The Master of Ballantrae
Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 5 out of 5
"No," said I, "we have seen nothing of him. Why?"
"Nothing?" says Mountain. "Then I was right after all." With that
he struck his palm upon his brow. "But what takes him back?" he
cried. "What takes the man back among dead bodies. There is some
damned mystery here."
This was a word which highly aroused our curiosity, but I shall be
more perspicacious, if I narrate these incidents in their true
order. Here follows a narrative which I have compiled out of three
sources, not very consistent in all points:
FIRST, a written statement by Mountain, in which everything
criminal is cleverly smuggled out of view;
SECOND, two conversations with Secundra Dass; and
THIRD, many conversations with Mountain himself, in which he was
pleased to be entirely plain; for the truth is he regarded me as an
NARRATIVE OF THE TRADER, MOUNTAIN.
The crew that went up the river under the joint command of Captain
Harris and the Master numbered in all nine persons, of whom (if I
except Secundra Dass) there was not one that had not merited the
gallows. From Harris downward the voyagers were notorious in that
colony for desperate, bloody-minded miscreants; some were reputed
pirates, the most hawkers of rum; all ranters and drinkers; all fit
associates, embarking together without remorse, upon this
treacherous and murderous design. I could not hear there was much
discipline or any set captain in the gang; but Harris and four
others, Mountain himself, two Scotchmen - Pinkerton and Hastie -
and a man of the name of Hicks, a drunken shoemaker, put their
heads together and agreed upon the course. In a material sense,
they were well enough provided; and the Master in particular
brought with him a tent where he might enjoy some privacy and
Even this small indulgence told against him in the minds of his
companions. But indeed he was in a position so entirely false (and
even ridiculous) that all his habit of command and arts of pleasing
were here thrown away. In the eyes of all, except Secundra Dass,
he figured as a common gull and designated victim; going
unconsciously to death; yet he could not but suppose himself the
contriver and the leader of the expedition; he could scarce help
but so conduct himself and at the least hint of authority or
condescension, his deceivers would be laughing in their sleeves. I
was so used to see and to conceive him in a high, authoritative
attitude, that when I had conceived his position on this journey, I
was pained and could have blushed. How soon he may have
entertained a first surmise, we cannot know; but it was long, and
the party had advanced into the Wilderness beyond the reach of any
help, ere he was fully awakened to the truth.
It fell thus. Harris and some others had drawn apart into the
woods for consultation, when they were startled by a rustling in
the brush. They were all accustomed to the arts of Indian warfare,
and Mountain had not only lived and hunted, but fought and earned
some reputation, with the savages. He could move in the woods
without noise, and follow a trail like a hound; and upon the
emergence of this alert, he was deputed by the rest to plunge into
the thicket for intelligence. He was soon convinced there was a
man in his close neighbourhood, moving with precaution but without
art among the leaves and branches; and coming shortly to a place of
advantage, he was able to observe Secundra Dass crawling briskly
off with many backward glances. At this he knew not whether to
laugh or cry; and his accomplices, when he had returned and
reported, were in much the same dubiety. There was now no danger
of an Indian onslaught; but on the other hand, since Secundra Dass
was at the pains to spy upon them, it was highly probable he knew
English, and if he knew English it was certain the whole of their
design was in the Master's knowledge. There was one singularity in
the position. If Secundra Dass knew and concealed his knowledge of
English, Harris was a proficient in several of the tongues of
India, and as his career in that part of the world had been a great
deal worse than profligate, he had not thought proper to remark
upon the circumstance. Each side had thus a spy-hole on the
counsels of the other. The plotters, so soon as this advantage was
explained, returned to camp; Harris, hearing the Hindustani was
once more closeted with his master, crept to the side of the tent;
and the rest, sitting about the fire with their tobacco, awaited
his report with impatience. When he came at last, his face was
very black. He had overheard enough to confirm the worst of his
suspicions. Secundra Dass was a good English scholar; he had been
some days creeping and listening, the Master was now fully informed
of the conspiracy, and the pair proposed on the morrow to fall out
of line at a carrying place and plunge at a venture in the woods:
preferring the full risk of famine, savage beasts, and savage men
to their position in the midst of traitors.
What, then, was to be done? Some were for killing the Master on
the spot; but Harris assured them that would be a crime without
profit, since the secret of the treasure must die along with him
that buried it. Others were for desisting at once from the whole
enterprise and making for New York; but the appetising name of
treasure, and the thought of the long way they had already
travelled dissuaded the majority. I imagine they were dull fellows
for the most part. Harris, indeed, had some acquirements, Mountain
was no fool, Hastie was an educated man; but even these had
manifestly failed in life, and the rest were the dregs of colonial
rascality. The conclusion they reached, at least, was more the
offspring of greed and hope, than reason. It was to temporise, to
be wary and watch the Master, to be silent and supply no further
aliment to his suspicions, and to depend entirely (as well as I
make out) on the chance that their victim was as greedy, hopeful,
and irrational as themselves, and might, after all, betray his life
Twice in the course of the next day Secundra and the Master must
have appeared to themselves to have escaped; and twice they were
circumvented. The Master, save that the second time he grew a
little pale, displayed no sign of disappointment, apologised for
the stupidity with which he had fallen aside, thanked his
recapturers as for a service, and rejoined the caravan with all his
usual gallantry and cheerfulness of mien and bearing. But it is
certain he had smelled a rat; for from thenceforth he and Secundra
spoke only in each other's ear, and Harris listened and shivered by
the tent in vain. The same night it was announced they were to
leave the boats and proceed by foot, a circumstance which (as it
put an end to the confusion of the portages) greatly lessened the
chances of escape.
