The story is set just after the Union of Scotland and England, in the Liddesdale hills of the Scottish Borders, familiar to Scott from his work collecting ballads for The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. The main character is based on David Ritchie, whom Scott met in the autumn of 1797. In the tale, the dwarf is Sir Edward Mauley, a hermit regarded by the locals as being in league with the Devil, who becomes embroiled in a complex tale of love, revenge, betrayal, Jacobite schemes and a threatened forced marriage. Scott began the novel well, 'but tired of the ground I had trode so often before… I quarrelled with my story, & bungled up a conclusion.'
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The Black Dwarf
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2018
Copyright © 2019 Sovereign
All Rights Reserved.
Hast any philosophy in thee, Shepherd?—AS YOU LIKE IT.
It was a fine April morning (excepting that it had snowed hard the night before, and the ground remained covered with a dazzling mantle of six inches in depth) when two horsemen rode up to the Wallace Inn. The first was a strong, tall, powerful man, in a grey riding-coat, having a hat covered with waxcloth, a huge silver-mounted horsewhip, boots, and dreadnought overalls. He was mounted on a large strong brown mare, rough in coat, but well in condition, with a saddle of the yeomanry cut, and a double-bitted military bridle. The man who accompanied him was apparently his servant; he rode a shaggy little grey pony, had a blue bonnet on his head, and a large check napkin folded about his neck, wore a pair of long blue worsted hose instead of boots, had his gloveless hands much stained with tar, and observed an air of deference and respect towards his companion, but without any of those indications of precedence and punctilio which are preserved between the gentry and their domestics. On the contrary, the two travellers entered the court-yard abreast, and the concluding sentence of the conversation which had been carrying on betwixt them was a joint ejaculation, “Lord guide us, an this weather last, what will come o’ the lambs!” The hint was sufficient for my Landlord, who, advancing to take the horse of the principal person, and holding him by the reins as he dismounted, while his ostler rendered the same service to the attendant, welcomed the stranger to Gandercleugh, and, in the same breath, enquired, “What news from the south hielands?”
“News?” said the farmer, “bad eneugh news, I think;—an we can carry through the yowes, it will be a’ we can do; we maun e’en leave the lambs to the Black Dwarfs care.”
“Ay, ay,” subjoined the old shepherd (for such he was), shaking his head, “he’ll be unco busy amang the morts this season.”
“The Black Dwarf!” said MY LEARNED FRIEND AND PATRON, Mr. Jedediah Cleishbotham, “and what sort of a personage may he be?”
[We have, in this and other instances, printed in italics (CAPITALS in this etext) some few words which the worthy editor, Mr. Jedediah Cleishbotham, seems to have interpolated upon the text of his deceased friend, Mr. Pattieson. We must observe, once for all, that such liberties seem only to have been taken by the learned gentleman where his own character and conduct are concerned; and surely he must be the best judge of the style in which his own character and conduct should be treated of.]
“Hout awa, man,” answered the farmer, “ye’ll hae heard o’ Canny Elshie the Black Dwarf, or I am muckle mistaen—A’ the warld tells tales about him, but it’s but daft nonsense after a’—I dinna believe a word o’t frae beginning to end.”
“Your father believed it unco stievely, though,” said the old man, to whom the scepticism of his master gave obvious displeasure.
“Ay, very true, Bauldie, but that was in the time o’ the blackfaces—they believed a hantle queer things in thae days, that naebody heeds since the lang sheep cam in.”
“The mair’s the pity, the mair’s the pity,” said the old man. “Your father, and sae I have aften tell’d ye, maister, wad hae been sair vexed to hae seen the auld peel-house wa’s pu’d down to make park dykes; and the bonny broomy knowe, where he liked sae weel to sit at e’en, wi’ his plaid about him, and look at the kye as they cam down the loaning, ill wad he hae liked to hae seen that braw sunny knowe a’ riven out wi’ the pleugh in the fashion it is at this day.”
“Hout, Bauldie,” replied the principal, “tak ye that dram the landlord’s offering ye, and never fash your head about the changes o’ the warld, sae lang as ye’re blithe and bien yoursell.”
