“Oh!” she cried, with a gesture of wringing her hands, “this man will drive me mad! Can you not put me out of your thoughts?”
“I think not once of you,” I cried. “I think of none but my dear unhappy master.”
“Ah!” she cried, with her hand to her heart, “is Henry dead?”
“Lower your voice,” said I. “The other.”
I saw her sway like something stricken by the wind; and I know not whether in cowardice or misery, turned aside and looked upon the floor. “These are dreadful tidings,” said I at length, when her silence began to put me in some fear; “and you and I behove to be the more bold if the house is to be saved.” Still she answered nothing. “There is Miss Katharine, besides,” I added: “unless we bring this matter through, her inheritance is like to be of shame.”
I do not know if it was the thought of her child or the naked word shame, that gave her deliverance; at least, I had no sooner spoken than a sound passed her lips, the like of it I never heard; it was as though she had lain buried under a hill and sought to move that burthen. And the next moment she had found a sort of voice.
“It was a fight,” she whispered. “It was not – ” and she paused upon the word.
“It was a fair fight on my dear master’s part,” said I. “As for the other, he was slain in the very act of a foul stroke.”
“Not now!” she cried.
“Madam,” said I, “hatred of that man glows in my bosom like a burning fire; ay, even now he is dead. God knows, I would have stopped the fighting, had I dared. It is my shame I did not. But when I saw him fall, if I could have spared one thought from pitying of my master, it had been to exult in that deliverance.”
I do not know if she marked; but her next words were, “My lord?”
“That shall be my part,” said I.
“You will not speak to him as you have to me?” she asked.
“Madam,” said I, “have you not some one else to think of? Leave my lord to me.”
“Some one else?” she repeated.
“Your husband,” said I. She looked at me with a countenance illegible. “Are you going to turn your back on him?” I asked.
Still she looked at me; then her hand went to her heart again. “No,” said she.
“God bless you for that word!” I said. “Go to him now, where he sits in the hall; speak to him – it matters not what you say; give him your hand; say, ‘I know all;’ – if God gives you grace enough, say, ‘Forgive me.'”
“God strengthen you, and make you merciful,” said she. “I will go to my husband.”
“Let me light you there,” said I, taking up the candle.
“I will find my way in the dark,” she said, with a shudder, and I think the shudder was at me.
So we separated – she down stairs to where a little light glimmered in the hall-door, I along the passage to my lord’s room. It seems hard to say why, but I could not burst in on the old man as I could on the young woman; with whatever reluctance, I must knock. But his old slumbers were light, or perhaps he slept not; and at the first summons I was bidden enter.
He, too, sat up in bed; very aged and bloodless he looked; and whereas he had a certain largeness of appearance when dressed for daylight, he now seemed frail and little, and his face (the wig being laid aside) not bigger than a child’s. This daunted me; nor less, the haggard surmise of misfortune in his eye. Yet his voice was even peaceful as he inquired my errand. I set my candle down upon a chair, leaned on the bed-foot, and looked at him.
“Lord Durrisdeer,” said I, “it is very well known to you that I am a partisan in your family.”
“I hope we are none of us partisans,” said he. “That you love my son sincerely, I have always been glad to recognise.”
“Oh! my lord, we are past the hour of these civilities,” I replied. “If we are to save anything out of the fire, we must look the fact in its bare countenance. A partisan I am; partisans we have all been; it is as a partisan that I am here in the middle of the night to plead before you. Hear me; before I go, I will tell you why.”
“I would always hear you, Mr. Mackellar,” said he, “and that at any hour, whether of the day or night, for I would be always sure you had a reason. You spoke once before to very proper purpose; I have not forgotten that.”
“I am here to plead the cause of my master,” I said. “I need not tell you how he acts. You know how he is placed. You know with what generosity, he has always met your other – met your wishes,” I corrected myself, stumbling at that name of son. “You know – you must know – what he has suffered – what he has suffered about his wife.”
“Mr. Mackellar!” cried my lord, rising in bed like a bearded lion.
“You said you would hear me,” I continued. “What you do not know, what you should know, one of the things I am here to speak of, is the persecution he must bear in private. Your back is not turned before one whom I dare not name to you falls upon him with the most unfeeling taunts; twits him – pardon me, my lord – twits him with your partiality, calls him Jacob, calls him clown, pursues him with ungenerous raillery, not to be borne by man. And let but one of you appear, instantly he changes; and my master must smile and courtesy to the man who has been feeding him with insults; I know, for I have shared in some of it, and I tell you the life is insupportable. All these months it has endured; it began with the man’s landing; it was by the name of Jacob that my master was greeted the first night.”
My lord made a movement as if to throw aside the clothes and rise. “If there be any truth in this – ” said he.
“Do I look like a man lying?” I interrupted, checking him with my hand.
“You should have told me at first,” he odd.
“Ah, my lord! indeed I should, and you may well hate the face of this unfaithful servant!” I cried.
“I will take order,” said he, “at once.” And again made the movement to rise.
Again I checked him. “I have not done,” said I. “Would God I had! All this my dear, unfortunate patron has endured without help or countenance. Your own best word, my lord, was only gratitude. Oh, but he was your son, too! He had no other father. He was hated in the country, God knows how unjustly. He had a loveless marriage. He stood on all hands without affection or support – dear, generous, ill-fated, noble heart!”
“Your tears do you much honour and me much shame,” says my lord, with a palsied trembling. “But you do me some injustice. Henry has been ever dear to me, very dear. James (I do not deny it, Mr. Mackellar), James is perhaps dearer; you have not seen my James in quite a favourable light; he has suffered under his misfortunes; and we can only remember how great and how unmerited these were. And even now his is the more affectionate nature. But I will not speak of him. All that you say of Henry is most true; I do not wonder, I know him to be very magnanimous; you will say I trade upon the knowledge? It is possible; there are dangerous virtues: virtues that tempt the encroacher. Mr. Mackellar, I will make it up to him; I will take order with all this. I have been weak; and, what is worse, I have been dull!”
“I must not hear you blame yourself, my lord, with that which I have yet to tell upon my conscience,” I replied. “You have not been weak; you have been abused by a devilish dissembler. You saw yourself how he had deceived you in the matter of his danger; he has deceived you throughout in every step of his career. I wish to pluck him from your heart; I wish to force your eyes upon your other son; ah, you have a son there!”
“No, no” said he, “two sons – I have two sons.”
I made some gesture of despair that struck him; he looked at me with a changed face. “There is much worse behind?” he asked, his voice dying as it rose upon the question.
“Much worse,” I answered. “This night he said these words to Mr. Henry: ‘I have never known a woman who did not prefer me to you, and I think who did not continue to prefer me.'”
“I will hear nothing against my daughter,” he cried; and from his readiness to stop me in this direction, I conclude his eyes were not so dull as I had fancied, and he had looked not without anxiety upon the siege of Mrs. Henry.
“I think not of blaming her,” cried I. “It is not that. These words were said in my hearing to Mr. Henry; and if you find them not yet plain enough, these others but a little after: Your wife, who is in love with me!'”
“They have quarrelled?” he said.
“I must fly to them,” he said, beginning once again to leave his bed.
“No, no!” I cried, holding forth my hands.
“You do not know,” said he. “These are dangerous words.”
“Will nothing make you understand, my lord?’ said I.
His eyes besought me for the truth.
I flung myself on my knees by the bedside. “Oh, my lord,” cried I, “think on him you have left; think of this poor sinner whom you begot, whom your wife bore to you, whom we have none of us strengthened as we could; think of him, not of yourself; he is the other sufferer – think of him! That is the door for sorrow – Christ’s door, God’s door: oh! it stands open. Think of him, even as he thought of you. ‘WHO IS TO TELL THE OLD MAN?’ – these were his words. It was for that I came; that is why I am here pleading at your feet.”
“Let me get up,” he cried, thrusting me aside, and was on his feet before myself. His voice shook like a sail in the wind, yet he spoke with a good loudness; his face was like the snow, but his eyes were steady and dry.
“Here is too much speech,” said he. “Where was it?”
“In the shrubbery,” said I.
“And Mr. Henry?” he asked. And when I had told him he knotted his old face in thought.
“And Mr. James?” says he.
“I have left him lying,” said I, “beside the candles.”
“Candles?” he cried. And with that he ran to the window, opened it, and looked abroad. “It might be spied from the road.”
“Where none goes by at such an hour,” I objected.
“It makes no matter,” he said. “One might. Hark!” cries he. “What is that?”
It was the sound of men very guardedly rowing in the bay; and I told him so.
“The freetraders,” said my lord. “Run at once, Mackellar; put these candles out. I will dress in the meanwhile; and when you return we can debate on what is wisest.”
I groped my way downstairs, and out at the door. From quite a far way off a sheen was visible, making points of brightness in the shrubbery; in so black a night it might have been remarked for miles; and I blamed myself bitterly for my incaution. How much more sharply when I reached the place! One of the candlesticks was overthrown, and that taper quenched. The other burned steadily by itself, and made a broad space of light upon the frosted ground. All within that circle seemed, by the force of contrast and the overhanging blackness, brighter than by day. And there was the bloodstain in the midst; and a little farther off Mr. Henry’s sword, the pommel of which was of silver; but of the body, not a trace. My heart thumped upon my ribs, the hair stirred upon my scalp, as I stood there staring – so strange was the sight, so dire the fears it wakened. I looked right and left; the ground was so hard, it told no story. I stood and listened till my ears ached, but the night was hollow about me like an empty church; not even a ripple stirred upon the shore; it seemed you might have heard a pin drop in the county.
I put the candle out, and the blackness fell about me groping dark; it was like a crowd surrounding me; and I went back to the house of Durrisdeer, with my chin upon my shoulder, startling, as I went, with craven suppositions. In the door a figure moved to meet me, and I had near screamed with terror ere I recognised Mrs. Henry.
“Have you told him?” says she.
“It was he who sent me,” said I. “It is gone. But why are you here?”
“It is gone!” she repeated. “What is gone?”
“The body,” said I. “Why are you not with your husband?”
“Gone!” said she. “You cannot have looked. Come back.”
“There is no light now,” said I. “I dare not.”
