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Walter Scott's novel The Black Dwarf was part of his Tales of My Landlord, 1st series, published along with Old Mortality on 2 December 1816 by William Blackwood, Edinburgh, and John Murray, London. Originally the four volumes of the series were to tell separate stories, but Old Mortality came to occupy three of them.

As Hobbie Elliot was returning over a wild moor from a day's sport, thinking of the legends he had heard of its supernatural occupants after nightfall, he was overtaken by Patrick Earnscliff, whose father had been killed in a quarrel with the laird of Ellislaw, Richard Vere. The moon suddenly revealed the figure of a human dwarf, who, on being spoken to, refused their offers of assistance, and bid them begone. Having invited Earnscliff to sup with his womenfolks, and pass the night at his farm, Hobbie accompanied him next morning to confront the strange being by daylight; and having assisted him in collecting stones for constructing a hut, they supplied him with food and other necessaries. In a short time he had completed his dwelling, and became known to the neighbours, for whose ailments he prescribed, as Elshender the Recluse.

Being visited by Isabel Vere and two of her friends, he told their fortunes, and he gave her a rose, with strict injunctions to bring it to him in her hour of adversity. As they rode homewards, their conversation implied that she loved young Patrick Earnscliff, but that Mr Vere intended her to marry Sir Frederick Langley. Another of the dwarf's visitors was Willie Graeme of Westburnflat, on his way to avenge an affront he had received from Hobbie Elliot, whose dog the next day killed one of the dwarf's goats, for which he warned him that retribution was at hand.

Shortly afterwards, Willie Graeme brought word that he and his companions had fired Hobbie's farm, and carried off his sweetheart, Grace Armstrong, and some cattle. On hearing this Elshie despatched him with an order for some money, and insisted that Grace should be given up uninjured. Having dispersed his neighbours in search of her, Hobbie Elliot went to consult Elshie, who handed him a bag of gold, which he declined, and intimated that he must seek her whom he had lost "in the west." Earnscliff and his party had tracked the cattle as far as the English border, but on finding a large Jacobite force assembling there they returned, and it was decided to attack Westburnflat's stronghold. 

On approaching it, a female hand, which her lover swore was Grace's, waved a signal to them from a turret, and as they were preparing a bonfire to force the door, Graeme agreed to release his prisoner, who proved to be Isabel Vere. On reaching home, however, Elliot found that Grace had been brought back, and at dawn he started off to accept the money which the dwarf had offered him to repair his homestead. Isabel had been seized by ruffians while walking with her father, who appeared overcome with grief, and under the impression that Earnscliff was the offender; whereas Mr Ratcliffe, who managed his affairs, suggested that Sir Frederick had stronger motives for placing her under restraint. Mr Vere's suspicion seemed justified by their meeting his daughter returning under her lover's care; but she confirmed his version of the circumstances under which he had intervened, to the evident discomfiture of his rival and her father.

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