The Master of Ballantrae
Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 2 out of 5
direction, and must continually return upon our steps. Ballantrae
had indeed collected what he could from Dutton; but it's hard to
travel upon hearsay; and the estuary, which spreads into a vast
irregular harbour, turned us off upon every side with a new stretch
We were near beside ourselves, and already quite spent with
running, when, coming to the top of a dune, we saw we were again
cut off by another ramification of the bay. This was a creek,
however, very different from those that had arrested us before;
being set in rocks, and so precipitously deep that a small vessel
was able to lie alongside, made fast with a hawser; and her crew
had laid a plank to the shore. Here they had lighted a fire, and
were sitting at their meal. As for the vessel herself, she was one
of those they build in the Bermudas.
The love of gold and the great hatred that everybody has to pirates
were motives of the most influential, and would certainly raise the
country in our pursuit. Besides, it was now plain we were on some
sort of straggling peninsula, like the fingers of a hand; and the
wrist, or passage to the mainland, which we should have taken at
the first, was by this time not improbably secured. These
considerations put us on a bolder counsel. For as long as we
dared, looking every moment to hear sounds of the chase, we lay
among some bushes on the top of the dune; and having by this means
secured a little breath and recomposed our appearance, we strolled
down at last, with a great affectation of carelessness, to the
party by the fire.
It was a trader and his negroes, belonging to Albany, in the
province of New York, and now on the way home from the Indies with
a cargo; his name I cannot recall. We were amazed to learn he had
put in here from terror of the SARAH; for we had no thought our
exploits had been so notorious. As soon as the Albanian heard she
had been taken the day before, he jumped to his feet, gave us a cup
of spirits for our good news, and sent big negroes to get sail on
the Bermudan. On our side, we profited by the dram to become more
confidential, and at last offered ourselves as passengers. He
looked askance at our tarry clothes and pistols, and replied
civilly enough that he had scarce accommodation for himself; nor
could either our prayers or our offers of money, in which we
advanced pretty far, avail to shake him.
"I see, you think ill of us," says Ballantrae, "but I will show you
how well we think of you by telling you the truth. We are Jacobite
fugitives, and there is a price upon our heads."
At this, the Albanian was plainly moved a little. He asked us many
questions as to the Scotch war, which Ballantrae very patiently
answered. And then, with a wink, in a vulgar manner, "I guess you
and your Prince Charlie got more than you cared about," said he.
"Bedad, and that we did," said I. "And, my dear man, I wish you
would set a new example and give us just that much."
This I said in the Irish way, about which there is allowed to be
something very engaging. It's a remarkable thing, and a testimony
to the love with which our nation is regarded, that this address
scarce ever fails in a handsome fellow. I cannot tell how often I
have seen a private soldier escape the horse, or a beggar wheedle
out a good alms by a touch of the brogue. And, indeed, as soon as
the Albanian had laughed at me I was pretty much at rest. Even
then, however, he made many conditions, and - for one thing - took
away our arms, before he suffered us aboard; which was the signal
to cast off; so that in a moment after, we were gliding down the
bay with a good breeze, and blessing the name of God for our
deliverance. Almost in the mouth of the estuary, we passed the
cruiser, and a little after the poor SARAH with her prize crew; and
these were both sights to make us tremble. The Bermudan seemed a
very safe place to be in, and our bold stroke to have been
fortunately played, when we were thus reminded of the case of our
companions. For all that, we had only exchanged traps, jumped out
of the frying-pan into the fire, ran from the yard-arm to the
block, and escaped the open hostility of the man-of-war to lie at
the mercy of the doubtful faith of our Albanian merchant.
From many circumstances, it chanced we were safer than we could
have dared to hope. The town of Albany was at that time much
concerned in contraband trade across the desert with the Indians
and the French. This, as it was highly illegal, relaxed their
loyalty, and as it brought them in relation with the politest
people on the earth, divided even their sympathies. In short, they
were like all the smugglers in the world, spies and agents ready-
made for either party. Our Albanian, besides, was a very honest
man indeed, and very greedy; and, to crown our luck, he conceived a
great delight in our society. Before we had reached the town of
New York we had come to a full agreement, that he should carry us
as far as Albany upon his ship, and thence put us on a way to pass
the boundaries and join the French. For all this we were to pay at
a high rate; but beggars cannot be choosers, nor outlaws
We sailed, then, up the Hudson River, which, I protest, is a very
fine stream, and put up at the "King's Arms" in Albany. The town
was full of the militia of the province, breathing slaughter
against the French. Governor Clinton was there himself, a very
busy man, and, by what I could learn, very near distracted by the
factiousness of his Assembly. The Indians on both sides were on
the war-path; we saw parties of them bringing in prisoners and
(what was much worse) scalps, both male and female, for which they
were paid at a fixed rate; and I assure you the sight was not
encouraging. Altogether, we could scarce have come at a period
more unsuitable for our designs; our position in the chief inn was
dreadfully conspicuous; our Albanian fubbed us off with a thousand
delays, and seemed upon the point of a retreat from his
engagements; nothing but peril appeared to environ the poor
fugitives, and for some time we drowned our concern in a very
irregular course of living.
This, too, proved to be fortunate; and it's one of the remarks that
fall to be made upon our escape, how providentially our steps were
conducted to the very end. What a humiliation to the dignity of
man! My philosophy, the extraordinary genius of Ballantrae, our
valour, in which I grant that we were equal - all these might have
proved insufficient without the Divine blessing on our efforts.
And how true it is, as the Church tells us, that the Truths of
Religion are, after all, quite applicable even to daily affairs!
At least, it was in the course of our revelry that we made the
acquaintance of a spirited youth by the name of Chew. He was one
of the most daring of the Indian traders, very well acquainted with
the secret paths of the wilderness, needy, dissolute, and, by a
last good fortune, in some disgrace with his family. Him we
persuaded to come to our relief; he privately provided what was
needful for our flight, and one day we slipped out of Albany,
without a word to our former friend, and embarked, a little above,
in a canoe.
To the toils and perils of this journey, it would require a pen
more elegant than mine to do full justice. The reader must
conceive for himself the dreadful wilderness which we had now to
thread; its thickets, swamps, precipitous rocks, impetuous rivers,
and amazing waterfalls. Among these barbarous scenes we must toil
all day, now paddling, now carrying our canoe upon our shoulders;
and at night we slept about a fire, surrounded by the howling of
wolves and other savage animals. It was our design to mount the
headwaters of the Hudson, to the neighbourhood of Crown Point,
where the French had a strong place in the woods, upon Lake
Champlain. But to have done this directly were too perilous; and
it was accordingly gone upon by such a labyrinth of rivers, lakes,
and portages as makes my head giddy to remember. These paths were
in ordinary times entirely desert; but the country was now up, the
tribes on the war-path, the woods full of Indian scouts. Again and
again we came upon these parties when we least expected, them; and
one day, in particular, I shall never forget, how, as dawn was
coming in, we were suddenly surrounded by five or six of these
painted devils, uttering a very dreary sort of cry, and brandishing
their hatchets. It passed off harmlessly, indeed, as did the rest
of our encounters; for Chew was well known and highly valued among
the different tribes. Indeed, he was a very gallant, respectable
young man; but even with the advantage of his companionship, you
must not think these meetings were without sensible peril. To
prove friendship on our part, it was needful to draw upon our stock
of rum - indeed, under whatever disguise, that is the true business
of the Indian trader, to keep a travelling public-house in the
forest; and when once the braves had got their bottle of SCAURA (as
they call this beastly liquor), it behoved us to set forth and
paddle for our scalps. Once they were a little drunk, goodbye to
any sense or decency; they had but the one thought, to get more
SCAURA. They might easily take it in their heads to give us chase,
and had we been overtaken, I had never written these memoirs.
We were come to the most critical portion of our course, where we
might equally expect to fall into the hands of French or English,
when a terrible calamity befell us. Chew was taken suddenly sick
with symptoms like those of poison, and in the course of a few
hours expired in the bottom of the canoe. We thus lost at once our
guide, our interpreter, our boatman, and our passport, for he was
all these in one; and found ourselves reduced, at a blow, to the
most desperate and irremediable distress. Chew, who took a great
pride in his knowledge, had indeed often lectured us on the
geography; and Ballantrae, I believe, would listen. But for my
part I have always found such information highly tedious; and
beyond the fact that we were now in the country of the Adirondack
Indians, and not so distant from our destination, could we but have
found the way, I was entirely ignorant. The wisdom of my course
was soon the more apparent; for with all his pains, Ballantrae was
no further advanced than myself. He knew we must continue to go up
one stream; then, by way of a portage, down another; and then up a
third. But you are to consider, in a mountain country, how many
streams come rolling in from every hand. And how is a gentleman,
who is a perfect stranger in that part of the world, to tell any
one of them from any other? Nor was this our only trouble. We
were great novices, besides, in handling a canoe; the portages were
almost beyond our strength, so that I have seen us sit down in
despair for half an hour at a time without one word; and the
appearance of a single Indian, since we had now no means of
speaking to them, would have been in all probability the means of
our destruction. There is altogether some excuse if Ballantrae
showed something of a grooming disposition; his habit of imputing
blame to others, quite as capable as himself, was less tolerable,
and his language it was not always easy to accept. Indeed, he had
contracted on board the pirate ship a manner of address which was
in a high degree unusual between gentlemen; and now, when you might
say he was in a fever, it increased upon him hugely.
The third day of these wanderings, as we were carrying the canoe
upon a rocky portage, she fell, and was entirely bilged. The
portage was between two lakes, both pretty extensive; the track,
such as it was, opened at both ends upon the water, and on both
hands was enclosed by the unbroken woods; and the sides of the
lakes were quite impassable with bog: so that we beheld ourselves
not only condemned to go without our boat and the greater part of
our provisions, but to plunge at once into impenetrable thickets
and to desert what little guidance we still had - the course of the
river. Each stuck his pistols in his belt, shouldered an axe, made
a pack of his treasure and as much food as he could stagger under;
and deserting the rest of our possessions, even to our swords,
which would have much embarrassed us among the woods, we set forth
on this deplorable adventure. The labours of Hercules, so finely
described by Homer, were a trifle to what we now underwent. Some
parts of the forest were perfectly dense down to the ground, so
that we must cut our way like mites in a cheese. In some the
bottom was full of deep swamp, and the whole wood entirely rotten.
