Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter 59

Lorna Gone Away

Although there are very ancient tales of gold being found upon Exmoor, in lumps and solid hummocks, and of men who slew one another for it, this deep digging and great labour seemed to me a dangerous and unholy enterprise. And Master Huckaback confessed that up to the present time his two partners and himself (for they proved to be three adventurers) had put into the earth more gold than they had taken out of it. Nevertheless he felt quite sure that it must in a very short time succeed, and pay them back an hundredfold; and he pressed me with great earnestness to join them, and work there as much as I could, without moving my mother’s suspicions. I asked him how they had managed so long to carry on without discovery; and he said that this was partly through the wildness of the neighbourhood, and the legends that frightened people of a superstitious turn; partly through their own great caution, and the manner of fetching both supplies and implements by night; but most of all, they had to thank the troubles of the period, the suspicions of rebellion, and the terror of the Doones, which (like the wizard I was speaking of) kept folk from being too inquisitive where they had no business. The slough, moreover, had helped them well, both by making their access dark, and yet more by swallowing up and concealing all that was cast from the mouth of the pit. Once, before the attack on Glen Doone, they had a narrow escape from the King’s Commissioner; for Captain Stickles having heard no doubt the story of John Fry, went with half a dozen troopers, on purpose to search the neighbourhood. Now if he had ridden alone, most likely he would have discovered everything; but he feared to venture so, having suspicion of a trap. Coming as they did in a company, all mounted and conspicuous, the watchman (who was posted now on the top of the hill, almost every day since John Fry’s appearance) could not help espying them, miles distant, over the moorland. He watched them under the shade of his hand, and presently ran down the hill, and raised a great commotion. Then Simon Carfax and all his men came up, and made things natural, removing every sign of work; and finally, sinking underground, drew across the mouth of the pit a hurdle thatched with sedge and heather. Only Simon himself was left behind, ensconced in a hole of the crags, to observe the doings of the enemy.

Captain Stickles rode very bravely, with all his men clattering after him, down the rocky pass, and even to the margin of the slough. And there they stopped, and held council; for it was a perilous thing to risk the passage upon horseback, between the treacherous brink and the cliff, unless one knew it thoroughly. Stickles, however, and one follower, carefully felt the way along, having their horses well in hand, and bearing a rope to draw them out, in case of being foundered. Then they spurred across the rough boggy land, farther away than the shaft was. Here the ground lay jagged and shaggy, wrought up with high tufts of reed, or scragged with stunted brushwood. And between the ups and downs (which met anybody anyhow) green-covered places tempted the foot, and black bog-holes discouraged it. It is not to be marvelled at that amid such place as this, for the first time visited, the horses were a little skeary; and their riders partook of the feeling, as all good riders do. In and out of the tufts they went, with their eyes dilating, wishing to be out of harm, if conscience were but satisfied. And of this tufty flaggy ground, pocked with bogs and boglets, one especial nature is that it will not hold impressions.

Seeing thus no track of men, nor anything but marsh-work, and stormwork, and of the seasons, these two honest men rode back, and were glad to do so. For above them hung the mountains, cowled with fog, and seamed with storm; and around them desolation; and below their feet the grave. Hence they went, with all goodwill; and vowed for ever afterwards that fear of a simple place like that was only too ridiculous. So they all rode home with mutual praises, and their courage well-approved; and the only result of the expedition was to confirm John Fry’s repute as a bigger liar than ever.

Now I had enough of that underground work, as before related, to last me for a year to come; neither would I, for sake of gold, have ever stepped into that bucket, of my own goodwill again. But when I told Lorna — whom I could trust in any matter of secrecy, as if she had never been a woman — all about my great descent, and the honeycombing of the earth, and the mournful noise at eventide, when the gold was under the crusher and bewailing the mischief it must do, then Lorna’s chief desire was to know more about Simon Carfax.

‘It must be our Gwenny’s father,’ she cried; ‘the man who disappeared underground, and whom she has ever been seeking. How grieved the poor little thing will be, if it should turn out, after all, that he left his child on purpose! I can hardly believe it; can you, John?’

‘Well,’ I replied; ‘all men are wicked, more or less, to some extent; and no man may say otherwise.’

For I did not wish to commit myself to an opinion about Simon, lest I might be wrong, and Lorna think less of my judgment.

But being resolved to see this out, and do a good turn, if I could, to Gwenny, who had done me many a good one, I begged my Lorna to say not a word of this matter to the handmaiden, until I had further searched it out. And to carry out this resolve, I went again to the place of business where they were grinding gold as freely as an apothecary at his pills.

