The full truth of this odd matter is what the world has long
been looking for, and public curiosity is sure to welcome. It so
befell that I was intimately mingled with the last years and
history of the house; and there does not live one man so able as
myself to make these matters plain, or so desirous to narrate them
faithfully. I knew the Master; on many secret steps of his career I
have an authentic memoir in my hand; I sailed with him on his last
voyage almost alone; I made one upon that winter's journey of which
so many tales have gone abroad; and I was there at the man's death.
As for my late Lord Durrisdeer, I served him and loved him near
twenty years; and thought more of him the more I knew of him.
Altogether, I think it not fit that so much evidence should perish;
the truth is a debt I owe my lord's memory; and I think my old
years will flow more smoothly, and my white hair lie quieter on the
pillow, when the debt is paid.
The Duries of Durrisdeer and Ballantrae were a strong family in
the south-west from the days of David First. A rhyme still current
in the countryside -
Kittle folk are the Durrisdeers, They ride wi' over mony spears
bears the mark of its antiquity; and the name appears in
another, which common report attributes to Thomas of Ercildoune
himself - I cannot say how truly, and which some have applied - I
dare not say with how much justice - to the events of this
Twa Duries in Durrisdeer, Ane to tie and ane to ride, An ill day
for the groom And a waur day for the bride.
Authentic history besides is filled with their exploits which
(to our modern eyes) seem not very commendable: and the family
suffered its full share of those ups and downs to which the great
houses of Scotland have been ever liable. But all these I pass
over, to come to that memorable year 1745, when the foundations of
this tragedy were laid.
At that time there dwelt a family of four persons in the house
of Durrisdeer, near St. Bride's, on the Solway shore; a chief hold
of their race since the Reformation. My old lord, eighth of the
name, was not old in years, but he suffered prematurely from the
disabilities of age; his place was at the chimney side; there he
sat reading, in a lined gown, with few words for any man, and wry
words for none: the model of an old retired housekeeper; and yet
his mind very well nourished with study, and reputed in the country
to be more cunning than he seemed. The master of Ballantrae, James
in baptism, took from his father the love of serious reading; some
of his tact perhaps as well, but that which was only policy in the
father became black dissimulation in the son. The face of his
behaviour was merely popular and wild: he sat late at wine, later
at the cards; had the name in the country of "an unco man for the
lasses;" and was ever in the front of broils. But for all he was
the first to go in, yet it was observed he was invariably the best
to come off; and his partners in mischief were usually alone to pay
the piper. This luck or dexterity got him several ill-wishers, but
with the rest of the country, enhanced his reputation; so that
great things were looked for in his future, when he should have
gained more gravity. One very black mark he had to his name; but
the matter was hushed up at the time, and so defaced by legends
before I came into those parts, that I scruple to set it down. If
it was true, it was a horrid fact in one so young; and if false, it
was a horrid calumny. I think it notable that he had always vaunted
himself quite implacable, and was taken at his word; so that he had
the addition among his neighbours of "an ill man to cross." Here
was altogether a young nobleman (not yet twenty-four in the year
'45) who had made a figure in the country beyond his time of life.
The less marvel if there were little heard of the second son, Mr.
Henry (my late Lord Durrisdeer), who was neither very bad nor yet
very able, but an honest, solid sort of lad like many of his
neighbours. Little heard, I say; but indeed it was a case of little
spoken. He was known among the salmon fishers in the firth, for
that was a sport that he assiduously followed; he was an excellent
good horse-doctor besides; and took a chief hand, almost from a
boy, in the management of the estates. How hard a part that was, in
the situation of that family, none knows better than myself; nor
yet with how little colour of justice a man may there acquire the
reputation of a tyrant and a miser. The fourth person in the house
was Miss Alison Graeme, a near kinswoman, an orphan, and the heir
to a considerable fortune which her father had acquired in trade.
This money was loudly called for by my lord's necessities; indeed
the land was deeply mortgaged; and Miss Alison was designed
accordingly to be the Master's wife, gladly enough on her side;
with how much good-will on his, is another matter. She was a comely
girl, and in those days very spirited and self-willed; for the old
lord having no daughter of his own, and my lady being long dead,
she had grown up as best she might.