“I can see in the dark. I have been standing here so long – so long,” said she. “Come, give me your hand.”
We returned to the shrubbery hand in hand, and to the fatal place.
“Take care of the blood,” said I.
“Blood?” she cried, and started violently back.
“I suppose it will be,” said I. “I am like a blind man.”
“No!” said she, “nothing! Have you not dreamed?”
“Ah, would to God we had!” cried I.
She spied the sword, picked it up, and seeing the blood, let it fall again with her hands thrown wide. “Ah!” she cried. And then, with an instant courage, handled it the second time, and thrust it to the hilt into the frozen ground. “I will take it back and clean it properly,” says she, and again looked about her on all sides. “It cannot be that he was dead?” she added.
“There was no flutter of his heart,” said I, and then remembering: “Why are you not with your husband?”
“It is no use,” said she; “he will not speak to me.”
“Not speak to you?” I repeated. “Oh! you have not tried.”
“You have a right to doubt me,” she replied, with a gentle dignity.
At this, for the first time, I was seized with sorrow for her. “God knows, madam,” I cried, “God knows I am not so hard as I appear; on this dreadful night who can veneer his words? But I am a friend to all who are not Henry Durie’s enemies.”
“It is hard, then, you should hesitate about his wife,” said she.
I saw all at once, like the rending of a veil, how nobly she had borne this unnatural calamity, and how generously my reproaches.
“We must go back and tell this to my lord,” said I.
“Him I cannot face,” she cried.
“You will find him the least moved of all of us,” said I.
“And yet I cannot face him,” said she.
“Well,” said I, “you can return to Mr. Henry; I will see my lord.”
As we walked back, I bearing the candlesticks, she the sword – a strange burthen for that woman – she had another thought. “Should we tell Henry?” she asked.
“Let my lord decide,” said I.
My lord was nearly dressed when I came to his chamber. He heard me with a frown. “The freetraders,” said he. “But whether dead or alive?”
“I thought him – ” said I, and paused, ashamed of the word.
“I know; but you may very well have been in error. Why should they remove him if not living?” he asked. “Oh! here is a great door of hope. It must be given out that he departed – as he came – without any note of preparation. We must save all scandal.”
I saw he had fallen, like the rest of us, to think mainly of the house. Now that all the living members of the family were plunged in irremediable sorrow, it was strange how we turned to that conjoint abstraction of the family itself, and sought to bolster up the airy nothing of its reputation: not the Duries only, but the hired steward himself.
“Are we to tell Mr. Henry?” I asked him.
“I will see,” said he. “I am going first to visit him; then I go forth with you to view the shrubbery and consider.”
We went downstairs into the hall. Mr. Henry sat by the table with his head upon his hand, like a man of stone. His wife stood a little back from him, her hand at her mouth; it was plain she could not move him. My old lord walked very steadily to where his son was sitting; he had a steady countenance, too, but methought a little cold. When he was come quite up, he held out both his hands and said, “My son!”
With a broken, strangled cry, Mr. Henry leaped up and fell on his father’s neck, crying and weeping, the most pitiful sight that ever a man witnessed. “Oh! father,” he cried, “you know I loved him; you know I loved him in the beginning; I could have died for him – you know that! I would have given my life for him and you. Oh! say you know that. Oh! say you can forgive me. O father, father, what have I done – what have I done? And we used to be bairns together!” and wept and sobbed, and fondled the old man, and clutched him about the neck, with the passion of a child in terror.
And then he caught sight of his wife (you would have thought for the first time), where she stood weeping to hear him, and in a moment had fallen at her knees. “And O my lass,” he cried, “you must forgive me, too! Not your husband – I have only been the ruin of your life. But you knew me when I was a lad; there was no harm in Henry Durie then; he meant aye to be a friend to you. It’s him – it’s the old bairn that played with you – oh, can ye never, never forgive him?”
Throughout all this my lord was like a cold, kind spectator with his wits about him. At the first cry, which was indeed enough to call the house about us, he had said to me over his shoulder, “Close the door.” And now he nodded to himself.
“We may leave him to his wife now,”‘ says he. “Bring a light, Mr. Mackellar.”
Upon my going forth again with my lord, I was aware of a strange phenomenon; for though it was quite dark, and the night not yet old, methought I smelt the morning. At the same time there went a tossing through the branches of the evergreens, so that they sounded like a quiet sea, and the air pulled at times against our faces, and the flame of the candle shook. We made the more speed, I believe, being surrounded by this bustle; visited the scene of the duel, where my lord looked upon the blood with stoicism; and passing farther on toward the landing-place, came at last upon some evidences of the truth. For, first of all, where there was a pool across the path, the ice had been trodden in, plainly by more than one man’s weight; next, and but a little farther, a young tree was broken, and down by the landing-place, where the traders’ boats were usually beached, another stain of blood marked where the body must have been infallibly set down to rest the bearers.
This stain we set ourselves to wash away with the sea-water, carrying it in my lord’s hat; and as we were thus engaged there came up a sudden moaning gust and left us instantly benighted.
“It will come to snow,” says my lord; “and the best thing that we could hope. Let us go back now; we can do nothing in the dark.”
As we went houseward, the wind being again subsided, we were aware of a strong pattering noise about us in the night; and when we issued from the shelter of the trees, we found it raining smartly.
Throughout the whole of this, my lord’s clearness of mind, no less than his activity of body, had not ceased to minister to my amazement. He set the crown upon it in the council we held on our return. The freetraders had certainly secured the Master, though whether dead or alive we were still left to our conjectures; the rain would, long before day, wipe out all marks of the transaction; by this we must profit. The Master had unexpectedly come after the fall of night; it must now he given out he had as suddenly departed before the break of day; and, to make all this plausible, it now only remained for me to mount into the man’s chamber, and pack and conceal his baggage. True, we still lay at the discretion of the traders; but that was the incurable weakness of our guilt.
I heard him, as I said, with wonder, and hastened to obey. Mr. and Mrs. Henry were gone from the hall; my lord, for warmth’s sake, hurried to his bed; there was still no sign of stir among the servants, and as I went up the tower stair, and entered the dead man’s room, a horror of solitude weighed upon my mind. To my extreme surprise, it was all in the disorder of departure. Of his three portmanteaux, two were already locked; the third lay open and near full. At once there flashed upon me some suspicion of the truth. The man had been going, after all; he had but waited upon Crail, as Crail waited upon the wind; early in the night the seamen had perceived the weather changing; the boat had come to give notice of the change and call the passenger aboard, and the boat’s crew had stumbled on him dying in his blood. Nay, and there was more behind. This pre-arranged departure shed some light upon his inconceivable insult of the night before; it was a parting shot, hatred being no longer checked by policy. And, for another thing, the nature of that insult, and the conduct of Mrs. Henry, pointed to one conclusion, which I have never verified, and can now never verify until the great assize – the conclusion that he had at last forgotten himself, had gone too far in his advances, and had been rebuffed. It can never be verified, as I say; but as I thought of it that morning among his baggage, the thought was sweet to me like honey.
Into the open portmanteau I dipped a little ere I closed it. The most beautiful lace and linen, many suits of those fine plain clothes in which he loved to appear; a book or two, and those of the best, Caesar’s “Commentaries,” a volume of Mr. Hobbes, the “Henriade” of M. de Voltaire, a book upon the Indies, one on the mathematics, far beyond where I have studied: these were what I observed with very mingled feelings. But in the open portmanteau, no papers of any description. This set me musing. It was possible the man was dead; but, since the traders had carried him away, not likely. It was possible he might still die of his wound; but it was also possible he might not. And in this latter case I was determined to have the means of some defence.
One after another I carried his portmanteaux to a loft in the top of the house which we kept locked; went to my own room for my keys, and, returning to the loft, had the gratification to find two that fitted pretty well. In one of the portmanteaux there was a shagreen letter-case, which I cut open with my knife; and thenceforth (so far as any credit went) the man was at my mercy. Here was a vast deal of gallant correspondence, chiefly of his Paris days; and, what was more to the purpose, here were the copies of his own reports to the English Secretary, and the originals of the Secretary’s answers: a most damning series: such as to publish would be to wreck the Master’s honour and to set a price upon his life. I chuckled to myself as I ran through the documents; I rubbed my hands, I sang aloud in my glee. Day found me at the pleasing task; nor did I then remit my diligence, except in so far as I went to the window – looked out for a moment, to see the frost quite gone, the world turned black again, and the rain and the wind driving in the bay – and to assure myself that the lugger was gone from its anchorage, and the Master (whether dead or alive) now tumbling on the Irish Sea.
It is proper I should add in this place the very little I have subsequently angled out upon the doings of that night. It took me a long while to gather it; for we dared not openly ask, and the freetraders regarded me with enmity, if not with scorn. It was near six months before we even knew for certain that the man survived; and it was years before I learned from one of Crail’s men, turned publican on his ill-gotten gain, some particulars which smack to me of truth. It seems the traders found the Master struggled on one elbow, and now staring round him, and now gazing at the candle or at his hand which was all bloodied, like a man stupid. Upon their coming, he would seem to have found his mind, bade them carry him aboard, and hold their tongues; and on the captain asking how he had come in such a pickle, replied with a burst of passionate swearing, and incontinently fainted. They held some debate, but they were momently looking for a wind, they were highly paid to smuggle him to France, and did not care to delay. Besides which, he was well enough liked by these abominable wretches: they supposed him under capital sentence, knew not in what mischief he might have got his wound, and judged it a piece of good nature to remove him out of the way of danger. So he was taken aboard, recovered on the passage over, and was set ashore a convalescent at the Havre de Grace. What is truly notable: he said not a word to anyone of the duel, and not a trader knows to this day in what quarrel, or by the hand of what adversary, he fell. With any other man I should have set this down to natural decency; with him, to pride. He could not bear to avow, perhaps even to himself, that he had been vanquished by one whom he had so much insulted whom he so cruelly despised.
CHAPTER VI. – SUMMARY OF EVENTS DURING THE MASTER’S SECOND ABSENCE.
