Lorna Doone/Chapter 65

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Lorna Doone
falling among lambs

That faithful creature, whom I began to admire as if she were my own (which is no little thing for a man to say of another man's horse), stopped in front of a low black shed, such as we call a 'linhay.' And here she uttered a little greeting, in a subdued and softened voice, hoping to obtain an answer, such as her master was wont to give in a cheery manner. Receiving no reply, she entered; and I (who could scarce keep up with her, poor Kickums being weary) leaped from his back, and followed. There I found her sniffing gently, but with great emotion, at the body of Tom Faggus. A corpse poor Tom appeared to be, if ever there was one in this world; and I turned away, and felt unable to keep altogether from weeping. But the mare either could not understand, or else would not believe it. She reached her long neck forth, and felt him with her under lip, passing it over his skin as softly as a mother would do to an infant; and then she looked up at me again; as much as to say, 'he is all right.'

Upon this I took courage, and handled poor Tom, which being young I had feared at first to do. He groaned very feebly, as I raised him up; and there was the wound, a great savage one (whether from pike-thrust or musket-ball), gaping and welling in his right side, from which a piece seemed to be torn away. I bound it up with some of my linen, so far as I knew how; just to stanch the flow of blood, until we could get a doctor. Then I gave him a little weak brandy and water, which he drank with the greatest eagerness, and made sign to me for more of it. But not knowing how far it was right to give cordial under the circumstances, I handed him unmixed water that time; thinking that he was too far gone to perceive the difference. But herein I wrong Tom Faggus; for he shook his head and frowned at me. Even at the door of death, he would not drink what Adam drank, by whom came death into the world. So I gave him a little more eau-de-vie, and he took it most submissively.

After that he seemed better, and a little colour came into his cheeks; and he looked at Winnie and knew her; and would have her nose in his clammy hand, though I thought it not good for either of them. With the stay of my arm he sat upright, and faintly looked about him; as if at the end of a violent dream, too much for his power of mind. Then he managed to whisper, 'Is Winnie hurt?'

'As sound as a roach,' I answered. 'Then so am I,' said he: 'put me upon her back, John; she and I die together.'

Surprised as I was at this fatalism (for so it appeared to me), of which he had often shown symptoms before (but I took them for mere levity), now I knew not what to do; for it seemed to me a murderous thing to set such a man on horseback; where he must surely bleed to death, even if he could keep the saddle. But he told me, with many breaks and pauses, that unless I obeyed his orders, he would tear off all my bandages, and accept no further aid from me.

While I was yet hesitating, a storm of horse at full gallop went by, tearing, swearing, bearing away all the country before them. Only a little pollard hedge kept us from their blood-shot eyes. 'Now is the time,' said my cousin Tom, so far as I could make out his words; on their heels, I am safe, John, if I have only Winnie under me. Winnie and I die together.'

Seeing this strong bent of his mind, stronger than any pains of death, I even did what his feeble eyes sometimes implored, and sometimes commanded. With a strong sash, from his own hot neck, bound and twisted, tight as wax, around his damaged waist, I set him upon Winnie's back, and placed his trembling feet in stirrups, with a band from one to another, under the good mare's body; so that no swerve could throw him out: and then I said, 'Lean forward, Tom; it will stop your hurt from bleeding.' He leaned almost on the neck of the mare, which, as I knew, must close the wound; and the light of his eyes was quite different, and the pain of his forehead unstrung itself, as if he felt the undulous readiness of her volatile paces under him.

'God bless you, John; I am safe,' he whispered, fearing to open his lungs much: 'who can come near my Winnie mare? A mile of her gallop is ten years of life. Look out for yourself, John Ridd.' He sucked his lips, and the mare went off, as easy and swift as a swallow.

'Well,' thought I, as l looked at Kickums, ignobly cropping up a bit of grass, 'I have done a very good thing, no doubt, and ought to be thankful to God for the chance. But as for getting away unharmed, with all these scoundrels about me, and only a foundered horse to trust in--good and spiteful as he is--upon the whole, I begin to think that I have made a fool of myself, according to my habit. No wonder Tom said, "Look out for yourself!" I shall look out from a prison window, or perhaps even out of a halter. And then, what will Lorna think of me?'

