Gallows and knock are too powerful on the highway
The hint of the hospitable farmer was not lost on Brown. But while
he paid his reckoning he could not avoid repeatedly fixing his
eyes on Meg Merrilies. She was in all respects the same witch-like
figure as when we first introduced her at Ellangowan Place. Time
had grizzled her raven locks and added wrinkles to her wild
features, but her height remained erect, and her activity was
unimpaired. It was remarked of this woman, as of others of the
same description, that a life of action, though not of labour,
gave her the perfect command of her limbs and figure, so that the
attitudes into which she most naturally threw herself were free,
unconstrained, and picturesque. At present she stood by the window
of the cottage, her person drawn up so as to show to full
advantage her masculine stature, and her head somewhat thrown
back, that the large bonnet with which her face was shrouded might
not interrupt her steady gaze at Brown. At every gesture he made
and every tone he uttered she seemed to give an almost
imperceptible start. On his part, he was surprised to find that he
could not look upon this singular figure without some emotion.
'Have I dreamed of such a figure?' he said to himself, 'or does
this wild and singular-looking woman recall to my recollection
some of the strange figures I have seen in our Indian pagodas?'
While he embarrassed himself with these discussions, and the
hostess was engaged in rummaging out silver in change of half-a-
guinea, the gipsy suddenly made two strides and seized Brown's
hand. He expected, of course, a display of her skill in palmistry,
but she seemed agitated by other feelings.
'Tell me,' she said, 'tell me, in the name of God, young man, what
is your name, and whence you came?'
'My name is Brown, mother, and I come from the East Indies.'
'From the East Indies!' dropping his hand with a sigh; 'it cannot
be then. I am such an auld fool, that everything I look on seems
the thing I want maist to see. But the East Indies! that cannot
be. Weel, be what ye will, ye hae a face and a tongue that puts me
in mind of auld times. Good day; make haste on your road, and if
ye see ony of our folk, meddle not and make not, and they'll do
you nae harm.'
Brown, who had by this time received his change, put a shilling
into her hand, bade his hostess farewell, and, taking the route
which the farmer had gone before, walked briskly on, with the
advantage of being guided by the fresh hoof-prints of his horse.
Meg Merrilies looked after him for some time, and then muttered to
herself, 'I maun see that lad again; and I maun gang back to
Ellangowan too. The Laird's dead! aweel, death pays a' scores; he
was a kind man ance. The Sheriff's flitted, and I can keep canny
in the bush; so there's no muckle hazard o' scouring the cramp-
ring. I would like to see bonny Ellangowan again or I die.'
Brown meanwhile proceeded northward at a round pace along the
moorish tract called the Waste of Cumberland. He passed a solitary
house, towards which the horseman who preceded him had apparently
turned up, for his horse's tread was evident in that direction. A
little farther, he seemed to have returned again into the road.
Mr. Dinmont had probably made a visit there either of business or
pleasure. 'I wish,' thought Brown, 'the good farmer had staid till
I came up; I should not have been sorry to ask him a few questions
about the road, which seems to grow wilder and wilder.'
In truth, nature, as if she had designed this tract of country to
be the barrier between two hostile nations, has stamped upon it a
character of wildness and desolation. The hills are neither high
nor rocky, but the land is all heath and morass; the huts poor and
mean, and at a great distance from each other. Immediately around
them there is generally some little attempt at cultivation; but a
half-bred foal or two, straggling about with shackles on their
hind legs, to save the trouble of inclosures, intimate the
farmer's chief resource to be the breeding of horses. The people,
too, are of a ruder and more inhospitable class than are elsewhere
to be found in Cumberland, arising partly from their own habits,
partly from their intermixture with vagrants and criminals, who
make this wild country a refuge from justice. So much were the men
of these districts in early times the objects of suspicion and
dislike to their more polished neighbours, that there was, and
perhaps still exists, a by-law of the corporation of Newcastle
prohibiting any freeman of that city to take for apprentice a
native of certain of these dales. It is pithily said, 'Give a dog
an ill name and hang him'; and it may be added, if you give a man,
or race of men, an ill name they are very likely to do something
that deserves hanging. Of this Brown had heard something, and
suspected more, from the discourse between the landlady, Dinmont,
and the gipsy; but he was naturally of a fearless disposition, had
nothing about him that could tempt the spoiler, and trusted to get
through the Waste with daylight. In this last particular, however,
he was likely to be disappointed. The way proved longer than he
had anticipated, and the horizon began to grow gloomy just as he
entered upon an extensive morass.
