Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter 34

Two Negatives Make an Affirmative

There was, however, no possibility of depressing me at such a time. To be loved by Lorna, the sweet, the pure, the playful one, the fairest creature on God’s earth and the most enchanting, the lady of high birth and mind; that I, a mere clumsy, blundering yeoman, without wit, or wealth, or lineage, should have won that loving heart to be my own for ever, was a thought no fears could lessen, and no chance could steal from me.

Therefore at her own entreaty taking a very quick adieu, and by her own invitation an exceeding kind one, I hurried home with deep exulting, yet some sad misgivings, for Lorna had made me promise now to tell my mother everything; as indeed I always meant to do, when my suit should be gone too far to stop. I knew, of course, that my dear mother would be greatly moved and vexed, the heirship of Glen Doone not being a very desirable dower, but in spite of that, and all disappointment as to little Ruth Huckaback, feeling my mother’s tenderness and deep affection to me, and forgiving nature, I doubted not that before very long she would view the matter as I did. Moreover, I felt that if once I could get her only to look at Lorna, she would so love and glory in her, that I should obtain all praise and thanks, perchance without deserving them.

Unluckily for my designs, who should be sitting down at breakfast with my mother and the rest but Squire Faggus, as everybody now began to entitle him. I noticed something odd about him, something uncomfortable in his manner, and a lack of that ease and humour which had been wont to distinguish him. He took his breakfast as it came, without a single joke about it, or preference of this to that; but with sly soft looks at Annie, who seemed unable to sit quiet, or to look at any one steadfastly. I feared in my heart what was coming on, and felt truly sorry for poor mother. After breakfast it became my duty to see to the ploughing of a barley-stubble ready for the sowing of a French grass, and I asked Tom Faggus to come with me, but he refused, and I knew the reason. Being resolved to allow him fair field to himself, though with great displeasure that a man of such illegal repute should marry into our family, which had always been counted so honest, I carried my dinner upon my back, and spent the whole day with the furrows.

When I returned, Squire Faggus was gone; which appeared to me but a sorry sign, inasmuch as if mother had taken kindly to him and his intentions, she would surely have made him remain awhile to celebrate the occasion. And presently no doubt was left: for Lizzie came running to meet me, at the bottom of the woodrick, and cried —

‘Oh, John, there is such a business. Mother is in such a state of mind, and Annie crying her eyes out. What do you think? You would never guess, though I have suspected it, ever so long.’

‘No need for me to guess,’ I replied, as though with some indifference, because of her self-important air; ‘I knew all about it long ago. You have not been crying much, I see. I should like you better if you had.’

‘Why should I cry? I like Tom Faggus. He is the only one I ever see with the spirit of a man.’

This was a cut, of course, at me. Mr. Faggus had won the goodwill of Lizzie by his hatred of the Doones, and vows that if he could get a dozen men of any courage to join him, he would pull their stronghold about their ears without any more ado. This malice of his seemed strange to me, as he had never suffered at their hands, so far at least as I knew; was it to be attributed to his jealousy of outlaws who excelled him in his business? Not being good at repartee, I made no answer to Lizzie, having found this course more irksome to her than the very best invective: and so we entered the house together; and mother sent at once for me, while I was trying to console my darling sister Annie.

‘Oh, John! speak one good word for me,’ she cried with both hands laid in mine, and her tearful eyes looking up at me.

‘Not one, my pet, but a hundred,’ I answered, kindly embracing her: ‘have no fear, little sister: I am going to make your case so bright, by comparison, I mean, that mother will send for you in five minutes, and call you her best, her most dutiful child, and praise Cousin Tom to the skies, and send a man on horseback after him; and then you will have a harder task to intercede for me, my dear.’

‘Oh, John, dear John, you won’t tell her about Lorna — oh, not today, dear.’

‘Yes, today, and at once, Annie. I want to have it over, and be done with it.’

‘Oh, but think of her, dear. I am sure she could not bear it, after this great shock already.’

‘She will bear it all the better,’ said I; ‘the one will drive the other out. I know exactly what mother is. She will be desperately savage first with you, and then with me, and then for a very little while with both of us together; and then she will put one against the other (in her mind I mean) and consider which was most to blame; and in doing that she will be compelled to find the best in either’s case, that it may beat the other; and so as the pleas come before her mind, they will gain upon the charges, both of us being her children, you know: and before very long (particularly if we both keep out of the way) she will begin to think that after all she has been a little too hasty, and then she will remember how good we have always been to her; and how like our father. Upon that, she will think of her own love-time, and sigh a good bit, and cry a little, and then smile, and send for both of us, and beg our pardon, and call us her two darlings.’

‘Now, John, how on earth can you know all that?’ exclaimed my sister, wiping her eyes, and gazing at me with a soft bright smile. ‘Who on earth can have told you, John? People to call you stupid indeed! Why, I feel that all you say is quite true, because you describe so exactly what I should do myself; I mean — I mean if I had two children, who had behaved as we have done. But tell me, darling John, how you learned all this.’

