WEIR OF HERMISTON
AN UNFINISHED ROMANCE
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ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
[Picture: Decorative image]
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CHATTO & WINDUS
Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
at the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh
TO MY WIFE
_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 dying.
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.
CHAPTER I—LIFE AND DEATH OF MRS. WEIR
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
white-faced 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 incompetent.
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 whüre 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 ears.
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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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 recipients.
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
“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 corp!”
“Weel, there’s some of them gey an’ ill to please,” observed his
CHAPTER II—FATHER AND SON
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
“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
“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 one.”
“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,
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
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 son.
“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
plew-stilts.” 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
CHAPTER III—IN THE MATTER OF THE HANGING OF DUNCAN JOPP
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
whey-coloured, 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 æsthetics even of the slaughter-house; and the
loathsomeness of Duncan Jopp enveloped and infected the image of his
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 quiet.”
“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
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 out.
“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 book-lined
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 Hermiston.
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 me.”
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 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
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
“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
“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
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
“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,”
“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 night.”
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 punishment 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
CHAPTER IV—OPINIONS OF THE BENCH
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
“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
“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 before.”
“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
“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
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 father?”
“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
half-good 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 eyes.
“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
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.” . . .
CHAPTER V—WINTER ON THE MOORS
I. At Hermiston
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 view-holloa, 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.
3. A Border Family
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
gallows-birds, 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 virtue.
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-a-vised
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 ill-looking, 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 country-side 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
“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
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 country-side.
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’?”
CHAPTER VI—A LEAF FROM CHRISTINA’S PSALM-BOOK
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 Dutch-bottomed 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 heart-burning, 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 _demi-broquins_ 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
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
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 manœuvre 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 antennæ 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
“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 shürely 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
Here she sat down and waited, and looked for a long time at these
far-away 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 emotion.
“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
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 slyly.
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.
CHAPTER VII—ENTER MEPHISTOPHELES
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 still.”
“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
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 abroad.
“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
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 dinner.”
“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
“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
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 waned.
CHAPTER VIII—A NOCTURNAL VISIT
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 point.
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
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.
CHAPTER IX—AT THE WEAVER’S STONE
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 tip-toes. 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
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
“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
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 Kirstie?”
“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. . . .
With the words last printed, “a wilful convulsion of brute nature,” the
romance of _Weir of Hermiston_ breaks off. They were dictated, I
believe, on the very morning of the writer’s sudden seizure and death.
_Weir of Hermiston_ thus remains in the work of Stevenson what _Edwin
Droid_ is in the work of Dickens or _Denis Duval_ in that of Thackeray:
or rather it remains relatively more, for if each of those fragments
holds an honourable place among its author’s writings, among Stevenson’s
the fragment of _Weir_ holds certainly the highest.
Readers may be divided in opinion on the question whether they would or
they would not wish to hear more of the intended course of the story and
destinies of the characters. To some, silence may seem best, and that
the mind should be left to its own conjectures as to the sequel, with the
help of such indications as the text affords. I confess that this is the
view which has my sympathy. But since others, and those almost certainly
a majority, are anxious to be told all they can, and since editors and
publishers join in the request, I can scarce do otherwise than comply.
The intended argument, then, so far as it was known at the time of the
writer’s death to his step-daughter and devoted amanuensis, Mrs. Strong,
was nearly as follows:—
Archie persists in his good resolution of avoiding further conduct
compromising to young Kirstie’s good name. Taking advantage of the
situation thus created, and of the girl’s unhappiness and wounded vanity,
Frank Innes pursues his purpose of seduction; and Kirstie, though still
caring for Archie in her heart, allows herself to become Frank’s victim.
Old Kirstie is the first to perceive something amiss with her, and
believing Archie to be the culprit, accuses him, thus making him aware
for the first time that mischief has happened. He does not at once deny
the charge, but seeks out and questions young Kirstie, who confesses the
truth to him; and he, still loving her, promises to protect and defend
her in her trouble. He then has an interview with Frank Innes on the
moor, which ends in a quarrel, and in Archie killing Frank beside the
Weaver’s Stone. Meanwhile the Four Black Brothers, having become aware
of their sister’s betrayal, are bent on vengeance against Archie as her
supposed seducer. They are about to close in upon him with this purpose
when he is arrested by the officers of the law for the murder of Frank.
