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Lorna Doone - A Romance of Exmoor
Follow the link above to read the first fifty nine chapters, preface, and summary.
A MERRY MEETING A SAD ONE
Now the business I had most at heart (as every one knows by this time) was to marry Lorna as soon as might be, if she had no objection, and then to work the farm so well, as to nourish all our family. And herein I saw no difficulty; for Annie would soon be off our hands, and somebody might come and take a fancy to little Lizzie (who was growing up very nicely now, though not so fine as Annie); moreover, we were almost sure to have great store of hay and corn after so much snow, if there be any truth in the old saying,—
"A foot deep of rain Will kill hay and grain; But three feet of snow Will make them come mo'."
And although it was too true that we had lost a many cattle, yet even so we had not lost money; for the few remaining fetched such prices as were never known before. And though we grumbled with all our hearts, and really believed, at one time, that starvation was upon us, I doubt whether, on the whole, we were not the fatter, and the richer, and the wiser for that winter. And I might have said the happier, except for the sorrow which we felt at the failures among our neighbours. The Snowes lost every sheep they had, and nine out of ten horned cattle; and poor Jasper Kebby would have been forced to throw up the lease of his farm, and perhaps to go to prison, but for the help we gave him.
However, my dear mother would have it that Lorna was too young, as yet, to think of being married: and indeed I myself was compelled to admit that her form was becoming more perfect and lovely; though I had not thought it possible. And another difficulty was, that as we had all been Protestants from the time of Queen Elizabeth, the maiden must be converted first, and taught to hate all Papists. Now Lorna had not the smallest idea of ever being converted. She said that she loved me truly, but wanted not to convert me; and if I loved her equally, why should I wish to convert her? With this I was tolerably content, not seeing so very much difference between a creed and a credo, and believing God to be our Father, in Latin as well as English. Moreover, my darling knew but little of the Popish ways—whether excellent or otherwise—inasmuch as the Doones, though they stole their houses, or at least the joiner's work, had never been tempted enough by the devil to steal either church or chapel.
Lorna came to our little church, when Parson Bowden reappeared after the snow was over; and she said that all was very nice, and very like what she had seen in the time of her Aunt Sabina, when they went far away to the little chapel, with a shilling in their gloves. It made the tears come into her eyes, by the force of memory, when Parson Bowden did the things, not so gracefully nor so well, yet with pleasant imitation of her old Priest's sacred rites.
'He is a worthy man,' she said, being used to talk in the service time, and my mother was obliged to cough: 'I like him very much indeed: but I wish he would let me put his things the right way on his shoulders.'
Everybody in our parish, who could walk at all, or hire a boy and a wheelbarrow, ay, and half the folk from Countisbury, Brendon, and even Lynmouth, was and were to be found that Sunday, in our little church of Oare. People who would not come anigh us, when the Doones were threatening with carbine and with fire-brand, flocked in their very best clothes, to see a lady Doone go to church. Now all this came of that vile John Fry; I knew it as well as possible; his tongue was worse than the clacker of a charity-school bell, or the ladle in the frying-pan, when the bees are swarming.
However, Lorna was not troubled; partly because of her natural dignity and gentleness; partly because she never dreamed that the people were come to look at her. But when we came to the Psalms of the day, with some vague sense of being stared at more than ought to be, she dropped the heavy black lace fringing of the velvet hat she wore, and concealed from the congregation all except her bright red lips, and the oval snowdrift of her chin. I touched her hand, and she pressed mine; and we felt that we were close together, and God saw no harm in it.
As for Parson Bowden (as worthy a man as ever lived, and one who could shoot flying), he scarcely knew what he was doing, without the clerk to help him. He had borne it very well indeed, when I returned from London; but to see a live Doone in his church, and a lady Doone, and a lovely Doone, moreover one engaged to me, upon whom he almost looked as the Squire of his parish (although not rightly an Armiger), and to feel that this lovely Doone was a Papist, and therefore of higher religion—as all our parsons think—and that she knew exactly how he ought to do all the service, of which he himself knew little; I wish to express my firm belief that all these things together turned Parson Bowden's head a little, and made him look to me for orders.
My mother, the very best of women, was (as I could well perceive) a little annoyed and vexed with things. For this particular occasion, she had procured from Dulverton, by special message to Ruth Huckaback (whereof more anon), a head-dress with a feather never seen before upon Exmoor, to the best of every one's knowledge. It came from a bird called a flaming something—a flaming oh, or a flaming ah, I will not be positive—but I can assure you that it did flame; and dear mother had no other thought, but that all the congregation would neither see nor think of any other mortal thing, or immortal even, to the very end of the sermon.
Herein she was so disappointed, that no sooner did she get home, but upstairs she went at speed, not even stopping at the mirror in our little parlour, and flung the whole thing into a cupboard, as I knew by the bang of the door, having eased the lock for her lately. Lorna saw there was something wrong; and she looked at Annie and Lizzie (as more likely to understand it) with her former timid glance; which I knew so well, and which had first enslaved me.
'I know not what ails mother,' said Annie, who looked very beautiful, with lilac lute-string ribbons, which I saw the Snowe girls envying; 'but she has not attended to one of the prayers, nor said "Amen," all the morning. Never fear, darling Lorna, it is nothing about you. It is something about our John, I am sure; for she never worries herself very much about anybody but him.' And here Annie made a look at me, such as I had had five hundred of.
'You keep your opinions to yourself,' I replied; because I knew the dear, and her little bits of jealousy; 'it happens that you are quite wrong, this time. Lorna, come with me, my darling.'
'Oh yes, Lorna; go with him,' cried Lizzie, dropping her lip, in a way which you must see to know its meaning; 'John wants nobody now but you; and none can find fault with his taste, dear.'
'You little fool, I should think not,' I answered, very rudely; for, betwixt the lot of them, my Lorna's eyelashes were quivering; 'now, dearest angel, come with me; and snap your hands at the whole of them.'
My angel did come, with a sigh, and then with a smile, when we were alone; but without any unangelic attempt at snapping her sweet white fingers.
These little things are enough to show that while every one so admired Lorna, and so kindly took to her, still there would, just now and then, be petty and paltry flashes of jealousy concerning her; and perhaps it could not be otherwise among so many women. However, we were always doubly kind to her afterwards; and although her mind was so sensitive and quick that she must have suffered, she never allowed us to perceive it, nor lowered herself by resenting it.
Possibly I may have mentioned that little Ruth Huckaback had been asked, and had even promised to spend her Christmas with us; and this was the more desirable, because she had left us through some offence, or sorrow, about things said of her. Now my dear mother, being the kindest and best-hearted of all women, could not bear that poor dear Ruth (who would some day have such a fortune), should be entirely lost to us. 'It is our duty, my dear children,' she said more than once about it, 'to forgive and forget, as freely as we hope to have it done to us. If dear little Ruth has not behaved quite as we might have expected, great allowance should be made for a girl with so much money. Designing people get hold of her, and flatter her, and coax her, to obtain a base influence over her; so that when she falls among simple folk, who speak the honest truth of her, no wonder the poor child is vexed, and gives herself airs, and so on. Ruth can be very useful to us in a number of little ways; and I consider it quite a duty to pardon her freak of petulance.'
Now one of the little ways in which Ruth had been very useful, was the purchase of the scarlet feathers of the flaming bird; and now that the house was quite safe from attack, and the mark on my forehead was healing, I was begged, over and over again, to go and see Ruth, and make all things straight, and pay for the gorgeous plumage. This last I was very desirous to do, that I might know the price of it, having made a small bet on the subject with Annie; and having held counsel with myself, whether or not it were possible to get something of the kind for Lorna, of still more distinguished appearance. Of course she could not wear scarlet as yet, even if I had wished it; but I believed that people of fashion often wore purple for mourning; purple too was the royal colour, and Lorna was by right a queen; therefore I was quite resolved to ransack Uncle Reuben's stores, in search of some bright purple bird, if nature had kindly provided one.
All this, however, I kept to myself, intending to trust Ruth Huckaback, and no one else in the matter. And so, one beautiful spring morning, when all the earth was kissed with scent, and all the air caressed with song, up the lane I stoutly rode, well armed, and well provided.
Now though it is part of my life to heed, it is no part of my tale to tell, how the wheat was coming on. I reckon that you, who read this story, after I am dead and gone (and before that none shall read it), will say, 'Tush! What is his wheat to us? We are not wheat: we are human beings: and all we care for is human doings.' This may be very good argument, and in the main, I believe that it is so. Nevertheless, if a man is to tell only what he thought and did, and not what came around him, he must not mention his own clothes, which his father and mother bought for him. And more than my own clothes to me, ay, and as much as my own skin, are the works of nature round about, whereof a man is the smallest.
And now I will tell you, although most likely only to be laughed at, because I cannot put it in the style of Mr. Dryden—whom to compare to Shakespeare! but if once I begin upon that, you will never hear the last of me—nevertheless, I will tell you this; not wishing to be rude, but only just because I know it; the more a man can fling his arms (so to say) round Nature's neck, the more he can upon her bosom, like an infant, lie and suck,—the more that man shall earn the trust and love of all his fellow men.
In this matter is no jealousy (when the man is dead); because thereafter all others know how much of the milk be had; and he can suck no longer; and they value him accordingly, for the nourishment he is to them. Even as when we keep a roaster of the sucking-pigs, we choose, and praise at table most, the favourite of its mother. Fifty times have I seen this, and smiled, and praised our people's taste, and offered them more of the vitals.
Now here am I upon Shakespeare (who died, of his own fruition, at the age of fifty-two, yet lived more than fifty thousand men, within his little span of life), when all the while I ought to be riding as hard as I can to Dulverton. But, to tell the truth, I could not ride hard, being held at every turn, and often without any turn at all, by the beauty of things around me. These things grow upon a man if once he stops to notice them.
It wanted yet two hours to noon, when I came to Master Huckaback's door, and struck the panels smartly. Knowing nothing of their manners, only that people in a town could not be expected to entertain (as we do in farm-houses), having, moreover, keen expectation of Master Huckaback's avarice, I had brought some stuff to eat, made by Annie, and packed by Lorna, and requiring no thinking about it.
Ruth herself came and let me in, blushing very heartily; for which colour I praised her health, and my praises heightened it. That little thing had lovely eyes, and could be trusted thoroughly. I do like an obstinate little woman, when she is sure that she is right. And indeed if love had never sped me straight to the heart of Lorna (compared to whom, Ruth was no more than the thief is to the candle), who knows but what I might have yielded to the law of nature, that thorough trimmer of balances, and verified the proverb that the giant loves the dwarf?
'I take the privilege, Mistress Ruth, of saluting you according to kinship, and the ordering of the Canons.' And therewith I bussed her well, and put my arm around her waist, being so terribly restricted in the matter of Lorna, and knowing the use of practice. Not that I had any warmth—all that was darling Lorna's—only out of pure gallantry, and my knowledge of London fashions. Ruth blushed to such a pitch at this, and looked up at me with such a gleam; as if I must have my own way; that all my love of kissing sunk, and I felt that I was wronging her. Only my mother had told me, when the girls were out of the way, to do all I could to please darling Ruth, and I had gone about it accordingly.
Now Ruth as yet had never heard a word about dear Lorna; and when she led me into the kitchen (where everything looked beautiful), and told me not to mind, for a moment, about the scrubbing of my boots, because she would only be too glad to clean it all up after me, and told me how glad she was to see me, blushing more at every word, and recalling some of them, and stooping down for pots and pans, when I looked at her too ruddily—all these things came upon me so, without any legal notice, that I could only look at Ruth, and think how very good she was, and how bright her handles were; and wonder if I had wronged her. Once or twice, I began—this I say upon my honour—to endeavour to explain exactly, how we were at Plover's Barrows; how we all had been bound to fight, and had defeated the enemy, keeping their queen amongst us. But Ruth would make some great mistake between Lorna and Gwenny Carfax, and gave me no chance to set her aright, and cared about nothing much, except some news of Sally Snowe.
What could I do with this little thing? All my sense of modesty, and value for my dinner, were against my over-pressing all the graceful hints I had given about Lorna. Ruth was just a girl of that sort, who will not believe one word, except from her own seeing; not so much from any doubt, as from the practice of using eyes which have been in business.
I asked Cousin Ruth (as we used to call her, though the cousinship was distant) what was become of Uncle Ben, and how it was that we never heard anything of or from him now. She replied that she hardly knew what to make of her grandfather's manner of carrying on, for the last half-year or more. He was apt to leave his home, she said, at any hour of the day or night; going none knew whither, and returning no one might say when. And his dress, in her opinion, was enough to frighten a hodman, of a scavenger of the roads, instead of the decent suit of kersey, or of Sabbath doeskins, such as had won the respect and reverence of his fellow-townsmen. But the worst of all things was, as she confessed with tears in her eyes, that the poor old gentleman had something weighing heavily on his mind.
'It will shorten his days, Cousin Ridd,' she said, for she never would call me Cousin John; 'he has no enjoyment of anything that he eats or drinks, nor even in counting his money, as he used to do all Sunday; indeed no pleasure in anything, unless it be smoking his pipe, and thinking and staring at bits of brown stone, which he pulls, every now and then, out of his pockets. And the business he used to take such pride in is now left almost entirely to the foreman, and to me.'
'And what will become of you, dear Ruth, if anything happens to the old man?'
'I am sure I know not,' she answered simply; 'and I cannot bear to think of it. It must depend, I suppose, upon dear grandfather's pleasure about me.'
'It must rather depend,' said I, though having no business to say it, 'upon your own good pleasure, Ruth; for all the world will pay court to you.'
'That is the very thing which I never could endure. I have begged dear grandfather to leave no chance of that. When he has threatened me with poverty, as he does sometimes, I have always met him truly, with the answer that I feared one thing a great deal worse than poverty; namely, to be an heiress. But I cannot make him believe it. Only think how strange, Cousin Ridd, I cannot make him believe it.'
'It is not strange at all,' I answered; 'considering how he values money. Neither would any one else believe you, except by looking into your true, and very pretty eyes, dear.'
Now I beg that no one will suspect for a single moment, either that I did not mean exactly what I said, or meant a single atom more, or would not have said the same, if Lorna had been standing by. What I had always liked in Ruth, was the calm, straightforward gaze, and beauty of her large brown eyes. Indeed I had spoken of them to Lorna, as the only ones to be compared (though not for more than a moment) to her own, for truth and light, but never for depth and softness. But now the little maiden dropped them, and turned away, without reply.
'I will go and see to my horse,' I said; 'the boy that has taken him seemed surprised at his having no horns on his forehead. Perhaps he will lead him into the shop, and feed him upon broadcloth.'
'Oh, he is such a stupid boy,' Ruth answered with great sympathy: 'how quick of you to observe that now: and you call yourself "Slow John Ridd!" I never did see such a stupid boy: sometimes he spoils my temper. But you must be back in half an hour, at the latest, Cousin Ridd. You see I remember what you are; when once you get among horses, or cows, or things of that sort.'
'Things of that sort! Well done, Ruth! One would think you were quite a Cockney.'
Uncle Reuben did not come home to his dinner; and his granddaughter said she had strictest orders never to expect him. Therefore we had none to dine with us, except the foreman of the shop, a worthy man, named Thomas Cockram, fifty years of age or so. He seemed to me to have strong intentions of his own about little Ruth, and on that account to regard me with a wholly undue malevolence. And perhaps, in order to justify him, I may have been more attentive to her than otherwise need have been; at any rate, Ruth and I were pleasant; and he the very opposite.
'My dear Cousin Ruth,' I said, on purpose to vex Master Cockram, because he eyed us so heavily, and squinted to unluckily, 'we have long been looking for you at our Plover's Barrows farm. You remember how you used to love hunting for eggs in the morning, and hiding up in the tallat with Lizzie, for me to seek you among the hay, when the sun was down. Ah, Master Cockram, those are the things young people find their pleasure in, not in selling a yard of serge, and giving twopence-halfpenny change, and writing "settled" at the bottom, with a pencil that has blacked their teeth. Now, Master Cockram, you ought to come as far as our good farm, at once, and eat two new-laid eggs for breakfast, and be made to look quite young again. Our good Annie would cook for you; and you should have the hot new milk and the pope's eye from the mutton; and every foot of you would become a yard in about a fortnight.' And hereupon, I spread my chest, to show him an example. Ruth could not keep her countenance: but I saw that she thought it wrong of me; and would scold me, if ever I gave her the chance of taking those little liberties. However, he deserved it all, according to my young ideas, for his great impertinence in aiming at my cousin.
But what I said was far less grievous to a man of honest mind than little Ruth's own behaviour. I could hardly have believed that so thoroughly true a girl, and one so proud and upright, could have got rid of any man so cleverly as she got rid of Master Thomas Cockram. She gave him not even a glass of wine, but commended to his notice, with a sweet and thoughtful gravity, some invoice which must be corrected, before her dear grandfather should return; and to amend which three great ledgers must be searched from first to last. Thomas Cockram winked at me, with the worst of his two wrong eyes; as much as to say, 'I understand it; but I cannot help myself. Only you look out, if ever'—and before he had finished winking, the door was shut behind him. Then Ruth said to me in the simplest manner, 'You have ridden far today, Cousin Ridd; and have far to ride to get home again. What will dear Aunt Ridd say, if we send you away without nourishment? All the keys are in my keeping, and dear grandfather has the finest wine, not to be matched in the west of England, as I have heard good judges say; though I know not wine from cider. Do you like the wine of Oporto, or the wine of Xeres?'
'I know not one from the other, fair cousin, except by the colour,' I answered: 'but the sound of Oporto is nobler, and richer. Suppose we try wine of Oporto.'
The good little creature went and fetched a black bottle of an ancient cast, covered with dust and cobwebs. These I was anxious to shake aside; and indeed I thought that the wine would be better for being roused up a little. Ruth, however, would not hear a single word to that purport; and seeing that she knew more about it, I left her to manage it. And the result was very fine indeed, to wit, a sparkling rosy liquor, dancing with little flakes of light, and scented like new violets. With this I was so pleased and gay, and Ruth so glad to see me gay, that we quite forgot how the time went on; and though my fair cousin would not be persuaded to take a second glass herself, she kept on filling mine so fast that it was never empty, though I did my best to keep it so.
'What is a little drop like this to a man of your size and strength, Cousin Ridd?' she said, with her cheeks just brushed with rose, which made her look very beautiful; 'I have heard you say that your head is so thick—or rather so clear, you ought to say—that no liquor ever moves it.'
'That is right enough,' I answered; 'what a witch you must be, dear Ruth, to have remembered that now!'
'Oh, I remember every word I have ever heard you say, Cousin Ridd; because your voice is so deep, you know, and you talk so little. Now it is useless to say "no". These bottles hold almost nothing. Dear grandfather will not come home, I fear, until long after you are gone. What will Aunt Ridd think of me, I am sure? You are all so dreadfully hospitable. Now not another "no," Cousin Ridd. We must have another bottle.'
'Well, must is must,' I answered, with a certain resignation. 'I cannot bear bad manners, dear; and how old are you next birthday?'
'Eighteen, dear John;' said Ruth, coming over with the empty bottle; and I was pleased at her calling me 'John,' and had a great mind to kiss her. However, I thought of my Lorna suddenly, and of the anger I should feel if a man went on with her so; therefore I lay back in my chair, to wait for the other bottle.
'Do you remember how we danced that night?' I asked, while she was opening it; 'and how you were afraid of me first, because I looked so tall, dear?'
'Yes, and so very broad, Cousin Ridd. I thought that you would eat me. But I have come to know, since then, how very kind and good you are.'
'And will you come and dance again, at my wedding, Cousin Ruth?'
She nearly let the bottle fall, the last of which she was sloping carefully into a vessel of bright glass; and then she raised her hand again, and finished it judiciously. And after that, she took the window, to see that all her work was clear; and then she poured me out a glass and said, with very pale cheeks, but else no sign of meaning about her, 'What did you ask me, Cousin Ridd?'
'Nothing of any importance, Ruth; only we are so fond of you. I mean to be married as soon as I can. Will you come and help us?'
'To be sure I will, Cousin Ridd—unless, unless, dear grandfather cannot spare me from the business.' She went away; and her breast was heaving, like a rick of under-carried hay. And she stood at the window long, trying to make yawns of sighs.
For my part, I knew not what to do. And yet I could think about it, as I never could with Lorna; with whom I was always in a whirl, from the power of my love. So I thought some time about it; and perceived that it was the manliest way, just to tell her everything; except that I feared she liked me. But it seemed to me unaccountable that she did not even ask the name of my intended wife. Perhaps she thought that it must be Sally; or perhaps she feared to trust her voice.
'Come and sit by me, dear Ruth; and listen to a long, long story, how things have come about with me.'
'No, thank you, Cousin Ridd,' she answered; 'at least I mean that I shall be happy—that I shall be ready to hear you—to listen to you, I mean of course. But I would rather stay where I am, and have the air—or rather be able to watch for dear grandfather coming home. He is so kind and good to me. What should I do without him?'
Then I told her how, for years and years, I had been attached to Lorna, and all the dangers and difficulties which had so long beset us, and how I hoped that these were passing, and no other might come between us, except on the score of religion; upon which point I trusted soon to overcome my mother's objections. And then I told her how poor, and helpless, and alone in the world, my Lorna was; and how sad all her youth had been, until I brought her away at last. And many other little things I mentioned, which there is no need for me again to dwell upon. Ruth heard it all without a word, and without once looking at me; and only by her attitude could I guess that she was weeping. Then when all my tale was told, she asked in a low and gentle voice, but still without showing her face to me,—
'And does she love you, Cousin Ridd? Does she say that she loves you with—with all her heart?'
'Certainly, she does,' I answered. 'Do you think it impossible for one like her to do so?'
She said no more; but crossed the room before I had time to look at her, and came behind my chair, and kissed me gently on the forehead.
'I hope you may be very happy, with—I mean in your new life,' she whispered very softly; 'as happy as you deserve to be, and as happy as you can make others be. Now how I have been neglecting you! I am quite ashamed of myself for thinking only of grandfather: and it makes me so low-spirited. You have told me a very nice romance, and I have never even helped you to a glass of wine. Here, pour it for yourself, dear cousin; I shall be back again directly.'
With that she was out of the door in a moment; and when she came back, you would not have thought that a tear had dimmed those large bright eyes, or wandered down those pale clear cheeks. Only her hands were cold and trembling: and she made me help myself.
Uncle Reuben did not appear at all; and Ruth, who had promised to come and see us, and stay for a fortnight at our house (if her grandfather could spare her), now discovered, before I left, that she must not think of doing so. Perhaps she was right in deciding thus; at any rate it had now become improper for me to press her. And yet I now desired tenfold that she should consent to come, thinking that Lorna herself would work the speediest cure of her passing whim.
For such, I tried to persuade myself, was the nature of Ruth's regard for me: and upon looking back I could not charge myself with any misconduct towards the little maiden. I had never sought her company, I had never trifled with her (at least until that very day), and being so engrossed with my own love, I had scarcely ever thought of her. And the maiden would never have thought of me, except as a clumsy yokel, but for my mother's and sister's meddling, and their wily suggestions. I believe they had told the little soul that I was deeply in love with her; although they both stoutly denied it. But who can place trust in a woman's word, when it comes to a question of match-making?
A VISIT FROM THE COUNSELLOR
Now while I was riding home that evening, with a tender conscience about Ruth, although not a wounded one, I guessed but little that all my thoughts were needed much for my own affairs. So however it proved to be; for as I came in, soon after dark, my sister Eliza met me at the corner of the cheese-room, and she said, 'Don't go in there, John,' pointing to mother's room; 'until I have had a talk with you.'
'In the name of Moses,' I inquired, having picked up that phrase at Dulverton; 'what are you at about me now? There is no peace for a quiet fellow.'
'It is nothing we are at,' she answered; 'neither may you make light of it. It is something very important about Mistress Lorna Doone.'
'Let us have it at once,' I cried; 'I can bear anything about Lorna, except that she does not care for me.'
'It has nothing to do with that, John. And I am quite sure that you never need fear anything of that sort. She perfectly wearies me sometimes, although her voice is so soft and sweet, about your endless perfections.'
'Bless her little heart!' I said; 'the subject is inexhaustible.'
'No doubt,' replied Lizzie, in the driest manner; 'especially to your sisters. However this is no time to joke. I fear you will get the worst of it, John. Do you know a man of about Gwenny's shape, nearly as broad as he is long, but about six times the size of Gwenny, and with a length of snow-white hair, and a thickness also; as the copses were last winter. He never can comb it, that is quite certain, with any comb yet invented.'
