Waverley by Walter Scott

CHAPTER I.

The sun was nearly set behind the distant mountains of Liddesdale, when a
few of the scattered and terrified inhabitants of the village of
Hersildoun, which had four days before been burned by a predatory band of
English Borderers, were now busied in repairing their ruined dwellings.
One high tower in the centre of the village alone exhibited no appearance
of devastation. It was surrounded with court walls, and the outer gate
was barred and bolted. The bushes and brambles which grew around, and had
even insinuated their branches beneath the gate, plainly showed that it
must have been many years since it had been opened. While the cottages
around lay in smoking ruins, this pile, deserted and desolate as it
seemed to be, had suffered nothing from the violence of the invaders; and
the wretched beings who were endeavouring to repair their miserable huts
against nightfall, seemed to neglect the preferable shelter which it
might have afforded them, without the necessity of labour.

Before the day had quite gone down, a knight, richly armed, and mounted
upon an ambling hackney, rode slowly into the village. His attendants
were a lady, apparently young and beautiful, who rode by his side upon a
dappled palfrey; his squire, who carried his helmet and lance, and led
his battle-horse, a noble steed, richly caparisoned. A page and four
yeomen, bearing bows and quivers, short swords, and targets of a span
breadth, completed his equipage, which, though small, denoted him to be a
man of high rank.

He stopped and addressed several of the inhabitants whom curiosity had
withdrawn from their labour to gaze at him; but at the sound of his
voice, and still more on perceiving the St. George’s Cross in the caps of
his followers, they fled, with a loud cry that the Southrons were
returned. The knight endeavoured to expostulate with the fugitives, who
were chiefly aged men, women, and children; but their dread of the
English name accelerated their flight, and in a few minutes, excepting
the knight and his attendants, the place was deserted by all. He paced
through the village to seek a shelter for the night, and despairing to
find one either in the inaccessible tower or the plundered huts of the
peasantry, he directed his course to the left hand, where he spied a
small, decent habitation, apparently the abode of a man considerably
above the common rank. After much knocking, the proprietor at length
showed himself at the window, and speaking in the English dialect, with
great signs of apprehension, demanded their business. The warrior replied
that his quality was an English knight and baron, and that he was
travelling to the court of the king of Scotland on affairs of consequence
to both kingdoms.

“Pardon my hesitation, noble Sir Knight,” said the old man, as he
unbolted and unbarred his doors,–

“Pardon my hesitation, but we are here exposed to too many intrusions to
admit of our exercising unlimited and unsuspicious hospitality. What I
have is yours; and God send your mission may bring back peace and the
good days of our old Queen Margaret!”

“Amen, worthy franklin,” quoth the knight,–“Did you know her?”

“I came to this country in her train,” said the franklin; “and the care
of some of her jointure lands, which she devolved on me, occasioned my
settling here.”

“And how do you, being an Englishman,” said the knight, “protect your life
and property here, when one of your nation cannot obtain a single night’s
lodging, or a draught of water, were he thirsty?”

“Marry, noble sir,” answered the franklin, “use, as they say, will make a
man live in a lion’s den; and as I settled here in a quiet time, and have
never given cause of offence, I am respected by my neighbours, and even,
as you see, by our forayers from England.”

“I rejoice to hear it, and accept your hospitality. Isabella, my love,
our worthy host will provide you a bed. My daughter, good franklin, is
ill at ease. We will occupy your house till the Scottish king shall
return from his Northern expedition. Meanwhile call me Lord Lacy of
Chester.”

The attendants of the baron, assisted by the franklin, were now busied in
disposing of the horses and arranging the table for some refreshment for
Lord Lacy and his fair companion. While they sat down to it, they were
attended by their host and his daughter, whom custom did not permit to
eat in their presence, and who afterwards withdrew to an outer chamber,
where the squire and page (both young men of noble birth) partook of
supper, and were accommodated with beds. The yeomen, after doing honour
to the rustic cheer of Queen Margaret’s bailiff, withdrew to the stable,
and each, beside his favourite horse, snored away the fatigues of their
journey. Early on the following morning the travellers were roused by a
thundering knocking at the door of the house, accompanied with many
demands for instant admission, in the roughest tone. The squire and page,
of Lord Lacy, after buckling on their arms, were about to sally out to
chastise these intruders, when the old host, after looking out at a
private casement, contrived for reconnoitring his visitors, entreated
them, with great signs of terror, to be quiet, if they did not mean that
all in the house should be murdered. He then hastened to the apartment of
Lord Lacy, whom he met dressed in a long furred gown and the knightly cap
called a mortier, irritated at the noise, and demanding to know the cause
which had disturbed the repose of the household.