“Wussing your health, sirs,” said the shepherd; and having taken off his glass, and observed the whisky was the right thing, he continued, “It’s no for the like o’ us to be judging, to be sure; but it was a bonny knowe that broomy knowe, and an unco braw shelter for the lambs in a severe morning like this.”
“Ay,” said his patron, “but ye ken we maun hae turnips for the lang sheep, billie, and muckle hard wark to get them, baith wi’ the pleugh and the howe; and that wad sort ill wi’ sitting on the broomy knowe, and cracking about Black Dwarfs, and siccan clavers, as was the gate lang syne, when the short sheep were in the fashion.”
“Aweel, aweel, maister,” said the attendant, “short sheep had short rents, I’m thinking.”
Here my WORTHY AND LEARNED patron again interposed, and observed, “that he could never perceive any material difference, in point of longitude, between one sheep and another.”
This occasioned a loud hoarse laugh on the part of the farmer, and an astonished stare on the part of the shepherd.
“It’s the woo’, man,—it’s the woo’, and no the beasts themsells, that makes them be ca’d lang or short. I believe if ye were to measure their backs, the short sheep wad be rather the langer-bodied o’ the twa; but it’s the woo’ that pays the rent in thae days, and it had muckle need.”
“Odd, Bauldie says very true,—short sheep did make short rents—my father paid for our steading just threescore punds, and it stands me in three hundred, plack and bawbee.—And that’s very true—I hae nae time to be standing here clavering—Landlord, get us our breakfast, and see an’ get the yauds fed—I am for doun to Christy Wilson’s, to see if him and me can gree about the luckpenny I am to gie him for his year-aulds. We had drank sax mutchkins to the making the bargain at St. Boswell’s fair, and some gate we canna gree upon the particulars preceesely, for as muckle time as we took about it—I doubt we draw to a plea—But hear ye, neighbour,” addressing my WORTHY AND LEARNED patron, “if ye want to hear onything about lang or short sheep, I will be back here to my kail against ane o’clock; or, if ye want ony auld-warld stories about the Black Dwarf, and sic-like, if ye’ll ware a half mutchkin upon Bauldie there, he’ll crack t’ye like a pen-gun. And I’se gie ye a mutchkin mysell, man, if I can settle weel wi’ Christy Wilson.”
The farmer returned at the hour appointed, and with him came Christy Wilson, their difference having been fortunately settled without an appeal to the gentlemen of the long robe. My LEARNED AND WORTHY patron failed not to attend, both on account of the refreshment promised to the mind and to the body, ALTHOUGH HE IS KNOWN TO PARTAKE OF THE LATTER IN A VERY MODERATE DEGREE; and the party, with which my Landlord was associated, continued to sit late in the evening, seasoning their liquor with many choice tales and songs. The last incident which I recollect, was my LEARNED AND WORTHY patron falling from his chair, just as he concluded a long lecture upon temperance, by reciting, from the “Gentle Shepherd,” a couplet, which he RIGHT HAPPILY transferred from the vice of avarice to that of ebriety:
He that has just eneugh may soundly sleep,
The owercome only fashes folk to keep.
In the course of the evening the Black Dwarf had not been forgotten, and the old shepherd, Bauldie, told so many stories of him, that they excited a good deal of interest. It also appeared, though not till the third punch-bowl was emptied, that much of the farmer’s scepticism on the subject was affected, as evincing a liberality of thinking, and a freedom from ancient prejudices, becoming a man who paid three hundred pounds a-year of rent, while, in fact, he had a lurking belief in the traditions of his forefathers. After my usual manner, I made farther enquiries of other persons connected with the wild and pastoral district in which the scene of the following narrative is placed, and I was fortunate enough to recover many links of the story, not generally known, and which account, at least in some degree, for the circumstances of exaggerated marvel with which superstition has attired it in the more vulgar traditions.
[The Black Dwarf, now almost forgotten, was once held a formidable personage by the dalesmen of the Border, where he got the blame of whatever mischief befell the sheep or cattle. “He was,” says Dr. Leyden, who makes considerable use of him in the ballad called the Cowt of Keeldar, “a fairy of the most malignant order—the genuine Northern Duergar.” The best and most authentic account of this dangerous and mysterious being occurs in a tale communicated to the author by that eminent antiquary, Richard Surtees, Esq. of Mainsforth, author of the HISTORY OF THE BISHOPRIC OF DURHAM.
