Weir of Hermiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. 1913 Chatto and Windus edition. Scanned and proofed by David Price, email email@example.com
Weir of Hermiston
TO MY WIFE
I saw rain falling and the rainbow drawn On Lammermuir. Hearkening I heard again
In my precipitous city beaten bells Winnow the keen sea wind. And here afar, Intent on my own race and place, I wrote. Take thou the writing: thine it is. For who Burnished the sword, blew on the drowsy coal, Held still the target higher, chary of praise And prodigal of counsel – who but thou?
So now, in the end, if this the least be good, If any deed be done, if any fire
Burn in the imperfect page, the praise be thine.
IN the wild end of a moorland parish, far out of the sight of any house, there stands a cairn among the heather, and a little by east of it, in the going down of the brae-side, a monument with some verses half defaced. It was here that Claverhouse shot with his own hand the Praying Weaver of Balweary, and the chisel of Old Mortality has clinked on that lonely gravestone. Public and domestic history have thus marked with a bloody finger this hollow among the hills; and since the Cameronian gave his life there, two hundred years ago, in a glorious folly, and without comprehension or regret, the silence of the moss has been broken once again by the report of firearms and the cry of the dying.
The Deil’s Hags was the old name. But the place is now called Francie’s Cairn. For a while it was told that Francie walked. Aggic Hogg met him in the gloaming by the cairnside, and he spoke to her, with chattering teeth, so that his words were lost. He pursued Rob Todd (if any one could have believed Robbie) for the space of half a mile with pitiful entreaties. But the age is one of incredulity; these superstitious decorations speedily fell off; and the facts of the story itself, like the bones of a giant buried there and half dug up, survived, naked and imperfect, in the memory of the scattered neighbours. To this day, of winter nights, when the sleet is on the window and the cattle are quiet in the byre, there will be told again, amid the silence of the young and the additions and corrections of the old, the tale of the Justice-Clerk and of his son, young Hermiston, that vanished from men’s knowledge; of the two Kirsties and the Four Black Brothers of the Cauldstaneslap; and of Frank Innes, “the young fool advocate,” that came into these moorland parts to find his destiny.
CHAPTER I – LIFE AND DEATH OF MRS. WEIR
THE Lord Justice-Clerk was a stranger in that part of the country; but his lady wife was known there from a child, as her race had been before her. The old “riding Rutherfords of Hermiston,” of whom she was the last descendant, had been famous men of yore, ill neighbours, ill subjects, and ill husbands to their wives though not their properties. Tales of them were rife for twenty miles about; and their name was even printed in the page of our Scots histories, not always to their credit. One bit the dust at Flodden; one was hanged at his peel door by James the Fifth; another fell dead in a carouse with Tom Dalyell; while a fourth (and that was Jean’s own father) died presiding at a Hell-Fire Club, of which he was the founder. There were many heads shaken in Crossmichael at that judgment; the more so as the man had a villainous reputation among high and low, and both with the godly and the worldly. At that very hour of his demise, he had ten going pleas before the Session, eight of them oppressive. And the same doom extended even to his agents; his grieve, that had been his right hand in many a left-hand business, being cast from his horse one night and drowned in a peat-hag on the Kye-skairs; and his very doer (although lawyers have long spoons) surviving him not long, and dying on a sudden in a bloody flux.
In all these generations, while a male Rutherford was in the saddle with his lads, or brawling in a change-house, there would be always a white- faced wife immured at home in the old peel or the later mansion-house. It seemed this succession of martyrs bided long, but took their vengeance in the end, and that was in the person of the last descendant, Jean. She bore the name of the Rutherfords, but she was the daughter of their trembling wives. At the first she was not wholly without charm. Neighbours recalled in her, as a child, a strain of elfin wilfulness, gentle little mutinies, sad little gaieties, even a morning gleam of beauty that was not to be fulfilled. She withered in the growing, and (whether it was the sins of her sires or the sorrows of her mothers) came to her maturity depressed, and, as it were, defaced; no blood of life in her, no grasp or gaiety; pious, anxious, tender, tearful, and incompetent.
It was a wonder to many that she had married – seeming so wholly of the stuff that makes old maids. But chance cast her in the path of Adam Weir, then the new Lord-Advocate, a recognised, risen man, the conqueror of many obstacles, and thus late in the day beginning to think upon a wife. He was one who looked rather to obedience than beauty, yet it would seem he was struck with her at the first look. “Wha’s she?” he said, turning to his host; and, when he had been told, “Ay,” says he, “she looks menseful. She minds me – “; and then, after a pause (which some have been daring enough to set down to sentimental recollections), “Is she releegious?” he asked, and was shortly after, at his own request, presented. The acquaintance, which it seems profane to call a courtship, was pursued with Mr. Weir’s accustomed industry, and was long a legend, or rather a source of legends, in the Parliament House. He was described coming, rosy with much port, into the drawing-room, walking direct up to the lady, and assailing her with pleasantries, to which the embarrassed fair one responded, in what seemed a kind of agony, “Eh, Mr. Weir!” or “O, Mr. Weir!” or “Keep me, Mr. Weir!” On the very eve of their engagement, it was related that one had drawn near to the tender couple, and had overheard the lady cry out, with the tones of one who talked for the sake of talking, “Keep me, Mr. Weir, and what became of him?” and the profound accents of the suitor reply, “Haangit, mem, haangit.” The motives upon either side were much debated. Mr. Weir must have supposed his bride to be somehow suitable; perhaps he belonged to that class of men who think a weak head the ornament of women – an opinion invariably punished in this life. Her descent and her estate were beyond question. Her wayfaring ancestors and her litigious father had done well by Jean. There was ready money and there were broad acres, ready to fall wholly to the husband, to lend dignity to his descendants, and to himself a title, when he should be called upon the Bench. On the side of Jean, there was perhaps some fascination of curiosity as to this unknown male animal that approached her with the roughness of a ploughman and the APLOMB of an advocate. Being so trenchantly opposed to all she knew, loved, or understood, he may well have seemed to her the extreme, if scarcely the ideal, of his sex. And besides, he was an ill man to refuse. A little over forty at the period of his marriage, he looked already older, and to the force of manhood added the senatorial dignity of years; it was, perhaps, with an unreverend awe, but he was awful. The Bench, the Bar, and the most experienced and reluctant witness, bowed to his authority – and why not Jeannie Rutherford?
The heresy about foolish women is always punished, I have said, and Lord Hermiston began to pay the penalty at once. His house in George Square was wretchedly ill-guided; nothing answerable to the expense of maintenance but the cellar, which was his own private care. When things went wrong at dinner, as they continually did, my lord would look up the table at his wife: “I think these broth would be better to sweem in than to sup.” Or else to the butler: “Here, M’Killop, awa’ wi’ this Raadical gigot – tak’ it to the French, man, and bring me some puddocks! It seems rather a sore kind of a business that I should be all day in Court haanging Raadicals, and get nawthing to my denner.” Of course this was but a manner of speaking, and he had never hanged a man for being a Radical in his life; the law, of which he was the faithful minister, directing otherwise. And of course these growls were in the nature of pleasantry, but it was of a recondite sort; and uttered as they were in his resounding voice, and commented on by that expression which they called in the Parliament House “Hermiston’s hanging face” – they struck mere dismay into the wife. She sat before him speechless and fluttering; at each dish, as at a fresh ordeal, her eye hovered toward my lord’s countenance and fell again; if he but ate in silence, unspeakable relief was her portion; if there were complaint, the world was darkened. She would seek out the cook, who was always her SISTER IN THE LORD. “O, my dear, this is the most dreidful thing that my lord can never be contented in his own house!” she would begin; and weep and pray with the cook; and then the cook would pray with Mrs. Weir; and the next day’s meal would never be a penny the better – and the next cook (when she came) would be worse, if anything, but just as pious. It was often wondered that Lord Hermiston bore it as he did; indeed, he was a stoical old voluptuary, contented with sound wine and plenty of it. But there were moments when he overflowed. Perhaps half a dozen times in the history of his married life – “Here! tak’ it awa’, and bring me a piece bread and kebbuck!” he had exclaimed, with an appalling explosion of his voice and rare gestures. None thought to dispute or to make excuses; the service was arrested; Mrs. Weir sat at the head of the table whimpering without disguise; and his lordship opposite munched his bread and cheese in ostentatious disregard. Once only, Mrs. Weir had ventured to appeal. He was passing her chair on his way into the study.
“O, Edom!” she wailed, in a voice tragic with tears, and reaching out to him both hands, in one of which she held a sopping pocket-handkerchief.
He paused and looked upon her with a face of wrath, into which there stole, as he looked, a twinkle of humour.
“Noansense!” he said. “You and your noansense! What do I want with a Christian faim’ly? I want Christian broth! Get me a lass that can plain-boil a potato, if she was a whure off the streets.” And with these words, which echoed in her tender ears like blasphemy, he had passed on to his study and shut the door behind him.
Such was the housewifery in George Square. It was better at Hermiston, where Kirstie Elliott, the sister of a neighbouring bonnet-laird, and an eighteenth cousin of the lady’s, bore the charge of all, and kept a trim house and a good country table. Kirstie was a woman in a thousand, clean, capable, notable; once a moorland Helen, and still comely as a blood horse and healthy as the hill wind. High in flesh and voice and colour, she ran the house with her whole intemperate soul, in a bustle, not without buffets. Scarce more pious than decency in those days required, she was the cause of many an anxious thought and many a tearful prayer to Mrs. Weir. Housekeeper and mistress renewed the parts of Martha and Mary; and though with a pricking conscience, Mary reposed on Martha’s strength as on a rock. Even Lord Hermiston held Kirstie in a particular regard. There were few with whom he unbent so gladly, few whom he favoured with so many pleasantries. “Kirstie and me maun have our joke,” he would declare in high good-humour, as he buttered Kirstie’s scones, and she waited at table. A man who had no need either of love or of popularity, a keen reader of men and of events, there was perhaps only one truth for which he was quite unprepared: he would have been quite unprepared to learn that Kirstie hated him. He thought maid and master were well matched; hard, bandy, healthy, broad Scots folk, without a hair of nonsense to the pair of them. And the fact was that she made a goddess and an only child of the effete and tearful lady; and even as she waited at table her hands would sometimes itch for my lord’s ears.
Thus, at least, when the family were at Hermiston, not only my lord, but Mrs. Weir too, enjoyed a holiday. Free from the dreadful looking-for of the miscarried dinner, she would mind her seam, read her piety books, and take her walk (which was my lord’s orders), sometimes by herself, sometimes with Archie, the only child of that scarce natural union. The child was her next bond to life. Her frosted sentiment bloomed again, she breathed deep of life, she let loose her heart, in that society. The miracle of her motherhood was ever new to her. The sight of the little man at her skirt intoxicated her with the sense of power, and froze her with the consciousness of her responsibility. She looked forward, and, seeing him in fancy grow up and play his diverse part on the world’s theatre, caught in her breath and lifted up her courage with a lively effort. It was only with the child that she forgot herself and was at moments natural; yet it was only with the child that she had conceived and managed to pursue a scheme of conduct. Archie was to be a great man and a good; a minister if possible, a saint for certain. She tried to engage his mind upon her favourite books, Rutherford’s LETTERS, Scougalls GRACE ABOUNDING, and the like. It was a common practice of hers (and strange to remember now) that she would carry the child to the Deil’s Hags, sit with him on the Praying Weaver’s stone, and talk of the Covenanters till their tears ran down. Her view of history was wholly artless, a design in snow and ink; upon the one side, tender innocents with psalms upon their lips; upon the other, the persecutors, booted, bloody-minded, flushed with wine: a suffering Christ, a raging Beelzebub. PERSECUTOR was a word that knocked upon the woman’s heart; it was her highest thought of wickedness, and the mark of it was on her house. Her great-great-grandfather had drawn the sword against the Lord’s anointed on the field of Rullion Green, and breathed his last (tradition said) in the arms of the detestable Dalyell. Nor could she blind herself to this, that had they lived in those old days, Hermiston himself would have been numbered alongside of Bloody MacKenzie and the politic Lauderdale and Rothes, in the band of God’s immediate enemies. The sense of this moved her to the more fervour; she had a voice for that name of PERSECUTOR that thrilled in the child’s marrow; and when one day the mob hooted and hissed them all in my lord’s travelling carriage, and cried, “Down with the persecutor! down with Hanging Hermiston!” and mamma covered her eyes and wept, and papa let down the glass and looked out upon the rabble with his droll formidable face, bitter and smiling, as they said he sometimes looked when he gave sentence, Archie was for the moment too much amazed to be alarmed, but he had scarce got his mother by herself before his shrill voice was raised demanding an explanation: why had they called papa a persecutor?
