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Lorna Doone - A Romance of Exmoor
Here follows the rest of the novel 'Lorna Doone - A Romance of Exmoor' by R. D. Blackmore.
Follow the link above to read the first sixty nine chapters, preface, and summary.
COMPELLED TO VOLUNTEER
There had been some trouble in our own home during the previous autumn, while yet I was in London. For certain noted fugitives from the army of King Monmouth (which he himself had deserted, in a low and currish manner), having failed to obtain free shipment from the coast near Watersmouth, had returned into the wilds of Exmoor, trusting to lurk, and be comforted among the common people. Neither were they disappointed, for a certain length of time; nor in the end was their disappointment caused by fault on our part. Major Wade was one of them; an active and well-meaning man; but prone to fail in courage, upon lasting trial; although in a moment ready. Squire John Whichehalse (not the baron) and Parson Powell* caught him (two or three months before my return) in Farley farmhouse, near Brendon. He had been up at our house several times; and Lizzie thought a great deal of him. And well I know that if at that time I had been in the neighbourhood, he should not have been taken so easily.
* Not our parson Bowden, nor any more a friend of his. Our Parson Bowden never had naught whatever to do with it; and never smoked a pipe with Parson Powell after it.—J.R.
John Birch, the farmer who had sheltered him, was so fearful of punishment, that he hanged himself, in a few days' time, and even before he was apprehended. But nothing was done to Grace Howe, of Bridgeball, who had been Wade's greatest comforter; neither was anything done to us; although Eliza had added greatly to mother's alarm and danger by falling upon Rector Powell, and most soundly rating him for his meanness, and his cruelty, and cowardice, as she called it, in setting men with firearms upon a poor helpless fugitive, and robbing all our neighbourhood of its fame for hospitality. However, by means of Sergeant Bloxham, and his good report of us, as well as by virtue of Wade's confession (which proved of use to the Government) my mother escaped all penalties.
It is likely enough that good folk will think it hard upon our neighbourhood to be threatened, and sometimes heavily punished, for kindness and humanity; and yet to be left to help ourselves against tyranny, and base rapine. And now at last our gorge was risen, and our hearts in tumult. We had borne our troubles long, as a wise and wholesome chastisement; quite content to have some few things of our own unmeddled with. But what could a man dare to call his own, or what right could he have to wish for it, while he left his wife and children at the pleasure of any stranger?
The people came flocking all around me, at the blacksmith's forge, and the Brendon alehouse; and I could scarce come out of church, but they got me among the tombstones. They all agreed that I was bound to take command and management. I bade them go to the magistrates, but they said they had been too often. Then I told them that I had no wits for ordering of an armament, although I could find fault enough with the one which had not succeeded. But they would hearken to none of this.
All they said was 'Try to lead us; and we will try not to run away.'
This seemed to me to be common sense, and good stuff, instead of mere bragging; moreover, I myself was moved by the bitter wrongs of Margery, having known her at the Sunday-school, ere ever I went to Tiverton; and having in those days, serious thoughts of making her my sweetheart; although she was three years my elder. But now I felt this difficulty—the Doones had behaved very well to our farm, and to mother, and all of us, while I was away in London. Therefore, would it not be shabby, and mean, for me to attack them now?
Yet being pressed still harder and harder, as day by day the excitement grew (with more and more talking over it), and no one else coming forward to undertake the business, I agreed at last to this; that if the Doones, upon fair challenge, would not endeavour to make amends by giving up Mistress Margery, as well as the man who had slain the babe, then I would lead the expedition, and do my best to subdue them. All our men were content with this, being thoroughly well assured from experience, that the haughty robbers would only shoot any man who durst approach them with such proposal.
And then arose a difficult question—who was to take the risk of making overtures so unpleasant? I waited for the rest to offer; and as none was ready, the burden fell on me, and seemed to be of my own inviting. Hence I undertook the task, sooner than reason about it; for to give the cause of everything is worse than to go through with it.
It may have been three of the afternoon, when leaving my witnesses behind (for they preferred the background) I appeared with our Lizzie's white handkerchief upon a kidney-bean stick, at the entrance to the robbers' dwelling. Scarce knowing what might come of it, I had taken the wise precaution of fastening a Bible over my heart, and another across my spinal column, in case of having to run away, with rude men shooting after me. For my mother said that the Word of God would stop a two-inch bullet, with three ounces of powder behind it. Now I took no weapons, save those of the Spirit, for fear of being misunderstood. But I could not bring myself to think that any of honourable birth would take advantage of an unarmed man coming in guise of peace to them.
And this conclusion of mine held good, at least for a certain length of time; inasmuch as two decent Doones appeared, and hearing of my purpose, offered, without violence, to go and fetch the Captain; if I would stop where I was, and not begin to spy about anything. To this, of course, I agreed at once; for I wanted no more spying, because I had thorough knowledge of all ins and outs already. Therefore, I stood waiting steadily, with one hand in my pocket feeling a sample of corn for market; and the other against the rock, while I wondered to see it so brown already.
Those men came back in a little while, with a sharp short message that Captain Carver would come out and speak to me by-and-by, when his pipe was finished. Accordingly, I waited long, and we talked about the signs of bloom for the coming apple season, and the rain that had fallen last Wednesday night, and the principal dearth of Devonshire, that it will not grow many cowslips—which we quite agreed to be the prettiest of spring flowers; and all the time I was wondering how many black and deadly deeds these two innocent youths had committed, even since last Christmas.
At length, a heavy and haughty step sounded along the stone roof of the way; and then the great Carver Doone drew up, and looked at me rather scornfully. Not with any spoken scorn, nor flash of strong contumely; but with that air of thinking little, and praying not to be troubled, which always vexes a man who feels that he ought not to be despised so, and yet knows not how to help it.
'What is it you want, young man?' he asked, as if he had never seen me before.
In spite of that strong loathing which I always felt at sight of him, I commanded my temper moderately, and told him that I was come for his good, and that of his worshipful company, far more than for my own. That a general feeling of indignation had arisen among us at the recent behaviour of certain young men, for which he might not be answerable, and for which we would not condemn him, without knowing the rights of the question. But I begged him clearly to understand that a vile and inhuman wrong had been done, and such as we could not put up with; but that if he would make what amends he could by restoring the poor woman, and giving up that odious brute who had slain the harmless infant, we would take no further motion; and things should go on as usual. As I put this in the fewest words that would meet my purpose, I was grieved to see a disdainful smile spread on his sallow countenance. Then he made me a bow of mock courtesy, and replied as follows,—
'Sir John, your new honours have turned your poor head, as might have been expected. We are not in the habit of deserting anything that belongs to us; far less our sacred relatives. The insolence of your demand well-nigh outdoes the ingratitude. If there be a man upon Exmoor who has grossly ill-used us, kidnapped our young women, and slain half a dozen of our young men, you are that outrageous rogue, Sir John. And after all this, how have we behaved? We have laid no hand upon your farm, we have not carried off your women, we have even allowed you to take our Queen, by creeping and crawling treachery; and we have given you leave of absence to help your cousin the highwayman, and to come home with a title. And now, how do you requite us? By inflaming the boorish indignation at a little frolic of our young men; and by coming with insolent demands, to yield to which would ruin us. Ah, you ungrateful viper!'
As he turned away in sorrow from me, shaking his head at my badness, I became so overcome (never having been quite assured, even by people's praises, about my own goodness); moreover, the light which he threw upon things differed so greatly from my own, that, in a word—not to be too long—I feared that I was a villain. And with many bitter pangs—for I have bad things to repent of—I began at my leisure to ask myself whether or not this bill of indictment against John Ridd was true. Some of it I knew to be (however much I condemned myself) altogether out of reason; for instance, about my going away with Lorna very quietly, over the snow, and to save my love from being starved away from me. In this there was no creeping neither crawling treachery; for all was done with sliding; and yet I was so out of training for being charged by other people beyond mine own conscience, that Carver Doone's harsh words came on me, like prickly spinach sown with raking. Therefore I replied, and said,—
'It is true that I owe you gratitude, sir, for a certain time of forbearance; and it is to prove my gratitude that I am come here now. I do not think that my evil deeds can be set against your own; although I cannot speak flowingly upon my good deeds as you can. I took your Queen because you starved her, having stolen her long before, and killed her mother and brother. This is not for me to dwell upon now; any more than I would say much about your murdering of my father. But how the balance hangs between us, God knows better than thou or I, thou low miscreant, Carver Doone.'
I had worked myself up, as I always do, in the manner of heavy men; growing hot like an ill-washered wheel revolving, though I start with a cool axle; and I felt ashamed of myself for heat, and ready to ask pardon. But Carver Doone regarded me with a noble and fearless grandeur.
'I have given thee thy choice, John Ridd,' he said in a lofty manner, which made me drop away under him; 'I always wish to do my best with the worst people who come near me. And of all I have ever met with thou art the very worst, Sir John, and the most dishonest.'
Now after all my labouring to pay every man to a penny, and to allow the women over, when among the couch-grass (which is a sad thing for their gowns), to be charged like this, I say, so amazed me that I stood, with my legs quite open, and ready for an earthquake. And the scornful way in which he said 'Sir John,' went to my very heart, reminding me of my littleness. But seeing no use in bandying words, nay, rather the chance of mischief, I did my best to look calmly at him, and to say with a quiet voice, 'Farewell, Carver Doone, this time, our day of reckoning is nigh.'
'Thou fool, it is come,' he cried, leaping aside into the niche of rock by the doorway; 'Fire!'
Save for the quickness of spring, and readiness, learned in many a wrestling bout, that knavish trick must have ended me; but scarce was the word 'fire!' out of his mouth ere I was out of fire, by a single bound behind the rocky pillar of the opening. In this jump I was so brisk, at impulse of the love of life (for I saw the muzzles set upon me from the darkness of the cavern), that the men who had trained their guns upon me with goodwill and daintiness, could not check their fingers crooked upon the heavy triggers; and the volley sang with a roar behind it, down the avenue of crags.
With one thing and another, and most of all the treachery of this dastard scheme, I was so amazed that I turned and ran, at the very top of my speed, away from these vile fellows; and luckily for me, they had not another charge to send after me. And thus by good fortune, I escaped; but with a bitter heart, and mind at their treacherous usage.
