ACCOUNT OF ALL THAT PASSED ON THE NIGHT ON FEBRUARY 27TH, 1757.
On the evening of the interview referred to, the Master went
abroad; he was abroad a great deal of the next day also, that fatal
27th; but where he went, or what he did, we never concerned
ourselves to ask until next day. If we had done so, and by any
chance found out, it might have changed all. But as all we did was
done in ignorance, and should be so judged, I shall so narrate
these passages as they appeared to us in the moment of their birth,
and reserve all that I since discovered for the time of its
discovery. For I have now come to one of the dark parts of my
narrative, and must engage the reader's indulgence for my patron.
All the 27th that rigorous weather endured: a stifling cold; the
folk passing about like smoking chimneys; the wide hearth in the
hall piled high with fuel; some of the spring birds that had
already blundered north into our neighbourhood, besieging the
windows of the house or trotting on the frozen turf like things
distracted. About noon there came a blink of sunshine, showing a
very pretty, wintry, frosty landscape of white hills and woods,
with Crail's lugger waiting for a wind under the Craig Head, and
the smoke mounting straight into the air from every farm and
cottage. With the coming of night, the haze closed in overhead; it
fell dark and still and starless, and exceeding cold: a night the
most unseasonable, fit for strange events.
Mrs. Henry withdrew, as was now her custom, very early. We had set
ourselves of late to pass the evening with a game of cards; another
mark that our visitor was wearying mightily of the life at
Durrisdeer; and we had not been long at this when my old lord
slipped from his place beside the fire, and was off without a word
to seek the warmth of bed. The three thus left together had
neither love nor courtesy to share; not one of us would have sat up
one instant to oblige another; yet from the influence of custom,
and as the cards had just been dealt, we continued the form of
playing out the round. I should say we were late sitters; and
though my lord had departed earlier than was his custom, twelve was
already gone some time upon the clock, and the servants long ago in
bed. Another thing I should say, that although I never saw the
Master anyway affected with liquor, he had been drinking freely,
and was perhaps (although he showed it not) a trifle heated.
Anyway, he now practised one of his transitions; and so soon as the
door closed behind my lord, and without the smallest change of
voice, shifted from ordinary civil talk into a stream of insult.
"My dear Henry, it is yours to play," he had been saying, and now
continued: "It is a very strange thing how, even in so small a
matter as a game of cards, you display your rusticity. You play,
Jacob, like a bonnet laird, or a sailor in a tavern. The same
dulness, the same petty greed, CETTE LENTEUR D'HEBETE QUI ME FAIT
RAGER; it is strange I should have such a brother. Even Square-
toes has a certain vivacity when his stake is imperilled; but the
dreariness of a game with you I positively lack language to
Mr. Henry continued to look at his cards, as though very maturely
considering some play; but his mind was elsewhere.
"Dear God, will this never be done?" cries the Master. "QUEL
LOURDEAU! But why do I trouble you with French expressions, which
are lost on such an ignoramus? A LOURDEAU, my dear brother, is as
we might say a bumpkin, a clown, a clodpole: a fellow without
grace, lightness, quickness; any gift of pleasing, any natural
brilliancy: such a one as you shall see, when you desire, by
looking in the mirror. I tell you these things for your good, I
assure you; and besides, Square-toes" (looking at me and stifling a
yawn), "it is one of my diversions in this very dreary spot to
toast you and your master at the fire like chestnuts. I have great
pleasure in your case, for I observe the nickname (rustic as it is)
has always the power to make you writhe. But sometimes I have more
trouble with this dear fellow here, who seems to have gone to sleep
upon his cards. Do you not see the applicability of the epithet I
have just explained, dear Henry? Let me show you. For instance,
with all those solid qualities which I delight to recognise in you,
I never knew a woman who did not prefer me - nor, I think," he
continued, with the most silken deliberation, "I think - who did
not continue to prefer me."
Mr. Henry laid down his cards. He rose to his feet very softly,
and seemed all the while like a person in deep thought. "You
coward!" he said gently, as if to himself. And then, with neither
hurry nor any particular violence, he struck the Master in the
The Master sprang to his feet like one transfigured; I had never
seen the man so beautiful. "A blow!" he cried. "I would not take
a blow from God Almighty!"