“Keep me, my precious!” she exclaimed. “Keep me, my dear! this is poleetical. Ye must never ask me anything poleetical, Erchie. Your faither is a great man, my dear, and it’s no for me or you to be judging him. It would be telling us all, if we behaved ourselves in our several stations the way your faither does in his high office; and let me hear no more of any such disrespectful and undutiful questions! No that you meant to be undutiful, my lamb; your mother kens that – she kens it well, dearie!” And so slid off to safer topics, and left on the mind of the child an obscure but ineradicable sense of something wrong.
Mrs. Weir’s philosophy of life was summed in one expression – tenderness. In her view of the universe, which was all lighted up with a glow out of the doors of hell, good people must walk there in a kind of ecstasy of tenderness. The beasts and plants had no souls; they were here but for a day, and let their day pass gently! And as for the immortal men, on what black, downward path were many of them wending, and to what a horror of an immortality! “Are not two sparrows,” “Whosoever shall smite thee,” “God sendeth His rain,” “Judge not, that ye be not judged” – these texts made her body of divinity; she put them on in the morning with her clothes and lay down to sleep with them at night; they haunted her like a favourite air, they clung about her like a favourite perfume. Their minister was a marrowy expounder of the law, and my lord sat under him with relish; but Mrs. Weir respected him from far off; heard him (like the cannon of a beleaguered city) usefully booming outside on the dogmatic ramparts; and meanwhile, within and out of shot, dwelt in her private garden which she watered with grateful tears. It seems strange to say of this colourless and ineffectual woman, but she was a true enthusiast, and might have made the sunshine and the glory of a cloister. Perhaps none but Archie knew she could be eloquent; perhaps none but he had seen her – her colour raised, her hands clasped or quivering – glow with gentle ardour. There is a corner of the policy of Hermiston, where you come suddenly in view of the summit of Black Fell, sometimes like the mere grass top of a hill, sometimes (and this is her own expression) like a precious jewel in the heavens. On such days, upon the sudden view of it, her hand would tighten on the child’s fingers, her voice rise like a song. “I TO THE HILLS!” she would repeat. “And O, Erchie, are nae these like the hills of Naphtali?” and her tears would flow.
Upon an impressionable child the effect of this continual and pretty accompaniment to life was deep. The woman’s quietism and piety passed on to his different nature undiminished; but whereas in her it was a native sentiment, in him it was only an implanted dogma. Nature and the child’s pugnacity at times revolted. A cad from the Potterrow once struck him in the mouth; he struck back, the pair fought it out in the back stable lane towards the Meadows, and Archie returned with a considerable decline in the number of his front teeth, and unregenerately boasting of the losses of the foe. It was a sore day for Mrs. Weir; she wept and prayed over the infant backslider until my lord was due from Court, and she must resume that air of tremulous composure with which she always greeted him. The judge was that day in an observant mood, and remarked upon the absent teeth.
“I am afraid Erchie will have been fechting with some of they blagyard lads,” said Mrs. Weir.
My lord’s voice rang out as it did seldom in the privacy of his own house. “I’ll have norm of that, sir!” he cried. “Do you hear me? – nonn of that! No son of mine shall be speldering in the glaur with any dirty raibble.”
The anxious mother was grateful for so much support; she had even feared the contrary. And that night when she put the child to bed – “Now, my dear, ye see!” she said, “I told you what your faither would think of it, if he heard ye had fallen into this dreidful sin; and let you and me pray to God that ye may be keepit from the like temptation or strengthened to resist it!”
The womanly falsity of this was thrown away. Ice and iron cannot be welded; and the points of view of the Justice-Clerk and Mrs. Weir were not less unassimilable. The character and position of his father had long been a stumbling-block to Archie, and with every year of his age the difficulty grew more instant. The man was mostly silent; when he spoke at all, it was to speak of the things of the world, always in a worldly spirit, often in language that the child had been schooled to think coarse, and sometimes with words that he knew to be sins in themselves. Tenderness was the first duty, and my lord was invariably harsh. God was love; the name of my lord (to all who knew him) was fear. In the world, as schematised for Archie by his mother, the place was marked for such a creature. There were some whom it was good to pity and well (though very likely useless) to pray for; they were named reprobates, goats, God’s enemies, brands for the burning; and Archie tallied every mark of identification, and drew the inevitable private inference that the Lord Justice-Clerk was the chief of sinners.
The mother’s honesty was scarce complete. There was one influence she feared for the child and still secretly combated; that was my lord’s; and half unconsciously, half in a wilful blindness, she continued to undermine her husband with his son. As long as Archie remained silent, she did so ruthlessly, with a single eye to heaven and the child’s salvation; but the day came when Archie spoke. It was 1801, and Archie was seven, and beyond his years for curiosity and logic, when he brought the case up openly. If judging were sinful and forbidden, how came papa to be a judge? to have that sin for a trade? to bear the name of it for a distinction?
“I can’t see it,” said the little Rabbi, and wagged his head.
Mrs. Weir abounded in commonplace replies.
“No, I cannae see it,” reiterated Archie. “And I’ll tell you what, mamma, I don’t think you and me’s justifeed in staying with him.”
The woman awoke to remorse, she saw herself disloyal to her man, her sovereign and bread-winner, in whom (with what she had of worldliness) she took a certain subdued pride. She expatiated in reply on my lord’s honour and greatness; his useful services in this world of sorrow and wrong, and the place in which he stood, far above where babes and innocents could hope to see or criticise. But she had builded too well – Archie had his answers pat: Were not babes and innocents the type of the kingdom of heaven? Were not honour and greatness the badges of the world? And at any rate, how about the mob that had once seethed about the carriage?
“It’s all very fine,” he concluded, “but in my opinion papa has no right to be it. And it seems that’s not the worst yet of it. It seems he’s called “The Hanging judge” – it seems he’s crooool. I’ll tell you what it is, mamma, there’s a tex’ borne in upon me: It were better for that man if a milestone were bound upon his back and him flung into the deepestmost pairts of the sea.”
“O, my lamb, ye must never say the like of that!” she cried. “Ye’re to honour faither and mother, dear, that your days may be long in the land. It’s Atheists that cry out against him – French Atheists, Erchie! Ye would never surely even yourself down to be saying the same thing as French Atheists? It would break my heart to think that of you. And O, Erchie, here are’na YOU setting up to JUDGE? And have ye no forgot God’s plain command – the First with Promise, dear? Mind you upon the beam and the mote!”
Having thus carried the war into the enemy’s camp, the terrified lady breathed again. And no doubt it is easy thus to circumvent a child with catchwords, but it may be questioned how far it is effectual. An instinct in his breast detects the quibble, and a voice condemns it. He will instantly submit, privately hold the same opinion. For even in this simple and antique relation of the mother and the child, hypocrisies are multiplied.
When the Court rose that year and the family returned to Hermiston, it was a common remark in all the country that the lady was sore failed. She seemed to loose and seize again her touch with life, now sitting inert in a sort of durable bewilderment, anon waking to feverish and weak activity. She dawdled about the lasses at their work, looking stupidly on; she fell to rummaging in old cabinets and presses, and desisted when half through; she would begin remarks with an air of animation and drop them without a struggle. Her common appearance was of one who has forgotten something and is trying to remember; and when she overhauled, one after another, the worthless and touching mementoes of her youth, she might have been seeking the clue to that lost thought. During this period, she gave many gifts to the neighbours and house lasses, giving them with a manner of regret that embarrassed the recipients.
The last night of all she was busy on some female work, and toiled upon it with so manifest and painful a devotion that my lord (who was not often curious) inquired as to its nature.
She blushed to the eyes. “O, Edom, it’s for you!” she said. “It’s slippers. I – I hae never made ye any.”
“Ye daft auld wife!” returned his lordship. “A bonny figure I would be, palmering about in bauchles!”
The next day, at the hour of her walk, Kirstie interfered. Kirstie took this decay of her mistress very hard; bore her a grudge, quarrelled with and railed upon her, the anxiety of a genuine love wearing the disguise of temper. This day of all days she insisted disrespectfully, with rustic fury, that Mrs. Weir should stay at home. But, “No, no,” she said, “it’s my lord’s orders,” and set forth as usual. Archie was visible in the acre bog, engaged upon some childish enterprise, the instrument of which was mire; and she stood and looked at him a while like one about to call; then thought otherwise, sighed, and shook her head, and proceeded on her rounds alone. The house lasses were at the burnside washing, and saw her pass with her loose, weary, dowdy gait.
“She’s a terrible feckless wife, the mistress!” said the one.
“Tut,” said the other, “the wumman’s seeck.”
“Weel, I canna see nae differ in her,” returned the first. “A fushionless quean, a feckless carline.”
The poor creature thus discussed rambled a while in the grounds without a purpose. Tides in her mind ebbed and flowed, and carried her to and fro like seaweed. She tried a path, paused, returned, and tried another; questing, forgetting her quest; the spirit of choice extinct in her bosom, or devoid of sequency. On a sudden, it appeared as though she had remembered, or had formed a resolution, wheeled about, returned with hurried steps, and appeared in the dining-room, where Kirstie was at the cleaning, like one charged with an important errand.
“Kirstie!” she began, and paused; and then with conviction, “Mr. Weir isna speeritually minded, but he has been a good man to me.”
It was perhaps the first time since her husband’s elevation that she had forgotten the handle to his name, of which the tender, inconsistent woman was not a little proud. And when Kirstie looked up at the speaker’s face, she was aware of a change.
“Godsake, what’s the maitter wi’ ye, mem?” cried the housekeeper, starting from the rug.
“I do not ken,” answered her mistress, shaking her head. “But he is not speeritually minded, my dear.”
“Here, sit down with ye! Godsake, what ails the wife?” cried Kirstie, and helped and forced her into my lord’s own chair by the cheek of the hearth.
“Keep me, what’s this?” she gasped. “Kirstie, what’s this? I’m frich’ened.”
They were her last words.
It was the lowering nightfall when my lord returned. He had the sunset in his back, all clouds and glory; and before him, by the wayside, spied Kirstie Elliott waiting. She was dissolved in tears, and addressed him in the high, false note of barbarous mourning, such as still lingers modified among Scots heather.
“The Lord peety ye, Hermiston! the Lord prepare ye!” she keened out. “Weary upon me, that I should have to tell it!”
He reined in his horse and looked upon her with the hanging face.
“Has the French landit?” cried he.
“Man, man,” she said, “is that a’ ye can think of? The Lord prepare ye: the Lord comfort and support ye!”
“Is onybody deid?” said his lordship. “It’s no Erchie?”
“Bethankit, no!” exclaimed the woman, startled into a more natural tone. “Na, na, it’s no sae bad as that. It’s the mistress, my lord; she just fair flittit before my e’en. She just gi’ed a sab and was by wi’ it. Eh, my bonny Miss Jeannie, that I mind sae weel!” And forth again upon that pouring tide of lamentation in which women of her class excel and over-abound.