'Then you go and offer your services. There are few things you cannot scarify. I know the man from your description, although I have never seen him. Now where is my Lorna?'
'Your Lorna is with Annie, having a good cry, I believe; and Annie too glad to second her. She knows that this great man is here, and knows that he wants to see her. But she begged to defer the interview, until dear John's return.'
'What a nasty way you have of telling the very commonest piece of news!' I said, on purpose to pay her out. 'What man will ever fancy you, you unlucky little snapper? Now, no more nursery talk for me. I will go and settle this business. You had better go and dress your dolls; if you can give them clothes unpoisoned.' Hereupon Lizzie burst into a perfect roar of tears; feeling that she had the worst of it. And I took her up, and begged her pardon; although she scarcely deserved it; for she knew that I was out of luck, and she might have spared her satire.
I was almost sure that the man who was come must be the Counsellor himself; of whom I felt much keener fear than of his son Carver. And knowing that his visit boded ill to me and Lorna, I went and sought my dear; and led her with a heavy heart, from the maiden's room to mother's, to meet our dreadful visitor.
Mother was standing by the door, making curtseys now and then, and listening to a long harangue upon the rights of state and land, which the Counsellor (having found that she was the owner of her property, and knew nothing of her title to it) was encouraged to deliver it. My dear mother stood gazing at him, spell-bound by his eloquence, and only hoping that he would stop. He was shaking his hair upon his shoulders, in the power of his words, and his wrath at some little thing, which he declared to be quite illegal.
Then I ventured to show myself, in the flesh, before him; although he feigned not to see me; but he advanced with zeal to Lorna; holding out both hands at once.
'My darling child, my dearest niece; how wonderfully well you look! Mistress Ridd, I give you credit. This is the country of good things. I never would have believed our Queen could have looked so royal. Surely of all virtues, hospitality is the finest, and the most romantic. Dearest Lorna, kiss your uncle; it is quite a privilege.'
'Perhaps it is to you, sir,' said Lorna, who could never quite check her sense of oddity; 'but I fear that you have smoked tobacco, which spoils reciprocity.'
'You are right, my child. How keen your scent is! It is always so with us. Your grandfather was noted for his olfactory powers. Ah, a great loss, dear Mrs. Ridd, a terrible loss to this neighbourhood! As one of our great writers says—I think it must be Milton—"We ne'er shall look upon his like again."'
'With your good leave sir,' I broke in, 'Master Milton could never have written so sweet and simple a line as that. It is one of the great Shakespeare.'
'Woe is me for my neglect!' said the Counsellor, bowing airily; 'this must be your son, Mistress Ridd, the great John, the wrestler. And one who meddles with the Muses! Ah, since I was young, how everything is changed, madam! Except indeed the beauty of women, which seems to me to increase every year.' Here the old villain bowed to my mother; and she blushed, and made another curtsey, and really did look very nice.
'Now though I have quoted the poets amiss, as your son informs me (for which I tender my best thanks, and must amend my reading), I can hardly be wrong in assuming that this young armiger must be the too attractive cynosure to our poor little maiden. And for my part, she is welcome to him. I have never been one of those who dwell upon distinctions of rank, and birth, and such like; as if they were in the heart of nature, and must be eternal. In early youth, I may have thought so, and been full of that little pride. But now I have long accounted it one of the first axioms of political economy—you are following me, Mistress Ridd?'
'Well, sir, I am doing my best; but I cannot quite keep up with you.'
'Never mind, madam; I will be slower. But your son's intelligence is so quick—'
'I see, sir; you thought that mine must be. But no; it all comes from his father, sir. His father was that quick and clever—'
'Ah, I can well suppose it, madam. And a credit he is to both of you. Now, to return to our muttons—a figure which you will appreciate—I may now be regarded, I think, as this young lady's legal guardian; although I have not had the honour of being formally appointed such. Her father was the eldest son of Sir Ensor Doone; and I happened to be the second son; and as young maidens cannot be baronets, I suppose I am "Sir Counsellor." Is it so, Mistress Ridd, according to your theory of genealogy?'
'I am sure I don't know, sir,' my mother answered carefully; 'I know not anything of that name, sir, except in the Gospel of Matthew: but I see not why it should be otherwise.'
'Good, madam! I may look upon that as your sanction and approval: and the College of Heralds shall hear of it. And in return, as Lorna's guardian, I give my full and ready consent to her marriage with your son, madam.'
'Oh, how good of you, sir, how kind! Well, I always did say, that the learnedest people were, almost always, the best and kindest, and the most simple-hearted.'
'Madam, that is a great sentiment. What a goodly couple they will be! and if we can add him to our strength—'
'Oh no, sir, oh no!' cried mother: 'you really must not think of it. He has always been brought up so honest—'
'Hem! that makes a difference. A decided disqualification for domestic life among the Doones. But, surely, he might get over those prejudices, madam?'
'Oh no, sir! he never can: he never can indeed. When he was only that high, sir, he could not steal even an apple, when some wicked boys tried to mislead him.'
'Ah,' replied the Counsellor, shaking his white head gravely; 'then I greatly fear that his case is quite incurable. I have known such cases; violent prejudice, bred entirely of education, and anti-economical to the last degree. And when it is so, it is desperate: no man, after imbibing ideas of that sort, can in any way be useful.'
'Oh yes, sir, John is very useful. He can do as much work as three other men; and you should see him load a sledd, sir.'
'I was speaking, madam, of higher usefulness,—power of the brain and heart. The main thing for us upon earth is to take a large view of things. But while we talk of the heart, what is my niece Lorna doing, that she does not come and thank me, for my perhaps too prompt concession to her youthful fancies? Ah, if I had wanted thanks, I should have been more stubborn.'
Lorna, being challenged thus, came up and looked at her uncle, with her noble eyes fixed full upon his, which beneath his white eyebrows glistened, like dormer windows piled with snow.
'For what am I to thank you, uncle?'
'My dear niece, I have told you. For removing the heaviest obstacle, which to a mind so well regulated could possibly have existed, between your dutiful self and the object of your affections.'
'Well, uncle, I should be very grateful, if I thought that you did so from love of me; or if I did not know that you have something yet concealed from me.'
'And my consent,' said the Counsellor, 'is the more meritorious, the more liberal, frank, and candid, in the face of an existing fact, and a very clearly established one; which might have appeared to weaker minds in the light of an impediment; but to my loftier view of matrimony seems quite a recommendation.'
'What fact do you mean, sir? Is it one that I ought to know?'
'In my opinion it is, good niece. It forms, to my mind, so fine a basis for the invariable harmony of the matrimonial state. To be brief—as I always endeavour to be, without becoming obscure—you two young people (ah, what a gift is youth! one can never be too thankful for it) you will have the rare advantage of commencing married life, with a subject of common interest to discuss, whenever you weary of—well, say of one another; if you can now, by any means, conceive such a possibility. And perfect justice meted out: mutual goodwill resulting, from the sense of reciprocity.'
'I do not understand you, sir. Why can you not say what you mean, at once?'
'My dear child, I prolong your suspense. Curiosity is the most powerful of all feminine instincts; and therefore the most delightful, when not prematurely satisfied. However, if you must have my strong realities, here they are. Your father slew dear John's father, and dear John's father slew yours.'
Having said thus much, the Counsellor leaned back upon his chair, and shaded his calm white-bearded eyes from the rays of our tallow candles. He was a man who liked to look, rather than to be looked at. But Lorna came to me for aid; and I went up to Lorna and mother looked at both of us.
Then feeling that I must speak first (as no one would begin it), I took my darling round the waist, and led her up to the Counsellor; while she tried to bear it bravely; yet must lean on me, or did.
'Now, Sir Counsellor Doone,' I said, with Lorna squeezing both my hands, I never yet knew how (considering that she was walking all the time, or something like it); 'you know right well, Sir Counsellor, that Sir Ensor Doone gave approval.' I cannot tell what made me think of this: but so it came upon me.
'Approval to what, good rustic John? To the slaughter so reciprocal?'
'No, sir, not to that; even if it ever happened; which I do not believe. But to the love betwixt me and Lorna; which your story shall not break, without more evidence than your word. And even so, shall never break; if Lorna thinks as I do.'
The maiden gave me a little touch, as much as to say, 'You are right, darling: give it to him, again, like that.' However, I held my peace, well knowing that too many words do mischief.
Then mother looked at me with wonder, being herself too amazed to speak; and the Counsellor looked, with great wrath in his eyes, which he tried to keep from burning.
'How say you then, John Ridd,' he cried, stretching out one hand, like Elijah; 'is this a thing of the sort you love? Is this what you are used to?'
'So please your worship,' I answered; 'no kind of violence can surprise us, since first came Doones upon Exmoor. Up to that time none heard of harm; except of taking a purse, maybe, or cutting a strange sheep's throat. And the poor folk who did this were hanged, with some benefit of clergy. But ever since the Doones came first, we are used to anything.'
'Thou varlet,' cried the Counsellor, with the colour of his eyes quite changed with the sparkles of his fury; 'is this the way we are to deal with such a low-bred clod as thou? To question the doings of our people, and to talk of clergy! What, dream you not that we could have clergy, and of the right sort, too, if only we cared to have them? Tush! Am I to spend my time arguing with a plough-tail Bob?'
'If your worship will hearken to me,' I answered very modestly, not wishing to speak harshly, with Lorna looking up at me; 'there are many things that might be said without any kind of argument, which I would never wish to try with one of your worship's learning. And in the first place it seems to me that if our fathers hated one another bitterly, yet neither won the victory, only mutual discomfiture; surely that is but a reason why we should be wiser than they, and make it up in this generation by goodwill and loving'—
'Oh, John, you wiser than your father!' mother broke upon me here; 'not but what you might be as wise, when you come to be old enough.'
'Young people of the present age,' said the Counsellor severely, 'have no right feeling of any sort, upon the simplest matter. Lorna Doone, stand forth from contact with that heir of parricide; and state in your own mellifluous voice, whether you regard this slaughter as a pleasant trifle.'
'You know, without any words of mine,' she answered very softly, yet not withdrawing from my hand, 'that although I have been seasoned well to every kind of outrage, among my gentle relatives, I have not yet so purely lost all sense of right and wrong as to receive what you have said, as lightly as you declared it. You think it a happy basis for our future concord. I do not quite think that, my uncle; neither do I quite believe that a word of it is true. In our happy valley, nine-tenths of what is said is false; and you were always wont to argue that true and false are but a blind turned upon a pivot. Without any failure of respect for your character, good uncle, I decline politely to believe a word of what you have told me. And even if it were proved to me, all I can say is this, if my John will have me, I am his for ever.'
This long speech was too much for her; she had overrated her strength about it, and the sustenance of irony. So at last she fell into my arms, which had long been waiting for her; and there she lay with no other sound, except a gurgling in her throat.
'You old villain,' cried my mother, shaking her fist at the Counsellor, while I could do nothing else but hold, and bend across, my darling, and whisper to deaf ears; 'What is the good of the quality; if this is all that comes of it? Out of the way! You know the words that make the deadly mischief; but not the ways that heal them. Give me that bottle, if hands you have; what is the use of Counsellors?'
I saw that dear mother was carried away; and indeed I myself was something like it; with the pale face upon my bosom, and the heaving of the heart, and the heat and cold all through me, as my darling breathed or lay. Meanwhile the Counsellor stood back, and seemed a little sorry; although of course it was not in his power to be at all ashamed of himself.
'My sweet love, my darling child,' our mother went on to Lorna, in a way that I shall never forget, though I live to be a hundred; 'pretty pet, not a word of it is true, upon that old liar's oath; and if every word were true, poor chick, you should have our John all the more for it. You and John were made by God and meant for one another, whatever falls between you. Little lamb, look up and speak: here is your own John and I; and the devil take the Counsellor.'
I was amazed at mother's words, being so unlike her; while I loved her all the more because she forgot herself so. In another moment in ran Annie, ay and Lizzie also, knowing by some mystic sense (which I have often noticed, but never could explain) that something was astir, belonging to the world of women, yet foreign to the eyes of men. And now the Counsellor, being well-born, although such a heartless miscreant, beckoned to me to come away; which I, being smothered with women, was only too glad to do, as soon as my own love would let go of me.
'That is the worst of them,' said the old man; when I had led him into our kitchen, with an apology at every step, and given him hot schnapps and water, and a cigarro of brave Tom Faggus: 'you never can say much, sir, in the way of reasoning (however gently meant and put) but what these women will fly out. It is wiser to put a wild bird in a cage, and expect him to sit and look at you, and chirp without a feather rumpled, than it is to expect a woman to answer reason reasonably.' Saying this, he looked at his puff of smoke as if it contained more reason.
'I am sure I do not know, sir,' I answered according to a phrase which has always been my favourite, on account of its general truth: moreover, he was now our guest, and had right to be treated accordingly: 'I am, as you see, not acquainted with the ways of women, except my mother and sisters.'
'Except not even them, my son, said the Counsellor, now having finished his glass, without much consultation about it; 'if you once understand your mother and sisters—why you understand the lot of them.'
He made a twist in his cloud of smoke, and dashed his finger through it, so that I could not follow his meaning, and in manners liked not to press him.
'Now of this business, John,' he said, after getting to the bottom of the second glass, and having a trifle or so to eat, and praising our chimney-corner; 'taking you on the whole, you know, you are wonderfully good people; and instead of giving me up to the soldiers, as you might have done, you are doing your best to make me drunk.'
'Not at all, sir,' I answered; 'not at all, your worship. Let me mix you another glass. We rarely have a great gentleman by the side of our embers and oven. I only beg your pardon, sir, that my sister Annie (who knows where to find all the good pans and the lard) could not wait upon you this evening; and I fear they have done it with dripping instead, and in a pan with the bottom burned. But old Betty quite loses her head sometimes, by dint of over-scolding.'
'My son,' replied the Counsellor, standing across the front of the fire, to prove his strict sobriety: 'I meant to come down upon you to-night; but you have turned the tables upon me. Not through any skill on your part, nor through any paltry weakness as to love (and all that stuff, which boys and girls spin tops at, or knock dolls' noses together), but through your simple way of taking me, as a man to be believed; combined with the comfort of this place, and the choice tobacco and cordials. I have not enjoyed an evening so much, God bless me if I know when!'
'Your worship,' said I, 'makes me more proud than I well know what to do with. Of all the things that please and lead us into happy sleep at night, the first and chiefest is to think that we have pleased a visitor.'
'Then, John, thou hast deserved good sleep; for I am not pleased easily. But although our family is not so high now as it hath been, I have enough of the gentleman left to be pleased when good people try me. My father, Sir Ensor, was better than I in this great element of birth, and my son Carver is far worse. Aetas parentum, what is it, my boy? I hear that you have been at a grammar-school.'
'So I have, your worship, and at a very good one; but I only got far enough to make more tail than head of Latin.'
'Let that pass,' said the Counsellor; 'John, thou art all the wiser.' And the old man shook his hoary locks, as if Latin had been his ruin. I looked at him sadly, and wondered whether it might have so ruined me, but for God's mercy in stopping it.
THE WAY TO MAKE THE CREAM RISE
That night the reverend Counsellor, not being in such state of mind as ought to go alone, kindly took our best old bedstead, carved in panels, well enough, with the woman of Samaria. I set him up, both straight and heavy, so that he need but close both eyes, and keep his mouth just open; and in the morning he was thankful for all that he could remember.
I, for my part, scarcely knew whether he really had begun to feel goodwill towards us, and to see that nothing else could be of any use to him; or whether he was merely acting, so as to deceive us. And it had struck me, several times, that he had made a great deal more of the spirit he had taken than the quantity would warrant, with a man so wise and solid. Neither did I quite understand a little story which Lorna told me, how that in the night awaking, she had heard, or seemed to hear, a sound of feeling in her room; as if there had been some one groping carefully among the things within her drawers or wardrobe-closet. But the noise had ceased at once, she said, when she sat up in bed and listened; and knowing how many mice we had, she took courage and fell asleep again.
After breakfast, the Counsellor (who looked no whit the worse for schnapps, but even more grave and venerable) followed our Annie into the dairy, to see how we managed the clotted cream, of which he had eaten a basinful. And thereupon they talked a little; and Annie thought him a fine old gentleman, and a very just one; for he had nobly condemned the people who spoke against Tom Faggus.
'Your honour must plainly understand,' said Annie, being now alone with him, and spreading out her light quick hands over the pans, like butterflies, 'that they are brought in here to cool, after being set in the basin-holes, with the wood-ash under them, which I showed you in the back-kitchen. And they must have very little heat, not enough to simmer even; only just to make the bubbles rise, and the scum upon the top set thick; and after that, it clots as firm—oh, as firm as my two hands be.'
'Have you ever heard,' asked the Counsellor, who enjoyed this talk with Annie, 'that if you pass across the top, without breaking the surface, a string of beads, or polished glass, or anything of that kind, the cream will set three times as solid, and in thrice the quantity?'
'No, sir; I have never heard that,' said Annie, staring with all her simple eyes; 'what a thing it is to read books, and grow learned! But it is very easy to try it: I will get my coral necklace; it will not be witchcraft, will it, sir?'
'Certainly not,' the old man replied; 'I will make the experiment myself; and you may trust me not to be hurt, my dear. But coral will not do, my child, neither will anything coloured. The beads must be of plain common glass; but the brighter they are the better.'
'Then I know the very thing,' cried Annie; 'as bright as bright can be, and without any colour in it, except in the sun or candle light. Dearest Lorna has the very thing, a necklace of some old glass-beads, or I think they called them jewels: she will be too glad to lend it to us. I will go for it, in a moment.'
'My dear, it cannot be half so bright as your own pretty eyes. But remember one thing, Annie, you must not say what it is for; or even that I am going to use it, or anything at all about it; else the charm will be broken. Bring it here, without a word; if you know where she keeps it.'
'To be sure I do,' she answered; 'John used to keep it for her. But she took it away from him last week, and she wore it when—I mean when somebody was here; and he said it was very valuable, and spoke with great learning about it, and called it by some particular name, which I forget at this moment. But valuable or not, we cannot hurt it, can we, sir, by passing it over the cream-pan?'
'Hurt it!' cried the Counsellor: 'nay, we shall do it good, my dear. It will help to raise the cream: and you may take my word for it, young maiden, none can do good in this world, without in turn receiving it.' Pronouncing this great sentiment, he looked so grand and benevolent, that Annie (as she said afterwards) could scarce forbear from kissing him, yet feared to take the liberty. Therefore, she only ran away to fetch my Lorna's necklace.
Now as luck would have it—whether good luck or otherwise, you must not judge too hastily,—my darling had taken it into her head, only a day or two before, that I was far too valuable to be trusted with her necklace. Now that she had some idea of its price and quality, she had begun to fear that some one, perhaps even Squire Faggus (in whom her faith was illiberal), might form designs against my health, to win the bauble from me. So, with many pretty coaxings, she had led me to give it up; which, except for her own sake, I was glad enough to do, misliking a charge of such importance.
Therefore Annie found it sparkling in the little secret hole, near the head of Lorna's bed, which she herself had recommended for its safer custody; and without a word to any one she brought it down, and danced it in the air before the Counsellor, for him to admire its lustre.
'Oh, that old thing!' said the gentleman, in a tone of some contempt; 'I remember that old thing well enough. However, for want of a better, no doubt it will answer our purpose. Three times three, I pass it over. Crinkleum, crankum, grass and clover! What are you feared of, you silly child?'
'Good sir, it is perfect witchcraft! I am sure of that, because it rhymes. Oh, what would mother say to me? Shall I ever go to heaven again? Oh, I see the cream already!'
'To be sure you do; but you must not look, or the whole charm will be broken, and the devil will fly away with the pan, and drown every cow you have got in it.'
'Oh, sir, it is too horrible. How could you lead me to such a sin? Away with thee, witch of Endor!'
For the door began to creak, and a broom appeared suddenly in the opening, with our Betty, no doubt, behind it. But Annie, in the greatest terror, slammed the door, and bolted it, and then turned again to the Counsellor; yet looking at his face, had not the courage to reproach him. For his eyes rolled like two blazing barrels, and his white shagged brows were knit across them, and his forehead scowled in black furrows, so that Annie said that if she ever saw the devil, she saw him then, and no mistake. Whether the old man wished to scare her, or whether he was trying not to laugh, is more than I can tell you.
'Now,' he said, in a deep stern whisper; 'not a word of this to a living soul; neither must you, nor any other enter this place for three hours at least. By that time the charm will have done its work: the pan will be cream to the bottom; and you will bless me for a secret which will make your fortune. Put the bauble under this pannikin; which none must lift for a day and a night. Have no fear, my simple wench; not a breath of harm shall come to you, if you obey my orders.'
'Oh, that I will, sir, that I will: if you will only tell me what to do.'
'Go to your room, without so much as a single word to any one. Bolt yourself in, and for three hours now, read the Lord's Prayer backwards.'
Poor Annie was only too glad to escape, upon these conditions; and the Counsellor kissed her upon the forehead and told her not to make her eyes red, because they were much too sweet and pretty. She dropped them at this, with a sob and a curtsey, and ran away to her bedroom; but as for reading the Lord's Prayer backwards, that was much beyond her; and she had not done three words quite right, before the three hours expired.
Meanwhile the Counsellor was gone. He bade our mother adieu, with so much dignity of bearing, and such warmth of gratitude, and the high-bred courtesy of the old school (now fast disappearing), that when he was gone, dear mother fell back on the chair which he had used last night, as if it would teach her the graces. And for more than an hour she made believe not to know what there was for dinner.
'Oh, the wickedness of the world! Oh, the lies that are told of people—or rather I mean the falsehoods—because a man is better born, and has better manners! Why, Lorna, how is it that you never speak about your charming uncle? Did you notice, Lizzie, how his silver hair was waving upon his velvet collar, and how white his hands were, and every nail like an acorn; only pink like shell-fish, or at least like shells? And the way he bowed, and dropped his eyes, from his pure respect for me! And then, that he would not even speak, on account of his emotion; but pressed my hand in silence! Oh, Lizzie, you have read me beautiful things about Sir Gallyhead, and the rest; but nothing to equal Sir Counsellor.'
'You had better marry him, madam,' said I, coming in very sternly; though I knew I ought not to say it: 'he can repay your adoration. He has stolen a hundred thousand pounds.'
'John,' cried my mother, 'you are mad!' And yet she turned as pale as death; for women are so quick at turning; and she inkled what it was.
'Of course I am, mother; mad about the marvels of Sir Galahad. He has gone off with my Lorna's necklace. Fifty farms like ours can never make it good to Lorna.'
Hereupon ensued grim silence. Mother looked at Lizzie's face, for she could not look at me; and Lizzie looked at me, to know: and as for me, I could have stamped almost on the heart of any one. It was not the value of the necklace—I am not so low a hound as that—nor was it even the damned folly shown by every one of us—it was the thought of Lorna's sorrow for her ancient plaything; and even more, my fury at the breach of hospitality.
But Lorna came up to me softly, as a woman should always come; and she laid one hand upon my shoulder; and she only looked at me. She even seemed to fear to look, and dropped her eyes, and sighed at me. Without a word, I knew by that, how I must have looked like Satan; and the evil spirit left my heart; when she had made me think of it.
'Darling John, did you want me to think that you cared for my money, more than for me?'
I led her away from the rest of them, being desirous of explaining things, when I saw the depth of her nature opened, like an everlasting well, to me. But she would not let me say a word, or do anything by ourselves, as it were: she said, 'Your duty is to your mother: this blow is on her, and not on me.'
I saw that she was right; though how she knew it is beyond me; and I asked her just to go in front, and bring my mother round a little. For I must let my passion pass: it may drop its weapons quickly; but it cannot come and go, before a man has time to think.
Then Lorna went up to my mother, who was still in the chair of elegance; and she took her by both hands, and said,—
'Dearest mother, I shall fret so, if I see you fretting. And to fret will kill me, mother. They have always told me so.'
Poor mother bent on Lorna's shoulder, without thought of attitude, and laid her cheek on Lorna's breast, and sobbed till Lizzie was jealous, and came with two pocket-handkerchiefs. As for me, my heart was lighter (if they would only dry their eyes, and come round by dinnertime) than it had been since the day on which Tom Faggus discovered the value of that blessed and cursed necklace. None could say that I wanted Lorna for her money now. And perhaps the Doones would let me have her; now that her property was gone.
But who shall tell of Annie's grief? The poor little thing would have staked her life upon finding the trinket, in all its beauty, lying under the pannikin. She proudly challenged me to lift it—which I had done, long ere that, of course—if only I would take the risk of the spell for my incredulity. I told her not to talk of spells, until she could spell a word backwards; and then to look into the pan where the charmed cream should be. She would not acknowledge that the cream was the same as all the rest was: and indeed it was not quite the same, for the points of poor Lorna's diamonds had made a few star-rays across the rich firm crust of yellow.
