Merry Men by Robert Louis Stevenson - HTML preview

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in his mouth.

‘Speak up, girl,’ said the parson.

‘Is that the right thing to do, think you?’ demanded Will.

‘Nay, now,’ returned Will, ‘I wouldn’t press her, parson.

‘It is indispensable,’ said the parson.

I feel tongue-tied myself, who am not used to it; and she’s

‘Very well,’ replied the wooer.

a woman, and little more than a child, when all is said. But Two or three days passed away with great delight to Will, for my part, as far as I can understand what people mean although a bystander might scarce have found it out. He by it, I fancy I must be what they call in love. I do not wish continued to take his meals opposite Marjory, and to talk to be held as committing myself; for I may be wrong; but with her and gaze upon her in her father’s presence; but he that is how I believe things are with me. And if Miss Marjory made no attempt to see her alone, nor in any other way should feel any otherwise on her part, mayhap she would changed his conduct towards her from what it had been be so kind as shake her head.’

since the beginning. Perhaps the girl was a little disap-Marjory was silent, and gave no sign that she had heard.

pointed, and perhaps not unjustly; and yet if it had been

‘How is that, parson?’ asked Will.

enough to be always in the thoughts of another person,

‘The girl must speak,’ replied the parson, laying down and so pervade and alter his whole life, she might have his pipe. ‘Here’s our neighbour who says he loves you, been thoroughly contented. For she was never out of Will’s Madge. Do you love him, ay or no?’

mind for an instant. He sat over the stream, and watched

‘I think I do,’ said Marjory, faintly.

the dust of the eddy, and the poised fish, and straining

‘Well then, that’s all that could be wished!’ cried Will, weeds; he wandered out alone into the purple even, with 61

Robert Louis Stevenson

all the blackbirds piping round him in the wood; he rose

‘How?’ she asked, pausing and looking up at him.

early in the morning, and saw the sky turn from grey to

‘Plucking them,’ said he. ‘They are a deal better off where gold, and the light leap upon the hill-tops; and all the while they are, and look a deal prettier, if you go to that.’

he kept wondering if he had never seen such things before,

‘I wish to have them for my own,’ she answered, ‘to or how it was that they should look so different now. The carry them near my heart, and keep them in my room. They sound of his own mill-wheel, or of the wind among the tempt me when they grow here; they seem to say, “Come trees, confounded and charmed his heart. The most en-and do something with us;” but once I have cut them and chanting thoughts presented themselves unbidden in his put them by, the charm is laid, and I can look at them with mind. He was so happy that he could not sleep at night, quite an easy heart.’

and so restless, that he could hardly sit still out of her com-

‘You wish to possess them,’ replied Will, ‘in order to pany. And yet it seemed as if he avoided her rather than think no more about them. It’s a bit like killing the goose sought her out.

with the golden eggs. It’s a bit like what I wished to do One day, as he was coming home from a ramble, Will when I was a boy. Because I had a fancy for looking out found Marjory in the garden picking flowers, and as he over the plain, I wished to go down there – where I couldn’t came up with her, slackened his pace and continued walk-look out over it any longer. Was not that fine reasoning?

ing by her side.

Dear, dear, if they only thought of it, all the world would

‘You like flowers?’ he said.

do like me; and you would let your flowers alone, just as I

‘Indeed I love them dearly,’ she replied. ‘Do you?’

stay up here in the mountains.’ Suddenly he broke off sharp.

‘Why, no,’ said he, ‘not so much. They are a very small

‘By the Lord!’ he cried. And when she asked him what affair, when all is done. I can fancy people caring for them was wrong, he turned the question off and walked away greatly, but not doing as you are just now.’

into the house with rather a humorous expression of face.

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Merry Men

He was silent at table; and after the night hid fallen and Why, before Heaven, what a great magician I must be!

the stars had come out overhead, he walked up and down Now if I were only a fool, should not I be in a pretty way?’

for hours in the courtyard and garden with an uneven pace.

And he went off to bed, chuckling to himself: ‘If I were There was still a light in the window of Marjory’s room: only a fool!’

one little oblong patch of orange in a world of dark blue The next morning, pretty early, he saw her once more in hills and silver starlight. Will’s mind ran a great deal on the the garden, and sought her out.

window; but his thoughts were not very lover-like. ‘There

‘I have been thinking about getting married,’ he began she is in her room,’ he thought, ‘and there are the stars abruptly; ‘and after having turned it all over, I have made overhead: – a blessing upon both!’ Both were good influ-up my mind it’s not worthwhile.’

ences in his life; both soothed and braced him in his pro-She turned upon him for a single moment; but his radi-found contentment with the world. And what more should ant, kindly appearance would, under the circumstances, he desire with either? The fat young man and his councils have disconcerted an angel, and she looked down again were so present to his mind, that he threw back his head, upon the ground in silence. He could see her tremble.

and, putting his hands before his mouth, shouted aloud to

‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he went on, a little taken aback.

the populous heavens. Whether from the position of his

‘You ought not. I have turned it all over, and upon my soul head or the sudden strain of the exertion, he seemed to see there’s nothing in it. We should never be one whit nearer a momentary shock among the stars, and a diffusion of than we are just now, and, if I am a wise man, nothing like frosty light pass from one to another along the sky. At the so happy.’

same instant, a corner of the blind was lifted and lowered

‘It is unnecessary to go round about with me,’ she said.

again at once. He laughed a loud ho-ho! ‘One and another!’