Without any further hesitation; I agreed to take command of the honest men who were burning to punish, ay and destroy, those outlaws, as now beyond all bearing. One condition, however, I made, namely, that the Counsellor should be spared if possible; not because he was less a villain than any of the others, but that he seemed less violent; and above all, had been good to Annie. And I found hard work to make them listen to my wish upon this point; for of all the Doones, Sir Counsellor had made himself most hated, by his love of law and reason.
We arranged that all our men should come and fall into order with pike and musket, over against our dung-hill, and we settled early in the day, that their wives might come and look at them. For most of these men had good wives; quite different from sweethearts, such as the militia had; women indeed who could hold to a man, and see to him, and bury him—if his luck were evil—and perhaps have no one afterwards. And all these women pressed their rights upon their precious husbands, and brought so many children with them, and made such a fuss, and hugging, and racing after little legs, that our farm-yard might be taken for an out-door school for babies rather than a review ground.
I myself was to and fro among the children continually; for if I love anything in the world, foremost I love children. They warm, and yet they cool our hearts, as we think of what we were, and what in young clothes we hoped to be; and how many things have come across. And to see our motives moving in the little things that know not what their aim or object is, must almost or ought at least, to lead us home, and soften us. For either end of life is home; both source and issue being God.
Nevertheless, I must confess that the children were a plague sometimes. They never could have enough of me—being a hundred to one, you might say—but I had more than enough of them; and yet was not contented. For they had so many ways of talking, and of tugging at my hair, and of sitting upon my neck (not even two with their legs alike), and they forced me to jump so vehemently, seeming to court the peril of my coming down neck and crop with them, and urging me still to go faster, however fast I might go with them; I assure you that they were sometimes so hard and tyrannical over me, that I might almost as well have been among the very Doones themselves.
Nevertheless, the way in which the children made me useful proved also of some use to me; for their mothers were so pleased by the exertions of the 'great Gee-gee'—as all the small ones entitled me—that they gave me unlimited power and authority over their husbands; moreover, they did their utmost among their relatives round about, to fetch recruits for our little band. And by such means, several of the yeomanry from Barnstaple, and from Tiverton, were added to our number; and inasmuch as these were armed with heavy swords, and short carabines, their appearance was truly formidable.
Tom Faggus also joined us heartily, being now quite healed of his wound, except at times when the wind was easterly. He was made second in command to me; and I would gladly have had him first, as more fertile in expedients; but he declined such rank on the plea that I knew most of the seat of war; besides that I might be held in some measure to draw authority from the King. Also Uncle Ben came over to help us with his advice and presence, as well as with a band of stout warehousemen, whom he brought from Dulverton. For he had never forgiven the old outrage put upon him; and though it had been to his interest to keep quiet during the last attack, under Commander Stickles—for the sake of his secret gold mine—yet now he was in a position to give full vent to his feelings. For he and his partners when fully-assured of the value of their diggings, had obtained from the Crown a licence to adventure in search of minerals, by payment of a heavy fine and a yearly royalty. Therefore they had now no longer any cause for secrecy, neither for dread of the outlaws; having so added to their force as to be a match for them. And although Uncle Ben was not the man to keep his miners idle an hour more than might be helped, he promised that when we had fixed the moment for an assault on the valley, a score of them should come to aid us, headed by Simon Carfax, and armed with the guns which they always kept for the protection of their gold.
Now whether it were Uncle Ben, or whether it were Tom Faggus or even my own self—for all three of us claimed the sole honour—is more than I think fair to settle without allowing them a voice. But at any rate, a clever thing was devised among us; and perhaps it would be the fairest thing to say that this bright stratagem (worthy of the great Duke himself) was contributed, little by little, among the entire three of us, all having pipes, and schnapps-and-water, in the chimney-corner. However, the world, which always judges according to reputation, vowed that so fine a stroke of war could only come from a highwayman; and so Tom Faggus got all the honour, at less perhaps than a third of the cost.
Not to attempt to rob him of it—for robbers, more than any other, contend for rights of property—let me try to describe this grand artifice. It was known that the Doones were fond of money, as well as strong drink, and other things; and more especially fond of gold, when they could get it pure and fine. Therefore it was agreed that in this way we should tempt them; for we knew that they looked with ridicule upon our rustic preparations; after repulsing King's troopers, and the militia of two counties, was it likely that they should yield their fortress to a set of ploughboys? We, for our part, felt of course, the power of this reasoning, and that where regular troops had failed, half-armed countrymen must fail, except by superior judgment and harmony of action. Though perhaps the militia would have sufficed, if they had only fought against the foe, instead of against each other. From these things we took warning; having failed through over-confidence, was it not possible now to make the enemy fail through the selfsame cause?
Hence, what we devised was this; to delude from home a part of the robbers, and fall by surprise on the other part. We caused it to be spread abroad that a large heap of gold was now collected at the mine of the Wizard's Slough. And when this rumour must have reached them, through women who came to and fro, as some entirely faithful to them were allowed to do, we sent Captain Simon Carfax, the father of little Gwenny, to demand an interview with the Counsellor, by night, and as it were secretly. Then he was to set forth a list of imaginary grievances against the owners of the mine; and to offer partly through resentment, partly through the hope of gain, to betray into their hands, upon the Friday night, by far the greatest weight of gold as yet sent up for refining. He was to have one quarter part, and they to take the residue. But inasmuch as the convoy across the moors, under his command, would be strong, and strongly armed, the Doones must be sure to send not less than a score of men, if possible. He himself, at a place agreed upon, and fit for an ambuscade, would call a halt, and contrive in the darkness to pour a little water into the priming of his company's guns.
It cost us some trouble and a great deal of money to bring the sturdy Cornishman into this deceitful part; and perhaps he never would have consented but for his obligation to me, and the wrongs (as he said) of his daughter. However, as he was the man for the task, both from his coolness and courage, and being known to have charge of the mine, I pressed him, until he undertook to tell all the lies we required. And right well he did it too, having once made up his mind to it; and perceiving that his own interests called for the total destruction of the robbers.
A LONG ACCOUNT SETTLED
Having resolved on a night-assault (as our undisciplined men, three-fourths of whom had never been shot at, could not fairly be expected to march up to visible musket-mouths), we cared not much about drilling our forces, only to teach them to hold a musket, so far as we could supply that weapon to those with the cleverest eyes; and to give them familiarity with the noise it made in exploding. And we fixed upon Friday night for our venture, because the moon would be at the full; and our powder was coming from Dulverton on the Friday afternoon.
Uncle Reuben did not mean to expose himself to shooting, his time of life for risk of life being now well over and the residue too valuable. But his counsels, and his influence, and above all his warehousemen, well practised in beating carpets, were of true service to us. His miners also did great wonders, having a grudge against the Doones; as indeed who had not for thirty miles round their valley?
It was settled that the yeomen, having good horses under them, should give account (with the miners' help) of as many Doones as might be despatched to plunder the pretended gold. And as soon as we knew that this party of robbers, be it more or less, was out of hearing from the valley, we were to fall to, ostensibly at the Doone-gate (which was impregnable now), but in reality upon their rear, by means of my old water-slide. For I had chosen twenty young fellows, partly miners, and partly warehousemen, and sheep farmers, and some of other vocations, but all to be relied upon for spirit and power of climbing. And with proper tools to aid us, and myself to lead the way, I felt no doubt whatever but that we could all attain the crest where first I had met with Lorna.
Upon the whole, I rejoiced that Lorna was not present now. It must have been irksome to her feelings to have all her kindred and old associates (much as she kept aloof from them) put to death without ceremony, or else putting all of us to death. For all of us were resolved this time to have no more shilly-shallying; but to go through with a nasty business, in the style of honest Englishmen, when the question comes to 'Your life or mine.'
There was hardly a man among us who had not suffered bitterly from the miscreants now before us. One had lost his wife perhaps, another had lost a daughter—according to their ages, another had lost his favourite cow; in a word, there was scarcely any one who had not to complain of a hayrick; and what surprised me then, not now, was that the men least injured made the greatest push concerning it. But be the wrong too great to speak of, or too small to swear about, from poor Kit Badcock to rich Master Huckaback, there was not one but went heart and soul for stamping out these firebrands.
The moon was lifting well above the shoulder of the uplands, when we, the chosen band, set forth, having the short cut along the valleys to foot of the Bagworthy water; and therefore having allowed the rest an hour, to fetch round the moors and hills; we were not to begin our climb until we heard a musket fired from the heights on the left-hand side, where John Fry himself was stationed, upon his own and his wife's request; so as to keep out of action. And that was the place where I had been used to sit, and to watch for Lorna. And John Fry was to fire his gun, with a ball of wool inside it, so soon as he heard the hurly-burly at the Doone-gate beginning; which we, by reason of waterfall, could not hear, down in the meadows there.
We waited a very long time, with the moon marching up heaven steadfastly, and the white fog trembling in chords and columns, like a silver harp of the meadows. And then the moon drew up the fogs, and scarfed herself in white with them; and so being proud, gleamed upon the water, like a bride at her looking-glass; and yet there was no sound of either John Fry, or his blunderbuss.
I began to think that the worthy John, being out of all danger, and having brought a counterpane (according to his wife's directions, because one of the children had a cold), must veritably have gone to sleep; leaving other people to kill, or be killed, as might be the will of God; so that he were comfortable. But herein I did wrong to John, and am ready to acknowledge it; for suddenly the most awful noise that anything short of thunder could make, came down among the rocks, and went and hung upon the corners.
'The signal, my lads,' I cried, leaping up and rubbing my eyes; for even now, while condemning John unjustly, I was giving him right to be hard upon me. 'Now hold on by the rope, and lay your quarter-staffs across, my lads; and keep your guns pointing to heaven, lest haply we shoot one another.'
'Us shan't never shutt one anoother, wi' our goons at that mark, I reckon,' said an oldish chap, but as tough as leather, and esteemed a wit for his dryness.
'You come next to me, old Ike; you be enough to dry up the waters; now, remember, all lean well forward. If any man throws his weight back, down he goes; and perhaps he may never get up again; and most likely he will shoot himself.'
I was still more afraid of their shooting me; for my chief alarm in this steep ascent was neither of the water nor of the rocks, but of the loaded guns we bore. If any man slipped, off might go his gun, and however good his meaning, I being first was most likely to take far more than I fain would apprehend.