I have leaped on a great fallen log and sunk to the knees in
touchwood; I have sought to stay myself, in falling, against what
looked to be a solid trunk, and the whole thing has whiffed away at
my touch like a sheet of paper. Stumbling, falling, bogging to the
knees, hewing our way, our eyes almost put out with twigs and
branches, our clothes plucked from our bodies, we laboured all day,
and it is doubtful if we made two miles. What was worse, as we
could rarely get a view of the country, and were perpetually
justled from our path by obstacles, it was impossible even to have
a guess in what direction we were moving.
A little before sundown, in an open place with a stream, and set
about with barbarous mountains, Ballantrae threw down his pack. "I
will go no further," said he, and bade me light the fire, damning
my blood in terms not proper for a chairman.
I told him to try to forget he had ever been a pirate, and to
remember he had been a gentleman.
"Are you mad?" he cried. "Don't cross me here! And then, shaking
his fist at the hills, "To think," cries he, "that I must leave my
bones in this miserable wilderness! Would God I had died upon the
scaffold like a gentleman!" This he said ranting like an actor;
and then sat biting his fingers and staring on the ground, a most
I took a certain horror of the man, for I thought a soldier and a
gentleman should confront his end with more philosophy. I made him
no reply, therefore, in words; and presently the evening fell so
chill that I was glad, for my own sake, to kindle a fire. And yet
God knows, in such an open spot, and the country alive with
savages, the act was little short of lunacy. Ballantrae seemed
never to observe me; but at last, as I was about parching a little
corn, he looked up.
"Have you ever a brother?" said be.
"By the blessing of Heaven," said I, "not less than five."
"I have the one," said he, with a strange voice; and then
presently, "He shall pay me for all this," he added. And when I
asked him what was his brother's part in our distress, "What!" he
cried, "he sits in my place, he bears my name, he courts my wife;
and I am here alone with a damned Irishman in this tooth-chattering
desert! Oh, I have been a common gull!" he cried.
The explosion was in all ways so foreign to my friend's nature that
I was daunted out of all my just susceptibility. Sure, an
offensive expression, however vivacious, appears a wonderfully
small affair in circumstances so extreme! But here there is a
strange thing to be noted. He had only once before referred to the
lady with whom he was contracted. That was when we came in view of
the town of New York, when he had told me, if all had their rights,
he was now in sight of his own property, for Miss Graeme enjoyed a
large estate in the province. And this was certainly a natural
occasion; but now here she was named a second time; and what is
surely fit to be observed, in this very month, which was November,
'47, and I BELIEVE UPON THAT VERY DAY AS WE SAT AMONG THESE
BARBAROUS MOUNTAINS, his brother and Miss Graeme were married. I
am the least superstitious of men; but the hand of Providence is
here displayed too openly not to be remarked. (5)
The next day, and the next, were passed in similar labours;
Ballantrae often deciding on our course by the spinning of a coin;
and once, when I expostulated on this childishness, he had an odd
remark that I have never forgotten. "I know no better way," said
he, "to express my scorn of human reason." I think it was the
third day that we found the body of a Christian, scalped and most
abominably mangled, and lying in a pudder of his blood; the birds
of the desert screaming over him, as thick as flies. I cannot
describe how dreadfully this sight affected us; but it robbed me of
all strength and all hope for this world. The same day, and only a
little after, we were scrambling over a part of the forest that had
been burned, when Ballantrae, who was a little ahead, ducked
suddenly behind a fallen trunk. I joined him in this shelter,
whence we could look abroad without being seen ourselves; and in
the bottom of the next vale, beheld a large war party of the
savages going by across our line. There might be the value of a
weak battalion present; all naked to the waist, blacked with grease
and soot, and painted with white lead and vermilion, according to
their beastly habits. They went one behind another like a string
of geese, and at a quickish trot; so that they took but a little
while to rattle by, and disappear again among the woods. Yet I
suppose we endured a greater agony of hesitation and suspense in
these few minutes than goes usually to a man's whole life. Whether
they were French or English Indians, whether they desired scalps or
prisoners, whether we should declare ourselves upon the chance, or
lie quiet and continue the heart-breaking business of our journey:
sure, I think these were questions to have puzzled the brains of
Aristotle himself. Ballantrae turned to me with a face all
wrinkled up and his teeth showing in his mouth, like what I have
read of people starving; he said no word, but his whole appearance
was a kind of dreadful question.
"They may be of the English side," I whispered; "and think! the
best we could then hope, is to begin this over again."
"I know - I know," he said. "Yet it must come to a plunge at
last." And he suddenly plucked out his coin, shook it in his
closed hands, looked at it, and then lay down with his face in the
ADDITION BY MR. MACKELLAR. - I drop the Chevalier's narration at
this point because the couple quarrelled and separated the same
day; and the Chevalier's account of the quarrel seems to me (I must
confess) quite incompatible with the nature of either of the men.
Henceforth they wandered alone, undergoing extraordinary
sufferings; until first one and then the other was picked up by a
party from Fort St. Frederick. Only two things are to be noted.
And first (as most important for my purpose) that the Master, in
the course of his miseries buried his treasure, at a point never
since discovered, but of which he took a drawing in his own blood
on the lining of his hat. And second, that on his coming thus
penniless to the Fort, he was welcomed like a brother by the
Chevalier, who thence paid his way to France. The simplicity of
Mr. Burke's character leads him at this point to praise the Master
exceedingly; to an eye more worldly wise, it would seem it was the
Chevalier alone that was to be commended. I have the more pleasure
in pointing to this really very noble trait of my esteemed
correspondent, as I fear I may have wounded him immediately before.
I have refrained from comments on any of his extraordinary and (in
my eyes) immoral opinions, for I know him to be jealous of respect.
But his version of the quarrel is really more than I can reproduce;
for I knew the Master myself, and a man more insusceptible of fear
is not conceivable. I regret this oversight of the Chevalier's,
and all the more because the tenor of his narrative (set aside a
few flourishes) strikes me as highly ingenuous.
CHAPTER IV. - PERSECUTIONS ENDURED BY MR. HENRY.
You can guess on what part of his adventures the Colonel
principally dwelled. Indeed, if we had heard it all, it is to be
thought the current of this business had been wholly altered; but
the pirate ship was very gently touched upon. Nor did I hear the
Colonel to an end even of that which he was willing to disclose;
for Mr. Henry, having for some while been plunged in a brown study,
rose at last from his seat and (reminding the Colonel there were
matters that he must attend to) bade me follow him immediately to
Once there, he sought no longer to dissemble his concern, walking
to and fro in the room with a contorted face, and passing his hand
repeatedly upon his brow.
"We have some business," he began at last; and there broke off,
declared we must have wine, and sent for a magnum of the best.
This was extremely foreign to his habitudes; and what was still
more so, when the wine had come, he gulped down one glass upon
another like a man careless of appearances. But the drink steadied
"You will scarce be surprised, Mackellar," says he, "when I tell
you that my brother - whose safety we are all rejoiced to learn -
stands in some need of money."
I told him I had misdoubted as much; but the time was not very
fortunate, as the stock was low.
"Not mine," said he. "There is the money for the mortgage."
I reminded him it was Mrs. Henry's.
"I will be answerable to my wife," he cried violently.
"And then," said I, "there is the mortgage."
"I know," said he; "it is on that I would consult you."
I showed him how unfortunate a time it was to divert this money
from its destination; and how, by so doing, we must lose the profit
of our past economies, and plunge back the estate into the mire. I
even took the liberty to plead with him; and when he still opposed
me with a shake of the head and a bitter dogged smile, my zeal
quite carried me beyond my place. "This is midsummer madness,"
cried I; "and I for one will be no party to it."
"You speak as though I did it for my pleasure," says he. "But I
have a child now; and, besides, I love order; and to say the honest
truth, Mackellar, I had begun to take a pride in the estates." He
gloomed for a moment. "But what would you have?" he went on.
"Nothing is mine, nothing. This day's news has knocked the bottom
out of my life. I have only the name and the shadow of things -
only the shadow; there is no substance in my rights."
"They will prove substantial enough before a court," said I.
He looked at me with a burning eye, and seemed to repress the word
upon his lips; and I repented what I had said, for I saw that while
he spoke of the estate he had still a side-thought to his marriage.
And then, of a sudden, he twitched the letter from his pocket,
where it lay all crumpled, smoothed it violently on the table, and
read these words to me with a trembling tongue: "'My dear Jacob' -
This is how he begins!" cries he - "'My dear Jacob, I once called
you so, you may remember; and you have now done the business, and
flung my heels as high as Criffel.' What do you think of that,
Mackellar," says he, "from an only brother? I declare to God I
liked him very well; I was always staunch to him; and this is how
he writes! But I will not sit down under the imputation" - walking
to and fro - "I am as good as he; I am a better man than he, I call
on God to prove it! I cannot give him all the monstrous sum he
asks; he knows the estate to be incompetent; but I will give him
what I have, and it in more than he expects. I have borne all this
too long. See what he writes further on; read it for yourself: 'I
know you are a niggardly dog.' A niggardly dog! I niggardly? Is
that true, Mackellar? You think it is?" I really thought he would
have struck me at that. "Oh, you all think so! Well, you shall
see, and he shall see, and God shall see. If I ruin the estate and
go barefoot, I shall stuff this bloodsucker. Let him ask all -
all, and he shall have it! It is all his by rights. Ah!" he
cried, "and I foresaw all this, and worse, when he would not let me
go." He poured out another glass of wine, and was about to carry
it to his lips, when I made so bold as to lay a finger on his arm.
He stopped a moment. "You are right," said he, and flung glass and
all in the fireplace. "Come, let us count the money."
I durst no longer oppose him; indeed, I was very much affected by
the sight of so much disorder in a man usually so controlled; and
we sat down together, counted the money, and made it up in packets
for the greater ease of Colonel Burke, who was to be the bearer.
This done, Mr. Henry returned to the hall, where he and my old lord
sat all night through with their guest.
A little before dawn I was called and set out with the Colonel. He
would scarce have liked a less responsible convoy, for he was a man
who valued himself; nor could we afford him one more dignified, for
Mr. Henry must not appear with the freetraders. It was a very
bitter morning of wind, and as we went down through the long
shrubbery the Colonel held himself muffled in his cloak.
"Sir," said I, "this is a great sum of money that your friend
requires. I must suppose his necessities to be very great."
"We must suppose so," says he, I thought drily; but perhaps it was
the cloak about his mouth.
"I am only a servant of the family," said I. "You may deal openly
with me. I think we are likely to get little good by him?"
"My dear man," said the Colonel, "Ballantrae is a gentleman of the
most eminent natural abilities, and a man that I admire, and that I
revere, to the very ground he treads on." And then he seemed to me
to pause like one in a difficulty.