‘I very well remember that you refused to commit your-thought Will. ‘The stars tremble, and the blind goes up.

self; and now that I see you were mistaken, and in reality 63

Robert Louis Stevenson

have never cared for me, I can only feel sad that I have stay friends. Though I am a quiet man I have noticed a been so far misled.’

heap of things in my life. Trust in me, and take things as I

‘I ask your pardon,’ said Will stoutly; ‘you do not under-propose; or, if you don’t like that, say the word, and I’ll stand my meaning. As to whether I have ever loved you or marry you out of hand.’

not, I must leave that to others. But for one thing, my feel-There was a considerable pause, and Will, who began to ing is not changed; and for another, you may make it your feel uneasy, began to grow angry in consequence.

boast that you have made my whole life and character some-

‘It seems you are too proud to say your mind,’ he said.

thing different from what they were. I mean what I say; no

‘Believe me that’s a pity. A clean shrift makes simple liv-less. I do not think getting married is worth while. I would ing. Can a man be more downright or honourable, to a rather you went on living with your father, so that I could woman than I have been? I have said my say, and given walk over and see you once, or maybe twice a week, as you your choice. Do you want me to marry you? or will people go to church, and then we should both be all the you take my friendship, as I think best? or have you had happier between whiles. That’s my notion. But I’ll marry enough of me for good? Speak out for the dear God’s sake!

you if you will,’ he added.

You know your father told you a girl should speak her

‘Do you know that you are insulting me?’ she broke out.

mind in these affairs.’

‘Not I, Marjory,’ said he; ‘if there is anything in a clear She seemed to recover herself at that, turned without a conscience, not I. I offer all my heart’s best affection; you word, walked rapidly through the garden, and disappeared can take it or want it, though I suspect it’s beyond either into the house, leaving Will in some confusion as to the your power or mine to change what has once been done, result. He walked up and down the garden, whistling softly and set me fancy-free. I’ll marry you, if you like; but I tell to himself. Sometimes he stopped and contemplated the you again and again, it’s not worth while, and we had best sky and hill-tops; sometimes he went down to the tail of 64

Merry Men

the weir and sat there, looking foolishly in the water. All be agreeable inmates for some days.’

this dubiety and perturbation was so foreign to his nature Will, who had commanded himself with difficulty from and the life which he had resolutely chosen for himself, the first, broke out upon this into an inarticulate noise, and that he began to regret Marjory’s arrival. ‘After all,’ he raised one hand with an appearance of real dismay, as if he thought, ‘I was as happy as a man need be. I could come were about to interfere and contradict. But she checked down here and watch my fishes all day long if I wanted: I him at once looking up at him with a swift glance and an was as settled and contented as my old mill.’

angry flush upon her cheek.

Marjory came down to dinner, looking very trim and

‘You will perhaps have the good grace,’ she said, ‘to let quiet; and no sooner were all three at table than she made me explain these matters for myself.’

her father a speech, with her eyes fixed upon her plate, but Will was put entirely out of countenance by her expres-showing no other sign of embarrassment or distress.

sion and the ring of her voice. He held his peace, conclud-

‘Father,’ she began, ‘Mr. Will and I have been talking ing that there were some things about this girl beyond his things over. We see that we have each made a mistake about comprehension, in which he was exactly right.

our feelings, and he has agreed, at my request, to give up The poor parson was quite crestfallen. He tried to prove all idea of marriage, and be no more than my very good that this was no more than a true lovers’ tiff, which would friend, as in the past. You see, there is no shadow of a pass off before night; and when he was dislodged from quarrel, and indeed I hope we shall see a great deal of him that position, he went on to argue that where there was no in the future, for his visits will always be welcome in our quarrel there could be no call for a separation; for the good house. Of course, father, you will know best, but perhaps man liked both his entertainment and his host. It was curi-we should do better to leave Mr. Will’s house for the ous to see how the girl managed them, saying little all the present. I believe, after what has passed, we should hardly time, and that very quietly, and yet twisting them round 65

Robert Louis Stevenson

her finger and insensibly leading them wherever she would sun, he was both pained and delighted.

by feminine tact and generalship. It scarcely seemed to have As the days went forward he passed from one extreme been her doing – it seemed as if things had merely so fallen to another; now pluming himself on the strength of his de-out – that she and her father took their departure that same termination, now despising his timid and silly caution. The afternoon in a farm-cart, and went farther down the valley, former was, perhaps, the true thought of his heart, and to wait, until their own house was ready for them, in an-represented the regular tenor of the man’s reflections; but other hamlet. But Will had been observing closely, and was the latter burst forth from time to time with an unruly vio-well aware of her dexterity and resolution. When he found lence, and then he would forget all consideration, and go himself alone he had a great many curious matters to turn up and down his house and garden or walk among the fir-over in his mind. He was very sad and solitary, to begin woods like one who is beside himself with remorse. To with. All the interest had gone out of his life, and he might equable, steady-minded Will this state of matters was in-look up at the stars as long as he pleased, he somehow tolerable; and he determined, at whatever cost, to bring it failed to find support or consolation. And then he was in to an end. So, one warm summer afternoon he put on his such a turmoil of spirit about Marjory. He had been puzzled best clothes, took a thorn switch in his hand, and set out and irritated at her behaviour, and yet he could not keep down the valley by the river. As soon as he had taken his himself from admiring it. He thought he recognised a fine, determination, he had regained at a bound his customary perverse angel in that still soul which he had never hitherto peace of heart, and he enjoyed the bright weather and the suspected; and though he saw it was an influence that would variety of the scene without any admixture of alarm or fit but ill with his own life of artificial calm, he could not unpleasant eagerness. It was nearly the same to him how keep himself from ardently desiring to possess it. Like a the matter turned out. If she accepted him he would have man who has lived among shadows and now meets the to marry her this time, which perhaps was, all for the best.