Lord Hermiston sat in the saddle beholding her. Then he seemed to recover command upon himself.
“Well, it’s something of the suddenest,” said he. “But she was a dwaibly body from the first.”
And he rode home at a precipitate amble with Kirstie at his horse’s heels.
Dressed as she was for her last walk, they had laid the dead lady on her bed. She was never interesting in life; in death she was not impressive; and as her husband stood before her, with his hands crossed behind his powerful back, that which he looked upon was the very image of the insignificant.
“Her and me were never cut out for one another,” he remarked at last. “It was a daft-like marriage.” And then, with a most unusual gentleness of tone, “Puir bitch,” said he, “puir bitch!” Then suddenly: “Where’s Erchie?”
Kirstie had decoyed him to her room and given him “a jeely-piece.”
“Ye have some kind of gumption, too,” observed the judge, and considered his housekeeper grimly. “When all’s said,” he added, “I micht have done waur – I micht have been marriet upon a skirting Jezebel like you!”
“There’s naebody thinking of you, Hermiston!” cried the offended woman. “We think of her that’s out of her sorrows. And could SHE have done waur? Tell me that, Hermiston – tell me that before her clay-cauld corp!”
“Weel, there’s some of them gey an’ ill to please,” observed his lordship.
CHAPTER II – FATHER AND SON
MY Lord Justice-Clerk was known to many; the man Adam Weir perhaps to none. He had nothing to explain or to conceal; he sufficed wholly and silently to himself; and that part of our nature which goes out (too often with false coin) to acquire glory or love, seemed in him to be omitted. He did not try to be loved, he did not care to be; it is probable the very thought of it was a stranger to his mind. He was an admired lawyer, a highly unpopular judge; and he looked down upon those who were his inferiors in either distinction, who were lawyers of less grasp or judges not so much detested. In all the rest of his days and doings, not one trace of vanity appeared; and he went on through life with a mechanical movement, as of the unconscious; that was almost august.
He saw little of his son. In the childish maladies with which the boy was troubled, he would make daily inquiries and daily pay him a visit, entering the sick-room with a facetious and appalling countenance, letting off a few perfunctory jests, and going again swiftly, to the patient’s relief. Once, a court holiday falling opportunely, my lord had his carriage, and drove the child himself to Hermiston, the customary place of convalescence. It is conceivable he had been more than usually anxious, for that journey always remained in Archie’s memory as a thing apart, his father having related to him from beginning to end, and with much detail, three authentic murder cases. Archie went the usual round of other Edinburgh boys, the high school and the college; and Hermiston looked on, or rather looked away, with scarce an affectation of interest in his progress. Daily, indeed, upon a signal after dinner, he was brought in, given nuts and a glass of port, regarded sardonically, sarcastically questioned. “Well, sir, and what have you donn with your book to-day?” my lord might begin, and set him posers in law Latin. To a child just stumbling into Corderius, Papinian and Paul proved quite invincible. But papa had memory of no other. He was not harsh to the little scholar, having a vast fund of patience learned upon the bench, and was at no pains whether to conceal or to express his disappointment. “Well, ye have a long jaunt before ye yet!” he might observe, yawning, and fall back on his own thoughts (as like as not) until the time came for separation, and my lord would take the decanter and the glass, and be off to the back chamber looking on the Meadows, where he toiled on his cases till the hours were small. There was no “fuller man” on the bench; his memory was marvellous, though wholly legal; if he had to “advise” extempore, none did it better; yet there was none who more earnestly prepared. As he thus watched in the night, or sat at table and forgot the presence of his son, no doubt but he tasted deeply of recondite pleasures. To be wholly devoted to some intellectual exercise is to have succeeded in life; and perhaps only in law and the higher mathematics may this devotion be maintained, suffice to itself without reaction, and find continual rewards without excitement. This atmosphere of his father’s sterling industry was the best of Archie’s education. Assuredly it did not attract him; assuredly it rather rebutted and depressed. Yet it was still present, unobserved like the ticking of a clock, an arid ideal, a tasteless stimulant in the boy’s life.
But Hermiston was not all of one piece. He was, besides, a mighty toper; he could sit at wine until the day dawned, and pass directly from the table to the bench with a steady hand and a clear head. Beyond the third bottle, he showed the plebeian in a larger print; the low, gross accent, the low, foul mirth, grew broader and commoner; he became less formidable, and infinitely more disgusting. Now, the boy had inherited from Jean Rutherford a shivering delicacy, unequally mated with potential violence. In the playing-fields, and amongst his own companions, he repaid a coarse expression with a blow; at his father’s table (when the time came for him to join these revels) he turned pale and sickened in silence. Of all the guests whom he there encountered, he had toleration for only one: David Keith Carnegie, Lord Glenalmond. Lord Glenalmond was tall and emaciated, with long features and long delicate hands. He was often compared with the statue of Forbes of Culloden in the Parliament House; and his blue eye, at more than sixty, preserved some of the fire of youth. His exquisite disparity with any of his fellow-guests, his appearance as of an artist and an aristocrat stranded in rude company, riveted the boy’s attention; and as curiosity and interest are the things in the world that are the most immediately and certainly rewarded, Lord Glenalmond was attracted by the boy.
“And so this is your son, Hermiston?” he asked, laying his hand on Archie’s shoulder. “He’s getting a big lad.”
“Hout!” said the gracious father, “just his mother over again – daurna say boo to a goose!”
But the stranger retained the boy, talked to him, drew him out, found in him a taste for letters, and a fine, ardent, modest, youthful soul; and encouraged him to be a visitor on Sunday evenings in his bare, cold, lonely dining-room, where he sat and read in the isolation of a bachelor grown old in refinement. The beautiful gentleness and grace of the old judge, and the delicacy of his person, thoughts, and language, spoke to Archie’s heart in its own tongue. He conceived the ambition to be such another; and, when the day came for him to choose a profession, it was in emulation of Lord Glenalmond, not of Lord Hermiston, that he chose the Bar. Hermiston looked on at this friendship with some secret pride, but openly with the intolerance of scorn. He scarce lost an opportunity to put them down with a rough jape; and, to say truth, it was not difficult, for they were neither of them quick. He had a word of contempt for the whole crowd of poets, painters, fiddlers, and their admirers, the bastard race of amateurs, which was continually on his lips. “Signor Feedle-eerie!” he would say. “O, for Goad’s sake, no more of the Signor!”
“You and my father are great friends, are you not?” asked Archie once.
“There is no man that I more respect, Archie,” replied Lord Glenalmond. “He is two things of price. He is a great lawyer, and he is upright as the day.”
“You and he are so different,” said the boy, his eyes dwelling on those of his old friend, like a lover’s on his mistress’s.
“Indeed so,” replied the judge; “very different. And so I fear are you and he. Yet I would like it very ill if my young friend were to misjudge his father. He has all the Roman virtues: Cato and Brutus were such; I think a son’s heart might well be proud of such an ancestry of one.”
“And I would sooner he were a plaided herd,” cried Archie, with sudden bitterness.
“And that is neither very wise, nor I believe entirely true,” returned Glenalmond. “Before you are done you will find some of these expressions rise on you like a remorse. They are merely literary and decorative; they do not aptly express your thought, nor is your thought clearly apprehended, and no doubt your father (if he were here) would say, “Signor Feedle-eerie!”
With the infinitely delicate sense of youth, Archie avoided the subject from that hour. It was perhaps a pity. Had he but talked – talked freely – let himself gush out in words (the way youth loves to do and should), there might have been no tale to write upon the Weirs of Hermiston. But the shadow of a threat of ridicule sufficed; in the slight tartness of these words he read a prohibition; and it is likely that Glenalmond meant it so.
Besides the veteran, the boy was without confidant or friend. Serious and eager, he came through school and college, and moved among a crowd of the indifferent, in the seclusion of his shyness. He grew up handsome, with an open, speaking countenance, with graceful, youthful ways; he was clever, he took prizes, he shone in the Speculative Society. It should seem he must become the centre of a crowd of friends; but something that was in part the delicacy of his mother, in part the austerity of his father, held him aloof from all. It is a fact, and a strange one, that among his contemporaries Hermiston’s son was thought to be a chip of the old block. “You’re a friend of Archie Weir’s?” said one to Frank Innes; and Innes replied, with his usual flippancy and more than his usual insight: “I know Weir. but I never met Archie.” No one had met Archie, a malady most incident to only sons. He flew his private signal, and none heeded it; it seemed he was abroad in a world from which the very hope of intimacy was banished; and he looked round about him on the concourse of his fellow-students, and forward to the trivial days and acquaintances that were to come, without hope or interest.
As time went on, the tough and rough old sinner felt himself drawn to the son of his loins and sole continuator of his new family, with softnesses of sentiment that he could hardly credit and was wholly impotent to express. With a face, voice, and manner trained through forty years to terrify and repel, Rhadamanthus may be great, but he will scarce be engaging. It is a fact that he tried to propitiate Archie, but a fact that cannot be too lightly taken; the attempt was so unconspicuously made, the failure so stoically supported. Sympathy is not due to these steadfast iron natures. If he failed to gain his son’s friendship, or even his son’s toleration, on he went up the great, bare staircase of his duty, uncheered and undepressed. There might have been more pleasure in his relations with Archie, so much he may have recognised at moments; but pleasure was a by-product of the singular chemistry of life, which only fools expected.
An idea of Archie’s attitude, since we are all grown up and have forgotten the days of our youth, it is more difficult to convey. He made no attempt whatsoever to understand the man with whom he dined and breakfasted. Parsimony of pain, glut of pleasure, these are the two alternating ends of youth; and Archie was of the parsimonious. The wind blew cold out of a certain quarter – he turned his back upon it; stayed as little as was possible in his father’s presence; and when there, averted his eyes as much as was decent from his father’s face. The lamp shone for many hundred days upon these two at table – my lord, ruddy, gloomy, and unreverent; Archie with a potential brightness that was always dimmed and veiled in that society; and there were not, perhaps, in Christendom two men more radically strangers. The father, with a grand simplicity, either spoke of what interested himself, or maintained an unaffected silence. The son turned in his head for some topic that should be quite safe, that would spare him fresh evidences either of my lord’s inherent grossness or of the innocence of his inhumanity; treading gingerly the ways of intercourse, like a lady gathering up her skirts in a by-path. If he made a mistake, and my lord began to abound in matter of offence, Archie drew himself up, his brow grew dark, his share of the talk expired; but my lord would faithfully and cheerfully continue to pour out the worst of himself before his silent and offended son.
“Well, it’s a poor hert that never rejoices!” he would say, at the conclusion of such a nightmare interview. “But I must get to my plew- stilts.” And he would seclude himself as usual in his back room, and Archie go forth into the night and the city quivering with animosity and scorn.
CHAPTER III – IN THE MATTER OF THE HANGING OF DUNCAN JOPP
IT chanced in the year 1813 that Archie strayed one day into the Justiciary Court. The macer made room for the son of the presiding judge. In the dock, the centre of men’s eyes, there stood a whey- coloured, misbegotten caitiff, Duncan Jopp, on trial for his life. His story, as it was raked out before him in that public scene, was one of disgrace and vice and cowardice, the very nakedness of crime; and the creature heard and it seemed at times as though he understood – as if at times he forgot the horror of the place he stood in, and remembered the shame of what had brought him there. He kept his head bowed and his hands clutched upon the rail; his hair dropped in his eyes and at times he flung it back; and now he glanced about the audience in a sudden fellness of terror, and now looked in the face of his judge and gulped. There was pinned about his throat a piece of dingy flannel; and this it was perhaps that turned the scale in Archie’s mind between disgust and pity. The creature stood in a vanishing point; yet a little while, and he was still a man, and had eyes and apprehension; yet a little longer, and with a last sordid piece of pageantry, he would cease to be. And here, in the meantime, with a trait of human nature that caught at the beholder’s breath, he was tending a sore throat.
