The Black Dwarf, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 3

Brown Dwarf, that o’er the moorland strays,

Thy name to Keeldar tell!

“The Brown Man of the Moor, that stays

Beneath the heather-bell.”

JOHN LEYDEN

The object which alarmed the young farmer in the middle of his valorous protestations, startled for a moment even his less prejudiced companion. The moon, which had arisen during their conversation, was, in the phrase of that country, wading or struggling with clouds, and shed only a doubtful and occasional light. By one of her beams, which streamed upon the great granite column to which they now approached, they discovered a form, apparently human, but of a size much less than ordinary, which moved slowly among the large grey stones, not like a person intending to journey onward, but with the slow, irregular, flitting movement of a being who hovers around some spot of melancholy recollection, uttering also, from time to time, a sort of indistinct muttering sound. This so much resembled his idea of the motions of an apparition, that Hobbie Elliot, making a dead pause, while his hair erected itself upon his scalp, whispered to his companion, “It’s Auld Ailie hersell! Shall I gie her a shot, in the name of God?”

“For Heaven’s sake, no,” said his companion, holding down the weapon which he was about to raise to the aim —“for Heaven’s sake, no; it’s some poor distracted creature.”

“Ye’re distracted yoursell, for thinking of going so near to her,” said Elliot, holding his companion in his turn, as he prepared to advance. “We’ll aye hae time to pit ower a bit prayer (an I could but mind ane) afore she comes this length — God! she’s in nae hurry,” continued he, growing bolder from his companion’s confidence, and the little notice the apparition seemed to take of them. “She hirples like a hen on a het girdle. I redd ye, Earnscliff” (this he added in a gentle whisper), “let us take a cast about, as if to draw the wind on a buck — the bog is no abune knee-deep, and better a saft road as bad company.”

[The Scots use the epithet soft, in Malam Partem, in two cases, at least. A soft road is a road through quagmire and bogs; and soft weather signifies that which is very rainy.]

Earnscliff, however, in spite of his companion’s resistance and remonstrances, continued to advance on the path they had originally pursued, and soon confronted the object of their investigation.

The height of the figure, which appeared even to decrease as they approached it, seemed to be under four feet, and its form, as far as the imperfect light afforded them the means of discerning, was very nearly as broad as long, or rather of a spherical shape, which could only be occasioned by some strange personal deformity. The young sportsman hailed this extraordinary appearance twice, without receiving any answer, or attending to the pinches by which his companion endeavoured to intimate that their best course was to walk on, without giving farther disturbance to a being of such singular and preternatural exterior. To the third repeated demand of “Who are you? What do you here at this hour of night?”— a voice replied, whose shrill, uncouth, and dissonant tones made Elliot step two paces back, and startled even his companion, “Pass on your way, and ask nought at them that ask nought at you.”

“What do you do here so far from shelter? Are you benighted on your journey? Will you follow us home (‘God forbid!’ ejaculated Hobbie Elliot, involuntarily), and I will give you a lodging?”

“I would sooner lodge by mysell in the deepest of the Tarras-flow,” again whispered Hobbie.

“Pass on your way,” rejoined the figure, the harsh tones of his voice still more exalted by passion. “I want not your guidance — I want not your lodging — it is five years since my head was under a human roof, and I trust it was for the last time.”

“He is mad,” said Earnscliff.

“He has a look of auld Humphrey Ettercap, the tinkler, that perished in this very moss about five years syne,” answered his superstitious companion; “but Humphrey wasna that awfu’ big in the bouk.”

“Pass on your way,” reiterated the object of their curiosity, “the breath of your human bodies poisons the air around me — the sound of pour human voices goes through my ears like sharp bodkins”

“Lord safe us!” whispered Hobbie, “that the dead should bear sie fearfu’ ill-will to the living! — his saul maun be in a puir way, I’m jealous.”

“Come, my friend,” said Earnscliff, “you seem to suffer under some strong affliction; common humanity will not allow us to leave you here.”

“Common humanity!” exclaimed the being, with a scornful laugh that sounded like a shriek, “where got ye that catch-word — that noose for woodcocks — that common disguise for man-traps — that bait which the wretched idiot who swallows, will soon find covers a hook with barbs ten times sharper than those you lay for the animals which you murder for your luxury!”