"Lower your voice," said Mr. Henry. "Do you wish my father to
interfere for you again?"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," I cried, and sought to come between them.
The Master caught me by the shoulder, held me at arm's length, and
still addressing his brother: "Do you know what this means?" said
"It was the most deliberate act of my life," says Mr. Henry.
"I must have blood, I must have blood for this," says the Master.
"Please God it shall be yours," said Mr. Henry; and he went to the
wall and took down a pair of swords that hung there with others,
naked. These he presented to the Master by the points. "Mackellar
shall see us play fair," said Mr. Henry. "I think it very
"You need insult me no more," said the Master, taking one of the
swords at random. "I have hated you all my life."
"My father is but newly gone to bed," said Mr. Henry. "We must go
somewhere forth of the house."
"There is an excellent place in the long shrubbery," said the
"Gentlemen," said I, "shame upon you both! Sons of the same
mother, would you turn against the life she gave you?"
"Even so, Mackellar," said Mr. Henry, with the same perfect
quietude of manner he had shown throughout.
"It is what I will prevent," said I.
And now here is a blot upon my life. At these words of mine the
Master turned his blade against my bosom; I saw the light run along
the steel; and I threw up my arms and fell to my knees before him
on the floor. "No, no," I cried, like a baby.
"We shall have no more trouble with him," said the Master. "It is
a good thing to have a coward in the house."
"We must have light," said Mr. Henry, as though there had been no
"This trembler can bring a pair of candles," said the Master.
To my shame be it said, I was still so blinded with the flashing of
that bare sword that I volunteered to bring a lantern.
"We do not need a l-l-lantern," says the Master, mocking me.
"There is no breath of air. Come, get to your feet, take a pair of
lights, and go before. I am close behind with this - " making. the
blade glitter as he spoke.
I took up the candlesticks and went before them, steps that I would
give my hand to recall; but a coward is a slave at the best; and
even as I went, my teeth smote each other in my mouth. It was as
he had said: there was no breath stirring; a windless stricture of
frost had bound the air; and as we went forth in the shine of the
candles, the blackness was like a roof over our heads. Never a
word was said; there was never a sound but the creaking of our
steps along the frozen path. The cold of the night fell about me
like a bucket of water; I shook as I went with more than terror;
but my companions, bare-headed like myself, and fresh from the warm
ball, appeared not even conscious of the change.
"Here is the place," said the Master. "Set down the candles."
I did as he bid me, and presently the flames went up, as steady as
in a chamber, in the midst of the frosted trees, and I beheld these
two brothers take their places.
"The light is something in my eyes," said the Master.
"I will give you every advantage," replied Mr. Henry, shifting his
ground, "for I think you are about to die." He spoke rather sadly
than otherwise, yet there was a ring in his voice.
"Henry Durie," said the Master, "two words before I begin. You are
a fencer, you can hold a foil; you little know what a change it
makes to hold a sword! And by that I know you are to fall. But
see how strong is my situation! If you fall, I shift out of this
country to where my money is before me. If I fall, where are you?
My father, your wife - who is in love with me, as you very well
know - your child even, who prefers me to yourself:- how will these
avenge me! Had you thought of that, dear Henry?" He looked at his
brother with a smile; then made a fencing-room salute.
Never a word said Mr. Henry, but saluted too, and the swords rang
I am no judge of the play; my head, besides, was gone with cold and
fear and horror; but it seems that Mr. Henry took and kept the
upper hand from the engagement, crowding in upon his foe with a
contained and glowing fury. Nearer and nearer he crept upon the
man, till of a sudden the Master leaped back with a little sobbing
oath; and I believe the movement brought the light once more
against his eyes. To it they went again, on the fresh ground; but
now methought closer, Mr. Henry pressing more outrageously, the
Master beyond doubt with shaken confidence. For it is beyond doubt
he now recognised himself for lost, and had some taste of the cold
agony of fear; or he had never attempted the foul stroke. I cannot
say I followed it, my untrained eye was never quick enough to seize
details, but it appears he caught his brother's blade with his left
hand, a practice not permitted. Certainly Mr. Henry only saved
himself by leaping on one side; as certainly the Master, lunging in
the air, stumbled on his knee, and before he could move the sword
was through his body.