He is tried before his own father, the Lord Justice-Clerk, found guilty,
and condemned to death. Meanwhile the elder Kirstie, having discovered
from the girl how matters really stand, informs her nephews of the truth;
and they, in a great revulsion of feeling in Archie’s favour, determine
on an action after the ancient manner of their house. They gather a
following, and after a great fight break the prison where Archie lies
confined, and rescue him. He and young Kirstie thereafter escape to
America. But the ordeal of taking part in the trial of his own son has
been too much for the Lord Justice-Clerk, who dies of the shock. “I do
not know,” adds the amanuensis, “what becomes of old Kirstie, but that
character grew and strengthened so in the writing that I am sure he had
some dramatic destiny for her.”
The plan of every imaginative work is subject, of course, to change under
the artist’s hand as he carries it out; and not merely the character of
the elder Kirstie, but other elements of the design no less, might well
have deviated from the lines originally traced. It seems certain,
however, that the next stage in the relations of Archie and the younger
Kirstie would have been as above foreshadowed; and this conception of the
lover’s unconventional chivalry and unshaken devotion to his mistress
after her fault is very characteristic of the writer’s mind. The
vengeance to be taken on the seducer beside the Weaver’s Stone is
prepared for in the first words of the Introduction; while the situation
and fate of the judge, confronting like a Brutus, but unable to survive,
the duty of sending his own son to the gallows, seem clearly to have been
destined to furnish the climax and essential tragedy of the tale.
How this last circumstance was to have been brought about, within the
limits of legal usage and possibility, seems hard to conjecture; but it
was a point to which the author had evidently given careful
consideration. Mrs. Strong says simply that the Lord Justice-Clerk, like
an old Roman, condemns his son to death; but I am assured on the best
legal authority of Scotland that no judge, however powerful either by
character or office, could have insisted on presiding at the trial of a
near kinsman of his own. The Lord Justice-Clerk was head of the criminal
justiciary of the country; he might have insisted on his right of being
present on the bench when his son was tried: but he would never have been
allowed to preside or to pass sentence. Now in a letter of Stevenson’s
to Mr. Baxter, of October 1892, I find him asking for materials in terms
which seem to indicate that he knew this quite well:—“I wish Pitcairn’s
‘Criminal Trials,’ _quam primum_. Also an absolutely correct text of the
Scots judiciary oath. Also, in case Pitcairn does not come down late
enough, I wish as full a report as possible of a Scots murder trial
between 1790–1820. Understand the _fullest possible_. Is there any book
which would guide me to the following facts? The Justice-Clerk tries
some people capitally on circuit. Certain evidence cropping up, the
charge is transferred to the Justice-Clerk’s own son. Of course in the
next trial the Justice-Clerk is excluded, and the case is called before
the Lord Justice-General. Where would this trial have to be? I fear in
Edinburgh, which would not suit my view. Could it be again at the
circuit town?” The point was referred to a quondam fellow-member with
Stevenson of the Edinburgh Speculative Society, Mr. Graham Murray, the
present Solicitor-General for Scotland; whose reply was to the effect
that there would be no difficulty in making the new trial take place at
the circuit town; that it would have to be held there in spring or
autumn, before two Lords of Justiciary; and that the Lord Justice-General
would have nothing to do with it, this title being at the date in
question only a nominal one held by a layman (which is no longer the
case). On this Stevenson writes, “Graham Murray’s note _re_ the venue
was highly satisfactory, and did me all the good in the world.” The
terms of his inquiry seem to imply that he intended other persons, before
Archie, to have fallen first under suspicion of the murder; and
also—doubtless in order to make the rescue by the Black Brothers
possible—that he wanted Archie to be imprisoned not in Edinburgh but in
the circuit town. But they do not show how he meant to get over the main
difficulty, which at the same time he fully recognises. Can it have been
that Lord Hermiston’s part was to have been limited to presiding at the
_first_ trial, where the evidence incriminating Archie was unexpectedly
brought forward, and to directing that the law should take its course?
