Part 1 out of 3
Weir of Hermiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. 1913 Chatto and
Windus edition. Scanned and proofed by David Price, email
Weir of Hermiston
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
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
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
The heresy about foolish women is always punished, I have said, and Lord
Hermiston began to pay the penalty at once. His house in George Square
was wretchedly ill-guided; nothing answerable to the expense of
maintenance but the cellar, which was his own private care. When things
went wrong at dinner, as they continually did, my lord would look up the
table at his wife: "I think these broth would be better to sweem in than
to sup." Or else to the butler: "Here, M'Killop, awa' wi' this Raadical
gigot - tak' it to the French, man, and bring me some puddocks! It
seems rather a sore kind of a business that I should be all day in Court
haanging Raadicals, and get nawthing to my denner." Of course this was
but a manner of speaking, and he had never hanged a man for being a
Radical in his life; the law, of which he was the faithful minister,
directing otherwise. And of course these growls were in the nature of
pleasantry, but it was of a recondite sort; and uttered as they were in
his resounding voice, and commented on by that expression which they
called in the Parliament House "Hermiston's hanging face" - they struck
mere dismay into the wife. She sat before him speechless and
fluttering; at each dish, as at a fresh ordeal, her eye hovered toward
my lord's countenance and fell again; if he but ate in silence,
unspeakable relief was her portion; if there were complaint, the world
was darkened. She would seek out the cook, who was always her SISTER IN
THE LORD. "O, my dear, this is the most dreidful thing that my lord can
never be contented in his own house!" she would begin; and weep and pray
with the cook; and then the cook would pray with Mrs. Weir; and the next
day's meal would never be a penny the better - and the next cook (when
she came) would be worse, if anything, but just as pious. It was often
wondered that Lord Hermiston bore it as he did; indeed, he was a stoical
old voluptuary, contented with sound wine and plenty of it. But there
were moments when he overflowed. Perhaps half a dozen times in the
history of his married life - "Here! tak' it awa', and bring me a piece
bread and kebbuck!" he had exclaimed, with an appalling explosion of his
voice and rare gestures. None thought to dispute or to make excuses;
the service was arrested; Mrs. Weir sat at the head of the table
whimpering without disguise; and his lordship opposite munched his bread
and cheese in ostentatious disregard. Once only, Mrs. Weir had ventured
to appeal. He was passing her chair on his way into the study.
"O, Edom!" she wailed, in a voice tragic with tears, and reaching out to
him both hands, in one of which she held a sopping pocket-handkerchief.
He paused and looked upon her with a face of wrath, into which there
stole, as he looked, a twinkle of humour.
"Noansense!" he said. "You and your noansense! What do I want with a
Christian faim'ly? I want Christian broth! Get me a lass that can
plain-boil a potato, if she was a whure off the streets." And with
these words, which echoed in her tender ears like blasphemy, he had
passed on to his study and shut the door behind him.
Such was the housewifery in George Square. It was better at Hermiston,
where Kirstie Elliott, the sister of a neighbouring bonnet-laird, and an
eighteenth cousin of the lady's, bore the charge of all, and kept a trim
house and a good country table. Kirstie was a woman in a thousand,
clean, capable, notable; once a moorland Helen, and still comely as a
blood horse and healthy as the hill wind. High in flesh and voice and
colour, she ran the house with her whole intemperate soul, in a bustle,
not without buffets. Scarce more pious than decency in those days
required, she was the cause of many an anxious thought and many a
tearful prayer to Mrs. Weir. Housekeeper and mistress renewed the parts
of Martha and Mary; and though with a pricking conscience, Mary reposed
on Martha's strength as on a rock. Even Lord Hermiston held Kirstie in
a particular regard. There were few with whom he unbent so gladly, few
whom he favoured with so many pleasantries. "Kirstie and me maun have
our joke," he would declare in high good-humour, as he buttered
Kirstie's scones, and she waited at table. A man who had no need either
of love or of popularity, a keen reader of men and of events, there was
perhaps only one truth for which he was quite unprepared: he would have
been quite unprepared to learn that Kirstie hated him. He thought maid
and master were well matched; hard, bandy, healthy, broad Scots folk,
without a hair of nonsense to the pair of them. And the fact was that
she made a goddess and an only child of the effete and tearful lady; and
even as she waited at table her hands would sometimes itch for my lord's
Thus, at least, when the family were at Hermiston, not only my lord, but
Mrs. Weir too, enjoyed a holiday. Free from the dreadful looking-for of
the miscarried dinner, she would mind her seam, read her piety books,
and take her walk (which was my lord's orders), sometimes by herself,
sometimes with Archie, the only child of that scarce natural union. The
child was her next bond to life. Her frosted sentiment bloomed again,
she breathed deep of life, she let loose her heart, in that society.
The miracle of her motherhood was ever new to her. The sight of the
little man at her skirt intoxicated her with the sense of power, and
froze her with the consciousness of her responsibility. She looked
forward, and, seeing him in fancy grow up and play his diverse part on
the world's theatre, caught in her breath and lifted up her courage with
a lively effort. It was only with the child that she forgot herself and
was at moments natural; yet it was only with the child that she had
conceived and managed to pursue a scheme of conduct. Archie was to be a
great man and a good; a minister if possible, a saint for certain. She
tried to engage his mind upon her favourite books, Rutherford's LETTERS,
Scougalls GRACE ABOUNDING, and the like. It was a common practice of
hers (and strange to remember now) that she would carry the child to the
Deil's Hags, sit with him on the Praying Weaver's stone, and talk of the
Covenanters till their tears ran down. Her view of history was wholly
artless, a design in snow and ink; upon the one side, tender innocents
with psalms upon their lips; upon the other, the persecutors, booted,
bloody-minded, flushed with wine: a suffering Christ, a raging
Beelzebub. PERSECUTOR was a word that knocked upon the woman's heart;
it was her highest thought of wickedness, and the mark of it was on her
house. Her great-great-grandfather had drawn the sword against the
Lord's anointed on the field of Rullion Green, and breathed his last
(tradition said) in the arms of the detestable Dalyell. Nor could she
blind herself to this, that had they lived in those old days, Hermiston
himself would have been numbered alongside of Bloody MacKenzie and the
politic Lauderdale and Rothes, in the band of God's immediate enemies.
The sense of this moved her to the more fervour; she had a voice for
that name of PERSECUTOR that thrilled in the child's marrow; and when
one day the mob hooted and hissed them all in my lord's travelling
carriage, and cried, "Down with the persecutor! down with Hanging
Hermiston!" and mamma covered her eyes and wept, and papa let down the
glass and looked out upon the rabble with his droll formidable face,
bitter and smiling, as they said he sometimes looked when he gave
sentence, Archie was for the moment too much amazed to be alarmed, but
he had scarce got his mother by herself before his shrill voice was
raised demanding an explanation: why had they called papa a persecutor?
