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Chapter 12 The Journey in the wilderness (continued)

  • Mountain's story, as it was laid before Sir William Johnson and my lord, wa_horn, of course, of all the earlier particulars, and the expedition describe_o have proceeded uneventfully, until the Master sickened. But the latter par_as very forcibly related, the speaker visibly thrilling to his recollections; and our then situation, on the fringe of the same desert, and the privat_nterests of each, gave him an audience prepared to share in his emotions. Fo_ountain's intelligence not only changed the world for my Lord Durrisdeer, bu_aterially affected the designs of Sir William Johnson.
  • These I find I must lay more at length before the reader. Word had reache_lbany of dubious import; it had been rumoured some hostility was to be put i_ct; and the Indian diplomatist had, thereupon, sped into the wilderness, eve_t the approach of winter, to nip that mischief in the bud. Here, on th_orders, he learned that he was come too late; and a difficult choice was thu_resented to a man (upon the whole) not any more bold than prudent. Hi_tanding with the painted braves may be compared to that of my Lord Presiden_ulloden among the chiefs of our own Highlanders at the 'forty-five; that i_s much as to say, he was, to these men, reason's only speaking trumpet, an_ounsels of peace and moderation, if they were to prevail at all, must prevai_ingly through his influence. If, then, he should return, the province mus_ie open to all the abominable tragedies of Indian war - the houses blaze, th_ayfarer be cut off, and the men of the woods collect their usual disgustin_poil of human scalps. On the other side, to go farther forth, to risk s_mall a party deeper in the desert, to carry words of peace among warlik_avages already rejoicing to return to war: here was an extremity from whic_t was easy to perceive his mind revolted.
  • "I have come too late," he said more than once, and would fall into a dee_onsideration, his head bowed in his hands, his foot patting the ground.
  • At length he raised his face and looked upon us, that is to say upon my lord, Mountain, and myself, sitting close round a small fire, which had been mad_or privacy in one corner of the camp.
  • "My lord, to be quite frank with you, I find myself in two minds," said he. "_hink it very needful I should go on, but not at all proper I should an_onger enjoy the pleasure of your company. We are here still upon the wate_ide; and I think the risk to southward no great matter. Will not yourself an_r. Mackellar take a single boat's crew and return to Albany?"
  • My lord, I should say, had listened to Mountain's narrative, regarding hi_hroughout with a painful intensity of gaze; and since the tale concluded, ha_at as in a dream. There was something very daunting in his look; something t_y eyes not rightly human; the face, lean, and dark, and aged, the mout_ainful, the teeth disclosed in a perpetual rictus; the eyeball swimming clea_f the lids upon a field of blood-shot white. I could not behold him mysel_ithout a jarring irritation, such as, I believe, is too frequently th_ppermost feeling on the sickness of those dear to us. Others, I could not bu_emark. were scarce able to support his neighbourhood - Sir William eviting t_e near him, Mountain dodging his eye, and, when he met it, blenching an_alting in his story. At this appeal, however, my lord appeared to recover hi_ommand upon himself.
  • "To Albany?" said he, with a good voice.
  • "Not short of it, at least," replied Sir William. "There is no safety neare_and."
  • "I would be very sweir to return," says my lord. "I am not afraid - o_ndians," he added, with a jerk.
  • "I wish that I could say so much," returned Sir William, smiling; "although, if any man durst say it, it should be myself. But you are to keep in view m_esponsibility, and that as the voyage has now become highly dangerous, an_our business - if you ever had any," says he, "brought quite to a conclusio_y the distressing family intelligence you have received, I should be hardl_ustified if I even suffered you to proceed, and run the risk of some obloqu_f anything regrettable should follow."
  • My lord turned to Mountain. "What did he pretend he died of?" he asked.
  • "I don't think I understand your honour," said the trader, pausing like a ma_ery much affected, in the dressing of some cruel frost- bites.
  • For a moment my lord seemed at a full stop; and then, with some irritation, "_sk you what he died of. Surely that's a plain question," said he.
  • "Oh! I don't know," said Mountain. "Hastie even never knew. He seemed t_icken natural, and just pass away."
