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Lorna Doone - A Romance of Exmoor
Follow the link above to read the first fifty nine chapters, preface, and summary.
ANNIE LUCKIER THAN JOHN
Some people may look down upon us for our slavish ways (as they may choose to call them), but in our part of the country, we do love to mention title, and to roll it on our tongues, with a conscience and a comfort. Even if a man knows not, through fault of education, who the Duke of this is, or the Earl of that, it will never do for him to say so, lest the room look down on him. Therefore he must nod his head, and say, 'Ah, to be sure! I know him as well as ever I know my own good woman's brother. He married Lord Flipflap's second daughter, and a precious life she led him.' Whereupon the room looks up at him. But I, being quite unable to carry all this in my head, as I ought, was speedily put down by people of a noble tendency, apt at Lords, and pat with Dukes, and knowing more about the King than His Majesty would have requested. Therefore, I fell back in thought, not daring in words to do so, upon the titles of our horses. And all these horses deserved their names, not having merely inherited, but by their own doing earned them. Smiler, for instance, had been so called, not so much from a habit of smiling, as from his general geniality, white nose, and white ankle. This worthy horse was now in years, but hale and gay as ever; and when you let him out of the stable, he could neigh and whinny, and make men and horses know it. On the other hand, Kickums was a horse of morose and surly order; harbouring up revenge, and leading a rider to false confidence. Very smoothly he would go, and as gentle as a turtle-dove; until his rider fully believed that a pack-thread was enough for him, and a pat of approval upon his neck the aim and crown of his worthy life. Then suddenly up went his hind feet to heaven, and the rider for the most part flew over his nose; whereupon good Kickums would take advantage of his favourable position to come and bite a piece out of his back. Now in my present state of mind, being understood of nobody, having none to bear me company, neither wishing to have any, an indefinite kind of attraction drew me into Kickum's society. A bond of mutual sympathy was soon established between us; I would ride no other horse, neither Kickums be ridden by any other man. And this good horse became as jealous about me as a dog might be; and would lash out, or run teeth foremost, at any one who came near him when I was on his back.
This season, the reaping of the corn, which had been but a year ago so pleasant and so lightsome, was become a heavy labour, and a thing for grumbling rather than for gladness. However, for the sake of all, it must be attended to, and with as fair a show of spirit and alacrity as might be. For otherwise the rest would drag, and drop their hands and idle, being quicker to take infection of dullness than of diligence. And the harvest was a heavy one, even heavier than the year before, although of poorer quality. Therefore was I forced to work as hard as any horse could during all the daylight hours, and defer till night the brooding upon my misfortune. But the darkness always found me stiff with work, and weary, and less able to think than to dream, may be, of Lorna. And now the house was so dull and lonesome, wanting Annie's pretty presence, and the light of Lorna's eyes, that a man had no temptation after supper-time even to sit and smoke a pipe.
For Lizzie, though so learned, and pleasant when it suited her, never had taken very kindly to my love for Lorna, and being of a proud and slightly upstart nature, could not bear to be eclipsed in bearing, looks, and breeding, and even in clothes, by the stranger. For one thing I will say of the Doones, that whether by purchase or plunder, they had always dressed my darling well, with her own sweet taste to help them. And though Lizzie's natural hate of the maid (as a Doone and burdened with father's death) should have been changed to remorse when she learned of Lorna's real parentage, it was only altered to sullenness, and discontent with herself, for frequent rudeness to an innocent person, and one of such high descent. Moreover, the child had imbibed strange ideas as to our aristocracy, partly perhaps from her own way of thinking, and partly from reading of history. For while, from one point of view she looked up at them very demurely, as commissioned by God for the country's good; from another sight she disliked them, as ready to sacrifice their best and follow their worst members.
Yet why should this wench dare to judge upon a matter so far beyond her, and form opinions which she knew better than declare before mother? But with me she had no such scruple, for I had no authority over her; and my intellect she looked down upon, because I praised her own so. Thus she made herself very unpleasant to me; by little jags and jerks of sneering, sped as though unwittingly; which I (who now considered myself allied to the aristocracy, and perhaps took airs on that account) had not wit enough to parry, yet had wound enough to feel.
Now any one who does not know exactly how mothers feel and think, would have expected my mother (than whom could be no better one) to pet me, and make much of me, under my sad trouble; to hang with anxiety on my looks, and shed her tears with mine (if any), and season every dish of meat put by for her John's return. And if the whole truth must be told, I did expect that sort of thing, and thought what a plague it would be to me; yet not getting it, was vexed, as if by some new injury. For mother was a special creature (as I suppose we all are), being the warmest of the warm, when fired at the proper corner; and yet, if taken at the wrong point, you would say she was incombustible.
Hence it came to pass that I had no one even to speak to, about Lorna and my grievances; for Captain Stickles was now gone southward; and John Fry. of course, was too low for it, although a married man, and well under his wife's management. But finding myself unable at last to bear this any longer, upon the first day when all the wheat was cut, and the stooks set up in every field, yet none quite fit for carrying, I saddled good Kickums at five in the morning, and without a word to mother (for a little anxiety might do her good) off I set for Molland parish, to have the counsel and the comfort of my darling Annie.
The horse took me over the ground so fast (there being few better to go when he liked), that by nine o'clock Annie was in my arms, and blushing to the colour of Winnie's cheeks, with sudden delight and young happiness.
'You precious little soul!' I cried: 'how does Tom behave to you?'
'Hush!' said Annie: 'how dare you ask? He is the kindest, and the best, and the noblest of all men, John; not even setting yourself aside. Now look not jealous, John: so it is. We all have special gifts, you know. You are as good as you can be, John; but my husband's special gift is nobility of character.' Here she looked at me, as one who has discovered something quite unknown.
'I am devilish glad to hear it,' said I, being touched at going down so: 'keep him to that mark, my dear; and cork the whisky bottle.'
'Yes, darling John,' she answered quickly, not desiring to open that subject, and being too sweet to resent it: 'and how is lovely Lorna? What an age it is since I have seen you! I suppose we must thank her for that.'
'You may thank her for seeing me now,' said I; 'or rather,'—seeing how hurt she looked,—'you may thank my knowledge of your kindness, and my desire to speak of her to a soft-hearted dear little soul like you. I think all the women are gone mad. Even mother treats me shamefully. And as for Lizzie—' Here I stopped, knowing no words strong enough, without shocking Annie.
'Do you mean to say that Lorna is gone?' asked Annie, in great amazement; yet leaping at the truth, as women do, with nothing at all to leap from.
'Gone. And I never shall see her again. It serves me right for aspiring so.'
Being grieved at my manner, she led me in where none could interrupt us; and in spite of all my dejection, I could not help noticing how very pretty and even elegant all things were around. For we upon Exmoor have little taste; all we care for is warm comfort, and plenty to eat and to give away, and a hearty smack in everything. But Squire Faggus had seen the world, and kept company with great people; and the taste he had first displayed in the shoeing of farmers' horses (which led almost to his ruin, by bringing him into jealousy, and flattery, and dashing ways) had now been cultivated in London, and by moonlight, so that none could help admiring it.
'Well!' I cried, for the moment dropping care and woe in astonishment: 'we have nothing like this at Plover's Barrows; nor even Uncle Reuben. I do hope it is honest, Annie?'
'Would I sit in a chair that was not my own?' asked Annie, turning crimson, and dropping defiantly, and with a whisk of her dress which I never had seen before, into the very grandest one: 'would I lie on a couch, brother John, do you think, unless good money was paid for it? Because other people are clever, John, you need not grudge them their earnings.'
'A couch!' I replied: 'why what can you want with a couch in the day-time, Annie? A couch is a small bed, set up in a room without space for a good four-poster. What can you want with a couch downstairs? I never heard of such nonsense. And you ought to be in the dairy.'
'I won't cry, brother John, I won't; because you want to make me cry'—and all the time she was crying—'you always were so nasty, John, sometimes. Ah, you have no nobility of character, like my husband. And I have not seen you for two months, John; and now you come to scold me!'
'You little darling,' I said, for Annie's tears always conquered me; 'if all the rest ill-use me, I will not quarrel with you, dear. You have always been true to me; and I can forgive your vanity. Your things are very pretty, dear; and you may couch ten times a day, without my interference. No doubt your husband has paid for all this, with the ponies he stole from Exmoor. Nobility of character is a thing beyond my understanding; but when my sister loves a man, and he does well and flourishes, who am I to find fault with him? Mother ought to see these things: they would turn her head almost: look at the pimples on the chairs!'
'They are nothing,' Annie answered, after kissing me for my kindness: 'they are only put in for the time indeed; and we are to have much better, with gold all round the bindings, and double plush at the corners; so soon as ever the King repays the debt he owes to my poor Tom.'
I thought to myself that our present King had been most unlucky in one thing—debts all over the kingdom. Not a man who had struck a blow for the King, or for his poor father, or even said a good word for him, in the time of his adversity, but expected at least a baronetcy, and a grant of estates to support it. Many have called King Charles ungrateful: and he may have been so. But some indulgence is due to a man, with entries few on the credit side, and a terrible column of debits.
'Have no fear for the chair,' I said, for it creaked under me very fearfully, having legs not so large as my finger; 'if the chair breaks, Annie, your fear should be, lest the tortoise-shell run into me. Why, it is striped like a viper's loins! I saw some hundreds in London; and very cheap they are. They are made to be sold to the country people, such as you and me, dear; and carefully kept they will last for almost half a year. Now will you come back from your furniture, and listen to my story?'
Annie was a hearty dear, and she knew that half my talk was joke, to make light of my worrying. Therefore she took it in good part, as I well knew that she would do; and she led me to a good honest chair; and she sat in my lap and kissed me.
'All this is not like you, John. All this is not one bit like you: and your cheeks are not as they ought to be. I shall have to come home again, if the women worry my brother so. We always held together, John; and we always will, you know.'
'You dear,' I cried, 'there is nobody who understands me as you do. Lorna makes too much of me, and the rest they make too little.'
'Not mother; oh, not mother, John!'
'No, mother makes too much, no doubt; but wants it all for herself alone; and reckons it as a part of her. She makes me more wroth than any one: as if not only my life, but all my head and heart must seek from hers, and have no other thought or care.'
Being sped of my grumbling thus, and eased into better temper, I told Annie all the strange history about Lorna and her departure, and the small chance that now remained to me of ever seeing my love again. To this Annie would not hearken twice, but judging women by her faithful self, was quite vexed with me for speaking so. And then, to my surprise and sorrow, she would deliver no opinion as to what I ought to do until she had consulted darling Tom.
Dear Tom knew much of the world, no doubt, especially the dark side of it. But to me it scarcely seemed becoming that my course of action with regard to the Lady Lorna Dugal should be referred to Tom Faggus, and depend upon his decision. However, I would not grieve Annie again by making light of her husband; and so when he came in to dinner, the matter was laid before him.
Now this man never confessed himself surprised, under any circumstances; his knowledge of life being so profound, and his charity universal. And in the present case he vowed that he had suspected it all along, and could have thrown light upon Lorna's history, if we had seen fit to apply to him. Upon further inquiry I found that this light was a very dim one, flowing only from the fact that he had stopped her mother's coach, at the village of Bolham, on the Bampton Road, the day before I saw them. Finding only women therein, and these in a sad condition, Tom with his usual chivalry (as he had no scent of the necklace) allowed them to pass; with nothing more than a pleasant exchange of courtesies, and a testimonial forced upon him, in the shape of a bottle of Burgundy wine. This the poor countess handed him; and he twisted the cork out with his teeth, and drank her health with his hat off.
'A lady she was, and a true one; and I am a pretty good judge,' said Tom: 'ah, I do like a high lady!'
Our Annie looked rather queer at this, having no pretensions to be one: but she conquered herself, and said, 'Yes, Tom; and many of them liked you.'
With this, Tom went on the brag at once, being but a shallow fellow, and not of settled principles, though steadier than he used to be; until I felt myself almost bound to fetch him back a little; for of all things I do hate brag the most, as any reader of this tale must by this time know. Therefore I said to Squire Faggus, 'Come back from your highway days. You have married the daughter of an honest man; and such talk is not fit for her. If you were right in robbing people, I am right in robbing you. I could bind you to your own mantelpiece, as you know thoroughly well, Tom; and drive away with your own horses, and all your goods behind them, but for the sense of honesty. And should I not do as fine a thing as any you did on the highway? If everything is of public right, how does this chair belong to you? Clever as you are, Tom Faggus, you are nothing but a fool to mix your felony with your farmership. Drop the one, or drop the other; you cannot maintain them both.'
As I finished very sternly a speech which had exhausted me more than ten rounds of wrestling—but I was carried away by the truth, as sometimes happens to all of us—Tom had not a word to say; albeit his mind was so much more nimble and rapid than ever mine was. He leaned against the mantelpiece (a newly-invented affair in his house) as if I had corded him to it, even as I spoke of doing. And he laid one hand on his breast in a way which made Annie creep softly to him, and look at me not like a sister.
'You have done me good, John,' he said at last, and the hand he gave me was trembling: 'there is no other man on God's earth would have dared to speak to me as you have done. From no other would I have taken it. Nevertheless every word is true; and I shall dwell on it when you are gone. If you never did good in your life before, John, my brother, you have done it now.'
He turned away, in bitter pain, that none might see his trouble; and Annie, going along with him, looked as if I had killed our mother. For my part, I was so upset, for fear of having gone too far, that without a word to either of them, but a message on the title-page of King James his Prayer-book, I saddled Kickums, and was off, and glad of the moorland air again.
THEREFORE HE SEEKS COMFORT
It was for poor Annie's sake that I had spoken my mind to her husband so freely, and even harshly. For we all knew she would break her heart, if Tom took to evil ways again. And the right mode of preventing this was, not to coax, and flatter, and make a hero of him (which he did for himself, quite sufficiently), but to set before him the folly of the thing, and the ruin to his own interests. They would both be vexed with me, of course, for having left them so hastily, and especially just before dinner-time; but that would soon wear off; and most likely they would come to see mother, and tell her that I was hard to manage, and they could feel for her about it.
Now with a certain yearning, I know not what, for softness, and for one who could understand me—for simple as a child though being, I found few to do that last, at any rate in my love-time—I relied upon Kickum's strength to take me round by Dulverton. It would make the journey some eight miles longer, but what was that to a brisk young horse, even with my weight upon him?
And having left Squire Faggus and Annie much sooner than had been intended, I had plenty of time before me, and too much, ere a prospect of dinner. Therefore I struck to the right, across the hills, for Dulverton.
Pretty Ruth was in the main street of the town, with a basket in her hand, going home from the market.
'Why, Cousin Ruth, you are grown, I exclaimed; 'I do believe you are, Ruth. And you were almost too tall, already.'
At this the little thing was so pleased, that she smiled through her blushes beautifully, and must needs come to shake hands with me; though I signed to her not to do it, because of my horse's temper. But scarcely was her hand in mine, when Kickums turned like an eel upon her, and caught her by the left arm with his teeth, so that she screamed with agony. I saw the white of his vicious eye, and struck him there with all my force, with my left hand over her right arm, and he never used that eye again; none the less he kept his hold on her. Then I smote him again on the jaw, and caught the little maid up by her right hand, and laid her on the saddle in front of me; while the horse being giddy and staggered with blows, and foiled of his spite, ran backward. Ruth's wits were gone; and she lay before me, in such a helpless and senseless way that I could have killed vile Kickums. I struck the spurs into him past the rowels, and away he went at full gallop; while I had enough to do to hold on, with the little girl lying in front of me. But I called to the men who were flocking around, to send up a surgeon, as quick as could be, to Master Reuben Huckaback's.
The moment I brought my right arm to bear, the vicious horse had no chance with me; and if ever a horse was well paid for spite, Kickums had his change that day. The bridle would almost have held a whale and I drew on it so that his lower jaw was well-nigh broken from him; while with both spurs I tore his flanks, and he learned a little lesson. There are times when a man is more vicious than any horse may vie with. Therefore by the time we had reached Uncle Reuben's house at the top of the hill, the bad horse was only too happy to stop; every string of his body was trembling, and his head hanging down with impotence. I leaped from his back at once, and carried the maiden into her own sweet room.
Now Cousin Ruth was recovering softly from her fright and faintness; and the volley of the wind from galloping so had made her little ears quite pink, and shaken her locks all round her. But any one who might wish to see a comely sight and a moving one, need only have looked at Ruth Huckaback, when she learned (and imagined yet more than it was) the manner of her little ride with me. Her hair was of a hazel-brown, and full of waving readiness; and with no concealment of the trick, she spread it over her eyes and face. Being so delighted with her, and so glad to see her safe, I kissed her through the thick of it, as a cousin has a right to do; yea, and ought to do, with gravity.
'Darling,' I said; 'he has bitten you dreadfully: show me your poor arm, dear.'
She pulled up her sleeve in the simplest manner, rather to look at it herself, than to show me where the wound was. Her sleeve was of dark blue Taunton staple; and her white arm shone, coming out of it, as round and plump and velvety, as a stalk of asparagus, newly fetched out of the ground. But above the curved soft elbow, where no room was for one cross word (according to our proverb),* three sad gashes, edged with crimson, spoiled the flow of the pearly flesh. My presence of mind was lost altogether; and I raised the poor sore arm to my lips, both to stop the bleeding and to take the venom out, having heard how wise it was, and thinking of my mother. But Ruth, to my great amazement, drew away from me in bitter haste, as if I had been inserting instead of extracting poison. For the bite of a horse is most venomous; especially when he sheds his teeth; and far more to be feared than the bite of a dog, or even of a cat. And in my haste I had forgotten that Ruth might not know a word about this, and might doubt about my meaning, and the warmth of my osculation. But knowing her danger, I durst not heed her childishness, or her feelings.
* A maid with an elbow sharp, or knee, Hath cross words two, out of every three.
'Don't be a fool, Cousin Ruth,' I said, catching her so that she could not move; 'the poison is soaking into you. Do you think that I do it for pleasure?'
The spread of shame on her face was such, when she saw her own misunderstanding, that I was ashamed to look at her; and occupied myself with drawing all the risk of glanders forth from the white limb, hanging helpless now, and left entirely to my will. Before I was quite sure of having wholly exhausted suction, and when I had made the holes in her arm look like the gills of a lamprey, in came the doctor, partly drunk, and in haste to get through his business.
'Ha, ha! I see,' he cried; 'bite of a horse, they tell me. Very poisonous; must be burned away. Sally, the iron in the fire. If you have a fire, this weather.'
'Crave your pardon, good sir,' I said; for poor little Ruth was fainting again at his savage orders: 'but my cousin's arm shall not be burned; it is a great deal too pretty, and I have sucked all the poison out. Look, sir, how clean and fresh it is.'
'Bless my heart! And so it is! No need at all for cauterising. The epidermis will close over, and the cutis and the pellis. John Ridd, you ought to have studied medicine, with your healing powers. Half my virtue lies in touch. A clean and wholesome body, sir; I have taught you the Latin grammar. I leave you in excellent hands, my dear, and they wait for me at shovel-board. Bread and water poultice cold, to be renewed, tribus horis. John Ridd, I was at school with you, and you beat me very lamentably, when I tried to fight with you. You remember me not? It is likely enough: I am forced to take strong waters, John, from infirmity of the liver. Attend to my directions; and I will call again in the morning.'
And in that melancholy plight, caring nothing for business, went one of the cleverest fellows ever known at Tiverton. He could write Latin verses a great deal faster than I could ever write English prose, and nothing seemed too great for him. We thought that he would go to Oxford and astonish every one, and write in the style of Buchanan; but he fell all abroad very lamentably; and now, when I met him again, was come down to push-pin and shovel-board, with a wager of spirits pending.
When Master Huckaback came home, he looked at me very sulkily; not only because of my refusal to become a slave to the gold-digging, but also because he regarded me as the cause of a savage broil between Simon Carfax and the men who had cheated him as to his Gwenny. However, when Uncle Ben saw Ruth, and knew what had befallen her, and she with tears in her eyes declared that she owed her life to Cousin Ridd, the old man became very gracious to me; for if he loved any one on earth, it was his little granddaughter.
