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Set in Scotland during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, in the exotic French Indies, and in the North American wilderness, the story has as its hero one of the most compelling yet horrifying studies of evil in nineteenth-century fiction—James Durie, Master of Ballantrae. The Master is about his infective influence—on his younger, less attractive brother Henry; on Henry's wife Alison; and on those narrators whom Stevenson so skilfully employs to present their experiences of this charming, ruthless, and evil man.
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Copyright © 2016 by Robert Louis Stevenson
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
To Sir Percy Florence and Lady Shelley
CHAPTER I.—SUMMARY OF EVENTS DURING THIS MASTER’S WANDERINGS.
CHAPTER II. SUMMARY OF EVENTS (continued)
CHAPTER III.—THE MASTER’S WANDERINGS.
CHAPTER IV.—PERSECUTIONS ENDURED BY MR. HENRY.
CHAPTER V.—ACCOUNT OF ALL THAT PASSED ON THE NIGHT ON FEBRUARY 27TH, 1757.
CHAPTER VI.—SUMMARY OF EVENTS DURING THE MASTER’S SECOND ABSENCE.
CHAPTER VII.—ADVENTURE OF CHEVALIER BURKE IN INDIA.
CHAPTER VIII.—THE ENEMY IN THE HOUSE.
CHAPTER IX.—MR. MACKELLAR’S JOURNEY WITH THE MASTER.
CHAPTER X.—PASSAGES AT NEW YORK.
CHAPTER XI.—THE JOURNEY IN THE WILDERNESS.
NARRATIVE OF THE TRADER, MOUNTAIN.
CHAPTER XII.—THE JOURNEY IN THE WILDERNESS (continued).
HERE IS A TALE which extends over many years and travels into many countries. By a peculiar fitness of circumstance the writer began, continued it, and concluded it among distant and diverse scenes. Above all, he was much upon the sea. The character and fortune of the fraternal enemies, the hall and shrubbery of Durrisdeer, the problem of Mackellar’s homespun and how to shape it for superior flights; these were his company on deck in many star-reflecting harbours, ran often in his mind at sea to the tune of slatting canvas, and were dismissed (something of the suddenest) on the approach of squalls. It is my hope that these surroundings of its manufacture may to some degree find favour for my story with seafarers and sea-lovers like yourselves.
And at least here is a dedication from a great way off: written by the loud shores of a subtropical island near upon ten thousand miles from Boscombe Chine and Manor: scenes which rise before me as I write, along with the faces and voices of my friends.
Well, I am for the sea once more; no doubt Sir Percy also. Let us make the signal B. R. D.!
R. L. S.
Waikiki, May 17, 1889
ALTHOUGH AN OLD, CONSISTENT exile, the editor of the following pages revisits now and again the city of which he exults to be a native; and there are few things more strange, more painful, or more salutary, than such revisitations. Outside, in foreign spots, he comes by surprise and awakens more attention than he had expected; in his own city, the relation is reversed, and he stands amazed to be so little recollected. Elsewhere he is refreshed to see attractive faces, to remark possible friends; there he scouts the long streets, with a pang at heart, for the faces and friends that are no more. Elsewhere he is delighted with the presence of what is new, there tormented by the absence of what is old. Elsewhere he is content to be his present self; there he is smitten with an equal regret for what he once was and for what he once hoped to be.
He was feeling all this dimly, as he drove from the station, on his last visit; he was feeling it still as he alighted at the door of his friend Mr. Johnstone Thomson, W.S., with whom he was to stay. A hearty welcome, a face not altogether changed, a few words that sounded of old days, a laugh provoked and shared, a glimpse in passing of the snowy cloth and bright decanters and the Piranesis on the dining-room wall, brought him to his bed-room with a somewhat lightened cheer, and when he and Mr. Thomson sat down a few minutes later, cheek by jowl, and pledged the past in a preliminary bumper, he was already almost consoled, he had already almost forgiven himself his two unpardonable errors, that he should ever have left his native city, or ever returned to it.
“I have something quite in your way,” said Mr. Thomson. “I wished to do honour to your arrival; because, my dear fellow, it is my own youth that comes back along with you; in a very tattered and withered state, to be sure, but—well!—all that’s left of it.”
“A great deal better than nothing,” said the editor. “But what is this which is quite in my way?”
“I was coming to that,” said Mr. Thomson: “Fate has put it in my power to honour your arrival with something really original by way of dessert. A mystery.”