For this cause, I had debated with Uncle Ben and with Cousin Tom as to the expediency of our climbing with guns unloaded. But they, not being in the way themselves, assured me that there was nothing to fear, except through uncommon clumsiness; and that as for charging our guns at the top, even veteran troops could scarcely be trusted to perform it properly in the hurry, and the darkness, and the noise of fighting before them.
However, thank God, though a gun went off, no one was any the worse for it, neither did the Doones notice it, in the thick of the firing in front of them. For the orders to those of the sham attack, conducted by Tom Faggus, were to make the greatest possible noise, without exposure of themselves; until we, in the rear, had fallen to; which John Fry was again to give the signal of.
Therefore we, of the chosen band, stole up the meadow quietly, keeping in the blots of shade, and hollow of the watercourse. And the earliest notice the Counsellor had, or any one else, of our presence, was the blazing of the log-wood house, where lived that villain Carver. It was my especial privilege to set this house on fire; upon which I had insisted, exclusively and conclusively. No other hand but mine should lay a brand, or strike steel on flint for it; I had made all preparations carefully for a goodly blaze. And I must confess that I rubbed my hands, with a strong delight and comfort, when I saw the home of that man, who had fired so many houses, having its turn of smoke, and blaze, and of crackling fury.
We took good care, however, to burn no innocent women or children in that most righteous destruction. For we brought them all out beforehand; some were glad, and some were sorry; according to their dispositions. For Carver had ten or a dozen wives; and perhaps that had something to do with his taking the loss of Lorna so easily. One child I noticed, as I saved him; a fair and handsome little fellow, whom (if Carver Doone could love anything on earth beside his wretched self) he did love. The boy climbed on my back and rode; and much as I hated his father, it was not in my heart to say or do a thing to vex him.
Leaving these poor injured people to behold their burning home, we drew aside, by my directions, into the covert beneath the cliff. But not before we had laid our brands to three other houses, after calling the women forth, and bidding them go for their husbands, and to come and fight a hundred of us. In the smoke and rush, and fire, they believed that we were a hundred; and away they ran, in consternation, to the battle at the Doone-gate.
'All Doone-town is on fire, on fire!' we heard them shrieking as they went; 'a hundred soldiers are burning it, with a dreadful great man at the head of them!'
Presently, just as I expected, back came the warriors of the Doones; leaving but two or three at the gate, and burning with wrath to crush under foot the presumptuous clowns in their valley. Just then the waxing fire leaped above the red crest of the cliffs, and danced on the pillars of the forest, and lapped like a tide on the stones of the slope. All the valley flowed with light, and the limpid waters reddened, and the fair young women shone, and the naked children glistened.
But the finest sight of all was to see those haughty men striding down the causeway darkly, reckless of their end, but resolute to have two lives for every one. A finer dozen of young men could not have been found in the world perhaps, nor a braver, nor a viler one.
Seeing how few there were of them, I was very loath to fire, although I covered the leader, who appeared to be dashing Charley; for they were at easy distance now, brightly shone by the fire-light, yet ignorant where to look for us. I thought that we might take them prisoners—though what good that could be God knows, as they must have been hanged thereafter—anyhow I was loath to shoot, or to give the word to my followers.
But my followers waited for no word; they saw a fair shot at the men they abhorred, the men who had robbed them of home or of love, and the chance was too much for their charity. At a signal from old Ikey, who levelled his own gun first, a dozen muskets were discharged, and half of the Doones dropped lifeless, like so many logs of firewood, or chopping-blocks rolled over.
Although I had seen a great battle before, and a hundred times the carnage, this appeared to me to be horrible; and I was at first inclined to fall upon our men for behaving so. But one instant showed me that they were right; for while the valley was filled with howling, and with shrieks of women, and the beams of the blazing houses fell, and hissed in the bubbling river; all the rest of the Doones leaped at us, like so many demons. They fired wildly, not seeing us well among the hazel bushes; and then they clubbed their muskets, or drew their swords, as might be; and furiously drove at us.
For a moment, although we were twice their number, we fell back before their valorous fame, and the power of their onset. For my part, admiring their courage greatly, and counting it slur upon manliness that two should be down upon one so, I withheld my hand awhile; for I cared to meet none but Carver; and he was not among them. The whirl and hurry of this fight, and the hard blows raining down—for now all guns were empty—took away my power of seeing, or reasoning upon anything. Yet one thing I saw, which dwelled long with me; and that was Christopher Badcock spending his life to get Charley's.
How he had found out, none may tell; both being dead so long ago; but, at any rate, he had found out that Charley was the man who had robbed him of his wife and honour. It was Carver Doone who took her away, but Charleworth Doone was beside him; and, according to cast of dice, she fell to Charley's share. All this Kit Badcock (who was mad, according to our measures) had discovered, and treasured up; and now was his revenge-time.
He had come into the conflict without a weapon of any kind; only begging me to let him be in the very thick of it. For him, he said, life was no matter, after the loss of his wife and child; but death was matter to him, and he meant to make the most of it. Such a face I never saw, and never hope to see again, as when poor Kit Badcock spied Charley coming towards us.
We had thought this man a patient fool, a philosopher of a little sort, or one who could feel nothing. And his quiet manner of going about, and the gentleness of his answers (when some brutes asked him where his wife was, and whether his baby had been well-trussed), these had misled us to think that the man would turn the mild cheek to everything. But I, in the loneliness of our barn, had listened, and had wept with him.
Therefore was I not surprised, so much as all the rest of us, when, in the foremost of red light, Kit went up to Charleworth Doone, as if to some inheritance; and took his seisin of right upon him, being himself a powerful man; and begged a word aside with him. What they said aside, I know not; all I know is that without weapon, each man killed the other. And Margery Badcock came, and wept, and hung upon her poor husband; and died, that summer, of heart-disease.
Now for these and other things (whereof I could tell a thousand) was the reckoning come that night; and not a line we missed of it; soon as our bad blood was up. I like not to tell of slaughter, though it might be of wolves and tigers; and that was a night of fire and slaughter, and of very long-harboured revenge. Enough that ere the daylight broke upon that wan March morning, the only Doones still left alive were the Counsellor and Carver. And of all the dwellings of the Doones (inhabited with luxury, and luscious taste, and licentiousness) not even one was left, but all made potash in the river.
This may seem a violent and unholy revenge upon them. And I (who led the heart of it) have in these my latter years doubted how I shall be judged, not of men—for God only knows the errors of man's judgments—but by that great God Himself, the front of whose forehead is mercy.
THE COUNSELLOR AND THE CARVER
From that great confusion—for nothing can be broken up, whether lawful or unlawful, without a vast amount of dust, and many people grumbling, and mourning for the good old times, when all the world was happiness, and every man a gentleman, and the sun himself far brighter than since the brassy idol upon which he shone was broken—from all this loss of ancient landmarks (as unrobbed men began to call our clearance of those murderers) we returned on the following day, almost as full of anxiety as we were of triumph. In the first place, what could we possibly do with all these women and children, thrown on our hands as one might say, with none to protect and care for them? Again how should we answer to the justices of the peace, or perhaps even to Lord Jeffreys, for having, without even a warrant, taken the law into our own hands, and abated our nuisance so forcibly? And then, what was to be done with the spoil, which was of great value; though the diamond necklace came not to public light? For we saw a mighty host of claimants already leaping up for booty. Every man who had ever been robbed, expected usury on his loss; the lords of the manors demanded the whole; and so did the King's Commissioner of revenue at Porlock; and so did the men who had fought our battle; while even the parsons, both Bowden and Powell, and another who had no parish in it, threatened us with the just wrath of the Church, unless each had tithes of the whole of it.
Now this was not as it ought to be; and it seemed as if by burning the nest of robbers, we had but hatched their eggs; until being made sole guardian of the captured treasure (by reason of my known honesty) I hit upon a plan, which gave very little satisfaction; yet carried this advantage, that the grumblers argued against one another and for the most part came to blows; which renewed their goodwill to me, as being abused by the adversary.
And my plan was no more than this—not to pay a farthing to lord of manor, parson, or even King's Commissioner, but after making good some of the recent and proven losses—where the men could not afford to lose—to pay the residue (which might be worth some fifty thousand pounds) into the Exchequer at Westminster; and then let all the claimants file what wills they pleased in Chancery.
Now this was a very noble device, for the mere name of Chancery, and the high repute of the fees therein, and low repute of the lawyers, and the comfortable knowledge that the woolsack itself is the golden fleece, absorbing gold for ever, if the standard be but pure; consideration of these things staved off at once the lords of the manors, and all the little farmers, and even those whom most I feared; videlicet, the parsons. And the King's Commissioner was compelled to profess himself contented, although of all he was most aggrieved; for his pickings would have been goodly.
Moreover, by this plan I made—although I never thought of that—a mighty friend worth all the enemies, whom the loss of money moved. The first man now in the kingdom (by virtue perhaps of energy, rather than of excellence) was the great Lord Jeffreys, appointed the head of the Equity, as well as the law of the realm, for his kindness in hanging five hundred people, without the mere brief of trial. Nine out of ten of these people were innocent, it was true; but that proved the merit of the Lord Chief Justice so much the greater for hanging them, as showing what might be expected of him, when he truly got hold of a guilty man. Now the King had seen the force of this argument; and not being without gratitude for a high-seasoned dish of cruelty, had promoted the only man in England, combining the gifts of both butcher and cook.
Nevertheless, I do beg you all to believe of me—and I think that, after following me so long, you must believe it—that I did not even know at the time of Lord Jeffreys's high promotion. Not that my knowledge of this would have led me to act otherwise in the matter; for my object was to pay into an office, and not to any official; neither if I had known the fact, could I have seen its bearing upon the receipt of my money. For the King's Exchequer is, meseemeth, of the Common Law; while Chancery is of Equity, and well named for its many chances. But the true result of the thing was this—Lord Jeffreys being now head of the law, and almost head of the kingdom, got possession of that money, and was kindly pleased with it.
And this met our second difficulty; for the law having won and laughed over the spoil, must have injured its own title by impugning our legality.
