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by RD Blackmore
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Richard Doddridge Blackmore was born on June 9, 1825, at Longworth, Berkshire, where his father was vicar. Like John Ridd in "Lorna Doone," he was educated at Blundell's School, Tiverton. In 1860 he came into a considerable fortune, allowing him to setle down at Teddington to a life of gardening and literature.
Two miles below our farm at Oare, the Bagworthy water runs into the Lynn, but though I fished nearly every stream in our part of Exmoor in my boyhood, it was a long time before I dared go those two miles. For the water flowed out of Glen Doone, where the Doones had settled, and I had good reason to be afraid of this wild band of outlaws. It was an unhappy day for everybody on Exmoor when Sir Ensor Doone was outlawed by good King Charles, and came with his tall sons and wild retainers to the Bagworthy water.
This befell in 1640. At first, the newcomers were fairly quiet, and what little sheep-stealing they did was overlooked. But in the troublous times of the Great Rebellion they grew bolder and fiercer; they attacked men and burnt farms and carried off women, and all Exmoor stood in fear and terror of them. None of the Doones was under six feet, and there were forty and more of them, and they were all true marksmen. The worst thing they did was to murder my father, John Ridd, in the year 1673, when I was twelve years of age.
That was why I was afraid to fish the Bagworthy water. But I spent a good deal of time in learning to shoot straight with my father's gun; I sent pretty well all the lead gutter round our little church into our best barn door, a thing which has often repented me since, especially as churchwarden. When, however, I was turned fourteen years old, and put into small clothes, and worsted hosen knitted by my dear mother, I set out with a loach-fork to explore the Bagworthy water. It was St. Valentine's day, 1676, as I well remember. After wading along Lynn stream, I turned into the still more icy-cold current of Bagworthy water, where I speared an abundance of loaches. I was stopped at last by a great black whirlpool, into which a slide of water came thundering a hundred yards down a cliff. My bare legs were weak and numbed with cold, and twilight was falling in the wild, narrow glen. So I was inclined to turn back. But then I said to myself: "John Ridd, the place is making a coward of thee."
With that, I girt up my breeches anew, and slung the fish tighter round my neck, and began to climb up through the water-slide. The green wave came down on me and my feet gave way, but I held with my loach-fork to a rock, and got my footing. How I got up, I cannot remember, but I fainted on reaching the top of the cliff.
When I came to, a little girl was kneeling by me, and rubbing my forehead tenderly with a dock-leaf.
"Oh, I am glad!" she said. "Now you will try to be better, won't you?"
I had never heard so sweet a sound as came from her red lips; neither had I ever seen anything so beautiful as the large, dark eyes intent upon me, in pity and wonder. Her long black hair fell on the grass, and among it - like an early star - was the first primrose of the year. And since that day, I think of her whenever I see an early primrose.
"How you are looking at me!" I said. "I have never seen anyone like you before. My name is John Ridd. What is your name?"
"My name is Lorna Doone," she replied, in a low voice, and hanging her head.
Young and harmless as she was, her name made guilt of her. Yet I could not help looking at her tenderly. And when she began to cry, what did I do but kiss her. This made her angry, but we soon became friends again, and fell to talking about ourselves. Suddenly a shout rang through the valley, and Lorna trembled, and put her cheek close to mine.
"Oh, they will find us together and kill us," she said.
"Come with me," I whispered. "I can carry you down the waterfall."
"No, no!" she cried, as I took her up. "You see that hole in the rock there? There is a way out from the top of it."
I hid myself just in time, and a dozen tall, fierce-looking men found Lorna seemingly lying asleep on the grass. One of them took her tenderly in his arms and carried her away. I then waited until it was full dark, and crept to the hole that Lorna had pointed out.
The fright I had taken that night satisfied me for a long time thereafter; not that I did not think of Lorna and wish very often to see her. But I was only a boy, and inclined, therefore, to despise young girls. Besides, our farm of five hundred acres was the largest in Oare, and I had to work very hard on it. But the work did me good; I grew four inches longer every year, and two inches wider, until there was no man of my size to be seen elsewhere upon Exmoor, and I also won the belt of the championship for wrestling in the West Counties.
