Puslapio vaizdai

sure of his welcome; for, though Paul was but his second cousin, they were both Borsons, sprung from the same Norse root, children of the same great ancestor, the Norwegian Bor.

It was near noon when he reached Lerwick. He had dressed himself with care, and he managed his boat with a skill which he expected a town of fishermen and sailors to take notice of. Alas, it is so difficult to find a fortunate hour! David could hardly have fallen on a more depressing one. The trade of the early morning was over, and the men were in their houses taking that sleep which those who toil by night must secure in the daytime. The fishing-boats, 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 were 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 dwellingplace 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 houseshouses so tall, and so fantastic, and so much larger than any 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 na 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, 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.»>

«I am Liot Borson's son.»>
«You? »

«Yes. Have I any kin left? >>


«There is your far-cousin Nanna. was Paul's one daughter, and he saw the sun shine through her eyes. She is but badly off now. But 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 on his own shoulder. 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 only of poverty and 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 you and him?»

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 deadlooking 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

«He was hard and silent, but I could al- sullen waters; yet untold myriads of sea-birds ways lean on him as much as I liked.»

That is a good deal to say.»

«So I think.»

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

<< Paul Borson was of the same kindsilent, but full of deeds; and his daughter Nanna, she also has a great heart.»> "Show me where she lives; I will go to her paused a moment. They were the abodes of now; and 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 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 keep to the trodden path, for outside 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 homecoming 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-making. He and his will be well off,» Liot had affirmed more than once. And one day while he could yet stand in the door of his hut he had looked longingly northward and said: «Oh, if I could win hame 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?

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 once 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 as 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. This is your little cousin Vala. She is nearly two years old. Is she not 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 small, 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 the courage to ask her a 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 and of the life 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-fleet leaving the harbor, and in the fairy light they looked like living things with outspread wings. Two fishers were standing at a housedoor 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 think

ing 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? » «None can tell. He will come no more to Shetland.»

«Nanna is poor; she is in trouble. Who is to blame?»>

«Nicol Sinclair. Sorrow and suffering and ill luck he has brought her-and there is no help for it.»

«No help for it! I will see about that. Tell me all, but make no more of the matter than it is worth.»

«Little need is there to do that. Think for yourself. What cruel things can a bad man do to a good woman? All of them have been done to Nanna Sinclair by her husband. Before her father and brothers were drowned he kept her in his breast like a great treasure; after that he set himself to put her in the grave. When her baby was born he said to her face, Die, and get out of my way. And one night he lured her to the cliff-top, and quarreled with her there, and men think -yes, and women think, too-that he threw the child into the water, and that Nanna leaped after it. But, this way or that way, Magnus Crawford took them out of the sea, and Nanna had a fever and knew nothing at all, and the child was much hurt, for it has never walked nor yet spoken a word-and there are some that say it never will.»

Then David rose to his feet, and began to walk furiously about the small room. His face was as 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 joy to see thee do it. I would say, Well done, David Borson! As for Sinclair, he got off without a question; yes, he sold the house Paul Borson gave to Nanna, and all its plenishing, and whatever else he could put his hands on. And he took also all the money out of the bank which Paul had left his daughter; and when no one saw him in the night-time-he went off, the devil knows where.»

« Were there no men in Lerwick at that time?»

«Many men were in Lerwick-men, too. who never get to their feet for nothing. But Nanna said, I have sorrow enough; bring not back that sorrow also. »

"I am glad that God has made Tophet for such men,» said David, passionately. «Often

[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[graphic][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

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, 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: «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.

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 would 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 for Nanna and Vala.

Nanna herself had acknowledged the strength of this claim. He remembered how gladly she had welcomed him. He could feel yet the warm clasp of her hands, and the shining of her eyes was like nothing he had ever seen before. Even little Vala had been pleased to lie in his strong arms; she had put up her small mouth for his kiss, and had slept an hour upon his breast. As he thought of that kiss he felt it on his lips warm and sweet, for it was the very first kiss that he had ever consciously received. 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. Are there any of my mother's family living?»

«The Sabistons are gone south to Kirkwall. They are handy at money-getting, and the rumor goes abroad that they are rich and masterful, and ill to deal with.>>

«Few people are better spoken of than they deserve.»>

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

« AnkstesnisTęsti »