Next, with regard to the women and children, we were long in a state of perplexity. We did our very best at the farm, and so did many others to provide for them, until they should manage about their own subsistence. And after a while this trouble went, as nearly all troubles go with time. Some of the women were taken back by their parents, or their husbands, or it may be their sweethearts; and those who failed of this, went forth, some upon their own account to the New World plantations, where the fairer sex is valuable; and some to English cities; and the plainer ones to field work. And most of the children went with their mothers, or were bound apprentices; only Carver Doone's handsome child had lost his mother and stayed with me.
This boy went about with me everywhere. He had taken as much of liking to me—first shown in his eyes by the firelight—as his father had of hatred; and I, perceiving his noble courage, scorn of lies, and high spirit, became almost as fond of Ensie as he was of me. He told us that his name was 'Ensie,' meant for 'Ensor,' I suppose, from his father's grandfather, the old Sir Ensor Doone. And this boy appeared to be Carver's heir, having been born in wedlock, contrary to the general manner and custom of the Doones.
However, although I loved the poor child, I could not help feeling very uneasy about the escape of his father, the savage and brutal Carver. This man was left to roam the country, homeless, foodless, and desperate, with his giant strength, and great skill in arms, and the whole world to be revenged upon. For his escape the miners, as I shall show, were answerable; but of the Counsellor's safe departure the burden lay on myself alone. And inasmuch as there are people who consider themselves ill-used, unless one tells them everything, straitened though I am for space, I will glance at this transaction.
After the desperate charge of young Doones had been met by us, and broken, and just as Poor Kit Badcock died in the arms of the dead Charley, I happened to descry a patch of white on the grass of the meadow, like the head of a sheep after washing-day. Observing with some curiosity how carefully this white thing moved along the bars of darkness betwixt the panels of firelight, I ran up to intercept it, before it reached the little postern which we used to call Gwenny's door. Perceiving me, the white thing stopped, and was for making back again; but I ran up at full speed; and lo, it was the flowing silvery hair of that sage the Counsellor, who was scuttling away upon all fours; but now rose and confronted me.
'John,' he said, 'Sir John, you will not play falsely with your ancient friend, among these violent fellows, I look to you to protect me, John.'
'Honoured sir, you are right,' I replied; 'but surely that posture was unworthy of yourself, and your many resources. It is my intention to let you go free.'
'I knew it. I could have sworn to it. You are a noble fellow, John. I said so, from the very first; you are a noble fellow, and an ornament to any rank.'
'But upon two conditions,' I added, gently taking him by the arm; for instead of displaying any desire to commune with my nobility, he was edging away toward the postern; 'the first is that you tell me truly (for now it can matter to none of you) who it was that slew my father.'
'I will tell you truly and frankly, John; however painful to me to confess it. It was my son, Carver.'
'I thought as much, or I felt as much all along,' I answered; 'but the fault was none of yours, sir; for you were not even present.'
'If I had been there, it would not have happened. I am always opposed to violence. Therefore, let me haste away; this scene is against my nature.'
'You shall go directly, Sir Counsellor, after meeting my other condition; which is, that you place in my hands Lady Lorna's diamond necklace.'
'Ah, how often I have wished,' said the old man with a heavy sigh, 'that it might yet be in my power to ease my mind in that respect, and to do a thoroughly good deed by lawful restitution.'
'Then try to have it in your power, sir. Surely, with my encouragement, you might summon resolution.'
'Alas, John, the resolution has been ready long ago. But the thing is not in my possession. Carver, my son, who slew your father, upon him you will find the necklace. What are jewels to me, young man, at my time of life? Baubles and trash,—I detest them, from the sins they have led me to answer for. When you come to my age, good Sir John, you will scorn all jewels, and care only for a pure and bright conscience. Ah! ah! Let me go. I have made my peace with God.'
He looked so hoary, and so silvery, and serene in the moonlight, that verily I must have believed him, if he had not drawn in his breast. But I happened to have noticed that when an honest man gives vent to noble and great sentiments, he spreads his breast, and throws it out, as if his heart were swelling; whereas I had seen this old gentleman draw in his breast more than once, as if it happened to contain better goods than sentiment.
'Will you applaud me, kind sir,' I said, keeping him very tight, all the while, 'if I place it in your power to ratify your peace with God? The pledge is upon your heart, no doubt, for there it lies at this moment.'
With these words, and some apology for having recourse to strong measures, I thrust my hand inside his waistcoat, and drew forth Lorna's necklace, purely sparkling in the moonlight, like the dancing of new stars. The old man made a stab at me, with a knife which I had not espied; but the vicious onset failed; and then he knelt, and clasped his hands.
'Oh, for God's sake, John, my son, rob me not in that manner. They belong to me; and I love them so; I would give almost my life for them. There is one jewel I can look at for hours, and see all the lights of heaven in it; which I never shall see elsewhere. All my wretched, wicked life—oh, John, I am a sad hypocrite—but give me back my jewels. Or else kill me here; I am a babe in your hands; but I must have back my jewels.'
As his beautiful white hair fell away from his noble forehead, like a silver wreath of glory, and his powerful face, for once, was moved with real emotion, I was so amazed and overcome by the grand contradictions of nature, that verily I was on the point of giving him back the necklace. But honesty, which is said to be the first instinct of all the Ridds (though I myself never found it so), happened here to occur to me, and so I said, without more haste than might be expected,—
'Sir Counsellor, I cannot give you what does not belong to me. But if you will show me that particular diamond which is heaven to you, I will take upon myself the risk and the folly of cutting it out for you. And with that you must go contented; and I beseech you not to starve with that jewel upon your lips.'
Seeing no hope of better terms, he showed me his pet love of a jewel; and I thought of what Lorna was to me, as I cut it out (with the hinge of my knife severing the snakes of gold) and placed it in his careful hand. Another moment, and he was gone, and away through Gwenny's postern; and God knows what became of him.
Now as to Carver, the thing was this—so far as I could ascertain from the valiant miners, no two of whom told the same story, any more than one of them told it twice. The band of Doones which sallied forth for the robbery of the pretended convoy was met by Simon Carfax, according to arrangement, at the ruined house called The Warren, in that part of Bagworthy Forest where the river Exe (as yet a very small stream) runs through it. The Warren, as all our people know, had belonged to a fine old gentleman, whom every one called 'The Squire,' who had retreated from active life to pass the rest of his days in fishing, and shooting, and helping his neighbours. For he was a man of some substance; and no poor man ever left The Warren without a bag of good victuals, and a few shillings put in his pocket. However, this poor Squire never made a greater mistake, than in hoping to end his life peacefully upon the banks of a trout-stream, and in the green forest of Bagworthy. For as he came home from the brook at dusk, with his fly-rod over his shoulder, the Doones fell upon him, and murdered him, and then sacked his house, and burned it.
Now this had made honest people timid about going past The Warren at night; for, of course, it was said that the old Squire 'walked,' upon certain nights of the moon, in and out of the trunks of trees, on the green path from the river. On his shoulder he bore a fishing-rod, and his book of trout-flies, in one hand, and on his back a wicker-creel; and now and then he would burst out laughing to think of his coming so near the Doones.
And now that one turns to consider it, this seems a strangely righteous thing, that the scene of one of the greatest crimes even by Doones committed should, after twenty years, become the scene of vengeance falling (like hail from heaven) upon them. For although The Warren lies well away to the westward of the mine; and the gold, under escort to Bristowe, or London, would have gone in the other direction; Captain Carfax, finding this place best suited for working of his design, had persuaded the Doones, that for reasons of Government, the ore must go first to Barnstaple for inspection, or something of that sort. And as every one knows that our Government sends all things westward when eastward bound, this had won the more faith for Simon, as being according to nature.
Now Simon, having met these flowers of the flock of villainy, where the rising moonlight flowed through the weir-work of the wood, begged them to dismount; and led them with an air of mystery into the Squire's ruined hall, black with fire, and green with weeds.
'Captain, I have found a thing,' he said to Carver Doone, himself, 'which may help to pass the hour, ere the lump of gold comes by. The smugglers are a noble race; but a miner's eyes are a match for them. There lies a puncheon of rare spirit, with the Dutchman's brand upon it, hidden behind the broken hearth. Set a man to watch outside; and let us see what this be like.'
With one accord they agreed to this, and Carver pledged Master Carfax, and all the Doones grew merry. But Simon being bound, as he said, to see to their strict sobriety, drew a bucket of water from the well into which they had thrown the dead owner, and begged them to mingle it with their drink; which some of them did, and some refused.
But the water from that well was poured, while they were carousing, into the priming-pan of every gun of theirs; even as Simon had promised to do with the guns of the men they were come to kill. Then just as the giant Carver arose, with a glass of pure hollands in his hand, and by the light of the torch they had struck, proposed the good health of the Squire's ghost—in the broken doorway stood a press of men, with pointed muskets, covering every drunken Doone. How it fared upon that I know not, having none to tell me; for each man wrought, neither thought of telling, nor whether he might be alive to tell. The Doones rushed to their guns at once, and pointed them, and pulled at them; but the Squire's well had drowned their fire; and then they knew that they were betrayed, but resolved to fight like men for it. Upon fighting I can never dwell; it breeds such savage delight in me; of which I would fain have less. Enough that all the Doones fought bravely; and like men (though bad ones) died in the hall of the man they had murdered. And with them died poor young De Whichehalse, who, in spite of his good father's prayers, had cast in his lot with the robbers. Carver Doone alone escaped. Partly through his fearful strength, and his yet more fearful face; but mainly perhaps through his perfect coolness, and his mode of taking things.
I am happy to say that no more than eight of the gallant miners were killed in that combat, or died of their wounds afterwards; and adding to these the eight we had lost in our assault on the valley (and two of them excellent warehousemen), it cost no more than sixteen lives to be rid of nearly forty Doones, each of whom would most likely have killed three men in the course of a year or two. Therefore, as I said at the time, a great work was done very reasonably; here were nigh upon forty Doones destroyed (in the valley, and up at The Warrens) despite their extraordinary strength and high skill in gunnery; whereas of us ignorant rustics there were only sixteen to be counted dead—though others might be lamed, or so,—and of those sixteen only two had left wives, and their wives did not happen to care for them.
Yet, for Lorna' s sake, I was vexed at the bold escape of Carver. Not that I sought for Carver's life, any more than I did for the Counsellor's; but that for us it was no light thing, to have a man of such power, and resource, and desperation, left at large and furious, like a famished wolf round the sheepfold. Yet greatly as I blamed the yeomen, who were posted on their horses, just out of shot from the Doone-gate, for the very purpose of intercepting those who escaped the miners, I could not get them to admit that any blame attached to them.