Of the heavy sickness which declared itself next morning I can think with equanimity, as of the last unmingled trouble that befell my master; and even that was perhaps a mercy in disguise; for what pains of the body could equal the miseries of his mind? Mrs. Henry and I had the watching by the bed. My old lord called from time to time to take the news, but would not usually pass the door. Once, I remember, when hope was nigh gone, he stepped to the bedside, looked awhile in his son’s face, and turned away with a gesture of the head and hand thrown up, that remains upon my mind as something tragic; such grief and such a scorn of sublunary things were there expressed. But the most of the time Mrs. Henry and I had the room to ourselves, taking turns by night, and bearing each other company by day, for it was dreary watching. Mr. Henry, his shaven head bound in a napkin, tossed fro without remission, beating the bed with his hands. His tongue never lay; his voice ran continuously like a river, so that my heart was weary with the sound of it. It was notable, and to me inexpressibly mortifying, that he spoke all the while on matters of no import: comings and goings, horses – which he was ever calling to have saddled, thinking perhaps (the poor soul!) that he might ride away from his discomfort – matters of the garden, the salmon nets, and (what I particularly raged to hear) continually of his affairs, cyphering figures and holding disputation with the tenantry. Never a word of his father or his wife, nor of the Master, save only for a day or two, when his mind dwelled entirely in the past, and he supposed himself a boy again and upon some innocent child’s play with his brother. What made this the more affecting: it appeared the Master had then run some peril of his life, for there was a cry – “Oh! Jamie will be drowned – Oh, save Jamie!” which he came over and over with a great deal of passion.
This, I say, was affecting, both to Mrs. Henry and myself; but the balance of my master’s wanderings did him little justice. It seemed he had set out to justify his brother’s calumnies; as though he was bent to prove himself a man of a dry nature, immersed in money-getting. Had I been there alone, I would not have troubled my thumb; but all the while, as I listened, I was estimating the effect on the man’s wife, and telling myself that he fell lower every day. I was the one person on the surface of the globe that comprehended him, and I was bound there should be yet another. Whether he was to die there and his virtues perish: or whether he should save his days and come back to that inheritance of sorrows, his right memory: I was bound he should be heartily lamented in the one case, and unaffectedly welcomed in the other, by the person he loved the most, his wife.
Finding no occasion of free speech, I bethought me at last of a kind of documentary disclosure; and for some nights, when I was off duty and should have been asleep, I gave my time to the preparation of that which I may call my budget. But this I found to be the easiest portion of my task, and that which remained – namely, the presentation to my lady – almost more than I had fortitude to overtake. Several days I went about with my papers under my arm, spying for some juncture of talk to serve as introduction. I will not deny but that some offered; only when they did my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth; and I think I might have been carrying about my packet till this day, had not a fortunate accident delivered me from all my hesitations. This was at night, when I was once more leaving the room, the thing not yet done, and myself in despair at my own cowardice.
“What do you carry about with you, Mr. Mackellar?” she asked. “These last days, I see you always coming in and out with the same armful.”
I returned upon my steps without a word, laid the papers before her on the table, and left her to her reading. Of what that was, I am now to give you some idea; and the best will be to reproduce a letter of my own which came first in the budget and of which (according to an excellent habitude) I have preserved the scroll. It will show, too, the moderation of my part in these affairs, a thing which some have called recklessly in question.
“I trust I would not step out of my place without occasion; but I see how much evil has flowed in the past to all of your noble house from that unhappy and secretive fault of reticency, and the papers on which I venture to call your attention are family papers, and all highly worthy your acquaintance.
“I append a schedule with some necessary observations, “And am,
“Your ladyship’s obliged, obedient servant, “EPHRAIM MACKELLAR.
“Schedule of Papers.
“A. Scroll of ten letters from Ephraim Mackellar to the Hon. James Durie, Esq., by courtesy Master of Ballantrae during the latter’s residence in Paris: under dates . . . ” (follow the dates) . . . “Nota: to be read in connection with B. and C.
“B. Seven original letters from the said Mr of Ballantrae to the said E. Mackellar, under dates . . . ” (follow the dates.)
“C. Three original letters from the Mr of Ballantrae to the Hon. Henry Durie, Esq., under dates . . . ” (follow the dates) . . . “Nota: given me by Mr. Henry to answer: copies of my answers A 4, A 5, and A 9 of these productions. The purport of Mr. Henry’s communications, of which I can find no scroll, may be gathered from those of his unnatural brother.
“D. A correspondence, original and scroll, extending over a period of three years till January of the current year, between the said Mr of Ballantrae and – -, Under Secretary of State; twenty-seven in all. Nota: found among the Master’s papers.”
Weary as I was with watching and distress of mind, it was impossible for me to sleep. All night long I walked in my chamber, revolving what should be the issue, and sometimes repenting the temerity of my immixture in affairs so private; and with the first peep of the morning I was at the sick-room door. Mrs. Henry had thrown open the shutters and even the window, for the temperature was mild. She looked steadfastly before her; where was nothing to see, or only the blue of the morning creeping among woods. Upon the stir of my entrance she did not so much as turn about her face: a circumstance from which I augured very ill.
“Madam,” I began; and then again, “Madam;” but could make no more of it. Nor yet did Mrs. Henry come to my assistance with a word. In this pass I began gathering up the papers where they lay scattered on the table; and the first thing that struck me, their bulk appeared to have diminished. Once I ran them through, and twice; but the correspondence with the Secretary of State, on which I had reckoned so much against the future, was nowhere to be found. I looked in the chimney; amid the smouldering embers, black ashes of paper fluttered in the draught; and at that my timidity vanished.
“Good God, madam,” cried I, in a voice not fitting for a sick-room, “Good God, madam, what have you done with my papers?”
“I have burned them,” said Mrs. Henry, turning about. “It is enough, it is too much, that you and I have seen them.”
“This is a fine night’s work that you have done!” cried I. “And all to save the reputation of a man that ate bread by the shedding of his comrades’ blood, as I do by the shedding of ink.”
“To save the reputation of that family in which you are a servant, Mr. Mackellar,” she returned, “and for which you have already done so much.”
“It is a family I will not serve much longer,” I cried, “for I am driven desperate. You have stricken the sword out of my hands; you have left us all defenceless. I had always these letters I could shake over his head; and now – What is to do? We are so falsely situate we dare not show the man the door; the country would fly on fire against us; and I had this one hold upon him – and now it is gone – now he may come back to-morrow, and we must all sit down with him to dinner, go for a stroll with him on the terrace, or take a hand at cards, of all things, to divert his leisure! No, madam! God forgive you, if He can find it in His heart; for I cannot find it in mine.”
“I wonder to find you so simple, Mr. Mackellar,” said Mrs. Henry. “What does this man value reputation? But he knows how high we prize it; he knows we would rather die than make these letters public; and do you suppose he would not trade upon the knowledge? What you call your sword, Mr. Mackellar, and which had been one indeed against a man of any remnant of propriety, would have been but a sword of paper against him. He would smile in your face at such a threat. He stands upon his degradation, he makes that his strength; it is in vain to struggle with such characters.” She cried out this last a little desperately, and then with more quiet: “No, Mr. Mackellar; I have thought upon this matter all night, and there is no way out of it. Papers or no papers, the door of this house stands open for him; he is the rightful heir, forsooth! If we sought to exclude him, all would redound against poor Henry, and I should see him stoned again upon the streets. Ah! if Henry dies, it is a different matter! They have broke the entail for their own good purposes; the estate goes to my daughter; and I shall see who sets a foot upon it. But if Henry lives, my poor Mr. Mackellar, and that man returns, we must suffer: only this time it will be together.”
On the whole I was well pleased with Mrs. Henry’s attitude of mind; nor could I even deny there was some cogency in that which she advanced about the papers.
“Let us say no more about it,” said I. “I can only be sorry I trusted a lady with the originals, which was an unbusinesslike proceeding at the best. As for what I said of leaving the service of the family, it was spoken with the tongue only; and you may set your mind at rest. I belong to Durrisdeer, Mrs. Henry, as if I had been born there.”
I must do her the justice to say she seemed perfectly relieved; so that we began this morning, as we were to continue for so many years, on a proper ground of mutual indulgence and respect.
The same day, which was certainly prededicate to joy, we observed the first signal of recovery in Mr. Henry; and about three of the following afternoon he found his mind again, recognising me by name with the strongest evidences of affection. Mrs. Henry was also in the room, at the bedfoot; but it did not appear that he observed her. And indeed (the fever being gone) he was so weak that he made but the one effort and sank again into lethargy. The course of his restoration was now slow but equal; every day his appetite improved; every week we were able to remark an increase both of strength and flesh; and before the end of the month he was out of bed and had even begun to be carried in his chair upon the terrace.
It was perhaps at this time that Mrs. Henry and I were the most uneasy in mind. Apprehension for his days was at an end; and a worse fear succeeded. Every day we drew consciously nearer to a day of reckoning; and the days passed on, and still there was nothing. Mr. Henry bettered in strength, he held long talks with us on a great diversity of subjects, his father came and sat with him and went again; and still there was no reference to the late tragedy or to the former troubles which had brought it on. Did he remember, and conceal his dreadful knowledge? or was the whole blotted from his mind? This was the problem that kept us watching and trembling all day when we were in his company and held us awake at night when we were in our lonely beds. We knew not even which alternative to hope for, both appearing so unnatural and pointing so directly to an unsound brain. Once this fear offered, I observed his conduct with sedulous particularity. Something of the child he exhibited: a cheerfulness quite foreign to his previous character, an interest readily aroused, and then very tenacious, in small matters which he had heretofore despised. When he was stricken down, I was his only confidant, and I may say his only friend, and he was on terms of division with his wife; upon his recovery, all was changed, the past forgotten, the wife first and even single in his thoughts. He turned to her with all his emotions, like a child to its mother, and seemed secure of sympathy; called her in all his needs with something of that querulous familiarity that marks a certainty of indulgence; and I must say, in justice to the woman, he was never disappointed. To her, indeed, this changed behaviour was inexpressibly affecting; and I think she felt it secretly as a reproach; so that I have seen her, in early days, escape out of the room that she might indulge herself in weeping. But to me the change appeared not natural; and viewing it along with all the rest, I began to wonder, with many head-shakings, whether his reason were perfectly erect.
