Some people may look down upon us for our slavish ways (as they may choose to call them), but in our part of the country, we do love to mention title, and to roll it on our tongues, with a conscience and a comfort. Even if a man knows not, through fault of education, who the Duke of this is, or the Earl of that, it will never do for him to say so, lest the room look down on him. Therefore he must nod his head, and say, 'Ah, to he sure! I know him as well as ever I know my own good woman's brother. He married Lord Flipflap's second daughter, and a precious life she led him.' Whereupon the room looks up at him. But I, being quite unable to carry all this in my head, as I ought, was speedily put down by people of a noble tendency, apt at Lords, and pat with Dukes, and knowing more about the King than His Majesty would have requested. Therefore, I fell back in thought, not daring in words to do so, upon the titles of our horses. And all these horses deserved their names, not having merely inherited, but by their own doing earned them. Smiler, for instance, had been so called, not so much from a habit of smiling, as from his general geniality, white nose, and white ankle. This worthy horse was now in years, but hale and gay as ever; and when you let him out of the stable, he could neigh and whinny, and make men and horses know it. On the other hand, Kickums was a horse of morose and surly order; harbouring up revenge, and leading a rider to false confidence. Very smoothly he would go, and as gentle as a turtle-dove; until his rider fully believed that a pack-thread was enough for him, and a pat of approval upon his neck the aim and crown of his worthy life. Then suddenly up went his hind feet to heaven, and the rider for the most part flew over his nose; whereupon good Kickums would take advantage of his favourable position to come and bite a piece out of his back. Now in my present state of mind, being understood of nobody, having none to bear me company, neither wishing to have any, an indefinite kind of attraction drew me into Kickum's society. A bond of mutual sympathy was soon established between us; I would ride no other horse, neither Kickums be ridden by any other man. And this good horse became as jealous about me as a dog might be; and would lash out, or run teeth foremost, at any one who came near him when I was on his back.
This season, the reaping of the corn, which had been but a year ago so pleasant and so lightsome, was become a heavy labour, and a thing for grumbling rather than for gladness. However, for the sake of all, it must be attended to, and with as fair a show of spirit and alacrity as might be. For otherwise the rest would drag, and drop their hands and idle, being quicker to take infection of dullness than of diligence. And the harvest was a heavy one, even heavier than the year before, although of poorer quality. Therefore was I forced to work as hard as any horse could during all the daylight hours, and defer till night the brooding upon my misfortune. But the darkness always found me stiff with work, and weary, and less able to think than to dream, may be, of Lorna. And now the house was so dull and lonesome, wanting Annie's pretty presence, and the light of Lorna's eyes, that a man had no temptation after supper-time even to sit and smoke a pipe.
For Lizzie, though so learned, and pleasant when it suited her, never had taken very kindly to my love for Lorna, and being of a proud and slightly upstart nature, could not bear to be eclipsed in bearing, looks, and breeding, and even in clothes, by the stranger. For one thing I will say of the Doones, that whether by purchase or plunder, they had always dressed my darling well, with her own sweet taste to help them. And though Lizzie's natural hate of the maid (as a Doone and burdened with father's death) should have been changed to remorse when she learned of Lorna's real parentage, it was only altered to sullenness, and discontent with herself, for frequent rudeness to an innocent person, and one of such high descent. Moreover, the child had imbibed strange ideas as to our aristocracy, partly perhaps from her own way of thinking, and partly from reading of history. For while, from one point of view she looked up at them very demurely, as commissioned by God for the country's good; from another sight she disliked them, as ready to sacrifice their best and follow their worst members.
Yet why should this wench dare to judge upon a matter so far beyond her, and form opinions which she knew better than declare before mother? But with me she had no such scruple, for I had no authority over her; and my intellect she looked down upon, because I praised her own so. Thus she made herself very unpleasant to me; by little jags and jerks of sneering, sped as though unwittingly; which I (who now considered myself allied to the aristocracy, and perhaps took airs on that account) had not wit enough to parry, yet had wound enough to feel.
Now any one who does not know exactly how mothers feel and think, would have expected my mother (than whom could be no better one) to pet me, and make much of me, under my sad trouble; to hang with anxiety on my looks, and shed her tears with mine (if any), and season every dish of meat put by for her John's return. And if the whole truth must be told, I did expect that sort of thing, and thought what a plague it would be to me; yet not getting it, was vexed, as if by some new injury. For mother was a special creature (as I suppose we all are), being the warmest of the warm, when fired at the proper corner; and yet, if taken at the wrong point, you would say she was incombustible.
