'It is not a twelvemonth yet, although it seems ten years agone, since I blew the downy globe to learn the time of day, or set beneath my chin the veinings of the varnished buttercup, or fired the fox-glove cannonade, or made a captive of myself with dandelion fetters; for then I had not very much to trouble me in earnest, but went about, romancing gravely, playing at bo-peep with fear, making for myself strong heroes of gray rock or fir-tree, adding to my own importance, as the children love to do.
'As yet I had not truly learned the evil of our living, the scorn of law, the outrage, and the sorrow caused to others. It even was a point with all to hide the roughness from me, to show me but the gallant side, and keep in shade the other. My grandfather, Sir Ensor Doone, had given strictest order, as I discovered afterwards, that in my presence all should be seemly, kind, and vigilant. Nor was it very difficult to keep most part of the mischief from me, for no Doone ever robs at home, neither do they quarrel much, except at times of gambling. And though Sir Ensor Doone is now so old and growing feeble, his own way he will have still, and no one dare deny him. Even our fiercest and most mighty swordsmen, seared from all sense of right or wrong, yet have plentiful sense of fear, when brought before that white-haired man. Not that he is rough with them, or querulous, or rebukeful; but that he has a strange soft smile, and a gaze they cannot answer, and a knowledge deeper far than they have of themselves. Under his protection, I am as safe from all those men (some of whom are but little akin to me) as if I slept beneath the roof of the King's Lord Justiciary.
'But now, at the time I speak of, one evening of last summer, a horrible thing befell, which took all play of childhood from me. The fifteenth day of last July was very hot and sultry, long after the time of sundown; and I was paying heed of it, because of the old saying that if it rain then, rain will fall on forty days thereafter. I had been long by the waterside at this lower end of the valley, plaiting a little crown of woodbine crocketed with sprigs of heath—to please my grandfather, who likes to see me gay at supper-time. Being proud of my tiara, which had cost some trouble, I set it on my head at once, to save the chance of crushing, and carrying my gray hat, ventured by a path not often trod. For I must be home at the supper-time, or grandfather would be exceeding wrath; and the worst of his anger is that he never condescends to show it.
'Therefore, instead of the open mead, or the windings of the river, I made short cut through the ash-trees covert which lies in the middle of our vale, with the water skirting or cleaving it. You have never been up so far as that—at least to the best of my knowledge—but you see it like a long gray spot, from the top of the cliffs above us. Here I was not likely to meet any of our people because the young ones are afraid of some ancient tale about it, and the old ones have no love of trees where gunshots are uncertain.
'It was more almost than dusk, down below the tree-leaves, and I was eager to go through, and be again beyond it. For the gray dark hung around me, scarcely showing shadow; and the little light that glimmered seemed to come up from the ground. For the earth was strown with the winter-spread and coil of last year's foliage, the lichened claws of chalky twigs, and the numberless decay which gives a light in its decaying. I, for my part, hastened shyly, ready to draw back and run from hare, or rabbit, or small field- mouse.
'At a sudden turn of the narrow path, where it stopped again to the river, a man leaped out from behind a tree, and stopped me, and seized hold of me. I tried to shriek, but my voice was still; I could only hear my heart.
'"Now, Cousin Lorna, my good cousin," he said, with ease and calmness; "your voice is very sweet, no doubt, from all that I can see of you. But I pray you keep it still, unless you would give to dusty death your very best cousin and trusty guardian, Alan Brandir of Loch Awe."
'"You my guardian!" I said, for the idea was too ludicrous; and ludicrous things always strike me first, through some fault of nature.
'"I have in truth that honour, madam," he answered, with a sweeping bow; "unless I err in taking you for Mistress Lorna Doone."
'"You have not mistaken me. My name is Lorna Doone."
'He looked at me, with gravity, and was inclined to make some claim to closer consideration upon the score of kinship; but I shrunk back, and only said, "Yes, my name is Lorna Doone."
'"Then I am your faithful guardian, Alan Brandir of Loch Awe; called Lord Alan Brandir, son of a worthy peer of Scotland. Now will you confide in me?"
'"I confide in you!" I cried, looking at him with amazement; "why, you are not older than I am!"
'"Yes I am, three years at least. You, my ward, are not sixteen. I, your worshipful guardian, am almost nineteen years of age."
'Upon hearing this I looked at him, for that seemed then a venerable age; but the more I looked the more I doubted, although he was dressed quite like a man. He led me in a courtly manner, stepping at his tallest to an open place beside the water; where the light came as in channel, and was made the most of by glancing waves and fair white stones.
'"Now am I to your liking, cousin?" he asked, when I had gazed at him, until I was almost ashamed, except at such a stripling. "Does my Cousin Lorna judge kindly of her guardian, and her nearest kinsman? In a word, is our admiration mutual?"
'"Truly I know not," I said; "but you seem good-natured, and to have no harm in you. Do they trust you with a sword?"