But when we raised the pannikin, and there was nothing under it, poor Annie fell against the wall, which had been whitened lately; and her face put all the white to scorn. My love, who was as fond of her, as if she had known her for fifty years, hereupon ran up and caught her, and abused all diamonds. I will dwell no more upon Annie's grief, because we felt it all so much. But I could not help telling her, if she wanted a witch, to seek good Mother Melldrum, a legitimate performer.
That same night Master Jeremy Stickles (of whose absence the Counsellor must have known) came back, with all equipment ready for the grand attack. Now the Doones knew, quite as well as we did, that this attack was threatening; and that but for the wonderful weather it would have been made long ago. Therefore we, or at least our people (for I was doubtful about going), were sure to meet with a good resistance, and due preparation.
It was very strange to hear and see, and quite impossible to account for, that now some hundreds of country people (who feared to whisper so much as a word against the Doones a year ago, and would sooner have thought of attacking a church, in service time, than Glen Doone) now sharpened their old cutlasses, and laid pitch-forks on the grindstone, and bragged at every village cross, as if each would kill ten Doones himself, neither care to wipe his hands afterwards. And this fierce bravery, and tall contempt, had been growing ever since the news of the attack upon our premises had taken good people by surprise; at least as concerned the issue.
Jeremy Stickles laughed heartily about Annie's new manner of charming the cream; but he looked very grave at the loss of the jewels, so soon as he knew their value.
'My son,' he exclaimed, 'this is very heavy. It will go ill with all of you to make good this loss, as I fear that you will have to do.'
'What!' cried I, with my blood running cold. 'We make good the loss, Master Stickles! Every farthing we have in the world, and the labour of our lives to boot, will never make good the tenth of it.'
'It would cut me to the heart,' he answered, laying his hand on mine, 'to hear of such a deadly blow to you and your good mother. And this farm; how long, John, has it been in your family?'
'For at least six hundred years,' I said, with a foolish pride that was only too like to end in groans; 'and some people say, by a Royal grant, in the time of the great King Alfred. At any rate, a Ridd was with him throughout all his hiding-time. We have always held by the King and crown: surely none will turn us out, unless we are guilty of treason?'
'My son,' replied Jeremy very gently, so that I could love him for it, 'not a word to your good mother of this unlucky matter. Keep it to yourself, my boy, and try to think but little of it. After all, I may be wrong: at any rate, least said best mended.'
'But Jeremy, dear Jeremy, how can I bear to leave it so? Do you suppose that I can sleep, and eat my food, and go about, and look at other people, as if nothing at all had happened? And all the time have it on my mind, that not an acre of all the land, nor even our old sheep-dog, belongs to us, of right at all! It is more than I can do, Jeremy. Let me talk, and know the worst of it.'
'Very well,' replied Master Stickles, seeing that both the doors were closed; 'I thought that nothing could move you, John; or I never would have told you. Likely enough I am quite wrong; and God send that I be so. But what I guessed at some time back seems more than a guess, now that you have told me about these wondrous jewels. Now will you keep, as close as death, every word I tell you?'
'By the honour of a man, I will. Until you yourself release me.'
'That is quite enough, John. From you I want no oath; which, according to my experience, tempts a man to lie the more, by making it more important. I know you now too well to swear you, though I have the power. Now, my lad, what I have to say will scare your mind in one way, and ease it in another. I think that you have been hard pressed—I can read you like a book, John—by something which that old villain said, before he stole the necklace. You have tried not to dwell upon it; you have even tried to make light of it for the sake of the women: but on the whole it has grieved you more than even this dastard robbery.'
'It would have done so, Jeremy Stickles, if I could once have believed it. And even without much belief, it is so against our manners, that it makes me miserable. Only think of loving Lorna, only think of kissing her; and then remembering that her father had destroyed the life of mine!'
'Only think,' said Master Stickles, imitating my very voice, 'of Lorna loving you, John, of Lorna kissing you, John; and all the while saying to herself, "this man's father murdered mine." Now look at it in Lorna's way as well as in your own way. How one-sided all men are!'
'I may look at it in fifty ways, and yet no good will come of it. Jeremy, I confess to you, that I tried to make the best of it; partly to baffle the Counsellor, and partly because my darling needed my help, and bore it so, and behaved to me so nobly. But to you in secret, I am not ashamed to say that a woman may look over this easier than a man may.'
'Because her nature is larger, my son, when she truly loves; although her mind be smaller. Now, if I can ease you from this secret burden, will you bear, with strength and courage, the other which I plant on you?'
'I will do my best,' said I.
'No man can do more,' said he and so began his story.
JEREMY FINDS OUT SOMETHING
'You know, my son,' said Jeremy Stickles, with a good pull at his pipe, because he was going to talk so much, and putting his legs well along the settle; 'it has been my duty, for a wearier time than I care to think of (and which would have been unbearable, except for your great kindness), to search this neighbourhood narrowly, and learn everything about everybody. Now the neighbourhood itself is queer; and people have different ways of thinking from what we are used to in London. For instance now, among your folk, when any piece of news is told, or any man's conduct spoken of, the very first question that arises in your mind is this—"Was this action kind and good?" Long after that, you say to yourselves, "does the law enjoin or forbid this thing?" Now here is your fundamental error: for among all truly civilised people the foremost of all questions is, "how stands the law herein?" And if the law approve, no need for any further questioning. That this is so, you may take my word: for I know the law pretty thoroughly.
'Very well; I need not say any more about that, for I have shown that you are all quite wrong. I only speak of this savage tendency, because it explains so many things which have puzzled me among you, and most of all your kindness to men whom you never saw before; which is an utterly illegal thing. It also explains your toleration of these outlaw Doones so long. If your views of law had been correct, and law an element of your lives, these robbers could never have been indulged for so many years amongst you: but you must have abated the nuisance.'
'Now, Stickles,' I cried, 'this is too bad!' he was delivering himself so grandly. 'Why you yourself have been amongst us, as the balance, and sceptre, and sword of law, for nigh upon a twelvemonth; and have you abated the nuisance, or even cared to do it, until they began to shoot at you?'
'My son,' he replied, 'your argument is quite beside the purpose, and only tends to prove more clearly that which I have said of you. However, if you wish to hear my story, no more interruptions. I may not have a chance to tell you, perhaps for weeks, or I know not when, if once those yellows and reds arrive, and be blessed to them, the lubbers! Well, it may be six months ago, or it may be seven, at any rate a good while before that cursed frost began, the mere name of which sends a shiver down every bone of my body, when I was riding one afternoon from Dulverton to Watchett'—
'Dulverton to Watchett!' I cried. 'Now what does that remind me of? I am sure, I remember something—'
'Remember this, John, if anything—that another word from thee, and thou hast no more of mine. Well, I was a little weary perhaps, having been plagued at Dulverton with the grossness of the people. For they would tell me nothing at all about their fellow-townsmen, your worthy Uncle Huckaback, except that he was a God-fearing man, and they only wished I was like him. I blessed myself for a stupid fool, in thinking to have pumped them; for by this time I might have known that, through your Western homeliness, every man in his own country is something more than a prophet. And I felt, of course, that I had done more harm than good by questioning; inasmuch as every soul in the place would run straightway and inform him that the King's man from the other side of the forest had been sifting out his ways and works.'
'Ah,' I cried, for I could not help it; 'you begin to understand at last, that we are not quite such a set of oafs, as you at first believed us.'
'I was riding on from Dulverton,' he resumed, with great severity, yet threatening me no more, which checked me more than fifty threats: 'and it was late in the afternoon, and I was growing weary. The road (if road it could be called) 'turned suddenly down from the higher land to the very brink of the sea; and rounding a little jut of cliff, I met the roar of the breakers. My horse was scared, and leaped aside; for a northerly wind was piping, and driving hunks of foam across, as children scatter snow-balls. But he only sank to his fetlocks in the dry sand, piled with pop-weed: and I tried to make him face the waves; and then I looked about me.
'Watchett town was not to be seen, on account of a little foreland, a mile or more upon my course, and standing to the right of me. There was room enough below the cliffs (which are nothing there to yours, John), for horse and man to get along, although the tide was running high with a northerly gale to back it. But close at hand and in the corner, drawn above the yellow sands and long eye-brows of rackweed, as snug a little house blinked on me as ever I saw, or wished to see.
'You know that I am not luxurious, neither in any way given to the common lusts of the flesh, John. My father never allowed his hair to grow a fourth part of an inch in length, and he was a thoroughly godly man; and I try to follow in his footsteps, whenever I think about it. Nevertheless, I do assure you that my view of that little house and the way the lights were twinkling, so different from the cold and darkness of the rolling sea, moved the ancient Adam in me, if he could be found to move. I love not a house with too many windows: being out of house and doors some three-quarters of my time, when I get inside a house I like to feel the difference. Air and light are good for people who have any lack of them; and if a man once talks about them, 'tis enough to prove his need of them. But, as you well know, John Ridd, the horse who has been at work all day, with the sunshine in his eyes, sleeps better in dark stables, and needs no moon to help him.
'Seeing therefore that this same inn had four windows, and no more, I thought to myself how snug it was, and how beautiful I could sleep there. And so I made the old horse draw hand, which he was only too glad to do, and we clomb above the spring-tide mark, and over a little piece of turf, and struck the door of the hostelry. Some one came and peeped at me through the lattice overhead, which was full of bulls' eyes; and then the bolt was drawn back, and a woman met me very courteously. A dark and foreign-looking woman, very hot of blood, I doubt, but not altogether a bad one. And she waited for me to speak first, which an Englishwoman would not have done.
'"Can I rest here for the night?" I asked, with a lift of my hat to her; for she was no provincial dame, who would stare at me for the courtesy; "my horse is weary from the sloughs, and myself but little better: beside that, we both are famished."
'"Yes, sir, you can rest and welcome. But of food, I fear, there is but little, unless of the common order. Our fishers would have drawn the nets, but the waves were violent. However, we have—what you call it? I never can remember, it is so hard to say—the flesh of the hog salted."
'"Bacon!" said I; "what can be better? And half dozen of eggs with it, and a quart of fresh-drawn ale. You make me rage with hunger, madam. Is it cruelty, or hospitality?"
'"Ah, good!" she replied, with a merry smile, full of southern sunshine: "you are not of the men round here; you can think, and you can laugh!"
'"And most of all, I can eat, good madam. In that way I shall astonish you; even more than by my intellect."
'She laughed aloud, and swung her shoulders, as your natives cannot do; and then she called a little maid to lead my horse to stable. However, I preferred to see that matter done myself, and told her to send the little maid for the frying-pan and the egg-box.
'Whether it were my natural wit and elegance of manner; or whether it were my London freedom and knowledge of the world; or (which is perhaps the most probable, because the least pleasing supposition) my ready and permanent appetite, and appreciation of garlic—I leave you to decide, John: but perhaps all three combined to recommend me to the graces of my charming hostess. When I say "charming," I mean of course by manners and by intelligence, and most of all by cooking; for as regards external charms (most fleeting and fallacious) hers had ceased to cause distress, for I cannot say how many years. She said that it was the climate—for even upon that subject she requested my opinion—and I answered, "if there be a change, let madam blame the seasons."
'However, not to dwell too much upon our little pleasantries (for I always get on with these foreign women better than with your Molls and Pegs), I became, not inquisitive, but reasonably desirous to know, by what strange hap or hazard, a clever and a handsome woman, as she must have been some day, a woman moreover with great contempt for the rustic minds around her, could have settled here in this lonely inn, with only the waves for company, and a boorish husband who slaved all day in turning a potter's wheel at Watchett. And what was the meaning of the emblem set above her doorway, a very unattractive cat sitting in a ruined tree?
'However, I had not very long to strain my curiosity; for when she found out who I was, and how I held the King's commission, and might be called an officer, her desire to tell me all was more than equal to mine of hearing it. Many and many a day, she had longed for some one both skilful and trustworthy, most of all for some one bearing warrant from a court of justice. But the magistrates of the neighbourhood would have nothing to say to her, declaring that she was a crack-brained woman, and a wicked, and even a foreign one.
'With many grimaces she assured me that never by her own free-will would she have lived so many years in that hateful country, where the sky for half the year was fog, and rain for nearly the other half. It was so the very night when first her evil fortune brought her there; and so no doubt it would be, long after it had killed her. But if I wished to know the reason of her being there, she would tell me in few words, which I will repeat as briefly.
'By birth she was an Italian, from the mountains of Apulia, who had gone to Rome to seek her fortunes, after being badly treated in some love-affair. Her Christian name was Benita; as for her surname, that could make no difference to any one. Being a quick and active girl, and resolved to work down her troubles, she found employment in a large hotel; and rising gradually, began to send money to her parents. And here she might have thriven well, and married well under sunny skies, and been a happy woman, but that some black day sent thither a rich and noble English family, eager to behold the Pope. It was not, however, their fervent longing for the Holy Father which had brought them to St. Peter's roof; but rather their own bad luck in making their home too hot to hold them. For although in the main good Catholics, and pleasant receivers of anything, one of their number had given offence, by the folly of trying to think for himself. Some bitter feud had been among them, Benita knew not how it was; and the sister of the nobleman who had died quite lately was married to the rival claimant, whom they all detested. It was something about dividing land; Benita knew not what it was.
'But this Benita did know, that they were all great people, and rich, and very liberal; so that when they offered to take her, to attend to the children, and to speak the language for them, and to comfort the lady, she was only too glad to go, little foreseeing the end of it. Moreover, she loved the children so, from their pretty ways and that, and the things they gave her, and the style of their dresses, that it would have broken her heart almost never to see the dears again.
'And so, in a very evil hour, she accepted the service of the noble Englishman, and sent her father an old shoe filled to the tongue with money, and trusted herself to fortune. But even before she went, she knew that it could not turn out well; for the laurel leaf which she threw on the fire would not crackle even once, and the horn of the goat came wrong in the twist, and the heel of her foot was shining. This made her sigh at the starting-time; and after that what could you hope for?
'However, at first all things went well. My Lord was as gay as gay could be: and never would come inside the carriage, when a decent horse could be got to ride. He would gallop in front, at a reckless pace, without a weapon of any kind, delighted with the pure blue air, and throwing his heart around him. Benita had never seen any man so admirable, and so childish. As innocent as an infant; and not only contented, but noisily happy with anything. Only other people must share his joy; and the shadow of sorrow scattered it, though it were but the shade of poverty.
'Here Benita wept a little; and I liked her none the less, and believed her ten times more; in virtue of a tear or two.
'And so they travelled through Northern Italy, and throughout the south of France, making their way anyhow; sometimes in coaches, sometimes in carts, sometimes upon mule-back, sometimes even a-foot and weary; but always as happy as could be. The children laughed, and grew, and throve (especially the young lady, the elder of the two), and Benita began to think that omens must not be relied upon. But suddenly her faith in omens was confirmed for ever.
'My Lord, who was quite a young man still, and laughed at English arrogance, rode on in front of his wife and friends, to catch the first of a famous view, on the French side of the Pyrenee hills. He kissed his hand to his wife, and said that he would save her the trouble of coming. For those two were so one in one, that they could make each other know whatever he or she had felt. And so my Lord went round the corner, with a fine young horse leaping up at the steps.
'They waited for him, long and long; but he never came again; and within a week, his mangled body lay in a little chapel-yard; and if the priests only said a quarter of the prayers they took the money for, God knows they can have no throats left; only a relaxation.
'My lady dwelled for six months more—it is a melancholy tale (what true tale is not so?)—scarcely able to believe that all her fright was not a dream. She would not wear a piece or shape of any mourning-clothes; she would not have a person cry, or any sorrow among us. She simply disbelieved the thing, and trusted God to right it. The Protestants, who have no faith, cannot understand this feeling. Enough that so it was; and so my Lady went to heaven.
'For when the snow came down in autumn on the roots of the Pyrenees, and the chapel-yard was white with it, many people told the lady that it was time for her to go. And the strongest plea of all was this, that now she bore another hope of repeating her husband's virtues. So at the end of October, when wolves came down to the farm-lands, the little English family went home towards their England.
'They landed somewhere on the Devonshire coast, ten or eleven years agone, and stayed some days at Exeter; and set out thence in a hired coach, without any proper attendance, for Watchett, in the north of Somerset. For the lady owned a quiet mansion in the neighbourhood of that town, and her one desire was to find refuge there, and to meet her lord, who was sure to come (she said) when he heard of his new infant. Therefore with only two serving-men and two maids (including Benita), the party set forth from Exeter, and lay the first night at Bampton.
'On the following morn they started bravely, with earnest hope of arriving at their journey's end by daylight. But the roads were soft and very deep, and the sloughs were out in places; and the heavy coach broke down in the axle, and needed mending at Dulverton; and so they lost three hours or more, and would have been wiser to sleep there. But her ladyship would not hear of it; she must be home that night, she said, and her husband would be waiting. How could she keep him waiting now, after such a long, long time?
'Therefore, although it was afternoon, and the year now come to December, the horses were put to again, and the heavy coach went up the hill, with the lady and her two children, and Benita, sitting inside of it; the other maid, and two serving-men (each man with a great blunderbuss) mounted upon the outside; and upon the horses three Exeter postilions. Much had been said at Dulverton, and even back at Bampton, about some great freebooters, to whom all Exmoor owed suit and service, and paid them very punctually. Both the serving-men were scared, even over their ale, by this. But the lady only said, "Drive on; I know a little of highwaymen: they never rob a lady."
'Through the fog and through the muck the coach went on, as best it might; sometimes foundered in a slough, with half of the horses splashing it, and some-times knuckled up on a bank, and straining across the middle, while all the horses kicked at it. However, they went on till dark as well as might be expected. But when they came, all thanking God, to the pitch and slope of the sea-bank, leading on towards Watchett town, and where my horse had shied so, there the little boy jumped up, and clapped his hands at the water; and there (as Benita said) they met their fate, and could not fly it.
'Although it was past the dusk of day, the silver light from the sea flowed in, and showed the cliffs, and the gray sand-line, and the drifts of wreck, and wrack-weed. It showed them also a troop of horsemen, waiting under a rock hard by, and ready to dash upon them. The postilions lashed towards the sea, and the horses strove in the depth of sand, and the serving-men cocked their blunder-busses, and cowered away behind them; but the lady stood up in the carriage bravely, and neither screamed nor spoke, but hid her son behind her. Meanwhile the drivers drove into the sea, till the leading horses were swimming.
'But before the waves came into the coach, a score of fierce men were round it. They cursed the postilions for mad cowards, and cut the traces, and seized the wheel-horses, all-wild with dismay in the wet and the dark. Then, while the carriage was heeling over, and well-nigh upset in the water, the lady exclaimed, "I know that man! He is our ancient enemy;" and Benita (foreseeing that all their boxes would be turned inside out, or carried away), snatched the most valuable of the jewels, a magnificent necklace of diamonds, and cast it over the little girl's head, and buried it under her travelling-cloak, hoping to save it. Then a great wave, crested with foam, rolled in, and the coach was thrown on its side, and the sea rushed in at the top and the windows, upon shrieking, and clashing, and fainting away.
'What followed Benita knew not, as one might well suppose, herself being stunned by a blow on the head, beside being palsied with terror. "See, I have the mark now," she said, "where the jamb of the door came down on me!" But when she recovered her senses, she found herself lying upon the sand, the robbers were out of sight, and one of the serving-men was bathing her forehead with sea water. For this she rated him well, having taken already too much of that article; and then she arose and ran to her mistress, who was sitting upright on a little rock, with her dead boy's face to her bosom, sometimes gazing upon him, and sometimes questing round for the other one.
'Although there were torches and links around, and she looked at her child by the light of them, no one dared to approach the lady, or speak, or try to help her. Each man whispered his fellow to go, but each hung back himself, and muttered that it was too awful to meddle with. And there she would have sat all night, with the fine little fellow stone dead in her arms, and her tearless eyes dwelling upon him, and her heart but not her mind thinking, only that the Italian women stole up softly to her side, and whispered, "It is the will of God."
'"So it always seems to be," were all the words the mother' answered; and then she fell on Benita's neck; and the men were ashamed to be near her weeping; and a sailor lay down and bellowed. Surely these men are the best.
'Before the light of the morning came along the tide to Watchett my Lady had met her husband. They took her into the town that night, but not to her own castle; and so the power of womanhood (which is itself maternity) came over swiftly upon her. The lady, whom all people loved (though at certain times particular), lies in Watchett little churchyard, with son and heir at her right hand, and a little babe, of sex unknown, sleeping on her bosom.
'This is a miserable tale,' said Jeremy Stickles brightly; 'hand me over the schnapps, my boy. What fools we are to spoil our eyes for other people's troubles! Enough of our own to keep them clean, although we all were chimney-sweeps. There is nothing like good hollands, when a man becomes too sensitive. Restore the action of the glands; that is my rule, after weeping. Let me make you another, John. You are quite low-spirited.'
But although Master Jeremy carried on so (as became his manhood), and laughed at the sailor's bellowing; bless his heart, I knew as well that tears were in his brave keen eyes, as if I had dared to look for them, or to show mine own.
'And what was the lady's name?' I asked; 'and what became of the little girl? And why did the woman stay there?'
'Well!' cried Jeremy Stickles, only too glad to be cheerful again: 'talk of a woman after that! As we used to say at school—"Who dragged whom, how many times, in what manner, round the wall of what?" But to begin, last first, my John (as becomes a woman): Benita stayed in that blessed place, because she could not get away from it. The Doones—if Doones indeed they were, about which you of course know best—took every stiver out of the carriage: wet or dry they took it. And Benita could never get her wages: for the whole affair is in Chancery, and they have appointed a receiver.'
'Whew!' said I, knowing something of London, and sorry for Benita's chance.
'So the poor thing was compelled to drop all thought of Apulia, and settle down on the brink of Exmoor, where you get all its evils, without the good to balance them. She married a man who turned a wheel for making the blue Watchett ware, partly because he could give her a house, and partly because he proved himself a good soul towards my Lady. There they are, and have three children; and there you may go and visit them.'
'I understand all that, Jeremy, though you do tell things too quickly, and I would rather have John Fry's style; for he leaves one time for his words to melt. Now for my second question. What became of the little maid?'
'You great oaf!' cried Jeremy Stickles: 'you are rather more likely to know, I should think, than any one else in all the kingdoms.'
'If I knew, I should not ask you. Jeremy Stickles, do try to be neither conceited nor thick-headed.'
'I will when you are neither,' answered Master Jeremy; 'but you occupy all the room, John. No one else can get in with you there.'
'Very well then, let me out. Take me down in both ways.'
'If ever you were taken down; you must have your double joints ready now. And yet in other ways you will be as proud and set up as Lucifer. As certain sure as I stand here, that little maid is Lorna Doone.'
It must not be supposed that I was altogether so thick-headed as Jeremy would have made me out. But it is part of my character that I like other people to think me slow, and to labour hard to enlighten me, while all the time I can say to myself, 'This man is shallower than I am; it is pleasant to see his shoals come up while he is sounding mine so!' Not that I would so behave, God forbid, with anybody (be it man or woman) who in simple heart approached me, with no gauge of intellect. But when the upper hand is taken, upon the faith of one's patience, by a man of even smaller wits (not that Jeremy was that, neither could he have lived to be thought so), why, it naturally happens, that we knuckle under, with an ounce of indignation.
Jeremy's tale would have moved me greatly both with sorrow and anger, even without my guess at first, and now my firm belief, that the child of those unlucky parents was indeed my Lorna. And as I thought of the lady's troubles, and her faith in Providence, and her cruel, childless death, and then imagined how my darling would be overcome to hear it, you may well believe that my quick replies to Jeremy Stickles's banter were but as the flourish of a drum to cover the sounds of pain.
For when he described the heavy coach and the persons in and upon it, and the breaking down at Dulverton, and the place of their destination, as well as the time and the weather, and the season of the year, my heart began to burn within me, and my mind replaced the pictures, first of the foreign lady's-maid by the pump caressing me, and then of the coach struggling up the hill, and the beautiful dame, and the fine little boy, with the white cockade in his hat; but most of all the little girl, dark-haired and very lovely, and having even in those days the rich soft look of Lorna.
But when he spoke of the necklace thrown over the head of the little maiden, and of her disappearance, before my eyes arose at once the flashing of the beacon-fire, the lonely moors embrowned with the light, the tramp of the outlaw cavalcade, and the helpless child head-downward, lying across the robber's saddle-bow.
