Stickles took me aside the next day, and opened all his business to me, whether I would or not. But I gave him clearly to understand that he was not to be vexed with me, neither to regard me as in any way dishonest, if I should use for my own purpose, or for the benefit of my friends, any part of the knowledge and privity thus enforced upon me. To this he agreed quite readily; but upon the express provision that I should do nothing to thwart his schemes, neither unfold them to any one; but otherwise be allowed to act according to my own conscience, and as consisted with the honour of a loyal gentleman—for so he was pleased to term me. Now what he said lay in no great compass and may be summed in smaller still; especially as people know the chief part of it already. Disaffection to the King, or rather dislike to his brother James, and fear of Roman ascendancy, had existed now for several years, and of late were spreading rapidly; partly through the downright arrogance of the Tory faction, the cruelty and austerity of the Duke of York, the corruption of justice, and confiscation of ancient rights and charters; partly through jealousy of the French king, and his potent voice in our affairs; and partly (or perhaps one might even say, mainly) through that natural tide in all political channels, which verily moves as if it had the moon itself for its mistress. No sooner is a thing done and fixed, being set far in advance perhaps of all that was done before (like a new mole in the sea), but immediately the waters retire, lest they should undo it; and every one says how fine it is, but leaves other people to walk on it. Then after awhile, the vague endless ocean, having retired and lain still without a breeze or murmur, frets and heaves again with impulse, or with lashes laid on it, and in one great surge advances over every rampart.
And so there was at the time I speak of, a great surge in England, not rolling yet, but seething; and one which a thousand Chief Justices, and a million Jeremy Stickles, should never be able to stop or turn, by stringing up men in front of it; any more than a rope of onions can repulse a volcano. But the worst of it was that this great movement took a wrong channel at first; not only missing legitimate line, but roaring out that the back ditchway was the true and established course of it.
Against this rash and random current nearly all the ancient mariners of the State were set; not to allow the brave ship to drift there, though some little boats might try it. For the present there seemed to be a pause, with no open onset, but people on the shore expecting, each according to his wishes, and the feel of his own finger, whence the rush of wind should come which might direct the water.
Now,—to reduce high figures of speech into our own little numerals,—all the towns of Somersetshire and half the towns of Devonshire were full of pushing eager people, ready to swallow anything, or to make others swallow it. Whether they believed the folly about the black box, and all that stuff, is not for me to say; only one thing I know, they pretended to do so, and persuaded the ignorant rustics. Taunton, Bridgwater, Minehead, and Dulverton took the lead of the other towns in utterance of their discontent, and threats of what they meant to do if ever a Papist dared to climb the Protestant throne of England. On the other hand, the Tory leaders were not as yet under apprehension of an immediate outbreak, and feared to damage their own cause by premature coercion, for the struggle was not very likely to begin in earnest during the life of the present King; unless he should (as some people hoped) be so far emboldened as to make public profession of the faith which he held (if any). So the Tory policy was to watch, not indeed permitting their opponents to gather strength, and muster in armed force or with order, but being well apprised of all their schemes and intended movements, to wait for some bold overt act, and then to strike severely. And as a Tory watchman—or spy, as the Whigs would call him—Jeremy Stickles was now among us; and his duty was threefold.
First, and most ostensibly, to see to the levying of poundage in the little haven of Lynmouth, and farther up the coast, which was now becoming a place of resort for the folk whom we call smugglers, that is to say, who land their goods without regard to King's revenue as by law established. And indeed there had been no officer appointed to take toll, until one had been sent to Minehead, not so very long before. The excise as well (which had been ordered in the time of the Long Parliament) had been little heeded by the people hereabouts.
Second, his duty was (though only the Doones had discovered it) to watch those outlaws narrowly, and report of their manners (which were scanty), doings (which were too manifold), reputation (which was execrable), and politics, whether true to the King and the Pope, or otherwise.
Jeremy Stickles' third business was entirely political; to learn the temper of our people and the gentle families, to watch the movements of the trained bands (which could not always be trusted), to discover any collecting of arms and drilling of men among us, to prevent (if need were, by open force) any importation of gunpowder, of which there had been some rumour; in a word, to observe and forestall the enemy.
