A Romance of Exmoor
by R. D. Blackmore
Copyright, 1889, by The Burrows Brothers Company
This work is called a "romance," because the incidents, characters, time, and scenery, are alike romantic. And in shaping this old tale, the Writer neither dares, nor desires, to claim for it the dignity or cumber it with the difficulty of an historic novel.
And yet he thinks that the outlines are filled in more carefully, and the situations (however simple) more warmly coloured and quickened, than a reader would expect to find in what is called a "legend."
And he knows that any son of Exmoor, chancing on this volume, cannot fail to bring to mind the nurse-tales of his childhood—the savage deeds of the outlaw Doones in the depth of Bagworthy Forest, the beauty of the hapless maid brought up in the midst of them, the plain John Ridd's Herculean power, and (memory's too congenial food) the exploits of Tom Faggus.
PREFACE TO THE SIXTH EDITION
Few things have surprised me more, and nothing has more pleased me, than the great success of this simple tale.
For truly it is a grand success to win the attention and kind regard, not of the general public only, but also of those who are at home with the scenery, people, life, and language, wherein a native cannot always satisfy the natives.
Therefore any son of Devon may imagine, and will not grudge, the Writer's delight at hearing from a recent visitor to the west that '"Lorna Doone,' to a Devonshire man, is as good as clotted cream, almost!"
Although not half so good as that, it has entered many a tranquil, happy, pure, and hospitable home, and the author, while deeply grateful for this genial reception, ascribes it partly to the fact that his story contains no word or thought disloyal to its birthright in the fairest county of England.
In putting this new and somewhat elaborate edition of "Lorna Doone" upon a market already supplied with various others, some of them excellent in quality, we ask the literary men and women of the country to give us their kind support for the reasons set forth herewith.
In the first place, it seems to us that of the countless thousands of books that have been written in all the various languages, and during the many ages since first man took to scribbling, no one has ever yet appeared which is the equal of this in its delicate and beautiful touches of both nature and human nature. We have had, in various ways, abundant proof that our feeling in this respect is not individual to ourselves, and we desire to thank heartily the many friends who have sent us their words and letters of encouragement, sympathy, and interest during the past year as they have by chance become aware of our plans.
While there were creditable editions already published, the fact that none existed just such as we ourselves wished for our own library was our primary incentive in undertaking this task. The labor upon which we entered was in short, one of love, and great as has been the expenditure of time, trouble, and money in the preparation of this book, we have faith to believe that there are a sufficient number of lovers of the peerless maiden, Lorna, to greet her appearance in this new dress with an enthusiasm that will in time repay us.
We earnestly hope that our judgment in the selection of artists, means, and materials has been, in the main, at least, wise, and that such, will be the verdict of book-lovers. Also, we hope that our lack of experience as publishers will disarm the critic, and that he will examine the book regarding only the excellences which he may find, and passing over its defects.
One special feature we wish particularly to call to the attention of all, and that is the beautiful map of the country we have introduced. This may be regarded by some as an innovation in a romance, but we hope that it will be found such a manifest convenience as to be its own sufficient excuse.
In this place it seems to be a duty, also, to call attention to the sympathizing and intelligent interest that has been so freely shown by the noble band of workers, artists, printers, engravers, etc., who have assisted us upon this work. To Mr. Henry Sandham, Mr. George Wharton Edwards, Mr. Harry Fenn, Mr. William Hamilton Gibson, Mr. W. H. Drake, Mr. Irving R. Wiles, Mr. George E. Graves, Mr. Charles Copeland, Mr. Harper Pennington, Mrs. Margaret MacDonald Pullman, Miss Harriet Thayer Durgin, Mr. A. V. S. Anthony, Mr. George T. Andrew, Goupil & Co. of Paris, Mr. Kurtz, The Wright Gravure Co., Mr. Fillebrown, Mr. William J. Dana, and our very able printers, Messrs. Fleming, Brewster & Alley-to them all we therefore extend our cordial acknowledgment of our indebtedness for their services. The fine map is the work of Messrs. Matthews, Northrup & Co.
The Burrows Brothers Co.
PREFACE BY MISS KATHARINE HILLARD
Author Of "The Doones Of Exmoor," In "Harper's Magazine," Vol. LXV. Page 835.
A novel that has stood the test of time so well as Mr. Blackmore's charming story of "Lorna Doone" scarcely needs a preface. Certainly no word of introduction is necessary to testify to its exquisite humor, its dramatic force, its under-current of poetic feeling, its fine touches of landscape-painting, and the novelty and interest of its subject. Since it first appeared in 1869 all these have become as household words, only, perhaps, all the admirers of "Lorna Doone" have not had the good fortune to wander through the romantic and picturesque region where the scene of the story is laid. To travel in North Devon, and over its border into Somerset ("the Summerland," as the old Northmen call it), is to be confronted with the scenes of the novel at every turn; for Mr. Blackmore has so successfully woven the legends of the whole countryside into his story that one grows to believe it a veritable history, and is as disappointed to find traces of the romancer's own hand here and there as to find the hills and valleys laid bare of the forests which adorned them in the time of the Doones.
It is a singular country, this Devonshire coast, made up as it is of a series of rocky headlands jutting far out into the sea, and holding between their stretching arms deep fertile wooded valleys called combes (pronounced coomes), watered by trout and salmon streams, and filled with an Italian profusion of vegetation, myrtles and fuchsias, growing in the open air, and the walls hidden with a luxuriant tapestry of ferns and ivies and blossoming vines. Even the roofs are covered with flowers; every cranny bears a blossom or a tuft of green. Then above, long stretches of barren heath (with a few twisted and wind-tortured trees), where the sheep pasture and the sky-lark sings, and in and out of the red-fronted cliffs the querulous sea-gulls flash in the sunshine, and make their plaintive moan. Near Lynton there is the famous Valley of Rocks, where the wise woman, Mother Melldrum, had her winter quarters under the Devil's Cheese-wring.
The irregular pile of rocks that goes by this name is wrongly called Cheese-ring (or scoop) in some editions of "Lorna Doone," instead of Cheese-wring or (press), which it somewhat resembles in shape. Southey began the fortune of Lynton as a watering-place, and wrote a glowing description of the village and the Valley of Rocks. Of the latter he says: "A palace of the pre-Adamite kings, a city of the Anakim must have appeared so shapeless and yet so like the ruins of what had been shaped after the waters of the flood subsided." Great bowlders, half hidden by the bracken, lie about in wildest confusion; the remains of what seem to be Druidic circles can be traced here and there, and it is hard to persuade one's self that the ragged towers and picturesque piles of rock are not the work of Cyclopean architects.
"Our home-folk always call it the 'Danes,' or the 'Denes,' which is no more, they tell me, than a hollow place, even as the word 'den' is," says John Ridd. "It is a pretty place," he adds, "though nothing to frighten any body, unless he hath lived in a gallipot." The valley is well protected from the wind, and "there is shelter and dry fern-bedding and folk to be seen in the distance from a bank whereon the sun shines." Here John Ridd came to consult the wise woman toward the end of March, while the weather was still cold and piercing. In the warm days of summer she lived "in a pleasant cave facing the cool side of the hill, far inland, near Hawkridge, and close over Tarr-steps—a wonderful crossing of Barle River, made (as every body knows) by Satan for a wager." But the antiquarians of to-day assert that the curious steps were made by the early British.
Not far beyond the Valley of Rocks are the grounds of Ley Abbey, a modern mansion, but occupying the site of Lev Manor, to whose owner, Baron de Whichehalse, John Ridd accompanies Master Huckaback in search of a warrant against the Doones. In fact, all the way from Barnstaple over the parapet of whose bridge Tom Faggus leaped his wonderful mare, every nook and corner of the countryside teems with legends of the Doones. From Lynton we drive over the border into Porlock, in Somerset that quaint little village where Coleridge wrote his "Kubla Khan," and where Lord Lovelace brought Ada Byron to his seat of Ashley Combe.
It was while riding home from Porlock market that John Ridd's father was murdered by the Doones, and from Porlock we drove in a pony-trap over the high moors to Malmsmead, in search of the ruined huts of the Doones.
Over the heights of Yarner Moor, and past Oare Ford (now bridged over), the road lay past the old church of Oare, where Lorna Doone and John Ridd were married, and then into the deep flowery lanes that are the glory of Devon and Somerset. Malmsmead proved to be a little cluster of heavily thatched cottages, nestled under overhanging trees, where stood an ancient signboard with "Badgworthy" on one of its arms, pointing the way we should go. This d on the old sign-board accounted for the local pronunciation of Badgery, as the river is always called.
At Malmsmead the road ends, and thence one must proceed on foot. Several deep and flowery lanes lead one at length to the river where a lonely stone cottage stands on its further brink. This is Clowd Farm, and here all paths cease. Two hundred years ago, in the time of the Doones, the narrow valley through which the Bagworthy now dances in the open sunshine was filled with trees; but now, with the exception of a withered and stunted old orchard and grove near the farm, there is not a tree to be seen, and the Bagworthy, a lonely but cheerful trout stream, rattles along in the broad sunshine through a deep valley, whose sides slope steeply upward.