Seven years went by before I climbed up Glen Doone again. The occasion was a strange one. My uncle, Ben Huckaback, was robbed by the Doones on his way to our farm, and he was mighty vexed with their doings. This time the outlaws met their match, for Uncle Ben was one of the richest men in the West Counties, and, moreover, he was well acquainted with the most powerful and terrible man in England. I mean the famous Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys.
"I am going to London, my boy," he said to me, "to get these scoundrel Doones shot or hanged. I want you, while I am gone, to go to the place where they live, and see how the troops I shall bring can best attack them."
This put other thoughts in my head. I waited till St. Valentine's day, and then I dressed myself in my best clothes, and went up the Bagworthy water. The stream, which once had taken my knees, now came only to my ankles, and with no great difficulty I climbed to the top of the cliff. Here I beheld the loveliest sight, one glimpse of which was enough to make me kneel in the coldest water. Lorna was coming singing towards me! I could not see what her face was, my heart so awoke and trembled; only that her hair was flowing from a wreath of white violets. She turned to fly, frightened, perhaps, at my great size; but I fell on the grass, as I had fallen seven years agone that day, and just said: "Lorna Doone!"
"Master Ridd, are you mad," she said. "The patrol will be here presently."
She led me, with many timid glances, to the hole in the rock which she had shown me before; by the right of this was a crevice, hung with green ivy, which opened into a mossy cave about twenty feet across.
"We shall be safe from interruption here," said Lorna, "for I begged Sir Ensor that this place might be looked on as my bower."
I had much ado, however, to get through the crevice, and, instead of being proud of my size, as it seemed to me she ought to be, Lorna laughed at me. Thereupon it went hard with me not to kiss her, only it smote me that this would be a low advantage of her trust and helplessness. She seemed to know what I would be at, and she liked me for my forbearance, because she was not in love with me yet. As we sat in her bower, she talked about her dear self, and her talk was sad.
"Ah, Master Ridd," she said, "you have a mother who loves you, and sisters, and a quiet home. You do not know what loneliness is. I get so full of anger at the violence and wickedness around me that I dare not give way to speech. It is scarcely a twelvemonth since my cousin, Lord Alan Brandir, came from London and tried to rescue me. Carver Doone killed him before my eyes. Ah, you know Carver!"
Ay, I did. It was he who slew my father. I would not tell Lorna this, but in my slow way I began, to look forward to meeting Carver Doone, not for my father's sake - I had forgiven that - but for Lorna's. I boded some harm to her, and before I left I arranged that if she were ever in need of help she should hang a black mantle on a stone that I could see from a neighbouring hill.
When I got home, I found a king's messenger waiting for me, and, to the alarm of my dear mother and my sisters, I was taken to London to be examined by Chief Justice Jeffreys touching the Doone. He was a fierce-looking man, with a bull-head, but he used me kindly - maybe for Uncle Ben's sake - and I got back to Exmoor, none the worse for my journey to the great city of London. But I lost all delight in my homecoming when I went to the hill overlooking Glen Doone, and saw that the stone was covered with a mantle. Off I set to climb the cliff above the Bagworthy water, and there I found Lorna in a sad state of mind.
"Oh, John," she said, "Carver Doone is trying to force me to marry him. Where have you been? Tis two months since I gave the signal."
Thereupon I told her of my travels to London, and when she learnt that my seeming negligence of her was nothing but my wretched absence far away, the tears fell from her eyes, and she came and sat so close beside me that I trembled like a folded sheep at the bleating of her lamb.
"Dearest darling of my life!" I whispered through her clouds of hair, "I love you more than heart can hold in silence! I have waited long and long, and, though I am so far below you, I can wait no longer!"
"You have been very faithful, John," she murmured to the fern and moss. "You are the bravest and the kindest and the simplest of all men, and I like you very much."
"That will not do for me!" I said. "I will not have liking! I must have your heart of hearts, even as you have mine, Lorna!"