Over against him, my Lord Hermiston occupied the bench in the red robes of criminal jurisdiction, his face framed in the white wig. Honest all through, he did not affect the virtue of impartiality; this was no case for refinement; there was a man to be hanged, he would have said, and he was hanging him. Nor was it possible to see his lordship, and acquit him of gusto in the task. It was plain he gloried in the exercise of his trained faculties, in the clear sight which pierced at once into the joint of fact, in the rude, unvarnished gibes with which he demolished every figment of defence. He took his ease and jested, unbending in that solemn place with some of the freedom of the tavern; and the rag of man with the flannel round his neck was hunted gallowsward with jeers.
Duncan had a mistress, scarce less forlorn and greatly older than himself, who came up, whimpering and curtseying, to add the weight of her betrayal. My lord gave her the oath in his most roaring voice, and added an intolerant warning.
“Mind what ye say now, Janet,” said he. “I have an e’e upon ye, I’m ill to jest with.”
Presently, after she was tremblingly embarked on her story, “And what made ye do this, ye auld runt?” the Court interposed. “Do ye mean to tell me ye was the panel’s mistress?”
“If you please, ma loard,” whined the female.
“Godsake! ye made a bonny couple,” observed his lordship; and there was something so formidable and ferocious in his scorn that not even the galleries thought to laugh.
The summing up contained some jewels.
“These two peetiable creatures seem to have made up thegither, it’s not for us to explain why.” – “The panel, who (whatever else he may be) appears to be equally ill set-out in mind and boady.” – “Neither the panel nor yet the old wife appears to have had so much common sense as even to tell a lie when it was necessary.” And in the course of sentencing, my lord had this OBITER DICTUM: “I have been the means, under God, of haanging a great number, but never just such a disjaskit rascal as yourself.” The words were strong in themselves; the light and heat and detonation of their delivery, and the savage pleasure of the speaker in his task, made them tingle in the ears.
When all was over, Archie came forth again into a changed world. Had there been the least redeeming greatness in the crime, any obscurity, any dubiety, perhaps he might have understood. But the culprit stood, with his sore throat, in the sweat of his mortal agony, without defence or excuse: a thing to cover up with blushes: a being so much sunk beneath the zones of sympathy that pity might seem harmless. And the judge had pursued him with a monstrous, relishing gaiety, horrible to be conceived, a trait for nightmares. It is one thing to spear a tiger, another to crush a toad; there are aesthetics even of the slaughter- house; and the loathsomeness of Duncan Jopp enveloped and infected the image of his judge.
Archie passed by his friends in the High Street with incoherent words and gestures. He saw Holyrood in a dream, remembrance of its romance awoke in him and faded; he had a vision of the old radiant stories, of Queen Mary and Prince Charlie, of the hooded stag, of the splendour and crime, the velvet and bright iron of the past; and dismissed them with a cry of pain. He lay and moaned in the Hunter’s Bog, and the heavens were dark above him and the grass of the field an offence. “This is my father,” he said. “I draw my life from him; the flesh upon my bones is his, the bread I am fed with is the wages of these horrors.” He recalled his mother, and ground his forehead in the earth. He thought of flight, and where was he to flee to? of other lives, but was there any life worth living in this den of savage and jeering animals?
The interval before the execution was like a violent dream. He met his father; he would not look at him, he could not speak to him. It seemed there was no living creature but must have been swift to recognise that imminent animosity; but the hide of the Justice-Clerk remained impenetrable. Had my lord been talkative, the truce could never have subsisted; but he was by fortune in one of his humours of sour silence; and under the very guns of his broadside, Archie nursed the enthusiasm of rebellion. It seemed to him, from the top of his nineteen years’ experience, as if he were marked at birth to be the perpetrator of some signal action, to set back fallen Mercy, to overthrow the usurping devil that sat, horned and hoofed, on her throne. Seductive Jacobin figments, which he had often refuted at the Speculative, swam up in his mind and startled him as with voices: and he seemed to himself to walk accompanied by an almost tangible presence of new beliefs and duties.
On the named morning he was at the place of execution. He saw the fleering rabble, the flinching wretch produced. He looked on for a while at a certain parody of devotion, which seemed to strip the wretch of his last claim to manhood. Then followed the brutal instant of extinction, and the paltry dangling of the remains like a broken jumping-jack. He had been prepared for something terrible, not for this tragic meanness. He stood a moment silent, and then – “I denounce this God-defying murder,” he shouted; and his father, if he must have disclaimed the sentiment, might have owned the stentorian voice with which it was uttered.
Frank Innes dragged him from the spot. The two handsome lads followed the same course of study and recreation, and felt a certain mutual attraction, founded mainly on good looks. It had never gone deep; Frank was by nature a thin, jeering creature, not truly susceptible whether of feeling or inspiring friendship; and the relation between the pair was altogether on the outside, a thing of common knowledge and the pleasantries that spring from a common acquaintance. The more credit to Frank that he was appalled by Archie’s outburst, and at least conceived the design of keeping him in sight, and, if possible, in hand, for the day. But Archie, who had just defied – was it God or Satan? – would not listen to the word of a college companion.
“I will not go with you,” he said. “I do not desire your company, sir; I would be alone.”
“Here, Weir, man, don’t be absurd,” said Innes, keeping a tight hold upon his sleeve. “I will not let you go until I know what you mean to do with yourself; it’s no use brandishing that staff.” For indeed at that moment Archie had made a sudden – perhaps a warlike – movement. “This has been the most insane affair; you know it has. You know very well that I’m playing the good Samaritan. All I wish is to keep you quiet.”
“If quietness is what you wish, Mr. Innes,” said Archie, “and you will promise to leave me entirely to myself, I will tell you so much, that I am going to walk in the country and admire the beauties of nature.”
“Honour bright?” asked Frank.
“I am not in the habit of lying, Mr. Innes,” retorted Archie. “I have the honour of wishing you good-day.”
“You won’t forget the Spec.?” asked Innes.
“The Spec.?” said Archie. “O no, I won’t forget the Spec.”
And the one young man carried his tortured spirit forth of the city and all the day long, by one road and another, in an endless pilgrimage of misery; while the other hastened smilingly to spread the news of Weir’s access of insanity, and to drum up for that night a full attendance at the Speculative, where further eccentric developments might certainly be looked for. I doubt if Innes had the least belief in his prediction; I think it flowed rather from a wish to make the story as good and the scandal as great as possible; not from any ill-will to Archie – from the mere pleasure of beholding interested faces. But for all that his words were prophetic. Archie did not forget the Spec.; he put in an appearance there at the due time, and, before the evening was over, had dealt a memorable shock to his companions. It chanced he was the president of the night. He sat in the same room where the Society still meets – only the portraits were not there: the men who afterwards sat for them were then but beginning their career. The same lustre of many tapers shed its light over the meeting; the same chair, perhaps, supported him that so many of us have sat in since. At times he seemed to forget the business of the evening, but even in these periods he sat with a great air of energy and determination. At times he meddled bitterly, and launched with defiance those fines which are the precious and rarely used artillery of the president. He little thought, as he did so, how he resembled his father, but his friends remarked upon it, chuckling. So far, in his high place above his fellow-students, he seemed set beyond the possibility of any scandal; but his mind was made up – he was determined to fulfil the sphere of his offence. He signed to Innes (whom he had just fined, and who just impeached his ruling) to succeed him in the chair, stepped down from the platform, and took his place by the chimney-piece, the shine of many wax tapers from above illuminating his pale face, the glow of the great red fire relieving from behind his slim figure. He had to propose, as an amendment to the next subject in the case-book, “Whether capital punishment be consistent with God’s will or man’s policy?”
A breath of embarrassment, of something like alarm, passed round the room, so daring did these words appear upon the lips of Hermiston’s only son. But the amendment was not seconded; the previous question was promptly moved and unanimously voted, and the momentary scandal smuggled by. Innes triumphed in the fulfilment of his prophecy. He and Archie were now become the heroes of the night; but whereas every one crowded about Innes, when the meeting broke up, but one of all his companions came to speak to Archie.
“Weir, man! That was an extraordinary raid of yours!” observed this courageous member, taking him confidentially by the arm as they went out.
“I don’t think it a raid,” said Archie grimly. “More like a war. I saw that poor brute hanged this morning, and my gorge rises at it yet.”
“Hut-tut,” returned his companion, and, dropping his arm like something hot, he sought the less tense society of others.
Archie found himself alone. The last of the faithful – or was it only the boldest of the curious? – had fled. He watched the black huddle of his fellow-students draw off down and up the street, in whispering or boisterous gangs. And the isolation of the moment weighed upon him like an omen and an emblem of his destiny in life. Bred up in unbroken fear himself, among trembling servants, and in a house which (at the least ruffle in the master’s voice) shuddered into silence, he saw himself on the brink of the red valley of war, and measured the danger and length of it with awe. He made a detour in the glimmer and shadow of the streets, came into the back stable lane, and watched for a long while the light burn steady in the Judge’s room. The longer he gazed upon that illuminated window-blind, the more blank became the picture of the man who sat behind it, endlessly turning over sheets of process, pausing to sip a glass of port, or rising and passing heavily about his book- lined walls to verify some reference. He could not combine the brutal judge and the industrious, dispassionate student; the connecting link escaped him; from such a dual nature, it was impossible he should predict behaviour; and he asked himself if he had done well to plunge into a business of which the end could not be foreseen? and presently after, with a sickening decline of confidence, if he had done loyally to strike his father? For he had struck him – defied him twice over and before a cloud of witnesses – struck him a public buffet before crowds. Who had called him to judge his father in these precarious and high questions? The office was usurped. It might have become a stranger; in a son – there was no blinking it – in a son, it was disloyal. And now, between these two natures so antipathetic, so hateful to each other, there was depending an unpardonable affront: and the providence of God alone might foresee the manner in which it would be resented by Lord Hermiston.
These misgivings tortured him all night and arose with him in the winter’s morning; they followed him from class to class, they made him shrinkingly sensitive to every shade of manner in his companions, they sounded in his ears through the current voice of the professor; and he brought them home with him at night unabated and indeed increased. The cause of this increase lay in a chance encounter with the celebrated Dr. Gregory. Archie stood looking vaguely in the lighted window of a book shop, trying to nerve himself for the approaching ordeal. My lord and he had met and parted in the morning as they had now done for long, with scarcely the ordinary civilities of life; and it was plain to the son that nothing had yet reached the father’s ears. Indeed, when he recalled the awful countenance of my lord, a timid hope sprang up in him that perhaps there would be found no one bold enough to carry tales. If this were so, he asked himself, would he begin again? and he found no answer. It was at this moment that a hand was laid upon his arm, and a voice said in his ear, “My dear Mr. Archie, you had better come and see me.”
He started, turned round, and found himself face to face with Dr. Gregory. “And why should I come to see you?” he asked, with the defiance of the miserable.
“Because you are looking exceedingly ill,” said the doctor, “and you very evidently want looking after, my young friend. Good folk are scarce, you know; and it is not every one that would be quite so much missed as yourself. It is not every one that Hermiston would miss.”
And with a nod and a smile, the doctor passed on.
A moment after, Archie was in pursuit, and had in turn, but more roughly, seized him by the arm.
“What do you mean? what did you mean by saying that? What makes you think that Hermis – my father would have missed me?”
The doctor turned about and looked him all over with a clinical eye. A far more stupid man than Dr. Gregory might have guessed the truth; but ninety-nine out of a hundred, even if they had been equally inclined to kindness, would have blundered by some touch of charitable exaggeration. The doctor was better inspired. He knew the father well; in that white face of intelligence and suffering, he divined something of the son; and he told, without apology or adornment, the plain truth.