"But for all that," said I, "we are likely to get little good by
"Sure, and you can have it your own way, my dear man," says the
By this time we had come to the side of the creek, where the boat
awaited him. "Well," said be, "I am sure I am very much your
debtor for all your civility, Mr. Whatever-your-name-is; and just
as a last word, and since you show so much intelligent interest, I
will mention a small circumstance that may be of use to the family.
For I believe my friend omitted to mention that he has the largest
pension on the Scots Fund of any refugee in Paris; and it's the
more disgraceful, sir," cries the Colonel, warming, "because
there's not one dirty penny for myself."
He cocked his hat at me, as if I had been to blame for this
partiality; then changed again into his usual swaggering civility,
shook me by the hand, and set off down to the boat, with the money
under his arms, and whistling as he went the pathetic air of SHULE
AROON. It was the first time I had heard that tune; I was to hear
it again, words and all, as you shall learn, but I remember how
that little stave of it ran in my head after the freetraders had
bade him "Wheesht, in the deil's name," and the grating of the oars
had taken its place, and I stood and watched the dawn creeping on
the sea, and the boat drawing away, and the lugger lying with her
foresail backed awaiting it.
The gap made in our money was a sore embarrassment, and, among
other consequences, it had this: that I must ride to Edinburgh,
and there raise a new loan on very questionable terms to keep the
old afloat; and was thus, for close upon three weeks, absent from
the house of Durrisdeer.
What passed in the interval I had none to tell me, but I found Mrs.
Henry, upon my return, much changed in her demeanour. The old
talks with my lord for the most part pretermitted; a certain
deprecation visible towards her husband, to whom I thought she
addressed herself more often; and, for one thing, she was now
greatly wrapped up in Miss Katharine. You would think the change
was agreeable to Mr. Henry; no such matter! To the contrary, every
circumstance of alteration was a stab to him; he read in each the
avowal of her truant fancies. That constancy to the Master of
which she was proud while she supposed him dead, she had to blush
for now she knew he was alive, and these blushes were the hated
spring of her new conduct. I am to conceal no truth; and I will
here say plainly, I think this was the period in which Mr. Henry
showed the worst. He contained himself, indeed, in public; but
there was a deep-seated irritation visible underneath. With me,
from whom he had less concealment, he was often grossly unjust, and
even for his wife he would sometimes have a sharp retort: perhaps
when she had ruffled him with some unwonted kindness; perhaps upon
no tangible occasion, the mere habitual tenor of the man's
annoyance bursting spontaneously forth. When he would thus forget
himself (a thing so strangely out of keeping with the terms of
their relation), there went a shook through the whole company, and
the pair would look upon each other in a kind of pained amazement.
All the time, too, while he was injuring himself by this defect of
temper, he was hurting his position by a silence, of which I scarce
know whether to say it was the child of generosity or pride. The
freetraders came again and again, bringing messengers from the
Master, and none departed empty-handed. I never durst reason with
Mr. Henry; he gave what was asked of him in a kind of noble rage.
Perhaps because he knew he was by nature inclining to the
parsimonious, he took a backforemost pleasure in the recklessness
with which he supplied his brother's exigence. Perhaps the falsity
of the position would have spurred a humbler man into the same
excess. But the estate (if I may say so) groaned under it; our
daily expenses were shorn lower and lower; the stables were
emptied, all but four roadsters; servants were discharged, which
raised a dreadful murmuring in the country, and heated up the old
disfavour upon Mr. Henry; and at last the yearly visit to Edinburgh
must be discontinued.
This was in 1756. You are to suppose that for seven years this
bloodsucker had been drawing the life's blood from Durrisdeer, and
that all this time my patron had held his peace. It was an effect
of devilish malice in the Master that he addressed Mr. Henry alone
upon the matter of his demands, and there was never a word to my
lord. The family had looked on, wondering at our economies. They
had lamented, I have no doubt, that my patron had become so great a
miser - a fault always despicable, but in the young abhorrent, and
Mr. Henry was not yet thirty years of age. Still, he had managed
the business of Durrisdeer almost from a boy; and they bore with
these changes in a silence as proud and bitter as his own, until
the coping-stone of the Edinburgh visit.
At this time I believe my patron and his wife were rarely together,
save at meals. Immediately on the back of Colonel Burke's
announcement Mrs. Henry made palpable advances; you might say she
had laid a sort of timid court to her husband, different, indeed,
from her former manner of unconcern and distance. I never had the
heart to blame Mr. Henry because he recoiled from these advances;
nor yet to censure the wife, when she was cut to the quick by their
rejection. But the result was an entire estrangement, so that (as
I say) they rarely spoke, except at meals. Even the matter of the
Edinburgh visit was first broached at table, and it chanced that
Mrs. Henry was that day ailing and querulous. She had no sooner
understood her husband's meaning than the red flew in her face.
"At last," she cried, "this is too much! Heaven knows what
pleasure I have in my life, that I should be denied my only
consolation. These shameful proclivities must be trod down; we are
already a mark and an eyesore in the neighbourhood. I will not
endure this fresh insanity."
"I cannot afford it," says Mr. Henry.
"Afford?" she cried. "For shame! But I have money of my own."
"That is all mine, madam, by marriage," he snarled, and instantly
left the room.
My old lord threw up his hands to Heaven, and he and his daughter,
withdrawing to the chimney, gave me a broad hint to be gone. I
found Mr. Henry in his usual retreat, the steward's room, perched
on the end of the table, and plunging his penknife in it with a
very ugly countenance.
"Mr. Henry," said I, "you do yourself too much injustice, and it is
time this should cease."
"Oh!" cries he, "nobody minds here. They think it only natural. I
have shameful proclivities. I am a niggardly dog," and he drove
his knife up to the hilt. "But I will show that fellow," he cried
with an oath, "I will show him which is the more generous."
"This is no generosity," said I; "this is only pride."
"Do you think I want morality?" he asked.
I thought he wanted help, and I should give it him, willy-nilly;
and no sooner was Mrs. Henry gone to her room than I presented
myself at her door and sought admittance.
She openly showed her wonder. "What do you want with me, Mr.
Mackellar?" said she.
"The Lord knows, madam," says I, "I have never troubled you before
with any freedoms; but this thing lies too hard upon my conscience,
and it will out. Is it possible that two people can be so blind as
you and my lord? and have lived all these years with a noble
gentleman like Mr. Henry, and understand so little of his nature?"
"What does this mean?" she cried.
"Do you not know where his money goes to? his - and yours - and the
money for the very wine he does not drink at table?" I went on.
"To Paris - to that man! Eight thousand pounds has he had of us in
seven years, and my patron fool enough to keep it secret!"
"Eight thousand pounds!" she repeated. "It in impossible; the
estate is not sufficient."
"God knows how we have sweated farthings to produce it," said I.
"But eight thousand and sixty is the sum, beside odd shillings.
And if you can think my patron miserly after that, this shall be my
"You need say no more, Mr. Mackellar," said she. "You have done
most properly in what you too modestly call your interference. I
am much to blame; you must think me indeed a very unobservant wife"
(looking upon me with a strange smile), "but I shall put this right
at once. The Master was always of a very thoughtless nature; but
his heart is excellent; he is the soul of generosity. I shall
write to him myself. You cannot think how you have pained me by
"Indeed, madam, I had hoped to have pleased you," said I, for I
raged to see her still thinking of the Master.
"And pleased," said she, "and pleased me of course."
That same day (I will not say but what I watched) I had the
satisfaction to see Mr. Henry come from his wife's room in a state
most unlike himself; for his face was all bloated with weeping, and
yet he seemed to me to walk upon the air. By this, I was sure his
wife had made him full amends for once. "Ah," thought I to myself,
"I have done a brave stroke this day."
On the morrow, as I was seated at my books, Mr. Henry came in
softly behind me, took me by the shoulders, and shook me in a
manner of playfulness. "I find you are a faithless fellow after
all," says he, which was his only reference to my part; but the
tone he spoke in was more to me than any eloquence of protestation.
Nor was this all I had effected; for when the next messenger came
(as he did not long afterwards) from the Master, he got nothing
away with him but a letter. For some while back it had been I
myself who had conducted these affairs; Mr. Henry not setting pen
to paper, and I only in the dryest and most formal terms. But this
letter I did not even see; it would scarce be pleasant reading, for
Mr. Henry felt he had his wife behind him for once, and I observed,
on the day it was despatched, he had a very gratified expression.
Things went better now in the family, though it could scarce be
pretended they went well. There was now at least no misconception;
there was kindness upon all sides; and I believe my patron and his
wife might again have drawn together if he could but have pocketed
his pride, and she forgot (what was the ground of all) her brooding
on another man. It is wonderful how a private thought leaks out;
it is wonderful to me now how we should all have followed the
current of her sentiments; and though she bore herself quietly, and
had a very even disposition, yet we should have known whenever her
fancy ran to Paris. And would not any one have thought that my
disclosure must have rooted up that idol? I think there is the
devil in women: all these years passed, never a sight of the man,
little enough kindness to remember (by all accounts) even while she
had him, the notion of his death intervening, his heartless
rapacity laid bare to her; that all should not do, and she must
still keep the best place in her heart for this accursed fellow, is
a thing to make a plain man rage. I had never much natural
sympathy for the passion of love; but this unreason in my patron's
wife disgusted me outright with the whole matter. I remember
checking a maid because she sang some bairnly kickshaw while my
mind was thus engaged; and my asperity brought about my ears the
enmity of all the petticoats about the house; of which I reeked
very little, but it amused Mr. Henry, who rallied me much upon our
joint unpopularity. It is strange enough (for my own mother was
certainly one of the salt of the earth, and my Aunt Dickson, who
paid my fees at the University, a very notable woman), but I have
never had much toleration for the female sex, possibly not much
understanding; and being far from a bold man, I have ever shunned
their company. Not only do I see no cause to regret this
diffidence in myself, but have invariably remarked the most unhappy
consequences follow those who were less wise. So much I thought
proper to set down, lest I show myself unjust to Mrs. Henry. And,
besides, the remark arose naturally, on a re-perusal of the letter
which was the next step in these affairs, and reached me, to my
sincere astonishment, by a private hand, some week or so after the
departure of the last messenger.
Letter from Colonel BURKE (afterwards Chevalier) to MR. MACKELLAR.
TROYES IN CHAMPAGNE,
July 12, 1756
My Dear Sir, - You will doubtless be surprised to receive a
communication from one so little known to you; but on the occasion
I had the good fortune to rencounter you at Durrisdeer, I remarked
you for a young man of a solid gravity of character: a
qualification which I profess I admire and revere next to natural
genius or the bold chivalrous spirit of the soldier. I was,
besides, interested in the noble family which you have the honour
to serve, or (to speak more by the book) to be the humble and
respected friend of; and a conversation I had the pleasure to have
with you very early in the morning has remained much upon my mind.
