The Black Dwarf, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 10

I left my ladye’s bower last night —

It was clad in wreaths of snaw —

I’ll seek it when the sun is bright,

And sweet the roses blaw.

Old Ballad.

Incensed at what he deemed the coldness of his friends, in a cause which interested him so nearly, Hobbie had shaken himself free of their company, and was now on his solitary road homeward. “The fiend founder thee!” said he, as he spurred impatiently his over-fatigued and stumbling horse; “thou art like a’ the rest o’ them. Hae I not bred thee, and fed thee, and dressed thee wi’ mine ain hand, and wouldst thou snapper now and break my neck at my utmost need? But thou’rt e’en like the lave — the farthest off o’ them a’ is my cousin ten times removed, and day or night I wad hae served them wi’ my best blood; and now, I think they show mair regard to the common thief of Westburnflat than to their ain kinsman. But I should see the lights now in Heugh-foot — Wae’s me!” he continued, recollecting himself, “there will neither coal nor candle-light shine in the Heugh-foot ony mair! An it werena for my mother and sisters, and poor Grace, I could find in my heart to put spurs to the beast, and loup ower the scaur into the water to make an end o’t a’.”— In this disconsolate mood he turned his horse’s bridle towards the cottage in which his family had found refuge.

As he approached the door, he heard whispering and tittering amongst his sisters. “The deevil’s in the women,” said poor Hobbie; “they would nicker, and laugh, and giggle, if their best friend was lying a corp — and yet I am glad they can keep up their hearts sae weel, poor silly things; but the dirdum fa’s on me, to be sure, and no on them.”

While he thus meditated, he was engaged in fastening up his horse in a shed. “Thou maun do without horse-sheet and surcingle now, lad,” he said, addressing the animal; “you and me hae had a downcome alike; we had better hae fa’en i, the deepest pool o’ Tarras.”

He was interrupted by the youngest of his sisters, who came running out, and, speaking in a constrained voice, as if to stifle some emotion, called out to him, “What are ye doing there, Hobbie, fiddling about the naig, and there’s ane frae Cumberland been waiting here for ye this hour and mair? Haste ye in, man; I’ll take off the saddle.”

“Ane frae Cumberland!” exclaimed Elliot; and putting the bridle of his horse into the hand of his sister, he rushed into the cottage. “Where is he? where is he!” he exclaimed, glancing eagerly around, and seeing only females; “Did he bring news of Grace?”

“He doughtna bide an instant langer,” said the elder sister, still with a suppressed laugh.

“Hout fie, bairns!” said the old lady, with something of a good-humoured reproof, “ye shouldna vex your billy Hobbie that way. — Look round, my bairn, and see if there isna ane here mair than ye left this morning.”

Hobbie looked eagerly round. “There’s you, and the three titties.”

“There’s four of us now, Hobbie, lad,” said the youngest, who at this moment entered.

In an instant Hobbie had in his arms Grace Armstrong, who, with one of his sister’s plaids around her, had passed unnoticed at his first entrance. “How dared you do this?” said Hobbie.

“It wasna my fault,” said Grace, endeavouring to cover her face with her hands to hide at once her blushes, and escape the storm of hearty kisses with which her bridegroom punished her simple stratagem — “It wasna my fault, Hobbie; ye should kiss Jeanie and the rest o’ them, for they hae the wyte o’t.”

“And so I will,” said Hobbie, and embraced and kissed his sisters and grandmother a hundred times, while the whole party half-laughed, half-cried, in the extremity of their joy. “I am the happiest man,” said Hobbie, throwing himself down on a seat, almost exhausted — “I am the happiest man in the world!”

“Then, O my dear bairn,” said the good old dame, who lost no opportunity of teaching her lesson of religion at those moments when the heart was best open to receive it — “Then, O my son, give praise to Him that brings smiles out o’ tears and joy out o’ grief, as He brought light out o’ darkness and the world out o’ naething. Was it not my word, that if ye could say His will be done, ye might hae cause to say His name be praised?”

“It was — it was your word, grannie; and I do praise Him for His mercy, and for leaving me a good parent when my ain were gane,” said honest Hobbie, taking her hand, “that puts me in mind to think of Him, baith in happiness and distress.”

