The Black Dwarf, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 7

Proud bird of the mountain, thy plume shall be torn! —

. . . .

Return to thy dwelling; all lonely, return;

For the blackness of ashes shall mark where it stood,

And a wild mother scream o’er her famishing brood.

Campbell.

The night continued sullen and stormy; but morning rose as if refreshed by the rains. Even the Mucklestane-Moor, with its broad bleak swells of barren grounds, interspersed with marshy pools of water, seemed to smile under the serene influence of the sky, just as good-humour can spread a certain inexpressible charm over the plainest human countenance. The heath was in its thickest and deepest bloom. The bees, which the Solitary had added to his rural establishment, were abroad and on the wing, and filled the air with the murmurs of their industry. As the old man crept out of his little hut, his two she-goats came to meet him, and licked his hands in gratitude for the vegetables with which he supplied them from his garden. “You, at least,” he said —“you, at least, see no differences in form which can alter your feelings to a benefactor — to you, the finest shape that ever statuary moulded would be an object of indifference or of alarm, should it present itself instead of the mis-shapen trunk to whose services you are accustomed. While I was in the world, did I ever meet with such a return of gratitude? No; the domestic whom I had bred from infancy made mouths at me as he stood behind my chair; the friend whom I had supported with my fortune, and for whose sake I had even stained —(he stopped with a strong convulsive shudder), even he thought me more fit for the society of lunatics — for their disgraceful restraints — for their cruel privations, than for communication with the rest of humanity. Hubert alone — and Hubert too will one day abandon me. All are of a piece, one mass of wickedness, selfishness, and ingratitude — wretches, who sin even in their devotions; and of such hardness of heart, that they do not, without hypocrisy, even thank the Deity himself for his warm sun and pure air.”

As he was plunged in these gloomy soliloquies, he heard the tramp of a horse on the other side of his enclosure, and a strong clear bass voice singing with the liveliness inspired by a light heart,

Canny Hobbie Elliot, canny Hobbie now,

Canny Hobbie Elliot, I’se gang alang wi’ you.

At the same moment, a large deer greyhound sprung over the hermit’s fence. It is well known to the sportsmen in these wilds, that the appearance and scent of the goat so much resemble those of their usual objects of chase, that the best-broke greyhounds will sometimes fly upon them. The dog in question instantly pulled down and throttled one of the hermit’s she-goats, while Hobbie Elliot, who came up, and jumped from his horse for the purpose, was unable to extricate the harmless animal from the fangs of his attendant until it was expiring. The Dwarf eyed, for a few moments, the convulsive starts of his dying favourite, until the poor goat stretched out her limbs with the twitches and shivering fit of the last agony. He then started into an access of frenzy, and unsheathing a long sharp knife, or dagger, which he wore under his coat, he was about to launch it at the dog, when Hobbie, perceiving his purpose, interposed, and caught hold of his hand, exclaiming, “Let a be the hound, man — let a be the hound! — Na, na, Killbuck maunna be guided that gate, neither.”

The Dwarf turned his rage on the young farmer; and, by a sudden effort, far more powerful than Hobbie expected from such a person, freed his wrist from his grasp, and offered the dagger at his heart. All this was done in the twinkling of an eye, and the incensed Recluse might have completed his vengeance by plunging the weapon in Elliot’s bosom, had he not been checked by an internal impulse which made him hurl the knife to a distance.

“No,” he exclaimed, as he thus voluntarily deprived himself of the means of gratifying his rage; “not again — not again!”

Hobbie retreated a step or two in great surprise, discomposure, and disdain, at having been placed in such danger by an object apparently so contemptible.

“The deil’s in the body for strength and bitterness!” were the first words that escaped him, which he followed up with an apology for the accident that had given rise to their disagreement. “I am no justifying Killbuck a’thegither neither, and I am sure it is as vexing to me as to you, Elshie, that the mischance should hae happened; but I’ll send you twa goats and twa fat gimmers, man, to make a’ straight again. A wise man like you shouldna bear malice against a poor dumb thing; ye see that a goat’s like first-cousin to a deer, sae he acted but according to his nature after a’. Had it been a pet-lamb, there wad hae been mair to be said. Ye suld keep sheep, Elshie, and no goats, where there’s sae mony deerhounds about — but I’ll send ye baith.”