Being the other day in Paris, on a visit from this famous city,
where I am in garrison, I took occasion to inquire your name (which
I profess I had forgot) at my friend, the Master of B.; and a fair
opportunity occurring, I write to inform you of what's new.
The Master of B. (when we had last some talk of him together) was
in receipt, as I think I then told you, of a highly advantageous
pension on the Scots Fund. He next received a company, and was
soon after advanced to a regiment of his own. My dear sir, I do
not offer to explain this circumstance; any more than why I myself,
who have rid at the right hand of Princes, should be fubbed off
with a pair of colours and sent to rot in a hole at the bottom of
the province. Accustomed as I am to Courts, I cannot but feel it
is no atmosphere for a plain soldier; and I could never hope to
advance by similar means, even could I stoop to the endeavour. But
our friend has a particular aptitude to succeed by the means of
ladies; and if all be true that I have heard, he enjoyed a
remarkable protection. It is like this turned against him; for
when I had the honour to shake him by the hand, he was but newly
released from the Bastille, where he had been cast on a sealed
letter; and, though now released, has both lost his regiment and
his pension. My dear sir, the loyalty of a plain Irishman will
ultimately succeed in the place of craft; as I am sure a gentleman
of your probity will agree.
Now, sir, the Master is a man whose genius I admire beyond
expression, and, besides, he is my friend; but I thought a little
word of this revolution in his fortunes would not come amiss, for,
in my opinion, the man's desperate. He spoke, when I saw him, of a
trip to India (whither I am myself in some hope of accompanying my
illustrious countryman, Mr. Lally); but for this he would require
(as I understood) more money than was readily at his command. You
may have heard a military proverb: that it is a good thing to make
a bridge of gold to a flying enemy? I trust you will take my
meaning and I subscribe myself, with proper respects to my Lord
Durrisdeer, to his son, and to the beauteous Mrs. Durie,
My dear Sir,
Your obedient humble servant,
This missive I carried at once to Mr. Henry; and I think there was
but the one thought between the two of us: that it had come a week
too late. I made haste to send an answer to Colonel Burke, in
which I begged him, if he should see the Master, to assure him his
next messenger would be attended to. But with all my haste I was
not in time to avert what was impending; the arrow had been drawn,
it must now fly. I could almost doubt the power of Providence (and
certainly His will) to stay the issue of events; and it is a
strange thought, how many of us had been storing up the elements of
this catastrophe, for how long a time, and with how blind an
ignorance of what we did.
From the coming of the Colonel's letter, I had a spyglass in my
room, began to drop questions to the tenant folk, and as there was
no great secrecy observed, and the freetrade (in our part) went by
force as much as stealth, I had soon got together a knowledge of
the signals in use, and knew pretty well to an hour when any
messenger might be expected. I say, I questioned the tenants; for
with the traders themselves, desperate blades that went habitually
armed, I could never bring myself to meddle willingly. Indeed, by
what proved in the sequel an unhappy chance, I was an object of
scorn to some of these braggadocios; who had not only gratified me
with a nickname, but catching me one night upon a by-path, and
being all (as they would have said) somewhat merry, had caused me
to dance for their diversion. The method employed was that of
cruelly chipping at my toes with naked cutlasses, shouting at the
same time "Square-Toes"; and though they did me no bodily mischief,
I was none the less deplorably affected, and was indeed for several
days confined to my bed: a scandal on the state of Scotland on
which no comment is required.
It happened on the afternoon of November 7th, in this same
unfortunate year, that I espied, during my walk, the smoke of a
beacon fire upon the Muckleross. It was drawing near time for my
return; but the uneasiness upon my spirits was that day so great
that I must burst through the thickets to the edge of what they
call the Craig Head. The sun was already down, but there was still
a broad light in the west, which showed me some of the smugglers
treading out their signal fire upon the Ross, and in the bay the
lugger lying with her sails brailed up. She was plainly but new
come to anchor, and yet the skiff was already lowered and pulling
for the landing-place at the end of the long shrubbery. And this I
knew could signify but one thing, the coming of a messenger for
I laid aside the remainder of my terrors, clambered down the brae -
a place I had never ventured through before, and was hid among the
shore-side thickets in time to see the boat touch. Captain Crail
himself was steering, a thing not usual; by his side there sat a
passenger; and the men gave way with difficulty, being hampered
with near upon half a dozen portmanteaus, great and small. But the
business of landing was briskly carried through; and presently the
baggage was all tumbled on shore, the boat on its return voyage to
the lugger, and the passenger standing alone upon the point of
rock, a tall slender figure of a gentleman, habited in black, with
a sword by his side and a walking-cane upon his wrist. As he so
stood, he waved the cane to Captain Crail by way of salutation,
with something both of grace and mockery that wrote the gesture
deeply on my mind.
No sooner was the boat away with my sworn enemies than I took a
sort of half courage, came forth to the margin of the thicket, and
there halted again, my mind being greatly pulled about between
natural diffidence and a dark foreboding of the truth. Indeed, I
might have stood there swithering all night, had not the stranger
turned, spied me through the mists, which were beginning to fall,
and waved and cried on me to draw near. I did so with a heart like
"Here, my good man," said he, in the English accent, "there are
some things for Durrisdeer."
I was now near enough to see him, a very handsome figure and
countenance, swarthy, lean, long, with a quick, alert, black look,
as of one who was a fighter, and accustomed to command; upon one
cheek he had a mole, not unbecoming; a large diamond sparkled on
his hand; his clothes, although of the one hue, were of a French
and foppish design; his ruffles, which he wore longer than common,
of exquisite lace; and I wondered the more to see him in such a
guise when he was but newly landed from a dirty smuggling lugger.
At the same time he had a better look at me, toised me a second
time sharply, and then smiled.
"I wager, my friend," says he, "that I know both your name and your
nickname. I divined these very clothes upon your hand of writing,
At these words I fell to shaking.
"Oh,"' says he, "you need not be afraid of me. I bear no malice
for your tedious letters; and it is my purpose to employ you a good
deal. You may call me Mr. Bally: it is the name I have assumed;
or rather (since I am addressing so great a precision) it is so I
have curtailed my own. Come now, pick up that and that" -
indicating two of the portmanteaus. "That will be as much as you
are fit to bear, and the rest can very well wait. Come, lose no
more time, if you please."
His tone was so cutting that I managed to do as he bid by a sort of
instinct, my mind being all the time quite lost. No sooner had I
picked up the portmanteaus than he turned his back and marched off
through the long shrubbery, where it began already to be dusk, for
the wood is thick and evergreen. I followed behind, loaded almost
to the dust, though I profess I was not conscious of the burthen;
being swallowed up in the monstrosity of this return, and my mind
flying like a weaver's shuttle.
On a sudden I set the portmanteaus to the ground and halted. He
turned and looked back at me.
"Well?" said he.
"You are the Master of Ballantrae?"
"You will do me the justice to observe," says he, "I have made no
secret with the astute Mackellar."
"And in the name of God," cries I, "what brings you here? Go back,
while it is yet time."
"I thank you," said he. "Your master has chosen this way, and not
I; but since he has made the choice, he (and you also) must abide
by the result. And now pick up these things of mine, which you
have set down in a very boggy place, and attend to that which I
have made your business."
But I had no thought now of obedience; I came straight up to him.
"If nothing will move you to go back," said I; "though, sure, under
all the circumstances, any Christian or even any gentleman would
scruple to go forward . . . "
"These are gratifying expressions," he threw in.
"If nothing will move you to go back," I continued, "there are
still some decencies to be observed. Wait here with your baggage,
and I will go forward and prepare your family. Your father is an
old man; and . . . " I stumbled . . . "there are decencies to be
"Truly," said he, "this Mackellar improves upon acquaintance. But
look you here, my man, and understand it once for all - you waste
your breath upon me, and I go my own way with inevitable motion."
"Ah!" says I. "Is that so? We shall see then!"
And I turned and took to my heels for Durrisdeer. He clutched at
me and cried out angrily, and then I believe I heard him laugh, and
then I am certain he pursued me for a step or two, and (I suppose)
desisted. One thing at least is sure, that I came but a few
minutes later to the door of the great house, nearly strangled for
the lack of breath, but quite alone. Straight up the stair I ran,
and burst into the hall, and stopped before the family without the
power of speech; but I must have carried my story in my looks, for
they rose out of their places and stared on me like changelings.
"He has come," I panted out at last.
"He?" said Mr. Henry.
"Himself," said I.
"My son?" cried my lord. "Imprudent, imprudent boy! Oh, could he
not stay where he was safe!"
Never a word says Mrs. Henry; nor did I look at her, I scarce knew
"Well," said Mr. Henry, with a very deep breath, "and where is he?"
"I left him in the long shrubbery," said I.
"Take me to him," said he.
So we went out together, he and I, without another word from any
one; and in the midst of the gravelled plot encountered the Master
strolling up, whistling as he came, and beating the air with his
cane. There was still light enough overhead to recognise, though
not to read, a countenance.
"Ah! Jacob," says the Master. "So here is Esau back."
"James," says Mr. Henry, "for God's sake, call me by my name. I
will not pretend that I am glad to see you; but I would fain make
you as welcome as I can in the house of our fathers."
"Or in MY house? or YOURS?" says the Master. "Which were you about
to say? But this is an old sore, and we need not rub it. If you
would not share with me in Paris, I hope you will yet scarce deny
your elder brother a corner of the fire at Durrisdeer?"
"That is very idle speech," replied Mr. Henry. "And you understand
the power of your position excellently well."
"Why, I believe I do," said the other with a little laugh. And
this, though they had never touched hands, was (as we may say) the
end of the brothers' meeting; for at this the Master turned to me
and bade me fetch his baggage.
I, on my side, turned to Mr. Henry for a confirmation; perhaps with
"As long as the Master is here, Mr. Mackellar, you will very much
oblige me by regarding his wishes as you would my own," says Mr.
Henry. "We are constantly troubling you: will you be so good as
send one of the servants?" - with an accent on the word.
If this speech were anything at all, it was surely a well-deserved
reproof upon the stranger; and yet, so devilish was his impudence,
he twisted it the other way.
"And shall we be common enough to say 'Sneck up'?" inquires he
softly, looking upon me sideways.
