Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter 57

Lorna Knows Her Nurse

Having obtained from Benita Odam a very close and full description of the place where her poor mistress lay, and the marks whereby to know it, I hastened to Watchett the following morning, before the sun was up, or any people were about. And so, without interruption, I was in the churchyard at sunrise.

In the farthest and darkest nook, overgrown with grass, and overhung by a weeping-tree a little bank of earth betokened the rounding off of a hapless life. There was nothing to tell of rank, or wealth, of love, or even pity; nameless as a peasant lay the last (as supposed) of a mighty race. Only some unskilful hand, probably Master Odam’s under his wife’s teaching, had carved a rude L., and a ruder D., upon a large pebble from the beach, and set it up as a headstone.

I gathered a little grass for Lorna and a sprig of the weeping-tree, and then returned to the Forest Cat, as Benita’s lonely inn was called. For the way is long from Watchett to Oare; and though you may ride it rapidly, as the Doones had done on that fatal night, to travel on wheels, with one horse only, is a matter of time and of prudence. Therefore, we set out pretty early, three of us and a baby, who could not well be left behind. The wife of the man who owned the cart had undertaken to mind the business, and the other babies, upon condition of having the keys of all the taps left with her.

As the manner of journeying over the moor has been described oft enough already, I will say no more, except that we all arrived before dusk of the summer’s day, safe at Plover’s Barrows. Mistress Benita was delighted with the change from her dull hard life; and she made many excellent observations, such as seem natural to a foreigner looking at our country.

As luck would have it, the first who came to meet us at the gate was Lorna, with nothing whatever upon her head (the weather being summerly) but her beautiful hair shed round her; and wearing a sweet white frock tucked in, and showing her figure perfectly. In her joy she ran straight up to the cart; and then stopped and gazed at Benita. At one glance her old nurse knew her: ‘Oh, the eyes, the eyes!’ she cried, and was over the rail of the cart in a moment, in spite of all her substance. Lorna, on the other hand, looked at her with some doubt and wonder, as though having right to know much about her, and yet unable to do so. But when the foreign woman said something in Roman language, and flung new hay from the cart upon her, as if in a romp of childhood, the young maid cried, ‘Oh, Nita, Nita!’ and fell upon her breast, and wept; and after that looked round at us.

This being so, there could be no doubt as to the power of proving Lady Lorna’s birth, and rights, both by evidence and token. For though we had not the necklace now — thanks to Annie’s wisdom — we had the ring of heavy gold, a very ancient relic, with which my maid (in her simple way) had pledged herself to me. And Benita knew this ring as well as she knew her own fingers, having heard a long history about it; and the effigy on it of the wild cat was the bearing of the house of Lorne.

For though Lorna’s father was a nobleman of high and goodly lineage, her mother was of yet more ancient and renowned descent, being the last in line direct from the great and kingly chiefs of Lorne. A wild and headstrong race they were, and must have everything their own way. Hot blood was ever among them, even of one household; and their sovereignty (which more than once had defied the King of Scotland) waned and fell among themselves, by continual quarrelling. And it was of a piece with this, that the Doones (who were an offset, by the mother’s side, holding in co-partnership some large property, which had come by the spindle, as we say) should fall out with the Earl of Lorne, the last but one of that title.

The daughter of this nobleman had married Sir Ensor Doone; but this, instead of healing matters, led to fiercer conflict. I never could quite understand all the ins and outs of it; which none but a lawyer may go through, and keep his head at the end of it. The motives of mankind are plainer than the motions they produce. Especially when charity (such as found among us) sits to judge the former, and is never weary of it; while reason does not care to trace the latter complications, except for fee or title.

