The Weir of Hermiston, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter 7

Enter Mephistopheles

TWO days later a gig from Crossmichael deposited Frank Innes at the doors of Hermiston. Once in a way, during the past winter, Archie, in some acute phase of boredom, had written him a letter. It had contained something in the nature of an invitation or a reference to an invitation - precisely what, neither of them now remembered. When Innes had received it, there had been nothing further from his mind than to bury himself in the moors with Archie; but not even the most acute political heads are guided through the steps of life with unerring directness. That would require a gift of prophecy which has been denied to man. For instance, who could have imagined that, not a month after he had received the letter, and turned it into mockery, and put off answering it, and in the end lost it, misfortunes of a gloomy cast should begin to thicken over Frank’s career? His case may be briefly stated. His father, a small Morayshire laird with a large family, became recalcitrant and cut off the supplies; he had fitted himself out with the beginnings of quite a good law library, which, upon some sudden losses on the turf, he had been obliged to sell before they were paid for; and his bookseller, hearing some rumour of the event, took out a warrant for his arrest. Innes had early word of it, and was able to take precautions. In this immediate welter of his affairs, with an unpleasant charge hanging over him, he had judged it the part of prudence to be off instantly, had written a fervid letter to his father at Inverauld, and put himself in the coach for Crossmichael. Any port in a storm! He was manfully turning his back on the Parliament House and its gay babble, on porter and oysters, the race-course and the ring; and manfully prepared, until these clouds should have blown by, to share a living grave with Archie Weir at Hermiston.

To do him justice, he was no less surprised to be going than Archie was to see him come; and he carried off his wonder with an infinitely better grace.

“Well, here I am!” said he, as he alighted. “Pylades has come to Orestes at last. By the way, did you get my answer? No? How very provoking! Well, here I am to answer for myself, and that’s better still.”

“I am very glad to see you, of course,” said Archie. “I make you heartily welcome, of course. But you surely have not come to stay, with the Courts still sitting; is that not most unwise?”

“Damn the Courts!” says Frank. “What are the Courts to friendship and a little fishing?”

And so it was agreed that he was to stay, with no term to the visit but the term which he had privily set to it himself — the day, namely, when his father should have come down with the dust, and he should be able to pacify the bookseller. On such vague conditions there began for these two young men (who were not even friends) a life of great familiarity and, as the days drew on, less and less intimacy. They were together at meal times, together o’ nights when the hour had come for whisky-toddy; but it might have been noticed (had there been any one to pay heed) that they were rarely so much together by day. Archie had Hermiston to attend to, multifarious activities in the hills, in which he did not require, and had even refused, Frank’s escort. He would be off sometimes in the morning and leave only a note on the breakfast table to announce the fact; and sometimes, with no notice at all, he would not return for dinner until the hour was long past. Innes groaned under these desertions; it required all his philosophy to sit down to a solitary breakfast with composure, and all his unaffected good-nature to be able to greet Archie with friendliness on the more rare occasions when he came home late for dinner.

“I wonder what on earth he finds to do, Mrs. Elliott?” said he one morning, after he had just read the hasty billet and sat down to table.

“I suppose it will be business, sir,” replied the housekeeper drily, measuring his distance off to him by an indicated curtsy.

“But I can’t imagine what business!” he reiterated.

“I suppose it will be HIS business,” retorted the austere Kirstie.

He turned to her with that happy brightness that made the charm of his disposition, and broke into a peal of healthy and natural laughter.

“Well played, Mrs. Elliott!” he cried; and the housekeeper’s face relaxed into the shadow of an iron smile. “Well played indeed!” said he. “But you must not be making a stranger of me like that. Why, Archie and I were at the High School together, and we’ve been to college together, and we were going to the Bar together, when — you know! Dear, dear me! what a pity that was! A life spoiled, a fine young fellow as good as buried here in the wilderness with rustics; and all for what? A frolic, silly, if you like, but no more. God, how good your scones are, Mrs. Elliott!”