I could not stay very long, because, my horse being quite unfit to travel from the injuries which his violence and vice had brought upon him, there was nothing for me but to go on foot, as none of Uncle Ben's horses could take me to Plover's Barrows, without downright cruelty: and though there would be a harvest-moon, Ruth agreed with me that I must not keep my mother waiting, with no idea where I might be, until a late hour of the night. I told Ruth all about our Annie, and her noble furniture; and the little maid was very lively (although her wounds were paining her so, that half her laughter came 'on the wrong side of her mouth,' as we rather coarsely express it); especially she laughed about Annie's new-fangled closet for clothes, or standing-press, as she called it. This had frightened me so that I would not come without my stick to look at it; for the front was inlaid with two fiery dragons, and a glass which distorted everything, making even Annie look hideous; and when it was opened, a woman's skeleton, all in white, revealed itself, in the midst of three standing women. 'It is only to keep my best frocks in shape,' Annie had explained to me; 'hanging them up does ruin them so. But I own that I was afraid of it, John, until I had got all my best clothes there, and then I became very fond of it. But even now it frightens me sometimes in the moonlight.'
Having made poor Ruth a little cheerful, with a full account of all Annie's frocks, material, pattern, and fashion (of which I had taken a list for my mother, and for Lizzie, lest they should cry out at man's stupidity about anything of real interest), I proceeded to tell her about my own troubles, and the sudden departure of Lorna; concluding with all the show of indifference which my pride could muster, that now I never should see her again, and must do my best to forget her, as being so far above me. I had not intended to speak of this, but Ruth's face was so kind and earnest, that I could not stop myself.
'You must not talk like that, Cousin Ridd,' she said, in a low and gentle tone, and turning away her eyes from me; 'no lady can be above a man, who is pure, and brave, and gentle. And if her heart be worth having, she will never let you give her up, for her grandeur, and her nobility.'
She pronounced those last few words, as I thought, with a little bitterness, unperceived by herself perhaps, for it was not in her appearance. But I, attaching great importance to a maiden's opinion about a maiden (because she might judge from experience), would have led her further into that subject. But she declined to follow, having now no more to say in a matter so removed from her. Then I asked her full and straight, and looking at her in such a manner that she could not look away, without appearing vanquished by feelings of her own—which thing was very vile of me; but all men are so selfish,—
'Dear cousin, tell me, once for all, what is your advice to me?'
'My advice to you,' she answered bravely, with her dark eyes full of pride, and instead of flinching, foiling me,—'is to do what every man must do, if he would win fair maiden. Since she cannot send you token, neither is free to return to you, follow her, pay your court to her; show that you will not be forgotten; and perhaps she will look down—I mean, she will relent to you.'
'She has nothing to relent about. I have never vexed nor injured her. My thoughts have never strayed from her. There is no one to compare with her.'
'Then keep her in that same mind about you. See now, I can advise no more. My arm is swelling painfully, in spite of all your goodness, and bitter task of surgeonship. I shall have another poultice on, and go to bed, I think, Cousin Ridd, if you will not hold me ungrateful. I am so sorry for your long walk. Surely it might be avoided. Give my love to dear Lizzie: oh, the room is going round so.'
And she fainted into the arms of Sally, who was come just in time to fetch her: no doubt she had been suffering agony all the time she talked to me. Leaving word that I would come again to inquire for her, and fetch Kickums home, so soon as the harvest permitted me, I gave directions about the horse, and striding away from the ancient town, was soon upon the moorlands.
Now, through the whole of that long walk—the latter part of which was led by starlight, till the moon arose—I dwelt, in my young and foolish way, upon the ordering of our steps by a Power beyond us. But as I could not bring my mind to any clearness upon this matter, and the stars shed no light upon it, but rather confused me with wondering how their Lord could attend to them all, and yet to a puny fool like me, it came to pass that my thoughts on the subject were not worth ink, if I knew them.
But it is perhaps worth ink to relate, so far as I can do so, mother's delight at my return, when she had almost abandoned hope, and concluded that I was gone to London, in disgust at her behaviour. And now she was looking up the lane, at the rise of the harvest-moon, in despair, as she said afterwards. But if she had despaired in truth, what use to look at all? Yet according to the epigram made by a good Blundellite,—
Despair was never yet so deep In sinking as in seeming; Despair is hope just dropped asleep For better chance of dreaming.
And mother's dream was a happy one, when she knew my step at a furlong distant; for the night was of those that carry sound thrice as far as day can. She recovered herself, when she was sure, and even made up her mind to scold me, and felt as if she could do it. But when she was in my arms, into which she threw herself, and I by the light of the moon descried the silver gleam on one side of her head (now spreading since Annie's departure), bless my heart and yours therewith, no room was left for scolding. She hugged me, and she clung to me; and I looked at her, with duty made tenfold, and discharged by love. We said nothing to one another; but all was right between us.
Even Lizzie behaved very well, so far as her nature admitted; not even saying a nasty thing all the time she was getting my supper ready, with a weak imitation of Annie. She knew that the gift of cooking was not vouchsafed by God to her; but sometimes she would do her best, by intellect to win it. Whereas it is no more to be won by intellect than is divine poetry. An amount of strong quick heart is needful, and the understanding must second it, in the one art as in the other. Now my fare was very choice for the next three days or more; yet not turned out like Annie's. They could do a thing well enough on the fire; but they could not put it on table so; nor even have plates all piping hot. This was Annie's special gift; born in her, and ready to cool with her; like a plate borne away from the fireplace. I sighed sometimes about Lorna, and they thought it was about the plates. And mother would stand and look at me, as much as to say, 'No pleasing him'; and Lizzie would jerk up one shoulder, and cry, 'He had better have Lorna to cook for him'; while the whole truth was that I wanted not to be plagued about any cookery; but just to have something good and quiet, and then smoke and think about Lorna.
Nevertheless the time went on, with one change and another; and we gathered all our harvest in; and Parson Bowden thanked God for it, both in church and out of it; for his tithes would be very goodly. The unmatched cold of the previous winter, and general fear of scarcity, and our own talk about our ruin, had sent prices up to a grand high pitch; and we did our best to keep them there. For nine Englishmen out of every ten believe that a bitter winter must breed a sour summer, and explain away topmost prices. While according to my experience, more often it would be otherwise, except for the public thinking so. However, I have said too much; and if any farmer reads my book, he will vow that I wrote it for nothing else except to rob his family.
THE KING MUST NOT BE PRAYED FOR
All our neighbourhood was surprised that the Doones had not ere now attacked, and probably made an end of us. For we lay almost at their mercy now, having only Sergeant Bloxham, and three men, to protect us, Captain Stickles having been ordered southwards with all his force; except such as might be needful for collecting toll, and watching the imports at Lynmouth, and thence to Porlock. The Sergeant, having now imbibed a taste for writing reports (though his first great effort had done him no good, and only offended Stickles), reported weekly from Plover's Barrows, whenever he could find a messenger. And though we fed not Sergeant Bloxham at our own table, with the best we had (as in the case of Stickles, who represented His Majesty), yet we treated him so well, that he reported very highly of us, as loyal and true-hearted lieges, and most devoted to our lord the King. And indeed he could scarcely have done less, when Lizzie wrote great part of his reports, and furbished up the rest to such a pitch of lustre, that Lord Clarendon himself need scarce have been ashamed of them. And though this cost a great deal of ale, and even of strong waters (for Lizzie would have it the duty of a critic to stand treat to the author), and though it was otherwise a plague, as giving the maid such airs of patronage, and such pretence to politics; yet there was no stopping it, without the risk of mortal offence to both writer and reviewer. Our mother also, while disapproving Lizzie's long stay in the saddle-room on a Friday night and a Saturday, and insisting that Betty should be there, was nevertheless as proud as need be, that the King should read our Eliza' s writings—at least so the innocent soul believed—and we all looked forward to something great as the fruit of all this history. And something great did come of it, though not as we expected; for these reports, or as many of them as were ever opened, stood us in good stead the next year, when we were accused of harbouring and comforting guilty rebels.
Now the reason why the Doones did not attack us was that they were preparing to meet another and more powerful assault upon their fortress; being assured that their repulse of King's troops could not be looked over when brought before the authorities. And no doubt they were right; for although the conflicts in the Government during that summer and autumn had delayed the matter yet positive orders had been issued that these outlaws and malefactors should at any price be brought to justice; when the sudden death of King Charles the Second threw all things into confusion, and all minds into a panic.
We heard of it first in church, on Sunday, the eighth day of February, 1684-5, from a cousin of John Fry, who had ridden over on purpose from Porlock. He came in just before the anthem, splashed and heated from his ride, so that every one turned and looked at him. He wanted to create a stir (knowing how much would be made of him), and he took the best way to do it. For he let the anthem go by very quietly—or rather I should say very pleasingly, for our choir was exceeding proud of itself, and I sang bass twice as loud as a bull, to beat the clerk with the clarionet—and then just as Parson Bowden, with a look of pride at his minstrels, was kneeling down to begin the prayer for the King's Most Excellent Majesty (for he never read the litany, except upon Easter Sunday), up jumps young Sam Fry, and shouts,—
'I forbid that there prai-er.'
'What!' cried the parson, rising slowly, and looking for some one to shut the door: 'have we a rebel in the congregation?' For the parson was growing short-sighted now, and knew not Sam Fry at that distance.
'No,' replied Sam, not a whit abashed by the staring of all the parish; 'no rebel, parson; but a man who mislaiketh popery and murder. That there prai-er be a prai-er for the dead.'
'Nay,' cried the parson, now recognising and knowing him to be our John's first cousin, 'you do not mean to say, Sam, that His Gracious Majesty is dead!'
'Dead as a sto-un: poisoned by they Papishers.' And Sam rubbed his hands with enjoyment, at the effect he had produced.
'Remember where you are, Sam,' said Parson Bowden solemnly; 'when did this most sad thing happen? The King is the head of the Church, Sam Fry; when did he leave her?'
'Day afore yesterday. Twelve o'clock. Warn't us quick to hear of 'un?'
'Can't be,' said the minister: 'the tidings can never have come so soon. Anyhow, he will want it all the more. Let us pray for His Gracious Majesty.'
And with that he proceeded as usual; but nobody cried 'Amen,' for fear of being entangled with Popery. But after giving forth his text, our parson said a few words out of book, about the many virtues of His Majesty, and self-denial, and devotion, comparing his pious mirth to the dancing of the patriarch David before the ark of the covenant; and he added, with some severity, that if his flock would not join their pastor (who was much more likely to judge aright) in praying for the King, the least they could do on returning home was to pray that the King might not be dead, as his enemies had asserted.
Now when the service was over, we killed the King, and we brought him to life, at least fifty times in the churchyard: and Sam Fry was mounted on a high gravestone, to tell every one all he knew of it. But he knew no more than he had told us in the church, as before repeated: upon which we were much disappointed with him, and inclined to disbelieve him; until he happily remembered that His Majesty had died in great pain, with blue spots on his breast and black spots all across his back, and these in the form of a cross, by reason of Papists having poisoned him. When Sam called this to his remembrance (or to his imagination) he was overwhelmed, at once, with so many invitations to dinner, that he scarce knew which of them to accept; but decided in our favour.
Grieving much for the loss of the King, however greatly it might be (as the parson had declared it was, while telling us to pray against it) for the royal benefit, I resolved to ride to Porlock myself, directly after dinner, and make sure whether he were dead, or not. For it was not by any means hard to suppose that Sam Fry, being John's first cousin, might have inherited either from grandfather or grandmother some of those gifts which had made our John so famous for mendacity. At Porlock I found that it was too true; and the women of the town were in great distress, for the King had always been popular with them: the men, on the other hand, were forecasting what would be likely to ensue.
And I myself was of this number, riding sadly home again; although bound to the King as churchwarden now; which dignity, next to the parson's in rank, is with us (as it ought to be in every good parish) hereditary. For who can stick to the church like the man whose father stuck to it before him; and who knows all the little ins, and great outs, which must in these troublous times come across?
But though appointed at last, by virtue of being best farmer in the parish (as well as by vice of mismanagement on the part of my mother, and Nicholas Snowe, who had thoroughly muxed up everything, being too quick-headed); yet, while I dwelled with pride upon the fact that I stood in the King's shoes, as the manager and promoter of the Church of England, and I knew that we must miss His Majesty (whose arms were above the Commandments), as the leader of our thoughts in church, and handsome upon a guinea; nevertheless I kept on thinking how his death would act on me.
And here I saw it, many ways. In the first place, troubles must break out; and we had eight-and-twenty ricks; counting grain, and straw, and hay. Moreover, mother was growing weak about riots, and shooting, and burning; and she gathered the bed-clothes around her ears every night, when her feet were tucked up; and prayed not to awake until morning. In the next place, much rebellion (though we would not own it; in either sense of the verb, to 'own') was whispering, and plucking skirts, and making signs, among us. And the terror of the Doones helped greatly; as a fruitful tree of lawlessness, and a good excuse for everybody. And after this—or rather before it, and first of all indeed (if I must state the true order)—arose upon me the thought of Lorna, and how these things would affect her fate.
And indeed I must admit that it had occurred to me sometimes, or been suggested by others, that the Lady Lorna had not behaved altogether kindly, since her departure from among us. For although in those days the post (as we call the service of letter-carrying, which now comes within twenty miles of us) did not extend to our part of the world, yet it might have been possible to procure for hire a man who would ride post, if Lorna feared to trust the pack-horses, or the troopers, who went to and fro. Yet no message whatever had reached us; neither any token even of her safety in London. As to this last, however, we had no misgivings, having learned from the orderlies, more than once, that the wealth, and beauty, and adventures of young Lady Lorna Dugal were greatly talked of, both at court and among the common people.
Now riding sadly homewards, in the sunset of the early spring, I was more than ever touched with sorrow, and a sense of being, as it were, abandoned. And the weather growing quite beautiful, and so mild that the trees were budding, and the cattle full of happiness, I could not but think of the difference between the world of to-day and the world of this day twelvemonth. Then all was howling desolation, all the earth blocked up with snow, and all the air with barbs of ice as small as splintered needles, yet glittering, in and out, like stars, and gathering so upon a man (if long he stayed among them) that they began to weigh him down to sleepiness and frozen death. Not a sign of life was moving, nor was any change of view; unless the wild wind struck the crest of some cold drift, and bowed it.
Now, on the other hand, all was good. The open palm of spring was laid upon the yielding of the hills; and each particular valley seemed to be the glove for a finger. And although the sun was low, and dipping in the western clouds, the gray light of the sea came up, and took, and taking, told the special tone of everything. All this lay upon my heart, without a word of thinking, spreading light and shadow there, and the soft delight of sadness. Nevertheless, I would it were the savage snow around me, and the piping of the restless winds, and the death of everything. For in those days I had Lorna.
Then I thought of promise fair; such as glowed around me, where the red rocks held the sun, when he was departed; and the distant crags endeavoured to retain his memory. But as evening spread across them, shading with a silent fold, all the colour stole away; all remembrance waned and died.
'So it has been with love,' I thought, 'and with simple truth and warmth. The maid has chosen the glittering stars, instead of the plain daylight.'
Nevertheless I would not give in, although in deep despondency (especially when I passed the place where my dear father had fought in vain), and I tried to see things right and then judge aright about them. This, however, was more easy to attempt than to achieve; and by the time I came down the hill, I was none the wiser. Only I could tell my mother that the King was dead for sure; and she would have tried to cry, but for thought of her mourning.
There was not a moment for lamenting. All the mourning must be ready (if we cared to beat the Snowes) in eight-and-forty hours: and, although it was Sunday night, mother now feeling sure of the thing, sat up with Lizzie, cutting patterns, and stitching things on brown paper, and snipping, and laying the fashions down, and requesting all opinions, yet when given, scorning them; insomuch that I grew weary even of tobacco (which had comforted me since Lorna), and prayed her to go on until the King should be alive again.
The thought of that so flurried her—for she never yet could see a joke—that she laid her scissors on the table and said, 'The Lord forbid, John! after what I have cut up!'
'It would be just like him,' I answered, with a knowing smile: 'Mother, you had better stop. Patterns may do very well; but don't cut up any more good stuff.'
'Well, good lack, I am a fool! Three tables pegged with needles! The Lord in His mercy keep His Majesty, if ever He hath gotten him!'
By this device we went to bed; and not another stitch was struck until the troopers had office-tidings that the King was truly dead. Hence the Snowes beat us by a day; and both old Betty and Lizzie laid the blame upon me, as usual.
Almost before we had put off the mourning, which as loyal subjects we kept for the King three months and a week; rumours of disturbances, of plottings, and of outbreak began to stir among us. We heard of fighting in Scotland, and buying of ships on the continent, and of arms in Dorset and Somerset; and we kept our beacon in readiness to give signals of a landing; or rather the soldiers did. For we, having trustworthy reports that the King had been to high mass himself in the Abbey of Westminster, making all the bishops go with him, and all the guards in London, and then tortured all the Protestants who dared to wait outside, moreover had received from the Pope a flower grown in the Virgin Mary's garden, and warranted to last for ever, we of the moderate party, hearing all this and ten times as much, and having no love for this sour James, such as we had for the lively Charles, were ready to wait for what might happen, rather than care about stopping it. Therefore we listened to rumours gladly, and shook our heads with gravity, and predicted, every man something, but scarce any two the same. Nevertheless, in our part, things went on as usual, until the middle of June was nigh. We ploughed the ground, and sowed the corn, and tended the cattle, and heeded every one his neighbour's business, as carefully as heretofore; and the only thing that moved us much was that Annie had a baby. This being a very fine child with blue eyes, and christened 'John' in compliment to me, and with me for his godfather, it is natural to suppose that I thought a good deal about him; and when mother or Lizzie would ask me, all of a sudden, and treacherously, when the fire flared up at supper-time (for we always kept a little wood just alight in summer-time, and enough to make the pot boil), then when they would say to me, 'John, what are you thinking of? At a word, speak!' I would always answer, 'Little John Faggus'; and so they made no more of me.
But when I was down, on Saturday the thirteenth of June, at the blacksmith's forge by Brendon town, where the Lynn-stream runs so close that he dips his horseshoes in it, and where the news is apt to come first of all to our neighbourhood (except upon a Sunday), while we were talking of the hay-crop, and of a great sheep-stealer, round the corner came a man upon a piebald horse looking flagged and weary. But seeing half a dozen of us, young, and brisk, and hearty, he made a flourish with his horse, and waved a blue flag vehemently, shouting with great glory,—
'Monmouth and the Protestant faith! Monmouth and no Popery! Monmouth, the good King's eldest son! Down with the poisoning murderer! Down with the black usurper, and to the devil with all papists!'
'Why so, thou little varlet?' I asked very quietly; for the man was too small to quarrel with: yet knowing Lorna to be a 'papist,' as we choose to call them—though they might as well call us 'kingists,' after the head of our Church—I thought that this scurvy scampish knave might show them the way to the place he mentioned, unless his courage failed him.
'Papist yourself, be you?' said the fellow, not daring to answer much: 'then take this, and read it.'
And he handed me a long rigmarole, which he called a 'Declaration': I saw that it was but a heap of lies, and thrust it into the blacksmith's fire, and blew the bellows thrice at it. No one dared attempt to stop me, for my mood had not been sweet of late; and of course they knew my strength.
The man rode on with a muttering noise, having won no recruits from us, by force of my example: and he stopped at the ale-house farther down, where the road goes away from the Lynn-stream. Some of us went thither after a time, when our horses were shodden and rasped, for although we might not like the man, we might be glad of his tidings, which seemed to be something wonderful. He had set up his blue flag in the tap-room, and was teaching every one.
'Here coom'th Maister Jan Ridd,' said the landlady, being well pleased with the call for beer and cider: 'her hath been to Lunnon-town, and live within a maile of me. Arl the news coom from them nowadays, instead of from here, as her ought to do. If Jan Ridd say it be true, I will try almost to belave it. Hath the good Duke landed, sir?' And she looked at me over a foaming cup, and blew the froth off, and put more in.