There was a solemn pause of one or two minutes employed in the exercise of mental devotion, which expressed, in purity and sincerity, the gratitude of the affectionate family to that Providence who had unexpectedly restored to their embraces the friend whom they had lost.

Hobbie’s first enquiries were concerning the adventures which Grace had undergone. They were told at length, but amounted in substance to this:— That she was awaked by the noise which the ruffians made in breaking into the house, and by the resistance made by one or two of the servants, which was soon overpowered; that, dressing herself hastily, she ran downstairs, and having seen, in the scuffle, Westburnflat’s vizard drop off, imprudently named him by his name, and besought him for mercy; that the ruffian instantly stopped her mouth, dragged her from the house, and placed her on horseback, behind one of his associates.

“I’ll break the accursed neck of him,” said Hobbie, “if there werena another Graeme in the land but himsell!”

She proceeded to say, that she was carried southward along with the party, and the spoil which they drove before them, until they had crossed the Border. Suddenly a person, known to her as a kinsman of Westburnflat, came riding very fast after the marauders, and told their leader, that his cousin had learnt from a sure hand that no luck would come of it, unless the lass was restored to her friends. After some discussion, the chief of the party seemed to acquiesce. Grace was placed behind her new guardian, who pursued in silence, and with great speed, the least-frequented path to the Heugh-foot, and ere evening closed, set down the fatigued and terrified damsel within a quarter of a mile of the dwelling of her friends. Many and sincere were the congratulations which passed on all sides.

As these emotions subsided, less pleasing considerations began to intrude themselves.

“This is a miserable place for ye a’,” said Hobbie, looking around him; “I can sleep weel eneugh mysell outby beside the naig, as I hae done mony a lang night on the hills; but how ye are to put yoursells up, I canna see! And what’s waur, I canna mend it; and what’s waur than a’, the morn may come, and the day after that, without your being a bit better off.”

“It was a cowardly cruel thing,” said one of the sisters, looking round, “to harry a puir family to the bare wa’s this gate.”

“And leave us neither stirk nor stot,” said the youngest brother, who now entered, “nor sheep nor lamb, nor aught that eats grass and corn.”

“If they had ony quarrel wi’ us,” said Harry, the second brother, “were we na ready to have fought it out? And that we should have been a’ frae hame, too — ane and a’ upon the hill — Odd, an we had been at hame, Will Graeme’s stamach shouldna hae wanted its morning; but it’s biding him, is it na, Hobbie?”

“Our neighbours hae taen a day at the Castleton to gree wi’ him at the sight o’ men,” said Hobbie, mournfully; “they behoved to have it a’ their ain gate, or there was nae help to be got at their hands.”

“To gree wi’ him!” exclaimed both his brothers at once, “after siccan an act of stouthrife as hasna been heard o’ in the country since the auld riding days!”

“Very true, billies, and my blood was e’en boiling at it; but the sight o’ Grace Armstrong has settled it brawly.”

“But the stocking, Hobbie’” said John Elliot; “we’re utterly ruined. Harry and I hae been to gather what was on the outby land, and there’s scarce a cloot left. I kenna how we’re to carry on — We maun a’ gang to the wars, I think. Westburnflat hasna the means, e’en if he had the will, to make up our loss; there’s nae mends to be got out o’ him, but what ye take out o’ his banes. He hasna a four-footed creature but the vicious blood thing he rides on, and that’s sair trash’d wi’ his night wark. We are ruined stoop and roop.”

Hobbie cast a mournful glance on Grace Armstrong, who returned it with a downcast look and a gentle sigh.

“Dinna be cast down, bairns,” said the grandmother, “we hae gude friends that winna forsake us in adversity. There’s Sir Thomas Kittleloof is my third cousin by the mother’s side, and he has come by a hantle siller, and been made a knight-baronet into the bargain, for being ane o’ the commissioners at the Union.”

“He wadna gie a bodle to save us frae famishing,” said Hobbie; “and, if he did, the bread that I bought wi’t would stick in my throat, when I thought it was part of the price of puir auld Scotland’s crown and independence.”

