Chalmers Roberts.

Tales from Blackwood : being the most famous series of stories ever published, especially selected from that celebrated English publication. [Series II] (Volume 4) online

. (page 1 of 12)
Online LibraryChalmers RobertsTales from Blackwood : being the most famous series of stories ever published, especially selected from that celebrated English publication. [Series II] (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Tales from " Blackwood


Being the most Famous Series
of Stories ever Published
Especially Selected from that
Celebrated English Publication

Selected by



Doubleday, Page 6? Company





A Medium of Last Century . ' . . . i


Alive and Yet Dead ..,/.. 101


An Unexpected Fare 148


Reminiscence of a March .... 195

T. P. W.






ONT2 evening last spring my friend Clifton and I
found ourselves at his fireside enjoying a
"bottle of West India Madeira. We had had a pour-
ing wet day with the hounds, no kill, and such a
ride home! So, there being nothing in the day's
adventures to think or talk over with pleasure, we
had both been out of sorts since half-past five o'clock,
had come in to dinner in anything but high spirits,
and had conversed chiefly in monosyllables during
the repast But the nice cosy dinner, and the good
wine (Clifton's wines are undeniable), had operated
powerfully during three-quarters of an hour, to bring
us into something of a genial humour ; and by the
time the butler had retreated, and we were comfort-
T.S. iv. A


ably arranged flanking the fire, our spirits were raised
a little, and our tongues loosed. The rainy day had
been followed by a stormy evening. We could hear
the hail driven every now and then against the win-
dows with startling violence ; the wind roared in the
chimneys and howled among the trees, whose branches
gave out agonised creaks in the strong gusts. The
fireside was decidedly the right place to be in just
then. " This is pleasanter than Moscow," said Clif-
ton, with the first attempt at a smile that either of
us had made since we sat down. " Decidedly so,"
I answered ; " pleasanter than any other place I can
think of at this moment." "Just my idea," replied
he. "That row outside I shall be sure to find
some trees down in the morning, but never mind
that row in some way or another greatly enhances
the comfort of the hearth. I am glad I told Millett
to turn down the lights."

" Yes, the glow of the fire seems the right thing.
Lots of shadows and all sorts of unearthly noises.
Just the time when one gets into a credulous mood,
and can take in tales such as bards

' In sage and solemn tunes have sung
Of tourneys and of trophies hung ;
Of forests and enchantments drear,
Where more is meant that meets the ear.'"

"By Jove! yes. Do you believe in ghosts? I
can't say I don't ; and I don't know that I very
distinctly do."


"Not a very decided confession of faith," said L
" But, in truth, one must word one's creed carefully
nowadays ; for there are so many new-fangled ideas
about the invisible world that you don't know what
you may be assenting 'jO if y?u make a simple pro-
fession of belief."

" Yes ; the terrible old sheeted spectre of our
boyish days is very nearly exploded. I must say I
rather regret it. Spiritualism seems to be the modern
form of superstition."

" Oh, it hardly amounts to superstition. Don't
call it so, Clifton. It is nothing but the most
wretched, shallow charlatanry."

"Well, come, I don't know. Some of its pheno-
mena are surely as well attested as the pranks of our
old friends of the churchyard."

" Attested or not, I denounce it because of its utter
uselessness. With all the wonderful powers which
it professes to bring into action, do we get a bit wiser?
I never heard of any of the spirits interfering for any
good or reasonable purpose."

" Yes ; you may take that ground. Whether there
be anything astonishing about it or not, it does not
repay the trouble of investigation."

"Of course not. The character of its professors
pretty well explains what it is. A parcel of keen,
designing fellows make money by it. It would be
different if educated, disinterested persons thought it
worth their notice."


"H'm, perhaps; but I can't say I think that
argument so strong as the other."

"You surely admit that the credit of a science,
art, whatever you choose to call it, must be very
low when it is practised and preached chiefly by
persons who do not otherwise enjoy a great reputa-
tion for accuracy or conscientiousness, perhaps quite
the reverse."

" Of course I admit that a thing brought out under
.questionable sponsorship will justly be regarded with
suspicion. But whatever we may suspect, nothing
is proved for or against by the character of the agents
or professors."