After walking about three miles into the heart of the wilderness, another deep glen, shut in by the same sloping heather-covered hills, suddenly opens to the right. There are no cliffs, no overhanging trees, not even a bush, but all along the stream, "with its soft, dark babble," lie heaps and half-circles of stone nearly buried in the turf, and almost hidden by the tall ferns and foxgloves. And this is what we went out for to see! These are the ruins of the Doones' huts. There could not be anything more disappointing. Two hundred years have effectually destroyed all distinctive traits, and they might have been sheep-folds or pig-sties, or any other innocent agricultural erection for aught that we could tell. "Not a single house stood there but was the home of murder," says their historian. The suns and rains of two hundred and odd years have effectually washed out their blood-stains, and there is nothing left there but peace.
Some way beyond the ruins stands a small stone cottage of the most modern order. We found it to be the abode of a shepherd, away with his flock on the hills, but his wife, no shepherdess of the Dresden china order, but a hearty and substantial dame, gave us a cordial welcome. She was in a state of intense delight at our disappointment about the ruins, and discussed the situation in that soft Somersetshire accent that gives such breadth and jollity to the language. "E'll not vind it a beet loike ta buik," she said, with her cheery laugh. "Buik's weel mad' up; it houlds 'ee loike, and 'ee can't put it by, but there's nobbut three pairts o't truth. Hunnerds cooms up here to se't," she added, with a chuckle.
The fact is that the traditional and the ideal are as inextricably mixed in this charming story of "Lorna Doone" as the thousand varieties of seeds in the fairy tale which the princess was expected to sort out, and it would be almost as difficult to separate them. Perhaps the best way, after all, is—not to try.
I. ELEMENTS OF EDUCATION
II. AN IMPORTANT ITEM
III. THE WARPATH OF THE DOONES
IV. A VERY RASH VISIT
V. AN ILLEGAL SETTLEMENT
VI. NECESSARY PRACTICE
VII. HARD IT IS TO CLIMB
VIII. A BOY AND A GIRL
IX. THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME
X. A BRAVE RESCUE AND A ROUGH RIDE
XI. TOM DESERVES HIS SUPPER
XII. A MAN JUSTLY POPULAR
XIII. MASTER HUCKABACK COMES IN
XIV. A MOTION WHICH ENDS IN A MULL
XV. QUO WARRANTO?
XVI. LORNA GROWS FORMIDABLE
XVII. JOHN IS BEWITCHED
XVIII. WITCHERY LEADS TO WITCHCRAFT
XIX. ANOTHER DANGEROUS INTERVIEW
XX. LORNA BEGINS HER STORY
XXI. LORNA ENDS HER STORY
XXII. A LONG SPRING MONTH
XXIII. A ROYAL INVITATION
XXIV. A SAFE PASS FOR KING'S MESSENGER
XXV. A GREAT MAN ATTENDS TO BUSINESS
XXVI. JOHN IS DRAINED AND CAST ASIDE
XXVII. HOME AGAIN AT LAST
XXVIII. JOHN HAS HOPE OF LORNA
XXIX. REAPING LEADS TO REVELLING
XXX. ANNIE GETS THE BEST OF IT
XXXI. JOHN FRY'S ERRAND
XXXII. FEEDING OF THE PIGS
XXXIII. AN EARLY MORNING CALLING
XXXIV. TWO NEGATIVES MAKE AN AFFIRMATIVE
XXXV. RUTH IS NOT LIKE LORNA
XXXVI. JOHN RETURNS TO BUSINESS
XXXVII. A VERY DESPERATE VENTURE
XXXVIII. A GOOD TURN FOR JEREMY
XXXIX. A TROUBLED STATE AND A FOOLISH JOKE
XL. TWO FOOLS TOGETHER
XLI. COLD COMFORT
XLII. THE GREAT WINTER
XLIII. NOT TOO SOON
XLIV. BROUGHT HOME AT LAST
XLV. A CHANGE LONG NEEDED
XLVI. SQUIRE FAGGUS MAKES SOME LUCKY HITS
XLVII. JEREMY IN DANGER
XLVIII. EVERY MAN MUST DEFEND HIMSELF
XLIX. MAIDEN SENTINELS ARE BEST
L. A MERRY MEETING A SAD ONE
LI. A VISIT FROM THE COUNSELLOR
LII. THE WAY TO MAKE THE CREAM RISE
LIII. JEREMY FINDS OUT SOMETHING
LIV. MUTUAL DISCOMFITURE
LV. GETTING INTO CHANCERY
LVI. JOHN BECOMES TOO POPULAR
LVII. LORNA KNOWS HER NURSE
LVIII. MASTER HUCKABACK'S SECRET
LIX. LORNA GONE AWAY
LX. ANNIE LUCKIER THAN JOHN
LXI. THEREFORE HE SEEKS COMFORT
LXII. THE KING MUST NOT BE PRAYED FOR
LXIII. JOHN IS WORSTED BY THE WOMEN
LXIV. SLAUGHTER IN THE MARSHES
LXV. FALLING AMONG LAMBS
LXVI. SUITABLE DEVOTION
LXVII. LORNA STILL IS LORNA
LXVIII. JOHN IS JOHN NO LONGER
LXIX. NOT TO BE PUT UP WITH
LXX. COMPELLED TO VOLUNTEER
LXXI. A LONG ACCOUNT SETTLED
LXXII. THE COUNSELLOR AND THE CARVER
LXXIII. HOW TO GET OUT OF CHANCERY
LXXIV. BLOOD UPON THE ALTAR
LXXV. GIVE AWAY THE GRANDEUR
ELEMENTS OF EDUCATION
If anybody cares to read a simple tale told simply, I, John Ridd, of the parish of Oare, in the county of Somerset, yeoman and churchwarden, have seen and had a share in some doings of this neighborhood, which I will try to set down in order, God sparing my life and memory. And they who light upon this book should bear in mind not only that I write for the clearing of our parish from ill fame and calumny, but also a thing which will, I trow, appear too often in it, to wit—that I am nothing more than a plain unlettered man, not read in foreign languages, as a gentleman might be, nor gifted with long words (even in mine own tongue), save what I may have won from the Bible or Master William Shakespeare, whom, in the face of common opinion, I do value highly. In short, I am an ignoramus, but pretty well for a yeoman.
My father being of good substance, at least as we reckon in Exmoor, and seized in his own right, from many generations, of one, and that the best and largest, of the three farms into which our parish is divided (or rather the cultured part thereof), he John Ridd, the elder, churchwarden, and overseer, being a great admirer of learning, and well able to write his name, sent me his only son to be schooled at Tiverton, in the county of Devon. For the chief boast of that ancient town (next to its woollen staple) is a worthy grammar-school, the largest in the west of England, founded and handsomely endowed in the year 1604 by Master Peter Blundell, of that same place, clothier.
Here, by the time I was twelve years old, I had risen into the upper school, and could make bold with Eutropius and Caesar—by aid of an English version—and as much as six lines of Ovid. Some even said that I might, before manhood, rise almost to the third form, being of a persevering nature; albeit, by full consent of all (except my mother), thick-headed. But that would have been, as I now perceive, an ambition beyond a farmer's son; for there is but one form above it, and that made of masterful scholars, entitled rightly "monitors". So it came to pass, by the grace of God, that I was called away from learning, whilst sitting at the desk of the junior first in the upper school, and beginning the Greek verb
My eldest grandson makes bold to say that I never could have learned
ten pages further on, being all he himself could manage, with plenty of stripes to help him. I know that he hath more head than I—though never will he have such body; and am thankful to have stopped betimes, with a meek and wholesome head-piece.
But if you doubt of my having been there, because now I know so little, go and see my name, "John Ridd," graven on that very form. Forsooth, from the time I was strong enough to open a knife and to spell my name, I began to grave it in the oak, first of the block whereon I sate, and then of the desk in front of it, according as I was promoted from one to other of them: and there my grandson reads it now, at this present time of writing, and hath fought a boy for scoffing at it—"John Ridd his name"—and done again in "winkeys," a mischievous but cheerful device, in which we took great pleasure.
This is the manner of a "winkey," which I here set down, lest child of mine, or grandchild, dare to make one on my premises; if he does, I shall know the mark at once, and score it well upon him. The scholar obtains, by prayer or price, a handful of saltpetre, and then with the knife wherewith he should rather be trying to mend his pens, what does he do but scoop a hole where the desk is some three inches thick. This hole should be left with the middle exalted, and the circumference dug more deeply. Then let him fill it with saltpetre, all save a little space in the midst, where the boss of the wood is. Upon that boss (and it will be the better if a splinter of timber rise upward) he sticks the end of his candle of tallow, or "rat's tail," as we called it, kindled and burning smoothly. Anon, as he reads by that light his lesson, lifting his eyes now and then it may be, the fire of candle lays hold of the petre with a spluttering noise and a leaping. Then should the pupil seize his pen, and, regardless of the nib, stir bravely, and he will see a glow as of burning mountains, and a rich smoke, and sparks going merrily; nor will it cease, if he stir wisely, and there be a good store of petre, until the wood is devoured through, like the sinking of a well-shaft. Now well may it go with the head of a boy intent upon his primer, who betides to sit thereunder! But, above all things, have good care to exercise this art before the master strides up to his desk, in the early gray of the morning.