“When you had the measles, Mr. Archibald, you had them gey and ill; and I thought you were going to slip between my fingers,” he said. “Well, your father was anxious. How did I know it? says you. Simply because I am a trained observer. The sign that I saw him make, ten thousand would have missed; and perhaps – PERHAPS, I say, because he’s a hard man to judge of – but perhaps he never made another. A strange thing to consider! It was this. One day I came to him: `Hermiston,’ said I, `there’s a change.’ He never said a word, just glowered at me (if ye’ll pardon the phrase) like a wild beast. `A change for the better,’ said I. And I distinctly heard him take his breath.”
The doctor left no opportunity for anti-climax; nodding his cocked hat (a piece of antiquity to which he clung) and repeating “Distinctly” with raised eye-brows, he took his departure, and left Archie speechless in the street.
The anecdote might be called infinitely little, and yet its meaning for Archie was immense. “I did not know the old man had so much blood in him.” He had never dreamed this sire of his, this aboriginal antique, this adamantine Adam, had even so much of a heart as to be moved in the least degree for another – and that other himself, who had insulted him! With the generosity of youth, Archie was instantly under arms upon the other side: had instantly created a new image of Lord Hermiston, that of a man who was all iron without and all sensibility within. The mind of the vile jester, the tongue that had pursued Duncan Jopp with unmanly insults, the unbeloved countenance that he had known and feared for so long, were all forgotten; and he hastened home, impatient to confess his misdeeds, impatient to throw himself on the mercy of this imaginary character.
He was not to be long without a rude awakening. It was in the gloaming when he drew near the door-step of the lighted house, and was aware of the figure of his father approaching from the opposite side. Little daylight lingered; but on the door being opened, the strong yellow shine of the lamp gushed out upon the landing and shone full on Archie, as he stood, in the old-fashioned observance of respect, to yield precedence. The judge came without haste, stepping stately and firm; his chin raised, his face (as he entered the lamplight) strongly illumined, his mouth set hard. There was never a wink of change in his expression; without looking to the right or left, he mounted the stair, passed close to Archie, and entered the house. Instinctively, the boy, upon his first coming, had made a movement to meet him; instinctively he recoiled against the railing, as the old man swept by him in a pomp of indignation. Words were needless; he knew all – perhaps more than all – and the hour of judgment was at hand.
It is possible that, in this sudden revulsion of hope, and before these symptoms of impending danger, Archie might have fled. But not even that was left to him. My lord, after hanging up his cloak and hat, turned round in the lighted entry, and made him an imperative and silent gesture with his thumb, and with the strange instinct of obedience, Archie followed him into the house.
All dinner-time there reigned over the Judge’s table a palpable silence, and as soon as the solids were despatched he rose to his feet.
“M’Killup, tak’ the wine into my room,” said he; and then to his son: “Archie, you and me has to have a talk.”
It was at this sickening moment that Archie’s courage, for the first and last time, entirely deserted him. “I have an appointment,” said he.
“It’ll have to be broken, then,” said Hermiston, and led the way into his study.
The lamp was shaded, the fire trimmed to a nicety, the table covered deep with orderly documents, the backs of law books made a frame upon all sides that was only broken by the window and the doors.
For a moment Hermiston warmed his hands at the fire, presenting his back to Archie; then suddenly disclosed on him the terrors of the Hanging Face.
“What’s this I hear of ye?” he asked.
There was no answer possible to Archie.
“I’ll have to tell ye, then,” pursued Hermiston. “It seems ye’ve been skirting against the father that begot ye, and one of his Maijesty’s Judges in this land; and that in the public street, and while an order of the Court was being executit. Forbye which, it would appear that ye’ve been airing your opeenions in a Coallege Debatin’ Society”; he paused a moment: and then, with extraordinary bitterness, added: “Ye damned eediot.”
“I had meant to tell you,” stammered Archie. “I see you are well informed.”
“Muckle obleeged to ye,” said his lordship, and took his usual seat. “And so you disapprove of Caapital Punishment?” he added.
“I am sorry, sir, I do,” said Archie.
“I am sorry, too,” said his lordship. “And now, if you please, we shall approach this business with a little more parteecularity. I hear that at the hanging of Duncan Jopp – and, man! ye had a fine client there – in the middle of all the riff-raff of the ceety, ye thought fit to cry out, `This is a damned murder, and my gorge rises at the man that haangit him.’ “
“No, sir, these were not my words,” cried Archie.
“What were yer words, then?” asked the Judge.
“I believe I said, `I denounce it as a murder!'” said the son. “I beg your pardon – a God-defying murder. I have no wish to conceal the truth,” he added, and looked his father for a moment in the face.
“God, it would only need that of it next!” cried Hermiston. “There was nothing about your gorge rising, then?”
“That was afterwards, my lord, as I was leaving the Speculative. I said I had been to see the miserable creature hanged, and my gorge rose at it.”
“Did ye, though?” said Hermiston. “And I suppose ye knew who haangit him?”
“I was present at the trial, I ought to tell you that, I ought to explain. I ask your pardon beforehand for any expression that may seem undutiful. The position in which I stand is wretched,” said the unhappy hero, now fairly face to face with the business he had chosen. “I have been reading some of your cases. I was present while Jopp was tried. It was a hideous business. Father, it was a hideous thing! Grant he was vile, why should you hunt him with a vileness equal to his own? It was done with glee – that is the word – you did it with glee; and I looked on, God help me! with horror.”
“You’re a young gentleman that doesna approve of Caapital Punishment,” said Hermiston. “Weel, I’m an auld man that does. I was glad to get Jopp haangit, and what for would I pretend I wasna? You’re all for honesty, it seems; you couldn’t even steik your mouth on the public street. What for should I steik mines upon the bench, the King’s officer, bearing the sword, a dreid to evil-doers, as I was from the beginning, and as I will be to the end! Mair than enough of it! Heedious! I never gave twa thoughts to heediousness, I have no call to be bonny. I’m a man that gets through with my day’s business, and let that suffice.”
The ring of sarcasm had died out of his voice as he went on; the plain words became invested with some of the dignity of the Justice-seat.
“It would be telling you if you could say as much,” the speaker resumed. “But ye cannot. Ye’ve been reading some of my cases, ye say. But it was not for the law in them, it was to spy out your faither’s nakedness, a fine employment in a son. You’re splairging; you’re running at lairge in life like a wild nowt. It’s impossible you should think any longer of coming to the Bar. You’re not fit for it; no splairger is. And another thing: son of mines or no son of mines, you have flung fylement in public on one of the Senators of the Coallege of Justice, and I would make it my business to see that ye were never admitted there yourself. There is a kind of a decency to be observit. Then comes the next of it – what am I to do with ye next? Ye’ll have to find some kind of a trade, for I’ll never support ye in idleset. What do ye fancy ye’ll be fit for? The pulpit? Na, they could never get diveenity into that bloackhead. Him that the law of man whammles is no likely to do muckle better by the law of God. What would ye make of hell? Wouldna your gorge rise at that? Na, there’s no room for splairgers under the fower quarters of John Calvin. What else is there? Speak up. Have ye got nothing of your own?”
“Father, let me go to the Peninsula,” said Archie. “That’s all I’m fit for – to fight.”
“All? quo’ he!” returned the Judge. “And it would be enough too, if I thought it. But I’ll never trust ye so near the French, you that’s so Frenchi-feed.”
“You do me injustice there, sir,” said Archie. “I am loyal; I will not boast; but any interest I may have ever felt in the French – “
“Have ye been so loyal to me?” interrupted his father.
There came no reply.
“I think not,” continued Hermiston. “And I would send no man to be a servant to the King, God bless him! that has proved such a shauchling son to his own faither. You can splairge here on Edinburgh street, and where’s the hairm? It doesna play buff on me! And if there were twenty thousand eediots like yourself, sorrow a Duncan Jopp would hang the fewer. But there’s no splairging possible in a camp; and if ye were to go to it, you would find out for yourself whether Lord Well’n’ton approves of caapital punishment or not. You a sodger!” he cried, with a sudden burst of scorn. “Ye auld wife, the sodgers would bray at ye like cuddies!”
As at the drawing of a curtain, Archie was aware of some illogicality in his position, and stood abashed. He had a strong impression, besides, of the essential valour of the old gentleman before him, how conveyed it would be hard to say.
“Well, have ye no other proposeetion?” said my lord again.
“You have taken this so calmly, sir, that I cannot but stand ashamed,” began Archie.
“I’m nearer voamiting, though, than you would fancy,” said my lord. The blood rose to Archie’s brow.
“I beg your pardon, I should have said that you had accepted my affront. . . . I admit it was an affront; I did not think to apologise, but I do, I ask your pardon; it will not be so again, I pass you my word of honour. . . . I should have said that I admired your magnanimity with – this – offender,” Archie concluded with a gulp.
“I have no other son, ye see,” said Hermiston. “A bonny one I have gotten! But I must just do the best I can wi’ him, and what am I to do? If ye had been younger, I would have wheepit ye for this rideeculous exhibeetion. The way it is, I have just to grin and bear. But one thing is to be clearly understood. As a faither, I must grin and bear it; but if I had been the Lord Advocate instead of the Lord Justice- Clerk, son or no son, Mr. Erchibald Weir would have been in a jyle the night.”
Archie was now dominated. Lord Hermiston was coarse and cruel; and yet the son was aware of a bloomless nobility, an ungracious abnegation of the man’s self in the man’s office. At every word, this sense of the greatness of Lord Hermiston’s spirit struck more home; and along with it that of his own impotence, who had struck – and perhaps basely struck – at his own father, and not reached so far as to have even nettled him.
“I place myself in your hands without reserve,” he said.
“That’s the first sensible word I’ve had of ye the night,” said Hermiston. “I can tell ye, that would have been the end of it, the one way or the other; but it’s better ye should come there yourself, than what I would have had to hirstle ye. Weel, by my way of it – and my way is the best – there’s just the one thing it’s possible that ye might be with decency, and that’s a laird. Ye’ll be out of hairm’s way at the least of it. If ye have to rowt, ye can rowt amang the kye; and the maist feck of the caapital punishmeiit ye’re like to come across’ll be guddling trouts. Now, I’m for no idle lairdies; every man has to work, if it’s only at peddling ballants; to work, or to be wheeped, or to be haangit. If I set ye down at Hermiston I’ll have to see you work that place the way it has never been workit yet; ye must ken about the sheep like a herd; ye must be my grieve there, and I’ll see that I gain by ye. Is that understood?”
“I will do my best,” said Archie.
“Well, then, I’ll send Kirstie word the morn, and ye can go yourself the day after,” said Hermiston. “And just try to be less of an eediot!” he concluded with a freezing smile, and turned immediately to the papers on his desk.
CHAPTER IV – OPINIONS OF THE BENCH
LATE the same night, after a disordered walk, Archie was admitted into Lord Glenalmond’s dining-room, where he sat with a book upon his knee, beside three frugal coals of fire. In his robes upon the bench, Glenalmond had a certain air of burliness: plucked of these, it was a may-pole of a man that rose unsteadily from his chair to give his visitor welcome. Archie had suffered much in the last days, he had suffered again that evening; his face was white and drawn, his eyes wild and dark. But Lord Glenalmond greeted him without the least mark of surprise or curiosity.
“Come in, come in,” said he. “Come in and take a seat. Carstairs” (to his servant), “make up the fire, and then you can bring a bit of supper,” and again to Archie, with a very trivial accent: “I was half expecting you,” he added.
“No supper,” said Archie. “It is impossible that I should eat.”