Therefore it is enough to say, that knowing Lorna to be direct in heirship to vast property, and bearing especial spite against the house of which she was the last, the Doones had brought her up with full intention of lawful marriage; and had carefully secluded her from the wildest of their young gallants. Of course, if they had been next in succession, the child would have gone down the waterfall, to save any further trouble; but there was an intercepting branch of some honest family; and they being outlaws, would have a poor chance (though the law loves outlaws) against them. Only Lorna was of the stock; and Lorna they must marry. And what a triumph against the old earl, for a cursed Doone to succeed him!

As for their outlawry, great robberies, and grand murders, the veriest child, nowadays, must know that money heals the whole of that. Even if they had murdered people of a good position, it would only cost about twice as much to prove their motives loyal. But they had never slain any man above the rank of yeoman; and folk even said that my father was the highest of their victims; for the death of Lorna’s mother and brother was never set to their account.

Pure pleasure it is to any man, to reflect upon all these things. How truly we discern clear justice, and how well we deal it. If any poor man steals a sheep, having ten children starving, and regarding it as mountain game (as a rich man does a hare), to the gallows with him. If a man of rank beats down a door, smites the owner upon the head, and honours the wife with attention, it is a thing to be grateful for, and to slouch smitten head the lower.

While we were full of all these things, and wondering what would happen next, or what we ought ourselves to do, another very important matter called for our attention. This was no less than Annie’s marriage to the Squire Faggus. We had tried to put it off again; for in spite of all advantages, neither my mother nor myself had any real heart for it. Not that we dwelled upon Tom’s short-comings or rather perhaps his going too far, at the time when he worked the road so. All that was covered by the King’s pardon, and universal respect of the neighbourhood. But our scruple was this — and the more we talked the more it grew upon us — that we both had great misgivings as to his future steadiness.

For it would be a thousand pities, we said, for a fine, well-grown, and pretty maiden (such as our Annie was), useful too, in so many ways, and lively, and warm-hearted, and mistress of 500 pounds, to throw herself away on a man with a kind of a turn for drinking. If that last were even hinted, Annie would be most indignant, and ask, with cheeks as red as roses, who had ever seen Master Faggus any the worse for liquor indeed? Her own opinion was, in truth, that be took a great deal too little, after all his hard work, and hard riding, and coming over the hills to be insulted! And if ever it lay in her power, and with no one to grudge him his trumpery glass, she would see that poor Tom had the nourishment which his cough and his lungs required.

His lungs being quite as sound as mine, this matter was out of all argument; so mother and I looked at one another, as much as to say, ‘let her go upstairs, she will cry and come down more reasonable.’ And while she was gone, we used to say the same thing over and over again; but without perceiving a cure for it. And we almost always finished up with the following reflection, which sometimes came from mother’s lips, and sometimes from my own: ‘Well, well, there is no telling. None can say how a man may alter; when he takes to matrimony. But if we could only make Annie promise to be a little firm with him!’

I fear that all this talk on our part only hurried matters forward, Annie being more determined every time we pitied her. And at last Tom Faggus came, and spoke as if he were on the King’s road, with a pistol at my head, and one at mother’s. ‘No more fast and loose,’ he cried. ‘either one thing or the other. I love the maid, and she loves me; and we will have one another, either with your leave, or without it. How many more times am I to dance over these vile hills, and leave my business, and get nothing more than a sigh or a kiss, and “Tom, I must wait for mother”? You are famous for being straightforward, you Ridds. Just treat me as I would treat you now.’

I looked at my mother; for a glance from her would have sent Tom out of the window; but she checked me with her hand, and said, ‘You have some ground of complaint, sir; I will not deny it. Now I will be as straight-forward with you, as even a Ridd is supposed to be. My son and myself have all along disliked your marriage with Annie. Not for what you have been so much, as for what we fear you will be. Have patience, one moment, if you please. We do not fear your taking to the highway life again; for that you are too clever, no doubt, now that you have property. But we fear that you will take to drinking, and to squandering money. There are many examples of this around us; and we know what the fate of the wife is. It has been hard to tell you this, under our own roof, and with our own —’ Here mother hesitated.