“I tell you, my friend,” again replied Earnscliff, “you are incapable of judging of your own situation — you will perish in this wilderness, and we must, in compassion, force you along with us.”

“I’ll hae neither hand nor foot in’t,” said Hobbie; “let the ghaist take his ain way, for God’s sake!”

“My blood be on my own head, if I perish here,” said the figure; and, observing Earnscliff meditating to lay hold on him, he added, “And your blood be upon yours, if you touch but the skirt of my garments, to infect me with the taint of mortality!”

The moon shone more brightly as he spoke thus, and Earnscliff observed that he held out his right hand armed with some weapon of offence, which glittered in the cold ray like the blade of a long knife, or the barrel of a pistol. It would have been madness to persevere in his attempt upon a being thus armed, and holding such desperate language, especially as it was plain he would have little aid from his companion, who had fairly left him to settle matters with the apparition as he could, and had proceeded a few paces on his way homeward. Earnscliff, however, turned and followed Hobbie, after looking back towards the supposed maniac, who, as if raised to frenzy by the interview, roamed wildly around the great stone, exhausting his voice in shrieks and imprecations, that thrilled wildly along the waste heath.

The two sportsmen moved on some time in silence, until they were out of hearing of these uncouth sounds, which was not ere they had gained a considerable distance from the pillar that gave name to the moor. Each made his private comments on the scene they had witnessed, until Hobbie Elliot suddenly exclaimed, “Weel, I’ll uphaud that yon ghaist, if it be a ghaist, has baith done and suffered muckle evil in the flesh, that gars him rampauge in that way after he is dead and gane.”

“It seems to me the very madness of misanthropy,” said Earnscliff; following his own current of thought.

“And ye didna think it was a spiritual creature, then?” asked Hobbie at his companion.

“Who, I? — No, surely.”

“Weel, I am partly of the mind mysell that it may be a live thing — and yet I dinna ken, I wadna wish to see ony thing look liker a bogle.”

“At any rate,” said Earnscliff, “I will ride over tomorrow and see what has become of the unhappy being.”

“In fair daylight?” queried the yeoman; “then, grace o’ God, I’se be wi’ ye. But here we are nearer to Heugh-foot than to your house by twa mile — hadna ye better e’en gae hame wi’ me, and we’ll send the callant on the powny to tell them that you are wi’ us, though I believe there’s naebody at hame to wait for you but the servants and the cat.”

“Have with you then, friend Hobbie,” said the young hunter; “and as I would not willingly have either the servants be anxious, or puss forfeit her supper, in my absence, I’ll be obliged to you to send the boy as you propose.”

“Aweel, that is kind, I must say. And ye’ll gae hame to Heugh-foot? They’ll be right blithe to see you, that will they.”

This affair settled, they walked briskly on a little farther, when, coming to the ridge of a pretty steep hill, Hobbie Elliot exclaimed, “Now, Earnscliff, I am aye glad when I come to this very bit — Ye see the light below, that’s in the ha’ window, where grannie, the gash auld carline, is sitting birling at her wheel — and ye see yon other light that’s gaun whiddin’ back and forrit through amang the windows? that’s my cousin, Grace Armstrong, — she’s twice as clever about the house as my sisters, and sae they say themsells, for they’re good-natured lasses as ever trode on heather; but they confess themsells, and sae does grannie, that she has far maist action, and is the best goer about the toun, now that grannie is off the foot hersell. — My brothers, ane o’ them’s away to wait upon the chamberlain, and ane’s at Moss-phadraig, that’s our led farm — he can see after the stock just as weel as I can do.”

“You are lucky, my good friend, in having so many valuable relations.”

“Troth am I— Grace make me thankful, I’se never deny it. — But will ye tell me now, Earnscliff, you that have been at college, and the high-school of Edinburgh, and got a’ sort o’ lair where it was to be best gotten — will ye tell me — no that it’s ony concern of mine in particular — but I heard the priest of St. John’s, and our minister, bargaining about it at the Winter fair, and troth they baith spak very weel — Now, the priest says it’s unlawful to marry ane’s cousin; but I cannot say I thought he brought out the Gospel authorities half sae weel as our minister — our minister is thought the best divine and the best preacher atween this and Edinburgh — Dinna ye think he was likely to be right?”