She glanced up shyly through her fluttering lashes. Then she opened wide upon me all the glorious depth and softness of her eyes, and flung both arms around my neck.
"Darling," she cried, "you have won it all! I shall never be my own again. I am yours for ever and ever!"
I am sure I know not what I did or said thereafter, being overcome with transport by her words and her eyes.
"Hush!" said Lorna suddenly, drawing me away from the entrance to her bower. "Here is Carver Doone!"
A great man was coming leisurely down the valley, and the light was still good enough for me to descry his features through the ivy screen. Though I am not a good judge of men's faces, there was something in his which gave me a feeling of horror. Not that it was an ugly face; nay, rather; it seemed a handsome one, full of strength and vigour and resolution; but there was a cruel hankering in his steel-blue eyes. Yet, he did not daunt me. Here, I saw, was a man of strength yet for me to encounter, such as I had never met, but would be glad to meet, having found no man of late who needed not my mercy at wrestling or singlestick. My heart was hot against him. And, though he carried a carbine, I would have been at him, maybe ere he could use it, but for the presence of Lorna. So I crouched down until Carver Doone departed, and then, because she feared for my safety, I returned home.
I found the king's messenger waiting again for me. He was a small, but keen-witted man called Jeremy Stickler, and I liked his company. He now came upon a graver business than conducting me to London. He held a royal commission to raise the train-bands of Somerset and Devon, and he brought a few troops with him, and made our farm his headquarters. He had been sent in hot haste by Chief Justice Jeffreys to destroy the Doones who were likely now to pay dearly for robbing my Uncle Ben. I was not, however, as pleased with the arrival of Jeremy Stickler as he expected, for I bethought myself how Lorna would fare in the wild fighting.
The next evening, I went to her bower to tell her of the matter, but she was not there. Then the snow began to fall, and still I clambered up the cliff, and waited at the end of the valley every hour of the day and far into the night. But no light footstep came to meet me, and no sweet voice was in the air. At last I resolved upon a desperate and difficult enterprise, for I was well-nigh mad with anxiety. I would go to Lorna's house, and find out at all costs what had befallen her. But though I knew fairly well where her house was in Doone village, I was perplexed how to get there. I could not even get to her bower; for in the night a great snow-storm broke over the country - the worst since 1625. Our farm was drifted up, and in some places the snow was thirty and fifty feet deep. Travel of any sort seemed impossible. But my elder sister, Lizzie, whom I looked down on because she was always reading books instead of helping my mother as Annie did, came to my help. She had a wonderful lot of book learning - much more than I ever got, though father had sent me to the famous grammar school at Tiverton founded by Master Blundell. She now showed me how to make some strange contrivances called snowshoes, which men use in very cold countries. Having learnt how to glide about in them, I set off to find Lorna.
By good fortune, when I got to Glen Doone, where the waterfall had frozen into rough steps, easy to climb, the snow came on again, thick enough to blind a man who had not spent his time among it as I had for days and days. The weather drove all the Doones indoors, and I found Lorna's house almost drifted up like our farm, but got at last to the door and knocked. I was not sure but that the answer might not be the mouth of a carbine; but Gwenny Carfax, a little Cornish maid attached to my Lorna, opened it, and said when she saw me:
"Master Ridd! I wish you was good to eat. Us be shut in here and starving."
The look of wolfish hunger in her eyes frightened me, and I strode in and found Lorna fainting for want of food. Happily, I had a good loaf of bread and a large mince pie, which I had brought in case I had to bide out all night. When Lorna and her maid had eaten these, I heard the tale of their sufferings. Sir Ensor Doone was dead, and Carver Doone was now the leader; and he was trying to starve Lorna into agreeing to marry him.
"If I warrant to bring you safe and sound to our farm, Lorna, will you come with me?" I said.
"To be sure I will, dear," said my darling. "I must either starve or go with you, John."
