Exmoor - Somerset and Devon

Exmoor | Classifieds | Accommodation | Eating Out | Activities | Places | Lorna Doone | Dialect | Legends | Wildlife | Archaeology | Railways | Map | Tours

 

Lorna Doone

Lorna Doone - A Romance of Exmoor

Follow the link above to read the first twenty four chapters, preface, and summary.

Chapter Twenty Five

A GREAT MAN ATTENDS TO BUSINESS

 

Having seen Lord Russell murdered in the fields of Lincoln's Inn, or rather having gone to see it, but turned away with a sickness and a bitter flood of tears—for a whiter and a nobler neck never fell before low beast—I strode away towards Westminster, cured of half my indignation at the death of Charles the First. Many people hurried past me, chiefly of the more tender sort, revolting at the butchery. In their ghastly faces, as they turned them back, lest the sight should be coming after them, great sorrow was to be seen, and horror, and pity, and some anger.

In Westminster Hall I found nobody; not even the crowd of crawling varlets, who used to be craving evermore for employment or for payment. I knocked at three doors, one after other, of lobbies going out of it, where I had formerly seen some officers and people pressing in and out, but for my trouble I took nothing, except some thumps from echo. And at last an old man told me that all the lawyers were gone to see the result of their own works, in the fields of Lincoln's Inn.

However, in a few days' time, I had better fortune; for the court was sitting and full of business, to clear off the arrears of work, before the lawyers' holiday. As I was waiting in the hall for a good occasion, a man with horsehair on his head, and a long blue bag in his left hand, touched me gently on the arm, and led me into a quiet place. I followed him very gladly, being confident that he came to me with a message from the Justiciaries. But after taking pains to be sure that none could overhear us, he turned on me suddenly, and asked,—

'Now, John, how is your dear mother?'

'Worshipful sir' I answered him, after recovering from my surprise at his knowledge of our affairs, and kindly interest in them, 'it is two months now since I have seen her. Would to God that I only knew how she is faring now, and how the business of the farm goes!'

'Sir, I respect and admire you,' the old gentleman replied, with a bow very low and genteel; 'few young court-gallants of our time are so reverent and dutiful. Oh, how I did love my mother!' Here he turned up his eyes to heaven, in a manner that made me feel for him and yet with a kind of wonder.

'I am very sorry for you, sir,' I answered most respectfully, not meaning to trespass on his grief, yet wondering at his mother's age; for he seemed to be at least threescore; 'but I am no court-gallant, sir; I am only a farmer's son, and learning how to farm a little.'

'Enough, John; quite enough,' he cried, 'I can read it in thy countenance. Honesty is written there, and courage and simplicity. But I fear that, in this town of London, thou art apt to be taken in by people of no principle. Ah me! Ah me! The world is bad, and I am too old to improve it.'

Then finding him so good and kind, and anxious to improve the age, I told him almost everything; how much I paid the fellmonger, and all the things I had been to see; and how I longed to get away, before the corn was ripening; yet how (despite of these desires) I felt myself bound to walk up and down, being under a thing called 'recognisance.' In short, I told him everything; except the nature of my summons (which I had no right to tell), and that I was out of money.

My tale was told in a little archway, apart from other lawyers; and the other lawyers seemed to me to shift themselves, and to look askew, like sheep through a hurdle, when the rest are feeding.

'What! Good God!' my lawyer cried, smiting his breast indignantly with a roll of something learned; 'in what country do we live? Under what laws are we governed? No case before the court whatever; no primary deposition, so far as we are furnished; not even a King's writ issued—and here we have a fine young man dragged from his home and adoring mother, during the height of agriculture, at his own cost and charges! I have heard of many grievances; but this the very worst of all. Nothing short of a Royal Commission could be warranty for it. This is not only illegal, sir, but most gravely unconstitutional.'

'I had not told you, worthy sir,' I answered him, in a lower tone, 'if I could have thought that your sense of right would be moved so painfully. But now I must beg to leave you, sir—for I see that the door again is open. I beg you, worshipful sir, to accept—'

Upon this he put forth his hand and said, 'Nay, nay, my son, not two, not two:' yet looking away, that he might not scare me.

'To accept, kind sir, my very best thanks, and most respectful remembrances.' And with that, I laid my hand in his. 'And if, sir, any circumstances of business or of pleasure should bring you to our part of the world, I trust you will not forget that my mother and myself (if ever I get home again) will do our best to make you comfortable with our poor hospitality.'

With this I was hasting away from him, but he held my hand and looked round at me. And he spoke without cordiality.