Having now true right of entrance, and being known to the watchman, and regarded (since I cracked the boulder) as one who could pay his footing, and perhaps would be the master, when Uncle Ben should he choked with money, I found the corb sent up for me rather sooner than I wished it. For the smell of the places underground, and the way men’s eyes came out of them, with links, and brands, and flambeaux, instead of God’s light to look at, were to me a point of caution, rather than of pleasure.

No doubt but what some men enjoy it, being born, like worms, to dig, and to live in their own scoopings. Yet even the worms come up sometimes, after a good soft shower of rain, and hold discourse with one another; whereas these men, and the horses let down, come above ground never.

And the changing of the sky is half the change our nature calls for. Earth we have, and all its produce (moving from the first appearance, and the hope with infants’ eyes, through the bloom of beauty’s promise, to the rich and ripe fulfilment, and the falling back to rest); sea we have (with all its wonder shed on eyes, and ears, and heart; and the thought of something more)— but without the sky to look at, what would earth, and sea, and even our own selves, be to us?

Do we look at earth with hope? Yes, for victuals only. Do we look at sea with hope? Yes, that we may escape it. At the sky alone (though questioned with the doubts of sunshine, or scattered with uncertain stars), at the sky alone we look with pure hope and with memory.

Hence it always hurt my feelings when I got into that bucket, with my small-clothes turned up over, and a kerchief round my hat. But knowing that my purpose was sound, and my motives pure, I let the sky grow to a little blue hole, and then to nothing over me. At the bottom Master Carfax met me, being captain of the mine, and desirous to know my business. He wore a loose sack round his shoulders, and his beard was two feet long.

‘My business is to speak with you,’ I answered rather sternly; for this man, who was nothing more than Uncle Reuben’s servant, had carried things too far with me, showing no respect whatever; and though I did not care for much, I liked to receive a little, even in my early days.

‘Coom into the muck-hole, then,’ was his gracious answer; and he led me into a filthy cell, where the miners changed their jackets.

‘Simon Carfax, I began, with a manner to discourage him; ‘I fear you are a shallow fellow, and not worth my trouble.’

‘Then don’t take it,’ he replied; ‘I want no man’s trouble.’

‘For your sake I would not,’ I answered; ‘but for your daughter’s sake I will; the daughter whom you left to starve so pitifully in the wilderness.’

The man stared at me with his pale gray eyes, whose colour was lost from candle light; and his voice as well as his body shook, while he cried —

‘It is a lie, man. No daughter, and no son have I. Nor was ever child of mine left to starve in the wilderness. You are too big for me to tackle, and that makes you a coward for saying it.’ His hands were playing with a pickaxe helve, as if he longed to have me under it.

‘Perhaps I have wronged you, Simon,’ I answered very softly; for the sweat upon his forehead shone in the smoky torchlight; ‘if I have, I crave your pardon. But did you not bring up from Cornwall a little maid named “Gwenny,” and supposed to be your daughter?’

‘Ay, and she was my daughter, my last and only child of five; and for her I would give this mine, and all the gold will ever come from it.’

‘You shall have her, without either mine or gold; if you only prove to me that you did not abandon her.’

‘Abandon her! I abandon Gwenny!’ He cried with such a rage of scorn, that I at once believed him. ‘They told me she was dead, and crushed, and buried in the drift here; and half my heart died with her. The Almighty blast their mining-work, if the scoundrels lied to me!’

‘The scoundrels must have lied to you,’ I answered, with a spirit fired by his heat of fury: ‘the maid is living and with us. Come up; and you shall see her.’

‘Rig the bucket,’ he shouted out along the echoing gallery; and then he fell against the wall, and through the grimy sack I saw the heaving of his breast, as I have seen my opponent’s chest, in a long hard bout of wrestling. For my part, I could do no more than hold my tongue and look at him.

Without another word we rose to the level of the moors and mires; neither would Master Carfax speak, as I led him across the barrows. In this he was welcome to his own way, for I do love silence; so little harm can come of it. And though Gwenny was no beauty, her father might be fond of her.

So I put him in the cow-house (not to frighten the little maid), and the folding shutters over him, such as we used at the beestings; and he listened to my voice outside, and held on, and preserved himself. For now he would have scooped the earth, as cattle do at yearning-time, and as meekly and as patiently, to have his child restored to him. Not to make long tale of it — for this thing is beyond me, through want of true experience — I went and fetched his Gwenny forth from the back kitchen, where she was fighting, as usual, with our Betty.

