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Chapter 2


Will none but Hearne the Hunter serve your turn?
--MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.

In one of the most remote districts of the south of Scotland, where an
ideal line, drawn along the tops of lofty and bleak mountains, separates
that land from her sister kingdom, a young man, called Halbert, or
Hobbie Elliot, a substantial farmer, who boasted his descent from old
Martin Elliot of the Preakin-tower, noted in Border story and song, was
on his return from deer-stalking. The deer, once so numerous among these
solitary wastes, were now reduced to a very few herds, which, sheltering
themselves in the most remote and inaccessible recesses, rendered the
task of pursuing them equally toilsome and precarious. There were,
however, found many youth of the country ardently attached to this
sport, with all its dangers and fatigues. The sword had been sheathed
upon the Borders for more than a hundred years, by the peaceful union of
the crowns in the reign of James the First of Great Britain. Still
the country retained traces of what it had been in former days; the
inhabitants, their more peaceful avocations having been repeatedly
interrupted by the civil wars of the preceding century, were scarce yet
broken in to the habits of regular industry, sheep-farming had not been
introduced upon any considerable scale, and the feeding of black cattle
was the chief purpose to which the hills and valleys were applied. Near
to the farmer's house, the tenant usually contrived to raise such a crop
of oats or barley, as afforded meal for his family; and the whole of
this slovenly and imperfect mode of cultivation left much time upon his
own hands, and those of his domestics. This was usually employed by the
young men in hunting and fishing; and the spirit of adventure, which
formerly led to raids and forays in the same districts, was still to be
discovered in the eagerness with which they pursued those rural sports.

The more high-spirited among the youth were, about the time that our
narrative begins, expecting, rather with hope than apprehension, an
opportunity of emulating their fathers in their military achievements,
the recital of which formed the chief part of their amusement within
doors. The passing of the Scottish act of security had given the alarm
of England, as it seemed to point at a separation of the two British
kingdoms, after the decease of Queen Anne, the reigning sovereign.
Godolphin, then at the head of the English administration, foresaw that
there was no other mode of avoiding the probable extremity of a civil
war, but by carrying through an incorporating union. How that treaty
was managed, and how little it seemed for some time to promise the
beneficial results which have since taken place to such extent, may be
learned from the history of the period. It is enough for our purpose
to say, that all Scotland was indignant at the terms on which their
legislature had surrendered their national independence. The general
resentment led to the strangest leagues and to the wildest plans. The
Cameronians were about to take arms for the restoration of the house of
Stewart, whom they regarded, with justice, as their oppressors; and
the intrigues of the period presented the strange picture of papists,
prelatists, and presbyterians, caballing among themselves against the
English government, out of a common feeling that their country had been
treated with injustice. The fermentation was universal; and, as the
population of Scotland had been generally trained to arms, under the act
of security, they were not indifferently prepared for war, and waited
but the declaration of some of the nobility to break out into open
hostility. It was at this period of public confusion that our story
opens.

The cleugh, or wild ravine, into which Hobbie Elliot had followed the
game, was already far behind him, and he was considerably advanced on
his return homeward, when the night began to close upon him. This
would have been a circumstance of great indifference to the experienced
sportsman, who could have walked blindfold over every inch of his
native heaths, had it not happened near a spot, which, according to
the traditions of the country, was in extremely bad fame, as haunted
by supernatural appearances. To tales of this kind Hobbie had, from his
childhood, lent an attentive ear; and as no part of the country afforded
such a variety of legends, so no man was more deeply read in their
fearful lore than Hobbie of the Heugh-foot; for so our gallant was
called, to distinguish him from a round dozen of Elliots who bore the
same Christian name. It cost him no efforts, therefore, to call to
memory the terrific incidents connected with the extensive waste upon
which he was now entering. In fact, they presented themselves with a
readiness which he felt to be somewhat dismaying.

This dreary common was called Mucklestane-Moor, from a huge column of
unhewn granite, which raised its massy head on a knell near the centre
of the heath, perhaps to tell of the mighty dead who slept beneath, or
to preserve the memory of some bloody skirmish. The real cause of
its existence had, however, passed away; and tradition, which is as
frequently an inventor of fiction as a preserver of truth, had supplied
its place with a supplementary legend of her own, which now came full
upon Hobbie's memory. The ground about the pillar was strewed, or rather
encumbered, with many large fragments of stone of the same consistence
with the column, which, from their appearance as they lay scattered on
the waste, were popularly called the Grey Geese of Mucklestane-Moor. The
legend accounted for this name and appearance by the catastrophe of a
noted and most formidable witch who frequented these hills in former
days, causing the ewes to KEB, and the kine to cast their calves, and
performing all the feats of mischief ascribed to these evil beings. On
this moor she used to hold her revels with her sister hags; and rings
were still pointed out on which no grass nor heath ever grew, the turf
being, as it were, calcined by the scorching hoofs of their diabolical
partners.

