Part 2 out of 3
others, struck and stirred popular imagination. Some century earlier
the last of the minstrels might have fashioned the last of the ballads
out of that Homeric fight and chase; but the spirit was dead, or had
been reincarnated already in Mr. Sheriff Scott, and the degenerate
moorsmen must be content to tell the tale in prose, and to make of the
"Four Black Brothers" a unit after the fashion of the "Twelve Apostles"
or the "Three Musketeers."
Robert, Gilbert, Clement, and Andrew - in the proper Border diminutives,
Hob, Gib, Clem, and Dand Elliott - these ballad heroes, had much in
common; in particular, their high sense of the family and the family
honour; but they went diverse ways, and prospered and failed in
different businesses. According to Kirstie, "they had a' bees in their
bonnets but Hob." Hob the laird was, indeed, essentially a decent man.
An elder of the Kirk, nobody had heard an oath upon his lips, save
perhaps thrice or so at the sheep-washing, since the chase of his
father's murderers. The figure he had shown on that eventful night
disappeared as if swallowed by a trap. He who had ecstatically dipped
his hand in the red blood, he who had ridden down Dickieson, became,
from that moment on, a stiff and rather graceless model of the rustic
proprieties; cannily profiting by the high war prices, and yearly
stowing away a little nest-egg in the bank against calamity; approved of
and sometimes consulted by the greater lairds for the massive and placid
sense of what he said, when he could be induced to say anything; and
particularly valued by the minister, Mr. Torrance, as a right-hand man
in the parish, and a model to parents. The transfiguration had been for
the moment only; some Barbarossa, some old Adam of our ancestors, sleeps
in all of us till the fit circumstance shall call it into action; and,
for as sober as he now seemed, Hob had given once for all the measure of
the devil that haunted him. He was married, and, by reason of the
effulgence of that legendary night, was adored by his wife.
He had a mob of little lusty, barefoot children who marched in a caravan
the long miles to school, the stages of whose pilgrimage were marked by
acts of spoliation and mischief, and who were qualified in the country-
side as "fair pests." But in the house, if "faither was in," they were
quiet as mice. In short, Hob moved through life in a great peace - the
reward of any one who shall have killed his man, with any formidable and
figurative circumstance, in the midst of a country gagged and swaddled
It was a current remark that the Elliotts were "guid and bad, like
sanguishes"; and certainly there was a curious distinction, the men of
business coming alternately with the dreamers. The second brother, Gib,
was a weaver by trade, had gone out early into the world to Edinburgh,
and come home again with his wings singed. There was an exaltation in
his nature which had led him to embrace with enthusiasm the principles
of the French Revolution, and had ended by bringing him under the hawse
of my Lord Hermiston in that furious onslaught of his upon the Liberals,
which sent Muir and Palmer into exile and dashed the party into chaff.
It was whispered that my lord, in his great scorn for the movement, and
prevailed upon a little by a sense of neighbourliness, had given Gib a
hint. Meeting him one day in the Potterrow, my lord had stopped in
front of him: "Gib, ye eediot," he had said, "what's this I hear of you?
Poalitics, poalitics, poalitics, weaver's poalitics, is the way of it, I
hear. If ye arena a'thegither dozened with cediocy, ye'll gang your
ways back to Cauldstaneslap, and ca' your loom, and ca' your loom, man!"
And Gilbert had taken him at the word and returned, with an expedition
almost to be called flight, to the house of his father. The clearest of
his inheritance was that family gift of prayer of which Kirstie had
boasted; and the baffled politician now turned his attention to
religious matters - or, as others said, to heresy and schism. Every
Sunday morning he was in Crossmichael, where he had gathered together,
one by one, a sect of about a dozen persons, who called themselves
"God's Remnant of the True Faithful," or, for short, "God's Remnant."
To the profane, they were known as "Gib's Deils." Bailie Sweedie, a
noted humorist in the town, vowed that the proceedings always opened to
the tune of "The Deil Fly Away with the Exciseman," and that the
sacrament was dispensed in the form of hot whisky-toddy; both wicked
hits at the evangelist, who had been suspected of smuggling in his
youth, and had been overtaken (as the phrase went) on the streets of
Crossmichael one Fair day. It was known that every Sunday they prayed
for a blessing on the arms of Bonaparte. For this "God's Remnant," as
they were "skailing" from the cottage that did duty for a temple, had
been repeatedly stoned by the bairns, and Gib himself hooted by a
squadron of Border volunteers in which his own brother, Dand, rode in a
uniform and with a drawn sword. The "Remnant" were believed, besides,
to be "antinomian in principle," which might otherwise have been a
serious charge, but the way public opinion then blew it was quite
swallowed up and forgotten in the scandal about Bonaparte. For the
rest, Gilbert had set up his loom in an outhouse at Cauldstaneslap,
where he laboured assiduously six days of the week. His brothers,
appalled by his political opinions, and willing to avoid dissension in
the household, spoke but little to him; he less to them, remaining
absorbed in the study of the Bible and almost constant prayer. The
gaunt weaver was dry-nurse at Cauldstaneslap, and the bairns loved him
dearly. Except when he was carrying an infant in his arms, he was
rarely seen to smile - as, indeed, there were few smilers in that
family. When his sister-in-law rallied him, and proposed that he should
get a wife and bairns of his own, since he was so fond of them, "I have
no clearness of mind upon that point," he would reply. If nobody called
him in to dinner, he stayed out. Mrs. Hob, a hard, unsympathetic woman,
once tried the experiment. He went without food all day, but at dusk,
as the light began to fail him, he came into the house of his own
accord, looking puzzled. "I've had a great gale of prayer upon my
speerit," said he. "I canna mind sae muckle's what I had for denner."
The creed of God's Remnant was justified in the life of its founder.
"And yet I dinna ken," said Kirstie. "He's maybe no more stockfish than
his neeghbours! He rode wi' the rest o' them, and had a good stamach to
the work, by a' that I hear! God's Remnant! The deil's clavers! There
wasna muckle Christianity in the way Hob guided Johnny Dickieson, at the
least of it; but Guid kens! Is he a Christian even? He might be a
Mahommedan or a Deevil or a Fire-worshipper, for what I ken."
The third brother had his name on a door-plate, no less, in the city of
Glasgow, "Mr. Clement Elliott," as long as your arm. In his case, that
spirit of innovation which had shown itself timidly in the case of Hob
by the admission of new manures, and which had run to waste with Gilbert
in subversive politics and heretical religions, bore useful fruit in
many ingenious mechanical improvements. In boyhood, from his addiction
to strange devices of sticks and string, he had been counted the most
eccentric of the family. But that was all by now; and he was a partner
of his firm, and looked to die a bailie. He too had married, and was
rearing a plentiful family in the smoke and din of Glasgow; he was
wealthy, and could have bought out his brother, the cock-laird, six
times over, it was whispered; and when he slipped away to Cauldstaneslap
for a well-earned holiday, which he did as often as he was able, he
astonished the neighbours with his broadcloth, his beaver hat, and the
ample plies of his neckcloth. Though an eminently solid man at bottom,
after the pattern of Hob, he had contracted a certain Glasgow briskness
and APLOMB which set him off. All the other Elliotts were as lean as a
rake, but Clement was laying on fat, and he panted sorely when he must
get into his boots. Dand said, chuckling: "Ay, Clem has the elements of
a corporation." "A provost and corporation," returned Clem. And his
readiness was much admired.
The fourth brother, Dand, was a shepherd to his trade, and by starts,
when he could bring his mind to it, excelled in the business. Nobody
could train a dog like Dandie; nobody, through the peril of great storms
in the winter time, could do more gallantly. But if his dexterity were
exquisite, his diligence was but fitful; and he served his brother for
bed and board, and a trifle of pocket-money when he asked for it. He
loved money well enough, knew very well how to spend it, and could make
a shrewd bargain when he liked. But he preferred a vague knowledge that
he was well to windward to any counted coins in the pocket; he felt
himself richer so. Hob would expostulate: "I'm an amature herd." Dand
would reply, "I'll keep your sheep to you when I'm so minded, but I'll
keep my liberty too. Thir's no man can coandescend on what I'm worth."
Clein would expound to him the miraculous results of compound interest,
and recommend investments. "Ay, man?" Dand would say; "and do you
think, if I took Hob's siller, that I wouldna drink it or wear it on the
lassies? And, anyway, my kingdom is no of this world. Either I'm a
poet or else I'm nothing." Clem would remind him of old age. "I'll die
young, like, Robbie Burns," he would say stoutly. No question but he
had a certain accomplishment in minor verse. His "Hermiston Burn," with
its pretty refrain -
"I love to gang thinking whaur ye gang linking,
Hermiston burn, in the howe;"
his "Auld, auld Elliotts, clay-cauld Elliotts, dour, bauld Elliotts of
auld," and his really fascinating piece about the Praying Weaver's
Stone, had gained him in the neighbourhood the reputation, still
possible in Scotland, of a local bard; and, though not printed himself,
he was recognised by others who were and who had become famous. Walter
Scott owed to Dandie the text of the "Raid of Wearie" in the MINSTRELSY;
and made him welcome at his house, and appreciated his talents, such as
they were, with all his usual generosity. The Ettrick Shepherd was his
sworn crony; they would meet, drink to excess, roar out their lyrics in
each other's faces, and quarrel and make it up again till bedtime. And
besides these recognitions, almost to be called official, Dandie was
made welcome for the sake of his gift through the farmhouses of several
contiguous dales, and was thus exposed to manifold temptations which he
rather sought than fled. He had figured on the stool of repentance, for
once fulfilling to the letter the tradition of his hero and model. His
humorous verses to Mr. Torrance on that occasion - "Kenspeckle here my
lane I stand" - unfortunately too indelicate for further citation, ran
through the country like a fiery cross - they were recited, quoted,
paraphrased, and laughed over as far away as Dumfries on the one hand
and Dunbar on the other.
These four brothers were united by a close bond, the bond of that mutual
admiration - or rather mutual hero-worship - which is so strong among
the members of secluded families who have much ability and little
culture. Even the extremes admired each other. Hob, who had as much
poetry as the tongs, professed to find pleasure in Dand's verses; Clem,
who had no more religion than Claverhouse, nourished a heartfelt, at
least an open-mouthed, admiration of Gib's prayers; and Dandie followed
with relish the rise of Clem's fortunes. Indulgence followed hard on
the heels of admiration. The laird, Clem, and Dand, who were Tories and
patriots of the hottest quality, excused to themselves, with a certain
bashfulness, the radical and revolutionary heresies of Gib. By another
division of the family, the laird, Clem, and Gib, who were men exactly
virtuous, swallowed the dose of Dand's irregularities as a kind of clog
or drawback in the mysterious providence of God affixed to bards, and
distinctly probative of poetical genius. To appreciate the simplicity
of their mutual admiration it was necessary to hear Clem, arrived upon
one of his visits, and dealing in a spirit of continuous irony with the
affairs and personalities of that great city of Glasgow where he lived
and transacted business. The various personages, ministers of the
church, municipal officers, mercantile big-wigs, whom he had occasion to
introduce, were all alike denigrated, all served but as reflectors to
cast back a flattering side-light on the house of Cauldstaneslap. The
Provost, for whom Clem by exception entertained a measure of respect, he
would liken to Hob. "He minds me o' the laird there," he would say. "He
has some of Hob's grand, whunstane sense, and the same way with him of
steiking his mouth when he's no very pleased." And Hob, all
unconscious, would draw down his upper lip and produce, as if for
comparison, the formidable grimace referred to. The unsatisfactory
incumbent of St. Enoch's Kirk was thus briefly dismissed: "If he had but
twa fingers o' Gib's, he would waken them up." And Gib, honest man!
would look down and secretly smile. Clem was a spy whom they had sent
out into the world of men. He had come back with the good news that
there was nobody to compare with the Four Black Brothers, no position
that they would not adorn, no official that it would not be well they
should replace, no interest of mankind, secular or spiritual, which
would not immediately bloom under their supervision. The excuse of
their folly is in two words: scarce the breadth of a hair divided them
from the peasantry. The measure of their sense is this: that these
symposia of rustic vanity were kept entirely within the family, like
some secret ancestral practice. To the world their serious faces were
never deformed by the suspicion of any simper of self-contentment. Yet
it was known. "They hae a guid pride o' themsel's!" was the word in the
Lastly, in a Border story, there should be added their "two-names." Hob
was The Laird. "Roy ne puis, prince ne daigne"; he was the laird of
Cauldstaneslap - say fifty acres - IPSISSIMUS. Clement was Mr. Elliott,
as upon his door-plate, the earlier Dafty having been discarded as no
longer applicable, and indeed only a reminder of misjudgment and the
imbecility of the public; and the youngest, in honour of his perpetual
wanderings, was known by the sobriquet of Randy Dand.