Our plans were soon made. I went home with the utmost speed, and got out our light pony-sled and dragged it to the top of the waterfall near my darling's bower. It was well I returned quickly. When I entered Lorna's house I saw, by the moonlight flowing in, a sight which drove me beyond sense. Lorna was crouching behind a chair in utter terror, and a drunken Doone was trying to draw the chair away. I bore him out of the house as lightly as I would a baby, but I squeezed his throat a little more than I would an infant's; then I pitched him into a snow-drift, and he did not move.
It was no time to linger. I ran with Lorna in my arms to the sled, and Gwenny followed. Then, with my staff from rock to rock, I broke the sled's too rapid way down the frozen waterfall, and brought my darling safely out of Glen Doone by the selfsame path which first led me up to her. In an hour's time she was under my roof, and my dear mother and my sisters were tending her and Gwenny, for they both were utterly worn out by their cruel privations.
It gave me no little pleasure to think how mad Carver Doone must be with me for robbing him of the lovely bride whom he was trying to starve into marriage. However, I was not pleased with the prospect of the consequences; but set all hands to work to prepare for the attack on the farm which I saw would follow when the paths were practicable. By the time the rain fell and cleared the snow away, I had everything ready. The outlaws waited till the moon was risen, as it was dangerous to cross the flooded valley in the darkness, and then they rode into our farmyard as coolly as if they had been invited. Jeremy Stickler and his troopers were waiting in the shadow of the house, and I stood with a club and a gun in the mow-yard, for I knew the Doones would begin by firing our ricks.
"Two of you go" - it was the deep voice of Carver Doone - "and make us a light to cut their throats by."
As he spoke I set my gun against his breast. Yet - will you believe me? - I could not pull the trigger. Would to God I had done so! But I had never taken human life. I dropped my carbine, and grasped my club, which seemed a more straightforward implement. With this I struck down the first man that put a torch to the rick, and broke the collar-bone of the second. Then a blaze of light came from the house, and two of the Doones fell under the fire of the troopers, and the rest hung back. They were not used to this kind of reception from farmers; they thought it neither kind nor courteous. Unable any longer to contain myself, I came across the yard. But no one shot at me; and I went up to Carver Doone and took him by the beard, and said: "Do you call yourself a man?"
He was so astonished that he could not speak. He saw he had met his equal, or perhaps his master. He held a pistol at me; but I was too quick for him, and I laid him flat upon his back.
"Now, Carver Doone, take warning," I said to him. "You have shown yourself a fool by your contempt of me. I may not be your match in craft; but I am in manhood. Lay low there in your native muck."
Seeing him down, the others broke and ran, but one had a shot at me. And while I was feeling my wound - which was nothing much - Carver arose and strode away with a train of curses.
But he had his revenge in a short time. Jeremy Stickler brought up two train-bands to storm Glen Doone, and they were beaten off with considerable loss. Then I took the matter up, just when the Doones were emboldened by their victory to commit fresh crimes; or rather, the leadership was thrust upon me. Carver Doone and one of his men entered the house of Kit Badcock, one of my neighbours, and killed his baby and carried off his wife. Kit wandered about half crazy, and the people came flocking about me, and asked me to lead them against the Doones. I resolved on a night-assault, and divided the men into two parties. The Doone-gate was, I knew, impregnable, and it was there that the train-bands had failed. I pretended to attack it, but led my best fighters up the waterfall. The earliest notice the Doones had of our presence was the blazing of the logwood house where lived that villain Carver.
By the time they came from Doone-gate all the village was burning, and as soon as they got into easy distance we shot them down in the light of the flaming houses. I did not fire. I cared to meet none but Carver, and he did not appear. He was the only Doone that escaped. Every man I had with me had some wrong to avenge; some had lost their wives, others their daughters; the more fortunate had had all their sheep and cattle carried off, and every man avenged his wrong. I was vexed at the escape of Carver. It was no light thing to have a man of such power and resource and desperation left at large and furious. When he saw all the houses in the valley flaming with a handsome blaze, and throwing a fine light around, such as he had often revelled in when he was the attacker, he turned his great black horse, and spurred it through Doone-gate, and he passed into the darkness before the yeomen I had posted there could bring him down.