I cried out with a stifled scream, and ran in; but the body was
already fallen to the ground, where it writhed a moment like a
trodden worm, and then lay motionless.
"Look at his left hand." said Mr. Henry.
"It is all bloody," said I.
"On the inside?" said he.
"It is cut on the inside," said I.
"I thought so," said he, and turned his back.
I opened the man's clothes; the heart was quite still, it gave not
"God forgive us, Mr. Henry!" said I. "He is dead."
"Dead?" he repeated, a little stupidly; and then with a rising
tone, "Dead? dead?" says he, and suddenly cast his bloody sword
upon the ground.
"What must we do?" said I. "Be yourself, sir. It is too late now:
you must be yourself."
He turned and stared at me. "Oh, Mackellar!" says he, and put his
face in his hands.
I plucked him by the coat. "For God's sake, for all our sakes, be
more courageous!" said I. "What must we do?"
He showed me his face with the same stupid stare.
"Do?" says he. And with that his eye fell on the body, and "Oh!"
he cries out, with his hand to his brow, as if he had never
remembered; and, turning from me, made off towards the house of
Durrisdeer at a strange stumbling run.
I stood a moment mused; then it seemed to me my duty lay most plain
on the side of the living; and I ran after him, leaving the candles
on the frosty ground and the body lying in their light under the
trees. But run as I pleased, he had the start of me, and was got
into the house, and up to the hall, where I found him standing
before the fire with his face once more in his hands, and as he so
stood he visibly shuddered.
"Mr. Henry, Mr. Henry," I said, "this will be the ruin of us all."
"What is this that I have done?" cries he, and then looking upon me
with a countenance that I shall never forget, "Who is to tell the
old man?" he said.
The word knocked at my heart; but it was no time for weakness. I
went and poured him out a glass of brandy. "Drink that," said I,
"drink it down." I forced him to swallow it like a child; and,
being still perished with the cold of the night, I followed his
"It has to be told, Mackellar," said he. "It must be told." And
he fell suddenly in a seat - my old lord's seat by the chimney-side
- and was shaken with dry sobs.
Dismay came upon my soul; it was plain there was no help in Mr.
Henry. "Well," said I, "sit there, and leave all to me." And
taking a candle in my hand, I set forth out of the room in the dark
house. There was no movement; I must suppose that all had gone
unobserved; and I was now to consider how to smuggle through the
rest with the like secrecy. It was no hour for scruples; and I
opened my lady's door without so much as a knock, and passed boldly
"There is some calamity happened," she cried, sitting up in bed.
"Madam," said I, "I will go forth again into the passage; and do
you get as quickly as you can into your clothes. There is much to
She troubled me with no questions, nor did she keep me waiting.
Ere I had time to prepare a word of that which I must say to her,
she was on the threshold signing me to enter.
"Madam," said I, "if you cannot be very brave, I must go elsewhere;
for if no one helps me to-night, there is an end of the house of
"I am very courageous," said she; and she looked at me with a sort
of smile, very painful to see, but very brave too.
"It has come to a duel," said I.
"A duel?" she repeated. "A duel! Henry and - "
"And the Master," said I. "Things have been borne so long, things
of which you know nothing, which you would not believe if I should
tell. But to-night it went too far, and when he insulted you - "
"Stop," said she. "He? Who?"
"Oh! madam," cried I, my bitterness breaking forth, "do you ask me
such a question? Indeed, then, I may go elsewhere for help; there
is none here!"
"I do not know in what I have offended you," said she. "Forgive
me; put me out of this suspense."
But I dared not tell her yet; I felt not sure of her; and at the
doubt, and under the sense of impotence it brought with it, I
turned on the poor woman with something near to anger.
"Madam," said I, "we are speaking of two men: one of them insulted
you, and you ask me which. I will help you to the answer. With
one of these men you have spent all your hours: has the other
reproached you? To one you have been always kind; to the other, as
God sees me and judges between us two, I think not always: has his
love ever failed you? To-night one of these two men told the
other, in my hearing - the hearing of a hired stranger, - that you
were in love with him. Before I say one word, you shall answer
your own question: Which was it? Nay, madam, you shall answer me
another: If it has come to this dreadful end, whose fault is it?"
