Saturday, November 10, 2007


Weir of Hermiston by Robert Louis Stevenson

Weir of Hermiston
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Weir of Hermiston
I saw rain falling and the rainbow drawn
On Lammermuir. Hearkening I heard again
In my precipitous city beaten bells
Winnow the keen sea wind. And here afar,
Intent on my own race and place, I wrote.
Take thou the writing: thine it is. For who
Burnished the sword, blew on the drowsy coal,
Held still the target higher, chary of praise
And prodigal of counsel - who but thou?
So now, in the end, if this the least be good,
If any deed be done, if any fire
Burn in the imperfect page, the praise be thine.
IN the wild end of a moorland parish, far out of the sight of any house,
there stands a cairn among the heather, and a little by east of it, in
the going down of the brae-side, a monument with some verses half
defaced. It was here that Claverhouse shot with his own hand the
Praying Weaver of Balweary, and the chisel of Old Mortality has clinked
on that lonely gravestone. Public and domestic history have thus marked
with a bloody finger this hollow among the hills; and since the
Cameronian gave his life there, two hundred years ago, in a glorious
folly, and without comprehension or regret, the silence of the moss has
been broken once again by the report of firearms and the cry of the
The Deil's Hags was the old name. But the place is now called Francie's
Cairn. For a while it was told that Francie walked. Aggic Hogg met him
in the gloaming by the cairnside, and he spoke to her, with chattering
teeth, so that his words were lost. He pursued Rob Todd (if any one
could have believed Robbie) for the space of half a mile with pitiful
entreaties. But the age is one of incredulity; these superstitious
decorations speedily fell off; and the facts of the story itself, like
the bones of a giant buried there and half dug up, survived, naked and
imperfect, in the memory of the scattered neighbours. To this day, of
winter nights, when the sleet is on the window and the cattle are quiet
in the byre, there will be told again, amid the silence of the young and
the additions and corrections of the old, the tale of the Justice-Clerk
and of his son, young Hermiston, that vanished from men's knowledge; of
the two Kirsties and the Four Black Brothers of the Cauldstaneslap; and
of Frank Innes, "the young fool advocate," that came into these moorland
parts to find his destiny.
THE Lord Justice-Clerk was a stranger in that part of the country; but
his lady wife was known there from a child, as her race had been before
her. The old "riding Rutherfords of Hermiston," of whom she was the
last descendant, had been famous men of yore, ill neighbours, ill
subjects, and ill husbands to their wives though not their properties.
Tales of them were rife for twenty miles about; and their name was even
printed in the page of our Scots histories, not always to their credit.
One bit the dust at Flodden; one was hanged at his peel door by James
the Fifth; another fell dead in a carouse with Tom Dalyell; while a
fourth (and that was Jean's own father) died presiding at a Hell-Fire
Club, of which he was the founder. There were many heads shaken in
Crossmichael at that judgment; the more so as the man had a villainous
reputation among high and low, and both with the godly and the worldly.
At that very hour of his demise, he had ten going pleas before the
Session, eight of them oppressive. And the same doom extended even to
his agents; his grieve, that had been his right hand in many a left-hand
business, being cast from his horse one night and drowned in a peat-hag
on the Kye-skairs; and his very doer (although lawyers have long spoons)
surviving him not long, and dying on a sudden in a bloody flux.
In all these generations, while a male Rutherford was in the saddle with
his lads, or brawling in a change-house, there would be always a whitefaced
wife immured at home in the old peel or the later mansion-house.
It seemed this succession of martyrs bided long, but took their
vengeance in the end, and that was in the person of the last descendant,
Jean. She bore the name of the Rutherfords, but she was the daughter of
their trembling wives. At the first she was not wholly without charm.
Neighbours recalled in her, as a child, a strain of elfin wilfulness,
gentle little mutinies, sad little gaieties, even a morning gleam of
beauty that was not to be fulfilled. She withered in the growing, and
(whether it was the sins of her sires or the sorrows of her mothers)
came to her maturity depressed, and, as it were, defaced; no blood of
life in her, no grasp or gaiety; pious, anxious, tender, tearful, and
It was a wonder to many that she had married - seeming so wholly of the
stuff that makes old maids. But chance cast her in the path of Adam
Weir, then the new Lord-Advocate, a recognised, risen man, the conqueror
of many obstacles, and thus late in the day beginning to think upon a
wife. He was one who looked rather to obedience than beauty, yet it
would seem he was struck with her at the first look. "Wha's she?" he
said, turning to his host; and, when he had been told, "Ay," says he,
"she looks menseful. She minds me - "; and then, after a pause (which
some have been daring enough to set down to sentimental recollections),
"Is she releegious?" he asked, and was shortly after, at his own
request, presented. The acquaintance, which it seems profane to call a
courtship, was pursued with Mr. Weir's accustomed industry, and was long
a legend, or rather a source of legends, in the Parliament House. He
was described coming, rosy with much port, into the drawing-room,
walking direct up to the lady, and assailing her with pleasantries, to
which the embarrassed fair one responded, in what seemed a kind of
agony, "Eh, Mr. Weir!" or "O, Mr. Weir!" or "Keep me, Mr. Weir!" On the
very eve of their engagement, it was related that one had drawn near to
the tender couple, and had overheard the lady cry out, with the tones of
one who talked for the sake of talking, "Keep me, Mr. Weir, and what
became of him?" and the profound accents of the suitor reply, "Haangit,
mem, haangit." The motives upon either side were much debated. Mr.
Weir must have supposed his bride to be somehow suitable; perhaps he
belonged to that class of men who think a weak head the ornament of
women - an opinion invariably punished in this life. Her descent and
her estate were beyond question. Her wayfaring ancestors and her
litigious father had done well by Jean. There was ready money and there
were broad acres, ready to fall wholly to the husband, to lend dignity
to his descendants, and to himself a title, when he should be called
upon the Bench. On the side of Jean, there was perhaps some fascination
of curiosity as to this unknown male animal that approached her with the
roughness of a ploughman and the APLOMB of an advocate. Being so
trenchantly opposed to all she knew, loved, or understood, he may well
have seemed to her the extreme, if scarcely the ideal, of his sex. And
besides, he was an ill man to refuse. A little over forty at the period
of his marriage, he looked already older, and to the force of manhood
added the senatorial dignity of years; it was, perhaps, with an
unreverend awe, but he was awful. The Bench, the Bar, and the most
experienced and reluctant witness, bowed to his authority - and why not
Jeannie Rutherford?
The heresy about foolish women is always punished, I have said, and Lord
Hermiston began to pay the penalty at once. His house in George Square
was wretchedly ill-guided; nothing answerable to the expense of
maintenance but the cellar, which was his own private care. When things
went wrong at dinner, as they continually did, my lord would look up the
table at his wife: "I think these broth would be better to sweem in than
to sup." Or else to the butler: "Here, M'Killop, awa' wi' this Raadical
gigot - tak' it to the French, man, and bring me some puddocks! It
seems rather a sore kind of a business that I should be all day in Court
haanging Raadicals, and get nawthing to my denner." Of course this was
but a manner of speaking, and he had never hanged a man for being a
Radical in his life; the law, of which he was the faithful minister,
directing otherwise. And of course these growls were in the nature of
pleasantry, but it was of a recondite sort; and uttered as they were in
his resounding voice, and commented on by that expression which they
called in the Parliament House "Hermiston's hanging face" - they struck
mere dismay into the wife. She sat before him speechless and
fluttering; at each dish, as at a fresh ordeal, her eye hovered toward
my lord's countenance and fell again; if he but ate in silence,
unspeakable relief was her portion; if there were complaint, the world
was darkened. She would seek out the cook, who was always her SISTER IN
THE LORD. "O, my dear, this is the most dreidful thing that my lord can
never be contented in his own house!" she would begin; and weep and pray
with the cook; and then the cook would pray with Mrs. Weir; and the next
day's meal would never be a penny the better - and the next cook (when
she came) would be worse, if anything, but just as pious. It was often
wondered that Lord Hermiston bore it as he did; indeed, he was a stoical
old voluptuary, contented with sound wine and plenty of it. But there
were moments when he overflowed. Perhaps half a dozen times in the
history of his married life - "Here! tak' it awa', and bring me a piece
bread and kebbuck!" he had exclaimed, with an appalling explosion of his
voice and rare gestures. None thought to dispute or to make excuses;
the service was arrested; Mrs. Weir sat at the head of the table
whimpering without disguise; and his lordship opposite munched his bread
and cheese in ostentatious disregard. Once only, Mrs. Weir had ventured
to appeal. He was passing her chair on his way into the study.
"O, Edom!" she wailed, in a voice tragic with tears, and reaching out to
him both hands, in one of which she held a sopping pocket-handkerchief.
He paused and looked upon her with a face of wrath, into which there
stole, as he looked, a twinkle of humour.
"Noansense!" he said. "You and your noansense! What do I want with a
Christian faim'ly? I want Christian broth! Get me a lass that can
plain-boil a potato, if she was a whure off the streets." And with
these words, which echoed in her tender ears like blasphemy, he had
passed on to his study and shut the door behind him.
Such was the housewifery in George Square. It was better at Hermiston,
where Kirstie Elliott, the sister of a neighbouring bonnet-laird, and an
eighteenth cousin of the lady's, bore the charge of all, and kept a trim
house and a good country table. Kirstie was a woman in a thousand,
clean, capable, notable; once a moorland Helen, and still comely as a
blood horse and healthy as the hill wind. High in flesh and voice and
colour, she ran the house with her whole intemperate soul, in a bustle,
not without buffets. Scarce more pious than decency in those days
required, she was the cause of many an anxious thought and many a
tearful prayer to Mrs. Weir. Housekeeper and mistress renewed the parts
of Martha and Mary; and though with a pricking conscience, Mary reposed
on Martha's strength as on a rock. Even Lord Hermiston held Kirstie in
a particular regard. There were few with whom he unbent so gladly, few
whom he favoured with so many pleasantries. "Kirstie and me maun have
our joke," he would declare in high good-humour, as he buttered
Kirstie's scones, and she waited at table. A man who had no need either
of love or of popularity, a keen reader of men and of events, there was
perhaps only one truth for which he was quite unprepared: he would have
been quite unprepared to learn that Kirstie hated him. He thought maid
and master were well matched; hard, bandy, healthy, broad Scots folk,
without a hair of nonsense to the pair of them. And the fact was that
she made a goddess and an only child of the effete and tearful lady; and
even as she waited at table her hands would sometimes itch for my lord's
Thus, at least, when the family were at Hermiston, not only my lord, but
Mrs. Weir too, enjoyed a holiday. Free from the dreadful looking-for of
the miscarried dinner, she would mind her seam, read her piety books,
and take her walk (which was my lord's orders), sometimes by herself,
sometimes with Archie, the only child of that scarce natural union. The
child was her next bond to life. Her frosted sentiment bloomed again,
she breathed deep of life, she let loose her heart, in that society.
The miracle of her motherhood was ever new to her. The sight of the
little man at her skirt intoxicated her with the sense of power, and
froze her with the consciousness of her responsibility. She looked
forward, and, seeing him in fancy grow up and play his diverse part on
the world's theatre, caught in her breath and lifted up her courage with
a lively effort. It was only with the child that she forgot herself and
was at moments natural; yet it was only with the child that she had
conceived and managed to pursue a scheme of conduct. Archie was to be a
great man and a good; a minister if possible, a saint for certain. She
tried to engage his mind upon her favourite books, Rutherford's LETTERS,
Scougalls GRACE ABOUNDING, and the like. It was a common practice of
hers (and strange to remember now) that she would carry the child to the
Deil's Hags, sit with him on the Praying Weaver's stone, and talk of the
Covenanters till their tears ran down. Her view of history was wholly
artless, a design in snow and ink; upon the one side, tender innocents
with psalms upon their lips; upon the other, the persecutors, booted,
bloody-minded, flushed with wine: a suffering Christ, a raging
Beelzebub. PERSECUTOR was a word that knocked upon the woman's heart;
it was her highest thought of wickedness, and the mark of it was on her
house. Her great-great-grandfather had drawn the sword against the
Lord's anointed on the field of Rullion Green, and breathed his last
(tradition said) in the arms of the detestable Dalyell. Nor could she
blind herself to this, that had they lived in those old days, Hermiston
himself would have been numbered alongside of Bloody MacKenzie and the
politic Lauderdale and Rothes, in the band of God's immediate enemies.
The sense of this moved her to the more fervour; she had a voice for
that name of PERSECUTOR that thrilled in the child's marrow; and when
one day the mob hooted and hissed them all in my lord's travelling
carriage, and cried, "Down with the persecutor! down with Hanging
Hermiston!" and mamma covered her eyes and wept, and papa let down the
glass and looked out upon the rabble with his droll formidable face,
bitter and smiling, as they said he sometimes looked when he gave
sentence, Archie was for the moment too much amazed to be alarmed, but
he had scarce got his mother by herself before his shrill voice was
raised demanding an explanation: why had they called papa a persecutor?
"Keep me, my precious!" she exclaimed. "Keep me, my dear! this is
poleetical. Ye must never ask me anything poleetical, Erchie. Your
faither is a great man, my dear, and it's no for me or you to be judging
him. It would be telling us all, if we behaved ourselves in our several
stations the way your faither does in his high office; and let me hear
no more of any such disrespectful and undutiful questions! No that you
meant to be undutiful, my lamb; your mother kens that - she kens it
well, dearie!" And so slid off to safer topics, and left on the mind of
the child an obscure but ineradicable sense of something wrong.
Mrs. Weir's philosophy of life was summed in one expression -
tenderness. In her view of the universe, which was all lighted up with
a glow out of the doors of hell, good people must walk there in a kind
of ecstasy of tenderness. The beasts and plants had no souls; they were
here but for a day, and let their day pass gently! And as for the
immortal men, on what black, downward path were many of them wending,
and to what a horror of an immortality! "Are not two sparrows,"
"Whosoever shall smite thee," "God sendeth His rain," "Judge not, that
ye be not judged" - these texts made her body of divinity; she put them
on in the morning with her clothes and lay down to sleep with them at
night; they haunted her like a favourite air, they clung about her like
a favourite perfume. Their minister was a marrowy expounder of the law,
and my lord sat under him with relish; but Mrs. Weir respected him from
far off; heard him (like the cannon of a beleaguered city) usefully
booming outside on the dogmatic ramparts; and meanwhile, within and out
of shot, dwelt in her private garden which she watered with grateful
tears. It seems strange to say of this colourless and ineffectual
woman, but she was a true enthusiast, and might have made the sunshine
and the glory of a cloister. Perhaps none but Archie knew she could be
eloquent; perhaps none but he had seen her - her colour raised, her
hands clasped or quivering - glow with gentle ardour. There is a corner
of the policy of Hermiston, where you come suddenly in view of the
summit of Black Fell, sometimes like the mere grass top of a hill,
sometimes (and this is her own expression) like a precious jewel in the
heavens. On such days, upon the sudden view of it, her hand would
tighten on the child's fingers, her voice rise like a song. "I TO THE
HILLS!" she would repeat. "And O, Erchie, are nae these like the hills
of Naphtali?" and her tears would flow.
Upon an impressionable child the effect of this continual and pretty
accompaniment to life was deep. The woman's quietism and piety passed
on to his different nature undiminished; but whereas in her it was a
native sentiment, in him it was only an implanted dogma. Nature and the
child's pugnacity at times revolted. A cad from the Potterrow once
struck him in the mouth; he struck back, the pair fought it out in the
back stable lane towards the Meadows, and Archie returned with a
considerable decline in the number of his front teeth, and
unregenerately boasting of the losses of the foe. It was a sore day for
Mrs. Weir; she wept and prayed over the infant backslider until my lord
was due from Court, and she must resume that air of tremulous composure
with which she always greeted him. The judge was that day in an
observant mood, and remarked upon the absent teeth.
"I am afraid Erchie will have been fechting with some of they blagyard
lads," said Mrs. Weir.
My lord's voice rang out as it did seldom in the privacy of his own
house. "I'll have norm of that, sir!" he cried. "Do you hear me? -
nonn of that! No son of mine shall be speldering in the glaur with any
dirty raibble."
The anxious mother was grateful for so much support; she had even feared
the contrary. And that night when she put the child to bed - "Now, my
dear, ye see!" she said, "I told you what your faither would think of
it, if he heard ye had fallen into this dreidful sin; and let you and me
pray to God that ye may be keepit from the like temptation or
strengthened to resist it!"
The womanly falsity of this was thrown away. Ice and iron cannot be
welded; and the points of view of the Justice-Clerk and Mrs. Weir were
not less unassimilable. The character and position of his father had
long been a stumbling-block to Archie, and with every year of his age
the difficulty grew more instant. The man was mostly silent; when he
spoke at all, it was to speak of the things of the world, always in a
worldly spirit, often in language that the child had been schooled to
think coarse, and sometimes with words that he knew to be sins in
themselves. Tenderness was the first duty, and my lord was invariably
harsh. God was love; the name of my lord (to all who knew him) was
fear. In the world, as schematised for Archie by his mother, the place
was marked for such a creature. There were some whom it was good to
pity and well (though very likely useless) to pray for; they were named
reprobates, goats, God's enemies, brands for the burning; and Archie
tallied every mark of identification, and drew the inevitable private
inference that the Lord Justice-Clerk was the chief of sinners.
The mother's honesty was scarce complete. There was one influence she
feared for the child and still secretly combated; that was my lord's;
and half unconsciously, half in a wilful blindness, she continued to
undermine her husband with his son. As long as Archie remained silent,
she did so ruthlessly, with a single eye to heaven and the child's
salvation; but the day came when Archie spoke. It was 1801, and Archie
was seven, and beyond his years for curiosity and logic, when he brought
the case up openly. If judging were sinful and forbidden, how came papa
to be a judge? to have that sin for a trade? to bear the name of it for
a distinction?
"I can't see it," said the little Rabbi, and wagged his head.
Mrs. Weir abounded in commonplace replies.
"No, I cannae see it," reiterated Archie. "And I'll tell you what,
mamma, I don't think you and me's justifeed in staying with him."
The woman awoke to remorse, she saw herself disloyal to her man, her
sovereign and bread-winner, in whom (with what she had of worldliness)
she took a certain subdued pride. She expatiated in reply on my lord's
honour and greatness; his useful services in this world of sorrow and
wrong, and the place in which he stood, far above where babes and
innocents could hope to see or criticise. But she had builded too well
- Archie had his answers pat: Were not babes and innocents the type of
the kingdom of heaven? Were not honour and greatness the badges of the
world? And at any rate, how about the mob that had once seethed about
the carriage?
"It's all very fine," he concluded, "but in my opinion papa has no right
to be it. And it seems that's not the worst yet of it. It seems he's
called "The Hanging judge" - it seems he's crooool. I'll tell you what
it is, mamma, there's a tex' borne in upon me: It were better for that
man if a milestone were bound upon his back and him flung into the
deepestmost pairts of the sea."
"O, my lamb, ye must never say the like of that!" she cried. "Ye're to
honour faither and mother, dear, that your days may be long in the land.
It's Atheists that cry out against him - French Atheists, Erchie! Ye
would never surely even yourself down to be saying the same thing as
French Atheists? It would break my heart to think that of you. And O,
Erchie, here are'na YOU setting up to JUDGE? And have ye no forgot
God's plain command - the First with Promise, dear? Mind you upon the
beam and the mote!"
Having thus carried the war into the enemy's camp, the terrified lady
breathed again. And no doubt it is easy thus to circumvent a child with
catchwords, but it may be questioned how far it is effectual. An
instinct in his breast detects the quibble, and a voice condemns it. He
will instantly submit, privately hold the same opinion. For even in
this simple and antique relation of the mother and the child,
hypocrisies are multiplied.
When the Court rose that year and the family returned to Hermiston, it
was a common remark in all the country that the lady was sore failed.
She seemed to loose and seize again her touch with life, now sitting
inert in a sort of durable bewilderment, anon waking to feverish and
weak activity. She dawdled about the lasses at their work, looking
stupidly on; she fell to rummaging in old cabinets and presses, and
desisted when half through; she would begin remarks with an air of
animation and drop them without a struggle. Her common appearance was
of one who has forgotten something and is trying to remember; and when
she overhauled, one after another, the worthless and touching mementoes
of her youth, she might have been seeking the clue to that lost thought.
During this period, she gave many gifts to the neighbours and house
lasses, giving them with a manner of regret that embarrassed the
The last night of all she was busy on some female work, and toiled upon
it with so manifest and painful a devotion that my lord (who was not
often curious) inquired as to its nature.
She blushed to the eyes. "O, Edom, it's for you!" she said. "It's
slippers. I - I hae never made ye any."
"Ye daft auld wife!" returned his lordship. "A bonny figure I would
be, palmering about in bauchles!"
The next day, at the hour of her walk, Kirstie interfered. Kirstie took
this decay of her mistress very hard; bore her a grudge, quarrelled with
and railed upon her, the anxiety of a genuine love wearing the disguise
of temper. This day of all days she insisted disrespectfully, with
rustic fury, that Mrs. Weir should stay at home. But, "No, no," she
said, "it's my lord's orders," and set forth as usual. Archie was
visible in the acre bog, engaged upon some childish enterprise, the
instrument of which was mire; and she stood and looked at him a while
like one about to call; then thought otherwise, sighed, and shook her
head, and proceeded on her rounds alone. The house lasses were at the
burnside washing, and saw her pass with her loose, weary, dowdy gait.
"She's a terrible feckless wife, the mistress!" said the one.
"Tut," said the other, "the wumman's seeck."
"Weel, I canna see nae differ in her," returned the first. "A
fushionless quean, a feckless carline."
The poor creature thus discussed rambled a while in the grounds without
a purpose. Tides in her mind ebbed and flowed, and carried her
to and fro like seaweed. She tried a path, paused, returned, and tried
another; questing, forgetting her quest; the spirit of choice extinct in
her bosom, or devoid of sequency. On a sudden, it appeared as though
she had remembered, or had formed a resolution, wheeled about, returned
with hurried steps, and appeared in the dining-room, where Kirstie was
at the cleaning, like one charged with an important errand.
"Kirstie!" she began, and paused; and then with conviction, "Mr. Weir
isna speeritually minded, but he has been a good man to me."
It was perhaps the first time since her husband's elevation that she had
forgotten the handle to his name, of which the tender, inconsistent
woman was not a little proud. And when Kirstie looked up at the
speaker's face, she was aware of a change.
"Godsake, what's the maitter wi' ye, mem?" cried the housekeeper,
starting from the rug.
"I do not ken," answered her mistress, shaking her head. "But he is not
speeritually minded, my dear."
"Here, sit down with ye! Godsake, what ails the wife?" cried Kirstie,
and helped and forced her into my lord's own chair by the cheek of the
"Keep me, what's this?" she gasped. "Kirstie, what's this? I'm
They were her last words.
It was the lowering nightfall when my lord returned. He had the sunset
in his back, all clouds and glory; and before him, by the wayside, spied
Kirstie Elliott waiting. She was dissolved in tears, and addressed him
in the high, false note of barbarous mourning, such as still lingers
modified among Scots heather.
"The Lord peety ye, Hermiston! the Lord prepare ye!" she keened out.
"Weary upon me, that I should have to tell it!"
He reined in his horse and looked upon her with the hanging face.
"Has the French landit?" cried he.
"Man, man," she said, "is that a' ye can think of? The Lord prepare ye:
the Lord comfort and support ye!"
"Is onybody deid?" said his lordship. "It's no Erchie?"
"Bethankit, no!" exclaimed the woman, startled into a more natural tone.
"Na, na, it's no sae bad as that. It's the mistress, my lord; she just
fair flittit before my e'en. She just gi'ed a sab and was by wi' it.
Eh, my bonny Miss Jeannie, that I mind sae weel!" And forth again upon
that pouring tide of lamentation in which women of her class excel and
Lord Hermiston sat in the saddle beholding her. Then he seemed to
recover command upon himself.
"Well, it's something of the suddenest," said he. "But she was a
dwaibly body from the first."
And he rode home at a precipitate amble with Kirstie at his horse's
Dressed as she was for her last walk, they had laid the dead lady on her
bed. She was never interesting in life; in death she was not
impressive; and as her husband stood before her, with his hands crossed
behind his powerful back, that which he looked upon was the very image
of the insignificant.
"Her and me were never cut out for one another," he remarked at last.
"It was a daft-like marriage." And then, with a most unusual gentleness
of tone, "Puir bitch," said he, "puir bitch!" Then suddenly: "Where's
Kirstie had decoyed him to her room and given him "a jeely-piece."
"Ye have some kind of gumption, too," observed the judge, and considered
his housekeeper grimly. "When all's said," he added, "I micht have done
waur - I micht have been marriet upon a skirting Jezebel like you!"
"There's naebody thinking of you, Hermiston!" cried the offended woman.