“Certainly marriage, by all protestant Christians, is held to be as free as God made it by the Levitical law; so, Hobbie, there can be no bar, legal or religious, betwixt you and Miss Armstrong.”

“Hout awa’ wi’ your joking, Earnscliff,” replied his companion, —” ye are angry aneugh yoursell if ane touches you a bit, man, on the sooth side of the jest — No that I was asking the question about Grace, for ye maun ken she’s no my cousin-germain out and out, but the daughter of my uncle;s wife by her first marriage, so she’s nae kith nor kin to me — only a connexion like. But now we’re at the Sheeling-hill — I’ll fire off my gun, to let them ken I’m coming, that’s aye my way; and if I hae a deer I gie them twa shots, ane for the deer and ane for mysell.”

He fired off his piece accordingly, and the number of lights were seen to traverse the house, and even to gleam before it. Hobbie Elliot pointed out one of these to Earnscliff, which seemed to glide from the house towards some of the outhouses-“That’s Grace hersell,” said Hobbie. “She’ll no meet me at the door, I’se warrant her — but she’ll be awa’, for a’ that, to see if my hounds’ supper be ready, poor beasts.”

“Love me, love my dog,” answered Earnscliff. “Ah, Hobbie, you are a lucky young fellow!”

This observation was uttered with something like a sigh, which apparently did not escape the ear of his companion.

“Hout, other folk may be as lucky as I am — O how I have seen Miss Isabel Vere’s head turn after somebody when they passed ane another at the Carlisle races! Wha kens but things may come round in this world?”

Earnscliff muttered something like an answer; but whether in assent of the proposition, or rebuking the application of it, could not easily be discovered; and it seems probable that the speaker himself was willing his meaning should rest in doubt and obscurity. They had now descended the broad loaning, which, winding round the foot of the steep bank, or heugh, brought them in front of the thatched, but comfortable, farm-house, which was the dwelling of Hobbie Elliot and his family.

The doorway was thronged with joyful faces; but the appearance of a stranger blunted many a gibe which had been prepared on Hobbie’s lack of success in the deer-stalking. There was a little bustle among three handsome young women, each endeavouring to devolve upon another the task of ushering the stranger into the apartment, while probably all were anxious to escape for the purpose of making some little personal arrangements, before presenting themselves to a young gentleman in a dishabille only intended for their brother.

Hobbie, in the meanwhile, bestowing some hearty and general abuse upon them all (for Grace was not of the party), snatched the candle from the hand of one of the rustic coquettes, as she stood playing pretty with it in her hand, and ushered his guest into the family parlour, or rather hall; for the place having been a house of defence in former times, the sitting apartment was a vaulted and paved room, damp and dismal enough compared with the lodgings of the yeomanry of our days, but which, when well lighted up with a large sparkling fire of turf and bog-wood, seemed to Earnscliff a most comfortable exchange for the darkness and bleak blast of the hill. Kindly and repeatedly was he welcomed by the venerable old dame, the mistress of the family, who, dressed in her coif and pinners, her close and decent gown of homespun wool, but with a large gold necklace and ear-rings, looked, what she really was, the lady as well as the farmer’s wife, while, seated in her chair of wicker, by the corner of the great chimney, she directed the evening occupations of the young women, and of two or three stout serving wenches, who sate plying their distaffs behind the backs of their young mistresses.

As soon as Earnscliff had been duly welcomed, and hasty orders issued for some addition to the evening meal, his grand-dame and sisters opened their battery upon Hobbie Elliot for his lack of success against the deer.

“Jenny needna have kept up her kitchen-fire for a’ that Hobbie has brought hame,” said one sister.

“Troth no, lass,” said another; “the gathering peat, if it was weel blawn, wad dress a’ our Hobbie’s venison.”

[The gathering peat is the piece of turf left to treasure up the secret seeds of fire, without any generous consumption of fuel; in a word, to keep the fire alive.]

“Ay, or the low of the candle, if the wind wad let it hide steady,” said a third; “if I were him, I would bring hame a black craw, rather than come back three times without a buck’s horn to blaw on.”