And now there began between the two sides a silent contest, for
life on the one hand, for riches on the other. They were now near
that quarter of the desert in which the Master himself must begin
to play the part of guide; and using this for a pretext of
persecution, Harris and his men sat with him every night about the
fire, and laboured to entrap him into some admission. If he let
slip his secret, he knew well it was the warrant for his death; on
the other hand, he durst not refuse their questions, and must
appear to help them to the best of his capacity, or he practically
published his mistrust. And yet Mountain assures me the man's brow
was never ruffled. He sat in the midst of these jackals, his life
depending by a thread, like some easy, witty householder at home by
his own fire; an answer he had for everything - as often as not, a
jesting answer; avoided threats, evaded insults; talked, laughed,
and listened with an open countenance; and, in short, conducted
himself in such a manner as must have disarmed suspicion, and went
near to stagger knowledge. Indeed, Mountain confessed to me they
would soon have disbelieved the Captain's story, and supposed their
designated victim still quite innocent of their designs; but for
the fact that he continued (however ingeniously) to give the slip
to questions, and the yet stronger confirmation of his repeated
efforts to escape. The last of these, which brought things to a
head, I am now to relate. And first I should say that by this time
the temper of Harris's companions was utterly worn out; civility
was scarce pretended; and for one very significant circumstance,
the Master and Secundra had been (on some pretext) deprived of
weapons. On their side, however, the threatened pair kept up the
parade of friendship handsomely; Secundra was all bows, the Master
all smiles; and on the last night of the truce he had even gone so
far as to sing for the diversion of the company. It was observed
that he had also eaten with unusual heartiness, and drank deep,
doubtless from design.
At least, about three in the morning, he came out of the tent into
the open air, audibly mourning and complaining, with all the manner
of a sufferer from surfeit. For some while, Secundra publicly
attended on his patron, who at last became more easy, and fell
asleep on the frosty ground behind the tent, the Indian returning
within. Some time after, the sentry was changed; had the Master
pointed out to him, where he lay in what is called a robe of
buffalo: and thenceforth kept an eye upon him (he declared)
without remission. With the first of the dawn, a draught of wind
came suddenly and blew open one side the corner of the robe; and
with the same puff, the Master's hat whirled in the air and fell
some yards away. The sentry thinking it remarkable the sleeper
should not awaken, thereupon drew near; and the next moment, with a
great shout, informed the camp their prisoner was escaped. He had
left behind his Indian, who (in the first vivacity of the surprise)
came near to pay the forfeit of his life, and was, in fact,
inhumanly mishandled; but Secundra, in the midst of threats and
cruelties, stuck to it with extraordinary loyalty, that he was
quite ignorant of his master's plans, which might indeed be true,
and of the manner of his escape, which was demonstrably false.
Nothing was therefore left to the conspirators but to rely entirely
on the skill of Mountain. The night had been frosty, the ground
quite hard; and the sun was no sooner up than a strong thaw set in.
It was Mountain's boast that few men could have followed that
trail, and still fewer (even of the native Indians) found it. The
Master had thus a long start before his pursuers had the scent, and
he must have travelled with surprising energy for a pedestrian so
unused, since it was near noon before Mountain had a view of him.
At this conjuncture the trader was alone, all his companions
following, at his own request, several hundred yards in the rear;
he knew the Master was unarmed; his heart was besides heated with
the exercise and lust of hunting; and seeing the quarry so close,
so defenceless, and seeming so fatigued, he vain-gloriously
determined to effect the capture with his single hand. A step or
two farther brought him to one margin of a little clearing; on the
other, with his arms folded and his back to a huge stone, the
Master sat. It is possible Mountain may have made a rustle, it is
certain, at least, the Master raised his head and gazed directly at
that quarter of the thicket where his hunter lay; "I could not be
sure he saw me," Mountain said; "he just looked my way like a man
with his mind made up, and all the courage ran out of me like rum
out of a bottle." And presently, when the Master looked away
again, and appeared to resume those meditations in which he had sat
immersed before the trader's coming, Mountain slunk stealthily back
and returned to seek the help of his companions.
And now began the chapter of surprises, for the scout had scarce
informed the others of his discovery, and they were yet preparing
their weapons for a rush upon the fugitive, when the man himself
appeared in their midst, walking openly and quietly, with his hands
behind his back.
"Ah, men!" says he, on his beholding them. "Here is a fortunate
encounter. Let us get back to camp."
Mountain had not mentioned his own weakness or the Master's
disconcerting gaze upon the thicket, so that (with all the rest)
his return appeared spontaneous. For all that, a hubbub arose;
oaths flew, fists were shaken, and guns pointed.
"Let us get back to camp," said the Master. "I have an explanation
to make, but it must be laid before you all. And in the meanwhile
I would put up these weapons, one of which might very easily go off
and blow away your hopes of treasure. I would not kill," says he,
smiling, "the goose with the golden eggs."
The charm of his superiority once more triumphed; and the party, in
no particular order, set off on their return. By the way, he found
occasion to get a word or two apart with Mountain.
"You are a clever fellow and a bold," says he, "but I am not so
sure that you are doing yourself justice. I would have you to
consider whether you would not do better, ay, and safer, to serve
me instead of serving so commonplace a rascal as Mr. Harris.
Consider of it," he concluded, dealing the man a gentle tap upon
the shoulder, "and don't be in haste. Dead or alive, you will find
me an ill man to quarrel with."
When they were come back to the camp, where Harris and Pinkerton
stood guard over Secundra, these two ran upon the Master like
viragoes, and were amazed out of measure when they were bidden by
their comrades to "stand back and hear what the gentleman had to
say." The Master had not flinched before their onslaught; nor, at
this proof of the ground he had gained, did he betray the least
"Do not let us be in haste," says he. "Meat first and public
With that they made a hasty meal: and as soon as it was done, the
Master, leaning on one elbow, began his speech. He spoke long,
addressing himself to each except Harris, finding for each (with
the same exception) some particular flattery. He called them
"bold, honest blades," declared he had never seen a more jovial
company, work better done, or pains more merrily supported. "Well,
then," says he, "some one asks me, Why the devil I ran away? But
that is scarce worth answer, for I think you all know pretty well.