'I have no doubt it is true enough,' I answered, before drinking; 'and too true, Mistress Pugsley. Many a poor man will die; but none shall die from our parish, nor from Brendon, if I can help it.'
And I knew that I could help it; for every one in those little places would abide by my advice; not only from the fame of my schooling and long sojourn in London, but also because I had earned repute for being very 'slow and sure': and with nine people out of ten this is the very best recommendation. For they think themselves much before you in wit, and under no obligation, but rather conferring a favour, by doing the thing that you do. Hence, if I cared for influence—which means, for the most part, making people do one's will, without knowing it—my first step toward it would be to be called, in common parlance, 'slow but sure.'
For the next fortnight we were daily troubled with conflicting rumours, each man relating what he desired, rather than what he had right, to believe. We were told that the Duke had been proclaimed King of England in every town of Dorset and of Somerset; that he had won a great battle at Axminster, and another at Bridport, and another somewhere else; that all the western counties had risen as one man for him, and all the militia had joined his ranks; that Taunton, and Bridgwater, and Bristowe, were all mad with delight, the two former being in his hands, and the latter craving to be so. And then, on the other hand, we heard that the Duke had been vanquished, and put to flight, and upon being apprehended, had confessed himself an impostor and a papist as bad as the King was.
We longed for Colonel Stickles (as he always became in time of war, though he fell back to Captain, and even Lieutenant, directly the fight was over), for then we should have won trusty news, as well as good consideration. But even Sergeant Bloxham, much against his will, was gone, having left his heart with our Lizzie, and a collection of all his writings. All the soldiers had been ordered away at full speed for Exeter, to join the Duke of Albemarle, or if he were gone, to follow him. As for us, who had fed them so long (although not quite for nothing), we must take our chance of Doones, or any other enemies.
Now all these tidings moved me a little; not enough to spoil appetite, but enough to make things lively, and to teach me that look of wisdom which is bred of practice only, and the hearing of many lies. Therefore I withheld my judgment, fearing to be triumphed over, if it should happen to miss the mark. But mother and Lizzie, ten times in a day, predicted all they could imagine; and their prophecies increased in strength according to contradiction. Yet this was not in the proper style for a house like ours, which knew the news, or at least had known it; and still was famous, all around, for the last advices. Even from Lynmouth, people sent up to Plover's Barrows to ask how things were going on: and it was very grievous to answer that in truth we knew not, neither had heard for days and days; and our reputation was so great, especially since the death of the King had gone abroad from Oare parish, that many inquirers would only wink, and lay a finger on the lip, as if to say, 'you know well enough, but see not fit to tell me.' And before the end arrived, those people believed that they had been right all along, and that we had concealed the truth from them.
For I myself became involved (God knows how much against my will and my proper judgment) in the troubles, and the conflict, and the cruel work coming afterwards. If ever I had made up my mind to anything in all my life, it was at this particular time, and as stern and strong as could be. I had resolved to let things pass,—to hear about them gladly, to encourage all my friends to talk, and myself to express opinion upon each particular point, when in the fullness of time no further doubt could be. But all my policy went for nothing, through a few touches of feeling.
One day at the beginning of July, I came home from mowing about noon, or a little later, to fetch some cider for all of us, and to eat a morsel of bacon. For mowing was no joke that year, the summer being wonderfully wet (even for our wet country), and the swathe falling heavier over the scythe than ever I could remember it. We were drenched with rain almost every day; but the mowing must be done somehow; and we must trust to God for the haymaking.
In the courtyard I saw a little cart, with iron brakes underneath it, such as fastidious people use to deaden the jolting of the road; but few men under a lord or baronet would be so particular. Therefore I wondered who our noble visitor could be. But when I entered the kitchen-place, brushing up my hair for somebody, behold it was no one greater than our Annie, with my godson in her arms, and looking pale and tear-begone. And at first she could not speak to me. But presently having sat down a little, and received much praise for her baby, she smiled and blushed, and found her tongue as if she had never gone from us.
'How natural it all looks again! Oh, I love this old kitchen so! Baby dear, only look at it wid him pitty, pitty eyes, and him tongue out of his mousy! But who put the flour-riddle up there. And look at the pestle and mortar, and rust I declare in the patty pans! And a book, positively a dirty book, where the clean skewers ought to hang! Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie!'
'You may just as well cease lamenting,' I said, 'for you can't alter Lizzie's nature, and you will only make mother uncomfortable, and perhaps have a quarrel with Lizzie, who is proud as Punch of her housekeeping.'
'She,' cried Annie, with all the contempt that could be compressed in a syllable. 'Well, John, no doubt you are right about it. I will try not to notice things. But it is a hard thing, after all my care, to see everything going to ruin. But what can be expected of a girl who knows all the kings of Carthage?'
'There were no kings of Carthage, Annie. They were called, why let me see—they were called—oh, something else.'
'Never mind what they were called,' said Annie; 'will they cook our dinner for us? But now, John, I am in such trouble. All this talk is make-believe.'
'Don't you cry, my dear: don't cry, my darling sister,' I answered, as she dropped into the worn place of the settle, and bent above her infant, rocking as if both their hearts were one: 'don't you know, Annie, I cannot tell, but I know, or at least I mean, I have heard the men of experience say, it is so bad for the baby.'
'Perhaps I know that as well as you do, John,' said Annie, looking up at me with a gleam of her old laughing: 'but how can I help crying; I am in such trouble.'
'Tell me what it is, my dear. Any grief of yours will vex me greatly; but I will try to bear it.'
'Then, John, it is just this. Tom has gone off with the rebels; and you must, oh, you must go after him.'
JOHN IS WORSTED BY THE WOMEN
Moved as I was by Annie's tears, and gentle style of coaxing, and most of all by my love for her, I yet declared that I could not go, and leave our house and homestead, far less my dear mother and Lizzie, at the mercy of the merciless Doones.
'Is that all your objection, John?' asked Annie, in her quick panting way: 'would you go but for that, John?'
'Now,' I said, 'be in no such hurry'—for while I was gradually yielding, I liked to pass it through my fingers, as if my fingers shaped it: 'there are many things to be thought about, and many ways of viewing it.'
'Oh, you never can have loved Lorna! No wonder you gave her up so! John, you can love nobody, but your oat-ricks, and your hay-ricks.'
'Sister mine, because I rant not, neither rave of what I feel, can you be so shallow as to dream that I feel nothing? What is your love for Tom Faggus? What is your love for your baby (pretty darling as he is) to compare with such a love as for ever dwells with me? Because I do not prate of it; because it is beyond me, not only to express, but even form to my own heart in thoughts; because I do not shape my face, and would scorn to play to it, as a thing of acting, and lay it out before you, are you fools enough to think—' but here I stopped, having said more than was usual with me.
'I am very sorry, John. Dear John, I am so sorry. What a shallow fool I am!'
'I will go seek your husband,' I said, to change the subject, for even to Annie I would not lay open all my heart about Lorna: 'but only upon condition that you ensure this house and people from the Doones meanwhile. Even for the sake of Tom, I cannot leave all helpless. The oat-ricks and the hay-ricks, which are my only love, they are welcome to make cinders of. But I will not have mother treated so; nor even little Lizzie, although you scorn your sister so.'
'Oh, John, I do think you are the hardest, as well as the softest of all the men I know. Not even a woman's bitter word but what you pay her out for. Will you never understand that we are not like you, John? We say all sorts of spiteful things, without a bit of meaning. John, for God's sake fetch Tom home; and then revile me as you please, and I will kneel and thank you.'
'I will not promise to fetch him home,' I answered, being ashamed of myself for having lost command so: 'but I will promise to do my best, if we can only hit on a plan for leaving mother harmless.'
Annie thought for a little while, trying to gather her smooth clear brow into maternal wrinkles, and then she looked at her child, and said, 'I will risk it, for daddy's sake, darling; you precious soul, for daddy's sake.' I asked her what she was going to risk. She would not tell me; but took upper hand, and saw to my cider-cans and bacon, and went from corner to cupboard, exactly as if she had never been married; only without an apron on. And then she said, 'Now to your mowers, John; and make the most of this fine afternoon; kiss your godson before you go.' And I, being used to obey her, in little things of that sort, kissed the baby, and took my cans, and went back to my scythe again.
By the time I came home it was dark night, and pouring again with a foggy rain, such as we have in July, even more than in January. Being soaked all through, and through, and with water quelching in my boots, like a pump with a bad bucket, I was only too glad to find Annie's bright face, and quick figure, flitting in and out the firelight, instead of Lizzie sitting grandly, with a feast of literature, and not a drop of gravy. Mother was in the corner also, with her cheery-coloured ribbons glistening very nice by candle-light, looking at Annie now and then, with memories of her babyhood; and then at her having a baby: yet half afraid of praising her much, for fear of that young Lizzie. But Lizzie showed no jealousy: she truly loved our Annie (now that she was gone from us), and she wanted to know all sorts of things, and she adored the baby. Therefore Annie was allowed to attend to me, as she used to do.
'Now, John, you must start the first thing in the morning,' she said, when the others had left the room, but somehow she stuck to the baby, 'to fetch me back my rebel, according to your promise.'
'Not so,' I replied, misliking the job, 'all I promised was to go, if this house were assured against any onslaught of the Doones.'
'Just so; and here is that assurance.' With these words she drew forth a paper, and laid it on my knee with triumph, enjoying my amazement. This, as you may suppose was great; not only at the document, but also at her possession of it. For in truth it was no less than a formal undertaking, on the part of the Doones, not to attack Plover's Barrows farm, or molest any of the inmates, or carry off any chattels, during the absence of John Ridd upon a special errand. This document was signed not only by the Counsellor, but by many other Doones: whether Carver's name were there, I could not say for certain; as of course he would not sign it under his name of 'Carver,' and I had never heard Lorna say to what (if any) he had been baptized.
In the face of such a deed as this, I could no longer refuse to go; and having received my promise, Annie told me (as was only fair) how she had procured that paper. It was both a clever and courageous act; and would have seemed to me, at first sight, far beyond Annie's power. But none may gauge a woman's power, when her love and faith are moved.
The first thing Annie had done was this: she made herself look ugly. This was not an easy thing; but she had learned a great deal from her husband, upon the subject of disguises. It hurt her feelings not a little to make so sad a fright of herself; but what could it matter?—if she lost Tom, she must be a far greater fright in earnest, than now she was in seeming. And then she left her child asleep, under Betty Muxworthy's tendance—for Betty took to that child, as if there never had been a child before—and away she went in her own 'spring-cart' (as the name of that engine proved to be), without a word to any one, except the old man who had driven her from Molland parish that morning, and who coolly took one of our best horses, without 'by your leave' to any one.
Annie made the old man drive her within easy reach of the Doone-gate, whose position she knew well enough, from all our talk about it. And there she bade the old man stay, until she should return to him. Then with her comely figure hidden by a dirty old woman's cloak, and her fair young face defaced by patches and by liniments, so that none might covet her, she addressed the young man at the gate in a cracked and trembling voice; and they were scarcely civil to the 'old hag,' as they called her. She said that she bore important tidings for Sir Counsellor himself, and must be conducted to him. To him accordingly she was led, without even any hoodwinking, for she had spectacles over her eyes, and made believe not to see ten yards.
She found Sir Counsellor at home, and when the rest were out of sight, threw off all disguise to him, flashing forth as a lovely young woman, from all her wraps and disfigurements. She flung her patches on the floor, amid the old man's laughter, and let her tucked-up hair come down; and then went up and kissed him.
'Worthy and reverend Counsellor, I have a favour to ask,' she began.
'So I should think from your proceedings,'—the old man interrupted—'ah, if I were half my age'—
'If you were, I would not sue so. But most excellent Counsellor, you owe me some amends, you know, for the way in which you robbed me.'
'Beyond a doubt I do, my dear. You have put it rather strongly; and it might offend some people. Nevertheless I own my debt, having so fair a creditor.'
'And do you remember how you slept, and how much we made of you, and would have seen you home, sir; only you did not wish it?'
'And for excellent reasons, child. My best escort was in my cloak, after we made the cream to rise. Ha, ha! The unholy spell. My pretty child, has it injured you?'
'Yes, I fear it has, said Annie; 'or whence can all my ill luck come?' And here she showed some signs of crying, knowing that Counsellor hated it.
'You shall not have ill luck, my dear. I have heard all about your marriage to a very noble highwayman. Ah, you made a mistake in that; you were worthy of a Doone, my child; your frying was a blessing meant for those who can appreciate.'
'My husband can appreciate,' she answered very proudly; 'but what I wish to know is this, will you try to help me?'
The Counsellor answered that he would do so, if her needs were moderate; whereupon she opened her meaning to him, and told of all her anxieties. Considering that Lorna was gone, and her necklace in his possession, and that I (against whom alone of us the Doones could bear any malice) would be out of the way all the while, the old man readily undertook that our house should not be assaulted, nor our property molested, until my return. And to the promptitude of his pledge, two things perhaps contributed, namely, that he knew not how we were stripped of all defenders, and that some of his own forces were away in the rebel camp. For (as I learned thereafter) the Doones being now in direct feud with the present Government, and sure to be crushed if that prevailed, had resolved to drop all religious questions, and cast in their lot with Monmouth. And the turbulent youths, being long restrained from their wonted outlet for vehemence, by the troopers in the neighbourhood, were only too glad to rush forth upon any promise of blows and excitement.
However, Annie knew little of this, but took the Counsellor's pledge as a mark of especial favour in her behalf (which it may have been to some extent), and thanked him for it most heartily, and felt that he had earned the necklace; while he, like an ancient gentleman, disclaimed all obligation, and sent her under an escort safe to her own cart again. But Annie, repassing the sentinels, with her youth restored and blooming with the flush of triumph, went up to them very gravely, and said, 'The old hag wishes you good-evening, gentlemen'; and so made her best curtsey.
Now, look at it as I would, there was no excuse left for me, after the promise given. Dear Annie had not only cheated the Doones, but also had gotten the best of me, by a pledge to a thing impossible. And I bitterly said, 'I am not like Lorna: a pledge once given, I keep it.'
'I will not have a word against Lorna,' cried Annie; 'I will answer for her truth as surely as I would for my own or yours, John.' And with that she vanquished me.
But when my poor mother heard that I was committed, by word of honour, to a wild-goose chase, among the rebels, after that runagate Tom Faggus, she simply stared, and would not believe it. For lately I had joked with her, in a little style of jerks, as people do when out of sorts; and she, not understanding this, and knowing jokes to be out of my power, would only look, and sigh, and toss, and hope that I meant nothing. At last, however, we convinced her that I was in earnest, and must be off in the early morning, and leave John Fry with the hay crop.
Then mother was ready to fall upon Annie, as not content with disgracing us, by wedding a man of new honesty (if indeed of any), but laying traps to catch her brother, and entangle him perhaps to his death, for the sake of a worthless fellow; and 'felon'—she was going to say, as by the shape of her lips I knew. But I laid my hand upon dear mother's lips; because what must be, must be; and if mother and daughter stayed at home, better in love than in quarrelling.
Right early in the morning, I was off, without word to any one; knowing that mother and sister mine had cried each her good self to sleep; relenting when the light was out, and sorry for hard words and thoughts; and yet too much alike in nature to understand each other. Therefore I took good Kickums, who (although with one eye spoiled) was worth ten sweet-tempered horses, to a man who knew how to manage him; and being well charged both with bacon and powder, forth I set on my wild-goose chase.
For this I claim no bravery. I cared but little what came of it; save for mother's sake, and Annie's, and the keeping of the farm, and discomfiture of the Snowes, and lamenting of Lorna at my death, if die I must in a lonesome manner, not found out till afterwards, and bleaching bones left to weep over. However, I had a little kettle, and a pound and a half of tobacco, and two dirty pipes and a clean one; also a bit of clothes for change, also a brisket of hung venison, and four loaves of farmhouse bread, and of the upper side of bacon a stone and a half it might be—not to mention divers small things for campaigning, which may come in handily, when no one else has gotten them.
We went away in merry style; my horse being ready for anything, and I only glad of a bit of change, after months of working and brooding; with no content to crown the work; no hope to hatch the brooding; or without hatching to reckon it. Who could tell but what Lorna might be discovered, or at any rate heard of, before the end of this campaign; if campaign it could be called of a man who went to fight nobody, only to redeem a runagate? And vexed as I was about the hay, and the hunch-backed ricks John was sure to make (which spoil the look of a farm-yard), still even this was better than to have the mows and houses fired, as I had nightly expected, and been worn out with the worry of it.
Yet there was one thing rather unfavourable to my present enterprise, namely, that I knew nothing of the country I was bound to, nor even in what part of it my business might be supposed to lie. For beside the uncertainty caused by the conflict of reports, it was likely that King Monmouth's army would be moving from place to place, according to the prospect of supplies and of reinforcements. However, there would arise more chance of getting news as I went on: and my road being towards the east and south, Dulverton would not lie so very far aside of it, but what it might be worth a visit, both to collect the latest tidings, and to consult the maps and plans in Uncle Reuben's parlour. Therefore I drew the off-hand rein, at the cross-road on the hills, and made for the town; expecting perhaps to have breakfast with Master Huckaback, and Ruth, to help and encourage us. This little maiden was now become a very great favourite with me, having long outgrown, no doubt, her childish fancies and follies, such as my mother and Annie had planted under her soft brown hair. It had been my duty, as well as my true interest (for Uncle Ben was more and more testy, as he went on gold-digging), to ride thither, now and again, to inquire what the doctor thought of her. Not that her wounds were long in healing, but that people can scarcely be too careful and too inquisitive, after a great horse-bite. And she always let me look at the arm, as I had been first doctor; and she held it up in a graceful manner, curving at the elbow, and with a sweep of white roundness going to a wrist the size of my thumb or so, and without any thimble-top standing forth, such as even our Annie had. But gradually all I could see, above the elbow, where the bite had been, was very clear, transparent skin, with very firm sweet flesh below, and three little blue marks as far asunder as the prongs of a toasting-fork, and no deeper than where a twig has chafed the peel of a waxen apple. And then I used to say in fun, as the children do, 'Shall I kiss it, to make it well, dear?'
Now Ruth looked very grave indeed, upon hearing of this my enterprise; and crying, said she could almost cry, for the sake of my dear mother. Did I know the risks and chances, not of the battlefield alone, but of the havoc afterwards; the swearing away of innocent lives, and the hurdle, and the hanging? And if I would please not to laugh (which was so unkind of me), had I never heard of imprisonments, and torturing with the cruel boot, and selling into slavery, where the sun and the lash outvied one another in cutting a man to pieces? I replied that of all these things I had heard, and would take especial care to steer me free of all of them. My duty was all that I wished to do; and none could harm me for doing that. And I begged my cousin to give me good-speed, instead of talking dolefully. Upon this she changed her manner wholly, becoming so lively and cheerful that I was convinced of her indifference, and surprised even more than gratified.
'Go and earn your spurs, Cousin Ridd,' she said: 'you are strong enough for anything. Which side is to have the benefit of your doughty arm?'
'Have I not told you, Ruth,' I answered, not being fond of this kind of talk, more suitable for Lizzie, 'that I do not mean to join either side, that is to say, until—'
'Until, as the common proverb goes, you know which way the cat will jump. Oh, John Ridd! Oh, John Ridd!'
'Nothing of the sort,' said I: 'what a hurry you are in! I am for the King of course.'
'But not enough to fight for him. Only enough to vote, I suppose, or drink his health, or shout for him.'
'I can't make you out to-day, Cousin Ruth; you are nearly as bad as Lizzie. You do not say any bitter things, but you seem to mean them.'
'No, cousin, think not so of me. It is far more likely that I say them, without meaning them.'
'Anyhow, it is not like you. And I know not what I can have done in any way, to vex you.'
'Dear me, nothing, Cousin Ridd; you never do anything to vex me.'
'Then I hope I shall do something now, Ruth, when I say good-bye. God knows if we ever shall meet again, Ruth: but I hope we may.'
'To be sure we shall,' she answered in her brightest manner. 'Try not to look wretched, John: you are as happy as a Maypole.'