‘Come along, you little Vick,’ I said, for so we called her; ‘I have a message to you, Gwenny, from the Lord in heaven.’

‘Don’t ‘ee talk about He,’ she answered; ‘Her have long forgatten me.’

‘That He has never done, you stupid. Come, and see who is in the cowhouse.’

Gwenny knew; she knew in a moment. Looking into my eyes, she knew; and hanging back from me to sigh, she knew it even better.

She had not much elegance of emotion, being flat and square all over; but none the less for that her heart came quick, and her words came slowly.

‘Oh, Jan, you are too good to cheat me. Is it joke you are putting upon me?’

I answered her with a gaze alone; and she tucked up her clothes and followed me because the road was dirty. Then I opened the door just wide enough for the child to to go her father, and left those two to have it out, as might be most natural. And they took a long time about it.

Meanwhile I needs must go and tell my Lorna all the matter; and her joy was almost as great as if she herself had found a father. And the wonder of the whole was this, that I got all the credit; of which not a thousandth part belonged by right and reason to me. Yet so it almost always is. If I work for good desert, and slave, and lie awake at night, and spend my unborn life in dreams, not a blink, nor wink, nor inkling of my labour ever tells. It would have been better to leave unburned, and to keep undevoured, the fuel and the food of life. But if I have laboured not, only acted by some impulse, whim, caprice, or anything; or even acting not at all, only letting things float by; piled upon me commendations, bravoes, and applauses, almost work me up to tempt once again (though sick of it) the ill luck of deserving.

Without intending any harm, and meaning only good indeed, I had now done serious wrong to Uncle Reuben’s prospects. For Captain Carfax was full as angry at the trick played on him as he was happy in discovering the falsehood and the fraud of it. Nor could I help agreeing with him, when he told me all of it, as with tears in his eyes he did, and ready to be my slave henceforth; I could not forbear from owning that it was a low and heartless trick, unworthy of men who had families; and the recoil whereof was well deserved, whatever it might end in.

For when this poor man left his daughter, asleep as he supposed, and having his food, and change of clothes, and Sunday hat to see to, he meant to return in an hour or so, and settle about her sustenance in some house of the neighbourhood. But this was the very thing of all things which the leaders of the enterprise, who had brought him up from Cornwall, for his noted skill in metals, were determined, whether by fair means or foul, to stop at the very outset. Secrecy being their main object, what chance could there be of it, if the miners were allowed to keep their children in the neighbourhood? Hence, on the plea of feasting Simon, they kept him drunk for three days and three nights, assuring him (whenever he had gleams enough to ask for her) that his daughter was as well as could be, and enjoying herself with the children. Not wishing the maid to see him tipsy, he pressed the matter no further; but applied himself to the bottle again, and drank her health with pleasure.

However, after three days of this, his constitution rose against it, and he became quite sober; with a certain lowness of heart moreover, and a sense of error. And his first desire to right himself, and easiest way to do it, was by exerting parental authority upon Gwenny. Possessed with this intention (for he was not a sweet tempered man, and his head was aching sadly) he sought for Gwenny high and low; first with threats, and then with fears, and then with tears and wailing. And so he became to the other men a warning and a great annoyance. Therefore they combined to swear what seemed a very likely thing, and might be true for all they knew, to wit, that Gwenny had come to seek for her father down the shaft-hole, and peering too eagerly into the dark, had toppled forward, and gone down, and lain at the bottom as dead as a stone.

‘And thou being so happy with drink,’ the villains finished up to him, ‘and getting drunker every day, we thought it shame to trouble thee; and we buried the wench in the lower drift; and no use to think more of her; but come and have a glass, Sim.’

But Simon Carfax swore that drink had lost him his wife, and now had lost him the last of his five children, and would lose him his own soul, if further he went on with it; and from that day to his death he never touched strong drink again. Nor only this; but being soon appointed captain of the mine, he allowed no man on any pretext to bring cordials thither; and to this and his stern hard rule and stealthy secret management (as much as to good luck and place) might it be attributed that scarcely any but themselves had dreamed about this Exmoor mine.

As for me, I had no ambition to become a miner; and the state to which gold-seeking had brought poor Uncle Ben was not at all encouraging. My business was to till the ground, and tend the growth that came of it, and store the fruit in Heaven’s good time, rather than to scoop and burrow like a weasel or a rat for the yellow root of evil. Moreover, I was led from home, between the hay and corn harvests (when we often have a week to spare), by a call there was no resisting; unless I gave up all regard for wrestling, and for my county.