“Not impossible,” said the tall old man, laying his hand upon his shoulder, “and, if you will believe me, necessary.”
“You know what brings me?” said Archie, as soon as the servant had left the room.
“I have a guess, I have a guess,” replied Glenalmond. “We will talk of it presently – when Carstairs has come and gone, and you have had a piece of my good Cheddar cheese and a pull at the porter tankard: not before.”
“It is impossible I should eat” repeated Archie.
“Tut, tut!” said Lord Glenalmond. “You have eaten nothing to-day, and I venture to add, nothing yesterday. There is no case that may not be made worse; this may be a very disagreeable business, but if you were to fall sick and die, it would be still more so, and for all concerned – for all concerned.”
“I see you must know all,” said Archie. “Where did you hear it?”
“In the mart of scandal, in the Parliament House,” said Glenalmond. “It runs riot below among the bar and the public, but it sifts up to us upon the bench, and rumour has some of her voices even in the divisions.”
Carstairs returned at this moment, and rapidly laid out a little supper; during which Lord Glenalmond spoke at large and a little vaguely on indifferent subjects, so that it might be rather said of him that he made a cheerful noise, than that he contributed to human conversation; and Archie sat upon the other side, not heeding him, brooding over his wrongs and errors.
But so soon as the servant was gone, he broke forth again at once. “Who told my father? Who dared to tell him? Could it have been you?”
“No, it was not me,” said the Judge; “although – to be quite frank with you, and after I had seen and warned you – it might have been me – I believe it was Glenkindie.”
“That shrimp!” cried Archie.
“As you say, that shrimp,” returned my lord; “although really it is scarce a fitting mode of expression for one of the senators of the College of Justice. We were hearing the parties in a long, crucial case, before the fifteen; Creech was moving at some length for an infeftment; when I saw Glenkindie lean forward to Hermiston with his hand over his mouth and make him a secret communication. No one could have guessed its nature from your father: from Glenkindie, yes, his malice sparked out of him a little grossly. But your father, no. A man of granite. The next moment he pounced upon Creech. `Mr. Creech,’ says he, `I’ll take a look of that sasine,’ and for thirty minutes after,” said Glenalmond, with a smile, “Messrs. Creech and Co. were fighting a pretty up-hill battle, which resulted, I need hardly add, in their total rout. The case was dismissed. No, I doubt if ever I heard Hermiston better inspired. He was literally rejoicing IN APICIBUS JURIS.”
Archie was able to endure no longer. He thrust his plate away and interrupted the deliberate and insignificant stream of talk. “Here,” he said, “I have made a fool of myself, if I have not made something worse. Do you judge between us – judge between a father and a son. I can speak to you; it is not like … I will tell you what I feel and what I mean to do; and you shall be the judge,” he repeated.
“I decline jurisdiction,” said Glenalmond, with extreme seriousness. “But, my dear boy, if it will do you any good to talk, and if it will interest you at all to hear what I may choose to say when I have heard you, I am quite at your command. Let an old man say it, for once, and not need to blush: I love you like a son.”
There came a sudden sharp sound in Archie’s throat. “Ay,” he cried, “and there it is! Love! Like a son! And how do you think I love my father?”
“Quietly, quietly,” says my lord.
“I will be very quiet,” replied Archie. “And I will be baldly frank. I do not love my father; I wonder sometimes if I do not hate him. There’s my shame; perhaps my sin; at least, and in the sight of God, not my fault. How was I to love him? He has never spoken to me, never smiled upon me; I do not think he ever touched me. You know the way he talks? You do not talk so, yet you can sit and hear him without shuddering, and I cannot. My soul is sick when he begins with it; I could smite him in the mouth. And all that’s nothing. I was at the trial of this Jopp. You were not there, but you must have heard him often; the man’s notorious for it, for being – look at my position! he’s my father and this is how I have to speak of him – notorious for being a brute and cruel and a coward. Lord Glenalmond, I give you my word, when I came out of that Court, I longed to die – the shame of it was beyond my strength: but I – I -” he rose from his seat and began to pace the room in a disorder. “Well, who am I? A boy, who have never been tried, have never done anything except this twopenny impotent folly with my father. But I tell you, my lord, and I know myself, I am at least that kind of a man – or that kind of a boy, if you prefer it – that I could die in torments rather than that any one should suffer as that scoundrel suffered. Well, and what have I done? I see it now. I have made a fool of myself, as I said in the beginning; and I have gone back, and asked my father’s pardon, and placed myself wholly in his hands – and he has sent me to Hermiston,” with a wretched smile, “for life, I suppose – and what can I say? he strikes me as having done quite right, and let me off better than I had deserved.”
“My poor, dear boy!” observed Glenalmond. “My poor dear and, if you will allow me to say so, very foolish boy! You are only discovering where you are; to one of your temperament, or of mine, a painful discovery. The world was not made for us; it was made for ten hundred millions of men, all different from each other and from us; there’s no royal road there, we just have to sclamber and tumble. Don’t think that I am at all disposed to be surprised; don’t suppose that I ever think of blaming you; indeed I rather admire! But there fall to be offered one or two observations on the case which occur to me and which (if you will listen to them dispassionately) may be the means of inducing you to view the matter more calmly. First of all, I cannot acquit you of a good deal of what is called intolerance. You seem to have been very much offended because your father talks a little sculduddery after dinner, which it is perfectly licit for him to do, and which (although I am not very fond of it myself) appears to be entirely an affair of taste. Your father, I scarcely like to remind you, since it is so trite a commonplace, is older than yourself. At least, he is MAJOR and SUI JURIS, and may please himself in the matter of his conversation. And, do you know, I wonder if he might not have as good an answer against you and me? We say we sometimes find him COARSE, but I suspect he might retort that he finds us always dull. Perhaps a relevant exception.”
He beamed on Archie, but no smile could be elicited.
“And now,” proceeded the Judge, “for `Archibald on Capital Punishment.’ This is a very plausible academic opinion; of course I do not and I cannot hold it; but that’s not to say that many able and excellent persons have not done so in the past. Possibly, in the past also, I may have a little dipped myself in the same heresy. My third client, or possibly my fourth, was the means of a return in my opinions. I never saw the man I more believed in; I would have put my hand in the fire, I would have gone to the cross for him; and when it came to trial he was gradually pictured before me, by undeniable probation, in the light of so gross, so cold-blooded, and so black-hearted a villain, that I had a mind to have cast my brief upon the table. I was then boiling against the man with even a more tropical temperature than I had been boiling for him. But I said to myself: `No, you have taken up his case; and because you have changed your mind it must not be suffered to let drop. All that rich tide of eloquence that you prepared last night with so much enthusiasm is out of place, and yet you must not desert him, you must say something.’ So I said something, and I got him off. It made my reputation. But an experience of that kind is formative. A man must not bring his passions to the bar – or to the bench,” he added.
The story had slightly rekindled Archie’s interest. “I could never deny,” he began – “I mean I can conceive that some men would be better dead. But who are we to know all the springs of God’s unfortunate creatures? Who are we to trust ourselves where it seems that God Himself must think twice before He treads, and to do it with delight? Yes, with delight. TIGRIS UT ASPERA.”
“Perhaps not a pleasant spectacle,” said Glenalmond. “And yet, do you know, I think somehow a great one.”
“I’ve had a long talk with him to-night,” said Archie.
“I was supposing so,” said Glenalmond.
“And he struck me – I cannot deny that he struck me as something very big,” pursued the son. “Yes, he is big. He never spoke about himself; only about me. I suppose I admired him. The dreadful part – “
“Suppose we did not talk about that,” interrupted Glenalmond. “You know it very well, it cannot in any way help that you should brood upon it, and I sometimes wonder whether you and I – who are a pair of sentimentalists – are quite good judges of plain men.”
“How do you mean?” asked Archie.
“FAIR judges, mean,” replied Glenalmond. “Can we be just to them? Do we not ask too much? There was a word of yours just now that impressed me a little when you asked me who we were to know all the springs of God’s unfortunate creatures. You applied that, as I understood, to capital cases only. But does it – I ask myself – does it not apply all through? Is it any less difficult to judge of a good man or of a half- good man, than of the worst criminal at the bar? And may not each have relevant excuses?”
“Ah, but we do not talk of punishing the good,” cried Archie.
“No, we do not talk of it,” said Glenalmond. “But I think we do it. Your father, for instance.”
“You think I have punished him?” cried Archie.
Lord Glenalmond bowed his head.
“I think I have,” said Archie. “And the worst is, I think he feels it! How much, who can tell, with such a being? But I think he does.”
“And I am sure of it,” said Glenalmond.
“Has he spoken to you, then?” cried Archie.
“O no,” replied the judge.
“I tell you honestly,” said Archie, “I want to make it up to him. I will go, I have already pledged myself to go to Hermiston. That was to him. And now I pledge myself to you, in the sight of God, that I will close my mouth on capital punishment and all other subjects where our views may clash, for – how long shall I say? when shall I have sense enough? – ten years. Is that well?”
“It is well,” said my lord.
“As far as it goes,” said Archie. “It is enough as regards myself, it is to lay down enough of my conceit. But as regards him, whom I have publicly insulted? What am I to do to him? How do you pay attentions to a – an Alp like that?”
“Only in one way,” replied Glenalmond. “Only by obedience, punctual, prompt, and scrupulous.”
“And I promise that he shall have it,” answered Archie. “I offer you my hand in pledge of it.”
“And I take your hand as a solemnity,” replied the judge. “God bless you, my dear, and enable you to keep your promise. God guide you in the true way, and spare your days, and preserve to you your honest heart.” At that, he kissed the young man upon the forehead in a gracious, distant, antiquated way; and instantly launched, with a marked change of voice, into another subject. “And now, let us replenish the tankard; and I believe if you will try my Cheddar again, you would find you had a better appetite. The Court has spoken, and the case is dismissed.”
“No, there is one thing I must say,” cried Archie. “I must say it in justice to himself. I know – I believe faithfully, slavishly, after our talk – he will never ask me anything unjust. I am proud to feel it, that we have that much in common, I am proud to say it to you.”
The Judge, with shining eyes, raised his tankard. “And I think perhaps that we might permit ourselves a toast,” said he. “I should like to propose the health of a man very different from me and very much my superior – a man from whom I have often differed, who has often (in the trivial expression) rubbed me the wrong way, but whom I have never ceased to respect and, I may add, to be not a little afraid of. Shall I give you his name?”
“The Lord Justice-Clerk, Lord Hermiston,” said Archie, almost with gaiety; and the pair drank the toast deeply.
It was not precisely easy to re-establish, after these emotional passages, the natural flow of conversation. But the Judge eked out what was wanting with kind looks, produced his snuff-box (which was very rarely seen) to fill in a pause, and at last, despairing of any further social success, was upon the point of getting down a book to read a favourite passage, when there came a rather startling summons at the front door, and Carstairs ushered in my Lord Glenkindie, hot from a midnight supper. I am not aware that Glenkindie was ever a beautiful object, being short, and gross-bodied, and with an expression of sensuality comparable to a bear’s. At that moment, coming in hissing from many potations, with a flushed countenance and blurred eyes, he was strikingly contrasted with the tall, pale, kingly figure of Glenalmond. A rush of confused thought came over Archie – of shame that this was one of his father’s elect friends; of pride, that at the least of it Hermiston could carry his liquor; and last of all, of rage, that he should have here under his eyes the man that had betrayed him. And then that too passed away; and he sat quiet, biding his opportunity.
The tipsy senator plunged at once into an explanation with Glenalmond. There was a point reserved yesterday, he had been able to make neither head nor tail of it, and seeing lights in the house, he had just dropped in for a glass of porter – and at this point he became aware of the third person. Archie saw the cod’s mouth and the blunt lips of Glenkindie gape at him for a moment, and the recognition twinkle in his eyes.