'Young man, a general invitation is no entry for my fee book. I have spent a good hour of business-time in mastering thy case, and stating my opinion of it. And being a member of the bar, called six-and-thirty years agone by the honourable society of the Inner Temple, my fee is at my own discretion; albeit an honorarium. For the honour of the profession, and my position in it, I ought to charge thee at least five guineas, although I would have accepted one, offered with good will and delicacy. Now I will enter it two, my son, and half a crown for my clerk's fee.'

Saying this, he drew forth from his deep, blue bag, a red book having clasps to it, and endorsed in gold letters 'Fee-book'; and before I could speak (being frightened so) he had entered on a page of it, 'To consideration of ease as stated by John Ridd, and advising thereupon, two guineas.'

'But sir, good sir,' I stammered forth, not having two guineas left in the world, yet grieving to confess it, 'I knew not that I was to pay, learned sir. I never thought of it in that way.'

'Wounds of God! In what way thought you that a lawyer listened to your rigmarole?'

'I thought that you listened from kindness, sir, and compassion of my grievous case, and a sort of liking for me.'

'A lawyer like thee, young curmudgeon! A lawyer afford to feel compassion gratis! Either thou art a very deep knave, or the greenest of all greenhorns. Well, I suppose, I must let thee off for one guinea, and the clerk's fee. A bad business, a shocking business!'

Now, if this man had continued kind and soft, as when he heard my story, I would have pawned my clothes to pay him, rather than leave a debt behind, although contracted unwittingly. But when he used harsh language so, knowing that I did not deserve it, I began to doubt within myself whether he deserved my money. Therefore I answered him with some readiness, such as comes sometimes to me, although I am so slow.

'Sir, I am no curmudgeon: if a young man had called me so, it would not have been well with him. This money shall be paid, if due, albeit I had no desire to incur the debt. You have advised me that the Court is liable for my expenses, so far as they be reasonable. If this be a reasonable expense, come with me now to Lord Justice Jeffreys, and receive from him the two guineas, or (it may be) five, for the counsel you have given me to deny his jurisdiction.' With these words, I took his arm to lead him, for the door was open still.

'In the name of God, boy, let me go. Worthy sir, pray let me go. My wife is sick, and my daughter dying—in the name of God, sir, let me go.'

'Nay, nay,' I said, having fast hold of him, 'I cannot let thee go unpaid, sir. Right is right; and thou shalt have it.'

'Ruin is what I shall have, boy, if you drag me before that devil. He will strike me from the bar at once, and starve me, and all my family. Here, lad, good lad, take these two guineas. Thou hast despoiled the spoiler. Never again will I trust mine eyes for knowledge of a greenhorn.'

He slipped two guineas into the hand which I had hooked through his elbow, and spoke in an urgent whisper again, for the people came crowding around us—'For God's sake let me go, boy; another moment will be too late.'

'Learned sir,' I answered him, 'twice you spoke, unless I err, of the necessity of a clerk's fee, as a thing to be lamented.'

'To be sure, to be sure, my son. You have a clerk as much as I have. There it is. Now I pray thee, take to the study of the law. Possession is nine points of it, which thou hast of me. Self-possession is the tenth, and that thou hast more than the other nine.'

Being flattered by this, and by the feeling of the two guineas and half-crown, I dropped my hold upon Counsellor Kitch (for he was no less a man than that), and he was out of sight in a second of time, wig, blue bag, and family. And before I had time to make up my mind what I should do with his money (for of course I meant not to keep it) the crier of the Court (as they told me) came out, and wanted to know who I was. I told him, as shortly as I could, that my business lay with His Majesty's bench, and was very confidential; upon which he took me inside with warning, and showed me to an under-clerk, who showed me to a higher one, and the higher clerk to the head one.

When this gentleman understood all about my business (which I told him without complaint) he frowned at me very heavily, as if I had done him an injury.

'John Ridd,' he asked me with a stern glance, 'is it your deliberate desire to be brought into the presence of the Lord Chief Justice?'

'Surely, sir, it has been my desire for the last two months and more.'

'Then, John, thou shalt be. But mind one thing, not a word of thy long detention, or thou mayst get into trouble.'

'How, sir? For being detained against my own wish?' I asked him; but he turned away, as if that matter were not worth his arguing, as, indeed, I suppose it was not, and led me through a little passage to a door with a curtain across it.

'Now, if my Lord cross-question you,' the gentleman whispered to me, 'answer him straight out truth at once, for he will have it out of thee. And mind, he loves not to be contradicted, neither can he bear a hang-dog look. Take little heed of the other two; but note every word of the middle one; and never make him speak twice.'

I thanked him for his good advice, as he moved the curtain and thrust me in, but instead of entering withdrew, and left me to bear the brunt of it.