As this doubt stretched over many years, endured indeed until my master’s death, and clouded all our subsequent relations, I may well consider of it more at large. When he was able to resume some charge of his affairs, I had many opportunities to try him with precision. There was no lack of understanding, nor yet of authority; but the old continuous interest had quite departed; he grew readily fatigued, and fell to yawning; and he carried into money relations, where it is certainly out of place, a facility that bordered upon slackness. True, since we had no longer the exactions of the Master to contend against, there was the less occasion to raise strictness into principle or do battle for a farthing. True, again, there was nothing excessive in these relaxations, or I would have been no party to them. But the whole thing marked a change, very slight yet very perceptible; and though no man could say my master had gone at all out of his mind, no man could deny that he had drifted from his character. It was the same to the end, with his manner and appearance. Some of the heat of the fever lingered in his veins: his movements a little hurried, his speech notably more voluble, yet neither truly amiss. His whole mind stood open to happy impressions, welcoming these and making much of them; but the smallest suggestion of trouble or sorrow he received with visible impatience and dismissed again with immediate relief. It was to this temper that he owed the felicity of his later days; and yet here it was, if anywhere, that you could call the man insane. A great part of this life consists in contemplating what we cannot cure; but Mr. Henry, if he could not dismiss solicitude by an effort of the mind, must instantly and at whatever cost annihilate the cause of it; so that he played alternately the ostrich and the bull. It is to this strenuous cowardice of pain that I have to set down all the unfortunate and excessive steps of his subsequent career. Certainly this was the reason of his beating McManus, the groom, a thing so much out of all his former practice, and which awakened so much comment at the time. It is to this, again, that I must lay the total lose of near upon two hundred pounds, more than the half of which I could have saved if his impatience would have suffered me. But he preferred loss or any desperate extreme to a continuance of mental suffering.
All this has led me far from our immediate trouble: whether he remembered or had forgotten his late dreadful act; and if he remembered, in what light he viewed it. The truth burst upon us suddenly, and was indeed one of the chief surprises of my life. He had been several times abroad, and was now beginning to walk a little with an arm, when it chanced I should be left alone with him upon the terrace. He turned to me with a singular furtive smile, such as schoolboys use when in fault; and says he, in a private whisper and without the least preface: “Where have you buried him?”
I could not make one sound in answer.
“Where have you buried him?” he repeated. “I want to see his grave.”
I conceived I had best take the bull by the horns. “Mr. Henry,” said I, “I have news to give that will rejoice you exceedingly. In all human likelihood, your hands are clear of blood. I reason from certain indices; and by these it should appear your brother was not dead, but was carried in a swound on board the lugger. But now he may be perfectly recovered.”
What there was in his countenance I could not read. “James?” he asked.
“Your brother James,” I answered. “I would not raise a hope that may be found deceptive, but in my heart I think it very probable he is alive.”
“Ah!” says Mr. Henry; and suddenly rising from his seat with more alacrity than he had yet discovered, set one finger on my breast, and cried at me in a kind of screaming whisper, “Mackellar” – these were his words – “nothing can kill that man. He is not mortal. He is bound upon my back to all eternity – to all eternity!” says he, and, sitting down again, fell upon a stubborn silence.
A day or two after, with the same secret smile, and first looking about as if to be sure we were alone, “Mackellar,” said he, “when you have any intelligence, be sure and let me know. We must keep an eye upon him, or he will take us when we least expect.”
“He will not show face here again,” said I.
“Oh yes he will,” said Mr. Henry. “Wherever I am, there will he be.” And again he looked all about him.
“You must not dwell upon this thought, Mr. Henry,” said I.
“No,” said he, “that is a very good advice. We will never think of it, except when you have news. And we do not know yet,” he added; “he may be dead.”
The manner of his saying this convinced me thoroughly of what I had scarce ventured to suspect: that, so far from suffering any penitence for the attempt, he did but lament his failure. This was a discovery I kept to myself, fearing it might do him a prejudice with his wife. But I might have saved myself the trouble; she had divined it for herself, and found the sentiment quite natural. Indeed, I could not but say that there were three of us, all of the same mind; nor could any news have reached Durrisdeer more generally welcome than tidings of the Master’s death.
This brings me to speak of the exception, my old lord. As soon as my anxiety for my own master began to be relaxed, I was aware of a change in the old gentleman, his father, that seemed to threaten mortal consequences.
His face was pale and swollen; as he sat in the chimney-side with his Latin, he would drop off sleeping and the book roll in the ashes; some days he would drag his foot, others stumble in speaking. The amenity of his behaviour appeared more extreme; full of excuses for the least trouble, very thoughtful for all; to myself, of a most flattering civility. One day, that he had sent for his lawyer and remained a long while private, he met me as he was crossing the hall with painful footsteps, and took me kindly by the hand. “Mr. Mackellar,” said he, “I have had many occasions to set a proper value on your services; and to-day, when I re-cast my will, I have taken the freedom to name you for one of my executors. I believe you bear love enough to our house to render me this service.” At that very time he passed the greater portion of his days in clamber, from which it was often difficult to rouse him; seemed to have losst all count of years, and had several times (particularly on waking) called for his wife and for an old servant whose very gravestone was now green with moss. If I had been put to my oath, I must have declared he was incapable of testing; and yet there was never a will drawn more sensible in every trait, or showing a more excellent judgment both of persons and affairs.
His dissolution, though it took not very long, proceeded by infinitesimal gradations. His faculties decayed together steadily; the power of his limbs was almost gone, he was extremely deaf, his speech had sunk into mere mumblings; and yet to the end he managed to discover something of his former courtesy and kindness, pressing the hand of any that helped him, presenting me with one of his Latin books, in which he had laboriously traced my name, and in a thousand ways reminding us of the greatness of that loss which it might almost be said we had already suffered. To the end, the power of articulation returned to him in flashes; it seemed he had only forgotten the art of speech as a child forgets his lesson, and at times he would call some part of it to mind. On the last night of his life he suddenly broke silence with these words from Virgil: “Gnatique pratisque, alma, precor, miserere,” perfectly uttered, and with a fitting accent. At the sudden clear sound of it we started from our several occupations; but it was in vain we turned to him; he sat there silent, and, to all appearance, fatuous. A little later he was had to bed with more difficulty than ever before; and some time in the night, without any more violence, his spirit fled.
At a far later period I chanced to speak of these particulars with a doctor of medicine, a man of so high a reputation that I scruple to adduce his name. By his view of it father and son both suffered from the affection: the father from the strain of his unnatural sorrows – the son perhaps in the excitation of the fever; each had ruptured a vessel on the brain, and there was probably (my doctor added) some predisposition in the family to accidents of that description. The father sank, the son recovered all the externals of a healthy man; but it is like there was some destruction in those delicate tissues where the soul resides and does her earthly business; her heavenly, I would fain hope, cannot be thus obstructed by material accidents. And yet, upon a more mature opinion, it matters not one jot; for He who shall pass judgment on the records of our life is the same that formed us in frailty.
The death of my old lord was the occasion of a fresh surprise to us who watched the behaviour of his successor. To any considering mind, the two sons had between them slain their father, and he who took the sword might be even said to have slain him with his hand, but no such thought appeared to trouble my new lord. He was becomingly grave; I could scarce say sorrowful, or only with a pleasant sorrow; talking of the dead with a regretful cheerfulness, relating old examples of his character, smiling at them with a good conscience; and when the day of the funeral came round, doing the honours with exact propriety. I could perceive, besides, that he found a solid gratification in his accession to the title; the which he was punctilious in exacting.
And now there came upon the scene a new character, and one that played his part, too, in the story; I mean the present lord, Alexander, whose birth (17th July, 1757) filled the cup of my poor master’s happiness. There was nothing then left him to wish for; nor yet leisure to wish for it. Indeed, there never was a parent so fond and doting as he showed himself. He was continually uneasy in his son’s absence. Was the child abroad? the father would be watching the clouds in case it rained. Was it night? he would rise out of his bed to observe its slumbers. His conversation grew even wearyful to strangers, since he talked of little but his son. In matters relating to the estate, all was designed with a particular eye to Alexander; and it would be:- “Let us put it in hand at once, that the wood may be grown against Alexander’s majority;” or, “This will fall in again handsomely for Alexander’s marriage.” Every day this absorption of the man’s nature became more observable, with many touching and some very blameworthy particulars. Soon the child could walk abroad with him, at first on the terrace, hand in hand, and afterward at large about the policies; and this grew to be my lord’s chief occupation. The sound of their two voices (audible a great way off, for they spoke loud) became familiar in the neighbourhood; and for my part I found it more agreeable than the sound of birds. It was pretty to see the pair returning, full of briars, and the father as flushed and sometimes as bemuddied as the child, for they were equal sharers in all sorts of boyish entertainment, digging in the beach, damming of streams, and what not; and I have seen them gaze through a fence at cattle with the same childish contemplation.
The mention of these rambles brings me to a strange scene of which I was a witness. There was one walk I never followed myself without emotion, so often had I gone there upon miserable errands, so much had there befallen against the house of Durrisdeer. But the path lay handy from all points beyond the Muckle Ross; and I was driven, although much against my will, to take my use of it perhaps once in the two months. It befell when Mr. Alexander was of the age of seven or eight, I had some business on the far side in the morning, and entered the shrubbery, on my homeward way, about nine of a bright forenoon. It was that time of year when the woods are all in their spring colours, the thorns all in flower, and the birds in the high season of their singing. In contrast to this merriment, the shrubbery was only the more sad, and I the more oppressed by its associations. In this situation of spirit it struck me disagreeably to hear voices a little way in front, and to recognise the tones of my lord and Mr. Alexander. I pushed ahead, and came presently into their view. They stood together in the open space where the duel was, my lord with his hand on his son’s shoulder, and speaking with some gravity. At least, as he raised his head upon my coming, I thought I could perceive his countenance to lighten.
“Ah!” says he, “here comes the good Mackellar. I have just been telling Sandie the story of this place, and how there was a man whom the devil tried to kill, and how near he came to kill the devil instead.”