“Noble sir,” said the franklin, “one of the most formidable and bloody of
the Scottish Border riders is at hand. He is never seen,” added he,
faltering with terror, “so far from the hills, but with some bad purpose,
and the power of accomplishing it; so hold yourself to your guard, for–”

A loud crash here announced that the door was broken down, and the knight
just descended the stair in time to prevent bloodshed betwixt his
attendants and the intruders. They were three in number. Their chief was
tall, bony, and athletic, his spare and muscular frame, as well as the
hardness of his features, marked the course of his life to have been
fatiguing and perilous. The effect of his appearance was aggravated by
his dress, which consisted of a jack, or jacket, composed of thick buff
leather, on which small plates of iron of a lozenge form were stitched,
in such a manner as to overlap each other and form a coat of mail, which
swayed with every motion of the wearer’s body. This defensive armour
covered a doublet of coarse gray cloth, and the Borderer had a few
half-rusted plates of steel on his shoulders, a two-edged sword, with a
dagger hanging beside it, in a buff belt; a helmet, with a few iron bars,
to cover the face instead of a visor, and a lance of tremendous and
uncommon length, completed his appointments. The looks of the man were as
wild and rude as his attire; his keen black eyes never rested one moment
fixed upon a single object, but constantly traversed all around, as if
they ever sought some danger to oppose, some plunder to seize, or some
insult to revenge. The latter seemed to be his present object, for,
regardless of the dignified presence of Lord Lacy, he uttered the most
incoherent threats against the owner of the house and his guests.

“We shall see–ay, marry shall we–if an English hound is to harbour and
reset the Southrons here. Thank the Abbot of Melrose and the good Knight
of Coldingnow that have so long kept me from your skirts. But those days
are gone, by St. Mary, and you shall find it!”

It is probable the enraged Borderer would not have long continued to vent
his rage in empty menaces, had not the entrance of the four yeomen, with
their bows bent, convinced him that the force was not at this moment on
his own side.

Lord Lacy now advanced towards him. “You intrude upon my privacy,
soldier; withdraw yourself and Your followers. There is peace betwixt our
nations, or my servants should chastise thy presumption.”

“Such peace as ye give such shall you have,” answered the moss-trooper,
first pointing with his lance towards the burned village, and then almost
instantly levelling it against Lord Lacy. The squire drew his sword, and
severed at one blow the steel head from the truncheon of the spear.

“Arthur Fitzherbert,” said the baron, “that stroke has deferred thy
knighthood for one year; never must that squire wear the spurs whose
unbridled impetuosity can draw unbidden his sword in the presence of his
master. Go hence, and think on what I have said.”

The squire left the chamber abashed.

“It were vain,” continued Lord Lacy, “to expect that courtesy from a
mountain churl which even my own followers can forget. Yet before thou
drawest thy brand,” for the intruder laid his hand upon the hilt of his
sword, “thou wilt do well to reflect that I came with a safe-conduct from
thy king, and have no time to waste in brawls with such as thou.”

“From my king,–from my king!” re-echoed the mountaineer. “I care not
that rotten truncheon,” striking the shattered spear furiously on the
ground, “for the king of Fife and Lothian. But Habby of Cessford will be
here belive; and we shall soon know if he will permit an English churl to
occupy his hostelry.”

Having uttered these words, accompanied with a lowering glance from under
his shaggy black eyebrows, he turned on his heel and left the house with
his two followers; they mounted their horses, which they had tied to an
outer fence, and vanished in an instant.

“Who is this discourteous ruffian?” said Lord Lacy to the franklin, who
had stood in the most violent agitation during this whole scene.

“His name, noble lord, is Adam Kerr of the Moat, but he is commonly
called by his companions the Black Rider of Cheviot. I fear, I fear, he
comes hither for no good; but if the Lord of Cessford be near, he will
not dare offer any unprovoked outrage.”

“I have heard of that chief,” said the baron; “let me know when he
approaches. And do thou, Rodulph,” to the eldest yeoman, “keep a strict
watch. Adelbert,” to the page, “attend to arm me.” The page bowed, and
the baron withdrew to the chamber of the lady Isabella, to explain the
cause of the disturbance.

No more of the proposed tale was ever written; but the Author’s purpose
was that it should turn upon a fine legend of superstition which is
current in the part of the Borders where he had his residence, where, in
the reign of Alexander III. of Scotland, that renowned person, Thomas of
Hersildoune, called the Rhymer, actually flourished. This personage, the
Merlin of Scotland, and to whom some of the adventures which the British
bards assigned to Merlin Caledonius, or the Wild, have been transferred
by tradition, was, as is well known, a magician, as well as a poet and
prophet. He is alleged still to live in the land of Faery, and is
expected to return at some great convulsion of society, in which he is to
act a distinguished part,–a tradition common to all nations, as the
belief of the Mahomedans respecting their twelfth Imaum demonstrates.

Now, it chanced many years since that there lived on the Borders a jolly,
rattling horse-cowper, who was remarkable for a reckless and fearless
temper, which made him much admired, and a little dreaded, amongst his
neighbours. One moonlight night, as he rode over Bowden Moor, on the west
side of the Eildon Hills, the scene of Thomas the Rhymer’s prophecies,
and often mentioned in his story, having a brace of horses along with him
which he had not been able to dispose of, he met a man of venerable
appearance and singularly antique dress, who, to his great surprise,
asked the price of his horses, and began to chaffer with him on the
subject. To Canobie Dick–(for so shall we call our Border dealer)–a
chap was a chap, and he would have sold a liaise to the devil himself,
without minding his cloven hoof, and would have probably cheated Old Nick
into the bargain. The stranger paid the price they agreed on; and all
that puzzled Dick in the transaction was that the gild which he received
was in unicorns, bonnet-pieces, and other ancient coins, which would have
been invaluable to collectors, but were rather troublesome, in modern
currency.

