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

Chapter 1


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

"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

"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

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

"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
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.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Sorry, no summary available yet.