Other customs, no less worthy, abide in the school of Blundell, such as the singeing of nightcaps; but though they have a pleasant savour, and refreshing to think of, I may not stop to note them, unless it be that goodly one at the incoming of a flood. The school-house stands beside a stream, not very large, called Lowman, which flows into the broad river of Exe, about a mile below. This Lowman stream, although it be not fond of brawl and violence (in the manner of our Lynn), yet is wont to flood into a mighty head of waters when the storms of rain provoke it; and most of all when its little co-mate, called the Taunton Brook—where I have plucked the very best cresses that ever man put salt on—comes foaming down like a great roan horse, and rears at the leap of the hedgerows. Then are the gray stone walls of Blundell on every side encompassed, the vale is spread over with looping waters, and it is a hard thing for the day-boys to get home to their suppers.
And in that time, old Cop, the porter (so called because he hath copper boots to keep the wet from his stomach, and a nose of copper also, in right of other waters), his place is to stand at the gate, attending to the flood-boards grooved into one another, and so to watch the torrents rise, and not be washed away, if it please God he may help it. But long ere the flood hath attained this height, and while it is only waxing, certain boys of deputy will watch at the stoop of the drain-holes, and be apt to look outside the walls when Cop is taking a cordial. And in the very front of the gate, just without the archway, where the ground is paved most handsomely, you may see in copy-letters done a great P.B. of white pebbles. Now, it is the custom and the law that when the invading waters, either fluxing along the wall from below the road-bridge, or pouring sharply across the meadows from a cut called Owen's Ditch—and I myself have seen it come both ways—upon the very instant when the waxing element lips though it be but a single pebble of the founder's letters, it is in the license of any boy, soever small and undoctrined, to rush into the great school-rooms, where a score of masters sit heavily, and scream at the top of his voice, "P.B."
Then, with a yell, the boys leap up, or break away from their standing; they toss their caps to the black-beamed roof, and haply the very books after them; and the great boys vex no more the small ones, and the small boys stick up to the great ones. One with another, hard they go, to see the gain of the waters, and the tribulation of Cop, and are prone to kick the day-boys out, with words of scanty compliment. Then the masters look at one another, having no class to look to, and (boys being no more left to watch) in a manner they put their mouths up. With a spirited bang they close their books, and make invitation the one to the other for pipes and foreign cordials, recommending the chance of the time, and the comfort away from cold water.
But, lo! I am dwelling on little things and the pigeons' eggs of the infancy, forgetting the bitter and heavy life gone over me since then. If I am neither a hard man nor a very close one, God knows I have had no lack of rubbing and pounding to make stone of me. Yet can I not somehow believe that we ought to hate one another, to live far asunder, and block the mouth each of his little den; as do the wild beasts of the wood, and the hairy outrangs now brought over, each with a chain upon him. Let that matter be as it will. It is beyond me to unfold, and mayhap of my grandson's grandson. All I know is that wheat is better than when I began to sow it.
AN IMPORTANT ITEM
Now the cause of my leaving Tiverton school, and the way of it, were as follows. On the 29th day of November, in the year of our Lord 1673, the very day when I was twelve years old, and had spent all my substance in sweetmeats, with which I made treat to the little boys, till the large boys ran in and took them, we came out of school at five o'clock, as the rule is upon Tuesdays. According to custom we drove the day-boys in brave rout down the causeway from the school-porch even to the gate where Cop has his dwelling and duty. Little it recked us and helped them less, that they were our founder's citizens, and haply his own grand-nephews (for he left no direct descendants), neither did we much inquire what their lineage was. For it had long been fixed among us, who were of the house and chambers, that these same day-boys were all "caddes," as we had discovered to call it, because they paid no groat for their schooling, and brought their own commons with them. In consumption of these we would help them, for our fare in hall fed appetite; and while we ate their victuals, we allowed them freely to talk to us. Nevertheless, we could not feel, when all the victuals were gone, but that these boys required kicking from the premises of Blundell. And some of them were shopkeepers' sons, young grocers, fellmongers, and poulterers, and these to their credit seemed to know how righteous it was to kick them. But others were of high family, as any need be, in Devon—Carews, and Bouchiers, and Bastards, and some of these would turn sometimes, and strike the boy that kicked them. But to do them justice, even these knew that they must be kicked for not paying.
After these "charity-boys" were gone, as in contumely we called them—"If you break my bag on my head," said one, "how will feed thence to-morrow?"—and after old Cop with clang of iron had jammed the double gates in under the scruff-stone archway, whereupon are Latin verses, done in brass of small quality, some of us who were not hungry, and cared not for the supper-bell, having sucked much parliament and dumps at my only charges—not that I ever bore much wealth, but because I had been thrifting it for this time of my birth—we were leaning quite at dusk against the iron bars of the gate some six, or it may be seven of us, small boys all, and not conspicuous in the closing of the daylight and the fog that came at eventide, else Cop would have rated us up the green, for he was churly to little boys when his wife had taken their money. There was plenty of room for all of us, for the gate will hold nine boys close-packed, unless they be fed rankly, whereof is little danger; and now we were looking out on the road and wishing we could get there; hoping, moreover, to see a good string of pack-horses come by, with troopers to protect them. For the day-boys had brought us word that some intending their way to the town had lain that morning at Sampford Peveril, and must be in ere nightfall, because Mr. Faggus was after them. Now Mr. Faggus was my first cousin and an honour to the family, being a Northmolton man of great renown on the highway from Barum town even to London. Therefore of course, I hoped that he would catch the packmen, and the boys were asking my opinion as of an oracle, about it.
A certain boy leaning up against me would not allow my elbow room, and struck me very sadly in the stomach part, though his own was full of my parliament. And this I felt so unkindly, that I smote him straightway in the face without tarrying to consider it, or weighing the question duly. Upon this he put his head down, and presented it so vehemently at the middle of my waistcoat, that for a minute or more my breath seemed dropped, as it were, from my pockets, and my life seemed to stop from great want of ease. Before I came to myself again, it had been settled for us that we should move to the "Ironing-box," as the triangle of turf is called where the two causeways coming from the school-porch and the hall-porch meet, and our fights are mainly celebrated; only we must wait until the convoy of horses had passed, and then make a ring by candlelight, and the other boys would like it. But suddenly there came round the post where the letters of our founder are, not from the way of Taunton but from the side of Lowman bridge, a very small string of horses, only two indeed (counting for one the pony), and a red-faced man on the bigger nag.
"Plaise ye, worshipful masters," he said, being feared of the gateway, "carn 'e tull whur our Jan Ridd be?"
"Hyur a be, ees fai, Jan Ridd," answered a sharp little chap, making game of John Fry's language.
"Zhow un up, then," says John Fry poking his whip through the bars at us; "Zhow un up, and putt un aowt."
The other little chaps pointed at me, and some began to hallo; but I knew what I was about.
"Oh, John, John," I cried, "what's the use of your coming now, and Peggy over the moors, too, and it so cruel cold for her? The holidays don't begin till Wednesday fortnight, John. To think of your not knowing that!"
John Fry leaned forward in the saddle, and turned his eyes away from me; and then there was a noise in his throat like a snail crawling on a window-pane.
"Oh, us knaws that wull enough, Maister Jan; reckon every Oare-man knaw that, without go to skoo-ull, like you doth. Your moother have kept arl the apples up, and old Betty toorned the black puddens, and none dare set trap for a blagbird. Arl for thee, lad; every bit of it now for thee!"
He checked himself suddenly, and frightened me. I knew that John Fry's way so well.
"And father, and father—oh, how is father?" I pushed the boys right and left as I said it. "John, is father up in town! He always used to come for me, and leave nobody else to do it."
"Vayther'll be at the crooked post, tother zide o' telling-house.* Her coodn't lave 'ouze by raison of the Chirstmas bakkon comin' on, and zome o' the cider welted."
* The "telling-houses" on the moor are rude cots where the shepherds meet to "tell" their sheep at the end of the pasturing season.
He looked at the nag's ears as he said it; and, being up to John Fry's ways, I knew that it was a lie. And my heart fell like a lump of lead, and I leaned back on the stay of the gate, and longed no more to fight anybody. A sort of dull power hung over me, like the cloud of a brooding tempest, and I feared to be told anything. I did not even care to stroke the nose of my pony Peggy, although she pushed it in through the rails, where a square of broader lattice is, and sniffed at me, and began to crop gently after my fingers. But whatever lives or dies, business must be attended to; and the principal business of good Christians is, beyond all controversy, to fight with one another.