It will be understood that not all this information was communicated by
the aunt, who had too much of the family failing herself to appreciate
it thoroughly in others. But as time went on, Archie began to observe
an omission in the family chronicle.
"Is there not a girl too?" he asked.
"Ay: Kirstie. She was named for me, or my grandmother at least - it's
the same thing," returned the aunt, and went on again about Dand, whom
she secretly preferred by reason of his gallantries.
"But what is your niece like?" said Archie at the next opportunity.
"Her? As black's your hat! But I dinna suppose she would maybe be what
you would ca' ILL-LOOKED a'thegither. Na, she's a kind of a handsome
jaud - a kind o' gipsy," said the aunt, who had two sets of scales for
men and women - or perhaps it would be more fair to say that she had
three, and the third and the most loaded was for girls.
"How comes it that I never see her in church?" said Archie.
" 'Deed, and I believe she's in Glesgie with Clem and his wife. A heap
good she's like to get of it! I dinna say for men folk, but where
weemen folk are born, there let them bide. Glory to God, I was never
far'er from here than Crossmichael."
In the meanwhile it began to strike Archie as strange, that while she
thus sang the praises of her kinsfolk, and manifestly relished their
virtues and (I may say) their vices like a thing creditable to herself,
there should appear not the least sign of cordiality between the house
of Hermiston and that of Cauldstaneslap. Going to church of a Sunday,
as the lady housekeeper stepped with her skirts kilted, three tucks of
her white petticoat showing below, and her best India shawl upon her
back (if the day were fine) in a pattern of radiant dyes, she would
sometimes overtake her relatives preceding her more leisurely in the
same direction. Gib of course was absent: by skreigh of day he had been
gone to Crossmichael and his fellow-heretics; but the rest of the family
would be seen marching in open order: Hob and Dand, stiff-necked,
straight-backed six-footers, with severe dark faces, and their plaids
about their shoulders; the convoy of children scattering (in a state of
high polish) on the wayside, and every now and again collected by the
shrill summons of the mother; and the mother herself, by a suggestive
circumstance which might have afforded matter of thought to a more
experienced observer than Archie, wrapped in a shawl nearly identical
with Kirstie's, but a thought more gaudy and conspicuously newer. At
the sight, Kirstie grew more tall - Kirstie showed her classical
profile, nose in air and nostril spread, the pure blood came in her
cheek evenly in a delicate living pink.
"A braw day to ye, Mistress Elliott," said she, and hostility and
gentility were nicely mingled in her tones. "A fine day, mem," the
laird's wife would reply with a miraculous curtsey, spreading the while
her plumage - setting off, in other words, and with arts unknown to the
mere man, the pattern of her India shawl. Behind her, the whole
Cauldstaneslap contingent marched in closer order, and with an
indescribable air of being in the presence of the foe; and while Dandie
saluted his aunt with a certain familiarity as of one who was well in
court, Hob marched on in awful immobility. There appeared upon the face
of this attitude in the family the consequences of some dreadful feud.
Presumably the two women had been principals in the original encounter,
and the laird had probably been drawn into the quarrel by the ears, too
late to be included in the present skin-deep reconciliation.
"Kirstie," said Archie one day, "what is this you have against your
"I dinna complean," said Kirstie, with a flush. "I say naething."
"I see you do not - not even good-day to your own nephew," said he.
"I hae naething to be ashamed of," said she. "I can say the Lord's
prayer with a good grace. If Hob was ill, or in preeson or poverty, I
would see to him blithely. But for curtchying and complimenting and
colloguing, thank ye kindly!"
Archie had a bit of a smile: he leaned back in his chair. "I think you
and Mrs. Robert are not very good friends," says he slyly, "when you
have your India shawls on?"
She looked upon him in silence, with a sparkling eye but an
indecipherable expression; and that was all that Archie was ever
destined to learn of the battle of the India shawls.
"Do none of them ever come here to see you?" he inquired.
"Mr. Archie," said she, "I hope that I ken my place better. It would be
a queer thing, I think, if I was to clamjamfry up your faither's house -
that I should say it! - wi' a dirty, black-a-vised clan, no ane o' them
it was worth while to mar soap upon but just mysel'! Na, they're all
damnifeed wi' the black Ellwalds. I have nae patience wi' black folk."
Then, with a sudden consciousness of the case of Archie, "No that it
maitters for men sae muckle," she made haste to add, "but there's
naebody can deny that it's unwomanly. Long hair is the ornament o'
woman ony way; we've good warrandise for that - it's in the Bible - and
wha can doubt that the Apostle had some gowden-haired lassie in his mind
- Apostle and all, for what was he but just a man like yersel'?"
CHAPTER VI - A LEAF FROM CHRISTINA'S PSALM-BOOK
ARCHIE was sedulous at church. Sunday after Sunday he sat down and
stood up with that small company, heard the voice of Mr. Torrance
leaping like an ill-played clarionet from key to key, and had an
opportunity to study his moth-eaten gown and the black thread mittens
that he joined together in prayer, and lifted up with a reverent
solemnity in the act of benediction. Hermiston pew was a little square
box, dwarfish in proportion with the kirk itself, and enclosing a table
not much bigger than a footstool. There sat Archie, an apparent prince,
the only undeniable gentleman and the only great heritor in the parish,
taking his ease in the only pew, for no other in the kirk had doors.
Thence he might command an undisturbed view of that congregation of
solid plaided men, strapping wives and daughters, oppressed children,
and uneasy sheep-dogs. It was strange how Archie missed the look of
race; except the dogs, with their refined foxy faces and inimitably
curling tails, there was no one present with the least claim to
gentility. The Cauldstaneslap party was scarcely an exception; Dandie
perhaps, as he amused himself making verses through the interminable
burden of the service, stood out a little by the glow in his eye and a
certain superior animation of face and alertness of body; but even
Dandie slouched like a rustic. The rest of the congregation, like so
many sheep, oppressed him with a sense of hob-nailed routine, day
following day - of physical labour in the open air, oatmeal porridge,
peas bannock the somnolent fireside in the evening, and the night-long
nasal slumbers in a box-bed. Yet he knew many of them to be shrewd and
humorous, men of character, notable women, making a bustle in the world
and radiating an influence from their low-browed doors. He knew besides
they were like other men; below the crust of custom, rapture found a
way; he had heard them beat the timbrel before Bacchus - had heard them
shout and carouse over their whisky-toddy; and not the most Dutch-
bottomed and severe faces among them all, not even the solemn elders
themselves, but were capable of singular gambols at the voice of love.
Men drawing near to an end of life's adventurous journey - maids
thrilling with fear and curiosity on the threshold of entrance - women
who had borne and perhaps buried children, who could remember the
clinging of the small dead hands and the patter of the little feet now
silent - he marvelled that among all those faces there should be no face
of expectation, none that was mobile, none into which the rhythm and
poetry of life had entered. "O for a live face," he thought; and at
times he had a memory of Lady Flora; and at times he would study the
living gallery before him with despair, and would see himself go on to
waste his days in that joyless pastoral place, and death come to him,
and his grave be dug under the rowans, and the Spirit of the Earth laugh
out in a thunder-peal at the huge fiasco.
On this particular Sunday, there was no doubt but that the spring had
come at last. It was warm, with a latent shiver in the air that made
the warmth only the more welcome. The shallows of the stream glittered
and tinkled among bunches of primrose. Vagrant scents of the earth
arrested Archie by the way with moments of ethereal intoxication. The
grey Quakerish dale was still only awakened in places and patches from
the sobriety of its winter colouring; and he wondered at its beauty; an
essential beauty of the old earth it seemed to him, not resident in
particulars but breathing to him from the whole. He surprised himself
by a sudden impulse to write poetry - he did so sometimes, loose,
galloping octo-syllabics in the vein of Scott - and when he had taken
his place on a boulder, near some fairy falls and shaded by a whip of a
tree that was already radiant with new leaves, it still more surprised
him that he should have nothing to write. His heart perhaps beat in
time to some vast indwelling rhythm of the universe. By the time he
came to a corner of the valley and could see the kirk, he had so
lingered by the way that the first psalm was finishing. The nasal
psalmody, full of turns and trills and graceless graces, seemed the
essential voice of the kirk itself upraised in thanksgiving,
"Everything's alive," he said; and again cries it aloud, "thank God,
everything's alive!" He lingered yet a while in the kirk-yard. A tuft
of primroses was blooming hard by the leg of an old black table
tombstone, and he stopped to contemplate the random apologue. They
stood forth on the cold earth with a trenchancy of contrast; and he was
struck with a sense of incompleteness in the day, the season, and the
beauty that surrounded him - the chill there was in the warmth, the
gross black clods about the opening primroses, the damp earthy smell
that was everywhere intermingled with the scents. The voice of the aged
Torrance within rose in an ecstasy. And he wondered if Torrance also
felt in his old bones the joyous influence of the spring morning;
Torrance, or the shadow of what once was Torrance, that must come so
soon to lie outside here in the sun and rain with all his rheumatisms,
while a new minister stood in his room and thundered from his own
familiar pulpit? The pity of it, and something of the chill of the
grave, shook him for a moment as he made haste to enter.
He went up the aisle reverently, and took his place in the pew with
lowered eyes, for he feared he had already offended the kind old
gentleman in the pulpit, and was sedulous to offend no further. He
could not follow the prayer, not even the heads of it. Brightnesses
of azure, clouds of fragrance, a tinkle of falling water and singing
birds, rose like exhalations from some deeper, aboriginal memory, that
was not his, but belonged to the flesh on his bones. His body
remembered; and it seemed to him that his body was in no way gross,
but ethereal and perishable like a strain of music; and he felt for it
an exquisite tenderness as for a child, an innocent, full of beautiful
instincts and destined to an early death. And he felt for old Torrance
- of the many supplications, of the few days - a pity that was near to
tears. The prayer ended. Right over him was a tablet in the wall, the
only ornament in the roughly masoned chapel - for it was no more; the
tablet commemorated, I was about to say the virtues, but rather the
existence of a former Rutherford of Hermiston; and Archie, under that
trophy of his long descent and local greatness, leaned back in the pew
and contemplated vacancy with the shadow of a smile between playful and
sad, that became him strangely. Dandie's sister, sitting by the side of
Clem in her new Glasgow finery, chose that moment to observe the young
laird. Aware of the stir of his entrance, the little formalist had kept
her eyes fastened and her face prettily composed during the prayer. It
was not hypocrisy, there was no one further from a hypocrite. The girl
had been taught to behave: to look up, to look down, to look
unconscious, to look seriously impressed in church, and in every
conjuncture to look her best. That was the game of female life, and she
played it frankly. Archie was the one person in church who was of
interest, who was somebody new, reputed eccentric, known to be young,
and a laird, and still unseen by Christina. Small wonder that, as
she stood there in her attitude of pretty decency, her mind should run
upon him! If he spared a glance in her direction, he should know she
was a well-behaved young lady who had been to Glasgow. In reason he
must admire her clothes, and it was possible that he should think her
pretty. At that her heart beat the least thing in the world; and she
proceeded, by way of a corrective, to call up and dismiss a series of
fancied pictures of the young man who should now, by rights, be looking
at her. She settled on the plainest of them, - a pink short young man
with a dish face and no figure, at whose admiration she could afford to
smile; but for all that, the consciousness of his gaze (which was really
fixed on Torrance and his mittens) kept her in something of a flutter
till the word Amen. Even then, she was far too well-bred to gratify her
curiosity with any impatience. She resumed her seat languidly - this was
a Glasgow touch - she composed her dress, rearranged her nosegay of
primroses, looked first in front, then behind upon the other side, and
at last allowed her eyes to move, without hurry, in the direction of
the Hermiston pew. For a moment, they were riveted. Next she had
plucked her gaze home again like a tame bird who should have meditated
flight. Possibilities crowded on her; she hung over the future and grew
dizzy; the image of this young man, slim, graceful, dark, with the
inscrutable half-smile, attracted and repelled her like a chasm. "I
wonder, will I have met my fate?" she thought, and her heart swelled.
