived them until their words
blended with all his thoughts and speech; through them he grew
"familiar" with God, as Job and David and Jonah were familiar--a
reverent familiarity. Liot ventured to tell Him all that he had to
suffer from Bele--the lies that he could not refute, the insolences
he could not return, his restricted intercourse with Karen, and the
loss of that frank fellowship with such of his townsmen as had
business reasons for not quarreling with Bele.

So matters went on, and the feeling grew no better, but worse,
between the men. When the devil could not find a man to irritate
Bele and Liot, then he found Matilda Sabiston always ready to speak
for him. She twitted Bele with his prudences, and if she met Liot on
the street she complimented him on his patience, and prophesied
for Karen a "lowly mannered husband, whom she could put under her
feet."

One day in October affairs all round were at their utmost strain.
The summer was over, and Bele was not likely to make the Shetland
coast often till after March. His talk was of the French and Dutch
ports and their many attractions. And Matilda was cross at the
prospect of losing her favorite's society, and unjustly inclined to
blame Bele for his want of success with her niece.

"Talk if you want to, Bele," she said snappishly, "of the pretty
women in France and Holland. You are, after all, a great dreamer, and
you don't dream true; the fisherman Liot can win where you lose."

Then Bele said some words about Liot, and Matilda laughed. Bele
thought the laugh full of scorn; so he got up and left the house
in a passion, and Matilda immediately turned on Karen.

"Ill luck came with you, girl," she cried, "and I wish that Christmas
was here and that you were out of my house."

"No need to wait till Christmas, aunt; I will go away now and never
come back."

"I shall be glad of that."

"Paul Borson will give me shelter until I move into my own house."

"Then we shall be far apart. I shall not be sorry, for our chimneys
may smoke the better for it."

"That is an unkind thing to say."

"It is as you take it."

"I wonder what people will think of you, aunt?"

"I wonder that, too--but I care nothing."

"I see that talk will come to little, and that we had better part."

"If you will marry Bele we need not part; then I will be good to you."

"I will not marry Bele--no, not for the round world."

"Then, what I have to say is this, and I say it out: go to the
Borsons as soon as you can; there is doubtless soul-kin between you
and them, and I want no Borson near me, in the body or out of the
body."

So that afternoon Karen went to live with Paul Borson, and there was
great talk about it. No sooner had Liot put his foot ashore than
he heard the story, and at once he set it bitterly down against Bele;
for his sake Karen had been driven from her home. There were those
that said it was Bele's plan, since she would not marry him, to
separate her from her aunt; he was at least determined not to
lose what money and property Matilda Sabiston had to leave. These
accusations were not without effect. Liot believed his rival capable
of any meanness. But it was not the question of money that at
this hour angered him; it was Karen's tears; it was Karen's sense of
shame in being sent from the home of her only relative, and the
certain knowledge that the story would be in every one's mouth.
These things roused in Liot's soul hatred implacable and unmerciful
and thirsty for the stream of life.

Yet he kept himself well in hand, saying little to Karen but those
things usually whispered to beloved women who are weeping, and at the
end of them this entreaty:

"Listen, dear heart of mine! I will see the minister, and he will
call our names in the kirk next Sunday, and the next day we shall be
married, and then there will be an end to this trouble. I say nothing
of Matilda Sabiston, but Bele Trenby stirs up bickerings all day
long; he is a low, quarrelsome fellow, a very son of Satan, walking
about the world tempting good men to sin."

And Karen answered: "Life is full of waesomeness. I have always
heard that when the heart learns to love it learns to sorrow; yet for
all this, and more too, I will be your wife, Liot, on the day you
wish, for then if sorrow comes we two together can well bear it."

------
[Footnote 1: The last day of Christmas-tide.]



II

JEALOUSY CRUEL AS THE GRAVE


After this event all Lerwick knew that Karen Sabiston was to be
married to Liot Borson in less than three weeks. For the minister
was unwilling to shorten the usual time for the kirk calling, and
Karen, on reflection, had also come to the conclusion that it was
best not to hurry too much. "Everything ought to bide its time,
Liot," she said, "and the minister wishes the three askings to be
honored; also, as the days go by, my aunt may think better and do
better than she is now minded to."

"If I had my way, Karen--"

"But just now, Liot, it is my way."

"Yours and the minister's."

"Then it is like to be good."

"Well, let it stand at three weeks; but I wish that the time had not
been put off; ill luck comes to a changed wedding-day."

"Why do you forespeak misfortune, Liot? It is a bad thing to do. Far
better if you went to the house-builder and told him to hire more
help and get the roof-tree on; then we need not ask shelter either
from kin or kind."

It was a prudent thought, and Liot acknowledged its wisdom and said
he would "there and then go about it." The day was nearly spent, but
the moon was at its full, and the way across the moor was as well
known to him as the space of his own boat. He kissed Karen fondly,
and promised to return in two or three hours at the most; and she
watched his tall form swing into the shadows and become part and
parcel of the gray indistinctness which shut in the horizon.

There was really no road to the little hamlet where the builder
lived. The people used the sea road, and thought it good enough; but
the rising moon showed a foot-path, like a pale, narrow ribbon,
winding through the peat-cuttings and skirting the still, black moss
waters. But in this locality Liot had cut many a load of peat, and
he knew the bottomless streams of the heath as well as he knew the
"races" of the coast; so he strode rapidly forward on his pleasant
errand.

The builder, who was also a fisherman, had just come from the sea;
and as he ate his evening meal he talked with Liot about the new
house, and promised him to get help enough to finish it within a
month. This business occupied about an hour, and as soon as it was
over Liot lit his pipe and took the way homeward. He had scarcely
left the sea-shore when he saw a man before him, walking very slowly
and irresolutely; and Liot said to himself, "He steps like one who
is not sure of his way." With the thought he called out, "_Take
care!_" and hastened forward; and the man stood still and waited for
him.

In a few minutes Liot also wished to stand still; for the moon came
from behind a cloud and showed him plainly that the wayfarer was Bele
Trenby. The recognition was mutual, but for once Bele was disposed
to be conciliating. He was afraid to turn back and equally afraid to
go forward; twice already the moonlight had deceived him, and he
had nearly stepped into the water; so he thought it worth his while
to say:

"Good evening, Liot; I am glad you came this road; it is a bad one--a
devilish bad one! I wish I had taken a boat. I shall miss the tide,
and I was looking to sail with it. It is an hour since I passed
Skegg's Point--a full hour, for it has been a step at a time. Now
you will let me step after you; I see you know the way."

He spoke with a nervous rapidity, and Liot only answered:

"Step as you wish to."

Bele fell a couple of feet behind, but continued to talk. "I have
been round Skegg's Point," he said with a chuckling laugh. "I wanted
to see Auda Brent before I went away for the winter. Lovely woman!
Brent is a lucky fellow--"

"Brent is my friend," answered Liot, angrily. But Bele did not notice
the tone, and he continued:

"I would rather have Auda for a friend." And then, in his usual
insinuating, boastful way, he praised the woman's beauty and
graciousness in words which had an indefinable offense, and yet
one quite capable of that laughing denial which commonly shielded
Bele's impertinence. "Brent gave me a piece of Saxony cloth and a
gold brooch for her--Brent is in Amsterdam. I have taken the
cloth four times; there were also other gifts--but I will say
nothing of them."

"You are inventing lies, Bele Trenby. Touch your tongue, and your
fingers will come out of your lips black as the pit. Say to Brent
what you have said to me. You dare not, you infernal coward!"

"You have a pretty list of bad words, Liot, and I won't try to change
mine with them."

Liot did not answer. He turned and looked at the man behind him,
and the devil entered into his heart and whispered, "_There is the
venn before you._" The words were audible to him; they set his
heart on fire and made his blood rush into his face, and beat on his
ear-drums like thunder. He could scarcely stand. A fierce joy ran
through his veins, and the fiery radiations of his life colored
the air around him; he saw everything red. The venn, a narrow morass
with only one safe crossing, was before them; in a few moments they
were on its margin. Liot suddenly stopped; the leather strings of
his _rivlins_[2] had come unfastened, and he dropped the stick he
carried in order to retie them. At this point there was a slight
elevation on the morass, and Bele looked at Liot as he put his
foot upon it, asking sharply:

"Is this the crossing?"

Liot fumbled at his shoe-strings and said not a word; for he knew it
was _not_ the crossing.

"Is this the crossing, Liot?" Bele again asked. And again Liot
answered neither yes nor no. Then Bele flew into a passion and cried
out with an oath:

"You are a cursed fellow, Liot Borson, and in the devil's own temper;
I will stay no longer with you."

He stepped forward as he spoke, and instantly a cry, shrill with
mortal terror, rang across the moor from sea to sea. Liot quickly
raised himself, but he had barely time to distinguish the white
horror of his enemy's face and the despair of his upthrown arms. The
next moment the moss had swallowed the man, and the thick, peaty
water hardly stirred over his engulfing.

For a little while Liot fixed his eyes on the spot; then he
lifted his stick and went forward, telling his soul in triumphant
undertones: "He has gone down quick into hell; the Lord has brought
him down into the pit of destruction; the bloody and deceitful man
shall not live out half his days; he has gone to his own place."

Over and over he reiterated these assurances, stepping securely
himself to the ring of their doom. It was not until he saw the light
in Paul Borson's house that the chill of doubt and the sickness of
fear assailed him. How could he smile into Karen's face or clasp her
to his breast again? A candle was glimmering in the window of a
fisherman's cottage; he stepped into its light and looked at his
hands. There was no stain of blood on them, but he was angry at the
involuntary act; he felt it to be an accusation.

Just yet he could not meet Karen. He walked to the pier, and talked
to his conscience as he did so. "I never touched the man," he urged.
"I said nothing to lead him wrong. He was full of evil; his last
words were such as slay a woman's honor. I did right not to answer
him. A hundred times I have vowed I would not turn a finger to
save his life, and God heard and knew my vow. He delivered him
into my hand; he let me see the end of the wicked. I am not to
blame! I am not to blame!" Then said an interior voice, that he
had not silenced, "Go and tell the sheriff what has happened."

Liot turned home at this advice. Why should he speak now? Bele was
dead and buried; let his memory perish with him. He summoned from
every nook of his being all the strength of the past, the present,
and the future, and with a resolute hand lifted the latch of the
door. Karen threw down her knitting and ran to meet him; and when
he had kissed her once he felt that the worst was over. Paul asked
him about the house, and talked over his plans and probabilities,
and after an interval he said:

"I saw Bele Trenby's ship was ready for sea at the noon hour; she
will be miles away by this time. It is a good thing, for Mistress
Sabiston may now come to reason."

"It will make no odds to us; we shall not be the better for Bele's
absence."

"I think differently. He is one of the worst of men, and he makes
everything grow in Matilda's eyes as he wishes to. Lerwick can well
spare him; a bad man, as every one knows."

"A man that joys the devil. Let us not speak of him."

"But he speaks of you."

"His words will not slay me. Kinsman, let us go to sleep now; I am
promised to the fishing with the early tide."

But Liot could not sleep. In vain he closed his eyes; they saw more
than he could tell. There were invisible feet in his room; the air
was heavy with presence, and full of vague, miserable visions; for
"Wickedness, condemned by her own witness, is very timorous, and,
being pressed with Conscience, always forecasteth grievous things."

When Bele stepped into his grave there had been a bright moonlight
blending with the green, opalish light of the aurora charging to the
zenith; and in this mysterious mingled glow Liot had seen for a
moment the white, upturned face that the next moment went down with
open eyes into the bottomless water. Now, though the night had
become dark and stormy, he could not dismiss the sight, and anon
the Awful One who dwelleth in the thick darkness drew near, and for
the first time in his life Liot Borson was afraid. Then it was that
his deep and real religious life came to his help. He rose, and
stood with clasped hands in the middle of the room, and began to
plead his cause, even as Job did in the night of his terror. In
his strong, simple speech he told everything to God--told him the
wrongs that had been done him, the provocations he had endured.
His solemnly low implorations were drenched with agonizing tears,
and they only ceased when the dayspring came and drove the somber
terrors of the night before it.

Then he took his boat and went off to sea, though the waves were
black and the wind whistling loud and shrill. He wanted the
loneliness that only the sea could give him. He felt that he
must "cry aloud" for deliverance from the great strait into which he
had fallen. No man could help him, no human sympathy come between
him and his God. Into such communions not even the angels enter.

At sundown he came home, his boat loaded with fish, and his soul
quiet as the sea was quiet after the storm had spent itself. Karen
said he "looked as if he had seen Death"; and Paul answered: "No
wonder at that; a man in an open boat in such weather came near to
him." Others spoke of his pallor and his weariness; but no one saw
on his face that mystical self-signature of submission which comes
only through the pang of soul-travail.

He had scarcely changed his clothing and sat down to his tea before
Paul said: "A strange thing has happened. Trenby's ship is still
in harbor. He cannot be found; no one has seen him since he left the
ship yesterday. He bade Matilda Sabiston good-by in the morning, and
in the afternoon he told his men to be ready to lift anchor when the
tide turned. The tide turned, but he came not; and they wondered
at it, but were not anxious; now, however, there is a great fear
about him."

"What fear is there?" asked Liot.

"Men know not; but it is uppermost in all minds that in some way his
life-days are ended."

"Well, then, long or short, it is God who numbers our days."

"What do you think of the matter?" asked Paul.

"As you know, kinsman," answered Liot, "I have ever hated Bele, and
that with reason. Often I have said it were well if he were hurt,
and better if he were dead; but at this time I will say no word, good
or bad. If the man lives, I have nothing good to say of him; if he
is dead, I have nothing bad to say."

"That is wise. Our fathers believed in and feared the fetches of
dead men; they thought them to be not far away from the living, and
able to be either good friends or bitter enemies to them."

"I have heard that often. No saying is older than 'Bare is a man's
back without the kin behind him.'"

"Then you are well clad, Liot, for behind you are generations of
brave and good men."

"The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not be moved," said Liot,
solemnly. "He is sufficient. I am as one of the covenanted, for the
promise is 'to you and your children.'"

Paul nodded gravely. He was a Calvinistic pagan, learned in the
Scriptures, inflexible in faith, yet by no means forgetful of the
potent influences of his heroic dead. Truly he trusted in the Lord,
but he was never unwilling to remember that Bor and Bor's mighty
sons stood at his back. Even though they were in the "valley of
shadows," they were near enough in a strait to divine his trouble
and be ready to help him.

The tenor of this conversation suited both men. They pursued it in
a fitful manner and with long, thoughtful pauses until the night
was far spent; then they said, "Good sleep," with a look into each
other's eyes which held not only promise of present good-will, but a
positive "looking forward" neither cared to speak more definitely of.

The next day there was an organized search for Bele Trenby through
the island hamlets and along the coast; but the man was not found
far or near; he had disappeared as absolutely as a stone dropped
into mid-ocean. Not until the fourth day was there any probable
clue found; then a fishing-smack came in, bringing a little rowboat
usually tied to Howard Hallgrim's rock. Hallgrim was a very old man
and had not been out of his house for a week, so that it was only
when the boat was found at sea that it was missed from its place.
It was then plain to every one that Bele had taken the boat for
some visit and met with an accident.

So far the inference was correct. Bele's own boat being shipped ready
for the voyage, he took Hallgrim's boat when he went to see Auda
Brent; but he either tied it carelessly or he did not know the power
of the tide at that point, for when he wished to return the boat
was not there. For a few minutes he hesitated; he was well aware
that the foot-path across the moor was a dangerous one, but he was
anxious to leave Lerwick with that tide, and he risked it.

These facts flashed across Liot's mind with the force of truth, and
he never doubted them. All, then, hung upon Auda Brent's reticence;
if she admitted that Bele had called on her that afternoon, some
one would divine the loss of the boat and the subsequent tragedy.
For several wretched days he waited to hear the words that would
point suspicion to him. They were not spoken. Auda came to Lerwick,
as usual, with her basket of eggs for sale; she talked with Paul
Borson about Bele's disappearance; and though Liot watched her
closely, he noticed neither tremor nor hesitation in her face or
voice. He thought, indeed, that she showed very little feeling of any
kind in the matter. It took him some time to reach the conclusion
that Auda was playing a part--one she thought best for her honor
and peace.

[Illustration: A LERWICK MAN.]

In the mean time the preparations for his marriage with Karen
Sabiston went rapidly forward. He strove to keep his mind and heart
in tune with them, but it was often hard work. Sometimes Karen
questioned him concerning his obvious depression; sometimes she
herself caught the infection of his sadness; and there were little
shadows upon their love that she could not understand. On the day
before her marriage she went to visit her aunt Matilda Sabiston.
Matilda did not deny herself, but afterward Karen wished she had
done so. Almost her first words were of Bele Trenby, for whom she
was mourning with the love of a mother for an only son.

"What brings you into my sight?" she asked the girl. "Bele is dead
and gone, and you are living! and Liot Borson knows all about it!"

"How dare you say such a thing, aunt?"

"I can dare the truth, though the devil listened to it. As for
'aunt,' I am no aunt of yours."

"I am content to be denied by you; and I will see that Liot makes
you pay dearly for the words that you have said."

"No fear! he will not dare to challenge them! I know that."

"You have called him a murderer!"

"He did the deed, or he has knowledge of it. _One_ who never yet
deceived me tells me so much. Oh, if I could only bring that _one_
into the court I would hang Liot higher than his masthead! I wish to
die only that I may follow Liot, and give him misery on misery every
one of his life-days. I would also poison his sleep and make his
dreams torture him. If there is yet one kinsman behind my back, I
will force him to dog Liot into the grave."

"Liot is in the shelter of God's hand; he need not fear what you can
do to him. He can prove you liar far easier than you can prove him
murderer. On the last day of Bele's life Liot was at sea all day, and
there were three men with him. He spent the evening with John Twatt
and myself, and then sat until the midnight with Paul Borson."

"For all that, he was with Bele Trenby! I know it! My heart tells
me so."

"Your heart has often lied to you before this. I see, however, that
our talk had better come to an end once for all. I will never come
here again."

"I shall be the happier for that. Why did you come at this time?"

"I thought that you were in trouble about Bele. I was sorry for you.
I wished to be friends with every one before I married."

"I want no pity; I want vengeance; and from here or _there_ I will
compass it. While my head is above the mold there is no friendship
possible between us--no, nor after it. Do you think that Bele is
out of your way because he is out of the body? He is now nearer to
you than your hands or feet. And let Liot Borson look to himself.
The old thrall's curse was evil enough, but Bele Trenby will make
it measureless."

"Such words are like the rest of your lying; I will not fear them,
since God is himself, and he shall rule the life Liot and I will
lead together. When a girl is near her bridal every one but you will
give her a blessing. I think you have no heart; surely you never
loved any one."

"I have loved--_yes_!" Then she stood up and cried passionately:
"Begone! I will speak no more to you--only this: ask Liot Borson
what was the ending of Bele Trenby."

She was the incarnation of rage and accusation, and Karen almost
fled from her presence. Her first impulse was to go to Liot with the
story of the interview, but her second was a positive withdrawal of
it. It was the eve of her bridal day, and the house was already
full of strangers. Paul Borson was spending his money freely for
the wedding-feast. In the morning she was to become Liot's wife.
How could she bring contention where there should be only peace
and good-will?

Besides, Liot had told her it was useless to visit Matilda; he
had even urged her not to do so, for all Lerwick knew how bitterly
she was lamenting the loss of her adopted son Bele; and Liot had
said plainly to Karen: "As for her good-will, there is more hope of
the dead; let her alone." As she remembered these words a cold
fear invaded Karen's heart; it turned her sick even to dismiss
it. What if Liot did know the ending of Bele! She recalled with a
reluctant shiver his altered behavior, his long silences, his gloomy
restlessness, the frequent breath of some icy separation between
them. If Matilda was right in any measure--if Liot knew! Merciful
God, if Liot had had any share in the matter! She could not face
him with such a thought in her heart. She ran down to the sea-shore,
and hid herself in a rocky shelter, and tried to think the position
down to the bottom.

It was all a chaos of miserable suspicion, and at last she concluded
that her fear and doubt came entirely from Matilda's wicked
assertions. She would not admit that they had found in her heart a
condition ready to receive them. She said: "I will not again think
of the evil words; it is a wrong to Liot. I will not tell them to
him; he would go to Matilda, and there would be more trouble, and
the why and the wherefore spread abroad; and God knows how the
wicked thought grows."

Then she stooped and bathed her eyes and face in the cold salt water,
and afterward walked slowly back to Paul Borson's. The house was
full of company and merry-making, and she was forced to fall into
the mood expected from her. Women do such things by supreme efforts
beyond the power of men. And Karen's smiles showed nothing of the
shadow behind them, even when Liot questioned her about her visit.

"She is a bad woman, Liot," answered Karen, "and she said many
temper-trying words."

"That is what I looked for, Karen. It is her way about all things
to scold and storm her utmost. Does she trouble you, dear one?"

"I will not be word-sick for her. There is, as you said, no love lost
between us, and I shall not care a rap for her anger. Thanks to the
Best, we can live without her." And in this great trust she laid her
hand in Liot's, and all shadows fled away.

It was then a lovely night, bright with rosy auroras; but before
morning there was a storm. The bridal march to the kirk had to be
given up, and, hooded and cloaked, the company went to the ceremony
as they best could. There was no note of music to step to; it was
hard enough to breast the gusty, rattling showers, and the whole
landscape was a little tragedy of wind and rain, of black, tossing
seas and black, driving clouds. Many who were not at the bridal
shook their heads at the storm-drenched wedding-guests, and predicted
an unhappy marriage; and a few ventured to assert that Matilda
Sabiston had been seen going to the spaewife Asta. "And what for,"
they asked, "but to buy charms for evil weather?"

All such dark predictions, however, appeared to be negatived by
actual facts. No man in Lerwick was so happy as Liot Borson. The home
he had built Karen made a marvel of neatness and even beauty; it was
always spotless and tidy, and full of bits of bright color--gay
patchwork and crockery, and a snow-white hearth with its glow of
fiery peat. Always she was ready to welcome him home with a loving
kiss and all the material comforts his toil required. _And they
loved each other!_ When that has been said, what remains unsaid? It
covers the whole ground of earthly happiness.

How the first shadow crossed the threshold of this happy home
neither Liot nor Karen could tell; it came without observation.
It was in the air, and entered as subtly and as silently. Liot
noticed it first. It began with the return of Brent. When he gave
Bele the piece of cloth and the gold brooch for his wife, he was
on the point of leaving Amsterdam for Java. Fever and various other
things delayed his return, but in the end he came back to Lerwick
and began to talk about Bele. For Auda, reticent until her husband's
return, then told him of Bele's visit; and one speculation grew on
the top of another until something like the truth was in all men's
minds, even though it was not spoken. Liot saw the thought forming in
eyes that looked at him; he felt it in little reluctances of his
mates, and heard it, or thought he heard it, in their voices. He
took home with him the unhappy hesitation or misgiving, and watched
to see if it would touch the consciousness of Karen. The loving
wife, just approaching the perilous happiness of maternity, kept
asking herself, "What is it? What is it?" And the answer was ever
the same--the accusing words that Matilda Sabiston had said, and
the quick, sick terror of heart they had awakened.

On Christmas day Karen had a son, a child of extraordinary beauty,
that brought his soul into the world with him. The women said that
his eyes instantly followed the light, and that his birth-cry passed
into a smile. Liot was solemnly and silently happy. He sat for hours
holding his wife's hand and watching the little lad sleeping so
sweetly after his first hard travail; for the birth of this child
meant to Liot far more than any mortal comprehended. He knew himself
to be of religiously royal ancestry, and the covenant of God to
such ran distinctly, "_To you and your children._" So, then, if God
had refused him children, he would certainly have believed that for
his sin in regard to Bele Trenby the covenant between God and the
Borsons was broken. This fair babe was a renewal of it. He took
him in his arms with a prayer of inexpressible thanksgiving. He
kissed the child, and called him David with the kiss, and said to
his soul, "The Lord hath accepted my contrition."

For some weeks this still and perfect happiness continued. The
days were dark and stormy, and the nights long; but in Liot's home
there was the sunlight of a woman's face and the music of a baby's
voice. The early spring brought the first anxiety, for it brought
with it no renewal of Karen's health and strength. She had the look
of a leaf that is just beginning to droop upon its stem, and Liot
watched her from day to day with a sick anxiety. He made her go
to sea with him, and laughed with joy when the keen winds brought
back the bright color to her cheeks. But it was only a momentary
flush, bought at far too great a price of vitality. In a few weeks
she could not pay the price, and the heat of the summer prostrated
her. She had drooped in the spring; in the autumn she faded away.
When Christmas came again there was no longer any hope left in
Liot's broken heart; he knew she was dying. Night and day he was
at her side, there was so much to say to each other; for only God
knew how long they were to be parted, or in what place of his great
universe they should meet again.

At the end of February it had come to this acknowledgment between
them. Sometimes Liot sat with dry eyes, listening to Karen's sweet
hopes of their reunion; sometimes he laid his head upon her pillow
and wept such tears as leave life ever afterward dry at its source.
And the root of this bitterness was Bele Trenby. If it had not
been for this man Liot could have shared his wife's hopes and
said farewell to her with the thought of heaven in his heart; but
the very memory of Bele sank him below the tide of hope. God was
even then "entering into judgment with him," and what if he should
not be able to endure unto the end, and so win, though hardly, a
painful acceptance? In every phase and form such thoughts haunted the
wretched man continually. And surely Karen divined it, for all
her sweet efforts were to fill his heart with a loving "looking
forward" to their meeting, and a confident trust in God's everlasting
mercy.

One stormy night in March she woke from a deep slumber and called
Liot. Her voice had that penetrating intelligence of the dying which
never deceives, and Liot knew instantly that the hour for parting had
come. He took her hands and murmured in tones of anguish, "O Karen,
Karen! wife of my soul!"

She drew him closer, and said with the eagerness of one in great
haste, "Oh, my dear one, I shall soon be nearer to God than you. At
his feet I will pray. Tell me--tell me quick, what shall I ask for
you? Liot, dear one, tell me!"

"Ask that I may be forgiven _all_ my sins."

"Is there one great sin, dear one? Oh, tell me now--one about Bele
Trenby? Speak quickly, Liot. Did you see him die?"

"I did, but I hurt him not."

"He went into the moss?"

"Yes."

"You could have saved him and did not?"

"If I had spoken in time; there was but a single moment--I know
not what prevented me. O Karen, I have suffered! I have suffered a
thousand deaths!"

"My dear one, I have known it. Now we will pray together--I in
heaven, thou on earth. Fear not, dear, dear Liot; he spareth all;
they are his. The Lord is the lover of souls."

These were her last words. With clasped hands and wide-open eyes she
lay still, watching and listening, ready to follow when beckoned, and
looking with fixed vision, as if seeing things invisible, into the
darkness she was about to penetrate. Steeped to his lips in anguish,
Liot stood motionless until a dying breath fluttered through the
room; and he knew by his sudden sense of loss and loneliness that
she was gone, and that for this life he was alone forevermore.

-----
[Footnote 2: Shoes made of untanned cowhide.]



III

A SENTENCE FOR LIFE


All Lerwick had been anticipating the death of Karen, but when it
came there was a shock. She was so young and so well loved, besides
which her affectionate heart hid a great spirit; and there was a
general hope that for her husband's and child's sake she would hold
on to life. For, in spite of all reasoning, there remains deep in the
heart of man a sense of mastery over his own destiny--a conviction
that we do not die until we are willing to die. We "resign" our
spirits; we "commit" them to our Creator; we "_give up_ the ghost";
and it did not seem possible to the wives and mothers of Lerwick
that Karen would "give up" living. Her mortality was so finely
blended with her immortality, it was hard to believe in such early
dissolution. Alas! the finer the nature, the more readily it is
fretted to decay by underlying wrong or doubt. When Matilda Sabiston
drove Karen down to the sea-shore on the day before her bridal she
really gave her the death-blow.

For Karen needed more than the bread and love of mortal life to
sustain her. She belonged to that high order of human beings who
require a sure approval of conscience even for their physical
health, and whose house of life, wanting this fine cement, easily
falls to dissolution. Did she, then, doubt her husband? Did she
believe Matilda's accusations to be true? Karen asked herself
these questions very often, and always answered them with strong
assurances of Liot's innocence; but nevertheless they became part
of her existence. No mental decisions, nor even actual words,
could drive them from the citadel they had entered. Though she
never mentioned the subject to Liot, though she watched herself
continually lest any such doubts should darken her smiles or chill
her love, yet they insensibly impregnated the house in which they
dwelt with her. Liot could not say he felt them here or there, but
they were all-pervading.

Karen withered in their presence, and Liot's denser soul would
eventually have become sick with the same influence. It was,
therefore, no calamity that spared their love such a tragic trial,
and if Liot had been a man of clearer perceptions he would have
understood that it was not in anger, but in mercy to both of them,
that Karen had been removed to paradise. Her last words, however,
had partially opened his spiritual vision. He saw what poison had
defiled the springs of her life, and he knew instinctively that
Matilda Sabiston was the enemy that had done the deed.

It was, therefore, little wonder that he sent her no notice of
her niece's death. And, indeed, Matilda heard of it first through
the bellman calling the funeral hour through the town. The day was
of the stormiest, and many remembered how steadily storm and gust
had attended all the great events of Karen's short life. She had
been born in the tempest which sent her father to the bottom of the
sea, and she herself, in coming from Yell to Lerwick, had barely
escaped shipwreck. Her bridal garments had been drenched with rain,
and on the day set for her baby's christening there was one of the
worst of snow-storms. Indeed, many said that it was the wetting she
received on that occasion which had developed the "wasting" that
killed her. The same turmoil of the elements marked her burial
day. A cold northeast wind drove through the wet streets, and the
dreary monotony of the outside world was unspeakable.

