The Master of Ballantrae
Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 4 out of 5
At the customary hour I had the Master called, and awaited his
coming in the hall with a quiet mind. He looked about him at the
empty room and the three covers set.
"We are a small party," said he. "How comes?"
"This is the party to which we must grow accustomed," I replied.
He looked at me with a sudden sharpness. "What is all this?" said
"You and I and your friend Mr. Dass are now all the company," I
replied. "My lord, my lady, and the children, are gone upon a
"Upon my word!" said he. "Can this be possible? I have indeed
fluttered your Volscians in Corioli! But this is no reason why our
breakfast should go cold. Sit down, Mr. Mackellar, if you please"
- taking, as he spoke, the head of the table, which I had designed
to occupy myself - "and as we eat, you can give me the details of
I could see he was more affected than his language carried, and I
determined to equal him in coolness. "I was about to ask you to
take the head of the table," said I; "for though I am now thrust
into the position of your host, I could never forget that you were,
after all, a member of the family."
For a while he played the part of entertainer, giving directions to
Macconochie, who received them with an evil grace, and attending
specially upon Secundra. "And where has my good family withdrawn
to?" he asked carelessly.
"Ah! Mr. Bally, that is another point," said I. "I have no orders
to communicate their destination."
"To me," he corrected.
"To any one," said I.
"It is the less pointed," said the master; "C'EST DE BON TON: my
brother improves as he continues. And I, dear Mr. Mackellar?"
"You will have bed and board, Mr. Bally," said I. "I am permitted
to give you the run of the cellar, which is pretty reasonably
stocked. You have only to keep well with me, which is no very
difficult matter, and you shall want neither for wine nor a saddle-
He made an excuse to send Macconochie from the room.
"And for money?" he inquired. "Have I to keep well with my good
friend Mackellar for my pocket-money also? This is a pleasing
return to the principles of boyhood."
"There was no allowance made," said I; "but I will take it on
myself to see you are supplied in moderation."
"In moderation?" he repeated. "And you will take it on yourself?"
He drew himself up, and looked about the hall at the dark rows of
portraits. "In the name of my ancestors, I thank you," says he;
and then, with a return to irony, "But there must certainly be an
allowance for Secundra Dass?" he said. "It in not possible they
have omitted that?"
"I will make a note of it, and ask instructions when I write," said
And he, with a sudden change of manner, and leaning forward with an
elbow on the table - "Do you think this entirely wise?"
"I execute my orders, Mr. Bally," said I.
"Profoundly modest," said the Master; "perhaps not equally
ingenuous. You told me yesterday my power was fallen with my
father's death. How comes it, then, that a peer of the realm flees
under cloud of night out of a house in which his fathers have stood
several sieges? that he conceals his address, which must be a
matter of concern to his Gracious Majesty and to the whole
republic? and that he should leave me in possession, and under the
paternal charge of his invaluable Mackellar? This smacks to me of
a very considerable and genuine apprehension."
I sought to interrupt him with some not very truthful denegation;
but he waved me down, and pursued his speech.
"I say, it smacks of it," he said; "but I will go beyond that, for
I think the apprehension grounded. I came to this house with some
reluctancy. In view of the manner of my last departure, nothing
but necessity could have induced me to return. Money, however, is
that which I must have. You will not give with a good grace; well,
I have the power to force it from you. Inside of a week, without
leaving Durrisdeer, I will find out where these fools are fled to.
I will follow; and when I have run my quarry down, I will drive a
wedge into that family that shall once more burst it into shivers.
I shall see then whether my Lord Durrisdeer" (said with
indescribable scorn and rage) "will choose to buy my absence; and
you will all see whether, by that time, I decide for profit or
I was amazed to hear the man so open. The truth is, he was
consumed with anger at my lord's successful flight, felt himself to
figure as a dupe, and was in no humour to weigh language.
"Do you consider THIS entirely wise?" said I, copying his words.
"These twenty years I have lived by my poor wisdom," he answered
with a smile that seemed almost foolish in its vanity.
"And come out a beggar in the end," said I, "if beggar be a strong
enough word for it."
"I would have you to observe, Mr. Mackellar," cried he, with a
sudden imperious heat, in which I could not but admire him, "that I
am scrupulously civil: copy me in that, and we shall be the better
Throughout this dialogue I had been incommoded by the observation
of Secundra Dass. Not one of us, since the first word, had made a
feint of eating: our eyes were in each other's faces - you might
say, in each other's bosoms; and those of the Indian troubled me
with a certain changing brightness, as of comprehension. But I
brushed the fancy aside, telling myself once more he understood no
English; only, from the gravity of both voices, and the occasional
scorn and anger in the Master's, smelled out there was something of
import in the wind.
For the matter of three weeks we continued to live together in the
house of Durrisdeer: the beginning of that most singular chapter
of my life - what I must call my intimacy with the Master. At
first he was somewhat changeable in his behaviour: now civil, now
returning to his old manner of flouting me to my face; and in both
I met him half-way. Thanks be to Providence, I had now no measure
to keep with the man; and I was never afraid of black brows, only
of naked swords. So that I found a certain entertainment in these
bouts of incivility, and was not always ill-inspired in my
rejoinders. At last (it was at supper) I had a droll expression
that entirely vanquished him. He laughed again and again; and "Who
would have guessed," he cried, "that this old wife had any wit
under his petticoats?"
"It is no wit, Mr. Bally," said I: "a dry Scot's humour, and
something of the driest." And, indeed, I never had the least
pretension to be thought a wit.
From that hour he was never rude with me, but all passed between us
in a manner of pleasantry. One of our chief times of daffing (9)
was when he required a horse, another bottle, or some money. He
would approach me then after the manner of a schoolboy, and I would
carry it on by way of being his father: on both sides, with an
infinity of mirth. I could not but perceive that he thought more
of me, which tickled that poor part of mankind, the vanity. He
dropped, besides (I must suppose unconsciously), into a manner that
was not only familiar, but even friendly; and this, on the part of
one who had so long detested me, I found the more insidious. He
went little abroad; sometimes even refusing invitations. "No," he
would say, "what do I care for these thick-headed bonnet-lairds? I
will stay at home, Mackellar; and we shall share a bottle quietly,
and have one of our good talks." And, indeed, meal-time at
Durrisdeer must have been a delight to any one, by reason of the
brilliancy of the discourse. He would often express wonder at his
former indifference to my society. "But, you see," he would add,
"we were upon opposite sides. And so we are to-day; but let us
never speak of that. I would think much less of you if you were
not staunch to your employer." You are to consider he seemed to me
quite impotent for any evil; and how it is a most engaging form of
flattery when (after many years) tardy justice is done to a man's
character and parts. But I have no thought to excuse myself. I
was to blame; I let him cajole me, and, in short, I think the
watch-dog was going sound asleep, when he was suddenly aroused.
I should say the Indian was continually travelling to and fro in
the house. He never spoke, save in his own dialect and with the
Master; walked without sound; and was always turning up where you
would least expect him, fallen into a deep abstraction, from which
he would start (upon your coming) to mock you with one of his
grovelling obeisances. He seemed so quiet, so frail, and so
wrapped in his own fancies, that I came to pass him over without
much regard, or even to pity him for a harmless exile from his
country. And yet without doubt the creature was still
eavesdropping; and without doubt it was through his stealth and my
security that our secret reached the Master.
It was one very wild night, after supper, and when we had been
making more than usually merry, that the blow fell on me.
"This is all very fine," says the Master, "but we should do better
to be buckling our valise."
"Why so?" I cried. "Are you leaving?"
"We are all leaving to-morrow in the morning," said he. "For the
port of Glascow first, thence for the province of New York."
I suppose I must have groaned aloud.
"Yes," he continued, "I boasted; I said a week, and it has taken me
near twenty days. But never mind; I shall make it up; I will go
"Have you the money for this voyage?" I asked.
"Dear and ingenuous personage, I have," said he. "Blame me, if you
choose, for my duplicity; but while I have been wringing shillings
from my daddy, I had a stock of my own put by against a rainy day.
You will pay for your own passage, if you choose to accompany us on
our flank march; I have enough for Secundra and myself, but not
more - enough to be dangerous, not enough to be generous. There
is, however, an outside seat upon the chaise which I will let you
have upon a moderate commutation; so that the whole menagerie can
go together - the house-dog, the monkey, and the tiger."
"I go with you," said I.
"I count upon it," said the Master. "You have seen me foiled; I
mean you shall see me victorious. To gain that I will risk wetting
you like a sop in this wild weather."
"And at least," I added, "you know very well you could not throw me
"Not easily," said he. "You put your finger on the point with your
usual excellent good sense. I never fight with the inevitable."
"I suppose it is useless to appeal to you?" said I.
"Believe me, perfectly," said he.
"And yet, if you would give me time, I could write - " I began.
"And what would be my Lord Durrisdeer's answer?" asks he.
"Aye," said I, "that is the rub."
"And, at any rate, how much more expeditions that I should go
myself!" says he. "But all this is quite a waste of breath. At
seven to-morrow the chaise will be at the door. For I start from
the door, Mackellar; I do not skulk through woods and take my
chaise upon the wayside - shall we say, at Eagles?"
My mind was now thoroughly made up. "Can you spare me quarter of
an hour at St. Bride's?" said I. "I have a little necessary
business with Carlyle."
"An hour, if you prefer," said he. "I do not seek to deny that the
money for your seat is an object to me; and you could always get
the first to Glascow with saddle-horses."
"Well," said I, "I never thought to leave old Scotland."
"It will brisken you up," says he.
"This will be an ill journey for some one," I said. "I think, sir,
for you. Something speaks in my bosom; and so much it says plain -
that this is an ill-omened journey."
"If you take to prophecy," says he, "listen to that."
There came up a violent squall off the open Solway, and the rain
was dashed on the great windows.
"Do ye ken what that bodes, warlock?" said he, in a broad accent:
"that there'll be a man Mackellar unco' sick at sea."
When I got to my chamber, I sat there under a painful excitation,
hearkening to the turmoil of the gale, which struck full upon that
gable of the house. What with the pressure on my spirits, the
eldritch cries of the wind among the turret-tops, and the perpetual
trepidation of the masoned house, sleep fled my eyelids utterly. I
sat by my taper, looking on the black panes of the window, where
the storm appeared continually on the point of bursting in its
entrance; and upon that empty field I beheld a perspective of
consequences that made the hair to rise upon my scalp. The child
corrupted, the home broken up, my master dead or worse than dead,
my mistress plunged in desolation - all these I saw before me
painted brightly on the darkness; and the outcry of the wind
appeared to mock at my inaction.