"We think of her that's out of her sorrows. And could SHE have done
waur? Tell me that, Hermiston - tell me that before her clay-cauld
"Weel, there's some of them gey an' ill to please," observed his
MY Lord Justice-Clerk was known to many; the man Adam Weir perhaps to
none. He had nothing to explain or to conceal; he sufficed wholly and
silently to himself; and that part of our nature which goes out (too
often with false coin) to acquire glory or love, seemed in him to be
omitted. He did not try to be loved, he did not care to be; it is
probable the very thought of it was a stranger to his mind. He was an
admired lawyer, a highly unpopular judge; and he looked down upon those
who were his inferiors in either distinction, who were lawyers of less
grasp or judges not so much detested. In all the rest of his days and
doings, not one trace of vanity appeared; and he went on through life
with a mechanical movement, as of the unconscious; that was almost
He saw little of his son. In the childish maladies with which the boy
was troubled, he would make daily inquiries and daily pay him a visit,
entering the sick-room with a facetious and appalling countenance,
letting off a few perfunctory jests, and going again swiftly, to the
patient's relief. Once, a court holiday falling opportunely, my lord
had his carriage, and drove the child himself to Hermiston, the
customary place of convalescence. It is conceivable he had been more
than usually anxious, for that journey always remained in Archie's
memory as a thing apart, his father having related to him from beginning
to end, and with much detail, three authentic murder cases. Archie went
the usual round of other Edinburgh boys, the high school and the
college; and Hermiston looked on, or rather looked away, with scarce an
affectation of interest in his progress. Daily, indeed, upon a signal
after dinner, he was brought in, given nuts and a glass of port,
regarded sardonically, sarcastically questioned. "Well, sir, and what
have you donn with your book to-day?" my lord might begin, and set him
posers in law Latin. To a child just stumbling into Corderius, Papinian
and Paul proved quite invincible. But papa had memory of no other. He
was not harsh to the little scholar, having a vast fund of patience
learned upon the bench, and was at no pains whether to conceal or to
express his disappointment. "Well, ye have a long jaunt before ye yet!"
he might observe, yawning, and fall back on his own thoughts (as like as
not) until the time came for separation, and my lord would take the
decanter and the glass, and be off to the back chamber looking on the
Meadows, where he toiled on his cases till the hours were small. There
was no "fuller man" on the bench; his memory was marvellous, though
wholly legal; if he had to "advise" extempore, none did it better; yet
there was none who more earnestly prepared. As he thus watched in the
night, or sat at table and forgot the presence of his son, no doubt but
he tasted deeply of recondite pleasures. To be wholly devoted to some
intellectual exercise is to have succeeded in life; and perhaps only in
law and the higher mathematics may this devotion be maintained, suffice
to itself without reaction, and find continual rewards without
excitement. This atmosphere of his father's sterling industry was the
best of Archie's education. Assuredly it did not attract him; assuredly
it rather rebutted and depressed. Yet it was still present, unobserved
like the ticking of a clock, an arid ideal, a tasteless stimulant in the
boy's life.
But Hermiston was not all of one piece. He was, besides, a mighty
toper; he could sit at wine until the day dawned, and pass directly from
the table to the bench with a steady hand and a clear head. Beyond the
third bottle, he showed the plebeian in a larger print; the low, gross
accent, the low, foul mirth, grew broader and commoner; he became less
formidable, and infinitely more disgusting. Now, the boy had inherited
from Jean Rutherford a shivering delicacy, unequally mated with
potential violence. In the playing-fields, and amongst his own
companions, he repaid a coarse expression with a blow; at his father's
table (when the time came for him to join these revels) he turned pale
and sickened in silence. Of all the guests whom he there encountered, he
had toleration for only one: David Keith Carnegie, Lord Glenalmond.
Lord Glenalmond was tall and emaciated, with long features and long
delicate hands. He was often compared with the statue of Forbes of
Culloden in the Parliament House; and his blue eye, at more than sixty,
preserved some of the fire of youth. His exquisite disparity with any
of his fellow-guests, his appearance as of an artist and an aristocrat
stranded in rude company, riveted the boy's attention; and as curiosity
and interest are the things in the world that are the most immediately
and certainly rewarded, Lord Glenalmond was attracted by the boy.
"And so this is your son, Hermiston?" he asked, laying his hand on
Archie's shoulder. "He's getting a big lad."
"Hout!" said the gracious father, "just his mother over again - daurna
say boo to a goose!"
But the stranger retained the boy, talked to him, drew him out, found in
him a taste for letters, and a fine, ardent, modest, youthful soul; and
encouraged him to be a visitor on Sunday evenings in his bare, cold,
lonely dining-room, where he sat and read in the isolation of a bachelor
grown old in refinement. The beautiful gentleness and grace of the old
judge, and the delicacy of his person, thoughts, and language, spoke to
Archie's heart in its own tongue. He conceived the ambition to be such
another; and, when the day came for him to choose a profession, it was
in emulation of Lord Glenalmond, not of Lord Hermiston, that he chose
the Bar. Hermiston looked on at this friendship with some secret pride,
but openly with the intolerance of scorn. He scarce lost an opportunity
to put them down with a rough jape; and, to say truth, it was not
difficult, for they were neither of them quick. He had a word of
contempt for the whole crowd of poets, painters, fiddlers, and their
admirers, the bastard race of amateurs, which was continually on his
lips. "Signor Feedle-eerie!" he would say. "O, for Goad's sake, no
more of the Signor!"
"You and my father are great friends, are you not?" asked Archie once.
"There is no man that I more respect, Archie," replied Lord Glenalmond.
"He is two things of price. He is a great lawyer, and he is upright as
the day."
"You and he are so different," said the boy, his eyes dwelling on those
of his old friend, like a lover's on his mistress's.
"Indeed so," replied the judge; "very different. And so I fear are you
and he. Yet I would like it very ill if my young friend were to
misjudge his father. He has all the Roman virtues: Cato and Brutus were
such; I think a son's heart might well be proud of such an ancestry of
"And I would sooner he were a plaided herd," cried Archie, with sudden
"And that is neither very wise, nor I believe entirely true," returned
Glenalmond. "Before you are done you will find some of these
expressions rise on you like a remorse. They are merely literary and
decorative; they do not aptly express your thought, nor is your thought
clearly apprehended, and no doubt your father (if he were here) would
say, "Signor Feedle-eerie!"
With the infinitely delicate sense of youth, Archie avoided the subject
from that hour. It was perhaps a pity. Had he but talked - talked
freely - let himself gush out in words (the way youth loves to do and
should), there might have been no tale to write upon the Weirs of
Hermiston. But the shadow of a threat of ridicule sufficed; in the
slight tartness of these words he read a prohibition; and it is likely
that Glenalmond meant it so.
Besides the veteran, the boy was without confidant or friend. Serious
and eager, he came through school and college, and moved among a crowd
of the indifferent, in the seclusion of his shyness. He grew up
handsome, with an open, speaking countenance, with graceful, youthful
ways; he was clever, he took prizes, he shone in the Speculative
Society. It should seem he must become the centre of a crowd of
friends; but something that was in part the delicacy of his mother, in
part the austerity of his father, held him aloof from all. It is a
fact, and a strange one, that among his contemporaries Hermiston's son
was thought to be a chip of the old block. "You're a friend of Archie
Weir's?" said one to Frank Innes; and Innes replied, with his usual
flippancy and more than his usual insight: "I know Weir. but I never met
Archie." No one had met Archie, a malady most incident to only sons.
He flew his private signal, and none heeded it; it seemed he was abroad
in a world from which the very hope of intimacy was banished; and he
looked round about him on the concourse of his fellow-students, and
forward to the trivial days and acquaintances that were to come, without
hope or interest.
As time went on, the tough and rough old sinner felt himself drawn to
the son of his loins and sole continuator of his new family, with
softnesses of sentiment that he could hardly credit and was wholly
impotent to express. With a face, voice, and manner trained through
forty years to terrify and repel, Rhadamanthus may be great, but he will
scarce be engaging. It is a fact that he tried to propitiate Archie,
but a fact that cannot be too lightly taken; the attempt was so
unconspicuously made, the failure so stoically supported. Sympathy is
not due to these steadfast iron natures. If he failed to gain his son's
friendship, or even his son's toleration, on he went up the great, bare
staircase of his duty, uncheered and undepressed. There might have been
more pleasure in his relations with Archie, so much he may have
recognised at moments; but pleasure was a by-product of the singular
chemistry of life, which only fools expected.
An idea of Archie's attitude, since we are all grown up and have
forgotten the days of our youth, it is more difficult to convey. He
made no attempt whatsoever to understand the man with whom he dined and
breakfasted. Parsimony of pain, glut of pleasure, these are the two
alternating ends of youth; and Archie was of the parsimonious. The wind
blew cold out of a certain quarter - he turned his back upon it; stayed
as little as was possible in his father's presence; and when there,
averted his eyes as much as was decent from his father's face. The lamp
shone for many hundred days upon these two at table - my lord, ruddy,
gloomy, and unreverent; Archie with a potential brightness that was
always dimmed and veiled in that society; and there were not, perhaps,
in Christendom two men more radically strangers. The father, with a
grand simplicity, either spoke of what interested himself, or maintained
an unaffected silence. The son turned in his head for some topic that
should be quite safe, that would spare him fresh evidences either of my
lord's inherent grossness or of the innocence of his inhumanity;
treading gingerly the ways of intercourse, like a lady gathering up her
skirts in a by-path. If he made a mistake, and my lord began to abound
in matter of offence, Archie drew himself up, his brow grew dark, his
share of the talk expired; but my lord would faithfully and cheerfully
continue to pour out the worst of himself before his silent and offended
"Well, it's a poor hert that never rejoices!" he would say, at the
conclusion of such a nightmare interview. "But I must get to my plewstilts."
And he would seclude himself as usual in his back room, and
Archie go forth into the night and the city quivering with animosity and
IT chanced in the year 1813 that Archie strayed one day into the
Justiciary Court. The macer made room for the son of the presiding
judge. In the dock, the centre of men's eyes, there stood a wheycoloured,
misbegotten caitiff, Duncan Jopp, on trial for his life. His
story, as it was raked out before him in that public scene, was one of
disgrace and vice and cowardice, the very nakedness of crime; and the
creature heard and it seemed at times as though he understood - as if at
times he forgot the horror of the place he stood in, and remembered the
shame of what had brought him there. He kept his head bowed and his
hands clutched upon the rail; his hair dropped in his eyes and at times
he flung it back; and now he glanced about the audience in a sudden
fellness of terror, and now looked in the face of his judge and gulped.
There was pinned about his throat a piece of dingy flannel; and this it
was perhaps that turned the scale in Archie's mind between disgust and
pity. The creature stood in a vanishing point; yet a little while, and
he was still a man, and had eyes and apprehension; yet a little longer,
and with a last sordid piece of pageantry, he would cease to be. And
here, in the meantime, with a trait of human nature that caught at the
beholder's breath, he was tending a sore throat.
Over against him, my Lord Hermiston occupied the bench in the red robes
of criminal jurisdiction, his face framed in the white wig. Honest all
through, he did not affect the virtue of impartiality; this was no case
for refinement; there was a man to be hanged, he would have said, and he
was hanging him. Nor was it possible to see his lordship, and acquit
him of gusto in the task. It was plain he gloried in the exercise of
his trained faculties, in the clear sight which pierced at once into the
joint of fact, in the rude, unvarnished gibes with which he demolished
every figment of defence. He took his ease and jested, unbending in
that solemn place with some of the freedom of the tavern; and the rag of
man with the flannel round his neck was hunted gallowsward with jeers.
Duncan had a mistress, scarce less forlorn and greatly older than
himself, who came up, whimpering and curtseying, to add the weight of
her betrayal. My lord gave her the oath in his most roaring voice, and
added an intolerant warning.
"Mind what ye say now, Janet," said he. "I have an e'e upon ye, I'm ill
to jest with."
Presently, after she was tremblingly embarked on her story, "And what
made ye do this, ye auld runt?" the Court interposed. "Do ye mean to
tell me ye was the panel's mistress?"
"If you please, ma loard," whined the female.
"Godsake! ye made a bonny couple," observed his lordship; and there was
something so formidable and ferocious in his scorn that not even the
galleries thought to laugh.
The summing up contained some jewels.
"These two peetiable creatures seem to have made up thegither, it's not
for us to explain why." - "The panel, who (whatever else he may be)
appears to be equally ill set-out in mind and boady." - "Neither the
panel nor yet the old wife appears to have had so much common sense as
even to tell a lie when it was necessary." And in the course of
sentencing, my lord had this OBITER DICTUM: "I have been the means,
under God, of haanging a great number, but never just such a disjaskit
rascal as yourself." The words were strong in themselves; the light and
heat and detonation of their delivery, and the savage pleasure of the
speaker in his task, made them tingle in the ears.
When all was over, Archie came forth again into a changed world. Had
there been the least redeeming greatness in the crime, any obscurity,
any dubiety, perhaps he might have understood. But the culprit stood,
with his sore throat, in the sweat of his mortal agony, without defence
or excuse: a thing to cover up with blushes: a being so much sunk
beneath the zones of sympathy that pity might seem harmless. And the
judge had pursued him with a monstrous, relishing gaiety, horrible to be
conceived, a trait for nightmares. It is one thing to spear a tiger,
another to crush a toad; there are aesthetics even of the slaughterhouse;
and the loathsomeness of Duncan Jopp enveloped and infected the
image of his judge.
Archie passed by his friends in the High Street with incoherent words
and gestures. He saw Holyrood in a dream, remembrance of its romance
awoke in him and faded; he had a vision of the old radiant stories, of
Queen Mary and Prince Charlie, of the hooded stag, of the splendour and
crime, the velvet and bright iron of the past; and dismissed them with a
cry of pain. He lay and moaned in the Hunter's Bog, and the heavens
were dark above him and the grass of the field an offence. "This is my
father," he said. "I draw my life from him; the flesh upon my bones is
his, the bread I am fed with is the wages of these horrors." He
recalled his mother, and ground his forehead in the earth. He thought
of flight, and where was he to flee to? of other lives, but was there
any life worth living in this den of savage and jeering animals?
The interval before the execution was like a violent dream. He met his
father; he would not look at him, he could not speak to him. It seemed
there was no living creature but must have been swift to recognise that
imminent animosity; but the hide of the Justice-Clerk remained
impenetrable. Had my lord been talkative, the truce could never have
subsisted; but he was by fortune in one of his humours of sour silence;
and under the very guns of his broadside, Archie nursed the enthusiasm
of rebellion. It seemed to him, from the top of his nineteen years'
experience, as if he were marked at birth to be the perpetrator of some
signal action, to set back fallen Mercy, to overthrow the usurping devil
that sat, horned and hoofed, on her throne. Seductive Jacobin figments,
which he had often refuted at the Speculative, swam up in his mind and
startled him as with voices: and he seemed to himself to walk
accompanied by an almost tangible presence of new beliefs and duties.
On the named morning he was at the place of execution. He saw the
fleering rabble, the flinching wretch produced. He looked on for a
while at a certain parody of devotion, which seemed to strip the wretch
of his last claim to manhood. Then followed the brutal instant of
extinction, and the paltry dangling of the remains like a broken
jumping-jack. He had been prepared for something terrible, not for this
tragic meanness. He stood a moment silent, and then - "I denounce this
God-defying murder," he shouted; and his father, if he must have
disclaimed the sentiment, might have owned the stentorian voice with
which it was uttered.
Frank Innes dragged him from the spot. The two handsome lads followed
the same course of study and recreation, and felt a certain mutual
attraction, founded mainly on good looks. It had never gone deep; Frank
was by nature a thin, jeering creature, not truly susceptible whether of
feeling or inspiring friendship; and the relation between the pair was
altogether on the outside, a thing of common knowledge and the
pleasantries that spring from a common acquaintance. The more credit to
Frank that he was appalled by Archie's outburst, and at least conceived
the design of keeping him in sight, and, if possible, in hand, for the
day. But Archie, who had just defied - was it God or Satan? - would not
listen to the word of a college companion.
"I will not go with you," he said. "I do not desire your company, sir;
I would be alone."
"Here, Weir, man, don't be absurd," said Innes, keeping a tight hold
upon his sleeve. "I will not let you go until I know what you mean to
do with yourself; it's no use brandishing that staff." For indeed at
that moment Archie had made a sudden - perhaps a warlike - movement.
"This has been the most insane affair; you know it has. You know very
well that I'm playing the good Samaritan. All I wish is to keep you
"If quietness is what you wish, Mr. Innes," said Archie, "and you will
promise to leave me entirely to myself, I will tell you so much, that I
am going to walk in the country and admire the beauties of nature."
"Honour bright?" asked Frank.
"I am not in the habit of lying, Mr. Innes," retorted Archie. "I have
the honour of wishing you good-day."
"You won't forget the Spec.?" asked Innes.
"The Spec.?" said Archie. "O no, I won't forget the Spec."
And the one young man carried his tortured spirit forth of the city and
all the day long, by one road and another, in an endless pilgrimage of
misery; while the other hastened smilingly to spread the news of Weir's
access of insanity, and to drum up for that night a full attendance at
the Speculative, where further eccentric developments might certainly be
looked for. I doubt if Innes had the least belief in his prediction; I
think it flowed rather from a wish to make the story as good and the
scandal as great as possible; not from any ill-will to Archie - from the
mere pleasure of beholding interested faces. But for all that his words
were prophetic. Archie did not forget the Spec.; he put in an
appearance there at the due time, and, before the evening was over, had
dealt a memorable shock to his companions. It chanced he was the
president of the night. He sat in the same room where the Society still
meets - only the portraits were not there: the men who afterwards sat
for them were then but beginning their career. The same lustre of many
tapers shed its light over the meeting; the same chair, perhaps,
supported him that so many of us have sat in since. At times he seemed
to forget the business of the evening, but even in these periods he sat
with a great air of energy and determination. At times he meddled
bitterly, and launched with defiance those fines which are the precious
and rarely used artillery of the president. He little thought, as he
did so, how he resembled his father, but his friends remarked upon it,
chuckling. So far, in his high place above his fellow-students, he
seemed set beyond the possibility of any scandal; but his mind was made
up - he was determined to fulfil the sphere of his offence. He signed
to Innes (whom he had just fined, and who just impeached his ruling) to
succeed him in the chair, stepped down from the platform, and took his
place by the chimney-piece, the shine of many wax tapers from above
illuminating his pale face, the glow of the great red fire relieving
from behind his slim figure. He had to propose, as an amendment to the
next subject in the case-book, "Whether capital punishment be consistent
with God's will or man's policy?"
A breath of embarrassment, of something like alarm, passed round the
room, so daring did these words appear upon the lips of Hermiston's only
son. But the amendment was not seconded; the previous question was
promptly moved and unanimously voted, and the momentary scandal smuggled
by. Innes triumphed in the fulfilment of his prophecy. He and Archie
were now become the heroes of the night; but whereas every one crowded
about Innes, when the meeting broke up, but one of all his companions
came to speak to Archie.
"Weir, man! That was an extraordinary raid of yours!" observed this
courageous member, taking him confidentially by the arm as they went
"I don't think it a raid," said Archie grimly. "More like a war. I
saw that poor brute hanged this morning, and my gorge rises at it yet."
"Hut-tut," returned his companion, and, dropping his arm like something
hot, he sought the less tense society of others.
Archie found himself alone. The last of the faithful - or was it only
the boldest of the curious? - had fled. He watched the black huddle of
his fellow-students draw off down and up the street, in whispering or
boisterous gangs. And the isolation of the moment weighed upon him like
an omen and an emblem of his destiny in life. Bred up in unbroken fear
himself, among trembling servants, and in a house which (at the least
ruffle in the master's voice) shuddered into silence, he saw himself on
the brink of the red valley of war, and measured the danger and length
of it with awe. He made a detour in the glimmer and shadow of the
streets, came into the back stable lane, and watched for a long while
the light burn steady in the Judge's room. The longer he gazed upon
that illuminated window-blind, the more blank became the picture of the
man who sat behind it, endlessly turning over sheets of process, pausing
to sip a glass of port, or rising and passing heavily about his booklined
walls to verify some reference. He could not combine the brutal
judge and the industrious, dispassionate student; the connecting link
escaped him; from such a dual nature, it was impossible he should
predict behaviour; and he asked himself if he had done well to plunge
into a business of which the end could not be foreseen? and presently
after, with a sickening decline of confidence, if he had done loyally to
strike his father? For he had struck him - defied him twice over and
before a cloud of witnesses - struck him a public buffet before crowds.
Who had called him to judge his father in these precarious and high
questions? The office was usurped. It might have become a stranger; in
a son - there was no blinking it - in a son, it was disloyal. And now,
between these two natures so antipathetic, so hateful to each other,
there was depending an unpardonable affront: and the providence of God
alone might foresee the manner in which it would be resented by Lord
These misgivings tortured him all night and arose with him in the
winter's morning; they followed him from class to class, they made him
shrinkingly sensitive to every shade of manner in his companions, they
sounded in his ears through the current voice of the professor; and he
brought them home with him at night unabated and indeed increased. The
cause of this increase lay in a chance encounter with the celebrated Dr.
Gregory. Archie stood looking vaguely in the lighted window of a book
shop, trying to nerve himself for the approaching ordeal. My lord and
he had met and parted in the morning as they had now done for long, with
scarcely the ordinary civilities of life; and it was plain to the son
that nothing had yet reached the father's ears. Indeed, when he
recalled the awful countenance of my lord, a timid hope sprang up in him
that perhaps there would be found no one bold enough to carry tales. If
this were so, he asked himself, would he begin again? and he found no
answer. It was at this moment that a hand was laid upon his arm, and a
voice said in his ear, "My dear Mr. Archie, you had better come and see
He started, turned round, and found himself face to face with Dr.
Gregory. "And why should I come to see you?" he asked, with the
defiance of the miserable.
"Because you are looking exceedingly ill," said the doctor, "and you
very evidently want looking after, my young friend. Good folk are
scarce, you know; and it is not every one that would be quite so much
missed as yourself. It is not every one that Hermiston would miss."
And with a nod and a smile, the doctor passed on.
A moment after, Archie was in pursuit, and had in turn, but more
roughly, seized him by the arm.
"What do you mean? what did you mean by saying that? What makes you
think that Hermis - my father would have missed me?"
The doctor turned about and looked him all over with a clinical eye. A
far more stupid man than Dr. Gregory might have guessed the truth; but
ninety-nine out of a hundred, even if they had been equally inclined to
kindness, would have blundered by some touch of charitable exaggeration.
The doctor was better inspired. He knew the father well; in that white
face of intelligence and suffering, he divined something of the son; and
he told, without apology or adornment, the plain truth.
"When you had the measles, Mr. Archibald, you had them gey and ill; and
I thought you were going to slip between my fingers," he said. "Well,
your father was anxious. How did I know it? says you. Simply because I
am a trained observer. The sign that I saw him make, ten thousand would
have missed; and perhaps - PERHAPS, I say, because he's a hard man to
judge of - but perhaps he never made another. A strange thing to
consider! It was this. One day I came to him: `Hermiston,' said I,
`there's a change.' He never said a word, just glowered at me (if ye'll
pardon the phrase) like a wild beast. `A change for the better,' said
I. And I distinctly heard him take his breath."
The doctor left no opportunity for anti-climax; nodding his cocked hat
(a piece of antiquity to which he clung) and repeating "Distinctly" with
raised eye-brows, he took his departure, and left Archie speechless in
the street.
The anecdote might be called infinitely little, and yet its meaning for
Archie was immense. "I did not know the old man had so much blood in
him." He had never dreamed this sire of his, this aboriginal antique,
this adamantine Adam, had even so much of a heart as to be moved in the
least degree for another - and that other himself, who had insulted him!
With the generosity of youth, Archie was instantly under arms upon the
other side: had instantly created a new image of Lord Hermiston, that of
a man who was all iron without and all sensibility within. The mind of
the vile jester, the tongue that had pursued Duncan Jopp with unmanly
insults, the unbeloved countenance that he had known and feared for so
long, were all forgotten; and he hastened home, impatient to confess his
misdeeds, impatient to throw himself on the mercy of this imaginary
He was not to be long without a rude awakening. It was in the gloaming
when he drew near the door-step of the lighted house, and was aware of
the figure of his father approaching from the opposite side. Little
daylight lingered; but on the door being opened, the strong yellow shine
of the lamp gushed out upon the landing and shone full on Archie, as he
stood, in the old-fashioned observance of respect, to yield precedence.
The judge came without haste, stepping stately and firm; his chin
raised, his face (as he entered the lamplight) strongly illumined, his
mouth set hard. There was never a wink of change in his expression;
without looking to the right or left, he mounted the stair, passed close
to Archie, and entered the house. Instinctively, the boy, upon his
first coming, had made a movement to meet him; instinctively he recoiled
against the railing, as the old man swept by him in a pomp of
indignation. Words were needless; he knew all - perhaps more than all -
and the hour of judgment was at hand.
It is possible that, in this sudden revulsion of hope, and before these
symptoms of impending danger, Archie might have fled. But not even that
was left to him. My lord, after hanging up his cloak and hat, turned
round in the lighted entry, and made him an imperative and silent
gesture with his thumb, and with the strange instinct of obedience,
Archie followed him into the house.
All dinner-time there reigned over the Judge's table a palpable silence,
and as soon as the solids were despatched he rose to his feet.
"M'Killup, tak' the wine into my room," said he; and then to his son:
"Archie, you and me has to have a talk."
It was at this sickening moment that Archie's courage, for the first and
last time, entirely deserted him. "I have an appointment," said he.
"It'll have to be broken, then," said Hermiston, and led the way into
his study.
The lamp was shaded, the fire trimmed to a nicety, the table covered
deep with orderly documents, the backs of law books made a frame upon
all sides that was only broken by the window and the doors.
For a moment Hermiston warmed his hands at the fire, presenting his back
to Archie; then suddenly disclosed on him the terrors of the Hanging
"What's this I hear of ye?" he asked.
There was no answer possible to Archie.
"I'll have to tell ye, then," pursued Hermiston. "It seems ye've been
skirting against the father that begot ye, and one of his Maijesty's
Judges in this land; and that in the public street, and while an order
of the Court was being executit. Forbye which, it would appear that
ye've been airing your opeenions in a Coallege Debatin' Society"; he
paused a moment: and then, with extraordinary bitterness, added: "Ye
damned eediot."
"I had meant to tell you," stammered Archie. "I see you are well
"Muckle obleeged to ye," said his lordship, and took his usual seat.
"And so you disapprove of Caapital Punishment?" he added.
"I am sorry, sir, I do," said Archie.
