One Wrong Step.
Chapter III.
 

It was a Saturday night in the beginning of August, and John was at home until the following Monday. He dressed himself and went out towards Brogar, and Christine watched him far over the western moor, and blessed him as he went. He had not seen Margaret for many days, but he had a feeling to-night that she would be able to keep her tryst. And there, standing amid the rushes on the lakeside, he found her. They had so much to say to each other that Margaret forgot her father's return, and delayed so long that she thought it best to go straight home, instead of walking down the beach to meet him.

He generally left Stromness about half-past eight, and his supper was laid for nine o'clock. But this night nine passed, and he did not come; and though the delay could be accounted for in various ways, she had a dim but anxious forecasting of calamity in her heart. The atmosphere of the little parlor grew sorrowful and heavy, the lamp did not seem to light it, her father's chair had a deserted, lonely aspect, the house was strangely silent; in fifteen minutes she had forgotten how happy she had been, and wandered to and from the door like some soul in an uneasy dream.

All at once she heard the far-away shouting of angry and alarmed voices, and to her sensitive ears her lover's and her father's names were mingled. It was her nature to act slowly; for a few moments she could not decide what was to be done. The first thought was the servants. There were only two, Hacon Flett and Gerda Vedder. Gerda had gone to bed, Hacon was not on the place. As she gathered her energies together she began to walk rapidly over the springy heath towards the white sands of the beach. Her father, if he was coming, would come that way. She was angry with herself for the if. Of course he was coming. What was there to prevent it? She told herself, Nothing, and the next moment looked up and saw two men coming towards her, and in their arms a figure which she knew instinctively was her father's.

She slowly retraced her steps, set open the gate and the door, and waited for the grief that was coming to her. But however slow her reasoning faculties, her soul knew in a moment what it needed. It was but a little prayer said with trembling lips and fainting heart; but no prayer loses its way. Straight to the heart of Christ it went. And the answer was there and the strength waiting when Ragon and Hacon brought in the bleeding, dying old man, and laid him down upon his parlor floor.

Ragon said but one word, "Stabbed!" and then, turning to Hacon, bid him ride for life and death into Stromness for a doctor. Most sailors of these islands know a little rude surgery, and Ragon stayed beside his friend, doing what he could to relieve the worst symptoms. Margaret, white and still, went hither and thither, bringing whatever Ragon wanted, and fearing, she knew not why, to ask any questions.

With the doctor came the dominie and two of the town bailies. There was little need of the doctor; Peter Fae's life was ebbing rapidly away with every moment of time. There was but little time now for whatever had yet to be done. The dominie stooped first to his ear, and in a few solemn words bid him lay himself at the foot of the cross. "Thou'lt never perish there, Peter," he said; and the dying man seemed to catch something of the comfort of such an assurance.

Then Bailie Inkster said, "Peter Fae, before God an' his minister--before twa o' the town bailies an' thy ain daughter Margaret, an' thy friend Ragon Torr, an' thy servants Hacon Flett an' Gerda Vedder, thou art now to say what man stabbed thee."

Peter made one desperate effort, a wild, passionate gleam shot from the suddenly-opened eyes, and he cried out in a voice terrible in its despairing anger, "John Sabay! John Sabay--stabb-ed--me! Indeed--he--did!"

"Oh, forgive him, man! forgive him! Dinna think o' that now, Peter! Cling to the cross--cling to the cross, man! Nane ever perished that only won to the foot o' it." Then the pleading words were whispered down into fast-sealing ears, and the doctor quietly led away a poor heart-stricken girl, who was too shocked to weep and too humbled and wretched to tell her sorrow to any one but God.