The Pavilion on the Links, Part 2
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: “The Pavilion on the Links” is a story of a gentlemanly drifter named Frank Cassilis, who wanders back to a seaside house he used to share with a former college friend. While there, he gets involved in the scheme to smuggle a corrupted banker out of the country while falling in love with the banker’s daughter as they fight for their lives. In later publications, the entire premise of the account presented to his children is jettisoned and the narration is instead adjusted to first-person directed at the reader.1Hardesty, William H., and David D. Mann. “Robert Louis Stevenson's Art of Revision: ‘the Pavilion on the Links’ as Rehearsal for ‘Treasure Island’.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 82, 1988, 271. ProQuest.
This entry was published as the second of two parts:
TELLS OF AN INTERVIEW BETWEEN NORTHMOUR, YOUR MOTHER, AND MYSELF.
With the first peep of day, I retired from the open to my old lair among the sand-hills, there to await the coming of your mother. The morning was grey, wild, and melancholy; the wind moderated before sunrise, and then went about, and blew in puffs from the shore; the sea began to go down, but the rain still fell without mercy. Over all the wilderness of links there was not a creature to be seen. Yet I felt sure the neighbourhood was alive with skulking foes. The light had been so suddenly and surprisingly flashed upon my face as I lay sleeping, and the hat that had been blown ashore by the wind from over Graden Floe, were two speaking signals of the peril that environed your mother and the party in the pavilion.
It was, perhaps, half-past seven, or nearer eight, before I saw the door open, and that dear figure come towards me in the rain. I was waiting for her on the beach before she had crossed the sand-hills.
“I have had such trouble to come!” she cried. “They did not wish me to go walking in the rain. I had to show them my temper,” she added, tossing her head.
“Clara,” I said, “you are not frightened!”
“No,” said she, with a simplicity that filled my heart with confidence. For your mother, my dear children, was the bravest as well as the best of women; in my experience, I have not found the two go always together, but with her they did; and she combined the extreme of fortitude with the most endearing and beautiful virtues.
I told her what had happened; and, though her cheek grew visibly paler, she retained perfect control over her senses.
“You see now that I am safe,” said I, in conclusion. “They do not mean to harm me; for, had they chosen, I was a dead man last night.”
She laid her hand upon my arm.
“And I had no presentiment!” she cried.
Her accent thrilled me with delight. I put my arm about her, and strained her to my side; and, before either of us was aware, her hands were on my shoulders and my lips upon her mouth. Yet up to that moment no word of love had passed between your mother and myself. To this day I remember the touch of her cheek, which was wet and cold with the rain; and many a time since, when she has been washing her face, I have kissed it again for the sake of that morning on the beach. Now that she is taken from me, and I finish my pilgrimage alone, I recall our old loving kindnesses and the deep honesty and affection which united us, and my present loss seems but a trifle in comparison.
We may have thus stood for some seconds—for time passes quickly with lovers—before we were startled by a peal of laughter close at hand. It was not natural mirth, but seemed to be affected in order to conceal an angrier feeling. We both turned, though I still kept my left arm about your mother’s waist; nor did she seek to withdraw herself; and there, a few paces off upon the beach, stood Northmour, his head lowered, his hands behind his back, his nose white with passion.
“Ah, Cassilis!” he said, as I disclosed my face.
“That same,” said I; for I was not at all put about.
“And so, Miss Huddlestone,” he continued slowly but savagely, “this is how you keep your faith to your father and to me? This is the value you set upon your father’s life? And you are so infatuated with this young gentleman that you must brave ruin, and decency, and common human caution——”
“Miss Huddlestone——” I was beginning to interrupt him, when he, in his turn, cut in brutally—
“You hold your tongue,” said he; “I am speaking to that girl.”
“That girl, as you call her, is my wife,” said I; and your mother only leaned a little nearer, so that I knew she had affirmed my words.
“Your what?” he cried. “You lie!”
“Northmour,” I said, “we all know you have a bad temper, and I am the last man to be irritated by words. For all that, I propose that you speak lower, for I am convinced that we are not alone.”
He looked round him, and it was plain my remark had in some degree sobered his passion. “What do you mean?” he asked.
I only said one word: “Italians.”
He swore a round oath, and looked at us, from one to the other.
“Mr. Cassilis knows all that I know,” said your mother.
“What I want to know,” he broke out, “is where the devil Mr. Cassilis comes from, and what the devil Mr. Cassilis is doing here. You say you are married; that I do not believe. If you were, Graden Floe would soon divorce you; four minutes and a half, Cassilis. I keep my private cemetery for my friends.”
“It took somewhat longer,” said I, “for that Italian.”
He looked at me for a moment half daunted, and then, almost civilly, asked me to tell my story. “You have too much the advantage of me, Cassilis,” he added. I complied of course; and he listened, with several ejaculations, while I told him how I had come to Graden; that it was I whom he had tried to murder on the night of landing; and what I had subsequently seen and heard of the Italians.
“Well,” said he, when I had done, “it is here at last; there is no mistake about that. And what, may I ask, do you propose to do?”
“I propose to stay with you and lend a hand,” said I.
“You are a brave man,” he returned, with a peculiar intonation.
“I am not afraid,” said I.
“And so,” he continued, “I am to understand that you two are married? And you stand up to it before my face, Miss Huddlestone?”
“We are not yet married,” said your mother; “but we shall be as soon as we can.”
“Bravo!” cried Northmour. “And the bargain? D—n it, you’re not a fool, young woman; I may call a spade a spade with you. How about the bargain? You know as well as I do what your father’s life depends upon. I have only to put my hands under my coat-tails and walk away, and his throat would be cut before the evening.”
“Yes, Mr. Northmour,” returned your mother, with great spirits; “but that is what you will never do. You made a bargain that was unworthy of a gentleman; but you are a gentleman for all that, and you will never desert a man whom you have begun to help.”
“Aha!” said he. “You think I will give my yacht for nothing? You think I will risk my life and liberty for love of the old gentleman; and then, I suppose, be best man at the wedding, to wind up? Well,” he added, with an odd smile, “perhaps you are not altogether wrong. But ask Cassilis here. He knows me. Am I a man to trust? Am I safe and scrupulous? Am I kind?”