CHAPTER IX. - MR. MACKELLAR'S JOURNEY WITH THE MASTER.
The chaise came to the door in a strong drenching mist. We took
our leave in silence: the house of Durrisdeer standing with
dropping gutters and windows closed, like a place dedicate to
melancholy. I observed the Master kept his head out, looking back
on these splashed walls and glimmering roofs, till they were
suddenly swallowed in the mist; and I must suppose some natural
sadness fell upon the man at this departure; or was it some
provision of the end? At least, upon our mounting the long brae
from Durrisdeer, as we walked side by side in the wet, he began
first to whistle and then to sing the saddest of our country tunes,
which sets folk weeping in a tavern, WANDERING WILLIE. The set of
words he used with it I have not heard elsewhere, and could never
come by any copy; but some of them which were the most appropriate
to our departure linger in my memory. One verse began -
Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
And ended somewhat thus -
Now, when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the folks are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.
I could never be a judge of the merit of these verses; they were so
hallowed by the melancholy of the air, and were sung (or rather
"soothed") to me by a master-singer at a time so fitting. He
looked in my face when he had done, and saw that my eyes watered.
"Ah! Mackellar," said he, "do you think I have never a regret?"
"I do not think you could be so bad a man," said I, "if you had not
all the machinery to be a good one."
"No, not all," says he: "not all. You are there in error. The
malady of not wanting, my evangelist." But methought he sighed as
he mounted again into the chaise.
All day long we journeyed in the same miserable weather: the mist
besetting us closely, the heavens incessantly weeping on my head.
The road lay over moorish hills, where was no sound but the crying
of moor-fowl in the wet heather and the pouring of the swollen
burns. Sometimes I would doze off in slumber, when I would find
myself plunged at once in some foul and ominous nightmare, from the
which I would awake strangling. Sometimes, if the way was steep
and the wheels turning slowly, I would overhear the voices from
within, talking in that tropical tongue which was to me as
inarticulate as the piping of the fowls. Sometimes, at a longer
ascent, the Master would set foot to ground and walk by my side,
mostly without speech. And all the time, sleeping or waking, I
beheld the same black perspective of approaching ruin; and the same
pictures rose in my view, only they were now painted upon hillside
mist. One, I remember, stood before me with the colours of a true
illusion. It showed me my lord seated at a table in a small room;
his head, which was at first buried in his hands, he slowly raised,
and turned upon me a countenance from which hope had fled. I saw
it first on the black window-panes, my last night in Durrisdeer; it
haunted and returned upon me half the voyage through; and yet it
was no effect of lunacy, for I have come to a ripe old age with no
decay of my intelligence; nor yet (as I was then tempted to
suppose) a heaven-sent warning of the future, for all manner of
calamities befell, not that calamity - and I saw many pitiful
sights, but never that one.
It was decided we should travel on all night; and it was singular,
once the dusk had fallen, my spirits somewhat rose. The bright
lamps, shining forth into the mist and on the smoking horses and
the hodding post-boy, gave me perhaps an outlook intrinsically more
cheerful than what day had shown; or perhaps my mind had become
wearied of its melancholy. At least, I spent some waking hours,
not without satisfaction in my thoughts, although wet and weary in
my body; and fell at last into a natural slumber without dreams.
Yet I must have been at work even in the deepest of my sleep; and
at work with at least a measure of intelligence. For I started
broad awake, in the very act of crying out to myself
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child,
stricken to find in it an appropriateness, which I had not
yesterday observed, to the Master's detestable purpose in the
We were then close upon the city of Glascow, where we were soon
breakfasting together at an inn, and where (as the devil would have
it) we found a ship in the very article of sailing. We took our
places in the cabin; and, two days after, carried our effects on
board. Her name was the NONESUCH, a very ancient ship and very
happily named. By all accounts this should be her last voyage;
people shook their heads upon the quays, and I had several warnings
offered me by strangers in the street to the effect that she was
rotten as a cheese, too deeply loaden, and must infallibly founder
if we met a gale. From this it fell out we were the only
passengers; the Captain, McMurtrie, was a silent, absorbed man,
with the Glascow or Gaelic accent; the mates ignorant rough
seafarers, come in through the hawsehole; and the Master and I were
cast upon each other's company.
THE NONESUCH carried a fair wind out of the Clyde, and for near
upon a week we enjoyed bright weather and a sense of progress. I
found myself (to my wonder) a born seaman, in so far at least as I
was never sick; yet I was far from tasting the usual serenity of my
health. Whether it was the motion of the ship on the billows, the
confinement, the salted food, or all of these together, I suffered
from a blackness of spirit and a painful strain upon my temper.
The nature of my errand on that ship perhaps contributed; I think
it did no more; the malady (whatever it was) sprang from my
environment; and if the ship were not to blame, then it was the
Master. Hatred and fear are ill bedfellows; but (to my shame be it
spoken) I have tasted those in other places, lain down and got up
with them, and eaten and drunk with them, and yet never before, nor
after, have I been so poisoned through and through, in soul and
body, as I was on board the NONESUCH. I freely confess my enemy
set me a fair example of forbearance; in our worst days displayed
the most patient geniality, holding me in conversation as long as I
would suffer, and when I had rebuffed his civility, stretching
himself on deck to read. The book he had on board with him was Mr.
Richardson's famous CLARISSA! and among other small attentions he
would read me passages aloud; nor could any elocutionist have given
with greater potency the pathetic portions of that work. I would
retort upon him with passages out of the Bible, which was all my
library - and very fresh to me, my religious duties (I grieve to
say it) being always and even to this day extremely neglected. He
tasted the merits of the word like the connoisseur he was; and
would sometimes take it from my hand, turn the leaves over like a
man that knew his way, and give me, with his fine declamation, a
Roland for my Oliver. But it was singular how little he applied
his reading to himself; it passed high above his head like summer
thunder: Lovelace and Clarissa, the tales of David's generosity,
the psalms of his penitence, the solemn questions of the book of
Job, the touching poetry of Isaiah - they were to him a source of
entertainment only, like the scraping of a fiddle in a change-
house. This outer sensibility and inner toughness set me against
him; it seemed of a piece with that impudent grossness which I knew
to underlie the veneer of his fine manners; and sometimes my gorge
rose against him as though he were deformed - and sometimes I would
draw away as though from something partly spectral. I had moments
when I thought of him as of a man of pasteboard - as though, if one
should strike smartly through the buckram of his countenance, there
would be found a mere vacuity within. This horror (not merely
fanciful, I think) vastly increased my detestation of his
neighbourhood; I began to feel something shiver within me on his
drawing near; I had at times a longing to cry out; there were days
when I thought I could have struck him. This frame of mind was
doubtless helped by shame, because I had dropped during our last
days at Durrisdeer into a certain toleration of the man; and if any
one had then told me I should drop into it again, I must have
laughed in his face. It is possible he remained unconscious of
this extreme fever of my resentment; yet I think he was too quick;
and rather that he had fallen, in a long life of idleness, into a
positive need of company, which obliged him to confront and
tolerate my unconcealed aversion. Certain, at least, that he loved
the note of his own tongue, as, indeed, he entirely loved all the
parts and properties of himself; a sort of imbecility which almost
necessarily attends on wickedness. I have seen him driven, when I
proved recalcitrant, to long discourses with the skipper; and this,
although the man plainly testified his weariness, fiddling
miserably with both hand and foot, and replying only with a grunt.
After the first week out we fell in with foul winds and heavy
weather. The sea was high. The NONESUCH, being an old-fashioned
ship and badly loaden, rolled beyond belief; so that the skipper
trembled for his masts, and I for my life. We made no progress on
our course. An unbearable ill-humour settled on the ship: men,
mates, and master, girding at one another all day long. A saucy
word on the one hand, and a blow on the other, made a daily
incident. There were times when the whole crew refused their duty;
and we of the afterguard were twice got under arms - being the
first time that ever I bore weapons - in the fear of mutiny.
In the midst of our evil season sprang up a hurricane of wind; so
that all supposed she must go down. I was shut in the cabin from
noon of one day till sundown of the next; the Master was somewhere
lashed on deck. Secundra had eaten of some drug and lay
insensible; so you may say I passed these hours in an unbroken
solitude. At first I was terrified beyond motion, and almost
beyond thought, my mind appearing to be frozen. Presently there
stole in on me a ray of comfort. If the NONESUCH foundered, she
would carry down with her into the deeps of that unsounded sea the
creature whom we all so feared and hated; there would be no more
Master of Ballantrae, the fish would sport among his ribs; his
schemes all brought to nothing, his harmless enemies at peace. At
first, I have said, it was but a ray of comfort; but it had soon
grown to be broad sunshine. The thought of the man's death, of his
deletion from this world, which he embittered for so many, took
possession of my mind. I hugged it, I found it sweet in my belly.
I conceived the ship's last plunge, the sea bursting upon all sides
into the cabin, the brief mortal conflict there, all by myself, in
that closed place; I numbered the horrors, I had almost said with
satisfaction; I felt I could bear all and more, if the NONESUCH
carried down with her, overtook by the same ruin, the enemy of my
poor master's house. Towards noon of the second day the screaming
of the wind abated; the ship lay not so perilously over, and it
began to be clear to me that we were past the height of the
tempest. As I hope for mercy, I was singly disappointed. In the
selfishness of that vile, absorbing passion of hatred, I forgot the
case of our innocent shipmates, and thought but of myself and my
enemy. For myself, I was already old; I had never been young, I
was not formed for the world's pleasures, I had few affections; it
mattered not the toss of a silver tester whether I was drowned
there and then in the Atlantic, or dribbled out a few more years,
to die, perhaps no less terribly, in a deserted sick-bed. Down I
went upon my knees - holding on by the locker, or else I had been
instantly dashed across the tossing cabin - and, lifting up my
voice in the midst of that clamour of the abating hurricane,
impiously prayed for my own death. "O God!" I cried, "I would be
liker a man if I rose and struck this creature down; but Thou
madest me a coward from my mother's womb. O Lord, Thou madest me
so, Thou knowest my weakness, Thou knowest that any face of death
will set me shaking in my shoes. But, lo! here is Thy servant
ready, his mortal weakness laid aside. Let me give my life for
this creature's; take the two of them, Lord! take the two, and have
mercy on the innocent!" In some such words as these, only yet more
irreverent and with more sacred adjurations, I continued to pour
forth my spirit. God heard me not, I must suppose in mercy; and I
was still absorbed in my agony of supplication when some one,
removing the tarpaulin cover, let the light of the sunset pour into
the cabin. I stumbled to my feet ashamed, and was seized with
surprise to find myself totter and ache like one that had been
stretched upon the rack. Secundra Dass, who had slept off the
effects of his drug, stood in a corner not far off, gazing at me
with wild eyes; and from the open skylight the captain thanked me
for my supplications.