"Come up, Jack," said one of the boys, lifting me under the chin; "he hit you, and you hit him, you know."
"Pay your debts before you go," said a monitor, striding up to me, after hearing how the honour lay; "Ridd, you must go through with it."
"Fight, for the sake of the junior first," cried the little fellow in my ear, the clever one, the head of our class, who had mocked John Fry, and knew all about the aorists, and tried to make me know it; but I never went more than three places up, and then it was an accident, and I came down after dinner. The boys were urgent round me to fight, though my stomach was not up for it; and being very slow of wit (which is not chargeable on me), I looked from one to other of them, seeking any cure for it. Not that I was afraid of fighting, for now I had been three years at Blundell's, and foughten, all that time, a fight at least once every week, till the boys began to know me; only that the load on my heart was not sprightly as of the hay-field. It is a very sad thing to dwell on; but even now, in my time of wisdom, I doubt it is a fond thing to imagine, and a motherly to insist upon, that boys can do without fighting. Unless they be very good boys, and afraid of one another.
"Nay," I said, with my back against the wrought-iron stay of the gate, which was socketed into Cop's house-front: "I will not fight thee now, Robin Snell, but wait till I come back again."
"Take coward's blow, Jack Ridd, then," cried half a dozen little boys, shoving Bob Snell forward to do it; because they all knew well enough, having striven with me ere now, and proved me to be their master—they knew, I say, that without great change, I would never accept that contumely. But I took little heed of them, looking in dull wonderment at John Fry, and Smiler, and the blunderbuss, and Peggy. John Fry was scratching his head, I could see, and getting blue in the face, by the light from Cop's parlour-window, and going to and fro upon Smiler, as if he were hard set with it. And all the time he was looking briskly from my eyes to the fist I was clenching, and methought he tried to wink at me in a covert manner; and then Peggy whisked her tail.
"Shall I fight, John?" I said at last; "I would an you had not come, John."
"Chraist's will be done; I zim thee had better faight, Jan," he answered, in a whisper, through the gridiron of the gate; "there be a dale of faighting avore thee. Best wai to begin gude taime laike. Wull the geatman latt me in, to zee as thee hast vair plai, lad?"
He looked doubtfully down at the colour of his cowskin boots, and the mire upon the horses, for the sloughs were exceedingly mucky. Peggy, indeed, my sorrel pony, being lighter of weight, was not crusted much over the shoulders; but Smiler (our youngest sledder) had been well in over his withers, and none would have deemed him a piebald, save of red mire and black mire. The great blunderbuss, moreover, was choked with a dollop of slough-cake; and John Fry's sad-coloured Sunday hat was indued with a plume of marish-weed. All this I saw while he was dismounting, heavily and wearily, lifting his leg from the saddle-cloth as if with a sore crick in his back.
By this time the question of fighting was gone quite out of our discretion; for sundry of the elder boys, grave and reverend signors, who had taken no small pleasure in teaching our hands to fight, to ward, to parry, to feign and counter, to lunge in the manner of sword-play, and the weaker child to drop on one knee when no cunning of fence might baffle the onset—these great masters of the art, who would far liefer see us little ones practise it than themselves engage, six or seven of them came running down the rounded causeway, having heard that there had arisen "a snug little mill" at the gate. Now whether that word hath origin in a Greek term meaning a conflict, as the best-read boys asseverated, or whether it is nothing more than a figure of similitude, from the beating arms of a mill, such as I have seen in counties where are no waterbrooks, but folk make bread with wind—it is not for a man devoid of scholarship to determine. Enough that they who made the ring intituled the scene a "mill," while we who must be thumped inside it tried to rejoice in their pleasantry, till it turned upon the stomach.
Moreover, I felt upon me now a certain responsibility, a dutiful need to maintain, in the presence of John Fry, the manliness of the Ridd family, and the honour of Exmoor. Hitherto none had worsted me, although in the three years of my schooling, I had fought more than threescore battles, and bedewed with blood every plant of grass towards the middle of the Ironing-box. And this success I owed at first to no skill of my own; until I came to know better; for up to twenty or thirty fights, I struck as nature guided me, no wiser than a father-long-legs in the heat of a lanthorn; but I had conquered, partly through my native strength, and the Exmoor toughness in me, and still more that I could not see when I had gotten my bellyful. But now I was like to have that and more; for my heart was down, to begin with; and then Robert Snell was a bigger boy than I had ever encountered, and as thick in the skull and hard in the brain as even I could claim to be.
I had never told my mother a word about these frequent strivings, because she was soft-hearted; neither had I told by father, because he had not seen it. Therefore, beholding me still an innocent-looking child, with fair curls on my forehead, and no store of bad language, John Fry thought this was the very first fight that ever had befallen me; and so when they let him at the gate, "with a message to the headmaster," as one of the monitors told Cop, and Peggy and Smiler were tied to the railings, till I should be through my business, John comes up to me with the tears in his eyes, and says, "Doon't thee goo for to do it, Jan; doon't thee do it, for gude now." But I told him that now it was much too late to cry off; so he said, "The Lord be with thee, Jan, and turn thy thumb-knuckle inwards."
It was not a very large piece of ground in the angle of the causeways, but quite big enough to fight upon, especially for Christians, who loved to be cheek by jowl at it. The great boys stood in a circle around, being gifted with strong privilege, and the little boys had leave to lie flat and look through the legs of the great boys. But while we were yet preparing, and the candles hissed in the fog-cloud, old Phoebe, of more than fourscore years, whose room was over the hall-porch, came hobbling out, as she always did, to mar the joy of the conflict. No one ever heeded her, neither did she expect it; but the evil was that two senior boys must always lose the first round of the fight, by having to lead her home again.
I marvel how Robin Snell felt. Very likely he thought nothing of it, always having been a boy of a hectoring and unruly sort. But I felt my heart go up and down as the boys came round to strip me; and greatly fearing to be beaten, I blew hot upon my knuckles. Then pulled I off my little cut jerkin, and laid it down on my head cap, and over that my waistcoat, and a boy was proud to take care of them. Thomas Hooper was his name, and I remember how he looked at me. My mother had made that little cut jerkin, in the quiet winter evenings. And taken pride to loop it up in a fashionable way, and I was loth to soil it with blood, and good filberds were in the pocket. Then up to me came Robin Snell (mayor of Exeter thrice since that), and he stood very square, and looking at me, and I lacked not long to look at him. Round his waist he had a kerchief busking up his small-clothes, and on his feet light pumpkin shoes, and all his upper raiment off. And he danced about in a way that made my head swim on my shoulders, and he stood some inches over me. But I, being muddled with much doubt about John Fry and his errand, was only stripped of my jerkin and waistcoat, and not comfortable to begin.
"Come now, shake hands," cried a big boy, jumping in joy of the spectacle, a third-former nearly six feet high; "shake hands, you little devils. Keep your pluck up, and show good sport, and Lord love the better man of you."
Robin took me by the hand, and gazed at me disdainfully, and then smote me painfully in the face, ere I could get my fence up.
"Whutt be 'bout, lad?" cried John Fry; "hutt un again, Jan, wull 'e? Well done then, our Jan boy."
For I had replied to Robin now, with all the weight and cadence of penthemimeral caesura (a thing, the name of which I know, but could never make head nor tail of it), and the strife began in a serious style, and the boys looking on were not cheated. Although I could not collect their shouts when the blows were ringing upon me, it was no great loss; for John Fry told me afterwards that their oaths went up like a furnace fire. But to these we paid no heed or hap, being in the thick of swinging, and devoid of judgment. All I know is, I came to my corner, when the round was over, with very hard pumps in my chest, and a great desire to fall away.
"Time is up," cried head-monitor, ere ever I got my breath again; and when I fain would have lingered awhile on the knee of the boy that held me. John Fry had come up, and the boys were laughing because he wanted a stable lanthorn, and threatened to tell my mother.
"Time is up," cried another boy, more headlong than head-monitor. "If we count three before the come of thee, thwacked thou art, and must go to the women." I felt it hard upon me. He began to count, one, too, three—but before the "three" was out of his mouth, I was facing my foe, with both hands up, and my breath going rough and hot, and resolved to wait the turn of it. For I had found seat on the knee of a boy sage and skilled to tutor me, who knew how much the end very often differs from the beginning. A rare ripe scholar he was; and now he hath routed up the Germans in the matter of criticism. Sure the clever boys and men have most love towards the stupid ones.
"Finish him off, Bob," cried a big boy, and that I noticed especially, because I thought it unkind of him, after eating of my toffee as he had that afternoon; "finish him off, neck and crop; he deserves it for sticking up to a man like you."
