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As soon as she was gone Dandie reconnoitred the premises, listened at the key-hole as if he had been listening for the blowing of an otter, and, having satisfied himself that there were no eavesdroppers, returned to the table; and, making himself what he called a gey stiff cheerer, poked the fire, and began his story in an undertone of gravity and importance not very usual with him.
“Ye see, Captain, I had been in Edinbro' for twa or three days, looking after the burial of a friend that we hae lost, and maybe I suld hae had something for my ride; but there's disappointments in a' things, and wha can help the like o that? And I had a wee bit law business besides, but that's neither here nor there. In short, I had got my matters settled, and hame I cam; and the morn awa to the muirs to see what the herds had been about, and I thought I might as weel gie a look to the Touthope Head, where Jock o' Dawston and me has the outcast about a march. Weel, just as I was coming upon the bit, I saw a man afore me that I kenn'd was nane o' our herds, and it's a wild bit to meet ony other body, so when I cam up to him it was Tod Gabriel, the fox-hunter. So I says to him, rather surprised like, “What are ye doing up amang the craws here, without your hounds, man ? are ye seeking the fox without the dogs ?” So he said, “Na, gudeman, but I wanted to see yoursell.”
6“Ay," said I, “and ye'll be wanting eilding now, or something to pit ower the winter ?”
6“Na, na," quo' he, “it's no that I'm seeking; but ye tak an unco concern in that Captain Brown that was staying wi' you, d'ye no?”
«« Troth do I, Gabriel,” says I; “and what about him, lad ?”
“Says he, “ There's mair tak an interest in him than you, and some that I am bound to obey; and it's no just on my ain will that I'm here to tell you something about him that will no please you.”
"“Faith, naething will please me," quo' I, “that's no pleasing to him.”
"« And then," quo' þe, "ye'll be ill-sorted to hear that he's like to be in the prison at Portanferry, if he disna tak a' the better care o' himsell, for there's been warrants out to tak him as soon as he comes ower the water frae Allonby. And now, gudeman, an ever ye wish him weel, ye maun ride down to Portanferry, and let nae grass grow at the nag's heels; and if ye find him in confinement, ye maun stay beside him night and day for a day or twa, for he'll want friends that hae baith heart and hand; and if ye neglect this ye'll never rue but ance, for it will be for a' your life.”
«“But, safe us, man," quo' I, “how did ye learn a' this ? it's an unco way between this and Portanferry."
"“Never ye mind that," quo' he, “them that brought us the news rade night and day, and ye maun be aff instantly if ye wad do ony gude; and sae I have naething mair to tell ve." Sae he sat himsell doun and hirselled doun into the glen, where it wad hae been ill following him wi' the beast, and I cam back to Charlie's Hope to tell the gudewife, for I was uncertain what to do. It wad look unco-like, I thought, just to be sent out on a hunt-the-gowk errand wi' a landlouper like that. But, Lord ! as the gudewife set up her throat about it, and said what a shame it wad be if ye was to come to ony wrang, an I could help ye; and then in cam your letter that confirmed it. So I took to the kist, and out wi' the pickle notes in case they should be needed, and a' the bairns ran to saddle Dumple. By great luck I had taen the other beast to Edinbro', sae Dumple was as fresh as a rose. Sae aff I set, and Wasp wi' me, for ye wad really hae thought he kenn'd where I was gaun, puir beast; and here I am after a trot o' sixty mile or near by. But Wasp rade thirty o' them afore me on the saddle, and the puir doggie balanced itsell as ane of the weans wad hae dune, whether I trotted or cantered.'
In this strange story Bertram obviously saw, supposing the warning to be true, some intimation of danger more violent and imminent than could be likely to arise from a few days' imprisonment. At the same time it was equally evident that some unknown friend was working in his behalf. 'Did you not say,' he asked Dinmont, 'that this man Gabriel was of gipsy blood ?'
It was e'en judged sae,' said Dinmont, "and I think this maks it likely; for they aye ken where the gangs o' ilk ither are to be found, and they can gar news flee like a footba' through the country an they like. An' I forgat to tell ye, there's been an unco inquiry after the auld wife that we saw in Bewcastle; the Sheriff's had folk ower the Limestane Edge after her, and down the Hermitage and Liddel, and a' gates, and a reward offered for her to appear o' fifty pound sterling, nae less; and Justice Forster, he's had out warrants, as I am tell’d, in Cumberland ; and an unco ranging and ripeing they
have had a' gates seeking for her; but she'll no be taen wi' them unless she likes, for a' that.'
‘And how comes that ?' said Bertram.
Ou, I dinna ken; I daur say it's nonsense, but they say she has gathered the fern-seed, and can gang ony gate she likes, like Jock the Giant-killer in the ballant, wi' his coat o' darkness and his shoon o' swiftness. Ony way she's a kind o' queen amang the gipsies ; she is mair than a hundred year auld, folk say, and minds the coming in o' the moss-troopers in the troublesome times when the Stuarts were put awa. Sae, if she canna hide hersell, she kens them that can hide her weel eneugh, ye needna doubt that. Odd, an I had kenn'd it had been Meg Merrilies yon night at Tibb Mumps's, I wad taen care how I crossed her.'
Bertram listened with great attention to this account, which tallied so well in many points with what he had himself seen of this gipsy sibyl. After a moment's consideration he concluded it would be no breach of faith to mention what he had seen at Derncleugh to a person who held Meg in such reverence as Dinmont obviously did. He told his story accordingly, often interrupted by ejaculations, such as, Weel, the like o' that now !'or, “Na, deil an that's no something now !'