It was gold, however, and therefore Dick contrived to get better value
for the coin than he perhaps gave to his customer. By the command of so
good a merchant, he brought horses to the same slot more than once; the
purchaser only stipulating that he should always come by night, and
alone. I do not know whether it was from mere curiosity, or whether some
hope of gain mixed with it, but after Dick had sold several horses in
this way, he began to complain that dry-bargains were unlucky, and to
hint that since his chap must live in the neighbourhood, he ought, in the
courtesy of dealing, to treat him to half a mutchkin.

“You may see my dwelling if you will,” said the stranger; “but if you
lose courage at what you see there, you will rue it all your life.”

Dicken, however, laughed the warning to scorn, and having alighted to
secure his horse, he followed the stranger up a narrow foot-path, which
led them up the hills to the singular eminence stuck betwixt the most
southern and the centre peaks, and called, from its resemblance to such
an animal in its form, the Lucken Hare. At the foot of this eminence,
which is almost as famous for witch meetings as the neighbouring
wind-mill of Kippilaw, Dick was somewhat startled to observe that his
conductor entered the hill-side by a passage or cavern, of which he
himself, though well acquainted with the spot, had never seen or heard.

“You may still return,” said his guide, looking ominously back upon him;
but Dick scorned to show the white feather, and on they went. They
entered a very long range of stables; in every stall stood a coal-black
horse; by every horse lay a knight in coal-black armour, with a drawn
sword in his hand; but all were as silent, hoof and limb, as if they had
been cut out of marble. A great number of torches lent a gloomy lustre to
the hall, which, like those of the Caliph Vathek, was of large
dimensions. At the upper end, however, they at length arrived, where a
sword and horn lay on an antique table.

“He that shall sound that horn and draw that sword,” said the stranger,
who now intimated that he was the famous Thomas of Hersildoune, “shall,
if his heart fail him not, be king over all broad Britain. So speaks the
tongue that cannot lie. But all depends on courage, and much on your
taking the sword or the horn first.” Dick was much disposed to take the
sword; but his bold spirit was quailed by the supernatural terrors of the
hall, and he thought to unsheathe the sword first, might be construed
into defiance, and give offence to the powers of the Mountain. He took
the bugle with a trembling hand, and a feeble note, but loud enough to
produce a terrible answer. Thunder rolled in stunning peals through the
immense hall; horses and men started to life; the steeds snorted,
stamped, grinned their bits, and tossed on high their heads; the warriors
sprung to their feet, clashed their armour, and brandished their swords.
Dick’s terror was extreme at seeing the whole army, which had been so
lately silent as the grave, in uproar, and about to rush on him. He
dropped the horn, and made a feeble attempt to seize the enchanted sword;
but at the same moment a voice pronounced aloud the mysterious words,–

“Woe to the coward, that ever he was born,
Who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn!”

At the same time a whirlwind of irresistible fury howled through the long
hall, bore the unfortunate horse-jockey clear out of the mouth of the
cavern, and precipitated him over a steep bank of loose stones, where the
shepherds found him the next morning with just breath sufficient to tell
his fearful tale, after concluding which he expired.

This legend, with several variations, is found in many parts of Scotland
and England. The scene is sometimes laid in some favourite glen of the
Highlands, sometimes in the deep coal-mines of Northumberland and
Cumberland, which rim so far beneath the ocean. It is also to be found in
Reginald Scott’s book on Witchcraft, which was written in the sixteenth
century. It would be in vain to ask what was the original of the
tradition. The choice between the horn and sword may, perhaps, include as
a moral that it is foolhardy to awaken danger before we have arms in our
hands to resist it.

Although admitting of much poetical ornament, it is clear that this
legend would have formed but an unhappy foundation for a prose story, and
must have degenerated into a mere fairy tale. Dr. John Leyden has
beautifully introduced the tradition in his “Scenes of Infancy”:–

“Mysterious Rhymer, doomed by fate’s decree
Still to revisit Eildon’s fated tree,
Where oft the swain, at dawn of Hallow-day,
Hears thy fleet barb with wild impatience neigh,–
Say, who is he, with summons long and high,
Shall bid the charmed sleep of ages fly,
Roll the long sound through Eildon’s caverns vast,
While each dark warrior kindles at the blast,
The horn, the falchion, grasp with mighty hand,
And peal proud Arthur’s march from Fairy-land?”

In the same cabinet with the preceding fragment, the following occurred
among other ‘disjecta membra’. It seems to be an attempt at a tale of a
different description from the last, but was almost instantly abandoned.
The introduction points out the time of the composition to have been
about the end of the eighteenth century.