“I know you talk a great deal, and sometimes, I think, very foolishly,” replied your mother, “but I know you are a gentleman, and I am not the least afraid.”
He looked at her with peculiar approval and admiration; then, turning to me, “Do you think I would give her up without a struggle, Frank?” said he. “I tell you plainly, you look out. The next time we come to blows——”
“Will make the third,” I interrupted, smiling.
“Aye, true; so it will,” he said. “I had forgotten. Well, the third time’s lucky.”
“The third time, you mean, you will have the crew of the Red Earl to help,” I said.
“Do you hear him?” he asked, turning to your mother.
“I hear two men speaking like cowards,” said she. “I should despise myself either to think or speak like that. And neither of you believe one word that you are saying, which makes it the more wicked and silly.”
“She’s a perfect cock-sparrow, Frank!” cried Northmour. “But she’s not yet Mrs. Cassilis. I say no more. The present is not for me.”
Then your mother surprised me.
“I leave you here,” she said suddenly. “My father has been too long alone. But remember this: you are to be friends, for you are both good friends to me.”
She has since told me her reason for this step. As long as she remained, she declares that we two would have continued to quarrel; and I suppose that she was right, for when she was gone we fell at once into a sort of confidentiality.
Northmour stared after her as she went away over the sand-hill.
“She is the only woman in the world!” he exclaimed with an oath. “Look at her action.”
I, for my part, leaped at this opportunity for a little further light.
“See here, Northmour,” said I; “we are all in a tight place, are we not?”
“I believe you, my boy,” he answered, looking me in the eyes, and with great emphasis. “We have all hell upon us, that’s the truth. You may believe me or not, but I’m afraid of my life.”
“Tell me one thing,” said I. “What are they after, these Italians? What ails them at Mr. Huddlestone?”
“Don’t you know?” he cried. “The black old scamp had carbonaro funds on a deposit—two hundred and eighty thousand; and of course he gambled it away on stocks.2The Carbonari was an early nineteenth century secret revolutionary society in Italy. There was to have been a revolution in the Tridentino, in Parma; but the revolution is off, and the whole wasps’ nest is after Huddlestone. We shall all be lucky if we can save our skins.”
“The carbonari!” I exclaimed; “God help him indeed!”
“Amen!” said Northmour. “And now, look here: I have said that we are in a fix; and, frankly, I shall be glad of your help. If I can’t save Huddlestone, I want at least to save the girl. Come and stay in the pavilion; and, there’s my hand on it, I shall act as your friend until the old man is either clear or dead. But,” he added, “once that is settled, you become my rival once again, and I warn you—mind yourself.”
“Done!” said I; and we shook hands.
“And now let us go directly to the fort,” said Northmour; and he began to lead the way through the rain.
TELLS OF MY INTRODUCTION TO THE TALL MAN.
We were admitted to the pavilion by your mother, and I was surprised by the completeness and security of the defences. A barricade of great strength, and yet easy to displace, supported the door against any violence from without; and the shutters of the dining-room, into which I was led directly, and which was feebly illuminated by a lamp, were even more elaborately fortified. The panels were strengthened by bars and cross-bars; and these, in their turn, were kept in position by a system of braces and struts, some abutting on the floor, some on the roof, and others, in fine, against the opposite wall of the apartment. It was at once a solid and well-designed piece of carpentry; and I did not seek to conceal my admiration.
“I am the engineer,” said Northmour. “You remember the planks in the garden? Behold them!”
“I did not know you had so many talents,” said I.
“Are you armed?” he continued, pointing to an array of guns and pistols, all in admirable order, which stood in line against the wall or were displayed upon the sideboard.
“Thank you,” I returned; “I have gone armed since our last encounter. But, to tell you the truth, I have had nothing to eat since early yesterday evening.”
Northmour produced some cold meat, to which I eagerly set myself, and a bottle of good Burgundy, by which, wet as I was, I did not scruple to profit. I have always been an extreme temperance man on principle; but it is useless to push principle to excess, and on this occasion I believe that I finished three-quarters of the bottle. As I ate, I still continued to admire the preparations for defence.
“We could stand a siege,” I said at length.
“Ye—es,” drawled Northmour; “a very little one, per—haps. It is not so much the strength of the pavilion I misdoubt; it is the double danger that kills me. If we get to shooting, wild as the country is some one is sure to hear it, and then—why then it’s the same thing, only different, as they say: caged by law, or killed by carbonari. There’s the choice. It is a devilish bad thing to have the law against you in this world, and so I tell the old gentleman upstairs. He is quite of my way of thinking.”
“Speaking of that,” said I, “what kind of person is he?”
“Oh, he!” cried the other; “he’s a rancid fellow, as far as he goes. I should like to have his neck wrung to-morrow by all the devils in Italy. I am not in this affair for him. You take me? I made a bargain for Missy’s hand, and I mean to have it too.”
“That, by the way,” said I, “I understand. But how will Mr. Huddlestone take my intrusion?”
“Leave that to Clara,” returned Northmour.
I could have broken his back, my dear children for this coarse familiarity; but I respected the truce, as, I am bound to say, did Northmour, and so long as the danger continued not a cloud arose in our relation. I bear him this testimony with the most unfeigned satisfaction; nor am I without pride when I look back upon my own behaviour. For surely no two men were ever left in a position so invidious and irritating.
As soon as I had done eating, we proceeded to inspect the lower floor. Window by window we tried the different supports, now and then making an inconsiderable change; and the strokes of the hammer sounded with surprising loudness through the house. I proposed, I remember, to make loopholes; but he told me they were already made in the windows of the upper story. It was an anxious business this inspection, and left me down-hearted. There were two doors and five windows to protect, and, counting your mother, only four of us to defend them against an unknown number of foes. I communicated my doubts to Northmour, who assured me, with unmoved composure, that he entirely shared them.
“Before morning,” said he, “we shall all be butchered and buried in Graden Floe. For me, that is written.”
I could not help shuddering at the mention of the quicksand, but reminded Northmour that our enemies had spared me in the wood.
“Do not flatter yourself,” said he. “Then you were not in the same boat with the old gentleman; now you are. It’s the floe for all of us, mark my words.”
I trembled for your mother; and just then her dear voice was heard calling us to come upstairs. Northmour showed me the way, and, when he had reached the landing, knocked at the door of what used to be called My Uncle’s Bedroom, as the founder of the pavilion had designed it especially for himself.