“They’re no mines, it was the lassie made them,” said Kirstie; “and, saving your presence, there’s little sense in taking the Lord’s name in vain about idle vivers that you fill your kyte wi’.”

“I daresay you’re perfectly right, ma’am,” quoth the imperturbable Frank. “But as I was saying, this is a pitiable business, this about poor Archie; and you and I might do worse than put our heads together, like a couple of sensible people, and bring it to an end. Let me tell you, ma’am, that Archie is really quite a promising young man, and in my opinion he would do well at the Bar. As for his father, no one can deny his ability, and I don’t fancy any one would care to deny that he has the deil’s own temper — ”

“If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Innes, I think the lass is crying on me,” said Kirstie, and flounced from the room.

“The damned, cross-grained, old broomstick!” ejaculated Innes.

In the meantime, Kirstie had escaped into the kitchen, and before her vassal gave vent to her feelings.

“Here, ettercap! Ye’ll have to wait on yon Innes! I canna haud myself in. ‘Puir Erchie!’ I’d ‘puir Erchie’ him, if I had my way! And Hermiston with the deil’s ain temper! God, let him take Hermiston’s scones out of his mouth first. There’s no a hair on ayther o’ the Weirs that hasna mair spunk and dirdum to it than what he has in his hale dwaibly body! Settin’ up his snash to me! Let him gang to the black toon where he’s mebbe wantit — birling in a curricle — wi’ pimatum on his heid — making a mess o’ himsel’ wi’ nesty hizzies — a fair disgrace!” It was impossible to hear without admiration Kirstie’s graduated disgust, as she brought forth, one after another, these somewhat baseless charges. Then she remembered her immediate purpose, and turned again on her fascinated auditor. “Do ye no hear me, tawpie? Do ye no hear what I’m tellin’ ye? Will I have to shoo ye in to him? If I come to attend to ye, mistress!” And the maid fled the kitchen, which had become practically dangerous, to attend on Innes’ wants in the front parlour.

TANTAENE IRAE? Has the reader perceived the reason? Since Frank’s coming there were no more hours of gossip over the supper tray! All his blandishments were in vain; he had started handicapped on the race for Mrs. Elliott’s favour.

But it was a strange thing how misfortune dogged him in his efforts to be genial. I must guard the reader against accepting Kirstie’s epithets as evidence; she was more concerned for their vigour than for their accuracy. Dwaibly, for instance; nothing could be more calumnious. Frank was the very picture of good looks, good humour, and manly youth. He had bright eyes with a sparkle and a dance to them, curly hair, a charming smile, brilliant teeth, an admirable carriage of the head, the look of a gentleman, the address of one accustomed to please at first sight and to improve the impression. And with all these advantages, he failed with every one about Hermiston; with the silent shepherd, with the obsequious grieve, with the groom who was also the ploughman, with the gardener and the gardener’s sister — a pious, down-hearted woman with a shawl over her ears — he failed equally and flatly. They did not like him, and they showed it. The little maid, indeed, was an exception; she admired him devoutly, probably dreamed of him in her private hours; but she was accustomed to play the part of silent auditor to Kirstie’s tirades and silent recipient of Kirstie’s buffets, and she had learned not only to be a very capable girl of her years, but a very secret and prudent one besides. Frank was thus conscious that he had one ally and sympathiser in the midst of that general union of disfavour that surrounded, watched, and waited on him in the house of Hermiston; but he had little comfort or society from that alliance, and the demure little maid (twelve on her last birthday) preserved her own counsel, and tripped on his service, brisk, dumbly responsive, but inexorably unconversational. For the others, they were beyond hope and beyond endurance. Never had a young Apollo been cast among such rustic barbarians. But perhaps the cause of his ill-success lay in one trait which was habitual and unconscious with him, yet diagnostic of the man. It was his practice to approach any one person at the expense of some one else. He offered you an alliance against the some one else; he flattered you by slighting him; you were drawn into a small intrigue against him before you knew how. Wonderful are the virtues of this process generally; but Frank’s mistake was in the choice of the some one else. He was not politic in that; he listened to the voice of irritation. Archie had offended him at first by what he had felt to be rather a dry reception, had offended him since by his frequent absences. He was besides the one figure continually present in Frank’s eye; and it was to his immediate dependants that Frank could offer the snare of his sympathy. Now the truth is that the Weirs, father and son, were surrounded by a posse of strenuous loyalists. Of my lord they were vastly proud. It was a distinction in itself to be one of the vassals of the “Hanging Judge,” and his gross, formidable joviality was far from unpopular in the neighbourhood of his home. For Archie they had, one and all, a sensitive affection and respect which recoiled from a word of belittlement.