"It's you that saved the ship, Mr. Mackellar," says he. "There is
no craft of seamanship that could have kept her floating: well may
we say, 'Except the Lord the city keep, the watchmen watch in
I was abashed by the captain's error; abashed, also, by the
surprise and fear with which the Indian regarded me at first, and
the obsequious civilities with which he soon began to cumber me. I
know now that he must have overheard and comprehended the peculiar
nature of my prayers. It is certain, of course, that he at once
disclosed the matter to his patron; and looking back with greater
knowledge, I can now understand what so much puzzled me at the
moment, those singular and (so to speak) approving smiles with
which the Master honoured me. Similarly, I can understand a word
that I remember to have fallen from him in conversation that same
night; when, holding up his hand and smiling, "Ah! Mackellar," said
he, "not every man is so great a coward as he thinks he is - nor
yet so good a Christian." He did not guess how true he spoke! For
the fact is, the thoughts which had come to me in the violence of
the storm retained their hold upon my spirit; and the words that
rose to my lips unbidden in the instancy of prayer continued to
sound in my ears: with what shameful consequences, it is fitting I
should honestly relate; for I could not support a part of such
disloyalty as to describe the sins of others and conceal my own.
The wind fell, but the sea hove ever the higher. All night the
NONESUCH rolled outrageously; the next day dawned, and the next,
and brought no change. To cross the cabin was scarce possible; old
experienced seamen were cast down upon the deck, and one cruelly
mauled in the concussion; every board and block in the old ship
cried out aloud; and the great bell by the anchor-bitts continually
and dolefully rang. One of these days the Master and I sate alone
together at the break of the poop. I should say the NONESUCH
carried a high, raised poop. About the top of it ran considerable
bulwarks, which made the ship unweatherly; and these, as they
approached the front on each side, ran down in a fine, old-
fashioned, carven scroll to join the bulwarks of the waist. From
this disposition, which seems designed rather for ornament than
use, it followed there was a discontinuance of protection: and
that, besides, at the very margin of the elevated part where (in
certain movements of the ship) it might be the most needful. It
was here we were sitting: our feet hanging down, the Master
betwixt me and the side, and I holding on with both hands to the
grating of the cabin skylight; for it struck me it was a dangerous
position, the more so as I had continually before my eyes a measure
of our evolutions in the person of the Master, which stood out in
the break of the bulwarks against the sun. Now his head would be
in the zenith and his shadow fall quite beyond the NONESUCH on the
farther side; and now he would swing down till he was underneath my
feet, and the line of the sea leaped high above him like the
ceiling of a room. I looked on upon this with a growing
fascination, as birds are said to look on snakes. My mind,
besides, was troubled with an astonishing diversity of noises; for
now that we had all sails spread in the vain hope to bring her to
the sea, the ship sounded like a factory with their reverberations.
We spoke first of the mutiny with which we had been threatened;
this led us on to the topic of assassination; and that offered a
temptation to the Master more strong than he was able to resist.
He must tell me a tale, and show me at the same time how clever he
was and how wicked. It was a thing he did always with affectation
and display; generally with a good effect. But this tale, told in
a high key in the midst of so great a tumult, and by a narrator who
was one moment looking down at me from the skies and the next up
from under the soles of my feet - this particular tale, I say, took
hold upon me in a degree quite singular.
"My friend the count," it was thus that he began his story, "had
for an enemy a certain German baron, a stranger in Rome. It
matters not what was the ground of the count's enmity; but as he
had a firm design to be revenged, and that with safety to himself,
he kept it secret even from the baron. Indeed, that is the first
principle of vengeance; and hatred betrayed is hatred impotent.
The count was a man of a curious, searching mind; he had something
of the artist; if anything fell for him to do, it must always be
done with an exact perfection, not only as to the result, but in
the very means and instruments, or he thought the thing miscarried.
It chanced he was one day riding in the outer suburbs, when he came
to a disused by-road branching off into the moor which lies about
Rome. On the one hand was an ancient Roman tomb; on the other a
deserted house in a garden of evergreen trees. This road brought
him presently into a field of ruins, in the midst of which, in the
side of a hill, he saw an open door, and, not far off, a single
stunted pine no greater than a currant-bush. The place was desert
and very secret; a voice spoke in the count's bosom that there was
something here to his advantage. He tied his horse to the pine-
tree, took his flint and steel in his hand to make a light, and
entered into the hill. The doorway opened on a passage of old
Roman masonry, which shortly after branched in two. The count took
the turning to the right, and followed it, groping forward in the
dark, till he was brought up by a kind of fence, about elbow-high,
which extended quite across the passage. Sounding forward with his
foot, he found an edge of polished stone, and then vacancy. All
his curiosity was now awakened, and, getting some rotten sticks
that lay about the floor, he made a fire. In front of him was a
profound well; doubtless some neighbouring peasant had once used it
for his water, and it was he that had set up the fence. A long
while the count stood leaning on the rail and looking down into the
pit. It was of Roman foundation, and, like all that nation set
their hands to, built as for eternity; the sides were still
straight, and the joints smooth; to a man who should fall in, no
escape was possible. 'Now,' the count was thinking, 'a strong
impulsion brought me to this place. What for? what have I gained?
why should I be sent to gaze into this well?' when the rail of the
fence gave suddenly under his weight, and he came within an ace of
falling headlong in. Leaping back to save himself, he trod out the
last flicker of his fire, which gave him thenceforward no more
light, only an incommoding smoke. 'Was I sent here to my death?'
says he, and shook from head to foot. And then a thought flashed
in his mind. He crept forth on hands and knees to the brink of the
pit, and felt above him in the air. The rail had been fast to a
pair of uprights; it had only broken from the one, and still
depended from the other. The count set it back again as he had
found it, so that the place meant death to the first comer, and
groped out of the catacomb like a sick man. The next day, riding
in the Corso with the baron, he purposely betrayed a strong
preoccupation. The other (as he had designed) inquired into the
cause; and he, after some fencing, admitted that his spirits had
been dashed by an unusual dream. This was calculated to draw on
the baron - a superstitious man, who affected the scorn of
superstition. Some rallying followed, and then the count, as if
suddenly carried away, called on his friend to beware, for it was
of him that he had dreamed. You know enough of human nature, my
excellent Mackellar, to be certain of one thing: I mean that the
baron did not rest till he had heard the dream. The count, sure
that he would never desist, kept him in play till his curiosity was
highly inflamed, and then suffered himself, with seeming
reluctance, to be overborne. 'I warn you,' says he, 'evil will
come of it; something tells me so. But since there is to be no
peace either for you or me except on this condition, the blame be
on your own head! This was the dream:- I beheld you riding, I know
not where, yet I think it must have been near Rome, for on your one
hand was an ancient tomb, and on the other a garden of evergreen
trees. Methought I cried and cried upon you to come back in a very
agony of terror; whether you heard me I know not, but you went
doggedly on. The road brought you to a desert place among ruins,
where was a door in a hillside, and hard by the door a misbegotten
pine. Here you dismounted (I still crying on you to beware), tied
your horse to the pine-tree, and entered resolutely in by the door.
Within, it was dark; but in my dream I could still see you, and
still besought you to hold back. You felt your way along the
right-hand wall, took a branching passage to the right, and came to
a little chamber, where was a well with a railing. At this - I
know not why - my alarm for you increased a thousandfold, so that I
seemed to scream myself hoarse with warnings, crying it was still
time, and bidding you begone at once from that vestibule. Such was
the word I used in my dream, and it seemed then to have a clear
significancy; but to-day, and awake, I profess I know not what it
means. To all my outcry you rendered not the least attention,
leaning the while upon the rail and looking down intently in the
water. And then there was made to you a communication; I do not
think I even gathered what it was, but the fear of it plucked me
clean out of my slumber, and I awoke shaking and sobbing. And
now,' continues the count, 'I thank you from my heart for your
insistency. This dream lay on me like a load; and now I have told
it in plain words and in the broad daylight, it seems no great
matter.' - 'I do not know,' says the baron. 'It is in some points
strange. A communication, did you say? Oh! it is an odd dream.
It will make a story to amuse our friends.' - 'I am not so sure,'
says the count. 'I am sensible of some reluctancy. Let us rather
forget it.' - 'By all means,' says the baron. And (in fact) the
dream was not again referred to. Some days after, the count
proposed a ride in the fields, which the baron (since they were
daily growing faster friends) very readily accepted. On the way
back to Rome, the count led them insensibly by a particular route.
Presently he reined in his horse, clapped his hand before his eyes,
and cried out aloud. Then he showed his face again (which was now
quite white, for he was a consummate actor), and stared upon the
baron. 'What ails you?' cries the baron. 'What is wrong with
you?' - 'Nothing,' cries the count. 'It is nothing. A seizure, I
know not what. Let us hurry back to Rome.' But in the meanwhile
the baron had looked about him; and there, on the left-hand side of
the way as they went back to Rome, he saw a dusty by-road with a
tomb upon the one hand and a garden of evergreen trees upon the
other. - 'Yes,' says he, with a changed voice. 'Let us by all
means hurry back to Rome. I fear you are not well in health.' -
'Oh, for God's sake!' cries the count, shuddering, 'back to Rome
and let me get to bed.' They made their return with scarce a word;
and the count, who should by rights have gone into society, took to
his bed and gave out he had a touch of country fever. The next day
the baron's horse was found tied to the pine, but himself was never
heard of from that hour. - And, now, was that a murder?" says the
Master, breaking sharply off.
"Are you sure he was a count?" I asked.
"I am not certain of the title," said he, "but he was a gentleman
of family: and the Lord deliver you, Mackellar, from an enemy so
These last words he spoke down at me, smiling, from high above; the
next, he was under my feet. I continued to follow his evolutions
with a childish fixity; they made me giddy and vacant, and I spoke
as in a dream.
"He hated the baron with a great hatred?" I asked.
His belly moved when the man came near him," said the Master.
"I have felt that same," said I.
"Verily!" cries the Master. "Here is news indeed! I wonder - do I
flatter myself? or am I the cause of these ventral perturbations?"
