The Black Dwarf, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 8

Now horse and hattock, cried the Laird —

Now horse and hattock, speedilie;

They that winna ride for Telfer’s kye,

Let them never look in the face o’ me.

Border Ballad.

“Horse! horse! and spear!” exclaimed Hobbie to his kinsmen. Many a ready foot was in the stirrup; and, while Elliot hastily collected arms and accoutrements, no easy matter in such a confusion, the glen resounded with the approbation of his younger friends.

“Ay, ay!” exclaimed Simon of Hackburn, “that’s the gate to take it, Hobbie. Let women sit and greet at hame, men must do as they have been done by; it’s the Scripture says’t.”

“Haud your tongue, sir,” said one of the seniors, sternly; “dinna abuse the Word that gate, ye dinna ken what ye speak about.”

“Hae ye ony tidings? — Hae ye ony speerings, Hobbie? — O, callants, dinna be ower hasty,” said old Dick of the Dingle.

“What signifies preaching to us, e’enow?” said Simon; “if ye canna make help yoursell, dinna keep back them that can.”

“Whisht, sir; wad ye take vengeance or ye ken wha has wrang’d ye?”

“D’ye think we dinna ken the road to England as weel as our fathers before us? — All evil comes out o’ thereaway — it’s an auld saying and a true; and we’ll e’en away there, as if the devil was blawing us south.”

“We’ll follow the track o’ Earnscliff’s horses ower the waste,” cried one Elliot.

“I’ll prick them out through the blindest moor in the Border, an there had been a fair held there the day before,” said Hugh, the blacksmith of Ringleburn, “for I aye shoe his horse wi’ my ain hand.”

“Lay on the deer-hounds,” cried another “where are they?”

“Hout, man, the sun’s been lang up, and the dew is aff the grund — the scent will never lie.”

Hobbie instantly whistled on his hounds, which were roving about the ruins of their old habitation, and filling the air with their doleful howls.

“Now, Killbuck,” said Hobbie, “try thy skill this day” and then, as if a light had suddenly broke on him — “that ill-faur’d goblin spak something o’ this! He may ken mair o’t, either by villains on earth, or devils below — I’ll hae it frae him, if I should cut it out o’ his mis-shapen bouk wi’ my whinger.” He then hastily gave directions to his comrades: “Four o’ ye, wi’ Simon, haud right forward to Graeme’s-gap. If they’re English, they’ll be for being back that way. The rest disperse by twasome and threesome through the waste, and meet me at the Trysting-pool. Tell my brothers, when they come up, to follow and meet us there. Poor lads, they will hae hearts weelnigh as sair as mine; little think they what a sorrowful house they are bringing their venison to! I’ll ride ower Mucklestane-Moor mysell.”

“And if I were you,” said Dick of the Dingle, “I would speak to Canny Elshie. He can tell you whatever betides in this land, if he’s sae minded.”

“He shall tell me,” said Hobbie, who was busy putting his arms in order, “what he kens o’ this night’s job, or I shall right weel ken wherefore he does not.”

“Ay, but speak him fair, my bonny man — speak him fair Hobbie; the like o’ him will no bear thrawing. They converse sae muckle wi’ thae fractious ghaists and evil spirits, that it clean spoils their temper.”

“Let me alane to guide him,” answered Hobbie; “there’s that in my breast this day, that would ower-maister a’ the warlocks on earth, and a’ the devils in hell.”

And being now fully equipped, he threw himself on his horse, and spurred him at a rapid pace against the steep ascent.

Elliot speedily surmounted the hill, rode down the other side at the same rate, crossed a wood, and traversed a long glen, ere he at length regained Mucklestane-Moor. As he was obliged, in the course of his journey, to relax his speed in consideration of the labour which his horse might still have to undergo, he had time to consider maturely in what manner he should address the Dwarf, in order to extract from him the knowledge which he supposed him to be in possession of concerning the authors of his misfortunes. Hobbie, though blunt, plain of speech, and hot of disposition, like most of his countrymen, was by no means deficient in the shrewdness which is also their characteristic. He reflected, that from what he had observed on the memorable night when the Dwarf was first seen, and from the conduct of that mysterious being ever since, he was likely to be rendered even more obstinate in his sullenness by threats and violence.

“I’ll speak him fair,” he said, “as auld Dickon advised me. Though folk say he has a league wi’ Satan, he canna be sic an incarnate devil as no to take some pity in a case like mine; and folk threep he’ll whiles do good, charitable sort o’ things. I’ll keep my heart doun as weel as I can, and stroke him wi’ the hair; and if the warst come to the warst, it’s but wringing the head o’ him about at last.”