'And you as a rose in May,' I said; 'and pretty nearly as pretty. Give my love to Uncle Ben; and I trust him to keep on the winning side.'
'Of that you need have no misgivings. Never yet has he failed of it. Now, Cousin Ridd, why go you not? You hurried me so at breakfast time?'
'My only reason for waiting, Ruth, is that you have not kissed me, as you are almost bound to do, for the last time perhaps of seeing me.'
'Oh, if that is all, just fetch the stool; and I will do my best, cousin.'
'I pray you be not so vexatious; you always used to do it nicely, without any stool, Ruth.'
'Ah, but you are grown since then, and become a famous man, John Ridd, and a member of the nobility. Go your way, and win your spurs. I want no lip-service.'
Being at the end of my wits, I did even as she ordered me. At least I had no spurs to win, because there were big ones on my boots, paid for in the Easter bill, and made by a famous saddler, so as never to clog with marsh-weed, but prick as hard as any horse, in reason, could desire. And Kickums never wanted spurs; but always went tail-foremost, if anybody offered them for his consideration.
SLAUGHTER IN THE MARSHES
We rattled away at a merry pace, out of the town of Dulverton; my horse being gaily fed, and myself quite fit again for going. Of course I was puzzled about Cousin Ruth; for her behaviour was not at all such as I had expected; and indeed I had hoped for a far more loving and moving farewell than I got from her. But I said to myself, 'It is useless ever to count upon what a woman will do; and I think that I must have vexed her, almost as much as she vexed me. And now to see what comes of it.' So I put my horse across the moorland; and he threw his chest out bravely.
Now if I tried to set down at length all the things that happened to me, upon this adventure, every in and out, and up and down, and to and fro, that occupied me, together with the things I saw, and the things I heard of, however much the wiser people might applaud my narrative, it is likely enough that idle readers might exclaim, 'What ails this man? Knows he not that men of parts and of real understanding, have told us all we care to hear of that miserable business. Let him keep to his farm, and his bacon, and his wrestling, and constant feeding.'
Fearing to meet with such rebuffs (which after my death would vex me), I will try to set down only what is needful for my story, and the clearing of my character, and the good name of our parish. But the manner in which I was bandied about, by false information, from pillar to post, or at other times driven quite out of my way by the presence of the King's soldiers, may be known by the names of the following towns, to which I was sent in succession, Bath, Frome, Wells, Wincanton, Glastonbury, Shepton, Bradford, Axbridge, Somerton, and Bridgwater.
This last place I reached on a Sunday night, the fourth or fifth of July, I think—or it might be the sixth, for that matter; inasmuch as I had been too much worried to get the day of the month at church. Only I know that my horse and myself were glad to come to a decent place, where meat and corn could be had for money; and being quite weary of wandering about, we hoped to rest there a little.
Of this, however, we found no chance, for the town was full of the good Duke's soldiers; if men may be called so, the half of whom had never been drilled, nor had fired a gun. And it was rumoured among them, that the 'popish army,' as they called it, was to be attacked that very night, and with God's assistance beaten. However, by this time I had been taught to pay little attention to rumours; and having sought vainly for Tom Faggus among these poor rustic warriors, I took to my hostel; and went to bed, being as weary as weary can be.
Falling asleep immediately, I took heed of nothing; although the town was all alive, and lights had come glancing, as I lay down, and shouts making echo all round my room. But all I did was to bolt the door; not an inch would I budge, unless the house, and even my bed, were on fire. And so for several hours I lay, in the depth of the deepest slumber, without even a dream on its surface; until I was roused and awakened at last by a pushing, and pulling, and pinching, and a plucking of hair out by the roots. And at length, being able to open mine eyes, I saw the old landlady, with a candle, heavily wondering at me.
'Can't you let me alone?' I grumbled. 'I have paid for my bed, mistress; and I won't get up for any one.'
'Would to God, young man,' she answered, shaking me as hard as ever, 'that the popish soldiers may sleep this night, only half as strong as thou dost! Fie on thee, fie on thee! Get up, and go fight; we can hear the battle already; and a man of thy size mought stop a cannon.'
'I would rather stop a-bed,' said I; 'what have I to do with fighting? I am for King James, if any.'
'Then thou mayest even stop a-bed,' the old woman muttered sulkily. 'A would never have laboured half an hour to awake a Papisher. But hearken you one thing, young man; Zummerzett thou art, by thy brogue; or at least by thy understanding of it; no Zummerzett maid will look at thee, in spite of thy size and stature, unless thou strikest a blow this night.'
'I lack no Zummerzett maid, mistress: I have a fairer than your brown things; and for her alone would I strike a blow.'
At this the old woman gave me up, as being beyond correction: and it vexed me a little that my great fame had not reached so far as Bridgwater, when I thought that it went to Bristowe. But those people in East Somerset know nothing about wrestling. Devon is the headquarters of the art; and Devon is the county of my chief love. Howbeit, my vanity was moved, by this slur upon it—for I had told her my name was John Ridd, when I had a gallon of ale with her, ere ever I came upstairs; and she had nodded, in such a manner, that I thought she knew both name and fame—and here was I, not only shaken, pinched, and with many hairs pulled out, in the midst of my first good sleep for a week, but also abused, and taken amiss, and (which vexed me most of all) unknown.
Now there is nothing like vanity to keep a man awake at night, however he be weary; and most of all, when he believes that he is doing something great—this time, if never done before—yet other people will not see, except what they may laugh at; and so be far above him, and sleep themselves the happier. Therefore their sleep robs his own; for all things play so, in and out (with the godly and ungodly ever moving in a balance, as they have done in my time, almost every year or two), all things have such nice reply of produce to the call for it, and such a spread across the world, giving here and taking there, yet on the whole pretty even, that haply sleep itself has but a certain stock, and keeps in hand, and sells to flattered (which can pay) that which flattened vanity cannot pay, and will not sue for.
Be that as it may, I was by this time wide awake, though much aggrieved at feeling so, and through the open window heard the distant roll of musketry, and the beating of drums, with a quick rub-a-dub, and the 'come round the corner' of trumpet-call. And perhaps Tom Faggus might be there, and shot at any moment, and my dear Annie left a poor widow, and my godson Jack an orphan, without a tooth to help him.
Therefore I reviled myself for all my heavy laziness; and partly through good honest will, and partly through the stings of pride, and yet a little perhaps by virtue of a young man's love of riot, up I arose, and dressed myself, and woke Kickums (who was snoring), and set out to see the worst of it. The sleepy hostler scratched his poll, and could not tell me which way to take; what odds to him who was King, or Pope, so long as he paid his way, and got a bit of bacon on Sunday? And would I please to remember that I had roused him up at night, and the quality always made a point of paying four times over for a man's loss of his beauty-sleep. I replied that his loss of beauty-sleep was rather improving to a man of so high complexion; and that I, being none of the quality, must pay half-quality prices: and so I gave him double fee, as became a good farmer; and he was glad to be quit of Kickums; as I saw by the turn of his eye, while going out at the archway.
All this was done by lanthorn light, although the moon was high and bold; and in the northern heaven, flags and ribbons of a jostling pattern; such as we often have in autumn, but in July very rarely. Of these Master Dryden has spoken somewhere, in his courtly manner; but of him I think so little—because by fashion preferred to Shakespeare—that I cannot remember the passage; neither is it a credit to him.
Therefore I was guided mainly by the sound of guns and trumpets, in riding out of the narrow ways, and into the open marshes. And thus I might have found my road, in spite of all the spread of water, and the glaze of moonshine; but that, as I followed sound (far from hedge or causeway), fog (like a chestnut-tree in blossom, touched with moonlight) met me. Now fog is a thing that I understand, and can do with well enough, where I know the country; but here I had never been before. It was nothing to our Exmoor fogs; not to be compared with them; and all the time one could see the moon; which we cannot do in our fogs; nor even the sun, for a week together. Yet the gleam of water always makes the fog more difficult: like a curtain on a mirror; none can tell the boundaries.
And here we had broad-water patches, in and out, inlaid on land, like mother-of-pearl in brown Shittim wood. To a wild duck, born and bred there, it would almost be a puzzle to find her own nest amongst us; what chance then had I and Kickums, both unused to marsh and mere? Each time when we thought that we must be right, now at last, by track or passage, and approaching the conflict, with the sounds of it waxing nearer, suddenly a break of water would be laid before us, with the moon looking mildly over it, and the northern lights behind us, dancing down the lines of fog.
It was an awful thing, I say (and to this day I remember it), to hear the sounds of raging fight, and the yells of raving slayers, and the howls of poor men stricken hard, and shattered from wrath to wailing; then suddenly the dead low hush, as of a soul departing, and spirits kneeling over it. Through the vapour of the earth, and white breath of the water, and beneath the pale round moon (bowing as the drift went by), all this rush and pause of fear passed or lingered on my path.
At last, when I almost despaired of escaping from this tangle of spongy banks, and of hazy creeks, and reed-fringe, my horse heard the neigh of a fellow-horse, and was only too glad to answer it; upon which the other, having lost its rider, came up and pricked his ears at us, and gazed through the fog very steadfastly. Therefore I encouraged him with a soft and genial whistle, and Kickums did his best to tempt him with a snort of inquiry. However, nothing would suit that nag, except to enjoy his new freedom; and he capered away with his tail set on high, and the stirrup-irons clashing under him. Therefore, as he might know the way, and appeared to have been in the battle, we followed him very carefully; and he led us to a little hamlet, called (as I found afterwards) West Zuyland, or Zealand, so named perhaps from its situation amid this inland sea.
Here the King's troops had been quite lately, and their fires were still burning; but the men themselves had been summoned away by the night attack of the rebels. Hence I procured for my guide a young man who knew the district thoroughly, and who led me by many intricate ways to the rear of the rebel army. We came upon a broad open moor striped with sullen water courses, shagged with sedge, and yellow iris, and in the drier part with bilberries. For by this time it was four o'clock, and the summer sun, rising wanly, showed us all the ghastly scene.
Would that I had never been there! Often in the lonely hours, even now it haunts me: would, far more, that the piteous thing had never been done in England! Flying men, flung back from dreams of victory and honour, only glad to have the luck of life and limbs to fly with, mud-bedraggled, foul with slime, reeking both with sweat and blood, which they could not stop to wipe, cursing, with their pumped-out lungs, every stick that hindered them, or gory puddle that slipped the step, scarcely able to leap over the corses that had dragged to die. And to see how the corses lay; some, as fair as death in sleep; with the smile of placid valour, and of noble manhood, hovering yet on the silent lips. These had bloodless hands put upwards, white as wax, and firm as death, clasped (as on a monument) in prayer for dear ones left behind, or in high thanksgiving. And of these men there was nothing in their broad blue eyes to fear. But others were of different sort; simple fellows unused to pain, accustomed to the bill-hook, perhaps, or rasp of the knuckles in a quick-set hedge, or making some to-do at breakfast, over a thumb cut in sharpening a scythe, and expecting their wives to make more to-do. Yet here lay these poor chaps, dead; dead, after a deal of pain, with little mind to bear it, and a soul they had never thought of; gone, their God alone knows whither; but to mercy we may trust. Upon these things I cannot dwell; and none I trow would ask me: only if a plain man saw what I saw that morning, he (if God had blessed him with the heart that is in most of us) must have sickened of all desire to be great among mankind.
Seeing me riding to the front (where the work of death went on among the men of true English pluck; which, when moved, no farther moves), the fugitives called out to me, in half a dozen dialects, to make no utter fool of myself; for the great guns were come, and the fight was over; all the rest was slaughter.
'Arl oop wi Moonmo',' shouted one big fellow, a miner of the Mendip hills, whose weapon was a pickaxe: 'na oose to vaight na moor. Wend thee hame, yoong mon agin.'
Upon this I stopped my horse, desiring not to be shot for nothing; and eager to aid some poor sick people, who tried to lift their arms to me. And this I did to the best of my power, though void of skill in the business; and more inclined to weep with them than to check their weeping. While I was giving a drop of cordial from my flask to one poor fellow, who sat up, while his life was ebbing, and with slow insistence urged me, when his broken voice would come, to tell his wife (whose name I knew not) something about an apple-tree, and a golden guinea stored in it, to divide among six children—in the midst of this I felt warm lips laid against my cheek quite softly, and then a little push; and behold it was a horse leaning over me! I arose in haste, and there stood Winnie, looking at me with beseeching eyes, enough to melt a heart of stone. Then seeing my attention fixed she turned her head, and glanced back sadly toward the place of battle, and gave a little wistful neigh: and then looked me full in the face again, as much as to say, 'Do you understand?' while she scraped with one hoof impatiently. If ever a horse tried hard to speak, it was Winnie at that moment. I went to her side and patted her; but that was not what she wanted. Then I offered to leap into the empty saddle; but neither did that seem good to her: for she ran away toward the part of the field at which she had been glancing back, and then turned round, and shook her mane, entreating me to follow her.
Upon this I learned from the dying man where to find his apple-tree, and promised to add another guinea to the one in store for his children; and so, commending him to God, I mounted my own horse again, and to Winnie's great delight, professed myself at her service. With her ringing silvery neigh, such as no other horse of all I ever knew could equal, she at once proclaimed her triumph, and told her master (or meant to tell, if death should not have closed his ears) that she was coming to his aid, and bringing one who might be trusted, of the higher race that kill.
A cannon-bullet (fired low, and ploughing the marsh slowly) met poor Winnie front to front; and she, being as quick as thought, lowered her nose to sniff at it. It might be a message from her master; for it made a mournful noise. But luckily for Winnie's life, a rise of wet ground took the ball, even under her very nose; and there it cut a splashy groove, missing her off hindfoot by an inch, and scattering black mud over her. It frightened me much more than Winnie; of that I am quite certain: because though I am firm enough, when it comes to a real tussle, and the heart of a fellow warms up and tells him that he must go through with it; yet I never did approve of making a cold pie of death.
Therefore, with those reckless cannons, brazen-mouthed, and bellowing, two furlongs off, or it might be more (and the more the merrier), I would have given that year's hay-crop for a bit of a hill, or a thicket of oaks, or almost even a badger's earth. People will call me a coward for this (especially when I had made up my mind, that life was not worth having without any sign of Lorna); nevertheless, I cannot help it: those were my feelings; and I set them down, because they made a mark on me. At Glen Doone I had fought, even against cannon, with some spirit and fury: but now I saw nothing to fight about; but rather in every poor doubled corpse, a good reason for not fighting. So, in cold blood riding on, and yet ashamed that a man should shrink where a horse went bravely, I cast a bitter blame upon the reckless ways of Winnie.
Nearly all were scattered now. Of the noble countrymen (armed with scythe or pickaxe, blacksmith's hammer, or fold-pitcher), who had stood their ground for hours against blazing musketry (from men whom they could not get at, by reason of the water-dyke), and then against the deadly cannon, dragged by the Bishop's horses to slaughter his own sheep; of these sturdy Englishmen, noble in their want of sense, scarce one out of four remained for the cowards to shoot down. 'Cross the rhaine,' they shouted out, 'cross the rhaine, and coom within rache:' but the other mongrel Britons, with a mongrel at their head, found it pleasanter to shoot men who could not shoot in answer, than to meet the chance of mischief from strong arms, and stronger hearts.
The last scene of this piteous play was acting, just as I rode up. Broad daylight, and upstanding sun, winnowing fog from the eastern hills, and spreading the moors with freshness; all along the dykes they shone, glistened on the willow-trunks, and touched the banks with a hoary gray. But alas! those banks were touched more deeply with a gory red, and strewn with fallen trunks, more woeful than the wreck of trees; while howling, cursing, yelling, and the loathsome reek of carnage, drowned the scent of the new-mown hay, and the carol of the lark.
Then the cavalry of the King, with their horses at full speed, dashed from either side upon the helpless mob of countrymen. A few pikes feebly levelled met them; but they shot the pikemen, drew swords, and helter-skelter leaped into the shattered and scattering mass. Right and left they hacked and hewed; I could hear the snapping of scythes beneath them, and see the flash of their sweeping swords. How it must end was plain enough, even to one like myself, who had never beheld such a battle before. But Winnie led me away to the left; and as I could not help the people, neither stop the slaughter, but found the cannon-bullets coming very rudely nigh me, I was only too glad to follow her.
FALLING AMONG LAMBS
That faithful creature, whom I began to admire as if she were my own (which is no little thing for a man to say of another man's horse), stopped in front of a low black shed, such as we call a 'linhay.' And here she uttered a little greeting, in a subdued and softened voice, hoping to obtain an answer, such as her master was wont to give in a cheery manner. Receiving no reply, she entered; and I (who could scarce keep up with her, poor Kickums being weary) leaped from his back, and followed. There I found her sniffing gently, but with great emotion, at the body of Tom Faggus. A corpse poor Tom appeared to be, if ever there was one in this world; and I turned away, and felt unable to keep altogether from weeping. But the mare either could not understand, or else would not believe it. She reached her long neck forth, and felt him with her under lip, passing it over his skin as softly as a mother would do to an infant; and then she looked up at me again; as much as to say, 'he is all right.'
Upon this I took courage, and handled poor Tom, which being young I had feared at first to do. He groaned very feebly, as I raised him up; and there was the wound, a great savage one (whether from pike-thrust or musket-ball), gaping and welling in his right side, from which a piece seemed to be torn away. I bound it up with some of my linen, so far as I knew how; just to stanch the flow of blood, until we could get a doctor. Then I gave him a little weak brandy and water, which he drank with the greatest eagerness, and made sign to me for more of it. But not knowing how far it was right to give cordial under the circumstances, I handed him unmixed water that time; thinking that he was too far gone to perceive the difference. But herein I wrong Tom Faggus; for he shook his head and frowned at me. Even at the door of death, he would not drink what Adam drank, by whom came death into the world. So I gave him a little more eau-de-vie, and he took it most submissively.
After that he seemed better, and a little colour came into his cheeks; and he looked at Winnie and knew her; and would have her nose in his clammy hand, though I thought it not good for either of them. With the stay of my arm he sat upright, and faintly looked about him; as if at the end of a violent dream, too much for his power of mind. Then he managed to whisper, 'Is Winnie hurt?'
'As sound as a roach,' I answered. 'Then so am I,' said he: 'put me upon her back, John; she and I die together.'
Surprised as I was at this fatalism (for so it appeared to me), of which he had often shown symptoms before (but I took them for mere levity), now I knew not what to do; for it seemed to me a murderous thing to set such a man on horseback; where he must surely bleed to death, even if he could keep the saddle. But he told me, with many breaks and pauses, that unless I obeyed his orders, he would tear off all my bandages, and accept no further aid from me.
While I was yet hesitating, a storm of horse at full gallop went by, tearing, swearing, bearing away all the country before them. Only a little pollard hedge kept us from their blood-shot eyes. 'Now is the time,' said my cousin Tom, so far as I could make out his words; on their heels, I am safe, John, if I have only Winnie under me. Winnie and I die together.'
Seeing this strong bent of his mind, stronger than any pains of death, I even did what his feeble eyes sometimes implored, and sometimes commanded. With a strong sash, from his own hot neck, bound and twisted, tight as wax, around his damaged waist, I set him upon Winnie's back, and placed his trembling feet in stirrups, with a band from one to another, under the good mare's body; so that no swerve could throw him out: and then I said, 'Lean forward, Tom; it will stop your hurt from bleeding.' He leaned almost on the neck of the mare, which, as I knew, must close the wound; and the light of his eyes was quite different, and the pain of his forehead unstrung itself, as if he felt the undulous readiness of her volatile paces under him.
'God bless you, John; I am safe,' he whispered, fearing to open his lungs much: 'who can come near my Winnie mare? A mile of her gallop is ten years of life. Look out for yourself, John Ridd.' He sucked his lips, and the mare went off, as easy and swift as a swallow.
