Lorna Doone/Chapter 52

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Lorna Doone
the way to make the cream rise

That night the reverend Counsellor, not being in such state of mind as ought to go alone, kindly took our best old bedstead, carved in panels, well enough, with the woman of Samaria. I set him up, both straight and heavy, so that he need but close both eyes, and keep his mouth just open; and in the morning he was thankful for all that he could remember.

I, for my part, scarcely knew whether he really had begun to feel goodwill towards us, and to see that nothing else could be of any use to him; or whether he was merely acting, so as to deceive us. And it had struck me, several times, that he had made a great deal more of the spirit he had taken than the quantity would warrant, with a man so wise and solid. Neither did I quite understand a little story which Lorna told me, how that in the night awaking, she had heard, or seemed to hear, a sound of feeling in her room; as if there had been some one groping carefully among the things within her drawers or wardrobe-closet. But the noise had ceased at once, she said, when she sat up in bed and listened; and knowing how many mice we had, she took courage and fell asleep again.

After breakfast, the Counsellor (who looked no whit the worse for schnapps, but even more grave and venerable) followed our Annie into the dairy, to see how we managed the clotted cream, of which he had eaten a basinful. And thereupon they talked a little; and Annie thought him a fine old gentleman, and a very just one; for he had nobly condemned the people who spoke against Tom Faggus.

'Your honour must plainly understand,' said Annie, being now alone with him, and spreading out her light quick hands over the pans, like butterflies, 'that they are brought in here to cool, after being set in the basin-holes, with the wood-ash under them, which I showed you in the back-kitchen. And they must have very little heat, not enough to simmer even; only just to make the bubbles rise, and the scum upon the top set thick; and after that, it clots as firm--oh, as firm as my two hands be.'

'Have you ever heard,' asked the Counsellor, who enjoyed this talk with Annie, 'that if you pass across the top, without breaking the surface, a string of beads, or polished glass, or anything of that kind, the cream will set three times as solid, and in thrice the quantity?'

'No, sir; I have never heard that,' said Annie, staring with all her simple eyes; 'what a thing it is to read books, and grow learned! But it is very easy to try it: I will get my coral necklace; it will not be witchcraft, will it, sir?'

'Certainly not,' the old man replied; 'I will make the experiment myself; and you may trust me not to be hurt, my dear. But coral will not do, my child, neither will anything coloured. The beads must be of plain common glass; but the brighter they are the better.'

'Then I know the very thing,' cried Annie; 'as bright as bright can be, and without any colour in it, except in the sun or candle light. Dearest Lorna has the very thing, a necklace of some old glass-beads, or I think they called them jewels: she will be too glad to lend it to us. I will go for it, in a moment.'

'My dear, it cannot be half so bright as your own pretty eyes. But remember one thing, Annie, you must not say what it is for; or even that I am going to use it, or anything at all about it; else the charm will be broken. Bring it here, without a word; if you know where she keeps it.'

'To be sure I do,' she answered; 'John used to keep it for her. But she took it away from him last week, and she wore it when--I mean when somebody was here; and he said it was very valuable, and spoke with great learning about it, and called it by some particular name, which I forget at this moment. But valuable or not, we cannot hurt it, can we, sir, by passing it over the cream-pan?'

'Hurt it!' cried the Counsellor: 'nay, we shall do it good, my dear. It will help to raise the cream: and you may take my word for it, young maiden, none can do good in this world, without in turn receiving it.' Pronouncing this great sentiment, he looked so grand and benevolent, that Annie (as she said afterwards) could scarce forbear from kissing him, yet feared to take the liberty. Therefore, she only ran away to fetch my Lorna's necklace.

Now as luck would have it--whether good luck or otherwise, you must not judge too hastily,--my darling had taken it into her head, only a day or two before, that I was far too valuable to be trusted with her necklace. Now that she had some idea of its price and quality, she had begun to fear that some one, perhaps even Squire Faggus (in whom her faith was illiberal), might form designs against my health, to win the bauble from me. So, with many pretty coaxings, she had led me to give it up; which, except for her own sake, I was glad enough to do, misliking a charge of such importance.

Therefore Annie found it sparkling in the little secret hole, near the head of Lorna's bed, which she herself had recommended for its safer custody; and without a word to any one she brought it down, and danced it in the air before the Counsellor, for him to admire its lustre.

'Oh, that old thing!' said the gentleman, in a tone of some contempt; 'I remember that old thing well enough. However, for want of a better, no doubt it will answer our purpose. Three times three, I pass it over. Crinkleum, crankum, grass and clover! What are you feared of, you silly child?'

'Good sir, it is perfect witchcraft! I am sure of that, because it rhymes. Oh, what would mother say to me? Shall I ever go to heaven again? Oh, I see the cream already!'

'To be sure you do; but you must not look, or the whole charm will be broken, and the devil will fly away with the pan, and drown every cow you have got in it.'

