Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Preface


To Sir Percy Florence and Lady Shelley


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



PREFACE


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's MEMORIALS, 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."

Robert Louis Stevenson

Sorry, no summary available yet.