" I don't quite follow you. I think a great deal
is proved."

"No," said Clifton. "Look here. If there be
any truth in these things spiritualism, clairvoyance,
divination, fortune -telling, I don't care what you
call them- there must be, behind the wizard, or
medium, or somnambulist, some power greater than
human. Now, then, why should such a power choose
as we would choose 1 why should it select the learned,
the wise, the good, to be the recipients of its re-
velations 1 "

"Well, of course, I can't answer," said L

"More than that," said Clifton, rather warming
in his argument "if the powers which tell these
strange things be, as many would have us believe,
evil spirits, is it not conceivable that they might, out


of wickedness or wantonness, choose to make their
announcements through some vile and contemptible
channels ] "

"You are miles beyond me in weird science. I
shall only listen."

" Well, you haven't got much more to hear," said
Clifton ; " but you know it is just possible that
spirits, from some motives of secrecy and mystery
just to avoid the inquisitiveness of minds accustomed
to investigation may reveal themselves through
beings who do not half comprehend, and do not
care to speculate on, the import of what they

"May be so," said I; "but we are getting into
very misty regions now."

" I think such an idea as that makes one under-
stand how gipsies, spae-wives, and clairvoyants may
sometimes utter oracles concerning things of which
naturally they have no knowledge, and in which
they feel no interest."

" Pardon me, Clifton," said I, " but you seem to
me to speak as if you had some experience or other
of such things."

"My dear fellow, everybody has had such ex-
perience, only some banish it from their minds.
Think, now, has something odd never come within
your own knowledge ? "

" By Jove ! I do remember one or two strange in-
explicable things coincidences."


"Yes; well I have had knowledge of some co-
incidences too."

"Anything worth telling?"

" Well, of my own, no. But I have been thinking
during these five minutes of something on record
which I lighted on only a few weeks ago, and which
has led me to ponder a good deal over these matters.
By the by, it has something to do with the Madeira
we are drinking ; for our connection with the Spences,
through whom my father obtained this wine, arose
out of the circumstances of which I found the

"Just listen to that gust of wind. Well for
you that your house is pretty solidly built, or we
must have heard something crash before now. Sup-
pose you stir the fire a little, or let me ; I declare
I am becoming quite nervous."

" Then help yourself to wine. I was hunting, you
know, for something to throw light on that Ledyard
dispute. It was imagined that my grandfather, hav-
ing been so long in the regiment with old General
Ledyard, might possibly have known something about
his testamentary doings or intentions, and so I was
requested to look among some heaps of old papers."

" Ah ! and you were mysteriously guided to some-
thing explanatory of the whole secret. There's some
sense in that."

"Not a bit of it. I couldn't find even a word
bearing upon the Ledyard affair. But I found a


little family narrative which seemed to have been
carefully drawn up by some indifferent person who
had the whole of the facts presented to him of an
episode in the early regimental life of my grand-
father. "We have been accustomed to think of him,
you know, as a superior officer in the great wars
under Cornwallis and Baird in India, and afterwards
under Moore and "Wellesley in Spain. But this story
shows him to us as quite a fresh ensign. I confess I
read it with a good deal of interest."

"Already you have kindled a similar interest in
me. I feel that the liorrentia Martis arma, in con-
nection with which we have been accustomed to
think of the general, have just now shrunk into
nothing beside the youthful ensign, gracili modulatus
avend, or whatever was the fancy of his early ro-
mance. After thus rousing curiosity you cannot
refuse to gratify it. The tempest, the hour, are in
keeping with the recital of a strange legend."

" I don't want in the least to make a secret of the
thing," answered Clifton ; " only it's a longish yarn.
I haven't got it up perfectly, or I would abbreviate
it. 'Twon't be in the least tedious to me to go
over it all again ; so, if you still wish for the
story after hearing that it's lengthy, I'll fetch it at