“There’s the Laird o’ Dunder, ane o’ the auldest families in Tiviotdale.”

“He’s in the tolbooth, mother — he’s in the Heart of Mid-Louden for a thousand merk he borrowed from Saunders Wyliecoat the writer.”

“Poor man!” exclaimed Mrs. Elliot, “can we no send him something, Hobbie?”

“Ye forget, grannie, ye forget we want help oursells,” said Hobbie, somewhat peevishly.

“Troth did I, hinny,” replied the good-natured lady, “just at the instant; it’s sae natural to think on ane’s blude relations before themsells; — But there’s young Earnscliff.”

“He has ower little o’ his ain; and siccan a name to keep up, it wad be a shame,” said Hobbie, “to burden him wi’ our distress. And I’ll tell ye, grannie, it’s needless to sit rhyming ower the style of a’ your kith, kin, and allies, as if there was a charm in their braw names to do us good; the grandees hae forgotten us, and those of our ain degree hae just little eneugh to gang on wi’ themsells; ne’er a friend hae we that can, or will, help us to stock the farm again.”

“Then, Hobbie, me maun trust in Him that can raise up friends and fortune out o’ the bare moor, as they say.”

Hobbie sprung upon his feet. “Ye are right, grannie!” he exclaimed; “ye are right. I do ken a friend on the bare moor, that baith can and will help us — The turns o’ this day hae dung my head clean hirdie-girdie. I left as muckle gowd lying on Mucklestane-Moor this morning as would plenish the house and stock the Heugh-foot twice ower, and I am certain sure Elshie wadna grudge us the use of it.”

“Elshie!” said his grandmother in astonishment; “what Elshie do you mean?”

“What Elshie should I mean, but Canny Elshie, the Wight o’ Mucklestane,” replied Hobbie.

“God forfend, my bairn, you should gang to fetch water out o’ broken cisterns, or seek for relief frae them that deal wi’ the Evil One! There was never luck in their gifts, nor grace in their paths. And the haill country kens that body Elshie’s an unco man. O, if there was the law, and the douce quiet administration of justice, that makes a kingdom flourish in righteousness, the like o’ them suldna be suffered to live! The wizard and the witch are the abomination and the evil thing in the land.”

“Troth, mother,” answered Hobbie, “ye may say what ye like, but I am in the mind that witches and warlocks havena half the power they had lang syne; at least, sure am I, that ae ill-deviser, like auld Ellieslaw, or ae ill-doer, like that d — d villain Westburnflat, is a greater plague and abomination in a country-side than a haill curnie o’ the warst witches that ever capered on a broomstick, or played cantrips on Fastern’s E’en. It wad hae been lang or Elshie had burnt down my house and barns, and I am determined to try if he will do aught to build them up again. He’s weel kend a skilfu’ man ower a’ the country, as far as Brough under Stanmore.”

“Bide a wee, my bairn; mind his benefits havena thriven wi’ a’body. Jock Howden died o’ the very same disorder Elshie pretended to cure him of, about the fa’ o’ the leaf; and though he helped Lambside’s cow weel out o’ the moor-ill, yet the louping-ill’s been sairer amane; his sheep than ony season before. And then I have heard he uses sic words abusing human nature, that’s like a fleeing in the face of Providence; and ye mind ye said yoursell, the first time ye ever saw him, that he was mair like a bogle than a living thing.”

“Hout, mother,” said Hobbie, “Elshie’s no that bad a chield; he’s a grewsome spectacle for a crooked disciple, to be sure, and a rough talker, but his bark is waur than his bite; sae, if I had anes something to eat, for I havena had a morsel ower my throat this day, I wad streek mysell down for twa or three hours aside the beast, and be on and awa’ to Mucklestane wi’ the first skreigh o’ morning.”

“And what for no the night, Hobbie,” said Harry, “and I will ride wi’ ye?”

“My naig is tired,” said Hobbie.

“Ye may take mine, then,” said John.

“But I am a wee thing wearied mysell.”

“You wearied?” said Harry; “shame on ye! I have kend ye keep the saddle four-and-twenty hours thegither, and ne’er sic a word as weariness in your wame.”

