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An Orkney Maid by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

For at least three minutes Ragnor made no answer


will do right," she said, "and if he does, Ian will come home with him."

The position was a cruel one to Conall Ragnor and he went to meet the packet with a heavy heart. Then Ian's joyful face and his impatience to land made it more so, and Ragnor found it impossible to connect wrong-doing with the open, handsome countenance of the youth. On the contrary, he found himself without intention declaring:

"Well, then, I never found anything the least zig-zaggery about what he said or did. His words and ways were all straight. That is the truth."

Yet Ian's happy mood was instantly dashed by Ragnor's manner. He did not take his offered hand and he said in a formal tone: "Ian, we will go to my office before we go to the house. I must ask thee some questions."

"Very well, sir. Thora, I hope, is all right?"

"No. She has been very ill."

"Then let me go to her, sir, at once."

"Later, I will see about that."

"Later is too late, let us go at once. If Thora is sick----"

"Be patient. It is not well to talk of women on the street. No wise man, who loves his womenkin, does that."

Then Ian was silent; and the walk through the busy streets was like a walk

in a bad dream. The place and circumstances felt unreal and he was conscious of the sure presence of a force closing about him, even to his finger tips. Vainly he tried to think. He felt the trouble coming nearer and nearer, but what was it? What had he done? What had he failed to do? What was he to be questioned about?

Young as he was his experiences had taught him to expect only injury and wrong. The Ragnor home and its love and truth had been the miracle that had for nine months turned his brackish water of life into wine. Was it going to fail him, as everything else had done? He laughed inwardly at the cruel thought and whispered to himself: "This, too, can be borne, but oh, Thora, Thora!" and the two words shattered his pride and made him ready to weep when he sat down in Ragnor's office and saw the kind, pitiful face of the elder man looking at him. It gave him the power he needed and he asked bluntly what questions he was required to answer.

Ragnor gave him the unhappy letter and he read it with a look of anger and astonishment. "Father," he said, "all this woman writes is true and not true; and of all accusations, these are the worst to defend. I must go back to my very earliest remembrances in order to fairly state my case, and if you will permit me to do this, in the presence of your wife and Thora, I will then accept whatever decision you make."

For at least three minutes Ragnor made no answer. He sat with closed eyes and his face held in the clasp of his left hand. Ian was bending forward, eagerly watching him. There was not a movement, not a sound; it seemed as if both men hardly breathed. But when Ragnor moved, he stood up. "Let us be going," he said, "they are anxious. They are watching. You shall do as you say, Ian."

Rahal saw them first. Thora was lying back in her mother's chair with closed eyes. She could not bear to look into the empty road watching for one who might be gone forever. Then in a blessed moment, Rahal whispered, "They are coming!"

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