‘Spirits, and cider, and beer,’ I broke in; ‘out with it, like a Ridd, mother; as he will have all of it.’

‘Spirits, and cider, and beer,’ said mother very firmly after me; and then she gave way and said, ‘You know, Tom, you are welcome to every drop and more of it.’

Now Tom must have had a far sweeter temper than ever I could claim; for I should have thrust my glass away, and never have taken another drop in the house where such a check had met me. But instead of that, Master Faggus replied, with a pleasant smile —

‘I know that I am welcome, good mother; and to prove it, I will have some more.’

And thereupon be mixed himself another glass of hollands with lemon and hot water, yet pouring it very delicately.

‘Oh, I have been so miserable — take a little more, Tom,’ said mother, handing the bottle.

‘Yes, take a little more,’ I said; ‘you have mixed it over weak, Tom.’

‘If ever there was a sober man,’ cried Tom, complying with our request; ‘if ever there was in Christendom a man of perfect sobriety, that man is now before you. Shall we say tomorrow week, mother? It will suit your washing day.’

‘How very thoughtful you are, Tom! Now John would never have thought of that, in spite of all his steadiness.’

‘Certainly not,’ I answered proudly; ‘when my time comes for Lorna, I shall not study Betty Muxworthy.’

In this way the Squire got over us; and Farmer Nicholas Snowe was sent for, to counsel with mother about the matter and to set his two daughters sewing.

When the time for the wedding came, there was such a stir and commotion as had never been known in the parish of Oare since my father’s marriage. For Annie’s beauty and kindliness had made her the pride of the neighbourhood; and the presents sent her, from all around, were enough to stock a shop with. Master Stickles, who now could walk, and who certainly owed his recovery, with the blessing of God, to Annie, presented her with a mighty Bible, silver-clasped, and very handsome, beating the parson’s out and out, and for which he had sent to Taunton. Even the common troopers, having tasted her cookery many times (to help out their poor rations), clubbed together, and must have given at least a week’s pay apiece, to have turned out what they did for her. This was no less than a silver pot, well-designed, but suited surely rather to the bridegroom’s taste than bride’s. In a word, everybody gave her things.

And now my Lorna came to me, with a spring of tears in appealing eyes — for she was still somewhat childish, or rather, I should say, more childish now than when she lived in misery — and she placed her little hand in mine, and she was half afraid to speak, and dropped her eyes for me to ask.

‘What is it, little darling?’ I asked, as I saw her breath come fast; for the smallest emotion moved her form.

‘You don’t think, John, you don’t think, dear, that you could lend me any money?’

‘All I have got,’ I answered; ‘how much do you want, dear heart?’

‘I have been calculating; and I fear that I cannot do any good with less than ten pounds, John.’

Here she looked up at me, with horror at the grandeur of the sum, and not knowing what I could think of it. But I kept my eyes from her. ‘Ten pounds!’ I said in my deepest voice, on purpose to have it out in comfort, when she should be frightened; ‘what can you want with ten pounds, child?’

‘That is my concern, said Lorna, plucking up her spirit at this: ‘when a lady asks for a loan, no gentleman pries into the cause of her asking it.’

‘That may be as may be,’ I answered in a judicial manner; ‘ten pounds, or twenty, you shall have. But I must know the purport.’

‘Then that you never shall know, John. I am very sorry for asking you. It is not of the smallest consequence. Oh, dear, no.’ Herewith she was running away.

‘Oh, dear, yes,’ I replied; ‘it is of very great consequence; and I understand the whole of it. You want to give that stupid Annie, who has lost you a hundred thousand pounds, and who is going to be married before us, dear — God only can tell why, being my younger sister — you want to give her a wedding present. And you shall do it, darling; because it is so good of you. Don’t you know your title, love? How humble you are with us humble folk. You are Lady Lorna something, so far as I can make out yet: and you ought not even to speak to us. You will go away and disdain us.’