Now in providing for this last-mentioned service, the Government had made a great mistake, doubtless through their anxiety to escape any public attention. For all the disposable force at their emissary's command amounted to no more than a score of musketeers, and these so divided along the coast as scarcely to suffice for the duty of sentinels. He held a commission, it is true, for the employment of the train-bands, but upon the understanding that he was not to call upon them (except as a last resource), for any political object; although he might use them against the Doones as private criminals, if found needful; and supposing that he could get them.
'So you see, John,' he said in conclusion, 'I have more work than tools to do it with. I am heartily sorry I ever accepted such a mixed and meagre commission. At the bottom of it lies (I am well convinced) not only the desire to keep things quiet, but the paltry jealousy of the military people. Because I am not a Colonel, forsooth, or a Captain in His Majesty's service, it would never do to trust me with a company of soldiers! And yet they would not send either Colonel or Captain, for fear of a stir in the rustic mind. The only thing that I can do with any chance of success, is to rout out these vile Doone fellows, and burn their houses over their heads. Now what think you of that, John Ridd?'
'Destroy the town of the Doones,' I said, 'and all the Doones inside it! Surely, Jeremy, you would never think of such a cruel act as that!'
'A cruel act, John! It would be a mercy for at least three counties. No doubt you folk, who live so near, are well accustomed to them, and would miss your liveliness in coming home after nightfall, and the joy of finding your sheep and cattle right, when you not expected it. But after awhile you might get used to the dullness of being safe in your beds, and not losing your sisters and sweethearts. Surely, on the whole, it is as pleasant not to be robbed as to be robbed.'
'I think we should miss them very much,' I answered after consideration; for the possibility of having no Doones had never yet occurred to me, and we all were so thoroughly used to them, and allowed for it in our year's reckoning; 'I am sure we should miss them very sadly; and something worse would come of it.'
'Thou art the staunchest of all staunch Tories,' cried Stickles, laughing, as he shook my hand; 'thou believest in the divine right of robbers, who are good enough to steal thy own fat sheep. I am a jolly Tory, John, but thou art ten times jollier: oh! the grief in thy face at the thought of being robbed no longer!'
He laughed in a very unseemly manner; while I descried nothing to laugh about. For we always like to see our way; and a sudden change upsets us. And unless it were in the loss of the farm, or the death of the King, or of Betty Muxworthy, there was nothing that could so unsettle our minds as the loss of the Doones of Bagworthy.
And beside all this, I was thinking, of course, and thinking more than all the rest, about the troubles that might ensue to my own beloved Lorna. If an attack of Glen Doone were made by savage soldiers and rude train-bands, what might happen, or what might not, to my delicate, innocent darling? Therefore, when Jeremy Stickles again placed the matter before me, commending my strength and courage and skill (to flatter me of the highest), and finished by saying that I would be worth at least four common men to him, I cut him short as follows:—
'Master Stickles, once for all, I will have naught to do with it. The reason why is no odds of thine, nor in any way disloyal. Only in thy plans remember that I will not strike a blow, neither give any counsel, neither guard any prisoners.'
'Not strike a blow,' cried Jeremy, 'against thy father's murderers, John!'
'Not a single blow, Jeremy; unless I knew the man who did it, and he gloried in his sin. It was a foul and dastard deed, yet not done in cold blood; neither in cold blood will I take God's task of avenging it.'
'Very well, John,' answered Master Stickles, 'I know thine obstinacy. When thy mind is made up, to argue with thee is pelting a rock with peppercorns. But thou hast some other reason, lad, unless I am much mistaken, over and above thy merciful nature and Christian forgiveness. Anyhow, come and see it, John. There will be good sport, I reckon; especially when we thrust our claws into the nest of the ravens. Many a yeoman will find his daughter, and some of the Porlock lads their sweethearts. A nice young maiden, now, for thee, John; if indeed, any——'
'No more of this!' I answered very sternly: 'it is no business of thine, Jeremy; and I will have no joking upon this matter.'