Then I remembered my own mad shout of boyish indignation, and marvelled at the strange long way by which the events of life come round. And while I thought of my own return, and childish attempt to hide myself from sorrow in the sawpit, and the agony of my mother's tears, it did not fail to strike me as a thing of omen, that the selfsame day should be, both to my darling and myself, the blackest and most miserable of all youthful days.
The King's Commissioner thought it wise, for some good reason of his own, to conceal from me, for the present, the name of the poor lady supposed to be Lorna's mother; and knowing that I could easily now discover it, without him, I let that question abide awhile. Indeed I was half afraid to hear it, remembering that the nobler and the wealthier she proved to be, the smaller was my chance of winning such a wife for plain John Ridd. Not that she would give me up: that I never dreamed of. But that others would interfere; or indeed I myself might find it only honest to relinquish her. That last thought was a dreadful blow, and took my breath away from me.
Jeremy Stickles was quite decided—and of course the discovery being his, he had a right to be so—that not a word of all these things must be imparted to Lorna herself, or even to my mother, or any one whatever. 'Keep it tight as wax, my lad,' he cried, with a wink of great expression; 'this belongs to me, mind; and the credit, ay, and the premium, and the right of discount, are altogether mine. It would have taken you fifty years to put two and two together so, as I did, like a clap of thunder. Ah, God has given some men brains; and others have good farms and money, and a certain skill in the lower beasts. Each must use his special talent. You work your farm: I work my brains. In the end, my lad, I shall beat you.'
'Then, Jeremy, what a fool you must be, if you cudgel your brains to make money of this, to open the barn-door to me, and show me all your threshing.'
'Not a whit, my son. Quite the opposite. Two men always thresh better than one. And here I have you bound to use your flail, one two, with mine, and yet in strictest honour bound not to bushel up, till I tell you.'
'But,' said I, being much amused by a Londoner's brave, yet uncertain, use of simplest rural metaphors, for he had wholly forgotten the winnowing: 'surely if I bushel up, even when you tell me, I must take half-measure.'
'So you shall, my boy,' he answered, 'if we can only cheat those confounded knaves of Equity. You shall take the beauty, my son, and the elegance, and the love, and all that—and, my boy, I will take the money.'
This he said in a way so dry, and yet so richly unctuous, that being gifted somehow by God, with a kind of sense of queerness, I fell back in my chair, and laughed, though the underside of my laugh was tears.
'Now, Jeremy, how if I refuse to keep this half as tight as wax. You bound me to no such partnership, before you told the story; and I am not sure, by any means, of your right to do so afterwards.'
'Tush!' he replied: 'I know you too well, to look for meanness in you. If from pure goodwill, John Ridd, and anxiety to relieve you, I made no condition precedent, you are not the man to take advantage, as a lawyer might. I do not even want your promise. As sure as I hold this glass, and drink your health and love in another drop (forced on me by pathetic words), so surely will you be bound to me, until I do release you. Tush! I know men well by this time: a mere look of trust from one is worth another's ten thousand oaths.'
'Jeremy, you are right,' I answered; 'at least as regards the issue. Although perhaps you were not right in leading me into a bargain like this, without my own consent or knowledge. But supposing that we should both be shot in this grand attack on the valley (for I mean to go with you now, heart and soul), is Lorna to remain untold of that which changes all her life?'
'Both shot!' cried Jeremy Stickles: 'my goodness, boy, talk not like that! And those Doones are cursed good shots too. Nay, nay, the yellows shall go in front; we attack on the Somerset side, I think. I from a hill will reconnoitre, as behoves a general, you shall stick behind a tree, if we can only find one big enough to hide you. You and I to be shot, John Ridd, with all this inferior food for powder anxious to be devoured?'
I laughed, for I knew his cool hardihood, and never-flinching courage; and sooth to say no coward would have dared to talk like that.
'But when one comes to think of it,' he continued, smiling at himself; 'some provision should be made for even that unpleasant chance. I will leave the whole in writing, with orders to be opened, etc., etc.—Now no more of that, my boy; a cigarro after schnapps, and go to meet my yellow boys.'
His 'yellow boys,' as he called the Somersetshire trained bands, were even now coming down the valley from the London Road, as every one since I went up to town, grandly entitled the lane to the moors. There was one good point about these men, that having no discipline at all, they made pretence to none whatever. Nay, rather they ridiculed the thing, as below men of any spirit. On the other hand, Master Stickles's troopers looked down on these native fellows from a height which I hope they may never tumble, for it would break the necks of all of them.
Now these fine natives came along, singing, for their very lives, a song the like of which set down here would oust my book from modest people, and make everybody say, 'this man never can have loved Lorna.' Therefore, the less of that the better; only I thought, 'what a difference from the goodly psalms of the ale house!'
Having finished their canticle, which contained more mirth than melody, they drew themselves up, in a sort of way supposed by them to be military, each man with heel and elbow struck into those of his neighbour, and saluted the King's Commissioner. 'Why, where are your officers?' asked Master Stickles; 'how is it that you have no officers?' Upon this there arose a general grin, and a knowing look passed along their faces, even up to the man by the gatepost. 'Are you going to tell me, or not,' said Jeremy, 'what is become of your officers?'
'Plaise zur,' said one little fellow at last, being nodded at by the rest to speak, in right of his known eloquence; 'hus tould Harfizers, as a wor no nade of un, now King's man hiszell wor coom, a puppose vor to command us laike.'
'And do you mean to say, you villains,' cried Jeremy, scarce knowing whether to laugh, or to swear, or what to do; 'that your officers took their dismissal thus, and let you come on without them?'
'What could 'em do?' asked the little man, with reason certainly on his side: 'hus zent 'em about their business, and they was glad enough to goo.'
'Well!' said poor Jeremy, turning to me; 'a pretty state of things, John! Threescore cobblers, and farming men, plasterers, tailors, and kettles-to-mend; and not a man to keep order among them, except my blessed self, John! And I trow there is not one among them could hit all in-door flying. The Doones will make riddles of all of us.'
However, he had better hopes when the sons of Devon appeared, as they did in about an hour's time; fine fellows, and eager to prove themselves. These had not discarded their officers, but marched in good obedience to them, and were quite prepared to fight the men of Somerset (if need be) in addition to the Doones. And there was scarcely a man among them but could have trounced three of the yellow men, and would have done it gladly too, in honour of the red facings.
'Do you mean to suppose, Master Jeremy Stickles,' said I, looking on with amazement, beholding also all our maidens at the upstair windows wondering; 'that we, my mother a widow woman, and I a young man of small estate, can keep and support all these precious fellows, both yellow ones, and red ones, until they have taken the Doone Glen?'
'God forbid it, my son!' he replied, laying a finger upon his lip: 'Nay, nay, I am not of the shabby order, when I have the strings of government. Kill your sheep at famine prices, and knead your bread at a figure expressing the rigours of last winter. Let Annie make out the bill every day, and I at night will double it. You may take my word for it, Master John, this spring-harvest shall bring you in three times as much as last autumn's did. If they cheated you in town, my lad, you shall have your change in the country. Take thy bill, and write down quickly.'
However this did not meet my views of what an honest man should do; and I went to consult my mother about it, as all the accounts would be made in her name.
Dear mother thought that if the King paid only half again as much as other people would have to pay, it would be perhaps the proper thing; the half being due for loyalty: and here she quoted an ancient saying,—
The King and his staff. Be a man and a half:
which, according to her judgment, ruled beyond dispute the law of the present question. To argue with her after that (which she brought up with such triumph) would have been worse than useless. Therefore I just told Annie to make the bills at a third below the current market prices; so that the upshot would be fair. She promised me honestly that she would; but with a twinkle in her bright blue eyes, which she must have caught from Tom Faggus. It always has appeared to me that stern and downright honesty upon money matters is a thing not understood of women; be they as good as good can be.
The yellows and the reds together numbered a hundred and twenty men, most of whom slept in our barns and stacks; and besides these we had fifteen troopers of the regular army. You may suppose that all the country was turned upside down about it; and the folk who came to see them drill—by no means a needless exercise—were a greater plague than the soldiers. The officers too of the Devonshire hand were such a torment to us, that we almost wished their men had dismissed them, as the Somerset troop had done with theirs. For we could not keep them out of our house, being all young men of good family, and therefore not to be met with bars. And having now three lovely maidens (for even Lizzie might be called so, when she cared to please), mother and I were at wit's ends, on account of those blessed officers. I never got a wink of sleep; they came whistling under the window so; and directly I went out to chase them, there was nothing but a cat to see.
Therefore all of us were right glad (except perhaps Farmer Snowe, from whom we had bought some victuals at rare price), when Jeremy Stickles gave orders to march, and we began to try to do it. A good deal of boasting went overhead, as our men defiled along the lane; and the thick broad patins of pennywort jutted out between the stones, ready to heal their bruises. The parish choir came part of the way, and the singing-loft from Countisbury; and they kept our soldiers' spirits up with some of the most pugnacious Psalms. Parson Bowden marched ahead, leading all our van and file, as against the Papists; and promising to go with us, till we came to bullet distance. Therefore we marched bravely on, and children came to look at us. And I wondered where Uncle Reuben was, who ought to have led the culverins (whereof we had no less than three), if Stickles could only have found him; and then I thought of little Ruth; and without any fault on my part, my heart went down within me.
The culverins were laid on bark; and all our horses pulling them, and looking round every now and then, with their ears curved up like a squirrel'd nut, and their noses tossing anxiously, to know what sort of plough it was man had been pleased to put behind them—man, whose endless whims and wildness they could never understand, any more than they could satisfy. However, they pulled their very best—as all our horses always do—and the culverins went up the hill, without smack of whip, or swearing. It had been arranged, very justly, no doubt, and quite in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution, but as it proved not too wisely, that either body of men should act in its own county only. So when we reached the top of the hill, the sons of Devon marched on, and across the track leading into Doone-gate, so as to fetch round the western side, and attack with their culverin from the cliffs, whence the sentry had challenged me on the night of my passing the entrance. Meanwhile the yellow lads were to stay upon the eastern highland, whence Uncle Reuben and myself had reconnoitred so long ago; and whence I had leaped into the valley at the time of the great snow-drifts. And here they were not to show themselves; but keep their culverin in the woods, until their cousins of Devon appeared on the opposite parapet of the glen.
The third culverin was entrusted to the fifteen troopers; who, with ten picked soldiers from either trained hand, making in all five-and-thirty men, were to assault the Doone-gate itself, while the outlaws were placed between two fires from the eastern cliff and the western. And with this force went Jeremy Stickles, and with it went myself, as knowing more about the passage than any other stranger did. Therefore, if I have put it clearly, as I strive to do, you will see that the Doones must repulse at once three simultaneous attacks, from an army numbering in the whole one hundred and thirty-five men, not including the Devonshire officers; fifty men on each side, I mean, and thirty-five at the head of the valley.
The tactics of this grand campaign appeared to me so clever, and beautifully ordered, that I commended Colonel Stickles, as everybody now called him, for his great ability and mastery of the art of war. He admitted that he deserved high praise; but said that he was not by any means equally certain of success, so large a proportion of his forces being only a raw militia, brave enough no doubt for anything, when they saw their way to it; but knowing little of gunnery, and wholly unused to be shot at. Whereas all the Doones were practised marksmen, being compelled when lads (like the Balearic slingers) to strike down their meals before tasting them. And then Colonel Stickles asked me, whether I myself could stand fire; he knew that I was not a coward, but this was a different question. I told him that I had been shot at, once or twice before; but nevertheless disliked it, as much as almost anything. Upon that he said that I would do; for that when a man got over the first blush of diffidence, he soon began to look upon it as a puff of destiny.
I wish I could only tell what happened, in the battle of that day, especially as nearly all the people round these parts, who never saw gun-fire in it, have gotten the tale so much amiss; and some of them will even stand in front of my own hearth, and contradict me to the teeth; although at the time they were not born, nor their fathers put into breeches. But in truth, I cannot tell, exactly, even the part in which I helped, how then can I be expected, time by time, to lay before you, all the little ins and outs of places, where I myself was not? Only I can contradict things, which I know could not have been; and what I plainly saw should not be controverted in my own house.
Now we five-and-thirty men lay back a little way round the corner, in the hollow of the track which leads to the strong Doone-gate. Our culverin was in amongst us, loaded now to the muzzle, and it was not comfortable to know that it might go off at any time. Although the yeomanry were not come (according to arrangement), some of us had horses there; besides the horses who dragged the cannon, and now were sniffing at it. And there were plenty of spectators to mind these horses for us, as soon as we should charge; inasmuch as all our friends and neighbours, who had so keenly prepared for the battle, now resolved to take no part, but look on, and praise the winners.
At last we heard the loud bang-bang, which proved that Devon and Somerset were pouring their indignation hot into the den of malefactors, or at least so we supposed; therefore at double quick march we advanced round the bend of the cliff which had hidden us, hoping to find the gate undefended, and to blow down all barriers with the fire of our cannon. And indeed it seemed likely at first to be so, for the wild and mountainous gorge of rock appeared to be all in pure loneliness, except where the coloured coats of our soldiers, and their metal trappings, shone with the sun behind them. Therefore we shouted a loud hurrah, as for an easy victory.
But while the sound of our cheer rang back among the crags above us, a shrill clear whistle cleft the air for a single moment, and then a dozen carbines bellowed, and all among us flew murderous lead. Several of our men rolled over, but the rest rushed on like Britons, Jeremy and myself in front, while we heard the horses plunging at the loaded gun behind us. 'Now, my lads,' cried Jeremy, 'one dash, and we are beyond them!' For he saw that the foe was overhead in the gallery of brushwood.
Our men with a brave shout answered him, for his courage was fine example; and we leaped in under the feet of the foe, before they could load their guns again. But here, when the foremost among us were past, an awful crash rang behind us, with the shrieks of men, and the din of metal, and the horrible screaming of horses. The trunk of the tree had been launched overhead, and crashed into the very midst of us. Our cannon was under it, so were two men, and a horse with his poor back broken. Another horse vainly struggled to rise, with his thigh-bone smashed and protruding.
Now I lost all presence of mind at this, for I loved both those good horses, and shouting for any to follow me, dashed headlong into the cavern. Some five or six men came after me, the foremost of whom was Jeremy, when a storm of shot whistled and patted around me, with a blaze of light and a thunderous roar. On I leaped, like a madman, and pounced on one gunner, and hurled him across his culverin; but the others had fled, and a heavy oak door fell to with a bang, behind them. So utterly were my senses gone, and naught but strength remaining, that I caught up the cannon with both hands, and dashed it, breech-first, at the doorway. The solid oak burst with the blow, and the gun stuck fast, like a builder's putlog.
But here I looked round in vain for any one to come and follow up my success. The scanty light showed me no figure moving through the length of the tunnel behind me; only a heavy groan or two went to my heart, and chilled it. So I hurried back to seek Jeremy, fearing that he must be smitten down.
And so indeed I found him, as well as three other poor fellows, struck by the charge of the culverin, which had passed so close beside me. Two of the four were as dead as stones, and growing cold already, but Jeremy and the other could manage to groan, just now and then. So I turned my attention to them, and thought no more of fighting.
Having so many wounded men, and so many dead among us, we loitered at the cavern's mouth, and looked at one another, wishing only for somebody to come and take command of us. But no one came; and I was griefed so much about poor Jeremy, besides being wholly unused to any violence of bloodshed, that I could only keep his head up, and try to stop him from bleeding. And he looked up at me pitifully, being perhaps in a haze of thought, as a calf looks at a butcher.
The shot had taken him in the mouth; about that no doubt could be, for two of his teeth were in his beard, and one of his lips was wanting. I laid his shattered face on my breast, and nursed him, as a woman might. But he looked at me with a jerk at this; and I saw that he wanted coolness.
While here we stayed, quite out of danger (for the fellows from the gallery could by no means shoot us, even if they remained there, and the oaken door whence the others fled was blocked up by the culverin), a boy who had no business there (being in fact our clerk's apprentice to the art of shoe-making) came round the corner upon us in the manner which boys, and only boys, can use with grace and freedom; that is to say, with a sudden rush, and a sidelong step, and an impudence,—
'Got the worst of it!' cried the boy; 'better be off all of you. Zoomerzett and Devon a vighting; and the Doones have drashed 'em both. Maister Ridd, even thee be drashed.'
We few, who yet remained of the force which was to have won the Doone-gate, gazed at one another, like so many fools, and nothing more. For we still had some faint hopes of winning the day, and recovering our reputation, by means of what the other men might have done without us. And we could not understand at all how Devonshire and Somerset, being embarked in the same cause, should be fighting with one another.
Finding nothing more to be done in the way of carrying on the war, we laid poor Master Stickles and two more of the wounded upon the carriage of bark and hurdles, whereon our gun had lain; and we rolled the gun into the river, and harnessed the horses yet alive, and put the others out of their pain, and sadly wended homewards, feeling ourselves to be thoroughly beaten, yet ready to maintain that it was no fault of ours whatever. And in this opinion the women joined, being only too glad and thankful to see us home alive again.
Now, this enterprise having failed so, I prefer not to dwell too long upon it; only just to show the mischief which lay at the root of the failure. And this mischief was the vile jealousy betwixt red and yellow uniform. Now I try to speak impartially, belonging no more to Somerset than I do to Devonshire, living upon the borders, and born of either county. The tale was told me by one side first; and then quite to a different tune by the other; and then by both together, with very hot words of reviling, and a desire to fight it out again. And putting this with that, the truth appears to be as follows:—
The men of Devon, who bore red facings, had a long way to go round the hills, before they could get into due position on the western side of the Doone Glen. And knowing that their cousins in yellow would claim the whole of the glory, if allowed to be first with the firing, these worthy fellows waited not to take good aim with their cannons, seeing the others about to shoot; but fettled it anyhow on the slope, pointing in a general direction; and trusting in God for aimworthiness, laid the rope to the breech, and fired. Now as Providence ordained it, the shot, which was a casual mixture of anything considered hard—for instance, jug-bottoms and knobs of doors—the whole of this pernicious dose came scattering and shattering among the unfortunate yellow men upon the opposite cliff; killing one and wounding two.
Now what did the men of Somerset do, but instead of waiting for their friends to send round and beg pardon, train their gun full mouth upon them, and with a vicious meaning shoot. Not only this, but they loudly cheered, when they saw four or five red coats lie low; for which savage feeling not even the remarks of the Devonshire men concerning their coats could entirely excuse them. Now I need not tell the rest of it, for the tale makes a man discontented. Enough that both sides waxed hotter and hotter with the fire of destruction. And but that the gorge of the cliffs lay between, very few would have lived to tell of it; for our western blood becomes stiff and firm, when churned with the sense of wrong in it.
At last the Doones (who must have laughed at the thunder passing overhead) recalling their men from the gallery, issued out of Gwenny's gate (which had been wholly overlooked) and fell on the rear of the Somerset men, and slew four beside their cannon. Then while the survivors ran away, the outlaws took the hot culverin, and rolled it down into their valley. Thus, of the three guns set forth that morning, only one ever came home again, and that was the gun of the Devonshire men, who dragged it home themselves, with the view of making a boast about it.
This was a melancholy end of our brave setting out, and everybody blamed every one else; and several of us wanted to have the whole thing over again, as then we must have righted it. But upon one point all agreed, by some reason not clear to me, that the root of the evil was to be found in the way Parson Bowden went up the hill, with his hat on, and no cassock.
GETTING INTO CHANCERY
Two of the Devonshire officers (Captains Pyke and Dallan) now took command of the men who were left, and ordered all to go home again, commending much the bravery which had been displayed on all sides, and the loyalty to the King, and the English constitution. This last word always seems to me to settle everything when said, because nobody understands it, and yet all can puzzle their neighbours. So the Devonshire men, having beans to sow (which they ought to have done on Good Friday) went home; and our Somerset friends only stayed for two days more to backbite them.
To me the whole thing was purely grievous; not from any sense of defeat (though that was bad enough) but from the pain and anguish caused by death, and wounds, and mourning. 'Surely we have woes enough,' I used to think of an evening, when the poor fellows could not sleep or rest, or let others rest around them; 'surely all this smell of wounds is not incense men should pay to the God who made them. Death, when it comes and is done with, may be a bliss to any one; but the doubt of life or death, when a man lies, as it were, like a trunk upon a sawpit and a grisly head looks up at him, and the groans of pain are cleaving him, this would be beyond all bearing—but for Nature's sap—sweet hope.'
Jeremy Stickles lay and tossed, and thrust up his feet in agony, and bit with his lipless mouth the clothes, and was proud to see blood upon them. He looked at us ever so many times, as much as to say, 'Fools, let me die, then I shall have some comfort'; but we nodded at him sagely, especially the women, trying to convey to him, on no account to die yet. And then we talked to one another (on purpose for him to hear us), how brave he was, and not the man to knock under in a hurry, and how he should have the victory yet; and how well he looked, considering.
These things cheered him a little now, and a little more next time; and every time we went on so, he took it with less impatience. Then once when he had been very quiet, and not even tried to frown at us, Annie leaned over, and kissed his forehead, and spread the pillows and sheet, with a curve as delicate as his own white ears; and then he feebly lifted hands, and prayed to God to bless her. And after that he came round gently; though never to the man he had been, and never to speak loud again.
For a time (as I may have implied before) Master Stickles's authority, and manner of levying duties, had not been taken kindly by the people round our neighbourhood. The manors of East Lynn and West Lynn, and even that of Woolhanger—although just then all three were at issue about some rights of wreck, and the hanging of a sheep-stealer (a man of no great eminence, yet claimed by each for the sake of his clothes)—these three, having their rights impugned, or even superseded, as they declared by the quartering of soldiers in their neighbourhood, united very kindly to oppose the King's Commissioner. However, Jeremy had contrived to conciliate the whole of them, not so much by anything engaging in his deportment or delicate address, as by holding out bright hopes that the plunder of the Doone Glen might become divisible among the adjoining manors. Now I have never discovered a thing which the lords of manors (at least in our part of the world) do not believe to belong to themselves, if only they could get their rights. And it did seem natural enough that if the Doones were ousted, and a nice collection of prey remained, this should be parted among the people having ancient rights of plunder. Nevertheless, Master Jeremy knew that the soldiers would have the first of it, and the King what they could not carry.
And perhaps he was punished justly for language so misleading, by the general indignation of the people all around us, not at his failure, but at himself, for that which he could in no wise prevent. And the stewards of the manors rode up to our house on purpose to reproach him, and were greatly vexed with all of us, because he was too ill to see them.
To myself (though by rights the last to be thought of, among so much pain and trouble) Jeremy's wound was a great misfortune, in more ways than one. In the first place, it deferred my chance of imparting either to my mother or to Mistress Lorna my firm belief that the maid I loved was not sprung from the race which had slain my father; neither could he in any way have offended against her family. And this discovery I was yearning more and more to declare to them; being forced to see (even in the midst of all our warlike troubles) that a certain difference was growing betwixt them both, and betwixt them and me. For although the words of the Counsellor had seemed to fail among us, being bravely met and scattered, yet our courage was but as wind flinging wide the tare-seeds, when the sower casts them from his bag. The crop may not come evenly, many places may long lie bare, and the field be all in patches; yet almost every vetch will spring, and tiller out, and stretch across the scatterings where the wind puffed.
And so dear mother and darling Lorna now had been for many a day thinking, worrying, and wearing, about the matter between us. Neither liked to look at the other, as they used to do; with mother admiring Lorna's eyes, and grace, and form of breeding; and Lorna loving mother's goodness, softness, and simplicity. And the saddest and most hurtful thing was that neither could ask the other of the shadow falling between them. And so it went on, and deepened.
In the next place Colonel Stickles's illness was a grievous thing to us, in that we had no one now to command the troopers. Ten of these were still alive, and so well approved to us, that they could never fancy aught, whether for dinner or supper, without its being forth-coming. If they wanted trout they should have it; if colloped venison, or broiled ham, or salmon from Lynmouth and Trentisoe, or truffles from the woodside, all these were at the warriors' service, until they lusted for something else. Even the wounded men ate nobly; all except poor Jeremy, who was forced to have a young elder shoot, with the pith drawn, for to feed him. And once, when they wanted pickled loach (from my description of it), I took up my boyish sport again, and pronged them a good jarful. Therefore, none of them could complain; and yet they were not satisfied; perhaps for want of complaining.
