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Lorna Doone - A Romance of Exmoor
Follow the link above to read the first thirty three chapters, preface, and summary.
Chapter Thirty Four
TWO NEGATIVES MAKE AN AFFIRMATIVE
There was, however, no possibility of depressing me at such a time. To be loved by Lorna, the sweet, the pure, the playful one, the fairest creature on God's earth and the most enchanting, the lady of high birth and mind; that I, a mere clumsy, blundering yeoman, without wit, or wealth, or lineage, should have won that loving heart to be my own for ever, was a thought no fears could lessen, and no chance could steal from me.
Therefore at her own entreaty taking a very quick adieu, and by her own invitation an exceeding kind one, I hurried home with deep exulting, yet some sad misgivings, for Lorna had made me promise now to tell my mother everything; as indeed I always meant to do, when my suit should be gone too far to stop. I knew, of course, that my dear mother would be greatly moved and vexed, the heirship of Glen Doone not being a very desirable dower, but in spite of that, and all disappointment as to little Ruth Huckaback, feeling my mother's tenderness and deep affection to me, and forgiving nature, I doubted not that before very long she would view the matter as I did. Moreover, I felt that if once I could get her only to look at Lorna, she would so love and glory in her, that I should obtain all praise and thanks, perchance without deserving them.
Unluckily for my designs, who should be sitting down at breakfast with my mother and the rest but Squire Faggus, as everybody now began to entitle him. I noticed something odd about him, something uncomfortable in his manner, and a lack of that ease and humour which had been wont to distinguish him. He took his breakfast as it came, without a single joke about it, or preference of this to that; but with sly soft looks at Annie, who seemed unable to sit quiet, or to look at any one steadfastly. I feared in my heart what was coming on, and felt truly sorry for poor mother. After breakfast it became my duty to see to the ploughing of a barley-stubble ready for the sowing of a French grass, and I asked Tom Faggus to come with me, but he refused, and I knew the reason. Being resolved to allow him fair field to himself, though with great displeasure that a man of such illegal repute should marry into our family, which had always been counted so honest, I carried my dinner upon my back, and spent the whole day with the furrows.
When I returned, Squire Faggus was gone; which appeared to me but a sorry sign, inasmuch as if mother had taken kindly to him and his intentions, she would surely have made him remain awhile to celebrate the occasion. And presently no doubt was left: for Lizzie came running to meet me, at the bottom of the woodrick, and cried,—
'Oh, John, there is such a business. Mother is in such a state of mind, and Annie crying her eyes out. What do you think? You would never guess, though I have suspected it, ever so long.'
'No need for me to guess,' I replied, as though with some indifference, because of her self-important air; 'I knew all about it long ago. You have not been crying much, I see. I should like you better if you had.'
'Why should I cry? I like Tom Faggus. He is the only one I ever see with the spirit of a man.'
This was a cut, of course, at me. Mr. Faggus had won the goodwill of Lizzie by his hatred of the Doones, and vows that if he could get a dozen men of any courage to join him, he would pull their stronghold about their ears without any more ado. This malice of his seemed strange to me, as he had never suffered at their hands, so far at least as I knew; was it to be attributed to his jealousy of outlaws who excelled him in his business? Not being good at repartee, I made no answer to Lizzie, having found this course more irksome to her than the very best invective: and so we entered the house together; and mother sent at once for me, while I was trying to console my darling sister Annie.
'Oh, John! speak one good word for me,' she cried with both hands laid in mine, and her tearful eyes looking up at me.
'Not one, my pet, but a hundred,' I answered, kindly embracing her: 'have no fear, little sister: I am going to make your case so bright, by comparison, I mean, that mother will send for you in five minutes, and call you her best, her most dutiful child, and praise Cousin Tom to the skies, and send a man on horseback after him; and then you will have a harder task to intercede for me, my dear.'
'Oh, John, dear John, you won't tell her about Lorna—oh, not to-day, dear.'
'Yes, to-day, and at once, Annie. I want to have it over, and be done with it.'
'Oh, but think of her, dear. I am sure she could not bear it, after this great shock already.'