She stared at me like one dazzled. "Good God!" she said once, in a
kind of bursting exclamation; and then a second time in a whisper
to herself: "Great God! - In the name of mercy, Mackellar, what is
wrong?" she cried. "I am made up; I can hear all."
"You are not fit to hear," said I. "Whatever it was, you shall say
first it was your fault."
"Oh!" she cried, with a gesture of wringing her hands, "this man
will drive me mad! Can you not put me out of your thoughts?"
"I think not once of you," I cried. "I think of none but my dear
"Ah!" she cried, with her hand to her heart, "is Henry dead?"
"Lower your voice," said I. "The other."
I saw her sway like something stricken by the wind; and I know not
whether in cowardice or misery, turned aside and looked upon the
floor. "These are dreadful tidings," said I at length, when her
silence began to put me in some fear; "and you and I behove to be
the more bold if the house is to be saved." Still she answered
nothing. "There is Miss Katharine, besides," I added: "unless we
bring this matter through, her inheritance is like to be of shame."
I do not know if it was the thought of her child or the naked word
shame, that gave her deliverance; at least, I had no sooner spoken
than a sound passed her lips, the like of it I never heard; it was
as though she had lain buried under a hill and sought to move that
burthen. And the next moment she had found a sort of voice.
"It was a fight," she whispered. "It was not - " and she paused
upon the word.
"It was a fair fight on my dear master's part," said I. "As for
the other, he was slain in the very act of a foul stroke."
"Not now!" she cried.
"Madam," said I, "hatred of that man glows in my bosom like a
burning fire; ay, even now he is dead. God knows, I would have
stopped the fighting, had I dared. It is my shame I did not. But
when I saw him fall, if I could have spared one thought from
pitying of my master, it had been to exult in that deliverance."
I do not know if she marked; but her next words were, "My lord?"
"That shall be my part," said I.
"You will not speak to him as you have to me?" she asked.
"Madam," said I, "have you not some one else to think of? Leave my
lord to me."
"Some one else?" she repeated.
"Your husband," said I. She looked at me with a countenance
illegible. "Are you going to turn your back on him?" I asked.
Still she looked at me; then her hand went to her heart again.
"No," said she.
"God bless you for that word!" I said. "Go to him now, where he
sits in the hall; speak to him - it matters not what you say; give
him your hand; say, 'I know all;' - if God gives you grace enough,
say, 'Forgive me.'"
"God strengthen you, and make you merciful," said she. "I will go
to my husband."
"Let me light you there," said I, taking up the candle.
"I will find my way in the dark," she said, with a shudder, and I
think the shudder was at me.
So we separated - she down stairs to where a little light glimmered
in the hall-door, I along the passage to my lord's room. It seems
hard to say why, but I could not burst in on the old man as I could
on the young woman; with whatever reluctance, I must knock. But
his old slumbers were light, or perhaps he slept not; and at the
first summons I was bidden enter.
He, too, sat up in bed; very aged and bloodless he looked; and
whereas he had a certain largeness of appearance when dressed for
daylight, he now seemed frail and little, and his face (the wig
being laid aside) not bigger than a child's. This daunted me; nor
less, the haggard surmise of misfortune in his eye. Yet his voice
was even peaceful as he inquired my errand. I set my candle down
upon a chair, leaned on the bed-foot, and looked at him.
"Lord Durrisdeer," said I, "it is very well known to you that I am
a partisan in your family."
"I hope we are none of us partisans," said he. "That you love my
son sincerely, I have always been glad to recognise."
"Oh! my lord, we are past the hour of these civilities," I replied.
"If we are to save anything out of the fire, we must look the fact
in its bare countenance. A partisan I am; partisans we have all
been; it is as a partisan that I am here in the middle of the night
to plead before you. Hear me; before I go, I will tell you why."
"I would always hear you, Mr. Mackellar," said he, "and that at any
hour, whether of the day or night, for I would be always sure you
had a reason. You spoke once before to very proper purpose; I have
not forgotten that."
"I am here to plead the cause of my master," I said. "I need not
tell you how he acts. You know how he is placed. You know with
what generosity, he has always met your other - met your wishes," I
corrected myself, stumbling at that name of son. "You know - you
must know - what he has suffered - what he has suffered about his
"Mr. Mackellar!" cried my lord, rising in bed like a bearded lion.