Torrance was got some way into his first exposition, positing a deep
layer of texts as he went along, laying the foundations of his
discourse, which was to deal with a nice point in divinity, before
Archie suffered his eyes to wander. They fell first of all on Clem,
looking insupportably prosperous, and patronising Torrance with the
favour of a modified attention, as of one who was used to better things
in Glasgow. Though he had never before set eyes on him, Archie had no
difficulty in identifying him, and no hesitation in pronouncing him
vulgar, the worst of the family. Clem was leaning lazily forward when
Archie first saw him. Presently he leaned nonchalantly back; and that
deadly instrument, the maiden, was suddenly unmasked in profile. Though
not quite in the front of the fashion (had anybody cared!), certain
artful Glasgow mantua-makers, and her own inherent taste, had arrayed
her to great advantage. Her accoutrement was, indeed, a cause of heart-
burning, and almost of scandal, in that infinitesimal kirk company.
Mrs. Hob had said her say at Cauldstaneslap. "Daft-like!" she had
pronounced it. "A jaiket that'll no meet! Whaur's the sense of a
jaiket that'll no button upon you, if it should come to be weet? What
do ye ca' thir things? Demmy brokens, d'ye say? They'll be brokens wi'
a vengeance or ye can win back! Weel, I have nae thing to do wi' it -
it's no good taste." Clem, whose purse had thus metamorphosed his
sister, and who was not insensible to the advertisement, had come to the
rescue with a "Hoot, woman! What do you ken of good taste that has
never been to the ceety?" And Hob, looking on the girl with pleased
smiles, as she timidly displayed her finery in the midst of the dark
kitchen, had thus ended the dispute: "The cutty looks weel," he had
said, "and it's no very like rain. Wear them the day, hizzie; but it's
no a thing to make a practice o'." In the breasts of her rivals, coming
to the kirk very conscious of white under-linen, and their faces
splendid with much soap, the sight of the toilet had raised a storm of
varying emotion, from the mere unenvious admiration that was expressed
in a long-drawn "Eh!" to the angrier feeling that found vent in an
emphatic "Set her up!" Her frock was of straw-coloured jaconet muslin,
cut low at the bosom and short at the ankle, so as to display her DEMI-
BROQUINS of Regency violet, crossing with many straps upon a yellow
cobweb stocking. According to the pretty fashion in which our
grandmothers did not hesitate to appear, and our great-aunts went forth
armed for the pursuit and capture of our great-uncles, the dress was
drawn up so as to mould the contour of both breasts, and in the nook
between, a cairngorm brooch maintained it. Here, too, surely in a very
enviable position, trembled the nosegay of primroses. She wore on her
shoulders - or rather on her back and not her shoulders, which it
scarcely passed - a French coat of sarsenet, tied in front with Margate
braces, and of the same colour with her violet shoes. About her face
clustered a disorder of dark ringlets, a little garland of yellow French
roses surmounted her brow, and the whole was crowned by a village hat of
chipped straw. Amongst all the rosy and all the weathered faces that
surrounded her in church, she glowed like an open flower - girl and
raiment, and the cairngorm that caught the daylight and returned it in a
fiery flash, and the threads of bronze and gold that played in her hair.
Archie was attracted by the bright thing like a child. He looked at her
again and yet again, and their looks crossed. The lip was lifted from
her little teeth. He saw the red blood work vividly under her tawny
skin. Her eye, which was great as a stag's, struck and held his gaze.
He knew who she must be - Kirstie, she of the harsh diminutive, his
housekeeper's niece, the sister of the rustic prophet, Gib - and he
found in her the answer to his wishes.
Christina felt the shock of their encountering glances, and seemed to
rise, clothed in smiles, into a region of the vague and bright. But the
gratification was not more exquisite than it was brief. She looked away
abruptly, and immediately began to blame herself for that abruptness.
She knew what she should have done, too late - turned slowly with her
nose in the air. And meantime his look was not removed, but continued
to play upon her like a battery of cannon constantly aimed, and now
seemed to isolate her alone with him, and now seemed to uplift her, as
on a pillory, before the congregation. For Archie continued to drink
her in with his eyes, even as a wayfarer comes to a well-head on a
mountain, and stoops his face, and drinks with thirst unassuageable. In
the cleft of her little breasts the fiery eye of the topaz and the pale
florets of primrose fascinated him. He saw the breasts heave, and the
flowers shake with the heaving, and marvelled what should so much
discompose the girl. And Christina was conscious of his gaze - saw it,
perhaps, with the dainty plaything of an ear that peeped among her
ringlets; she was conscious of changing colour, conscious of her
unsteady breath. Like a creature tracked, run down, surrounded, she
sought in a dozen ways to give herself a countenance. She used her
handkerchief - it was a really fine one - then she desisted in a panic:
"He would only think I was too warm." She took to reading in the
metrical psalms, and then remembered it was sermon-time. Last she put a
"sugar-bool" in her mouth, and the next moment repented of the step. It
was such a homely-like thing! Mr. Archie would never be eating sweeties
in kirk; and, with a palpable effort, she swallowed it whole, and her
colour flamed high. At this signal of distress Archie awoke to a sense
of his ill-behaviour. What had he been doing? He had been exquisitely
rude in church to the niece of his housekeeper; he had stared like a
lackey and a libertine at a beautiful and modest girl. It was possible,
it was even likely, he would be presented to her after service in the
kirk-yard, and then how was he to look? And there was no excuse. He
had marked the tokens of her shame, of her increasing indignation, and
he was such a fool that he had not understood them. Shame bowed him
down, and he looked resolutely at Mr. Torrance; who little supposed,
good, worthy man, as he continued to expound justification by faith,
what was his true business: to play the part of derivative to a pair of
children at the old game of falling in love.
Christina was greatly relieved at first. It seemed to her that she was
clothed again. She looked back on what had passed. All would have been
right if she had not blushed, a silly fool! There was nothing to blush
at, if she HAD taken a sugar-bool. Mrs. MacTaggart, the elder's wife in
St. Enoch's, took them often. And if he had looked at her, what was
more natural than that a young gentleman should look at the best-dressed
girl in church? And at the same time, she knew far otherwise, she knew
there was nothing casual or ordinary in the look, and valued herself on
its memory like a decoration. Well, it was a blessing he had found
something else to look at! And presently she began to have other
thoughts. It was necessary, she fancied, that she should put herself
right by a repetition of the incident, better managed. If the wish was
father to the thought, she did not know or she would not recognise it.
It was simply as a manoeuvre of propriety, as something called for to
lessen the significance of what had gone before, that she should a
second time meet his eyes, and this time without blushing. And at the
memory of the blush, she blushed again, and became one general blush
burning from head to foot. Was ever anything so indelicate, so forward,
done by a girl before? And here she was, making an exhibition of
herself before the congregation about nothing! She stole a glance upon
her neighbours, and behold! they were steadily indifferent, and Clem had
gone to sleep. And still the one idea was becoming more and more potent
with her, that in common prudence she must look again before the service
ended. Something of the same sort was going forward in the mind of
Archie, as he struggled with the load of penitence. So it chanced that,
in the flutter of the moment when the last psalm was given out, and
Torrance was reading the verse, and the leaves of every psalm-book in
church were rustling under busy fingers, two stealthy glances were sent
out like antennae among the pews and on the indifferent and absorbed
occupants, and drew timidly nearer to the straight line between Archie
and Christina. They met, they lingered together for the least fraction
of time, and that was enough. A charge as of electricity passed through
Christina, and behold! the leaf of her psalm-book was torn across.
Archie was outside by the gate of the graveyard, conversing with Hob and
the minister and shaking hands all round with the scattering
congregation, when Clem and Christina were brought up to be presented.
The laird took off his hat and bowed to her with grace and respect.
Christina made her Glasgow curtsey to the laird, and went on again up
the road for Hermiston and Cauldstaneslap, walking fast, breathing
hurriedly with a heightened colour, and in this strange frame of mind,
that when she was alone she seemed in high happiness, and when any one
addressed her she resented it like a contradiction. A part of the way
she had the company of some neighbour girls and a loutish young man;
never had they seemed so insipid, never had she made herself so
disagreeable. But these struck aside to their various destinations or
were out-walked and left behind; and when she had driven off with sharp
words the proffered convoy of some of her nephews and nieces, she was
free to go on alone up Hermiston brae, walking on air, dwelling
intoxicated among clouds of happiness. Near to the summit she heard
steps behind her, a man's steps, light and very rapid. She knew the
foot at once and walked the faster. "If it's me he's wanting, he can
run for it," she thought, smiling.
Archie overtook her like a man whose mind was made up.
"Miss Kirstie," he began.
"Miss Christina, if you please, Mr. Weir," she interrupted. "I canna
bear the contraction."
"You forget it has a friendly sound for me. Your aunt is an old friend
of mine, and a very good one. I hope we shall see much of you at
"My aunt and my sister-in-law doesna agree very well. Not that I have
much ado with it. But still when I'm stopping in the house, if I was to
be visiting my aunt, it would not look considerate-like."
"I am sorry," said Archie.
"I thank you kindly, Mr. Weir," she said. "I whiles think myself it's a
"Ah, I am sure your voice would always be for peace!" he cried.
"I wouldna be too sure of that," she said. "I have my days like other
folk, I suppose."
"Do you know, in our old kirk, among our good old grey dames, you made
an effect like sunshine."
"Ah, but that would be my Glasgow clothes!"
"I did not think I was so much under the influence of pretty frocks."
She smiled with a half look at him. "There's more than you!" she said.
"But you see I'm only Cinderella. I'll have to put all these things by
in my trunk; next Sunday I'll be as grey as the rest. They're Glasgow
clothes, you see, and it would never do to make a practice of it. It
would seem terrible conspicuous."
By that they were come to the place where their ways severed. The old
grey moors were all about them; in the midst a few sheep wandered; and
they could see on the one hand the straggling caravan scaling the braes
in front of them for Cauldstaneslap, and on the other, the contingent
from Hermiston bending off and beginning to disappear by detachments
into the policy gate. It was in these circumstances that they turned to
say farewell, and deliberately exchanged a glance as they shook hands.
All passed as it should, genteelly; and in Christina's mind, as she
mounted the first steep ascent for Cauldstaneslap, a gratifying sense of
triumph prevailed over the recollection of minor lapses and mistakes.
She had kilted her gown, as she did usually at that rugged pass; but
when she spied Archie still standing and gazing after her, the skirts
came down again as if by enchantment. Here was a piece of nicety for
that upland parish, where the matrons marched with their coats kilted in
the rain, and the lasses walked barefoot to kirk through the dust of
summer, and went bravely down by the burn-side, and sat on stones to
make a public toilet before entering! It was perhaps an air wafted from
Glasgow; or perhaps it marked a stage of that dizziness of gratified
vanity, in which the instinctive act passed unperceived. He was looking
after! She unloaded her bosom of a prodigious sigh that was all
pleasure, and betook herself to run. When she had overtaken the
stragglers of her family, she caught up the niece whom she had so
recently repulsed, and kissed and slapped her, and drove her away again,
and ran after her with pretty cries and laughter. Perhaps she thought
the laird might still be looking! But it chanced the little scene came
under the view of eyes less favourable; for she overtook Mrs. Hob
marching with Clem and Dand.
"You're shurely fey, lass!" quoth Dandie.
"Think shame to yersel', miss!" said the strident Mrs. Hob. "Is this
the gait to guide yersel' on the way hame frae kirk? You're shiirely
no sponsible the day! And anyway I would mind my guid claes."
"Hoot!" said Christina, and went on before them head in air, treading
the rough track with the tread of a wild doe.
She was in love with herself, her destiny, the air of the hills, the
benediction of the sun. All the way home, she continued under the
intoxication of these sky-scraping spirits. At table she could talk
freely of young Hermiston; gave her opinion of him off-hand and with a
loud voice, that he was a handsome young gentleman, real well mannered
and sensible-like, but it was a pity he looked doleful. Only - the
moment after - a memory of his eyes in church embarrassed her. But for
this inconsiderable check, all through meal-time she had a good
appetite, and she kept them laughing at table, until Gib (who had
returned before them from Crossmichael and his separative worship)
reproved the whole of them for their levity.