“Come in, Northmour; come in, dear Mr. Cassilis,” said a voice from within.
Pushing open the door, Northmour admitted me before him into the apartment. As I came in I could see your mother slipping out by the side door into the study, which had been prepared as her bedroom. In the bed, which was drawn back against the wall, instead of standing, as I had last seen it, boldly across the window, sat, my dear children, your grandfather, Bernard Huddlestone, the defaulting banker. Little as I had seen of him by the shifting light of the lantern on the links, I had no difficulty in recognising him for the same. He had a long—— and sallow—countenance, surrounded by a long red beard and side-whiskers. His broken nose and high cheek bones gave him somewhat the air of a Kalmuck, and his light eyes shone with the excitement of a high fever.3A “Kalmuck” is a member of a Buddhist Mongol people originally of Dzungaria living mainly northwest of the Caspian Sea in Russia He wore a skull-cap of black silk; a huge Bible lay open before him on the bed, with a pair of gold spectacles in the place, and a pile of other books lay on the stand by his side. The green curtains lent a cadaverous shade to his cheek; and, as he sat propped on pillows, his great stature was painfully hunched, and his head protruded till it overhung his knees. I believe if your grandfather had not died otherwise, he must have fallen a victim to consumption in the course of but a very few weeks.
He held out to me a hand, long, thin, and disagreeably hairy.
“Come in, come in, Mr. Cassilis,” said he. “Another protector—ahem!—another protector. Always welcome as a friend of my daughter’s, Mr. Cassilis. How they have rallied about me, my daughter’s friends! May God in heaven bless and reward them for it!”
I gave him my hand, of course, because I could not help it; but the sympathy I had been prepared to feel for your mother’s father was immediately soured by his appearance, and the wheedling, unreal tones in which he spoke.
“Cassilis is a good man,” said Northmour; “worth ten.”
“So I hear,” cried Mr. Huddlestone eagerly; “so my girl tells me. Ah, Mr. Cassilis, my sin has found me out, you see! I am very low, very low; but I hope equally penitent. These are all devotional works,” he added, indicating the books by which he was surrounded. “We must all come to the throne of grace at last, Mr. Cassilis. For my part, I come late indeed; but with unfeigned humility, I trust.”
“Fiddle-de-dee!” said Northmour roughly.
“No, no, dear Northmour!” cried the banker. “You must not say that; you must not try to shake me. You forget, my dear, good boy, you forget I may be called this very night before my Maker.”
His excitement was pitiful to behold; and I felt myself grow indignant with Northmour, whose infidel opinions I well knew, and heartily dreaded, as he continued to taunt the poor sinner out of his humour of repentance.
“Pooh, my dear Huddlestone!” said he. “You do yourself injustice. You are a man of the world inside and out, and were up to all kinds of mischief before I was born. Your conscience is tanned like South American leather—only you forgot to tan your liver, and that, if you will believe me, is the seat of the annoyance.”
“Rogue, rogue! bad boy!” said Mr. Huddlestone, shaking his finger, “I am no precisian, if you come to that; I always hated a precisian; but I never lost hold of something better through it all. I have been a bad boy, Mr. Cassilis; I do not seek to deny that; but it was after my wife’s death, and you know, with a widower, it’s a different thing: sinful—I won’t say no; but there is a gradation, we shall hope. And talking of that—— Hark!” he broke out suddenly, his hand raised, his fingers spread, his face racked with interest and terror. “Only the rain, bless God!” he added, after a pause, and with indescribable relief. “Well—as I was saying—ah, yes! Northmour, is that girl away?”—looking round the curtain for your mother—“yes; I just remembered a capital one.”
And, leaning forward in bed, he told a story of a description with which, I am happy to say, I have never sullied my lips, and which, in his present danger and surrounded as he was with religious reading, filled me with indignation and disgust. Perhaps, my dear children, you have sometimes, when your mother was not by to mitigate my severity, found me narrow and hard in discipline; I must own I have always been a martinet in matters of decorum, and I have sometimes repented the harshness with which I reproved your unhappy grandfather upon this occasion. I will not repeat even the drift of what I said; but I reminded him, perhaps cruelly, of the horrors of his situation. Northmour burst out laughing, and cut a joke at the expense, as I considered, of politeness, decency, and reverence alike. We might readily have quarrelled then and there; but Mr Huddlestone interposed with a severe reproof to Northmour for his levity.
“The boy is right,” he said. “I am an unhappy sinner, and you but a half friend to encourage me in evil.”
And with great fluency and unction he put up a short extempore prayer, at which, coming so suddenly after his anecdote, I confess I knew not where to look. Then said he: “Let us sing a hymn together, Mr Cassilis. I have one here which my mother taught me a great, great many years ago, as you may imagine. You will find it very touching, and quite spiritual.”
“Look here,” broke in Northmour; “if this is going to become a prayer-meeting, I am off. Sing a hymn, indeed! What next? Go out and take a little airing not the beach, I suppose? or in the wood, where it’s thick, and a man can get near enough for the stiletto? I wonder at you, Huddlestone! and I wonder at you too, Cassilis! Ass as you are, you might have better sense than that.”
Roughly as he expressed himself, I could not but admit that Northmour’s protest was grounded upon common sense; and I have myself, all my life long, had little taste for singing hymns except in church. I was, therefore, the more willing to turn the talk upon the business of the hour.
“One question, sir,” said I to Mr. Huddlestone. “Is it true that you have money with you?”
He seemed annoyed by the question, but admitted with reluctance that he had a little.
“Well,” I continued, “it is their money they are after, is it not? Why not give it up to them?”
“Ah!” replied he, shaking his head, “I have tried that already, Mr. Cassilis; and alas! that it should be so! but it is blood they want.”
“Huddlestone, that’s a little less than fair,” said Northmour. “You should mention that what you offered them was upwards of two hundred thousand short. The deficit is worth a reference; it is for what they call a cool sum, Frank. Then, you see, the fellows reason in their clear Italian way; and it seems to them, as indeed it seems to me, that they may just as well have both while they’re about it—money and blood together, by George, and no more trouble for the extra pleasure.”
“Is it in the pavilion?” I asked.