I had thought it strange enough he should bring the child into that scene; that he should actually be discoursing of his act, passed measure. But the worst was yet to come; for he added, turning to his son – “You can ask Mackellar; he was here and saw it.”
“Is it true, Mr. Mackellar?” asked the child. “And did you really see the devil?”
“I have not heard the tale,” I replied; “and I am in a press of business.” So far I said a little sourly, fencing with the embarrassment of the position; and suddenly the bitterness of the past, and the terror of that scene by candle-light, rushed in upon my mind. I bethought me that, for a difference of a second’s quickness in parade, the child before me might have never seen the day; and the emotion that always fluttered round my heart in that dark shrubbery burst forth in words. “But so much is true,” I cried, “that I have met the devil in these woods, and seen him foiled here. Blessed be God that we escaped with life – blessed be God that one stone yet stands upon another in the walls of Durrisdeer! And, oh! Mr. Alexander, if ever you come by this spot, though it was a hundred years hence, and you came with the gayest and the highest in the land, I would step aside and remember a bit prayer.”
My lord bowed his head gravely. “Ah!” says he, “Mackellar is always in the right. Come, Alexander, take your bonnet off.” And with that he uncovered, and held out his hand. “O Lord,” said he, “I thank Thee, and my son thanks Thee, for Thy manifold great mercies. Let us have peace for a little; defend us from the evil man. Smite him, O Lord, upon the lying mouth!” The last broke out of him like a cry; and at that, whether remembered anger choked his utterance, or whether he perceived this was a singular sort of prayer, at least he suddenly came to a full stop; and, after a moment, set back his hat upon his head.
“I think you have forgot a word, my lord,” said I. “‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.'”
“Ah! that is easy saying,” said my lord. “That is very easy saying, Mackellar. But for me to forgive! – I think I would cut a very silly figure if I had the affectation to pretend it.”
“The bairn, my lord!” said I, with some severity, for I thought his expressions little fitted for the care of children.
“Why, very true,” said he. “This is dull work for a bairn. Let’s go nesting.”
I forget if it was the same day, but it was soon after, my lord, finding me alone, opened himself a little more on the same head.
“Mackellar,” he said, “I am now a very happy man.”
“I think so indeed, my lord,” said I, “and the sight of it gives me a light heart.”
“There is an obligation in happiness – do you not think so?” says he, musingly.
“I think so indeed,” says I, “and one in sorrow, too. If we are not here to try to do the best, in my humble opinion the sooner we are away the better for all parties.”
“Ay, but if you were in my shoes, would you forgive him?” asks my lord.
The suddenness of the attack a little gravelled me.
“It is a duty laid upon us strictly,” said I.
“Hut!” said he. “These are expressions! Do you forgive the man yourself?”
“Well – no!” said I. “God forgive me, I do not.”
“Shake hands upon that!” cries my lord, with a kind of joviality.
“It is an ill sentiment to shake hands upon,” said I, “for Christian people. I think I will give you mine on some more evangelical occasion.”
This I said, smiling a little; but as for my lord, he went from the room laughing aloud.
For my lord’s slavery to the child, I can find no expression adequate. He lost himself in that continual thought: business, friends, and wife being all alike forgotten, or only remembered with a painful effort, like that of one struggling with a posset. It was most notable in the matter of his wife. Since I had known Durrisdeer, she had been the burthen of his thought and the loadstone of his eyes; and now she was quite cast out. I have seen him come to the door of a room, look round, and pass my lady over as though she were a dog before the fire. It would be Alexander he was seeking, and my lady knew it well. I have heard him speak to her so ruggedly that I nearly found it in my heart to intervene: the cause would still be the same, that she had in some way thwarted Alexander. Without doubt this was in the nature of a judgment on my lady. Without doubt she had the tables turned upon her, as only Providence can do it; she who had been cold so many years to every mark of tenderness, it was her part now to be neglected: the more praise to her that she played it well.
An odd situation resulted: that we had once more two parties in the house, and that now I was of my lady’s. Not that ever I lost the love I bore my master. But, for one thing, he had the less use for my society. For another, I could not but compare the case of Mr. Alexander with that of Miss Katharine; for whom my lord had never found the least attention. And for a third, I was wounded by the change he discovered to his wife, which struck me in the nature of an infidelity. I could not but admire, besides, the constancy and kindness she displayed. Perhaps her sentiment to my lord, as it had been founded from the first in pity, was that rather of a mother than a wife; perhaps it pleased her – if I may so say – to behold her two children so happy in each other; the more as one had suffered so unjustly in the past. But, for all that, and though I could never trace in her one spark of jealousy, she must fall back for society on poor neglected Miss Katharine; and I, on my part, came to pass my spare hours more and more with the mother and daughter. It would be easy to make too much of this division, for it was a pleasant family, as families go; still the thing existed; whether my lord knew it or not, I am in doubt. I do not think he did; he was bound up so entirely in his son; but the rest of us knew it, and in a manner suffered from the knowledge.
What troubled us most, however, was the great and growing danger to the child. My lord was his father over again; it was to be feared the son would prove a second Master. Time has proved these fears to have been quite exaggerate. Certainly there is no more worthy gentleman to-day in Scotland than the seventh Lord Durrisdeer. Of my own exodus from his employment it does not become me to speak, above all in a memorandum written only to justify his father. . . .
[Editor’s Note. Five pages of Mr. Mackellar’s MS. are here omitted. I have gathered from their perusal an impression that Mr. Mackellar, in his old age, was rather an exacting servant. Against the seventh Lord Durrisdeer (with whom, at any rate, we have no concern) nothing material is alleged. – R. L. S.]
. . . But our fear at the time was lest he should turn out, in the person of his son, a second edition of his brother. My lady had tried to interject some wholesome discipline; she had been glad to give that up, and now looked on with secret dismay; sometimes she even spoke of it by hints; and sometimes, when there was brought to her knowledge some monstrous instance of my lord’s indulgence, she would betray herself in a gesture or perhaps an exclamation. As for myself, I was haunted by the thought both day and night: not so much for the child’s sake as for the father’s. The man had gone to sleep, he was dreaming a dream, and any rough wakening must infallibly prove mortal. That he should survive its death was inconceivable; and the fear of its dishonour made me cover my face.
It was this continual preoccupation that screwed me up at last to a remonstrance: a matter worthy to be narrated in detail. My lord and I sat one day at the same table upon some tedious business of detail; I have said that he had lost his former interest in such occupations; he was plainly itching to be gone, and he looked fretful, weary, and methought older than I had ever previously observed. I suppose it was the haggard face that put me suddenly upon my enterprise.
“My lord,” said I, with my head down, and feigning to continue my occupation – “or, rather, let me call you again by the name of Mr. Henry, for I fear your anger and want you to think upon old times – “
“My good Mackellar!” said he; and that in tones so kindly that I had near forsook my purpose. But I called to mind that I was speaking for his good, and stuck to my colours.
“Has it never come in upon your mind what you are doing?” I asked.
“What I am doing?” he repeated; “I was never good at guessing riddles.”
“What you are doing with your son?” said I.
“Well,” said he, with some defiance in his tone, “and what am I doing with my son?”
“Your father was a very good man,” says I, straying from the direct path. “But do you think he was a wise father?”
There was a pause before he spoke, and then: “I say nothing against him,” he replied. “I had the most cause perhaps; but I say nothing.”
“Why, there it is,” said I. “You had the cause at least. And yet your father was a good man; I never knew a better, save on the one point, nor yet a wiser. Where he stumbled, it is highly possible another man should fail. He had the two sons – “
My lord rapped suddenly and violently on the table.
“What is this?” cried he. “Speak out!”
“I will, then,” said I, my voice almost strangled with the thumping of my heart. “If you continue to indulge Mr. Alexander, you are following in your father’s footsteps. Beware, my lord, lest (when he grows up) your son should follow in the Master’s.”
I had never meant to put the thing so crudely; but in the extreme of fear, there comes a brutal kind of courage, the most brutal indeed of all; and I burnt my ships with that plain word. I never had the answer. When I lifted my head, my lord had risen to his feet, and the next moment he fell heavily on the floor. The fit or seizure endured not very long; he came to himself vacantly, put his hand to his head, which I was then supporting, and says he, in a broken voice: “I have been ill,” and a little after: “Help me.” I got him to his feet, and he stood pretty well, though he kept hold of the table. “I have been ill, Mackellar,” he said again. “Something broke, Mackellar – or was going to break, and then all swam away. I think I was very angry. Never you mind, Mackellar; never you mind, my man. I wouldnae hurt a hair upon your head. Too much has come and gone. It’s a certain thing between us two. But I think, Mackellar, I will go to Mrs. Henry – I think I will go to Mrs. Henry,” said he, and got pretty steadily from the room, leaving me overcome with penitence.
Presently the door flew open, and my lady swept in with flashing eyes. “What is all this?” she cried. “What have you done to my husband? Will nothing teach you your position in this house? Will you never cease from making and meddling?”
“My lady,” said I, “since I have been in this house I have had plenty of hard words. For a while they were my daily diet, and I swallowed them all. As for to-day, you may call me what you please; you will never find the name hard enough for such a blunder. And yet I meant it for the best.”
I told her all with ingenuity, even as it is written here; and when she had heard me out, she pondered, and I could see her animosity fall. “Yes,” she said, “you meant well indeed. I have had the same thought myself, or the same temptation rather, which makes me pardon you. But, dear God, can you not understand that he can bear no more? He can bear no more!” she cried. “The cord is stretched to snapping. What matters the future if he have one or two good days?”
“Amen,” said I. “I will meddle no more. I am pleased enough that you should recognise the kindness of my meaning.”
“Yes,” said my lady; “but when it came to the point, I have to suppose your courage failed you; for what you said was said cruelly.” She paused, looking at me; then suddenly smiled a little, and said a singular thing: “Do you know what you are, Mr. Mackellar? You are an old maid.”