'For in my usage among men of stature and strong presence, this pretty youth, so tricked and slender, seemed nothing but a doll to me. Although he scared me in the wood, now that I saw him in good twilight, lo! he was but little greater than my little self; and so tasselled and so ruffled with a mint of bravery, and a green coat barred with red, and a slim sword hanging under him, it was the utmost I could do to look at him half-gravely.
'"I fear that my presence hath scarce enough of ferocity about it" (he gave a jerk to his sword as he spoke, and clanked it on the brook-stones); "yet do I assure you, cousin, that I am not without some prowess; and many a master of defence hath this good sword of mine disarmed. Now if the boldest and biggest robber in all this charming valley durst so much as breathe the scent of that flower coronal, which doth not adorn but is adorned"—here he talked some nonsense—"I would cleave him from head to foot, ere ever he could fly or cry."
'"Hush!" I said; "talk not so loudly, or thou mayst have to do both thyself, and do them both in vain."
'For he was quite forgetting now, in his bravery before me, where he stood, and with whom he spoke, and how the summer lightning shone above the hills and down the hollow. And as I gazed on this slight fair youth, clearly one of high birth and breeding (albeit over-boastful), a chill of fear crept over me; because he had no strength or substance, and would be no more than a pin-cushion before the great swords of the Doones.
'"I pray you be not vexed with me," he answered, in a softer voice; "for I have travelled far and sorely, for the sake of seeing you. I know right well among whom I am, and that their hospitality is more of the knife than the salt-stand. Nevertheless I am safe enough, for my foot is the fleetest in Scotland, and what are these hills to me? Tush! I have seen some border forays among wilder spirits and craftier men than these be. Once I mind some years agone, when I was quite a stripling lad——"
'"Worshipful guardian," I said, "there is no time now for history. If thou art in no haste, I am, and cannot stay here idling. Only tell me how I am akin and under wardship to thee, and what purpose brings thee here."
'"In order, cousin—all things in order, even with fair ladies. First, I am thy uncle's son, my father is thy mother's brother, or at least thy grandmother's—unless I am deceived in that which I have guessed, and no other man. For my father, being a leading lord in the councils of King Charles the Second, appointed me to learn the law, not for my livelihood, thank God, but because he felt the lack of it in affairs of state. But first your leave, young Mistress Lorna; I cannot lay down legal maxims, without aid of smoke."
'He leaned against a willow-tree, and drawing from a gilded box a little dark thing like a stick, placed it between his lips, and then striking a flint on steel made fire and caught it upon touchwood. With this he kindled the tip of the stick, until it glowed with a ring of red, and then he breathed forth curls of smoke, blue and smelling on the air like spice. I had never seen this done before, though acquainted with tobacco-pipes; and it made me laugh, until I thought of the peril that must follow it.
'"Cousin, have no fear," he said; "this makes me all the safer; they will take me for a glow-worm, and thee for the flower it shines upon. But to return—of law I learned as you may suppose, but little; although I have capacities. But the thing was far too dull for me. All I care for is adventure, moving chance, and hot encounter; therefore all of law I learned was how to live without it. Nevertheless, for amusement's sake, as I must needs be at my desk an hour or so in the afternoon, I took to the sporting branch of the law, the pitfalls, and the ambuscades; and of all the traps to be laid therein, pedigrees are the rarest. There is scarce a man worth a cross of butter, but what you may find a hole in his shield within four generations. And so I struck our own escutcheon, and it sounded hollow. There is a point—but heed not that; enough that being curious now, I followed up the quarry, and I am come to this at last—we, even we, the lords of Loch Awe, have an outlaw for our cousin, and I would we had more, if they be like you."
'"Sir," I answered, being amused by his manner, which was new to me (for the Doones are much in earnest), "surely you count it no disgrace to be of kin to Sir Ensor Doone, and all his honest family!"
'"If it be so, it is in truth the very highest honour and would heal ten holes in our escutcheon. What noble family but springs from a captain among robbers? Trade alone can spoil our blood; robbery purifies it. The robbery of one age is the chivalry of the next. We may start anew, and vie with even the nobility of France, if we can once enrol but half the Doones upon our lineage."
'"I like not to hear you speak of the Doones, as if they were no more than that," I exclaimed, being now unreasonable; "but will you tell me, once for all, sir, how you are my guardian?"
'"That I will do. You are my ward because you were my father's ward, under the Scottish law; and now my father being so deaf, I have succeeded to that right—at least in my own opinion—under which claim I am here to neglect my trust no longer, but to lead you away from scenes and deeds which (though of good repute and comely) are not the best for young gentlewomen. There spoke I not like a guardian? After that can you mistrust me?"
'"But," said I, "good Cousin Alan (if I may so call you), it is not meet for young gentlewomen to go away with young gentlemen, though fifty times their guardians. But if you will only come with me, and explain your tale to my grandfather, he will listen to you quietly, and take no advantage of you."
'"I thank you much, kind Mistress Lorna, to lead the goose into the fox's den! But, setting by all thought of danger, I have other reasons against it. Now, come with your faithful guardian, child. I will pledge my honour against all harm, and to bear you safe to London. By the law of the realm, I am now entitled to the custody of your fair person, and of all your chattels."
