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An Exercise in Punctuation
from The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson
Analysis Key

     This selection includes some gerundives, and you may want to call students' attention how they are set off with commas. The thing that will probably differ the most from students' versions of the punctuation exercise will be the use of semicolons and colons. A question you may want to raise is why did Stevenson use semicolons where he did: why did he join these sentences together with semicolons, and not others?

Each side had thus a spy hole (DO) {on the counsels} {of the other}. | The plotters

so soon [Adv. to "so" as this advantage was explained (P) ], returned {to camp}; [#1] |

Harris, hearing [#2] [DO the Hindustani was once more closeted (P) {with his 

master}], crept {to the side} {of the tent}; | and the rest, sitting [#3] {about the fire}

{with their tobacco}, awaited his report (DO) {with impatience}. | [Adv. to "was"

When he came {at last}], his face was very black (PA). | He had overheard 

enough (DO) to confirm the worst [#4] {of his suspicions}. |  Secundra Dass 

was a good English scholar (PN) ; [#5] | he had been some days [NuA] 

creeping and listening [#6], | the Master was now fully informed (P) {of the 

conspiracy}, | and the pair proposed {on the morrow} to fall [#7] {out of line} {at a 

carrying place} and plunge [#7] {at a venture} {in the woods}: preferring the full risk [#8] 

{of famine, savage beasts, and savage men} {to their position} {in the midst} {of traitors}. |


Notes
1. The semicolons in this sentence separate the whole (the plotter), and its parts -- one member (Harris), and "the rest."
2.  "Hearing" is a gerundive that modifies "Harris." 
3.  "Sitting" is a gerundive that modifies "the rest." 
4. "The worst" is the direct object of the infinitive "to confirm." The infinitive phrase functions as an adjective to "enough."
5. Of the four main clauses in this sentence, the one that precedes the semicolon characterizes Secundra Dass. On the other side, the last three, separated by commas, describe what Secundra and the Master did.
6. Can "creeping" and "listening" here not alternatively be explained either as gerundives to "he" or as gerunds that function as adverbs to "had been"?
7. The infinitives "to fall" and "plunge" are direct objects of "proposed." ["On the morrow," of course, modifies the infinitives, not the finite verbs.]
8. "Risk" is the direct object of the gerundive "preferring," which modifies "pair." I doubt that you will find anything in any modern grammar textbook that will explain the colon that precedes "preferring." Most modern writers would probably have used a comma, perhaps a dash. The colon, being a stronger separator than is the comma, does give more emphasis to "preferring the risk."