Had a kingdom depended on the act, I could not have trusted myself
in words; even to call a servant was beyond me; I had rather serve
the man myself than speak; and I turned away in silence and went
into the long shrubbery, with a heart full of anger and despair.
It was dark under the trees, and I walked before me and forgot what
business I was come upon, till I near broke my shin on the
portmanteaus. Then it was that I remarked a strange particular;
for whereas I had before carried both and scarce observed it, it
was now as much as I could do to manage one. And this, as it
forced me to make two journeys, kept me the longer from the hall.
When I got there, the business of welcome was over long ago; the
company was already at supper; and by an oversight that cut me to
the quick, my place had been forgotten. I had seen one side of the
Master's return; now I was to see the other. It was he who first
remarked my coming in and standing back (as I did) in some
annoyance. He jumped from his seat.
"And if I have not got the good Mackellar's place!" cries he.
"John, lay another for Mr. Bally; I protest he will disturb no one,
and your table is big enough for all."
I could scarce credit my ears, nor yet my senses, when he took me
by the shoulders and thrust me, laughing, into my own place - such
an affectionate playfulness was in his voice. And while John laid
the fresh place for him (a thing on which he still insisted), he
went and leaned on his father's chair and looked down upon him, and
the old man turned about and looked upwards on his son, with such a
pleasant mutual tenderness that I could have carried my hand to my
head in mere amazement.
Yet all was of a piece. Never a harsh word fell from him, never a
sneer showed upon his lip. He had laid aside even his cutting
English accent, and spoke with the kindly Scots' tongue, that set a
value on affectionate words; and though his manners had a graceful
elegance mighty foreign to our ways in Durrisdeer, it was still a
homely courtliness, that did not shame but flattered us. All that,
he did throughout the meal, indeed, drinking wine with me with a
notable respect, turning about for a pleasant word with John,
fondling his father's hand, breaking into little merry tales of his
adventures, calling up the past with happy reference - all he did
was so becoming, and himself so handsome, that I could scarce
wonder if my lord and Mrs. Henry sat about the board with radiant
faces, or if John waited behind with dropping tears.
As soon as supper was over, Mrs. Henry rose to withdraw.
"This was never your way, Alison," said he.
"It is my way now," she replied: which was notoriously false, "and
I will give you a good-night, James, and a welcome - from the
dead," said she, and her voice dropped and trembled.
Poor Mr. Henry, who had made rather a heavy figure through the
meal, was more concerned than ever; pleased to see his wife
withdraw, and yet half displeased, as he thought upon the cause of
it; and the next moment altogether dashed by the fervour of her
On my part, I thought I was now one too many; and was stealing
after Mrs. Henry, when the Master saw me.
"Now, Mr. Mackellar," says he, "I take this near on an
unfriendliness. I cannot have you go: this is to make a stranger
of the prodigal son; and let me remind you where - in his own
father's house! Come, sit ye down, and drink another glass with
"Ay, ay, Mr. Mackellar," says my lord, "we must not make a stranger
either of him or you. I have been telling my son," he added, his
voice brightening as usual on the word, "how much we valued all
your friendly service."
So I sat there, silent, till my usual hour; and might have been
almost deceived in the man's nature but for one passage, in which
his perfidy appeared too plain. Here was the passage; of which,
after what he knows of the brothers' meeting, the reader shall
consider for himself. Mr. Henry sitting somewhat dully, in spite
of his best endeavours to carry things before my lord, up jumps the
Master, passes about the board, and claps his brother on the
"Come, come, HAIRRY LAD," says he, with a broad accent such as they
must have used together when they were boys, "you must not be
downcast because your brother has come home. All's yours, that's
sure enough, and little I grudge it you. Neither must you grudge
me my place beside my father's fire."
"And that is too true, Henry," says my old lord with a little
frown, a thing rare with him. "You have been the elder brother of
the parable in the good sense; you must be careful of the other."
"I am easily put in the wrong," said Mr. Henry.
"Who puts you in the wrong?" cried my lord, I thought very tartly
for so mild a man. "You have earned my gratitude and your
brother's many thousand times: you may count on its endurance; and
let that suffice."
"Ay, Harry, that you may," said the Master; and I thought Mr. Henry
looked at him with a kind of wildness in his eye.
On all the miserable business that now followed, I have four
questions that I asked myself often at the time and ask myself
still:- Was the man moved by a particular sentiment against Mr.
Henry? or by what he thought to be his interest? or by a mere
delight in cruelty such as cats display and theologians tell us of
the devil? or by what he would have called love? My common opinion
halts among the three first; but perhaps there lay at the spring of
his behaviour an element of all. As thus:- Animosity to Mr. Henry
would explain his hateful usage of him when they were alone; the
interests he came to serve would explain his very different
attitude before my lord; that and some spice of a design of
gallantry, his care to stand well with Mrs. Henry; and the pleasure
of malice for itself, the pains he was continually at to mingle and
oppose these lines of conduct.
Partly because I was a very open friend to my patron, partly
because in my letters to Paris I had often given myself some
freedom of remonstrance, I was included in his diabolical
amusement. When I was alone with him, he pursued me with sneers;
before the family he used me with the extreme of friendly
condescension. This was not only painful in itself; not only did
it put me continually in the wrong; but there was in it an element
of insult indescribable. That he should thus leave me out in his
dissimulation, as though even my testimony were too despicable to
be considered, galled me to the blood. But what it was to me is
not worth notice. I make but memorandum of it here; and chiefly
for this reason, that it had one good result, and gave me the
quicker sense of Mr. Henry's martyrdom.
It was on him the burthen fell. How was he to respond to the
public advances of one who never lost a chance of gibing him in
private? How was he to smile back on the deceiver and the
insulter? He was condemned to seem ungracious. He was condemned
to silence. Had he been less proud, had he spoken, who would have
credited the truth? The acted calumny had done its work; my lord
and Mrs. Henry were the daily witnesses of what went on; they could
have sworn in court that the Master was a model of long-suffering
good-nature, and Mr. Henry a pattern of jealousy and thanklessness.
And ugly enough as these must have appeared in any one, they seemed
tenfold uglier in Mr. Henry; for who could forget that the Master
lay in peril of his life, and that he had already lost his
mistress, his title, and his fortune?
"Henry, will you ride with me?" asks the Master one day.
And Mr. Henry, who had been goaded by the man all morning, raps
out: "I will not."
"I sometimes wish you would be kinder, Henry," says the other,
I give this for a specimen; but such scenes befell continually.
Small wonder if Mr. Henry was blamed; small wonder if I fretted
myself into something near upon a bilious fever; nay, and at the
mere recollection feel a bitterness in my blood.
Sure, never in this world was a more diabolical contrivance: so
perfidious, so simple, so impossible to combat. And yet I think
again, and I think always, Mrs. Henry might have road between the
lines; she might have had more knowledge of her husband's nature;
after all these years of marriage she might have commanded or
captured his confidence. And my old lord, too - that very watchful
gentleman - where was all his observation? But, for one thing, the
deceit was practised by a master hand, and might have gulled an
angel. For another (in the case of Mrs. Henry), I have observed
there are no persons so far away as those who are both married and
estranged, so that they seem out of ear-shot or to have no common
tongue. For a third (in the case of both of these spectators),
they were blinded by old ingrained predilection. And for a fourth,
the risk the Master was supposed to stand in (supposed, I say - you
will soon hear why) made it seem the more ungenerous to criticise;
and, keeping them in a perpetual tender solicitude about his life,
blinded them the more effectually to his faults.
It was during this time that I perceived most clearly the effect of
manner, and was led to lament most deeply the plainness of my own.
Mr. Henry had the essence of a gentleman; when he was moved, when
there was any call of circumstance, he could play his part with
dignity and spirit; but in the day's commerce (it is idle to deny
it) he fell short of the ornamental. The Master (on the other
hand) had never a movement but it commanded him. So it befell that
when the one appeared gracious and the other ungracious, every
trick of their bodies seemed to call out confirmation. Not that
alone: but the more deeply Mr. Henry floundered in his brother's
toils, the more clownish he grew; and the more the Master enjoyed
his spiteful entertainment, the more engagingly, the more
smilingly, he went! So that the plot, by its own scope and
progress, furthered and confirmed itself.
It was one of the man's arts to use the peril in which (as I say)
he was supposed to stand. He spoke of it to those who loved him
with a gentle pleasantry, which made it the more touching. To Mr.
Henry he used it as a cruel weapon of offence. I remember his
laying his finger on the clean lozenge of the painted window one
day when we three were alone together in the hall. "Here went your
lucky guinea, Jacob," said he. And when Mr. Henry only looked upon
him darkly, "Oh!" he added, "you need not look such impotent
malice, my good fly. You can be rid of your spider when you
please. How long, O Lord? When are you to be wrought to the point
of a denunciation, scrupulous brother? It is one of my interests
in this dreary hole. I ever loved experiment." Still Mr. Henry
only stared upon him with a grooming brow, and a changed colour;
and at last the Master broke out in a laugh and clapped him on the
shoulder, calling him a sulky dog. At this my patron leaped back
with a gesture I thought very dangerous; and I must suppose the
Master thought so too, for he looked the least in the world
discountenance, and I do not remember him again to have laid hands
on Mr. Henry.
But though he had his peril always on his lips in the one way or
the other, I thought his conduct strangely incautious, and began to
fancy the Government - who had set a price upon his head - was gone
sound asleep. I will not deny I was tempted with the wish to
denounce him; but two thoughts withheld me: one, that if he were
thus to end his life upon an honourable scaffold, the man would be
canonised for good in the minds of his father and my patron's wife;
the other, that if I was anyway mingled in the matter, Mr. Henry
himself would scarce escape some glancings of suspicion. And in
the meanwhile our enemy went in and out more than I could have
thought possible, the fact that he was home again was buzzed about
all the country-side, and yet he was never stirred. Of all these
so-many and so-different persons who were acquainted with his
presence, none had the least greed - as I used to say in my
annoyance - or the least loyalty; and the man rode here and there -
fully more welcome, considering the lees of old unpopularity, than
Mr. Henry - and considering the freetraders, far safer than myself.