"I am sorry, too," said his lordship. "And now, if you please, we shall
approach this business with a little more parteecularity. I hear that
at the hanging of Duncan Jopp - and, man! ye had a fine client there -
in the middle of all the riff-raff of the ceety, ye thought fit to cry
out, `This is a damned murder, and my gorge rises at the man that
haangit him.' "
"No, sir, these were not my words," cried Archie.
"What were yer words, then?" asked the Judge.
"I believe I said, `I denounce it as a murder!'" said the son. "I beg
your pardon - a God-defying murder. I have no wish to conceal the
truth," he added, and looked his father for a moment in the face.
"God, it would only need that of it next!" cried Hermiston. "There was
nothing about your gorge rising, then?"
"That was afterwards, my lord, as I was leaving the Speculative. I said
I had been to see the miserable creature hanged, and my gorge rose at
"Did ye, though?" said Hermiston. "And I suppose ye knew who haangit
"I was present at the trial, I ought to tell you that, I ought to
explain. I ask your pardon beforehand for any expression that may seem
undutiful. The position in which I stand is wretched," said the unhappy
hero, now fairly face to face with the business he had chosen. "I have
been reading some of your cases. I was present while Jopp was tried.
It was a hideous business. Father, it was a hideous thing! Grant he
was vile, why should you hunt him with a vileness equal to his own? It
was done with glee - that is the word - you did it with glee; and I
looked on, God help me! with horror."
"You're a young gentleman that doesna approve of Caapital Punishment,"
said Hermiston. "Weel, I'm an auld man that does. I was glad to get
Jopp haangit, and what for would I pretend I wasna? You're all for
honesty, it seems; you couldn't even steik your mouth on the public
street. What for should I steik mines upon the bench, the King's
officer, bearing the sword, a dreid to evil-doers, as I was from the
beginning, and as I will be to the end! Mair than enough of it!
Heedious! I never gave twa thoughts to heediousness, I have no call to
be bonny. I'm a man that gets through with my day's business, and let
that suffice."
The ring of sarcasm had died out of his voice as he went on; the plain
words became invested with some of the dignity of the Justice-seat.
"It would be telling you if you could say as much," the speaker resumed.
"But ye cannot. Ye've been reading some of my cases, ye say. But it
was not for the law in them, it was to spy out your faither's nakedness,
a fine employment in a son. You're splairging; you're running at lairge
in life like a wild nowt. It's impossible you should think any longer
of coming to the Bar. You're not fit for it; no splairger is. And
another thing: son of mines or no son of mines, you have flung fylement
in public on one of the Senators of the Coallege of Justice, and I would
make it my business to see that ye were never admitted there yourself.
There is a kind of a decency to be observit. Then comes the next of it
- what am I to do with ye next? Ye'll have to find some kind of a
trade, for I'll never support ye in idleset. What do ye fancy ye'll be
fit for? The pulpit? Na, they could never get diveenity into that
bloackhead. Him that the law of man whammles is no likely to do muckle
better by the law of God. What would ye make of hell? Wouldna your
gorge rise at that? Na, there's no room for splairgers under the fower
quarters of John Calvin. What else is there? Speak up. Have ye got
nothing of your own?"
"Father, let me go to the Peninsula," said Archie. "That's all I'm fit
for - to fight."
"All? quo' he!" returned the Judge. "And it would be enough too, if I
thought it. But I'll never trust ye so near the French, you that's so
"You do me injustice there, sir," said Archie. "I am loyal; I will not
boast; but any interest I may have ever felt in the French - "
"Have ye been so loyal to me?" interrupted his father.
There came no reply.
"I think not," continued Hermiston. "And I would send no man to be a
servant to the King, God bless him! that has proved such a shauchling
son to his own faither. You can splairge here on Edinburgh street, and
where's the hairm? It doesna play buff on me! And if there were twenty
thousand eediots like yourself, sorrow a Duncan Jopp would hang the
fewer. But there's no splairging possible in a camp; and if ye were to
go to it, you would find out for yourself whether Lord Well'n'ton
approves of caapital punishment or not. You a sodger!" he cried, with a
sudden burst of scorn. "Ye auld wife, the sodgers would bray at ye like
As at the drawing of a curtain, Archie was aware of some illogicality in
his position, and stood abashed. He had a strong impression, besides,
of the essential valour of the old gentleman before him, how conveyed it
would be hard to say.
"Well, have ye no other proposeetion?" said my lord again.
"You have taken this so calmly, sir, that I cannot but stand ashamed,"
began Archie.
"I'm nearer voamiting, though, than you would fancy," said my lord.
The blood rose to Archie's brow.
"I beg your pardon, I should have said that you had accepted my affront.
. . . I admit it was an affront; I did not think to apologise, but I do,
I ask your pardon; it will not be so again, I pass you my word of
honour. . . . I should have said that I admired your magnanimity with -
this - offender," Archie concluded with a gulp.
"I have no other son, ye see," said Hermiston. "A bonny one I have
gotten! But I must just do the best I can wi' him, and what am I to do?
If ye had been younger, I would have wheepit ye for this rideeculous
exhibeetion. The way it is, I have just to grin and bear. But one
thing is to be clearly understood. As a faither, I must grin and bear
it; but if I had been the Lord Advocate instead of the Lord Justice-
Clerk, son or no son, Mr. Erchibald Weir would have been in a jyle the
Archie was now dominated. Lord Hermiston was coarse and cruel; and yet
the son was aware of a bloomless nobility, an ungracious abnegation of
the man's self in the man's office. At every word, this sense of the
greatness of Lord Hermiston's spirit struck more home; and along with it
that of his own impotence, who had struck - and perhaps basely struck -
at his own father, and not reached so far as to have even nettled him.
"I place myself in your hands without reserve," he said.
"That's the first sensible word I've had of ye the night," said
Hermiston. "I can tell ye, that would have been the end of it, the one
way or the other; but it's better ye should come there yourself, than
what I would have had to hirstle ye. Weel, by my way of it - and my way
is the best - there's just the one thing it's possible that ye might be
with decency, and that's a laird. Ye'll be out of hairm's way at the
least of it. If ye have to rowt, ye can rowt amang the kye; and the
maist feck of the caapital punishmeiit ye're like to come across'll be
guddling trouts. Now, I'm for no idle lairdies; every man has to work,
if it's only at peddling ballants; to work, or to be wheeped, or to be
haangit. If I set ye down at Hermiston I'll have to see you work that
place the way it has never been workit yet; ye must ken about the sheep
like a herd; ye must be my grieve there, and I'll see that I gain by ye.
Is that understood?"
"I will do my best," said Archie.
"Well, then, I'll send Kirstie word the morn, and ye can go yourself the
day after," said Hermiston. "And just try to be less of an eediot!" he
concluded with a freezing smile, and turned immediately to the papers on
his desk.
LATE the same night, after a disordered walk, Archie was admitted into
Lord Glenalmond's dining-room, where he sat with a book upon his knee,
beside three frugal coals of fire. In his robes upon the bench,
Glenalmond had a certain air of burliness: plucked of these, it was a
may-pole of a man that rose unsteadily from his chair to give his
visitor welcome. Archie had suffered much in the last days, he had
suffered again that evening; his face was white and drawn, his eyes wild
and dark. But Lord Glenalmond greeted him without the least mark of
surprise or curiosity.
"Come in, come in," said he. "Come in and take a seat. Carstairs" (to
his servant), "make up the fire, and then you can bring a bit of
supper," and again to Archie, with a very trivial accent: "I was half
expecting you," he added.
"No supper," said Archie. "It is impossible that I should eat."
"Not impossible," said the tall old man, laying his hand upon his
shoulder, "and, if you will believe me, necessary."
"You know what brings me?" said Archie, as soon as the servant had left
the room.
"I have a guess, I have a guess," replied Glenalmond. "We will talk of
it presently - when Carstairs has come and gone, and you have had a
piece of my good Cheddar cheese and a pull at the porter tankard: not
"It is impossible I should eat" repeated Archie.
"Tut, tut!" said Lord Glenalmond. "You have eaten nothing to-day, and I
venture to add, nothing yesterday. There is no case that may not be
made worse; this may be a very disagreeable business, but if you were to
fall sick and die, it would be still more so, and for all concerned -
for all concerned."
"I see you must know all," said Archie. "Where did you hear it?"
"In the mart of scandal, in the Parliament House," said Glenalmond. "It
runs riot below among the bar and the public, but it sifts up to us upon
the bench, and rumour has some of her voices even in the divisions."
Carstairs returned at this moment, and rapidly laid out a little supper;
during which Lord Glenalmond spoke at large and a little vaguely on
indifferent subjects, so that it might be rather said of him that he
made a cheerful noise, than that he contributed to human conversation;
and Archie sat upon the other side, not heeding him, brooding over his
wrongs and errors.
But so soon as the servant was gone, he broke forth again at once. "Who
told my father? Who dared to tell him? Could it have been you?"
"No, it was not me," said the Judge; "although - to be quite frank with
you, and after I had seen and warned you - it might have been me - I
believe it was Glenkindie."
"That shrimp!" cried Archie.
"As you say, that shrimp," returned my lord; "although really it is
scarce a fitting mode of expression for one of the senators of the
College of Justice. We were hearing the parties in a long, crucial
case, before the fifteen; Creech was moving at some length for an
infeftment; when I saw Glenkindie lean forward to Hermiston with his
hand over his mouth and make him a secret communication. No one could
have guessed its nature from your father: from Glenkindie, yes, his
malice sparked out of him a little grossly. But your father, no. A man
of granite. The next moment he pounced upon Creech. `Mr. Creech,' says
he, `I'll take a look of that sasine,' and for thirty minutes after,"
said Glenalmond, with a smile, "Messrs. Creech and Co. were fighting a
pretty up-hill battle, which resulted, I need hardly add, in their total
rout. The case was dismissed. No, I doubt if ever I heard Hermiston
better inspired. He was literally rejoicing IN APICIBUS JURIS."
Archie was able to endure no longer. He thrust his plate away and
interrupted the deliberate and insignificant stream of talk. "Here," he
said, "I have made a fool of myself, if I have not made something worse.
Do you judge between us - judge between a father and a son. I can speak
to you; it is not like ... I will tell you what I feel and what I mean
to do; and you shall be the judge," he repeated.
"I decline jurisdiction," said Glenalmond, with extreme seriousness.
"But, my dear boy, if it will do you any good to talk, and if it will
interest you at all to hear what I may choose to say when I have heard
you, I am quite at your command. Let an old man say it, for once, and
not need to blush: I love you like a son."
There came a sudden sharp sound in Archie's throat. "Ay," he cried,
"and there it is! Love! Like a son! And how do you think I love my
"Quietly, quietly," says my lord.
"I will be very quiet," replied Archie. "And I will be baldly frank. I
do not love my father; I wonder sometimes if I do not hate him. There's
my shame; perhaps my sin; at least, and in the sight of God, not my
fault. How was I to love him? He has never spoken to me, never smiled
upon me; I do not think he ever touched me. You know the way he talks?
You do not talk so, yet you can sit and hear him without shuddering, and
I cannot. My soul is sick when he begins with it; I could smite him in
the mouth. And all that's nothing. I was at the trial of this Jopp.
You were not there, but you must have heard him often; the man's
notorious for it, for being - look at my position! he's my father and
this is how I have to speak of him - notorious for being a brute and
cruel and a coward. Lord Glenalmond, I give you my word, when I came
out of that Court, I longed to die - the shame of it was beyond my
strength: but I - I -" he rose from his seat and began to pace the room
in a disorder. "Well, who am I? A boy, who have never been tried, have
never done anything except this twopenny impotent folly with my father.
But I tell you, my lord, and I know myself, I am at least that kind of a
man - or that kind of a boy, if you prefer it - that I could die in
torments rather than that any one should suffer as that scoundrel
suffered. Well, and what have I done? I see it now. I have made a
fool of myself, as I said in the beginning; and I have gone back, and
asked my father's pardon, and placed myself wholly in his hands - and he
has sent me to Hermiston," with a wretched smile, "for life, I suppose -
and what can I say? he strikes me as having done quite right, and let me
off better than I had deserved."
"My poor, dear boy!" observed Glenalmond. "My poor dear and, if you
will allow me to say so, very foolish boy! You are only discovering
where you are; to one of your temperament, or of mine, a painful
discovery. The world was not made for us; it was made for ten hundred
millions of men, all different from each other and from us; there's no
royal road there, we just have to sclamber and tumble. Don't think that
I am at all disposed to be surprised; don't suppose that I ever think of
blaming you; indeed I rather admire! But there fall to be offered one
or two observations on the case which occur to me and which (if you will
listen to them dispassionately) may be the means of inducing you to view
the matter more calmly. First of all, I cannot acquit you of a good
deal of what is called intolerance. You seem to have been very much
offended because your father talks a little sculduddery after dinner,
which it is perfectly licit for him to do, and which (although I am not
very fond of it myself) appears to be entirely an affair of taste. Your
father, I scarcely like to remind you, since it is so trite a
commonplace, is older than yourself. At least, he is MAJOR and SUI
JURIS, and may please himself in the matter of his conversation. And,
do you know, I wonder if he might not have as good an answer against you
and me? We say we sometimes find him COARSE, but I suspect he might
retort that he finds us always dull. Perhaps a relevant exception."
He beamed on Archie, but no smile could be elicited.
"And now," proceeded the Judge, "for `Archibald on Capital Punishment.'
This is a very plausible academic opinion; of course I do not and I
cannot hold it; but that's not to say that many able and excellent
persons have not done so in the past. Possibly, in the past also, I may
have a little dipped myself in the same heresy. My third client, or
possibly my fourth, was the means of a return in my opinions. I never
saw the man I more believed in; I would have put my hand in the fire, I
would have gone to the cross for him; and when it came to trial he was
gradually pictured before me, by undeniable probation, in the light of
so gross, so cold-blooded, and so black-hearted a villain, that I had a
mind to have cast my brief upon the table. I was then boiling against
the man with even a more tropical temperature than I had been boiling
for him. But I said to myself: `No, you have taken up his case; and
because you have changed your mind it must not be suffered to let drop.
All that rich tide of eloquence that you prepared last night with so
much enthusiasm is out of place, and yet you must not desert him, you
must say something.' So I said something, and I got him off. It made
my reputation. But an experience of that kind is formative. A man must
not bring his passions to the bar - or to the bench," he added.
The story had slightly rekindled Archie's interest. "I could never
deny," he began - "I mean I can conceive that some men would be better
dead. But who are we to know all the springs of God's unfortunate
creatures? Who are we to trust ourselves where it seems that God
Himself must think twice before He treads, and to do it with delight?
Yes, with delight. TIGRIS UT ASPERA."
"Perhaps not a pleasant spectacle," said Glenalmond. "And yet, do you
know, I think somehow a great one."
"I've had a long talk with him to-night," said Archie.
"I was supposing so," said Glenalmond.
"And he struck me - I cannot deny that he struck me as something very
big," pursued the son. "Yes, he is big. He never spoke about himself;
only about me. I suppose I admired him. The dreadful part - "
"Suppose we did not talk about that," interrupted Glenalmond. "You know
it very well, it cannot in any way help that you should brood upon it,
and I sometimes wonder whether you and I - who are a pair of
sentimentalists - are quite good judges of plain men."
"How do you mean?" asked Archie.
"FAIR judges, mean," replied Glenalmond. "Can we be just to them? Do
we not ask too much? There was a word of yours just now that impressed
me a little when you asked me who we were to know all the springs of
God's unfortunate creatures. You applied that, as I understood, to
capital cases only. But does it - I ask myself - does it not apply all
through? Is it any less difficult to judge of a good man or of a halfgood
man, than of the worst criminal at the bar? And may not each have
relevant excuses?"
"Ah, but we do not talk of punishing the good," cried Archie.
"No, we do not talk of it," said Glenalmond. "But I think we do it. Your
father, for instance."
"You think I have punished him?" cried Archie.
Lord Glenalmond bowed his head.
"I think I have," said Archie. "And the worst is, I think he feels it!
How much, who can tell, with such a being? But I think he does."
"And I am sure of it," said Glenalmond.
"Has he spoken to you, then?" cried Archie.
"O no," replied the judge.
"I tell you honestly," said Archie, "I want to make it up to him. I
will go, I have already pledged myself to go to Hermiston. That was to
him. And now I pledge myself to you, in the sight of God, that I will
close my mouth on capital punishment and all other subjects where our
views may clash, for - how long shall I say? when shall I have sense
enough? - ten years. Is that well?"
"It is well," said my lord.
"As far as it goes," said Archie. "It is enough as regards myself, it
is to lay down enough of my conceit. But as regards him, whom I have
publicly insulted? What am I to do to him? How do you pay attentions
to a - an Alp like that?"
"Only in one way," replied Glenalmond. "Only by obedience, punctual,
prompt, and scrupulous."
"And I promise that he shall have it," answered Archie. "I offer you my
hand in pledge of it."
"And I take your hand as a solemnity," replied the judge. "God bless
you, my dear, and enable you to keep your promise. God guide you in the
true way, and spare your days, and preserve to you your honest heart."
At that, he kissed the young man upon the forehead in a gracious,
distant, antiquated way; and instantly launched, with a marked change of
voice, into another subject. "And now, let us replenish the tankard;
and I believe if you will try my Cheddar again, you would find you had a
better appetite. The Court has spoken, and the case is dismissed."
"No, there is one thing I must say," cried Archie. "I must say it in
justice to himself. I know - I believe faithfully, slavishly, after our
talk - he will never ask me anything unjust. I am proud to feel it,
that we have that much in common, I am proud to say it to you."
The Judge, with shining eyes, raised his tankard. "And I think perhaps
that we might permit ourselves a toast," said he. "I should like to
propose the health of a man very different from me and very much my
superior - a man from whom I have often differed, who has often (in
the trivial expression) rubbed me the wrong way, but whom I have never
ceased to respect and, I may add, to be not a little afraid of. Shall
I give you his name?"
"The Lord Justice-Clerk, Lord Hermiston," said Archie, almost with
gaiety; and the pair drank the toast deeply.
It was not precisely easy to re-establish, after these emotional
passages, the natural flow of conversation. But the Judge eked out what
was wanting with kind looks, produced his snuff-box (which was very
rarely seen) to fill in a pause, and at last, despairing of any further
social success, was upon the point of getting down a book to read a
favourite passage, when there came a rather startling summons at the
front door, and Carstairs ushered in my Lord Glenkindie, hot from a
midnight supper. I am not aware that Glenkindie was ever a beautiful
object, being short, and gross-bodied, and with an expression of
sensuality comparable to a bear's. At that moment, coming in hissing
from many potations, with a flushed countenance and blurred eyes, he was
strikingly contrasted with the tall, pale, kingly figure of Glenalmond.
A rush of confused thought came over Archie - of shame that this was one
of his father's elect friends; of pride, that at the least of it
Hermiston could carry his liquor; and last of all, of rage, that he
should have here under his eyes the man that had betrayed him. And then
that too passed away; and he sat quiet, biding his opportunity.
The tipsy senator plunged at once into an explanation with Glenalmond.
There was a point reserved yesterday, he had been able to make neither
head nor tail of it, and seeing lights in the house, he had just dropped
in for a glass of porter - and at this point he became aware of the
third person. Archie saw the cod's mouth and the blunt lips of
Glenkindie gape at him for a moment, and the recognition twinkle in his
"Who's this?" said he. "What? is this possibly you, Don Quickshot? And
how are ye? And how's your father? And what's all this we hear of you?
It seems you're a most extraordinary leveller, by all tales. No king,
no parliaments, and your gorge rises at the macers, worthy men! Hoot,
toot! Dear, dear me! Your father's son too! Most rideeculous!"
Archie was on his feet, flushing a little at the reappearance of his
unhappy figure of speech, but perfectly self-possessed. "My lord - and
you, Lord Glenalmond, my dear friend," he began, "this is a happy chance
for me, that I can make my confession and offer my apologies to two of
you at once."
"Ah, but I don't know about that. Confession? It'll be judeecial, my
young friend," cried the jocular Glenkindie. "And I'm afraid to listen
to ye. Think if ye were to make me a coanvert!"
"If you would allow me, my lord," returned Archie, "what I have to say
is very serious to me; and be pleased to be humorous after I am gone!"
"Remember, I'll hear nothing against the macers!" put in the
incorrigible Glenkindie.
But Archie continued as though he had not spoken. "I have played, both
yesterday and to-day, a part for which I can only offer the excuse of
youth. I was so unwise as to go to an execution; it seems I made a
scene at the gallows; not content with which, I spoke the same night in
a college society against capital punishment. This is the extent of
what I have done, and in case you hear more alleged against me, I
protest my innocence. I have expressed my regret already to my father,
who is so good as to pass my conduct over - in a degree, and upon the
condition that I am to leave my law studies." . . .
THE road to Hermiston runs for a great part of the way up the valley of
a stream, a favourite with anglers and with midges, full of falls and
pools, and shaded by willows and natural woods of birch. Here and
there, but at great distances, a byway branches off, and a gaunt
farmhouse may be descried above in a fold of the hill; but the more part
of the time, the road would be quite empty of passage and the hills of
habitation. Hermiston parish is one of the least populous in Scotland;
and, by the time you came that length, you would scarce be surprised at
the inimitable smallness of the kirk, a dwarfish, ancient place seated
for fifty, and standing in a green by the burn-side among two-score
gravestones. The manse close by, although no more than a cottage, is
surrounded by the brightness of a flower-garden and the straw roofs of
bees; and the whole colony, kirk and manse, garden and graveyard, finds
harbourage in a grove of rowans, and is all the year round in a great
silence broken only by the drone of the bees, the tinkle of the burn,
and the bell on Sundays. A mile beyond the kirk the road leaves the
valley by a precipitous ascent, and brings you a little after to the
place of Hermiston, where it comes to an end in the back-yard before the
coach-house. All beyond and about is the great field, of the hills; the
plover, the curlew, and the lark cry there; the wind blows as it blows
in a ship's rigging, hard and cold and pure; and the hill-tops huddle
one behind another like a herd of cattle into the sunset.
The house was sixty years old, unsightly, comfortable; a farmyard and a
kitchen-garden on the left, with a fruit wall where little hard green
pears came to their maturity about the end of October.
The policy (as who should say the park) was of some extent, but very ill
reclaimed; heather and moorfowl had crossed the boundary wall and spread
and roosted within; and it would have tasked a landscape gardener to say
where policy ended and unpolicied nature began. My lord had been led by
the influence of Mr. Sheriff Scott into a considerable design of
planting; many acres were accordingly set out with fir, and the little
feathery besoms gave a false scale and lent a strange air of a toy-shop
to the moors. A great, rooty sweetness of bogs was in the air, and at
all seasons an infinite melancholy piping of hill birds. Standing so
high and with so little shelter, it was a cold, exposed house, splashed
by showers, drenched by continuous rains that made the gutters to spout,
beaten upon and buffeted by all the winds of heaven; and the prospect
would be often black with tempest, and often white with the snows of
winter. But the house was wind and weather proof, the hearths were kept
bright, and the rooms pleasant with live fires of peat; and Archie might
sit of an evening and hear the squalls bugle on the moorland, and watch
the fire prosper in the earthy fuel, and the smoke winding up the
chimney, and drink deep of the pleasures of shelter.
Solitary as the place was, Archie did not want neighbours. Every night,
if he chose, he might go down to the manse and share a "brewst" of toddy
with the minister - a hare-brained ancient gentleman, long and light and
still active, though his knees were loosened with age, and his voice
broke continually in childish trebles - and his lady wife, a heavy,
comely dame, without a word to say for herself beyond good-even and
good-day. Harum-scarum, clodpole young lairds of the neighbourhood paid
him the compliment of a visit. Young Hay of Romanes rode down to call,
on his crop-eared pony; young Pringle of Drumanno came up on his bony
grey. Hay remained on the hospitable field, and must be carried to bed;
Pringle got somehow to his saddle about 3 A.M., and (as Archie stood
with the lamp on the upper doorstep) lurched, uttered a senseless viewholloa,
and vanished out of the small circle of illumination like a
wraith. Yet a minute or two longer the clatter of his break-neck flight
was audible, then it was cut off by the intervening steepness of the
hill; and again, a great while after, the renewed beating of phantom
horse-hoofs, far in the valley of the Hermiston, showed that the horse
at least, if not his rider, was still on the homeward way.
There was a Tuesday club at the "Cross-keys" in Crossmichael, where the
young bloods of the country-side congregated and drank deep on a
percentage of the expense, so that he was left gainer who should have
drunk the most. Archie had no great mind to this diversion, but he took
it like a duty laid upon him, went with a decent regularity, did his
manfullest with the liquor, held up his head in the local jests, and got
home again and was able to put up his horse, to the admiration of
Kirstie and the lass that helped her. He dined at Driffel, supped at
Windielaws. He went to the new year's ball at Huntsfield and was made
welcome, and thereafter rode to hounds with my Lord Muirfell, upon whose
name, as that of a legitimate Lord of Parliament, in a work so full of
Lords of Session, my pen should pause reverently. Yet the same fate
attended him here as in Edinburgh. The habit of solitude tends to
perpetuate itself, and an austerity of which he was quite unconscious,
and a pride which seemed arrogance, and perhaps was chiefly shyness,
discouraged and offended his new companions. Hay did not return more
than twice, Pringle never at all, and there came a time when Archie even
desisted from the Tuesday Club, and became in all things - what he had
had the name of almost from the first - the Recluse of Hermiston.