“It is; and I wish it were in the bottom of the sea instead,” said Northmour; and then suddenly—“What are you making faces at me for?” he cried to Mr. Huddlestone, on whom I had unconsciously turned my back. “Do you think Cassilis would sell you?”
Mr. Huddlestone protested that nothing had been further from his mind.
“It is a good thing,” retorted Northmour in his ugliest manner. “You might end by wearying us. What were you going to say?” he added, turning to me.
“I was going to propose an occupation for the afternoon,” said I. “Let us carry that money out, piece by piece, and lay it down before the pavilion door. If the carbonari come, why, it’s theirs at any rate.”
“No, no,” cried Mr. Huddlestone; “it does not, it cannot belong to them! It should be distributed pro rata among all my creditors.”
“Come now, Huddlestone,” said Northmour, “none of that.”
“Well, but my daughter,” moaned the wretched man.
“Your daughter will do well enough. Here are two suitors, Cassilis and I, neither of us beggars, between whom she has to choose. And as for myself, to make an end of arguments, you have no right to a farthing, and, unless I’m much mistaken, you are going to die.”
It was certainly very cruelly said; but Mr. Huddlestone was a man who attracted little sympathy; and, although I saw him wince and shudder, I mentally endorsed the rebuke; nay, I added a contribution of my own.
“Northmour and I,” I said, “are willing enough to help you to save your life, but not to escape with stolen property.”
He struggled for a while with himself, as though he were on the point of giving way to anger, but prudence had the best of the controversy.
“My dear boys,” he said, “do with me or my money what you will. I leave all in your hands. Let me compose myself.”
And so we left him, gladly enough I am sure. The last that I saw, he had once more taken up his great Bible, and was adjusting his spectacles to read. Of all the men it was ever my fortune to know, your grandfather has left the most bewildering impression on my mind; but I have no fancy to judge where I am conscious that I do not understand.
TELLS HOW A WORD WAS CRIED THROUGH THE PAVILION WINDOW.
The recollection of that afternoon will always be graven on my mind. Northmour and I were persuaded that an attack was imminent; and if it had been in our power to alter in any way the order of events, that power would have been used to precipitate rather than delay the critical moment. The worst was to be anticipated; yet we could conceive no extremity so miserable as the suspense we were now suffering. I have never been an eager, though always a great, reader; but I never knew books so insipid as those which I took up and cast aside that afternoon in the pavilion. Even talk became impossible, as the hours went on. One or other was always listening for some sound, or peering from an upstairs window over the links. And yet not a sign indicated the presence of our foes.
We debated over and over again my proposal with regard to the money; and had we been in complete possession of our faculties, I think we should have condemned it as unwise; but we were flustered with alarm, grasped at a straw, and determined, although it was as much as advertising Mr. Huddlestone’s presence in the pavilion, to carry my proposal into effect.
The sum was part in specie, part in bank paper, and part in circular notes payable to the name of James Gregory. We took it out, counted it, enclosed it once more in a despatch-box belonging to Northmour, and prepared a letter in Italian which he tied to the handle. It was signed by both of us under oath, and declared that this was all the money which had escaped the failure of the house of Huddlestone. This was, perhaps, the maddest action ever perpetrated by two persons professing to be sane. Had the despatch-box fallen into other hands than those for which it was intended, we stood criminally convicted on our own written testimony; but, as I have said, we were neither of us in a condition to judge soberly, and had a thirst for action that drove us to do something, right or wrong, rather than endure the agony of waiting. Moreover, as we were both convinced that the hollows of the links were alive with hidden spies upon our movements, we hoped that our appearance with the box might lead to a parley, and, perhaps, a compromise.
It was nearly three when we issued from the pavilion. The rain had taken off; the sun shone quite cheerfully. I have never seen the gulls fly so close about the house or approach so fearlessly to human beings. On the very doorstep one flapped heavily past our heads, and uttered its wild cry in my very ear.
“There is an omen for you,” said Northmour, who, like all freethinkers, was much under the influence of superstition. “They think we are already dead.”
I made some light rejoinder, but it was with half my heart; for the circumstance had impressed me.
A yard or two before the gate, on a patch of smooth turf, we set down the despatch-box; and Northmour waved a white handkerchief over his head. Nothing replied. We raised our voices, and cried aloud in Italian that we were there as ambassadors to arrange the quarrel; but the stillness remained unbroken save by the sea-gulls and the surf. I had a weight at my heart when we desisted; and I saw that even Northmour was unusually pale. He looked over his shoulder nervously, as though he feared that some one had crept between him and the pavilion door.
“By God,” he said in a whisper, “this is too much for me!”
I replied in the same key: “Suppose there should be none, after all?”
“Look there,” he returned, nodding with his head, as though he had been afraid to point.
I glanced in the direction indicated; and there, from the northern quarter of the Sea-Wood, beheld a thin column of smoke rising steadily against the now cloudless sky.
“Northmour,” I said (we still continued to talk in whispers), “it is not possible to endure this suspense. I prefer death fifty times over. Stay you here to watch the pavilion; I will go forward and make sure, if I have to walk right into their camp.”
He looked once again all round him with puckered eyes, and then nodded assentingly to my proposal.
My heart beat like a sledge-hammer as I set out walking rapidly in the direction of the smoke; and, though up to that moment I had felt chill and shivering, I was suddenly conscious of a glow of heat over all my body. The ground in this direction was very uneven; a hundred men might have lain hidden in as many square yards about my path. But I had not practised the business in vain, chose such routes as cut at the very root of concealment, and, by keeping along the most convenient ridges, commanded several hollows at a time. It was not long before I was rewarded for my caution. Coming suddenly on to a mound somewhat more elevated than the surrounding hummocks, I saw, not thirty yards away, a man bent almost double, and running as fast as his attitude permitted, along the bottom of a gully. I had dislodged one of the spies from his ambush. As soon as I sighted him, I called loudly both in English and Italian; and he, seeing concealment was no longer possible, straightened himself out, leaped from the gully, and made off as straight as an arrow for the borders of the wood.
It was none of my business to pursue; I had learned what I wanted—that we were beleaguered and watched in the pavilion; and I returned at once, and walking as nearly as possible in my old footsteps, to where Northmour awaited me beside the despatch-box. He was even paler than when I had left him, and his voice shook a little.