Not but what he had a trouble of his own; and this, as it brought
about the gravest consequences, I must now relate. The reader will
scarce have forgotten Jessie Broun; her way of life was much among
the smuggling party; Captain Crail himself was of her intimates;
and she had early word of Mr. Bally's presence at the house. In my
opinion, she had long ceased to care two straws for the Master's
person; but it was become her habit to connect herself continually
with the Master's name; that was the ground of all her play-acting;
and so now, when he was back, she thought she owed it to herself to
grow a haunter of the neighbourhood of Durrisdeer. The Master
could scarce go abroad but she was there in wait for him; a
scandalous figure of a woman, not often sober; hailing him wildly
as "her bonny laddie," quoting pedlar's poetry, and, as I receive
the story, even seeking to weep upon his neck. I own I rubbed my
hands over this persecution; but the Master, who laid so much upon
others, was himself the least patient of men. There were strange
scenes enacted in the policies. Some say he took his cane to her,
and Jessie fell back upon her former weapons - stones. It is
certain at least that he made a motion to Captain Crail to have the
woman trepanned, and that the Captain refused the proposition with
uncommon vehemence. And the end of the matter was victory for
Jessie. Money was got together; an interview took place, in which
my proud gentleman must consent to be kissed and wept upon; and the
woman was set up in a public of her own, somewhere on Solway side
(but I forget where), and, by the only news I ever had of it,
This is to look forward. After Jessie had been but a little while
upon his heels, the Master comes to me one day in the steward's
office, and with more civility than usual, "Mackellar," says he,
"there is a damned crazy wench comes about here. I cannot well
move in the matter myself, which brings me to you. Be so good as
to see to it: the men must have a strict injunction to drive the
"Sir," said I, trembling a little, "you can do your own dirty
errands for yourself."
He said not a word to that, and left the room.
Presently came Mr. Henry. "Here is news!" cried he. "It seems all
is not enough, and you must add to my wretchedness. It seems you
have insulted Mr. Bally."
"Under your kind favour, Mr. Henry," said I, "it was he that
insulted me, and, as I think, grossly. But I may have been
careless of your position when I spoke; and if you think so when
you know all, my dear patron, you have but to say the word. For
you I would obey in any point whatever, even to sin, God pardon
me!" And thereupon I told him what had passed.
Mr. Henry smiled to himself; a grimmer smile I never witnessed.
"You did exactly well," said he. "He shall drink his Jessie Broun
to the dregs." And then, spying the Master outside, he opened the
window, and crying to him by the name of Mr. Bally, asked him to
step up and have a word.
"James," said he, when our persecutor had come in and closed the
door behind him, looking at me with a smile, as if he thought I was
to be humbled, "you brought me a complaint against Mr. Mackellar,
into which I have inquired. I need not tell you I would always
take his word against yours; for we are alone, and I am going to
use something of your own freedom. Mr. Mackellar is a gentleman I
value; and you must contrive, so long as you are under this roof,
to bring yourself into no more collisions with one whom I will
support at any possible cost to me or mine. As for the errand upon
which you came to him, you must deliver yourself from the
consequences of your own cruelty, and, none of my servants shall be
at all employed in such a case."
"My father's servants, I believe," says the Master.
"Go to him with this tale," said Mr. Henry.
The Master grew very white. He pointed at me with his finger. "I
want that man discharged," he said.
"He shall not be," said Mr. Henry.
"You shall pay pretty dear for this," says the Master.
"I have paid so dear already for a wicked brother," said Mr. Henry,
"that I am bankrupt even of fears. You have no place left where
you can strike me."
"I will show you about that," says the Master, and went softly
"What will he do next, Mackellar?" cries Mr. Henry.
"Let me go away," said I. "My dear patron, let me go away; I am
but the beginning of fresh sorrows."
"Would you leave me quite alone?" said he.
We were not long in suspense as to the nature of the new assault.
Up to that hour the Master had played a very close game with Mrs.
Henry; avoiding pointedly to be alone with her, which I took at the
time for an effect of decency, but now think to be a most insidious
art; meeting her, you may say, at meal-time only; and behaving,
when he did so, like an affectionate brother. Up to that hour, you
may say he had scarce directly interfered between Mr. Henry and his
wife; except in so far as he had manoeuvred the one quite forth
from the good graces of the other. Now all that was to be changed;
but whether really in revenge, or because he was wearying of
Durrisdeer and looked about for some diversion, who but the devil
From that hour, at least, began the siege of Mrs. Henry; a thing so
deftly carried on that I scarce know if she was aware of it
herself, and that her husband must look on in silence. The first
parallel was opened (as was made to appear) by accident. The talk
fell, as it did often, on the exiles in France; so it glided to the
matter of their songs.
"There is one," says the Master, "if you are curious in these
matters, that has always seemed to me very moving. The poetry is
harsh; and yet, perhaps because of my situation, it has always
found the way to my heart. It is supposed to be sung, I should
tell you, by an exile's sweetheart; and represents perhaps, not so
much the truth of what she is thinking, as the truth of what he
hopes of her, poor soul! in these far lands." And here the Master
sighed, "I protest it is a pathetic sight when a score of rough
Irish, all common sentinels, get to this song; and you may see, by
their falling tears, how it strikes home to them. It goes thus,
father," says he, very adroitly taking my lord for his listener,
"and if I cannot get to the end of it, you must think it is a
common case with us exiles." And thereupon he struck up the same
air as I had heard the Colonel whistle; but now to words, rustic
indeed, yet most pathetically setting forth a poor girl's
aspirations for an exiled lover; of which one verse indeed (or
something like it) still sticks by me:-
O, I will dye my petticoat red,
With my dear boy I'll beg my bread,
Though all my friends should wish me dead,
For Willie among the rushes, O!
He sang it well, even as a song; but he did better yet a performer.
I have heard famous actors, when there was not a dry eye in the
Edinburgh theatre; a great wonder to behold; but no more wonderful
than how the Master played upon that little ballad, and on those
who heard him, like an instrument, and seemed now upon the point of
failing, and now to conquer his distress, so that words and music
seemed to pour out of his own heart and his own past, and to be
aimed directly at Mrs. Henry. And his art went further yet; for
all was so delicately touched, it seemed impossible to suspect him
of the least design; and so far from making a parade of emotion,
you would have sworn he was striving to be calm. When it came to
an end, we all sat silent for a time; he had chosen the dusk of the
afternoon, so that none could see his neighbour's face; but it
seemed as if we held our breathing; only my old lord cleared his
throat. The first to move was the singer, who got to his feet
suddenly and softly, and went and walked softly to and fro in the
low end of the hall, Mr. Henry's customary place. We were to
suppose that he there struggled down the last of his emotion; for
he presently returned and launched into a disquisition on the
nature of the Irish (always so much miscalled, and whom he
defended) in his natural voice; so that, before the lights were
brought, we were in the usual course of talk. But even then,
methought Mrs. Henry's face was a shade pale; and, for another
thing, she withdrew almost at once.
The next sign was a friendship this insidious devil struck up with
innocent Miss Katharine; so that they were always together, hand in
hand, or she climbing on his knee, like a pair of children. Like
all his diabolical acts, this cut in several ways. It was the last
stroke to Mr. Henry, to see his own babe debauched against him; it
made him harsh with the poor innocent, which brought him still a
peg lower in his wife's esteem; and (to conclude) it was a bond of
union between the lady and the Master. Under this influence, their
old reserve melted by daily stages. Presently there came walks in
the long shrubbery, talks in the Belvedere, and I know not what
tender familiarity. I am sure Mrs. Henry was like many a good
woman; she had a whole conscience but perhaps by the means of a
little winking. For even to so dull an observer as myself, it was
plain her kindness was of a more moving nature than the sisterly.
The tones of her voice appeared more numerous; she had a light and
softness in her eye; she was more gentle with all of us, even with
Mr. Henry, even with myself; methought she breathed of some quiet
To look on at this, what a torment it was for Mr. Henry! And yet
it brought our ultimate deliverance, as I am soon to tell.
The purport of the Master's stay was no more noble (gild it as they
might) than to wring money out. He had some design of a fortune in
the French Indies, as the Chevalier wrote me; and it was the sum
required for this that he came seeking. For the rest of the family
it spelled ruin; but my lord, in his incredible partiality, pushed
ever for the granting. The family was now so narrowed down
(indeed, there were no more of them than just the father and the
two sons) that it was possible to break the entail and alienate a
piece of land. And to this, at first by hints, and then by open
pressure, Mr. Henry was brought to consent. He never would have
done so, I am very well assured, but for the weight of the distress
under which he laboured. But for his passionate eagerness to see
his brother gone, he would not thus have broken with his own
sentiment and the traditions of his house. And even so, he sold
them his consent at a dear rate, speaking for once openly, and
holding the business up in its own shameful colours.
"You will observe," he said, "this is an injustice to my son, if
ever I have one."
"But that you are not likely to have," said my lord.
"God knows!" says Mr. Henry. "And considering the cruel falseness
of the position in which I stand to my brother, and that you, my
lord, are my father, and have the right to command me, I set my
hand to this paper. But one thing I will say first: I have been
ungenerously pushed, and when next, my lord, you are tempted to
compare your sons, I call on you to remember what I have done and
what he has done. Acts are the fair test."
My lord was the most uneasy man I ever saw; even in his old face
the blood came up. "I think this is not a very wisely chosen
moment, Henry, for complaints," said he. "This takes away from the
merit of your generosity."
"Do not deceive yourself, my lord," said Mr. Henry. "This
injustice is not done from generosity to him, but in obedience to
"Before strangers . . . " begins my lord, still more unhappily
"There is no one but Mackellar here," said Mr. Henry; "he is my
friend. And, my lord, as you make him no stranger to your frequent
blame, it were hard if I must keep him one to a thing so rare as my
Almost I believe my lord would have rescinded his decision; but the
Master was on the watch.
"Ah! Henry, Henry," says he, "you are the best of us still.
Rugged and true! Ah! man, I wish I was as good."
And at that instance of his favourite's generosity my lord desisted
from his hesitation, and the deed was signed.
As soon as it could he brought about, the land of Ochterhall was
sold for much below its value, and the money paid over to our leech
and sent by some private carriage into France. Or so he said;
though I have suspected since it did not go so far. And now here
was all the man's business brought to a successful head, and his
pockets once more bulging with our gold; and yet the point for
which we had consented to this sacrifice was still denied us, and
the visitor still lingered on at Durrisdeer. Whether in malice, or
because the time was not yet come for his adventure to the Indies,
or because he had hopes of his design on Mrs. Henry, or from the
orders of the Government, who shall say? but linger he did, and
that for weeks.
You will observe I say: from the orders of Government; for about
this time the man's disreputable secret trickled out.
The first hint I had was from a tenant, who commented on the
Master's stay, and yet more on his security; for this tenant was a
Jacobitish sympathiser, and had lost a son at Culloden, which gave
him the more critical eye. "There is one thing," said he, "that I
cannot but think strange; and that is how he got to Cockermouth."