Nor was Frank more successful when he went farther afield. To the Four Black Brothers, for instance, he was antipathetic in the highest degree. Hob thought him too light, Gib too profane. Clem, who saw him but for a day or two before he went to Glasgow, wanted to know what the fule’s business was, and whether he meant to stay here all session time! “Yon’s a drone,” he pronounced. As for Dand, it will be enough to describe their first meeting, when Frank had been whipping a river and the rustic celebrity chanced to come along the path.

“I’m told you’re quite a poet,” Frank had said.

“Wha tell’t ye that, mannie?” had been the unconciliating answer.

“O, everybody!” says Frank.

“God! Here’s fame!” said the sardonic poet, and he had passed on his way.

Come to think of it, we have here perhaps a truer explanation of Frank’s failures. Had he met Mr. Sheriff Scott he could have turned a neater compliment, because Mr. Scott would have been a friend worth making. Dand, on the other hand, he did not value sixpence, and he showed it even while he tried to flatter. Condescension is an excellent thing, but it is strange how one-sided the pleasure of it is! He who goes fishing among the Scots peasantry with condescension for a bait will have an empty basket by evening.

In proof of this theory Frank made a great success of it at the Crossmichael Club, to which Archie took him immediately on his arrival; his own last appearance on that scene of gaiety. Frank was made welcome there at once, continued to go regularly, and had attended a meeting (as the members ever after loved to tell) on the evening before his death. Young Hay and young Pringle appeared again. There was another supper at Windiclaws, another dinner at Driffel; and it resulted in Frank being taken to the bosom of the county people as unreservedly as he had been repudiated by the country folk. He occupied Hermiston after the manner of an invader in a conquered capital. He was perpetually issuing from it, as from a base, to toddy parties, fishing parties, and dinner parties, to which Archie was not invited, or to which Archie would not go. It was now that the name of The Recluse became general for the young man. Some say that Innes invented it; Innes, at least, spread it abroad.

“How’s all with your Recluse to-day?” people would ask.

“O, reclusing away!” Innes would declare, with his bright air of saying something witty; and immediately interrupt the general laughter which he had provoked much more by his air than his words, “Mind you, it’s all very well laughing, but I’m not very well pleased. Poor Archie is a good fellow, an excellent fellow, a fellow I always liked. I think it small of him to take his little disgrace so hard, and shut himself up. ‘Grant that it is a ridiculous story, painfully ridiculous,’ I keep telling him. ‘Be a man! Live it down, man!’ But not he. Of course, it’s just solitude, and shame, and all that. But I confess I’m beginning to fear the result. It would be all the pities in the world if a really promising fellow like Weir was to end ill. I’m seriously tempted to write to Lord Hermiston, and put it plainly to him.”

“I would if I were you,” some of his auditors would say, shaking the head, sitting bewildered and confused at this new view of the matter, so deftly indicated by a single word. “A capital idea!” they would add, and wonder at the APLOMB and position of this young man, who talked as a matter of course of writing to Hermiston and correcting him upon his private affairs.