When our Liddesdale friend had heard the whole to an end, he shook his great black head—Weel, I'll uphaud there's baith gude and ill amang the gipsies, and if they deal wi’ the Enemy, it's a' their ain business and no ours. I ken what the streeking the corpse wad be, weel eneugh. Thae smuggler deevils, when ony o' them's killed in a fray, they'll send for a wife like Meg far eneugh to dress the corpse; odd, it's a' the burial they ever think o'! and then to be put into the ground without ony decency, just like dogs. But they stick to it, that they'll be streekit, and hae an auld wife when they're dying to rhyme ower prayers, and ballants, and charms, as they ca' them, rather than they'll hae a minister to come and pray wi' themthat's an auld threep o' theirs; and I am thinking the man that died will hae been ane o' the folk that was shot when they burnt Woodbourne.'
‘But, my good friend, Woodbourne is not burnt,' said Bertram.
· Weel, the better for them that bides in't,' answered the store-farmer. Odd, we had it up the water wi' us that there wasna a stane on the tap o' anither. But there was fighting, ony way; I daur to say it would be fine fun! And, as I said, ye may take it on trust that that's been ane o' the men killed there, and that it's been the gipsies that took your pockmanky when they fand the chaise stickin' in the snaw; they wadna pass the like o' that, it wad just come to their hand like the bowl o' a pint stoup.'
‘But if this woman is a sovereign among them, why was she not able to afford me open protection, and to get me back my property ?'
Ou, wha kens ? she has muckle to say wi' them, but whiles they'll tak their ain way for a' that, when they're under temptation. And then there's the smugglers that they're aye leagued wi', she may be couldna manage them sae weel. They're aye banded thegither; I've heard that the gipsies ken when the smugglers will come aff, and where they're to land, better than the very merchants that deal wi' them. And then, to the boot o' that, she's whiles crack-brained, and has a bee in her head ; they say that, whether her spaeings and fortune-tellings be true or no, for certain she believes in them a' hersell, and is aye guiding hersell by some queer prophecy or anither. So she disna aye gang the straight road to the well. But deil o'sic a story as yours, wi' glamour and dead folk and losing ane's gate, I ever heard out o' the tale-books! But whisht, I hear the keeper coming.'
Mac-Guffog accordingly interrupted their discourse by the harsh harmony of the bolts and bars, and showed his bloated visage at the opening door. Come, Mr. Dinmont, we have put off locking up for an hour to oblige ye; ye must go to your quarters.'
*Quarters, man? I intend to sleep here the night. There's a spare bed in the Captain's room.'
“It's impossible !' answered the keeper.
‘But I say it is possible, and that I winna stir; and there's a dram t'ye.'
Mac-Guffog drank off the spirits and resumed his objection. But it's against rule, sir; ye have committed nae malefaction.'
*I'll break your head,' said the sturdy Liddesdale man, ‘if ye say ony mair about it, and that will be malefaction eneugh to entitle me to ae night's lodging wi' you, ony way.'
But I tell ye, Mr. Dinmont,' reiterated the keeper, 'it's against rule, and I behoved to lose my post.'
Weel, Mac-Guffog,' said Dandie, 'I hae just twa things to say. Ye ken wha I am weel eneugh, and that I wadna loose a prisoner.'
"And how do I ken that ?' answered the jailor.
• Weel, if ye dinna ken that,' said the resolute farmer, 'ye ken this : ye ken ye're whiles obliged to be up our water in the way o' your business. Now, if ye let me stay quietly here the night wi' the Captain, I'se pay ye double fees for the room; and if ye say no, ye shall hae the best sark-fu' o'sair banes that ever ye had in your life the first time ye set a foot by Liddel Moat!'
‘Aweel, aweel, gudeman,' said Mac-Guffog, 'a wilfu' man maun hae his way; but if I am challenged for it by the justices, I ken wha sall bear the wyte,' and, having sealed this observation with a deep oath or two, he retired to bed, after carefully securing all the doors of the bridewell. The bell from the town steeple tolled nine just as the ceremony was concluded.
Although it's but early hours,' said the farmer, who had observed that his friend looked somewhat pale and fatigued, 'I think we had better lie down, Captain, if ye're no agreeable to another cheerer. But troth, ye’re nae glass-breaker; and neither am I, unless it be a screed wi' the neighbours, or when I'm on a ramble.'
Bertram readily assented to the motion of his faithful friend, but, on looking at the bed, felt repugnance to trust himself undressed to Mrs. Mac-Guffog's clean sheets.
I'm muckle o' your opinion, Captain,' said Dandie. Odd, this bed looks as if a' the colliers in Sanquhar had been in't thegither. But it'll no win through my muckle coat.' So saying, he flung himself upon the frail bed with a force that made all its timbers crack, and in a few moments gave audible signal that he was fast asleep. Bertram slipped off his coat and boots and occupied the other dormitory. The strangeness of his destiny, and the mysteries which appeared to thicken around him, while he seemed alike to be persecuted and protected by secret enemies and friends, arising out of a class of people with whom he had no previous connexion, for some time occupied his thoughts. Fatigue, however, gradually composed his mind, and in a short time he was as fast asleep as his companion. And in this comfortable state of oblivion we must leave them until we acquaint the reader with some other circumstances which occurred about the same period.