"Keep me, my precious!" she exclaimed. "Keep me, my dear! this is
poleetical. Ye must never ask me anything poleetical, Erchie. Your
faither is a great man, my dear, and it's no for me or you to be judging
him. It would be telling us all, if we behaved ourselves in our several
stations the way your faither does in his high office; and let me hear
no more of any such disrespectful and undutiful questions! No that you
meant to be undutiful, my lamb; your mother kens that - she kens it
well, dearie!" And so slid off to safer topics, and left on the mind of
the child an obscure but ineradicable sense of something wrong.
Mrs. Weir's philosophy of life was summed in one expression -
tenderness. In her view of the universe, which was all lighted up with
a glow out of the doors of hell, good people must walk there in a kind
of ecstasy of tenderness. The beasts and plants had no souls; they were
here but for a day, and let their day pass gently! And as for the
immortal men, on what black, downward path were many of them wending,
and to what a horror of an immortality! "Are not two sparrows,"
"Whosoever shall smite thee," "God sendeth His rain," "Judge not, that
ye be not judged" - these texts made her body of divinity; she put them
on in the morning with her clothes and lay down to sleep with them at
night; they haunted her like a favourite air, they clung about her like
a favourite perfume. Their minister was a marrowy expounder of the law,
and my lord sat under him with relish; but Mrs. Weir respected him from
far off; heard him (like the cannon of a beleaguered city) usefully
booming outside on the dogmatic ramparts; and meanwhile, within and out
of shot, dwelt in her private garden which she watered with grateful
tears. It seems strange to say of this colourless and ineffectual
woman, but she was a true enthusiast, and might have made the sunshine
and the glory of a cloister. Perhaps none but Archie knew she could be
eloquent; perhaps none but he had seen her - her colour raised, her
hands clasped or quivering - glow with gentle ardour. There is a corner
of the policy of Hermiston, where you come suddenly in view of the
summit of Black Fell, sometimes like the mere grass top of a hill,
sometimes (and this is her own expression) like a precious jewel in the
heavens. On such days, upon the sudden view of it, her hand would
tighten on the child's fingers, her voice rise like a song. "I TO THE
HILLS!" she would repeat. "And O, Erchie, are nae these like the hills
of Naphtali?" and her tears would flow.
Upon an impressionable child the effect of this continual and pretty
accompaniment to life was deep. The woman's quietism and piety passed
on to his different nature undiminished; but whereas in her it was a
native sentiment, in him it was only an implanted dogma. Nature and the
child's pugnacity at times revolted. A cad from the Potterrow once
struck him in the mouth; he struck back, the pair fought it out in the
back stable lane towards the Meadows, and Archie returned with a
considerable decline in the number of his front teeth, and
unregenerately boasting of the losses of the foe. It was a sore day for
Mrs. Weir; she wept and prayed over the infant backslider until my lord
was due from Court, and she must resume that air of tremulous composure
with which she always greeted him. The judge was that day in an
observant mood, and remarked upon the absent teeth.
"I am afraid Erchie will have been fechting with some of they blagyard
lads," said Mrs. Weir.
My lord's voice rang out as it did seldom in the privacy of his own
house. "I'll have norm of that, sir!" he cried. "Do you hear me? -
nonn of that! No son of mine shall be speldering in the glaur with any
The anxious mother was grateful for so much support; she had even feared
the contrary. And that night when she put the child to bed - "Now, my
dear, ye see!" she said, "I told you what your faither would think of
it, if he heard ye had fallen into this dreidful sin; and let you and me
pray to God that ye may be keepit from the like temptation or
strengthened to resist it!"
The womanly falsity of this was thrown away. Ice and iron cannot be
welded; and the points of view of the Justice-Clerk and Mrs. Weir were
not less unassimilable. The character and position of his father had
long been a stumbling-block to Archie, and with every year of his age
the difficulty grew more instant. The man was mostly silent; when he
spoke at all, it was to speak of the things of the world, always in a
worldly spirit, often in language that the child had been schooled to
think coarse, and sometimes with words that he knew to be sins in
themselves. Tenderness was the first duty, and my lord was invariably
harsh. God was love; the name of my lord (to all who knew him) was
fear. In the world, as schematised for Archie by his mother, the place
was marked for such a creature. There were some whom it was good to
pity and well (though very likely useless) to pray for; they were named
reprobates, goats, God's enemies, brands for the burning; and Archie
tallied every mark of identification, and drew the inevitable private
inference that the Lord Justice-Clerk was the chief of sinners.
The mother's honesty was scarce complete. There was one influence she
feared for the child and still secretly combated; that was my lord's;
and half unconsciously, half in a wilful blindness, she continued to
undermine her husband with his son. As long as Archie remained silent,
she did so ruthlessly, with a single eye to heaven and the child's
salvation; but the day came when Archie spoke. It was 1801, and Archie
was seven, and beyond his years for curiosity and logic, when he brought
the case up openly. If judging were sinful and forbidden, how came papa
to be a judge? to have that sin for a trade? to bear the name of it for
"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 the mote!"
Having thus carried the war into the enemy's camp, the terrified lady
breathed again. And no doubt it is easy thus to circumvent a child with
catchwords, but it may be questioned how far it is effectual. An
instinct in his breast detects the quibble, and a voice condemns it. He
will instantly submit, privately hold the same opinion. For even in
this simple and antique relation of the mother and the child,
hypocrisies are multiplied.
When the Court rose that year and the family returned to Hermiston, it
was a common remark in all the country that the lady was sore failed.
She seemed to loose and seize again her touch with life, now sitting
inert in a sort of durable bewilderment, anon waking to feverish and
weak activity. She dawdled about the lasses at their work, looking
stupidly on; she fell to rummaging in old cabinets and presses, and
desisted when half through; she would begin remarks with an air of
animation and drop them without a struggle. Her common appearance was
of one who has forgotten something and is trying to remember; and when
she overhauled, one after another, the worthless and touching mementoes
of her youth, she might have been seeking the clue to that lost thought.
During this period, she gave many gifts to the neighbours and house
lasses, giving them with a manner of regret that embarrassed the
The last night of all she was busy on some female work, and toiled upon
it with so manifest and painful a devotion that my lord (who was not
often curious) inquired as to its nature.
She blushed to the eyes. "O, Edom, it's for you!" she said. "It's
slippers. I - I hae never made ye any."
"Ye daft auld wife!" returned his lordship. "A bonny figure I would
be, palmering about in bauchles!"
The next day, at the hour of her walk, Kirstie interfered. Kirstie took
this decay of her mistress very hard; bore her a grudge, quarrelled with
and railed upon her, the anxiety of a genuine love wearing the disguise
of temper. This day of all days she insisted disrespectfully, with
rustic fury, that Mrs. Weir should stay at home. But, "No, no," she
said, "it's my lord's orders," and set forth as usual. Archie was
visible in the acre bog, engaged upon some childish enterprise, the
instrument of which was mire; and she stood and looked at him a while
like one about to call; then thought otherwise, sighed, and shook her
head, and proceeded on her rounds alone. The house lasses were at the
burnside washing, and saw her pass with her loose, weary, dowdy gait.