Whether the final escape and union of Archie and Christina would have
proved equally essential to the plot may perhaps to some readers seem
questionable. They may rather feel that a tragic destiny is foreshadowed
from the beginning for all concerned, and is inherent in the very
conditions of the tale. But on this point, and other matters of general
criticism connected with it, I find an interesting discussion by the
author himself in his correspondence. Writing to Mr. J. M. Barrie, under
date November 1, 1892, and criticising that author’s famous story of _The
Little Minister_, Stevenson says:—
“Your descriptions of your dealings with Lord Rintoul are frightfully
unconscientious. . . . The _Little Minister_ ought to have ended badly;
we all know it _did_, and we are infinitely grateful to you for the grace
and good feeling with which you have lied about it. If you had told the
truth, I for one could never have forgiven you. As you had conceived and
written the earlier parts, the truth about the end, though indisputably
true to fact, would have been a lie, or what is worse, a discord, in art.
If you are going to make a book end badly, it must end badly from the
beginning. Now, your book began to end well. You let yourself fall in
love with, and fondle, and smile at your puppets. Once you had done
that, your honour was committed—at the cost of truth to life you were
bound to save them. It is the blot on _Richard Feverel_ for instance,
that it begins to end well; and then tricks you and ends ill. But in
this case, there is worse behind, for the ill ending does not inherently
issue from the plot—the story had, in fact, ended well after the great
last interview between Richard and Lucy—and the blind, illogical bullet
which smashes all has no more to do between the boards than a fly has to
do with a room into whose open window it comes buzzing. It might have so
happened; it needed not; and unless needs must, we have no right to pain
our readers. I have had a heavy case of conscience of the same kind
about my Braxfield story. Braxfield—only his name is Hermiston—has a son
who is condemned to death; plainly there is a fine tempting fitness about
this—and I meant he was to hang. But on considering my minor characters,
I saw there were five people who would—in a sense, who must—break prison
and attempt his rescue. They are capable hardy folks too, who might very
well succeed. Why should they not then? Why should not young Hermiston
escape clear out of the country? and be happy, if he could, with his—but
soft! I will not betray my secret nor my heroine. . . .”
To pass, now, from the question how the story would have ended to the
question how it originated and grew in the writer’s mind. The character
of the hero, Weir of Hermiston, is avowedly suggested by the historical
personality of Robert Macqueen, Lord Braxfield. This famous judge has
been for generations the subject of a hundred Edinburgh tales and
anecdotes. Readers of Stevenson’s essay on the Raeburn exhibition, in
_Virginibus Puerisque_, will remember how he is fascinated by Raeburn’s
portrait of Braxfield, even as Lockhart had been fascinated by a
different portrait of the same worthy sixty years before (see _Peter’s
Letters to his Kinsfolk_); nor did his interest in the character diminish
in later life. Again, the case of a judge involved by the exigencies of
his office in a strong conflict between public duty and private interest
or affection, was one which had always attracted and exercised
Stevenson’s imagination. In the days when he and Mr. Henley were
collaborating with a view to the stage, Mr. Henley once proposed a plot
founded on the story of Mr. Justice Harbottle in Sheridan Le Fanu’s _In a
Glass Darkly_, in which the wicked judge goes headlong _per fas et nefas_
to his object of getting the husband of his mistress hanged. Some time
later Stevenson and his wife together wrote a play called _The Hanging
Judge_. In this, the title character is tempted for the first time in
his life to tamper with the course of justice, in order to shield his
wife from persecution by a former husband who reappears after being
supposed dead. Bulwer’s novel of _Paul Clifford_, with its final
situation of the worldly-minded judge, Sir William Brandon, learning that
the highwayman whom he is in the act of sentencing is his own son, and
dying of the knowledge, was also well known to Stevenson, and no doubt
counted for something in the suggestion of the present story.
Once more, the difficulties often attending the relation of father and
son in actual life had pressed heavily on Stevenson’s mind and conscience
from the days of his youth, when in obeying the law of his own nature he
had been constrained to disappoint, distress, and for a time to be much
misunderstood by, a father whom he justly loved and admired with all his
heart. Difficulties of this kind he had already handled in a lighter
vein once or twice in fiction—as for instance in the _Story of a Lie_ and
in _The Wrecker_—before he grappled with them in the acute and tragic
phase in which they occur in the present story.