No more incident of any note occurred in the family until the return of that ill-starred man the Master. But I have to place here a second extract from the memoirs of Chevalier Burke, interesting in itself, and highly necessary for my purpose. It is our only sight of the Master on his Indian travels; and the first word in these pages of Secundra Dass. One fact, it is to observe, appears here very clearly, which if we had known some twenty years ago, how many calamities and sorrows had been spared! – that Secundra Dass spoke English.
CHAPTER VII. – ADVENTURE OF CHEVALIER BURKE IN INDIA.
Extracted from his Memoirs.
. . . Here was I, therefore, on the streets of that city, the name of which I cannot call to mind, while even then I was so ill- acquainted with its situation that I knew not whether to go south or north. The alert being sudden, I had run forth without shoes or stockings; my hat had been struck from my head in the mellay; my kit was in the hands of the English; I had no companion but the cipaye, no weapon but my sword, and the devil a coin in my pocket. In short, I was for all the world like one of those calendars with whom Mr. Galland has made us acquainted in his elegant tales. These gentlemen, you will remember, were for ever falling in with extraordinary incidents; and I was myself upon the brink of one so astonishing that I protest I cannot explain it to this day.
The cipaye was a very honest man; he had served many years with the French colours, and would have let himself be cut to pieces for any of the brave countrymen of Mr. Lally. It is the same fellow (his name has quite escaped me) of whom I have narrated already a surprising instance of generosity of mind – when he found Mr. de Fessac and myself upon the ramparts, entirely overcome with liquor, and covered us with straw while the commandant was passing by. I consulted him, therefore, with perfect freedom. It was a fine question what to do; but we decided at last to escalade a garden wall, where we could certainly sleep in the shadow of the trees, and might perhaps find an occasion to get hold of a pair of slippers and a turban. In that part of the city we had only the difficulty of the choice, for it was a quarter consisting entirely of walled gardens, and the lanes which divided them were at that hour of the night deserted. I gave the cipaye a back, and we had soon dropped into a large enclosure full of trees. The place was soaking with the dew, which, in that country, is exceedingly unwholesome, above all to whites; yet my fatigue was so extreme that I was already half asleep, when the cipaye recalled me to my senses. In the far end of the enclosure a bright light had suddenly shone out, and continued to burn steadily among the leaves. It was a circumstance highly unusual in such a place and hour; and, in our situation, it behoved us to proceed with some timidity. The cipaye was sent to reconnoitre, and pretty soon returned with the intelligence that we had fallen extremely amiss, for the house belonged to a white man, who was in all likelihood English.
“Faith,” says I, “if there is a white man to be seen, I will have a look at him; for, the Lord be praised! there are more sorts than the one!”
The cipaye led me forward accordingly to a place from which I had a clear view upon the house. It was surrounded with a wide verandah; a lamp, very well trimmed, stood upon the floor of it, and on either side of the lamp there sat a man, cross-legged, after the Oriental manner. Both, besides, were bundled up in muslin like two natives; and yet one of them was not only a white man, but a man very well known to me and the reader, being indeed that very Master of Ballantrae of whose gallantry and genius I have had to speak so often. Word had reached me that he was come to the Indies, though we had never met at least, and I heard little of his occupations. But, sure, I had no sooner recognised him, and found myself in the arms of so old a comrade, than I supposed my tribulations were quite done. I stepped plainly forth into the light of the moon, which shone exceeding strong, and hailing Ballantrae by name, made him in a few words master of my grievous situation. He turned, started the least thing in the world, looked me fair in the face while I was speaking, and when I had done addressed himself to his companion in the barbarous native dialect. The second person, who was of an extraordinary delicate appearance, with legs like walking canes and fingers like the stalk of a tobacco pipe, (6) now rose to his feet.
“The Sahib,” says he, “understands no English language. I understand it myself, and I see you make some small mistake – oh! which may happen very often. But the Sahib would be glad to know how you come in a garden.”
“Ballantrae!” I cried, “have you the damned impudence to deny me to my face?”
Ballantrae never moved a muscle, staring at me like an image in a pagoda.
“The Sahib understands no English language,” says the native, as glib as before. “He be glad to know how you come in a garden.”
“Oh! the divil fetch him,” says I. “He would be glad to know how I come in a garden, would he? Well, now, my dear man, just have the civility to tell the Sahib, with my kind love, that we are two soldiers here whom he never met and never heard of, but the cipaye is a broth of a boy, and I am a broth of a boy myself; and if we don’t get a full meal of meat, and a turban, and slippers, and the value of a gold mohur in small change as a matter of convenience, bedad, my friend, I could lay my finger on a garden where there is going to be trouble.”
They carried their comedy so far as to converse awhile in Hindustanee; and then says the Hindu, with the same smile, but sighing as if he were tired of the repetition, “The Sahib would be glad to know how you come in a garden.”
“Is that the way of it?” says I, and laying my hand on my sword- hilt I bade the cipaye draw.
Ballantrae’s Hindu, still smiling, pulled out a pistol from his bosom, and though Ballantrae himself never moved a muscle I knew him well enough to be sure he was prepared.
“The Sahib thinks you better go away,” says the Hindu.
Well, to be plain, it was what I was thinking myself; for the report of a pistol would have been, under Providence, the means of hanging the pair of us.
“Tell the Sahib I consider him no gentleman,” says I, and turned away with a gesture of contempt.
I was not gone three steps when the voice of the Hindu called me back. “The Sahib would be glad to know if you are a dam low Irishman,” says he; and at the words Ballantrae smiled and bowed very low.
“What is that?” says I.
“The Sahib say you ask your friend Mackellar,” says the Hindu. “The Sahib he cry quits.”
“Tell the Sahib I will give him a cure for the Scots fiddle when next we meet,” cried I.
The pair were still smiling as I left.
There is little doubt some flaws may be picked in my own behaviour; and when a man, however gallant, appeals to posterity with an account of his exploits, he must almost certainly expect to share the fate of Caesar and Alexander, and to meet with some detractors. But there is one thing that can never be laid at the door of Francis Burke: he never turned his back on a friend. . . .
(Here follows a passage which the Chevalier Burke has been at the pains to delete before sending me his manuscript. Doubtless it was some very natural complaint of what he supposed to be an indiscretion on my part; though, indeed, I can call none to mind. Perhaps Mr. Henry was less guarded; or it is just possible the Master found the means to examine my correspondence, and himself read the letter from Troyes: in revenge for which this cruel jest was perpetrated on Mr. Burke in his extreme necessity. The Master, for all his wickedness, was not without some natural affection; I believe he was sincerely attached to Mr. Burke in the beginning; but the thought of treachery dried up the springs of his very shallow friendship, and his detestable nature appeared naked. – E. McK.)
CHAPTER VIII. – THE ENEMY IN THE HOUSE.
It is a strange thing that I should be at a stick for a date – the date, besides, of an incident that changed the very nature of my life, and sent us all into foreign lands. But the truth is, I was stricken out of all my habitudes, and find my journals very ill redd-up, (7) the day not indicated sometimes for a week or two together, and the whole fashion of the thing like that of a man near desperate. It was late in March at least, or early in April, 1764. I had slept heavily, and wakened with a premonition of some evil to befall. So strong was this upon my spirit that I hurried downstairs in my shirt and breeches, and my hand (I remember) shook upon the rail. It was a cold, sunny morning, with a thick white frost; the blackbirds sang exceeding sweet and loud about the house of Durrisdeer, and there was a noise of the sea in all the chambers. As I came by the doors of the hall, another sound arrested me – of voices talking. I drew nearer, and stood like a man dreaming. Here was certainly a human voice, and that in my own master’s house, and yet I knew it not; certainly human speech, and that in my native land; and yet, listen as I pleased, I could not catch one syllable. An old tale started up in my mind of a fairy wife (or perhaps only a wandering stranger), that came to the place of my fathers some generations back, and stayed the matter of a week, talking often in a tongue that signified nothing to the hearers; and went again, as she had come, under cloud of night, leaving not so much as a name behind her. A little fear I had, but more curiosity; and I opened the hall-door, and entered.
The supper-things still lay upon the table; the shutters were still closed, although day peeped in the divisions; and the great room was lighted only with a single taper and some lurching reverberation of the fire. Close in the chimney sat two men. The one that was wrapped in a cloak and wore boots, I knew at once: it was the bird of ill omen back again. Of the other, who was set close to the red embers, and made up into a bundle like a mummy, I could but see that he was an alien, of a darker hue than any man of Europe, very frailly built, with a singular tall forehead, and a secret eye. Several bundles and a small valise were on the floor; and to judge by the smallness of this luggage, and by the condition of the Master’s boots, grossly patched by some unscrupulous country cobbler, evil had not prospered.
He rose upon my entrance; our eyes crossed; and I know not why it should have been, but my courage rose like a lark on a May morning.
“Ha!” said I, “is this you?” – and I was pleased with the unconcern of my own voice.
“It is even myself, worthy Mackellar,” says the Master.
“This time you have brought the black dog visibly upon your back,” I continued.
“Referring to Secundra Dass?” asked the Master. “Let me present you. He is a native gentleman of India.”
“Hum!” said I. “I am no great lover either of you or your friends, Mr. Bally. But I will let a little daylight in, and have a look at you.” And so saying, I undid the shutters of the eastern window.
By the light of the morning I could perceive the man was changed. Later, when we were all together, I was more struck to see how lightly time had dealt with him; but the first glance was otherwise.
“You are getting an old man,” said I.
A shade came upon his face. “If you could see yourself,” said he, “you would perhaps not dwell upon the topic.”
“Hut!” I returned, “old age is nothing to me. I think I have been always old; and I am now, I thank God, better known and more respected. It is not every one that can say that, Mr. Bally! The lines in your brow are calamities; your life begins to close in upon you like a prison; death will soon be rapping at the door; and I see not from what source you are to draw your consolations.”
Here the Master addressed himself to Secundra Dass in Hindustanee, from which I gathered (I freely confess, with a high degree of pleasure) that my remarks annoyed him. All this while, you may be sure, my mind had been busy upon other matters, even while I rallied my enemy; and chiefly as to how I should communicate secretly and quickly with my lord. To this, in the breathing-space now given me, I turned all the forces of my mind; when, suddenly shifting my eyes, I was aware of the man himself standing in the doorway, and, to all appearance, quite composed. He had no sooner met my looks than he stepped across the threshold. The Master heard him coming, and advanced upon the other side; about four feet apart, these brothers came to a full pause, and stood exchanging steady looks, and then my lord smiled, bowed a little forward, and turned briskly away.