‘If you please, talk not like that, John. I will have nothing to do with it, if it comes between you and me, John.’

‘You cannot help yourself,’ said I. And then she vowed that she could and would. And rank and birth were banished from between our lips in no time.

‘What can I get her good enough? I am sure I do not know,’ she asked: ‘she has been so kind and good to me, and she is such a darling. How I shall miss her, to be sure! By the bye, you seem to think, John, that I shall be rich some day.’

‘Of course you will. As rich as the French King who keeps ours. Would the Lord Chancellor trouble himself about you, if you were poor?’

‘Then if I am rich, perhaps you would lend me twenty pounds, dear John. Ten pounds would be very mean for a wealthy person to give her.’

To this I agreed, upon condition that I should make the purchase myself, whatever it might be. For nothing could be easier than to cheat Lorna about the cost, until time should come for her paying me. And this was better than to cheat her for the benefit of our family. For this end, and for many others, I set off to Dulverton, bearing more commissions, more messages, and more questions than a man of thrice my memory might carry so far as the corner where the sawpit is. And to make things worse, one girl or other would keep on running up to me, or even after me (when started) with something or other she had just thought of, which she could not possibly do without, and which I must be sure to remember, as the most important of the whole.

To my dear mother, who had partly outlived the exceeding value of trifles, the most important matter seemed to ensure Uncle Reuben’s countenance and presence at the marriage. And if I succeeded in this, I might well forget all the maidens’ trumpery. This she would have been wiser to tell me when they were out of hearing; for I left her to fight her own battle with them; and laughing at her predicament, promised to do the best I could for all, so far as my wits would go.

Uncle Reuben was not at home, but Ruth, who received me very kindly, although without any expressions of joy, was sure of his return in the afternoon, and persuaded me to wait for him. And by the time that I had finished all I could recollect of my orders, even with paper to help me, the old gentleman rode into the yard, and was more surprised than pleased to see me. But if he was surprised, I was more than that — I was utterly astonished at the change in his appearance since the last time I had seen him. From a hale, and rather heavy man, gray-haired, but plump, and ruddy, he was altered to a shrunken, wizened, trembling, and almost decrepit figure. Instead of curly and comely locks, grizzled indeed, but plentiful, he had only a few lank white hairs scattered and flattened upon his forehead. But the greatest change of all was in the expression of his eyes, which had been so keen, and restless, and bright, and a little sarcastic. Bright indeed they still were, but with a slow unhealthy lustre; their keenness was turned to perpetual outlook, their restlessness to a haggard want. As for the humour which once gleamed there (which people who fear it call sarcasm) it had been succeeded by stares of terror, and then mistrust, and shrinking. There was none of the interest in mankind, which is needful even for satire.

‘Now what can this be?’ thought I to myself, ‘has the old man lost all his property, or taken too much to strong waters?’

‘Come inside, John Ridd,’ he said; ‘I will have a talk with you. It is cold out here; and it is too light. Come inside, John Ridd, boy.’

I followed him into a little dark room, quite different from Ruth Huckaback’s. It was closed from the shop by an old division of boarding, hung with tanned canvas; and the smell was very close and faint. Here there was a ledger desk, and a couple of chairs, and a long-legged stool.

‘Take the stool,’ said Uncle Reuben, showing me in very quietly, ‘it is fitter for your height, John. Wait a moment; there is no hurry.’

Then he slipped out by another door, and closing it quickly after him, told the foreman and waiting-men that the business of the day was done. They had better all go home at once; and he would see to the fastenings. Of course they were only too glad to go; but I wondered at his sending them, with at least two hours of daylight left.

However, that was no business of mine, and I waited, and pondered whether fair Ruth ever came into this dirty room, and if so, how she kept her hands from it. For Annie would have had it upside down in about two minutes, and scrubbed, and brushed, and dusted, until it looked quite another place; and yet all this done without scolding and crossness; which are the curse of clean women, and ten times worse than the dustiest dust.