These three elements, then, the interest of the historical personality of
Lord Braxfield, the problems and emotions arising from a violent conflict
between duty and nature in a judge, and the difficulties due to
incompatibility and misunderstanding between father and son, lie at the
foundations of the present story. To touch on minor matters, it is
perhaps worth notice, as Mr. Henley reminds me, that the name of Weir had
from of old a special significance for Stevenson’s imagination, from the
traditional fame in Edinburgh of Major Weir, burned as a warlock,
together with his sister, under circumstances of peculiar atrocity.
Another name, that of the episodical personage of Mr. Torrance the
minister, is borrowed direct from life, as indeed are the whole figure
and its surroundings—kirkyard, kirk, and manse—down even to the black
thread mittens: witness the following passage from a letter of the early
seventies:—“I’ve been to church and am not depressed—a great step. It
was at that beautiful church” [of Glencorse in the Pentlands, three miles
from his father’s country house at Swanston]. “It is a little cruciform
place, with a steep slate roof. The small kirkyard is full of old
grave-stones; one of a Frenchman from Dunkerque, I suppose he died
prisoner in the military prison hard by. And one, the most pathetic
memorial I ever saw: a poor school-slate, in a wooden frame, with the
inscription cut into it evidently by the father’s own hand. In church,
old Mr. Torrance preached, over eighty and a relic of times forgotten,
with his black thread gloves and mild old face.” A side hint for a
particular trait in the character of Mrs. Weir we can trace in some
family traditions concerning the writer’s own grandmother, who is
reported to have valued piety much more than efficiency in her domestic
servants. The other women characters seem, so far at least as I know, to
have been pure creation, and especially that new and admirable
incarnation of the eternal feminine in the elder Kirstie. The little
that he says about her himself is in a letter written a few days before
his death to Mr. Gosse. The allusions are to the various moods and
attitudes of people in regard to middle age, and are suggested by Mr.
Gosse’s volume of poems, _In Russet and Silver_. “It seems rather
funny,” he writes, “that this matter should come up just now, as I am at
present engaged in treating a severe case of middle age in one of my
stories, _The Justice-Clerk_. The case is that of a woman, and I think I
am doing her justice. You will be interested, I believe, to see the
difference in our treatments. _Secreta Vitæ_ [the title of one of Mr.
Gosse’s poems] comes nearer to the case of my poor Kirstie.” From the
wonderful midnight scene between her and Archie, we may judge what we
have lost in those later scenes where she was to have taxed him with the
fault that was not his—to have presently learned his innocence from the
lips of his supposed victim—to have then vindicated him to her kinsmen
and fired them to the action of his rescue. The scene of the
prison-breaking here planned by Stevenson would have gained interest (as
will already have occurred to readers) from comparison with the two
famous precedents in Scott, the Porteous mob and the breaking of
The best account of Stevenson’s methods of imaginative work is in the
following sentences from a letter of his own to Mr. W. Craibe Angus of
Glasgow:—“I am still ‘a slow study,’ and sit for a long while silent on
my eggs. Unconscious thought, there is the only method: macerate your
subject, let it boil slow, then take the lid off and look in—and there
your stuff is—good or bad.” The several elements above noted having been
left to work for many years in his mind, it was in the autumn of 1892
that he was moved to “take the lid off and look in,”—under the influence,
it would seem, of a special and overmastering wave of that feeling for
the romance of Scottish scenery and character which was at all times so
strong in him, and which his exile did so much to intensify. I quote
again from his letter to Mr. Barrie on November 1st in that year:—“It is
a singular thing that I should live here in the South Seas under
conditions so new and so striking, and yet my imagination so continually
inhabit the cold old huddle of grey hills from which we come. I have
finished _David Balfour_, I have another book on the stocks, _The Young
Chevalier_, which is to be part in France and part in Scotland, and to
deal with Prince Charlie about the year 1749; and now what have I done
but begun a third, which is to be all moorland together, and is to have
for a centre-piece a figure that I think you will appreciate—that of the
immortal Braxfield. Braxfield himself is my grand premier—or since you
are so much involved in the British drama, let me say my heavy lead.”