Being in this wistful mood, I resolved to abide awhile, even where fate had thrown me; for my horse required good rest no doubt, and was taking it even while he cropped, with his hind legs far away stretched out, and his forelegs gathered under him, and his muzzle on the mole-hills; so that he had five supportings from his mother earth. Moreover, the linhay itself was full of very ancient cow dung; than which there is no balmier and more maiden soporific. Hence I resolved, upon the whole, though grieving about breakfast, to light a pipe, and go to sleep; or at least until the hot sun should arouse the flies.

I may have slept three hours, or four, or it might be even five--for I never counted time, while sleeping--when a shaking more rude than the old landlady's, brought me back to the world again. I looked up, with a mighty yawn; and saw twenty, or so, of foot-soldiers.

'This linhay is not yours,' I said, when they had quite aroused me, with tongue, and hand, and even sword-prick: 'what business have you here, good fellows?'

'Business bad for you,' said one, 'and will lead you to the gallows.'

'Do you wish to know the way out again?' I asked, very quietly, as being no braggadocio.

'We will show thee the way out,' said one, 'and the way out of the world,' said another: 'but not the way to heaven,' said one chap, most unlikely to know it: and thereupon they all fell wagging, like a bed of clover leaves in the morning, at their own choice humour.

'Will you pile your arms outside,' I said, 'and try a bit of fair play with me?'

For I disliked these men sincerely, and was fain to teach them a lesson; they were so unchristian in appearance, having faces of a coffee colour, and dirty beards half over them. Moreover their dress was outrageous, and their address still worse. However, I had wiser let them alone, as will appear afterwards. These savage-looking fellows laughed at the idea of my having any chance against some twenty of them: but I knew that the place was in my favour; for my part of it had been fenced off (for weaning a calf most likely), so that only two could come at me at once; and I must be very much out of training, if I could not manage two of them. Therefore I laid aside my carbine, and the two horse-pistols; and they with many coarse jokes at me went a little way outside, and set their weapons against the wall, and turned up their coat sleeves jauntily; and then began to hesitate.

'Go you first, Bob,' I heard them say: 'you are the biggest man of us; and Dick the wrestler along of you. Us will back you up, boy.'

'I'll warrant I'll draw the badger,' said Bob; 'and not a tooth will I leave him. But mind, for the honour of Kirke's lambs, every man stands me a glass of gin.' Then he, and another man, made a rush, and the others came double-quick-march on their heels. But as Bob ran at me most stupidly, not even knowing how to place his hands, I caught him with my knuckles at the back of his neck, and with all the sway of my right arm sent him over the heads of his comrades. Meanwhile Dick the wrestler had grappled me, expecting to show off his art, of which indeed he had some small knowledge; but being quite of the light-weights, in a second he was flying after his companion Bob.

Now these two men were hurt so badly, the light one having knocked his head against the lintel of the outer gate, that the rest had no desire to encounter the like misfortune. So they hung back whispering; and before they had made up their minds, I rushed into the midst of them. The suddenness and the weight of my onset took them wholly by surprise; and for once in their lives, perhaps, Kirke's lambs were worthy of their name. Like a flock of sheep at a dog's attack they fell away, hustling one another, and my only difficulty was not to tumble over them.

I had taken my carbine out with me, having a fondness for it; but the two horse-pistols I left behind; and therefore felt good title to take two from the magazine of the lambs. And with these, and my carbine, I leaped upon Kickums, who was now quite glad of a gallop again; and I bade adieu to that mongrel lot; yet they had the meanness to shoot at me. Thanking God for my deliverance (inasmuch as those men would have strung me up, from a pollard-ash without trial, as I heard them tell one another, and saw the tree they had settled upon), I ventured to go rather fast on my way, with doubt and uneasiness urging me. And now my way was home again. Nobody could say but what I had done my duty, and rescued Tom (if he could be rescued) from the mischief into which his own perverseness and love of change (rather than deep religious convictions, to which our Annie ascribed his outbreak) had led, or seemed likely to lead him. And how proud would my mother be; and--ah well, there was nobody else to be proud of me now.