Singing "in to herself" as she went, her mind still in the turmoil of a
glad confusion, she rose and tripped upstairs to a little loft, lighted
by four panes in the gable, where she slept with one of her nieces. The
niece, who followed her, presuming on "Auntie's" high spirits, was
flounced out of the apartment with small ceremony, and retired, smarting
and half tearful, to bury her woes in the byre among the hay. Still
humming, Christina divested herself of her finery, and put her treasures
one by one in her great green trunk. The last of these was the psalm-book;
it was a fine piece, the gift of Mistress Clem, in distinct old-faced type,
on paper that had begun to grow foxy in the warehouse - not by service -
and she was used to wrap it in a handkerchief every Sunday after its
period of service was over, and bury it end-wise at the head of her
trunk. As she now took it in hand the book fell open where the leaf
was torn, and she stood and gazed upon that evidence of her bygone
discomposure. There returned again the vision of the two brown eyes
staring at her, intent and bright, out of that dark corner of the kirk.
The whole appearance and attitude, the smile, the suggested gesture of
young Hermiston came before her in a flash at the sight of the torn
page. "I was surely fey!" she said, echoing the words of Dandie, and
at the suggested doom her high spirits deserted her. She flung herself
prone upon the bed, and lay there, holding the psalm-book in her hands
for hours, for the more part in a mere stupor of unconsenting pleasure
and unreasoning fear. The fear was superstitious; there came up again
and again in her memory Dandie's ill-omened words, and a hundred grisly
and black tales out of the immediate neighbourhood read her a commentary
on their force. The pleasure was never realised. You might say the
joints of her body thought and remembered, and were gladdened, but her
essential self, in the immediate theatre of consciousness, talked
feverishly of something else, like a nervous person at a fire. The
image that she most complacently dwelt on was that of Miss Christina
in her character of the Fair Lass of Cauldstaneslap, carrying all before
her in the straw-coloured frock, the violet mantle, and the yellow cobweb
stockings. Archie's image, on the other hand, when it presented itself
was never welcomed - far less welcomed with any ardour, and it was exposed
at times to merciless criticism. In the long vague dialogues she held in
her mind, often with imaginary, often with unrealised interlocutors,
Archie, if he were referred to at all came in for savage handling. He
was described as "looking like a stork," "staring like a caulf," "a face
like a ghaist's." "Do you call that manners?" she said; or, "I soon put
him in his place." " `MISS CHRISTINA, IF YOU PLEASE, MR. WEIR!' says I,
and just flyped up my skirt tails." With gabble like this she would
entertain herself long whiles together, and then her eye would perhaps
fall on the torn leaf, and the eyes of Archie would appear again from
the darkness of the wall, and the voluble words deserted her, and she
would lie still and stupid, and think upon nothing with devotion, and be
sometimes raised by a quiet sigh. Had a doctor of medicine come into
that loft, he would have diagnosed a healthy, well-developed, eminently
vivacious lass lying on her face in a fit of the sulks; not one who had
just contracted, or was just contracting, a mortal sickness of the mind
which should yet carry her towards death and despair. Had it been a
doctor of psychology, he might have been pardoned for divining in the
girl a passion of childish vanity, self-love IN EXCELSIS, and no more.
It is to be understood that I have been painting chaos and describing
the inarticulate. Every lineament that appears is too precise, almost
every word used too strong. Take a finger-post in the mountains on a
day of rolling mists; I have but copied the names that appear upon the
pointers, the names of definite and famous cities far distant, and now
perhaps basking in sunshine; but Christina remained all these hours, as
it were, at the foot of the post itself, not moving, and enveloped in
mutable and blinding wreaths of haze.
The day was growing late and the sunbeams long and level, when she sat
suddenly up, and wrapped in its handkerchief and put by that psalm-book
which had already played a part so decisive in the first chapter of her
love-story. In the absence of the mesmerist's eye, we are told nowadays
that the head of a bright nail may fill his place, if it be steadfastly
regarded. So that torn page had riveted her attention on what might
else have been but little, and perhaps soon forgotten; while the ominous
words of Dandie - heard, not heeded, and still remembered - had lent to
her thoughts, or rather to her mood, a cast of solemnity, and that idea
of Fate - a pagan Fate, uncontrolled by any Christian deity, obscure,
lawless, and august - moving indissuadably in the affairs of Christian
men. Thus even that phenomenon of love at first sight, which is so rare
and seems so simple and violent, like a disruption of life's tissue, may
be decomposed into a sequence of accidents happily concurring.
She put on a grey frock and a pink kerchief, looked at herself a moment
with approval in the small square of glass that served her for a toilet
mirror, and went softly downstairs through the sleeping house that
resounded with the sound of afternoon snoring. Just outside the door,
Dandie was sitting with a book in his hand, not reading, only honouring
the Sabbath by a sacred vacancy of mind. She came near him and stood
"I'm for off up the muirs, Dandie," she said.
There was something unusually soft in her tones that made him look up.
She was pale, her eyes dark and bright; no trace remained of the levity
of the morning.
"Ay, lass? Ye'll have yer ups and downs like me, I'm thinkin'," he
"What for do ye say that?" she asked.
"O, for naething," says Dand. "Only I think ye're mair like me than the
lave of them. Ye've mair of the poetic temper, tho' Guid kens little
enough of the poetic taalent. It's an ill gift at the best. Look at
yoursel'. At denner you were all sunshine and flowers and laughter, and
now you're like the star of evening on a lake."
She drank in this hackneyed compliment like wine, and it glowed in her
"But I'm saying, Dand" - she came nearer him - "I'm for the muirs. I
must have a braith of air. If Clem was to be speiring for me, try and
quaiet him, will ye no?"
"What way?" said Dandie. "I ken but the ae way, and that's leein'."
I'll say ye had a sair heid, if ye like."
"But I havena," she objected.
"I daursay no," he returned. "I said I would say ye had; and if ye like
to nay-say me when ye come back, it'll no mateerially maitter, for my
chara'ter's clean gane a'ready past reca'."
"O, Dand, are ye a lecar?" she asked, lingering.
"Folks say sae," replied the bard.
"Wha says sae?" she pursued.
"Them that should ken the best," he responded. "The lassies, for ane."
"But, Dand, you would never lee to me?" she asked.
"I'll leave that for your pairt of it, ye girzie," said he. "Ye'll lee
to me fast eneuch, when ye hae gotten a jo. I'm tellin' ye and it's
true; when you have a jo, Miss Kirstie, it'll be for guid and ill. I
ken: I was made that way mysel', but the deil was in my luck! Here,
gang awa wi' ye to your muirs, and let me be; I'm in an hour of
inspiraution, ye upsetting tawpie!"
But she clung to her brother's neighbourhood, she knew not why.
"Will ye no gie's a kiss, Dand?" she said. "I aye likit ye fine."
He kissed her and considered her a moment; he found something strange in
her. But he was a libertine through and through, nourished equal
contempt and suspicion of all womankind, and paid his way among them
habitually with idle compliments.
"Gae wa' wi' ye!" said he. "Ye're a dentie baby, and be content wi'
That was Dandie's way; a kiss and a comfit to Jenny - a bawbee and my
blessing to Jill - and goodnight to the whole clan of ye, my dears!
When anything approached the serious, it became a matter for men, he
both thought and said. Women, when they did not absorb, were only
children to be shoo'd away. Merely in his character of connoisseur,
however, Dandie glanced carelessly after his sister as she crossed the
meadow. "The brat's no that bad!" he thought with surprise, for though
he had just been paying her compliments, he had not really looked at
her. "Hey! what's yon?" For the grey dress was cut with short sleeves
and skirts, and displayed her trim strong legs clad in pink stockings of
the same shade as the kerchief she wore round her shoulders, and that
shimmered as she went. This was not her way in undress; he knew her
ways and the ways of the whole sex in the country-side, no one better;
when they did not go barefoot, they wore stout "rig and furrow" woollen
hose of an invisible blue mostly, when they were not black outright; and
Dandie, at sight of this daintiness, put two and two together. It was a
silk handkerchief, then they would be silken hose; they matched - then
the whole outfit was a present of Clem's, a costly present, and not
something to be worn through bog and briar, or on a late afternoon of
Sunday. He whistled. "My denty May, either your heid's fair turned, or
there's some ongoings!" he observed, and dismissed the subject.
She went slowly at first, but ever straighter and faster for the
Cauldstaneslap, a pass among the hills to which the farm owed its name.
The Slap opened like a doorway between two rounded hillocks; and through
this ran the short cut to Hermiston. Immediately on the other side it
went down through the Deil's Hags, a considerable marshy hollow of the
hill tops, full of springs, and crouching junipers, and pools where the
black peat-water slumbered. There was no view from here. A man might
have sat upon the Praying Weaver's stone a half century, and seen none
but the Cauldstaneslap children twice in the twenty-four hours on their
way to the school and back again, an occasional shepherd, the irruption
of a clan of sheep, or the birds who haunted about the springs, drinking
and shrilly piping. So, when she had once passed the Slap, Kirstie was
received into seclusion. She looked back a last time at the farm. It
still lay deserted except for the figure of Dandie, who was now seen to
be scribbling in his lap, the hour of expected inspiration having come
to him at last. Thence she passed rapidly through the morass, and came
to the farther end of it, where a sluggish burn discharges, and the path
for Hermiston accompanies it on the beginning of its downward path.
From this corner a wide view was opened to her of the whole stretch of
braes upon the other side, still sallow and in places rusty with the
winter, with the path marked boldly, here and there by the burn-side a
tuft of birches, and - two miles off as the crow flies - from its
enclosures and young plantations, the windows of Hermiston glittering in
the western sun.
Here she sat down and waited, and looked for a long time at these far-
away bright panes of glass. It amused her to have so extended a view,
she thought. It amused her to see the house of Hermiston - to see
"folk"; and there was an indistinguishable human unit, perhaps the
gardener, visibly sauntering on the gravel paths.
By the time the sun was down and all the easterly braes lay plunged in
clear shadow, she was aware of another figure coming up the path at a
most unequal rate of approach, now half running, now pausing and seeming
to hesitate. She watched him at first with a total suspension of
thought. She held her thought as a person holds his breathing. Then
she consented to recognise him. "He'll no be coming here, he canna be;
it's no possible." And there began to grow upon her a subdued choking
suspense. He WAS coming; his hesitations had quite ceased, his step
grew firm and swift; no doubt remained; and the question loomed up
before her instant: what was she to do? It was all very well to say
that her brother was a laird himself: it was all very well to speak of
casual intermarriages and to count cousinship, like Auntie Kirstie. The
difference in their social station was trenchant; propriety, prudence,
all that she had ever learned, all that she knew, bade her flee. But on
the other hand the cup of life now offered to her was too enchanting.
For one moment, she saw the question clearly, and definitely made her
choice. She stood up and showed herself an instant in the gap relieved
upon the sky line; and the next, fled trembling and sat down glowing
with excitement on the Weaver's stone. She shut her eyes, seeking,
praying for composure. Her hand shook in her lap, and her mind was full
of incongruous and futile speeches. What was there to make a work
about? She could take care of herself, she supposed! There was no harm
in seeing the laird. It was the best thing that could happen. She
would mark a proper distance to him once and for all. Gradually the
wheels of her nature ceased to go round so madly, and she sat in passive
expectation, a quiet, solitary figure in the midst of the grey moss. I
have said she was no hypocrite, but here I am at fault. She never
admitted to herself that she had come up the hill to look for Archie.
And perhaps after all she did not know, perhaps came as a stone falls.
For the steps of love in the young, and especially in girls, are
instinctive and unconscious.
In the meantime Archie was drawing rapidly near, and he at least was
consciously seeking her neighbourhood. The afternoon had turned to
ashes in his mouth; the memory of the girl had kept him from reading and
drawn him as with cords; and at last, as the cool of the evening began
to come on, he had taken his hat and set forth, with a smothered
ejaculation, by the moor path to Cauldstaneslap. He had no hope to find
her; he took the off chance without expectation of result and to relieve
his uneasiness. The greater was his surprise, as he surmounted the
slope and came into the hollow of the Deil's Hags, to see there, like an
answer to his wishes, the little womanly figure in the grey dress and
the pink kerchief sitting little, and low, and lost, and acutely
solitary, in these desolate surroundings and on the weather-beaten stone
of the dead weaver. Those things that still smacked of winter were all
rusty about her, and those things that already relished of the spring
had put forth the tender and lively colours of the season. Even in the
unchanging face of the death-stone, changes were to be remarked; and in
the channeled lettering, the moss began to renew itself in jewels of
green. By an afterthought that was a stroke of art, she had turned up
over her head the back of the kerchief; so that it now framed becomingly
her vivacious and yet pensive face. Her feet were gathered under her on
the one side, and she leaned on her bare arm, which showed out strong
and round, tapered to a slim wrist, and shimmered in the fading light.