“Could you see what he was like?” he asked.
“He kept his back turned,” I replied.
“Let us get into the house, Frank. I don’t think I’m a coward, but I can stand no more of this,” he whispered.
All was still and sunshiny about the pavilion as we turned to re-enter it; even the gulls had flown in a wider circuit, and were seen flickering along the beach and sand-hills; and I can assure you, my dear children, that this loneliness terrified me more than a regiment under arms. It was not until the door was barricaded that I could draw a full inspiration and relieve the weight that lay upon my bosom. Northmour and I exchanged a steady glance; and I suppose each made his own reflections on the white and startled aspect of the other.
“You were right,” I said. “All is over. Shake hands, old man, for the last time.”
“Yes,” replied he, “I will shake hands; for, as sure as I am here, I bear no malice. But, remember, if, by some impossible accident, we should give the slip to these blackguards, I’ll take the upper hand of you by fair or foul.”
“Oh,” said I, “you weary me!”
He seemed hurt, and walked away in silence to the foot of the stairs, where he paused.
“You do not understand,” said he. “I am not a swindler, and I guard myself; that is all. It may weary you or not, Mr. Cassilis, I do not care a rush; I speak for my own satisfaction, and not for your amusement. You had better go upstairs and court the girl; for my part, I stay here.”
“And I stay with you,” I returned. “Do you think I would steal a march, even with your permission?”
“Frank,” he said, smiling, “it’s a pity you are an ass, for you have the makings of a man. I think I must be fey to-day; you cannot irritate me even when you try. Do you know,” he continued softly, “I think we are the two most miserable men in England, you and I? we have got on to thirty without wife or child, or so much as a shop to look after—poor, pitiful, lost devils, both! And now we clash about a girl! As if there were not several millions in the United Kingdom! Ah, Frank, Frank, the one who loses this throw, be it you or me, he has my pity! It were better for him—how does the Bible say?—that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the depth of the sea. Let us take a drink,” he concluded suddenly, but without any levity of tone.
I was touched by his words, and consented. He sat down on the table in the dining-room, and held up the glass of sherry to his eye.
“If you beat me, Frank,” he said, “I shall take to drink. What will you do, if it goes the other way?”
“God knows,” I returned.
“Well,” said he, “here is a toast in the meantime: ‘Italia irredenta!’”4“Italia irredenta” is Italian for “Italian unredeemed.”
The remainder of the day was passed in the same dreadful tedium and suspense. I laid the table for dinner, while Northmour and your mother prepared the meal together in the kitchen. I could hear their talk as I went to and fro, and was surprised to find it ran all the time upon myself. Northmour again bracketed us together, and rallied your mother on a choice of husbands; but he continued to speak of me with some feeling, and uttered nothing to my prejudice unless he included himself in the condemnation. This awakened a sense of gratitude in my heart, which combined with the immediateness of our peril to fill my eyes with tears. After all, I thought—and perhaps the thought was laughably vain—we were here three very noble human beings to perish in defence of a thieving banker.
Before we sat down to table, I looked forth from an upstairs window. The day was beginning to decline; the links were utterly deserted; the despatch-box still lay untouched where we had left it hours before.
Mr. Huddlestone, in a long yellow dressing-gown, took one end of the table, Clara the other; while Northmour and I faced each other from the sides. The lamp was brightly trimmed; the wine was good; the viands, although mostly cold, excellent of their sort. We seemed to have agreed tacitly; all thought of the impending catastrophe was banished; and we made as merry a party of four as you could wish to see. From time to time, it is true, Northmour or I would rise from table and make a round of the defences; and, on each of these occasions, Mr. Huddlestone was recalled to a sense of his tragic predicament, glanced up with ghastly eyes, and bore for an instant on his countenance the stamp of terror. But he hastened to empty his glass, wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, and joined again in the conversation.
I was astonished at the wit and information he displayed. Your grandfather’s, my dear children, was no ordinary character; he had read and observed for himself; his gifts were sound; and, though I could never have learned to love the man, I began to understand his success in business, and the great respect in which he had been held before his failure. He had, above all, the talent of society; and, though I never heard him speak but on this one and most unfavourable occasion, I set him down among the most brilliant conversationalists I ever met.
He was relating with great gusto, and seemingly no feeling of shame, the manœuvres of a scoundrelly commission merchant whom he had known and studied in his youth, and we were all listening with an odd mixture of mirth and embarrassment, when our little party was brought abruptly to an end in the most startling manner.
A noise like that of a wet finger on the window-pane interrupted your grandfather’s tale; and in an instant we were all four as white as paper, and sat tongue-tied and motionless round the table.
“A snail,” I said at last; for I had heard that these animals make a noise somewhat similar in character.
“Snail be d—d!” said Northmour. “Hush!”
The same sound was repeated twice at regular intervals; and then a formidable voice shouted through the shutters the Italian word “Traditore!”5“Traditore” is Italian for “traitor.”
Mr. Huddlestone threw his head in the air; his eyelids quivered; next moment he fell insensible below the table. Northmour and I had each run to the armoury and seized a gun. Your mother was on her feet with her hand at her throat.
So we stood waiting, for we thought the hour of attack was certainly come; but second passed after second, and all but the surf remained silent in the neighbourhood of the pavilion.
“Quick,” said Northmour; “upstairs with him before they come.”
TELLS THE LAST OF THE TALL MAN.
Somehow or other, by hook and crook, and between the three of us, we got Bernard Huddlestone bundled upstairs and laid upon the bed in My Uncle’s Room. During the whole process, which was rough enough, he gave no sign of consciousness, and he remained, as we had thrown him, without changing the position of a finger. Your mother opened his shirt and began to wet his head and bosom; while Northmour and I ran to the window. The weather continued clear; the moon, which was now about full, had risen and shed a very clear light upon the links; yet, strain our eyes as we might, we could distinguish nothing moving. A few dark spots, more or less, on the uneven expanse were not to be identified; they might be crouching men, they might be shadows; it was impossible to be sure.
“Thank God,” said Northmour, “Aggie is not coming to-night.”
Aggie was the name of the old nurse; he had not thought of her till now; but that he should think of her at all, was a trait that surprised me in the man.