But I was not so to be finished off, though feeling in my knuckles now as if it were a blueness and a sense of chilblain. Nothing held except my legs, and they were good to help me. So this bout, or round, if you please, was foughten warily by me, with gentle recollection of what my tutor, the clever boy, had told me, and some resolve to earn his praise before I came back to his knee again. And never, I think, in all my life, sounded sweeter words in my ears (except when my love loved me) than when my second and backer, who had made himself part of my doings now, and would have wept to see me beaten, said,—
"Famously done, Jack, famously! Only keep your wind up, Jack, and you'll go right through him!"
Meanwhile John Fry was prowling about, asking the boys what they thought of it, and whether I was like to be killed, because of my mother's trouble. But finding now that I had foughten three-score fights already, he came up to me woefully, in the quickness of my breathing, while I sat on the knee of my second, with a piece of spongious coralline to ease me of my bloodshed, and he says in my ears, as if he was clapping spurs into a horse,—
"Never thee knack under, Jan, or never coom naigh Hexmoor no more."
With that it was all up with me. A simmering buzzed in my heavy brain, and a light came through my eyeplaces. At once I set both fists again, and my heart stuck to me like cobbler's wax. Either Robin Snell should kill me, or I would conquer Robin Snell. So I went in again with my courage up, and Bob came smiling for victory, and I hated him for smiling. He let at me with his left hand, and I gave him my right between his eyes, and he blinked, and was not pleased with it. I feared him not, and spared him not, neither spared myself. My breath came again, and my heart stood cool, and my eyes struck fire no longer. Only I knew that I would die sooner than shame my birthplace. How the rest of it was I know not; only that I had the end of it, and helped to put Robin in bed.
THE WAR-PATH OF THE DOONES
From Tiverton town to the town of Oare is a very long and painful road, and in good truth the traveller must make his way, as the saying is; for the way is still unmade, at least, on this side of Dulverton, although there is less danger now than in the time of my schooling; for now a good horse may go there without much cost of leaping, but when I was a boy the spurs would fail, when needed most, by reason of the slough-cake. It is to the credit of this age, and our advance upon fatherly ways, that now we have laid down rods and fagots, and even stump-oaks here and there, so that a man in good daylight need not sink, if he be quite sober. There is nothing I have striven at more than doing my duty, way-warden over Exmoor.
But in those days, when I came from school (and good times they were, too, full of a warmth and fine hearth-comfort, which now are dying out), it was a sad and sorry business to find where lay the highway. We are taking now to mark it off with a fence on either side, at least, when a town is handy; but to me his seems of a high pretence, and a sort of landmark, and channel for robbers, though well enough near London, where they have earned a race-course.
We left the town of the two fords, which they say is the meaning of it, very early in the morning, after lying one day to rest, as was demanded by the nags, sore of foot and foundered. For my part, too, I was glad to rest, having aches all over me, and very heavy bruises; and we lodged at the sign of the White Horse Inn, in the street called Gold Street, opposite where the souls are of John and Joan Greenway, set up in gold letters, because we must take the homeward way at cockcrow of the morning. Though still John Fry was dry with me of the reason of his coming, and only told lies about father, and could not keep them agreeable, I hoped for the best, as all boys will, especially after a victory. And I thought, perhaps father had sent for me because he had a good harvest, and the rats were bad in the corn-chamber.
It was high noon before we were got to Dulverton that day, near to which town the river Exe and its big brother Barle have union. My mother had an uncle living there, but we were not to visit his house this time, at which I was somewhat astonished, since we needs must stop for at least two hours, to bait our horses thorough well, before coming to the black bogway. The bogs are very good in frost, except where the hot-springs rise; but as yet there had been no frost this year, save just enough to make the blackbirds look big in the morning. In a hearty black-frost they look small, until the snow falls over them.
The road from Bampton to Dulverton had not been very delicate, yet nothing to complain of much—no deeper, indeed, than the hocks of a horse, except in the rotten places. The day was inclined to be mild and foggy, and both nags sweated freely; but Peggy carrying little weight (for my wardrobe was upon Smiler, and John Fry grumbling always), we could easily keep in front, as far as you may hear a laugh.
John had been rather bitter with me, which methought was a mark of ill taste at coming home for the holidays; and yet I made allowance for John, because he had never been at school, and never would have chance to eat fry upon condition of spelling it; therefore I rode on, thinking that he was hard-set, like a saw, for his dinner, and would soften after tooth-work. And yet at his most hungry times, when his mind was far gone upon bacon, certes he seemed to check himself and look at me as if he were sorry for little things coming over great.
But now, at Dulverton, we dined upon the rarest and choicest victuals that ever I did taste. Even now, at my time of life, to think of it gives me appetite, as once and awhile to think of my first love makes me love all goodness. Hot mutton pasty was a thing I had often heard of from very wealthy boys and men, who made a dessert of dinner; and to hear them talk of it made my lips smack, and my ribs come inwards.
And now John Fry strode into the hostel, with the air and grace of a short-legged man, and shouted as loud as if he was calling sheep upon Exmoor,—
"Hot mooton pasty for twoo trarv'lers, at number vaive, in vaive minnits! Dish un up in the tin with the grahvy, zame as I hardered last Tuesday."
Of course it did not come in five minutes, nor yet in ten or twenty; but that made it all the better when it came to the real presence; and the smell of it was enough to make an empty man thank God for the room there was inside him. Fifty years have passed me quicker than the taste of that gravy.
It is the manner of all good boys to be careless of apparel, and take no pride in adornment. Good lack, if I see a boy make to do about the fit of his crumpler, and the creasing of his breeches, and desire to be shod for comeliness rather than for use, I cannot 'scape the mark that God took thought to make a girl of him. Not so when they grow older, and court the regard of the maidens; then may the bravery pass from the inside to the outside of them; and no bigger fools are they, even then, than their fathers were before them. But God forbid any man to be a fool to love, and be loved, as I have been. Else would he have prevented it.
When the mutton pasty was done, and Peggy and Smiler had dined well also, out I went to wash at the pump, being a lover of soap and water, at all risk, except of my dinner. And John Fry, who cared very little to wash, save Sabbath days in his own soap, and who had kept me from the pump by threatening loss of the dish, out he came in a satisfied manner, with a piece of quill in his hand, to lean against a door-post, and listen to the horses feeding, and have his teeth ready for supper.
Then a lady's-maid came out, and the sun was on her face, and she turned round to go back again; but put a better face upon it, and gave a trip and hitched her dress, and looked at the sun full body, lest the hostlers should laugh that she was losing her complexion. With a long Italian glass in her fingers very daintily, she came up to the pump in the middle of the yard, where I was running the water off all my head and shoulders, and arms, and some of my breast even, and though I had glimpsed her through the sprinkle, it gave me quite a turn to see her, child as I was, in my open aspect. But she looked at me, no whit abashed, making a baby of me, no doubt, as a woman of thirty will do, even with a very big boy when they catch him on a hayrick, and she said to me in a brazen manner, as if I had been nobody, while I was shrinking behind the pump, and craving to get my shirt on, "Good leetle boy, come hither to me. Fine heaven! how blue your eyes are, and your skin like snow; but some naughty man has beaten it black. Oh, leetle boy, let me feel it. Ah, how then it must have hurt you! There now, and you shall love me."
All this time she was touching my breast, here and there, very lightly, with her delicate brown fingers, and I understood from her voice and manner that she was not of this country, but a foreigner by extraction. And then I was not so shy of her, because I could talk better English than she; and yet I longed for my jerkin, but liked not to be rude to her.
"If you please, madam, I must go. John Fry is waiting by the tapster's door, and Peggy neighing to me. If you please, we must get home to-night; and father will be waiting for me this side of the telling-house."
"There, there, you shall go, leetle dear, and perhaps I will go after you. I have taken much love of you. But the baroness is hard to me. How far you call it now to the bank of the sea at Wash—Wash—"
"At Watchett, likely you mean, madam. Oh, a very long way, and the roads as soft as the road to Oare."
"Oh-ah, oh-ah—I shall remember; that is the place where my leetle boy live, and some day I will come seek for him. Now make the pump to flow, my dear, and give me the good water. The baroness will not touch unless a nebule be formed outside the glass."
I did not know what she meant by that; yet I pumped for her very heartily, and marvelled to see her for fifty times throw the water away in the trough, as if it was not good enough. At last the water suited her, with a likeness of fog outside the glass, and the gleam of a crystal under it, and then she made a curtsey to me, in a sort of mocking manner, holding the long glass by the foot, not to take the cloud off; and then she wanted to kiss me; but I was out of breath, and have always been shy of that work, except when I come to offer it; and so I ducked under the pump-handle, and she knocked her chin on the knob of it; and the hostlers came out, and asked whether they would do as well.
Upon this, she retreated up the yard, with a certain dark dignity, and a foreign way of walking, which stopped them at once from going farther, because it was so different from the fashion of their sweethearts. One with another they hung back, where half a cart-load of hay was, and they looked to be sure that she would not turn round; and then each one laughed at the rest of them.