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If she refused him, he would have done his utmost, and right after all.’ And he paid a very agreeable visit, walked might follow his own way in the future with an untroubled home again in capital spirits, and gave himself no further conscience. He hoped, on the whole, she would refuse him; concern about the matter.

and then, again, as he saw the brown roof which sheltered For nearly three years Will and Marjory continued on her, peeping through some willows at an angle of the stream, these terms, seeing each other once or twice a week withhe was half inclined to reverse the wish, and more than half out any word of love between them; and for all that time I ashamed of himself for this infirmity of purpose.

believe Will was nearly as happy as a man can be. He rather Marjory seemed glad to see him, and gave him her hand stinted himself the pleasure of seeing her; and he would without affectation or delay.

often walk half-way over to the parsonage, and then back

‘I have been thinking about this marriage,’ he began.

again, as if to whet his appetite. Indeed there was one cor-

‘So have I,’ she answered. ‘And I respect you more and ner of the road, whence he could see the church-spire wedged more for a very wise man. You understood me better than into a crevice of the valley between sloping firwoods, with a I understood myself; and I am now quite certain that things triangular snatch of plain by way of background, which he are all for the best as they are.’

greatly affected as a place to sit and moralise in before re-

‘At the same time – ,’ ventured Will.

turning homewards; and the peasants got so much into the

‘You must be tired,’ she interrupted. ‘Take a seat and let habit of finding him there in the twilight that they gave it the me fetch you a glass of wine. The afternoon is so warm; name of ‘Will o’ the Mill’s Corner.’

and I wish you not to be displeased with your visit. You At the end of the three years Marjory played him a sad must come quite often; once a week, if you can spare the trick by suddenly marrying somebody else. Will kept his time; I am always so glad to see my friends.’

countenance bravely, and merely remarked that, for as little

‘O, very well,’ thought Will to himself. ‘It appears I was as he knew of women, he had acted very prudently in not 67

Robert Louis Stevenson

marrying her himself three years before. She plainly knew CHAPTER III: DEATH

very little of her own mind, and, in spite of a deceptive manner, was as fickle and flighty as the rest of them. He YEAR AFTER YEAR went away into nothing, with great ex-had to congratulate himself on an escape, he said, and would plosions and outcries in the cities on the plain: red revolt take a higher opinion of his own wisdom in consequence.

springing up and being suppressed in blood, battle sway-But at heart, he was reasonably displeased, moped a good ing hither and thither, patient astronomers in observatory deal for a month or two, and fell away in flesh, to the as-towers picking out and christening new stars, plays being tonishment of his serving-lads.

performed in lighted theatres, people being carried into It was perhaps a year after this marriage that Will was hospital on stretchers, and all the usual turmoil and agita-awakened late one night by the sound of a horse galloping tion of men’s lives in crowded centres. Up in Will’s valley on the road, followed by precipitate knocking at the inn-only the winds and seasons made an epoch; the fish hung door. He opened his window and saw a farm servant, in the swift stream, the birds circled overhead, the pine-mounted and holding a led horse by the bridle, who told tops rustled underneath the stars, the tall hills stood over him to make what haste he could and go along with him; all; and Will went to and fro, minding his wayside inn, until for Marjory was dying, and had sent urgently to fetch him the snow began to thicken on his head. His heart was young to her bedside. Will was no horseman, and made so little and vigorous; and if his pulses kept a sober time, they still speed upon the way that the poor young wife was very beat strong and steady in his wrists. He carried a ruddy near her end before he arrived. But they had some min-stain on either cheek, like a ripe apple; he stooped a little, utes’ talk in private, and he was present and wept very but his step was still firm; and his sinewy hands were reached bitterly while she breathed her last.

out to all men with a friendly pressure. His face was covered with those wrinkles which are got in open air, and 68

Merry Men

which rightly looked at, are no more than a sort of perma-But that is the object of long living, that man should cease nent sunburning; such wrinkles heighten the stupidity of to care about life.’ And again: ‘There is only one differ-stupid faces; but to a person like Will, with his clear eyes ence between a long life and a good dinner: that, in the and smiling mouth, only give another charm by testifying dinner, the sweets come last.’ Or once more: ‘When I was to a simple and easy life. His talk was full of wise sayings.

a boy, I was a bit puzzled, and hardly knew whether it was He had a taste for other people; and other people had a myself or the world that was curious and worth looking taste for him. When the valley was full of tourists in the into. Now, I know it is myself, and stick to that.’

season, there were merry nights in Will’s arbour; and his He never showed any symptom of frailty, but kept stal-views, which seemed whimsical to his neighbours, were wart and firm to the last; but they say he grew less talk-often enough admired by learned people out of towns and ative towards the end, and would listen to other people by colleges. Indeed, he had a very noble old age, and grew the hour in an amused and sympathetic silence. Only, when daily better known; so that his fame was heard of in the he did speak, it was more to the point and more charged cities of the plain; and young men who had been summer with old experience. He drank a bottle of wine gladly; above travellers spoke together in cafes of Will o’ the Mill and all, at sunset on the hill-top or quite late at night under the his rough philosophy. Many and many an invitation, you stars in the arbour. The sight of something attractive and may be sure, he had; but nothing could tempt him from his unatttainable seasoned his enjoyment, he would say; and upland valley. He would shake his head and smile over his he professed he had lived long enough to admire a candle tobacco-pipe with a deal of meaning. ‘You come too late,’

all the more when he could compare it with a planet.

he would answer. ‘I am a dead man now: I have lived and One night, in his seventy-second year, he awoke in bed died already. Fifty years ago you would have brought my in such uneasiness of body and mind that he arose and heart into my mouth; and now you do not even tempt me.

dressed himself and went out to meditate in the arbour. It 69

Robert Louis Stevenson

was pitch dark, without a star; the river was swollen, and and flowed: he was sometimes half-asleep and drowned in the wet woods and meadows loaded the air with perfume.

