Collected Plays and Short Stories
The Devilís Mastiff
There had been a heavy fall throughout the whole of that December day. The roads were white and indistinguishable in a thick pall of moonlight and dazzling snow; here and there a drift betrayed the footing. In the sky a bright moon pursued by clouds ran timidly up the ascent of the firmament; great arms of darkness sometimes closed over it; sometimes it emerged and proceeded with its still luminous race, ran, swayed, floated, glided forward intently, unfalteringly. Patrick Curran, treading uncautiously1 the white uncertain flooring of earth, stumbling into snowdrifts, scouting into temporary darkness for his right road, cursed the weather and his fortunes.
“It is not enough,” he complained, “that I should be a proscribed fugitive hiding my head in every uncertain refuge from the pursuit of this devilís Cromwell, doomed already to the gallows, owing my life every day to the trembling compassion of my poor fatherís tenants; it is not enough that I should have lost Alicia and that Luke Walter should have her; but the very moon and the snow and the night are his allies against me. Since God is so hard on me, I wonder why the devil does not come to my help ó I would sell my soul to him this moment willingly. But perhaps he too is afraid of Cromwell.”
“It is hardly probable,” said a voice at his side suddenly.
Patrick Curran turned with a fierce start and clutched at his dagger. He was aware in the darkness of a dim form pacing beside him with a step much quieter and more assured than his own.
“Who are you?” he cried, rigid and menacing.
“A wayfarer like yourself,” said the other, “I travel earth as a fugitive.”
“From whom or what?” asked Patrick.
“How shall I say?” said the shadow, “Perhaps from my own thoughts, perhaps from a too powerful enemy.”
After the discovery of the recent conspiracy to murder Cornwell2 and restore Charles Stuart, the country was full of Royalist fugitives, hiding by day, travelling by night, in the hope of reaching a port whence they could sail for Ostende or Calais. For the inquisitions of the Republican magistrates were imperative and undiscriminating.
“I would give,” he said to himself, “my soul and the rest of my allotted days as a free gift to Satan, if I might once clasp Alicia in my arms and take with me into Hell the warm sense of the joy of her body and if I might see Luke Walter dead before me or be sure he was following me. Oh if I can once be sure of that, let the brown dog of the Dacres leap on me the next moment, I care not.”
“You may be sure of it,” answered the voice at his side, strangely sweet, yet to Patrickís ear formidable. He turned, thrilling.
“You must be the devil himself,” he almost shouted.
“I may be only one who can read your thoughts,” said the other in that sweet sinister voice which made the young man fancy sometimes that a woman spoke to him. “And that I can, you will easily judge when I have told you a very little of what I know of you. You are Patrick, the second son of Sir Gerald Curran who got his estate from his wife, Margaret Dacre, his baronetcy from King James and his death from Cromwell who took him prisoner at Worcester and hanged him. You were to have married Lady Alicia Nevil, when the conspiracy of which you were one of the heads as well as the hand destined to strike down the Puritan tyrant, was discovered by the discernment, luck and ruthless skill of Colonel Luke Walter.”
The young Cavalier started and uttered a furious imprecation.
“It was he,” said the other, “he has great brain-power and penetration and a resolute genius. It is even possible he may succeed Cromwell, if the God of the Puritans gives him a lease long enough.”
“If I have the chance, I will shorten it,” cried Patrick Curran.
“Or I,” said the unknown, “for just now I too am a Royalist. But to proceed. You were proclaimed and doomed to a felonís death in your absence; the Earl, implicated in the conspiracy, was compelled as the price of his pardon to betroth his daughter to Luke Walter, and the marriage is fixed for tonight.”
“Tonight!” groaned the young man, and he smote his thigh miserably with his hand.
“At the Church of Worndale.”
“But will it matter if Luke Walter perishes before he has consummated his nuptials?”
“I promise you that,” said the unknown. “It does not suit you that Alicia should marry another. It does not suit me that there should be a strong successor to Cromwell. Charles Stuart is my good friend, and I wish that he should rule England. Therefore, Patrick, it is a bargain.”
“Who the devil are you?” cried the young man again, marvelling.
As if to answer the moon peeped out from between two heavy angry masses of black cloud, illumining the earthís intense and inclement whiteness. He saw beside him a young man of remarkable beauty, whose face was perfectly familiar, but his name could not be remembered.