And Frank would proceed, sweetly confidential: “I’ll give you an idea, now. He’s actually sore about the way that I’m received and he’s left out in the county — actually jealous and sore. I’ve rallied him and I’ve reasoned with him, told him that every one was most kindly inclined towards him, told him even that I was received merely because I was his guest. But it’s no use. He will neither accept the invitations he gets, nor stop brooding about the ones where he’s left out. What I’m afraid of is that the wound’s ulcerating. He had always one of those dark, secret, angry natures — a little underhand and plenty of bile — you know the sort. He must have inherited it from the Weirs, whom I suspect to have been a worthy family of weavers somewhere; what’s the cant phrase? — sedentary occupation. It’s precisely the kind of character to go wrong in a false position like what his father’s made for him, or he’s making for himself, whichever you like to call it. And for my part, I think it a disgrace,” Frank would say generously.

Presently the sorrow and anxiety of this disinterested friend took shape. He began in private, in conversations of two, to talk vaguely of bad habits and low habits. “I must say I’m afraid he’s going wrong altogether,” he would say. “I’ll tell you plainly, and between ourselves, I scarcely like to stay there any longer; only, man, I’m positively afraid to leave him alone. You’ll see, I shall be blamed for it later on. I’m staying at a great sacrifice. I’m hindering my chances at the Bar, and I can’t blind my eyes to it. And what I’m afraid of is that I’m going to get kicked for it all round before all’s done. You see, nobody believes in friendship nowadays.”

“Well, Innes,” his interlocutor would reply, “it’s very good of you, I must say that. If there’s any blame going, you’ll always be sure of MY good word, for one thing.”

“Well,” Frank would continue, “candidly, I don’t say it’s pleasant. He has a very rough way with him; his father’s son, you know. I don’t say he’s rude — of course, I couldn’t be expected to stand that — but he steers very near the wind. No, it’s not pleasant; but I tell ye, man, in conscience I don’t think it would be fair to leave him. Mind you, I don’t say there’s anything actually wrong. What I say is that I don’t like the looks of it, man!” and he would press the arm of his momentary confidant.

In the early stages I am persuaded there was no malice. He talked but for the pleasure of airing himself. He was essentially glib, as becomes the young advocate, and essentially careless of the truth, which is the mark of the young ass; and so he talked at random. There was no particular bias, but that one which is indigenous and universal, to flatter himself and to please and interest the present friend. And by thus milling air out of his mouth, he had presently built up a presentation of Archie which was known and talked of in all corners of the county. Wherever there was a residential house and a walled garden, wherever there was a dwarfish castle and a park, wherever a quadruple cottage by the ruins of a peel-tower showed an old family going down, and wherever a handsome villa with a carriage approach and a shrubbery marked the coming up of a new one — probably on the wheels of machinery - Archie began to be regarded in the light of a dark, perhaps a vicious mystery, and the future developments of his career to be looked for with uneasiness and confidential whispering. He had done something disgraceful, my dear. What, was not precisely known, and that good kind young man, Mr. Innes, did his best to make light of it. But there it was. And Mr. Innes was very anxious about him now; he was really uneasy, my dear; he was positively wrecking his own prospects because he dared not leave him alone. How wholly we all lie at the mercy of a single prater, not needfully with any malign purpose! And if a man but talks of himself in the right spirit, refers to his virtuous actions by the way, and never applies to them the name of virtue, how easily his evidence is accepted in the court of public opinion!