The chamber was not very large, though lofty to my eyes, and dark, with wooden panels round it. At the further end were some raised seats, such as I have seen in churches, lined with velvet, and having broad elbows, and a canopy over the middle seat. There were only three men sitting here, one in the centre, and one on each side; and all three were done up wonderfully with fur, and robes of state, and curls of thick gray horsehair, crimped and gathered, and plaited down to their shoulders. Each man had an oak desk before him, set at a little distance, and spread with pens and papers. Instead of writing, however, they seemed to be laughing and talking, or rather the one in the middle seemed to be telling some good story, which the others received with approval. By reason of their great perukes it was hard to tell how old they were; but the one who was speaking seemed the youngest, although he was the chief of them. A thick-set, burly, and bulky man, with a blotchy broad face, and great square jaws, and fierce eyes full of blazes; he was one to be dreaded by gentle souls, and to be abhorred by the noble.

Between me and the three lord judges, some few lawyers were gathering up bags and papers and pens and so forth, from a narrow table in the middle of the room, as if a case had been disposed of, and no other were called on. But before I had time to look round twice, the stout fierce man espied me, and shouted out with a flashing stare'—

'How now, countryman, who art thou?'

'May it please your worship,' I answered him loudly, 'I am John Ridd, of Oare parish, in the shire of Somerset, brought to this London, some two months back by a special messenger, whose name is Jeremy Stickles; and then bound over to be at hand and ready, when called upon to give evidence, in a matter unknown to me, but touching the peace of our lord the King, and the well-being of his subjects. Three times I have met our lord the King, but he hath said nothing about his peace, and only held it towards me, and every day, save Sunday, I have walked up and down the great hall of Westminster, all the business part of the day, expecting to be called upon, yet no one hath called upon me. And now I desire to ask your worship, whether I may go home again?'

'Well, done, John,' replied his lordship, while I was panting with all this speech; 'I will go bail for thee, John, thou hast never made such a long speech before; and thou art a spunky Briton, or thou couldst not have made it now. I remember the matter well, and I myself will attend to it, although it arose before my time'—he was but newly Chief Justice—'but I cannot take it now, John. There is no fear of losing thee, John, any more than the Tower of London. I grieve for His Majesty's exchequer, after keeping thee two months or more.'

'Nay, my lord, I crave your pardon. My mother hath been keeping me. Not a groat have I received.'

'Spank, is it so?' his lordship cried, in a voice that shook the cobwebs, and the frown on his brow shook the hearts of men, and mine as much as the rest of them,—'Spank, is His Majesty come to this, that he starves his own approvers?'

'My lord, my lord,' whispered Mr. Spank, the chief-officer of evidence, 'the thing hath been overlooked, my lord, among such grave matters of treason.'

'I will overlook thy head, foul Spank, on a spike from Temple Bar, if ever I hear of the like again. Vile varlet, what art thou paid for? Thou hast swindled the money thyself, foul Spank; I know thee, though thou art new to me. Bitter is the day for thee that ever I came across thee. Answer me not—one word more and I will have thee on a hurdle.' And he swung himself to and fro on his bench, with both hands on his knees; and every man waited to let it pass, knowing better than to speak to him.

'John Ridd,' said the Lord Chief Justice, at last recovering a sort of dignity, yet daring Spank from the corners of his eyes to do so much as look at him, 'thou hast been shamefully used, John Ridd. Answer me not boy; not a word; but go to Master Spank, and let me know how he behaves to thee;' here he made a glance at Spank, which was worth at least ten pounds to me; 'be thou here again to-morrow, and before any other case is taken, I will see justice done to thee. Now be off boy; thy name is Ridd, and we are well rid of thee.'

I was only too glad to go, after all this tempest; as you may well suppose. For if ever I saw a man's eyes become two holes for the devil to glare from, I saw it that day; and the eyes were those of the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys.

Mr. Spank was in the lobby before me, and before I had recovered myself—for I was vexed with my own terror—he came up sidling and fawning to me, with a heavy bag of yellow leather.

'Good Master Ridd, take it all, take it all, and say a good word for me to his lordship. He hath taken a strange fancy to thee; and thou must make the most of it. We never saw man meet him eye to eye so, and yet not contradict him, and that is just what he loveth. Abide in London, Master Ridd, and he will make thy fortune. His joke upon thy name proves that. And I pray you remember, Master Ridd, that the Spanks are sixteen in family.'

But I would not take the bag from him, regarding it as a sort of bribe to pay me such a lump of money, without so much as asking how great had been my expenses. Therefore I only told him that if he would kindly keep the cash for me until the morrow, I would spend the rest of the day in counting (which always is sore work with me) how much it had stood me in board and lodging, since Master Stickles had rendered me up; for until that time he had borne my expenses. In the morning I would give Mr. Spank a memorandum, duly signed, and attested by my landlord, including the breakfast of that day, and in exchange for this I would take the exact amount from the yellow bag, and be very thankful for it.