“Wretch!” said the Hermit, “your cruelty has destroyed one of the only creatures in existence that would look on me with kindness!”

“Dear Elshie,” answered Hobbie, “I’m wae ye suld hae cause to say sae; I’m sure it wasna wi’ my will. And yet, it’s true, I should hae minded your goats, and coupled up the dogs. I’m sure I would rather they had worried the primest wether in my faulds. — Come, man, forget and forgie. I’m e’en as vexed as ye can be — But I am a bridegroom, ye see, and that puts a’ things out o’ my head, I think. There’s the marriage-dinner, or gude part o’t, that my twa brithers are bringing on a sled round by the Riders’ Slack, three goodly bucks as ever ran on Dallomlea, as the sang says; they couldna come the straight road for the saft grund. I wad send ye a bit venison, but ye wadna take it weel maybe, for Killbuck catched it.”

During this long speech, in which the good-natured Borderer endeavoured to propitiate the offended Dwarf by every argument he could think of, he heard him with his eyes bent on the ground, as if in the deepest meditation, and at length broke forth — “Nature? — yes! it is indeed in the usual beaten path of Nature. The strong gripe and throttle the weak; the rich depress and despoil the needy; the happy (those who are idiots enough to think themselves happy) insult the misery and diminish the consolation of the wretched. — Go hence, thou who hast contrived to give an additional pang to the most miserable of human beings — thou who hast deprived me of what I half considered as a source of comfort. Go hence, and enjoy the happiness prepared for thee at home!”

“Never stir,” said Hobbie, “if I wadna take you wi’ me, man, if ye wad but say it wad divert ye to be at the bridal on Monday. There will be a hundred strapping Elliots to ride the brouze — the like’s no been seen sin’ the days of auld Martin of the Preakin-tower — I wad send the sled for ye wi’ a canny powny.”

“Is it to me you propose once more to mix in the society of the common herd?” said the Recluse, with an air of deep disgust.

“Commons!” retorted Hobbie, “nae siccan commons neither; the Elliots hae been lang kend a gentle race.”

“Hence! begone!” reiterated the Dwarf; “may the same evil luck attend thee that thou hast left behind with me! If I go not with you myself, see if you can escape what my attendants, Wrath and Misery, have brought to thy threshold before thee.”

“I wish ye wadna speak that gate,” said Hobbie. “Ye ken yoursell, Elshie, naebody judges you to be ower canny; now, I’ll tell ye just ae word for a’— ye hae spoken as muckle as wussing ill to me and mine; now, if ony mischance happen to Grace, which God forbid, or to mysell; or to the poor dumb tyke; or if I be skaithed and injured in body, gudes, or gear, I’ll no forget wha it is that it’s owing to.”

“Out, hind!” exclaimed the Dwarf; “home! home to your dwelling, and think on me when you find what has befallen there.”

“Aweel, aweel,” said Hobbie, mounting his horse, “it serves naething to strive wi’ cripples — they are aye cankered; but I’ll just tell ye ae thing, neighbour, that if things be otherwise than weel wi’ Grace Armstrong, I’se gie you a scouther if there be a tar-barrel in the five parishes.”

So saying, he rode off; and Elshie, after looking at him with a scornful and indignant laugh, took spade and mattock, and occupied himself in digging a grave for his deceased favourite.

A low whistle, and the words, “Hisht, Elshie, hisht!” disturbed him in this melancholy occupation. He looked up, and the Red Reiver of Westburnflat was before him. Like Banquo’s murderer, there was blood on his face, as well as upon the rowels of his spurs and the sides of his over-ridden horse.

“How now, ruffian!” demanded the Dwarf, “is thy job chared?”

“Ay, ay, doubt not that, Elshie,” answered the freebooter; “When I ride, my foes may moan. They have had mair light than comfort at the Heugh-foot this morning; there’s a toom byre and a wide, and a wail and a cry for the bonny bride.”

“The bride?”