“The night’s very dark,” said Hobbie, rising and looking through the casement of the cottage; “and, to speak truth, and shame the deil, though Elshie’s a real honest fallow, yet somegate I would rather take daylight wi’ me when I gang to visit him.”

This frank avowal put a stop to further argument; and Hobbie, having thus compromised matters between the rashness of his brother’s counsel, and the timid cautions which he received from his grandmother, refreshed himself with such food as the cottage afforded; and, after a cordial salutation all round, retired to the shed, and stretched himself beside his trusty palfrey. His brothers shared between them some trusses of clean straw, disposed in the stall usually occupied by old Annaple’s cow; and the females arranged themselves for repose as well as the accommodations of the cottage would permit.

With the first dawn of morning, Hobbie arose; and, having rubbed down and saddled his horse, he set forth to Mucklestane-Moor. He avoided the company of either of his brothers, from an idea that the Dwarf was most propitious to those who visited him alone.

“The creature,” said he to himself, as he went along, “is no neighbourly; ae body at a time is fully mair than he weel can abide. I wonder if he’s looked out o’ the crib o’ him to gather up the bag o’ siller. If he hasna done that, it will hae been a braw windfa’ for somebody, and I’ll be finely flung. — Come, Tarras,” said he to his horse, striking him at the same time with his spur, “make mair fit, man; we maun be first on the field if we can.”

He was now on the heath, which began to be illuminated by the beams of the rising sun; the gentle declivity which he was descending presented him a distinct, though distant view, of the Dwarf’s dwelling. The door opened, and Hobbie witnessed with his own eyes that phenomenon which he had frequently heard mentioned. Two human figures (if that of the Dwarf could be termed such) issued from the solitary abode of the Recluse, and stood as if in converse together in the open air. The taller form then stooped, as if taking something up which lay beside the door of the hut, then both moved forward a little way, and again halted, as in deep conference. All Hobbie’s superstitious terrors revived on witnessing this’spectacle. That the Dwarf would open his dwelling to a mortal guest, was as improbable as that any one would choose voluntarily to be his nocturnal visitor; and, under full conviction that he beheld a wizard holding intercourse with his familiar spirit, Hobbie pulled in at once his breath and his bridle, resolved not to incur the indignation of either by a hasty intrusion on their conference. They were probably aware of his approach, for he had not halted for a moment before the Dwarf returned to his cottage; and the taller figure who had accompanied him, glided round the enclosure of the garden, and seemed to disappear from the eyes of the admiring Hobbie.

“Saw ever mortal the like o’ that!” said Elliot; “but my case is desperate, sae, if he were Beelzebub himsell, I’se venture down the brae on him.”

Yet, notwithstanding his assumed courage, he slackened his pace, when, nearly upon the very spot where he had last seen the tall figure, he discerned, as if lurking among the long heather, a small black rough-looking object, like a terrier dog.

“He has nae dog that ever I heard of,” said Hobbie, “but mony a deil about his hand — lord forgie me for saying sic a word! — It keeps its grund, be what it like — I’m judging it’s a badger; but whae kens what shapes thae bogies will take to fright a body? it will maybe start up like a lion or a crocodile when I come nearer. I’se e’en drive a stage at it, for if it change its shape when I’m ower near, Tarras will never stand it; and it will be ower muckle to hae him and the deil to fight wi’ baith at ance.”

He therefore cautiously threw a stone at the object, which continued motionless. “It’s nae living thing, after a’,” said Hobbie, approaching, “but the very bag o’ siller he flung out o’ the window yesterday! and that other queer lang creature has just brought it sae muckle farther on the way to me. He then advanced and lifted the heavy fur pouch, which was quite full of gold. “Mercy on us!” said Hobbie, whose heart fluttered between glee at the revival of his hopes and prospects in life, and suspicion of the purpose for which this assistance was afforded him —-“Mercy on us! it’s an awfu’ thing to touch what has been sae lately in the claws of something no canny, I canna shake mysell loose o’ the belief that there has been some jookery-paukery of Satan’s in a’ this; but I am determined to conduct mysell like an honest man and a good Christian, come o’t what will.”