To these four came the news of Prince Charlie's landing, and set
them presently by the ears. My lord, like the chimney-keeper that
he was, was all for temporising. Miss Alison held the other side,
because it appeared romantical; and the Master (though I have heard
they did not agree often) was for this once of her opinion. The
adventure tempted him, as I conceive; he was tempted by the
opportunity to raise the fortunes of the house, and not less by the
hope of paying off his private liabilities, which were heavy beyond
all opinion. As for Mr. Henry, it appears he said little enough at
first; his part came later on. It took the three a whole day's
disputation, before they agreed to steer a middle course, one son
going forth to strike a blow for King James, my lord and the other
staying at home to keep in favour with King George. Doubtless this
was my lord's decision; and, as is well known, it was the part
played by many considerable families. But the one dispute settled,
another opened. For my lord, Miss Alison, and Mr. Henry all held
the one view: that it was the cadet's part to go out; and the
Master, what with restlessness and vanity, would at no rate consent
to stay at home. My lord pleaded, Miss Alison wept, Mr. Henry was
very plain spoken: all was of no avail.
"It is the direct heir of Durrisdeer that should ride by his
King's bridle," says the Master.
"If we were playing a manly part," says Mr. Henry, "there might
be sense in such talk. But what are we doing? Cheating at
"We are saving the house of Durrisdeer, Henry," his father
"And see, James," said Mr. Henry, "if I go, and the Prince has
the upper hand, it will be easy to make your peace with King James.
But if you go, and the expedition fails, we divide the right and
the title. And what shall I be then?"
"You will be Lord Durrisdeer," said the Master. "I put all I
have upon the table."
"I play at no such game," cries Mr. Henry. "I shall be left in
such a situation as no man of sense and honour could endure. I
shall be neither fish nor flesh!" he cried. And a little after he
had another expression, plainer perhaps than he intended. "It is
your duty to be here with my father," said he. "You know well
enough you are the favourite."
"Ay?" said the Master. "And there spoke Envy! Would you trip up
my heels - Jacob?" said he, and dwelled upon the name
Mr. Henry went and walked at the low end of the hall without
reply; for he had an excellent gift of silence. Presently he came
"I am the cadet and I SHOULD go," said he. "And my lord here in
the master, and he says I SHALL go. What say ye to that, my
"I say this, Harry," returned the Master, "that when very
obstinate folk are met, there are only two ways out: Blows - and I
think none of us could care to go so far; or the arbitrament of
chance - and here is a guinea piece. Will you stand by the toss of
"I will stand and fall by it," said Mr. Henry. "Heads, I go;
shield, I stay."
The coin was spun, and it fell shield. "So there is a lesson for
Jacob," says the Master.
"We shall live to repent of this," says Mr. Henry, and flung out
of the hall.
As for Miss Alison, she caught up that piece of gold which had
just sent her lover to the wars, and flung it clean through the
family shield in the great painted window.
"If you loved me as well as I love you, you would have stayed,"
"'I could not love you, dear, so well, loved I not honour
more,'" sang the Master.
"Oh!" she cried, "you have no heart - I hope you may be killed!"
and she ran from the room, and in tears, to her own chamber.
It seems the Master turned to my lord with his most comical
manner, and says he, "This looks like a devil of a wife."
"I think you are a devil of a son to me," cried his father, "you
that have always been the favourite, to my shame be it spoken.
Never a good hour have I gotten of you, since you were born; no,
never one good hour," and repeated it again the third time. Whether
it was the Master's levity, or his insubordination, or Mr. Henry's
word about the favourite son, that had so much disturbed my lord, I
do not know; but I incline to think it was the last, for I have it
by all accounts that Mr. Henry was more made up to from that
Altogether it was in pretty ill blood with his family that the
Master rode to the North; which was the more sorrowful for others
to remember when it seemed too late. By fear and favour he had
scraped together near upon a dozen men, principally tenants' sons;
they were all pretty full when they set forth, and rode up the hill
by the old abbey, roaring and singing, the white cockade in every
hat. It was a desperate venture for so small a company to cross the
most of Scotland unsupported; and (what made folk think so the
more) even as that poor dozen was clattering up the hill, a great
ship of the king's navy, that could have brought them under with a
single boat, lay with her broad ensign streaming in the bay. The
next afternoon, having given the Master a fair start, it was Mr.
Henry's turn; and he rode off, all by himself, to offer his sword
and carry letters from his father to King George's Government. Miss
Alison was shut in her room, and did little but weep, till both
were gone; only she stitched the cockade upon the Master's hat, and
(as John Paul told me) it was wetted with tears when he carried it
down to him.
In all that followed, Mr. Henry and my old lord were true to
their bargain. That ever they accomplished anything is more than I
could learn; and that they were anyway strong on the king's side,
more than believe. But they kept the letter of loyalty,
corresponded with my Lord President, sat still at home, and had
little or no commerce with the Master while that business lasted.