“A mystery?” I repeated.
“Yes,” said his friend, “a mystery. It may prove to be nothing, and it may prove to be a great deal. But in the meanwhile it is truly mysterious, no eye having looked on it for near a hundred years; it is highly genteel, for it treats of a titled family; and it ought to be melodramatic, for (according to the superscription) it is concerned with death.”
“I think I rarely heard a more obscure or a more promising annunciation,” the other remarked. “But what is It?”
“You remember my predecessor’s, old Peter M’Brair’s business?”
“I remember him acutely; he could not look at me without a pang of reprobation, and he could not feel the pang without betraying it. He was to me a man of a great historical interest, but the interest was not returned.”
“Ah well, we go beyond him,” said Mr. Thomson. “I daresay old Peter knew as little about this as I do. You see, I succeeded to a prodigious accumulation of old law-papers and old tin boxes, some of them of Peter’s hoarding, some of his father’s, John, first of the dynasty, a great man in his day. Among other collections, were all the papers of the Durrisdeers.”
“The Durrisdeers!” cried I. “My dear fellow, these may be of the greatest interest. One of them was out in the ’45; one had some strange passages with the devil—you will find a note of it in Law’sMemorials, I think; and there was an unexplained tragedy, I know not what, much later, about a hundred years ago—”
“More than a hundred years ago,” said Mr. Thomson. “In 1783.”
“How do you know that? I mean some death.”
“Yes, the lamentable deaths of my Lord Durrisdeer and his brother, the Master of Ballantrae (attainted in the troubles),” said Mr. Thomson with something the tone of a man quoting. “Is that it?”
“To say truth,” said I, “I have only seen some dim reference to the things in memoirs; and heard some traditions dimmer still, through my uncle (whom I think you knew). My uncle lived when he was a boy in the neighbourhood of St. Bride’s; he has often told me of the avenue closed up and grown over with grass, the great gates never opened, the last lord and his old maid sister who lived in the back parts of the house, a quiet, plain, poor, hum-drum couple it would seem—but pathetic too, as the last of that stirring and brave house—and, to the country folk, faintly terrible from some deformed traditions.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Thomson. “Henry Graeme Durie, the last lord, died in 1820; his sister, the honourable Miss Katherine Durie, in ’27; so much I know; and by what I have been going over the last few days, they were what you say, decent, quiet people and not rich. To say truth, it was a letter of my lord’s that put me on the search for the packet we are going to open this evening. Some papers could not be found; and he wrote to Jack M’Brair suggesting they might be among those sealed up by a Mr. Mackellar. M’Brair answered, that the papers in question were all in Mackellar’s own hand, all (as the writer understood) of a purely narrative character; and besides, said he, ‘I am bound not to open them before the year 1889.’ You may fancy if these words struck me: I instituted a hunt through all the M’Brair repositories; and at last hit upon that packet which (if you have had enough wine) I propose to show you at once.”
In the smoking-room, to which my host now led me, was a packet, fastened with many seals and enclosed in a single sheet of strong paper thus endorsed:
Papers relating to the lives and lamentable deaths of the late Lord Durisdeer, and his elder brother James, commonly called Master of Ballantrae, attainted in the troubles: entrusted into the hands of John M’Brair in the Lawnmarket of Edinburgh, W.S.; this 20th day of September Anno Domini 1789; by him to be kept secret until the revolution of one hundred years complete, or until the 20th day of September 1889: the same compiled and written by me, Ephraim Mackellar,
For near forty years Land Steward on the estates of his Lordship.
As Mr. Thomson is a married man, I will not say what hour had struck when we laid down the last of the following pages; but I will give a few words of what ensued.
“Here,” said Mr. Thomson, “is a novel ready to your hand: all you have to do is to work up the scenery, develop the characters, and improve the style.”
“My dear fellow,” said I, “they are just the three things that I would rather die than set my hand to. It shall be published as it stands.”
“But it’s so bald,” objected Mr. Thomson.
“I believe there is nothing so noble as baldness,” replied I, “and I am sure there in nothing so interesting. I would have all literature bald, and all authors (if you like) but one.”
“Well, well,” add Mr. Thomson, “we shall see.”
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 narration:
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 cards!”
“We are saving the house of Durrisdeer, Henry,” his father said.
“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 maliciously.
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 back.
“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 brother?”