Hence it came to pass that I had no one even to speak to, about Lorna and my grievances; for Captain Stickles was now gone southward; and John Fry. of course, was too low for it, although a married man, and well under his wife's management. But finding myself unable at last to bear this any longer, upon the first day when all the wheat was cut, and the stooks set up in every field, yet none quite fit for carrying, I saddled good Kickums at five in the morning, and without a word to mother (for a little anxiety might do her good) off I set for Molland parish, to have the counsel and the comfort of my darling Annie.
The horse took me over the ground so fast (there being few better to go when he liked), that by nine o'clock Annie was in my arms, and blushing to the colour of Winnie's cheeks, with sudden delight and young happiness.
'You precious little soul!' I cried: 'how does Tom behave to you?'
'Hush!' said Annie: 'how dare you ask? He is the kindest, and the best, and the noblest of all men, John; not even setting yourself aside. Now look not jealous, John: so it is. We all have special gifts, you know. You are as good as you can be, John; but my husband's special gift is nobility of character.' Here she looked at me, as one who has discovered something quite unknown.
'I am devilish glad to hear it,' said I, being touched at going down so: 'keep him to that mark, my dear; and cork the whisky bottle.'
'Yes, darling John,' she answered quickly, not desiring to open that subject, and being too sweet to resent it: 'and how is lovely Lorna? What an age it is since I have seen you! I suppose we must thank her for that.'
'You may thank her for seeing me now,' said I; 'or rather,'—seeing how hurt she looked,—'you may thank my knowledge of your kindness, and my desire to speak of her to a soft-hearted dear little soul like you. I think all the women are gone mad. Even mother treats me shamefully. And as for Lizzie——' Here I stopped, knowing no words strong enough, without shocking Annie.
'Do you mean to say that Lorna is gone?' asked Annie, in great amazement; yet leaping at the truth, as women do, with nothing at all to leap from.
'Gone. And I never shall see her again. It serves me right for aspiring so.'
Being grieved at my manner, she led me in where none could interrupt us; and in spite of all my dejection, I could not help noticing how very pretty and even elegant all things were around. For we upon Exmoor have little taste; all we care for is warm comfort, and plenty to eat and to give away, and a hearty smack in everything. But Squire Faggus had seen the world, and kept company with great people; and the taste he had first displayed in the shoeing of farmers' horses (which led almost to his ruin, by bringing him into jealousy, and flattery, and dashing ways) had now been cultivated in London, and by moonlight, so that none could help admiring it.
'Well!' I cried, for the moment dropping care and woe in astonishment: 'we have nothing like this at Plover's Barrows; nor even Uncle Reuben. I do hope it is honest, Annie?'
'Would I sit in a chair that was not my own?' asked Annie, turning crimson, and dropping defiantly, and with a whisk of her dress which I never had seen before, into the very grandest one: 'would I lie on a couch, brother John, do you think, unless good money was paid for it? Because other people are clever, John, you need not grudge them their earnings.'
'A couch!' I replied: 'why what can you want with a couch in the day-time, Annie? A couch is a small bed, set up in a room without space for a good four-poster. What can you want with a couch downstairs? I never heard of such nonsense. And you ought to be in the dairy.'
'I won't cry, brother John, I won't; because you want to make me cry'—and all the time she was crying—'you always were so nasty, John, sometimes. Ah, you have no nobility of character, like my husband. And I have not seen you for two months, John; and now you come to scold me!'
'You little darling,' I said, for Annie's tears always conquered me; 'if all the rest ill-use me, I will not quarrel with you, dear. You have always been true to me; and I can forgive your vanity. Your things are very pretty, dear; and you may couch ten times a day, without my interference. No doubt your husband has paid for all this, with the ponies he stole from Exmoor. Nobility of character is a thing beyond my understanding; but when my sister loves a man, and he does well and flourishes, who am I to find fault with him? Mother ought to see these things: they would turn her head almost: look at the pimples on the chairs!'
'They are nothing,' Annie answered, after kissing me for my kindness: 'they are only put in for the time indeed; and we are to have much better, with gold all round the bindings, and double plush at the corners; so soon as ever the King repays the debt he owes to my poor Tom.'
I thought to myself that our present King had been most unlucky in one thing—debts all over the kingdom. Not a man who had struck a blow for the King, or for his poor father, or even said a good word for him, in the time of his adversity, but expected at least a baronetcy, and a grant of estates to support it. Many have called King Charles ungrateful: and he may have been so. But some indulgence is due to a man, with entries few on the credit side, and a terrible column of debits.