Nor was he, on his side, more communicative. Miss Alison, indeed,
was always sending him expresses, but I do not know if she had many
answers. Macconochie rode for her once, and found the highlanders
before Carlisle, and the Master riding by the Prince's side in high
favour; he took the letter (so Macconochie tells), opened it,
glanced it through with a mouth like a man whistling, and stuck it
in his belt, whence, on his horse passageing, it fell unregarded to
the ground. It was Macconochie who picked it up; and he still kept
it, and indeed I have seen it in his hands. News came to Durrisdeer
of course, by the common report, as it goes travelling through a
country, a thing always wonderful to me. By that means the family
learned more of the Master's favour with the Prince, and the ground
it was said to stand on: for by a strange condescension in a man so
proud - only that he was a man still more ambitious - he was said
to have crept into notability by truckling to the Irish. Sir Thomas
Sullivan, Colonel Burke and the rest, were his daily comrades, by
which course he withdrew himself from his own country-folk. All the
small intrigues he had a hand in fomenting; thwarted my Lord George
upon a thousand points; was always for the advice that seemed
palatable to the Prince, no matter if it was good or bad; and seems
upon the whole (like the gambler he was all through life) to have
had less regard to the chances of the campaign than to the
greatness of favour he might aspire to, if, by any luck, it should
succeed. For the rest, he did very well in the field; no one
questioned that; for he was no coward.
The next was the news of Culloden, which was brought to
Durrisdeer by one of the tenants' sons - the only survivor, he
declared, of all those that had gone singing up the hill. By an
unfortunate chance John Paul and Macconochie had that very morning
found the guinea piece - which was the root of all the evil -
sticking in a holly bush; they had been "up the gait," as the
servants say at Durrisdeer, to the change-house; and if they had
little left of the guinea, they had less of their wits. What must
John Paul do but burst into the hall where the family sat at
dinner, and cry the news to them that "Tam Macmorland was but new
lichtit at the door, and - wirra, wirra - there were nane to come
They took the word in silence like folk condemned; only Mr.
Henry carrying his palm to his face, and Miss Alison laying her
head outright upon her hands. As for my lord, he was like
"I have still one son," says he. "And, Henry, I will do you this
justice - it is the kinder that is left."
It was a strange thing to say in such a moment; but my lord had
never forgotten Mr. Henry's speech, and he had years of injustice
on his conscience. Still it was a strange thing, and more than Miss
Alison could let pass. She broke out and blamed my lord for his
unnatural words, and Mr. Henry because he was sitting there in
safety when his brother lay dead, and herself because she had given
her sweetheart ill words at his departure, calling him the flower
of the flock, wringing her hands, protesting her love, and crying
on him by his name - so that the servants stood astonished.
Mr. Henry got to his feet, and stood holding his chair. It was
he that was like ashes now.
"Oh!" he burst out suddenly, "I know you loved him."
"The world knows that, glory be to God!" cries she; and then to
Mr. Henry: "There is none but me to know one thing - that you were
a traitor to him in your heart."
"God knows," groans he, "it was lost love on both sides."
Time went by in the house after that without much change; only
they were now three instead of four, which was a perpetual reminder
of their loss. Miss Alison's money, you are to bear in mind, wag
highly needful for the estates; and the one brother being dead, my
old lord soon set his heart upon her marrying the other. Day in,
day out, he would work upon her, sitting by the chimney-side with
his finger in his Latin book, and his eyes set upon her face with a
kind of pleasant intentness that became the old gentleman very
well. If she wept, he would condole with her like an ancient man
that has seen worse times and begins to think lightly even of
sorrow; if she raged, he would fall to reading again in his Latin
book, but always with some civil excuse; if she offered, as she
often did, to let them have her money in a gift, he would show her
how little it consisted with his honour, and remind her, even if he
should consent, that Mr. Henry would certainly refuse. NON VI SED
SAEPE CADENDO was a favourite word of his; and no doubt this quiet
persecution wore away much of her resolve; no doubt, besides, he
had a great influence on the girl, having stood in the place of
both her parents; and, for that matter, she was herself filled with
the spirit of the Duries, and would have gone a great way for the
glory of Durrisdeer; but not so far, I think, as to marry my poor
patron, had it not been - strangely enough - for the circumstance
of his extreme unpopularity.
This was the work of Tam Macmorland. There was not much harm in
Tam; but he had that grievous weakness, a long tongue; and as the
only man in that country who had been out - or, rather, who had
come in again - he was sure of listeners. Those that have the
underhand in any fighting, I have observed, are ever anxious to
persuade themselves they were betrayed. By Tam's account of it, the
rebels had been betrayed at every turn and by every officer they
had; they had been betrayed at Derby, and betrayed at Falkirk; the
night march was a step of treachery of my Lord George's; and
Culloden was lost by the treachery of the Macdonalds. This habit of
imputing treason grew upon the fool, till at last he must have in
Mr. Henry also. Mr. Henry (by his account) had betrayed the lads of
Durrisdeer; he had promised to follow with more men, and instead of
that he had ridden to King George. "Ay, and the next day!" Tam
would cry. "The puir bonnie Master, and the puir, kind lads that
rade wi' him, were hardly ower the scaur, or he was aff - the
Judis! Ay, weel - he has his way o't: he's to be my lord, nae less,
and there's mony a cold corp amang the Hieland heather!" And at
this, if Tam had been drinking, he would begin to weep.