'Good, my lord; so be it. But one thing I tell thee in earnest. We will have thy old double-dealing uncle, Huckaback of Dulverton, and march him first to assault Doone Castle, sure as my name is Stickles. I hear that he hath often vowed to storm the valley himself, if only he could find a dozen musketeers to back him. Now, we will give him chance to do it, and prove his loyalty to the King, which lies under some suspicion of late.'
With regard to this, I had nothing to say; for it seemed to me very reasonable that Uncle Reuben should have first chance of recovering his stolen goods, about which he had made such a sad to-do, and promised himself such vengeance. I made bold, however, to ask Master Stickles at what time he intended to carry out this great and hazardous attempt. He answered that he had several things requiring first to be set in order, and that he must make an inland Journey, even as far as Tiverton, and perhaps Crediton and Exeter, to collect his forces and ammunition for them. For he meant to have some of the yeomanry as well as of the trained bands, so that if the Doones should sally forth, as perhaps they would, on horseback, cavalry might be there to meet them, and cut them off from returning.
All this made me very uncomfortable, for many and many reasons, the chief and foremost being of course my anxiety about Lorna. If the attack succeeded, what was to become of her? Who would rescue her from the brutal soldiers, even supposing that she escaped from the hands of her own people, during the danger and ferocity? And in smaller ways, I was much put out; for instance, who would ensure our corn-ricks, sheep, and cattle, ay, and even our fat pigs, now coming on for bacon, against the spreading all over the country of unlicensed marauders? The Doones had their rights, and understood them, and took them according to prescription, even as the parsons had, and the lords of manors, and the King himself, God save him! But how were these low soldiering fellows (half-starved at home very likely, and only too glad of the fat of the land, and ready, according to our proverb, to burn the paper they fried in), who were they to come hectoring and heroing over us, and Heliogabalising, with our pretty sisters to cook for them, and be chucked under chin perhaps afterwards? There is nothing England hates so much, according to my sense of it, as that fellows taken from plough-tail, cart-tail, pot-houses and parish-stocks, should be hoisted and foisted upon us (after a few months' drilling, and their lying shaped into truckling) as defenders of the public weal, and heroes of the universe.
In another way I was vexed, moreover—for after all we must consider the opinions of our neighbours—namely, that I knew quite well how everybody for ten miles round (for my fame must have been at least that wide, after all my wrestling), would lift up hands and cry out thus—'Black shame on John Ridd, if he lets them go without him!'
Putting all these things together, as well as many others, which our own wits will suggest to you, it is impossible but what you will freely acknowledge that this unfortunate John Ridd was now in a cloven stick. There was Lorna, my love and life, bound by her duty to that old vil—nay, I mean to her good grandfather, who could now do little mischief, and therefore deserved all praise—Lorna bound, at any rate, by her womanly feelings, if not by sense of duty, to remain in the thick danger, with nobody to protect her, but everybody to covet her, for beauty and position. Here was all the country roused with violent excitement, at the chance of snapping at the Doones; and not only getting tit for tat; but every young man promising his sweetheart a gold chain, and his mother at least a shilling. And here was our own mow-yard, better filled than we could remember, and perhaps every sheaf in it destined to be burned or stolen, before we had finished the bread we had baked.
Among all these troubles, there was, however, or seemed to be, one comfort. Tom Faggus returned from London very proudly and very happily, with a royal pardon in black and white, which everybody admired the more, because no one could read a word of it. The Squire himself acknowledged cheerfully that he could sooner take fifty purses than read a single line of it. Some people indeed went so far as to say that the parchment was made from a sheep Tom had stolen, and that was why it prevaricated so in giving him a character. But I, knowing something by this time, of lawyers, was able to contradict them; affirming that the wolf had more than the sheep to do with this matter.
For, according to our old saying, the three learned professions live by roguery on the three parts of a man. The doctor mauls our bodies; the parson starves our souls, but the lawyer must be the adroitest knave, for he has to ensnare our minds. Therefore he takes a careful delight in covering his traps and engines with a spread of dead-leaf words, whereof himself knows little more than half the way to spell them.