Choosing his steps with care and deliberation, the young officer
proceeded along a path that sometimes sunk between two broken
black banks of moss earth, sometimes crossed narrow but deep
ravines filled with a consistence between mud and water, and
sometimes along heaps of gravel and stones, which had been swept
together when some torrent or waterspout from the neighbouring
hills overflowed the marshy ground below. He began to ponder how a
horseman could make his way through such broken ground; the traces
of hoofs, however, were still visible; he even thought he heard
their sound at some distance, and, convinced that Mr. Dinmont's
progress through the morass must be still slower than his own, he
resolved to push on, in hopes to overtake him and have the benefit
of his knowledge of the country. At this moment his little terrier
sprung forward, barking most furiously.
Brown quickened his pace, and, attaining the summit of a small
rising ground, saw the subject of the dog's alarm. In a hollow
about a gunshot below him a man whom he easily recognised to be
Dinmont was engaged with two others in a desperate struggle. He
was dismounted, and defending himself as he best could with the
butt of his heavy whip. Our traveller hastened on to his
assistance; but ere he could get up a stroke had levelled the
farmer with the earth, and one of the robbers, improving his
victory, struck him some merciless blows on the head. The other
villain, hastening to meet Brown, called to his companion to come
along, 'for that one's CONTENT,' meaning, probably, past
resistance or complaint. One ruffian was armed with a cutlass, the
other with a bludgeon; but as the road was pretty narrow, 'bar
fire-arms,' thought Brown, 'and I may manage them well enough.'
They met accordingly, with the most murderous threats on the part
of the ruffians. They soon found, however, that their new opponent
was equally stout and resolute; and, after exchanging two or three
blows, one of them told him to 'follow his nose over the heath, in
the devil's name, for they had nothing to say to him.'
Brown rejected this composition as leaving to their mercy the
unfortunate man whom they were about to pillage, if not to murder
outright; and the skirmish had just recommenced when Dinmont
unexpectedly recovered his senses, his feet, and his weapon, and
hastened to the scene of action. As he had been no easy
antagonist, even when surprised and alone, the villains did not
choose to wait his joining forces with a man who had singly proved
a match for them both, but fled across the bog as fast as their
feet could carry them, pursued by Wasp, who had acted gloriously
during the skirmish, annoying the heels of the enemy, and
repeatedly effecting a moment's diversion in his master's favour.
'Deil, but your dog's weel entered wi' the vermin now, sir!' were
the first words uttered by the jolly farmer as he came up, his
head streaming with blood, and recognised his deliverer and his
'I hope, sir, you are not hurt dangerously?'
'O, deil a bit, my head can stand a gay clour; nae thanks to them,
though, and mony to you. But now, hinney, ye maun help me to catch
the beast, and ye maun get on behind me, for we maun off like
whittrets before the whole clanjamfray be doun upon us; the rest
o' them will no be far off.' The galloway was, by good fortune,
easily caught, and Brown made some apology for overloading the
'Deil a fear, man,' answered the proprietor; 'Dumple could carry
six folk, if his back was lang eneugh; but God's sake, haste ye,
get on, for I see some folk coming through the slack yonder that
it may be just as weel no to wait for.'
Brown was of opinion that this apparition of five or six men, with
whom the other villains seemed to join company, coming across the
moss towards them, should abridge ceremony; he therefore mounted
Dumple en croupe, and the little spirited nag cantered away with
two men of great size and strength as if they had been children of
six years old. The rider, to whom the paths of these wilds seemed
intimately known, pushed on at a rapid pace, managing with much
dexterity to choose the safest route, in which he was aided by the
sagacity of the galloway, who never failed to take the difficult
passes exactly at the particular spot, and in the special manner,
by which they could be most safely crossed. Yet, even with these
advantages, the road was so broken, and they were so often thrown
out of the direct course by various impediments, that they did not
gain much on their pursuers. 'Never mind,' said the undaunted
Scotchman to his companion, 'if we were ance by Withershins'
Latch, the road's no near sae soft, and we'll show them fair play
They soon came to the place he named, a narrow channel, through
which soaked, rather than flowed, a small stagnant stream, mantled
over with bright green mosses. Dinmont directed his steed towards
a pass where the water appeared to flow with more freedom over a
harder bottom; but Dumple backed from the proposed crossing-place,
put his head down as if to reconnoitre the swamp more nearly,
stretching forward his fore-feet, and stood as fast as if he had
been cut out of stone.