But lo, he had dashed through the whole of them, with his horse at full gallop; and was nearly out of shot before they began to think of shooting him. Then it appears from what a boy said—for boys manage to be everywhere—that Captain Carver rode through the Doone-gate, and so to the head of the valley. There, of course, he beheld all the houses, and his own among the number, flaming with a handsome blaze, and throwing a fine light around such as he often had revelled in, when of other people's property. But he swore the deadliest of all oaths, and seeing himself to be vanquished (so far as the luck of the moment went), spurred his great black horse away, and passed into the darkness.
HOW TO GET OUT OF CHANCERY
Things at this time so befell me, that I cannot tell one half; but am like a boy who has left his lesson (to the master's very footfall) unready, except with false excuses. And as this makes no good work, so I lament upon my lingering, in the times when I might have got through a good page, but went astray after trifles. However, every man must do according to his intellect; and looking at the easy manner of my constitution, I think that most men will regard me with pity and goodwill for trying, more than with contempt and wrath for having tried unworthily. Even as in the wrestling ring, whatever man did his best, and made an honest conflict, I always laid him down with softness, easing off his dusty fall.
But the thing which next betided me was not a fall of any sort; but rather a most glorious rise to the summit of all fortune. For in good truth it was no less than the return of Lorna—my Lorna, my own darling; in wonderful health and spirits, and as glad as a bird to get back again. It would have done any one good for a twelve-month to behold her face and doings, and her beaming eyes and smile (not to mention blushes also at my salutation), when this Queen of every heart ran about our rooms again. She did love this, and she must see that, and where was our old friend the cat? All the house was full of brightness, as if the sun had come over the hill, and Lorna were his mirror.
My mother sat in an ancient chair, and wiped her cheeks, and looked at her; and even Lizzie's eyes must dance to the freshness and joy of her beauty. As for me, you might call me mad; for I ran out and flung my best hat on the barn, and kissed mother Fry, till she made at me with the sugar-nippers.
What a quantity of things Lorna had to tell us! And yet how often we stopped her mouth—at least mother, I mean, and Lizzie—and she quite as often would stop her own, running up in her joy to some one of us! And then there arose the eating business—which people now call 'refreshment,' in these dandyfied days of our language—for how was it possible that our Lorna could have come all that way, and to her own Exmoor, without being terribly hungry?
'Oh, I do love it all so much,' said Lorna, now for the fiftieth time, and not meaning only the victuals: 'the scent of the gorse on the moors drove me wild, and the primroses under the hedges. I am sure I was meant for a farmer's—I mean for a farm-house life, dear Lizzie'—for Lizzie was looking saucily—'just as you were meant for a soldier's bride, and for writing despatches of victory. And now, since you will not ask me, dear mother, in the excellence of your manners, and even John has not the impudence, in spite of all his coat of arms—I must tell you a thing, which I vowed to keep until tomorrow morning; but my resolution fails me. I am my own mistress—what think you of that, mother? I am my own mistress!'
'Then you shall not be so long,' cried I; for mother seemed not to understand her, and sought about for her glasses: 'darling, you shall be mistress of me; and I will be your master.'
'A frank announcement of your intent, and beyond doubt a true one; but surely unusual at this stage, and a little premature, John. However, what must be, must be.' And with tears springing out of smiles, she fell on my breast, and cried a bit.
When I came to smoke a pipe over it (after the rest were gone to bed), I could hardly believe in my good luck. For here was I, without any merit, except of bodily power, and the absence of any falsehood (which surely is no commendation), so placed that the noblest man in England might envy me, and be vexed with me. For the noblest lady in all the land, and the purest, and the sweetest—hung upon my heart, as if there was none to equal it.
I dwelled upon this matter, long and very severely, while I smoked a new tobacco, brought by my own Lorna for me, and next to herself most delicious; and as the smoke curled away, I thought, 'Surely this is too fine to last, for a man who never deserved it.'
Seeing no way out of this, I resolved to place my faith in God; and so went to bed and dreamed of it. And having no presence of mind to pray for anything, under the circumstances, I thought it best to fall asleep, and trust myself to the future. Yet ere I fell asleep the roof above me swarmed with angels, having Lorna under it.
In the morning Lorna was ready to tell her story, and we to hearken; and she wore a dress of most simple stuff; and yet perfectly wonderful, by means of the shape and her figure. Lizzie was wild with jealousy, as might be expected (though never would Annie have been so, but have praised it, and craved for the pattern), and mother not understanding it, looked forth, to be taught about it. For it was strange to note that lately my dear mother had lost her quickness, and was never quite brisk, unless the question were about myself. She had seen a great deal of trouble; and grief begins to close on people, as their power of life declines. We said that she was hard of hearing; but my opinion was, that seeing me inclined for marriage made her think of my father, and so perhaps a little too much, to dwell on the courting of thirty years agone. Anyhow, she was the very best of mothers; and would smile and command herself; and be (or try to believe herself) as happy as could be, in the doings of the younger folk, and her own skill in detecting them. Yet, with the wisdom of age, renouncing any opinion upon the matter; since none could see the end of it.
But Lorna in her bright young beauty, and her knowledge of my heart, was not to be checked by any thoughts of haply coming evil. In the morning she was up, even sooner than I was, and through all the corners of the hens, remembering every one of them. I caught her and saluted her with such warmth (being now none to look at us), that she vowed she would never come out again; and yet she came the next morning.
These things ought not to be chronicled. Yet I am of such nature, that finding many parts of life adverse to our wishes, I must now and then draw pleasure from the blessed portions. And what portion can be more blessed than with youth, and health, and strength, to be loved by a virtuous maid, and to love her with all one's heart? Neither was my pride diminished, when I found what she had done, only from her love of me.
Earl Brandir's ancient steward, in whose charge she had travelled, with a proper escort, looked upon her as a lovely maniac; and the mixture of pity and admiration wherewith he regarded her, was a strange thing to observe; especially after he had seen our simple house and manners. On the other hand, Lorna considered him a worthy but foolish old gentleman; to whom true happiness meant no more than money and high position.
These two last she had been ready to abandon wholly, and had in part escaped from them, as the enemies of her happiness. And she took advantage of the times, in a truly clever manner. For that happened to be a time—as indeed all times hitherto (so far as my knowledge extends), have, somehow, or other, happened to be—when everybody was only too glad to take money for doing anything. And the greatest money-taker in the kingdom (next to the King and Queen, of course, who had due pre-eminence, and had taught the maids of honour) was generally acknowledged to be the Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys.
Upon his return from the bloody assizes, with triumph and great glory, after hanging every man who was too poor to help it, he pleased his Gracious Majesty so purely with the description of their delightful agonies, that the King exclaimed, 'This man alone is worthy to be at the head of the law.' Accordingly in his hand was placed the Great Seal of England.
So it came to pass that Lorna's destiny hung upon Lord Jeffreys; for at this time Earl Brandir died, being taken with gout in the heart, soon after I left London. Lorna was very sorry for him; but as he had never been able to hear one tone of her sweet silvery voice, it is not to be supposed that she wept without consolation. She grieved for him as we ought to grieve for any good man going; and yet with a comforting sense of the benefit which the blessed exchange must bring to him.
Now the Lady Lorna Dugal appeared to Lord Chancellor Jeffreys so exceeding wealthy a ward that the lock would pay for turning. Therefore he came, of his own accord, to visit her, and to treat with her; having heard (for the man was as big a gossip as never cared for anybody, yet loved to know all about everybody) that this wealthy and beautiful maiden would not listen to any young lord, having pledged her faith to the plain John Ridd.
Thereupon, our Lorna managed so to hold out golden hopes to the Lord High Chancellor, that he, being not more than three parts drunk, saw his way to a heap of money. And there and then (for he was not the man to daily long about anything) upon surety of a certain round sum—the amount of which I will not mention, because of his kindness towards me—he gave to his fair ward permission, under sign and seal, to marry that loyal knight, John Ridd; upon condition only that the King's consent should be obtained.
His Majesty, well-disposed towards me for my previous service, and regarding me as a good Catholic, being moved moreover by the Queen, who desired to please Lorna, consented, without much hesitation, upon the understanding that Lorna, when she became of full age, and the mistress of her property (which was still under guardianship), should pay a heavy fine to the Crown, and devote a fixed portion of her estate to the promotion of the holy Catholic faith, in a manner to be dictated by the King himself. Inasmuch, however, as King James was driven out of his kingdom before this arrangement could take effect, and another king succeeded, who desired not the promotion of the Catholic religion, neither hankered after subsidies, (whether French or English), that agreement was pronounced invalid, improper, and contemptible. However, there was no getting back the money once paid to Lord Chancellor Jeffreys.
But what thought we of money at this present moment; or of position, or anything else, except indeed one another? Lorna told me, with the sweetest smile, that if I were minded to take her at all, I must take her without anything; inasmuch as she meant, upon coming of age, to make over the residue of her estates to the next-of-kin, as being unfit for a farmer's wife. And I replied with the greatest warmth and a readiness to worship her, that this was exactly what I longed for, but had never dared to propose it. But dear mother looked most exceeding grave; and said that to be sure her opinion could not be expected to count for much, but she really hoped that in three years' time we should both he a little wiser, and have more regard for our interests, and perhaps those of others by that time; and Master Snowe having daughters only, and nobody coming to marry them, if anything happened to the good old man—and who could tell in three years' time what might happen to all or any of us?—why perhaps his farm would be for sale, and perhaps Lady Lorna's estates in Scotland would fetch enough money to buy it, and so throw the two farms into one, and save all the trouble about the brook, as my poor father had longed to do many and many a time, but not having a title could not do all quite as he wanted. And then if we young people grew tired of the old mother, as seemed only too likely, and was according to nature, why we could send her over there, and Lizzie to keep her company.
When mother had finished, and wiped her eyes, Lorna, who had been blushing rosily at some portions of this great speech, flung her fair arms around mother's neck, and kissed her very heartily, and scolded her (as she well deserved) for her want of confidence in us. My mother replied that if anybody could deserve her John, it was Lorna; but that she could not hold with the rashness of giving up money so easily; while her next-of-kin would be John himself, and who could tell what others, by the time she was one-and-twenty?