'If that is thy way of using opportunity,' said Spank, looking at me with some contempt, 'thou wilt never thrive in these times, my lad. Even the Lord Chief Justice can be little help to thee; unless thou knowest better than that how to help thyself.'

It mattered not to me. The word 'approver' stuck in my gorge, as used by the Lord Chief Justice; for we looked upon an approver as a very low thing indeed. I would rather pay for every breakfast, and even every dinner, eaten by me since here I came, than take money as an approver. And indeed I was much disappointed at being taken in that light, having understood that I was sent for as a trusty subject, and humble friend of His Majesty.

In the morning I met Mr. Spank waiting for me at the entrance, and very desirous to see me. I showed him my bill, made out in fair copy, and he laughed at it, and said, 'Take it twice over, Master Ridd; once for thine own sake, and once for His Majesty's; as all his loyal tradesmen do, when they can get any. His Majesty knows and is proud of it, for it shows their love of his countenance; and he says, "bis dat qui cito dat," then how can I grumble at giving twice, when I give so slowly?'

'Nay, I will take it but once,' I said; 'if His Majesty loves to be robbed, he need not lack of his desire, while the Spanks are sixteen in family.'

The clerk smiled cheerfully at this, being proud of his children's ability; and then having paid my account, he whispered,—

'He is all alone this morning, John, and in rare good humour. He hath been promised the handling of poor Master Algernon Sidney, and he says he will soon make republic of him; for his state shall shortly be headless. He is chuckling over his joke, like a pig with a nut; and that always makes him pleasant. John Ridd, my lord!' With that he swung up the curtain bravely, and according to special orders, I stood, face to face, and alone with Judge Jeffreys.





Chapter Twenty Six

JOHN IS DRAINED AND CAST ASIDE

His lordship was busy with some letters, and did not look up for a minute or two, although he knew that I was there. Meanwhile I stood waiting to make my bow; afraid to begin upon him, and wondering at his great bull-head. Then he closed his letters, well-pleased with their import, and fixed his bold broad stare on me, as if I were an oyster opened, and he would know how fresh I was.

'May it please your worship,' I said, 'here I am according to order, awaiting your good pleasure.'

'Thou art made to weight, John, more than order. How much dost thou tip the scales to?'

'Only twelvescore pounds, my lord, when I be in wrestling trim. And sure I must have lost weight here, fretting so long in London.'

'Ha, ha! Much fret is there in thee! Hath His Majesty seen thee?'

'Yes, my lord, twice or even thrice; and he made some jest concerning me.'

'A very bad one, I doubt not. His humour is not so dainty as mine, but apt to be coarse and unmannerly. Now John, or Jack, by the look of thee, thou art more used to be called.'

'Yes, your worship, when I am with old Molly and Betty Muxworthy.'

'Peace, thou forward varlet! There is a deal too much of thee. We shall have to try short commons with thee, and thou art a very long common. Ha, ha! Where is that rogue Spank? Spank must hear that by-and-by. It is beyond thy great thick head, Jack.'

'Not so, my lord; I have been at school, and had very bad jokes made upon me.'

'Ha, ha! It hath hit thee hard. And faith, it would be hard to miss thee, even with harpoon. And thou lookest like to blubber, now. Capital, in faith! I have thee on every side, Jack, and thy sides are manifold; many-folded at any rate. Thou shalt have double expenses, Jack, for the wit thou hast provoked in me.'

'Heavy goods lack heavy payment, is a proverb down our way, my lord.'

'Ah, I hurt thee, I hurt thee, Jack. The harpoon hath no tickle for thee. Now, Jack Whale, having hauled thee hard, we will proceed to examine thee.' Here all his manner was changed, and he looked with his heavy brows bent upon me, as if he had never laughed in his life, and would allow none else to do so.

'I am ready to answer, my lord,' I replied, 'if he asks me nought beyond my knowledge, or beyond my honour.'

'Hadst better answer me everything, lump. What hast thou to do with honour? Now is there in thy neighbourhood a certain nest of robbers, miscreants, and outlaws, whom all men fear to handle?'

'Yes, my lord. At least, I believe some of them be robbers, and all of them are outlaws.'

'And what is your high sheriff about, that he doth not hang them all? Or send them up for me to hang, without more to do about them?'

'I reckon that he is afraid, my lord; it is not safe to meddle with them. They are of good birth, and reckless; and their place is very strong.'

'Good birth! What was Lord Russell of, Lord Essex, and this Sidney? 'Tis the surest heirship to the block to be the chip of a good one. What is the name of this pestilent race, and how many of them are there?'