High-nosed Miss Pringle of Drumanno and high-stepping Miss Marshall of
the Mains were understood to have had a difference of opinion about him
the day after the ball - he was none the wiser, he could not suppose
himself to be remarked by these entrancing ladies. At the ball itself
my Lord Muirfell's daughter, the Lady Flora, spoke to him twice, and the
second time with a touch of appeal, so that her colour rose and her
voice trembled a little in his ear, like a passing grace in music. He
stepped back with a heart on fire, coldly and not ungracefully excused
himself, and a little after watched her dancing with young Drumanno of
the empty laugh, and was harrowed at the sight, and raged to himself
that this was a world in which it was given to Drumanno to please, and
to himself only to stand aside and envy. He seemed excluded, as of
right, from the favour of such society - seemed to extinguish mirth
wherever he came, and was quick to feel the wound, and desist, and
retire into solitude. If he had but understood the figure he presented,
and the impression he made on these bright eyes and tender hearts; if he
had but guessed that the Recluse of Hermiston, young, graceful, well
spoken, but always cold, stirred the maidens of the county with the
charm of Byronism when Byronism was new, it may be questioned whether
his destiny might not even yet have been modified. It may be
questioned, and I think it should be doubted. It was in his horoscope
to be parsimonious of pain to himself, or of the chance of pain, even to
the avoidance of any opportunity of pleasure; to have a Roman sense of
duty, an instinctive aristocracy of manners and taste; to be the son of
Adam Weir and Jean Rutherford.
Kirstie was now over fifty, and might have sat to a sculptor. Long of
limb, and still light of foot, deep-breasted, robust-loined, her golden
hair not yet mingled with any trace of silver, the years had but
caressed and embellished her. By the lines of a rich and vigorous
maternity, she seemed destined to be the bride of heroes and the mother
of their children; and behold, by the iniquity of fate, she had passed
through her youth alone, and drew near to the confines of age, a
childless woman. The tender ambitions that she had received at birth
had been, by time and disappointment, diverted into a certain barren
zeal of industry and fury of interference. She carried her thwarted
ardours into housework, she washed floors with her empty heart. If she
could not win the love of one with love, she must dominate all by her
temper. Hasty, wordy, and wrathful, she had a drawn quarrel with most
of her neighbours, and with the others not much more than armed
neutrality. The grieve's wife had been "sneisty"; the sister of the
gardener who kept house for him had shown herself "upsitten"; and she
wrote to Lord Hermiston about once a year demanding the discharge of the
offenders, and justifying the demand by much wealth of detail. For it
must not be supposed that the quarrel rested with the wife and did not
take in the husband also - or with the gardener's sister, and did not
speedily include the gardener himself. As the upshot of all this petty
quarrelling and intemperate speech, she was practically excluded (like a
lightkeeper on his tower) from the comforts of human association; except
with her own indoor drudge, who, being but a lassie and entirely at her
mercy, must submit to the shifty weather of "the mistress's" moods
without complaint, and be willing to take buffets or caresses according
to the temper of the hour. To Kirstie, thus situate and in the Indian
summer of her heart, which was slow to submit to age, the gods sent this
equivocal good thing of Archie's presence. She had known him in the
cradle and paddled him when he misbehaved; and yet, as she had not so
much as set eyes on him since he was eleven and had his last serious
illness, the tall, slender, refined, and rather melancholy young
gentleman of twenty came upon her with the shock of a new acquaintance.
He was "Young Hermiston," "the laird himsel' ": he had an air of
distinctive superiority, a cold straight glance of his black eyes, that
abashed the woman's tantrums in the beginning, and therefore the
possibility of any quarrel was excluded. He was new, and therefore
immediately aroused her curiosity; he was reticent, and kept it awake.
And lastly he was dark and she fair, and he was male and she female, the
everlasting fountains of interest.
Her feeling partook of the loyalty of a clanswoman, the hero-worship of
a maiden aunt, and the idolatry due to a god. No matter what he had
asked of her, ridiculous or tragic, she would have done it and joyed to
do it. Her passion, for it was nothing less, entirely filled her. It
was a rich physical pleasure to make his bed or light his lamp for him
when he was absent, to pull off his wet boots or wait on him at dinner
when he returned. A young man who should have so doted on the idea,
moral and physical, of any woman, might be properly described as being
in love, head and heels, and would have behaved himself accordingly.
But Kirstie - though her heart leaped at his coming footsteps - though,
when he patted her shoulder, her face brightened for the day - had not a
hope or thought beyond the present moment and its perpetuation to the
end of time. Till the end of time she would have had nothing altered,
but still continue delightedly to serve her idol, and be repaid (say
twice in the month) with a clap on the shoulder.
I have said her heart leaped - it is the accepted phrase. But rather,
when she was alone in any chamber of the house, and heard his foot
passing on the corridors, something in her bosom rose slowly until her
breath was suspended, and as slowly fell again with a deep sigh, when
the steps had passed and she was disappointed of her eyes' desire. This
perpetual hunger and thirst of his presence kept her all day on the
alert. When he went forth at morning, she would stand and follow him
with admiring looks. As it grew late and drew to the time of his return,
she would steal forth to a corner of the policy wall and be seen standing
there sometimes by the hour together, gazing with shaded eyes, waiting the
exquisite and barren pleasure of his view a mile off on the mountains.
When at night she had trimmed and gathered the fire, turned down his
bed, and laid out his night-gear - when there was no more to be done for
the king's pleasure, but to remember him fervently in her usually very
tepid prayers, and go to bed brooding upon his perfections, his future
career, and what she should give him the next day for dinner - there
still remained before her one more opportunity; she was still to take in
the tray and say good-night. Sometimes Archie would glance up from his
book with a preoccupied nod and a perfunctory salutation which was in
truth a dismissal; sometimes - and by degrees more often - the volume
would be laid aside, he would meet her coming with a look of relief; and
the conversation would be engaged, last out the supper, and be prolonged
till the small hours by the waning fire. It was no wonder that Archie
was fond of company after his solitary days; and Kirstie, upon her side,
exerted all the arts of her vigorous nature to ensnare his attention.
She would keep back some piece of news during dinner to be fired off
with the entrance of the supper tray, and form as it were the LEVER DE
RIDEAU of the evening's entertainment. Once he had heard her tongue
wag, she made sure of the result. From one subject to another she moved
by insidious transitions, fearing the least silence, fearing almost to
give him time for an answer lest it should slip into a hint of
separation. Like so many people of her class, she was a brave narrator;
her place was on the hearth-rug and she made it a rostrum, mimeing her
stories as she told them, fitting them with vital detail, spinning them
out with endless "quo' he's" and "quo' she's," her voice sinking into a
whisper over the supernatural or the horrific; until she would suddenly
spring up in affected surprise, and pointing to the clock, "Mercy, Mr.
Archie!" she would say, "whatten a time o' night is this of it! God
forgive me for a daft wife!" So it befell, by good management, that she
was not only the first to begin these nocturnal conversations, but
invariably the first to break them off; so she managed to retire and not
to be dismissed.
Such an unequal intimacy has never been uncommon in Scotland, where the
clan spirit survives; where the servant tends to spend her life in the
same service, a helpmeet at first, then a tyrant, and at last a
pensioner; where, besides, she is not necessarily destitute of the pride
of birth, but is, perhaps, like Kirstie, a connection of her master's,
and at least knows the legend of her own family, and may count kinship
with some illustrious dead. For that is the mark of the Scot of all
classes: that he stands in an attitude towards the past unthinkable to
Englishmen, and remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears,
good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the
dead even to the twentieth generation. No more characteristic instance
could be found than in the family of Kirstie Elliott. They were all,
and Kirstie the first of all, ready and eager to pour forth the
particulars of their genealogy, embellished with every detail that
memory had handed down or fancy fabricated; and, behold! from every
ramification of that tree there dangled a halter. The Elliotts
themselves have had a chequered history; but these Elliotts deduced,
besides, from three of the most unfortunate of the border clans - the
Nicksons, the Ellwalds, and the Crozers. One ancestor after another
might be seen appearing a moment out of the rain and the hill mist upon
his furtive business, speeding home, perhaps, with a paltry booty of
lame horses and lean kine, or squealing and dealing death in some
moorland feud of the ferrets and the wild cats. One after another
closed his obscure adventures in mid-air, triced up to the arm of the
royal gibbet or the Baron's dule-tree. For the rusty blunderbuss of
Scots criminal justice, which usually hurt nobody but jurymen, became a
weapon of precision for the Nicksons, the Ellwalds, and the Crozers.
The exhilaration of their exploits seemed to haunt the memories of their
descendants alone, and the shame to be forgotten. Pride glowed in their
bosoms to publish their relationship to "Andrew Ellwald of the
Laverockstanes, called `Unchancy Dand,' who was justifeed wi' seeven
mair of the same name at Jeddart in the days of King James the Sax." In
all this tissue of crime and misfortune, the Elliotts of Cauldstaneslap
had one boast which must appear legitimate: the males were gallowsbirds,
born outlaws, petty thieves, and deadly brawlers; but, according
to the same tradition, the females were all chaste and faithful. The
power of ancestry on the character is not limited to the inheritance of
cells. If I buy ancestors by the gross from the benevolence of Lyon
King of Arms, my grandson (if he is Scottish) will feel a quickening
emulation of their deeds. The men of the Elliotts were proud, lawless,
violent as of right, cherishing and prolonging a tradition. In like
manner with the women. And the woman, essentially passionate and
reckless, who crouched on the rug, in the shine of the peat fire,
telling these tales, had cherished through life a wild integrity of
Her father Gilbert had been deeply pious, a savage disciplinarian in the
antique style, and withal a notorious smuggler. "I mind when I was a
bairn getting mony a skelp and being shoo'd to bed like pou'try," she
would say. "That would be when the lads and their bit kegs were on the
road. We've had the riffraff of two-three counties in our kitchen,
mony's the time, betwix' the twelve and the three; and their lanterns
would be standing in the forecourt, ay, a score o' them at once. But
there was nae ungodly talk permitted at Cauldstaneslap. My faither was
a consistent man in walk and conversation; just let slip an aith, and
there was the door to ye! He had that zeal for the Lord, it was a fair
wonder to hear him pray, but the family has aye had a gift that way."
This father was twice married, once to a dark woman of the old Ellwald
stock, by whom he had Gilbert, presently of Cauldstaneslap; and,
secondly, to the mother of Kirstie. "He was an auld man when he married
her, a fell auld man wi' a muckle voice - you could hear him rowting
from the top o' the Kye-skairs," she said; "but for her, it appears she
was a perfit wonder. It was gentle blood she had, Mr. Archie, for it
was your ain. The country-side gaed gyte about her and her gowden hair.
Mines is no to be mentioned wi' it, and there's few weemen has mair hair
than what I have, or yet a bonnier colour. Often would I tell my dear
Miss Jeannie - that was your mother, dear, she was cruel ta'en up about
her hair, it was unco' tender, ye see - 'Houts, Miss Jeannie,' I would
say, 'just fling your washes and your French dentifrishes in the back o'
the fire, for that's the place for them; and awa' down to a burn side,
and wash yersel' in cauld hill water, and dry your bonny hair in the
caller wind o' the muirs, the way that my mother aye washed hers, and
that I have aye made it a practice to have wishen mines - just you do
what I tell ye, my dear, and ye'll give me news of it! Ye'll have hair,
and routh of hair, a pigtail as thick's my arm,' I said, `and the
bonniest colour like the clear gowden guineas, so as the lads in kirk'll
no can keep their eyes off it!' Weel, it lasted out her time, puir
thing! I cuttit a lock of it upon her corp that was lying there sae
cauld. I'll show it ye some of thir days if ye're good. But, as I was
sayin', my mither - "
On the death of the father there remained golden-haired Kirstie, who
took service with her distant kinsfolk, the Rutherfords, and black-avised
Gilbert, twenty years older, who farmed the Cauldstaneslap,
married, and begot four sons between 1773 and 1784, and a daughter, like
a postscript, in '97, the year of Camperdown and Cape St. Vincent. It
seemed it was a tradition in the family to wind up with a belated girl.
In 1804, at the age of sixty, Gilbert met an end that might be called
heroic. He was due home from market any time from eight at night till
five in the morning, and in any condition from the quarrelsome to the
speechless, for he maintained to that age the goodly customs of the
Scots farmer. It was known on this occasion that he had a good bit of
money to bring home; the word had gone round loosely. The laird had
shown his guineas, and if anybody had but noticed it, there was an illlooking,
vagabond crew, the scum of Edinburgh, that drew out of the
market long ere it was dusk and took the hill-road by Hermiston, where
it was not to be believed that they had lawful business. One of the
country-side, one Dickieson, they took with them to be their guide, and
dear he paid for it! Of a sudden in the ford of the Broken Dykes, this
vermin clan fell on the laird, six to one, and him three parts asleep,
having drunk hard. But it is ill to catch an Elliott.
For a while, in the night and the black water that was deep as to his
saddle-girths, he wrought with his staff like a smith at his stithy, and
great was the sound of oaths and blows. With that the ambuscade was
burst, and he rode for home with a pistol-ball in him, three knife
wounds, the loss of his front teeth, a broken rib and bridle, and a
dying horse. That was a race with death that the laird rode! In the
mirk night, with his broken bridle and his head swimming, he dug his
spurs to the rowels in the horse's side, and the horse, that was even
worse off than himself, the poor creature! screamed out loud like a
person as he went, so that the hills echoed with it, and the folks at
Cauldstaneslap got to their feet about the table and looked at each
other with white faces. The horse fell dead at the yard gate, the laird
won the length of the house and fell there on the threshold. To the son
that raised him he gave the bag of money. "Hae," said he. All the way
up the thieves had seemed to him to be at his heels, but now the
hallucination left him - he saw them again in the place of the ambuscade
- and the thirst of vengeance seized on his dying mind. Raising himself
and pointing with an imperious finger into the black night from which he
had come, he uttered the single command, "Brocken Dykes," and fainted.
He had never been loved, but he had been feared in honour. At that
sight, at that word, gasped out at them from a toothless and bleeding
mouth, the old Elliott spirit awoke with a shout in the four sons.
"Wanting the hat," continues my author, Kirstie, whom I but haltingly
follow, for she told this tale like one inspired, "wanting guns, for
there wasna twa grains o' pouder in the house, wi' nae mair weepons than
their sticks into their hands, the fower o' them took the road. Only
Hob, and that was the eldest, hunkered at the doorsill where the blood
had rin, fyled his hand wi' it - and haddit it up to Heeven in the way
o' the auld Border aith. `Hell shall have her ain again this nicht!' he
raired, and rode forth upon his earrand." It was three miles to Broken
Dykes, down hill, and a sore road. Kirstie has seen men from Edinburgh
dismounting there in plain day to lead their horses. But the four
brothers rode it as if Auld Hornie were behind and Heaven in front.
Come to the ford, and there was Dickieson. By all tales, he was not
dead, but breathed and reared upon his elbow, and cried out to them for
help. It was at a graceless face that he asked mercy. As soon as Hob
saw, by the glint of the lantern, the eyes shining and the whiteness of
the teeth in the man's face, "Damn you!" says he; "ye hae your teeth,
hae ye?" and rode his horse to and fro upon that human remnant. Beyond
that, Dandie must dismount with the lantern to be their guide; he was
the youngest son, scarce twenty at the time. "A' nicht long they gaed
in the wet heath and jennipers, and whaur they gaed they neither knew
nor cared, but just followed the bluid stains and the footprints o'
their faither's murderers. And a' nicht Dandie had his nose to the
grund like a tyke, and the ithers followed and spak' naething, neither
black nor white. There was nae noise to be heard, but just the sough of
the swalled burns, and Hob, the dour yin, risping his teeth as he gaed."
With the first glint of the morning they saw they were on the drove
road, and at that the four stopped and had a dram to their breakfasts,
for they knew that Dand must have guided them right, and the rogues
could be but little ahead, hot foot for Edinburgh by the way of the
Pentland Hills. By eight o'clock they had word of them - a shepherd had
seen four men "uncoly mishandled" go by in the last hour. "That's yin a
piece," says Clem, and swung his cudgel. "Five o' them!" says Hob.
"God's death, but the faither was a man! And him drunk!" And then
there befell them what my author termed "a sair misbegowk," for they
were overtaken by a posse of mounted neighbours come to aid in the
pursuit. Four sour faces looked on the reinforcement. "The Deil's
broughten you!" said Clem, and they rode thenceforward in the rear of
the party with hanging heads. Before ten they had found and secured the
rogues, and by three of the afternoon, as they rode up the Vennel with
their prisoners, they were aware of a concourse of people bearing in
their midst something that dripped. "For the boady of the saxt,"
pursued Kirstie, "wi' his head smashed like a hazelnit, had been a' that
nicht in the chairge o' Hermiston Water, and it dunting it on the
stanes, and grunding it on the shallows, and flinging the deid thing
heels-ower-hurdie at the Fa's o' Spango; and in the first o' the day,
Tweed had got a hold o' him and carried him off like a wind, for it was
uncoly swalled, and raced wi' him, bobbing under brae-sides, and was
long playing with the creature in the drumlie lynns under the castle,
and at the hinder end of all cuist him up on the starling of
Crossmichael brig. Sae there they were a'thegither at last (for
Dickieson had been brought in on a cart long syne), and folk could see
what mainner o'man my brither had been that had held his head again sax
and saved the siller, and him drunk!" Thus died of honourable injuries
and in the savour of fame Gilbert Elliott of the Cauldstaneslap; but his
sons had scarce less glory out of the business. Their savage haste, the
skill with which Dand had found and followed the trail, the barbarity to
the wounded Dickieson (which was like an open secret in the county), and
the doom which it was currently supposed they had intended for the
others, struck and stirred popular imagination. Some century earlier
the last of the minstrels might have fashioned the last of the ballads
out of that Homeric fight and chase; but the spirit was dead, or had
been reincarnated already in Mr. Sheriff Scott, and the degenerate
moorsmen must be content to tell the tale in prose, and to make of the
"Four Black Brothers" a unit after the fashion of the "Twelve Apostles"
or the "Three Musketeers."
Robert, Gilbert, Clement, and Andrew - in the proper Border diminutives,
Hob, Gib, Clem, and Dand Elliott - these ballad heroes, had much in
common; in particular, their high sense of the family and the family
honour; but they went diverse ways, and prospered and failed in
different businesses. According to Kirstie, "they had a' bees in their
bonnets but Hob." Hob the laird was, indeed, essentially a decent man.
An elder of the Kirk, nobody had heard an oath upon his lips, save
perhaps thrice or so at the sheep-washing, since the chase of his
father's murderers. The figure he had shown on that eventful night
disappeared as if swallowed by a trap. He who had ecstatically dipped
his hand in the red blood, he who had ridden down Dickieson, became,
from that moment on, a stiff and rather graceless model of the rustic
proprieties; cannily profiting by the high war prices, and yearly
stowing away a little nest-egg in the bank against calamity; approved of
and sometimes consulted by the greater lairds for the massive and placid
sense of what he said, when he could be induced to say anything; and
particularly valued by the minister, Mr. Torrance, as a right-hand man
in the parish, and a model to parents. The transfiguration had been for
the moment only; some Barbarossa, some old Adam of our ancestors, sleeps
in all of us till the fit circumstance shall call it into action; and,
for as sober as he now seemed, Hob had given once for all the measure of
the devil that haunted him. He was married, and, by reason of the
effulgence of that legendary night, was adored by his wife.
He had a mob of little lusty, barefoot children who marched in a caravan
the long miles to school, the stages of whose pilgrimage were marked by
acts of spoliation and mischief, and who were qualified in the countryside
as "fair pests." But in the house, if "faither was in," they were
quiet as mice. In short, Hob moved through life in a great peace - the
reward of any one who shall have killed his man, with any formidable and
figurative circumstance, in the midst of a country gagged and swaddled
with civilisation.
It was a current remark that the Elliotts were "guid and bad, like
sanguishes"; and certainly there was a curious distinction, the men of
business coming alternately with the dreamers. The second brother, Gib,
was a weaver by trade, had gone out early into the world to Edinburgh,
and come home again with his wings singed. There was an exaltation in
his nature which had led him to embrace with enthusiasm the principles
of the French Revolution, and had ended by bringing him under the hawse
of my Lord Hermiston in that furious onslaught of his upon the Liberals,
which sent Muir and Palmer into exile and dashed the party into chaff.
It was whispered that my lord, in his great scorn for the movement, and
prevailed upon a little by a sense of neighbourliness, had given Gib a
hint. Meeting him one day in the Potterrow, my lord had stopped in
front of him: "Gib, ye eediot," he had said, "what's this I hear of you?
Poalitics, poalitics, poalitics, weaver's poalitics, is the way of it, I
hear. If ye arena a'thegither dozened with cediocy, ye'll gang your
ways back to Cauldstaneslap, and ca' your loom, and ca' your loom, man!"
And Gilbert had taken him at the word and returned, with an expedition
almost to be called flight, to the house of his father. The clearest of
his inheritance was that family gift of prayer of which Kirstie had
boasted; and the baffled politician now turned his attention to
religious matters - or, as others said, to heresy and schism. Every
Sunday morning he was in Crossmichael, where he had gathered together,
one by one, a sect of about a dozen persons, who called themselves
"God's Remnant of the True Faithful," or, for short, "God's Remnant."
To the profane, they were known as "Gib's Deils." Bailie Sweedie, a
noted humorist in the town, vowed that the proceedings always opened to
the tune of "The Deil Fly Away with the Exciseman," and that the
sacrament was dispensed in the form of hot whisky-toddy; both wicked
hits at the evangelist, who had been suspected of smuggling in his
youth, and had been overtaken (as the phrase went) on the streets of
Crossmichael one Fair day. It was known that every Sunday they prayed
for a blessing on the arms of Bonaparte. For this "God's Remnant," as
they were "skailing" from the cottage that did duty for a temple, had
been repeatedly stoned by the bairns, and Gib himself hooted by a
squadron of Border volunteers in which his own brother, Dand, rode in a
uniform and with a drawn sword. The "Remnant" were believed, besides,
to be "antinomian in principle," which might otherwise have been a
serious charge, but the way public opinion then blew it was quite
swallowed up and forgotten in the scandal about Bonaparte. For the
rest, Gilbert had set up his loom in an outhouse at Cauldstaneslap,
where he laboured assiduously six days of the week. His brothers,
appalled by his political opinions, and willing to avoid dissension in
the household, spoke but little to him; he less to them, remaining
absorbed in the study of the Bible and almost constant prayer. The
gaunt weaver was dry-nurse at Cauldstaneslap, and the bairns loved him
dearly. Except when he was carrying an infant in his arms, he was
rarely seen to smile - as, indeed, there were few smilers in that
family. When his sister-in-law rallied him, and proposed that he should
get a wife and bairns of his own, since he was so fond of them, "I have
no clearness of mind upon that point," he would reply. If nobody called
him in to dinner, he stayed out. Mrs. Hob, a hard, unsympathetic woman,
once tried the experiment. He went without food all day, but at dusk,
as the light began to fail him, he came into the house of his own
accord, looking puzzled. "I've had a great gale of prayer upon my
speerit," said he. "I canna mind sae muckle's what I had for denner."
The creed of God's Remnant was justified in the life of its founder.
"And yet I dinna ken," said Kirstie. "He's maybe no more stockfish than
his neeghbours! He rode wi' the rest o' them, and had a good stamach to
the work, by a' that I hear! God's Remnant! The deil's clavers! There
wasna muckle Christianity in the way Hob guided Johnny Dickieson, at the
least of it; but Guid kens! Is he a Christian even? He might be a
Mahommedan or a Deevil or a Fire-worshipper, for what I ken."
The third brother had his name on a door-plate, no less, in the city of
Glasgow, "Mr. Clement Elliott," as long as your arm. In his case, that
spirit of innovation which had shown itself timidly in the case of Hob
by the admission of new manures, and which had run to waste with Gilbert
in subversive politics and heretical religions, bore useful fruit in
many ingenious mechanical improvements. In boyhood, from his addiction
to strange devices of sticks and string, he had been counted the most
eccentric of the family. But that was all by now; and he was a partner
of his firm, and looked to die a bailie. He too had married, and was
rearing a plentiful family in the smoke and din of Glasgow; he was
wealthy, and could have bought out his brother, the cock-laird, six
times over, it was whispered; and when he slipped away to Cauldstaneslap
for a well-earned holiday, which he did as often as he was able, he
astonished the neighbours with his broadcloth, his beaver hat, and the
ample plies of his neckcloth. Though an eminently solid man at bottom,
after the pattern of Hob, he had contracted a certain Glasgow briskness
and APLOMB which set him off. All the other Elliotts were as lean as a
rake, but Clement was laying on fat, and he panted sorely when he must
get into his boots. Dand said, chuckling: "Ay, Clem has the elements of
a corporation." "A provost and corporation," returned Clem. And his
readiness was much admired.
The fourth brother, Dand, was a shepherd to his trade, and by starts,
when he could bring his mind to it, excelled in the business. Nobody
could train a dog like Dandie; nobody, through the peril of great storms
in the winter time, could do more gallantly. But if his dexterity were
exquisite, his diligence was but fitful; and he served his brother for
bed and board, and a trifle of pocket-money when he asked for it. He
loved money well enough, knew very well how to spend it, and could make
a shrewd bargain when he liked. But he preferred a vague knowledge that
he was well to windward to any counted coins in the pocket; he felt
himself richer so. Hob would expostulate: "I'm an amature herd." Dand
would reply, "I'll keep your sheep to you when I'm so minded, but I'll
keep my liberty too. Thir's no man can coandescend on what I'm worth."