his recollections of the past; and sometimes he was broad It had thundered during the day, and it promised more thun-awake, wondering at himself. But about the middle of the der for the morrow. A murky, stifling night for a man of night he was startled by the voice of the dead miller calling seventy-two! Whether it was the weather or the wakeful-to him out of the house as he used to do on the arrival of ness, or some little touch of fever in his old limbs, Will’s custom. The hallucination was so perfect that Will sprang mind was besieged by tumultuous and crying memories.

from his seat and stood listening for the summons to be His boyhood, the night with the fat young man, the death repeated; and as he listened he became conscious of an-of his adopted parents, the summer days with Marjory, and other noise besides the brawling of the river and the ring-many of those small circumstances, which seem nothing to ing in his feverish ears. It was like the stir of horses and the another, and are yet the very gist of a man’s own life to creaking of harness, as though a carriage with an impatient himself – things seen, words heard, looks misconstrued –

team had been brought up upon the road before the court-arose from their forgotten corners and usurped his atten-yard gate. At such an hour, upon this rough and dangerous tion. The dead themselves were with him, not merely tak-pass, the supposition was no better than absurd; and Will ing part in this thin show of memory that defiled before his dismissed it from his mind, and resumed his seat upon the brain, but revisiting his bodily senses as they do in pro-arbour chair; and sleep closed over him again like running found and vivid dreams. The fat young man leaned his el-water. He was once again awakened by the dead miller’s bows on the table opposite; Marjory came and went with call, thinner and more spectral than before; and once again an apronful of flowers between the garden and the arbour; he heard the noise of an equipage upon the road. And so he could hear the old parson knocking out his pipe or blow-thrice and four times, the same dream, or the same fancy, ing his resonant nose. The tide of his consciousness ebbed presented itself to his senses: until at length, smiling to 70

Merry Men

himself as when one humours a nervous child, he proceeded what unmanned, rubbing his eyes and staring at the outline towards the gate to set his uncertainty at rest.

of the house and the black night behind it. While he thus From the arbour to the gate was no great distance, and stood, and it seemed as if he must have stood there quite a yet it took Will some time; it seemed as if the dead thick-long time, there came a renewal of the noises on the road: ened around him in the court, and crossed his path at every and he turned in time to meet a stranger, who was advanc-step. For, first, he was suddenly surprised by an overpow-ing to meet him across the court. There was something ering sweetness of heliotropes; it was as if his garden had like the outline of a great carriage discernible on the road been planted with this flower from end to end, and the hot, behind the stranger, and, above that, a few black pine-tops, damp night had drawn forth all their perfumes in a breath.

like so many plumes.

Now the heliotrope had been Marjory’s favourite flower,

‘Master Will?’ asked the new-comer, in brief military fashion.

and since her death not one of them had ever been planted

‘That same, sir,’ answered Will. ‘Can I do anything to in Will’s ground.

serve you?’

‘I must be going crazy,’ he thought. ‘Poor Marjory and

‘I have heard you much spoken of, Master Will,’ returned her heliotropes!’

the other; ‘much spoken of, and well. And though I have both And with that he raised his eyes towards the window hands full of business, I wish to drink a bottle of wine with that had once been hers. If he had been bewildered before, you in your arbour. Before I go, I shall introduce myself.’

he was now almost terrified; for there was a light in the Will led the way to the trellis, and got a lamp lighted and room; the window was an orange oblong as of yore; and a bottle uncorked. He was not altogether unused to such the corner of the blind was lifted and let fall as on the night complimentary interviews, and hoped little enough from when he stood and shouted to the stars in his perplexity.

this one, being schooled by many disappointments. A sort The illusion only endured an instant; but it left him some-of cloud had settled on his wits and prevented him from 71

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remembering the strangeness of the hour. He moved like a positive but myself; not one. I have crossed the whims, in person in his sleep; and it seemed as if the lamp caught fire my time, of kings and generals and great artists. And what and the bottle came uncorked with the facility of thought.

would you say,’ he went on, ‘if I had come up here on Still, he had some curiosity about the appearance of his purpose to cross yours?’

visitor, and tried in vain to turn the light into his face; ei-Will had it on his tongue to make a sharp rejoinder; but ther he handled the lamp clumsily, or there was a dimness the politeness of an old innkeeper prevailed; and he held over his eyes; but he could make out little more than a his peace and made answer with a civil gesture of the hand.

shadow at table with him. He stared and stared at this

‘I have,’ said the stranger. ‘And if I did not hold you in a shadow, as he wiped out the glasses, and began to feel particular esteem, I should make no words about the mat-cold and strange about the heart. The silence weighed upon ter. It appears you pride yourself on staying where you him, for he could hear nothing now, not even the river, but are. You mean to stick by your inn. Now I mean you shall the drumming of his own arteries in his ears.

come for a turn with me in my barouche; and before this

‘Here’s to you,’ said the stranger, roughly.

bottle’s empty, so you shall.’

‘Here is my service, sir,’ replied Will, sipping his wine,

‘That would be an odd thing, to be sure,’ replied Will, which somehow tasted oddly.

with a chuckle. ‘Why, sir, I have grown here like an old oak-

‘I understand you are a very positive fellow,’ pursued tree; the Devil himself could hardly root me up: and for all I the stranger.

perceive you are a very entertaining old gentleman, I would Will made answer with a smile of some satisfaction and a wager you another bottle you lose your pains with me.’

little nod.

The dimness of Will’s eyesight had been increasing all

‘So am I,’ continued the other; ‘and it is the delight of this while; but he was somehow conscious of a sharp and my heart to tramp on people’s corns. I will have nobody chilling scrutiny which irritated and yet overmastered him.

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‘You need not think,’ he broke out suddenly, in an ex-all plain and I forgive all sins; and where my patients have plosive, febrile manner that startled and alarmed himself, gone wrong in life, I smooth out all complications and set

‘that I am a stay-at-home, because I fear anything under them free again upon their feet.’