“Ay; Charlie Cheat-the-Woodie, as we ca’ him, that’s Charlie Foster of Tinning Beck, has promised to keep her in Cumberland till the blast blaw by. She saw me, and kend me in the splore, for the mask fell frae my face for a blink. I am thinking it wad concern my safety if she were to come back here, for there’s mony o’ the Elliots, and they band weel thegither for right or wrang. Now, what I chiefly come to ask your rede in, is how to make her sure?”

“Wouldst thou murder her, then?”

“Umph! no, no; that I would not do, if I could help it. But they say they can whiles get folk cannily away to the plantations from some of the outports, and something to boot for them that brings a bonny wench. They’re wanted beyond seas thae female cattle, and they’re no that scarce here. But I think o’ doing better for this lassie. There’s a leddy, that, unless she be a’ the better bairn, is to be sent to foreign parts whether she will or no; now, I think of sending Grace to wait on her — she’s a bonny lassie. Hobbie will hae a merry morning when he comes hame, and misses baith bride and gear.”

“Ay; and do you not pity him?” said the Recluse.

“Wad he pity me were I gaeing up the Castle hill at Jeddart?* And yet I rue something for the bit lassie; but he’ll get anither, and little skaith dune — ane is as gude as anither. And now, you that like to hear o’ splores, heard ye ever o’ a better ane than I hae had this morning?”

* [ The place of execution at that ancient burgh, where many of Westburnflat’s profession have made their final exit.]

“Air, ocean, and fire,” said the Dwarf, speaking to himself, “the earthquake, the tempest, the volcano, are all mild and moderate, compared to the wrath of man. And what is this fellow, but one more skilled than others in executing the end of his existence? — Hear me, felon, go again where I before sent thee.”

“To the Steward?”

“Ay; and tell him, Elshender the Recluse commands him to give thee gold. But, hear me, let the maiden be discharged free and uninjured; return her to her friends, and let her swear not to discover thy villainy.”

“Swear” said Westburnflat; “but what if she break her aith? Women are not famous for keeping their plight. A wise man like you should ken that. — And uninjured — wha kens what may happen were she to be left lang at Tinning-Beck? Charlie Cheat-the-Woodie is a rough customer. But if the gold could be made up to twenty pieces, I think I could ensure her being wi’ her friends within the twenty-four hours.”

The Dwarf took his tablets from his pocket, marked a line on them, and tore out the leaf. “There,” he said, giving the robber the leaf —“But, mark me; thou knowest I am not to be fooled by thy treachery; if thou darest to disobey my directions, thy wretched life, be sure, shall answer it.”

“I know,” said the fellow, looking down, “that you have power on earth, however you came by it; you can do what nae other man can do, baith by physic and foresight; and the gold is shelled down when ye command, as fast as I have seen the ash-keys fall in a frosty morning in October. I will not disobey you.”

“Begone, then, and relieve me of thy hateful presence.”

The robber set spurs to his horse, and rode off without reply.

Hobbie Elliot had, in the meanwhile, pursued his journey rapidly, harassed by those oppressive and indistinct fears that all was not right, which men usually term a presentiment of misfortune. Ere he reached the top of the bank from which he could look down on his own habitation, he was met by his nurse, a person then of great consequence in all families in Scotland, whether of the higher or middling classes. The connexion between them and their foster-children was considered a tie far too dearly intimate to be broken; and it usually happened, in the course of years, that the nurse became a resident in the family of her foster-son, assisting in the domestic duties, and receiving all marks of attention and regard from the heads of the family. So soon as Hobbie recognised the figure of Annaple, in her red cloak and black hood, he could not help exclaiming to himself, “What ill luck can hae brought the auld nurse sae far frae hame, her that never stirs a gun-shot frae the door-stane for ordinar? — Hout, it will just be to get crane-berries, or whortle-berries, or some such stuff, out of the moss, to make the pies and tarts for the feast on Monday. — I cannot get the words of that cankered auld cripple deil’s-buckie out o’ my head — the least thing makes me dread some ill news. — O, Killbuck, man! were there nae deer and goats in the country besides, but ye behoved to gang and worry his creature, by a’ other folk’s?”

