Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter 72

The Counsellor and the Carver

From that great confusion — for nothing can be broken up, whether lawful or unlawful, without a vast amount of dust, and many people grumbling, and mourning for the good old times, when all the world was happiness, and every man a gentleman, and the sun himself far brighter than since the brassy idol upon which he shone was broken — from all this loss of ancient landmarks (as unrobbed men began to call our clearance of those murderers) we returned on the following day, almost as full of anxiety as we were of triumph. In the first place, what could we possibly do with all these women and children, thrown on our hands as one might say, with none to protect and care for them? Again how should we answer to the justices of the peace, or perhaps even to Lord Jeffreys, for having, without even a warrant, taken the law into our own hands, and abated our nuisance so forcibly? And then, what was to be done with the spoil, which was of great value; though the diamond necklace came not to public light? For we saw a mighty host of claimants already leaping up for booty. Every man who had ever been robbed, expected usury on his loss; the lords of the manors demanded the whole; and so did the King’s Commissioner of revenue at Porlock; and so did the men who had fought our battle; while even the parsons, both Bowden and Powell, and another who had no parish in it, threatened us with the just wrath of the Church, unless each had tithes of the whole of it.

Now this was not as it ought to be; and it seemed as if by burning the nest of robbers, we had but hatched their eggs; until being made sole guardian of the captured treasure (by reason of my known honesty) I hit upon a plan, which gave very little satisfaction; yet carried this advantage, that the grumblers argued against one another and for the most part came to blows; which renewed their goodwill to me, as being abused by the adversary.

And my plan was no more than this — not to pay a farthing to lord of manor, parson, or even King’s Commissioner, but after making good some of the recent and proven losses — where the men could not afford to lose — to pay the residue (which might be worth some fifty thousand pounds) into the Exchequer at Westminster; and then let all the claimants file what wills they pleased in Chancery.

Now this was a very noble device, for the mere name of Chancery, and the high repute of the fees therein, and low repute of the lawyers, and the comfortable knowledge that the woolsack itself is the golden fleece, absorbing gold for ever, if the standard be but pure; consideration of these things staved off at once the lords of the manors, and all the little farmers, and even those whom most I feared; videlicet, the parsons. And the King’s Commissioner was compelled to profess himself contented, although of all he was most aggrieved; for his pickings would have been goodly.

Moreover, by this plan I made — although I never thought of that — a mighty friend worth all the enemies, whom the loss of money moved. The first man now in the kingdom (by virtue perhaps of energy, rather than of excellence) was the great Lord Jeffreys, appointed the head of the Equity, as well as the law of the realm, for his kindness in hanging five hundred people, without the mere brief of trial. Nine out of ten of these people were innocent, it was true; but that proved the merit of the Lord Chief Justice so much the greater for hanging them, as showing what might be expected of him, when he truly got hold of a guilty man. Now the King had seen the force of this argument; and not being without gratitude for a high-seasoned dish of cruelty, had promoted the only man in England, combining the gifts of both butcher and cook.

Nevertheless, I do beg you all to believe of me — and I think that, after following me so long, you must believe it — that I did not even know at the time of Lord Jeffreys’s high promotion. Not that my knowledge of this would have led me to act otherwise in the matter; for my object was to pay into an office, and not to any official; neither if I had known the fact, could I have seen its bearing upon the receipt of my money. For the King’s Exchequer is, meseemeth, of the Common Law; while Chancery is of Equity, and well named for its many chances. But the true result of the thing was this — Lord Jeffreys being now head of the law, and almost head of the kingdom, got possession of that money, and was kindly pleased with it.

And this met our second difficulty; for the law having won and laughed over the spoil, must have injured its own title by impugning our legality.

Next, with regard to the women and children, we were long in a state of perplexity. We did our very best at the farm, and so did many others to provide for them, until they should manage about their own subsistence. And after a while this trouble went, as nearly all troubles go with time. Some of the women were taken back by their parents, or their husbands, or it may be their sweethearts; and those who failed of this, went forth, some upon their own account to the New World plantations, where the fairer sex is valuable; and some to English cities; and the plainer ones to field work. And most of the children went with their mothers, or were bound apprentices; only Carver Doone’s handsome child had lost his mother and stayed with me.

This boy went about with me everywhere. He had taken as much of liking to me — first shown in his eyes by the firelight — as his father had of hatred; and I, perceiving his noble courage, scorn of lies, and high spirit, became almost as fond of Ensie as he was of me. He told us that his name was ‘Ensie,’ meant for ‘Ensor,’ I suppose, from his father’s grandfather, the old Sir Ensor Doone. And this boy appeared to be Carver’s heir, having been born in wedlock, contrary to the general manner and custom of the Doones.

However, although I loved the poor child, I could not help feeling very uneasy about the escape of his father, the savage and brutal Carver. This man was left to roam the country, homeless, foodless, and desperate, with his giant strength, and great skill in arms, and the whole world to be revenged upon. For his escape the miners, as I shall show, were answerable; but of the Counsellor’s safe departure the burden lay on myself alone. And inasmuch as there are people who consider themselves ill-used, unless one tells them everything, straitened though I am for space, I will glance at this transaction.