God. God knows I am tired enough of it all; and when the

‘I have no need of you,’ said Will.

time comes for a longer journey than ever you dream of, I

‘A time comes for all men, Master Will,’ replied the doc-reckon I shall find myself prepared.’

tor, ‘when the helm is taken out of their hands. For you, The stranger emptied his glass and pushed it away from because you were prudent and quiet, it has been long of him. He looked down for a little, and then, leaning over coming, and you have had long to discipline yourself for the table, tapped Will three times upon the forearm with a its reception. You have seen what is to be seen about your single finger. ‘The time has come!’ he said solemnly.

mill; you have sat close all your days like a hare in its form; An ugly thrill spread from the spot he touched. The tones but now that is at an end; and,’ added the doctor, getting of his voice were dull and startling, and echoed strangely on his feet, ‘you must arise and come with me.’

in Will’s heart.

‘You are a strange physician,’ said Will, looking stead-

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, with some discomposure.

fastly upon his guest.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I am a natural law,’ he replied, ‘and people call me

‘Look at me, and you will find your eyesight swim. Raise Death.’

your hand; it is dead-heavy. This is your last bottle of wine,

‘Why did you not tell me so at first?’ cried Will. ‘I have Master Will, and your last night upon the earth.’

been waiting for you these many years. Give me your hand,

‘You are a doctor?’ quavered Will.

and welcome.’

‘The best that ever was,’ replied the other; ‘for I cure

‘Lean upon my arm,’ said the stranger, ‘for already your both mind and body with the same prescription. I take away strength abates. Lean on me as heavily as you need; for 73

Robert Louis Stevenson

though I am old, I am very strong. It is but three steps to MARKHEIM

my carriage, and there all your trouble ends. Why, Will,’

he added, ‘I have been yearning for you as if you were my own son; and of all the men that ever I came for in my long

‘YES,’ SAID THE DEALER, ‘our windfalls are of various kinds.

days, I have come for you most gladly. I am caustic, and Some customers are ignorant, and then I touch a divi-sometimes offend people at first sight; but I am a good dend on my superior knowledge. Some are dishonest,’

friend at heart to such as you.’

and here he held up the candle, so that the light fell strongly

‘Since Marjory was taken,’ returned Will, ‘I declare be-on his visitor, ‘and in that case,’ he continued, ‘I profit by fore God you were the only friend I had to look for.’ So my virtue.’

the pair went arm-in-arm across the courtyard.

Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, One of the servants awoke about this time and heard the and his eyes had not yet grown familiar with the mingled noise of horses pawing before he dropped asleep again; all shine and darkness in the shop. At these pointed words, down the valley that night there was a rushing as of a smooth and before the near presence of the flame, he blinked pain-and steady wind descending towards the plain; and when fully and looked aside.

the world rose next morning, sure enough Will o’ the Mill The dealer chuckled. ‘You come to me on Christmas Day,’

had gone at last upon his travels.

he resumed, ‘when you know that I am alone in my house, put up my shutters, and make a point of refusing business.

Well, you will have to pay for that; you will have to pay for my loss of time, when I should be balancing my books; you will have to pay, besides, for a kind of manner that I remark in you to-day very strongly. I am the essence of dis-74

Merry Men

cretion, and ask no awkward questions; but when a cus-was neglected yesterday; I must produce my little compli-tomer cannot look me in the eye, he has to pay for it.’ The ment at dinner; and, as you very well know, a rich marriage dealer once more chuckled; and then, changing to his usual is not a thing to be neglected.’

business voice, though still with a note of irony, ‘You can There followed a pause, during which the dealer seemed give, as usual, a clear account of how you came into the to weigh this statement incredulously. The ticking of many possession of the object?’ he continued. ‘Still your uncle’s clocks among the curious lumber of the shop, and the faint cabinet? A remarkable collector, sir!’

rushing of the cabs in a near thoroughfare, filled up the And the little pale, round-shouldered dealer stood al-interval of silence.

most on tip-toe, looking over the top of his gold spec-

‘Well, sir,’ said the dealer, ‘be it so. You are an old cus-tacles, and nodding his head with every mark of disbelief.

tomer after all; and if, as you say, you have the chance of a Markheim returned his gaze with one of infinite pity, and good marriage, far be it from me to be an obstacle. Here is a touch of horror.

a nice thing for a lady now,’ he went on, ‘this hand glass –

‘This time,’ said he, ‘you are in error. I have not come to fifteenth century, warranted; comes from a good collec-sell, but to buy. I have no curios to dispose of; my uncle’s tion, too; but I reserve the name, in the interests of my cabinet is bare to the wainscot; even were it still intact, I customer, who was just like yourself, my dear sir, the have done well on the Stock Exchange, and should more nephew and sole heir of a remarkable collector.’

likely add to it than otherwise, and my errand to-day is The dealer, while he thus ran on in his dry and biting simplicity itself. I seek a Christmas present for a lady,’ he voice, had stooped to take the object from its place; and, continued, waxing more fluent as he struck into the speech as he had done so, a shock had passed through Markheim, he had prepared; ‘and certainly I owe you every excuse for a start both of hand and foot, a sudden leap of many tu-thus disturbing you upon so small a matter. But the thing multuous passions to the face. It passed as swiftly as it 75

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came, and left no trace beyond a certain trembling of the something in his face like an eager sparkle of hope, but hand that now received the glass.

nothing of mirth.

‘A glass,’ he said hoarsely, and then paused, and repeated

‘What are you driving at?’ the dealer asked.

it more clearly. ‘A glass? For Christmas? Surely not?’