All this while, however, there was a more poisonous ferment at work between the two lads, which came late indeed to the surface, but had modified and magnified their dissensions from the first. To an idle, shallow, easy-going customer like Frank, the smell of a mystery was attractive. It gave his mind something to play with, like a new toy to a child; and it took him on the weak side, for like many young men coming to the Bar, and before they had been tried and found wanting, he flattered himself he was a fellow of unusual quickness and penetration. They knew nothing of Sherlock Holmes in those days, but there was a good deal said of Talleyrand. And if you could have caught Frank off his guard, he would have confessed with a smirk that, if he resembled any one, it was the Marquis de Talleyrand-Perigord. It was on the occasion of Archie’s first absence that this interest took root. It was vastly deepened when Kirstie resented his curiosity at breakfast, and that same afternoon there occurred another scene which clinched the business. He was fishing Swingleburn, Archie accompanying him, when the latter looked at his watch.

“Well, good-bye,” said he. “I have something to do. See you at dinner.”

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” cries Frank. “Hold on till I get my rod up. I’ll go with you; I’m sick of flogging this ditch.”

And he began to reel up his line.

Archie stood speechless. He took a long while to recover his wits under this direct attack; but by the time he was ready with his answer, and the angle was almost packed up, he had become completely Weir, and the hanging face gloomed on his young shoulders. He spoke with a laboured composure, a laboured kindness even; but a child could see that his mind was made up.

“I beg your pardon, Innes; I don’t want to be disagreeable, but let us understand one another from the beginning. When I want your company, I’ll let you know.”

“O!” cries Frank, “you don’t want my company, don’t you?”

“Apparently not just now,” replied Archie. “I even indicated to you when I did, if you’ll remember — and that was at dinner. If we two fellows are to live together pleasantly — and I see no reason why we should not — it can only be by respecting each other’s privacy. If we begin intruding — ”

“O, come! I’ll take this at no man’s hands. Is this the way you treat a guest and an old friend?” cried Innes.

“Just go home and think over what I said by yourself,” continued Archie, “whether it’s reasonable, or whether it’s really offensive or not; and let’s meet at dinner as though nothing had happened, I’ll put it this way, if you like — that I know my own character, that I’m looking forward (with great pleasure, I assure you) to a long visit from you, and that I’m taking precautions at the first. I see the thing that we — that I, if you like — might fall out upon, and I step in and OBSTO PRINCIPIIS. I wager you five pounds you’ll end by seeing that I mean friendliness, and I assure you, Francie, I do,” he added, relenting.

Bursting with anger, but incapable of speech, Innes shouldered his rod, made a gesture of farewell, and strode off down the burn-side. Archie watched him go without moving. He was sorry, but quite unashamed. He hated to be inhospitable, but in one thing he was his father’s son. He had a strong sense that his house was his own and no man else’s; and to lie at a guest’s mercy was what he refused. He hated to seem harsh. But that was Frank’s lookout. If Frank had been commonly discreet, he would have been decently courteous. And there was another consideration. The secret he was protecting was not his own merely; it was hers: it belonged to that inexpressible she who was fast taking possession of his soul, and whom he would soon have defended at the cost of burning cities. By the time he had watched Frank as far as the Swingleburn-foot, appearing and disappearing in the tarnished heather, still stalking at a fierce gait but already dwindled in the distance into less than the smallness of Lilliput, he could afford to smile at the occurrence. Either Frank would go, and that would be a relief — or he would continue to stay, and his host must continue to endure him. And Archie was now free — by devious paths, behind hillocks and in the hollow of burns — to make for the trysting-place where Kirstie, cried about by the curlew and the plover, waited and burned for his coming by the Covenanter’s stone.

Innes went off down-hill in a passion of resentment, easy to be understood, but which yielded progressively to the needs of his situation. He cursed Archie for a cold-hearted, unfriendly, rude, rude dog; and himself still more passionately for a fool in having come to Hermiston when he might have sought refuge in almost any other house in Scotland. But the step once taken, was practically irretrievable. He had no more ready money to go anywhere else; he would have to borrow from Archie the next club-night; and ill as he thought of his host’s manners, he was sure of his practical generosity. Frank’s resemblance to Talleyrand strikes me as imaginary; but at least not Talleyrand himself could have more obediently taken his lesson from the facts. He met Archie at dinner without resentment, almost with cordiality. You must take your friends as you find them, he would have said. Archie couldn’t help being his father’s son, or his grandfather’s, the hypothetical weaver’s, grandson. The son of a hunks, he was still a hunks at heart, incapable of true generosity and consideration; but he had other qualities with which Frank could divert himself in the meanwhile, and to enjoy which it was necessary that Frank should keep his temper.