Once upon a time this old hag is said to have crossed the moor, driving
before her a flock of geese, which she proposed to sell to advantage
at a neighbouring fair;--for it is well known that the fiend, however
liberal in imparting his powers of doing mischief, ungenerously leaves
his allies under the necessity of performing the meanest rustic labours
for subsistence. The day was far advanced, and her chance of obtaining
a good price depended on her being first at the market. But the geese,
which had hitherto preceded her in a pretty orderly manner, when they
came to this wide common, interspersed with marshes and pools of water,
scattered in every direction, to plunge into the element in which they
delighted. Incensed at the obstinacy with which they defied all her
efforts to collect them, and not remembering the precise terms of the
contract by which the fiend was bound to obey her commands for a certain
space, the sorceress exclaimed, "Deevil, that neither I nor they ever
stir from this spot more!" The words were hardly uttered, when, by a
metamorphosis as sudden as any in Ovid, the hag and her refractory flock
were converted into stone, the angel whom she served, being a strict
formalist, grasping eagerly at an opportunity of completing the ruin of
her body and soul by a literal obedience to her orders. It is said, that
when she perceived and felt the transformation which was about to take
place, she exclaimed to the treacherous fiend, "Ah, thou false thief!
lang hast thou promised me a grey gown, and now I am getting ane that
will last for ever." The dimensions of the pillar, and of the stones,
were often appealed to, as a proof of the superior stature and size of
old women and geese in the days of other years, by those praisers of
the past who held the comfortable opinion of the gradual degeneracy of
mankind.

All particulars of this legend Hobbie called to mind as he passed along
the moor. He also remembered, that, since the catastrophe had taken
place, the scene of it had been avoided, at least after night-fall, by
all human beings, as being the ordinary resort of kelpies, spunkies, and
other demons, once the companions of the witch's diabolical revels,
and now continuing to rendezvous upon the same spot, as if still in
attendance on their transformed mistress. Hobbie's natural hardihood,
however, manfully combated with these intrusive sensations of awe.
He summoned to his side the brace of large greyhounds, who were the
companions of his sports, and who were wont, in his own phrase, to fear
neither dog nor devil; he looked at the priming of his piece, and, like
the clown in Hallowe'en, whistled up the warlike ditty of Jock of the
Side, as a general causes his drums be beat to inspirit the doubtful
courage of his soldiers.

In this state of mind, he was very glad to hear a friendly voice shout
in his rear, and propose to him a partner on the road. He slackened his
pace, and was quickly joined by a youth well known to him, a gentleman
of some fortune in that remote country, and who had been abroad on the
same errand with himself. Young Earnscliff, "of that ilk," had
lately come of age, and succeeded to a moderate fortune, a good deal
dilapidated, from the share his family had taken in the disturbances
of the period. They were much and generally respected in the country;
a reputation which this young gentleman seemed likely to sustain, as he
was well educated, and of excellent dispositions.

"Now, Earnscliff;" exclaimed Hobbie, "I am glad to meet your honour
ony gate, and company's blithe on a bare moor like this--it's an unco
bogilly bit--Where hae ye been sporting?"

"Up the Carla Cleugh, Hobbie," answered Earnscliff, returning his
greeting. "But will our dogs keep the peace, think you?"

"Deil a fear o' mine," said Hobbie, "they hae scarce a leg to stand
on.--Odd! the deer's fled the country, I think! I have been as far
as Inger-fell-foot, and deil a horn has Hobbie seen, excepting three
red-wud raes, that never let me within shot of them, though I gaed
a mile round to get up the wind to them, an' a'. Deil o' me wad care
muckle, only I wanted some venison to our auld gude-dame. The carline,
she sits in the neuk yonder, upbye, and cracks about the grand shooters
and hunters lang syne--Odd, I think they hae killed a' the deer in the
country, for my part."

"Well, Hobbie, I have shot a fat buck, and sent him to Earnscliff this
morning--you shall have half of him for your grandmother."

"Mony thanks to ye, Mr. Patrick, ye're kend to a' the country for a kind
heart. It will do the auld wife's heart gude--mair by token, when she
kens it comes frae you--and maist of a' gin ye'll come up and take your
share, for I reckon ye are lonesome now in the auld tower, and a' your
folk at that weary Edinburgh. I wonder what they can find to do amang
a wheen ranks o' stane-houses wi' slate on the tap o' them, that might
live on their ain bonny green hills."

"My education and my sisters' has kept my mother much in Edinburgh for
several years," said Earnscliff; "but I promise you I propose to make up
for lost time."

"And ye'll rig out the auld tower a bit," said Hobbie, "and live
hearty and neighbour-like wi' the auld family friends, as the Laird o'
Earnscliff should? I can tell ye, my mother--my grandmother I mean--but,
since we lost our ain mother, we ca' her sometimes the tane, and
sometimes the tother--but, ony gate, she conceits hersell no that
distant connected wi' you."

"Very true, Hobbie, and I will come to the Heugh-foot to dinner
to-morrow with all my heart."