"She's a terrible feckless wife, the mistress!" said the one.
"Tut," said the other, "the wumman's seeck."
"Weel, I canna see nae differ in her," returned the first. "A
fushionless quean, a feckless carline."
The poor creature thus discussed rambled a while in the grounds without
a purpose. Tides in her mind ebbed and flowed, and carried her
to and fro like seaweed. She tried a path, paused, returned, and tried
another; questing, forgetting her quest; the spirit of choice extinct in
her bosom, or devoid of sequency. On a sudden, it appeared as though
she had remembered, or had formed a resolution, wheeled about, returned
with hurried steps, and appeared in the dining-room, where Kirstie was
at the cleaning, like one charged with an important errand.
"Kirstie!" she began, and paused; and then with conviction, "Mr. Weir
isna speeritually minded, but he has been a good man to me."
It was perhaps the first time since her husband's elevation that she had
forgotten the handle to his name, of which the tender, inconsistent
woman was not a little proud. And when Kirstie looked up at the
speaker's face, she was aware of a change.
"Godsake, what's the maitter wi' ye, mem?" cried the housekeeper,
starting from the rug.
"I do not ken," answered her mistress, shaking her head. "But he is not
speeritually minded, my dear."
"Here, sit down with ye! Godsake, what ails the wife?" cried Kirstie,
and helped and forced her into my lord's own chair by the cheek of the
"Keep me, what's this?" she gasped. "Kirstie, what's this? I'm
They were her last words.
It was the lowering nightfall when my lord returned. He had the sunset
in his back, all clouds and glory; and before him, by the wayside, spied
Kirstie Elliott waiting. She was dissolved in tears, and addressed him
in the high, false note of barbarous mourning, such as still lingers
modified among Scots heather.
"The Lord peety ye, Hermiston! the Lord prepare ye!" she keened out.
"Weary upon me, that I should have to tell it!"
He reined in his horse and looked upon her with the hanging face.
"Has the French landit?" cried he.
"Man, man," she said, "is that a' ye can think of? The Lord prepare ye:
the Lord comfort and support ye!"
"Is onybody deid?" said his lordship. "It's no Erchie?"
"Bethankit, no!" exclaimed the woman, startled into a more natural tone.
"Na, na, it's no sae bad as that. It's the mistress, my lord; she just
fair flittit before my e'en. She just gi'ed a sab and was by wi' it.
Eh, my bonny Miss Jeannie, that I mind sae weel!" And forth again upon
that pouring tide of lamentation in which women of her class excel and
Lord Hermiston sat in the saddle beholding her. Then he seemed to
recover command upon himself.
"Well, it's something of the suddenest," said he. "But she was a
dwaibly body from the first."
And he rode home at a precipitate amble with Kirstie at his horse's
Dressed as she was for her last walk, they had laid the dead lady on her
bed. She was never interesting in life; in death she was not
impressive; and as her husband stood before her, with his hands crossed
behind his powerful back, that which he looked upon was the very image
of the insignificant.
"Her and me were never cut out for one another," he remarked at last.
"It was a daft-like marriage." And then, with a most unusual gentleness
of tone, "Puir bitch," said he, "puir bitch!" Then suddenly: "Where's
Kirstie had decoyed him to her room and given him "a jeely-piece."
"Ye have some kind of gumption, too," observed the judge, and considered
his housekeeper grimly. "When all's said," he added, "I micht have done
waur - I micht have been marriet upon a skirting Jezebel like you!"
"There's naebody thinking of you, Hermiston!" cried the offended woman.
"We think of her that's out of her sorrows. And could SHE have done
waur? Tell me that, Hermiston - tell me that before her clay-cauld
"Weel, there's some of them gey an' ill to please," observed his
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
But Hermiston was not all of one piece. He was, besides, a mighty
toper; he could sit at wine until the day dawned, and pass directly from
the table to the bench with a steady hand and a clear head. Beyond the
third bottle, he showed the plebeian in a larger print; the low, gross
accent, the low, foul mirth, grew broader and commoner; he became less
formidable, and infinitely more disgusting. Now, the boy had inherited
from Jean Rutherford a shivering delicacy, unequally mated with
potential violence. In the playing-fields, and amongst his own
companions, he repaid a coarse expression with a blow; at his father's
table (when the time came for him to join these revels) he turned pale
and sickened in silence. Of all the guests whom he there encountered, he
had toleration for only one: David Keith Carnegie, Lord Glenalmond.
Lord Glenalmond was tall and emaciated, with long features and long
delicate hands. He was often compared with the statue of Forbes of
Culloden in the Parliament House; and his blue eye, at more than sixty,
preserved some of the fire of youth. His exquisite disparity with any
of his fellow-guests, his appearance as of an artist and an aristocrat
stranded in rude company, riveted the boy's attention; and as curiosity
and interest are the things in the world that are the most immediately
and certainly rewarded, Lord Glenalmond was attracted by the boy.
"And so this is your son, Hermiston?" he asked, laying his hand on
Archie's shoulder. "He's getting a big lad."
"Hout!" said the gracious father, "just his mother over again - daurna
say boo to a goose!"
But the stranger retained the boy, talked to him, drew him out, found in
him a taste for letters, and a fine, ardent, modest, youthful soul; and
encouraged him to be a visitor on Sunday evenings in his bare, cold,
lonely dining-room, where he sat and read in the isolation of a bachelor
grown old in refinement. The beautiful gentleness and grace of the old
judge, and the delicacy of his person, thoughts, and language, spoke to
Archie's heart in its own tongue. He conceived the ambition to be such
another; and, when the day came for him to choose a profession, it was
in emulation of Lord Glenalmond, not of Lord Hermiston, that he chose
the Bar. Hermiston looked on at this friendship with some secret pride,
but openly with the intolerance of scorn. He scarce lost an opportunity
to put them down with a rough jape; and, to say truth, it was not
difficult, for they were neither of them quick. He had a word of
contempt for the whole crowd of poets, painters, fiddlers, and their
admirers, the bastard race of amateurs, which was continually on his
lips. "Signor Feedle-eerie!" he would say. "O, for Goad's sake, no
more of the Signor!"
"You and my father are great friends, are you not?" asked Archie once.
"There is no man that I more respect, Archie," replied Lord Glenalmond.
"He is two things of price. He is a great lawyer, and he is upright as
"You and he are so different," said the boy, his eyes dwelling on those
of his old friend, like a lover's on his mistress's.