But Matilda Sabiston looked through her dim windows without any
sense of the weather's depressing influence--the storm of anger in
her heart was so much more imperative. She waited impatiently for
the hour appointed for the funeral, and then threw over her head
and shoulders a large hood and cloak of blue flannel. She did not
realize that the wind blew them backward, that her gray hairs were
dripping and disarranged, and her clothing storm-draggled and
unsuitable for the occasion; her one thought was to reach Liot's
house about the time when the funeral guests were all assembled. She
lifted the latch and entered the crowded room like a bad fate.
Every one ceased whispering and looked at her.

She stepped swiftly to the side of the coffin, which was resting
on two chairs in the middle of the room. Liot leaned on the one at
the head; the minister stood by the one at the foot, and he was
just opening the book in his hands. He looked steadily at Matilda,
and there was a warning in the look, which the angry woman totally
disdained. Liot never lifted his eyes; they were fixed on Karen's
dead face; but his hands held mechanically a Bible, open at its
proper place. But though he did not see Matilda, he knew when she
entered; he felt the horror of her approach, and when she laid her
hand on his arm he shook it violently off and forced himself to look
into her evilly gleaming eyes.

She laughed outright. "So the curse begins," she said, "and this is
but the first of it."

"This is no hour to talk of curses, Mistress Sabiston," said the
minister, sternly. "If you cannot bring pity and pardon to the dead,
then fear to come into their presence."

"I have nothing to fear from the dead. It is Liot Borson who is
'followed,' not me; I did not murder Bele Trenby."

"Now, then," answered the minister, "it is time there was a stop
put to this talk. Speak here, before the living and the dead, the
evil words you have said in the ears of so many. What have you to
say against Liot Borson?"

"Look at him!" she cried. "He dares to hold in his hands the Holy
Word, and I vow those hands of his are red with the blood of the man
he murdered--I mean of Bele Trenby."

Liot kept his eyes fixed on her until she ceased speaking; then he
turned them on the minister and said, "Speak for me."

"Speak for thyself once and for all, Liot. Speak here before God and
thy dead wife and thy mates and thy townsmen. Did thy hands slay
Bele Trenby? Are they indeed red with his blood?"

"I never lifted one finger against Bele Trenby. My hands are clear
and clean from all blood-guiltiness." And he dropped the Word upon
Karen's breast, and held up his hands in the sight of heaven and men.

"You lie!" screamed Matilda.

"God is my judge, not you," answered Liot.

"It is the word of Liot Borson. Who believes it?" asked the minister.
"Let those who do so take the hands he declares guiltless of blood."
And the minister clasped Liot's hands as he spoke the words, and then
stepped aside to allow others to follow him. And there was not one
man or woman present who did not thus openly testify to their
belief in Liot's innocence. Matilda mocked them as they did so with
output tongue and scornful laughs; but no one interfered until the
minister said:

"Mistress Sabiston, you must now hold your peace forever."

"I will not. I will--"

"It is your word against Liot's, and your word is not believed."

Then the angry woman fell into a great rage, and railed on every one
so passionately that for a few moments she carried all before her.
Some of the company stood up round the coffin, as if to defend the
dead; and the minister looked at Grimm and Twatt, two big fishermen,
and said, "Mistress Sabiston is beside herself; take her civilly
to her home." And they drew her arms within their own, and so led
her storming out into the storm.

Liot had the better of his enemy, but he felt no sense of victory.
He did not even see the manner of her noisy exit, for he stood in
angry despair, looking down at the calm face of his dead wife.
Then the door shut out the turmoil, and the solemn voice of the
minister called peace into the disquieted, woeful room. Liot was
insensible to the change. His whole soul was insurgent; he was ready
to accuse heaven and earth of unutterable cruelty to him. Strong
as his physical nature was, at this hour it was almost impotent. His
feet felt too heavy to move; he saw, and he saw not; and the words
that were spoken were only a chaos of sounds.

Andrew Vedder and Hal Skager took his right arm and his left, and
led him to his place in the funeral procession. It was only a
small one. Those not closely connected with the Borsons went to
their homes after the service; for, besides the storm, the hour
was late and the night closing in. It seemed as if nature showed her
antagonism to poor Karen even to the last scene of her mortal drama;
for the tide flowed late, and a Shetlander can only be buried
with the flowing tide. The failing light, however, was but a part of
the great tragedy of Liot's soul; it seemed the proper environment.

He bared his head as he took his place, and when urged to put on
his hat flung it from him. The storm beat on Karen's coffin; why not
on his head also? People looked at him pitifully as he passed, and an
old woman, as she came out of her cottage to cast the customary three
clods of earth behind the coffin, called out as she did so, "The
comforts of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be with you, Liot." It
was Margaret Borson, and she was a century old. She tottered into
the storm, and a little child handed her the turf clods, which she
cast with the prayer. It came from kindred lips, and so entered
Liot's ears. He lifted his eyes a moment, looked at the eldrich,
shadowy woman trembling in the gray light, and bowing his head said
softly, "Thank you, mother."

There was not a word spoken at the open grave. Liot stood in a
breathing stupor until all was over, and then got back somehow to
his desolate home. Paul Borson's wife had taken the child away with
her, and other women had tidied the room and left a pot of tea on the
hob and a little bread and meat on the table. He was alone at last.
He slipped the wooden bolt across the door, and then sat down to
think and to suffer.

But the mercy of God found him out, and he fell into a deep sleep;
and in that sleep he dreamed a dream, and was a little comforted.
"I have sinned," he said when he awoke; "but I am His child, and I
cannot slip beyond His mercy. My life shall be atonement, and I will
not fear to fall into His hands."

And, thank God, no grief lasts forever. As the days and weeks wore
away Liot's sorrow for his wife grew more reasonable; then the
spring came and the fishing was to attend to; and anon little David
began to interest his heart and make him plan for the future. He
resolved to save money and send the lad to St. Andrew's, and give him
to the service of the Lord. All that he longed for David should
have; all that he had failed to accomplish David should do. He would
give his own life freely if by this sacrifice he could make David's
life worthy to be an offering at His altar.

The dream, though it never came true, comforted and strengthened him;
it was something to live for. He was sure that, wherever in God's
universe Karen now dwelt, she would be glad of such a destiny for
her boy. He worked cheerfully night and day for his purpose, and
the work in itself rewarded him. The little home in which he had
been so happy and so miserable was sold, and the money put in the
bank for "David's education." All Liot's life now turned upon this
one object, and, happily, it was sufficient to restore to him that
hope--that something to look forward to--which is the salt of life.

Matilda gave him no further trouble. She sent him a bill for Karen's
board, and he paid it without a word; and this was the last stone she
could throw; besides which, she found herself compelled by public
opinion to make some atonement for her outrageous behavior, since in
those days it would have been as easy to live in St. Petersburg
and quarrel with the czar as to live in Shetland and not have the
minister's approval. So Mistress Sabiston had a special interview
with the Rev. Magnus Ridlon, and she also sent a sum of money to
the kirk as a "mortification," and eventually was restored to all
sacred privileges, except the great one of the holy table. This
depended inexorably on her public exoneration of Liot and her
cultivation of good-will toward him. She utterly refused Liot,
and preferred to want the sacred bread and wine rather than eat
and drink them with Liot Borson. And though Liot declared his
willingness to forgive Matilda fully, in his heart he was not
sorry to be spared the spiritual obligation.

So the seasons wore away, and summer and winter brought work and
rest, until David was nearly six years old. By this time the women
of Lerwick thought Liot should look for another wife. "There is
Halla Odd," said Jean Borson; "she is a widow of thine own age and
she is full-handed. It is proper for thee now to make a home for
thyself and David. When a wife has been dead four years there has
been mourning enough."

Impatient of such talk at first, Liot finally took it into some
consideration; but it always ended in one way: he cast his eyes
to that lonely croft where Karen slept, and remembered words she had
once spoken:

"In a little while I shall go away, Liot, and people will say, 'She
is in her grave'; _but I shall not be there._"

That was exactly Liot's feeling--Karen was not there. She had loved
God and believed in heaven, and he was sure that she had gone to
heaven. And from every spot on the open sea or the streeted town
or the solitary moors he had only to look up to the place where his
beloved dwelt. He did, however, as Jean Borson desired: he thought
about Halla Odd; he watched her ways, and speculated about her
money and her house skill and the likelihood of her making a good
stepmother to David.

Probably, if events had taken their usual course, he would have
married Halla; but at the beginning of the summer this thing
happened: a fine private yacht was brought into harbor with her
sails torn to rags and her mainmast injured. Coming down from the
north, she had been followed and caught by a storm, and was in
considerable distress when she was found by some Lerwick
fisher-smacks. Then, as Liot Borson was the best sailmaker in the
town, he was hired to put the yacht's canvas in good condition;
and while doing so the captain of the yacht, who was also her
owner, talked often with him about the different countries he had
visited. He showed him paintings of famous places and many
illustrated volumes of travel, and so fired Liot's heart that his
imagination, like a bird, flew off in all directions.

In a short time the damaged wayfarer, with all her new sails set,
went southward, and people generally forgot her visit. But Liot
was no more the same man after it. He lived between the leaves of a
splendid book of voyages which had been left with him. Halla went
out of his thoughts and plans, and all his desires were set to one
distinct purpose--to see the world, and the whole world. David was
the one obstacle. He did not wish to leave him in Shetland, for
his intention was to bid farewell forever to the island. It had
suddenly become a prison to him; he longed to escape from it. So,
then, David must be taken away or the boy would draw him back; but
the question was, where should he carry the child?

He thought instantly of his sister, who was married to a man in
comfortable circumstances living at Stornoway, in the Outer
Hebrides, and he resolved to take David to her. He could now afford
to pay well for his board and schooling, and he was such a firm
believer in the tie of blood-kinship that the possibility of the
child not being kindly treated never entered his mind. And as he was
thinking over the matter a man came from Stornoway to the Shetland
fishing, and spoke well of his sister Lizzie and her husband. He
said also that their only child was in the Greenland whaling-fleet,
and that David would be a godsend of love to their solitary hearts.

This report satisfied Liot, and the rest was easily managed. Paul
Borson urged him to stay until the summer fishing was over; but
Liot was possessed by the sole idea of getting away, and he would
listen to nothing that interfered with this determination. He
owned half the boat in which he fished, and as it was just at the
beginning of the season he was obliged to buy the other half at an
exorbitant price. But the usually prudent man would make no delays;
he paid the price asked, and then quickly prepared the boat for
the voyage he contemplated.

One night after David was asleep he carried him on board of her;
and Paul divined his purpose, though it was unspoken. He walked
with him to the boat, and they smoked their last pipe together in
the moonlight on her deck, and were both very silent. Paul had told
himself that he had a great deal to say to his cousin, yet when
it came to the last hour they found themselves unable to talk. At
midnight both men stood up.

"The tide serves," said Liot, softly, holding out his hand.

And Paul clasped it and answered: "God be with thee, Liot."

"We shall meet no more in this life, Paul."

"Then I tryst thee for the next life; that will be a good meeting.
Fare thee well. God keep thee!"

[Illustration: "THE WATERS OF THE GREAT DEEP."]

"And thee also."

"Then we shall be well kept, both of us."

That was the last of Shetland for Liot Borson. He watched his kinsman
out of sight, and then lifted his anchor, and in the silence and
moonlight went out to sea. When the Lerwick people awoke in the
morning Liot was miles and miles away. He was soon forgotten. It
was understood that he would never come back, and there was no more
interest in him than there is in the dead. Like them, he had had
his time of sojourn, and his place knew him no more.

As for Liot, he was happy. He set his sails, and covered David more
warmly, and then lay down under the midnight stars. The wind was at
his back, and the lonely land of his birth passed from his eyes as a
dream passes. In the morning the islands were not to be seen; they
were hidden by belts of phantom foam, wreathed and vexed with spray
and spindrift. There was, fortunately, no wrath in the morning
tide, only a steady, irresistible set to the westward; and this was
just what Liot desired. For many days these favorable circumstances
continued, and Liot and David were very happy together; but as they
neared the vexed seas which lash Cape Wrath and pour down into the
North Minch, Liot had enough to do to keep his boat afloat.

He was driven against his will and way almost to the Butt of Lewis;
and as his meal and water were very low, he looked for death in
more ways than one. Then the north wind came, and he hoped to reach
the broad Bay of Stornoway with it; but it was soon so strong and
savage that nothing could be done but make all snug as possible
for the gale and then run before it. It proved to be worse than
Liot anticipated, and, hungry and thirsty and utterly worn out,
the helpless boat and her two dying occupants were picked up by some
Celtic coasters from Uig, and taken to the little hamlet to which
they were going.

There Liot stayed all summer, fishing with the men of the place;
but he was not happy, for, though they were Calvinists as to faith,
they were very different from the fair, generous, romantic men of
his own islands. For the fishers of Uig were heavy-faced Celts,
with the impatient look of men selfish and greedy of gain. They
made Liot pay well for such privileges as they gave him; and he
looked forward to the close of the fishing season, for then he was
determined to go to Stornoway and get David a more comfortable and
civilized home, after which he would sell his boat and nets. And
then? Then he would take the first passage he could get to Glasgow,
for at Glasgow there were ships bound for every port in the world.

It was on the 5th of September that he again set sail for Stornoway,
and on the 11th he was once more brought back to Uig. A great storm
had stripped him of everything he possessed but his disabled boat.
David was in a helpless, senseless condition, and Liot had a broken
arm, and fainted from suffering and exhaustion while he was being
carried on shore. In some way he lost his purse, and it contained all
his money. He looked at the sea and he looked at the men, and he
knew not which had it. So there was nothing possible for another
winter but poverty and hard toil, and perchance a little hope,
now and then, of a better voyage in the spring.

With endless labor and patience he prepared for this third attempt,
and one lovely day in early June set sail for the Butt of Lewis. He
had good weather and fair winds for two days; then the norther
came and drove him round Vatternish, and into the dangerous
whirlpools and vexed waterways of that locality. His boat began to
leak, and he was forced to abandon her, and for thirty hours to
thole the blustering winds and waves that tossed the little
cockle-shell, in which they took a last refuge, like a straw
upon the billows. Again the men of Uig brought them to shore; and
this time they were sulky, and expressed no sympathy for Liot's
disappointment, loss, and suffering. They had become superstitious
about him, and they speculated and wondered at the ill luck that
always drove him back to Skye. Roy Hunish, a very old man, spoke for
the rest when he said, "It seems to me, Liot Borson, that the Lord
has not sent you to Stornoway; he is against the journey." And
Liot answered sadly: "He is against all I desire."

When they had been warmed and fed and rested in one of the nearest
cottages, Liot took David in his arms and went back to his old hut.
He put the sleeping child in the bunk, and then sat down on the
cold, dark hearthstone. What Hunish expressed so plainly was the
underlying thought in his own heart. He could not escape from a
conclusion so tragically manifested. In sorrow too great for
tears, he compelled himself to resign all his hopes and dreams--a
renunciation as bitter as wormwood, but not as cruelly bitter as
the one it included; for his rejection was also the rejection of
his son. God had not forgiven him, nor had he accepted David's
dedication to his service, for he had stripped him of all means
to accomplish it. He might have permitted him to reach Stornoway and
leave the boy among his kindred; he had chosen rather to include
David in the sin of his father. This was the thought that wounded
his heart like a sword. He went to the sleeping boy and kissed his
face, weeping most of all for the sorrow he had brought on the
innocent one.

If this earth be a penal world, Liot that night went down to one of
its lowest hells. Sorrow of many kinds brutally assailed him. He
hid nothing from his consciousness. He compelled himself to see
over again the drowning of Bele--that irreparable wrong which had
ruined all his happiness; he compelled himself to stand once more by
Karen's coffin, and listen to his own voice calling God to witness
his innocence; he compelled himself to admit that he had thought God
had forgotten his sin of seven years ago. And when these things had
been thought out to the end, his heart was so full that he quite
unconsciously gave utterance to his thoughts in audible speech. The
tones of his voice in the darkness were like those of a man praying,
and the hopeless words filled the sorrowful room with a sense of
suffering:

"So, then, it is for a life-sentence that I am sent here. There is
to be no pardon till I have dreed out the years appointed me in the
gust and poverty of this dreadful place, among its hard, unfriendly
men. My God! I am but thirty-three years old. How long wilt thou be
angry with me? And the little lad! Pass me by, but oh, be merciful to
him!"

A great silence followed this imploration. The man was waiting. For
hours he sat motionless; but just before dawn he must have heard
a word of strength or comfort, for he rose to his feet and bowed
his head. He was weeping bitterly, and his voice was like a sob; but
from that hut on the wild Skye coast there arose with a heartbroken
cry the sublimest of mortal prayers--"_Thy will be done._"



IV

THE DOOR WIDE OPEN


Resignation is not always contentment, and though Liot accepted
God's will in place of his own will, he took it rather with a dour
patience than with a cheerful satisfaction. Yet in a certain way
life gets made independent of our efforts. A higher power than our
own brings events about, finds a way across the hills of difficulty,
smooths out the rough places, and makes straight what our folly
has made crooked. When it became certain that Liot would make
his life-home near Uig the men on that coast began to treat him with
more friendliness, and the women pitied and cared a little for his
motherless boy. And by and by there came a new minister, who found
in Liot a man after his own heart. The two men became familiars,
and the friendship made life more supportable to both.

It was a hard existence, however, for the child. Liot loved his son,
but he was not a demonstrative father, and he thought more of doing
his duty to David than of showing him affection or providing him
with pleasure. For when all hopes of making him a minister were
over David lost something in Liot's estimation. He was, then, just
a common lad, in whose heart, as a matter of course, folly and
disobedience were bound up. It was his place to exorcise everything
like joy, and with the phantoms of a gloomy creed to darken and
terrify his childhood.

Before David had shed his baby teeth, hell and the devil were
tremendous realities to him. An immaculate, pitiless God, who
delighted in taking vengeance on his enemies, haunted all his
boyhood's dreams; and the "scheme of salvation," by which perchance
this implacable Deity might be conciliated, was the beginning and
the end of his education. With an amazing distinctness in question
and answer, this "scheme" was laid before him, and by the word
and the rod of admonition he was made familiar with the letter of its
awful law.

Here, then, was a child whom a sad destiny had led far away from
happiness. His nature was singularly affectionate, yet he had no
memory of a mother's kiss, or, indeed, of any tender human kindness.
No one petted or loved him; no one heeded his childish sorrows and
sufferings. He had toothaches and earaches, about which he felt it
useless to speak. He went into the boats with his father as soon as
he could bait a line, and was forced to endure all that men endured
from salt-water boils, chilblains, frost-bites, and the lashing
of spray-laden winds. Cold and hunger, heat and thirst, and the
frequent intolerable sleepiness of overtaxed strength made up the
sad drama of his childhood; and he played his part in it with a
patient submission that sometimes won from his father astonishment
and a few words of praise or admiration.

Such words made glorious epochs in the boy's life; he could remember
every one of them. Once, when Liot could get no one to launch a boat
and go with him to the help of four men drowning before their eyes,
the ten-year-old lad came radiantly forward and said, "Take me,
father; I will go with you." And the two went on the desperate
errand together, and brought back safely the men ready to perish.
Then, when all was well over and the child stood trembling with
exhaustion, Liot drew him close to his side, and pushed his wet
hair from his brow, and said with proud tenderness, "You are a
good, brave boy. God bless you, David!" And the happy upward look of
the child had his mother's smile in it, and before Liot knew what he
was doing he had stooped and kissed him. The event was a wonderful
one, and it made a tie between the father and the son that it was
beyond the power of time to loosen.

Liot's own boyhood had been filled with the dreams and stories
of the elder world. He had been conscious all his life of this
influence streaming up from the centuries behind him, and coloring,
and even moving, his present existence. The fierce hatred he felt
for Bele Trenby came from unchristened ancestors, and the dumb
murder, which had darkened his life and sent him to Uig, from the
same source. He told David none of these stirring sagas. He was
resolved that the knowledge of the thrall's curse should not call
sorrow to him. He never named the heroic Gisli in his hearing.
And once, when he found an old fisherman reciting "Ossian" to
David, he fell into such anger as terrified every one. Indeed, he
said words at that hour which would have made much trouble and
ill-will if the minister had not justified them and called Liot's
anger a "righteous one."

And in those days there was absolutely no literature for the people.
Books were dear and scarce; ten years might pass without a new one
drifting into a hamlet; and newspapers were few and for the rich
alone. David, then, had but one book--the Holy Scriptures. He
read them, and read them again, and found everything in them.
Fortunately, the wonderful wisdom and stories of the Apocrypha had
not then been discarded; the book had its place between the Old
and the New Testament. And David was wise with Solomon, and saw
beautiful visions with Esdras, and lived and glowed and fought with
the heroic Maccabees.

And we who have far more books than we can read can hardly
understand how David loved the Bible. It was his poetry, his
philosophy, his history; it was, above all, the speech of God to man.
Through it he breathed the air of the old, old East, and grew up
under the shadows of Judea's palms and olives; so that the rainy
gloom of the coast of Skye was but an accident of his existence.
Abraham and Joseph, Moses and Joshua, were far more real personages
to David Borson than the Duke of Wellington or Napoleon and his
twelve marshals. Through the stormy days when it was impossible to go
to sea, and in the long winter nights, when he stretched himself
before the red peats with a little oil-cruse, he and the Bible
were friends and companions. It kept him in direct relation with
God and heaven; it fed him on faith; it made him subject to duty; it
gave him a character at once courageous and gentle, calm and
ideal--such a character as is very rare in our days, and which,
where it does exist, will _not_ be transmitted.

So that, with all his hard work and many deprivations, David had
his happy hours. And the years went by, and he grew up to a fair and
stately manhood, not rebelling against his fate, but taking it as
a part of the inscrutable mystery of life and death constantly
before his eyes. Others around him suffered in like manner, and at
the end one thing happened to all. No; it was not the tyranny of
nature nor of his material life that troubled David as he approached
manhood; it was the spiritual tyranny under which he lived and
prayed which darkened his days and filled his nights with thoughts
which he dared not follow to their proper conclusion and was equally
afraid to dismiss.

This was his dilemma. He had been taught by a father whom he trusted
implicitly that life was only a short and precarious opportunity
for working out his salvation with fear and trembling; peradventure
he might be counted among the remnant whom God would elect to
save from eternal misery. And in a measure the constant east
winds and cloudy heavens, the cold and stormy seas, and the gloom
and poverty of all his surroundings were so many confirmations of
this unhappy conviction. Yet it was very hard for him to believe
that the God of the Bible, "like a father pitying his children,"
was the God of his Shorter and Longer Catechisms. As his twentieth
year approached these doubts and questions would not be put away,
and yet he dared not speak of them either to the minister or to his
father.

Then, one night, as he was watching his lines and hooks, something
happened which broke the adamantine seal upon his soul. He was quite
alone in his boat, and she was drifting slowly under the full moon;
there was not a sound upon the ocean but the wash of the water
against her sides. He was sitting motionless, thinking of the sadness
and weariness of life, and wishing that God would love him, though
ever so little, and, above all, that he would give him some word or
sign of his care for him. His hands were clasped upon his knees,
his eyes fixed on the far horizon; between him and the God whom he so
ignorantly feared and desired there was apparently infinite space and
infinite silence.

All at once some one seemed to come into the boat beside him. An
ineffable peace and tenderness, a sweetness not to be described,
encompassed the lonely youth. He was sensible of a glory he could
not see; he was comforted by words that were inaudible to his natural
ears. During this transitory experience he scarcely breathed, but as
it slowly passed away he rose reverently to his feet. "An angel has
been with me," he thought.

After this event the whole fabric of his creed vanished at times
before the inexplicable revelation. Yet the terrible power of early
impressions is not easily eradicated, even by the supernatural; and
whenever he reasoned about the circumstance he came to the conclusion
that it might have been a snare and a delusion of the Evil One. For
why should an angel be sent with a word to him? or why should he dare
to hope that his longing after God's love had touched the heart of
the Eternal? Yet, though the glory was dissolved by the doubting,
nothing could quite rob him of his blessing; in the midst of the
sternest realities of his rough daily toil he found himself musing
on those wonderful days when angels went and came among men as
they threshed their wheat or worked at their handicrafts, when
prayer was visibly answered and the fire dropped from heaven on the
accepted sacrifice.

He thought the more on this subject because his father was visibly
dying from some internal disease, which was dissolving with rapid,
inexorable suffering the house of clay in which the soul of Liot
Borson dwelt. Liot was aware of it, and had borne with silent
courage the enemy's advances toward the citadel of life. Very
reluctantly he had given up his duties one by one, until the day came
when nothing remained for him to do but to wait and to suffer; then
he spoke plainly to David. It happened to be the lad's twenty-sixth
birthday, and Liot had his own memories of the first one. Almost
inadvertently the name of Karen passed his lips, and then he talked
long of her goodness, her love, and her beauty; and David listened
with an interest that tempted more confidence than Liot had ever
thought to give.

"If you had such a wife as Karen Sabiston was to me," he said, "then,
David, you would be happy even in this place. But you will not stay
here. When I am gone away to the land very far off, then you will go
back to Shetland--to your own land and your own people."

"I will do as you wish, father."

"You will marry; that is to be looked for. I have seen that girl
of Talisker's watching you, and luring you with her sly smiles
and glances. Give her no notice. I like not these Celtic women,
with their round black eyes and their red color and black hair. In
Shetland you will see women that you may safely love--good and
beautiful girls of your own race; there must be no strange women
among the Borsons. Your Bible tells you what sorrow comes from
marrying daughters of Heth and their like. Go to Shetland for your
wife."

"I will, father."

"You will find friends and kindred there--my good cousin Paul, and
his sons and daughters, and your mother's family in Yell, and Matilda
Sabiston. I would say something of her, but she is doubtless in the
grave by this time, and gone to the mercy of the Merciful."

"Was she of our kindred, then?"

"Of your mother's kin. They were ill friends here, but yonder all
may--all _will_ be different."

During this conversation Liot made his son understand that the
messenger of release might come at any hour; but in the morning he
felt so free from pain that David thought he could safely go to
the early fishing. When he reached the pier, however, the boat had
sailed without him, and he walked into Uig and told the minister
how near the end it was. And the minister answered:

"We have had our farewell, David. We shall meet no more till we meet
in the city of God." He spoke with a subdued enthusiasm, and his
grave face was luminous with an interior transfiguration. Suddenly
the sun came from behind a cloud, and the flying shower was crowned
with a glorious rainbow. He drew David to the window, and said in
a rapture of adoration:

"The token of His covenant! It compasseth the heavens about with a
glorious circle, and _the hands of the Most High have bended it_.
Could any words be more vitally realistic, David? Tell your father
what you have seen--the token of His covenant! The token of His
covenant!"

And David went away, awed and silent; for there was in the minister's
eyes that singular brilliance which presages a vision of things
invisible. They looked straight into the sunshine. Did they see
beyond it to where the "innumerable company of angels" were
singing, "Holy, holy, holy"?

Indeed, he was so much impressed that he took the longest way
home. He wanted to think over what his father and the minister had
said, and he wanted that solitude of nature which had so often
been to him the voice of God. The road itself was only a foot-path
across a melancholy moor, covered with heather and boulders, and
encompassed by cyclopean wrecks of mountains, the vapory outlines of
which suggested nothing but endless ruin. Although the season was
midsummer, there had been sharp, surly whiffs of rain all day long,
and the dreary levels were full of little lochs of black moss
water. So David kept to the seaward side, where the land was higher,
and where he could see the roll of a spent gale swinging round
Vatternish toward the red, rent bastions of Skye, and hear its
thunder amid the purple caves of the basalt and the whitened tiers of
the oölite, silencing all meaner sounds.

After a trailing, thoughtful walk of a mile, he came to a spot where
a circle of druidical monoliths stood huge and pale in the misty
air. He went straight into the haunted place with the manner of
one familiar with it, cast his nets on the low central stone which
had once been the sacrificial altar of the dead creed, and then
leaned wearily against one of the sheltering pillars.

His person was at this time remarkably handsome and in wonderful
harmony with its surroundings. He was large and strong--a man not
made for the narrow doorways of the town, but for the wide, stormy
spaces of the unstreeted ocean. The sea was in his eyes, which were
blue and outlooking; his broad breast was bared to the wind and
rain; his legs were planted apart, as if he was hauling up an anchor
or standing on a reeling deck. An air of somber gravity, a face
sad and mystical, distinguished his solitary figure. He was the
unconscious incarnation of the lonely land and the stormy sea.

Leaning against the pagan pillar, he revolved in his mind those
great questions that survive every change of race and dynasty: Whence
come we? Where go we? How can a man be justified with God? Though
the rain smote him east and west, he was in the sunshine of the Holy
Land; he was drawing nets with Simon Peter on the Sea of Galilee; he
was listening to Him who spake as never man spake. Suddenly the
sharp whistle of a passing steamer roused him. He turned his eyes
seaward, and saw the _Polly Ann_ hastening to the railway port with
her load of fish for the Glasgow market. The sight set him again in
the nineteenth century. Then he felt the rain, and he drew his bonnet
over his brows, and lifted his nets, and began to walk toward the
little black hut on the horizon. It was of large stones roughly
mortared together, and it had a low chimney, and a door fastened with
a leather strap; but the small window wanted the screen of white
muslin usual in Highland cots, and was dim with dust and cobwebs.

It was David's home, and he knew his father waited there for his
coming; so he hastened his steps; but the radiant, dreamy look
which had made him handsome was gone, and he approached the door
with the air of a man who is weary of to-day and without hope for the
morrow. At the threshold he threw off this aspect, and entered
with a smile. His father, sitting wearily in a wooden arm-chair,
turned his face to meet him. It was the face of a man walking with
death. Human agony grimly borne without complaint furrowed it;
gray as ashes were the cheeks, and the eyes alone retained the
"spark of heavenly flame" which we call life.

