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Chapter 9


The chaise came to the door in a strong drenching mist. We took
our leave in silence: the house of Durrisdeer standing with
dropping gutters and windows closed, like a place dedicate to
melancholy. I observed the Master kept his head out, looking back
on these splashed walls and glimmering roofs, till they were
suddenly swallowed in the mist; and I must suppose some natural
sadness fell upon the man at this departure; or was it some
provision of the end? At least, upon our mounting the long brae
from Durrisdeer, as we walked side by side in the wet, he began
first to whistle and then to sing the saddest of our country tunes,
which sets folk weeping in a tavern, WANDERING WILLIE. The set of
words he used with it I have not heard elsewhere, and could never
come by any copy; but some of them which were the most appropriate
to our departure linger in my memory. One verse began -

Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.

And ended somewhat thus -

Now, when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the folks are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.

I could never be a judge of the merit of these verses; they were so
hallowed by the melancholy of the air, and were sung (or rather
"soothed") to me by a master-singer at a time so fitting. He
looked in my face when he had done, and saw that my eyes watered.

"Ah! Mackellar," said he, "do you think I have never a regret?"

"I do not think you could be so bad a man," said I, "if you had not
all the machinery to be a good one."

"No, not all," says he: "not all. You are there in error. The
malady of not wanting, my evangelist." But methought he sighed as
he mounted again into the chaise.

All day long we journeyed in the same miserable weather: the mist
besetting us closely, the heavens incessantly weeping on my head.
The road lay over moorish hills, where was no sound but the crying
of moor-fowl in the wet heather and the pouring of the swollen
burns. Sometimes I would doze off in slumber, when I would find
myself plunged at once in some foul and ominous nightmare, from the
which I would awake strangling. Sometimes, if the way was steep
and the wheels turning slowly, I would overhear the voices from
within, talking in that tropical tongue which was to me as
inarticulate as the piping of the fowls. Sometimes, at a longer
ascent, the Master would set foot to ground and walk by my side,
mostly without speech. And all the time, sleeping or waking, I
beheld the same black perspective of approaching ruin; and the same
pictures rose in my view, only they were now painted upon hillside
mist. One, I remember, stood before me with the colours of a true
illusion. It showed me my lord seated at a table in a small room;
his head, which was at first buried in his hands, he slowly raised,
and turned upon me a countenance from which hope had fled. I saw
it first on the black window-panes, my last night in Durrisdeer; it
haunted and returned upon me half the voyage through; and yet it
was no effect of lunacy, for I have come to a ripe old age with no
decay of my intelligence; nor yet (as I was then tempted to
suppose) a heaven-sent warning of the future, for all manner of
calamities befell, not that calamity - and I saw many pitiful
sights, but never that one.

It was decided we should travel on all night; and it was singular,
once the dusk had fallen, my spirits somewhat rose. The bright
lamps, shining forth into the mist and on the smoking horses and
the hodding post-boy, gave me perhaps an outlook intrinsically more
cheerful than what day had shown; or perhaps my mind had become
wearied of its melancholy. At least, I spent some waking hours,
not without satisfaction in my thoughts, although wet and weary in
my body; and fell at last into a natural slumber without dreams.
Yet I must have been at work even in the deepest of my sleep; and
at work with at least a measure of intelligence. For I started
broad awake, in the very act of crying out to myself

Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child,

stricken to find in it an appropriateness, which I had not
yesterday observed, to the Master's detestable purpose in the
present journey.

We were then close upon the city of Glascow, where we were soon
breakfasting together at an inn, and where (as the devil would have
it) we found a ship in the very article of sailing. We took our
places in the cabin; and, two days after, carried our effects on
board. Her name was the NONESUCH, a very ancient ship and very
happily named. By all accounts this should be her last voyage;
people shook their heads upon the quays, and I had several warnings
offered me by strangers in the street to the effect that she was
rotten as a cheese, too deeply loaden, and must infallibly founder
if we met a gale. From this it fell out we were the only
passengers; the Captain, McMurtrie, was a silent, absorbed man,
with the Glascow or Gaelic accent; the mates ignorant rough
seafarers, come in through the hawsehole; and the Master and I were
cast upon each other's company.