  • "There it is, you see!" concluded my lord, turning to Sir William.
  • "Your lordship is too deep for me," replied Sir William.
  • "Why," says my lord, "this in a matter of succession; my son's title may b_alled in doubt; and the man being supposed to be dead of nobody can tel_hat, a great deal of suspicion would be naturally roused."
  • "But, God damn me, the man's buried!" cried Sir William.
  • "I will never believe that," returned my lord, painfully trembling. "I'l_ever believe it!" he cried again, and jumped to his feet. "Did he LOOK dead?"
  • he asked of Mountain.
  • "Look dead?" repeated the trader. "He looked white. Why, what would he be at?
  • I tell you, I put the sods upon him."
  • My lord caught Sir William by the coat with a hooked hand. "This man has th_ame of my brother," says he, "but it's well understood that he was neve_anny."
  • "Canny?" says Sir William. "What is that?"
  • "He's not of this world," whispered my lord, "neither him nor the black dei_hat serves him. I have struck my sword throughout his vitals," he cried; "_ave felt the hilt dirl on his breastbone, and the hot blood spirt in my ver_ace, time and again, time and again!" he repeated, with a gestur_ndescribable. "But he was never dead for that," said he, and I sighed aloud.
  • "Why should I think he was dead now? No, not till I see him rotting," says he.
  • Sir William looked across at me with a long face. Mountain forgot his wounds, staring and gaping.
  • "My lord," said I, "I wish you would collect your spirits." But my throat wa_o dry, and my own wits so scattered, I could add no more.
  • "No," says my lord, "it's not to be supposed that he would understand me.
  • Mackellar does, for he kens all, and has seen him buried before now. This is _ery good servant to me, Sir William, this man Mackellar; he buried him wit_is own hands - he and my father - by the light of two siller candlesticks.
  • The other man is a familiar spirit; he brought him from Coromandel. I woul_ave told ye this long syne, Sir William, only it was in the family." Thes_ast remarks he made with a kind of a melancholy composure, and his time o_berration seemed to pass away. "You can ask yourself what it all means," h_roceeded. "My brother falls sick, and dies, and is buried, as so they say; and all seems very plain. But why did the familiar go back? I think ye mus_ee for yourself it's a point that wants some clearing."
  • "I will be at your service, my lord, in half a minute," said Sir William, rising. "Mr. Mackellar, two words with you;" and he led me without the camp, the frost crunching in our steps, the trees standing at our elbow, hoar wit_rost, even as on that night in the Long Shrubbery. "Of course, this i_idsummer madness," said Sir William, as soon as we were gotten out o_earing.
  • "Why, certainly," said I. "The man is mad. I think that manifest."
  • "Shall I seize and bind him?" asked Sir William. "I will upon your authority.
  • If these are all ravings, that should certainly be done."
  • I looked down upon the ground, back at the camp, with its bright fires and th_olk watching us, and about me on the woods and mountains; there was just th_ne way that I could not look, and that was in Sir William's face.
  • "Sir William," said I at last, "I think my lord not sane, and have lon_hought him so. But there are degrees in madness; and whether he should b_rought under restraint - Sir William, I am no fit judge," I concluded.
  • "I will be the judge," said he. "I ask for facts. Was there, in all tha_argon, any word of truth or sanity? Do you hesitate?" he asked. "Am I t_nderstand you have buried this gentleman before?"
  • "Not buried," said I; and then, taking up courage at last, "Sir William," sai_, "unless I were to tell you a long story, which much concerns a noble family (and myself not in the least), it would be impossible to make this matte_lear to you. Say the word, and I will do it, right or wrong. And, at an_ate, I will say so much, that my lord is not so crazy as he seems. This is _trange matter, into the tail of which you are unhappily drifted."
  • "I desire none of your secrets," replied Sir William; "but I will be plain, a_he risk of incivility, and confess that I take little pleasure in my presen_ompany."
  • "I would be the last to blame you," said I, "for that."
  • "I have not asked either for your censure or your praise, sir," returned Si_illiam. "I desire simply to be quit of you; and to that effect, I put a boa_nd complement of men at your disposal."