“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 the coin?”
“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,” cried she.
“‘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 hour.
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 behind him”?
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 ashes.
“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 money.
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 his riding-rod.
“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 Alison.
“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 usual seat.
“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 court.
I MADE THE LAST of my journey in the cold end of December, in a mighty dry day of frost, and who should be my guide but Patey Macmorland, brother of Tam! For a tow-headed, bare-legged brat of ten, he had more ill tales upon his tongue than ever I heard the match of; having drunken betimes in his brother’s cup. I was still not so old myself; pride had not yet the upper hand of curiosity; and indeed it would have taken any man, that cold morning, to hear all the old clashes of the country, and be shown all the places by the way where strange things had fallen out. I had tales of Claverhouse as we came through the bogs, and tales of the devil, as we came over the top of the scaur. As we came in by the abbey I heard somewhat of the old monks, and more of the freetraders, who use its ruins for a magazine, landing for that cause within a cannon-shot of Durrisdeer; and along all the road the Duries and poor Mr. Henry were in the first rank of slander. My mind was thus highly prejudiced against the family I was about to serve, so that I was half surprised when I beheld Durrisdeer itself, lying in a pretty, sheltered bay, under the Abbey Hill; the house most commodiously built in the French fashion, or perhaps Italianate, for I have no skill in these arts; and the place the most beautified with gardens, lawns, shrubberies, and trees I had ever seen. The money sunk here unproductively would have quite restored the family; but as it was, it cost a revenue to keep it up.
Mr. Henry came himself to the door to welcome me: a tall dark young gentleman (the Duries are all black men) of a plain and not cheerful face, very strong in body, but not so strong in health: taking me by the hand without any pride, and putting me at home with plain kind speeches. He led me into the hall, booted as I was, to present me to my lord. It was still daylight; and the first thing I observed was a lozenge of clear glass in the midst of the shield in the painted window, which I remember thinking a blemish on a room otherwise so handsome, with its family portraits, and the pargeted ceiling with pendants, and the carved chimney, in one corner of which my old lord sat reading in his Livy. He was like Mr. Henry, with much the same plain countenance, only more subtle and pleasant, and his talk a thousand times more entertaining. He had many questions to ask me, I remember, of Edinburgh College, where I had just received my mastership of arts, and of the various professors, with whom and their proficiency he seemed well acquainted; and thus, talking of things that I knew, I soon got liberty of speech in my new home.
In the midst of this came Mrs. Henry into the room; she was very far gone, Miss Katharine being due in about six weeks, which made me think less of her beauty at the first sight; and she used me with more of condescension than the rest; so that, upon all accounts, I kept her in the third place of my esteem.
It did not take long before all Patey Macmorland’s tales were blotted out of my belief, and I was become, what I have ever since remained, a loving servant of the house of Durrisdeer. Mr. Henry had the chief part of my affection. It was with him I worked; and I found him an exacting master, keeping all his kindness for those hours in which we were unemployed, and in the steward’s office not only loading me with work, but viewing me with a shrewd supervision. At length one day he looked up from his paper with a kind of timidness, and says he, “Mr. Mackellar, I think I ought to tell you that you do very well.” That was my first word of commendation; and from that day his jealousy of my performance was relaxed; soon it was “Mr. Mackellar” here, and “Mr. Mackellar” there, with the whole family; and for much of my service at Durrisdeer, I have transacted everything at my own time, and to my own fancy, and never a farthing challenged. Even while he was driving me, I had begun to find my heart go out to Mr. Henry; no doubt, partly in pity, he was a man so palpably unhappy. He would fall into a deep muse over our accounts, staring at the page or out of the window; and at those times the look of his face, and the sigh that would break from him, awoke in me strong feelings of curiosity and commiseration. One day, I remember, we were late upon some business in the steward’s room.
This room is in the top of the house, and has a view upon the bay, and over a little wooded cape, on the long sands; and there, right over against the sun, which was then dipping, we saw the freetraders, with a great force of men and horses, scouring on the beach. Mr. Henry had been staring straight west, so that I marvelled he was not blinded by the sun; suddenly he frowns, rubs his hand upon his brow, and turns to me with a smile.
“You would not guess what I was thinking,” says he. “I was thinking I would be a happier man if I could ride and run the danger of my life, with these lawless companions.”
I told him I had observed he did not enjoy good spirits; and that it was a common fancy to envy others and think we should be the better of some change; quoting Horace to the point, like a young man fresh from college.