I persisted in my request, and Clifton, after a
short absence, during which he was heard making a
considerable noise with the bolts of locks, came back


into the dining-room, bearing a manuscript on fool*
cap, which had turned yellow from age, and was
spotted in places. The leaves were tied together
with silk ribhon, which also had turned from white
to yellow. It was written in an even round hand,
such as a clerk's or scrivener's. The heading of
the MS. was, " An Account of Some Passages in the
Early Life of General Sir Godfrey Clifton, K.B. ;"
and it bore at the end the initials " G. C. ; " but the
story was told in the third person. Many times since
that evening have I pored over its pages. I am two
days' journey from Clifton now, so cannot give the
exact words of the narrator, but if the reader will
trust me he shall hear the substance of what he read,
which is as follows :

In the autumn of the year 1777, the freight-ship
Berkeley Castle, of 600 tons burthen, sailed from
Deal for Montego Bay, on the north side of the
island of Jamaica. It was hoped that she would
reach her destination a little before Christmas, she
being laden with supplies which would be required
at that season. Her state-rooms were not numerous ;
and it was only by the master turning out of his
cabin and getting some accommodation rigged up for
himself between decks, that she could take the few
passengers who sailed in her. These were mostly,
but not all, connected with a regiment at that time
stationed in the neighbourhood of Montego Bay.


Travelling in Jamaica was not so easy a matter in
those days as it is now ; so those who were to serve
on the north side found it convenient to be landed
at a northern port. Dr Salmon, a military surgeon,
his wife, and his daughter Flora, aged eighteen, were
a little family party; and, appointed to the same
regiment to which Dr Salmon belonged, there was
Ensign Clifton, a young man of good family. The
passenger, however, who sailed in the greatest state
was a young lady who had been at school in Edin-
burgh, and was now returning home in charge of the
master of the vessel. Every luxury that wealth
could buy had been supplied to make the voyage
agreeable to her ; she was attended by two negresses;
her dresses and ornaments were of a most costly
description, and seemed inexhaustible. Miss Arabella
Chisholm was evidently a personage of some conse-
quence in her own land j and, let it be remarked, she
could not have passed unnoticed anywhere. She was
a remarkably pretty and well-shaped girl a brunette,
but such a splendid one as it was dangerous for young
men to look on. Beside these there was a young man
named Spence, also a Creole by birth, but a pure
white. 1 He had been several years in England, had
just taken his degree at Cambridge, and was now on
his way back to his father's estate. Six, therefore,
was the number of the cabin passengers, who, after a

1 Creole means " born in the West Indies ; " thus Creoles
may be of any colour.


day or two (for they sailed in bright, calm weather),
all showed themselves at the cuddy-table, and began
an acquaintance which was to last, if all should go
well, for more than two months. Two young ladies
and two young gentlemen embarked together seemed
likely enough to make the time pass pleasantly. The
ensign had his seat at table next to Miss Salmon, but
he sat opposite to the lovely brunette, by whose side
Mr Spence was established, in right of an old ac-
quaintance of their families, if not of themselves,
and the neighbourhood of their estates. And Miss
Salmon was a young lady by whose side, in nineteen
voyages out of twenty, a young officer would have
thought it a great privilege to sit. She was very
nice-looking, pleasant, and rather witty in her con-
versation, and quiet and lady -like in her manner.
But on this occasion the blaze and animation of the
Jamaica belle threw her a little into shadow. Their
first dinner was a cheerful one, at which everybody
showed a wish to be friendly. The weather-beaten
skipper was most attentive to Mrs Salmon, who sat
on his right, and told her stories innumerable about
the wonderful country to which she was going,
oysters growing on trees, crabs crawling about the
hill-tops miles from the sea, cabbages rising sixty
feet from the ground and so on.

They liked each other's company so much that
they sat a good while after dinner on this first
occasion, and it was too cold for the ladies to go


on deck afterwards; so only the gentlemen walked
the poop, and smoked in the twilight.

"You and Miss Chisholm have been acquainted
before, have you not, Mr Spence?" asked young
Clifton, while they thus paced.

" It is very possible that we have," answered Mr
Spence; "but I have not the least recollection of
her. It is nine years since I left Jamaica. I re-
member Mr Chisholm, though not very distinctly;
but could not have said a week ago whether ther
were children at his house or not."

" I fancy that your information will be much more
accurate after you get home, eh, Dr Salmon?" said
the skipper. " By George, sir ! old Sandy Chisholm,
as they call her father, is one of the richest men on
the island. I don't know how many estates he owns."