"To Cockermouth?" said I, with a sudden memory of my first wonder
on beholding the man disembark so point-de-vice after so long a
"Why, yes," says the tenant, "it was there he was picked up by
Captain Crail. You thought he had come from France by sea? And so
we all did."
I turned this news a little in my head, and then carried it to Mr.
Henry. "Here is an odd circumstance," said I, and told him.
"What matters how he came, Mackellar, so long as he is here?"
groans Mr. Henry.
"No, sir," said I, "but think again! Does not this smack a little
of some Government connivance? You know how much we have wondered
already at the man's security."
"Stop," said Mr. Henry. "Let me think of this." And as he
thought, there came that grim smile upon his face that was a little
like the Master's. "Give me paper," said he. And he sat without
another word and wrote to a gentleman of his acquaintance - I will
name no unnecessary names, but he was one in a high place. This
letter I despatched by the only hand I could depend upon in such a
case - Macconochie's; and the old man rode hard, for he was back
with the reply before even my eagerness had ventured to expect him.
Again, as he read it, Mr. Henry had the same grim smile.
"This is the best you have done for me yet, Mackellar," says he.
"With this in my hand I will give him a shog. Watch for us at
At dinner accordingly Mr. Henry proposed some very public
appearance for the Master; and my lord, as he had hoped, objected
to the danger of the course.
"Oh!" says Mr. Henry, very easily, "you need no longer keep this up
with me. I am as much in the secret as yourself."
"In the secret?" says my lord. "What do you mean, Henry? I give
you my word, I am in no secret from which you are excluded."
The Master had changed countenance, and I saw he was struck in a
joint of his harness.
"How?" says Mr. Henry, turning to him with a huge appearance of
surprise. "I see you serve your masters very faithfully; but I had
thought you would have been humane enough to set your father's mind
"What are you talking of? I refuse to have my business publicly
discussed. I order this to cease," cries the Master very foolishly
and passionately, and indeed more like a child than a man.
"So much discretion was not looked for at your hands, I can assure
you," continued Mr. Henry. "For see what my correspondent writes"
- unfolding the paper - "'It is, of course, in the interests both
of the Government and the gentleman whom we may perhaps best
continue to call Mr. Bally, to keep this understanding secret; but
it was never meant his own family should continue to endure the
suspense you paint so feelingly; and I am pleased mine should be
the hand to set these fears at rest. Mr. Bally is as safe in Great
Britain as yourself.'"
"Is this possible?" cries my lord, looking at his son, with a great
deal of wonder and still more of suspicion in his face.
"My dear father," says the Master, already much recovered. "I am
overjoyed that this may be disclosed. My own instructions, direct
from London, bore a very contrary sense, and I was charged to keep
the indulgence secret from every one, yourself not excepted, and
indeed yourself expressly named - as I can show in black and white
unless I have destroyed the letter. They must have changed their
mind very swiftly, for the whole matter is still quite fresh; or
rather, Henry's correspondent must have misconceived that part, as
he seems to have misconceived the rest. To tell you the truth,
sir," he continued, getting visibly more easy, "I had supposed this
unexplained favour to a rebel was the effect of some application
from yourself; and the injunction to secrecy among my family the
result of a desire on your part to conceal your kindness. Hence I
was the more careful to obey orders. It remains now to guess by
what other channel indulgence can have flowed on so notorious an
offender as myself; for I do not think your son need defend himself
from what seems hinted at in Henry's letter. I have never yet
heard of a Durrisdeer who was a turncoat or a spy," says he,
And so it seemed he had swum out of this danger unharmed; but this
was to reckon without a blunder he had made, and without the
pertinacity of Mr. Henry, who was now to show he had something of
his brother's spirit.
"You say the matter is still fresh," says Mr. Henry.
"It is recent," says the Master, with a fair show of stoutness and
yet not without a quaver.
"Is it so recent as that?" asks Mr. Henry, like a man a little
puzzled, and spreading his letter forth again.
In all the letter there was no word as to the date; but how was the
Master to know that?
"It seemed to come late enough for me," says he, with a laugh. And
at the sound of that laugh, which rang false, like a cracked bell,
my lord looked at him again across the table, and I saw his old
lips draw together close.
"No," said Mr. Henry, still glancing on his letter, "but I remember
your expression. You said it was very fresh."
And here we had a proof of our victory, and the strongest instance
yet of my lord's incredible indulgence; for what must he do but
interfere to save his favourite from exposure!
"I think, Henry," says he, with a kind of pitiful eagerness, "I
think we need dispute no more. We are all rejoiced at last to find
your brother safe; we are all at one on that; and, as grateful
subjects, we can do no less than drink to the king's health and
Thus was the Master extricated; but at least he had been put to his
defence, he had come lamely out, and the attraction of his personal
danger was now publicly plucked away from him. My lord, in his
heart of hearts, now knew his favourite to be a Government spy; and
Mrs. Henry (however she explained the tale) was notably cold in her
behaviour to the discredited hero of romance. Thus in the best
fabric of duplicity, there is some weak point, if you can strike
it, which will loosen all; and if, by this fortunate stroke, we had
not shaken the idol, who can say how it might have gone with us at
And yet at the time we seemed to have accomplished nothing. Before
a day or two he had wiped off the ill-results of his discomfiture,
and, to all appearance, stood as high as ever. As for my Lord
Durrisdeer, he was sunk in parental partiality; it was not so much
love, which should be an active quality, as an apathy and torpor of
his other powers; and forgiveness (so to mis-apply a noble word)
flowed from him in sheer weakness, like the tears of senility.
Mrs. Henry's was a different case; and Heaven alone knows what he
found to say to her, or how he persuaded her from her contempt. It
is one of the worst things of sentiment, that the voice grows to be
more important than the words, and the speaker than that which is
spoken. But some excuse the Master must have found, or perhaps he
had even struck upon some art to wrest this exposure to his own
advantage; for after a time of coldness, it seemed as if things
went worse than ever between him and Mrs. Henry. They were then
constantly together. I would not be thought to cut one shadow of
blame, beyond what is due to a half-wilful blindness, on that
unfortunate lady; but I do think, in these last days, she was
playing very near the fire; and whether I be wrong or not in that,
one thing is sure and quite sufficient: Mr. Henry thought so. The
poor gentleman sat for days in my room, so great a picture of
distress that I could never venture to address him; yet it is to be
thought he found some comfort even in my presence and the knowledge
of my sympathy. There were times, too, when we talked, and a
strange manner of talk it was; there was never a person named, nor
an individual circumstance referred to; yet we had the same matter
in our minds, and we were each aware of it. It is a strange art
that can thus be practised; to talk for hours of a thing, and never
name nor yet so much as hint at it. And I remember I wondered if
it was by some such natural skill that the Master made love to Mrs.
Henry all day long (as he manifestly did), yet never startled her
To show how far affairs had gone with Mr. Henry, I will give some
words of his, uttered (as I have cause not to forget) upon the 26th
of February, 1757. It was unseasonable weather, a cast back into
Winter: windless, bitter cold, the world all white with rime, the
sky low and gray . the sea black and silent like a quarry-hole.
Mr. Henry sat close by the fire, and debated (as was now common
with him) whether "a man" should "do things," whether "interference
was wise," and the like general propositions, which each of us
particularly applied. I was by the window, looking out, when there
passed below me the Master, Mrs. Henry, and Miss Katharine, that
now constant trio. The child was running to and fro, delighted
with the frost; the Master spoke close in the lady's ear with what
seemed (even from so far) a devilish grace of insinuation; and she
on her part looked on the ground like a person lost in listening.
I broke out of my reserve.
"If I were you, Mr. Henry," said I, "I would deal openly with my
"Mackellar, Mackellar," said he, "you do not see the weakness of my
ground. I can carry no such base thoughts to any one - to my
father least of all; that would be to fall into the bottom of his
scorn. The weakness of my ground," he continued, "lies in myself,
that I am not one who engages love. I have their gratitude, they
all tell me that; I have a rich estate of it! But I am not present
in their minds; they are moved neither to think with me nor to
think for me. There is my loss!" He got to his feet, and trod
down the fire. "But some method must be found, Mackellar," said
he, looking at me suddenly over his shoulder; "some way must be
found. I am a man of a great deal of patience - far too much - far
too much. I begin to despise myself. And yet, sure, never was a
man involved in such a toil!" He fell back to his brooding.
"Cheer up," said I. "It will burst of itself."
"I am far past anger now," says he, which had so little coherency
with my own observation that I let both fall.
CHAPTER V. - ACCOUNT OF ALL THAT PASSED ON THE NIGHT ON FEBRUARY
On the evening of the interview referred to, the Master went
abroad; he was abroad a great deal of the next day also, that fatal
27th; but where he went, or what he did, we never concerned
ourselves to ask until next day. If we had done so, and by any
chance found out, it might have changed all. But as all we did was
done in ignorance, and should be so judged, I shall so narrate
these passages as they appeared to us in the moment of their birth,
and reserve all that I since discovered for the time of its
discovery. For I have now come to one of the dark parts of my
narrative, and must engage the reader's indulgence for my patron.
All the 27th that rigorous weather endured: a stifling cold; the
folk passing about like smoking chimneys; the wide hearth in the
hall piled high with fuel; some of the spring birds that had
already blundered north into our neighbourhood, besieging the
windows of the house or trotting on the frozen turf like things
distracted. About noon there came a blink of sunshine, showing a
very pretty, wintry, frosty landscape of white hills and woods,
with Crail's lugger waiting for a wind under the Craig Head, and
the smoke mounting straight into the air from every farm and
cottage. With the coming of night, the haze closed in overhead; it
fell dark and still and starless, and exceeding cold: a night the
most unseasonable, fit for strange events.
Mrs. Henry withdrew, as was now her custom, very early. We had set
ourselves of late to pass the evening with a game of cards; another
mark that our visitor was wearying mightily of the life at
Durrisdeer; and we had not been long at this when my old lord
slipped from his place beside the fire, and was off without a word
to seek the warmth of bed. The three thus left together had
neither love nor courtesy to share; not one of us would have sat up
one instant to oblige another; yet from the influence of custom,
and as the cards had just been dealt, we continued the form of
playing out the round. I should say we were late sitters; and
though my lord had departed earlier than was his custom, twelve was
already gone some time upon the clock, and the servants long ago in
bed. Another thing I should say, that although I never saw the
Master anyway affected with liquor, he had been drinking freely,
and was perhaps (although he showed it not) a trifle heated.
Anyway, he now practised one of his transitions; and so soon as the
door closed behind my lord, and without the smallest change of
voice, shifted from ordinary civil talk into a stream of insult.
