The Black Dwarf, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter 9

So spak the knicht; the geaunt sed,

Lend forth with the, the sely maid,

And mak me quile of the and sche;

For glaunsing ee, or brow so brent,

Or cheek with rose and lilye blent,

Me lists not ficht with the.

Romance of the Falcon.

The tower, before which the party now stood, was a small square building, of the most gloomy aspect. The walls were of great thickness, and the windows, or slits which served the purpose of windows, seemed rather calculated to afford the defenders the means of employing missile weapons, than for admitting air or light to the apartments within. A small battlement projected over the walls on every side, and afforded farther advantage of defence by its niched parapet, within which arose a steep roof, flagged with grey stones. A single turret at one angle, defended by a door studded with huge iron nails, rose above the battlement, and gave access to the roof from within, by the spiral staircase which it enclosed. It seemed to the party that their motions were watched by some one concealed within this turret; and they were confirmed in their belief when, through a narrow loophole, a female hand was seen to wave a handkerchief, as if by way of signal to them. Hobbie was almost out of his senses with joy and eagerness.

“It was Grace’s hand and arm,” he said; “I can swear to it amang a thousand. There is not the like of it on this side of the Lowdens — We’ll have her out, lads, if we should carry off the Tower of Westburnflat stane by stane.”

Earnscliff, though he doubted the possibility of recognising a fair maiden’s hand at such a distance from the eye of the lover, would say nothing to damp his friend’s animated hopes, and it was resolved to summon the garrison.

The shouts of the party, and the winding of one or two horns, at length brought to a loophole, which flanked the entrance, the haggard face of an old woman.

“That’s the Reiver’s mother,” said one of the Elliots; “she’s ten times waur than himsell, and is wyted for muckle of the ill he does about the country.”

“Wha are ye? what d’ye want here?” were the queries of the respectable progenitor.

“We are seeking William Graeme of Westburnflat,” said Earnscliff.

“He’s no at hame,” returned the old dame.

“When did he leave home?” pursued Earnscliff.

“I canna tell,” said the portress.

“When will he return?” said Hobbie Elliot.

“I dinna ken naething about it,” replied the inexorable guardian of the keep.

“Is there anybody within the tower with you?” again demanded Earnscliff.

“Naebody but mysell and baudrons,” said the old woman.

“Then open the gate and admit us,” said Earnscliff; “I am a justice of peace, and in search of the evidence of a felony.”

“Deil be in their fingers that draws a bolt for ye,” retorted the portress; “for mine shall never do it. Thinkna ye shame o’ yoursells, to come here siccan a band o’ ye, wi’ your swords, and spears, and steel-caps, to frighten a lone widow woman?”

“Our information,” said Earnscliff; “is positive; we are seeking goods which have been forcibly carried off, to a great amount.”

“And a young woman, that’s been cruelly made prisoner, that’s worth mair than a’ the gear, twice told,” said Hobbie.

“And I warn you.” continued Earnscliff, “that your only way to prove your son’s innocence is to give us quiet admittance to search the house.”

“And what will ye do, if I carena to thraw the keys, or draw the bolts, or open the grate to sic a clamjamfrie?” said the old dame, scoffingly.

“Force our way with the king’s keys, and break the neck of every living soul we find in the house, if ye dinna gie it ower forthwith!” menaced the incensed Hobbie.

“Threatened folks live lang,” said the hag, in the same tone of irony; “there’s the iron grate — try your skeel on’t, lads — it has kept out as gude men as you or now.”

So saying, she laughed, and withdrew from the aperture through which she had held the parley.

The besiegers now opened a serious consultation. The immense thickness of the walls, and the small size of the windows, might, for a time, have even resisted cannon-shot. The entrance was secured, first, by a strong grated door, composed entirely of hammered iron, of such ponderous strength as seemed calculated to resist any force that could be brought against it. “Pinches or forehammers will never pick upon’t,” said Hugh, the blacksmith of Ringleburn; “ye might as weel batter at it wi’ pipe-staples.”

Within the doorway, and at the distance of nine feet, which was the solid thickness of the wall, there was a second door of oak, crossed, both breadth and lengthways, with clenched bars of iron, and studded full of broad-headed nails. Besides all these defences, they were by no means confident in the truth of the old dame’s assertion, that she alone composed the garrison. The more knowing of the party had observed hoof-marks in the track by which they approached the tower, which seemed to indicate that several persons had very lately passed in that direction.