But you know only pretty well: that is a point I shall arrive at
presently, and be you ready to remark it when it comes. There is a
traitor here: a double traitor: I will give you his name before I
am done; and let that suffice for now. But here comes some other
gentleman and asks me, 'Why, in the devil, I came back?' Well,
before I answer that question, I have one to put to you. It was
this cur here, this Harris, that speaks Hindustani?" cries he,
rising on one knee and pointing fair at the man's face, with a
gesture indescribably menacing; and when he had been answered in
the affirmative, "Ah!" says he, "then are all my suspicions
verified, and I did rightly to come back. Now, men, hear the truth
for the first time." Thereupon he launched forth in a long story,
told with extraordinary skill, how he had all along suspected
Harris, how he had found the confirmation of his fears, and how
Harris must have misrepresented what passed between Secundra and
himself. At this point he made a bold stroke with excellent
effect. "I suppose," says he, "you think you are going shares with
Harris; I suppose you think you will see to that yourselves; you
would naturally not think so flat a rogue could cozen you. But
have a care! These half idiots have a sort of cunning, as the
skunk has its stench; and it may be news to you that Harris has
taken care of himself already. Yes, for him the treasure is all
money in the bargain. You must find it or go starve. But he has
been paid beforehand; my brother paid him to destroy me; look at
him, if you doubt - look at him, grinning and gulping, a detected
thief!" Thence, having made this happy impression, he explained
how he had escaped, and thought better of it, and at last concluded
to come back, lay the truth before the company, and take his chance
with them once more: persuaded as he was, they would instantly
depose Harris and elect some other leader. "There is the whole
truth," said he: "and with one exception, I put myself entirely in
your hands. What is the exception? There he sits," he cried,
pointing once more to Harris; "a man that has to die! Weapons and
conditions are all one to me; put me face to face with him, and if
you give me nothing but a stick, in five minutes I will show you a
sop of broken carrion, fit for dogs to roll in."
It was dark night when he made an end; they had listened in almost
perfect silence; but the firelight scarce permitted any one to
judge, from the look of his neighbours, with what result of
persuasion or conviction. Indeed, the Master had set himself in
the brightest place, and kept his face there, to be the centre of
men's eyes: doubtless on a profound calculation. Silence followed
for awhile, and presently the whole party became involved in
disputation: the Master lying on his back, with his hands knit
under his head and one knee flung across the other, like a person
unconcerned in the result. And here, I daresay, his bravado
carried him too far and prejudiced his case. At least, after a
cast or two back and forward, opinion settled finally against him.
It's possible he hoped to repeat the business of the pirate ship,
and be himself, perhaps, on hard enough conditions, elected leader;
and things went so far that way, that Mountain actually threw out
the proposition. But the rock he split upon was Hastie. This
fellow was not well liked, being sour and slow, with an ugly,
glowering disposition, but he had studied some time for the church
at Edinburgh College, before ill conduct had destroyed his
prospects, and he now remembered and applied what he had learned.
Indeed he had not proceeded very far, when the Master rolled
carelessly upon one side, which was done (in Mountain's opinion) to
conceal the beginnings of despair upon his countenance. Hastie
dismissed the most of what they had heard as nothing to the matter:
what they wanted was the treasure. All that was said of Harris
might be true, and they would have to see to that in time. But
what had that to do with the treasure? They had heard a vast of
words; but the truth was just this, that Mr. Durie was damnably
frightened and had several times run off. Here he was - whether
caught or come back was all one to Hastie: the point was to make
an end of the business. As for the talk of deposing and electing
captains, he hoped they were all free men and could attend their
own affairs. That was dust flung in their eyes, and so was the
proposal to fight Harris. "He shall fight no one in this camp, I
can tell him that," said Hastie. "We had trouble enough to get his
arms away from him, and we should look pretty fools to give them
back again. But if it's excitement the gentleman is after, I can
supply him with more than perhaps he cares about. For I have no
intention to spend the remainder of my life in these mountains;
already I have been too long; and I propose that he should
immediately tell us where that treasure is, or else immediately be
shot. And there," says he, producing his weapon, "there is the
pistol that I mean to use."
"Come, I call you a man," cries the Master, sitting up and looking
at the speaker with an air of admiration.
"I didn't ask you to call me anything," returned Hastie; "which is
it to be?"
"That's an idle question," said the Master. "Needs must when the
devil drives. The truth is we are within easy walk of the place,
and I will show it you to-morrow."
With that, as if all were quite settled, and settled exactly to his
mind, he walked off to his tent, whither Secundra had preceded him.
I cannot think of these last turns and wriggles of my old enemy
except with admiration; scarce even pity is mingled with the
sentiment, so strongly the man supported, so boldly resisted his
misfortunes. Even at that hour, when he perceived himself quite
lost, when he saw he had but effected an exchange of enemies, and
overthrown Harris to set Hastie up, no sign of weakness appeared in
his behaviour, and he withdrew to his tent, already determined (I
must suppose) upon affronting the incredible hazard of his last
expedient, with the same easy, assured, genteel expression and
demeanour as he might have left a theatre withal to join a supper
of the wits. But doubtless within, if we could see there, his soul
Early in the night, word went about the camp that he was sick; and
the first thing the next morning he called Hastie to his side, and
inquired most anxiously if he had any skill in medicine. As a
matter of fact, this was a vanity of that fallen divinity
student's, to which he had cunningly addressed himself. Hastie
examined him; and being flattered, ignorant, and highly auspicious,
knew not in the least whether the man was sick or malingering. In
this state he went forth again to his companions; and (as the thing
which would give himself most consequence either way) announced
that the patient was in a fair way to die.
"For all that," he added with an oath, "and if he bursts by the
wayside, he must bring us this morning to the treasure."
But there were several in the camp (Mountain among the number) whom
this brutality revolted. They would have seen the Master
pistolled, or pistolled him themselves, without the smallest
sentiment of pity; but they seemed to have been touched by his
gallant fight and unequivocal defeat the night before; perhaps,
too, they were even already beginning to oppose themselves to their
new leader: at least, they now declared that (if the man was sick)
he should have a day's rest in spite of Hastie's teeth.