He was quite capable of choosing out a graceful posture, even with
no one to behold him but myself, and all the more if there were any
element of peril. He sat now with one knee flung across the other,
his arms on his bosom, fitting the swing of the ship with an
exquisite balance, such as a featherweight might overthrow. All at
once I had the vision of my lord at the table, with his head upon
his hands; only now, when he showed me his countenance, it was
heavy with reproach. The words of my own prayer - I WERE LIKER A
MAN IF I STRUCK THIS CREATURE DOWN - shot at the same time into my
memory. I called my energies together, and (the ship then heeling
downward toward my enemy) thrust at him swiftly with my foot. It
was written I should have the guilt of this attempt without the
profit. Whether from my own uncertainty or his incredible
quickness, he escaped the thrust, leaping to his feet and catching
hold at the same moment of a stay.
I do not know how long a time passed by. I lying where I was upon
the deck, overcome with terror and remorse and shame: he standing
with the stay in his hand, backed against the bulwarks, and
regarding me with an expression singularly mingled. At last he
"Mackellar," said he, "I make no reproaches, but I offer you a
bargain. On your side, I do not suppose you desire to have this
exploit made public; on mine, I own to you freely I do not care to
draw my breath in a perpetual terror of assassination by the man I
sit at meat with. Promise me - but no," says he, breaking off,
"you are not yet in the quiet possession of your mind; you might
think I had extorted the promise from your weakness; and I would
leave no door open for casuistry to come in - that dishonesty of
the conscientious. Take time to meditate."
With that he made off up the sliding deck like a squirrel, and
plunged into the cabin. About half an hour later he returned - I
still lying as he had left me.
"Now,' says be, "will you give me your troth as a Christian, and a
faithful servant of my brother's, that I shall have no more to fear
from your attempts?"
"I give it you," said I.
"I shall require your hand upon it," says he.
"You have the right to make conditions," I replied, and we shook
He sat down at once in the same place and the old perilous
"Hold on!" cried I, covering my eyes. "I cannot bear to see you in
that posture. The least irregularity of the sea might plunge you
"You are highly inconsistent," he replied, smiling, but doing as I
asked. "For all that, Mackellar, I would have you to know you have
risen forty feet in my esteem. You think I cannot set a price upon
fidelity? But why do you suppose I carry that Secundra Dass about
the world with me? Because he would die or do murder for me to-
morrow; and I love him for it. Well, you may think it odd, but I
like you the better for this afternoon's performance. I thought
you were magnetised with the Ten Commandments; but no - God damn my
soul!" - he cries, "the old wife has blood in his body after all!
Which does not change the fact," he continued, smiling again, "that
you have done well to give your promise; for I doubt if you would
ever shine in your new trade."
"I suppose," said I, "I should ask your pardon and God's for my
attempt. At any rate, I have passed my word, which I will keep
faithfully. But when I think of those you persecute - " I paused.
"Life is a singular thing," said he, "and mankind a very singular
people. You suppose yourself to love my brother. I assure you, it
is merely custom. Interrogate your memory; and when first you came
to Durrisdeer, you will find you considered him a dull, ordinary
youth. He is as dull and ordinary now, though not so young. Had
you instead fallen in with me, you would to-day be as strong upon
"I would never say you were ordinary, Mr. Bally," I returned; "but
here you prove yourself dull. You have just shown your reliance on
my word. In other terms, that is my conscience - the same which
starts instinctively back from you, like the eye from a strong
"Ah!" says he, "but I mean otherwise. I mean, had I met you in my
youth. You are to consider I was not always as I am to-day; nor
(had I met in with a friend of your description) should I have ever
"Hut, Mr. Bally," says I, "you would have made a mock of me; you
would never have spent ten civil words on such a Square-toes."
But he was now fairly started on his new course of justification,
with which he wearied me throughout the remainder of the passage.
No doubt in the past he had taken pleasure to paint himself
unnecessarily black, and made a vaunt of his wickedness, bearing it
for a coat-of-arms. Nor was he so illogical as to abate one item
of his old confessions. "But now that I know you are a human
being," he would say, "I can take the trouble to explain myself.
For I assure you I am human, too, and have my virtues, like my
neighbours." I say, he wearied me, for I had only the one word to
say in answer: twenty times I must have said it: "Give up your
present purpose and return with me to Durrisdeer; then I will
Thereupon he would shake his head at me. "Ah! Mackellar, you might
live a thousand years and never understand my nature," he would
say. "This battle is now committed, the hour of reflection quite
past, the hour for mercy not yet come. It began between us when we
span a coin in the hall of Durrisdeer, now twenty years ago; we
have had our ups and downs, but never either of us dreamed of
giving in; and as for me, when my glove is cast, life and honour go
"A fig for your honour!" I would say. "And by your leave, these
warlike similitudes are something too high-sounding for the matter
in hand. You want some dirty money; there is the bottom of your
contention; and as for your means, what are they? to stir up sorrow
in a family that never harmed you, to debauch (if you can) your own
nephew, and to wring the heart of your born brother! A footpad
that kills an old granny in a woollen mutch with a dirty bludgeon,
and that for a shilling-piece and a paper of snuff - there is all
the warrior that you are."
When I would attack him thus (or somewhat thus) he would smile, and
sigh like a man misunderstood. Once, I remember, he defended
himself more at large, and had some curious sophistries, worth
repeating, for a light upon his character.
"You are very like a civilian to think war consists in drums and
banners," said he. "War (as the ancients said very wisely) is
ULTIMA RATIO. When we take our advantage unrelentingly, then we
make war. Ah! Mackellar, you are a devil of a soldier in the
steward's room at Durrisdeer, or the tenants do you sad injustice!"
"I think little of what war is or is not," I replied. "But you
weary me with claiming my respect. Your brother is a good man, and
you are a bad one - neither more nor less."
"Had I been Alexander - " he began.
"It is so we all dupe ourselves," I cried. "Had I been St. Paul,
it would have been all one; I would have made the same hash of that
career that you now see me making of my own."
"I tell you," he cried, bearing down my interruption, "had I been
the least petty chieftain in the Highlands, had I been the least
king of naked negroes in the African desert, my people would have
adored me. A bad man, am I? Ah! but I was born for a good tyrant!
Ask Secundra Dass; he will tell you I treat him like a son. Cast
in your lot with me to-morrow, become my slave, my chattel, a thing
I can command as I command the powers of my own limbs and spirit -
you will see no more that dark side that I turn upon the world in
anger. I must have all or none. But where all is given, I give it
back with usury. I have a kingly nature: there is my loss!"
"It has been hitherto rather the loss of others," I remarked,
"which seems a little on the hither side of royalty."
"Tilly-vally!" cried he. "Even now, I tell you, I would spare that
family in which you take so great an interest: yes, even now - to-
morrow I would leave them to their petty welfare, and disappear in
that forest of cut-throats and thimble-riggers that we call the
world. I would do it to-morrow!" says he. "Only - only - "
"Only what?" I asked.
"Only they must beg it on their bended knees. I think in public,
too," he added, smiling. "Indeed, Mackellar, I doubt if there be a
hall big enough to serve my purpose for that act of reparation."
"Vanity, vanity!" I moralised. "To think that this great force for
evil should be swayed by the same sentiment that sets a lassie
mincing to her glass!"
"Oh! there are double words for everything: the word that swells,
the word that belittles; you cannot fight me with a word!" said he.
"You said the other day that I relied on your conscience: were I
in your humour of detraction, I might say I built upon your vanity.
It is your pretension to be UN HOMME DE PAROLE; 'tis mine not to
accept defeat. Call it vanity, call it virtue, call it greatness
of soul - what signifies the expression? But recognise in each of
us a common strain: that we both live for an idea."
It will be gathered from so much familiar talk, and so much
patience on both sides, that we now lived together upon excellent
terms. Such was again the fact, and this time more seriously than
before. Apart from disputations such as that which I have tried to
reproduce, not only consideration reigned, but, I am tempted to
say, even kindness. When I fell sick (as I did shortly after our
great storm), he sat by my berth to entertain me with his
conversation, and treated me with excellent remedies, which I
accepted with security. Himself commented on the circumstance.
"You see," says he, "you begin to know me better. A very little
while ago, upon this lonely ship, where no one but myself has any
smattering of science, you would have made sure I had designs upon
your life. And, observe, it is since I found you had designs upon
my own, that I have shown you most respect. You will tell me if
this speaks of a small mind." I found little to reply. In so far
as regarded myself, I believed him to mean well; I am, perhaps, the
more a dupe of his dissimulation, but I believed (and I still
believe) that he regarded me with genuine kindness. Singular and
sad fact! so soon as this change began, my animosity abated, and
these haunting visions of my master passed utterly away. So that,
perhaps, there was truth in the man's last vaunting word to me,
uttered on the second day of July, when our long voyage was at last
brought almost to an end, and we lay becalmed at the sea end of the
vast harbour of New York, in a gasping heat, which was presently
exchanged for a surprising waterfall of rain. I stood on the poop,
regarding the green shores near at hand, and now and then the light
smoke of the little town, our destination. And as I was even then
devising how to steal a march on my familiar enemy, I was conscious
of a shade of embarrassment when he approached me with his hand
"I am now to bid you farewell," said he, "and that for ever. For
now you go among my enemies, where all your former prejudices will
revive. I never yet failed to charm a person when I wanted; even
you, my good friend - to call you so for once - even you have now a
very different portrait of me in your memory, and one that you will
never quite forget. The voyage has not lasted long enough, or I
should have wrote the impression deeper. But now all is at an end,
and we are again at war. Judge by this little interlude how
dangerous I am; and tell those fools" - pointing with his finger to
the town - "to think twice and thrice before they set me at
CHAPTER X. - PASSAGES AT NEW YORK.
I have mentioned I was resolved to steal a march upon the Master;
and this, with the complicity of Captain McMurtrie, was mighty
easily effected: a boat being partly loaded on the one side of our
ship and the Master placed on board of it, the while a skiff put
off from the other, carrying me alone. I had no more trouble in
finding a direction to my lord's house, whither I went at top
speed, and which I found to be on the outskirts of the place, a
very suitable mansion, in a fine garden, with an extraordinary
large barn, byre, and stable, all in one. It was here my lord was
walking when I arrived; indeed, it had become his chief place of
frequentation, and his mind was now filled with farming. I burst
in upon him breathless, and gave him my news: which was indeed no
news at all, several ships having outsailed the NONESUCH in the
"We have been expecting you long," said my lord; "and indeed, of
late days, ceased to expect you any more. I am glad to take your
hand again, Mackellar. I thought you had been at the bottom of the
"Ah! my lord, would God I had!" cried I. "Things would have been
better for yourself."
"Not in the least," says he, grimly. "I could not ask better.
There is a long score to pay, and now - at last - I can begin to
I cried out against his security.