By this time Annaple, with a brow like a tragic volume, had hobbled towards him, and caught his horse by the bridle. The despair in her look was so evident as to deprive even him of the power of asking the cause. “O my bairn!” she cried, “gang na forward — gang na forward — it’s a sight to kill onybody, let alane thee.”

“In God’s name, what’s the matter?” said the astonished horseman, endeavouring to extricate his bridle from the grasp of the old woman; “for Heaven’s sake, let me go and see what’s the matter.”

“Ohon! that I should have lived to see the day! — The steading’s a’ in a low, and the bonny stack-yard lying in the red ashes, and the gear a’ driven away. But gang na forward; it wad break your young heart, hinny, to see what my auld een hae seen this morning.”

“And who has dared to do this? let go my bridle, Annaple — where is my grandmother — my sisters? — Where is Grace Armstrong? — God! — the words of the warlock are knelling in my ears!”

He sprang from his horse to rid himself of Annaple’s interruption, and, ascending the hill with great speed, soon came in view of the spectacle with which she had threatened him. It was indeed a heart-breaking sight. The habitation which he had left in its seclusion, beside the mountain-stream, surrounded with every evidence of rustic plenty, was now a wasted and blackened ruin. From amongst the shattered and sable walls the smoke continued to rise. The turf-stack, the barn-yard, the offices stocked with cattle, all the wealth of an upland cultivator of the period, of which poor Elliot possessed no common share, had been laid waste or carried off in a single night. He stood a moment motionless, and then exclaimed, “I am ruined — ruined to the ground! — But curse on the warld’s gear — Had it not been the week before the bridal — But I am nae babe, to sit down and greet about it. If I can but find Grace, and my grandmother, and my sisters weel, I can go to the wars in Flanders, as my gude-sire did, under the Bellenden banner, wi’ auld Buccleuch. At ony rate, I will keep up a heart, or they will lose theirs a’thegither.”

Manfully strode Hobbie down the hill, resolved to suppress his own despair, and administer consolation which he did not feel. The neighbouring inhabitants of the dell, particularly those of his own name, had already assembled. The younger part were in arms and clamorous for revenge, although they knew not upon whom; the elder were taking measures for the relief of the distressed family. Annaple’s cottage, which was situated down the brook, at some distance from the scene of mischief, had been hastily adapted for the temporary accommodation of the old lady and her daughters, with such articles as had been contributed by the neighbours, for very little was saved from the wreck.

“Are we to stand here a’ day, sirs,” exclaimed one tall young man, “and look at the burnt wa’s of our kinsman’s house? Every wreath of the reek is a blast of shame upon us! Let us to horse, and take the chase. — Who has the nearest bloodhound?”

“It’s young Earnscliff,” answered another; “and he’s been on and away wi’ six horse lang syne, to see if he can track them.”

“Let us follow him then, and raise the country, and mak mair help as we ride, and then have at the Cumberland reivers! Take, burn, and slay — they that lie nearest us shall smart first.”

“Whisht! haud your tongues, daft callants,” said an old man, “ye dinna ken what ye speak about. What! wad ye raise war atween two pacificated countries?”

“And what signifies deaving us wi’ tales about our fathers,” retorted the young; man, “if we’re to sit and see our friends’ houses burnt ower their heads, and no put out hand to revenge them? Our fathers did not do that, I trow?”

“I am no saying onything against revenging Hobbie’s wrang, puir chield; but we maun take the law wi’ us in thae days, Simon,” answered the more prudent elder.

“And besides,” said another old man, “I dinna believe there’s ane now living that kens the lawful mode of following a fray across the Border. Tam o’ Whittram kend a’ about it; but he died in the hard winter.”

“Ay,” said a third, “he was at the great gathering, when they chased as far as Thirlwall; it was the year after the fight of Philiphaugh.”

“Hout,” exclaimed another of these discording counsellors, “there’s nae great skill needed; just put a lighted peat on the end of a spear, or hayfork, or siclike, and blaw a horn, and cry the gathering-word, and then it’s lawful to follow gear into England, and recover it by the strong hand, or to take gear frae some other Englishman, providing ye lift nae mair than’s been lifted frae you. That’s the auld Border law, made at Dundrennan, in the days of the Black Douglas, Deil ane need doubt it. It’s as clear as the sun.”