The next morning he was manifestly worse, and Hastie himself began
to display something of humane concern, so easily does even the
pretence of doctoring awaken sympathy. The third the Master called
Mountain and Hastie to the tent, announced himself to be dying,
gave them full particulars as to the position of the cache, and
begged them to set out incontinently on the quest, so that they
might see if he deceived them, and (if they were at first
unsuccessful) he should be able to correct their error.
But here arose a difficulty on which he doubtless counted. None of
these men would trust another, none would consent to stay behind.
On the other hand, although the Master seemed extremely low, spoke
scarce above a whisper, and lay much of the time insensible, it was
still possible it was a fraudulent sickness; and if all went
treasure-hunting, it might prove they had gone upon a wild-goose
chase, and return to find their prisoner flown. They concluded,
therefore, to hang idling round the camp, alleging sympathy to
their reason; and certainly, so mingled are our dispositions,
several were sincerely (if not very deeply) affected by the natural
peril of the man whom they callously designed to murder. In the
afternoon, Hastie was called to the bedside to pray: the which
(incredible as it must appear) he did with unction; about eight at
night, the wailing of Secundra announced that all was over; and
before ten, the Indian, with a link stuck in the ground, was
toiling at the grave. Sunrise of next day beheld the Master's
burial, all hands attending with great decency of demeanour; and
the body was laid in the earth, wrapped in a fur robe, with only
the face uncovered; which last was of a waxy whiteness, and had the
nostrils plugged according to some Oriental habit of Secundra's.
No sooner was the grave filled than the lamentations of the Indian
once more struck concern to every heart; and it appears this gang
of murderers, so far from resenting his outcries, although both
distressful and (in such a country) perilous to their own safety,
roughly but kindly endeavoured to console him.
But if human nature is even in the worst of men occasionally kind,
it is still, and before all things, greedy; and they soon turned
from the mourner to their own concerns. The cache of the treasure
being hard by, although yet unidentified, it was concluded not to
break camp; and the day passed, on the part of the voyagers, in
unavailing exploration of the woods, Secundra the while lying on
his master's grave. That night they placed no sentinel, but lay
altogether about the fire, in the customary woodman fashion, the
heads outward, like the spokes of a wheel. Morning found them in
the same disposition; only Pinkerton, who lay on Mountain's right,
between him and Hastie, had (in the hours of darkness) been
secretly butchered, and there lay, still wrapped as to his body in
his mantle, but offering above that ungodly and horrific spectacle
of the scalped head. The gang were that morning as pale as a
company of phantoms, for the pertinacity of Indian war (or to speak
more correctly, Indian murder) was well known to all. But they
laid the chief blame on their unsentinelled posture; and fired with
the neighbourhood of the treasure, determined to continue where
they were. Pinkerton was buried hard by the Master; the survivors
again passed the day in exploration, and returned in a mingled
humour of anxiety and hope, being partly certain they were now
close on the discovery of what they sought, and on the other hand
(with the return of darkness) were infected with the fear of
Indians. Mountain was the first sentry; he declares he neither
slept nor yet sat down, but kept his watch with a perpetual and
straining vigilance, and it was even with unconcern that (when he
saw by the stars his time was up) he drew near the fire to awaken
his successor. This man (it was Hicks the shoemaker) slept on the
lee side of the circle, something farther off in consequence than
those to windward, and in a place darkened by the blowing smoke.
Mountain stooped and took him by the shoulder; his hand was at once
smeared by some adhesive wetness; and (the wind at the moment
veering) the firelight shone upon the sleeper, and showed him, like
Pinkerton, dead and scalped.
It was clear they had fallen in the hands of one of those matchless
Indian bravos, that will sometimes follow a party for days, and in
spite of indefatigable travel, and unsleeping watch, continue to
keep up with their advance, and steal a scalp at every resting-
place. Upon this discovery, the treasure-seekers, already reduced
to a poor half dozen, fell into mere dismay, seized a few
necessaries, and deserting the remainder of their goods, fled
outright into the forest. Their fire they left still burning, and
their dead comrade unburied. All day they ceased not to flee,
eating by the way, from hand to mouth; and since they feared to
sleep, continued to advance at random even in the hours of
darkness. But the limit of man's endurance is soon reached; when
they rested at last it was to sleep profoundly; and when they woke,
it was to find that the enemy was still upon their heels, and death
and mutilation had once more lessened and deformed their company.
By this they had become light-headed, they had quite missed their
path in the wilderness, their stores were already running low.
With the further horrors, it is superfluous that I should swell
this narrative, already too prolonged. Suffice it to say that when
at length a night passed by innocuous, and they might breathe again
in the hope that the murderer had at last desisted from pursuit,
Mountain and Secundra were alone. The trader is firmly persuaded
their unseen enemy was some warrior of his own acquaintance, and
that he himself was spared by favour. The mercy extended to
Secundra he explains on the ground that the East Indian was thought
to be insane; partly from the fact that, through all the horrors of
the flight and while others were casting away their very food and
weapons, Secundra continued to stagger forward with a mattock on
his shoulder, and partly because, in the last days and with a great
degree of heat and fluency, he perpetually spoke with himself in
his own language. But he was sane enough when it came to English.
"You think he will be gone quite away?" he asked, upon their blest
awakening in safety.
"I pray God so, I believe so, I dare to believe so," Mountain had
replied almost with incoherence, as he described the scene to me.
And indeed he was so much distempered that until he met us, the
next morning, he could scarce be certain whether he had dreamed, or
whether it was a fact, that Secundra had thereupon turned directly
about and returned without a word upon their footprints, setting
his face for these wintry and hungry solitudes, along a path whose
every stage was mile-stoned with a mutilated corpse.
CHAPTER XII. - THE JOURNEY IN THE WILDERNESS (continued).