"Oh!" says he, "this is not Durrisdeer, and I have taken my
precautions. His reputation awaits him; I have prepared a welcome
for my brother. Indeed, fortune has served me; for I found here a
merchant of Albany who knew him after the '45 and had mighty
convenient suspicions of a murder: some one of the name of Chew it
was, another Albanian. No one here will be surprised if I deny him
my door; he will not be suffered to address my children, nor even
to salute my wife: as for myself, I make so much exception for a
brother that he may speak to me. I should lose my pleasure else,"
says my lord, rubbing his palms.
Presently he bethought himself, and set men off running, with
billets, to summon the magnates of the province. I cannot recall
what pretext he employed; at least, it was successful; and when our
ancient enemy appeared upon the scene, he found my lord pacing in
front of his house under some trees of shade, with the Governor
upon one hand and various notables upon the other. My lady, who
was seated in the verandah, rose with a very pinched expression and
carried her children into the house.
The Master, well dressed and with an elegant walking-sword, bowed
to the company in a handsome manner and nodded to my lord with
familiarity. My lord did not accept the salutation, but looked
upon his brother with bended brows.
"Well, sir," says he, at last, "what ill wind brings you hither of
all places, where (to our common disgrace) your reputation has
"Your lordship is pleased to be civil," said the Master, with a
"I am pleased to be very plain," returned my lord; "because it is
needful you should clearly understand your situation. At home,
where you were so little known, it was still possible to keep
appearances; that would be quite vain in this province; and I have
to tell you that I am quite resolved to wash my hands of you. You
have already ruined me almost to the door, as you ruined my father
before me; - whose heart you also broke. Your crimes escape the
law; but my friend the Governor has promised protection to my
family. Have a care, sir!" cries my lord, shaking his cane at him:
"if you are observed to utter two words to any of my innocent
household, the law shall be stretched to make you smart for it."
"Ah!" says the Master, very slowly. "And so this is the advantage
of a foreign land! These gentlemen are unacquainted with our
story, I perceive. They do not know that I am the Lord Durrisdeer;
they do not know you are my younger brother, sitting in my place
under a sworn family compact; they do not know (or they would not
be seen with you in familiar correspondence) that every acre is
mine before God Almighty - and every doit of the money you withhold
from me, you do it as a thief, a perjurer, and a disloyal brother!"
"General Clinton," I cried, "do not listen to his lies. I am the
steward of the estate, and there is not one word of truth in it.
The man is a forfeited rebel turned into a hired spy: there is his
story in two words."
It was thus that (in the heat of the moment) I let slip his infamy.
"Fellow," said the Governor, turning his face sternly on the
Master, "I know more of you than you think for. We have some
broken ends of your adventures in the provinces, which you will do
very well not to drive me to investigate. There is the
disappearance of Mr. Jacob Chew with all his merchandise; there is
the matter of where you came ashore from with so much money and
jewels, when you were picked up by a Bermudan out of Albany.
Believe me, if I let these matters lie, it is in commiseration for
your family and out of respect for my valued friend, Lord
There was a murmur of applause from the provincials.
"I should have remembered how a title would shine out in such a
hole as this," says the Master, white as a sheet: "no matter how
unjustly come by. It remains for me, then, to die at my lord's
door, where my dead body will form a very cheerful ornament."
"Away with your affectations!" cries my lord. "You know very well
I have no such meaning; only to protect myself from calumny, and my
home from your intrusion. I offer you a choice. Either I shall
pay your passage home on the first ship, when you may perhaps be
able to resume your occupations under Government, although God
knows I would rather see you on the highway! Or, if that likes you
not, stay here and welcome! I have inquired the least sum on which
body and soul can be decently kept together in New York; so much
you shall have, paid weekly; and if you cannot labour with your
hands to better it, high time you should betake yourself to learn.
The condition is - that you speak with no member of my family
except myself," he added.
I do not think I have ever seen any man so pale as was the Master;
but he was erect and his mouth firm.
"I have been met here with some very unmerited insults," said he,
"from which I have certainly no idea to take refuge by flight.
Give me your pittance; I take it without shame, for it is mine
already - like the shirt upon your back; and I choose to stay until
these gentlemen shall understand me better. Already they must spy
the cloven hoof, since with all your pretended eagerness for the
family honour, you take a pleasure to degrade it in my person."
"This is all very fine," says my lord; "but to us who know you of
old, you must be sure it signifies nothing. You take that
alternative out of which you think that you can make the most.
Take it, if you can, in silence; it will serve you better in the
long run, you may believe me, than this ostentation of
"Oh, gratitude, my lord!" cries the Master, with a mounting
intonation and his forefinger very conspicuously lifted up. "Be at
rest: it will not fail you. It now remains that I should salute
these gentlemen whom we have wearied with our family affairs."
And he bowed to each in succession, settled his walking-sword, and
took himself off, leaving every one amazed at his behaviour, and me
not less so at my lord's.
We were now to enter on a changed phase of this family division.
The Master was by no manner of means so helpless as my lord
supposed, having at his hand, and entirely devoted to his service,
an excellent artist in all sorts of goldsmith work. With my lord's
allowance, which was not so scanty as he had described it, the pair
could support life; and all the earnings of Secundra Dass might be
laid upon one side for any future purpose. That this was done, I
have no doubt. It was in all likelihood the Master's design to
gather a sufficiency, and then proceed in quest of that treasure
which he had buried long before among the mountains; to which, if
he had confined himself, he would have been more happily inspired.
But unfortunately for himself and all of us, he took counsel of his
anger. The public disgrace of his arrival - which I sometimes
wonder he could manage to survive - rankled in his bones; he was in
that humour when a man - in the words of the old adage - will cut
off his nose to spite his face; and he must make himself a public
spectacle in the hopes that some of the disgrace might spatter on
He chose, in a poor quarter of the town, a lonely, small house of
boards, overhung with some acacias. It was furnished in front with
a sort of hutch opening, like that of a dog's kennel, but about as
high as a table from the ground, in which the poor man that built
it had formerly displayed some wares; and it was this which took
the Master's fancy and possibly suggested his proceedings. It
appears, on board the pirate ship he had acquired some quickness
with the needle - enough, at least, to play the part of tailor in
the public eye; which was all that was required by the nature of
his vengeance. A placard was hung above the hutch, bearing these
words in something of the following disposition:
FORMERLY MASTER OF BALLANTRAE.
CLOTHES NEATLY CLOUTED.
* * * * *
DECAYED GENTLEMAN OF INDIA.
FINE GOLDSMITH WORK.
Underneath this, when he had a job, my gentleman sat withinside
tailor-wise and busily stitching. I say, when he had a job; but
such customers as came were rather for Secundra, and the Master's
sewing would be more in the manner of Penelope's. He could never
have designed to gain even butter to his bread by such a means of
livelihood: enough for him that there was the name of Durie
dragged in the dirt on the placard, and the sometime heir of that
proud family set up cross-legged in public for a reproach upon his
brother's meanness. And in so far his device succeeded that there
was murmuring in the town and a party formed highly inimical to my
lord. My lord's favour with the Governor laid him more open on the
other side; my lady (who was never so well received in the colony)
met with painful innuendoes; in a party of women, where it would be
the topic most natural to introduce, she was almost debarred from
the naming of needle-work; and I have seen her return with a
flushed countenance and vow that she would go abroad no more.
In the meanwhile my lord dwelled in his decent mansion, immersed in
farming; a popular man with his intimates, and careless or
unconscious of the rest. He laid on flesh; had a bright, busy
face; even the heat seemed to prosper with him; and my lady - in
despite of her own annoyances - daily blessed Heaven her father
should have left her such a paradise. She had looked on from a
window upon the Master's humiliation; and from that hour appeared
to feel at ease. I was not so sure myself; as time went on, there
seemed to me a something not quite wholesome in my lord's
condition. Happy he was, beyond a doubt, but the grounds of this
felicity were wont; even in the bosom of his family he brooded with
manifest delight upon some private thought; and I conceived at last
the suspicion (quite unworthy of us both) that he kept a mistress
somewhere in the town. Yet he went little abroad, and his day was
very fully occupied; indeed, there was but a single period, and
that pretty early in the morning, while Mr. Alexander was at his
lesson-book, of which I was not certain of the disposition. It
should be borne in mind, in the defence of that which I now did,
that I was always in some fear my lord was not quite justly in his
reason; and with our enemy sitting so still in the same town with
us, I did well to be upon my guard. Accordingly I made a pretext,
had the hour changed at which I taught Mr. Alexander the foundation
of cyphering and the mathematic, and set myself instead to dog my
Every morning, fair or foul, he took his gold-headed cane, set his
hat on the back of his head - a recent habitude, which I thought to
indicate a burning brow - and betook himself to make a certain
circuit. At the first his way was among pleasant trees and beside
a graveyard, where he would sit awhile, if the day were fine, in
meditation. Presently the path turned down to the waterside, and
came back along the harbour-front and past the Master's booth. As
he approached this second part of his circuit, my Lord Durrisdeer
began to pace more leisurely, like a man delighted with the air and
scene; and before the booth, half-way between that and the water's
edge, would pause a little, leaning on his staff. It was the hour
when the Master sate within upon his board and plied his needle.
So these two brothers would gaze upon each other with hard faces;
and then my lord move on again, smiling to himself.
It was but twice that I must stoop to that ungrateful necessity of
playing spy. I was then certain of my lord's purpose in his
rambles and of the secret source of his delight. Here was his
mistress: it was hatred and not love that gave him healthful
colours. Some moralists might have been relieved by the discovery;
I confess that I was dismayed. I found this situation of two
brethren not only odious in itself, but big with possibilities of
further evil; and I made it my practice, in so far as many
occupations would allow, to go by a shorter path and be secretly
present at their meeting. Coming down one day a little late, after
I had been near a week prevented, I was struck with surprise to
find a new development. I should say there was a bench against the
Master's house, where customers might sit to parley with the
shopman; and here I found my lord seated, nursing his cane and
looking pleasantly forth upon the bay. Not three feet from him
sate the Master, stitching. Neither spoke; nor (in this new
situation) did my lord so much as cut a glance upon his enemy. He
tasted his neighbourhood, I must suppose, less indirectly in the
bare proximity of person; and, without doubt, drank deep of hateful
He had no sooner come away than I openly joined him. "My lord, my
lord," said I, "this is no manner of behaviour."
"I grow fat upon it," he replied; and not merely the words, which
were strange enough, but the whole character of his expression,
"I warn you, my lord, against this indulgency of evil feeling,"
said I. "I know not to which it is more perilous, the soul or the
reason; but you go the way to murder both."
"You cannot understand," said he. "You had never such mountains of
bitterness upon your heart."
"And if it were no more," I added, "you will surely goad the man to
"To the contrary; I am breaking his spirit," says my lord.