Now, up to the end of Dulverton town, on the northward side of it, where the two new pig-sties be, the Oare folk and the Watchett folk must trudge on together, until we come to a broken cross, where a murdered man lies buried. Peggy and Smiler went up the hill, as if nothing could be too much for them, after the beans they had eaten, and suddenly turning a corner of trees, we happened upon a great coach and six horses labouring very heavily. John Fry rode on with his hat in his hand, as became him towards the quality; but I was amazed to that degree, that I left my cap on my head, and drew bridle without knowing it.
For in the front seat of the coach, which was half-way open, being of the city-make, and the day in want of air, sate the foreign lady, who had met me at the pump and offered to salute me. By her side was a little girl, dark-haired and very wonderful, with a wealthy softness on her, as if she must have her own way. I could not look at her for two glances, and she did not look at me for one, being such a little child, and busy with the hedges. But in the honourable place sate a handsome lady, very warmly dressed, and sweetly delicate of colour. And close to her was a lively child, two or it may be three years old, bearing a white cockade in his hat, and staring at all and everybody. Now, he saw Peggy, and took such a liking to her, that the lady his mother—if so she were—was forced to look at my pony and me. And, to tell the truth, although I am not of those who adore the high folk, she looked at us very kindly, and with a sweetness rarely found in the women who milk the cows for us.
Then I took off my cap to the beautiful lady, without asking wherefore; and she put up her hand and kissed it to me, thinking, perhaps, that I looked like a gentle and good little boy; for folk always called me innocent, though God knows I never was that. But now the foreign lady, or lady's maid, as it might be, who had been busy with little dark eyes, turned upon all this going-on, and looked me straight in the face. I was about to salute her, at a distance, indeed, and not with the nicety she had offered to me, but, strange to say, she stared at my eyes as if she had never seen me before, neither wished to see me again. At this I was so startled, such things beings out of my knowledge, that I startled Peggy also with the muscle of my legs, and she being fresh from stable, and the mire scraped off with cask-hoop, broke away so suddenly that I could do no more than turn round and lower my cap, now five months old, to the beautiful lady. Soon I overtook John Fry, and asked him all about them, and how it was that we had missed their starting from the hostel. But John would never talk much till after a gallon of cider; and all that I could win out of him was that they were "murdering Papishers," and little he cared to do with them, or the devil, as they came from. And a good thing for me, and a providence, that I was gone down Dulverton town to buy sweetstuff for Annie, else my stupid head would have gone astray with their great out-coming.
We saw no more of them after that, but turned into the sideway; and soon had the fill of our hands and eyes to look to our own going. For the road got worse and worse, until there was none at all, and perhaps the purest thing it could do was to be ashamed to show itself. But we pushed on as best we might, with doubt of reaching home any time, except by special grace of God.
The fog came down upon the moors as thick as ever I saw it; and there was no sound of any sort, nor a breath of wind to guide us. The little stubby trees that stand here and there, like bushes with a wooden leg to them, were drizzled with a mess of wet, and hung their points with dropping. Wherever the butt-end of a hedgerow came up from the hollow ground, like the withers of a horse, holes of splash were pocked and pimpled in the yellow sand of coneys, or under the dwarf tree's ovens. But soon it was too dark to see that, or anything else, I may say, except the creases in the dusk, where prisoned light crept up the valleys.
After awhile even that was gone, and no other comfort left us except to see our horses' heads jogging to their footsteps, and the dark ground pass below us, lighter where the wet was; and then the splash, foot after foot, more clever than we can do it, and the orderly jerk of the tail, and the smell of what a horse is.
John Fry was bowing forward with sleep upon his saddle, and now I could no longer see the frizzle of wet upon his beard—for he had a very brave one, of a bright red colour, and trimmed into a whale-oil knot, because he was newly married—although that comb of hair had been a subject of some wonder to me, whether I, in God's good time, should have the like of that, handsomely set with shining beads, small above and large below, from the weeping of the heaven. But still I could see the jog of his hat—a Sunday hat with a top to it—and some of his shoulder bowed out in the mist, so that one could say "Hold up, John," when Smiler put his foot in. "Mercy of God! where be us now?" said John Fry, waking suddenly; "us ought to have passed hold hash, Jan. Zeen it on the road, have 'ee?"
"No indeed, John; no old ash. Nor nothing else to my knowing; nor heard nothing, save thee snoring."
"Watt a vule thee must be then, Jan; and me myzell no better. Harken, lad, harken!"
We drew our horses up and listened, through the thickness of the air, and with our hands laid to our ears. At first there was nothing to hear, except the panting of the horses and the trickle of the eaving drops from our head-covers and clothing, and the soft sounds of the lonely night, that make us feel, and try not to think. Then there came a mellow noise, very low and mournsome, not a sound to be afraid of, but to long to know the meaning, with a soft rise of the hair. Three times it came and went again, as the shaking of a thread might pass away into the distance; and then I touched John Fry to know that there was something near me.
"Doon't 'e be a vule, Jan! Vaine moozick as iver I 'eer. God bless the man as made un doo it."
"Have they hanged one of the Doones then, John?"
"Hush, lad; niver talk laike o' thiccy. Hang a Doone! God knoweth, the King would hang pretty quick if her did."
"Then who is it in the chains, John?"
I felt my spirit rise as I asked; for now I had crossed Exmoor so often as to hope that the people sometimes deserved it, and think that it might be a lesson to the rogues who unjustly loved the mutton they were never born to. But, of course, they were born to hanging, when they set themselves so high.
"It be nawbody," said John, "vor us to make a fush about. Belong to t'other zide o' the moor, and come staling shape to our zide. Red Jem Hannaford his name. Thank God for him to be hanged, lad; and good cess to his soul for craikin' zo."
So the sound of the quiet swinging led us very modestly, as it came and went on the wind, loud and low pretty regularly, even as far as the foot of the gibbet where the four cross-ways are.
"Vamous job this here," cried John, looking up to be sure of it, because there were so many; "here be my own nick on the post. Red Jem, too, and no doubt of him; he do hang so handsome like, and his ribs up laike a horse a'most. God bless them as discoovered the way to make a rogue so useful. Good-naight to thee, Jem, my lad; and not break thy drames with the craikin'."
John Fry shook his bridle-arm, and smote upon Smiler merrily, as he jogged into the homeward track from the guiding of the body. But I was sorry for Red Jem, and wanted to know more about him, and whether he might not have avoided this miserable end, and what his wife and children thought of it, if, indeed, he had any.
But John would talk no more about it; and perhaps he was moved with a lonesome feeling, as the creaking sound came after us.
"Hould thee tongue, lad,' he said sharply; 'us be naigh the Doone-track now, two maile from Dunkery Beacon hill, the haighest place of Hexmoor. So happen they be abroad to-naight, us must crawl on our belly-places, boy."
I knew at once what he meant—those bloody Doones of Bagworthy, the awe of all Devon and Somerset, outlaws, traitors, murderers. My little legs began to tremble to and fro upon Peggy's sides, as I heard the dead robber in chains behind us, and thought of the live ones still in front.
"But, John," I whispered warily, sidling close to his saddle-bow; "dear John, you don't think they will see us in such a fog as this?"
"Never God made vog as could stop their eyesen," he whispered in answer, fearfully; "here us be by the hollow ground. Zober, lad, goo zober now, if thee wish to see thy moother."
For I was inclined, in the manner of boys, to make a run of the danger, and cross the Doone-track at full speed; to rush for it, and be done with it. But even then I wondered why he talked of my mother so, and said not a word of father.
We were come to a long deep "goyal," as they call it on Exmoor, a word whose fountain and origin I have nothing to do with. Only I know that when little boys laughed at me at Tiverton, for talking about a "goyal," a big boy clouted them on the head, and said that it was in Homer, and meant the hollow of the hand. And another time a Welshman told me that it must be something like the thing they call a "pant" in those parts. Still I know what it means well enough—to wit, a long trough among wild hills, falling towards the plain country, rounded at the bottom, perhaps, and stiff, more than steep, at the sides of it. Whether it be straight or crooked, makes no difference to it.
We rode very carefully down our side, and through the soft grass at the bottom, and all the while we listened as if the air was a speaking-trumpet. Then gladly we breasted our nags to the rise, and were coming to the comb of it, when I heard something, and caught John's arm, and he bent his hand to the shape of his ear. It was the sound of horses' feet knocking up through splashy ground, as if the bottom sucked them. Then a grunting of weary men, and the lifting noise of stirrups, and sometimes the clank of iron mixed with the wheezy croning of leather and the blowing of hairy nostrils.
"God's sake, Jack, slip round her belly, and let her go where she wull."
As John Fry whispered, so I did, for he was off Smiler by this time; but our two pads were too fagged to go far, and began to nose about and crop, sniffing more than they need have done. I crept to John's side very softly, with the bridle on my arm.
"Let goo braidle; let goo, lad. Plaise God they take them for forest-ponies, or they'll zend a bullet through us."
I saw what he meant, and let go the bridle; for now the mist was rolling off, and we were against the sky-line to the dark cavalcade below us. John lay on the ground by a barrow of heather, where a little gullet was, and I crept to him, afraid of the noise I made in dragging my legs along, and the creak of my cord breeches. John bleated like a sheep to cover it—a sheep very cold and trembling.