'Well,' thought I, as I looked at Kickums, ignobly cropping up a bit of grass, 'I have done a very good thing, no doubt, and ought to be thankful to God for the chance. But as for getting away unharmed, with all these scoundrels about me, and only a foundered horse to trust in—good and spiteful as he is—upon the whole, I begin to think that I have made a fool of myself, according to my habit. No wonder Tom said, "Look out for yourself!" I shall look out from a prison window, or perhaps even out of a halter. And then, what will Lorna think of me?'
Being in this wistful mood, I resolved to abide awhile, even where fate had thrown me; for my horse required good rest no doubt, and was taking it even while he cropped, with his hind legs far away stretched out, and his forelegs gathered under him, and his muzzle on the mole-hills; so that he had five supportings from his mother earth. Moreover, the linhay itself was full of very ancient cow dung; than which there is no balmier and more maiden soporific. Hence I resolved, upon the whole, though grieving about breakfast, to light a pipe, and go to sleep; or at least until the hot sun should arouse the flies.
I may have slept three hours, or four, or it might be even five—for I never counted time, while sleeping—when a shaking more rude than the old landlady's, brought me back to the world again. I looked up, with a mighty yawn; and saw twenty, or so, of foot-soldiers.
'This linhay is not yours,' I said, when they had quite aroused me, with tongue, and hand, and even sword-prick: 'what business have you here, good fellows?'
'Business bad for you,' said one, 'and will lead you to the gallows.'
'Do you wish to know the way out again?' I asked, very quietly, as being no braggadocio.
'We will show thee the way out,' said one, 'and the way out of the world,' said another: 'but not the way to heaven,' said one chap, most unlikely to know it: and thereupon they all fell wagging, like a bed of clover leaves in the morning, at their own choice humour.
'Will you pile your arms outside,' I said, 'and try a bit of fair play with me?'
For I disliked these men sincerely, and was fain to teach them a lesson; they were so unchristian in appearance, having faces of a coffee colour, and dirty beards half over them. Moreover their dress was outrageous, and their address still worse. However, I had wiser let them alone, as will appear afterwards. These savage-looking fellows laughed at the idea of my having any chance against some twenty of them: but I knew that the place was in my favour; for my part of it had been fenced off (for weaning a calf most likely), so that only two could come at me at once; and I must be very much out of training, if I could not manage two of them. Therefore I laid aside my carbine, and the two horse-pistols; and they with many coarse jokes at me went a little way outside, and set their weapons against the wall, and turned up their coat sleeves jauntily; and then began to hesitate.
'Go you first, Bob,' I heard them say: 'you are the biggest man of us; and Dick the wrestler along of you. Us will back you up, boy.'
'I'll warrant I'll draw the badger,' said Bob; 'and not a tooth will I leave him. But mind, for the honour of Kirke's lambs, every man stands me a glass of gin.' Then he, and another man, made a rush, and the others came double-quick-march on their heels. But as Bob ran at me most stupidly, not even knowing how to place his hands, I caught him with my knuckles at the back of his neck, and with all the sway of my right arm sent him over the heads of his comrades. Meanwhile Dick the wrestler had grappled me, expecting to show off his art, of which indeed he had some small knowledge; but being quite of the light-weights, in a second he was flying after his companion Bob.
Now these two men were hurt so badly, the light one having knocked his head against the lintel of the outer gate, that the rest had no desire to encounter the like misfortune. So they hung back whispering; and before they had made up their minds, I rushed into the midst of them. The suddenness and the weight of my onset took them wholly by surprise; and for once in their lives, perhaps, Kirke's lambs were worthy of their name. Like a flock of sheep at a dog's attack they fell away, hustling one another, and my only difficulty was not to tumble over them.
I had taken my carbine out with me, having a fondness for it; but the two horse-pistols I left behind; and therefore felt good title to take two from the magazine of the lambs. And with these, and my carbine, I leaped upon Kickums, who was now quite glad of a gallop again; and I bade adieu to that mongrel lot; yet they had the meanness to shoot at me. Thanking God for my deliverance (inasmuch as those men would have strung me up, from a pollard-ash without trial, as I heard them tell one another, and saw the tree they had settled upon), I ventured to go rather fast on my way, with doubt and uneasiness urging me. And now my way was home again. Nobody could say but what I had done my duty, and rescued Tom (if he could be rescued) from the mischief into which his own perverseness and love of change (rather than deep religious convictions, to which our Annie ascribed his outbreak) had led, or seemed likely to lead him. And how proud would my mother be; and—ah well, there was nobody else to be proud of me now.
But while thinking these things, and desiring my breakfast, beyond any power of describing, and even beyond my remembrance, I fell into another fold of lambs, from which there was no exit. These, like true crusaders, met me, swaggering very heartily, and with their barrels of cider set, like so many cannon, across the road, over against a small hostel.
'We have won the victory, my lord King, and we mean to enjoy it. Down from thy horse, and have a stoup of cider, thou big rebel.'
'No rebel am I. My name is John Ridd. I belong to the side of the King: and I want some breakfast.'
These fellows were truly hospitable; that much will I say for them. Being accustomed to Arab ways, they could toss a grill, or fritter, or the inner meaning of an egg, into any form they pleased, comely and very good to eat; and it led me to think of Annie. So I made the rarest breakfast any man might hope for, after all his troubles; and getting on with these brown fellows better than could be expected, I craved permission to light a pipe, if not disagreeable. Hearing this, they roared at me, with a superior laughter, and asked me, whether or not, I knew the tobacco-leaf from the chick-weed; and when I was forced to answer no, not having gone into the subject, but being content with anything brown, they clapped me on the back and swore they had never seen any one like me. Upon the whole this pleased me much; for I do not wish to be taken always as of the common pattern: and so we smoked admirable tobacco—for they would not have any of mine, though very courteous concerning it—and I was beginning to understand a little of what they told me; when up came those confounded lambs, who had shown more tail than head to me, in the linhay, as I mentioned.
Now these men upset everything. Having been among wrestlers so much as my duty compelled me to be, and having learned the necessity of the rest which follows the conflict, and the right of discussion which all people have to pay their sixpence to enter; and how they obtrude this right, and their wisdom, upon the man who has laboured, until he forgets all the work he did, and begins to think that they did it; having some knowledge of this sort of thing, and the flux of minds swimming in liquor, I foresaw a brawl, as plainly as if it were Bear Street in Barnstaple.
And a brawl there was, without any error, except of the men who hit their friends, and those who defended their enemies. My partners in breakfast and beer-can swore that I was no prisoner, but the best and most loyal subject, and the finest-hearted fellow they had ever the luck to meet with. Whereas the men from the linhay swore that I was a rebel miscreant; and have me they would, with a rope's-end ready, in spite of every [violent language] who had got drunk at my expense, and been misled by my [strong word] lies.
While this fight was going on (and its mere occurrence shows, perhaps, that my conversation in those days was not entirely despicable—else why should my new friends fight for me, when I had paid for the ale, and therefore won the wrong tense of gratitude?) it was in my power at any moment to take horse and go. And this would have been my wisest plan, and a very great saving of money; but somehow I felt as if it would be a mean thing to slip off so. Even while I was hesitating, and the men were breaking each other's heads, a superior officer rode up, with his sword drawn, and his face on fire.
'What, my lambs, my lambs!' he cried, smiting with the flat of his sword; 'is this how you waste my time and my purse, when you ought to be catching a hundred prisoners, worth ten pounds apiece to me? Who is this young fellow we have here? Speak up, sirrah; what art thou, and how much will thy good mother pay for thee?'
'My mother will pay naught for me,' I answered; while the lambs fell back, and glowered at one another: 'so please your worship, I am no rebel; but an honest farmer, and well-proved of loyalty.'
'Ha, ha; a farmer art thou? Those fellows always pay the best. Good farmer, come to yon barren tree; thou shalt make it fruitful.'
Colonel Kirke made a sign to his men, and before I could think of resistance, stout new ropes were flung around me; and with three men on either side I was led along very painfully. And now I saw, and repented deeply of my careless folly, in stopping with those boon-companions, instead of being far away. But the newness of their manners to me, and their mode of regarding the world (differing so much from mine own), as well as the flavour of their tobacco, had made me quite forget my duty to the farm and to myself. Yet methought they would be tender to me, after all our speeches: how then was I disappointed, when the men who had drunk my beer, drew on those grievous ropes, twice as hard as the men I had been at strife with! Yet this may have been from no ill will; but simply that having fallen under suspicion of laxity, they were compelled, in self-defence, now to be over-zealous.
Nevertheless, however pure and godly might be their motives, I beheld myself in a grievous case, and likely to get the worst of it. For the face of the Colonel was hard and stern as a block of bogwood oak; and though the men might pity me and think me unjustly executed, yet they must obey their orders, or themselves be put to death. Therefore I addressed myself to the Colonel, in a most ingratiating manner; begging him not to sully the glory of his victory, and dwelling upon my pure innocence, and even good service to our lord the King. But Colonel Kirke only gave command that I should be smitten in the mouth; which office Bob, whom I had flung so hard out of the linhay, performed with great zeal and efficiency. But being aware of the coming smack, I thrust forth a pair of teeth; upon which the knuckles of my good friend made a melancholy shipwreck.
It is not in my power to tell half the thoughts that moved me, when we came to the fatal tree, and saw two men hanging there already, as innocent perhaps as I was, and henceforth entirely harmless. Though ordered by the Colonel to look steadfastly upon them, I could not bear to do so; upon which he called me a paltry coward, and promised my breeches to any man who would spit upon my countenance. This vile thing Bob, being angered perhaps by the smarting wound of his knuckles, bravely stepped forward to do for me, trusting no doubt to the rope I was led with. But, unluckily as it proved for him, my right arm was free for a moment; and therewith I dealt him such a blow, that he never spake again. For this thing I have often grieved; but the provocation was very sore to the pride of a young man; and I trust that God has forgiven me. At the sound and sight of that bitter stroke, the other men drew back; and Colonel Kirke, now black in the face with fury and vexation, gave orders for to shoot me, and cast me into the ditch hard by. The men raised their pieces, and pointed at me, waiting for the word to fire; and I, being quite overcome by the hurry of these events, and quite unprepared to die yet, could only think all upside down about Lorna, and my mother, and wonder what each would say to it. I spread my hands before my eyes, not being so brave as some men; and hoping, in some foolish way, to cover my heart with my elbows. I heard the breath of all around, as if my skull were a sounding-board; and knew even how the different men were fingering their triggers. And a cold sweat broke all over me, as the Colonel, prolonging his enjoyment, began slowly to say, 'Fire.'
But while he was yet dwelling on the 'F,' the hoofs of a horse dashed out on the road, and horse and horseman flung themselves betwixt me and the gun muzzles. So narrowly was I saved that one man could not check his trigger: his musket went off, and the ball struck the horse on the withers, and scared him exceedingly. He began to lash out with his heels all around, and the Colonel was glad to keep clear of him; and the men made excuse to lower their guns, not really wishing to shoot me.
'How now, Captain Stickles?' cried Kirke, the more angry because he had shown his cowardice; 'dare you, sir, to come betwixt me and my lawful prisoner?'
'Nay, hearken one moment, Colonel,' replied my old friend Jeremy; and his damaged voice was the sweetest sound I had heard for many a day; 'for your own sake, hearken.' He looked so full of momentous tidings, that Colonel Kirke made a sign to his men not to shoot me till further orders; and then he went aside with Stickles, so that in spite of all my anxiety I could not catch what passed between them. But I fancied that the name of the Lord Chief-Justice Jeffreys was spoken more than once, and with emphasis and deference.
'Then I leave him in your hands, Captain Stickles,' said Kirke at last, so that all might hear him; and though the news was good for me, the smile of baffled malice made his dark face look most hideous; 'and I shall hold you answerable for the custody of this prisoner.'
'Colonel Kirke, I will answer for him,' Master Stickles replied, with a grave bow, and one hand on his breast: 'John Ridd, you are my prisoner. Follow me, John Ridd.'
Upon that, those precious lambs flocked away, leaving the rope still around me; and some were glad, and some were sorry, not to see me swinging. Being free of my arms again, I touched my hat to Colonel Kirke, as became his rank and experience; but he did not condescend to return my short salutation, having espied in the distance a prisoner, out of whom he might make money.
I wrung the hand of Jeremy Stickles, for his truth and goodness; and he almost wept (for since his wound he had been a weakened man) as he answered, 'Turn for turn, John. You saved my life from the Doones; and by the mercy of God, I have saved you from a far worse company. Let your sister Annie know it.'
Now Kickums was not like Winnie, any more than a man is like a woman; and so he had not followed my fortunes, except at his own distance. No doubt but what he felt a certain interest in me; but his interest was not devotion; and man might go his way and be hanged, rather than horse would meet hardship. Therefore, seeing things to be bad, and his master involved in trouble, what did this horse do but start for the ease and comfort of Plover's Barrows, and the plentiful ration of oats abiding in his own manger. For this I do not blame him. It is the manner of mankind.
But I could not help being very uneasy at the thought of my mother's discomfort and worry, when she should spy this good horse coming home, without any master, or rider, and I almost hoped that he might be caught (although he was worth at least twenty pounds) by some of the King's troopers, rather than find his way home, and spread distress among our people. Yet, knowing his nature, I doubted if any could catch, or catching would keep him.
Jeremy Stickles assured me, as we took the road to Bridgwater, that the only chance for my life (if I still refused to fly) was to obtain an order forthwith, for my despatch to London, as a suspected person indeed, but not found in open rebellion, and believed to be under the patronage of the great Lord Jeffreys. 'For,' said he, 'in a few hours time you would fall into the hands of Lord Feversham, who has won this fight, without seeing it, and who has returned to bed again, to have his breakfast more comfortably. Now he may not be quite so savage perhaps as Colonel Kirke, nor find so much sport in gibbeting; but he is equally pitiless, and his price no doubt would be higher.'
'I will pay no price whatever,' I answered, 'neither will I fly. An hour agone I would have fled for the sake of my mother, and the farm. But now that I have been taken prisoner, and my name is known, if I fly, the farm is forfeited; and my mother and sister must starve. Moreover, I have done no harm; I have borne no weapons against the King, nor desired the success of his enemies. I like not that the son of a bona-roba should be King of England; neither do I count the Papists any worse than we are. If they have aught to try me for, I will stand my trial.'
'Then to London thou must go, my son. There is no such thing as trial here: we hang the good folk without it, which saves them much anxiety. But quicken thy step, good John; I have influence with Lord Churchill, and we must contrive to see him, ere the foreigner falls to work again. Lord Churchill is a man of sense, and imprisons nothing but his money.'
We were lucky enough to find this nobleman, who has since become so famous by his foreign victories. He received us with great civility; and looked at me with much interest, being a tall and fine young man himself, but not to compare with me in size, although far better favoured. I liked his face well enough, but thought there was something false about it. He put me a few keen questions, such as a man not assured of honesty might have found hard to answer; and he stood in a very upright attitude, making the most of his figure.
I saw nothing to be proud of, at the moment, in this interview; but since the great Duke of Marlborough rose to the top of glory, I have tried to remember more about him than my conscience quite backs up. How should I know that this man would be foremost of our kingdom in five-and-twenty years or so; and not knowing, why should I heed him, except for my own pocket? Nevertheless, I have been so cross-questioned—far worse than by young Lord Churchill—about His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, and what he said to me, and what I said then, and how His Grace replied to that, and whether he smiled like another man, or screwed up his lips like a button (as our parish tailor said of him), and whether I knew from the turn of his nose that no Frenchman could stand before him: all these inquiries have worried me so, ever since the Battle of Blenheim, that if tailors would only print upon waistcoats, I would give double price for a vest bearing this inscription, 'No information can be given about the Duke of Marlborough.'
Now this good Lord Churchill—for one might call him good, by comparison with the very bad people around him—granted without any long hesitation the order for my safe deliverance to the Court of King's Bench at Westminster; and Stickles, who had to report in London, was empowered to convey me, and made answerable for producing me. This arrangement would have been entirely to my liking, although the time of year was bad for leaving Plover's Barrows so; but no man may quite choose his times, and on the while I would have been quite content to visit London, if my mother could be warned that nothing was amiss with me, only a mild, and as one might say, nominal captivity. And to prevent her anxiety, I did my best to send a letter through good Sergeant Bloxham, of whom I heard as quartered with Dumbarton's regiment at Chedzuy. But that regiment was away in pursuit; and I was forced to entrust my letter to a man who said that he knew him, and accepted a shilling to see to it.
For fear of any unpleasant change, we set forth at once for London; and truly thankful may I be that God in His mercy spared me the sight of the cruel and bloody work with which the whole country reeked and howled during the next fortnight. I have heard things that set my hair on end, and made me loathe good meat for days; but I make a point of setting down only the things which I saw done; and in this particular case, not many will quarrel with my decision. Enough, therefore, that we rode on (for Stickles had found me a horse at last) as far as Wells, where we slept that night; and being joined in the morning by several troopers and orderlies, we made a slow but safe journey to London, by way of Bath and Reading.
The sight of London warmed my heart with various emotions, such as a cordial man must draw from the heart of all humanity. Here there are quick ways and manners, and the rapid sense of knowledge, and the power of understanding, ere a word be spoken. Whereas at Oare, you must say a thing three times, very slowly, before it gets inside the skull of the good man you are addressing. And yet we are far more clever there than in any parish for fifteen miles.
But what moved me most, when I saw again the noble oil and tallow of the London lights, and the dripping torches at almost every corner, and the handsome signboards, was the thought that here my Lorna lived, and walked, and took the air, and perhaps thought now and then of the old days in the good farm-house. Although I would make no approach to her, any more than she had done to me (upon which grief I have not dwelt, for fear of seeming selfish), yet there must be some large chance, or the little chance might be enlarged, of falling in with the maiden somehow, and learning how her mind was set. If against me, all should be over. I was not the man to sigh and cry for love, like a Romeo: none should even guess my grief, except my sister Annie.
But if Lorna loved me still—as in my heart of hearts I hoped—then would I for no one care, except her own delicious self. Rank and title, wealth and grandeur, all should go to the winds, before they scared me from my own true love.
Thinking thus, I went to bed in the centre of London town, and was bitten so grievously by creatures whose name is 'legion,' mad with the delight of getting a wholesome farmer among them, that verily I was ashamed to walk in the courtly parts of the town next day, having lumps upon my face of the size of a pickling walnut. The landlord said that this was nothing; and that he expected, in two days at the utmost, a very fresh young Irishman, for whom they would all forsake me. Nevertheless, I declined to wait, unless he could find me a hayrick to sleep in; for the insects of grass only tickle. He assured me that no hayrick could now be found in London; upon which I was forced to leave him, and with mutual esteem we parted.
The next night I had better luck, being introduced to a decent widow, of very high Scotch origin. That house was swept and garnished so, that not a bit was left to eat, for either man or insect. The change of air having made me hungry, I wanted something after supper; being quite ready to pay for it, and showing my purse as a symptom. But the face of Widow MacAlister, when I proposed to have some more food, was a thing to be drawn (if it could be drawn further) by our new caricaturist.
Therefore I left her also; for liefer would I be eaten myself than have nothing to eat; and so I came back to my old furrier; the which was a thoroughly hearty man, and welcomed me to my room again, with two shillings added to the rent, in the joy of his heart at seeing me. Being under parole to Master Stickles, I only went out betwixt certain hours; because I was accounted as liable to be called upon; for what purpose I knew not, but hoped it might be a good one. I felt it a loss, and a hindrance to me, that I was so bound to remain at home during the session of the courts of law; for thereby the chance of ever beholding Lorna was very greatly contracted, if not altogether annihilated. For these were the very hours in which the people of fashion, and the high world, were wont to appear to the rest of mankind, so as to encourage them. And of course by this time, the Lady Lorna was high among people of fashion, and was not likely to be seen out of fashionable hours. It is true that there were some places of expensive entertainment, at which the better sort of mankind might be seen and studied, in their hours of relaxation, by those of the lower order, who could pay sufficiently. But alas, my money was getting low; and the privilege of seeing my betters was more and more denied to me, as my cash drew shorter. For a man must have a good coat at least, and the pockets not wholly empty, before he can look at those whom God has created for his ensample.