"Indeed so," replied the judge; "very different. And so I fear are you
and he. Yet I would like it very ill if my young friend were to
misjudge his father. He has all the Roman virtues: Cato and Brutus were
such; I think a son's heart might well be proud of such an ancestry of
"And I would sooner he were a plaided herd," cried Archie, with sudden
"And that is neither very wise, nor I believe entirely true," returned
Glenalmond. "Before you are done you will find some of these
expressions rise on you like a remorse. They are merely literary and
decorative; they do not aptly express your thought, nor is your thought
clearly apprehended, and no doubt your father (if he were here) would
say, "Signor Feedle-eerie!"
With the infinitely delicate sense of youth, Archie avoided the subject
from that hour. It was perhaps a pity. Had he but talked - talked
freely - let himself gush out in words (the way youth loves to do and
should), there might have been no tale to write upon the Weirs of
Hermiston. But the shadow of a threat of ridicule sufficed; in the
slight tartness of these words he read a prohibition; and it is likely
that Glenalmond meant it so.
Besides the veteran, the boy was without confidant or friend. Serious
and eager, he came through school and college, and moved among a crowd
of the indifferent, in the seclusion of his shyness. He grew up
handsome, with an open, speaking countenance, with graceful, youthful
ways; he was clever, he took prizes, he shone in the Speculative
Society. It should seem he must become the centre of a crowd of
friends; but something that was in part the delicacy of his mother, in
part the austerity of his father, held him aloof from all. It is a
fact, and a strange one, that among his contemporaries Hermiston's son
was thought to be a chip of the old block. "You're a friend of Archie
Weir's?" said one to Frank Innes; and Innes replied, with his usual
flippancy and more than his usual insight: "I know Weir. but I never met
Archie." No one had met Archie, a malady most incident to only sons.
He flew his private signal, and none heeded it; it seemed he was abroad
in a world from which the very hope of intimacy was banished; and he
looked round about him on the concourse of his fellow-students, and
forward to the trivial days and acquaintances that were to come, without
hope or interest.
As time went on, the tough and rough old sinner felt himself drawn to
the son of his loins and sole continuator of his new family, with
softnesses of sentiment that he could hardly credit and was wholly
impotent to express. With a face, voice, and manner trained through
forty years to terrify and repel, Rhadamanthus may be great, but he will
scarce be engaging. It is a fact that he tried to propitiate Archie,
but a fact that cannot be too lightly taken; the attempt was so
unconspicuously made, the failure so stoically supported. Sympathy is
not due to these steadfast iron natures. If he failed to gain his son's
friendship, or even his son's toleration, on he went up the great, bare
staircase of his duty, uncheered and undepressed. There might have been
more pleasure in his relations with Archie, so much he may have
recognised at moments; but pleasure was a by-product of the singular
chemistry of life, which only fools expected.
An idea of Archie's attitude, since we are all grown up and have
forgotten the days of our youth, it is more difficult to convey. He
made no attempt whatsoever to understand the man with whom he dined and
breakfasted. Parsimony of pain, glut of pleasure, these are the two
alternating ends of youth; and Archie was of the parsimonious. The wind
blew cold out of a certain quarter - he turned his back upon it; stayed
as little as was possible in his father's presence; and when there,
averted his eyes as much as was decent from his father's face. The lamp
shone for many hundred days upon these two at table - my lord, ruddy,
gloomy, and unreverent; Archie with a potential brightness that was
always dimmed and veiled in that society; and there were not, perhaps,
in Christendom two men more radically strangers. The father, with a
grand simplicity, either spoke of what interested himself, or maintained
an unaffected silence. The son turned in his head for some topic that
should be quite safe, that would spare him fresh evidences either of my
lord's inherent grossness or of the innocence of his inhumanity;
treading gingerly the ways of intercourse, like a lady gathering up her
skirts in a by-path. If he made a mistake, and my lord began to abound
in matter of offence, Archie drew himself up, his brow grew dark, his
share of the talk expired; but my lord would faithfully and cheerfully
continue to pour out the worst of himself before his silent and offended
"Well, it's a poor hert that never rejoices!" he would say, at the
conclusion of such a nightmare interview. "But I must get to my 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 aesthetics even of the slaughter-
house; and the loathsomeness of Duncan Jopp enveloped and infected the
image of his judge.
Archie passed by his friends in the High Street with incoherent words
and gestures. He saw Holyrood in a dream, remembrance of its romance
awoke in him and faded; he had a vision of the old radiant stories, of
Queen Mary and Prince Charlie, of the hooded stag, of the splendour and
crime, the velvet and bright iron of the past; and dismissed them with a
cry of pain. He lay and moaned in the Hunter's Bog, and the heavens
were dark above him and the grass of the field an offence. "This is my
father," he said. "I draw my life from him; the flesh upon my bones is
his, the bread I am fed with is the wages of these horrors." He
recalled his mother, and ground his forehead in the earth. He thought
of flight, and where was he to flee to? of other lives, but was there
any life worth living in this den of savage and jeering animals?
The interval before the execution was like a violent dream. He met his
father; he would not look at him, he could not speak to him. It seemed
there was no living creature but must have been swift to recognise that
imminent animosity; but the hide of the Justice-Clerk remained
impenetrable. Had my lord been talkative, the truce could never have
subsisted; but he was by fortune in one of his humours of sour silence;
and under the very guns of his broadside, Archie nursed the enthusiasm
of rebellion. It seemed to him, from the top of his nineteen years'
experience, as if he were marked at birth to be the perpetrator of some
signal action, to set back fallen Mercy, to overthrow the usurping devil
that sat, horned and hoofed, on her throne. Seductive Jacobin figments,
which he had often refuted at the Speculative, swam up in his mind and
startled him as with voices: and he seemed to himself to walk
accompanied by an almost tangible presence of new beliefs and duties.
On the named morning he was at the place of execution. He saw the
fleering rabble, the flinching wretch produced. He looked on for a
while at a certain parody of devotion, which seemed to strip the wretch
of his last claim to manhood. Then followed the brutal instant of
extinction, and the paltry dangling of the remains like a broken
jumping-jack. He had been prepared for something terrible, not for this
tragic meanness. He stood a moment silent, and then - "I denounce this
God-defying murder," he shouted; and his father, if he must have
disclaimed the sentiment, might have owned the stentorian voice with
which it was uttered.
Frank Innes dragged him from the spot. The two handsome lads followed
the same course of study and recreation, and felt a certain mutual
attraction, founded mainly on good looks. It had never gone deep; Frank
was by nature a thin, jeering creature, not truly susceptible whether of
feeling or inspiring friendship; and the relation between the pair was
altogether on the outside, a thing of common knowledge and the
pleasantries that spring from a common acquaintance. The more credit to
Frank that he was appalled by Archie's outburst, and at least conceived
the design of keeping him in sight, and, if possible, in hand, for the
day. But Archie, who had just defied - was it God or Satan? - would not
listen to the word of a college companion.