Uncle Ben came reeling in, not from any power of liquor, but because he was stiff from horseback, and weak from work and worry.

‘Let me be, John, let me be,’ he said, as I went to help him; ‘this is an unkind dreary place; but many a hundred of good gold Carolus has been turned in this place, John.’

‘Not a doubt about it, sir,’ I answered in my loud and cheerful manner; ‘and many another hundred, sir; and may you long enjoy them!’

‘My boy, do you wish me to die?’ he asked, coming up close to my stool, and regarding me with a shrewd though blear-eyed gaze; ‘many do. Do you, John?’

‘Come,’ said I, ‘don’t ask such nonsense. You know better than that, Uncle Ben. Or else, I am sorry for you. I want you to live as long as possible, for the sake of —’ Here I stopped.

‘For the sake of what, John? I knew it is not for my own sake. For the sake of what, my boy?’

‘For the sake of Ruth,’ I answered; ‘if you must have all the truth. Who is to mind her when you are gone?’

‘But if you knew that I had gold, or a manner of getting gold, far more than ever the sailors got out of the Spanish galleons, far more than ever was heard of; and the secret was to be yours, John; yours after me and no other soul’s — then you would wish me dead, John.’ Here he eyed me as if a speck of dust in my eyes should not escape him.

‘You are wrong, Uncle Ben; altogether wrong. For all the gold ever heard or dreamed of, not a wish would cross my heart to rob you of one day of life.’

At last he moved his eyes from mine; but without any word, or sign, to show whether he believed, or disbelieved. Then he went to a chair, and sat with his chin upon the ledger-desk; as if the effort of probing me had been too much for his weary brain. ‘Dreamed of! All the gold ever dreamed of! As if it were but a dream!’ he muttered; and then he closed his eyes to think.

‘Good Uncle Reuben,’ I said to him, ‘you have been a long way today, sir. Let me go and get you a glass of good wine. Cousin Ruth knows where to find it.’

‘How do you know how far I have been?’ he asked, with a vicious look at me. ‘And Cousin Ruth! You are very pat with my granddaughter’s name, young man!’

‘It would be hard upon me, sir, not to know my own cousin’s name.’

‘Very well. Let that go by. You have behaved very badly to Ruth. She loves you; and you love her not.’

At this I was so wholly amazed — not at the thing itself, I mean, but at his knowledge of it — that I could not say a single word; but looked, no doubt, very foolish.

‘You may well be ashamed, young man,’ he cried, with some triumph over me, ‘you are the biggest of all fools, as well as a conceited coxcomb. What can you want more than Ruth? She is a little damsel, truly; but finer men than you, John Ridd, with all your boasted strength and wrestling, have wedded smaller maidens. And as for quality, and value — bots! one inch of Ruth is worth all your seven feet put together.’

Now I am not seven feet high; nor ever was six feet eight inches, in my very prime of life; and nothing vexes me so much as to make me out a giant, and above human sympathy, and human scale of weakness. It cost me hard to hold my tongue; which luckily is not in proportion to my stature. And only for Ruth’s sake I held it. But Uncle Ben (being old and worn) was vexed by not having any answer, almost as much as a woman is.

‘You want me to go on,’ he continued, with a look of spite at me, ‘about my poor Ruth’s love for you, to feed your cursed vanity. Because a set of asses call you the finest man in England; there is no maid (I suppose) who is not in love with you. I believe you are as deep as you are long, John Ridd. Shall I ever get to the bottom of your character?’

This was a little too much for me. Any insult I could take (with goodwill) from a white-haired man, and one who was my relative; unless it touched my love for Lorna, or my conscious modesty. Now both of these were touched to the quick by the sentences of the old gentleman. Therefore, without a word, I went; only making a bow to him.