'She will bear it all the better,' said I; 'the one will drive the other out. I know exactly what mother is. She will be desperately savage first with you, and then with me, and then for a very little while with both of us together; and then she will put one against the other (in her mind I mean) and consider which was most to blame; and in doing that she will be compelled to find the best in either's case, that it may beat the other; and so as the pleas come before her mind, they will gain upon the charges, both of us being her children, you know: and before very long (particularly if we both keep out of the way) she will begin to think that after all she has been a little too hasty, and then she will remember how good we have always been to her; and how like our father. Upon that, she will think of her own love-time, and sigh a good bit, and cry a little, and then smile, and send for both of us, and beg our pardon, and call us her two darlings.'
'Now, John, how on earth can you know all that?' exclaimed my sister, wiping her eyes, and gazing at me with a soft bright smile. 'Who on earth can have told you, John? People to call you stupid indeed! Why, I feel that all you say is quite true, because you describe so exactly what I should do myself; I mean—I mean if I had two children, who had behaved as we have done. But tell me, darling John, how you learned all this.'
'Never you mind,' I replied, with a nod of some conceit, I fear: 'I must be a fool if I did not know what mother is by this time.'
Now inasmuch as the thing befell according to my prediction, what need for me to dwell upon it, after saying how it would be? Moreover, I would regret to write down what mother said about Lorna, in her first surprise and tribulation; not only because I was grieved by the gross injustice of it, and frightened mother with her own words (repeated deeply after her); but rather because it is not well, when people repent of hasty speech, to enter it against them.
That is said to be the angels' business; and I doubt if they can attend to it much, without doing injury to themselves.
However, by the afternoon, when the sun began to go down upon us, our mother sat on the garden bench, with her head on my great otter-skin waistcoat (which was waterproof), and her right arm round our Annie's waist, and scarcely knowing which of us she ought to make the most of, or which deserved most pity. Not that she had forgiven yet the rivals to her love—Tom Faggus, I mean, and Lorna—but that she was beginning to think a tattle better of them now, and a vast deal better of her own children.
And it helped her much in this regard, that she was not thinking half so well as usual of herself, or rather of her own judgment; for in good truth she had no self, only as it came home to her, by no very distant road, but by way of her children. A better mother never lived; and can I, after searching all things, add another word to that?
And indeed poor Lizzie was not so very bad; but behaved (on the whole) very well for her. She was much to be pitied, poor thing, and great allowances made for her, as belonging to a well-grown family, and a very comely one; and feeling her own shortcomings. This made her leap to the other extreme, and reassert herself too much, endeavouring to exalt the mind at the expense of the body; because she had the invisible one (so far as can be decided) in better share than the visible. Not but what she had her points, and very comely points of body; lovely eyes to wit, and very beautiful hands and feet (almost as good as Lorna's), and a neck as white as snow; but Lizzie was not gifted with our gait and port, and bounding health.
Now, while we sat on the garden bench, under the great ash-tree, we left dear mother to take her own way, and talk at her own pleasure. Children almost always are more wide-awake than their parents. The fathers and the mothers laugh; but the young ones have the best of them. And now both Annie knew, and I, that we had gotten the best of mother; and therefore we let her lay down the law, as if we had been two dollies.
'Darling John,' my mother said, 'your case is a very hard one. A young and very romantic girl—God send that I be right in my charitable view of her—has met an equally simple boy, among great dangers and difficulties, from which my son has saved her, at the risk of his life at every step. Of course, she became attached to him, and looked up to him in every way, as a superior being'—
'Come now, mother,' I said; 'if you only saw Lorna, you would look upon me as the lowest dirt'—
'No doubt I should,' my mother answered; 'and the king and queen, and all the royal family. Well, this poor angel, having made up her mind to take compassion upon my son, when he had saved her life so many times, persuades him to marry her out of pure pity, and throw his poor mother overboard. And the saddest part of it all is this—'
'That my mother will never, never, never understand the truth,' said I.
'That is all I wish,' she answered; 'just to get at the simple truth from my own perception of it. John, you are very wise in kissing me; but perhaps you would not be so wise in bringing Lorna for an afternoon, just to see what she thinks of me. There is a good saddle of mutton now; and there are some very good sausages left, on the blue dish with the anchor, Annie, from the last little sow we killed.'