"There has been a change, David," he said, "and it is well you are
come; for I know I must soon be going, and there is this and that to
say--as there always is at the parting."

"I see that you are worse, father. Let me go for the doctor now."

"I will have no man meddle with the hour of my death; no one shall
either hurry or delay it."

"The doctor might give you some ease from your sore pain."

"I will bear His will to the uttermost. But come near to me, David; I
have some last words to say, and there is One at my side hasting me
forward."

"Tell me your wish now, father. I will do all that you desire."

"When you have put me in my grave, go to Shetland for me. I thought
to do my own errand--to get there just in time to do it, and die;
but it is hard counting with Death--he comes sooner than you expect.
David, I have brought you up in the way of life. Think no wrong of
me when I am gone away forever. Indeed, you'll not dare to," he said
with a sudden flash of natural pride in himself; "for though I may
have had a sore downfall, I could not get away from His love and
favor."

"None living shall say wrong of you in my hearing, father."

"But, David, there are those of the unregenerate who would make
much of my little slip. I might die, lad, and say nothing to any
man about it. Put a few peats on the fire; death is cold, and my feet
are in the grave already; so I may tell the truth now, for at this
hour no man can make me afraid. And there is no sin, I hope, in
letting Matilda Sabiston know, if she is still alive, that I owe Bele
Trenby nothing for the wrong he did me. St. Paul left the Almighty
to pay the ill-will he owed Alexander the coppersmith; but I could
not ask that much favor, being only Liot Borson; and no doubt the
Lord suffered me to pay my own debt--time and place being put so
unexpected into my hand."

Then he was awfully silent. The mortal agony was dealing its last
sharp blows, and every instinct impelled him to cry out against the
torment. But Liot Borson had put his mortality beneath his feet;
nothing could have forced a cry from him. His face changed as a
green leaf might change if a hot iron was passed over it; but he sat
grasping the rude arms of his wooden chair, disdaining the torture
while it lasted, and smiling triumphantly as it partly passed away.

"A few more such pangs and the fight will be over, David. So I will
swither and scruple no longer; I will tell the whole truth about
the drowning of Bele Trenby. Bele and I were never friends; but I
hated him when he began to meddle between me and Karen Sabiston. He
had no shadow of right to do so, for I had set my heart on her and
she had given me her promise; and I said then, and I say it now
with death at my elbow, that he had no right to step between me
and Karen. Yet he tried to do that thing, and if it had not been
for the minister I had stabbed him to his false heart. But the
minister bade me do no wrong, because I was of the household of
faith, and a born and baptized child of God, having come--mind
this, David--of generations of his saints. He said if Bele had done
me wrong, wrong would come to Bele, and I would live to see it."

"'Vengeance is Mine; I will repay'," quoted David, in a low voice.
But Liot answered sharply:

"The Lord sends by whom he will send. And it so happened that one
night, as Bele and I were walking together, I knew the hour had come."

"You took not the matter in your own hands surely, father?"

"There was none there but me. I laid no finger on him; he fell into
his own snare. I had said a thousand times--and the Lord had heard me
say it--that if one word of mine would save Bele Trenby from death,
I would not say that one word. Could I break my oath for a child
of the Evil One? Had Bele been of the elect I would have borne
that in mind; but Bele came of bad stock; pirates and smugglers were
his forebears, and the women not to name with the God-fearing--light
and vain women. So I hated Bele, and I had a right to hate him;
and one night, as I walked from Quarf to Lerwick, Bele came to my
side and said, 'Good evening, Liot.' And I said, 'It is dark,' and
spoke no more. And by and by we came to a stream swollen with rain
and snow-water, and Bele said, 'Here is the crossing.' And I answered
him not, for I knew it was _not_ the crossing. So as I delayed a
little--for my shoe-string was loose--Bele said again, 'Here is the
crossing.' And I told him neither yes nor no. And he said to me,
'It seemeth, Liot, thou art in a devil's temper, and I will stay no
longer with thee.' And with the ill words on his lips he strode
into the stream, and then overhead into the moss he went, and so
to his own place."

"Father, I am feared for a thing like that. There would be sin in it."

"I lifted no finger against him; my lips lied not. It was the working
out of his own sin that slew him."

"I would have warned him--yes, I would. Let me go for the minister;
he will not be feared to say, 'Liot, you did wrong,' if so he thinks."

"I have had my plea out with my Maker. If I did sin, I have paid
the price of the sin. Your mother was given to me, and in two years
the Lord took her away. I thought to fill my eyes with a sight
of the whole world, and I was sent to this desolate place for a
life-sentence, to bide its storm and gloom and gust and poverty, and
in this bit cabin to dree a long, fierce wrestle with Death, knowing
all the time he would get the mastery over me in the end." Then,
suddenly pausing, his gray face glowed with passionate rapture,
and lifting up his right hand he cried out: "No, no, David; _I_ am
the conqueror! There are two ways of dying, my lad--victory and
defeat. Thank God, I have the victory through Jesus Christ, my
Lord and Saviour!"

"Who is the propitiation for all sin, father."

"Sin!" cried the dying man, "sin! I have nothing to do with sin. 'Who
shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?' for, 'Whosoever is
born of God doth not commit sin--he cannot sin, for he is born of
God.' I did indeed make a sore stumble; so also did David, and
natheless he was a man after God's own heart. What has man to do
with my fault? _He_ has entered into judgment with me, and I have
gladly borne the hand of the smiter."

"Gladly, father?"

"Ay, David, gladly. For had I not been _his_ son, he would have 'let
me alone,' as he does those joined to their idols; but because he
loved me he chastised me; and I have found that his rod as well as
his staff can comfort in affliction. Some of his bairns deserve and
get the rod of iron. Be good, David, and he will stretch out to you
only his golden scepter."

"And also you have the Intercessor."

"If I had not I would plead my own cause, as Job did. I would rise
up and answer him like a man, for he is a just God. Mercy may have
times and seasons, but justice is the same yesterday, to-day, and
forever. 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?'"

"Would you say that, father, if justice sent you to the place of
torment?"

"Ay, would I! 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.' But I
am not fearing the place of torment, David. And as for this world,
it is at my feet like a cast-off shoe, and all its gold and gear is
as the wrack of the sea. But you will find a few sovereigns in my
chest, and a letter for your cousin Paul Borson; and the ship and
the house you may do your will with."

"It is your will in all things that I care to do, father. And now,
if you would but let me away for the minister, maybe you could say
a word to him you are not caring to say to me--a word of sorrow or
remorse--"

"Remorse! remorse! No, no, David! Remorse is for feeble souls;
remorse is the virtue of hell; remorse would sin again if it could.
I have repented, David, and repentance ends all. See to your Larger
Catechism, David--Question 76."

Throughout this conversation speech had been becoming more and
more painful to him. The last words were uttered in gasps of
unconquerable agony, and a mortal spasm gave a terrible emphasis
to this spiritual conviction. When it had passed he whispered
faintly, "The pains of hell get hold on me--on my body, David; they
cannot touch my soul. Lay me down now--at His feet--I can sit in
my chair no longer."

So David laid him in his bunk. "Shall I say _the words_ now--the
words you marked, father?" he asked.

"Ay; the hour has come."

Then David knelt down and put his young, fresh face very close to the
face of the dying man, and said solemnly and clearly in his very ear
the chosen words of trust:

    "When the waves of death compassed me;

    "When the sorrows of hell compassed me about, and the snares
    of death prevented me,

    "In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God:
    and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did
    enter into his ears."

                  *       *       *       *       *

    "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat
    hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

    "Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech
    thee, deliver my soul....

    "Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt
    bountifully with thee.

    "For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from
    tears, and my feet from falling....

    "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Here David ceased. It was evident that the mighty words were no
longer necessary. A smile, such as is never seen on mortal face until
the light of eternity falls upon it, illumined the gaunt, stern
features, and the outlooking eyes flashed a moment in its radiance. A
solemn calm, a certain pomp of conscious grandeur in his victory
over death and the grave, encompassed the dying man, and gave to
the prone figure a majestic significance. As far as this world was
concerned, Liot Borson was a dead man. For two days he lingered on
life's outermost shoal, but at sunrise the third morning he went
silently away. It was full tide; the waves broke softly on the
shingle, and the sea-birds on the lonely rocks were crying for
their meat from God. Suddenly the sunshine filled the cabin, and
David was aware of something more than the morning breeze coming
through the wide-open door. A sense of lofty _presence_ filled the
place. "It is the flitting," he said with a great awe; and he stood
up with bowed head until a feeling of indescribable loneliness
testified that the soul which had hitherto dwelt with him was gone
away forever.

He went then to the body. Death had given it dignity and grandeur. It
was evident that in Liot's case the great change had meant victory
and not defeat. Almost for the first time in his life David kissed
his father. Then he went into Uig and told the minister, and said
simply to his mates, "My father is dead." And they answered:

"It is a happy change for him, David. Is it to-morrow afternoon you
would like us to come?"

And David said: "Yes; at three o'clock the minister will be there."

He declined all companionship; he could wake alone with the dead.
For the most part he sat on the door-step and watched the rising and
setting of the constellations, or walked to and fro before the open
door, ever awfully aware of that outstretched form, the house of
clay in which his father and companion had dwelt so many years at
his side. Sometimes he slept a little with his head against the post
of the door, and then the sudden waking in the starlight made him
tremble.

He had thought this night would be a session of solemnity never
to be forgotten; but he found himself dozing and his thoughts
drifting, and it was only by an effort that he could compel anything
like the attitude he desired. For we cannot kindle when we will
the sacred fire of the soul. And David was disappointed in his
spiritual experience, and shocked at what he called his coldness and
indifference, which, after all, were not coldness and indifference,
but the apathy of exhausted feeling and physical weariness.

The next afternoon there was a quiet gathering in the cabin that
had been Liot's, and a little prayer and admonition; then, in the
beauteous stillness of the summer day, the fishers made a bier of
their crossed oars, and David laid his father upon it. There was no
coffin; the long, majestic figure of humanity was only folded close
in a winding-sheet and his own blue blanket. So, by the sea-shore,
as the tide murmured and the sun glinted brightly through swirling
banks of gray clouds, they carried him to his long home. No one
spoke as he entered it. The minister dropped his kerchief upon
the upturned face, and David cast the first earth. Then the dead
man's friends, each taking the spade in his turn, filled in the
empty place, and laid over it the sod, and went silently away in
twos and threes, each to his own home.

When all had disappeared, David followed. He had now an irresistible
impulse to escape from his old surroundings. He did not feel as if he
cared to see again any one who had been a part of his past. He
went back to the cabin, ate some bread and fish, and then with a
little reluctance opened his father's chest. There was small wealth
in it--only some letters, and Liot's kirk clothes, and a leather
purse containing sixteen sovereigns. David saw at a glance that the
letters were written by his mother. He wondered a moment if his
father had yet found her again, and then he kissed the bits of
faded script and laid them upon the glowing peats. The money he
put in his pocket, and the chest and clothing he resolved to take
to Shetland with him. As for the cabin, he decided to give it to
Bella Campbell. "She was sore put to it last winter to shelter
her five fatherless bairns; and if my father liked any one more than
others, it was Angus Campbell," he thought.

Then he went out and looked at the boat. "It is small," he said,
"but it will carry me to Shetland. I can keep in the shadows of the
shore. And though it is a far sail round Cape Wrath and Dunnet Head,
it is summer weather, and I'll win my way if it so pleases God."

And thus it happened that on the first day of August this lonely
wayfarer on cheerless seas caught sight of the gray cliffs of the
Shetlands, lying like dusky spots in the sapphire and crimson
splendors of the setting sun.



Book Second


DAVID BORSON



BOOK SECOND

CONTENTS

                                             PAGE

     V. A New Life                             85

    VI. Kindred--the Quick and the Dead       107

   VII. So Far and No Farther                 127

  VIII. 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



V

A NEW LIFE


Between David and the misty Hebrides there was now many a league of
the separating, changeful, dangerous, tragic sea, but the journey
over this great waterway had been a singularly fortunate one.
David, indeed, had frequently likened himself to the young Tobias
on a similar errand; for his father had particularly pointed out
this history, and had read aloud to him with an emphasis not to
be forgotten the old Hebrew father's parting charge: "Go! and
God, which dwelleth in heaven, prosper your journey, and the angel
of God keep you company."

To David this angelic companionship was no impossible hope and
reliance. As the south winds drove him north and the west winds sent
him east just at the proper times, he believed that some wise and
powerful pilot stood at the wheel unseen; and he went about his boat
with the cheerful confidence of a child who is sure his father can
take care of him. Sometimes he kept so close to the shore that he
rippled the shadows of the great cliffs, and sometimes he ran into
little coves and replenished his water-casks, or bought in the
seaward clachans a supply of fresh cakes or fish. He met no very bad
weather. The unutterable desolation of the misty miles of sullen
water did give him times of such weariness as makes the soul sink
back upon itself and retire from all hope and affection. But such
hours were evanescent; they were usually ended by a brisk wind,
bringing peril to the little bark, and then David's first instinct
was heavenward. He knew if the winds and waves rose mightily, as it
was their wont in that locality, there was no human help, and
his trust was instantly in the miraculous. Such hours were, however,
rare. As a general thing the days and the nights followed each
other with a stillness and beauty full of the presence of God. And in
the sweetness of this presence he threw himself unperplexed upon
infinite love and power, and seeking God with all his heart found him.

Also, he was not forgetful of the human interest of his journey. His
father had always felt himself to be a stranger and an exile in
Skye, and in his later years the "homing" instinct for the Shetlands
had been a passionate longing, which had communicated itself to
David. He had been glad to leave Uig, for he had not a single happy
memory of the little hut in which they two had dwelt and suffered
together. As for the bleak kirkyard, over which the great winds blew
the sea-foam, it made his heart ache to remember it. He felt an
unspeakable pity when he thought of one of its solitary graves,
and he promised himself to sail back to Uig some day, and bring
home the dust of his father, and lay it among his kindred.

Indeed, it was thoughts of home and kindred which made this long,
lonely voyage happy and hopeful to David. He believed himself to be
going home. Though his father at the last had not spoken much of
his cousin Paul Borson, and though David had not found the letter
which was to be his introduction to him, yet he had not a doubt
of his welcome. Time might wither friendship and slay love, but
his kindred were always his kindred; they were bound to him by the
ineffaceable and imperishable ties of blood and race.

David approached Lerwick in that divine twilight which in the
Shetland summer links day unto day; and in its glory the ancient
homes of gray and white sandstone appeared splendid habitations.
The town was very quiet; even the houses seemed to be asleep. He
saw no living thing but a solitary sea-gull skimming the surface
of the sea; he heard nothing but a drunken sailor fitfully singing a
stave of "The Skaalds of Foula." The clear air, the serene seas, the
tranquil grandeur of the caverned rocks which guard the lonely
isles, charmed him. And when the sun rose and he saw their mural
fronts of porphyry, carved by storms into ten thousand castles
in the air, and cloud-like palaces still more fantastic, he felt his
heart glow for the land of his birth and the home of his forefathers.

To the tumult of almost impossible hopes, he brought in his little
craft. He had felt certain that his appearance would awaken at
once interest and speculation; that Paul Borson would hear of his
arrival and come running to meet him; that his father's old friends,
catching the news, would stop him on the quay and the street, and ask
him questions and give him welcome. He had also told himself that
it was likely his father's cousin would have sons and daughters,
and if so, that they would certainly be glad to see him; besides
which there was his mother's family--the old Icelandic Sabistons. He
was resolved to seek them all out, rich or poor, far or near; in
his heart there was love enough and to spare, however distant the
kinship might be.

For David's conceptions of the family and racial tie were not
only founded upon the wide Hebraic ideals, but his singularly
lonely youth and affectionate nature had disposed him to make an
exaggerated estimate of the obligations of kindred. And again,
this personal leaning was greatly strengthened by the inherited
tendency of Norse families to "stand by each other in all haps."
Therefore he felt sure of his welcome; for, though Paul was but
his far-off cousin, they were both Borsons, sprung from the same
Norse root, children of the same great ancestor, the wise and brave
Norwegian Bor.

Lying in the Bay of Lerwick, the sense of security and of nearness
to friends gave him what he had long missed--a night of deep,
dreamless sleep. When he awoke it was late in the morning, and he had
his breakfast to prepare and every spar and sail and rope to put in
perfect order; then he dressed himself with care, and sailed
into harbor, managing his boat with a deftness and skill he expected
a town of fishermen and sailors to take notice of. Alas, it is so
difficult to find a fortunate hour! David's necessary delay had
brought the morning nearly to the noon, and he could hardly have
fallen on a more depressing time; for the trade of the early
morning was over, and the men were in their houses taking that
sleep which those who work by night must secure in the daytime.
The fishing-boats, all emptied of their last night's "take" and
cleaned, were idly rocking on the water. The utmost quiet reigned
in the sunny streets, and the little pier was deserted. No one
took any notice of David.

Greatly disappointed, and even wounded, by this very natural
neglect, David made fast his boat and stepped on shore. He put his
feet down firmly, as if he was taking possession of his own, and
stood still and looked around. He saw a man with his hands in his
pockets loitering down the street, and he went toward him; but as
he came within speaking distance the man turned into a house and
shut the door. Pained and curious, he continued his aimless walk.
As he passed Fae's store he heard the confused sound of a number of
men talking, then silence, then the tingling notes of a fiddle very
cleverly played. For a moment he was bewitched by the music; then he
was sure that nothing but the little sinful fiddle of carnal
dance and song could make sounds so full of temptation. And as
Odysseus, passing the dwelling-place of the sirens, "closed his
ears and went swiftly by, singing the praises of the gods," so
David, remembering his father's counsels, closed his ears to the
enchanting strains and hastened beyond their power to charm him.

A little farther on a lovely girl, with her water-pitcher on her
head and her knitting in her hands, met him. She looked with a shy
smile at David, and the glance from her eyes made him thrill with
pleasure; but before he had a word ready she had passed, and he
could only turn and look at her tall form and the heavy braids of
pale-brown hair below the water-pitcher. He felt as if he were in a
dream as he went onward again down the narrow street of gray and
white houses--houses so tall, and so fantastic, and so much larger
than he had ever seen, that they impressed him with a sense of
grandeur in which he had neither right nor place; for, though he
saw women moving about within them and children sitting on the
door-steps, no one spoke to him, no one seemed interested in his
presence; and yet he had come to them with a heart so full of love!
Never for a moment did he reflect that his anticipations had rested
only on his own desires and imaginations.

His disappointment made him sorrowful, but in no degree resentful.
"It was not to be," he decided. Then he resolved to return to a
public house he had noticed by the pier. There he could get his
dinner and make some inquiries about his kindred. As he turned he met
face to face a middle-aged woman with a basket of turf on her back.

"Take care, my lad," she said cheerfully; and her smile inspired
David with confidence.

"Mother," he said, doffing his cap with instinctive politeness,
"mother, I am a stranger, and I want to find my father's people--the
Borsons. Where do they live?"

"My lad, the sea has them. It is Paul Borson you are asking for?"

"Yes, mother."

"He went out in his boat with his four sons one night. The boat came
back empty. It is two years since."

[Illustration: "'I WANT TO FIND MY FATHER'S PEOPLE.'"]

"I am Liot Borson's son."

"You?"

"Yes. Have I any kin left?"

"There is your far-cousin Nanna. She was Paul's one daughter, and he
saw the sun shine through her eyes. She is but sadly off now. Come
into my house, and I will give you a cup of tea and a mouthful of
bread and fish. Thank God, there is enough for you and for me!"

"I will come," said David, simply; and he took the basket from the
woman, and flung it lightly over his own shoulder. Then they went
together to a house in one of the numerous "closes" running from
the main street to the ocean. It was a very small house, but it was
clean, and was built upon a rock, the foundations of which were
deep down in the sea. When the tide was full David could have sailed
his boat under its small seaward window. It contained a few pieces
of handsome furniture, and some old Delft earthenware which had
been brought from Holland by seafaring kindred long ago; all else
savored of narrow means.

But the woman set before David a pot of tea and some oat-cake, and
she fried him a fresh herring, and he ate with the delayed hunger of
healthy youth, heartily and with pleasure. And as he did so she
talked to him of his father Liot, whom she had known in her girlhood;
and David told her of Liot's long, hard fight with death, and she
said with a kind of sad pride:

"Yes; that way Liot was sure to fare to his long home. He would set
his teeth and fight for his life. Was it always well between him and
you?"

"He was hard and silent, but I could always lean on him as much as
I liked."

"That is a good deal to say."

"So I think."

Then they drew the past from the eternity into which it had fallen,
that they two, brought so strangely together, might look at it
between them. They talked of Liot's hard life and hard death for
an hour, and then the woman said:

"Paul Borson was of the same kind--silent, but full of deeds; and
his daughter Nanna, she also has a great heart."

"Show me now where she lives, and I will go and see her. Also, tell
me your name."

"I am Barbara Traill. When you have seen Nanna come back here, and I
will give you a place to sleep and a little meat; and as soon as it
is well with you it will be easy to pay my charges."

"If there is no room for me in my cousin's house I will come back
to you."

So Barbara walked with him to the end of the street, and pointed out
a little group of huts on the distant moor.

"Go into the first one," she said; "it is Nanna Sinclair's. And be
sure and keep to the trodden path, for outside of it there are bogs
that no man knows the bottom of."

Then David went forward alone, and his heart fell, and a somber look
crept like a cloud over his face. This was not the home-coming he
had anticipated--this poor meal at a stranger's fireside. He had
been led to think that his cousin Paul had a large house and the
touch of money-getting. "He and his will be well off," Liot had
affirmed more than once. And one day, while he yet could stand in
the door of his hut, he had looked longingly northward and said,
"Oh, if I could win home again! Paul would make a fourteen days'
feast to welcome me."

The very vagueness of these remarks had given strength to David's
imagination. He had hoped for things larger than his knowledge,
and he had quite forgotten to take into his calculations the fact
that as the years wear on they wear out love and life, and leave
little but graves behind them. At this hour he felt his destiny to be
hard and unlovely, and the text learned as one of the pillars of his
faith, "Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated," forced itself upon
his reflection. A deadly fear came into his heart that the Borsons
were among these hated ones. Why else did God pursue them with such
sufferings and fatalities? And what could he do to propitiate this
unfriendly Deity?

His road was upon the top of the cliff, over a moor covered with
peat-bogs and withered heather. The sea was below him, and a long,
narrow lake lay silent and motionless among the dangerous moss--a
lake so old and dead-looking that it might have been the shadow of a
lake that once was. Nothing green was near it, and no birds were
tempted by its sullen waters; yet untold myriads of sea-birds
floated and wheeled between sea and sky, and their hungry, melancholy
cries and the desolate landscape stimulated and colored David's
sad musings, though he was quite unaware of their influence.

When he came to the group of huts, he paused a moment. They were
the abodes of poverty; there was none better than the rest. But
Barbara had said that Nanna's was the first one, and he went slowly
toward it. No one appeared, though the door stood wide open; but
when he reached the threshold he could see Nanna sitting within.
She was busily braiding the fine Tuscan straw for which Shetland
was then famous, and her eyes were so intently following her rapid
fingers that it was unlikely she had seen him coming. Indeed, she did
not raise them at once, for it was necessary to leave her work at
a certain point; and in that moment's delay David looked with a
breathless wonder at the woman before him.

She was sitting, and yet even sitting she was majestic. Her face
was large, but perfectly oval, and fair as a lily; her bright-brown
hair was parted, passed smoothly behind the ears, and beautifully
braided. Serenity and an unalterable calm gave to the young face
something of the fixity of marble; but as David spoke she let her
eyes fall upon a little child at her feet, and then lifted them to
him with a smile as radiant and life-giving as sunshine.

"Who are you?" she asked, as she took her babe in her arms and went
toward David.

"I am your far-cousin David Borson."

"The son of my father's cousin Liot?"

"Yes. Liot Borson is dead, and here am I."

"You are welcome, for you were to come. My father talked often of
his cousin Liot. They are both gone away from this world."

"I think they have found each other again. Who can tell?"

"Among the great multitude that no man can number, it might not be
easy."

"If God willed it so?"

"That would be sufficient. This is your little cousin Vala; she is
nearly two years old. Is she not very pretty?"

"I know not what to say. She is too pretty for words."

"Sit down, cousin, and tell me all."

And as they talked her eyes enthralled him. They were deep blue,
and had a solar brilliancy as if they imbibed light--holy eyes, with
the slow-moving pupils that indicate a religious, perhaps a mystical,
soul. David sat with her until sunset, and she gave him a simple
meal of bread and tea, and talked confidentially to him of Liot and
of her own father and brothers. But of herself she said nothing at
all; neither could David find courage to ask her a single question.

He watched her sing her child to sleep, and he sat down with her
on the door-step, and they talked softly together of death and of
judgment to come. And the women from the other huts gradually joined
them, and the soft Shetland night glorified the somber land and
the mysterious sea, until at last David rose and said he must go
back to Lerwick, for the day was over.

A strange day it had been to him; but he was too primitive to
attempt any reasoning about its events. When he left Nanna's he was
under that strong excitement which makes a man walk as if he were
treading upon the void, and there was a hot confusion in his thoughts
and feelings. He stepped rapidly, and the stillness of the lovely
night did not soothe or reason with him. As he approached the town
he saw the fishing-boats leaving the harbor, and in the fairy light
they looked like living things with outspread wings. Two fishers
were standing at a house door with a woman, who was filling a
glass. She held it aloft a moment, and then gave it to one with
the words: "Death to the heads that wear no hair!"

"The herring and the halibut, the haddock and the sole," answered the
man; and he drank a little, and passed it to his comrade. Then up
the street they hurried like belated men; and David felt the urging
of accustomed work, and a sense of delinquency in his purposeless
hands.

He found Barbara waiting. She knew that he would not stay at Nanna
Sinclair's, and she had prepared the room of her absent son for him.
"If he can pay one shilling a day, it will be a godsend to me," she
thought; and when she told David so he answered, "That is a little
matter, and no doubt there will be good between us."

He saw then that the window was open, and the sea-water lippering
nearly to the sill of it; and he took off his bonnet, and sat
down, and let the cool breeze blow upon his hot brow. It was near
midnight, but what then? David had never been more awake in all his
life--yes, awake to his finger-tips. Yet for half an hour he sat
by the window and never opened his mouth; and Barbara sat on the
hearth, and raked the smoldering peats together, and kept a like
silence. She was well used to talk with her own thoughts, and to
utter words was no necessity to Barbara Traill; but she knew what
David was thinking of, and she was quite prepared for the first
word which parted his set lips.

"Is my cousin Nanna a widow?"

"No."

"Where, then, is her husband?"

"Who can tell? He is gone away from Shetland, and no one is sorry for
that."

"One thing is sure--Nanna is poor, and she is in trouble. How comes
that? Who is to blame in the matter?"

"Nicol Sinclair--he, and he only. Sorrow and suffering and ill luck
of all kinds he has brought her, and there is no help for it."

"No help for it! I shall see about that."

"You had best let Nicol Sinclair alone. He is one of the worst of
men, a son of the devil--no, the very devil himself. And he has your
kinswoman Matilda Sabiston at his back. All the ill he does to Nanna
he does to please her. To be sure, the guessing is not all that way,
but yet most people think Matilda is much to blame."

"How came Nanna Borson to marry such a man? Was not her father alive?
Had she no brothers to stand between her and this son of the Evil
One?"

"When Nanna Borson took hold of Nicol Sinclair for a husband she
thought she had taken hold of heaven; and he was not unkind to her
until after the drowning of her kin. Then he took her money and
traded with it to Holland, and lost it all there, and came back
bare and empty-handed. And when he entered his home there was the
baby girl, and Nanna out of her mind with fever and like to die,
and not able to say a word this way or that. And Nicol wanted money,
and he went to Matilda Sabiston and he got what he wanted; but what
was then said no one knows, for ever since he has hated the Borsons,
root and branch, and his own wife and child have borne the weight of
it. That is not all."

"Tell me all, then; but make no more of it than it is worth."

"There is little need to do that. Before Nanna was strong again he
sold the house which Paul Borson had given to her as a marriage
present. He sold also all the plenishing, and whatever else he
could lay his hands on. Then he set sail; but there was little
space between two bad deeds, for no sooner was he home again than
he took the money Paul Borson had put in the bank for his daughter,
and when no one saw him--in the night-time--he slipped away with a
sound skin, the devil knows where he went to."

"Were there no men in Lerwick at that time?"

"Many men were in Lerwick--men, too, who never get to their feet
for nothing; and no man was so well hated as Nicol Sinclair. But
Nanna said: 'I have had sorrow enough. If you touch him you touch
me ten-fold. He has threatened me and the child with measureless
evil if I say this or that against anything he does.' And as every
one knows, when Nicol is angry the earth itself turns inside out
before him."

"I do not fear him a jot--not I!"

"If you had ever seen him swaggering and rolling from one day into
another, if you had ever seen him stroking his bare arms and peering
round with wicked eyes for some one to ease him of his temper, you
would not say such words."

"I will not call my words back for much more than that, and I will
follow up this quarrel."

"If you are foolish, you may do so; if you are wise, you will be
neither for nor against Nicol Sinclair. There is a wide and a safe
way between these two. Let me tell you, Nanna's life lies in it. I
have not yet told you all."

"Speak the last word, then."

"Think what cruel things a bad man can always do to a good woman;
all of them Nicol Sinclair has done to your cousin Nanna. Yes, it is
so. When she was too weak to hold her baby in her arms he bade her
'die, and make way for a better woman.' And one night he lured her
to the cliff-top, and then and there he quarreled with her; and men
think--yes, and women think so too--that he threw the child into
the water, and that Nanna leaped after it. That was the story in
every one's mouth."

"Was it true? Tell me that."

"There was more than guesswork to go on. Magnus Crawford took them
out of the sea, and the child was much hurt, for it has never walked,
nor yet spoken a word, and there are those who say it never will."