"My dear Henry, it is yours to play," he had been saying, and now
continued: "It is a very strange thing how, even in so small a
matter as a game of cards, you display your rusticity. You play,
Jacob, like a bonnet laird, or a sailor in a tavern. The same
dulness, the same petty greed, CETTE LENTEUR D'HEBETE QUI ME FAIT
RAGER; it is strange I should have such a brother. Even Square-
toes has a certain vivacity when his stake is imperilled; but the
dreariness of a game with you I positively lack language to
Mr. Henry continued to look at his cards, as though very maturely
considering some play; but his mind was elsewhere.
"Dear God, will this never be done?" cries the Master. "QUEL
LOURDEAU! But why do I trouble you with French expressions, which
are lost on such an ignoramus? A LOURDEAU, my dear brother, is as
we might say a bumpkin, a clown, a clodpole: a fellow without
grace, lightness, quickness; any gift of pleasing, any natural
brilliancy: such a one as you shall see, when you desire, by
looking in the mirror. I tell you these things for your good, I
assure you; and besides, Square-toes" (looking at me and stifling a
yawn), "it is one of my diversions in this very dreary spot to
toast you and your master at the fire like chestnuts. I have great
pleasure in your case, for I observe the nickname (rustic as it is)
has always the power to make you writhe. But sometimes I have more
trouble with this dear fellow here, who seems to have gone to sleep
upon his cards. Do you not see the applicability of the epithet I
have just explained, dear Henry? Let me show you. For instance,
with all those solid qualities which I delight to recognise in you,
I never knew a woman who did not prefer me - nor, I think," he
continued, with the most silken deliberation, "I think - who did
not continue to prefer me."
Mr. Henry laid down his cards. He rose to his feet very softly,
and seemed all the while like a person in deep thought. "You
coward!" he said gently, as if to himself. And then, with neither
hurry nor any particular violence, he struck the Master in the
The Master sprang to his feet like one transfigured; I had never
seen the man so beautiful. "A blow!" he cried. "I would not take
a blow from God Almighty!"
"Lower your voice," said Mr. Henry. "Do you wish my father to
interfere for you again?"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," I cried, and sought to come between them.
The Master caught me by the shoulder, held me at arm's length, and
still addressing his brother: "Do you know what this means?" said
"It was the most deliberate act of my life," says Mr. Henry.
"I must have blood, I must have blood for this," says the Master.
"Please God it shall be yours," said Mr. Henry; and he went to the
wall and took down a pair of swords that hung there with others,
naked. These he presented to the Master by the points. "Mackellar
shall see us play fair," said Mr. Henry. "I think it very
"You need insult me no more," said the Master, taking one of the
swords at random. "I have hated you all my life."
"My father is but newly gone to bed," said Mr. Henry. "We must go
somewhere forth of the house."
"There is an excellent place in the long shrubbery," said the
"Gentlemen," said I, "shame upon you both! Sons of the same
mother, would you turn against the life she gave you?"
"Even so, Mackellar," said Mr. Henry, with the same perfect
quietude of manner he had shown throughout.
"It is what I will prevent," said I.
And now here is a blot upon my life. At these words of mine the
Master turned his blade against my bosom; I saw the light run along
the steel; and I threw up my arms and fell to my knees before him
on the floor. "No, no," I cried, like a baby.
"We shall have no more trouble with him," said the Master. "It is
a good thing to have a coward in the house."
"We must have light," said Mr. Henry, as though there had been no
"This trembler can bring a pair of candles," said the Master.
To my shame be it said, I was still so blinded with the flashing of
that bare sword that I volunteered to bring a lantern.
"We do not need a l-l-lantern," says the Master, mocking me.
"There is no breath of air. Come, get to your feet, take a pair of
lights, and go before. I am close behind with this - " making. the
blade glitter as he spoke.
I took up the candlesticks and went before them, steps that I would
give my hand to recall; but a coward is a slave at the best; and
even as I went, my teeth smote each other in my mouth. It was as
he had said: there was no breath stirring; a windless stricture of
frost had bound the air; and as we went forth in the shine of the
candles, the blackness was like a roof over our heads. Never a
word was said; there was never a sound but the creaking of our
steps along the frozen path. The cold of the night fell about me
like a bucket of water; I shook as I went with more than terror;
but my companions, bare-headed like myself, and fresh from the warm
ball, appeared not even conscious of the change.
"Here is the place," said the Master. "Set down the candles."
I did as he bid me, and presently the flames went up, as steady as
in a chamber, in the midst of the frosted trees, and I beheld these
two brothers take their places.
"The light is something in my eyes," said the Master.
"I will give you every advantage," replied Mr. Henry, shifting his
ground, "for I think you are about to die." He spoke rather sadly
than otherwise, yet there was a ring in his voice.
"Henry Durie," said the Master, "two words before I begin. You are
a fencer, you can hold a foil; you little know what a change it
makes to hold a sword! And by that I know you are to fall. But
see how strong is my situation! If you fall, I shift out of this
country to where my money is before me. If I fall, where are you?
My father, your wife - who is in love with me, as you very well
know - your child even, who prefers me to yourself:- how will these
avenge me! Had you thought of that, dear Henry?" He looked at his
brother with a smile; then made a fencing-room salute.
Never a word said Mr. Henry, but saluted too, and the swords rang
I am no judge of the play; my head, besides, was gone with cold and
fear and horror; but it seems that Mr. Henry took and kept the
upper hand from the engagement, crowding in upon his foe with a
contained and glowing fury. Nearer and nearer he crept upon the
man, till of a sudden the Master leaped back with a little sobbing
oath; and I believe the movement brought the light once more
against his eyes. To it they went again, on the fresh ground; but
now methought closer, Mr. Henry pressing more outrageously, the
Master beyond doubt with shaken confidence. For it is beyond doubt
he now recognised himself for lost, and had some taste of the cold
agony of fear; or he had never attempted the foul stroke. I cannot
say I followed it, my untrained eye was never quick enough to seize
details, but it appears he caught his brother's blade with his left
hand, a practice not permitted. Certainly Mr. Henry only saved
himself by leaping on one side; as certainly the Master, lunging in
the air, stumbled on his knee, and before he could move the sword
was through his body.
I cried out with a stifled scream, and ran in; but the body was
already fallen to the ground, where it writhed a moment like a
trodden worm, and then lay motionless.
"Look at his left hand." said Mr. Henry.
"It is all bloody," said I.
"On the inside?" said he.
"It is cut on the inside," said I.
"I thought so," said he, and turned his back.
I opened the man's clothes; the heart was quite still, it gave not
"God forgive us, Mr. Henry!" said I. "He is dead."
"Dead?" he repeated, a little stupidly; and then with a rising
tone, "Dead? dead?" says he, and suddenly cast his bloody sword
upon the ground.
"What must we do?" said I. "Be yourself, sir. It is too late now:
you must be yourself."
He turned and stared at me. "Oh, Mackellar!" says he, and put his
face in his hands.
I plucked him by the coat. "For God's sake, for all our sakes, be
more courageous!" said I. "What must we do?"
He showed me his face with the same stupid stare.
"Do?" says he. And with that his eye fell on the body, and "Oh!"
he cries out, with his hand to his brow, as if he had never
remembered; and, turning from me, made off towards the house of
Durrisdeer at a strange stumbling run.
I stood a moment mused; then it seemed to me my duty lay most plain
on the side of the living; and I ran after him, leaving the candles
on the frosty ground and the body lying in their light under the
trees. But run as I pleased, he had the start of me, and was got
into the house, and up to the hall, where I found him standing
before the fire with his face once more in his hands, and as he so
stood he visibly shuddered.
"Mr. Henry, Mr. Henry," I said, "this will be the ruin of us all."
"What is this that I have done?" cries he, and then looking upon me
with a countenance that I shall never forget, "Who is to tell the
old man?" he said.
The word knocked at my heart; but it was no time for weakness. I
went and poured him out a glass of brandy. "Drink that," said I,
"drink it down." I forced him to swallow it like a child; and,
being still perished with the cold of the night, I followed his
"It has to be told, Mackellar," said he. "It must be told." And
he fell suddenly in a seat - my old lord's seat by the chimney-side
- and was shaken with dry sobs.
Dismay came upon my soul; it was plain there was no help in Mr.
Henry. "Well," said I, "sit there, and leave all to me." And
taking a candle in my hand, I set forth out of the room in the dark
house. There was no movement; I must suppose that all had gone
unobserved; and I was now to consider how to smuggle through the
rest with the like secrecy. It was no hour for scruples; and I
opened my lady's door without so much as a knock, and passed boldly
"There is some calamity happened," she cried, sitting up in bed.
"Madam," said I, "I will go forth again into the passage; and do
you get as quickly as you can into your clothes. There is much to
She troubled me with no questions, nor did she keep me waiting.
Ere I had time to prepare a word of that which I must say to her,
she was on the threshold signing me to enter.
"Madam," said I, "if you cannot be very brave, I must go elsewhere;
for if no one helps me to-night, there is an end of the house of
"I am very courageous," said she; and she looked at me with a sort
of smile, very painful to see, but very brave too.
"It has come to a duel," said I.
"A duel?" she repeated. "A duel! Henry and - "
"And the Master," said I. "Things have been borne so long, things
of which you know nothing, which you would not believe if I should
tell. But to-night it went too far, and when he insulted you - "
"Stop," said she. "He? Who?"
"Oh! madam," cried I, my bitterness breaking forth, "do you ask me
such a question? Indeed, then, I may go elsewhere for help; there
is none here!"
"I do not know in what I have offended you," said she. "Forgive
me; put me out of this suspense."
But I dared not tell her yet; I felt not sure of her; and at the
doubt, and under the sense of impotence it brought with it, I
turned on the poor woman with something near to anger.
"Madam," said I, "we are speaking of two men: one of them insulted
you, and you ask me which. I will help you to the answer. With
one of these men you have spent all your hours: has the other
reproached you? To one you have been always kind; to the other, as
God sees me and judges between us two, I think not always: has his
love ever failed you? To-night one of these two men told the
other, in my hearing - the hearing of a hired stranger, - that you
were in love with him. Before I say one word, you shall answer
your own question: Which was it? Nay, madam, you shall answer me
another: If it has come to this dreadful end, whose fault is it?"
She stared at me like one dazzled. "Good God!" she said once, in a
kind of bursting exclamation; and then a second time in a whisper
to herself: "Great God! - In the name of mercy, Mackellar, what is
wrong?" she cried. "I am made up; I can hear all."
"You are not fit to hear," said I. "Whatever it was, you shall say
first it was your fault."
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