'They are the Doones of Bagworthy forest, may it please your worship. And we reckon there be about forty of them, beside the women and children.'

'Forty Doones, all forty thieves! and women and children! Thunder of God! How long have they been there then?'

'They may have been there thirty years, my lord; and indeed they may have been forty. Before the great war broke out they came, longer back than I can remember.'

'Ay, long before thou wast born, John. Good, thou speakest plainly. Woe betide a liar, whenso I get hold of him. Ye want me on the Western Circuit; by God, and ye shall have me, when London traitors are spun and swung. There is a family called De Whichehalse living very nigh thee, John?'

This he said in a sudden manner, as if to take me off my guard, and fixed his great thick eyes on me. And in truth I was much astonished.

'Yes, my lord, there is. At least, not so very far from us. Baron de Whichehalse, of Ley Manor.'

'Baron, ha! of the Exchequer—eh, lad? And taketh dues instead of His Majesty. Somewhat which halts there ought to come a little further, I trow. It shall be seen to, as well as the witch which makes it so to halt. Riotous knaves in West England, drunken outlaws, you shall dance, if ever I play pipe for you. John Ridd, I will come to Oare parish, and rout out the Oare of Babylon.'

'Although your worship is so learned,' I answered seeing that now he was beginning to make things uneasy; 'your worship, though being Chief Justice, does little justice to us. We are downright good and loyal folk; and I have not seen, since here I came to this great town of London, any who may better us, or even come anigh us, in honesty, and goodness, and duty to our neighbours. For we are very quiet folk, not prating our own virtues—'

'Enough, good John, enough! Knowest thou not that modesty is the maidenhood of virtue, lost even by her own approval? Now hast thou ever heard or thought that De Whichehalse is in league with the Doones of Bagworthy?'

Saying these words rather slowly, he skewered his great eyes into mine, so that I could not think at all, neither look at him, nor yet away. The idea was so new to me that it set my wits all wandering; and looking into me, he saw that I was groping for the truth.

'John Ridd, thine eyes are enough for me. I see thou hast never dreamed of it. Now hast thou ever seen a man whose name is Thomas Faggus?'

'Yes, sir, many and many a time. He is my own worthy cousin; and I fear he that hath intentions'—here I stopped, having no right there to speak about our Annie.

'Tom Faggus is a good man,' he said; and his great square face had a smile which showed me he had met my cousin; 'Master Faggus hath made mistakes as to the title to property, as lawyers oftentimes may do; but take him all for all, he is a thoroughly straightforward man; presents his bill, and has it paid, and makes no charge for drawing it. Nevertheless, we must tax his costs, as of any other solicitor.'

'To be sure, to be sure, my lord!' was all that I could say, not understanding what all this meant.

'I fear he will come to the gallows,' said the Lord Chief Justice, sinking his voice below the echoes; 'tell him this from me, Jack. He shall never be condemned before me; but I cannot be everywhere, and some of our Justices may keep short memory of his dinners. Tell him to change his name, turn parson, or do something else, to make it wrong to hang him. Parson is the best thing, he hath such command of features, and he might take his tithes on horseback. Now a few more things, John Ridd; and for the present I have done with thee.'

All my heart leaped up at this, to get away from London so: and yet I could hardly trust to it.

'Is there any sound round your way of disaffection to His Majesty, His most gracious Majesty?'

'No, my lord: no sign whatever. We pray for him in church perhaps, and we talk about him afterwards, hoping it may do him good, as it is intended. But after that we have naught to say, not knowing much about him—at least till I get home again.'

'That is as it should be, John. And the less you say the better. But I have heard of things in Taunton, and even nearer to you in Dulverton, and even nigher still upon Exmoor; things which are of the pillory kind, and even more of the gallows. I see that you know naught of them. Nevertheless, it will not be long before all England hears of them. Now, John, I have taken a liking to thee, for never man told me the truth, without fear or favour, more thoroughly and truly than thou hast done. Keep thou clear of this, my son. It will come to nothing; yet many shall swing high for it. Even I could not save thee, John Ridd, if thou wert mixed in this affair. Keep from the Doones, keep from De Whichehalse, keep from everything which leads beyond the sight of thy knowledge. I meant to use thee as my tool; but I see thou art too honest and simple. I will send a sharper down; but never let me find thee, John, either a tool for the other side, or a tube for my words to pass through.'

Here the Lord Justice gave me such a glare that I wished myself well rid of him, though thankful for his warnings; and seeing how he had made upon me a long abiding mark of fear, he smiled again in a jocular manner, and said,—

'Now, get thee gone, Jack. I shall remember thee; and I trow, thou wilt'st not for many a day forget me.'