‘Not charitable?’ returned the other, gloomily. Not chari-

‘And why not?’ cried the dealer. ‘Why not a glass?’

table; not pious; not scrupulous; unloving, unbeloved; a Markheim was looking upon him with an indefinable ex-hand to get money, a safe to keep it. Is that all? Dear God, pression. ‘You ask me why not?’ he said. ‘Why, look here man, is that all?’

– look in it – look at yourself! Do you like to see it? No!

‘I will tell you what it is,’ began the dealer, with some nor I – nor any man.’

sharpness, and then broke off again into a chuckle. ‘But I The little man had jumped back when Markheim had so see this is a love match of yours, and you have been drink-suddenly confronted him with the mirror; but now, perceiving the lady’s health.’

ing there was nothing worse on hand, he chuckled. ‘Your

‘Ah!’ cried Markheim, with a strange curiosity. ‘Ah, have future lady, sir, must be pretty hard favoured,’ said he.

you been in love? Tell me about that.’

‘I ask you,’ said Markheim, ‘for a Christmas present,

‘I,’ cried the dealer. ‘I in love! I never had the time, nor and you give me this – this damned reminder of years, and have I the time to-day for all this nonsense. Will you take sins and follies – this hand-conscience! Did you mean it?

the glass?’

Had you a thought in your mind? Tell me. It will be better

‘Where is the hurry?’ returned Markheim. ‘It is very pleas-for you if you do. Come, tell me about yourself. I hazard a ant to stand here talking; and life is so short and insecure guess now, that you are in secret a very charitable man?’

that I would not hurry away from any pleasure – no, not The dealer looked closely at his companion. It was very even from so mild a one as this. We should rather cling, odd, Markheim did not appear to be laughing; there was cling to what little we can get, like a man at a cliff’s edge.

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Every second is a cliff, if you think upon it – a cliff a mile the shelf, and then tumbled on the floor in a heap.

high – high enough, if we fall, to dash us out of every fea-Time had some score of small voices in that shop, some ture of humanity. Hence it is best to talk pleasantly. Let us stately and slow as was becoming to their great age; others talk of each other: why should we wear this mask? Let us garrulous and hurried. All these told out the seconds in an be confidential. Who knows, we might become friends?’

intricate, chorus of tickings. Then the passage of a lad’s

‘I have just one word to say to you,’ said the dealer.

feet, heavily running on the pavement, broke in upon these

‘Either make your purchase, or walk out of my shop!’

smaller voices and startled Markheim into the conscious-

‘True true,’ said Markheim. ‘Enough, fooling. To business of his surroundings. He looked about him awfully.

ness. Show me something else.’

The candle stood on the counter, its flame solemnly wag-The dealer stooped once more, this time to replace the ging in a draught; and by that inconsiderable movement, glass upon the shelf, his thin blond hair falling over his eyes the whole room was filled with noiseless bustle and kept as he did so. Markheim moved a little nearer, with one heaving like a sea: the tall shadows nodding, the gross blots hand in the pocket of his greatcoat; he drew himself up and of darkness swelling and dwindling as with respiration, the filled his lungs; at the same time many different emotions faces of the portraits and the china gods changing and were depicted together on his face – terror, horror, and wavering like images in water. The inner door stood ajar, resolve, fascination and a physical repulsion; and through and peered into that leaguer of shadows with a long slit of a haggard lift of his upper lip, his teeth looked out.

daylight like a pointing finger.

‘This, perhaps, may suit,’ observed the dealer: and then, From these fear-stricken rovings, Markheim’s eyes re-as he began to re-arise, Markheim bounded from behind turned to the body of his victim, where it lay both humped upon his victim. The long, skewerlike dagger flashed and and sprawling, incredibly small and strangely meaner than fell. The dealer struggled like a hen, striking his temple on in life. In these poor, miserly clothes, in that ungainly atti-77

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tude, the dealer lay like so much sawdust. Markheim had ows, and startled to the soul by chance reflections. In many feared to see it, and, lo! it was nothing. And yet, as he rich mirrors, some of home design, some from Venice or gazed, this bundle of old clothes and pool of blood began Amsterdam, he saw his face repeated and repeated, as it to find eloquent voices. There it must lie; there was none were an army of spies; his own eyes met and detected him; to work the cunning hinges or direct the miracle of loco-and the sound of his own steps, lightly as they fell, vexed motion – there it must lie till it was found. Found! ay, and the surrounding quiet. And still, as he continued to fill his then? Then would this dead flesh lift up a cry that would pockets, his mind accused him with a sickening iteration, ring over England, and fill the world with the echoes of of the thousand faults of his design. He should have cho-pursuit. Ay, dead or not, this was still the enemy. ‘Time sen a more quiet hour; he should have prepared an alibi; he was that when the brains were out,’ he thought; and the should not have used a knife; he should have been more first word struck into his mind. Time, now that the deed cautious, and only bound and gagged the dealer, and not was accomplished – time, which had closed for the victim, killed him; he should have been more bold, and killed the had become instant and momentous for the slayer.

servant also; he should have done all things otherwise: The thought was yet in his mind, when, first one and poignant regrets, weary, incessant toiling of the mind to then another, with every variety of pace and voice – one change what was unchangeable, to plan what was now deep as the bell from a cathedral turret, another ringing on useless, to be the architect of the irrevocable past. Mean-its treble notes the prelude of a waltz-the clocks began to while, and behind all this activity, brute terrors, like the strike the hour of three in the afternoon.

scurrying of rats in a deserted attic, filled the more remote The sudden outbreak of so many tongues in that dumb chambers of his brain with riot; the hand of the constable chamber staggered him. He began to bestir himself, going would fall heavy on his shoulder, and his nerves would jerk to and fro with the candle, beleaguered by moving shad-like a hooked fish; or he beheld, in galloping defile, the 78

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dock, the prison, the gallows, and the black coffin.

the movements of a busy man at ease in his own house.