“Why, just so,” said he. “And with that we may get back to our accounts.”
It was not long before I began to get wind of the causes that so much depressed him. Indeed a blind man must have soon discovered there was a shadow on that house, the shadow of the Master of Ballantrae. Dead or alive (and he was then supposed to be dead) that man was his brother’s rival: his rival abroad, where there was never a good word for Mr. Henry, and nothing but regret and praise for the Master; and his rival at home, not only with his father and his wife, but with the very servants.
They were two old serving-men that were the leaders. John Paul, a little, bald, solemn, stomachy man, a great professor of piety and (take him for all in all) a pretty faithful servant, was the chief of the Master’s faction. None durst go so far as John. He took a pleasure in disregarding Mr. Henry publicly, often with a slighting comparison. My lord and Mrs. Henry took him up, to be sure, but never so resolutely as they should; and he had only to pull his weeping face and begin his lamentations for the Master—“his laddie,” as he called him—to have the whole condoned. As for Henry, he let these things pass in silence, sometimes with a sad and sometimes with a black look. There was no rivalling the dead, he knew that; and how to censure an old serving-man for a fault of loyalty, was more than he could see. His was not the tongue to do it.
Macconochie was chief upon the other side; an old, ill-spoken, swearing, ranting, drunken dog; and I have often thought it an odd circumstance in human nature that these two serving-men should each have been the champion of his contrary, and blackened their own faults and made light of their own virtues when they beheld them in a master. Macconochie had soon smelled out my secret inclination, took me much into his confidence, and would rant against the Master by the hour, so that even my work suffered. “They’re a’ daft here,” he would cry, “and be damned to them! The Master—the deil’s in their thrapples that should call him sae! it’s Mr. Henry should be master now! They were nane sae fond o’ the Master when they had him, I’ll can tell ye that. Sorrow on his name! Never a guid word did I hear on his lips, nor naebody else, but just fleering and flyting and profane cursing—deil hae him! There’s nane kent his wickedness: him a gentleman! Did ever ye hear tell, Mr. Mackellar, o’ Wully White the wabster? No? Aweel, Wully was an unco praying kind o’ man; a dreigh body, nane o’ my kind, I never could abide the sight o’ him; onyway he was a great hand by his way of it, and he up and rebukit the Master for some of his on-goings. It was a grand thing for the Master o’ Ball’ntrae to tak up a feud wi’ a’ wabster, wasnae’t?” Macconochie would sneer; indeed, he never took the full name upon his lips but with a sort of a whine of hatred. “But he did! A fine employ it was: chapping at the man’s door, and crying ‘boo’ in his lum, and puttin’ poother in his fire, and pee-oys in his window; till the man thocht it was auld Hornie was come seekin’ him. Weel, to mak a lang story short, Wully gaed gyte. At the hinder end, they couldnae get him frae his knees, but he just roared and prayed and grat straucht on, till he got his release. It was fair murder, a’body said that. Ask John Paul—he was brawly ashamed o’ that game, him that’s sic a Christian man! Grand doin’s for the Master o’ Ball’ntrae!” I asked him what the Master had thought of it himself. “How would I ken?” says he. “He never said naething.” And on again in his usual manner of banning and swearing, with every now and again a “Master of Ballantrae” sneered through his nose. It was in one of these confidences that he showed me the Carlisle letter, the print of the horse-shoe still stamped in the paper. Indeed, that was our last confidence; for he then expressed himself so ill-naturedly of Mrs. Henry that I had to reprimand him sharply, and must thenceforth hold him at a distance.
My old lord was uniformly kind to Mr. Henry; he had even pretty ways of gratitude, and would sometimes clap him on the shoulder and say, as if to the world at large: “This is a very good son to me.” And grateful he was, no doubt, being a man of sense and justice. But I think that was all, and I am sure Mr. Henry thought so. The love was all for the dead son. Not that this was often given breath to; indeed, with me but once. My lord had asked me one day how I got on with Mr. Henry, and I had told him the truth.