Clein would expound to him the miraculous results of compound interest,
and recommend investments. "Ay, man?" Dand would say; "and do you
think, if I took Hob's siller, that I wouldna drink it or wear it on the
lassies? And, anyway, my kingdom is no of this world. Either I'm a
poet or else I'm nothing." Clem would remind him of old age. "I'll die
young, like, Robbie Burns," he would say stoutly. No question but he
had a certain accomplishment in minor verse. His "Hermiston Burn," with
its pretty refrain -
"I love to gang thinking whaur ye gang linking,
Hermiston burn, in the howe;"
his "Auld, auld Elliotts, clay-cauld Elliotts, dour, bauld Elliotts of
auld," and his really fascinating piece about the Praying Weaver's
Stone, had gained him in the neighbourhood the reputation, still
possible in Scotland, of a local bard; and, though not printed himself,
he was recognised by others who were and who had become famous. Walter
Scott owed to Dandie the text of the "Raid of Wearie" in the MINSTRELSY;
and made him welcome at his house, and appreciated his talents, such as
they were, with all his usual generosity. The Ettrick Shepherd was his
sworn crony; they would meet, drink to excess, roar out their lyrics in
each other's faces, and quarrel and make it up again till bedtime. And
besides these recognitions, almost to be called official, Dandie was
made welcome for the sake of his gift through the farmhouses of several
contiguous dales, and was thus exposed to manifold temptations which he
rather sought than fled. He had figured on the stool of repentance, for
once fulfilling to the letter the tradition of his hero and model. His
humorous verses to Mr. Torrance on that occasion - "Kenspeckle here my
lane I stand" - unfortunately too indelicate for further citation, ran
through the country like a fiery cross - they were recited, quoted,
paraphrased, and laughed over as far away as Dumfries on the one hand
and Dunbar on the other.
These four brothers were united by a close bond, the bond of that mutual
admiration - or rather mutual hero-worship - which is so strong among
the members of secluded families who have much ability and little
culture. Even the extremes admired each other. Hob, who had as much
poetry as the tongs, professed to find pleasure in Dand's verses; Clem,
who had no more religion than Claverhouse, nourished a heartfelt, at
least an open-mouthed, admiration of Gib's prayers; and Dandie followed
with relish the rise of Clem's fortunes. Indulgence followed hard on
the heels of admiration. The laird, Clem, and Dand, who were Tories and
patriots of the hottest quality, excused to themselves, with a certain
bashfulness, the radical and revolutionary heresies of Gib. By another
division of the family, the laird, Clem, and Gib, who were men exactly
virtuous, swallowed the dose of Dand's irregularities as a kind of clog
or drawback in the mysterious providence of God affixed to bards, and
distinctly probative of poetical genius. To appreciate the simplicity
of their mutual admiration it was necessary to hear Clem, arrived upon
one of his visits, and dealing in a spirit of continuous irony with the
affairs and personalities of that great city of Glasgow where he lived
and transacted business. The various personages, ministers of the
church, municipal officers, mercantile big-wigs, whom he had occasion to
introduce, were all alike denigrated, all served but as reflectors to
cast back a flattering side-light on the house of Cauldstaneslap. The
Provost, for whom Clem by exception entertained a measure of respect, he
would liken to Hob. "He minds me o' the laird there," he would say. "He
has some of Hob's grand, whunstane sense, and the same way with him of
steiking his mouth when he's no very pleased." And Hob, all
unconscious, would draw down his upper lip and produce, as if for
comparison, the formidable grimace referred to. The unsatisfactory
incumbent of St. Enoch's Kirk was thus briefly dismissed: "If he had but
twa fingers o' Gib's, he would waken them up." And Gib, honest man!
would look down and secretly smile. Clem was a spy whom they had sent
out into the world of men. He had come back with the good news that
there was nobody to compare with the Four Black Brothers, no position
that they would not adorn, no official that it would not be well they
should replace, no interest of mankind, secular or spiritual, which
would not immediately bloom under their supervision. The excuse of
their folly is in two words: scarce the breadth of a hair divided them
from the peasantry. The measure of their sense is this: that these
symposia of rustic vanity were kept entirely within the family, like
some secret ancestral practice. To the world their serious faces were
never deformed by the suspicion of any simper of self-contentment. Yet
it was known. "They hae a guid pride o' themsel's!" was the word in the
Lastly, in a Border story, there should be added their "two-names." Hob
was The Laird. "Roy ne puis, prince ne daigne"; he was the laird of
Cauldstaneslap - say fifty acres - IPSISSIMUS. Clement was Mr. Elliott,
as upon his door-plate, the earlier Dafty having been discarded as no
longer applicable, and indeed only a reminder of misjudgment and the
imbecility of the public; and the youngest, in honour of his perpetual
wanderings, was known by the sobriquet of Randy Dand.
It will be understood that not all this information was communicated by
the aunt, who had too much of the family failing herself to appreciate
it thoroughly in others. But as time went on, Archie began to observe
an omission in the family chronicle.
"Is there not a girl too?" he asked.
"Ay: Kirstie. She was named for me, or my grandmother at least - it's
the same thing," returned the aunt, and went on again about Dand, whom
she secretly preferred by reason of his gallantries.
"But what is your niece like?" said Archie at the next opportunity.
"Her? As black's your hat! But I dinna suppose she would maybe be what
you would ca' ILL-LOOKED a'thegither. Na, she's a kind of a handsome
jaud - a kind o' gipsy," said the aunt, who had two sets of scales for
men and women - or perhaps it would be more fair to say that she had
three, and the third and the most loaded was for girls.
"How comes it that I never see her in church?" said Archie.
" 'Deed, and I believe she's in Glesgie with Clem and his wife. A heap
good she's like to get of it! I dinna say for men folk, but where
weemen folk are born, there let them bide. Glory to God, I was never
far'er from here than Crossmichael."
In the meanwhile it began to strike Archie as strange, that while she
thus sang the praises of her kinsfolk, and manifestly relished their
virtues and (I may say) their vices like a thing creditable to herself,
there should appear not the least sign of cordiality between the house
of Hermiston and that of Cauldstaneslap. Going to church of a Sunday,
as the lady housekeeper stepped with her skirts kilted, three tucks of
her white petticoat showing below, and her best India shawl upon her
back (if the day were fine) in a pattern of radiant dyes, she would
sometimes overtake her relatives preceding her more leisurely in the
same direction. Gib of course was absent: by skreigh of day he had been
gone to Crossmichael and his fellow-heretics; but the rest of the family
would be seen marching in open order: Hob and Dand, stiff-necked,
straight-backed six-footers, with severe dark faces, and their plaids
about their shoulders; the convoy of children scattering (in a state of
high polish) on the wayside, and every now and again collected by the
shrill summons of the mother; and the mother herself, by a suggestive
circumstance which might have afforded matter of thought to a more
experienced observer than Archie, wrapped in a shawl nearly identical
with Kirstie's, but a thought more gaudy and conspicuously newer. At
the sight, Kirstie grew more tall - Kirstie showed her classical
profile, nose in air and nostril spread, the pure blood came in her
cheek evenly in a delicate living pink.
"A braw day to ye, Mistress Elliott," said she, and hostility and
gentility were nicely mingled in her tones. "A fine day, mem," the
laird's wife would reply with a miraculous curtsey, spreading the while
her plumage - setting off, in other words, and with arts unknown to the
mere man, the pattern of her India shawl. Behind her, the whole
Cauldstaneslap contingent marched in closer order, and with an
indescribable air of being in the presence of the foe; and while Dandie
saluted his aunt with a certain familiarity as of one who was well in
court, Hob marched on in awful immobility. There appeared upon the face
of this attitude in the family the consequences of some dreadful feud.
Presumably the two women had been principals in the original encounter,
and the laird had probably been drawn into the quarrel by the ears, too
late to be included in the present skin-deep reconciliation.
"Kirstie," said Archie one day, "what is this you have against your
"I dinna complean," said Kirstie, with a flush. "I say naething."
"I see you do not - not even good-day to your own nephew," said he.
"I hae naething to be ashamed of," said she. "I can say the Lord's
prayer with a good grace. If Hob was ill, or in preeson or poverty, I
would see to him blithely. But for curtchying and complimenting and
colloguing, thank ye kindly!"
Archie had a bit of a smile: he leaned back in his chair. "I think you
and Mrs. Robert are not very good friends," says he slyly, "when you
have your India shawls on?"
She looked upon him in silence, with a sparkling eye but an
indecipherable expression; and that was all that Archie was ever
destined to learn of the battle of the India shawls.
"Do none of them ever come here to see you?" he inquired.
"Mr. Archie," said she, "I hope that I ken my place better. It would be
a queer thing, I think, if I was to clamjamfry up your faither's house -
that I should say it! - wi' a dirty, black-a-vised clan, no ane o' them
it was worth while to mar soap upon but just mysel'! Na, they're all
damnifeed wi' the black Ellwalds. I have nae patience wi' black folk."
Then, with a sudden consciousness of the case of Archie, "No that it
maitters for men sae muckle," she made haste to add, "but there's
naebody can deny that it's unwomanly. Long hair is the ornament o'
woman ony way; we've good warrandise for that - it's in the Bible - and
wha can doubt that the Apostle had some gowden-haired lassie in his mind
- Apostle and all, for what was he but just a man like yersel'?"
ARCHIE was sedulous at church. Sunday after Sunday he sat down and
stood up with that small company, heard the voice of Mr. Torrance
leaping like an ill-played clarionet from key to key, and had an
opportunity to study his moth-eaten gown and the black thread mittens
that he joined together in prayer, and lifted up with a reverent
solemnity in the act of benediction. Hermiston pew was a little square
box, dwarfish in proportion with the kirk itself, and enclosing a table
not much bigger than a footstool. There sat Archie, an apparent prince,
the only undeniable gentleman and the only great heritor in the parish,
taking his ease in the only pew, for no other in the kirk had doors.
Thence he might command an undisturbed view of that congregation of
solid plaided men, strapping wives and daughters, oppressed children,
and uneasy sheep-dogs. It was strange how Archie missed the look of
race; except the dogs, with their refined foxy faces and inimitably
curling tails, there was no one present with the least claim to
gentility. The Cauldstaneslap party was scarcely an exception; Dandie
perhaps, as he amused himself making verses through the interminable
burden of the service, stood out a little by the glow in his eye and a
certain superior animation of face and alertness of body; but even
Dandie slouched like a rustic. The rest of the congregation, like so
many sheep, oppressed him with a sense of hob-nailed routine, day
following day - of physical labour in the open air, oatmeal porridge,
peas bannock the somnolent fireside in the evening, and the night-long
nasal slumbers in a box-bed. Yet he knew many of them to be shrewd and
humorous, men of character, notable women, making a bustle in the world
and radiating an influence from their low-browed doors. He knew besides
they were like other men; below the crust of custom, rapture found a
way; he had heard them beat the timbrel before Bacchus - had heard them
shout and carouse over their whisky-toddy; and not the most Dutchbottomed
and severe faces among them all, not even the solemn elders
themselves, but were capable of singular gambols at the voice of love.
Men drawing near to an end of life's adventurous journey - maids
thrilling with fear and curiosity on the threshold of entrance - women
who had borne and perhaps buried children, who could remember the
clinging of the small dead hands and the patter of the little feet now
silent - he marvelled that among all those faces there should be no face
of expectation, none that was mobile, none into which the rhythm and
poetry of life had entered. "O for a live face," he thought; and at
times he had a memory of Lady Flora; and at times he would study the
living gallery before him with despair, and would see himself go on to
waste his days in that joyless pastoral place, and death come to him,
and his grave be dug under the rowans, and the Spirit of the Earth laugh
out in a thunder-peal at the huge fiasco.
On this particular Sunday, there was no doubt but that the spring had
come at last. It was warm, with a latent shiver in the air that made
the warmth only the more welcome. The shallows of the stream glittered
and tinkled among bunches of primrose. Vagrant scents of the earth
arrested Archie by the way with moments of ethereal intoxication. The
grey Quakerish dale was still only awakened in places and patches from
the sobriety of its winter colouring; and he wondered at its beauty; an
essential beauty of the old earth it seemed to him, not resident in
particulars but breathing to him from the whole. He surprised himself
by a sudden impulse to write poetry - he did so sometimes, loose,
galloping octo-syllabics in the vein of Scott - and when he had taken
his place on a boulder, near some fairy falls and shaded by a whip of a
tree that was already radiant with new leaves, it still more surprised
him that he should have nothing to write. His heart perhaps beat in
time to some vast indwelling rhythm of the universe. By the time he
came to a corner of the valley and could see the kirk, he had so
lingered by the way that the first psalm was finishing. The nasal
psalmody, full of turns and trills and graceless graces, seemed the
essential voice of the kirk itself upraised in thanksgiving,
"Everything's alive," he said; and again cries it aloud, "thank God,
everything's alive!" He lingered yet a while in the kirk-yard. A tuft
of primroses was blooming hard by the leg of an old black table
tombstone, and he stopped to contemplate the random apologue. They
stood forth on the cold earth with a trenchancy of contrast; and he was
struck with a sense of incompleteness in the day, the season, and the
beauty that surrounded him - the chill there was in the warmth, the
gross black clods about the opening primroses, the damp earthy smell
that was everywhere intermingled with the scents. The voice of the aged
Torrance within rose in an ecstasy. And he wondered if Torrance also
felt in his old bones the joyous influence of the spring morning;
Torrance, or the shadow of what once was Torrance, that must come so
soon to lie outside here in the sun and rain with all his rheumatisms,
while a new minister stood in his room and thundered from his own
familiar pulpit? The pity of it, and something of the chill of the
grave, shook him for a moment as he made haste to enter.
He went up the aisle reverently, and took his place in the pew with
lowered eyes, for he feared he had already offended the kind old
gentleman in the pulpit, and was sedulous to offend no further. He
could not follow the prayer, not even the heads of it. Brightnesses
of azure, clouds of fragrance, a tinkle of falling water and singing
birds, rose like exhalations from some deeper, aboriginal memory, that
was not his, but belonged to the flesh on his bones. His body
remembered; and it seemed to him that his body was in no way gross,
but ethereal and perishable like a strain of music; and he felt for it
an exquisite tenderness as for a child, an innocent, full of beautiful
instincts and destined to an early death. And he felt for old Torrance
- of the many supplications, of the few days - a pity that was near to
tears. The prayer ended. Right over him was a tablet in the wall, the
only ornament in the roughly masoned chapel - for it was no more; the
tablet commemorated, I was about to say the virtues, but rather the
existence of a former Rutherford of Hermiston; and Archie, under that
trophy of his long descent and local greatness, leaned back in the pew
and contemplated vacancy with the shadow of a smile between playful and
sad, that became him strangely. Dandie's sister, sitting by the side of
Clem in her new Glasgow finery, chose that moment to observe the young
laird. Aware of the stir of his entrance, the little formalist had kept
her eyes fastened and her face prettily composed during the prayer. It
was not hypocrisy, there was no one further from a hypocrite. The girl
had been taught to behave: to look up, to look down, to look
unconscious, to look seriously impressed in church, and in every
conjuncture to look her best. That was the game of female life, and she
played it frankly. Archie was the one person in church who was of
interest, who was somebody new, reputed eccentric, known to be young,
and a laird, and still unseen by Christina. Small wonder that, as
she stood there in her attitude of pretty decency, her mind should run
upon him! If he spared a glance in her direction, he should know she
was a well-behaved young lady who had been to Glasgow. In reason he
must admire her clothes, and it was possible that he should think her
pretty. At that her heart beat the least thing in the world; and she
proceeded, by way of a corrective, to call up and dismiss a series of
fancied pictures of the young man who should now, by rights, be looking
at her. She settled on the plainest of them, - a pink short young man
with a dish face and no figure, at whose admiration she could afford to
smile; but for all that, the consciousness of his gaze (which was really
fixed on Torrance and his mittens) kept her in something of a flutter
till the word Amen. Even then, she was far too well-bred to gratify her
curiosity with any impatience. She resumed her seat languidly - this was
a Glasgow touch - she composed her dress, rearranged her nosegay of
primroses, looked first in front, then behind upon the other side, and
at last allowed her eyes to move, without hurry, in the direction of
the Hermiston pew. For a moment, they were riveted. Next she had
plucked her gaze home again like a tame bird who should have meditated
flight. Possibilities crowded on her; she hung over the future and grew
dizzy; the image of this young man, slim, graceful, dark, with the
inscrutable half-smile, attracted and repelled her like a chasm. "I
wonder, will I have met my fate?" she thought, and her heart swelled.
Torrance was got some way into his first exposition, positing a deep
layer of texts as he went along, laying the foundations of his
discourse, which was to deal with a nice point in divinity, before
Archie suffered his eyes to wander. They fell first of all on Clem,
looking insupportably prosperous, and patronising Torrance with the
favour of a modified attention, as of one who was used to better things
in Glasgow. Though he had never before set eyes on him, Archie had no
difficulty in identifying him, and no hesitation in pronouncing him
vulgar, the worst of the family. Clem was leaning lazily forward when
Archie first saw him. Presently he leaned nonchalantly back; and that
deadly instrument, the maiden, was suddenly unmasked in profile. Though
not quite in the front of the fashion (had anybody cared!), certain
artful Glasgow mantua-makers, and her own inherent taste, had arrayed
her to great advantage. Her accoutrement was, indeed, a cause of heartburning,
and almost of scandal, in that infinitesimal kirk company.
Mrs. Hob had said her say at Cauldstaneslap. "Daft-like!" she had
pronounced it. "A jaiket that'll no meet! Whaur's the sense of a
jaiket that'll no button upon you, if it should come to be weet? What
do ye ca' thir things? Demmy brokens, d'ye say? They'll be brokens wi'
a vengeance or ye can win back! Weel, I have nae thing to do wi' it -
it's no good taste." Clem, whose purse had thus metamorphosed his
sister, and who was not insensible to the advertisement, had come to the
rescue with a "Hoot, woman! What do you ken of good taste that has
never been to the ceety?" And Hob, looking on the girl with pleased
smiles, as she timidly displayed her finery in the midst of the dark
kitchen, had thus ended the dispute: "The cutty looks weel," he had
said, "and it's no very like rain. Wear them the day, hizzie; but it's
no a thing to make a practice o'." In the breasts of her rivals, coming
to the kirk very conscious of white under-linen, and their faces
splendid with much soap, the sight of the toilet had raised a storm of
varying emotion, from the mere unenvious admiration that was expressed
in a long-drawn "Eh!" to the angrier feeling that found vent in an
emphatic "Set her up!" Her frock was of straw-coloured jaconet muslin,
cut low at the bosom and short at the ankle, so as to display her DEMIBROQUINS
of Regency violet, crossing with many straps upon a yellow
cobweb stocking. According to the pretty fashion in which our
grandmothers did not hesitate to appear, and our great-aunts went forth
armed for the pursuit and capture of our great-uncles, the dress was
drawn up so as to mould the contour of both breasts, and in the nook
between, a cairngorm brooch maintained it. Here, too, surely in a very
enviable position, trembled the nosegay of primroses. She wore on her
shoulders - or rather on her back and not her shoulders, which it
scarcely passed - a French coat of sarsenet, tied in front with Margate
braces, and of the same colour with her violet shoes. About her face
clustered a disorder of dark ringlets, a little garland of yellow French
roses surmounted her brow, and the whole was crowned by a village hat of
chipped straw. Amongst all the rosy and all the weathered faces that
surrounded her in church, she glowed like an open flower - girl and
raiment, and the cairngorm that caught the daylight and returned it in a
fiery flash, and the threads of bronze and gold that played in her hair.
Archie was attracted by the bright thing like a child. He looked at her
again and yet again, and their looks crossed. The lip was lifted from
her little teeth. He saw the red blood work vividly under her tawny
skin. Her eye, which was great as a stag's, struck and held his gaze.
He knew who she must be - Kirstie, she of the harsh diminutive, his
housekeeper's niece, the sister of the rustic prophet, Gib - and he
found in her the answer to his wishes.
Christina felt the shock of their encountering glances, and seemed to
rise, clothed in smiles, into a region of the vague and bright. But the
gratification was not more exquisite than it was brief. She looked away
abruptly, and immediately began to blame herself for that abruptness.
She knew what she should have done, too late - turned slowly with her
nose in the air. And meantime his look was not removed, but continued
to play upon her like a battery of cannon constantly aimed, and now
seemed to isolate her alone with him, and now seemed to uplift her, as
on a pillory, before the congregation. For Archie continued to drink
her in with his eyes, even as a wayfarer comes to a well-head on a
mountain, and stoops his face, and drinks with thirst unassuageable. In
the cleft of her little breasts the fiery eye of the topaz and the pale
florets of primrose fascinated him. He saw the breasts heave, and the
flowers shake with the heaving, and marvelled what should so much
discompose the girl. And Christina was conscious of his gaze - saw it,
perhaps, with the dainty plaything of an ear that peeped among her
ringlets; she was conscious of changing colour, conscious of her
unsteady breath. Like a creature tracked, run down, surrounded, she
sought in a dozen ways to give herself a countenance. She used her
handkerchief - it was a really fine one - then she desisted in a panic:
"He would only think I was too warm." She took to reading in the
metrical psalms, and then remembered it was sermon-time. Last she put a
"sugar-bool" in her mouth, and the next moment repented of the step. It
was such a homely-like thing! Mr. Archie would never be eating sweeties
in kirk; and, with a palpable effort, she swallowed it whole, and her
colour flamed high. At this signal of distress Archie awoke to a sense
of his ill-behaviour. What had he been doing? He had been exquisitely
rude in church to the niece of his housekeeper; he had stared like a
lackey and a libertine at a beautiful and modest girl. It was possible,
it was even likely, he would be presented to her after service in the
kirk-yard, and then how was he to look? And there was no excuse. He
had marked the tokens of her shame, of her increasing indignation, and
he was such a fool that he had not understood them. Shame bowed him
down, and he looked resolutely at Mr. Torrance; who little supposed,
good, worthy man, as he continued to expound justification by faith,
what was his true business: to play the part of derivative to a pair of
children at the old game of falling in love.
Christina was greatly relieved at first. It seemed to her that she was
clothed again. She looked back on what had passed. All would have been
right if she had not blushed, a silly fool! There was nothing to blush
at, if she HAD taken a sugar-bool. Mrs. MacTaggart, the elder's wife in
St. Enoch's, took them often. And if he had looked at her, what was
more natural than that a young gentleman should look at the best-dressed
girl in church? And at the same time, she knew far otherwise, she knew
there was nothing casual or ordinary in the look, and valued herself on
its memory like a decoration. Well, it was a blessing he had found
something else to look at! And presently she began to have other
thoughts. It was necessary, she fancied, that she should put herself
right by a repetition of the incident, better managed. If the wish was
father to the thought, she did not know or she would not recognise it.
It was simply as a manoeuvre of propriety, as something called for to
lessen the significance of what had gone before, that she should a
second time meet his eyes, and this time without blushing. And at the
memory of the blush, she blushed again, and became one general blush
burning from head to foot. Was ever anything so indelicate, so forward,
done by a girl before? And here she was, making an exhibition of
herself before the congregation about nothing! She stole a glance upon
her neighbours, and behold! they were steadily indifferent, and Clem had
gone to sleep. And still the one idea was becoming more and more potent
with her, that in common prudence she must look again before the service
ended. Something of the same sort was going forward in the mind of
Archie, as he struggled with the load of penitence. So it chanced that,
in the flutter of the moment when the last psalm was given out, and
Torrance was reading the verse, and the leaves of every psalm-book in
church were rustling under busy fingers, two stealthy glances were sent
out like antennae among the pews and on the indifferent and absorbed
occupants, and drew timidly nearer to the straight line between Archie
and Christina. They met, they lingered together for the least fraction
of time, and that was enough. A charge as of electricity passed through
Christina, and behold! the leaf of her psalm-book was torn across.
Archie was outside by the gate of the graveyard, conversing with Hob and
the minister and shaking hands all round with the scattering
congregation, when Clem and Christina were brought up to be presented.
The laird took off his hat and bowed to her with grace and respect.
Christina made her Glasgow curtsey to the laird, and went on again up
the road for Hermiston and Cauldstaneslap, walking fast, breathing
hurriedly with a heightened colour, and in this strange frame of mind,
that when she was alone she seemed in high happiness, and when any one
addressed her she resented it like a contradiction. A part of the way
she had the company of some neighbour girls and a loutish young man;
never had they seemed so insipid, never had she made herself so
disagreeable. But these struck aside to their various destinations or
were out-walked and left behind; and when she had driven off with sharp
words the proffered convoy of some of her nephews and nieces, she was
free to go on alone up Hermiston brae, walking on air, dwelling
intoxicated among clouds of happiness. Near to the summit she heard
steps behind her, a man's steps, light and very rapid. She knew the
foot at once and walked the faster. "If it's me he's wanting, he can
run for it," she thought, smiling.
Archie overtook her like a man whose mind was made up.
"Miss Kirstie," he began.
"Miss Christina, if you please, Mr. Weir," she interrupted. "I canna
bear the contraction."
"You forget it has a friendly sound for me. Your aunt is an old friend
of mine, and a very good one. I hope we shall see much of you at
"My aunt and my sister-in-law doesna agree very well. Not that I have
much ado with it. But still when I'm stopping in the house, if I was to
be visiting my aunt, it would not look considerate-like."
"I am sorry," said Archie.
"I thank you kindly, Mr. Weir," she said. "I whiles think myself it's a
great peety."
"Ah, I am sure your voice would always be for peace!" he cried.
"I wouldna be too sure of that," she said. "I have my days like other
folk, I suppose."
"Do you know, in our old kirk, among our good old grey dames, you made
an effect like sunshine."
"Ah, but that would be my Glasgow clothes!"
"I did not think I was so much under the influence of pretty frocks."
She smiled with a half look at him. "There's more than you!" she said.
"But you see I'm only Cinderella. I'll have to put all these things by
in my trunk; next Sunday I'll be as grey as the rest. They're Glasgow
clothes, you see, and it would never do to make a practice of it. It
would seem terrible conspicuous."
By that they were come to the place where their ways severed. The old
grey moors were all about them; in the midst a few sheep wandered; and
they could see on the one hand the straggling caravan scaling the braes
in front of them for Cauldstaneslap, and on the other, the contingent
from Hermiston bending off and beginning to disappear by detachments
into the policy gate. It was in these circumstances that they turned to
say farewell, and deliberately exchanged a glance as they shook hands.