“Come away, then, lads,” cried Simon, “get to your geldings, and we’ll take auld Cuddie the muckle tasker wi’ us; he kens the value o’ the stock and plenishing that’s been lost. Hobbie’s stalls and stakes shall be fou again or night; and if we canna big up the auld house sae soon, we’se lay an English ane as low as Heugh-foot is — and that’s fair play, a’ the warld ower.”

This animating proposal was received with great applause by the younger part of the assemblage, when a whisper ran among them, “There’s Hobbie himsell, puir fallow! we’ll be guided by him.”

The principal sufferer, having now reached the bottom of the hill, pushed on through the crowd, unable, from the tumultuous state of his feelings, to do more than receive and return the grasps of the friendly hands by which his neighbours and kinsmen mutely expressed their sympathy in his misfortune. While he pressed Simon of Hackburn’s hand, his anxiety at length found words. “Thank ye, Simon — thank ye, neighbours — I ken what ye wad a’ say. But where are they? — Where are —” He stopped, as if afraid even to name the objects of his enquiry; and with a similar feeling, his kinsmen, without reply, pointed to the hut, into which Hobbie precipitated himself with the desperate air of one who is resolved to know the worst at once. A general and powerful expression of sympathy accompanied him. “Ah, puir fallow — puir Hobbie!”

“He’ll learn the warst o’t now!”

“But I trust Earnscliff will get some speerings o’ the puir lassie.”

Such were the exclamations of the group, who, having no acknowledged leader to direct their motions, passively awaited the return of the sufferer, and determined to be guided by his directions.

The meeting between Hobbie and his family was in the highest degree affecting. His sisters threw themselves upon him, and almost stifled him with their caresses, as if to prevent his looking round to distinguish the absence of one yet more beloved.

“God help thee, my son! He can help when worldly trust is a broken reed.”— Such was the welcome of the matron to her unfortunate grandson. He looked eagerly round, holding two of his sisters by the hand, while the third hung about his neck —“I see you — I count you — my grandmother, Lilias, Jean, and Annot; but where is —” (he hesitated, and then continued, as if with an effort), “Where is Grace? Surely this is not a time to hide hersell frae me — there’s nae time for daffing now.”

“O, brother!” and “Our poor Grace!” was the only answer his questions could procure, till his grandmother rose up, and gently disengaged him from the weeping girls, led him to a seat, and with the affecting serenity which sincere piety, like oil sprinkled on the waves, can throw over the most acute feelings, she said, “My bairn, when thy grandfather was killed in the wars, and left me with six orphans around me, with scarce bread to eat, or a roof to cover us, I had strength — not of mine own — but I had strength given me to say, The Lord’s will be done! — My son, our peaceful house was last night broken into by moss-troopers, armed and masked; they have taken and destroyed all, and carried off our dear Grace. Pray for strength to say, His will be done!”

“Mother! mother! urge me not — I cannot — not now I am a sinful man, and of a hardened race. Masked armed — Grace carried off! Gie me my sword, and my father’s knapsack — I will have vengeance, if I should go to the pit of darkness to seek it!”

“O my bairn, my bairn! be patient under the rod. Who knows when He may lift His hand off from us? Young Earnscliff, Heaven bless him, has taen the chase, with Davie of Stenhouse, and the first comers. I cried to let house and plenishing burn, and follow the reivers to recover Grace, and Earnscliff and his men were ower the Fell within three hours after the deed. God bless him! he’s a real Earnscliff; he’s his father’s true son — a leal friend.”

“A true friend indeed; God bless him!” exclaimed Hobbie; “let’s on and away, and take the chase after him.”

“O, my child, before you run on danger, let me hear you but say, His will be done!”

“Urge me not, mother — not now.” He was rushing out, when, looking back, he observed his grandmother make a mute attitude of affliction. He returned hastily, threw himself into her arms, and said, “Yes, mother, I can say, His will be done, since it will comfort you.”

“May He go forth — may He go forth with you, my dear bairn; and O, may He give you cause to say on your return, His name be praised!”

“Farewell, mother! — farewell, my dear sisters!” exclaimed Elliot, and rushed out of the house.

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