+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

became as that of one possessed with a

It was in these words that my uncle, Mr.
Carthews, senior partner in the firm of
Carthews and Bontor, of Aberdeen and
Calcutta, used generally to begin the following
strange narrative. Like many Scotchmen
of his day, he had a somewhat inordinate
reverence for rank; but it was balanced, in
his case, by a business-like appreciation of
the value of money. What is of more
import, however, to the matter in hand, was
his strict and fearless adherence to truth,
joined to an extremely kind nature. These
characteristics were conspicuous in every
transaction of a long life. He was a shrewd,
upright man, universally respected in the
city where he passed the best part of his
life: "stiff in opinions," occasionally prolix,
but of a sound, clear judgment, and
unimpeached honesty. In the narrative, therefore,
which I shall try to give, as far as
possible, in my uncle's own words, there is,
I am confident, no wilful misrepresentation,
no jot or tittle added to the facts, as he
believed them to be. And his opinion of those
facts, I take it, was formed very deliberately.
I heard him tell the story repeatedly, yet it
never varied in the smallest particular; and
I know it invariably impressed his hearers
with a sense of horrible reality. Imagine
that the ladies have left the room; three or
four men are seated round the polished
mahogany; my uncle, a white-haired, keen-eyed
man of seventy, bids us draw our
chairs nearer the fire, and, passing round a
magnum of his fine old port, he thus
continues the story, of which I have given the
opening words, with that incisive Scotch
accent, and in that measured phrase, which
seems to weigh each word in the balance,
and reject it if found wanting.

Dunblane was an unpopular man. Men
could not make him out. His manner was
often disagreeable, and he was subject to
moody fits, when he would speak to no one.
He was capable of kind and generous acts,
but implacable in his dislikes; and he never
forgot an injury. I could manage him
better than any one, and he would generally
stand the truth from me; but his rage was
a terrible thing to witness. I have never
seen anything like it. Men used to say,
"Keep clear of Dunblane when the fit is on
him; he will stick at nothing."

The French Revolution was then at its
height. Dunblane was a hot royalist, and
used to be thrown into fresh transports of
fury with the news of every act subversive
of the king's authority. One night a man,
in my room, who professed Republican
sentiments, defended the conduct of the Assembly
in imprisoning the royal family.
Dunblane got up and flung a bottle at his head.
There was a fine row, and it was arranged
that the two men must fight the next
morning. I secretly gave notice to the
authorities, however, who interfered, and
some sort of peace was patched up; but
Dunblane never spoke to his antagonist
again as long as he was in the university.
I mention this, as I happen to recal the
circumstance, just to give you an idea of
the man's violence, and of the depth of his

I can remember, too, a conversation we
had one day about marriage. He had been
complaining of his poverty, but said that,
nevertheless, he meant to marry early.

"You see, it is necessary that I should
have an heir, lest the direct line become
extinct. There is no one, after me."

"Do nothing in a hurry," I replied.
"It would be a great misfortune, no doubt,
that the title and estates should pass away
to another branch of the family, but it would
be a still greater one to have your whole life
embittered by an unhappy marriage. You
are young; you have life before you. Be
quite sure it is for your happiness, ere you
take such a step as this."

His reply was very characteristic.

"Oh," he said, "it is all very well for
you to talk, who have plenty of money, and
have no great name as an inheritance. We
trace back our descent for six hundred
years; it is a duty we owe to the country
to keep up the family. If I was fortunate
enough to be in your position, I should
please myself. But, as it is, everything
else is of secondary importance. My lord
is always telling me so, and I suppose he is
right. I must marry a woman with money,
and I must have an heir. You don't know,"
he added, with the black look gathering on
his brow, "how essential this is."

I assured him that I fully recognised the
obligations which a great name and title
entail, but that I could not think that to
contract a hasty, ill-considered marriage
could ever answer in the long run.

"Ah!" he said. "Then you have never
heard the old prophecy in the family:

"When five Dunblanes have had no son,
Then shall the line direct be run.

My uncle is the fourth lord who has had no
son. If he should survive my father, and
that I should succeed him, I shall be the