Then just as the foremost horseman passed, scarce twenty yards below us, a puff of wind came up the glen, and the fog rolled off before it. And suddenly a strong red light, cast by the cloud-weight downwards, spread like fingers over the moorland, opened the alleys of darkness, and hung on the steel of the riders.
"Dunkery Beacon," whispered John, so close into my ear, that I felt his lips and teeth ashake; "dursn't fire it now except to show the Doones way home again, since the naight as they went up and throwed the watchmen atop of it. Why, wutt be 'bout, lad? God's sake—"
For I could keep still no longer, but wriggled away from his arm, and along the little gullet, still going flat on my breast and thighs, until I was under a grey patch of stone, with a fringe of dry fern round it; there I lay, scarce twenty feet above the heads of the riders, and I feared to draw my breath, though prone to do it with wonder.
For now the beacon was rushing up, in a fiery storm to heaven, and the form of its flame came and went in the folds, and the heavy sky was hovering. All around it was hung with red, deep in twisted columns, and then a giant beard of fire streamed throughout the darkness. The sullen hills were flanked with light, and the valleys chined with shadow, and all the sombrous moors between awoke in furrowed anger.
But most of all the flinging fire leaped into the rocky mouth of the glen below me, where the horsemen passed in silence, scarcely deigning to look round. Heavy men and large of stature, reckless how they bore their guns, or how they sate their horses, with leathern jerkins, and long boots, and iron plates on breast and head, plunder heaped behind their saddles, and flagons slung in front of them; I counted more than thirty pass, like clouds upon red sunset. Some had carcasses of sheep swinging with their skins on, others had deer, and one had a child flung across his saddle-bow. Whether the child were dead, or alive, was more than I could tell, only it hung head downwards there, and must take the chance of it. They had got the child, a very young one, for the sake of the dress, no doubt, which they could not stop to pull off from it; for the dress shone bright, where the fire struck it, as if with gold and jewels. I longed in my heart to know most sadly what they would do with the little thing, and whether they would eat it.
It touched me so to see that child, a prey among those vultures, that in my foolish rage and burning I stood up and shouted to them leaping on a rock, and raving out of all possession. Two of them turned round, and one set his carbine at me, but the other said it was but a pixie, and bade him keep his powder. Little they knew, and less thought I, that the pixie then before them would dance their castle down one day.
John Fry, who in the spring of fright had brought himself down from Smiler's side, as if he were dipped in oil, now came up to me, all risk being over, cross, and stiff, and aching sorely from his wet couch of heather.
"Small thanks to thee, Jan, as my new waife bain't a widder. And who be you to zupport of her, and her son, if she have one? Zarve thee right if I was to chuck thee down into the Doone-track. Zim thee'll come to un, zooner or later, if this be the zample of thee."
And that was all he had to say, instead of thanking God! For if ever born man was in a fright, and ready to thank God for anything, the name of that man was John Fry not more than five minutes agone.
However, I answered nothing at all, except to be ashamed of myself; and soon we found Peggy and Smiler in company, well embarked on the homeward road, and victualling where the grass was good. Right glad they were to see us again—not for the pleasure of carrying, but because a horse (like a woman) lacks, and is better without, self-reliance.
My father never came to meet us, at either side of the telling-house, neither at the crooked post, nor even at home-linhay although the dogs kept such a noise that he must have heard us. Home-side of the linhay, and under the ashen hedge-row, where father taught me to catch blackbirds, all at once my heart went down, and all my breast was hollow. There was not even the lanthorn light on the peg against the cow's house, and nobody said "Hold your noise!" to the dogs, or shouted "Here our Jack is!"
I looked at the posts of the gate, in the dark, because they were tall, like father, and then at the door of the harness-room, where he used to smoke his pipe and sing. Then I thought he had guests perhaps—people lost upon the moors—whom he could not leave unkindly, even for his son's sake. And yet about that I was jealous, and ready to be vexed with him, when he should begin to make much of me. And I felt in my pocket for the new pipe which I had brought him from Tiverton, and said to myself, "He shall not have it until to-morrow morning."
Woe is me! I cannot tell. How I knew I know not now—only that I slunk away, without a tear, or thought of weeping, and hid me in a saw-pit. There the timber, over-head, came like streaks across me; and all I wanted was to lack, and none to tell me anything.
By-and-by, a noise came down, as of woman's weeping; and there my mother and sister were, choking and holding together. Although they were my dearest loves, I could not bear to look at them, until they seemed to want my help, and put their hands before their eyes.
A VERY RASH VISIT
My dear father had been killed by the Doones of Bagworthy, while riding home from Porlock market, on the Saturday evening. With him were six brother-farmers, all of them very sober; for father would have no company with any man who went beyond half a gallon of beer, or a single gallon of cider. The robbers had no grudge against him; for he had never flouted them, neither made overmuch of outcry, because they robbed other people. For he was a man of such strict honesty, and due parish feeling, that he knew it to be every man's own business to defend himself and his goods; unless he belonged to our parish, and then we must look after him.
These seven good farmers were jogging along, helping one another in the troubles of the road, and singing goodly hymns and songs to keep their courage moving, when suddenly a horseman stopped in the starlight full across them.
By dress and arms they knew him well, and by his size and stature, shown against the glimmer of the evening star; and though he seemed one man to seven, it was in truth one man to one. Of the six who had been singing songs and psalms about the power of God, and their own regeneration—such psalms as went the round, in those days, of the public-houses—there was not one but pulled out his money, and sang small beer to a Doone.
But father had been used to think that any man who was comfortable inside his own coat and waistcoat deserved to have no other set, unless he would strike a blow for them. And so, while his gossips doffed their hats, and shook with what was left of them, he set his staff above his head, and rode at the Doone robber. With a trick of his horse, the wild man escaped the sudden onset, although it must have amazed him sadly that any durst resist him. Then when Smiler was carried away with the dash and the weight of my father (not being brought up to battle, nor used to turn, save in plough harness), the outlaw whistled upon his thumb, and plundered the rest of the yeoman. But father, drawing at Smiler's head, to try to come back and help them, was in the midst of a dozen men, who seemed to come out of a turf-rick, some on horse, and some a-foot. Nevertheless, he smote lustily, so far as he could see; and being of great size and strength, and his blood well up, they had no easy job with him. With the play of his wrist, he cracked three or four crowns, being always famous at single-stick; until the rest drew their horses away, and he thought that he was master, and would tell his wife about it.
But a man beyond the range of staff was crouching by the peat-stack, with a long gun set to his shoulder, and he got poor father against the sky, and I cannot tell the rest of it. Only they knew that Smiler came home, with blood upon his withers, and father was found in the morning dead on the moor, with his ivy-twisted cudgel lying broken under him. Now, whether this were an honest fight, God judge betwixt the Doones and me.
It was more of woe than wonder, being such days of violence, that mother knew herself a widow, and her children fatherless. Of children there were only three, none of us fit to be useful yet, only to comfort mother, by making her to work for us. I, John Ridd, was the eldest, and felt it a heavy thing on me; next came sister Annie, with about two years between us; and then the little Eliza.
Now, before I got home and found my sad loss—and no boy ever loved his father more than I loved mine—mother had done a most wondrous thing, which made all the neighbours say that she must be mad, at least. Upon the Monday morning, while her husband lay unburied, she cast a white hood over her hair, and gathered a black cloak round her, and, taking counsel of no one, set off on foot for the Doone-gate.
In the early afternoon she came to the hollow and barren entrance, where in truth there was no gate, only darkness to go through. If I get on with this story, I shall have to tell of it by-and-by, as I saw it afterwards; and will not dwell there now. Enough that no gun was fired at her, only her eyes were covered over, and somebody led her by the hand, without any wish to hurt her.
A very rough and headstrong road was all that she remembered, for she could not think as she wished to do, with the cold iron pushed against her. At the end of this road they delivered her eyes, and she could scarce believe them.
For she stood at the head of a deep green valley, carved from out the mountains in a perfect oval, with a fence of sheer rock standing round it, eighty feet or a hundred high; from whose brink black wooded hills swept up to the sky-line. By her side a little river glided out from underground with a soft dark babble, unawares of daylight; then growing brighter, lapsed away, and fell into the valley. Then, as it ran down the meadow, alders stood on either marge, and grass was blading out upon it, and yellow tufts of rushes gathered, looking at the hurry. But further down, on either bank, were covered houses built of stone, square and roughly cornered, set as if the brook were meant to be the street between them. Only one room high they were, and not placed opposite each other, but in and out as skittles are; only that the first of all, which proved to be the captain's, was a sort of double house, or rather two houses joined together by a plank-bridge, over the river.
Fourteen cots my mother counted, all very much of a pattern, and nothing to choose between them, unless it were the captain's. Deep in the quiet valley there, away from noise, and violence, and brawl, save that of the rivulet, any man would have deemed them homes of simple mind and innocence. Yet not a single house stood there but was the home of murder.
