Die, prophet! in thy speech;
For this, among the rest, was I ordained.
Henry VI. Part III.
The progress of the Borderer, who, as we have said, was the last
of the party, was fearfully arrested by a hand, which caught hold
of his leg as he dragged his long limbs after him in silence and
perturbation through the low and narrow entrance of the
subterranean passage. The steel heart of the bold yeoman had well-
nigh given way, and he suppressed with difficulty a shout, which,
in the defenceless posture and situation which they then occupied,
might have cost all their lives. He contented himself, however,
with extricating his foot from the grasp of this unexpected
follower. 'Be still,' said a voice behind him, releasing him; 'I
am a friend--Charles Hazlewood.'
These words were uttered in a very low voice, but they produced
sound enough to startle Meg Merrilies, who led the van, and who,
having already gained the place where the cavern expanded, had
risen upon her feet. She began, as if to confound any listening
ear, to growl, to mutter, and to sing aloud, and at the same time
to make a bustle among some brushwood which was now heaped in the
'Here, beldam, deyvil's kind,' growled the harsh voice of Dirk
Hatteraick from the inside of his den, 'what makest thou there?'
'Laying the roughies to keep the cauld wind frae you, ye desperate
do-nae-good. Ye're e'en ower weel off, and wotsna; it will be
'Have you brought me the brandy, and any news of my people?' said
'There's the flask for ye. Your people--dispersed, broken, gone,
or cut to ribbands by the redcoats.'
'Der deyvil! this coast is fatal to me.'
'Ye may hae mair reason to say sae.'
While this dialogue went forward, Bertram and Dinmont had both
gained the interior of the cave and assumed an erect position. The
only light which illuminated its rugged and sable precincts was a
quantity of wood burnt to charcoal in an iron grate, such as they
use in spearing salmon by night. On these red embers Hatteraick
from time to time threw a handful of twigs or splintered wood; but
these, even when they blazed up, afforded a light much
disproportioned to the extent of the cavern; and, as its principal
inhabitant lay upon the side of the grate most remote from the
entrance, it was not easy for him to discover distinctly objects
which lay in that direction. The intruders, therefore, whose
number was now augmented unexpectedly to three, stood behind the
loosely-piled branches with little risk of discovery. Dinmont had
the sense to keep back Hazlewood with one hand till he whispered
to Bertram, 'A friend--young Hazlewood.'
It was no time for following up the introduction, and they all
stood as still as the rocks around them, obscured behind the pile
of brushwood, which had been probably placed there to break the
cold wind from the sea, without totally intercepting the supply of
air. The branches were laid so loosely above each other that,
looking through them towards the light of the fire-grate, they
could easily discover what passed in its vicinity, although a much
stronger degree of illumination than it afforded would not have
enabled the persons placed near the bottom of the cave to have
descried them in the position which they occupied.
The scene, independent of the peculiar moral interest and personal
danger which attended it, had, from the effect of the light and
shade on the uncommon objects which it exhibited, an appearance
emphatically dismal. The light in the fire-grate was the dark-red
glare of charcoal in a state of ignition, relieved from time to
time by a transient flame of a more vivid or duskier light, as the
fuel with which Dirk Hatteraick fed his fire was better or worse
fitted for his purpose. Now a dark cloud of stifling smoke rose up
to the roof of the cavern, and then lighted into a reluctant and
sullen blaze, which flashed wavering up the pillar of smoke, and
was suddenly rendered brighter and more lively by some drier fuel,
or perhaps some splintered fir-timber, which at once converted the
smoke into flame. By such fitful irradiation they could see, more
or less distinctly, the form of Hatteraick, whose savage and
rugged cast of features, now rendered yet more ferocious by the
circumstances of his situation and the deep gloom of his mind,
assorted well with the rugged and broken vault, which rose in a
rude arch over and around him. The form of Meg Merrilies, which
stalked about him, sometimes in the light, sometimes partially
obscured in the smoke or darkness, contrasted strongly with the
sitting figure of Hatteraick as he bent over the flame, and from
his stationary posture was constantly visible to the spectator,
while that of the female flitted around, appearing or disappearing
like a spectre.
Bertram felt his blood boil at the sight of Hatteraick. He
remembered him well under the name of Jansen, which the smuggler
had adopted after the death of Kennedy; and he remembered also
that this Jansen, and his mate Brown, the same who was shot at
Woodbourne, had been the brutal tyrants of his infancy. Bertram
knew farther, from piecing his own imperfect recollections with
the narratives of Mannering and Pleydell, that this man was the
prime agent in the act of violence which tore him from his family
and country, and had exposed him to so many distresses and
dangers. A thousand exasperating reflections rose within his
bosom; and he could hardly refrain from rushing upon Hatteraick
and blowing his brains out.
At the same time this would have been no safe adventure. The
flame, as it rose and fell, while it displayed the strong,
muscular, and broad-chested frame of the ruffian, glanced also
upon two brace of pistols in his belt, and upon the hilt of his
cutlass: it was not to be doubted that his desperation was
commensurate with his personal strength and means of resistance.