Hereupon, I felt that after all my mother had common sense on her side; for if Master Snowe's farm should be for sale, it would be far more to the purpose than my coat of arms, to get it; for there was a different pasture there, just suited for change of diet to our sheep as well as large cattle. And beside this, even with all Annie's skill (and of course yet more now she was gone), their butter would always command in the market from one to three farthings a pound more than we could get for ours. And few things vexed us more than this. Whereas, if we got possession of the farm, we might, without breach of the market-laws, or any harm done to any one (the price being but a prejudice), sell all our butter as Snowe butter, and do good to all our customers.
Thinking thus, yet remembering that Farmer Nicholas might hold out for another score of years—as I heartily hoped he might—or that one, if not all, of his comely daughters might marry a good young farmer (or farmers, if the case were so)—or that, even without that, the farm might never be put up for sale; I begged my Lorna to do as she liked; or rather to wait and think of it; for as yet she could do nothing.
DRIVEN BEYOND ENDURANCE
[Also known as BLOOD UPON THE ALTAR in other editions]
Everything was settled smoothly, and without any fear or fuss, that Lorna might find end of troubles, and myself of eager waiting, with the help of Parson Bowden, and the good wishes of two counties. I could scarce believe my fortune, when I looked upon her beauty, gentleness, and sweetness, mingled with enough of humour and warm woman's feeling, never to be dull or tiring; never themselves to be weary.
For she might be called a woman now; although a very young one, and as full of playful ways, or perhaps I may say ten times as full, as if she had known no trouble. To wit, the spirit of bright childhood, having been so curbed and straitened, ere its time was over, now broke forth, enriched and varied with the garb of conscious maidenhood. And the sense of steadfast love, and eager love enfolding her, coloured with so many tinges all her looks, and words, and thoughts, that to me it was the noblest vision even to think about her.
But this was far too bright to last, without bitter break, and the plunging of happiness in horror, and of passionate joy in agony. My darling in her softest moments, when she was alone with me, when the spark of defiant eyes was veiled beneath dark lashes, and the challenge of gay beauty passed into sweetest invitation; at such times of her purest love and warmest faith in me, a deep abiding fear would flutter in her bounding heart, as of deadly fate's approach. She would cling to me, and nestle to me, being scared of coyishness, and lay one arm around my neck, and ask if I could do without her.
Hence, as all emotions haply, of those who are more to us than ourselves, find within us stronger echo, and more perfect answer, so I could not be regardless of some hidden evil; and my dark misgivings deepened as the time drew nearer. I kept a steadfast watch on Lorna, neglecting a field of beans entirely, as well as a litter of young pigs, and a cow somewhat given to jaundice. And I let Jem Slocombe go to sleep in the tallat, all one afternoon, and Bill Dadds draw off a bucket of cider, without so much as a 'by your leave.' For these men knew that my knighthood, and my coat of arms, and (most of all) my love, were greatly against good farming; the sense of our country being—and perhaps it may be sensible—that a man who sticks up to be anything, must allow himself to be cheated.
But I never did stick up, nor would, though all the parish bade me; and I whistled the same tunes to my horses, and held my plough-tree, just the same as if no King, nor Queen, had ever come to spoil my tune or hand. For this thing, nearly all the men around our parts upbraided me; but the women praised me: and for the most part these are right, when themselves are not concerned.
However humble I might be, no one knowing anything of our part of the country, would for a moment doubt that now here was a great to do and talk of John Ridd and his wedding. The fierce fight with the Doones so lately, and my leading of the combat (though I fought not more than need be), and the vanishing of Sir Counsellor, and the galloping madness of Carver, and the religious fear of the women that this last was gone to hell—for he himself had declared that his aim, while he cut through the yeomanry—also their remorse, that he should have been made to go thither with all his children left behind—these things, I say (if ever I can again contrive to say anything), had led to the broadest excitement about my wedding of Lorna. We heard that people meant to come from more than thirty miles around, upon excuse of seeing my stature and Lorna's beauty; but in good truth out of sheer curiosity, and the love of meddling.
Our clerk had given notice, that not a man should come inside the door of his church without shilling-fee; and women (as sure to see twice as much) must every one pay two shillings. I thought this wrong; and as church-warden, begged that the money might be paid into mine own hands, when taken. But the clerk said that was against all law; and he had orders from the parson to pay it to him without any delay. So as I always obey the parson, when I care not much about a thing, I let them have it their own way; though feeling inclined to believe, sometimes, that I ought to have some of the money.
Dear mother arranged all the ins and outs of the way in which it was to be done; and Annie and Lizzie, and all the Snowes, and even Ruth Huckaback (who was there, after great persuasion), made such a sweeping of dresses that I scarcely knew where to place my feet, and longed for a staff, to put by their gowns. Then Lorna came out of a pew half-way, in a manner which quite astonished me, and took my left hand in her right, and I prayed God that it were done with.
My darling looked so glorious, that I was afraid of glancing at her, yet took in all her beauty. She was in a fright, no doubt; but nobody should see it; whereas I said (to myself at least), 'I will go through it like a grave-digger.'
Lorna's dress was of pure white, clouded with faint lavender (for the sake of the old Earl Brandir), and as simple as need be, except for perfect loveliness. I was afraid to look at her, as I said before, except when each of us said, 'I will,' and then each dwelled upon the other.
It is impossible for any who have not loved as I have to conceive my joy and pride, when after ring and all was done, and the parson had blessed us, Lorna turned to look at me with her glances of subtle fun subdued by this great act.
Her eyes, which none on earth may ever equal, or compare with, told me such a depth of comfort, yet awaiting further commune, that I was almost amazed, thoroughly as I knew them. Darling eyes, the sweetest eyes, the loveliest, the most loving eyes—the sound of a shot rang through the church, and those eyes were filled with death.
Lorna fell across my knees when I was going to kiss her, as the bridegroom is allowed to do, and encouraged, if he needs it; a flood of blood came out upon the yellow wood of the altar steps, and at my feet lay Lorna, trying to tell me some last message out of her faithful eyes. I lifted her up, and petted her, and coaxed her, but it was no good; the only sign of life remaining was a spirt of bright red blood.
Some men know what things befall them in the supreme time of their life—far above the time of death—but to me comes back as a hazy dream, without any knowledge in it, what I did, or felt, or thought, with my wife's arms flagging, flagging, around my neck, as I raised her up, and softly put them there. She sighed a long sigh on my breast, for her last farewell to life, and then she grew so cold, and cold, that I asked the time of year.
It was Whit-Tuesday, and the lilacs all in blossom; and why I thought of the time of year, with the young death in my arms, God or His angels, may decide, having so strangely given us. Enough that so I did, and looked; and our white lilacs were beautiful. Then I laid my wife in my mother's arms, and begging that no one would make a noise, went forth for my revenge.
Of course, I knew who had done it. There was but one man in the world, or at any rate, in our part of it, who could have done such a thing—such a thing. I use no harsher word about it, while I leaped upon our best horse, with bridle but no saddle, and set the head of Kickums towards the course now pointed out to me. Who showed me the course, I cannot tell. I only know that I took it. And the men fell back before me.
Weapon of no sort had I. Unarmed, and wondering at my strange attire (with a bridal vest, wrought by our Annie, and red with the blood of the bride), I went forth just to find out this; whether in this world there be or be not God of justice.
With my vicious horse at a furious speed, I came upon Black Barrow Down, directed by some shout of men, which seemed to me but a whisper. And there, about a furlong before me, rode a man on a great black horse, and I knew that the man was Carver Doone.
'Your life or mine,' I said to myself; 'as the will of God may be. But we two live not upon this earth, one more hour together.'
I knew the strength of this great man; and I knew that he was armed with a gun—if he had time to load again, after shooting my Lorna—or at any rate with pistols, and a horseman's sword as well. Nevertheless, I had no more doubt of killing the man before me than a cook has of spitting a headless fowl.
Sometimes seeing no ground beneath me, and sometimes heeding every leaf, and the crossing of the grass-blades, I followed over the long moor, reckless whether seen or not. But only once the other man turned round and looked back again, and then I was beside a rock, with a reedy swamp behind me.
Although he was so far before me, and riding as hard as ride he might, I saw that he had something on the horse in front of him; something which needed care, and stopped him from looking backward. In the whirling of my wits, I fancied first that this was Lorna; until the scene I had been through fell across hot brain and heart, like the drop at the close of a tragedy. Rushing there through crag and quag, at utmost speed of a maddened horse, I saw, as of another's fate, calmly (as on canvas laid), the brutal deed, the piteous anguish, and the cold despair.
The man turned up the gully leading from the moor to Cloven Rocks, through which John Fry had tracked Uncle Ben, as of old related. But as Carver entered it, he turned round, and beheld me not a hundred yards behind; and I saw that he was bearing his child, little Ensie, before him. Ensie also descried me, and stretched his hands and cried to me; for the face of his father frightened him.
Carver Doone, with a vile oath, thrust spurs into his flagging horse, and laid one hand on a pistol-stock; whence I knew that his slung carbine had received no bullet since the one that had pierced Lorna. And a cry of triumph rose from the black depths of my heart. What cared I for pistols? I had no spurs, neither was my horse one to need the rowel; I rather held him in than urged him, for he was fresh as ever; and I knew that the black steed in front, if he breasted the steep ascent, where the track divided, must be in our reach at once.
His rider knew this; and, having no room in the rocky channel to turn and fire, drew rein at the crossways sharply, and plunged into the black ravine leading to the Wizard's Slough. 'Is it so?' I said to myself with a brain and head cold as iron; 'though the foul fiend come from the slough, to save thee; thou shalt carve it, Carver.'
I followed my enemy carefully, steadily, even leisurely; for I had him, as in a pitfall, whence no escape might be. He thought that I feared to approach him, for he knew not where he was: and his low disdainful laugh came back. 'Laugh he who wins,' thought I.
A gnarled and half-starved oak, as stubborn as my own resolve, and smitten by some storm of old, hung from the crag above me. Rising from my horse's back, although I had no stirrups, I caught a limb, and tore it (like a mere wheat-awn) from the socket. Men show the rent even now, with wonder; none with more wonder than myself.
Carver Doone turned the corner suddenly on the black and bottomless bog; with a start of fear he reined back his horse, and I thought he would have turned upon me. But instead of that, he again rode on; hoping to find a way round the side.
