Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

T

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE.

(A STORY OF SHETLAND.)

BY AMELIA E. BARR,

Author of Friend Olivia,» «Jan Vedder's Wife,» «The Bow of Orange Ribbon,» etc.

I.

WITH PICTURES MADE IN SHETLAND BY LOUIS LOEB.

IN TWO PARTS: PART I.

HE roll of a spent gale was swinging round Vatternish toward the red, rent bastions of Skye, and its thunder amid the purple caves of the basalt and the whitened tiers of the oölite could be heard on the moor above the seaside cliffs. It was a lonely, melancholy moor, covered with heather and boulders, and encompassed by cyclopean wrecks of mountains, the vapory outlines of which suggested nothing but endless ruin.

The season was midsummer, but there had been surly whiffs of sharp rain in quick succession all day long, and the dreary levels were full of little lochs of black moss-water. Near the seaward side the land was higher, and there a circle of druidical monoliths stood huge and pale in the misty air.

Within this circle was a man. He was leaning against one of the pillars, and his fishingnets lay upon the low central stone which had been the sacrificial altar of the dead creed. He was young and 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 the solitary figure; he was the unconscious incarnation of the lonely land and the stormy sea.

His name was David Borson. He was the son of Liot Borson, and he lived alone with his father in a little hut between Dun Lea and Uig. Liot said they were Shetlanders, and the truth of this statement was evident; for Liot and his son were as distinctly Norse as the men of Uig were Celtic. They had the amazing size and strength of Shetlanders, and their

fitful energy. They had also their love of silence, being men with closed lips, not garrulous like the Celts around them, yet subject to hours of rare but passionate and overflowing explanations.

Nevertheless they had been picked up in an open boat on the stormy waters of the Great Minch, far away from the misty island of the Shetland seas. Liot said they had sailed from Lerwick, intending to go to Stornoway, that he might leave his motherless boy with a sister who lived there: «after which it was my thought to see the world and make my fortune,» he added; «but my thought and God's will were not the same, and I am sent to Uig, and have nothing to say against it.»

David was three years old then, and he was now twenty-three, a youth whom a sad destiny had led far astray from happiness. For though he had a nature affectionate and poetic, he had never known any expression of loving-kindness, while hard toil and hard fare and much physical suffering had been the sum of all his experiences. He did not rebel against his fate; he took it as 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.

The phantoms of a gloomy creed had darkened all his childhood; before he had shed his baby teeth hell was a tremendous reality to him. An immaculate, pitiless God, who delighted in the taking of vengeance on his enemies, haunted all his boyhood's dreams, and the «scheme of salvation,» by which perchance this implacable Deity might be conciliated, had been the beginning and the end of his education. With amazing distinctness in question and answer this scheme » had been laid before him, and by the word and the rod of admonition he had been made familiar with the letter of its awful law.

Until his twentieth year David had lived under this spiritual tyranny, considering life

only as a short, precarious opportunity for working out his salvation with fear and trembling, that peradventure he might be counted among the remnant whom God would elect to save from eternal misery. The constant east winds and cloudy heavens, the cold and stormy seas, the gloom and poverty of all his surroundings, were so many confirmations of this unhappy conviction. 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 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 yet desired there was apparently nothing but 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 night he was subject to doubts he could not fight away. The whole fabric of his creed vanished at times before this inexplicable celestial 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 for 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 his 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 was thinking of these things as he

VOL. LII.-S5.

leaned against the pagan pillar. Though the rain smote him east and west, he was in the sunshine of the Holy Land; he was drawing the nets with Simon Peter on the Sea of Galilee. 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 Glasgow market. The sight set him again in the middle of the nineteenth century. Then he felt the rain, and he drew his bonnet over his brows, and lifted his broken nets, and began to walk toward the little black hut on the horizon. It was his home, and he knew his father was waiting there for his coming. But the radiant, dreamy look which had made him. handsome was gone, and the dogged air of one who simply endures gave to his face and figure and walk a characteristic hopelessness.

The hut was of large stones roughly mortared together. 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 it was also dim with dust and cobwebs. David approached the door with the air of a man weary of to-day and without hope for the morrow; but at the threshold he threw off this attitude 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.

«It is well you are come, David,» he said; «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 o' my death; no one shall hurry or delay it.» "The doctor might give you some ease from your sore pain.»

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

"Tell me what you wish, father. I will do all that you say.»

« When you have put me in my grave, go to Shetland for me. I thought to do my ain errand-to get there just in time to do it, and die; but it is hard counting wi' Death; he comes sooner than you expect. David, I have brought you up in the way of life. Think no wrong o' me when I am gane awa' forever.