All passed as it should, genteelly; and in Christina's mind, as she
mounted the first steep ascent for Cauldstaneslap, a gratifying sense of
triumph prevailed over the recollection of minor lapses and mistakes.
She had kilted her gown, as she did usually at that rugged pass; but
when she spied Archie still standing and gazing after her, the skirts
came down again as if by enchantment. Here was a piece of nicety for
that upland parish, where the matrons marched with their coats kilted in
the rain, and the lasses walked barefoot to kirk through the dust of
summer, and went bravely down by the burn-side, and sat on stones to
make a public toilet before entering! It was perhaps an air wafted from
Glasgow; or perhaps it marked a stage of that dizziness of gratified
vanity, in which the instinctive act passed unperceived. He was looking
after! She unloaded her bosom of a prodigious sigh that was all
pleasure, and betook herself to run. When she had overtaken the
stragglers of her family, she caught up the niece whom she had so
recently repulsed, and kissed and slapped her, and drove her away again,
and ran after her with pretty cries and laughter. Perhaps she thought
the laird might still be looking! But it chanced the little scene came
under the view of eyes less favourable; for she overtook Mrs. Hob
marching with Clem and Dand.
"You're shurely fey, lass!" quoth Dandie.
"Think shame to yersel', miss!" said the strident Mrs. Hob. "Is this
the gait to guide yersel' on the way hame frae kirk? You're shiirely
no sponsible the day! And anyway I would mind my guid claes."
"Hoot!" said Christina, and went on before them head in air, treading
the rough track with the tread of a wild doe.
She was in love with herself, her destiny, the air of the hills, the
benediction of the sun. All the way home, she continued under the
intoxication of these sky-scraping spirits. At table she could talk
freely of young Hermiston; gave her opinion of him off-hand and with a
loud voice, that he was a handsome young gentleman, real well mannered
and sensible-like, but it was a pity he looked doleful. Only - the
moment after - a memory of his eyes in church embarrassed her. But for
this inconsiderable check, all through meal-time she had a good
appetite, and she kept them laughing at table, until Gib (who had
returned before them from Crossmichael and his separative worship)
reproved the whole of them for their levity.
Singing "in to herself" as she went, her mind still in the turmoil of a
glad confusion, she rose and tripped upstairs to a little loft, lighted
by four panes in the gable, where she slept with one of her nieces. The
niece, who followed her, presuming on "Auntie's" high spirits, was
flounced out of the apartment with small ceremony, and retired, smarting
and half tearful, to bury her woes in the byre among the hay. Still
humming, Christina divested herself of her finery, and put her treasures
one by one in her great green trunk. The last of these was the psalm-book;
it was a fine piece, the gift of Mistress Clem, in distinct old-faced type,
on paper that had begun to grow foxy in the warehouse - not by service -
and she was used to wrap it in a handkerchief every Sunday after its
period of service was over, and bury it end-wise at the head of her
trunk. As she now took it in hand the book fell open where the leaf
was torn, and she stood and gazed upon that evidence of her bygone
discomposure. There returned again the vision of the two brown eyes
staring at her, intent and bright, out of that dark corner of the kirk.
The whole appearance and attitude, the smile, the suggested gesture of
young Hermiston came before her in a flash at the sight of the torn
page. "I was surely fey!" she said, echoing the words of Dandie, and
at the suggested doom her high spirits deserted her. She flung herself
prone upon the bed, and lay there, holding the psalm-book in her hands
for hours, for the more part in a mere stupor of unconsenting pleasure
and unreasoning fear. The fear was superstitious; there came up again
and again in her memory Dandie's ill-omened words, and a hundred grisly
and black tales out of the immediate neighbourhood read her a commentary
on their force. The pleasure was never realised. You might say the
joints of her body thought and remembered, and were gladdened, but her
essential self, in the immediate theatre of consciousness, talked
feverishly of something else, like a nervous person at a fire. The
image that she most complacently dwelt on was that of Miss Christina
in her character of the Fair Lass of Cauldstaneslap, carrying all before
her in the straw-coloured frock, the violet mantle, and the yellow cobweb
stockings. Archie's image, on the other hand, when it presented itself
was never welcomed - far less welcomed with any ardour, and it was exposed
at times to merciless criticism. In the long vague dialogues she held in
her mind, often with imaginary, often with unrealised interlocutors,
Archie, if he were referred to at all came in for savage handling. He
was described as "looking like a stork," "staring like a caulf," "a face
like a ghaist's." "Do you call that manners?" she said; or, "I soon put
him in his place." " `MISS CHRISTINA, IF YOU PLEASE, MR. WEIR!' says I,
and just flyped up my skirt tails." With gabble like this she would
entertain herself long whiles together, and then her eye would perhaps
fall on the torn leaf, and the eyes of Archie would appear again from
the darkness of the wall, and the voluble words deserted her, and she
would lie still and stupid, and think upon nothing with devotion, and be
sometimes raised by a quiet sigh. Had a doctor of medicine come into
that loft, he would have diagnosed a healthy, well-developed, eminently
vivacious lass lying on her face in a fit of the sulks; not one who had
just contracted, or was just contracting, a mortal sickness of the mind
which should yet carry her towards death and despair. Had it been a
doctor of psychology, he might have been pardoned for divining in the
girl a passion of childish vanity, self-love IN EXCELSIS, and no more.
It is to be understood that I have been painting chaos and describing
the inarticulate. Every lineament that appears is too precise, almost
every word used too strong. Take a finger-post in the mountains on a
day of rolling mists; I have but copied the names that appear upon the
pointers, the names of definite and famous cities far distant, and now
perhaps basking in sunshine; but Christina remained all these hours, as
it were, at the foot of the post itself, not moving, and enveloped in
mutable and blinding wreaths of haze.
The day was growing late and the sunbeams long and level, when she sat
suddenly up, and wrapped in its handkerchief and put by that psalm-book
which had already played a part so decisive in the first chapter of her
love-story. In the absence of the mesmerist's eye, we are told nowadays
that the head of a bright nail may fill his place, if it be steadfastly
regarded. So that torn page had riveted her attention on what might
else have been but little, and perhaps soon forgotten; while the ominous
words of Dandie - heard, not heeded, and still remembered - had lent to
her thoughts, or rather to her mood, a cast of solemnity, and that idea
of Fate - a pagan Fate, uncontrolled by any Christian deity, obscure,
lawless, and august - moving indissuadably in the affairs of Christian
men. Thus even that phenomenon of love at first sight, which is so rare
and seems so simple and violent, like a disruption of life's tissue, may
be decomposed into a sequence of accidents happily concurring.
She put on a grey frock and a pink kerchief, looked at herself a moment
with approval in the small square of glass that served her for a toilet
mirror, and went softly downstairs through the sleeping house that
resounded with the sound of afternoon snoring. Just outside the door,
Dandie was sitting with a book in his hand, not reading, only honouring
the Sabbath by a sacred vacancy of mind. She came near him and stood
"I'm for off up the muirs, Dandie," she said.
There was something unusually soft in her tones that made him look up.
She was pale, her eyes dark and bright; no trace remained of the levity
of the morning.
"Ay, lass? Ye'll have yer ups and downs like me, I'm thinkin'," he
"What for do ye say that?" she asked.
"O, for naething," says Dand. "Only I think ye're mair like me than the
lave of them. Ye've mair of the poetic temper, tho' Guid kens little
enough of the poetic taalent. It's an ill gift at the best. Look at
yoursel'. At denner you were all sunshine and flowers and laughter, and
now you're like the star of evening on a lake."
She drank in this hackneyed compliment like wine, and it glowed in her
"But I'm saying, Dand" - she came nearer him - "I'm for the muirs. I
must have a braith of air. If Clem was to be speiring for me, try and
quaiet him, will ye no?"
"What way?" said Dandie. "I ken but the ae way, and that's leein'."
I'll say ye had a sair heid, if ye like."
"But I havena," she objected.
"I daursay no," he returned. "I said I would say ye had; and if ye like
to nay-say me when ye come back, it'll no mateerially maitter, for my
chara'ter's clean gane a'ready past reca'."
"O, Dand, are ye a lecar?" she asked, lingering.
"Folks say sae," replied the bard.
"Wha says sae?" she pursued.
"Them that should ken the best," he responded. "The lassies, for ane."
"But, Dand, you would never lee to me?" she asked.
"I'll leave that for your pairt of it, ye girzie," said he. "Ye'll lee
to me fast eneuch, when ye hae gotten a jo. I'm tellin' ye and it's
true; when you have a jo, Miss Kirstie, it'll be for guid and ill. I
ken: I was made that way mysel', but the deil was in my luck! Here,
gang awa wi' ye to your muirs, and let me be; I'm in an hour of
inspiraution, ye upsetting tawpie!"
But she clung to her brother's neighbourhood, she knew not why.
"Will ye no gie's a kiss, Dand?" she said. "I aye likit ye fine."
He kissed her and considered her a moment; he found something strange in
her. But he was a libertine through and through, nourished equal
contempt and suspicion of all womankind, and paid his way among them
habitually with idle compliments.
"Gae wa' wi' ye!" said he. "Ye're a dentie baby, and be content wi'
That was Dandie's way; a kiss and a comfit to Jenny - a bawbee and my
blessing to Jill - and goodnight to the whole clan of ye, my dears!
When anything approached the serious, it became a matter for men, he
both thought and said. Women, when they did not absorb, were only
children to be shoo'd away. Merely in his character of connoisseur,
however, Dandie glanced carelessly after his sister as she crossed the
meadow. "The brat's no that bad!" he thought with surprise, for though
he had just been paying her compliments, he had not really looked at
her. "Hey! what's yon?" For the grey dress was cut with short sleeves
and skirts, and displayed her trim strong legs clad in pink stockings of
the same shade as the kerchief she wore round her shoulders, and that
shimmered as she went. This was not her way in undress; he knew her
ways and the ways of the whole sex in the country-side, no one better;
when they did not go barefoot, they wore stout "rig and furrow" woollen
hose of an invisible blue mostly, when they were not black outright; and
Dandie, at sight of this daintiness, put two and two together. It was a
silk handkerchief, then they would be silken hose; they matched - then
the whole outfit was a present of Clem's, a costly present, and not
something to be worn through bog and briar, or on a late afternoon of
Sunday. He whistled. "My denty May, either your heid's fair turned, or
there's some ongoings!" he observed, and dismissed the subject.
She went slowly at first, but ever straighter and faster for the
Cauldstaneslap, a pass among the hills to which the farm owed its name.
The Slap opened like a doorway between two rounded hillocks; and through
this ran the short cut to Hermiston. Immediately on the other side it
went down through the Deil's Hags, a considerable marshy hollow of the
hill tops, full of springs, and crouching junipers, and pools where the
black peat-water slumbered. There was no view from here. A man might
have sat upon the Praying Weaver's stone a half century, and seen none
but the Cauldstaneslap children twice in the twenty-four hours on their
way to the school and back again, an occasional shepherd, the irruption
of a clan of sheep, or the birds who haunted about the springs, drinking
and shrilly piping. So, when she had once passed the Slap, Kirstie was
received into seclusion. She looked back a last time at the farm. It
still lay deserted except for the figure of Dandie, who was now seen to
be scribbling in his lap, the hour of expected inspiration having come
to him at last. Thence she passed rapidly through the morass, and came
to the farther end of it, where a sluggish burn discharges, and the path
for Hermiston accompanies it on the beginning of its downward path.
From this corner a wide view was opened to her of the whole stretch of
braes upon the other side, still sallow and in places rusty with the
winter, with the path marked boldly, here and there by the burn-side a
tuft of birches, and - two miles off as the crow flies - from its
enclosures and young plantations, the windows of Hermiston glittering in
the western sun.
Here she sat down and waited, and looked for a long time at these faraway
bright panes of glass. It amused her to have so extended a view,
she thought. It amused her to see the house of Hermiston - to see
"folk"; and there was an indistinguishable human unit, perhaps the
gardener, visibly sauntering on the gravel paths.
By the time the sun was down and all the easterly braes lay plunged in
clear shadow, she was aware of another figure coming up the path at a
most unequal rate of approach, now half running, now pausing and seeming
to hesitate. She watched him at first with a total suspension of
thought. She held her thought as a person holds his breathing. Then
she consented to recognise him. "He'll no be coming here, he canna be;
it's no possible." And there began to grow upon her a subdued choking
suspense. He WAS coming; his hesitations had quite ceased, his step
grew firm and swift; no doubt remained; and the question loomed up
before her instant: what was she to do? It was all very well to say
that her brother was a laird himself: it was all very well to speak of
casual intermarriages and to count cousinship, like Auntie Kirstie. The
difference in their social station was trenchant; propriety, prudence,
all that she had ever learned, all that she knew, bade her flee. But on
the other hand the cup of life now offered to her was too enchanting.
For one moment, she saw the question clearly, and definitely made her
choice. She stood up and showed herself an instant in the gap relieved
upon the sky line; and the next, fled trembling and sat down glowing
with excitement on the Weaver's stone. She shut her eyes, seeking,
praying for composure. Her hand shook in her lap, and her mind was full
of incongruous and futile speeches. What was there to make a work
about? She could take care of herself, she supposed! There was no harm
in seeing the laird. It was the best thing that could happen. She
would mark a proper distance to him once and for all. Gradually the
wheels of her nature ceased to go round so madly, and she sat in passive
expectation, a quiet, solitary figure in the midst of the grey moss. I
have said she was no hypocrite, but here I am at fault. She never
admitted to herself that she had come up the hill to look for Archie.
And perhaps after all she did not know, perhaps came as a stone falls.
For the steps of love in the young, and especially in girls, are
instinctive and unconscious.
In the meantime Archie was drawing rapidly near, and he at least was
consciously seeking her neighbourhood. The afternoon had turned to
ashes in his mouth; the memory of the girl had kept him from reading and
drawn him as with cords; and at last, as the cool of the evening began
to come on, he had taken his hat and set forth, with a smothered
ejaculation, by the moor path to Cauldstaneslap. He had no hope to find
her; he took the off chance without expectation of result and to relieve
his uneasiness. The greater was his surprise, as he surmounted the
slope and came into the hollow of the Deil's Hags, to see there, like an
answer to his wishes, the little womanly figure in the grey dress and
the pink kerchief sitting little, and low, and lost, and acutely
solitary, in these desolate surroundings and on the weather-beaten stone
of the dead weaver. Those things that still smacked of winter were all
rusty about her, and those things that already relished of the spring
had put forth the tender and lively colours of the season. Even in the
unchanging face of the death-stone, changes were to be remarked; and in
the channeled lettering, the moss began to renew itself in jewels of
green. By an afterthought that was a stroke of art, she had turned up
over her head the back of the kerchief; so that it now framed becomingly
her vivacious and yet pensive face. Her feet were gathered under her on
the one side, and she leaned on her bare arm, which showed out strong
and round, tapered to a slim wrist, and shimmered in the fading light.
Young Hermiston was struck with a certain chill. He was reminded that
he now dealt in serious matters of life and death. This was a grown
woman he was approaching, endowed with her mysterious potencies and
attractions, the treasury of the continued race, and he was neither
better nor worse than the average of his sex and age. He had a certain
delicacy which had preserved him hitherto unspotted, and which (had
either of them guessed it) made him a more dangerous companion when his
heart should be really stirred. His throat was dry as he came near; but
the appealing sweetness of her smile stood between them like a guardian
For she turned to him and smiled, though without rising. There was a
shade in this cavalier greeting that neither of them perceived; neither
he, who simply thought it gracious and charming as herself; nor yet she,
who did not observe (quick as she was) the difference between rising to
meet the laird, and remaining seated to receive the expected admirer.
"Are ye stepping west, Hermiston?" said she, giving him his territorial
name after the fashion of the country-side.
"I was," said he, a little hoarsely, "but I think I will be about the
end of my stroll now. Are you like me, Miss Christina? The house would
not hold me. I came here seeking air."
He took his seat at the other end of the tombstone and studied her,
wondering what was she. There was infinite import in the question alike
for her and him.
"Ay," she said. "I couldna bear the roof either. It's a habit of mine
to come up here about the gloaming when it's quaiet and caller."
"It was a habit of my mother's also," he said gravely. The recollection
half startled him as he expressed it. He looked around. "I have scarce
been here since. It's peaceful," he said, with a long breath.
"It's no like Glasgow," she replied. "A weary place, yon Glasgow! But
what a day have I had for my homecoming, and what a bonny evening!"
"Indeed, it was a wonderful day," said Archie. "I think I will remember
it years and years until I come to die. On days like this - I do not
know if you feel as I do - but everything appears so brief, and fragile,
and exquisite, that I am afraid to touch life. We are here for so short
a time; and all the old people before us - Rutherfords of Hermiston,
Elliotts of the Cauldstaneslap - that were here but a while since riding
about and keeping up a great noise in this quiet corner - making love
too, and marrying - why, where are they now? It's deadly commonplace,
but, after all, the commonplaces are the great poetic truths."
He was sounding her, semi-consciously, to see if she could understand
him; to learn if she were only an animal the colour of flowers, or had a
soul in her to keep her sweet. She, on her part, her means well in
hand, watched, womanlike, for any opportunity to shine, to abound in his
humour, whatever that might be. The dramatic artist, that lies dormant
or only half awake in most human beings, had in her sprung to his feet
in a divine fury, and chance had served her well. She looked upon him
with a subdued twilight look that became the hour of the day and the
train of thought; earnestness shone through her like stars in the purple
west; and from the great but controlled upheaval of her whole nature
there passed into her voice, and rang in her lightest words, a thrill of
"Have you mind of Dand's song?" she answered. "I think he'll have been
trying to say what you have been thinking."
"No, I never heard it," he said. "Repeat it to me, can you?"
"It's nothing wanting the tune," said Kirstie.
"Then sing it me," said he.
"On the Lord's Day? That would never do, Mr. Weir!"
"I am afraid I am not so strict a keeper of the Sabbath, and there is no
one in this place to hear us, unless the poor old ancient under the
"No that I'm thinking that really," she said. "By my way of thinking,
it's just as serious as a psalm. Will I sooth it to ye, then?"
"If you please," said he, and, drawing near to her on the tombstone,
prepared to listen.
She sat up as if to sing. "I'll only can sooth it to ye," she explained.
"I wouldna like to sing out loud on the Sabbath. I think the birds
would carry news of it to Gilbert," and she smiled. "It's about the
Elliotts," she continued, "and I think there's few bonnier bits in the
book-poets, though Dand has never got printed yet."
And she began, in the low, clear tones of her half voice, now sinking
almost to a whisper, now rising to a particular note which was her best,
and which Archie learned to wait for with growing emotion:-
"O they rade in the rain, in the days that are gane,
In the rain and the wind and the lave,
They shoutit in the ha' and they routit on the hill,
But they're a' quaitit noo in the grave.
Auld, auld Elliotts, clay-cauld Elliotts, dour, bauld Elliotte of auld!"
All the time she sang she looked steadfastly before her, her knees
straight, her hands upon her knee, her head cast back and up. The
expression was admirable throughout, for had she not learned it from the
lips and under the criticism of the author? When it was done, she
turned upon Archie a face softly bright, and eyes gently suffused and
shining in the twilight, and his heart rose and went out to her with
boundless pity and sympathy. His question was answered. She was a
human being tuned to a sense of the tragedy of life; there were pathos
and music and a great heart in the girl.
He arose instinctively, she also; for she saw she had gained a point,
and scored the impression deeper, and she had wit enough left to flee
upon a victory. They were but commonplaces that remained to be
exchanged, but the low, moved voices in which they passed made them
sacred in the memory. In the falling greyness of the evening he watched
her figure winding through the morass, saw it turn a last time and wave
a hand, and then pass through the Slap; and it seemed to him as if
something went along with her out of the deepest of his heart. And
something surely had come, and come to dwell there. He had retained
from childhood a picture, now half obliterated by the passage of time
and the multitude of fresh impressions, of his mother telling him, with
the fluttered earnestness of her voice, and often with dropping tears,
the tale of the "Praying Weaver," on the very scene of his brief tragedy
and long repose. And now there was a companion piece; and he beheld,
and he should behold for ever, Christina perched on the same tomb, in
the grey colours of the evening, gracious, dainty, perfect as a flower,
and she also singing-
"Of old, unhappy far off things,
And battles long ago,"
of their common ancestors now dead, of their rude wars composed, their
weapons buried with them, and of these strange changelings, their
descendants, who lingered a little in their places, and would soon be
gone also, and perhaps sung of by others at the gloaming hour. By one
of the unconscious arts of tenderness the two women were enshrined
together in his memory. Tears, in that hour of sensibility, came into
his eyes indifferently at the thought of either; and the girl, from
being something merely bright and shapely, was caught up into the zone
of things serious as life and death and his dead mother. So that in all
ways and on either side, Fate played his game artfully with this poor
pair of children. The generations were prepared, the pangs were made
ready, before the curtain rose on the dark drama.
In the same moment of time that she disappeared from Archie, there
opened before Kirstie's eyes the cup-like hollow in which the farm lay.
She saw, some five hundred feet below her, the house making itself
bright with candles, and this was a broad hint to her to hurry. For
they were only kindled on a Sabbath night with a view to that family
worship which rounded in the incomparable tedium of the day and brought
on the relaxation of supper. Already she knew that Robert must be
within-sides at the head of the table, "waling the portions"; for it was
Robert in his quality of family priest and judge, not the gifted
Gilbert, who officiated. She made good time accordingly down the steep
ascent, and came up to the door panting as the three younger brothers,
all roused at last from slumber, stood together in the cool and the dark
of the evening with a fry of nephews and nieces about them, chatting and
awaiting the expected signal. She stood back; she had no mind to direct
attention to her late arrival or to her labouring breath.
"Kirstie, ye have shaved it this time, my lass?" said Clem. "Whaur were
"O, just taking a dander by mysel'," said Kirstie.
And the talk continued on the subject of the American War, without
further reference to the truant who stood by them in the covert of the
dusk, thrilling with happiness and the sense of guilt.
The signal was given, and the brothers began to go in one after another,
amid the jostle and throng of Hob's children.
Only Dandie, waiting till the last, caught Kirstie by the arm. "When
did ye begin to dander in pink hosen, Mistress Elliott?" he whispered
She looked down; she was one blush. "I maun have forgotten to change
them," said she; and went into prayers in her turn with a troubled mind,
between anxiety as to whether Dand should have observed her yellow
stockings at church, and should thus detect her in a palpable falsehood,
and shame that she had already made good his prophecy. She remembered
the words of it, how it was to be when she had gotten a jo, and that
that would be for good and evil. "Will I have gotten my jo now?" she
thought with a secret rapture.
And all through prayers, where it was her principal business to conceal
the pink stockings from the eyes of the indifferent Mrs. Hob - and all
through supper, as she made a feint of eating and sat at the table
radiant and constrained - and again when she had left them and come into
her chamber, and was alone with her sleeping niece, and could at last
lay aside the armour of society - the same words sounded within her, the
same profound note of happiness, of a world all changed and renewed, of
a day that had been passed in Paradise, and of a night that was to be
heaven opened. All night she seemed to be conveyed smoothly upon a
shallow stream of sleep and waking, and through the bowers of Beulah;
all night she cherished to her heart that exquisite hope; and if,
towards morning, she forgot it a while in a more profound
unconsciousness, it was to catch again the rainbow thought with her
first moment of awaking.
TWO days later a gig from Crossmichael deposited Frank Innes at the
doors of Hermiston. Once in a way, during the past winter, Archie, in
some acute phase of boredom, had written him a letter. It had contained
something in the nature of an invitation or a reference to an invitation
- precisely what, neither of them now remembered. When Innes had
received it, there had been nothing further from his mind than to bury
himself in the moors with Archie; but not even the most acute political
heads are guided through the steps of life with unerring directness.
That would require a gift of prophecy which has been denied to man. For
instance, who could have imagined that, not a month after he had
received the letter, and turned it into mockery, and put off answering
it, and in the end lost it, misfortunes of a gloomy cast should begin to
thicken over Frank's career? His case may be briefly stated. His
father, a small Morayshire laird with a large family, became
recalcitrant and cut off the supplies; he had fitted himself out with
the beginnings of quite a good law library, which, upon some sudden
losses on the turf, he had been obliged to sell before they were paid
for; and his bookseller, hearing some rumour of the event, took out a
warrant for his arrest. Innes had early word of it, and was able to
take precautions. In this immediate welter of his affairs, with an
unpleasant charge hanging over him, he had judged it the part of
prudence to be off instantly, had written a fervid letter to his father
at Inverauld, and put himself in the coach for Crossmichael. Any port
in a storm! He was manfully turning his back on the Parliament House
and its gay babble, on porter and oysters, the race-course and the ring;
and manfully prepared, until these clouds should have blown by, to share
a living grave with Archie Weir at Hermiston.
To do him justice, he was no less surprised to be going than Archie was
to see him come; and he carried off his wonder with an infinitely better
"Well, here I am!" said he, as he alighted. "Pylades has come to
Orestes at last. By the way, did you get my answer? No? How very
provoking! Well, here I am to answer for myself, and that's better
"I am very glad to see you, of course," said Archie. "I make you
heartily welcome, of course. But you surely have not come to stay, with
the Courts still sitting; is that not most unwise?"
"Damn the Courts!" says Frank. "What are the Courts to friendship and a
little fishing?"
And so it was agreed that he was to stay, with no term to the visit but
the term which he had privily set to it himself - the day, namely, when
his father should have come down with the dust, and he should be able to
pacify the bookseller. On such vague conditions there began for these
two young men (who were not even friends) a life of great familiarity
and, as the days drew on, less and less intimacy. They were together at
meal times, together o' nights when the hour had come for whisky-toddy;
but it might have been noticed (had there been any one to pay heed) that
they were rarely so much together by day. Archie had Hermiston to
attend to, multifarious activities in the hills, in which he did not
require, and had even refused, Frank's escort. He would be off
sometimes in the morning and leave only a note on the breakfast table to
announce the fact; and sometimes, with no notice at all, he would not
return for dinner until the hour was long past. Innes groaned under
these desertions; it required all his philosophy to sit down to a
solitary breakfast with composure, and all his unaffected good-nature to
be able to greet Archie with friendliness on the more rare occasions
when he came home late for dinner.