"Weel, that's kindly said! We are auld neighbours, an we were nae
kin--and my gude-dame's fain to see you--she clavers about your father
that was killed lang syne."

"Hush, hush, Hobbie--not a word about that--it's a story better
forgotten."

"I dinna ken--if it had chanced amang our folk, we wad hae keepit it in
mind mony a day till we got some mends for't--but ye ken your ain ways
best, you lairds--I have heard say that Ellieslaw's friend stickit your
sire after the laird himsell had mastered his sword."

"Fie, fie, Hobbie; it was a foolish brawl, occasioned by wine and
politics--many swords were drawn--it is impossible to say who struck the
blow."

"At ony rate, auld Ellieslaw was aiding and abetting; and I am sure if
ye were sae disposed as to take amends on him, naebody could say it was
wrang, for your father's blood is beneath his nails--and besides there's
naebody else left that was concerned to take amends upon, and he's a
prelatist and a jacobite into the bargain--I can tell ye the country
folk look for something atween ye."

"O for shame, Hobbie!" replied the young Laird; "you, that profess
religion, to stir your friend up to break the law, and take vengeance
at his own hand, and in such a bogilly bit too, where we know not what
beings may be listening to us!"

"Hush, hush!" said Hobbie, drawing nearer to his companion, "I was nae
thinking o' the like o' them--But I can guess a wee bit what keeps your
hand up, Mr. Patrick; we a' ken it's no lack o' courage, but the twa
grey een of a bonny lass, Miss Isabel Vere, that keeps you sae sober."

"I assure you, Hobbie," said his companion, rather angrily, "I assure
you you are mistaken; and it is extremely wrong of you, either to think
of, or to utter, such an idea; I have no idea of permitting freedoms to
be carried so far as to connect my name with that of any young lady."

"Why, there now--there now!" retorted Elliot; "did I not say it was nae
want o' spunk that made ye sae mim?--Weel, weel, I meant nae offence;
but there's just ae thing ye may notice frae a friend. The auld Laird
of Ellieslaw has the auld riding blood far hetter at his heart than ye
hae--troth, he kens naething about thae newfangled notions o' peace and
quietness--he's a' for the auld-warld doings o' lifting and laying on,
and he has a wheen stout lads at his back too, and keeps them weel up in
heart, and as fu' o' mischief as young colts. Where he gets the gear to
do't nane can say; he lives high, and far abune his rents here; however,
he pays his way--Sae, if there's ony out-break in the country, he's
likely to break out wi' the first--and weel does he mind the auld
quarrels between ye, I'm surmizing he'll be for a touch at the auld
tower at Earnscliff."

"Well, Hobbie," answered the young gentleman, "if he should be so ill
advised, I shall try to make the old tower good against him, as it has
been made good by my betters against his betters many a day ago."

"Very right--very right--that's speaking like a man now," said the stout
yeoman; "and, if sae should be that this be sae, if ye'll just gar your
servant jow out the great bell in the tower, there's me, and my twa
brothers, and little Davie of the Stenhouse, will be wi' you, wi' a' the
power we can make, in the snapping of a flint."

"Many thanks, Hobbie," answered Earnscliff; "but I hope we shall have no
war of so unnatural and unchristian a kind in our time."

"Hout, sir, hout," replied Elliot; "it wad be but a wee bit neighbour
war, and Heaven and earth would make allowances for it in this
uncultivated place--it's just the nature o' the folk and the land--we
canna live quiet like Loudon folk--we haena sae muckle to do. It's
impossible."

"Well, Hobbie," said the Laird, "for one who believes so deeply as you
do in supernatural appearances, I must own you take Heaven in your own
hand rather audaciously, considering where we are walking."

"What needs I care for the Mucklestane-Moor ony mair than ye do
yoursell, Earnscliff?" said Hobbie, something offended; "to be sure,
they do say there's a sort o' worricows and lang-nebbit things about the
land, but what need I care for them? I hae a good conscience, and little
to answer for, unless it be about a rant amang the lasses, or a splore
at a fair, and that's no muckle to speak of. Though I say it mysell, I
am as quiet a lad and as peaceable--"

"And Dick Turnbull's head that you broke, and Willie of Winton whom you
shot at?" said his travelling companion.

"Hout, Earnscliff, ye keep a record of a' men's misdoings--Dick's head's
healed again, and we're to fight out the quarrel at Jeddart, on the
Rood-day, so that's like a thing settled in a peaceable way; and then I
am friends wi' Willie again, puir chield--it was but twa or three hail
draps after a'. I wad let onybody do the like o't to me for a pint o'
brandy. But Willie's lowland bred, poor fallow, and soon frighted for
himsell--And, for the worricows, were we to meet ane on this very bit--"

"As is not unlikely," said young Earnscliff, "for there stands your old
witch, Hobbie."

"I say," continued Elliot, as if indignant at this hint--"I say, if the
auld carline hersell was to get up out o' the grund just before us here,
I would think nae mair--But, gude preserve us, Earnscliff; what can yon,
be!"

Sir Walter Scott

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