'As if Lorna would eat sausages!' said I, with appearance of high contempt, though rejoicing all the while that mother seemed to have her name so pat; and she pronounced it in a manner which made my heart leap to my ears: 'Lorna to eat sausages!'
'I don't see why she shouldn't,' my mother answered smiling, 'if she means to be a farmer's wife, she must take to farmer's ways, I think. What do you say, Annie?'
'She will eat whatever John desires, I should hope,' said Annie gravely; 'particularly as I made them.'
'Oh that I could only get the chance of trying her!' I answered, 'if you could once behold her, mother, you would never let her go again. And she would love you with all her heart, she is so good and gentle.'
'That is a lucky thing for me'; saying this my mother wept, as she had been doing off and on, when no one seemed to look at her; 'otherwise I suppose, John, she would very soon turn me out of the farm, having you so completely under her thumb, as she seems to have. I see now that my time is over. Lizzie and I will seek our fortunes. It is wiser so.'
'Now, mother,' I cried; 'will you have the kindness not to talk any nonsense? Everything belongs to you; and so, I hope, your children do. And you, in turn, belong to us; as you have proved ever since—oh, ever since we can remember. Why do you make Annie cry so? You ought to know better than that.'
Mother upon this went over all the things she had done before; how many times I know not; neither does it matter. Only she seemed to enjoy it more, every time of doing it. And then she said she was an old fool; and Annie (like a thorough girl) pulled her one grey hair out.
Chapter Thirty Five
RUTH IS NOT LIKE LORNA
Although by our mother's reluctant consent a large part of the obstacles between Annie and her lover appeared to be removed, on the other hand Lorna and myself gained little, except as regarded comfort of mind, and some ease to the conscience. Moreover, our chance of frequent meetings and delightful converse was much impaired, at least for the present; because though mother was not aware of my narrow escape from Carver Doone, she made me promise never to risk my life by needless visits. And upon this point, that is to say, the necessity of the visit, she was well content, as she said, to leave me to my own good sense and honour; only begging me always to tell her of my intention beforehand. This pledge, however, for her own sake, I declined to give; knowing how wretched she would be during all the time of my absence; and, on that account, I promised instead, that I would always give her a full account of my adventure upon returning.
Now my mother, as might be expected, began at once to cast about for some means of relieving me from all further peril, and herself from great anxiety. She was full of plans for fetching Lorna, in some wonderful manner, out of the power of the Doones entirely, and into her own hands, where she was to remain for at least a twelve-month, learning all mother and Annie could teach her of dairy business, and farm-house life, and the best mode of packing butter. And all this arose from my happening to say, without meaning anything, how the poor dear had longed for quiet, and a life of simplicity, and a rest away from violence! Bless thee, mother—now long in heaven, there is no need to bless thee; but it often makes a dimness now in my well-worn eyes, when I think of thy loving-kindness, warmth, and romantic innocence.
As to stealing my beloved from that vile Glen Doone, the deed itself was not impossible, nor beyond my daring; but in the first place would she come, leaving her old grandfather to die without her tendence? And even if, through fear of Carver and that wicked Counsellor, she should consent to fly, would it be possible to keep her without a regiment of soldiers? Would not the Doones at once ride forth to scour the country for their queen, and finding her (as they must do), burn our house, and murder us, and carry her back triumphantly?
All this I laid before my mother, and to such effect that she acknowledged, with a sigh that nothing else remained for me (in the present state of matters) except to keep a careful watch upon Lorna from safe distance, observe the policy of the Doones, and wait for a tide in their affairs. Meanwhile I might even fall in love (as mother unwisely hinted) with a certain more peaceful heiress, although of inferior blood, who would be daily at my elbow. I am not sure but what dear mother herself would have been disappointed, had I proved myself so fickle; and my disdain and indignation at the mere suggestion did not so much displease her; for she only smiled and answered,—
'Well, it is not for me to say; God knows what is good for us. Likings will not come to order; otherwise I should not be where I am this day. And of one thing I am rather glad; Uncle Reuben well deserves that his pet scheme should miscarry. He who called my boy a coward, an ignoble coward, because he would not join some crack-brained plan against the valley which sheltered his beloved one! And all the time this dreadful "coward" risking his life daily there, without a word to any one! How glad I am that you will not have, for all her miserable money, that little dwarfish granddaughter of the insolent old miser!'