But women who are (beyond all doubt) the mothers of all mischief, also nurse that babe to sleep, when he is too noisy. And there was Ruth, as I took my horse (with a trunk of frippery on him), poor little Ruth was at the bridle, and rusting all the knops of our town-going harness with tears.

‘Good-bye dear,’ I said, as she bent her head away from me; ‘shall I put you up on the saddle, dear?’

‘Cousin Ridd, you may take it lightly,’ said Ruth, turning full upon me, ‘and very likely you are right, according to your nature’— this was the only cutting thing the little soul ever said to me —‘but oh, Cousin Ridd, you have no idea of the pain you will leave behind you.’

‘How can that be so, Ruth, when I am as good as ordered to be off the premises?’

‘In the first place, Cousin Ridd, grandfather will be angry with himself, for having so ill-used you. And now he is so weak and poorly, that he is always repenting. In the next place I shall scold him first, until he admits his sorrow; and when he has admitted it, I shall scold myself for scolding him. And then he will come round again, and think that I was hard on him; and end perhaps by hating you — for he is like a woman now, John.’

That last little touch of self-knowledge in Ruth, which she delivered with a gleam of some secret pleasantry, made me stop and look closely at her: but she pretended not to know it. ‘There is something in this child,’ I thought, ‘very different from other girls. What it is I cannot tell; for one very seldom gets at it.’

At any rate the upshot was that the good horse went back to stable, and had another feed of corn, while my wrath sank within me. There are two things, according to my experience (which may not hold with another man) fitted beyond any others to take hot tempers out of us. The first is to see our favourite creatures feeding, and licking up their food, and happily snuffling over it, yet sparing time to be grateful, and showing taste and perception; the other is to go gardening boldly, in the spring of the year, without any misgiving about it, and hoping the utmost of everything. If there be a third anodyne, approaching these two in power, it is to smoke good tobacco well, and watch the setting of the moon; and if this should only be over the sea, the result is irresistible.

Master Huckaback showed no especial signs of joy at my return; but received me with a little grunt, which appeared to me to mean, ‘Ah, I thought he would hardly be fool enough to go.’ I told him how sorry I was for having in some way offended him; and he answered that I did well to grieve for one at least of my offences. To this I made no reply, as behoves a man dealing with cross and fractious people; and presently he became better-tempered, and sent little Ruth for a bottle of wine. She gave me a beautiful smile of thanks for my forbearance as she passed; and I knew by her manner that she would bring the best bottle in all the cellar.

As I had but little time to spare (although the days were long and light) we were forced to take our wine with promptitude and rapidity; and whether this loosened my uncle’s tongue, or whether he meant beforehand to speak, is now almost uncertain. But true it is that he brought his chair very near to mine, after three or four glasses, and sent Ruth away upon some errand which seemed of small importance. At this I was vexed, for the room always looked so different without her.

‘Come, Jack,’ he said, ‘here’s your health, young fellow, and a good and obedient wife to you. Not that your wife will ever obey you though; you are much too easy-tempered. Even a bitter and stormy woman might live in peace with you, Jack. But never you give her the chance to try. Marry some sweet little thing, if you can. If not, don’t marry any. Ah, we have the maid to suit you, my lad, in this old town of Dulverton.’

‘Have you so, sir? But perhaps the maid might have no desire to suit me.’

‘That you may take my word she has. The colour of this wine will prove it. The little sly hussy has been to the cobwebbed arch of the cellar, where she has no right to go, for any one under a magistrate. However, I am glad to see it, and we will not spare it, John. After my time, somebody, whoever marries little Ruth, will find some rare wines there, I trow, and perhaps not know the difference.’

Thinking of this the old man sighed, and expected me to sigh after him. But a sigh is not (like a yawn) infectious; and we are all more prone to be sent to sleep than to sorrow by one another. Not but what a sigh sometimes may make us think of sighing.