Hence, and from many other causes—part of which was my own pride—it happened that I abode in London betwixt a month and five weeks' time, ere ever I saw Lorna. It seemed unfit that I should go, and waylay her, and spy on her, and say (or mean to say), 'Lo, here is your poor faithful farmer, a man who is unworthy of you, by means of his common birth; and yet who dares to crawl across your path, that you may pity him. For God's sake show a little pity, though you may not feel it.' Such behaviour might be comely in a love-lorn boy, a page to some grand princess; but I, John Ridd, would never stoop to the lowering of love so.
Nevertheless I heard of Lorna, from my worthy furrier, almost every day, and with a fine exaggeration. This honest man was one of those who in virtue of their trade, and nicety of behaviour, are admitted into noble life, to take measurements, and show patterns. And while so doing, they contrive to acquire what is to the English mind at once the most important and most interesting of all knowledge,—the science of being able to talk about the titled people. So my furrier (whose name was Ramsack), having to make robes for peers, and cloaks for their wives and otherwise, knew the great folk, sham or real, as well as he knew a fox or skunk from a wolverine skin.
And when, with some fencing and foils of inquiry, I hinted about Lady Lorna Dugal, the old man's face became so pleasant that I knew her birth must be wondrous high. At this my own countenance fell, I suppose,—for the better she was born, the harder she would be to marry—and mistaking my object, he took me up:—
'Perhaps you think, Master Ridd, that because her ladyship, Lady Lorna Dugal, is of Scottish origin, therefore her birth is not as high as of our English nobility. If you think so you are wrong, sir. She comes not of the sandy Scotch race, with high cheek-bones, and raw shoulder-blades, who set up pillars in their courtyards. But she comes of the very best Scotch blood, descended from the Norsemen. Her mother was of the very noblest race, the Lords of Lorne; higher even than the great Argyle, who has lately made a sad mistake, and paid for it most sadly. And her father was descended from the King Dugal, who fought against Alexander the Great. No, no, Master Ridd; none of your promiscuous blood, such as runs in the veins of half our modern peerage.'
'Why should you trouble yourself about it, Master Ramsack?' I replied: 'let them all go their own ways: and let us all look up to them, whether they come by hook or crook.'
'Not at all, not at all, my lad. That is not the way to regard it. We look up at the well-born men, and side-ways at the base-born.'
'Then we are all base-born ourselves. I will look up to no man, except for what himself has done.'
'Come, Master Ridd, you might be lashed from New-gate to Tyburn and back again, once a week, for a twelvemonth, if some people heard you. Keep your tongue more close, young man; or here you lodge no longer; albeit I love your company, which smells to me of the hayfield. Ah, I have not seen a hayfield for nine-and-twenty years, John Ridd. The cursed moths keep me at home, every day of the summer.'
'Spread your furs on the haycocks,' I answered very boldly: 'the indoor moth cannot abide the presence of the outdoor ones.'
'Is it so?' he answered: 'I never thought of that before. And yet I have known such strange things happen in the way of fur, that I can well believe it. If you only knew, John, the way in which they lay their eggs, and how they work tail-foremost—'
'Tell me nothing of the kind,' I replied, with equal confidence: 'they cannot work tail-foremost; and they have no tails to work with.' For I knew a little about grubs, and the ignorance concerning them, which we have no right to put up with. However, not to go into that (for the argument lasted a fortnight; and then was only come so far as to begin again), Master Ramsack soon convinced me of the things I knew already; the excellence of Lorna's birth, as well as her lofty place at Court, and beauty, and wealth, and elegance. But all these only made me sigh, and wish that I were born to them.
From Master Ramsack I discovered that the nobleman to whose charge Lady Lorna had been committed, by the Court of Chancery, was Earl Brandir of Lochawe, her poor mother's uncle. For the Countess of Dugal was daughter, and only child, of the last Lord Lorne, whose sister had married Sir Ensor Doone; while he himself had married the sister of Earl Brandir. This nobleman had a country house near the village of Kensington; and here his niece dwelled with him, when she was not in attendance on Her Majesty the Queen, who had taken a liking to her. Now since the King had begun to attend the celebration of mass, in the chapel at Whitehall—and not at Westminster Abbey, as our gossips had averred—he had given order that the doors should be thrown open, so that all who could make interest to get into the antechamber, might see this form of worship. Master Ramsack told me that Lorna was there almost every Sunday; their Majesties being most anxious to have the presence of all the nobility of the Catholic persuasion, so as to make a goodly show. And the worthy furrier, having influence with the door-keepers, kindly obtained admittance for me, one Sunday, into the antechamber.
Here I took care to be in waiting, before the Royal procession entered; but being unknown, and of no high rank, I was not allowed to stand forward among the better people, but ordered back into a corner very dark and dismal; the verger remarking, with a grin, that I could see over all other heads, and must not set my own so high. Being frightened to find myself among so many people of great rank and gorgeous apparel, I blushed at the notice drawn upon me by this uncourteous fellow; and silently fell back into the corner by the hangings.
You may suppose that my heart beat high, when the King and Queen appeared, and entered, followed by the Duke of Norfolk, bearing the sword of state, and by several other noblemen, and people of repute. Then the doors of the chapel were thrown wide open; and though I could only see a little, being in the corner so, I thought that it was beautiful. Bowers of rich silk were there, and plenty of metal shining, and polished wood with lovely carving; flowers too of the noblest kind, and candles made by somebody who had learned how to clarify tallow. This last thing amazed me more than all, for our dips never will come clear, melt the mutton-fat how you will. And methought that this hanging of flowers about was a pretty thing; for if a man can worship God best of all beneath a tree, as the natural instinct is, surely when by fault of climate the tree would be too apt to drip, the very best make-believe is to have enough and to spare of flowers; which to the dwellers in London seem to have grown on the tree denied them.
Be that as it may, when the King and Queen crossed the threshold, a mighty flourish of trumpets arose, and a waving of banners. The Knights of the Garter (whoever they be) were to attend that day in state; and some went in, and some stayed out, and it made me think of the difference betwixt the ewes and the wethers. For the ewes will go wherever you lead them; but the wethers will not, having strong opinions, and meaning to abide by them. And one man I noticed was of the wethers, to wit the Duke of Norfolk; who stopped outside with the sword of state, like a beadle with a rapping-rod. This has taken more to tell than the time it happened in. For after all the men were gone, some to this side, some to that, according to their feelings, a number of ladies, beautifully dressed, being of the Queen's retinue, began to enter, and were stared at three times as much as the men had been. And indeed they were worth looking at (which men never are to my ideas, when they trick themselves with gewgaws), but none was so well worth eye-service as my own beloved Lorna. She entered modestly and shyly, with her eyes upon the ground, knowing the rudeness of the gallants, and the large sum she was priced at. Her dress was of the purest white, very sweet and simple, without a line of ornament, for she herself adorned it. The way she walked, and touched her skirt (rather than seemed to hold it up) with a white hand beaming one red rose, this and her stately supple neck, and the flowing of her hair would show, at a distance of a hundred yards, that she could be none but Lorna Doone. Lorna Doone of my early love; in the days when she blushed for her name before me by reason of dishonesty; but now the Lady Lorna Dugal as far beyond reproach as above my poor affection. All my heart, and all my mind, gathered themselves upon her. Would she see me, or would she pass? Was there instinct in our love?
By some strange chance she saw me. Or was it through our destiny? While with eyes kept sedulously on the marble floor, to shun the weight of admiration thrust too boldly on them, while with shy quick steps she passed, some one (perhaps with purpose) trod on the skirt of her clear white dress,—with the quickness taught her by many a scene of danger, she looked up, and her eyes met mine.
As I gazed upon her, steadfastly, yearningly, yet with some reproach, and more of pride than humility, she made me one of the courtly bows which I do so much detest; yet even that was sweet and graceful, when my Lorna did it. But the colour of her pure clear cheeks was nearly as deep as that of my own, when she went on for the religious work. And the shining of her eyes was owing to an unpaid debt of tears.
Upon the whole I was satisfied. Lorna had seen me, and had not (according to the phrase of the high world then) even tried to 'cut' me. Whether this low phrase is born of their own stupid meanness, or whether it comes of necessity exercised on a man without money, I know not, and I care not. But one thing I know right well; any man who 'cuts' a man (except for vice or meanness) should be quartered without quarter.
All these proud thoughts rose within me as the lovely form of Lorna went inside, and was no more seen. And then I felt how coarse I was; how apt to think strong thoughts, and so on; without brains to bear me out: even as a hen's egg, laid without enough of lime, and looking only a poor jelly.
Nevertheless, I waited on; as my usual manner is. For to be beaten, while running away, is ten times worse than to face it out, and take it, and have done with it. So at least I have always found, because of reproach of conscience: and all the things those clever people carried on inside, at large, made me long for our Parson Bowden that he might know how to act.
While I stored up, in my memory, enough to keep our parson going through six pipes on a Saturday night—to have it as right as could be next day—a lean man with a yellow beard, too thin for a good Catholic (which religion always fattens), came up to me, working sideways, in the manner of a female crab.
'This is not to my liking,' I said: 'if aught thou hast, speak plainly; while they make that horrible noise inside.'
Nothing had this man to say; but with many sighs, because I was not of the proper faith, he took my reprobate hand to save me: and with several religious tears, looked up at me, and winked with one eye. Although the skin of my palms was thick, I felt a little suggestion there, as of a gentle leaf in spring, fearing to seem too forward. I paid the man, and he went happy; for the standard of heretical silver is purer than that of the Catholics.
Then I lifted up my little billet; and in that dark corner read it, with a strong rainbow of colours coming from the angled light. And in mine eyes there was enough to make rainbow of strongest sun, as my anger clouded off.
Not that it began so well; but that in my heart I knew (ere three lines were through me) that I was with all heart loved—and beyond that, who may need? The darling of my life went on, as if I were of her own rank, or even better than she was; and she dotted her 'i's,' and crossed her 't's,' as if I were at least a schoolmaster. All of it was done in pencil; but as plain as plain could be. In my coffin it shall lie, with my ring and something else. Therefore will I not expose it to every man who buys this book, and haply thinks that he has bought me to the bottom of my heart. Enough for men of gentle birth (who never are inquisitive) that my love told me, in her letter, just to come and see her.
I ran away, and could not stop. To behold even her, at the moment, would have dashed my fancy's joy. Yet my brain was so amiss, that I must do something. Therefore to the river Thames, with all speed, I hurried; and keeping all my best clothes on (indued for sake of Lorna), into the quiet stream I leaped, and swam as far as London Bridge, and ate nobler dinner afterwards.
LORNA STILL IS LORNA
Although a man may be as simple as the flowers of the field; knowing when, but scarcely why, he closes to the bitter wind; and feeling why, but scarcely when, he opens to the genial sun; yet without his questing much into the capsule of himself—to do which is a misery—he may have a general notion how he happens to be getting on.
I felt myself to be getting on better than at any time since the last wheat-harvest, as I took the lane to Kensington upon the Monday evening. For although no time was given in my Lorna's letter, I was not inclined to wait more than decency required. And though I went and watched the house, decency would not allow me to knock on the Sunday evening, especially when I found at the corner that his lordship was at home.
The lanes and fields between Charing Cross and the village of Kensington, are, or were at that time, more than reasonably infested with footpads and with highwaymen. However, my stature and holly club kept these fellows from doing more than casting sheep's eyes at me. For it was still broad daylight, and the view of the distant villages, Chelsea, Battersea, Tyburn, and others, as well as a few large houses, among the hams and towards the river, made it seem less lonely. Therefore I sang a song in the broadest Exmoor dialect, which caused no little amazement in the minds of all who met me.
When I came to Earl Brandir's house, my natural modesty forbade me to appear at the door for guests; therefore I went to the entrance for servants and retainers. Here, to my great surprise, who should come and let me in but little Gwenny Carfax, whose very existence had almost escaped my recollection. Her mistress, no doubt, had seen me coming, and sent her to save trouble. But when I offered to kiss Gwenny, in my joy and comfort to see a farm-house face again, she looked ashamed, and turned away, and would hardly speak to me.
I followed her to a little room, furnished very daintily; and there she ordered me to wait, in a most ungracious manner. 'Well,' thought I, 'if the mistress and the maid are alike in temper, better it had been for me to abide at Master Ramsack's.' But almost ere my thought was done, I heard the light quick step which I knew as well as 'Watch,' my dog, knew mine; and my breast began to tremble, like the trembling of an arch ere the keystone is put in.
Almost ere I hoped—for fear and hope were so entangled that they hindered one another—the velvet hangings of the doorway parted, with a little doubt, and then a good face put on it. Lorna, in her perfect beauty, stood before the crimson folds, and her dress was all pure white, and her cheeks were rosy pink, and her lips were scarlet.
Like a maiden, with skill and sense checking violent impulse, she stayed there for one moment only, just to be admired; and then like a woman, she came to me, seeing how alarmed I was. The hand she offered me I took, and raised it to my lips with fear, as a thing too good for me. 'Is that all?' she whispered; and then her eyes gleamed up at me; and in another instant, she was weeping on my breast.
'Darling Lorna, Lady Lorna,' I cried, in astonishment, yet unable but to keep her closer to me, and closer; 'surely, though I love you so, this is not as it should be.'
'Yes, it is, John. Yes, it is. Nothing else should ever be. Oh, why have you behaved so?'
'I am behaving.' I replied, 'to the very best of my ability. There is no other man in the world could hold you so, without kissing you.'
'Then why don't you do it, John?' asked Lorna, looking up at me, with a flash of her old fun.
Now this matter, proverbially, is not for discussion, and repetition. Enough that we said nothing more than, 'Oh, John, how glad I am!' and 'Lorna, Lorna Lorna!' for about five minutes. Then my darling drew back proudly, with blushing cheeks, and tear-bright eyes, she began to cross-examine me.
'Master John Ridd, you shall tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I have been in Chancery, sir; and can detect a story. Now why have you never, for more than a twelvemonth, taken the smallest notice of your old friend, Mistress Lorna Doone?' Although she spoke in this lightsome manner, as if it made no difference, I saw that her quick heart was moving, and the flash of her eyes controlled.
'Simply for this cause, I answered, 'that my old friend and true love, took not the smallest heed of me. Nor knew I where to find her.'
'What!' cried Lorna; and nothing more; being overcome with wondering; and much inclined to fall away, but for my assistance. I told her, over and over again, that not a single syllable of any message from her, or tidings of her welfare, had reached me, or any one of us, since the letter she left behind; except by soldier's gossip.
'Oh, you poor dear John!' said Lorna, sighing at thought of my misery: 'how wonderfully good of you, thinking of me as you must have done, not to marry that little plain thing (or perhaps I should say that lovely creature, for I have never seen her), Mistress Ruth—I forget her name; but something like a towel.'
'Ruth Huckaback is a worthy maid,' I answered with some dignity; 'and she alone of all our world, except indeed poor Annie, has kept her confidence in you, and told me not to dread your rank, but trust your heart, Lady Lorna.'
'Then Ruth is my best friend,' she answered, 'and is worthy of you, dear John. And now remember one thing, dear; if God should part us, as may be by nothing short of death, try to marry that little Ruth, when you cease to remember me. And now for the head-traitor. I have often suspected it: but she looks me in the face, and wishes—fearful things, which I cannot repeat.'
With these words, she moved an implement such as I had not seen before, and which made a ringing noise at a serious distance. And before I had ceased wondering—for if such things go on, we might ring the church bells, while sitting in our back-kitchen—little Gwenny Carfax came, with a grave and sullen face.
'Gwenny,' began my Lorna, in a tone of high rank and dignity, 'go and fetch the letters which I gave you at various times for despatch to Mistress Ridd.'
'How can I fetch them, when they are gone? It be no use for him to tell no lies—'
'Now, Gwenny, can you look at me?' I asked, very sternly; for the matter was no joke to me, after a year's unhappiness.
'I don't want to look at 'ee. What should I look at a young man for, although he did offer to kiss me?'
I saw the spite and impudence of this last remark, and so did Lorna, although she could not quite refrain from smiling.
'Now, Gwenny, not to speak of that,' said Lorna, very demurely, 'if you thought it honest to keep the letters, was it honest to keep the money?'
At this the Cornish maiden broke into a rage of honesty: 'A putt the money by for 'ee. 'Ee shall have every farden of it.' And so she flung out of the room.
'And, Gwenny,' said Lorna very softly, following under the door-hangings; 'if it is not honest to keep the money, it is not honest to keep the letters, which would have been worth more than any gold to those who were so kind to you. Your father shall know the whole, Gwenny, unless you tell the truth.'
'Now, a will tell all the truth,' this strange maiden answered, talking to herself at least as much as to her mistress, while she went out of sight and hearing. And then I was so glad at having my own Lorna once again, cleared of all contempt for us, and true to me through all of it, that I would have forgiven Gwenny for treason, or even forgery.
'I trusted her so much,' said Lorna, in her old ill-fortuned way; 'and look how she has deceived me! That is why I love you, John (setting other things aside), because you never told me falsehood; and you never could, you know.'
'Well, I am not so sure of that. I think I could tell any lie, to have you, darling, all my own.'
'Yes. And perhaps it might be right. To other people besides us two. But you could not do it to me, John. You never could do it to me, you know.'
Before I quite perceived my way to the bottom of the distinction—although beyond doubt a valid one—Gwenny came back with a leathern bag, and tossed it upon the table. Not a word did she vouchsafe to us; but stood there, looking injured.
'Go, and get your letters, John,' said Lorna very gravely; 'or at least your mother's letters, made of messages to you. As for Gwenny, she shall go before Lord Justice Jeffreys.' I knew that Lorna meant it not; but thought that the girl deserved a frightening; as indeed she did. But we both mistook the courage of this child of Cornwall. She stepped upon a little round thing, in the nature of a stool, such as I never had seen before, and thus delivered her sentiments.
'And you may take me, if you please, before the great Lord Jeffreys. I have done no more than duty, though I did it crookedly, and told a heap of lies, for your sake. And pretty gratitude I gets.'
'Much gratitude you have shown,' replied Lorna, 'to Master Ridd, for all his kindness and his goodness to you. Who was it that went down, at the peril of his life, and brought your father to you, when you had lost him for months and months? Who was it? Answer me, Gwenny?'
'Girt Jan Ridd,' said the handmaid, very sulkily.
'What made you treat me so, little Gwenny?' I asked, for Lorna would not ask lest the reply should vex me.
'Because 'ee be'est below her so. Her shanna' have a poor farmering chap, not even if her were a Carnishman. All her land, and all her birth—and who be you, I'd like to know?'
'Gwenny, you may go,' said Lorna, reddening with quiet anger; 'and remember that you come not near me for the next three days. It is the only way to punish her,' she continued to me, when the maid was gone, in a storm of sobbing and weeping. 'Now, for the next three days, she will scarcely touch a morsel of food, and scarcely do a thing but cry. Make up your mind to one thing, John; if you mean to take me, for better for worse, you will have to take Gwenny with me.
'I would take you with fifty Gwennies,' said I, 'although every one of them hated me, which I do not believe this little maid does, in the bottom of her heart.'
'No one can possibly hate you, John,' she answered very softly; and I was better pleased with this, than if she had called me the most noble and glorious man in the kingdom.
After this, we spoke of ourselves and the way people would regard us, supposing that when Lorna came to be her own free mistress (as she must do in the course of time) she were to throw her rank aside, and refuse her title, and caring not a fig for folk who cared less than a fig-stalk for her, should shape her mind to its native bent, and to my perfect happiness. It was not my place to say much, lest I should appear to use an improper and selfish influence. And of course to all men of common sense, and to everybody of middle age (who must know best what is good for youth), the thoughts which my Lorna entertained would be enough to prove her madness.
Not that we could not keep her well, comfortably, and with nice clothes, and plenty of flowers, and fruit, and landscape, and the knowledge of our neighbours' affairs, and their kind interest in our own. Still this would not be as if she were the owner of a county, and a haughty title; and able to lead the first men of the age, by her mind, and face, and money.