She turned, and by her side was standing poor Ruth Huckaback herself, white, and sad, and looking steadily at my mother's face, which became as red as a plum while her breath deserted her.
'If you please, madam,' said the little maiden, with her large calm eyes unwavering, 'it is not my fault, but God Almighty's, that I am a little dwarfish creature. I knew not that you regarded me with so much contempt on that account; neither have you told my grandfather, at least within my hearing, that he was an insolent old miser. When I return to Dulverton, which I trust to do to-morrow (for it is too late to-day), I shall be careful not to tell him your opinion of him, lest I should thwart any schemes you may have upon his property. I thank you all for your kindness to me, which has been very great, far more than a little dwarfish creature could, for her own sake, expect. I will only add for your further guidance one more little truth. It is by no means certain that my grandfather will settle any of his miserable money upon me. If I offend him, as I would in a moment, for the sake of a brave and straightforward man'—here she gave me a glance which I scarcely knew what to do with—'my grandfather, upright as he is, would leave me without a shilling. And I often wish it were so. So many miseries come upon me from the miserable money—' Here she broke down, and burst out crying, and ran away with a faint good-bye; while we three looked at one another, and felt that we had the worst of it.
'Impudent little dwarf!' said my mother, recovering her breath after ever so long. 'Oh, John, how thankful you ought to be! What a life she would have led you!'
'Well, I am sure!' said Annie, throwing her arms around poor mother: 'who could have thought that little atomy had such an outrageous spirit! For my part I cannot think how she can have been sly enough to hide it in that crafty manner, that John might think her an angel!'
'Well, for my part,' I answered, laughing, 'I never admired Ruth Huckaback half, or a quarter so much before. She is rare stuff. I would have been glad to have married her to-morrow, if I had never seen my Lorna.'
'And a nice nobody I should have been, in my own house!' cried mother: 'I never can be thankful enough to darling Lorna for saving me. Did you see how her eyes flashed?'
'That I did; and very fine they were. Now nine maidens out of ten would have feigned not to have heard one word that was said, and have borne black malice in their hearts. Come, Annie, now, would not you have done so?'
'I think,' said Annie, 'although of course I cannot tell, you know, John, that I should have been ashamed at hearing what was never meant for me, and should have been almost as angry with myself as anybody.'
'So you would,' replied my mother; 'so any daughter of mine would have done, instead of railing and reviling. However, I am very sorry that any words of mine which the poor little thing chose to overhear should have made her so forget herself. I shall beg her pardon before she goes, and I shall expect her to beg mine.'
'That she will never do,' said I; 'a more resolute little maiden never yet had right upon her side; although it was a mere accident. I might have said the same thing myself, and she was hard upon you, mother dear.'
After this, we said no more, at least about that matter; and little Ruth, the next morning, left us, in spite of all that we could do. She vowed an everlasting friendship to my younger sister Eliza; but she looked at Annie with some resentment, when they said good-bye, for being so much taller. At any rate so Annie fancied, but she may have been quite wrong. I rode beside the little maid till far beyond Exeford, when all danger of the moor was past, and then I left her with John Fry, not wishing to be too particular, after all the talk about her money. She had tears in her eyes when she bade me farewell, and she sent a kind message home to mother, and promised to come again at Christmas, if she could win permission.
Upon the whole, my opinion was that she had behaved uncommonly well for a maid whose self-love was outraged, with spirit, I mean, and proper pride; and yet with a great endeavour to forgive, which is, meseems, the hardest of all things to a woman, outside of her own family.