According to this well-attested legend, two young Northumbrians were out on a shooting party, and had plunged deep among the mountainous moorlands which border on Cumberland. They stopped for refreshment in a little secluded dell by the side of a rivulet. There, after they had partaken of such food as they brought with them, one of the party fell asleep; the other, unwilling to disturb his friend’s repose, stole silently out of the dell with the purpose of looking around him, when he was astonished to find himself close to a being who seemed not to belong to this world, as he was the most hideous dwarf that the sun had ever shone on. His head was of full human size, forming a frightful contrast with his height, which was considerably under four feet. It was thatched with no other covering than long matted red hair, like that of the felt of a badger in consistence, and in colour a reddish brown, like the hue of the heather-blossom. His limbs seemed of great strength; nor was he otherwise deformed than from their undue proportion in thickness to his diminutive height. The terrified sportsman stood gazing on this horrible apparition, until, with an angry countenance, the being demanded by what right he intruded himself on those hills, and destroyed their harmless inhabitants. The perplexed stranger endeavoured to propitiate the incensed dwarf, by offering to surrender his game, as he would to an earthly Lord of the Manor. The proposal only redoubled the offence already taken by the dwarf, who alleged that he was the lord of those mountains, and the protector of the wild creatures who found a retreat in their solitary recesses; and that all spoils derived from their death, or misery, were abhorrent to him. The hunter humbled himself before the angry goblin, and by protestations of his ignorance, and of his resolution to abstain from such intrusion in future, at last succeeded in pacifying him. The gnome now became more communicative, and spoke of himself as belonging to a species of beings something between the angelic race and humanity. He added, moreover, which could hardly have been anticipated, that he had hopes of sharing in the redemption of the race of Adam. He pressed the sportsman to visit his dwelling, which he said was hard by, and plighted his faith for his safe return. But at this moment, the shout of the sportsman’s companion was heard calling for his friend, and the dwarf, as if unwilling that more than one person should be cognisant of his presence, disappeared as the young man emerged from the dell to join his comrade.
It was the universal opinion of those most experienced in such matters, that if the shooter had accompanied the spirit, he would, notwithstanding the dwarf’s fair pretences, have been either torn to pieces, or immured for years in the recesses of some fairy hill.
Such is the last and most authentic account of the apparition of the Black Dwarf.]
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!”
Brown Dwarf, that o’er the moorland strays,
Thy name to Keeldar tell!
“The Brown Man of the Moor, that stays
Beneath the heather-bell.”—JOHN LEYDEN
The object which alarmed the young farmer in the middle of his valorous protestations, startled for a moment even his less prejudiced companion. The moon, which had arisen during their conversation, was, in the phrase of that country, wading or struggling with clouds, and shed only a doubtful and occasional light. By one of her beams, which streamed upon the great granite column to which they now approached, they discovered a form, apparently human, but of a size much less than ordinary, which moved slowly among the large grey stones, not like a person intending to journey onward, but with the slow, irregular, flitting movement of a being who hovers around some spot of melancholy recollection, uttering also, from time to time, a sort of indistinct muttering sound. This so much resembled his idea of the motions of an apparition, that Hobbie Elliot, making a dead pause, while his hair erected itself upon his scalp, whispered to his companion, “It’s Auld Ailie hersell! Shall I gie her a shot, in the name of God?”
“For Heaven’s sake, no,” said his companion, holding down the weapon which he was about to raise to the aim—“for Heaven’s sake, no; it’s some poor distracted creature.”
“Ye’re distracted yoursell, for thinking of going so near to her,” said Elliot, holding his companion in his turn, as he prepared to advance. “We’ll aye hae time to pit ower a bit prayer (an I could but mind ane) afore she comes this length—God! she’s in nae hurry,” continued he, growing bolder from his companion’s confidence, and the little notice the apparition seemed to take of them. “She hirples like a hen on a het girdle. I redd ye, Earnscliff” (this he added in a gentle whisper), “let us take a cast about, as if to draw the wind on a buck—the bog is no abune knee-deep, and better a saft road as bad company.” [The Scots use the epithet soft, IN MALAM PARTEM, in two cases, at least. A SOFT road is a road through quagmire and bogs; and SOFT weather signifies that which is very rainy.]
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