Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter 66

Suitable Devotion

Now Kickums was not like Winnie, any more than a man is like a woman; and so he had not followed my fortunes, except at his own distance. No doubt but what he felt a certain interest in me; but his interest was not devotion; and man might go his way and be hanged, rather than horse would meet hardship. Therefore, seeing things to be bad, and his master involved in trouble, what did this horse do but start for the ease and comfort of Plover’s Barrows, and the plentiful ration of oats abiding in his own manger. For this I do not blame him. It is the manner of mankind.

But I could not help being very uneasy at the thought of my mother’s discomfort and worry, when she should spy this good horse coming home, without any master, or rider, and I almost hoped that he might be caught (although he was worth at least twenty pounds) by some of the King’s troopers, rather than find his way home, and spread distress among our people. Yet, knowing his nature, I doubted if any could catch, or catching would keep him.

Jeremy Stickles assured me, as we took the road to Bridgwater, that the only chance for my life (if I still refused to fly) was to obtain an order forthwith, for my despatch to London, as a suspected person indeed, but not found in open rebellion, and believed to be under the patronage of the great Lord Jeffreys. ‘For,’ said he, ‘in a few hours time you would fall into the hands of Lord Feversham, who has won this fight, without seeing it, and who has returned to bed again, to have his breakfast more comfortably. Now he may not be quite so savage perhaps as Colonel Kirke, nor find so much sport in gibbeting; but he is equally pitiless, and his price no doubt would be higher.’

‘I will pay no price whatever,’ I answered, ‘neither will I fly. An hour agone I would have fled for the sake of my mother, and the farm. But now that I have been taken prisoner, and my name is known, if I fly, the farm is forfeited; and my mother and sister must starve. Moreover, I have done no harm; I have borne no weapons against the King, nor desired the success of his enemies. I like not that the son of a bona-roba should be King of England; neither do I count the Papists any worse than we are. If they have aught to try me for, I will stand my trial.’

‘Then to London thou must go, my son. There is no such thing as trial here: we hang the good folk without it, which saves them much anxiety. But quicken thy step, good John; I have influence with Lord Churchill, and we must contrive to see him, ere the foreigner falls to work again. Lord Churchill is a man of sense, and imprisons nothing but his money.’

We were lucky enough to find this nobleman, who has since become so famous by his foreign victories. He received us with great civility; and looked at me with much interest, being a tall and fine young man himself, but not to compare with me in size, although far better favoured. I liked his face well enough, but thought there was something false about it. He put me a few keen questions, such as a man not assured of honesty might have found hard to answer; and he stood in a very upright attitude, making the most of his figure.

I saw nothing to be proud of, at the moment, in this interview; but since the great Duke of Marlborough rose to the top of glory, I have tried to remember more about him than my conscience quite backs up. How should I know that this man would be foremost of our kingdom in five-and-twenty years or so; and not knowing, why should I heed him, except for my own pocket? Nevertheless, I have been so cross-questioned — far worse than by young Lord Churchill — about His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, and what he said to me, and what I said then, and how His Grace replied to that, and whether he smiled like another man, or screwed up his lips like a button (as our parish tailor said of him), and whether I knew from the turn of his nose that no Frenchman could stand before him: all these inquiries have worried me so, ever since the Battle of Blenheim, that if tailors would only print upon waistcoats, I would give double price for a vest bearing this inscription, ‘No information can be given about the Duke of Marlborough.’

Now this good Lord Churchill — for one might call him good, by comparison with the very bad people around him — granted without any long hesitation the order for my safe deliverance to the Court of King’s Bench at Westminster; and Stickles, who had to report in London, was empowered to convey me, and made answerable for producing me. This arrangement would have been entirely to my liking, although the time of year was bad for leaving Plover’s Barrows so; but no man may quite choose his times, and on the while I would have been quite content to visit London, if my mother could be warned that nothing was amiss with me, only a mild, and as one might say, nominal captivity. And to prevent her anxiety, I did my best to send a letter through good Sergeant Bloxham, of whom I heard as quartered with Dumbarton’s regiment at Chedzuy. But that regiment was away in pursuit; and I was forced to entrust my letter to a man who said that he knew him, and accepted a shilling to see to it.

For fear of any unpleasant change, we set forth at once for London; and truly thankful may I be that God in His mercy spared me the sight of the cruel and bloody work with which the whole country reeked and howled during the next fortnight. I have heard things that set my hair on end, and made me loathe good meat for days; but I make a point of setting down only the things which I saw done; and in this particular case, not many will quarrel with my decision. Enough, therefore, that we rode on (for Stickles had found me a horse at last) as far as Wells, where we slept that night; and being joined in the morning by several troopers and orderlies, we made a slow but safe journey to London, by way of Bath and Reading.