After this, for another month, nothing worthy of notice happened, except of course that I found it needful, according to the strictest good sense and honour, to visit Lorna immediately after my discourse with mother, and to tell her all about it. My beauty gave me one sweet kiss with all her heart (as she always did, when she kissed at all), and I begged for one more to take to our mother, and before leaving, I obtained it. It is not for me to tell all she said, even supposing (what is not likely) that any one cared to know it, being more and more peculiar to ourselves and no one else. But one thing that she said was this, and I took good care to carry it, word for word, to my mother and Annie:—
'I never can believe, dear John, that after all the crime and outrage wrought by my reckless family, it ever can be meant for me to settle down to peace and comfort in a simple household. With all my heart I long for home; any home, however dull and wearisome to those used to it, would seem a paradise to me, if only free from brawl and tumult, and such as I could call my own. But even if God would allow me this, in lieu of my wild inheritance, it is quite certain that the Doones never can and never will.'
Again, when I told her how my mother and Annie, as well as myself, longed to have her at Plover's Barrows, and teach her all the quiet duties in which she was sure to take such delight, she only answered with a bright blush, that while her grandfather was living she would never leave him; and that even if she were free, certain ruin was all she should bring to any house that received her, at least within the utmost reach of her amiable family. This was too plain to be denied, and seeing my dejection at it, she told me bravely that we must hope for better times, if possible, and asked how long I would wait for her.
'Not a day if I had my will,' I answered very warmly; at which she turned away confused, and would not look at me for awhile; 'but all my life,' I went on to say, 'if my fortune is so ill. And how long would you wait for me, Lorna?'
'Till I could get you,' she answered slyly, with a smile which was brighter to me than the brightest wit could be. 'And now,' she continued, 'you bound me, John, with a very beautiful ring to you, and when I dare not wear it, I carry it always on my heart. But I will bind you to me, you dearest, with the very poorest and plainest thing that ever you set eyes on. I could give you fifty fairer ones, but they would not be honest; and I love you for your honesty, and nothing else of course, John; so don't you be conceited. Look at it, what a queer old thing! There are some ancient marks upon it, very grotesque and wonderful; it looks like a cat in a tree almost, but never mind what it looks like. This old ring must have been a giant's; therefore it will fit you perhaps, you enormous John. It has been on the front of my old glass necklace (which my grandfather found them taking away, and very soon made them give back again) ever since I can remember; and long before that, as some woman told me. Now you seem very greatly amazed; pray what thinks my lord of it?'
'That is worth fifty of the pearl thing which I gave you, you darling; and that I will not take it from you.'
'Then you will never take me, that is all. I will have nothing to do with a gentleman'—
'No gentleman, dear—a yeoman.'
'Very well, a yeoman—nothing to do with a yeoman who will not accept my love-gage. So, if you please, give it back again, and take your lovely ring back.'
She looked at me in such a manner, half in earnest, half in jest, and three times three in love, that in spite of all good resolutions, and her own faint protest, I was forced to abandon all firm ideas, and kiss her till she was quite ashamed, and her head hung on my bosom, with the night of her hair shed over me. Then I placed the pearl ring back on the soft elastic bend of the finger she held up to scold me; and on my own smallest finger drew the heavy hoop she had given me. I considered this with satisfaction, until my darling recovered herself; and then I began very gravely about it, to keep her (if I could) from chiding me:—
'Mistress Lorna, this is not the ring of any giant. It is nothing more nor less than a very ancient thumb-ring, such as once in my father's time was ploughed up out of the ground in our farm, and sent to learned doctors, who told us all about it, but kept the ring for their trouble. I will accept it, my own one love; and it shall go to my grave with me.' And so it shall, unless there be villains who would dare to rob the dead.
Now I have spoken about this ring (though I scarcely meant to do so, and would rather keep to myself things so very holy) because it holds an important part in the history of my Lorna. I asked her where the glass necklace was from which the ring was fastened, and which she had worn in her childhood, and she answered that she hardly knew, but remembered that her grandfather had begged her to give it up to him, when she was ten years old or so, and had promised to keep it for her until she could take care of it; at the same time giving her back the ring, and fastening it from her pretty neck, and telling her to be proud of it. And so she always had been, and now from her sweet breast she took it, and it became John Ridd's delight.
