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