Page images

bed and his nights at the tavern. His father, an honest thrall, was dead; his mother lived by splitting and drying stock-fish for English traders. He was the foolish old woman's pride, and she kept him. Such was the man whom the daughter of the Governor had chosen before the Minister for Iceland.

At that Jorgen's hard face grew livid and white by turns. They were sitting at supper in Government House, and, with an oath, the Governor brought his fist down on the table. It was a lie; his daughter knew no more of the man than he did. The Count shrugged his shoulders, and asked where she was then, that she was not with them. Jorgen answered, with an absent look, that she was forced to keep her room.

At that moment a message came for the Count. It was urgent, and could not wait. The Count went to the door, and, returning presently, asked if Jorgen was sure that his daughter was in the house. Certain of it he was, for she was ill, and the days were deepening to winter. But for all his assurance, Jorgen sprang up from his seat and made for his daughter's chamber. She was not there, and the room was empty. The Count met him in the corridor. “Follow me,” he whispered, and Jorgen followed, his proud, stern head bent low.

In the rear of the Government House at Reykjavík there is a small meadow. That night it was inches deep in the year's first fall of snow, but two persons stood together there, close locked in each other's arms Stephen Orry and the daughter of Jorgen Jorgensen. With the tread of a cat a man crept up behind them. It was the brother of Patriksen. At his back came the Count and the Governor. The snow-cloud lifted, and a white gush of moonlight revealed all. With a cry of a wild beast Jorgen flung himself between his daughter and her lover, leapt at Stephen and struck him hard on the breast, and then, as the girl dropped to her knees at his feet, he cursed her. “Bastard,” he shrieked, “there's no blood of mine in your body. Go to your filthy offal, and may the devil damn you both.”

She stopped her ears to shut out the torrent of a father's curse, but before the flood of it was spent she fell backward cold and senseless, and her upturned face was whiter than the snow. Then her giant lover lifted her in his arms and strode away in silence.


The daughter of the Governor-General and the seaman of Stappen were made man and wife, and the little Lutheran priest who married them, Sir Sigfus Thomson, a worthy man and a good Christian, had reason to remember the ceremony. Within a week he was removed from his chaplaincy at the capital to the parsonage of Grimsey, the smallest cure of the Icelandic Church, on an island separated from the mainland by seven Danish miles

of sea.

The days that followed brought Rachel no cheer of life. She had thought that her husband would take her away to his home under Snaefell, and so remove her from the scene of her humiliation. He excused himself, saying that Stappen was a poor place, where the great ships never put into trade, and that there was more chance of livelihood at Reykjavík. Rachel crushed down her shame, and they took a mean little house in the fishing quarter. Stephen did no work. Once he went out four days with a company of Englishmen as guide to the Geysers, and on his return he idled four weeks on the wharves, looking at the foreign seamen as they arrived by the boats. The fame of his exploit at Thingvellir had brought him a troop of admirers, and what he wanted for his pleasure he never lacked. But necessity began to touch him at home, and then he hinted to Rachel that her father was rich. She had borne his indifference to her degradation, she had not murmured at the idleness that pinched them, but at that word something in her heart seemed to break. She bent her head and said nothing. He went on to hint that she should go to her father, who seeing her need would surely forgive her. Then her proud spirit could brook no more. “Rather than darken my father's doors again,” she said, “I will starve on a crust of bread and a drop of water."

Things did not mend, and Stephen began to cast down his eyes in shame when Rachel looked at him. Never a word of blame she spoke, but he reproached himself and talked of his old mother at Stappen. She was the only one who could do any good with him. She knew him, and did not spare him. When she was near he worked sometimes, and did not drink too much. He must send for her.

[ocr errors]

Rachel raised no obstacle, and one day the old mother came, perched on a bony, ragged-eared pony, and with all her belongings in the pack behind her. She was a little, hard-featured woman; and, at the first sight of her seamed and blotted face, Rachel's spirit sank.

The old woman was active and restless. Two days after her arrival she was at work at her old trade of splitting and drying stock-fish. All the difference that the change had made for her was that she was working on the beach at Reykjavík instead of the beach at Stappen, and living with her son and her son's wife instead of alone.

Her coming did not better the condition of Rachel. She had measured her new daughter-in-law from head to foot at their first meeting, and neither smiled nor kissed her. She was devoted to her son, and no woman was too good for him. Her son had loved her, and Rachel had come between them. The old woman made up her mind to hate the girl, because her fine manners and comely face were a daily rebuke to her own coarse habits and homely looks, and an hourly contrast always present to Stephen's eyes.