To all these difficulties was added their want of means for attacking the place. There was no hope of procuring ladders long enough to reach the battlements, and the windows, besides being very narrow, were secured with iron bars. Scaling was therefore out of the question; mining was still more so, for want of tools and gunpowder; neither were the besiegers provided with food, means of shelter, or other conveniences, which might have enabled them to convert the siege into a blockade; and there would, at any rate, have been a risk of relief from some of the marauder’s comrades. Hobbie grinded and gnashed his teeth, as, walking round the fastness, he could devise no means of making a forcible entry. At length he suddenly exclaimed, “And what for no do as our fathers did lang syne? — Put hand to the wark, lads. Let us cut up bushes and briers, pile them before the door and set fire to them, and smoke that auld devil’s dam as if she were to be reested for bacon.”

All immediately closed with this proposal, and some went to work with swords and knives to cut down the alder and hawthorn bushes which grew by the side of the sluggish stream, many of which were sufficiently decayed and dried for their purpose, while others began to collect them in a large stack, properly disposed for burning, as close to the iron-grate as they could be piled. Fire was speedily obtained from one of their guns, and Hobbie was already advancing to the pile with a kindled brand, when the surly face of the robber, and the muzzle of a musquetoon, were partially shown at a shot-hole which flanked the entrance. “Mony thanks to ye,” he said, scoffingly, “for collecting sae muckle winter eilding for us; but if ye step a foot nearer it wi’ that lunt, it’s be the dearest step ye ever made in your days.”

“We’ll sune see that,” said Hobbie, advancing fearlessly with the torch.

The marauder snapped his piece at him, which, fortunately for our honest friend, did not go off; while Earnscliff, firing at the same moment at the narrow aperture and slight mark afforded by the robber’s face, grazed the side of his head with a bullet. He had apparently calculated upon his post affording him more security, for he no sooner felt the wound, though a very slight one, than he requested a parley, and demanded to know what they meant by attacking in this fashion a peaceable and honest man, and shedding his blood in that lawless manner?

“We want your prisoner,” said Earnscliff, “to be delivered up to us in safety,”

“And what concern have you with her?” replied the marauder.

“That,” retorted Earnscliff, “you, who are detaining her by force, have no right to enquire.”

“Aweel, I think I can gie a guess,” said the robber. “Weel, sirs, I am laith to enter into deadly feud with you by spilling ony of your bluid, though Earnscliff hasna stopped to shed mine — and he can hit a mark to a groat’s breadth — so, to prevent mair skaith, I am willing to deliver up the prisoner, since nae less will please you.”

“And Hobbie’s gear?” cried Simon of Hackburn. “D’ye think you’re to be free to plunder the faulds and byres of a gentle Elliot, as if they were an auld wife’s hens’-cavey?”

“As I live by bread,” replied Willie of Westburnflat “As I live by bread, I have not a single cloot o’ them! They’re a’ ower the march lang syne; there’s no a horn o’ them about the tower. But I’ll see what o’ them can be gotten back, and I’ll take this day twa days to meet Hobbie at the Castleton wi’ twa friends on ilka side, and see to make an agreement about a’ the wrang he can wyte me wi’.”

“Ay, ay,” said Elliot, “that will do weel eneugh.”— And then aside to his kinsman, “Murrain on the gear! Lordsake, man! say nought about them. Let us but get puir Grace out o’ that auld hellicat’s clutches.”

“Will ye gie me your word, Earnscliff,” said the marauder, who still lingered at the shot-hole, “your faith and troth, with hand and glove, that I am free to come and free to gae, with five minutes to open the grate, and five minutes to steek it and to draw the bolts? less winna do, for they want creishing sairly. Will ye do this?”

“You shall have full time,” said Earnscliff; “I plight my faith and troth, my hand and my glove.”

“Wait there a moment, then,” said Westburnflat; “or hear ye, I wad rather ye wad fa’ back a pistol-shot from the door. It’s no that I mistrust your word, Earnscliff; but it’s best to be sure.”

O, friend, thought Hobbie to himself, as he drew back, an I had you but on Turner’s-holm,* and naebody by but twa honest lads to see fair play, I wad make ye wish ye had broken your leg ere ye had touched beast or body that belanged to me!

* [There is a level meadow, on the very margin of the two kingdoms, called Turner’s-holm, just where the brook called Crissop joins the Liddel. It is said to have derived its name as being a place frequently assigned for tourneys, during the ancient Border times.]

“He has a white feather in his wing this same Westburnflat, after a’,” said Simon of Hackburn, somewhat scandalized by his ready surrender. —“He’ll ne’er fill his father’s boots.”

In the meanwhile, the inner door of the tower was opened, and the mother of the freebooter appeared in the space betwixt that and the outer grate. Willie himself was next seen, leading forth a female, and the old woman, carefully bolting the grate behind them, remained on the post as a sort of sentinel.