Mountain's story, as it was laid before Sir William Johnson and my
lord, was shorn, of course, of all the earlier particulars, and the
expedition described to have proceeded uneventfully, until the
Master sickened. But the latter part was very forcibly related,
the speaker visibly thrilling to his recollections; and our then
situation, on the fringe of the same desert, and the private
interests of each, gave him an audience prepared to share in his
emotions. For Mountain's intelligence not only changed the world
for my Lord Durrisdeer, but materially affected the designs of Sir
These I find I must lay more at length before the reader. Word had
reached Albany of dubious import; it had been rumoured some
hostility was to be put in act; and the Indian diplomatist had,
thereupon, sped into the wilderness, even at the approach of
winter, to nip that mischief in the bud. Here, on the borders, he
learned that he was come too late; and a difficult choice was thus
presented to a man (upon the whole) not any more bold than prudent.
His standing with the painted braves may be compared to that of my
Lord President Culloden among the chiefs of our own Highlanders at
the 'forty-five; that is as much as to say, he was, to these men,
reason's only speaking trumpet, and counsels of peace and
moderation, if they were to prevail at all, must prevail singly
through his influence. If, then, he should return, the province
must lie open to all the abominable tragedies of Indian war - the
houses blaze, the wayfarer be cut off, and the men of the woods
collect their usual disgusting spoil of human scalps. On the other
side, to go farther forth, to risk so small a party deeper in the
desert, to carry words of peace among warlike savages already
rejoicing to return to war: here was an extremity from which it
was easy to perceive his mind revolted.
"I have come too late," he said more than once, and would fall into
a deep consideration, his head bowed in his hands, his foot patting
At length he raised his face and looked upon us, that is to say
upon my lord, Mountain, and myself, sitting close round a small
fire, which had been made for privacy in one corner of the camp.
"My lord, to be quite frank with you, I find myself in two minds,"
said he. "I think it very needful I should go on, but not at all
proper I should any longer enjoy the pleasure of your company. We
are here still upon the water side; and I think the risk to
southward no great matter. Will not yourself and Mr. Mackellar
take a single boat's crew and return to Albany?"
My lord, I should say, had listened to Mountain's narrative,
regarding him throughout with a painful intensity of gaze; and
since the tale concluded, had sat as in a dream. There was
something very daunting in his look; something to my eyes not
rightly human; the face, lean, and dark, and aged, the mouth
painful, the teeth disclosed in a perpetual rictus; the eyeball
swimming clear of the lids upon a field of blood-shot white. I
could not behold him myself without a jarring irritation, such as,
I believe, is too frequently the uppermost feeling on the sickness
of those dear to us. Others, I could not but remark. were scarce
able to support his neighbourhood - Sir William eviting to be near
him, Mountain dodging his eye, and, when he met it, blenching and
halting in his story. At this appeal, however, my lord appeared to
recover his command upon himself.
"To Albany?" said he, with a good voice.
"Not short of it, at least," replied Sir William. "There is no
safety nearer hand."
"I would be very sweir (11) to return," says my lord. "I am not
afraid - of Indians," he added, with a jerk.
"I wish that I could say so much," returned Sir William, smiling;
"although, if any man durst say it, it should be myself. But you
are to keep in view my responsibility, and that as the voyage has
now become highly dangerous, and your business - if you ever had
any," says he, "brought quite to a conclusion by the distressing
family intelligence you have received, I should be hardly justified
if I even suffered you to proceed, and run the risk of some obloquy
if anything regrettable should follow."
My lord turned to Mountain. "What did he pretend he died of?" he
"I don't think I understand your honour," said the trader, pausing
like a man very much affected, in the dressing of some cruel frost-
For a moment my lord seemed at a full stop; and then, with some
irritation, "I ask you what he died of. Surely that's a plain
question," said he.
"Oh! I don't know," said Mountain. "Hastie even never knew. He
seemed to sicken natural, and just pass away."
"There it is, you see!" concluded my lord, turning to Sir William.
"Your lordship is too deep for me," replied Sir William.
"Why," says my lord, "this in a matter of succession; my son's
title may be called in doubt; and the man being supposed to be dead
of nobody can tell what, a great deal of suspicion would be
"But, God damn me, the man's buried!" cried Sir William.
"I will never believe that," returned my lord, painfully trembling.
"I'll never believe it!" he cried again, and jumped to his feet.
"Did he LOOK dead?" he asked of Mountain.
"Look dead?" repeated the trader. "He looked white. Why, what
would he be at? I tell you, I put the sods upon him."
My lord caught Sir William by the coat with a hooked hand. "This
man has the name of my brother," says he, "but it's well understood
that he was never canny."
"Canny?" says Sir William. "What is that?"
"He's not of this world," whispered my lord, "neither him nor the
black deil that serves him. I have struck my sword throughout his
vitals," he cried; "I have felt the hilt dirl (12) on his
breastbone, and the hot blood spirt in my very face, time and
again, time and again!" he repeated, with a gesture indescribable.
"But he was never dead for that," said he, and I sighed aloud.
"Why should I think he was dead now? No, not till I see him
rotting," says he.
Sir William looked across at me with a long face. Mountain forgot
his wounds, staring and gaping.
"My lord," said I, "I wish you would collect your spirits." But my
throat was so dry, and my own wits so scattered, I could add no
"No," says my lord, "it's not to be supposed that he would
understand me. Mackellar does, for he kens all, and has seen him
buried before now. This is a very good servant to me, Sir William,
this man Mackellar; he buried him with his own hands - he and my
father - by the light of two siller candlesticks. The other man is
a familiar spirit; he brought him from Coromandel. I would have
told ye this long syne, Sir William, only it was in the family."
These last remarks he made with a kind of a melancholy composure,
and his time of aberration seemed to pass away. "You can ask
yourself what it all means," he proceeded. "My brother falls sick,
and dies, and is buried, as so they say; and all seems very plain.
But why did the familiar go back? I think ye must see for yourself
it's a point that wants some clearing."
"I will be at your service, my lord, in half a minute," said Sir
William, rising. "Mr. Mackellar, two words with you;" and he led
me without the camp, the frost crunching in our steps, the trees
standing at our elbow, hoar with frost, even as on that night in
the Long Shrubbery. "Of course, this is midsummer madness," said
Sir William, as soon as we were gotten out of bearing.