Now there is a way between cliff and slough for those who know the ground thoroughly, or have time enough to search it; but for him there was no road, and he lost some time in seeking it. Upon this he made up his mind; and wheeling, fired, and then rode at me.
His bullet struck me somewhere, but I took no heed of that. Fearing only his escape, I laid my horse across the way, and with the limb of the oak struck full on the forehead his charging steed. Ere the slash of the sword came nigh me, man and horse rolled over, and wellnigh bore my own horse down, with the power of their onset.
Carver Doone was somewhat stunned, and could not arise for a moment. Meanwhile I leaped on the ground and awaited, smoothing my hair back, and baring my arms, as though in the ring for wrestling. Then the little boy ran to me, clasped my leg, and looked up at me, and the terror in his eyes made me almost fear myself.
'Ensie, dear,' I said quite gently, grieving that he should see his wicked father killed, 'run up yonder round the corner and try to find a pretty bunch of bluebells for the lady.' The child obeyed me, hanging back, and looking back, and then laughing, while I prepared for business. There and then I might have killed mine enemy, with a single blow, while he lay unconscious; but it would have been foul play.
With a sullen and black scowl, the Carver gathered his mighty limbs, and arose, and looked round for his weapons; but I had put them well away. Then he came to me and gazed; being wont to frighten thus young men.
'I would not harm you, lad,' he said, with a lofty style of sneering: 'I have punished you enough, for most of your impertinence. For the rest I forgive you; because you have been good and gracious to my little son. Go, and be contented.'
For answer, I smote him on the cheek, lightly, and not to hurt him: but to make his blood leap up. I would not sully my tongue by speaking to a man like this.
There was a level space of sward between us and the slough. With the courtesy derived from London, and the processions I had seen, to this place I led him. And that he might breathe himself, and have every fibre cool, and every muscle ready, my hold upon his coat I loosed, and left him to begin with me, whenever he thought proper.
I think that he felt that his time was come. I think he knew from my knitted muscles, and the firm arch of my breast, and the way in which I stood; but most of all from my stern blue eyes; that he had found his master. At any rate a paleness came, an ashy paleness on his cheeks, and the vast calves of his legs bowed in, as if he were out of training.
Seeing this, villain as he was, I offered him first chance. I stretched forth my left hand, as I do to a weaker antagonist, and I let him have the hug of me. But in this I was too generous; having forgotten my pistol-wound, and the cracking of one of my short lower ribs. Carver Doone caught me round the waist, with such a grip as never yet had been laid upon me.
I heard my rib go; I grasped his arm, and tore the muscle out of it* (as the string comes out of an orange); then I took him by the throat, which is not allowed in wrestling; but he had snatched at mine; and now was no time of dalliance. In vain he tugged, and strained, and writhed, dashed his bleeding fist into my face, and flung himself on me with gnashing jaws. Beneath the iron of my strength—for God that day was with me—I had him helpless in two minutes, and his fiery eyes lolled out.
* A far more terrible clutch than this is handed down, to weaker ages, of the great John Ridd.—Ed.
'I will not harm thee any more,' I cried, so far as I could for panting, the work being very furious: 'Carver Doone, thou art beaten: own it, and thank God for it; and go thy way, and repent thyself.'
It was all too late. Even if he had yielded in his ravening frenzy—for his beard was like a mad dog's jowl—even if he would have owned that, for the first time in his life, he had found his master; it was all too late.
The black bog had him by the feet; the sucking of the ground drew on him, like the thirsty lips of death. In our fury, we had heeded neither wet nor dry; nor thought of earth beneath us. I myself might scarcely leap, with the last spring of o'er-laboured legs, from the engulfing grave of slime. He fell back, with his swarthy breast (from which my gripe had rent all clothing), like a hummock of bog-oak, standing out the quagmire; and then he tossed his arms to heaven, and they were black to the elbow, and the glare of his eyes was ghastly. I could only gaze and pant; for my strength was no more than an infant's, from the fury and the horror. Scarcely could I turn away, while, joint by joint, he sank from sight.
LIFE AND LORNA COME AGAIN
When the little boy came back with the bluebells, which he had managed to find—as children always do find flowers, when older eyes see none—the only sign of his father left was a dark brown bubble, upon a newly formed patch of blackness. But to the center of its pulpy gorge the greedy slough was heaving, and sullenly grinding its weltering jaws among the flags and the sedges.
With pain, and ache, both of mind and body, and shame at my own fury, I heavily mounted my horse again, and, looked down at the innocent Ensie. Would this playful, loving child grow up like his cruel father, and end a godless life of hatred with a death of violence? He lifted his noble forehead towards me, as if to answer, "Nay, I will not": but the words he spoke were these:—
'Don,'—for he could never say 'John'—'oh, Don, I am so glad that nasty naughty man is gone away. Take me home, Don. Take me home.'
It has been said of the wicked, 'not even their own children love them.' And I could easily believe that Carver Doone's cold-hearted ways had scared from him even his favorite child. No man would I call truly wicked, unless his heart be cold.
It hurt me, more than I can tell, even through all other grief, to take into my arms the child of the man just slain by me. The feeling was a foolish one, and a wrong one, as the thing has been—for I would fain have saved that man, after he was conquered—nevertheless my arms went coldly round that little fellow; neither would they have gone at all, if there had been any help for it. But I could not leave him there, till some one else might fetch him; on account of the cruel slough, and the ravens which had come hovering over the dead horse; neither could I, with my wound, tie him on my horse and walk.
For now I had spent a great deal of blood, and was rather faint and weary. And it was lucky for me that Kickums had lost spirit, like his master, and went home as mildly as a lamb. For, when we came towards the farm, I seemed to be riding in a dream almost; and the voices both of man and women (who had hurried forth upon my track), as they met me, seemed to wander from a distant muffling cloud. Only the thought of Lorna's death, like a heavy knell, was tolling in the belfry of my brain.
When we came to the stable door, I rather fell from my horse than got off; and John Fry, with a look of wonder took Kickum's head, and led him in. Into the old farmhouse I tottered, like a weanling child, with mother in her common clothes, helping me along, yet fearing, except by stealth, to look at me.
'I have killed him,' was all I said; 'even as he killed Lorna. Now let me see my wife, mother. She belongs to me none the less, though dead.'
'You cannot see her now, dear John,' said Ruth Huckaback, coming forward; since no one else had the courage. 'Annie is with her now, John.'
'What has that to do with it? Let me see my dead one; and pray myself to die.'
All the women fell away, and whispered, and looked at me, with side glances, and some sobbing; for my face was hard as flint. Ruth alone stood by me, and dropped her eyes, and trembled. Then one little hand of hers stole into my great shaking palm, and the other was laid on my tattered coat: yet with her clothes she shunned my blood, while she whispered gently,—
'John, she is not your dead one. She may even be your living one yet, your wife, your home, and your happiness. But you must not see her now.'
'Is there any chance for her? For me, I mean; for me, I mean?'
'God in heaven knows, dear John. But the sight of you, and in this sad plight, would be certain death to her. Now come first, and be healed yourself.'
I obeyed her, like a child, whispering only as I went, for none but myself knew her goodness—'Almighty God will bless you, darling, for the good you are doing now.'
Tenfold, ay and a thousandfold, I prayed and I believed it, when I came to know the truth. If it had not been for this little maid, Lorna must have died at once, as in my arms she lay for dead, from the dastard and murderous cruelty. But the moment I left her Ruth came forward and took the command of every one, in right of her firmness and readiness.
She made them bear her home at once upon the door of the pulpit, with the cushion under the drooping head. With her own little hands she cut off, as tenderly as a pear is peeled, the bridal-dress, so steeped and stained, and then with her dainty transparent fingers (no larger than a pencil) she probed the vile wound in the side, and fetched the reeking bullet forth; and then with the coldest water stanched the flowing of the life-blood. All this while my darling lay insensible, and white as death; and needed nothing but her maiden shroud.
But Ruth still sponged the poor side and forehead, and watched the long eyelashes flat upon the marble cheek; and laid her pure face on the faint heart, and bade them fetch her Spanish wine. Then she parted the pearly teeth (feebly clenched on the hovering breath), and poured in wine from a christening spoon, and raised the graceful neck and breast, and stroked the delicate throat, and waited; and then poured in a little more.
Annie all the while looked on with horror and amazement, counting herself no second-rate nurse, and this as against all theory. But the quiet lifting of Ruth's hand, and one glance from her dark bright eyes, told Annie just to stand away, and not intercept the air so. And at the very moment when all the rest had settled that Ruth was a simple idiot, but could not harm the dead much, a little flutter in the throat, followed by a short low sigh, made them pause, and look and hope.
For hours, however, and days, she lay at the very verge of death, kept alive by nothing but the care, the skill, the tenderness, and the perpetual watchfulness of Ruth. Luckily Annie was not there very often, so as to meddle; for kind and clever nurse as she was, she must have done more harm than good. But my broken rib, which was set by a doctor, who chanced to be at the wedding, was allotted to Annie's care; and great inflammation ensuing, it was quite enough to content her. This doctor had pronounced poor Lorna dead; wherefore Ruth refused most firmly to have aught to do with him. She took the whole case on herself; and with God's help she bore it through.
Now whether it were the light and brightness of my Lorna's nature; or the freedom from anxiety—for she knew not of my hurt;—or, as some people said, her birthright among wounds and violence, or her manner of not drinking beer—I leave that doctor to determine who pronounced her dead. But anyhow, one thing is certain; sure as stars of hope above us; Lorna recovered, long ere I did.
For the grief was on me still of having lost my love and lover at the moment she was mine. With the power of fate upon me, and the black cauldron of the wizard's death boiling in my heated brain, I had no faith in the tales they told. I believed that Lorna was in the churchyard, while these rogues were lying to me. For with strength of blood like mine, and power of heart behind it, a broken bone must burn itself.
Mine went hard with fires of pain, being of such size and thickness; and I was ashamed of him for breaking by reason of a pistol-ball, and the mere hug of a man. And it fetched me down in conceit of strength; so that I was careful afterwards.
All this was a lesson to me. All this made me very humble; illness being a thing, as yet, altogether unknown to me. Not that I cried small, or skulked, or feared the death which some foretold; shaking their heads about mortification, and a green appearance. Only that I seemed quite fit to go to heaven, and Lorna. For in my sick distracted mind (stirred with many tossings), like the bead in the spread of frog-spawn carried by the current, hung the black and central essence of my future life. A life without Lorna; a tadpole life. All stupid head; and no body.