Be that as it might, we knew that if they once resolved to go (as they might do at any time, with only a corporal over them) all our house, and all our goods, ay, and our own precious lives, would and must be at the mercy of embittered enemies. For now the Doones, having driven back, as every one said, five hundred men—though not thirty had ever fought with them—were in such feather all round the country, that nothing was too good for them. Offerings poured in at the Doone gate, faster than Doones could away with them, and the sympathy both of Devon and Somerset became almost oppressive. And perhaps this wealth of congratulation, and mutual good feeling between plundered and victim, saved us from any piece of spite; kindliness having won the day, and every one loving every one.
But yet another cause arose, and this the strongest one of all, to prove the need of Stickles's aid, and calamity of his illness. And this came to our knowledge first, without much time to think of it. For two men appeared at our gate one day, stripped to their shirts, and void of horses, and looking very sorrowful. Now having some fear of attack from the Doones, and scarce knowing what their tricks might be, we received these strangers cautiously, desiring to know who they were before we let them see all our premises.
However, it soon became plain to us that although they might not be honest fellows, at any rate they were not Doones; and so we took them in, and fed, and left them to tell their business. And this they were glad enough to do; as men who have been maltreated almost always are. And it was not for us to contradict them, lest our victuals should go amiss.
These two very worthy fellows—nay, more than that by their own account, being downright martyrs—were come, for the public benefit, from the Court of Chancery, sitting for everybody's good, and boldly redressing evil. This court has a power of scent unknown to the Common-law practitioners, and slowly yet surely tracks its game; even as the great lumbering dogs, now introduced from Spain, and called by some people 'pointers,' differ from the swift gaze-hound, who sees his prey and runs him down in the manner of the common lawyers. If a man's ill fate should drive him to make a choice between these two, let him rather be chased by the hounds of law, than tracked by the dogs of Equity.
Now, as it fell in a very black day (for all except the lawyers) His Majesty's Court of Chancery, if that be what it called itself, gained scent of poor Lorna's life, and of all that might be made of it. Whether through that brave young lord who ran into such peril, or through any of his friends, or whether through that deep old Counsellor, whose game none might penetrate; or through any disclosures of the Italian woman, or even of Jeremy himself; none just now could tell us; only this truth was too clear—Chancery had heard of Lorna, and then had seen how rich she was; and never delaying in one thing, had opened mouth, and swallowed her.
The Doones, with a share of that dry humour which was in them hereditary, had welcomed the two apparitors (if that be the proper name for them) and led them kindly down the valley, and told them then to serve their writ. Misliking the look of things, these poor men began to fumble among their clothes; upon which the Doones cried, 'off with them! Let us see if your message he on your skins.' And with no more manners than that, they stripped, and lashed them out of the valley; only bidding them come to us, if they wanted Lorna Doone; and to us they came accordingly. Neither were they sure at first but that we should treat them so; for they had no knowledge of the west country, and thought it quite a godless place, wherein no writ was holy.
We however comforted and cheered them so considerably, that, in gratitude, they showed their writs, to which they had stuck like leeches. And these were twofold; one addressed to Mistress Lorna Doone, so called, and bidding her keep in readiness to travel whenever called upon, and commit herself to nobody, except the accredited messengers of the right honourable Court; while the other was addressed to all subjects of His Majesty, having custody of Lorna Doone, or any power over her. And this last threatened and exhorted, and held out hopes of recompense, if she were rendered truly. My mother and I held consultation, over both these documents, with a mixture of some wrath and fear, and a fork of great sorrow to stir them. And now having Jeremy Stickles's leave, which he gave with a nod when I told him all, and at last made him understand it, I laid bare to my mother as well what I knew, as what I merely surmised, or guessed, concerning Lorna's parentage. All this she received with great tears, and wonder, and fervent thanks to God, and still more fervent praise of her son, who had nothing whatever to do with it. However, now the question was, how to act about these writs. And herein it was most unlucky that we could not have Master Stickles, with his knowledge of the world, and especially of the law-courts, to advise us what to do, and to help in doing it. And firstly of the first I said, 'We have rogues to deal with; but try we not to rogue them.'
To this, in some measure, dear mother agreed, though she could not see the justice of it, yet thought that it might be wiser, because of our want of practice. And then I said, 'Now we are bound to tell Lorna, and to serve her citation upon her, which these good fellows have given us.'
'Then go, and do it thyself, my son,' mother replied with a mournful smile, misdoubting what the end might be. So I took the slip of brown parchment, and went to seek my darling.
Lorna was in her favourite place, the little garden which she tended with such care and diligence. Seeing how the maiden loved it, and was happy there, I had laboured hard to fence it from the dangers of the wood. And here she had corrected me, with better taste, and sense of pleasure, and the joys of musing. For I meant to shut out the brook, and build my fence inside of it; but Lorna said no; if we must have a fence, which could not but be injury, at any rate leave the stream inside, and a pleasant bank beyond it. And soon I perceived that she was right, though not so much as afterwards; for the fairest of all things in a garden, and in summer-time most useful, is a brook of crystal water; where a man may come and meditate, and the flowers may lean and see themselves, and the rays of the sun are purfied. Now partly with her own white hands, and partly with Gwenny's red ones, Lorna had made of this sunny spot a haven of beauty to dwell in. It was not only that colours lay in the harmony we would seek of them, neither was it the height of plants, sloping to one another; nor even the delicate tone of foliage following suit, and neighbouring. Even the breathing of the wind, soft and gentle in and out, moving things that need not move, and passing longer-stalked ones, even this was not enough among the flush of fragrance, to tell a man the reason of his quiet satisfaction. But so it shall for ever be. As the river we float upon (with wine, and flowers, and music,) is nothing at the well-spring but a bubble without reason.
Feeling many things, but thinking without much to guide me, over the grass-plats laid between, I went up to Lorna. She in a shower of damask roses, raised her eyes and looked at me. And even now, in those sweet eyes, so deep with loving-kindness, and soft maiden dreamings, there seemed to be a slight unwilling, half confessed withdrawal; overcome by love and duty, yet a painful thing to see.
'Darling,' I said, 'are your spirits good? Are you strong enough to-day, to bear a tale of cruel sorrow; but which perhaps, when your tears are shed, will leave you all the happier?'
'What can you mean?' she answered trembling, not having been vey strong of late, and now surprised at my manner; 'are you come to give me up, John?'
'Not very likely,' I replied; 'neither do I hope such a thing would leave you all the happier. Oh, Lorna, if you can think that so quickly as you seem to have done, now you have every prospect and strong temptation to it. You are far, far above me in the world, and I have no right to claim you. Perhaps, when you have heard these tidings you will say, "John Ridd, begone; your life and mine are parted."'
'Will I?' cried Lorna, with all the brightness of her playful ways returning: 'you very foolish and jealous John, how shall I punish you for this? Am I to forsake every flower I have, and not even know that the world goes round, while I look up at you, the whole day long and say, "John, I love, love, love you?"'
During these words she leaned upon me, half in gay imitation of what I had so often made her do, and half in depth of earnestness, as the thrice-repeated word grew stronger, and grew warmer, with and to her heart. And as she looked up at the finish, saying, 'you,' so musically, I was much inclined to clasp her round; but remembering who she was, forbore; at which she seemed surprised with me.
'Mistress Lorna, I replied, with I know not what temptation, making little of her caresses, though more than all my heart to me: 'Mistress Lorna, you must keep your rank and proper dignity. You must never look at me with anything but pity now.'
'I shall look at you with pity, John,' said Lorna, trying to laugh it off, yet not knowing what to make of me, 'if you talk any more of this nonsense, knowing me as you ought to do. I shall even begin to think that you, and your friends, are weary of me, and of so long supporting me; and are only seeking cause to send me back to my old misery. If it be so, I will go. My life matters little to any one.' Here the great bright tears arose; but the maiden was too proud to sob.
'Sweetest of all sweet loves,' I cried, for the sign of a tear defeated me; 'what possibility could make me ever give up Lorna?'
'Dearest of all dears,' she answered; 'if you dearly love me, what possibility could ever make me give you up, dear?'
Upon that there was no more forbearing, but I kissed and clasped her, whether she were Countess, or whether Queen of England; mine she was, at least in heart; and mine she should be wholly. And she being of the same opinion, nothing was said between us.
'Now, Lorna,' said I, as she hung on my arm, willing to trust me anywhere, 'come to your little plant-house, and hear my moving story.'
'No story can move me much, dear,' she answered rather faintly, for any excitement stayed with her; 'since I know your strength of kindness, scarcely any tale can move me, unless it be of yourself, love; or of my poor mother.'
'It is of your poor mother, darling. Can you bear to hear it?' And yet I wondered why she did not say as much of her father.
'Yes, I can bear anything. But although I cannot see her, and have long forgotten, I could not bear to hear ill of her.'
'There is no ill to hear, sweet child, except of evil done to her. Lorna, you are of an ill-starred race.'
'Better that than a wicked race,' she answered with her usual quickness, leaping at conclusion; 'tell me I am not a Doone, and I will—but I cannot love you more.'
'You are not a Doone, my Lorna, for that, at least, I can answer; though I know not what your name is.'
'And my father—your father—what I mean is—'
'Your father and mine never met one another. Your father was killed by an accident in the Pyrenean mountains, and your mother by the Doones; or at least they caused her death, and carried you away from her.'
All this, coming as in one breath upon the sensitive maiden, was more than she could bear all at once; as any but a fool like me must of course have known. She lay back on the garden bench, with her black hair shed on the oaken bark, while her colour went and came and only by that, and her quivering breath, could any one say that she lived and thought. And yet she pressed my hand with hers, that I might tell her all of it.
JOHN BECOMES TOO POPULAR
No flower that I have ever seen, either in shifting of light and shade, or in the pearly morning, may vie with a fair young woman's face when tender thought and quick emotion vary, enrich, and beautify it. Thus my Lorna hearkened softly, almost without word or gesture, yet with sighs and glances telling, and the pressure of my hand, how each word was moving her.
When at last my tale was done, she turned away, and wept bitterly for the sad fate of her parents. But to my surprise she spoke not even a word of wrath or rancour. She seemed to take it all as fate.
'Lorna, darling,' I said at length, for men are more impatient in trials of time than women are, 'do you not even wish to know what your proper name is?'
'How can it matter to me, John?' she answered, with a depth of grief which made me seem a trifler. 'It can never matter now, when there are none to share it.'
'Poor little soul!' was all I said in a tone of purest pity; and to my surprise she turned upon me, caught me in her arms, and loved me as she had never done before.
'Dearest, I have you,' she cried; 'you, and only you, love. Having you I want no other. All my life is one with yours. Oh, John, how can I treat you so?'
Blushing through the wet of weeping, and the gloom of pondering, yet she would not hide her eyes, but folded me, and dwelled on me.
'I cannot believe,' in the pride of my joy, I whispered into one little ear, 'that you could ever so love me, beauty, as to give up the world for me.'
'Would you give up your farm for me, John?' cried Lorna, leaping back and looking, with her wondrous power of light at me; 'would you give up your mother, your sisters, your home, and all that you have in the world and every hope of your life, John?'
'Of course I would. Without two thoughts. You know it; you know it, Lorna.'
'It is true that I do, 'she answered in a tone of deepest sadness; 'and it is this power of your love which has made me love you so. No good can come of it, no good. God's face is set against selfishness.'
As she spoke in that low tone I gazed at the clear lines of her face (where every curve was perfect) not with love and wonder only, but with a strange new sense of awe.
'Darling,' I said, 'come nearer to me. Give me surety against that. For God's sake never frighten me with the thought that He would part us.'
'Does it then so frighten you?' she whispered, coming close to me; 'I know it, dear; I have known it long; but it never frightens me. It makes me sad, and very lonely, till I can remember.'
'Till you can remember what?' I asked, with a long, deep shudder; for we are so superstitious.
'Until I do remember, love, that you will soon come back to me, and be my own for ever. This is what I always think of, this is what I hope for.'
Although her eyes were so glorious, and beaming with eternity, this distant sort of beatitude was not much to my liking. I wanted to have my love on earth; and my dear wife in my own home; and children in good time, if God should please to send us any. And then I would be to them, exactly what my father was to me. And beside all this, I doubted much about being fit for heaven; where no ploughs are, and no cattle, unless sacrificed bulls went thither.
Therefore I said, 'Now kiss me, Lorna; and don't talk any nonsense.' And the darling came and did it; being kindly obedient, as the other world often makes us.
'You sweet love,' I said at this, being slave to her soft obedience; 'do you suppose I should be content to leave you until Elysium?'
'How on earth can I tell, dear John, what you will be content with?'
'You, and only you,' said I; 'the whole of it lies in a syllable. Now you know my entire want; and want must be my comfort.'
'But surely if I have money, sir, and birth, and rank, and all sorts of grandeur, you would never dare to think of me.'
She drew herself up with an air of pride, as she gravely pronounced these words, and gave me a scornful glance, or tried; and turned away as if to enter some grand coach or palace; while I was so amazed and grieved in my raw simplicity especially after the way in which she had first received my news, so loving and warm-hearted, that I never said a word, but stared and thought, 'How does she mean it?'
She saw the pain upon my forehead, and the wonder in my eyes, and leaving coach and palace too, back she flew to me in a moment, as simple as simplest milkmaid.
'Oh, you fearful stupid, John, you inexpressibly stupid, John,' she cried with both arms round my neck, and her lips upon my forehead; 'you have called yourself thick-headed, John, and I never would believe it. But now I do with all my heart. Will you never know what I am, love?'
'No, Lorna, that I never shall. I can understand my mother well, and one at least of my sisters, and both the Snowe girls very easily, but you I never understand; only love you all the more for it.'
'Then never try to understand me, if the result is that, dear John. And yet I am the very simplest of all foolish simple creatures. Nay, I am wrong; therein I yield the palm to you, my dear. To think that I can act so! No wonder they want me in London, as an ornament for the stage, John.'
Now in after days, when I heard of Lorna as the richest, and noblest, and loveliest lady to be found in London, I often remembered that little scene, and recalled every word and gesture, wondering what lay under it. Even now, while it was quite impossible once to doubt those clear deep eyes, and the bright lips trembling so; nevertheless I felt how much the world would have to do with it; and that the best and truest people cannot shake themselves quite free. However, for the moment, I was very proud and showed it.
And herein differs fact from fancy, things as they befall us from things as we would have them, human ends from human hopes; that the first are moved by a thousand and the last on two wheels only, which (being named) are desire and fear. Hope of course is nothing more than desire with a telescope, magnifying distant matters, overlooking near ones; opening one eye on the objects, closing the other to all objections. And if hope be the future tense of desire, the future of fear is religion—at least with too many of us.
Whether I am right or wrong in these small moralities, one thing is sure enough, to wit, that hope is the fastest traveller, at any rate, in the time of youth. And so I hoped that Lorna might be proved of blameless family, and honourable rank and fortune; and yet none the less for that, love me and belong to me. So I led her into the house, and she fell into my mother's arms; and I left them to have a good cry of it, with Annie ready to help them.
If Master Stickles should not mend enough to gain his speech a little, and declare to us all he knew, I was to set out for Watchett, riding upon horseback, and there to hire a cart with wheels, such as we had not begun, as yet, to use on Exmoor. For all our work went on broad wood, with runners and with earthboards; and many of us still looked upon wheels (though mentioned in the Bible) as the invention of the evil one, and Pharoah's especial property.
Now, instead of getting better, Colonel Stickles grew worse and worse, in spite of all our tendance of him, with simples and with nourishment, and no poisonous medicine, such as doctors would have given him. And the fault of this lay not with us, but purely with himself and his unquiet constitution. For he roused himself up to a perfect fever, when through Lizzie's giddiness he learned the very thing which mother and Annie were hiding from him, with the utmost care; namely, that Sergeant Bloxham had taken upon himself to send direct to London by the Chancery officers, a full report of what had happened, and of the illness of his chief, together with an urgent prayer for a full battalion of King's troops, and a plenary commander.
This Sergeant Bloxham, being senior of the surviving soldiers, and a very worthy man in his way, but a trifle over-zealous, had succeeded to the captaincy upon his master's disablement. Then, with desire to serve his country and show his education, he sat up most part of three nights, and wrote this very wonderful report by the aid of our stable lanthorn. It was a very fine piece of work, as three men to whom he read it (but only one at a time) pronounced, being under seal of secrecy. And all might have gone well with it, if the author could only have held his tongue, when near the ears of women. But this was beyond his sense as it seems, although so good a writer. For having heard that our Lizzie was a famous judge of literature (as indeed she told almost every one), he could not contain himself, but must have her opinion upon his work.
Lizzie sat on a log of wood, and listened with all her ears up, having made proviso that no one else should be there to interrupt her. And she put in a syllable here and there, and many a time she took out one (for the Sergeant overloaded his gun, more often than undercharged it; like a liberal man of letters), and then she declared the result so good, so chaste, and the style to be so elegant, and yet so fervent, that the Sergeant broke his pipe in three, and fell in love with her on the spot. Now this has led me out of my way; as things are always doing, partly through their own perverseness, partly through my kind desire to give fair turn to all of them, and to all the people who do them. If any one expects of me a strict and well-drilled story, standing 'at attention' all the time, with hands at the side like two wens on my trunk, and eyes going neither right nor left; I trow that man has been disappointed many a page ago, and has left me to my evil ways; and if not, I love his charity. Therefore let me seek his grace, and get back, and just begin again.
That great despatch was sent to London by the Chancery officers, whom we fitted up with clothes, and for three days fattened them; which in strict justice they needed much, as well as in point of equity. They were kind enough to be pleased with us, and accepted my new shirts generously; and urgent as their business was, another week (as they both declared) could do no harm to nobody, and might set them upon their legs again. And knowing, although they were London men, that fish do live in water, these two fellows went fishing all day, but never landed anything. However, their holiday was cut short; for the Sergeant, having finished now his narrative of proceedings, was not the man to let it hang fire, and be quenched perhaps by Stickles.
Therefore, having done their business, and served both citations, these two good men had a pannier of victuals put up by dear Annie, and borrowing two of our horses, rode to Dunster, where they left them, and hired on towards London. We had not time to like them much, and so we did not miss them, especially in our great anxiety about poor Master Stickles.
Jeremy lay between life and death, for at least a fortnight. If the link of chain had flown upwards (for half a link of chain it was which took him in the mouth so), even one inch upwards, the poor man could have needed no one except Parson Bowden; for the bottom of his skull, which holds the brain as in the egg-cup, must have clean gone from him. But striking him horizontally, and a little upon the skew, the metal came out at the back of his neck, and (the powder not being strong, I suppose) it lodged in his leather collar.
Now the rust of this iron hung in the wound, or at least we thought so; though since I have talked with a man of medicine, I am not so sure of it. And our chief aim was to purge this rust; when rather we should have stopped the hole, and let the oxide do its worst, with a plug of new flesh on both sides of it.
At last I prevailed upon him by argument, that he must get better, to save himself from being ignobly and unjustly superseded; and hereupon I reviled Sergeant Bloxham more fiercely than Jeremy's self could have done, and indeed to such a pitch that Jeremy almost forgave him, and became much milder. And after that his fever and the inflammation of his wound, diminished very rapidly.
However, not knowing what might happen, or even how soon poor Lorna might be taken from our power, and, falling into lawyers' hands, have cause to wish herself most heartily back among the robbers, I set forth one day for Watchett, taking advantage of the visit of some troopers from an outpost, who would make our house quite safe. I rode alone, being fully primed, and having no misgivings. For it was said that even the Doones had begun to fear me, since I cast their culverin through the door, as above related; and they could not but believe, from my being still untouched (although so large an object) in the thickest of their fire, both of gun and cannon, that I must bear a charmed life, proof against ball and bullet. However, I knew that Carver Doone was not a likely man to hold any superstitious opinions; and of him I had an instinctive dread, although quite ready to face him.
Riding along, I meditated upon Lorna's history; how many things were now beginning to unfold themselves, which had been obscure and dark! For instance, Sir Ensor Doone's consent, or to say the least his indifference, to her marriage with a yeoman; which in a man so proud (though dying) had greatly puzzled both of us. But now, if she not only proved to be no grandchild of the Doone, but even descended from his enemy, it was natural enough that he should feel no great repugnance to her humiliation. And that Lorna's father had been a foe to the house of Doone I gathered from her mother's cry when she beheld their leader. Moreover that fact would supply their motive in carrying off the unfortunate little creature, and rearing her among them, and as one of their own family; yet hiding her true birth from her. She was a 'great card,' as we say, when playing All-fours at Christmas-time; and if one of them could marry her, before she learned of right and wrong, vast property, enough to buy pardons for a thousand Doones, would be at their mercy. And since I was come to know Lorna better, and she to know me thoroughly—many things had been outspoken, which her early bashfulness had kept covered from me. Attempts I mean to pledge her love to this one, or that other; some of which perhaps might have been successful, if there had not been too many.
And then, as her beauty grew richer and brighter, Carver Doone was smitten strongly, and would hear of no one else as a suitor for her; and by the terror of his claim drove off all the others. Here too may the explanation of a thing which seemed to be against the laws of human nature, and upon which I longed, but dared not to cross-question Lorna. How could such a lovely girl, although so young, and brave, and distant, have escaped the vile affections of a lawless company?
But now it was as clear as need be. For any proven violence would have utterly vitiated all claim upon her grand estate; at least as those claims must be urged before a court of equity. And therefore all the elders (with views upon her real estate) kept strict watch on the youngers, who confined their views to her personality.
Now I do not mean to say that all this, or the hundred other things which came, crowding consideration, were half as plain to me at the time, as I have set them down above. Far be it from me to deceive you so. No doubt my thoughts were then dark and hazy, like an oil-lamp full of fungus; and I have trimmed them, as when they burned, with scissors sharpened long afterwards. All I mean to say is this, that jogging along to a certain tune of the horse's feet, which we call 'three-halfpence and twopence,' I saw my way a little into some things which had puzzled me.
When I knocked at the little door, whose sill was gritty and grimed with sand, no one came for a very long time to answer me, or to let me in. Not wishing to be unmannerly, I waited a long time, and watched the sea, from which the wind was blowing; and whose many lips of waves—though the tide was half-way out—spoke to and refreshed me. After a while I knocked again, for my horse was becoming hungry; and a good while after that again, a voice came through the key-hole,—
'Who is that wishes to enter?'
'The boy who was at the pump,' said I, 'when the carriage broke down at Dulverton. The boy that lives at oh—ah; and some day you would come seek for him.'
'Oh, yes, I remember certainly. My leetle boy, with the fair white skin. I have desired to see him, oh many, yes, many times.'
She was opening the door, while saying this, and then she started back in affright that the little boy should have grown so.
'You cannot be that leetle boy. It is quite impossible. Why do you impose on me?'
'Not only am I that little boy, who made the water to flow for you, till the nebule came upon the glass; but also I am come to tell you all about your little girl.'
'Come in, you very great leetle boy,' she answered, with her dark eyes brightened. And I went in, and looked at her. She was altered by time, as much as I was. The slight and graceful shape was gone; not that I remembered anything of her figure, if you please; for boys of twelve are not yet prone to note the shapes of women; but that her lithe straight gait had struck me as being so unlike our people. Now her time for walking so was past, and transmitted to her children. Yet her face was comely still, and full of strong intelligence. I gazed at her, and she at me; and we were sure of one another.
'Now what will ye please to eat?' she asked, with a lively glance at the size of my mouth: 'that is always the first thing you people ask, in these barbarous places.'
'I will tell you by-and-by,' I answered, misliking this satire upon us; 'but I might begin with a quart of ale, to enable me to speak, madam.'
'Very well. One quevart of be-or;' she called out to a little maid, who was her eldest child, no doubt. 'It is to be expected, sir. Be-or, be-or, be-or, all day long, with you Englishmen!'
'Nay,' I replied, 'not all day long, if madam will excuse me. Only a pint at breakfast-time, and a pint and a half at eleven o'clock, and a quart or so at dinner. And then no more till the afternoon; and half a gallon at supper-time. No one can object to that.'
'Well, I suppose it is right,' she said, with an air of resignation; 'God knows. But I do not understand it. It is "good for business," as you say, to preclude everything.'
'And it is good for us, madam,' I answered with indignation, for beer is my favourite beverage; 'and I am a credit to beer, madam; and so are all who trust to it.'
'At any rate, you are, young man. If beer has made you grow so large, I will put my children upon it; it is too late for me to begin. The smell to me is hateful.'
Now I only set down that to show how perverse those foreign people are. They will drink their wretched heartless stuff, such as they call claret, or wine of Medoc, or Bordeaux, or what not, with no more meaning than sour rennet, stirred with the pulp from the cider press, and strained through the cap of our Betty. This is very well for them; and as good as they deserve, no doubt, and meant perhaps by the will of God, for those unhappy natives. But to bring it over to England and set it against our home-brewed ale (not to speak of wines from Portugal) and sell it at ten times the price, as a cure for British bile, and a great enlightenment; this I say is the vilest feature of the age we live in.