"I will not go with you," he said. "I do not desire your company, sir;
I would be alone."
"Here, Weir, man, don't be absurd," said Innes, keeping a tight hold
upon his sleeve. "I will not let you go until I know what you mean to
do with yourself; it's no use brandishing that staff." For indeed at
that moment Archie had made a sudden - perhaps a warlike - movement.
"This has been the most insane affair; you know it has. You know very
well that I'm playing the good Samaritan. All I wish is to keep you
"If quietness is what you wish, Mr. Innes," said Archie, "and you will
promise to leave me entirely to myself, I will tell you so much, that I
am going to walk in the country and admire the beauties of nature."
"Honour bright?" asked Frank.
"I am not in the habit of lying, Mr. Innes," retorted Archie. "I have
the honour of wishing you good-day."
"You won't forget the Spec.?" asked Innes.
"The Spec.?" said Archie. "O no, I won't forget the Spec."
And the one young man carried his tortured spirit forth of the city and
all the day long, by one road and another, in an endless pilgrimage of
misery; while the other hastened smilingly to spread the news of Weir's
access of insanity, and to drum up for that night a full attendance at
the Speculative, where further eccentric developments might certainly be
looked for. I doubt if Innes had the least belief in his prediction; I
think it flowed rather from a wish to make the story as good and the
scandal as great as possible; not from any ill-will to Archie - from the
mere pleasure of beholding interested faces. But for all that his words
were prophetic. Archie did not forget the Spec.; he put in an
appearance there at the due time, and, before the evening was over, had
dealt a memorable shock to his companions. It chanced he was the
president of the night. He sat in the same room where the Society still
meets - only the portraits were not there: the men who afterwards sat
for them were then but beginning their career. The same lustre of many
tapers shed its light over the meeting; the same chair, perhaps,
supported him that so many of us have sat in since. At times he seemed
to forget the business of the evening, but even in these periods he sat
with a great air of energy and determination. At times he meddled
bitterly, and launched with defiance those fines which are the precious
and rarely used artillery of the president. He little thought, as he
did so, how he resembled his father, but his friends remarked upon it,
chuckling. So far, in his high place above his fellow-students, he
seemed set beyond the possibility of any scandal; but his mind was made
up - he was determined to fulfil the sphere of his offence. He signed
to Innes (whom he had just fined, and who just impeached his ruling) to
succeed him in the chair, stepped down from the platform, and took his
place by the chimney-piece, the shine of many wax tapers from above
illuminating his pale face, the glow of the great red fire relieving
from behind his slim figure. He had to propose, as an amendment to the
next subject in the case-book, "Whether capital punishment be consistent
with God's will or man's policy?"
A breath of embarrassment, of something like alarm, passed round the
room, so daring did these words appear upon the lips of Hermiston's only
son. But the amendment was not seconded; the previous question was
promptly moved and unanimously voted, and the momentary scandal smuggled
by. Innes triumphed in the fulfilment of his prophecy. He and Archie
were now become the heroes of the night; but whereas every one crowded
about Innes, when the meeting broke up, but one of all his companions
came to speak to Archie.
"Weir, man! That was an extraordinary raid of yours!" observed this
courageous member, taking him confidentially by the arm as they went
"I don't think it a raid," said Archie grimly. "More like a war. I
saw that poor brute hanged this morning, and my gorge rises at it yet."
"Hut-tut," returned his companion, and, dropping his arm like something
hot, he sought the less tense society of others.
Archie found himself alone. The last of the faithful - or was it only
the boldest of the curious? - had fled. He watched the black huddle of
his fellow-students draw off down and up the street, in whispering or
boisterous gangs. And the isolation of the moment weighed upon him like
an omen and an emblem of his destiny in life. Bred up in unbroken fear
himself, among trembling servants, and in a house which (at the least
ruffle in the master's voice) shuddered into silence, he saw himself on
the brink of the red valley of war, and measured the danger and length
of it with awe. He made a detour in the glimmer and shadow of the
streets, came into the back stable lane, and watched for a long while
the light burn steady in the Judge's room. The longer he gazed upon
that illuminated window-blind, the more blank became the picture of the
man who sat behind it, endlessly turning over sheets of process, pausing
to sip a glass of port, or rising and passing heavily about his 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
These misgivings tortured him all night and arose with him in the
winter's morning; they followed him from class to class, they made him
shrinkingly sensitive to every shade of manner in his companions, they
sounded in his ears through the current voice of the professor; and he
brought them home with him at night unabated and indeed increased. The
cause of this increase lay in a chance encounter with the celebrated Dr.
Gregory. Archie stood looking vaguely in the lighted window of a book
shop, trying to nerve himself for the approaching ordeal. My lord and
he had met and parted in the morning as they had now done for long, with
scarcely the ordinary civilities of life; and it was plain to the son
that nothing had yet reached the father's ears. Indeed, when he
recalled the awful countenance of my lord, a timid hope sprang up in him
that perhaps there would be found no one bold enough to carry tales. If
this were so, he asked himself, would he begin again? and he found no
answer. It was at this moment that a hand was laid upon his arm, and a
voice said in his ear, "My dear Mr. Archie, you had better come and see
He started, turned round, and found himself face to face with Dr.
Gregory. "And why should I come to see you?" he asked, with the
defiance of the miserable.
"Because you are looking exceedingly ill," said the doctor, "and you
very evidently want looking after, my young friend. Good folk are
scarce, you know; and it is not every one that would be quite so much
missed as yourself. It is not every one that Hermiston would miss."
And with a nod and a smile, the doctor passed on.
A moment after, Archie was in pursuit, and had in turn, but more
roughly, seized him by the arm.
"What do you mean? what did you mean by saying that? What makes you
think that Hermis - my father would have missed me?"
The doctor turned about and looked him all over with a clinical eye. A
far more stupid man than Dr. Gregory might have guessed the truth; but
ninety-nine out of a hundred, even if they had been equally inclined to
kindness, would have blundered by some touch of charitable exaggeration.
The doctor was better inspired. He knew the father well; in that white
face of intelligence and suffering, he divined something of the son; and
he told, without apology or adornment, the plain truth.
"When you had the measles, Mr. Archibald, you had them gey and ill; and
I thought you were going to slip between my fingers," he said. "Well,
your father was anxious. How did I know it? says you. Simply because I
am a trained observer. The sign that I saw him make, ten thousand would
have missed; and perhaps - PERHAPS, I say, because he's a hard man to
judge of - but perhaps he never made another. A strange thing to
consider! It was this. One day I came to him: `Hermiston,' said I,
`there's a change.' He never said a word, just glowered at me (if ye'll
pardon the phrase) like a wild beast. `A change for the better,' said
I. And I distinctly heard him take his breath."
The doctor left no opportunity for anti-climax; nodding his cocked hat
(a piece of antiquity to which he clung) and repeating "Distinctly" with
raised eye-brows, he took his departure, and left Archie speechless in
The 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
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
"I had meant to tell you," stammered Archie. "I see you are well
"Muckle obleeged to ye," said his lordship, and took his usual seat.