THE NONESUCH carried a fair wind out of the Clyde, and for near
upon a week we enjoyed bright weather and a sense of progress. I
found myself (to my wonder) a born seaman, in so far at least as I
was never sick; yet I was far from tasting the usual serenity of my
health. Whether it was the motion of the ship on the billows, the
confinement, the salted food, or all of these together, I suffered
from a blackness of spirit and a painful strain upon my temper.
The nature of my errand on that ship perhaps contributed; I think
it did no more; the malady (whatever it was) sprang from my
environment; and if the ship were not to blame, then it was the
Master. Hatred and fear are ill bedfellows; but (to my shame be it
spoken) I have tasted those in other places, lain down and got up
with them, and eaten and drunk with them, and yet never before, nor
after, have I been so poisoned through and through, in soul and
body, as I was on board the NONESUCH. I freely confess my enemy
set me a fair example of forbearance; in our worst days displayed
the most patient geniality, holding me in conversation as long as I
would suffer, and when I had rebuffed his civility, stretching
himself on deck to read. The book he had on board with him was Mr.
Richardson's famous CLARISSA! and among other small attentions he
would read me passages aloud; nor could any elocutionist have given
with greater potency the pathetic portions of that work. I would
retort upon him with passages out of the Bible, which was all my
library - and very fresh to me, my religious duties (I grieve to
say it) being always and even to this day extremely neglected. He
tasted the merits of the word like the connoisseur he was; and
would sometimes take it from my hand, turn the leaves over like a
man that knew his way, and give me, with his fine declamation, a
Roland for my Oliver. But it was singular how little he applied
his reading to himself; it passed high above his head like summer
thunder: Lovelace and Clarissa, the tales of David's generosity,
the psalms of his penitence, the solemn questions of the book of
Job, the touching poetry of Isaiah - they were to him a source of
entertainment only, like the scraping of a fiddle in a change-
house. This outer sensibility and inner toughness set me against
him; it seemed of a piece with that impudent grossness which I knew
to underlie the veneer of his fine manners; and sometimes my gorge
rose against him as though he were deformed - and sometimes I would
draw away as though from something partly spectral. I had moments
when I thought of him as of a man of pasteboard - as though, if one
should strike smartly through the buckram of his countenance, there
would be found a mere vacuity within. This horror (not merely
fanciful, I think) vastly increased my detestation of his
neighbourhood; I began to feel something shiver within me on his
drawing near; I had at times a longing to cry out; there were days
when I thought I could have struck him. This frame of mind was
doubtless helped by shame, because I had dropped during our last
days at Durrisdeer into a certain toleration of the man; and if any
one had then told me I should drop into it again, I must have
laughed in his face. It is possible he remained unconscious of
this extreme fever of my resentment; yet I think he was too quick;
and rather that he had fallen, in a long life of idleness, into a
positive need of company, which obliged him to confront and
tolerate my unconcealed aversion. Certain, at least, that he loved
the note of his own tongue, as, indeed, he entirely loved all the
parts and properties of himself; a sort of imbecility which almost
necessarily attends on wickedness. I have seen him driven, when I
proved recalcitrant, to long discourses with the skipper; and this,
although the man plainly testified his weariness, fiddling
miserably with both hand and foot, and replying only with a grunt.

After the first week out we fell in with foul winds and heavy
weather. The sea was high. The NONESUCH, being an old-fashioned
ship and badly loaden, rolled beyond belief; so that the skipper
trembled for his masts, and I for my life. We made no progress on
our course. An unbearable ill-humour settled on the ship: men,
mates, and master, girding at one another all day long. A saucy
word on the one hand, and a blow on the other, made a daily
incident. There were times when the whole crew refused their duty;
and we of the afterguard were twice got under arms - being the
first time that ever I bore weapons - in the fear of mutiny.