The sight of London warmed my heart with various emotions, such as a cordial man must draw from the heart of all humanity. Here there are quick ways and manners, and the rapid sense of knowledge, and the power of understanding, ere a word be spoken. Whereas at Oare, you must say a thing three times, very slowly, before it gets inside the skull of the good man you are addressing. And yet we are far more clever there than in any parish for fifteen miles.

But what moved me most, when I saw again the noble oil and tallow of the London lights, and the dripping torches at almost every corner, and the handsome signboards, was the thought that here my Lorna lived, and walked, and took the air, and perhaps thought now and then of the old days in the good farm-house. Although I would make no approach to her, any more than she had done to me (upon which grief I have not dwelt, for fear of seeming selfish), yet there must be some large chance, or the little chance might be enlarged, of falling in with the maiden somehow, and learning how her mind was set. If against me, all should be over. I was not the man to sigh and cry for love, like a Romeo: none should even guess my grief, except my sister Annie.

But if Lorna loved me still — as in my heart of hearts I hoped — then would I for no one care, except her own delicious self. Rank and title, wealth and grandeur, all should go to the winds, before they scared me from my own true love.

Thinking thus, I went to bed in the centre of London town, and was bitten so grievously by creatures whose name is ‘legion,’ mad with the delight of getting a wholesome farmer among them, that verily I was ashamed to walk in the courtly parts of the town next day, having lumps upon my face of the size of a pickling walnut. The landlord said that this was nothing; and that he expected, in two days at the utmost, a very fresh young Irishman, for whom they would all forsake me. Nevertheless, I declined to wait, unless he could find me a hayrick to sleep in; for the insects of grass only tickle. He assured me that no hayrick could now be found in London; upon which I was forced to leave him, and with mutual esteem we parted.

The next night I had better luck, being introduced to a decent widow, of very high Scotch origin. That house was swept and garnished so, that not a bit was left to eat, for either man or insect. The change of air having made me hungry, I wanted something after supper; being quite ready to pay for it, and showing my purse as a symptom. But the face of Widow MacAlister, when I proposed to have some more food, was a thing to be drawn (if it could be drawn further) by our new caricaturist.

Therefore I left her also; for liefer would I be eaten myself than have nothing to eat; and so I came back to my old furrier; the which was a thoroughly hearty man, and welcomed me to my room again, with two shillings added to the rent, in the joy of his heart at seeing me. Being under parole to Master Stickles, I only went out betwixt certain hours; because I was accounted as liable to be called upon; for what purpose I knew not, but hoped it might be a good one. I felt it a loss, and a hindrance to me, that I was so bound to remain at home during the session of the courts of law; for thereby the chance of ever beholding Lorna was very greatly contracted, if not altogether annihilated. For these were the very hours in which the people of fashion, and the high world, were wont to appear to the rest of mankind, so as to encourage them. And of course by this time, the Lady Lorna was high among people of fashion, and was not likely to be seen out of fashionable hours. It is true that there were some places of expensive entertainment, at which the better sort of mankind might be seen and studied, in their hours of relaxation, by those of the lower order, who could pay sufficiently. But alas, my money was getting low; and the privilege of seeing my betters was more and more denied to me, as my cash drew shorter. For a man must have a good coat at least, and the pockets not wholly empty, before he can look at those whom God has created for his ensample.

Hence, and from many other causes — part of which was my own pride — it happened that I abode in London betwixt a month and five weeks’ time, ere ever I saw Lorna. It seemed unfit that I should go, and waylay her, and spy on her, and say (or mean to say), ‘Lo, here is your poor faithful farmer, a man who is unworthy of you, by means of his common birth; and yet who dares to crawl across your path, that you may pity him. For God’s sake show a little pity, though you may not feel it.’ Such behaviour might be comely in a love-lorn boy, a page to some grand princess; but I, John Ridd, would never stoop to the lowering of love so.

Nevertheless I heard of Lorna, from my worthy furrier, almost every day, and with a fine exaggeration. This honest man was one of those who in virtue of their trade, and nicety of behaviour, are admitted into noble life, to take measurements, and show patterns. And while so doing, they contrive to acquire what is to the English mind at once the most important and most interesting of all knowledge — the science of being able to talk about the titled people. So my furrier (whose name was Ramsack), having to make robes for peers, and cloaks for their wives and otherwise, knew the great folk, sham or real, as well as he knew a fox or skunk from a wolverine skin.