"And so you disapprove of Caapital Punishment?" he added.
"I am sorry, sir, I do," said Archie.
"I am sorry, too," said his lordship. "And now, if you please, we shall
approach this business with a little more parteecularity. I hear that
at the hanging of Duncan Jopp - and, man! ye had a fine client there -
in the middle of all the riff-raff of the ceety, ye thought fit to cry
out, `This is a damned murder, and my gorge rises at the man that
haangit him.' "
"No, sir, these were not my words," cried Archie.
"What were yer words, then?" asked the Judge.
"I believe I said, `I denounce it as a murder!'" said the son. "I beg
your pardon - a God-defying murder. I have no wish to conceal the
truth," he added, and looked his father for a moment in the face.
"God, it would only need that of it next!" cried Hermiston. "There was
nothing about your gorge rising, then?"
"That was afterwards, my lord, as I was leaving the Speculative. I said
I had been to see the miserable creature hanged, and my gorge rose at
"Did ye, though?" said Hermiston. "And I suppose ye knew who haangit
"I was present at the trial, I ought to tell you that, I ought to
explain. I ask your pardon beforehand for any expression that may seem
undutiful. The position in which I stand is wretched," said the unhappy
hero, now fairly face to face with the business he had chosen. "I have
been reading some of your cases. I was present while Jopp was tried.
It was a hideous business. Father, it was a hideous thing! Grant he
was vile, why should you hunt him with a vileness equal to his own? It
was done with glee - that is the word - you did it with glee; and I
looked on, God help me! with horror."
"You're a young gentleman that doesna approve of Caapital Punishment,"
said Hermiston. "Weel, I'm an auld man that does. I was glad to get
Jopp haangit, and what for would I pretend I wasna? You're all for
honesty, it seems; you couldn't even steik your mouth on the public
street. What for should I steik mines upon the bench, the King's
officer, bearing the sword, a dreid to evil-doers, as I was from the
beginning, and as I will be to the end! Mair than enough of it!
Heedious! I never gave twa thoughts to heediousness, I have no call to
be bonny. I'm a man that gets through with my day's business, and let
The ring of sarcasm had died out of his voice as he went on; the plain
words became invested with some of the dignity of the Justice-seat.
"It would be telling you if you could say as much," the speaker resumed.
"But ye cannot. Ye've been reading some of my cases, ye say. But it
was not for the law in them, it was to spy out your faither's nakedness,
a fine employment in a son. You're splairging; you're running at lairge
in life like a wild nowt. It's impossible you should think any longer
of coming to the Bar. You're not fit for it; no splairger is. And
another thing: son of mines or no son of mines, you have flung fylement
in public on one of the Senators of the Coallege of Justice, and I would
make it my business to see that ye were never admitted there yourself.
There is a kind of a decency to be observit. Then comes the next of it
- what am I to do with ye next? Ye'll have to find some kind of a
trade, for I'll never support ye in idleset. What do ye fancy ye'll be
fit for? The pulpit? Na, they could never get diveenity into that
bloackhead. Him that the law of man whammles is no likely to do muckle
better by the law of God. What would ye make of hell? Wouldna your
gorge rise at that? Na, there's no room for splairgers under the fower
quarters of John Calvin. What else is there? Speak up. Have ye got
nothing of your own?"
"Father, let me go to the Peninsula," said Archie. "That's all I'm fit
for - to fight."
"All? quo' he!" returned the Judge. "And it would be enough too, if I
thought it. But I'll never trust ye so near the French, you that's so
"You do me injustice there, sir," said Archie. "I am loyal; I will not
boast; but any interest I may have ever felt in the French - "
"Have ye been so loyal to me?" interrupted his father.
There came no reply.
"I think not," continued Hermiston. "And I would send no man to be a
servant to the King, God bless him! that has proved such a shauchling
son to his own faither. You can splairge here on Edinburgh street, and
where's the hairm? It doesna play buff on me! And if there were twenty
thousand eediots like yourself, sorrow a Duncan Jopp would hang the
fewer. But there's no splairging possible in a camp; and if ye were to
go to it, you would find out for yourself whether Lord Well'n'ton
approves of caapital punishment or not. You a sodger!" he cried, with a
sudden burst of scorn. "Ye auld wife, the sodgers would bray at ye like
As at the drawing of a curtain, Archie was aware of some illogicality in
his position, and stood abashed. He had a strong impression, besides,
of the essential valour of the old gentleman before him, how conveyed it
would be hard to say.
"Well, have ye no other proposeetion?" said my lord again.
"You have taken this so calmly, sir, that I cannot but stand ashamed,"
"I'm nearer voamiting, though, than you would fancy," said my lord.
The blood rose to Archie's brow.
"I beg your pardon, I should have said that you had accepted my affront.
. . . I admit it was an affront; I did not think to apologise, but I do,
I ask your pardon; it will not be so again, I pass you my word of
honour. . . . I should have said that I admired your magnanimity with -
this - offender," Archie concluded with a gulp.
"I have no other son, ye see," said Hermiston. "A bonny one I have
gotten! But I must just do the best I can wi' him, and what am I to do?
If ye had been younger, I would have wheepit ye for this rideeculous
exhibeetion. The way it is, I have just to grin and bear. But one
thing is to be clearly understood. As a faither, I must grin and bear
it; but if I had been the Lord Advocate instead of the Lord Justice-
Clerk, son or no son, Mr. Erchibald Weir would have been in a jyle the
Archie was now dominated. Lord Hermiston was coarse and cruel; and yet
the son was aware of a bloomless nobility, an ungracious abnegation of
the man's self in the man's office. At every word, this sense of the
greatness of Lord Hermiston's spirit struck more home; and along with it
that of his own impotence, who had struck - and perhaps basely struck -
at his own father, and not reached so far as to have even nettled him.
"I place myself in your hands without reserve," he said.
"That's the first sensible word I've had of ye the night," said
Hermiston. "I can tell ye, that would have been the end of it, the one
way or the other; but it's better ye should come there yourself, than
what I would have had to hirstle ye. Weel, by my way of it - and my way
is the best - there's just the one thing it's possible that ye might be
with decency, and that's a laird. Ye'll be out of hairm's way at the
least of it. If ye have to rowt, ye can rowt amang the kye; and the
maist feck of the caapital punishmeiit ye're like to come across'll be
guddling trouts. Now, I'm for no idle lairdies; every man has to work,
if it's only at peddling ballants; to work, or to be wheeped, or to be
haangit. If I set ye down at Hermiston I'll have to see you work that
place the way it has never been workit yet; ye must ken about the sheep
like a herd; ye must be my grieve there, and I'll see that I gain by ye.