"Why, certainly," said I. "The man is mad. I think that
"Shall I seize and bind him?" asked Sir William. "I will upon your
authority. If these are all ravings, that should certainly be
I looked down upon the ground, back at the camp, with its bright
fires and the folk watching us, and about me on the woods and
mountains; there was just the one way that I could not look, and
that was in Sir William's face.
"Sir William," said I at last, "I think my lord not sane, and have
long thought him so. But there are degrees in madness; and whether
he should be brought under restraint - Sir William, I am no fit
judge," I concluded.
"I will be the judge," said he. "I ask for facts. Was there, in
all that jargon, any word of truth or sanity? Do you hesitate?" he
asked. "Am I to understand you have buried this gentleman before?"
"Not buried," said I; and then, taking up courage at last, "Sir
William," said I, "unless I were to tell you a long story, which
much concerns a noble family (and myself not in the least), it
would be impossible to make this matter clear to you. Say the
word, and I will do it, right or wrong. And, at any rate, I will
say so much, that my lord is not so crazy as he seems. This is a
strange matter, into the tail of which you are unhappily drifted."
"I desire none of your secrets," replied Sir William; "but I will
be plain, at the risk of incivility, and confess that I take little
pleasure in my present company."
"I would be the last to blame you," said I, "for that."
"I have not asked either for your censure or your praise, sir,"
returned Sir William. "I desire simply to be quit of you; and to
that effect, I put a boat and complement of men at your disposal."
"This is fairly offered," said I, after reflection. "But you must
suffer me to say a word upon the other side. We have a natural
curiosity to learn the truth of this affair; I have some of it
myself; my lord (it is very plain) has but too much. The matter of
the Indian's return is enigmatical."
"I think so myself," Sir William interrupted, "and I propose (since
I go in that direction) to probe it to the bottom. Whether or not
the man has gone like a dog to die upon his master's grave, his
life, at least, is in great danger, and I propose, if I can, to
save it. There is nothing against his character?"
"Nothing, Sir William," I replied.
"And the other?" he said. "I have heard my lord, of course; but,
from the circumstances of his servant's loyalty, I must suppose he
had some noble qualities."
"You must not ask me that!" I cried. "Hell may have noble flames.
I have known him a score of years, and always hated, and always
admired, and always slavishly feared him."
"I appear to intrude again upon your secrets," said Sir William,
"believe me, inadvertently. Enough that I will see the grave, and
(if possible) rescue the Indian. Upon these terms, can you
persuade your master to return to Albany?"
"Sir William," said I, "I will tell you how it is. You do not see
my lord to advantage; it will seem even strange to you that I
should love him; but I do, and I am not alone. If he goes back to
Albany, it must be by force, and it will be the death-warrant of
his reason, and perhaps his life. That is my sincere belief; but I
am in your hands, and ready to obey, if you will assume so much
responsibility as to command."
"I will have no shred of responsibility; it is my single endeavour
to avoid the same," cried Sir William. "You insist upon following
this journey up; and be it so! I wash my hands of the whole
With which word, he turned upon his heel and gave the order to
break camp; and my lord, who had been hovering near by, came
instantly to my side.
"Which is it to be?" said he.
"You are to have your way," I answered. "You shall see the grave."
The situation of the Master's grave was, between guides, easily
described; it lay, indeed, beside a chief landmark of the
wilderness, a certain range of peaks, conspicuous by their design
and altitude, and the source of many brawling tributaries to that
inland sea, Lake Champlain. It was therefore possible to strike
for it direct, instead of following back the blood-stained trail of
the fugitives, and to cover, in some sixteen hours of march, a
distance which their perturbed wanderings had extended over more
than sixty. Our boats we left under a guard upon the river; it
was, indeed, probable we should return to find them frozen fast;
and the small equipment with which we set forth upon the
expedition, included not only an infinity of furs to protect us
from the cold, but an arsenal of snow-shoes to render travel
possible, when the inevitable snow should fall. Considerable alarm
was manifested at our departure; the march was conducted with
soldierly precaution, the camp at night sedulously chosen and
patrolled; and it was a consideration of this sort that arrested
us, the second day, within not many hundred yards of our
destination - the night being already imminent, the spot in which
we stood well qualified to be a strong camp for a party of our
numbers; and Sir William, therefore, on a sudden thought, arresting
Before us was the high range of mountains toward which we had been
all day deviously drawing near. From the first light of the dawn,
their silver peaks had been the goal of our advance across a
tumbled lowland forest, thrid with rough streams, and strewn with
monstrous boulders; the peaks (as I say) silver, for already at the
higher altitudes the snow fell nightly; but the woods and the low
ground only breathed upon with frost. All day heaven had been
charged with ugly vapours, in the which the sun swam and glimmered
like a shilling piece; all day the wind blew on our left cheek
barbarous cold, but very pure to breathe. With the end of the
afternoon, however, the wind fell; the clouds, being no longer
reinforced, were scattered or drunk up; the sun set behind us with
some wintry splendour, and the white brow of the mountains shared
its dying glow.
It was dark ere we had supper; we ate in silence, and the meal was
scarce despatched before my lord slunk from the fireside to the
margin of the camp; whither I made haste to follow him. The camp
was on high ground, overlooking a frozen lake, perhaps a mile in
its longest measurement; all about us, the forest lay in heights
and hollows; above rose the white mountains; and higher yet, the
moon rode in a fair sky. There was no breath of air; nowhere a
twig creaked; and the sounds of our own camp were hushed and
swallowed up in the surrounding stillness. Now that the sun and
the wind were both gone down, it appeared almost warm, like a night
of July: a singular illusion of the sense, when earth, air, and
water were strained to bursting with the extremity of frost.