Writing to me at the same date he makes the same announcement more
briefly, with a list of the characters and an indication of the scene and
date of the story. To Mr. Baxter he writes a month later, “I have a
novel on the stocks to be called _The Justice-Clerk_. It is pretty
Scotch; the grand premier is taken from Braxfield (O, by the by, send me
Cockburn’s _Memorials_), and some of the story is, well, queer. The
heroine is seduced by one man, and finally disappears with the other man
who shot him. . . . Mind you, I expect _The Justice-Clerk_ to be my
masterpiece. My Braxfield is already a thing of beauty and a joy for
ever, and so far as he has gone, far my best character.” From the last
extract it appears that he had already at this date drafted some of the
earlier chapters of the book. He also about the same time composed the
dedication to his wife, who found it pinned to her bed-curtains one
morning on awaking. It was always his habit to keep several books in
progress at the same time, turning from one to another as the fancy took
him, and finding relief in the change of labour; and for many months
after the date of this letter, first illness,—then a voyage to
Auckland,—then work on the _Ebb-Tide_, on a new tale called _St. Ives_,
which was begun during an attack of influenza, and on his projected book
of family history,—prevented his making any continuous progress with
_Weir_. In August 1893 he says he has been recasting the beginning. A
year later, still only the first four or five chapters had been drafted.
Then, in the last weeks of his life, he attacked the task again, in a
sudden heat of inspiration, and worked at it ardently and without
interruption until the end came. No wonder if during these weeks he was
sometimes aware of a tension of the spirit difficult to sustain. “How
can I keep this pitch?” he is reported to have said after finishing one
of the chapters; and all the world knows how that frail organism in fact
betrayed him in mid effort. The greatness of the loss to his country’s
letters can for the first time be fully measured from the foregoing
There remains one more point to be mentioned, as to the speech and
manners of the Hanging Judge himself. That these are not a whit
exaggerated, in comparison with what is recorded of his historic
prototype, Lord Braxfield, is certain. The _locus classicus_ in regard
to this personage is in Lord Cockburn’s _Memorials of his Time_. “Strong
built and dark, with rough eyebrows, powerful eyes, threatening lips, and
a low growling voice, he was like a formidable blacksmith. His accent
and dialect were exaggerated Scotch; his language, like his thoughts,
short, strong, and conclusive. Illiterate and without any taste for any
refined enjoyment, strength of understanding, which gave him power
without cultivation, only encouraged him to a more contemptuous disdain
of all natures less coarse than his own. It may be doubted if he was
ever so much in his element as when tauntingly repelling the last
despairing claim of a wretched culprit, and sending him to Botany Bay or
the gallows with an insulting jest. Yet this was not from cruelty, for
which he was too strong and too jovial, but from cherished coarseness.”
Readers, nevertheless, who are at all acquainted with the social history
of Scotland will hardly have failed to make the observation that
Braxfield’s is an extreme case of eighteenth-century manners, as he
himself was an eighteenth-century personage (he died in 1799, in his
seventy-eighth year); and that for the date in which the story is cast
(1814) such manners are somewhat of an anachronism. During the
generation contemporary with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic
wars—or to put it another way, the generation that elapsed between the
days when Scott roamed the country as a High School and University
student and those when he settled in the fulness of fame and prosperity
at Abbotsford,—or again (the allusions will appeal to readers of the
admirable Galt) during the interval between the first and the last
provostry of Bailie Pawkie in the borough of Gudetown, or between the
earlier and the final ministrations of Mr. Balwhidder in the parish of
Dalmailing,—during this period a great softening had taken place in
Scottish manners generally, and in those of the Bar and Bench not least.
“Since the death of Lord Justice-Clerk Macqueen of Braxfield,” says
Lockhart, writing about 1817, “the whole exterior of judicial deportment
has been quite altered.” A similar criticism may probably hold good on
the picture of border life contained in the chapter concerning the Four
Black Brothers of Cauldstaneslap, namely, that it rather suggests the
ways of an earlier generation; nor have I any clue to the reasons which
led Stevenson to choose this particular date, in the year preceding
Waterloo, for a story which, in regard to some of its features at least,
might seem more naturally placed some twenty-five or thirty years before.
If the reader seeks, further, to know whether the scenery of Hermiston
can be identified with any one special place familiar to the writer’s
early experience, the answer, I think, must be in the negative. Rather
it is distilled from a number of different haunts and associations among
the moorlands of southern Scotland. In the dedication and in a letter to
me he indicates the Lammermuirs as the scene of his tragedy. And Mrs.