Young Hermiston was struck with a certain chill. He was reminded that
he now dealt in serious matters of life and death. This was a grown
woman he was approaching, endowed with her mysterious potencies and
attractions, the treasury of the continued race, and he was neither
better nor worse than the average of his sex and age. He had a certain
delicacy which had preserved him hitherto unspotted, and which (had
either of them guessed it) made him a more dangerous companion when his
heart should be really stirred. His throat was dry as he came near; but
the appealing sweetness of her smile stood between them like a guardian
For she turned to him and smiled, though without rising. There was a
shade in this cavalier greeting that neither of them perceived; neither
he, who simply thought it gracious and charming as herself; nor yet she,
who did not observe (quick as she was) the difference between rising to
meet the laird, and remaining seated to receive the expected admirer.
"Are ye stepping west, Hermiston?" said she, giving him his territorial
name after the fashion of the country-side.
"I was," said he, a little hoarsely, "but I think I will be about the
end of my stroll now. Are you like me, Miss Christina? The house would
not hold me. I came here seeking air."
He took his seat at the other end of the tombstone and studied her,
wondering what was she. There was infinite import in the question alike
for her and him.
"Ay," she said. "I couldna bear the roof either. It's a habit of mine
to come up here about the gloaming when it's quaiet and caller."
"It was a habit of my mother's also," he said gravely. The recollection
half startled him as he expressed it. He looked around. "I have scarce
been here since. It's peaceful," he said, with a long breath.
"It's no like Glasgow," she replied. "A weary place, yon Glasgow! But
what a day have I had for my homecoming, and what a bonny evening!"
"Indeed, it was a wonderful day," said Archie. "I think I will remember
it years and years until I come to die. On days like this - I do not
know if you feel as I do - but everything appears so brief, and fragile,
and exquisite, that I am afraid to touch life. We are here for so short
a time; and all the old people before us - Rutherfords of Hermiston,
Elliotts of the Cauldstaneslap - that were here but a while since riding
about and keeping up a great noise in this quiet corner - making love
too, and marrying - why, where are they now? It's deadly commonplace,
but, after all, the commonplaces are the great poetic truths."
He was sounding her, semi-consciously, to see if she could understand
him; to learn if she were only an animal the colour of flowers, or had a
soul in her to keep her sweet. She, on her part, her means well in
hand, watched, womanlike, for any opportunity to shine, to abound in his
humour, whatever that might be. The dramatic artist, that lies dormant
or only half awake in most human beings, had in her sprung to his feet
in a divine fury, and chance had served her well. She looked upon him
with a subdued twilight look that became the hour of the day and the
train of thought; earnestness shone through her like stars in the purple
west; and from the great but controlled upheaval of her whole nature
there passed into her voice, and rang in her lightest words, a thrill of
"Have you mind of Dand's song?" she answered. "I think he'll have been
trying to say what you have been thinking."
"No, I never heard it," he said. "Repeat it to me, can you?"
"It's nothing wanting the tune," said Kirstie.
"Then sing it me," said he.
"On the Lord's Day? That would never do, Mr. Weir!"
"I am afraid I am not so strict a keeper of the Sabbath, and there is no
one in this place to hear us, unless the poor old ancient under the
"No that I'm thinking that really," she said. "By my way of thinking,
it's just as serious as a psalm. Will I sooth it to ye, then?"
"If you please," said he, and, drawing near to her on the tombstone,
prepared to listen.
She sat up as if to sing. "I'll only can sooth it to ye," she explained.
"I wouldna like to sing out loud on the Sabbath. I think the birds
would carry news of it to Gilbert," and she smiled. "It's about the
Elliotts," she continued, "and I think there's few bonnier bits in the
book-poets, though Dand has never got printed yet."
And she began, in the low, clear tones of her half voice, now sinking
almost to a whisper, now rising to a particular note which was her best,
and which Archie learned to wait for with growing emotion:-
"O they rade in the rain, in the days that are gane,
In the rain and the wind and the lave,
They shoutit in the ha' and they routit on the hill,
But they're a' quaitit noo in the grave.
Auld, auld Elliotts, clay-cauld Elliotts, dour, bauld Elliotte of auld!"
All the time she sang she looked steadfastly before her, her knees
straight, her hands upon her knee, her head cast back and up. The
expression was admirable throughout, for had she not learned it from the
lips and under the criticism of the author? When it was done, she
turned upon Archie a face softly bright, and eyes gently suffused and
shining in the twilight, and his heart rose and went out to her with
boundless pity and sympathy. His question was answered. She was a
human being tuned to a sense of the tragedy of life; there were pathos
and music and a great heart in the girl.
He arose instinctively, she also; for she saw she had gained a point,
and scored the impression deeper, and she had wit enough left to flee
upon a victory. They were but commonplaces that remained to be
exchanged, but the low, moved voices in which they passed made them
sacred in the memory. In the falling greyness of the evening he watched
her figure winding through the morass, saw it turn a last time and wave
a hand, and then pass through the Slap; and it seemed to him as if
something went along with her out of the deepest of his heart. And
something surely had come, and come to dwell there. He had retained
from childhood a picture, now half obliterated by the passage of time
and the multitude of fresh impressions, of his mother telling him, with
the fluttered earnestness of her voice, and often with dropping tears,
the tale of the "Praying Weaver," on the very scene of his brief tragedy
and long repose. And now there was a companion piece; and he beheld,
and he should behold for ever, Christina perched on the same tomb, in
the grey colours of the evening, gracious, dainty, perfect as a flower,
and she also singing-
"Of old, unhappy far off things,
And battles long ago,"
of their common ancestors now dead, of their rude wars composed, their
weapons buried with them, and of these strange changelings, their
descendants, who lingered a little in their places, and would soon be
gone also, and perhaps sung of by others at the gloaming hour. By one
of the unconscious arts of tenderness the two women were enshrined
together in his memory. Tears, in that hour of sensibility, came into
his eyes indifferently at the thought of either; and the girl, from
being something merely bright and shapely, was caught up into the zone
of things serious as life and death and his dead mother. So that in all
ways and on either side, Fate played his game artfully with this poor
pair of children. The generations were prepared, the pangs were made
ready, before the curtain rose on the dark drama.
In the same moment of time that she disappeared from Archie, there
opened before Kirstie's eyes the cup-like hollow in which the farm lay.
She saw, some five hundred feet below her, the house making itself
bright with candles, and this was a broad hint to her to hurry. For
they were only kindled on a Sabbath night with a view to that family
worship which rounded in the incomparable tedium of the day and brought
on the relaxation of supper. Already she knew that Robert must be
within-sides at the head of the table, "waling the portions"; for it was
Robert in his quality of family priest and judge, not the gifted
Gilbert, who officiated. She made good time accordingly down the steep
ascent, and came up to the door panting as the three younger brothers,
all roused at last from slumber, stood together in the cool and the dark
of the evening with a fry of nephews and nieces about them, chatting and
awaiting the expected signal. She stood back; she had no mind to direct
attention to her late arrival or to her labouring breath.
"Kirstie, ye have shaved it this time, my lass?" said Clem. "Whaur were
"O, just taking a dander by mysel'," said Kirstie.
And the talk continued on the subject of the American War, without
further reference to the truant who stood by them in the covert of the
dusk, thrilling with happiness and the sense of guilt.
The signal was given, and the brothers began to go in one after another,
amid the jostle and throng of Hob's children.
Only Dandie, waiting till the last, caught Kirstie by the arm. "When
did ye begin to dander in pink hosen, Mistress Elliott?" he whispered
She looked down; she was one blush. "I maun have forgotten to change
them," said she; and went into prayers in her turn with a troubled mind,
between anxiety as to whether Dand should have observed her yellow
stockings at church, and should thus detect her in a palpable falsehood,
and shame that she had already made good his prophecy. She remembered
the words of it, how it was to be when she had gotten a jo, and that
that would be for good and evil. "Will I have gotten my jo now?" she
thought with a secret rapture.
And all through prayers, where it was her principal business to conceal
the pink stockings from the eyes of the indifferent Mrs. Hob - and all
through supper, as she made a feint of eating and sat at the table
radiant and constrained - and again when she had left them and come into
her chamber, and was alone with her sleeping niece, and could at last
lay aside the armour of society - the same words sounded within her, the
same profound note of happiness, of a world all changed and renewed, of
a day that had been passed in Paradise, and of a night that was to be
heaven opened. All night she seemed to be conveyed smoothly upon a
shallow stream of sleep and waking, and through the bowers of Beulah;
all night she cherished to her heart that exquisite hope; and if,
towards morning, she forgot it a while in a more profound
unconsciousness, it was to catch again the rainbow thought with her
first moment of awaking.
CHAPTER VII - ENTER MEPHISTOPHELES
TWO days later a gig from Crossmichael deposited Frank Innes at the
doors of Hermiston. Once in a way, during the past winter, Archie, in
some acute phase of boredom, had written him a letter. It had contained
something in the nature of an invitation or a reference to an invitation
- precisely what, neither of them now remembered. When Innes had
received it, there had been nothing further from his mind than to bury
himself in the moors with Archie; but not even the most acute political
heads are guided through the steps of life with unerring directness.
That would require a gift of prophecy which has been denied to man. For
instance, who could have imagined that, not a month after he had
received the letter, and turned it into mockery, and put off answering
it, and in the end lost it, misfortunes of a gloomy cast should begin to
thicken over Frank's career? His case may be briefly stated. His
father, a small Morayshire laird with a large family, became
recalcitrant and cut off the supplies; he had fitted himself out with
the beginnings of quite a good law library, which, upon some sudden
losses on the turf, he had been obliged to sell before they were paid
for; and his bookseller, hearing some rumour of the event, took out a
warrant for his arrest. Innes had early word of it, and was able to
take precautions. In this immediate welter of his affairs, with an
unpleasant charge hanging over him, he had judged it the part of
prudence to be off instantly, had written a fervid letter to his father
at Inverauld, and put himself in the coach for Crossmichael. Any port
in a storm! He was manfully turning his back on the Parliament House
and its gay babble, on porter and oysters, the race-course and the ring;
and manfully prepared, until these clouds should have blown by, to share
a living grave with Archie Weir at Hermiston.
To do him justice, he was no less surprised to be going than Archie was
to see him come; and he carried off his wonder with an infinitely better
"Well, here I am!" said he, as he alighted. "Pylades has come to
Orestes at last. By the way, did you get my answer? No? How very
provoking! Well, here I am to answer for myself, and that's better
"I am very glad to see you, of course," said Archie. "I make you
heartily welcome, of course. But you surely have not come to stay, with
the Courts still sitting; is that not most unwise?"
"Damn the Courts!" says Frank. "What are the Courts to friendship and a
And so it was agreed that he was to stay, with no term to the visit but
the term which he had privily set to it himself - the day, namely, when
his father should have come down with the dust, and he should be able to
pacify the bookseller. On such vague conditions there began for these
two young men (who were not even friends) a life of great familiarity
and, as the days drew on, less and less intimacy. They were together at
meal times, together o' nights when the hour had come for whisky-toddy;
but it might have been noticed (had there been any one to pay heed) that
they were rarely so much together by day. Archie had Hermiston to
attend to, multifarious activities in the hills, in which he did not
require, and had even refused, Frank's escort. He would be off
sometimes in the morning and leave only a note on the breakfast table to
announce the fact; and sometimes, with no notice at all, he would not
return for dinner until the hour was long past. Innes groaned under
these desertions; it required all his philosophy to sit down to a
solitary breakfast with composure, and all his unaffected good-nature to
be able to greet Archie with friendliness on the more rare occasions
when he came home late for dinner.
"I wonder what on earth he finds to do, Mrs. Elliott?" said he one
morning, after he had just read the hasty billet and sat down to table.
"I suppose it will be business, sir," replied the housekeeper drily,
measuring his distance off to him by an indicated curtsy.
"But I can't imagine what business!" he reiterated.
"I suppose it will be HIS business," retorted the austere Kirstie.
He turned to her with that happy brightness that made the charm of his
disposition, and broke into a peal of healthy and natural laughter.
