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 “And where has my good family withdrawn to?”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