  • "This is fairly offered," said I, after reflection. "But you must suffer me t_ay a word upon the other side. We have a natural curiosity to learn the trut_f this affair; I have some of it myself; my lord (it is very plain) has bu_oo much. The matter of the Indian's return is enigmatical."
  • "I think so myself," Sir William interrupted, "and I propose (since I go i_hat direction) to probe it to the bottom. Whether or not the man has gon_ike a dog to die upon his master's grave, his life, at least, is in grea_anger, and I propose, if I can, to save it. There is nothing against hi_haracter?"
  • "Nothing, Sir William," I replied.
  • "And the other?" he said. "I have heard my lord, of course; but, from th_ircumstances of his servant's loyalty, I must suppose he had some nobl_ualities."
  • "You must not ask me that!" I cried. "Hell may have noble flames. I have know_im a score of years, and always hated, and always admired, and alway_lavishly feared him."
  • "I appear to intrude again upon your secrets," said Sir William, "believe me, inadvertently. Enough that I will see the grave, and (if possible) rescue th_ndian. Upon these terms, can you persuade your master to return to Albany?"
  • "Sir William," said I, "I will tell you how it is. You do not see my lord t_dvantage; it will seem even strange to you that I should love him; but I do, and I am not alone. If he goes back to Albany, it must be by force, and i_ill be the death-warrant of his reason, and perhaps his life. That is m_incere belief; but I am in your hands, and ready to obey, if you will assum_o much responsibility as to command."
  • "I will have no shred of responsibility; it is my single endeavour to avoi_he same," cried Sir William. "You insist upon following this journey up; an_e it so! I wash my hands of the whole matter."
  • With which word, he turned upon his heel and gave the order to break camp; an_y lord, who had been hovering near by, came instantly to my side.
  • "Which is it to be?" said he.
  • "You are to have your way," I answered. "You shall see the grave."
  • The situation of the Master's grave was, between guides, easily described; i_ay, indeed, beside a chief landmark of the wilderness, a certain range o_eaks, conspicuous by their design and altitude, and the source of man_rawling tributaries to that inland sea, Lake Champlain. It was therefor_ossible to strike for it direct, instead of following back the blood-staine_rail of the fugitives, and to cover, in some sixteen hours of march, _istance which their perturbed wanderings had extended over more than sixty.
  • Our boats we left under a guard upon the river; it was, indeed, probable w_hould return to find them frozen fast; and the small equipment with which w_et forth upon the expedition, included not only an infinity of furs t_rotect us from the cold, but an arsenal of snow-shoes to render trave_ossible, when the inevitable snow should fall. Considerable alarm wa_anifested at our departure; the march was conducted with soldierl_recaution, the camp at night sedulously chosen and patrolled; and it was _onsideration of this sort that arrested us, the second day, within not man_undred yards of our destination - the night being already imminent, the spo_n which we stood well qualified to be a strong camp for a party of ou_umbers; and Sir William, therefore, on a sudden thought, arresting ou_dvance.
  • Before us was the high range of mountains toward which we had been all da_eviously drawing near. From the first light of the dawn, their silver peak_ad been the goal of our advance across a tumbled lowland forest, thrid wit_ough streams, and strewn with monstrous boulders; the peaks (as I say) silver, for already at the higher altitudes the snow fell nightly; but th_oods and the low ground only breathed upon with frost. All day heaven ha_een charged with ugly vapours, in the which the sun swam and glimmered like _hilling piece; all day the wind blew on our left cheek barbarous cold, bu_ery pure to breathe. With the end of the afternoon, however, the wind fell; the clouds, being no longer reinforced, were scattered or drunk up; the su_et behind us with some wintry splendour, and the white brow of the mountain_hared its dying glow.
  • It was dark ere we had supper; we ate in silence, and the meal was scarc_espatched before my lord slunk from the fireside to the margin of the camp; whither I made haste to follow him. The camp was on high ground, overlooking _rozen lake, perhaps a mile in its longest measurement; all about us, th_orest lay in heights and hollows; above rose the white mountains; and highe_et, the moon rode in a fair sky. There was no breath of air; nowhere a twi_reaked; and the sounds of our own camp were hushed and swallowed up in th_urrounding stillness. Now that the sun and the wind were both gone down, i_ppeared almost warm, like a night of July: a singular illusion of the sense, when earth, air, and water were strained to bursting with the extremity o_rost.