"You said you would hear me," I continued. "What you do not know,
what you should know, one of the things I am here to speak of, is
the persecution he must bear in private. Your back is not turned
before one whom I dare not name to you falls upon him with the most
unfeeling taunts; twits him - pardon me, my lord - twits him with
your partiality, calls him Jacob, calls him clown, pursues him with
ungenerous raillery, not to be borne by man. And let but one of
you appear, instantly he changes; and my master must smile and
courtesy to the man who has been feeding him with insults; I know,
for I have shared in some of it, and I tell you the life is
insupportable. All these months it has endured; it began with the
man's landing; it was by the name of Jacob that my master was
greeted the first night."
My lord made a movement as if to throw aside the clothes and rise.
"If there be any truth in this - " said he.
"Do I look like a man lying?" I interrupted, checking him with my
"You should have told me at first," he odd.
"Ah, my lord! indeed I should, and you may well hate the face of
this unfaithful servant!" I cried.
"I will take order," said he, "at once." And again made the
movement to rise.
Again I checked him. "I have not done," said I. "Would God I had!
All this my dear, unfortunate patron has endured without help or
countenance. Your own best word, my lord, was only gratitude. Oh,
but he was your son, too! He had no other father. He was hated in
the country, God knows how unjustly. He had a loveless marriage.
He stood on all hands without affection or support - dear,
generous, ill-fated, noble heart!"
"Your tears do you much honour and me much shame," says my lord,
with a palsied trembling. "But you do me some injustice. Henry
has been ever dear to me, very dear. James (I do not deny it, Mr.
Mackellar), James is perhaps dearer; you have not seen my James in
quite a favourable light; he has suffered under his misfortunes;
and we can only remember how great and how unmerited these were.
And even now his is the more affectionate nature. But I will not
speak of him. All that you say of Henry is most true; I do not
wonder, I know him to be very magnanimous; you will say I trade
upon the knowledge? It is possible; there are dangerous virtues:
virtues that tempt the encroacher. Mr. Mackellar, I will make it
up to him; I will take order with all this. I have been weak; and,
what is worse, I have been dull!"
"I must not hear you blame yourself, my lord, with that which I
have yet to tell upon my conscience," I replied. "You have not
been weak; you have been abused by a devilish dissembler. You saw
yourself how he had deceived you in the matter of his danger; he
has deceived you throughout in every step of his career. I wish to
pluck him from your heart; I wish to force your eyes upon your
other son; ah, you have a son there!"
"No, no" said he, "two sons - I have two sons."
I made some gesture of despair that struck him; he looked at me
with a changed face. "There is much worse behind?" he asked, his
voice dying as it rose upon the question.
"Much worse," I answered. "This night he said these words to Mr.
Henry: 'I have never known a woman who did not prefer me to you,
and I think who did not continue to prefer me.'"
"I will hear nothing against my daughter," he cried; and from his
readiness to stop me in this direction, I conclude his eyes were
not so dull as I had fancied, and he had looked not without anxiety
upon the siege of Mrs. Henry.
"I think not of blaming her," cried I. "It is not that. These
words were said in my hearing to Mr. Henry; and if you find them
not yet plain enough, these others but a little after: Your wife,
who is in love with me!'"
"They have quarrelled?" he said.
"I must fly to them," he said, beginning once again to leave his
"No, no!" I cried, holding forth my hands.
"You do not know," said he. "These are dangerous words."
"Will nothing make you understand, my lord?' said I.
His eyes besought me for the truth.
I flung myself on my knees by the bedside. "Oh, my lord," cried I,
"think on him you have left; think of this poor sinner whom you
begot, whom your wife bore to you, whom we have none of us
strengthened as we could; think of him, not of yourself; he is the
other sufferer - think of him! That is the door for sorrow -
Christ's door, God's door: oh! it stands open. Think of him, even
as he thought of you. 'WHO IS TO TELL THE OLD MAN?' - these were
his words. It was for that I came; that is why I am here pleading
at your feet."