"And what said my cousin Nanna?"

"She held her peace both to men and women; but what she said to God
on the matter he knows. It is none of thy business. She has grown
stronger and quieter with every sorrow; and it is out of a mother's
strength, I tell thee, and not her weakness, that good can come."

Then David rose to his feet and began to walk furiously about the
small room. His face was white as death, and he spoke with a still
intensity, dropping each word as if it were a separate oath.

"I wish that Sinclair were here--in this room! I would lay his neck
across my knee, and break it like a dog's. I would that!"

"It would be a joy to see thee do it. I would say, 'Well done, David
Borson!'"

"I am glad that God has made Tophet for such men!" cried David,
passionately. "Often I have trembled at the dreadful justice of
the Holy One; I see now how good it is. To be sure, when God puts
his hook into the nose of the wicked, and he is made to go a way
he does not want to go, then he has to cease from troubling. But I
wish not that he may cease from being troubled. No, indeed; I wish
that he may have weeping and wailing! I will stay here. Some day
Sinclair will come back; then he shall pay all he owes."

Suddenly David remembered his father's sad confession, and he was
silent. The drowning of Bele Trenby and all that followed it flashed
like a fiery thought through his heart, and he went into his room,
and shut the door, and flung himself face downward upon the floor.
Would God count his anger as very murder? Would he enter into
judgment with him for it? Oh, how should a sinful man order all his
way and words aright! And in a little while Barbara heard him
weeping, and she said to herself:

[Illustration: NANNA AND VALA]

"He is a good man. God loves those who remember him when they are
alone and weep. The minister said that."

This day had indeed been to David a kind of second birth. He had
entered into a new life and taken possession of himself. He knew
that he was a different being from the youth who had sailed for weeks
alone with God upon the great waters; but still he was a riddle to
himself, and it was this feeling of utter confusion and weakness and
ignorance that had sent him, weeping and speechless, to the very
feet of the divine Father.

But if the mind is left quite passive we are often instructed in
our sleep. David awakened with a plan of life clearly in his mind. He
resolved to remain with Barbara Traill, and follow his occupation
of fishing, and do all that he could to make his cousin Nanna
happy. The intense strength of his family affection led him to
this resolve. He had not fallen in love with Nanna. As a wife
she was sacred in his eyes, and it never entered his mind that any
amount of ill treatment could lessen Sinclair's claim upon her. But
though far off, she was his cousin; the blood of the Borsons flowed
alike through both their hearts; and David, who could feel for
all humanity, could feel most of all for Nanna and Vala.

Nanna herself had acknowledged this claim. He remembered how gladly
she had welcomed him; he could feel yet the warm clasp of her hand,
and the shining of her eyes was like nothing he had ever before seen.
Even little Vala had been pleased to lie in his strong arms. She
had put up her small mouth for him to kiss, and had slept an hour
upon his breast. As he thought of that kiss he felt it on his lips,
warm and sweet. Yes, indeed; there was love in that poor little hut
that David Borson could not bear to lose.

So he said to Barbara in the morning: "I will stay with you while
it pleases us both."

And Barbara answered: "A great help and comfort thou wilt be to me,
and doubtless God sent thee."



VI

KINDRED--THE QUICK AND THE DEAD


Shetland was, then, to be David's home, and he accepted the destiny
gladly. He felt near to the people, and he admired the old gray
town, with its roving, adventurous population. His first duty was
to remove his personal belongings from his boat to Barbara Traill's
house, and when this was done it was easy enough to set himself to
business; for as soon as he went among the fishers and said, "My name
is Borson, and I am the son of your old mate Liot Borson," he found
himself in a circle of outstretched hands. And as he had brought
his nets and lines with him, he had no difficulty in getting men
who were glad to help him with his fishing, and to instruct him in
the peculiarities of the coast and the set of its tides and currents.

For the rest, there was no sailor or fisher in Lerwick who was so
fearless and so wise in all sea-lore as David Borson. Sink or swim,
he was every inch a seaman. He read the sea as a landsman reads
a book; he knew all its moods and its deceitfulness, and the more
placid it was the more David mistrusted its intentions; he was
always watching it. The men of Uig had been wont to say that David
Borson would not turn his back on the sea, lest it should get some
advantage over him. This intimacy of mistrust was the result of his
life's training; it was the practical education of nearly twenty
years.

His next move was to see the minister and present to him the letter
from the minister of Uig, which authenticated his kirk standing and
his moral character. He put on his kirk clothes for this call, and
was sorry afterward that he had so hampered himself; for the good
man met him with both hands outstretched, and blessed him in the name
of the Lord.

"I married your father and mother, David," he said. "I baptized you
into the fold of Lerwick kirk, and I buried your sweet mother in its
quiet croft. Your father was near to me and dear to me. A good man
was Liot Borson--a good man! When that is said, what more is left to
say? While my life-days last I shall not forget Liot Borson." And
then they talked of David's life in Uig, and when he left the manse
he knew that he had found a friend.

It was then Thursday night, and he did not care to go to the fishing
until the following Monday. Before he began to serve himself he
wished to serve God, and so handsel his six days' work by the
blessing of the seventh. This was the minister's advice to him, and
he found that every one thought it right and good; so, though he
made his boat ready for sea, she was not to try her speed and luck
on her new fishing-ground until David had offered up thanksgiving
for his safe journey, and supplications for grace and wisdom to
guide his new life aright.

"There is no more that I can do now until the early tide on Monday
morning," he said to Barbara Traill, "and I will see if I can find
any more of my kin-folk. Are any of my mother's family yet living?"

"The Sabistons have all gone south to the Orkneys. They are handy
at money-getting, and the rumor goes abroad that they are rich and
masterful, and ill to deal with; but they were ever all that, or the
old tellings-up do them much wrong."

"Few people are better spoken of than they deserve."

"That is so. Yet no one in Lerwick is so well hated as your
great-aunt Matilda Sabiston. She is the last of the family left in
Shetland. Go and see her if you wish to; I have nothing to say
against it; but I can give you a piece of advice: lean not for
anything on Matilda Sabiston."

"All I want of her is a little love for my mother's sake; so I will
go and see her. For the sake of the dead she will at least be civil."

"Nothing will come of the visit. It is not to be expected that
Matilda will behave well to you, when she behaves ill to every
one else."

"For all that, I would like to look upon her. We are blood-kin. I
have a right to see her face; I have a right to offer her my service
and my duty; whether she will take it or throw it from her is to be
seen."

"She will _not_ take it. However, here is your dinner ready, and
after you have eaten it go and see your kinswoman. You will easily
find her; she lives in the largest house in Lerwick."

The little opposition to his desires confirmed David in his resolve.
When he had eaten, and dressed himself in his best clothing, he
went to Matilda Sabiston's house. It was a large stone dwelling,
and had been famous for the unusual splendor of its furnishing.
David was astonished and interested, but not in the least abashed;
for the absorbing idea in his mind was that of kindred, and the soft
carpets, the velvet-covered chairs and sofas, the pictures and
ornaments, were only the accessories of the condition. An old woman,
grim and of few words, opened the heavy door, and then tottered
slowly along a narrow flagged passage before him until they came
to a somberly furnished parlor, where Mistress Sabiston was sitting,
apparently asleep.

"Wake up, mistress," said the woman. "Here be some one that wants
to see you."

"A beggar, then, either for kirk or town. I have nothing to give."

"Not so; he is a fair, strong lad, who says you are his aunt."

"He lies, whoever he is. Let me see the fool, Anita."

"Here he is, mistress. Let him speak for himself." And Anita stood
aside and permitted David to enter the room.

Matilda sat in a large, uncushioned chair of black wood--the chair
of her fore-elder Olaf, who had made it in Iceland from some rare
drift, and brought it with his other household goods to Shetland ten
generations past. It was a great deal too large for her shrunken
form, and her old, old face against its blackness looked as if
it had been carved out of the yellow ivory of Sudan. Never had
David seen a countenance so void of expression; it was like a scroll
made unreadable by the wear and dust of years. Life appeared to
have retreated entirely to her eyes, which were fierce and darkly
glowing. And the weight and coldness of her great age communicated
itself; he was chilled by her simple presence.

"What is your business?" she asked.

"I am the son of your niece Karen."

"I have no niece."

"Yea, but you have. Death breaks no kinship. It is souls that are
related, not bodies; and souls live forever."

"Babble! In a word, what brought you here?"

"I came only to see you."

"Well, then, I sent not for you."

"Yet I thought you would wish to see me."

"I do not."

"Liot Borson is dead."

"I am glad of it. He was a murderer while he lived, and now I hope
that he is a soul in pain forevermore."

"I am his son, and you must not--"

"Then what brought you here? I have hoped you were dead for many a
year. If all the Borsons, root and branch, were gone to their father
the devil, it would be a pleasure to me. I have ever hated them;
to all who knew them they were bringers of bad luck," she muttered
angrily, looking into David's face with eyes full of baleful fire.

"Yet is love stronger than hate, and because my mother was of your
blood and kin I will not hate you."

"Hear a wonder!" she screamed. "The man will not hate me. Son of a
murderer, I want not one kind thought from you."

"There is no cause to call my father what neither God nor man has
called him."

"Cause enough! I know that right well."

"Then it is only right you give proof of such assertions. Say what
you mean and be done with it."

"Ah! you are getting angry at last. Your father would have been
spitting fire before this. But it was not with fire he slew Bele
Trenby--no, indeed; it was with water. Did he not tell you so when
he stood on the brink of Tophet?"

"God did not suffer his soul to be led near the awful place. When he
gave up his ghost he gave it up to the merciful Father of spirits.
It is wicked to speak lies of the living; it is abominable and
dangerous to speak ill of the dead."

"I fear neither the living nor the dead. I will say to my last breath
that Liot Borson murdered Bele Trenby. He was long minded to do the
deed; at last he did it."

"How can you alone, of all the men and women in Lerwick, know this?"

"That night I dreamed a dream. I saw the moss and the black water,
and Bele's white, handsome face go down into it. And I saw your
father there. What for? That he might do the murder in his heart."

"The dream came from your own thoughts."

"It came from Bele's angel. The next day--yes, and many times
afterward--I took to the spot the dog that loved Bele, and the
creature whined and crouched to his specter. Men are poor, sightless
creatures; animals see spirits where we are blind as bats."

"Are these your proofs? Why do people suffer you to say such things?"

"Because in their hearts they believe me. Murders tell tales;
secretly, in the night, crossing the moss, when men are not thinking,
they breathe suspicion; they speak after being long dumb. Fifty
years is not the date of their bond. They haunt the place of their
tragedy, and men dream of the deed. So it is. The report sticks
to Liot, and more will come of it yet. Oh, that he were in your
shoes to-day! I would find the strength to slay him, if I died
and went to hell for it."

"Woman, why dost thou damn thyself while yet there is a hope of
mercy?"

"Mercy! What have you to do with mercy? One thing rejoices me: it
will not be long ere I meet that blessed thrall that cursed all
the generations of the Borsons. He and I will strike hands in that
quarrel; and it shall go ill with you and your children till the
last Borson be cursed off the face of the earth."

"I will flee unto the Omnipotent. He will keep even my shadow from
the evil ones that follow after. Now I will go, for I see there is
no hope of good-will between us two."

"And it is my advice that you go away from Shetland."

"That I will _not_ do. There are my cousins Nanna and Vala here; and
it is freely said that you have done them much ill. I will stay here
and do them all the good I can."

"Then you will have Nicol Sinclair to settle with. That is the best
of my wish. Nicol Sinclair is my third cousin, and I have given
him five hundred pounds because he hates the Borsons and is ready
to cross their happiness in all things possible. Pack, now, from my
presence! I have no more to say to you. I am no kin to you, and I
have taken good care to prevent the law making you kin. My will is
made. All that I have not given to Nicol Sinclair goes to make free
the slaves in Africa. Freedom! freedom! freedom!" she shrieked.
"Nothing is cruel but slavery."

It was the old Norse passion for liberty, strong and vital when every
other love was ashes. It was a passion also to which David instantly
responded. The slumbering sentiment awoke like a giant in his heart,
and he comprehended it by a racial instinct as passionate as her own.

"You have done well," he said. "Hunger and cold, pain and poverty,
are nothing if one has freedom. It is a grand thing to set a man or
a woman _free_."

"And yet you catch haddock and herring! Bah! we have nothing to do
with each other."

"Then farewell, aunt, and God give you mercy in the day you will need
mercy."

She was suddenly and stolidly silent. She fixed her eyes on the
dull glow of the burning peats, and relapsed into the torpor that
was her habitual mood. Its force was insurmountable. David went
slowly out of her presence, and was unable for some time to cast off
the depression of her icy influence. Yet the meeting had not been
without result. During it he had felt the first conscious throb of
that new passion for freedom which had sprung into existence at the
impetuous, glowing iteration of the mere word from his aunt's lips.
He felt its charm in the unaccustomed liberty of his own actions.
He was now entirely without claims but those his love or liking
voluntarily assumed. No one older than himself had the right to
reprove or direct him. He had at last come to his majority. He was
master of himself and his fate.

The first evidence of this new condition was a dignified reticence
with Barbara Traill. She was conscious of the change in her
lodger. She felt instinctively that he was no longer a child to
be questioned, and there was a tone of authority in his refusal to
discuss his aunt Sabiston with her which she could not but respect.
Indeed, it was no longer possible to speak to him of Mistress
Sabiston as Mistress Sabiston deserved to be spoken of. Her first
censure was checked by David's air of disapproval and his few
words of apology:

"She is, however, my aunt; and when one is ninety years old it is a
good excuse for many faults."

Matilda's utter refusal of his kin or kindness threw him more
exclusively upon Nanna and her child. And as all his efforts to
discover any other family connections were quite futile, he finally
came to believe that they three were the last of a family that had
once filled the lands of the Norsemen with the fame of their great
deeds. Insensibly this thought drew the bond tighter and closer,
though an instinct as pure as it was conventional taught him a
scrupulous delicacy with regard to this friendship. Fortunately,
in Shetland the blood-tie was regarded as a strong enough motive
for all David's attentions to a woman and child so desolate and
helpless. People said simply, "It is a good thing for Nanna Sinclair
that her cousin has come to Shetland." And it did not enter their
hearts to imagine an evil motive for kind deeds when there was one
so natural and obligatory.

So Shetland became dear and pleasant to David, and he gradually
grew into great favor. The minister made much of the young man, for
he respected his integrity and earnest piety, and loved him for
that tenderness and clearness of conscience which was sensitive to
the first approaches of wrong. The fishers and sailors of the
town gave him a warm admiration for his seamanship, and the praise
David had looked for at the beginning, and felt disappointed in not
receiving, was now given him by a kind of acclamation. Old sailors,
telling yarns of their ships and the queer, bold things their
ships had done, generally in some way climaxed their narratives by
an allusion to David Borson. Thus, Peter Redlands, talking to a group
of fishers one day, said:

"Where that lad learned the sea, and who taught him all the ways of
it, is beyond me; but say as you will, he can make harbor when none
of us could look at it. It is my belief David Borson can stick to
anything that can float."

"And to see how he humors a boat," continued Jan Wyck, "you would
think she was made out of flesh instead of out of three-inch planks.
I was out with him near the Old Man's Rocks last week, and he was
watching the water; and I said, 'What is it, David?' 'The sea,' he
said. 'It will be at its old tricks again in an hour or less.' And
the 'less' was right, for in fifteen minutes the word was, 'Reef,
and quick about it!' and then you know what--the rip and the roar,
and the boat leaping her full length. But David did not worry a
jot. He coaxed her beautifully, and kept her well in hand; and she
shook herself a little, and then away like a gull before the wind."

He was just as popular among the children and women of Lerwick. The
boys made an idol of him, for David was always ready to give them a
sail, or lend them his fowling-piece, or help them to rig their
toy boats. As for the maidens, the prettiest ones in Lerwick had a
shy smile for David Borson, and many wondered that such a beauty
as Asta Fae should smile on him in vain; but David had taken Nanna
and Vala into his heart, and his care and thought for them were so
constant that there was no room for any other interest. Yet Barbara
often talked to him about taking a wife; and even the minister,
doubtless led to such advice by female gossip and speculation,
thought it well to speak a word on the subject to him.

"You know, David," he said, "there are good girls and beautiful girls
that look kindly on you, and who wonder that your smiles are so cold
and your words so few; and it is my duty to say to you that evil may
come of your taking so much thought for your cousin and her child,
and the way to help her best is to help her through your own wife."

"I am not in the mind to marry, minister," he answered. "There is no
one girl dearer or fairer to me than another. And as for what I do
for my cousins, I think that God sent me to do it, and I shall not
be feared to make accounting to him for it."

"That is my belief also, David. Yet we are told to avoid the very
appearance of evil; and what is more, if it is not your pleasure to
marry, it is your duty; and how will you win past that?"

"I have not seen it to be my duty, minister."

"The promise is in the line of the righteous; the blessing is for you
and for your children; but if you have no wife or children, then is
the promise shortened and the blessing cut off. I think that you
should choose some good woman's daughter, and build yourself a home,
and then marry a wife."

The young man went out of the manse with this thought in his heart.
And not far off he met pretty Asta Fae, and he spoke to her and
walked with her as far as she was going; and he saw that she had the
sweetest of blue eyes, and that her smile was tender and her ways
gentle. And when he left her at her father's door, he held her hand
a moment and said, "It has been a pleasant walk to me, Asta." And
she looked frankly into his face and answered with rosy blushes,
"And to me also, David."

There was a warm glow at his heart as he went across the moor to
Nanna's; and he resolved to tell his cousin what the minister had
said, and ask her advice about Asta Fae; but when he reached Nanna's
cot she was sitting on the hearth with Vala upon her knees, and
telling her such a strange story that David would not for anything
lose a word of it. And as Nanna's back was to the open door she
did not see David enter, but went on with her tale, in the high,
monotonous tone of one telling a narrative whose every word is
well known and not to be changed.

"You see, Vala," she said, touching the child's fingers and toes,
"it was the old brown bull of Norraway, and he had a sore battle
with the deil, and he carried off a great princess; and you may know
how big he was, for he said to her, 'Eat out of my left ear, and
drink out of my right ear, and put by the leavings.' And ay they
rode, and on they rode, till they came to a dark and awesome glen,
and there the bull stopped and the lady lighted down. And the bull
said to her: 'Here you must stay while I go on and fight the deil.
And you must sit here on that stone, and move not hand or foot till
I come back, or else I'll never find you again. And if everything
round about you turns blue, I shall have beaten the deil; but if
all things turn red, then the deil will have conquered me.'"

"And so he left her, mammy, to go and fight the deil?"

"Ay, he did, Vala; and she sat still, singing."

"Sing me the lady's song, mammy."

Then Nanna intoned softly the strangest, wildest little tune. It was
like a Gregorian chant, and had but three notes, but to these she
gave a marvelous variety. David listened spellbound to the entreating
voice:

    "'Seven long years I served for thee,
    The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
    The bloody shirt I wrang for thee,
    And wilt thou not waken and come to me?'

But I'm thinking he never came back to the lady."

"Oh, yes, he did, mammy," said Vala, confidently. "Helga Storr told
me he came back a fine prince with a gold crown on his head, and the
deil went away empty and roaring mad."

"What is it you are telling about, Nanna?" said David, his face eager
and alight with interest.

She rose up then, with Vala in her arms, her eyes shining with her
sweet, motherly story-telling. "It is only an old tale, David," she
answered. "I know not who made it up. My mother told it to me, and
her mother to her, and so back through years that none can count.
Yes, indeed; what little child does not know the story of the big
brown bull of Norraway?"

"I never heard of it before," said David.

"To be sure; your mother did not live to talk to you--poor little
lad!"

"Now, then, Nanna, tell it to me for my mother's sake." And he sat
down on the cricket by her side, and took Vala on his knee; and Nanna
laughed, and then, with the little formal importance of the reciter,
said: "Well, so it shall be, then. Here beginneth the story of the
big brown bull of Norraway and his fight with the deil." And the
old tale fell from her lips full of charm, and David listened with
all the delight of a child. And when it had been twice told, Nanna
began to talk of the burnt Njal and the Icelandic sagas, and the
more so as she saw David was full of strange wonder and delight,
and that every word was fresh and enthralling to him.

"Yet it is a thing to be wondered at," she said finally, "that you,
David, know not these old histories better than I do; for I have
often heard that no one in all the islands could tell a story so
well as Liot Borson. Yes, and the minister once said, and I heard
him, that he would walk ten miles to hear from your father's lips
once more the sad happenings of his ancestor, the brave, helpful
Gisli."

"This is a great thing to me, Nanna," answered David, in a voice
low and quiet, for he was feeling deeply. "And I look to you now
for what has never been told me. Who, then, was my ancestor Gisli?"

"If your father held his peace about him, he surely thought it best
to do so, and so ask me not to break a good resolve."

"Nay, but I must ask you. My heart burns; I feel that there is a life
behind me into which I must look. Help me, Nanna. And, more, the
name Gisli went to my head. It is not like other strange names. I
love this man whom I have not seen and never heard of until this
hour. What has he to do with me?"

"_He was one of us._ And because he was so good and great the
thrall's curse fell the harder on him, and was the more
regarded--hard enough it has been on all the Borsons; and perhaps
your father thought it was well you heard not of it. Many a time
and oft I have wished it had not entered my ears; for when one sorrow
called to another sorrow, and one wrong trod on the heels of
another wrong, I have been angry at the false, ungrateful man
who brought such ill fortune upon his unborn generations."

"Now you make me so anxious and wilful that nothing but the story
of the thrall's curse will do for me. I shall not eat or sleep till
I hear it."

"'Tis a tale of dishonor and unthankfulness, and not so well known
to me as to Jorn Thorkel. He can tell it all, and will gladly do so."

"But for all that, I will hear it from you, Nanna, and you only, for
it concerns us only. Tell me what you know, and the rest can wait
for Jorn."

"So, then, you will have it; but if ill comes of the knowledge do
not blame me. It began in the days of Harold Fairhair, one thousand
years ago. There was a Gisli then, and he had a quarrel with a
berserker called Bjorn, and they agreed to fight until one was dead.
And the woman who loved Gisli told him that her foster-father, Kol,
who was a thrall, had a sword that whoever wielded would win in
any fight. And Gisli sent for Kol and asked him:

"'Hast thou ever a good sword?'

"And Kol answered: 'Many things are in the thrall's cot, not in the
king's grange.'

"'Lend me thy sword for my duel with Bjorn,' said Gisli.

"And Kol said: 'Then this thing will happen: thou wilt never wish to
give it up. And yet I tell thee, this sword will bite whatever it
falls on, nor can its edge be deadened by spells, for it was forged
by the dwarfs, and its name is Graysteel. And make up thy mind,' he
said, 'that I will take it very ill indeed if I get not my sword
back when I ask for it.'

"So Gisli took the sword and slew Bjorn with it, and got good fame
for this feat. And time rolled on, and he gave not back the sword;
and one day Kol met him, and Gisli had Graysteel in his hand, and
Kol had an ax.

"And Kol asked if the sword had done him good service at his great
need, and Gisli was full of its praises.

"'Well, now,' said Kol, 'I should like it back.'

"'Sell it to me,' said Gisli.

"'No,' said Kol.

"'I will give thee thy freedom for it,' said Gisli.

"'I will not sell it,' said Kol.

"'I will also give thee land and sheep and cattle and goods as much
as thou wantest,' said Gisli.

"'I will not sell it a whit more for that,' said Kol.

"'Put thy own price on it in money, and I will get thee a fair wife
also,' said Gisli.

"'There is no use talking about it,' said Kol. 'I will not sell it,
whatsoever thou offerest. It has come to what I said would happen:
that thou wouldst not give me back my weapon when thou knewest what
virtue was in it.'

"'And I too will say what will happen,' said Gisli. 'Good will befall
neither of us; for I will _not_ give up the sword, and it shall
never come into any man's hand but mine, if I have my will.'

"Then Kol lifted his ax, and Gisli drew Graysteel, and they smote
at each other. Kol's blow fell on Gisli's head, so that it sank
into the brain; and Graysteel fell on Kol's head, and his skull was
shattered, and Graysteel broke asunder. Then, as Kol gave up the
ghost, he said:

"'It had been better that thou hadst given me my sword when I asked
for it, for this is only the beginning of the ill fortune I will
bring on thy kith and kin forever.'

"And so it has been. For a thousand years the tellings-up of our
family are full of troubles that this thrall's curse has brought
upon us. Few of our men have grown gray-headed; in the sea and on
the battlefield they have found their graves; and the women have had
sorrow in marriage and death in child-bearing."

"It was an evil deed," said David.

"It was a great curse for it also; one thousand years it has followed
Gisli's children."

"Not so! I believe it not! Neither the dead nor the living can curse
those whom God blesses."

"Yet always the Borsons have had the worst of ill fortune. We three
only are now left of the great earls who ruled in Surnadale and in
Fjardarfolk, and see how poor and sorrowful we are. My life has been
woven out of grief and disappointment; Vala will never walk; and as
for your own youth, was it not labor and sorrow only?"

"I believe not in any such spaedom. I believe in God the Father
Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. And as for
the cursing of man, dead or alive, I will not fear what it can do
to me. Gisli was indeed well served for his mean, ungrateful deed,
and it would have been better if the berserker Bjorn had cut his
false heart out of him."

"Such talk is not like you, David. I can see now that your father
did right to keep these bloody stories from your hearing. There is no
help in them."

"Well, I know not that. This night the minister was talking to me
about taking a wife. If there be truth or power in Kol's curse, why
should any Borson be born, that he or she may bear his spite? No; I
will not marry, and--"

"In saying that you mock your own words. Where, then, is your trust
in God? And the minister is right; you ought to take a wife. People
think wrong of a young man who cannot fix his heart on one good
woman. There is Christina Hey. Speak to her. Christina is sweet and
wise, and will make a good wife."

"I met Asta Fae as I came here. Very pretty indeed is her face, and
she has a way to win any heart."

"For all that, I do not think well of Asta. She is at the dance
whenever there is one, and she has more lovers than a girl should
have."

"Christina has land and money. I care not for a wife who is richer
than myself."

"Her money is nothing against her; it will be a help."

"I know not," he answered, but without interest. "You have given me
something to think of that is better than wooing and wedding, Nanna.
My heart is quite full. I am more of a man than I have ever been. I
can feel this hour that there is life behind me as well as before me.
But I will go now, for to-morrow is the Sabbath and we shall meet
at the kirk; and I will carry Vala home for you if you say so, Nanna."

"Well, then," she answered, "to-morrow is not here, David; but it
will come, by God's leave. I dreamed a dream last night, and I look
for a change, cousin. But this or that, my desire is that God would
choose for me."

"That also is my desire," said David, solemnly.

"As for me, I have fallen into a great strait; only God can help me."

She was standing on the hearth, looking down at Vala. Tears were
in her eyes, and a divine pity and sorrow made tender and gentle her
majestic beauty. David looked steadily at her, and something, he
knew not what, seemed to pierce his very soul--a sweet, aching pain,
never felt before, inexplicable, ineffable, and as innocent as the
first holy adoration of a little child. Then he went out into the
still, starry night, and tried to think of Christina Hey; but she
constantly slipped from his consciousness, like a dream that has
no message.



VII

SO FAR AND NO FARTHER


David Borson was stirred to the very seat of life by the things Nanna
had told him. It did not enter his heart to doubt their truth. The
shameful deed of the first Gisli, and the still strong order of its
consequences, which neither the guilt of his children hastened, nor
their innocence delayed, nor their expiation arrested, was the
dominant feeling aroused by her narrative. The whole story, with its
terrible Nemesis, fitted admirably into the system of Calvinistic
theology, and David had not yet come to the hour in which faith
would crush down fatalism. The words of these ancient sagas went
singing and swinging through his brain and heart, and life seemed
so wonderful and bewildering, its sorrows so great and certain, its
needs so urgent and present, and heaven, alas! so far off.

There came to him also, as he slowly trod the lonely moor, the most
awful of all conceptions of eternity--the revelation of _a repentance
that could undo nothing_. He was righteously angry at Gisli's base
ingratitude; he was sorry for his sin; but others had doubtless
felt the same anger and sorrow, and it had been ineffectual. Helpless
and passive in the hands of destiny, a nameless dread, an urgent
want of help and comfort, forced him to feel out into the abyss
for something more than flesh and blood to lean on; and then he
found that God is best of all approached in indefinite awe and
worship, and that moments of tender, vague mystery, haunted by
uncertain presentiments, bring him near.

"Well, then," he said as he came to the door of his house, "the
wicked may be a rod, and smite for generations; but the rod is in the
hand of God, and I will remind myself that my God is the Everlasting,
Almighty, Infinite One; and I will ask him to give sentence with
me, and to deliver me from the wicked, whether they be in the body
or out of the body." And he walked through the house-place where
Barbara was sitting, and saw her not; for he was saying to himself,
"'Why art thou so vexed, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted
within me? O put thy trust in God: for I will yet give him thanks,
which is the help of my countenance, and my God.'"

Nanna sat motionless for long after David left her. She had many
causes for anxiety. She was fearful of losing her work, and absolute
poverty would then be her lot. It was a fear, however, and not a
certainty; and after a little reflection she also threw her care
upon the Preserver of men. "Be at peace," she said to her heart.
"God feeds the gulls and the ravens, and he will not starve Nanna and
Vala."

It was harder to combat her spiritual anxieties. She was sorry
she had told David about the thrall's curse. Her first instinct
was to ask his father and mother to forgive her; then she suddenly
remembered that praying to or for the dead was a sin for a kirk
session to meet on. And this thought led her easily to the dream
that had troubled her last night's sleep and made her day dark
with sorrowful fears. All her life she had possessed something of
that sixth sense by which we see and anticipate things invisible.
And it is noticeable that many cripples have often a seraphic
intelligence, a far-reaching vision, and very sensitive spiritual
aptitudes. Vala was of this order. She too had been singularly
depressed; she had seen more than she could tell; she was as restless
and melancholy as birds just before their migrations, and she looked
at her mother with eyes so wistful, so full of inquiry, so "far off,"
that Nanna trembled under their fearfully prescient intimations.
Alas for the dangerous happiness of maternity! How prodigious are its
inquietudes! How uncertain its consolations!