Madam Benita Odam—for the name of the man who turned the wheel proved to be John Odam—showed me into a little room containing two chairs and a fir-wood table, and sat down on a three-legged seat and studied me very steadfastly. This she had a right to do; and I, having all my clothes on now, was not disconcerted. It would not become me to repeat her judgment upon my appearance, which she delivered as calmly as if I were a pig at market, and as proudly as if her own pig. And she asked me whether I had ever got rid of the black marks on my breast.
Not wanting to talk about myself (though very fond of doing so, when time and season favour) I led her back to that fearful night of the day when first I had seen her. She was not desirous to speak of it, because of her own little children; however, I drew her gradually to recollection of Lorna, and then of the little boy who died, and the poor mother buried with him. And her strong hot nature kindled, as she dwelled upon these things; and my wrath waxed within me; and we forgot reserve and prudence under the sense of so vile a wrong. She told me (as nearly as might be) the very same story which she had told to Master Jeremy Stickles; only she dwelled upon it more, because of my knowing the outset. And being a woman, with an inkling of my situation, she enlarged upon the little maid, more than to dry Jeremy.
'Would you know her again?' I asked, being stirred by these accounts of Lorna, when she was five years old: 'would you know her as a full-grown maiden?'
'I think I should,' she answered; 'it is not possible to say until one sees the person; but from the eyes of the little girl, I think that I must know her. Oh, the poor young creature! Is it to be believed that the cannibals devoured her! What a people you are in this country! Meat, meat, meat!'
As she raised her hands and eyes in horror at our carnivorous propensities, to which she clearly attributed the disappearance of Lorna, I could scarce help laughing, even after that sad story. For though it is said at the present day, and will doubtless be said hereafter, that the Doones had devoured a baby once, as they came up Porlock hill, after fighting hard in the market-place, I knew that the tale was utterly false; for cruel and brutal as they were, their taste was very correct and choice, and indeed one might say fastidious. Nevertheless I could not stop to argue that matter with her.
'The little maid has not been devoured,' I said to Mistress Odam: 'and now she is a tall young lady, and as beautiful as can be. If I sleep in your good hostel to-night after going to Watchett town, will you come with me to Oare to-morrow, and see your little maiden?'
'I would like—and yet I fear. This country is so barbarous. And I am good to eat—my God, there is much picking on my bones!'
She surveyed herself with a glance so mingled of pity and admiration, and the truth of her words was so apparent (only that it would have taken a week to get at the bones, before picking) that I nearly lost good manners; for she really seemed to suspect even me of cannibal inclinations. However, at last I made her promise to come with me on the morrow, presuming that Master Odam could by any means be persuaded to keep her company in the cart, as propriety demanded. Having little doubt that Master Odam was entirely at his wife's command, I looked upon that matter as settled, and set off for Watchett, to see the grave of Lorna's poor mother, and to hire a cart for the morrow.
And here (as so often happens with men) I succeeded without any trouble or hindrance, where I had looked for both of them, namely, in finding a suitable cart; whereas the other matter, in which I could have expected no difficulty, came very near to defeat me. For when I heard that Lorna's father was the Earl of Dugal—as Benita impressed upon me with a strong enforcement, as much as to say, 'Who are you, young man, to come even asking about her?'—then I never thought but that everybody in Watchett town must know all about the tombstone of the Countess of Dugal.
This, however, proved otherwise. For Lord Dugal had never lived at Watchett Grange, as their place was called; neither had his name become familiar as its owner. Because the Grange had only devolved to him by will, at the end of a long entail, when the last of the Fitz-Pains died out; and though he liked the idea of it, he had gone abroad, without taking seisin. And upon news of his death, John Jones, a rich gentleman from Llandaff, had taken possession, as next of right, and hushed up all the story. And though, even at the worst of times, a lady of high rank and wealth could not be robbed, and as bad as murdered, and then buried in a little place, without moving some excitement, yet it had been given out, on purpose and with diligence, that this was only a foreign lady travelling for her health and pleasure, along the seacoast of England. And as the poor thing never spoke, and several of her servants and her baggage looked so foreign, and she herself died in a collar of lace unlike any made in England, all Watchett, without hesitation, pronounced her to be a foreigner. And the English serving man and maid, who might have cleared up everything, either were bribed by Master Jones, or else decamped of their own accord with the relics of the baggage. So the poor Countess of Dugal, almost in sight of her own grand house, was buried in an unknown grave, with her pair of infants, without a plate, without a tombstone (worse than all) without a tear, except from the hired Italian woman.
Surely my poor Lorna came of an ill-starred family.
Now in spite of all this, if I had only taken Benita with me, or even told her what I wished, and craved her directions, there could have been no trouble. But I do assure you that among the stupid people at Watchett (compared with whom our folk of Oare, exceeding dense though being, are as Hamlet against Dogberry) what with one of them and another, and the firm conviction of all the town that I could be come only to wrestle, I do assure you (as I said before) that my wits almost went out of me. And what vexed me yet more about it was, that I saw my own mistake, in coming myself to seek out the matter, instead of sending some unknown person. For my face and form were known at that time (and still are so) to nine people out of every ten living in forty miles of me. Not through any excellence, or anything of good desert, in either the one or the other, but simply because folks will be fools on the rivalry of wrestling. The art is a fine one in itself, and demands a little wit of brain, as well as strength of body; it binds the man who studies it to temperance, and chastity, to self-respect, and most of all to an even and sweet temper; for I have thrown stronger men than myself (when I was a mere sapling, and before my strength grew hard on me) through their loss of temper. But though the art is an honest one, surely they who excel therein have a right (like all the rest of man-kind) to their own private life.
Be that either way—and I will not speak too strongly, for fear of indulging my own annoyance—anyhow, all Watchett town cared ten times as much to see John Ridd, as to show him what he wanted. I was led to every public-house, instead of to the churchyard; and twenty tables were ready for me, in lieu of a single gravestone. 'Zummerzett thou bee'st, Jan Ridd, and Zummerzett thou shalt be. Thee carl theezell a Davonsheer man! Whoy, thee lives in Zummerzett; and in Zummerzett thee wast barn, lad.' And so it went on, till I was weary; though very much obliged to them.
Dull and solid as I am, and with a wild duck waiting for me at good Mistress Odam's, I saw that there was nothing for it but to yield to these good people, and prove me a man of Somerset, by eating a dinner at their expense. As for the churchyard, none would hear of it; and I grieved for broaching the matter.
But how was I to meet Lorna again, without having done the thing of all things which I had promised to see to? It would never do to tell her that so great was my popularity, and so strong the desire to feed me, that I could not attend to her mother. Least of all could I say that every one in Watchett knew John Ridd; while none had heard of the Countess of Dugal. And yet that was about the truth, as I hinted very delicately to Mistress Odam that evening. But she (being vexed about her wild duck, and not having English ideas on the matter of sport, and so on) made a poor unwitting face at me. Nevertheless Master Odam restored me to my self-respect; for he stared at me till I went to bed; and he broke his hose with excitement. For being in the leg-line myself, I wanted to know what the muscles were of a man who turned a wheel all day. I had never seen a treadmill (though they have one now at Exeter), and it touched me much to learn whether it were good exercise. And herein, from what I saw of Odam, I incline to think that it does great harm; as moving the muscles too much in a line, and without variety.
LORNA KNOWS HER NURSE
Having obtained from Benita Odam a very close and full description of the place where her poor mistress lay, and the marks whereby to know it, I hastened to Watchett the following morning, before the sun was up, or any people were about. And so, without interruption, I was in the churchyard at sunrise.
In the farthest and darkest nook, overgrown with grass, and overhung by a weeping-tree a little bank of earth betokened the rounding off of a hapless life. There was nothing to tell of rank, or wealth, of love, or even pity; nameless as a peasant lay the last (as supposed) of a mighty race. Only some unskilful hand, probably Master Odam's under his wife's teaching, had carved a rude L., and a ruder D., upon a large pebble from the beach, and set it up as a headstone.
I gathered a little grass for Lorna and a sprig of the weeping-tree, and then returned to the Forest Cat, as Benita's lonely inn was called. For the way is long from Watchett to Oare; and though you may ride it rapidly, as the Doones had done on that fatal night, to travel on wheels, with one horse only, is a matter of time and of prudence. Therefore, we set out pretty early, three of us and a baby, who could not well be left behind. The wife of the man who owned the cart had undertaken to mind the business, and the other babies, upon condition of having the keys of all the taps left with her.
As the manner of journeying over the moor has been described oft enough already, I will say no more, except that we all arrived before dusk of the summer's day, safe at Plover's Barrows. Mistress Benita was delighted with the change from her dull hard life; and she made many excellent observations, such as seem natural to a foreigner looking at our country.
As luck would have it, the first who came to meet us at the gate was Lorna, with nothing whatever upon her head (the weather being summerly) but her beautiful hair shed round her; and wearing a sweet white frock tucked in, and showing her figure perfectly. In her joy she ran straight up to the cart; and then stopped and gazed at Benita. At one glance her old nurse knew her: 'Oh, the eyes, the eyes!' she cried, and was over the rail of the cart in a moment, in spite of all her substance. Lorna, on the other hand, looked at her with some doubt and wonder, as though having right to know much about her, and yet unable to do so. But when the foreign woman said something in Roman language, and flung new hay from the cart upon her, as if in a romp of childhood, the young maid cried, 'Oh, Nita, Nita!' and fell upon her breast, and wept; and after that looked round at us.
This being so, there could be no doubt as to the power of proving Lady Lorna's birth, and rights, both by evidence and token. For though we had not the necklace now—thanks to Annie's wisdom—we had the ring of heavy gold, a very ancient relic, with which my maid (in her simple way) had pledged herself to me. And Benita knew this ring as well as she knew her own fingers, having heard a long history about it; and the effigy on it of the wild cat was the bearing of the house of Lorne.
For though Lorna's father was a nobleman of high and goodly lineage, her mother was of yet more ancient and renowned descent, being the last in line direct from the great and kingly chiefs of Lorne. A wild and headstrong race they were, and must have everything their own way. Hot blood was ever among them, even of one household; and their sovereignty (which more than once had defied the King of Scotland) waned and fell among themselves, by continual quarrelling. And it was of a piece with this, that the Doones (who were an offset, by the mother's side, holding in co-partnership some large property, which had come by the spindle, as we say) should fall out with the Earl of Lorne, the last but one of that title.
The daughter of this nobleman had married Sir Ensor Doone; but this, instead of healing matters, led to fiercer conflict. I never could quite understand all the ins and outs of it; which none but a lawyer may go through, and keep his head at the end of it. The motives of mankind are plainer than the motions they produce. Especially when charity (such as found among us) sits to judge the former, and is never weary of it; while reason does not care to trace the latter complications, except for fee or title.
Therefore it is enough to say, that knowing Lorna to be direct in heirship to vast property, and bearing especial spite against the house of which she was the last, the Doones had brought her up with full intention of lawful marriage; and had carefully secluded her from the wildest of their young gallants. Of course, if they had been next in succession, the child would have gone down the waterfall, to save any further trouble; but there was an intercepting branch of some honest family; and they being outlaws, would have a poor chance (though the law loves outlaws) against them. Only Lorna was of the stock; and Lorna they must marry. And what a triumph against the old earl, for a cursed Doone to succeed him!
As for their outlawry, great robberies, and grand murders, the veriest child, nowadays, must know that money heals the whole of that. Even if they had murdered people of a good position, it would only cost about twice as much to prove their motives loyal. But they had never slain any man above the rank of yeoman; and folk even said that my father was the highest of their victims; for the death of Lorna's mother and brother was never set to their account.
Pure pleasure it is to any man, to reflect upon all these things. How truly we discern clear justice, and how well we deal it. If any poor man steals a sheep, having ten children starving, and regarding it as mountain game (as a rich man does a hare), to the gallows with him. If a man of rank beats down a door, smites the owner upon the head, and honours the wife with attention, it is a thing to be grateful for, and to slouch smitten head the lower.
While we were full of all these things, and wondering what would happen next, or what we ought ourselves to do, another very important matter called for our attention. This was no less than Annie's marriage to the Squire Faggus. We had tried to put it off again; for in spite of all advantages, neither my mother nor myself had any real heart for it. Not that we dwelled upon Tom's short-comings or rather perhaps his going too far, at the time when he worked the road so. All that was covered by the King's pardon, and universal respect of the neighbourhood. But our scruple was this—and the more we talked the more it grew upon us—that we both had great misgivings as to his future steadiness.
For it would be a thousand pities, we said, for a fine, well-grown, and pretty maiden (such as our Annie was), useful too, in so many ways, and lively, and warm-hearted, and mistress of 500 pounds, to throw herself away on a man with a kind of a turn for drinking. If that last were even hinted, Annie would be most indignant, and ask, with cheeks as red as roses, who had ever seen Master Faggus any the worse for liquor indeed? Her own opinion was, in truth, that he took a great deal too little, after all his hard work, and hard riding, and coming over the hills to be insulted! And if ever it lay in her power, and with no one to grudge him his trumpery glass, she would see that poor Tom had the nourishment which his cough and his lungs required.
His lungs being quite as sound as mine, this matter was out of all argument; so mother and I looked at one another, as much as to say, 'let her go upstairs, she will cry and come down more reasonable.' And while she was gone, we used to say the same thing over and over again; but without perceiving a cure for it. And we almost always finished up with the following reflection, which sometimes came from mother's lips, and sometimes from my own: 'Well, well, there is no telling. None can say how a man may alter; when he takes to matrimony. But if we could only make Annie promise to be a little firm with him!'
I fear that all this talk on our part only hurried matters forward, Annie being more determined every time we pitied her. And at last Tom Faggus came, and spoke as if he were on the King's road, with a pistol at my head, and one at mother's. 'No more fast and loose,' he cried. 'either one thing or the other. I love the maid, and she loves me; and we will have one another, either with your leave, or without it. How many more times am I to dance over these vile hills, and leave my business, and get nothing more than a sigh or a kiss, and "Tom, I must wait for mother"? You are famous for being straightforward, you Ridds. Just treat me as I would treat you now.'
I looked at my mother; for a glance from her would have sent Tom out of the window; but she checked me with her hand, and said, 'You have some ground of complaint, sir; I will not deny it. Now I will be as straight-forward with you, as even a Ridd is supposed to be. My son and myself have all along disliked your marriage with Annie. Not for what you have been so much, as for what we fear you will be. Have patience, one moment, if you please. We do not fear your taking to the highway life again; for that you are too clever, no doubt, now that you have property. But we fear that you will take to drinking, and to squandering money. There are many examples of this around us; and we know what the fate of the wife is. It has been hard to tell you this, under our own roof, and with our own—' Here mother hesitated.
'Spirits, and cider, and beer,' I broke in; 'out with it, like a Ridd, mother; as he will have all of it.'
'Spirits, and cider, and beer,' said mother very firmly after me; and then she gave way and said, 'You know, Tom, you are welcome to every drop and more of it.'
Now Tom must have had a far sweeter temper than ever I could claim; for I should have thrust my glass away, and never have taken another drop in the house where such a check had met me. But instead of that, Master Faggus replied, with a pleasant smile,—
'I know that I am welcome, good mother; and to prove it, I will have some more.'
And thereupon be mixed himself another glass of hollands with lemon and hot water, yet pouring it very delicately.
'Oh, I have been so miserable—take a little more, Tom,' said mother, handing the bottle.
'Yes, take a little more,' I said; 'you have mixed it over weak, Tom.'
'If ever there was a sober man,' cried Tom, complying with our request; 'if ever there was in Christendom a man of perfect sobriety, that man is now before you. Shall we say to-morrow week, mother? It will suit your washing day.'
'How very thoughtful you are, Tom! Now John would never have thought of that, in spite of all his steadiness.'
'Certainly not,' I answered proudly; 'when my time comes for Lorna, I shall not study Betty Muxworthy.'
In this way the Squire got over us; and Farmer Nicholas Snowe was sent for, to counsel with mother about the matter and to set his two daughters sewing.
When the time for the wedding came, there was such a stir and commotion as had never been known in the parish of Oare since my father's marriage. For Annie's beauty and kindliness had made her the pride of the neighbourhood; and the presents sent her, from all around, were enough to stock a shop with. Master Stickles, who now could walk, and who certainly owed his recovery, with the blessing of God, to Annie, presented her with a mighty Bible, silver-clasped, and very handsome, beating the parson's out and out, and for which he had sent to Taunton. Even the common troopers, having tasted her cookery many times (to help out their poor rations), clubbed together, and must have given at least a week's pay apiece, to have turned out what they did for her. This was no less than a silver pot, well-designed, but suited surely rather to the bridegroom's taste than bride's. In a word, everybody gave her things.
And now my Lorna came to me, with a spring of tears in appealing eyes—for she was still somewhat childish, or rather, I should say, more childish now than when she lived in misery—and she placed her little hand in mine, and she was half afraid to speak, and dropped her eyes for me to ask.
'What is it, little darling?' I asked, as I saw her breath come fast; for the smallest emotion moved her form.
'You don't think, John, you don't think, dear, that you could lend me any money?'
'All I have got,' I answered; 'how much do you want, dear heart?'
'I have been calculating; and I fear that I cannot do any good with less than ten pounds, John.'
Here she looked up at me, with horror at the grandeur of the sum, and not knowing what I could think of it. But I kept my eyes from her. 'Ten pounds!' I said in my deepest voice, on purpose to have it out in comfort, when she should be frightened; 'what can you want with ten pounds, child?'
'That is my concern, said Lorna, plucking up her spirit at this: 'when a lady asks for a loan, no gentleman pries into the cause of her asking it.'
'That may be as may be,' I answered in a judicial manner; 'ten pounds, or twenty, you shall have. But I must know the purport.'
'Then that you never shall know, John. I am very sorry for asking you. It is not of the smallest consequence. Oh, dear, no.' Herewith she was running away.
'Oh, dear, yes,' I replied; 'it is of very great consequence; and I understand the whole of it. You want to give that stupid Annie, who has lost you a hundred thousand pounds, and who is going to be married before us, dear—God only can tell why, being my younger sister—you want to give her a wedding present. And you shall do it, darling; because it is so good of you. Don't you know your title, love? How humble you are with us humble folk. You are Lady Lorna something, so far as I can make out yet: and you ought not even to speak to us. You will go away and disdain us.'
'If you please, talk not like that, John. I will have nothing to do with it, if it comes between you and me, John.'
'You cannot help yourself,' said I. And then she vowed that she could and would. And rank and birth were banished from between our lips in no time.
'What can I get her good enough? I am sure I do not know,' she asked: 'she has been so kind and good to me, and she is such a darling. How I shall miss her, to be sure! By the bye, you seem to think, John, that I shall be rich some day.'
'Of course you will. As rich as the French King who keeps ours. Would the Lord Chancellor trouble himself about you, if you were poor?'
'Then if I am rich, perhaps you would lend me twenty pounds, dear John. Ten pounds would be very mean for a wealthy person to give her.'
To this I agreed, upon condition that I should make the purchase myself, whatever it might be. For nothing could be easier than to cheat Lorna about the cost, until time should come for her paying me. And this was better than to cheat her for the benefit of our family. For this end, and for many others, I set off to Dulverton, bearing more commissions, more messages, and more questions than a man of thrice my memory might carry so far as the corner where the sawpit is. And to make things worse, one girl or other would keep on running up to me, or even after me (when started) with something or other she had just thought of, which she could not possibly do without, and which I must be sure to remember, as the most important of the whole.
To my dear mother, who had partly outlived the exceeding value of trifles, the most important matter seemed to ensure Uncle Reuben's countenance and presence at the marriage. And if I succeeded in this, I might well forget all the maidens' trumpery. This she would have been wiser to tell me when they were out of hearing; for I left her to fight her own battle with them; and laughing at her predicament, promised to do the best I could for all, so far as my wits would go.
Uncle Reuben was not at home, but Ruth, who received me very kindly, although without any expressions of joy, was sure of his return in the afternoon, and persuaded me to wait for him. And by the time that I had finished all I could recollect of my orders, even with paper to help me, the old gentleman rode into the yard, and was more surprised than pleased to see me. But if he was surprised, I was more than that—I was utterly astonished at the change in his appearance since the last time I had seen him. From a hale, and rather heavy man, gray-haired, but plump, and ruddy, he was altered to a shrunken, wizened, trembling, and almost decrepit figure. Instead of curly and comely locks, grizzled indeed, but plentiful, he had only a few lank white hairs scattered and flattened upon his forehead. But the greatest change of all was in the expression of his eyes, which had been so keen, and restless, and bright, and a little sarcastic. Bright indeed they still were, but with a slow unhealthy lustre; their keenness was turned to perpetual outlook, their restlessness to a haggard want. As for the humour which once gleamed there (which people who fear it call sarcasm) it had been succeeded by stares of terror, and then mistrust, and shrinking. There was none of the interest in mankind, which is needful even for satire.
'Now what can this be?' thought I to myself, 'has the old man lost all his property, or taken too much to strong waters?'
'Come inside, John Ridd,' he said; 'I will have a talk with you. It is cold out here; and it is too light. Come inside, John Ridd, boy.'
I followed him into a little dark room, quite different from Ruth Huckaback's. It was closed from the shop by an old division of boarding, hung with tanned canvas; and the smell was very close and faint. Here there was a ledger desk, and a couple of chairs, and a long-legged stool.
'Take the stool,' said Uncle Reuben, showing me in very quietly, 'it is fitter for your height, John. Wait a moment; there is no hurry.'
Then he slipped out by another door, and closing it quickly after him, told the foreman and waiting-men that the business of the day was done. They had better all go home at once; and he would see to the fastenings. Of course they were only too glad to go; but I wondered at his sending them, with at least two hours of daylight left.
However, that was no business of mine, and I waited, and pondered whether fair Ruth ever came into this dirty room, and if so, how she kept her hands from it. For Annie would have had it upside down in about two minutes, and scrubbed, and brushed, and dusted, until it looked quite another place; and yet all this done without scolding and crossness; which are the curse of clean women, and ten times worse than the dustiest dust.
Uncle Ben came reeling in, not from any power of liquor, but because he was stiff from horseback, and weak from work and worry.
'Let me be, John, let me be,' he said, as I went to help him; 'this is an unkind dreary place; but many a hundred of good gold Carolus has been turned in this place, John.'
'Not a doubt about it, sir,' I answered in my loud and cheerful manner; 'and many another hundred, sir; and may you long enjoy them!'
'My boy, do you wish me to die?' he asked, coming up close to my stool, and regarding me with a shrewd though blear-eyed gaze; 'many do. Do you, John?'
'Come,' said I, 'don't ask such nonsense. You know better than that, Uncle Ben. Or else, I am sorry for you. I want you to live as long as possible, for the sake of—' Here I stopped.
'For the sake of what, John? I knew it is not for my own sake. For the sake of what, my boy?'
'For the sake of Ruth,' I answered; 'if you must have all the truth. Who is to mind her when you are gone?'
'But if you knew that I had gold, or a manner of getting gold, far more than ever the sailors got out of the Spanish galleons, far more than ever was heard of; and the secret was to be yours, John; yours after me and no other soul's—then you would wish me dead, John.' Here he eyed me as if a speck of dust in my eyes should not escape him.
'You are wrong, Uncle Ben; altogether wrong. For all the gold ever heard or dreamed of, not a wish would cross my heart to rob you of one day of life.'
At last he moved his eyes from mine; but without any word, or sign, to show whether he believed, or disbelieved. Then he went to a chair, and sat with his chin upon the ledger-desk; as if the effort of probing me had been too much for his weary brain. 'Dreamed of! All the gold ever dreamed of! As if it were but a dream!' he muttered; and then he closed his eyes to think.
'Good Uncle Reuben,' I said to him, 'you have been a long way to-day, sir. Let me go and get you a glass of good wine. Cousin Ruth knows where to find it.'
'How do you know how far I have been?' he asked, with a vicious look at me. 'And Cousin Ruth! You are very pat with my granddaughter's name, young man!'
'It would be hard upon me, sir, not to know my own cousin's name.'
'Very well. Let that go by. You have behaved very badly to Ruth. She loves you; and you love her not.'
At this I was so wholly amazed—not at the thing itself, I mean, but at his knowledge of it—that I could not say a single word; but looked, no doubt, very foolish.