But now Tom Faggus, although having wit to gallop away on his strawberry mare, with the speed of terror, from lawyers (having paid them with money too honest to stop), yet fell into a reckless adventure, ere ever he came home, from which any lawyer would have saved him, although he ought to have needed none beyond common thought for dear Annie. Now I am, and ever have been, so vexed about this story that I cannot tell it pleasantly (as I try to write in general) in my own words and manner. Therefore I will let John Fry (whom I have robbed of another story, to which he was more entitled, and whom I have robbed of many speeches (which he thought very excellent), lest I should grieve any one with his lack of education,—the last lack he ever felt, by the bye), now with your good leave, I will allow poor John to tell this tale, in his own words and style; which he has a perfect right to do, having been the first to tell us. For Squire Faggus kept it close; not trusting even Annie with it (or at least she said so); because no man knows much of his sweetheart's tongue, until she has borne him a child or two.
Only before John begins his story, this I would say, in duty to him, and in common honesty,—that I dare not write down some few of his words, because they are not convenient, for dialect or other causes; and that I cannot find any way of spelling many of the words which I do repeat, so that people, not born on Exmoor, may know how he pronounced them; even if they could bring their lips and their legs to the proper attitude. And in this I speak advisedly; having observed some thousand times that the manner a man has of spreading his legs, and bending his knees, or stiffening, and even the way he will set his heel, make all the difference in his tone, and time of casting his voice aright, and power of coming home to you.
We always liked John's stories, not for any wit in them; but because we laughed at the man, rather than the matter. The way he held his head was enough, with his chin fixed hard like a certainty (especially during his biggest lie), not a sign of a smile in his lips or nose, but a power of not laughing; and his eyes not turning to anybody, unless somebody had too much of it (as young girls always do) and went over the brink of laughter. Thereupon it was good to see John Fry; how he looked gravely first at the laughter, as much as to ask, 'What is it now?' then if the fool went laughing more, as he or she was sure to do upon that dry inquiry, John would look again, to be sure of it, and then at somebody else to learn whether the laugh had company; then if he got another grin, all his mirth came out in glory, with a sudden break; and he wiped his lips, and was grave again.
Now John, being too much encouraged by the girls (of which I could never break them), came into the house that December evening, with every inch of him full of a tale. Annie saw it, and Lizzie, of course; and even I, in the gloom of great evils, perceived that John was a loaded gun; but I did not care to explode him. Now nothing primed him so hotly as this: if you wanted to hear all John Fry had heard, the surest of all sure ways to it was, to pretend not to care for a word of it.
'I wor over to Exeford in the morning,' John began from the chimney-corner, looking straight at Annie; 'for to zee a little calve, Jan, as us cuddn't get thee to lave houze about. Meesus have got a quare vancy vor un, from wutt her have heer'd of the brade. Now zit quite, wull 'e Miss Luzzie, or a 'wunt goo on no vurder. Vaine little tayl I'll tull' ee, if so be thee zits quite. Wull, as I coom down the hill, I zeed a saight of volks astapping of the ro-udwai. Arl on 'em wi' girt goons, or two men out of dree wi' 'em. Rackon there wor dree score on 'em, tak smarl and beg togather laike; latt aloun the women and chillers; zum on em wi' matches blowing, tothers wi' flint-lacks. "Wutt be up now?" I says to Bill Blacksmith, as had knowledge of me: "be the King acoomin? If her be, do 'ee want to shutt 'un?"
'"Thee not knaw!" says Bill Blacksmith, just the zame as I be a tullin of it: "whai, man, us expex Tam Faggus, and zum on us manes to shutt 'un."
'"Shutt 'un wi'out a warrant!" says I: "sure 'ee knaws better nor thic, Bill! A man mayn't shutt to another man, wi'out have a warrant, Bill. Warship zed so, last taime I zeed un, and nothing to the contrairy."
'"Haw, haw! Never frout about that," saith Bill, zame as I be tullin you; "us has warrants and warships enow, dree or vour on 'em. And more nor a dizzen warranties; fro'ut I know to contrairy. Shutt 'un, us manes; and shutt 'un, us will——" Whai, Miss Annie, good Lord, whuttiver maks 'ee stear so?'