Every morning for hard upon a week my lord took his same place upon
the bench. It was a pleasant place, under the green acacias, with
a sight upon the bay and shipping, and a sound (from some way off)
of marines singing at their employ. Here the two sate without
speech or any external movement, beyond that of the needle or the
Master biting off a thread, for he still clung to his pretence of
industry; and here I made a point to join them, wondering at myself
and my companions. If any of my lord's friends went by, he would
hail them cheerfully, and cry out he was there to give some good
advice to his brother, who was now (to his delight) grown quite
industrious. And even this the Master accepted with a steady
countenance; what was in his mind, God knows, or perhaps Satan
All of a sudden, on a still day of what they call the Indian
Summer, when the woods were changed into gold and pink and scarlet,
the Master laid down his needle and burst into a fit of merriment.
I think he must have been preparing it a long while in silence, for
the note in itself was pretty naturally pitched; but breaking
suddenly from so extreme a silence, and in circumstances so averse
from mirth, it sounded ominously on my ear.
"Henry," said he, "I have for once made a false step, and for once
you have had the wit to profit by it. The farce of the cobbler
ends to-day; and I confess to you (with my compliments) that you
have had the best of it. Blood will out; and you have certainly a
choice idea of how to make yourself unpleasant."
Never a word said my lord; it was just as though the Master had not
"Come," resumed the Master, "do not be sulky; it will spoil your
attitude. You can now afford (believe me) to be a little gracious;
for I have not merely a defeat to accept. I had meant to continue
this performance till I had gathered enough money for a certain
purpose; I confess ingenuously, I have not the courage. You
naturally desire my absence from this town; I have come round by
another way to the same idea. And I have a proposition to make;
or, if your lordship prefers, a favour to ask."
"Ask it," says my lord.
"You may have heard that I had once in this country a considerable
treasure," returned the Master; "it matters not whether or no -
such is the fact; and I was obliged to bury it in a spot of which I
have sufficient indications. To the recovery of this, has my
ambition now come down; and, as it is my own, you will not grudge
"Go and get it," says my lord. "I make no opposition."
"Yes," said the Master; "but to do so, I must find men and
carriage. The way is long and rough, and the country infested with
wild Indians. Advance me only so much as shall be needful: either
as a lump sum, in lieu of my allowance; or, if you prefer it, as a
loan, which I shall repay on my return. And then, if you so
decide, you may have seen the last of me."
My lord stared him steadily in the eyes; there was a hard smile
upon his face, but he uttered nothing.
"Henry," said the Master, with a formidable quietness, and drawing
at the same time somewhat back - "Henry, I had the honour to
"Let us be stepping homeward," says my lord to me, who was plucking
at his sleeve; and with that he rose, stretched himself, settled
his hat, and still without a syllable of response, began to walk
steadily along the shore.
I hesitated awhile between the two brothers, so serious a climax
did we seem to have reached. But the Master had resumed his
occupation, his eyes lowered, his hand seemingly as deft as ever;
and I decided to pursue my lord.
"Are you mad?" I cried, so soon as I had overtook him. "Would you
cast away so fair an opportunity?"
"Is it possible you should still believe in him?" inquired my lord,
almost with a sneer.
"I wish him forth of this town!" I cried. "I wish him anywhere and
anyhow but as he is."
"I have said my say," returned my lord, "and you have said yours.
There let it rest."
But I was bent on dislodging the Master. That sight of him
patiently returning to his needlework was more than my imagination
could digest. There was never a man made, and the Master the least
of any, that could accept so long a series of insults. The air
smelt blood to me. And I vowed there should be no neglect of mine
if, through any chink of possibility, crime could be yet turned
aside. That same day, therefore, I came to my lord in his business
room, where he sat upon some trivial occupation.
"My lord," said I, "I have found a suitable investment for my small
economies. But these are unhappily in Scotland; it will take some
time to lift them, and the affair presses. Could your lordship see
his way to advance me the amount against my note?"
He read me awhile with keen eyes. "I have never inquired into the
state of your affairs, Mackellar," says he. "Beyond the amount of
your caution, you may not be worth a farthing, for what I know."
"I have been a long while in your service, and never told a lie,
nor yet asked a favour for myself," said I, "until to-day."
"A favour for the Master," he returned, quietly. "Do you take me
for a fool, Mackellar? Understand it once and for all, I treat
this beast in my own way; fear nor favour shall not move me; and
before I am hoodwinked, it will require a trickster less
transparent than yourself. I ask service, loyal service; not that
you should make and mar behind my back, and steal my own money to
"My lord," said I, "these are very unpardonable expressions."
"Think once more, Mackellar," he replied; "and you will see they
fit the fact. It is your own subterfuge that is unpardonable.
Deny (if you can) that you designed this money to evade my orders
with, and I will ask your pardon freely. If you cannot, you must
have the resolution to hear your conduct go by its own name."
"If you think I had any design but to save you - " I began.
"Oh! my old friend," said he, "you know very well what I think!
Here is my hand to you with all my heart; but of money, not one
Defeated upon this side, I went straight to my room, wrote a
letter, ran with it to the harbour, for I knew a ship was on the
point of sailing; and came to the Master's door a little before
dusk. Entering without the form of any knock, I found him sitting
with his Indian at a simple meal of maize porridge with some milk.
The house within was clean and poor; only a few books upon a shelf
distinguished it, and (in one corner) Secundra's little bench.
"Mr. Bally," said I, "I have near five hundred pounds laid by in
Scotland, the economies of a hard life. A letter goes by yon ship
to have it lifted. Have so much patience till the return ship
comes in, and it is all yours, upon the same condition you offered
to my lord this morning."
He rose from the table, came forward, took me by the shoulders, and
looked me in the face, smiling.
"And yet you are very fond of money!" said he. "And yet you love
money beyond all things else, except my brother!"
"I fear old age and poverty," said I, "which is another matter."
"I will never quarrel for a name. Call it so," he replied. "Ah!
Mackellar, Mackellar, if this were done from any love to me, how
gladly would I close upon your offer!"
"And yet," I eagerly answered - "I say it to my shame, but I cannot
see you in this poor place without compunction. It is not my
single thought, nor my first; and yet it's there! I would gladly
see you delivered. I do not offer it in love, and far from that;
but, as God judges me - and I wonder at it too! - quite without
"Ah!" says he, still holding my shoulders, and now gently shaking
me, "you think of me more than you suppose. 'And I wonder at it
too,'" he added, repeating my expression and, I suppose, something
of my voice. "You are an honest man, and for that cause I spare
"Spare me?" I cried.
"Spare you," he repeated, letting me go and turning away. And
then, fronting me once more. "You little know what I would do with
it, Mackellar! Did you think I had swallowed my defeat indeed?
Listen: my life has been a series of unmerited cast-backs. That
fool, Prince Charlie, mismanaged a most promising affair: there
fell my first fortune. In Paris I had my foot once more high upon
the ladder: that time it was an accident; a letter came to the
wrong hand, and I was bare again. A third time, I found my
opportunity; I built up a place for myself in India with an
infinite patience; and then Clive came, my rajah was swallowed up,
and I escaped out of the convulsion, like another AEneas, with
Secundra Dass upon my back. Three times I have had my hand upon
the highest station: and I am not yet three-and-forty. I know the
world as few men know it when they come to die - Court and camp,
the East and the West; I know where to go, I see a thousand
openings. I am now at the height of my resources, sound of health,
of inordinate ambition. Well, all this I resign; I care not if I
die, and the world never hear of me; I care only for one thing, and
that I will have. Mind yourself; lest, when the roof falls, you,
too, should be crushed under the ruins."
As I came out of his house, all hope of intervention quite
destroyed, I was aware of a stir on the harbour-side, and, raising
my eyes, there was a great ship newly come to anchor. It seems
strange I could have looked upon her with so much indifference, for
she brought death to the brothers of Durrisdeer. After all the
desperate episodes of this contention, the insults, the opposing
interests, the fraternal duel in the shrubbery, it was reserved for
some poor devil in Grub Street, scribbling for his dinner, and not
caring what he scribbled, to cast a spell across four thousand
miles of the salt sea, and send forth both these brothers into
savage and wintry deserts, there to die. But such a thought was
distant from my mind; and while all the provincials were fluttered
about me by the unusual animation of their port, I passed
throughout their midst on my return homeward, quite absorbed in the
recollection of my visit and the Master's speech.
The same night there was brought to us from the ship a little
packet of pamphlets. The next day my lord was under engagement to
go with the Governor upon some party of pleasure; the time was
nearly due, and I left him for a moment alone in his room and
skimming through the pamphlets. When I returned, his head had
fallen upon the table, his arms lying abroad amongst the crumpled
"My lord, my lord!" I cried as I ran forward, for I supposed he was
in some fit.
He sprang up like a figure upon wires, his countenance deformed
with fury, so that in a strange place I should scarce have known
him. His hand at the same time flew above his head, as though to
strike me down. "Leave me alone!" he screeched, and I fled, as
fast as my shaking legs would bear me, for my lady. She, too, lost
no time; but when we returned, he had the door locked within, and
only cried to us from the other side to leave him be. We looked in
each other's faces, very white - each supposing the blow had come
"I will write to the Governor to excuse him," says she. "We must
keep our strong friends." But when she took up the pen, it flew
out of her fingers. "I cannot write," said she. "Can you?"
"I will make a shift, my lady," said I.
She looked over me as I wrote. "That will do," she said, when I
had done. "Thank God, Mackellar, I have you to lean upon! But
what can it be now? What, what can it be?"
In my own mind, I believed there was no explanation possible, and
none required; it was my fear that the man's madness had now simply
burst forth its way, like the long-smothered flames of a volcano;
but to this (in mere mercy to my lady) I durst not give expression.
"It is more to the purpose to consider our own behaviour," said I.
"Must we leave him there alone?"
"I do not dare disturb him," she replied. "Nature may know best;
it may be Nature that cries to be alone; and we grope in the dark.
Oh yes, I would leave him as he is."
"I will, then, despatch this letter, my lady, and return here, if
you please, to sit with you," said I.
"Pray do," cries my lady.
All afternoon we sat together, mostly in silence, watching my
lord's door. My own mind was busy with the scene that had just
passed, and its singular resemblance to my vision. I must say a
word upon this, for the story has gone abroad with great
exaggeration, and I have even seen it printed, and my own name
referred to for particulars. So much was the same: here was my
lord in a room, with his head upon the table, and when he raised
his face, it wore such an expression as distressed me to the soul.