In this disposition of accommodation he approached the hut of the Solitary.

The old man was not upon his seat of audience, nor could Hobbie perceive him in his garden, or enclosures.

“He’s gotten into his very keep,” said Hobbie, “maybe to be out o’ the gate; but I’se pu’ it doun about his lugs, if I canna win at him otherwise.”

Having thus communed with himself, he raised his voice, and invoked Elshie in a tone as supplicating as his conflicting feelings would permit. “Elshie, my gude friend!” No reply. “Elshie, canny Father Elshie!” The Dwarf remained mute. “Sorrow be in the crooked carcass of thee!” said the Borderer between his teeth; and then again attempting a soothing tone — “Good Father Elshie, a most miserable creature desires some counsel of your wisdom.”

“The better!” answered the shrill and discordant voice of the Dwarf through a very small window, resembling an arrow slit, which he had constructed near the door of his dwelling, and through which he could see any one who approached it, without the possibility of their looking in upon him.

“The better!” said Hobbie impatiently; “what is the better, Elshie? Do you not hear me tell you I am the most miserable wretch living?”

“And do you not hear me tell you it is so much the better! and did I not tell you this morning, when you thought yourself so happy, what an evening was coming upon you?”

“That ye did e’en,” replied Hobbie, “and that gars me come to you for advice now; they that foresaw the trouble maun ken the cure.”

“I know no cure for earthly trouble,” returned the Dwarf “or, if I did, why should I help others, when none hath aided me? Have I not lost wealth, that would have bought all thy barren hills a hundred times over? rank, to which thine is as that of a peasant? society, where there was an interchange of all that was amiable — of all that was intellectual? Have I not lost all this? Am I not residing here, the veriest outcast on the face of Nature, in the most hideous and most solitary of her retreats, myself more hideous than all that is around me? And why should other worms complain to me when they are trodden on, since I am myself lying crushed and writhing under the chariot-wheel?”

“Ye may have lost all this,” answered Hobbie, in the bitterness of emotion; “land and friends, goods and gear; ye may hae lost them a’ — but ye ne’er can hae sae sair a heart as mine, for ye ne’er lost nae Grace Armstrong. And now my last hopes are gane, and I shall ne’er see her mair.”

This he said in the tone of deepest emotion — and there followed a long pause, for the mention of his bride’s name had overcome the more angry and irritable feelings of poor Hobbie. Ere he had again addressed the Solitary, the bony hand and long fingers of the latter, holding a large leathern bag, was thrust forth at the small window, and as it unclutched the burden, and let it drop with a clang upon the ground, his harsh voice again addressed Elliot.

“There — there lies a salve for every human ill; so, at least, each human wretch readily thinks. — Begone; return twice as wealthy as thou wert before yesterday, and torment me no more with questions, complaints, or thanks; they are alike odious to me.”

“It is a’ gowd, by Heaven!” said Elliot, having glanced at the contents; and then again addressing the Hermit, “Muckle obliged for your goodwill; and I wad blithely gie you a bond for some o’ the siller, or a wadset ower the lands o’ Wideopen. But I dinna ken, Elshie; to be free wi’ you, I dinna like to use siller unless I kend it was decently come by; and maybe it might turn into sclate-stanes, and cheat some poor man.”

“Ignorant idiot!” retorted the Dwarf; “the trash is as genuine poison as ever was dug out of the bowels of the earth. Take it — use it, and may it thrive with you as it hath done with me!”

“But I tell you,” said Elliot, “it wasna about the gear that I was consulting you — it was a braw barn-yard, doubtless, and thirty head of finer cattle there werena on this side of the Catrail; but let the gear gang — if ye could but gie me speerings o’ puir Grace, I would be content to be your slave for life, in onything that didna touch my salvation. O, Elshie, speak, man, speak!”

“Well, then,” answered the Dwarf, as if worn out by his importunity, “since thou hast not enough of woes of thine own, but must needs seek to burden thyself with those of a partner, seek her whom thou hast lost in the west.”

“In the west? That’s a wide word.”

“It is the last,” said the Dwarf, which I design to utter;” and he drew the shutters of his window, leaving Hobbie to make the most of the hint he had given.