And when, with some fencing and foils of inquiry, I hinted about Lady Lorna Dugal, the old man’s face became so pleasant that I knew her birth must be wondrous high. At this my own countenance fell, I suppose — for the better she was born, the harder she would be to marry — and mistaking my object, he took me up:—

‘Perhaps you think, Master Ridd, that because her ladyship, Lady Lorna Dugal, is of Scottish origin, therefore her birth is not as high as of our English nobility. If you think so you are wrong, sir. She comes not of the sandy Scotch race, with high cheek-bones, and raw shoulder-blades, who set up pillars in their courtyards. But she comes of the very best Scotch blood, descended from the Norsemen. Her mother was of the very noblest race, the Lords of Lorne; higher even than the great Argyle, who has lately made a sad mistake, and paid for it most sadly. And her father was descended from the King Dugal, who fought against Alexander the Great. No, no, Master Ridd; none of your promiscuous blood, such as runs in the veins of half our modern peerage.’

‘Why should you trouble yourself about it, Master Ramsack?’ I replied: ‘let them all go their own ways: and let us all look up to them, whether they come by hook or crook.’

‘Not at all, not at all, my lad. That is not the way to regard it. We look up at the well-born men, and side-ways at the base-born.’

‘Then we are all base-born ourselves. I will look up to no man, except for what himself has done.’

‘Come, Master Ridd, you might be lashed from New-gate to Tyburn and back again, once a week, for a twelvemonth, if some people heard you. Keep your tongue more close, young man; or here you lodge no longer; albeit I love your company, which smells to me of the hayfield. Ah, I have not seen a hayfield for nine-and-twenty years, John Ridd. The cursed moths keep me at home, every day of the summer.’

‘Spread your furs on the haycocks,’ I answered very boldly: ‘the indoor moth cannot abide the presence of the outdoor ones.’

‘Is it so?’ he answered: ‘I never thought of that before. And yet I have known such strange things happen in the way of fur, that I can well believe it. If you only knew, John, the way in which they lay their eggs, and how they work tail-foremost —’

‘Tell me nothing of the kind,’ I replied, with equal confidence: ‘they cannot work tail-foremost; and they have no tails to work with.’ For I knew a little about grubs, and the ignorance concerning them, which we have no right to put up with. However, not to go into that (for the argument lasted a fortnight; and then was only come so far as to begin again), Master Ramsack soon convinced me of the things I knew already; the excellence of Lorna’s birth, as well as her lofty place at Court, and beauty, and wealth, and elegance. But all these only made me sigh, and wish that I were born to them.

From Master Ramsack I discovered that the nobleman to whose charge Lady Lorna had been committed, by the Court of Chancery, was Earl Brandir of Lochawe, her poor mother’s uncle. For the Countess of Dugal was daughter, and only child, of the last Lord Lorne, whose sister had married Sir Ensor Doone; while he himself had married the sister of Earl Brandir. This nobleman had a country house near the village of Kensington; and here his niece dwelled with him, when she was not in attendance on Her Majesty the Queen, who had taken a liking to her. Now since the King had begun to attend the celebration of mass, in the chapel at Whitehall — and not at Westminster Abbey, as our gossips had averred — he had given order that the doors should be thrown open, so that all who could make interest to get into the antechamber, might see this form of worship. Master Ramsack told me that Lorna was there almost every Sunday; their Majesties being most anxious to have the presence of all the nobility of the Catholic persuasion, so as to make a goodly show. And the worthy furrier, having influence with the door-keepers, kindly obtained admittance for me, one Sunday, into the antechamber.

Here I took care to be in waiting, before the Royal procession entered; but being unknown, and of no high rank, I was not allowed to stand forward among the better people, but ordered back into a corner very dark and dismal; the verger remarking, with a grin, that I could see over all other heads, and must not set my own so high. Being frightened to find myself among so many people of great rank and gorgeous apparel, I blushed at the notice drawn upon me by this uncourteous fellow; and silently fell back into the corner by the hangings.

You may suppose that my heart beat high, when the King and Queen appeared, and entered, followed by the Duke of Norfolk, bearing the sword of state, and by several other noblemen, and people of repute. Then the doors of the chapel were thrown wide open; and though I could only see a little, being in the corner so, I thought that it was beautiful. Bowers of rich silk were there, and plenty of metal shining, and polished wood with lovely carving; flowers too of the noblest kind, and candles made by somebody who had learned how to clarify tallow. This last thing amazed me more than all, for our dips never will come clear, melt the mutton-fat how you will. And methought that this hanging of flowers about was a pretty thing; for if a man can worship God best of all beneath a tree, as the natural instinct is, surely when by fault of climate the tree would be too apt to drip, the very best make-believe is to have enough and to spare of flowers; which to the dwellers in London seem to have grown on the tree denied them.