Let anyone speak long enough, he will get believers. This view
of Mr. Henry's behaviour crept about the country by little and
little; it was talked upon by folk that knew the contrary, but were
short of topics; and it was heard and believed and given out for
gospel by the ignorant and the ill-willing. Mr. Henry began to be
shunned; yet awhile, and the commons began to murmur as he went by,
and the women (who are always the most bold because they are the
most safe) to cry out their reproaches to his face. The Master was
cried up for a saint. It was remembered how he had never any hand
in pressing the tenants; as, indeed, no more he had, except to
spend the money. He was a little wild perhaps, the folk said; but
how much better was a natural, wild lad that would soon have
settled down, than a skinflint and a sneckdraw, sitting, with his
nose in an account book, to persecute poor tenants! One trollop,
who had had a child to the Master, and by all accounts been very
badly used, yet made herself a kind of champion of his memory. She
flung a stone one day at Mr. Henry.
"Whaur's the bonnie lad that trustit ye?" she cried.
Mr. Henry reined in his horse and looked upon her, the blood
flowing from his lip. "Ay, Jess?" says he. "You too? And yet ye
should ken me better." For it was he who had helped her with
The woman had another stone ready, which she made as if she
would cast; and he, to ward himself, threw up the hand that held
"What, would ye beat a lassie, ye ugly - ?" cries she, and
ran away screaming as though he had struck her.
Next day word went about the country like wildfire that Mr.
Henry had beaten Jessie Broun within an inch of her life. I give it
as one instance of how this snowball grew, and one calumny brought
another; until my poor patron was so perished in reputation that he
began to keep the house like my lord. All this while, you may be
very sure, he uttered no complaints at home; the very ground of the
scandal was too sore a matter to be handled; and Mr. Henry was very
proud and strangely obstinate in silence. My old lord must have
heard of it, by John Paul, if by no one else; and he must at least
have remarked the altered habits of his son. Yet even he, it is
probable, knew not how high the feeling ran; and as for Miss
Alison, she was ever the last person to hear news, and the least
interested when she heard them.
In the height of the ill-feeling (for it died away as it came,
no man could say why) there was an election forward in the town of
St. Bride's, which is the next to Durrisdeer, standing on the Water
of Swift; some grievance was fermenting, I forget what, if ever I
heard; and it was currently said there would be broken heads ere
night, and that the sheriff had sent as far as Dumfries for
soldiers. My lord moved that Mr. Henry should be present, assuring
him it was necessary to appear, for the credit of the house. "It
will soon be reported," said he, "that we do not take the lead in
our own country."
"It is a strange lead that I can take," said Mr. Henry; and when
they had pushed him further, "I tell you the plain truth," he said,
"I dare not show my face."
"You are the first of the house that ever said so," cries Miss
"We will go all three," said my lord; and sure enough he got
into his boots (the first time in four years - a sore business John
Paul had to get them on), and Miss Alison into her riding-coat, and
all three rode together to St. Bride's.
The streets were full of the rift-raff of all the countryside,
who had no sooner clapped eyes on Mr. Henry than the hissing began,
and the hooting, and the cries of "Judas!" and "Where was the
Master?" and "Where were the poor lads that rode with him?" Even a
stone was cast; but the more part cried shame at that, for my old
lord's sake, and Miss Alison's. It took not ten minutes to persuade
my lord that Mr. Henry had been right. He said never a word, but
turned his horse about, and home again, with his chin upon his
bosom. Never a word said Miss Alison; no doubt she thought the
more; no doubt her pride was stung, for she was a bone-bred Durie;
and no doubt her heart was touched to see her cousin so unjustly
used. That night she was never in bed; I have often blamed my lady
- when I call to mind that night, I readily forgive her all; and
the first thing in the morning she came to the old lord in his
"If Henry still wants me," said she, "he can have me now." To
himself she had a different speech: "I bring you no love, Henry;
but God knows, all the pity in the world."
June the 1st, 1748, was the day of their marriage. It was
December of the same year that first saw me alighting at the doors
of the great house; and from there I take up the history of events
as they befell under my own observation, like a witness in a