‘Well, sir,’ cried I, in my sprightliest manner, which rouses up most people, ‘here’s to your health and dear little Ruth’s: and may you live to knock off the cobwebs from every bottle in under the arch. Uncle Reuben, your life and health, sir?’

With that I took my glass thoughtfully, for it was wondrous good; and Uncle Ben was pleased to see me dwelling pleasantly on the subject with parenthesis, and self-commune, and oral judgment unpronounced, though smacking of fine decision. ‘Curia vult advisari,’ as the lawyers say; which means, ‘Let us have another glass, and then we can think about it.’

‘Come now, John,’ said Uncle Ben, laying his wrinkled hand on my knee, when he saw that none could heed us, ‘I know that you have a sneaking fondness for my grandchild Ruth. Don’t interrupt me now; you have; and to deny it will only provoke me.’

‘I do like Ruth, sir,’ I said boldly, for fear of misunderstanding; ‘but I do not love her.’

‘Very well; that makes no difference. Liking may very soon be loving (as some people call it) when the maid has money to help her.’

‘But if there be, as there is in my case —’

‘Once for all, John, not a word. I do not attempt to lead you into any engagement with little Ruth; neither will I blame you (though I may be disappointed) if no such engagement should ever be. But whether you will have my grandchild, or whether you will not — and such a chance is rarely offered to a fellow of your standing’— Uncle Ben despised all farmers —‘in any case I have at least resolved to let you know my secret; and for two good reasons. The first is that it wears me out to dwell upon it, all alone, and the second is that I can trust you to fulfil a promise. Moreover, you are my next of kin, except among the womankind; and you are just the man I want, to help me in my enterprise.’

‘And I will help you, sir,’ I answered, fearing some conspiracy, ‘in anything that is true, and loyal, and according to the laws of the realm.’

‘Ha, ha!’ cried the old man, laughing until his eyes ran over, and spreading out his skinny hands upon his shining breeches, ‘thou hast gone the same fools’ track as the rest; even as spy Stickles went, and all his precious troopers. Landing of arms at Glenthorne, and Lynmouth, wagons escorted across the moor, sounds of metal and booming noises! Ah, but we managed it cleverly, to cheat even those so near to us. Disaffection at Taunton, signs of insurrection at Dulverton, revolutionary tanner at Dunster! We set it all abroad, right well. And not even you to suspect our work; though we thought at one time that you watched us. Now who, do you suppose, is at the bottom of all this Exmoor insurgency, all this western rebellion — not that I say there is none, mind — but who is at the bottom of it?’

‘Either Mother Melldrum,’ said I, being now a little angry, ‘or else old Nick himself.’

‘Nay, old Uncle Reuben!’ Saying this, Master Huckaback cast back his coat, and stood up, and made the most of himself.

‘Well!’ cried I, being now quite come to the limits of my intellect, ‘then, after all, Captain Stickles was right in calling you a rebel, sir!’

‘Of course he was; could so keen a man be wrong about an old fool like me? But come, and see our rebellion, John. I will trust you now with everything. I will take no oath from you; only your word to keep silence; and most of all from your mother.’

‘I will give you my word,’ I said, although liking not such pledges; which make a man think before he speaks in ordinary company, against his usual practices. However, I was now so curious, that I thought of nothing else; and scarcely could believe at all that Uncle Ben was quite right in his head.

‘Take another glass of wine, my son,’ he cried with a cheerful countenance, which made him look more than ten years younger; ‘you shall come into partnership with me: your strength will save us two horses, and we always fear the horse work. Come and see our rebellion, my boy; you are a made man from to-night.’

‘But where am I to come and see it? Where am I to find it, sir?’

‘Meet me,’ he answered, yet closing his hands, and wrinkling with doubt his forehead, ‘come alone, of course; and meet me at the Wizard’s Slough, at ten tomorrow morning.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/blackmore/rd/lorna/chapter57.html

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