We were again reduced to waiting. Northmour went to the fireplace and spread his hands before the red embers, as if he were cold. I followed him mechanically with my eyes, and in so doing turned my back upon the window. At that moment, a very faint report was audible from without, and a ball shivered a pane of glass, and buried itself in the shutter two inches from my head. I heard your mother scream; and though I whipped instantly out of range and into a corner, she was there, so to speak, before me, with her arms about my neck, and beseeching to know if I were hurt. I felt that I could stand to be shot at every day and all day long, with such marks of solicitude for a reward; and I was still busy returning her caresses, in complete forgetfulness of our situation, when the voice of Northmour recalled me to myself.
“An air-gun,” he said. “They wish to make no noise.”
I put your mother aside, and looked at him. He was standing with his back to the fire and his hands clasped behind him; and I knew, by the black look on his face, that passion was boiling within. I had seen just such a look before he attacked me, that March night, in the adjoining chamber; and, though I could make every allowance for his anger, I confess I trembled for the consequences. I glanced at your mother with warning in my eyes; but she misinterpreted my glance, and continued to cling to me and make much of me. Northmour gazed straight before him; but he could see with the tail of his eye what we were doing, and his tempter kept rising like a gale of wind. With regular battle awaiting us outside, this prospect of an internecine strife within the walls began to daunt me.
Suddenly, as I was thus closely watching his expression and prepared against the worst, I saw a change, a flash, a look of relief, upon his face. He took up the lamp which stood beside him on the table, and turned to us with an air of some excitement.
“There is one point that we must know,” said he. “Are they going to butcher the lot of us, or only Huddlestone? Did they take you for him, and fire at you for your own beaux yeux?”
“They took me for him, for certain,” I replied. “I am near as tall, and my head is fair.”
“I am going to make sure,” returned Northmour; and he stepped up to the window, holding the lamp above his head, and stood there, quietly affronting death, for half a minute.
Your mother sought to rush forward and pull him from the place of danger; but I had the pardonable selfishness to hold her back by force.
“Yes,” said Northmour, turning coolly from the window; “it’s only Huddlestone they want.”
“Oh, Mr. Northmour!” cried your mother; but found no more to add; the temerity she had just witnessed seeming beyond the reach of words.
He, on his part, looked at me, cocking his head, with the fire of triumph in his eyes; and I understood at once that he had thus hazarded his life, merely to attract your mother’s notice, and depose me from my position as the hero of the hour. He snapped his fingers.
“The fire is only beginning,” said he. “When they warm up to their work, they won’t be so particular.”
A voice was now heard hailing us from the entrance. From the window we could see the figure of a man in the moonlight; he stood motionless, his face uplifted to ours, and a rag of something white on his extended arm; and as we looked right down upon him, though he was a good many yards distant on the links, we could see the moonlight glitter on his eyes.
He opened his lips again, and spoke for some minutes on end, in a key so loud that he might have been heard in every corner of the pavilion, and as far away as the borders of the wood. It was the same voice that had already shouted “Traditore!” through the shutters of the dining-room; this time it made a complete and clear statement. If the traitor “Oddlestone” were given up, all others should be spared; if not, no one should escape to tell the tale.
“Well, Huddlestone, what do you say to that?” asked Northmour, turning to the bed.
Up to that moment the banker had given no sign of life, and I, at least, had supposed him to be still lying in a faint; but he replied at once, and in such tones as I have never heard elsewhere, save from a delirious patient, adjured and besought us not to desert him. It was the most hideous and abject performance that my imagination can conceive.
“Enough, you dirty hound!” cried Northmour; and then he threw open the window, leaned out into the night, and in a tone of exultation, and with a total forgetfulness of what was done by your mother, poured out upon the ambassador a string of the most abominable raillery both in English and Italian, and bade him be gone where he had come from. I believe that nothing so delighted Northmour at that moment as the thought that we must all infallibly perish before the night was out.
Meantime the Italian put his flag of truce into his pocket, and disappeared, at a leisurely pace, among the sand-hills.
“They make honourable war,” said Northmour. “They are all gentlemen and soldiers. For the credit of the thing, I wish we could change sides—you and I, Frank, and you too, Missy my darling—and leave that jackal on the bed to some one else. Tut! Don’t look shocked! We are all going post to what they call eternity, and may as well be above-board while there’s time. As far as I’m concerned, if I could first strangle Huddlestone and then get Clara in my arms, I could die with some pride and satisfaction. And as it is, by God, I’ll have a kiss!”
Before I could do anything to interfere, he had rudely embraced and repeatedly kissed your resisting mother. Next moment I had pulled him away with fury, and flung him heavily against the wall. He laughed loud and long, and I feared his wits had given way under the strain; for even in the best of days he had been a sparing and a quiet laugher.
“Now, Frank,” said he, when his mirth was somewhat appeased, “it’s your turn. Here’s my hand. Good-bye; farewell!” Then, seeing me stand rigid and indignant, and holding your mother to my side—“Man!” he broke out, “are you angry? Did you think we were going to die with all the airs and graces of society? I took a kiss; I’m glad I had it; and now you can take another if you like, and square accounts.”
I turned from him with a feeling of contempt which I did not seek to dissemble.
“As you please,” said he. “You’ve been a prig in life; a prig you’ll die.”
And with that he sat down in a chair, a rifle over his knee, and amused himself with snapping the lock; but I could see that his ebullition of light spirits (the only one I ever knew him to display) had already come to an end, and was succeeded by a sullen, scowling humour.
All this time our assailants might have been entering the house, and we been none the wiser; we had in truth, one in all, forgotten the danger that so imminently overhung our days. But just then Mr. Huddlestone uttered a cry, and leaped from the bed.
I asked him what was wrong.
“Fire!” he cried. “They have set the house on fire.”
Northmour was on his feet in an instant, and he and I ran through the door of communication with the study. The room was illuminated by a red and angry light. Almost at the moment of our entrance, a tower of flame arose in front of the window, and, with a tingling report, a pane fell inwards on the carpet. They had set fire to the lean-to outhouse, where Northmour used to nurse his negatives.
“Hot work,” said Northmour. “Let us try in your old room.”