After the desperate charge of young Doones had been met by us, and broken, and just as Poor Kit Badcock died in the arms of the dead Charley, I happened to descry a patch of white on the grass of the meadow, like the head of a sheep after washing-day. Observing with some curiosity how carefully this white thing moved along the bars of darkness betwixt the panels of firelight, I ran up to intercept it, before it reached the little postern which we used to call Gwenny’s door. Perceiving me, the white thing stopped, and was for making back again; but I ran up at full speed; and lo, it was the flowing silvery hair of that sage the Counsellor, who was scuttling away upon all fours; but now rose and confronted me.

‘John,’ he said, ‘Sir John, you will not play falsely with your ancient friend, among these violent fellows, I look to you to protect me, John.’

‘Honoured sir, you are right,’ I replied; ‘but surely that posture was unworthy of yourself, and your many resources. It is my intention to let you go free.’

‘I knew it. I could have sworn to it. You are a noble fellow, John. I said so, from the very first; you are a noble fellow, and an ornament to any rank.’

‘But upon two conditions,’ I added, gently taking him by the arm; for instead of displaying any desire to commune with my nobility, he was edging away toward the postern; ‘the first is that you tell me truly (for now it can matter to none of you) who it was that slew my father.’

‘I will tell you truly and frankly, John; however painful to me to confess it. It was my son, Carver.’

‘I thought as much, or I felt as much all along,’ I answered; ‘but the fault was none of yours, sir; for you were not even present.’

‘If I had been there, it would not have happened. I am always opposed to violence. Therefore, let me haste away; this scene is against my nature.’

‘You shall go directly, Sir Counsellor, after meeting my other condition; which is, that you place in my hands Lady Lorna’s diamond necklace.’

‘Ah, how often I have wished,’ said the old man with a heavy sigh, ‘that it might yet be in my power to ease my mind in that respect, and to do a thoroughly good deed by lawful restitution.’

‘Then try to have it in your power, sir. Surely, with my encouragement, you might summon resolution.’

‘Alas, John, the resolution has been ready long ago. But the thing is not in my possession. Carver, my son, who slew your father, upon him you will find the necklace. What are jewels to me, young man, at my time of life? Baubles and trash — I detest them, from the sins they have led me to answer for. When you come to my age, good Sir John, you will scorn all jewels, and care only for a pure and bright conscience. Ah! ah! Let me go. I have made my peace with God.’

He looked so hoary, and so silvery, and serene in the moonlight, that verily I must have believed him, if he had not drawn in his breast. But I happened to have noticed that when an honest man gives vent to noble and great sentiments, he spreads his breast, and throws it out, as if his heart were swelling; whereas I had seen this old gentleman draw in his breast more than once, as if it happened to contain better goods than sentiment.

‘Will you applaud me, kind sir,’ I said, keeping him very tight, all the while, ‘if I place it in your power to ratify your peace with God? The pledge is upon your heart, no doubt, for there it lies at this moment.’

With these words, and some apology for having recourse to strong measures, I thrust my hand inside his waistcoat, and drew forth Lorna’s necklace, purely sparkling in the moonlight, like the dancing of new stars. The old man made a stab at me, with a knife which I had not espied; but the vicious onset failed; and then he knelt, and clasped his hands.

‘Oh, for God’s sake, John, my son, rob me not in that manner. They belong to me; and I love them so; I would give almost my life for them. There is one jewel I can look at for hours, and see all the lights of heaven in it; which I never shall see elsewhere. All my wretched, wicked life — oh, John, I am a sad hypocrite — but give me back my jewels. Or else kill me here; I am a babe in your hands; but I must have back my jewels.’

As his beautiful white hair fell away from his noble forehead, like a silver wreath of glory, and his powerful face, for once, was moved with real emotion, I was so amazed and overcome by the grand contradictions of nature, that verily I was on the point of giving him back the necklace. But honesty, which is said to be the first instinct of all the Ridds (though I myself never found it so), happened here to occur to me, and so I said, without more haste than might be expected —

‘Sir Counsellor, I cannot give you what does not belong to me. But if you will show me that particular diamond which is heaven to you, I will take upon myself the risk and the folly of cutting it out for you. And with that you must go contented; and I beseech you not to starve with that jewel upon your lips.’

Seeing no hope of better terms, he showed me his pet love of a jewel; and I thought of what Lorna was to me, as I cut it out (with the hinge of my knife severing the snakes of gold) and placed it in his careful hand. Another moment, and he was gone, and away through Gwenny’s postern; and God knows what became of him.