My lord (or what I still continued to call by his loved name) stood
with his elbow in one hand, and his chin sunk in the other, gazing
before him on the surface of the wood. My eyes followed his, and
rested almost pleasantly upon the frosted contexture of the pines,
rising in moonlit hillocks, or sinking in the shadow of small
glens. Hard by, I told myself, was the grave of our enemy, now
gone where the wicked cease from troubling, the earth heaped for
ever on his once so active limbs. I could not but think of him as
somehow fortunate to be thus done with man's anxiety and weariness,
the daily expense of spirit, and that daily river of circumstance
to be swum through, at any hazard, under the penalty of shame or
death. I could not but think how good was the end of that long
travel; and with that, my mind swung at a tangent to my lord. For
was not my lord dead also? a maimed soldier, looking vainly for
discharge, lingering derided in the line of battle? A kind man, I
remembered him; wise, with a decent pride, a son perhaps too
dutiful, a husband only too loving, one that could suffer and be
silent, one whose hand I loved to press. Of a sudden, pity caught
in my windpipe with a sob; I could have wept aloud to remember and
behold him; and standing thus by his elbow, under the broad moon, I
prayed fervently either that he should be released, or I
strengthened to persist in my affection.
"Oh God," said I, "this was the best man to me and to himself, and
now I shrink from him. He did no wrong, or not till he was broke
with sorrows; these are but his honourable wounds that we begin to
shrink from. Oh, cover them up, oh, take him away, before we hate
I was still so engaged in my own bosom, when a sound broke suddenly
upon the night. It was neither very loud, nor very near; yet,
bursting as it did from so profound and so prolonged a silence, it
startled the camp like an alarm of trumpets. Ere I had taken
breath, Sir William was beside me, the main part of the voyagers
clustered at his back, intently giving ear. Methought, as I
glanced at them across my shoulder, there was a whiteness, other
than moonlight, on their cheeks; and the rays of the moon reflected
with a sparkle on the eyes of some, and the shadows lying black
under the brows of others (according as they raised or bowed the
head to listen) gave to the group a strange air of animation and
anxiety. My lord was to the front, crouching a little forth, his
hand raised as for silence: a man turned to stone. And still the
sounds continued, breathlessly renewed with a precipitate rhythm.
Suddenly Mountain spoke in a loud, broken whisper, as of a man
relieved. "I have it now," he said; and, as we all turned to hear
him, "the Indian must have known the cache," he added. "That is he
- he is digging out the treasure."
"Why, to be sure!" exclaimed Sir William. "We were geese not to
have supposed so much."
"The only thing is," Mountain resumed, "the sound is very close to
our old camp. And, again, I do not see how he is there before us,
unless the man had wings!"
"Greed and fear are wings," remarked Sir William. "But this rogue
has given us an alert, and I have a notion to return the
compliment. What say you, gentlemen, shall we have a moonlight
It was so agreed; dispositions were made to surround Secundra at
his task; some of Sir William's Indians hastened in advance; and a
strong guard being left at our headquarters, we set forth along the
uneven bottom of the forest; frost crackling, ice sometimes loudly
splitting under foot; and overhead the blackness of pine-woods, and
the broken brightness of the moon. Our way led down into a hollow
of the land; and as we descended, the sounds diminished and had
almost died away. Upon the other slope it was more open, only
dotted with a few pines, and several vast and scattered rocks that
made inky shadows in the moonlight. Here the sounds began to reach
us more distinctly; we could now perceive the ring of iron, and
more exactly estimate the furious degree of haste with which the
digger plied his instrument. As we neared the top of the ascent, a
bird or two winged aloft and hovered darkly in the moonlight; and
the next moment we were gazing through a fringe of trees upon a
A narrow plateau, overlooked by the white mountains, and
encompassed nearer hand by woods, lay bare to the strong radiance
of the moon. Rough goods, such as make the wealth of foresters,
were sprinkled here and there upon the ground in meaningless
disarray. About the midst, a tent stood, silvered with frost: the
door open, gaping on the black interior. At the one end of this
small stage lay what seemed the tattered remnants of a man.
Without doubt we had arrived upon the scene of Harris's encampment;
there were the goods scattered in the panic of flight; it was in
yon tent the Master breathed his last; and the frozen carrion that
lay before us was the body of the drunken shoemaker. It was always
moving to come upon the theatre of any tragic incident; to come
upon it after so many days, and to find it (in the seclusion of a
desert) still unchanged, must have impressed the mind of the most
careless. And yet it was not that which struck us into pillars of
stone; but the sight (which yet we had been half expecting) of
Secundra ankle deep in the grave of his late master. He had cast
the main part of his raiment by, yet his frail arms and shoulders
glistered in the moonlight with a copious sweat; his face was
contracted with anxiety and expectation; his blows resounded on the
grave, as thick as sobs; and behind him, strangely deformed and
ink-black upon the frosty ground, the creature's shadow repeated
and parodied his swift gesticulations. Some night birds arose from
the boughs upon our coming, and then settled back; but Secundra,
absorbed in his toil; heard or heeded not at all.
I heard Mountain whisper to Sir William, "Good God! it's the grave!
He's digging him up!" It was what we had all guessed, and yet to
hear it put in language thrilled me. Sir William violently
"You damned sacrilegious hound!" he cried. "What's this?"
Secundra leaped in the air, a little breathless cry escaped him,
the tool flew from his grasp, and he stood one instant staring at
the speaker. The next, swift as an arrow, he sped for the woods
upon the farther side; and the next again, throwing up his hands
with a violent gesture of resolution, he had begun already to
retrace his steps.
"Well, then, you come, you help - " he was saying. But by now my
lord had stepped beside Sir William; the moon shone fair upon his
face, and the words were still upon Secundra's lips, when he beheld
and recognised his master's enemy. "Him!" he screamed, clasping
his hands, and shrinking on himself.
"Come, come!" said Sir William. "There is none here to do you
harm, if you be innocent; and if you be guilty, your escape is
quite cut off. Speak, what do you here among the graves of the
dead and the remains of the unburied?"
"You no murderer?" inquired Secundra. "You true man? you see me
"I will see you safe, if you be innocent," returned Sir William.
"I have said the thing, and I see not wherefore you should doubt
"There all murderers," cried Secundra, "that is why! He kill -
murderer," pointing to Mountain; "there two hire-murderers,"
pointing to my lord and myself - "all gallows - murderers! Ah! I
see you all swing in a rope. Now I go save the sahib; he see you
swing in a rope. The sahib," he continued, pointing to the grave,
"he not dead. He bury, he not dead."