Be that as it may, when the King and Queen crossed the threshold, a mighty flourish of trumpets arose, and a waving of banners. The Knights of the Garter (whoever they be) were to attend that day in state; and some went in, and some stayed out, and it made me think of the difference betwixt the ewes and the wethers. For the ewes will go wherever you lead them; but the wethers will not, having strong opinions, and meaning to abide by them. And one man I noticed was of the wethers, to wit the Duke of Norfolk; who stopped outside with the sword of state, like a beadle with a rapping-rod. This has taken more to tell than the time it happened in. For after all the men were gone, some to this side, some to that, according to their feelings, a number of ladies, beautifully dressed, being of the Queen’s retinue, began to enter, and were stared at three times as much as the men had been. And indeed they were worth looking at (which men never are to my ideas, when they trick themselves with gewgaws), but none was so well worth eye-service as my own beloved Lorna. She entered modestly and shyly, with her eyes upon the ground, knowing the rudeness of the gallants, and the large sum she was priced at. Her dress was of the purest white, very sweet and simple, without a line of ornament, for she herself adorned it. The way she walked. and touched her skirt (rather than seemed to hold it up) with a white hand beaming one red rose, this and her stately supple neck, and the flowing of her hair would show, at a distance of a hundred yards, that she could be none but Lorna Doone. Lorna Doone of my early love; in the days when she blushed for her name before me by reason of dishonesty; but now the Lady Lorna Dugal as far beyond reproach as above my poor affection. All my heart, and all my mind, gathered themselves upon her. Would she see me, or would she pass? Was there instinct in our love?

By some strange chance she saw me. Or was it through our destiny? While with eyes kept sedulously on the marble floor, to shun the weight of admiration thrust too boldly on them, while with shy quick steps she passed, some one (perhaps with purpose) trod on the skirt of her clear white dress — with the quickness taught her by many a scene of danger, she looked up, and her eyes met mine.

As I gazed upon her, steadfastly, yearningly, yet with some reproach, and more of pride than humility, she made me one of the courtly bows which I do so much detest; yet even that was sweet and graceful, when my Lorna did it. But the colour of her pure clear cheeks was nearly as deep as that of my own, when she went on for the religious work. And the shining of her eyes was owing to an unpaid debt of tears.

Upon the whole I was satisfied. Lorna had seen me, and had not (according to the phrase of the high world then) even tried to ‘cut’ me. Whether this low phrase is born of their own stupid meanness, or whether it comes of necessity exercised on a man without money, I know not, and I care not. But one thing I know right well; any man who ‘cuts’ a man (except for vice or meanness) should be quartered without quarter.

All these proud thoughts rose within me as the lovely form of Lorna went inside, and was no more seen. And then I felt how coarse I was; how apt to think strong thoughts, and so on; without brains to bear me out: even as a hen’s egg, laid without enough of lime, and looking only a poor jelly.

Nevertheless, I waited on; as my usual manner is. For to be beaten, while running away, is ten times worse than to face it out, and take it, and have done with it. So at least I have always found, because of reproach of conscience: and all the things those clever people carried on inside, at large, made me long for our Parson Bowden that he might know how to act.

While I stored up, in my memory, enough to keep our parson going through six pipes on a Saturday night — to have it as right as could be next day — a lean man with a yellow beard, too thin for a good Catholic (which religion always fattens), came up to me, working sideways, in the manner of a female crab.

‘This is not to my liking,’ I said: ‘if aught thou hast, speak plainly; while they make that horrible noise inside.’

Nothing had this man to say; but with many sighs, because I was not of the proper faith, he took my reprobate hand to save me: and with several religious tears, looked up at me, and winked with one eye. Although the skin of my palms was thick, I felt a little suggestion there, as of a gentle leaf in spring, fearing to seem too forward. I paid the man, and he went happy; for the standard of heretical silver is purer than that of the Catholics.

Then I lifted up my little billet; and in that dark corner read it, with a strong rainbow of colours coming from the angled light. And in mine eyes there was enough to make rainbow of strongest sun, as my anger clouded off.

Not that it began so well; but that in my heart I knew (ere three lines were through me) that I was with all heart loved — and beyond that, who may need? The darling of my life went on, as if I were of her own rank, or even better than she was; and she dotted her ‘i’s,’ and crossed her ‘t’s,’ as if I were at least a schoolmaster. All of it was done in pencil; but as plain as plain could be. In my coffin it shall lie, with my ring and something else. Therefore will I not expose it to every man who buys this book, and haply thinks that he has bought me to the bottom of my heart. Enough for men of gentle birth (who never are inquisitive) that my love told me, in her letter, just to come and see her.

I ran away, and could not stop. To behold even her, at the moment, would have dashed my fancy’s joy. Yet my brain was so amiss, that I must do something. Therefore to the river Thames, with all speed, I hurried; and keeping all my best clothes on (indued for sake of Lorna), into the quiet stream I leaped, and swam as far as London Bridge, and ate nobler dinner afterwards.

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