'Nothing at all, John,' our Annie answered; 'only the horrible ferocity of that miserable blacksmith.'
'That be nayther here nor there,' John continued, with some wrath at his own interruption: 'Blacksmith knawed whutt the Squire had been; and veared to lose his own custom, if Squire tuk to shooin' again. Shutt any man I would myzell as intervared wi' my trade laike. "Lucky for thee," said Bill Blacksmith, "as thee bee'st so shart and fat, Jan. Dree on us wor a gooin' to shutt 'ee, till us zeed how fat thee waz, Jan."
'"Lor now, Bill!" I answered 'un, wi' a girt cold swat upon me: "shutt me, Bill; and my own waife niver drame of it!'
Here John Fry looked round the kitchen; for he had never said anything of the kind, I doubt; but now made it part of his discourse, from thinking that Mistress Fry was come, as she generally did, to fetch him.
'Wull done then, Jan Vry,' said the woman, who had entered quietly, but was only our old Molly. 'Wutt handsome manners thee hast gat, Jan, to spake so well of thy waife laike; after arl the laife she leads thee!'
'Putt thee pot on the fire, old 'ooman, and bile thee own bakkon,' John answered her, very sharply: 'nobody no raight to meddle wi' a man's bad ooman but himzell. Wull, here was all these here men awaitin', zum wi' harses, zum wi'out; the common volk wi' long girt guns, and tha quarlity wi' girt broad-swords. Who wor there? Whay latt me zee. There wor Squire Maunder,' here John assumed his full historical key, 'him wi' the pot to his vittle-place; and Sir Richard Blewitt shaking over the zaddle, and Squaire Sandford of Lee, him wi' the long nose and one eye, and Sir Gronus Batchildor over to Ninehead Court, and ever so many more on 'em, tulling up how they was arl gooin' to be promoted, for kitching of Tom Faggus.
'"Hope to God," says I to myzell, "poor Tom wun't coom here to-day: arl up with her, if 'a doeth: and who be there to suckzade 'un?" Mark me now, all these charps was good to shutt 'un, as her coom crass the watter; the watter be waide enow there and stony, but no deeper than my knee-place.
'"Thee cas'n goo no vurder," Bill Blacksmith saith to me: "nawbody 'lowed to crass the vord, until such time as Faggus coom; plaise God us may mak sure of 'un."
'"Amen, zo be it," says I; "God knoweth I be never in any hurry, and would zooner stop nor goo on most taimes."
'Wi' that I pulled my vittles out, and zat a horsebarck, atin' of 'em, and oncommon good they was. "Won't us have 'un this taime just," saith Tim Potter, as keepeth the bull there; "and yet I be zorry for 'un. But a man must kape the law, her must; zo be her can only learn it. And now poor Tom will swing as high as the tops of they girt hashes there."
'"Just thee kitch 'un virst," says I; "maisure rope, wi' the body to maisure by."
'"Hurrah! here be another now," saith Bill Blacksmith, grinning; "another coom to help us. What a grave gentleman! A warship of the pace, at laste!"
'For a gentleman, on a cue-ball horse, was coming slowly down the hill on tother zide of watter, looking at us in a friendly way, and with a long papper standing forth the lining of his coat laike. Horse stapped to drink in the watter, and gentleman spak to 'un kindly, and then they coom raight on to ussen, and the gentleman's face wor so long and so grave, us veared 'a wor gooin' to prache to us.
'"Coort o' King's Bench," saith one man; "Checker and Plays," saith another; "Spishal Commission, I doubt," saith Bill Blacksmith; "backed by the Mayor of Taunton."
'"Any Justice of the King's Peace, good people, to be found near here?" said the gentleman, lifting his hat to us, and very gracious in his manner.
'"Your honour," saith Bill, with his hat off his head; "there be sax or zeven warships here: arl on 'em very wise 'uns. Squaire Maunder there be the zinnyer."
'So the gentleman rode up to Squire Maunder, and raised his cocked hat in a manner that took the Squire out of countenance, for he could not do the like of it.