In the midst of our evil season sprang up a hurricane of wind; so
that all supposed she must go down. I was shut in the cabin from
noon of one day till sundown of the next; the Master was somewhere
lashed on deck. Secundra had eaten of some drug and lay
insensible; so you may say I passed these hours in an unbroken
solitude. At first I was terrified beyond motion, and almost
beyond thought, my mind appearing to be frozen. Presently there
stole in on me a ray of comfort. If the NONESUCH foundered, she
would carry down with her into the deeps of that unsounded sea the
creature whom we all so feared and hated; there would be no more
Master of Ballantrae, the fish would sport among his ribs; his
schemes all brought to nothing, his harmless enemies at peace. At
first, I have said, it was but a ray of comfort; but it had soon
grown to be broad sunshine. The thought of the man's death, of his
deletion from this world, which he embittered for so many, took
possession of my mind. I hugged it, I found it sweet in my belly.
I conceived the ship's last plunge, the sea bursting upon all sides
into the cabin, the brief mortal conflict there, all by myself, in
that closed place; I numbered the horrors, I had almost said with
satisfaction; I felt I could bear all and more, if the NONESUCH
carried down with her, overtook by the same ruin, the enemy of my
poor master's house. Towards noon of the second day the screaming
of the wind abated; the ship lay not so perilously over, and it
began to be clear to me that we were past the height of the
tempest. As I hope for mercy, I was singly disappointed. In the
selfishness of that vile, absorbing passion of hatred, I forgot the
case of our innocent shipmates, and thought but of myself and my
enemy. For myself, I was already old; I had never been young, I
was not formed for the world's pleasures, I had few affections; it
mattered not the toss of a silver tester whether I was drowned
there and then in the Atlantic, or dribbled out a few more years,
to die, perhaps no less terribly, in a deserted sick-bed. Down I
went upon my knees - holding on by the locker, or else I had been
instantly dashed across the tossing cabin - and, lifting up my
voice in the midst of that clamour of the abating hurricane,
impiously prayed for my own death. "O God!" I cried, "I would be
liker a man if I rose and struck this creature down; but Thou
madest me a coward from my mother's womb. O Lord, Thou madest me
so, Thou knowest my weakness, Thou knowest that any face of death
will set me shaking in my shoes. But, lo! here is Thy servant
ready, his mortal weakness laid aside. Let me give my life for
this creature's; take the two of them, Lord! take the two, and have
mercy on the innocent!" In some such words as these, only yet more
irreverent and with more sacred adjurations, I continued to pour
forth my spirit. God heard me not, I must suppose in mercy; and I
was still absorbed in my agony of supplication when some one,
removing the tarpaulin cover, let the light of the sunset pour into
the cabin. I stumbled to my feet ashamed, and was seized with
surprise to find myself totter and ache like one that had been
stretched upon the rack. Secundra Dass, who had slept off the
effects of his drug, stood in a corner not far off, gazing at me
with wild eyes; and from the open skylight the captain thanked me
for my supplications.

"It's you that saved the ship, Mr. Mackellar," says he. "There is
no craft of seamanship that could have kept her floating: well may
we say, 'Except the Lord the city keep, the watchmen watch in

I was abashed by the captain's error; abashed, also, by the
surprise and fear with which the Indian regarded me at first, and
the obsequious civilities with which he soon began to cumber me. I
know now that he must have overheard and comprehended the peculiar
nature of my prayers. It is certain, of course, that he at once
disclosed the matter to his patron; and looking back with greater
knowledge, I can now understand what so much puzzled me at the
moment, those singular and (so to speak) approving smiles with
which the Master honoured me. Similarly, I can understand a word
that I remember to have fallen from him in conversation that same
night; when, holding up his hand and smiling, "Ah! Mackellar," said
he, "not every man is so great a coward as he thinks he is - nor
yet so good a Christian." He did not guess how true he spoke! For
the fact is, the thoughts which had come to me in the violence of
the storm retained their hold upon my spirit; and the words that
rose to my lips unbidden in the instancy of prayer continued to
sound in my ears: with what shameful consequences, it is fitting I
should honestly relate; for I could not support a part of such
disloyalty as to describe the sins of others and conceal my own.