Stephen was as idle as ever, and less ashamed of his sloth now that there was some one to keep the wolf from the door. His mother accepted with cheerfulness the duty of breadwinner to her son, but Rachel's helplessness chafed her. For all her fine fingering the girl could finger nothing that would fill the pot. “A pretty wife you've brought me home to keep,” she muttered morning and night.

But Rachel's abasement was not even yet at its worst. “Oh,” she thought, “if I could but get back my husband to myself alone, he would see my humiliation and save me from it.” She went a woman's way to work to have the old mother sent home to Stappen. But the trick that woman's wit can devise woman's wit can baulk, and the old mother held her ground. Then the girl bethought her of her old shame at living in a hovel close to her father's house, and asked to be taken away. Anywhere, anywhere, let it be to the world's end, and she would follow. Stephen answered that one place was like another in Iceland, where the people were few and all knew their story; and, as for foreign parts, though a seaman he was not a sea-going man, farther than the whale-fishing about their coasts, and that, go where they might to better their condition, yet other poor men were there already. At that, Rachel's heart sank, for she saw that the great body of her husband must cover a pygmy soul. Bound she was for all her weary days to the place of her disgrace, doomed she was to live to the last with the woman who hated her, and to eat that woman's bitter bread. She was heavy with child at this time, and her spirit was broken. So she sat herself down with her feet to the hearth, and wept.

There the old mother saw her as often as she bustled in and out of the house from the beach, and many a gibe she flung her way. But Stephen sat beside her one day with a shamefaced look, and cursed his luck, and said if he only had an open boat of his own what he would do for both of them. She asked how much a boat would cost him, and he answered sixty crowns; that a Scotch captain then in the harbor had such a one to sell at that price, and that it was a better boat than the fishermen of those parts ever owned, for it was English built. Now it chanced that sitting alone that very day in her hopelessness, Rachel had overheard a group of noisy girls in the street tell of a certain Jew, name Bernard Frank, who stood on the jetty by the stores buying hair of the young maidens who would sell to him, and of the great money he had paid to some of them, such as they had never handled before.

And now at this mention of the boat, and at the flash of hope that came with it, Rachel remembered that she herself had a plentiful head of hair, and how often it had been commended for its color and texture, and length and abundance, in the days (now gone forever) when all things were good and beautiful that belonged to the daughter of the Governor. So making some excuse to Stephen, she rose up, put off her hufa, her little housecap with the tassel, put on her large linen head-dress, hurried out, and made for the wharf.

There in truth the Jew was standing with a group of girls about him. And some of these would sell outright to him, and then go straightway to the stores to buy filigree jewelry and rings, or bright-hued shawls, with the price of their golden locks. some would hover about him, between desire of so much artificial adornment and dread of so much natural disfigurement, until



like moths they would fall before the light of the Jew's bright silver.

Rachel had reached the place at the first impulse of her thought, but being there her heart misgave her, and she paused on the outskirts of the crowd. To go in among these girls and sell her hair to the Jew, was to make herself one with the lowest and meanest of the town, but that was not the fear that held her back. Suddenly the thought had come to her that what she had intended to do was meant to win her husband back to her, yet that she could not say what it was that had won him for her at the first. And seeing how sadly the girls were changed after the shears had passed over their heads, she could not help but ask herself what it would profit her, though she got the boat for her husband, if she lost him for herself? And thinking in this fashion, she was turning away with a faltering step, when the Jew, seeing her, called to her, saying what lovely hair she had, and asking would she part with it. There was no going back on her purpose then, so facing it out as bravely as she could, she removed her head-dress, dropped her hair out of the plaits, until it fell in sunny wavelets to her waist, and asked how much he would give for it. The Jew answered, "Fifty crowns."

“Make it sixty,” she said, “and it is yours.”

The Jew protested that he would lose by the transaction, but he paid the money into Rachel's hands, and she, lest she should repent of her bargain, prayed him to take her hair off instantly. He was nothing loath to do so, and the beautiful flaxen locks, cut close to the crown, fell in long tresses to his big shears. Rachel put back her linen head-dress, and, holding tightly the silver pieces in her two hands, hurried home.

Her cheeks were crimson, her eyes were wet, and her heart was beating high when she returned to her poor home in the fishing quarter. There, in a shrill, tremulous voice of joy and fear, she told Stephen all, and counted out the glistening coins to the last of the sixty into his great hand.

“And now you can buy the English boat,” she said, “and we shall be beholden to no one."

He answered her wild words with few of his own, and showed little pleasure; yet he closed his hand on the money, and getting up, he went out of the house, saying he must see the Scotch

« PreviousContinue »