'My lord, I was never so glad to go; for the hay must be in, and the ricks unthatched, and none of them can make spars like me, and two men to twist every hay-rope, and mother thinking it all right, and listening right and left to lies, and cheated at every pig she kills, and even the skins of the sheep to go—'

'John Ridd, I thought none could come nigh your folk in honesty, and goodness, and duty to their neighbours!'

'Sure enough, my lord; but by our folk, I mean ourselves, not the men nor women neither—'

'That will do, John. Go thy way. Not men, nor women neither, are better than they need be.'

I wished to set this matter right; but his worship would not hear me, and only drove me out of court, saying that men were thieves and liars, no more in one place than another, but all alike all over the world, and women not far behind them. It was not for me to dispute this point (though I was not yet persuaded of it), both because my lord was a Judge, and must know more about it, and also that being a man myself I might seem to be defending myself in an unbecoming manner. Therefore I made a low bow, and went; in doubt as to which had the right of it.

But though he had so far dismissed me, I was not yet quite free to go, inasmuch as I had not money enough to take me all the way to Oare, unless indeed I should go afoot, and beg my sustenance by the way, which seemed to be below me. Therefore I got my few clothes packed, and my few debts paid, all ready to start in half an hour, if only they would give me enough to set out upon the road with. For I doubted not, being young and strong, that I could walk from London to Oare in ten days or in twelve at most, which was not much longer than horse-work; only I had been a fool, as you will say when you hear it. For after receiving from Master Spank the amount of the bill which I had delivered—less indeed by fifty shillings than the money my mother had given me, for I had spent fifty shillings, and more, in seeing the town and treating people, which I could not charge to His Majesty—I had first paid all my debts thereout, which were not very many, and then supposing myself to be an established creditor of the Treasury for my coming needs, and already scenting the country air, and foreseeing the joy of my mother, what had I done but spent half my balance, ay and more than three-quarters of it, upon presents for mother, and Annie, and Lizzie, John Fry, and his wife, and Betty Muxworthy, Bill Dadds, Jim Slocombe, and, in a word, half of the rest of the people at Oare, including all the Snowe family, who must have things good and handsome? And if I must while I am about it, hide nothing from those who read me, I had actually bought for Lorna a thing the price of which quite frightened me, till the shopkeeper said it was nothing at all, and that no young man, with a lady to love him, could dare to offer her rubbish, such as the Jew sold across the way. Now the mere idea of beautiful Lorna ever loving me, which he talked about as patly (though of course I never mentioned her) as if it were a settled thing, and he knew all about it, that mere idea so drove me abroad, that if he had asked three times as much, I could never have counted the money.

Now in all this I was a fool of course—not for remembering my friends and neighbours, which a man has a right to do, and indeed is bound to do, when he comes from London—but for not being certified first what cash I had to go on with. And to my great amazement, when I went with another bill for the victuals of only three days more, and a week's expense on the homeward road reckoned very narrowly, Master Spank not only refused to grant me any interview, but sent me out a piece of blue paper, looking like a butcher's ticket, and bearing these words and no more, 'John Ridd, go to the devil. He who will not when he may, when he will, he shall have nay.' From this I concluded that I had lost favour in the sight of Chief Justice Jeffreys. Perhaps because my evidence had not proved of any value! perhaps because he meant to let the matter lie, till cast on him.

Anyhow, it was a reason of much grief, and some anger to me, and very great anxiety, disappointment, and suspense. For here was the time of the hay gone past, and the harvest of small corn coming on, and the trout now rising at the yellow Sally, and the blackbirds eating our white-heart cherries (I was sure, though I could not see them), and who was to do any good for mother, or stop her from weeping continually? And more than this, what was become of Lorna? Perhaps she had cast me away altogether, as a flouter and a changeling; perhaps she had drowned herself in the black well; perhaps (and that was worst of all) she was even married, child as she was, to that vile Carver Doone, if the Doones ever cared about marrying! That last thought sent me down at once to watch for Mr. Spank again, resolved that if I could catch him, spank him I would to a pretty good tune, although sixteen in family.

However, there was no such thing as to find him; and the usher vowed (having orders I doubt) that he was gone to the sea for the good of his health, having sadly overworked himself; and that none but a poor devil like himself, who never had handling of money, would stay in London this foul, hot weather; which was likely to bring the plague with it. Here was another new terror for me, who had heard of the plagues of London, and the horrible things that happened; and so going back to my lodgings at once, I opened my clothes and sought for spots, especially as being so long at a hairy fellmonger's; but finding none, I fell down and thanked God for that same, and vowed to start for Oare to-morrow, with my carbine loaded, come weal come woe, come sun come shower; though all the parish should laugh at me, for begging my way home again, after the brave things said of my going, as if I had been the King's cousin.