But while thinking these things, and desiring my breakfast, beyond any power of describing, and even beyond my remembrance, I fell into another fold of lambs, from which there was no exit. These, like true crusaders, met me, swaggering very heartily, and with their barrels of cider set, like so many cannon, across the road, over against a small hostel.

'We have won the victory, my lord King, and we mean to enjoy it. Down from thy horse, and have a stoup of cider, thou big rebel.'

'No rebel am I. My name is John Ridd. I belong to the side of the King: and I want some breakfast.'

These fellows were truly hospitable; that much will I say for them. Being accustomed to Arab ways, they could toss a grill, or fritter, or the inner meaning of an egg, into any form they pleased, comely and very good to eat; and it led me to think of Annie. So I made the rarest breakfast any man might hope for, after all his troubles; and getting on with these brown fellows better than could be expected, I craved permission to light a pipe, if not disagreeable. Hearing this, they roared at me, with a superior laughter, and asked me, whether or not, I knew the tobacco-leaf from the chick-weed; and when I was forced to answer no, not having gone into the subject, but being content with anything brown, they clapped me on the back and swore they had never seen any one like me. Upon the whole this pleased me much; for I do not wish to be taken always as of the common pattern: and so we smoked admirable tobacco--for they would not have any of mine, though very courteous concerning it--and I was beginning to understand a little of what they told me; when up came those confounded lambs, who had shown more tail than head to me, in the linhay, as I mentioned.

Now these men upset everything. Having been among wrestlers so much as my duty compelled me to be, and having learned the necessity of the rest which follows the conflict, and the right of discussion which all people have to pay their sixpence to enter; and how they obtrude this right, and their wisdom, upon the man who has laboured, until he forgets all the work he did, and begins to think that they did it; having some knowledge of this sort of thing, and the flux of minds swimming in liquor, I foresaw a brawl, as plainly as if it were Bear Street in Barnstaple.

And a brawl there was, without any error, except of the men who hit their friends, and those who defended their enemies. My partners in breakfast and beer-can swore that I was no prisoner, but the best and most loyal subject, and the finest-hearted fellow they had ever the luck to meet with. Whereas the men from the linhay swore that I was a rebel miscreant; and have me they would, with a rope's-end ready, in spite of every [violent language] who had got drunk at my expense, and been misled by my [strong word] lies.

While this fight was going on (and its mere occurrence shows, perhaps, that my conversation in those days was not entirely despicable--else why should my new friends fight for me, when I had paid for the ale, and therefore won the wrong tense of gratitude?) it was in my power at any moment to take horse and go. And this would have been my wisest plan, and a very great saving of money; but somehow I felt as if it would be a mean thing to slip off so. Even while I was hesitating, and the men were breaking each other's heads, a superior officer rode up, with his sword drawn, and his face on fire.

'What, my lambs, my lambs!' he cried, smiting with the flat of his sword; 'is this how you waste my time and my purse, when you ought to be catching a hundred prisoners, worth ten pounds apiece to me? Who is this young fellow we have here? Speak up, sirrah; what art thou, and how much will thy good mother pay for thee?'

'My mother will pay naught for me,' I answered; while the lambs fell back, and glowered at one another: 'so please your worship, I am no rebel; but an honest farmer, and well-proved of loyalty.'

'Ha, ha; a farmer art thou? Those fellows always pay the best. Good farmer, come to yon barren tree; thou shalt make it fruitful.'

Colonel Kirke made a sign to his men, and before I could think of resistance, stout new ropes were flung around me; and with three men on either side I was led along very painfully. And now I saw, and repented deeply of my careless folly, in stopping with those boon-companions, instead of being far away. But the newness of their manners to me, and their mode of regarding the world (differing so much from mine own), as well as the flavour of their tobacco, had made me quite forget my duty to the farm and to myself. Yet methought they would be tender to me, after all our speeches: how then was I disappointed, when the men who had drunk my beer, drew on those grievous ropes, twice as hard as the men I had been at strife with! Yet this may have been from no ill will; but simply that having fallen under suspicion of laxity, they were compelled, in self-defence, now to be over-zealous.