‘Never you mind,’ I replied, with a nod of some conceit, I fear: ‘I must be a fool if I did not know what mother is by this time.’

Now inasmuch as the thing befell according to my prediction, what need for me to dwell upon it, after saying how it would be? Moreover, I would regret to write down what mother said about Lorna, in her first surprise and tribulation; not only because I was grieved by the gross injustice of it, and frightened mother with her own words (repeated deeply after her); but rather because it is not well, when people repent of hasty speech, to enter it against them.

That is said to be the angels’ business; and I doubt if they can attend to it much, without doing injury to themselves.

However, by the afternoon, when the sun began to go down upon us, our mother sat on the garden bench, with her head on my great otter-skin waistcoat (which was waterproof), and her right arm round our Annie’s waist, and scarcely knowing which of us she ought to make the most of, or which deserved most pity. Not that she had forgiven yet the rivals to her love — Tom Faggus, I mean, and Lorna — but that she was beginning to think a tattle better of them now, and a vast deal better of her own children.

And it helped her much in this regard, that she was not thinking half so well as usual of herself, or rather of her own judgment; for in good truth she had no self, only as it came home to her, by no very distant road, but by way of her children. A better mother never lived; and can I, after searching all things, add another word to that?

And indeed poor Lizzie was not so very bad; but behaved (on the whole) very well for her. She was much to be pitied, poor thing, and great allowances made for her, as belonging to a well-grown family, and a very comely one; and feeling her own shortcomings. This made her leap to the other extreme, and reassert herself too much, endeavouring to exalt the mind at the expense of the body; because she had the invisible one (so far as can be decided) in better share than the visible. Not but what she had her points, and very comely points of body; lovely eyes to wit, and very beautiful hands and feet (almost as good as Lorna’s), and a neck as white as snow; but Lizzie was not gifted with our gait and port, and bounding health.

Now, while we sat on the garden bench, under the great ash-tree, we left dear mother to take her own way, and talk at her own pleasure. Children almost always are more wide-awake than their parents. The fathers and the mothers laugh; but the young ones have the best of them. And now both Annie knew, and I, that we had gotten the best of mother; and therefore we let her lay down the law, as if we had been two dollies.

‘Darling John,’ my mother said, ‘your case is a very hard one. A young and very romantic girl — God send that I be right in my charitable view of her — has met an equally simple boy, among great dangers and difficulties, from which my son has saved her, at the risk of his life at every step. Of course, she became attached to him, and looked up to him in every way, as a superior being’—

‘Come now, mother,’ I said; ‘if you only saw Lorna, you would look upon me as the lowest dirt’—

‘No doubt I should,’ my mother answered; ‘and the king and queen, and all the royal family. Well, this poor angel, having made up her mind to take compassion upon my son, when he had saved her life so many times, persuades him to marry her out of pure pity, and throw his poor mother overboard. And the saddest part of it all is this —’

‘That my mother will never, never, never understand the truth,’ said I.

‘That is all I wish,’ she answered; ‘just to get at the simple truth from my own perception of it. John, you are very wise in kissing me; but perhaps you would not be so wise in bringing Lorna for an afternoon, just to see what she thinks of me. There is a good saddle of mutton now; and there are some very good sausages left, on the blue dish with the anchor, Annie, from the last little sow we killed.’

‘As if Lorna would eat sausages!’ said I, with appearance of high contempt, though rejoicing all the while that mother seemed to have her name so pat; and she pronounced it in a manner which made my heart leap to my ears: ‘Lorna to eat sausages!’

‘I don’t see why she shouldn’t,’ my mother answered smiling, ‘if she means to be a farmer’s wife, she must take to farmer’s ways, I think. What do you say, Annie?’

‘She will eat whatever John desires, I should hope,’ said Annie gravely; ‘particularly as I made them.’

‘Oh that I could only get the chance of trying her!’ I answered, ‘if you could once behold her, mother, you would never let her go again. And she would love you with all her heart, she is so good and gentle.’

‘That is a lucky thing for me’; saying this my mother wept, as she had been doing off and on, when no one seemed to look at her; ‘otherwise I suppose, John, she would very soon turn me out of the farm, having you so completely under her thumb, as she seems to have. I see now that my time is over. Lizzie and I will seek our fortunes. It is wiser so.’

‘Now, mother,’ I cried; ‘will you have the kindness not to talk any nonsense? Everything belongs to you; and so, I hope, your children do. And you, in turn, belong to us; as you have proved ever since — oh, ever since we can remember. Why do you make Annie cry so? You ought to know better than that.’

Mother upon this went over all the things she had done before; how many times I know not; neither does it matter. Only she seemed to enjoy it more, every time of doing it. And then she said she was an old fool; and Annie (like a thorough girl) pulled her one grey hair out.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31