'Had we not better,' said Brown, 'dismount, and leave him to his
fate; or can you not urge him through the swamp?'
'Na, na,' said his pilot, 'we maun cross Dumple at no rate, he has
mair sense than mony a Christian.' So saying, he relaxed the
reins, and shook them loosely. 'Come now, lad, take your ain way
o't, let's see where ye'll take us through.'
Dumple, left to the freedom of his own will, trotted briskly to
another part of the latch, less promising, as Brown thought, in
appearance, but which the animal's sagacity or experience
recommended as the safer of the two, and where, plunging in, he
attained the other side with little difficulty.
'I'm glad we're out o' that moss,' said Dinmont, 'where there's
mair stables for horses than change-houses for men; we have the
Maiden-way to help us now, at ony rate.' Accordingly, they
speedily gained a sort of rugged causeway so called, being the
remains of an old Roman road which traverses these wild regions in
a due northerly direction. Here they got on at the rate of nine or
ten miles an hour, Dumple seeking no other respite than what arose
from changing his pace from canter to trot. 'I could gar him show
mair action,' said his master, 'but we are twa lang-legged chields
after a', and it would be a pity to stress Dumple; there wasna the
like o' him at Staneshiebank Fair the day.'
Brown readily assented to the propriety of sparing the horse, and
added that, as they were now far out of the reach of the rogues,
he thought Mr. Dintnont had better tie a handkerchief round his
head, for fear of the cold frosty air aggravating the wound.
'What would I do that for?' answered the hardy farmer; 'the best
way's to let the blood barken upon the cut; that saves plasters,
Brown, who in his military profession had seen a great many hard
blows pass, could not help remarking, 'he had never known such
severe strokes received with so much apparent indifference.'
'Hout tout, man! I would never be making a humdudgeon about a
scart on the pow; but we'll be in Scotland in five minutes now,
and ye maun gang up to Charlie's Hope wi' me, that's a clear
Brown readily accepted the offered hospitality. Night was now
falling when they came in sight of a pretty river winding its way
through a pastoral country. The hills were greener and more abrupt
than those which Brown had lately passed, sinking their grassy
sides at once upon the river. They had no pretensions to
magnificence of height, or to romantic shapes, nor did their
smooth swelling slopes exhibit either rocks or woods. Yet the view
was wild, solitary, and pleasingly rural. No inclosures, no roads,
almost no tillage; it seemed a land which a patriarch would have
chosen to feed his flocks and herds. The remains of here and there
a dismantled and ruined tower showed that it had once harboured
beings of a very different description from its present
inhabitants; those freebooters, namely, to whose exploits the wars
between England and Scotland bear witness.
Descending by a path towards a well-known ford, Dumple crossed the
small river, and then, quickening his pace, trotted about a mile
briskly up its banks, and approached two or three low thatched
houses, placed with their angles to each other, with a great
contempt of regularity. This was the farm-steading of Charlie's
Hope, or, in the language of the country, 'the town.' A most
furious barking was set up at their approach by the whole three
generations of Mustard and Pepper, and a number of allies, names
unknown. The farmer [Footnote: See Note 3.] made his well-known
voice lustily heard to restore order; the door opened, and a half-
dressed ewe-milker, who had done that good office, shut it in
their faces, in order that she might run 'ben the house' to cry
'Mistress, mistress, it's the master, and another man wi' him.'
Dumple, turned loose, walked to his own stable-door, and there
pawed and whinnied for admission, in strains which were answered
by his acquaintances from the interior. Amid this bustle Brown was
fain to secure Wasp from the other dogs, who, with ardour
corresponding more to their own names than to the hospitable
temper of their owner, were much disposed to use the intruder
In about a minute a stout labourer was patting Dumple, and
introducing him into the stable, while Mrs. Dinmont, a well-
favoured buxom dame, welcomed her husband with unfeigned rapture.
'Eh, sirs! gudeman, ye hae been a weary while away!'