"Let me get up," he cried, thrusting me aside, and was on his feet
before myself. His voice shook like a sail in the wind, yet he
spoke with a good loudness; his face was like the snow, but his
eyes were steady and dry.
"Here is too much speech," said he. "Where was it?"
"In the shrubbery," said I.
"And Mr. Henry?" he asked. And when I had told him he knotted his
old face in thought.
"And Mr. James?" says he.
"I have left him lying," said I, "beside the candles."
"Candles?" he cried. And with that he ran to the window, opened
it, and looked abroad. "It might be spied from the road."
"Where none goes by at such an hour," I objected.
"It makes no matter," he said. "One might. Hark!" cries he.
"What is that?"
It was the sound of men very guardedly rowing in the bay; and I
told him so.
"The freetraders," said my lord. "Run at once, Mackellar; put
these candles out. I will dress in the meanwhile; and when you
return we can debate on what is wisest."
I groped my way downstairs, and out at the door. From quite a far
way off a sheen was visible, making points of brightness in the
shrubbery; in so black a night it might have been remarked for
miles; and I blamed myself bitterly for my incaution. How much
more sharply when I reached the place! One of the candlesticks was
overthrown, and that taper quenched. The other burned steadily by
itself, and made a broad space of light upon the frosted ground.
All within that circle seemed, by the force of contrast and the
overhanging blackness, brighter than by day. And there was the
bloodstain in the midst; and a little farther off Mr. Henry's
sword, the pommel of which was of silver; but of the body, not a
trace. My heart thumped upon my ribs, the hair stirred upon my
scalp, as I stood there staring - so strange was the sight, so dire
the fears it wakened. I looked right and left; the ground was so
hard, it told no story. I stood and listened till my ears ached,
but the night was hollow about me like an empty church; not even a
ripple stirred upon the shore; it seemed you might have heard a pin
drop in the county.
I put the candle out, and the blackness fell about me groping dark;
it was like a crowd surrounding me; and I went back to the house of
Durrisdeer, with my chin upon my shoulder, startling, as I went,
with craven suppositions. In the door a figure moved to meet me,
and I had near screamed with terror ere I recognised Mrs. Henry.
"Have you told him?" says she.
"It was he who sent me," said I. "It is gone. But why are you
"It is gone!" she repeated. "What is gone?"
"The body," said I. "Why are you not with your husband?"
"Gone!" said she. "You cannot have looked. Come back."
"There is no light now," said I. "I dare not."
"I can see in the dark. I have been standing here so long - so
long," said she. "Come, give me your hand."
We returned to the shrubbery hand in hand, and to the fatal place.
"Take care of the blood," said I.
"Blood?" she cried, and started violently back.
"I suppose it will be," said I. "I am like a blind man."
"No!" said she, "nothing! Have you not dreamed?"
"Ah, would to God we had!" cried I.
She spied the sword, picked it up, and seeing the blood, let it
fall again with her hands thrown wide. "Ah!" she cried. And then,
with an instant courage, handled it the second time, and thrust it
to the hilt into the frozen ground. "I will take it back and clean
it properly," says she, and again looked about her on all sides.
"It cannot be that he was dead?" she added.
"There was no flutter of his heart," said I, and then remembering:
"Why are you not with your husband?"
"It is no use," said she; "he will not speak to me."
"Not speak to you?" I repeated. "Oh! you have not tried."
"You have a right to doubt me," she replied, with a gentle dignity.
At this, for the first time, I was seized with sorrow for her.
"God knows, madam," I cried, "God knows I am not so hard as I
appear; on this dreadful night who can veneer his words? But I am
a friend to all who are not Henry Durie's enemies."
"It is hard, then, you should hesitate about his wife," said she.
I saw all at once, like the rending of a veil, how nobly she had
borne this unnatural calamity, and how generously my reproaches.
"We must go back and tell this to my lord," said I.
"Him I cannot face," she cried.
"You will find him the least moved of all of us," said I.
"And yet I cannot face him," said she.
"Well," said I, "you can return to Mr. Henry; I will see my lord."
As we walked back, I bearing the candlesticks, she the sword - a
strange burthen for that woman - she had another thought. "Should
we tell Henry?" she asked.
"Let my lord decide," said I.
