Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Black Dwarf’s Bones
by [?]

… “If thou wert grim,
Lame, ugly, crooked, swart, prodigious.”

KING JOHN.

These gnarled, stunted, useless old bones, were all that David Ritchie, the original of the Black Dwarf, had for left femur and tibia, and we have merely to look at them and add poverty, to know the misery summed up in their possession. They seem to have been blighted and rickety. The thigh-bone is very short and slight, and singularly loose in texture; the leg-bone is dwarfed, but dense and stout. They were given to me many years ago by the late Andrew Ballantyne, Esq. of Woodhouse (the Wudess, as they call it on Tweedside), and their genuineness is unquestionable.

As anything must be interesting about one once so forlorn and miserable, and whom our great wizard has made immortal, I make no apology for printing the following letters from my old friend Mr. Craig, long surgeon in Peebles, and who is now spending his evening, after a long, hard, and useful day’s work, in the quiet vale of Manor, within a mile or two of “Cannie Elshie’s” cottage. The picture he gives is very affecting, and should make us all thankful that we are “wiselike.” There is much that is additional to Sir Walter’s account, in his “Author’s Edition” of the Waverley Novels.

“HALL MANOR, Thursday, May 20, 1858.

“MY DEAR SIR,–David Ritchie, alias Bowed Davie, was born at Easter Happrew, in the parish of Stobo, in the year 1741. He was brought to Woodhouse, in the parish of Manor, when very young. His father was a laborer, and occupied a cottage on that farm; his mother, Anabel Niven, was a delicate woman, severely afflicted with rheumatism, and could not take care of him when an infant. To this cause he attributed his deformity, and this, if added to imperfect clothing, and bad food, and poverty, will account for the grotesque figure which he became. He never was at school, but could read tolerably; had many books; was fond of poetry, especially Allan Ramsay; he hated Burns. His father and mother both died early, and poor Davie became a homeless wanderer; he was two years at Broughton Mill, employed in stirring the husks of oats, which were used for drying the corn on the kiln, and required to be kept constantly in motion; he boasted, with a sort of rapture, of his doings there. From thence he went to Lyne’s Mill, near his birth-place, where he continued one year at the same employment, and from thence he was sent to Edinburgh to learn brush-making, but made no progress in his education there; was annoyed by the wicked boys, or keelies, as he called them, and found his way back to Manor and Woodhouse. The farm now possessed by Mr. Ballantyne, was then occupied by four tenants, among whom he lived; but his house was at Old Woodhouse, where the late Sir James Nasmyth built him a house with two apartments, and separate outer doors, one for himself exactly his own height when standing upright in it; and this stands as it was built, exactly four feet. A Mr. Ritchie, the father of the late minister of Athelstaneford, was then tenant; his wife and Davie could not agree, and she repeatedly asked her husband to put him away, by making the highest stone of his house the lowest. Ritchie left, his house was pulled down, and Davie triumphed in having the stones of his chimney-top made a step to his door, when this new house was built. He was not a little vindictive at times when irritated, especially when any allusion was made to his deformity. On one occasion, he and some other boys were stealing pease in Mr. Gibson’s field, who then occupied Woodhouse; all the others took leg-bail, but Davie’s locomotion being tardy, he was caught, shaken, and scolded by Gibson for all the rest. This he never forgot, and vowed to be avenged on the “auld sinner and deevil;” and one day when Gibson was working about his own door, Davie crept up to the top of the house, which was low, and threw a large stone down on his head, which brought the old man to the ground. Davie crept down the other side of the house, got into bed beside his mother, and it was never known where the stone came from, till he boasted of it long afterwards. He only prayed that it might sink down through his “harn-pan” (his skull). His personal appearance seems to have been almost indescribable, not bearing any likeness to anything in this upper world. But as near as I can learn, his forehead was very narrow and low, sloping upwards and backward, something of the hatchet shape; his eyes deep set, small, and piercing; his nose straight, thin as the end of a cut of cheese, sharp at the point, nearly touching his fearfully projecting chin; and his mouth formed nearly a straight line; his shoulders rather high, but his body otherwise the size of ordinary men; his arms were remarkably strong. With very little aid he built a high garden wall, which still stands, many of the stones of huge size; these the shepherds laid to his directions. His legs beat all power of description; they were bent in every direction, so that Mungo Park, then a surgeon at Peebles, who was called to operate on him for strangulated hernia, said he could compare them to nothing but a pair of corkscrews; but the principal turn they took was from the knee outwards, so that he rested on his inner ankles, and the lower part of his tibias.