  • My lord (or what I still continued to call by his loved name) stood with hi_lbow in one hand, and his chin sunk in the other, gazing before him on th_urface of the wood. My eyes followed his, and rested almost pleasantly upo_he frosted contexture of the pines, rising in moonlit hillocks, or sinking i_he shadow of small glens. Hard by, I told myself, was the grave of our enemy, now gone where the wicked cease from troubling, the earth heaped for ever o_is once so active limbs. I could not but think of him as somehow fortunate t_e thus done with man's anxiety and weariness, the daily expense of spirit, and that daily river of circumstance to be swum through, at any hazard, unde_he penalty of shame or death. I could not but think how good was the end o_hat long travel; and with that, my mind swung at a tangent to my lord. Fo_as not my lord dead also? a maimed soldier, looking vainly for discharge, lingering derided in the line of battle? A kind man, I remembered him; wise, with a decent pride, a son perhaps too dutiful, a husband only too loving, on_hat could suffer and be silent, one whose hand I loved to press. Of a sudden, pity caught in my windpipe with a sob; I could have wept aloud to remember an_ehold him; and standing thus by his elbow, under the broad moon, I praye_ervently either that he should be released, or I strengthened to persist i_y affection.
  • "Oh God," said I, "this was the best man to me and to himself, and now _hrink from him. He did no wrong, or not till he was broke with sorrows; thes_re but his honourable wounds that we begin to shrink from. Oh, cover them up, oh, take him away, before we hate him!"
  • I was still so engaged in my own bosom, when a sound broke suddenly upon th_ight. It was neither very loud, nor very near; yet, bursting as it did fro_o profound and so prolonged a silence, it startled the camp like an alarm o_rumpets. Ere I had taken breath, Sir William was beside me, the main part o_he voyagers clustered at his back, intently giving ear. Methought, as _lanced at them across my shoulder, there was a whiteness, other tha_oonlight, on their cheeks; and the rays of the moon reflected with a sparkl_n the eyes of some, and the shadows lying black under the brows of others (according as they raised or bowed the head to listen) gave to the group _trange air of animation and anxiety. My lord was to the front, crouching _ittle forth, his hand raised as for silence: a man turned to stone. And stil_he sounds continued, breathlessly renewed with a precipitate rhythm.
  • Suddenly Mountain spoke in a loud, broken whisper, as of a man relieved. "_ave it now," he said; and, as we all turned to hear him, "the Indian mus_ave known the cache," he added. "That is he \- he is digging out th_reasure."
  • "Why, to be sure!" exclaimed Sir William. "We were geese not to have suppose_o much."
  • "The only thing is," Mountain resumed, "the sound is very close to our ol_amp. And, again, I do not see how he is there before us, unless the man ha_ings!"
  • "Greed and fear are wings," remarked Sir William. "But this rogue has given u_n alert, and I have a notion to return the compliment. What say you, gentlemen, shall we have a moonlight hunt?"
  • It was so agreed; dispositions were made to surround Secundra at his task; some of Sir William's Indians hastened in advance; and a strong guard bein_eft at our headquarters, we set forth along the uneven bottom of the forest; frost crackling, ice sometimes loudly splitting under foot; and overhead th_lackness of pine-woods, and the broken brightness of the moon. Our way le_own into a hollow of the land; and as we descended, the sounds diminished an_ad almost died away. Upon the other slope it was more open, only dotted wit_ few pines, and several vast and scattered rocks that made inky shadows i_he moonlight. Here the sounds began to reach us more distinctly; we could no_erceive the ring of iron, and more exactly estimate the furious degree o_aste with which the digger plied his instrument. As we neared the top of th_scent, a bird or two winged aloft and hovered darkly in the moonlight; an_he next moment we were gazing through a fringe of trees upon a singula_icture.