'Oh, sir, it is too horrible. How could you lead me to such a sin? Away with thee, witch of Endor!'

For the door began to creak, and a broom appeared suddenly in the opening, with our Betty, no doubt, behind it. But Annie, in the greatest terror, slammed the door, and bolted it, and then turned again to the Counsellor; yet looking at his face, had not the courage to reproach him. For his eyes rolled like two blazing barrels, and his white shagged brows were knit across them, and his forehead scowled in black furrows, so that Annie said that if she ever saw the devil, she saw him then, and no mistake. Whether the old man wished to scare her, or whether he was trying not to laugh, is more than I can tell you.

'Now,' he said, in a deep stern whisper; 'not a word of this to a living soul; neither must you, nor any other enter this place for three hours at least. By that time the charm will have done its work: the pan will be cream to the bottom; and you will bless me for a secret which will make your fortune. Put the bauble under this pannikin; which none must lift for a day and a night. Have no fear, my simple wench; not a breath of harm shall come to you, if you obey my orders'

'Oh, that I will, sir, that I will: if you will only tell me what to do.'

'Go to your room, without so much as a single word to any one. Bolt yourself in, and for three hours now, read the Lord's Prayer backwards.'

Poor Annie was only too glad to escape, upon these conditions; and the Counsellor kissed her upon the forehead and told her not to make her eyes red, because they were much too sweet and pretty. She dropped them at this, with a sob and a curtsey, and ran away to her bedroom; but as for reading the Lord's Prayer backwards, that was much beyond her; and she had not done three words quite right, before the three hours expired.

Meanwhile the Counsellor was gone. He bade our mother adieu, with so much dignity of bearing, and such warmth of gratitude, and the high-bred courtesy of the old school (now fast disappearing), that when he was gone, dear mother fell back on the chair which he had used last night, as if it would teach her the graces. And for more than an hour she made believe not to know what there was for dinner.

'Oh, the wickedness of the world! Oh, the lies that are told of people--or rather I mean the falsehoods--because a man is better born, and has better manners! Why, Lorna, how is it that you never speak about your charming uncle? Did you notice, Lizzie, how his silver hair was waving upon his velvet collar, and how white his hands were, and every nail like an acorn; only pink like shell-fish, or at least like shells? And the way he bowed, and dropped his eyes, from his pure respect for me! And then, that he would not even speak, on account of his emotion; but pressed my hand in silence! Oh, Lizzie, you have read me beautiful things about Sir Gallyhead, and the rest; but nothing to equal Sir Counsellor.'

'You had better marry him, madam,' said I, coming in very sternly; though I knew I ought not to say it: 'he can repay your adoration. He has stolen a hundred thousand pounds.'

'John,' cried my mother, 'you are mad!' And yet she turned as pale as death; for women are so quick at turning; and she inkled what it was.

'Of course I am, mother; mad about the marvels of Sir Galahad. He has gone off with my Lorna's necklace. Fifty farms like ours can never make it good to Lorna.'

Hereupon ensued grim silence. Mother looked at Lizzie's face, for she could not look at me; and Lizzie looked at me, to know: and as for me, I could have stamped almost on the heart of any one. It was not the value of the necklace--I am not so low a hound as that--nor was it even the damned folly shown by every one of us--it was the thought of Lorna's sorrow for her ancient plaything; and even more, my fury at the breach of hospitality.

But Lorna came up to me softly, as a woman should always come; and she laid one hand upon my shoulder; and she only looked at me. She even seemed to fear to look, and dropped her eyes, and sighed at me. Without a word, I knew by that, how I must have looked like Satan; and the evil spirit left my heart; when she had made me think of it.

'Darling John, did you want me to think that you cared for my money, more than for me?'

I led her away from the rest of them, being desirous of explaining things, when I saw the depth of her nature opened, like an everlasting well, to me. But she would not let me say a word, or do anything by ourselves, as it were: she said, 'Your duty is to your mother: this blow is on her, and not on me.'

I saw that she was right; though how she knew it is beyond me; and I asked her just to go in front, and bring my mother round a little. For I must let my passion pass: it may drop its weapons quickly; but it cannot come and go, before a man has time to think.

Then Lorna went up to my mother, who was still in the chair of elegance; and she took her by both hands, and said,--

'Dearest mother, I shall fret so, if I see you fretting. And to fret will kill me, mother. They have always told me so.'

Poor mother bent on Lorna's shoulder, without thought of attitude, and laid her cheek on Lorna's breast, and sobbed till Lizzie was jealous, and came with two pocket-handkerchiefs. As for me, my heart was lighter (if they would only dry their eyes, and come round by dinnertime) than it had been since the day on which Tom Faggus discovered the value of that blessed and cursed necklace. None could say that I wanted Lorna for her money now. And perhaps the Doones would let me have her; now that her property was gone.

