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 depict.”
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 mouth.
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 he.
“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 needful.”
“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 Master.
“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 interruption.
“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 together.
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 a flutter.
“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 example.
“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 in.
“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 be done.”
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 Durrisdeer.”
“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 unhappy master.”
“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 wife.”
“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 hand.
“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 bed.
“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 here?”
“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 alive?”
“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 forgive him?”
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. Mackellar.”
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 honey.
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.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13