Therefore was I quite resolved not to have a word to say, while this young queen of wealth and beauty, and of noblemen's desire, made her mind up how to act for her purest happiness. But to do her justice, this was not the first thing she was thinking of: the test of her judgment was only this, 'How will my love be happiest?'
'Now, John,' she cried; for she was so quick that she always had my thoughts beforehand; 'why will you be backward, as if you cared not for me? Do you dream that I am doubting? My mind has been made up, good John, that you must be my husband, for—well, I will not say how long, lest you should laugh at my folly. But I believe it was ever since you came, with your stockings off, and the loaches. Right early for me to make up my mind; but you know that you made up yours, John; and, of course, I knew it; and that had a great effect on me. Now, after all this age of loving, shall a trifle sever us?'
I told her that it was no trifle, but a most important thing, to abandon wealth, and honour, and the brilliance of high life, and be despised by every one for such abundant folly. Moreover, that I should appear a knave for taking advantage of her youth, and boundless generosity, and ruining (as men would say) a noble maid by my selfishness. And I told her outright, having worked myself up by my own conversation, that she was bound to consult her guardian, and that without his knowledge, I would come no more to see her. Her flash of pride at these last words made her look like an empress; and I was about to explain myself better, but she put forth her hand and stopped me.
'I think that condition should rather have proceeded from me. You are mistaken, Master Ridd, in supposing that I would think of receiving you in secret. It was a different thing in Glen Doone, where all except yourself were thieves, and when I was but a simple child, and oppressed with constant fear. You are quite right in threatening to visit me thus no more; but I think you might have waited for an invitation, sir.'
'And you are quite right, Lady Lorna, in pointing out my presumption. It is a fault that must ever be found in any speech of mine to you.'
This I said so humbly, and not with any bitterness—for I knew that I had gone too far—and made her so polite a bow, that she forgave me in a moment, and we begged each other's pardon.
'Now, will you allow me just to explain my own view of this matter, John?' said she, once more my darling. 'It may be a very foolish view, but I shall never change it. Please not to interrupt me, dear, until you have heard me to the end. In the first place, it is quite certain that neither you nor I can be happy without the other. Then what stands between us? Worldly position, and nothing else. I have no more education than you have, John Ridd; nay, and not so much. My birth and ancestry are not one whit more pure than yours, although they may be better known. Your descent from ancient freeholders, for five-and-twenty generations of good, honest men, although you bear no coat of arms, is better than the lineage of nine proud English noblemen out of every ten I meet with. In manners, though your mighty strength, and hatred of any meanness, sometimes break out in violence—of which I must try to cure you, dear—in manners, if kindness, and gentleness, and modesty are the true things wanted, you are immeasurably above any of our Court-gallants; who indeed have very little. As for difference of religion, we allow for one another, neither having been brought up in a bitterly pious manner.'
Here, though the tears were in my eyes, at the loving things love said of me, I could not help a little laugh at the notion of any bitter piety being found among the Doones, or even in mother, for that matter. Lorna smiled, in her slyest manner, and went on again:—
'Now, you see, I have proved my point; there is nothing between us but worldly position—if you can defend me against the Doones, for which, I trow, I may trust you. And worldly position means wealth, and title, and the right to be in great houses, and the pleasure of being envied. I have not been here for a year, John, without learning something. Oh, I hate it; how I hate it! Of all the people I know, there are but two, besides my uncle, who do not either covet, or detest me. And who are those two, think you?'
'Gwenny, for one,' I answered.
'Yes, Gwenny, for one. And the queen, for the other. The one is too far below me (I mean, in her own opinion), and the other too high above. As for the women who dislike me, without having even heard my voice, I simply have nothing to do with them. As for the men who covet me, for my land and money, I merely compare them with you, John Ridd; and all thought of them is over. Oh, John, you must never forsake me, however cross I am to you. I thought you would have gone, just now; and though I would not move to stop you, my heart would have broken.'
'You don't catch me go in a hurry,' I answered very sensibly, 'when the loveliest maiden in all the world, and the best, and the dearest, loves me. All my fear of you is gone, darling Lorna, all my fear—'
'Is it possible you could fear me, John, after all we have been through together? Now you promised not to interrupt me; is this fair behaviour? Well, let me see where I left off—oh, that my heart would have broken. Upon that point, I will say no more, lest you should grow conceited, John; if anything could make you so. But I do assure you that half London—however, upon that point also I will check my power of speech, lest you think me conceited. And now to put aside all nonsense; though I have talked none for a year, John, having been so unhappy; and now it is such a relief to me—'
'Then talk it for an hour,' said I; 'and let me sit and watch you. To me it is the very sweetest of all sweetest wisdom.'
'Nay, there is no time,' she answered, glancing at a jewelled timepiece, scarcely larger than an oyster, which she drew from her waist-band; and then she pushed it away, in confusion, lest its wealth should startle me. 'My uncle will come home in less than half an hour, dear: and you are not the one to take a side-passage, and avoid him. I shall tell him that you have been here; and that I mean you to come again.'
As Lorna said this, with a manner as confident as need be, I saw that she had learned in town the power of her beauty, and knew that she could do with most men aught she set her mind upon. And as she stood there, flushed with pride and faith in her own loveliness, and radiant with the love itself, I felt that she must do exactly as she pleased with every one. For now, in turn, and elegance, and richness, and variety, there was nothing to compare with her face, unless it were her figure. Therefore I gave in, and said,—
'Darling, do just what you please. Only make no rogue of me.'
For that she gave me the simplest, kindest, and sweetest of all kisses; and I went down the great stairs grandly, thinking of nothing else but that.
JOHN IS JOHN NO LONGER
It would be hard for me to tell the state of mind in which I lived for a long time after this. I put away from me all torment, and the thought of future cares, and the sight of difficulty; and to myself appeared, which means that I became the luckiest of lucky fellows, since the world itself began. I thought not of the harvest even, nor of the men who would get their wages without having earned them, nor of my mother's anxiety and worry about John Fry's great fatness (which was growing upon him), and how she would cry fifty times in a day, 'Ah, if our John would only come home, how different everything would look!'
Although there were no soldiers now quartered at Plover's Barrows, all being busied in harassing the country, and hanging the people where the rebellion had thriven most, my mother, having received from me a message containing my place of abode, contrived to send me, by the pack-horses, as fine a maund as need be of provisions, and money, and other comforts. Therein I found addressed to Colonel Jeremiah Stickles, in Lizzie's best handwriting, half a side of the dried deer's flesh, in which he rejoiced so greatly. Also, for Lorna, a fine green goose, with a little salt towards the tail, and new-laid eggs inside it, as well as a bottle of brandied cherries, and seven, or it may have been eight pounds of fresh homemade butter. Moreover, to myself there was a letter full of good advice, excellently well expressed, and would have been of the greatest value, if I had cared to read it. But I read all about the farm affairs, and the man who had offered himself to our Betty for the five pounds in her stocking; as well as the antics of Sally Snowe, and how she had almost thrown herself at Parson Bowden's head (old enough to be her grandfather), because on the Sunday after the hanging of a Countisbury man, he had preached a beautiful sermon about Christian love; which Lizzie, with her sharp eyes, found to be the work of good Bishop Ken. Also I read that the Doones were quiet; the parishes round about having united to feed them well through the harvest time, so that after the day's hard work, the farmers might go to bed at night. And this plan had been found to answer well, and to save much trouble on both sides, so that everybody wondered it had not been done before. But Lizzie thought that the Doones could hardly be expected much longer to put up with it, and probably would not have done so now, but for a little adversity; to wit, that the famous Colonel Kirke had, in the most outrageous manner, hanged no less than six of them, who were captured among the rebels; for he said that men of their rank and breeding, and above all of their religion, should have known better than to join plough-boys, and carters, and pickaxemen, against our Lord the King, and his Holiness the Pope. This hanging of so many Doones caused some indignation among people who were used to them; and it seemed for a while to check the rest from any spirit of enterprise.
Moreover, I found from this same letter (which was pinned upon the knuckle of a leg of mutton, for fear of being lost in straw) that good Tom Faggus was at home again, and nearly cured of his dreadful wound; but intended to go to war no more, only to mind his family. And it grieved him more than anything he ever could have imagined, that his duty to his family, and the strong power of his conscience, so totally forbade him to come up and see after me. For now his design was to lead a new life, and be in charity with all men. Many better men than he had been hanged, he saw no cause to doubt; but by the grace of God he hoped himself to cheat the gallows.
There was no further news of moment in this very clever letter, except that the price of horses' shoes was gone up again, though already twopence-farthing each; and that Betty had broken her lover's head with the stocking full of money; and then in the corner it was written that the distinguished man of war, and worshipful scholar, Master Bloxham, was now promoted to take the tolls, and catch all the rebels around our part.
Lorna was greatly pleased with the goose, and the butter, and the brandied cherries; and the Earl Brandir himself declared that he never tasted better than those last, and would beg the young man from the country to procure him instructions for making them. This nobleman, being as deaf as a post, and of a very solid mind, could never be brought to understand the nature of my thoughts towards Lorna. He looked upon me as an excellent youth, who had rescued the maiden from the Doones, whom he cordially detested; and learning that I had thrown two of them out of window (as the story was told him), he patted me on the back, and declared that his doors would ever be open to me, and that I could not come too often.
I thought this very kind of his lordship, especially as it enabled me to see my darling Lorna, not indeed as often as I wished, but at any rate very frequently, and as many times as modesty (ever my leading principle) would in common conscience approve of. And I made up my mind that if ever I could help Earl Brandir, it would be—as we say, when with brandy and water—the 'proudest moment of my life,' when I could fulfil the pledge.
And I soon was able to help Lord Brandir, as I think, in two different ways; first of all as regarded his mind, and then as concerned his body: and the latter perhaps was the greatest service, at his time of life. But not to be too nice about that; let me tell how these things were.
Lorna said to me one day, being in a state of excitement—whereto she was over prone, when reft of my slowness to steady her,—
'I will tell him, John; I must tell him, John. It is mean of me to conceal it.'
I thought that she meant all about our love, which we had endeavoured thrice to drill into his fine old ears; but could not make him comprehend, without risk of bringing the house down: and so I said, 'By all means; darling; have another try at it.'
Lorna, however, looked at me—for her eyes told more than tongue—as much as to say, 'Well, you are a stupid. We agreed to let that subject rest.' And then she saw that I was vexed at my own want of quickness; and so she spoke very kindly,—
'I meant about his poor son, dearest; the son of his old age almost; whose loss threw him into that dreadful cold—for he went, without hat, to look for him—which ended in his losing the use of his dear old ears. I believe if we could only get him to Plover's Barrows for a month, he would be able to hear again. And look at his age! he is not much over seventy, John, you know; and I hope that you will be able to hear me, long after you are seventy, John.'
'Well,' said I, 'God settles that. Or at any rate, He leaves us time to think about those questions, when we are over fifty. Now let me know what you want, Lorna. The idea of my being seventy! But you would still be beautiful.'
'To the one who loves me,' she answered, trying to make wrinkles in her pure bright forehead: 'but if you will have common sense, as you always will, John, whether I wish it or otherwise—I want to know whether I am bound, in honour, and in conscience, to tell my dear and good old uncle what I know about his son?'
'First let me understand quite clearly,' said I, never being in a hurry, except when passion moves me, 'what his lordship thinks at present; and how far his mind is urged with sorrow and anxiety.' This was not the first time we had spoken of the matter.
'Why, you know, John, well enough,' she answered, wondering at my coolness, 'that my poor uncle still believes that his one beloved son will come to light and live again. He has made all arrangements accordingly: all his property is settled on that supposition. He knows that young Alan always was what he calls a "feckless ne'er-do-weel;" but he loves him all the more for that. He cannot believe that he will die, without his son coming back to him; and he always has a bedroom ready, and a bottle of Alan's favourite wine cool from out the cellar; he has made me work him a pair of slippers from the size of a mouldy boot; and if he hears of a new tobacco—much as he hates the smell of it—he will go to the other end of London to get some for Alan. Now you know how deaf he is; but if any one say, "Alan," even in the place outside the door, he will make his courteous bow to the very highest visitor, and be out there in a moment, and search the entire passage, and yet let no one know it.'
'It is a piteous thing,' I said; for Lorna's eyes were full of tears.
'And he means me to marry him. It is the pet scheme of his life. I am to grow more beautiful, and more highly taught, and graceful; until it pleases Alan to come back, and demand me. Can you understand this matter, John? Or do you think my uncle mad?'
'Lorna, I should be mad myself, to call any other man mad, for hoping.'
'Then will you tell me what to do? It makes me very sorrowful. For I know that Alan Brandir lies below the sod in Doone-valley.'
'And if you tell his father,' I answered softly, but clearly, 'in a few weeks he will lie below the sod in London; at least if there is any.'
'Perhaps you are right, John,' she replied: 'to lose hope must be a dreadful thing, when one is turned of seventy. Therefore I will never tell him.'
The other way in which I managed to help the good Earl Brandir was of less true moment to him; but as he could not know of the first, this was the one which moved him. And it happened pretty much as follows—though I hardly like to tell, because it advanced me to such a height as I myself was giddy at; and which all my friends resented greatly (save those of my own family), and even now are sometimes bitter, in spite of all my humility. Now this is a matter of history, because the King was concerned in it; and being so strongly misunderstood, (especially in my own neighbourhood, I will overcome so far as I can) my diffidence in telling it.
The good Earl Brandir was a man of the noblest charity. True charity begins at home, and so did his; and was afraid of losing the way, if it went abroad. So this good nobleman kept his money in a handsome pewter box, with his coat of arms upon it, and a double lid and locks. Moreover, there was a heavy chain, fixed to a staple in the wall, so that none might carry off the pewter with the gold inside of it. Lorna told me the box was full, for she had seen him go to it, and she often thought that it would be nice for us to begin the world with. I told her that she must not allow her mind to dwell upon things of this sort; being wholly against the last commandment set up in our church at Oare.
Now one evening towards September, when the days were drawing in, looking back at the house to see whether Lorna were looking after me, I espied (by a little glimpse, as it were) a pair of villainous fellows (about whom there could be no mistake) watching from the thicket-corner, some hundred yards or so behind the good Earl's dwelling. 'There is mischief afoot,' thought I to myself, being thoroughly conversant with theft, from my knowledge of the Doones; 'how will be the moon to-night, and when may we expect the watch?'
I found that neither moon nor watch could be looked for until the morning; the moon, of course, before the watch, and more likely to be punctual. Therefore I resolved to wait, and see what those two villains did, and save (if it were possible) the Earl of Brandir's pewter box. But inasmuch as those bad men were almost sure to have seen me leaving the house and looking back, and striking out on the London road, I marched along at a merry pace, until they could not discern me; and then I fetched a compass round, and refreshed myself at a certain inn, entitled The Cross-bones and Buttons.
Here I remained until it was very nearly as dark as pitch; and the house being full of footpads and cutthroats, I thought it right to leave them. One or two came after me, in the hope of designing a stratagem; but I dropped them in the darkness; and knowing all the neighbourhood well, I took up my position, two hours before midnight, among the shrubs at the eastern end of Lord Brandir's mansion. Hence, although I might not see, I could scarcely fail to hear, if any unlawful entrance either at back or front were made.
From my own observation, I thought it likely that the attack would be in the rear; and so indeed it came to pass. For when all the lights were quenched, and all the house was quiet, I heard a low and wily whistle from a clump of trees close by; and then three figures passed between me and a whitewashed wall, and came to a window which opened into a part of the servants' basement. This window was carefully raised by some one inside the house; and after a little whispering, and something which sounded like a kiss, all the three men entered.
'Oh, you villains!' I said to myself, 'this is worse than any Doone job; because there is treachery in it.' But without waiting to consider the subject from a moral point of view, I crept along the wall, and entered very quietly after them; being rather uneasy about my life, because I bore no fire-arms, and had nothing more than my holly staff, for even a violent combat.
To me this was matter of deep regret, as I followed these vile men inward. Nevertheless I was resolved that my Lorna should not be robbed again. Through us (or at least through our Annie) she had lost that brilliant necklace; which then was her only birthright: therefore it behoved me doubly, to preserve the pewter box; which must belong to her in the end, unless the thieves got hold of it.
I went along very delicately (as a man who has learned to wrestle can do, although he may weigh twenty stone), following carefully the light, brought by the traitorous maid, and shaking in her loose dishonest hand. I saw her lead the men into a little place called a pantry; and there she gave them cordials, and I could hear them boasting.
Not to be too long over it—which they were much inclined to be—I followed them from this drinking-bout, by the aid of the light they bore, as far as Earl Brandir's bedroom, which I knew, because Lorna had shown it to me that I might admire the tapestry. But I had said that no horse could ever be shod as the horses were shod therein, unless he had the foot of a frog, as well as a frog to his foot. And Lorna had been vexed at this (as taste and high art always are, at any small accurate knowledge), and so she had brought me out again, before I had time to admire things.
Now, keeping well away in the dark, yet nearer than was necessary to my own dear Lorna's room, I saw these fellows try the door of the good Earl Brandir, knowing from the maid, of course, that his lordship could hear nothing, except the name of Alan. They tried the lock, and pushed at it, and even set their knees upright; but a Scottish nobleman may be trusted to secure his door at night. So they were forced to break it open; and at this the guilty maid, or woman, ran away. These three rogues—for rogues they were, and no charity may deny it—burst into Earl Brandir's room, with a light, and a crowbar, and fire-arms. I thought to myself that this was hard upon an honest nobleman; and if further mischief could be saved, I would try to save it.
When I came to the door of the room, being myself in shadow, I beheld two bad men trying vainly to break open the pewter box, and the third with a pistol-muzzle laid to the night-cap of his lordship. With foul face and yet fouler words, this man was demanding the key of the box, which the other men could by no means open, neither drag it from the chain.
'I tell you,' said this aged Earl, beginning to understand at last what these rogues were up for; 'I will give no key to you. It all belongs to my boy, Alan. No one else shall have a farthing.'
'Then you may count your moments, lord. The key is in your old cramped hand. One, two, and at three, I shoot you.'
I saw that the old man was abroad; not with fear, but with great wonder, and the regrets of deafness. And I saw that rather would he be shot than let these men go rob his son, buried now, or laid to bleach in the tangles of the wood, three, or it might be four years agone, but still alive to his father. Hereupon my heart was moved; and I resolved to interfere. The thief with the pistol began to count, as I crossed the floor very quietly, while the old Earl fearfully gazed at the muzzle, but clenched still tighter his wrinkled hand. The villain, with hair all over his eyes, and the great horse-pistol levelled, cried 'three,' and pulled the trigger; but luckily, at that very moment, I struck up the barrel with my staff, so that the shot pierced the tester, and then with a spin and a thwack I brought the good holly down upon the rascal's head, in a manner which stretched him upon the floor.
Meanwhile the other two robbers had taken the alarm, and rushed at me, one with a pistol and one with a hanger; which forced me to be very lively. Fearing the pistol most, I flung the heavy velvet curtain of the bed across, that he might not see where to aim at me, and then stooping very quickly I caught up the senseless robber, and set him up for a shield and target; whereupon he was shot immediately, without having the pain of knowing it; and a happy thing it was for him. Now the other two were at my mercy, being men below the average strength; and no hanger, except in most skilful hands, as well as firm and strong ones, has any chance to a powerful man armed with a stout cudgel, and thoroughly practised in single-stick.
So I took these two rogues, and bound them together; and leaving them under charge of the butler (a worthy and shrewd Scotchman), I myself went in search of the constables, whom, after some few hours, I found; neither were they so drunk but what they could take roped men to prison. In the morning, these two men were brought before the Justices of the Peace: and now my wonderful luck appeared; for the merit of having defeated, and caught them, would never have raised me one step in the State, or in public consideration, if they had only been common robbers, or even notorious murderers. But when these fellows were recognised, by some one in the court, as Protestant witnesses out of employment, companions and understrappers to Oates, and Bedloe, and Carstairs, and hand in glove with Dangerfield, Turberville; and Dugdale—in a word, the very men against whom His Majesty the King bore the bitterest rancour, but whom he had hitherto failed to catch—when this was laid before the public (with emphasis and admiration), at least a dozen men came up, whom I had never seen before, and prayed me to accept their congratulations, and to be sure to remember them; for all were of neglected merit, and required no more than a piece of luck.