“Who’s this?” said he. “What? is this possibly you, Don Quickshot? And how are ye? And how’s your father? And what’s all this we hear of you? It seems you’re a most extraordinary leveller, by all tales. No king, no parliaments, and your gorge rises at the macers, worthy men! Hoot, toot! Dear, dear me! Your father’s son too! Most rideeculous!”
Archie was on his feet, flushing a little at the reappearance of his unhappy figure of speech, but perfectly self-possessed. “My lord – and you, Lord Glenalmond, my dear friend,” he began, “this is a happy chance for me, that I can make my confession and offer my apologies to two of you at once.”
“Ah, but I don’t know about that. Confession? It’ll be judeecial, my young friend,” cried the jocular Glenkindie. “And I’m afraid to listen to ye. Think if ye were to make me a coanvert!”
“If you would allow me, my lord,” returned Archie, “what I have to say is very serious to me; and be pleased to be humorous after I am gone!”
“Remember, I’ll hear nothing against the macers!” put in the incorrigible Glenkindie.
But Archie continued as though he had not spoken. “I have played, both yesterday and to-day, a part for which I can only offer the excuse of youth. I was so unwise as to go to an execution; it seems I made a scene at the gallows; not content with which, I spoke the same night in a college society against capital punishment. This is the extent of what I have done, and in case you hear more alleged against me, I protest my innocence. I have expressed my regret already to my father, who is so good as to pass my conduct over – in a degree, and upon the condition that I am to leave my law studies.” . . .
CHAPTER V – WINTER ON THE MOORS
I. AT HERMISTON
THE road to Hermiston runs for a great part of the way up the valley of a stream, a favourite with anglers and with midges, full of falls and pools, and shaded by willows and natural woods of birch. Here and there, but at great distances, a byway branches off, and a gaunt farmhouse may be descried above in a fold of the hill; but the more part of the time, the road would be quite empty of passage and the hills of habitation. Hermiston parish is one of the least populous in Scotland; and, by the time you came that length, you would scarce be surprised at the inimitable smallness of the kirk, a dwarfish, ancient place seated for fifty, and standing in a green by the burn-side among two-score gravestones. The manse close by, although no more than a cottage, is surrounded by the brightness of a flower-garden and the straw roofs of bees; and the whole colony, kirk and manse, garden and graveyard, finds harbourage in a grove of rowans, and is all the year round in a great silence broken only by the drone of the bees, the tinkle of the burn, and the bell on Sundays. A mile beyond the kirk the road leaves the valley by a precipitous ascent, and brings you a little after to the place of Hermiston, where it comes to an end in the back-yard before the coach-house. All beyond and about is the great field, of the hills; the plover, the curlew, and the lark cry there; the wind blows as it blows in a ship’s rigging, hard and cold and pure; and the hill-tops huddle one behind another like a herd of cattle into the sunset.
The house was sixty years old, unsightly, comfortable; a farmyard and a kitchen-garden on the left, with a fruit wall where little hard green pears came to their maturity about the end of October.
The policy (as who should say the park) was of some extent, but very ill reclaimed; heather and moorfowl had crossed the boundary wall and spread and roosted within; and it would have tasked a landscape gardener to say where policy ended and unpolicied nature began. My lord had been led by the influence of Mr. Sheriff Scott into a considerable design of planting; many acres were accordingly set out with fir, and the little feathery besoms gave a false scale and lent a strange air of a toy-shop to the moors. A great, rooty sweetness of bogs was in the air, and at all seasons an infinite melancholy piping of hill birds. Standing so high and with so little shelter, it was a cold, exposed house, splashed by showers, drenched by continuous rains that made the gutters to spout, beaten upon and buffeted by all the winds of heaven; and the prospect would be often black with tempest, and often white with the snows of winter. But the house was wind and weather proof, the hearths were kept bright, and the rooms pleasant with live fires of peat; and Archie might sit of an evening and hear the squalls bugle on the moorland, and watch the fire prosper in the earthy fuel, and the smoke winding up the chimney, and drink deep of the pleasures of shelter.
Solitary as the place was, Archie did not want neighbours. Every night, if he chose, he might go down to the manse and share a “brewst” of toddy with the minister – a hare-brained ancient gentleman, long and light and still active, though his knees were loosened with age, and his voice broke continually in childish trebles – and his lady wife, a heavy, comely dame, without a word to say for herself beyond good-even and good-day. Harum-scarum, clodpole young lairds of the neighbourhood paid him the compliment of a visit. Young Hay of Romanes rode down to call, on his crop-eared pony; young Pringle of Drumanno came up on his bony grey. Hay remained on the hospitable field, and must be carried to bed; Pringle got somehow to his saddle about 3 A.M., and (as Archie stood with the lamp on the upper doorstep) lurched, uttered a senseless view- holloa, and vanished out of the small circle of illumination like a wraith. Yet a minute or two longer the clatter of his break-neck flight was audible, then it was cut off by the intervening steepness of the hill; and again, a great while after, the renewed beating of phantom horse-hoofs, far in the valley of the Hermiston, showed that the horse at least, if not his rider, was still on the homeward way.
There was a Tuesday club at the “Cross-keys” in Crossmichael, where the young bloods of the country-side congregated and drank deep on a percentage of the expense, so that he was left gainer who should have drunk the most. Archie had no great mind to this diversion, but he took it like a duty laid upon him, went with a decent regularity, did his manfullest with the liquor, held up his head in the local jests, and got home again and was able to put up his horse, to the admiration of Kirstie and the lass that helped her. He dined at Driffel, supped at Windielaws. He went to the new year’s ball at Huntsfield and was made welcome, and thereafter rode to hounds with my Lord Muirfell, upon whose name, as that of a legitimate Lord of Parliament, in a work so full of Lords of Session, my pen should pause reverently. Yet the same fate attended him here as in Edinburgh. The habit of solitude tends to perpetuate itself, and an austerity of which he was quite unconscious, and a pride which seemed arrogance, and perhaps was chiefly shyness, discouraged and offended his new companions. Hay did not return more than twice, Pringle never at all, and there came a time when Archie even desisted from the Tuesday Club, and became in all things – what he had had the name of almost from the first – the Recluse of Hermiston. High-nosed Miss Pringle of Drumanno and high-stepping Miss Marshall of the Mains were understood to have had a difference of opinion about him the day after the ball – he was none the wiser, he could not suppose himself to be remarked by these entrancing ladies. At the ball itself my Lord Muirfell’s daughter, the Lady Flora, spoke to him twice, and the second time with a touch of appeal, so that her colour rose and her voice trembled a little in his ear, like a passing grace in music. He stepped back with a heart on fire, coldly and not ungracefully excused himself, and a little after watched her dancing with young Drumanno of the empty laugh, and was harrowed at the sight, and raged to himself that this was a world in which it was given to Drumanno to please, and to himself only to stand aside and envy. He seemed excluded, as of right, from the favour of such society – seemed to extinguish mirth wherever he came, and was quick to feel the wound, and desist, and retire into solitude. If he had but understood the figure he presented, and the impression he made on these bright eyes and tender hearts; if he had but guessed that the Recluse of Hermiston, young, graceful, well spoken, but always cold, stirred the maidens of the county with the charm of Byronism when Byronism was new, it may be questioned whether his destiny might not even yet have been modified. It may be questioned, and I think it should be doubted. It was in his horoscope to be parsimonious of pain to himself, or of the chance of pain, even to the avoidance of any opportunity of pleasure; to have a Roman sense of duty, an instinctive aristocracy of manners and taste; to be the son of Adam Weir and Jean Rutherford.
Kirstie was now over fifty, and might have sat to a sculptor. Long of limb, and still light of foot, deep-breasted, robust-loined, her golden hair not yet mingled with any trace of silver, the years had but caressed and embellished her. By the lines of a rich and vigorous maternity, she seemed destined to be the bride of heroes and the mother of their children; and behold, by the iniquity of fate, she had passed through her youth alone, and drew near to the confines of age, a childless woman. The tender ambitions that she had received at birth had been, by time and disappointment, diverted into a certain barren zeal of industry and fury of interference. She carried her thwarted ardours into housework, she washed floors with her empty heart. If she could not win the love of one with love, she must dominate all by her temper. Hasty, wordy, and wrathful, she had a drawn quarrel with most of her neighbours, and with the others not much more than armed neutrality. The grieve’s wife had been “sneisty”; the sister of the gardener who kept house for him had shown herself “upsitten”; and she wrote to Lord Hermiston about once a year demanding the discharge of the offenders, and justifying the demand by much wealth of detail. For it must not be supposed that the quarrel rested with the wife and did not take in the husband also – or with the gardener’s sister, and did not speedily include the gardener himself. As the upshot of all this petty quarrelling and intemperate speech, she was practically excluded (like a lightkeeper on his tower) from the comforts of human association; except with her own indoor drudge, who, being but a lassie and entirely at her mercy, must submit to the shifty weather of “the mistress’s” moods without complaint, and be willing to take buffets or caresses according to the temper of the hour. To Kirstie, thus situate and in the Indian summer of her heart, which was slow to submit to age, the gods sent this equivocal good thing of Archie’s presence. She had known him in the cradle and paddled him when he misbehaved; and yet, as she had not so much as set eyes on him since he was eleven and had his last serious illness, the tall, slender, refined, and rather melancholy young gentleman of twenty came upon her with the shock of a new acquaintance. He was “Young Hermiston,” “the laird himsel’ “: he had an air of distinctive superiority, a cold straight glance of his black eyes, that abashed the woman’s tantrums in the beginning, and therefore the possibility of any quarrel was excluded. He was new, and therefore immediately aroused her curiosity; he was reticent, and kept it awake. And lastly he was dark and she fair, and he was male and she female, the everlasting fountains of interest.
Her feeling partook of the loyalty of a clanswoman, the hero-worship of a maiden aunt, and the idolatry due to a god. No matter what he had asked of her, ridiculous or tragic, she would have done it and joyed to do it. Her passion, for it was nothing less, entirely filled her. It was a rich physical pleasure to make his bed or light his lamp for him when he was absent, to pull off his wet boots or wait on him at dinner when he returned. A young man who should have so doted on the idea, moral and physical, of any woman, might be properly described as being in love, head and heels, and would have behaved himself accordingly. But Kirstie – though her heart leaped at his coming footsteps – though, when he patted her shoulder, her face brightened for the day – had not a hope or thought beyond the present moment and its perpetuation to the end of time. Till the end of time she would have had nothing altered, but still continue delightedly to serve her idol, and be repaid (say twice in the month) with a clap on the shoulder.
I have said her heart leaped – it is the accepted phrase. But rather, when she was alone in any chamber of the house, and heard his foot passing on the corridors, something in her bosom rose slowly until her breath was suspended, and as slowly fell again with a deep sigh, when the steps had passed and she was disappointed of her eyes’ desire. This perpetual hunger and thirst of his presence kept her all day on the alert. When he went forth at morning, she would stand and follow him with admiring looks. As it grew late and drew to the time of his return, she would steal forth to a corner of the policy wall and be seen standing there sometimes by the hour together, gazing with shaded eyes, waiting the exquisite and barren pleasure of his view a mile off on the mountains. When at night she had trimmed and gathered the fire, turned down his bed, and laid out his night-gear – when there was no more to be done for the king’s pleasure, but to remember him fervently in her usually very tepid prayers, and go to bed brooding upon his perfections, his future career, and what she should give him the next day for dinner – there still remained before her one more opportunity; she was still to take in the tray and say good-night. Sometimes Archie would glance up from his book with a preoccupied nod and a perfunctory salutation which was in truth a dismissal; sometimes – and by degrees more often – the volume would be laid aside, he would meet her coming with a look of relief; and the conversation would be engaged, last out the supper, and be prolonged till the small hours by the waning fire. It was no wonder that Archie was fond of company after his solitary days; and Kirstie, upon her side, exerted all the arts of her vigorous nature to ensnare his attention. She would keep back some piece of news during dinner to be fired off with the entrance of the supper tray, and form as it were the LEVER DE RIDEAU of the evening’s entertainment. Once he had heard her tongue wag, she made sure of the result. From one subject to another she moved by insidious transitions, fearing the least silence, fearing almost to give him time for an answer lest it should slip into a hint of separation. Like so many people of her class, she was a brave narrator; her place was on the hearth-rug and she made it a rostrum, mimeing her stories as she told them, fitting them with vital detail, spinning them out with endless “quo’ he’s” and “quo’ she’s,” her voice sinking into a whisper over the supernatural or the horrific; until she would suddenly spring up in affected surprise, and pointing to the clock, “Mercy, Mr. Archie!” she would say, “whatten a time o’ night is this of it! God forgive me for a daft wife!” So it befell, by good management, that she was not only the first to begin these nocturnal conversations, but invariably the first to break them off; so she managed to retire and not to be dismissed.