But I was saved in some degree from this lowering of my pride, and what mattered more, of mother's; for going to buy with my last crown-piece (after all demands were paid) a little shot and powder, more needful on the road almost than even shoes or victuals, at the corner of the street I met my good friend Jeremy Stickles, newly come in search of me. I took him back to my little room—mine at least till to-morrow morning—and told him all my story, and how much I felt aggrieved by it. But he surprised me very much, by showing no surprise at all.

'It is the way of the world, Jack. They have gotten all they can from thee, and why should they feed thee further? We feed not a dead pig, I trow, but baste him well with brine and rue. Nay, we do not victual him upon the day of killing; which they have done to thee. Thou art a lucky man, John; thou hast gotten one day's wages, or at any rate half a day, after thy work was rendered. God have mercy on me, John! The things I see are manifold; and so is my regard of them. What use to insist on this, or make a special point of that, or hold by something said of old, when a different mood was on? I tell thee, Jack, all men are liars; and he is the least one who presses not too hard on them for lying.'

This was all quite dark to me, for I never looked at things like that, and never would own myself a liar, not at least to other people, nor even to myself, although I might to God sometimes, when trouble was upon me. And if it comes to that, no man has any right to be called a 'liar' for smoothing over things unwitting, through duty to his neighbour.

'Five pounds thou shalt have, Jack,' said Jeremy Stickles suddenly, while I was all abroad with myself as to being a liar or not; 'five pounds, and I will take my chance of wringing it from that great rogue Spank. Ten I would have made it, John, but for bad luck lately. Put back your bits of paper, lad; I will have no acknowledgment. John Ridd, no nonsense with me!'

For I was ready to kiss his hand, to think that any man in London (the meanest and most suspicious place, upon all God's earth) should trust me with five pounds, without even a receipt for it! It overcame me so that I sobbed; for, after all, though big in body, I am but a child at heart. It was not the five pounds that moved me, but the way of giving it; and after so much bitter talk, the great trust in my goodness.





Chapter Twenty Seven

HOME AGAIN AT LAST

 

It was the beginning of wheat-harvest, when I came to Dunster town, having walked all the way from London, and being somewhat footsore. For though five pounds was enough to keep me in food and lodging upon the road, and leave me many a shilling to give to far poorer travellers, it would have been nothing for horse-hire, as I knew too well by the prices Jeremy Stickles had paid upon our way to London. Now I never saw a prettier town than Dunster looked that evening; for sooth to say, I had almost lost all hope of reaching it that night, although the castle was long in view. But being once there, my troubles were gone, at least as regarded wayfaring; for mother's cousin, the worthy tanner (with whom we had slept on the way to London), was in such indignation at the plight in which I came back to him, afoot, and weary, and almost shoeless—not to speak of upper things—that he swore then, by the mercy of God, that if the schemes abrewing round him, against those bloody Papists, should come to any head or shape, and show good chance of succeeding, he would risk a thousand pounds, as though it were a penny.

I told him not to do it, because I had heard otherwise, but was not at liberty to tell one-tenth of what I knew, and indeed had seen in London town. But of this he took no heed, because I only nodded at him; and he could not make it out. For it takes an old man, or at least a middle-aged one, to nod and wink, with any power on the brains of other men. However, I think I made him know that the bad state in which I came to his town, and the great shame I had wrought for him among the folk round the card-table at the Luttrell Arms, was not to be, even there, attributed to King Charles the Second, nor even to his counsellors, but to my own speed of travelling, which had beat post-horses. For being much distraught in mind, and desperate in body, I had made all the way from London to Dunster in six days, and no more. It may be one hundred and seventy miles, I cannot tell to a furlong or two, especially as I lost my way more than a dozen times; but at any rate there in six days I was, and most kindly they received me. The tanner had some excellent daughters, I forget how many; very pretty damsels, and well set up, and able to make good pastry. But though they asked me many questions, and made a sort of lord of me, and offered to darn my stockings (which in truth required it), I fell asleep in the midst of them, although I would not acknowledge it; and they said, 'Poor cousin! he is weary', and led me to a blessed bed, and kissed me all round like swan's down.

In the morning all the Exmoor hills, the thought of which had frightened me at the end of each day's travel, seemed no more than bushels to me, as I looked forth the bedroom window, and thanked God for the sight of them. And even so, I had not to climb them, at least by my own labour. For my most worthy uncle (as we oft call a parent's cousin), finding it impossible to keep me for the day, and owning indeed that I was right in hastening to my mother, vowed that walk I should not, even though he lost his Saturday hides from Minehead and from Watchett. Accordingly he sent me forth on the very strongest nag he had, and the maidens came to wish me God-speed, and kissed their hands at the doorway. It made me proud and glad to think that after seeing so much of the world, and having held my own with it, I was come once more among my own people, and found them kinder, and more warm-hearted, ay and better looking too, than almost any I had happened upon in the mighty city of London.