"Rich enough, I should think, by the style in
which the young lady is appointed," answered the

"And I think I can tell you young men some-
thing," rejoined the skipper, in a confidential tone.
" Mr Chisholm is exceedingly anxious that this
daughter should marry well, and will give a very
handsome fortune to a son-in-law of whom he may

"However much she may bring her husband, I
think she will know how to spend it, ha, ha!"
laughed Dr Salmon.

" No, doctor, don't say so." returned the skipper,


who seemed a little jealous of the opinion entertained
of his temporary ward. " Their habits appear more
extravagant than those of people at home, without
really being so. Their methods of spending money
are restricted, and they lean a good deal towards
dress and gewgaws. With an English education,
such as my young friend has had, they make clever,
sensible women."

"Perhaps so, perhaps so," conceded the doctor,
somewhat grudgingly. " It would be as well, though,
for a young fellow who might feel inclined to bid for
the fortune, to consider how a handsome, extravagant
wife might be disposed to deal with it."

" By Jove, sir ! " said the gallant skipper, stopping
short in his walk, and withdrawing his pipe from his
lips with decision, " I only wish I was a smart young
bachelor this day ; if I wouldn't go in and try my
luck, there's no salt in sea- water."

" Bravo, captain ! " said young Clifton.

"You know," pursued the skipper, calming down
again, after his little burst of excitement, " her father
insists upon her ' doing things in style,' as he calls it.
The display and luxury may be set down to the old
gentleman's account. Those two negresses, now, he
sent home with me last voyage, and had 'em kept in
England five months, so that they might be ready to
attend their young mistress on her voyage out."

" I wonder," put in Mr Spence, " that he didn't
frank some white married couple on a trip to Eng-


land that they might return in charge of the young
lady. I have known that done "before to-day."

While the gentlemen were thus discoursing on the
poop, the subject of their conversation was below
showing a disposition to be very friendly with Mrs
and Miss Salmon. Those ladies, so affably encoun-
tered, were not long, one may be sure, before they
made some observations on Arabella's rich dress and
ornaments ; whereat Miss Chisholm, far from being
displeased, entered into descriptions of all the trea-
sures contained in her voluminous baggage, and pro-
mised to gratify them with a sight of the same.

" But how can you do it ? " objected Miss Salmon,
whose prophetic mind foresaw a difficulty in the way
of this gratification. " You cannot have all these
packages in your cabin, and the captain's directions
were that we were to keep with us everything likely
to be wanted for use, as none of the heavy things
which had been lowered into the hold could be dis-
turbed during the voyage."

" The captain's directions ! " echoed Miss Chisholm,
with disdain. "What do I care for the captain's
directions ? There are plenty of sailors in the ship to
pull things up and down, and when I wish to have
my chests and trunks brought up they will have to
bring them." Her look seemed to add, "Nay, I'll
tickle ye for a young Creole princess, i' faith." This
imperious demeanour somewhat astonished the mili-
tary ladies, who had no experience of Creole prin-


cesses, and believed that before all things it was
necessary that " disciplines ought to be used." Ara-
bella was not half so fond of answering the other
ladies' questions about her native island, as she was
of talking about her life in England ; which perhaps
was natural She had been a child in Jamaica, but
in England had expanded towards womanhood, and
acquired new sentiments, new ideas, new aspirations,
all of which were foreign to her "West India recollec-
tions. She said she would be delighted to see her
father again, but she feared she would find the island
dull ; " and if so," she remarked, " I shall make my
papa go home for good. He has wasted quite enough
of his life in the stupid colony." Her new acquaint-
ances, who hardly knew what it was to move inde-
pendently, marvelled at all this wilfulness.

The Creole beauty was as good as her word about
her baggage. The captain, although he yielded to
her as to a spoiled child, calling her " My dear," and
made as though he were spontaneously according
these exceptional indulgences, did nevertheless let
her have her way ; and the tars were manning the
tackle and shifting the luggage as often as, and for
as long as, it pleased Miss Arabella Chisholm to re-
quire their services in this way.