My lord uttered a little noise, moved nearer to the grave, and
stood and stared in it.
"Buried and not dead?" exclaimed Sir William. "What kind of rant
"See, sahib," said Secundra. "The sahib and I alone with
murderers; try all way to escape, no way good. Then try this way:
good way in warm climate, good way in India; here, in this dam cold
place, who can tell? I tell you pretty good hurry: you help, you
light a fire, help rub."
"What is the creature talking of?" cried Sir William. "My head
"I tell you I bury him alive," said Secundra. "I teach him swallow
his tongue. Now dig him up pretty good hurry, and he not much
worse. You light a fire."
Sir William turned to the nearest of his men. "Light a fire," said
he. "My lot seems to be cast with the insane."
"You good man," returned Secundra. "Now I go dig the sahib up."
He returned as he spoke to the grave, and resumed his former toil.
My lord stood rooted, and I at my lord's side, fearing I knew not
The frost was not yet very deep, and presently the Indian threw
aside his tool, and began to scoop the dirt by handfuls. Then he
disengaged a corner of a buffalo robe; and then I saw hair catch
among his fingers: yet, a moment more, and the moon shone on
something white. Awhile Secundra crouched upon his knees, scraping
with delicate fingers, breathing with puffed lips; and when he
moved aside, I beheld the face of the Master wholly disengaged. It
was deadly white, the eyes closed, the ears and nostrils plugged,
the cheeks fallen, the nose sharp as if in death; but for all he
had lain so many days under the sod, corruption had not approached
him, and (what strangely affected all of us) his lips and chin were
mantled with a swarthy beard.
"My God!" cried Mountain, "he was as smooth as a baby when we laid
"They say hair grows upon the dead," observed Sir William; but his
voice was thick and weak.
Secundra paid no heed to our remarks, digging swift as a terrier in
the loose earth. Every moment the form of the Master, swathed in
his buffalo robe, grew more distinct in the bottom of that shallow
trough; the moon shining strong, and the shadows of the standers-
by, as they drew forward and back, falling and flitting over his
emergent countenance. The sight held us with a horror not before
experienced. I dared not look my lord in the face; but for as long
as it lasted, I never observed him to draw breath; and a little in
the background one of the men (I know not whom) burst into a kind
"Now," said Secundra, "you help me lift him out."
Of the flight of time, I have no idea; it may have been three
hours, and it may have been five, that the Indian laboured to
reanimate his master's body. One thing only I know, that it was
still night, and the moon was not yet set, although it had sunk
low, and now barred the plateau with long shadows, when Secundra
uttered a small cry of satisfaction; and, leaning swiftly forth, I
thought I could myself perceive a change upon that icy countenance
of the unburied. The next moment I beheld his eyelids flutter; the
next they rose entirely, and the week-old corpse looked me for a
moment in the face.
So much display of life I can myself swear to. I have heard from
others that he visibly strove to speak, that his teeth showed in
his beard, and that his brow was contorted as with an agony of pain
and effort. And this may have been; I know not, I was otherwise
engaged. For at that first disclosure of the dead man's eyes, my
Lord Durrisdeer fell to the ground, and when I raised him up, he
was a corpse.
Day came, and still Secundra could not be persuaded to desist from
his unavailing efforts. Sir William, leaving a small party under
my command, proceeded on his embassy with the first light; and
still the Indian rubbed the limbs and breathed in the mouth of the
dead body. You would think such labours might have vitalised a
stone; but, except for that one moment (which was my lord's death),
the black spirit of the Master held aloof from its discarded clay;
and by about the hour of noon, even the faithful servant was at
length convinced. He took it with unshaken quietude.
"Too cold," said he, "good way in India, no good here." And,
asking for some food, which he ravenously devoured as soon as it
was set before him, he drew near to the fire and took his place at
my elbow. In the same spot, as soon as he had eaten, he stretched
himself out, and fell into a childlike slumber, from which I must
arouse him, some hours afterwards, to take his part as one of the
mourners at the double funeral. It was the same throughout; he
seemed to have outlived at once and with the same effort, his grief
for his master and his terror of myself and Mountain.
One of the men left with me was skilled in stone-cutting; and
before Sir William returned to pick us up, I had chiselled on a
boulder this inscription, with a copy of which I may fitly bring my
narrative to a close:
HEIR TO A SCOTTISH TITLE,
A MASTER OF THE ARTS AND GRACES,
ADMIRED IN EUROPE, ASIA, AMERICA,
IN WAR AND PEACE,
IN THE TENTS OF SAVAGE HUNTERS AND THE
CITADELS OF KINGS, AFTER SO MUCH
ACQUIRED, ACCOMPLISHED, AND
ENDURED, LIES HERE FORGOTTEN.
* * * * *
AFTER A LIFE OF UNMERITED DISTRESS,
DIED ALMOST IN THE SAME HOUR,
AND SLEEPS IN THE SAME GRAVE
WITH HIS FRATERNAL ENEMY.
* * * * *
THE PIETY OF HIS WIFE AND ONE OLD
SERVANT RAISED THIS STONE
(1) A kind of firework made with damp powder.
(2) "NOTE BY MR. MACKELLAR. Should not this be Alan BRECK Stewart,
afterwards notorious as the Appin murderer? The Chevalier is
sometimes very weak on names.
(3) NOTE BY MR. MACKELLAR. This Teach of the SARAH must not be
confused with the celebrated Blackbeard. The dates and facts by no
means tally. It is possible the second Teach may have at once
borrowed the name and imitated the more excessive part of his
manners from the first. Even the Master of Ballantrae could make
(4) NOTE BY MR. MACKELLAR. And is not this the whole explanation?
since this Dutton, exactly like the officers, enjoyed the stimulus
of some responsibility.
(5) NOTE BY MR. MACKELLAR: A complete blunder: there was at this
date no word of the marriage: see above in my own narration.
(6) Note by Mr. Mackellar. - Plainly Secundra Dass. - E. McK.
(8) Land steward.
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