The wind fell, but the sea hove ever the higher. All night the
NONESUCH rolled outrageously; the next day dawned, and the next,
and brought no change. To cross the cabin was scarce possible; old
experienced seamen were cast down upon the deck, and one cruelly
mauled in the concussion; every board and block in the old ship
cried out aloud; and the great bell by the anchor-bitts continually
and dolefully rang. One of these days the Master and I sate alone
together at the break of the poop. I should say the NONESUCH
carried a high, raised poop. About the top of it ran considerable
bulwarks, which made the ship unweatherly; and these, as they
approached the front on each side, ran down in a fine, old-
fashioned, carven scroll to join the bulwarks of the waist. From
this disposition, which seems designed rather for ornament than
use, it followed there was a discontinuance of protection: and
that, besides, at the very margin of the elevated part where (in
certain movements of the ship) it might be the most needful. It
was here we were sitting: our feet hanging down, the Master
betwixt me and the side, and I holding on with both hands to the
grating of the cabin skylight; for it struck me it was a dangerous
position, the more so as I had continually before my eyes a measure
of our evolutions in the person of the Master, which stood out in
the break of the bulwarks against the sun. Now his head would be
in the zenith and his shadow fall quite beyond the NONESUCH on the
farther side; and now he would swing down till he was underneath my
feet, and the line of the sea leaped high above him like the
ceiling of a room. I looked on upon this with a growing
fascination, as birds are said to look on snakes. My mind,
besides, was troubled with an astonishing diversity of noises; for
now that we had all sails spread in the vain hope to bring her to
the sea, the ship sounded like a factory with their reverberations.
We spoke first of the mutiny with which we had been threatened;
this led us on to the topic of assassination; and that offered a
temptation to the Master more strong than he was able to resist.
He must tell me a tale, and show me at the same time how clever he
was and how wicked. It was a thing he did always with affectation
and display; generally with a good effect. But this tale, told in
a high key in the midst of so great a tumult, and by a narrator who
was one moment looking down at me from the skies and the next up
from under the soles of my feet - this particular tale, I say, took
hold upon me in a degree quite singular.