Mrs Salmon told her husband that there was some-
thing very frank and winning about the handsome
Creole. She was good-natured too, and had forced
upon Miss Salmon's acceptance trinkets and other


treasures which the latter young lady had admired.
"But do you know," added Mrs Salmon, "her con-
versation is too free on some subjects hardly what I
call nice. When the two girls are alone, she says
things to Flora about young men and love-making
which it quite distresses our girl to hear, for she isn't
accustomed to those subjects. I hardly know what
to do about it."

" You can do nothing, I am afraid," answered Dr
Salmon ; " Miss Chisholm means nothing wrong, I
am persuaded ; and we must impute to her tropical
blood and her early education among coloured people
this foreign style. Mora is too well principled to be
hurt by it; and as she will not encourage it, Miss
Chisholm will probably soon find that other subjects
would be more agreeable."

" My dear, she will find nothing of the sort. She
will allow nothing and do nothing but what she
pleases. There never was such an arbitrary creature."

" Well, well," answered the doctor, " the voyage is
not to last for ever. Explain to Flora that this is
not an English young lady, and therefore that she
does not deserve the censure which we should direct
against a countrywoman allowing herself such licence.
As long as she has her mother to guide her, I feel
quite easy about Flora's sense of propriety," with
which compliment to his wife's good sense Dr Salmon
closed the conversation, drew in his head, and went to
sleep ; for they had been talking in their state-room,


where they lay in little berths one over the other, and
the doctor, being in the nether compartment, had to
put out his head to listen to the oracles which came
to him from above.

The same night on which this conversation oc-
curred there were minds occupied with Miss Ara-
bella in other cabins than the doctor's. Mr Spence,
tossing in his berth, was reflecting that he, in right
of his Creole origin and strong claims of family, was,
under present circumstances, Arabella's natural ally,
attendant, and sympathiser ; and that she was bound
to be a great deal more familiar and confidential with
him than with that rather pensive and genteel ensign,
whose natural affinity was with Miss Salmon. He
did not venture, even in thought, to lay claim to
more than this, though it is to be feared that neigh-
bourly frankness would have gone but a small way
towards satisfying the craving of his heart. Like a
turbulent patriot, who puts in a reasonable demand
for toleration and equal rights, when in his heart he
abhors both liberty and equality, and aims at tyr-
anny, so the self -deluding Spence fretted himself
about the rights of neighbours, while already it was
an idea o9 exclusive rights which was making him
so restless. The young fellow was considerably

However reasonable Spence might take his own
notions and arrangements to be, Ensign Clifton could
not help seeing things in a very different light. In


that young officer's judgment, Miss Salmon and Mr
Spence appeared to be admirably fitted for each other.
As for Spence pretending to a lady so brilliant as
Miss Chisholm, the idea was preposterous : it was a
violation of the eternal fitness of things : it could not
by possibility tend to promote the happiness of any-
body, and might be productive of much misery.
Now, for a calm bystander who could see all this
mischief brewing, not to try and prevent it would
have been gross dereliction of duty. And Clifton
thought himself a calm philosophic bystander, laying
claim to that character on the ground of a passion,
which he had entertained for a cousin some five years
older than himself, who had thought him very clever
when he was fifteen. For more than a year it was
his dream to make this cousin his bride after he had
raised himself to eminence ; but the vision was dis-
turbed by intelligence that a captain of dragoons,
who considered himself already sufficiently eminent
for the achievement, was about to marry her. The
stricken youth mourned becomingly, then hardened
his heart to study and ambition. He even grew to
think that it would facilitate his future career to be
thus early acclimatised to the trying air of love : he
learned to set a value upon his scar, and to feel that
the crushing of his affections gave him an immense
advantage over even older men who were still vulner-
able about the heart. So the ensign thought that
while the voyage lasted it would be as well to obtain
T.s. iv. B


as large a share as he could of Miss Chisholm's atten-
tion, just to shield her (she being very young and
inexperienced) from plunging into mischief. Once
they were on shore his responsibility would be over.
It would be another thing then ; and her father being
at hand to care for her, it would be the father's affair,
and very unfortunate if she should form an impru-
dent attachment that was all And Ensign Clifton

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryChalmers RobertsTales from Blackwood : being the most famous series of stories ever published, especially selected from that celebrated English publication. [Series II] (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 12)