Indeed, you'll no' daur to!» he said, with a sudden flash of his natural pride in himself; «for, though I may have had a sair downfa', I could na get awa' 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 o' my little slip. I might die, lad, and say naething 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 no man can make me afraid at this hour. And there is nae sin, I hope, in letting Skade Trenby know I owe his brother Bele 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 na ask that much favor, being only Liot Borson. And no doubt the Lord suffered me to pay my ain 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 were 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'll swither and scruple no longer. I will e'en tell the whole truth anent the drowning o' Bele Trenby. Bele and I were friends in a way until he meddled between me and Karen Sabiston. He had no shadow of right in the lassie, for I had set my heart on her, and she had given me her promise; and I said then, and I'll say it now with death at my elbow, that he had no right to step between me and Karen. Yet he did that thing, and if it had not been for the minister I had stabbed him to his false heart. But the minister bid me bear the wrong, because I was of the household o' faith, and a born and baptized child of God, having come-mind this, David-o' generations of his saints. He said if wrong Bele had done me, 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 rode together I knew the hour had come.»

«You took not the matter in your own hand, 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 word for a child of the Evil One? Had Bele been of the elect I would have borne that in my 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 rode 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 bridle was loose, - Bele said again, Here is the crossing); and I told him neither yes nor no; and he said, It seemeth to me, Liot, thou art in a devil's temper, and I will stay no longer with thee. So with the ill words on his lips he rode into the stream, and then overhead into the moss he wentand 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 wi' my Maker. If I did sin I have paid the price o' the sin. Your mother was given to me, but in less than two years the Lord took her away. I thought to fill my eyes with a sight o' 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 wi' Death, knowing a' the time he would get the better o' me at 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 o' dying, my lad-victory and defeat. Thank God, I have the mastery through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour! »

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

«Sin!» cried the dying man, «sin! I have naething 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 nath'less he was a man after God's ain heart. What has man to do with my fault? He has entered into judgment with me, and I have borne the hand of the smiter.»

«And you have the intercessor.»

<< If I had not I would plead my ain 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 him. But I'm no' fearing the place of torment, David; and as for this world, it is at my feet now like a cast-off shoe, and all its gold and gear is as the wrack of the sea. But you'll find a few sovereigns in my chest, and a letter for your uncle Paul Borson, and the ship and the house you may do your will with.>>

«It is your will in all things 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 na caring to say to me-a word o' sorrow or remorse->

"Remorse! Remorse! No, no, David! Remorse is for feeble souls. Remorse is the virtue o' hell. Remorse would sin again if it could. I have repented, lad, 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 passed he whispered feebly: "The pains o' 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 on me: I found trouble and sorrow.

«Then called I upon the name of the Lord: 0 Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.

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

mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. «For thou hast delivered my soul from death, « 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. As far as this world was concerned, Liot Borson was a dead man. For two days he lingered on its outermost shoal, but at sunrise on 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 majesty and grandeur. It was evident that in Liot's case the great change had meant victory, and not defeat. 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 the 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 but small wealth in it-only three 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 found her again yet, and then he kissed the bits of faded script and laid them upon the glowing peats. The money he put in his pocket; 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 last winter,» he said to himself, «to shelter her five fatherless bairns, and if my father liked any one mair than others it was Angus Campbell.»

"

Then he went out and looked at the boat. << It is small,» he mused, «but it will carry me

to Shetland. I can keep in the shadows of the shore, and, though it be a far sail round Cape Wrath and Dunnet Head, it is summer weather, and I'll win my way if so it 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.

II.

DURING his solitary journey David had been cheered by the thought that he was going home. Though Liot Borson had spoken little of his cousin Paul, and David had not found the letter which was to be his introduction to him, he had yet no doubts as to his welcome; time might wither friendship and slay love, but his kindred were his kindred, bound to him by the ineffaceable and imperishable ties of blood and race.

He approached Lerwick in that divine. twilight which in the Shetland summer links day unto day. He was charmed by the clear air, the serene seas, and the tranquil grandeur of the caverned rocks which guard the lonely isles. 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 ancestors.

To the tumult of almost impossible hopes he brought in his little craft. He had felt certain that his appearance would awaken interest and speculation at once; 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 a 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 would seek them out, for in his heart there was love enough and to spare for kindred, however distant. 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 this personal leaning was again strengthened by the inherited tendency of Norse families to "stand by each other in all haps.» Therefore he felt

« AnkstesnisTęsti »