Terror of the people in the street sat down before his But he was now so pulled about by different alarms that, mind like a besieging army. It was impossible, he thought, while one portion of his mind was still alert and cunning, but that some rumour of the struggle must have reached another trembled on the brink of lunacy. One hallucination their ears and set on edge their curiosity; and now, in all in particular took a strong hold on his credulity. The the neighbouring houses, he divined them sitting motion-neighbour hearkening with white face beside his window, less and with uplifted ear – solitary people, condemned to the passer-by arrested by a horrible surmise on the pave-spend Christmas dwelling alone on memories of the past, ment – these could at worst suspect, they could not know; and now startingly recalled from that tender exercise; happy through the brick walls and shuttered windows only sounds family parties struck into silence round the table, the mother could penetrate. But here, within the house, was he alone?

still with raised finger: every degree and age and humour, He knew he was; he had watched the servant set forth but all, by their own hearths, prying and hearkening and sweet-hearting, in her poor best, ‘out for the day’ written weaving the rope that was to hang him. Sometimes it in every ribbon and smile. Yes, he was alone, of course; seemed to him he could not move too softly; the clink of and yet, in the bulk of empty house above him, he could the tall Bohemian goblets rang out loudly like a bell; and surely hear a stir of delicate footing – he was surely con-alarmed by the bigness of the ticking, he was tempted to scious, inexplicably conscious of some presence. Ay, surely; stop the clocks. And then, again, with a swift transition of to every room and corner of the house his imagination fol-his terrors, the very silence of the place appeared a source lowed it; and now it was a faceless thing, and yet had eyes of peril, and a thing to strike and freeze the passer-by; and to see with; and again it was a shadow of himself; and yet he would step more boldly, and bustle aloud among the again behold the image of the dead dealer, reinspired with contents of the shop, and imitate, with elaborate bravado, cunning and hatred.

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At times, with a strong effort, he would glance at the cence – his bed. One visitor had come: at any moment an-open door which still seemed to repel his eyes. The house other might follow and be more obstinate. To have done was tall, the skylight small and dirty, the day blind with the deed, and yet not to reap the profit, would be too ab-fog; and the light that filtered down to the ground story horrent a failure. The money, that was now Markheim’s was exceedingly faint, and showed dimly on the threshold concern; and as a means to that, the keys.

of the shop. And yet, in that strip of doubtful brightness, He glanced over his shoulder at the open door, where did there not hang wavering a shadow?

the shadow was still lingering and shivering; and with no Suddenly, from the street outside, a very jovial gentleman conscious repugnance of the mind, yet with a tremor of began to beat with a staff on the shop-door, accompanying the belly, he drew near the body of his victim. The human his blows with shouts and railleries in which the dealer was character had quite departed. Like a suit half-stuffed with continually called upon by name. Markheim, smitten into bran, the limbs lay scattered, the trunk doubled, on the ice, glanced at the dead man. But no! he lay quite still; he floor; and yet the thing repelled him. Although so dingy was fled away far beyond earshot of these blows and and inconsiderable to the eye, he feared it might have more shoutings; he was sunk beneath seas of silence; and his name, significance to the touch. He took the body by the shoul-which would once have caught his notice above the howling ders, and turned it on its back. It was strangely light and of a storm, had become an empty sound. And presently the supple, and the limbs, as if they had been broken, fell into jovial gentleman desisted from his knocking, and departed.

the oddest postures. The face was robbed of all expres-Here was a broad hint to hurry what remained to be done, sion; but it was as pale as wax, and shockingly smeared to get forth from this accusing neighbourhood, to plunge with blood about one temple. That was, for Markheim, the into a bath of London multitudes, and to reach, on the one displeasing circumstance. It carried him back, upon other side of day, that haven of safety and apparent inno-the instant, to a certain fair-day in a fishers’ village: a gray 80

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day, a piping wind, a crowd upon the street, the blare of that body had been all on fire with governable energies; brasses, the booming of drums, the nasal voice of a ballad and now, and by his act, that piece of life had been ar-singer; and a boy going to and fro, buried over head in the rested, as the horologist, with interjected finger, arrests crowd and divided between interest and fear, until, coming the beating of the clock. So he reasoned in vain; he could out upon the chief place of concourse, he beheld a booth rise to no more remorseful consciousness; the same heart and a great screen with pictures, dismally designed, garishly which had shuddered before the painted effigies of crime, coloured: Brown-rigg with her apprentice; the Mannings with looked on its reality unmoved. At best, he felt a gleam of their murdered guest; Weare in the death-grip of Thurtell; pity for one who had been endowed in vain with all those and a score besides of famous crimes. The thing was as clear faculties that can make the world a garden of enchantment, as an illusion; he was once again that little boy; he was look-one who had never lived and who was now dead. But of ing once again, and with the same sense of physical revolt, penitence, no, not a tremor.

at these vile pictures; he was still stunned by the thumping of With that, shaking himself clear of these considerations, the drums. A bar of that day’s music returned upon his he found the keys and advanced towards the open door of memory; and at that, for the first time, a qualm came over the shop. Outside, it had begun to rain smartly; and the him, a breath of nausea, a sudden weakness of the joints, sound of the shower upon the roof had banished silence.

which he must instantly resist and conquer.