Now here many persons may take me amiss, and there always has been some confusion; which people who ought to have known better have wrought into subject of quarrelling. By birth it is true, and cannot be denied, that I am a man of Somerset; nevertheless by breed I am, as well as by education, a son of Devon also. And just as both of our two counties vowed that Glen Doone was none of theirs, but belonged to the other one; so now, each with hot claim and jangling (leading even to blows sometimes), asserted and would swear to it (as I became more famous) that John Ridd was of its own producing, bred of its own true blood, and basely stolen by the other.

Now I have not judged it in any way needful or even becoming and delicate, to enter into my wrestling adventures, or describe my progress. The whole thing is so different from Lorna, and her gentle manners, and her style of walking; moreover I must seem (even to kind people) to magnify myself so much, or at least attempt to do it, that I have scratched out written pages, through my better taste and sense.

Neither will I, upon this head, make any difference even now; being simply betrayed into mentioning the matter because bare truth requires it, in the tale of Lorna’s fortunes.

For a mighty giant had arisen in a part of Cornwall: and his calf was twenty-five inches round, and the breadth of his shoulders two feet and a quarter; and his stature seven feet and three-quarters. Round the chest he was seventy inches, and his hand a foot across, and there were no scales strong enough to judge of his weight in the market-place. Now this man — or I should say, his backers and his boasters, for the giant himself was modest — sent me a brave and haughty challenge, to meet him in the ring at Bodmin-town, on the first day of August, or else to return my champion’s belt to them by the messenger.

It is no use to deny but that I was greatly dashed and scared at first. For my part, I was only, when measured without clothes on, sixty inches round the breast, and round the calf scarce twenty-one, only two feet across the shoulders, and in height not six and three-quarters. However, my mother would never believe that this man could beat me; and Lorna being of the same mind, I resolved to go and try him, as they would pay all expenses and a hundred pounds, if I conquered him; so confident were those Cornishmen.

Now this story is too well known for me to go through it again and again. Every child in Devonshire knows, and his grandson will know, the song which some clever man made of it, after I had treated him to water, and to lemon, and a little sugar, and a drop of eau-de-vie. Enough that I had found the giant quite as big as they had described him, and enough to terrify any one. But trusting in my practice and study of the art, I resolved to try a back with him; and when my arms were round him once, the giant was but a farthingale put into the vice of a blacksmith. The man had no bones; his frame sank in, and I was afraid of crushing him. He lay on his back, and smiled at me; and I begged his pardon.

Now this affair made a noise at the time, and redounded so much to my credit, that I was deeply grieved at it, because deserving none. For I do like a good strife and struggle; and the doubt makes the joy of victory; whereas in this case, I might as well have been sent for a match with a hay-mow. However, I got my hundred pounds, and made up my mind to spend every farthing in presents for mother and Lorna.

For Annie was married by this time, and long before I went away; as need scarcely be said, perhaps; if any one follows the weeks and the months. The wedding was quiet enough, except for everybody’s good wishes; and I desire not to dwell upon it, because it grieved me in many ways.

But now that I had tried to hope the very best for dear Annie, a deeper blow than could have come, even through her, awaited me. For after that visit to Cornwall, and with my prize-money about me, I came on foot from Okehampton to Oare, so as to save a little sum towards my time of marrying. For Lorna’s fortune I would not have; small or great I would not have it; only if there were no denying we would devote the whole of it to charitable uses, as Master Peter Blundell had done; and perhaps the future ages would endeavour to be grateful. Lorna and I had settled this question at least twice a day, on the average; and each time with more satisfaction.

Now coming into the kitchen with all my cash in my breeches pocket (golden guineas, with an elephant on them, for the stamp of the Guinea Company), I found dear mother most heartily glad to see me safe and sound again — for she had dreaded that giant, and dreamed of him — and she never asked me about the money. Lizzie also was softer, and more gracious than usual; especially when she saw me pour guineas, like peppercorns, into the pudding-basin. But by the way they hung about, I knew that something was gone wrong.

‘Where is Lorna?’ I asked at length, after trying not to ask it; ‘I want her to come, and see my money. She never saw so much before.’

‘Alas!’ said mother with a heavy sigh; ‘she will see a great deal more, I fear; and a deal more than is good for her. Whether you ever see her again will depend upon her nature, John.’

‘What do you mean, mother? Have you quarrelled? Why does not Lorna come to me? Am I never to know?’

‘Now, John, be not so impatient,’ my mother replied, quite calmly, for in truth she was jealous of Lorna, ‘you could wait now, very well, John, if it were till this day week, for the coming of your mother, John. And yet your mother is your best friend. Who can ever fill her place?’