"I wonder what on earth he finds to do, Mrs. Elliott?" said he one
morning, after he had just read the hasty billet and sat down to table.
"I suppose it will be business, sir," replied the housekeeper drily,
measuring his distance off to him by an indicated curtsy.
"But I can't imagine what business!" he reiterated.
"I suppose it will be HIS business," retorted the austere Kirstie.
He turned to her with that happy brightness that made the charm of his
disposition, and broke into a peal of healthy and natural laughter.
"Well played, Mrs. Elliott!" he cried; and the housekeeper's face
relaxed into the shadow of an iron smile. "Well played indeed!" said
he. "But you must not be making a stranger of me like that. Why,
Archie and I were at the High School together, and we've been to college
together, and we were going to the Bar together, when - you know! Dear,
dear me! what a pity that was! A life spoiled, a fine young fellow as
good as buried here in the wilderness with rustics; and all for what? A
frolic, silly, if you like, but no more. God, how good your scones are,
Mrs. Elliott!"
"They're no mines, it was the lassie made them," said Kirstie; "and,
saving your presence, there's little sense in taking the Lord's name in
vain about idle vivers that you fill your kyte wi'."
"I daresay you're perfectly right, ma'am," quoth the imperturbable
Frank. "But as I was saying, this is a pitiable business, this about
poor Archie; and you and I might do worse than put our heads together,
like a couple of sensible people, and bring it to an end. Let me tell
you, ma'am, that Archie is really quite a promising young man, and in my
opinion he would do well at the Bar. As for his father, no one can deny
his ability, and I don't fancy any one would care to deny that he has
the deil's own temper - "
"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Innes, I think the lass is crying on me," said
Kirstie, and flounced from the room.
"The damned, cross-grained, old broomstick!" ejaculated Innes.
In the meantime, Kirstie had escaped into the kitchen, and before her
vassal gave vent to her feelings.
"Here, ettercap! Ye'll have to wait on yon Innes! I canna haud myself
in. `Puir Erchie!' I'd `puir Erchie' him, if I had my way! And
Hermiston with the deil's ain temper! God, let him take Hermiston's
scones out of his mouth first. There's no a hair on ayther o' the Weirs
that hasna mair spunk and dirdum to it than what he has in his hale
dwaibly body! Settin' up his snash to me! Let him gang to the black
toon where he's mebbe wantit - birling in a curricle - wi' pimatum on
his heid - making a mess o' himsel' wi' nesty hizzies - a fair
disgrace!" It was impossible to hear without admiration Kirstie's
graduated disgust, as she brought forth, one after another, these
somewhat baseless charges. Then she remembered her immediate purpose,
and turned again on her fascinated auditor. "Do ye no hear me, tawpie?
Do ye no hear what I'm tellin' ye? Will I have to shoo ye in to him?
If I come to attend to ye, mistress!" And the maid fled the kitchen,
which had become practically dangerous, to attend on Innes' wants in the
front parlour.
TANTAENE IRAE? Has the reader perceived the reason? Since Frank's
coming there were no more hours of gossip over the supper tray! All his
blandishments were in vain; he had started handicapped on the race for
Mrs. Elliott's favour.
But it was a strange thing how misfortune dogged him in his efforts to
be genial. I must guard the reader against accepting Kirstie's epithets
as evidence; she was more concerned for their vigour than for their
accuracy. Dwaibly, for instance; nothing could be more calumnious.
Frank was the very picture of good looks, good humour, and manly youth.
He had bright eyes with a sparkle and a dance to them, curly hair, a
charming smile, brilliant teeth, an admirable carriage of the head, the
look of a gentleman, the address of one accustomed to please at first
sight and to improve the impression. And with all these advantages, he
failed with every one about Hermiston; with the silent shepherd, with
the obsequious grieve, with the groom who was also the ploughman, with
the gardener and the gardener's sister - a pious, down-hearted woman
with a shawl over her ears - he failed equally and flatly. They did not
like him, and they showed it. The little maid, indeed, was an
exception; she admired him devoutly, probably dreamed of him in her
private hours; but she was accustomed to play the part of silent auditor
to Kirstie's tirades and silent recipient of Kirstie's buffets, and she
had learned not only to be a very capable girl of her years, but a very
secret and prudent one besides. Frank was thus conscious that he had
one ally and sympathiser in the midst of that general union of disfavour
that surrounded, watched, and waited on him in the house of Hermiston;
but he had little comfort or society from that alliance, and the demure
little maid (twelve on her last birthday) preserved her own counsel, and
tripped on his service, brisk, dumbly responsive, but inexorably
unconversational. For the others, they were beyond hope and beyond
endurance. Never had a young Apollo been cast among such rustic
barbarians. But perhaps the cause of his ill-success lay in one trait
which was habitual and unconscious with him, yet diagnostic of the man.
It was his practice to approach any one person at the expense of some
one else. He offered you an alliance against the some one else; he
flattered you by slighting him; you were drawn into a small intrigue
against him before you knew how. Wonderful are the virtues of this
process generally; but Frank's mistake was in the choice of the some one
else. He was not politic in that; he listened to the voice of
irritation. Archie had offended him at first by what he had felt to be
rather a dry reception, had offended him since by his frequent absences.
He was besides the one figure continually present in Frank's eye; and it
was to his immediate dependants that Frank could offer the snare of his
sympathy. Now the truth is that the Weirs, father and son, were
surrounded by a posse of strenuous loyalists. Of my lord they were
vastly proud. It was a distinction in itself to be one of the vassals
of the "Hanging Judge," and his gross, formidable joviality was far from
unpopular in the neighbourhood of his home. For Archie they had, one
and all, a sensitive affection and respect which recoiled from a word of
Nor was Frank more successful when he went farther afield. To the Four
Black Brothers, for instance, he was antipathetic in the highest degree.
Hob thought him too light, Gib too profane. Clem, who saw him but for a
day or two before he went to Glasgow, wanted to know what the fule's
business was, and whether he meant to stay here all session time!
"Yon's a drone," he pronounced. As for Dand, it will be enough to
describe their first meeting, when Frank had been whipping a river and
the rustic celebrity chanced to come along the path.
"I'm told you're quite a poet," Frank had said.
"Wha tell't ye that, mannie?" had been the unconciliating answer.
"O, everybody!" says Frank.
"God! Here's fame!" said the sardonic poet, and he had passed on his
Come to think of it, we have here perhaps a truer explanation of Frank's
failures. Had he met Mr. Sheriff Scott he could have turned a neater
compliment, because Mr. Scott would have been a friend worth making.
Dand, on the other hand, he did not value sixpence, and he showed it
even while he tried to flatter. Condescension is an excellent thing,
but it is strange how one-sided the pleasure of it is! He who goes
fishing among the Scots peasantry with condescension for a bait will
have an empty basket by evening.
In proof of this theory Frank made a great success of it at the
Crossmichael Club, to which Archie took him immediately on his arrival;
his own last appearance on that scene of gaiety. Frank was made welcome
there at once, continued to go regularly, and had attended a meeting (as
the members ever after loved to tell) on the evening before his death.
Young Hay and young Pringle appeared again. There was another supper at
Windiclaws, another dinner at Driffel; and it resulted in Frank being
taken to the bosom of the county people as unreservedly as he had been
repudiated by the country folk. He occupied Hermiston after the manner
of an invader in a conquered capital. He was perpetually issuing from
it, as from a base, to toddy parties, fishing parties, and dinner
parties, to which Archie was not invited, or to which Archie would not
go. It was now that the name of The Recluse became general for the
young man. Some say that Innes invented it; Innes, at least, spread it
"How's all with your Recluse to-day?" people would ask.
"O, reclusing away!" Innes would declare, with his bright air of saying
something witty; and immediately interrupt the general laughter which he
had provoked much more by his air than his words, "Mind you, it's all
very well laughing, but I'm not very well pleased. Poor Archie is a
good fellow, an excellent fellow, a fellow I always liked. I think it
small of him to take his little disgrace so hard, and shut himself up.
'Grant that it is a ridiculous story, painfully ridiculous,' I keep
telling him. 'Be a man! Live it down, man!' But not he. Of course,
it's just solitude, and shame, and all that. But I confess I'm
beginning to fear the result. It would be all the pities in the world
if a really promising fellow like Weir was to end ill. I'm seriously
tempted to write to Lord Hermiston, and put it plainly to him."
"I would if I were you," some of his auditors would say, shaking the
head, sitting bewildered and confused at this new view of the matter, so
deftly indicated by a single word. "A capital idea!" they would add,
and wonder at the APLOMB and position of this young man, who talked as a
matter of course of writing to Hermiston and correcting him upon his
private affairs.
And Frank would proceed, sweetly confidential: "I'll give you an idea,
now. He's actually sore about the way that I'm received and he's left
out in the county - actually jealous and sore. I've rallied him and
I've reasoned with him, told him that every one was most kindly inclined
towards him, told him even that I was received merely because I was his
guest. But it's no use. He will neither accept the invitations he
gets, nor stop brooding about the ones where he's left out. What I'm
afraid of is that the wound's ulcerating. He had always one of those
dark, secret, angry natures - a little underhand and plenty of bile -
you know the sort. He must have inherited it from the Weirs, whom I
suspect to have been a worthy family of weavers somewhere; what's the
cant phrase? - sedentary occupation. It's precisely the kind of
character to go wrong in a false position like what his father's made
for him, or he's making for himself, whichever you like to call it. And
for my part, I think it a disgrace," Frank would say generously.
Presently the sorrow and anxiety of this disinterested friend took
shape. He began in private, in conversations of two, to talk vaguely of
bad habits and low habits. "I must say I'm afraid he's going wrong
altogether," he would say. "I'll tell you plainly, and between
ourselves, I scarcely like to stay there any longer; only, man, I'm
positively afraid to leave him alone. You'll see, I shall be blamed for
it later on. I'm staying at a great sacrifice. I'm hindering my
chances at the Bar, and I can't blind my eyes to it. And what I'm
afraid of is that I'm going to get kicked for it all round before all's
done. You see, nobody believes in friendship nowadays."
"Well, Innes," his interlocutor would reply, "it's very good of you, I
must say that. If there's any blame going, you'll always be sure of MY
good word, for one thing."
"Well," Frank would continue, "candidly, I don't say it's pleasant. He
has a very rough way with him; his father's son, you know. I don't say
he's rude - of course, I couldn't be expected to stand that - but he
steers very near the wind. No, it's not pleasant; but I tell ye, man,
in conscience I don't think it would be fair to leave him. Mind you, I
don't say there's anything actually wrong. What I say is that I don't
like the looks of it, man!" and he would press the arm of his momentary
In the early stages I am persuaded there was no malice. He talked but
for the pleasure of airing himself. He was essentially glib, as becomes
the young advocate, and essentially careless of the truth, which is the
mark of the young ass; and so he talked at random. There was no
particular bias, but that one which is indigenous and universal, to
flatter himself and to please and interest the present friend. And by
thus milling air out of his mouth, he had presently built up a
presentation of Archie which was known and talked of in all corners of
the county. Wherever there was a residential house and a walled garden,
wherever there was a dwarfish castle and a park, wherever a quadruple
cottage by the ruins of a peel-tower showed an old family going down,
and wherever a handsome villa with a carriage approach and a shrubbery
marked the coming up of a new one - probably on the wheels of machinery
- Archie began to be regarded in the light of a dark, perhaps a vicious
mystery, and the future developments of his career to be looked for with
uneasiness and confidential whispering. He had done something
disgraceful, my dear. What, was not precisely known, and that good kind
young man, Mr. Innes, did his best to make light of it. But there it
was. And Mr. Innes was very anxious about him now; he was really
uneasy, my dear; he was positively wrecking his own prospects because he
dared not leave him alone. How wholly we all lie at the mercy of a
single prater, not needfully with any malign purpose! And if a man but
talks of himself in the right spirit, refers to his virtuous actions by
the way, and never applies to them the name of virtue, how easily his
evidence is accepted in the court of public opinion!
All this while, however, there was a more poisonous ferment at work
between the two lads, which came late indeed to the surface, but had
modified and magnified their dissensions from the first. To an idle,
shallow, easy-going customer like Frank, the smell of a mystery was
attractive. It gave his mind something to play with, like a new toy to
a child; and it took him on the weak side, for like many young men
coming to the Bar, and before they had been tried and found wanting, he
flattered himself he was a fellow of unusual quickness and penetration.
They knew nothing of Sherlock Holmes in those days, but there was a good
deal said of Talleyrand. And if you could have caught Frank off his
guard, he would have confessed with a smirk that, if he resembled any
one, it was the Marquis de Talleyrand-Perigord. It was on the occasion
of Archie's first absence that this interest took root. It was vastly
deepened when Kirstie resented his curiosity at breakfast, and that same
afternoon there occurred another scene which clinched the business. He
was fishing Swingleburn, Archie accompanying him, when the latter looked
at his watch.
"Well, good-bye," said he. "I have something to do. See you at
"Don't be in such a hurry," cries Frank. "Hold on till I get my rod up.
I'll go with you; I'm sick of flogging this ditch."
And he began to reel up his line.
Archie stood speechless. He took a long while to recover his wits under
this direct attack; but by the time he was ready with his answer, and
the angle was almost packed up, he had become completely Weir, and the
hanging face gloomed on his young shoulders. He spoke with a laboured
composure, a laboured kindness even; but a child could see that his mind
was made up.
"I beg your pardon, Innes; I don't want to be disagreeable, but let us
understand one another from the beginning. When I want your company,
I'll let you know."
"O!" cries Frank, "you don't want my company, don't you?"
"Apparently not just now," replied Archie. "I even indicated to you
when I did, if you'll remember - and that was at dinner. If we two
fellows are to live together pleasantly - and I see no reason why we
should not - it can only be by respecting each other's privacy. If we
begin intruding - "
"O, come! I'll take this at no man's hands. Is this the way you treat
a guest and an old friend?" cried Innes.
"Just go home and think over what I said by yourself," continued Archie,
"whether it's reasonable, or whether it's really offensive or not; and
let's meet at dinner as though nothing had happened, I'll put it this
way, if you like - that I know my own character, that I'm looking
forward (with great pleasure, I assure you) to a long visit from you,
and that I'm taking precautions at the first. I see the thing that we -
that I, if you like - might fall out upon, and I step in and OBSTO
PRINCIPIIS. I wager you five pounds you'll end by seeing that I mean
friendliness, and I assure you, Francie, I do," he added, relenting.
Bursting with anger, but incapable of speech, Innes shouldered his rod,
made a gesture of farewell, and strode off down the burn-side. Archie
watched him go without moving. He was sorry, but quite unashamed. He
hated to be inhospitable, but in one thing he was his father's son. He
had a strong sense that his house was his own and no man else's; and to
lie at a guest's mercy was what he refused. He hated to seem harsh.
But that was Frank's lookout. If Frank had been commonly discreet, he
would have been decently courteous. And there was another
consideration. The secret he was protecting was not his own merely; it
was hers: it belonged to that inexpressible she who was fast taking
possession of his soul, and whom he would soon have defended at the cost
of burning cities. By the time he had watched Frank as far as the
Swingleburn-foot, appearing and disappearing in the tarnished heather,
still stalking at a fierce gait but already dwindled in the distance
into less than the smallness of Lilliput, he could afford to smile at
the occurrence. Either Frank would go, and that would be a relief - or
he would continue to stay, and his host must continue to endure him.
And Archie was now free - by devious paths, behind hillocks and in the
hollow of burns - to make for the trysting-place where Kirstie, cried
about by the curlew and the plover, waited and burned for his coming by
the Covenanter's stone.
Innes went off down-hill in a passion of resentment, easy to be
understood, but which yielded progressively to the needs of his
situation. He cursed Archie for a cold-hearted, unfriendly, rude, rude
dog; and himself still more passionately for a fool in having come to
Hermiston when he might have sought refuge in almost any other house in
Scotland. But the step once taken, was practically irretrievable. He
had no more ready money to go anywhere else; he would have to borrow
from Archie the next club-night; and ill as he thought of his host's
manners, he was sure of his practical generosity. Frank's resemblance
to Talleyrand strikes me as imaginary; but at least not Talleyrand
himself could have more obediently taken his lesson from the facts. He
met Archie at dinner without resentment, almost with cordiality. You
must take your friends as you find them, he would have said. Archie
couldn't help being his father's son, or his grandfather's, the
hypothetical weaver's, grandson. The son of a hunks, he was still a
hunks at heart, incapable of true generosity and consideration; but he
had other qualities with which Frank could divert himself in the
meanwhile, and to enjoy which it was necessary that Frank should keep
his temper.
So excellently was it controlled that he awoke next morning with his
head full of a different, though a cognate subject. What was Archie's
little game? Why did he shun Frank's company? What was he keeping
secret? Was he keeping tryst with somebody, and was it a woman? It
would be a good joke and a fair revenge to discover. To that task he
set himself with a great deal of patience, which might have surprised
his friends, for he had been always credited not with patience so much
as brilliancy; and little by little, from one point to another, he at
last succeeded in piecing out the situation. First he remarked that,
although Archie set out in all the directions of the compass, he always
came home again from some point between the south and west. From the
study of a map, and in consideration of the great expanse of untenanted
moorland running in that direction towards the sources of the Clyde, he
laid his finger on Cauldstaneslap and two other neighbouring farms,
Kingsmuirs and Polintarf. But it was difficult to advance farther.
With his rod for a pretext, he vainly visited each of them in turn;
nothing was to be seen suspicious about this trinity of moorland
settlements. He would have tried to follow Archie, had it been the
least possible, but the nature of the land precluded the idea. He did
the next best, ensconced himself in a quiet corner, and pursued his
movements with a telescope. It was equally in vain, and he soon wearied
of his futile vigilance, left the telescope at home, and had almost
given the matter up in despair, when, on the twenty-seventh day of his
visit, he was suddenly confronted with the person whom he sought. The
first Sunday Kirstie had managed to stay away from kirk on some pretext
of indisposition, which was more truly modesty; the pleasure of
beholding Archie seeming too sacred, too vivid for that public place.
On the two following, Frank had himself been absent on some of his
excursions among the neighbouring families. It was not until the
fourth, accordingly, that Frank had occasion to set eyes on the
enchantress. With the first look, all hesitation was over. She came
with the Cauldstaneslap party; then she lived at Cauldstaneslap. Here
was Archie's secret, here was the woman, and more than that - though I
have need here of every manageable attenuation of language - with the
first look, he had already entered himself as rival. It was a good deal
in pique, it was a little in revenge, it was much in genuine admiration:
the devil may decide the proportions! I cannot, and it is very likely
that Frank could not.
"Mighty attractive milkmaid," he observed, on the way home.
"Who?" said Archie.
"O, the girl you're looking at - aren't you? Forward there on the road.
She came attended by the rustic bard; presumably, therefore, belongs to
his exalted family. The single objection! for the four black brothers
are awkward customers. If anything were to go wrong, Gib would gibber,
and Clem would prove inclement; and Dand fly in danders, and Hob blow up
in gobbets. It would be a Helliott of a business!"
"Very humorous, I am sure," said Archie.
"Well, I am trying to be so," said Frank. "It's none too easy in this
place, and with your solemn society, my dear fellow. But confess that
the milkmaid has found favour in your eyes, or resign all claim to be a
man of taste."
"It is no matter," returned Archie.
But the other continued to look at him, steadily and quizzically, and
his colour slowly rose and deepened under the glance, until not
impudence itself could have denied that he was blushing. And at this
Archie lost some of his control. He changed his stick from one hand to
the other, and - "O, for God's sake, don't be an ass!" he cried.
"Ass? That's the retort delicate without doubt," says Frank. "Beware
of the homespun brothers, dear. If they come into the dance, you'll see
who's an ass. Think now, if they only applied (say) a quarter as much
talent as I have applied to the question of what Mr. Archie does with
his evening hours, and why he is so unaffectedly nasty when the
subject's touched on - "
"You are touching on it now," interrupted Archie with a wince.
"Thank you. That was all I wanted, an articulate confession," said
"I beg to remind you - " began Archie.
But he was interrupted in turn. "My dear fellow, don't. It's quite
needless. The subject's dead and buried."
And Frank began to talk hastily on other matters, an art in which he was
an adept, for it was his gift to be fluent on anything or nothing. But
although Archie had the grace or the timidity to suffer him to rattle
on, he was by no means done with the subject. When he came home to
dinner, he was greeted with a sly demand, how things were looking
"Cauldstaneslap ways." Frank took his first glass of port out after
dinner to the toast of Kirstie, and later in the evening he returned to
the charge again.
"I say, Weir, you'll excuse me for returning again to this affair. I've
been thinking it over, and I wish to beg you very seriously to be more
careful. It's not a safe business. Not safe, my boy," said he.
"What?" said Archie.
"Well, it's your own fault if I must put a name on the thing; but
really, as a friend, I cannot stand by and see you rushing head down
into these dangers. My dear boy," said he, holding up a warning cigar,
"consider! What is to be the end of it?"
"The end of what?" - Archie, helpless with irritation, persisted in this
dangerous and ungracious guard.
"Well, the end of the milkmaid; or, to speak more by the card, the end
of Miss Christina Elliott of the Cauldstaneslap."
"I assure you," Archie broke out, "this is all a figment of your
imagination. There is nothing to be said against that young lady; you
have no right to introduce her name into the conversation."
"I'll make a note of it," said Frank. "She shall henceforth be
nameless, nameless, nameless, Grigalach! I make a note besides of your
valuable testimony to her character. I only want to look at this thing
as a man of the world. Admitted she's an angel - but, my good fellow,
is she a lady?"
This was torture to Archie. "I beg your pardon," he said, struggling to
be composed, "but because you have wormed yourself into my confidence - "
"O, come!" cried Frank. "Your confidence? It was rosy but
unconsenting. Your confidence, indeed? Now, look! This is what I must
say, Weir, for it concerns your safety and good character, and therefore
my honour as your friend. You say I wormed myself into your confidence.
Wormed is good. But what have I done? I have put two and two together,
just as the parish will be doing tomorrow, and the whole of Tweeddale in
two weeks, and the black brothers - well, I won't put a date on that; it
will be a dark and stormy morning! Your secret, in other words, is poor
Poll's. And I want to ask of you as a friend whether you like the
prospect? There are two horns to your dilemma, and I must say for
myself I should look mighty ruefully on either. Do you see yourself
explaining to the four Black Brothers? or do you see yourself presenting
the milkmaid to papa as the future lady of Hermiston? Do you? I tell
you plainly, I don't!"
Archie rose. "I will hear no more of this," he said, in a trembling
But Frank again held up his cigar. "Tell me one thing first. Tell me
if this is not a friend's part that I am playing?"
"I believe you think it so," replied Archle. "I can go as far as that.
I can do so much justice to your motives. But I will hear no more of
it. I am going to bed."
"That's right, Weir," said Frank heartily. "Go to bed and think over
it; and I say, man, don't forget your prayers! I don't often do the
moral - don't go in for that sort of thing - but when I do there's one
thing sure, that I mean it."
So Archie marched off to bed, and Frank sat alone by the table for
another hour or so, smiling to himself richly. There was nothing
vindictive in his nature; but, if revenge came in his way, it might as
well be good, and the thought of Archie's pillow reflections that night
was indescribably sweet to him. He felt a pleasant sense of power. He
looked down on Archie as on a very little boy whose strings he pulled -
as on a horse whom he had backed and bridled by sheer power of
intelligence, and whom he might ride to glory or the grave at pleasure.
Which was it to be? He lingered long, relishing the details of schemes
that he was too idle to pursue. Poor cork upon a torrent, he tasted
that night the sweets of omnipotence, and brooded like a deity over the
strands of that intrigue which was to shatter him before the summer
KIRSTIE had many causes of distress. More and more as we grow old - and
yet more and more as we grow old and are women, frozen by the fear of
age - we come to rely on the voice as the single outlet of the soul.
Only thus, in the curtailment of our means, can we relieve the
straitened cry of the passion within us; only thus, in the bitter and
sensitive shyness of advancing years, can we maintain relations with
those vivacious figures of the young that still show before us and tend
daily to become no more than the moving wall-paper of life. Talk is the
last link, the last relation. But with the end of the conversation,
when the voice stops and the bright face of the listener is turned away,
solitude falls again on the bruised heart. Kirstie had lost her "cannie
hour at e'en"; she could no more wander with Archie, a ghost if you
will, but a happy ghost, in fields Elysian. And to her it was as if the
whole world had fallen silent; to him, but an unremarkable change of
amusements. And she raged to know it. The effervescency of her
passionate and irritable nature rose within her at times to bursting
This is the price paid by age for unseasonable ardours of feeling. It
must have been so for Kirstie at any time when the occasion chanced; but
it so fell out that she was deprived of this delight in the hour when
she had most need of it, when she had most to say, most to ask, and when
she trembled to recognise her sovereignty not merely in abeyance but
annulled. For, with the clairvoyance of a genuine love, she had pierced
the mystery that had so long embarrassed Frank. She was conscious, even
before it was carried out, even on that Sunday night when it began, of
an invasion of her rights; and a voice told her the invader's name.
Since then, by arts, by accident, by small things observed, and by the
general drift of Archie's humour, she had passed beyond all possibility
of doubt. With a sense of justice that Lord Hermiston might have
envied, she had that day in church considered and admitted the
attractions of the younger Kirstie; and with the profound humanity and
sentimentality of her nature, she had recognised the coming of fate.