"Well played, Mrs. Elliott!" he cried; and the housekeeper's face
relaxed into the shadow of an iron smile. "Well played indeed!" said
he. "But you must not be making a stranger of me like that. Why,
Archie and I were at the High School together, and we've been to college
together, and we were going to the Bar together, when - you know! Dear,
dear me! what a pity that was! A life spoiled, a fine young fellow as
good as buried here in the wilderness with rustics; and all for what? A
frolic, silly, if you like, but no more. God, how good your scones are,
"They're no mines, it was the lassie made them," said Kirstie; "and,
saving your presence, there's little sense in taking the Lord's name in
vain about idle vivers that you fill your kyte wi'."
"I daresay you're perfectly right, ma'am," quoth the imperturbable
Frank. "But as I was saying, this is a pitiable business, this about
poor Archie; and you and I might do worse than put our heads together,
like a couple of sensible people, and bring it to an end. Let me tell
you, ma'am, that Archie is really quite a promising young man, and in my
opinion he would do well at the Bar. As for his father, no one can deny
his ability, and I don't fancy any one would care to deny that he has
the deil's own temper - "
"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Innes, I think the lass is crying on me," said
Kirstie, and flounced from the room.
"The damned, cross-grained, old broomstick!" ejaculated Innes.
In the meantime, Kirstie had escaped into the kitchen, and before her
vassal gave vent to her feelings.
"Here, ettercap! Ye'll have to wait on yon Innes! I canna haud myself
in. `Puir Erchie!' I'd `puir Erchie' him, if I had my way! And
Hermiston with the deil's ain temper! God, let him take Hermiston's
scones out of his mouth first. There's no a hair on ayther o' the Weirs
that hasna mair spunk and dirdum to it than what he has in his hale
dwaibly body! Settin' up his snash to me! Let him gang to the black
toon where he's mebbe wantit - birling in a curricle - wi' pimatum on
his heid - making a mess o' himsel' wi' nesty hizzies - a fair
disgrace!" It was impossible to hear without admiration Kirstie's
graduated disgust, as she brought forth, one after another, these
somewhat baseless charges. Then she remembered her immediate purpose,
and turned again on her fascinated auditor. "Do ye no hear me, tawpie?
Do ye no hear what I'm tellin' ye? Will I have to shoo ye in to him?
If I come to attend to ye, mistress!" And the maid fled the kitchen,
which had become practically dangerous, to attend on Innes' wants in the
TANTAENE IRAE? Has the reader perceived the reason? Since Frank's
coming there were no more hours of gossip over the supper tray! All his
blandishments were in vain; he had started handicapped on the race for
Mrs. Elliott's favour.
But it was a strange thing how misfortune dogged him in his efforts to
be genial. I must guard the reader against accepting Kirstie's epithets
as evidence; she was more concerned for their vigour than for their
accuracy. Dwaibly, for instance; nothing could be more calumnious.
Frank was the very picture of good looks, good humour, and manly youth.
He had bright eyes with a sparkle and a dance to them, curly hair, a
charming smile, brilliant teeth, an admirable carriage of the head, the
look of a gentleman, the address of one accustomed to please at first
sight and to improve the impression. And with all these advantages, he
failed with every one about Hermiston; with the silent shepherd, with
the obsequious grieve, with the groom who was also the ploughman, with
the gardener and the gardener's sister - a pious, down-hearted woman
with a shawl over her ears - he failed equally and flatly. They did not
like him, and they showed it. The little maid, indeed, was an
exception; she admired him devoutly, probably dreamed of him in her
private hours; but she was accustomed to play the part of silent auditor
to Kirstie's tirades and silent recipient of Kirstie's buffets, and she
had learned not only to be a very capable girl of her years, but a very
secret and prudent one besides. Frank was thus conscious that he had
one ally and sympathiser in the midst of that general union of disfavour
that surrounded, watched, and waited on him in the house of Hermiston;
but he had little comfort or society from that alliance, and the demure
little maid (twelve on her last birthday) preserved her own counsel, and
tripped on his service, brisk, dumbly responsive, but inexorably
unconversational. For the others, they were beyond hope and beyond
endurance. Never had a young Apollo been cast among such rustic
barbarians. But perhaps the cause of his ill-success lay in one trait
which was habitual and unconscious with him, yet diagnostic of the man.
It was his practice to approach any one person at the expense of some
one else. He offered you an alliance against the some one else; he
flattered you by slighting him; you were drawn into a small intrigue
against him before you knew how. Wonderful are the virtues of this
process generally; but Frank's mistake was in the choice of the some one
else. He was not politic in that; he listened to the voice of
irritation. Archie had offended him at first by what he had felt to be
rather a dry reception, had offended him since by his frequent absences.
He was besides the one figure continually present in Frank's eye; and it
was to his immediate dependants that Frank could offer the snare of his
sympathy. Now the truth is that the Weirs, father and son, were
surrounded by a posse of strenuous loyalists. Of my lord they were
vastly proud. It was a distinction in itself to be one of the vassals
of the "Hanging Judge," and his gross, formidable joviality was far from
unpopular in the neighbourhood of his home. For Archie they had, one
and all, a sensitive affection and respect which recoiled from a word of
Nor was Frank more successful when he went farther afield. To the Four
Black Brothers, for instance, he was antipathetic in the highest degree.
Hob thought him too light, Gib too profane. Clem, who saw him but for a
day or two before he went to Glasgow, wanted to know what the fule's
business was, and whether he meant to stay here all session time!
"Yon's a drone," he pronounced. As for Dand, it will be enough to
describe their first meeting, when Frank had been whipping a river and
the rustic celebrity chanced to come along the path.
"I'm told you're quite a poet," Frank had said.
"Wha tell't ye that, mannie?" had been the unconciliating answer.
"O, everybody!" says Frank.
"God! Here's fame!" said the sardonic poet, and he had passed on his
Come to think of it, we have here perhaps a truer explanation of Frank's
failures. Had he met Mr. Sheriff Scott he could have turned a neater
compliment, because Mr. Scott would have been a friend worth making.
Dand, on the other hand, he did not value sixpence, and he showed it
even while he tried to flatter. Condescension is an excellent thing,
but it is strange how one-sided the pleasure of it is! He who goes
fishing among the Scots peasantry with condescension for a bait will
have an empty basket by evening.
In proof of this theory Frank made a great success of it at the
Crossmichael Club, to which Archie took him immediately on his arrival;
his own last appearance on that scene of gaiety. Frank was made welcome
there at once, continued to go regularly, and had attended a meeting (as
the members ever after loved to tell) on the evening before his death.
Young Hay and young Pringle appeared again. There was another supper at
Windiclaws, another dinner at Driffel; and it resulted in Frank being
taken to the bosom of the county people as unreservedly as he had been
repudiated by the country folk. He occupied Hermiston after the manner
of an invader in a conquered capital. He was perpetually issuing from
it, as from a base, to toddy parties, fishing parties, and dinner
parties, to which Archie was not invited, or to which Archie would not
go. It was now that the name of The Recluse became general for the
young man. Some say that Innes invented it; Innes, at least, spread it
"How's all with your Recluse to-day?" people would ask.
"O, reclusing away!" Innes would declare, with his bright air of saying
something witty; and immediately interrupt the general laughter which he
had provoked much more by his air than his words, "Mind you, it's all
very well laughing, but I'm not very well pleased. Poor Archie is a
good fellow, an excellent fellow, a fellow I always liked. I think it
small of him to take his little disgrace so hard, and shut himself up.
'Grant that it is a ridiculous story, painfully ridiculous,' I keep
telling him. 'Be a man! Live it down, man!' But not he. Of course,
it's just solitude, and shame, and all that. But I confess I'm
beginning to fear the result. It would be all the pities in the world
if a really promising fellow like Weir was to end ill. I'm seriously
tempted to write to Lord Hermiston, and put it plainly to him."
"I would if I were you," some of his auditors would say, shaking the
head, sitting bewildered and confused at this new view of the matter, so
deftly indicated by a single word. "A capital idea!" they would add,
and wonder at the APLOMB and position of this young man, who talked as a
matter of course of writing to Hermiston and correcting him upon his
And Frank would proceed, sweetly confidential: "I'll give you an idea,
now. He's actually sore about the way that I'm received and he's left
out in the county - actually jealous and sore. I've rallied him and
I've reasoned with him, told him that every one was most kindly inclined
towards him, told him even that I was received merely because I was his
guest. But it's no use. He will neither accept the invitations he
gets, nor stop brooding about the ones where he's left out. What I'm
afraid of is that the wound's ulcerating. He had always one of those
dark, secret, angry natures - a little underhand and plenty of bile -
you know the sort. He must have inherited it from the Weirs, whom I
suspect to have been a worthy family of weavers somewhere; what's the
cant phrase? - sedentary occupation. It's precisely the kind of
character to go wrong in a false position like what his father's made
for him, or he's making for himself, whichever you like to call it. And
for my part, I think it a disgrace," Frank would say generously.
Presently the sorrow and anxiety of this disinterested friend took
shape. He began in private, in conversations of two, to talk vaguely of
bad habits and low habits. "I must say I'm afraid he's going wrong
altogether," he would say. "I'll tell you plainly, and between
ourselves, I scarcely like to stay there any longer; only, man, I'm
positively afraid to leave him alone. You'll see, I shall be blamed for
it later on. I'm staying at a great sacrifice. I'm hindering my
chances at the Bar, and I can't blind my eyes to it. And what I'm
afraid of is that I'm going to get kicked for it all round before all's
done. You see, nobody believes in friendship nowadays."
"Well, Innes," his interlocutor would reply, "it's very good of you, I
must say that. If there's any blame going, you'll always be sure of MY
good word, for one thing."
"Well," Frank would continue, "candidly, I don't say it's pleasant. He
has a very rough way with him; his father's son, you know. I don't say
he's rude - of course, I couldn't be expected to stand that - but he
steers very near the wind. No, it's not pleasant; but I tell ye, man,
in conscience I don't think it would be fair to leave him. Mind you, I
don't say there's anything actually wrong. What I say is that I don't
like the looks of it, man!" and he would press the arm of his momentary
In the early stages I am persuaded there was no malice. He talked but
for the pleasure of airing himself. He was essentially glib, as becomes
the young advocate, and essentially careless of the truth, which is the
mark of the young ass; and so he talked at random. There was no
particular bias, but that one which is indigenous and universal, to
flatter himself and to please and interest the present friend. And by
thus milling air out of his mouth, he had presently built up a
presentation of Archie which was known and talked of in all corners of
the county. Wherever there was a residential house and a walled garden,
wherever there was a dwarfish castle and a park, wherever a quadruple
cottage by the ruins of a peel-tower showed an old family going down,
and wherever a handsome villa with a carriage approach and a shrubbery
marked the coming up of a new one - probably on the wheels of machinery
- Archie began to be regarded in the light of a dark, perhaps a vicious
mystery, and the future developments of his career to be looked for with
uneasiness and confidential whispering. He had done something
disgraceful, my dear. What, was not precisely known, and that good kind
young man, Mr. Innes, did his best to make light of it. But there it
was. And Mr. Innes was very anxious about him now; he was really
uneasy, my dear; he was positively wrecking his own prospects because he
dared not leave him alone. How wholly we all lie at the mercy of a
single prater, not needfully with any malign purpose! And if a man but
talks of himself in the right spirit, refers to his virtuous actions by
the way, and never applies to them the name of virtue, how easily his
evidence is accepted in the court of public opinion!
All this while, however, there was a more poisonous ferment at work
between the two lads, which came late indeed to the surface, but had
modified and magnified their dissensions from the first. To an idle,
shallow, easy-going customer like Frank, the smell of a mystery was
attractive. It gave his mind something to play with, like a new toy to
a child; and it took him on the weak side, for like many young men
coming to the Bar, and before they had been tried and found wanting, he
flattered himself he was a fellow of unusual quickness and penetration.
They knew nothing of Sherlock Holmes in those days, but there was a good
deal said of Talleyrand. And if you could have caught Frank off his
guard, he would have confessed with a smirk that, if he resembled any
one, it was the Marquis de Talleyrand-Perigord. It was on the occasion
of Archie's first absence that this interest took root. It was vastly
deepened when Kirstie resented his curiosity at breakfast, and that same
afternoon there occurred another scene which clinched the business. He
was fishing Swingleburn, Archie accompanying him, when the latter looked
at his watch.
"Well, good-bye," said he. "I have something to do. See you at
"Don't be in such a hurry," cries Frank. "Hold on till I get my rod up.