“As for your soul and your life,” said the stranger, and as their eyes met, Patrick shuddered, “you need not give them to the devil whether freely or as part of the bargain, for they are already his.”
He laughed a laugh of terrible and ominous sweetness, and in a moment Patrick remembered. He knew that laugh, he knew that face. They were his own.
At that moment the moon passed away into the second fragment of cloud. Patrick stood, unable to speak, looking at the dim shadow in front of him. Then it vanished.
It was sometime before the young man could command himself sufficiently to pursue his way. He tried to think for a moment that it was John Dacre, the illegitimate son of Sir Gerald by his sister-in-law Matilda Dacre, who resembled Patrick strongly and was his sworn comrade and lover. But he knew it was not John. That was not Johnís face or Johnís speech or Johnís thinking. It must have been a vivid dream or a waking illusion. He walked forward in the darkness, greatly disturbed, but with recovered courage.
Again the moon shone out, this time with a clear gulf of sky just in front of her. Before Patrick the white road stretched long, straight and visible to a great distance and was marked out here by high3 snow-covered hedge from the equally white indistinguishable country around.
“Come now, that is better,” said Patrick Curran. As he spoke, he saw far off on the road a dark object travelling towards him; he slackened his pace and was minded to turn off the road to avoid it. But it was approaching with phenomenal speed. As it came nearer, he saw that it was only a dog. Again Patrick stood still. A dog! There was nothing in that. It was not what he had feared. But he remembered that singular conversation and the impious prayer that had arisen in his heart about the brown dog of the Dacres,ó the dog which showed itself always when a Dacre was about to die and leaped on him whenever the doom was by violence. He smiled, but a little uncertainly. Then the moonlight seemed to dwell on the swiftly-travelling animal more intensely and he saw that it was brown.
Never had Patrick seen any earthly thing master of such a terrible speed. It ran, it galloped, it bounded, and the wretched man watching the terrific charge of that phantasmal monster,ó for it was a gigantic mastiff,ó felt his heart stop and his warm youthful blood congeal in his veins. It was now within twenty paces; he felt the huge eyes upon him and knew that it was going to leap. He went down heavily with the ponderous frame of the animal oppressing his breast, its leonine paws on his shoulders, its hot breathing moistening his face. And then there was nothing.
That was the most terrible part of it, to have been borne down physically by a semblance, an unearthly hallucination, a thing that was this moment and the next was not. Patrick struggled to his feet, overcome by a panic terror; his nerves cried to him to run, to travel away quickly from this accursed night and this road of ghastly encounters. But he felt as if hamstrung, helpless, clutched by an intangible destruction. He sat down on the snow, panted and waited.
After a few minutes the blood began to flow more quietly through his veins, the pounding of his heart slackened and the sick agitation of his nerves yielded to a sudden fiery inrush. He leaped furiously to his feet. “The Dog of the Dacres,” he cried, “the brown Dog, the Devilís Mastiff! And no doubt it was his master spoke to me in my own semblance. I am doomed, then. But not to the gallows. No, by God, not to the gallows. Godís doom and the devilís, since I can resist neither, but not manís, not Cromwellís!” Then he paused. “Tonight!” he cried again. “At Worndale Church! But I will see her once before I go down to Hell. And it may be I shall take Luke Walter with me. It may be that is what the Devil wants of me.”
He looked about the landscape and thought he could distinguish the trees that bordered the distant Church of Worndale. That was in front of him. Also in front, but much more to the left, was Trevesham Hall, the home of Alicia Nevil. He began walking rapidly, no longer with his first cautious and doubtful treading, but with a bold reckless stride. And it was noticeable that he no longer stumbled or floundered into snowdrifts. Patrick knew that he had only a few brief inches of his lifeís road left to his treading; for no man of the Dacre blood had ever lived more than twenty-four hours after the Brown Dog leaped on him. A desperate courage had entered into his veins. He would see
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo: Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 3-4.- Collected Plays and Stories.- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1998.- 1008 p.
1 1998 ed. CWSA, volumes 3-4: cautiously
2 1998 ed. CWSA, volumes 3-4: Cromwell
3 1998 ed. CWSA, volumes 3-4: a high