'You may well be ashamed, young man,' he cried, with some triumph over me, 'you are the biggest of all fools, as well as a conceited coxcomb. What can you want more than Ruth? She is a little damsel, truly; but finer men than you, John Ridd, with all your boasted strength and wrestling, have wedded smaller maidens. And as for quality, and value—bots! one inch of Ruth is worth all your seven feet put together.'
Now I am not seven feet high; nor ever was six feet eight inches, in my very prime of life; and nothing vexes me so much as to make me out a giant, and above human sympathy, and human scale of weakness. It cost me hard to hold my tongue; which luckily is not in proportion to my stature. And only for Ruth's sake I held it. But Uncle Ben (being old and worn) was vexed by not having any answer, almost as much as a woman is.
'You want me to go on,' he continued, with a look of spite at me, 'about my poor Ruth's love for you, to feed your cursed vanity. Because a set of asses call you the finest man in England; there is no maid (I suppose) who is not in love with you. I believe you are as deep as you are long, John Ridd. Shall I ever get to the bottom of your character?'
This was a little too much for me. Any insult I could take (with goodwill) from a white-haired man, and one who was my relative; unless it touched my love for Lorna, or my conscious modesty. Now both of these were touched to the quick by the sentences of the old gentleman. Therefore, without a word, I went; only making a bow to him.
But women who are (beyond all doubt) the mothers of all mischief, also nurse that babe to sleep, when he is too noisy. And there was Ruth, as I took my horse (with a trunk of frippery on him), poor little Ruth was at the bridle, and rusting all the knops of our town-going harness with tears.
'Good-bye dear,' I said, as she bent her head away from me; 'shall I put you up on the saddle, dear?'
'Cousin Ridd, you may take it lightly,' said Ruth, turning full upon me, 'and very likely you are right, according to your nature'—this was the only cutting thing the little soul ever said to me—'but oh, Cousin Ridd, you have no idea of the pain you will leave behind you.'
'How can that be so, Ruth, when I am as good as ordered to be off the premises?'
'In the first place, Cousin Ridd, grandfather will be angry with himself, for having so ill-used you. And now he is so weak and poorly, that he is always repenting. In the next place I shall scold him first, until he admits his sorrow; and when he has admitted it, I shall scold myself for scolding him. And then he will come round again, and think that I was hard on him; and end perhaps by hating you—for he is like a woman now, John.'
That last little touch of self-knowledge in Ruth, which she delivered with a gleam of some secret pleasantry, made me stop and look closely at her: but she pretended not to know it. 'There is something in this child,' I thought, 'very different from other girls. What it is I cannot tell; for one very seldom gets at it.'
At any rate the upshot was that the good horse went back to stable, and had another feed of corn, while my wrath sank within me. There are two things, according to my experience (which may not hold with another man) fitted beyond any others to take hot tempers out of us. The first is to see our favourite creatures feeding, and licking up their food, and happily snuffling over it, yet sparing time to be grateful, and showing taste and perception; the other is to go gardening boldly, in the spring of the year, without any misgiving about it, and hoping the utmost of everything. If there be a third anodyne, approaching these two in power, it is to smoke good tobacco well, and watch the setting of the moon; and if this should only be over the sea, the result is irresistible.
Master Huckaback showed no especial signs of joy at my return; but received me with a little grunt, which appeared to me to mean, 'Ah, I thought he would hardly be fool enough to go.' I told him how sorry I was for having in some way offended him; and he answered that I did well to grieve for one at least of my offences. To this I made no reply, as behoves a man dealing with cross and fractious people; and presently he became better-tempered, and sent little Ruth for a bottle of wine. She gave me a beautiful smile of thanks for my forbearance as she passed; and I knew by her manner that she would bring the best bottle in all the cellar.
As I had but little time to spare (although the days were long and light) we were forced to take our wine with promptitude and rapidity; and whether this loosened my uncle's tongue, or whether he meant beforehand to speak, is now almost uncertain. But true it is that he brought his chair very near to mine, after three or four glasses, and sent Ruth away upon some errand which seemed of small importance. At this I was vexed, for the room always looked so different without her.
'Come, Jack,' he said, 'here's your health, young fellow, and a good and obedient wife to you. Not that your wife will ever obey you though; you are much too easy-tempered. Even a bitter and stormy woman might live in peace with you, Jack. But never you give her the chance to try. Marry some sweet little thing, if you can. If not, don't marry any. Ah, we have the maid to suit you, my lad, in this old town of Dulverton.'
'Have you so, sir? But perhaps the maid might have no desire to suit me.'
'That you may take my word she has. The colour of this wine will prove it. The little sly hussy has been to the cobwebbed arch of the cellar, where she has no right to go, for any one under a magistrate. However, I am glad to see it, and we will not spare it, John. After my time, somebody, whoever marries little Ruth, will find some rare wines there, I trow, and perhaps not know the difference.'
Thinking of this the old man sighed, and expected me to sigh after him. But a sigh is not (like a yawn) infectious; and we are all more prone to be sent to sleep than to sorrow by one another. Not but what a sigh sometimes may make us think of sighing.
'Well, sir,' cried I, in my sprightliest manner, which rouses up most people, 'here's to your health and dear little Ruth's: and may you live to knock off the cobwebs from every bottle in under the arch. Uncle Reuben, your life and health, sir?'
With that I took my glass thoughtfully, for it was wondrous good; and Uncle Ben was pleased to see me dwelling pleasantly on the subject with parenthesis, and self-commune, and oral judgment unpronounced, though smacking of fine decision. 'Curia vult advisari,' as the lawyers say; which means, 'Let us have another glass, and then we can think about it.'
'Come now, John,' said Uncle Ben, laying his wrinkled hand on my knee, when he saw that none could heed us, 'I know that you have a sneaking fondness for my grandchild Ruth. Don't interrupt me now; you have; and to deny it will only provoke me.'
'I do like Ruth, sir,' I said boldly, for fear of misunderstanding; 'but I do not love her.'
'Very well; that makes no difference. Liking may very soon be loving (as some people call it) when the maid has money to help her.'
'But if there be, as there is in my case—'
'Once for all, John, not a word. I do not attempt to lead you into any engagement with little Ruth; neither will I blame you (though I may be disappointed) if no such engagement should ever be. But whether you will have my grandchild, or whether you will not—and such a chance is rarely offered to a fellow of your standing'—Uncle Ben despised all farmers—'in any case I have at least resolved to let you know my secret; and for two good reasons. The first is that it wears me out to dwell upon it, all alone, and the second is that I can trust you to fulfil a promise. Moreover, you are my next of kin, except among the womankind; and you are just the man I want, to help me in my enterprise.'
'And I will help you, sir,' I answered, fearing some conspiracy, 'in anything that is true, and loyal, and according to the laws of the realm.'
'Ha, ha!' cried the old man, laughing until his eyes ran over, and spreading out his skinny hands upon his shining breeches, 'thou hast gone the same fools' track as the rest; even as spy Stickles went, and all his precious troopers. Landing of arms at Glenthorne, and Lynmouth, wagons escorted across the moor, sounds of metal and booming noises! Ah, but we managed it cleverly, to cheat even those so near to us. Disaffection at Taunton, signs of insurrection at Dulverton, revolutionary tanner at Dunster! We set it all abroad, right well. And not even you to suspect our work; though we thought at one time that you watched us. Now who, do you suppose, is at the bottom of all this Exmoor insurgency, all this western rebellion—not that I say there is none, mind—but who is at the bottom of it?'
'Either Mother Melldrum,' said I, being now a little angry, 'or else old Nick himself.'
'Nay, old Uncle Reuben!' Saying this, Master Huckaback cast back his coat, and stood up, and made the most of himself.
'Well!' cried I, being now quite come to the limits of my intellect, 'then, after all, Captain Stickles was right in calling you a rebel, sir!'
'Of course he was; could so keen a man be wrong about an old fool like me? But come, and see our rebellion, John. I will trust you now with everything. I will take no oath from you; only your word to keep silence; and most of all from your mother.'
'I will give you my word,' I said, although liking not such pledges; which make a man think before he speaks in ordinary company, against his usual practices. However, I was now so curious, that I thought of nothing else; and scarcely could believe at all that Uncle Ben was quite right in his head.
'Take another glass of wine, my son,' he cried with a cheerful countenance, which made him look more than ten years younger; 'you shall come into partnership with me: your strength will save us two horses, and we always fear the horse work. Come and see our rebellion, my boy; you are a made man from to-night.'
'But where am I to come and see it? Where am I to find it, sir?'
'Meet me,' he answered, yet closing his hands, and wrinkling with doubt his forehead, 'come alone, of course; and meet me at the Wizard's Slough, at ten to-morrow morning.'
MASTER HUCKABACK'S SECRET
Knowing Master Huckaback to be a man of his word, as well as one who would have others so, I was careful to be in good time the next morning, by the side of the Wizard's Slough. I am free to admit that the name of the place bore a feeling of uneasiness, and a love of distance, in some measure to my heart. But I did my best not to think of this; only I thought it a wise precaution, and due for the sake of my mother and Lorna, to load my gun with a dozen slugs made from the lead of the old church-porch, laid by, long since, against witchcraft.
I am well aware that some people now begin to doubt about witchcraft; or at any rate feign to do so; being desirous to disbelieve whatever they are afraid of. This spirit is growing too common among us, and will end (unless we put a stop to it!) in the destruction of all religion. And as regards witchcraft, a man is bound either to believe in it, or to disbelieve the Bible. For even in the New Testament, discarding many things of the Old, such as sacrifices, and Sabbath, and fasting, and other miseries, witchcraft is clearly spoken of as a thing that must continue; that the Evil One be not utterly robbed of his vested interests. Hence let no one tell me that witchcraft is done away with; for I will meet him with St. Paul, than whom no better man, and few less superstitious, can be found in all the Bible.
Feeling these things more in those days than I feel them now, I fetched a goodish compass round, by the way of the cloven rocks, rather than cross Black Barrow Down, in a reckless and unholy manner. There were several spots, upon that Down, cursed and smitten, and blasted, as if thunderbolts had fallen there, and Satan sat to keep them warm. At any rate it was good (as every one acknowledged) not to wander there too much; even with a doctor of divinity on one arm and of medicine upon the other.
Therefore, I, being all alone, and on foot (as seemed the wisest), preferred a course of roundabout; and starting about eight o'clock, without mentioning my business, arrived at the mouth of the deep descent, such as John Fry described it. Now this (though I have not spoken of it) was not my first time of being there. For, although I could not bring myself to spy upon Uncle Reuben, as John Fry had done, yet I thought it no ill manners, after he had left our house, to have a look at the famous place, where the malefactor came to life, at least in John's opinion. At that time, however, I saw nothing except the great ugly black morass, with the grisly reeds around it; and I did not care to go very near it, much less to pry on the further side.
Now, on the other hand, I was bent to get at the very bottom of this mystery (if there were any), having less fear of witch or wizard, with a man of Uncle Reuben's wealth to take my part, and see me through. So I rattled the ramrod down my gun, just to know if the charge were right, after so much walking; and finding it full six inches deep, as I like to have it, went boldly down the steep gorge of rock, with a firm resolve to shoot any witch unless it were good Mother Melldrum. Nevertheless to my surprise, all was quiet, and fair to look at, in the decline of the narrow way, with great stalked ferns coming forth like trees, yet hanging like cobwebs over one. And along one side, a little spring was getting rid of its waters. Any man might stop and think; or he might go on and think; and in either case, there was none to say that he was making a fool of himself.
When I came to the foot of this ravine, and over against the great black slough, there was no sign of Master Huckaback, nor of any other living man, except myself, in the silence. Therefore, I sat in a niche of rock, gazing at the slough, and pondering the old tradition about it.
They say that, in the ancient times, a mighty necromancer lived in the wilderness of Exmoor. Here, by spell and incantation, he built himself a strong high palace, eight-sided like a spider's web, and standing on a central steep; so that neither man nor beast could cross the moors without his knowledge. If he wished to rob and slay a traveller, or to have wild ox, or stag for food, he had nothing more to do than sit at one of his eight windows, and point his unholy book at him. Any moving creature, at which that book was pointed, must obey the call, and come from whatever distance, if sighted once by the wizard.
This was a bad condition of things, and all the country groaned under it; and Exmoor (although the most honest place that a man could wish to live in) was beginning to get a bad reputation, and all through that vile wizard. No man durst even go to steal a sheep, or a pony, or so much as a deer for dinner, lest he should be brought to book by a far bigger rogue than he was. And this went on for many years; though they prayed to God to abate it. But at last, when the wizard was getting fat and haughty upon his high stomach, a mighty deliverance came to Exmoor, and a warning, and a memory. For one day the sorcerer gazed from his window facing the southeast of the compass, and he yawned, having killed so many men that now he was weary of it.
'Ifackins,' he cried, or some such oath, both profane and uncomely, 'I see a man on the verge of the sky-line, going along laboriously. A pilgrim, I trow, or some such fool, with the nails of his boots inside them. Too thin to be worth eating; but I will have him for the fun of the thing; and most of those saints have got money.'
With these words he stretched forth his legs on a stool, and pointed the book of heathenish spells back upwards at the pilgrim. Now this good pilgrim was plodding along, soberly and religiously, with a pound of flints in either boot, and not an ounce of meat inside him. He felt the spell of the wicked book, but only as a horse might feel a 'gee-wug!' addressed to him. It was in the power of this good man, either to go on, or turn aside, and see out the wizard's meaning. And for a moment he halted and stood, like one in two minds about a thing. Then the wizard clapped one cover to, in a jocular and insulting manner; and the sound of it came to the pilgrim's ear, about five miles in the distance, like a great gun fired at him.
'By our Lady,' he cried, 'I must see to this; although my poor feet have no skin below them. I will teach this heathen miscreant how to scoff at Glastonbury.'
Thereupon he turned his course, and ploughed along through the moors and bogs, towards the eight-sided palace. The wizard sat on his chair of comfort, and with the rankest contempt observed the holy man ploughing towards him. 'He has something good in his wallet, I trow,' said the black thief to himself; 'these fellows get always the pick of the wine, and the best of a woman's money.' Then he cried, 'Come in, come in, good sir,' as he always did to every one.
'Bad sir, I will not come in,' said the pilgrim; 'neither shall you come out again. Here are the bones of all you have slain; and here shall your own bones be.'
'Hurry me not,' cried the sorcerer; 'that is a thing to think about. How many miles hast thou travelled this day?'
But the pilgrim was too wide awake, for if he had spoken of any number, bearing no cross upon it, the necromancer would have had him, like a ball at bando-play. Therefore he answered, as truly as need be, 'By the grace of our Lady, nine.'
Now nine is the crossest of all cross numbers, and full to the lip of all crochets. So the wizard staggered back, and thought, and inquired again with bravery, 'Where can you find a man and wife, one going up-hill and one going down, and not a word spoken between them?'
'In a cucumber plant,' said the modest saint; blushing even to think of it; and the wizard knew he was done for.
'You have tried me with ungodly questions,' continued the honest pilgrim, with one hand still over his eyes, as he thought of the feminine cucumber; 'and now I will ask you a pure one. To whom of mankind have you ever done good, since God saw fit to make you?'
The wizard thought, but could quote no one; and he looked at the saint, and the saint at him, and both their hearts were trembling. 'Can you mention only one?' asked the saint, pointing a piece of the true cross at him, hoping he might cling to it; 'even a little child will do; try to think of some one.'
The earth was rocking beneath their feet, and the palace windows darkened on them, with a tint of blood, for now the saint was come inside, hoping to save the wizard.
'If I must tell the pure truth,' said the wizard, looking up at the arches of his windows, 'I can tell of only one to whom I ever have done good.'
'One will do; one is quite enough; be quick before the ground opens. The name of one—and this cross will save you. Lay your thumb on the end of it.'
'Nay, that I cannot do, great saint. The devil have mercy upon me.'
All this while the palace was sinking, and blackness coming over them.
'Thou hast all but done for thyself,' said the saint, with a glory burning round his head; 'by that last invocation. Yet give us the name of the one, my friend, if one there be; it will save thee, with the cross upon thy breast. All is crashing round us; dear brother, who is that one?'
'My own self,' cried the wretched wizard.
'Then there is no help for thee.' And with that the honest saint went upward, and the wizard, and all his palace, and even the crag that bore it, sank to the bowels of the earth; and over them was nothing left except a black bog fringed with reed, of the tint of the wizard's whiskers. The saint, however, was all right, after sleeping off the excitement; and he founded a chapel, some three miles westward; and there he lies with his holy relic and thither in after ages came (as we all come home at last) both my Lorna's Aunt Sabina, and her guardian Ensor Doone.
While yet I dwelled upon this strange story, wondering if it all were true, and why such things do not happen now, a man on horseback appeared as suddenly as if he had risen out of the earth, on the other side of the great black slough. At first I was a little scared, my mind being in the tune for wonders; but presently the white hair, whiter from the blackness of the bog between us, showed me that it was Uncle Reuben come to look for me, that way. Then I left my chair of rock, and waved my hat and shouted to him, and the sound of my voice among the crags and lonely corners frightened me.
Old Master Huckaback made no answer, but (so far as I could guess) beckoned me to come to him. There was just room between the fringe of reed and the belt of rock around it, for a man going very carefully to escape that horrible pit-hole. And so I went round to the other side, and there found open space enough, with stunted bushes, and starveling trees, and straggling tufts of rushes.
'You fool, you are frightened,' said Uncle Ben, as he looked at my face after shaking hands: 'I want a young man of steadfast courage, as well as of strength and silence. And after what I heard of the battle at Glen Doone, I thought I might trust you for courage.'
'So you may,' said I, 'wherever I see mine enemy; but not where witch and wizard be.'
'Tush, great fool!' cried Master Huckaback; 'the only witch or wizard here is the one that bewitcheth all men. Now fasten up my horse, John Ridd, and not too near the slough, lad. Ah, we have chosen our entrance wisely. Two good horsemen, and their horses, coming hither to spy us out, are gone mining on their own account (and their last account it is) down this good wizard's bog-hole.'
With these words, Uncle Reuben clutched the mane of his horse and came down, as a man does when his legs are old; and as I myself begin to do, at this time of writing. I offered a hand, but he was vexed, and would have nought to do with it.
'Now follow me, step for step,' he said, when I had tethered his horse to a tree; 'the ground is not death (like the wizard's hole), but many parts are treacherous, I know it well by this time.'
Without any more ado, he led me in and out the marshy places, to a great round hole or shaft, bratticed up with timber. I never had seen the like before, and wondered how they could want a well, with so much water on every side. Around the mouth were a few little heaps of stuff unused to the daylight; and I thought at once of the tales I had heard concerning mines in Cornwall, and the silver cup at Combe-Martin, sent to the Queen Elizabeth.
'We had a tree across it, John,' said Uncle Reuben, smiling grimly at my sudden shrink from it: 'but some rogue came spying here, just as one of our men went up. He was frightened half out of his life, I believe, and never ventured to come again. But we put the blame of that upon you. And I see that we were wrong, John.' Here he looked at me with keen eyes, though weak.
'You were altogether wrong,' I answered. 'Am I mean enough to spy upon any one dwelling with us? And more than that, Uncle Reuben, it was mean of you to suppose it.'
'All ideas are different,' replied the old man to my heat, like a little worn-out rill running down a smithy; 'you with your strength and youth, and all that, are inclined to be romantic. I take things as I have known them, going on for seventy years. Now will you come and meet the wizard, or does your courage fail you?'
'My courage must be none,' said I, 'if I would not go where you go, sir.'
He said no more, but signed to me to lift a heavy wooden corb with an iron loop across it, and sunk in a little pit of earth, a yard or so from the mouth of the shaft. I raised it, and by his direction dropped it into the throat of the shaft, where it hung and shook from a great cross-beam laid at the level of the earth. A very stout thick rope was fastened to the handle of the corb, and ran across a pulley hanging from the centre of the beam, and thence out of sight in the nether places.
'I will first descend,' he said; 'your weight is too great for safety. When the bucket comes up again, follow me, if your heart is good.'
Then he whistled down, with a quick sharp noise, and a whistle from below replied; and he clomb into the vehicle, and the rope ran through the pulley, and Uncle Ben went merrily down, and was out of sight, before I had time to think of him.
Now being left on the bank like that, and in full sight of the goodly heaven, I wrestled hard with my flesh and blood, about going down into the pit-hole. And but for the pale shame of the thing, that a white-headed man should adventure so, and green youth doubt about it, never could I have made up my mind; for I do love air and heaven. However, at last up came the bucket; and with a short sad prayer I went into whatever might happen.
My teeth would chatter, do all I could; but the strength of my arms was with me; and by them I held on the grimy rope, and so eased the foot of the corb, which threatened to go away fathoms under me. Of course I should still have been safe enough, being like an egg in an egg-cup, too big to care for the bottom; still I wished that all should be done, in good order, without excitement.
The scoopings of the side grew black, and the patch of sky above more blue, as with many thoughts of Lorna, a long way underground I sank. Then I was fetched up at the bottom with a jerk and rattle; and but for holding by the rope so, must have tumbled over. Two great torches of bale-resin showed me all the darkness, one being held by Uncle Ben and the other by a short square man with a face which seemed well-known to me.
'Hail to the world of gold, John Ridd,' said Master Huckaback, smiling in the old dry manner; 'bigger coward never came down the shaft, now did he, Carfax?'
'They be all alike,' said the short square man, 'fust time as they doos it.'
'May I go to heaven,' I cried, 'which is a thing quite out of sight'—for I always have a vein of humour, too small to be followed by any one—'if ever again of my own accord I go so far away from it!' Uncle Ben grinned less at this than at the way I knocked my shin in getting out of the bucket; and as for Master Carfax, he would not even deign to smile. And he seemed to look upon my entrance as an interloping.
For my part, I had nought to do, after rubbing my bruised leg, except to look about me, so far as the dullness of light would help. And herein I seemed, like a mouse in a trap, able no more than to run to and fro, and knock himself, and stare at things. For here was a little channel grooved with posts on either side of it, and ending with a heap of darkness, whence the sight came back again; and there was a scooped place, like a funnel, but pouring only to darkness. So I waited for somebody to speak first, not seeing my way to anything.'
'You seem to be disappointed, John,' said Uncle Reuben, looking blue by the light of the flambeaux; 'did you expect to see the roof of gold, and the sides of gold, and the floor of gold, John Ridd?'
'Ha, ha!' cried Master Carfax; 'I reckon her did; no doubt her did.'
'You are wrong,' I replied; 'but I did expect to see something better than dirt and darkness.'
'Come on then, my lad; and we will show you some-thing better. We want your great arm on here, for a job that has beaten the whole of us.'
With these words, Uncle Ben led the way along a narrow passage, roofed with rock and floored with slate-coloured shale and shingle, and winding in and out, until we stopped at a great stone block or boulder, lying across the floor, and as large as my mother's best oaken wardrobe. Beside it were several sledge-hammers, battered, and some with broken helves.
'Thou great villain!' cried Uncle Ben, giving the boulder a little kick; 'I believe thy time is come at last. Now, John, give us a sample of the things they tell of thee. Take the biggest of them sledge-hammers and crack this rogue in two for us. We have tried at him for a fortnight, and he is a nut worth cracking. But we have no man who can swing that hammer, though all in the mine have handled it.'
'I will do my very best,' said I, pulling off my coat and waistcoat, as if I were going to wrestle; 'but I fear he will prove too tough for me.'
'Ay, that her wull,' grunted Master Carfax; 'lack'th a Carnishman, and a beg one too, not a little charp such as I be. There be no man outside Carnwall, as can crack that boolder.'
'Bless my heart,' I answered; 'but I know something of you, my friend, or at any rate of your family. Well, I have beaten most of your Cornish men, though not my place to talk of it. But mind, if I crack this rock for you, I must have some of the gold inside it.'
'Dost think to see the gold come tumbling out like the kernel of a nut, thou zany?' asked Uncle Reuben pettishly; 'now wilt thou crack it or wilt thou not? For I believe thou canst do it, though only a lad of Somerset.'
Uncle Reuben showed by saying this, and by his glance at Carfax, that he was proud of his county, and would be disappointed for it if I failed to crack the boulder. So I begged him to stoop his torch a little, that I might examine my subject. To me there appeared to be nothing at all remarkable about it, except that it sparkled here and there, when the flash of the flame fell upon it. A great obstinate, oblong, sullen stone; how could it be worth the breaking, except for making roads with?
Nevertheless, I took up the hammer, and swinging it far behind my head, fetched it down, with all my power, upon the middle of the rock. The roof above rang mightily, and the echo went down delven galleries, so that all the miners flocked to know what might be doing. But Master Carfax only smiled, although the blow shook him where he stood, for behold the stone was still unbroken, and as firm as ever. Then I smote it again, with no better fortune, and Uncle Ben looked vexed and angry, but all the miners grinned with triumph.