The only thing which pleased me was that Lorna was taken to London before I led the assault on Glen Doone. Jeremy Stickler, a man with much knowledge of the law, discovered that she was a great heiress, and that her true title was Lady Lorna Dugal. She was related to the Doones, and they had carried her off when a little child, and on her all the ambition of Sir Ensor Doone had turned. The marriage he designed between her and Carver would have brought the outlaws the wealth necessary to retrieve their fortunes and recover their position in the world. This strange news explained many things in their conduct towards Lorna, but it made me feel rather sad. For it seemed to me that there was too great a difference between John Ridd, the yeoman farmer, and Lady Lorna, the heiress of the Earl of Lome. Besides, she was now a ward of chancery, under the care of the great Lord Jeffreys, and I much doubted if he would consent to our marriage, even if she still remembered me amid the courtly splendour in which she moved. Judge then of my joy when Lorna returned in the spring to our farm, as glad as a bird to get back to its nest.
"Oh, I love it all," she said. "The scent of the gorse on the moors drove me wild, and the primroses under the hedges. I am sure I was meant to be a farmer's wife."
This, with a tender, playful look at me. Then she told the good news. Lord Jeffreys had, for a certain round sum, given his ward permission to marry me. There was a great to-do throughout the country about our wedding on Whit-Monday. People came from more than thirty miles around, upon excuse of seeing Lorna's beauty and my stature; but in good truth out of curiosity and a love of meddling.
It is impossible for any, who have not loved as I have, to conceive my joy and pride when, after the ring and all was done, and the parson had blessed us, she turned and gazed on me. Her eyes were so full of faith and devotion that I was amazed, thoroughly as I knew them. But when I stooped to kiss her, as the bridegroom is allowed to do, a shot rang through the church. My darling fell across my knees, and her blood flowed out on the altarsteps. She sighed a long sigh to my breast, and grew cold. I laid her in my mother's arms, and went forth for my revenge.
The men fell back before me. Who showed me the course, I cannot tell. I only know that I leaped upon a horse and took it. Weapon of no sort had I. Unarmed, and wondering at my strange attire, I rode out to discover this: whether in this world there be or be not a God of justice. Putting my horse at a furious speed, I came upon Black Burrow Down, and there, a furlong before me, rode a man on a great black horse. I knew that man was Carver Doone, bearing his child, little Ensie, before him. I knew he was strong. I knew he was armed with gun, pistol, and sword. Nevertheless, I had no more doubt of killing him than a cook has of spitting a headless fowl.
I came up with him at Wizard's Slough. A bullet struck me somewhere, but I took no heed of that. With an oak stick I felled his horse. Carver Doone lay on the ground, stunned. Leaping from my steed, I waited, and bared my arms as if in the ring for wrestling. Then the boy ran towards me, clasped my leg, and looked up at me.
"Ensie, dear," I said, "run and try to find a bunch of bluebells for the pretty lady."
Presently Carver Doone gathered together his mighty limbs, and I closed with him. He caught me round the waist with such a grip as had never been laid upon me. I heard a rib go where the bullet had broken it. But God was with me that day. I grasped Carver Doone's arm, and tore the muscle out of it; then I had him by the throat, and I left him sinking, joint by joint, into the black bog.
I returned to the farm in a dream, and only the thought of Lorna's death, like a heavy knell, was tolling in the belfry of my brain. Into the old farmhouse I tottered, like a weakling child, with mother helping me along, yet fearing, except by stealth, to look at me.
"I have killed him," was all I said, "even as he killed Lorna."
"Lorna is still living, John," said my mother, very softly.
"Is there any chance for her?" I cried, awaking out of my dream. "For me, I mean; for me?"
Well, my darling is sitting by me now as I write, and I am now Sir John Ridd, if you please. Year by year, Lorna's beauty grows, with the growth of goodness, kindness, and true happiness - above all, with loving. For change, she makes a joke of this, and plays with it, and laughs at it. Then, when my slow nature marvels, back she comes to the earnest thing. If I wish to pay her out - as may happen once or twice, when we become too galdsome - I bring her to sadness, and to me for the cure of it, by the two words, "Lorna Doone."
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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