Is that understood?"
"I will do my best," said Archie.
"Well, then, I'll send Kirstie word the morn, and ye can go yourself the
day after," said Hermiston. "And just try to be less of an eediot!" he
concluded with a freezing smile, and turned immediately to the papers on
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 curiosity.
"Come in, come in," said he. "Come in and take a seat. Carstairs" (to
his servant), "make up the fire, and then you can bring a bit of
supper," and again to Archie, with a very trivial accent: "I was half
expecting you," he added.
"No supper," said Archie. "It is impossible that I should eat."
"Not impossible," said the tall old man, laying his hand upon his
shoulder, "and, if you will believe me, necessary."
"You know what brings me?" said Archie, as soon as the servant had left
"I have a guess, I have a guess," replied Glenalmond. "We will talk of
it presently - when Carstairs has come and gone, and you have had a
piece of my good Cheddar cheese and a pull at the porter tankard: not
"It is impossible I should eat" repeated Archie.
"Tut, tut!" said Lord Glenalmond. "You have eaten nothing to-day, and I
venture to add, nothing yesterday. There is no case that may not be
made worse; this may be a very disagreeable business, but if you were to
fall sick and die, it would be still more so, and for all concerned -
for all concerned."
"I see you must know all," said Archie. "Where did you hear it?"
"In the mart of scandal, in the Parliament House," said Glenalmond. "It
runs riot below among the bar and the public, but it sifts up to us upon
the bench, and rumour has some of her voices even in the divisions."
Carstairs returned at this moment, and rapidly laid out a little supper;
during which Lord Glenalmond spoke at large and a little vaguely on
indifferent subjects, so that it might be rather said of him that he
made a cheerful noise, than that he contributed to human conversation;
and Archie sat upon the other side, not heeding him, brooding over his
wrongs and errors.
But so soon as the servant was gone, he broke forth again at once. "Who
told my father? Who dared to tell him? Could it have been you?"
"No, it was not me," said the Judge; "although - to be quite frank with
you, and after I had seen and warned you - it might have been me - I
believe it was Glenkindie."
"That shrimp!" cried Archie.
"As you say, that shrimp," returned my lord; "although really it is
scarce a fitting mode of expression for one of the senators of the
College of Justice. We were hearing the parties in a long, crucial
case, before the fifteen; Creech was moving at some length for an
infeftment; when I saw Glenkindie lean forward to Hermiston with his
hand over his mouth and make him a secret communication. No one could
have guessed its nature from your father: from Glenkindie, yes, his
malice sparked out of him a little grossly. But your father, no. A man
of granite. The next moment he pounced upon Creech. `Mr. Creech,' says
he, `I'll take a look of that sasine,' and for thirty minutes after,"
said Glenalmond, with a smile, "Messrs. Creech and Co. were fighting a
pretty up-hill battle, which resulted, I need hardly add, in their total
rout. The case was dismissed. No, I doubt if ever I heard Hermiston
better inspired. He was literally rejoicing IN APICIBUS JURIS."
Archie was able to endure no longer. He thrust his plate away and
interrupted the deliberate and insignificant stream of talk. "Here," he
said, "I have made a fool of myself, if I have not made something worse.
Do you judge between us - judge between a father and a son. I can speak
to you; it is not like ... I will tell you what I feel and what I mean
to do; and you shall be the judge," he repeated.
"I decline jurisdiction," said Glenalmond, with extreme seriousness.
"But, my dear boy, if it will do you any good to talk, and if it will
interest you at all to hear what I may choose to say when I have heard
you, I am quite at your command. Let an old man say it, for once, and
not need to blush: I love you like a son."
There came a sudden sharp sound in Archie's throat. "Ay," he cried,
"and there it is! Love! Like a son! And how do you think I love my
"Quietly, quietly," says my lord.
"I will be very quiet," replied Archie. "And I will be baldly frank. I
do not love my father; I wonder sometimes if I do not hate him. There's
my shame; perhaps my sin; at least, and in the sight of God, not my
fault. How was I to love him? He has never spoken to me, never smiled
upon me; I do not think he ever touched me. You know the way he talks?
You do not talk so, yet you can sit and hear him without shuddering, and
I cannot. My soul is sick when he begins with it; I could smite him in
the mouth. And all that's nothing. I was at the trial of this Jopp.
You were not there, but you must have heard him often; the man's
notorious for it, for being - look at my position! he's my father and
this is how I have to speak of him - notorious for being a brute and
cruel and a coward. Lord Glenalmond, I give you my word, when I came
out of that Court, I longed to die - the shame of it was beyond my
strength: but I - I -" he rose from his seat and began to pace the room
in a disorder. "Well, who am I? A boy, who have never been tried, have
never done anything except this twopenny impotent folly with my father.
But I tell you, my lord, and I know myself, I am at least that kind of a
man - or that kind of a boy, if you prefer it - that I could die in
torments rather than that any one should suffer as that scoundrel
suffered. Well, and what have I done? I see it now. I have made a
fool of myself, as I said in the beginning; and I have gone back, and
asked my father's pardon, and placed myself wholly in his hands - and he
has sent me to Hermiston," with a wretched smile, "for life, I suppose -
and what can I say? he strikes me as having done quite right, and let me
off better than I had deserved."
"My poor, dear boy!" observed Glenalmond. "My poor dear and, if you
will allow me to say so, very foolish boy! You are only discovering
where you are; to one of your temperament, or of mine, a painful
discovery. The world was not made for us; it was made for ten hundred
millions of men, all different from each other and from us; there's no
royal road there, we just have to sclamber and tumble. Don't think that
I am at all disposed to be surprised; don't suppose that I ever think of
blaming you; indeed I rather admire! But there fall to be offered one
or two observations on the case which occur to me and which (if you will
listen to them dispassionately) may be the means of inducing you to view
the matter more calmly. First of all, I cannot acquit you of a good
deal of what is called intolerance. You seem to have been very much
offended because your father talks a little sculduddery after dinner,
which it is perfectly licit for him to do, and which (although I am not
very fond of it myself) appears to be entirely an affair of taste. Your
father, I scarcely like to remind you, since it is so trite a
commonplace, is older than yourself. At least, he is MAJOR and SUI
JURIS, and may please himself in the matter of his conversation. And,
do you know, I wonder if he might not have as good an answer against you
and me? We say we sometimes find him COARSE, but I suspect he might
retort that he finds us always dull. Perhaps a relevant exception."
He beamed on Archie, but no smile could be elicited.
"And now," proceeded the Judge, "for `Archibald on Capital Punishment.'