Both, indeed, were inadequate to encounter the combined power of
two such men as Bertram himself and his friend Dinmont, without
reckoning their unexpected assistant Hazlewood, who was unarmed,
and of a slighter make; but Bertram felt, on a moment's
reflection, that there would be neither sense nor valour in
anticipating the hangman's office, and he considered the
importance of making Hatteraick prisoner alive. He therefore
repressed his indignation, and awaited what should pass between
the ruffian and his gipsy guide.
'And how are ye now?' said the harsh and discordant tones of his
female attendant.' Said I not, it would come upon you--ay, and in
this very cave, where ye harboured after the deed?'
'Wetter and sturm, ye hag!' replied Hatteraick, 'keep your
deyvil's matins till they're wanted. Have you seen Glossin?'
'No,' replied Meg Merrilies; 'you've missed your blow, ye blood-
spiller! and ye have nothing to expect from the tempter.'
'Hagel!' exclaimed the ruffian, 'if I had him but by the throat!
And what am I to do then?'
'Do?' answered the gipsy; 'die like a man, or be hanged like a
'Hanged, ye hag of Satan! The hemp's not sown that shall hang me.'
'It's sown, and it's grown, and it's heckled, and it's twisted.
Did I not tell ye, when ye wad take away the boy Harry Bertram, in
spite of my prayers,--did I not say he would come back when he had
dree'd his weird in foreign land till his twenty-first year? Did I
not say the auld fire would burn down to a spark, but wad kindle
'Well, mother, you did say so,' said Hatteraick, in a tone that
had something of despair in its accents; 'and, donner and blitzen!
I believe you spoke the truth. That younker of Ellangowan has been
a rock ahead to me all my life! And now, with Glossin's cursed
contrivance, my crew have been cut off, my boats destroyed, and I
daresay the lugger's taken; there were not men enough left on
board to work her, far less to fight her--a dredge-boat might have
taken her. And what will the owners say? Hagel and sturm! I shall
never dare go back again to Flushing.'
'You'll never need,' said the gipsy.
'What are you doing there,' said her companion; 'and what makes
you say that?'
During this dialogue Meg was heaping some flax loosely together.
Before answer to this question she dropped a firebrand upon the
flax, which had been previously steeped in some spirituous liquor,
for it instantly caught fire and rose in a vivid pyramid of the
most brilliant light up to the very top of the vault. As it
ascended Meg answered the ruffian's question in a firm and steady
voice: 'BECAUSE THE HOUR'S COME, AND THE MAN.'
At the appointed signal Bertram and Dinmont sprung over the
brushwood and rushed upon Hatteraick. Hazlewood, unacquainted with
their plan of assault, was a moment later. The ruffian, who
instantly saw he was betrayed, turned his first vengeance on Meg
Merrilies, at whom he discharged a pistol. She fell with a
piercing and dreadful cry between the shriek of pain and the sound
of laughter when at its highest and most suffocating height. 'I
kenn'd it would be this way,' she said.
Bertram, in his haste, slipped his foot upon the uneven rock which
floored the cave--a fortunate stumble, for Hatteraick's second
bullet whistled over him with so true and steady an aim that, had
he been standing upright, it must have lodged in his brain. Ere
the smuggler could draw another pistol, Dinmont closed with him,
and endeavoured by main force to pinion down his arms. Such,
however, was the wretch's personal strength, joined to the efforts
of his despair, that, in spite of the gigantic force with which
the Borderer grappled him, he dragged Dinmont through the blazing
flax, and had almost succeeded in drawing a third pistol, which
might have proved fatal to the honest farmer, had not Bertram, as
well as Hazlewood, come to his assistance, when, by main force,
and no ordinary exertion of it, they threw Hatteraick on the
ground, disarmed him, and bound him. This scuffle, though it takes
up some time in the narrative, passed in less than a single
minute. When he was fairly mastered, after one or two desperate
and almost convulsionary struggles, the ruffian lay perfectly
still and silent. 'He's gaun to die game ony how,' said Dinmont;
'weel, I like him na the waur for that.'
This observation honest Dandie made while he was shaking the
blazing flax from his rough coat and shaggy black hair, some of
which had been singed in the scuffle. 'He is quiet now,' said
Bertram; 'stay by him and do not permit him to stir till I see
whether the poor woman be alive or dead.' With Hazlewood's
assistance he raised Meg Merrilies.
'I kenn'd it would be this way,' she muttered, 'and it's e'en this
way that it should be.'
The ball had penetrated the breast below the throat. It did not
bleed much externally; but Bertram, accustomed to see gunshot
wounds, thought it the more alarming. 'Good God! what shall we do
for this poor woman?' said he to Hazlewood, the circumstances
superseding the necessity of previous explanation or introduction
to each other.
'My horse stands tied above in the wood,' said Hazlewood. 'I have
been watching you these two hours. I will ride off for some
assistants that may be trusted. Meanwhile, you had better defend
the mouth of the cavern against every one until I return.' He
hastened away. Bertram, after binding Meg Merrilies's wound as
well as he could, took station near the mouth of the cave with a
cocked pistol in his hand; Dinmont continued to watch Hatteraick,
keeping a grasp like that of Hercules on his breast. There was a
dead silence in the cavern, only interrupted by the low and
suppressed moaning of the wounded female and by the hard breathing
of the prisoner.