  • A narrow plateau, overlooked by the white mountains, and encompassed neare_and by woods, lay bare to the strong radiance of the moon. Rough goods, suc_s make the wealth of foresters, were sprinkled here and there upon the groun_n meaningless disarray. About the midst, a tent stood, silvered with frost: the door open, gaping on the black interior. At the one end of this smal_tage lay what seemed the tattered remnants of a man. Without doubt we ha_rrived upon the scene of Harris's encampment; there were the goods scattere_n the panic of flight; it was in yon tent the Master breathed his last; an_he frozen carrion that lay before us was the body of the drunken shoemaker.
  • It was always moving to come upon the theatre of any tragic incident; to com_pon it after so many days, and to find it (in the seclusion of a desert) still unchanged, must have impressed the mind of the most careless. And yet i_as not that which struck us into pillars of stone; but the sight (which ye_e had been half expecting) of Secundra ankle deep in the grave of his lat_aster. He had cast the main part of his raiment by, yet his frail arms an_houlders glistered in the moonlight with a copious sweat; his face wa_ontracted with anxiety and expectation; his blows resounded on the grave, a_hick as sobs; and behind him, strangely deformed and ink-black upon th_rosty ground, the creature's shadow repeated and parodied his swif_esticulations. Some night birds arose from the boughs upon our coming, an_hen settled back; but Secundra, absorbed in his toil; heard or heeded not a_ll.
  • I heard Mountain whisper to Sir William, "Good God! it's the grave! He'_igging him up!" It was what we had all guessed, and yet to hear it put i_anguage thrilled me. Sir William violently started.
  • "You damned sacrilegious hound!" he cried. "What's this?"
  • Secundra leaped in the air, a little breathless cry escaped him, the tool fle_rom his grasp, and he stood one instant staring at the speaker. The next, swift as an arrow, he sped for the woods upon the farther side; and the nex_gain, throwing up his hands with a violent gesture of resolution, he ha_egun already to retrace his steps.
  • "Well, then, you come, you help - " he was saying. But by now my lord ha_tepped beside Sir William; the moon shone fair upon his face, and the word_ere still upon Secundra's lips, when he beheld and recognised his master'_nemy. "Him!" he screamed, clasping his hands, and shrinking on himself.
  • "Come, come!" said Sir William. "There is none here to do you harm, if you b_nnocent; and if you be guilty, your escape is quite cut off. Speak, what d_ou here among the graves of the dead and the remains of the unburied?"
  • "You no murderer?" inquired Secundra. "You true man? you see me safe?"
  • "I will see you safe, if you be innocent," returned Sir William. "I have sai_he thing, and I see not wherefore you should doubt it."
  • "There all murderers," cried Secundra, "that is why! He kill - murderer,"
  • pointing to Mountain; "there two hire-murderers," pointing to my lord an_yself - "all gallows - murderers! Ah! I see you all swing in a rope. Now I g_ave the sahib; he see you swing in a rope. The sahib," he continued, pointin_o the grave, "he not dead. He bury, he not dead."
  • My lord uttered a little noise, moved nearer to the grave, and stood an_tared in it.
  • "Buried and not dead?" exclaimed Sir William. "What kind of rant is this?"
  • "See, sahib," said Secundra. "The sahib and I alone with murderers; try al_ay to escape, no way good. Then try this way: good way in warm climate, goo_ay in India; here, in this dam cold place, who can tell? I tell you prett_ood hurry: you help, you light a fire, help rub."
  • "What is the creature talking of?" cried Sir William. "My head goes round."
  • "I tell you I bury him alive," said Secundra. "I teach him swallow his tongue.
  • Now dig him up pretty good hurry, and he not much worse. You light a fire."
  • Sir William turned to the nearest of his men. "Light a fire," said he. "My lo_eems to be cast with the insane."
  • "You good man," returned Secundra. "Now I go dig the sahib up."
  • He returned as he spoke to the grave, and resumed his former toil. My lor_tood rooted, and I at my lord's side, fearing I knew not what.
  • The frost was not yet very deep, and presently the Indian threw aside hi_ool, and began to scoop the dirt by handfuls. Then he disengaged a corner o_ buffalo robe; and then I saw hair catch among his fingers: yet, a momen_ore, and the moon shone on something white. Awhile Secundra crouched upon hi_nees, scraping with delicate fingers, breathing with puffed lips; and when h_oved aside, I beheld the face of the Master wholly disengaged. It was deadl_hite, the eyes closed, the ears and nostrils plugged, the cheeks fallen, th_ose sharp as if in death; but for all he had lain so many days under the sod, corruption had not approached him, and (what strangely affected all of us) hi_ips and chin were mantled with a swarthy beard.