This is a very plausible academic opinion; of course I do not and I
cannot hold it; but that's not to say that many able and excellent
persons have not done so in the past. Possibly, in the past also, I may
have a little dipped myself in the same heresy. My third client, or
possibly my fourth, was the means of a return in my opinions. I never
saw the man I more believed in; I would have put my hand in the fire, I
would have gone to the cross for him; and when it came to trial he was
gradually pictured before me, by undeniable probation, in the light of
so gross, so cold-blooded, and so black-hearted a villain, that I had a
mind to have cast my brief upon the table. I was then boiling against
the man with even a more tropical temperature than I had been boiling
for him. But I said to myself: `No, you have taken up his case; and
because you have changed your mind it must not be suffered to let drop.
All that rich tide of eloquence that you prepared last night with so
much enthusiasm is out of place, and yet you must not desert him, you
must say something.' So I said something, and I got him off. It made
my reputation. But an experience of that kind is formative. A man must
not bring his passions to the bar - or to the bench," he added.
The story had slightly rekindled Archie's interest. "I could never
deny," he began - "I mean I can conceive that some men would be better
dead. But who are we to know all the springs of God's unfortunate
creatures? Who are we to trust ourselves where it seems that God
Himself must think twice before He treads, and to do it with delight?
Yes, with delight. TIGRIS UT ASPERA."
"Perhaps not a pleasant spectacle," said Glenalmond. "And yet, do you
know, I think somehow a great one."
"I've had a long talk with him to-night," said Archie.
"I was supposing so," said Glenalmond.
"And he struck me - I cannot deny that he struck me as something very
big," pursued the son. "Yes, he is big. He never spoke about himself;
only about me. I suppose I admired him. The dreadful part - "
"Suppose we did not talk about that," interrupted Glenalmond. "You know
it very well, it cannot in any way help that you should brood upon it,
and I sometimes wonder whether you and I - who are a pair of
sentimentalists - are quite good judges of plain men."
"How do you mean?" asked Archie.
"FAIR judges, mean," replied Glenalmond. "Can we be just to them? Do
we not ask too much? There was a word of yours just now that impressed
me a little when you asked me who we were to know all the springs of
God's unfortunate creatures. You applied that, as I understood, to
capital cases only. But does it - I ask myself - does it not apply all
through? Is it any less difficult to judge of a good man or of a half-
good man, than of the worst criminal at the bar? And may not each have
"Ah, but we do not talk of punishing the good," cried Archie.
"No, we do not talk of it," said Glenalmond. "But I think we do it. Your
father, for instance."
"You think I have punished him?" cried Archie.
Lord Glenalmond bowed his head.
"I think I have," said Archie. "And the worst is, I think he feels it!
How much, who can tell, with such a being? But I think he does."
"And I am sure of it," said Glenalmond.
"Has he spoken to you, then?" cried Archie.
"O no," replied the judge.
"I tell you honestly," said Archie, "I want to make it up to him. I
will go, I have already pledged myself to go to Hermiston. That was to
him. And now I pledge myself to you, in the sight of God, that I will
close my mouth on capital punishment and all other subjects where our
views may clash, for - how long shall I say? when shall I have sense
enough? - ten years. Is that well?"
"It is well," said my lord.
"As far as it goes," said Archie. "It is enough as regards myself, it
is to lay down enough of my conceit. But as regards him, whom I have
publicly insulted? What am I to do to him? How do you pay attentions
to a - an Alp like that?"
"Only in one way," replied Glenalmond. "Only by obedience, punctual,
prompt, and scrupulous."
"And I promise that he shall have it," answered Archie. "I offer you my
hand in pledge of it."
"And I take your hand as a solemnity," replied the judge. "God bless
you, my dear, and enable you to keep your promise. God guide you in the
true way, and spare your days, and preserve to you your honest heart."
At that, he kissed the young man upon the forehead in a gracious,
distant, antiquated way; and instantly launched, with a marked change of
voice, into another subject. "And now, let us replenish the tankard;
and I believe if you will try my Cheddar again, you would find you had a
better appetite. The Court has spoken, and the case is dismissed."
"No, there is one thing I must say," cried Archie. "I must say it in
justice to himself. I know - I believe faithfully, slavishly, after our
talk - he will never ask me anything unjust. I am proud to feel it,
that we have that much in common, I am proud to say it to you."
The Judge, with shining eyes, raised his tankard. "And I think perhaps
that we might permit ourselves a toast," said he. "I should like to
propose the health of a man very different from me and very much my
superior - a man from whom I have often differed, who has often (in
the trivial expression) rubbed me the wrong way, but whom I have never
ceased to respect and, I may add, to be not a little afraid of. Shall
I give you his name?"
"The Lord Justice-Clerk, Lord Hermiston," said Archie, almost with
gaiety; and the pair drank the toast deeply.
It was not precisely easy to re-establish, after these emotional
passages, the natural flow of conversation. But the Judge eked out what
was wanting with kind looks, produced his snuff-box (which was very
rarely seen) to fill in a pause, and at last, despairing of any further
social success, was upon the point of getting down a book to read a
favourite passage, when there came a rather startling summons at the
front door, and Carstairs ushered in my Lord Glenkindie, hot from a
midnight supper. I am not aware that Glenkindie was ever a beautiful
object, being short, and gross-bodied, and with an expression of
sensuality comparable to a bear's. At that moment, coming in hissing
from many potations, with a flushed countenance and blurred eyes, he was
strikingly contrasted with the tall, pale, kingly figure of Glenalmond.
A rush of confused thought came over Archie - of shame that this was one
of his father's elect friends; of pride, that at the least of it
Hermiston could carry his liquor; and last of all, of rage, that he
should have here under his eyes the man that had betrayed him. And then
that too passed away; and he sat quiet, biding his opportunity.
The tipsy senator plunged at once into an explanation with Glenalmond.
There was a point reserved yesterday, he had been able to make neither
head nor tail of it, and seeing lights in the house, he had just dropped
in for a glass of porter - and at this point he became aware of the
third person. Archie saw the cod's mouth and the blunt lips of
Glenkindie gape at him for a moment, and the recognition twinkle in his
"Who's this?" said he. "What? is this possibly you, Don Quickshot? And
how are ye? And how's your father? And what's all this we hear of you?
It seems you're a most extraordinary leveller, by all tales. No king,
no parliaments, and your gorge rises at the macers, worthy men! Hoot,
toot! Dear, dear me! Your father's son too! Most rideeculous!"
Archie was on his feet, flushing a little at the reappearance of his
unhappy figure of speech, but perfectly self-possessed. "My lord - and
you, Lord Glenalmond, my dear friend," he began, "this is a happy chance
for me, that I can make my confession and offer my apologies to two of
you at once."
"Ah, but I don't know about that. Confession? It'll be judeecial, my
young friend," cried the jocular Glenkindie. "And I'm afraid to listen
to ye. Think if ye were to make me a coanvert!"
"If you would allow me, my lord," returned Archie, "what I have to say
is very serious to me; and be pleased to be humorous after I am gone!"
"Remember, I'll hear nothing against the macers!" put in the
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
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