The west! the west! — thought Elliot; the country is pretty quiet down that way, unless it were Jock o’ the Todholes; and he’s ower auld now for the like o’ thae jobs. — West! — By My life, it must be Westburnflat. “Elshie, just tell me one word. Am I right? Is it Westburnflat? If I am wrang, say sae. I wadna like to wyte an innocent neighbour wi’ violence — No answer? — It must be the Red Reiver — I didna think he wad hae ventured on me, neither, and sae mony kin as there’s o’ us — I am thinking he’ll hae some better backing than his Cumberland friends. — Fareweel to you, Elshie, and mony thanks — I downa be fashed wi’ the siller e’en now, for I maun awa’ to meet my friends at the Trysting-place — Sae, if ye carena to open the window, ye can fetch it in after I’m awa’.”

Still there was no reply.

“He’s deaf, or he’s daft, or he’s baith; but I hae nae time to stay to claver wi’ him.”

And off rode Hobbie Elliot towards the place of rendezvous which he had named to his friends.

Four or five riders were already gathered at the Trysting pool. They stood in close consultation together, while their horses were permitted to graze among the poplars which overhung the broad still pool. A more numerous party were seen coming from the southward. It proved to be Earnscliff and his party, who had followed the track of the cattle as far as the English border, but had halted on the information that a considerable force was drawn together under some of the Jacobite gentlemen in that district, and there were tidings of insurrection in different parts of Scotland. This took away from the act which had been perpetrated the appearance of private animosity, or love of plunder; and Earnscliff was now disposed to regard it as a symptom of civil war. The young gentleman greeted Hobbie with the most sincere sympathy, and informed him of the news he had received.

“Then, may I never stir frae the bit,” said Elliot, “if auld Ellieslaw is not at the bottom o’ the haill villainy! Ye see he’s leagued wi’ the Cumberland Catholics; and that agrees weel wi’ what Elshie hinted about Westburnflat, for Ellieslaw aye protected him, and he will want to harry and disarm the country about his ain hand before he breaks out.”

Some now remembered that the party of ruffians had been heard to say they were acting for James VIII., and were charged to disarm all rebels. Others had heard Westburnflat boast, in drinking parties, that Ellieslaw would soon be in arms for the Jacobite cause, and that he himself was to hold a command under him, and that they would be bad neighbours for young Earnscliff; and all that stood out for the established government. The result was a strong belief that Westburnflat had headed the party under Ellieslaw’s orders; and they resolved to proceed instantly to the house of the former, and, if possible, to secure his person. They were by this time joined by so many of their dispersed friends, that their number amounted to upwards of twenty horsemen, well mounted, and tolerably, though variously, armed.

A brook, which issued from a narrow glen among the hills, entered, at Westburnflat, upon the open marshy level, which, expanding about half a mile in every direction, gives name to the spot. In this place the character of the stream becomes changed, and, from being a lively brisk-running mountain-torrent, it stagnates, like a blue swollen snake, in dull deep windings, through the swampy level. On the side of the stream, and nearly about the centre of the plain, arose the tower of Westburnflat, one of the few remaining strongholds formerly so numerous upon the Borders. The ground upon which it stood was gently elevated above the marsh for the space of about a hundred yards, affording an esplanade of dry turf, which extended itself in the immediate neighbourhood of the tower; but, beyond which, the surface presented to strangers was that of an impassable and dangerous bog. The owner of the tower and his inmates alone knew the winding and intricate paths, which, leading over ground that was comparatively sound, admitted visitors to his residence. But among the party which were assembled under Earnscliff’s directions, there was more than one person qualified to act as a guide. For although the owner’s character and habits of life were generally known, yet the laxity of feeling with respect to property prevented his being looked on with the abhorrence with which he must have been regarded in a more civilized country. He was considered, among his more peaceable neighbours, pretty much as a gambler, cock-fighter, or horse-jockey would be regarded at the present day; a person, of course, whose habits were to be condemned, and his society, in general, avoided, yet who could not be considered as marked with the indelible infamy attached to his profession, where laws have been habitually observed. And their indignation was awakened against him upon this occasion, not so much on account of the general nature of the transaction, which was just such as was to be expected from this marauder, as that the violence had been perpetrated upon a neighbour against whom he had no cause of quarrel — against a friend of their own, — above all, against one of the name of Elliot, to which clan most of them belonged. It was not, therefore, wonderful, that there should be several in the band pretty well acquainted with the locality of his habitation, and capable of giving such directions and guidance as soon placed the whole party on the open space of firm ground in front of the Tower of Westburnflat.

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