But who shall tell of Annie's grief? The poor little thing would have staked her life upon finding the trinket, in all its beauty, lying under the pannikin. She proudly challenged me to lift it--which I had done, long ere that, of course--if only I would take the risk of the spell for my incredulity. I told her not to talk of spells, until she could spell a word backwards; and then to look into the pan where the charmed cream should be. She would not acknowledge that the cream was the same as all the rest was: and indeed it was not quite the same, for the points of poor Lorna's diamonds had made a few star-rays across the rich firm crust of yellow.

But when we raised the pannikin, and there was nothing under it, poor Annie fell against the wall, which had been whitened lately; and her face put all the white to scorn. My love, who was as fond of her, as if she had known her for fifty years, hereupon ran up and caught her, and abused all diamonds. I will dwell no more upon Annie's grief, because we felt it all so much. But I could not help telling her, if she wanted a witch, to seek good Mother Melldrum, a legitimate performer.

That same night Master Jeremy Stickles (of whose absence the Counsellor must have known) came back, with all equipment ready for the grand attack. Now the Doones knew, quite as well as we did, that this attack was threatening; and that but for the wonderful weather it would have been made long ago. Therefore we, or at least our people (for I was doubtful about going), were sure to meet with a good resistance, and due preparation.

It was very strange to hear and see, and quite impossible to account for, that now some hundreds of country people (who feared to whisper so much as a word against the Doones a year ago, and would sooner have thought of attacking a church, in service time, than Glen Doone) now sharpened their old cutlasses, and laid pitch-forks on the grindstone, and bragged at every village cross, as if each would kill ten Doones himself, neither care to wipe his hands afterwards. And this fierce bravery, and tall contempt, had been growing ever since the news of the attack upon our premises had taken good people by surprise; at least as concerned the issue.

Jeremy Stickles laughed heartily about Annie's new manner of charming the cream; but he looked very grave at the loss of the jewels, so soon as he knew their value.

'My son,' he exclaimed, 'this is very heavy. It will go ill with all of you to make good this loss, as I fear that you will have to do.'

'What!' cried I, with my blood running cold. 'We make good the loss, Master Stickles! Every farthing we have in the world, and the labour of our lives to boot, will never make good the tenth of it.'

'It would cut me to the heart,' he answered, laying his hand on mine, 'to hear of such a deadly blow to you and your good mother. And this farm; how long, John, has it been in your family?'

'For at least six hundred years,' I said, with a foolish pride that was only too like to end in groans; 'and some people say, by a Royal grant, in the time of the great King Alfred. At any rate, a Ridd was with him throughout all his hiding-time. We have always held by the King and crown: surely none will turn us out, unless we are guilty of treason?'

'My son,' replied Jeremy very gently, so that I could love him for it, 'not a word to your good mother of this unlucky matter. Keep it to yourself, my boy, and try to think but little of it. After all, I may be wrong: at any rate, least said best mended.'

'But Jeremy, dear Jeremy, how can I bear to leave it so? Do you suppose that I can sleep, and eat my food, and go about, and look at other people, as if nothing at all had happened? And all the time have it on my mind, that not an acre of all the land, nor even our old sheep-dog, belongs to us, of right at all! It is more than I can do, Jeremy. Let me talk, and know the worst of it.'

'Very well,' replied Master Stickles, seeing that both the doors were closed; 'I thought that nothing could move you, John; or I never would have told you. Likely enough I am quite wrong; and God send that I be so. But what I guessed at some time back seems more than a guess, now that you have told me about these wondrous jewels. Now will you keep, as close as death, every word I tell you?'

'By the honour of a man, I will. Until you yourself release me.'

'That is quite enough, John. From you I want no oath; which, according to my experience, tempts a man to lie the more, by making it more important. I know you now too well to swear you, though I have the power. Now, my lad, what I have to say will scare your mind in one way, and ease it in another. I think that you have been hard pressed--I can read you like a book, John--by something which that old villain said, before he stole the necklace. You have tried not to dwell upon it; you have even tried to make light of it for the sake of the women: but on the whole it has grieved you more than even this dastard robbery.'

'It would have done so, Jeremy Stickles, if I could once have believed it. And even without much belief, it is so against our manners, that it makes me miserable. Only think of loving Lorna, only think of kissing her; and then remembering that her father had destroyed the life of mine!'

'Only think,' said Master Stickles, imitating my very voice, 'of Lorna loving you, John, of Lorna kissing you, John; and all the while saying to herself, "this man's father murdered mine." Now look at it in Lorna's way as well as in your own way. How one-sided all men are!'

'I may look at it in fifty ways, and yet no good will come of it. Jeremy, I confess to you, that I tried to make the best of it; partly to baffle the Counsellor, and partly because my darling needed my help, and bore it so, and behaved to me so nobly. But to you in secret, I am not ashamed to say that a woman may look over this easier than a man may.'

'Because her nature is larger, my son, when she truly loves; although her mind be smaller. Now, if I can ease you from this secret burden, will you bear, with strength and courage, the other which I plant on you?'

'I will do my best,' said I.

'No man can do more,' said he and so began his story.