So excellently was it controlled that he awoke next morning with his head full of a different, though a cognate subject. What was Archie’s little game? Why did he shun Frank’s company? What was he keeping secret? Was he keeping tryst with somebody, and was it a woman? It would be a good joke and a fair revenge to discover. To that task he set himself with a great deal of patience, which might have surprised his friends, for he had been always credited not with patience so much as brilliancy; and little by little, from one point to another, he at last succeeded in piecing out the situation. First he remarked that, although Archie set out in all the directions of the compass, he always came home again from some point between the south and west. From the study of a map, and in consideration of the great expanse of untenanted moorland running in that direction towards the sources of the Clyde, he laid his finger on Cauldstaneslap and two other neighbouring farms, Kingsmuirs and Polintarf. But it was difficult to advance farther. With his rod for a pretext, he vainly visited each of them in turn; nothing was to be seen suspicious about this trinity of moorland settlements. He would have tried to follow Archie, had it been the least possible, but the nature of the land precluded the idea. He did the next best, ensconced himself in a quiet corner, and pursued his movements with a telescope. It was equally in vain, and he soon wearied of his futile vigilance, left the telescope at home, and had almost given the matter up in despair, when, on the twenty-seventh day of his visit, he was suddenly confronted with the person whom he sought. The first Sunday Kirstie had managed to stay away from kirk on some pretext of indisposition, which was more truly modesty; the pleasure of beholding Archie seeming too sacred, too vivid for that public place. On the two following, Frank had himself been absent on some of his excursions among the neighbouring families. It was not until the fourth, accordingly, that Frank had occasion to set eyes on the enchantress. With the first look, all hesitation was over. She came with the Cauldstaneslap party; then she lived at Cauldstaneslap. Here was Archie’s secret, here was the woman, and more than that — though I have need here of every manageable attenuation of language — with the first look, he had already entered himself as rival. It was a good deal in pique, it was a little in revenge, it was much in genuine admiration: the devil may decide the proportions! I cannot, and it is very likely that Frank could not.

“Mighty attractive milkmaid,” he observed, on the way home.

“Who?” said Archie.

“O, the girl you’re looking at — aren’t you? Forward there on the road. She came attended by the rustic bard; presumably, therefore, belongs to his exalted family. The single objection! for the four black brothers are awkward customers. If anything were to go wrong, Gib would gibber, and Clem would prove inclement; and Dand fly in danders, and Hob blow up in gobbets. It would be a Helliott of a business!”

“Very humorous, I am sure,” said Archie.

“Well, I am trying to be so,” said Frank. “It’s none too easy in this place, and with your solemn society, my dear fellow. But confess that the milkmaid has found favour in your eyes, or resign all claim to be a man of taste.”

“It is no matter,” returned Archie.

But the other continued to look at him, steadily and quizzically, and his colour slowly rose and deepened under the glance, until not impudence itself could have denied that he was blushing. And at this Archie lost some of his control. He changed his stick from one hand to the other, and — “O, for God’s sake, don’t be an ass!” he cried.

“Ass? That’s the retort delicate without doubt,” says Frank. “Beware of the homespun brothers, dear. If they come into the dance, you’ll see who’s an ass. Think now, if they only applied (say) a quarter as much talent as I have applied to the question of what Mr. Archie does with his evening hours, and why he is so unaffectedly nasty when the subject’s touched on — ”

“You are touching on it now,” interrupted Archie with a wince.