“Mackellar,” says he, “we must see to breakfast for these travellers.”
It was plain the Master was a trifle disconcerted; but he assumed the more impudence of speech and manner. “I am as hungry as a hawk,” says he. “Let it be something good, Henry.”
My lord turned to him with the same hard smile.
“Lord Durrisdeer,” says he.
“Oh! never in the family,” returned the Master.
“Every one in this house renders me my proper title,” says my lord. “If it please you to make an exception, I will leave you to consider what appearance it will bear to strangers, and whether it may not be translated as an effect of impotent jealousy.”
I could have clapped my hands together with delight: the more so as my lord left no time for any answer, but, bidding me with a sign to follow him, went straight out of the hall.
“Come quick,” says he; “we have to sweep vermin from the house.” And he sped through the passages, with so swift a step that I could scarce keep up with him, straight to the door of John Paul, the which he opened without summons and walked in. John was, to all appearance, sound asleep, but my lord made no pretence of waking him.
“John Paul,” said he, speaking as quietly as ever I heard him, “you served my father long, or I would pack you from the house like a dog. If in half an hour’s time I find you gone, you shall continue to receive your wages in Edinburgh. If you linger here or in St. Bride’s – old man, old servant, and altogether – I shall find some very astonishing way to make you smart for your disloyalty. Up and begone. The door you let them in by will serve for your departure. I do not choose my son shall see your face again.”
“I am rejoiced to find you bear the thing so quietly,” said I, when we were forth again by ourselves.
“Quietly!” cries he, and put my hand suddenly against his heart, which struck upon his bosom like a sledge.
At this revelation I was filled with wonder and fear. There was no constitution could bear so violent a strain – his least of all, that was unhinged already; and I decided in my mind that we must bring this monstrous situation to an end.
“It would be well, I think, if I took word to my lady,” said I. Indeed, he should have gone himself, but I counted – not in vain – on his indifference.
“Aye,” says he, “do. I will hurry breakfast: we must all appear at the table, even Alexander; it must appear we are untroubled.”
I ran to my lady’s room, and with no preparatory cruelty disclosed my news.
“My mind was long ago made up,” said she. “We must make our packets secretly to-day, and leave secretly to-night. Thank Heaven, we have another house! The first ship that sails shall bear us to New York.”
“And what of him?” I asked.
“We leave him Durrisdeer,” she cried. “Let him work his pleasure upon that.”
“Not so, by your leave,” said I. “There shall be a dog at his heels that can hold fast. Bed he shall have, and board, and a horse to ride upon, if he behave himself; but the keys – if you think well of it, my lady – shall be left in the hands of one Mackellar. There will be good care taken; trust him for that.”
“Mr. Mackellar,” she cried, “I thank you for that thought. All shall be left in your hands. If we must go into a savage country, I bequeath it to you to take our vengeance. Send Macconochie to St. Bride’s, to arrange privately for horses and to call the lawyer. My lord must leave procuration.”
At that moment my lord came to the door, and we opened our plan to him.
“I will never hear of it,” he cried; “he would think I feared him. I will stay in my own house, please God, until I die. There lives not the man can beard me out of it. Once and for all, here I am, and here I stay in spite of all the devils in hell.” I can give no idea of the vehemency of his words and utterance; but we both stood aghast, and I in particular, who had been a witness of his former self-restraint.
My lady looked at me with an appeal that went to my heart and recalled me to my wits. I made her a private sign to go, and when my lord and I were alone, went up to him where he was racing to and fro in one end of the room like a half-lunatic, and set my hand firmly on his shoulder.
“My lord,” says I, “I am going to be the plain-dealer once more; if for the last time, so much the better, for I am grown weary of the part.”
“Nothing will change me,” he answered. “God forbid I should refuse to hear you; but nothing will change me.” This he said firmly, with no signal of the former violence, which already raised my hopes.
“Very well,” said I “I can afford to waste my breath.” I pointed to a chair, and he sat down and looked at me. “I can remember a time when my lady very much neglected you,” said I.
“I never spoke of it while it lasted,” returned my lord, with a high flush of colour; “and it is all changed now.”‘
“Do you know how much?” I said. “Do you know how much it is all changed? The tables are turned, my lord! It is my lady that now courts you for a word, a look – ay, and courts you in vain. Do you know with whom she passes her days while you are out gallivanting in the policies? My lord, she is glad to pass them with a certain dry old grieve (8) of the name of Ephraim Mackellar; and I think you may be able to remember what that means, for I am the more in a mistake or you were once driven to the same company yourself.”
“Mackellar!” cries my lord, getting to his feet. “O my God, Mackellar!”
“It is neither the name of Mackellar nor the name of God that can change the truth,” said I; “and I am telling you the fact. Now for you, that suffered so much, to deal out the same suffering to another, is that the part of any Christian? But you are so swallowed up in your new friend that the old are all forgotten. They are all clean vanished from your memory. And yet they stood by you at the darkest; my lady not the least. And does my lady ever cross your mind? Does it ever cross your mind what she went through that night? – or what manner of a wife she has been to you thenceforward? – or in what kind of a position she finds herself to-day? Never. It is your pride to stay and face him out, and she must stay along with you. Oh! my lord’s pride – that’s the great affair! And yet she is the woman, and you are a great hulking man! She is the woman that you swore to protect; and, more betoken, the own mother of that son of yours!”
“You are speaking very bitterly, Mackellar,” said he; “but, the Lord knows, I fear you are speaking very true. I have not proved worthy of my happiness. Bring my lady back.”
My lady was waiting near at hand to learn the issue. When I brought her in, my lord took a hand of each of us, and laid them both upon his bosom. “I have had two friends in my life,” said he. “All the comfort ever I had, it came from one or other. When you two are in a mind, I think I would be an ungrateful dog – ” He shut his mouth very hard, and looked on us with swimming eyes. “Do what ye like with me,” says he, “only don’t think – ” He stopped again. “Do what ye please with me: God knows I love and honour you.” And dropping our two hands, he turned his back and went and gazed out of the window. But my lady ran after, calling his name, and threw herself upon his neck in a passion of weeping.
I went out and shut the door behind me, and stood and thanked God from the bottom of my heart.
At the breakfast board, according to my lord’s design, we were all met. The Master had by that time plucked off his patched boots and made a toilet suitable to the hour; Secundra Dass was no longer bundled up in wrappers, but wore a decent plain black suit, which misbecame him strangely; and the pair were at the great window, looking forth, when the family entered. They turned; and the black man (as they had already named him in the house) bowed almost to his knees, but the Master was for running forward like one of the family. My lady stopped him, curtseying low from the far end of the hall, and keeping her children at her back. My lord was a little in front: so there were the three cousins of Durrisdeer face to face. The hand of time was very legible on all; I seemed to read in their changed faces a MEMENTO MORI; and what affected me still more, it was the wicked man that bore his years the handsomest. My lady was quite transfigured into the matron, a becoming woman for the head of a great tableful of children and dependents. My lord was grown slack in his limbs; he stooped; he walked with a running motion, as though he had learned again from Mr. Alexander; his face was drawn; it seemed a trifle longer than of old; and it wore at times a smile very singularly mingled, and which (in my eyes) appeared both bitter and pathetic. But the Master still bore himself erect, although perhaps with effort; his brow barred about the centre with imperious lines, his mouth set as for command. He had all the gravity and something of the splendour of Satan in the “Paradise Lost.” I could not help but see the man with admiration, and was only surprised that I saw him with so little fear.
But indeed (as long as we were at the table) it seemed as if his authority were quite vanished and his teeth all drawn. We had known him a magician that controlled the elements; and here he was, transformed into an ordinary gentleman, chatting like his neighbours at the breakfast-board. For now the father was dead, and my lord and lady reconciled, in what ear was he to pour his calumnies? It came upon me in a kind of vision how hugely I had overrated the man’s subtlety. He had his malice still; he was false as ever; and, the occasion being gone that made his strength, he sat there impotent; he was still the viper, but now spent his venom on a file. Two more thoughts occurred to me while yet we sat at breakfast: the first, that he was abashed – I had almost said, distressed – to find his wickedness quite unavailing; the second, that perhaps my lord was in the right, and we did amiss to fly from our dismasted enemy. But my poor man’s leaping heart came in my mind, and I remembered it was for his life we played the coward.
When the meal was over, the Master followed me to my room, and, taking a chair (which I had never offered him), asked me what was to be done with him.
“Why, Mr. Bally,” said I, “the house will still be open to you for a time.”
“For a time?” says he. “I do not know if I quite take your meaning.”
“It is plain enough,” said I. “We keep you for our reputation; as soon as you shall have publicly disgraced yourself by some of your misconduct, we shall pack you forth again.”
“You are become an impudent rogue,” said the Master, bending his brows at me dangerously.
“I learned in a good school,” I returned. “And you must have perceived yourself that with my old lord’s death your power is quite departed. I do not fear you now, Mr. Bally; I think even – God forgive me – that I take a certain pleasure in your company.”
He broke out in a burst of laughter, which I clearly saw to be assumed.
“I have come with empty pockets,” says he, after a pause.
“I do not think there will be any money going,” I replied. “I would advise you not to build on that.”
“I shall have something to say on the point,” he returned.
“Indeed?” said I. “I have not a guess what it will be, then.”
“Oh! you affect confidence,” said the Master. “I have still one strong position – that you people fear a scandal, and I enjoy it.”
“Pardon me, Mr. Bally,” says I. “We do not in the least fear a scandal against you.”
He laughed again. “You have been studying repartee,” he said. “But speech is very easy, and sometimes very deceptive. I warn you fairly: you will find me vitriol in the house. You would do wiser to pay money down and see my back.” And with that he waved his hand to me and left the room.
A little after, my lord came with the lawyer, Mr. Carlyle; a bottle of old wine was brought, and we all had a glass before we fell to business. The necessary deeds were then prepared and executed, and the Scotch estates made over in trust to Mr. Carlyle and myself.