Nevertheless, however pure and godly might be their motives, I beheld myself in a grievous case, and likely to get the worst of it. For the face of the Colonel was hard and stern as a block of bogwood oak; and though the men might pity me and think me unjustly executed, yet they must obey their orders, or themselves be put to death. Therefore I addressed myself to the Colonel, in a most ingratiating manner; begging him not to sully the glory of his victory, and dwelling upon my pure innocence, and even good service to our lord the King. But Colonel Kirke only gave command that I should be smitten in the mouth; which office Bob, whom I had flung so hard out of the linhay, performed with great zeal and efficiency. But being aware of the coming smack, I thrust forth a pair of teeth; upon which the knuckles of my good friend made a melancholy shipwreck.

It is not in my power to tell half the thoughts that moved me, when we came to the fatal tree, and saw two men hanging there already, as innocent perhaps as I was, and henceforth entirely harmless. Though ordered by the Colonel to look steadfastly upon them, I could not bear to do so; upon which he called me a paltry coward, and promised my breeches to any man who would spit upon my countenance. This vile thing Bob, being angered perhaps by the smarting wound of his knuckles, bravely stepped forward to do for me, trusting no doubt to the rope I was led with. But, unluckily as it proved for him, my right arm was free for a moment; and therewith I dealt him such a blow, that he never spake again. For this thing I have often grieved; but the provocation was very sore to the pride of a young man; and I trust that God has forgiven me. At the sound and sight of that bitter stroke, the other men drew back; and Colonel Kirke, now black in the face with fury and vexation, gave orders for to shoot me, and cast me into the ditch hard by. The men raised their pieces, and pointed at me, waiting for the word to fire; and I, being quite overcome by the hurry of these events, and quite unprepared to die yet, could only think all upside down about Lorna, and my mother, and wonder what each would say to it. I spread my hands before my eyes, not being so brave as some men; and hoping, in some foolish way, to cover my heart with my elbows. I heard the breath of all around, as if my skull were a sounding-board; and knew even how the different men were fingering their triggers. And a cold sweat broke all over me, as the Colonel, prolonging his enjoyment, began slowly to say, 'Fire.'

But while he was yet dwelling on the 'F,' the hoofs of a horse dashed out on the road, and horse and horseman flung themselves betwixt me and the gun muzzles. So narrowly was I saved that one man could not check his trigger: his musket went off, and the ball struck the horse on the withers, and scared him exceedingly. He began to lash out with his heels all around, and the Colonel was glad to keep clear of him; and the men made excuse to lower their guns, not really wishing to shoot me.

'How now, Captain Stickles?' cried Kirke, the more angry because he had shown his cowardice; 'dare you, sir, to come betwixt me and my lawful prisoner?'

'Nay, hearken one moment, Colonel,' replied my old friend Jeremy; and his damaged voice was the sweetest sound I had heard for many a day; 'for your own sake, hearken.' He looked so full of momentous tidings, that Colonel Kirke made a sign to his men not to shoot me till further orders; and then he went aside with Stickles, so that in spite of all my anxiety I could not catch what passed between them. But I fancied that the name of the Lord Chief-Justice Jeffreys was spoken more than once, and with emphasis and deference.

'Then I leave him in your hands, Captain Stickles,' said Kirke at last, so that all might hear him; and though the news was good for me, the smile of baffled malice made his dark face look most hideous; 'and I shall hold you answerable for the custody of this prisoner.'

'Colonel Kirke, I will answer for him,' Master Stickles replied, with a grave bow, and one hand on his breast: 'John Ridd, you are my prisoner. Follow me, John Ridd.'

Upon that, those precious lambs flocked away, leaving the rope still around me; and some were glad, and some were sorry, not to see me swinging. Being free of my arms again, I touched my hat to Colonel Kirke, as became his rank and experience; but he did not condescend to return my short salutation, having espied in the distance a prisoner, out of whom he might make money.

I wrung the hand of Jeremy Stickles, for his truth and goodness; and he almost wept (for since his wound he had been a weakened man) as he answered, 'Turn for turn, John. You saved my life from the Doones; and by the mercy of God, I have saved you from a far worse company. Let your sister Annie know it.'