"My friend the count," it was thus that he began his story, "had
for an enemy a certain German baron, a stranger in Rome. It
matters not what was the ground of the count's enmity; but as he
had a firm design to be revenged, and that with safety to himself,
he kept it secret even from the baron. Indeed, that is the first
principle of vengeance; and hatred betrayed is hatred impotent.
The count was a man of a curious, searching mind; he had something
of the artist; if anything fell for him to do, it must always be
done with an exact perfection, not only as to the result, but in
the very means and instruments, or he thought the thing miscarried.
It chanced he was one day riding in the outer suburbs, when he came
to a disused by-road branching off into the moor which lies about
Rome. On the one hand was an ancient Roman tomb; on the other a
deserted house in a garden of evergreen trees. This road brought
him presently into a field of ruins, in the midst of which, in the
side of a hill, he saw an open door, and, not far off, a single
stunted pine no greater than a currant-bush. The place was desert
and very secret; a voice spoke in the count's bosom that there was
something here to his advantage. He tied his horse to the pine-
tree, took his flint and steel in his hand to make a light, and
entered into the hill. The doorway opened on a passage of old
Roman masonry, which shortly after branched in two. The count took
the turning to the right, and followed it, groping forward in the
dark, till he was brought up by a kind of fence, about elbow-high,
which extended quite across the passage. Sounding forward with his
foot, he found an edge of polished stone, and then vacancy. All
his curiosity was now awakened, and, getting some rotten sticks
that lay about the floor, he made a fire. In front of him was a
profound well; doubtless some neighbouring peasant had once used it
for his water, and it was he that had set up the fence. A long
while the count stood leaning on the rail and looking down into the
pit. It was of Roman foundation, and, like all that nation set
their hands to, built as for eternity; the sides were still
straight, and the joints smooth; to a man who should fall in, no
escape was possible. 'Now,' the count was thinking, 'a strong
impulsion brought me to this place. What for? what have I gained?
why should I be sent to gaze into this well?' when the rail of the
fence gave suddenly under his weight, and he came within an ace of
falling headlong in. Leaping back to save himself, he trod out the
last flicker of his fire, which gave him thenceforward no more
light, only an incommoding smoke. 'Was I sent here to my death?'
says he, and shook from head to foot. And then a thought flashed
in his mind. He crept forth on hands and knees to the brink of the
pit, and felt above him in the air. The rail had been fast to a
pair of uprights; it had only broken from the one, and still
depended from the other. The count set it back again as he had
found it, so that the place meant death to the first comer, and
groped out of the catacomb like a sick man. The next day, riding
in the Corso with the baron, he purposely betrayed a strong
preoccupation. The other (as he had designed) inquired into the
cause; and he, after some fencing, admitted that his spirits had
been dashed by an unusual dream. This was calculated to draw on
the baron - a superstitious man, who affected the scorn of
superstition. Some rallying followed, and then the count, as if
suddenly carried away, called on his friend to beware, for it was
of him that he had dreamed. You know enough of human nature, my
excellent Mackellar, to be certain of one thing: I mean that the
baron did not rest till he had heard the dream. The count, sure
that he would never desist, kept him in play till his curiosity was
highly inflamed, and then suffered himself, with seeming
reluctance, to be overborne. 'I warn you,' says he, 'evil will
come of it; something tells me so. But since there is to be no
peace either for you or me except on this condition, the blame be
on your own head! This was the dream:- I beheld you riding, I know
not where, yet I think it must have been near Rome, for on your one
hand was an ancient tomb, and on the other a garden of evergreen
trees. Methought I cried and cried upon you to come back in a very
agony of terror; whether you heard me I know not, but you went
doggedly on. The road brought you to a desert place among ruins,
where was a door in a hillside, and hard by the door a misbegotten
pine. Here you dismounted (I still crying on you to beware), tied
your horse to the pine-tree, and entered resolutely in by the door.
Within, it was dark; but in my dream I could still see you, and
still besought you to hold back. You felt your way along the
right-hand wall, took a branching passage to the right, and came to
a little chamber, where was a well with a railing. At this - I
know not why - my alarm for you increased a thousandfold, so that I
seemed to scream myself hoarse with warnings, crying it was still
time, and bidding you begone at once from that vestibule. Such was
the word I used in my dream, and it seemed then to have a clear
significancy; but to-day, and awake, I profess I know not what it
means. To all my outcry you rendered not the least attention,
leaning the while upon the rail and looking down intently in the
water. And then there was made to you a communication; I do not
think I even gathered what it was, but the fear of it plucked me
clean out of my slumber, and I awoke shaking and sobbing. And
now,' continues the count, 'I thank you from my heart for your
insistency. This dream lay on me like a load; and now I have told
it in plain words and in the broad daylight, it seems no great
matter.' - 'I do not know,' says the baron. 'It is in some points
strange. A communication, did you say? Oh! it is an odd dream.
It will make a story to amuse our friends.' - 'I am not so sure,'
says the count. 'I am sensible of some reluctancy. Let us rather
forget it.' - 'By all means,' says the baron. And (in fact) the
dream was not again referred to. Some days after, the count
proposed a ride in the fields, which the baron (since they were
daily growing faster friends) very readily accepted. On the way
back to Rome, the count led them insensibly by a particular route.
Presently he reined in his horse, clapped his hand before his eyes,
and cried out aloud. Then he showed his face again (which was now
quite white, for he was a consummate actor), and stared upon the
baron. 'What ails you?' cries the baron. 'What is wrong with
you?' - 'Nothing,' cries the count. 'It is nothing. A seizure, I
know not what. Let us hurry back to Rome.' But in the meanwhile
the baron had looked about him; and there, on the left-hand side of
the way as they went back to Rome, he saw a dusty by-road with a
tomb upon the one hand and a garden of evergreen trees upon the
other. - 'Yes,' says he, with a changed voice. 'Let us by all
means hurry back to Rome. I fear you are not well in health.' -
'Oh, for God's sake!' cries the count, shuddering, 'back to Rome
and let me get to bed.' They made their return with scarce a word;
and the count, who should by rights have gone into society, took to
his bed and gave out he had a touch of country fever. The next day
the baron's horse was found tied to the pine, but himself was never
heard of from that hour. - And, now, was that a murder?" says the
Master, breaking sharply off.