She told David that she had dreamed a dream, and that she looked
for a change; and she had made this statement as simply and as
confidently as if she had said, "The wind is from the north, and I
look for a storm." Repeated experiences had taught her, as they
teach constantly, that certain signs precede certain events, and that
certain dreams are dictated by that delicate antenna of spiritual
instinct which feels danger to be near and warns of it.

Nanna had had _the dream_ that ever forecast her misfortunes, and she
sat thinking of its vague intimations, and tightening her heart for
any sorrow. She had been forewarned that she might be forearmed,
and she regarded this warning as a mark of interest and favor from
beyond the veil. God had always spoken to his children in dreams
and by the oracles that abide in darkness, and Nanna knew that in
many ways "dreams are large possessions." She fell asleep pondering
what her vision of the preceding night might mean, and awoke next
morning, while it was still dark, with a dim sense of fear and sorrow
encompassing her.

"But everything frightens one when night, the unknown, takes the
light away," she thought. And she rose and lighted a lamp, and
looked at Vala. The child was in a deep and healthy slumber, and the
sight of its face calmed and satisfied her. Yet she was strangely
apprehensive, and there was a weight on her heart that made her faint
and trembling. She knew right well that some hitherto unknown sorrow
was creeping like a mist over her life, and she had not yet the
strength and the pang of conflict.

    Have we not too? Yes, we have
      Answers, and we know not whence;
    Echoes from beyond the grave,
      Recognized intelligence.

Yet the secret silence of the night, the vague terror and darkness
of that occult world which we all carry with us, created in her, at
first, fear, and then a kind of angry, desperate resentment.

"Oh, how helpless I am!" she sighed. "I can think and feel, I can
fear and love, and I am not here by my own will; I did not place
myself here; I cannot keep myself here. My life is in the grasp of
a Power I cannot control. What am I to do? What can I do? Oh, how
miserable I am! All my life long I have seen '_Not for you_' written
on all I wished. Life is very hard," she said with a little sob.
And then she made no further complaint, but her heart grew so still,
she was sure something must have died there. Alas! was it hope?

"Life is very hard." With these words she lay down again, and between
sleeping and waking the hours wore on, and she rose at last from
her shivery sleep, even later than usual. Then she hurried breakfast
a little, and as the light grew over land and sea she tidied her
room and dressed Vala and herself for the kirk. As the sound of the
first service bell traveled solemnly over the moor she was ready to
leave the house. Her last duty was to put a peat or two upon the
fire, and as she was doing this she heard some one lift the sneck
and push open the door.

"It is David to carry Vala," she thought. "How good he is!"

But when she turned she saw that it was not David. It was her
husband, Nicol Sinclair. He walked straight to the fireside, and
sat down without a word. Nanna's heart sank to its lowest depths,
and a cold despair made her feet and hands heavy as lead; but she
slowly spread the cloth on the table, and bit by bit managed to
recollect the cup and saucer, the barley-cake, the smoked goose,
and the tea.

There was a terrible account between the man sitting on the hearth
and herself, and words of passionate reproach burned at her lips;
but she held her peace. Long ago she had left her cause with God;
he would plead it thoroughly. Even now, when her enemy was before
her, she had no thought of any other advocate.

Her pallor, her slow movements, her absolute dumbness, roused in
Sinclair an angry discomfort. And when Vala made a movement he lifted
her roughly, and with a brutal laugh said, "A nice plaything you
will be on board the _Sea Rover_!"

Nanna shivered at the words. She comprehended in a moment the torture
this man had probably come purposely to inflict upon her. Already
his cruel hands had crippled her child; and what neglect, what
terrors, what active barbarities, might he not impose on the little
one in the hell of his own ship! Who there could prevent him? Little
did Nicol Sinclair care for public opinion on land; but out at
sea, where Vala's tears and cries could bring her no help, what
pitiless inhumanities might he not practise?

"_Fly with the child!_"

The words were struck upon her heart like blows. But how should she
fly? and where to? Far or near, the law would find her out and would
give Vala to her father's authority. And she had no friend strong
enough to protect her. Only by death could she defy separation. Thus,
while she was pouring the boiling water on the tea-leaves, she was
revolving questions more agonizing than words have power to picture.

At length the food was on the table, and, save for those few
threatening words, the silence was unbroken. Sinclair sat down
to his meal with a bravado very near to cursing, and at that moment
the kirk bells began to ring again. To Nanna they were like a voice
from heaven. Quick as thought she lifted her child and fled from
the house.

[Illustration: "BUT SHE HELD HER PEACE."]

Oh, what stress of life and death was in her footsteps! Only to
reach the kirk! If she could do that, she would cling to the altar
and die there rather than surrender Vala to unknown miseries. Love
and terror gave her wings. She did not turn her head; she did not
feel the frozen earth or the cutting east wind; she saw nothing
but Vala's small face on her breast, and she heard nothing but the
echo in her heart of those terrible words threatening her with the
loss of her child.

When she reached the kirk the service had begun. The minister
was praying. She went into the nearest pew, and though all were
standing, she laid Vala on the seat, and slipped to her knees beside
her. She could not now cry out as she longed to do, and sob her
fright and anguish away at God's feet. "Folk would wonder at me. I
would disturb the service." These were her thoughts as soon as
the pressure of her flight was over. For the solemn voice of the
minister praying, the strength of numbers, the holy influence of
the time and place, cooled her passionate sense of wrong and danger,
and she was even a little troubled at her abandonment of what was
usual and Sabbath-like.

The altar now looked a long way off; only Sinclair at touch could
have forced her down that guarded aisle to its shelter. Heaven itself
was nearer, and God needed no explanations. He knew all. What was
the law of man to him? And he feared not their disapproval. Thus
in her great strait she overleaped her creed, and cast herself on
him who is "a God of the afflicted, an helper of the oppressed, an
upholder of the weak, a protector of the forlorn, a savior of them
that are without hope."

When the preaching was over David and Barbara came to her; and David
knit his brows when he saw her face, for it was the face of a woman
who had seen something dreadful. Her eyes were full of fear and
anguish, and she was yet white and trembling with the exertion of
her hard flight.

"Nanna," he said, "what has happened?"

"My husband has come back."

"I heard last night that his ship was in harbor."

"He has come for Vala. He will take her from me. She will die of
neglect and hard usage. He may give her to some stranger who will be
cross to her. O David! David!"

"He shall not touch her."

"O David!"

"Put her in my arms _now_."

"Do you mean this?"

"I do."

"Can I trust you, David?"

"You may put it to any proof."

"Pass your word to me, cousin."

"As the Lord God Almighty lives, I will put my life between Vala and
Nicol Sinclair!"

"But how?"

"I will take her to sea if necessary, for my boat can go where few
will dare to follow."

Then he turned to Barbara and said: "Nicol Sinclair has indeed come
back. He says he has come for Vala."

[Illustration: AT THE KIRK.]

"Then the devil has led him here," answered Barbara, flashing into
anger. "As for Vala, let her stay with me. She has a good guard at my
house. There is Groat and his four sons on one side, and Jeppe Madson
and his big brother Har on the other side; and there is David Borson,
who is worth a whole ship's crew, to back them in anything for Vala's
safety. Stay with me to-day, Nanna, and we will talk this matter out."

But Nanna shook her head in reply. As she understood it, duty was
no peradventure; it was an absolute thing from which there was no
turning away. And her duty was to be at home when her husband was
there. But she put Vala's hand into David's hand, and then looked at
the young man with eyes full of anxiety. He answered the look with
one strong word:

"_Yes!_"

And she knew he would redeem it with his life, if that should be
necessary.

Then she turned homeward, and walked with a direct and rapid energy.
She put away thought; she formed no plan, she said no prayer. Her
petition had been made in the kirk; she thought there would be a
want of faith in repeating a request already promised. She felt even
the modesty of a suppliant, and would not continually press into the
presence of the Highest; for to the reverent there is ever the veil
before the Shechinah.

And this conscious putting aside of all emotion strengthened her.
When she saw her home she had no need to slacken her speed or to
encourage herself. She walked directly to the door and opened it.
There was no one there; the place was empty. The food on the table
was untouched. Nothing but a soiled and crumpled handkerchief
remained of the dreadful visitor. She lifted it with the tongs and
cast it into the fire. Then she cleared away every trace of the
rejected meal.

Afterward she made some inquiries in the adjoining huts. One woman
only had seen his departure. "I could not go to kirk this morning,"
she said with an air of apology, "for my bairn is very sick; and
I saw Nicol Sinclair go away. It was near the noon hour. Drunk he
was, and worse drunk than most men can be. His face was red as a
hot peat, and he swayed to and fro like a boat on the Gruting Voe.
There was something no' just right about the man."

That was all she could learn, and she was very unhappy, for she
could imagine no good reason for his departure. In some way or
other he was preparing the blow he meant to deal her; and though it
was the Sabbath, there would be no difficulty in finding men whom he
could influence. And there was also his cousin Matilda Sabiston,
that wicked old woman who had outlived all human passions but hatred.
Against this man and the money and ill-will that would back him she
could do nothing, but she "trusted in God that he would deliver her."

So she said to herself, "Patience"; and she sat down to wait,
shutting her eyes to the outside world, and drawing to a focus all
the strength that was in her. The closed Bible lay on the table
beside her, and occasionally she touched it with her hand. She had
not been able to read it; but there was comfort in seeing the old,
homely-looking book, with its everyday aspect and its pages full of
kindly blessing, and still more comfort in putting herself in
physical contact with its promises. They seemed to be more real. And
as she sat hour after hour, psalms learned years before, and read
many and many a time without apprehension of their meaning, began to
speak to her. She saw the words with her spiritual sight, and they
shone with their own glory. And she obtained what she so sorely
needed:

    A little comforting shadow
      From the hot sun's fiery glow;
    A little rest by the fountain
      Where the waters of comfort flow.

When midnight struck she looked at the clock and thanked God. Surely
she was safe for that night; and she turned the key in her door
and went to sleep. And her sleep was that which God giveth to his
beloved when they are to be strengthened for many days--a deep,
dreamless suspense of all thought and feeling.

Yet, heavenly as the sleep had been, the awakening was a shock. And
as the day grew toward noon she was as much troubled by the silence
of events as her husband had been by the silence of her lips. Human
hearts are nests of fear. Her whole soul kept going to the window,
and she said, with the impatience of suspended suffering, "_Now!
now!_ I have no fortitude for to-morrow, but I can bear anything
_now_." Finally she resolved to go to Barbara's, and see Vala, and
hear whatever there was to hear. But as she was putting on her
cloak she saw David coming over the moor, and he was carrying Vala
in his arms.

"So," she said, "I see that I will not need to run after my fate; it
will come to me; and there will be no use striving against it. For
what must be is sure to happen."

Then she turned back into the house, and David followed with unusual
solemnity, and laid Vala upon her bed. "She is sleeping," he said,
"and there is something to tell you, Nanna."

"About my husband?"

"Yes."

"Say it out at once, then."

"Last night he was carried to his own ship." And David's face was
grave almost to sternness.

"Carried! Have you then hurt him, David?"

"No; he is a self-hurter. But this is what I know. He went from
here to Matilda Sabiston's house. She had gone to kirk with two
of her servants, and when she came back she found him delirious
on the sofa. Then the doctor was sent for, and when he said the word
'typhus,' Matilda shrieked with passion, and demanded that he should
be instantly taken away."

"But no! Surely not!"

"Yes; it was so. Both the minister and the doctor said it was right
and best for him to be taken to his own ship. The town--yes, indeed,
and the whole islands were in danger. And when they took him on
board the _Sea Rover_, they found that two of the sailors were also
very ill with the fever. They had been ill for a week, and Sinclair
knew it; yet he came among the boats, and went through the town,
speaking to many people. It was a wicked thing for him to do."

"It was just like him. Where is the _Sea Rover_ now lying?"

"She has been taken to the South Voe. The fishing-boats will watch
lest the men are landed, and the doctor will go to the ship every day
the sea will let him go."

"David, is it my duty--"

"No, it is not; there are five men with Sinclair. Three of them are,
I believe, yet well men, and three can care for the sick and the
ship. On the deck of the _Sea Rover_ a woman should not put her foot."

"But a ship with typhus on board?"

"Is a hell indeed! In this case, Nanna, it is a hell of their own
making. They got the fever in a dance-house at Rotterdam. Sinclair
knew of its presence, and laughed it to scorn. It was his mate who
told the doctor so. Also, Nanna, there is Vala."

She went swiftly to the side of the sleeping child, and she was sure
there was a change in her. David would not acknowledge it, but in
forty-eight hours the signs of the fatal scourge were unmistakable.
Then Nanna's house was marked and isolated, and she sat down to
watch her dying child.



VIII

THE JUSTIFICATION OF DEATH


During the awful days of Vala's dying no one came near Nanna.
She watched her child night and day, and saw it go out into the
darkness that girds our life around, in unutterable desolation of
soul. From the first Vala was unconscious, and she went away without
a word or token of comfort to the despairing mother. There was
unspeakable suffering and decay, and then the little breathing-house
in which Vala had sojourned a short space was suddenly vacant. For
a moment Nanna stood on the border-lands of being, where life
hardly draws breath. _A little more_, and she would have pushed
apart the curtains that divide us from that spiritual world which
lies so close and which may claim us at any moment. _A little
more_, and she would, in her loving agony, have pressed beyond
manifestations to that which is ineffable and nameless.

But at the last moment the flesh-and-blood conductor of spirit
failed; a great weakness and weariness made her passive under the
storm of sorrow that drove like rain to the roots of her life.
When she was able to move, Vala lay sad and still. All was over,
and Nanna stood astonished, smitten, dismayed, on a threshold she
could not pass. The Eternal had given, and it was a gift; he had
taken away, and it was an immeasurable loss, and she could not
say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." She was utterly desolate;
and when she washed for the last time the little feet that had
never trod the moor or street or house, she thought her heart
would break. _Who_ had led them through the vast spaces of the
constellations? _Whither_ had they been led? There was no answer to
her moaning question. She looked from her dead Vala to God, and all
was darkness. She could not see him.

It was a hurried burial in a driving storm. The sea rolled in
fateful billows, the winds whistled loud and shrill, the rain
soaked Nanna through and through. Two or three of her neighbors
followed afar off; they wished her to see they were not oblivious
of her grief and loss, but they dared not break the ordinance of
town and kirk and voluntarily and without urgent reason come in
contact with the contagion; for the island not many years previously
had been almost decimated by the same scourge, and every man and
woman was the guardian, not only of his or her own life, but of
the lives of the community.

Nanna understood this. She saw the dark, cloaked figures of her
friends standing in the storm at a distance, and she knew the
meaning of their upraised hands; but she had no heart to answer the
signal of sympathy. Alone, she stood by the small open grave and saw
it filled. The rain beat on it, and she was glad that it beat on her.
It was with difficulty, and only with some affected anger, the
two men who had buried the child got her to return to her home.

How vacant it was! How unspeakably lonely! The stormy dreariness
outside the cot, the atmosphere of sorrow and loss within it, were
depressing beyond words. And what can be said of the loneliness
and sorrow within the soul? But in every bitter cup there is one drop
bitterest of all; and in Nanna's case this was David's neglect and
apparent desertion. She had received no message from him, nor had
he come near her in all her trouble. Truly, he must have broken
the law to do so; but Nanna was sure no town ordinance would have
kept her from David's side in such an hour, and she despised that
obedience to law which could teach him such cowardly neglect.

Day after day passed, and he came not. The fever was by this time in
all the cottages around her, and the little hamlet was a plague-spot
that every one avoided. But, for all that, Nanna's heart condemned
her cousin. She tried him by her own feelings, and found him guilty
of unpardonable selfishness and neglect. And oh, how dreary are
those waste places left by the loved who have deserted us! With
what bitter tears we water them! Vala and David had been her last
tie to love and happiness. "Thank God," she cried out in her misery,
"it can only be broken once!"

Vala had been in her grave a week--a week of days that turned the
mother's heart gray--before Nanna heard a word of comfort. Then once
more David lifted the latch of the cot and entered her presence.
She was sitting still and empty-handed, and her white face and the
quivering of her lips pierced him to the heart.

"Nanna! Nanna!" he said.

Then she rose, and looked round the lonely room, and David understood
what she meant.

"Nanna! Nanna!" was still all that he could say. He could find no
words fit for such sorrow; but there was the truth to speak, and
that might have some comfort in it. So he took her hands in his,
and said gently:

"Nanna! dear Nanna! your husband is dead."

"I am glad of it!" she answered. "He killed Vala twice over." Her
voice was low and weary, and she asked no question about the matter.

"Did you think I had forgotten you, Nanna?"

"Well, then, yes."

"Forgotten you and Vala?"

"It looked most like it. I thought you were either feared for
yourself or the law."

"No wonder men think ill of God, whom they do not know, when they
are so ready to think ill of men, whom they do know."

"O David! how could you desert me? Can you think of all that I have
suffered alone? God nor man has helped me."

"Poor, poor Nanna!"

"If you had been ill to death, neither the words of men nor the power
of the law could have kept me from your sick-bed. No, indeed! I
would have risked everything to help you. Where were you at all,
David?"

"I was on the _Sea Rover_."

"The _Sea Rover_! That is Nicol's ship. What did he do to you? What
were you there for?"

"I was on the _Sea Rover_ nursing your husband."

"My God!"

"That is the truth, Nanna. I have just finished my task."

"Who sent you?"

"The minister came to me with the order, and I could not win by it
and face God and man again."

"What said he? O David! David!"

"He said, 'David Borson, there are four men ill with typhus this
morning on the _Sea Rover_. The one man yet unstricken is quite
broken down with fright and fatigue. The doctor says some one ought
to go there. What do you think?' And I said, 'Minister, do you mean
me?' And he smiled a bit and answered, 'I thought you would know
your duty, David.'"

"But why _your_ duty, David? Surely Vala was dearer and nearer."

"The minister said, 'You are a lone man, David, and you fear God;
so, then, you need not fear the fever.'"

"And he knew that you hated Sinclair! Knew that Sinclair had come
to my house with the fever on him--knew that he had lifted my poor
bairn, only that he might give her the death-kiss!"

"No, no! How could any father, any man, be as bad as that, Nanna?"

"You know not how bad the devil can make a man when he enters into
him. And how could the minister send you such a hard road?"

"It was made easy to me; it was indeed, Nanna. The sensible presence
of God, and the shining of his face on me, though only for a moment,
made me willing to give up all my anger and all my revenge, and wait
on my enemy, and do what I could for him to the last moment."

"And Vala? How could you forget her?"

"I did not forget her. I was feared for the child, though I would
not say that to you. Barbara told me she had fret all night, and when
I said it would be for her mother, the woman shook her head in a way
that made me tremble. I was on my way to see her and you when I met
the minister, and he sent me the other way."

"Why did you not tell him that you feared for Vala?"

"I said that, and he said, 'Nanna will be able to care for the
little one; but there is a strong man needed to care for her husband;
Nicol Sinclair will be hard to manage.' And then he minded me of the
man's sinful life, and he said peradventure it might be the purpose
of God even yet to give him another opportunity for repentance
through me."

"If he had known Nicol Sinclair as I--"

"Yes, Nanna, but it is an awful thing to die eternally. If I could
help to save any one from such a fate, even my worst enemy,--even
your enemy and Vala's,--what should I have done? Tell me."

"Just what you did. You have done right. Yes; though the man killed
Vala, you have done right! You have done right!"

"I knew that would be your last word."

"Did he have one good thought, one prayer, to meet death with?"

"He did not. It was a wild night when he was in the dead thraws--a
wild night for the flitting; and he went out in storm and darkness,
and the sea carried him away."

"God have mercy upon him! I have not a tear left for Nicol Sinclair."

"It was an awful death; but on the same night there was a very good
death after a very good life. You have heard, Nanna?"

"I have heard nothing. For many days all has been still and
tidingless. The fever is in every house, and no one comes near
but the doctor, and he speaks only to the sick."

"Well, then, the good minister has gone home. He was taken with the
fever while giving the sacrament to Elder Somerlid. And he knew that
he would die, for he said, 'John Somerlid, we shall very soon drink
this cup together in the house of our Father in heaven.' So when
he got back to the manse he sent for Elder Peterson, and gave him
his last words."

"And I know well that they would be good words."

"They were like himself, full of hope. He spoke about his books, and
the money in his desk to pay all his debts, and then he said:

"'The days of my life are ended, but I have met the hand of God,
Peter, and it is strong to lead and to comfort me. A word was
brought to me even as I held the blessed cup in my hand. Read to
me from the Book while I can listen to it.' And Peterson asked,
'What shall I read?' And the minister said, 'Take the Psalms.
There is everything in the Psalms.' So Peterson read the ones he
called for, and after a little the minister said:

"'That will do, Peter. I turn now from the sorrow and pain and
darkness of earth to the celestial city, to infinite serenities,
to love without limit, to perfect joy. And when I am dead, see
you to my burying, Peter. Lay me in the grave with my face to the
east, and put above me Jesus Christ's own watchword, "_Thy kingdom
come._"' After that he asked only for water, and so he died."

"Blessed are such dead. There is no need to weep for them."

"That is one thing sure; but I have seen this, Nanna: that the wicked
is unbefriended in his death-pang."

"And after it, David? O David, after it?"

"There is no darkness nor shadow of death where the worker of
iniquity may hide," he answered with an awful solemnity.

"O David, we come into the world weeping, and we go out fearing. It
is a hard travail, both for body and soul."

And David walked to the little table on which the Book lay, and
he turned the leaves until he found the words he wanted. And Nanna
watched him with eyes purified by that mysterious withdrawal into
the life of the soul which comes through a great sorrow.

"It was not always so, Nanna," he said. "Listen!

    "For their sakes I made the world, and when Adam transgressed
    my statutes, then was decreed that now is done.

    "Then were the entrances of this world made narrow, full of
    sorrow and travail; they are but few and evil, full of perils
    and very painful.

    "For the entrances of the elder world were wide and sure, and
    brought immortal fruit.

But yet there is to be a restoration, Nanna."

"I know not," she answered wearily. "It is so far off--so far away."

"But it is promised. It is sure.

    "The world shall be turned into the old silence seven days,
    like as in former judgments, so that no man shall remain.

    "And after seven days, the world, that yet awaketh not, shall
    be raised up; and that shall die that is corrupt.

    "And the earth shall restore those that are asleep in her; and
    the dust, those that dwell in silence; and the secret places
    shall deliver those souls that were committed unto them.

    "And the Most High shall appear upon the seat of judgment, and
    misery shall pass away, and the long suffering shall have an
    end.

    "But judgment shall remain; truth shall stand; and faith shall
    wax strong."

"I know nothing of these things, David; I cannot think of them.
What I want is some word of comfort about Vala--a little word from
beyond would make all the difference. _Why_ is it not given? _Why_
is there no answering voice from the other side? There is none on
this. _Why_ does God pursue a poor, broken-hearted woman so hardly?
Even now, when I have wept my heart cold and dumb, I do not please
him. One thing only is sure--my misery. Oh, _why, why_, David?"

And David could only drop his eyes before the sad, inquiring gaze of
Nanna's. He murmured something about Adam and the cross, and told her
sorrowfully that He who hung upon it, forsaken, in the dark, also
asked, "Why?" The austerity and profound mystery of his creed gave
him no more comforting answer to the pathetic inquiry.

He spent the day in the little hamlet, and, the weather being dry and
not very cold, he persuaded Nanna to take a walk upon the cliff-top
with him. She agreed because she had not the strength to oppose
his desire; but if David had had any experience with suffering
women, he would have seen at once how ineffectual his effort would
be. The gray, icy, indifferent sea had nothing hopeful to say to
her. The gray gulls, with their stern, cold eyes, watchful and
hungry, filled her ears with nothing but painful clamoring. There
was no voice in nature to cry, "Comfort," to a bruised soul.

She said the wind hurt her, that she was tired, that she would rather
sit still in the house and shut her eyes and think of Vala. She
leaned so heavily on him that David was suddenly afraid, and he
looked with more scrutiny into her face. If his eyes had been opened
he would have seen over its youth and beauty signs of a hand that
writes but once; for when despair assumes the dignity of patience
it carries with it the warrant of death.

They went slowly and silently back to the house, and as they
approached it David said, "Some one has called, for the door is
open." And they walked a little faster, so that Nanna's cheeks
flushed with the movement and the wind.

Matilda Sabiston sat on the hearthstone grumbling at the cold,
while the man-servant who had brought her so far was piling the peats
upon the fire to warm her feet and hands. When David and Nanna
entered she did not move, but she turned her eyes upon them with a
malignant anger that roused in both a temper very different from
that in which their hopeless walk had been taken. It was immediately
noticeable in Nanna. She dropped David's hand and walked forward
to her visitor, and they looked steadily at each other for a few
moments. Then Matilda said:

"Think shame of yourself, to be so soon at the courting again, and,
above all, with him!"

Nanna took no notice of the remark, but asked, "Why are you here? I
wish to have no dealings with you, for no good can come of them."

"Would I come here for good? There is no good in any of your kind. I
came here to tell you that I was glad that there is one Borson less."

"There has been death among your own kin, mistress," said David, "and
such death as should make the living fear to bring it to remembrance."

"I know it. You ought to fear. Did you slay Nicol, as your father
slew Bele Trenby, by water? or did you poison him with drugs? or is
your hand red with his life-blood? And now, before the fish have had
time to pick his bones, you are wooing his wife."

"Will you let Nanna alone? She is ill."

"Ill? Babble! Look at her rosy cheeks! She has been listening to your
love-words. Who sent you to the _Sea Rover_? What were you doing
there? A great plot! A wicked plot against poor Nicol!"

"I went to the _Sea Rover_ because--"

"Very ready you were to go to Nicol's ship and to do your will there!
Oh, it was a great opportunity! None to see! none to tell tales!
But I know you! I know you! The black drop of murder is in every
Borson's veins."

"Mistress, you are an old woman, and you may say your say. If you
were a man it would be different. I would cut out your lying tongue,
or make it eat its own words."

With railing and insolence she defied him to the act, and David stood
looking at her with his hands in his pockets. As for Nanna, she
had thrown off her cloak and seated herself on Vala's couch. She
was trying to control her temper; but the little room was already
impregnated with Matilda's personality, and Nanna could not escape
from those indirect but powerful influences that distil from an
actively evil life.

"I wish, Matilda Sabiston, that you would leave my house," she said.
"I think that you have brought the devil in with you."

Then Matilda turned in her chair and looked at Nanna. Her face,
handsomely prominent in youth, had become with sin and age like
that of a bird of prey; it was all nose and two fierce, gleaming eyes.

"Do you talk of the devil?" she screamed. "You, who drove your
husband to sin, and sent your baby to hell!"

Then Nanna, with a pitiful cry, buried her face in Vala's pillow;
and David, full of anger, said:

"I will take you from this house, mistress. You were not asked to
come here, and you cannot stay here."

"I will stay until I have said what you shall listen to. The child
of this woman has been taken for your father's sin. The mother will
go next. Then _you_ will bite the last morsel of Kol's curse. I am
living only to see this."

"I fear not the curse of any man," said David, in a passion. "There
is no power in any mortal's curse that prayer cannot wither. Keep it
to yourself--you, who believe in it. As for me--"

"As for you, I will give you some advice. When the new minister is
placed, go and tell him what Liot Borson told you at his death-hour.
For I know well he did not die without boasting of his revenge on
Bele Trenby. Death couldn't shut Liot's mouth till the words were
out of it. Make the confession your father ought to have made, and
let me hear it. I have said it, and fools have laughed at me, and
wise men have hid the words in their hearts; and I will not die
till my words are made true. And if you will not make them true,
then the dead will have their satisfaction, and love will go to
the grave and not to the bridal. Now, then, do what is before you.
I have set you your task."

She spoke with a rapid passion that would not be interrupted, and
then, still muttering threats and accusations, tottered out of the
cot on her servant's arm. David was speechless. The truth bound him.
What powers of divination this evil woman had, he knew not, but she
at least had driven home the unacknowledged fear in his heart. He sat
down by Nanna and tried to comfort her, but she could not listen to
him. "Leave me alone to-day," she pleaded. "I have had all I can
bear."

So he went back to Lerwick, feeling with every step he took that
the task Matilda had set him would have to be accomplished. The
humiliation would indeed be great, but if by confession he could ward
off punishment from Nanna he must accept the alternative. Himself he
took not into consideration. No threat and no fear of personal
suffering could have forced him to speak; but if, peradventure,
silence was sin, and sin brought sorrow, then his duty to others
demanded from him the long-delayed acknowledgment. However, he was
not yet certain of the right, and the new minister had not yet
come, and there is always some satisfaction in putting off what
is dubious and questionable.

The new minister was not finally settled until Christmas. He proved
to be a young man with the air of theological schools still around
him. David was afraid of him. He thought of the tender, mellowed
temper of the old man whose place he was to fill, and wished that
his acknowledgment had been made while he was alive. He feared to
bring his father's spiritual case before one who had never known
him, who had grown up "southward" under very different influences,
who would likely be quite unable to go a step beyond the letter of
the law.

He talked to Nanna frequently about the matter, and she was more
than inclined to silence. "Let well alone, David," she said. "What
good can come of calling back old sins and sorrows? Who has set you
this task? One who has always hated you. If God had sent, would he
have sent by _her_? No; but when the devil wants a cruel, wicked
messenger, he can get none so fit for his purpose as a bad old woman."