I answered them very modestly, and each according to his worth, as stated by himself, who of course could judge the best. The magistrate made me many compliments, ten times more than I deserved, and took good care to have them copied, that His Majesty might see them. And ere the case was thoroughly heard, and those poor fellows were committed, more than a score of generous men had offered to lend me a hundred pounds, wherewith to buy a new Court suit, when called before His Majesty.
Now this may seem very strange to us who live in a better and purer age—or say at least that we do so—and yet who are we to condemn our fathers for teaching us better manners, and at their own expense? With these points any virtuous man is bound to deal quite tenderly, making allowance for corruption, and not being too sure of himself. And to tell the truth, although I had seen so little of the world as yet, that which astonished me in the matter, was not so much that they paid me court, as that they found out so soon the expediency of doing it.
In the course of that same afternoon I was sent for by His Majesty. He had summoned first the good Earl Brandir, and received the tale from him, not without exaggeration, although my lord was a Scotchman. But the chief thing His Majesty cared to know was that, beyond all possible doubt, these were the very precious fellows from perjury turned to robbery.
Being fully assured at last of this, His Majesty had rubbed his hands, and ordered the boots of a stricter pattern (which he himself had invented) to be brought at once, that he might have them in the best possible order. And he oiled them himself, and expressed his fear that there was no man in London quite competent to work them. Nevertheless he would try one or two, rather than wait for his pleasure, till the torturer came from Edinburgh.
The next thing he did was to send for me; and in great alarm and flurry I put on my best clothes, and hired a fashionable hairdresser, and drank half a gallon of ale, because both my hands were shaking. Then forth I set, with my holly staff, wishing myself well out of it. I was shown at once, and before I desired it, into His Majesty's presence, and there I stood most humbly, and made the best bow I could think of.
As I could not advance any farther—for I saw that the Queen was present, which frightened me tenfold—His Majesty, in the most gracious manner, came down the room to encourage me. And as I remained with my head bent down, he told me to stand up, and look at him.
'I have seen thee before, young man, he said; 'thy form is not one to be forgotten. Where was it? Thou art most likely to know.'
'May it please Your Most Gracious Majesty the King,' I answered, finding my voice in a manner which surprised myself; 'it was in the Royal Chapel.'
Now I meant no harm whatever by this. I ought to have said the 'Ante-chapel,' but I could not remember the word, and feared to keep the King looking at me.
'I am well-pleased,' said His Majesty, with a smile which almost made his dark and stubborn face look pleasant, 'to find that our greatest subject, greatest I mean in the bodily form, is also a good Catholic. Thou needest not say otherwise. The time shall be, and that right soon, when men shall be proud of the one true faith.' Here he stopped, having gone rather far! but the gleam of his heavy eyes was such that I durst not contradict.
'This is that great Johann Reed,' said Her Majesty, coming forward, because the King was in meditation; 'for whom I have so much heard, from the dear, dear Lorna. Ah, she is not of this black countree, she is of the breet Italie.'
I have tried to write it, as she said it: but it wants a better scholar to express her mode of speech.
'Now, John Ridd,' said the King, recovering from his thoughts about the true Church, and thinking that his wife was not to take the lead upon me; 'thou hast done great service to the realm, and to religion. It was good to save Earl Brandir, a loyal and Catholic nobleman; but it was great service to catch two of the vilest bloodhounds ever laid on by heretics. And to make them shoot one another: it was rare; it was rare, my lad. Now ask us anything in reason; thou canst carry any honours, on thy club, like Hercules. What is thy chief ambition, lad?'
'Well,' said I, after thinking a little, and meaning to make the most of it, for so the Queen's eyes conveyed to me; 'my mother always used to think that having been schooled at Tiverton, with thirty marks a year to pay, I was worthy of a coat of arms. And that is what she longs for.'
'A good lad! A very good lad,' said the King, and he looked at the Queen, as if almost in joke; 'but what is thy condition in life?'
'I am a freeholder,' I answered, in my confusion, 'ever since the time of King Alfred. A Ridd was with him in the isle of Athelney, and we hold our farm by gift from him; or at least people say so. We have had three very good harvests running, and might support a coat of arms; but for myself I want it not.'
'Thou shalt have a coat, my lad,' said the King, smiling at his own humour; 'but it must be a large one to fit thee. And more than that shalt thou have, John Ridd, being of such loyal breed, and having done such service.'
And while I wondered what he meant, he called to some of the people in waiting at the farther end of the room, and they brought him a little sword, such as Annie would skewer a turkey with. Then he signified to me to kneel, which I did (after dusting the board, for the sake of my best breeches), and then he gave me a little tap very nicely upon my shoulder, before I knew what he was up to; and said, 'Arise, Sir John Ridd!'
This astonished and amazed me to such extent of loss of mind, that when I got up I looked about, and thought what the Snowes would think of it. And I said to the King, without forms of speech,—
'Sir, I am very much obliged. But what be I to do with it?'
NOT TO BE PUT UP WITH
The coat of arms, devised for me by the Royal heralds, was of great size, and rich colours, and full of bright imaginings. They did me the honour to consult me first, and to take no notice of my advice. For I begged that there might be a good-sized cow on it, so as to stamp our pats of butter before they went to market: also a horse on the other side, and a flock snowed up at the bottom. But the gentlemen would not hear of this; and to find something more appropriate, they inquired strictly into the annals of our family. I told them, of course, all about King Alfred; upon which they settled that one quarter should be, three cakes on a bar, with a lion regardant, done upon a field of gold. Also I told them that very likely there had been a Ridd in the battle fought, not very far from Plover's Barrows, by the Earl of Devon against the Danes, when Hubba their chief was killed, and the sacred standard taken. As some of the Danes are said to be buried, even upon land of ours, and we call their graves (if such they be) even to this day 'barrows,' the heralds quite agreed with me that a Ridd might have been there, or thereabouts; and if he was there, he was almost certain to have done his best, being in sight of hearth and home; and it was plain that he must have had good legs to be at the same time both there and in Athelney; and good legs are an argument for good arms; and supposing a man of this sort to have done his utmost (as the manner of the Ridds is), it was next to certain that he himself must have captured the standard. Moreover, the name of our farm was pure proof; a plover being a wild bird, just the same as a raven is. Upon this chain of reasoning, and without any weak misgivings, they charged my growing escutcheon with a black raven on a ground of red. And the next thing which I mentioned possessing absolute certainty, to wit, that a pig with two heads had been born upon our farm, not more than two hundred years agone (although he died within a week), my third quarter was made at once, by a two-headed boar with noble tusks, sable upon silver. All this was very fierce and fine; and so I pressed for a peaceful corner in the lower dexter, and obtained a wheat-sheaf set upright, gold upon a field of green.
Here I was inclined to pause, and admire the effect; for even De Whichehalse could not show a bearing so magnificent. But the heralds said that it looked a mere sign-board, without a good motto under it; and the motto must have my name in it. They offered me first, 'Ridd non ridendus'; but I said, 'for God's sake, gentlemen, let me forget my Latin.' Then they proposed, 'Ridd readeth riddles': but I begged them not to set down such a lie; for no Ridd ever had made, or made out, such a thing as a riddle, since Exmoor itself began. Thirdly, they gave me, 'Ridd never be ridden,' and fearing to make any further objections, I let them inscribe it in bronze upon blue. The heralds thought that the King would pay for this noble achievement; but His Majesty, although graciously pleased with their ingenuity, declined in the most decided manner to pay a farthing towards it; and as I had now no money left, the heralds became as blue as azure, and as red as gules; until Her Majesty the Queen came forward very kindly, and said that if His Majesty gave me a coat of arms, I was not to pay for it; therefore she herself did so quite handsomely, and felt goodwill towards me in consequence.
Now being in a hurry—so far at least as it is in my nature to hurry—to get to the end of this narrative, is it likely that I would have dwelled so long upon my coat of arms, but for some good reason? And this good reason is that Lorna took the greatest pride in it, and thought (or at any rate said) that it quite threw into the shade, and eclipsed, all her own ancient glories. And half in fun, and half in earnest, she called me 'Sir John' so continually, that at last I was almost angry with her; until her eyes were bedewed with tears; and then I was angry with myself.
Beginning to be short of money, and growing anxious about the farm, longing also to show myself and my noble escutcheon to mother, I took advantage of Lady Lorna's interest with the Queen, to obtain my acquittance and full discharge from even nominal custody. It had been intended to keep me in waiting, until the return of Lord Jeffreys, from that awful circuit of shambles, through which his name is still used by mothers to frighten their children into bed. And right glad was I—for even London shrank with horror at the news—to escape a man so bloodthirsty, savage, and even to his friends (among whom I was reckoned) malignant.
Earl Brandir was greatly pleased with me, not only for having saved his life, but for saving that which he valued more, the wealth laid by for Lord Alan. And he introduced me to many great people, who quite kindly encouraged me, and promised to help me in every way when they heard how the King had spoken. As for the furrier, he could never have enough of my society; and this worthy man, praying my commendation, demanded of me one thing only—to speak of him as I found him. As I had found him many a Sunday, furbishing up old furs for new, with a glaze to conceal the moths' ravages, I begged him to reconsider the point, and not to demand such accuracy. He said, 'Well, well; all trades had tricks, especially the trick of business; and I must take him—if I were his true friend—according to his own description.' This I was glad enough to do; because it saved so much trouble, and I had no money to spend with him. But still he requested the use of my name; and I begged him to do the best with it, as I never had kept a banker. And the 'John Ridd cuffs,' and the 'Sir John mantles,' and the 'Holly-staff capes,' he put into his window, as the winter was coming on, ay and sold (for everybody was burning with gossip about me), must have made this good man's fortune; since the excess of price over value is the true test of success in life.
To come away from all this stuff, which grieves a man in London—when the brisk air of the autumn cleared its way to Ludgate Hill, and clever 'prentices ran out, and sniffed at it, and fed upon it (having little else to eat); and when the horses from the country were a goodly sight to see, with the rasp of winter bristles rising through and among the soft summer-coat; and when the new straw began to come in, golden with the harvest gloss, and smelling most divinely at those strange livery-stables, where the nags are put quite tail to tail; and when all the London folk themselves are asking about white frost (from recollections of childhood); then, I say, such a yearning seized me for moory crag, and for dewy blade, and even the grunting of our sheep (when the sun goes down), that nothing but the new wisps of Samson could have held me in London town.
Lorna was moved with equal longing towards the country and country ways; and she spoke quite as much of the glistening dew as she did of the smell of our oven. And here let me mention—although the two are quite distinct and different—that both the dew and the bread of Exmoor may be sought, whether high or low, but never found elsewhere. The dew is so crisp, and pure, and pearly, and in such abundance; and the bread is so sweet, so kind, and homely, you can eat a loaf, and then another.
Now while I was walking daily in and out great crowds of men (few of whom had any freedom from the cares of money, and many of whom were even morbid with a worse pest called 'politics'), I could not be quit of thinking how we jostle one another. God has made the earth quite large, with a spread of land large enough for all to live on, without fighting. Also a mighty spread of water, laying hands on sand and cliff with a solemn voice in storm-time; and in the gentle weather moving men to thoughts of equity. This, as well, is full of food; being two-thirds of the world, and reserved for devouring knowledge; by the time the sons of men have fed away the dry land. Yet before the land itself has acknowledged touch of man, upon one in a hundred acres; and before one mile in ten thousand of the exhaustless ocean has ever felt the plunge of hook, or combing of the haul-nets; lo, we crawl, in flocks together upon the hot ground that stings us, even as the black grubs crowd upon the harried nettle! Surely we are too much given to follow the tracks of each other.
However, for a moralist, I never set up, and never shall, while common sense abides with me. Such a man must be very wretched in this pure dearth of morality; like a fisherman where no fish be; and most of us have enough to do to attend to our own morals. Enough that I resolved to go; and as Lorna could not come with me, it was even worse than stopping. Nearly everybody vowed that I was a great fool indeed, to neglect so rudely—which was the proper word, they said—the pushing of my fortunes. But I answered that to push was rude, and I left it to people who had no room; and thought that my fortune must be heavy, if it would not move without pushing.
Lorna cried when I came away (which gave me great satisfaction), and she sent a whole trunkful of things for mother and Annie, and even Lizzie. And she seemed to think, though she said it not, that I made my own occasion for going, and might have stayed on till the winter. Whereas I knew well that my mother would think (and every one on the farm the same) that here I had been in London, lagging, and taking my pleasure, and looking at shops, upon pretence of King's business, and leaving the harvest to reap itself, not to mention the spending of money; while all the time there was nothing whatever, except my own love of adventure and sport, to keep me from coming home again. But I knew that my coat of arms, and title, would turn every bit of this grumbling into fine admiration.
And so it fell out, to a greater extent than even I desired; for all the parishes round about united in a sumptuous dinner, at the Mother Melldrum inn—for now that good lady was dead, and her name and face set on a sign-post—to which I was invited, so that it was as good as a summons. And if my health was no better next day, it was not from want of good wishes, any more than from stint of the liquor.
It is needless to say that the real gentry for a long time treated my new honours with contempt and ridicule; but gradually as they found that I was not such a fool as to claim any equality with them, but went about my farm-work, and threw another man at wrestling, and touched my hat to the magistrates, just the same as ever; some gentlemen of the highest blood—of which we think a great deal more than of gold, around our neighbourhood—actually expressed a desire to make my acquaintance. And when, in a manner quite straightforward, and wholly free from bitterness, I thanked them for this (which appeared to me the highest honour yet offered me), but declined to go into their company because it would make me uncomfortable, and themselves as well, in a different way, they did what nearly all Englishmen do, when a thing is right and sensible. They shook hands with me; and said that they could not deny but that there was reason in my view of the matter. And although they themselves must be the losers—which was a handsome thing to say—they would wait until I was a little older and more aware of my own value.
Now this reminds me how it is that an English gentleman is so far in front of foreign noblemen and princes. I have seen at times, a little, both of one and of the other, and making more than due allowance for the difficulties of language, and the difference of training, upon the whole, the balance is in favour of our people. And this, because we have two weights, solid and (even in scale of manners) outweighing all light complaisance; to wit, the inborn love of justice, and the power of abiding.
Yet some people may be surprised that men with any love of justice, whether inborn or otherwise, could continue to abide the arrogance, and rapacity, and tyranny of the Doones.
For now as the winter passed, the Doones were not keeping themselves at home, as in honour they were bound to do. Twenty sheep a week, and one fat ox, and two stout red deer (for wholesome change of diet), as well as threescore bushels of flour, and two hogsheads and a half of cider, and a hundredweight of candles, not to mention other things of almost every variety which they got by insisting upon it—surely these might have sufficed to keep the people in their place, with no outburst of wantonness. Nevertheless, it was not so; they had made complaint about something—too much ewe-mutton, I think it was—and in spite of all the pledges given, they had ridden forth, and carried away two maidens of our neighbourhood.
Now these two maidens were known, because they had served the beer at an ale-house; and many men who had looked at them, over a pint or quart vessel (especially as they were comely girls), thought that it was very hard for them to go in that way, and perhaps themselves unwilling. And their mother (although she had taken some money, which the Doones were always full of) declared that it was a robbery; and though it increased for a while the custom, that must soon fall off again. And who would have her two girls now, clever as they were and good?
Before we had finished meditating upon this loose outrage—for so I at least would call it, though people accustomed to the law may take a different view of it—we had news of a thing far worse, which turned the hearts of our women sick. This I will tell in most careful language, so as to give offence to none, if skill of words may help it. *
*The following story is strictly true; and true it is that the country-people rose, to a man, at this dastard cruelty, and did what the Government failed to do.—Ed.
Mistress Margery Badcock, a healthy and upright young woman, with a good rich colour, and one of the finest hen-roosts anywhere round our neighbourhood, was nursing her child about six of the clock, and looking out for her husband. Now this child was too old to be nursed, as everybody told her; for he could run, say two yards alone, and perhaps four or five, by holding to handles. And he had a way of looking round, and spreading his legs, and laughing, with his brave little body well fetched up, after a desperate journey to the end of the table, which his mother said nothing could equal. Nevertheless, he would come to be nursed, as regular as a clock, almost; and, inasmuch as he was the first, both father and mother made much of him; for God only knew whether they could ever compass such another one.
Christopher Badcock was a tenant farmer, in the parish of Martinhoe, renting some fifty acres of land, with a right of common attached to them; and at this particular time, being now the month of February, and fine open weather, he was hard at work ploughing and preparing for spring corn. Therefore his wife was not surprised although the dusk was falling, that farmer Christopher should be at work in 'blind man's holiday,' as we call it.
But she was surprised, nay astonished, when by the light of the kitchen fire (brightened up for her husband), she saw six or seven great armed men burst into the room upon her; and she screamed so that the maid in the back kitchen heard her, but was afraid to come to help. Two of the strongest and fiercest men at once seized poor young Margery; and though she fought for her child and home, she was but an infant herself in their hands. In spite of tears, and shrieks, and struggles, they tore the babe from the mother's arms, and cast it on the lime ash floor; then they bore her away to their horses (for by this time she was senseless), and telling the others to sack the house, rode off with their prize to the valley. And from the description of one of those two, who carried off the poor woman, I knew beyond all doubt that it was Carver Doone himself.
The other Doones being left behind, and grieved perhaps in some respects, set to with a will to scour the house, and to bring away all that was good to eat. And being a little vexed herein (for the Badcocks were not a rich couple) and finding no more than bacon, and eggs, and cheese, and little items, and nothing to drink but water; in a word, their taste being offended, they came back, to the kitchen, and stamped; and there was the baby lying.
By evil luck, this child began to squeal about his mother, having been petted hitherto, and wont to get all he wanted, by raising his voice but a little. Now the mark of the floor was upon his head, as the maid (who had stolen to look at him, when the rough men were swearing upstairs) gave evidence. And she put a dish-cloth under his head, and kissed him, and ran away again. Her name was Honour Jose, and she meant what was right by her master and mistress; but could not help being frightened. And many women have blamed her, as I think unduly, for her mode of forsaking baby so. If it had been her own baby, instinct rather than reason might have had the day with her; but the child being born of her mistress, she wished him good luck, and left him, as the fierce men came downstairs. And being alarmed by their power of language (because they had found no silver), she crept away in a breathless hurry, and afraid how her breath might come back to her. For oftentime she had hiccoughs.
While this good maid was in the oven, by side of back-kitchen fireplace, with a faggot of wood drawn over her, and lying so that her own heart beat worse than if she were baking; the men (as I said before) came downstairs, and stamped around the baby.
'Rowland, is the bacon good?' one of them asked with an oath or two; 'it is too bad of Carver to go off with the only prize, and leave us in a starving cottage; and not enough to eat for two of us. Fetch down the staves of the rack, my boy. What was farmer to have for supper?'
'Naught but an onion or two, and a loaf and a rasher of rusty bacon. These poor devils live so badly, they are not worth robbing.'
'No game! Then let us have a game of loriot with the baby! It will be the best thing that could befall a lusty infant heretic. Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross. Bye, bye, baby Bunting; toss him up, and let me see if my wrist be steady.'
The cruelty of this man is a thing it makes me sick to speak of; enough that when the poor baby fell (without attempt at cry or scream, thinking it part of his usual play, when they tossed him up, to come down again), the maid in the oven of the back-kitchen, not being any door between, heard them say as follows,—
'If any man asketh who killed thee, Say 'twas the Doones of Bagworthy.' * * Always pronounced 'Badgery.'
Now I think that when we heard this story, and poor Kit Badcock came all around, in a sort of half-crazy manner, not looking up at any one, but dropping his eyes, and asking whether we thought he had been well-treated, and seeming void of regard for life, if this were all the style of it; then having known him a lusty man, and a fine singer in an ale-house, and much inclined to lay down the law, as show a high hand about women, I really think that it moved us more than if he had gone about ranting, and raving, and vowing revenge upon every one.
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Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
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