My lord was nearly dressed when I came to his chamber. He heard me
with a frown. "The freetraders," said he. "But whether dead or
"I thought him - " said I, and paused, ashamed of the word.
"I know; but you may very well have been in error. Why should they
remove him if not living?" he asked. "Oh! here is a great door of
hope. It must be given out that he departed - as he came - without
any note of preparation. We must save all scandal."
I saw he had fallen, like the rest of us, to think mainly of the
house. Now that all the living members of the family were plunged
in irremediable sorrow, it was strange how we turned to that
conjoint abstraction of the family itself, and sought to bolster up
the airy nothing of its reputation: not the Duries only, but the
hired steward himself.
"Are we to tell Mr. Henry?" I asked him.
"I will see," said he. "I am going first to visit him; then I go
forth with you to view the shrubbery and consider."
We went downstairs into the hall. Mr. Henry sat by the table with
his head upon his hand, like a man of stone. His wife stood a
little back from him, her hand at her mouth; it was plain she could
not move him. My old lord walked very steadily to where his son
was sitting; he had a steady countenance, too, but methought a
little cold. When he was come quite up, he held out both his hands
and said, "My son!"
With a broken, strangled cry, Mr. Henry leaped up and fell on his
father's neck, crying and weeping, the most pitiful sight that ever
a man witnessed. "Oh! father," he cried, "you know I loved him;
you know I loved him in the beginning; I could have died for him -
you know that! I would have given my life for him and you. Oh!
say you know that. Oh! say you can forgive me. O father, father,
what have I done - what have I done? And we used to be bairns
together!" and wept and sobbed, and fondled the old man, and
clutched him about the neck, with the passion of a child in terror.
And then he caught sight of his wife (you would have thought for
the first time), where she stood weeping to hear him, and in a
moment had fallen at her knees. "And O my lass," he cried, "you
must forgive me, too! Not your husband - I have only been the ruin
of your life. But you knew me when I was a lad; there was no harm
in Henry Durie then; he meant aye to be a friend to you. It's him
- it's the old bairn that played with you - oh, can ye never, never
Throughout all this my lord was like a cold, kind spectator with
his wits about him. At the first cry, which was indeed enough to
call the house about us, he had said to me over his shoulder,
"Close the door." And now he nodded to himself.
"We may leave him to his wife now,"' says he. "Bring a light, Mr.
Upon my going forth again with my lord, I was aware of a strange
phenomenon; for though it was quite dark, and the night not yet
old, methought I smelt the morning. At the same time there went a
tossing through the branches of the evergreens, so that they
sounded like a quiet sea, and the air pulled at times against our
faces, and the flame of the candle shook. We made the more speed,
I believe, being surrounded by this bustle; visited the scene of
the duel, where my lord looked upon the blood with stoicism; and
passing farther on toward the landing-place, came at last upon some
evidences of the truth. For, first of all, where there was a pool
across the path, the ice had been trodden in, plainly by more than
one man's weight; next, and but a little farther, a young tree was
broken, and down by the landing-place, where the traders' boats
were usually beached, another stain of blood marked where the body
must have been infallibly set down to rest the bearers.
This stain we set ourselves to wash away with the sea-water,
carrying it in my lord's hat; and as we were thus engaged there
came up a sudden moaning gust and left us instantly benighted.
"It will come to snow," says my lord; "and the best thing that we
could hope. Let us go back now; we can do nothing in the dark."
As we went houseward, the wind being again subsided, we were aware
of a strong pattering noise about us in the night; and when we
issued from the shelter of the trees, we found it raining smartly.
Throughout the whole of this, my lord's clearness of mind, no less
than his activity of body, had not ceased to minister to my
amazement. He set the crown upon it in the council we held on our
return. The freetraders had certainly secured the Master, though
whether dead or alive we were still left to our conjectures; the
rain would, long before day, wipe out all marks of the transaction;
by this we must profit. The Master had unexpectedly come after the
fall of night; it must now he given out he had as suddenly departed
before the break of day; and, to make all this plausible, it now
only remained for me to mount into the man's chamber, and pack and
conceal his baggage. True, we still lay at the discretion of the
traders; but that was the incurable weakness of our guilt.