However, while David hesitated Matilda went to the new minister.
She prefaced her story by a gift of ten pounds for the replenishing
of the manse, and then told it according to her own wishes and
imagination.

"The minister dead and gone would not listen to me," she said. "He
was a poor creature, and Liot Borson was one of his pets. The man
could do no wrong in his eyes. So I have been sin-bearer for more
than twenty years. Now, then, I look to you to clear this matter to
the bottom, and let the talk about it come to an end once for all."

"It is a grave matter," said Minister Campbell, "and I am astonished
that my predecessor let it rest so long--though doubtless he did
it for the best, for there will be two sides to this, as to all
other disputes."

"There is not," answered Matilda, angrily. "All is as I have told
you."

"But, according to your testimony, Liot Borson's guilt rests on your
dreams. That is a poor foundation."

"I have always been a foresighted woman--a great dreamer--and I dream
true."

"But I know not how to call a kirk meeting on a dream."

"Was the Bible written for yesterday or for to-day?"

"It was written for every day, unto the end of time."

"Then look to it. Ask it how many of its great events hang upon
dreams. Take the dream life out of the Bible, minister, and where
are you?"

"Mistress Sabiston, I am not used to arguing with women, but I will
remind you that the dream life of the Bible does not rest on female
authority. It was the men of the Bible that saw visions and dreamed
dreams. As I remember, only one woman--a pagan, Pilate's wife--is
recorded as being in this way instructed. I should not be inclined to
discipline the memory of Liot Borson on the strength of your dream."

"There is, or there was, other evidence; for much of it has now
gone away through the door of death. What I want is Liot's own
confession. He made it to his son before he gave up the ghost. Now,
then, let David speak for his father."

"That is a different thing. If David has a message to deliver, he
must deliver it, or he is recreant to his trust."

"See to it, then. It is all I ask, but I have a right to ask it."

"What right?"

"Bele was my adopted son. I loved him. He was my heir. I was a
lone-living woman, and he was all I had. As I have told you, Liot
wished to marry my niece Karen, that he might heir my property. He
had every reason to get Bele out of his way, and he did it. Ask
his son."

"I will."

With these words he became silent, and Matilda saw that there was an
end of the conversation for that time. But she was now more eager
and passionate for the impeachment of Liot's good name than she had
ever been, and she vowed to herself that if Minister Campbell did
not give her satisfaction he should have all the petty misery and
trouble her money and influence could give him.

The young minister, however, did not hesitate. It was a most
unpleasant legacy to his charge, and he was straitened until he
had done his duty concerning it. He went to see David at once,
and heard from his lips the whole truth. And he was greatly impressed
with the story, for the young man told it with such truth and
tenderness that every word went heartwise. He could think of
nothing better than to call a meeting in the kirk, and summon David
to tell the congregation just what he had told him. And as it had
been Liot's intention to do this very thing himself, the minister
could not see that David would be guilty of any unkindness to his
father's memory. Quite the contrary. He would be fulfilling his
desire and doing for him the duty he had been unable personally to
perform.

David had nothing to say against the proposal. It turned him faint,
and he wondered if it would be possible for him to stand up in the
presence of his fellows, and in the sight of all the women who
admired and respected him, and do what was required. A cold sweat
covered his face; his large hands felt powerless; he looked at the
minister appealingly, but could not utter a word.

"You must speak for your father, David. Perhaps you ought to have
spoken before this. We can do so little for the dead that any wish of
theirs that is positive ought to be sacredly granted. What do you
say?"

"It is hard, minister. But what you say is right, that I will do."

"We will not touch the Sabbath day, David. I will ask the people to
come to the kirk next Wednesday afternoon. The men will not be at
sea, and the women will be at leisure then. What do you think?"

[Illustration: PEAT-GATHERERS.]

"As you think, minister."

"Tell them just what you have told me. I believe every word you have
said, and I will stand by you--I and all good men and women, I am
sure."

"Thank you, minister."

But he could scarcely utter the words. He had often thought of this
ordeal; now that it was really to face, his heart utterly failed
him. He went straight to Nanna, and she forgot her own sorrow in his,
and so comforted and strengthened him that he went away feeling
that all things would be possible if she was always as kind and
sympathetic.

It was then Friday, and Wednesday came inexorably and swiftly. David
tried in every way to prepare himself, but no strength came from his
efforts. Prayer, nor meditation, nor long memories of the past,
nor hopes for the future, had any potency. He was stupefied by
the thing demanded of him, and the simple, vivid cry which always
brings help had not yet been forced from his lips. But at the
last moment it came. Then the coldness and dumbness and wretched
inertness that had bound him, body and soul, were gone. When he saw
Matilda Sabiston enter the kirk, her eyes gleaming and her face eager
with evil expectations, he felt the wondrous words of David[3]
burning in his heart and on his lips, and he was no longer afraid.
Psalm after psalm went singing through his soul, and he said joyfully
to himself, "Sometimes God is long in coming, but he is _never too
late_."

The minister did not ascend the pulpit. He stood at the table, and
after a prayer and a hymn he said:

"We have come together this afternoon to hear what David Borson has
to say in regard to the charge which Matilda Sabiston has made for
twenty-six years against his father Liot Borson."

"That question was decided long ago," said an old man, rising slowly.
"I heard Minister Ridlon give verdict concerning it at the funeral
of Liot's wife."

"It was _not_ decided," cried Matilda, standing up, and turning her
face to the congregation. "Liot Borson found it easy to lie at his
wife's coffin-side, but when it came to his own death-hour he did
not dare to die without telling the truth. Ask his son David."

"David Borson," said the minister, "at your father's death-hour did
he indeed confess to the slaying of Bele Trenby?"

Then David stood up. All fear had gone, he knew not where. He
looked even taller than his wont. And the light of God's presence
was so close to him that his large, fair face really had a kind
of luminosity.

"Minister," he answered with a solemn confidence, "minister and
friends, my father at his death-hour expressly said that _he did
not slay Bele Trenby_. He said that he laid no finger on him, that
he fell into his own snare. This is what happened: He met my father
on the moss, and said, 'Good evening, Liot.' And my father said,
'It is dark,' and spoke no more. You know--all of you know--they
were ill friends and rivals; so, then, silence was the best. And
if Bele had been content to be silent and tread slowly in my
father's steps he had reached his ship in safety. But he must talk
and he must hurry; and the first was not wanted, and the second was
dangerous. And after a little my father's shoe-strings came undone,
and he stooped to tie them--who wouldn't, where a false step or a
fall might be death? And Bele went on, and called back to him, 'Is
this the crossing?' And father had not finished fastening his
shoes, and did not answer. So then Bele called again, and it is
likely father would not be hurried by him, and he did not answer
that time, either. And Bele said he was in the devil's temper, and
went on at his own risk. And the next moment there was a cry, and
my father lifted his head hastily, and the man had walked into the
moss, and then who _could_ help him? But well I know, if help had
been possible, my father would have given his own life to save
life, even though the man was ten times his enemy. Over and over I
have seen Liot Borson bring from the sea men who hated him, and whom
no one else would venture life for. Never mortal man walked closer
with God than Liot Borson. I, who have lived alone with him for
twenty years, I know this; and I will dare to say that in the
matter of Bele Trenby he did no worse, and perhaps a great deal
better, than any other man would have done. Why was Bele on the moss?
He was a sailor and a stranger. A man must have life-knowledge of
the moss to walk it in the night-time. When my father was willing to
guide him across it, was it too much that he should be silent, and
that he should let his guide do a thing so necessary as to secure
tightly his shoes on the soft, unstable ground? Was his guide to
let go this safe precaution because Bele was in a hurry to reach
his ship? Was Liot Borson to blame if the man's foolhardiness and
insolent presumption led him into danger and death? As for me, I say
this: I wish to be a man after my father's heart. For he was a
righteous man in all his ways, and kind-hearted to every creature
in trouble; and he was a life-saver, and not a murderer. And this
I, his loving son, will maintain to my last breath. And if, after
these words, any man says, 'Liot Borson was a murderer,' I will
call him a cowardly liar and slanderer at Lerwick Market Cross, and
follow the words to the end they deserve. And God knows I speak the
truth, and the whole truth."

Then David sat down, and there was an audible stir and movement of
sympathy and approbation. And the minister said: "I believe every
word you have spoken, David. If any present has a word to say, now
is the time to speak."

Then Elder Hay rose and said: "Of what use is talk? Liot Borson is
dead and judged. How shall we, sinful men ourselves, dare to meddle
with the verdict of the Lord God Almighty? If we in our ignorance or
spite reverse it, what a presumption it will be! And if we confirm
it, is God's decree made stronger by our 'yea, yeas'? What at all
does Mistress Sabiston want?"

"I want Liot Borson's name taken off the roll," she answered
vehemently. "It has no right in the kirk's books. Cross it out!
Blot it out! It is a shame to the white pages."

"Is there here any man or woman who will do Mistress Sabiston's will,
and cross out Liot Borson's name for her?" asked the minister.

There was a deep, emphatic "No!" And the minister continued: "I would
myself rather cut off my right hand than cross out the name of one
who has passed far beyond our jurisdiction. Suppose--and we have a
right to suppose--that the name of Liot Borson is written in the
shining letters of the book of life, and we have crossed it off our
kirk book! What then? I think this question is settled. I never want
to hear it named again. I will enter into no conversations about
it. It has been taken out of our hands by God himself. We will not
dare to discuss in any way what he has already decided. We will now
sing together the Forty-third Psalm."

And, amid the rustle of the opening leaves, the minister himself
started the psalmody. There was a little air of hurry in his
movements, as if he hasted to drown all contention in singing;
but he had reached his usual grave composure before the end of
the verses, and the benediction fell like the final satisfying
chords of the melody.

Matilda was dumfounded by such a cutting short of the case, but even
she dared not interrupt functions so holy as praise and prayer. In
the kirk she was compelled to restrain her indignation, but when
she found that the resolution of Minister Campbell not to discuss
the matter or enter into any conversation about it was universally
adopted by the townspeople, her anger found words such as are not
to be met with in books; and she did not spare them.

David was singularly happy and satisfied. He had been grandly
supported both by God and man, and he was grateful for the pronounced
kindness of his friends, for their hand-shakings and greetings and
loving words and wishes. But when both the enthusiasm and the pang
of conflict were over, oh, how good it was to clasp Nanna's hand,
and in this perfect but silent companionship to walk home with
her! Then Nanna made a cup of tea, and they drank it together, and
talked over what had been said and done, finally drifting, as
they always did, to that invincible necessity that whatever is
could not but so have been. And though their words were, as all human
words about God must be, terribly inadequate, yet their longing,
their love, and their fears were all understood. And He who is so
vast and strange when

      With intellect we gaze,
    Close to their hearts stole in,
      In a thousand tender ways.

-----
[Footnote 3: 1 Ps. xxvii.]



IX

A SACRIFICE ACCEPTED


After this the winter came on rapidly and severely. The seas were
dangerous, and the fishing precarious and poor, and the fever
still lingered, many cases being found as far north as Yell. Thus
suffering and hard poverty and death filled the short days and made
twice as long the stretched-out nights of the dark season. The old
cloud gathered round David, and when the minister preached of
"the will and purposes of God," it seemed to David that they were
altogether penal. The unfathomable inner side of his life was all
gloom and doubt; how, then, could the material side be cheerful and
confident?

The new minister, however, had conceived a strong liking for the
young man; they were nearly of the same age; and he saw that David
was troubled about spiritual matters, and took every opportunity
to discuss them with him. But he had too much of the schools, he
was too untried, and had been, in the main, too happily situated to
comprehend David's views. The very piety of the two men was
different. David's was lively, personal, and tender; it sat in the
center. The minister's was official, intellectually accepted,
conscientiously practised. It was not strange, then, that any
dissent David ventured to make was not conceived of as a soul-query,
but rather as a challenge against impregnable truths. He was
always ready to defend Calvinism, though David did not consciously
attack it. To be sure, he said strange and daring things--things
which came from his heart, and which often staggered his opponent;
but all the more Minister Campbell put on his armor to defend his
creed.

"It is a hard religion for men and for women," said David, as they
talked a stormy afternoon away on Barbara's hearthstone; "and why
God gave it, I can't tell; for, after all, minister, the blessedness
of heaven is an eternity older than the damnation of hell."

"Men called it unto themselves, and it is not hard, David. It is a
grand creed; it is a strong anchor for a weak soul; it won't let a
man drift into the deep waters of infidelity or the miserable shoals
of 'perhaps' and 'suppose.' Neither will it let him float on waves
of feeling like Arminianism, and be content with 'ahs' and 'ohs,'
and shrink from 'therefores.' Calvinism makes strong men before the
Lord, David, and strong men are not laid on rose-leaves and fed on
pap and cream."

"That is true, minister; for it seems to me that whenever men are
to be fishers, and fight the winds and waves, or to make a living
out of bare moor or rocks, or to do any other of the hard work of
life, they are born Calvinists."

"Just so, David. Arminians can weave a piece of broadcloth, and
Episcopals can till the rich, juicy fields of England; but God's
hard work--yes, David, and his hard fighting--has to be done by
his Calvinists. They were the only fighting Protestants. But for
Calvinists, Puritans, Huguenots, there would have been no
Reformation. Philip and the Pope would have had their way, and we
should all have been papists or atheists."

"I know not. You say so, minister, and it is doubtless true."

"It is true. You have been born to a noble creed; accept it with
thankfulness and without demur. You are not called upon to understand
it or to reason about it. It is faith that conquers."

And after such an oration the young minister would go away with a
proud sense of duty well performed, burning with his own evangel,
and liking David well for being the invoker of his enthusiasm. But
David, after his departure, was always silent and depressed; his
intellect may have been quickened, but he was not comforted.

The sunshine that had brightened his life during the past year was
gone, for he had found out that all his happiness was bound up in
Nanna, and Nanna was on the verge of despair. Day by day she grew
thinner and whiter, more melancholy and more silent. She did only
work enough to supply the barest needs of life, and for the most
part sat hour after hour with dropped hands and closed eyes; or she
was seized with a restlessness that drove her to motion, and then
she walked the small bounds of her room until physical exhaustion
threw her into deep sleep.

David watched her with a sad patience. He had felt severely the
loss of Vala, and he did not presume to measure Nanna's sorrow by
his own. He knew it was natural that for some weeks she should weep
for a child so dear, whose little life had been so pitifully wronged,
so bound to suffering, so cruelly cut short. But when this natural
sorrow was not healed by time, when Nanna nursed her grief to despair
and dwelt with it in the valley of the shadow of death, he thought it
time to reason with her.

"You will kill yourself, Nanna," he said.

"Well, then, David, I hate life."

"Do you wish to die?"

"No; I am afraid to die. I know that I am sinning every day in
weeping for my poor lost bairn, and yet I am that way made that
I cannot help but weep for her. For it is my fault, David, all my
fault. Why, then, did He pursue the child with His anger from the
first hour of her sorrowful life to the last? And where is she now?
O David, where is she? If God would only let me go to her!"

"_Whist_, Nanna! You know not what you are saying. You might be
asking yourself away from His presence."

"I would rather be with Vala. If that be sinful, let me thole the
wages of my sin. Where is my dear bairn?"

"I heard Elder Kennoch say we may have a hope that God will
eventually take pity on those babes who have done no actual sin."

"But _when_ will he take pity? And until he does, how can the wee
souls endure his anger? O David, my heart will break! My heart will
break!"

"Nanna, listen to this: when Elga Wick's child died, the minister
said there was a benign interpretation of the doctrines which taught
us that _none but elect infants died_. It would be unjust, Nanna,
unless the child was elect, not to give it the offer of salvation."

"What good would eighty years of 'offers' do, if there was no
election to eternal life?"

"Nanna, your father was a child of God, and you have loved him from
your youth upward."

"Can that help Vala?"

"Even so. He keeps his mercy for children's children, to the third
and fourth generation of them that fear him. Vala was in the direct
succession of faith."

"You know what her father and his folk have been?"

"Yes, I know."

"Oh, why did my father let me marry the man? He should rather have
tied me hands and feet, and cast me into the depths of the sea. He
should have said to me, 'Nanna, you may have a bairn, and it may be a
child of sin, and thus foreordained to hell-fire.' Do you think then
I would have wed Nicol Sinclair?"

"Ay, I think you would."

"Do you believe that I was born for that end?"

"I think you had set your heart on Nicol at all risks."

"At that time Nicol was in good favor with all folk."

"You have told me that your father liked him not, and that he said
many things to you against a marriage with him; so, then, if your
heart had not been fully set on its own way, his 'no' would have
been sufficient. If we heed not fathers and mothers and teachers, we
should not heed, Nanna, no, not if one came from the dead to warn us."

"That is an awful truth, David."

"And one must speak truth to heal a wounded soul. If there be a
canker in the body, you know well the doctor must not spare the
sharp knife. But I would not put away hope for Vala--no, indeed!"

"Why, David? Oh, why?"

"Has she not kindred in His presence? Will He not remember His
promise to them? Will they forget to remind Him of it? I think not so
hardly of the dead."

"David, I will tell you the last awful truth. I never could get
the poor little one baptized,--things ay went so against it,--and
she died without being signed and sealed to His mercy; that is the
dreadful part of her death. I was ashamed--I was afraid to tell
you before. O David, if you had stayed by Vala instead of going to
that man, you might perhaps have won her this saving grace; but
it was not to be."

David almost fainted with the shock of this intelligence. He
understood now the anguish which was driving Nanna into the grave;
and he had no comfort to offer her, for Nanna seemed to make out a
terribly clear case of rejection and of foreordained refusal.

"I was feared to ask Nicol to stand with the child when it ought to
have been presented in the kirk," she said.

"But your father?" asked David.

"I was feared to ask my father to stand in Nicol's place, lest it
should make Nicol harder to me than he was. And," she continued,
weeping bitterly as she spoke, "I thought not of Vala dying, and
hoped that in the future there might be a way opened. If father had
lived he would have seen to the child's right, but he was taken just
when he was moving in the matter; and then Nicol grew harder and
harder, and as for the kirk, he would not go there at all, and I
had no kin left to take his place. Then the child was hurt, and I
was long ill, and Nicol went away, and my friends grew cold, fearing
lest I might want a little help, and even the minister was shy and
far off. So I came out here with my sorrow, and waited and watched
for some friend or some opportunity. 'To-morrow, perhaps to-morrow,'
I said; but it was not to be."

"Nanna, you should have told me this before. I would have made the
promises for Vala; I would have done so gladly. Surely you should
have spoken to me."

"Every day I thought about it, and then I was feared for what would
happen when Nicol found it out. And do you not think that Matilda
Sabiston would have sent him word that I had set you to do his
duty? She would have twitted him about it until he would have raged
like a roaring lion, and blackened my good name, and yours also, and
most likely made it a cause for the knife he was ever so ready to
use. And then, David, there are folks--kirk folks, and plenty of
them--who would have said, 'There must be something wrong to set
Nicol Sinclair to blood-spilling.' And Matilda Sabiston would have
spoken out plainly and said, 'There is something wrong'--and this
and that, and more to it."

"And well, then?"

"Well, then, being Matilda, no one would have thought of
contradicting her; for she gives much money to the kirk and the
societies, and has left all she has to free slaves. No; there was
nothing to be done but to thole and be quiet."

"There might be some excuse for being quiet when Vala was not in
danger, but when her life was going, why did you not send for the
minister?"

"This is what happened; for, David, God's will must be done. No
one came here but the doctor. On the second day he said, 'She is
not very sick.' At his next visit he said, 'She will die.' Then I
told him the child was not baptized, and prayed him to go for the
minister. And he said he would certainly do so. But he was called
here and there, and he forgot that day; and the next morning very
early he went to the manse, and the minister had gone away; and
the great storm kept him away for three days; so when he got back
the message had been overlaid by many others."

"O Nanna! Nanna!"

"Yes, it was so. After the storm the doctor came again, and Vala was
dying. And then he rode like a man riding for his life, and spoke
very angrily to the minister, who was not to blame at all, and the
minister was hurt at his words; but he came that afternoon, and it
was _too late_."

"O Nanna! O Vala! Vala! Vala!"

"So the minister was angry with me for my delays, and he spoke the
hard truth to me, and every word went to my soul like a sword. I
thought I should die that night, and I longed to die. There was no
friend to say to me one word of comfort, and I did not dare to pray.
I was feared God would ask me, 'Where is your child?' O David, what
for at all did God make us? For this life is full of sorrow, and
it is little comfort to be told that there is a worse one after it."

David took her hand, and a tear dropped upon her slender brown
fingers; but he did not answer her question. Indeed, he could
not. The same bewildering inquiry had haunted his own sad life.
So much sorrow and pain, and at the end perhaps to be "hardly
saved," while all around innumerable souls were going down, without
hope or helper, to eternal wrath! What for at all had God made man
for such a fate?

For that he had _not_ made man for such ends was a fact outside their
understandings, even as a possibility; and its very suggestion at
this hour would have appeared to both an impiety of the worst kind.
So they consoled each other in the only way possible to souls at
once so miserable and so submissive. With clasped hands they wept
together over the inscrutable fate which had set them so hard a
lesson to learn as life, with so little light to learn it by.

Natural events deepened the gloom of this spiritual thraldom. Storms
of unusual severity swept over the bare, brown land, and the fishing
was not only dangerous, but often impossible. But David regarded
frost and snow, stormy winds and raging seas, poverty, pestilence,
and death, as part of the eternal necessity pursuing its never-ending
work through discord and imperfection. When there was a possibility
of casting the fifty fathoms of ling-lines, David and his helpers
were sure to venture out; when it was clearly impossible, he went
to Nanna's and sat with her.

To the ordinary observer there did not seem to be pleasure enough
in these visits to reward him for the stormy walk over the moor.
His clothing was often wet or stiff with frost, or he was breathless
with fighting the strong wind, and not infrequently he lost himself
in the bewildering snow; but with some trifle in his pocket for
Nanna, he always managed to reach her. It might be only a fish, or a
loaf of bread which Barbara had baked for her, or a little fresh
milk in a bottle; but it was an offering made rich by that true
affection which counted weariness rest for her sake.

He generally found her sitting brooding by her peat fire. Now, peat
is cheap in Shetland, and Nanna had no stint of the fuel, but it
does not make a cheerful fire. Its want of flame and its dull-red
glow stimulate sorrowful musing; and as there is little radiation
of heat from it, those whom it warms must sit close to its embers.
Thus David and Nanna passed many hours of that sad winter. The snow
often veiled what light of day there was, and the great sea-winds
shrieked around the hut and blew the peat smoke down the chimney
into their faces; and there was little warmth or comfort, and none
of the pretty accessories that love generally delights in.

But David's love was not dependent upon accidentals. He had seen
Nanna when he thought her very finely dressed; he had watched her
when she was happy with her child and contented with his friendship;
but she was not then more beautiful than she was now, when her eyes
were haunted by despairing thoughts, and her face white and sad,
and her noble form was shrouded rather than dressed in the black
gown of her loss and woe.

To David she was ever Nanna. It was the woman beneath the outward
form he desired--the woman whose tears and fears and wounded love
were part of his own sufferings, whose despair was his despair, whose
personality, even, affected something far deeper and chaster than
that physical emotion too often misnamed love. He knew that he could
live for her, however sorrowful life might be; he knew that he could
gladly die for her, if his death could bring her spiritual peace
or hope.

Thus, in the red light of the glowing peats, with the stormy
world around them, to David and Nanna the winter months wore
away. When Nanna was able to weep she was then at her best--the
most companionable, the most grateful, and the most affectionate.
And few would think such circumstances favorable to the growth of
love; but that is a great mistake. Love is not perfect love until
it has been watered again and again with tears.

Of the growth of this affection it is not likely either was quite
unaware; but there is an instinctive dislike in a pure heart to
investigate the beginnings of love. It is like laying bare the roots
of a flower to see how it grows. And in Nanna's case there was even a
fear of such a condition. Love had brought her only heartbreak and
despair. Without deliberate intention, she yet grew a little more
shy of David; she began to restrain spiritual confidence and to weep
alone. He was not slow to feel the change, and it depressed him, and
made Barbara wonder at Nanna's ingratitude and womanish unreason.

"A good man fretting for her love, when there are hearts and hearts
full waiting for his asking," she said to her neighbor Sally Groat.

And Sally answered: "Well, well, there is a fool in every one's
sleeve sometimes; and David Borson is that daft about blood-kin,
there is no talking to him. But this is what I say: for all your
kindred, make much of your friends--and a friend you have been to
him, Barbara."

"Well, then, I have done my best; and friends are to be taken with
their faults. To-day I shall talk to David; for the spring comes on
so quickly, and I heard that my son's ship had been spoke in the
Iceland seas."

"It is long now since Nanna's baby died, and she still weeps without
end for her. She ought to try and forget. It was but a sickly child,
and never like to be world-wise or world-useful."

"I wouldn't say such words, Sally," answered Barbara, with some
warmth. "No one can tell a mother, 'Thy heart shall not remember.' I
have laid in earth five children, and do you think I ever slunk
away from heartache by forgetting them? No, indeed! I would have
counted _that_ treason against my own soul."

"God's blessing! there is none wants to contradict you, Barbara.
Don't be so hasty, woman. But you know there has been death and
weeping in many houses besides Nanna's this winter."

"To be sure," acknowledged Barbara. "Death has asked no man's leave
to enter; he has gone into the rich man's house as well as into poor
Nanna's hut."

"Every door is wide enough for a coffin."

"Yes; and the minister said last Sabbath that it was this which
dissatisfied us with these habitations of clay, and made us lift
our eyes to those eternal in the heavens."

"Well, then, to come back to David," said Sally, "he is good, and
able to marry. He has saved money, no doubt. Some young men spend
their last bawbee, and just live between ebb and flow. That isn't
David Borson. Besides, Barbara, you ought to tell him how people are
talking."

"I may do that. David is imprudent, and Nanna is too miserable to
care. Well, then, those who kindle the fire must put up with the
smoke; yet, for all that, I shall have a word or two for him, and
that very soon."

David had been at sea all night, and while this conversation was
going on he was sleeping; but in the afternoon, as Barbara saw him
preparing to go to Nanna's, she said:

"Stay a minute, David Borson. I want to speak to you. I had good news
early this morning. My son's ship was met not so far away, and he may
get home at any time, and me not thinking of it."

"I am glad to hear it, Barbara. Then, also, you will want my room. I
must look for a new place, and that is bad for me."

"I was thinking of Nanna Sinclair," said Barbara, in a musing manner.
"People do talk about you and her. I have heard say--"

"'I have heard say' is half a lie," answered David.

"I think that too; but Nanna's good name is to be thought of, and a
man does not go every day to see a woman for nothing."

Then David leaped to his feet with a face like a flame. "The shortest
and best answer is doing the thing," he muttered; and he walked
straight to Nanna's house, telling himself as he went, "I have been
too long about it; I must speak now, and she must answer me."

He was in his fishing-garb, for he intended going to sea with
the tide then rising; but he thought no more of dressing for the
interview than he thought of preparing his speeches. Hitherto he had
in a manner drifted with the current of his great affection, never
consciously asking himself where it was bearing him; but if people
were talking about Nanna, then he must take away all occasion for
suspicion--he must at once ask Nanna to be his wife. And as soon as
he took the first step toward her he felt how close and dear she
had become to him. He knew then that if Nanna was lost all the
world would be nothing. She had grown into his life as the sea and
the stars had grown, and he shrank from any thought that could imply
separation. He walked with rapid steps across the moor, feeling
dimly the beauty of the spring afternoon, with its haze of gold
and purple on the horizon, where the gray clouds opened out in
wistful stretches of daffodil skies.

The door of Nanna's house stood open, and the wind, full of the sharp
salt savor of the sea, blew life into the little room. Nanna was
busy with her knitting, and the soft, lace-like shawl lay upon her
knee. David shut the door and went to her side. His heart was too
full to hesitate or to choose words; the simplest were the best.

"Nanna, I have found out that I love you," he said. "Nanna, dearest
woman, do you hear me?"

Then her cheeks burned rosy, and she looked at David, and her hands
trembled, and the work fell from them.

"Love me a little, my dear! Love me, Nanna!"

"I do love you, David. Who in all the world have I but you?" And the
beautiful woman stood up, and he took her within his arms and kissed
her.

For a moment or two David was happy. His large, fair face shone;
he laughed softly as he drew Nanna to his breast. He was really as
intoxicated with joy as some men are with wine.

"We will be married next week, Nanna," he said; "this
week--to-morrow, if you will. It has come to this: I must leave
Barbara, and there is a house empty close to the quay, and it shall
be our home, Nanna; for I have sixty pounds, my dear woman, and
at last, at last--"

Before he reached this point he was sensible of some chill or
dissent, but he was not prepared for Nanna's answer:

"David, why do you talk of marrying? It is ever that. I will not
marry."

"Not yet, Nanna? Is it too soon? But why for a dead man will you keep
me waiting?"

"I think not of any dead man."

"Is it Vala? Vala would rejoice in our happiness."

"I will not marry--no, not any man living."

"Why did you say that you loved me?"

"I do love you."

"No; you do not."

He put her gently away from him, and looked at her with a somber
sternness. "You do not love me," he continued. "If you did, you
would put me first; you would say, 'I will be your wife.' You would
delight to make me happy--I, who have never been happy but in sharing
your joys and sorrows."

"O David, I do love you!"

"Then be my wife."

"I cannot! I cannot!"

"Then you love me as light, vain women love: to make slaves of men,
and bring them back and back to be hurt. It is not to be so with me.
No, indeed! Farewell, Nanna."

His voice failed him. He turned toward the door, and for a moment
Nanna could not realize that he was actually bidding her a final
farewell. When she did she flew to his side, and arrested his hand
as he was opening the door.

"Come back! Come back, David!" she entreated. "You are all wrong;
you are very cruel to me. If you leave me it will break my heart!
It will be the last blow, David. It is the very truth."