"Are you sure he was a count?" I asked.

"I am not certain of the title," said he, "but he was a gentleman
of family: and the Lord deliver you, Mackellar, from an enemy so

These last words he spoke down at me, smiling, from high above; the
next, he was under my feet. I continued to follow his evolutions
with a childish fixity; they made me giddy and vacant, and I spoke
as in a dream.

"He hated the baron with a great hatred?" I asked.

His belly moved when the man came near him," said the Master.

"I have felt that same," said I.

"Verily!" cries the Master. "Here is news indeed! I wonder - do I
flatter myself? or am I the cause of these ventral perturbations?"

He was quite capable of choosing out a graceful posture, even with
no one to behold him but myself, and all the more if there were any
element of peril. He sat now with one knee flung across the other,
his arms on his bosom, fitting the swing of the ship with an
exquisite balance, such as a featherweight might overthrow. All at
once I had the vision of my lord at the table, with his head upon
his hands; only now, when he showed me his countenance, it was
heavy with reproach. The words of my own prayer - I WERE LIKER A
MAN IF I STRUCK THIS CREATURE DOWN - shot at the same time into my
memory. I called my energies together, and (the ship then heeling
downward toward my enemy) thrust at him swiftly with my foot. It
was written I should have the guilt of this attempt without the
profit. Whether from my own uncertainty or his incredible
quickness, he escaped the thrust, leaping to his feet and catching
hold at the same moment of a stay.

I do not know how long a time passed by. I lying where I was upon
the deck, overcome with terror and remorse and shame: he standing
with the stay in his hand, backed against the bulwarks, and
regarding me with an expression singularly mingled. At last he

"Mackellar," said he, "I make no reproaches, but I offer you a
bargain. On your side, I do not suppose you desire to have this
exploit made public; on mine, I own to you freely I do not care to
draw my breath in a perpetual terror of assassination by the man I
sit at meat with. Promise me - but no," says he, breaking off,
"you are not yet in the quiet possession of your mind; you might
think I had extorted the promise from your weakness; and I would
leave no door open for casuistry to come in - that dishonesty of
the conscientious. Take time to meditate."

With that he made off up the sliding deck like a squirrel, and
plunged into the cabin. About half an hour later he returned - I
still lying as he had left me.

"Now,' says be, "will you give me your troth as a Christian, and a
faithful servant of my brother's, that I shall have no more to fear
from your attempts?"

"I give it you," said I.

"I shall require your hand upon it," says he.