Not thus would she have chosen. She had seen, in imagination, Archie
wedded to some tall, powerful, and rosy heroine of the golden locks,
made in her own image, for whom she would have strewed the bride-bed
with delight; and now she could have wept to see the ambition falsified.
But the gods had pronounced, and her doom was otherwise.
She lay tossing in bed that night, besieged with feverish thoughts.
There were dangerous matters pending, a battle was toward, over the fate
of which she hung in jealousy, sympathy, fear, and alternate loyalty and
disloyalty to either side. Now she was reincarnated in her niece, and
now in Archie. Now she saw, through the girl's eyes, the youth on his
knees to her, heard his persuasive instances with a deadly weakness, and
received his overmastering caresses. Anon, with a revulsion, her temper
raged to see such utmost favours of fortune and love squandered on a
brat of a girl, one of her own house, using her own name - a deadly
ingredient - and that "didna ken her ain mind an' was as black's your
hat." Now she trembled lest her deity should plead in vain, loving the
idea of success for him like a triumph of nature; anon, with returning
loyalty to her own family and sex, she trembled for Kirstie and the
credit of the Elliotts. And again she had a vision of herself, the day
over for her old-world tales and local gossip, bidding farewell to her
last link with life and brightness and love; and behind and beyond, she
saw but the blank butt-end where she must crawl to die. Had she then
come to the lees? she, so great, so beautiful, with a heart as fresh as
a girl's and strong as womanhood? It could not be, and yet it was so;
and for a moment her bed was horrible to her as the sides of the grave.
And she looked forward over a waste of hours, and saw herself go on to
rage, and tremble, and be softened, and rage again, until the day came
and the labours of the day must be renewed.
Suddenly she heard feet on the stairs - his feet, and soon after the
sound of a window-sash flung open. She sat up with her heart beating.
He had gone to his room alone, and he had not gone to bed. She might
again have one of her night cracks; and at the entrancing prospect, a
change came over her mind; with the approach of this hope of pleasure,
all the baser metal became immediately obliterated from her thoughts.
She rose, all woman, and all the best of woman, tender, pitiful, hating
the wrong, loyal to her own sex - and all the weakest of that dear
miscellany, nourishing, cherishing next her soft heart, voicelessly
flattering, hopes that she would have died sooner than have
acknowledged. She tore off her nightcap, and her hair fell about her
shoulders in profusion. Undying coquetry awoke. By the faint light of
her nocturnal rush, she stood before the looking-glass, carried her
shapely arms above her head, and gathered up the treasures of her
tresses. She was never backward to admire herself; that kind of modesty
was a stranger to her nature; and she paused, struck with a pleased
wonder at the sight. "Ye daft auld wife!" she said, answering a thought
that was not; and she blushed with the innocent consciousness of a
child. Hastily she did up the massive and shining coils, hastily donned
a wrapper, and with the rushlight in her hand, stole into the hall.
Below stairs she heard the clock ticking the deliberate seconds, and
Frank jingling with the decanters in the dining-room. Aversion rose in
her, bitter and momentary. "Nesty, tippling puggy!" she thought; and
the next moment she had knocked guardedly at Archie's door and was
bidden enter.
Archie had been looking out into the ancient blackness, pierced here and
there with a rayless star; taking the sweet air of the moors and the
night into his bosom deeply; seeking, perhaps finding, peace after the
manner of the unhappy. He turned round as she came in, and showed her a
pale face against the window-frame.
"Is that you, Kirstie?" he asked. "Come in!"
"It's unco late, my dear," said Kirstie, affecting unwillingness.
"No, no," he answered, "not at all. Come in, if you want a crack. I am
not sleepy, God knows!"
She advanced, took a chair by the toilet table and the candle, and set
the rushlight at her foot. Something - it might be in the comparative
disorder of her dress, it might be the emotion that now welled in her
bosom - had touched her with a wand of transformation, and she seemed
young with the youth of goddesses.
"Mr. Erchie," she began, "what's this that's come to ye?"
"I am not aware of anything that has come," said Archie, and blushed,
and repented bitterly that he had let her in.
"O, my dear, that'll no dae!" said Kirstie. "It's ill to blend the eyes
of love. O, Mr. Erchie, tak a thocht ere it's ower late. Ye shouldna
be impatient o' the braws o' life, they'll a' come in their saison, like
the sun and the rain. Ye're young yet; ye've mony cantie years afore
ye. See and dinna wreck yersel' at the outset like sae mony ithers!
Hae patience - they telled me aye that was the owercome o' life - hae
patience, there's a braw day coming yet. Gude kens it never cam to me;
and here I am, wi' nayther man nor bairn to ca' my ain, wearying a'
folks wi' my ill tongue, and you just the first, Mr. Erchie!"
"I have a difficulty in knowing what you mean," said Archie.
"Weel, and I'll tell ye," she said. "It's just this, that I'm feared.
I'm feared for ye, my dear. Remember, your faither is a hard man,
reaping where he hasna sowed and gaithering where he hasna strawed.
It's easy speakin', but mind! Ye'll have to look in the gurly face o'm,
where it's ill to look, and vain to look for mercy. Ye mind me o' a
bonny ship pitten oot into the black and gowsty seas - ye're a' safe
still, sittin' quait and crackin' wi' Kirstie in your lown chalmer; but
whaur will ye be the morn, and in whatten horror o' the fearsome
tempest, cryin' on the hills to cover ye?"
"Why, Kirstie, you're very enigmatical to-night - and very eloquent,"
Archie put in.
"And, my dear Mr. Erchie," she continued, with a change of voice, "ye
mauna think that I canna sympathise wi' ye. Ye mauna think that I
havena been young mysel'. Lang syne, when I was a bit lassie, no twenty
yet - " She paused and sighed. "Clean and caller, wi' a fit like the
hinney bee," she continned. "I was aye big and buirdly, ye maun
understand; a bonny figure o' a woman, though I say it that suldna -
built to rear bairns - braw bairns they suld hae been, and grand I would
hae likit it! But I was young, dear, wi' the bonny glint o' youth in my
e'en, and little I dreamed I'd ever be tellin' ye this, an auld, lanely,
rudas wife! Weel, Mr. Erchie, there was a lad cam' courtin' me, as was
but naetural. Mony had come before, and I would nane o' them. But this
yin had a tongue to wile the birds frae the lift and the bees frae the
foxglove bells. Deary me, but it's lang syne! Folk have dee'd sinsyne
and been buried, and are forgotten, and bairns been born and got merrit
and got bairns o' their ain. Sinsyne woods have been plantit, and have
grawn up and are bonny trees, and the joes sit in their shadow, and
sinsyne auld estates have changed hands, and there have been wars and
rumours of wars on the face of the earth. And here I'm still - like an
auld droopit craw - lookin' on and craikin'! But, Mr. Erchie, do ye no
think that I have mind o' it a' still? I was dwalling then in my
faither's house; and it's a curious thing that we were whiles trysted in
the Deil's Hags. And do ye no think that I have mind of the bonny
simmer days, the lang miles o' the bluid-red heather, the cryin' of the
whaups, and the lad and the lassie that was trysted? Do ye no think
that I mind how the hilly sweetness ran about my hairt? Ay, Mr. Erchie,
I ken the way o' it - fine do I ken the way - how the grace o' God takes
them, like Paul of Tarsus, when they think it least, and drives the pair
o' them into a land which is like a dream, and the world and the folks
in't' are nae mair than clouds to the puir lassie, and heeven nae mair
than windle-straes, if she can but pleesure him! Until Tam dee'd - that
was my story," she broke off to say, "he dee'd, and I wasna at the
buryin'. But while he was here, I could take care o' mysel'. And can
yon puir lassie?"
Kirstie, her eyes shining with unshed tears, stretched out her hand
towards him appealingly; the bright and the dull gold of her hair
flashed and smouldered in the coils behind her comely head, like the
rays of an eternal youth; the pure colour had risen in her face; and
Archie was abashed alike by her beauty and her story. He came towards
her slowly from the window, took up her hand in his and kissed it.
"Kirstie," he said hoarsely, "you have misjudged me sorely. I have
always thought of her, I wouldna harm her for the universe, my woman!"
"Eh, lad, and that's easy sayin'," cried Kirstie, "but it's nane sae
easy doin'! Man, do ye no comprehend that it's God's wull we should be
blendit and glamoured, and have nae command over our ain members at a
time like that? My bairn," she cried, still holding his hand, "think o'
the puir lass! have pity upon her, Erchie! and O, be wise for twa!
Think o' the risk she rins! I have seen ye, and what's to prevent
ithers! I saw ye once in the Hags, in my ain howl, and I was wae to see
ye there - in pairt for the omen, for I think there's a weird on the
place - and in pairt for pure nakit envy and bitterness o' hairt. It's
strange ye should forgather there tae! God! but yon puir, thrawn, auld
Covenanter's seen a heap o' human natur since he lookit his last on the
musket barrels, if he never saw nane afore," she added, with a kind of
wonder in her eyes.
"I swear by my honour I have done her no wrong," said Archie. "I swear
by my honour and the redemption of my soul that there shall none be done
her. I have heard of this before. I have been foolish, Kirstie, not
unkind, and, above all, not base."
"There's my bairn!" said Kirstie, rising. "I'll can trust ye noo, I'll
can gang to my bed wi' an easy hairt." And then she saw in a flash how
barren had been her triumph. Archie had promised to spare the girl, and
he would keep it; but who had promised to spare Archie? What was to be
the end of it? Over a maze of difficulties she glanced, and saw, at the
end of every passage, the flinty countenance of Hermiston. And a kind
of horror fell upon her at what she had done. She wore a tragic mask.
"Erchie, the Lord peety you, dear, and peety me! I have buildit on this
foundation" - laying her hand heavily on his shoulder - "and buildit
hie, and pit my hairt in the buildin' of it. If the hale hypothec were
to fa', I think, laddie, I would dee! Excuse a daft wife that loves ye,
and that kenned your mither. And for His name's sake keep yersel' frae
inordinate desires; haud your heart in baith your hands, carry it canny
and laigh; dinna send it up like a hairn's kite into the collieshangic
o' the wunds! Mind, Maister Erchie dear, that this life's a'
disappointment, and a mouthfu' o' mools is the appointed end."
"Ay, but Kirstie, my woman, you're asking me ower much at last," said
Archie, profoundly moved, and lapsing into the broad Scots. "Ye're
asking what nae man can grant ye, what only the Lord of heaven can grant
ye if He see fit. Ay! And can even He! I can promise ye what I shall
do, and you can depend on that. But how I shall feel - my woman, that
is long past thinking of!"
They were both standing by now opposite each other. The face of Archie
wore the wretched semblance of a smile; hers was convulsed for a moment.
"Promise me ae thing," she cried in a sharp voice. "Promise me ye'll
never do naething without telling me."
"No, Kirstie, I canna promise ye that," he replied. "I have promised
enough, God kens!"
"May the blessing of God lift and rest upon ye dear!" she said.
"God bless ye, my old friend," said he.
IT was late in the afternoon when Archie drew near by the hill path to
the Praying Weaver's stone. The Hags were in shadow. But still,
through the gate of the Slap, the sun shot a last arrow, which sped far
and straight across the surface of the moss, here and there touching and
shining on a tussock, and lighted at length on the gravestone and the
small figure awaiting him there. The emptiness and solitude of the
great moors seemed to be concentrated there, and Kirstie pointed out by
that figure of sunshine for the only inhabitant. His first sight of her
was thus excruciatingly sad, like a glimpse of a world from which all
light, comfort, and society were on the point of vanishing. And the
next moment, when she had turned her face to him and the quick smile had
enlightened it, the whole face of nature smiled upon him in her smile of
welcome. Archie's slow pace was quickened; his legs hasted to her
though his heart was hanging back. The girl, upon her side, drew
herself together slowly and stood up, expectant; she was all languor,
her face was gone white; her arms ached for him, her soul was on tiptoes.
But he deceived her, pausing a few steps away, not less white
than herself, and holding up his hand with a gesture of denial.
"No, Christina, not to-day," he said. "To-day I have to talk to you
seriously. Sit ye down, please, there where you were. Please!" he
The revulsion of feeling in Christina's heart was violent. To have
longed and waited these weary hours for him, rehearsing her endearments
- to have seen him at last come - to have been ready there, breathless,
wholly passive, his to do what he would with - and suddenly to have
found herself confronted with a grey-faced, harsh schoolmaster - it was
too rude a shock. She could have wept, but pride withheld her. She sat
down on the stone, from which she had arisen, part with the instinct of
obedience, part as though she had been thrust there. What was this?
Why was she rejected? Had she ceased to please? She stood here
offering her wares, and he would none of them! And yet they were all
his! His to take and keep, not his to refuse though! In her quick
petulant nature, a moment ago on fire with hope, thwarted love and
wounded vanity wrought. The schoolmaster that there is in all men, to
the despair of all girls and most women, was now completely in
possession of Archie. He had passed a night of sermons, a day of
reflection; he had come wound up to do his duty; and the set mouth,
which in him only betrayed the effort of his will, to her seemed the
expression of an averted heart. It was the same with his constrained
voice and embarrassed utterance; and if so - if it was all over - the
pang of the thought took away from her the power of thinking.
He stood before her some way off. "Kirstie, there's been too much of
this. We've seen too much of each other." She looked up quickly and
her eyes contracted. "There's no good ever comes of these secret
meetings. They're not frank, not honest truly, and I ought to have seen
it. People have begun to talk; and it's not right of me. Do you see?"
"I see somebody will have been talking to ye," she said sullenly.
"They have, more than one of them," replied Archie.
"And whae were they?" she cried. "And what kind o' love do ye ca' that,
that's ready to gang round like a whirligig at folk talking? Do ye
think they havena talked to me?"
"Have they indeed?" said Archie, with a quick breath. "That is what I
feared. Who were they? Who has dared - ?"
Archie was on the point of losing his temper.
As a matter of fact, not any one had talked to Christina on the matter;
and she strenuously repeated her own first question in a panic of selfdefence.
"Ah, well! what does it matter?" he said. "They were good folk that
wished well to us, and the great affair is that there are people
talking. My dear girl, we have to be wise. We must not wreck our lives
at the outset. They may be long and happy yet, and we must see to it,
Kirstie, like God's rational creatures and not like fool children.
There is one thing we must see to before all. You're worth waiting for,
Kirstie! worth waiting for a generation; it would be enough reward." -
And here he remembered the schoolmaster again, and very unwisely took to
following wisdom. "The first thing that we must see to, is that there
shall be no scandal about for my father's sake. That would ruin all; do
ye no see that?"
Kirstie was a little pleased, there had been some show of warmth of
sentiment in what Archie had said last. But the dull irritation still
persisted in her bosom; with the aboriginal instinct, having suffered
herself, she wished to make Archie suffer.
And besides, there had come out the word she had always feared to hear
from his lips, the name of his father. It is not to be supposed that,
during so many days with a love avowed between them, some reference had
not been made to their conjoint future. It had in fact been often
touched upon, and from the first had been the sore point. Kirstie had
wilfully closed the eye of thought; she would not argue even with
herself; gallant, desperate little heart, she had accepted the command
of that supreme attraction like the call of fate and marched blindfold
on her doom. But Archie, with his masculine sense of responsibility,
must reason; he must dwell on some future good, when the present good
was all in all to Kirstie; he must talk - and talk lamely, as necessity
drove him - of what was to be. Again and again he had touched on
marriage; again and again been driven back into indistinctness by a
memory of Lord Hermiston. And Kirstie had been swift to understand and
quick to choke down and smother the understanding; swift to leap up in
flame at a mention of that hope, which spoke volumes to her vanity and
her love, that she might one day be Mrs. Weir of Hermiston; swift, also,
to recognise in his stumbling or throttled utterance the death-knell of
these expectations, and constant, poor girl! in her large-minded
madness, to go on and to reck nothing of the future. But these
unfinished references, these blinks in which his heart spoke, and his
memory and reason rose up to silence it before the words were well
uttered, gave her unqualifiable agony. She was raised up and dashed
down again bleeding. The recurrence of the subject forced her, for
however short a time, to open her eyes on what she did not wish to see;
and it had invariably ended in another disappointment. So now again, at
the mere wind of its coming, at the mere mention of his father's name -
who might seem indeed to have accompanied them in their whole moorland
courtship, an awful figure in a wig with an ironical and bitter smile,
present to guilty consciousness - she fled from it head down.
"Ye havena told me yet," she said, "who was it spoke?"
"Your aunt for one," said Archie.
"Auntie Kirstie?" she cried. "And what do I care for my Auntie
"She cares a great deal for her niece," replied Archie, in kind reproof.
"Troth, and it's the first I've heard of it," retorted the girl.
"The question here is not who it is, but what they say, what they have
noticed," pursued the lucid schoolmaster. "That is what we have to
think of in self-defence."
"Auntie Kirstie, indeed! A bitter, thrawn auld maid that's fomented
trouble in the country before I was born, and will be doing it still, I
daur say, when I'm deid! It's in her nature; it's as natural for her as
it's for a sheep to eat."
"Pardon me, Kirstie, she was not the only one," interposed Archie. "I
had two warnings, two sermons, last night, both most kind and
considerate. Had you been there, I promise you you would have grat, my
dear! And they opened my eyes. I saw we were going a wrong way."
"Who was the other one?" Kirstie demanded.
By this time Archie was in the condition of a hunted beast. He had
come, braced and resolute; he was to trace out a line of conduct for the
pair of them in a few cold, convincing sentences; he had now been there
some time, and he was still staggering round the outworks and undergoing
what he felt to be a savage cross-examination.
"Mr. Frank!" she cried. "What nex', I would like to ken?"
"He spoke most kindly and truly."
"What like did he say?"
"I am not going to tell you; you have nothing to do with that," cried
Archie, startled to find he had admitted so much.
"O, I have naething to do with it!" she repeated, springing to her feet.
"A'body at Hermiston's free to pass their opinions upon me, but I have
naething to do wi' it! Was this at prayers like? Did ye ca' the grieve
into the consultation? Little wonder if a'body's talking, when ye make
a'body yer confidants! But as you say, Mr. Weir, - most kindly, most
considerately, most truly, I'm sure, - I have naething to do with it.
And I think I'll better be going. I'll be wishing you good evening, Mr.
Weir." And she made him a stately curtsey, shaking as she did so from
head to foot, with the barren ecstasy of temper.
Poor Archie stood dumbfounded. She had moved some steps away from him
before he recovered the gift of articulate speech.
"Kirstie!" he cried. "O, Kirstie woman!"
There was in his voice a ring of appeal, a clang of mere astonishment
that showed the schoolmaster was vanquished.
She turned round on him. "What do ye Kirstie me for?" she retorted.
"What have ye to do wi' me! Gang to your ain freends and deave them!"
He could only repeat the appealing "Kirstie!"
"Kirstie, indeed!" cried the girl, her eyes blazing in her white face.
"My name is Miss Christina Elliott, I would have ye to ken, and I daur
ye to ca' me out of it. If I canna get love, I'll have respect, Mr.
Weir. I'm come of decent people, and I'll have respect. What have I
done that ye should lightly me? What have I done? What have I done?
O, what have I done?" and her voice rose upon the third repetition. "I
thocht - I thocht - I thocht I was sae happy!" and the first sob broke
from her like the paroxysm of some mortal sickness.
Archie ran to her. He took the poor child in his arms, and she nestled
to his breast as to a mother's, and clasped him in hands that were
strong like vices. He felt her whole body shaken by the throes of
distress, and had pity upon her beyond speech. Pity, and at the same
time a bewildered fear of this explosive engine in his arms, whose works
he did not understand, and yet had been tampering with. There arose
from before him the curtains of boyhood, and he saw for the first time
the ambiguous face of woman as she is. In vain he looked back over the
interview; he saw not where he had offended. It seemed unprovoked, a
wilful convulsion of brute nature. . . .
Ae, one.
Antinomian, one of a sect which holds that under the gospel dispensation
the moral law is not obligatory.
Auld Hornie, the Devil.
Ballant, ballad.
Bauchles, brogues, old shoes.
Bauld, bold.
Bees in their bonnet, eccentricities.
Birling, whirling.
Black-a-vised, dark-complexioned.
Bonnet-laird, small landed proprietor, yeoman.
Bool, ball.
Brae, rising ground.
Brig, bridge.
Buff, play buff on, to make a fool of, to deceive.
Burn, stream.
Butt end, end of a cottage.
Byre, cow-house.
Ca', drive.
Caller, fresh.
Canna, cannot.
Canny, careful, shrewd.
Cantie, cheerful.
Carline, old woman.
Cauld, cold.
Chalmer, chamber.
Claes, clothes.
Clamjamfry, crowd.
Clavers, idle talk.
Cock-laird. See Bonnet-laird.
Collieshangie, turmoil.
Crack, to converse.
Cuist, cast.
Cuddy, donkey.
Cutty, jade, also used playfully = brat.
Daft, mad, frolicsome.
Dander, to saunter.
Danders, cinders.
Daurna, dare not.
Deave, to deafen.
Denty, dainty.
Dirdum, vigour.
Disjaskit, worn out, disreputable-looking.
Doer, law agent.
Dour, hard.
Drumlie, dark.
Dunting, knocking.
Dwaibly, infirm, rickety.
Dule-tree, the tree of lamentation, the hanging-tree.
Earrand, errand.
Ettercap, vixen.
Fechting, fighting.
Feck, quantity, portion.
Feckless, feeble, powerless.
Fell, strong and fiery.
Fey, unlike yourself, strange, as if urged on by fate, or as persons are
observed to be in the hour of approaching death or disaster.
Fit, foot.
Flit, to depart.
Flyped, turned up, turned in-side out.
Forbye, in addition to.
Forgather, to fall in with.
Fower, four.
Fushionless, pithless, weak.
Fyle, to soil, to defile.
Fylement, obloquy, defilement.
Gaed, Went.
Gang, to go.
Gey an', very.
Gigot, leg of mutton.
Girzie, lit. diminutive of Grizel, here a playful nickname.
Glaur, mud.
Glint, glance, sparkle.
Gloaming, twilight.
Glower, to scowl.
Gobbets, small lumps.
Gowden, golden.
Gowsty, gusty.
Grat, wept.
Grieve, land-steward.
Guddle, to catch fish with the hands by groping under the stones or
Gumption, common sense, judgment.
Guid, good.
Gurley, stormy, surly.
Gyte, beside itself.
Hae, have, take.
Haddit, held.
Hale, whole.
Heels-ower-hurdie, heels over head.
Hinney, honey.
Hirstle, to bustle.
Hizzie, wench.
Howe, hollow.
Howl, hovel.
Hunkered, crouched.
Hypothec, lit. in Scots law the furnishings of a house, and formerly the
produce and stock of a farm hypothecated by law to the landlord as
security for rent; colloquially "the whole structure," "the whole
Idleset, idleness.
Infeftment, a term in Scots law originally synonymous with investiture.
Jaud, jade.
Jeely-piece, a slice of bread and jelly.
Jennipers, juniper.
Jo, sweetheart.
Justifeed, executed, made the victim of justice.
Jyle, jail
Kebbuck, cheese.
Ken, to know.
Kenspeckle, conspicuous.
Kilted, tucked up.
Kyte, belly.
Laigh, low.
Laird, landed proprietor.
Lane, alone.
Lave, rest, remainder.
Linking, tripping.
Lown, lonely, still.
Lynn, cataract.
Lyon King of Arms, the chief of the Court of Heraldry in Scotland.
Macers, offiers of the supreme court. [Cf. Guy Mannering, last
Maun, must.
Menseful, of good manners.
Mirk, dark.
Misbegowk, deception, disappointment.
Mools, mould, earth.
Muckle, much, great, big.
My lane, by myself.
Nowt, black cattle.
Palmering, walking infirmly.
Panel, in Scots law, the accused person in a criminal action, the
Peel, fortified watch-tower.
Plew-stilts, plough-handles.
Policy, ornamental grounds of a country mansion.
Puddock, frog.
Quean, wench.
Rair, to roar.
Riff-raff, rabble.
Risping, grating.
Rout, rowt, to roar, to rant.
Rowth, abundance.
Rudas, haggard old woman.
Runt, an old cow past breeding; opprobriously, an old woman.
Sab, sob.
Sanguishes, sandwiches.
Sasine, in Scots law, the act of giving legal possession of feudal
property, or, colloquially, the deed by which that possession is proved.
Sclamber, to scramble.
Sculduddery, impropriety, grossness.
Session, the Court of Session, the supreme court of Scotland.
Shauchling, shuffling, slipshod.
Shoo, to chase gently.
Siller, money.
Sinsyne, since then.
Skailing, dispersing.
Skelp, slap.
Skirling, screaming.
Skriegh-o'day, daybreak.
Snash, abuse.
Sneisty, supercilious.
Sooth, to hum.
Sough, sound, murmur.
Spec, The Speculative Society, a debating Society connected with
Edingburgh University.
Speir, to ask.
Speldering, sprawling.
Splairge, to splash.
Spunk, spirit, fire.
Steik, to shut.
Stockfish, hard, savourless.
Suger-bool, suger-plum.
Syne, since, then.
Tawpie, a slow foolish slut, also used playfully = monkey.
Telling you, a good thing for you.
Thir, these.
Thrawn, cross-grained.
Toon, town.
Two-names, local soubriquets in addition to patronymic.
Tyke, dog.
Unchancy, unlucky.
Unco, strange, extraordinary, very.
Upsitten, impertinent.
Vennel, alley, lane. The Vennel, a narrow lane in Edingburgh, running
out of the Grassmarket.
Vivers, victuals.
Wae, sad, unhappy.
Waling, choosing.
Warrandise, warranty.
Waur, worse.
Weird, destiny.
Whammle, to upset.
Whaup, curlew.
Whiles, sometimes.
Windlestae, crested dog's-tail, grass.
Wund, wind.
Yin, one.

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