We ran thither in a breath, threw up the casement, and looked forth. Along the whole back wall of the pavilion piles of fuel had been arranged and kindled; and it is probable they had been drenched with mineral oil, for, in spite of the morning’s rain, they all burned bravely. The fire had taken a firm hold already on the outhouse, which blazed higher and higher every moment; the backdoor was in the centre of a red-hot bonfire; the eaves we could see, as we looked upward, were already smouldering, for the roof overhung, and was supported by considerable beams of wood. At the same time, hot, pungent, and choking volumes of smoke began to fill the house. There was not a human being to be seen to right or left.
“Ah, well!” said Northmour, “here’s the end, thank God.”
And we returned to My Uncle’s Room. Mr. Huddlestone was putting on his boots with an air of determination such as I had not hitherto observed. Your mother stood close by him, with her cloak in both hands ready to throw about her shoulders, and a strange look in her eyes, as if she were half hopeful, half doubtful of her father.
“Well, boys and girls,” said Northmour, “how about a sally? The oven is heating; it is not good to stay here and be baked; and, for my part, I want to come to my hands with them, and be done.”
“There is nothing else left,” I replied.
And both your mother and Mr. Huddlestone, though with a very different intonation, added, “Nothing.”
As we went downstairs the heat was excessive, and the roaring of the fire filled our ears; and we had scarce reached the passage before the stairs window fell in, a branch of flame shot brandishing through the aperture, and the interior of the pavilion became lit up with that dreadful and fluctuating glare. At the same moment we heard the fall of something heavy and inelastic in the upper story. The whole pavilion, it was plain, had gone alight like a box of matches, and now not only flamed sky-high to land and sea, but threatened with every moment to crumble and fall in about our ears.
Northmour and I cocked our revolvers. Mr. Huddlestone, who had already refused a firearm, put us behind him with a manner of command.
“Let Clara open the door,” said he. “So, if they fire a volley, she will be protected. And in the meantime stand behind me. I am the scapegoat; my sins have found me out.”
I heard him, as I stood breathless by his shoulder, with my pistol ready, pattering off prayers in a tremulous, rapid whisper; and I confess, horrid as the thought may seem, I despised him for thinking of supplications in a moment so critical and thrilling. In the meantime, your mother, who was dead white but still possessed her faculties, had displaced the barricade from the front door. Another moment, and she had pulled it open. Firelight and moonlight illuminated the links with confused and changeful lustre, and far away against the sky we could see a long trail of glowing smoke.
Mr. Huddlestone struck Northmour and myself a back-hander in the chest; and while we were thus for the moment incapacitated from action, lifting his arms above his head like one about to dive, he ran straight forward out of the pavilion.
“Here am I!” he cried—“Huddlestone! Kill me, and spare the others!”
His sudden appearance daunted, I suppose, our hidden enemies; for Northmour and I had time to recover, to seize Clara between us, one by each arm, and to rush forth to his assistance, ere anything further had taken place. But scarce had we passed the threshold when there came near a dozen reports and flashes from every direction among the hollows of the links. Mr. Huddlestone staggered, uttered a weird and freezing cry, threw up his arms over his head, and fell backward on the turf.
“Traditore! Traditore!” cried the invisible avengers.
And just then, a part of the roof of the pavilion fell in, so rapid was the progress of the fire. A loud, vague, and horrible noise accompanied the collapse, and a vast volume of flame went soaring up to heaven. It must have been visible at that moment from twenty miles out at sea, from the shore at Graden Wester, and far inland from the peak of Graystiel, the most eastern summit of the Caulder Hills. Your grandfather, although God knows what were his obsequies, had a fine pyre at the moment of his death.
TELLS HOW NORTHMOUR CARRIED OUT HIS THREAT.
I should have the greatest difficulty to tell you what followed next after this tragic circumstance. It is all to me, as I look back upon it, mixed, strenuous, and ineffectual, like the struggles of a sleeper in a nightmare. Your mother, I remember, uttered a broken sigh and would have fallen forward to earth, had not Northmour and I supported her insensible body. I do not think we were attacked; I do not remember even to have seen an assailant; and I believe we deserted Mr. Huddlestone without a glance. I only remember running like a man in a panic, now carrying your mother altogether in my own arms, now sharing her weight with Northmour, now scuffling confusedly for the possession of that dear burden. Why we should have made for my camp in the Hemlock Den, or how we reached it, are points lost for ever to my recollection. The first moment at which I became definitely sure, your mother had been suffered to fall against the outside of my little tent, Northmour and I were tumbling together on the ground, and he, with contained ferocity, was striking for my head with the butt of his revolver. He had already twice wounded me on the scalp; and it is to the consequent loss of blood that I am tempted to attribute the sudden clearness of my mind.
I caught him by the wrist.
“Northmour,” I remember saying, “you can kill me afterwards. Let us first attend to Clara.”
He was at that moment uppermost. Scarcely had the words passed my lips, when he had leaped to his feet and ran towards your mother; and the next moment, he was straining her to his heart and covering her unconscious hands and face with his caresses.
“Shame!” I cried. “Shame to you, Northmour!”
And, giddy though I still was, I struck him repeatedly upon the head and shoulders.
He relinquished his grasp, and faced me in the broken moonlight.
“I had you under, and I let you go,” said he; “and now you strike me! Coward!”
“You are the coward,” I retorted. “Did she wish your kisses while she was still sensible of what she wanted? Not she! And now she may be dying; and you waste this precious time, licking her face like a dog. Stand aside, and let me help her.”
He confronted me for a moment, white and menacing; then suddenly he stepped aside.
“Help her then,” said he.
I threw myself on my knees beside your mother, and loosened, as well as I was able, her dress and corset; but while I was thus engaged, a grasp descended on my shoulder.
“Keep your hands off her,” said Northmour fiercely. “Do you think I have no blood in my veins?”
“Northmour,” I cried, “if you will neither help her yourself, nor let me do so, do you know that I shall have to kill you?”
“That is better!” he cried. “Let her die also, where’s the harm? Step aside from that girl! and stand up to fight.”
“You will observe,” said I, half rising, “that I have not kissed her yet.”
“I dare you to,” he cried.
I do not know what possessed me, my dear children; it was one of the things I am most ashamed of in my life, though, as your mother used to say, I knew that my kisses would be always welcome, were she dead or living; down I fell again upon my knees, parted the hair from her forehead, and, with the dearest respect, laid my lips for a moment on that cold brow. It was such a caress as a father might have given; it was such a one as was not unbecoming from a man soon to die to a woman already dead.