All this, or at least great part of it, I told my mother truly, according to my promise; and she was greatly pleased with Lorna for having been so good to me, and for speaking so very sensibly; and then she looked at the great gold ring, but could by no means interpret it. Only she was quite certain, as indeed I myself was, that it must have belonged to an ancient race of great consideration, and high rank, in their time. Upon which I was for taking it off, lest it should be degraded by a common farmer's finger. But mother said 'No,' with tears in her eyes; 'if the common farmer had won the great lady of the ancient race, what were rings and old-world trinkets, when compared to the living jewel?' Being quite of her opinion in this, and loving the ring (which had no gem in it) as the token of my priceless gem, I resolved to wear it at any cost, except when I should be ploughing, or doing things likely to break it; although I must own that it felt very queer (for I never had throttled a finger before), and it looked very queer, for a length of time, upon my great hard-working hand.
And before I got used to my ring, or people could think that it belonged to me (plain and ungarnished though it was), and before I went to see Lorna again, having failed to find any necessity, and remembering my duty to mother, we all had something else to think of, not so pleasant, and more puzzling.
Chapter Thirty Six
JOHN RETURNS TO BUSINESS
Now November was upon us, and we had kept Allhallowmass, with roasting of skewered apples (like so many shuttlecocks), and after that the day of Fawkes, as became good Protestants, with merry bonfires and burned batatas, and plenty of good feeding in honour of our religion; and then while we were at wheat-sowing, another visitor arrived.
This was Master Jeremy Stickles, who had been a good friend to me (as described before) in London, and had earned my mother's gratitude, so far as ever he chose to have it. And he seemed inclined to have it all; for he made our farm-house his headquarters, and kept us quite at his beck and call, going out at any time of the evening, and coming back at any time of the morning, and always expecting us to be ready, whether with horse, or man, or maiden, or fire, or provisions. We knew that he was employed somehow upon the service of the King, and had at different stations certain troopers and orderlies quite at his disposal; also we knew that he never went out, nor even slept in his bedroom, without heavy firearms well loaded, and a sharp sword nigh his hand; and that he held a great commission, under royal signet, requiring all good subjects, all officers of whatever degree, and especially justices of the peace, to aid him to the utmost, with person, beast, and chattel, or to answer it at their peril.
Now Master Jeremy Stickles, of course, knowing well what women are, durst not open to any of them the nature of his instructions. But, after awhile, perceiving that I could be relied upon, and that it was a great discomfort not to have me with him, he took me aside in a lonely place, and told me nearly everything; having bound me first by oath, not to impart to any one, without his own permission, until all was over.
But at this present time of writing, all is over long ago; ay and forgotten too, I ween, except by those who suffered. Therefore may I tell the whole without any breach of confidence. Master Stickles was going forth upon his usual night journey, when he met me coming home, and I said something half in jest, about his zeal and secrecy; upon which he looked all round the yard, and led me to an open space in the clover field adjoining.
'John,' he said, 'you have some right to know the meaning of all this, being trusted as you were by the Lord Chief Justice. But he found you scarcely supple enough, neither gifted with due brains.'
'Thank God for that same,' I answered, while he tapped his head, to signify his own much larger allowance. Then he made me bind myself, which in an evil hour I did, to retain his secret; and after that he went on solemnly, and with much importance,—
'There be some people fit to plot, and others to be plotted against, and others to unravel plots, which is the highest gift of all. This last hath fallen to my share, and a very thankless gift it is, although a rare and choice one. Much of peril too attends it; daring courage and great coolness are as needful for the work as ready wit and spotless honour. Therefore His Majesty's advisers have chosen me for this high task, and they could not have chosen a better man. Although you have been in London, Jack, much longer than you wished it, you are wholly ignorant, of course, in matters of state, and the public weal.'
'Well,' said I, 'no doubt but I am, and all the better for me. Although I heard a deal of them; for everybody was talking, and ready to come to blows; if only it could be done without danger. But one said this, and one said that; and they talked so much about Birminghams, and Tantivies, and Whigs and Tories, and Protestant flails and such like, that I was only too glad to have my glass and clink my spoon for answer.'
'Right, John, thou art right as usual. Let the King go his own gait. He hath too many mistresses to be ever England's master. Nobody need fear him, for he is not like his father: he will have his own way, 'tis true, but without stopping other folk of theirs: and well he knows what women are, for he never asks them questions. Now heard you much in London town about the Duke of Monmouth?'