Now as to Carver, the thing was this — so far as I could ascertain from the valiant miners, no two of whom told the same story, any more than one of them told it twice. The band of Doones which sallied forth for the robbery of the pretended convoy was met by Simon Carfax, according to arrangement, at the ruined house called The Warren, in that part of Bagworthy Forest where the river Exe (as yet a very small stream) runs through it. The Warren, as all our people know, had belonged to a fine old gentleman, whom every one called ‘The Squire,’ who had retreated from active life to pass the rest of his days in fishing, and shooting, and helping his neighbours. For he was a man of some substance; and no poor man ever left The Warren without a bag of good victuals, and a few shillings put in his pocket. However, this poor Squire never made a greater mistake, than in hoping to end his life peacefully upon the banks of a trout-stream, and in the green forest of Bagworthy. For as he came home from the brook at dusk, with his fly-rod over his shoulder, the Doones fell upon him, and murdered him, and then sacked his house, and burned it.

Now this had made honest people timid about going past The Warren at night; for, of course, it was said that the old Squire ‘walked,’ upon certain nights of the moon, in and out of the trunks of trees, on the green path from the river. On his shoulder he bore a fishing-rod, and his book of trout-flies, in one hand, and on his back a wicker-creel; and now and then he would burst out laughing to think of his coming so near the Doones.

And now that one turns to consider it, this seems a strangely righteous thing, that the scene of one of the greatest crimes even by Doones committed should, after twenty years, become the scene of vengeance falling (like hail from heaven) upon them. For although The Warren lies well away to the westward of the mine; and the gold, under escort to Bristowe, or London, would have gone in the other direction; Captain Carfax, finding this place best suited for working of his design, had persuaded the Doones, that for reasons of Government, the ore must go first to Barnstaple for inspection, or something of that sort. And as every one knows that our Government sends all things westward when eastward bound, this had won the more faith for Simon, as being according to nature.

Now Simon, having met these flowers of the flock of villainy, where the rising moonlight flowed through the weir-work of the wood, begged them to dismount; and led them with an air of mystery into the Squire’s ruined hall, black with fire, and green with weeds.

‘Captain, I have found a thing,’ he said to Carver Doone, himself, ‘which may help to pass the hour, ere the lump of gold comes by. The smugglers are a noble race; but a miner’s eyes are a match for them. There lies a puncheon of rare spirit, with the Dutchman’s brand upon it, hidden behind the broken hearth. Set a man to watch outside; and let us see what this be like.’

With one accord they agreed to this, and Carver pledged Master Carfax, and all the Doones grew merry. But Simon being bound, as he said, to see to their strict sobriety, drew a bucket of water from the well into which they had thrown the dead owner, and begged them to mingle it with their drink; which some of them did, and some refused.

But the water from that well was poured, while they were carousing, into the priming-pan of every gun of theirs; even as Simon had promised to do with the guns of the men they were come to kill. Then just as the giant Carver arose, with a glass of pure hollands in his hand, and by the light of the torch they had struck, proposed the good health of the Squire’s ghost — in the broken doorway stood a press of men, with pointed muskets, covering every drunken Doone. How it fared upon that I know not, having none to tell me; for each man wrought, neither thought of telling, nor whether he might be alive to tell. The Doones rushed to their guns at once, and pointed them, and pulled at them; but the Squire’s well had drowned their fire; and then they knew that they were betrayed, but resolved to fight like men for it. Upon fighting I can never dwell; it breeds such savage delight in me; of which I would fain have less. Enough that all the Doones fought bravely; and like men (though bad ones) died in the hall of the man they had murdered. And with them died poor young De Whichehalse, who, in spite of his good father’s prayers, had cast in his lot with the robbers. Carver Doone alone escaped. Partly through his fearful strength, and his yet more fearful face; but mainly perhaps through his perfect coolness, and his mode of taking things.

I am happy to say that no more than eight of the gallant miners were killed in that combat, or died of their wounds afterwards; and adding to these the eight we had lost in our assault on the valley (and two of them excellent warehousemen), it cost no more than sixteen lives to be rid of nearly forty Doones, each of whom would most likely have killed three men in the course of a year or two. Therefore, as I said at the time, a great work was done very reasonably; here were nigh upon forty Doones destroyed (in the valley, and up at The Warrens) despite their extraordinary strength and high skill in gunnery; whereas of us ignorant rustics there were only sixteen to be counted dead — though others might be lamed, or so — and of those sixteen only two had left wives, and their wives did not happen to care for them.

Yet, for Lorna’ s sake, I was vexed at the bold escape of Carver. Not that I sought for Carver’s life, any more than I did for the Counsellor’s; but that for us it was no light thing, to have a man of such power, and resource, and desperation, left at large and furious, like a famished wolf round the sheepfold. Yet greatly as I blamed the yeomen, who were posted on their horses, just out of shot from the Doone-gate, for the very purpose of intercepting those who escaped the miners, I could not get them to admit that any blame attached to them.

But lo, he had dashed through the whole of them, with his horse at full gallop; and was nearly out of shot before they began to think of shooting him. Then it appears from what a boy said — for boys manage to be everywhere — that Captain Carver rode through the Doone-gate, and so to the head of the valley. There, of course, he beheld all the houses, and his own among the number, flaming with a handsome blaze, and throwing a fine light around such as he often had revelled in, when of other people’s property. But he swore the deadliest of all oaths, and seeing himself to be vanquished (so far as the luck of the moment went), spurred his great black horse away, and passed into the darkness.

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