“Ay,” said he, looking sideways on the burning fire, “Henry is a good lad, a very good lad,” said he. “You have heard, Mr. Mackellar, that I had another son? I am afraid he was not so virtuous a lad as Mr. Henry; but dear me, he’s dead, Mr. Mackellar! and while he lived we were all very proud of him, all very proud. If he was not all he should have been in some ways, well, perhaps we loved him better!” This last he said looking musingly in the fire; and then to me, with a great deal of briskness, “But I am rejoiced you do so well with Mr. Henry. You will find him a good master.” And with that he opened his book, which was the customary signal of dismission. But it would be little that he read, and less that he understood; Culloden field and the Master, these would be the burthen of his thought; and the burthen of mine was an unnatural jealousy of the dead man for Mr. Henry’s sake, that had even then begun to grow on me.
I am keeping Mrs. Henry for the last, so that this expression of my sentiment may seem unwarrantably strong: the reader shall judge for himself when I have done. But I must first tell of another matter, which was the means of bringing me more intimate. I had not yet been six months at Durrisdeer when it chanced that John Paul fell sick and must keep his bed; drink was the root of his malady, in my poor thought; but he was tended, and indeed carried himself, like an afflicted saint; and the very minister, who came to visit him, professed himself edified when he went away. The third morning of his sickness, Mr. Henry comes to me with something of a hang-dog look.
“Mackellar,” says he, “I wish I could trouble you upon a little service. There is a pension we pay; it is John’s part to carry it, and now that he is sick I know not to whom I should look unless it was yourself. The matter is very delicate; I could not carry it with my own hand for a sufficient reason; I dare not send Macconochie, who is a talker, and I am—I have—I am desirous this should not come to Mrs. Henry’s ears,” says he, and flushed to his neck as he said it.
To say truth, when I found I was to carry money to one Jessie Broun, who was no better than she should be, I supposed it was some trip of his own that Mr. Henry was dissembling. I was the more impressed when the truth came out.
It was up a wynd off a side street in St. Bride’s that Jessie had her lodging. The place was very ill inhabited, mostly by the freetrading sort. There was a man with a broken head at the entry; half-way up, in a tavern, fellows were roaring and singing, though it was not yet nine in the day. Altogether, I had never seen a worse neighbourhood, even in the great city of Edinburgh, and I was in two minds to go back. Jessie’s room was of a piece with her surroundings, and herself no better. She would not give me the receipt (which Mr. Henry had told me to demand, for he was very methodical) until she had sent out for spirits, and I had pledged her in a glass; and all the time she carried on in a light-headed, reckless way—now aping the manners of a lady, now breaking into unseemly mirth, now making coquettish advances that oppressed me to the ground. Of the money she spoke more tragically.
“It’s blood money!” said she; “I take it for that: blood money for the betrayed! See what I’m brought down to! Ah, if the bonnie lad were back again, it would be changed days. But he’s deid—he’s lyin’ deid amang the Hieland hills—the bonnie lad, the bonnie lad!”
She had a rapt manner of crying on the bonnie lad, clasping her hands and casting up her eyes, that I think she must have learned of strolling players; and I thought her sorrow very much of an affectation, and that she dwelled upon the business because her shame was now all she had to be proud of. I will not say I did not pity her, but it was a loathing pity at the best; and her last change of manner wiped it out. This was when she had had enough of me for an audience, and had set her name at last to the receipt. “There!” says she, and taking the most unwomanly oaths upon her tongue, bade me begone and carry it to the Judas who had sent me. It was the first time I had heard the name applied to Mr. Henry; I was staggered besides at her sudden vehemence of word and manner, and got forth from the room, under this shower of curses, like a beaten dog. But even then I was not quit, for the vixen threw up her window, and, leaning forth, continued to revile me as I went up the wynd; the freetraders, coming to the tavern door, joined in the mockery, and one had even the inhumanity to set upon me a very savage small dog, which bit me in the ankle. This was a strong lesson, had I required one, to avoid ill company; and I rode home in much pain from the bite and considerable indignation of mind.
Mr. Henry was in the steward’s room, affecting employment, but I could see he was only impatient to hear of my errand.
“Well?” says he, as soon as I came in; and when I had told him something of what passed, and that Jessie seemed an undeserving woman and far from grateful: “She is no friend to me,” said he; “but, indeed, Mackellar, I have few friends to boast of, and Jessie has some cause to be unjust. I need not dissemble what all the country knows: she was not very well used by one of our family.” This was the first time I had heard him refer to the Master even distantly; and I think he found his tongue rebellious even for that much, but presently he resumed—“This is why I would have nothing said. It would give pain to Mrs. Henry . . . and to my father,” he added, with another flush.
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