'"Sir," said he, "good and worshipful sir, I am here to claim your good advice and valour; for purposes of justice. I hold His Majesty's commission, to make to cease a notorious rogue, whose name is Thomas Faggus." With that he offered his commission; but Squire Maunder told the truth, that he could not rade even words in print, much less written karakters. Then the other magistrates rode up, and put their heads together, how to meet the London gentleman without loss of importance. There wor one of 'em as could rade purty vair, and her made out King's mark upon it: and he bowed upon his horse to the gentleman, and he laid his hand on his heart and said, "Worshipful sir, we, as has the honour of His Gracious Majesty's commission, are entirely at your service, and crave instructions from you."
'Then a waving of hats began, and a bowing, and making of legs to wan anather, sich as nayver wor zeed afore; but none of 'em arl, for air and brading, cud coom anaigh the gentleman with the long grave face.
'"Your warships have posted the men right well," saith he with anather bow all round; "surely that big rogue will have no chance left among so many valiant musketeers. Ha! what see I there, my friend? Rust in the pan of your gun! That gun would never go off, sure as I am the King's Commissioner. And I see another just as bad; and lo, there the third! Pardon me, gentlemen, I have been so used to His Majesty's Ordnance-yards. But I fear that bold rogue would ride through all of you, and laugh at your worship's beards, by George."
'"But what shall us do?" Squire Maunder axed; "I vear there be no oil here."
'"Discharge your pieces, gentlemen, and let the men do the same; or at least let us try to discharge them, and load again with fresh powder. It is the fog of the morning hath spoiled the priming. That rogue is not in sight yet: but God knows we must not be asleep with him, or what will His Majesty say to me, if we let him slip once more?"
'"Excellent, wondrous well said, good sir," Squire Maunder answered him; "I never should have thought of that now. Bill Blacksmith, tell all the men to be ready to shoot up into the air, directly I give the word. Now, are you ready there, Bill?"
'"All ready, your worship," saith Bill, saluting like a soldier.
'"Then, one, two, dree, and shutt!" cries Squire Maunder, standing up in the irons of his stirrups.
'Thereupon they all blazed out, and the noise of it went all round the hills; with a girt thick cloud arising, and all the air smelling of powder. Before the cloud was gone so much as ten yards on the wind, the gentleman on the cue-bald horse shuts up his face like a pair of nut-cracks, as wide as it was long before, and out he pulls two girt pistols longside of zaddle, and clap'th one to Squire Maunder's head, and tother to Sir Richard Blewitt's.
'"Hand forth your money and all your warrants," he saith like a clap of thunder; "gentlemen, have you now the wit to apprehend Tom Faggus?"
'Squire Maunder swore so that he ought to he fined; but he pulled out his purse none the slower for that, and so did Sir Richard Blewitt.
'"First man I see go to load a gun, I'll gi'e 'un the bullet to do it with," said Tom; for you see it was him and no other, looking quietly round upon all of them. Then he robbed all the rest of their warships, as pleasant as might be; and he saith, "Now, gentlemen, do your duty: serve your warrants afore you imprison me"; with that he made them give up all the warrants, and he stuck them in the band of his hat, and then he made a bow with it.
'"Good morning to your warships now, and a merry Christmas all of you! And the merrier both for rich and poor, when gentlemen see their almsgiving. Lest you deny yourselves the pleasure, I will aid your warships. And to save you the trouble of following me, when your guns be loaded—this is my strawberry mare, gentlemen, only with a little cream on her. Gentlemen all, in the name of the King, I thank you."
'All this while he was casting their money among the poor folk by the handful; and then he spak kaindly to the red mare, and wor over the back of the hill in two zeconds, and best part of two maile away, I reckon, afore ever a gun wor loaded.'
- Lest I seem to under-rate the erudition of Devonshire magistrates, I venture to offer copy of a letter from a Justice of the Peace to his bookseller, circa 1810 A.D., now in my possession:—
'plez to zen me the aks relatting to A-gustuspaks,'—Ed.
- The truth of this story is well established by first-rate tradition.