Many men may like such life; anchorites, fakirs, high-priests, and so on; but to my mind, it is not the native thing God meant for us. My dearest mother was a show, with crying and with fretting. The Doones, as she thought, were born to destroy us. Scarce had she come to some liveliness (though sprinkled with tears, every now and then) after her great bereavement, and ten years' time to dwell on it—when lo, here was her husband's son, the pet child of her own good John, murdered like his father! Well, the ways of God were wonderful!
So they were, and so they are; and so they ever will be. Let us debate them as we will, are ways are His, and much the same; only second-hand from Him. And I expected something from Him, even in my worst of times, knowing that I had done my best.
This is not edifying talk—as our Nonconformist parson says, when he can get no more to drink—therefore let me only tell what became of Lorna. One day, I was sitting in my bedroom, for I could not get downstairs, and there was no one strong enough to carry me, even if I would have allowed it.
Though it cost me sore trouble and weariness, I had put on all my Sunday clothes, out of respect for the doctor, who was coming to bleed me again (as he always did twice a week); and it struck me that he had seemed hurt in his mind, because I wore my worst clothes to be bled in—for lie in bed I would not, after six o'clock; and even that was great laziness.
I looked at my right hand, whose grasp had been like that of a blacksmith's vice; and it seemed to myself impossible that this could be John Ridd's. The great frame of the hand was there, as well as the muscles, standing forth like the guttering of a candle, and the broad blue veins, going up the back, and crossing every finger. But as for colour, even Lorna's could scarcely have been whiter; and as for strength, little Ensie Doone might have come and held it fast. I laughed as I tried in vain to lift the basin set for bleeding me.
Then I thought of all the lovely things going on out-of-doors just now, concerning which the drowsy song of the bees came to me. These must be among the thyme, by the sound of their great content. Therefore the roses must be in blossom, and the woodbine, and clove-gilly-flower; the cherries on the wall must be turning red, the yellow Sally must be on the brook, wheat must be callow with quavering bloom, and the early meadows swathed with hay.
Yet here was I, a helpless creature quite unfit to stir among them, gifted with no sight, no scent of all the changes that move our love, and lead our hearts, from month to month, along the quiet path of life. And what was worse, I had no hope of caring ever for them more.
Presently a little knock sounded through my gloomy room, and supposing it to be the doctor, I tried to rise and make my bow. But to my surprise it was little Ruth, who had never once come to visit me, since I was placed under the doctor's hands. Ruth was dressed so gaily, with rosettes, and flowers, and what not, that I was sorry for her bad manners; and thought she was come to conquer me, now that Lorna was done with.
Ruth ran towards me with sparkling eyes, being rather short of sight; then suddenly she stopped, and I saw entire amazement in her face.
'Can you receive visitors, Cousin Ridd?—why, they never told me of this!' she cried: 'I knew that you were weak, dear John; but not that you were dying. Whatever is that basin for?'
'I have no intention of dying, Ruth; and I like not to talk about it. But that basin, if you must know, is for the doctor's purpose.'
'What, do you mean bleeding you? You poor weak cousin! Is it possible that he does that still?'
'Twice a week for the last six weeks, dear. Nothing else has kept me alive.'
'Nothing else has killed you, nearly. There!' and she set her little boot across the basin, and crushed it. 'Not another drop shall they have from you. Is Annie such a fool as that? And Lizzie, like a zany, at her books! And killing her brother, between them!'
I was surprised to see Ruth excited; her character being so calm and quiet. And I tried to soothe her with my feeble hand, as now she knelt before me.
'Dear cousin, the doctor must know best. Annie says so, every day. What has he been brought up for?'
'Brought up for slaying and murdering. Twenty doctors killed King Charles, in spite of all the women. Will you leave it to me, John? I have a little will of my own; and I am not afraid of doctors. Will you leave it to me, dear John? I have saved your Lorna's life. And now I will save yours; which is a far, far easier business.'
'You have saved my Lorna's life! What do you mean by talking so?'
'Only what I say, Cousin John. Though perhaps I overprize my work. But at any rate she says so.'
'I do not understand,' I said, falling back with bewilderment; 'all women are such liars.'
'Have you ever known me tell a lie?' Ruth in great indignation—more feigned, I doubt, than real—'your mother may tell a story, now and then when she feels it right; and so may both your sisters. But so you cannot do, John Ridd; and no more than you can I do it.'
If ever there was virtuous truth in the eyes of any woman, it was now in Ruth Huckaback's: and my brain began very slowly to move, the heart being almost torpid from perpetual loss of blood.
'I do not understand,' was all I could say for a very long time.
'Will you understand, if I show you Lorna? I have feared to do it, for the sake of you both. But now Lorna is well enough, if you think that you are, Cousin John. Surely you will understand, when you see your wife.'
Following her, to the very utmost of my mind and heart, I felt that all she said was truth; and yet I could not make it out. And in her last few words there was such a power of sadness rising through the cover of gaiety, that I said to myself, half in a dream, 'Ruth is very beautiful.'
Before I had time to listen much for the approach of footsteps, Ruth came back, and behind her Lorna; coy as if of her bridegroom; and hanging back with her beauty. Ruth banged the door, and ran away; and Lorna stood before me.
But she did not stand for an instant, when she saw what I was like. At the risk of all thick bandages, and upsetting a dozen medicine bottles, and scattering leeches right and left, she managed to get into my arms, although they could not hold her. She laid her panting warm young breast on the place where they meant to bleed me, and she set my pale face up; and she would not look at me, having greater faith in kissing.
I felt my life come back, and warm; I felt my trust in women flow; I felt the joys of living now, and the power of doing it. It is not a moment to describe; who feels can never tell of it. But the rush of Lorna's tears, and the challenge of my bride's lips, and the throbbing of my wife's heart (now at last at home on mine), made me feel that the world was good, and not a thing to be weary of.
Little more have I to tell. The doctor was turned out at once; and slowly came back my former strength, with a darling wife, and good victuals. As for Lorna, she never tired of sitting and watching me eat and eat. And such is her heart that she never tires of being with me here and there, among the beautiful places, and talking with her arm around me—so far at least as it can go, though half of mine may go round her—of the many fears and troubles, dangers and discouragements, and worst of all the bitter partings, which we used to have, somehow.
There is no need for my farming harder than becomes a man of weight. Lorna has great stores of money, though we never draw it out, except for some poor neighbor; unless I find her a sumptuous dress, out of her own perquisites. And this she always looks upon as a wondrous gift from me; and kisses me much when she puts it on, and walks like the noble woman she is. And yet I may never behold it again; for she gets back to her simple clothes, and I love her the better in them. I believe that she gives half the grandeur away, and keeps the other half for the children.
As for poor Tom Faggus, every one knows his bitter adventures, when his pardon was recalled, because of his journey to Sedgemoor. Not a child in the country, I doubt, but knows far more than I do of Tom's most desperate doings. The law had ruined him once, he said; and then he had been too much for the law: and now that a quiet life was his object, here the base thing came after him. And such was his dread of this evil spirit, that being caught upon Barnstaple Bridge, with soldiers at either end of it (yet doubtful about approaching him), he set his strawberry mare, sweet Winnie, at the left-hand parapet, with a whisper into her dove-coloured ear. Without a moment's doubt she leaped it, into the foaming tide, and swam, and landed according to orders. Also his flight from a public-house (where a trap was set for him, but Winnie came and broke down the door, and put two men under, and trod on them,) is as well known as any ballad. It was reported for awhile that poor Tom had been caught at last, by means of his fondness for liquor, and was hanged before Taunton Jail; but luckily we knew better. With a good wife, and a wonderful horse, and all the country attached to him, he kept the law at a wholesome distance, until it became too much for its master; and a new king arose. Upon this, Tom sued his pardon afresh; and Jeremy Stickles, who suited the times, was glad to help him in getting it, as well as a compensation. Thereafter the good and respectable Tom lived a godly (though not always sober) life; and brought up his children to honesty, as the first of all qualifications.
My dear mother was as happy as possibly need be with us; having no cause for jealousy, as others arose around her. And everybody was well pleased, when Lizzy came in one day and tossed her bookshelf over, and declared that she would have Captain Bloxham, and nobody should prevent her. For that he alone, of all the men she had ever met with, knew good writing when he saw it, and could spell a word when told. As he had now succeeded to Captain Stickle's position (Stickles going up the tree), and had the power of collecting, and of keeping, what he liked, there was nothing to be said against it; and we hoped that he would pay her out.
I sent little Ensie to Blundell's school, at my own cost and charges, having changed his name, for fear of what anyone might do to him. I called him Ensie Jones; and we got him a commission, and after many scrapes of spirit, he did great things in the Low Countries. He looks upon me as his father; and without my leave will not lay claim to the heritage and title of the Doones, which clearly belong to him.
Ruth Huckaback is not married yet; although upon Uncle Reuben's death she came into all his property; except, indeed, 2000 pounds, which Uncle Ben, in his driest manner, bequeathed 'to Sir John Ridd, the worshipful knight, for greasing of the testator's boots.' And he left almost a mint of money, not from the mine, but from the shop, and the good use of usury. For the mine had brought in just what it cost, when the vein of gold ended suddenly; leaving all concerned much older, and some, I fear, much poorer; but no one utterly ruined, as is the case with most of them. Ruth herself was his true mine, as upon death-bed he found. I know a man even worthy of her: and though she is not very young, he loves her, as I love Lorna. It is my firm conviction, that in the end he will win her; and I do not mean to dance again, except at dear Ruth's wedding; if the floor be strong enough.
Of Lorna, of my lifelong darling, of my more and more loved wife, I will not talk; for it is not seemly that a man should exalt his pride. Year by year her beauty grows, with the growth of goodness, kindness, and true happiness—above all with loving. For change, she makes a joke of this, and plays with it, and laughs at it; and then, when my slow nature marvels, back she comes to the earnest thing. And if I wish to pay her out for something very dreadful—as may happen once or twice, when we become too gladsome—I bring her to forgotten sadness, and to me for cure of it, by the two words 'Lorna Doone.'
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Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
© Exmoorian 1999- 2008