“Ony ane or twa o’ ye come forward,” said the outlaw, “and take her frae my hand haill and sound.”

Hobbie advanced eagerly, to meet his betrothed bride. Earnscliff followed more slowly, to guard against treachery. Suddenly Hobbie slackened his pace in the deepest mortification, while that of Earnscliff was hastened by impatient surprise. It was not Grace Armstrong, but Miss Isabella Vere, whose liberation had been effected by their appearance before the tower.

“Where is Grace? where is Grace Armstrong?” exclaimed Hobbie, in the extremity of wrath and indignation.

“Not in my hands,” answered Westburnflat; “ye may search the tower, if ye misdoubt me.”

“You false villain, you shall account for her, or die on the spot,” said Elliot, presenting his gun.

But his companions, who now came up, instantly disarmed him of his weapon, exclaiming, all at once, “Hand and glove! faith and troth! Haud a care, Hobbie we maun keep our faith wi’ Westburnflat, were he the greatest rogue ever rode.”

Thus protected, the outlaw recovered his audacity, which had been somewhat daunted by the menacing gesture of Elliot.

“I have kept my word, sirs,” he said, “and I look to have nae wrang amang ye. If this is no the prisoner ye sought,” he said, addressing Earnscliff, “ye’ll render her back to me again. I am answerable for her to those that aught her.”

“For God’s sake, Mr. Earnscliff, protect me!” said Miss Vere, clinging to her deliverer; “do not you abandon one whom the whole world seems to have abandoned.”

“Fear nothing,” whispered Earnscliff, “I will protect you with my life.” Then turning to Westburnflat, “Villain!” he said, “how dared you to insult this lady?”

“For that matter, Earnscliff,” answered the freebooter, “I can answer to them that has better right to ask me than you have; but if you come with an armed force, and take her awa’ from them that her friends lodged her wi’, how will you answer that — But it’s your ain affair — Nae single man can keep a tower against twenty — A’ the men o’ the Mearns downa do mair than they dow.”

“He lies most falsely,” said Isabella; “he carried me off by violence from my father.”

“Maybe he only wanted ye to think sae, hinny,” replied the robber; “but it’s nae business o’ mine, let it be as it may. — So ye winna resign her back to me?”

“Back to you, fellow? Surely no,” answered Earnscliff; “I will protect Miss Vere, and escort her safely wherever she is pleased to be conveyed.”

“Ay, ay, maybe you and her hae settled that already,” said Willie of Westburnflat.

“And Grace?” interrupted Hobbie, shaking himself loose from the friends who had been preaching to him the sanctity of the safe-conduct, upon the faith of which the freebooter had ventured from his tower — “Where’s Grace” and he rushed on the marauder, sword in hand.

Westburnflat, thus pressed, after calling out, “Godsake, Hobbie, hear me a gliff!” fairly turned his back and fled. His mother stood ready to open and shut the grate; but Hobbie struck at the freebooter as he entered with so much force, that the sword made a considerable cleft in the lintel of the vaulted door, which is still shown as a memorial of the superior strength of those who lived in the days of yore. Ere Hobbie could repeat the blow, the door was shut and secured, and he was compelled to retreat to his companions, who were now preparing to break up the siege of Westburnflat. They insisted upon his accompanying them in their return.

“Ye hae broken truce already,” said old Dick of the Dingle; “an we takena the better care, ye’ll play mair gowk’s tricks, and make yoursell the laughing-stock of the haill country, besides having your friends charged with slaughter under trust. Bide till the meeting at Castleton, as ye hae greed; and if he disna make ye amends, then we’ll hae it out o’ his heart’s blood. But let us gang reasonably to wark and keep our tryst, and I’se warrant we get back Grace, and the kye an’ a’.”

This cold-blooded reasoning went ill down with the unfortunate lover; but, as he could only obtain the assistance of his neighbours and kinsmen on their own terms, he was compelled to acquiesce in their notions of good faith and regular procedure.

Earnscliff now requested the assistance of a few of the party to convey Miss Vere to her father’s castle of Ellieslaw, to which she was peremptory in desiring to be conducted. This was readily granted; and five or six young men agreed to attend him as an escort. Hobbie was not of the number. Almost heart-broken by the events of the day, and his final disappointment, he returned moodily home to take such measures as he could for the sustenance and protection of his family, and to arrange with his neighbours the farther steps which should be adopted for the recovery of Grace Armstrong. The rest of the party dispersed in different directions, as soon as they had crossed the morass. The outlaw and his mother watched them from the tower, until they entirely disappeared.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/black/chapter9.html

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