'This little tool is too light,' I cried; 'one of you give me a piece of strong cord.'
Then I took two more of the weightiest hammers, and lashed them fast to the back of mine, not so as to strike, but to burden the fall. Having made this firm, and with room to grasp the handle of the largest one only—for the helves of the others were shorter—I smiled at Uncle Ben, and whirled the mighty implement round my head, just to try whether I could manage it. Upon that the miners gave a cheer, being honest men, and desirous of seeing fair play between this 'shameless stone' (as Dan Homer calls it) and me with my hammer hammering.
Then I swung me on high to the swing of the sledge, as a thresher bends back to the rise of his flail, and with all my power descending delivered the ponderous onset. Crashing and crushed the great stone fell over, and threads of sparkling gold appeared in the jagged sides of the breakage.
'How now, Simon Carfax?' cried Uncle Ben triumphantly; 'wilt thou find a man in Cornwall can do the like of that?'
'Ay, and more,' he answered; 'however, it be pretty fair for a lad of these outlandish parts. Get your rollers, my lads, and lead it to the crushing engine.'
I was glad to have been of some service to them; for it seems that this great boulder had been too large to be drawn along the gallery and too hard to crack. But now they moved it very easily, taking piece by piece, and carefully picking up the fragments.
'Thou hast done us a good turn, my lad,' said Uncle Reuben, as the others passed out of sight at the corner; 'and now I will show thee the bottom of a very wondrous mystery. But we must not do it more than once, for the time of day is the wrong one.'
The whole affair being a mystery to me, and far beyond my understanding, I followed him softly, without a word, yet thinking very heavily, and longing to be above ground again. He led me through small passages, to a hollow place near the descending shaft, where I saw a most extraordinary monster fitted up. In form it was like a great coffee-mill, such as I had seen in London, only a thousand times larger, and with heavy windlass to work it.
'Put in a barrow-load of the smoulder,' said Uncle Ben to Carfax, 'and let them work the crank, for John to understand a thing or two.'
'At this time of day!' cried Simon Carfax; 'and the watching as has been o' late!'
However, he did it without more remonstrance; pouring into the scuttle at the top of the machine about a baskeful of broken rock; and then a dozen men went to the wheel, and forced it round, as sailors do. Upon that such a hideous noise arose, as I never should have believed any creature capable of making, and I ran to the well of the mine for air, and to ease my ears, if possible.
'Enough, enough!' shouted Uncle Ben by the time I was nearly deafened; 'we will digest our goodly boulder after the devil is come abroad for his evening work. Now, John, not a word about what you have learned; but henceforth you will not be frightened by the noise we make at dusk.'
I could not deny but what this was very clever management. If they could not keep the echoes of the upper air from moving, the wisest plan was to open their valves during the discouragement of the falling evening; when folk would rather be driven away, than drawn into the wilds and quagmires, by a sound so deep and awful, coming through the darkness.
LORNA GONE AWAY
Although there are very ancient tales of gold being found upon Exmoor, in lumps and solid hummocks, and of men who slew one another for it, this deep digging and great labour seemed to me a dangerous and unholy enterprise. And Master Huckaback confessed that up to the present time his two partners and himself (for they proved to be three adventurers) had put into the earth more gold than they had taken out of it. Nevertheless he felt quite sure that it must in a very short time succeed, and pay them back an hundredfold; and he pressed me with great earnestness to join them, and work there as much as I could, without moving my mother's suspicions. I asked him how they had managed so long to carry on without discovery; and he said that this was partly through the wildness of the neighbourhood, and the legends that frightened people of a superstitious turn; partly through their own great caution, and the manner of fetching both supplies and implements by night; but most of all, they had to thank the troubles of the period, the suspicions of rebellion, and the terror of the Doones, which (like the wizard I was speaking of) kept folk from being too inquisitive where they had no business. The slough, moreover, had helped them well, both by making their access dark, and yet more by swallowing up and concealing all that was cast from the mouth of the pit. Once, before the attack on Glen Doone, they had a narrow escape from the King's Commissioner; for Captain Stickles having heard no doubt the story of John Fry, went with half a dozen troopers, on purpose to search the neighbourhood. Now if he had ridden alone, most likely he would have discovered everything; but he feared to venture so, having suspicion of a trap. Coming as they did in a company, all mounted and conspicuous, the watchman (who was posted now on the top of the hill, almost every day since John Fry's appearance) could not help espying them, miles distant, over the moorland. He watched them under the shade of his hand, and presently ran down the hill, and raised a great commotion. Then Simon Carfax and all his men came up, and made things natural, removing every sign of work; and finally, sinking underground, drew across the mouth of the pit a hurdle thatched with sedge and heather. Only Simon himself was left behind, ensconced in a hole of the crags, to observe the doings of the enemy.
Captain Stickles rode very bravely, with all his men clattering after him, down the rocky pass, and even to the margin of the slough. And there they stopped, and held council; for it was a perilous thing to risk the passage upon horseback, between the treacherous brink and the cliff, unless one knew it thoroughly. Stickles, however, and one follower, carefully felt the way along, having their horses well in hand, and bearing a rope to draw them out, in case of being foundered. Then they spurred across the rough boggy land, farther away than the shaft was. Here the ground lay jagged and shaggy, wrought up with high tufts of reed, or scragged with stunted brushwood. And between the ups and downs (which met anybody anyhow) green-covered places tempted the foot, and black bog-holes discouraged it. It is not to be marvelled at that amid such place as this, for the first time visited, the horses were a little skeary; and their riders partook of the feeling, as all good riders do. In and out of the tufts they went, with their eyes dilating, wishing to be out of harm, if conscience were but satisfied. And of this tufty flaggy ground, pocked with bogs and boglets, one especial nature is that it will not hold impressions.
Seeing thus no track of men, nor anything but marsh-work, and stormwork, and of the seasons, these two honest men rode back, and were glad to do so. For above them hung the mountains, cowled with fog, and seamed with storm; and around them desolation; and below their feet the grave. Hence they went, with all goodwill; and vowed for ever afterwards that fear of a simple place like that was only too ridiculous. So they all rode home with mutual praises, and their courage well-approved; and the only result of the expedition was to confirm John Fry's repute as a bigger liar than ever.
Now I had enough of that underground work, as before related, to last me for a year to come; neither would I, for sake of gold, have ever stepped into that bucket, of my own goodwill again. But when I told Lorna—whom I could trust in any matter of secrecy, as if she had never been a woman—all about my great descent, and the honeycombing of the earth, and the mournful noise at eventide, when the gold was under the crusher and bewailing the mischief it must do, then Lorna's chief desire was to know more about Simon Carfax.
'It must be our Gwenny's father,' she cried; 'the man who disappeared underground, and whom she has ever been seeking. How grieved the poor little thing will be, if it should turn out, after all, that he left his child on purpose! I can hardly believe it; can you, John?'
'Well,' I replied; 'all men are wicked, more or less, to some extent; and no man may say otherwise.'
For I did not wish to commit myself to an opinion about Simon, lest I might be wrong, and Lorna think less of my judgment.
But being resolved to see this out, and do a good turn, if I could, to Gwenny, who had done me many a good one, I begged my Lorna to say not a word of this matter to the handmaiden, until I had further searched it out. And to carry out this resolve, I went again to the place of business where they were grinding gold as freely as an apothecary at his pills.
Having now true right of entrance, and being known to the watchman, and regarded (since I cracked the boulder) as one who could pay his footing, and perhaps would be the master, when Uncle Ben should be choked with money, I found the corb sent up for me rather sooner than I wished it. For the smell of the places underground, and the way men's eyes came out of them, with links, and brands, and flambeaux, instead of God's light to look at, were to me a point of caution, rather than of pleasure.
No doubt but what some men enjoy it, being born, like worms, to dig, and to live in their own scoopings. Yet even the worms come up sometimes, after a good soft shower of rain, and hold discourse with one another; whereas these men, and the horses let down, come above ground never.
And the changing of the sky is half the change our nature calls for. Earth we have, and all its produce (moving from the first appearance, and the hope with infants' eyes, through the bloom of beauty's promise, to the rich and ripe fulfilment, and the falling back to rest); sea we have (with all its wonder shed on eyes, and ears, and heart; and the thought of something more)—but without the sky to look at, what would earth, and sea, and even our own selves, be to us?
Do we look at earth with hope? Yes, for victuals only. Do we look at sea with hope? Yes, that we may escape it. At the sky alone (though questioned with the doubts of sunshine, or scattered with uncertain stars), at the sky alone we look with pure hope and with memory.
Hence it always hurt my feelings when I got into that bucket, with my small-clothes turned up over, and a kerchief round my hat. But knowing that my purpose was sound, and my motives pure, I let the sky grow to a little blue hole, and then to nothing over me. At the bottom Master Carfax met me, being captain of the mine, and desirous to know my business. He wore a loose sack round his shoulders, and his beard was two feet long.
'My business is to speak with you,' I answered rather sternly; for this man, who was nothing more than Uncle Reuben's servant, had carried things too far with me, showing no respect whatever; and though I did not care for much, I liked to receive a little, even in my early days.
'Coom into the muck-hole, then,' was his gracious answer; and he led me into a filthy cell, where the miners changed their jackets.
'Simon Carfax, I began, with a manner to discourage him; 'I fear you are a shallow fellow, and not worth my trouble.'
'Then don't take it,' he replied; 'I want no man's trouble.'
'For your sake I would not,' I answered; 'but for your daughter's sake I will; the daughter whom you left to starve so pitifully in the wilderness.'
The man stared at me with his pale gray eyes, whose colour was lost from candle light; and his voice as well as his body shook, while he cried,—
'It is a lie, man. No daughter, and no son have I. Nor was ever child of mine left to starve in the wilderness. You are too big for me to tackle, and that makes you a coward for saying it.' His hands were playing with a pickaxe helve, as if he longed to have me under it.
'Perhaps I have wronged you, Simon,' I answered very softly; for the sweat upon his forehead shone in the smoky torchlight; 'if I have, I crave your pardon. But did you not bring up from Cornwall a little maid named "Gwenny," and supposed to be your daughter?'
'Ay, and she was my daughter, my last and only child of five; and for her I would give this mine, and all the gold will ever come from it.'
'You shall have her, without either mine or gold; if you only prove to me that you did not abandon her.'
'Abandon her! I abandon Gwenny!' He cried with such a rage of scorn, that I at once believed him. 'They told me she was dead, and crushed, and buried in the drift here; and half my heart died with her. The Almighty blast their mining-work, if the scoundrels lied to me!'
'The scoundrels must have lied to you,' I answered, with a spirit fired by his heat of fury: 'the maid is living and with us. Come up; and you shall see her.'
'Rig the bucket,' he shouted out along the echoing gallery; and then he fell against the wall, and through the grimy sack I saw the heaving of his breast, as I have seen my opponent's chest, in a long hard bout of wrestling. For my part, I could do no more than hold my tongue and look at him.
Without another word we rose to the level of the moors and mires; neither would Master Carfax speak, as I led him across the barrows. In this he was welcome to his own way, for I do love silence; so little harm can come of it. And though Gwenny was no beauty, her father might be fond of her.
So I put him in the cow-house (not to frighten the little maid), and the folding shutters over him, such as we used at the beestings; and he listened to my voice outside, and held on, and preserved himself. For now he would have scooped the earth, as cattle do at yearning-time, and as meekly and as patiently, to have his child restored to him. Not to make long tale of it—for this thing is beyond me, through want of true experience—I went and fetched his Gwenny forth from the back kitchen, where she was fighting, as usual, with our Betty.
'Come along, you little Vick,' I said, for so we called her; 'I have a message to you, Gwenny, from the Lord in heaven.'
'Don't 'ee talk about He,' she answered; 'Her have long forgatten me.'
'That He has never done, you stupid. Come, and see who is in the cowhouse.'
Gwenny knew; she knew in a moment. Looking into my eyes, she knew; and hanging back from me to sigh, she knew it even better.
She had not much elegance of emotion, being flat and square all over; but none the less for that her heart came quick, and her words came slowly.
'Oh, Jan, you are too good to cheat me. Is it joke you are putting upon me?'
I answered her with a gaze alone; and she tucked up her clothes and followed me because the road was dirty. Then I opened the door just wide enough for the child to to go her father, and left those two to have it out, as might be most natural. And they took a long time about it.
Meanwhile I needs must go and tell my Lorna all the matter; and her joy was almost as great as if she herself had found a father. And the wonder of the whole was this, that I got all the credit; of which not a thousandth part belonged by right and reason to me. Yet so it almost always is. If I work for good desert, and slave, and lie awake at night, and spend my unborn life in dreams, not a blink, nor wink, nor inkling of my labour ever tells. It would have been better to leave unburned, and to keep undevoured, the fuel and the food of life. But if I have laboured not, only acted by some impulse, whim, caprice, or anything; or even acting not at all, only letting things float by; piled upon me commendations, bravoes, and applauses, almost work me up to tempt once again (though sick of it) the ill luck of deserving.
Without intending any harm, and meaning only good indeed, I had now done serious wrong to Uncle Reuben's prospects. For Captain Carfax was full as angry at the trick played on him as he was happy in discovering the falsehood and the fraud of it. Nor could I help agreeing with him, when he told me all of it, as with tears in his eyes he did, and ready to be my slave henceforth; I could not forbear from owning that it was a low and heartless trick, unworthy of men who had families; and the recoil whereof was well deserved, whatever it might end in.
For when this poor man left his daughter, asleep as he supposed, and having his food, and change of clothes, and Sunday hat to see to, he meant to return in an hour or so, and settle about her sustenance in some house of the neighbourhood. But this was the very thing of all things which the leaders of the enterprise, who had brought him up from Cornwall, for his noted skill in metals, were determined, whether by fair means or foul, to stop at the very outset. Secrecy being their main object, what chance could there be of it, if the miners were allowed to keep their children in the neighbourhood? Hence, on the plea of feasting Simon, they kept him drunk for three days and three nights, assuring him (whenever he had gleams enough to ask for her) that his daughter was as well as could be, and enjoying herself with the children. Not wishing the maid to see him tipsy, he pressed the matter no further; but applied himself to the bottle again, and drank her health with pleasure.
However, after three days of this, his constitution rose against it, and he became quite sober; with a certain lowness of heart moreover, and a sense of error. And his first desire to right himself, and easiest way to do it, was by exerting parental authority upon Gwenny. Possessed with this intention (for he was not a sweet tempered man, and his head was aching sadly) he sought for Gwenny high and low; first with threats, and then with fears, and then with tears and wailing. And so he became to the other men a warning and a great annoyance. Therefore they combined to swear what seemed a very likely thing, and might be true for all they knew, to wit, that Gwenny had come to seek for her father down the shaft-hole, and peering too eagerly into the dark, had toppled forward, and gone down, and lain at the bottom as dead as a stone.
'And thou being so happy with drink,' the villains finished up to him, 'and getting drunker every day, we thought it shame to trouble thee; and we buried the wench in the lower drift; and no use to think more of her; but come and have a glass, Sim.'
But Simon Carfax swore that drink had lost him his wife, and now had lost him the last of his five children, and would lose him his own soul, if further he went on with it; and from that day to his death he never touched strong drink again. Nor only this; but being soon appointed captain of the mine, he allowed no man on any pretext to bring cordials thither; and to this and his stern hard rule and stealthy secret management (as much as to good luck and place) might it be attributed that scarcely any but themselves had dreamed about this Exmoor mine.
As for me, I had no ambition to become a miner; and the state to which gold-seeking had brought poor Uncle Ben was not at all encouraging. My business was to till the ground, and tend the growth that came of it, and store the fruit in Heaven's good time, rather than to scoop and burrow like a weasel or a rat for the yellow root of evil. Moreover, I was led from home, between the hay and corn harvests (when we often have a week to spare), by a call there was no resisting; unless I gave up all regard for wrestling, and for my county.
Now here many persons may take me amiss, and there always has been some confusion; which people who ought to have known better have wrought into subject of quarrelling. By birth it is true, and cannot be denied, that I am a man of Somerset; nevertheless by breed I am, as well as by education, a son of Devon also. And just as both of our two counties vowed that Glen Doone was none of theirs, but belonged to the other one; so now, each with hot claim and jangling (leading even to blows sometimes), asserted and would swear to it (as I became more famous) that John Ridd was of its own producing, bred of its own true blood, and basely stolen by the other.
Now I have not judged it in any way needful or even becoming and delicate, to enter into my wrestling adventures, or describe my progress. The whole thing is so different from Lorna, and her gentle manners, and her style of walking; moreover I must seem (even to kind people) to magnify myself so much, or at least attempt to do it, that I have scratched out written pages, through my better taste and sense.
Neither will I, upon this head, make any difference even now; being simply betrayed into mentioning the matter because bare truth requires it, in the tale of Lorna's fortunes.
For a mighty giant had arisen in a part of Cornwall: and his calf was twenty-five inches round, and the breadth of his shoulders two feet and a quarter; and his stature seven feet and three-quarters. Round the chest he was seventy inches, and his hand a foot across, and there were no scales strong enough to judge of his weight in the market-place. Now this man—or I should say, his backers and his boasters, for the giant himself was modest—sent me a brave and haughty challenge, to meet him in the ring at Bodmin-town, on the first day of August, or else to return my champion's belt to them by the messenger.
It is no use to deny but that I was greatly dashed and scared at first. For my part, I was only, when measured without clothes on, sixty inches round the breast, and round the calf scarce twenty-one, only two feet across the shoulders, and in height not six and three-quarters. However, my mother would never believe that this man could beat me; and Lorna being of the same mind, I resolved to go and try him, as they would pay all expenses and a hundred pounds, if I conquered him; so confident were those Cornishmen.
Now this story is too well known for me to go through it again and again. Every child in Devonshire knows, and his grandson will know, the song which some clever man made of it, after I had treated him to water, and to lemon, and a little sugar, and a drop of eau-de-vie. Enough that I had found the giant quite as big as they had described him, and enough to terrify any one. But trusting in my practice and study of the art, I resolved to try a back with him; and when my arms were round him once, the giant was but a farthingale put into the vice of a blacksmith. The man had no bones; his frame sank in, and I was afraid of crushing him. He lay on his back, and smiled at me; and I begged his pardon.
Now this affair made a noise at the time, and redounded so much to my credit, that I was deeply grieved at it, because deserving none. For I do like a good strife and struggle; and the doubt makes the joy of victory; whereas in this case, I might as well have been sent for a match with a hay-mow. However, I got my hundred pounds, and made up my mind to spend every farthing in presents for mother and Lorna.
For Annie was married by this time, and long before I went away; as need scarcely be said, perhaps; if any one follows the weeks and the months. The wedding was quiet enough, except for everybody's good wishes; and I desire not to dwell upon it, because it grieved me in many ways.
But now that I had tried to hope the very best for dear Annie, a deeper blow than could have come, even through her, awaited me. For after that visit to Cornwall, and with my prize-money about me, I came on foot from Okehampton to Oare, so as to save a little sum towards my time of marrying. For Lorna's fortune I would not have; small or great I would not have it; only if there were no denying we would devote the whole of it to charitable uses, as Master Peter Blundell had done; and perhaps the future ages would endeavour to be grateful. Lorna and I had settled this question at least twice a day, on the average; and each time with more satisfaction.
Now coming into the kitchen with all my cash in my breeches pocket (golden guineas, with an elephant on them, for the stamp of the Guinea Company), I found dear mother most heartily glad to see me safe and sound again—for she had dreaded that giant, and dreamed of him—and she never asked me about the money. Lizzie also was softer, and more gracious than usual; especially when she saw me pour guineas, like peppercorns, into the pudding-basin. But by the way they hung about, I knew that something was gone wrong.
'Where is Lorna?' I asked at length, after trying not to ask it; 'I want her to come, and see my money. She never saw so much before.'
'Alas!' said mother with a heavy sigh; 'she will see a great deal more, I fear; and a deal more than is good for her. Whether you ever see her again will depend upon her nature, John.'
'What do you mean, mother? Have you quarrelled? Why does not Lorna come to me? Am I never to know?'
'Now, John, be not so impatient,' my mother replied, quite calmly, for in truth she was jealous of Lorna, 'you could wait now, very well, John, if it were till this day week, for the coming of your mother, John. And yet your mother is your best friend. Who can ever fill her place?'
Thinking of her future absence, mother turned away and cried; and the box-iron singed the blanket.
'Now,' said I, being wild by this time; 'Lizzie, you have a little sense; will you tell me where is Lorna?'
'The Lady Lorna Dugal,' said Lizzie, screwing up her lips as if the title were too grand, 'is gone to London, brother John; and not likely to come back again. We must try to get on without her.'
'You little—[something]' I cried, which I dare not write down here, as all you are too good for such language; but Lizzie's lip provoked me so—'my Lorna gone, my Lorna gone! And without good-bye to me even! It is your spite has sickened her.'
'You are quite mistaken there,' she replied; 'how can folk of low degree have either spite or liking towards the people so far above them? The Lady Lorna Dugal is gone, because she could not help herself; and she wept enough to break ten hearts—if hearts are ever broken, John.'
'Darling Lizzie, how good you are!' I cried, without noticing her sneer; 'tell me all about it, dear; tell me every word she said.'
'That will not take long,' said Lizzie, quite as unmoved by soft coaxing as by urgent cursing; 'the lady spoke very little to any one, except indeed to mother, and to Gwenny Carfax; and Gwenny is gone with her, so that the benefit of that is lost. But she left a letter for "poor John," as in charity she called him. How grand she looked, to be sure, with the fine clothes on that were come for her!'
'Where is the letter, you utter vixen! Oh, may you have a husband!'
'Who will thresh it out of you, and starve it, and swear it out of you!' was the meaning of my imprecation: but Lizzie, not dreaming as yet of such things, could not understand me, and was rather thankful; therefore she answered quietly,—
'The letter is in the little cupboard, near the head of Lady Lorna's bed, where she used to keep the diamond necklace, which we contrived to get stolen.'
Without another word I rushed (so that every board in the house shook) up to my lost Lorna's room, and tore the little wall-niche open and espied my treasure. It was as simple, and as homely, and loving, as even I could wish. Part of it ran as follows,—the other parts it behoves me not to open out to strangers:—'My own love, and sometime lord,—Take it not amiss of me, that even without farewell, I go; for I cannot persuade the men to wait, your return being doubtful. My great-uncle, some grand lord, is awaiting me at Dunster, having fear of venturing too near this Exmoor country. I, who have been so lawless always, and the child of outlaws, am now to atone for this, it seems, by living in a court of law, and under special surveillance (as they call it, I believe) of His Majesty's Court of Chancery. My uncle is appointed my guardian and master; and I must live beneath his care, until I am twenty-one years old. To me this appears a dreadful thing, and very unjust, and cruel; for why should I lose my freedom, through heritage of land and gold? I offered to abandon all if they would only let me go; I went down on my knees to them, and said I wanted titles not, neither land, nor money; only to stay where I was, where first I had known happiness. But they only laughed and called me "child," and said I must talk of that to the King's High Chancellor. Their orders they had, and must obey them; and Master Stickles was ordered too, to help as the King's Commissioner. And then, although it pierced my heart not to say one "goodbye, John," I was glad upon the whole that you were not here to dispute it. For I am almost certain that you would not, without force to yourself, have let your Lorna go to people who never, never can care for her.'
Here my darling had wept again, by the tokens on the paper; and then there followed some sweet words, too sweet for me to chatter them. But she finished with these noble lines, which (being common to all humanity, in a case of steadfast love) I do no harm, but rather help all true love by repeating. 'Of one thing rest you well assured—and I do hope that it may prove of service to your rest, love, else would my own be broken—no difference of rank, or fortune, or of life itself, shall ever make me swerve from truth to you. We have passed through many troubles, dangers, and dispartments, but never yet was doubt between us; neither ever shall be. Each has trusted well the other; and still each must do so. Though they tell you I am false, though your own mind harbours it, from the sense of things around, and your own undervaluing, yet take counsel of your heart, and cast such thoughts away from you; being unworthy of itself they must be unworthy also of the one who dwells there; and that one is, and ever shall be, your own Lorna Dugal.'
Some people cannot understand that tears should come from pleasure; but whether from pleasure or from sorrow (mixed as they are in the twisted strings of a man's heart, or a woman's), great tears fell from my stupid eyes, even on the blots of Lorna's.
'No doubt it is all over,' my mind said to me bitterly; 'trust me, all shall yet be right,' my heart replied very sweetly.
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Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
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