He advanced accordingly to the cottage door, and having knocked repeatedly without receiving any answer, he at length elevated his voice and addressed the inmate of the hut. “Elshie! Father Elshie! I ken ye’re within doors, and wauking, for I saw ye at the door-cheek as I cam ower the bent; will ye come out and speak just a gliff to ane that has mony thanks to gie ye? — It was a’ true ye tell’d me about Westburnflat; but he’s sent back Grace safe and skaithless, sae there’s nae ill happened yet but what may be suffered or sustained; — Wad ye but come out a gliff; man, or but say ye’re listening? — Aweel, since ye winna answer, I’se e’en proceed wi’ my tale. Ye see I hae been thinking it wad be a sair thing on twa young folk, like Grace and me, to put aff our marriage for mony years till I was abroad and came back again wi’ some gear; and they say folk maunna take booty in the wars as they did lang syne, and the queen’s pay is a sma’ matter; there’s nae gathering gear on that — and then my grandame’s auld — and my sisters wad sit peengin’ at the ingle-side for want o’ me to ding them about — and Earnscliff, or the neighbourhood, or maybe your ainsell, Elshie, might want some good turn that Hob Elliot could do ye — and it’s a pity that the auld house o’ the Heugh-foot should be wrecked a’thegither. Sae I was thinking — but deil hae me, that I should say sae,” continued he, checking himself, “if I can bring mysell to ask a favour of ane that winna sae muckle as ware a word on me, to tell me if he hears me speaking till him.”

“Say what thou wilt — do what thou wilt,” answered the Dwarf from his cabin, “but begone, and leave me at peace.”

“Weel, weel,” replied Elliot, “since ye are willing to hear me, I’se make my tale short. Since ye are sae kind as to say ye are content to lend me as muckle siller as will stock and plenish the Heugh-foot, I am content, on my part, to accept the courtesy wi’ mony kind thanks; and troth, I think it will be as safe in my hands as yours, if ye leave it flung about in that gate for the first loon body to lift, forbye the risk o’ bad neighbours that can win through steekit doors and lockfast places, as I can tell to my cost. I say, since ye hae sae muckle consideration for me, I’se be blithe to accept your kindness; and my mother and me (she’s a life-renter, and I am fiar, o’ the lands o’ Wideopen) would grant you a wadset, or an heritable bond, for the siller, and to pay the annual rent half-yearly; and Saunders Wyliecoat to draw the bond, and you to be at nae charge wi’ the writings.”

“Cut short thy jargon, and begone,” said the Dwarf; “thy loquacious bull-headed honesty makes thee a more intolerable plague than the light-fingered courtier who would take a man’s all without troubling him with either thanks, explanation, or apology. Hence, I say! thou art one of those tame slaves whose word is as good as their bond. Keep the money, principal and interest, until I demand it of thee.”

“But,” continued the pertinacious Borderer, “we are a’ life-like and death-like, Elshie, and there really should be some black and white on this transaction. Sae just make me a minute, or missive, in ony form ye like, and I’se write it fair ower, and subscribe it before famous witnesses. Only, Elshie, I wad wuss ye to pit naething in’t that may be prejudicial to my salvation; for I’ll hae the minister to read it ower, and it wad only be exposing yoursell to nae purpose. And now I’m ganging awa’, for ye’ll be wearied o’ my cracks, and I am wearied wi’ cracking without an answer — and I’se bring ye a bit o’ bride’s-cake ane o’ thae days, and maybe bring Grace to see you. Ye wad like to see Grace, man, for as dour as ye are — Eh, Lord I I wish he may be weel, that was a sair grane! or, maybe, he thought I was speaking of heavenly grace, and no of Grace Armstrong. Poor man, I am very doubtfu’ o’ his condition; but I am sure he is as kind to me as if I were his son, and a queer-looking father I wad hae had, if that had been e’en sae.”

Hobbie now relieved his benefactor of his presence, and rode blithely home to display his treasure, and consult upon the means of repairing the damage which his fortune had sustained through the aggression of the Red Reiver of Westburnflat.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/black/chapter10.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29