“And now,” said I, “I am at your service, Mr Northmour.”
But I saw, to my surprise, that he had turned his back upon me.
“Do you hear?” I asked.
“Yes,” said he, “I do. If you wish to fight, I am ready. If not, go on and save Clara. All is one to me.”
I did not wait to be twice bidden; but, stooping again over your mother, continued my efforts to revive her. She still lay white and lifeless; I began to fear that her sweet spirit had indeed fled beyond recall, and horror and a sense of utter desolation seized upon my heart. I called her by name with the most endearing inflections; I chafed and beat her hands; now I laid her head low, now supported it against my knee; but all seemed to be in vain, and the lids still lay heavy on your mother’s eyes.
“Northmour,” I said, “there is my hat. For God’s sake bring some water from the spring.”
Almost in a moment he was by my side with the water.
“I have brought it in my own,” he said. “You do not grudge me the privilege?”
“Northmour,” I was beginning to say, as I laved your mother’s head and breast; but he interrupted me savagely.
“Oh, you hush up!” he said. “The best thing you can do is to say nothing.”
I had certainly no desire to talk, my mind being swallowed up in concern for my dear love and her condition; so I continued in silence to do my best towards her recovery, and, when the hat was empty, returned it to him, with one word—“More.” He had, perhaps, gone several times upon this errand, when your mother reopened her eyes.
“Now,” said he, “since she is better, you can spare me, can you not? I wish you a good night, Mr. Cassilis.”
And with that he was gone among the thicket. I made a fire for your mother, for I had now no fear of the Italians, who had even spared all the little possessions left in my encampment; and, broken as she was by the excitement and the hideous catastrophe of the evening, I managed, in one way or another—by persuasion, encouragement, warmth, and such simple remedies as I could lay my hand on—to bring her back to some composure of mind and strength of body. We were soon talking, sadly, perhaps, but not unhopefully, of our joint future; and I, with my arm about her waist, sought to inspire her with a sense of help and protection from one who, not only then, but till the day she died, would have joyfully sacrificed his life to do her pleasure.
Day had already come, when a sharp “Hist!” sounded from the thicket. I started from the ground; but the voice of Northmour was heard adding, in the most tranquil tones: “Come here, Cassilis, and alone; I want to show you something.”
I consulted your mother with my eyes, and, receiving her tacit permission, left her alone, and clambered out of the den. At some distance off I saw Northmour leaning against an elder; and, as soon as he perceived me, he began walking seaward. I had almost overtaken him as he reached the outskirts of the wood.
“Look,” said he, pausing.
A couple of steps more brought me out of the foliage. The light of the morning lay cold and clear over that well-known scene. The pavilion was but a blackened wreck; the roof had fallen in, one of the gables had fallen out; and, far and near, the face of the links was cicatrised with little patches of burnt furze. Thick smoke still went straight upwards in the windless air of the morning, and a great pile of ardent cinders filled the bare walls of the house, like coals in an open grate. Close by the islet a schooner yacht lay to, and a well-manned boat was pulling vigorously for the shore.
“The Red Earl!” I cried. “The Red Earl twelve hours too late!”
“Feel in your pocket, Frank. Are you armed?” asked Northmour.
I obeyed him, and I think I must have become deadly pale. My revolver had been taken from me.
“You see I have you in my power,” he continued. “I disarmed you last night while you were nursing Clara; but this morning——here—take your pistol. No thanks!” he cried, holding up his hand. “I do not like them; that is the only way you can annoy me now.”
He began to walk forward across the links to meet the boat, and I followed a step or two behind. In front of the pavilion I paused to see where Mr. Huddlestone had fallen; but there was no sign of him, nor so much as a trace of blood.
“Safe in Graden Floe,” said Northmour. “Four minutes and a half, Frank! And the Italians? Gone too; they were night-birds, and they have all flown before daylight.”
He continued to advance till we had come to the head of the beach.
“No further, please,” said he. “Would you like to take her to Graden House?”
“Thank you,” replied I; “I shall try to get her to the minister’s at Graden Wester.”
The prow of the boat here grated on the beach, and a sailor jumped ashore with a line in his hand.
“Wait a minute, lads!” cried Northmour; and then lower and to my private ear: “You had better say nothing of all this to her,” he added.
“On the contrary!” I broke out, “she shall know everything that I can tell.”
“You do not understand,” he returned, with an air of great dignity. “It will be nothing to her; she expects it of me.”
Thus, my dear children, had your mother exerted her influence for good upon this violent man. Years and years after, she used to call that speech her patent of nobility; and “she expects it of me” became a sort of by-word in our married life, and was often more powerful than an argument to mould me to her will.
“Good-bye!” said he, with a nod.
I offered him my hand.
“Excuse me,” said he. “It’s small, I know; but I can’t push things quite so far as that. I don’t wish any sentimental business, to sit by your hearth a white-haired wanderer, and all that. Quite the contrary: I hope to God I shall never again clap eyes on either one of you.”
“Well, God bless you, Northmour!” I said heartily.
“Oh, yes,” he returned. “He’ll bless me. You let Him alone.”
He walked down the beach; and the man who was ashore gave him an arm on board, and then shoved off and leaped into the bows himself. Northmour took the tiller; the boat rose to the waves, and the oars between the thole-pins sounded crisp and measured in the morning air.
They were not yet half-way to the Red Earl, and I was still watching their progress, when the sun rose out of the sea.
One word more, and my story is done. Years after, Northmour was killed fighting under the colours of Garibaldi for the liberation of the Tyrol.
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Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Hardesty, William H., and David D. Mann. “Robert Louis Stevenson's Art of Revision: ‘the Pavilion on the Links’ as Rehearsal for ‘Treasure Island’.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 82, 1988, 271. ProQuest.|
|2.||↑||The Carbonari was an early nineteenth century secret revolutionary society in Italy.|
|3.||↑||A “Kalmuck” is a member of a Buddhist Mongol people originally of Dzungaria living mainly northwest of the Caspian Sea in Russia|
|4.||↑||“Italia irredenta” is Italian for “Italian unredeemed.”|
|5.||↑||“Traditore” is Italian for “traitor.”|