Let not us that are squires of the night’s body be called
thieves of the day’s booty; let us be Diana’s foresters,
gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon.
Henry the Fourth, Part I.
The Solitary had consumed the remainder of that day in which he had the interview with the young ladies, within the precincts of his garden. Evening again found him seated on his favourite stone. The sun setting red, and among seas of rolling clouds, threw a gloomy lustre over the moor, and gave a deeper purple to the broad outline of heathy mountains which surrounded this desolate spot. The Dwarf sate watching the clouds as they lowered above each other in masses of conglomerated vapours, and, as a strong lurid beam of the sinking luminary darted full on his solitary and uncouth figure, he might well have seemed the demon of the storm which was gathering, or some gnome summoned forth from the recesses of the earth by the subterranean signals of its approach. As he sate thus, with his dark eye turned towards the scowling and blackening heaven, a horseman rode rapidly up to him, and stopping, as if to let his horse breathe for an instant, made a sort of obeisance to the anchoret, with an air betwixt effrontery and embarrassment.
The figure of the rider was thin, tall, and slender, but remarkably athletic, bony, and sinewy; like one who had all his life followed those violent exercises which prevent the human form from increasing in bulk, while they harden and confirm by habit its muscular powers. His face, sharp-featured, sun-burnt, and freckled, had a sinister expression of violence, impudence, and cunning, each of which seemed alternately to predominate over the others. Sandy-coloured hair, and reddish eyebrows, from under which looked forth his sharp grey eyes, completed the inauspicious outline of the horseman’s physiognomy. He had pistols in his holsters, and another pair peeped from his belt, though he had taken some pains to conceal them by buttoning his doublet. He wore a rusted steel head piece; a buff jacket of rather an antique cast; gloves, of which that for the right hand was covered with small scales of iron, like an ancient gauntlet; and a long broadsword completed his equipage.
“So,” said the Dwarf,” rapine and murder once more on horseback.”
“On horseback?” said the bandit; “ay, ay, Elshie, your leech-craft has set me on the bonny bay again.”
“And all those promises of amendment which you made during your illness forgotten?” continued Elshender.
“All clear away, with the water-saps and panada,” returned the unabashed convalescent. “Ye ken, Elshie, for they say ye are weel acquent wi’ the gentleman,
“When the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be,
When the devil was well, the devil a monk was he.”
“Thou say’st true,” said the Solitary; “as well divide a wolf from his appetite for carnage, or a raven from her scent of slaughter, as thee from thy accursed propensities.”
“Why, what would you have me to do? It’s born with me — lies in my very blude and bane. Why, man, the lads of Westburnflat, for ten lang descents, have been reivers and lifters. They have all drunk hard, lived high, taking deep revenge for light offence, and never wanted gear for the winning.”
“Right; and thou art as thorough-bred a wolf,” said the Dwarf, “as ever leapt a lamb-fold at night. On what hell’s errand art thou bound now?”
“Can your skill not guess?”
“Thus far I know,” said the Dwarf, “that thy purpose is bad, thy deed will be worse,, and the issue worst of all.”
“And you like me the better for it, Father Elshie, eh?” said Westburnflat; “you always said you did.”
“I have cause to like all,” answered the Solitary, “that are scourges to their fellow-creatures, and thou art a bloody one.”
“No — I say not guilty to that — lever bluidy unless there’s resistance, and that sets a man’s bristles up, ye ken. And this is nae great matter, after a’; just to cut the comb of a young cock that has been crawing a little ower crousely.”
“Not young Earnscliff?” said the Solitary, with some emotion.
“No; not young Earnscliff — not young Earnscliff yet; but his time may come, if he will not take warning, and get him back to the burrow-town that he’s fit for, and no keep skelping about here, destroying the few deer that are left in the country, and pretending to act as a magistrate, and writing letters to the great folk at Auld Reekie, about the disturbed state of the land. Let him take care o’ himsell.”
“Then it must be Hobbie of the Heugh-foot,” said Elshie. “What harm has the lad done you?”
“Harm! nae great harm; but I hear he says I staid away from the Ba’spiel on Fastern’s E’en, for fear of him; and it was only for fear of the Country Keeper, for there was a warrant against me. I’ll stand Hobbie’s feud, and a’ his clan’s. But it’s not so much for that, as to gie him a lesson not to let his tongue gallop ower freely about his betters. I trow he will hae lost the best pen-feather o’ his wing before tomorrow morning. — Farewell, Elshie; there’s some canny boys waiting for me down amang the shaws, owerby; I will see you as I come back, and bring ye a blithe tale in return for your leech-craft.”
Ere the Dwarf could collect himself to reply, the Reiver of Westburnflat set spurs to his horse. The animal, starting at one of the stones which lay scattered about, flew from the path. The rider exercised his spurs without moderation or mercy. The horse became furious, reared, kicked, plunged, and bolted like a deer, with all his four feet off the ground at once. It was in vain; the unrelenting rider sate as if he had been a part of the horse which he bestrode; and, after a short but furious contest, compelled the subdued animal to proceed upon the path at a rate which soon carried him out of sight of the Solitary.
“That villain,” exclaimed the Dwarf — “that cool-blooded, hardened, unrelenting ruffian — that wretch, whose every thought is infected with crimes — has thewes and sinews, limbs, strength, and activity enough, to compel a nobler animal than himself to carry him to the place where he is to perpetrate his wickedness; while I, had I the weakness to wish to put his wretched victim on his guard, and to save the helpless family, would see my good intentions frustrated by the decrepitude which chains me to the spot. — Why should I wish it were otherwise? What have my screech-owl voice, my hideous form, and my mis-shapen features, to do with the fairer workmanship of nature? Do not men receive even my benefits with shrinking horror and ill-suppressed disgust? And why should I interest myself in a race which accounts me a prodigy and an outcast, and which has treated me as such? No; by all the ingratitude which I have reaped — by all the wrongs which I have sustained — by my imprisonment, my stripes, my chains, I will wrestle down my feelings of rebellious humanity! I will not be the fool I have been, to swerve from my principles whenever there was an appeal, forsooth, to my feelings; as if I, towards whom none show sympathy, ought to have sympathy with any one. Let Destiny drive forth her scythed car through the overwhelmed and trembling mass of humanity! Shall I be the idiot to throw this decrepit form, this mis-shapen lump of mortality, under her wheels, that the Dwarf, the Wizard, the Hunchback, may save from destruction some fair form or some active frame, and all the world clap their hands at the exchange? No, never! — And yet this Elliot — this Hobbie, so young and gallant, so frank, so — I will think of it no longer. I cannot aid him if I would, and I am resolved — firmly resolved, that I would not aid him, if a wish were the pledge of his safety!”
Having thus ended his soliloquy, he retreated into his hut for shelter from the storm which was fast approaching, and now began to burst in large and heavy drops of rain. The last rays of the sun now disappeared entirely, and two or three claps of distant thunder followed each other at brief intervals, echoing and re-echoing among the range of heathy fells like the sound of a distant engagement.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00