He hesitated enough to make Nanna weep with passionate distress,
and this emotion he was not able to bear. He took her within his
arm again, led her to a chair, and sat down at her side, and as he
kissed the tears from her face said:

"If indeed you do love me, Nanna--"

"_If_ I do love you!" she interrupted. "I love none but you. You are
heart of my heart and soul of my soul. I hear you coming when you
are half a mile away. I have no joy but when you are beside me. I
shall die of grief if you leave me in anger. I would count it heaven
and earth to be your wife, but I dare not! I dare not!"

She was sobbing piteously when she ended this protestation, and
David comforted her with caresses and tender words. "What fears
you, Nanna?" he asked. "Oh, my dear, what fears you?"

"This is what I fear," she answered, freeing herself from his
embrace, and looking steadily at him. "This is what I fear, David.
If we were married I might have another child--I might have many
children."

Then he clasped her hand tightly, for he began to see where Nanna was
leading him, as she continued with slow solemnity:

"Can you, can the minister, can any human being, give me assurance
they will be elect children? If you can, I will be your wife
to-morrow. If you cannot, as the God of my father lives, I will not
bring sons and daughters into life for sin and sorrow here, and for
perdition hereafter. The devil shall not so use my body! To people
hell? No; I will not--not even for your love, David!"

Her words, so passionate and positive, moved him deeply. He was
the old David again--the light, the gladness, all but the tender,
mournful love of the past, gone from his face. He held both her
hands, and he looked down at them lying in his own as he answered:

"Both of us are His children, Nanna. We are His by generations and
by covenant. He has promised mercy to such. Well, then, we may have
a reasonable hope--"

"Hope! No, no, David! I must have something better than hope. I hoped
for Vala, and my hope has been my hell. And as for the child--my God!
where is the child?"

"We love God, Nanna, and the children of the righteous--"

"Are no safer than the children of the wicked, David. I have thought
of this continually. There was John Beaton's son; he killed a man,
and died on the gallows-tree, to the shame and the heartbreak of
his good father and mother. The lad had been baptized, too,--given to
God when he drew his first breath,--and God must have rejected
him. Minister Stuart's son forged a note, and was sent with felons
across the sea. His father and mother had prayed for him all the
days of his life; he was brought to the kirk and given to God in
baptism; and God must have rejected him also. Think of good Stephen
and Anna Blair's children. Their daughter's name cannot be spoken
any more, and their sons are bringing down their gray hairs with
sorrow to the grave--with sorrow and shame too. Go through the
whole kirk, the whole town, the islands themselves, and you will
be forced to say, David, that it is the children of the righteous
that go to the devil."

"Nanna! Nanna!"

"It is the truth, David. How the good God can treat his bairns so, I
know not; but you and I may also deserve his wrath in like manner.
I am feared to hope different. O David, I am feared to be a mother
again!"

"Nanna! Nanna! what can I say?"

"There is nothing to say. If I should meet Vala in that place where
infants 'earnestly desire to see and love God, and yet are not able
to do so,' I should cover my face before the child. If she blamed me,
I should shiver in speechless agony; if she did not blame me, it
would be still harder to bear. Were we only sure--but we are not
sure."

"_We are not sure._" David repeated the words with a sad
significance. Nanna's argument, evolved from her own misery and
illustrated by that misery, had been before David's eyes for
months. He could not escape from such reasoning and from such
proof, and his whole life, education, and experience went to
enforce the pitiful dilemma in which their love had placed them.

"It is His will, and we must bear it to the uttermost," continued
Nanna, with a sorrowful resignation.

"I am very wretched, Nanna."

"So am I, David, very wretched indeed. I used to think monks and
nuns, and such as made a merit of not marrying, were all wrong; maybe
they are nearer right than we think for. Doubtless they have a tender
conscience toward God, and a tender conscience is what he loves."

Then David rose from Nanna's side and walked rapidly to and fro
in the room. Motion helped him to no solution of the tremendous
difficulty. And Nanna's patient face, her fixed outward gaze, the
spiritual light of resolute decision in her eyes, gave to her
appearance an austere beauty that made him feel as if this offering
up of their love and all its earthly sweetness was a sacrifice
already tied to the horns of the altar, and fully accepted.

Now, the law of duty lay very close to David's thoughts; it was an
ever-present consciousness, haunting his very being; but the sensual
nature always shrinks away from it. David sat down and covered his
face with his hands, and began to weep--to sob as strong men sob when
their sorrow is greater than they can bear; as they never sob until
the last drop, the bitterest drop of all, is added--the belief that
God has forsaken them. This was the agony which tore David's great,
fond heart in two. It forced from him the first pitiful words of
reproach against his God:

"I was sure at last that I was going to be happy, and God is not
willing. From my youth up he has ay laid upon me the rod of
correction. I wish that I had never been born!"

"My poor lad! but you are not meaning it." And Nanna put her arms
around his neck and wept with him. For some minutes he let her do
so, for he was comforted by her sympathy; but at last he stood up,
passed his hand across his eyes, and said as bravely as he could:

"You are right, Nanna. If you feel in this way, I dare not force
your conscience. But I must go away until I get over the sore
disappointment."

"Where will you go to, David?"

"Who can tell? The countries in which I may have to earn and eat my
bread I know not. But if I was seeing you every day, I might get to
feel hard at God."

"No, no! He fashioned us, David, and he knows what falls and sore
hurts we must get before we learn to step sure and safe."

"In the end it may all be right. I know not. But this I know: pain
and cold and hunger and weariness and loneliness I have borne with a
prayer and a tight mouth, and I have never said before that I thought
him cruel hard."

"His ways are not cruel, my dear love; they are only past our finding
out. The eternal which makes for righteousness cannot be cruel.
And if we could see God with our eyes, and hear him with our ears,
and understand him with our reason, what grace would there be in
believing in him? Did not the minister say last Sabbath that our
life was hid with Christ in God, and that therefore God must first be
pierced ere we could be hurt or prejudiced? Then let us take what
comfort we can in each other's affection, David, and just try and
believe that God's ways are the very best of all ways for us."

"Sometime--perhaps--"

"And don't leave me, David. I can bear all things if you are near to
help and comfort me."

"Ay, ay; but women are different. I cannot fight the temptation when
I am in it; I must run away from it. Farewell! Oh, dear, dear Nanna,
farewell!"

He kissed the words upon her lips, and went hastily out of the house;
but when he had walked about one hundred yards he returned. Nanna
had thrown herself despairingly upon the rude couch made for Vala,
and on which the child had spent most of her life. There Nanna lay
like one dead. David knelt down by her; he took her within his arms,
kissed her closed eyes, and murmured again upon her lips his last
words of love and sorrow. Her patient acceptance of her hard lot
made him quiver with pain, but he knew well that for a time, at
least, they must each bear their grief alone.

Nanna's confession of her love for him had made everything different.
In her presence now he had not the power to control his longing
for reciprocal affection. He felt already a blind resentment and
rebellion against fate--a sense of wrong, which it was hard to
submit to. But how could he fight circumstances whose foundations
were in eternity? At this hour, at least, he had come to the limit of
his reason and his endurance. Again and again he kissed Nanna
farewell, and it was like tearing his life asunder when he put away
her clinging arms and left her alone with the terrible problem
that separated their lives.

There is something worse than the pang of keenest suffering--the
passive state of a subjugated heart. A dismal, sullen stillness
succeeded to David's angry sorrow. He avoided Barbara and shut
himself in his room. And his strong and awful prepossession in
favor of the Bible led him, first of all, to go to the book. But
he found no help there. His soul was tossed from top to bottom, and
he was vanquished by the war in his own bosom. For in our wrestling
alone angels do not always come. And David brought his dogmas over
and over to the Scriptures, and was crushed spiritually between them,
so that at last, worn out with the mental and heart struggle, he
submitted to the fatality he could not alter.

"I will go the right road," he said, "however cruel that road may
be. Then death may give me back to God a miserable man, but not a
guilty one."

And he did not comprehend that, in thus preferring an unseen duty
because it was right to a seen pleasure because it was pleasant, he
was consummating that sublime act of faith whose cry of victory is,
"Thy will be done."

Nanna did not suffer so much. In the first place, the pale, sad,
almost despairing woman was glad and dared, in her despair, because
the man she loved durst not sin, even for her. In the second, her
battle was practically over. She had been in the van of it for
months, and had come gradually to that state of submission which
fears to resist, lest resistance might be found to be fighting
against God. While David was yet in an agony of struggle with
his love and his desires, his tender conscience and his dread of
offending the Deity, Nanna had washed away her tears, and was
strengthening her heart by saying continually, as the glancing
needles glided to and fro:

    My God and Father, while I stray
    Far from my home, on life's rough way,
    Oh, teach me from my heart to say,
          "Thy will be done!"

For some dauntless, primitive confidence in the love of the Maker of
men is older than any creed. And there were yet hours when Nanna's
soul outleaped its mortal shadow and had mystic flashes, native
and sweet, beyond the reach of will and endeavor--intimations of
serenities and compensations which would be neither small nor long
delayed.



X

IN THE FOURTH WATCH


Holding despair at bay, David quickly made his preparations for an
extended absence. He hired his boat and lines to Groat's sons,
and on the morning of the second day, after bidding Nanna farewell,
he went to Minister Campbell's to complete his arrangements. The
minister was writing his sermon, and he was not pleased at the
interruption; but when he saw David's face, the shadow of annoyance
on his own passed away like a thought. He dropped his pen, and
turned in his chair so as to see the young man fairly, and then
he asked:

"What is wrong, David?"

"I am all at sea, minister, drifting--drifting--"

"Where's your anchor, David? Can't you steady yourself on God? Can't
you make harbor someway?"

David shook his head sadly.

"Then up sail and out to sea, and face the storm. What quarter is
it from?"

"It comes from a woman."

"Ah, David, that is bad to buffet. I have been through it. It was
that storm which brought me here. I know all about it."

[Illustration: GROAT.]

"Please, minister, I think not. It is Nanna Sinclair."

"I thought so. You love her, David?"

"Better than my life."

"And she does not love you?"

"She loves me as I love her."

"Then what is there to make you miserable? In a few months, David,
you will marry her and be happy."

"Nanna will not marry me in a few months--she will not marry me at
all."

"Nanna ought not to trouble a good man with such threats. Of course
she will marry. Why not?"

Then David told the minister "why not." He listened at first with
incredulity, and then with anger. "Nanna Sinclair is guilty of great
presumption," he answered. "Why should she sift God's ordination
and call in question results she is not able to understand? Marriage
is in the direct command of God, and good men and women innumerable
have obeyed the command without disputing. It is Nanna's place to
take gratefully the love God has sent her--to obey, and not to argue.
Obedience is the first round of the ascending ladder, David; and
when any one casts it off, he makes even the commencement of
spiritual life impossible."

He spoke rapidly, and more as if he was trying to convince himself
than to console David. His words, in any case, made no impression.
David listened in his shy, sensitive, uncomplaining way, but the
minister was quite aware he had touched only the outermost edge of
feeling. David's eyes, usually mild and large, had now his soul
at their window. It was not always there, but when present it
infected and went through those upon whom it looked. The minister
could not bear the glance. He rose, and gently pushed David into
a chair, and laid his hands on his shoulders, and looked steadily at
him. He could see that a gap had been made in his life, and that the
bright, strong man had emerged from it withered and stricken. He
sat down by his side and said:

"Talk, David. Tell me all."

And David told him all, and the two men wept together. Yet, though
much that David said went like a two-edged sword through the
minister's convictions, he resented the thrust, and held on to his
stern plan of sin and retribution like grim death, all the more so
because he felt it to be unconsciously attacked. And when David said:
"It is the Shorter Catechism, minister; it is a hard book for
women and bairns, and I wonder why they don't teach them from the
Scriptures, which are easy and full of grace," the answer came
with a passionate fervor that was the protest for much besides the
catechism.

"David! David! You must say nothing against the Shorter Catechism.
It is the Magna Charta of Calvinism, and woe worth the day for
dear old Scotland when its silver trumpet shall no longer be heard
and listened to. Its rules and bonds and externals are all very
necessary. Believe me, David, few men would remain religious without
rules and bonds and externals."

"I am, as I said, minister, all at sea. I find nothing within my
soul, nothing within my life-experience, to give me any hope, and
I am going away a miserable man."

"David, your hope is not to be grounded on anything within yourself
or your life-experience. When you wish to steady your boat, do you
fix your anchor on anything within it, or do you cast your anchor
outside?"

"I cast it out."

"So the soul must cast out its anchor, and lay hold, not on anything
within itself, but on the hope set before it. The anchor of your
boat often drags, David, and you drift in spite of it, for there
is no sure bottom; but the soul that anchors on the truth of God, the
immutability of his counsels, the faithfulness of his promises, is
surely steadfast. For I will tell you a great thing, David: God has
given us this double guaranty--he has not only said, but sworn it."

Thus the two men talked the morning away. Then David remembered
that he had come specially to ask the minister to write out his
will and take charge of the money he would leave behind and the rents
accruing from the hire of his boat and lines. There was nothing
unusual in this request. Minister Campbell had already learned how
averse Shetlanders are to having dealings with a lawyer, and he was
quite willing to take the charge David desired to impose upon him.

"I may not come back to Shetland," David said. "My father went
away and never returned. I am bound for foreign seas, and I may go
down any day or night. All I have is Nanna's. If she is sick or
in trouble, you will see to her relief, minister. And if I come not
back in five years, sell the boat and lines and make over all to
Nanna Sinclair."

Then a writing was drawn up to this effect; and David brushed the
tears from his eyes with his right hand, and put it, wet with them,
into the minister's. He had nothing more to say with his lips, but
oh, how eloquent were his great, sad, imploring eyes! They went
together to the manse door, and then the minister followed him to
the gate of the small croft. And as they stood, one on either side
of it, David murmured:

"Good-by, minister."

"Good-by, David, and see that you don't think hardly of either your
God or your creed. Your God will be your guide, even unto death; and
as for your creed, whatever faults men may find in it, this thing
is sure: Calvinism is the highest form ever yet assumed by the moral
life of the world."

The next morning, in the cold white light of the early dawn, David
left Lerwick. The blue moon was low in the west, the mystery and
majesty of earth all around him. At this hour the sea was dark
and quiet, the birds being still asleep upon their rocky perches,
and the only noise was the flapping of the sails, and the water
purring softly with little treble sounds among the clincher chains
and against the sides of the boat. David was a passenger on the
mail-boat. He had often seen her at a distance, but now, being
on board, he looked her over with great interest. She seemed to be
nearly as broad as she was long, very bluff at the bows, and so
strongly built that he involuntarily asked the man at the wheel:
"What kind of seas at all is this boat built for?"

"She's built for the Pentland Firth seas, my lad, _weather
permitting_. And there's no place on God's land or water where
them two words mean so much; for I can tell you, weather _not_
permitting, even this boat couldn't live in them."

Gradually David made his way to Glasgow, and from Glasgow to
London. Queen Victoria had then just been crowned, and one day
David saw her out driving. The royal carriage, with its milk-white
horses, its splendid outriders and appointments, and its military
escort, made a great impression on him, but the fair, girlish face of
the young, radiant queen he never forgot. Hitherto kings and queens
had been only a part of his Bible history; he had not realized their
relation to his own life. Shetland was so far from London that
newspapers seldom reached Lerwick. Politics were no factor in its
social or religious life. The civil lords came to try criminal
cases, but the minister was the abiding power. Until David saw the
young queen he had not heard of her accession to the throne, but with
the first knowledge of her "right" there sprang up in his heart
the loyalty she claimed. Had any one asked him in that hour to
enter her service, he would have stepped on board her war-ships
with the utmost enthusiasm.

But nobody did ask him, and he found more commonplace employment
on the _Elizabeth_, a trig, well-built schooner, trading to the
Mediterranean for fruits and other products of the Orient. The
position was the very one his father had so earnestly desired.
Touching first at one historic city and then at another, living in
the sunshine, and seeing the most picturesque side of civilization,
David added continually to the store of those impressions which
go to make up the best part of life.

The captain of the _Elizabeth_ owned the vessel and was very fond
of her; consequently he was not long in finding out the splendid
sea qualities of the young Shetlander. On the fourth voyage he made
David his mate, and together they managed the _Elizabeth_ so cleverly
that she became famous for her speed and good fortune. It was indeed
wonderful to see what consciousness and sympathy they endowed her
with.

"_Elizabeth_ is behaving well," the captain said one morning, as he
watched her swelling canvas and noted her speed.

"There isn't much sea on," answered David; "hardly more than what
we used to call in Shetland 'a northerly lipper.' But yet I don't
like the look to the east'ard and the nor'ard."

"Nor I. You had better tell _Elizabeth_. Talk to her, David; coax
her to hurry and get out of the bay. Promise her a new coat of paint;
say that I think of having her figurehead gilded."

David was used to hearing _Elizabeth_ treated as if she were a
living, reasonable creature, but he always smiled kindly at the
imputation; it touched something kindred in his own heart, and he
replied:

"She'll do her best if she's well handled. It's her life as well as
ours, you know."

"It is; anybody knows that. If you ever went into shipping and
insurance offices, David, you would hear even landsmen say so. They
make all their calculations on the average _life_ of a ship. My lad,
men build her of wood and iron, but there is something more in a
good ship than wood and iron."

"Look to the east, captain."

Then there was the boatswain's whistle, and the shout of sailormen,
and the taking in of sails, and that hurrying and scurrying to make a
ship trig which precedes the certain coming of a great storm. And
the Bay of Biscay is bad quarters in any weather, but in a storm
it defies adequate description. When the wind has an iron ring and
calls like a banshee, and the waves rise to its order as high as the
masthead, then God help the men and ships on the Bay of Biscay!

Five days after the breaking of this storm the _Elizabeth_ was
sorely in need of such potential help. Her masts were gone, the
waves were doubling over her, and her plunges were like the dive
of a whale. At the wheel there was a man lashed,--for the hull was
seldom above water,--and this man was David Borson. He was the
only sailor left strong enough for the work, and he was at the last
point of endurance. The icy gusts roared past him; the spray was
like flying whiplashes; and it was pitiful to see David, with his
bleeding hands on the wheel, stolidly shaking his head as the spray
cut him.

He had been on deck for forty hours, buffeted by the huge waves,
and he was covered with salt-water boils. His feet were flayed and
frozen, and his hands so gashed that he dared not close or rest
them, lest the agony of unclasping or moving them again should make
him lose his consciousness. He feared, also, that his feet were so
badly frozen that he would never be able to walk on them any more.
These miseries others were sharing with him; but David had been
struck by a falling spar at the beginning of the storm, and there
was now an abscess forming on his lung that tortured him beyond
his usual speechless patience. "God pity me!" he moaned. "God pity
me!"

When the storm ceased the _Elizabeth_ was as bare as a newly
launched hull, and wallowing like a soaked log. David had fallen
forward on his face, and was asleep or insensible. He did not hear
the handspike thumped upon the deck, and the cry, "_On deck! on deck!
Lord help us! she is going down!_" But some one lifted him on to
a raft which had been hastily lashed together, and the misery that
followed was only a part of some awful hours when physical pain
from head to feet drove him to the verge of madness. He never knew
how long it was before they were met by the _Alert_, a large
passenger packet going into the port of London, and taken on
board. Four of the men were then dead from exhaustion, and the
physician on the _Alert_ looked doubtfully at David's feet.

"But he is dying," he said, "and why give him further pain?"

Then a young man stepped forward and looked at David. There was
both pity and liking in his face, and he stooped, and said something
in the dying man's ear. A faint smile answered the words; and the
youth spoke to the doctor, and both of them went to work with a
will. The effort, even then so desperate, was ere long complicated
by fever and delirium, and when David came to himself it was almost
like a new birth. He was weaker than an infant--too weak, indeed,
to wonder or speculate, or even remember.

He only knew that he was in a large room and that two men were with
him. One was at his bedside, quiet and drowsy; the other was reading
in a Bible, sitting close by the shaded candle. David knew it was a
Bible. Who does not know a Bible, even afar off? No matter how it
may be bound, the book has a homely and familiar look that no other
book has. David shut his eyes again after seeing it; he felt as safe
and happy as if a dear friend had spoken to him. And in a few days
the man with the Bible began to come near him, and to read softly
the most tender and gracious words he could find in that tenderest of
all books.

This was the beginning of an interval of delicious rest to David.
It was as if some strong angel swung and hushed and wrapped him in
a drowsy, blissful torpor. He felt no pain, not even in his tortured
feet, and his hands lay at rest upon the white coverlet, healed
of all their smarting and aching. For once in his hard life they
were not tired or sore. He knew that he was fed and turned, that
his pillows were made soft and cool, and that there was the vague
sense of kind presence about him; that sometimes he heard, like
a heavenly echo, words of comfort that he seemed to have heard long
ago; that he slept and wakened, and slept again, with a conscious
pleasure in the transitions.

And he asked no questions. He was content to let life lie in blissful
quiescence, to be still, and keep his eyes closed to the world, and
his ears deaf to its cries. Gradually these sensations increased
in strength. One day he heard his nurse say that it would be well
to remove him into an entirely fresh room. And he knew that he
was lifted in strong arms, and anon breathed a clearer atmosphere,
and slept a life-giving sleep. When he awoke he had new strength.
He voluntarily opened his eyes, and saw a tree waving branches
covered with fresh, crinkly leaves before his window. It was like a
glimpse of heaven. And that afternoon his preserver came to his side
and said:

"Thee is much better. Can thee listen to me now?"

Then David looked at the young man and smiled; and their eyes met,
and their hands met, and the well man stooped to the sick man and
kissed his cheek.

"I am Friend John Priestly," he said. "What is thy name?"

"David--David Borson--Shetland."

"David, thee is going to live. That is good news, is it not?"

"No; life is hard--cruel hard."

"Yes, but thee can say, 'The Lord is mine helper.' Thee can pray now?"

"I have no strength."

"If thee cannot speak, lift up thy hand. He will see it and answer
thee."

And David's face shadowed, and he did not lift up his hand; also, if
the whisper in his heart had been audible, John Priestly would have
heard him say, "What is the use of prayer? The Lord has cast me off."

But John did not try the strength of his patient further at that
time. He sat by his side, and laid his hand upon David's hand, and
began to repeat in a slow, assuring voice the One Hundred and Third
Psalm. Its familiar words went into David's ears like music, and
he fell sweetly asleep to its promises. For, though men in their
weakness and haste are apt to say, "The Lord hath forgotten to be
gracious," they who have but once felt his love, though dimly and
far off, cannot choose but trust in it, even to the grave.

And souls fraternize in their common exile. John Priestly loved
the young man whom he had saved, and David felt his love. As he
came fully back to life the past came clearly back to memory. He
remembered Nanna as those who love white jasmine remember it when its
starry flowers are gone--with a sweet, aching longing for their
beauty and perfume. He remembered those terrible days when physical
pain had been acute in every limb and every nerve, when he had
fainted with agony, but never complained. He remembered his lonely
journey to the grave's mouth, and the dim human phantoms who had
stood, as it were, afar off, and helped and cheered him as best
they could. And he understood that he had really been born again:
a new lease of life had been granted him, and he had come back to
earth, as so many wish to come back, with all his old loves and
experiences to help him in the future.

If only God would love him! If only God would give him ever so
small a portion of his favor! If he would only let him live humbly
before him, with such comfort of home and friends as a poor fisherman
might have! He wondered, as he lay still, what he or his fathers had
done that he should be so sorely punished. Perhaps he had shown
too great partiality to his father's memory in the matter of Bele
Trenby. Well, then, he must bear the consequences; for even at this
hour he could not make up his mind to blame his father more than
his father had blamed himself.

And as he lay watching the waving of the green trees, and inhaling
the scent of the lilies and violets from the garden below him, he
began to think of Shetland with a great longing. The bare, brown,
treeless land called him with a hundred voices, and thoughts of
Nanna came like a small bird winging the still, blue air. For sorrow
can endear a place as well as joy; and the little hut on the bare
moor, in which he could see Nanna working at her braiding or her
knitting, was the spot on all the earth that drew his soul with an
irresistible desire.

Oh, how he wanted to see Nanna! Oh, how he wanted to see her! Just to
hold her hand, and kiss her face, and sit by her side for an hour
or two! He did not wish either her conscience or his own less tender,
but he thought that now, perhaps, they might be cousins and friends,
and so comfort and help each other in the daily trials of their
hard, lonely lives.

One day, when he was much stronger, as he sat by the open window
thinking of these things, John Priestly came to read to him. John
had a faculty of choosing the sweetest and most comfortable
portions of the Book in his hand. This selection was not without
purpose. He had learned from David's delirious complainings the
intense piety of the youth, and the spiritual despair which had
intensified his sufferings. And he hoped God, through him, would
say a word of comfort to the sorrowful heart. So he chose, with
the sweet determination of love, the most glorious and the most
abounding words of the divine Father.

David listened with a reserved acceptance. It was in a measure a new
Scripture to him. It appeared partial. When John read, with a kind
of triumph, that the Lord "is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing
that _any_ should perish, but that _all_ should come to repentance,"
David made a slight movement of dissent; and John asked:

"Is not that a noble love? Thee believes in it, David?"

"No."

The word was softly but positively uttered.

"What then, David?"

"'Some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and
others foreordained to everlasting death; and their number is so
certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or
diminished.'" And David quoted these words from the Confession of
Faith with such confidence and despair that John trembled at them.

"David! David!" he cried. "Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the
lost."

"It is impossible for the lost to be saved," answered David, with a
somber confidence; "only the elect, predestined to salvation."

"And the rest of mankind, David? what of them?"

"God has been pleased to ordain them to wrath, that his justice may
be satisfied and glorified."

"David, who made thee such a God as this? Where did thee learn about
him? How can thee love him?"

"It is in the Confession of Faith. And, oh, John Priestly, I do love
him! Yes, I love him, though he has hid his face from me and, I fear,
cast me off forever."

"Dear heart," said John, "thee is wronging thy best Friend."

"If I could think so! Oh, if I could think so!"

"Well, then, as we are inquiring after God, and nothing less, is it
not fair to take him at his own word?"

David looked inquiringly at John, but made no answer.

"I mean, will it not be more just to believe what God says of himself
than to believe what men,--priests,--long ago dead, have said about
him?"

"I think that."

Then, one after another, the golden verses, full of God's love,
dropped from John's lips in a gracious shower. And David was
amazed, and withal a little troubled. John was breaking up all his
foundations for time and for eternity. He was using the Scriptures
to grind to powder the whole visible church as David understood it.
It was a kind of spiritual shipwreck. His slow nature took fire
gradually, and then burned fiercely. Weak as he was, he could
not sit still. John Priestly was either a voice in the wilderness
crying "Peace!" and "Blessing!" to him, or he was the voice of a
false prophet crying "Peace!" where there was no peace. He looked
into the face of this new preacher, frank and glowing as it was,
with inquiry not unmixed with suspicion.

"Well, then," he cried, "if these things be so, let God speak to me.
Bring me a Bible with large letters. I want to see these words with
my eyes, and touch them with my fingers."

The conversation thus begun was constantly continued, and David
searched the Scriptures from morning to night. Often, as the spring
grew fairer and warmer, the two young men sat in the garden with
the Bible between them; and while the sunshine fell brightly on
its pages they reasoned together of fate and free will, and of
that divine mercy which is from everlasting to everlasting. For
where young men have leisure spiritual things employ them much
more frequently than is supposed. Indeed, it is the young who are
most earnestly troubled about the next life; the middle-aged are too
busy with this one, and the aged do not speculate, because they
will soon know.

Thus, daily, little by little, through inlets and broader ways
known only to God and himself, the light grew and grew unto perfect
day, and flooded not only the great hills and promontories of his
soul, but also shone into all its secret caves and gloomy valleys
and lonely places. Then David knew how blind and ignorant he had
been; then he was penetrated with loving amazement, and humbled
to the dust with a sense of the wrong he had done the Father of
his spirit; and he locked himself in his room, and fell down on
his face before his God. But into that awful communion, in which
so much was confessed and so much forgiven, it is not lawful to
inquire.



XI

THE LOWEST HELL


After this the thought of Nanna became an irresistible longing. He
could not be happy until she sat in the sunshine of God's love with
him. He went into the garden and tested his strength, and as soon
as he was in the open air he was smitten with a homesickness not
to be controlled. He wanted the sea; he wanted the great North Sea;
he longed to feel the cradling of its salt waves under him; and
the idea of a schooner reefed down closely, and charging along over
the stormy waters, took possession of him. Then he remembered the
fishermen he used to know--the fishermen who peopled the desolate
places of the Shetland seas.

"I must go home!" he said with a soft, eager passion. "I must go home
to Shetland." And there was in his voice and accent that pride and
tenderness with which one's home should be mentioned in a strange
land.

When he saw John next he told him so, and they began to talk of
his life there. John had never asked him of his past. He knew him
to be a child of God, however far away from his Father, and he had
accepted his spiritual brotherhood with trustfulness. He understood
that it was David's modesty that had made him reticent. But when
David was ready to leave he also felt that John had a right to know
what manner of man he had befriended. So, as they sat together that
night, David began his history.

"I was in the boats at six years old," he said; "for there was always
something I could do. During the night-fishing, unless I went with
father, I was alone; and I had hours of such awful terrors that I am
sad only to remember them; it was better to freeze out on the sea,
if father would let me go with him. I was often hungry and often
weary; I had toothaches and earaches that I never spoke of; I was
frequently so sleepy that I fell down in the boat. And I had no
mother to kiss me or pity me, and the neighbors were shy and far off.
Father was not cross or unkind; he just did not understand. Even in
those days I wondered why God made little lads to be so miserable
and to suffer so much."

He spoke then in a very guarded way about that revelation in the
boat, for he felt rebuked for his want of faith in it; and he said
sorrowfully, as he left the subject, "Why, then, should God send
angels to men? They are feared of them while they are present, and
they doubt them when they are gone away. He sent one to comfort me,
and I denied it to my own heart; yes, even though I sorely needed
the comfort."