Like some dripping cavern, the chambers of the house were He judged it more prudent to confront than to flee from haunted by an incessant echoing, which filled the ear and these considerations; looking the more hardily in the dead mingled with the ticking of the clocks. And, as Markheim face, bending his mind to realise the nature and greatness approached the door, he seemed to hear, in answer to his of his crime. So little a while ago that face had moved with own cautious tread, the steps of another foot withdrawing every change of sentiment, that pale mouth had spoken, up the stair. The shadow still palpitated loosely on the 81

Robert Louis Stevenson

threshold. He threw a ton’s weight of resolve upon his with ever fresh attention, he blessed himself for that unresting muscles, and drew back the door.

sense which held the outposts and stood a trusty sentinel The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare upon his life. His head turned continually on his neck; his floor and stairs; on the bright suit of armour posted, halbert eyes, which seemed starting from their orbits, scouted on in hand, upon the landing; and on the dark wood-carvings, every side, and on every side were half-rewarded as with the and framed pictures that hung against the yellow panels of tail of something nameless vanishing. The four-and-twenty the wainscot. So loud was the beating of the rain through steps to the first floor were four-and-twenty agonies.

all the house that, in Markheim’s ears, it began to be dis-On that first storey, the doors stood ajar, three of them tinguished into many different sounds. Footsteps and sighs, like three ambushes, shaking his nerves like the throats of the tread of regiments marching in the distance, the chink cannon. He could never again, he felt, be sufficiently im-of money in the counting, and the creaking of doors held mured and fortified from men’s observing eyes, he longed stealthily ajar, appeared to mingle with the patter of the to be home, girt in by walls, buried among bedclothes, and drops upon the cupola and the gushing of the water in the invisible to all but God. And at that thought he wondered a pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him to little, recollecting tales of other murderers and the fear they the verge of madness. On every side he was haunted and were said to entertain of heavenly avengers. It was not so, begirt by presences. He heard them moving in the upper at least, with him. He feared the laws of nature, lest, in chambers; from the shop, he heard the dead man getting to their callous and immutable procedure, they should pre-his legs; and as he began with a great effort to mount the serve some damning evidence of his crime. He feared ten-stairs, feet fled quietly before him and followed stealthily fold more, with a slavish, superstitions terror, some scis-behind. If he were but deaf, he thought, how tranquilly he sion in the continuity of man’s experience, some wilful ille-would possess his soul! And then again, and hearkening gality of nature. He played a game of skill, depending on 82

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the rules, calculating consequence from cause; and what if strewn with packing cases and incongruous furniture; sev-nature, as the defeated tyrant overthrew the chess-board, eral great pier-glasses, in which he beheld himself at vari-should break the mould of their succession? The like had ous angles, like an actor on a stage; many pictures, framed befallen Napoleon (so writers said) when the winter and unframed, standing, with their faces to the wall; a fine changed the time of its appearance. The like might befall Sheraton sideboard, a cabinet of marquetry, and a great Markheim: the solid walls might become transparent and old bed, with tapestry hangings. The windows opened to reveal his doings like those of bees in a glass hive; the stout the floor; but by great good fortune the lower part of the planks might yield under his foot like quicksands and de-shutters had been closed, and this concealed him from the tain him in their clutch; ay, and there were soberer acci-neighbours. Here, then, Markheim drew in a packing case dents that might destroy him: if, for instance, the house before the cabinet, and began to search among the keys. It should fall and imprison him beside the body of his victim; was a long business, for there were many; and it was irk-or the house next door should fly on fire, and the firemen some, besides; for, after all, there might be nothing in the invade him from all sides. These things he feared; and, in a cabinet, and time was on the wing. But the closeness of the sense, these things might be called the hands of God reached occupation sobered him. With the tail of his eye he saw the forth against sin. But about God himself he was at ease; his door – even glanced at it from time to time directly, like a act was doubtless exceptional, but so were his excuses, besieged commander pleased to verify the good estate of which God knew; it was there, and not among men, that he his defences. But in truth he was at peace. The rain falling felt sure of justice.

in the street sounded natural and pleasant. Presently, on When he had got safe into the drawing-room, and shut the other side, the notes of a piano were wakened to the the door behind him, he was aware of a respite from alarms.

music of a hymn, and the voices of many children took up The room was quite dismantled, uncarpeted besides, and the air and words. How stately, how comfortable was the 83

Robert Louis Stevenson

melody! How fresh the youthful voices! Markheim gave was thrust into the aperture, glanced round the room, ear to it smilingly, as he sorted out the keys; and his mind looked at him, nodded and smiled as if in friendly recogni-was thronged with answerable ideas and images; church-tion, and then withdrew again, and the door closed behind going children and the pealing of the high organ; children it, his fear broke loose from his control in a hoarse cry. At afield, bathers by the brookside, ramblers on the brambly the sound of this the visitant returned.

common, kite-flyers in the windy and cloud-navigated sky;

‘Did you call me?’ he asked, pleasantly, and with that he and then, at another cadence of the hymn, back again to entered the room and closed the door behind him.

church, and the somnolence of summer Sundays, and the Markheim stood and gazed at him with all his eyes. Per-high genteel voice of the parson (which he smiled a little to haps there was a film upon his sight, but the outlines of the recall) and the painted Jacobean tombs, and the dim letter-new comer seemed to change and waver like those of the ing of the Ten Commandments in the chancel.

idols in the wavering candle-light of the shop; and at times And as he sat thus, at once busy and absent, he was he thought he knew him; and at times he thought he bore a startled to his feet. A flash of ice, a flash of fire, a bursting likeness to himself; and always, like a lump of living terror, gush of blood, went over him, and then he stood transfixed there lay in his bosom the conviction that this thing was and thrilling. A step mounted the stair slowly and steadily, not of the earth and not of God.

and presently a hand was laid upon the knob, and the lock And yet the creature had a strange air of the common-clicked, and the door opened.

place, as he stood looking on Markheim with a smile; and Fear held Markheim in a vice. What to expect he knew when he added: ‘You are looking for the money, I believe?’

not, whether the dead man walking, or the official minis-it was in the tones of everyday politeness.

ters of human justice, or some chance witness blindly stum-Markheim made no answer.

bling in to consign him to the gallows. But when a face

‘I should warn you,’ resumed the other, ‘that the maid 84