3. A BORDER FAMILY
Such an unequal intimacy has never been uncommon in Scotland, where the clan spirit survives; where the servant tends to spend her life in the same service, a helpmeet at first, then a tyrant, and at last a pensioner; where, besides, she is not necessarily destitute of the pride of birth, but is, perhaps, like Kirstie, a connection of her master’s, and at least knows the legend of her own family, and may count kinship with some illustrious dead. For that is the mark of the Scot of all classes: that he stands in an attitude towards the past unthinkable to Englishmen, and remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation. No more characteristic instance could be found than in the family of Kirstie Elliott. They were all, and Kirstie the first of all, ready and eager to pour forth the particulars of their genealogy, embellished with every detail that memory had handed down or fancy fabricated; and, behold! from every ramification of that tree there dangled a halter. The Elliotts themselves have had a chequered history; but these Elliotts deduced, besides, from three of the most unfortunate of the border clans – the Nicksons, the Ellwalds, and the Crozers. One ancestor after another might be seen appearing a moment out of the rain and the hill mist upon his furtive business, speeding home, perhaps, with a paltry booty of lame horses and lean kine, or squealing and dealing death in some moorland feud of the ferrets and the wild cats. One after another closed his obscure adventures in mid-air, triced up to the arm of the royal gibbet or the Baron’s dule-tree. For the rusty blunderbuss of Scots criminal justice, which usually hurt nobody but jurymen, became a weapon of precision for the Nicksons, the Ellwalds, and the Crozers. The exhilaration of their exploits seemed to haunt the memories of their descendants alone, and the shame to be forgotten. Pride glowed in their bosoms to publish their relationship to “Andrew Ellwald of the Laverockstanes, called `Unchancy Dand,’ who was justifeed wi’ seeven mair of the same name at Jeddart in the days of King James the Sax.” In all this tissue of crime and misfortune, the Elliotts of Cauldstaneslap had one boast which must appear legitimate: the males were gallows- birds, born outlaws, petty thieves, and deadly brawlers; but, according to the same tradition, the females were all chaste and faithful. The power of ancestry on the character is not limited to the inheritance of cells. If I buy ancestors by the gross from the benevolence of Lyon King of Arms, my grandson (if he is Scottish) will feel a quickening emulation of their deeds. The men of the Elliotts were proud, lawless, violent as of right, cherishing and prolonging a tradition. In like manner with the women. And the woman, essentially passionate and reckless, who crouched on the rug, in the shine of the peat fire, telling these tales, had cherished through life a wild integrity of virtue.
Her father Gilbert had been deeply pious, a savage disciplinarian in the antique style, and withal a notorious smuggler. “I mind when I was a bairn getting mony a skelp and being shoo’d to bed like pou’try,” she would say. “That would be when the lads and their bit kegs were on the road. We’ve had the riffraff of two-three counties in our kitchen, mony’s the time, betwix’ the twelve and the three; and their lanterns would be standing in the forecourt, ay, a score o’ them at once. But there was nae ungodly talk permitted at Cauldstaneslap. My faither was a consistent man in walk and conversation; just let slip an aith, and there was the door to ye! He had that zeal for the Lord, it was a fair wonder to hear him pray, but the family has aye had a gift that way.” This father was twice married, once to a dark woman of the old Ellwald stock, by whom he had Gilbert, presently of Cauldstaneslap; and, secondly, to the mother of Kirstie. “He was an auld man when he married her, a fell auld man wi’ a muckle voice – you could hear him rowting from the top o’ the Kye-skairs,” she said; “but for her, it appears she was a perfit wonder. It was gentle blood she had, Mr. Archie, for it was your ain. The country-side gaed gyte about her and her gowden hair. Mines is no to be mentioned wi’ it, and there’s few weemen has mair hair than what I have, or yet a bonnier colour. Often would I tell my dear Miss Jeannie – that was your mother, dear, she was cruel ta’en up about her hair, it was unco’ tender, ye see – ‘Houts, Miss Jeannie,’ I would say, ‘just fling your washes and your French dentifrishes in the back o’ the fire, for that’s the place for them; and awa’ down to a burn side, and wash yersel’ in cauld hill water, and dry your bonny hair in the caller wind o’ the muirs, the way that my mother aye washed hers, and that I have aye made it a practice to have wishen mines – just you do what I tell ye, my dear, and ye’ll give me news of it! Ye’ll have hair, and routh of hair, a pigtail as thick’s my arm,’ I said, `and the bonniest colour like the clear gowden guineas, so as the lads in kirk’ll no can keep their eyes off it!’ Weel, it lasted out her time, puir thing! I cuttit a lock of it upon her corp that was lying there sae cauld. I’ll show it ye some of thir days if ye’re good. But, as I was sayin’, my mither – “
On the death of the father there remained golden-haired Kirstie, who took service with her distant kinsfolk, the Rutherfords, and black-a- vised Gilbert, twenty years older, who farmed the Cauldstaneslap, married, and begot four sons between 1773 and 1784, and a daughter, like a postscript, in ’97, the year of Camperdown and Cape St. Vincent. It seemed it was a tradition in the family to wind up with a belated girl. In 1804, at the age of sixty, Gilbert met an end that might be called heroic. He was due home from market any time from eight at night till five in the morning, and in any condition from the quarrelsome to the speechless, for he maintained to that age the goodly customs of the Scots farmer. It was known on this occasion that he had a good bit of money to bring home; the word had gone round loosely. The laird had shown his guineas, and if anybody had but noticed it, there was an ill- looking, vagabond crew, the scum of Edinburgh, that drew out of the market long ere it was dusk and took the hill-road by Hermiston, where it was not to be believed that they had lawful business. One of the country-side, one Dickieson, they took with them to be their guide, and dear he paid for it! Of a sudden in the ford of the Broken Dykes, this vermin clan fell on the laird, six to one, and him three parts asleep, having drunk hard. But it is ill to catch an Elliott. For a while, in the night and the black water that was deep as to his saddle-girths, he wrought with his staff like a smith at his stithy, and great was the sound of oaths and blows. With that the ambuscade was burst, and he rode for home with a pistol-ball in him, three knife wounds, the loss of his front teeth, a broken rib and bridle, and a dying horse. That was a race with death that the laird rode! In the mirk night, with his broken bridle and his head swimming, he dug his spurs to the rowels in the horse’s side, and the horse, that was even worse off than himself, the poor creature! screamed out loud like a person as he went, so that the hills echoed with it, and the folks at Cauldstaneslap got to their feet about the table and looked at each other with white faces. The horse fell dead at the yard gate, the laird won the length of the house and fell there on the threshold. To the son that raised him he gave the bag of money. “Hae,” said he. All the way up the thieves had seemed to him to be at his heels, but now the hallucination left him – he saw them again in the place of the ambuscade – and the thirst of vengeance seized on his dying mind. Raising himself and pointing with an imperious finger into the black night from which he had come, he uttered the single command, “Brocken Dykes,” and fainted. He had never been loved, but he had been feared in honour. At that sight, at that word, gasped out at them from a toothless and bleeding mouth, the old Elliott spirit awoke with a shout in the four sons. “Wanting the hat,” continues my author, Kirstie, whom I but haltingly follow, for she told this tale like one inspired, “wanting guns, for there wasna twa grains o’ pouder in the house, wi’ nae mair weepons than their sticks into their hands, the fower o’ them took the road. Only Hob, and that was the eldest, hunkered at the doorsill where the blood had rin, fyled his hand wi’ it – and haddit it up to Heeven in the way o’ the auld Border aith. `Hell shall have her ain again this nicht!’ he raired, and rode forth upon his earrand.” It was three miles to Broken Dykes, down hill, and a sore road. Kirstie has seen men from Edinburgh dismounting there in plain day to lead their horses. But the four brothers rode it as if Auld Hornie were behind and Heaven in front. Come to the ford, and there was Dickieson. By all tales, he was not dead, but breathed and reared upon his elbow, and cried out to them for help. It was at a graceless face that he asked mercy. As soon as Hob saw, by the glint of the lantern, the eyes shining and the whiteness of the teeth in the man’s face, “Damn you!” says he; “ye hae your teeth, hae ye?” and rode his horse to and fro upon that human remnant. Beyond that, Dandie must dismount with the lantern to be their guide; he was the youngest son, scarce twenty at the time. “A’ nicht long they gaed in the wet heath and jennipers, and whaur they gaed they neither knew nor cared, but just followed the bluid stains and the footprints o’ their faither’s murderers. And a’ nicht Dandie had his nose to the grund like a tyke, and the ithers followed and spak’ naething, neither black nor white. There was nae noise to be heard, but just the sough of the swalled burns, and Hob, the dour yin, risping his teeth as he gaed.” With the first glint of the morning they saw they were on the drove road, and at that the four stopped and had a dram to their breakfasts, for they knew that Dand must have guided them right, and the rogues could be but little ahead, hot foot for Edinburgh by the way of the Pentland Hills. By eight o’clock they had word of them – a shepherd had seen four men “uncoly mishandled” go by in the last hour. “That’s yin a piece,” says Clem, and swung his cudgel. “Five o’ them!” says Hob. “God’s death, but the faither was a man! And him drunk!” And then there befell them what my author termed “a sair misbegowk,” for they were overtaken by a posse of mounted neighbours come to aid in the pursuit. Four sour faces looked on the reinforcement. “The Deil’s broughten you!” said Clem, and they rode thenceforward in the rear of the party with hanging heads. Before ten they had found and secured the rogues, and by three of the afternoon, as they rode up the Vennel with their prisoners, they were aware of a concourse of people bearing in their midst something that dripped. “For the boady of the saxt,” pursued Kirstie, “wi’ his head smashed like a hazelnit, had been a’ that nicht in the chairge o’ Hermiston Water, and it dunting it on the stanes, and grunding it on the shallows, and flinging the deid thing heels-ower-hurdie at the Fa’s o’ Spango; and in the first o’ the day, Tweed had got a hold o’ him and carried him off like a wind, for it was uncoly swalled, and raced wi’ him, bobbing under brae-sides, and was long playing with the creature in the drumlie lynns under the castle, and at the hinder end of all cuist him up on the starling of Crossmichael brig. Sae there they were a’thegither at last (for Dickieson had been brought in on a cart long syne), and folk could see what mainner o’man my brither had been that had held his head again sax and saved the siller, and him drunk!” Thus died of honourable injuries and in the savour of fame Gilbert Elliott of the Cauldstaneslap; but his sons had scarce less glory out of the business. Their savage haste, the skill with which Dand had found and followed the trail, the barbarity to the wounded Dickieson (which was like an open secret in the county), and the doom which it was currently supposed they had intended for the