'Have no fear for the chair,' I said, for it creaked under me very fearfully, having legs not so large as my finger; 'if the chair breaks, Annie, your fear should be, lest the tortoise-shell run into me. Why, it is striped like a viper's loins! I saw some hundreds in London; and very cheap they are. They are made to be sold to the country people, such as you and me, dear; and carefully kept they will last for almost half a year. Now will you come back from your furniture, and listen to my story?'
Annie was a hearty dear, and she knew that half my talk was joke, to make light of my worrying. Therefore she took it in good part, as I well knew that she would do; and she led me to a good honest chair; and she sat in my lap and kissed me.
'All this is not like you, John. All this is not one bit like you: and your cheeks are not as they ought to be. I shall have to come home again, if the women worry my brother so. We always held together, John; and we always will, you know.'
'You dear,' I cried, 'there is nobody who understands me as you do. Lorna makes too much of me, and the rest they make too little.'
'Not mother; oh, not mother, John!'
'No, mother makes too much, no doubt; but wants it all for herself alone; and reckons it as a part of her. She makes me more wroth than any one: as if not only my life, but all my head and heart must seek from hers, and have no other thought or care.'
Being sped of my grumbling thus, and eased into better temper, I told Annie all the strange history about Lorna and her departure, and the small chance that now remained to me of ever seeing my love again. To this Annie would not hearken twice, but judging women by her faithful self, was quite vexed with me for speaking so. And then, to my surprise and sorrow, she would deliver no opinion as to what I ought to do until she had consulted darling Tom.
Dear Tom knew much of the world, no doubt, especially the dark side of it. But to me it scarcely seemed becoming that my course of action with regard to the Lady Lorna Dugal should be referred to Tom Faggus, and depend upon his decision. However, I would not grieve Annie again by making light of her husband; and so when he came in to dinner, the matter was laid before him.
Now this man never confessed himself surprised, under any circumstances; his knowledge of life being so profound, and his charity universal. And in the present case he vowed that he had suspected it all along, and could have thrown light upon Lorna's history, if we had seen fit to apply to him. Upon further inquiry I found that this light was a very dim one, flowing only from the fact that he had stopped her mother's coach, at the village of Bolham, on the Bampton Road, the day before I saw them. Finding only women therein, and these in a sad condition, Tom with his usual chivalry (as he had no scent of the necklace) allowed them to pass; with nothing more than a pleasant exchange of courtesies, and a testimonial forced upon him, in the shape of a bottle of Burgundy wine. This the poor countess handed him; and he twisted the cork out with his teeth, and drank her health with his hat off.
'A lady she was, and a true one; and I am a pretty good judge,' said Tom: 'ah, I do like a high lady!'
Our Annie looked rather queer at this, having no pretensions to be one: but she conquered herself, and said, 'Yes, Tom; and many of them liked you.'
With this, Tom went on the brag at once, being but a shallow fellow, and not of settled principles, though steadier than he used to be; until I felt myself almost bound to fetch him back a little; for of all things I do hate brag the most, as any reader of this tale must by this time know. Therefore I said to Squire Faggus, 'Come back from your highway days. You have married the daughter of an honest man; and such talk is not fit for her. If you were right in robbing people, I am right in robbing you. I could bind you to your own mantelpiece, as you know thoroughly well, Tom; and drive away with your own horses, and all your goods behind them, but for the sense of honesty. And should I not do as fine a thing as any you did on the highway? If everything is of public right, how does this chair belong to you? Clever as you are, Tom Faggus, you are nothing but a fool to mix your felony with your farmership. Drop the one, or drop the other; you cannot maintain them both.'
As I finished very sternly a speech which had exhausted me more than ten rounds of wrestling—but I was carried away by the truth, as sometimes happens to all of us—Tom had not a word to say; albeit his mind was so much more nimble and rapid than ever mine was. He leaned against the mantelpiece (a newly-invented affair in his house) as if I had corded him to it, even as I spoke of doing. And he laid one hand on his breast in a way which made Annie creep softly to him, and look at me not like a sister.
'You have done me good, John,' he said at last, and the hand he gave me was trembling: 'there is no other man on God's earth would have dared to speak to me as you have done. From no other would I have taken it. Nevertheless every word is true; and I shall dwell on it when you are gone. If you never did good in your life before, John, my brother, you have done it now.'
He turned away, in bitter pain, that none might see his trouble; and Annie, going along with him, looked as if I had killed our mother. For my part, I was so upset, for fear of having gone too far, that without a word to either of them, but a message on the title-page of King James his Prayer-book, I saddled Kickums, and was off, and glad of the moorland air again.