I heard him, as I said, with wonder, and hastened to obey. Mr. and
Mrs. Henry were gone from the hall; my lord, for warmth's sake,
hurried to his bed; there was still no sign of stir among the
servants, and as I went up the tower stair, and entered the dead
man's room, a horror of solitude weighed upon my mind. To my
extreme surprise, it was all in the disorder of departure. Of his
three portmanteaux, two were already locked; the third lay open and
near full. At once there flashed upon me some suspicion of the
truth. The man had been going, after all; he had but waited upon
Crail, as Crail waited upon the wind; early in the night the seamen
had perceived the weather changing; the boat had come to give
notice of the change and call the passenger aboard, and the boat's
crew had stumbled on him dying in his blood. Nay, and there was
more behind. This pre-arranged departure shed some light upon his
inconceivable insult of the night before; it was a parting shot,
hatred being no longer checked by policy. And, for another thing,
the nature of that insult, and the conduct of Mrs. Henry, pointed
to one conclusion, which I have never verified, and can now never
verify until the great assize - the conclusion that he had at last
forgotten himself, had gone too far in his advances, and had been
rebuffed. It can never be verified, as I say; but as I thought of
it that morning among his baggage, the thought was sweet to me like
Into the open portmanteau I dipped a little ere I closed it. The
most beautiful lace and linen, many suits of those fine plain
clothes in which he loved to appear; a book or two, and those of
the best, Caesar's "Commentaries," a volume of Mr. Hobbes, the
"Henriade" of M. de Voltaire, a book upon the Indies, one on the
mathematics, far beyond where I have studied: these were what I
observed with very mingled feelings. But in the open portmanteau,
no papers of any description. This set me musing. It was possible
the man was dead; but, since the traders had carried him away, not
likely. It was possible he might still die of his wound; but it
was also possible he might not. And in this latter case I was
determined to have the means of some defence.
One after another I carried his portmanteaux to a loft in the top
of the house which we kept locked; went to my own room for my keys,
and, returning to the loft, had the gratification to find two that
fitted pretty well. In one of the portmanteaux there was a
shagreen letter-case, which I cut open with my knife; and
thenceforth (so far as any credit went) the man was at my mercy.
Here was a vast deal of gallant correspondence, chiefly of his
Paris days; and, what was more to the purpose, here were the copies
of his own reports to the English Secretary, and the originals of
the Secretary's answers: a most damning series: such as to
publish would be to wreck the Master's honour and to set a price
upon his life. I chuckled to myself as I ran through the
documents; I rubbed my hands, I sang aloud in my glee. Day found
me at the pleasing task; nor did I then remit my diligence, except
in so far as I went to the window - looked out for a moment, to see
the frost quite gone, the world turned black again, and the rain
and the wind driving in the bay - and to assure myself that the
lugger was gone from its anchorage, and the Master (whether dead or
alive) now tumbling on the Irish Sea.
It is proper I should add in this place the very little I have
subsequently angled out upon the doings of that night. It took me
a long while to gather it; for we dared not openly ask, and the
freetraders regarded me with enmity, if not with scorn. It was
near six months before we even knew for certain that the man
survived; and it was years before I learned from one of Crail's
men, turned publican on his ill-gotten gain, some particulars which
smack to me of truth. It seems the traders found the Master
struggled on one elbow, and now staring round him, and now gazing
at the candle or at his hand which was all bloodied, like a man
stupid. Upon their coming, he would seem to have found his mind,
bade them carry him aboard, and hold their tongues; and on the
captain asking how he had come in such a pickle, replied with a
burst of passionate swearing, and incontinently fainted. They held
some debate, but they were momently looking for a wind, they were
highly paid to smuggle him to France, and did not care to delay.
Besides which, he was well enough liked by these abominable
wretches: they supposed him under capital sentence, knew not in
what mischief he might have got his wound, and judged it a piece of
good nature to remove him out of the way of danger. So he was
taken aboard, recovered on the passage over, and was set ashore a
convalescent at the Havre de Grace. What is truly notable: he
said not a word to anyone of the duel, and not a trader knows to
this day in what quarrel, or by the hand of what adversary, he
fell. With any other man I should have set this down to natural
decency; with him, to pride. He could not bear to avow, perhaps
even to himself, that he had been vanquished by one whom he had so
much insulted whom he so cruelly despised.