I'll go with you; I'm sick of flogging this ditch."
And he began to reel up his line.
Archie stood speechless. He took a long while to recover his wits under
this direct attack; but by the time he was ready with his answer, and
the angle was almost packed up, he had become completely Weir, and the
hanging face gloomed on his young shoulders. He spoke with a laboured
composure, a laboured kindness even; but a child could see that his mind
was made up.
"I beg your pardon, Innes; I don't want to be disagreeable, but let us
understand one another from the beginning. When I want your company,
I'll let you know."
"O!" cries Frank, "you don't want my company, don't you?"
"Apparently not just now," replied Archie. "I even indicated to you
when I did, if you'll remember - and that was at dinner. If we two
fellows are to live together pleasantly - and I see no reason why we
should not - it can only be by respecting each other's privacy. If we
begin intruding - "
"O, come! I'll take this at no man's hands. Is this the way you treat
a guest and an old friend?" cried Innes.
"Just go home and think over what I said by yourself," continued Archie,
"whether it's reasonable, or whether it's really offensive or not; and
let's meet at dinner as though nothing had happened, I'll put it this
way, if you like - that I know my own character, that I'm looking
forward (with great pleasure, I assure you) to a long visit from you,
and that I'm taking precautions at the first. I see the thing that we -
that I, if you like - might fall out upon, and I step in and OBSTO
PRINCIPIIS. I wager you five pounds you'll end by seeing that I mean
friendliness, and I assure you, Francie, I do," he added, relenting.
Bursting with anger, but incapable of speech, Innes shouldered his rod,
made a gesture of farewell, and strode off down the burn-side. Archie
watched him go without moving. He was sorry, but quite unashamed. He
hated to be inhospitable, but in one thing he was his father's son. He
had a strong sense that his house was his own and no man else's; and to
lie at a guest's mercy was what he refused. He hated to seem harsh.
But that was Frank's lookout. If Frank had been commonly discreet, he
would have been decently courteous. And there was another
consideration. The secret he was protecting was not his own merely; it
was hers: it belonged to that inexpressible she who was fast taking
possession of his soul, and whom he would soon have defended at the cost
of burning cities. By the time he had watched Frank as far as the
Swingleburn-foot, appearing and disappearing in the tarnished heather,
still stalking at a fierce gait but already dwindled in the distance
into less than the smallness of Lilliput, he could afford to smile at
the occurrence. Either Frank would go, and that would be a relief - or
he would continue to stay, and his host must continue to endure him.
And Archie was now free - by devious paths, behind hillocks and in the
hollow of burns - to make for the trysting-place where Kirstie, cried
about by the curlew and the plover, waited and burned for his coming by
the Covenanter's stone.
Innes went off down-hill in a passion of resentment, easy to be
understood, but which yielded progressively to the needs of his
situation. He cursed Archie for a cold-hearted, unfriendly, rude, rude
dog; and himself still more passionately for a fool in having come to
Hermiston when he might have sought refuge in almost any other house in
Scotland. But the step once taken, was practically irretrievable. He
had no more ready money to go anywhere else; he would have to borrow
from Archie the next club-night; and ill as he thought of his host's
manners, he was sure of his practical generosity. Frank's resemblance
to Talleyrand strikes me as imaginary; but at least not Talleyrand
himself could have more obediently taken his lesson from the facts. He
met Archie at dinner without resentment, almost with cordiality. You
must take your friends as you find them, he would have said. Archie
couldn't help being his father's son, or his grandfather's, the
hypothetical weaver's, grandson. The son of a hunks, he was still a
hunks at heart, incapable of true generosity and consideration; but he
had other qualities with which Frank could divert himself in the
meanwhile, and to enjoy which it was necessary that Frank should keep
So excellently was it controlled that he awoke next morning with his
head full of a different, though a cognate subject. What was Archie's
little game? Why did he shun Frank's company? What was he keeping
secret? Was he keeping tryst with somebody, and was it a woman? It
would be a good joke and a fair revenge to discover. To that task he
set himself with a great deal of patience, which might have surprised
his friends, for he had been always credited not with patience so much
as brilliancy; and little by little, from one point to another, he at
last succeeded in piecing out the situation. First he remarked that,
although Archie set out in all the directions of the compass, he always
came home again from some point between the south and west. From the
study of a map, and in consideration of the great expanse of untenanted
moorland running in that direction towards the sources of the Clyde, he
laid his finger on Cauldstaneslap and two other neighbouring farms,
Kingsmuirs and Polintarf. But it was difficult to advance farther.
With his rod for a pretext, he vainly visited each of them in turn;
nothing was to be seen suspicious about this trinity of moorland
settlements. He would have tried to follow Archie, had it been the
least possible, but the nature of the land precluded the idea. He did
the next best, ensconced himself in a quiet corner, and pursued his
movements with a telescope. It was equally in vain, and he soon wearied
of his futile vigilance, left the telescope at home, and had almost
given the matter up in despair, when, on the twenty-seventh day of his
visit, he was suddenly confronted with the person whom he sought. The
first Sunday Kirstie had managed to stay away from kirk on some pretext
of indisposition, which was more truly modesty; the pleasure of
beholding Archie seeming too sacred, too vivid for that public place.
On the two following, Frank had himself been absent on some of his
excursions among the neighbouring families. It was not until the
fourth, accordingly, that Frank had occasion to set eyes on the
enchantress. With the first look, all hesitation was over. She came
with the Cauldstaneslap party; then she lived at Cauldstaneslap. Here
was Archie's secret, here was the woman, and more than that - though I
have need here of every manageable attenuation of language - with the
first look, he had already entered himself as rival. It was a good deal
in pique, it was a little in revenge, it was much in genuine admiration:
the devil may decide the proportions! I cannot, and it is very likely
that Frank could not.
"Mighty attractive milkmaid," he observed, on the way home.
"Who?" said Archie.
"O, the girl you're looking at - aren't you? Forward there on the road.
She came attended by the rustic bard; presumably, therefore, belongs to
his exalted family. The single objection! for the four black brothers
are awkward customers. If anything were to go wrong, Gib would gibber,
and Clem would prove inclement; and Dand fly in danders, and Hob blow up
in gobbets. It would be a Helliott of a business!"
"Very humorous, I am sure," said Archie.
"Well, I am trying to be so," said Frank. "It's none too easy in this
place, and with your solemn society, my dear fellow. But confess that
the milkmaid has found favour in your eyes, or resign all claim to be a
man of taste."
"It is no matter," returned Archie.
But the other continued to look at him, steadily and quizzically, and
his colour slowly rose and deepened under the glance, until not
impudence itself could have denied that he was blushing. And at this
Archie lost some of his control. He changed his stick from one hand to
the other, and - "O, for God's sake, don't be an ass!" he cried.
"Ass? That's the retort delicate without doubt," says Frank. "Beware
of the homespun brothers, dear. If they come into the dance, you'll see
who's an ass. Think now, if they only applied (say) a quarter as much
talent as I have applied to the question of what Mr. Archie does with
his evening hours, and why he is so unaffectedly nasty when the
subject's touched on - "
"You are touching on it now," interrupted Archie with a wince.
"Thank you. That was all I wanted, an articulate confession," said
"I beg to remind you - " began Archie.
But he was interrupted in turn. "My dear fellow, don't. It's quite
needless. The subject's dead and buried."
And Frank began to talk hastily on other matters, an art in which he was
an adept, for it was his gift to be fluent on anything or nothing. But
although Archie had the grace or the timidity to suffer him to rattle
on, he was by no means done with the subject. When he came home to
dinner, he was greeted with a sly demand, how things were looking
"Cauldstaneslap ways." Frank took his first glass of port out after
dinner to the toast of Kirstie, and later in the evening he returned to
the charge again.
"I say, Weir, you'll excuse me for returning again to this affair. I've
been thinking it over, and I wish to beg you very seriously to be more
careful. It's not a safe business. Not safe, my boy," said he.
"What?" said Archie.
"Well, it's your own fault if I must put a name on the thing; but
really, as a friend, I cannot stand by and see you rushing head down
into these dangers. My dear boy," said he, holding up a warning cigar,
"consider! What is to be the end of it?"
"The end of what?" - Archie, helpless with irritation, persisted in this
dangerous and ungracious guard.
"Well, the end of the milkmaid; or, to speak more by the card, the end
of Miss Christina Elliott of the Cauldstaneslap."
"I assure you," Archie broke out, "this is all a figment of your
imagination. There is nothing to be said against that young lady; you
have no right to introduce her name into the conversation."
"I'll make a note of it," said Frank. "She shall henceforth be
nameless, nameless, nameless, Grigalach! I make a note besides of your
valuable testimony to her character. I only want to look at this thing
as a man of the world. Admitted she's an angel - but, my good fellow,
is she a lady?"
This was torture to Archie. "I beg your pardon," he said, struggling to
be composed, "but because you have wormed yourself into my confidence - "
"O, come!" cried Frank. "Your confidence? It was rosy but
unconsenting. Your confidence, indeed? Now, look! This is what I must
say, Weir, for it concerns your safety and good character, and therefore
my honour as your friend. You say I wormed myself into your confidence.
Wormed is good. But what have I done? I have put two and two together,
just as the parish will be doing tomorrow, and the whole of Tweeddale in
two weeks, and the black brothers - well, I won't put a date on that; it
will be a dark and stormy morning! Your secret, in other words, is poor
Poll's. And I want to ask of you as a friend whether you like the
prospect? There are two horns to your dilemma, and I must say for
myself I should look mighty ruefully on either. Do you see yourself
explaining to the four Black Brothers? or do you see yourself presenting
the milkmaid to papa as the future lady of Hermiston? Do you? I tell
you plainly, I don't!"
Archie rose. "I will hear no more of this," he said, in a trembling
But Frank again held up his cigar. "Tell me one thing first. Tell me
if this is not a friend's part that I am playing?"
"I believe you think it so," replied Archle. "I can go as far as that.
I can do so much justice to your motives. But I will hear no more of
it. I am going to bed."
"That's right, Weir," said Frank heartily. "Go to bed and think over
it; and I say, man, don't forget your prayers! I don't often do the
moral - don't go in for that sort of thing - but when I do there's one
thing sure, that I mean it."
So Archie marched off to bed, and Frank sat alone by the table for
another hour or so, smiling to himself richly. There was nothing
vindictive in his nature; but, if revenge came in his way, it might as
well be good, and the thought of Archie's pillow reflections that night
was indescribably sweet to him. He felt a pleasant sense of power. He
looked down on Archie as on a very little boy whose strings he pulled -
as on a horse whom he had backed and bridled by sheer power of
intelligence, and whom he might ride to glory or the grave at pleasure.
Which was it to be? He lingered long, relishing the details of schemes
that he was too idle to pursue. Poor cork upon a torrent, he tasted
that night the sweets of omnipotence, and brooded like a deity over the
strands of that intrigue which was to shatter him before the summer
CHAPTER VIII - A NOCTURNAL VISIT
KIRSTIE had many causes of distress. More and more as we grow old - and
yet more and more as we grow old and are women, frozen by the fear of
age - we come to rely on the voice as the single outlet of the soul.
Only thus, in the curtailment of our means, can we relieve the
straitened cry of the passion within us; only thus, in the bitter and
sensitive shyness of advancing years, can we maintain relations with
those vivacious figures of the young that still show before us and tend
daily to become no more than the moving wall-paper of life. Talk is the
last link, the last relation. But with the end of the conversation,
when the voice stops and the bright face of the listener is turned away,
solitude falls again on the bruised heart. Kirstie had lost her "cannie
hour at e'en"; she could no more wander with Archie, a ghost if you
will, but a happy ghost, in fields Elysian. And to her it was as if the
whole world had fallen silent; to him, but an unremarkable change of
amusements. And she raged to know it. The effervescency of her
passionate and irritable nature rose within her at times to bursting
This is the price paid by age for unseasonable ardours of feeling. It
must have been so for Kirstie at any time when the occasion chanced; but
it so fell out that she was deprived of this delight in the hour when
she had most need of it, when she had most to say, most to ask, and when
she trembled to recognise her sovereignty not merely in abeyance but
annulled. For, with the clairvoyance of a genuine love, she had pierced
the mystery that had so long embarrassed Frank. She was conscious, even
before it was carried out, even on that Sunday night when it began, of
an invasion of her rights; and a voice told her the invader's name.
