The Black Dwarf HTML version
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