“There is one point, Mr. Carlyle,” said my lord, when these affairs had been adjusted, “on which I wish that you would do us justice. This sudden departure coinciding with my brother’s return will be certainly commented on. I wish you would discourage any conjunction of the two.”
“I will make a point of it, my lord,” said Mr. Carlyle. “The Mas- Bally does not, then, accompany you?”
“It is a point I must approach,” said my lord. “Mr. Bally remains at Durrisdeer, under the care of Mr. Mackellar; and I do not mean that he shall even know our destination.”
“Common report, however – ” began the lawyer.
“Ah! but, Mr. Carlyle, this is to be a secret quite among ourselves,” interrupted my lord. “None but you and Mackellar are to be made acquainted with my movements.”
“And Mr. Bally stays here? Quite so,” said Mr. Carlyle. “The powers you leave – ” Then he broke off again. “Mr. Mackellar, we have a rather heavy weight upon us.”
“No doubt,” said I.
“No doubt,” said he. “Mr. Bally will have no voice?”
“He will have no voice,” said my lord; “and, I hope, no influence. Mr. Bally is not a good adviser.”
“I see,” said the lawyer. “By the way, has Mr. Bally means?”
“I understand him to have nothing,” replied my lord. “I give him table, fire, and candle in this house.”
“And in the matter of an allowance? If I am to share the responsibility, you will see how highly desirable it is that I should understand your views,” said the lawyer. “On the question of an allowance?”
“There will be no allowance,” said my lord. “I wish Mr. Bally to live very private. We have not always been gratified with his behaviour.”
“And in the matter of money,” I added, “he has shown himself an infamous bad husband. Glance your eye upon that docket, Mr. Carlyle, where I have brought together the different sums the man has drawn from the estate in the last fifteen or twenty years. The total is pretty.”
Mr. Carlyle made the motion of whistling. “I had no guess of this,” said he. “Excuse me once more, my lord, if I appear to push you; but it is really desirable I should penetrate your intentions. Mr. Mackellar might die, when I should find myself alone upon this trust. Would it not be rather your lordship’s preference that Mr. Bally should – ahem – should leave the country?”
My lord looked at Mr. Carlyle. “Why do you ask that?” said he.
“I gather, my lord, that Mr. Bally is not a comfort to his family,” says the lawyer with a smile.
My lord’s face became suddenly knotted. “I wish he was in hell!” cried he, and filled himself a glass of wine, but with a hand so tottering that he spilled the half into his bosom. This was the second time that, in the midst of the most regular and wise behaviour, his animosity had spirted out. It startled Mr. Carlyle, who observed my lord thenceforth with covert curiosity; and to me it restored the certainty that we were acting for the best in view of my lord’s health and reason.
Except for this explosion the interview was very successfully conducted. No doubt Mr. Carlyle would talk, as lawyers do, little by little. We could thus feel we had laid the foundations of a better feeling in the country, and the man’s own misconduct would certainly complete what we had begun. Indeed, before his departure, the lawyer showed us there had already gone abroad some glimmerings of the truth.
“I should perhaps explain to you, my lord,” said he, pausing, with his hat in his hand, “that I have not been altogether surprised with your lordship’s dispositions in the case of Mr. Bally. Something of this nature oozed out when he was last in Durrisdeer. There was some talk of a woman at St. Bride’s, to whom you had behaved extremely handsome, and Mr. Bally with no small degree of cruelty. There was the entail, again, which was much controverted. In short, there was no want of talk, back and forward; and some of our wise-acres took up a strong opinion. I remained in suspense, as became one of my cloth; but Mr. Mackellar’s docket here has finally opened my eyes. I do not think, Mr. Mackellar, that you and I will give him that much rope.”
The rest of that important day passed prosperously through. It was our policy to keep the enemy in view, and I took my turn to be his watchman with the rest. I think his spirits rose as he perceived us to be so attentive, and I know that mine insensibly declined. What chiefly daunted me was the man’s singular dexterity to worm himself into our troubles. You may have felt (after a horse accident) the hand of a bone-setter artfully divide and interrogate the muscles, and settle strongly on the injured place? It was so with the Master’s tongue, that was so cunning to question; and his eyes, that were so quick to observe. I seemed to have said nothing, and yet to have let all out. Before I knew where I was the man was condoling with me on my lord’s neglect of my lady and myself, and his hurtful indulgence to his son. On this last point I perceived him (with panic fear) to return repeatedly. The boy had displayed a certain shrinking from his uncle; it was strong in my mind his father had been fool enough to indoctrinate the same, which was no wise beginning: and when I looked upon the man before me, still so handsome, so apt a speaker, with so great a variety of fortunes to relate, I saw he was the very personage to captivate a boyish fancy. John Paul had left only that morning; it was not to be supposed he had been altogether dumb upon his favourite subject: so that here would be Mr. Alexander in the part of Dido, with a curiosity inflamed to hear; and there would be the Master, like a diabolical AEneas, full of matter the most pleasing in the world to any youthful ear, such as battles, sea-disasters, flights, the forests of the West, and (since his later voyage) the ancient cities of the Indies. How cunningly these baits might be employed, and what an empire might be so founded, little by little, in the mind of any boy, stood obviously clear to me. There was no inhibition, so long as the man was in the house, that would be strong enough to hold these two apart; for if it be hard to charm serpents, it is no very difficult thing to cast a glamour on a little chip of manhood not very long in breeches. I recalled an ancient sailor-man who dwelt in a lone house beyond the Figgate Whins (I believe, he called it after Portobello), and how the boys would troop out of Leith on a Saturday, and sit and listen to his swearing tales, as thick as crows about a carrion: a thing I often remarked as I went by, a young student, on my own more meditative holiday diversion. Many of these boys went, no doubt, in the face of an express command; many feared and even hated the old brute of whom they made their hero; and I have seen them flee from him when he was tipsy, and stone him when he was drunk. And yet there they came each Saturday! How much more easily would a boy like Mr. Alexander fall under the influence of a high-looking, high-spoken gentleman-adventurer, who should conceive the fancy to entrap him; and, the influence gained, how easy to employ it for the child’s perversion!
I doubt if our enemy had named Mr. Alexander three times before I perceived which way his mind was aiming – all this train of thought and memory passed in one pulsation through my own – and you may say I started back as though an open hole had gaped across a pathway. Mr. Alexander: there was the weak point, there was the Eve in our perishable paradise; and the serpent was already hissing on the trail.
I promise you, I went the more heartily about the preparations; my last scruple gone, the danger of delay written before me in huge characters. From that moment forth I seem not to have sat down or breathed. Now I would be at my post with the Master and his Indian; now in the garret, buckling a valise; now sending forth Macconochie by the side postern and the wood-path to bear it to the trysting-place; and, again, snatching some words of counsel with my lady. This was the VERSO of our life in Durrisdeer that day; but on the RECTO all appeared quite settled, as of a family at home in its paternal seat; and what perturbation may have been observable, the Master would set down to the blow of his unlooked-for coming, and the fear he was accustomed to inspire.
Supper went creditably off, cold salutations passed and the company trooped to their respective chambers. I attended the Master to the last. We had put him next door to his Indian, in the north wing; because that was the most distant and could be severed from the body of the house with doors. I saw he was a kind friend or a good master (whichever it was) to his Secundra Dass – seeing to his comfort; mending the fire with his own hand, for the Indian complained of cold; inquiring as to the rice on which the stranger made his diet; talking with him pleasantly in the Hindustanee, while I stood by, my candle in my hand, and affected to be overcome with slumber. At length the Master observed my signals of distress. “I perceive,” says he, “that you have all your ancient habits: early to bed and early to rise. Yawn yourself away!”
Once in my own room, I made the customary motions of undressing, so that I might time myself; and when the cycle was complete, set my tinder-box ready, and blew out my taper. The matter of an hour afterward I made a light again, put on my shoes of list that I had worn by my lord’s sick-bed, and set forth into the house to call the voyagers. All were dressed and waiting – my lord, my lady, Miss Katharine, Mr. Alexander, my lady’s woman Christie; and I observed the effect of secrecy even upon quite innocent persons, that one after another showed in the chink of the door a face as white as paper. We slipped out of the side postern into a night of darkness, scarce broken by a star or two; so that at first we groped and stumbled and fell among the bushes. A few hundred yards up the wood-path Macconochie was waiting us with a great lantern; so the rest of the way we went easy enough, but still in a kind of guilty silence. A little beyond the abbey the path debauched on the main road and some quarter of a mile farther, at the place called Eagles, where the moors begin, we saw the lights of the two carriages stand shining by the wayside. Scarce a word or two was uttered at our parting, and these regarded business: a silent grasping of hands, a turning of faces aside, and the thing was over; the horses broke into a trot, the lamplight sped like Will- o’-the-Wisp upon the broken moorland, it dipped beyond Stony Brae; and there were Macconochie and I alone with our lantern on the road. There was one thing more to wait for, and that was the reappearance of the coach upon Cartmore. It seems they must have pulled up upon the summit, looked back for a last time, and seen our lantern not yet moved away from the place of separation. For a lamp was taken from a carriage, and waved three times up and down by way of a farewell. And then they were gone indeed, having looked their last on the kind roof of Durrisdeer, their faces toward a barbarous country. I never knew before, the greatness of that vault of night in which we two poor serving-men – the one old, and the one elderly – stood for the first time deserted; I had never felt before my own dependency upon the countenance of others. The sense of isolation burned in my bowels like a fire. It seemed that we who remained at home were the true exiles, and that Durrisdeer and Solwayside, and all that made my country native, its air good to me, and its language welcome, had gone forth and was far over the sea with my old masters.
The remainder of that night I paced to and fro on the smooth highway, reflecting on the future and the past. My thoughts, which at first dwelled tenderly on those who were just gone, took a more manly temper as I considered what remained for me to do. Day came upon the inland mountain-tops, and the fowls began to cry, and the smoke of homesteads to arise in the brown bosom of the moors, before I turned my face homeward, and went down the path to where the roof of Durrisdeer shone in the morning by the sea.