Since then, by arts, by accident, by small things observed, and by the
general drift of Archie's humour, she had passed beyond all possibility
of doubt. With a sense of justice that Lord Hermiston might have
envied, she had that day in church considered and admitted the
attractions of the younger Kirstie; and with the profound humanity and
sentimentality of her nature, she had recognised the coming of fate.
Not thus would she have chosen. She had seen, in imagination, Archie
wedded to some tall, powerful, and rosy heroine of the golden locks,
made in her own image, for whom she would have strewed the bride-bed
with delight; and now she could have wept to see the ambition falsified.
But the gods had pronounced, and her doom was otherwise.
She lay tossing in bed that night, besieged with feverish thoughts.
There were dangerous matters pending, a battle was toward, over the fate
of which she hung in jealousy, sympathy, fear, and alternate loyalty and
disloyalty to either side. Now she was reincarnated in her niece, and
now in Archie. Now she saw, through the girl's eyes, the youth on his
knees to her, heard his persuasive instances with a deadly weakness, and
received his overmastering caresses. Anon, with a revulsion, her temper
raged to see such utmost favours of fortune and love squandered on a
brat of a girl, one of her own house, using her own name - a deadly
ingredient - and that "didna ken her ain mind an' was as black's your
hat." Now she trembled lest her deity should plead in vain, loving the
idea of success for him like a triumph of nature; anon, with returning
loyalty to her own family and sex, she trembled for Kirstie and the
credit of the Elliotts. And again she had a vision of herself, the day
over for her old-world tales and local gossip, bidding farewell to her
last link with life and brightness and love; and behind and beyond, she
saw but the blank butt-end where she must crawl to die. Had she then
come to the lees? she, so great, so beautiful, with a heart as fresh as
a girl's and strong as womanhood? It could not be, and yet it was so;
and for a moment her bed was horrible to her as the sides of the grave.
And she looked forward over a waste of hours, and saw herself go on to
rage, and tremble, and be softened, and rage again, until the day came
and the labours of the day must be renewed.
Suddenly she heard feet on the stairs - his feet, and soon after the
sound of a window-sash flung open. She sat up with her heart beating.
He had gone to his room alone, and he had not gone to bed. She might
again have one of her night cracks; and at the entrancing prospect, a
change came over her mind; with the approach of this hope of pleasure,
all the baser metal became immediately obliterated from her thoughts.
She rose, all woman, and all the best of woman, tender, pitiful, hating
the wrong, loyal to her own sex - and all the weakest of that dear
miscellany, nourishing, cherishing next her soft heart, voicelessly
flattering, hopes that she would have died sooner than have
acknowledged. She tore off her nightcap, and her hair fell about her
shoulders in profusion. Undying coquetry awoke. By the faint light of
her nocturnal rush, she stood before the looking-glass, carried her
shapely arms above her head, and gathered up the treasures of her
tresses. She was never backward to admire herself; that kind of modesty
was a stranger to her nature; and she paused, struck with a pleased
wonder at the sight. "Ye daft auld wife!" she said, answering a thought
that was not; and she blushed with the innocent consciousness of a
child. Hastily she did up the massive and shining coils, hastily donned
a wrapper, and with the rushlight in her hand, stole into the hall.
Below stairs she heard the clock ticking the deliberate seconds, and
Frank jingling with the decanters in the dining-room. Aversion rose in
her, bitter and momentary. "Nesty, tippling puggy!" she thought; and
the next moment she had knocked guardedly at Archie's door and was
Archie had been looking out into the ancient blackness, pierced here and
there with a rayless star; taking the sweet air of the moors and the
night into his bosom deeply; seeking, perhaps finding, peace after the
manner of the unhappy. He turned round as she came in, and showed her a
pale face against the window-frame.
"Is that you, Kirstie?" he asked. "Come in!"
"It's unco late, my dear," said Kirstie, affecting unwillingness.
"No, no," he answered, "not at all. Come in, if you want a crack. I am
not sleepy, God knows!"
She advanced, took a chair by the toilet table and the candle, and set
the rushlight at her foot. Something - it might be in the comparative
disorder of her dress, it might be the emotion that now welled in her
bosom - had touched her with a wand of transformation, and she seemed
young with the youth of goddesses.
"Mr. Erchie," she began, "what's this that's come to ye?"
"I am not aware of anything that has come," said Archie, and blushed,
and repented bitterly that he had let her in.
"O, my dear, that'll no dae!" said Kirstie. "It's ill to blend the eyes
of love. O, Mr. Erchie, tak a thocht ere it's ower late. Ye shouldna
be impatient o' the braws o' life, they'll a' come in their saison, like
the sun and the rain. Ye're young yet; ye've mony cantie years afore
ye. See and dinna wreck yersel' at the outset like sae mony ithers!
Hae patience - they telled me aye that was the owercome o' life - hae
patience, there's a braw day coming yet. Gude kens it never cam to me;
and here I am, wi' nayther man nor bairn to ca' my ain, wearying a'
folks wi' my ill tongue, and you just the first, Mr. Erchie!"
"I have a difficulty in knowing what you mean," said Archie.
"Weel, and I'll tell ye," she said. "It's just this, that I'm feared.
I'm feared for ye, my dear. Remember, your faither is a hard man,
reaping where he hasna sowed and gaithering where he hasna strawed.
It's easy speakin', but mind! Ye'll have to look in the gurly face o'm,
where it's ill to look, and vain to look for mercy. Ye mind me o' a
bonny ship pitten oot into the black and gowsty seas - ye're a' safe
still, sittin' quait and crackin' wi' Kirstie in your lown chalmer; but
whaur will ye be the morn, and in whatten horror o' the fearsome
tempest, cryin' on the hills to cover ye?"
"Why, Kirstie, you're very enigmatical to-night - and very eloquent,"
Archie put in.
"And, my dear Mr. Erchie," she continued, with a change of voice, "ye
mauna think that I canna sympathise wi' ye. Ye mauna think that I
havena been young mysel'. Lang syne, when I was a bit lassie, no twenty
yet - " She paused and sighed. "Clean and caller, wi' a fit like the
hinney bee," she continned. "I was aye big and buirdly, ye maun
understand; a bonny figure o' a woman, though I say it that suldna -
built to rear bairns - braw bairns they suld hae been, and grand I would
hae likit it! But I was young, dear, wi' the bonny glint o' youth in my
e'en, and little I dreamed I'd ever be tellin' ye this, an auld, lanely,
rudas wife! Weel, Mr. Erchie, there was a lad cam' courtin' me, as was
but naetural. Mony had come before, and I would nane o' them. But this
yin had a tongue to wile the birds frae the lift and the bees frae the
foxglove bells. Deary me, but it's lang syne! Folk have dee'd sinsyne
and been buried, and are forgotten, and bairns been born and got merrit
and got bairns o' their ain. Sinsyne woods have been plantit, and have
grawn up and are bonny trees, and the joes sit in their shadow, and
sinsyne auld estates have changed hands, and there have been wars and
rumours of wars on the face of the earth. And here I'm still - like an
auld droopit craw - lookin' on and craikin'! But, Mr. Erchie, do ye no
think that I have mind o' it a' still? I was dwalling then in my
faither's house; and it's a curious thing that we were whiles trysted in
the Deil's Hags. And do ye no think that I have mind of the bonny
simmer days, the lang miles o' the bluid-red heather, the cryin' of the
whaups, and the lad and the lassie that was trysted? Do ye no think
that I mind how the hilly sweetness ran about my hairt? Ay, Mr. Erchie,
I ken the way o' it - fine do I ken the way - how the grace o' God takes
them, like Paul of Tarsus, when they think it least, and drives the pair
o' them into a land which is like a dream, and the world and the folks
in't' are nae mair than clouds to the puir lassie, and heeven nae mair
than windle-straes, if she can but pleesure him! Until Tam dee'd - that
was my story," she broke off to say, "he dee'd, and I wasna at the
buryin'. But while he was here, I could take care o' mysel'. And can
yon puir lassie?"
Kirstie, her eyes shining with unshed tears, stretched out her hand
towards him appealingly; the bright and the dull gold of her hair
flashed and smouldered in the coils behind her comely head, like the
rays of an eternal youth; the pure colour had risen in her face; and
Archie was abashed alike by her beauty and her story. He came towards
her slowly from the window, took up her hand in his and kissed it.
"Kirstie," he said hoarsely, "you have misjudged me sorely. I have
always thought of her, I wouldna harm her for the universe, my woman!"
"Eh, lad, and that's easy sayin'," cried Kirstie, "but it's nane sae
easy doin'! Man, do ye no comprehend that it's God's wull we should be
blendit and glamoured, and have nae command over our ain members at a
time like that? My bairn," she cried, still holding his hand, "think o'
the puir lass! have pity upon her, Erchie! and O, be wise for twa!
Think o' the risk she rins! I have seen ye, and what's to prevent
ithers! I saw ye once in the Hags, in my ain howl, and I was wae to see
ye there - in pairt for the omen, for I think there's a weird on the
place - and in pairt for pure nakit envy and bitterness o' hairt. It's
strange ye should forgather there tae! God! but yon puir, thrawn, auld
Covenanter's seen a heap o' human natur since he lookit his last on the
musket barrels, if he never saw nane afore," she added, with a kind of
wonder in her eyes.
"I swear by my honour I have done her no wrong," said Archie. "I swear
by my honour and the redemption of my soul that there shall none be done
her. I have heard of this before. I have been foolish, Kirstie, not
unkind, and, above all, not base."
"There's my bairn!" said Kirstie, rising. "I'll can trust ye noo, I'll
can gang to my bed wi' an easy hairt." And then she saw in a flash how
barren had been her triumph. Archie had promised to spare the girl, and
he would keep it; but who had promised to spare Archie? What was to be
the end of it? Over a maze of difficulties she glanced, and saw, at the
end of every passage, the flinty countenance of Hermiston. And a kind
of horror fell upon her at what she had done. She wore a tragic mask.
"Erchie, the Lord peety you, dear, and peety me! I have buildit on this
foundation" - laying her hand heavily on his shoulder - "and buildit
hie, and pit my hairt in the buildin' of it. If the hale hypothec were
to fa', I think, laddie, I would dee! Excuse a daft wife that loves ye,
and that kenned your mither. And for His name's sake keep yersel' frae
inordinate desires; haud your heart in baith your hands, carry it canny
and laigh; dinna send it up like a hairn's kite into the collieshangic
o' the wunds! Mind, Maister Erchie dear, that this life's a'
disappointment, and a mouthfu' o' mools is the appointed end."
"Ay, but Kirstie, my woman, you're asking me ower much at last," said
Archie, profoundly moved, and lapsing into the broad Scots. "Ye're
asking what nae man can grant ye, what only the Lord of heaven can grant
ye if He see fit. Ay! And can even He! I can promise ye what I shall
do, and you can depend on that. But how I shall feel - my woman, that
is long past thinking of!"
They were both standing by now opposite each other. The face of Archie
wore the wretched semblance of a smile; hers was convulsed for a moment.
"Promise me ae thing," she cried in a sharp voice. "Promise me ye'll
never do naething without telling me."
"No, Kirstie, I canna promise ye that," he replied. "I have promised
enough, God kens!"
"May the blessing of God lift and rest upon ye dear!" she said.
"God bless ye, my old friend," said he.
CHAPTER IX - AT THE WEAVER'S STONE
IT was late in the afternoon when Archie drew near by the hill path to
the Praying Weaver's stone. The Hags were in shadow. But still,
through the gate of the Slap, the sun shot a last arrow, which sped far
and straight across the surface of the moss, here and there touching and
shining on a tussock, and lighted at length on the gravestone and the
small figure awaiting him there. The emptiness and solitude of the
great moors seemed to be concentrated there, and Kirstie pointed out by
that figure of sunshine for the only inhabitant. His first sight of her
was thus excruciatingly sad, like a glimpse of a world from which all
light, comfort, and society were on the point of vanishing. And the
next moment, when she had turned her face to him and the quick smile had
enlightened it, the whole face of nature smiled upon him in her smile of
welcome. Archie's slow pace was quickened; his legs hasted to her
though his heart was hanging back. The girl, upon her side, drew
herself together slowly and stood up, expectant; she was all languor,
her face was gone white; her arms ached for him, her soul was on tip-
toes. But he deceived her, pausing a few steps away, not less white
than herself, and holding up his hand with a gesture of denial.
"No, Christina, not to-day," he said. "To-day I have to talk to you