'Not so very much,' I answered; 'not half so much as in Devonshire: only that he was a hearty man, and a very handsome one, and now was banished by the Tories; and most people wished he was coming back, instead of the Duke of York, who was trying boots in Scotland.'
'Things are changed since you were in town. The Whigs are getting up again, through the folly of the Tories killing poor Lord Russell; and now this Master Sidney (if my Lord condemns him) will make it worse again. There is much disaffection everywhere, and it must grow to an outbreak. The King hath many troops in London, and meaneth to bring more from Tangier; but he cannot command these country places; and the trained bands cannot help him much, even if they would. Now, do you understand me, John?'
'In truth, not I. I see not what Tangier hath to do with Exmoor; nor the Duke of Monmouth with Jeremy Stickles.'
'Thou great clod, put it the other way. Jeremy Stickles may have much to do about the Duke of Monmouth. The Whigs having failed of Exclusion, and having been punished bitterly for the blood they shed, are ripe for any violence. And the turn of the balance is now to them. See-saw is the fashion of England always; and the Whigs will soon be the top-sawyers.'
'But,' said I, still more confused, '"The King is the top-sawyer," according to our proverb. How then can the Whigs be?'
'Thou art a hopeless ass, John. Better to sew with a chestnut than to teach thee the constitution. Let it be so, let it be. I have seen a boy of five years old more apt at politics than thou. Nay, look not offended, lad. It is my fault for being over-deep to thee. I should have considered thy intellect.'
'Nay, Master Jeremy, make no apologies. It is I that should excuse myself; but, God knows, I have no politics.'
'Stick to that, my lad,' he answered; 'so shalt thou die easier. Now, in ten words (without parties, or trying thy poor brain too much), I am here to watch the gathering of a secret plot, not so much against the King as against the due succession.'
'Now I understand at last. But, Master Stickles, you might have said all that an hour ago almost.'
'It would have been better, if I had, to thee,' he replied with much compassion; 'thy hat is nearly off thy head with the swelling of brain I have given thee. Blows, blows, are thy business, Jack. There thou art in thine element. And, haply, this business will bring thee plenty even for thy great head to take. Now hearken to one who wishes thee well, and plainly sees the end of it—stick thou to the winning side, and have naught to do with the other one.'
'That,' said I, in great haste and hurry, 'is the very thing I want to do, if I only knew which was the winning side, for the sake of Lorna—that is to say, for the sake of my dear mother and sisters, and the farm.'
'Ha!' cried Jeremy Stickles, laughing at the redness of my face—'Lorna, saidst thou; now what Lorna? Is it the name of a maiden, or a light-o'-love?'
'Keep to your own business,' I answered, very proudly; 'spy as much as e'er thou wilt, and use our house for doing it, without asking leave or telling; but if I ever find thee spying into my affairs, all the King's lifeguards in London, and the dragoons thou bringest hither, shall not save thee from my hand—or one finger is enough for thee.'
Being carried beyond myself by his insolence about Lorna, I looked at Master Stickles so, and spake in such a voice, that all his daring courage and his spotless honour quailed within him, and he shrank—as if I would strike so small a man.
Then I left him, and went to work at the sacks upon the corn-floor, to take my evil spirit from me before I should see mother. For (to tell the truth) now my strength was full, and troubles were gathering round me, and people took advantage so much of my easy temper, sometimes when I was over-tried, a sudden heat ran over me, and a glowing of all my muscles, and a tingling for a mighty throw, such as my utmost self-command, and fear of hurting any one, could but ill refrain. Afterwards, I was always very sadly ashamed of myself, knowing how poor a thing bodily strength is, as compared with power of mind, and that it is a coward's part to misuse it upon weaker folk. For the present there was a little breach between Master Stickles and me, for which I blamed myself very sorely. But though, in full memory of his kindness and faithfulness in London, I asked his pardon many times for my foolish anger with him, and offered to undergo any penalty he would lay upon me, he only said it was no matter, there was nothing to forgive. When people say that, the truth often is that they can forgive nothing.
