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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.

Sir Walter Scott

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