“Thank you. That was all I wanted, an articulate confession,” said Frank.

“I beg to remind you — “ began Archie.

But he was interrupted in turn. “My dear fellow, don’t. It’s quite needless. The subject’s dead and buried.”

And Frank began to talk hastily on other matters, an art in which he was an adept, for it was his gift to be fluent on anything or nothing. But although Archie had the grace or the timidity to suffer him to rattle on, he was by no means done with the subject. When he came home to dinner, he was greeted with a sly demand, how things were looking “Cauldstaneslap ways.” Frank took his first glass of port out after dinner to the toast of Kirstie, and later in the evening he returned to the charge again.

“I say, Weir, you’ll excuse me for returning again to this affair. I’ve been thinking it over, and I wish to beg you very seriously to be more careful. It’s not a safe business. Not safe, my boy,” said he.

“What?” said Archie.

“Well, it’s your own fault if I must put a name on the thing; but really, as a friend, I cannot stand by and see you rushing head down into these dangers. My dear boy,” said he, holding up a warning cigar, “consider! What is to be the end of it?”

“The end of what?” — Archie, helpless with irritation, persisted in this dangerous and ungracious guard.

“Well, the end of the milkmaid; or, to speak more by the card, the end of Miss Christina Elliott of the Cauldstaneslap.”

“I assure you,” Archie broke out, “this is all a figment of your imagination. There is nothing to be said against that young lady; you have no right to introduce her name into the conversation.”

“I’ll make a note of it,” said Frank. “She shall henceforth be nameless, nameless, nameless, Grigalach! I make a note besides of your valuable testimony to her character. I only want to look at this thing as a man of the world. Admitted she’s an angel — but, my good fellow, is she a lady?”

This was torture to Archie. “I beg your pardon,” he said, struggling to be composed, “but because you have wormed yourself into my confidence — ”

“O, come!” cried Frank. “Your confidence? It was rosy but unconsenting. Your confidence, indeed? Now, look! This is what I must say, Weir, for it concerns your safety and good character, and therefore my honour as your friend. You say I wormed myself into your confidence. Wormed is good. But what have I done? I have put two and two together, just as the parish will be doing tomorrow, and the whole of Tweeddale in two weeks, and the black brothers — well, I won’t put a date on that; it will be a dark and stormy morning! Your secret, in other words, is poor Poll’s. And I want to ask of you as a friend whether you like the prospect? There are two horns to your dilemma, and I must say for myself I should look mighty ruefully on either. Do you see yourself explaining to the four Black Brothers? or do you see yourself presenting the milkmaid to papa as the future lady of Hermiston? Do you? I tell you plainly, I don’t!”

Archie rose. “I will hear no more of this,” he said, in a trembling voice.

But Frank again held up his cigar. “Tell me one thing first. Tell me if this is not a friend’s part that I am playing?”

“I believe you think it so,” replied Archle. “I can go as far as that. I can do so much justice to your motives. But I will hear no more of it. I am going to bed.”

“That’s right, Weir,” said Frank heartily. “Go to bed and think over it; and I say, man, don’t forget your prayers! I don’t often do the moral — don’t go in for that sort of thing — but when I do there’s one thing sure, that I mean it.”

So Archie marched off to bed, and Frank sat alone by the table for another hour or so, smiling to himself richly. There was nothing vindictive in his nature; but, if revenge came in his way, it might as well be good, and the thought of Archie’s pillow reflections that night was indescribably sweet to him. He felt a pleasant sense of power. He looked down on Archie as on a very little boy whose strings he pulled — as on a horse whom he had backed and bridled by sheer power of intelligence, and whom he might ride to glory or the grave at pleasure. Which was it to be? He lingered long, relishing the details of schemes that he was too idle to pursue. Poor cork upon a torrent, he tasted that night the sweets of omnipotence, and brooded like a deity over the strands of that intrigue which was to shatter him before the summer waned.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30