So for the present a breach was made between Master Jeremy and myself, which to me seemed no great loss, inasmuch as it relieved me from any privity to his dealings, for which I had small liking. All I feared was lest I might, in any way, be ungrateful to him; but when he would have no more of me, what could I do to help it? However, in a few days' time I was of good service to him, as you shall see in its proper place.
But now my own affairs were thrown into such disorder that I could think of nothing else, and had the greatest difficulty in hiding my uneasiness. For suddenly, without any warning, or a word of message, all my Lorna's signals ceased, which I had been accustomed to watch for daily, and as it were to feed upon them, with a glowing heart. The first time I stood on the wooded crest, and found no change from yesterday, I could hardly believe my eyes, or thought at least that it must be some great mistake on the part of my love. However, even that oppressed me with a heavy heart, which grew heavier, as I found from day to day no token.
Three times I went and waited long at the bottom of the valley, where now the stream was brown and angry with the rains of autumn, and the weeping trees hung leafless. But though I waited at every hour of day, and far into the night, no light footstep came to meet me, no sweet voice was in the air; all was lonely, drear, and drenched with sodden desolation. It seemed as if my love was dead, and the winds were at her funeral.
Once I sought far up the valley, where I had never been before, even beyond the copse where Lorna had found and lost her brave young cousin. Following up the river channel, in shelter of the evening fog, I gained a corner within stone's throw of the last outlying cot. This was a gloomy, low, square house, without any light in the windows, roughly built of wood and stone, as I saw when I drew nearer. For knowing it to be Carver's dwelling (or at least suspecting so, from some words of Lorna's), I was led by curiosity, and perhaps by jealousy, to have a closer look at it. Therefore, I crept up the stream, losing half my sense of fear, by reason of anxiety. And in truth there was not much to fear, the sky being now too dark for even a shooter of wild fowl to make good aim. And nothing else but guns could hurt me, as in the pride of my strength I thought, and in my skill of single-stick.
Nevertheless, I went warily, being now almost among this nest of cockatrices. The back of Carver's house abutted on the waves of the rushing stream; and seeing a loop-hole, vacant for muskets, I looked in, but all was quiet. So far as I could judge by listening, there was no one now inside, and my heart for a moment leaped with joy, for I had feared to find Lorna there. Then I took a careful survey of the dwelling, and its windows, and its door, and aspect, as if I had been a robber meaning to make privy entrance. It was well for me that I did this, as you will find hereafter.
Having impressed upon my mind (a slow but, perhaps retentive mind), all the bearings of the place, and all its opportunities, and even the curve of the stream along it, and the bushes near the door, I was much inclined to go farther up, and understand all the village. But a bar of red light across the river, some forty yards on above me, and crossing from the opposite side like a chain, prevented me. In that second house there was a gathering of loud and merry outlaws, making as much noise as if they had the law upon their side. Some, indeed, as I approached, were laying down both right and wrong, as purely, and with as high a sense, as if they knew the difference. Cold and troubled as I was, I could hardly keep from laughing.
Before I betook myself home that night, and eased dear mother's heart so much, and made her pale face spread with smiles, I had resolved to penetrate Glen Doone from the upper end, and learn all about my Lorna. Not but what I might have entered from my unsuspected channel, as so often I had done; but that I saw fearful need for knowing something more than that. Here was every sort of trouble gathering upon me, here was Jeremy Stickles stealing upon every one in the dark; here was Uncle Reuben plotting Satan only could tell what; here was a white night-capped man coming bodily from the grave; here was my own sister Annie committed to a highwayman, and mother in distraction; most of all—here, there, and where—was my Lorna stolen, dungeoned, perhaps outraged. It was no time for shilly shally, for the balance of this and that, or for a man with blood and muscle to pat his nose and ponder. If I left my Lorna so; if I let those black-soul'd villains work their pleasure on my love; if the heart that clave to mine could find no vigour in it—then let maidens cease from men, and rest their faith in tabby-cats.
Rudely rolling these ideas in my heavy head and brain I resolved to let the morrow put them into form and order, but not contradict them. And then, as my constitution willed (being like that of England), I slept, and there was no stopping me.
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Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
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