Hobbie turned from the one to the other, regarding them alternately with a frown on his brow, the augury of which was confuted by the good-humoured laugh on the lower part of his countenance. He then strove to propitiate them, by mentioning the intended present of his companion.

“In my young days,” said the old lady, “a man wad hae been ashamed to come back frae the hill without a buck hanging on each side o’ his horse, like a cadger carrying calves.”

“I wish they had left some for us then, grannie,” retorted Hobbie; “they’ve cleared the country o’ them, thae auld friends o’ yours, I’m thinking.”

“We see other folk can find game, though you cannot, Hobbie,” said the eldest sister, glancing a look at young Earnscliff.

“Weel, weel, woman, hasna every dog his day, begging Earnscliff’s pardon for the auld saying — Mayna I hae his luck, and he mine, another time? — It’s a braw thing for a man to be out a’ day, and frighted — na, I winna say that neither but mistrysted wi’ bogles in the hame-coming, an’ then to hae to flyte wi’ a wheen women that hae been doing naething a’ the live-lang day, but whirling a bit stick, wi’ a thread trailing at it, or boring at a clout.”

“Frighted wi’ bogles!” exclaimed the females, one and all — for great was the regard then paid, and perhaps still paid, in these glens, to all such fantasies.

“I did not say frighted, now — I only said mis-set wi’ the thing — And there was but ae bogle, neither — Earnscliff, ye saw it; as weel as I did?”

And he proceeded, without very much exaggeration, to detail, in his own way, the meeting they had with the mysterious being at Mucklestane-Moor, concluding, he could not conjecture what on earth it could be, unless it was either the Enemy himsell, or some of the auld Peghts that held the country lang syne.

“Auld Peght!” exclaimed the grand-dame; “na, na — bless thee frae scathe, my bairn, it’s been nae Peght that — it’s been the Brown Man of the Moors! O weary fa’ thae evil days! — what can evil beings be coming for to distract a poor country, now it’s peacefully settled, and living in love and law — O weary on him! he ne’er brought gude to these lands or the indwellers. My father aften tauld me he was seen in the year o’ the bloody fight at Marston-Moor, and then again in Montrose’s troubles, and again before the rout o’ Dunbar, and, in my ain time, he was seen about the time o’ Bothwell-Brigg, and they said the second-sighted Laird of Benarbuck had a communing wi’ him some time afore Argyle’s landing, but that I cannot speak to sae preceesely — it was far in the west. — O, bairns, he’s never permitted but in an ill time, sae mind ilka ane o’ ye to draw to Him that can help in the day of trouble.”

Earnscliff now interposed, and expressed his firm conviction that the person they had seen was some poor maniac, and had no commission from the invisible world to announce either war or evil. But his opinion found a very cold audience, and all joined to deprecate his purpose of returning to the spot the next day.

“O, my bonny bairn,” said the old dame (for, in the kindness of her heart, she extended her parental style to all in whom she was interested)—-“You should beware mair than other folk — there’s been a heavy breach made in your house wi’ your father’s bloodshed, and wi’ law-pleas, and losses sinsyne; — and you are the flower of the flock, and the lad that will build up the auld bigging again (if it be His will) to be an honour to the country, and a safeguard to those that dwell in it — you, before others, are called upon to put yoursell in no rash adventures — for yours was aye ower venturesome a race, and muckle harm they have got by it.”

“But I am sure, my good friend, you would not have me be afraid of going to an open moor in broad daylight?”

“I dinna ken,” said the good old dame; “I wad never bid son or friend o’ mine haud their hand back in a gude cause, whether it were a friend’s or their ain — that should be by nae bidding of mine, or of ony body that’s come of a gentle kindred — But it winna gang out of a grey head like mine, that to gang to seek for evil that’s no fashing wi’ you, is clean against law and Scripture.”

Earnscliff resigned an argument which he saw no prospect of maintaining with good effect, and the entrance of supper broke off the conversation. Miss Grace had by this time made her appearance, and Hobbie, not without a conscious glance at Earnscliff, placed himself by her side. Mirth and lively conversation, in which the old lady of the house took the good-humoured share which so well becomes old age, restored to the cheeks of the damsels the roses which their brother’s tale of the apparition had chased away, and they danced and sung for an hour after supper as if there were no such things as goblins in the world.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/black/chapter3.html

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