'"But, sir, all that you have learned of law, is how to live without it."
'"Fairly met, fair cousin mine! Your wit will do me credit, after a little sharpening. And there is none to do that better than your aunt, my mother. Although she knows not of my coming, she is longing to receive you. Come, and in a few months' time you shall set the mode at Court, instead of pining here, and weaving coronals of daisies."
'I turned aside, and thought a little. Although he seemed so light of mind, and gay in dress and manner, I could not doubt his honesty; and saw, beneath his jaunty air, true mettle and ripe bravery. Scarce had I thought of his project twice, until he spoke of my aunt, his mother, but then the form of my dearest friend, my sweet Aunt Sabina, seemed to come and bid me listen, for this was what she prayed for. Moreover I felt (though not as now) that Doone Glen was no place for me or any proud young maiden. But while I thought, the yellow lightning spread behind a bulk of clouds, three times ere the flash was done, far off and void of thunder; and from the pile of cloud before it, cut as from black paper, and lit to depths of blackness by the blaze behind it, a form as of an aged man, sitting in a chair loose-mantled, seemed to lift a hand and warn.
'This minded me of my grandfather, and all the care I owed him. Moreover, now the storm was rising and I began to grow afraid; for of all things awful to me thunder is the dreadfulest. It doth so growl, like a lion coming, and then so roll, and roar, and rumble, out of a thickening darkness, then crack like the last trump overhead through cloven air and terror, that all my heart lies low and quivers, like a weed in water. I listened now for the distant rolling of the great black storm, and heard it, and was hurried by it. But the youth before me waved his rolled tobacco at it, and drawled in his daintiest tone and manner:
'"The sky is having a smoke, I see, and dropping sparks, and grumbling. I should have thought these Exmoor hills too small to gather thunder."
'"I cannot go, I will not go with you, Lord Alan Brandir," I answered, being vexed a little by those words of his. "You are not grave enough for me, you are not old enough for me. My Aunt Sabina would not have wished it; nor would I leave my grandfather, without his full permission. I thank you much for coming, sir; but be gone at once by the way you came; and pray how did you come, sir?"
'"Fair cousin, you will grieve for this; you will mourn, when you cannot mend it. I would my mother had been here, soon would she have persuaded you. And yet," he added, with the smile of his accustomed gaiety, "it would have been an unco thing, as we say in Scotland, for her ladyship to have waited upon you, as her graceless son has done, and hopes to do again ere long. Down the cliffs I came, and up them I must make way back again. Now adieu, fair Cousin Lorna, I see you are in haste tonight; but I am right proud of my guardianship. Give me just one flower for token"—here he kissed his hand to me, and I threw him a truss of woodbine—"adieu, fair cousin, trust me well, I will soon be here again."
'"That thou never shalt, sir," cried a voice as loud as a culverin; and Carver Doone had Alan Brandir as a spider hath a fly. The boy made a little shriek at first, with the sudden shock and the terror; then he looked, methought, ashamed of himself, and set his face to fight for it. Very bravely he strove and struggled, to free one arm and grasp his sword; but as well might an infant buried alive attempt to lift his gravestone. Carver Doone, with his great arms wrapped around the slim gay body, smiled (as I saw by the flash from heaven) at the poor young face turned up to him; then (as a nurse bears off a child, who is loath to go to bed), he lifted the youth from his feet, and bore him away into the darkness.
'I was young then. I am older now; older by ten years, in thought, although it is not a twelvemonth since. If that black deed were done again, I could follow, and could combat it, could throw weak arms on the murderer, and strive to be murdered also. I am now at home with violence; and no dark death surprises me.
'But, being as I was that night, the horror overcame me. The crash of thunder overhead, the last despairing look, the death-piece framed with blaze of lightning—my young heart was so affrighted that I could not gasp. My breath went from me, and I knew not where I was, or who, or what. Only that I lay, and cowered, under great trees full of thunder; and could neither count, nor moan, nor have my feet to help me.
'Yet hearkening, as a coward does, through the brushing of the wind, and echo of far noises, I heard a sharp sound as of iron, and a fall of heavy wood. No unmanly shriek came with it, neither cry for mercy. Carver Doone knows what it was; and so did Alan Brandir.'
Here Lorna Doone could tell no more, being overcome with weeping. Only through her tears she whispered, as a thing too bad to tell, that she had seen that giant Carver, in a few days afterwards, smoking a little round brown stick, like those of her poor cousin. I could not press her any more with questions, or for clearness; although I longed very much to know whether she had spoken of it to her grandfather or the Counsellor. But she was now in such condition, both of mind and body, from the force of her own fear multiplied by telling it, that I did nothing more than coax her, at a distance humbly; and so that she could see that some one was at least afraid of her. This (although I knew not women in those days, as now I do, and never shall know much of it), this, I say, so brought her round, that all her fear was now for me, and how to get me safely off, without mischance to any one. And sooth to say, in spite of longing just to see if Master Carver could have served me such a trick, as it grew towards the dusk, I was not best pleased to be there; for it seemed a lawless place, and some of Lorna's fright stayed with me as I talked it away from her.