"You have the right to make conditions," I replied, and we shook

He sat down at once in the same place and the old perilous

"Hold on!" cried I, covering my eyes. "I cannot bear to see you in
that posture. The least irregularity of the sea might plunge you

"You are highly inconsistent," he replied, smiling, but doing as I
asked. "For all that, Mackellar, I would have you to know you have
risen forty feet in my esteem. You think I cannot set a price upon
fidelity? But why do you suppose I carry that Secundra Dass about
the world with me? Because he would die or do murder for me to-
morrow; and I love him for it. Well, you may think it odd, but I
like you the better for this afternoon's performance. I thought
you were magnetised with the Ten Commandments; but no - God damn my
soul!" - he cries, "the old wife has blood in his body after all!
Which does not change the fact," he continued, smiling again, "that
you have done well to give your promise; for I doubt if you would
ever shine in your new trade."

"I suppose," said I, "I should ask your pardon and God's for my
attempt. At any rate, I have passed my word, which I will keep
faithfully. But when I think of those you persecute - " I paused.

"Life is a singular thing," said he, "and mankind a very singular
people. You suppose yourself to love my brother. I assure you, it
is merely custom. Interrogate your memory; and when first you came
to Durrisdeer, you will find you considered him a dull, ordinary
youth. He is as dull and ordinary now, though not so young. Had
you instead fallen in with me, you would to-day be as strong upon
my side."

"I would never say you were ordinary, Mr. Bally," I returned; "but
here you prove yourself dull. You have just shown your reliance on
my word. In other terms, that is my conscience - the same which
starts instinctively back from you, like the eye from a strong

"Ah!" says he, "but I mean otherwise. I mean, had I met you in my
youth. You are to consider I was not always as I am to-day; nor
(had I met in with a friend of your description) should I have ever
been so."

"Hut, Mr. Bally," says I, "you would have made a mock of me; you
would never have spent ten civil words on such a Square-toes."

But he was now fairly started on his new course of justification,
with which he wearied me throughout the remainder of the passage.
No doubt in the past he had taken pleasure to paint himself
unnecessarily black, and made a vaunt of his wickedness, bearing it
for a coat-of-arms. Nor was he so illogical as to abate one item
of his old confessions. "But now that I know you are a human
being," he would say, "I can take the trouble to explain myself.
For I assure you I am human, too, and have my virtues, like my
neighbours." I say, he wearied me, for I had only the one word to
say in answer: twenty times I must have said it: "Give up your
present purpose and return with me to Durrisdeer; then I will
believe you."

Thereupon he would shake his head at me. "Ah! Mackellar, you might
live a thousand years and never understand my nature," he would
say. "This battle is now committed, the hour of reflection quite
past, the hour for mercy not yet come. It began between us when we
span a coin in the hall of Durrisdeer, now twenty years ago; we
have had our ups and downs, but never either of us dreamed of
giving in; and as for me, when my glove is cast, life and honour go
with it."

"A fig for your honour!" I would say. "And by your leave, these
warlike similitudes are something too high-sounding for the matter
in hand. You want some dirty money; there is the bottom of your
contention; and as for your means, what are they? to stir up sorrow
in a family that never harmed you, to debauch (if you can) your own
nephew, and to wring the heart of your born brother! A footpad
that kills an old granny in a woollen mutch with a dirty bludgeon,
and that for a shilling-piece and a paper of snuff - there is all
the warrior that you are."

When I would attack him thus (or somewhat thus) he would smile, and
sigh like a man misunderstood. Once, I remember, he defended
himself more at large, and had some curious sophistries, worth
repeating, for a light upon his character.

"You are very like a civilian to think war consists in drums and
banners," said he. "War (as the ancients said very wisely) is
ULTIMA RATIO. When we take our advantage unrelentingly, then we
make war. Ah! Mackellar, you are a devil of a soldier in the
steward's room at Durrisdeer, or the tenants do you sad injustice!"

"I think little of what war is or is not," I replied. "But you
weary me with claiming my respect. Your brother is a good man, and
you are a bad one - neither more nor less."

"Had I been Alexander - " he began.

"It is so we all dupe ourselves," I cried. "Had I been St. Paul,
it would have been all one; I would have made the same hash of that
career that you now see me making of my own."