But the room was different, my lord's attitude at the table not at
all the same, and his face, when he disclosed it, expressed a
painful degree of fury instead of that haunting despair which had
always (except once, already referred to) characterised it in the
vision. There is the whole truth at last before the public; and if
the differences be great, the coincidence was yet enough to fill me
with uneasiness. All afternoon, as I say, I sat and pondered upon
this quite to myself; for my lady had trouble of her own, and it
was my last thought to vex her with fancies. About the midst of
our time of waiting, she conceived an ingenious scheme, had Mr.
Alexander fetched, and bid him knock at his father's door. My lord
sent the boy about his business, but without the least violence,
whether of manner or expression; so that I began to entertain a
hope the fit was over.
At last, as the night fell and I was lighting a lamp that stood
there trimmed, the door opened and my lord stood within upon the
threshold. The light was not so strong that we could read his
countenance; when he spoke, methought his voice a little altered
but yet perfectly steady.
"Mackellar," said he, "carry this note to its destination with your
own hand. It is highly private. Find the person alone when you
"Henry," says my lady, "you are not ill?"
"No, no," says be, querulously, "I am occupied. Not at all; I am
only occupied. It is a singular thing a man must be supposed to be
ill when he has any business! Send me supper to this room, and a
basket of wine: I expect the visit of a friend. Otherwise I am
not to be disturbed."
And with that he once more shut himself in.
The note was addressed to one Captain Harris, at a tavern on the
portside. I knew Harris (by reputation) for a dangerous
adventurer, highly suspected of piracy in the past, and now
following the rude business of an Indian trader. What my lord
should have to say to him, or he to my lord, it passed my
imagination to conceive: or yet how my lord had heard of him,
unless by a disgraceful trial from which the man was recently
escaped. Altogether I went upon the errand with reluctance, and
from the little I saw of the captain, returned from it with sorrow.
I found him in a foul-smelling chamber, sitting by a guttering
candle and an empty bottle; he had the remains of a military
carriage, or rather perhaps it was an affectation, for his manners
"Tell my lord, with my service, that I will wait upon his lordship
in the inside of half an hour," says he, when he had read the note;
and then had the servility, pointing to his empty bottle, to
propose that I should buy him liquor.
Although I returned with my best speed, the Captain followed close
upon my heels, and he stayed late into the night. The cock was
crowing a second time when I saw (from my chamber window) my lord
lighting him to the gate, both men very much affected with their
potations, and sometimes leaning one upon the other to confabulate.
Yet the next morning my lord was abroad again early with a hundred
pounds of money in his pocket. I never supposed that he returned
with it; and yet I was quite sure it did not find its way to the
Master, for I lingered all morning within view of the booth. That
was the last time my Lord Durrisdeer passed his own enclosure till
we left New York; he walked in his barn, or sat and talked with his
family, all much as usual; but the town saw nothing of him, and his
daily visits to the Master seemed forgotten. Nor yet did Harris
reappear; or not until the end.
I was now much oppressed with a sense of the mysteries in which we
had begun to move. It was plain, if only from his change of
habitude, my lord had something on his mind of a grave nature; but
what it was, whence it sprang, or why he should now keep the house
and garden, I could make no guess at. It was clear, even to
probation, the pamphlets had some share in this revolution; I read
all I could find, and they were all extremely insignificant, and of
the usual kind of party scurrility; even to a high politician, I
could spy out no particular matter of offence, and my lord was a
man rather indifferent on public questions. The truth is, the
pamphlet which was the spring of this affair, lay all the time on
my lord's bosom. There it was that I found it at last, after he
was dead, in the midst of the north wilderness: in such a place,
in such dismal circumstances, I was to read for the first time
these idle, lying words of a Whig pamphleteer declaiming against
indulgency to Jacobites:- "Another notorious Rebel, the M-r of B-e,
is to have his Title restored," the passage ran. "This Business
has been long in hand, since he rendered some very disgraceful
Services in Scotland and France. His Brother, L-D D-R, is known to
be no better than himself in Inclination; and the supposed Heir,
who is now to be set aside, was bred up in the most detestable
Principles. In the old Phrase, it is SIX OF THE ONE AND HALF A
DOZEN OF THE OTHER; but the Favour of such a Reposition is too
extreme to be passed over." A man in his right wits could not have
cared two straws for a tale so manifestly false; that Government
should ever entertain the notion, was inconceivable to any
reasoning creature, unless possibly the fool that penned it; and my
lord, though never brilliant, was ever remarkable for sense. That
he should credit such a rodomontade, and carry the pamphlet on his
bosom and the words in his heart, is the clear proof of the man's
lunacy. Doubtless the mere mention of Mr. Alexander, and the
threat directly held out against the child's succession,
precipitated that which had so long impended. Or else my master
had been truly mad for a long time, and we were too dull or too
much used to him, and did not perceive the extent of his infirmity.
About a week after the day of the pamphlets I was late upon the
harbour-side, and took a turn towards the Master's, as I often did.
The door opened, a flood of light came forth upon the road, and I
beheld a man taking his departure with friendly salutations. I
cannot say how singularly I was shaken to recognise the adventurer
Harris. I could not but conclude it was the hand of my lord that
had brought him there; and prolonged my walk in very serious and
apprehensive thought. It was late when I came home, and there was
my lord making up his portmanteau for a voyage.
"Why do you come so late?" he cried. "We leave to-morrow for
Albany, you and I together; and it is high time you were about your
"For Albany, my lord?" I cried. "And for what earthly purpose?"
"Change of scene," said he.
And my lady, who appeared to have been weeping, gave me the signal
to obey without more parley. She told me a little later (when we
found occasion to exchange some words) that he had suddenly
announced his intention after a visit from Captain Harris, and her
best endeavours, whether to dissuade him from the journey, or to
elicit some explanation of its purpose, had alike proved
CHAPTER XI. - THE JOURNEY IN THE WILDERNESS.
We made a prosperous voyage up that fine river of the Hudson, the
weather grateful, the hills singularly beautified with the colours
of the autumn. At Albany we had our residence at an inn, where I
was not so blind and my lord not so cunning but what I could see he
had some design to hold me prisoner. The work he found for me to
do was not so pressing that we should transact it apart from
necessary papers in the chamber of an inn; nor was it of such
importance that I should be set upon as many as four or five
scrolls of the same document. I submitted in appearance; but I
took private measures on my own side, and had the news of the town
communicated to me daily by the politeness of our host. In this
way I received at last a piece of intelligence for which, I may
say, I had been waiting. Captain Harris (I was told) with "Mr.
Mountain, the trader," had gone by up the river in a boat. I would
have feared the landlord's eye, so strong the sense of some
complicity upon my master's part oppressed me. But I made out to
say I had some knowledge of the Captain, although none of Mr.
Mountain, and to inquire who else was of the party. My informant
knew not; Mr. Mountain had come ashore upon some needful purchases;
had gone round the town buying, drinking, and prating; and it
seemed the party went upon some likely venture, for he had spoken
much of great things he would do when he returned. No more was
known, for none of the rest had come ashore, and it seemed they
were pressed for time to reach a certain spot before the snow
And sure enough, the next day, there fell a sprinkle even in
Albany; but it passed as it came, and was but a reminder of what
lay before us. I thought of it lightly then, knowing so little as
I did of that inclement province: the retrospect is different; and
I wonder at times if some of the horror of there events which I
must now rehearse flowed not from the foul skies and savage winds
to which we were exposed, and the agony of cold that we must
The boat having passed by, I thought at first we should have left
the town. But no such matter. My lord continued his stay in
Albany where he had no ostensible affairs, and kept me by him, far
from my due employment, and making a pretence of occupation. It is
upon this passage I expect, and perhaps deserve, censure. I was
not so dull but what I had my own thoughts. I could not see the
Master entrust himself into the hands of Harris, and not suspect
some underhand contrivance. Harris bore a villainous reputation,
and he had been tampered with in private by my lord; Mountain, the
trader, proved, upon inquiry, to be another of the same kidney; the
errand they were all gone upon being the recovery of ill-gotten
treasures, offered in itself a very strong incentive to foul play;
and the character of the country where they journeyed promised
impunity to deeds of blood. Well: it is true I had all these
thoughts and fears, and guesses of the Master's fate. But you are
to consider I was the same man that sought to dash him from the
bulwarks of a ship in the mid-sea; the same that, a little before,
very impiously but sincerely offered God a bargain, seeking to hire
God to be my bravo. It is true again that I had a good deal melted
towards our enemy. But this I always thought of as a weakness of
the flesh and even culpable; my mind remaining steady and quite
bent against him. True, yet again, that it was one thing to assume
on my own shoulders the guilt and danger of a criminal attempt, and
another to stand by and see my lord imperil and besmirch himself.
But this was the very ground of my inaction. For (should I anyway
stir in the business) I might fail indeed to save the Master, but I
could not miss to make a byword of my lord.
Thus it was that I did nothing; and upon the same reasons, I am
still strong to justify my course. We lived meanwhile in Albany,
but though alone together in a strange place, had little traffic
beyond formal salutations. My lord had carried with him several
introductions to chief people of the town and neighbourhood; others
he had before encountered in New York: with this consequence, that
he went much abroad, and I am sorry to say was altogether too
convivial in his habits. I was often in bed, but never asleep,
when he returned; and there was scarce a night when he did not
betray the influence of liquor. By day he would still lay upon me
endless tasks, which he showed considerable ingenuity to fish up
and renew, in the manner of Penelope's web. I never refused, as I
say, for I was hired to do his bidding; but I took no pains to keep
my penetration under a bushel, and would sometimes smile in his
"I think I must be the devil and you Michael Scott," I said to him
one day. "I have bridged Tweed and split the Eildons; and now you
set me to the rope of sand."
He looked at me with shining eyes, and looked away again, his jaw
chewing, but without words.
"Well, well, my lord," said I, "your will is my pleasure. I will
do this thing for the fourth time; but I would beg of you to invent
another task against to-morrow, for by my troth, I am weary of this
"You do not know what you are saying," returned my lord, putting on
his hat and turning his back to me. "It is a strange thing you
should take a pleasure to annoy me. A friend - but that is a
different affair. It is a strange thing. I am a man that has had
ill-fortune all my life through. I am still surrounded by
contrivances. I am always treading in plots," he burst out. "The
whole world is banded against me."
"I would not talk wicked nonsense if I were you," said I; "but I
will tell you what I WOULD do - I would put my head in cold water,
for you had more last night than you could carry."
"Do ye think that?" said he, with a manner of interest highly
awakened. "Would that be good for me? It's a thing I never
"I mind the days when you had no call to try, and I wish, my lord,
that they were back again," said I. "But the plain truth is, if
you continue to exceed, you will do yourself a mischief."