  • "My God!" cried Mountain, "he was as smooth as a baby when we laid him there!"
  • "They say hair grows upon the dead," observed Sir William; but his voice wa_hick and weak.
  • Secundra paid no heed to our remarks, digging swift as a terrier in the loos_arth. Every moment the form of the Master, swathed in his buffalo robe, gre_ore distinct in the bottom of that shallow trough; the moon shining strong, and the shadows of the standers- by, as they drew forward and back, fallin_nd flitting over his emergent countenance. The sight held us with a horro_ot before experienced. I dared not look my lord in the face; but for as lon_s it lasted, I never observed him to draw breath; and a little in th_ackground one of the men (I know not whom) burst into a kind of sobbing.
  • "Now," said Secundra, "you help me lift him out."
  • Of the flight of time, I have no idea; it may have been three hours, and i_ay have been five, that the Indian laboured to reanimate his master's body.
  • One thing only I know, that it was still night, and the moon was not yet set, although it had sunk low, and now barred the plateau with long shadows, whe_ecundra uttered a small cry of satisfaction; and, leaning swiftly forth, _hought I could myself perceive a change upon that icy countenance of th_nburied. The next moment I beheld his eyelids flutter; the next they ros_ntirely, and the week-old corpse looked me for a moment in the face.
  • So much display of life I can myself swear to. I have heard from others tha_e visibly strove to speak, that his teeth showed in his beard, and that hi_row was contorted as with an agony of pain and effort. And this may hav_een; I know not, I was otherwise engaged. For at that first disclosure of th_ead man's eyes, my Lord Durrisdeer fell to the ground, and when I raised hi_p, he was a corpse.
  • Day came, and still Secundra could not be persuaded to desist from hi_navailing efforts. Sir William, leaving a small party under my command, proceeded on his embassy with the first light; and still the Indian rubbed th_imbs and breathed in the mouth of the dead body. You would think such labour_ight have vitalised a stone; but, except for that one moment (which was m_ord's death), the black spirit of the Master held aloof from its discarde_lay; and by about the hour of noon, even the faithful servant was at lengt_onvinced. He took it with unshaken quietude.
  • "Too cold," said he, "good way in India, no good here." And, asking for som_ood, which he ravenously devoured as soon as it was set before him, he dre_ear to the fire and took his place at my elbow. In the same spot, as soon a_e had eaten, he stretched himself out, and fell into a childlike slumber, from which I must arouse him, some hours afterwards, to take his part as on_f the mourners at the double funeral. It was the same throughout; he seeme_o have outlived at once and with the same effort, his grief for his maste_nd his terror of myself and Mountain.
  • One of the men left with me was skilled in stone-cutting; and before Si_illiam returned to pick us up, I had chiselled on a boulder this inscription, with a copy of which I may fitly bring my narrative to a close:
  • J. D.,
  • HEIR TO A SCOTTISH TITLE,
  • A MASTER OF THE ARTS AND GRACES,
  • ADMIRED IN EUROPE, ASIA, AMERICA,
  • IN WAR AND PEACE,
  • IN THE TENTS OF SAVAGE HUNTERS AND THE
  • CITADELS OF KINGS, AFTER SO MUCH
  • ACQUIRED, ACCOMPLISHED, AND
  • ENDURED, LIES HERE FORGOTTEN.
  • * * * * *
  • H. D.,
  • HIS BROTHER,
  • AFTER A LIFE OF UNMERITED DISTRESS,
  • BRAVELY SUPPORTED,
  • DIED ALMOST IN THE SAME HOUR,
  • AND SLEEPS IN THE SAME GRAVE
  • WITH HIS FRATERNAL ENEMY.
  • * * * * *
  • THE PIETY OF HIS WIFE AND ONE OLD
  • SERVANT RAISED THIS STONE
  • TO BOTH.