Two men led my mother down a steep and gliddery stair-way, like the ladder of a hay-mow; and thence from the break of the falling water as far as the house of the captain. And there at the door they left her trembling, strung as she was, to speak her mind.
Now, after all, what right had she, a common farmer's widow, to take it amiss that men of birth thought fit to kill her husband. And the Doones were of very high birth, as all we clods of Exmoor knew; and we had enough of good teaching now—let any man say the contrary—to feel that all we had belonged of right to those above us. Therefore my mother was half-ashamed that she could not help complaining.
But after a little while, as she said, remembrance of her husband came, and the way he used to stand by her side and put his strong arm round her, and how he liked his bacon fried, and praised her kindly for it—and so the tears were in her eyes, and nothing should gainsay them.
A tall old man, Sir Ensor Doone, came out with a bill-hook in his hand, hedger's gloves going up his arms, as if he were no better than a labourer at ditch-work. Only in his mouth and eyes, his gait, and most of all his voice, even a child could know and feel that here was no ditch-labourer. Good cause he has found since then, perhaps, to wish that he had been one.
With his white locks moving upon his coat, he stopped and looked down at my mother, and she could not help herself but curtsey under the fixed black gazing.
"Good woman, you are none of us. Who has brought you hither? Young men must be young—but I have had too much of this work."
And he scowled at my mother, for her comeliness; and yet looked under his eyelids as if he liked her for it. But as for her, in her depth of love-grief, it struck scorn upon her womanhood; and in the flash she spoke.
"What you mean I know not. Traitors! cut-throats! cowards! I am here to ask for my husband." She could not say any more, because her heart was now too much for her, coming hard in her throat and mouth; but she opened up her eyes at him.
"Madam," said Sir Ensor Doone—being born a gentleman, although a very bad one—"I crave pardon of you. My eyes are old, or I might have known. Now, if we have your husband prisoner, he shall go free without ransoms, because I have insulted you."
"Sir," said my mother, being suddenly taken away with sorrow, because of his gracious manner, "please to let me cry a bit."
He stood away, and seemed to know that women want no help for that. And by the way she cried he knew that they had killed her husband. Then, having felt of grief himself, he was not angry with her, but left her to begin again.
"Loth would I be," said mother, sobbing with her new red handkerchief, and looking at the pattern of it, "loth indeed, Sir Ensor Doone, to accuse any one unfairly. But I have lost the very best husband God ever gave to a woman; and I knew him when he was to your belt, and I not up to your knee, sir; and never an unkind word he spoke, nor stopped me short in speaking. All the herbs he left to me, and all the bacon-curing, and when it was best to kill a pig, and how to treat the maidens. Not that I would ever wish—oh, John, it seems so strange to me, and last week you were everything."
Here mother burst out crying again, not loudly, but turning quietly, because she knew that no one now would ever care to wipe the tears. And fifty or a hundred things, of weekly and daily happening, came across my mother, so that her spirit fell like slackening lime.
"This matter must be seen to; it shall be seen to at once," the old man answered, moved a little in spite of all his knowledge. "Madam, if any wrong has been done, trust the honour of a Doone; I will redress it to my utmost. Come inside and rest yourself, while I ask about it. What was your good husband's name, and when and where fell this mishap?"
"Deary me," said mother, as he set a chair for her very polite, but she would not sit upon it; "Saturday morning I was a wife, sir; and Saturday night I was a widow, and my children fatherless. My husband's name was John Ridd, sir, as everybody knows; and there was not a finer or better man in Somerset or Devon. He was coming home from Porlock market, and a new gown for me on the crupper, and a shell to put my hair up—oh, John, how good you were to me!"
Of that she began to think again, and not to believe her sorrow, except as a dream from the evil one, because it was too bad upon her, and perhaps she would awake in a minute, and her husband would have the laugh of her. And so she wiped her eyes and smiled, and looked for something.
"Madam, this is a serious thing," Sir Ensor Doone said graciously, and showing grave concern: "my boys are a little wild, I know. And yet I cannot think that they would willingly harm any one. And yet—and yet, you do look wronged. Send Counsellor to me," he shouted, from the door of his house; and down the valley went the call, "Send Counsellor to Captain."
Counsellor Doone came in ere yet my mother was herself again; and if any sight could astonish her when all her sense of right and wrong was gone astray with the force of things, it was the sight of the Counsellor. A square-built man of enormous strength, but a foot below the Doone stature (which I shall describe hereafter), he carried a long grey beard descending to the leather of his belt. Great eyebrows overhung his face, like ivy on a pollard oak, and under them two large brown eyes, as of an owl when muting. And he had a power of hiding his eyes, or showing them bright, like a blazing fire. He stood there with his beaver off, and mother tried to look at him, but he seemed not to descry her.
"Counsellor," said Sir Ensor Doone, standing back in his height from him, "here is a lady of good repute—"
"Oh, no, sir; only a woman."
"Allow me, madam, by your good leave. Here is a lady, Counsellor, of great repute in this part of the country, who charges the Doones with having unjustly slain her husband—"
"Murdered him! murdered him!" cried my mother, "if ever there was a murder. Oh, sir! oh, sir! you know it."
"The perfect rights and truth of the case is all I wish to know," said the old man, very loftily: "and justice shall be done, madam."
"Oh, I pray you—pray you, sirs, make no matter of business of it. God from Heaven, look on me!"
"Put the case," said the Counsellor.
"The case is this," replied Sir Ensor, holding one hand up to mother: "This lady's worthy husband was slain, it seems, upon his return from the market at Porlock, no longer ago than last Saturday night. Madam, amend me if I am wrong."
"No longer, indeed, indeed, sir. Sometimes it seems a twelvemonth, and sometimes it seems an hour."
"Cite his name," said the Counsellor, with his eyes still rolling inwards.
"Master John Ridd, as I understand. Counsellor, we have heard of him often; a worthy man and a peaceful one, who meddled not with our duties. Now, if any of our boys have been rough, they shall answer it dearly. And yet I can scarce believe it. For the folk about these parts are apt to misconceive of our sufferings, and to have no feeling for us. Counsellor, you are our record, and very stern against us; tell us how this matter was."
"Oh, Counsellor!" my mother cried; "Sir Counsellor, you will be fair: I see it in your countenance. Only tell me who it was, and set me face to face with him, and I will bless you, sir, and God shall bless you, and my children."
The square man with the long grey beard, quite unmoved by anything, drew back to the door and spoke, and his voice was like a fall of stones in the bottom of a mine.
"Few words will be enow for this. Four or five of our best-behaved and most peaceful gentlemen went to the little market at Porlock with a lump of money. They bought some household stores and comforts at a very high price, and pricked upon the homeward road, away from vulgar revellers. When they drew bridle to rest their horses, in the shelter of a peat-rick, the night being dark and sudden, a robber of great size and strength rode into the midst of them, thinking to kill or terrify. His arrogance and hardihood at the first amazed them, but they would not give up without a blow goods which were on trust with them. He had smitten three of them senseless, for the power of his arm was terrible; whereupon the last man tried to ward his blow with a pistol. Carver, sir, it was, our brave and noble Carver, who saved the lives of his brethren and his own; and glad enow they were to escape. Notwithstanding, we hoped it might be only a flesh-wound, and not to speed him in his sins."
As this atrocious tale of lies turned up joint by joint before her, like a "devil's coach-horse,"* mother was too much amazed to do any more than look at him, as if the earth must open. But the only thing that opened was the great brown eyes of the Counsellor, which rested on my mother's face with a dew of sorrow, as he spoke of sins.
* The cock-tailed beetle has earned this name in the West of England.
She, unable to bear them, turned suddenly on Sir Ensor, and caught (as she fancied) a smile on his lips, and a sense of quiet enjoyment.
"All the Doones are gentlemen," answered the old man gravely, and looking as if he had never smiled since he was a baby. "We are always glad to explain, madam, any mistake which the rustic people may fall upon about us; and we wish you clearly to conceive that we do not charge your poor husband with any set purpose of robbery, neither will we bring suit for any attainder of his property. Is it not so, Counsellor?"
"Without doubt his land is attainted; unless is mercy you forbear, sir."
"Counsellor, we will forbear. Madam, we will forgive him. Like enough he knew not right from wrong, at that time of night. The waters are strong at Porlock, and even an honest man may use his staff unjustly in this unchartered age of violence and rapine."
The Doones to talk of rapine! Mother's head went round so that she curtseyed to them both, scarcely knowing where she was, but calling to mind her manners. All the time she felt a warmth, as if the right was with her, and yet she could not see the way to spread it out before them. With that, she dried her tears in haste and went into the cold air, for fear of speaking mischief.
But when she was on the homeward road, and the sentinels had charge of her, blinding her eyes, as if she were not blind enough with weeping, some one came in haste behind her, and thrust a heavy leathern bag into the limp weight of her hand.