Stevenson (his mother) tells me that she thinks he was inspired by
recollections of a visit paid in boyhood to an uncle living at a remote
farmhouse in that district called Overshiels, in the parish of Stow. But
though he may have thought of the Lammermuirs in the first instance, we
have already found him drawing his description of the kirk and manse from
another haunt of his youth, namely, Glencorse in the Pentlands; while
passages in chapters v. and viii. point explicitly to a third district,
that is, Upper Tweeddale, with the country stretching thence towards the
wells of Clyde. With this country also holiday rides and excursions from
Peebles had made him familiar as a boy: and this seems certainly the most
natural scene of the story, if only from its proximity to the proper home
of the Elliotts, which of course is in the heart of the Border,
especially Teviotdale and Ettrick. Some of the geographical names
mentioned are clearly not meant to furnish literal indications. The
Spango, for instance, is a water running, I believe, not into the Tweed
but into the Nith, and Crossmichael as the name of a town is borrowed
But it is with the general and essential that the artist deals, and
questions of strict historical perspective or local definition are beside
the mark in considering his work. Nor will any reader expect, or be
grateful for, comment in this place on matters which are more properly to
the point—on the seizing and penetrating power of the author’s ripened
art as exhibited in the foregoing pages, the wide range of character and
emotion over which he sweeps with so assured a hand, his vital poetry of
vision and magic of presentment. Surely no son of Scotland has died
leaving with his last breath a worthier tribute to the land he loved.
Antinomian, one of a sect which holds that under the gospel dispensation
the moral law is not obligatory.
Auld Hornie, the Devil.
Bauchles, brogues, old shoes.
Bees in their bonnet, eccentricities.
Bonnet-laird, small landed proprietor, yeoman.
Brae, rising ground.
Buff, play buff on, to make a fool of, to deceive.
Butt end, end of a cottage.
Canny, careful, shrewd.
Carline, old woman.
Clavers, idle talk.
Cock-laird. See Bonnet-laird.
Crack, to converse.
Cutty, jade, also used playfully = brat.
Daft, mad, frolicsome.
Dander, to saunter.
Daurna, dare not.
Deave, to deafen.
Disjaskit, worn out, disreputable-looking.
Doer, law agent.
Dwaibly, infirm, rickety.
Dule-tree, the tree of lamentation, the hanging-tree.
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.
Flit, to depart.
Flyped, turned up, turned in-side out.
Forbye, in addition to.
Forgather, to fall in with.
Fushionless, pithless, weak.
Fyle, to soil, to defile.
Fylement, obloquy, defilement.
Gang, to go.
Gey an’, very.
Gigot, leg of mutton.
Girzie, lit. diminutive of Grizel, here a playful nickname.
Glint, glance, sparkle.
Glower, to scowl.
Gobbets, small lumps.
Guddle, to catch fish with the hands by groping under the stones or
Gumption, common sense, judgment.
Gurley, stormy, surly.
Gyte, beside itself.
Hae, have, take.
Heels-ower-hurdie, heels over head.
Hirstle, to bustle.
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
Infeftment, a term in Scots law originally synonymous with investiture.
Jeely-piece, a slice of bread and jelly.
Justifeed, executed, made the victim of justice.
Ken, to know.
Kilted, tucked up.
Laird, landed proprietor.
Lave, rest, remainder.
Lown, lonely, still.
Lyon King of Arms, the chief of the Court of Heraldry in Scotland.
Macers, offiers of the supreme court. [Cf. Guy Mannering, last chapter.]
Menseful, of good manners.
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.
Policy, ornamental grounds of a country mansion.
Rair, to roar.
Rout, rowt, to roar, to rant.
Rudas, haggard old woman.
Runt, an old cow past breeding; opprobriously, an old woman.
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.
Sinsyne, since then.
Sooth, to hum.
Sough, sound, murmur.
Spec, The Speculative Society, a debating Society connected with
Speir, to ask.
Splairge, to splash.
Spunk, spirit, fire.
Steik, to shut.
Stockfish, hard, savourless.
Syne, since, then.
Tawpie, a slow foolish slut, also used playfully = monkey.
Telling you, a good thing for you.
Two-names, local soubriquets in addition to patronymic.
Unco, strange, extraordinary, very.
Vennel, alley, lane. The Vennel, a narrow lane in Edingburgh, running
out of the Grassmarket.
Wae, sad, unhappy.
Whammle, to upset.
Windlestae, crested dog’s-tail, grass.