Then he took John to Shetland with him. He showed him, in strong,
simple words, the old Norse town, with its gray skies and its
gray seas, and its fishing-smacks hanging to the rushing sides of
foaming mountains. He described the hoary cliffs and their world
of sea-birds, the glorious auroras, the heavenly summers, and the
deadly chillness of the winter fogs as one drift after another
passed in dim and desolate majesty over the sea and land.

Slowly and with some hesitation he got to Nanna in her little stone
hut, braiding her straw and nursing her crippled baby. The tears
came into his eyes, he clasped his knees with his hands as if to
steady himself, while he spoke rapidly of her marriage with Nicol
Sinclair, the drowning of her father and brothers, the cruelty of her
husband, his desertion, his return, Nanna's terror of losing Vala,
the fatal typhus, her desolation, and her spiritual anguish about
Vala's condition. All these things he told John with that powerful
eloquence which is born of living, intense feeling.

John was greatly moved by the whole simple, tragic story, but he
spoke only on the last topic, for it seemed to him to dwarf all
other sorrow. It roused his indignation, and he said it was a
just and holy anger. He wondered how men, and especially mothers,
could worship a God who was supposed to damn little children before
they were born. He vowed that neither Moloch nor Baal, nor any pagan
deity, had been so brutal. He was amazed that ministers believing
such a doctrine dared to marry. What special right had they to
believe their children would all be elect? And if there was a shadow
of doubt on this subject, how awful was their responsibility! Nanna's
scruples, he said, were the only possible outcome of a conscientious,
unselfish soul believing the devilish doctrine. And he cried out
with enthusiasm:

"Nanna is to be honored! Oh, for a conscience as tender and void of
offense toward God! I will go to Shetland and kiss the hem of her
garment! She is a woman in ten thousand!"

"Well, then," said David, softly, "I shall take comfort to her."

"To think," said John, who was still moved by a holy anger, "to
think that God should have created this beautiful world as a nursery
for hell! that he should have made such a woman as Nanna to suckle
devils! No, no, David!" he said, suddenly calming himself; "thee
could never believe such things of thy God."

"I was taught them early and late. I can say the Confession of Faith
backward, I am sure."

"Let no man-made creed impose itself on thee, David--enter into thee,
and possess thee, and take the place of thy soul. The voice that
spoke from Sinai and from Bethlehem is still speaking. And man's
own soul is an oracle, if he will only listen to it--the inward,
instant sense of a present God, and of his honorable, true, and only
Son Christ Jesus."

"I will listen, if God will speak."

"Never thee mind catechisms and creeds and confessions. The Word of
God was before them, and the Word will be the Word when catechisms
and confessions are cast into the dusty museums of ancient things,
with all the other shackles of the world in bondage. David, there
is in every good man a spiritual center, answering to a higher
spiritual center in the universe. All controversies come back to
this."

"I wish, John Priestly, that you could see Nanna, and speak comfort
to her heart."

"That must be thy message, David. And be sure that thee knows well
the children's portion in the Scriptures. Thee must show Nanna that
_theirs is the kingdom_. What we win through great tribulation they
inherit through the love of the Father. _Theirs is the kingdom_; and
there is no distinction of elect or non-elect, as I read the title."

"I count the hours now until I am able to travel. I long for the sea
that stretches nor'ard to the ice, and the summer days, when the
sunset brightens the midnight. No need to egg me on. I am all the
time thinking of the old town growing out of the mist, and I know
how I shall feel when I stand on the pier again among the fishers,
when I hurry through the clean, quiet streets, while the kind people
nod and smile, and call to each other, 'Here is David Borson come
back again.'"

"And Nanna?"

"She is the heart of my longing."

"And thee is taking her glad tidings of great joy."

"I am that. So there is great hurry in my heart, for I like not to
sit in the sunshine and know that Nanna is weeping in the dark."

"Thee must not be discouraged if she be at first unable to believe
thy report."

"The hour will come. Nanna was ever a seeker after God. She will
listen joyfully. She will take the cup of salvation, and drink it
with thanksgiving. We shall stand together in the light, loving God
and fearing God, but not afraid of him. Faith in Christ will set her
free."

"But lean hard upon God's Word, David. There is light enough and
help enough for every strait of life in it. Let thy creed lie at
rest. There are many doors to scientific divinity, but there is only
one door to heaven. And I will tell thee this thing, David: if men
had to be good theologians before they were good Christians, the
blessed heaven would be empty."

"Yet, John, my theology was part of my very life. Nothing to me was
once more certain than that men and women were in God's hand as clay
in the potter's. And as some vessels are made to honor, and some to
dishonor, so some men were made for salvation and honor, and others
for rejection and dishonor."

"Clay in the potter's hand! And some for honor, and some for
dishonor! We will even grant that much; but tell me, David, does
the potter ever make his vessels for _the express purpose of
breaking them_? No, no, David! He is not willing that _any_ should
perish. Christ is not going to lose what he has bought with his
blood. The righteous are planted as trees by the watercourses,
but God does not plant any tree for fuel."

"He is a good God, and his name is Love."

"So, then, thee is going back to Shetland with glad tidings for many
a soul. What will thy hands find to do for thy daily bread?"

"I shall go back to the boats and the nets and lines."

"Would thee like to have a less dangerous way of earning thy bread?
My father has a great business in the city, and thee could drive one
of the big drays that go to the docks."

"I could not. I can carry a ship through any sea a ship can live
in; I could not drive a Shetland shelty down an empty street. I
am only a simple sea-dog. I love the sea. Men say for sure it is in
my heart and my blood. I must live on the sea. When my hour comes
to die, I hope the sea will keep my body in one of her clean, cool
graves. If God gives me Nanna, and we have sons and daughters, they
shall have a happy childhood and a good schooling. Then I will put
all the boys in the boats, and the girls shall learn to grow like
their mother, and, if it please God, they shall marry good men and
good fishers."

"It seems to me that the life of a fisher is a very hard one, and
withal that it hath but small returns."

"Fishers have their good and their bad seasons. They take their
food direct from the hand of God; so, then, good or bad, it is all
right. Fishers have their loves and joys and sorrows; birth and
marriage and death come to them as to others. They have the same
share of God's love, the same Bible, the same hope of eternal life,
that the richest men and women have. It is enough."

"And hard lives have their compensations, David. Doubtless the
fisherman's life has its peculiar blessings?"

"It has. The fisher's life is as free from temptation as a life can
be. He _has_ to trust God a great deal; if he did not he would very
seldom go into the boats at all."

"Yet he holds the ocean 'in the hollow of his hand.'"

"That is true. I never feel so surely held in the hollow of his hand
as when the waves are as high as my masthead, and my boat smashes
into the black pit below. There is none but God then. Thank you,
Friend John, but I shall live and die a fisherman."

"Would thee care to change Shetland for some warmer and less stormy
climate?"

"Would a man care to change his own father and mother for any other
father and mother? Stern and hard was my poor father, and he knew not
how to love; but his memory is dear to me, and I would not break
the tie between us--no, not to be the son of a king! My native land
is a poor land, but I have thought of her green and purple moors
among gardens full of roses. Shetland is my _home_, and home is sweet
and fair and dear."

"Traveling Zionward, David, we have often to walk in the wilderness.
Thee hast dwelt in Skye and in Shetland; what other lands hast thee
seen?"

"I have been east as far as Smyrna. I sat there and read the message
of 'the First and the Last' to its church. And I went to Athens,
and stood where St. Paul had once stood. And I have seen Rome and
Naples and Genoa and Marseilles, and many of the Spanish and French
ports. I have pulled oranges from the trees, and great purple grapes
from the vines, and even while I was eating them longed for the
oat-cakes and fresh fish of Shetland."

"Rome and Naples and Athens! Then, David, thee hast seen the fairest
cities on the earth."

"And yet, Friend John, what hells I saw in them! I was taken through
great buildings where men and women die of dreadful pain. I saw other
buildings where men and women could eat and sleep, and could not
think or love or know. I saw drinking-hells and gambling-hells. I saw
men in dark and awful prisons, men living in poverty and filth
and blasphemy, without hope for this world or the next. I saw men
die on the scaffold. And, John, I have often wondered if this world
were hell. Are we put here in low, or lower, or lowest hell to work
out our salvation, and so at last, through great tribulation, win
our weary way back to heaven?"

John Priestly was silent a few moments ere he answered: "If that were
even so, there is still comfort, David. For if we make our bed in
any of such hells,--mind, _we_ make it,--even there we are not beyond
the love and the pity of the Infinite One. For when the sorrows of
hell compassed David of old, he cried unto God, and he delivered
him from his strong enemy, and brought him forth into a large place.
So, then, David, though good men may get into hell, they do not need
to stay there."

"I know that by experience, John. Have I not been in the lowest pit,
in darkness, in the deeps, in that lowest hell of the soul where
I had no God to pray to? For how could I pray to a God so cruel that
I did not dare to become a father, lest he should elect my children
to damnation? a God so unjust that he loved without foresight of
faith or good works, and hated because it was his pleasure to hate,
and to ordain the hated to dishonor and wrath?"[4]

"And yet, David?"

"In my distress my soul cried out, '_God pity me! God pity me!_' And
even while I so wronged him he sent from above--he sent you, John;
he took me, he drew me out of many waters,--for great was his mercy
toward me,--and he delivered my soul from the lowest hell."

-----
[Footnote 4: Confession of Faith, chap. 3, secs. v-vii; chap. 16,
sec. vii.]



XII

"AT LAST IT IS PEACE"


A week after this conversation David was near Lerwick. It was very
early in the morning, and the sky was gray and the sea was gray,
and through the vapory veiling the little town looked gray and silent
as a city in a dream. During the voyage he had thought of himself
always as hastening at once to Nanna's house, but as soon as his
feet touched the quay he hesitated. The town appeared to be asleep;
there was only here and there a thin column of peat smoke from the
chimneys, and the few people going about their simple business in
the misty morning were not known to him. Probably, also, he had
some unreasonable expectation, for he looked sadly around, and,
sighing, said:

"To be sure, such a thing would never happen, except in a dream."

After all, it seemed best that he should go first to Barbara
Traill's. She would give him a cup of tea, and while he drank it
he could send one of Glumm's little lads with a message to Nanna.
There was nothing of cowardice in this determination; it was
rather that access of reverential love which, as it draws nearer,
puts its own desire and will at the feet of the beloved one.

Barbara's door stood open, and she was putting fresh fuel under
the hanging tea-kettle. The smell of the peat smoke was homely and
pleasant to David; he sniffed it eagerly as he called out:

"Well, then, mother, good morning!"

She raised herself quickly, and turned her broad, kind face to him.
A strange shadow crossed it when she saw David, but she answered
affectionately:

"Well, then, David, here we meet again!"

Then she hastened the morning meal, and as she did so asked question
after question about his welfare and adventures, until David said a
little impatiently:

"There is enough of this talk, mother. Speak to me now of Nanna
Sinclair. Is she well?"

"Your aunt Sabiston is dead. There was a great funeral, I can tell
you that. She has left all her money to the kirk and the societies;
and a white stone as high as two men has come from Aberdeen for her
grave. Well, so it is. And you must know, also, that my son has
married himself, and not to my liking, and so he has gone from me;
and your room is empty and ready, if you wish it so; and--"

"Yes, yes, Barbara! Keep your room for me, and I will pay the price
of it."

"I will do that gladly; and as for the price, we shall have no words
about that."

"All this is well enough, but, mother! mother! what is there to hide
from me? Speak with a straight tongue. Where is Nanna?"

Then Barbara said plainly, "Nanna is dead."

With a cry of amazed anguish David leaped to his feet, instinctively
covering his ears with his hands, for he could not bear such words to
enter them. "_Dead!_" he whispered; and Barbara saw him reeling and
swaying like a tottering pillar. She pushed a chair toward him, and
was thankful that he had strength left to take its support. But
she made no outcry, and called in none of the neighbors. Quietly she
stood a little way off, while David, in a death-like silence,
fought away the swooning, drowning wave which was making his heart
stand still and his limbs fail him. For she knew the nature of the
suffering man--knew that when he came to himself there would be
none but God could intermeddle in his heart's bitterness and loss.

After a sharp struggle David opened his eyes, and Barbara gave him a
drink of cold water; but she offered neither advice nor consolation.
Only when David said, "I am sick, mother, and I will go to my room
and lie down on my bed," she answered:

"My dear lad, that is the right way. Sleep, if sleep you can."

About sunsetting David asked Barbara for food; and as she prepared it
he sat by the open window, silent and stupefied, dominated by the
somber inertia of hopeless sorrow. When he began to eat, Barbara took
from a china jar two papers, and gave them to him.

"I promised Nanna to put them into your hands," she said.

[Illustration: ON THE WAY TO NANNA'S COTTAGE.]

"When did she die?"

"Last December, the fourteenth day."

"Did you see her on that day?"

"I was there early in the morning, for I saw there was snow to fall.
She was dead at the noon hour."

"You saw her go away?"

"No; I was afraid of the storm. I left her at ten o'clock. She could
not then speak, but she gave me the papers. We had talked of them
before."

"Then did she die alone?"

"She did not. I went into the next cottage and told Christine Yell
that it was the last hour with Nanna; and she said, 'I will go to
her,' and so she did."

"You should have stayed, mother."

"My lad, the snow was already falling, and I had to hasten across
the moor, as there was very good reason to do."

Then David went out, and Barbara watched him take the road that led
to Nanna's empty cottage. The door opened readily to the lifted
latch, and he entered the forsaken room. The peat fire had long
ago burned itself to ashes. The rose-plant, which had been Nanna's
delight, had withered away on its little shelf by the window. But
the neighbors had swept the floor and put the simple furniture in
order. David drew the bolt across the door, and opened the papers
which Nanna had left for him. The first was a bequest to him of the
cottage and all within it; the second was but a little slip on which
the dying woman had written her last sad messages to him:

    Oh, my love! my love! Farewell forever! I am come to the end
    of my life. I am going away, and I know not where to. All is
    dark. But I have cast myself at His feet, and said, "Thy will
    be done!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

    I am still alive, David. I have been alone all night, and every
    breath has been a death-pang. How can His eternal purpose need
    my bitter suffering? Oh, that God would pity me! His will be
    done!

                  *       *       *       *       *

    My love, it is nearly over. _I have seen Vala!_ At last it is
    peace--peace! His will be done! Mercy--mercy--mercy--

These pitiful despairs and farewells were written in a large,
childish hand, and on a poor sheet of paper. David spread this
paper upon Vala's couch, and, kneeling down, covered it with tears
and kisses; but anon he lifted it up toward heaven, and prayed as
men pray when they feel prayer to be an immediate and veritable
thing--when they detain God, and clasp his feet, and cling to his
robe, and will not let him go until he bless them.

Christine Yell had seen David enter the cottage, and after an hour
had passed she went to the door intending to speak to him; but
she heard the solemn, mysterious voice of the man praying, and she
went away and called her neighbors, Margaret Jarl and Elga Fae and
Thora Thorson. And they talked of David a little, and then Magnus
Thorson, the father-in-law of Thora, being a very old man, went
alone into Nanna's cottage to see David. And after a while the
women were called, and Christine took with her a plate of fish and
bread which she had prepared; and David was glad of their sympathy.

They sat down outside the door. The tender touch of the gray gloaming
softened the bleak cliffs and the brown moorland, and the heavens
were filled with stars. Then softly and solemnly Christine spoke of
Nanna's long, hard fight with death, and of the spiritual despair
which had intensified her suffering.

"It was in season and out of season that she was at Vala's grave,"
said Christine, "and kneeling and lying on the cold ground above her;
and the end was--what could only be looked for--a cough and a fever,
and the slow consumption that wasted her away."

"Was there none of you to comfort her?"

"It is true, David, that the child was never baptized," said
Christine; "so, then, what comfort could there be for her? And
then she began to think that God had never loved her."

"Thanks to the Best, she knows now how far wrong she was," said
David, fervently; "she knows now that his love is from everlasting
to everlasting. Her poor heart, wearied with so many sorrows and
troubled by so many fears, has tasted one supreme happiness--that
God is love."

"She thought for sure that he was continually angry with her. 'If
he had cared for my soul,' she said to me, one day, 'he would not
have let me marry Nicol Sinclair. He would have kept his hand about
me until my cousin David Borson came from the Hebrides. And if he
had cared for my poor bairn he would not, by this and that, have
prevented the minister coming to baptize her."

"Was she long ill?" asked David.

"At the beginning of last winter she became too ill to go to the
ordinances, and too feared to open her Bible, lest she should read
her own condemnation in it; and so gradually she seemed to lose all
hope, either for this life or the next one. And folk wearied of her
complaining, I think."

"The elders and the minister, did they not try to comfort her?"

"At first Elder Peterson and Elder Hoag came to see her; but Nanna
put strange questions to them--questions they could not answer;
and they said the minister could not answer them, either--no, nor
the whole assembly of the kirk of Scotland. And I was hearing that
the minister was angered by her words and her doubting, and he
told her plainly 'women had no call to speer after the "why" of
God's purposes.' And indeed, David, she was very outspoken,--for she
was fretful with pain and fever,--and she told him that she was
not thankful to go to hell for the glory and honor of God, and that,
moreover, she did not want to go to heaven if Vala was not there.
And when the minister said, '_Whist_, woman!'--for he was frightened
at her words,--she would not be still, but went on to wonder how
fathers and mothers could be happy, even in the very presence of
God, if their sons and daughters were wandering in the awful outer
darkness; and, moreover, she said she was not grateful to God for
life, and she thought her consent to coming into life on such hard
terms ought to have been first asked."

And Christine looked at David, and ceased speaking, for she was
afraid that her words would both anger and trouble the young man.
But David's eyes were full of happy tears, and there was a tender
smile round his mouth. He was thinking of the glad surprises that
Nanna must have had--she who belonged to the God of compassions.
After all her shuddering questions and lamentable doubts and cruel
pain, the everlasting arms under her; Vala and her beloved dead to
comfort her; ineffable peace; unclouded joy; the night past; the
last tear wiped away! At that moment he felt that it was too late to
weep for Nanna; indeed, he smiled like one full of blessed thought.
And Christine, a little irritated by the unexpected mood, did not
further try to smooth over the hard facts of the lonely woman's
death-bed.

"The minister was angry with her, and he said God was angry. And
Nanna said, well, then, she knew that he did not care about her
perishing; it was all one to him. A little happiness would have
saved her, and he refused her the smallest joy; and she did not
see how crushing the poor and broken-hearted in the dust increased
his glory. The minister told her she was resisting God, and she said,
no; that was not possible. God was her master, and he smote her,
and perhaps had the right to do so; but she was not his child: no
father would treat a child so hardly as he had treated her. She
was a slave, and must submit, and weep and die at the corner of the
highway. And, to be sure, the minister did not think of her pain
and her woman's heart,--what men do?--and he thought it right to
speak hard words to her. And then Nanna said she wished they would
all leave her alone with her sorrow, and so they did."

Then, suddenly and swiftly as a flash of light, a word came to David.
His heart burned, and his tongue was loosened, and then and there
he preached to the old man and the three women the unsearchable
riches of the cross of Christ. He glorified God because Nanna had
learned Christ at the radiant feet of Christ, in the joy and love of
the redeemed. He took his Bible from his pocket, and repeated all
the blessed words he had marked and learned. Until the midnight
moon climbed cold and bright to the zenith he spoke. And old Magnus
Thorson stood up, leaning on his staff, full of holy wonder, and
the women softly sobbed and prayed at his feet. And when they parted
there was in every heart a confident acceptance of David's closing
words:

"Whoever rests, however feebly, on the eternal mercy shall live
forever."

After this "call" sleep was impossible to David. That insight
which changes faith into knowledge had comforted him concerning his
dead. He lay down on Vala's couch, and he felt sure that Nanna's
smile filled the silence like a spell; for there are still moments
when we have the transcendental faculties of the illuminated who,
as the apostle says, "have tasted of the powers of the world to
come"--still moments when we feel that Jacob's ladder yet stands
between heaven and earth, and that we can see the angels ascending
and descending upon it. He was so still that he could hear the
beating of his own heart, but clear and vivid as light his duty
spread out before him. He had found his vocation, and, oh, how
rapidly men grow under the rays of that invisible sun!

The next morning he went to see the minister. He was seated, writing
his sermon, precisely as David had found him on the occasion of his
last visit. So much had happened to David since that morning that he
found it difficult to believe nothing had happened to the minister.
He looked up at the interruption with the same slight annoyance, but
the moment he saw David his manner changed. He rose up quickly and
went to meet him, and as he clasped his hand looked with curious
intentness into his face.

"You are much changed, David," he said. "What has happened to you?"

"Everything, nearly, minister. The David Borson who left here two
years ago is dead and buried. I have been born again."

"That is a great experience. Sit down and tell me about it."

"Yes, minister, but first I must speak of Nanna Sinclair."

"She is dead, David; that is true."

"She has gone home. She has gone to the God who loved her."

"I--hope so."

"I know it is so. Nanna loved God, and those who love God in life
will find no difficulty in going to him after life is over."

"She had a hard life, and it was all in the dark to her."

"But at the death-hour it was light, though the light was not of this
world." And David told the minister about the farewell message
she had written him, and its final happy words, "_At last it is
peace--peace!_" He could not bear that any eyes should see the
paper, or any hand touch it, but his own; but he wished all to
know that at the death-hour God had comforted her.

"She suffered a great deal, David."

"What ailed her, minister?"

"What ails the lamp, David, when it goes out? There is no oil, that
is all. Nanna used up all her strength in weeping and feeling; the
oil of life wastes quickly in that way."

"O minister, I am so sorry that I left her! It was selfish and cruel.
I wish now that I could cover her hands with kisses, and ask her
pardon on my knees; but I find nothing but a grave."

"Ah, David, it is death that forces us to see the selfishness that
comes into our best affections. Self permitted you to give all you
had to Nanna, but forbade you to give yourself. There was self even
in your self-surrender to God. If you could have seen that long, long
disappointed look in Nanna's eyes, and the pale lips that asked so
little from you--"

"O minister, spare me! She asked only, 'Stay near me, David';
and I might have stayed and comforted her to the end. Oh, for one
hour--one hour only! But neither to-day nor to-morrow, nor through
all eternity, shall I have the opportunity to love and soothe
which I threw away because it hurt me and made my heart ache."
And David bowed his head in his hands and wept bitterly.

Alas! love, irreparably wronged, possesses these eternal memories;
and the soul, forced to weep for opportunities gone forever, has
these inconsolable refinements of tenderness. "One hour--one hour
only!" was the cry of David's soul. And the answer was, "No, never!
She has carried away her sorrow. You may, indeed, meet her where
all tears are dried and forgotten; but while she did weep you were
not there; you had left her alone, and your hour to comfort her has
gone forever."

After a short silence the minister went to his desk, and brought
from it David's purse, and he laid it, with the will that had been
written, before him. "It is useless now," he said. "Nanna has need
of nothing you can give her."

"Did it do any good, minister?"

"Yes, a great deal. When Nanna was no longer able to come to the
kirk, I went to see her. She was miserably sick and poor, and it
made my heart ache to watch her thin, trembling fingers trying to
knit. I took her work gently out of her hands, and said, 'You are
not able to hold the needles, Nanna, and you have no need to try to
do so. There is provision made for all your wants.' And she flared
up like whin-bushes set on fire, and said she had asked neither kirk
nor town for help, and that she trusted in God to deliver her from
this life before she had to starve or take a beggar's portion."

"O minister, if God had not comforted me concerning her, you would
break my heart. What did you say to the dear woman?"

"I said, 'It is neither kirk nor town nor almsgivers that have
provided for your necessity, Nanna; it is your cousin David Borson.'
And when she heard your name she began to cry, '_O David! David!_'
And after I had let her weep awhile I said, 'You will let your cousin
do for you at this hour, Nanna?' And she answered, 'Oh, yes; I
will take any favor from David. It was like him to think of me.
Oh, that he would come back!' So I sent her every week ten shillings
until she died, and then I saw that she was decently laid beside her
mother and her little child; and I paid all expenses from the
money you left. There is a reckoning of them in the papers. Count
it, with the money."

"I will not count after you, minister."

"Well, David, God has counted between us. It is all right to the
last bawbee. Now tell where you have been, and what you have seen
and suffered; for it is written on your face that you have seen many
hard days."

Then David told all about his wanderings and his shipwreck, and the
mercy of God to him through his servant John Priestly. But when he
tried to speak of the new revelation of the gospel that had come
to him, he found his lips closed. The fire that had burned on them
the night before, when he spoke under the midnight sky to the old
fisherman and the fisherwives, was dead and cold, and he could not
kindle it; so he said to himself, "It is not yet the hour." And he
went out of the manse without telling one of all the glorious things
he had resolved to tell. Neither was he troubled by the omission. He
could wait God's time. God, who has made the heart, can always touch
the heart, but he felt that just then his words would irritate
rather than move; besides, it was not necessary for him to speak
unless he got the message. He could not constrain another soul,
but there was One who led by invisible cords.

As they stood a moment at the manse door the minister said, "Your
aunt Sabiston has gone the way of all flesh."

"I heard tell," answered David. "How did she go?"

"Like herself--grim and steadfast to the last. She would not take
to her bed; she met death in her chair. When the doctor told her
Death was in the room, she stood up, and welcomed him to her house,
and said, 'I have long been waiting for your release.' I tried to
talk to her, but she told me to my face that I had nothing to do
with her soul. 'If I am lost, I am lost,' she said; 'and if I am
chosen, who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?' She
said she believed herself to be the child of God, and that, though
she had made some sore stumbles and been fractious and ill to
guide, she had done no worse than many of his well-loved bairns,
and she expected no worse welcome home. 'I have been long away,
minister,' she sighed, 'getting on to a century away, and I'll be
glad to win home again.' And those were her last words."

"God be merciful to her! In this world, I think, she was an unjust
and cruel woman."

"She was so, then, without moral disquietude. The sin had got into
her soul, and she was comfortable with it. God is her judge. He only
knew her aright. She left her money wisely and for good ends."

"I heard tell, to the kirk and the societies and the freedom fund.
Yet she had kinsfolk in the Orkneys."

"They are all very rich. They went to lawyers about her property,
but Mistress Sabiston had made all too fast and sure for any one to
alter. She was a woman that would have her way, dead or alive."

"Well, then, this time, it seems, her way is a good way."

After this David settled his life very much on the old lines. He
went to live in Nanna's cottage, and returned to the boats and
the fishing with Groat's sons. As for his higher duty, that vocation
that had come to him on that blessed night when God opened his
mouth and he spoke wonderful and gracious things of his law, he was
never for a moment recreant to it. But the kingdom of God frequently
comes without observation. To preach a sermon, that was a thing
far outside David's possibilities. The power of the church, and
its close and exclusive privileges, were at that day in Shetland
papal in prerogative. David never dreamed of encroaching on them;
nor, indeed, would public opinion have permitted him to do so.

As it was, there grew gradually a feeling of unrest about David.
Though he was humble and devout in all kirk exercises, it was known
that the people gathered round him not only in his own cottage,
but at Groat's and Barbara Traill's, and that he spoke to them of
the everlasting gospel as never man had spoken before to them. It
was known that when the boats lay stilly rocking on the water,
waiting for the "take," David, sitting among his mates, reasoned
with them on the love of God, until every face of clay flushed
with a radiance quite different from mere color--a radiance that
was a direct spiritual emanation, a shining of the soul through
mere matter. And as these men were all theologians in a measure,
with their "creed" and "evidences" at their tongues' end, it was
a wonderful joy to watch their doubts, like the needle verging to
the pole, tremble and tremble into certainty.

[Illustration: "WENT IN AND OUT AMONG HIS MATES."]

In about three years such opposition as David roused was strong
enough to induce the kirk to consider his behavior. The minister
sent for him, and in the privacy of his study David's opportunity
came at last. For he spoke so eloquently and mightily of the mercy
of the Infinite One that the minister covered his face, and when
the young man ceased speaking, he looked tenderly at him, and sent
him away with his blessing. And afterward he said to the elders:

"There is nothing to call a session anent. David Borson has been to
the school of Christ, and he is learned in the Scriptures. We will
not silence him, lest haply we be found to be fighting against God."

Thus for many a year David went in and out among his mates and
friends, living the gospel in their sight. The memory of Nanna
filled his heart; he loved no other woman, but every desolate and
sorrowful woman found in him a friend and a helper. And he drew the
little children like a magnet. He was the elder brother of every
boy and girl who claimed his love; his hands were ever ready to
help them, his heart was ever ready to love them. And in such blessed
service he grew nobly aged.

He had come to Shetland when the islands were very far off, when
the Norse element ruled them, and the Christianized men and women
of the sagas dwelt alone in the strong, quaint stone houses they
had built. He lived to see the influx of the southern race and
influences, the coming of modern travel and civilization; but he
never altered his life, for in its simple, pious dignity it befitted
any era.

Now, it is noticeable that good men very often have their desire
about the manner of their death. And God so favored his servant
David Borson. He went out alone one day in his boat, and a sudden
storm came up from the northeast. He did not return. Some said there
had been no time to take in the boat's sail, and that she must have
gone down with her canvas blowing; others thought she had become
unmanageable and drifted into some of the dangerous "races" near
the coast.

But, this manner or that manner, David went to heaven as he desired,
"by the way of the sea," and God found his body a resting-place
among its cool, clean graves--a sepulcher that no man knoweth of,
nor shall know until the mighty angel sets his right foot upon the
sea, and swears that there shall "be time no longer."

  Transcriber Notes

  Spelling and punctuation inaccuracies were silently corrected.
  Archaic and variable spelling is preserved.
  Author's punctuation style is preserved.
  Passages in italics indicated by _underscores_.





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