"I tell you," he cried, bearing down my interruption, "had I been
the least petty chieftain in the Highlands, had I been the least
king of naked negroes in the African desert, my people would have
adored me. A bad man, am I? Ah! but I was born for a good tyrant!
Ask Secundra Dass; he will tell you I treat him like a son. Cast
in your lot with me to-morrow, become my slave, my chattel, a thing
I can command as I command the powers of my own limbs and spirit -
you will see no more that dark side that I turn upon the world in
anger. I must have all or none. But where all is given, I give it
back with usury. I have a kingly nature: there is my loss!"

"It has been hitherto rather the loss of others," I remarked,
"which seems a little on the hither side of royalty."

"Tilly-vally!" cried he. "Even now, I tell you, I would spare that
family in which you take so great an interest: yes, even now - to-
morrow I would leave them to their petty welfare, and disappear in
that forest of cut-throats and thimble-riggers that we call the
world. I would do it to-morrow!" says he. "Only - only - "

"Only what?" I asked.

"Only they must beg it on their bended knees. I think in public,
too," he added, smiling. "Indeed, Mackellar, I doubt if there be a
hall big enough to serve my purpose for that act of reparation."

"Vanity, vanity!" I moralised. "To think that this great force for
evil should be swayed by the same sentiment that sets a lassie
mincing to her glass!"

"Oh! there are double words for everything: the word that swells,
the word that belittles; you cannot fight me with a word!" said he.
"You said the other day that I relied on your conscience: were I
in your humour of detraction, I might say I built upon your vanity.
It is your pretension to be UN HOMME DE PAROLE; 'tis mine not to
accept defeat. Call it vanity, call it virtue, call it greatness
of soul - what signifies the expression? But recognise in each of
us a common strain: that we both live for an idea."

It will be gathered from so much familiar talk, and so much
patience on both sides, that we now lived together upon excellent
terms. Such was again the fact, and this time more seriously than
before. Apart from disputations such as that which I have tried to
reproduce, not only consideration reigned, but, I am tempted to
say, even kindness. When I fell sick (as I did shortly after our
great storm), he sat by my berth to entertain me with his
conversation, and treated me with excellent remedies, which I
accepted with security. Himself commented on the circumstance.
"You see," says he, "you begin to know me better. A very little
while ago, upon this lonely ship, where no one but myself has any
smattering of science, you would have made sure I had designs upon
your life. And, observe, it is since I found you had designs upon
my own, that I have shown you most respect. You will tell me if
this speaks of a small mind." I found little to reply. In so far
as regarded myself, I believed him to mean well; I am, perhaps, the
more a dupe of his dissimulation, but I believed (and I still
believe) that he regarded me with genuine kindness. Singular and
sad fact! so soon as this change began, my animosity abated, and
these haunting visions of my master passed utterly away. So that,
perhaps, there was truth in the man's last vaunting word to me,
uttered on the second day of July, when our long voyage was at last
brought almost to an end, and we lay becalmed at the sea end of the
vast harbour of New York, in a gasping heat, which was presently
exchanged for a surprising waterfall of rain. I stood on the poop,
regarding the green shores near at hand, and now and then the light
smoke of the little town, our destination. And as I was even then
devising how to steal a march on my familiar enemy, I was conscious
of a shade of embarrassment when he approached me with his hand

"I am now to bid you farewell," said he, "and that for ever. For
now you go among my enemies, where all your former prejudices will
revive. I never yet failed to charm a person when I wanted; even
you, my good friend - to call you so for once - even you have now a
very different portrait of me in your memory, and one that you will
never quite forget. The voyage has not lasted long enough, or I
should have wrote the impression deeper. But now all is at an end,
and we are again at war. Judge by this little interlude how
dangerous I am; and tell those fools" - pointing with his finger to
the town - "to think twice and thrice before they set me at

Robert Louis Stevenson

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