Thinking of her future absence, mother turned away and cried; and the box-iron singed the blanket.

‘Now,’ said I, being wild by this time; ‘Lizzie, you have a little sense; will you tell me where is Lorna?’

‘The Lady Lorna Dugal,’ said Lizzie, screwing up her lips as if the title were too grand, ‘is gone to London, brother John; and not likely to come back again. We must try to get on without her.’

‘You little —[something]’ I cried, which I dare not write down here, as all you are too good for such language; but Lizzie’s lip provoked me so —‘my Lorna gone, my Lorna gone! And without good-bye to me even! It is your spite has sickened her.’

‘You are quite mistaken there,’ she replied; ‘how can folk of low degree have either spite or liking towards the people so far above them? The Lady Lorna Dugal is gone, because she could not help herself; and she wept enough to break ten hearts — if hearts are ever broken, John.’

‘Darling Lizzie, how good you are!’ I cried, without noticing her sneer; ‘tell me all about it, dear; tell me every word she said.’

‘That will not take long,’ said Lizzie, quite as unmoved by soft coaxing as by urgent cursing; ‘the lady spoke very little to any one, except indeed to mother, and to Gwenny Carfax; and Gwenny is gone with her, so that the benefit of that is lost. But she left a letter for “poor John,” as in charity she called him. How grand she looked, to be sure, with the fine clothes on that were come for her!’

‘Where is the letter, you utter vixen! Oh, may you have a husband!’

‘Who will thresh it out of you, and starve it, and swear it out of you!’ was the meaning of my imprecation: but Lizzie, not dreaming as yet of such things, could not understand me, and was rather thankful; therefore she answered quietly —

‘The letter is in the little cupboard, near the head of Lady Lorna’s bed, where she used to keep the diamond necklace, which we contrived to get stolen.’

Without another word I rushed (so that every board in the house shook) up to my lost Lorna’s room, and tore the little wall-niche open and espied my treasure. It was as simple, and as homely, and loving, as even I could wish. Part of it ran as follows — the other parts it behoves me not to open out to strangers:—‘My own love, and sometime lord — Take it not amiss of me, that even without farewell, I go; for I cannot persuade the men to wait, your return being doubtful. My great-uncle, some grand lord, is awaiting me at Dunster, having fear of venturing too near this Exmoor country. I, who have been so lawless always, and the child of outlaws, am now to atone for this, it seems, by living in a court of law, and under special surveillance (as they call it, I believe) of His Majesty’s Court of Chancery. My uncle is appointed my guardian and master; and I must live beneath his care, until I am twenty-one years old. To me this appears a dreadful thing, and very unjust, and cruel; for why should I lose my freedom, through heritage of land and gold? I offered to abandon all if they would only let me go; I went down on my knees to them, and said I wanted titles not, neither land, nor money; only to stay where I was, where first I had known happiness. But they only laughed and called me “child,” and said I must talk of that to the King’s High Chancellor. Their orders they had, and must obey them; and Master Stickles was ordered too, to help as the King’s Commissioner. And then, although it pierced my heart not to say one “goodbye, John,” I was glad upon the whole that you were not here to dispute it. For I am almost certain that you would not, without force to yourself, have let your Lorna go to people who never, never can care for her.’

Here my darling had wept again, by the tokens on the paper; and then there followed some sweet words, too sweet for me to chatter them. But she finished with these noble lines, which (being common to all humanity, in a case of steadfast love) I do no harm, but rather help all true love by repeating. ‘Of one thing rest you well assured — and I do hope that it may prove of service to your rest, love, else would my own be broken — no difference of rank, or fortune, or of life itself, shall ever make me swerve from truth to you. We have passed through many troubles, dangers, and dispartments, but never yet was doubt between us; neither ever shall be. Each has trusted well the other; and still each must do so. Though they tell you I am false, though your own mind harbours it, from the sense of things around, and your own undervaluing, yet take counsel of your heart, and cast such thoughts away from you; being unworthy of itself they must he unworthy also of the one who dwells there; and that one is, and ever shall be, your own Lorna Dugal.’

Some people cannot understand that tears should come from pleasure; but whether from pleasure or from sorrow (mixed as they are in the twisted strings of a man’s heart, or a woman’s), great tears fell from my stupid eyes, even on the blots of Lorna’s.

‘No doubt it is all over,’ my mind said to me bitterly; ‘trust me, all shall yet be right,’ my heart replied very sweetly.

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