But how shall I tell you the things I felt, and the swelling of my heart within me, as I drew nearer, and more near, to the place of all I loved and owned, to the haunt of every warm remembrance, the nest of all the fledgling hopes—in a word, to home? The first sheep I beheld on the moor with a great red J.R. on his side (for mother would have them marked with my name, instead of her own as they should have been), I do assure you my spirit leaped, and all my sight came to my eyes. I shouted out, 'Jem, boy!'—for that was his name, and a rare hand he was at fighting—and he knew me in spite of the stranger horse; and I leaned over and stroked his head, and swore he should never be mutton. And when I was passed he set off at full gallop, to call the rest of the J.R.'s together, and tell them young master was come home at last.

But bless your heart, and my own as well, it would take me all the afternoon to lay before you one-tenth of the things which came home to me in that one half-hour, as the sun was sinking, in the real way he ought to sink. I touched my horse with no spur nor whip, feeling that my slow wits would go, if the sights came too fast over them. Here was the pool where we washed the sheep, and there was the hollow that oozed away, where I had shot three wild ducks. Here was the peat-rick that hid my dinner, when I could not go home for it, and there was the bush with the thyme growing round it, where Annie had found a great swarm of our bees. And now was the corner of the dry stone wall, where the moor gave over in earnest, and the partridges whisked from it into the corn lands, and called that their supper was ready, and looked at our house and the ricks as they ran, and would wait for that comfort till winter.

And there I saw—but let me go—Annie was too much for me. She nearly pulled me off my horse, and kissed the very mouth of the carbine.

'I knew you would come. Oh John! Oh John! I have waited here every Saturday night; and I saw you for the last mile or more, but I would not come round the corner, for fear that I should cry, John, and then not cry when I got you. Now I may cry as much as I like, and you need not try to stop me, John, because I am so happy. But you mustn't cry yourself, John; what will mother think of you? She will be so jealous of me.'

What mother thought I cannot tell; and indeed I doubt if she thought at all for more than half an hour, but only managed to hold me tight, and cry, and thank God now and then, but with some fear of His taking me, if she should be too grateful. Moreover she thought it was my own doing, and I ought to have the credit of it, and she even came down very sharply upon John's wife, Mrs. Fry, for saying that we must not be too proud, for all of it was the Lord's doing. However, dear mother was ashamed of that afterwards, and asked Mrs. Fry's humble pardon; and perhaps I ought not to have mentioned it.

Old Smiler had told them that I was coming—all the rest, I mean, except Annie—for having escaped from his halter-ring, he was come out to graze in the lane a bit; when what should he see but a strange horse coming with young master and mistress upon him, for Annie must needs get up behind me, there being only sheep to look at her. Then Smiler gave us a stare and a neigh, with his tail quite stiff with amazement, and then (whether in joy or through indignation) he flung up his hind feet and galloped straight home, and set every dog wild with barking.

Now, methinks, quite enough has been said concerning this mighty return of the young John Ridd (which was known up at Cosgate that evening), and feeling that I cannot describe it, how can I hope that any one else will labour to imagine it, even of the few who are able? For very few can have travelled so far, unless indeed they whose trade it is, or very unsettled people. And even of those who have done so, not one in a hundred can have such a home as I had to come home to.

Mother wept again, with grief and some wrath, and so did Annie also, and even little Eliza, and all were unsettled in loyalty, and talked about a republic, when I told them how I had been left without money for travelling homeward, and expected to have to beg my way, which Farmer Snowe would have heard of. And though I could see they were disappointed at my failure of any promotion, they all declared how glad they were, and how much better they liked me to be no more than what they were accustomed to. At least, my mother and Annie said so, without waiting to hear any more; but Lizzie did not answer to it, until I had opened my bag and shown the beautiful present I had for her. And then she kissed me, almost like Annie, and vowed that she thought very little of captains.

For Lizzie's present was the best of all, I mean, of course, except Lorna's (which I carried in my breast all the way, hoping that it might make her love me, from having lain so long, close to my heart). For I had brought Lizzie something dear, and a precious heavy book it was, and much beyond my understanding; whereas I knew well that to both the others my gifts would be dear, for mine own sake. And happier people could not be found than the whole of us were that evening.

 

 

Back to Lorna Doone main page.

Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore

 

© Exmoorian 1999- 2008