"I don't appear to carry drink the way I used to," said my lord.
"I get overtaken, Mackellar. But I will be more upon my guard."
"That is what I would ask of you," I replied. "You are to bear in
mind that you are Mr. Alexander's father: give the bairn a chance
to carry his name with some responsibility."
"Ay, ay," said he. "Ye're a very sensible man, Mackellar, and have
been long in my employ. But I think, if you have nothing more to
say to me I will be stepping. If you have nothing more to say?" he
added, with that burning, childish eagerness that was now so common
with the man.
"No, my lord, I have nothing more," said I, dryly enough.
"Then I think I will be stepping," says my lord, and stood and
looked at me fidgeting with his hat, which he had taken off again.
"I suppose you will have no errands? No? I am to meet Sir William
Johnson, but I will be more upon my guard." He was silent for a
time, and then, smiling: "Do you call to mind a place, Mackellar -
it's a little below Engles - where the burn runs very deep under a
wood of rowans. I mind being there when I was a lad - dear, it
comes over me like an old song! - I was after the fishing, and I
made a bonny cast. Eh, but I was happy. I wonder, Mackellar, why
I am never happy now?"
"My lord," said I, "if you would drink with more moderation you
would have the better chance. It is an old byword that the bottle
is a false consoler."
"No doubt," said he, "no doubt. Well, I think I will be going."
"Good-morning, my lord," said I.
"Good-morning, good-morning," said he, and so got himself at last
from the apartment.
I give that for a fair specimen of my lord in the morning; and I
must have described my patron very ill if the reader does not
perceive a notable falling off. To behold the man thus fallen: to
know him accepted among his companions for a poor, muddled toper,
welcome (if he were welcome at all) for the bare consideration of
his title; and to recall the virtues he had once displayed against
such odds of fortune; was not this a thing at once to rage and to
be humbled at?
In his cups, he was more expensive. I will give but the one scene,
close upon the end, which is strongly marked upon my memory to this
day, and at the time affected me almost with horror
I was in bed, lying there awake, when I heard him stumbling on the
stair and singing. My lord had no gift of music, his brother had
all the graces of the family, so that when I say singing, you are
to understand a manner of high, carolling utterance, which was
truly neither speech nor song. Something not unlike is to be heard
upon the lips of children, ere they learn shame; from those of a
man grown elderly, it had a strange effect. He opened the door
with noisy precaution; peered in, shading his candle; conceived me
to slumber; entered, set his light upon the table, and took off his
hat. I saw him very plain; a high, feverish exultation appeared to
boil in his veins, and he stood and smiled and smirked upon the
candle. Presently he lifted up his arm, snapped his fingers, and
fell to undress. As he did so, having once more forgot my
presence, he took back to his singing; and now I could hear the
words, which were those from the old song of the TWA CORBIES
"And over his banes when they are bare
The wind sall blaw for evermair!"
I have said there was no music in the man. His strains had no
logical succession except in so far as they inclined a little to
the minor mode; but they exercised a rude potency upon the
feelings, and followed the words, and signified the feelings of the
singer with barbaric fitness. He took it first in the time and
manner of a rant; presently this ill-favoured gleefulness abated,
he began to dwell upon the notes more feelingly, and sank at last
into a degree of maudlin pathos that was to me scarce bearable. By
equal steps, the original briskness of his acts declined; and when
he was stripped to his breeches, he sat on the bedside and fell to
whimpering. I know nothing less respectable than the tears of
drunkenness, and turned my back impatiently on this poor sight.
But he had started himself (I am to suppose) on that slippery
descent of self-pity; on the which, to a man unstrung by old
sorrows and recent potations there is no arrest except exhaustion.
His tears continued to flow, and the man to sit there, three parts
naked, in the cold air of the chamber. I twitted myself
alternately with inhumanity and sentimental weakness, now half
rising in my bed to interfere, now reading myself lessons of
indifference and courting slumber, until, upon a sudden, the
QUANTUM MUTATUS AB ILLO shot into my mind; and calling to
remembrance his old wisdom, constancy, and patience, I was
overborne with a pity almost approaching the passionate, not for my
master alone but for the sons of man.
At this I leaped from my place, went over to his side and laid a
hand on his bare shoulder, which was cold as stone. He uncovered
his face and showed it me all swollen and begrutten (10) like a
child's; and at the sight my impatience partially revived.
"Think shame to yourself," said I. "This is bairnly conduct. I
might have been snivelling myself, if I had cared to swill my belly
with wine. But I went to my bed sober like a man. Come: get into
yours, and have done with this pitiable exhibition."
"Oh, Mackellar," said he, "my heart is wae!"
"Wae?" cried I. "For a good cause, I think. What words were these
you sang as you came in? Show pity to others, we then can talk of
pity to yourself. You can be the one thing or the other, but I
will be no party to half-way houses. If you're a striker, strike,
and if you're a bleater, bleat!"
"Cry!" cries he, with a burst, "that's it - strike! that's talking!
Man, I've stood it all too long. But when they laid a hand upon
the child, when the child's threatened" - his momentary vigour
whimpering off - "my child, my Alexander!" - and he was at his
I took him by the shoulders and shook him. "Alexander!" said I.
"Do you even think of him? Not you! Look yourself in the face
like a brave man, and you'll find you're but a self-deceiver. The
wife, the friend, the child, they're all equally forgot, and you
sunk in a mere log of selfishness."
"Mackellar," said he, with a wonderful return to his old manner and
appearance, "you may say what you will of me, but one thing I never
was - I was never selfish."
"I will open your eyes in your despite," said I. "How long have we
been here? and how often have you written to your family? I think
this is the first time you were ever separate: have you written at
all? Do they know if you are dead or living?"
I had caught him here too openly; it braced his better nature;
there was no more weeping, he thanked me very penitently, got to
bed and was soon fast asleep; and the first thing he did the next
morning was to sit down and begin a letter to my lady: a very
tender letter it was too, though it was never finished. Indeed all
communication with New York was transacted by myself; and it will
be judged I had a thankless task of it. What to tell my lady and
in what words, and how far to be false and how far cruel, was a
thing that kept me often from my slumber.
All this while, no doubt, my lord waited with growing impatiency
for news of his accomplices. Harris, it is to be thought, had
promised a high degree of expedition; the time was already overpast
when word was to be looked for; and suspense was a very evil
counsellor to a man of an impaired intelligence. My lord's mind
throughout this interval dwelled almost wholly in the Wilderness,
following that party with whose deeds he had so much concern. He
continually conjured up their camps and progresses, the fashion of
the country, the perpetration in a thousand different manners of
the same horrid fact, and that consequent spectacle of the Master's
bones lying scattered in the wind. These private, guilty
considerations I would continually observe to peep forth in the
man's talk, like rabbits from a hill. And it is the less wonder if
the scene of his meditations began to draw him bodily.
It is well known what pretext he took. Sir William Johnson had a
diplomatic errand in these parts; and my lord and I (from
curiosity, as was given out) went in his company. Sir William was
well attended and liberally supplied. Hunters brought us venison,
fish was taken for us daily in the streams, and brandy ran like
water. We proceeded by day and encamped by night in the military
style; sentinels were set and changed; every man had his named
duty; and Sir William was the spring of all. There was much in
this that might at times have entertained me; but for our
misfortune, the weather was extremely harsh, the days were in the
beginning open, but the nights frosty from the first. A painful
keen wind blew most of the time, so that we sat in the boat with
blue fingers, and at night, as we scorched our faces at the fire,
the clothes upon our back appeared to be of paper. A dreadful
solitude surrounded our steps; the land was quite dispeopled, there
was no smoke of fires, and save for a single boat of merchants on
the second day, we met no travellers. The season was indeed late,
but this desertion of the waterways impressed Sir William himself;
and I have heard him more than once express a sense of
intimidation. "I have come too late, I fear; they must have dug up
the hatchet;" he said; and the future proved how justly he had
I could never depict the blackness of my soul upon this journey. I
have none of those minds that are in love with the unusual: to see
the winter coming and to lie in the field so far from any house,
oppressed me like a nightmare; it seemed, indeed, a kind of awful
braving of God's power; and this thought, which I daresay only
writes me down a coward, was greatly exaggerated by my private
knowledge of the errand we were come upon. I was besides
encumbered by my duties to Sir William, whom it fell upon me to
entertain; for my lord was quite sunk into a state bordering on
PERVIGILIUM, watching the woods with a rapt eye, sleeping scarce at
all, and speaking sometimes not twenty words in a whole day. That
which he said was still coherent; but it turned almost invariably
upon the party for whom he kept his crazy lookout. He would tell
Sir William often, and always as if it were a new communication,
that he had "a brother somewhere in the woods," and beg that the
sentinels should be directed "to inquire for him." "I am anxious
for news of my brother," he would say. And sometimes, when we were
under way, he would fancy he spied a canoe far off upon the water
or a camp on the shore, and exhibit painful agitation. It was
impossible but Sir William should be struck with these
singularities; and at last he led me aside, and hinted his
uneasiness. I touched my head and shook it; quite rejoiced to
prepare a little testimony against possible disclosures.
"But in that case," cries Sir William, "is it wise to let him go at
"Those that know him best," said I, "are persuaded that he should
"Well, well," replied Sir William, "it is none of my affairs. But
if I had understood, you would never have been here."
Our advance into this savage country had thus uneventfully
proceeded for about a week, when we encamped for a night at a place
where the river ran among considerable mountains clothed in wood.
The fires were lighted on a level space at the water's edge; and we
supped and lay down to sleep in the customary fashion. It chanced
the night fell murderously cold; the stringency of the frost seized
and bit me through my coverings so that pain kept me wakeful; and I
was afoot again before the peep of day, crouching by the fires or
trotting to and for at the stream's edge, to combat the aching of
my limbs. At last dawn began to break upon hoar woods and
mountains, the sleepers rolled in their robes, and the boisterous
river dashing among spears of ice. I stood looking about me,
swaddled in my stiff coat of a bull's fur, and the breath smoking
from my scorched nostrils, when, upon a sudden, a singular, eager
cry rang from the borders of the wood. The sentries answered it,
the sleepers sprang to their feet; one pointed, the rest followed
his direction with their eyes, and there, upon the edge of the
forest and betwixt two trees, we beheld the figure of a man
reaching forth his hands like one in ecstasy. The next moment he
ran forward, fell on his knees at the side of the camp, and burst
This was John Mountain, the trader, escaped from the most horrid
perils; and his fist word, when he got speech, was to ask if we had
seen Secundra Dass.
"Seen what?" cries Sir William.
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